Choosing floor coverings

Today I’m writing a scene set inside an upmarket 18th Century London brothel. So I’ve been poring over Google images, trying to determine…

jack-got-safe-into-portbachelor-farea-fool-his-money18th-century-prostitute-hogarth

…what kind of floor coverings to have.

Probably carpet.

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Progress

I’ve had this song stuck in my head for the last couple of days.

I love the bluesy guitar, and the lyrics of the chorus are just perfect for channelling one of the POV characters in my current WIP at the moment.

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

This WIP is sitting on about 94,000 words and I’m pretty much committed to getting it done by the end of the year. Wish me luck. I’m almost there.

On endings and how to get to them

the-end1

So, to deal with my stuckness (which hasn’t yet been dealt with), my good friend and writing buddy Robert Porteous asked me how my story ended. I kinda have an idea about that, but it’s vague. Bare bones. I have the pre-ending climax all sorted and have done for a while, but the actual key story climax? Sigh. So he suggested I work on that. It seemed sensible: if I know how it ends, I’ll know what I have to get to. So I did a bit of brainstorming and created a few seeds of ideas that if I water carefully enough will produce shoots (and maybe, hopefully grow into something interesting and fulfilling).

But it’s hard.

So, as a tried and true avoidance technique, I thought “Maybe I’ll go and do some story planning work on one of my other novel WIPs and get into the story planning mood by doing something a bit fresh and different and revitalise my imagination.”

And guess what. No ending on that one. Pre-ending climax sorted. Major story climax? Vaguety-vague-vague-vague. I did a bit of a mental riffle through my other novel projects and, yep, this is something of a pattern for me.

“I wonder why this is?” I wondered. Wonderingly.

As usual, it’s all to do with emotional peaks and troughs. All these minor climaxes are (in standard 3-Act plot terms) the Darkest Hour. It’s the moment of highest and most drawn out emotional tension in the story. Think the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi; Rapunzel thinking Eugene has chosen the looted crown over her; Henri telling Danielle she’s a fraud and publicly withdrawing his heart; Elizabeth Bennet confessing to Mr Darcy that her youngest sister has eloped with the villain that almost ruined his sister’s life.

If you think about most of these story examples, the Darkest Hour packs a whole lot more emotional punch than the final climax. It’s when the protagonist has lost everything – or the thing that means most to them – and it almost doesn’t matter what else happens to them at that point because their heart has been ripped in two and everything else is trivial.

The exception out of these four (all faves of mine) is Tangled. Much as it hurts to see poor Rapunzel watching Eugene sail off with the crown, it is nothing, nothing, to the blubbering mess I become at the actual climax of the film when he does what he does – not to save her, because he can’t do that at that point – but to stop her giving up on saving herself. *Deep shuddery breath*

And therein lies the lesson. If I’m going to get interested in this part of the story and motivate myself to write it, somehow I’ve got to find a way to make my ending deliver as much, or more, emotional punch as the Darkest Hour.

Simple. Right?

Right.

Writing minds-eye candy

Today has been a good day. Today I have been working on a couple of scenes in my WIP involving a handsome 18th century man in various states of deshabille. It’s always important to get the details right, so here are a few helpful images I’ve been using for research and inspiration.

Firstly, you’ve got to get the clothes right. That gap at the neck of the shirt is very important. (We’ll get to what’s under it in a minute.)

Then you have to ensure you understand just how it sits. How far down does that gap go? Exactly what can you see? Some images are more helpful than others. Some are just pure distraction. *fans self*

From there, I’m afraid, we move straight to the pics of Aidan Turner and Sam Heughan shirtless. Because getting anatomy right is important. It is.

 

Autumn morning

Here’s the view from my study window this morning.

2016-05-18 07.39.03

Autumn had a late start in Canberra this year, but it’s here now. We haven’t had a whole lot of fog yet, but clearly it’s on its way.

And, in other news, the WIP is now sitting on 81,000 words! And I’ve kicked a couple of important plot milestones over the goal line, so whichever way I count it, I’m making progress. Also, because I’m starting to get glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel, I’ve started planning a new suite of short stories to get into once I’m done with the first draft of this manuscript.

Onwards and upwards. Or something.

Things that make you go “Hmm…”

I’ve been doing a bit of trawling through Wikipedia today, building up a list of historical personages to use as extras in my current WIP. And I came across this lady:

387px-Emily_Duchess_of_Leinster_1770_s
The Duchess of Leinster as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the 1770s;  courtesy of Wikipedia

Emily Lennox was (according to Wikipedia) married to James Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare (and later Duke of Leinster), in 1747, when she was “almost 16”. That is, when she was FIFTEEN.

