Category Archives: writing

Feeding the Muse

Muses

I have been working on the end to my Steampunk Work-in-Progress (yep, I’m WiP-ped). In the past week, some serious thinking and research helped me come up with the logical progression for constructing the ending. This will mean more re-writes, but not huge structural edits.

muse-3

I see research as part of the process of feeding the muse. My main problem is that I can never predict what is going to inspire a good (or even great) idea. So, I do a lot of research. I read news stories, science articles, textbooks, anything and everything gets fed into the files for the muse to sort through. Sometimes I wish I could just click my fingers and the best idea would swim to the front of the pile, but that isn’t how it work.

Sorry, but feeding the muse takes effort, just like anything else. This is why I am a little cynical when I hear a writer claim that he/she doesn’t do any reading.

aggressive muse

The muse is unforgiving. It just ins’t a case of ‘Garbage in, garbage out’. No fuel, and the flame splutters out entirely.

Currently, I am reading up on Victorian-era model villages. These were both a great concept and a really bad idea, depending on who was in charge. On one hand, these were developed to create ideal living conditions for a planned community. creating comfort for families and a guaranteed population base for businesses. On the dark side, these were nearly gulags for imprisoning a workforce to labour under unpleasant and dangerous conditions. What a perfect setting for both a hero or a villain!

Muse

This is the last piece I need for the puzzle that is my book. It is almost a frightening thought.  I’ve worked with these characters for so long, that I will miss them once the book is complete. However, I’ve been through this ‘breaking up’ period a few times now, when you have to distance yourself from your creations. The best solution is have a new project in the wings, a shiny new toy for the muse to play with.

outsidethebox muse.jpg

 

2 Comments

Filed under Steampunk, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, the Muse, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing

Narrators and Point of View

the-remains-of-the-say

This blog is an assessment of the main character and narrator, Stevens, in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day.  This book could be classified as a romance, as one of the central plots revolves around the unsuccessful relationship of Stevens to the housekeeper, Miss Kenton.  Kazuo Ishiguro dictates this tale from the point of view of Stevens, an anal retentive who need to do the ‘proper’ thing, rather than the right thing, in emotional situations.  He is the naïve, internal narrator, an emotional outsider by choice; he is unreliable because of his single point of view and limited experience.  He alienates both the reader and his love interest, Miss Kenton.

There is a good definition of Narrative Point of View at http://www.brocku.ca/english/courses/2F55/pt_of_view.html : “The ‘meaning’ of a story is determined by a number of factors. One of the main factors is the matter of who is telling the story, and how. There are many ‘positions’ or ‘perspectives’ or ‘points of view’ from which a story can be told. By ‘point of view’ we generally mean two somewhat different things:

1) the relation of the narrator to the action of the story — whether the narrator is, for instance, a character in the story, or a voice outside of the story;

2) the relation of the narrator to the issues and the characters that the story involves — whether the narrator is sympathetic, whether she agrees supports of opposes a particular cultural practice or doctrine, that sort of question.”

Using this definition as a starting point, we can examine the careful construction of Stevens’ narrative point of view.  The narration in Remains of the Day becomes part of the characterisation of Stevens.

Distance: Stevens, as the first person narrator, was very close to the story he was telling.  It might have sounded like he wanted to be emotionally distant, but he wasn’t the omniscient voice that he hoped to be.  I thought this was a magnificent piece of characterisation, making a cold person so likable.  Steven’s vocabulary was very British and Proper, as suited his position as a butler of an upper-crust establishment.  His culture provided the emotional distancing from his personal events…but the author has still managed to keep Stevens’ involvement in events immediate and personal.

Interest: Of course, as Stevens is telling his own story, his interest wasn’t impartial, just reserved.  The reserve was part of his characterisation.  There were times when his reserve was obviously just a veneer, such as when his father died.

Sympathy:  As Stevens was telling his own history, he was very sympathetic to his own decisions and actions.  He was more judgemental of the other characters, as they are all seen through his own eyes and from his own POV.

