Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beautiful People: Annette Pickering

This month's Beautiful People centers on villains, and I leaped at the chance to get to know my villain a little better.  Ladeeeeeez and gentlemen, may I present Miss Annette Florence Pickering, a lovely, accomplished and selfish young woman with an ego the size of something really, really big.  

Tiny bit o' background: Annette is the oldest child in a fabulously wealthy English Victorian family, with everything she could ever want at her disposal.  And believe me, she likes it that way.  She likes nothing better than to be the best at everything-- to be the prettiest girl in the room, the most popular young lady at a ball, the most fashionably dressed woman in her circle of friends... yeah, you get the idea.  Her younger brother Wilfred (whom I covered in another BP) lives pretty much under her thumb, and Annette likes things that way, too.  

1. What is her motive?
Excellent, excellent question-- and one I hadn't really considered until about a month ago, when my sister and I were up way too late one night talking about villains (and many other things related to writing).  They DO have to have a motive, and I'm afraid Annette didn't have one when I first created her.  So I hastily went back in the story and altered a few events... and everything slid into place, and now Annette has a motive and one aspect of the story is in far better shape than it was before.  Yay!

Oh, but I didn't yet tell you what Annette's motive is.  Right.  Okay, so Annette has always thought herself better than everybody, right?  She always associates with the most upper-crust people, and it is to her advantage to be "friends" (yes, the quotation marks are necessary) with Lavinia Solange Vivian Bancroft, another extremely wealthy and influential young woman.  That is, until one day when Annette and Lavinia go for a walk in Kensington Gardens.  They're strolling along talking about nothing (typical) when they run (literally) into Elizabeth Markette, a friend of Lavinia's who is a...wait for it... governess.  GET THE FLY SPRAY, because ewwww.  A governess is of the working class, you know.  *shudder*  Elizabeth is in the act of chasing down an errant child, and needless to say, it's a bit of an awkward meeting.  From that moment on, Annette ceases to associate with Lavinia.  Why?  Well, read the previous few sentences.  People who associate with servants (or nearly-servants) are not people who associate with Annette Pickering.  Therefore, Annette Pickering shuns Lavinia from that moment on.  Figuratively, of course.  They still are obligated to speak to each other in Polite Society, but their conversations are... interesting.  (And quite fun to write, I might add.)

Also, Annette makes things pretty doggone uncomfortable when her brother falls in love with Lavinia. *dramatic music*

2. What is she prepared to do to get what she wants?

Pretty much anything, as long as it won't soil her Parisian gloves.

3. Is she evil to the core, or simply misunderstood?

Evil to the core.  Ehh... well... she's mean to the core.  Not really evil.

4. What was her past like? What about her childhood? Was there one defining moment that made her embrace her evil ways?

It was never any one defining moment-- just a childhood spent in being spoiled rotten and given her own way in everything and brought up to believe that she was a little princess.  Unfortunately, her parents forgot to teach her about the whole noblesse oblige business.  It was more of a "might makes right" thing.

5. Now that she's evil, has she turned her back on everyone, or is there still someone in their life that she cares for? (Brother? Daughter? Love interest? Mother? Someone who is just as evil as she is?)

Annette really doesn't care for anyone but herself-- though it's not a question of turning her back on loved ones.  She never truly loved anyone in her family, because she's consumed with herself.  Deep down, however, I think she really is yearning for a friend.  Her insecurity and fear of not being accepted is what makes her so selfish and gives her such a drive to be the best.

6. Does she like hugs?

Is the pope a Muslim?

7. Is she plagued by something? (Nightmares, terrible thoughts?)

Annette doesn't allow herself to be plagued by anything.  (Eeep, I'm seeing some rather eerie similarities between her and another character, Lavinia--who is a good guy.  Er, a good girl.  She's a good girl, she is.  Aowwwww.)

