The link takes you to a Youtube video, with Cogpunk Steamscribe (in her Steampunk Sunday persona) discussing the delightful gadgets of the Steampunk cosplayer.
My main character of my Steampunk novel is a seventeen year old girl called Alice. She is a polymath, and finds it difficult to gain respect and recognition for her inventions and education in the male-dominated field of science in Britain, in the 1870s. How you build a character should link back to your setting and plot. I am going to run though how Professor Alice was developed.
When I first had my idea for the novel, I knew it was going to be about a woman fighting against the established patriarchal restrictions built into the scientific society of Victorian England. So the fact she was female was a given. And she had to be tough and resilient.
She also needed to be rich. Alas, but only the daughters of the wealthy usually had access to a proper scientific education. A poor girl would be lucky to scrape enough education to read, write, and do figures. I made both her parents well educated, so that it was more likely that Alice would receive a better education than watercolours and piano playing. By making them minor nobility, it also gave me the opportunity to explore the class system of the Victorian era.
Now to pile on the negatives and increase her struggle. Red hair was NOT a fashionable colour in the 1870s, and was associated with prostitution and the lower classes. I didn’t want Alice to be a conventionally pretty woman. As well, I made her tall, in an era when small women were favoured over tall women (and I suffer from height envy – if I can’t be tall, I can at least write about tall women). In this way, she is visually striking without being considered beautiful, so that her looks would create uncertainty in social occasions. No hiding away like a wallflower for my Alice.
She was going to be having a lot of adventures, so she had to be fit and active. As well, she doesn’t wear corsets or skirts on a daily basis, because they restrict her movements and bustle skirts are simply dangerous in a laboratory. This would also add to the perception of her unnaturalness or Otherness in society.
When you look at characters in books, don’t assume that their appearance was just a random choice by the author. A small, brown-haired Alice with no money or education would not have been able to function within my plot.
This post was inspired by a discussion with author, Kara Jorgensen.
I’ve discovered the biggest difference (for me) between writing and editing. The more I write, the easier it becomes to write. However, it never works that way with editing. *sigh* I get to a point where the manuscript I’m editing no longer makes any sense. Sometimes I have to step away to ‘freshen my brain’. I think of it as the Editing Blues or Editing Burnout. (This is why I use beta readers. Sometimes, I just get blind to the problems.)
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate editing. It just makes me want to add more, polish more, and fiddle with structure. It tends to become a never-ending process. The more I edit, the more I can see where I can add more details to help refine the plot, or highlight the importance of the setting, or to intensify characterisation. I want to make my Steampunk manuscript absolutely perfect.
In the past, I’ve been able to sit down and write a novel from start to end, and some of these novels haven’t needed that much polishing. I suspect this is because I am not so emotionally invested in these stories as I am in others. Some projects seem to require more attention than others. I suspect my expectations are higher. It is like expecting a pass mark for Phys. Ed. and a top mark in English; I am just better at some things and it is easier to put in the extra effort for a good mark. Maybe that isn’t the best analogy.
A mother shouldn’t like some of her children better than the others … but I do. My Steampunk novel has to be utterly perfect before I send it off. I want the plot to be convoluted by still logical and easy to follow; I want the characters to be fully realised and unforgettable; and I want the settings to act as framing devices par excellence, full of metaphor, resonance, and meaning. I want the prose to sing! To make my readers remember part for weeks after they have read the book, and smile to themselves. I wasn’t to see online discussions of who would play which character if a movie or television show was made based on the book. This book should bring as much joy to my readers as other books have thrilled and enchanted me.
That kind of perfection takes work. Sometimes, it seems like too much work and I am overwhelmed by my own vision.
This is when the skills of learnt as a writer kicks in. Take it one page at a time. It kind of reminds me of that old adage: looks after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. Get one page right, and then the next page, and so on … and one day the editing will be finished. It takes time and dedication to climb a mountain.
In other news, I’ve received another rejection; my story wasn’t long enough and they felt I overestimated age of the suitable audience. This is great feedback, because now I know to re-target my submission list for this manuscript. I am well on track to get 100 rejections in this financial year!
While working on her Green Man, Alice pondered the issue of photosynthesis. It seemed rather unfair that plants could make their own food using sunshine, whereas any lengthy time out in the sun just gave her freckles. What evolutionary use were freckles? They certainly didn’t mottle the skin enough to create good camouflage.
She could understand why a furry animal would be unable to use photosynthesis. Hairs were basically dead, and would be unable to transfer any benefits if the hair was green with chlorophyll. (Alice didn’t know about the special transparent hairs of polar bears, which transfer sunlight to the skin of the bear; she was a botanist, not a zoologist.) But the bare skin of a human being would be perfect for such a process.
Think of how mankind would benefit from such an adaptation. No person need ever suffer from starvation, due to poverty or a crop failure. And even the wildlife and the wild plants would benefit, because there wouldn’t need to be so much clearing of forest for fields. Animals like pigs could be converted over to photosynthetic feeding, and how happy would the farmers be when they could fatten their baconers simply by taking them for a walk in the sunshine?
If you wanted to lose weight, you would simply wear more clothes and a hat and carry a parasol!
If you were feeling peaky, you would go for a sun bath. You wouldn’t need chicken soup; which would make the chickens much happier.
Of course, people would still eat for pleasure, and they would still need to drink just as much. As well, the human digestive system would still need a certain amount of daily roughage to keep things moving along, as it were.
With all this to consider, Alice was still intrigued by the idea of having the ability to photosynthesise. So she experimented on a few lizards and naked mole rats until she was certain she had got her methodology under control. And then she tried it out.
