Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nice but not Boring

First, I have a crowdsourcing question:
In modern books that are meant as parody/pastiche/homage of Victorian novels, they often do this thing where the chapter headings go along the lines of "Chapter One: In Which Our Heroine Receives Unexpected News." But was this ever actually done in Victorian novels? I've gone through my bookshelves and looked up several other authors on Project Gutenberg, and I haven't found anything like that. The closest I've found was the thing Jerome K. Jerome did (and that Connie Willis imitated) of listing key words associated with each chapter, like "An arrival -- Change of plans -- Departure." Otherwise, most of the time if there is a chapter header, it's merely a title for the chapter. In the Robert Louis Stevenson books that are written in first person, the chapter titles are in first person, so they're a little more than the very basic headers in some other books. I've looked over Charlotte Bronte, several Dickens novels, Anthony Hope, Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy and a few more without finding that supposed Victorian convention. Hmm, it looks like my list is very low on women authors, and maybe that's the sort of thing that was found in "girly" books, but aside from the Brontes, I'm not really up on female Victorian authors. My taste tends more toward swashbuckling, I suppose.

So, if you can point me to any actual Victorian novels that are the basis for this particular convention, I would appreciate it. It's a touch I enjoy in the modern books that are parody/pastiche/homage to Victorian books, and I've considered playing with it, but before I ever go there, I want to have studied the source. I don't want to imitate an imitation.

In other news, I've gone back to work on the book this week. So far, I've been delving into some of the secondary characters to find ways to make them more interesting. In the books/proposals I've written lately, the response from editors is that they haven't responded to my male characters -- they don't think these characters are very interesting. I know I have a thing for nice guys. I like the boy next door type, and the idea that someone is an Eagle Scout is actually kind of a turn-on for me. But "nice" is generally seen as "boring" in fiction. I've found when discussing TV shows, books and movies that my favorite character is often the one considered boring by everyone else. I may have been the only girl in America who thought Luke Skywalker was more interesting than Han Solo in Star Wars (though my true favorite was R2-D2). This means that when I write a male character who appeals to me, there's a risk that readers (and editors) will see him as boring. And yet when I wrote one of my nice guys in my previous series, that character, Owen, has been wildly popular. How did that happen? I think it was a combination of things and a lot of contrasts. He was really good-looking, but also painfully shy, and then he turned out to be very powerful, but very restrained in his use of power. There was a big difference between what he appeared to be and what he was. I do think that the shyness -- an unexpected touch from someone that good-looking -- gave the initial "hook" that made the character intriguing even before we found out he was a super-powerful wizard.

Based on that, I've been going back into my characters and mining them for opportunities, something to latch onto and make them more intriguing so that they aren't just bland nice guys. I really missed some opportunities with one of them, and using what I've figured out is going to be a lot of fun. Meanwhile, I've also been working on the villain to make the villain really three-dimensional, where you can see how she's been successful so far and yet also see why it would be very, very bad if she won.

And now I'm really itching to get back to work. I think today I'll do a scene-by-scene analysis as the first step toward the major surgery/structural revision. I know I'm probably going to have to cut around 15,000 words, and that's not going to happen just from eliminating words like "very" and "just" or the "began to" or "started to" constructions. That will require killing scenes, so I need to figure out which scenes aren't necessary and which scenes can be combined. Then I think I'll take a long weekend and be ready to plunge back into it full-speed-ahead on Monday.


Chicory said...

I'm a little too lazy to go check, but I think Dicken's first novel, Pickwick Papers, had the kind of chapter headings you're talking about.

I am happy to hear of another person who appreciates Luke Skywalker. :)

I think what makes Han Solo so interesting to people is that his emotional journey from a jaded mercenary to a fighter for a cause. Luke's journey, by contrast, moves him from someone really easy to connect to into a remote sort of mystic. I liked him a lot better in `New Hope' than I did in `Empire Strikes Back' or the first half of `Return of the Jedi.'

Han was just the opposite. I liked him better as the series went along and he visibly softened more toward nice guy-dom. :)

Shanna Swendson said...

The Pickwick Papers has descriptive chapter headings, but not in this format.

When I was a pre-teen back in the Dark Ages, there was only one Star Wars, and it was called Star Wars (that New Hope stuff didn't come along until much later). We didn't know what would eventually happen to Han or Luke. In fact, it looked like there would be a love triangle in which Leia would have to choose between earnest hero Luke and bad boy Han. (And now, ewww.)

I think Han was popular then because he was the bad boy. He got all the funny, dryly sarcastic lines and he was cynical, while Luke was earnest and such a good boy. I guess Han was more complex because he did have a better nature under the cynical exterior, while Luke was pretty straightforward, but I'm lazy when it comes to men. I don't want to have to dig to find buried treasure. I like to know from the start that someone is good instead of hoping that maybe there's a heart of gold under the bad boy exterior.

Anonymous said...

I know that when I was in high school, I got really into Star Wars and watched it over and over. And Luke was my favorite. I had such a Luke crush. I read a zillion sequel books, and always wanted a nice Luke romance.

However, as an adult, I found Luke too mystical for me. His powers just didn't seem to have a lot of explanation. I also found him less and less handsome, weirdly enough. I found myself liking Han Solo a great deal more and finding the show much funnier. I think I "got" the humor more, and as such I became much more interested in the romantic relationship between Han and Leia. If it had been Luke that she ended up with (if he wasn't her brother), though? I might have continued to like him best. I think I liked Han *because* the romance included him.

As for the chapter titles "in which" construction... "Around the World in 80 Days" has such titles. An online message board also talks about "Le Morte D'Arthur," "Don Quixote," "Vanity Fair," "Winnie the Pooh," "Kidnapped," "Tom Jones," "Moll Flanders," "The Three Musketeers," a few of the chapters in "Les Miserables," and some of Dickens' novels. I don't have these books on hand to check, so I can't guarantee it. Also, some books have chapter titles and *some* of them might be in this format but it isn't necessarily seen for every chapter. From the examples I find, it looks like it was largely done in fantasy works (even if there was no fantasy genre at the time), but not exclusively. I've always found it a cute construction, especially when the author gets really clever about it. So I hope you do use it!