5 Horse Facts for Regency Writers to Know

There are many great resources and blog posts out there covering the difficulties of writing about horses. So I know you know all about the post-Regency introduction of the leaping horn, the necessity of assistance for a lady mounting and dismounting from her horse, and that fox-hunting was a popular country activity from November until March, when the fields were fallow.

But here are few horse-centric facts that you might not know! Drop them into your text when necessary, for a little extra detail that will add depth to your historical fiction and romance.

Mounted Lady in Sidesaddle

Properly mounted. From “The Young Lady’s Equestrian Manual.”

1. A horse’s walk sways from side to side. At the walk, the horse moves at a “four-beat gait,” that is, each of his hooves hits the ground at a different time. The motion of his hindquarters from one side to the other actually sways a rider gently from left-forward, back, to right-forward, back. An accomplished rider lets her pelvis do the swaying; a more posed rider will show it in her abdomen, sliding forward and backwards, which can give the horse a sore back.

2. Long journeys called for rented horses. Horses could not go all day long, and required resting, as often as every two hours. A gentleman would not ruin his good carriage horses by sending them across country. Posting inns would provide a change of horses at each leg of the journey. Using one’s own horses would result in a prolonged journey.

3. Corn isn’t corn. When feeding a horse his “corn,” an ostler or horseman was feeding him cereal grains: most likely oats, although horses were also fed other grains such as barley. It would be inadvisable to feed a horse a diet solely of maize (corn in American terms) because it contains so much sugar it can lead to serious health problems. 

4. Ladies held their reins in their left hand. In a fairly impressive show of horsemanship, especially by modern American standards, a lady was taught to hold the reins, even if the horse was in a double bridle with two bits and two sets of reins, only in her left hand. The horse was directed to turn by what we call “neck-reining” today – instead of drawing back the left hand to turn the horse’s head, for example, the right rein was pressed against the horse’s neck and the left rein was slackened. All of this was accomplished by adjusting the left hand’s position. The right hand was left free for the whip – a necessity since there was no leg pressure on this side of the horse.

5. Stable odors. Manure has an earthy odor that lots of writers love to mention in their books. What doesn’t get mentioned is the ammonia smell of urine. This might be a nice touch for a dirty inn or a street with broken cobbles. Horse urine is infinitely more offensive to the nose than manure. Horses themselves can have a musky odor, especially if they have long winter coats, which clings to clothing. Horsemen tend not to notice it all, even when they will smell a dirty stable, but for more delicate noses, it could be noticed and perhaps remarked upon.

I hope these little extra details are helpful to you! Happy writing, and happy riding to all your heroines!

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Go to the notebook

I was talking with an author friend on Twitter the other day (we snuck into direct message, sorry tweet-droppers!) and the topic of writer’s block came up.

Not “Oh my god I don’t know what to write” writer’s block, because neither of us really suffer from that.

More like “Oh my god everything I write is so stilted and awful” writer’s block. Maybe we could call it “Quality Writer’s Block,” as in, nothing quality is happening here.

Moleskine notebook

Hello gorgeous notebook.

Now sometimes I’ll just push through it and continue with my scene, regardless of the fact that it’s stilted and awful, because I’m going to edit anyway, and usually it’s in my editing process that the flowers really start to bloom, so to speak. I write my first drafts in a hurry, eager to get the story down on paper, because I know that once my plot is in place I can come back through and pretty everything up to my heart’s desire.

It’s a two-part process: first I build the house with a sound basic structure, and then I put on my interior decorator’s house and I make it gorgeous.

Yes, now I’m a construction worker and an interior decorator as well as a writer and a gardener. Do keep up.

At any rate, my friend told me her secret to curing stilted writing: grab your notebook.

I don’t have a notebook, I said.

Get a notebook, she said. Stop being so obtuse. And get a nice pen while you’re at it. These things matter.

So I had to go to the store and get a gorgeous Moleskine notebook and a nice gel pen with dark black ink that glides onto the page with a very satisfying feeling. Because these things matter.

And I started writing.

And then I started scribbling. That’s how fast the words were coming out of my head. My fingers could scarcely keep up with them.

And that, my wise friend said, is the reason why notebooks work so well: on a computer, a typist hauling along at seventy words per minute the way she was taught in grade school is going to get the words on the page too quickly. If your brain isn’t feeling up to the task, or is feeling sluggish, or you just haven’t had any coffee all day and nothing seems to be firing, then you are going to be discouraged by the pace at which you’re typing, and you’re going to feel like a Big Fat Failure, which will only compound the Quality Writer’s Block. You’ll have words, but they won’t be satisfying.

