Monday, December 31, 2012

A Rant About Mady

I wrote a post not long ago about how I didn't have a clear picture of my characters' appearances in my mind while writing them.

In it, I posted two pictures of two young ladies; I thought that those women looked the way I imagined the young daughters of my protagonist would look like when they became adults.

A good chunk of the plot of my WIP revolves around the girls having different mothers and therefore, looking different. That is, having different mothers and being identified as different races makes my fictional family an oddity in Georgian England. I should add that it isn't the fact that their father has two children with different women (lots of men did) or of different races (once again, lots of men did) that makes them peculiar; it's that their father raises them together, as equals their whole lives, that makes many of the villagers scratch their heads.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Transitions Are A Nuisance

Transitions. By definition, a transition is a word, scene, page break, scene break, summarization that eases the reader from one part of a fictional story to the next in the narrative or to a different point of view.

Phrases like "Afterwards" and "Three days later" and "In the autumn" are transitional phrases.

Transitions tend to be part of that great mass of invisible writing. Like the word "said" is supposedly invisible to our brains and descriptions are meant to paint a scene and not force the author's vision into a reader's head, transitions are--and should be--invisible because they have to do with the flow of the words.  They smooth, cushion and direct the reader: this chapter is ending or this scene is ending or the point-of-view (POV is another blog post for another day) is changing.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

10,000 page views!

This blog has now hit 10,000 page views!!

Wishing everyone out there a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Casting Your Characters: What Do They Look Like?

Inspired by this thread on the AW forums.

I realized somewhere in the course of this WIP that I didn't know what my characters looked like, beyond basics: if they were tall or short, blond or brunette or in-between, what color their eyes were, and if they were pale or olive-skinned or brown.

I have a folder on my computer with some images--English manor houses, Regency-era paintings, actors in period clothing--but while some of these actors might look like a few of my characters, I don't think of it as a casting sheet. I don't know that it's that important that I know exactly what my characters look like. Do you know what your characters look like? Or do you have your basic stats and maybe a face or voice in your head?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Downton Abbey Christmas Special promo

Via Downton Abbey addicts. The trailer for Downton Abbey's Christmas special (airing Christmas Day in the UK) was released Saturday, I believe:

You can check out some promo pictures here: ITV promo for DOWNTON ABBEY (2012) Christmas Special

Handwritten story, circa '99

Once upon a time, back in the Stone Age...

Okay, that's an exaggeration. Anyway. I rediscovered these notebooks crammed in between books on my shelves last night. They are fairly thin notebooks, from a relative or family friend who came to visit from Japan, bearing gifts for the whole family.

I, like many a budding writer in the days before laptops, coveted notebooks. My parents soon learned that bringing me along to Staples was an expensive venture, because I wanted pens and notebooks the way most kids want video games and ice cream.

Circa 1999, I wrote my first "novel" in the pages of these notebooks. I don't know what the official page count was. Truth is, I don't remember what it was about. But I remember staying up past bed time in my room, sitting on my bed, pencil and notebook in hand and continuing the story on from whatever point I'd left it the night before. I'd write it by lamplight, no outline, a total pantser.

I think it's about a dysfunctional family and a girl with a boy for a best friend? I don't remember, but this was post-6th grade, story-a-week "I want to be a writer" time and pre-fanfiction writing. Can we call it part of my "Juvenilia?"

Friday, December 7, 2012

The West Indies, 1790s

Basic writing wisdom, if there is such a thing, says when writing a scene, get in and get out. Get in at the last possible moment before the point of the scene and leave the scene and move on soon after that point is made.

That applies to novels as a whole as well. When I was reading submissions as a literary agency intern, I noticed that authors often had too much backstory in the first two chapters. Or the first chapter was all exposition.  I'm guilty of this too, especially in first draft when I'm exploring the idea.

Ruined plantation house in Saint Lucy, Barbados. Attribution: Postdif from w.

But in the case of my WIP, I've decided that some backstory is necessary to show. My characters lived in the Caribbean before moving to England in 1800. The book opens as they sail toward Bristol. But after ruminating on it and reading Plot and Structure, I see that "the first doorway of no return"--the first plot point--is an important character death which sends my fictional family away from the West Indies to England. Hence, research on the West Indies in the 1790s.

Britain and France were at war from 1793 until 1815. I vaguely knew that Britain and France got up to a lot of island hopping and fighting among their Caribbean territories during this long conflict. But since I didn't intend to set any of my book in the Caribbean--despite my characters' connection and past on Barbados--I skimmed over that and concentrated my research more on Britain in 1798-1801.

Yeah. Big mistake. If you ever find something during research that will provide background, even if you think you won't use it, do make note of it.

Barbados was a calm island in the 1790s. It was considered to have a good proportion of whites to blacks and most of its slaves had been born and raised on the island by the 1790s. It was the first Caribbean island that many British ships reached and docked at upon entering the West Indies. Barbados did not have a revolt until 1816.

But there were fears on Jamaica, for instance, of a major slave revolt. Why then, specifically?

St. Domingue, now Haiti. St. Domingue was a French colony. It was the largest market for African slaves and produced 30% of the world's sugar supply. It produced more sugar and coffee than all of the British West Indian islands combined.
Sketch of the Haitian Revolution, 1791. From Wikimedia Commons.

In 1791, St. Domingue's slaves rose up in rebellion, inspired by the French Revolution taking place in their mother country. They burned, killed, slaughtered across the northern part of the colony. The French were confident they could put down the revolt. But the slaves evaded the French soldiers and the Assembly then granted full rights to mulattos, then in 1794, formally decreed the end of slavery in French territories.

