Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Long and Short of It

Following close on the heels of the post about description in my books, I thought it appropriate to look to the masters and see what they have to say on the subject. After all, I am only an aspiring authoress, not a critically acclaimed writer. (Though you all are sweet and encouraging indeed)
I don't mean "the masters" as in the people who sit back and point fingers and tell you how you ought to be a better writer and show instead of tell and that sort of thing. (though that is often helpful) I mean the masters who are beloved authors and whose books are destined to last throughout literature-dom. :)
I will begin with a demonstration of How Not To Do It, by Sir Walter Scott, who excelled at lengthy descriptions:
"The human figures which completed this landscape were in number two, partaking, in their dress and appearance, of that wild and rustic character which belonged to the woodlands of the West Riding of Yorkshire at that early period. The eldest of these men had a stern, savage, and wild aspect. His garment was of the simplest form imaginable, being a close jacket with sleeves, composed of the tanned skin of some animal, on which the hair had been originally left, but which had been worn off in so many places that it would have been a difficult to distinguish, from the patches that remained, to what creature the fur had belonged. This primeval vestment reached from the throat to the knees, and served at once all the usual purposes of body-clothing; there was no wider opening at the collar than was necessary to admit the passage of the head, from which it may be inferred that it was put on by slipping it over the head and shoulders, in the manner of a modern shirt, or ancient hauberk. Sandals, bound with thongs made of boar's hide, protected the feet, and a roll of thin leather was twined artificially round the legs, and, ascending above the calf, left the knees bare, like those of Scottish Highlander. To make the jacket sit yet more close to the body, it was gathered at the middle by a broad leathern belt...."
And so on and so on and so on until you wonder whether you accidentally stumbled into a costume designer 101 class instead of trying to enjoy Ivanhoe. Now, do take care in my criticism, to remember that I count Ivanhoe as one of my favorite classics, despite wading through page upon page of trifling descriptions.
This technique, of choking the reader with superfluous finery was much used during the 1800's. I guess it is just a preference. There are cases when this can be used as an effective tool. Take the opening of Charles Dicken's Little Dorrit. He uses an extremely long description of the glaring sun at the Quarantine station in Marseilles to convey actual physical discomfort to the reader. I read this book in December, but by the end of the first few pages, I truly felt hot. :) Look it up. You can read the first chapter here:
I feel like Dickens used his length to good effect, while Sir Walter Scott dabbled too long and too far in bits and pieces. However, this technique of long-winded-ness, even if it does have a point, is looked down upon these days.
The general consensus is that less is more. Showing things instead of telling them. Adding the description here and there like hidden nuggets, instead of taking time to spotlight it in its own paragraph. Take this excerpt from Jan Karon's Out To Canaan:

"At the hardware, Dora Pugh shook her head and sighed. Betrayed by yesterday's dazzling sunshine, she had done display windows with live baby chicks, wire garden fencing, seeds, and watering cans. Now she might as well haul the snow shovels back and do a final clearance on salt for driveways."

Here Jan Karon told us what the window of the hardware store looked like while still having it move the plot along and tell us something...that it was still cold out. :) The only danger with less description is that the story can begin to feel as if it's happening in a void.
The third, and one of my favorite kinds of description is one that Charles Dickens uses a lot: that of unusual comparisons and word choices. Here's an example in The Pickwick Papers:
" 'Stand aside then. Now for it.' The boy shouted and shook a branch with a nest on it. Half a dozen young rooks in violent conversation, flew out to ask what the matter was. The old gentleman fired by way of a reply. Down fell one bird and off flew the others."
" violent conversation, flew out to ask what the matter was." Isn't that so clever? Dickens is definitely a favorite of mine. :)
Try out the various styles of description in your own writing and see what works best! Pair them up and find the best style for you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Marcella Grey"

Inspired by several different authors recently (including Louisa May Alcott and Katie, over at Whisperings of The Pen [Yes, Katie, how do you like being put in the same sentence as her?] ) I have been thinking I ought to write a very short story. I've never been much good at writing short stories...something about getting a plot and spinning out a plot in three or four pages never floated my boat...or at least, I've never found myself much good at it. But all things aside, I found that a short story would come despite my gripings. :)

I did not know what it would be before I began...I still do not know what The Scandal is...all I know is that it was the Duke's fault, and Marcella is innocent, though under suspicion. So you must read along and tell me what you think of the story, and what you think The Scandal is. :P I got rather interested in the beautiful, prideful Marcella Grey's fate. :) Oh yes. And sorry about the format...for some reason when I copy from Microsoft Word it double spaces everything on here.... Frustrating, huh? :)

“Marcella Grey”

By Rachel Heffington

“You simply cannot be serious!”

It was not a normal tone in which she said the words. Her voice thrilled with emotion—something indefinitely sorrowful and piercing that sent fingers of ice pulsing down the headmistress’ spine. Excess emotion from Marcella Grey was unheard of.

“I am quite decided, Miss Grey.”

Marcella clutched the polished arm of the cherry-wood settee until her knuckles shone white. This could not be real. Her position at Kensington School had seemed set in stone. Mrs. Breckenridge could not give her notice like this without good reason.

She drew as large a breath as she could over the uproar of her heart. “Mrs. Breckenridge, would you…would you mind telling me what the problem is? What I mean to say is, in what manner have I been unsatisfactory to you?”

The headmistress was by no means a clever woman, nor an interesting one. It is doubtful that an original idea had ever forced its way beneath her frilled mobcap and into her graying head. This question, put by the touch-me-not Marcella Grey, flouted the commonplace explanation she had prepared.

Mrs. Breckinridge folded and unfolded her lace-mitted hands and cleared her throat. “Miss Grey, it is not a question of your service being unsatisfactory. You are patient and talented, and the scholars had grown fond of you—”

“Than why, Mrs. Breckinridge—good Mrs. Breckinridge, please tell me! I have tried to please you.” The young woman’s dark eyes pleaded with the staid headmistress’ fishy blue ones.

“If the truth be told, Miss Grey, it has been brought to my attention…” She did not want to tell the truth to this girl who had the haunted wild look of a moorland hare about her usually complacent countenance. But Mrs. Breckinridge, in her fifty-year’s memory had never yet consciously broken one of the Commandments. Tell the truth she must and would.

