I knew I should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque

At least Bugs was always clever when he got lost.

At least Bugs was always clever when he got lost.

After a lot of reflection, I’ve decided to do Camp NaNoWriMo this April. J and I had a very productive January, and since then, well, J has continued to get a lot done. So I need this. I need a public challenge of meeting a goal. I debated a few different projects, and I finally decided I’m going to revise The Queen’s Tower, my novel from this past NaNoWriMo. The novel requires more work than usual because I jumped into it without a detailed outline. But naturally I’ve dithered so long making the decision to do Camp that I’m not sure I’m going to have a complete one this time, either. But I am going to spend some time planning Act 2, especially the second half. I don’t want to tackle this part of the novel again without a road map.

What’s so tricky about the second half of Act 2 (roughly from the middle to three-quarters of the story)? It’s notoriously the trickiest part of a narrative to keep from sagging, and I’ve handicapped myself further by limiting the story to essentially one location for the duration of this section. Part of my inspiration for The Queen’s Tower is The Lion in Winter. For anyone unfamiliar with this amazing play (and movie), the story covers a day during the Christmas holidays when Henry II lets Queen Eleanor out of the castle he’s kept her in for over a decade. My story covers a bit more time (plus it has flashbacks), but the main timeline in the second half of Act 2 takes place at a feast. This occasion marks the first time Queen Merewyn has been allowed out of her tower in 17 years, so it comes ready made with meaning and emotion, but it still takes place in a single location over the span of just a few hours.

So, what’s happening at this feast? Lots of conversations and plotting and paranoia. But not having James Goldman’s gift for clever dialogue, the feast needs to be more than people talking. Looking back on my first draft, I don’t see anything especially wrong with any of the parts in the second half of Act 2, but I fear putting them all together will put the reader to sleep. There’s a sameness to all of it, with the exception of the flashbacks I have sprinkled in, but I want the feast to be interesting in its own right.

And this is where I hoping outlining will help. If I step back and think about the ebb and flow of the section, hopefully I will be able to identify where the narrative sags and bolster it. Of course, that means the next step is figuring out how to bolster, but I’ll have a map of where I’m going so I’ll at least know which way is Albuquerque.



TMI or Not TMI: The Art of Commentary

Guess what I'm thinking.   No, really...go ahead and guess.

Guess what I’m thinking.
No, really…go ahead and guess.

S and I have just gotten around to watching Season 4 of Game of Thrones.  I suppose we could have gotten HBO and watched it when it came out.  Or we could have watched it without paying (if ahem you know what I mean), as so many people do.  But we are fuddy and middle-aged and cheap, so we waited until we could get the DVDs from the library.

It’s great, obviously, and we’ve enjoyed watching it.  But half the fun is always watching the bonus features and (especially) the commentaries.  It’s all very interesting, but of course the best commentary every season is the one by “the kids”—Maisie Williams (Arya) and Sophie Turner (Sansa).  They are so clearly having ridiculous amounts of fun doing it.  You can’t help but be carried along and start laughing with them.

It raises the question, however, of how much background information about a story a viewer/reader needs or wants.  If you know too much beforehand, of course, you can spoil yourself.  I think, for example, of when members of our writers’ group read their works in progress.  Some people like to give a long explanation of what leads up to the scene, and who the characters are, and where the story is going, and so on.  And it’s not like we tell anyone to stop; if they want to do it that way, they can do it that way.  But if anyone asks whether they ought to give background, I think the consensus in the group is that people should just read the passage and let it stand on its own merits.  If further explanation is required, then the other group members can always ask for it.

DVD commentaries are somewhat different, though, since you generally watch them after you’ve already seen the episode or movie in question at least once.  As a fan, it’s always fun to hear stories of how things were filmed, and hear the actors tell stories about difficulties on the set.  When I was a kid, my brother and I had the Art of Star Wars books, and it was fascinating to see how the stories and characters developed. (We only had the ones for the original three movies, of course, because, as mentioned, we are fuddy and middle-aged, but looking back now, that was probably okay.)

But I think the same rule applies—the story still has to stand on its own merits.  If something requires a bit of authorial explanation in order to make sense, then the author did something wrong.  If a scene doesn’t work, it can’t be fixed by the author or showrunner saying, “Well, you see, it all makes sense because of [something that wasn’t actually in the story].”

Even so, commentaries, even if they aren’t particularly well done, are at least something pleasant to have playing in the background while you write a blog.  At their best, they can be genuine works of art in their own right.  So I’ll leave you with the greatest commentary ever.


