Miss Alexandrina

The thinking-space of a not-quite novelist


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Beautiful Books: Plotting UTC

Instead of the usual Beautiful People meme, this month Cait and Sky decided that, because next month is NaNo, they’d focus on Beautiful Books – and the three key elements of plotting (this month), writing, and *shudder* editing. Whilst I’m not doing NaNo, this is still a little of an opportunity for me to talk about my WIP.

What came first: characters or plot idea? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Plantser, for sure ;) For me, it’s always plot ideas that come first. I have so many blurb/query ideas that never make the face of day because I don’t have the time to fish out characters and flesh the plot-bones.

Do you have a title and/or a “back-cover-blurb”?

Yes, the story is Under the Carrington. I started shaping its conflicts from a query I came up with for it, which has some of the elements of what one might call a back-cover blurb – the characters, the conflict, the plotsters…

What wordcount are you aiming for when your novel is finished?

I was originally going for 55 – 60K, but it depends what the overall stretch of the book looks like in the end, and what I feel like doing with it once it’s in proper shape.

Sum up your novel in 3 sentences.

(Here’s one I made earlier!)

18-year-old Jess would find it much easier to stay away from her cute uni corridor rep Laurie if her father’s antiques shop didn’t rely on Laurie’s parents’ money for its much-needed boost. At first he’s as cold as the ancient stone walls of Wellington College, but the colder the weather gets, the warmer Laurie’s affection for the eccentric young archaeologist becomes. Their attraction comes with a price, though: Laurie’s occupation as a Wellington committee member.

Sum up your characters in one word each.

Jess: self-doubting

Laurie: reserved

Ceriwyn: fun-loving

Meg: energetic

Anais: unassuming

Gus: logical

Nicola: old-soul

Russell: dreamer

And many more… (I hope you liked my crazy formatting to change things up a bit!) I love how my two main, point-of-view characters are pretty serious – I mean, Jess has a sense of humour and she has a bold external personality, but a lot of her scenes/conflicts end with her being very contemplative – but their respective Supporting Characters, Meg and Ceriwyn, are typically extroverted and not afraid to say what they mean straight off. It’s a fun mix of a cast.

Which character are you most excited to write? Tell us about them!

I didn’t originally intend to write in dual POV, but then one chapter started unfolding from Laurie’s point-of-view, and I find I can write him better. I just get his mindset better than I get Jess’ and the way some of his syntax is naturally upper-class, due to his nurture.

Laurie’s the son of a successful CEO and an actuary. To say his home is a mansion would be an exaggeration – since it’s barely a manor. It’s big enough, though, considering that Jess lives above a shop in the city. His family – or, rather, his mother – has enough money for Laurie to have become entwined in that money-is-priority-dependent mindset, despite trying to start earning his own. However, money comes with a price, and Laurie’s trust levels are lower than socially acceptable, one would say. Oh, and he’s a 21-year-old second-year Historian. I should say that, considering that the plot surrounds a uni!

What about your villain? Who is s/he/y, and what is their goal?

I have no strict antagonist (and shame on you for assuming that every genre relies on a physical villain for conflict). Of all the characters, who are all malicious at certain points of the story anyway, Laurie is probably the most antagonistic, but not in a verbal way, just in a conflict and varying-opinions way. Russell also gets in the way of Jess’ main goal, though that’s more her own fault, and neither of them intentionally have cruel acts. They’re all being contagonistic.

What is your protagonist’s goal? And what stands in the way?

Jess’ goal is, publically, to get through her first year of uni and learn enough to help her father run his antiques shop. Her private goal is to gain the friendship and admiration of Laurie, as well as those of the other people she has met and will meet. But don’t we all? It’s not a goal that stands out, but that’s what makes it so effective – Jess just wants to get along.

Life. That stands in her way. People’s stubbornness or the simple fact of their disagreeing opinions. And, you know, the fact that Laurie’s not willing to give up his job just for love of her. That sucks b***s, as Jess would say.

What inciting incident begins your protagonist’s journey?

Starting uni. It’s pretty simple.

Where is your novel set?

Present day: some university… I have no idea what or how I want to name the campus, so I’ve left it as question marks in my draft so far. It being a collegiate-campus hybrid uni (yes, these do exist!), a lot of Jess’ ‘downtime’ and personal interaction happens at her college, Wellington. Some jazz-club scenes take place in the main city, within walking distance of the campus; one scene (so far) is set in a cavern. Haven’t decided if this is going to be a real traversable UK cavern or not yet.

