I sat at the spinning wheel. Grey afternoon light fell through the window behind me. The spinning wheel clicked gently as I moved my foot up and down. Pinch the wool. Draw. Release.
Besides the clicking, the log cabin was quiet. Faint traces of wood smoke lingered, but the hearth was growing colder. With no one else around, I let my mind wander.
Pinch. I hope they’re taking care of him. I wonder if he misses me. I wish I was there—I should be there. Draw. It’s meant to be me. I trust Mairi, but it’s meant to be me.
He’s my son.
Ha! Startled some of you, I bet.
So, here’s what is happening. I think the Victorian Dark Fantasy is starting to gel. The novel has changed throughout Stonecoast—I think the plot’s getting there, now I’m bearing down on voice and character. To help with this, my thoroughly brilliant mentor posed me an interesting challenge:
One thing you might want to do, and this will sound less strange to you as a playwright than to other people, is to go around being each of the main female characters for a while, and do things the way they would do them. How do you feel as those characters? How do you walk and talk?
I laughed in delight upon reading this. So…I thought, grinning, I spend most of my days wearing period-appropriate clothing, doing period things…
Plus…I kind of stole half our buildings.
Heck, I can reconstruct entire scenes in these buildings, mapping out exactly where this character was standing, where that one paused before coming around the corner. It’s like being on a movie set.
So…I have the right clothing (mostly—for two of them, I really need a crinoline, and I only wear that in the brewery), I’m doing the right things, and I’m in the right place. Sometimes, it’s almost a little disorienting.
It’s also taught me a lot.
I’ve always talked with my characters. Usually as mental knitting—on the bus, while walking, during quiet times at work. Just relaxing, asking questions, hearing what the response is. Sometimes full-on conversations develop; Serafine, for instance, rarely shut up once she got going.
It’s one thing to invite a character into your head. Thus far, it’s been quite another to invite them into your skin. Really, really cool, but different. Because this way, I’m not guiding the discussion. I’m not prompting anything. I’m essentially retreating to the sidelines and seeing how my characters assert themselves once they have the space and freedom to do so.
- One worries far more than she lets on; she’s clinging by her fingertips.
- In another time, place, and culture, one could be a geek girl. As it is, she’s sensitive, carefully (and constantly, my God!) analyzing and observing.
- And the last POV character…I don’t think I ever really understood the depths of her possessiveness, her sense of entitlement.
My circumstances definitely give me a leg-up, but it’s also interesting to take characters on field trips. Point out a streetcar, stop in a grocery store. What do they think, how do they react to this world so unlike their own?
It’s been fun—and I still love working on this story, still love exploring these people and their lives. Even after so long (yeah…longer than I anticipated…) the joy hasn’t ebbed.
Let’s just hope that I never, ever answer visitors as my villain.
Actually, that’d be hilarious.
I’ll be good. 😉
Cool Thing of the Week
So, there’s the solar system, right? Then our galaxy, then our “local group” of galaxies, then our galaxy cluster, then our supercluster…and then the filaments.
The thought makes me shiver. So many stars and worlds, so much void between them…
More than anything, it makes me want to write.
I don’t often write poetry. Sometimes I get the odd one, but I almost never share my poems.
But when I do, they become opera arias…
Story time! New Zealand and I adopted each other long ago. I love the landscape, the people, the culture, the history…but when I backpacked around the country by myself, I got a little homesick. To be clear: I had an amazing time, with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I do not regret a single second.
And I also missed home.
So, one day while riding the InterCity bus between towns, I stared out the window at the impossibly green, mist-shrouded hills, and I composed some verse in my head. When I got to the backpackers’ that night, I tapped it out on my phone. Several weeks later, when I came home, I transferred it to my computer.
I liked it. Nothing super fancy or experimental; I wanted something simple. It had an interesting meter, though. The pattern of stressed syllables reminded me of someone running. Which was exactly what I wanted. It captured those nights in hostel bunk beds, staring at the bunk above me and trying to work out which direction home lay. I figured the poem might be interesting set to music (again, that very bare, understated pub song feel), but I don’t compose. Heck, I barely write poetry.
