Could you care less, or couldn’t you?

I have a pet peeve. Well, I have more than one, but one stands out. It’s the misuse of certain phrases/expressions.

One in particular makes me crazy.

I could care less instead of I couldn’t care less

My blood pressure can’t take it… I hate when I see it written, and even more so when I hear it said out loud. I’ve actually heard characters on TV say ‘I could care less,’ instead of the correct version. I immediately want to throw something at the screen when I hear it. It just makes me crazy. Here’s what the dictionary has to say about the origin of the phrase:

The expression I could not care less originally meant ‘it would be impossible for me to care less than I do because I do not care at all’. It was originally a British saying and came to the US in the 1950s. It is senseless to transform it into the now-common I could care less. If you could care less, that means you care at least a little. The original is quite sarcastic and the other form is clearly nonsense. The inverted form I could care less was coined in the US and is found only here, recorded in print by 1966. The question is, something caused the negative to vanish even while the original form of the expression was still very much in vogue and available for comparison – so what was it? There are other American English expressions that have a similar sarcastic inversion of an apparent sense, such as Tell me about it!, which usually means ‘Don’t tell me about it, because I know all about it already’. The Yiddish I should be so lucky!, in which the real sense is often ‘I have no hope of being so lucky’, has a similar stress pattern with the same sarcastic inversion of meaning as does I could care less

So, if people can use ‘I should be so luck’, and ‘Tell me about it’ in the correct way, then why not ‘I couldn’t care less’? Maybe it’s because I spent so much time in the UK when I was a teenager, maybe it’s because when I was a child my grandmother always used to say ‘listen to what the words say’.  I don’t know. All I know is that I can’t stand it when I read or hear the term misused.

A close follow-up which I also don’t like is ‘Could of’ instead of ‘could have’, but that would be a whole other blog post!

Do you have any phrase or words you just hate seeing used the wrong way?

To plot or not to plot?

With NaNoWriMo around the corner I’m reading a lot more about how writers approach their novels. Some plot it out to the smallest detail, other’s ‘pants’ it all the way. Me? I think I’m a mixture of both. I didn’t use to be. When I started I dove in without much of a plan.

In fact, my first attempt at a novel was done entirely by ‘pantsing’ it. I had a character I liked, a premise, and a vague idea what I wanted to happen. I wrote the first draft in the space of a month, (by hand, due to lack of computer).I eventually typed it up which took a couple of months (many an hour was wasted on deciphering my own terrible handwriting!), but didn’t really make too many changes to it. I was pretty pleased with the result. I figured ‘Well, I’ll just do that again with the next one!’

So I did. The result was quite different though. I started writing it (on the computer this time) and it went pretty smoothly at first. I got 90 pages into it, liked the story, thought it was going well when suddenly –BAM! Roadblock. I didn’t know where to take the story. I was stuck. I tried to figure out how to get the characters from point A to point B but nothing worked. I worked on it for some time but then realized the story wasn’t going to come together as I had imagined. If I’d made an outline I would have figured this out before.

This experience did make me see the usefulness of an outline and I did try to make a detailed one for In Absentia. I really did. What I realized, despite the bad experience with what was supposed to be my second novel is this:

I’m just not much of a plotter.

Not in the sit-down-and-make-a-chart kind of way. Instead what I do now, once I know who my main character is and what his/her general story is, I plan it out in my head in greater detail. I make sure I know what I want to happen and how to make it happen. I have a notebook where I write important dates, timelines, and locations –things of that nature.  This works well for me. How about you? Do you prefer to plan it out in detail, or do you sit down, start writing, and see where you get?

Here is an interesting article on the subject:

Here’s What Both Pantsing and Plotting Miss: The Real Story

What genre do I write?

Well that is a good question isn’t it? It’s one that people ask me all the time as soon as I say I write. I wish I had the answer.

The first novel I wrote was pretty much New Adult while the second one is more literary with a bit of a commercial bent. Yet all the projects that I have planned out for the future don’t fit into either of these genres. I’ve written an outlines for a paranormal romance and I’ve got a first draft finished for a woman’s fiction novel, but my big far off plan is to write a series set in a dystopian future.  The only thing all three have in common is a strong female lead MC.

So as you can see I really can’t say what I  genre write. I realized that this is a problem in terms of finding an agent, publisher, and so forth. If I am lucky enough to find an agent that reps literary fiction chances are that they don’t also represent paranormal or new adult. This isn’t something I have really looked into so far, because now I’m just trying to find an agent for  one particular novel. That’s challenging enough! But in the back of my mind I wonder, what happens when a writer doesn’t stick to one genre?

I do admire the people who write in one particular genre and have a gift for one particular area. I can also see how it would be difficult for readers to connect with an author if they don’t know what to expect. I admit I would be stumped if Stephen King went  and published a historical romance novel . Yeah I would not know what to do with that!

Still, in the end we write what we have the inspiration to write.  So that’s what I’ll continue to do and hope for the best !

Here are a couple of interesting article I found on the subject:

If I Write in Multiple Genres, Do I Need Multiple Agents?