8. Who is she more similar to: Gollum or Maleficent?

Since I'm not familiar with either character, having never seen Lord of the Rings or Sleeping Beauty (though I know the story of the latter) I'm going to substitute Chauvelin and the evil stepmother from Cinderella for that question.  And the answer is that Annette is more like the evil stepmother.  "Me, me, me--what's in it for me?"

9. If your villain could have her choice of transportation what would it be?

A carriage better than the Queen's. :P

10. If you met your villain in the street, how afraid would you be? Is she evil enough to kill their creator?

Good gracious, Annette would never kill anybody.  What a messy business that would be.  Besides, one might get in trouble with the law, and Society would certainly frown on a murderess.  No indeed, I would have nothing to fear from Annette in that regard... and actually, it might be quite interesting to meet her on the street.  She's so dreadfully snooty that she's actually funny at times, and I'd probably have a good laugh afterwards.

Does the dark side really have cookies?

I have no idea, having never been there.  I would imagine that they do, but I'd advise you to ask the Phantom.

P.S.  Apologies to any and all Keira Knightley fans... it isn't because I hate KK that I cast her as Annette.  It's simply that she looks exactly like the mental image I have of the character.  It is not my own fault. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Get Rid of the Fluff and Flowers

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English - it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.
~Mark Twain

Hmmm... Mark Twain definitely had a way of putting things.  I think I may have been guilty of letting verbosity creep into my writing once or twice... *guilty smile*  This quote is a great reminder to keep it tight.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Do I Know?

I'm always waiting for things to be over so I can get home and commit them to paper.
~Erica Jong

"Write about what you know."

It's the advice every young writer hears at some point, the advice that many follow, the advice that many disregard.  I've struggled with it, to be honest.  I like the idea of writing what I know, writing from experience, writing from life.  But what, exactly, is the definition of "writing what you know"?  Does "writing what you know" mean that every piece of fiction has to be autobiographical, that each and every character must be based on someone of your acquaintance, that every scrap of dialogue must be at least paraphrased from something that really took place?

I think not.

One of my favorite scenes in Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel depicts Anne and Gilbert discussing Anne's literary endeavors.  Anne laments that her beloved story has become nothing more than a baking advertisement, and melodramatically announces that she will never write again.

Gilbert tries to offer some advice. "Oh, I wouldn't give up all together. Maybe if you just let your characters speak everyday English, instead of all that highfalutin mumbo-jumbo... "Wilt thou give up thy garter, oh fairest of the fair"? Anne, nobody speaks that way. And look at that sap Percival who sits around mooning the entire time. He never lets a girl get a word in edgewise. In real life she'd have pitched him. Well, if you want my opinion, Miss Shirley, I'd write about places I knew something of and people that spoke everyday English instead of these silly schoolgirl romances."

Anne ends up following Gilbert's advice and writes a book entitled Avonlea Vignettes, a fictionalized account of events in her hometown.   Jo March in Little Women does something similar-- after betraying her own conscience by writing sensational stories for a trashy newspaper, she turns her attention to something better and writes a semi-autobiographical novel about herself and her sisters.  With this kind of example before me, I started to wonder if maybe that was the only way to begin writing--to write solely about one's own experiences.  So I tried my hand at it, fictionalizing a few things here and there but attempting to recreate scenes in my own life in a novel for girls.

It flopped.

Since then, I've read quite a few books (and blogs :D) about writing, and I've come to the conclusion that every writer should write about what they know... because it's impossible to do otherwise.

Think about it for a moment.  The Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Is it truly possible for any writer to write about things they don't know?  No.  It's not.  Every single character you create, every scenario you envision, every scrap of dialogue you craft has its foundation in something you've experienced in your life... or something you've imagined.  And the things that you imagine unquestionably fit into the category of "what you know"--because what other human being can know the workings of your mind better than yourself?