What are three big scenes in your novel that change the game completely?

The Costume Scene, where the tension between them erupts into a kiss that neither will later acknowledge.

The Rain Scene when Jess realises she can be friends with Laurie without being romantic, and Laurie realises that he might not be able to be friends with Jess without being romantic. It’s past the 75% mark and they’ve known each other for a good five months or so, but there’s that singular moment of clarity that throws a spanner in everyone’s works.

The Yelling Scene, where Jess does all of the hating on Laurie for being so uncompassionate in the midst of his parents’ divorce and of their own, personal situation. After that, she thinks she cannot stay around Laurie or in their college (and possibly the university) without things becoming painfully awkward. It’s a case of:

(I love that gif so so much)

What is the most dynamic relationship your character has? Who else do they come in contact with or become close to during the story?

Uh, Laurie. #romancestory xD

Apart from him, Jess really connects with a fellow Art Society member, asexual Nicola, who (hopefully) will provide a sense of balance between all of the pressures of the romances in the novel (yes, plural). They don’t become particularly close in the story, but Jess still values her help and opinions.

The dual POV means that I also have a set of friends whom Laurie knows, but we currently see a lot less of them.

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

Hopefully…she’ll have a better worldview by the end of it; she’ll understand that friendship is better than love being the be-and-and-end-all. Laurie has the most character development as he goes through his own emotional rollercoaster, topped off with the yoyo ride that is his repressed feelings towards his absentee mother (the poor boy had a nanny, for goodness’ sake!). By the end of the novel, he’ll be looking at his childhood and world-relationships with a greater eye.

Do you have an ending in mind, or do you plan to see what happens?

Oh, I have an ending in mind. I can see it fairly clearly, movie scene.

What are your hopes and dreams for your book? What impressions are you hoping this novel will leave on your readers and yourself?

I don’t know what my dreams are for this book. For it to be light, but also not superficial. Ultimately, it would be nice to publish it, but this one’s not one I have with big publishers in mind. In a way, the plot doesn’t matter enough for me yet, but I might get as attached to my characters as with OJAP, WTCB and Horology. I’d love to have a trilogy set in the same uni – for the sake that I have other ideas to be written.

I’m hoping my readers will be able to relate to my characters, even if not Jess or Laurie. Because it’s set in uni, this gave me the chance to write more underrepresented people, so I hope that there’s a greater scope for NA connection. Uni isn’t like starting school, but it has some of those familiar ‘feels’. Obviously, I want my readers to end up rooting for the characters, even if they don’t root for themselves all the time.

Thanks for reading! What are you currently plotting or writing? And, arguably the more important question, does writing a contemporary warrant the inconsistent theme in my use of gifs?? xD


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Photo of the Week: Earthy Luminescence

I am surprised, but I actually managed to capture the flaming top of this wonderful drink, aptly named the zombie, though Hallowe’en had nothing to do with it.

AlexB_ZombiedrinkIt’s cute, trying to be all manly in a special pint glass! This expensive cocktail is at a good, tolerable level of sweet – rather, in spite of its super- and sub-natural luminescence – and if you come across a Rynd bar in your town, I advise you to check it out. If you like cocktails and whiskys.

 


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Quick Takes About Going to Writers’ Support, Stumbling my Way Through Work, and Unupdated Spotify

It’s Friday, so please join me and other Catholic bloggers over at ConversionDiary.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about South Dakota, The Shoe Song, rap battles, and why I should not ask people if I can pray for them

~1~

As usual, my life and my evenings have been hectic, big and full of life. As it’s a Friday, I won’t be going out tonight. I might actually watch Lewis when it airs tonight. Or sleep.

Sleep is good.

~2~

We’ve got another open day tomorrow, where I’ll be working with our Quidditch team and Southampton’s to put on a bit of a show for visitors. Then food fun, because I’m totally an adult self who doesn’t buy pizza every week. xD Plus, I’ve got to work on my Hallowe’en costume. I’m thinking clockwork girl, which is easier said than done.

~3~

AJ Ayer’s linguistic phenomenalism is the focus of my madness studying. Urg. It’s really hard to be focused these days.

~4~

 To fill this nice blank space – a mimic of my mind, indeed – have an Abney Park video. I’m excited for their new studio album, even if Spotify is not yet up to date with their dieselpunky 2013 album Circus at the End of the World, which contains brilliant songs like The Anthropophagists’ Club. Yes, you read that correctly. Great song.

