Round Robin – What Makes a Memorable Character?

What Makes a Memorable Character? this is Rhobin’s December question.

Who are your memorable characters? This, for a person like me who cannot remember names, is a very difficult one to answer. I had hoped to start my post with a quick-fire list of the fictional characters who’ve stayed with me, but I’m going to have to look up some of the names. That makes me wonder whether it’s the character I remember or the characteristics. Rolling it all up, characteristics make the memorableness – is that a word? Spell checker doesn’t like it much.

So, the list:

Robin Hood, Anne of Green Gables, Scarlett O’Hara, the Snow Queen, The Saint, James Bond, Karen Brockman and anyone from the cast of NCIS.

These people exemplify the cloyingly good, the selfishly or evilly bad and the delightful mixture that stops you pigeon-holing them.

Robin Hood was on tv on a Thursday afternoon during my childhood. His adventures were unmissable and, as we had a bit of woodland behind the house, we could pretend. Sheer escapism as one learned later. Why wasn’t Richard back in England running his own country instead of despoiling someone else’s? I still have a faint scar on my thigh from crawling through long grass stalking something or other and crawling over a bit of glass!

Anne of Green Gables

It’s hard to find any reading lady of a certain age who doesn’t claim Anne as her favourite childhood book. She had red hair and a lively imagination – what wasn’t to like? Certainly her feistiness stayed with me over the years.

Scarlett O’Hara

Now, here we begin to have memorable characters who aren’t by any means role models or even likeable. She did, however, do her best in appalling circumstances and one admired – until the child died. I suppose there’re lots of ways of interpreting Mitchell’s intentions, but setting aside the ‘bad girls must be punished in the end’ philosophy, I cannot love a character whose selfishness endangered her children.

The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen kept me awake as a child. It was my first encounter with the power of evil and a much more realistic characterisation than the wicked step-mothers that panto reduced to – well, panto.

The Saint and James Bond I’ve mentioned before that I wrote a major sixth form essay on the anti-hero. These are the chaps to blame for that fascination: or maybe it was just Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow? I notice my own heroes often raise an eyebrow, too.

Karen Brockman

Karen Brockman, and I did have to look up the name, is the youngest child in the sit-com Outnumbered. The episodes were not scripted, but suggested to the child actors and Karen had some wonderfully effective scenes. Played by Ramona Marquez, the character could turn any expectation on its head. The character is a wonderful example of the self-absorbed and the mayhem that trait can wreak.

NCIS I loved the original series and many of the subsequent ones. Changes in the ensemble cast lost Cate, Jenny and Mike Franks. Again blatant escapism with larger than real-life characterisation and super-complicated plotting. I no longer watch as I find some of the chemistry gone and some of the plotting improbable to a degree.

So what memorable traits have I given my characters? I would say Mariah is determined. Bella is courageous. Daisy is self-aware, but it’s hard won. Melissa is brave in the face of enormous adversity. The character I’m writing at present will also need dollops of courage to get over her conservatism. Or, as we say now, leave her comfort zone.

To find out what my fellow authors think of this topic, go here:

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-18Y
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Rhobin L Courtright
http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

 

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A Significant Day

Some things in life are inevitable even if they come round slowly.

I grew up in the Lothians and while my mum was alive drove out there often. Today I was making a significant visit. Doesn’t matter why. I’d forgotten what a frost hollow it is. Nearly went over on the slippy pavements. Didn’t.

Home now. Here’s a dragon from Vietnam – just ‘cos.

Anne

Not NanoWriMo – Progress

An earlier RNA Goody Bag

 

Not NanowriMo has had to cope with such a lot of other stuff. Not least of which was the RNA Winter Party. It takes several days of faffing around to make up name-badges for new attendees and those who took their badge away from an earlier meeting (you know who you are).I also have to think about and order the canapés – such an imposition, I can’t tell you!