I came home. I forgot about it.
Fast forward to January 2013. I was rewriting the libretto for East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon. Since I was eighteen the first go-round and the performance requirements had changed in the interim, I was mostly rewriting from scratch.
Rose (our plucky young heroine) had an aria. There were some duets and trios, several chorus numbers for the kids. But the White Bear/Prince didn’t really have an aria of his own. I started thinking about how the enchanted Prince would feel: roaming through the northlands, lonely and just wanting to be warm again, waiting to come home…
And a spark of emotion and memory flared.
I dug into my files. I found the poem. It already had a strong meter; I’d already wondered if it would work with music.
Time to find out.
I slipped that poem into the opera almost unchanged (I think I altered the tense of one verb, maybe?). And there it’s stayed. My partner in this—composer Norbert Palej—did a beautiful job with the aria. I didn’t tell him what it was really about, and yet he crafted a lovely piece. The music aches.
Nothing you write is ever wasted. You never know when thoughts, emotions, and memories will reappear to inform your creative work. Save it—because someday, it may find its home.
Cool Thing of The Week
You didn’t think I’d go through all that without showing you the poem, right? I mean, it’s part of an opera now: I think I’ve lost any rights to qualms over sharing it!
I was waiting for the passing
Of the bleak and bitter night,
For the fleeing of the shadows
And the coming of the light.
I was waiting for the dawning
Of the absent summer sun,
And the waiting warmth that spurs me
On the distant roads I run.
I was waiting for the tasting
Of the season on the air,
For the old familiar fires
Breathing smoke upon my hair.
I was waiting for the greeting
And the chorus from the hearth,
For the end to all my calling
From the very end of Earth.
I was waiting for the sighing
When I stood before your door.
I am waiting, and so dying –
Waiting just a little more.
“I think the word this year,” quoth Tee Morris at the Shared Desk live cast this past Balticon, “is perspective.”
Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t help agreeing. “Perspective” fits this year’s convention on many levels, both in terms of my professional path and in terms of the people walking that path with me. Cons always function as creative pressure cooker and reset point for me: a place to get fired up, but also to take a sober look around and ask, “Whither hence?”
So let’s look at the community first. At any con, there are always “I love you, man,” moments. This Balticon felt like those moments lasted for four days straight. This was one of the first cons I’ve been to where I could walk into a room and know more people than not. More than that: I could walk into a room and have more friends than acquaintances.
That’s growth. And I felt calmer and more confident than at any other con. Lauren “Scribe” Harris put it well, remarking that this crowd has become like family; we don’t need to be ON around each other all the time.
So, perspective: I am very, very lucky. I have always said this, but it’s good to be reminded of it. One of the strengths of the writing community is that it is a true community. We come from all different walks of life, all different parts of the world, we are all different ages. As such, we can teach and support each other in so many diverse ways. Sometimes – especially with social media, where mini-scandals erupt like bushfires – it’s easy to forget the fact that really, the broader community is driven and united by the same passion: for good stories, good writing, and dragons and starships and suchlike.
Seriously. I love you, guys.
The flip side of all the hugging and socializing is the cold, hard look at the professional path. 2013 was a lost year, but 2014 is almost half-over. Where am I going? What are my goals: short, medium, and long-term? How can I get there?
One simple thing for starters: I need to be producing more. Yes, yes, dayjob and schooling, we’ve all heard that before. When I put my mind to it, I can write a LOT. Like, a LOT. Part of the problem has been working harder, not smarter…I say yes to ALL THE THINGS, relying on youthful energy to bull through. That works, but then I’m too drained for MY projects.
It’s partly a matter of prioritizing, partly of allocating my energy better. And I do mean energy – I have the time, I’m just too exhausted to do anything with it. Thinking of this along the lines of an energy budget might help. As might…you know…actually getting sufficient sleep and iron.
