Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo '11

November 1st is the start of NaNoWriMo--November is National Novel Writing Month--where people from across the globe will gather together, drink lots of coffee, forsake any kind of social life during the dreary month of November in a quest to write 50,000 words of a novel.

I participated (and won) last year--with Iggy, the child of a monk and a nun. While the story itself turned out not-so-great, I had a blast doing it and it taught me some valuable things about the writing process.

I wasn't sure what to do during this November. After all, I've been puttering away on Miles's portion of the Great Regency Adventure for the better part of this year and I've not really got anywhere. Granted, I think it's more crafted a first draft than any of the others, but it's a long way from done yet.

But NaNo is really meant to be about writing a new novel--the rationale being that continuing on old projects will only make meeting the daily word count of 1667 words difficult, because you're already in the process of researching and possibly editing bits as you write.

So I was thinking of writing one of the daughters' stories instead. But I don't know, I really want to finish the story I'm working on and 50,000 words or so should finish it. So I'm kind of cheating this year. If I finish the WIP before the deadline and word count are finished, then I'll move on to the sequels.

Of course, anything I write during November will be in a different document and the word count updates will only reflect what I've written during NaNo and not before.

Last year, it was more about stamina--I had never written that many words so consistency. I'm a slow writer--50 words there, 500 words there--so having the statistics and graphs on the NaNo site to show me what I was doing was amazing.

This year, my main challenge might be finding the time to write so much, as Real Life has come to fore in the past few weeks.

I'll be posting throughout November, probably to complain or to share the excellent pep talks that are emailed to participants. And if you're participating, feel free to commiserate here or NaNo Buddy me.

It really is easier if you're doing it among friends :)

Bachelors of Highbury Quiz

I've been reading Emma by Jane Austen to get a feel for an English country village and because I haven't made my way through Austen's canon completely.

I think, so far, Persuasion is still my favorite of hers, but Mr. Knightley is quickly becoming my favorite Austen hero.

I've been sneaking peeks at the 2009 miniseries version of Emma, starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. It's available on YouTube.

Lo and behold, I came across this quiz.

And this was my result: Boo-ya!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Character Deaths

In honor of Halloween coming up, let's talk about something I loved to do to my characters when I was a teenager.

Killing them off.

In the days before I bothered to finish my stories, I would often grow tired of characters and then invent ways for them to die. There was the ever-popular consumption, car accidents, death by war, drowning. One time, I wrote a story about a girl who had eight siblings, all of whom were killed one by one by their psycho estranged father. That one didn't really go anywhere because I gave myself nightmares.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Soldiers of Downton Abbey

War changes things. So they say on Downton Abbey, so they say in books and on TV. It's the feeling floating around in the air as the war begins, that this'll change things in a profound way somehow.

This post was requested by a reader. She wanted to talk about how the rank of the solider becomes relevant--during wartime and beyond--and how others, at home or outside of the armed forces--can start to assume that because a man is serving his country, that he is being noble or heroic and not unscrupulous and taking advantage.

What triggered this? Major Bryant on Downton Abbey.
Major Bryant and Ethel

Monday, October 24, 2011

I made a very short submission to another blog: Downton Abbey History at tumblr. Here's the link.

Someone had asked about people being interested in Downton Abbey because of any family history they might have, i.e, was your great grandmother a maid? Was your grandfather a lord?

I know for sure that one of my great grandmothers was a maid, here in America. Both of my great-grandfathers fought in World War One. Supposedly, they went back to Ireland after the war to take part in some shady dealings in the Irish republican cause--though what they did and what stances they took is something I don't know yet.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I've come across this phrase "OTP" while trawling around fandoms on the Internet. Apparently, it stands for One True Pairing (shades of the One True Ring?). The OTP is a fan's particularly favorite romantic or possibly romantic pairing on a TV show or a movie. 

When one thinks a couple is an OTP, you "ship" them. As in, you want them to have a relationship. 

I've found that in most shows, there's the main couple who gets all the attention or a couple that is will-they-won't-they for ages and then, maybe, secondary characters who are coupling up or should be, but aren't because writers like to torture their viewers. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lies My History Teacher Told Me: American History Edition

When I was in junior high, the Social Studies classes we took focused on American history. Now, the events are pretty standard: The Bering Strait. Native Americans. Jamestown. The Pilgrims. 1776. The American Revolution. The Constitution.