Addition: Something that struck me while listening to these commentaries is another TMI issue that goes along with the telling you something that wasn’t in the story problem. Of all the amazing characters in the Song of Ice and Fire universe, the one I’ve probably spent more time thinking about than any other is Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger. One of the reasons he remains so fascinating after five books and four seasons is that he is still a cypher. With the seemingly million POVs in the books, the reader has been in nearly every important characters’ head except Littlefinger. No other character has such mysterious motivations, so when the actor who plays him so delightfully, Aidan Gillen, began talking about how Littlefinger feels, I was tempted to stick my fingers in my ears and start repeating “La, la, la. Can’t hear you.” I want to keep working on who this character is and what he wants, and I don’t even want the actor who plays him to tell me his interpretation.


Mary Sue and the Boy Scout

shucks  die hard

First off, let me reiterate that I love The 100. Hands down, it has been the highlight of my viewing schedule for the 2014-2015 season. (It helps that Hannibal isn’t back until June, but that’s a different post.) The stories face down big questions without flinching, the characters have huge arcs, and the acting is great. (Extra thumbs up to Devon Bostick in the season finale. Is the goggle-wear jokester turned axe murdering badass weeping over the corpse of his dead girlfriend really the same guy who’s Roderick in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies? Holy crap.) But I’ve been burned by shows I loved even more than this, so now I can’t help but start looking for the cracks even when everything is seemingly firing on all cylinders, if you will permit my mixed metaphor. I think it’s some kind of sickness. Englishmajoritis, or some such.

So what worries me most about The 100? Is it the story? I love a good story, but I watched a daytime soap for 25 years, so I have a fairly high tolerance for following the occasional questionable storyline. Are the big questions starting to overwhelm the show, a problem I had with Battlestar Galactica, but felt The 100 avoided early on? Actually, The 100 is still doing well integrating questions of survival, death, justice, forgiveness, and other Important Questions pretty darn elegantly. (This morning I woke up and my first groggy thought was “At its core, is The 100 about forgiveness?” That blog may happen someday.) Perhaps the show is plagued by fridge logic? For instance, according to one of the show’s writers, only 52 days have gone by total in these two seasons. This means some pretty amazing things have happened in a short period of time, such as Octavia becoming a kickass warrior without even the benefit of a montage. But let’s face it: if something is cool enough, most of us are willing to run with it, and Octavia’s transformation is that cool.

Yet, being me with my bizarre illness, I worry. And what worries me most going forward is the direction of the two main characters, Clarke and Bellamy. I fear both could easily fall over their respective lines to become Mary Sue and the Boy Scout.

Mary Sue

By The 100 Confessions @100Confess

By The 100 Confessions @The100Confess

(TV Tropes page on Mary Sue)
Adults always defer power to 17 year-old girls in a crisis, right? Well, obviously they do when the 17 year-old girl in question is always right, even when making the really tough choices. This is one aspect of The 100 I’ve always found a little questionable. If you look to history, sure, there have been teenagers leading armies and countries, but that’s generally because of birth.  I buy people following a 19 year-old Edward IV since many thought he was ordained by God to rule. But Clarke’s age seems to only trouble her mother, the rightful leader (more or less) of their people, for about five minutes. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone else at all. Which is odd, because it’s not as though the Sky People believe Clarke is some sort of Joan of Arc.

And then there’s her angst. Can there be Mary Sue angst? A friend of mine feels the show is being heavy handed in forcing the viewer to sympathize with Clarke for having to kill Finn/let a missile fall on her soldiers and allies/kill hundreds of people including innocent children. I’m not sure I entirely agree with her, but I do worry about suffering from compassion fatigue where Clarke is concerned. I think the other danger is that all of these moments and Clarke’s angst about them threaten to overshadow the events themselves. What’s more important: Finn and the dead at Tondc and Mt. Weather, or Clarke’s feelings about her responsibility for them? (Answer: Both are hugely important.) Again, I think the writers haven’t gone too far in making all of these things about Clarke, but I certainly understand my friend’s concern, and sometimes I do see them edging toward that line.

The point of all this being, Clarke started off as a fantastic character. A young woman shouldering huge amounts of responsibilities, but often in conflict with Finn and Bellamy about the right course of action. With Finn gone and Bellamy 100% Team Clarke, her sympathy levels can only go up with someone challenging her besides herself. (Perhaps Raven needs to tell Clarke to suck it up and get a brace for her angst?)

