Monday, January 28, 2013

Pride and Prejudice is 200 Years Old

Today, in 1813, Thomas Egerton published a book by the Author of Sense and Sensibility. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen remains a classic 200 years later.

Jane began the classic tale of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in 1796, finished it in 1797. At the time, the book was called First Impressions. It did not interest a publisher that Jane's father wrote to, so Jane put the manuscript away. She came back to it, revising it extensively in 1811 in 1812 before selling it to Egerton. Jane sold the copyright to Egerton, who of course, made a killing with this, the most famous of Jane Austen's novels.

The Cast of Downton Abbey wins Best Drama Ensemble

The cast of Downton Abbey won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama. The whole cast gets the award, which is pretty amazing when one considers that the competition were the casts of Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad, and Boardwalk Empire.

Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Allen Leech (Branson), Sophie McShera (Daisy) and Amy Nuttall (Ethel Parks) were on hand to accept the award. You can check out more pictures of them beaming at Downton Abbey Addicts.

Winning the award (spoiler free):

On the red carpet (spoiler-free):

Friday, January 25, 2013

My Beta sent me these

My dear Beta read the WIP and, thankfully, didn't totally hate it. Which is something, because I have a rabid hatred of the last twenty pages.

She ripped into the bits that deserved it (truthfully, she could have ripped into it more, which she may still do as we talk about this draft more) and noted the parts she liked, which is always good for an insecure neurotic writer to see.

Plus, she got the stiff Englishman jokes. Irreverent comments in the margins of my books make me smile. Such as: "Were you channeling Downton Abbey with this line?"

Actually, Beta's comments were: "Overall, it's pretty good. Took me a while to get into the story though."

(I have yet to hear at what point she got into the story, but I can guess. That current first chapter is crap.)

She said I have a good grasp on the plot. (Yay!)

Too much action toward the end. (Precipitated by my lack of a concrete climax-and-denouement.)

Best moments are when Miles shares tender moments with the girls. (Made me SO happy to read that.)

And she sent me these today:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Now that we here in the Northeast are officially in the Dead of Winter, some of us are probably thinking of warmer climes as a mental escape.

I've been reading about Barbados for my story. Originally, I had Barbados simply as backstory for my characters and did not research the island at all. But upon revision, I decided that to open the book in Barbados provides a much fuller understanding of the characters, the time period, and it works in technical ways to complete the character arc.

I found a Kindle version of a textbook called The History of Barbados or something similar, but it was hella expensive. Even the Kindle version was well over a hundred bucks. I mean, really, I want thorough information for my book and everything, but that's too much.

So what have I learned about Barbados in the 1790s?

When the British landed on Barbados in 1627, they found an uninhabited island. Barbados was one of the few Caribbean islands that remained in British hands throughout the colonial period.

Sugarcane was the main crop grown on Barbados.

June to November is "the wet season." December to May is the "dry season."

In the late eighteenth century, Barbados was considered to have a good ratio of blacks to whites, in comparison to other West Indian colonies, which were overwhelmingly black with absentee white planters living in Britain.

By the late eighteenth century, a 350 acre plantation with 200 slaves was considered large by Barbadian plantation standards.

After centuries of growing sugarcane, the soil on Barbados was starting to decline in quality and other crops were being grown.

Information I'm still Looking For: 

What was the population of free blacks on Barbados in the 1790s?

When a small plantation folded, if the slaves were freed, what happened to them?

Just general little tidbits on life there at the turn of the nineteenth century. Details always make fiction more realistic.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Opening Scenes

What's the first thing you read in a book? Unless you're one of those people who likes to read the ending first or flip to the middle of a book or just weigh it in your hand, you probably read the opening first.

Openings are often the most rewritten portions of a piece, especially a novel. It has to entice the reader (not to mention a literary agent). It has to set up the narrative voice--whether it's third person or first person and what kind of voice will be guiding the reader through. It should contain a hook, the crux of the novel, without giving the entire story away. It should establish a character--ideally, the protagonist--or the setting. It definitely sets the tone for the novel. It's delicate and complicated to write. How, exactly, do you get all of that stuff in?

Writer's Digest has a very detailed article called Opening Scenes: An Overview. Also, The Very Beginning: Your Opening Scene.

An opening scene can be leisurely, with slow language, maybe a description of the setting. It can be action-filled, fast-paced, put the reader right into the story. It can be a character study. It can show the reader part of the climax. But it ought to pull the reader in, make them feel like they're along for the ride. Here's a post by agent Kristin Nelson on Action vs. Active Openings.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My E-Reader and I

I received a Kindle for Christmas and in the short period of time since I opened the package and now, I've probably read more books than I did for the latter half of 2012.

Granted, most of my lack of reading last year had to do with finishing my book--and a lot of what I've been reading is for research or to blow off steam, like reading fanfiction.

