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Before You Were Born

  • Posted on January 18, 2015 at 2:58 pm

((A writing prompt from Amanda Patterson‘s Tumblr, Amanda on Writing. The prompt is:

Writing Prompt

I’ll be filling it with two protagonists.))

Karabela felt a quickening in her belly, and smoothed her hand over the soft white cloth covering it. Since her pregnancy, Katar had been providing her with nicer things. Things that took him more time to earn, to hunt. She wasn’t sure how she felt about this. Especially since he was moving her from her home, from her tribe. She should have known marrying from one of the wandering tribes would end in her own wandering. But she’d seen the dark swirls around his eyes and his knuckles and the breadth of the darkness swirling on his back, and she had fallen in love.

‘Hush now, little one.’ She thought to the child in her belly. He would be a fierce warrior, she knew. A hunter, and a leader. She smiled, her thumb rubbing the swell of him there. She could not know if it would be a boy or a girl, but no matter what, the child would be a fierce warrior, a hunter, and a leader. The cart shuddered underneath her, and she lost her smile for a moment. Katar screamed at the poor beasts pulling it. Donkeys he’d purchased from a white-skinned trader. His shaved head shone like mud in the sun, and she glared at him, for the mistreatment of the animals. In the back, the crate of four chickens clucked nervously next to the grains he’d purchased as well.

He was serious about this, about their joining some strange pale-skin village, about living there, and seeing how they live. She did not like this, she really didn’t. What kind of life would their little one lead? What kind of home would he have, without cousins to play with, without girls to teach him kindness, without other hunters to teach him knots and bows and slings? He would be nothing but a farmer, and that was not what she wanted for her son. But her husband insisted, believed it would bring them closer. She didn’t laugh in his face out of respect for his passion.

The child within her swollen womb moved again, and as she comforted him, she comforted herself.

~*~*~*~*

Nikola stared, once again, at the putrid green herb sitting on her table, next to the lavender she grew for her skin, the tea tree for her husband’s callouses. She’d always loathed parsley, even in her food, but now… She grit her teeth, glaring at her useless lump of a husband. He lay, drunkenly passed out, in their bed. They’d just sold off Mendala, her apprenticeship putting them in enough money to actually survive for a few years, provided he doesn’t just drink it away. Now, he’d managed to get her with child again.

She turned, her green eyes staring out the window. The Oleanders were in bloom once again, and though she loved the smell, the children running through the petals outside just filled her with rage. She refused to acknowledge that her jealousy perhaps had something to do with it. She was jealous, yes, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was what to do next.

She touched the barely-there swell of her child. No. No she wouldn’t think of it that way. This was a nuisance. Just like all the other children before. A crying, shitting, useless pile of flesh that only became profitable once men started drooling. She looked once again at the parseley, but didn’t get up to make the tea. Might as well secure their future. The screaming would at least make Dane leave for awhile. She pushed back her freshly washed red hair, and plucked one of the oleanders growing beneath her window. Taking a deep breath, she smiled, and set it in her hair.

This child would be a burden. A useless creature whose life would only have worth with legs spread. It felt sort of poetic, actually. Her crimson lips curved into a sardonic smile, as she thought of all the humiliating things she can have this child do. She hoped it was a boy. Boys were easier to raise. Mendalla, Maka and Anna had all been absolutely horrid to raise, much less to sell. Her hand smoothed over her belly in an almost tender gesture, the same sort of soothing one gives a pig before you slaughter it.

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part Six

  • Posted on September 7, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Welcome to part six of Breaking Down Nemesis! Part Five ended at the end of Miss Marple’s first day of her tour, gifted by the dead Mr. Rafiel. She’d been vaguely introduced to fourteen people who would be sharing space with her, and confirmed another part of our Agatha Christie Code.  For those of you just joining us, Part One explains the Agatha Christie Code, and what we’re looking for to confirm it.

I’ve finally figured out what has been bothering me with the last few chapters. And to be honest, it’s what we’re looking for in the first place, so I’m not sure WHY I didn’t notice it before! You see, Homestuck had this same situation. The beginning was so boring, and lifeless, that I almost quit that too! In fact, I did, for several years! And then, I came back, reread it all, and got past the parts I thought were boring, and managed to delve into the meat of the story! I’m glad I did reread it too, because it had a lot of content that made future bits make more sense!

Now, often people compare Homestuck and Agatha Christie novels, because people believe that Homestuck follows the Agatha Christie Code. So, I stuck it out, and kept reading Nemesis. And it turns out that Nemesis is following the same key! The intro is long, descriptive, and can sometimes be considered boring, but is full of rich information that one needs in order to understand the later plot.

In fact, in this chapter, we begin to learn more about those around us, which is going to come in handy later, I’m sure. The chapter begins in a Queen Anne Manor House. For those who don’t know what those are, Queen Anne Manor Houses, are a type of architecture popular during Queen Anne’s reign in Britain (1702-1714). It’s a type of Baroque architecture,  noted for it’s grand, yet simple designs.

