Friday, June 26, 2009

Mary Sue

Authors, in writing characters that float around in their heads, also fear the Mary Sue.

According to Mary Sue

But how do you know it's a Mary Sue? Some of them are obvious (coughmyfanfictioncough). I found this last night: the Mary Sue Litmus test!

Mary Sue Litmus Test

I read fanfiction--less so these days--but I get caught up in the stories, even though they're not exactly well-written or well-plotted or anything. And obviously, any "real people" fic where the hot actor/musician/really sexy dude falls in love with the overly intelligent/beautiful but doesn't know it/ordinary woman and then they go forth and have lots of sex....It's the closest I'm going to get to any of those guys.

So I ran a few of my characters through. Madeline earned a 24: a Borderline-Sue. (But let's fact it, it's a romance novel. It's helpful if she's attractive, intelligent and likable.)

Let's do her love interest, Henry. (half-Indian jaded spy, who has to lie to Mady to complete his last task as a spy. After that, he can go run the shipbuilding business that his father left him). He's a 24, too. Aww. They're a match!

Friday, June 19, 2009


In celebration of actually having a turning point, I give thee portion of chapter eighteen (as it is now):

Mady opened her eyes to pitch darkness. She blinked, several times, trying to clear her eyesight. For a moment, she wondered if she’d gone blind.

No, no, she wasn’t blind. She moved her right hand, where the knuckles were bloodied, in front of her face. She couldn’t quite see it, but Mady could make out the shape. With her left hand, she reached out into the darkness and felt the brush of rough cloth underneath her. Wool, perhaps. The cloth soon turned into something hard, yet yielding. Moving subtly.

A body.

She listened carefully for a moment. Yes, that was breathing she heard. Only a foot or so away. Her eyes adjusted to the dark and Mady made out a thin, weak light coming from above this space. Was it was a cellar? A room? A cell?

Then Mady became aware of movement. It was rhythmic: a sway one way, then a sway back. A rise and then a slight dip.

She made herself lie still and take stock of the movements. It couldn’t be a carriage. And surely, nightmares didn’t include such regularity of movements outside of one’s control. The place rose and dipped again. It brought to mind the small punt Miles rowed she and Alex in on the creek behind Banner’s Edge.

That was it. Mady was certain; she was on a ship. By the darkness, she’d guess a cargo hold. The crack of visible light was just that: a crack of sunlight through a loose plank on deck.

So they weren’t that far below decks. From the bobbing of the vessel, Mady was willing to bet that it was still at anchor. The ship would have been much more chaotic if on open seas.

Mady tried to roll over and groaned. Oh, her head hurt. And her belly didn’t feel much better, being tight and uncomfortable.

She remembered a kerchief being placed over her mouth and her legs kicking away, trying to outpace two men who were twice her size.

And Laura!

Mady managed to lift herself into sitting. Oh, lord, her head ached and pounded. She no longer had gloves on and her knuckles felt raw. She balled her right hand into a fist. She winced as her muscles stretched, then tightened over knuckles and joints.

Her neck was tight. Her temples seemed to twitch inwards and outwards, more painful by the second. If Alex’s headaches from their childhood—from her accident—were anything like this, then Mady could understand her occasional foul moods.

Now that she was sitting up, Mady kneeled down on her hands and knees and hesitantly reached a hand out to explore that breathing person near her again. She prayed that it was Laura. If they were in a strange ship hold together, it was better than being in this place alone.

Her finger tips hit something. Mady stroked for a few moments. Her fingers pressed against cloth. Soft cloth. Muslin. Laura had been wearing muslin. Her hand passed over something rougher in texture. She rubbed the material between her fingers for several minutes before realizing that it was lace. Laura’s cuffs had been trimmed in lace.

Jabbing fingers into Laura’s arm, her hand was able to make out the hardness of skin over bone. Mady kept poking her stepsister. Tears threatened. She let them fall. No one could see her in the dark.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I need some advice!

I have approx. 51,000 words written--143 pages according to Word--and about sixteen chapters in all. Now, a book in this genre should be about 80,000 words. But many of the seem to be over 400 pages, or at least above 300.

On the one hand, the plot feels like it's moving too quickly. It shouldn't be up to 16 chapters in under 150 pages. That's not something I'm worrying about right now, since it's not finished.On the other, let's face it, 143 pages is pretty damn long.

It's more about the overall pacing of it: how quickly or slowly events unfold. When things are revealed. Pacing isn't really something we got in writing workshops because it's not hard to pace a 7-page short story, but it goes along with description and plot (which i'm coming to find is a lot more involved than what I thought it meant). So I suppose my problem is that there either isn't enough plot or description as of yet.

