Writers seldom choose as friends those self-contained characters who are never in trouble, never unhappy or ill, never make mistakes, and always count their change when it is handed to them.”
~ CATHERINE DRINKER BOWEN
1976 gave us Sybil, a film starring Sally Field in a tour de force as an unfortunate young woman who played host to thirteen personalities. She won an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of this confused and tragic figure, and it was richly deserved, but of course, I write here about the Craft of writing, and the writers who pursue it. So, what can we take from this movie, and the disorder it portrayed?
As writers, we have multiple people living in our heads all the time, and far from being a problem for us, they are there by invitation. As writers, we must be focused on the plot, the story arcs, the presentation of grammar, speech, and setting, and yet as writers, we also have to manipulate the characters. Characters who come with quirks, foibles, agendas, and complete personalities. Characters who exist only in our heads.
I am not Patience Hobbs. I am neither a dirigible pilot, a graduate of finishing school, nor even a woman. I never lived in the Victorian era, and when watching a show like Downton Abbey, I am constantly astonished by the rules, customs, and mores that these people not only put up with, but wholeheartedly embraced. They claim to accept these things out of their sense of duty and honor, yet if someone spoke to me the way some of the junior servants are spoken to in this show, I’m afraid duty and honor would require me to punch them in the snout!
Yet I must “live” in this world to write in it, put aside my 20th-21st century sensibilities, and inhabit the lives of multiple Victorian personalities, male and female, because steampunk is at its core Victorian. I don’t have multiple personality disorder (though I may be a bit bipolar), but I have to act like I do in order to breathe life into them. And so do you.
How do you manage it? Of course, character sheets are indispensable if you hope to keep any sort of continuity between a dozen characters or more, but what about the world? I find Victorian slang and customs creeping into my daily life. I talk with many people on the internet, and I nearly always address women as “Milady.” Beyond the Rails was set in Kenya, and many of the characters were fluent in Swahili. I often greet people in person with jambo, and thank them with asante. That’s the level of immersion I need to achieve to bring life to a world I’m working in.
How about you? Does your writing bleed into your real life, and in what ways? Do your friends think you a little “off,” or do they find the weirdness charming? What impressions do your friends have of a person who goes out of their way to cultivate Multiple Personality Order? Curious minds want to know!
View from the Blimp
Now we’re officially into summer, and to welcome it in (though the welcome is nowhere near as warm as San Diego’s back country in the summertime), I thought I’d share a little photo essay. Our kitchen window overlooks our driveway, and immediately beyond, a dirt hill where we have so far been unable to get anything to grow; it’s like the Romans came through here and salted that little patch of ground. So our crafty daughter, to improve the view, made this pair of flower baskets and hung them on each side of the window. The baskets are wire and the flowers are artificial; they’ve been there for years.
But they have been discovered by a dove. I believe this is the third year now that she has made a nest in the top of one of the baskets and raised her brood there, usually two chicks. It’s perfect. Cats, squirrels, snakes, and other assorted villains can’t get up there, people can’t see into it looking up from the ground, and the hawks and crows that patrol the skies can’t see anything but the top of our carport, which also protects her from the direct sunlight. She’s completely used to us, and while she won’t perch on a finger or anything like that, she doesn’t panic at our approach, and cocks her head to listen when we talk to her through the kitchen window. To my way of thinking, that’s pretty cool… About the only cool thing around here this time of year.
Look between the yellow and orange flowers at the top of the basket, and you’ll see two little gray-speckled bodies. At 10:00 o’clock to the yellow flower, one of their heads can clearly be seen keeping an eye on the suspiciously-acting hairless ape. Really fun to watch the generations come and go here.
As to writing, I have long been considered a freakishly detailed planner. Even other planners have tended to look at me with suspicion. I’m going to touch briefly on a “new” method that I stumbled onto (certainly didn’t invent!) after reading some blogs and experimenting with my Office program. It involves maximizing the features of the Excel Worksheet.
Since I have come to focus on the writing of themed novellas assembled into a book, I tend to outline them in the form of scenes, and the outlines have shrunk to a couple of sentences. The worksheets allow me to use a line for a scene, and the columns, as well as holding the one- or two-sentence description of the action, can track who is in the scene, the time and date it takes place, and even the ongoing word count as the story comes together. You can color-code for whether the viewpoint is hero, villain, or subplot, what scenes are finished, which need more polish, where a detail needs to be researched, which are action and which are passive “reaction” scenes, change scene order with a mouse click, and anything else your busy writer’s mind can think of.
This has been a profound discovery for me, and I plan to discuss it in detail in about two weeks. That will give me a chance to solidify what is rapidly shaping up to be the most useful organizational tool I have ever encountered, and perhaps most importantly, to learn to post a screenshot of it here. Believe me, I’ve tried index cards, loose-leaf notebooks, and have worked in spiral notebooks for years, and nothing I’ve ever tried can compare to this!
The Eighth Dwarf. Blacksmith Tiberius is dissatisfied with his lot in life. Convinced he deserves more, he’s become resentful of the other dwarves. He’s motivated by coin, and to a lesser extent women and power. A chance encounter with a beautiful and mysterious witch, whose plans include the removal of the current queen, result in an unlikely partnership. Soon he’s living the life he’d always dreamt of, whoring and drinking to his heart’s content, far away from the cramped cabin he’d shared with the other dwarves. But after an unexpected connection with a young princess named Snow White, and as the witch’s demands become more extreme, Tiberius questions the strength of their friendship and wonders how far he’s willing to go for titles and riches. $2.99 on Kindle.
The Book of Schemes. Simply defined, a “scheme” is nothing more than a systematic plan of action. Like snowflakes, no two of them are exactly alike. For example: A grieving mother seeks revenge upon a family of werewolves. What if you were getting a truly unique prom speech from a necromancer? What if there was a college for super villains? Within this 2nd Edition collection is a bizarre grouping of 25 short stories. Each of them revolves around a scheme. Some are brilliant. Others are stupid. A special few of them are utterly warped. So kick back, leave your conscience outside of these pages, and step into the world of the schemers. $3.00 on Kindle.
Richard Schulte writes profound ultra-short stories that he loves to share, but doesn’t ask anyone to pay for; he posts them on his blog, Short Stories by Richard. He posted another tiny masterpiece yesterday titled Skeleton Forgiveness. It’s a five minute read that will have you thinking all day!
In Other News…
I have a few readers in Europe, and some of them may be interested in this: Luxembourg is holding a steampunk convention to run September 29 – 30. Hosted by Minett Park of Fond-de-Gras, it will be held at Industry and Railway Park, 6790 Petange. There will be concerts, a market, exhibitions of steampunk creations, historic trains, and much more. Further information may be gleaned here.
The Following Books Have Recently Been Reduced to 99¢ on Kindle:
Here’s the challenge, in this world where everything costs more and more and more every day, and all anyone seems to be interested in is harvesting the contents of your wallet: Spend a dollar, and see if you don’t get a dollar’s worth of entertainment value in exchange. Please note that some of these offers are for a limited time, so strike while the iron is hot!
And that’s 30 for today. Join me next Tuesday when I’ll have a special announcement about my own book catalog, and most likely some more entertaining reading recommendations from other authors of my acquaintance. Until then, read well, and write better!