Perspective: this was the sickest I’ve ever been after a con. Probably coincidence, but maybe also indicative of the fact that I was running on empty beforehand; I just didn’t have the reserves this time around.
The other perspective gained dovetails with some advice from Stonecoast. Here’s the thing: I write often and well. On a purely technical side, my prose is already pretty clean. That got me a head start, but relying on technique isn’t really enough. Diving into analogy, I could put out table beers that taste fine and ferment in 24 hours…but I want to put out really complex, aged porters. Lagers. Heck, let’s say some 16-year-old scotch. It’s remembering to focus on art as well.
But the only way to get there is to keep writing: well and often. Refine those techniques. Use that head start like a springboard. Depth will come with time – but only if I keep writing, learning, and growing.
Perspectives, man. Perspectives.
COOL THING OF THE WEEK
EAST O’ THE SUN AND WEST O’ THE MOON premiered last night. The kids have SO much to be proud of – they did a great job with a very challenging score and libretto (Norbert and I did not pull punches). Also, I truly do have amazing family and friends… 🙂
The above quotation popped up in my feed this week. Usually, I don’t pay much attention to these sorts of quotes-and-images, but this one struck me. Maybe because I’m back at the dayjob.
As I’ve discussed many times, I steal places pretty shamelessly. From the dayjob, our Second House shows up in my story “After the Winds” as the heroine’s home; it reappears as the Braes’ house in the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Burwick House also shows up in both stories; the Doctor’s House is the main set piece in another. I fell in love with New Zealand, too. Its impossibly green hills roll through the “text-based interactive online game.” If you look closely, you can spot its caves and long white clouds in one of my Stonecoast workshop submissions.
Call it the historian in me, but I like this notion of things we love living on in stories. In fact, I’m writing a story on similar lines: an alternate Toronto, one which contains everything in this city that was lost, destroyed, or covered up and buried.
It all lives on.
Writers are like sponges that way. We absorb everything around us, often not even aware that we’re doing so, and even we don’t know when, where, or how things will rematerialize. It’s like catching partial reflections from shards of mirror. All of these memories and experiences get broken up and glued back together: rearranged, reimagined, and reversed.
Ray Bradbury wrote about this much more poignantly than I can. If you haven’t read Zen in the Art of Writing, go find it. Even if you’re not a writer, his insights can be applied to most creative processes.
In one of the essays, he asks, “What do you want more than anything else in the world? What do you love, or what do you hate…there is zest in hate as well as in love, [and it will] fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees.”
So what do I love?
Well, specifically looking at how much Black Creek pops up in the Victorian Dark Fantasy…I love the way the sun sheens off the barn roof on crisp autumn mornings. I love the fallen leaves crunching under my boots, the sharp smell of smoke when the fires get lit. I love the steam that curls along the brewery’s ceiling when we cool the wort. I love the way the loaf pans are all dented along one edge, because that is where the peel jams into them as we remove them from the bake-oven. I love the bleached-bone paleness of the bricks inside the bake ovens.
There is joy in these small details, the little things which, as Bradbury says, “…at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” It’s this notion of “looking and re-looking.” What makes this inn, this farmhouse, this hearth different from all the others?
As writers, it’s our job to find out and explain. If we’re writers in love, then part of us already knows.
Cool Thing of the Week!
At last, I have obtained my own teapot and kerosene lamps. My church does an attic sale every May, which means that every April, I volunteer to haul the goods up from the basement. I salivated over the lamps the moment I saw them two weeks ago, so I was very disappointed when I arrived at the sale and couldn’t find them anywhere…but then, one of the sales volunteers exclaimed, “Oh! You’re the girl! We have your lamps!”
My lovely church ladies had stashed them safely away for me, to prevent anyone else from making off with them. My ladies are awesome.
