Recently, I’ve started reading several books that I have swiftly put aside. Why?
Because they had off-putting openings.
What did I mean by off-putting openings? I’d say the kind of start that left me—as a reader—confused, or bored, or annoyed. The kind of start that made me say something like, “if this is the best this author can do, then I have better ways of spending my precious reading time.”
Off-putting openings #1 : a crowd of named minor characters
When should an author give a character a name?
That’s not easy to answer. It may seem obvious that all characters have names—of course they do—but does the reader want to know the name, or need to know the name?
Roman Germany? What picture does it conjure up for you? Mile after mile of dark, trackless forest with a hostile warrior behind every other tree, waiting to kill you?
Yup, that was what I thought, too.
Varus Massacre (Varusschlacht), Otto A Koch, 1909
Probably I’d been watching too many films like Gladiator with that opening forest battle [above] and all those barbarian attackers.
Or reading about Falco’s bloody struggles in Germania in AD71 in The Iron Hand of Mars. In that story, Falco finds links back to the massacre of the legions in AD9 where up to 20,000 Romans died.
The massacre is depicted in this painting [right]. You’ll note Germanic warriors complete with winged and horned helmets.
It’s by a German painter, too 😉
For me, that battle always conjures up an image of Augustus butting his head against the wall and crying, “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions.”
So partly because of those cultural influences, I had assumed, without giving the question much thought, that Romans in Germany would always be watching their backs and that their lives would be pretty basic. Continue reading →
Whoever you are, wherever you are, Dear Editor, this blog is for you. You’ll find it’s somewhere between a human resources case study and a love letter.
I’ve been writing most of my life. I’ve moved from “Not a semi colon goes” (end of conversation, book never published) to “Whatever you say” (utter misery, nearly stopped writing) and am now definitely at “Looking forward to discussion”. I hope the following may help other authors and their Dear Editor avoid some of my pratfalls — or at any rate, get up afterwards a damn sight faster.
Relationship in the mist
Whether you’re a difficult author or a pussycat, the author-editor relationship is always edgy, groping its way through the mist. You can’t get away from it. There are just too many dark alleys and water’s edges. You think you’re striding along a good straight path of mutual understanding and — KERPLOP!
Both of you have to live with this.
And pull each other out of the water when necessary.