Last Minute Changes

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Hewlett suddenly realizes he messed up the chronology in his fanfic. Simcoe wishes he’d just  post the next chapter already.

We’re still working on our revisions. S is trying to get the timeline right for her massive Turn fanfic. This can be very tricky. A lot of TV shows play fast and loose with their internal timeline, and Turn is no exception. S is going back and rewatching every episode to make sure that her scenes match up with the show, as much as she possibly can. Last night, for example, she realized that she’d written a scene where Ben and Caleb have a conversation, after which Ben goes and has supper with other officers. The trouble is that on the show, there are some scenes with Abe in between those events, and it’s clear that—at the very least—a day and a night must pass between Ben’s conversation and the supper. So now she has to figure out how to separate those two Ben scenes.

These problems are not unique to fanfic. I’m revising a story that takes place in our own Myrciaverse, and I had a very similar problem come up. My latest novel (which might hypothetically be S’s birthday present) is actually a series of short stories that happen between Old Habits Die Hard and Called to Account during the Myrcian civil war. As I was reading through the book this past week, I suddenly realized I’d made a serious mistake.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers (S might be reading this), but basically what I did was this: in the fifth and last story, I had character A ask character B to help character C escape. And I hinted that in fact character B and her bosses had agreed to do so. The trouble is that Called to Account takes place about half a year later, and in that story, it’s a major plot point that character B’s bosses have no idea where exactly character C has escaped to, and are desperate to find him.

You can see the problem, of course. If I just kept my new story as it was, it would suggest that somehow B’s bosses helped C escape, and then, in the course of a few months, completely forgot that fact. This is, at best, extremely problematic. So I had to figure out how to change the new story to fit what happens in Called to Account. It wasn’t terribly difficult to fix—it just required deleting a few lines and adding a couple paragraphs here and there. But it still took me a while to work it all out in my head and make sure that the new story still made sense on its own.

Eventually it all worked out, and I think the story is better now. Just don’t tell S about it. I want it to be a surprise for her.

Anyway, that’s what we’re up to. Now we get to go do yard work—something that always makes even the toughest revisions seem like fun by comparison.

J

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Five Reasons the World Needs More of The Expanse

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The crew of the Roci

I watched Firefly live when it aired—in front of my TV, soaking in all 11 of the 14 episodes Fox showed. So as someone who has been a Browncoat from the very start, shows I love, especially topnotch sci fi shows, getting canceled unceremoniously has long been a part of my life. You would think I would be used to it by now, but clearly, I’m not, because when SyFy announced they would not be showing a 4th season of The Expanse, it hurt. A lot.

So, what is The Expanse? (Something I, sadly, must explain, because obviously not enough people are watching it.) It’s a space story based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey. (That is the collective penname of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.) In the future, Earth has colonized Mars, and there is endless tension between the two worlds with the Belters, the poor workers of the asteroid belt, looked down upon by both. The tensions among these three factions inform the mystery of the first season of why an heiress from Earth, Julie Mao, flies off and disappears out beyond the Belt. Seasons 2 and 3 are about what happens because of what she discovers.

And that, very briefly, is what the show is. So why should you watch it and why should there be more? Here, have five reasons.

1. Hard science

Now, remember, we’re both English majors with a side order of music. Science has never been a forte for either of us. But I didn’t actually need my science-minded friends to tell me how good the science is on this show, because as a student of narrative, I could intuitively sense they were getting it right. There’s attention to detail on this show that pays off for the science geeks of the world, but that also rewards anyone who just likes great storytelling. I believe it when folks tell me the math works out for some space maneuver discussed on the show, because I don’t feel as though someone just teched-the-tech at me. The folks making The Expanse pay attention to what they are doing, and it shows on every level. For example…

2. It looks so good

I’ve no idea what sort of deal with the devil the visual effects and production design folks on this show made, but damn, it looks good. Rather than writing about this one, I present you with a ship breaking apart in space.

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You’re welcome.

