Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In the Garden with Jane Austen: Privies and Ha-Ha Walls

At last, spring has hit Northern Ohio.  Well, actually, I think we skipped spring and went right into summer.  Believe it or not, today the temp here (90-ish) is going to be hotter than Miami, FL!

 Okay, those were some shots from my garden.  I love flowers!                                            

I'd like to share some things I learned from a beautiful book called In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson.  This book is essentially a stroll through the kinds of gardens Jane would have known and visited--from cottage gardens, town gardens, public gardens and parks, to gardens of the great estates.  It is peppered wtih beautiful photographs, period drawings, biographical information, and exerpts from Jane's novels and letters.  Clearly, the author recognized Jane's love of gardens, and marries that to all sorts of wonderful details about the Regency period.  Here are just a few fascinating facts I learned.  Keep them in mind, Regency writers (or just enjoy them, everyone else):

--"Plucking a rose" meant visiting the privy.  (Can you imagine using this expression in your next Regency novel?)  Why?  Because the "conveniency" or "necessary house" was often located in the very back of the garden (as far away from the house as possible!), so you had to pass by all the flowers to get there.  (Might as well pick a few on your way, I reckon.)

--On a great estate, the main pleasure grounds of the house (decoratively planted areas, walks, shrubberies, lawns, gardens, conservatories, hothouses, and temples) were separated from the park (the grounds reserved for timber, deer, cattle and sheep) by a hidden wall called a ha-ha.  (Supposedly it was named for the expression of surprise one would utter when accidentally coming upon this drop-off as one was walking around).  This clever structure (often made of stone) preserved the view from the house but also created a barrier to keep the livestock off the beautiful main lawn.

I had read of ha-ha walls before, but the way they were described, could never picture them.  Wilson's book has a perfect picture of one that is instantly understandable.

 You can read more about ha-ha walls here and you can see one below.   This pic doesn't really do it justice--the top of the wall should be level with the grass--so the wall is essentially hidden from view.  If, for example, you are standing in front of a grand estate looking out over the lawn, you would not see the wall at all.

This is a rather gruesome cartoon (taken from the BBC link above), but it illustrates this hidden wall idea a lot better, IMO:

 These interesting but obscure facts don't by any means do this book justice--it's loaded with rich, beautiful pictures of gardens in various settings. 

Next post, I'm going to describe exactly what a shrubbery is--and why your heroine is likely to do something illusive, secretive, or even downright shocking in one!

Enjoy the weather!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deep POV Tips from Author Jules Bennett

Harlequin Desire author Jules Bennett gave an awesome workshop about deep point of view (POV) for those of us who attended the Cleveland Rocks Romance Conference this past weekend.  Jules gave me permission to post her helpful pointers about writing deep POV and ramping up the emotional stakes in your own work:

  • Before you begin writing, imagine yourself in your scene.  Specifically ask yourself, what am I seeing?  What am I smelling?  Take a virtual look around and experience the scene through your senses.

  • Strive to put an emotional up-and-down in each scene.  Just as a scene has a beginning, middle, and an end, so it must also have emotional ups and downs.

  • Who’s head to write in?  We’ve all heard that we should write the scene from the POV of the character with the most to lose.  If you’re having trouble deciding that, jot down a paragraph or two in the heroine’s POV and another paragraph or two in the hero’s, then decide which is most effective.

  • To get deep into the minds of your characters, do a quick, five-minute journal entry pretending you are that character.  The question you are answering is:  how would you feel if this happened in your life?     Jules said don’t get carried away with it, do it quickly and briefly and get back to writing.

  • Setting often makes a big difference in how the characters act and feel.  It needs to come alive, as well as the characters.  Jules shared a tip that everyone loved—when she researches different places, she often calls realty agents in the area to ask details like, what are the popular attractions, how do people dress, what are the nightclubs like?   Having set a book in Miami, Jules was very honored when her editor, who had family living in Miami, said she wrote as if she had lived there herself (despite the fact that she had never been there).

  • You can use your own mood to help your writing.  Once she has her rough draft down, Jules hops around when revising depending on her mood.  So she tries to channel her current mood, good or bad, into her writing. 

  • Openings need to be packed with a punch, so work hard on them.  A tip from Leanne Banks:  before you start a new manuscript, really quickly, list 20 things you want to happen in your book.   This is a creative way to explore and focus on what you really want to write about.
  • When asked about her process, Jules says she begins with one scene in her head and then keeps asking what if? over and over.

Jules was a very dynamic speaker—comfortable in front of the crowd and also very friendly—and she looked just as sparkly as her website!  Her latest book Her Innocence, His Conquest, is a new Harlequin Desire release for April. Read more about Jules at julesbennet.com.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Living With a Difficult Muse

Still consumed with meeting my 1500 words-per-day quota for my Novel in Six Months Class with Lori Wilde at SavvyAuthors, I thought I would share more of my overwhelming frustrations as I continue to learn how to do this!