“I have heard certain reports pertaining to a scandal…in which you…Miss Grey, were involved.” The woman drew back at the sudden fury burning in Marcella’s face. “Of course,” she hurried on, “I cannot ascertain whether the reports are true, but I feel it is in the interest of the pupils and the institution of Kensington School that you find a place elsewhere.”

The young school-mistress rose from her chair, pale and trembling, yet with none of the sign of her recent emotion. She had faded, like an autumn rose beneath the frost of the accusation. “I understand, Mrs. Breckinridge. If you will be so good as to send Lucien round with the carriage, I will have my things packed within the hour.”

A swish of Marcella’s skirts and Mrs. Breckinridge was left to the company of her muddled thoughts and lukewarm tea.

* * * * * *

Marcella passed a hand over her dark, simple bun as she mounted the stairs to her little garret room. So this was the manner in which she was to leave Kensington School. Why must suspicion dog her steps with such relentless persistence? If only she had never been born into her family. Then she could have lived till she too was a Mrs. Breckinridge with two and twenty pupils teaching the same dull lessons year after year.

No. She was never to have the normal life of a school-mistress. Why? Because of the father she had long yearned to forget, because of the mother she had loved with all the passion of a lonely child. Because she had once been Lady Susannah Marcella Chamberlain, daughter of the Duke of Chamberlain.

Marcella’s lips formed a bitter smile in spite of her worry. No one would guess that the simply dressed Marcella Grey was the dazzling Lady Susannah Chamberlain of the London season last year. Yes, she had enjoyed that life, that glittering world of parties and riches. She had lived, like the dolls in the glass-globes, in a beautiful society sheltered, as it were, from any outside troubles. But in order to make the glitter swirl around the doll, Marcella remembered, the globe had to be turned upside down.

And so here she was. A poor, virtually penniless school-marm who had just been “sacked” as the schoolgirls so eloquently put it.

Marcella opened the drawers of the ugly dresser and took her neatly folded things from their depths. These, with many a compression of the lips and a sound that just escaped being a moan, were deposited by Miss Grey in a trunk that looked as if it had seen better days.

Marcella stood and scanned the room with her eyes. The room looked just as it had four months ago when she stood on its threshold with a heart full of determined dreams. It had not been easy to forsake her heritage and stoop to being a lowly teacher at such a stodgy place as Kensington. But the scandal at home had necessitated such extensive changes—there it was again. Scandal. Ever present, ever haunting her life.

Marcella slammed the lid of her chest, then pinned her brown hat with the rose-colored ribbons to her head. Those ribbons were the only relic of Lady Susannah. A link, of sorts, to the old life. She checked her reflection in the mirror before carrying her trunk to the landing and locking the door.

Lucien would be waiting with the carriage. He was an uncouth upcountry lad, but he never looked at her as if trying to decipher the mystery of Miss Grey. He would not chatter and tell tales. And for that, Marcella was grateful. It had become a Kensington game, to guess what Miss Grey was, or had been, or hoped to be.

And to all the suspicion Marcella had been able to lock herself and her emotions away, deeper into the soul of Lady Susannah—until today. Why had she betrayed her tumultuous emotions in front of Mrs. Breckinridge? Her anger and pride only gave credence to the rumor.

Marcella stepped out the front door and hailed Lucien. He lifted her chest to the back of the wagon and helped her in.

“Is thee gooin oon a trip, Miss Grey?”

“Yes, Lucien.”

“Will thee be coomin’ hoom again?”

“Not to this home, Lucien, I’m afraid.” It took all of the Lady Susannah’s pride to admit her dismissal in front of a person who, a year ago, would have been miles below her station.

“Weel, I hoope thee hast a gran’ trip t’where e’er it is thee ist gooin.” And the mild Lucien tipped his hat before climbing up onto the box and starting the horses.

Marcella sunk against the seat of the carriage and loosened her gloves. She could waste no more time in memories or regrets. It was plain the scandal of Chamberlain would follow her to any respectable place she might find.

That was it then. She must go to someplace less respectable. Someplace the Lady Susannah would never set her dainty foot. With sudden decision, Marcella tapped on the outside of her window.

“To the city, Lucien.”

“Eh, Miss Grey? And wha’ can thee be wantin’ wi’ all them fine folk wha’ lives oop there?”

Ironical as it was, Marcella answered him with perfect candor. “I don’t know yet, Lucien, but I’d be much obliged if you would take me there.” She shut the window and let out a quivering breath.

Her nimble fingers, long accustomed to the pretty embroidery all gentlewomen excelled in, could not fail to find employment in the City. Of course she could not do the most delicate and skilled work, for the beautiful stitches and dainty patterns would give her high station away as quickly as if she had “Lady Susannah Chamberlain” on a twist of paper pinned to her bodice.

No, the plain sewing would have to do. She would rent a shabby apartment in a dingy part of town and hem cravats and put tucks into skirts for fine ladies if it killed her. In a few years’ time she might advance to opening a shop, or at least working around town as a seamstress.

The thought brought a wave of memories to Marcella’s feverish mind.

In the old days, the Lady Susannah had been an acclaimed actress among her glittering salon. How many times had she read Scott’s poetry aloud by the hour, or taken the leading roll in the quaint parlor charades and plays that had beguiled the long winter evenings? The first time she played the part of a poor and lowly young woman, they had all laughed. What a joke, that the daughter of the Duke of Chamberlain would take such a roll!

Marcella had forced herself to study the part of the hardworking and piteous woman until her audience no longer laughed, but shed tears instead and thought, with complacency barely ruffled, that perhaps they ought to send a basket round to the numerous poor in the neighborhood.

But of course the next moment the beautiful Lady Susannah stepped from behind the curtains arrayed in gorgeous satin, her dark curls held back with jeweled pins, and the brilliant company clustered around her like so many moths in the light of a lamp.

Yes, Marcella smiled at the memory, and a new sense of power filled her breast. If the Lady Susannah Chamberlain could play a beggar, Marcella Grey would have to try.

There need be little study to play the part. No costume, save Marcella’s own brown woolen dress. No false tears, for they would come on their own, despite her attempts to reassure herself.

It was the one talent Lady Susannah had possessed that Marcella could claim out of the brilliant inheritance she once held. She must act as she had never acted before and make the whole world believe that Marcella Grey was all, and only what she appeared to be.

