Teasing the Inevitable

victoria-and-albert

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

I’ll Fix It in Post

film-reel

“Fix it in post.” The most dreaded words on set?

Often when J and I are writing, we will borrow from the world of film the idea that we can fix what’s wrong in “post.” Of course, this is just our silly way of referring to revision, but I thought about the idea, and the trope, more seriously when I was working on my ill-fated NaNo novel. Granted, unlike a film, a novelist can always go back and “reshoot” (rewrite) a scene to get what she needs, but I think there’s something to be said for having the raw materials you need before you get to the revision process.

Now, I’ve never made an exact study of the numbers and percentages, but let’s say in a novel that has been properly outlined and researched ahead of time and is drafted thoughtfully, it will have 10-20% changed significantly in revision. When I start a novel knowing that eventuality is coming, that is something I can live with at this point, because I’ve written enough to appreciate that writing is rewriting. But then on a novel like The Queen’s Tower, my NaNo book from two years ago, I went in with a tenuous outline and characters I didn’t know especially well. I finished the first draft of that knowing I would be changing around 20-30% of what had been written, plus adding about 30% entirely new content. That’s pretty daunting, and probably why I still haven’t finished the novel.

And that brings us to this year’s NaNo novel, The Swift True Road. Not only did I not start with the level of detail to my outline I prefer, but I didn’t do as much character work as I would have liked, and being my first historical novel, I quickly realized I hadn’t done even close to enough research. Because it was NaNo, I kept plowing along, but around 35,000 words in, I realized I would be completely reworking at least 50% of what I had already written. Knowing I would be chucking half of what I was laboring so hard to write became discouraging to the point that I didn’t have the heart to continue writing the novel. It also seemed to be a supreme waste of time.

As J pointed out last week, I decided to set The Swift True Road aside, and I went to work on other projects to see me through the month of November, and make certain I still wrote 50,000 words for the month. At some point, I absolutely intend to return to The Swift True Road. I still think it’s a great idea for a book, a romance between two mercenaries in Renaissance Italy, but I’m not going to pick it back up again until I’m sure I can successfully draft a novel that will leave me with the pieces I need to polish a good story in post.

~S

Are You Ready to Rumble?

 

battle_of_pavia-bernard-van-orley

Tapestry of the Battle of Pavia by Bernard van Orley

NaNoWriMo is just a little over a week away, and I’m still furiously trying to get ready. I’ve filled out the basic character sheet J and I have been refining over the years for my most important characters, and I have a basic outline. Now I’m trying to add more detail on the outline, because I well know every minute I spend now will save me very many minutes in November. The one bit of preparation I’m nowhere close to having complete, though, is my research. And I think now is the moment I go ahead and explain here just what it is I’m doing this year.

I’m writing historical erotica, the primary pairing being two men. They are mercenaries in Renaissance Italy, and while they both have relationships with women (and in one case with another man) during the novel, they are what the kids call “endgame.”  Thing is, I’ve never written a historical novel or erotica (fanfic isn’t quite the same), so I’ve been spending the last couple of months finding out all I can about both. Here are my finds.

Erotica

So, when I told folks I was planning a Male/Male Erotica for NaNo, several people excitedly told me that was a brilliant idea. M/M stories are one of the fastest growing segments of the Romance industry, and when it comes to adult fiction, Romance is the industry. Now, back in the day when J and I decided to start writing fantasy novels, I had read almost no fantasy, so that became Job 1 for me. Therefore, I went in search of published smut. (Smut, by the way, is always a term of affection when I’m talking about fiction.)

As I have been toying with the idea of writing erotica for a while, I first tried several months ago to listen to some racy romance novels, picking from what I could get from the library in digital audiobook. I started a couple modern romances, and didn’t make it more than a half hour into any of them. I clearly wasn’t doing well on my own, so I did what any librarian would do—I found recommendations on tumblr.

I started with Courtney Milan’s The Duchess War, an excellent heterosexual romance with some naughty bits, but I really wanted to see what was being written for M/M pairings. The next novel I read was Bound with Honor, a book recommended by a fanfic author I hugely admire. This book features lots of groupings of the two male and two female leads, but it left me still wanting something both historical, as these two books are, but strictly M/M.

And, if I can sound like a dirty old lady, smuttier. In a panic, I started listening to a book that was definitely smuttier, every bit as dirty as the best fanfic I’ve read, but it was M/M/F, modern, and horribly written. So my search continues for the perfect M/M historical erotica. I have several in my to be read pile, and I’ve started one called False Colors, which so far is well written, historical, and M/M, but I haven’t hit the smut yet. Fingers crossed.

Renaissance

I’ve had much better luck doing my historical research. Michael Mallett’s book Mercenaries and Their Masters is a godsend. I also listened to all of Will Durant’s The Renaissance from his The Story of Civilization series. In addition to these, I have a whole basket full of books on the era, which have proven invaluable. I wish I had time to read them all cover to cover, instead of just dipping into them. Also, Ohio libraries are amazing, and the only way my research has been possible. May they remain ever thus.

Outline

So now I outline and hope that what I put on it spurs me to ask the right historical questions before November starts. If not, I suppose historical detail is something I can add on revision. But I really want the time and place to help drive the story, so hopefully I’ll know what I’m doing well enough come November 1.

~S