Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Building Believable Characters

When people talk of 'building' characters I'm always reminded of the Sci-Fi film 'West World' with Yul Brynner. However, this is effectively what we are doing even though it is in our minds and the minds of our readers. We want our characters to be real and three dimensional, as though we could see them walking down the street. Every writer has their own method for moulding and sculpting paper creations into living, breathing, 'real' beings our readers will believe. I thought I would share some of the things I have done, some of which you may already do, or don't do and might find useful.


I begin with visual basics - hair/eye colour, height and build - so that when I am writing down first draft scenes and dialogue I can at least add simple descriptions. I consider their role: are they a warrior, a Druid, a peasant or noble? All of these suggest their standard of living and perspectives on life, which add to their personalities. If they have relatives that will be mentioned in the same novel, I write a brief background description of each relative and what their relationship was like with this individual; this adds depth to their upbringing and familial interactions.


Cultural, spiritual and linguistic heritage are all aspects of someone's character that can define them. Although all my characters speak English in my novels, I model their language use as much as possible on their mother tongue. For instance, my Saxon characters use dialogue with their roots in Old English words of Germanic origin [i.e. amid, become, wend, shield]. The sounds of these words add a Saxon flavour to their speech. Likewise, I have Romano-British characters who would be speaking an early form of Welsh, the P-Celtic language. In modern Welsh there is a word for yes [ie] but you can say 'yes' in many forms depending on how you answer a question:
e.g.
Does she understand? [Ydy hi'n deal?] Yes (she does). Ydy.
Are you coming? [Ydych chi'n dod?] Yes (I am). Ydw.
Were you there? [Oeddech chi yno?] Yes (I was). Oeddwn.
When the character responds with these answers of 'Yes she does' or 'Yes I was' despite being written in English in the novel, these formulate a hint of the Welsh grammar structure that this character would utilise in speech. Another layer or flavour if you like, that adds to the realism of the character.


Culture also denotes what social etiquettes a character is likely to follow, while spirituality forms their beliefs in certain morals, type of deity worship and afterlife concepts. Insert political viewpoints in relation to the period in which you are writing and you have even more material to play with. For a Druidic character, I have examined the sacrificial and divination practices of the Order. Reading the future from the entrails of dead animals and humans gives a grim insight into the beliefs held by this spiritual group. Another method of divination called 'imbas forosna' is to divine by chewing on raw flesh and placing your hands on your cheeks as you fall asleep. The future is then supposedly revealed through dreams. This presents the possibility of including all the senses in descriptive writing, bringing your reader within the character using touch, smell, taste, sight and sound.


Another interesting tool I use is the inclusion of animal traits in certain characters. The obvious one (writing about a tribe called 'Wolf Sons') is aspects of wolf behaviour. These wild canines show dominance through posture, rather than using aggression and have immense stamina and strength. They follow a strict social status within their family groups. Bestowing these attributes onto a character is more of a subliminal connection, but one that still can seep through to the reader and hopefully create a more intimate relationship with the character.

How do you begin to build a character?

What tools do you use to define them?



Writing as ‘E S Moxon’, Elaine's debut historical fiction adventure ‘WULFSUNA’ was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain, where the legendary Saga ensures a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. You can find out more about Elaine’s novels on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

~ ~ ~

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.

WULFSUNA





Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Using Fact in Fiction


When writing historical fiction it is hard to escape the facts in history. Whole novels are penned on factual historical characters or factual events such as well-known battles. What I find personally enjoyable is when you can take a small fact and weave it into your fictional setting. I did this with my first novel 'WULFSUNA', where I used the name of a documented Saxon tribe of the 'Hwicce' as the basis of a fictional Romano-British settlement within the Welsh borders.