Ask the Agent: Writing in Multiple Genres

What a difference 10 years make to a manuscript

I’m currently taken an online class for administrative assistants and today’s class was about office information management and the tools we use to that end. The first chapter was all about how information management changed over the years, for instance 10 or 15 years ago we used the phone book instead of Google to find a business.

I thought it was interesting how this relates to novel-writing. Every writer I know has a manuscript or story in a drawer somewhere, or rather in a file saved on the computer, that never managed to see the light of day. Having recently started to overhaul an old manuscript of mine I found it shocking how outdated some of it is. Not the story or the characters, but the way they communicate and the things they do/use throughout the day. I never thought that in the space of 10 + years a book could become so outdated. A few examples of things my characters do in the original version that they’d never do today:

  1. Use a phone booth.  Phone Booths! I haven’t seen one of those in ages. Yet my 10-year-old characters frequent phone booths with alarming regularity.
  2. Still own a landline phone. Characters run for the ringing phone and trip over cables like its 1995. Not one cell phone in sight.
  3. Use a map. A real hand-held map, not the Google kind.
  4. Leaving notes for each other in central places in the apartment, and not just sending a text like we do now.
  5. They social network by tagging along when their friends meet people to widen their ‘network’ of friends and ‘be social’.

I can actually tell which sections I revised a few years later, because a character is contemplating getting a MySpace page for promotional purposes.

In the span of just a few years those parts of the novel have become outdated, and, unlike a fine wine, age has not made it any better. It’s ok in this case because I was planning on making a lot of changes anyway, and those changes will bring the novel into ‘modern times’, but it’s made me think. When writing a novel set in the here and now, is it better to go light on the references to modern conveniences for fear of dating the story too much? Or does it not matter as long as the story is good?

Location Location Location

Here’s something I’ve wondered about: How important is it to know the location your novel is set in?

While prepping for my novel I read a book on novel-writing and in it, it was mentioned that you should never ever, under no circumstances set the book in a city or area that you have not been to. Well at that point I had already written the first draft of my novel,  which is set in New York City.
This was very disconcerting to me because I’ve never been to New York. I’ve lived in many large cities around the world, such as London, Cape Town, and Tel Aviv. When I wrote the novel I based it on the common urban feel that I got in these cities. I also did a lot of research on the individual neighborhoods that are mentioned in the story. I spent hours poring over Google maps and Google Street view. Thanks to Google Street view you can actually take a virtual walk around the area your novel is set in. I feel as though I captured the essence of those neighborhoods pretty well, but I still would like to eventually visit the areas just to compare. Would it have been easier from me to describe the city if I had been there? No doubt! I guess in my story the location is not really all that important. It’s just backdrop to where the story takes place.

Now, there are novels where the location is more important. For instance if you have a novel such as Angels and Demons that takes place in Rome, there are chases all around the city. In that case I would say it is more important for the writer to actually know the streets and little alleys in detail. But is that always the case?

I am currently beta reading a novel for a friend of mine which is set in Key West.  My friend has never been to Key West so I was curious to see how she captured the town in her book. I have to say she did very well.  I couldn’t tell that she’s never set foot in Key West before. I hope I did the same with my novel and New York City.

In comparison my earlier novel was set in London, and I wrote it while I was living there. I just recently reread it.  It was kind of strange to read it because it’s been such a long time and honestly can’t tell if me having lived there at the time improve the  description of the setting any or not.

I have an idea for a novel which will be set in an alternate future.  I’m looking forward to writing a book that doesn’t have the constraints on world building that a book set in this reality has. Until I write that though I will have to hope that the world I created in In Absentia will be realistic enough to please future readers and agents.

Write the novel you want to write, not the one you think you should

One piece of advice I keep coming across is that you should write the book you want to write, not follow a trend. This is good advice. Advice I should have taken when I wrote my first novel ‘Goodbye December’.
I had originally wanted to write the book with a set of characters aged 19 – 26. Today that would put the novel squarely into the New Adult category. However, I wrote the book over 10 years ago, back then New Adult was nothing but an abstract idea. You either wrote a Young Adult novel, or an Adult novel. There wasn’t anything with characters in that age group.
So I wrote it as an adult novel, with older characters. It was ok. I liked it when it was finished. Still, something wasn’t right about it. Something didn’t chime. Undeterred I queried it – without much success. I gave up after about 30 queries and put it away. I didn’t write much for a while.
Eventually I started writing short stories and after placing them in the finals of a local writing contest for 2 years in a row I got some of my confidence back.
I looked at ‘Goodbye December’ again. I still felt that the story would be better with younger characters but New Adult was still in its infancy. So I tried to rewrite the story with characters that were still high school age, so I could called it Young Adult. It didn’t work. They had to be at least 18 years old. I put it all away again and start working on another project. Now that the project is finished and it’s making the querying rounds I have time to revisit “Goodbye December” once again.

This time around I will actually write it the way I wanted to, with characters aged between 19 and 26.

