A Change in Point-of-View

Music: Judie Tzuke–Blackfurs

Big news: I’ve finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!

I’ve learnt so much about Cephalonia, the fiasco of World War Two, and the passage of post-war civilisation. Gated, backward, quirky island culture was portrayed to a T (I should know). The humour was exactly my jam—from the first scene, during which Dr Iannis extracts a fossilised pea from his deaf patient’s ear. The characters were ridiculed without being trivialised, and the prose provoked thought without choking me on philosophy. I loved the recurring gags, such as the doctor’s system of peeing on his herbs in strict rotation.

Louis de Bernières is a master of bathos.

The eponymous character didn’t appear until over a third of the way through—an interesting decision, considering that the blurb gave me the impression of a love triangle. Yet I think it’s a strength of this book, and of many great works of literature. Note that Jane Austen limits even her ficklest characters to one love interest at a time (open to argument). Fact is, Pelagia is one of the greatest women I’ve ever read—she’s strong, honest, clever and unrelenting, admits temptation, admits regret, admits her morality is mostly circumstantial. Oh, yes, de Bernières pays great attention to the circumstantial! He’s not above beginning a chapter with ‘Dr Iannis was in a terrible mood for no reason other than the fact that it was a very hot day’ (or WTTE). It really is true to life.

Dayum, though. It gets dark. So much for a bittersweet, much-belated note of hope at the end: you only have to Google Cephalonia’s history to find out what the climax is plummeting towards.

Really what I want to discuss, though, is narrative perspective.

I often hear writers talking about which POV to use—first person, third, even second, tense. It can be hard to choose. I understand.

So, De Bernières was writing a massive ass hist fic. His solution to the which-perspective problem? ALL OF THEM. Chapter one is close third person on an unqualified, free-thinking Greek doctor. Chapter two is the first person monologue of Benito Mussolini!

There are chapters of letters showing the passage of time, chapters formatted like a dramatic duologue showing the progression of a relationship; it goes on. In the first half of the contents, seven chapters are entitled ‘L’Homosesuale’. It later becomes clear that these chapters are the sections of an Italian soldier’s ‘confession’ of his role in the war. This makes them easy to group and read in order later on, and see how his path crosses with the islanders.

I loved the thought and craft that went into it all—effortlessly, de Bernières sped up his pacing with a constantly surprising POV, incorporating aspects that broadened the story to far more than a mere romance or a tragic war crime. When you’re reading the POV of a goatherd mistaking bombs for fireworks, and an English parachuter for an angel, you know you’re in deft hands!

Now I talk about POV and me (because I’m self-centred like that). Ever since I started writing, it’s been in third person. I call it my ‘natural voice’; that’s where I feel comfortable. For that reason, I may have entertained a snobbish attitude at some point in my past, and for that I now apologise. I’m only just learning what a tool it can be to employ the right perspective. No POV is more valid, more correct or more effective than any other. It’s simply than different systems work for different books, and must be chosen accordingly.

I can’t believe how long it took me to recognise that! My WIP is in first person. It just is. One of my MCs has no physical presence (hard to explain, but it boils down to the word ‘ghost’). As a third person realistic contemporary writer, I’m soooo out my comfort zone it’s not even funny. But I got this. His first person POV feels so right.

Anyway, enough of me.

Check out this post by JA Goodsell, another #PitchWars hopeful, in which she discusses the merits of both first and third person and why it’s so important to think about your choice. 

Speaking of Pitch Wars, I’m so grateful to Brenda Drake and the team for putting together this enormous contest. ❤

I was lucky enough to snag some CPs via #FicFest a few months ago, with whose help I prepared my book for the contest. In submission week I met the Teen Squad (the other underage entrants (oops, that sounded as if PW has an age limit…)), and I’ve read two of their books so far. So. Much. Talent. I just want to squee about how wonderful and supportive this group is, how great it is to spar with GIFs, suss out our male characters’ underwear preferences, blaspheme against dentist appointments. These are real teens with teen worries and teen joys and a seriously good handle of real teen dialogue.

Rant over. It’s cool. I hope I’ll stay in touch with everyone I’ve swapped MSs with over the past three months, because what with my critique group and the #teensquad, I’ve finally found my people.

But hey, always room for more. Do comment your thoughts on de Bernières and/or narrative POV!

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A Concerning (read: amoral) Theme in My Reading

Music: Santana—Amore (Sexo)

I was trying to explain why I love Gone With the Wind so much, when it suddenly hit me that half my favourite reads feature truly awful antiheroines empowered by their amorality. Strong statement, I know. It concerns me.

Let’s look at these books, then. I’ve mentioned a couple of them before.gonewiththewind

Scarlett of Gone With the Wind and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair are the epitomes (if more than one are permissible) of self-interest. But while Scarlett has a few sensitivities (notably her unrequited crush for Ashley) that make her an interesting character to invest in, Becky is so utterly unredeemable that it must be a conscious decision on Thackeray’s part. Her biggest crime, beyond unvalidated lies and manipulations, is her neglect of her son. The fact that she continues to be fascinating is a testament to great writing—or perhaps she satisfies the guilty, erotic side of readers’ greed.

A recent favourite was Gone Girl. The unforeseeable twists, the utter divided feeling on both Amy and Nick throughout the narrative, ending with a simultaneous hatred of Amy even while you can’t help but marvel at her sheer genius. It’s just a massive ‘eff you’ to happy endings.

An old favourite dates back to my school story collection. For some years my favourite was Winifred Norling’s The Worst Fifth on Record of 1961, which documents an epidemic of illicit smoking, make-up-wearing and boy-dancing at a conservative boarding school. It transpired that the character, Philippa, who’d been dragged into the affair, was nice, but at any rate some of her contemporaries were awful people. Maybe that book was a guilty pleasure, too, a fresh read compared to many of the admittedly priggish depictions of adolescence on my shelf.

thebookoflies

I must mention The Book of Lies, which is set on my own home island. Catherine admits on page one that she pushed her best friend off a cliff, and that she’s amazed she got away with it. The horribleness of the friend, who mentored Catherine in her own image, later goes to explain the action. The second clause is just a delicious admission that she was willing to destroy herself in order to destroy someone else. Immediately, she seems a very human character.

To me, anyway. Others might argue she is sub-human. The thread running through all these books is the amorality of the protagonists. I recently read Francoise Sagan’s A Certain Smile and Bonjour Tristesse and their amoral undercurrent was really quite singular. It was presented in so many ways: as a path to happiness, or at least contentment, as enabling to create adventures and experiences beyond those of the morally conscious—but in the end the character’s apathy fails and leads to her suffering.

These explorations, so often conflicting, are what I love most: ambivalence, self-contradiction and plain confused dismissal of societal morals. These characters don’t reject morality over a lifetime of thought and argument; they simply don’t connect with it. Just as sometimes I struggle to filter what I say, and will more often keep quiet for fear of being unwittingly rude.

