More Tea Vicar? What We Include Consciously and Subconsciously

Elaine and Francesca consider those things that always crop up automatically in their writing. And a few things they’re not so good at including when they should.

Elaine: When Francesca asked me what I automatically include in my short stories and novels, I have to say my mind went totally blank.

Swallow Falls In North Wales

Swallow Falls In North Wales

So the analysing of my writing started. I can tell you I don’t automatically add in the five senses. I am getting better at adding them, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Neither does adding in the weather or description. I love being near water so you would be forgiven if you thought that would be what I automatically included, but alas, that isn’t so. My settings are always urban, mainly cities with not a river or coastline in sight.

The more I think about this, the more I’m beginning to wonder why I write, or if I am actually a good writer. Thankfully, I have had over a dozen short stories published in women’s magazines to confirm I’m not too bad.

Through all this analysis, what has shocked me is that I tend to write about suppressed women striving for control of their destiny. They may have low self esteem or be running away from a situation, but they will always be thrown back into it.

My novel, Forgotten Love, is a modern romance about a married woman, a parent who wants to return to education to achieve some qualifications, but her family doesn’t take her seriously.

Victorian Saga Family Tree

Victorian Saga Family Tree

In the Victorian saga I am currently writing, my main character, Emily, is striving to escape an arranged marriage; she wants to marry for love, which is against the family wishes.

Both of these stories are about family relationships, very different stories dealing with various aspects love.

So what do I automatically include in my writing? Love and romance.

@RobertsElaine11

Francesca: I posed the question, What do you include in your novel without thinking? when Elaine and I were pondering a subject for our joint blog this week. I’ve come at it from a slightly different angle and thought of specific repetitive plot and setting points.

More Tea Vicar?

More Tea Vicar?

For a start, I often have a fight in my novels (as well as with them!). Three out of the five include ‘fisticuffs’. Even the other two have heated arguments. Better on paper than in reality, I suppose. The first three novels also include hospital scenes (two of them as a result of the aforementioned fights). Since realising this, I’ve made sure the two recent novels comprise neither violence nor hospitals. Believe it or not, they do all contain love and romance too!

The main female characters in the first three novels possess quirky/off the wall/irritating best friends who they fall out with somewhere along the way. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that I disowned my ‘oldest bestest friend’ not long before I wrote the first novel, due to some very unpleasant and frankly unfriendly behaviour from her. The heroines in novels four and five seem to have got over it!

Morglas Settings

Exploring all possible settings

Then there are the ubiquitous kitchen scenes that appear in almost all my novels – and a good few of my short stories too. I know from writing friends that I’m not the only person with this problem. Along with these scenes go the inevitable and plentiful cups of tea and coffee. A recent critique of one of my books suggested I might want to get out of the kitchen a bit and re-set some of the scenes elsewhere. To that end I’ve made a list of all the settings in the book, along with other possible ones. Hopefully that will give me ideas when I do the re-write.

I’ve done the same with the WIP, because, unlike Elaine, I do set all my novels near water.  I don’t want to fall into a similar ‘overused setting’ trap as I’m already aware that the beach is featuring a little too often in the current novel, and possibly the last one too. 

Okay, the scene where I sit in my study and write this blog post is done. Time to head to the kitchen for a cup of tea, methinks…

@FCapaldiBurgess

What always crops up in your novels or short stories?

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17 thoughts on “More Tea Vicar? What We Include Consciously and Subconsciously

  1. It seems to me that whatever else you put in or leave out, you both always include love and romance. A beach in Wales is not the same as a river in England. London is entirely different from Bath. Your prose and dialogue will never be the same from one novel to the next but as long as you retain those two main ingredients, love and romance, you are indeed romantic novelists

    • Thanks Natalie. You are quite right about the settings we choose. I don’t think we always realise what we do or don’t do in our writing until we analyse it, and for me, that has been very useful. It is shocking what I didn’t know about my own writing, especially as I analyse other works. Elaine R x

      • Thank you, Natalie. I do wonder how someone who uses the same setting over countless books fares when they’re writing the 25th. There was a romantic novelist who I used to read avidly as a teen and in my twenties (who I shan’t name, though she’s been dead a while now). All her books were set in the same economically depressed area. One day I felt like I’d started to read the same novel over and over and stopped buying them. I guess it’s something we all have to be aware of in our writing.
        Francesca

