Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Build Your Own Austenesque Novel: The Hard Part

Week 1: Set-up
Week 2: Conflict
Week 3: Character
Week 4: Change

So, we've all decided what kind of Austenesque novel would work for us. We've talked about the 3 Cs of plot: Conflict that forces your Character to Change. By now, you should have a basic story idea in mind.

What next?

If you're a plotter like me, you'll spend the next few weeks playing around the idea, figuring out exactly how your story will happen. You might check out books like Book in a Month, which help you flesh out your ideas. 

If you're a pantser like some other writers I know, you'll let the idea sit in the back of your mind, and somehow (in a method that is as mythical as magic to me), your plot will spring up from the ether. You might be helped by No Plot? No Problem! 

But even a fully developed outline isn't a book. Eventually, you have to sit down and write. That's where National Novel Writing Month comes in.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org,) is a crazy challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This will be my tenth year participating, and my fourth year leading my local region. As November approaches, I'll be blogging occasionally about NaNo and all the ways it can help a writer.

For you, the biggest help it offers is a deadline. You've got a story idea, now you have a time offered to write it. When the new season starts in October, I will post a thread for Austenesque authors, likely in the historical fiction forum. Be sure to check back here and on IndieJane.org, as I'll definitely be posting the link as soon as it's up.

Oh, and if you're wondering--yes, I will be writing my Col. Fitzwilliam story this year during NaNo. His Good Opinion was my 2008 NaNo novel, and I'll be publishing it this November. November and NaNo play a large part in my life as a writer.

Happy noveling, my Austenesque friends.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Funny Thing About Goals...

NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, 6/12/05

I'm sure you've heard the clich├ęs: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."  "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time." Classic sayings, designed to get us off our duff and out there trying new things.

I'm hear to tell you, they work. Last month I set the goal of accomplishing a few of the FiNancy tasks on my 101 list. I... didn't accomplish any of them, I don't think.

However! I am pleased to announce that by midnight tomorrow, I will finish my pre-critique draft. Until I get notes back from my readers, I am done. Finito. At an end. And boy, does that feel good!

I'm also starting to look forward to the goals I'd like to reach with my published novel--sales levels, ways I want to use that money, things along those lines. I don't have anything concrete yet, but those are the thoughts going through my mind.

So if I seem insanely driven, this is why. I constantly have a list of goals hanging in front of me, and I know that if I don't keep moving, I won't accomplish any of them.

Which brings me to the obvious question: What goals have you set for yourself? When do you want to finish your current progress? What kind of success would you like to see? Separate your dreams out into ones that are small and accomplishable in the short term, dreams that will take a bit more work and luck, and the shoot-for-the-moon type dreams.

You can do it!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Build Your Own Austenesque Novel: Change

Week 1: The Set-up
Week 2: Conflict
Week 3: Character

Change is the essence of plot. Your characters go from point A to point B and are changed by the journey. Sometimes, even your setting is changed--Lord of the Rings is an example of a story where the entire world is changing.

In Jane Austen's world, nowhere is this concept of change more evident than in Darcy. His whole appeal really centers on his willingness to change, to become a man who knows how to please a woman.

Change is also the absolute hardest thing to write, in my opinion. Usually, when you start the story you know where your character will be at the beginning and the ending. The path of getting them there can be difficult to chart. For instance, I struggled with Darcy's post-Hunsford disposition. How long did he hang on to his resentment? When did he first begin to see things in a different light, and what sparked that change?

Change should be gradual and natural, something that flows out of your story. It is the effect of your plot, not the cause. Remember, plot = conflict that forces your character to change. Conflict is the cause, change is the effect.

In my Colonel Fitzwilliam novel, the Colonel starts out very sure of himself. However, much of his confidence in his ability to read people--very important in a career as a spy--disappears when he realizes he was betrayed. That is the first change. The second happens later, when the heroine confronts him over it. That sets up the secondary conflict surrounding the romance, which forces the third change and ends with the complete transformation of Fitzwilliam.

Do you know where you want to take your characters? Do you have an idea of the path they'll follow that will seem realistic to the readers? They don't have to be the same characters we know and love at the end of the book as they are at the beginning, but if you're going to change them, you need to show us every decision along the way that leads to their transformation.