~5~

Although my cold was said to have disappeared into its dark annual past, I suffered the vengeance of a sore throat this entire week, which put such pressure on my chords that my head voice has been hoarse a lot. Sadly, I struggled in the beautiful random carols we’ve been looking at, but the Duke Ellington is going swimmingly my way.

~6~

Writing! An exclamation point because I wrote a thousand words today alone, even if the rest of the week was not so full of productivity. The president of the Creative Writing Society at Reading invited us to her ‘Scribblers Support’ group, effectively one of those sit-and-write meet-ups. Because of not sleeping well and being slightly sleep-deprived, I only set myself the goal of 500 words in an hour, but one I started writing, the fog cleared from my mind and I stayed on for another hour.

Today’s extract is from the first chapter, as Jess and her roommate Meg acclimatise to the rush of their college bar. I have officially bordered the chapter off – and, though it has a bunch of scenes, it’s shorter than I expected, word-count wise.

~7~

The swill of the new people settled on her skin like humidity. It suffocated her with heat and breath and pulse – and Jess had no escape but that of running from the bar. Retreat versus exploration. Bleh.

And the noise! More than anything else, the noise was a buzzer in her ear. Not the ring of perennial pop-songs from the jukebox – in fact, those managed to fade into a white noise – but the surge and lull of the passing people invaded her ears and spooked chills from her belly-button to the dip between her collar-bones.

She scratched it and eyed the girl across the table. Voicing that to Meg would be as easy as draining the contents of her glass, and perhaps a little more tranquil, yet—

Jess opened her mouth, then clamped it shut.

“What?” asked Meg.

Jess shared a smile with her. “Nothing. I was just—nothing.”

 

 


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Characters and Their Surprising Attributes

Sometimes characters traits appear random, especially from a retrospective point of view. Rion has one arm. Agnetha is claustrophobic. Charles is not as much a bachelor as the term suggests…

I swear I didn’t plan those things. Right now, as I edit, they are known and integral attributes of the characters, but I suspect that to begin with I had a conscious point in giving my character them. Though Rion’s arm is mentioned, and Agnetha’s claustrophobia makes her logical mind a mess of emotion, neither of these things are vital to the plot. They just happen to be those decorations and side-effects that come with having a three-dimensional character (I hope *crosses fingers*).

The thing is, I never intended for my characters to turn out that way.

I mean, sometimes those points arrive more due to closing one’s eyes to the characters beforehand. In my recent (ie. this year) rewrite of OJAP, I realised that both the DCI and Agnetha’s school-friend Vera are people of colour. In fact, Vera is gorgeous:

On the other hand, the point I’m raising today is when one knows there might have been a reason at the very beginning of a story conception for certain characters with certain features, but it’s been lost to the canon and myth. Isn’t that a fun phrase to think of? “lost to canon” *dreams*

Looking around the internet, you’ll find various posts and articles about character traits – some focusing on big commercial and popular fiction, eg. Disney and green-eyed villains; others with a view to the more subtle references that less-well-known authors make.  Sometimes we writers do that, slipping in references, ‘Easter eggs’ for readers to squee at. I’m not going to elaborate on that, since many others already have.

As a writer, though, I do wonder where some of those “lost to canon” ideas stem from. If they’re not vital to a plot, what is the point in having them in the first place? To develop a character. In the same way that we ask ourselves the silly questions: “what would your character have for breakfast?” In the same way that I know Agnetha “hates cheese and likes puzzles”, a facetious homage to me, though one that started as a joke and stuck. In the same way, Cait at NotebookSisters runs the monthly Beautiful People link-up to let us delve beyond what is needed for the people in our fiction.

Just as with worldbuilding, characters are icebergs. Luckily, they’re not going to hit you in the face with their surprises–uhh, don’t hold me to that. Mostly not. Often sometimes. Yes. Let’s just say that if a character reveals something to you whilst you are writing:

a) you’re not paying enough attention to them in the first place (see my point above about missing the fact my characters were better as POCs).

b) your writing’s going to be better off for it.

and c) you’re probably going to realise that the character was meant to be that way in the first place. Hence my first protestation that the character-icebergs you hit are very less likely to dent your story than fantasy-world-icebergs.