Alice developed a process that converted the melatonin in your skin to chlorophyll, and turned it onto a symbiote, in the same way that lichen was a symbiotic life form created from fungi and algae. However, where the fungis couldn’t live without the algae and visa versa, Alice was quite capable of living without her symbiote if the experiment wasn’t a success.
Alice went to bed wondering if her experiment was going to work. She expected to wake up in the morning a pale shade of green, too pale for anyone to notice. Things didn’t go quite to plan. When she woke up in the morning, her smattering of freckles had turned a rich shade of blue-tinged green, while her skin remained cream.
“Oh dear,” said Alice, when she caught sight of her image in her bathroom mirror. The effect wasn’t unattractive, but it was startling. Her skin looked like moss quartz or milk opal.
Her godmother dropped her spoon with a clatter when Alice sat across from her at breakfast.
“Mon Dieu! Have you caught the green measles?” Amélie exclaimed. “Are you contagious? Should I send for a doctor?”
“No. I am afraid I did this to myself,” said Alice. “I was attempting to give myself the ability to photosynthesise, like plants.”
“Oh Alice! How could you be so foolish? You have a hard enough time gaining acceptance in society as it is, without green freckles.” Then another thought struck. “Is this permanent?” asked her godmother, with growing horror.
“I’m not certain,” said Alice. “Though I theorise that if I refrain from going out into the sun, I imagine the chlorophyll organelles with perish, or at least atrophy.”
“Do you have any idea how long that might take?”
“No. But it is such a pretty green. It goes nicely with my eyes and hair. Can’t we pretend it is some new French fashion? After all, there was a fashion for beauty marks for a time.”
Amélie looked thoughtful. “We can try. The only other option is for you to become a recluse and hope the green fades away enough to be unnoticeable.”
One of the side effects that Alice hadn’t counted on was that photosynthesis creates oxygen and uses up carbon dioxide. It meant that she tired less, and she wasn’t as easily winded. And for a time, it did become fashionable to have green skin or green freckles. Fashionable women dyed their skins or painted themselves with green dots. It looked fine on the redheads and the brunettes, but the blonde girls had to keep the green pale so as not to look rather strange.
Even fashionable men took up the practice. Several dandies went so far as to dye their beards and moustaches green, since they didn’t have enough facial skin showing. It started quite the Green Man fashion movement.
Felix was one of those who took to painting green freckles on his face. He didn’t go overboard. He just dabbed a light scattering of freckles over his nose, and made sure he always wore a matching handkerchief in the exact same colour. Sometime he wore a green matching carnation in his lapel as well. He started a fad among the Aesthetic Movement for wearing a boutonnière.
Alice was relieved to find that the green freckles did die off over time, even if they weren’t starved of sunlight. She liked the idea that she could have green freckles, but she didn’t enjoy the thought of having them forever, like a tattoo. It was fun to look a little different when you wanted to, but there were times when you just wanted to fit in.
Being tall and a redhead made that hard enough. And there were times when you wanted to wear something other than green…
This past week has seen some major editing being done on the Steampunk YA work-in-progress. I’ve been taking my own advice, as well as taking hints from other writers’ blogs on WordPress. All-in-all, I have finally tapped into the enormous potential WordPress has for supporting a writer, by providing a community context for what is essentially a solo occupation. So, what did I achieve over this week?
I’ve rewritten the start of the novel, to plunge the reader straight into the action. Personally, I don’t mind a slow reveal at the start of a novel, but as an emerging writer I shouldn’t try to be too clever and lose my audience. I’ve shared this new start here on the blog. I was uncertain whether to do that or not, as it was a first draft, and it will most likely be much changed in the final draft. Then I decided What the heck! This blog is about writing, and like to see other writers’ processes, and I figure I’m not the only person fascinated with the writing process. A new beginning means a change in intent, atmosphere and expectations, and the rest of the novel has to adapt to that change.
I’ve added a couple of ‘walk ins’ by historical personages. Mary Somerville, Arabella Buckley and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) are all now scheduled to make an appearance in the narrative. As prominent women in science, I have Mary and Bella giving my protagonist some feminine support against the patriarchal world of Victorian British Science. Dodgson should have been an obvious inclusion, since my Alice works with talking flowers, (well, a talking tree man). I can use references to Alice in Wonderland as a thematic device in my novel. After all, the Steampunk literary genre does allow for these cameos of real historical personages.
“Good afternoon. We haven’t been introduced, but I am a great admirer of your books, Mrs Somerville. My name is Professor Alice Saint de Cologne,” she said, and gave a tiny curtsey.
“You have probably guessed that I am Mrs William Somerville, and this is Miss Arabella Buckley, my editor,” said the elderly woman, accompanying the introduction with a kind smile. “I’ve heard of you, my dear.”
“I have also heard about you,” said Miss Buckley. “And I have quite a few of your creations bearing fruit and flowers in my gardens.”
“I hope everything you heard of me was good,” said Alice.
Miss Buckley flushed and pursed her lips. She looked embarrassed, and couldn’t meet Alice’s gaze. Alice felt herself start to blush, and wished herself a thousand miles away.
Mrs Somerville glanced sharply at both of them. “Oh, look at the both of you,” she said in an exasperated tone. “Of course Bella and I will have heard some silly, pompous men make claims that you, Professor Saint de Cologne, are impertinent and have ideas above your station, and other nonsense. We need not take any heed of such idiocy, as sensible women.”
I have decided to use Victorian food as a sustained metaphor throughout the novel. Victorian dishes range from stodgy to magnificent … what a great way of lamp-shading what is going on in a scene. Bad food hints at bad events, and visa versa.
Currently the novel is standing at over 115,000 words in length. This will vary over the next few weeks as the editing process prunes away the deadwood, and adds fresh wood to fill in the gaps in the hedge. Wish me luck!