Voice: The voice for this novel was vitally important, as it played a major role in the storytelling.  It was the reserved ‘voice’ of a very proper and correct Englishman.  It was a prim, emotionally repressed voice, loyal to his employer and aware of the dignity of his profession above anything else.  It was his role as butler that affected his attitude to all the other characters in the novel.

Orientation: The main theme of the novel was Steven’s pride in his career as a butler, to the point he became a mannequin and stopped being a human being.

Sense of Audience: The author was implying that Stevens’ audience was himself.  He was trying to justify his actions, and convince himself that he had always done the right thing, and kept his dignity even if he was unhappy.  He wasn’t addressing the reader or an audience as such.

 

The narrative point of view is a vital element in the construction of a novel, giving the text its style and contributing to the perception of the characters’ personalities. Stevens’ narration, in Remains of the Day, creates conflict by asking himself rhetorical questions and answering them himself, and this highlights how an interior narrator can still incorporate a responses and counter-arguments, without contradicting the character’s personality construct.  By the end of the story, Stevens’ persona has gone from confident and phlegmatic to regretful, nostalgic and melancholic, and the narrative point of view has paralleled this character change.  This way, Kazuo Ishiguro leads both the reader and the novel though to its pensive conclusion.

 

It can’t be a romance…there is no happy ending got Stevens and Miss Kenton.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Uncategorized, Unreliable Narrator, writing, Writing Style

I’m Small But Mighty: Height and Characterization

I am a short woman. Being short doesn’t stop a woman from being a protagonist nor does it stop her from playing a romantic lead. However, not the same can be said for male characters. You might be intelligent, strong, handsome, but if you are four foot – 1.2m here in Australia – you are unlikely to be the hero. You will be the comic relief, nine times out of ten.
The only protagonist I can think of whose short height wasn’t too much of issue was Stile from Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series. It was recognised, but it didn’t stop him from being the protagonist and winning status and the love of the girl. I’m not counting hobbits  or dwarves in this category, because they are:

  • not human, and generally stick to romance with their own species;
  • both males and females are of equivalent height;
  • even when they are protagonists, they tend to be part of a group.

However, I will make special mention of Emperor Porridge (Emperor Ludens Nimrod Kendrick Cord Longstaff XLI), from Doctor Who, a human being, and defender of humanity and the imperator of known space. His lack of height was a pertinent point in the plot of the episode he was in (Nightmare in Silver), and yet Clara seriously considered his marriage proposal without any humorous asides. Let’s face it, he was attractive, and not because he was emperor … he had a sense of humour and was a sensitive, lonely soul.

emperor_porridge

Emperor Porridge from Doctor Who

This still doesn’t overcome the pervasive idea that a hero needs to be tall. You never hear anyone being told they are going to meet a ‘short, dark stranger’. Tall people get taken more seriously. I know for a fact that people tend to think my anger is ‘cute’ rather than ‘scary’, though I am just as angry as my taller female friends.

Being considered ‘short’ affects your overall viewpoint.

small-fat-and-mighty

Art by Kate Beaton from Hark, a vagrant  

3 Comments

Filed under Characterization, Doctor Who, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Female-only Idioms; a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

bionic-unicorn

Image of the Bionic Unicorn

There are certain sayings and phrases in English that refer purely to women. The ones I am going to discuss today are “She’s the cat’s mother”, “A woman’s place is in the home”, “A Scarlet Woman”,”A woman’s work is never done”, and “Don’t teach your grandma to suck eggs”. I have picked these because there is no equivalent sayings that refer to men. These are not the only examples, I could have included “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” or “the little woman”, but those I picked cover the most common discourses that entagle women in their daily lives.

She’s the cat’s mother: 

I’ve never heard anyone correct someone using ‘he’ by saying ‘He’s the cat’s father’. For some reason, women are held to a higher standard of grammatical English than men. Women aren’t supposed to swear; our language is meant to be lady-like. This is reflected in sayings like this, with the underlying discourse that women are more polite and speak correctly – this was pointed out in Robin Lakoff’s Language and Woman’s Place. Reading this book was a revelation to me, particularly as I was only just learning how gendered English was as a language.

babushkakitty

A woman’s place is in the home:

Aspects of form, topic, content, and use
of spoken language have been identified as
sex associated. – Adelaide Haas

I am imagining a lot of people frowning at their computer screens as they read that idiom. Until recently, that was the argument everyone used when women tried to enter the public sphere. It was the greatest argument used against the suffragists and suffragettes in the Victorian era. You don’t hear of where a man’s place is supposed to be; but the inference is the woman should be cooking him dinner and caring for his house & children. A woman is NOT a refrigerator, and a wife is not another item of white goods.

suffragette-madonna

Because, you know, a father spending time with his infant is a terrible thing. Only a mother can supply the right sort of care. This is insulting to both the mother and the father, when you think about it.