A Queen Anne Manor House

A Queen Anne Manor House

In fact, one of the guests on Miss Marple’s tour, Mr. Richard Jameson, is an architect who happens to be in love with the style. In fact, he’s hijacked the entire tour in order to go on and on about it, pointing out things like special moulding on fireplaces, and historical references similar to the ones I just gave you.

The tour-guide gets a little tired of it, and declares that in the next room, the White Parlour, was where they found the body. However, before you think that this is the murder that Miss Marple is to put to rights, he is quick to inform you that it was in the 1700s, and begins to tell the tale.

A young man, with a dagger through the heart, right on the hearthrug. The Lady Moffat of the day, had a lover, and when he came through a small side door and down a steep staircase, Sir Richard Moffat, her husband, caught them together.

Mrs. Butler, the american woman, declares it absolutely romantic, and her husband begins to inform everyone that she’s ‘sensitive to atmospheres’. I take this to be old-timey speak for psychic. Miss Marple, along with a few others, quickly make their escape, before Mrs. Butler and her husband can swindle them all out of their pocket cash.

Miss Cooke and Miss Barrow have followed her, and Miss Marple manages to explain that an old friend of hers had a nerve-racking experience with a dead body on her library floor one morning. While discussing it, Miss Marple recounts that the dead body had been a young woman in an evening dress. In fact, she’d dyed her hair as well.

And this triggers the memory of having met Miss Cooke! I knew that name was familiar! See? It pays to keep attention on previous bits. Now Miss Cooke has in fact dyed her hair! It was dark, but now she’s blonde! Maybe she did it because blondes have more fun? However, Miss Marple doesn’t bring it up. She doesn’t have time.

Mrs. Riseley-Porter interrupts, declaring she can’t go up or down any more stairs, and decides that everyone is going to take a tour around the garden instead. Since she was an authoritative old lady, she got her way, and Miss Marple, Miss Cooke, Miss Barrow, and Colonel Walker all headed to the garden, where Miss Marple took a seat.

Miss Elizabeth Temple followed her, and the two old ladies bond over how boring the lecture in the house was. Which of course, leads into a discussion about the tragedy of when people die young. Miss Marple argues that it is a tragedy, and that they miss so much. Miss Temple argues instead, that they miss nothing, for they are dead.

“What did T. S. Eliot say: The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of equal duration.”

I greatly like this quote, and I feel it would be something that people were forced to learn in school. It makes a very good argument towards Miss Temple’s side of things, of course. Which is, perhaps, the reason Miss Agatha chose it!

An awkward conversation leads to Miss Temple asking Miss Marple to guess why she is here. We discover that Miss Temple is on a self-imposed pilgrimage Whatever that means to her, of course. Luckily, this leads to a conversation about Mr. Rafiel, and we find out another interesting tidbit!

Miss Temple was acquainted with a girl who DATED Mr. Rafiel’s son! Again, I’m relatively sure that Miss Marple needs to find out what happened to Mr. Rafiel’s son. Also, I wish I had another name to call him besides Mr. Rafiel’s son, because that gets very tiresome. Anyway, it turns out that the girl was engaged to Mr. Rafiel’s son, but didn’t marry him.

She died. Of course she died, and it turns out she died of… Get this. LOVE. That’s all Miss Temple will say on the matter, too! How mysterious? Who was the girl, and why did she die? And what did Mr. Rafiel Jr. have to do with it? Oh. That’s it. I’m calling him Junior from now on. Anyway, what did Junior have to do with her death? Was this the reason he was considered taboo? And what is Miss Cooke doing? Why did she dye her hair?

As you can see, Miss Agatha has clearly mastered the art of leaving us with more questions than she answered! Not only that, but we’re getting even more insight into the other characters, as well. We now know Mrs. Butler, who’s nickname is Mamie, by the way, is ‘sensitive’. Why is she ‘sensitive’? What point was there in knowing that, other than to make that character mildly interesting for a few moments?

The lesson here? Leave more questions than answers. Especially at this early stage in the book. We are, after all, only six chapters into a twenty two chapter book! So, ladies and gents, tell me: How do you intend to leave your readers guessing? Leave a comment with some explanations, or maybe an excerpt or two!

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part Five

  • Posted on September 4, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Welcome to Part Five of Breaking Down Nemesis! In Part Four, we discovered that Miss Marple’s original idea, of meeting Mrs. Anderson and asking her about the deceased Mister Rafiel, turns out to be a bunk. In fact, we are no closer at all to finding out the mystery that Mister Rafiel wanted us to find, nor are we actually anywhere closer to the actual plot! It turns out that from what we’ve found out, Mrs. Anderson doesn’t have anything to do with it at all!