So....what do you think of my first attempt? :) ~Rachel

Friday, July 29, 2011

You Know You're a Writer if...

You know you're a writer if....

You walk around with a dreamy smile on your face and forget what a person said to you three minutes before...

Your facial expressions while writing are so animated that your sisters gather around to watch you like a movie-screen

You unaccountably burst out laughing at random moments because you recall something funny one of your characters said

Everything that happens to you gets stored away in a brain-file marked: "Use In Story ASAP" :)

Anything and everything reminds you of your story

Your sister has dollar bills stuck in random books...the best thing you can find (and what could be worth more?) are a couple of forgotten poems or a discarded plot idea between the leaves of your favorite novels.

You irritate other people by speaking of your characters as much as some people speak of their beloveds :)

While out in public, random characteristics about people attract your attention and you can't stop watching them

You scour phone-books, gravestones, and other unlikely places for stunning names

You use the backspace key nearly as often as the vowels on the keyboard

You have a mortal fear of Microsoft Word crashing.

The disease you are most afraid of catching is Writer's Block

Writer's cramp frequently visits your fully expect to be arthritic as an old person

You have a strange ability to carry on a conversation and work on your novel's plot problems at the same time

The word "publisher" and "editor" are love/hate words for you. The one you think you'll never find, the other you'd like to avoid altogether. ;)

You spend spare moments gazing out windows, and never feel as if you've wasted time while doing it

You were shaking your head ruefully and laughing at yourself by the end of this list. ;)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tastes of My Descriptions

I have been re-reading James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing, and especially reading over the chapters on description. I am trying to expand my descriptive powers in Puddleby Lane, giving myself license to be poetic. :) In writing The Seasonings, I had assumed that paragraphs of description was not good writing, but some of my readers kindly pointed out that they felt like the story was happening in a void. British East India could be a vivid backdrop for a story, but I wasn't describing anything. So I had to do a lot of rewriting in that way.All that to say, I thought I'd share some of the descriptive spots in Puddleby Lane. Tell me what you think! :)

"She loved their neighborhood. The quiet, tree-lined streets and roomy houses felt so…secure. There might be wars and famines and strife anywhere else, but it never reached Beaumont Street. Even the normal city sounds hushed at the red stop sign on the corner. Cora and Tucker often walked to that stop sign and listened to the murmur of life coming from downtown. It was a hum, almost like that of a beehive when you approached it. But turn your back to Main Street and step round the corner and all was immediately as silent as a Sunday afternoon. Like my life, Cora thought. Adventures happening everywhere else but tip-toeing around me so I hardly know they’ve passed."

"Maggie’s white hands fluttered over her immaculate coiffure, smoothing the dark wings of hair until they shone like the polished cherry-wood of the armoire."

"It was such a quaint little room, Cora thought. This room didn’t belong to the rest of the house, almost as if it was an afterthought. One would never notice it upon entering the house. They would first have to find the shabby little staircase beside the Hoosier cabinet in the kitchen, then make their way up the three crooked turns. At the landing they would see the green door with the porcelain knob speckled with tiny strawberries and could enter Cora’s garret."

"A wistful smile hovered over Cora’s lips as she fingered the feather pen. Of course she knew writing with a pencil would be far more practical—she could erase mistakes. But there was something stimulating in the scratching of the pen’s nib. It liberated her fancy and the words flowed freer. A pencil humped along like a bored snail but an ink-pen skimmed the surface of the paper like a gull winging above the ocean waves."

"Old pain nipped at Cora’s heart as she mentally listed the events sculpting her life thus far. The first one that came to mind was, of course, The Accident—she always thought of it that way, in capital letters. Cora closed her eyes and hugged herself. She wanted nothing more than to be able to forget that dreadful day forever. Why couldn’t the memories erase themselves? The minute details imprinted on her mind—Grandmother Lesley’s cold eyes, the texture of the blanket Cora had hidden herself under, the smothering heat the day of the funereal—why couldn’t she forget them?"

"Cora heard no more. She only saw Maggie sink into the armchair and cover her eyes with one hand. Underneath her fingers, still red from the dishwater, Maggie’s face was as white as the lace on her collar.

'Maggie, Maggie, what’s wrong? Don’t look like that!' Cora put Dot down on the carpet and shook Maggie’s shoulders gently.

Her sister laughed and sobbed hysterically. 'Cora—oh Cora! Frank just invested every penny we owe in the stock markets last week. We’re ruined. Absolutely ruined.'

Ruined. The word tolled in Cora’s swirling mind like a death knell. Ruined. Ruined. Cora crumpled to the floor beside Maggie and took her sister’s free hand in both of her own. 'Shhh…There, there, Maggie. It can’t be as bad as it sounds.'

Could it? Cora tried to steady her thoughts. Tried to grab a straw of reality in the garish nightmare around her. Something normal and tangible. She fingered the hem of Maggie’s apron and averted her eyes, unable to look at Maggie’s frightened face. But neither could she bear to be ignorant of the worst. Cora forced herself to smile and stroke Maggie’s cheek, keeping her eyes on Maggie’s. She must be strong—it was frightening to see her sister falling to pieces like this. 'It’ll be all right, Maggie. Somehow we’ll be okay.'"

"Whistling a popular tune, Cora ran across the street and was soon submerged in the full swing of downtown. True, the line at the soup kitchen was longer than usual, and the stores were not nearly as crowded as before, but things were not so staggeringly altered as they had been that dreadful Tuesday. In fact, Cora thought, one could ignore the changes perfectly, if one wished"

"Cora turned to view every angle of her garret one last time. She threw the window open and let the cold air nip her cheeks as she took the view in with hungry eyes. Then, closing the window, Cora walked the perimeter of the room, running one hand along the faded willow-green paper. Here was the corner where her hump-back trunk had held honored court with the squeakiest floorboard. There was the door and another corner, with the little squares on the old rug that were still bright where the bed-posts had harbored them from curious rays of sunlight. Another stretch of papered wall with holes where tacks for hanging pictures had been and the corner her desk had butted up against. Then at last the third corner with slanted roof, the alcove for her dressing stand, and the round window hard by.

