header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); Conflict Archives – Kristen Koster
Aug 032012
 

Character Traits: Photo of a man reading a book.This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group was asked, “There was an article a bit ago about how readers take on character traits of a favorite character from the book they’re reading. Do you do that with your own characters? Do you find yourself doing something your character would do?

I have to admit I was more curious about the article than thinking about the question itself. I may have tracked down the original article or one very similar, and I wanted to include it here for reference, so you could understand where my thinking on this topic was coming from. The article, “Psychologists Discover How People Subconsciously Become Their Favorite Fictional Characters” by Christine Hsu ran at the site MedicalDaily.com on May 14, 2012 and focuses on the phenomenon of “experience taking”.

The article concludes that in order for readers to make the connection to the character, details that help readers relate to the character need to be shown earlier rather than later in the story. Gee, as writers, don’t we hear that  all the time? This effect is why, suck the reader in, keep them in the story and you might also have a temporary effect on the reader’s daily life. And we can hope it’s a positive one!

So… Most people talk about a writer’s characters from the other direction. What real life experiences and what parts of your life do you put into your characters? Which are the autobiographical parts? But this question turns that concept on its head. What parts of our characters that we’re writing, do we reflect back into our daily lives?

I suspect that a lot of my new found courage and willingness to step outside of my comfort zones is a combination of those two things. I want to be more adventurous and more social, therefore, I write about those types of characters and in turn maybe exploring their lives they have inspired me to venture out of the safe zone. Other than that, I can’t think of any specific traits or characteristics that I’m consciously borrowing from my characters that I write.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could consciously (and I suspect that’s a key word here) pin point any characteristics that I’ve adopted from characters written by other authors. Do I think I happens anyway? Probably. Both in fiction and non-fiction. I mean, part of our job is showing characters learning and growing after dealing with huge-to-them experiences and readers read for the emotional experience, putting themselves in the protagonist’s shoes.

I also remember my husband telling me recently about something he read and it might have been the NYTimes opinion piece by Annie Murphy Paul, “Your Brain on Fiction“. Apparently there are studies that show that when reading about someone doing an activity if it’s well described causes the same parts of the brain get used as when the activity is done for real. The article mentions relating words for smells to the memories in the same ways that actually experiencing the scent triggers. That’s pretty strong stuff…. vicarious experience is nearly equivalent to actual experience! Mind-blowing stuff. Makes you want to go read some more of those inspirational success stories, right?

If you didn’t go read those articles, I think you’ll find them interesting and thought provoking. The concepts should definitely make writers stop and think about their choices and whether they’re being morally responsible in their portrayals of their lead characters.


YOUR TURN: What do you think? Does it make sense? Think it’s a bunch of hogwash? What about the last book you read? Did you want to be more or less like the protagonist? Do you think you may have subconsciously picked anything up from them? Did you feel like you were vicariously along for the ride?

 

And if you’d like to read how the rest of my accountability group answered this question, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Teaching Moments

 The Writer  Comments Off on Teaching Moments
Apr 272012
 

Teaching Moments: Photo of the sun breaking through the clouds.This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group was asked about teaching moments: “What have you recently learned from a REAL LIFE event/happening that you can apply to your writing/writing career?”

Have you ever felt like the universe is trying to tell you something?

It’s been shouting at me lately.

When the same phrases and themes keep coming at you, eventually one is going to stick. First it was, “If you never ask, the answer will always be ‘no’.” And then there was all the advise on pushing boundaries one step at a time.

Lately it’s been all about soul searching, knowing yourself, digging deeper, how your experiences mold you and using those deep core experiences and decisions to improve your writing. Now, Jodi Henley‘s been talking about core events for a while. I listened. I really did. However, I didn’t have the right mindset at the time to learn as much as I needed. Jo Leigh came to my local RWASD chapter meeting this past month and talked about “Core Decisions” — it wasn’t the most comfortable meeting for an introvert who doesn’t like discussing what makes her tick. But man, did it make the brain work overtime. Lots of ‘Aha!’ moments when thinking about what my stories have been about and why the heroines act and react the way they do.

I’ve recently had a few people look at my work and while they agree that while I can string a sentence together, something’s missing. Now, none of them came out and said this precisely, and I may be putting words in their mouths, but what I feel is missing is the ‘heart’. The emotional side of things. How does it really feel to be in these characters heads and why should we care about them.

I’ve learned a lot about the theory of why Emotional Structure works, why connections are drawn between authors and readers. But most importantly, I’ve learned that I cannot avoid what makes me “me”, not if I want to find my voice and connect with readers to bring my characters truly alive and make their stories matter.

The trick now will be opening up those veins and allowing it to bleed out onto the page. I need to abandon the theory, no I need to TRUST it, and put it into action.


YOUR TURN:What have you learned recently that it suddenly seemed like you were ready to learn?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 162012
 

Cover image for Dorothea Brande's On Becoming a Writer
This week’s topic for my accountability group in our How I Write Series is “What do you wish you had known before you had even started to write? What would you have told your past self? Would you have discouraged yourself or encouraged? Would you have gone a different route?”

So… this post isn’t so much general advice to newbie writers, but more specifically tailored to what I wish I’d known back in 2007 when I decided I was going to do this writing thing as a creative outlet. I was bored and at loose ends during the summer of 2007. I picked up my husband’s copy of Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande and was blown away.

The book was written in the 1930s, but here she was in my head, speaking directly to ME, telling me I COULD do this! She believed in me. Total and complete unconditional belief.

Ok. That sounds hokey, but it’s exactly how it felt. And, so armed with that boost in confidence and not much else, I set out to write a Regency-set historical romance, just like the ones I’d been devouring at an astonishing rate. In retrospect, probably not the best plan, but not the worst either. If I’d tried something too simple, I would have been bored easily and not stuck with it. Instead, I’m still eager to tell the first two stories I began the right way. And some day, I’ll pull it off! I’m getting closer all the time.

So…

What do I wish I had known before you had even started to write?

How to better tell a story. I’m still working on learning this one, but knowing where to look for guidance would have been a godsend. These books will be some of the most influential to your writing process and understanding of how stories work: Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot by Peter Dunne, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee and On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels. Go read them now.

Also, listen to Dorothea… write daily. The journaling is a good start, but keep it up and try playing with fiction in there too.

Oh, and going Gluten-Free will help instead of losing so much time to the boy’s almost daily migraines between 5th and 7th grade. Push to find the cause, not just treat symptoms.

What would I have told my past self?

This is harder than it looks. What you read in a published book is NOT a first draft. Don’t give up because the first draft isn’t perfect.

PRACTICE, practice, practice. Practice with ideas, synopses, hooks, blurbs. Oh.. and when you download Scrivener, don’t give up on it. It’s far more powerful than you think it is. It WILL help you see and build the structure you crave.

Would I have discouraged or encouraged myself?

I don’t think there are any valid reasons to discourage myself about writing in general. I definitely needed pushed and bless my DH, he’s encouraged me every step of the way.

Valid discouragement would be to avoid time sucks, avoid long stretches of not writing new words or ideas.

I would encourage putting myself out there sooner and networking earlier. Social media is a force to reckon with, but it’s not the only thing to spend time on.

Would I have gone a different route?

I don’t think I would have done things very differently, just sooner. And more consistently.

Life is going to happen around you. You will hit some serious road bumps, control what you can. Don’t hide from the world, don’t stop writing. Find your escape in the ballrooms, the salons, the characters. Yes, it may be easier to just play facebook games, and you may even convince yourself that you’re “helping your DH”, but you’re wasting valuable time and eneergy. *head smack*

Two other things, you know that Warrior Writer workshop with Bob Mayer?! It didn’t kill you, right? 1) You SHOULD take both days. *head smack* 2) You SHOULD listen to Pam and Margaret and join RWASD right away. *head smack*


YOUR TURN: What career advice would you go back and give yourself when you were just starting out?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group would go back and tell themselves, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 092012
 

Photo of a rabbit munching on grass.

The seemingly innocent-looking plot bunny
(Cuniculus ex machina).

Before we get to plot bunnies, let’s talk about creative insecurities for a minute. Many people worry to the point of paranoia about having their ideas stolen. This notion isn’t specific to any one industry either. Movies, music, writing, game design, car makers, electronics, everyone’s got something they’re afraid someone is going to overhear and take off with it and make their millions with it.

Unfortunately, ideas are cheap. Ideas are the easy part! It’s the execution of those ideas that are the equivalent of the MultiMillions Lotto ticket. Or not.

So… what’s a writer to do?

If you’ve ever heard the term plot bunny, you already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, a plot bunny is an innocent looking idea that hops up to you, nibbles at the carrot you’ve been dangling in front of your muse’s cave, and promptly scampers off in completely unpredictable zig-zags only to disappear down some plot hole, dragging you and your work-in-progress (WIP) with it because you refuse to let go of the string tied to the carrot. Way to go!

Today, we’re going to talk about what we can do to harness these wild critters and tamer, more domesticated story ideas and put them to work for us when we need them. Generating ideas, once you start is easy… you play the “What If…” game enough and the ideas start breeding like… well,… bunnies.

How to keep track of story ideas?

You need a way to corral these pesky varmints! Whether you use a notebook, a scrapbook, a WORD document, some other fancy piece of software on your computer or a combination of all of the above really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that your system works for you and that you can periodically retrieve and review your ideas.

Personally, I keep a set of nested folders on my computer for projects I’d like to one day write. Several have simple notes, others are more detailed, complete with pictures and outlines. Others have exploratory writing where a character, a voice, or other aspect captured.

How to decide if an idea goes into the story idea file?

The middle of a brainstorming session is NOT the time to let internal editors out of their box. Leave the censoring until later. Ideas shouldn’t be tossed before they’ve had adequate time to ripen. Some will definitely be “off” when you look at them again. Toss them then. It really doesn’t cost anything in the meantime, and luckily there’s no physical mess or smell to deal with. The ones that only seem a bit stale? Let them percolate a while longer. They’ll either bloom given more time, or prove rotten later.

Yep, I periodically review my idea file (not just when I’m bored or procrastinating) looking to see what’s interesting, might spark other ideas, or just to see which ones need a little air and attention. This is all part of the next section…

How to decide if an idea will make a good story? If it won’t?

Some ideas won’t let go. Like earworms, they’ll keep coming back. Often when you least expect it. These plot bunnies are more like the vorpal rabbit of Monty Python fame. They’re the kind that leap up and grab you by the throat and refuse to let go. These shouldn’t be ignored, but carefully explored and exercised regularly. They can be tamed, although some may take longer than others. If it holds your attention over time, it probably has some merit.

Many people talk about the “Book of your Heart” and “commercial ready” fiction. Only you can decide if an idea contains a story you want to tell.

Take your plot bunnies to the equivalent of a county fair. Talk about them with other writers and readers. If they get excited about a story idea, it probably has some merit.

My biggest problem is identifying story ideas that are with the range of my technical capabilities. I often feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Practice and patience are probably the best tools to use in this situation. I keep telling myself that anyway.

How to choose which story idea to work on?

The one that won’t go away. That’s easy for me to say, because I don’t have any external deadlines yet. I’m free to pick and choose between which characters are vying most loudly for my attention. Shiny New Project Syndrome (SNPS) is a valid concern. This is when anything new looks more interesting than what you SHOULD be working on. Set a limit on how long you’ll allow the new idea out to play. Use it as a reward for progress toward completion on the dreaded old project.

How to take an idea and form it into a plot?

Once I have an idea selected, I play with it for quite some time before I ever try to begin putting together a plot. I have to know the characters first. I have to know what drives them and how they’ll react to certain things. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be surprised along the way too, but I need to know the lay of the land first.

What to do when a story idea hits while working on another WIP?

First, make sure it’s not just SNPS rearing it’s ugly head. If it is, feel free to set aside 5-15 minutes to jot down everything you can think of about it. Remember, at this point the idea is probably not ripe. You can’t judge its merit yet. Let you muse play with it for a bit, then let it sit. Of course, I’ve also taken ideas like this and run with them and I think it shows that they weren’t quite ready to go because there are either gaping holes or I run out of steam after a certain point with them. They’re still in my folder, waiting for more information.

What kinds of ideas are in my story file?

Regency Romance Ideas: Beyond my big three projects (BHT, Revealed, and a new one I just started writing, but have been playing around with since last summer), I have 2 sequel ideas for BHT, a sequel to Revealed, a story about horse breeding and bloodlines in the nobility that’s based on a folktale at the same time, a Regency-set romcom involving mistaken identity and gender role reversals.

Other ideas: contemporaries: chef & foodie/reviewer/blogger, Holiday story with two blizzard-grounded travelers paired up in hotel because the airline assumes she’s male because of her name, then there’s the game developer heroine who finds true love online.

Also, before I go, I’ll apologize for any mixed metaphors or even abandoned ones above. I’ll blame it on the free-ranging wild bunnies and not on distractions or the lateness of the hour.


YOUR TURN: How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you have a wishlist of things you want to work on (feel free to talk about artistic projects, or any other projects around the house, the organization methods are likely similar)?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group suggests for ways to deepen characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 022012
 
A view of the elevator shaft at The Top of the Rock in NYC.

How Far Down Can You Go?

My accountability group talked a bit before in our How I Write series in the posts on Building Character, but I wanted to take a closer look at some ways to create character depth, to make them unique, not just in your book, but in the market place.

WHY do we want to read about these characters, spend time with them and even revisit some of them? And WHY will we identify with them and CARE about their successes and failures? And, what can writers do when building characters so that they come alive on the page for readers?

1. Not just Faults, but Contradictions

Perfect characters are BORING! But in addition to giving them some quirks and character flaws, go farther. Give them contradictory details. Make the bad guy have a soft spot for small helpless fuzzy things. Too easy? Make your main character hold a strong opinion about something and then act in a hypocritical fashion.

2. Go Beyond Stereotypes & Archetypes

Yes, they exist because they’re familiar and recognizable. Are they interesting? Where’s the surprise? Where’s the mystery? Most people don’t like cardboard pizza. They don’t like cardboard characters either.

3. Go Beyond GMC

Deb Dixon‘s idea of Goal, Motivation and Conflict works well at the larger scale. But how many authors drill down with it to the smaller scale? How do those three elements color even their smallest actions and decisions? Weave it in, so it’s an integral part of the story fabric.

4. Vocations & Avocations

So your character has a job or a hobby. That’s nice. Go deeper. How does that influence their vocabulary, their insights, their relationship with others, their smaller actions and decisions? Do they live and breathe it? Or is it just another gloss coat? How does this profession or passion affect the plot? WHY did they/you make this choice? If you can swap it out easily, consequently you haven’t gone deep enough.

5. Use Varying Degrees of Focus and Distance

You know how some photographs are more interesting because not EVERYTHING is sharp and competing for your attention? Think of the difference between your mental definitions of “snap shot” and “photograph”. Good photos tell stories too. They also leave a bit of mystery and interpretation to the viewer. Writers can do similar things. By focusing on different aspects of your character at different times in the book, you can draw the reader in and let them explore what makes your characters tick. Then, only when you absolutely need to, reveal what you’ve hinted at in the shadows and the murky background to bring the whole picture into sharp focus when it will mean the most to the reader.

6. Go Big or Go Home

Don’t settle for making average characters do ordinary things. What can you do to pump them up and make it so the reader believes they may not overcome the high stakes they’re up against? What about your characters keeps the reader’s hope burning that they WILL succeed? This is where many characters who are deemed Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) fail the reader. The reader therefore has lost all hope for this character and may actually be rooting against them.

7. Dig Deep, Put Yourself In There

This is probably the hardest one for me to do personally. It doesn’t have to be the biggest, most traumatic event in your life, but we all share common experiences: happiness, sorrow, regret, hope, frustration, anger. Find ways to channel situations you know into your writing. The story details don’t have to be autobiographical, but use the feelings, both emotional and physical to connect your characters to your reader. For me, this is “write what you know” writ large!


YOUR TURN:
Have I missed anything? What are some of the things that make you fall in love with a character or wish you could know them in real life? What makes YOU care about a fictional person’s success or failure?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group suggests for ways to deepen characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Oct 212011
 

This week my accountability group is blogging about how we flesh out/develop a fiction character for our stories. Last week’s post on our bookshelves and influential authors is also part of our How I Write series.

In order to answer the question about HOW, I think I need to share what character depth & complexity mean to me. I enjoy reading rich characters, ones who feel like real people, albeit a bit larger than life, but real. I think authors can make this happen through a variety of tools available to them. It bothers me when characters are flat or indistinguishable from one another, even and especially secondary characters. I read for the emotional journey and flat characters just don’t cut it for me as a reader, whatever the plot may be.

I was pondering how to pull this post together and find meaningful photos to use for it when I thought about my daughter’s interests in anime and cosplay (costume play or dressing up and getting into the character of your favorite roles). She’s been enthusiastically gathering materials to portray a number of different characters lately. Putting together a Halloween costume or working with big visual symbols of someone else’s character instead of coming up with your own is a bit easier, but you also employ the same essential steps. You start with the basics and then dress it up with all the bells and whistles until you’re happy with it.

The BASICS

Photo of my daughter when she first started putting together a cosplay outfit for this character.

The Basics: What Absolutely Defines Your Character

For me, the basics of any given character are those things that make them uniquely themselves. If you took any of those things away, they wouldn’t be the same person, right? At first, they may feel a bit two-dimensional and you’ll want to build on that, but you need a good base. I don’t tend to go in any particular order once I have the general idea of my character in mind. Go where your interest and whimsy take you.

GMC — I’ve never read Deb Dixon‘s Goals, Motivation, Conflict (GMC), but I’ve heard it recommended enough times that I probably should read it over at some point to get it from the source. But I do try to include some of the concepts when creating and then developing the characters for my stories. Characters have to have WANTS and NEEDS as well as CONFLICTS or at least some OBSTACLES to reach them. Otherwise, it’s not interesting or satisfying and I think these fall under the basics of what you need to write a story. Without them, well, it’s just gonna flop around on the page.

Establishing Connections Michael Hauge recommends using at least 2 of the 5 following ways to establishing rapport between your main character and your audience:

1) likeability — a nice person
2) skill/expertise — they are good at something
3) sympathetic — the victim of some undeserved misfortune
4) funny — not always an appropriate choice, depending on your genre
5) jeopardy — they are in danger of loss of anything of vital importance

These ways are meant to be used at the beginning of your story with your protagonist, but I think they can also be useful to pull readers closer to any character, especially your supporting secondary cast who will have a lot of time on stage.

Strengths/Weaknesses — Knowing your character’s strengths and weaknesses are ways to make sure you’re taking them on a story arc that changes. Not all characters have to, but it’s often more interesting to me if either the hero, the heroine or both of them learn something and grow as people during the course of the story. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses also makes it easier to test your characters and place effective obstacles in their path.

At Least 5 Whys — This tool is most helpful in figuring out motivations for goals and so many other things. Never stop at the first answer you think of. One way to avoid writing clichés is to brainstorm and dig down deeper, don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind. Let your inner toddler have free reign with this one!

Biggest Fear & how you will make them face it — this one is a bit more tied to plot development, but I think it’s important when you’re fleshing out the character. This may be part and parcel of the next item, but knowing it before you get too far along can be helpful in figuring out ways you can torture your protagonist that will actually move the plot along in ways that should engage your reader in that emotional roller coaster.
Finally, Jodi Henley‘s idea of a Core Event is another concept that I’ve come to view as essential to character development. She explains this much better on her blog and in her workshops, but it is essentially what happened to make this person who they are when you begin their story. It is NOT the inciting incident. It’s most likely backstory that colors their perceptions of the world and the people around them. It is what drives how they make decisions and react under stress.

BELLS & WHISTLES

Another photo of my daughter after she'd put the finer touches on her cosplay outfit for this character.

Bells & Whistles: What touches add depth, complexity & believability?

This is where the fun comes in. Also the depth, the complexity and the versimilitude. Oh, yeah. I used that big word. The sum of all these little details are what make the characters even more unique and memorable. I’m sure we all have friends who have “THAT” laugh. You know the one. Or that aunt or uncle who has always used that same tired greeting that makes you cringe since you were old enough to remember?

Tics, expressions, rituals, habits — These can be nervous or verbal tics. Pick a few from each category and ONLY use them for one character. Give them each their own voice and personality.

Friends, possessions & pets — Who was it who said we are defined by what and whom we surround ourselves? Definitely have friends and acquaintances make observations about your other characters, especially your main characters. Are they showing their true selves to the world or does the reader get a special perspective on them?

Some of these things may seem small and frivolous in comparison to the items you use when building your character’s identity, but little things we can easily picture in our heads are sticky. Think about Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker and his pipe. And no one would ever mistake Wolverine with his claws out for Cyclops. Ok, those are swinging back into the world of comics, anime and cosplay, but it’s an easy visual example.

WHAT I DON’T USE

Character Sheets — You’ve seen the ones: star sign, height, weight, occupation, model of car driven, all full of useless trivia that probably won’t make a difference in how your character will react to the things you need them to. Oh, and I always read them with much amusement considering I write historical fiction. I don’t think I’d find them very useful even if I wrote contemporaries.

Stereotypes/Archetypes — Ok, I TRY not to use stereotypes and I was re-introduced to the notion of using archetypes again this summer, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever dig too deeply in that direction as something to build a foundation on. Some people may find them useful, but I also think the temptation to slide back into stereotype is too strong for me.


And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my group develops their characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford *
* Emma G. Delaney * Kimberly Farris *

Oct 182011
 
A cariacture of a wife being "sold" in a public, lower-class "divorce" that was not recognized by church or state.

Last week’s post on Regency Marriages & Elopements, outlined the different ways one could get married during the Regency Era. So this week, we’re going to take a closer look at what happens when there wasn’t a Happily Ever After (HEA). The topic of Regency Divorce and Annulments is a much romanticized one in Regency Romances.

The Lower Classes

The satirical engraving on the right depicts the quaint English custom of “wife-selling”, which wasn’t quite what it sounds like, but was more a ritual among the non-genteel classes (who couldn’t possibly obtain a full parliamentary divorce, allowing remarriage, according to the pre-1857 laws), to publicly proclaim a dissolution of marriage (though not generally recognized by the Church and State authorities). Notice how artist arranged the horns of the cattle horns behind the cuckholded husband’s head.

An 1815 newspaper carried this notice:

Regency Divorce: A cariacture of a wife being "sold" in a public, lower-class "divorce" that was not recognized by church or state.

A satirical engraving of the quaint English custom of “wife-selling”. 1820 English caricature, despite French on the sign.

On Friday last [September 15th 1815] the common bell-man gave notice in Staines Market that the wife of —- Issey was then at the King’s Head Inn to be sold, with the consent of her husband, to any person inclined to buy her. There was a very numerous attendance to witness this singular sale, notwithstanding which only three shillings and fourpence were offered for the lot, no one choosing to contend with the bidder, for the fair object, whose merits could only be appreciated by those who knew them. This the purchaser could boast, from a long and intimate acquaintance. This degrading custom seems to be generally received by the lower classes, as of equal obligation with the most serious legal forms.

High Society

So, let’s examine what was involved to dissolve a marriage in a way that would be recognized by the authorities of Church and State.

There are generally two ways to go about dissolving a marriage: annulment (to make it as it if never existed at all) and divorce (a legal separation in every sense of the word: all obligations of the husband toward the wife are removed and vice versa. Divorce was a long, expensive process—and rarely used outside the aristocracy. Only a handful of cases came before Parliament each year as few could afford the cost. Additionally, the woman became a social outcast and so did the man, though not to the same extent.

Annulments

In many Regency Historical novels, someone frequently threatens to get an annulment. Despite their handiness as a plot device, annulments were difficult to obtain in reality. Marriages must be dissolve through an annulment suit in an ecclesiastical court which is tried by the bishop of the see in which the couple’s parish is located.

Annulments could only be granted in three circumstances, any of which could leave either the man, the woman, or both as social pariahs. Also, any children of an annulled marriage become bastards (who cannot inherit or be declared legitimate at the whim of the peer) and likewise outcasts of society.

Fraud

The first form of fraud related to identity. Marriages could be annulled for use of fictitious names. This could be blatant or subtle by forgetting to list out the entire name or title. In the interest of preserving the marriage, bishops could decide an inadvertent mistake occurred, correct the registration and refuse the annulment. This was especially true if the name on the register was how the person was commonly known.

Fraud also involved promises in the marriage contract that were unable to be kept. More common in fiction than real life, these cases might included vanishing doweries or promises of housing that’s already been sold. One has to assume that due to the rarity of such breach of contract cases, the scandal involved with those that were brought was immense. In even rarer cases, fraud could also be charged if the officiating clergyman allowed irregularities (such as an non-consenting bride).

Incompetence

One is incompetent under law and cannot be held to a contract if the person is underage or insane.

Contracts were null and void if either party had not reached their 21st birthday and did not have their father or guardian’s consent. Many fathers were forced to accept the marriage of underage brides who eloped because otherwise her reputation would prevent anyone else from marrying her and taking her off his hands.

Once proven legally insane, the person is locked away for life and loses control of all possessions. Titles could not be stripped and given away, but guardian were appointed to handle their affairs. Women declared insane became nonentities, locked away and forgotten. Few families brought an annulment suit claiming insanity, as it would taint the entire family. A charge of insanity against a husband was social suicide for a woman as her reputation would be ruined when the marriage ended. The few cases tried on these grounds were brought by men wanting to discard unwanted wives or by family members seeking to control the man’s assets.

Impotence

Non-consummation was NOT grounds for annulment as is conveniently if erroneously used in many novels. The proof is burdensome and difficult to acquire at best and leaves the man an outcast. To prove impotence, the man must share his wife’s bed exclusively for three years, then prove she remains virgin. He must also be proven to be unable to reach an erection with anyone, such as the two accomplished courtesans employed by the court. Only then, would impotence be ruled.

Divorce

Divorce and legal separation were rare occurrences and a divorce was not granted to a wife until after the Regency Era. Only 276 divorces occurred between 1765 and 1857. Between the passage of the first British divorce bill in 1697 and 1857, only four divorces were granted to women, the first in 1801.

Canon law allowed for separation, called the divortium a mensa et thoro (separation from bed and board), in cases of lethal cruelty and adultery on the part of the husband, or adultery committed by the wife. A divortium a mensa et thoro allowed the husband and wife to reside apart, marked the end of the husband’s financial responsibility for his wife and prevented both parties from remarrying.

3 Steps of the Divorce Procedure

First, the husband brought a suit against his wife’s lover in a civil trial, called a criminal conversation or a CrimCon trial. The offense of criminal conversation was a euphemism for adultery and since a wife was considered the property of her husband, it was tried as a form of trespass or property damage. Successful CrimCon suits found the wife’s lover guilty and carried a hefty fine for alienation of affection. The wife could neither attend nor testify as she was not considered a principal in these cases, despite her reputation being the central issue, because a wife had no legal identity separate from her husband.

After obtaining the CrimCon conviction, the husband then charged his wife with adultery and requested a legal separation (divortium a mensa et thoro) to sever all responsibility for his former wife. The bishop of the see in which the couple had been married, presided over this second ecclesiastical trial, the divorce trial itself.

Unless Parliament passed a Private Act (or Bill) of Divorcement granting permission, a divorced man could not remarry. The third hearing on this bill was as extensive as the other trials and concerned the reversion of the settlements made at the time of the marriage. Passage of such bills resulted in a divorce a vinculo matrimonii, which allowed both parties to remarry unlike the ecclesiastical divortium a mensa et thoro.


This article would have been impossible without Allison Lane’s invaluable collection of Common Regency Errors and The Regency Wrangles Blog’s wealth of information and details of specific cases in its Divorce category of posts.

The Regency Collection has a Calendar of Milestones in women’s rights that starts in 1832 and is fascinating reading when you realize how far we’ve come in 200 years.

Visit my post on Regency Marriages & Elopements or my Regency Resource page for more information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Sep 162011
 
Image of a playing card from Hall & Sons, early 19th century.

The Jack of Hearts. Early 19th c. playing card from Hall & Sons. Notice the face card has a single head and centered eyes compared to modern cards. The backs also would have been plain white.

This week my accountability group is blogging about where we got the idea for our current WIP as a follow up to last week’s more general discussion of Inspiration.

Coming up with ideas is the easy part. Executing them is the part that gives me trouble. Generating ideas is something we can train ourselves to do easily. Identifying the good ones… now that’s the trick!

I’d say in general I start with characters and then brainstorm situations to put them into. Very rarely do I come up with an idea that begins as a conflict and needs characters to play it out. Sometimes they start with the title, but that’s usually most suggestive of the characters. I’ve been known to get ideas from song lyrics, obscure folk tales or playing games of “What if…?” with characters.

Beneath His Touch came about that way. From there I found the characters and explored their situations to find the conflict that would sustain the story and eventually drive them together instead of apart. Revealed or what I still call in my head OTS, short for On The Shelf, also started with a title. One that’s evolved for sure, but we’re talking about how these stories are sparked.

The newest story that I’m working on has a couple of working titles that float through my head. Jack of Hearts and Love, According to Hoyle are the two that get my brain clicking though. Combine those with the saying “Lucky at cards, unlucky at love.”, toss in a game of Whist, and add a dollop of workshop on character development using archetypes and you’ve got a juicy story spark with lots of possibilities.

And what do you know. I just had one of those ‘AHA!’ moments while writing this post. Just like a hand of whist, this story needs 13 chapters — one for each trick. This also just set off a bunch of other what if’s bouncing around in my head. Look out WIP, here I come!

Your Turn: What are you working on and what sparked your initial interest in it? It can be a story or any other creative project you might be working on, but I’m curious to hear about how other creative types work. So go add your thoughts in the comments section!

If you’d like to read about what the rest of my group is working on and where they got their ideas, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford *
* Emma G. Delaney * Kimberly Farris *

Jan 142010
 

Regency Resource IconOn Monday, I spoke of a need for structure in writing a story or novel. When writing about another time period or indeed even in fantasy and science fiction settings, the author needs to consider the infrastructure of their setting and the effects that will have on their characters and stories from the time travel takes, to sensible clothing choices to relevant status symbols. Today, we’ll be taking a look at transportation in the Regency Era.