The personalities are indisputable, too: Washington. Jefferson. Franklin. Madison. Lincoln.

History is not just dates, battles and events. It's not just things that happened in olden times and long dead rich white men making decisions that we now have to live with. History is also about biases and perception, different connections and angles.

As an example, a slight digression:
In high school, in the one day it took in AP World History to cover World War One (because we were running out of time), we came upon Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which later became the basis for the League of Nations (which was the prototype for the United Nations). One of the bits in the Points was about nations under colonial rule having the right to self-determine their freedom.

That's wonderful, if you lived in the Balkans, Austria-Hungary or the many European colonies of Africa. Not so wonderful if you lived in Ireland, which at the time was ruled by Great Britain. In order to not offend Britain, whose ally the U.S. was in the war, Wilson did not support Ireland's efforts to gain its independence during this time.

I suppose that being Allies and Wilson considering Ireland a "British internal matter" would fly with some, but when you're descended from ardent Irish-Catholics (some of whom fought for the Americans in the War and then scurried back to Ireland to fight in its War of Independence)...I didn't exactly buy what the teacher was trying to impress upon us.

See what I mean about biases?

Anyway. That junior high textbook was written oddly. Instead of being a straight narrative of Americana, with pictures, maps and graphs, it felt the need to dissect most major events or eras from the perspectives of "women" or "blacks" or "slaves" or "immigrants."It would tell you about the event or era, then tell it all over again, like a bad version of Rashomon, from the perspective of Women and on down the minorities list.

Basically, it sucked to be an American woman. And it was even worse to be a slave. And all Americans hated immigrants.

I don't object to the effort of trying to tell history from a mixture of perspectives. It's the generalizations of those perspectives that I couldn't stand, because just as today America is a teeming mess of too many opinions, not every woman would have experienced the suffrage movement or the Civil War or the Industrial Revolution in the same way either. And of course, education isn't about teaching anymore, but learning by rote enough to pass a test/ write a report and pass the class/ pass 8th grade.

I also remember this book trying to illustrate "daily life" for the average American at whatever time or event we were reading about. First of all, that is impossible to distill into four paragraphs. Second, while I find daily life details interesting (perhaps even more interesting than the larger events themselves), once again, it was too general.

This is the textbook that taught me (though I knew better) that the French won our Revolutionary War. Or that the British were big bad meanies for burning down the White House during the War of 1812. Or that the Mormons were worthy of an entire chapter (I mean really, nothing against them, but do they rank up there with Lewis and Clark and the Civil War?)

I don't particularly remember American history class, high school style. Stay tuned for the scattered memories of Social Studies, the world history version.

Downton Links

                              T  G   I   F
What do we have this week?

Downton Abbey

Allen Leech and Phyllis Logan - This Morning from marlene on Vimeo.

Will Downton only last three years?

From Tumblr. S2E4 Deleted Scene: Branson's apology.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I've been trying to give myself a quick primer on farming.

Yeah. Farming.

This is in service to the current Mess-in-Progress, of course. I wasn't originally going to involve any farming at all. My protagonist is an estate owner and a new one at that. He doesn't actually do any farming.

That is, until I read this while I was researching:

In war-weary England, wheat was four times what it was at the start of the war; the 6d loaf had risen to 17d.

This is a reference to England's harvest in 1801. I'm writing about 1800 and in reading about the time period, found that 1799 and 1800 had bad harvests. Very bad harvests. Apparently, it rained too much and ruined the crop. 

I've been searching and digging for more evidence. Was it really that bad of a harvest? And what could a landowner do to alleviate his tenants' hunger? 

I found a source to confirm the bad harvest and famine in 1800. 

From History of the consulate and the empire of France under Napoleon:

"The harvest of the year 1800 having again been deficient by one-fourth, the present scarcity had followed."


I think that's really all I need to know about farming in that time period. Which is good, because I'm a city girl and I don't even really know how farmers farm now. Never mind two hundred years ago. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Passage of Time

Sometimes, when I'm writing, I forget that I'm allowed to skip time. I've often found myself writing the most boring minutiae in a scene, realizing that it's boring, then thinking, "Wait... that does nothing for the plot...I can skip over this month, can't I?"

