Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester, inspiration for my hero

During my initial draft, I’d scoured magazines cutting out pictures, trying to find what my hero, Lord Montagu, looked like in my time-travel romance. I’d had clippings of handsome men, but they weren’t him. So, I completed the first draft with just an image in my head.

Then I saw the BBC version of Jane Eyre (2006). I was watching period movies of the time period of my novel for research and I realized that Toby Stephens was him! I’d never seen him in anything else and was swept away by his performance. In preparing this post, I discovered that he’s Dame Maggie Smith’s son, which now that I know that, is totally obvious in the lines of his face.

So, now I have a ‘model’ somewhat, though whenever I read my WIP I still don’t quite picture Toby Stephens, it’s still slightly different, but close enough.

Ironically, I have a small interior monologue when my heroine first meets the hero, and she observes:

Would this man look equally exquisite in blue jeans and tee shirt or were his kind of looks the type best enhanced by the period clothing he wore? She’d seen that phenomenon before: someone who looked absolutely yummy in historic costumes and then looked so humdrum in modern clothes.

This was written before I’d picked Stephens as the closest to my image of him. And the funny thing is, when Stephens is in modern clothes, it’s not the same. He’s good-looking for sure, but… But when he’s in period clothes? Num, num. Same with Colin Firth for me.

Who else do you find totally hot in period clothes, but not so much in street clothes?

Anyone else try to find inspiration for characters in movies or magazines? Anyone else using Toby Stephens?

Who Was Ada Lovelace?

I’m going to go all fangrrrl on this lady, so beware!

This past Friday was international Ada Lovelace Day, where bloggers all over the world celebrated women in science and technology by spotlighting a specific woman in the field. I chose to highlight Dr. Janet Whitson. But who was Ada Lovelace?

Steampunk lovers know her as one of the character’s in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling‘s alternate history novel The Difference Engine, where Charles Babbage finishes his invention and the computer age is ushered in much earlier.

Computer programmers might have heard of her, because she’s credited as being the world’s first computer programmer. In fact, the United States Defense Department named their new computer language, unveiled back in 1980, ADA.

She’s a main character of a webcomic by Sydney Padua called 2D Goggles, or The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. And someone made a LEGO mini figurine!

Did you know, though, that she was the only legitimate daughter of that bad boy of English poetry, Lord Byron?

Another cool fact: she actually, as a child, tried to invent a steam-powered horse! She was so steampunk! She had her scientific pen pals send her dead birds so she could measure wing span to body mass. I’m not making this up.

Besides The Difference Engine, she’s also a main character in this novel: Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land (P.S.). I came across this at a library sale, talk about serendipity! It’s an imagined novel of Byron’s but set within two different story frames: one present day emails of a researcher who has ‘discovered’ this lost novel, and ‘notes and letters’ written by Ada about her attempts to recover the novel and hide it from her mother.

Are you now scratching your head wondering why you’d never heard of her? (If you already have, yay!). She’s downright amazing. I thought I’d do a little round-up of fellow bloggers who’ve gotten their geek on about Ada as well as some biographies you can get to learn more about this amazing woman.

Blog/News posts and other cool linkages:

Biographies:

Third Draft Finished

writingI set myself a deadline of last night to finish up my third draft, and I made it! I had a three-day weekend to help matters, and I mainly stayed inside in my jammies and worked on it. Sunday I felt like I needed to see the whole thing printed out, so I started printing the 359 page print job and ran out of ink. Got dressed and ran to Office Depot and got black ink and more paper (cuz I think ahead) and came back. Then 24 pages shy of being done, I ran out of black ink a-gain. Got some eyebrows cocked returning to Office Depot.

Anyway, did a quick polishing, big picture read through and finished that yesterday afternoon and then input some last-minute critiques I received at critiquecircle.com (my ending still needed work!) and got those typed in.

I had a severe crisis of faith reading it though. The This-is-crap feeling. I think I’ve just been too close to it for too long and now I’ve lost all objectivity. Tonight it will get formatted and sent to my beta readers, so maybe NaNoWriMo is coming at a good time to give me the space I need from this piece.

Anyone else go through a love-hate swing during revision?