That is human, is it not? It is my peculiar interpretation of what it is to be human, at any rate—as I assume I am, if anybody is.

In any case, it explains why I have such a penchant for writing saboteurs, even self-saboteurs. Drina: deliberately destroys her own life to impress her mother, that ultimately fails due to the disillusionment caused by her obsession. Flavie: deliberately destroys her bread-baking family business to ‘feed’ her self-destructive eating disorder (inappropriate verb, I know). My latest protagonist, Dani: deliberately destroys her own social skills to justify her inability to bring her unrequited crush into fruition. It’s a sick list.

thecatcherintherye

Dani reminds me of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, in that she is so unpredictable when it comes to activity and passivity—he worships the elusive Jane, but throughout the story is divided between fantasy and action. It’s a page-turning combination. Then there’s Scarlett’s book-long unrequited crush, that acute combination of pain and hope most of us recognise from some point in our youth (says me, at eighteen).

Dani takes me right back to that awkward fourteen-year-old stage. In a comforting, nostalgic way, as well as an embarrassing one. I’m revisiting my old diaries, and it’s a bit of a slap to the face to realise how little time ago I was stuck in those crazy thought patterns. Dani’s soundtrack, by the way, is the Franz Ferdinand album Tonight. Not my favourite of theirs, but I like the way it reflects the evolution of a house party (I could write a blog post explaining why I imagine it this way…), with a couple of fairly insightful musings on the limitations of the teenage mindset. Dani’s climax takes place at a house party, so this album in the background eternally reminds me what the whole story is accelerating towards.

I digress. Anyone else see disturbing themes in the books you gravitate towards? (I reiterate, all the books above fall into the LOVELOVELOVEKEEPFOREVERTHISBOOKISMYLIFETHISBOOKWASWRITTENFORME category.)

Tag: ‘Ten Books That Changed Me’

Music: Dave Brubeck–Kathy’s Waltz

Five months sounds a grossly long time when it’s your final year of school. Long ‘enough to gain a lot and lose a lot, and go through a lot and end up pretty much where you began (goes without saying that I’ve gleaned vats of maturity and general excellence). All anybody needs to know is that I’m still thinking and breathing and most certainly writing, and do not intend to bury this blog in the near future. So, without further ado,

TEN BOOKS THAT CHANGED ME

Miss Alexandrina Brant nominated me for this tag on Facebook a long time ago… The reason I never fulfilled my tag: I couldn’t make do with a simple list of titles. Per book, one paragraph summarising and one paragraph enthusing? That should suffice…

Category One: School Stories

  • However I might fan over Springdale and the Chalet School, the standalone school stories are a better representation of the appeal of the genre. Just so you know school stories aren’t just squealing schoolgirls’ feuds, their authors weren’t imbeciles, and their readers aren’t blind disciples of utter lameness.

1. THE LEAGUE OF THE SMALLEST by Clare Malloryleagueofthesmallest

The new Games teacher notices the irregularity of the school ‘crocodile’ (the two-abreast line in which the girls assemble for walks) and reorganises it in order of height. So the shortest (also newest, youngest and least adequate) Prefect, Jane, ends up marooned amidst the Juniors, and an idle Middle, Eve ‘Lanky’ Lancaster, leads the entire school to church. Big deal? In a traditional boarding school, Hell, yes!

Height: one of the simplest forms of diversity, and rarely addressed in any depth in the literary world. Mallory explores firstly the impact on an ordered society of, well, empirically reordering it—but the real consequence of the height-organised ‘croc’ is an idea: the idea that short means inferior. Thus, the girls at the end of the crocodile form a solemn alliance to prove the idea wrong. (Also: weird. I could’ve sworn this one was by Angela Brazil…)

2. EVELYN FINDS HERSELF by Josephine Elder

Evelyn and Elizabeth are so close they’re like one person. But the day their invincible partnership on the hockey field is split up, a rift opens between them. The book charts their last four years of school, during which they meet new friends—Elizabeth a powder-nosed hockey player, and Evelyn a fungi-loving teacher—and finally drift back together, but as different people, rather than two halves of one.

Evelyn Finds Herself

This is a real coming-of-age novel. It’s about friendship and imitation and compatibility, and the awkwardness of growing up and parting ways with old doctrines, but primarily it exults in human variation and finding one’s own niche. Even the extroverted introverts would relate to Evelyn like a kindred spirit.

  • And did I mention neither of these books have antagonists? Another of my literary turn-ons.

Category Two: Fantasy

  • I’ve never written Fantasy, and never really wanted to, but these three have significantly impacted me both on a personal and writerly level.

3. DRAGONSKIN SLIPPERS by Jessica Day George

When Creel’s aunt abandons her outside a dragon’s lair, hoping it’s the least some handsome prince can do to rescue her and all her family from poverty (oh, and the dragon), Creel is set for a long wait. Instead, the dragon in question invites her to choose a single pair of shoes from his hoard, in return for not bothering him again. Soon she’s on the city road in the hope of finding work as a dressmaker, as she always wanted, starting a war between humans and dragons (not as she wanted)—and, of course, getting her prince.

dragonskinslippers

George is a fabulous children’s author. I can’t read her any more, because I find myself too critical, but SLIPPERS taught me about spunky heroines with unexpected dreams. I don’t know whether it’s the rich, layered (but accessible) world George creates, or the stunning voice, or the undeniable originality of the plot while remaining within the bounds of plausibility. In fact, it may be nothing more complicated than the first paragraph with which I first fell in love: ‘It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon. Not that she was evil, or didn’t care for me. It’s just that we were very poor, and she was, as we said in those parts, dumber than two turnips in a rain barrel.’ Tell me it doesn’t have everything.

4. FLY BY NIGHT by Frances Hardinge

flybynightTwelve-year-old Mosca is on the run. She burned down her uncle’s mill, and the word-wielding swindler in the town stocks is her ticket to a better life. But when Mosca discovers that her guide is under bribe to accost the pirate printing press goading the public to rise against the Guilds, she is embroiled in the world of lies and crimes she knows best.

The plot of this book is exceptional, but it’s Hardinge’s style—the imagery, oh, my gosh!—that blows me away. I have never read a book so packed with mind-bogglingly original similes and metaphors, without ever becoming cringy or overly poetic. And the style writes the world, the characters, the tone, and everything else. I can’t praise it enough. Plus, floating coffee-houses…a writer’s dreams on water…

5. GIFTS by Ursula Le Guin

Orrec Castro is supposed to have the gift of undoing like his father. But when he accidentally ‘unmakes’ his own dog, his gift is deemed too dangerous and unpredictable to be left to chance. Orrec’s father blindfolds him for three years so he can learn to control his power. But Orrec doesn’t have the gift of undoing at all—he has the gift of doing, of making…of writing. So who killed Orrec’s dog?giftsleguin

Again, the world-building is incredible. But this is an extremely different world to those in the books above. Le Guin’s Western Shore does not have the fantastical creatures of George’s Feraval, nor the bitter strains of poverty, class jealousy and corruption in Hardinge’s Fractured Realm. The Western Shore is a vast continent made up of a host of different people: it is a fantasy of race and cultural relativism, analogous but for the whisperings of sorcery to the City States of Ancient Greece.