Edits for the Victorian Dark Fantasy continue apace. After weeks of poking at it every so often, it’s like the pressure in my head has built up to that point where I no longer have any say in the matter. All good books are like that, I find. You hit the point where writing it stops being a choice—you have to.
Which is a good thing. A very good thing. There are some pretty deep edits here; nothing that actually changes the story that much, just reordering of scenes and characters that are a little tricky to effect. This isn’t editing with a chain-saw; it’s performing delicate surgery.
One of the major changes? Swapping one of the POV characters. The Victorian Dark Fantasy is written from three first-person point-of-views: our heroine, the villain, and our heroine’s husband. Only then I realized that the husband’s sister actually has more at stake and a more interesting/pronounced character arc…from a craft and structural perspective, it made more sense to have her narrate.
Here’s the thing, though: it’s not as easy as going through the husband’s scenes and switching pronouns. (She looked at me quizzically > I looked at him quizzically) We’re literally seeing the scene through a new pair of eyes, which means that every single detail gets interpreted differently.
Voice changes substantially. It should, anyway. You, me, Bob down the street, we all have different takes on the world and a unique ways of expressing ourselves. Charlotte’s more tightly-wound than her brother. Throw in some high-stress situations, and she becomes downright prickly. Which tends to manifest in a harsher, more sardonic tone than we previously had in those sections.
It’s kind of like dialect and accent. There’s an external stimulus; how does your character take it in, make sense of it, and then express it back to the world?
Thoughts Hidden, Thoughts Revealed
Unlike in omniscient POV, where you can dip into multiple characters’ heads in a single scene, first-person and third-person limited narrators can only relate their own thoughts. This is hugely fun. Maybe I’m just a jerk, but I sometimes enjoy using POV limitations as almost a sleight-of-hand. Sort of a she-doesn’t-know-he-knows-she-knows thing.
Yeah, I’m a jerk.
But the point is, I’ve had to edit out the husband’s thoughts and replace them with external action. Same thing with Charlotte.
It’s probably easier to show you. Here is the original, from Ned’s POV:
Charlotte cocked her head. “What are you thinking?”
I meant to tell her about the whisperings I’d heard, but instead I blurted, “I miss Sara.”
Charlotte gave me a sad smile, gazing down on me much the way she had in our nursery days. “I know. I miss Findley.”
Despite myself, I felt like a child once more. “I wish I could write her a letter, let her know when I’ll come home. Too much longer without any news and she’ll start fretting.”
“So will the Braes. They think I’m sick, remember?” Charlotte rose to check the fire. She tossed more wood on it, adjusted the crane so that the kettle hung over the hottest part. “Sometimes,” she continued, her back to me, “I can’t tell if it’s a good thing that Findley won’t worry.”
And the edit:
He fell silent, gazing across the cramped space towards the smouldering hearth. Subdued, unusual for him. I cocked my head. “What are you thinking?”
It took him a moment to answer, conflict playing over his face. Then, he blurted, “I miss Sara.”
My heart broke a little. “I know,” I said quietly. “Less than a week, and I already miss Findley.”
“I wish I could write her a letter, let her know when I’ll come home. Too much longer without any news and she’ll start fretting.”
“So will the Braes. They think I’m sick, remember?” Needing to do something with my hands, I rose to check the fire. I tossed more wood on it, adjusted the crane so that the kettle hung over the hottest part. “Sometimes,” I continued, murmuring more to the fire than to him, “I can’t tell if it’s a good thing that Findley won’t worry.”
Same scene, same dialogue, same actions, two POVs. In the second round, we see Charlotte’s thought process in asking after Ned. We see Ned conflicted over something, but because we’re not in his head, we don’t know what (which might be a problem later on…did I mention that I’m a jerk?). Likewise, in the first version, Charlotte goes to check the fire. When she’s narrator, we see the reason why.
Which leads me into…
Every Action Originates From an Intention or Trigger
I was pretty proud of this little epiphany. Seriously, learning that actors attach a verb to every bit of dialogue has helped my writing more than I ever thought possible. What does it mean, though?
