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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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

~1~

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.

~2~

Swing social tonight! Very exciting.

~3~

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.

~4~

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.

~5~

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

~6~

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.

~7~

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?”

“Yes.”

“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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Photo of the Week: Webs

–Creepy crawly warning–

I tell you, readers, aversion therapy and systematic desensitisation (effectively soft, tiered aversion) work. No, I’m not saying that as a Psych Major student – I’m saying it as a Psychology student using her knowledge in the real world.

Even five months ago you would not have seen me post a photograph of a spider on the blog. Let alone take the photograph myself. On seeing them settled on webs in passing bushes, I would have zipped up my jumper and shrugged up my collars instead of stopping and admiring the patterning on their abdomen, let alone stretching my arms, and, more importantly, camera, towards them.

I still have a trepidation of spiders. I still flinch when I see them and would rather not have them in the room. I am not, however, as (literally!) petrified of them as I have been my entire life.

Webs_AlexB

And for those who don’t mind studying the photo: there is something about the way s/he is balanced so delicately, one can really start to notice the intricacy and elegance of these, uh, critters. They make a fine web, even when not on coke. (Fun internet fact: the first Google suggestion for ‘spider webs’ is ‘spider webs on drugs’. Seems most people have heard of the experiments by now.) I am no biologist/entomologist, so I know nothing about the way a spider goes about its activities, but it is interesting to see the way this one sits of the web, all hairy legs splayed. Makes one wonder how many flies have been caught or will be.

All this points to the fact that the natural world is beautiful, even if it can be creepy. I think one day I might be able to properly handle medium and big sized spiders, but, for now, I will have to work on dismissing the fear.


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Ready. Set. Write! Update 11/8

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman.

I’m back on track after my holiday, and have lots to natter about, yay!

How I did on my goals last [two] week:

1. I’d like to write another 10K for ‘H’, even though CampWriMo finishes this week. Finished Horology at 73K. I’d aimed for 80K, but I suspect I’m missing some necessary description and I’ll have to deal with the pacing, perhaps. I might add a bit about the antagonist creating a code for Cathy to crack before she finds her kidnapped fiancé. At the moment, it seems a bit “oh, it’s probably there”.

2. Dubai holiday. Catch up on reading. Yes! Finished Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Ha, bet you didn’t know I was reading that. Actually, nor did I – I started when I first bought the book about a year ago, but abandoned it for books of which I didn’t already know the plot. But I was moving stuff about as I readied to go on holiday, and I realised I had the urge to read on.

Also finished reading The Iron Wyrm Affair, and that’s some fine storytelling and voice. I’d use a similar voice for my third person works if I didn’t know a début author would struggle to get an agent with such untight prose*.

On Saturday, I finished Soulless by Gail Carriger. In fact, I read about 20% of it (according to Kindle) in 2-and-a-bit hours. Though now I feel kind of copy-cat with the fact that Horology has its final show-down in a laboratory, with, you know, operating tables, instruments and everything else. I didn’t copy, promise!

Look – I even have Tweet proof of my first thought after finishing. xD

soullesstweet

So true. I have a bit of a [surprising] weakness for innuendos and *ahem* naughty scenes. ;)

My goals for this week:

1. Edit Of Jackets and Phones, in particular chapters thirteen and fourteen because they’re a little messy. *hmmph*

2. Polish and send chapter seven of OJAP to CP.

3. Start writing out my fantasy-horror crow short story. Plan accompanying scarecrow short?

4. Write more of NA uni romance (that I said I wasn’t going to write in the summer anyway :P)?

5. Send out another query for WTCB? I’ve sent four already for August, along with the three I sent in the middle of July, but I don’t know how many more to do without feedback. I jump between believing in my first three chapters and then going “why is this not awesome!” :(

Favourite recent paragraph from my WIP:

This is from what will be the first or second scene in my NA uni romance. Inspired by the atmosphere of my first year at university, it looks at Jess’ experiences with being away from home, as well as dealing with a difficult affection**. But I don’t want to start with the MC drinking, because that’s kind of cliché, so this might be the first scene instead.

“Why did you let me drink so much?”

Swiping them in an arc from her bed, her knuckles brushed a foreign shape on the bedside table. Plastic. Bumped. Heavy enough that it was full… Feel by feel, Jess’s mind came online. A bottle of water. Good. She snapped it up.

“You’re telling me.”

Megan sounded as if she’d swallowed a glass rather than drunk from one.

The biggest challenge I faced this week:

Writing this is a slow start at the moment because I’m having trouble adjusting back to contemporary after spending just over a month on alt-history fantasy. It doesn’t help that I keep calling Jess ‘Cathy’, Horology’s MC. I mean, I want to write it, I’m still excited about the concept – and indeed, I did a good 1000 words yesterday, in the midst of bowling! – but I start actually writing and go mehhh. I don’t know, sometimes I just can’t be bothered, both in writing and life in general.

