Ready to write like Jane Austen again? I’ve got another favorite, and it’s a fun one.
Do you have a character who’s irritable, angry, or is just having a shitty day? Well, rise above the plebs. Be creative. Don’t say that he’s having a shitty day. Instead, tell us that he is ‘in high dudgeon.’
This is especially useful when your character is a clueless pansy. Think of Mr. Collins, whom Lydia Bennett kicks out of the house with the plea, “Take him away and feed him, for he’s been in high dudgeon all morning.”
And, by the way, if you ever agree to take on someone described as being ‘in high dudgeon,’ then you must be prepared for the consequences. I’m talking to you, Charlotte Lucas. Hats off to you for being practical and all, but gee whiz.
I attended a writing conference recently, and I had to laugh at the repeated advice for those of us who submitted work. It was: don’t be defensive.
That seemed simple enough. Certainly for someone of my maturity.
Well, I hadn’t sat in the hall waiting my turn with an editor for more than five minutes before a moderator asked what my story was about. I tentatively offered my summary sentence. You know – the one that sounds so good in your head but that causes you to stutter with self-doubt the moment it leaves your lips.
And if you think that he tailored his response to sympathize with my fragile state you’re wrong. Instead he offered a blank stare and said, “I don’t hear any conflict.”
Really? I thought. I’m about to go in to meet with an editor from New York, and you have the nerve to say something rattling like that when you’re just a peon like the rest of us with no credits to your name and no better understanding of how to write a book than I have?!
I took a breath. I reigned in my urge to slap him. I tried to better explain the story.
And I realized that he was right.
My one-liner did not convey any conflict – it only described an inciting incident.
Good to know.
I learned a lot of things last weekend that were good to know. I learned that I need to give more detail in my query, that I need to cut back some exposition, and that my tone is good for upmarket women’s fiction. I learned that editors and agents are nice, normal people and not dragons waiting to torch your work and dreams just for the fun of it. I learned that I have a lot of work to do.
So thank you to Kelly O’Connor, Mark Krotov, and Beth Phelan for taking the time to review my work and offer very needed advice on how to improve my story and query. And thank you to the guy that I wanted to slap. Turns out that your unsolicited criticism was very helpful too.