Teasing the Inevitable

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Gosh, I hope it works out for these two crazy kids.

Tonight is the Oscars.  S and I are going to an Oscar party, though that’s mainly just for the fun of going to a party.  As far as the nominees are concerned, as my dad always likes to say, you can’t begin to plumb the depths of my indifference.  I was just looking at the official site, and in pretty much every category, it’s just movie after movie that I’ve never seen.  We got A Man Called Ove from the library.  And we watched about the first half-hour or so of Captain Fantastic.  And I saw Zootopia on Netflix.  But other than that, I’ve seen nothing.

The truth is that S and I spend a lot more time reading and watching TV anymore than we do watching movies.  Especially movies in the theater.  It’s been a very long time since we’ve gone out for a movie, in fact.  But that’s okay, because there’s so much good TV and so many good books.

Speaking of which, we just got the DVDs of Victoria with Jenna Coleman from the library, and we stayed up a bit later than we should have last night watching the first five episodes.  That took us from Victoria’s accession to her marriage to Albert.  It’s very good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we finish it today.

At the same time, we’re reading Ethan Frome for S’s classic lit book club.  I’ve read it before, years ago, but S hasn’t.  Thanks to a technical glitch in the Google Books version that she’s been reading, she ended up accidentally skipping the introduction.  (For those of you who have read the book, that’s the frame story, where the narrator meets Ethan Frome and ends up having to stay at his house in a snowstorm.)  So we dug out her tablet and I read it to her while she drove.  And of course it changes the story quite a bit when you start out knowing, even from Ethan’s first appearance in the book, that something awful is going to happen to him.  The question becomes, “How did this happen?”

That’s the same issue faced with historical fiction, like Victoria.  No one with even the slightest knowledge of history has any doubt how things are going to work out between Victoria and Albert.  The facts are well known, and there’s not really any way to create suspense there.

The trick, in both cases, seems to be a focus on the characters.  Both Edith Wharton and the writers of Victoria seem to be concentrating not on trying to create false suspense where suspense is impossible, but rather giving us marvelous and telling little bits of character development.  In other words, rather than focusing on the outcome (What will happen to Ethan Frome?  Who will Victoria marry?), we focus on the internal qualities of the characters—the flaws and strengths that will lead them to this outcome that we already know.

Here, for example, is the third paragraph of the main narrative of Ethan Frome:

The night was perfectly still, and the air so dry and pure that it gave little sensation of cold. The effect produced on Frome was rather of a complete absence of atmosphere, as though nothing less tenuous than ether intervened between the white earth under his feet and the metallic dome overhead. “It’s like being in an exhausted receiver,” he thought. Four or five years earlier he had taken a year’s course at a technological college at Worcester, and dabbled in the laboratory with a friendly professor of physics; and the images supplied by that experience still cropped up, at unexpected moments, through the totally different associations of thought in which he had since been living. His father’s death, and the misfortunes following it, had put a premature end to Ethan’s studies; but though they had not gone far enough to be of much practical use they had fed his fancy and made him aware of huge cloudy meanings behind the daily face of things.

Even before we know why this much younger, healthier Ethan has walked into Starkfield, we know something vitally important about him—he’s a frustrated scholar unhappy with his lot in life.  Similarly, there’s a fantastic scene in episode 5 of Victoria, where Albert’s libertine older brother, Ernest, takes him to a brothel to “educate” him before his marriage.  Albert goes off with one of the prostitutes, but rather than sleep with her, he just talks to her and takes notes on what he should do on his wedding night.  It really explains a lot about the character, and about the kind of relationship we (as viewers who know our history) know we’ll be seeing later on between the queen and her beloved prince consort.

As a writer, I suppose the lesson here is to remember that “how” and “why” are sometimes more important than “what” happened.  If you create interest in your characters, you can make the reader want to keep reading, even when there’s no suspense as to how things are going to end up.

J

The Long and the Short of It

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my silly edit from Versailles

Last weekend I finished the longest solo work of my writing life. (J and I discussed that I’ve easily written 200K+ words of the Quartet on my own, but that’s not really a solo project.) It’s a Musketeers fanfic of limited appeal I started it back in July. It will never be widely read, and it took a boatload of time and effort to write, but I’m really glad I did it. I think it’s quite good, which is something I almost never say about my own writing. I’m, frankly, crazy proud of it. I’m still in the process of posting it for the rest of the world to see, so it’s not out of my life yet, but the blood and tears have been shed, and it’s time to think about what’s next.