A Scarlet Woman: 

This is the old double standard; a man who plays the field is sewing his wild oats, whereas a young woman doing the same thing is a slut. This is an underlying assumption built into the very foundations of our language. Ponder the difference between the concepts of a male ‘pro’ and a female ‘pro’, or a ‘master’ and a ‘mistress’. That status of women in our culture is reflected in our language. We need to start redefining these terms to take away the negative implications. Women can be assertive without being aggressive, and talk loudly without being shrill.

swedish-holocaust-survivor-attacking-neo-nazi

A Swedish holocaust survivor attacking a neo-Nazi!

A Woman’s Work is Never Done:

This saying is actually part of a couplet: A man he works from sun to sun (sunrise to sunset), but a woman’s work is never done. This saying originated in the days when women were unable to go out into the workforce in the public area, and were basically unpaid slaves. This perception of unending tasks was because of nature of the unpaid labour done by a wife and mother, which involved caring and feeding for the said ‘man’ and their mutual children, as well as cleaning the house and doing the laundry (and possibly caring for the garden as well). If the woman had actually been paid for this work, no one would have been able to afford her salary.

Now that women can go out to work, the burden of domestic labour still falls on the shoulder of women. This happens even if both partners work full time.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/mar/10/housework-gender-equality-women

It is frustrating that our language and culture still encapsulates this discourse. Who does the Christmas shopping in your house, as an example?

ive-suffered

Hah! You never hear about henpecked wives.

Don’t Teach Your Grandma to Suck Eggs: 

For those who haven’t come across this say, it means that inexperienced people should try not to give advice to experts in their fields. However, the depreciating humour in this idiom never pokes fun at Grandpa. And sucking eggs sounds disgusting.

spirit_photos_jb_misc_008-223x361

 

“So a girl is damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. If she refuses to talk like a lady, she is ridiculed and subjected to criticism as unfeminine; if she does learn, she is ridiculed as unable to think clearly, unable to take part in a serious discussion: in some sense, as less than fully human. These two choices which a woman has — to be less than a woman or less than a person — are highly painful.”
Robin Lakoff, Language and Woman’s Place (1975)

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Metaphors, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Writer, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Being Productive whilst on Holidays; Flights of Fancy

steampunk-book-as-vehicle

I went away to spend some time with my parents.I was away from my computer … but took plenty of pens and paper with me. I often do my ‘chunking’ exercises with pen and paper. ‘Chunking’ is when you write out your idea, as it comes to you in chunks and pieces; this is what my first year lecturer called the process. You might call it something else. It doesn’t matter what it is called, it is just the very first step – after thinking – towards writing a story.

I thought I was in holiday mode. My muse disagreed.

I came up with three solid ideas for short stories, including the ‘Dissected Graces’ story based on the artistic anatomical models. I finally have got a handle on the (hopefully final) structural edit to my Steampunk novel; I will have to kill quite a few of my darlings in the process. I also wrote five individual timelines for characters within the novel, which support the structure and at the same time give them all logical stories of their own that don’t conflict with their characterisations or motivations.

I even came up with a strategy for the structural edit that doesn’t make me too fearful of messing up. I am going to write up the new timeline I came up with, and copy and paste into it. In this way, I keep the original draft ‘pristine’ in case I do stuff things up. I’ve been trying to make better sense of my story and plot for a couple of months, so I am very pleased to be moving forward again.

Writers don’t really get proper holidays, because you can never predict when a great idea is going to strike. The muse can’t be ignored. So, I might not have done much in the way of writing on my computer, but I was certainly doing a lot of writing by hand. I was gone for five days, and I have over 13 pages of notes and observations, timelines and research plans. Some of this stuff is pure gold.