Historical documentation for the tribe of the Hwicce, which covered what is now parts of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, does not give much information prior to the 7th Century. Even the name has caused some contention that divides historians. There are some who believe the 'cc' to be pronounced hard like a 'k' while others continue to lean toward it being soft as the Italian 'cc' in cappuccino. For 'WULFSUNA' I chose an anglicised spelling that, at the time, best resembled the commonly held version of correct pronunciation (the soft sound). I added an 's' to the end and hence the 'Hwychas' of Prenhwychas were born.


The real Hwicce eventually became the most important shire of Mercia, the beginning of the powerful kingdom of the Midlands ruled by Penda. It is suggested this sub-kingdom was itself fully functional as a kingdom in its own right prior to its immersion into Mercia; an ecclesiastical centre run by a small Anglian warrior elite. (It is rumoured King Offa grew up among the Hwicce.) In the AD770s sub-kings were replaced with mere Ealdormen and the kingdom of the Hwicce was absorbed by Mercia, although it continued to thrive and in the 11th Century was said to have a 'tribal hidage' of 7,000 hides.

Reading parts of the Historia Brittonum for research, there is mention of the Hwicce tribe originally being a native Brytonic settlement, which later came under the rule of an unknown Angle - a shadowy figure with no name. The document ascribes to Germanic settlers in Deira prior to AD500 and then of course, there are the Foederati and disparate Germanic mercenaries left over by the Roman Empire's withdrawal from Britain in the early to mid 5th Century. This premise seemed to perfectly match my fictional Angle tribe of 'tha Eforas' (the Boars), the formidable enemies of the Wulfsuna. An idea began to form, as historical fiction played with historical fact. Here was a hint of realism that could be interwoven with my fiction.

 

Could my fictional settlement of Prenhwychas come under the rule of one of 'tha Eforas'? Could this Angle warrior allude to be the shadowy figure mentioned in the Historia Brittonum? If so, perhaps he would change the name of the settlement more fitting with his native tongue and I could use the alternative pronunciation with the hard 'k' to show this in my second Wolf Spear Saga. After all, Prenhwychas has a majority Christian population and is swift becoming surrounded by settling Germanic pagan tribes; mercenaries abandoned and unpaid by Rome and hungry for payment or retribution. Accepting Anglian rule would keep them safe, as this new leader would know the language and tactics of these so-called barbarian neighbours.

Well, to find out whether or not this transpires you shall have to wait until Wolf Spear Saga 2 is published, so I shall leave that speculation hanging! What I will say is that these fortuitous unions of facts and fiction help to bring readers deeper into your stories, tempting them with morsels of truth. We can only wonder at the reality behind the birth of the tribe of the Hwicce and how it became a sub-kingdom of a dynasty, ruled by Saxon Ealdormen several centuries later. Even if this is conjecture by early historians with no basis in fact, I love my Hwychas tribe and their fortified hilltop settlement with ramshackle Roman villa, honey-coloured stone walls and long-horned sheep. A former 'municipium' of Rome and thriving crofter community, where each roundhouse has its own field to cultivate, it has weathered civil unrest and betrayal by its magistrates. It is as real to me as any historical fact and hopefully is as real to my readers.


Writing as ‘E S Moxon’, Elaine's debut historical fiction adventure ‘WULFSUNA’ was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain, where the legendary Saga ensures a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. You can find out more about Elaine’s novels on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

~ ~ ~

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.