I'm not a psychologist, nor am I a professional writer.  (I say professional because I don't like to say "I am not a writer."  To say that I am not yet a writer simply because I don't get paid for what I write is inaccurate.  Anyone who writes is a writer.  I think Ernest Hemingway said that at one point, that there is no such thing as an aspiring writer.  Either you are a writer or you aren't.  Profound, no?)  So don't take what I say as an excuse to go nuts, write something ridiculous and then blame me for it.  (Not that you would.)

In conclusion (because every good essay or article or blog post has to have an introduction, body and conclusion), yes, I agree with the maxim that you should write what you know.  Want to capture the beauty of a wild thunderstorm in August?  Go for it.  Want to twine words together to describe a woman you met at the supermarket?  Do it.  Want to quote verbatim a hilarious conversation you had with your siblings at the dinner table?  Get thee to thy notebook or keyboard, and for pity's sake share it with the rest of us, because a good laugh over something like that can never come amiss.

But don't try to make "what you know" into a box and squeeze your writing into it.  Because your writing will suffer from lack of oxygen.  Trust me on this one.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Snippets of Story - May 2012

Linking up with Snippets of Story (hosted by Katie at Whisperings of the Pen) again! Only a Novel is chugging along, but I really need to just sit down and write more of it.  And stop letting myself be distracted by Plot Heffalump.  (Which, by the way, is coming along swimmingly.  In my head.)

“Elizabeth, if you think he stole it, then I don’t even see why we’re having this conversation.” Mercy’s eyes seemed to shoot sparks. “Rodney would never do something like that, never, never, NEVER. He’d starve before he’d steal. Don’t even incinerate such a thing.”

“Insinuate, not incinerate,” was on the tip of Elizabeth’s tongue, but this was not the time.
~Only a Novel

Lavinia regarded her for a moment. Then, as if she were the sun magnanimously breaking through storm clouds, she smiled. “I can never stay angry at anyone for very long,” she said, opening the door wider and ushering the astonished Elizabeth inside. “You are much too dear to be angry with anyhow. Though I have to say that you have committed an unpardonable sin and I’m very close to telling you that you are the silliest little fool that ever lived.”

“Lavinia, I have to do this,” Elizabeth began, but Lavinia cut her short.

“No, no, no excuses. Hush. I shan’t listen. I shall put my fingers in my ears and sing loudly to drown you out. And then you will flee from the room shrieking, as would any poor soul who had to listen to my voice raised in song. I can’t forgive this error on your part, Lizzie, but I can ignore it, and ignore it I shall.”
~Only a Novel

“I wish I could have stayed at the table,” Jonathan spoke up. “But Mamma made Miss Markette take Isabelle and me up to bed. Whenever the grownups are doing something interesting, they always send us away. We never get to hear any arguments.”
~Only a Novel

Elizabeth sighed. Apparently she had been outvoted. “Very well, then, we’ll read out here. But we will walk around the garden as we read, for I will not have the two of you turning into mushrooms.”

“This isn’t Wonderland, Miss Markette,” said Jonathan gravely.

“I know. I’m merely indulging in a bit of humor, which evidently is not appreciated. Ahem! Where were we?”
~Only a Novel

If this moment were a scene upon the stage, the accompanying music at this point in time should have risen thunderously, perhaps with some stirring strings and fast and furious piano. As it was not a scene upon the stage, Elizabeth was forced to simply imagine the music, but she was not particularly good at this and had to abandon it. Nevertheless, she felt that the moment was of great dramatic import and must be dealt with properly.
~Only a Novel

The hasty knock came barely two seconds before Mercy burst into Elizabeth’s room. “Elizabeth! Look!”

“Come in,” said Elizabeth.