Luckily enough, this chapter is entitled Instructions From Beyond, so I don’t doubt we’ll finally get some directions! It starts out with a letter that arrives three or four days after the confrontation with Mrs. Anderson. I’ve copied it here, for your perusal as well!

Dear Miss Marple,

By the time you read this I shall be dead and also buried. Not cremated, I am glad to think. It has always seemed to me unlikely that one would manage to rise up from one’s handsome bronze vase full of ashes and haunt anyone if one wanted so to do! Whereas the idea of rising from one’s grave and haunting anyone is quite possible. Shall I want to do that? Who knows. I might even want to communicate with you.

By now my solicitors will have communicated with you and will have put a certain proposition before you. I hope you will have accepted it. If you have not accepted it, don’t feel in the least remorseful. It will be your choice.

This should reach you, if my solicitors have done what they were told to do, and if the posts have done the duty they are expected to perform, on the 11th of the month. In communication from a travel bureau in London. I hope what it proposes will not be distasteful to you. I needn’t say more. I want you to have an open mind. Take care of yourself. I think you will manage to do that. You are a very shrewd person. The best of luck and may your gaurdian angel be at your side looking after you. You may need on.

Your affectionate friend,

J. B. Rafielmr.rafielgrave

My fangirl instincts are beginning to really enjoy the idea of these two in a romance.  However, putting that aside, Miss Marple is quickly contacted, again in two days time, by the Famous Houses and Gardens of Great Brittain. I won’t type up their whole letter, it basically states that she’s been given a free tour around London, and after checking with a few of her friends to make sure the company wasn’t a scam, she made arrangements.

Once again, we are treated to a scene with Cherry. She’s worried that Miss Marple might not be up to the long amounts of walking involved with the group tour. In the end, Cherry decides that so long as Miss Marple doesn’t “Fall down with a heart attack, even if you are looking at a particularly sumptuous fountain or something”, that she’s fine with it.

Another two days later, and Miss Marple carries her small overnight bag as well as her new suitcase onto a very nice new bus. Another bit of her genius shows through, as she studies the Passenger list, along with the daily itenerary. Apperantly, the itenerary was quite well arranged, with two seperate tours, one for those fleet of foot, and one for the elderly who can’t really move that well. Miss Marple then began guessing who each name on the passenger lists belonged to.

Now, during this particular strain of thought, Miss Marple uses that term again, that I took exception to in the second chapter. “Old Pussies” is a bit… Well, problematic nowadays. So, we’ll not be going over that too much. I’m attempting to take this book as the time period it was written in.

To be quite honest, this chapter really didn’t interest me all that much during my first read through. It was mostly descriptions of what people looked like, and how they struck Miss Marple, which while normally quite interesting, was, in this case, quite boring. Of the fifteen passengers, she determined quite a few things. Unfortunately, with the way it is written, and how tangled it all is, I honestly can’t begin to untangle it.

However, this does bring credit to our Agatha Christie Code theory. Miss Christie just added sixteen new characters to the story, and gave them all very in depth descriptions, and as noted, my brain basically just GAVE UP. Luckily, in the next chapter, we get slowly introduced to them a little easier, so I’m not really going to lay them out now. However, I am going to note a few bits of good writing.

Once again, we’re treated to a very organic thought process from Miss Marple. She goes from thinking about the four other old women, which is realistic mostly due to the fact that people generally note those similar to themselves. I know that I tend to look at young women on the bus before I look at old men, or older women. We see again, how she compares others to those that she knows. Specifically, she compares an old woman to someone called “Dame Emily Waldron”, a notable scientist, and a Principal of an Oxford College.

Perhaps we should learn from this. The next chance you get, take a moment and categorize your own thinking. Take notes on what you notice first, and follow along to your next thought. When you read books, note the thought processes of the characters that you’re reading.

The first day of the trip passes, without Miss Marple determining if anyone was involved in a murder, and she goes to bed, hoping that she might find something out the next day. Before bed, she spends a few moments, noting things down in her notebook. Which, honestly, is a wonderful way to bring us into re-thinking the things she’d discovered today as well. A wonderful narrative device, in fact.

So what have we learned today? Having an organic thought process for your character, as well as showing creative narrative devices to re-iterate information that may have been hard to understand in the first place, are keys to salvaging a rather horrid chapter.

For those of you following along, what did you think of this chapter? For those of you who aren’t, Share your experiences in the comments, with books that start slow and boring, and then pick up?

 

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part Four

  • Posted on August 27, 2014 at 8:31 am

Welcome again, to another installment of Breaking Down Nemesis! Once again, we are here to learn and experience Miss Agatha Christie’s work, and perhaps find a link to the elusive Agatha Christie Code that I keep hearing about. Essentially, the idea is to break down and discover if an Agatha Christie novel really is addictive! For this experiment in literature, I’ve chosen a random novel from her Miss Marple series, titled Nemesis. 

