header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); SHINEonline Archives – Kristen Koster
Jan 132012

“Writing Advice: What are the top 5 best and worst things you’ve been told so far?” is this week’s topic in my accountability group’s HOW I WRITE series. Last week, we posted our look back at our 2011 goals and how we’re moving forward in 2012. I took this week’s topic in a similar vein. What are some of the “RULES” of writing that have struck me as both the best and worst bits of writing advice out there. Of course, any advice if not understood will never be the best.

Writing Advice: Photo of some of my craft of writing books.

Many new writers eagerly dive into the deep pool of craft books available. How do you know what's useful for YOU?

Writing Advice: The Best & Worst

1. Write What You Know

Simple, yet brilliant! You won’t find writing advice much plainer than that. Could anyone ever write about things they don’t know?

Hold on, people do it all the time! Science Fiction and Fantasy couldn’t exist otherwise. We can also hope serial killer books aren’t autobiographical!

This advice is so vague it’s nearly meaningless. Many new writers aren’t likely to mentally add on phrases like “emotions you’ve experienced”, “people you’ve known”, “situations you’ve been in”, or even “environments you grew up in”, which is a much more useful way to think of it.

And don’t let that short list fool you! There are a kazillion things you could include, but a new writer in search of the magic formula may not recognize what’s left unsaid until much later, possibly not until after they’ve been rejected for the umpteenth time for doing exactly as they were told and cranked out another Mary Sue or Gary Stu navel-gazer while muttering, “But it’s all I KNOW!”

So sit down and brainstorm a list of things you know and have experienced. Dig deeper. Don’t go for superficial stuff like how to do your day job. That might come in handy, but the characters and stories are far more interesting. Dig deeper. Reach deep down and pull up everything you love to remember. Then dive into those dark corners where the things you hate to relive lurk. Dredge it all up. Those raw emotions are what make characters come alive on a page, whether they’re human, alien, anthropomorphized woodland critters or whatnot.

Want plausibility and credibility? Dig deep and show us what you know.

Another tidbit here is, don’t throw around what you do know so it feels like a lecture or worse. What you know should support, embellish and enrich your story, never weigh it down, jump out at or patronize the reader.

2. GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict

I recently won a copy of Deb Dixon’s GMC book and this commentary isn’t really about her work as written, but more about how her acronym is proselytized on the streets of Writersville.

Many new writers ask for plot advice and get handed three letters: G, M, and C. If they’re lucky, they’ll get told what they stand for as well. Everyone always emphasizes knowing the GMC for your characters, but rarely explain why or how to use them to your story’s benefit.

Do yourself a favor, get your info from the source! No three letters encapsulate your magic pill. Even once you know what they stand for and how to use them to your advantage, they’re just another tool in your writer’s toolkit. A screwdriver isn’t the right tool for every job.

3. Start The Story As Late As Possible

This one refers to where to start your story along with the familiar refrains like “Start in the middle of the action!” and “Start right before a significant point of change for your main character!”

All good, and sometimes taken to extremes by the true believers who really DO want to be helpful, but if it doesn’t MEAN anything to you, it’s not very helpful. You may not know exactly what that point is yet. It’s ok to feel your way along when you’re just starting out. Many published authors have said they write the first five chapters and throw the first two or three out in their edits. Some others argue, you have to know how the book ends before you can properly write the opening. The important things are “starting it” and “finishing it”! Once it’s down on the page, THEN you can fix it. Which brings me to the next piece of writing advice.

4. You Can’t Fix a Blank Page

Ahh… La Nora speaks. And she’s absolutely correct. You can’t fix anything that’s not written down. Does knowing that help? Does repeating it as a mantra help you get words on the page? Me either. Maybe it’s one of those paradoxical truisms, where the more you repeat it, the more likely you’ll be doomed to experience it.

I’m all for “giving yourself permission to write a crappy first draft” and “good writing is really rewriting”, but just adding to the performance pressure of getting what’s in my head onto the page by pointing out the fact that I don’t have any words down yet really kills those creative juices.

