Tuesday, January 31, 2012

To My Old Master

This is something I found tonight: a letter written by a former American slave in 1865 to his former master, who had written previously asking the slave to return to the plantation. For me, it's an example of the power of old letters and other primary documents--it brings history alive.

From the blog Letters of Note:

To My Old Master

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Confabulation or, "Describing things in excruitiating detail"

I was cruising Twitter two days ago and came across a tweet with this link: Our friend, confabulation

Confabulation is defined as: the replacement of a gap of a person's memory by a falsification that he or she believes may be true.

It's conjecture, basically. As explained in the link, confabulation is what gives writers the chance to only minimally describe characters and settings--and the reader will fill in the rest. You know how you and your friend can both read the same book at the same time, yet have two completely different images of the lead characters?

I'm not great at description. I think I'm sort of finding the happy middle ground between describing every last little thing and very spare description just now and that's only because I have figured out how to move a plot along.

But I want to describe all my characters--how their mouths move when they talk and what their cheekbones look like and how they walk. I've found myself sitting at my laptop, going "How would you describe a nose?"

That level of description is for me.

What kinds of simple sentences have you read that you filled in for yourself? Was it a palace or a trench or a village? Who was it? What were the words that set your mind off into seeing things the way your mind pictured it?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Would-Be Assassination(s) of King George

I've cracked open another book. This time, it's history, and it's about Regency England. 

I'm only a few pages in, but I've already read about an American visitor to England in the period, who kept journals of his visit, and of course, about the madness of King George. 

And I learned something quite interesting. On May 15, 1800, at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, George III was standing in the royal box. The national anthem was playing. Then, from the audience, a shot rang out, aimed at the king. It missed and the man who fired, James Hatfield, was tried for treason and acquitted by reason of insanity. The trial brought about the passing of the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1800.

I only bring this incident up because my story (which I read all the way through today for the first time in months) begins in spring 1800. I think it would be an interesting story to include, perhaps with my fictional lord telling my fictional Miles all about it. 

The book is about the Regency and 1800 is a decade before the Regency begins. But I look forward to mining more information about England of the time and perhaps, finding out more fascinating incidents like the would-be assassination of King George III. 

Also, check out this commemorative medal. It says God Save the King-Preserved from Assassination--May 15 1800. 

This was not, however, the only time George III was nearly killed. He was stabbed in 1786. Of course, he famously went mental and spent his last years blind and insane at Windsor, where he died in 1820. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The accents of Downton Abbey

A little addition I found via twitter. From The Dialect Blog.

Edited to add: This is, of course, an addition to the English Accents in My Head post.


Edited to add: 3/19/13:

As this is a popular post, I would add that the Crawley family speak, as Dialect Blog says, in Received Pronunciation. The servants tend to speak in Yorkshire accents (I know that Joanne Froggatt, for example, who is from Yorkshire, said that her Anna accent is a slower, period Yorkshire accent. Sophia McShera is also from Yorkshire, as is Jim Carter). Other servants speak in generic northern English accents or Lancashire/ Cheshire/ Manchester accents.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Words With Friends

You know, for a girl who has spent most of her life with a pen in hand, writing snarky observations or with her near-sighted eyes stuck in a book---

I have a shameful vocabulary.

Like, as I'm writing, I realize that I use some words over and over again. But my overused words are never words like "behoove" or "anodyne" or "ancillary." They range more towards "really", "almost," "actually" and "never."

And that's just my written vocabulary, which is far better than my spoken vocabulary. While speaking, I tend to grunt more than actually talk and then there's the inevitable slip into bleep-worthy words. I'm a New Yorker. I can't help my profanity-laced conversation.

I have a friend who is a Scrabble aficionado; Scrabble, which is, of course, a lot like the popular online game Words With Friends. This friend peppers casual conversation with words like "behoove","bemused" and "quiescent." In fact, when she's been drinking, the words get more complex, she gets into second and third definitions, and my mind is blown with the fact that I don't know the definitions of most of those words.