If you’re lost already, please see Part One, Part Two, and Part Three for the previous installments, that way you can keep up with the mystery as it unravels! And don’t forget to subscribe to see future installments, as well!

In the beginning of this chapter, we are introduced to Miss Marple’s sneaky side. In chapter three, we get to see her be sneaky when she asks Cherry, her assistant, to phone Mrs. Anderson, in order to find out if she’s at home, or out and about. This plan included a caveat that was to have Cherry inform Miss Anderson that she, Cherry, was Mr. Broadribb (Mr. Rafiel’s lawyer)’s secretary, and that she was to meet him at his office, but only if Miss Anderson was out and not to be back today.

The brilliance of that plan still makes me giggle. Honestly, it sounds a little like something I’d have done when playing Dungeons and Dragons, and setting up a trap for someone! Unluckily for us, we don’t get to see how that might have played out. I’d like to point out that this sort of organic thinking is coming a bit more often now. Or maybe we’re beginning to understand Miss Marple’s thought process a lot clearer, now that we’re actually involved in her investigation? Miss Christie certainly has me by the ear.

It turns out that Mrs. Anderson was out shopping at the supermarket. And who should she collide with, but Miss Marple herself! And as if the old codger wasn’t planning the whole thing, the two of them talk as if they’ve just run into each other. Instead of having the conversation she wants to have right there, Miss Marple instead arranges to visit Mrs. Anderson at home, instead.

Now, this might seem odd, but if you think about it, honestly, Miss Marple has the right idea. Mrs. Anderson will be more comfortable at home, and we might get to see what it was that the two of them are so at-arms with each other about. I can’t wait to find out myself!

The two exchange pleasantries for a little bit, and then Miss Marple seems to try to slide small questions in there, to find out more about Mr. Rafiel’s supposed request. She also takes a moment to notice that the oppulence of Mrs. Anderson’s new home, and connected it with a possible inheritance by Mrs. Anderson from Mr. Rafiel. Miss Marple asks if he left anything to the Nurse-Attendant Jackson, and finds out no he did not, and Mrs. Anderson hasn’t even seen the gentleman since they worked together.

Another series of questions by Miss Marple, and I’m beginning to see that she has a bit of a built in camouflage.

“…I was thinking it only the other day, after I’d seen the notice of his death. I wished I could know a little more. Where he was born, you know, and his parents. What they were like. Whether he had any children, or nephews or cousins or any family. I would so like to know.”

Esther Anderson smiled slightly. She looked at Miss Marple and her expression seemed to say “Yes, I’m sure you always want to know everything of that kind about everyone you meet.”

We’re getting more hints as to how people see her. Mrs. Anderson clearly thinks of Miss Marple as someone who is overly curious. But it’s tempered by the old-woman camouflage I was talking about. Everyone expects her to be nosy, because that’s how old women are! Take this lesson to heart. Let your characters use their own camouflages. If a woman wears glasses, let her put her hair in a bun, and pretend seriousness, despite her real personality. If a man has a raspy voice, let him pretend that he is dark and dangerous, when necessary. And when a person looks younger than they really are, let them use that childishness to their advantage to make others underestimate them! Remind yourself constantly of who they appear to be to others, so that this can be turned one-eighty and used against them!

The two go on to discuss more information, specifically about how Mr. Rafiel lost his wife long ago, but had three living children. Two daughters, and a son. One of the daughters married, and now lives in america, and the other daughter died, very young. It turns out there was trouble between father and son!

Picture Courtesy of bildungblog.blogspot.com

Picture Courtesy of bildungblog.blogspot.com

Apparently, the son was a scandalous sort, and died a few years ago. Mr. Rafiel never spoke of him. Odd that a deceased son, who was involved in scandals shows up just as Miss Marple is looking for a mystery, don’t you think? However, the two of them quickly come to a derailment, as the events at St. Honore get brought up again! And it turns out that Mrs. Anderson is still upset with something Miss Marple did in the Caribbean, but instead of actually discussing it, Mrs. Anderson stares coldly at Miss Marple, who takes her leave.

After leaving Mrs. Anderson’s home, Miss Marple determines that maybe, just maybe she was wrong to visit Mrs. Anderson, and thinks that perhaps there’s nothing to do with her at all in this mystery. I’m not quite so sure, but I think Miss Christie wrote it that way. I still can’t tell if this is a red-herring, or if I’m honestly right when I think that Mrs. Anderson is going to have something to do with it.

Eventually, after doubting herself a little bit, she comes to the same conclusion I have, which is that her old-lady-camouflage is a wonderful trait to have, and that she comes to recognize what people are like, based on who they remind her of. After that, she goes to sleep, thinking that it is entirely up to Mr. Rafiel to give her some sort of sign as to what exactly she is supposed to be doing.