Something I love about my WIP:

On the other hand, I’m editing OJAP and it’s going well. I was trying to raise the wordcount by about 2K and my additions are well on the way there, despite how much telling I’m deleting. The great thing about a murder mystery is that adding the wordcount is easy – from tying every line of thought together to slipping in distractions and subtle clues.

I’m also reading a biographical book about Agatha Christie, so that’s helping me build a better sense of mystery and red herrings, despite the fact that book1 of the trilogy is not the archetypal Christie whodunnit (that’s book2. Book3 is more of a thriller).

Found this on Pinterest. I love it :D

Found this on Pinterest. I love it :D

 

*My own aside: This highlights the main issue I have with writing Steampunk: the problem of voice versus tight writing, because, as you might know, a lot of 19th Century voices use adjectives and elaborate, unnecessary sentences and syntax. In Horology’s first draft, I have 37 instances of ‘quite’, though a fair number of those are in dialogue as my MC expressing restrained agreement:

…she’d quite forgotten she had an access through the night-twisted asterism…

Her scream fell a second after her, quite the Penny Dreadful comic sound.

**I never use the word ‘crush’. I find it demeaning of emotions.


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Experiences With a New Phone

Hello. Your Wednesday post comes via YouTube in the form of my latest vlog, where I spend seven minutes talking about the ups and downs of my new phone, the HTC Windows phone 8S. Don’t ask me about specific classifications; I don’t know. I’m not here to be a modern technologist, but to provide some insight into the life of a working writer and fan of the archaic rather than the modern. I didn’t mention the phone’s size in the vlog, but mobiles are so massive now that they worry me. We don’t need to widen our screens and still not fit all the ‘app’s on. We simply need to remember a mobile is a phone, pure and simple.

Plus, you get to hear what a paragraph of my new short Cavendish Mechanics sounds like when it’s narrated by the robot of a notepad app. For this, I suspect this has been my favourite vlog so far to record/edit. The amount of voices I put on is something of encouragement for future projects.


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Ready. Set. Write! {Goals}

I’m jumping in to the Ready. Set. Write! writing intensive that starts this week*, hosted by Katy Upperman, Alison MillerJaime Morrow, and Erin Funk. Whilst I’ll be dropping in and out due to commitments and NaNo, RSW allows me to quickly create and update goals for my writing this summer.

*You may have noticed that the updates are on Mondays, so Tuesday will become my new Photo of the Week day until RSW is completed.

 

My Overarching Goals

1. Complete and submit my short story/novella <Unnamed Steampunk>. Also, come up with a neat name for it.

2. Finish reading over the summer at least three of the books I’ve started reading this year.

3. Complete another round of tightening of NA Fantasy Romance When the Clock Broke and try to make the first three chapters more appealing. Post to Absolute Write for critiquers of world building and the like.

4. Make progress rewriting YA contemporary mystery, Of Jackets and Phones, to make it Beta/CP-ready.

5. Complete July’s CampNaNo with the first draft of ‘H’ and at least start NA contemporary uni romance, Under the Carrington. These two are itching to be written right now.

 

I am way too ambitious, judging by the overarching goals, but I’m hoping that the weekly goals will help me cut my ideas and into sizeable chunks. And that I can still maintain regular blog posts (and a hint of a social life…) in the meanwhile.

My main goal for this week is to finish the first draft of <Unnamed Steampunk> and begin editing.

 

If you want to join me, just pop over to one of the host blogs, grab a button, and leave your link and you’re go to go! The headers for the goals next week are:

1. How I did on last week’s goal(s).
2. My goal(s) for this week.
3.  A favourite line from my project OR a word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.
4. The biggest challenge I faced this week.
5. Something I love about my WIP. 


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New Adult: Weak Women are Awesome, I Trust Plebeian Wisdom, and Lizzy Bennett Matches My MC

In between my panicking that my MS isn’t actually the genre I say it is, and vlogging about such things too, I stumbled upon the Wikipedia page for New Adult fiction (turns out that Wikipedia lists it as ‘New-Adult’ with the hyphen), which I had been looking for at the beginning of my foray into understanding the genre.

Now, I don’t trust Wikipedia, but, for the same reason that it takes the knowledge of everyone across the world, I appreciate its simple opinion influenced by the readers more than the writers. Plebeian wisdom, one might remark.