  2. As someone who had to delete gallons of tea from her last novel I’d like to wave the flag for the tea drinkers of England. Didn’t we win the war drinking the stuff? I just need to tell my publisher that – er, perhaps not! My girls have not touched a drop of the stuff so far in the latest WIP. They are severely dehydrated.
    I’m aware I use certain words all the time and make a conscious effort to avoid them. That come with practice. As I’m always saying in class, plan, plan, plan – and also make a shopping list for each scene. It will help to avoid what we are inclined to include too much – just leave out the loose tea! Dont try to extinguish too much of what you feel is repetitive as in some ways this is your writer’s voice and that is what will sell books.

    • Haha Elaine, I’m guilty of the tea drinking as well so much so I think the men in my current novel are probably portrayed as alcoholics, they are mainly drinking whiskey. I think we try so hard to correct previous repetitions it is easy to go to the other extreme. I planned hard for this novel but I seem to have followed a diversion sign. I definitely need to revisit the plan. Elaine R x

      • Ah yes, Elaine – favourite words! That was the subject of a post I did back in January. I deal with those now by having a list of them, which I add to as I go along. Then I do a find and replace, though sometimes I have to find a different way of saying something – or leave it out altogether.

        I do find plot planning a great help, along with character studies and back story, and have done more with each novel. The planning sheets you’ve given us have been very useful.
        Francesca

  3. I seem to have quite a few cups of tea in mine too, even though I don’t drink the stuff myself! In my short stories I find there is usually a granny or a pet lurking somewhere, and in my novels there is usually either a young child or a bit of infidelity involved in some way – or both! Like Elaine Everest, I find I overuse some words -‘ just’ and ‘really’ crop up way too often, and I have to go back and remove them. But I like to write what I know, so what appears in just about everything I write is a mixture of family life, troubled relationships, the interaction of people, the emotional impact of their situations, and a happy ending!

    • I’m the same Viv, my stories, long or short are always about troubled relationships. I find it strange we get pulled in a direction without actually realising it. The subconscious is a very powerful thing. Like you I suffer with word repetition but I take them out in the edits stage. What is pleasing for me is knowing I’m not the only one! Elaine R

      • Your last sentence sounds like a very good summing up of what a novel should include, Viv. I am fascinated by the social dynamics between people and have always loved the ‘making characters up and throwing them together to see what happens’ aspect of writing.
        Francesca

  4. As always, enjoyable blogs, Elaine and Francesca. I just enjoy reading about how writers actually engage with the actual process of writing.
    Elaine, I’m all for writing about women who fight convention and expectation. Jane Eyre was, after all, one of the great feisty heroines. It seems such a shame that her creator had to use a man’s name to get her work published.
    Francesca, it’s one of the abiding credos of writing that there should be conflict, so nothing wrong with that, and just a glance at FB any morning shows it to be the lifeblood of human existence.
    Having spent a great deal of my life analysing the writing of others, I do find it difficult to study my own with the same cold objective eye. I know that I am rather self indulgent with language, and really have to remind myself of the disciplines of plotting. I don’t like too much dialogue in novels I read, so I really have to make myself write more dialogue than I really want to, as long as it develops character and narrative.
    As for the tea drinking, and other liquids, I should think it’s very difficult to find a novel where nobody drinks anything. So much domestic and social life revolves around a cup or a glass of something!

    • I agree Angela. We are a nation that has a cup of tea whether it’s good news or bad. Also everything always happens in the kitchen, at least it does in my house! I’m afraid I’m the opposite to you when it comes to my writing, I struggle with description but love to write dialogue. I am making myself write more description in my current work, mainly to challenge myself but also I know it’s something that has been lacking in my work. Elaine R

      • Goodness, yes, Angela – FB would make a wonderful social and psychological study! I’ve had more than a few ideas for short stories from there.
        I love the language you use in your novels, Angela. I wish I could describe things as beautifully as you do. Dialogue is something that comes easily to me, usually a little too easily and I have to remember to fill in the action/description in between.
        Francesca

  5. Thank you for a very interesting post. What a good idea, Francesca, to make a list of all the settings in your novel. I hadn’t thought of that!

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