Justine: Fiction Fundamentals…Setting

Welcome to the fifth installment of Fiction Fundamentals. In this issue…Setting.

How would you describe this street? What are you writing? Who is your character? That and more will affect your description.

How would you describe this street? What are you writing? Who is your character? That and more will affect your description.

Setting serves an important purpose to ground the reader. It’s hard to get into a story when you don’t know where the character is or at what point in time the story takes place.

Margie Lawson maintains that within the first paragraph or two of every chapter or scene, you need to inform the reader of setting. Sometimes this isn’t necessary. If you start off each chapter with the location and year (for example, “London, March 1815”), then we have a pretty good idea of the where and when.

But establishing setting is more than just the where and when. There are Continue reading

Michaeline: Scarlett O’Hara

lush green velvet curtains with gold fringe hanging over a marble hall

Green curtains can stick in the mind for a very long time. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Originally, this post was going to be about events that boost the turning points of a story, but then in walked Scarlett O’Hara. And I don’t know about you, but when Scarlett O’Hara walks into my brain, I pay attention.

Now, I think it’s well established that Scarlett O’Hara, the heroine of Gone With the Wind, is not just a racist, but an all-around sociopath. With a few possible exceptions (and they mostly die during the course of the book), if a human being does not advance Scarlett’s sexual and/or economic agendas, the person has no value in her eyes and may be trampled over at will. She treats everyone like objects.

That doesn’t make her a very likeable character, and one of the pieces of writing advice we often run across is, “Make your heroine likeable.” Very good, very serviceable advice. But Scarlett swooshes right past the writing rule, because rules don’t apply to Scarlett. Continue reading

Michaeline: Lessons from the Great Masters: Pride & Prejudice

Darcy looks down on Mr. Collins, who is bowing with great (but false) humility before introducing himself.

Mr. Collins neglects to profit from Elizabeth Bennet’s advice. (The Ball at Netherfield, Darcy and Collins. Via Wikimedia Commons)

As I mentioned in the comments earlier this week, I am reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. This time around, I’m trying to drag my brain away from the story and the political implications of gender, and really concentrate on the mechanics – how she made the story work. Dear readers, let me tell you, this is very difficult. I get so caught up in the world, it’s hard to remember to pay attention to the underpinnings and scaffolding. But, I have managed to catch glimpses of certain techniques.

Last night, I was reading Mr. Collins’ speech to Elizabeth Bennet at Netherfield Ball – the one where he’s determined to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy and give Darcy good tidings of Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh (who is also the woman who gave Collins his job as a clergyman).

The first thing that struck me was how elegantly Austen managed to portray a very complex man in a few sentences of dialog. His guiding star in life is summed up in this sentence: Continue reading

Michaeline: Characterization and Envious Casca

Envious Casca's setting is a Tudor manor house where the inhabitants conspire to make Christmas the unhappiest holiday ever. (The Old Hall at Little Moreton. Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Envious Casca’s setting is a Tudor manor house where the inhabitants conspire to make Christmas the unhappiest holiday ever. (The Old Hall at Little Moreton. Via Wikimedia Commons.)

I’ve often heard Georgette Heyer called a writer’s writer, and I think she deserves the title. This isn’t faint praise. Her books, when I read them as a reader, were a lot of good fun, but when I read them as a writer, it’s all rather amazing to see how she pulls it all together. One of her great strengths, as the publisher’s blurb says on the back of the book, is her “sparkling characterization.”

Heyer is the grandmother of the Regency, but she also wrote contemporary (for her) mysteries. This week I read Envious Casca, which is a murder mystery set in a country house before WWII.

One thing I admire is the way she makes me want to read more about the characters in her book. None of them are adorable or perky or kickass. In fact, they are Continue reading

Michaeline: That Romantic Spark

Love that Lasts with a Touch of Magic

Love that Lasts with a Touch of Magic

I spent some of last week looking for what makes a “happy ever after”. The internet seems to love stories from older couples about how they kept the spark alive, so there were plenty of resources. I couldn’t help thinking, “What makes a couple really work?”

A lightbulb came on for me when I read this from the Huffington Post:

“As one 87-year old told me: ‘Think back to the playground when you were a child. Your spouse should be that other kid you would most like to play with!’”

My hero Hadiz and my heroine Perz don’t share a background – they are from different cultures, are different ages, and heck, they are even different species. But what they love best is Continue reading

Michaeline: Fantasy Sex and Fantastic Sex and People, Real or Otherwise

I want to revisit my post of last week about the suspension of disbelief, and how that played out in the Cosmo article on car sex, and the critique of that article on Jalopnik.

Vroom, vroom.

Let me drive you crazy with this steering arm.

First, I think it’s safe to assume that Molly Triffin is really a woman, and Jason Torchinsky is really a man. They have a lot in common: an easy-breezy magazine-y tone, and they want to make their audiences laugh. The Jalopnik article wants to inform as well as entertain. On the surface, the Cosmo article also wants to inform, but the writer’s main focus is humor – and most people who have read more than three Cosmo issues recognize that the sex tips are really kind of a joke.

The Cosmo article makes a lot of assumptions about their readers, and role that gender plays in the minds of the readers. It recognizes that a lot of women’s sexual pleasure comes from titillating the partner. But they make the assumption that 1) the man is just happy to have sex, and 2) there is no chance of failure because even if a sex tip doesn’t work, the guy is still ecstatic that he got some.


Continue reading

Michaeline: New Year, New Writer — Revision

Revision is not what I thought it was.

It's about taking a look at the deep structure.

It’s about taking a look at the deep structure.

When I started the romance writing program at McDaniel College, I thought I had a basic grasp of what it took to write a novel. I had several thousand words, all lined up in a way that made a crazy sort of sense, and I fondly thought that it would be a matter of cutting a few plot threads here, tying up a few lines there, and polishing the words that I had chosen in a NaNo rush.

I wasn’t thinking revision – I was thinking proof-reading.

The biggest thing I learned is that story is only loosely related to the words on the page — at least in a first draft. I know that sounds bizarre, but what I mean is that the story can be told with a million different word choices. It can be told with these characters or those characters. Point of view, tone of voice, time, date and place . . . all are choices that can be made to tell the story. And of course, some choices work better than others. But there are many good choices out there. Words convey those choices, but they aren’t the whole story.

It just about killed me that I had to Continue reading

Elizabeth: Characterization

characterThis summer I went to the RWA National conference in Atlanta and was lucky enough to attend a workshop by Susan Elizabeth Phillips about writing great characters.   She talked about creating well-motivated characters with strengths and weaknesses and strong individual voices.  She also emphasized the importance of showing those details rather than just telling them.

My favorite part of the workshop was an exercise we all did together to emphasize how simple details can reveal a lot about a character. Continue reading