One paragraph under the ‘themes and issues’ section of the page remarks that, whilst there is an overlap with YA themes such as bullying in NA (I’m looking at you, page one of manuscript), there are NA themes that are entirely separate from YA:

“Some common examples of issues include: first jobs, starting college, wedding engagements and marriage, starting new families, friendships post-high school, military enlistment, financial independence, living away from home for the first time, empowerment, loss of innocence, fear of failure.”

Wedding engagement and starting new families is at the core and stakes of my novel. I asked one Beta what she thought one of the themes was, and, instead of ‘love’ as I myself expected, she said ‘family and loyalty,’ which is, in fact, totally true of the book. Financial independence and living away from home for the first time – check, on both Aidelle and Phillip’s sides, but especially Phillip’s, since he protests that he doesn’t want to rely on his inheritance, but yet struggles to get away from it when Rion uses it as blackmail. I’m not going to tell you whether or not Phillip decides on financial independence at the end.

I’m also going to argue for ‘empowerment’ and ‘fear of failure’ as being checked off, too, this time from Aidelle’s perspective.

I don’t write powerful women. I believe that they have become an expected and overdone trope in writing, making them unrealistic of real life. I’m not a strong woman, nor, I bet, would many of my female friends say they were if I asked them. A lot of women are going to break down when they hear their pacifist fiancé is going to war instead of marrying (‘military enlistment’ – check). I can’t find the blog at the moment, but I recall to mind a blogger who argued that Bella’s depression when Edward leaves her is totally justified. I say that maybe it’s not compatible with how she’s acted before (or maybe it is. I hated Twilight from the start.), but it makes sense. Emotionally.

Some NA women are weak. Some can’t control their temper and do burst into tears at love’s loss (yes, I fall into this category). However, this doesn’t make them bad characters unless they’re badly written. For instance, over at the Notebook sisters blog, Mime talks about how Disney women are not the pink-dress-wearing damsels about which many complain. She points out that, although, in the first movies, the princesses needed men to rescue them, this didn’t make them weak. They had other qualities, as shared by most women, be they modern-day, Victorian, or a combination of the two in my alternate universe.

Yes, Aidelle is the younger of the MCs at 20, but, because of the nature of the class system in The Continent, she’s been sheltered by her middle-class parents, who want only for her to enter into a good marriage. She’s stubborn, but not strong. She agrees to meet the man who has chosen her for marriage – and little do either realise that their temperaments are a perfect match, even if Aidelle was Phillip’s ‘worst’ wife-card out of his second Selection.

Aidelle says she’d rather not marry – and, yet, as soon as she falls for Phillip, she wants to be his bride. So much so, that one might call her a flighty fawner when we meet her in chapter one.

“Oh, to be wed at the age of twenty!”

At that point in time, failure for Aidelle is the failure to achieve her biggest dream of being Mrs. Costello. I don’t think Aidelle was ever afraid of being a failure to conform to her family’s ideals, even if she did agree to them. Sometimes, one has to say yes to the demands and protestations of family.

One of the arcs I hope is clear in the novel is that Aidelle has got to learn to separate her desires from her fear of failure, to learn empowerment as her own, unique person, rather than being a) the daughter of an Oil Physicist or b) Phillip’s wife. Pretty much her only options in 2010. Through meeting and experiencing the future in the character of Zara (who, whilst not entirely at the dreadful level of real-life feminism, lives in a more balanced society), Aidelle must realise that she has more to herself than what she looks like or who she aspires to be in mente.

Her current self, regardless of weaknesses, should be a state of empowerment. Full stop.

download (2)Moving topic, I was day-dreaming about Pride and Prejudice’s take on the way the absence of love can physically affect the body (as a Philosophical Psychologist would, right? :P) and it occurred to me that Lizzy is, after all, 23 at the beginning of the novel Just looked this up, and she’s actually 20. My MC is the same age as Lizzy Bennett and she shares her regency attitude and overbearing girls-must-marry mother (and her loss of love…), though maybe not so much her wit or patience!

*cough* Anyway, I was about to remark that, along with many classical books, one could consider Pride and Prejudice as being New Adult because of the age-range of the sisters, the ideas of friendship within society and that of independence versus the requirement of a husband for success.

Lastly, I do not believe NA is a marketing scheme. Many of us had been writing NA for years before it became a ‘thing’. I was 5 years younger than Aidelle and Lizzy when I started writing, but it’s taken me a good three years to understand that their story/ies are not YA, even if the themes of moving out and moving on may be like those ideas of YA. When I queried when my MS wasn’t ready, I didn’t know about NA so I queried as YA – though, in my heart, I knew it didn’t fit.

Whilst some NA has been recognised by the industry now, I still argue that it needs more attention and importance as a category. Its themes are difficult to really encapsulate in YA and some degrees of adult fiction. The biggest problem, however, is the subjectivity, and I suspect it will be this way for a while.

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