Britain, with warships in the West Indies to protect its own colonies, swept into St. Domingue, eager for the colony's sugar, welcomed by French royalist planters. Britain also captured the French territories of St. Lucia, Martinique, and Guadeloupe.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It Was All a Dream

This post contains spoilers about Breaking Dawn: Part 2. 

A friend and I went to see the last Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn: Part 2, on Thursday night. Although we have both read the Twilight series--a few years ago, to the point where we don't quite remember details--we're not fans of the series, per se. We have a little tradition, where we go to Times Square, buy tickets for whichever theater on 42nd Street is playing the Twilight movie, and then go eat barbeque and get slightly tipsy before going into the movie.

Watching those movies with a buzz is the best way to see them.

As usual, the movie was entertaining in an unintentionally funny way, with some of the most wooden but hilarious acting and cringe-worthy dialogue.

Also, many lessons on how NOT to write a story.

For example, you know that old adage about minor characters becoming more interesting than the protagonists? Completely true for Breaking Dawn. The Volturi, played by Michael Sheen (my friend and I clapped quietly whenever he came up on screen), Jamie Campbell Bower, Dakota Fanning and others, are by the far the most entertaining characters on screen. They are interesting, powerful, have presence and you know, can actually act.

Also, a climax.  As in, it's important to have one. The big storyline through the series is Bella and Edward, the danger of her knowing about the Cullens and whether or not she will finally become a vampire. In the last movie, Bella is a vampire and the tension of the story hinges on the Volturi and their belief that Renesmee was a human child turned into a vampire by the Cullens.

A large battle commences as the vampires face off. Carlisle Cullen's head gets snapped off by Aro and the theater went, "Whoa!" in unison. Did not happen in the book. Tension, finally.

But then..."it was all a dream." Or a vision. The big cop out of writing, a great way to get out of a corner. The battle was only a possibility about what could happen. So, as in the book, nothing really happened.

You know what writers say about stories in which nothing happens? Ugh! No conflict. Boring.

All right, writers. Fess up. I know you've read Twilight. Have you seen the movies? What did you think of this last installment?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Importance of Beta Readers

There are a lot of factors when it comes to writing a book. One of them is a good beta reader.

Beta readers (the term comes from computer programming) are readers. Some call them critters (for "critique") or readers. But all of these people do the same task, mostly: they read somebody's written work before it is submitted out to the world, whether that submission is a fanfiction site or the rounds of literary agents.

Writers often find beta readers in their critique groups, if they're part of one, or a circle of writing friends or out of their normal group of friends, the ones who are literary. Beta readers are critical to writers because they can pick up on things the writer can't. Does the story work? Does the plot make sense? How are the characters? After a long time laboring over a story or a book, it's hard to be subjective about the story. That's why handing it over to a different pair of eyes is helpful.

A writing professor I had in college once reminded me that while writing is a solitary occupation, it also involves a group aspect to it--workshops, critique groups, editorial meetings. I've experienced workshopping and I assume that critique groups can't be that different, except the work is probably more polished.

But here's a question---when is the right time to give the draft over to someone to read? I've had friends read just-finished first drafts, but I realized that at that point, I was still uncertain as to where the story was going to, so betas weren't as helpful as they could have been. So I guess the right time to ask and pester is when you know the direction the story is going in, the characters are clear, but there's still a little work left or a little wiggle room for things to change and you, the writer, aren't quite sure what's for the best of the story. Maybe. Anybody have any ideas on this?

Have you ever beta read for someone? What did you do as a beta? Have you had a beta reader? What kind of things--and at what stage of your process--did you allow someone else to read your work?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Editing Process: Adding and Subtracting

I hate math, I'm not good at it, never have been. Therefore, I don't like mathematical metaphors, but revising (and its substep, editing) are essentially a lot of adding and subtracting.

So, I finished "editing" my book. Of course, this edit is only a preparation for draft three, so I'm still running well into the "it takes three to five years to write a good historical novel" thing.

Clearly, the next project is going to be contemporary.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Editing is the Opposite of NaNoWriMo

I'm not doing NaNo this year. I have an idea I wanted to try, a new idea, but I also wanted to edit and continue on with the WIP, the same project that NaNo helped me burst through last year.

So unlike the past two Novembers, I am not powering through lack of ideas and lack of sleep to get to 1,667 words a day. Instead, I am crossing out swaths of my manuscript, making notes, ready to do some further research and rewriting.

Editing and rewriting is not what NaNoWriMo is about. In fact, I found NaNo the most helpful in combating first draft anxiety, where the Inner Critic (I named mine Buzzy) flat out inhibits writing--with everything from "But it's  not good!" to "But you need to do more research!"

I knew that trying to reach 50,000 words this month and trying to fine tune the manuscript would result in a very cranky me come the end of the month.

I am reading my book, all printed out, with pen in hand, being tactile with it in a way that editing on a computer screen could never replace. But I don't think Buzzy has made a come back, necessarily. I'm not being overly critical of myself or the story.

But editing takes careful consideration. If I get rid of this very long scene (or related chain of scenes, as I did yesterday and today), then how will it affect the rest of the story? Does it leave room for other, more important things that I know I'll need to add? What about deleting that word, so the sentence can flow better? Unlike the last time I attempted to revise a longer story, I'm seeing the possibilities for expanding or deepening the story. And that's all good.