The places were all there, minus the furniture. But already, Cora thought, the house was forgetting them. 'Don’t love someone else better than you did me,' she whispered. Her words hung in the silence of the room like a puff of breath on frosty air. Cora turned, stepped out the green door, and forcing herself to not look backward, took the three crooked corners of the stairway down to the kitchen."

“ 'Come on, everyone.' Frank pushed his family toward the train-car and Cora found herself swept along in a surge of boarding passengers.

She grabbed Tucker’s belt-loops and held on till the other passengers had shaken themselves into their seats like a box of cracker-jack emptied into a bowl.

Frank, Maggie, and Dot were at the other end of the car. Cora took careful steps around belongings and hampers, purses and brief-cases as she walked toward her seat. At last she stood before the bench, a couple rows in front of Maggie’s spot. Rust-speckled metal trim edged the armrests and window ledges. A stiff, red corduroy pillow braced itself in one corner as if it was accustomed to constant jolting and crushing beneath harried passengers. "

"She stepped onto the platform and stamped toward a bench. Her sturdy travelling shoes made a clunking sound as heavy as her heart. This was such a different place than she had thought it would be. Frank said their new home would be in a seaside resort town. She didn’t see any sign of the fabled Chesapeake Bay. She may never have seen an ocean, but she knew good and well you couldn’t hide such a large body of water. There, on the wall beside the ticket window, was a wilted advertisement promising good food and better lodgings at the Floppin’ Flounder."

"They turned right at a giant live-oak tree and the train station with its scarf of wax-myrtles was hidden from view. Cora ceased staring out the back of the wagon and craned her neck toward the front to see past Frank’s broad back. She rose to her knees and held Dot’s hand with one of her own. Despite the oddities already associated with the new home, Cora’s heart fluttered like a jar full of fireflies, the excitement blinking in and out like their fairy-lights.

Would Puddleby Lane fulfill any of her imaginings? Would it be a place with character or merely another beach cottage?

Ann Company turned her red-head toward Cora. 'Miss Cora, if you’ll jest look over that dune there’s the bay you were so all fire for seein’.'

Cora wobbled to her feet and clutched Frank’s shoulders to steady herself. She had to be the first to set eyes on the fabled Chesapeake Bay. Would it be everything she had always imagined?

As the wagon lurched over a rise in the sandy ground a broad expanse of sapphire blue met Cora’s eyes. Joyous, white waves crashed onto the beach and threw spray into the air like confetti at birthday party.

'Oh, oh Frank.' A single tear slid down Cora’s cheek and she wiped it away, laughing.

'What? Crying, Corie?'

Cora shook her head and filled her chest with the brisk sea air. The briney smell tickled her nose, quickening her pulse. The bay was everything she had hoped, and more. Cora fastened her eyes on the gorgeous blue water as if she was a starving child staring into a bakery window. She would never tire of the majesty crashing onto the beach in every wave, the power barely contained by the bounds of the sandy shore.

Tucker grabbed her arm. 'Gee Whiz, Cora! It’s bigger than I thought it’d be.'

'I’ll say.' What had she expected—a farm pond? But that didn’t matter now. She would gladly stay at Puddleby Lane for the rest of her life if it meant she could gaze upon this sight every day.

Ann Company looked over her shoulder, her hands holding the reins of the cart lax. 'Do y’like it, Miss Cora?'

'Like it? Why, it makes me want to laugh and cry and run and sing all at the same time.'"

"Three houses, each quainter than the one before, nestled against the red-clay bluffs. An unusually wide beach stretched from the front doors to the edge of the water, two-hundred yards away. A few sandpipers scuttled across the sand, leaving cross-stitch tracks in their wake."

"Ann Company slapped her knee. 'Air y’ready to see your house?'

“Oh, yes!” Maggie curtsied to the Captain and followed Ann Company out of the little garden, her pumps sinking deep into the sand.

Captain Boniface strode after her, his long blue-clad legs eating up the space in a very few steps. 'Frank has his hands full. Allow me to give you my arm, Miz Williams.'

Cora smiled at the old-fashioned gentility pervading the Captain’s demeanor. He placed Maggie’s arm on his own and led her along as if he mistrusted that she might not break. Cora dropped behind to the back of the line and clasped her hands in front of her, strolling along at a leisurely pace. The Captain’s navy-blue pea-coat harmonized with the hue of the sea and sky. Long shadows from the bluffs stretched their ragged hands toward the water of the bay as the sun sank behind them. Cora shivered. A fire and a nice cup of tea would be heaven."

"Frank swung the gate open and motioned for Cora to step through. She ran down the path, her eyes fastened on the door of this adorable yellow house. This was Puddleby Lane, and her new house. She already loved it, and everyone she had met in the last hour. Her boots tapped brightly as she took the porch steps two at a time. A pewter knocker, fashioned in the shape of a morning-glory vine, hung on the face of the door. Cora inserted the key in the lock and turned it. The bolt slid back without the least resistance, as if to say, 'We haven’t any secrets here at Puddleby Lane.'"

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Best Of Writing Buddies :)

"One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste."
"What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate."
- Katherine Hepburn

"There are four basic food groups: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate truffles." - Anonymous

Ahhh....three unbeatable companions for a writer....and I got all three for my birthday. :) Who are your alibis in this area of inspiration-helps? ;) ~Rachel

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Saved, by a Splash of Genius. ;)

Well, all at once another writing fit swept upon me and Puddleby Lane is saved for the time-being. ;) I re-read it, found it was not at all as bad as I had left it, (that's what a nice break of a month or two will do) and I was so excited to start writing again! :) I love when that happens and I walk around with a silly smile on my face because I'm thinking about what will be happening next. Actually, the chapter I'm working on right now is really fun because I get to describe Puddleby Lane and the three houses on it, as well as Cora's first sight of the Chesapeake Bay, and her meeting with Ann Company, Flounder, and the Captain. :)
Writing can make me ridiculously happy, at times, and tormented at others.
I seem to pick contrary things (and people) to love. My favorite characters are always the black sheep in the family or the naughty children, my favorite animal is a cat, who everyone knows is the most selfish, self-absorbed, arrogant beastie ever to walk to earth, and my hobbies are all contrary as well....writing, sewing, things of that nature....I have a complex. ;)
On another writing-note, I have been using my Writing Ideas Notebook quite a bit recently. And no, I haven't named it anything amazing yet. Yesterday I sat down in our reading nook with a towering stack of classics and copied out the first sentence in each of them. I know I have written on this topic at least once before, but it is often my nemesis. I've yet to write an opening line that captivates me, or, I assume, the reader. :P You can read my former post here.
So I decided that perhaps the best way to learn how to make a stunning opening would be to research what other writers do. :) My favorites are books that start with a powerful punch of humor, like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, (It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.) or C. S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.) :) I want to be able to write such....unusual openings without laboring over them for eight years. ;)
Well, anyhow, I just thought I'd ease your minds as to the fate of Puddleby know...I really think that character interview I did, actually helped me get back into the story and the characters. :) It's amazing how something that weird can truly be a help. :P ~Rachel

