Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, The Writing Life

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Have I mentioned this quote on the MedAuthors blog before? My apologies if so, but it’s one of my favourites. The late, great Alistair Cooke told of a seven year old boy, who said that he preferred radio to television ‘because the pictures are better’.

I’ll grant that this quote comes from the late 1940’s and in those early days, the picture on most televisions left a fair bit to the imagination. But the sentiment has stood the test of time. Even in the face of HD, 3D and widescreen, there is still something magical about being able to fill in the spaces yourself.

One of the mysteries of the human brain is that it seems to do this quite effortlessly. One glance at a photograph or a scene in real life, and our minds set to work, filling in the gaps and trying to understand what we see. We interpret and reconstruct, making sense of things in the context of our previous experience and our own preconceived ideas.

In some situations that can be a lifesaver, allowing us to draw conclusions and act quickly, but sometimes it’s not so helpful. There have been many accounts of witnesses, present at the same event, who have disagreed over fundamental details. This newspaper advertisement from 1986 makes an interesting point http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFogBUS3y6I

Many writers have talked about being inspired by a similar process. A scrap of conversation, a glimpse of something, which grows and gathers detail and depth until suddenly there’s a whole story there. And like radio, books are very much a collaborative effort between the writer and the reader – as a reader I like to fill in the gaps that a writer has left for me, and as a writer I find myself constantly re-assessing the balance between what’s said, and what’s left unsaid.

Do you like plenty of scope to use your imagination when you read, or do you prefer things to be spelled out?  Or broadening the scope a little, do you have any stories you’d like to share about how filling in the gaps has given you inspiration, or made you jump to the wrong conclusion?  I’d love to hear from you!



12 thoughts on “Please insert here […]”

  1. Hi Annie.
    I don’t need to know everything but I do like to know what everyone is *thinking* so I like dual POV or multiple POV.
    I think it also depends on the complexity of the plot. I don’t like reading a book where I don’t understand how it all comes together at the end because there were so many twists and turns that I got totally lost!

    1. Hi Amy, yes I prefer dual and multiple POV’s, too. The difference between what characters do / say and how they are thinking always fascinates me.

      I agree on losing the plot. I can’t believe that it took me so long to realise that there’s a good reason why HMB ask for a two page story synopsis, and that instead of hoping that no-one would notice that I’d widened the margins and decreased the font size on my synopsis pages, I really should be simplifying the plot 🙂

  2. I like to use my imagination, but – like Amy – I hate, hate, it when you get to the end of a book and you’re left saying, ‘Excuse me, but what in the world……..?’
    My pet hates? Writers who, for some unknown reason, decide that unless they write a one page physical description of their h and h I won’t know what they look like and then promptly forget to refer to their looks ever again, or writers who give me NO description, or – oh, this is even worse – the heroine who is constantly tossing her raven-winged hair, or curling her corn-coloured curls round her finger, and then curving her translucent pink lips, or said heroine have dimples,or a sixteen inch waists, and no page can go by without the author mentioning either, or both. By half way through such books, I’m ready to stick pins in the heroine, or throttle her with her raven-winged hair.
    Overheard snippets of conversation which have led to a book?
    ‘If he did that to me, I’d comb his hair with a three-legged stool!’ I’d never heard that expression before, but the person who said it was from Northumberland, in the north of England, so maybe it’s common there? It got me thinking, what in the world had ‘he’ done that would wreak such repercusions, and the book followed.
    ‘God,damn it, will you stop calling me babe – I’m not a child!’ That was definitely the inspiration behind a med rom I wrote
    ‘So, I thought, if I don’t follow that dream now I’m going to be sitting in a rocking chair, thinking, if only….if only when I’m ninety.’ Yup, that was the start of a book, too!

    1. Oh Maggie – I can’t agree with you more about the raven-winged tresses. Couple that with the translucent lips and the sixteen inch waist and I’ll volunteer to be your partner in crime – if you don’t strangle her then I will. Even more of a turn-off for me (and admittedly I haven’t read this in a while) is when the heroine describes herself in such terms!

      Thank you for your inspirations, I’m laughing over the first two and can definitely identify with the third. One that’s currently nagging away at the back of my head is a house I passed recently with bales of newspaper stacked up at the windows. I wonder what stories could be going on behind them…

  3. Radio jocks looks is where my imagination runs wild. Often I get it wrong. There is one particular radio personality that by his voice I would have sworn he was tall, dark and handsome. I met him and it turns out that he is very short for a man and almost as wide as he is tall. I was a little disappointed.
    In one of Terry Kay’s books he never describs the main character. He left it all to the imagination of the reader. I’m not that brave.

    1. Hi Susan, definitely a lot of mileage with radio jocks, it’s amazing what the imagination can do with a gorgeous voice.

      I don’t think I’m brave enough to leave everything to the imagination of the reader, either. Who knows, though. Maybe in time, anything’s possible 🙂

  4. Hi Annie – no matter how painstaking long the author describes her characters, I make them (and picture them in my mind’s eye) the way I want. Often, it is nothing like the author has described. If they do go into long descriptions, I promptly forget them and, as I said, form my own picture of the characters. Usually it’s the current actor I have a crush on or something. ha ha.

    Re: radio – we used to buy tapes of vintage radio shows for my son to listen to when he went to bed (when he was in the 8-12 age) and I was tickled to see at back to school night, a picture he’d drawn of a guy named Brit Ponsit. He was a cowboy, and my son drew him the way he “saw” the character that Jimmy Stewart, in his younger days, was the voice for. It made me smile wide to see how my son envisioned the character.

    1. Come to think of it, Lynne, I was beginning to wonder whether most of my favourite writers are mind readers. How do they know who my latest crush is, so they can tailor their heros to fit 🙂

      What a lovely idea to buy those tapes for your son, and how brilliant to see the Jimmy Stewart character turn up in his drawings. Listening to the radio while drifting off to sleep is such a great way to end the day.

  5. Sorry to be so late to the party, Annie!! Great post, though. I do like to have a rough idea of the characters and setting, but I don’t need great detail. In fact there are times when a writer will have this gorgeous, meandering description of the setting that goes on for pages. As beautifully written as it is, I tend to skim, anxious to get to the next interaction between the characters. I think I must be a dialogue girl, because that’s what gets my mind going. Or maybe it’s I just that I *wish* I could write those gorgeous descriptions… 😉

    1. Hi Tina, not late but fashionable! 🙂 I tend to skim pages and pages of description and look for the dialogue too. Somehow the intricacies of human minds and interactions are so much more compelling than even the most beautiful of settings. For me, the odd, evocative detail is so much more effective in establishing place – although I’ll admit to wishing I could write those gorgeous rolling descriptions too!

  6. Hi Annie, I think I’m definitely UNfashionably late! But I wanted to say I enjoyed your post! When I’m reading, I build a mental picture of the hero and heroine from the author’s description – and then must put my own “overlay” on the way they look. Most of the time that’s fine but then very occasionally the author will add a descriptive detail that will really jar with my image. So maybe for me it’s a “less is more” when it comes to description later in a book.

    It’s an interesting balancing act though, isn’t it? How much is too much? How little is too little!

    1. Hi Sharon, thanks for dropping by! (No such thing as unfashionably late in cyber-space 🙂 )

      I’ve done that too – come across a detail that’s not quite in tune with the image I’ve got in my head. I guess in a way that’s a tribute to the writer – that the characters are starting to become ‘our own’, allowing us to pick out the little inconsistencies between our vision as readers and the author’s. As you say, an interesting balancing act!

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