Returning to the pattern I had going about this time last year, I think I’m going to juggle multiple projects, at least until one insists upon itself and demands my full attention. Some of it’s going to be original fiction, some is going to be fanfic, and some of it will be Myrcia ‘verse. It’s going to be a mix of short and long pieces, with a healthy dose of outlining thrown in.

The Swift True Road/Mercenary stories

This is my Italian Renaissance mercenary novel I started back for NaNoWriMo.  I never felt truly comfortable with the setting, and my outline is a giant mess, and I was trying to squeeze way too much into one novel. Dropping it was one of the best choices I ever made. But I do want to get back to it, and this time I want to do it right. I asked J for advice, and he came up with something I wasn’t expecting.

Write short stories.

“Huh?” I thought as I tried to figure out how that was going to fix my novel, but then he explained. Since part of my problem was not feeling comfortable in the world, J suggested I write some short stories, almost like character prompts. I should focus on one character and a part of the setting I need to understand better, and just write that. Once I’ve written, for instance, Francesco’s first night in camp as a mercenary, I’ll know more about that character and how mercenary camps work. (It also helps focus my research, so I’m not “GAH! Must know entire Renaissance world!”) I want to write at least one story for each of my named characters, so I’m thinking that perhaps after a dozen or so of these, I’ll be ready to dive back into restructuring the novel. And I’ll have a nice little collection of short stories I might look into posting somewhere.

Two Shots of Bourbon/Versailles fanfic

I think I’m about to dive into a new fandom with my fanfic—Versailles. I mentioned the show briefly  after we finished watching Season 1 the first time, and since then my obsession with the show has just grown. I’m particularly interested in the brothers at the center of the show, Louis XIV and Philippe I, Duke of Orleans. But as I’ve started outlining my first fanfic and toying with ideas, I’m finding myself a little hesitant for a lot of reasons. My biggest concern is getting Louis’s voice right. Chatting with the lovely Storyskein this morning, I mentioned that maybe I should do a one-shot from Louis’s POV before diving into the longer fic I have planned. In other words…

Write short stories.

I already have a one-shot piece in mind to write from Louis’s POV, after which switching to Philippe’s POV for a story would probably not go amiss. (Just because I’m not as nervous about getting his voice correct right now doesn’t mean I won’t be later if I skip practicing it now.) Also, a couple of short pieces would be a nice way to introduce myself to a new fandom. Plus, having just finished my longest work, I could probably use the mental change of something shorter.

Oleg Omdahl 4

When I’ll get around to actually writing this, who knows. I certainly won’t be ready for April Camp NaNoWriMo, but perhaps July Camp or NaNo proper in November. In any case, it’s never too early to start extreme outlining. I actually outlined Oleg 3 (Fiat Justitia) a year and a half before I wrote it, so there’s no reason I can’t get to work on this at any time J might be up to diving into it with me. (I will admit I really adore outlining with J. It’s one of my great joys in life.) I already know a lot of what I want to do in this one, it will just be a matter of filling in blanks.

And that’s what’s on my plate. And it looks really quite tasty. I’ll be sure to report back on how the short story theory works out.

~S

Listening to Myself

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The felt goatee is the most important part.

With one thing and another, I almost forgot to blog again.  S has finished a giant fanfic project, so she and I were reading her story aloud together.  As we’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog, reading aloud is an important part of our revision process.  I’d go so far as to say, in fact, that it’s the most important part.  Reading aloud is the best way to catch little typos, awkward phrasing, and inconsistencies of plot and characterization.  And, of course, it’s fun if you can do it with someone you like.

But what happens if you don’t have someone to read with?  Or what happens if your writing partner happens to be working on her own stuff at the moment, and you want to read something over again for the third or fourth time, and it seems like something of an imposition to ask?  Well, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a way around this.  You can make your computer read your story to you.

I’ve actually been doing this myself over the past few weeks.  In addition to all the other little revision and reference projects I’ve been working on, I decided to reread all our Myrcia books in chronological order, starting with Keara of Glen Taran and ending with S’s Oleg Omdahl mysteries (a span, in the internal timeline of the Myrciaverse, of more than 2,700 years).  Right now, I’m at A Fatal Humor, which is just over halfway through.  The point of doing this isn’t just to pat myself on the back for how much I’ve written.  It’s to make sure I can remember all those stories and keep everything straight in my head as I write more.

Now, I could just sit in my comfy chair and read them the normal way, off my computer screen.  But I’d also like to get some exercise occasionally.  So what I do is to connect my Bluetooth headphones and listen to the books, two or three chapters at a time, while walking.

The first step is to save a couple chapters of the book as their own PDF file.