This year there was an innovation when Goody Bags were donated by the lovely folk at Harper Collins. They had to be physically shifted from their delivery boxes onto the tables in the vestibule. I’m so grateful to the lovely Anna Louise Lucia and Mick Arnold for help moving them. I was truly exhausted the following day. Maybe joining a gym isn’t such a bad idea.

Dancing shoes with medals

 

Next up was the fantastic Strathspey Ball organised by Isabel and Aileen in Boat of Garten. More moving – this time of tables, chairs, glasses, crockery etc. and then of the body in stirring Scottish reels, jigs and strathspeys. Don’t know about you, but I find strathspeys hard work, if lovely to dance and to watch.

So, the Not the NanoWriMo count? Maybe I’ll keep that to myself, but I did have 4 lovely days in Assynt where I saw the countryside under snow for the first time. How very beautiful it is. Writing was done and I think I see the way forward with my current Scottish Regency set in King Street and Heriot Row.

How’s yours going? Reached the 50,000?

My apologies for the clunky links below, but WordPress won’t let me embed them. sigh!

Anna Louise Lucia  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Louise-Lucia-Romantic-Suspense-Bundle-ebook/dp/B00AA33JEG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1511780058&sr=1-1&keywords=anna+louise+lucia

M W Arnold (Mick Arnold) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Season-Love-M-W-Arnold-ebook/dp/B078486B25/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1511782885&sr=1-1&keywords=the+season+for+love

Round Robin – In What time period do set your stories?

Topic: In what time period do you prefer to set your stories – past, present, or future? What are the problems and advantages of that choice? Would you like to change? 

 

Unequivocally, I like to set my stories in the past. I do write short stories in the present, but I don’t remember ever having a go at the future.

THE PROBLEMS of writing in the past are two sides of the same coin, On the face of it is the problem created by not having been there. On the reverse is the problem created by having been there.

Dancing shoes with medals

Scottish Regency I wasn’t around in the latter years of George the Third’s reign and his son’s extended regency, but there is ample research material. Books, papers, art, furniture, the laws made, the laws enforced and, the real glory, the Georgian buildings still standing in many British cities. Edinburgh has its magnificent New Town and outriders like George Square where Bella’s Betrothal is set. I can look up the street directories and find out who lived in which house and what their occupation was. You can’t do that today!

One problem that creates difficulties for me in trying to woo some readers is the sheer cliff-face of the shift in attitudes since 1819. Some readers might be turned away by the strictures of life for a woman in that period. They may not wish or aren’t able to get into the mind-set. As a writer I love the challenge of working out how a woman would have made the best of it and, in the case of one’s heroine, bested the hero, her papa, the local lothario…

Midlothian 1950s

I was there and many, many of the thousands of folk who read my debut serial in The People’s Friend last year, A Traveller’s Life, were also there. Memory is a tricksy business. The facts may well be indisputable, but their interpretation most certainly is not. I have two friends from my early schooling who grew up in the village I did and the neighbouring one. Consulting them helped enormously because the sister of one not only remembered the nature of the District Nurse’s uniform and the blue lamp at her gate, but also her name. Another friend had worked as a District Nurse and provided me with the wonderful insight: “And you kept your hat on – no matter the procedure being undertaken.” A little thing, but annoying to the many wonderful ladies (I think that’s right, only women) who undertook such essential work, if you get it wrong.

ADVANTAGES

For me, the principle advantage of writing in the past is perspective. As a writer of fiction I do have a ViewPoint character and the story will be skewed to show that person’s perspective. Writing years after the type of event in the story allows me to have read and thought about what might have happened in those circumstances and what might have provoked it or even resolved it. I may have to give a particular VP, but I can at least allow the others to break the surface of memory’s pool.

WOULD I LIKE TO CHANGE

Maybe. I do have one or two stories I want to tell in the present rather than through the lens of the past. It is, however, very difficult when living amidst the glories of Edinburgh’s New Town and visiting on a fairly frequent basis the wonderful sweeps of London’s great Georgian streets and their magnificent parks, to drag myself into our world of ‘normal’.