This kind of anal retentiveness can't really happen when you're galloping toward a word count goal everyday. I remember feeling so excited during NaNo--the enthusiasm of the participants was infectious and seeing your pages grow everyday is so exciting. But I'm also excited editing with pen and paper. I mean, when you get to draw large X's through at least three pages of your WIP, there's a deep sense of satisfaction inside, like you are vanquishing an evil dragon of crappy pointless scenes and bad prose.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hometown Glory: the borough of Queens

Queens. Courtesy of Antipastarasta.

It's been a few days since Sandy left New York and New Jersey in tatters and I am finally getting back into the groove of editing my WIP on hard copy. I printed out 20 pages to mark up while I was stuck inside during the storm. I couldn't concentrate. I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year, so I should be done with the marking up by the time NaNo participants are crossing the 50,000 word mark. Good luck!

This week made me think a lot about hometowns and as I'm once again back in novel-mode, settings in novels. My story takes place in 1800, before photography, and though it's doubtful that an agricultural village would have changed much back then, it's still important to make up a plausible history for the place. The reader doesn't have to know, but I do.
Queens Blvd. at 80th Road, Kew Gardens, 1943.
From the Queens Library.

And as this is sort-of a history-ish blog, alongside the writing and the ranting, I hunted for old pictures of Queens. 

If you'd like to donate to the Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, please text "Red Cross" to 90999 to give $10. If you want to look up opportunities to volunteer or places to donate to or places to send your donations to, keep an eye on this Facebook group, where people have been posting constantly about every devastated part of the tri-state area, including Westchester, Connecticut, Long Island, and New Jersey. A lot of places are accepting donations, so check out the postings. You'll find one in your neighborhood, if you live in the area.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On Sandy: Historic Weather

Hey everyone (including new followers!)--an update from Queens, New York here--I obviously still have power (it flickered ominously for a good two hours, but held on; I'm hearing that we could still lose it) and internet (a miracle, considering our cable tends to go out during a regular windy day, never mind a hurricane). We've had a tree fall in front of our house (not hitting our house, thank goodness, though we jumped when we heard the snap) and we live inland and on a hill, so no worries of flooding here. Our main concern 'round these parts is the wind and the trees. But we in central Queens are lucky.

I'm sure, by now, that those of you outside of New York have seen the images of Battery Park City flooding, the power out in Manhattan, have heard of the thousands and thousands without power. Our subway system is flooding, there are explosions and fires, a hospital on the East Side of Manhattan had to evacuate due to lack of power. Breezy Point, in the Rockaways, has all but burned down. Long Island's roads are impassable. The South Shore of Long Island is flooded. People have died.

As I was watching the coverage during the day and editing my WIP at the same time, several odd thoughts occurred to me, as they do.

1) I hope the trees outside my bedroom don't fall. (This is probably not so odd, considering).
2) If I make a pillow fort, it'll totally protect me. Never mind, I'll just sleep downstairs.
3) Why do we still have power? Shouldn't it have gone out by now?
4) Where are the Avengers when you need them?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Things My Characters Do (Which I'm Now Crossing Out)

1. My characters are always looking somewhere. "Miles looked at..." "Lady Banston eyed the..." "Mady looked at..." As most of the POV is from Miles's POV, then it's pretty obvious most of the time that he is doing the looking, no? Cross out.

2. Characters are turning to look at something (even worse than simply "looking"). "Alex turned to look at..." *shudders* This might be a problem of writing the story as if it were a movie or TV show translated from my mind, where actors invest the characters with life and are pointedly looking at something or moving their heads to see a person. That doesn't work in a novel.

3. Walking. "Miles walked to..." "Alex walked back to..." Yes, walking is essential to life and all, and they would have walked much more in 1800, but walking is not a very exciting verb. Striding. Running. Jogging. Loping. Hoofing. Taking mincing steps. All much more descriptive than walking. You know what's even worse than simply "walking?" "Walking toward."

4. Taking carriage rides. We don't need to see every single carriage ride. It's not like I'd write a contemporary story and always describe them in the car, unless it was essential to plot.

5. Sighing. Think about it. How often do you sigh at any given point of the day?

6. Saying "rather." "You look rather pensive." This might be my way of writing in British understatement. It's a bit annoying ("bit" being another example) after "quite" a while. "Terribly."

7. Becoming integrated into their village too quickly. Seriously. One minute we're acquaintances with the village gossiping about you, next we're chatting away as if we've known each other for years?

8. There's more, but I can't think of it all.

Monday, October 22, 2012


I know a subplot when I see one. Subplots are secondary plotlines involving supporting characters. Sometimes they  link with the main character's storyline, sometimes they don't.

As I have my editorial cap on at the moment--reading my printed out WIP ten or twenty pages at a time, marking it up, making notes, etc.--I'm taking note of what is a subplot and what is not. I'm also seeing that I might need to eliminate some as I go along.

In Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, Bell says subplots, too, must be written with a character, their desires and a conflict in mind. He didn't mention how much space a subplot should take up or how many there could be in a roughly 90,000 word novel.

Anybody have any ideas?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hard Copy Time: Another Part of the Revising Process

It's time to break out the cute Hello Kitty pens and get scribbling.

There's something playful about scribbling, crossing out, circling, writing notes and questions on a printed out version of your story, no matter how long it is.

I remember the last time I did a revision--Last Request--and I went a wee bit overboard on the highlighting. In fact, I think I even stuck some of those Post-It page marker flag things on it, for whatever reason. I had a color-coded system of highlighting everything, along with scribbled remarks, comments, cursing and exhortations to a higher power.