“I am in.” Mercy danced to the desk where Elizabeth sat and flung her arms wide, twirling so that the skirt of the dress flared out. “Look at it. It’s perfect. It’s utterly gorgeous, it’s dazzling, it’s the most beautiful thing in the whole world.”
~Only a Novel

“I sat up till two last night--er, two this morning--and had a romantic proposal all written out. Quite nicely, in fact, with neat margins, and the writing didn’t slant upwards to the right. My writing so often does, you know.”
~Only a Novel

The heavy scent of flowers from the funeral still hung, stifling, in the air around her. It had probably clung to the folds of her dress—another reason to never wear the horrid thing again. She hopped off the bed and threw open her window. Warm, humid breezes from the streets blew in, partly clouded with a stench from the sewers. Anything was better than the weighty perfume of the lilacs and lilies.
~Only a Novel

“It says McTavish, Nurse. Private Peter McTavish, Allied Forces.” He wasn’t exactly laughing at her, but he was coming pretty close to it.

“Um, thank you, Mr. McTavish.” (Were you supposed to call an enlisted man Mister? Shouldn’t she have said Private? Too late now.) “And, um, I’m actually not the nurse—I’m the nurse’s aide. Annabeth Creighton, pleased to meet you.”

No, you were definitely not supposed to tell a patient you were pleased to meet him. It implied that you were glad he was in hospital. Ugh.

His blankets were straight, his water pitcher full, and she wasn’t responsible for the bandages on his leg—besides, they looked fine, which was a relief because she definitely didn’t want to deal with anything bloody on her very first day. But she had to do something, or at least say something.

“Pleasure,” said Private McTavish. “Is this a social call, or have you come to stick me with something sharp for the sake of my health?”
~Plot Heffalump 
(that's not the title, it's my fond nickname for this project)

She unfolded the scrap of paper, wiping away the smudges of dirt that obscured the word and numbers. “John 15:13… that’s all, Thatcher? That’s it? A reference? I don’t have my Bible with me, I can’t look it up—”

She was babbling and they both knew it. He rolled his eyes. “You don’t need to look it up. You memorized it years ago, I know you know it.”


“Yes. I know it.”

“Okay, say it.”

More silence.

“Greater love… greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

“See? It’s that simple.” Thatcher folded the paper up again and tucked it into her sleeve. “Keep it and don’t forget it.”

The cold lump in Annabeth’s stomach rose up into her throat. “Thatcher… he’s not your friend. He doesn’t deserve to be helped. You can’t do this.”

Thatcher closed his eyes and flopped down on his back, hands behind his head in his favorite pose. “So, maybe he’s not my friend. And maybe he doesn’t deserve it. That doesn’t change what I have to do. Jesus laid his life down for me hundreds of years before I was born, Annabeth. I didn’t deserve it.”

“But you’re not Jesus—and Arnold’s not your friend; you have no obligation to him. You’re not laying down your—your life for a friend.”

Peter, who Annabeth had thought was asleep, pulled himself up on one elbow. “You’re right, Annabeth. Arnold’s not a friend.”

No one said anything.

Peter looked up through the maze of leaves to the stars. “Well, then… so maybe that makes it even greater love.”
~Plot Heffalump

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This Is Not Good

Point the First: I am currently writing a novel.  It's called Only a Novel.  I'm loving it.  

Point the Second: I have a deadline for the completion of this novel.  A deadline--one of those nasty, dastardly things that creeps up slowly on you, ready to pounce like a baby on a forbidden ring of keys.  The deadline isn't the issue here, though.  The issue is actually three issues--three people, to be exact.  

Point the Third: The Three Issues.  The three people who marched simultaneously into my mind, demanding that their story be told... three people who won't go away.  I know so little of their story thus far, and my first response is to tell them all to leave me alone.  After all, I'm busy!  I have a deadline! I haven't time for plot bunnies. 

But they aren't listening.  So here they sit, looking at me reproachfully.  "Finish your novel if you must," they seem to be saying.  "Keep writing... don't miss your deadline... but if you forget about us in the process, We Will Not Be Pleased."

I may as well introduce you to them, so here they are.