I might as well say, GIFTS is the first in the Western Shore trilogy, and my favourite is really the third one, POWERS. It takes freedom, grief and madness to depths that make me shiver simply in remembrance.

Category Three: Contemporary

  • My choice genre. Wide spectrum, though.

6. CUTTING LOOSE by Carole Lloydcuttingloose

This appeared in my room one day, thin, with a faded cover and brown pages. I picked it up because that’s what I do with books—and had finished it by the end of the day. It’s about a normal girl with a normal life and normal, fairly mediocre problems. It takes place over three days, during which she looks back on the previous week and resents everything in her life. And finally she gets to the end and…lets go. Cuts loose. This book took my angsty teenager-ness and let me breathe.

It implements another of my choice techniques: the anti-climax. And it taught me that it’s totally okay to write about the mundane, as long as you have something interesting to say about the uninteresting.

7. THE BOOK OF LIES by Mary Horlock

thebookoflies

Cathy pushes her ex-best-friend off a cliff, gets her favourite teacher fired and eventually escapes the island in secret. Dual narrative with her uncle, who lived (ahem, subsisted) on the starving and tyrannised island during the Occupation in the 40s.

This book captures everything I hate about the place I live. Mary Horlock went to school with my mum, as a matter of fact—and this book was a huge surprise to me, because I’ve never read anything decent that came out of Guernsey (except Les Mis, if we can claim any credit for that).  It explores all the horrors of living in close proximity with your enemies, the madness of private girls’ schools in the 80s, and the lies that keep a small island from civil war. Microcosmic settings get me so excited.

8. THE GIANT GOLDFISH ROBBERY by Richard Kidd

giantgoldfishrobbery

Roughly, two boys trying to apprehend the robbery of twenty enormous koi carp end up locked in the van with the carp. A wall of boxes (full of clocks) screens the stolen fish (and boys) from view. Across the journey from Wales to Dover, the boys set eight thousand alarm clocks to go off at the same time, to alert Customs to their predicament.

I was only eight or so, but I have never forgotten ROBBERY. It taught me that wackiness makes for memorability, and it’s for that reason I write whatever extraordinary situations my brain comes up with, and try to live at least one every day; that way, anytime someone asks me how I am, I have an immediate list of unexpected responses.

Category Four: Classics

  • Inevitably.

9. GREEN DOLPHIN COUNTRY by Elizabeth Goudge

greendolphincountry

Distracted by the delights of China, William accidentally deserts the Royal Navy. Now with a warrant on his head, he escapes to New Zealand, where he can fund himself a new living, and writes back to Guernsey for his wife-to-be. But out of the two sisters Marguerite and Marianne, who both love him, he can never remember which is which. He writes for Marianne, the sweet, happy golden girl; but doth sail halfway across the world to him the real Marianne, ambitious and fractious. Their marriage is fraught with murdering natives and shattering earthquakes, as well as quarrels, whereas heartbroken Marguerite, stuck on the island, takes up the habit.

Quite apart from the tragic mistake that composes the premise, the unrestrained passages of quiet exalting imagery that infuse the text, and the unexpected tale of fierce survival lurking behind the first few hundred pages of ordered Victorian society, Goudge’s chief feat is Marianne. Marianne is irreconcilably despicable and relatable. She is so, so flawed in her intense, famishing passion. She has all confidence that she can achieve anything she wants…except happiness; and in that respect she has zero self-esteem. No matter she’s two centuries old, she’s the most accurate depiction of a teenage girl I’ve ever read.

10. THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins

thewomaninwhite

The instant that drawing master Walter Hartright meets his new student Laura, he sees an uncanny resemblance with the young woman who recently escaped a nearby asylum. When Laura’s new husband falls into financial difficulties, and plots to switch her for the terminally ill Anne and gain Laura’s inheritance, it’s up to Walter to restore Laura’s identity. And there’s someone who’ll burn churches to keep him quiet.

Mystery above mysteries! In legal style, Wilkie Collins writes a succession of narrators in a grand roll of testimonies. Scandal, insanity and arson (and an Italian Count): they’re all there. Apart from the unusual structure and complex plot, Collins’ characters are beautiful. Walter is more willpower than archetypal sleuth, and even Laura, whom one might imagine to be a passive victim, is likeable enough to drive the emotional journey. Every secondary character is distinct; most especially Laura’s half-sister Marian, whose devotion and intelligence are a wonderful testament to Collins’ stance on women in the nineteenth century. Well, the entire book, if it comes to that, declares the disadvantageous position of women, whether clever, married or mad.

  • I dare you to pick one of my ten—any one!—and add it to your reading list.

Post coming soon: music and writing, as part of the TCWT February blog chain. I intend to have a decent crack at keeping this blog up to date, so don’t leave me just yet!

The Redeemed Plot-Snob—Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain July 2014

Music: The Rolling Stones – Soul Survivor

Salut, mes petits choux*! I’m new to the chain (sixteen-going-on-seventeen, fractionally British, named Lillian), and quaking under the pressure of trying to write you a satisfactory post. Fun fact: the working title of Pride and Prejudice was ‘First Impressions’—so when you judge me, just remember Colin Firth was destined to play Darcy. (That was a joke.)

So, having introduced you to my caustic wit and romantic insecurity (that was also a joke), I will proceed to answer the prompt question in as concise and riveting a manner as I am able.

“What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?”

When I started writing eludes me (perhaps because it involved the last dinosaur on earth, and that was approximately sixty-five million years ago), but I almost certainly wish I knew how to plot—moreover, that I had to plot! (Interesting that pretty much everyone has mentioned this issue so far.)

A shameless pantser was I, for the first decade or so of my writing life. It worked wonderfully—I scribbled directionless Bildungsromans about families growing up, three generations strong, each chapter a short story of its own, with the pacing of Cranford or Larkrise to Candleford. But agonisingly bloated with exposition!—for how else was I to remember the favourite colours of all the 1,352 characters ornamenting the humongous family tree I’d created? That tree was the best semblance of order my writing ever had.

In November 2011 I took inspirational sci-fi to NaNoWriMo, and there my pomposity literally went intergalactic. When I braved an edit three months later, I realised I’d written eighty-thousand words of circumlocutory (and often self-contradictory) philosophy, interspersed with elaborate chapter-long metaphors and highfalutin religious ideals I’d be embarrassed to repeat.

THAT WAS THE END.

