Characters, On Writing

The Tale of a Story Told (Part One)

In which Ness takes a past tale and tells its story.

Feel up to a story of improvement and facial seizures? Grab a cup of tea (or a beverage of your choice) and settle in as I tell you the tale of a young girl who had no idea that a single paragraph shouldn’t cover an entire A4 sheet of paper …

Oh Robin!

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was seized by a desire to write a story based around my childhood hero – Robin Hood.

So I began one.

It was appalling.

The main character was, well, she was – and here I must put it quite frankly – a bit of a brat; a pallid shadow of the Maid Marian of Legend. Of course I didn’t intend to write her as such – I was writing a story and accidentally conjured up a proud and arrogant girl with my words.

These things do happen, you know.

The plot itself was rather, well, it had wonderful coincidences. Robin Hood – whose eyes were perpetually twinkling – was easily rescued from the dungeon. It was a strong alcoholic liquid that helped him, you see; administered to the guards, constantly diluted yet always very potent, it was originally owned by our heroine. Why she possessed such a liquid in the first place, I never explained.

Another marvelous coincidence was when poor Little John was imprisoned in the dungeon. He was soon to die. Hanging, I believe. But no fear! Lady Mary Adeney was informed by her beloved maid that there was a secret tunnel:

“It leads to the dungeon, the deepest one at that, no one knows of this tunnel for Sir Guy killed the original owner off it…..and with him, the secret tunnel.”

[How one kills off a secret tunnel is not explained].

By amazing chance, Little John is rescued. By even more amazing chance, Little John – the biggest, tallest and strongest ironically named outlaw about – fits through the tunnel opening. Which is two foot wide.

Lady Mary Adeney – after a showdown with the Sheriff (the dialogue of which contained a perfect storm of exclamation marks) – decided to become a commoner, shunning both the life of a noblewoman and living with the outlaws in Sherwood Forest.

“Minstrel’s songs and heroic tales were one thing, but how could I know what his band were like?”

[Quite right, m’dear. They might be heavy metal or – even worse! – a folk band]

A quick Bible verse was inserted as she released her horse (Bravebrow was his name, if you are wondering) and left her companions in a not at all melodramatic way.  Off to the Fletcher’s in Nottingham she was going, with a new name …

[Drum roll please]

Maid Marian!

… and then the plot dribbled off like water in a cracked jug. Like my spirit when faced with a pile of procrastinated work. Like my strength when accosted with a much too long walk in England’s countryside. (Did you know, I once accidentally stepped on a dead sheep? It was rather an experience). Like- well, I’m sure you understand.

In my story folder that story stayed – gathering metaphorical dust between ‘A Father Tells’ (a father telling a story about his smuggler days. It won me a price for the most gore. I was eight) and ‘Mountain Air’ (in which the heroine was awesome, witty and in no way shape or form resembled me. Cough).

But then I returned to it. I blame Robin Hood and my love for his tales.

Lady Mary was obviously spoiled. Hmm … how to rescue her? A light bulb dawned in my fogged brain. It consisted of two words: character development.

What if she … grew? I could keep the beginning of her story and skip forward two years and show how her character grew.

What an excellent idea!

Yes.

Well, the thing is … I overdid it.

She was suddenly perfect. She was mature. She was delicate and sweet. She could show remorse with the best of ‘em. She could swoon like a pro, cry (but delicately) and was an all-round paragon of maddening perfection.

It was going off to Bristol to be a maid, you see. That was the making of her; the Forming of the Paragon. (Note to self: go to Bristol as a maid, will come back perfect. Probably).

Again the story trailed off, gathering dust particles as I turned away to different tales, different projects.

But then I came back, I still loved Robin Hood and this story I had worked on. I didn’t much like it but it was mine and I had worked on it on and off for more than a couple of years.

Another light bulb – instead of skipping two years I could actually write the transition from spoiled to perfection more, well, human. I gave myself permission to write (on purpose, this time) a thoroughly unlikable character.

Everyone should give themselves permission to write thoroughly unlikable main characters at one time or another.

This Tale of a Tale continues later, in Part Two. Naturally.

Dear Character

Dear Character … A Loincloth is an Impractical Piece of Clothing

How often have you created characters who are simply cardboard cutouts? What if … what if one of those poor, defenceless characters decided to protest his ill-treatment? Following on from Part One.