I can be a little dramatic.

Monday, October 15, 2012

On Sybil

This post contains spoilers. Don't read if you haven't been watching the latest season of Downton Abbey.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I'm Not Moving: Part 5

Disclaimer: I do not own the movie Once or the musical Once or any of the songs written by The Script, clearly. This is purely for entertainment purposes, based on an idea that my friend and I riffed out while cutting through the crowd in Times Square after seeing Once the musical.

Part Five
            The song was finished. The guy pressed a few keys on his computer and listened to the playback. This was a more restrained song that any of his past ones. It was less morose as well. The guy supposed he was moving on from his ex-girlfriend, which was good. But if he was moving on from her, what would he write about now?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why I Like Tom Branson

Downton Abbey is back, though it won't be shown here in the States until January. Being impatient, I am unable to wait that long without being completely spoiled, so, yes, I have been watching.

I am one of those creatures who loves costume dramas, romance novels about lords and ladies, and historical fiction, enjoying the pretty costumes, big houses and Jane Austen plots of inheritance, marriage and Society--


I find that I love costume drama-romancey-fantasy things more when there's a dose of something different in the mix: a rebellious character or a sweeping social change or a cultural confrontation, an injection of reality and conflict amidst the fantasy of what the past would have been like, if one was rich. This is the root of my own work-in-progress.

And it's because of this tendency that I like Tom Branson, the former chauffeur, now Sybil's husband, on Downton Abbey. Branson represents not only the Irish (being half Irish, this naturally catches my interest), but alternative political philosophies and the increasing upward mobility of domestics. He is that dose of otherness that catches my interest.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I'm Not Moving: Part 4

Read Part Three 

Disclaimer: I do not own the movie Once or the musical Once or any of the songs written by The Script, clearly. This is purely for entertainment purposes, based on an idea that my friend and I riffed out while cutting through the crowd in Times Square after seeing Once the musical.

Part Four

The guy logged in to the website, his fingers tapping out the login information as deftly as they played his guitar.
            The computer was secondhand, old and slow as hell, but it still worked and working at Best Buy the last four months had taught him how to program the bloody thing so he could make scratch recordings of his songs.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Step 2 of revising?

I wrote a while ago that I thought I'd try a post-draft outline to see how far my story has deviated from my original vague outline and to see if I could fix a couple of big issues (plotlines, subplots, etc.) without becoming distracted by the mounds of crappy prose I'd written.

Hey, it's a draft.

One of my friends, in a moment of fatigue and foolhardiness, has volunteered to go through the outline and then, perhaps, to skim through the manuscript (though I hope she latches onto something in it and actually reads it...)

I only made it as far as Chapter 17 in the outline. I'm not a detailed outliner anyway, so while the process has been helpful in many ways, it is unremittingly dull, too.

Here's how this step 2 of revision, outlining, has been helpful:

  • Analyzation. I've been able to analyze scenes, characters and plotlines more in a barebones way. Does it add to the story? Is it hokey? Does it make sense? Why are my chapters so long?
  • Distance. Distilling it down to pithy bullet points and paragraphs has detached me from the passages I love and the characters I love. Which is only good when one is preparing to once again, in short order, rip the hell out of it. 
  • Ideas. I'm seeing where the weakness is and as I'm going through writing ideas and reading research again, I'm having ideas as to how to make the weak parts stronger. 
Things I wasn't too thrilled with:
  • Re-reading the story and trying to make it succinct. Ugh. 
  • Realizing that chapter ten is, in fact, that long. 
  • It's boring. I've already written it. Why am I outlining it?

Friday, September 21, 2012

I'm Not Moving: Part Three

Disclaimer: I do not own the movie Once or the musical Once or any of the songs written by The Script, clearly. This is purely for entertainment purposes, based on an idea that my friend and I riffed out while cutting through the crowd in Times Square after seeing Once the musical.

Read Part Two. 

Part Three
            "I don't understand," his girlfriend said for the billionth time as they walked home from the subway after one of his gigs. "Look, it's not that I don't support your music. I think you're wonderful. I don't know why you're hawking a CD you made full of songs about me."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Structure & 3 Acts

I've come to realize, through outlining (a truly tedious exercise, but helpful, I suppose) and through reading Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell that one of the problems I am having with my WIP is not its plot--apparently, it actually has a plot and subplots as well--but its structure.

I thought beginning when my lead moves to England would be a good starting point, but actually, it's almost as cliched as starting a story when a character wakes up. There are lots of hints about his past, but I've come to see that while his past is tension-filled (i.e, good stuff), it's not showing as well as it could because the reader doesn't get to go on the journey with the characters because it's happened already. It's not getting shown. I need to use some of the immediate backstory to make this character clearer. In fact, when I do that, my story will have a three-act structure.

The Three Act Structure comes from the theater. Basically, the beginning, middle and end. Set-up, plot thickens, resolution. Novels can work this way as well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fanficlet, part two: I'm Not Moving

Disclaimer: I do not own the movie Once or the musical Once or any of the songs written by The Script, clearly. This is purely for entertainment purposes, based on an idea that my friend and I riffed out while cutting through the crowd in Times Square after seeing Once the musical.

