Still Unmoved

and-yet-i-am-unmoved

Mr. Bennet is unimpressed.

We’re still working on finding a new Unicorn HQ. For a while it looked as if we might have found a house, but negotiations broke down over some problems that were found during inspection, so now we’re looking again. We’ve found another house that we like, but we’re not letting ourselves get too attached until the inspector has had time to look it over and see if there’s some ghastly problem that will cost thousands of dollars to repair. S and I will be talking about where we’re going to put the TV, or how we’re going to arrange the library, but then we will pause and say (often in unicornic unison), “pending inspection.” It’s sort of like knocking on wood.

“It’ll be so nice to have a flat driveway…pending inspection.”
“That shed out back is really cute…pending inspection.”
“I’ll finally have room for my own dedicated writing space…pending inspection.”

That last one—a writing space for S—has been one of her main requirements for our new house. I don’t know how she feels about £500 a year, but she definitely wants a room of her own. She promises to let me in, of course, so it’s not as if she’s just trying to avoid me. But she has found that she writes better and more consistently if she has a space set aside just for writing. It has to be a separate space, removed from the comfy chairs and TV where we spend most of our time. No doubt once we move (pending inspection) and get her new writing room set up, she will blog about it, possibly with pictures.

In the meantime, though, she’s starting a new writing project, and she actually wrote part of the first chapter yesterday while waiting for me to finish teaching classes. I’ll leave it to her to say more about that particular project, though, if she wants to.
As for me, I’m doing prep work for my April Camp NaNo novel. And I’ve been doing some reading, as well. I finished The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. You may recall that S and I have been group-watching the TV show with an online friend. The book was pretty good, though as our friend promised, Quentin is even worse in the book than on the show. He’s just so whiny and self-absorbed.

I’ve also been working my way through Call Me By Your Name. S and I saw the movie last weekend. S had already read the book, but I hadn’t. She and some of her online friends have all been squeeing over how awesome the book is—even more awesome than the movie, apparently. On her recommendation, I decided to give it a try. It’s very good, and the squee is justified. I haven’t quite finished it, because I have to do things like plan classes and grade papers. But hopefully this week I’ll get around to it. And then maybe I’ll start the second book in the Magicians trilogy, if I can just steel myself to endure more Quentin.

J

What I’d Be Doing If I Weren’t Trying to Write This Blog

can't even

Louis XIII just gets me today. (My silly edit from the BBC show The Musketeers.)

–character profiles for the new story I have outlined (It’s a Regency Era, enemies to lovers story, and I think it has the potential to be pretty cool.)

–organizing my house (J and I are house hunting, and trying to get ready for the day we move a little at a time.)

–pack the rest of the stuff at my mom’s house (We’ve sold my recently deceased mother’s condo and need it emptied out by the end of February.)

–go grocery shopping

–pay bills and organize finances (Ugh.)

But what am I doing? Staring at social media trying to come up with a blog idea. I hate when this happens. A friend suggested I say something about Call Me By Your Name and the transition from book to movie. I love both, but I love the book significantly more, yet I’m not sure I have anything interesting to say about the fact. I don’t think it helps that over a month ago while shoveling snow I pulled a muscle in my arm that’s causing me pretty much constant pain, so maybe I did more than pull a muscle and should call my doctor. But if I had time to gallivant off to doctor’s appointments, I would have returned that call to my dentist about scheduling a cleaning. So…? Yeah…I’ve kind of got nothing, and you, dear reader, I fear, must suffer for that.

~S

The Fanny Price of Fantasy

The Magicians - Season 1

Quentin, I’m sorry, but the tests have come back, and the doctors say…you’re a douche.

The weather has been absolutely dismal for the past few days here at Unicorn HQ. I ended up having to cancel some classes. Luckily, S and I made it home just before the ice storm started, and we’ve managed to stay warm while watching the weather. We didn’t have anywhere to go on Saturday, which was lucky, since our city plowed our street and left a pile of snow two feet thick in front of our driveway. Today, we needed to go grocery shopping, and we were just about to suck it up and go shovel our way to the street, when our neighbor came out with his snow blower and did it for us. As a “thank you,” we got him cookies and beer while we were at the store.

Last night, while we were doing our best to stay warm, we started watching The Magicians, the Syfy series based on the books by Lev Grossman. It was a sort-of live watch, along with one of our longtime online friends—the same friend we watched the Shannara Chronicles with, incidentally. It’s always fun to get together, even if just in a virtual sense, and critique a show as you watch it.

I’ve never read the books that the show is based on, and I’d never seen the show before, obviously. All I knew about the series (either the books or the TV show) was that our online friends had complaints about Quentin, the hero. This is a family blog, so I won’t repeat some of what was said about him, but suffice it to say that he was considered a jerk. And not a loveable, endearing jerk, either, like Barney Stinson—the kind who’s actually a decent guy under it all. A complete and genuine jerk who makes you want to throw things at him. Or, more to the point, makes you not want to be around him.

Which is a problem when he’s the center of the show.