This chapter in general, I think, was to show us more of Miss Marple’s character. I’m not sure anything really got done, other than, perhaps, clearing Mrs. Anderson of suspicion, and refusing to hand us any real clues as to what it is that Miss Marple is really supposed to be doing. Another point towards the Agatha Christie Code, as I was told that there was to be a lot of description, and slowness getting to the main plot. Which this chapter seems to embody quite a bit.

I find myself, however, instead of growing intrigued, growing a little bit bored of it. I’m starting to wonder, just like Miss Marple, if there really is any mystery to be solving at all! Which, I’m not sure if that’s a good way for a mystery novel to begin. However, dear reader, I will slog on, in order to find out! Just for you!

Please, however, do me a favor! In the comments, give me an idea or two of what you think the mystery is going to be! Do you think it’s Mr. Rafiel’s deceased son? Do you think Mrs. Anderson perhaps murdered someone? Do you think something entirely different is going to happen? Let me know!

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part One

  • Posted on August 13, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Welcome to a new series of articles centered around breaking down, and understanding Nemesis, a Miss Marple Mystery, by Agatha Christie. If you’re curious, and wish to follow along, you can purchase the book here! (or make use of your public library, of course! <3) We’ll be breaking down several things, focusing on the Tension, the Characterization, and the Plot Threads, while searching out this mysterious Agatha Christie Code that I’ve heard so much about!

Nemesis is a story in the middle of the Miss Marple Mysteries, a series about an old woman, Miss Jane Marple, who happens to solve mysteries in between gardening, knitting, and enjoying her golden years. At twenty two chapters, we’re going to be breaking down each chapter and looking over it. At the end, I’ll give a final post about what I’ve learned from the intrepid Miss Agatha.

In the afternoons it was custom of Miss Jane Marple to unfold her second newspaper.

The cover for the copy I am reading. Clicking will take you to Miss Christie’s Wikipage.

This is the first line of the novel. Odd choice, honestly, but it works, because it shows off a certain oddness about Miss Marple in the first place. Then, odder still, Miss Marple goes off on a tangent about how often her paper is late because the boy delivering it is either late, or has handed off his route for a little while, or has been sacked.

Strangely enough, this drew me in immediately, if only because I really felt like I was listening to the mental ramblings of an old lady. But another part of it shows just how very AWARE Miss Marple is about EVERYTHING. She knows more than just ‘oh the paper’s late, I can’t read it with early morning tea.’ She knows WHY her paper is late, which is something few people even bother paying attention to.

The pacing so far is unbearably slow. I haven’t figured out anything other than what this old woman is doing with her afternoon. Which appears to be reading a newspaper she’s nicknamed “The Daily All-Sorts”. Then, we are treated to another rant, this time about being unable to find anything in the Times. This rant seems devoted to her lamenting how things have changed from when she was young.

A wonderful way to show us her age, and also an intriguingly clear indication that perhaps the so-called Agatha Christie Code is correct. She seems very intent on describing Miss Marple’s thought process in larger-than-life detail.  Here, we find out another odd detail about Miss Marple.

“It’s sad really, but nowadays one is only interested in the deaths!” – Miss Marple

Miss Marple discovers the Internet

She seems to be looking to see if anyone she knows has died, or perhaps given birth, or gotten married. An odd passtime, but when one has all the time on her hands that Miss Marple seems to, I can see why it would become interesting. Everything about Miss Marple at this point seems to be just this side of odd for an old woman. Miss Christie is leaving us hints as to just how odd Old Miss Marple is underneath. This is wonderful examples of characterization. But still, nothing has happened yet.

Finally, Miss Marple comes across a name that stirs some familiarity. Jason Rafiel, listed in the obituaries. She can’t seem to remember who it is, but she has no doubt it will come to her. In fact, we are treated to a long process of her figuring it out. She begins by looking out the window, lamenting that the doctors refuse to allow her to garden. Another hobby we find she enjoyed that now she is restricted. Poor Miss Marple, her old age is catching up to her. Turning away from the window, she picks up her knitting, which appears to be a pink jacket, just missing the sleeves.

Now pink wool, this triggers something of her memory. As we can see:

Pink wool. Now wait a minute, where did that fit in? Yes- yes- it fitted in with the name she’d just read in the paper. Pink wool. A blue sea. A Carribean sea. A sandy beach. Sunshine. Herself knitting and- why of course, Mr. Rafiel. That trip she had made to the caribbean. The Island of St. Honore. A treat from her nephew Raymond. And she remembered Joan, her niece-in-law, Raymond’s wife, saying: “Don’t get mixed up in any more murders, Aunt Jane. It isn’t good for you.”

Do you see what she did there? Miss Agatha Christie just took us through a perfect example of how the mind ACTUALLY works! After scent, touch is the closest sense to memory, followed by sight! Now, Miss Marple didn’t just remember this up, as if it were a scene, no, it’s broken down into actual recollections, actual thoughts. Instead of a flashback, we get a disjointed connection through various memories.

And like any of us, Miss Marple doesn’t just remember everything about that trip at once. No, she has to tease it together, starting with the names. She remembered the elderly Major, whose name continued escaping her. Then she remembers the kind of man Mr. Rafiel had been. Not perfectly, as some people are want to do. She remembers him being an obstinate man, as well as strong, as well as rich. Difficult, irritable and shockingly rude, she remembers. Clearly he made an impression on Miss Marple. And, not only has she remembered Mr. Rafiel, but others too.

Mrs. Walters, a widow and Mr. Rafiel’s secretary. Mr Rafiel’s Masseur-Attendant, Arthur Jackson, who she thought was a rather doubtful character. But instead of being sure of Jackson’s name, she continues to question it. This is a very organic process of tracking down what the thoughts and memories of this time were. And clearly she is remembering the people specifically, not the events. I assume this was Miss Christie’s way of not rehashing the entire events of the previous book, but instead teasing us along into remembering it as well.

Then comes Miss Knight, who was once Miss Marple’s own companion, a young woman she’s rather happy to get rid of. But for some reason, she keeps messing up her name, thinking of her as Miss Bishop. She even quips about it:

“Oh dear,” said Miss Marple again, “I always get all the names wrong. And of course, it was Miss Knight I was thinking of. Not Miss Bishop. Why do I think of her as Miss Bishop?” The answer came to her. Chess, of course. A Chess piece. A knight. A bishop.

I’ll admit, at this point, Miss Christie had me hooked as a writer, although perhaps not as a reader. Such an organic transition, and a clear definition of this character’s mind. Already I am aware that she notices things others don’t care about, and she puts together odd connections, forming them in her mind to remind herself of things. I haven’t even had to read the rest of the series, and I find myself feeling like Miss Marple is an old friend.

She gives us a rundown of how she and Mr. Rafiel had been partners, for a time, but she never gets around to explaining in what. This makes me want to track down the book previous and read it. Well played, Miss Christie. We find out that Miss Marple was quite excited about these events, and it makes us excited too. Already, we’ve found ourselves enthralled by the way Jane Marple sees the world.

Then, we get to meet Cherry, who is now Miss Marple’s Companion. It seems that Miss Marple uses Cherry as a bit of a sounding board. Also, the voices between Miss Marple and Cherry are quite different. I find myself seeing Cherry as perhaps african american, if only because of the vernacular she chooses.

“You did have it in for little Gary Hopkins I must say,” said Cherry. “When you caught him torturing his cat that day. Never knew you had it in you to go for anyone like that! Scared him stiff, you did. He’s never forgotten it.”

“I hope he hasn’t tortured anymore cats.”

“Well, he’s made sure you weren’t about if he did,” said Cherry. “In fact I’m not at all sure as there isn’t other boys as got scared. Seeing you with your wool and the pretty things you knits and all that- anyone would think you were gentle as a lamb. But there’s times I could say you’d behave like a lion if you was goaded into it.”

Also, a wonderful choice there, to show us Miss Marple’s sense of rough justice through the eyes of Cherry, her companion. At this point, I’m also hoping to see more of Cherry. Their interaction seems quite natural, that of a companion and someone of an age beyond adulthood.

Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the syntax of Miss Christie’s work. So far, I’m seeing quite a large number of ‘said’s, and very little added description. She was clearly a follower of the ‘no adjectives’ rule, as well as a detractor from the ‘said is dead’ forum of discussion. However, I don’t feel it takes away from her work. The dialogue itself is well written, as well as showing us little glimpses of what we need to know about Miss Marple. There isn’t a word wasted here. I can see why Agatha Christie is said to be the single best-selling author in the world.

There’s a small break away from the heavy thinking to have a conversation with Miss Bartlett, a companion-gardener to one Miss Hastings. Then, her mind turns back to Mr. Rafiel, and gives us a wonderful description of their relationship. Ships that pass in the night. After that, she resolves that she will probably never think of him again. She’d look out for an obituary, out of what seems an honor for his passing, but she isn’t very hopeful about it. As a final thought, she notes that he hadn’t been anyone of major importance in any industry.

He had just all his life made enormous amounts of money…

All the money. Obsene amounts of money.

What I wouldn’t give to make enormous amounts of money. But on another note, clearly, the foreshadowing here is pretty thick. On the second read through, I found things I hadn’t noticed, such as the Mrs. Hastings reference. Already we have so many characters to follow, and Miss Marple at the center of it all. Red herrings everywhere for a mystery that hasn’t even been introduced, and I’m excited about this book that literally NOTHING HAS HAPPENED IN. All Miss Marple has done is read her newspaper, think about old memories, and talk to two women for five minutes each!

Breaking it down, just a bit, we see already how Miss Christie built up the character for us, showing through thought and action just what sort of woman Miss Marple is. We know she has just a little lion inside her, and is the kind to beat a child senseless for torturing an innocent creature. We know that she has an impeccable memory for detail, although sometimes it takes her a minute and some odd associations to get there.