Be the change... Um, perhaps that doesn't work so well for fiction. ;)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Filling In the Blanks

These carved blocks came from the temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva on the site of the Roman baths in Bath. The individual pieces offer one glimpse into what worship at the temple would have been like.

Even though there are chunks missing, scholars have managed to piece together this recreation:

It's pretty incredible, isn't it? They only had a third, maybe half the pieces, and yet from that they could take an educated guess at the whole design.

And here's where I tie this into writing. Back story is like this. As writers, we need to know all the pieces, everything about who our characters are and why they do the things they do. We need to know they were stung by a bee in fifth grade and have been terrified ever since.

The audience doesn't need to know that. Give them a third, maybe half of what you know and they'll be able to piece together the rest. That moment as a reader when we realize how things fit together is magic, and if you offer us too many pieces, it's lost.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Build Your Own Austenesque Novel: Character

Week 1: The Set-up
Week 2: Conflict

Character development is at the heart of any novel, but it's crucial when you're writing fanfiction. Your readers are already intimately familiar with your characters. Does the way you portray them match up with the version they have in their heads?

First, a caveat. No two people will see a character in exactly the same light. Part of your job as a writer is to believe enough in your version of the character that the reader will accept it, even if it's not the way they saw them before. Your words must carry enough authority that they will lay aside their own thoughts and opinions long enough to enjoy your story. Perhaps in the process they might even change their minds.

That aside, there are certain things we know about Austen's characters. If you stray too far from accepted reality--say, if Mr. Darcy is suddenly acting more like Henry Crawford than himself--you will lose the reader.

His Good Opinion was enjoyable to write largely because I simply immersed myself in Darcy's character. A version of him took up residence in my head--I call him the Darcy in my Head. DIMH gave me flawless advice about what he would do next, and what he was actually thinking at various points in the story. Examining the slow process of his transformation into a man "capable of pleasing a woman worthy of being pleased" both exasperated and delighted me.

Colonel Fiztwilliam is very different from his cousin. In my story, he is the youngest of three siblings. The nagging of his older brother and sister and the constant fretting and worrying of his mother are part of what propelled him into military service. He is confident and sure of himself, and not unaware of the effect his uniform has on the female sex.

Which characters are you focusing on? Do you have a solid picture in your mind of who they are at the beginning of the novel?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Sass and Serendipity

The only thing most girls of Barton, Texas can talk about is the upcoming prom. Who's going with whom, what dress they bought, and where they'll be going for dinner beforehand--those are the hot topics at school.

Gabby Rivera couldn't care less about any of it. Prom, and everything it represents (in a word: boys), are completely beneath her. She decided when her parents divorced that love wasn't real, and believing some fairy tale prince will sweep her off her feet only keeps her from reality.

Her sister Daphne is less practical. In fact, Daphne isn't practical at all. She loves the idea of love, and she runs into a handsome stranger--literally--she decides he must be her Prince Charming. After all, they both love Jane Eyre!

That's the opening set-up for Sass and Serendipity, a new YA twist on Sense and Sensibility by Jennifer Ziegler. Ziegler takes the theme of sisters from Austen's novel and reworks it into a modern setting. The relationships between the two sisters was real and honest. I loved reading about them, both separately and together. There was a realness to them that drew me in.

Sass and Serendipity was often laugh out loud funny. One of my favorite parts was when Daphne was day dreaming about her future relationship with Luke (who is, of course, Willoughby). "Although they had years go to before their spring garden wedding with the string quartet and the mermaid ice sculpture, there was no harm in being prepared with a good dress design, right?"

I was that girl when I was in high school, and the memory of those secret dress designs cracked me up. Oh, if only I knew then what I know now...

Obviously, Sass and Serendipity was a well-written, funny, YA novel. There's another question however--is it a true Austenesque novel? This is a bit trickier, and I finally approached it from this angle: Would I know it was a retelling of Sense and Sensibility if the title didn't have the double S, or if I wasn't told so on the fly leaf?

