How Important are Characters? Look at Downton Abbey

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My daughter:  “How was the final episode of the season for Downton Abbey?”

Me:  “pretty much like the entire season. Boring.”

Her:  “why did you watch it then?”

Me: “you know, costumes and scenery, mainly.”

Her:  “Do you think there will be another season?  will people keep watching?”

Me:  “yes.  People get invested in characters and want to see what will happen to them, regardless of how boring it gets.”

And that’s pretty much the long and short of it.  I love the visual eye-candy of Downton Abbey, but the stories have often been lame, especially this season.  Not sure why–there’s plenty of good “meat” here to investigate and there have been some good forays but not deep enough to really “say” anything.  Still and all, I tuned in each week mainly out of habit, wanting to know what happens next . . . .


Research for my current book

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I’ve been digging around looking for images of Washington, DC during the Civil War trying to figure out exactly how “busy” the town was.  How many out-of-towners were hitting the streets?  Were people camped out in town, like in the mall area or on the grounds of the capital or White House?  Were all the regiments camped out along the edges of the town?  I’ve had trouble finding just generic pictures of Washington during these years.  Lots of images like this one–the capital at a distance with the dome shown under construction.

Writing historical fiction is challenging.  How to set the scene and create the “feel” of the time period while remaining true to both facts AND the story line/plot of the piece.

Add to that the challenge of writing in first person, and I’ve been struggling this week with the book.

Despite this, I’ve kept my butt in the chair and kept writing.  On chapter 8 of 17 in the first draft.  Still haven’t thought of a title for the book or the series–

The Fault in our Stars: First Person Perspective

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I read The Fault in our Stars this week as part of the research that I’m doing about books written from the first-person perspective.  I’ve not written from this point-of-view (POV) before and it is much more challenging then writing from the third person POV.

I googled something like “best first-person POV novels and not surprisingly, a whole list of Young Adult books showed up. Since this is my target audience–perfect!

I had read quite a few on the list:  the Divergent series and the Hunger Game series, but I hadn’t paid enough attention to how this POV looks and feels.  How do you, for example, set up quotations during dialogue?

I thought I’d tackle another book on the list–The Fault in our Stars.  Beyond looking for just the POV conventions, this was a great, smart read.  I was surprised by how many references there are in this book to literature and art–I started making a list and boy, it is long.  I thought I might put a guide together about the references so be looking for that in the upcoming weeks.

Like Hazel Grace in this novel, my character is 16.  But that’s where the similarities end.

Making good progress on the novel, despite work and other demands.  I’m into chapter 3 (out of 17) and hope to have a rough draft complete by the end of February and off to an editor and agent by end of March.

New Year, Deep Intentions

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New Year.  I’ve set some deep intentions.  In the wake of realizing that nothing happened in 2014–lots of talk, no action–I’m determined to see action this year.  While I started calling ’em “goals,”  I’ve now moved to intentions. Whatever.  I’ve written them down, pasted them over my desk, and I’m holding to them.  Well, gonna try real hard, anyway.

Even though I think I have flu or maybe strep, I decided I can’t let that slow me down today.  I’m bundled on the couch, working on the novel I started LAST January.  But I feel good about my progress.  I’ve got character sketches done, a lot of the preliminary research complete, and a complete outline of book.  I’m now filling in the setting sketches, making sure the setting and characters are deep, rich, and complex.

Why do I already have an outline of the entire book?  I downloaded Countour and started mapping out the book this time last year.  Now I’m kinda working in reverse, filling in the character and setting sketches.  This is a backward from how I’ve worked before but it feels good.  Things seemed to develop more naturally this way.  Worth a try, anyway.

This is  YA novel, set in the Civil War.  I plan to write one book for each year of the war.  Thought I’d write some about the process and my thinking here, just in case anyone is interested in this process as it is moving along!

The plan?  To knock this thing out by March and find an agent.

I am also going to go back and continue to work on the second book in the Elizabeth Ryan series and get that out on Amazon.  Be looking for that in the first half of this year.

Folly?  Maybe so.  But I’m determined that come December 31, I won’t be sitting here feeling like nothing was accomplished toward my larger life goals.

How about you?  What do you have planned to accomplish in 2015?

Thinking about 2014

4th of July fireworks

4th of July fireworks

I read Leo Babauta’s post on Zen Habits yesterday.  It’s about his successes and failures in 2014.  Of course it got me thinking about what kind of year I’ve had.  It’s that time, I guess.  I’ve seen a bit of this already starting around on the blog o’sphere.   People taking stock.

My problem is that I don’t think I had a single “success” all year.  There’s nothing I can point to and say, “yes, that makes me proud.”  I think that’s one reason I’ve felt so burned out.  The distance between my desires and expectations and the actual output has been enormous.  This is weighing heavily on me because, let’s face it, I’m middle aged.

I like to pretend that it’s not true–that 45 is the new 25–but such is not the case.  I’ve got a grown kid and my baby is in high school.  Midnight feels LATE.  I look in the mirror and wonder who that is looking back at me.  Sigh.

So I figure I’ll write 2014 off as a holding year.

And lay out some specific goals for 2015 so that when I get to this time next year, and another year closer to 50, I’ll be able to point to two or three things that I’m proud of accomplishing.