Saturday, 29 October 2011

Who Is Mary Sue?

A recent illuminating post from The Writers Vineyard  mentioned a term I had not heard before. The “Mary Sue” heroine" is a female protagonist who is overly-perfect and lacking any flaws. The 'too stupid to live' girl.

My heroines don't quite fit that profile, but my novels are set in a more formal time and I cannot portray them as foul-mouthed, stroppy madams who defy every convention, consorts with whom they wish, and insults everyone as the mood takes them. Women who behaved so in the 1880's, unless they were very rich widows, would have been social pariahs, gossiped about, ostracised and possibly locked away from the world by their fathers or husbands.

In my last novel, I gave my Victorian Miss a conventional, if sheltered upbringing, a pliable nature and the belief everyone's life is like a fairy tale. More Jane Bennett than Scarlet O'Hara. As the story progresses, she begins to make sense of the world around her and how it works, learns that life is not a straight road, nor an easy one for some and no one is perfect. She grows a backbone and consciously decides to stand up for herself, rejects her cad of a future husband, tells the man she loves he is wrong to marry anyone but her - and thus alters the course of her life.

However, according to my reviewer,  her character growth is apparently irrelevant, and the tirade on 'spineless heroines' stands as a major flaw of the novel.

How do we get it right?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Promotional Blogfest Today

For someone who always finds promoting their own work difficult, there's a bit of help being organised today.

The blog of M A Leslie is holding a Blogfest for authors, where anyone with a novel to promote can sign up with a link for where to buy your books - the key being to get the word out so I am doing my bit here.

All you have to do is to click here: Blogfest and add your link to the list, then circulate the blog page to everyone you can think of. Also, write a post with some blurb about your book and with any luck, readers as well as writers will drop by to take a look at the list. The more books there are to talk about, the better.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Realistic Ambition or False Expectation?

During one of my 'can't write' days, which are cropping up with monotonous regularity lately, I came across a blog offering writing advice - OK I Googled under 'I am a failed novelist' but that's how I feel today, and I found I am not alone. The following are 'reasons' I discovered in various articles and blogs.

This writing thing is starting to get to you 

Yup, and all those comments like,  'What are you writing now?', when my last novel came out THREE Days ago!

Yesterday, you thought you were the next big thing. 

Um no,  not really, but I was hoping to appeal to a niche set of readers who like the past as much as I do, sell a few copies of my novel and have a reader sent me an e-mail saying how much they enjoyed the story. Is that too much to ask?

Today, you wonder if you have any talent at all 
Precisely - I read and re-read my manuscript, tweak, alter, delete, modify, look at it from a different perspective and it still reads like a telephone directory!

Good writing takes practice, just like anything else. Don’t expect too much of yourself, too quickly.
But I was more enthusiastic, committed, confident and willing to learn when I was writing my first and second novels - now the more I know of the technical aspects of writing - I just think I'm rubbish!

You’re forcing yourself to write something specific
Well yeah!  Without a story arc, rounded characters and a plot that progresses the story with every scene, the book won't float - specific is what it is about!

You might be writing in the wrong style or genre?
Um no - historical fiction is the only genre I feel passionate enough to write about - but you could have a point with the style thing. How does a writer alter their style?

You’ve let criticism cut to the heart. Each fresh rejection convinces you — at least for a while — that you shouldn’t be wasting your time.

Yeah Ok, I'll gloss over that one even though it's the actual heart of the matter- and I am still bleeding!

Whenever the going gets tough, you give up. If you never feel the sting of rejection, you will never feel the drive to improve your writing.

I have to disagree with that one, it's praise, mentoring and encouragement that keeps me going. Ripping holes in my self esteem just pushes me deeper into the 'I can't do this!' pit I have been digging for myself.

You’ve allowed other things to get in the way of your writing time.

Actually yes. I spend hours on my laptop, having flung myself into several blogs, critique groups, review sites etc and all my time seems to be spent doing those instead of the actual hard slog of writing and making my embryo novel the best it can be. I need to re-focus.

Have you overloaded yourself on social commitments? 
- I shan't answer that or I shall degenerate into gibbering hysteria - an outing for me is a trip to the supermarket!

You might find, like many people, that early morning can be the most productive period of your day. 
Uh no, I am at my most creative at night, but how can I type until 3.00am with a sleeping husband beside me. If I turn over he wakes up and demands to know where I am going!!  As for staying up after he retires - forget it!

You haven’t finished what you’ve started.
Not true, I have four published novels and another three finished ones on my hard drive - It's No 8 I cannot summon the enthusiasm to even plan out, let alone actually write. Because what's the point?

You haven’t spent enough time reading. 
I refute that one too, the review blog keeps me reading all the newest releases. There are some lovely ones I wish I possessed the skills to write, but there are also plenty that are crass, boring and two dimensional - surely mine aren't as bad - are they?

Writing is an art, but it also involves skills. Study those who have mastered these, read books on writing, research, find a mentor, join a writing group. Give yourself time.

- I do all the above - but feel more and more that the maxim 'You can be what you want to be' strikes me as a completely false expectation. Maybe, no matter how hard we try, not everyone can push through the curtain of mediocrity. That way lies only disappointment - and I must learn to accept my limitations.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Trencarrow Secret Released as Audio Book

Trencarrow Secret has been released this week by Iambik Audio Books, another innovative Canadian company.  The manuscript is read by Ruth Golding, whom I think conveys the era and characters beautifully with her lovely rich voice.

Ruth says:

The characters are well-drawn and I had no difficulty in visualising them as I recorded the book. I particularly enjoyed recording the indomitable Aunt Margot, Isabel’s widowed aunt, and Isabel’s brother-in-law Walter who does, oh does so enjoy his food. All in all, a book that I think you will enjoy.
No violence, sex or swearing – makes a pleasant change! :)

Iambik are also running a 1st Birthday Contest, and win a chance of winning a title of your choice.
Trencarrow Secret Chapter One
Ruth Golding's Blog:

Friday, 7 October 2011

Can't Write - Need More Coffee?

Beginning a new book comes with an all consuming obsession to get into the heads of my characters as I guide them through the scenery and lead them along a path where facts and historical details emerge to paint the scene.
Once the outline is completed, I 'live' inside the story, constantly writing dialogue as I drive or walk to the shops, creating characters' reactions to events, simultaneously unwinding the film in my head that is their life until it becomes so real, they begin writing their own story.

More than once I had a character who had died before my novel began, but in my efforts to make that person real to my readers, he kept insisting he needed his own voice. He won, of course - his voice was stronger than mine.

Then I reach the second and third draft, and suddenly the enthusiasm dims. Persistence and the slog of editing turn an adventure into a chore, where honing each plot device into succinct chapters that progress the story gets progressively harder. The computer screen isn't blank any more, but the text no longer has any impact and my changes begin to be just that - change for the sake of change. I can always write rubbish - and often do. It's the pithy, characterful, clever insights and crisp prose I aim for which is so often elusive.

Sometime my characters will fight me, and although their actions are what I want of them, they remain bland and uninteresting while carrying them out; like a teenage musician who doesn't want to perform, but cajoled by the adults grudgingly consents, only to go sullenly through the motions.

What can I do on days like that? I have decided - nothing - I  have to accept it and move on, and hope tomorrow I will be able to produce prose-filled pages that sparkle and flow with colour and life.

Need more coffee........