Sometimes, getting out of your familiar work routines kick-starts a new train of thought. That is what happened to me. So I am adding this to my writer’s toolkit.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Editing, Personal experience, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, the Muse, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Career

Forgoing the Tidy Ending (a rant)

dina-goldsteins-photo-series-fallen-princesses

Image from Dina Goldstein’s  Fallen Princesses photograph series.

As a writer, I have to spend time thinking about the ends of stories. A television show has an hour (well 45 minutes plus commercials) to set a problem and resolve it satisfactorily. Few television shows can afford to go with a messy ending with loose ends, because that isn’t what most people want from an hour of entertainment. Movies and plays, particularly art movies and tragedies, can take the risk of having an unhappy ending, but they still like to tie off the various subplots. Books can have very tragic endings, but everything still tends to get tidied away.

In real life, there are no tidy endings.Real life is a Gordian Knot.

patrick_corrigan-illustration-of-gordian-knot

Patrick Corrigan illustration of a Gordian Knot.

What do you – as a writer – risk by forgoing the happily ever after? Well, you may alienate some of your audience. Some people read purely for entertainment and don’t want to have to think deeply about the ending; and there is nothing wrong with that.

But other people read to have their thoughts provoked.So long as you are consistent, and your plot is logical, these readers don’t (or won’t) mind the story ending like an untidy pile of knitting left to unravel. These endings are particularly favoured by big ‘L’ literary books, but genre authors can utilise these endings to good effect. I’m thinking of Lois Lowry’s The Giver as an example.

the-giver

Some genres can’t have avoid happily ever after endings. A happy resolution is part of the classification of the Romance genre and the Fairy Tale. However, don’t confuse a happy ending with a tidy ending. A happy ending depends heavily on where you end the story. Happily ever after is conditional – if Cinderella’s story had ended before the fairy godmother’s visit, the end is sad and tragic.

Happy ever after is conditional.PNG

A twist ending can still be a tidy ending, if all the twists still lead to a neatly wrapped up ending. Twists are how you end up with a Celtic Princess Braid jumper, but it won’t unravel.

As I become more confident in my writing, I am moving away from the too tidy ending. It isn’t that I want to add a level of realism and verisimilitude to my writing, because of course I do; but this interest in knotty endings is more of a rebellion against the sameness of tidy endings. As Leo Tolstoy noted: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy is its own way. Human beings are messy. Relationships are messy. I want my writing to memorable and original, and so, once in a while, I will try to avoid the ‘sameness’ of a tidy ending.

contemporary-sculptural-basketry-by-catriona-pollard-the-gordian-knot

 

2 Comments

Filed under Plot, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Career, Writing Style

Resisting Temptation

steampunk-book-as-vehicle

At the moment, I am trying to edit my Steampunk book and polish it so I can start sending it off to market. Except … I keep writing new short stories, and I finished a children’s book, and rewrote a creative nonfiction book about zombie bugs, all in the past nine months. As one of my writing compadres pointed this out to me at an informal get together, this isn’t getting my editing done.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am busy. But adding – and finishing – new projects is suspiciously like an active form of procrastination. It isn’t that I don’t love my Steampunk novel. It is just that the new projects are always just that bit shinier. Quicker to be completed and so quicker to send off to market. The structural edit seems to be dragging on, and I fear it is because I am dragging my heels.

Every time I dip into editing the steampunk manuscript, I want to add in new things. Should I blame my constant process and need for perfection? Normally, this means I am well and truly on top of a project. After all, I’ve complete books before this one. But I really want this one to be special. Magical! Absorbing! Detailed! Fascinating!

If I was listening to another writer complain about their need for perfection, I would be advising them to ease up and take it one step at a time. My staircase seems to be higher than the Empire State Building at the moment. Insurmountable!

At a meeting at my writers’ group, I did another chunking exercise today to try and get some control over the situation. All I ended up doing was coming up with some new (and excellent) ideas for adding foreshadowing to the first five chapters. *sigh*

Where will it all end?book-trunk

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Opinion Piece, Personal experience, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Career