So write that crappy draft. All. The. Way. Through. Discover what the story wants to be about before you stop it dead in its tracks by questioning it or worse forcing it into becoming something it’s not.

Does this mean pantsing is the right way to do it? Not if it doesn’t work for you! I’m in awe of people who can write that way, but plotting is an equally valid approach as long as you get past plotting and get down to writing. Otherwise all you have is a colorful stack of note cards, a pretty collage or a spreadsheet with lots of blocks filled in and still no story.

Trust me, people, I speak from experience here.

5. ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs.’

Stephen King is the master, therefore if he says it, we must take his writing advice to extremes! “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” means we must never be nice?

That faulty logic is why I’m against anything artistic stated as an absolute. Adverbs weaken verbs, but some are necessary. Inexperienced writers can take simple boundaries and fashion them into straightjackets.

My music theory professor always said “You have to learn the rules before you can break them.” Yep, goes right up there beside the “There are three rules of writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

There are rules. There are guidelines. And there are things that work or don’t. Writers SHOULD know how to effectively use words. Writers need a common language to critique and improve their art. You should be able to not only hear what works and what doesn’t, but describe why it does or doesn’t for you.

It also helps reduce confusion or talking at cross purposes with other readers and writers. Must you know what your 3rd grade teacher insisted you memorize for your grammar test? Pffft. Use what works for your style, voice and story. Will it always work? Maybe, maybe not, but just because someone said “Delete every adjective, adverb, and instance of ‘was’ and ‘had’, doesn’t mean they are correct or that you’ll be kicked out of Writerville if you use them effectively. Check what you enjoy reading. Betcha anything those authors break “The Rules.”

YOUR TURN: What is the best or worst piece of creative advice you’ve ever heard, and why?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group considers good &/or bad writing advice, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris*
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney *

Jan 032012
Image of wassailing

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Conventionally on the Western Christian calendar, the twelve days begin the day after Christmas, on Boxing Day. When the tradition began, days were counted from sundown to sundown. So Christmas evening is First Night.

This means that last night, January 5th, is what has been known as Twelfth Night since the Middle Ages. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on January 6th and is celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany to commemorate the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem.

The wise men, who came to be known as the Three Kings – Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar – who brought the Christ child gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. These gifts were traditional Epiphany gifts for centuries. Kings and queens became traditional representatives of Twelfth Night. And to this day, in predominantly Catholic cultures, Christmas presents are not given out until January 6th — something that would not have happened in England during the Regency.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Twelfth Night parties, or revels, were popular and featured games, charades, drinking punch or wassail and eating. A special Twelfth Cake, the forerunner of today’s Christmas cake, was the centerpiece of the party, and a slice distributed to all members of the household. By tradition, both a dried bean and a dried pea were baked into the cake.

The man receiving the slice with the bean was named King for the night; the pea’s presence identified the Queen. For the rest of the evening, they ruled supreme. Even if they were normally servants, their temporarily exalted position was recognized by all, including their masters.

By the early 19th century, the cakes had become very elaborate creations with sugar frosting, gilded paper trimmings, and sometimes decorated with delicate plaster of Paris or sugar paste figures, but no longer contained the dried beans and peas.

During the Regency period, the guests at the revels were expected to pick a slip of paper and maintain the role of the character written upon it for the evening. Besides the King and Queen, a variety of characters, often pulled from popular literature and plays, were put into the hat. Enterprising stationers even sold sets of characters for Twelfth Night celebrations.

One superstitious tradition that signaled the end of Christmastide was that by the End of Epiphany, all the decorations would be taken down and the greenery burned lest the household invite bad luck for the coming year.

Here We Come A-Wassailing



Many people went visiting or wassailing on Twelfth Night, a practice with roots in the Middle Ages’ custom of a reciprocal exchange between the feudal lord and their serfs. This was to distinguish this form of recipient initiated charity from begging as emphasized in the song, “Here We Come A-Wassailing”:

“we are not daily beggars that beg from door to door but we are friendly neighbours whom you have seen before.”