Basically, with every action you take or word you utter, you’re trying to accomplish a goal. Think about it. We’re having a really intense discussion, you get up to open a window.
Why? Maybe you’re feeling so uncomfortable, you need physical space from me. Maybe this discomfort is also having a physiological effect. Your face feels flushed, so you’re trying to cool down, as well. Both of each relate to the goal/verb: self-soothe—I want to make myself feel better.
You’re at a party. Someone you like is also there. Maybe you stare down at your beverage—I want to avoid embarrassing myself. Or maybe you strike up a conversation with someone nearby, making sure everyone nearby can hear how charming you are—I want to impress him/her.
When the scene is not in a character’s POV, we only see the external action. When the scene is from their perspective, we see the internal trigger/thought process as well.
Rewriting these scenes has been almost like playing with audio. Some parts of Ned’s track get muted; Charlotte has no way of “hearing” them. Conversely, some of Charlotte’s levels get brought way up; if we’re in her head, they have to be prominent.
There is a strong temptation to not do this. After all, the scene has played out already; Charlotte and Ned have made their choices as to what they’re doing and saying.
Except I’m the author, I have the red pen, and sometimes for the sake of the story, you have to “re-dream the dream.”
Restart. Let the scene play out again. Let it go differently.
First scene: Ned’s checking out the mysterious curtain that divides the worlds, Charlotte’s keeping him safe. Which was cool when it was his POV. But tell me, which is more interesting—a mysterious curtain, or making sure your sibling’s still breathing?
Yeah. I thought so. In the edits, Charlotte got the interesting action (because POV character), which necessitated some dialogue switching. A little rephrasing to match each character’s voice, but really, no big deal.
This is actually really fun. I’ve loved getting to know this character better. And I’ve loved writing some new solo scenes for her. So much more interesting than swapping pronouns!
ALSO: Cool thing of the week!
Remember how I fell in love with The Star of the County Down? I found this image of the song’s heroine. If anyone ever turned this book into an animated Disney film, this would be Mairi.
You may notice this site looks different.
Oh man, this overhaul was so incredibly overdue. I’d not been happy with this blog for…well, too long. The tipping point came when I looked at the banner on Tee’s site and realized, “Wait a second – I know how to do that now. I could do that!” The roomies and I attacked our house pretty good for spring cleaning, so why not go after my online home the same way?
Besides, I figured it was about time to think about the future, and this site was looking a little antiquated. You guys, I’ve been blogging here since I was twenty. I’m 23 in a few months. Also, while I tend to start adding a year onto my actual age about three months before my birthday, this year has been worse – in my head, for reasons unknown, I’m suddenly 24. Because I’m crotchety like that. I know that if I say, “I’m getting old,” I will be smacked six ways from Sunday…but time is passing. I’m getting older (happy?).
So I sat down and had a good think. And also, some ginger slice. What directions am I moving in now? What are my plans for the rest of 2014? What do I want to write?
I keep coming back to the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Ye gods, I had SO MUCH FUN writing that. I’m having SO MUCH FUN editing it. And then, there are vague stirrings of another Victorian-ish world rumbling ’round the back of my head; something set in Magical 1870s Toronto. And then, there’s the steampunk….
So I think we can safely say that Victorian-flavoured fantasy is a persistent preoccupation for me. Bearing that in mind, I started looking for cool fonts (Tales from the Archives has its own font; I wanted one, too!).
Looking through them all…I imagine it was very much like when normal people go dress-shopping. I got to try on all sorts of different ones, searching for the one that felt right, the one that said…me. Or KT Bryski. Either way.
I liked this one. See, isn’t it cool? Also, while it’s wayyyyy too early to make anything like these…I made these. The Victorian Dark Fantasy makes me too excited.