How would you guys slow or pick up the pace of a book? How many pages do you think there should be per chapter? Do you know of any good advice on how to deal with pacing or the mechanics of a scene? Anything really, horridly geeky writer?

Also: Do you guys think that chapters should deal with only one character or can it jump around between POVs? How many events should a chapter cover, do you think?

Friday, June 12, 2009

In the Name of Research

Just a quick note: I linked what is available of the two stories to the right----> They'll lead you to the table of contents for the relevant posts for each. I've decided not to post the historical/romance/thing that I'm doing as I look for a job on the blog, as it's too long and not finished. However, if you're truly bored/need new reading material/feel like criticizing something...

So, today, I went to Governor's Island with my cousin. There was an exhibition going on and he was supposed to set up his project (that's a whole different story right there). Now, having never been to Governor's Island, I went along, expecting to assist. Didn't quite expect research/inspiration to strike me right then.

I have been walking around for the past week, mumbling "research." Watching The Count of Monte Cristo recently gave me an idea of what a port town may have looked like in the Napoleonic Era. Re-watching a few clips from Vanity Fair reminded me of the general look of the time--plus, there are a few scenes from Waterloo in that film that are going to be super helpful in later stories. Author Candice Hern's forum is incredible for really detailed Regency-era information.

Governor's Island, which has a virtual village on it, fed me ideas for the village I made up in the current mess--which is actually in between Bristol and Bath, England, in the southwestern part of England. Governor's Island has a fort in the center, as well a brick building called the South Battery, with Revolutionary-era cannon. But there is also a common grassy area surrounded by yellow houses and a church.

And since the place is deserted and not exactly modernized, I think I might keep it as an idea of what the fake village could be.

A ferry is involved--

Not having been on a boat in a while, I guess I paid attention to the bobbing of the boat and the smell, since there are boats involved in my story. And no, (as I had to tell my cousin), it's not the Titanic.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Oh, the places you'll go....

Writing a book is a lovely exercise in realizing how much you don't know. Here's why:

I decided that most plausible way to have two characters be mixed (of different combinations) yet still related was to have their father be a sailor. Friendly ports and all.

Fine. The Caribbean was a huge trading stop for the British because they had colonies there--Barbados included--which had slave-produced products like tobacco and sugar cane and molasses. Macau, in China, was a Portuguese colony and one of the few places that the Chinese allowed foreigners to dwell. Which is an improvement over the Japanese, who only let the Dutch settle on an island in Nagasaki Bay and did not allow them to set their dirty white man feet on Japanese soil.

But then there are questions like, "How long does it take to get to Macau from Barbados? By ship? By sailing ship? By 1790s-type sailing ship?" Which leads to research on nautical mileage and the ships carrying convicts to Australia from England, which has a similar nautical mileage.

Then you figure that your characters will be in Barbados for a few years as children. On a plantation. Now, plantations are generally run alike and it's not a setting, so I didn't feel like I had to go back and read the children's book I bought when I visited Colonial Williamsburg ten years ago. But then there's the, "Wait! They would've had slaves!" factor.

Which leads to Madeline deciding to be involved in the abolitionist movement in England. Which, let's face it, makes sense. She's half-black, after all, and her mother's family, who are free, owned slaves. Internal conflict much?

Now, the only things I really knew about the 19th century abolition movement came from a movie called Amazing Grace. It's about a Member of Parliament and evangelist named William Wilberforce who championed the cause of abolition, over and over, finally leading Parliament to outlaw slavery altogether in Britain--in 1833, thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

But my story takes place in 1814. So what was going on then? Luckily, plenty. A former slave named Equiano wrote his autobiography in 1789 and the book went through nine editions. Wilberforce was still in Parliament. The Quakers were active supporters of abolition on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1807, the Slave Trade Act was passed in Britain, banning the international slave trade. Around that same time, Haiti's slaves revolted against the French and fought a revolution.

Since the bulk of this story takes place in Bristol, England, which was a large port city with a notable African minority at the time, it became easy to have Madeline involved and affected.

Then other things come up. Things about the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon had been defeated and sent to Elba in 1814. Finally feeling that the wars--which had been fought almost continuously since after the French Revolution--were over, the British Prince Regent had victory celebrations in London that entire summer. So what did they do? What days? How can I weave it in?

And that is how I read about the Chinese pagoda that was built in a London park, which caught on fire during a victory celebration from the gas lights on it. Seriously, y'all. Could not have made that up.