30.5.12 | By: Megan Langham

My Neighbour's Good Opinion

If you're a regular reader of my blog at all, you will likely have noticed that I am a gleeful participant in Sky and Georgie's monthly character-building exercise Beautiful People. All of the questions to date have been incredibly insightful and a pleasure to answer, but there is one in particular which stood out to me. It appeared in last year's August edition of BP; I answered it here, for my character Glynnis.

What do your other characters have to say about this character?

The other day I was rereading my answers to this question and it startled me to realise how much it had taught me about both Glynnis and her friends in such a sparsity of words. So, for fun, I decided to answer it for some of my other characters from Volunteer Mission - and the results were unexpectedly revealing. Here are four of them.

margery smalldon

Will (her childhood friend) says she is too often caught up in her own troubles, but a true and tender soul for all that. Lady Elinor (her mistress) says she is a good girl, skilled at her work and with a kind word for everyone, if she does tend towards moping. Rhys says she is always the mad ocean gypsy who bewitched him with her sweetness and sorrow. Evan says she is pitiful, but precious, like a small frightened seabird with a broken wing and a heart to soar. Selwin says she is his charge, though she never asked to be; his heart, though he never aimed for that; and above all a caring and careworn maid who does not know how lovely she is.

rhys ap tuder

Rhoyna says he is not a very handsome man, which is a failing on his part; but in truth, when he smiles, you forget all of that. Glynnis says he’s as good as her brother, always ready with a hand to steady her and a story to make her forget why she needed steadying to begin with. Selwin says he is a puzzle, doleful and cheerful at the oddest times, but a thrilling storyteller and as quietly reliable a brother as one could wish for. Lord Iorweth says he is a good soldier, no better nor worse than a hundred others, though he looks like a milksop. Evan says he is strange and unpredictable and unfairly, ineffably kind.

lord iorweth pengrych

Huw (his manservant) says that his lord is often regarded as hard and wicked, and there’s truth to that maybe, but he was always kind to him. Rhoyna says he is charming and not at all bad to look at - she likes his eyes particularly. Evan says he is a brilliant commander and he himself would give a good deal to be so skilled. Selwin says he’s an intriguing personage and a good soldier, but there is something evil in his heart beyond the darkness of most men. Rhys says he is cruel because he is broken.

elena verch einion

Evan says she is a like a sturdy fairy, ethereal and elegant and excellent in a crisis. Philip says she is too retiring for his tastes, but she cooks like a dream. Gwilym (Evan's friend) says she is pretty in a pale way, though there is nothing vapid about her personality - to the contrary, she has a tongue like a poker. Selwin says she is like the moon, motherly and mysterious and fair. Einion (her father) says simply that he does not know how he could live without her.

"If there is anything more annoying than having people talk about you, it is certainly having no one talk about you."
--Oscar Wilde
18.5.12 | By: Megan Langham

What The Heart Wants

When I was browsing through the 800-899 shelves of our local library, I came across a book that I'd been hearing about consistently for the past three-coming-up-on-four Novembers: No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. In spite of all the recommendations I couldn't be bothered to read it before -- perhaps the title put me off, as I'm an incorrigible outliner. But on an impulse I checked it out, and I'm glad I did. While a substantial chunk of the book was essentially repeating what I had already learned through three years of NaNoWriMo and a lifetime of writing, I did come across some delightful little gems of helpfulness.

One of these was the "Magna Carta" exercise, which involves creating two separate lists gleaned from your experience as a reader. The first is an enumeration of everything that draws you to a book and keeps you there, leaving an feeling of practical enchantment and time well-spent in its wake. The second -- significantly more grumpy but just as useful -- involves detailing the sorts of things that make you cringe when you come across them in a book (or even a book's description), leaving nothing but a bad taste in your mouth and a sickening sense of time wasted. Beyond providing a reliable, if predictable, glimpse of your personality, the resulting lists are meant to guide you through your writing decisions. According to Chris Baty, "if you won't enjoy reading it, then you won't enjoy writing it". The idea is to remember what you love and pursue that, rather than pandering to a popular idea that you can't abide.

These are my Magna Cartas, below.

she loves

melodic writing that flows naturally yet cleverly // intense platonic same-sex friendships // dreams // bittersweet yet satisfying endings // short chapters beginning with quotations // intergenerational friendships // dry wit // evocative descriptions // european history // may-december romances // alternate history // female characters who are strong because they are feminine // male characters who are not afraid to be vulnerable // the ocean // time travel // tortured characters // emotionally jarring yet meaningful death // lengthy and complicated backstory // subtle sexual chemistry // heroic sacrifices // kind middle-aged english professors // enfp characters of any persuasion // warrior priests // non-stereotypical bookworms // sympathetic villains // a strong undercurrent of faith

she loathes

stilted writing // teenage romances // cliché rebellious princesses // one-dimensional villains // unnecessary sex scenes // emotionally frigid businesswomen // stuffy hypocritical evangelicals // crude humour // an unrealistically beautiful cast // unresolved endings // completely senseless deaths // overly scientific explanations // violence described in cringing detail // infidelity portrayed as a good thing // obvious moral messages // mile-long chapters // body image issues as a plot point // polar bears // lack of structure // almost any modern setting

The things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you'll likely excel at as a writer. These bits of language, colour, and technique, for whatever reason, make sense to your creative brain. These are the Things You Understand."

--Chris Baty