The lord would provide food and drink to the serfs for their blessing and goodwill, as communicated by the song. Wassailing is also the context alluded to in the English carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, which dates to sixteenth century England, which mentions the English tradition where wealthy community members hand out Christmas treats, like “figgy puddings” to carolers. The not leaving “until we get some” line refers to the rowdy groups of young men who demanded free food and drink more along the lines of extreme trick-or-treating, where refusal was met with a curse instead of a blessing and frequently included vandalism.

In the Western counties of England (notably in Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire) where cider is produced, wassailing also refers to drinking (and singing) to the health of trees in the hopes of waking the trees and scaring off the evil spirits to ensure a good harvest the next Autumn.

Orchard wassailing ceremonies vary from village to village but share common elements. A wassail King and Queen lead the song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next, the wassail Queen is then lifted into the tree where she places toast soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup as a gift to the tree spirits (showing the fruits created the previous year). Then an incantation is usually recited such as

Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!

Then the assembled crowd sings, shouts, bangs drums and pots & pans and generally make a terrible racket until the gunmen give a great final volley through the branches to make sure the bad spirits are chased away and then they’re off to the next orchard.

This ancient English tradition is still practiced today. The West Country is the most famous and largest cider producing region of the country and two of the most important wassails are held annually in Carhampton (Somerset) and Whimple (Devon), both on 17 January (old Twelfth Night before the calendar shifted).

According to several diaries from the 1800s revealed that inhabitants of Somerset practised the old Wassailing Ceremony, singing the following lyrics after drinking the cider until they were “merry and gay”:

“Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,
Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah, Holler biys, holler hurrah.”

Do the winter holidays hold special traditions for you and your family? Have you ever participated in traditions with friends or extended family from another religion or country that you’ve come to incorporate into your own celebrations?

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Dec 272011
A 19th Century Christmas Tree


Christmastide (the Christmas season from Christmas Eve or First Night through Twelfth Night and Epiphany) during the Regency Era seems to be more easily defined by the differences in traditions and what they didn’t have or do at the time rather than the specifics of what they did or didn’t. A quick survey of what’s written up on the web reveals a few highlights that people seem to focus and mostly agree upon.

Some now familiar traditions that were not observed during the Regency include, Santa Claus (Victorian), elaborate kissing balls (although simple mistletoe boughs were popular), and stockings. Queen Charlotte, introduced the German idea of an evergreen being brought indoors and decorated to celebrate the season, but many resisted as it was thought to bring bad luck to bring greenery inside before Christmas Eve and the idea was not made popular until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s time.

Christmastide: A 19th Century Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree and accompanying pile of presents was introduced in England by Queen Charlotte, but was not popularised until Queen Victoria's reign.

Also, during the Regency, many household hearths, especially in the city, would not have had the capacity to hold traditional Yule logs that could burn the entire twelve days, although the custom of a Christmas fire remained popular. Christmas candles, lit on Christmas Eve and expected to burn through Christmas Day were much more common during this period.

Christmas Day was a serious religious celebration with the family attending their local parish church in the morning and coming home for the Christmas Feast. The next day has come to be known as Boxing Day as old clothing and surplus items were boxed up and handed out to the servants and tradesmen who made the rounds that day.

In addition to schoolboys returning home for the holidays, visiting family or neighbors during this season was commonplace and people gave little regard to the weather as they knew they could find welcome and shelter even with strangers.

New Year’s

Christmastide: A pen & ink drawing of Father Time and Baby New Year.Celebrating New Year’s Day also held superstitions as a central part of the festivities. The family or gathering would sit around in a circle before midnight and when the clock began to strike the hour, the head of the family would go to the door and open it, “ushering out the old, and bringing in the new”. The more superstitious would cleanse the house of ashes, rags, scraps and anything perishable so that nothing was carried over from one year to the next, in order to preserve their good luck and banish any poor luck.