I wrote over 8,000 words last week, all in a state of pure terror.  Every morning, I wonder where six more pages of writing is going to come from.  Where does it come from?  Did you ever wonder?

My muse is ornery, difficult, and uncooperative.  Stubborn, too.  She makes my life hell!  What to do with her?  Is there any way to train a muse?

I wish I was the kind of writer who can follow a schedule.  For example, I say, I am going to sit here for four hours and at the end, I'm going to be done.  But no!  At the end of the time, yes, I do have something, but it sucks, and requires more hours of hairpulling and cursing and pacing all about the house to turn it into something resembling coherence.   This is very bad for anyone who has any other responsibilities other than writing.  It makes for a cranky, befrazzled person who feels like she can never get her work done.

I think there is a type of writer who is so gifted so as to be a natural plotter--who can envision the most unique twists and turns, who can create sensational high concept ideas.  A person like this has a highly creative mind and the vision to carry their ideas out.  There is also a writer who makes outlines and sticks to them.  Why couldn't I have a muse who works like that?  

I am not a natural plotter.  I am the wost panster-plotter ever!  I sit for hours trying to envision, write down, map, plot out, storyboard what on earth is going to happen next to my poor, tortured characters.  Even if I get some semblance of a shoddy outline down, alas, my muse changes drections on me, and it's back to the drawing board again.

I have no problem with sitting here for hours.  I've got that part down!  But now I have to learn the habits of somone who simply cannot afford to take time for tangents and detours and endless redoings.   I've got to learn to move.

Having a background in science,  I reflect often on the differences between a life that depends on creative ideas and one that works with "facts."  There are more similarities than one would at first imagine, and I'm not really saying the two are mutually exclusive, (and science does require creativity and who said science is made of "facts" anyway?) but all that makes for a different blog post.  The biggest difference I can see is that in a writer's life, your brain has to generate the raw material that makes for the rest of your day.  It's your imagination that creates what you work on all day.

Sometimes, I wonder if stories are just born to be told in a certain way.  Have you ever had this experience--you are rewriting or re-envisioning a scene.  Maybe you forgot that you've done it before.  Have you ever compared the new scene with the old one?  I find that at times the word choices are almost identical.  this always scares me in a creepy way.  Again I wonder, where exactly do these ideas come from?  

I'm hoping this all becomes easier.  That if I just keep at it, I will learn.  The great joys of writing are always balanced by difficulties, just like everything else on this planet.

In the meantime, anybody want to trade muses?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Learning to Write Fast

I am lucky to be in a course on SavvyAuthors run by Lori Wilde.  It is a Fast Track Novel Writing Class that goes for six months.  It's wonderful, and Lori is a great teacher.  That being said, the agony is that every day, five days a week, each of us has to turn in 1500 words of writing.  If you do the math, that's about six (ds) pages per day, 7500 words a week.  If you are short or miss a day, you've got to make it up by week's end.  We signed a pact.  Produce or else!

This is terrifying to me.  In order to do this, you've got to be able to do several things.  The first is, you have to have a plot for your book!  You've got to know where you are headed to be able to crank out 6 pages a day!  No fa-la-la-ing around, no I-think-I'll-start-in-a-different-place today, or I-think-I'll-take-a-day-for-research.   Biggest fear:  what if my brain is too little to wrap itself around such a big plot?  My plot seems bigger than my brain right now!

I read on Lauren Willig's website that she generally stays about 5 chapters ahead on her outline, and has a general outline to guide her, even though things may change as the characters behave outside the lines.  Five chapters ahead!  Egads, I'm a paragraph ahead!

You need to leave the perfectionism behind.   This is by far the most difficult thing for me.  The first few days last week, I had difficulty even turning the pages in, even though only my class can see them and surely no one cares.  But they're awful!  Did I actually let the hero say that?  It's ridiculous!  How to turn off that nasty internal editor long enough to turn my homework in?  (Must close eyes and hit send button before one can criticize onself.)

Lastly, you need the research to be done.  My book takes place in 1832 London, really after the Regency period.   I've never written beyond the Regency, and I've never done a romance with a lot of historical intrigue.   But how do I research when I can't even get my homework turned in?

I'm happy to say I did make my word count last week, despite being on the road for 3 days and having kids home all week.  I really hope I can do this, because what Lori is teaching us is how to write like a real author.  It's not enough to BICHOK all day--I've got that part down.  This is where you roll up your sleeves, research, create, produce, and crank. 

I know that completing this course will take my writing to a new level...if I survive it!