WULFSUNA





Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Blank Page Syndrome

Beginning any project can prove a fearful experience for many; a perilous precipice of white expanse where no words dare to fall. Toes curl, hair bristles on the back of necks and fingers pause over keys. They envy those who freefall into the abyss and dream of the day when chapters gush onto the page in a vomit of inspiration. Yes, writing is a messy craft for some.
I recently wrote a blog on keeping a writing ‘log’ after experiencing insecurities over the little time I thought I was spending on my craft. It turned out these insecurities were unfounded and other areas of my life had only appeared to have consumed my writing time. Quite often doubts and insecurities arise when we are confronted with what our own psyche views as a mammoth task.
Starting a new novel, entirely undrafted or plotted in any way except for a title had shaken my confidence. The ‘Blank Page Syndrome’ had crept in while I had been busy with daily work and family routines, to undermine my ability to even begin! Goodness, it had even cast doubts on whether I was doing any writing at all, about anything.
A few weeks into the log settled those initial doubts. Then it was time to get to work on the fear of that vacant page. Where did I begin? I read books, lots of books, all factual research on various topics relating to the novel I hoped to write. As I made notes on Druidry, equine history, Autism and the movement of Celtic peoples after the departure of the Roman Empire from Britain, visions emerged. My vacant page contained words, not of a story per se, but of scenarios.
Finding the roots of your story is one way to chase away the Blank Page Syndrome. Once you set down roots, it is hard to be uprooted as the trunk expands, branches spread and leaves grow with your ideas. Soon these disparate scenarios contain characters, or at the very least names or titles of the protagonists. They may not have faces or hair colour, but they are saying things and moving around a landscape that is slowly emerging, like a watercolour filtering over paper.
Soon you discover you are linking these scenarios together and forming a jigsaw with them, slotting in new ideas or moving them around. External factors or other characters appear to tip the delicately balanced plot, sometimes even before it has completely formed and you find the story spiralling into unknown, unplanned pastures.

You have the beginnings of a book!


  • Have you ever suffered with the blank page syndrome? If so, how have you dealt with it?
  • Are you a tight plotter, loose pantster or a little of both?
  • If you have an idea do you stall it and pause to assess if it will be detrimental to the original plot, or run with it and see where it will lead?
  • Do you throw out an idea if it doesn’t fit within the strict confines of the perfect story arc you created, or allow it to alter your story?

Writing as ‘E S Moxon’, Elaine's debut historical fiction adventure ‘WULFSUNA’ was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain, where the legendary Saga ensures a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. You can find out more about Elaine’s novels on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

~ ~ ~

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.

WULFSUNA








Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Year and a Book

A little over a year ago I began a writing log, because I felt I wasn’t giving enough time to my craft and that Book 2 in my Wolf Spear Saga series would never be written. I had decided to shelve complete drafts of the two novels I had written after ‘WULFSUNA’, as I wanted to remain with the characters from the first book a while longer. I felt the reader would also want to, and that the other novels could become later stories. This of course meant starting entirely from scratch – blank page syndrome. We all have commitments and it is a lucky few who find their writing successful enough to allow them to do it full-time. Work, family and life in general seemed to be taking over all my spare time. I felt I had let myself down and so the ‘log’ commenced.
Looking back on pages of handwritten columns of notes, word counts and hours revealed I had not forsaken my craft or Book 2 at all and I was writing ‘something’ every week. Exceptions to this were clearly delineated by family holidays (where I prefer to spend time with my tribe and leave the online world behind) or periods of illness. All my spare time had not been consumed by extraneous activities as the weeks and months of wide-ranging word count proved in black and white (or blue, or purple, or green – hey, I’m a writer; I love pens!). There had been words to count!
Admittedly the time spent actually writing averaged only an hour a day, including weekends, but I noticed also that length of time did not necessarily equate to the amount of words produced on the page/screen. I had spent several hours redrafting chapters where word count added had been minimal for the time allotted. In contrast, I had spent many a ten-minute slot scribbling a few hundred words off the bat.
Patterns also emerged, providing me with an insight into routines I had not consciously noticed, such as pockets of marketing and promotion in one-week blocks or periods where I read research material extensively and made copious notes. This was all time spent working towards my writing and the completion of my novel and so it was counted. Other patterns were more intriguing. Whether you believe in planetary energies or simply equate the full moon with lighter evenings and hence a sense of being more ‘awake’ for longer on those nights, my writing did peak in a week waxing up to a full moon. Word count was often triple or quadruple my usual levels.
Certainly, whatever these figures prove, the single outstanding factor is that I am writing regularly. Maintaining the log has merely revealed this fact to me, at a time when I imagined other areas of my life had taken over. It has given me impetus to continue and increased confidence that I have been managing my writing time effectively while, as they say in France, juggling the ‘train-train du jour’. And after a year, I have an ‘almost’ book that this week surpassed 91,000 words.