The Boy Scout

By Bellamy-Son-of-Arathorn. See the original GIF here: http://bellamy-son-of-arathorn.tumblr.com/post/109087567036/the-100-mean-girls

By Bellamy-Son-of-Arathorn. See the original GIF here: http://bellamy-son-of-arathorn.tumblr.com/post/109087567036/the-100-mean-girls

We’ve mentioned the book Save the Cat several times. The title refers to showing a character doing something good, like saving a cat in a tree, to build sympathy for the character. This is especially important if the character is particularly unsympathetic. When The 100 begins, pretty much no viewer likes Bellamy Blake. He’s an arrogant bully willing to risk the future of the human race to conceal the fact he attempted to assassinate the head of the government back on the Ark. He begins saving cats in Episode 3 when he’s kind to Charlotte, a 12 year-old girl plagued by nightmares. What’s especially important about this, what makes it a real cat save, is that he does not have to be nice to her, yet he is for purely altruistic reasons. It’s the beginning of the viewer’s reevaluation of Bellamy.

But now at the end of the second season, Bellamy is a shiny boy scout who could use some of his rough edges put back on. Let us list the Good Deeds of Scout Blake in Season 2.

1) Tries to rescue Finn from a Grounder warrior.
2) Rescues a girl hanging on a cliff after the first guy who tries falls to his death.
3) Gets said girl medical attention, before sneaking away to help Clarke find Finn.
4) Works with his sister to save her drug crazy, cannibal boyfriend.
5) Is part of the group who tries to help Finn escape his execution.
6) Agrees to go undercover into the lion’s den to save his friends and hundreds of people he doesn’t know.
7) Nearly dies of guilt when he meets the small child of a man he had to kill to preserve his undercover status.
8) Goes completely John McClane blowing something up that is the key to saving his friends.
9) Goes back and saves a stranger because he promised her he would.
10) Refuses to let Clarke take the full weight of killing hundreds of people, and pulls the fateful lever with her.

Not much of an anti-hero anymore, is he? He hasn’t saved a cat so much as an entire litter. Going forward, I see the writers’ biggest hurdle as saving Bellamy Blake from becoming painfully boring. What initially made Bellamy compelling was the sense that if you scratched the surface, there would be so much more underneath the bad boy exterior. I’m now hoping the writers keep layering: scratch the boy scout and find the bad boy.

What’s Next?
So, going forward, here are some things I would like to see to avoid Mary Sue and the Boy Scout. First off, Clarke needs to face some real consequences for her actions beyond feeling sorry for herself. In fact, I spent the entire second half of the season waiting for Jasper to find out Clarke killed Finn as part of the deal to rescue him and the others in Mt. Weather so he could punch her in the face. It doesn’t have to be Jasper, an actual punch, or specifically about Finn, but I want someone to tell Clarke she did the wrong thing. Octavia gets a little angry with her at the beginning of the finale, but that goes nowhere, and the season ended with Clarke walking off on her own, so I’m truly worried no one is going to say she made mistakes because it’s more important for her to brood some more. But I could be completely wrong. The pace on The 100 is relentless, so her walkabout could end pretty quickly. We’ll see.

And Bellamy needs a bad boy relapse. He helped kill those people in Mt. Weather and Clarke has just walked off to leave him to deal with that all on his own. Perhaps he can seek solace in bedding down multiple women at the same time like he did back in Season 1. And speaking of Bellamy’s love life in Season 1, if the writers don’t fear the shippers, it could be interesting to see him make a move on Raven. Who knows? I’m not actually a fan of the Raven idea, but I do hope the writers don’t allow Bellamy to continue unimpeded down the road of Hero.

And if my wishes come true, won’t that just make the eventual Clarke and Bellamy reunion in Season 3 all the more interesting?


Default Settings

As fantasy authors, we’re always conscious of the need to make our ‘verse fantastical.  The last thing you want to hear from beta readers is, “Meh, I just didn’t get any sense of the place.”  On the other hand, we need to have settings that feel real.  And that usually means stealing little bits of places that we’ve actually been in our lives.

In an earlier post, I mentioned our honeymoon to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.  Those are really important settings for us, because we went there together, and we both remember what those cities look like.  Another place we both know well is a certain Midwestern public university that we both attended.  It was, in fact, the place where we met.

I swear there are students at this school.

I swear there are students at this school.

I spent ten minutes in GIMP taking myself out of this picture.

I spent ten minutes in GIMP taking myself out of this picture.