One thing that seems to be consistent is the emergence of the New Year’s Eve tradition of singing Old Lang Syne, which literally translates to “old long since” or colloquially to “days gone by”. After a long tradition of being sung during the Scottish celebration of Hogamany on New Year’s Eve, the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, collected and wrote down the lyrics in 1788 and it was first published in 1796. It quickly spread to much of the English-speaking world and is now sung at the stroke of midnight instead of when the guests leave the party.

Next week we’ll take a look at Twelfth Night and why it falls on January 5th, not December 25th as the marketing people have recently been pushing. Christmastide reform is not a new notion as we’ve seen with the increased nostalgic traditions that were added during the Victorian Era.

Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year and glad to be counting so many of you among those “old acquaintances”!

Do the winter holidays hold special traditions for you and your family? Have you ever participated in traditions from with friends or extended family from another religion or country that you’ve come to incorporate into your own celebrations?

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Dec 232011

Last week, our How I Write series laid out our writer’s toolkit and resources. This week we were asked, “Which books that you’ve read this year would you put into a time capsule for 2011?” It’s funny how you can almost tell who picked the questions each week by how whimsical or practical they are. This week’s question was put on the list by Alexia, but I picked it.

I read a wide variety of books. Our house is filled with Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Non-fiction, and even numerous collections of poems and literary short stories. Oh and comic books. I don’t just mean graphic novels, I mean individual issues as well as collected editions. Yes, many of those are not mine, but I’m often just looking for something different to read.

I wish I had kept up with keeping my reading list current in GoodReads, but I’m going to make an effort to do so again this coming year.

In reverse amazon purchase order, here’s my top 9 books for 2011:

The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
I love the way Joanna Bourne uses language. That shouldn’t be a secret by now. Adrian’s story was one I eagerly awaited and while it wasn’t what I was expecting at all, in no way did it disappoint. In addition to her command of language in general, she also uses it in such a way that her characters are expertly drawn and brought to life with their very own voices.
Pure Red by Danielle Joseph
I read a lot of YA, mostly to know what my daughter’s reading, but also to scout out great books for her to read. This one caught my eye because it tackles the topic of searching for your passion. An excellent read for anyone on this journey of self-discovery, I can only wish it’d been around when I was my daughter’s age.
A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare
This is the first book in The Spindle Cove series and it packs a wonderful sense of humor and also addresses some serious topics at the same time. I fell in love with the main characters, but also several of the secondary characters. If you haven’t read the companion novella for this series: Once Upon a Winter’s Eve, You’ll want to go grab a copy and settle in for a cozy winter’s night read.
We Are Not Alone by Kristen Lamb
This book is a must read for the person who isn’t technically savvy or is new to social media. I sent a copy to my father-in-law, it was so useful. I’m still working on fixing a couple of mistakes Lamb pointed out from learning the hard way, first hand experience. Great advice, very personably and entertaining voice, and a great sense of cheering you on in your efforts. Lamb also encourages people to use the #MYWANA hashtag on twitter for additional conversations with others in the same boat.
Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner
One of my friends from college published her first book this year. She had me at “thief”. But you add in a fantasy world with an interesting magic and political atmopshere, and you’ve got a fantastic read.
Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Yep, more YA. I know want to go read more about the other Goodnight witches. Paranormal with lots of wit and real life dilemmas for the characters. I have yet to read a book by Clement-Moore that I didn’t love.
Too Hot to Touch by Louisa Edwards
If you love food and you love steamy romances, you need to indulge yourself with the richness of Louisa Edwards’ culinary explorations. She’s earned her kitchen credentials and is a bona fide foodie and it shows in her books.
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
I love Larry Brook’s website Story Fix Lots of practical information for this theoretical plotter. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for pantsers, but if you’re interested in what makes a story work, this is a great read.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
I was on a big kick last year with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell, so this one by Pressfield was a natural follow-up. Learning to be an artist is definitely a lot different than strictly practical professions such as business and economics. You may need some of those skills, as well as many more today, as artists are no longer relegated to garrets or ivory towers.