Even though 2013 was a lost year in my books, I still did some things, and those also needed to be recognized. I have a handy Fiction page now, which I’ve updated to include things besides Hapax. I’ve sold three short stories! And…erm, I’ve only ever written three short stories…
Which means that more short fiction is on the books (heh) for 2014 as well. The more I do it, the more I like it, and I’d like to have more than three in my repertoire. Doesn’t matter if my streak continues (and it won’t – my supply of horseshoes is going to run out eventually), I’d just like the experience of having written them.
Plus, over the past two years, I’ve started doing other stuff. It’s important, I think, for us to remember the things that don’t fit in the usual box we assign ourselves. I write a beer blog. I do freelance editing (for reasonable rates!). Apparently, I write opera libretti and games. Yeah, I was a wee bit surprised by that, too. One of my big fears of leaping into writing so early was that I’d have one story in me – flash in the pan, young author, didn’t live up to her potential.
Who knows? But right now, I feel stable and supported, and I’m raring to go. The last of the winter detritus has been swept away, and this weekend is kind of about rebirth anyway, right?
Let us spring forth!
Creating things takes a lot out of you: mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is why you often hear creative-types talking about the need to recharge creatively, to surround one’s self with things that keeps the muse purring and the creative furnaces hot. There usually follows images of the creative-type serenely contemplating a field of wildflowers, or perhaps meandering serenely through an empty art gallery…
Well, I found something that keeps my creative well consistently full, something that energizes me and makes me want to WRITE ALL THE THINGS.
Spoiler: it’s not wildflowers.
I’ve become a fan of Celtic Woman. And also a fan of the High Kings, which are basically the male equivalent of Celtic Woman. It’s been this way pretty much since last summer, when I started work on the Victorian Dark Fantasy. I don’t know what the kids are dancing to in the clubs these days, but you better believe that I can belt out Rocky Road to Dublin from memory, in the correct 9/8 slip reel time.
It’s not something that I can really explain. Sure, I’ve always been a fan of traditional music, but these aren’t necessarily super-traditional. The translation for Celtic Woman’s version of Mo Ghile Mear is…um, well, you can take a look for yourself:
Can you feel the river run?
Waves are dancing to the sun,
Take the tide and face the sea,
And find a way to follow me.
Leave the field and leave the fire
And find the flame of your desire.
Set your heart on this far shore,
And sing your dream to me once more
Vs. the actual words:
Once I was a gentle maiden,
But now I’m a spent, worn-out widow,
My consort strongly plowing the waves,
Over the hills and far away.
Every day I’m constantly enduring grief,
Weeping bitterly and shedding tears,
Because my lively lad has left me
And no news is told of him – alas.
But you know what? I don’t care. There’s something in the drums, the harmonies of their arrangement that ignites that creative spark. Normally, I tend towards classical music, choral things, and musical theatre. But for whatever reason, this music punches some part of my brain and makes words want to happen.
I like ’em.
I worked my way through most of their music while writing the Victorian Dark Fantasy…and now, I’ve got it back on repeat. Plus, their newer members come from musical theatre backgrounds. It shows, and these more theatrical performances are making ideas echo, even if I can’t articulate them just yet:
So yeah. My musical tastes have always been eclectic (I’ve also fallen in love with Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, but that probably won’t end up in a novel for a while), but this is perhaps a bit odd even for me.
As for the High Kings…well, again, they’re basically the male version. It’s more stand-and-sing, but their songs do that same punching-through-to-some-flash-of-idea thing. I think this is one of Mairi’s theme songs:
Although she is not at all a fan of this one, which is hugely interesting. Especially because I start dancing in my seat from the opening chords:
And of course, this song, which is actually Mairi’s theme song:
The things that stoke our creative fires aren’t always the things we expect. That’s ok, though. It opens us to things we might never otherwise find. Besides, this music makes me happy. Then I want to write, which also makes me happy.
And man… those 9/8 slip reels are catchy!