[Extracts from] Requests to the Author, from the Promoting Character Development Society on behalf of Character 42b

Character 42b, who prefers to be known as Tom, requests that he be given more facial features. He considers that the only thing you find worth noting about his face – ‘dark eyes’ – to be extremely insulting, not to mention distressing. He does not wish to have too many wrinkles, and insists that he has the right to have a youthful air about him. You have, after all, forgotten to give him an age.

– paragraph six of page two

He would like a well-defined chin and ears that are not too large; he does not want the nickname of ‘Big Ears’, though he would like a nickname as you have neglected to give him one. He would wish to suggest the title of ‘Tall, Dark and a Mighty Warrior’ or ‘the Extremely Fierce and Magnificently Brave Wolf-Fang’. Either would be appropriate.

– paragraph eight of page four

Tom is weary of being the book’s joker and has suggested that he be placed in the role of ‘He Who Broods’ instead.

– paragraph three of page twenty

… he finds the insinuation that he has an obnoxiously loud laugh to be hurtful, and detrimental to his self-esteem.

– paragraph one, line four, of page twenty-three

Tom regrets to say that, though he is sure that wearing only a loincloth and war paint is the correct attire for a brave warrior of the blood, it is impractical in winter. And autumn. And spring. In fact, he would very much like more clothing.

– paragraph four of page twenty-three

Books, I think I just rambled, Recountings

Bookish Influences: The One That Cost Me an Arm and a Leg

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via Pinterest

Alright, I’ll admit it – a book made me purchase a violin. Which, of course, probably says more about me than I’m comfortable with admitting.

[cough *gullible* cough *easily influenced* cough]

In my defense, read this and see if you don’t want an instrument that understands you and …

… instead of playing any of my classical pieces I drifted into improvising as I went along, and then, as my thoughts took me far away, I gave myself up to them entirely. ‘Dwell deep’ was ringing softly but clearly in my ears. Storms could come and storms could go, but in all and through all were those two little words of peace and quiet. And my violin was with me, and understood my mood. I don’t know how long I played, but when I came to myself and surroundings, soothed and comforted in spirit, I found them all staring at me in astonishment.

The violin understands her. Her moods are translated into sound. Is it any wonder that I purchased a violin? Is it any wonder that I wished to do the same?

But alas, I found to my surprise that … well, to be perfectly honest, Fiction doesn’t always meld well with Real Life. The eardrums of my poor family will attest to this. I can only say that if Heinrich – my violin – truly did translate my moods, than I am in dire need of therapy. Dire need.

What book was this that prompted such expense, such existential crises brought on by Heinrich?

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Dwell Deep

by Amy Le Feuvre

I suppose that I ought to delve into the basic plot. It is thus: a newly converted Christian [Hilda Thorn] goes to live with her non-Christian guardian and his family in the country. Morals and Principles clash and through many trials, Hilda Thorn learns to ‘dwell deep’ as it says in Isaiah.

Now look, here is the link to Dwell Deep – go ahead and read it if you do not want mild spoilers, but otherwise, let us commence this recounting/bookish influence post.

I must admit that I’m not going to talk about the trials that Hilda endures because of her new-found faith. But I’d better note that they are good, encouraging and some of the things she doesn’t do – like dancing – are a matter of conscience. But on the whole, her journey is one that I found to be inspiring.

I’ve already told you of how Dwell Deep influenced me, or rather, influenced me into emptying my bank account with the purchase of Heinrich, who was either the wrong violin for me, or I the wrong musician for him. (Or rather, the wrong untalented musician for him).

Now let’s move onto the Recounting side of things. Or, as I like to call it: my Pet Rant.

My Pet Rant

Kenneth is the son of Hilda’s guardian. This book would not be one that I enjoyed without Kenneth. He teases Hilda, calls her ‘Goody-Two-Shoes’, and watches her narrowly for any chance of slipping up and becoming a hypocrite. He’s just … Kenneth.

‘I don’t think she possesses a temper,’ put in Kenneth. ‘I know for a fact that I often lose mine in trying to make her lose hers!’

It’s a typical case of a boy provoking a girl because he likes her. The proverbial ‘Pigtail Pulling’ and I can’t deny that a delighted part of me whispers: dawww, he wuvs her.

‘Why do you love to make people uncomfortable if you can?’ I said in desperation to him, after he had been chaffing me unmercifully on the same subject before a lot of people in the drawing-room one afternoon.