And the beginning of a new era, in which I developed a holy adoration of Microsoft Excel—and now I construct plots scene by scene before even attempting to write. Not only does this provide direction in the drafting, but lends insight into such useful details as the probable length of the product (no more 132k YA Contemps, please) and the duration of the drafting. The older I get the more fundamental this becomes, for, like many busy people, I must schedule my time weeks in advance and am furiously averse to any interventions.

Midway into pre-draft plotting a Contemp.

Midway into pre-draft plotting a Contemp.

Long, long ago, I enjoyed the spontaneity to pantsing, but now I see it lacked professionalism. These days tireless plotting writes me better first drafts, for structural flaws may be spotted early. As you can guess from my 1,352-prong fictional family tree, I am a character-writer disdaining speculative premises. What I didn’t know was that in the fictional realm, plot and character hold hands—no one should be personified over the other. And in the fictional realm, you do often have to think slightly larger than ‘life’ in terms of sequential plot structure.

Post-draft plotting the same novel.

Post-draft plotting the same novel.

I could talk about determinism or focussing on the hook and to Hell with needless details, but instead I’ll just reiterate that if you’re a character-writer, by all means let the plot stem from the character—but don’t be a plot-snob. Vice versa, don’t be a character-snob and decide Darcy was a self-important fool and therefore all characters ever are self-important fools (they are, too).

There. How’d I do?

~

Here’s the month’s schedule! I’m away for the rest of this month, but will endeavour to get round all yo’ wonderful posts in the near future. À la perchoine**!

5th – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

6th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

7th – http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/

8th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/

9th – https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ – YOU ARE HERE

10th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/

11th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

12th – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

13th – http://theweirdystation.blogspot.com/

14th – http://taratherese.wordpress.com/

15th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/

16th – http://eighthundredninety.blogspot.com/

17th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/

18th – http://novelexemplar.wordpress.com/

19th – http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/

20th – https://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

21st – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/

22nd – http://roomble.wordpress.com/

23rd – http://thependanttrilogy.wordpress.com/

24th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – The topic for August’s blog chain will be announced.

~

*Literally ‘my little cabbages’. To avoid confusion, I am not figuring you beside a vegetable. ‘Mon petit chou’ is a French endearment—and considering I can see a French power station from my town church (twenty miles across roiling ocean), I thought it a fitting mode of self-introduction.

**‘Till the next time’ (I hope)! Not classic French—this is a near-extinct dialect of Norman French spoken by my islander ancestors.

 

Positively Austen

Music: REM – Accelerate

This past week my electricity has been on and off. An army of emergency roadwork-men and their torture instruments have rendered my bedroom (at the front of the house with poorly-fitted windows) a place of misery and headaches. And I’ve lost so many documents halfway through the creation, between power surges, bah.

This afternoon the electricity has, however, steadied itself, so I’ve caught up on a few things.

So have I used my internet-deprived time wisely? Well, I read Emma (1815). And P&P has been supplanted from its post of L’s Favourite Austen.

Firstly, a quick summary.

Twenty-one-year-old Emma Woodhouse, rich, clever and beautiful, is Highbury’s most successful matchmaker…whose conspiracies accidentally ruin the prospects of all those round her, and eventually her own.

2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai - "Oohoo, my evil matchmaking plot is going to plan!"

2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai – “Oohoo, my evil matchmaking plot is going to plan!”

The long version:

  • Harriet Smith falls in love three times in a single year;
  • pompous vicar Mr Elton and his vulgar wife cannot find anything to say that could possibly entertain Miss Woodhouse;
  • old Mr Woodhouse remarks upon the wholesome nature of gruel;
  • Mr John Knightley disdains all that threatens his independence;
  • Mrs Isabella Knightley talks of Dr Wingfield, and her father Mr Woodhouse of Dr Perry;
  • Perry’s children steal the cake;
  • Mr Weston is too hospitable, and his wife too commending of Emma;
  • Emma flirts with Frank;
  • Frank gives Miss Fairfax five alphabet blocks spelling a name of some embarrassment;
  • Miss Fairfax remains ‘reserved’,
  • though her aunt Miss Bates expounds [at great, great length] upon her virtues every Wednesday;
  • Emma insults Miss Bates;
  • Mr Knightley scolds Emma;
  • and Emma finally realises that if anyone marries Mr Knightley, then it must be herself—Mr Knightley, her lifelong friend, confidante, the only one to point out her faults, whom she has taken for granted all her life, who has loved her eight years, but never kissed her hand.
2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai - excursion to Box Hill

excursion to Box Hill, with all the main cast

Some are quick to note that Emma Woodhouse is an anomaly amongst Austen’s other heroines. Her financial circumstances are already advantageous, and she does not mean to marry. Though she promotes matches, and advocates the feelings of all her acquaintances, she does not know her own!

Emma and the exciting Frank Churchill

Emma and the exciting Frank Churchill

Nevertheless, in my opinion Emma is Austen at her most romantic. Not because Emma calls herself a matchmaker, but because the novel is her journey to discovering that she is in love, and he has been waiting for her all that time. In the ups and downs of their relationship, he is always right, and she wrong. His influence over her is the most beautiful thing—for he is the only one whose candid opinion Emma admits, however unpleasant. They know one another so well they’ll fit easily into conjugal routine—whereas even Lizzy and Darcy have only known one another a year.

C'mon, I couldn't leave this out.

C’mon, I couldn’t leave this out.

P&P is the ultimate happily-ever-after love story, and Darcy the ‘babe’ of ‘babes’ (due in some part, I confess, to Colin Firth in a wet shirt).

Personally I don’t feel that Elizabeth suffers enough. Her pride is wounded, eventually her love—but her interminable wit is her buoy in a roiling sea. Emma’s active presumption carves her misfortunes; she deals with guilt. Elizabeth is surrounded by people who have far more to regret than she! Emma is an anti-heroine (as, in effect, most of us are), but Knightley’s devotion is oddly more justified than any of Austen’s other heroes’–why, in the last pages of Northanger Abbey it’s admitted that Henry Tilney loves Catherine Morland out of gratitude! What if that were a universal rule?

"Abominable flirting! I want to dance with Emma!"

“Abominable flirting! I want to dance with Emma!”

P&P wouldn’t even rival Emma were it not more tightly written (80k as opposed to 120k), and lacking the incontestable Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse (I feel like screaming every time he mentions his gruel. No censure of John Knightley for voicing his frustration).

Persuasion is another rival of the time-assured P&P. It is Austen’s latest, and her characters comparatively ‘aged’ (Catherine is fifteen, roughly half the age of Anne Elliot). When I said that Elizabeth has not suffered enough, she has not half the suffering of poor Anne. ANNE IS STILL IN LOVE WITH CAPTAIN WENTWORTH, eight years after she rejected him. But she is gracious enough to suppress it, for his sake. The world needs more books about rejection. (Plus it’s so cool to think rejection is the only power women of that era had. Hence tragic that Anne was manipulated into it, and the Captain won’t humble himself a second time.)