WORK IN PROGRESS

It’s a mixture. I’ve got a Scottish Regency on the go having been primed by writing a short story for Capital Writers (more on another occasion). I have a scatty heroine and a set of loveable rogues poised on the threshold of adult responsibility. I’m also, the Fiction Editor mentioned it in her blog two weeks ago, writing a contemporary serial for People’s Friend.

If you want to read others’ views on this month’s topic, here’s the list of great participants:

 

Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Anne de Gruchy
https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-14G
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire 
http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright
http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Round Robin – Memorable Characters

This month Rhobin has asked us to think: What characters in other author’s books have not left your mind? Have you written a character who wouldn’t leave you? Why do you think this happens?

Being a prolific reader over a long time period makes the choice here very hard. I know I’ve always enjoyed the anti-hero. I wrote the thesis for my sixth year studies’ certificate about anti-heroes from the characters in Grimms’ Fairytales to James Bond. so, at that vulnerable, romantic and sentimental stage in life, they’re all there – the Scarlet Pimpernel, The Saint, James Bond and the strapping men on horseback sweeping all before them in the novels of Georgette Heyer. They have the best wardrobes, the best dialogue and they do GOOD without being in the least WORTHY.

As I grew older, the reading didn’t diminish much so the choice is even wider. I think I’ve mentioned the book before, but it’s worth re-visiting – DON’T PLAY GAMES by Emma Darcy is a M&B published in 1985. It has a heroine, Kate Andrews and hero, Alex Dalton. So much, so M&B, but this book because of the characters and their story has stayed with me. I have the copy on the desk in front of me. Kate is a redheaded (is that a giveaway?) feisty, but loyal character, and Alex is , because this is classic M&B, an anti-hero of the billionaire world.

A more recent set of characters to stay with me are the women, goodies and baddies, from Katharine Stockett’s wonderful book, The Help. It is so beautifully realised and again the dialogue is first-rate. Reading it in an internal Southern States’ accent had me in the room.

The character ‘wot I wrote’ that stayed with me was Mariah’s sister-in-law, Lady Daisy. I had to rein in the writing while working on the scenes she appeared in in Mariah’s Marriage. In due course, she got her own book, Daisy’s Dilemma and a worthwhile choice she proved to be.

Others have written about their memorable characters and you can find them here:

Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire 
http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Country Mouse in Town

Exhausted Footwear

Country mouse made another expedition to the Big City this week. Starting at my favourite London Hotel (that’s my secret) to check out the distances from and to the wonderful new venue for the Romantic Novelist Association’s Winter Party, One Birdcage Walk, involved a walk along Sloane Street from Sloane Square underground station. Now I know I could have caught the No 22, but I also know, I can make it on foot.

Then out to meet the London mouse in Catherine Street – Ha! She now knows how abysmal are my map reading skills. We now know that her smart phone can log onto my (decidedly non-smart) phone and track my movements. She followed my progress out of Covent Garden to Russell Street and along into Catherine. How very scary is that? Excellent meal in Loch Fyne Restaurant after the pre-theatre rush.

Hence the shoes looking much as I felt. They had more to come as, for the first time since the Bholgatty Island Palace Hotel incident, I left the premises with the keys. Had to go back. Have you any idea how far they’ve made the distances between bus stops in London? No? A lot.

Anne

Conference Know-How RNA starts from Thursday

 

Gala dinner Library

There’re are one or two tips I’d like to share with you. Any similarity to the marvellous advice sent out by RNA conference organising supremo, Jan Jones, is entirely intentional. Are tips copyright? I first posted this blog on 7th July 2014 and it still seems relevant.

Tip One Do not bring extra reading material. Goody bags are awaiting your arrival and they contain reading material. Also, there is a pop-up book shop on site.

100_4604

Tip Two There are tenners and fivers in circulation or available from your bank. Get hold of some. The bar staff will be very pleased to see you.