‘Because it is my nature to, I suppose,’ he retorted. ‘I don’t think anything would make you uncomfortable, Goody! You go serenely on your way, wrapped in a cloak of supreme self-content and satisfaction. Except for bringing a little extra pink colour into your cheeks, which I like to see, no words of mine can ever stir you.’

See?

But alas. A new player appears on the stage. His name is Philip Stanton and he is Perfect For Hilda. Naturally, he and Hilda fall in love.

Now, I would like to make it clear that it is not that I dislike him, he is after all, a good gentleman, a Christian and seems to be a decent sort of chap. And yet – and I’ve just noticed this – he calls Hilda ‘his darling child’. Child. That’s worse than ‘babe’.

Ahem. Anyway, they fall in love and drama ensues when he disappears and will they ever see each other again?

(Hopefully not.)

I am a firm believer that Hilda and Kenneth were the perfect match and nothing can tell me otherwise. Philip, you say? Philip who?

‘There are moments, Goody Two-Shoes, when you and your fiddle are before my eyes, that I think I should like to marry you and take you away with me somewhere where you should charm me with those strains continually. Don’t look so frightened. We understand each other. I know you wouldn’t dream of having me, so I am never going to ask you.’

Hilda, you should have waited for him. People change and he could have. Why?!!! You belonged together. Or rather, he needed someone and that someone was you. (I have decreed it, so it must be so.)

And yes, I am passionate about books which are old and no one else seems to have heard of. Join me next week for my recounting of The Rose-Garden Husband, and the week after that: He Fell In Love With His Wife (Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ah-may-zing plot twist. But here’s a clue: he falls in love with someone who he is possibly wed to. It’s like, totally unexpected).heinrichmylove

In the mean time, Heinrich sits, neglected, tucked between my bookshelf and my black leather chair that only ever seems to hold my childhood soft toys, or if I’m in an untidy mood, an array of clothing and books and papers which I fondly call ‘My Doom’.

I’m so, so sorry Heinrich. But do not be frightened – I’ll wring a mood out of you yet, even if it takes me a thousand tries of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.

Characters, On Research, On Writing

The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense

In January, I knuckled down and managed to write the sequel to The Dragons We Hunt. Next up? A sequel to that sequel to write – the final book in a trilogy written entirely in first person, present tense.

In honour of squeezing out book number two, I have compiled a list and entitled it: ‘The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense’.

(I’m sure you’ll agree that is a very imaginative title).

(a few of) The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense

Pros:

– You are given the ability to plunge into the mind of the Main Character – what they are thinking, how they think and what makes them tick.

– You look at the world through their eyes. Some characters, for instance, are dreamers, and as such, they look at the world with slightly more imaginative eyes. Others are very matter of fact and a sunset is simply that – a sunset.

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*sniff*

– The reader is more involved in the character and everything happens right. now. (The mouse is nibbling away at the cheese. Dawwww!  So cute. It’s so adorable. It does my soul such goo- OHMYWORD A CAT JUST ATE IT! Blood! Guts! Gore! Oh the horror. Quick, let me Instagram it).

– There is the interesting challenge of portraying other characters through the MC’s own, biased eyes.

Cons:

– Writing in first person, present tense is constrictive. You can’t soar over the mountains and show that Tom the Shepherd has lost his first sheep while the Hero/Heroine is attempting to swim in the ocean. You can’t dive into other people’s minds.

– If the reader doesn’t get the MC then the rest of the book will be awful, for the POV (in this case) never changes from the MC.

– In real life, many things happen that we simply don’t understand. Usually, when this happens, we google it. However, in my Viking/Mongolian world, Google doesn’t exist, so tough luck for the MC – you’re just going to have to deal with it. (Or, I’ll write a sequel from someone else’s POV explaining it all … yep, that could work).

Have a great week!

and

No mice or sheep were injured in the writing of this post. Honest.

Dear Character, On Writing

Dear Character … ‘Less Personality than a Cardboard Cut-Out’

One of my characters has been giving me a little trouble. One day, once upon a time, I decided to have it out with him and wrote him a note. He responded. No, you may not doubt my sanity.

Dear Character,

You are as one-dimensional as a piece of paper and have less personality than a cardboard cut-out. You are giving me a headache.

I do not thank you for it.

Your Author.

To my Author,

Who created me?

No love.

Character.

 —

Dear Character,

Who rebelled?

Author.