But sometimes I can't remember the timeline exactly--I know it's 1800, for example, and it is summertime, but is it late June or is it July already? I tend to write it into the text just so I know. I may or may not take out the indications in a later draft.

When I wrote my soul-swapping story, Last Request, I had a fairly tight timeline--two weeks, I believe--on one storyline. My protagonist, Eva, was in a coma and through research, I'd learned that two weeks is about the time someone can stay in a coma and still wake up with all their brain functions intact. To widen the scope of the story, there were a lot of flashbacks, ranging about fourteen years. I wrote in clear indications about what Eva was doing or how old she was in those chapters.

But oddly, it was a more recent flashback that confused my two readers. Eva recalls a memory from the previous month. I received comments saying, "August. Last August? I mean, the August the year before?"

So, even comparatively clear indications of passing time can be confusing.

I watch Downton Abbey and though I am enthralled with this second series so far, I admit to being puzzled by the timeline. It's not quite on a Lost level of confusion--flash sideways, anyone?--but it seems odd to have the same characters in the same positions emotionally for two years. The timeline is lurching forward into 1918 (which we know because it says "1918" at the beginning of episode 4), but the plots are continuing on from the previous episode, which was 1917.

So, really, shouldn't Mary have long decided on Carlisle already? As much as I love them, why do Sybil and Branson keep having the same conversation? A year is enough time for one of them to flirt with a solider or a nurse. Why is Bates' matter with Mrs. Bates taking so long? Still love the show--obsessed, actually--but it's an awkward time jump where time might change, but nothing in the story indicates that it's gone on by much.

That's the other thing about passing time in fiction. It's not enough to say or show that the seasons have changed, but your characters must change appropriately.

What I'm doing in my current Mess-in-Progress is that, as the summer rolls on and we get closer to harvest time, Miles's tenants inform him that their crops are failing because there is too much rain. This actually happened in 1800, the harvest was terrible. His daughters are friends with the local children they were being introduced to a few chapters ago. Letters have been written and answered. Visitors come and mention the duration of their stay and then leave.

But the prejudice the daughters face hasn't changed. Miles isn't exactly integrated into good English country society yet.

I think I'm finally getting the difference between the long plots--a book length--and the smaller plots that fit into that long plot.

Also, not to get too fanfiction, but I would've started Downton 2 in 1915, when German zeppelins were bombing London and other parts of southern England. Then perhaps I would have moved on to spring 1916, when the Easter Rising was happening in Dublin. To paraphrase Chekhov, if you're going have an Irish chauffeur in act one, then you ought to use the major Irish event of the time period in act two--at least enough to see said chauffeur assimilate the information he's getting and his position and his own beliefs and create angst.

Because otherwise, we get the Irish guy's reactions to said event a year later and it seems odd.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Too many adjectives"

There's a great bit in Becoming Jane where Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is writing to her sister Cassandra. She's describing Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).

The scene ends with Jane's writerly verdict: "Too many adjectives." 

I once read, in some writing craft manual, that adjectives are lazy writing. Also, in writing class, I was taught that the word "just" should never be used. 

Really, where do people come up with such wacky declarations anyhow? 

How many adjectives are too many adjectives? Sometimes, it feel like there aren't enough. How can you describe the tone of someone's voice, for instance, when you hear it but don't know how to describe it? Is it husky or sweet or rich? Is it low or loud? Is there a scratch in it? 

Is it really even that important to a reader that they hear or see the character the way the author imagines them to be? Jane Austen describes her characters thoroughly--but not how they look or sound, but how they think. I'm reading Emma right now and I'm getting her psychology--spoiled rich girl, a bit naive, thinks she's a matchmaker--but I'm not sure what she looks like. 

For plot, the motivations and thought process of a character is important. But I think I tend to meet my characters from the outside in and while I don't do long paragraphs of "her hair was raven colored and thin, her eyes were large and limpid," there is a fair bit of physical description thrown in. That includes the way they move (I have one character currently described as getting off a horse "stiffly" because he's a sailor not a landlubber) and the way they speak (the more aristocratic characters have that very precise, very clipped way of speaking--to be honest, I have no idea if that's how they spoke the King's English in those days--but it's the way they speak it now, isn't it?)

I suppose this would be the blog question: 

-How important is description to you in terms of characters? Do you really care what they sound like or even what they look like? 
-Are adjectives annoying? 
-How many adjective are too many?