Apparently the marriage was a happy one.

Well, good. Because the couple had 18 children. That was not a typo. Here, I’ll write it out, just to make sure: eighteen.

Actually, there were 19 children “of the marriage”, but the last kid, born in 1773 was actually the son of the tutor of the Fitzgerald brood, one Mr William Ogilvie. When James Fitzgerald died, in November of 1773, Emily married Ogilvie the following year (which, understandably caused something of a sensation.)

She then went on to have THREE MORE CHILDREN with her new husband!

So that’s a total of 22 children. In an age where childbirth was absolutely a matter of life and death for the mother. No antibiotics. No blood transfusions. No safe surgical procedures. No anaesthetic.

Wow.

Sadly, and predictably, twelve of her children predeceased her. Of those, nine died by the age of 10. Her eldest child, George, died when he was 17 and two others died in adulthood.

Just one other interesting thing I noted concerning the difficulties posed by such an enormous amount of offspring: obviously finding suitable names posed a challenge. She had two daughters named Louisa, two named Charlotte and two named Caroline, as well as two sons called George (ironically, George and George were her eldest children by each of her two husbands.)

Beilby’s Ball

For anyone writing about or interested in Britain in the 18th and early 19th century, the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: a dictionary of buckish slang, university wit and pickpocket eloquence, brought to you by Project Gutenberg, is an indispensable resource.

Here’s a little gem I came across today:

BEILBY’S BALL. He will dance at Beilby’s ball, where the sheriff pays the music; he will be hanged. Who Mr. Beilby was, or why that ceremony was so called, remains with the quadrature of the circle, the discovery of the philosopher’s stone, and divers other desiderata yet undiscovered.

Tyburn_gallows_1746

Map of Tyburn gallows and immediate surroundings, from John Rocque’s map of London, Westminster and Southwark (1746), courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

 

 

Note to self…

…Next time you’re having trouble getting the story flowing, Leife, stop and have a think about how you can make that particular plot point have emotional consequences for your characters.

Gustave-Courbet-The-Desperate-Man
The desperate man, Gustave Courbet, 1845

I’m amazed at how often I forget basic pieces of writing advice. Then when I remember a thing I’ve known for years (usually when I’m in the shower), it’s an epiphany.

I’ve been struggling to move my current WIP along for the last couple of weeks. It’s been a bit puzzling. I’ve got that bit of plot all mapped out. I know what’s supposed to happen. But, somehow, I just haven’t managed to bring it to life.

sandys-medea
Medea, Frederick Sandys, 1868

I’d put it down to the depressing necessity of returning to work after holidays, tiredness, general malaise, burnout from having gone hammer-and-tongs at the manuscript in the two months leading up to Christmas. I couldn’t figure it out.

loves-shadow1
Miss Clive “In Love’s Shadow” or Proud Maisie, by Frederick Sandys, 1867

Then, in the shower today (of course), I worked it out. I had a plot point. I had a thing that had to happen to move the story along, but it was entirely mechanical and bereft of any emotional impact on my characters. I just had to spend a few minutes thinking about how I could use the scene to mess up my characters some more add an element of emotional narrative to the scene and Voila! It came alive.

Somewhere along the way I’ve picked up the term “emotional stepping stones”. This idea resonates strongly with me and how I like to write. I can plot out a sequence of events for my story, but what brings it to life in my mind and gets my creative juices flowing is the emotional touchstones of a character’s arc. Every time I think about a candy bar scene that I had to get up in the middle of the night to write, it’s a scene involving some kind of emotional high (or low) for my character.

So that’s my note to myself. To remember that my story isn’t just a sequence of events, but a series of emotional stepping-stones, and that, actually, is what keeps me interested.

So glad I sorted that out. Now have some more Pre-Raphaelite pictures of beautiful people having emotions.

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Joan of Arc, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1882
Simeon Solomon
Young Rabbi Holding the Torah, Simeon Solomon, 1871

Down the research rabbit hole

This year I have made a concerted effort to concentrate on Novel Project #4. It’s not the 4th novel I’ve started writing (lost count on that score), or the 4th one I will actually complete a finished draft of. It’s the 4th one I’ve put a serious and concerted effort into creating. Basically, a project gets a number when I feel like it’s a going concern. Otherwise it’s just fiddling around.