YOUR TURN: What books would you put in a time capsule for this year?

If you’d like to see what’s in my friends’ time capsules, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Dec 202011

White Poinsettias Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and that your holiday season is merry and bright!

I’m going to be visiting with family for the next couple of weeks, and as you see today’s Regency Primer post wasn’t done in time and I might not get one next week, but they will definitely be back on January 3rd, just in time for Twelfth Night. I need to get ahead on those! Ahh, 2012 a year for a clean slate and a fresh start to building better habits.

I will still be doing the Friday “How I Write” posts, so the blog won’t be completely dark. And I have some special things in the works for the blog in the next year. So, exciting.

Thank you for being part of the conversation here! You guys always make me smile.

Dec 162011

Last week, my accountability group talked about what we’d like to add to our writer’s toolkit and resources, so this week, we’re going to share our top three tools and resources — what helps us write and keeps us inspired, beyond our accountability group, which we weren’t allowed to list even though it’s the single thing that’s helped me stay on track the past couple of years. Thank you, ladies!


Pen and ink drawing of Jane Austen writing at her desk.

Happy Birthday, Jane!



First off, Happy Birthday to Jane Austen who kicked off this whole modern novel thing and gave Colin Firth a role he was born to play, Mr. Darcy, with Pride and Prejudiceamazon tracking pixel. It was 236 years ago today, on 16th December 1775, that the romantic novelist Jane Austen was born at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire. There’s even an Austen Birthday Soiree you can attend with chances to win fabulous Austen-related prizes and books.


Writing Tools I’d Be Lost Without

  • MS Word & Excel— These are my standard writing apps (ETA: I’ve since added Scrivener to my writer’s toolkit!). Notes, mss, journal entries, plots, outlines — you name it — I probably have it tucked away in a file.
  • Online-Stopwatch — Sprints! Yes, definitely a tool. They help motivate me and better yet, tell me when I can take a break. Since OSX Lion broke my downloadable version, I’ve been using the online one or my iPhone, but the key here is a timer.
  • TiddlyWiki — I don’t use this as much as I used to, but it might fall on the line between TOOL & RESOURCE now, since I’m always referring back to the information that I’ve compiled in my local copy. This is basically where my book bible lives.

My Go To Writing Resources

  • Google — It’s not always the best or the definitive resource, but it can help you find what you’re looking for.
  • RWA — I think I waited too long to join. My local San Diego chapter and the Beau Monde online chapter are filled with wonderful, supportive and knowledgeable people. MyRWA (members only) with the online classes and forums is also a font of information.
  • Books! — Big surprise there, huh? Everything from books on the craft of writing to genre fiction to anthropology and psychology books to historical reference books has been known to catch my interest or sit on my desk for months.

YOUR TURN: What are your favorite tools and resources for your creative endeavors or heck, even just to keep your life running smoothly?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group considers essential tools & resources, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford *
* Emma G. Delaney * Kimberly Farris *

Dec 132011
"The Rush to the Bar" from from page 31 of 'Ballads of the Bench and Bar; or, Idle Lays of the Parliament House. 1882.

The topic of lawyers in the Regency Era often raises lot of confusion along with the privileges of peers in the British Legal system. It wasn’t until quite recently that the historical differences between what type of lawyer you were dictated where you could practice, what types of cases you could take and even if you could be hired directly by clients in Britain and the nobility has a long history of believing themselves above the law.

"The Rush to the Bar" from page 31 of 'Ballads of the Bench and Bar; or, Idle Lays of the Parliament House. 1882.

"The Rush to the Bar" from page 31 of 'Ballads of the Bench and Bar; or, Idle Lays of the Parliament House. 1882.

