Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Where's the purse?

There is a saying in fiction: "Dropping alligators over the transom." I've been told it doesn't make sense except to American's. (I'm not sure young Americans have any idea what a transom is either.)

My explanation is this: Prior to air conditioning, buildings had a small window above the door that could be opened. With the exterior window open, perhaps a fan or two, and the transom open the room could be tolerable with the cross ventilation and the door could be locked.

Obviously, alligators are not going to get into the locked room unless someone heaves them through the transom. The point is, writers shouldn't drop solutions to problems in their ms out of the blue.

On that note, my friend from England was here and read to me several scenes from the book she was reading. It was an English book, so it was grand to hear it read in English, complete with the appropriate dialect for the characters. Through several scenes in a cursed camping trip, the grandmother clutched her purse - no mater what the disaster was. She even fell in the wet ground and slipped toward the cliff - clutching her purse. When the worst yet (in the story) disaster struck and everyone barely escaped with their life, there was no mention of the purse. Had it gone over the cliff in the caravan (camper) or did the old woman manage to take it with her as she jumped and fell to the ground?

That still bothers me. What happened to the purse? I know it is insignificant in the big picture of the storyline. But the author had made such a point of mentioning it with every mention of grandmother, that I can't believe the editors at the publishing house (traditionally published, so there were editors) didn't catch that.

It would be easy to fix. After safeguarding the purse with such determination, one of the family could have a peek and fine there was nothing in it, or her false teeth (not sure she had false teeth, I'm just making this up) or it could have been lost when the caravan went crashing into the sea and some mention of what was in it.

This is the type of thing that I'm very particular about with the Cactus Rain writers - just ask them. This is why having good beta readers is so important. Perhaps it wouldn't matter to an agent or an acquisition editor at some big publishing house - it seems not to have mattered in getting this book published. But why take the chance? I think it was sloppy writing. What do you think?


  1. I'm using a popular editing course to revise my novel (Holly Lisle's) and one task is to read through your entire manuscript and rate every item and person mentioned to see how important they are to your story. This way you can see if you over-describe something irrelevant or don't tie up loose-ends.

    I agree someone should have noticed and added to the purse story or dropped it.

  2. Hello Charmaine, welcome (I think this is your first comment). That purse seemed to be the item that would mean something later - I was disappointed. I know it is a small thing, but now that will be the thing I remember about that book - I've already forgotten the full title.

    A read through is a great idea. I thought I'd have Kathryn's Beach memorized if I read through it ONE MORE time! Try reading it aloud to someone with both of you armed with pens and a copy of the ms. Feels odd at first, but aloud is the key.

  3. 'The point is, writers shouldn't drop solutions to problems in their ms out of the blue.'
    Couldn't agree more. I'm reading a Dr Fell mystery at the moment. Published in 1933. They are cult. But basically in it Dr Fell sits there and tells us what happened and who did it. The reader doesn't work it out themselves. That's why Mankell is such a good writer because you work through it with the Detective Wallander. I know on my own novel, soon to be published I hope, I fell into the trap of one of the characters saying 'well this happened' and I had to go back and do a rewrite. It was really difficult, but far more satisfying.

  4. Hello Glyn! The style change is dramatic to read from another era, isn't it? I think it would be cool to write a historical novel in the writing style of the period, not just get the setting and characters historically correct, but the writing style too.

    With my books being a faux memoir, Kathryn is telling the story, rather than the usual reader experience. I always thought at the end of the last "Kathryn book" that I should show that the whole time she has been telling the story to someone as if she is reliving the memories. That would work better in a movie, so I probably won't do that.

  5. Yes, you can read a book and it belongs to a particular era. This book I'm reading at the moment was published in 1933. I've learnt a lot from it even though the novels (I intend to write) are set 15years later. There is still an atmosphere and turn of phrase which I've noted. I get very cross with the bookclub my wife belongs to. (They meet and discuss the book they've read that month.) It always has to be the latest 'pop' novel, (only £3.99 from Amazon they say) and I scream but there are books shouting to be read, the latest isn't the best. Books should be about which are the most thought provoking. But many of them are just too dim. I despair.

  6. Glyn, we're about to change that dimness!

  7. Glyn - do you know the Irish singer Juliet Turner? 'I do not like thee Dr Fell' is one of my favourite songs.

    Nadine - I'll write to the author and ask her about that darn purse!! :-)

  8. You're very funny, Carrie. Thanks for coming to visit me and reading on the padio. It is suddenly much warmer (HOT) here now in just one week. You timed it right.