Tip Three Yes, dressing-up on Saturday night is fun. the original of this one was made with insect wings. The copy uses plastic fingernails. Wouldn’t put either in the wash though.

early 2012 087

Tip Four Do bring extra coffee, tea-bags and fresh milk. (Jan Jones, see above.) When it comes to food, I miss cheese and fresh fruit that isn’t a rock hard apple, too.

Tip Five Remember the quiet person in the corner is probably a really important editor, agent or author, but they still want to be loved for themselves. Do spare a moment to talk to them.

Tip Six A small paper fan is really useful for creating a breeze in an overheated room. (thanks to Melanie Hilton).

Tip Seven Do keep to your ten minutes in ten minute slots at 1-2-1s Saying it once with feeling and commitment is good.

Tip Eight Think up a few pertinent questions to ask if the speaker invites them. It’s a horrible experience as a chairwoman looking at a sea of silent faces. Chances are if you want to know then others will appreciate the answer, too.

Tip Nine Never mind the photo opps, You can never have too many pairs of comfortable shoes. Slip-on and offs are particularly good as the days pass.

Manchester night out

Tip Ten Relax. Enjoy the moment(s). Go home. Apply lessons learned. Write best-seller.

Till next year…

http://goo.gl/pASdjp Mariah’s Marriage amazon US

“Oh, Mariah, let us not quarrel. We will be married within the month. At least your papa’s house contains plenty of books. You may practise throwing them.” anne stenhouse

http://goo.gl/NxYxj5 Mariah’s Marriage UK

http://goo.gl/PKptQg Bella’s Betrothal US

 …a solitary figure ahead among some gorse and shrubs. Charles thought she made a beautiful picture in her riding habit with the exquisite hat Jenny Menzies wished to inherit. He thought the girl might get it sooner rather than later if he followed his instincts. At that precise moment, he wanted to shake Bella hard. Then he would lock her in the castle in Strath Menzies and hold her forever. anne stenhouse

http://goo.gl/5RBzIm Bella’s Betrothal UK

https://www.omnilit.com/product-bella039sbetrothal-1312055-162.

html https://www.omnilit.com/product-mariah039smarriage-1173550-149.html

 

Round Robin

Hullo again and welcome to June’s Round Robin which is about Characters. Robin, who sets up these posts, calls it a basic topic. It is a basic topic – but one might also refer to it as fundamental.

You can have the most wonderful plot in the history of fiction writing, but if you have to frogmarch your characters through it – it will not work.

In the beginning

So how do I go about developing them? I listen to their conversations. I used to write plays and for that I would put two characters in a room and listen in. Gradually, gradually, I begin to hear what they think needs saying. Fiction of course needs much more narrative and the conversations have to be embellished by surroundings. A pauper woman in Shoreditch is going to have different things to say about there being no food in the house, from a Duchess in Wiltshire.

Fiction writing also lacks a play producer, so it’s up to the writer to dress the characters. Perhaps that leads on to what the Duchess thinks about her dressmaker and the pauper about the rag-and-bone man.

I do spend time on it, but it is time during the writing process. I may know that my theme demands a type of heroine and a type of hero. As I explore what I want to tease out of the theme, I’m listening to the characters.

…and into maturity

What inspires the process of creating a character? Well, getting the next action or twist right, is very important. When I was writing Mariah’s Marriage, Mariah’s response to the countess’s revelation that Toby wanted to marry her, wasn’t the response I’d thought to type. As I typed, the girl’s reaction crystallised and when I read it over, I realised that the character had spoken and I needed to re-think that part of the plot and what happened next. An altogether satisfactory place to arrive at.

The other participants are listed below and despite having a teen at hand to consult, I’ve no idea why they’re appearing in miniature font. Comments on that or on how you create characters will be most welcome,

Anne

Round Robin – Does getting the First Chapter Right Mess Up the Rest of the Book?

This month’s topic is the first post of the fifth year of Round Robins and has been suggested by Skye Taylor:

Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers’ advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

As many of you know I am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The RNA runs a scheme, possibly unique, whereby people may join as ‘New Writers’ and for a modest fee submit a MS once in the year for critique by an experienced writer in their genre.