Common Law vs Civil Law

Civil law is a direct descendant of Roman Law where laws are codified and collected and brought into existence by a legislative body. The English Law or Common Law is also known as judge-made and is heavily based on legal precedent and depends on the judges in the courts using common sense when considering the facts before them. This lead to a very stratified judicial system where judges were often biased so it became a game for lawyers in the Regency Era to gain access to the courts by virtue of their rank in society and who they knew.

Barristers vs Solicitors

Traveling judges of the higher courts made circuitous journeys trying cases, which brought us the term Circuit Court. Thus, certain lawyers in the Regency Era who were more familiar with those judges, had access to a wider pool of case decisions and material and therefore more likely to be “called to the bar” (a physical barrier that separated the public from those practicing law and making judgements) became known as barristers.

Traditionally these lawyers were engaged by other lawyers to present their cases to the judges as they came around on their circuits. The barristers were prevented from directly “taking orders” or being hired by the public. The go-betweens were known as solicitors and were responsible for all the public facing details required in a case and other more mundane matters that were seen as beneath the notice of the barristers.

So, if one were in need of contracts being drawn up, one would hire a solicitor. If you were accused of a crime, you would also hire a solicitor who would then hire a barrister to represent your case before the judge.

Privilege of Peerage

Another legal wrinkle during the Regency is that peers of the realm enjoyed the privilege of being free from arrest in matters of civil law. This was most often seen in the case of avoiding debtor’s prison until 1870 when imprisonment for debt and the related privilege were abolished.

Between 1547 and 1841, peers and peeresses convicted of a crime other than murder or treason could plead “privilege of peerage” upon first offense. Before it’s abolishment in 1841, this privilege was only invoked five times. The last time was by James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan who planned to claim the privilege if convicted of duelling. However, he was acquitted before the Bill was introduced.

Peers of the realm used to be tried by other peers in the House of Lords. Since 1948, peers are tried by juries made up of commoners and as of 1999, peers are no longer exempt from jury duty. However, peers can be subject to impeachment, a procedure separate from trials in the House of Lords which included charges for felonies and treason, although that is the court for both. Impeachment charges could include felonies, treason and misdemeanors. The last case of impeachment brought before the House of Lords was against Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, in 1806 for misappropriating public money of which he was acquitted.

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Dec 092011

Last week, our How I Write series delved into our planning process, and since we’re all writers, we focused on plotting. Which inevitably led to my post on Plotting via Spreadsheets – Don’t Be Trapped in the Box.

This week we were asked, “What’s on your writer’s wish list for Santa?”

A children's form letter that has been filled out reads "Dear Santa, This year I have been ( ) Very Good (X) Not So Good At Times and would really like to find a time clock, an industrial-sized tube of super glue to insure some quality BICHOK time, and a large dose of confidence so I can finish this novel! under my Christmas tree please. Here's a picture to show you what I mean: Than you so much, Kristen."

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season!

YOUR TURN: What’s on your wish list for self-improvement and career-building for this coming year?

And if you’d like to see what’s on my friend’s writer’s wish list, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Dec 062011
Regency Era Currency: One pound note, Bank of Jersey, 1813.

This week’s Regency Primer Series entry focuses on Regency Era currency and how people referred to money as opposed to what it could purchase. The British resisted decimalized currency for a long time because they thought it was too complicated.

Regency Era Currency: Denomination

The basics that were in use at the time of the Regency are as follows:

Regency Era Currency: One Penny, copper tokens, 1812.

One Penny, copper tokens, 1812.

Two farthings = One ha’penny.

Two ha’pennies = One penny.

Three pennies = A Thrupenny Bit.

Two Thrupences = A Sixpence.

Two Sixpences = A Shilling or Bob*.

Two Shillings = A Florin.

Regency Era Currency: 1813 Three Pence, copper tokens.

Three Pence or thruppence, copper tokens, 1813.

One Florin and One Sixpence = Half a Crown.

Two Half Crowns = One Crown

Four Half Crowns = A Ten Bob Note.