Transportation in the Regency Era: Regent's Canal, Limehouse 1823Travel and transportation have only increased in speed, comfort and horsepower since the Regency Era. We take for granted the speed at which we travel dashing from one city to another often in a matter of hours instead of days or months when jet setting from one continent to another. Likewise, different sorts of conflict and obstacles are going to crop up with different modes of travel. Instead of a flat tire, the heroine’s carriage may break an axle or lose a wheel on the road past the hero’s manor house. She can’t just go in and call for a taxi and be on her way, but may be invited to stay as his guest until the vehicle is fixed, provided of course that appropriate chaperonage is available.

Types of Transportation in the Regency Era

Before the 1830s, trains had not yet spread widely across the English country side and many factories still relied on canals for the transport of raw materials and goods to market. The postal system and its need to carry mail and people along particular routes required reform and refurbishment of the infrastructure during the late Regency period. Thomas Telford and John McAdam (of the Tar-McAdam or tarmac fame despite his not using tar in his construction, but possibly because of family business in the 18th century involving tar and shipbuilding) led to widespread renovations and improvements (in terms of the roads taking people where they wanted to go) on the Roman roads, including the Great North Road, the corridor between London and Edinburgh that is now called the A1.

Transportation in the Regency Era: a coach and fourThe designs of the various carriages during the Regency Era reveal the inadequacies of the roads for which they were meant to compensate. Lighter carriages that were well sprung were the sports cars of their day. One’s mode of transportation was tightly tied to one’s economic prosperity. As you climb the rungs of the economic ladder, vehicles move from heavy and ponderous to become lighter and more lavish. However, walking was universal. The poorest people walked because they no other alternatives and the more affluent walked for exercise and, one suspects, freedom from the bumps and jolts of traveling in a conveyance over rough roads. While it wasn’t fashionable to ride one’s horse instead of riding in a carriage, the maneuverability and freedom gained was surely preferable for some gentlemen.

While many carriages were built to order, you could also walk into a show room and purchase a new vehicle off the premises much the same as the modern car dealership, without the hard-sell one would hope. Unfortunately, many of the carriages from the Regency haven’t survived due to rapid advances in design where older vehicles were either scrapped or renovated.

I’ll go into more detail on the different types of Regency carriages as well as more information about horses in other posts.

Entertainment or Transportation?

Transportation in the Regency Era: a picture of early bicycleIn January 1818, the first ‘running machine’ was patented by a German named Karl Drais. This pre-cursor to the modern bicycle was wooden and one straddled the contraption and propelled it along with one’s feet in a running motion. This prototype was of little practical use as it was only possible to ride on well-maintained paths in parks or gardens.It was promptly copied and became popular in England and France. This ‘running machine’, ‘swiftwalker’ or ‘dandy horse’, as it was often called in Britain being favored by the dandies, gained in popularity and the term ‘velocipede’ was first used in the 1860s when Pierre Michaux, Pierre Lallement and the Olivier brothers built the first bicycle equipped with pedals, the ancestor of the modern bicycle.

Which travel nightmares do you think you would hate to have encountered the most in the Regency Era or which ones would you glad trade all the speed and comfort of now to avoid by traveling back in time?


For more information regarding Regency Transportation, Carriages and Horses and a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page.

Mar 182009
 
Doesn't the tension just crackle between them?

Doesn't the tension simply crackle between them?

Scriptwriters and directors have it easy compared to novelists. They ask for a charged look to pass between the characters and it happens (Ok, it may need a couple of takes to get the right one!). Audiences must infer from outward reactions between characters to know what they think and feel. We imagine, with a few helpful clues, why they behave the way they do.

The job of the novelist or short story writer is a bit tougher, since they can’t just just TELL you how a character feels but must SHOW you, and they have to use words, not images to do it. Novelists also have to sustain it for a much longer time since most movies condense down to short stories or novella length. (This is why the book is always better than the screen adaptation. 😉 There’s more time and space to get more details in there.)

One of the ideas I keep coming back to is how to go about building sustainable conflict that’s going to last long enough and still reach a satisfying resolution. Pile on some sexual tension! It’s necessary in a romance, but it’s not the most satisfying conflict to resolve for me as a reader. Maybe that’s because so many romance novels have that bit of tension resolved by page 138 or so.

I don’t feel like I’m much closer to figuring this out, but I haven’t given up on trying. I do feel as if my characters are becoming better suited for one another in the sense that they’re arguing more, have goals that appear to be mutually exclusive to them at first and they aren’t just along for the ride.

Now, I just have to go write them. BICHOK.