I'm not sure I would. Part of my uncertainty comes from the character of Gabby. As much as Daphne strikes a chord as a Marianne, I didn't really feel Gabby was a faithful representation--or even modernization--of Elinor. Elinor's most basic character trait is a strong sense of propriety, a solid understanding of the rules of society. Her conflict with her sister comes when she attempts to check Marianne's less fettered spirits to follow those rules.

Gabby, however, is like Elinor only in her practicality. I could certainly imagine her insisting the family didn't have money for beef (or for the fancy dinner their mother splurges on in a celebration). She holds down a job at the local movie theater to help with the family finances, and she's constantly pestering her sister to apply for work herself.

However, that was really where the similarity ended. Where Elinor hides deep feelings behind a demure mask, events of the past made Gabby bitter. She is determined never to love (a thought that would never cross Elinor's mind, I am sure), and she absolutely rebuffs any boy who shows an interest in her.

That bitterness leads her to lash out at Daphne several times. While I could utterly sympathize with her, I did miss seeing some of the sisterly togetherness that is so present in Sense and Sensibility. Elinor only chastises Marianne out of a desire to see her happy, and one never doubts that the two sisters truly love each other. Even Marianne in her most willful moments does not resent Elinor in the way Daphne does Gabby.

In the end, I felt like Sense and Sensibility is about more than two very different sisters, and those other elements were missing in Sass and Serendipity. The family dynamic and the inclusion of Luke/Willoughby were really the only two things I found that tied the two stories together.

Despite that, I'm giving Sass and Serendipity 4 solid stars. It's an excellent YA novel, with enough hints of Austen to interest a reader looking for a Sense and Sensibility redux. However, if you're looking for a faithful adaptation of Austen, this might not be the novel for you.

This is the first selection I've fulfilled for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge.

FTC disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the author's publicist. That did not affect my review in any way.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Build Your Own Austenesque Novel: Conflict

Now that you've chosen the basic scenario for your novel, the next step is to determine the plot. At this point, it helps to remember the 3 Cs of plot: Plot = Conflict that forces your Character to Change.

Conflict is easier for some types of Austenesque novels than others--POV and AU novels should be able to simply tweak the conflict in Austen's original work, though you will of course see those events differently through the lens of your particular character or alternate universe. However, if you're writing a sequel or a variation, you will have to choose a conflict yourself.

A word to variation authors: Many fanfiction writers start writing from a desire to get their favorite characters past the roadblocks more quickly. For instance, you might wish Elizabeth never heard Darcy's initial insult or that Wentworth returned in 1810. However, Jane created those problems for one very good reason: without conflict, there is no plot. Conflict is what drives the story. If you eliminate one difficulty, you must create another.

Since His Good Opinion is told from Darcy's POV, the basic conflict in Pride and Prejudice is expressed differently. I increased the stakes by showing, in detail, how his impression of events is so far from how Elizabeth perceived them. For instance, at the Netherfield Ball when she can barely speak a civil word to him because of his behavior to Wickham, he thinks... well, here. I'll let you read it.

Darcy glanced at his watch one last time. Guests had begun arriving over half an hour ago, and he had purposely delayed his own entrance in order to avoid the Bennet family. For Mrs. Bennet surely saw to it they were among the first to arrive.

He walked through the open doors, and all his good intentions were lost. Elizabeth Bennet stood not ten feet away. Her back was to him, and though Darcy told himself to turn away, to pretend he had not seen her, he could not.

She took his breath away. The delicate fabric of her ball gown revealed more of the lithe lines of her figure than he had previously seen, and the candlelight caught and reflected off the jewels in her hair.

 Darcy approached her slowly, gauging his own reaction. Only when he was certain he could maintain his usual reserve did he speak. "Miss Elizabeth?"

She turned, and he wondered if perhaps he had overestimated his own control. Up close, he could see the smooth texture of her creamy skin, and he clenched a fist to keep himself from taking her hand to see if it felt as satiny as it looked.

"Yes, Mr. Darcy?"

He flushed at the question in her voice; how long had he stood without saying a word? "I trust the weather has not dampened your sprits this evening?"