Read Part One here

Part Two

            "So are how things then?" The guy asked into the phone.
            "Oh, they're grand," Da replied. "Shop's doing well."
            "And Barushka?"
            "Well, grand," the guy said. They fell silent for a few beats. "I've been playing gigs here and there. Open mics and such."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Marginally Okay Second Draft

From Shitty First Draft to Marginally Okay Second Draft. There are a lot of things about the second draft that bother me----but that is why writers revise. And, in my case, now that the second draft is done, I will now proceed to outline the sucker to see what I can easily eliminate (the first scene is now on the chopping block), send it off to a beta reader, sleep, have a good think, read other people's books once again and continue reading and doing writing exercises from Plot and Structure.

Then it's on to the third and hopefully last draft. What'll we call that one?

So, stats:

First Draft
Words: 94,926
Pages: 351
Chapters: 43

Second Draft
Words: 86,268
Pages: 313
Chapters: 40

Saturday, September 1, 2012

James Stephen

In a tale that proves that history is often stranger than fiction, I bring you an abbreviated version of the tale of James Stephen's romantic woes in eighteenth century England; it makes the romantic entanglements of my main character look tame by comparison.

James Stephen became a lawyer in the British colony of St. Kitts. However, upon arrival in the West Indies on the island of Barbados, he witnessed a trial of slaves generally believed to be innocent, who were found guilty and burned to death. Horrified,  Stephen became an abolitionist, sending correspondence and evidence back to William Wilberforce, the only MP fighting to abolish slavery in Britain.

 In 1800, Stephen married Wilberforce's sister. He helped draft the 1807 bill to abolish the slave trade. He became an MP. His great-granddaughter was author Virginia Woolf.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Downton Abbey series 3 press pack

The Downton Abbey press pack for series 3 is now out: Press pack. Interesting things are going to happen to our beloved estate and characters in 1920.

For those afraid of spoilers, the press pack doesn't necessarily spell everything out, exactly. There are new characters this season belowstairs as well.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

These are probably crazy girl hormones talking, but god, my novel is horrible. My prose is even worse. Who am I even kidding?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Tower of London

My characters take a trip to London in my novel and as one of the prime tourist attractions of London, even in 1801, there is a scene at the Tower of London.

For those who watched the Olympics in the last few weeks, the Tower was pretty much front and center whenever NBC showed the sites of London, along with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, and the London Eye. Visual porn for Anglophiles.

The Tower of London--officially known as Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress--has become a symbol of its country. It was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066, when he had the old Roman city walls torn down along the River Thames to make room for the White Tower, a stone keep, in the center of the complex. Building the White Tower (which gained its name when it was whitewashed) was begun in 1078.

The Tower is an official royal residence of the monarch. It was also infamously used as a prison, especially in Tudor times. The Royal Mint was also within the Tower and of course, the Crown Jewels are kept there.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Troublesome Plot Line

I doubt that novel writing by polling ever actually works, but...


Okay. I'm revising. You know that. I had this storyline (which I expressed my doubts about here). Basically, the daughters of my protagonist: the older one is white. The younger one is half black. They have different mothers. Stir in a merchant father, the year 1800 and the English countryside and upper classes and you have my novel.

I had a plot thread that was winding around my novel, that the girls, who are quite young, were never told that they had different mothers--so they believe that they have the same mom. For some reason, in the draft, this plot became kind of important and the revelation to the older one that Mama isn't her Mama was going to be part of the almighty hard to reach climax.

The more I'm dealing with this plot, the more ridiculous and soap opera-like it feels.

BUT... the more I'm revising, angsting and hating this ridiculous book (and hacking, cutting and relooking at sources), another plot line has come to mind.

Choice B
When I found this resource, which has helped me immensely with how to place my characters within their sphere of society, there were numerous examples of illegitimate, mulatto children who were sent to England to be educated and to live; usually they were sent to boarding schools, sometimes they lived with their white relatives, other times they were apprenticed or became domestics.

Many of these children ran into legal trouble trying to gain their inheritances because they were illegitimate or because their relatives claimed the money or property for themselves.

I wondered whether Miles could be a trustee for a fellow merchant who had a half-black child and now, Miles has to work through legal issues to make sure the child gains his or her father's money. It would go along with the reasons why Miles wanted to move back to England, to which he and his family are still adjusting, and it would be a foil to how Mady is treated. It would highlight more about the era, too, I think.

On top of this, of course, there are Miles's daddy issues and his affair, which is revealed by the village social climber to all and sundry.

So, in summary:

Choice A or Choice B?

(And, indeed, Choice C or Choice D)

Write your choice in below.

Also, what kind of troublesome plot lines have come up in your stories?

Downton Abbey 3 clip

The Dowager Countess being oh-so-delicious again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Little Fanfiction Interlude

As I'm slogging through revision--and debating whether to completely delete a particular storyline in favor of something a little less melodramatic--I got some creative renewal last week by going to see Once the musical on Broadway.

All of this means that my friend and I made up a mini-fanfic in the middle of Times Square on the way to the subway.

So here's part 1.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Plot & Climax

Remember when I wrote that I wasn't sure exactly what the climax of my story was because my first draft was crap and fell apart toward the end (as usual) and then I wondered about the plausibility of a particular story line anyway?

I am in the home stretch of this revision, so to speak (about 23, 000 words to go) and because the first draft falls apart at this stage, I've had to think harder about how to wrap it up and end it. I worry that the story threads are predictable, cheesy, feel unrelated to other aspects of the story or are just plain bad. 

But I've been most worried about the climax. It has to happen naturally. It can't seem forced. The rest of the story has to build to it then lead out of it. It's a big deal and I don't know that I've ever written an effective climactic scene. 

Book the First didn't really have a peak. The first incarnation of this book had a neat climax purely because it was a romance--obviously, the hero and heroine are in danger, but they also realize how much they mean to each other in those scenes. 