When I wrote in my notebook that afternoon, I was still producing a structure, but it was a more sound one than the stilted writing I’d been typing earlier that day. It was already prettier. Some of the design elements, you might say, were built right in.

Since then I’ve been writing in my notebook more and more often, and it feels really good. It’s also more portable than my computer; I’m not really comfortable opening my computer on the subway, for example, but I can write in my notebook, making great use of the time I’m underground, far from social media, and really have nothing better to do besides read someone else’s book.

Of course, the transcribing part isn’t the most fun, but it’s also a unique opportunity to spot-edit bits of the first draft, giving little tweaks to the twists your story took while you were away from the entire manuscript, or your notes, or your research.

So I’m definitely a fan of the notebook! Do you ever write your stories in long-hand, or are you die-hard computer users? What are some other methods you use to liven up your brain and improve your writing on days when everything feels stale?

Revising is editing is deleting

I have been editing all morning, working on the second draft of my new novel (we’ll call it the Cowboy Romance) and had to make some big, bold moves.

Which involved the delete key.

A lot of the delete key.

Editor Cat gets it.

Why will my story insist on changing so dramatically?

It’s amazing to me the way a story can evolve from the nice little outline that I write so blithely in a notebook, sipping coffee and thinking “this is just going to fly out from my fingers. Look! I have it all worked out! This happens, and then this happens, and then this, and voila! The end!”

And it just doesn’t happen that way at all.

Even when I am a taskmistress and make myself write precisely to the outline, denying myself any fun or fancy free, the doubts come creeping in. Should he really be going there? Should that character even exist at all? She seems too angry for this scene, does she have a reason to be so angry? Should I give her a reason to be so angry, or lighten her up? What’s that, go back and give her a reason?

And so when the revisions begin and I start giving free rein to my persistent inner voice, crazy stuff starts happening. New chapters appear (meaning I have to renumber all the subsequent chapters as I get to them, which is actually how I remember where I left off from day to day. If one chapter is “eighteen” and the following chapter is “fifteen” then I know exactly where I stopped the day before). Characters grow, gain bigger personalities and quirks of their own.

And I delete things.

A lot of things.

There was a time when I didn’t use an outline at all, but just wrote seat-of-my-pants style from start to finish. I’m not sure that saved me any time or heartache when it came to revisions, though. A story just evolves from your initial concept no matter how you wrote it out the first time.

What do you think? Are you pretty free with the delete key when you’re revising your work?

 

Confessions of a terrible blogger

Hello! I am a terrible blogger.

It’s not even that life gets in the way, it’s just that I don’t set the time for it. I could be blogging, but I’m absently scrolling Facebook. I could be blogging, but I’m looking at things I am never, ever going to cook on Pinterest. I could be blogging, but… other stuff! SHINY THINGS!

But I plan on doing better, and this blog post that I just read this morning is a big part of why.

I want to get to know people.

friends

We don’t necessarily have to sit outside and watch clouds together, but you get the basic idea.

From Kristen Lamb’s blog comes this great reminder about building relationships. It’s part of being an author… if we want to make a living at it.

“Entropy is REAL and Author Careers Need Feeding DAILY”

I encourage writers to blog. Heck, it should be an area of strength—WORDS. Writers write. Blogs have the power to create long-term passionate relationships with…readers. Only about 8% of the population defines themselves as avid readers. This means 92% of the population still needs entertaining and informing. Most of them have smart phones, and a lot have tablets. They won’t go to a bookstore…but they will buy on-line.

It’s not always easy to keep connected, especially when your real drive is just to write and write and write at your work-in-progress, but this is a nice reminder that it’s necessary… and also that treating your writing as your career, with demands that include things like blogging, helps it maintain its central importance in your life.

I know that for me, keeping writing as my central focus can be difficult. That’s partially because I write from home and it’s very easy to fall into this trap of thinking that just because you’re home all day long, housework has some place in your work-day. It doesn’t. Your work-day is just that — your work-day! If you don’t have time to do the dishes before you have to leave for the office, you come home and do the dishes later. If you’re working from home, ignore the dishes. You can do them later, after you’ve finished work!

Adding blogging and social media into the mix isn’t always easy, of course, sometimes I just want to write! But I’m going to be better at scheduling it in, at the very least.

It’s partially because I want to make a career out of writing, I admit. But it’s also to build relationships with amazing writers, with brave over-achievers, with other people who might be sitting cross-legged on their sofa for six hours at a time, typing away all alone while the world goes spinning by outside their windows.

So I’m going to blog more, and tweet more, and maybe even, if I really have to, Facebook more! Because I want to get to know all of you fabulous people! Say hi, share your blog, and let’s be friends!