The more I play Words With Friends, the more I realize that I'm a terrible Scrabble player. I always was a shockingly bad Scrabble player and I'm currently in the midst of multiple games of Words with Friends where I'm being summarily beaten.

My dad once said--I believe while I was complaining about the vocabulary I had to memorize for the dreaded SAT--that learning more complex vocab is important in imparting more precise meanings.

Now if I could only be more strategic and get on the Triple Word boxes more often.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Reading

I received an Amazon gift card for Christmas from my cousin, I caught an infection that had me home from work and lying on the couch for about a week, and my computer's trackpad decided that it was going to be difficult and required the laptop to stay overnight at the shop. Plus, it's winter, it gets darker earlier, it's cold and I hibernate.

All of that means that I have acquired new books.

While I was sick, I read and finished The Hobbit. Funnily enough, I owned the book for years and never finished it. I think my infatuation with the Rings trilogy caused me to be jarred a little by the far jollier tone of The Hobbit. But, of course, since the movie is being filmed and Peter Jackson posts videos from the set and the teaser trailer came out, I figured it was time to actually read the book. Cheered me up a lot. I can't wait to see it on screen; it's going to be amazing.

I also bought Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks--I'm on page 143. Birdsong takes place in the Edwardian years just before World War One, then during the war in the Somme Offensive in France. It was voted the 13th best read in a BBC poll in the UK. It's an education, reading this novel. I don't know a lot about World War One, for one thing.
But the writing expresses deep, complex ideas in perfect, poetic, simple sentences that flow together so well. If only I could write like that...

I finished a romance novel, Countess of Scandal by Laurel McKee, last night. I decided to read this book purely on its setting: Ireland, 1798, during the 1798 rebellion. Along with the romance aspect of it, I enjoyed the questions the characters discussed: who is Irish? Are they, descendants of English settlers in Ireland, Irish or are they English? Where do their loyalties lie? It reminded me of the background story of one of my characters.

I just started (for a lighter counterpart while I read Birdsong) Frederica by Georgette Heyer, Regency romance writer extraordinaire. Her books are known for their accuracy, not only in the social conventions of the Regency period, but the dialogue and language as well.

I have one more book on its way, a non-fiction history on the Regency era. I can't have everything I know about this time period come from fiction.

At this rate, I should be well-covered in reading material until March.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Thousand Pageviews!

Hey everyone,

Just a quick post to say thank you--The Sunflower Snarks has hit 1003 views this afternoon.

Will post more a more substantial post soon--I'm nearly done with my first draft and I got some new reading material I'd like to share with you.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The English accents in my head

Another line from You Know You're a Writer When...

Sometimes you think in an English accent. 

Guilty as charged. I blame this propensity for thinking in some form of British accent or another while writing a British-set story. It's awkward, though, when you're out with your very American friends in New York--you know, the city that I am native to--and you pronounce the word "literally" like "litch-rally."

When I write dialogue, I have that classic writer thing of having different voices in my head, with their different accents, speaking. I think that's where writers can be considered schizophrenic.

Clearly, we don't have recordings from 1800 or even from 1820, so my characters' voices are taking on a definite RP quality as they talk. "RP" is short for Received Pronunciation, which is basically the default British accent Americans think of. BBC English. Jane Austen adaptations. It's the standard English accent taught to actors as well.

Here are the characteristics of RP.

RP is derived from the accent of the 18th-century and 19th-century aristocracy, particularly those who attended the public schools (for Americans, this would be private boarding schools) and universities. In other words, it was the accent of the upper classes. RP is basically a southern English accent that is not based on a particular region of Britain. It's more about education, social standing, and training rather than where one is brought up. The Crawley family on Downton Abbey, for instance, seem to spend the bulk of their time on their Yorkshire estate. Yet the family speak in RP, not Yorkshire accents.