Some of the oldest buildings at this not-especially-old school are in the northwest corner, stretched at the top of a low hill in a gentle semicircle, with a wide, tree-covered lawn in front.  It’s a really lovely spot, although it’s far enough from the dorms that people rarely ever hang out there.  I used to walk around the campus a lot, and the sight of that row of buildings always stuck with me, so it made its way into our Quartet as part of the school that our heroes attend in the first novel.

Of course, the buildings there are in the wrong architectural style—something that I guess you would call “Collegiate Neoclassical,” or “Early 20th Century American High School.”  The buildings in our fictional school are more likely gothic.  And when I think of gothic architecture, I always think of my undergraduate university—a place renowned (or perhaps notorious) for its massive, fortress-like gothic buildings.

Boola boola!

Boola boola!

I don't remember having plants on the table, though.

I don’t remember having plants on the table, though.

Promotional picture taken on one of the two sunny, warm days per semester.

Promotional picture taken on one of the two sunny, warm days per semester.

Yay!  My freshman dorm.

Yay! My freshman dorm.

None of this is to say that you can’t write gothic settings without having lived in a faux-Oxbridge dorm.  It’s just interesting how my ideas of what Myrcia looks like are based on places I actually know.  The upside of this is that I have a real sense of what the place looks like, feels like, even smells like.  The downside is that any time I look at pictures to remind myself of certain details, I run the risk of disappearing down nostalgic rabbit holes.

Hey, I can see the balcony where we had that party in the inflatable kiddie pool.

Hey, I can see the balcony where we had that party in the inflatable kiddie pool.


A Little Goes a Long Way

As readers of this blog know, J and I plan. Our passion for knowing what we are going to do before we ever write the opening sentence borders on the religious. But if someone put a gun (hopefully metaphorical) to my head and said, “Start writing,” what are the handful of things I would absolutely have to know before beginning? Looked at in a less dramatic light, what are some of the first things I decide when I’m about to start a novel, sans death threat? At a basic level, stories consist of three aspects: character, setting, and plot. So the first decisions I make in regards to each of these are a sort of profession of faith, you might say—the tenets that underlie all of my writing.

Character: What and Why
We both like doing character studies before we start a novel, J especially, but the first questions I ask myself about a character are: What does he want and why does he want it? Everything else about a character springs from this beginning. For instance, last NaNoWriMo I decided to set aside the novel I had completely outlined eight days before November 1, so I didn’t have time for the prep work I would normally do. But I did make time for short character profiles for all of the named cast. (Luckily, The Queen’s Tower focuses on a small group of people.) Each character received a page or two in my Moleskin, and for all of them I jotted down what the character wants and why. For instance, the titular queen wants her son to succeed. Nothing earthshattering there; in fact, who needs to write notes about a mother hoping for the best for her son? Terribly pedestrian. But when I thought about why, Queen Merewyn became a) more interesting, and b) a character I knew so much more about. You see, the answer isn’t so much maternal instinct as the opportunity to stick it to her husband and all of the other people who doubted whether or not her son could be a good leader. Always keeping this motive and its motivation in mind made it possible for me to write a novel with a consistent and interesting protagonist (even if the novel requires a bit more revision than ones I’ve written with more thorough preparation), even though I didn’t know as much about her as other protagonists I’ve written.

Setting: Fists, Swords, or Guns
Physical settings are driven by what is available to the people living there. Now, as fantasy novelists, we have a certain latitude on what we can include, but as J pointed out, a setting must still function within its own rules. Another way to think about it is what’s the tech level? Has the society figured out how to make steel? Do these people know what happens when you combine sulfur and saltpeter? And then there are less martial questions to ask, like what is the banking system? If you have a society with a well-developed banking system, chances are people are not living in yurts, but instead have an economy advanced enough to import building materials. And if this society can afford to import, let’s say marble, do they have the technology to stack that marble two, three, ten, hundred stories high? If a character lives in a cold climate before the dawn of electricity with no contact with the outside world, said character will probably be dressed in wool, because cotton needs a warm climate and merchants to take it somewhere cold. One decision about the tech level determines every other aspect of the setting.

Plot: Which way did he go?
How does the story end? Seriously, I have no idea how I would begin if I didn’t know where I was going.