I read an article on Writer's Digest which has helped me decide how to approach this important portion of my novel. It's called 4 Ways to Improve Plot/Climax in Your Writing. And it's actually a helpful, clear article. 

The article says that the climax actually has four components: 

  1. The run-up to the climactic moment (last-minute maneuvering to put the pieces in their final positions)
  1. The main character’s moment of truth (the inner journey point toward which the whole story has been moving)
  1. The climactic moment itself (in which the hero directly affects the outcome)
  1. The immediate results of the climactic moment (the villain might be vanquished, but the roof is still collapsing). 

Reading this succinct article has actually helped me think of the components and identify which scenes correspond to which parts of the climax. What do you guys think? How did you learn how to plot? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Post-Revision Outline

A few months ago, I read a post on Kristin Nelson's blog Pub Rants about her method of creating an editorial road map to highlight plot points for her clients.

I thought it sounded like a good idea. Writers divide themselves into outliners and pantsers--those who outline a little (or extensively) and those who go with the flow of whatever they are writing. I'm in the middle--I have a short, vague outline or a couple of paragraphs with the premise. Sometimes, I have bullet points telling me what the major points are, even if it turns out not to be very helpful sometimes.

The last time I had a draft to revise--Last Request, I think--I forced it on some friends to read, I gathered their comments and questions and emails, printed out the entire thing and read two of Margie Lawson's packets. I scrawled all over the pages, highlighted in every conceivable color, and then found at the end that I had no idea how to fix the problems in that story.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ran Spellcheck. Yikes.

Yes, I know, I've been updating like a fiend lately.

When I write, I turn the squiggly spell check and grammar lines off. First of all, because the grammar check never seems to be accurate. Second of all, spell check hates everything. Squiggly lines remind me too much of writing papers in college and it is distracting.

I'm on page 241 of the revision as of now. Miles is getting himself into trouble at the moment. I'm not sure what it says about me that most of my male characters are horndogs in a small way.

Realistic, I should think.

Anyway. So I decided, at nearly 300 pages, that I should run spellcheck on the WIP. Which I did. Come to find that a) my spelling is far more atrocious than it once was and b) I seem to be unconsciously using British spelling, which is wrong when your Word goes by the American English dictionary.

So, I had to change ageing to aging and travelling to traveling and and chiselled to chiseled. Ugh. I seem to think the double "L" is natural, because words like "woollen" and "levelling" and "analyse" seem perfectly all right to me.

Can I blame this spelling tendency on reading Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Hollow Crown: Henry V

Okay, I know I promised this post yesterday, but I didn't get around to finishing Henry V until now. This story wasn't a complete stranger to me like the past three in The Hollow Crown series, so I had an easier time following the plot. And actually, I didn't have a problem understanding the language either--except for those times when there was very quickly spoken French and my rudimentary high school French couldn't keep up.

This version opens with Henry V's funeral. As I've been waiting for this particular episode, I've been reading about Henry V and his French queen Catherine. Henry, after his military victories, died at 35 from dysentery. He missed becoming king of France by two months, leaving his infant son as the king of two countries. France soon returned to the control of the French royal family, aided by Joan of Arc. England went into the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses. The queen Catherine took up with a Welshman named Own Tudor and became an ancestor of the Tudor dynasty.

So that's the history. Personally, I think there's a lot of potential there for fanfiction and alternative history stories.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Downton Abbey, Season 3 spoilers

PBS had their Downton Abbey season 3 panel on Saturday and these are some spoilers from the third season trailer.

New cast photo:

And spoilers, below:


i just noticed that this blog hit 5,000 pageviews yesterday. Cool!

To wit: Remember the last post? About the Story of England by Michael Wood? Well, I came across a link to an article Michael Wood wrote, about Britain's first black community, dating from Elizabeth England.

I love the excerpts from the parish register. A real taste of average people's lives back then. And the stories he writes about Mary Fillis and Lucy remind me of the stories detailed in the doctoral dissertation I have combed through for research. Real minority people, in the past, and their stories, living among a majority population.

I'll be posting later today about the last of Hollow Crown series, Henry V.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Story of England and small villages

My dad will readily admit to not having an imagination. By this, he means that he doesn't read novels. He likes movies, but prefers documentaries. He doesn't follow serialized television, but the DVR is rather full of documentaries and reality TV.

One of these recent documentary series on our DVR takes care of both of us. It's history and being a pair of history buffs, we happily watched Michael Wood's Story of England, which is available to watch on

Historian Michael Wood tells the history of England--from pre-Roman to the Anglo-Saxons to the Danelaw through to the Norman Conquest and beyond--through the evidence collected from archeological digs, DNA tests, contemporary accounts and very well-maintained records of one English village: Kibworth, Leicestershire.

Now, actually, Kibworth is three villages, I believe: Kibworth Harcourt, Kibworth Beauchamp (prounounced Bee-cham), and Smeeton Westerby.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV, Part 2

After reading the play summary for Henry IV, Part 2, I wasn't sure why there was even a part two. I kind of figured that the major events happen in Part One and maybe Part Two was fan service on Shakespeare's part.

After watching it, however, I can see that it completes all the character arcs set up in Part One. Part Two is the ultimate pay off. It sets up Henry V and resolves the longer arcs of the father-son relationship between the king and Hal and Hal's ultimate repudiation of his old hell-raising life. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV, Part 1

I've just finished watching Henry IV, Part 1. I was a little confused in the beginning because I haven't ever seen other movie adaptations of this play, so I wasn't sure of the plot. Apparently, there aren't many adaptations. I wonder if that's because there are two parts to it and would absolutely require a sequel.