Sally Hawkins looking tragic as Anne Elliot in the 2007 adaptation

Sally Hawkins looking tragic as Anne Elliot in the 2007 adaptation

Both film adaptations of Persuasion I find excellent. Equally heart-wrenching are the looks between Anne and Wentworth—in love, in denial, each in ignorance of the other’s devotion. It reads like a dream, for that’s what it is.

Another awesome thing about Emma is that there’s no direct antagonist. Emma’s demon conceit wreaks havoc, but she’s so HUMAN…I, at least, recognise her desire to manipulate people’s lives for her own amusement and triumph, though she may disguise it as genuine philanthropy. You can excuse her for wanting something to do with her life: single, childless, with an old father and an empty house, besides the societal pressures of being a woman at that time, Emma frankly has nothing better to do.

Mrs Elton and her 'caro sposo, Mister E', bleurgh *throws slimeballs*

Mrs Elton and her ‘caro sposo, Mister E’, bleurgh *throws slimeballs*

Anyway, there aren’t any Willoughbys and Wickhams with questionable motives: just a small town of multi-dimensional people who make their own suffering, not usually out of spite (the Eltons’ motives could be debated, but I find them more droll than malicious).

Finally the word play. Austen is famous for her way of twisting words to mock human and societal folly. Many people read her books solely for that purpose-

I was going to cite a few examples and analyse them and extol their wit, but I wrote this post in September and can’t remember where on earth my thought-chain was going. Perhaps I’ll finish that paragraph when I next read Austen. Sorry for any inconvenience caused, and for the abrupt(!) manner of ending. Perhaps it will amuse you.

"Hey, I didn't even know Mr Knightley could dance!" - the best of the Austen dances, hands down

“Hey, I didn’t even know Mr Knightley could dance!” – the best of the Austen dances, hands down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weary of Underdog Heroes

(Excuse the spree of colour. Enjoy it, if you will.)

I wrote Captain’s Paper because I was tired of underdog stories. I love a good accidental everyman hero, like everyone, if the transition is effected with due subtlety and credibility, but I can’t pretend I’m a big fan of the underdog triumph. Sorry, but it’s been done too many times and it’s too rare in real life (well, the way it’s often presented).

Take Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

RudolphtheRedNosedReindeerWhat made him great? He had an unusual appearance; that’s all we know. One day, Santa took pity on him. ‘Then all the reindeer loved him’—are reindeer so fickle, so near-seeing, so prejudiced of soul? Yes, it’s nice Santa did his good deed of the day and made the life of a persecuted individual good forever after. Yes, it’s the best moment of Rudolph’s life. But whoever wrote this song had a pretty pessimistic view of reindeer society, in my opinion.

Captain’s Paper follows Drina Connelly, a girl born, bred and accustomed to achieve. All she craves is success. The story deals with her learning to anticipate failure as a legitimate possibility and understanding that it isn’t the extinction of all happiness. And in the end, yes, she fails. She’s not superwoman.

I watched Planes last night. Irritation of irritations! Dusty Crophopper has worked in the fields all his life, dreaming of becoming a magnificent, rich, famous, successful racer. What little boy doesn’t? And then his dream comes true, he woos the gorgeous girlfriend, pulverises the snooty rival, effortlessly gains the loyal best friend and Kenobi-type veteran mentor. Utterly, utterly predictable, right the way through.

I hope that expression on his cropdustin' face is irritating you half as much as it's irritating me, for the sake of my point.

I hope that expression on his cropdustin’ face is irritating you half as much as it’s irritating me, for the sake of my point.

Yes, I have a problem with that.

What I’m getting at is this film is sending bad messages to children. True, Dusty persevered till he got what he wanted (except the faltered-arrogance sequence before the final showdown in which his friends remind him of WHO HE IS and WHAT HE’S THERE FOR). But, like, (yes, I typed that) only 0.0001% of boys who idolise Wayne Rooney even get close, and girls who aspire to look like Barbie dolls…oh, don’t get me started.

Tell me, am I being pessimistic?

That was one of the greatest strengths of Cars (the first). Cocky, one-sided, blasé famous racer Lightning McQueen plunged helplessly into this Radiator Springs place, where no one knows or cares for his reputation or origins. This story tells children that there’s more to life than dreaming. There’s living, too. You don’t have to beat the baddie or show the world (well, okay, sometimes you do).

Now isn't that a nice smile?

Now isn’t that a nice smile?

Perhaps I’m biased, because Lightning’s journey of self-discovery reflects my own ideal one. I love to see big characters humbled and forced to accept their insignificance, far more than strong characters saving the day. Call me sadistic.

What I don’t mean is UNDERDOGS SHOULD STAY UNDERDOGS or YOU CAN NEVER CHANGE FATE (although, hypocritically, I could probably discuss at length why this is true). What I mean is, MUST YOU  WRITE ANOTHER UNDERDOG STORY???

There are many underdog heroes before whom I’d happily grovel. Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein (excuse me, Sir William Thatcher), I’m winking at you. Dusty Crophopper, I couldn’t care less.

The beautiful Heath Ledger (1979-2008). He was only twenty at the time, but such a subtlety and confidence to his acting, without the usual arrogance. But then I have a bias to all characters called William.

The beautiful Heath Ledger (1979-2008). He was only twenty at the time, but such a subtlety and confidence to his acting, without the usual arrogance. Still, in 2014, we walk in the garden of his turbulence. (But then, I have a bias to all characters called William.)

Four Learning Styles

Another interesting branch of interpersonal psychological differences. This time it isn’t MBTI, but learning styles (though there’s nothing to say the two theories aren’t related).

Up until about a month ago, I’d thought there were three recognised learning styles: Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic. They’re pretty self-explanatory, but for purposes of completion and self-satisfaction, I’ll explain anyway.

Visual Learners:

  • Are often good at visual art forms and enjoy excursions to art galleries
  • Remember things by picturing or visualising them
  • Perceive others’ meanings through their gestures, body language and facial expressions
  • Are distracted by sights
  • Are likely to take notes, draw mind-maps and ‘obsess’ over colour coordination
  • Are likely to dress for fashion and take pleasure in aesthetic ‘perfection’
  • May visualise the worst-case scenario in case of a misfortune
  • You like my emboldenings and italicisings? I’m doin’ that for you, Visuals!
Pretty picture? Well, it's certainly colourful.

Pretty picture? Well, it’s certainly colourful.

This is a common type, probably the most common. We many of us rely very heavily upon our sight, so that’s not surprising.

You might be able to perceive from my style of writing that I am not a Visual. No, sir; I am not. Not to say I don’t like pretty vistas et cetera.

Auditory Learners:

  • Are often good at speaking, debating and have a high appreciation of music
  • Remember verbal instructions and may have the ability to repeat speeches word for word
  • Perceive others’ meanings through their diction, articulation, dynamic and tone of voice
  • Are distracted by noise
  • Are likely to sing, whistle or hum…a lot
  • Are likely to enjoy talking on the phone
  • Easily perceive subtleties of voice and music
Yup, an ear.