PS. Yes, I totally wrote this post while listening to Téir Abhaile Riú on repeat…
Recently, I’ve had two characters with accents. Because I’m a geek about language and sound laws, I did sit down and have a good think about this. I’ve seen accents portrayed phonetically; I’m reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman right now, and John Fowles spells words such that you can actually distinguish between a Yorkshire and Cockney accent:
“’Ow about London then? Fancy seein’ London? Expec’ you will. When they’re a-married orf hupstairs. I’ll show yer round.”
“Would ‘ee? All they fashional Lunnon girls, ‘ee woulden want to go walking out with me.”
“If you ‘ad the clothes, you’d do. You’d do very nice.”
“Doan believe ‘ee.”
“Cross my ‘eart.”
-John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman
This works very well.
But I didn’t want to do that. Partly, I was nervous that it would turn into something like, “An’ den, ze deah boy wen’ doon t’crick” (I don’t even know what accent what that would be). But also, I had a theory.
Fresh off writing an opera libretto and suggesting music through text, I wondered if it was possible to show cadence and speech rhythms through syntax and word choice.
Two characters, two backgrounds, two different accents:
In my story for the Tales from the Archives podcast, Anouk Tremblay is an agent of the Québec version of the Ministry—le Ministère Officiel d’Occurrences Sans Explication (M.O.O.S.E.). She’s a francophone, uses English sometimes at work, and speaks with a Québecois accent.
For the Victorian Dark Fantasy, Mairi Brae’s got a lovely Skarrish accent—which in my head is pretty much an Irish accent. Skarrish is her first language, though she grew up speaking both Skarrish and Aldoran.
This doesn’t work in every case (like Fowles, above), but it helped me with Anouk. I’d write some of her lines in French and then translate them back into English:
Et ici, mes supérieurs ont dit, c’est nécessaire d’avoir une présence Québécoise.
And here, my superiors have said, it is necessary to have une présence Québécoise.
A few things. First: yeah, I left some French in there. Not much, but enough to flavour it. Second: structurally, the sentence is a little different than one a native English speaker might compose. Still perfectly understandable, just different.
Think of dialogue the way your character would. How does their first language shape their approach to others?
Skarrish has a tense called the “after past” (funnily enough, a variant shows up in Irish English). It’s the immediate past, the past which just happened, and the past to which some emphasis is attached. In Aldoran, it shows up thusly:
I just asked her!
I’m after asking her!
Not a construction you’d find in native Aldoran, because that tense doesn’t exist in that language. Doesn’t stop Mairi from trying to use it.
Other weird things can carry over from language to language—what forms and structures is your character unconsciously clinging to?
At one point, Anouk tells Brandon to “Take care.”
Except, that’s not a phrase that’s found in French. The nearest equivalent is faire attention—“to make/have attention.”
Working with anglophone Ministry agents, Anouk knows enough to replace attention with care. But “take care” still wouldn’t necessarily sound natural to her—she ends up saying, “Have care” instead.
Anouk pretty much only uses English when she’s dealing with English government officials. She’s fluent, but it’s a work language. It’s similar to how students learning French in an academic setting take a long time to relax from “Bien, je m’appelle KT” to “Ben ouai, j’pelle KT.” You don’t break the rules until you know them very well—which is why Anouk doesn’t use contractions.
Mairi, on the other hand, grew up bilingual. Skarrish left an indelible mark on her syntax and grammar, but it’s a subtler effect:
“Ah, she’s a flair for the dramatic.” Mairi chuckled as we turned up the road. “She’s like to do a few wreaths herself, for to get her mind off it, and then I’ll finish the rest when we’re back.”
I could probably do an entire post on Skarrish-Aldoran grammar. But for now, notice the abbreviated possessive (she’s, not she has), she’s like to (not she’s likely to) and the for to + infinitive.
“The Skarrish tale’s a touch of the darkness to it, to be sure, love,” she said. “But never you mind yourself!”
Overuse of the definite article (The Skarrish tale, the darkness), idiom carryover (to be sure), and overuse of the reflexive (never you mind yourself).
