I received my driver’s license mumble-mumble years ago in Maryland, back in the day when teen driving regulations were pretty light–no restrictions on number and age of passengers or driving at night.
Since that time, however, many states have adopted “graduated license” regulations that place specific limitations on drivers under the age of 18, who are driving on “learner’s permits” or “provisional licenses.” For example, in Pennsylvania, the state where I now reside, this relatively new restriction exists:
As of Dec. 27, 2011, for the first six months after receiving their junior driver’s license, a driver is not permitted to have more than one passenger under age 18 who is not an immediate family member (brother, sister,
stepbrother, stepsister of the junior driver and adopted or foster children living in the same household as the junior driver) in their vehicle unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. If they have not been convicted of a driving violation or been partially or fully responsible for a reportable crash after six months, they may have up to three passengers under age 18 who are not immediate family members without a parent or legal guardian present. If they have any convictions or are partially or fully responsible for a reportable crash while a junior driver, they are once again restricted to one passenger.
You’ve set your story in the near past, a time period with which you are familiar because you grew up in those decades or had relatives who lived through them. Research should be a breeze, right? After all, how hard can it be to get the time period of your own life right? You have memories. And you have internet research at your fingertips, a wealth of information just awaiting your mouse click.
But, beware. The near past as a story setting is a minefield. Step out of line, and verisimilitude explodes, throwing the reader out of your narrative.
You’d think that writing about the near past would be easier, though, than setting tales in faraway times. Easy-to-access research and memory both provide ample material for the meticulous writer of near-past stories. But there’s the rub. Almost too much is available on the near past, making it difficult for the careful writer to find small details that make a story resonate with truth. And sometimes, we make assumptions about certain aspects of life in the near past that turn out not to be true, had we bothered to look them up. Continue reading
Politics is usually a subject most romance writers avoid, for good reason. Their main story focus is on the hero and heroine’s relationship, and political topics can be a turnoff to the reading audience, pushing away the agreeable glow that comes with romance stories and inserting disagreement instead.
Nonetheless, many stories do contain peripheral mentions of political happenings–not big campaigns on the national level or partisan references, but, rather, the ordinary goings-on of municipal life. School board meetings, town meetings, town council meetings — any public board, appointed or elected, can be included in a story, sometimes with a subplot hanging on the outcome of such meetings.
For writers including these events in their stories, here’s a tip: Don’t assume these meetings can be run like an informal get-together. Rules govern them. Some in your reading audience are sure to know them, maybe from experience. Be careful not to fall into the Gilmore Girls trap. That sweet and funny TV series regularly featured town meeting scenes (find some on YouTube), and they were often freewheeling, quirky and odd with an ad hoc nature to them. While freewheeling, quirky and odd can be used to describe many municipal meetings, some basic guidelines apply to them, and you should familiarize yourself with these rules before including public meetings in your story, especially if a plot point hinges on a public board’s decision. Here are a few things to keep in mind: Continue reading
I enjoy an absorbing historical novel just as much as any fan of the genre. But there are a few things some historical novelists stumble over, so I’m putting on my copy editing hat to offer a few tips. And by “few,” I mean only…two. 🙂 But they’re two big stumbles that can take readers out of your story:
1. When writing the historical novel, never assume that the way the world is now is the way it was back then: This seems like an obvious rule — after all, even the laziest researcher knows, for example, folks didn’t drive cars in the 17th century. But I’m not talking about that kind of glaring difference.
I’m talking about things such as having your character order a cocktail in a Mississippi town after Prohibition was repealed, not bothering to check if it was still a “dry” state. Some states remained dry, due to state laws, for years after Prohibition was repealed. Ensuring plot verisimilitude means digging a little deeper, beyond obvious historical milestones. Continue reading
So, this happened: I came across a promotion for a summer writing program at a prestigious college. Curious, I clicked through to see who would be there, what they were offering, and what the fee was. Several literary authors are on the bill, with promises of panel discussions with agents and editors. I recognized some of the authors’ names, but lately I’ve not been reading a lot of what passes for Lit-RAH-chure these days, so most of them were only vaguely familiar. I’m not judging them by my lack of awareness, though. But…
Participants have to shell out, oh, around $3,000 for this ten-day program. And they’re not guaranteed a slot. They have to submit writing samples first, to see if they’re worthy, I guess. And, in the FAQ section of the website, you learn: Participants stay in dorm rooms. Un-air-conditioned dorm rooms. Rooms do not have private baths. Baths are in the hallways. The dorms do not have elevators. There’s no parking. Breakfast and lunch are provided, but dinner, you’re on your own. Continue reading
Thanks for stopping by! I’ll soon post numerous items from my other blog, all about editing/writing topics.