Yup, an ear.

We all tick boxes in other categories. Meself, I can whistle the ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’ at full speed. And so can all my protagonists 🙂

(By the way, if this sounds like you, go and listen to Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony. I am at the moment, and I’d forgotten how much I love it. Probably the nostalgia—the soundtrack of Barbie Rapunzel is basically Dvorak. Anyway…)

(Is it just an inconsequential theory of mine that many Visual and Auditory learners are also MB Sensing types? Okay, forget that.)

Kinaesthetic Learners:

  • Are often good at practical tasks such as crafts, mechanics and sports
  • Remember things by acting out and trying for themselves
  • Communicate through ‘touchy-feely’ gestures such as hugging for affection or a firm handshake for respect
  • Mostly buy clothes for comfort
  • Must often endure a traditional school learning environment favouring Visual and Auditory learning styles (let’s have a big loud ‘awww’)
  • According to one source, they have high intuition (hm, interesting, though I’d like to know exactly where such a conclusion came from)
Yes, he's pushing a chess piece. *shrug* Well, if it helps him learn how to play chess, what are you looking at?

Yes, he’s pushing a chess piece. *shrug* Well, if it helps him learn how to play chess, what are you looking at?

Okay, I was always awful at Science practicals. But whenever someone touches me—say, they tweak my elbow or measure the circumference of my wrist (yeah, seems pretty meaningless)—I feel automatically better about myself. I don’t know why. Perhaps I’m just starved of physical contact because I pretend to be detached and independent.

But no, I don’t believe I’m a Kinaesthetic learner, either. I just discovered the fourth learning style.

Auditory Digital Learners:

  • Can be difficult to identify (is that why I’d never even heard of the type before?)
  • Work best with information and data
  • Remember things by creating steps and procedures
  • May struggle with social interaction
  • Apparently the Socratic-debate style of question-and-answer might help with learning
  • I don’t know where the name comes from

Well, how else was I supposed to illustrate it? Nothing like a good tunnel of binary.

This is brilliant for characterisation. Understanding a character’s learning style is just as vital as nailing their personality—one might even argue that learning style is an integral part of character personalisation. Probably is. All these tests, we do them for ourselves because we’re interested in who we are and how we operate–and how we operate in relation to others who don’t necessarily understand or relate to us. Is it not just as vital to understand our characters, since we conceive every part of them ourselves, and set ourselves the task of determining all their goals, motives and methods?

Let’s have some characteristic words for each type: (Yes, I lifted these straight off http://mymindcoach.com.au/communicate-better/, which has frankly proved the basis for most of my observations. So, yeah, thanks for that.)

Visual: see, looks, appear, view, show me, dawn, reveal, imagine, illuminate, crystal clear

Auditory: can you hear, that sounds good, listen, make music, tune in, be all ears, that rings a bell, it resonates

Kinaesthetic: feel, touch, grasp, get a hold of, slips through, catch on, tap into, concrete, solid

Auditory Digital: sense, understand, think, learn, process, decide, consider, change, perceive, insensitive, conceive, distinct, know (each of these words I would probably use at an average of five or six times a day, depending on the conversation, whereas those in the other lists no more than twice or thrice at the very most)

Yes, we all use these terms all the time. But perhaps one particular person will pop into mind when you read each list. Or, even better—a character.

My thoughts linking to MBTI: we live in a Sensing world. We also live in a world of predominantly Visual and Auditory learners. Draw your own conclusions. I don’t mean to generalise.

My good friend dictionary.com details ‘learning’ as ‘the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill’ (definition two).

My definition of the second MB dimension according to my first post on the subject claims it relates to the ‘methods we use to intake information’. (Yes, that was poorly worded. I should’ve edited that better. …Is this my Auditory Digital side asserting itself—feeling uncomfortable when something isn’t done to its best effect?)

In any case, I don’t think anyone will disagree that learning style and method of information intake are closely related.

That’s right. Have fun thinking about that a bit more. I’m going to bed.

___

Visual learner picture: http://www.wallcoo.net/paint/Jean-Marc_Janiaczyk_Painting_1600x1200/wallpapers/1600×1200/Jean-Marc_Janiaczyk_Art_Painting_cabanon%20aux%20lavandes.jpg

Auditory learner picture: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-c_c4pr3yvsk/Tx8a6xCVbuI/AAAAAAAAAKA/CZKl-ftNdIw/s1600/Ear_14439206.jpg

Kinaesthetic learner picture: http://members.tripod.com/teaching_is_reaching/images/j0078744.gif

Auditory digital learner picture: http://doktorspinn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/digital-tunnel-wallpaper1.jpg

Too many tags? D:

CampNaNoWriMo July 2013

(Again, a post less general and more personal to me [than some]. Factual/theoretical dissertations may resume shortly.)

Well, that’s done. You want some figures?

My first serious attempt at NaNo was in November 2011. I set my target at 33,333 words (two thirds of the full 50K, since I had school to contend with) and wrote 34,133.

My second serious attempt was Camp July 2013. I set my target at 25,000 words (half of the full 50K, because I knew I’d be away a lot of the time) and wrote 35,125.

That’s the whole story. I’ve only tried it twice with a definite personal goal in mind, and both times I’ve been stinted by other commitments. Someday I’ll get 50K. I write at a quick enough rate… It’s just when it takes place in a month I’ve nothing better to do.

Oh, I complain. So many people with full-time jobs get well over 50,000 year after year. How hard can it be, if you’re truly motivated?

After all, on day one I wrote over 7,000 words! By day two that was up to 11,000. And then I got lazy… But these past few days I’ve been trying to make amends. I’ll snapshot my graph and you can all bear witness to my erraticness/erraticism/erraticity(?!). My ‘friends’ always chide me for inconsistency.

 

Mm, as you can see...

Mm, as you can see…

Yeah, my cabin wasn’t the best. Only two of us got past the 5K mark, and the other girl reached her target of twice that and didn’t continue. I am the proud contributor of seventy percent of my cabin’s words. Unfortunately I couldn’t get everyone else’s targets for them as well as my own.

In the past week I’ve experienced several surprise revelations—sudden unexpected plot twists and characters spiralling out of control. Does this always happen on first drafts? I’ve never noticed it before—but to be fair, I’ve always been such a pantser it hasn’t mattered.

This time, however…

To put all this in context, my WriMo novel is something of a detective story, with the relationships constituting the sub-plot, and elements of action, romance and mistaken paranormal thrown in for good measure. And the good old boarding school returns again!

For a start, there’s my foremost supporting character. In the first story, she was just another character thrown in for contrast and remote moral support. She didn’t even speak till the epilogue. Yes, it sounds amateur, but I’ve brought her back for a larger role in the sequel, to make her previous appearances just a big set-up.