Warning: There Be Spoilers After This Point

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Paying Calls

In the 19th century, a great deal of social discourse was done by letter writing and by paying calls.

But what is a call, exactly? In the days before Alexander Graham Bell, a call was a visit.

Back in the day, a well-to-do lady would pay morning calls to her friends and acquaintances. First of all, in the Regency, a morning call was more likely to take place in the early afternoon. Say that this lady has just come to London for the Season. She gets into her carriage and calling cards in card case, takes off for her acquaintances' homes. She has a servant drop her calling card off at the homes.

From Country Living 

The card is dropped onto a silver tray in the front hall by the other person's servants and later given to the mistress of the house for perusal.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Hollow Crown: Richard II

I'm not sure how many of you know that for the next few consecutive Saturdays, in the UK, as part of the Cultural Olympiad before the London Olympics, the BBC is showing film versions of Shakespeare.

The tetralogy (I learned that word recently; it means a four-part story) began on June 29th with Richard II.

I just finished watching it. It doesn't actually air in the U.S. until January, so I found a link, let it load and plopped myself down. C'est la vie.

Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V follow in the successive weeks. The plays are based on three historical kings of England: Richard II, who was deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. Then Henry IV found it hard to keep control of his nobles and his kingdom, including his errant son. That son became Henry V, England's great warrior king, who won a decisive battle at Agincourt against the French.

Here's the trailer for the series, which is being called The Hollow Crown after a speech in Richard II.

Edited to add: A podcast interview with the director, producer and Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinner. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Symbolism and follies

I am on page 212 of revision.I realized the other night, while going back in the manuscript to check a detail, that I actually have symbolism in here. So what? you say. Isn't that par for the course with novels?

I have ranted in the past about all the English classes in high school where symbolism was such a big deal. Here.
Here are some of the more ridiculous examples I remember from high school English:

  • Holden Caulfield's hat was a symbol for his hunt for...what was he hunting for again? 
  • Oh, yeah. And "Holden" could symbolize his efforts to "hold on." (Hold on to what? Being a brat?)
  • Ethan Frome and the sled being a need to escape. I thought that one was quite obvious, actually. 
Symbolism is defined as the practice of representing things by symbols or by investing things with a symbolic meaning or character. 
James McAvoy and Keira Knightley in Atonement

The broken vase in the beginning of Atonement. The moors in Wuthering Heights. Lady Mary's stuffed dog in the second season of Downton Abbey. Harry Potter's scar. They all represent something about the characters or the plot that is deeper than it initially appears. 

I find that symbolism can be read far too much into. Sometimes it's blue because the author typed "blue" and it doesn't mean anything more than that. If the symbol is not chosen well, it comes across as forced and doesn't work. Or perhaps it's not associated well with what it is meant to represent or it's not clear. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

200 pages of revision=blog party for myself

I hit my 200th page of my Marginally OK Second Draft tonight, which means that I have about 150 pages left and then hopefully somebody will read it and I get to revise all over again...

Anyways. Here's my reaching 200 pages party.

First, gratuitous current crush picture. It's from Wimbledon, which opened yesterday. It's just candid enough that I can pretend that I was lurking in the background somewhere.

You might not recognize him--a friend who saw his latest release exclaimed, "Whoa! He looks so different!" when I helpfully Googled him for her. He was in The Avengers, which I blogged about back in May: here.

Second, Thought Catalog article about current crush: Husband Material, Volume 7: Tom Hiddleston

And finally, via Downton Abbey Addicts. If you like your period dramas as I do. This is hilarious. Jane Austin is My Homegirl (Down Town Abbey) Rap

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Hey everyone--

This blog hit 4,000 page views today. Thank you!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The London Season: 19th century society

Almack's, from

For the fashionable people and the social climbers of centuries past, the London Season was the highlight of the social year.

Parliament was in session. Debutantes were presented at Court and had their debut balls. Royal Ascot occurred during the Season, as did the Derby, and the regatta. Calls were paid, routs and balls were thrown, huge amounts of money were won and lost by gambling and people were engaged to be married.

For most of the year, many families would live on their country estate. Come early spring, they would move to either their London home or rented accommodation, if they chose to participate in the Season. On Downton Abbey, the Crawley family leave Yorkshire for London for Sybil's debut, for example. They refer to staying at Grantham House, their London home.

Aunt Rosamund: “There’s nothing like an English summer, is there?!”
Mary: “Except an English winter.” 
Aunt Rosamund: “I’m sorry you haven’t received more invitations. But then after four seasons one is less a debutante than a survivor.” 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Never Seconds, and the time Sunflower's article was banned in school

Let me tell you a little story about a school paper called The Beacon. I was on that paper, in high school, for two years. I wrote several articles in it, as well as copyediting bits and pieces as needed. Our advisor was very fond of reminding us not to plagiarize.

One day, our advisor told me that he wanted me to research and write an article about censorship--particularly of school papers. So I wrote the article--I can't remember a word of it and I'm pretty sure it was awful to begin with. It wasn't incendiary in the least.

I thought.

Because our principal banned us from giving out the paper.

It became our most popular issue.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Climax

I am on page 168 of my revision. I'm running about five pages ahead of my first draft at this point in the story.

It also means that I am about to reach the climax. The image above is Freytag's classic pyramid. I remember learning this in English class in high school. Freytag came up with this after studying ancient Greek dramas and Shakespeare.