Novel Project #4, however, is the first one that I have spent a serious amount of time planning, and some very serious time researching. By natural inclination, I’m an inveterate pantser, but (for me, anyway) an approach based solely on flying by the seat of my pants is not conducive to getting novels written in a professional time frame.

For the last two months I have had a heavy focus on doing the actual writing part. This has been by turns intense, exhausting, exhilarating and frustrating, and it’s used up most of my word ju ju (yes, that is a Thing), which is why I’ve been so slack about blogging. I’ve done bits and pieces of writing throughout the year, but, seriously, I have spent most of this year doing planning and research.

Project #4 uses a paranormal historical setting, which means, as I mentioned, the research burden for this story has been quite high. Naturally I’m using one of my favourite periods of history, so I’ve enjoyed this immensely. But this means there is an ever-present lurking danger of being sucked down into a Research Rabbit Hole.

Rabbit hole

These Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. So I thought I’d share some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes with you. I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination, and I’ll begin putting up a series of guest posts on these tomorrow.

Recently, I was doing a little bit of research on a peripheral character. Primarily, I was just checking to see whether I could find out who was the Rector of St Paul’s Church Covent Garden in London in 1765, or whether I had to make someone up. I found him, one Reverend James Tattersall, and managed to glean a tiny bit of biographical information about him. But nothing substantial; nothing to suggest the kind of man he was. Then I discovered this snippet: a 1768 register of baptisms by Reverend Tattersall in St Paul’s Covent Garden.

Scipio

Right there on the 25th of March 1768, is an entry that indicates the Reverend Tattersall owned an 11 year old boy as a slave.

Rabbit Hole 1: What kind of person owns a slave? Was it an issue of status for Tattersall and his wife? Was it an act of charity? Was it unusual for people in his position to own slaves? Were they nice to him? Where they horrible?Why baptise him then? Why wasn’t he already baptised?

Rabbit Hole 2: Who was the poor kid? He was only 11! Where was his family? Were they alive? Were they even in the same country as he was by this time? Where was he from? Did he speak English? What was his life like after joining the Tattersall household? How long did he stay there? Did he learn a trade? Did he marry? Did he ever live as a free man?

Rabbit Hole 3: Interestingly, this was around about the time the conversation about the ethics of slave-ownership got started in the UK. In 1765 the grandfather of abolition in the UK, Granville Sharp, met Jonathan Strong, an escaped slave (for “escaped” read: beaten so badly by his master he was abandoned in the street as useless) and, with his brother, a doctor, helped him get the treatment he needed to recover. In 1767, Sharp provided further legal assistance to Strong, when Strong’s former master attempted to kidnap Strong and sell him to another slave-owner.

I could go on.

This, though, is a perfect example of just how far down the rabbit hole you can fall. And it’s also a perfect example of how, just from peeking through one tiny keyhole you can discover a wealth of material to help you build the world of your story.

Candy bar scenes

Image by Simon Howden, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Image by Simon Howden, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been indulging in some candy bar scenes this week. These are typically the scenes you hold off writing, because they’re the fun ones; the ones that signify major plot points or key emotional stepping-stones for your characters. You’re supposed to hang them out in front of you like a reward you get after the rest of the wordage is down.

I find, though, these are also the scenes that help me keep a story on track. They’re the ones that set the character of the whole novel, and the touchstones I keep returning to when I feel like I’m losing my way. Getting a candy bar scene down ahead of time can help me focus on where the bit I’m actually up to in the plot is heading. They’re also the points at which my characters shine brightest – where their personalities and motivations are most clear. So they also keep me focused on how I am developing the people inhabiting my story.

Typically, these are the scenes where my Muse kicks into overdrive, so they are addictive. I tend to find they leave me a bit wrung out, though. And often when I come to incorporating them into the story as a whole (imagine a kind of literary connect-the-dots), I find they are heavy on emotion, but lacking in the kind of world-building depth that really brings a story to life. That’s fine, though. That’s what first drafts are for, after all.

For me, the key issue is balance. If I write all my candy bar scenes all at once, I just end up with a bunch of disjointed, high energy scenes that don’t actually tell a story. I confess, this was pretty much how I approached writing in my teens. I’m not sure if it was the teen thing, or an overdose of candy, but the other problem I experienced with this approach is that what I ended up with was also kind of melodramatic and silly. Also, I ran out of energy to write the bits that knitted the story together as a whole.

But if I just try to slog it out from beginning to middle to end, I get lost in the fog of the present and can’t see where I’m going, or how to get there.

I like to think of it as finding my way by following a kind of trail of candy through the forest of my unwritten draft.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net