3. Character beats

Something we’ve complained about before on this blog is the pacing of several shows we watch. When a show insists on driving through plot as fast as possible, a lot of times the character beats, the conversations between characters, the quiet moments alone, that need to happen for proper catharsis, get cut. While there are plenty of fistfights, gunfights, and space battles to go around, the characters always come first. You care who wins these confrontations, because you care about the people involved. The Expanse always finds time to show the important personal conversations so many other shows either wouldn’t bother with, or would truncate to the point it might have been best just to skip them. The characters talk and sit on the beach and enjoy meals together. And that’s why the fate of humanity actually matters.

4. The women, but not because of why you might think

It would be easy to look at the gender and ethnic makeup of The Expanse and think, “Someone very thoughtfully went through and checked all the boxes.” To be honest, I’ve no idea if the authors of the books or the showrunner did such a thing, but I can tell you this—it never feels like it. Case in point, the main action of the show happens aboard the Roci, a ship manned by the remainder of an ice hauler. There are initially three men and one woman, Naomi, on this crew, with a fourth man added later on. Earlier in Season 3, there is a disagreement on the ship, and the men side together against Naomi. But here’s the cool part—the viewer never, even for a second, thinks they sided against her because she is a woman. Because Naomi is an actual character and not just some representation of Woman, it all felt natural, none of it felt sexist, and the sympathy the viewer feels for her in that moment is purely because the character is so well drawn that we care for her, not something she symbolizes.

People of any gender or race can pop up doing any job and having any opinion, and it all feels natural because the characters are all so entirely three-dimensional.

Also, Shohreh Aghdashloo. QED.

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5. It keeps getting better

With the amount of good TV available today, I get why people have trouble buying into a show if it doesn’t take off right away. I remember having a conversation with a friend that back when we were growing up, it seemed like a lot of shows had shaky first seasons and didn’t get good until the second. Today, so many shows invest so much in making sure they have a great first season that if they are lucky enough to get renewed, the second season is a huge let down. And if you don’t have a great pilot, forget people tuning in for a second episode. It seems as though pretty soon if a show doesn’t have a good first 5 minute teaser, they can forget ever finding an audience.

These kinds of viewing habits are not a friend to The Expanse. It’s a rich, complex world, and while the first few episodes are good, it doesn’t really take off until about the fourth episode. But here’s the thing—if you can watch just 3 episodes of good TV, you will be rewarded with (as of now) two and a half seasons of great TV that just keeps getting better. Unlike so many shows that peak in their first season and then you just watch the slow decline, The Expanse gets better and better. And that’s not just my opinion. The Rotten Tomatoes scores for the seasons bear me out.

Season 1: 76%
Season 2: 95%
Season 3: 100%

Yep, you saw that right. SyFy canceled a show with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Which I get. From what I understand, the deal they had with the production company was not particularly good for them, but I think it’s a pretty good case for some other outlet to find a way to make a better deal and keep The Expanse on the air.

So, that’s why you should watch The Expanse. In the US, the first 2 seasons are on DVD, and you can catch up with it all streaming on Amazon. Internationally, Netflix is your friend. New episodes air on SyFy Wednesdays at 9:00.

~S

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

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

Has It Been That Long?

Somehow we’ve managed to miss several weeks of blogs again, but life is a bit overwhelming. We finished moving things out of my mom’s old house and closed the sale, but now we’re about to move from our house into a new one we hope to close on this week, so life it nuts. But it hasn’t been All Packing, All the Time at Unicorn HQ, although to be blunt, when we aren’t packing, there’s been a lot of staring at stuff and not much writing. At the least, we can take a minute and tell you what we’ve been staring at, though.

Babylon Berlin

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(from tumblr)

I think of all the shows we’ve been watching when we decide to sit down and stop working for the night, this is the one we like best. It’s a grand conspiracy and crime mystery set in Berlin in 1929. There’s lots of music, great clothes, and fantastic characters, particularly the leads, Gereon Rath and Charlotte Ritter. He’s the vice cop in town from Cologne trying to find blackmail porn, and she’s the secretary with aspirations of becoming a homicide detective who is a sex worker on the side in order to make ends meet. Depending on if you’re going by Netflix or IMDB, it’s either two seasons of eight episodes each, or one season of sixteen episodes, but however you split it, it’s fantastic television. I’ve heard rumors about a terrible dubbed version, so makes sure you watch with the subtitles on Netflix. There are more books in the series upon which the show is based, and I have my fingers crossed for more.

Marcella

But that isn’t our only cops and bad guys show. We also watched the first season of Marcella, starring Anna Friel, a detective who’s taken some time off from work to raise a family and deal with mental health problems she’s desperate to keep to herself. But it looks like a serial killer she didn’t catch years ago is at it again, and she needs to jump back into the job, whatever that might mean for her own well-being. Twisty with a great supporting cast of some of our favorite actors, including Jamie Bamber and Harry Lloyd, we like this one a ton. Season 2 is airing in the UK, and we’re trying to patiently wait for word on when it will make its way to Netflix.

The Good Place

(from tumblr)

Yeah, we’re late to this party, but the important thing is we got to this hilarious, high-concept show before we knew anything about it other than several people whose opinions we admire said we should watch. We’re very glad we did. So if you haven’t watched, get on this sooner rather than later. But I’m saying no more, because the less you know going in, the better. However, if the above is at all your sense of humor, check it out.

Turn

This is the current show we’re making our way through, and we’re still on the first season. We’ve both heard that it improves in Season 2, which is exciting since we like Season 1 pretty darn well already. So what’s is about? Generally, it’s about the American Revolution, but specifically it’s about spying during that war. The Brits have their spymaster, John Andre, played by JJ Field, one of my very favorite actors. And the Colonists are trying to get their act together on this front as well, led by Benjamin Tallmadge, played by Seth Numrich. (Numrich is an actor we just saw for the first time in a little indy film called Private Romeo. Is a modern day gay Romeo and Juliet set in a military school. Numrich is Romeo, and his performance is really fantastic.) We like the show a lot, and it’s leading to quality time with Wikipedia where I can be embarrassed at just how much I don’t know about the American Revolution.

And that’s what we’re doing when we’re not packing and ignoring (but never forgetting) our dear readers.

~S

Relationships Matter

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A scene from the new Netflix show Altered Carbon.

As always, Unicorn HQ is a hopping place with house hunting and packing. And when that and our day jobs aren’t intruding, I have been squeezing in some TV. Specifically, this weekend I binged the new Netflix series Altered Carbon. I enjoyed the first six episodes well enough, but it was the final four that really sold me on the show and made me keep watching, explaining in part why this blog is a day late. And, of course, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why, which eats up its own fair share of time.

When 1+1 is > 2

Earlier this week, I was chatting with someone on Tumblr about what we find most engaging in the media we consume and the fiction (fanfic and original) we write. At the end of the day, we agreed that what draws us in are the relationships. When I was younger, I remember thinking that what makes good stories, well, good, are the characters. But as I get older, what I find most compelling are the relationships, not the individual characters. Now, these can be great romances, like say, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, but it can be any two characters whose interactions make the story more interesting.

For instance, what changes in episode 7 of Altered Carbon is the introduction of the hero’s sister. (Well, our hero, Kovacs, has flashbacks to his sister, Rei, throughout the first six episodes, but Episode 7 is when their backstory becomes the main story and Rei becomes a character on the show for the remainder of the season.) This sibling relationship got me far more invested in the universe, plot, and protagonist of the show than the whodunit driving the first six episodes. Their childhood, their complicated adult relationship, which I won’t spoil by saying any more about, is the kind of intense connection between characters that keeps me going straight into the next episode.

When 1-1 < 0

What Altered Carbon plans to do in Season 2 will be interesting to see. Given the universe, Kovacs and Rei could easily be or not be in the next season, played either by actors who have already played them or by other actors. (In the Altered Carbon universe, consciousness can be transferred from one body to another body or clone, so for all we know, I could show up playing Kovacs in Season 2.) But I hope the showrunner remembers how exciting the episodes with Kovacs and Rei are. (And frankly, both actors playing Kovacs have great chemistry with Dichen Lachman, so I hope the casting folks keep that in mind, too.)

It’s similar to the hope I also have for Versailles. I think I’ve mentioned before (and if I haven’t, that’s an oversight I’ll fix right now) that Versailles is best when focusing on Louis XIV and his brother, Philippe. I know shows like to mix things up from one season to the next to prevent staleness, but that often leads to getting rid of what works. For instance, Justified is a show that is strong to the end, because no matter what else is going on, that show never forgets that Raylan and Boyd and their antagonistic relationship is the heart of the show. Unlike, say Vikings, which as far as I’m concerned, ended with Season 3 when the relationship that made the show worthwhile, Ragnar and Athelstan, ended.

So, if you’re looking for a quick review of Altered Carbon, I like it. (Maybe some time if I’m bored and/or masochistic, I’ll discuss the whitewashing and violence against women complaints that have been leveled against the show. Or maybe J will; I’ll probably make him watch it at some point.) And why did I like it? All the futuristic, Blade Runner-esque visuals? Meh. Not really. (Although it does look great.) Nope, I like it for Kovacs and Rei, the orphaned brother and sister who I’m far more invested in than I am in knowing who killed some rich dude who can’t really die.

~S

Still Unmoved

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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

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

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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

Not Quite Sticking the Landing

Halt and Catch Fire Fall Quote

Well, not fall, exactly, but maybe a little stumble, right there at the end.

It’s been a busy weekend here at Unicorn HQ. The big excitement this weekend was the series finale of Halt and Catch Fire, though that didn’t turn out quite as we had hoped. More on that in a minute. First, the other news. As I’ve mentioned, I’m teaching a new class this semester, and I have to drive almost two hours to do it. That eats up a lot of my Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. At least S had a chance to do some laundry while I was out, so at least one of us did something productive.

Today we’ve been cleaning around the house. Doing it all at once would just be too depressing, so we’re doing one room a day. Or at least that’s our goal. We haven’t quite been meeting that goal, but it’s still a lovely goal to have, all the same, don’t you think? I certainly do.

Pretty soon we’re going to have start thinking seriously about our NaNoWriMo project again. We developed the outline and the character profiles back during July Camp NaNo, but we haven’t looked at them in a couple months, so we’ll need to review them and talk a bit more about who is going to be responsible for writing which parts. But that can happen another time. Right now we’re resting after cleaning our living room and slowly working our way through a pair of well-deserved Bloody Marys.

When we haven’t been cleaning this morning, we’ve been dissecting the Halt and Catch Fire finale. As I put it to S last night before bed, it was a three star finish to a five star series. It wasn’t horrible, but it certainly could have been better. Last week, S said, “assuming they stick the landing, it will rank as one of our favorite shows of all time.” Well, they didn’t quite crash, but the landing was a bit bumpier than you would hope for.

The scenes between Donna and Cameron were all fine. But there were probably too many of them. And the resolution of their relationship came at the expense of Joe, who basically disappeared for the length of a Bible during the last episode. The Donna/Cameron storyline feels as if it came to a satisfying conclusion. But Joe just wandered off, and when we saw him, he was hanging out with random people we didn’t know and had never met before. Where was his resolution with Donna? With Cameron? With Haley (who could be seen as a surrogate for Gordon)? What we got was a letter written to Haley and read by her to Cameron, which would have been fine if there was going to be another episode after this. And we got a scene of him teaching a class, which would have been a fine place to leave him if there was going to be another season in which he could reconnect to the other two main characters. But this was the end, and it just felt very strange and unsatisfying to leave him there. As S and I decided last night, the show really needed to show him getting a phone call from Cameron, asking for some unspecified help on Donna’s exciting new idea. Just something to assure the viewer that he and Donna and Cameron will continue to have a relationship moving forward, because the heart of the show has always been the relationships between the main characters. It’s a little disappointing that the writers seem to have forgotten that, and right after we’d complemented them on doing it so well last week, too.

So it wasn’t as good as it could have been. But it wasn’t terrible. It certainly wasn’t the last episode of Justified, but at the same time, it wasn’t the last episode of How I Met Your Mother, either. It’s not like it took our love for the show and stomped on it. The bottom line, I suppose, is that we’ll probably still buy the whole series on DVD or Blu-ray. We just might not watch that last episode very often.

J