Plotting has never really been my strong suit when it comes to writing. I think for a long time I thought it was the list of events that occurred in the story and not really a moving forward of the plot. If I was more of a plotter, then I think endings would've come easier to me.

The further into this rewrite I get, the more analyzing I am doing. I've been trying to think of what is the climax of this story; or, which climax is The Climax.

I've got:

  • The payoff on the 'Alexandra is an impulsive tomboy' arc
  • The 'we have different mothers?' storyline
  • Either the formation of or the breakup of Miles' ill-advised affair 
  • The village racist learns about the affair and uses it against Miles
  • Miles meets with his irascible father
Because it's a novel, there are several arcs and subplots going on at the same time. And maybe, in reality, all of these dramatic scenes make up the climax together. So maybe this model of dramatic structure is more appropriate:
I'll have to see what the AbsoluteWrite forums say about plotting and climaxes. Meanwhile, what's the climax of your story, if you're writing one? And do you think most novels have more than one climax or not?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sharing a Link: Danger of Superficial History in Fiction

Read this blog post and was reminded why I'm compelled to write the characters I am writing:

The Danger of Superficial History in Fiction

I like the look of the Regency, for instance. Jane Austen. Bath. Empire dresses. Balls.

But I've become interested in the real history of the Georgian and Regency eras as well and irritated by the endless drove of dukes and other assorted nobles. Any time Ireland is mentioned at this time, of course, I know what that really means. Or any time someone mentions a plantation on Jamaica, that means slavery. Or India: colonization. Macau and Canton: colonization, opium.

As one learns about the real history and the personalities of the time, you start thinking, "Well, where is all of this stuff in my historical romance novels?"

When I thought up the fictional family in my WIP, I started researching for real families of the Georgian era like them. I'm biracial, but that doesn't mean that I read a book and go, "Where's the ethnic minority in this story?" I tend to find the token minority an eyeroll-worthy experience. On the one hand, let's not pretend that the British aristocracy in the late 1700s were all-accepting of other types of people or religions. Let's not pretend that they are all mixed-race in some way. But on the other hand, let's not pretend that the late 1700s was necessarily a time when different people of different races never met or interacted.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mourning Customs

Sunflower here, looking up mourning customs.

Morbid, huh?

The family in my WIP are in mourning because their wife and mother has died before the start of the story. However, my character Miles being himself, he chose not to have black mourning dresses made for his young daughters. As a man, all he needs for mourning wear is a black armband and black gloves.

I've had to go back and look up specific points of mourning customs because I have a character who is a widow and she grows in importance from page 150 onwards, so I want to be sure that I get the mourning aspect of her character correct.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sh*t Writers Say

I wonder if you guys have seen this video on YouTube:

I LOVE "How does my book end?!!" and "Can somebody fix my book?"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

5 novels

I joined the AbsoluteWrite forums the other day and realized, while I was writing a post, that I have written five novels.

1) Book the First
2) The Keegans, version 1.0
3) Last Request
4) Iggy the unfinished
5) My current WIP, Keegan, version 2.1

Really? When did that happen?

Which is hilarious, when you think about it, because I've written all of those while having this blog, which means that they're documented--and even so, I didn't quite realize how many books I'd written.

Granted, Iggy isn't finished.

And the WIP is really a better version of the same characters as Book 2...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Things I've Learned About My Writing/Revising Process

I have had this blog for three years. I have had it open to anyone who happens to know how to work Google for...about a year? Year and a half? It's mostly a self-indulgent venture, sort of an electronic, multimedia, social version of my teenage journals, except it's happier, less whingey-moony-annoying and mostly about my writing.

Or just stuff I like.

Of course, my writing and especially my revision processes are still evolving and will continue to do so. But here is what I've learned about my writing process in the last three years:

Friday, May 18, 2012

"I'm Going To My Mind Palace."

Have I ever mentioned how much I love BBC's Sherlock (shown in America on PBS)? 

I adore it: the intricate cases, the acting, the long-winded deductions, Sherlock, Watson, the snarkiness, the floating text, the writing. 

Sherlock going to his "mind palace," a phrase that I am now stealing.

I even taped it on my bedroom wall.

Interior Decorating For Writers

Reading another writer's words--whether in their work, their letters or memoirs, or just a simple, pithy quote--can be enormously inspirational. 

My very lavender walls used to have posters on it. Movie poster there, photos there, magazine picture of an actor I had a crush on there, collage my friends and I made of a band we liked over there...

Things have come up and come down on my walls. Either I got sick of looking at it. Or I outgrew it. Or the tape didn't hold up against the walls. 

So recently, I've been cutting up bits paper I have, writing something on it, and taped it firmly. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What Makes a Good Villain?

Sunflower here, on a fairly productive writing day, musing about villains. Or, as they're called in literature, antagonists.

Antagonists are defined as "a character, enemy or institution which represents the opposition against which the protagonist must contend." Sometimes, the antagonist is the foil to the protagonist and they are directly locked in competition with each other. Other times, the antagonist is more representative of an idea that opposes the main characters.

The Eye of Sauron. From Wikipedia

For my money, the most frightening literary villains I have read come from fantasy: Sauron in The Lord of the Rings and Voldemort in Harry Potter. They have a lot in common, those two. Not only are they representations of evil, but they're also disembodied, menacing, dangerous, and their plotting, their minions and their ideas of world domination and racial purity are scarier than any thriller's criminal or terrorist could be, to me at least. They both echo Hitler, after all.