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England, Writing, and the Combination Thereof

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Oct. 14th, 2008 | 11:29 am
mood: accomplishedaccomplished

England, as it turns out, is excellent for getting editing done. By this I mean that the tiny and adorable town of Starcross, Devon has no wireless Internet, no library, and generally little to do, and my friends and I do not yet have jobs here. (Don't worry - we did find a library, and have cards for it. It just isn't in Starcross.)

My editing of Rabbit and Cougar has been going quite well, though I sometimes get bogged down in rewrites of certain scenes. I'd rather hoped to be line editing by now, and largely I am, but some scenes just need more work than that. The main thing I've been doing, though, is to move the word "said" (or the occasional "shouted" or similar) from after the speaking characters' names to before them. For some reason, when I last edited this draft, I thought one had to write "Dexy said" all the time, when I really prefer "said Dexy." I had also not yet experienced the marvelous revelation that a new speaker does not always mean having to start a new paragraph with that piece of dialogue. I was under this impression for years. It led not only to many unecessary whacks of the "return" key, but also to some lack of clarity with regards to who spoke when. This mostly had to be cleared up via extra speech tags, which I'm now able to delete. Honestly, the dialogue in this draft cleans up very nicely when I just correct the wrong assumptions I had before. :P

The one writing-relevant experience I've had here so far is a visit to Totnes Castle, my first castle of this trip. It's a Norman one, and now consists of a small, well-preserved round bailey which once held a wooden tower, all surrounded by modern reconstructions of the one-time castle walls. It was an interesting look at a sort of castle you don't often see - more of a guard tower, really, without grandeur or living quarters. (There were living quarters inside the walls in a sort of tiny town, but no actual castle building in which people lived.) Helpful signs described how the site would have looked, including the fact that the building, like many castles, would have been whitewashed. People often overlook that, don't they? Castles in fantasy fiction are rarely white - more commonly, they are plain stone. In a way, they resemble the ruins of castles that survive now more than the castles as they were when they were used. It's as if people drew dinosaurs without skin because their fossils don't have any.

Seeing the castle also made me think of one of the pitfalls of writing set in any past time period: underestimating the ability and drive of people to make lives for themselves. I don't mean just to survive, but to make their lives comfortable and interesting. Think about cave paintings. The people who created them lived in terrible hardship and danger, but they still made an effort to created something more than just a continued existence. This is often neglected in medieval settings - in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a satire on generic fantasy, Diana Wynne Jones points out that peasants always live in "squalid huts," being apparently unable to clean them. Obviously, some people work harder than others to improve their lives, people's priorities differ, and some people are in such dire straits that they can do little more than survive. Still, it's easy to look, as I did, at the rough, uneven stone floor of a ruined castle and wonder how people were ever comfortable here. Was this floor smooth and flat once, enough to walk on without tripping? More than that - it was very likely plastered. Maybe carpeted. Humans have a genius for altering our environment; a good thing for a writer to remember.

Beyond that, work continues on the grad school applications. I feel better than I ever have before about the beginning of Rabbit and Cougar, though, so I'm happy that I'll be using that as my writing sample.
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