So that’s the bare minimum of what I need to know before I can set pen to paper. (And I mean that literally—remember, I’m a handwriter.)  Although, I find it interesting that some of this I’ve always simply intuited. If I’m being completely honest, I’d never put into words the Setting/Tech Level issue until I sat down to write this blog, but as a secondary world fantasy author, tech level is such a prominent concern it’s seeped into my process all on its own. But now that I have organized these ideas, I’ve noticed something about my process I hadn’t before. I’m not terribly reliant on the specifics of setting before I begin, and while I like to have a plan, I can start writing as long as I know where I’m going even if I haven’t plotted out how I’m going to get there. My process is primarily character driven. I need to know what makes my characters tick, as it were, although not necessarily their complete backstories. Backstory often evolves on an as-needed basis, as does the setting and plot for that matter. Knowing Queen Merewyn wants to further her son’s future is the only reason I care that her room is round, because she needs to pace around it while she’s plotting how to manipulate specific people. The setting and the plot only matter because of what she wants and why she wants it.

Now, I’m sure other authors have their own list of necessities, but this is what I need if I have any hope of managing so much as a coherent first page.


It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down

I’ll assume that most of our readership has either seen the most recent episode of The 100, or doesn’t watch the show at all.  So if you did see it, you know that any slight hints of romance that might have been blossoming between Clarke and Lexa have now been pretty well stomped into the mud.

Pictured: The RMS Clexa

Pictured: The RMS Clexa

What’s interesting to me is how quickly people in the fandom started shipping the two of them.  Obviously the writers have decided to go in a different direction, but until Lexa decided to stab Clarke in the back, there were a fair number of people who totally wanted them together.  This despite the fact that, as S constantly reminds anyone who will listen, Clarke had to kill her beloved Finn because of Lexa.

I find it fascinating because, as someone who has written romantic comedies before, and will probably write more in the future, I try to think carefully about how to set up a romance.  What can I do with two characters so that the reader will think, “Oh, I hope those two end up getting it on”?

Now, obviously fanboys and fangirls can be a bit insane.  If a fandom gets large enough, eventually every possible pairing in the story will be shipped by someone, somewhere.  So to a certain extent, this problem takes care of itself.  But as a writer, I want to make sure that any romantic relationship in my story is properly set up, just the same as I would with any major plot development.  I don’t want to suddenly have characters getting together out of nowhere (like Clarke and Lexa did, if I may say so).  So here are a few possible techniques:

Surprising, yet Obvious
You set up the characters as clearly suited for each other, though with some sadly immovable obstacle to their love.  A good example is Mr. Knightley in Jane Austen’s Emma.  He’s so clearly the right person for Emma, but when you first read it, you assume they can’t get together, since he’s older and more of a avuncular figure.  When Emma suddenly realizes that she doesn’t see him that way at all, there’s no more obstacle to their getting together, and they do.  It’s only at that moment, when that switch flips in Emma’s head, that the reader can look back and realize it was all being set up from the beginning.

Promoted from the Friend Zone
This is similar, but you often see it in episodic series of novels or on TV.  One character is the loyal sidekick to the other, and he (or she) is just so gosh-darn helpful and dependable, that the reader inevitably starts thinking, “Gee, what would it be like if they started dating?”  Probably the best example I can think of is Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter books.  Of course, Ron’s relationship with Hermione also shows the potential pitfall of this sort of set-up: once you’ve spent book after book with two people being portrayed as just being friends, with nothing more between them, it starts to look as if there’s no chemistry there at all.  Then, when they do eventually get together, you leave the readers scratching their heads and muttering, “No, she’s obviously more suited to Harry.  Duh.”

The Old, Comfy Slipper
Again, a sort of variation on the two types above.  Two characters spend years and years together, obviously caring about each other, and settling into an almost quasi-married relationship.  If you watch Downton Abbey (and you should), you’ll recognize this as what happened with Mr. Carson the butler and Mrs. Hughes.  S and I just ran across another great example of this with Alexandra and Carl in Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, which was the book we read for S’s book club this month.

Best of Enemies
As a friend of ours often remarks, hatred can be an attractive force just like love.  One of the best ways to set up a future relationship is by having the two characters at each other’s throats.  The classic example of that is Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.  The more they bicker, the more the reader wonders if they aren’t just doing it to hide their TRUE feelings.  This is actually one of the easier ones to pull off, as a writer, since alert readers can see where the story is going, and start actively rooting for the pair to hook up.

Lightning Strike
This is the most difficult of all, because it’s basically the option where you don’t set it up at all.  No one ever did this quite so well as Shakespeare did in Romeo and Juliet.  If you see a good production, you literally get to see two people fall in love almost instantly (the 1996 Baz Luhrmann movie version, though wanting in other respects, does a phenomenal job of showing the lightning strike between Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes).