Two Ten Bob Notes = One Pound (or 240 pennies).

Sovereign = a gold coin valued at one pound that was introduced in 1817

One Pound and One Shilling = One Guinea.


Regency Era Currency: One Shilling, silver tokens, 1812.

One Shilling, silver tokens, 1812.

Regency Era Currency: Nicknames

However, the British have always had a diverse set of nicknames for money, or blunt, since it was considered very crass to discuss money. Terms ranged from Monkeys, Ponies, Bits, Tanners, Grands, Tilburies, Nickers, Oxfords, to Quids (squids). And these were just the national ones, each town also had their own variants.

And, this was too complicated? The habit of tradition is amazing.


But then a ten bob note is 2 crowns, not 4 half crowns, because that’d just be excessively silly and along the lines of calling a thrupenny bit “six farthings”.

Regency Era Currency: One crown coin, 1821, after George IV has been crowned.

One crown coin, 1821, after George IV has been crowned.

So then, depending on their class and where they grew up, there are some colorful ways Regency characters might speak of the various denominations of money:

Two farthings = One Ha’penny.

Two ha’pennies = A Penny or bit.

Regency Era Currency: One pound note, Bank of Jersey, 1813.

One pound note, Bank of Jersey, 1813.

Three bits = A Thrupenny.

Two Thrupences = A Sixpence, also know as a Tanner or Tilbury.

Two Tanners = A Shilling or Bob*.

Two Bob = A Florin.

A Florin and a Tilbury = Half Crown. Commonly ‘two-and-six’ for 2 shillings, 6 pence.

Two half Crown = five bob, also a Crown or Oxford. Five shillings.

Two Oxfords = a Ten Bob Note.

Regency Era Currency: One pound note, legal tender, 1818.

One pound note, British Treasury Note, 1818.

Two Ten Bob Notes = One Pound (or 240 pennies) also known as nicker or quid

One Nicker and a Shilling = One Guinea.

Twenty Five quid = a pony.

Twenty ponies = a monkey. (500 pounds)

*Notice that the plural of “bob” is still “bob”.

Hopefully, this will help you recognize how much money is being referenced in the Regency Romance you’re reading or give you some options instead of using the same terms over and over if you’re writing one. Unfortunately this entry doesn’t give any idea of what anything was worth at the time, but I promise that will be a whole different post in the future, as it requires further research.

But I know, the question of “How much would 10,000 pounds per annum be worth today?” burns terribly and you may not be able to wait for that post. In the meantime, check this site on Current Values of Old Money where you can find out, learn more about the history of the pound or explore some historical financial scandals.

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Dec 022011

Last week, we talked about How We’d Spend A Day With One of Our Characters, but this week’s entry in our How I Write series, takes a closer look at our planning process. So, since we’re all writers, we’re focusing on plotting, which inevitably leads to the question: Plotter vs Pantser or some weird mix?

Plotting Via Spreadsheets

Hi. My name is Kristen and I’m a spreadsheet addict.

There. I said it. Now, I love me some colored index cards and other office supplies, too. They have their uses, but they also get scattered and lost. I’ve also been known to scribble mind-maps and notes on loose paper, but I do much better if when I’m satisfied with the basics, I transfer everything into Word or Excel. Sometimes both.

I also have a love of puzzles that captured my attention in my college economics courses and led me to double major in it alongside business administration. You probably think I LOVED my accounting classes too, but you’d be wrong. There’s a huge gap between intriguing puzzles and busy work. I see plots more as complex puzzles that I haven’t quite worked out the rules behind.

I’ve looked at many different plotting methods to build my outlines, Snowflake Method, 3-Act Structure, Save The Cat, The Blob, Hero’s Journey, Emotional Structure, Billy Mernit’s 7 Steps of Romantic Comedy. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. Even on the same manuscript.