And what a role! Her character has been the steadiest and least changeable of everything in my life this month. Before last Friday, I didn’t even realise quite how enigmatic she was. I thought she was shy or nervous, or incredibly self-conscious. ‘Colourless’ and ‘insipid’, Drina calls her. (Very nice of you, Drina.)

Well, she’s not. She’s not at all. If she’s quiet, it’s because she has nothing to say. And that’s only deception, too! She knows things the rest of the cast would give anything to know, too. She never asks questions, and rarely answers them straight. She tells no two people the same things, but never lies. And she never ever tells the whole story.

 

Sims 3 doesn't have the right hairstyle, so I cropped out the one I was forced to give her.

Sims 3 doesn’t have the right hairstyle, so I cropped out the one I was forced to give her. And no; she’s not poetically-inclined enough to go looking into the distance on a regular basis, unless there’s a practical reason for it. She also looks like she’s in prayer; wrong again. Sorry I don’t have a better picture.

 

Much of the plot hangs upon both her silence and her words, and she is the source of most of the story’s revelations. Simply because nothing anyone else says affects how she communicates. She won’t be coaxed, threatened, tempted, trained…

She’s a strange character—one of the most interesting I’ve ever created. And she wasn’t even supposed to be interesting. Plus because she doesn’t express herself properly (and doesn’t care whether she does or not), I can do exciting and terrifying things with her relationships…

Secondly, my long-time lovers separated. And I never saw that coming. They’ve been engaged for four and a half years, and I thought they were so attached, ultimate soul-mates…

But the more gentle and compliant one of the two suggested it, and my MC was so surprised she just walked away. Sad, eh?

And the funny thing is, I scarcely even know how it happened. One moment they were all lovey-dovey and apologising for I-don’t-know-what; the next minute they’d parted. And all done so gently and shockingly I hadn’t an idea what was bound to happen before it actually did.

It’s so shocking I can scarcely say more about it. So I won’t. I don’t even know if they’ll get back together again. Fortunately I’m only halfway through the story, and though they won’t meet again till the end, if the rest of my plan decides to hold out(!), they’ve plenty of time to think it over.

campnanojuly13target2And thirdly, the crazy idea came to me to bring back to life a character who’s been dead twenty-five years (storywise). I’m not sure if I’ll actually do it or not…but my imagination presented it to me in such a way as to make everything else work perfectly. Hm, this requires no mean thought!

This next fortnight I’m back to editing. Wish me good fun!

MB Character-Typing: Drina Connelly

(If you aren’t remotely acquainted with either the story or the character, or know little of MBTI, this post will probably not be of interest to you. If so, I hope you like the pictures instead *wink*)

Drina daydreaming (taken on Sims 3 a while ago. For the record, her hair isn't supposed to be red, but due to graphics difficulties I can't correct it)

Drina daydreaming (taken on Sims 3 a while ago. For the record, her hair isn’t supposed to be red, but due to graphics difficulties I can’t correct it)

In typing all my characters, which I did on the second edit of my latest manuscript, the most troublesome has been Drina Connelly. This, alongside the fact that she is my main character, causes me a little worry, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that many people are cast regularly in several different Myers-Briggs types.

At first, because I modelled her on myself, as I do originally with many of my MCs, I thought she was an INFJ (Introvert-iNtuition-Feeling-Judging). Then I started to evaluate her journey more thoroughly, and realised that over the course of the story she goes from pure rational to accepting her romantic side. She’s not an F at all. She makes most of her decisions based on logic—and gets herself tied in knots because she sees every side of the situation. And though she works for others’ feelings, is that a result of true compassion, or her desire to make herself appear worthy of the distinction she craves?

So, I thought, she’s an INTJ (Introvert-iNtuition-Thinking-Judging). And that made more sense.

Calculating Drina

Calculating Drina

I took a few more tests, and she came out as an ISTJ/INTJ, where the S and the N conflicted at fifty percent each. It wasn’t a very accurate test, to be fair, but I kept her as an N because I see her as easily able to perceive the bigger picture. Another reader might think differently; I don’t know.

(In addition, J being the one letter that didn’t fluctuate, my explanation is that Drina hates matters to be up-in-the-air. She’d rather a quick resolution, even if it were an unfavourable one. She has difficulty in adapting to new situations. Besides, I haven’t yet come across a Perceiving-type who’s been recommended as a leader, so Drina will just have to remain a J.)

I did a bit of research on INTJs, and liked what I found. In particular a description of how they react under stress made me giggle. I quote:

‘INTJs are used to living in their minds, mostly disregarding their physical and emotional needs. Therefore, love and romantic relationships can take them by surprise and the intensity of their own emotions usually represent the main factor that throws them in distress. They may feel out of control, restless and tormented…managing to isolate themselves not only from the outer world, but also from their emotional and physical self. They become misunderstood loners, cryptic and enigmatic to the rest of the world.’

 

Flattered Drina

Flattered Drina(!)

If you knew Drina, you’d be giggling with me. This is exactly what happens to her: she falls in love, can’t deal with what it’d cost her ‘self-control’ if she gave in, which she can’t help doing, and gets in a right tizz about it all. ‘Enigmatic’ is a word mentioned in relation to her in the actual story, coincidentally.

But after a while I began to doubt my verdict. Her love interest came up as all sorts of things in different tests, but the one recurring type was INFJ. And I thought, so he’s like me, and she’s almost like me… It wasn’t right. Maybe it had the potential to work, but I don’t like to be discriminative, and to have two of my most important characters to be virtually the same really didn’t flatter my characterisation.

Besides that, Drina is supposed to be a leader. This is something that made me baulk, when I first realised it, because I didn’t give her any friends! She was, in her own words, a ‘hopeless introvert’ most unfit to expect to become Head Girl. It was a ludicrous idea, and yet that expectation is just about the entire plot. Well, obviously I had to do something about that.

So I went back to my lists. (Ironically, though I’d had worse trouble with the love interest, I left him as INFJ, and assumed my MC’s type was awry.) And then I did her an Enneagram test.

She came out as a Type Three, the Motivator (or Performer on some sites). Threes’ basic need and focus of attention is to achieve and get results. To others and to themselves they promote an image of success, whether it is accurate or not, and they fear failure. They are competent and informed, and desire to be seen as such, and to compare positively with others around them. Efficiency is of the utmost importance. They also have difficulties with arrogance.

Drina all over. And, as another coincidence, the issue of success and failure is one of the primary themes of my novel. But it came as a surprise to me to find a table laying Enneagrams side by side with the MBTI types with which they’re commonly associated. Well, that wasn’t a surprise in itself, but what I found in the Type Three row threw me off balance.

Drina: decisions, decisions... But maybe we're onto something...

Drina: decisions, decisions… But maybe we’re onto something…

The Performer did not correspond with INTJ, or even INFJ. No; the suggestions were ENTJ and ENTP. Well! I thought. I know there are exceptions—I’m an INFJ types Three, Five and Nine myself, and those don’t even go together very well!—but if Extroversion is so strongly recommended, maybe I’m wrong again…

And I’m truly grateful for all this to-do, because I’m more satisfied with my present ‘conclusion’ than with any typing exercise I’ve done for any of my characters. Drina is an ENTJ (Extravert-iNtuition-Thinking-Judging).

Shocked Drina

Shocked Drina

According to one of my favourite type-grids given to me by my mother (I don’t know the source):

ENTJs [are] Frank, decisive leaders in activities…Good in anything that requires reasoning and intelligent talk, such as public speaking. Are usually well informed and enjoy adding to their fund of knowledge.’

And upon research, I found the most wonderful website, called ENTJ Personality.info, which has provided for me comprehensive descriptions of how ENTJs get on with the other types. And, oh! my goodness! They’re all exactly as I’d imagined—and exactly as I’d written, moreover. Depend upon it, there’ll be another post about Drina’s inter-type relationships.

But why in the world did I think she was an Introvert? There’s a simple explanation, for which we go back to the whole stress thing. At the bottom of the list of pages I’ve used most extensively in my research, is a link, and at the bottom of the page in that link there is a single bullet point: ‘[When under stress, ENTJs…] May withdraw, feel hurt, trapped and become overly emotional’. And here I lay all my justification.

We do not see Drina, at any time during the novel, in the social environment which she feels is natural. At the beginning she has already been deserted by her dearest friends, and has been thrust into the process of withdrawal without our getting a chance to see her in the comfortable zone to which she had been accustomed since she first found her confidence at boarding school.

When I did those prior tests for her, of course I wouldn’t describe her as ‘sociable’! She didn’t have any friends—and that’s an essential plot-point (and one I struggle with for its exclusion of dialogue!). To get to her current place of prestige, however, she must’ve been more sociable than I may have implied.

But this shows me a flaw I must remedy. In my next edit, I resolve to make it clear that Drina is operating under circumstances which she feels to be unnatural.

And I can’t convey how useful it’s been to have taken this journey to discover her type! I would never rely upon a test such as this, with all its imperfections, but perhaps the trouble I’ve had suggests she’s a more rounded character than I’d hoped. Or else the conclusion I have reached has reassured me that my relationships are realistic, and helped me to solidify my characterisation.

Drina thanking me (I'm in the sky, of course) for typing her.

Drina thanking me (I’m in the sky, of course) for typing her.

And you? Does anyone else type their characters? And like what they find…?

Bibliography

Myers-Briggs types under stress: http://pstypes.blogspot.com/2010/01/myers-briggs-types-under-stress.html

An amusing story/description of an Enneagram Type Three: http://www.breakoutofthebox.com/starclm.htm

A PDF about the simple needs of Enneagram types: http://www.breakoutofthebox.com/EnneagramTheorySummarized.pdf

Enneagrams and MBTI: http://www.breakoutofthebox.com/flauttrichards.htm

http://www.entjpersonality.info/

http://www.entjpersonality.info/2010/07/entj-under-stress.html

And my own introductory post to MBTI, in case you need a reminder of what the letters mean: https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/an-introduction-to-mbti/

Why I Don’t Do Fantasy

EDIT: Reading back, this post seems narrow-minded and prejudiced, not to mention ill-informed. I still stand by my general disconnection from the fantasy genre, if not all the points outlined beneath. In my defence, I was about fourteen when I wrote this post.

I’ve never written a fantasy in my life. And, coincidentally, I don’t read much fantasy. There are a couple which will forever hold pride of place on my bookshelf, but these are few, and I’ve certainly never been inspired to imitate them.

We all know Twilight made werewolves and vampires popular, inspiring everyone to write fan-fics, zombie apocalypses and vampire romances.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then there’s the other type of fantasy—the inventive fantasy, the traditional fantasy, the adventure fantasy, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And that seems to be coming back in.

But why can’t I get into that sort of thing? Am I just too lazy to think about all that faff, or is it something deeper?

There are arguments for fantasy, it is true. We readers like to escape, to immerse ourselves in other places, to dream and imagine and create… But sometimes we can escape too much. We can explore real life just as well by staying here than by going off somewhere else.

I know we can apply the philosophical and social comments in our stories to all sorts of situations, no less fantasy, and readers are supposed to recognise fantastical lands as places of dream-world. Yet still… My favourite stories are as credible as credible can be—real life situations, which could truly happen in my life or anyone else’s. A story doesn’t need to be anything more.

Plus, there’s less to think about. When I read fantasy, I feel bombarded by masses of information, lands, maps, languages, species… I feel stupid for not knowing this stuff inside out, as the author does. It’s too easy to overdo it, or even underdo it. I know what you’re thinking: I haven’t read enough of it!

I read a portal fantasy this month. The world was easily recognisable as a combination of Narnia and Middle-earth, though significantly dumbed-down for a childish audience. And the three children characters were frankly the least interesting, realistically intelligent or imaginative family I’ve ever read. They weren’t treated like characters; they were treated like ‘ordinary children’ who were really very unusual in their colourlessness. I was frustrated by how one-sidedly they were portrayed, and blamed it on the clichéd setting. The author evidently spent so much time developing their copied world, they forgot to develop the MCs.

I stick to the real world, and  focus on things readers will recognise.

I like relevance—blatant relevance for the teenagers who aren’t craving to bury their heads in the sand and dream of illusory realms, but to be given a clearer understanding of the world around them and how to deal with it. Stories offer messages whatever genre they’re in, but that doesn’t mean your readers will know how to recognise the message, much less apply it.

Besides which, I hate the concept of magic in the mortal life. I’m not against paranormal, but I like things to stay realistic. Turning to magic to get my characters out of a sticky situation feels like betraying my imagination. Sound contradictory?

If you’re going to use magic, you’ve got to make it believable. You’ve got to set boundaries. Who can use the magic, to what extent, and in what situations? Don’t make some great scientific thing about it—just set simple rules, where all rules are essential to the overall plot (not just some sketch you could just as easily do without), and stick to them. It’s not that difficult. But readers get annoyed if you make magic an invincible weapon. Where’s the tension? Where’s the jeopardy?

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien at no point makes it clear that Frodo and Sam will definitely return from Mordor alive, much less succeed in their quest. The black cloud of Mordor keeps the pages turning, because the hobbits are virtually defenceless without the rest of the Fellowship. We don’t doubt Gollum’s ability to smother them both, if he really wanted to. Middle-earth may be a place of strange and wonderful powers, but magic isn’t the be-all and end-all of the place, and it’s really the strength and courage of our heroes that saves the world. Magic should not be your get-out clause, or your small print in the contract. We don’t like those.

CG depiction of Gollum created by Weta Digital...

So I suppose all my reasons run together, but I’m sure it’s clear what I’m trying to say. Right now, it’s just not my thing.