In order to write, though, you have to read. I found myself toward the later stages of my revision trying to remember how to write proper descriptions and actual paragraphs.

So far, I have read:
The Hunger Games trilogy
To Marry A Prince by Sophie Page

I have started:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (I may end up becoming intensely jealous over the prose of this book, but I intend to study it and figure out to make the "camera" of my scenes as present as it is in the first scene of Wolf Hall)

I have downloaded:
To Marry An English Lord, the book that inspired the character of Cora, Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey
A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick

I asked for a Kindle for Christmas not because I want to read during a commute (my commute to work involves too many transfers) or because I never ever want to buy a book again, but because there are a lot of books out there that I want to read, but I don't necessarily want to own or be responsible for. I don't want a book I only want to read once or twice taking up space in the already limited space of my room. 

At the same time, the next time I'm near Barnes and Noble, I want to buy Tempting the Bride by Sherry Thomas and maybe The Chronicles of Downton Abbey

And it's about time I became familiar with e-readers. I've been hearing about how they're going to kill publishing since at least 2004, after all. 

Do you have an e-reader? What kind of books do you read on it? If you don't have one, why? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Katniss vs. Bella

I have just finished reading Mockingjay, the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy. My friend promised me that I would "like it so much more than Twilight."

She was right. My enjoyment had to do with a number of factors: the stories themselves, the writing, and the characters. In particular, Katniss.

I know that there's a lot out there on Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen, who makes the better role model for teenage girls, who is a better symbol of a feminist, which girl is simply a cooler character. For some writers, these two characters represent all the negatives and positives of writing female characters, especially for a Young Adult audience.

I tried once to analyze different kinds of female characters, but I figured I'd leave it to those who took that task more seriously and strenuously than I do. I'll just tell you which girl I'd have more fun writing and what my experience of reading Bella and Katniss was like:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Examining POV

Every story is told from a certain point of view, right? It's the very building block basic of telling a story. Who is telling the story?

In fiction, there are several standard points-of-view a writer can use to tell the story.

Omniscient: The all-knowing narrator. Usually a god-like character who looks into everyone's thoughts and feelings and sometimes comments upon them.
Examples: Atonement. (The first two sections of the novel are third person omniscient. Cecilia and Robbie's thoughts, feelings, and actions are recounted through those sections. It's only in part three of the book, which is in first person, that the reader realizes that the narrator of parts one and two is a character in the story.)

First Person: The story is told from one narrator's perspective (that is, one narrator at a time, using "I"). The advantages of 1st person are: a clear point-of-view, a strong sense of the character (because he or she is telling the reader the story), and it's pretty easy to write in 1st person. In relaying stories, "I" is a pretty natural place to start. Disadvantages? Your first person narrator can only experience one event or emotion at a time.
Examples: The Twilight series. The Hunger Games trilogy. The Catcher in the Rye.

Second Person: I've only read second person in fanfiction. The reader becomes a character in the piece. "You" become involved. Can be awkward to read, however.

Third Person, Omniscient: Told by a narrator (referring to the characters as "he," "she," "they") who knows everything about those characters, including thoughts, motivations and background. Will dip into anybody's head.
Examples: Pride and Prejudice. The Lord of the Rings (generally following Frodo, but also Aragorn and others.)

Third Person, Limited: The unidentified narrator refers to the characters as "he," "she", "they," but the narrator stays in one character's head at a time.
Examples: The Harry Potter series (it's third person, following Harry); The Other Boleyn Girl (We stayed with Mary Boleyn as narrator); and lots of other books.

Then we get into the tenses a story can be told in:

Present: Everything is happening now.

Past: Stuff has happened already.

Problems I've Run Into In POV-land

1.  I am guilty of head-hopping
That is, one writes a scene in one character's perspective. Then, on the next line or in the same paragraph, one switches to the other character's perspective. I still do this by accident. I think it still reads like it's from the POV character's perspective. Others say differently. I scratch head in confusion and wish we'd spent more time on POV in college. Naturally, head-hopping is easier to get wrong in third-person than in first. A part of head hopping is going from the limited pov to the omniscient pov randomly.

2. Past Imperfect
There's a time and place for using the past imperfect tense. That is, writing something like "Miles had expected the news for weeks." I have a problem, sometimes, where I use it all the time, when it's unnecessary. In fact, best used sparingly. It's distancing to the reader and you want them to identify with the story.

3. Changing Tenses
As in, going from present to past. This was most prevalent while writing Last Request, because there was a ton of flashbacks in there, but the main story was told in present tense. In that story, the tenses were supposed to change. It's when they're not supposed to change that you have a problem.

4. Transitioning (Oh, yes. Ha.)

5. Too Many Heads Peeked Into
See head-hopping above. Also, since it's third-person limited, I don't think telling the story from more than six characters' povs is really going to work well.

What kind of POV-centric problems do you have?