I was in this scheme for 5 years and submitted 5 books. The critique of one stated baldly that I wrote a very good first chapter, but the reader needed the rest of the book, too. So, you might say, I’ve had contrary advice and indeed paid for it.

Dancing shoes with medals

I see exactly where Both Skye and the anonymous NWS reader are coming from. I came to the understanding many years ago that it’s the puzzle I’m interested in. My house used to be full of drawers containing the first chapter of a novel or the opening scene of a play or, and this is what eventually made me understand why I never finished anything, the back of a hand-knitted jumper. Once I knew where the story was going or how the knitting pattern worked, there was little need to complete.

I was enchanted by Elizabeth Hawksley’s lovely post about her vintage, antique even, sewing machine. You can read it here. While I knew many people in the late 60s and early 70s who did make and wear their own clothes, my efforts were in general not fit to be seen. Being an ‘A’ student, I learned Latin after 2nd year and so never developed the discipline of making a garment. That’s where the NWS scheme triumphs, I think. You have a go in year one and learn a bit. In year two you do carry that learning forward…and so on. The discipline of completing an annual MS was invaluable.

Other advice will suggest the ending needs to be strong and, in romance, that the ‘black moment’ has to be apparently unsolvable. Carried to extremes all of this turns good writing practice into pastiche, in my humble opinion. Yes, readers remember particular bits, but it can be surprising when people tell you in conversation which bits. They aren’t necessarily anything to do with the landmark moments.

The Menzieses’ House No 20

My friend awaits my Edinburgh based regencies so she can walk the pavements she walked while growing up in Buccleuch Place and indulge in a little sentimental reminiscing.

Other lovely people have been mulling over this topic and they can be found on their blogs below:
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-YV
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Round Robin – Description – How Much is Too Much – Too Little?

 
Description I remember a writing lesson exercise at primary school. The task was to describe the living room of our house. It was a huge joy when the teacher said of my piece that he would be able to walk into that room and not bump into anything because my description was so careful, he knew where everything was.
     So, is that degree of detail appropriate for the kind of historical fiction I write now?
I don’t think so. I prefer to give the reader a few clues and allow them to visualise countryside, room, people, animals, in their mind’s eye. I like to think that a clue will conjure a world.
     If it’s pouring rain, the reader will see the water from a phrase like, ‘She came up out of the underground into a mass of folk hurrying on their way beneath a jostling canopy of umbrellas.’
     On the other hand, if the sun is blazing, I might use, ‘She shielded her eyes beneath an outstretched palm. It was hard to tell whether the heat was more shocking than the expanse of flesh on view. She knew her mother was right when she said Brits don’t dress well in summertime.’
     I want to include enough to let the reader know the bits of information it is important they do not get wrong. I want them to see the difference between a young lady and her maid, a crossing-sweeper and an Eton school-boy – and so on. One of my favourite passages from one of my own books is this from Mariah’s Marriage:

“Of course Tilly would be interested in the earl’s tailored wool coat with his spotless waistcoat and carefully tied neck cloth. The men who normally visited here wore ill-fitting garments which were often stained with food. Not only that, but the earl had a clean-shaven face and the hair of his head was trimmed into a neat style that allowed his strong bones to be seen easily. Seen and admired, she thought.”

I think this little snippet of description not only tells us what Tobias looks like, but how overwhelmed Tilly is and, indeed, how Mariah, too, is succumbing.

London Girl

London Girl

     Our topic also asked whether I skimmed description when reading a book. Oh dear, yes I do. I am most likely to skim scene-setting description. It’s very unfair of me and maybe I should try harder, but honestly, I want to know the characters are in a dental surgery or a fast-food outlet, but I don’t need to know what colour the paintwork is. Unless, of course, that’s relevant to the plot.
So, if description interests you, then read on among my Round Robien friends below. I think you’ll enjoy…