Annabeth Creighton
This is Annabeth, the protagonist, who looks like Judy Garland, and really that's all I know about her-- her name, and how she looks.  Well, that's not quite true.  I also know that she's fed up with the war that's going on all over Europe--including the tiny country she's living in (Republic of Something-or-other that I haven't named yet, and Annabeth wants little more than to go back to her hometown in the USA.  Don't let the picture fool you, though-- Annabeth might not be particularly happy with where she is, but she's not the weepy type.  She wouldn't just sit around and mope with her chin on her hand... nope, that's not Annabeth.  (But the picture looks like her.  So... hush.)  Annabeth isn't exactly what you'd call a cock-eyed optimist, but neither is she a Pouting Polly.  Also, she's bossy.  Did I mention that?  Especially where her headstrong little brother is concerned...

Thatcher Creighton
Meet Thatcher, Annabeth's younger brother, who was actually the first person to march into my head... but he dragged Annabeth in with him, and they seem to be inseparable.  Thatcher's fed up with the war, too, but in a different way than Annabeth.  Annabeth desperately wants to leave it all behind and go back home, but Thatcher wants to march in and do something.  The problem?  Republic of Whatchamacallit's army won't take him because of his asthma.  So he's stuck at home writing propaganda articles for his local newspaper and itching to be doing something more.  The trouble is... he doesn't know what.  (Well, I know what, but he doesn't--yet--and so you won't either.  For the time being, at least.)

Peter McTavish
And this is Peter McTavish, an American serviceman stationed in Annabeth and Thatcher's hometown... and, um, he's awesome. 'Nuff said.  Ahem.

I've done nothing more than detail the very barest of bare bones about these folks... but their story just won't go away.  Adventure, photography, espionage, World War II, journalism, disguises, daring rescues, illness, loyalty, confusion, romance, arguments, sacrifice, practical jokes, Jane Austen, wilderness survival, danger, friendship, strawberries... all that and more is rattling around inside my head, spinning itself into a story bigger than anything I've ever imagined before.  You've heard of plot bunnies?  Well, I'm calling this the Plot Heffalump.   Yep.  Project Plot Heffalump... but it's on hold.  ON HOLD, Annabeth and Thatcher and Peter. You heard me.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beautiful People: Wilfred Pickering

Use your imagination and pretend he's wearing
period-correct 1880's clothes, please. ;)
Taking my cue from an authoress I greatly admire, I'm using this month's Beautiful People to familiarize myself with a character I don't know too well.  (For those of you who aren't familiar with Beautiful People: it's a monthly questionnaire designed to help writers get to know their characters better.  You can read more here.)

This month, I decided to tackle Wilfred Alfred Pickering, a secondary character in Only a Novel, my current WIP.  (Don't hold the poor chap responsible for his middle name-- he can't help the fact that it rhymes with his first.  His parents, I'm afraid, were remarkably short-sighted.)  Wilfred lives in London, England in 1881-1882 (presumably he lived for at least twenty-some years before that time, and hopefully for many years after, but 1881-1882 is when the story takes place.  Don't be so technical), the over-privileged son of wealthy parents who isn't quite sure of what he wants to do with his life.  My little sister Laura, if she were reading this, would immediately ask "is he a good guy?" (because she asks that about everyone) and my reply would be, "Well, read the following and see for yourself... I'll let you make your own decision."

1. What is his favourite type of shoes?

Quite frankly, I don't believe Wilfred puts much thought into footwear.  His shoes are black, in all likelihood.  Sturdy and sensible, yet fashionable--but not dandified.  Selected by his Esteemed Mother and paid for by his Honored Father.  He doesn't take much notice of them-- just wears whatever the valet puts out for him in the mornings.  He's not a sloppy fellow, mind you-- he likes to be neat.  But he doesn't much care what he's wearing, as long as it's presentable.

2. Does he journal?

Not nowadays, but he used to.  When he was younger and away at boarding school, he'd fill pages of tablet paper (paper that was supposed to be used for letter-writing) with the day's events.  Only of course the events were completely made up, because nothing much interesting happened to him while he was at school (unless you count being punished for using all his tablet paper and his roommate's besides for "scribbling nonsense" instead of writing letters home).