I’m not sure which of these the writers of The 100 were going for with Clarke and Lexa.  Best of Enemies, perhaps?  Or Lightning Strike?  But it looks like it doesn’t really matter anymore, since that ship has now sailed, sunk, and sits at the bottom of the ocean.


#TeamEmma (Woodhouse, that is)


My well-thumbed and much loved copy of Emma.

“Handsome, clever, and rich,” as J pointed out at the end of his last post is actually a terrible thing to make a character, unless you’re Jane Austen, in which case you’re a genius. I’ve mentioned the great lady’s head-scratching brilliance before, but if that passage in Persuasion confounds me, Emma Woodhouse is the greatest mystery of them all. How does Austen manage to build sympathy for a meddling snob whose cluelessness is a defining trait? In a million little ways is the right answer, but there are five particulars that have always stood out for me. (For anyone needing it, here’s a plot summary.)

1) She’s a good daughter

If anyone thinks Emma is insufferable, may I introduce you to her father? Mr. Woodhouse cannot sit anywhere that could possibly be drafty, leave his house, eat anything other than a thin basin of gruel, or allow others to do anything even sort of fun. He’s a giant buzzkill and a whiner. Yet Emma loves him. She doesn’t even want to marry because she could never leave him. She comforts and reassures him, keeps him company, and is more dutiful than many a daughter with better fathers. The reader’s eyes may roll out of her head at Mr. Woodhouse, but Emma loves him, and we love her for it.

2) Good intentions

Emma is perhaps most famous for sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong. In many ways, she treats Harriet like a diverting project instead of a person. But does she really? Yes, she gives Harriet some pretty catastrophic advice on more than one occasion, but she means well. No healthy friendship is so thoroughly dominated by one friend over the other, but when Emma tells Harriet to reject Robert Martin, it is because Emma truly believes she can make a better match for her friend. When Emma encourages Harriet to set her sights on Mr. Elton it is because she thinks he is said better match. Emma wants to improve Harriet’s mind and station, so even though she goes about it all wrong, she does so utterly without malice.

3) She’s funny

A few gems:
“It was a delightful visit—perfect, in being much too short.”

“Mrs. Weston proposed having no regular supper; merely sandwiches, etc. set out in the little room; but that was scouted as a wretched suggestion. A private dance, without sitting down to supper, was pronounced an infamous fraud upon the rights of men and women; and Mrs. Weston must not speak of it again.”

“She could not be complying, she dreaded being quarrelsome; her heroism reached only to silence.”

4) I learned an important lesson today

By the end of the novel, Emma recognizes how she has harmed Harriet and feels the sting of it. She makes a point of trying to get along better with Jane Fairfax, admitting she has been unfair. And in the most important moment of the novel, after she has made fun of Miss Bates, Emma not only feels ashamed, she takes Mr. Knightley’s reprimand: “It was badly done, indeed!” knowing she deserves it.

5) Emma is me

J and I have a running joke with some friends that Emma is the Goddess of Slacker Academics. After she is clearly bested by Jane Fairfax at a party, the next day “She did most heartily grieve over the idleness of her childhood—and sat down and practiced vigorously an hour and a half.” Every lazy person with a small talent that could have been improved with regular practice has been there. And then there are the lists. Emma has made many lists of books to read, very good lists Mr. Knightley assures us, but never a list she actually completed. Yeah, I have made some impressive lists. I wonder if J has kept any of them? He helped me make the best one.

And I’ve had a Jane Fairfax in my life. That person who everyone likes and whom everyone naturally assumes will be your close friend, and yet you have a strong, irrational hatred for. A Jane Fairfax. Emma loathes the very thought of Jane Fairfax being in the neighborhood for three months, during which time Emma will be expected to socialize with her, “to always be doing more than she wished, and less than she ought!” Not only does that apply to Jane Fairfax, but to so many aspects of Emma’s life, and I get it.

These comparisons aren’t particularly flattering to admit, but these real flaws are why I love Emma. Austen didn’t shy away from creating a heroine “which no one but myself would like,” but that is precisely where Austen was wrong. Giving the world a heroine as flawed as we are in real ways, not interesting and grandly tragic ways, is Emma’s attraction. Some readers can’t get past Emma’s snobbery, manipulation of Harriet, her vanity and pride, but for those who do, there is a mirror that, if you are not afraid to look, shows you a bit of who you are. And that’s not all bad. She did end up happily married to Mr. Knightley, after all.