You see, I also have another problem. I over think things. Yes, I can admit it, but that’s easier than avoiding doing so. I like to look at things from different angles. I want to make sure what I’m building will make sense when it’s complete. I like looking at things through different lenses and not just for photography. This is why I don’t think I could pants a story to save my life. It only takes me so far and I’ve lost sight of where I was going and end up circling in confusion and walk away from it.

With spreadsheets, you can keep all your thoughts and notes in one place. Using different worksheets in the same file or even different columns on the same one, you can apply different lenses (plotting methods) to the same plot outline. Is it effective? I don’t know. I think it works for me in the long run. I think of and see different things as I approach the problem from different angles. Does it help keep me on track and get the project finished? Probably not, but it does help me explore and think about the story and the characters so I know them before I sit down to work.

Linear vs Non-Linear Writing

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on writing or plotting, you know I strongly believe I need a road map to get from the beginning of a story through to “The End”. I may sound like an extreme plotter who plans everything down to the most miniscule detail, but I really do enjoy having my characters surprise me along the way.

I could never write out of order because of that though. Things change wildly enough sometimes without jumbling things out of order and requiring major surgery to stitch everything into place before it can be considered done.

One of the methods I found and liked, but which drives my DH insane when I mention it, is called a Phase Outline. It’s a very detailed outline, where you describe what needs to happen on each page in a line or two. “Why write the story twice,” he asks. It doesn’t feel that way to me. I try to leave it lose enough that the characters can move outside the confines of the box and become who they need to be, but it’s still structured enough that I’m comfortable in knowing where we’re all going, and that we’ll get there on the right page.

Escape From the Box

So, you probably now have an image of me as a control freak. You wouldn’t be wrong.

You might also picture me as indecisive, insecure and unable to commit to a single method and stick with it. I prefer to think of it as thorough, but you might have something there.

So, how do I know when I have a plot that I can work with? Gooooood question. Sometimes it takes working through it and see if the pieces fit together.

Wait?! Didn’t I just say that was the exact opposite of how I saw my self working? Probably, but I’ve found that when my characters surprise me by doing something that’s not planned, it’s better for the story. I know a lot of pantsers say they run everything through in their head several times before committing it to paper. I suspect many hardcore plotters do the same thing, they just commit all their iterations to paper along the way.

As far as knowing when something’s ready to go out into the world? It should resemble the working outline, but doens’t have to exactly. The highlights of the journey must be hit, and I often can’t see that for all the details along the way. Once I have a draft or two on a manuscript, it has to be sent to a couple of readers to see if I managed to get the story in my head onto the page.

I’ve only reached that point with one manuscript and only sent that to one agent because my confidence having done that isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. That’s definitely one of my goals for next year. Deconstructing the puzzle and putting it back together again. Each iteration gets better, but I fear I’ve left a string of characters still trapped in their boxes along the way.

I’m determined not to sit complacently with them though, I will find my way out of this self-made maze.

When I first conceived of this post, I had the idea of a mime trapped in a box, which was really a cell in an excel file. But this morning as I got thinking about taking my laptop with me on a field trip to the car dealership, I was thinking how similar it was to the portable writing desks people carried (lugged?) with them during the Regency Era. So, as a special treat, here’s a photo of one. I think I’ll keep my laptop with Word and Excel for everyday use, but one of these to go with my antique lady’s secretary would be nice too.

A Regency era mahogany and inlaid writing box, circa 1810.

A Regency Tunbridgeware mahogany and inlaid writing box by Dunnett's of London, circa 1810. The cover inset with a painted panel of Venus and Cupid, the border of chequered form, the compartmented interior with green paper lining and label inscribed 'Dunnetts Toy & Tunbridge Ware REPOSITORY No.3 Cheapside, London' 14 in. (36 cm.) wide

YOUR TURN: Are you a macro or micro manager? Do you plan everything down to the most minute details or do you get a vague idea in your head and take off running? Do unfinished projects haunt you? How do you know when your project is complete?

And if you’d like to read about deal with plotting and knowing when a manuscript is ready to go out, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *