What Did I Say?

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George is especially careful about what he says. (Pic from farfarawaysite.com)

As Camp NaNo comes to an end, J and I are revising the projects we worked on during the month. J wrote another Myrcia ‘verse novel that I am very much looking forward to reading, and I wrote some fanfic. I actually posted a completed short piece a few days ago, but I have a longer Turn fanfic that needs some work. Where I want to focus most in revision is on the voice of one of my POV characters. (Who happens to be George Washington, by the way.) J has been helping me get it typed up, so he’s gotten a taste of what I’m doing and what I’d like to achieve. When it comes to fixing Washington’s voice, these are the things we’ve come up with me to focus on.

Word choice

This is probably the most obvious part of character voice—what words does the character use. Some word choice decisions are easy to make, like when a character has specific technical knowledge, they speak in technical terms. As an example, J has been to law school, so he makes jokes about things like “prior consideration” and “meretricious consideration” that someone who has no legal training would never say. (These are the legal reasons, he tells me, that I am not allowed to pay him in kisses when he does me a favor.)

But there are also harder word choice issues. As I’m going through my first draft, there are words that don’t quite hit the ear as well as I would like them to. Last night, J found one for me. Originally, I wrote:

But he could not stand the way Benjamin looked at him.

J, bless his heart, immediately suggested I change “stand” to “endure,” which sounds a million times more like the Washington I’m trying to write. So, it will be a slog, but I really need to go through all of his POV chapters, and look for those words that just don’t sound quite like Washington, and replace as many as I can.

Level of Formality

How formal is the character? This is a character voice trait J and I have been talking a lot about since we first started writing. Does the character always get forms of address correct? Do they lean toward being too formal or too familiar? Are they painfully correct in their grammar? (For this last one, we often talk about the possibly apocryphal statement of Winston Churchill’s about never ending sentences with a preposition, meaning, would the character actually say, “up with which I will not put”?)

If there is one thing J and I agree on, it is that Washington is very formal. And he is formal in a studied way. We both agree that Turn does an excellent job of translating what we know of the real Washington to the character played so brilliantly by Ian Kahn. Washington lacked much formal education, and he regretted this and felt self-conscious about it all his life. He attempted to teach himself as much as he could, but people intentionally trying to be correct often come across as stilted, as opposed to someone who learned proper behavior at a young age when it could become a seamless part of their personality. And yet, I don’t want my Washington to ever cross that line into awkwardness or pomposity, so it’s a delicate balance I’m not quite hitting just yet. But that’s what revision is for after all.

Dialog vs Internal Monologue

J also pointed out that characters’ internal thoughts do not have to have the same level of formality as their speech. Washington will definitely always be formal in his dialog, but we both agree that he might be slightly less formal in his own mind. He might even think about whether or not what he just said was the correct level of formal. It’s a subtle difference, but I’m going to see if I can manage it.

And that’s what I’m up to as we pack up and get ready to leave Camp. What I’ll be doing in May is anyone’s guess. Besides posting this fic once it’s ready, I’ll probably return to the Regency erotica I had been working on before Turn happened to me. I’m actually quite pleased with what I’ve done on it, and look forward to getting back to it.

~S

Revision at Camp

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George suddenly realizes just how much revision his first draft is going to need.

S and I are still hard at work on our projects for Camp NaNoWriMo. In fact, if all goes well, we might both finish today. I’ve got one more chapter to write in my novel, Old Habits Die Hard, and S has one chapter left in the big fanfic project she’s working on. We’ve both already hit our goals for the month, which means yet another double win for Team Unicorn.

Once we finish writing, it’ll be time to start revising. I already started rereading my book from the beginning, even as I was finishing it up. I had time to do this because I’ve been trying to limit myself to only writing three chapters a day. Yes, I know that sounds like a humblebrag, but in the past (particularly during November) I have sometimes just kept writing and writing, even long after I had done a reasonable amount of work for the day. It’s exhausting. The difference between writing 5,000 words a day and writing 8,000 or 10,000 is whether I get to do anything else besides writing.

In other news, we’re still in the process of moving. With luck (fingers crossed) we may have a buyer for the original Unicorn HQ. Once that’s finished, I think we will have to go out for dinner or something to celebrate. Or maybe just take a nap. It’s been a very long moving adventure for us.

Anyway, that’s what’s up with us. Now back to writing!

J

A Letter Home

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New pen! New pen!

Greetings from Camp NaNoWriMo where J and I continue writing apace. J has already flown past his goal of 50,000 and is heading into Chapter 43 of a planned 72, so bully for him. I set a more modest Camp goal of 30,000 words, and I’m ahead of the game, quite nearly to 20,000 already. And since things are going so well, I decided to spend more time and money than strictly necessary looking at fountain pens this morning.

Now, my pen obsession might seem a bit much, but it’s really all about my health. (nods) During NaNoWriMo 2016, my Municipal Liaison (that’s the person who runs your local group for those of you unfamiliar with how NaNo works) loaned me some of her fountain pens. My hand was killing me from the death grip I typically have on my pens, and I found I really enjoyed the fountain pen, because I didn’t grip it so tightly or push so hard. I pretty immediately went out and bought a few pens, completely falling in love with the Pilot Petit. It’s less than $4, the cartridges are under $2 for a package of 3, and unlike the fancy metal pens, the plastic is light enough that I can write comfortably with it for hours at a time.

After last year’s NaNo, I’ve become even more thoughtful about how I write, because I somehow managed to strain the tendon in my shoulder, and there were a couple months there where I really couldn’t do much of anything with my arm because of it. It’s feeling more or less okay-ish at this point, but I pay a lot more attention to how I sit and support my arm while I’m writing now. And because being comfortable while I write is so important, I decided I needed another pen, so I ordered this bad boy this morning. I’ve never had a converter or used bottled ink before, so I’m looking forward to trying it out. And the cartridges are even cheaper for this pen than the Petit, so if I end up not liking the hassle of the converter but like the pen, I’m still in business.

And that’s all I have to say about pens today. Instead, I should really go use one to work on my Camp NaNo project. Although, a friend was talking up the Lamy Safari, and my birthday is next month, so…

~S

Holy Bagpipes!

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As a Librarian, I can’t really condone this behavior. (pic from Columbia University.)

Here at Unicorn HQ, the unpacking is pretty much done except for the books. Of course, the books always made up the majority of our boxes, and since we have bookcases in multiple rooms on multiple floors instead of a single library here at the new house, it’s going to be quite the undertaking. But we’ve already started putting some books at least near the shelf they will eventually live on. This includes what we refer to as our “Ready Reference” (technical Librarian term there), and several of the Ready Reference books are our favorite writing books. Now, I know we’ve shared some of our favorite books on writing before, but I want to share some of them again because of a post I happened upon this morning on tumblr.

This tumblr post was complaining about the abundance of writing advice out there, some of it contradictory, much of it seemingly designed to discourage people from writing in the first place. The post ended in exasperation, the author forced to use the delightful phrase “holy bagpipe” in order to express her frustration with writing advice. Personally, I think it’s great to know rules, real hard and fast ones, as well as the mere suggestions, all of which the writer who has a handle on proper writing can feel free to throw out the window in exchange for stylistic choices that make the work better.

But how do you learn the rules, the real and the personal preferences? The right books, of course. So, here’s a few of our favorites focusing on the nuts and bolts of writing as opposed to specific how-to-write-fiction books. Enjoy them while we both get back to our Camp NaNo projects, which are coming apace. Oh, and unpacking our library.

  • Strunk and White (Classic.)
  • Woe Is I (Helpful and a ton of fun. A lot of people would recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves as the fun grammar book, but I have a place in my heart for this one.)
  • How Not to Write a Novel (It’s really not just for fiction writers and has a lot of great stuff.)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (It doesn’t matter which style manual you choose, but I recommend picking one and living by its decisions when in doubt.)
  • Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (If not this dictionary, then some dictionary, should be your go to for settling disputes. Actually, it should be this dictionary if you’re writing American English. I’ll give you style manuals beside Chicago, but I really believe in this dictionary.)

~S

Busy at Camp

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Anna hits her word count for the day.  Ben and Caleb haven’t even started their projects yet.

We’re in the middle of the first week of Camp NaNoWriMo, and of course we were so excited about it, that we forgot to post a blog on Sunday. I suppose we could also blame it on the fact that Sunday was Easter, but let’s be honest: we forgot.

I’m ten chapters into my new novel, Old Habits Die Hard. One of the main characters is a nun trying to save her convent. Hence the title. (Picture S groaning and holding her head.) So far I think it’s going pretty well. I’ve introduced most of the POV characters, and I’m in the middle of the inciting incident, where the characters become invested in the plot. And hopefully the reader, too.

S is working on some fanfic projects, of course. Maybe next week she’ll post something about them. She’s writing in a new fandom: Turn, the TV show about Revolutionary War spies. It’s been kind of fun helping her do research on George Washington and other various figures of the time. My parents are getting rid of some of their books, and I made sure to grab any that had anything to do with the Revolution.

Anyway, that’s what we’re up to. I’ve got to get back to work. My next chapter is from the POV of a sad teenage girl who is missing the boy she loves, but can never have. Her life is hard enough already; I think it would be unkind of me to keep her waiting any longer.

J