Photo by Rae Grimm (bloodylery)

Writing Lessons from the TV show Firefly

I’m not feeling too well tonight, so I thought I’d sit down and do a Firefly marathon, a lamentably short-lived TV show created by Joss Whedon. I’m a total geek about this show. Yes, I’m a Browncoat

But, as I started watching the opening sequence, ideas for a blog post itched at me. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this, but every time I find something new. This time, I guess because I’m hyperaware about writing right now,  I kept seeing examples to illustrate writing techniques. So I hit pause and came upstairs to do a little snippet so I could watch the rest in peace. Actually, that probably won’t happen because I could easily see this turning into a series of posts. Sigh. I know I’m not exactly breaking new ground by saying this, but, you know, I just feel the need to personally say it. Joss rules.

Think of all the lessons in writing you’ve read in the past. About how you’re supposed to start your story with action. Peak a reader’s curiosity. Make them care enough to keep reading past the first page. No backstory in the beginning. And then general rules for the rest of your novel, like make your dialog do double duty by illuminating aspects of your character. Misdirection. Establish your POV character. Give your POV character a voice. Establish your world, but without info-dumping. And on and on. Well, these are all present in the opening of the pilot for Firefly. Heck, if I was feeling better, I could probably tease out even more. And if I was feeling super-duper, I bet a quick search would bring up other posts that have already done this.

Anyway, below is the opening I found on YouTube, and if you’ve never seen it before (or even if you have), watch it and see these different elements of telling a story well:

1. Start your story right in the middle of action. Make the reader curious (but not frustrated). You want them to keep reading and your opening sentence should hook them right away. Your reader should also know who the POV character is and what’s at stake. What’s their immediate goal, etc. Firefly: can’t get any more action packed than starting with explosions. You also get a tad bit of worldbuilding, but without any sagging. Small clues show that this is not only a battle, but the uniforms and technology are slightly different, so you know immediately this isn’t from our current history. At the :30 second mark, our POV character rushes out of the craziness and when he reaches a bunker, takes control. Notice that his second line of dialog not only moves the plot forward, but reveals character: on finding out that they have no commanding officers, he doesn’t miss a beat and finds a quick solution to the problem. What does that tell you right away about this character?

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In Celebration of Ada Lovelace Day: Dr. Janet Whitson

Today is world-wide Ada Lovelace Day. Daughter of English poet, Lord Byron, she is often credited as being the first computer programmer. The United States Department of Defense named their computer program in 1980 ADA, in her honor. More about Lady Lovelace on Wikipedia.

Today, blogs worldwide are honoring her by picking a woman in science or technology to profile as role models for young women. I decided to not pick a household name, but instead find someone working hard in their profession and inspiring students. Through HER-stories.com, I found Dr. Janet Whitson.

Dr. Whitson is Associate Professor of Biology at Concordia University Nebraska. She has published research articles, her main focus being Alzheimer’s disease (specifically the beta-amyloid protein), traumatic brain injury, and ischemia. Her favorite brain part is the hippocampus, and all of her research has been focused on this area. Plus, you gotta love that she’s a geek at heart, quoting Star Wars. I admire her for not only her academic achievements, and her mentoring of students, but that she’s also helping other women through her monthly column at HER-stories.com.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Research Can Add Rich Detail: The British Museum

Left to Right: Montagu House, Townley Gallery and Sir Robert Smirke‘s west wing under construction (July 1828)

My main character works at the British Museum in present day, but finds herself in 1834 London. I thought it would be fun for her to visit the museum while she’s in 1834 to see her reaction.

When I wrote my first draft, I knew I needed to do research on the museum, but waited until I was polishing my third draft. I wondered if the current building was even around in 1834, and sure enough, it wasn’t. But, it was right during the time it was being built. It took some digging to find out which wing was built when, and which was yet open for the public, but I discovered that in 1834, she would be visiting the previous museum’s lodgings, Montagu House. The British Museum’s website has some very helpful history posted. This initial led me to many more on their history, with photos and drawings, and even a history of each wing.

My NaNoWriMo Dilemma

It’s October! There’s a chill in the air (yes, even down here in the Kingdom of Mobile) and I’m starting to get anxious as this means the craziness that is NaNoWriMo is looming closer.