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Inkpen Poetry Day, and yet another gift! :)

There is something so satisfying in being so identified as a writer that people see things that make them think of you, buy them, and send them to you with a note that says, "I don't want to spoil the surprise but one of these things reminded me so much of you when I saw it! You'll know which one it is when you open it!" :)

So I opened this package to find a brass stamp and some sealing wax. But not just any brass stamp. A brass stamp that had a feather-pen and an inkwell engraved on the bottom of it. :) *Happiness*
(Here's a link to the self-same seal I was given...the image is copyrighted so I couldn't put it on here. :[ )
Between that lovely "Author's Study" sign and my new brass stamp, I feel like a universally acknowledged Authoress. ;) Now if I could only bend my mind seriously to writing.
I long to jump with both feet back into Puddleby Lane, but my mind is filled with gardening...thus the only thing I have been in the right frame of mind to write are nonsensical, funny ditties about veggies. Seriously. Witness the latest fruits of my labor (no pun intended) below:

"An Okra Insult"
By Rachel Heffington

My wrath is on thee, Okra,
I would dearly love to choke ya'
If you hadn't quite so many little hairs.
For they always make me itch
In a manner fiery which
Isn't pleasant when the heat of summer flares.

Oh, you have a pretty blossom
But your smell is like a possum
And when cooked you make a gorgeous, slimy brew.
And you prick and itch my arms
With your ticklish, burning charms
Till I'd gladly run your vital system through.

You bring lots of money, though
From the the people who don't know
All the evil secrets hidden in your heart.
And I sell you at our stand
Though you bite and sting your hand--
We're a partnership....I guess that is a start?

See? A little clever, I a vegetable-y way. :P

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Long, Drawn-Out, but Interesting Post :)

Well, I can't believe it. It seems not a week ago that I complained I was not keeping up this blog as I ought, and here I am posting so often you haven't a chance to keep up with me. :D Although it is generally against my creed to post twice in one day, I saw this Character Interview on Whisperings of the Pen and knew it had my name on it. After all, with no chores today, since I'm the birthday girl, I could dabble in something so silly as interviewing my own characters. But you know? I found out some interesting things through this interview. :) For instance, I never knew before that the Captain had a cat and a canary, that Ann Company was quite so attached to her donkey, or that she played the bagpipes. The bagpipes just sprung to mind when I was thinking of what instrument she played...she needed something weird, and I was *not* about to make her a tuba-player. :P Anyway, enjoy.

Frank Williams: 30
Maggie Williams: 28
Tucker (Tuck) Williams: 6
Dorothy (Dot) Williams: 2
Cora Lesley: 14
Dorie Ann Beaumont: 16
Flounder, Ann Company: 19
Captain Boniface: 65

Do you want a hug?
Frank: As a general rule I prefer handshakes.
Maggie: Of course, dear.
Tucker: Long as you don't mind the jam.
Dot: Hug!
Cora: If you're giving it.
Dorie Ann: You'll only rumple my skirt.
Ann Company: Are you sure? I hug hard as a bear.
Capt. Boniface: I'd say so.

Do you have any kids?
Frank: Maggie and I are the proud parents of Dot and Tuck.
Cora: No ma'am.
Dorie Ann: Of all the nerve! I don't see why you even bother to ask such a thing of a young lady of my class.
Ann Company: You kiddin'? Eulalie's the only kin I got `sides Pa.
Me: Who's Eulalie?
Ann Company: That there donkey.
Capt. Boniface: No, no children. Addie, I been faithful to ye're memory.

Have you ever killed anyone?
Frank: Never.
Maggie: What a horrid thought!
Tucker: I accidentally...well, kinda on purpose set traps to kill the sea-mice when we first came to Puddleby Lane.
Dot: Cowa, me's hungwy!
Cora: I would never dream of killing a fellow human unless I was defending my family against attack.
Dorie Ann: Kill? As in, like, dead? Some of the fellows have called me drop-dead gorgeous.
Ann Company: I don't generally hold with killin' unless it was a bandit.
Capt. Boniface: Life at sea is rough and unpredictable as th' ocean itself. There are mutinies and crimes that can't go unpunished.

Do you love anyone?
Frank and Maggie at once: "Maggie! Frank!"
Tucker: Mommy and Dad and Dot and Cora and Captain Boney-face.
Dot: Me wuv's evvybody!
Cora: Franki, Maggie, the children...and my hero.
Me: Your...hero?
Cora: (blushing) Yes...wherever he is.
Dorie Ann: Dozens. Or they love me...that's more like it. What's not to love about a beautiful Beaumont girl?
Ann Company: Eulalie, Pa, and Cora.
Capt. Boniface: Maggie and the children...and Addie.

What is your job?
Frank: Railyway man, but until recently, a new car salesman.
Maggie: seamstress.
Tuck: clam scraper, treasure-hunter, pirate and...what was that one you called me, Cora?
Cora: A flibberty-gibbet.
Tucker: Oh, yeah.
Cora: I'm the unofficial caretaker of Tuck and Dot. And I help Maggie with the housework and plain sewing. I'd love to be a famous author.
Dorie Ann: Author? She's a nanny. A servant. Quite beneath anyone's notice, let alone mine.
Ann Company: Leave her alone! I'd like to see what you can do."
Me: What *do* you do? What job do you have?
Dorie Ann: Is Queen of Beauty and Charm a job? No? How about Official Miss Amazing?
Capt. Boniface: I used to be a sea captain, but now I keep up the Bonnie Addie and help Flounder and his gal up in town.
Me: So is Flounder Ann Company's father?
Ann Company: Shore is.

Favorite Season?
Frank: Summer.
Maggie: Thanksgiving--the in between of fall and winter.
Tucker: Just about any time I can be outside without my shoes and socks.
Dot: Cowa, me's hungwy!
Cora: Autumn.
Dorie Ann: Spring--that's when the Paris collection comes out.
Ann Company: Winter. Me an' Eulalie an' Pa are cozy as a den full of possums come Christmas.
Capt. Boniface: Spring. My rheumatism isn't so bad and the honeysuckle reminds me of Addie--her eyes shining like stars.

Who is your best friend?
Frank: I don't have many close friends.
Maggie: Cora. Who is better than a sister for company?
Tucker: Cora!
Dot: Cowa!
Cora: Maggie, Ann books and writing.
Dorie Ann: I'm independent. Who needs friends when they've got talent, brains, and a stunning figure?
Ann Company: Eulalie and Cora.
Capt. Boniface: Maggie's children and that pretty slip of a girl, Cora. Flounder's good for a game of checkers now and then when he ain't squeezed up in his ticket booth snorin'.

Frank: Dancing with my beautiful wife.
Maggie: gardening.
Tuck: Cora says Mommy has a green thumb. I like catching sea-mice, digging for treasure, playing at bein' poor, and exploring with Cora and Dot.
Cora: Reading, writing, and exploring.
Dorie Ann: reading fashion magazines.
Ann Company: teaching Eulalie new tricks, racing the sandpipers, and play my bagpipes.
Me: Wait. Bagpipes? Where'd that come from?
Ann Company: The Cap'n gave `em to me.
Me: Aha.
Capt. Boniface: Sorry about that. She isn't half bad on `em now. I like buildin' model ships and fixing up the Bonny Addie....and talkin' to Tucker.

What are you going to do when this tag is over?
Frank: Take a long walk
Maggie: Bake a cake. Lemon-iced.
Tucker: Lick the bowl.
Dot: Lick!
Cora: Go for a sea-glass hunt...or rummage around in The Other House.
Dorie Ann: Paint my nails, then play tennis.
Ann Company: Fix Tuck's fishing net.
Capt. Boniface: Feed Napoleon Maximilian The Great.
Me: Who is...?
Capt. Boniface: My ship's cat.
Me: Oh! I wasn't sure you had any pets.
Capt. Boniface: Yep. Old 'Poleon and m' cabin boy, Columbus.
Me: Another cat?
Capt. Boniface: No, no. Columbus is a canary.
Me: I see. Pleased to meet them both.

What is your eye color?
Frank: Brown.
Maggie: Dark brown.
Tucker: Cora says my eyes are blue as bachelor's buttons.
Dot: Bwoo?
Cora: Brown.
Tucker: Like a teddy-bear's.
Ann Company: Like a fine chestnut filly's when she's runnin' free over the dunes.
Me: What color are your eyes, Ann Company?
Ann Company: Green as grass.
Dorie Ann: Violet. Like Elizabeth Taylor's.
Me: Violet?
Dorie Ann: Well, fine then. Blue.
Capt. Boniface: Blue-ish grey. The color of--
Cora: A stormy sea. Or the bay water at dusk.

Are you good or bad?
Frank: I try to be a good husband and father...I'm a little impulsive at times.
Maggie: We can never be perfect but--
Cora: But if anyone could be, it'd be Maggie.
Tucker: Most of the time I'm good...except when I'm not.
Dot: Good, good, good!
Cora: I do try so hard, and I am learning.
Dorie Ann: It all depends on your definition of good. It's no fun to be a plaster of Paris saint.
Ann Company: I'm a dutiful daughter and a fast friend, but I do feel fiercely about things.
Capt. Boniface: She's a right fiery girl, that Ann Company. As for me, I'm a salty sea dog, but the good Lord is my compass and He steers my course straight.

What is your greatest fear?
Frank: That I'll fail my family.
Maggie: That something will happen to me or Frank...or both of us.
Tucker: That the waves will knock over Dot, or that we'll have to leave Puddleby Lane.
Dot: Doggies.
Cora: A life without adventure and my family.
Dorie Ann: Those horrid hobos that beg for scraps.
Ann Company: The city.
Capt. Boniface: A journey without my bearings or a night near shore so dark and foggy we can't see the rocks.

What do you think of your parents?
Tucker: They're swell.
Dot: Me wuvs Mommy!
Cora: Frank and Maggie are the closest thing I have to parents now.
Dorie Ann: Papa's a darling but Mom is a bear! She wouldn't let me dye my hair last week.
Ann Company: Pa's the best feller within a dozen miles...exceptin' Mr. Williams, and the Cap'n and Tuck.
Capt. Boniface: I loved my parents, but father died at sea and Mama never quite got over it.

Any siblings?
Maggie: Cora.
Tucker: Dot.
Cora: Maggie.
Dorie Ann: Thank Heavens, no.
Ann Company: Only Eulalie.

Was this interview fun?
Frank: I've enjoyed it. Sounds like something Corie would make up.
Maggie: Very pleasant.
Tucker: Golly, yeah!
Dot: Fun!
Dora: I did so enjoy it, ma'am.
Dorie Ann: It was all right.
Ann Company: Shore as shootin'!
Capt. Boniface: I had a fine time. You're a very sensible gal.
Me: Thank you. You're the first to think so.

Do you have any weaknesses?
Frank: Like I said, I'm impulsive.
Maggie: French lace.
Tucker: Bein' tied up at stake when we play...I ain't strong enough to untie Cora's knots.
Cora: Heroic deeds...I pine for adventure and novelty.
Dorie Ann: New clothes. But I think that's a strength of mine--looking presentable, unlike some people I could mention.

Your favorite element?
Frank: Fire.
Maggie: Mountain Air.
Tucker: What's an element?
Cora: Water.
Dorie Ann: Oh, for Heaven's sake. What a ridiculous question!
Ann Company: Water, of course.
Capt. Boniface: Water. What else is essential to a man's life?