 The Wolf Spear legend will return!

  •  Have you ever faced difficulties in balancing your writing time with other factors in your life?
  • How have you overcome these?
  • What advice would you give to others who find themselves in the same situation?

Writing as ‘E S Moxon’, Elaine's debut historical fiction adventure ‘WULFSUNA’ was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain, where the legendary Saga ensures a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. You can find out more about Elaine’s novels on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

~ ~ ~

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.

WULFSUNA








Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Inspirational Tours #3 - Manorbier Castle


Manorbier Castle, looking up from the road

On the southern edge of Pembrokeshire’s National Park area stands Manorbier Castle. The site, occupied in some form by castles, forts and cromlechs since Neolithic times, became the seat of Norman Knight Odo de Barri during the 11th Century. Its name derives from more than one possible meaning:

‘Maenorbyr’                - Maenor, meaning 4 Trefs, a Welsh form of land measurement

                                    - Byr, from ‘Pyr’ the 6th Century Abbot of nearby Caldey

                                    Island, or ‘Bier’ meaning corn or pasture.

‘Maen Y Pyr’              - Meaning ‘Stone of Pyr’, referring to the cromlech or tomb,

                                    overlooking the bay called King’s Quoit (although no skeleton

                                    has ever been found).

However the castle came by its name, it remained the home of the de Barris for over 250 years. Odo’s fourth son, Gerald de Barri is probably more famously known as ‘Gerald of Wales’, the witty chronicler whose 17 publications provide sources of folklore and personal experiences of his time. In 1188 Gerald described Manorbier as follows:

‘This is a region rich in wheat, with fish from the sea and plenty of wine for sale. What is more important than all the rest is that, from its nearness to Ireland, heaven’s breath smells so wooingly there...Manorbier is the most pleasant place by far.’

A sculpture in the gardens, honouring Gerald of Wales
Hardly surprising that Gerald bestows such love for where he was born, but it is indeed a beautiful place. In its heyday it had fruit and nut trees, an apiary, deer park, flour mill, dovecote, buttery, sheep grazing and wool and leather production and much more. What you discover when exploring the castle’s many rooms is that, from almost any vantage point there is a magnificent view to behold.

  

The former Guardroom is now a delightful and snug café and shop.


The chapel/crypt and an upstairs room are used for civil weddings, providing a grand and mystical atmosphere for the occasions.

 

By the end of the 14th Century, high running costs coupled with expensive and rare skilled labourers due to the Black Death, de Barri sold the castle and estate to two separate people. The ensuing confusion was resolved by Henry IV, when he granted the estate to the Countess of Huntingdon (mistress of Edward III) and other members of the royal family. Able to afford stewards to run the estate, the royal owners kept the castle until its sale to the local Bowen family in the 17th Century. In 1670 it was sold to Sir Erasmus Philipps for the sum of £6,000 plus his daughter for Thomas Bowen’s third wife. Since then, the castle has descended from Sir Erasmus.

It was a smugglers’ haven in the 19th Century and the barn was converted into a house in Victorian times and is used as a holiday home. During both world wars it was home to RAF servicemen and the castle has inspired several artists and writers, including Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and Siegfried Sassoon. Today it is a flourishing tourist attraction that remains, as Sassoon put it, ‘wild, austere, and ocean-chanted’ and will delight visitors of any age. It is well worth exploration and admiration.

 

~ ~ ~
Acknowledgement:
Factual information courtesy of the Manorbier Castle site, and the guide book written by Caroline Dashwood.

All photographs copyright E S Moxon.

~ ~ ~