I owe a lot to NaNoWriMo. Up until 2009, I’d tried writing, but I was so paralyzed by my inner editor I could only go in tiny spurts and then abandon projects. I was so self-conscious at the keyboard my creativity had shriveled up into a little ball of whimpering goo. Until about a couple of weeks before November 1, 2009 when some fellow Jane Austen fan fiction writers asked me if I was doing NaNoWriMo, and I’m like “NaNooWhat?”

I went to the site and thought it would be impossible to do. I’d never even come close to that kind of word count in one day, much less strung together. I also had nothing to lose. No one was going to come hunt me down and put me out of my miserable existence if I didn’t finish.

So I did it. And 30 days later, I finished! I’d actually done it! It was a great sense of accomplishment, but more importantly, it taught me tons about writing that has stayed with me. Lessons like making your creativity come to the fore and making your inner editor be the one in a little ball of whimpering goo. Take that Inner Editor! Seriously, I think that’s the biggest benefit of doing NaNoWriMo for a new writer.

Of course I had to do it again, so during October I let some ideas simmer and this time I finished my goal 3 days early and so kept writing to the end of the 30 days and past until I finished the first draft. This is the project I’m still revising.

Hence my dilemma. I had planned to participate again, no question. I had planned to have my current draft done by October so that I’d have a whole month to think of and plan out my new novel. I’d purposely been squishing any curiosity about what it would be about, afraid to interfere with my current work. But, I haven’t finished this draft. This is why I have a dilemma, because I have that type of personality that gets enthusiastic about something to the point where I’ll ignore other things. Right now, that energy is on my current project. I know that if I even start teasing apart a kernel of an idea, it would be like Pandora’s Box and I could kiss my enthusiasm for my current one goodbye. I’m really close to finishing, but I’ve been saying that since July.

Okay, am putting it down here, that I have until Monday night to finish. That will still leave me more time than I’ve had the last two years. And maybe I’m more of a pantser than I thought I was. I hadn’t planned out anything before, so why this year? I guess I thought I’d experiment and see if it’d make my first draft a little more manageable on the first go.

Perhaps I also need some distance from this project so that after November is done I can come back to it objectively and in a business-like manner. I could then spend December on it while the new novel sits percolating, ready for me to pick it back up again in January. Sounds like a plan.

Anyone else in the same position with NaNoWriMo? Do you like to take October to prepare, or like I’ve done the last two, come up with the idea days before and just run with it?

Tips on how to wrestle your draft into shape

writing
Photo by Rae Grimm (bloodylery)

Okay, you’ve finished your first draft and you’ve done your happy dance (that’s obligatory, BTW). Congratulations!

You take the advised week or two away from your draft and then come back to it and do a quick read through. And it sinks in. You have a pile of *%&^# on your hands and you’re overwhelmed on how and where to start.  (Wait, you didn’t feel that way?) Here’s what I did because that’s exactly how I felt. I’d written my first draft in the 30 days of NaNoWriMo and it wasn’t pretty, folks.
 
First off, take a deep breath. You Are Not Alone. I think it was Stephen King that said his first drafts were stinking piles of you-know-what. Take that to heart. No one will see your first draft. It’s OKAY. That’s where revision comes in.
 
So, now you’re staring at the big stack of paper (you did print it out, right?) and panic starts to seize you. It’s too much! I can’t fix this whole thing!
 
Relax. Don’t look at it that way. See it as fixing it piece by piece.
 
1. Hopefully when you did that first read-through you wrote done your gaps in logic, things to fix, plot holes and the like.
 
2. Now go through and for each scene (not each chapter, each scene) and write it on an index card. I like colored ones where each color represents the POV character. On that card write a sentence or two about what happens and the main conflict (here’s where you find out if you didn’t have any conflict!).
 
3. Lay these cards out on the floor, or a huge table if you have one. Try to find a place where this can stay in place for a while, because this is your big picture and boy does it help.
 
4. Now take your revision notes and write out new cards for scenes that need to be added and put them in where you think they should go. Mark them so you know they still need to be written.
 
5. Take a look at your cards and see if the order really works. Do you have too many slow parts next to each other? Too many high action scenes next to each other?
 
6. I also now print out a blank calendar for the time period of my novel and write in the action that takes place each day so then I can see if I’ve got things happening logically. This will really help you see if you have time lines skewed. Or that you have things happening on s Sunday that wouldn’t work, etc.
 
7. Do anything else that makes sense to help you see the big picture. Make maps of places and settings that you use, that kind of thing. The point is to take a step back and see the big holes so that you can fix them at this stage.
 