He thought her smile was a little forced, but as he himself struggled to find enjoyment in balls, he did not wonder at it. "You will find, sir, that I rarely allow anything to interfere with my enjoyment."

He bowed and walked away to hide the emotions those words stirred in him. "You will find…" Could this possibly be a hint that she would welcome further attentions from me? Darcy had thought himself immune to her charms, inured against them by the knowledge of her family connections. However, the idea that she would encourage his suit enthralled him, and none of his previous arguments held any weight.

His belief of her affections grows during their stay in Kent, and by the time we get to his first proposal, you might actually feel sympathetic for him, despite the fact that he actually deserves most of Elizabeth's anger.

The conflict in my Colonel Fitzwilliam story revolves around his career as a spy. He's betrayed by someone he trusts, and the resulting disaster makes him unwilling to trust himself. The heroine has to get past his mountain of self-recriminations to prove he's worthy of her trust, and thus, her love.

What kind of monkey wrenches would you throw at our beloved Austen characters?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Writing By Ear

I've mentioned my RSI a few times now. In 2008 and 2009, NaNoWriMo left me in agony for the month of December. Last year I was able to continue with no problem, despite logging my highest word count ever. What made the difference? Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Dragon is speech recognition software. Instead of using the keyboard to input the story, I talk into a microphone. Dragon transcribes my words onto the screen as I watch, with remarkable accuracy. It took about a week to learn to think out loud--writing is oftentimes a very kinetic process, and you do lose that with this software.

Since November, I've been able to use Dragon for another important part of the writing process. I've blogged a few times about revisions and my multiple, color coded, hand-written drafts. Once I go over a chapter in both purple and pink ink, it's often so different from the original that typing the edits would be too much for my wrist. Instead, I dictate the new chapter back into the computer.

Here's the other benefit I gain from this: I get to hear my story out loud. Words sound different when spoken. It's a simple fact, but one we often don't really think of. Dialogue that looks perfectly natural on the page may sound trite or overly sentimental. By giving myself a chance to listen to my story, I catch places that need a little extra help.

Speech recognition software isn't for everyone, but I do encourage you to read your story out loud. Ask a friend to listen with you--you already know when your story is supposed to be funny or sentimental. Gauge their reactions and adjust your story accordingly.

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Build Your Own Austenesque Novel: The Set-Up

During the month of August, I'm running a series for Austenesque fans. We're going to build our own Austenesque novels, from the ground up. Each week, we'll discuss another story aspect until we have a complete toolkit for writing an Austenesque novel.

The Set-up

The first thing you have to decide when you sit down to write a piece of Jane Austen fiction is what do you want your story to be? What novel do you want to focus on? Do you want to write a sequel, a variation, a POV story, or an alternate universe?

If you came over today from Meredith's Austenesque Extravaganza, you might be familiar with those terms. I'll define them very quickly for those who aren't.
  • Sequel: The most obvious, this type of novel starts where one of Jane's leaves off. It might follow the primary couple (for instance, Darcy and Elizabeth), or it might follow a secondary character, like Charlotte Collins.
  • Variation: This novel takes the original Austen story and deviates from it at some point. Maybe Elizabeth never heard Darcy's first insult, or maybe Captain Wentworth did come back to court Anne in 1810. It branches off from that point of departure to create its own story.
  • POV story: These tell the same story as Jane, but from the POV of a different character. My current novel, His Good Opinion, is a POV story.
  • Alternate Universe: AU stories take the characters and situations from the original novel and places it in a completely foreign setting. This might be a modernization, or Jane Austen Does Outer Space. The sky is truly the limit with AU stories.
So, what kind of Austenesque novel do you want to write? My next novel is a sequel, based on Pride and Prejudice once again. This time, I'm telling Colonel Fitzwilliam's story. Some interesting bits of back story surfaced while I wrote His Good Opinion, and I'm eager to explore his adventures.

Week 2: Conflict.
Week 3: Character


Commenting on this post will enter you in the Amazing Austenesque Giveaway. Make sure you've filled out the form on Meredith's blog, and then any post you make on her blog or on the posts she links to throughout the month will count as another entry in the giveaway. Thank you, and good luck!

Graphic designed by Drew Parsons