3. What’s his favorite animal?

Wilfred likes dogs, but his mother and sister do not, because dogs tend to shed and slobber.  Therefore, Wilfred does not possess a dog.

4. What does his average day look like?

That depends on whether he's at home in London or abroad with his family.  When he's abroad, he spends the forenoon and afternoon trudging from Fashionable Meeting Place to Fashionable Meeting Place with his mother and sister, and his evening at some party or other, being polite and making rather awkward small talk.  When he's at home, he spends the day at the office with his father, conducting Business (at which he is rather adept, but does not particularly enjoy) and his evening reading at home.

5. Night owl or morning person? (Optional: What time does he usually wake up? Go to bed?)

Wilfred generally gets up about seven, so that he can have breakfast with the family at eight and be at the office by nine-- he wouldn't exactly be described as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning, but neither is he a grump at the breakfast table.  He's not precisely a night owl, but he does enjoy his evenings, because evening means that he can relax in the library with a good book.   (Undisturbed, because the rest of his family never ventures into the library--it's too dusty and dull for the ladies of the house, and the gentleman of the house hasn't picked up anything but the newspaper since Oxford.)  Wilfred goes to bed between ten-thirty and eleven--earlier than his mother and sister, later than his father.

6. Does he have a sweet tooth?

Wilfred likes sweets in moderation, but he doesn't like the kind of cake with sugar dusted all over it-- he generally manages to smear it across the front of his coat, which is most embarrassing.   He prefers plain buns or muffins.

7. What colors are in his bedroom?

Colors?  There are colors in his bedroom?  Why, to be sure, there are.  He'd never taken much notice of them before.

8. Can he cook?

Not at all-- that is, he never tried.  Or had to try.  But if he were hard put to it, he might be able to scramble an egg.  It can't be that hard of an operation, after all, and if one approaches it logically and methodically, it can surely be done.

9. What is his favorite household chore?

Wilfred doesn't have to do chores.  The servants take care of that.  He wouldn't mind trying his hand at washing the windows, however-- he was never allowed to as a child, and always thought it looked like fun.  The butler would have let him help to polish the silver, and he would have liked to be of use in that way, but his Mamma said No and that's the end of that.

10. Favorite kind of tea?

India tea, the kind with a slightly musky, smoky flavor, very exotic.  It's not fashionable, but it tastes good and makes one think of foreign lands waiting to be explored.  Not that Wilfred could ever go exploring in India or South Africa, of course-- his mother would have a conniption at the very idea!

EDIT: I had a quote from Only a Novel picked out and ready for the the end of this post, and then of course I forgot about it.  Miss Scatterbrain speaking... anyways, here it is.

Elizabeth stopped listening and focused on minutely examining Mr. Pickering’s appearance. So this was the young man whom Lady Fagles was so keen on attaching to Lavinia. He did not seem at all unpleasant—on the contrary, his face bore the marks of good humor and frequent smiling. His hair was a handsome red—Lavinia’s prejudice against it was quite ridiculous—though a bit rumpled, but of course that was due to his running his hand through it a moment ago. His eyes—fixed immovably on Lavinia, regardless of the other young ladies to whom he was being introduced—were a pleasant brown and seemed to be quite friendly indeed.

He held his teacup with the ease of one who was accustomed to elegant parlors, but his precarious perch on the edge of the sofa belied any carelessness in his manner. It was obvious that Mr. Pickering was not feeling comfortable in this company, but then who could with a sister such as his seated beside him? With the skirt of her satin afternoon dress drawn carefully away in case her brother might soil it, no less?

“I was drive—driving by,” Mr. Pickering explained, stuttering just a bit, “and—and I thought I’d come by and—and bring you home with me, Annette, and then you wouldn’t have to call a—a cab.”
~Only a Novel, chapter 24