Miss Alexandrina

The thinking-space of a not-quite novelist


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.


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?


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.


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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7 Quick Takes about Grabbing Some New [Text]Books, Overflowing the Scores, and Doubling the Extract!

Please join us for this week’s 7 Quick Takes, hosted by ConversionDiary.

7 quick takes sm1  7 Quick Takes about podcasts, getting back into a routine, and asking your radio guests to fold your laundry


I almost skipped today’s Quick Takes because I’ve been so busy with academic stuff that I’ve barely had time for momentous things that are worth talking about. So excuse any possible dry writing on this post.


Swing social tonight! Very exciting.


I was on a book-buying spree this week, but sadly none of the fictional variety. I got my uni-sponsored book-token to work this week, so I nabbed a couple of course books. Ones I’d actually (that aren’t, you know, so textbook-y) recommend: Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic if you can stomach some of the philosophy terminology, and Lyas’ book detailing the thoughts of proponents of philosophy’s aesthetics theory. Aesthetics itself is a fascinating topic for someone like me.


I have so much music to learn that my chamber choir folder is overflowing with scores, everything from random Christmas carols that we don’t know what we’re doing with yet to the Elgar and a full score of the aforementioned Duke Ellington jazz numbers. The remnants of my cold, however, have settled on my larynx, and yesterday’s rehearsal was marred by the fact that my notes are, at the moment, predominantly breathy, something away from which I spent years training myself.


I did very little editing, and of OJAP, this week, because I prioritised getting my critique of my friend Jo Wu’s first chapters to her, and, apart from that, I have actually had to do uni stuff. :P


Writing. You get two sneak previews today, you lucky things! This morning I was going to give you my week’s measly work, but then I got inspired in my Cognition lecture this afternoon. I didn’t have to include both, but I wrote the beginning of The Rain Scene, one of the scenes near the end of the novel and a major turning point for Laurie and Jess’ relationship. It had be included as a weekly extract of Under the Carrington, and you may see why. Totally unintentional.

Modern recreation of the Stoa of Attalos. Photo by Emma

Modern recreation of the Stoa of Attalos. Photo by Emma



The way his smile had a stupid effect on hers, making it melt right out of her face. She was pretty sure her brain had followed suit – the world was the drug-fuelled level of sensible hazy, and she hadn’t had a drop to drink for almost a week.


She ducked out of the person’s range, but, after hovering to a stop, the umbrella remained. It tilted, Jess blinked the water from her eyes, and Laurie’s grin emerged from the rain, the Cheshire Cat in the tree.

“Laurie!” Jess sighed with relief. Her heart continued its rumba beat, but now she didn’t mind. It staved off the rain’s chill.

“I startled you?” Laurie asked. “I’m sorry.”

He huddled closer under The Carrington’s awnings, and Jess curled her fingers into her palm. What was that about not going after the reps? Despite the moments she stopped herself from looping her arm into his, she wouldn’t stop the sincere warmth that made itself known in her chest. The day’s emptiness carried a bare blip when he stood grandly beside her.

“Were you walking back to Wellington?”


“Allow me.”

It took Jess a whole moment to comprehend, but Laurie extended his bright yellow umbrella between the two of them.

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The Collective Series Blitz


Today I’m part of the blog blitz for The Collective series by Stacey Nash, one of the amazing ladies over at the Aussie Owned and Read blog. The Collective series, published by the HarperCollins imprint Impulse, is a YA Science Fiction series about advanced technology, hidden organisations, and a fierce teen heroine. Stick around for the giveaway at the bottom! Without further ado:

eCOV_ForgetMeNot (2)Forget Me Not

Collective #1

Anamae is drawn into a world which shatters everything she knew to be true.

Since her mother vanished nine years ago, Anamae and her father have shared a quiet life. But when Anamae discovers a brooch identical to her mother’s favorite pendant, she unknowingly invites a slew of trouble into their world. They’re not just jewellery, they’re part of a highly developed technology capable of cloaking the human form. Triggering the jewellery’s power attracts the attention of a secret society determined to confiscate the device – and silence everyone who is aware of its existence. Anamae knows too much, and now she’s Enemy Number One.

She’s forced to leave her father behind when she’s taken in by a group determined to keep her safe. Here Anamae searches for answers about this hidden world. With her father kidnapped and her own life on the line, Anamae must decide if saving her dad is worth risking her new friends’ lives. No matter what she does, somebody is going to get hurt.









eCOV_RememberMe (2)Remember Me

Collective #2

When all is lost, she must remember…

Anamae Gilbert managed to thwart The Collective and rescue her father, even though his mind is now a shell. Determined to stop Councilor Manvyke hurting her family again, she’s training to become an active resistance member and falling hard for resistance fighter Jax Belfry. But things never sail along smoothly – Manvyke wants retribution and Anamae’s name is high on his list.

After a blow to the head, she awakes in an unfamiliar location unable to remember the last few weeks. She can’t believe the fascinating new technology she’s seeing. She’s the new kid at school, and although weapons training comes with ease, something feels off. Why does the other new kid’s smile make her heart ache?

And why does her gut tell her to run?










DSC07453 (4)Stacey Nash writes adventure filled stories for Young Adults in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. She loves to read and write books that have a lot of adventure, a good dose of danger, a smattering of romance, and KISSING! Hailing from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, she loves nothing more than immersing herself in the beauty and culture of the local area.








There is a giveaway for a $10 Amazon gift card & swag pack. I haven’t worked out how to embed giveaways into WordPress, so here’s the link instead:


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Alexandra and Christophe Short

Just the start of a piece, which I wrote during creative writing society when we looked at script-writing. As I tend to do, I used the prompt of taking characters I already have and working on extrapolations of their life. The only constraints we had were two characters alone and to have ‘actors’ be able to act it, rather than a narrator reading the [stage] directions. It was meant to be a screen-script, but I think my play-script background crept in and it turned into more of something that would actually stand alongside the play of A Game.

As it’s unlikely you know much about the novel, this is set five years after the events of A Game of Murder. If you’re following Downton Abbey, feel free to imagine a young, French Bates and Anna, though I created these characters before those two existed on TV. That’s all I’m saying because the piece is meant to stand on its own, even when it provides new information for me, such as the name of where Alexandra works and the aftermath of the final chapters of A Game.


1935. A small dining room with red fleur de lis walls. Alexandra strolls around the central oak table. She carries a fine silver tray from which she is placing down a knife and fork at each table-setting. Occasionally, she slips a timepiece-and-chain from the front pocket of her grey smock.

The door at the other end of the room opens. Christophe walks in, eyes scanning a thoroughly-creased piece of paper.


Is she here yet?


Mrs. Winters is keeping an eye out by the gate.

Alexandra sighs and pauses deliberately to throw down a fork. She’s reached the final place-setting at the head of the table, and that closest to Christophe and the door.


Darling, you shouldn’t have to do that.


And who-else will in my absence? After the last kitchen maid left, none have even considered Coventry Hall. “A cursed house,” I hear them say at the market.

Christophe seizes her hands, and the silver tray bangs to the floor.


Well, I’m still here.

Alexandra reclaims her hands, but holds her gaze for a second longer, before kneeling and retrieving the tray with a flourish.

On the white-stone mantelpiece to their left, a square clock chimes midday.


I’m running late. I should return this to the pantry.

She makes her way to the door, but Christophe extends a hand. He catches the small of her back, and she flinches.


What have you to be afraid of?


I’m not afraid.

Still, she doesn’t face him. Christophe watches her.


I see.




You’re thinking “how can a mother do that to her own child?”.

Alexandra’s shoulders drop. She rotates slowly, as if on wheels, and lifts Christophe’s hand from her.


I don’t condone what the young mistress did – how she acted – but for Mrs. Winters to turn her own daughter to jail… I couldn’t.

They stare at each other for a long, pregnant moment. Alexandra breaks the hold, and keeps her eyes from his, whilst her cheeks flare.


Right. Pantry. I should go.


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Is Peter a Favourite Character Because of His Role?

A thought in essay-form for the fading threads of your day.

I was reading back through my old notes, in general, and I came across a plan for an old blog post about Peter’s Jungian role in WTCB. Now, since last year, I’ve not had the chance to study Jung and his archetypes in any further depth. As such, I’ve not set about ‘assigning’ archetypes to any of my other characters, though they may be reflected through their own personalities and the way they have been portrayed.

Why Peter, though? Peter is a likeable character and, surprisingly, a hit with CPs. I mean, he tries to do the best for everyone, but he also has his own desires, so I can see why my under-20 readers have come to relate strongest to the twenty-year-old anxious lover-boy. Conversely, I am coming around to the theory that Peter’s depth comes not from his backstory or his character development through the story, but from his extranarrative role, where, in short, I posited his position as the subversion of the Old Man archetype.

Peter is the only character with such an visible expanded archetypal position in WTCB. Certainly, the family Costello, as the only Continental family we visit in the constant timeline/universe (as her certainty is in flux, I don’t count Zara’s family), have a massive extranarrative role to show the experiences of the upper-class in a time when they were beginning to lose popularity and coin…and, in part, the favour of the their offspring. In the same way, each Costello brother in Phillip’s generation has a role by necessity, even Stuart with his place as noble eldest brother (though one can tell he would rather strive away from this).

Of course, Peter’s being a Supporting Character gives him an advantage of using an archetype; he’s allowed to sneak between the lines, and he doesn’t automatically draw attention to himself, something which characters being obviously a pointer towards a role or the theme pulls readers out of the story and makes them uncomfortable. Instead, Peter’s role is one towards Phillip, not towards the actual reader.

This shows another point of favouritism in reading and writing – ‘creative license’ apply more to the reader than the writer. Often – or regardless of – a writer’s hints or passages of theme and role-typing characters, readers are the ones to create their own assumptions and derivations of what the writer has given. In the end, a writer, despite what it may seem, has little say over how the character ‘acts’, in terms of reception. Sometimes even villains are born out of lefthanded remarks. Certainly, that’s why I did not discover how deeply Peter affected my readers until after I had received critique and notes.

So, whilst we mustn’t shoehorn characters into stereotypes without better reason, a lot of great books or plays or films (etc) use a template from which to expand and change a character’s depth. Much modern fiction, might suggest that we cannot use roles in fiction any longer, but modern writers like JK Rowling have shown this is not true. Whilst Dickensian [self-]referentials and prefaces are out of favour with readers, the subtlety of character roles subverted or twisted still stands as a way of deepening a character and their world.

Other WTCB characters with possible roles:

Aphrodisya Vallente – this vindictive socialite has it out for Aidelle before and at the beginning of WTCB, and she could well fit into the idea of the scorned lover, though she also portrays a side of the upper-class which is less considered: that of those who are moneyed but still face unfortunate times. Whilst her family is possibly better off and as known as the Costello family, she still has failed to win the marriage of the best bachelor around. I hope to one day write the short about her great niece’s experiences at the dawn of the Iuanian/Dieselpunk era.

Octavia Costello – she has a tender side to her, due to issues she had during her pregnancies, but the Costello matriarch also reflects the Mrs. Bennett character that falls through literature sometimes: that of a deranged mother who aims for what she thinks the best is for her children.

Tia Carnassus – although in WTCB, her role is a minor one and one of sacrifice that must be made, it is important to note her position in the world, both metaphysically and literally. Like many of the downstairs characters in Downton Abbey, Tia plays to the role of the young servant who thinks s/he knows better than the life into which she’s born. As the final book in the trilogy reveals, though, she also takes the form of another archetypal literary role.

Essay-style questions to think about:

Does it make sense to talk of Peter as an archetype?

How is Peter’s role as a secondary or ‘supporting’ character affected by his archetype as the Old Man subversion?

Are Peter’s actions defined by his role? Or is his role a feature that moves with his actions to shape him?

Does the existence of universal or acknowledgeable character roles bring depth to literature? Or a stilted paradigm to which one has to read and write?


Beautiful People Linkup – Villains Edition: Christine

I totally didn’t forget about Beautiful People this month. Nope, that was not me xD. So, here’s a slightly later linkup than usual, on a Saturday because I realise next Wednesday is no September of this world! (It’s hard to believe it’s already soon October!) Meme by Notebook Sisters and Further Up and Further In.

I was very tempted to consider the antagonist of Horology, but I’ve put that book aside for a few months whilst I edit and hone my other books. For a completely different reason that I know a lot about him already than I want to (The Continental world is full of secrets I’m not willing to myself find), I’m staying away from WTCB’s antagonist, the infamous Rion Costello.

Instead, I’ve chosen to talk about someone who’s not been mentioned on the blog all that much. Granted, she’s not a central character in Triangle, my woman’s fiction/contemporary romance, but she is certainly one of the most malicious characters in the first two thirds of the book.

“You need to find yourself a woman who is as equally temperate and dull. Andrea and I were searching for excitement. You need a girl who likes simple things: reading, popular music, trekking.”

Christine Taunton

1. What is their motive?

Christine would say that her ‘motive’ is enlightening Andrea to how dull Keith is as a lover. She doesn’t mean to be sharp, but she doesn’t really have a filter between mind and brain.

2. What do they want, and what are they prepared to do to get it?

What Christine wants is to be sufficient – she has a weakness for glitter and good living. To get this, she’s not afraid to hook up with someone she doesn’t love – as long as he keeps buying her things, and entertains her. She hates being bored.

3. How do they deal with conflict?

By spiteful comments, certainly. When her ex turns up at her mother’s health appointment, for instance, Christine’s not afraid to give him a piece of her mind.

4. Describe their current place of residence.

Christine’s current home is a comfortable, mid-range white-walled bungalow just outside town, which she bought after her mother began forgetting housework and struggled on her own.

5. If they were writing this story, how would it end?

Probably the same way as it is. Although she is, as I say, malicious, Christine gets what she’d call her happy ending (until an inevitable divorce, I suspect).

6. What habits, speech patterns, etc. are unique to them?

Christine has a habit of tossing her hair over her shoulders, even when she isn’t wanting anything. She also has slender fingers, from playing the violin in her youth, which she occasionally rubs together.

7. How do they show love? What do they like to do with/for people they love?

She shows love by lavishing gifts on her friends and family. Though she can also show love through affectionate touch – if she cares for someone, she’ll touch their arm or comfort them. She also makes a mean cherry clafoutis.

8. Do they have any pets?

Nope. Christine looks after her mother and that’s a handful enough.

9. Where would they go to relax/think?

To relax, she watches movies, ‘chick flicks’ mostly, like Love, Actually and Pretty Woman, though she has a weakness for Miss Marple and cosies (but the popcorn doesn’t taste as sweet then). She likes sitting in those precise Japanese gardens.

10. What is their weapon of choice? (FYI: words, eyes/looks, and fists count as weapons too.)

Stilettos? ;) Her words are her most hurtful of weapons, but I wouldn’t vote against her removing her shoes and digging them into an attacker/rapist.

So that’s Christine for you, one of my lesser ‘villains’, but a woman with a temperament as hot as fire and twice as sharp. She’s contemporarily mean, but, like all the best ‘villains’, she’s not afraid of redemption.


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