This entire first chapter was spent introducing the main character. But it wasn’t wasted at all. We weren’t bored to tears by a flashback of what happened in the Caribbean. We weren’t shown her beating the boy, we weren’t even shown her doing anything other than normal things. THIS is an introduction chapter. This is the type of first chapter that will get you published.

Here’s a challenge, then. Take the first chapter of your book, or first paragraph of your short story, or any beginning at all. And have the main character do nothing, but think. Explain who this character is, show it, by their thoughts and actions. Give us a snippet of your results in the comments! And don’t be afraid to tell me what you think about the article either!

Researching Mystery

  • Posted on August 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Today, I have a guest blog published over on Cindy Grigg’s website. We’ve swapped guestblogs, and her post, 9 ways to fix your Stereotyped Character is informative and fun to read! Go take a look at it! Also, take a look at the article, Researching mystery which you can find here:

If you’re curious, here’s the first two paragraphs of the article, for your perusal.

To begin with, I’m not normally a mystery author. To be specific, when I was younger, I only ever wrote fantasy novels, or romance. Now, however, I’m trying my hand at mystery novels, which means quite a bit of strife. I have a natural instinct when it comes to fantasy, so I find it easy to fall into. With Romance, I have my years as a fanfiction writer and fandom roleplayer to fall back on, which can both enhance and detract from my writing. (No one likes reading author’s notes, I’ve since learned.)

I came to mystery as a genre because I love the tense atmosphere. Maybe it’s less mystery and more suspense that I enjoy. But recently, I’ve found that I want a challenge. And the best way to challenge yourself is to write something you’ve never in a million years written before. But how can you write something you’ve never written before? How can you make sure that you don’t slip back into writing what you know? And worst of all, how do you manage to make it a GOOD manuscript when you know nothing about your genre?

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9 Ways to Fix your Stereotyped Character – A guestpost by Cindy Grigg

  • Posted on August 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

So You Wrote a Stereotyped Character…9 Ways to Fix Your Story

 

I’ve recently been doing a blog post series on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters, which included a list of 19 Female Character Stereotypes to Avoid.

Since Nicohle and I are swapping blog posts today, I would love to take that list one step further and show how I would fix a stereotyped female character (but the same concepts apply to any character).

Why You Don’t Have to Start Over

If your female character falls into a stereotype, it’s not so much that you’ve written her wrong as that you’re just not done writing her.

Writers revert to stereotypes or tropes rather than fully articulating what makes a character unique. It’s tricky because you may not feel lazy as you write a stereotypical character. You’re still sitting in the writer’s chair fulfilling your daily word count or time quota, but essentially you’re being creatively lazy about who you are writing about.

1. Rearrange what you’ve got. A lot of creativity is a matter of how you arrange the disparate parts of something to make a whole. Which aspect of your character is the focal point? By restructuring which personality traits are pivotal, you could create a more fresh character.

2. Add something to the character that scares, stretches, or otherwise challenges you. If writing about a certain characteristic your character possesses makes you think about the world in a new way, it likely will do the same for many readers.

3. Change how long your character stays a stereotype. Maybe your character can start out as a character but be changed by a new event. Maybe reveal they were hiding their true nature for some good reason. Think: Scarlet Pimpernel.

4. Look around you. Think of the most unique people you know and add some part of their personality to your character.

Rarity gives you an example reaction.

5. Add more weaknesses, flaws,  fears, and losses! I like the trick of thinking, What is the worst thing that could happen to my character? Then consider adding that to your plot so your character has to really solve and struggle.

6. Put your character in strange situations. Brainstorm several seemingly unrelated scenes and put your character in them. Consider crossing genres with this exercise. Put your fantasy heroine in a murder mystery and see how she behaves, etc. You may stumble upon an interesting nuance to add to your story.

7. Change your character’s past or future. If the character seems flat or one-dimensional, hook the audience into caring based on something terrible or wonderful they went through or will go through.

8. Give your character a unique motivation. Most of humanity is motivated to some degree by love of family, romance, personal gain, or moral/spiritual paradigms, for example. But what if you made your character also motivated by something kooky like a love of snails, and wanting to save those snails from extinction, for example?

9. Create personality contradictions. I love giving a character two characteristics that seem paradoxical or at odds with one another, then showing why they are this way.

Both fixing characters or scrapping them will require a lot of editing, so I figure you might as well refurbish your stereotyped character rather than starting from square one.

While it takes more effort, it’s more fun and interesting to write well-rounded characters. For me, this comes down to asking, But who else is she/he?! By consciously steering clear of stereotypes, writing becomes more adventure. More fun.