Last night, as we were watching, S dubbed Quentin “Fanny Price,” after the heroine of Jane Austen’s worst novel, Mansfield Park. If you’ve never read that book (and if you haven’t, don’t bother), Fanny is a tremendous wet blanket—pretty much the opposite of someone like Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet. She’s the least interesting person in the novel, while somehow also being at the center of it. As S and I like to say, she’s a black hole where a heroine should be.

Now, Quentin isn’t quite the same as Fanny. I doubt he’s the sort who would object to amateur theatricals in the home. But he suffers from the very same problem as her, in that he’s surrounded by more interesting people. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in either case. It’s fine to have a story from the POV of someone who observes the actions of more interesting people around him—think of The Great Gatsby, for example. But Gatsby isn’t trying to be a novel about Nick Carraway, whereas Mansfield Park is trying to be a novel about Fanny Price, and The Magicians is trying to be a show about Quentin Coldwater.

According to our online friend, Quentin is actually worse in the books than on the TV show, so it’s clearly not the fault of the actor or the writers. It’s a fundamental problem of the character. That’s certainly a bold choice. But it’s not necessarily one I would have made.

And yet, we’re still loving the show, and we’re looking forward to watching more of it in the near future. As S said last night, if it weren’t for our complaints about Quentin, the show would actually be too good to live-watch with friends—we’d have nothing to make snarky comments about.

J

Pwning the POV

all your base

Your base has been pwned. (Image from Know Your Meme)

When we first started writing, back when we were scrambling to figure out how novels and series and worldbuilding all worked, I put a little note to myself on the side of a basket I could see from my chair that said “Pwn the POV.” (Definition of “pwned” here. Bless you Urban Dictionary.) Heaven knows I didn’t feel like I was doing much of anything right at that point (and I wasn’t), but I felt what I most needed to address were my characters’ POVs. I may have been doing a lot wrong, but this instinct was absolutely right. So many of my early struggles as a writer could be fixed by understanding my characters’ voices better. And this is something I always push myself to remember, even now.

For instance, writing good setting description is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. At one point, to try and find some guidance on how to do this better, I picked up Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold and began rereading the first chapter. (If my memory is correct, it was this experiment that led to the rule that I’m not allowed to read Joe Abercrombie when I’m writing, because I admire his writing so much it makes me want to give up.) Anyhow, the point is he describes his heroine’s ride to a palace with her brother, interspersing their amusing dialogue with her observations like: “The eastern sky bled out from red to butchered pink.” Monza, being a mercenary, also notes several times the palace’s defensive placement, including: “She spurred round one more steep bend, and the outermost wall of the citadel thrust up ahead of them. A narrow bridge crossed a dizzy ravine to the gatehouse, water sparkling as it fell away beneath. At the far end an archway yawned, welcoming as a grave.” All of this description says as much about Monza as it does the setting. It’s also fantastic foreshadowing, and establishes the tone for the chapter and the book as a whole. All because Abercrombie absolutely owns the POV, how Monza thinks and what she sees.

But not every author manages as well. As I think more about my upcoming epistolary novel, I was interested in reading The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir for my book club. The book consists of journals and letters, and I was hoping to pick up some tips on how to manage the structure. And I suppose I did learn some things not to do. Throughout this story of English women on the WWII home front, I rarely felt as though the POVs rang true. For instance, in a 17 year-old girl’s letter to her best friend, the writer refers to her best friend’s mother as “Mrs. Quail.” Why on earth would the writer simply not have said, “your mother”? And everyone writes their letters and journals as though they are aware this is a novel, which requires heavy doses of what is implied to be exact dialogue. If, perhaps, one character had an affectation that she was writing her journal novelistically, that might have been a clever choice, but most people don’t write correspondence as though it is a Charlotte Bronte novel. And not to badger this poor book too viciously, since it has been much read and well reviewed, but I also have to mention the lack of understanding the character’s mind frame when writing. What 13 year-old girl writes an eloquent, detailed description of her entire day, which ends with her father literally taking a horsewhip to her back? The POVs just aren’t credible to me.

J and I have also been talking about how understanding your characters can make or break plot-heavy television. Now, it might seem as though characters are not the natural focal point of fast-paced, plot-driven TV, but we think a tight handle on character is what made The Vampire Diaries more successful than other shows that attempt to fly through plot at that extreme CW pace J has discussed before. So often I find myself watching plot-heavy shows and wishing the story would slow down and allow the characters to breathe. (The 100 and Versailles are two that come to mind.) And yet, I never find myself wishing The Vampire Diaries would go slower, even though that show manages to squeeze more plot into one season than many do in three. J is actually the one who put his finger on what separates TVD from so many other shows—the main characters are always making the plot happen and doing it in ways clearly recognizable for their character. Damon is always trying to fix some problem, most likely caused by his essential Damon-ness, and doing so in a very Damon-like way. It is never a case of sacrificing character development for plot, because all of that crazy plot is driven by the characters behaving in character. Which also means that not every story can be told at that extreme speed, because not all stories have characters who behave that way. Anyhow, something to think about.

~S