Maybe now that New Adult is a real phenomenon it might work the way I had originally imagined it. It’s a big project, but I’m actually looking forward to making it what it was always supposed to be. In hindsight I should have written the novel the way I wanted to in the first place. You never know what new genres might become popular down the line. Even if what you’ve written doesn’t fit into any genre you should still write your novel the way you want to write it , otherwise I feel that it just won’t come out the way you intended. I definitely felt this way about this story , but I still have hope that it will turn out the way I always intended it to.

The curse in the novel

So, let’s talk about cursing in fiction. Do you mind it?  Do you think an agent would be put off by strong language? Does it put you off?

I didn’t consider these questions when I wrote my book In Absentia. While writing, my main character, Adam, ended up with somewhat of a potty mouth. I didn’t intend for this to happen, it’s just the way it went. I didn’t notice it until my husband test read the book and pointed out how much Adam curses.

I did go back to check it out and when I realized that the curse word ticker was indeed on the high side I changed some of the language. I ended up substituting some of the stronger words with something more benign and cut some completely. The question I ran into was  how much to remove to tone it down without losing some of the essence of the character.

See, in the book Adam is going through a rough time. He’s convinced he caused the sudden disappearance of his brother Levi; he’s fired from his job, and has pushed his family and friends away. He can’t even get to sleep without popping a pill. Adam is not a happy guy.  I found his use of the occasional strong cuss word was reflective of how he felt. Gradually, as the books moves forward and Adam’s life begins to change for the positive, his language changes also.

I think if someone were to read the book in its entirety that would be clear, but the thing is, most agents often read only the sample pages, or chapters before decided if it’s a yes or a no. So will they see that the language is part of the characters’ state of mind? And once the novel is, hopefully, published, will the readers be put off if they run across an f-word here or there?

Now, don’t get me wrong, the novel is not in any danger of needing a parental guidance sticker. None of the other characters curse. The truth is, I could take out the cursing, I could have him express himself differently, but I really like the salty language he uses.

One of the things I love most about writing is dialogue; I like giving each character a distinct way of speaking, expressions that are unique to them.  It’s what makes the characters come alive to me. In a way, Adam’s colorful way of speaking makes him who he is, flawed, backed into a corner, desperate. It’s just part of the character. I am leaving it as it is for now and hope that agents and readers will see it the same way.


The trouble with the language

So here is something I’m sometimes worried about. English is not my first language. I was born and grew up mostly in Germany. There you started learning English in fifth grade, which in Germany means that you start at about age 10. At least that was the case when I was in school. I had a pretty rigorous English teacher, and my school also happen to have exchange programs with England. So I actually did get the chance to spend  a lot of time around English-speaking people. Still it’s not my first language. I sometimes worry when I have to write the bio section of my query letters. I usually leave out that I was not born in an English-speaking country. I feel as though the fact that English isn’t my mother tongue might count against me somehow. Every now and again I’ll see on Twitter that an agent turned down something because there was a problem with the language..

Now I don’t think I have a language problem. I’ve lived in the United States for 10 years, and before that I lived in England for about three years and Israel before that.  I’ve spoken English most of my adult life I speak it every day all day, I write English, and I even dream in English. If anything I sometimes have problems with the German language!

I actually find the English language easier to write in. When I started out I wrote in German, some poems and a couple of short stories, but I never could quite express myself in German. English always seemed like a more natural language to me.  In fact when I was in high school my English teacher recommended that I take up French, because he thought that I had a talent for  languages. As it turned out I apparently had a talent for English only because I lasted just  two years in the French class before they moved me over to home economics !

Despite all of this I still don’t really like including that I was born in Germany in query letters. I don’t know if it makes a difference either way, but I feel self-conscious about it. In the end of the day I guess, as always, it’s best to just let the writing speak for self.

Cutting characters and word counts

Recently I’ve been working on my shelved first novel Goodbye December. I wrote it more than 10 years ago and in hindsight I can say that I queried it much too soon. It was not ready

I still like the core of the story though. So much so that I am trying to rework it. It was originally intended to be a woman’s fiction piece, but I’m trying to turn it into a dark new adult story.

This will mean shaving a good 10 to 15,000 words off of the manuscript. That’s okay though. In a way I’m kind of glad that I put that book away such a long time ago. Back then I was way too inexperienced and I didn’t know for example when to cut scenes or characters. There is one character in particular in this story whom I loved writing but who doesn’t actually move the novel forward in any significant way. To be honest, I knew in my gut even as I wrote him that this was the case, but I was emotionally attached to the character. It’s only after writing my second novel and writing first and second drafts for a couple of other projects that I’ve learned sometimes, even if it hurts, cuts have to be made. If the character doesn’t give to the story or doesn’t move the plot forward they just have to go.The same is true for scenes.

Another thing I noticed when rereading Goodbye December was that I had a really bad habit off writing too much. I still have a tendency to not want to finish writing the novel. After creating a world for these characters I sometimes find myself not wanting to leave. That is as true now as it was then, but the difference is that I can recognize when it’s time to take your hands off the keyboard and be finished with the story now. Back then I just kind of rambled on.

There are several scenes that can be trimmed or completely cut without it having an impact on the book. I have to say I am grateful to have that distance now to look at the Goodbye December manuscript and see it for what it is, and be able to spot the work I need to do to make it the best it can be.