8. Also take a look at some of those cards. Especially the ones that had no conflict. Can you add some tension or conflict? No? Can it be tossed?
 
9. Now take those new cards and write those scenes. Rearrange on the computer the scenes you shuffled around. Now print it out again and go through marking that sucker up with all the changes you marked on your notes. Don’t worry about making this the final draft. It’s just this draft.
 
10. Type all these changes in. Now, here’s where I deviate a little from what I’ve read about this stage. I found I was still overwhelmed and so what I did was buy a 3-ring binder (it eventually grew to 4 total) and some numbered tabs (plain white for me) and then I printed out my draft in segments: each scene separate. Then I placed each scene inside its own numbered tab. Not each chapter, each scene.
 

Revision of Ending Complete, Or, be thankful for pushers

writing
Photo by Rae Grimm (bloodylery)

After much gnashing of teeth and hair pulling and Funyun consumption, I finally strapped myself down in a chair and got some emotions out people. Lord, was that hard.

As I blogged yesterday in Struggling with Revising the End, this was hard for me. I was resistant. It was like someone was trying to force vegetables down my throat.
I typed in some changes here and there over the weekend and yesterday moved a whole chunk around, but then I realized what I needed to do. Print the dang thing out. Sometimes I just can’t revise on a computer. So I took the printout to the little sunroom off my library and with paper and pen scribbled away. This accomplished something else: it kept me away from compulsively checking Twitter, etc.
Finished and had a long talk with my mom after, who’d read Why I’m Happy My Mom Hates the Ending… and felt reaaaaalllly bad and I told her NO, I want honest feedback. I have to have someone I can trust for that! Anyway, typed in my revisions and with the thankful help of my awesome critique partner Susan at critiquecircle.com I finally got it wrangled into shape. I sent her my new revision and thankfully she said nope, still not there, keep pushing, dig deep. So back I went, etc. until she gave me a big smiley face. Whew! Oh, and I got a “good job babe!!!!!” from my mom (who, thankfully, is a Tough Cookie and not your typical ‘good job, dear’ kind of Mom). Double whew!
This back and forth led my critique partner Susan to message me this morning wondering if we’d ever be able to learn to push ourselves, because we’ve both been good at pushing the other. I don’t know the answer, but I honestly hope I’m never at that point. I want to be pushed. I think there’s a danger in not allowing others to push you. What do you think? Do you have a pusher?

Struggling with Revising the End

writing

Photo by Rae Grimm (bloodylery)

Earlier this week I blogged about Why I’m Happy My Mom Hates the Ending… because it means she’d been emotionally engaged enough to be totally pissed at me for flubbing the ending.

Now I know why I flubbed it. Endings are hard. Writing emotions is hard. Both together?

Looking back, I remember that I’d totally skipped even writing it on the first draft. Second draft I wrote one of the scenes but skipped the other. And then once I finally wrote all of it, when I was revising my third draft and going over each scene in the whole draft, I kept flipping past these last ones. It was like, once I’d written them I really didn’t want to revisit them.

Now that I can no longer ignore it, it’s been funny watching myself procrastinating since Thursday. And boy am I good at that. Oh, I really need to refresh my twitter feed, it’s only been 30 seconds. And yes, I really do need to identify more of my friends on Picasa. Jeez.

Friday between my bouts of Procrastination Gymnastics, I managed to insert about six lines to help show Isabelle’s mental state. And then I had a great idea about how to make the ending work and went to bed to let it stew.

Yesterday at work I’d gotten a little bag of Funyuns as a snack and it wasn’t a big bag and it left me unsatisfied. So, on the way home I bought two more little bags and a can of dark chocolate covered cashews, hoping this would be incentive enough. Even though I had a new twist to punish my heroine further, I still procrastinated. Broke out the Funyuns. Munch, munch. Still procrastinating. Finally made myself write out this emotional awakening only to get to the twist and realized that logically it wouldn’t work, argh! I still like the twist so I’ve been brainstorming how to make it work. Will make myself write it today. I’ve got one more bag of Funyuns left.

Whoever said writing Romances is easy I suspect hasn’t really tried. Writing convincing emotion is not only extremely hard, but it’s also draining. At least for me.

Anyone else struggling with their ending?