Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall on Your Knees

Apologies in advance for the fact that this post will leave you with 'O Holy Night' stuck in your head all day. It's Ann-Marie MacDonald's fault.

She wrote a book called Fall On Your Knees that I am mad about. I read it on the recommendation of a Canadian friend a few years ago and I re-read it last week. I can't talk about it too much, because I've recommended it to someone who may stop by this blog and I don't want to wreck the ending. But it definitely merits a read if you're interested in characterisation.

The setting - Cape Breton island in the late 1800s to mid 1900s - is challenging, as I imagine MacDonald had a tough time finding resources to work from (social history is a pain in the face to find out about. No one tells you where people went on dates, or when it became usual to dye your hair). It is the characters, though, that really make it sing.

It's hard to define who the main characters even are in this book, as it centres around three generations of a family and they all get a turn. James, the patriarch, is pretty unlikeable - snotty, self-absorbed, obsessive. Then he gets worse. Two of his daughters, Mercedes and Frances, share main character and viewpoint character duties for most of the book, and I found them both interestingly drawn. Mercedes is deeply religious and lives only to help her family.

I hate her.

Frances, by contrast, is selfish, difficult, slutty (not a word I like to use because it feels very anti-women, but Frances just totally is), troublesome, wild, abusive and mad.

I liked her better.

And I feel sure I had exactly the responses that MacDonald wanted me to have. She didn't mess up the good and bad characters. Everyone in the family loves Frances too. In spite of, well, Frances.

Sometimes, you read a book and you like the wrong character, and you know it's the wrong character. There is a book out there that everyone except me claims is one of the best ever written, and the only person in it that I liked was a very minor character who shows up for two pages. That meant the book wasn't working for me. As William Goldman might say, if you're rooting the butler, then everything is very far from being wonderful.

Not the case with MacDonald. She skilfully creates a self-sacrificing girl with no pleasures in life beyond her family, her crush on Rudolph Valentino, her one friend, her faith. And she makes her gradually less and less likeable until - no, I won't spoil it ;)

And Frances? When I started to type that I liked her, I imagined commenters popping up to say 'But she. . .' 'And she. . .' 'Are you forgetting the time when she. . . ' And I'm not. She did a lot of things that would instantly make any other character unsympathetic for me. Somehow, though, for reasons I don't fully understand (although I'd bloody well better try, if I'm to make a go of this writing lark), I liked her.

I won't even start on what MacDonald does to the elder sister, Kathleen.

Can't recommend this one enough. I can definitely imagine someone hating it, though, because there are very few entirely sympathetic characters (I think only one, and even so I can see why someone wouldn't like her), so don't blame me if you read it and you do. There are some very interesting techniques at play here though, and it's a real 'writers' read'. But it's also very good.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Microfiction Monday

And once again, it's time for Microfiction Monday! Above is this week's picture and below is my entry. Take part here.

For European readers, taking part in a regular blog event with regular rules like this is making me feel exactly like those poor souls who have to write the script for Have I Got News For You, finding a new way to say 'And now to our final missing words round. . . .' every week :)

The animated version of The Princess Bride hit a snag when the editor asked why the animator decided Buttercup had to have some potatoes.

Sorry, but that is clearly Fezzik at the window. I wonder where he got the crown. . .

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Blogging in November

Rebecca Enzor at Sticky Note Stories has proposed a NaNoWriMo blog chain. Rather than let our blogs go quiet in November, she suggests we blog about Nano so that we can share each othe's experiences.

I'm sure the world will be immeasurably richer for reading my Nano-rants. But you never know.

And the whole beauty of Nano is that, apart from having lots of fun, sometimes you stumble upon cool stuff. My winning novel from 2006 was utter rubbish but it did feature a main character I would love to go back to. And 2008's failed attempt yielded one good exchange:

'Keep an eye on this until I get back and don't stop stirring,' said Brenda.
Amy, not naturally gifted at anything involving heat, food or responsibility, balked.

Apart from that, both Amy and Brenda have been consigned to Character Heaven. But I did like this when I found it. I haven't secreted it in a special notebook to be slotted in somewhere (Adrian Mole used to do that), but it does prove that in the midst of writing total rubbish on purpose, some good stuff crops up.

And the same is true of your method. I would never dream of cancelling virtually all of my social engagements in order to write constantly - and yet, I learn little lessons during Nano that help for the rest of the year. Tricks for finding time to write, good habits. Or my favourite - outlining the first few scenes so I don't get half a page in and stop dead. Even if it's just key words ('Arrives at house, sees garden, state of disrepair, talks to mother, hears news, calls friend, drives home. . .').

In deference to bloggers who don't participate in Nanowrimo and are already sick of the sound of the bloody thing, I will include the word 'Nanowrimo' in the subject line of all Nano-related posts so you can skip them.

If you're interested in checking out other Blog Chain participants, the link in the first line of this post will bring you there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Over at her blog, Susan hosts Microfiction Monday - a challenge to post stories in 140 characters or less, inspired by a weekly picture. Here's my entry:

No one ever left town on the freight train that rode through every week. It seemed only right to Marsha that she would be the first.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Over at her blog, Susan hosts Microfiction Monday - a challenge to post stories in 140 characters or less, inspired by a weekly picture. Today's picture was so pretty that I had to have a go.

'This is my palace,' she said. 'I hope you aren't threatened by my obvious wealth.'