Do you care what others think of you?
Frank: Only what Maggie thinks of me.
Maggie: If Frank's happy, that's all that matters.
Tucker: I'd like `em to think I'm a man, not a boy.
Dot: Fink?
Cora: I'm afraid I do. Especially what other girls think of me.
Dorie Ann: Everyone knows I'm fabulous. It's so completely obvious, right?
Ann Company: Naw, I never did hold with other folks' opinions.
Capt. Boniface: I want my crew to respect me. So long as I've got that, I'm satisfied.

Your theme song?
Frank: Hmmm....Maggie?
Maggie: All Those Endearing Young Charms.
Tucker: Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Cora: Something sweet and dreamy.
Dorie Ann: Any song about a beautiful woman fits me to a T.
Ann Company: All the Blue Bonnets.
Capt. Boniface: The Water is Wide.

What's your species?

Frank: "A man's a man for a' that."
Maggie: We're humans.
Tucker: I'm a flibberty-gibbet, `member?
Dot: Baby!
Cora: What a strange question...who made it up?
Me: Don't ask me, Cora dear.
Dorie Ann: Bombshell Beauty. What else?
Ann Company: I'm a girl.
Capt. Boniface: You're a woman.
Ann Company: Barely, Cap'n.
Capt. Boniface: And I'm a seaman. It's a class of it's own, y'know?

Happy Birthday, Rachel!

Just wanted to wish my sister, Rachel a very happy birthday! I hope you have a great day and enjoy turning *19* !! :)

Character Creation. :)

So today is my 19th birthday. :) But that wasn't what my post was about. (I think my sister re-titled this blog in honor of the day though.... :)
I wanted to explore what makes a memorable character. I know I've written on this topic before, but I've been thinking a lot about it recently.
What is it about some people in books that captures our fancy and makes them come alive in our imaginations?
Is it their name? Their personality? The way they speak?
Whatever it is, there is no doubt that the characters are what makes your story. You might have a brilliant plot, carefully built and written, but if you do not have people, you have nothing.
I know I have written time and again about how much I love Charles Dickens' writing. I truly believe that his greatness lay in his characters, not only his intricate plots.
Charles Dickens did not only pay attention to and cultivate his main characters. Of course our protagonists must be strongly portrayed, but it is the side-line characters that make the novel.
No one can forget the poor law-clerk, Guppy, in Bleak House, or the nonsensical but loveable Edmond Sparkler in Little Dorrit. It is not easy to get the evilly debonair Rigaud out of your imagination long after you have put down the book, or to stop thinking about jolly Mr. Pickwick and his travelling companions.
So in the remainder of this post I will discuss how to build unforgettable people for your books.

Step One: Pick a personality-- What is it about your character that makes him who he is? Is he a complex person or a simple guy? Is he ridiculously melancholy or the life of the party?
Make your decision and build off of it.

Step Two: Give him a touch of oddity-- Something that makes this character stand out from all the others. It could be the way he pronounces certain things, (Like Dickens' Samuel Weller who switches around his "w"s and "v"s. :) or the way he walks, or something he loves doing that is just a little strange.

Step Three: Choose a name-- I have always found the phone-book to be helpful in this step. Flip through and find random names. I've come up with a good many strange ones in this way that I might never have thought up before, like the name I've reserved for some selfish banker someday somewhere: Bardwulf Becker. :)
I think naming characters is one of my better points. I love choosing the perfect name for my people. One of the servants in an unfinished novel was named Essie Doris after a street in our town. Another is the wild Ann Company whose father, Flounder, named her so that it would look clever and business-like on a library card. (Flounder & Co.) I like stretching to the limits on crazy names for people.

So those are the three main steps I can think of right now, and as I'm out of time I will let you all suggest anything I have missed. :) What sorts of tips do *you* have for creating characters?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Speech You've All Been Waiting For... ;)

This is not a picture of me giving my was taken by my cousin, Matthew, as part of a graduation photo-shoot for me. :) I had just burst into laughter...thus the tilted head and cheeky smile. :)
Anyway, at long last, after I have griped about it, worried over it, and finally read it in front of 150 people, I can show you my speech. I am not sure at all about how good or not good it is, having never had to give a speech before in my life. I only know that I spoke from my heart and that has to count for something...

"You know I cannot make speeches, Emma. Perhaps if I felt less I could talk about it more."
~Mr. Knightley

But for better or for worse my speech was given and I didn't botch it up too badly at any point. I wasn't even very nervous, which was a direct answer to prayer. I think my nervousness came out in a silly feeling and abnormal thirst. I was gulping ice-water until it was my turn! :D So, without further ado, you can read below, in full, my graduation speech and tell me what you thought about it. Oh yes. And before you read, please realize that I know it is not highly polished writing, but my edits were done in the crazy few days between laying on the couch with a dizzy head from wisdom teeth and the actual graduation. Time was limited, and talent would have to suffice. ;)
Also, I formatted the speech this way for ease of reading. I could see where I needed to emphasize things without having to think to hard about it. The great preacher, Peter Marshall, did the same...that's actually where I got the idea! :D Here you go:

"When people look at me with pitying eyes and ask if I’ve enjoyed being homeschooled, I have to laugh.

The idea of not enjoying it is so absurd.

Because the truth is, I love the life Jesus has given me.

I love my big, crazy, funny, hard-working family.

I love knowing my sisters so well that we can simply share a look and know just what the other thinks about a matter.

I love having an older brother who plays chauffer and takes me on adventures and isn’t ashamed to go into departments stores and try on crazy Sunday hats with me.

I love having a younger brother who brings me dead birds and trapped mice and frozen butterflies because he wants me to be able to draw them.

And I thank Jesus for sparing me from a conventional, pre-packaged education.

I used to wonder how it would feel to have a “normal” schedule like the public school kids and many home-schooling families.

What would it be like to go through my school-books without any interruptions?

My books were never pre-ordered for the next five years in a tidy curriculum package. Mama chose whichever books she felt we needed at that moment.

I doubted most girls my age accomplished their algebra in the bumpy work truck in between lawns.

Most girls don’t stop book-work for nine months to build a house with their dad.

That’s just not the way it’s generally done.

I never truly wished for a different schedule, but I did wonder what the benefits of our life-style were.

Now, as I look back, I can see many benefits of being raised differently than most girls.

One of the biggest blessings of our style of homeschooling is that my education has been chosen and designed by God particularly for me and my future.

I can know for sure that everything He has brought into my life will be needed someday. I can’t always see how I will use some of the knowledge I’ve been given…

Is there any particular reason I learned how to put tin roofing on a porch?