Practice and Instinct
After a while, your characters’ speech patterns do settle in your ears:
Even Charlotte says—said he’s spoken naught at home…
Which didn’t seem right to me, so I changed it to:
Even Charlotte says—said he’s naught spoken at home…
Only to realize later that you can place the past participle after the object in Irish English (naught = object, it’s what is being spoken; spoken = our past participle).
Kind of, I guess. If you’re letting different rule sets bounce off each other, it helps to know the rules in the first place. But we can sum it up:
Is your character attempting word-by-word translation?
What grammar/vocabulary exists in one language, but not another?
How does your character’s background affect their speech patterns?
Can you LISTEN to people who have your character’s accent?
Between interning for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, dayjobbing, and writing my own pseudo-Victorian fantasy, I’ve been pulling out my research fu.
I smiled when Pip and Tee asked me to post Victoriana to the Ministry Facebook page. See, after working at Black Creek, writing the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and cramming my last few terms with nineteenth century history, I know where to find Victorian things.
The Internet Archive
Ah, www.archive.org, you are one of my best friends. Sometimes, I think I may even love you. The Internet Archive is a free-access digital library. Because it’s free, it mostly has materials which are long out of copyright.
That means it’s absolutely fantastic for primary sources.
Seriously, you can read whole books online. For free! Admittedly, it can be a bit persnickety with search terms: it’s best to either a) have a hugely wide net, or b) know exactly which title you want. And don’t even bother with the basic search if you’re doing historical research: advanced search is where it’s at.
The McCord Museum/Musée McCord
I’ve used the McCord Museum for the dayjob, the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and for the Ministry. It’s a very well-maintained site—there are all sorts of virtual tours and exhibitions to explore online.
They’ve got an extensive collection of Victoriana, much of which is easily accessed online. Really, it’s one of my main go-to’s for visual references—especially Victorian clothing. (I owe what little fashion vocabulary I have to the McCord Museum)
The Victorian Web
This venerable website (and yes, it does look it—just bear with it) is one of the oldest scholarly/academic sites out there. It has articles on a wide range of Victorian topics, including some really niche ones (stained glass and gaslight, anyone). Plus, it’s a bit like Wikipedia in that you can follow a trail of hyperlinks, drifting from topic to topic…only it’s not a site that anyone can edit, which helps me sleep at night.
But come on, I was a university student in the 2010s. Of course I like Wikipedia.
Although I’ve heard the horror stories of profs purposely inserting false information to show how unreliable Wikipedia is, I maintain that it has its uses. First, it’s a good way to get a general overview of a new subject before diving into more detailed information, avoiding that grasping-at-straws feeling.
Second…Wikipedia is a good place to start your bibliography.
Let’s search…oh, let’s search Victorian Gothic.
Ignore the article itself and scroll down to “Further Reading” and “External Links.”
Aha! A ready-made list of scholarly websites and books! Gothic Revival; The Gothic Revival & American Church Architecture; An Episode in Taste, 1840–1856; Of knights and spires: Gothic revival in France and Germany; the Victoria and Albert Museum Style Guide…
It isn’t a full bibliography, but it’s a good place to start.
Public Library Databases
All history students know that articles take less time to read than books and usually have more specialized information. And thank goodness—you don’t need to be in university to access them!
Most public library websites have a section that says “Research” or “Articles” or something similar. If you’ve got a library card, you can click through until you get to the databases themselves: something like EBSCO or Gale Cengage or Academic OneFile.
Many will also have digital archives. I didn’t even sign into the Toronto Public Library site and found this 1912 picture of the dayjob’s Half Way House:
I credit my high school history teacher for a) getting me interested in history and b) teaching me how to get good at finding stuff. Yes, it’s great for writing—but also, it’s the thrill of the chase.
Which is why I sometimes get sucked down the black hole of Cool Victorian Stuff…but that’s a post for another day. 🙂