Cindy Grigg

Cindy Grigg writes speculative fiction and instructional non-fiction. She is the author of the HULDUSNOOPS series, a middle grade mystery and fantasy adventure about Icelandic Huldufolk or “hidden people”. As About.com’s Office Software Expert, Cindy also writes about technology and productivity (www.Office.About.com). Find her writing advice, blog, and other projects she’s working on at www.CindyGrigg.com.

Ascended Gods – A question of morals

  • Posted on July 26, 2014 at 12:05 am

Tonight I went to see a summer hit, Lucy. To summarize, it is a movie about a woman, who, through a bad drug-ring run-in, ends up able to open up her very brain, and strive past the normal ten percent that most humans can access it. The movie is entirely about her journey from ten to one hundred percent, and what happens at the end.

Lucy Trailer

Now this is not the first story of a human pushing past humanities limits. In fact, there was another such being in media, one Dr. Manhattan. Through a freak science incident, this particular case ended up becoming almost godlike, capable of manipulating not just matter, but time and space as well.

But both of these two have something in common.

Both lose touch with their humanity, over a period of time. At one point, Dr. Manhattan, instead of exercising his gifts to save a woman, ends up allowing her to be shot. Lucy, despite her gifts, and apparent omniscience at the end of the movie, chooses to give mankind knowledge, but no guidance. Both of them, in the end, ascend beyond humanity, and choose not to interfere any further.

Why is this? What is it about these ascended gods that marks them as amoral, beyond the human concept, beyond understanding humanity, despite knowing, and having control over just about everything? Why do these so called gods choose instead to give humanity knowledge, and no true guidance? What is it about this ascension that takes them beyond any and all morals or codes that they held during humanity?

I beleive these characters are designed this way to invoke exactly that. A Godhood, an ascension. The belief that all humankind’s worries and needs are inconsequential in the larger run of things. However, I ask you, why would the belief, the realization of this, make these beings choose instead to fuck off into the deep blue mysterious beyond?

Why instead, do they not choose to stay? To attempt to guide humanity towards some kind of peace? If they have an absolute understanding of everything trivial and horrid that humanity has done, and how to correct it… Why don’t they? Are we to believe that once someone has ascended beyond all the worry, all the strife, all the day-to-day rat-races, that they would just… forget or ignore or lose interest in all of those they once cared about?

Dr. Manhattan’s transformation was quite well done, over a period of many, many years, and to be honest, I understand why he began to lose touch. He became entrenched instead on all of the mysteries the world had now unlocked for him. As he said, “I am tired of this world, these people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.”

I’m curious, dear readers, has there ever been a case of one of these ascended gods choosing instead, to guide humanity? Successfully? Please tell me in the comments about it, about what you think would happen, and about what you think humanity’s response would be.

Nightmares in Human Shape

  • Posted on April 17, 2014 at 12:46 pm

It seems never ending, the lessons we can learn from Fairytales. But often, villains look human for the most part. A few are even more human (and handsome) than the prince himself! And we are expected to remember that fact. Because it’s truth. Often, in real life, villains are human shaped, and kind, and manipulative, and every bit our friend until suddenly they aren’t. It’s rather interesting how that works, don’t you think?

The evil stepmother, or in some cases just mother, is always human. Although she might be a sorceress, or an evil duchess, or even an evil old witch, she’s still human. And her magic isn’t the only thing she’s got going for her. Our trusting naivete allows her to actually trick us into believing she has the best at heart. How sad is it, when we see these heroines fall for it time and again?

The childhood friend can sometimes become this. Someone we’ve trusted for so long that we barely have to think anymore about the oddly ominous things they say. They’re close to our heart, and dear to us, so we can’t believe that they’d do something wrong or evil or indecent in any way. It makes sense, doesn’t it? That this person would ultimately betray us. Usually out of a form of jealousy. Either of what we have, or of someone else’s new closeness to us. How strange that we should see this most ugly of human emotions on the faces of those we trust.

The greedy leader is worst, though, because often, we are too small, too singular to actually make a difference against them. But sometimes, we manage. Sometimes, we can call enough people together to actually gain a voice, to actually shout out “WE WILL NOT TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” and step out of whatever chains this horrid person has put upon us. It’s always nice, then the searing freedom earned.

All of these archetypes call out to us to be defeated, to be broken. Because they are us, only twisted, us, but broken and wrong and just… not right. They are us at our worst, and we must always put forth the best will we have to avoid becoming such foul villains. We hate them because they remind us of our own humanity. They wear our faces in the dark, and we can see, so easily, the path that it takes for us to slip down and into their shoes. Never once do we realize that by seeing them as they are, we are choosing not to become these beasts, these wolves in sheep’s clothing.

So continue writing, drawing, showing these enemies in front of us. How else are our children to recognise the threat when they have never been taught not to trust blindly. How can we protect the princesses of the future if we do not teach them that anyone can possibly be an enemy? I, personally, prefer the adventure of not knowing, and of believing the best in those around me. Sometimes I am hurt, but I always get back up, stronger and surer.

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