One’d think that once one comes up with these specific traits, assigns them and folds them into a character’s life, that’s the end of it. Well, maybe so – but I was hit by the thought that I have traits that I love the characters for, but never consciously assigned to them.

How does that crazy thing happen? I guess characters pick up these things and hit the ground running with them.

So, maybe, despite what I’ve said, it’s a combination of the writer understanding that something extra should be added to the character and the character bringing surprise to the world themselves.

Nevertheless, even if you never include more than a glimmering shadow of these traits, every writer should attack their first drafts with a green pen for character enhancement. Give them something quirky, regardless of the setting. Jess and Laurie are in the uni caving society. Aidelle makes tomato soup with sharp herbs and spices. Christophe reads poetry in his spare time. And maybe one day, you’ll look back at your work and forget, in but a blink, that these characters never had those traits, and they’ll become part of their original shapes.

Okay?

I have had that meme in my head these last few days.

What about you? Have you ever written character traits and then come back to them with no idea of their origins?


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Space Trains and Novella Ideas

(I was going to post this tomorrow, but I have work to do, it’s 11.30pm and I haven’t even written half of today’s planned post. So, you’re getting something I’ve already written today…)

Hello, everyone, readers and world.

I’ve been working on a draft blurb of a novella I’d love to write. Some of you Whovians might recognise the setting a little, but after Mummy let me down, I did say I wanted to expand on a similar setting with a proper steampunk edge. Plus the Mallard is less well known, but still an iconic London and North Eastern train.

Other than that, there have been lots of requests for steampunk not from the upper-class perspective, so I thought I’d try a view from someone whose position in the story is helped by her being of lower class, a la Alexandra in A Game of Murder.

Plus, Nell’s position was inspired by a new blouse I found. I love it.

WP_20141011_002

When Nell was accepted to serve onboard the English Mallard train, she didn’t anticipate Queen Victoria’s secret assignment – to travel into space.

It’s not the Mallard’s first journey, but it’s certainly leaning on being the train’s last. Forget projecting thirty passengers into the stratosphere with metric tonnes of steam – that’s the easy part – but something’s amiss amongst Nell’s customers. A princess of the Indes bought her way through the barriers, but she won’t share the dining car with the young orphan who won his way onboard, not to mention his benefactor who won’t leave their sleeping car and a New Order alchemist who only hears in colours. Nell’s role jumps from serving tea to impromptu nurse when one passenger wakes with scratches across their arms and legs.

Neither does that explain the locked cabin #34 or the miniature model of the train, pieces slowly disappearing.

Plus there’s a cute barman in an oxygen bar and I’m excited to write about the colour-blind synethesiac character. What do you think? Yeah, it’s all a bit here and there, but the concept is one I’m really interested in. I could do a lot with the concept of steam past the stratosphere and how steampunk characters would get around that. I suspect automatons may feature in some aspect, too. *grins*


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DOCTOR WHO Series Eight Review: “Mummy On The Orient Express” (Co-written With Alexandrina Brant @ Miss Alexandrina)

Alexandrina Brant:

As promised, a reblog of Engie’s official post of Mummy on the Orient Express review #2. It’s pretty overview-y, but we quote a few things and watch a few things, and, as usual, I say a lot. Enjoy. ;)

Originally posted on Musings From Neville's Navel:

Good evening! I’m a lizard woman from the dawn of time and this is my wife and I’m* reviewing the latest episode of Doctor Who, “Mummy on the Orient Express,” with Alexandrina Brant from Miss Alexandrina. She’s a pretty cool blogger and we have more than a few interests in common, including books, photography, and Quidditch!

*SORRY NOT SORRY. I saw my chance and I took it, all right?

P.S. You can find previous collaborative reviews of Doctor Who‘s eighth series here.

-~-

Alexandrina Brant is a second-year psychology and philosophy student at Reading University, England, which means she alternates between planning experiments and critiquing history. When not polishing her fantasy romance novel about time travel, she’s cosplaying steampunk, singing, and playing Quidditch for the university team. She has authority in writing this review because she’s River Song’s doppelganger, hair and all. You can catch her blogging at Miss Alexandrina

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Photo of the Week: Jazzomophone

saxomophoneGoogle

Reference for the title. Homer Simpson has no idea what a saxophone is. Here’s the actual photo – from the swing event. I had my actual camera, so I was being all artsy and messing around with the placing on this photo. The gold of the saxophone in the paler lights of the suite room really works, I think, plus the focus narrowed well.

AlexB_JazzSaxophone

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