And will my skills racing walk-behind mowers ever come in handy again?

Yet because Dad and Mama have been faithful in following God’s leading, I have had many opportunities to gain new skills and I know that everything I have learned is useful.

I will admit that the life I’ve been given can be crazy and uproarious now and then.

This past winter we were having a slow season and I found it difficult to fill my time. That all ended when God saw fit to give us a crash course in botany, agriculture, marketing, and business management.

All at once.

Since then we have been so stretched for time it’s a mercy nothing important has snapped!

Another benefit of this life is the real experience I’ve been able to have. Not many girls my age have already had experience (however limited) as a carpenter, electrician, plumber, painter, landscaper, horticulturalist, floral designer, seamstress, author, and office manager.

If I cared to write everything down, I might end up with a pretty impressive resume!

Dad and Mama have passed along an admirable work-ethic to each of us children. Dad especially has always encouraged us to do hard things, to stretch and get outside our comfort-zone.

It’s the reason we joke that our family motto has become “Semper Gumbi: Always flexible.”

I suppose that’s how we built the house.

And I have a hunch that’s why I’m standing up here giving a speech.

Mama taught me at an early age to love literature, and now I’m a writer myself.

Perhaps because of both these things I have fallen into the habit of looking at life like a novel the Lord has written and placed me in the middle of.

Only the story is beautifully true.

I like flipping back through my memories like the pages in the book that I’ve already read.

My child-hood was one chapter.

My high-school years were another, packed with many of God’s Providences.

So now I stand on the brink of a new chapter in my life, and I can only guess at what is ahead. So far each chapter has been better than the one before.

I expect to meet with many adventures in this next chapter. And yet I’ve come to realize that adventures seldom happen to those who don’t look for them.

Oftentimes the things God means for adventures, we take as inconveniences and troubles and so we miss opportunities to see God work miracles.

I mean to take every adventure Jesus presents and “live it to the hilt” as the missionary, Jim Eliot, said. It’s exciting to think on the possibilities ahead.

But naturally the question comes up, “What will you be doing now, since you’ve finished school?”

Of course I can’t know for certain what sort of adventures are written down for me, but I do have some guesses and will work toward them until I come to the next bend in the road.

I have set my ambition on a career that I believe I am fitted for in every prospect. I know one of the most talented women in this field and greatly admire and love her.

For several years I have been in training for this occupation, and now that my school-work is finished, I will enter a season of even more intense training in hopes of one day making this my profession.

I am not going to merely be a doctor, for I will have the care of souls as well as bodies.

I am not going to be a lawyer, though my career will involve a sort of judicial system

The profession I am working towards is the noblest career a woman could have. It will involve every bit of knowledge I possess, and much more that I have yet to learn.

It will task my every skill and talent. And yet the rewards are bounteous and ever-lasting.

So what career am I training for?

That of being a wife, a mother, and a homemaker.

I believe that in this new season of my life, Jesus is calling me to stay at home, learning from Mama all the skills I will need for my hoped-for career.

Staying at home is so much more than pies and aprons, clothes-lines and curlers. The family is the most vital unit in society. A woman whose heart is in her home is a queen. Beside her husband, she helps rule a miniature kingdom with eternal effects.

I have always held that a conviction must be a personal thing, not brought on man’s opinion, but by God’s voice.

And so I do not choose this path because it is the “good Christian-girl” thing to do. I choose it because I feel that God has equipped me my whole life for this work, and that, as a woman, it glorifies Him when I work in this role.

I choose it because I truly admire Mama who has walked this road before me. I marvel at the feat it was raising me, remembering the days when I’d try her patience with my mistakes. I recall the days I would weep over my math-book and she’d stand patiently by, ready to explain the equation for the hundredth time.

And that was just me!

Mama has given her life to all eight, soon to be nine of us children. Motherhood is a noble calling indeed…

To be a wife, ready to love, help, and honor her husband,

To be a mother, bearing children and raising them be strong men and women for Christ’s kingdom,

To be a homemaker and create a beautiful, peaceful haven for my family and strangers alike,

This is one of my fondest hopes and dreams.

So much for the long-term ambition. As I said before, Jesus is writing my life-story, and He may have other plans for me.

At this point in the novel there is no knight in shining armor galloping down the hill to sweep me off my feet.

Jesus may call me to a life of singleness. That would be a new adventure, but I trust my Lord would be just as ever-present and faithful on that road, for if He has chosen it, there is nothing else that will fulfill me.

I am open to whatever my Lord wishes me to do.

But I do know that my education has not been so carefully cultured by the Lord merely to be laid aside like an old coat. I have confidence that no matter what capacity He calls me to, I am prepared.

I will enjoy the adventures God is giving me today while waiting to see what His plans are for this upcoming chapter.

My life is overflowing with the Lord’s abundance. I am working full time on our family farm, and part-time as the business manager of our landscape business. As an elder’s daughter there is plenty to do toward preparing our home for church and other ministry. I help Mama keep our home and family running smoothly. With soon to be twelve people in the house there is never a dull moment.

In my spare time I have many interests, among them sewing and historical-clothing designing, studying herbalism, watercolor painting and writing, all of which could easily be turned into business ventures. Who knows? I may publish one of my books and find myself a real author someday. I dearly love learning and there is a plethora of subjects I have only glanced over. I might just take it into my head to learn French, or teach myself how to play at least one song decently on the piano.

Thanks to both my parents, but especially Mama, I have a deep love for learning and a zeal for many pursuits. I will certainly lack nothing to keep my time filled.

As I look back on my education and my life so far I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Mama and Dad, under Jesus’ guidance, have placed me so far ahead of many girls my age… I know it will affect the rest of my years.

From my marvelously unconventional upbringing, I know I will never have a run-of-the-mill life.

I am living a life of adventure, wilder than any novel, because it is written by the King of kings.

It is written by the Creator of the world.

It is written by the Author and Finisher of my faith.

How can I keep from smiling at the doubts and fears when I have this assurance?

God’s plan may take me into uncharted territory, wilder than I could ever imagine, but I know that the same Lord who has led my life thus far will keep me, lead me, and guide me to the end.

And with such a promise, my story is guaranteed a Happily Ever After."