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Next, you open the PDF and use the “Read Out Loud” feature (under “View”).  Choose “Activate Read Aloud,” then open the same menu again and choose “Read to the End of Document.”  (Note the “Pause” option here, too.  And once you’ve paused, you’ll see “Resume” in its place to start it up again.)  I’m using Acrobat Pro, but Adobe Reader has similar options, as well.

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If you’re in a hurry, you can change the speed, as well, under “Edit” > “Preferences.”

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I’ve got mine set at 280 words a minute, for example.  So if I do three chapters, each of which is, say, 3,000 words long, that will take me a little over half an hour.

Now, obviously it’s always more fun to read with S, but she’s got her fanfic project to work on, as well as—oh, yeah—her job.  So the “Read Out Loud” function is a good substitute.  And there is at least one benefit to reading aloud with the computer instead of by yourself or with another person.  The computer can’t guess what you meant, and can only ever read exactly what’s there.  Sometimes, when you read aloud, you can cheat; you can make a clunky phrase work by reading it with a certain intonation.  The computer can’t do that, though.  It reads what you actually wrote, warts and all, in a flat, utterly pitiless tone.

At my current rate, I figure it’ll take at least the rest of this month to get through all our stories.  Maybe a few weeks of March, too.  But in March, I’ll have to take a break to start planning my April Camp NaNoWriMo novel.  Yes, that’s right—Spring is just around the corner, even if it doesn’t particularly look like it just now.

J

The Persuasion Project: Chapter 6

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CE Brock illustration from mollands.net

 

It’s Persuasion Live Read time again! Chapter 6 opens with a nice bit of character building for Anne, but without a ton of plot happening during her stay with her sister, Mary Musgrove, at Uppercross Coattage. And even though things pick up a bit later on, I think I’m just going to pull some quotes that struck me. It’s as “live” as I can make my read. (Crazy thought—Read aloud with asides. Post audio.) Anyhow, here’s my favorite example of what Austen is doing in this chapter with Anne.

She played a great deal better than either of the Miss Musgroves, but having no voice, no knowledge of the harp, and no fond parents, to sit by and fancy themselves delighted, her performance was little thought of, only out of civility, or to refresh the others, as she was well aware. She knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; but this was no new sensation.

Just in case you were questioning whether or not Anne Eliot is a better person than you. Truly, she is always willing to be underappreciated, put everyone’s complaints and desires above her own. Is there any heroine who is so content to be unassuming without also coming across as spineless and unsympathetic? (I’m looking at you, Fanny Price. I’m looking at you.)

But then in the second half of the chapter, the Crofts arrive to take up residence at Kellynch. I immediately love Mrs. Croft when she comes to visit Anne and Mary at Uppercross Cottage.

Her manners were open, easy, and decided, like one who had no distrust of herself, and no doubts of what to do; without any approach to coarseness, however, or any want of good humour.

She’s entirely my kind of woman, and frankly, after all of the shallow, fake, and conniving people in Anne’s life, exactly the friend our heroine deserves. However, Mrs. Croft then nearly gives Anne a heart attack.

“It was you, and not your sister, I find, that my brother had the pleasure of being acquainted with, when he was in this country.”

Anne hoped she had outlived the age of blushing; but the age of emotion she certainly had not.

“Perhaps you may not have heard that he is married?” added Mrs Croft.

Of course, this turns out to be Captain Wentworth’s brother who used to live in their neighborhood, and the man the Captain was visiting when he and Anne fell in love. It could be a cheap ploy, but it works, and my heart is in my mouth along with Anne’s.

Another thing I love about Austen especially in this novel—her practical, honest narrative voice. Here’s how she describes the loss of the youngest of the Musgrove sons, Richard.

The real circumstances of this pathetic piece of family history were, that the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before he reached his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved; seldom heard of, and scarcely at all regretted, when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Uppercross, two years before.

So blunt and honest in a way you don’t expect the well-mannered to be, and no one (seemingly) has better manners than Jane Austen. J and I were just discussing why Pride and Prejudice has received far and away the best adaptation (the BBC mini), and he proposed it’s because Austen’s narrative voice is so significant to the enjoyment of her novels, and that the narrative voice in P&P is so close to Elizabeth Bennet’s voice you can have her believably deliver the famous opening line about a man of large fortune and other tidbits from the narration. It feels so natural and the best of Austen remains. What more can you want? The narrative voice of Persuasion is so wonderfully blunt and subtle all at once, without the restrictions Anne feels since she is such a decent, unassuming woman. (Crazy idea—work out this theory some more and write about it in detail.)

And that’s all for now, but I’m so excited because Captain Wentworth is coming!!!!!

~S