Research: the perils of doing it whilst tired

I’ve been concentrating a lot lately on Novel Project #4, which is set in London in the 1760s. There’s loads of reserach material to forge through, and I have to admit it is, at times, distracting.

Today I’ve been focusing on familiarising myself with 18th Century London – trying to work out what shops existed and where, what were the nice areas to live in and what were the not-so-nice, that sort of thing. Owing to this period holding an enduring fascination with readers and writers, there is a wealth of information available, which is fantastic.

You just have to make sure you’re reading it properly.

For example, the following paragraph, on a site describing the residents of Buckingham St since its establishment in the late 17th Century, gave me something of a start:

The “Lady Kilmurray” shown in the ratebooks of 1680–1 must have been an undertenant of Dearham’s. She was probably the daughter of Sir William Drury of Besthorpe, Norfolk, and the widow of Charles Needham, 4th Viscount Kilmorey, who had died in prison in 1660 for the second time.

On re-reading it, I worked out I’d missed a line, which rendered the paragraph somewhat more conventional:

The “Lady Kilmurray” shown in the ratebooks of 1680–1 must have been an undertenant of Dearham’s. She was probably the daughter of Sir William Drury of Beesthorpe, Norfolk, and the widow of Charles Needham, 4th Viscount Kilmorey, who had died in prison in 1660. Her second husband, Sir John Shaw, baronet, died in March, 1679–80, so that she was a widow for the second time.

Bridget, Viscountess Kilmorey, whose first husband had sounded so very interesting.

Bridget, Viscountess Kilmorey

And here’s her second husband, Sir John Shaw.
Sir John Shaw, Baronet

Some inspiration: floating candle ceremonies

Here is some inspiration I’ve been using lately for a scene in Novel Project #3.

Hue City, central Vietnam: girls in traditional dresses float candles in the river in prayer for loved ones who have passed on.
Hue City, central Vietnam: girls in traditional dresses float candles in the river in prayer for loved ones who have passed on (National Geographic).

I’ve been looking at floating candle ceremonies from around the world.

Fenghuang, in China: people float candles in the river at Lunar New Year for good luck. The candles represent their wishes for the coming year.
Fenghuang, in China: people float candles in the river at Lunar New Year for good luck. The candles represent their wishes for the coming year.

There are so many different reasons for this beautiful gesture.

Floating candles to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima (click on the picture to find out more)
Floating candles to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima (click on the picture to find out more)

For expressing hope for the future, commemorating the past, or even just celebrating the present.

School children float candles on the Limmat River and eat gingerbread and drink hot punch to celebrate Christmas in Zurich, Switzerland, .
School children float candles on the Limmat River and eat gingerbread and drink hot punch to celebrate Christmas in Zurich, Switzerland.

Using POV to untangle plot

Tangled threads 2

 

A little while ago I decided I needed a clearer perspective on the villain’s story in Novel Project #3. So I sat down and plotted the story-so-far from his perspective. This proved to be an interesting exercise.

Humiliatingly, I discovered the plot actually didn’t work from his perspective. I had him on one side of the country on one day, then popping up on the other side of the country a few days later with no plausible reason for how he got there, or, worse, why he might have wanted to travel in the first place.

Learning No. 1: plotting your story from alternative viewpoints (even if the story is never told from these viewpoints), is a valuable tool for uncovering plot holes.

Then, I got stuck. I got to a point in the story where I couldn’t work out what should happen next. I knew where I wanted my heroine to end up, but there was a hefty gap between where she was and where she needed to be, and I couldn’t think of anything interesting to fill it. I had that sense of having to write some stuff to fill time before the next chunk of story started, and we all know what a mortal blow that is to plot.

I’d had a sense for a little while that my backstory needed more work, and that some of the plot points so far weren’t quite as convincing as they should be. And what do you know. When I went back and did the work on the backstory that it needed, my story came to life again. By understanding more about what was going on with my villain and a couple of the supporting characters, I understood what else was going on in my story that would galvanise the next chapter of action and excitement. I couldn’t see it before, because I was only looking at it from my heroine’s perspective, and she has no idea about this other stuff that’s going on.

Learning No. 2: Not everything important that is happening in your story is going to directly involve your protagonist, even if it does end up affecting her. Plotting your story from alternative viewpoints will enable you to understand the other currents flowing through your plot, and to know when and how their effects will manifest for your protagonist.

Unpicking the seems

260 pages in to a final polish edit before sending novel project #1 out into the big wide world, and I have already removed 63 instances of variations of the word “seems”. Seemingly, I seem to use it a lot, it seems.

Ugh, the shame.

*Update: from 552 pages & 118,000 words, I deleted 152 instances of variations of the word ‘seems’. I had no idea. An example, if ever there was one, of the value of beta readers. Thank you Jane Ainslie.

7 line challenge

Toadstool
Toadstool

So, my good friend Chris Andrews has tagged me in the 7 line challenge.

The 7 line challenge goes like this: you go to page 7 (or page 77, just to give you a bit of choice) of your manuscript, go down 7 lines, then put the next 7 lines of text onto your blog. You then tag 7 people to do the same (I expect that might be a challenge…)

My 7 line challenge teaser comes from the manuscript I’m currently finishing off, with a working title of ‘Jack’. See if you can guess why.

‘I name you Jack,’ she whispers, and all the folk of the forest grow still and silent, lest one drop of one word escape their furred and pointed ears.

‘For all faerie hosts must have a Jack, a Jack who knows their secrets, a Jack who lives among them, a Jack who plays among them, and stays among them. A Jack whose heart is yet mortal and will never find satisfaction but from among his mortal kin. And Jack you shall be, and strong and hale and brave, all these I give you. And even more, Jack, you shall be lucky. I give you the luck of the faerie folk and may it be your best companion.’

Let’s see if I can find 7 people to tag now…

Ay up, first tag is Simon Petrie, sometime editor of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine! Wonder what he will have to offer…? Find out here.