Saturday, December 20, 2014

Preparations for the Midwinter Ball

From: The Trials of the Youngest Princess

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As per appointment, I made another trip to town for my final fitting. It’s one thing to see a drawing and pick out the material; it’s quite another to see the finished product, or very nearly finished anyway.

Aimée helped me into the first layer. Made from the white satin, it was the undershirt that would show when the actual dress was added. It was long enough to reach down to my knees and had short sleeves. Its purpose was its white collar, which would lay over the blue of the dress. The collar was very wide, almost reaching my shoulders. In back it would stand up, holding my hair away from my neck. I watched in her mirror as she arranged the collar.

“There. Shows off your lovely neck. Don’t you think?” said Aimée with a smile.

I thought my neck looked rather skinny, but I suppose so. The line left open down the front was rather troubling though. The folded out collar left a V of skin down my chest bare. Not that I had anything to show off, but I’d never had so much bared skin in my life, not even for one of those paintings. I kept pushing it closed at the bottom, but it just fell open again.

Next Aimée helped me step into the dress, and then she laced it up the back. It took her a while, so when she was done, I turned to see the results and discovered a cascade all down my back of tiny white buttons, the line down my spine were what was holding my dress together, but in all, you’d never know.

Aimée spent some time with my front and that collar, but in the end decided to pin the bottom up another couple inches; she wanted the horizontal line of the blue to be undisturbed.

With me just standing there in front of the mirror, the dress looked rather plain.

“Move. Walk,” Aimée instructed with a hand on her chin.

The moment I took a step, the dress bloomed. It reminded me of some kind of lily. The dress had a wide pleat down in front of each leg, and behind too, and when I took a step, the white underneath flashed out. The sleeves from the elbow down were the same. I could lift my hand all the way to my chin and not lift the last of the material from my side. Laughing, I spun around and the pleats opened up. This dress was fantastic.

Aimée looked me up and down when I finished my spin. She of course was seeing her finished product, not some silly princess. “The picture you chose calls for the hem to be long and trailing on the floor in the back, but I think you are too young for that. I think it would be better if it merely brushed the floor all around. What do you think?”

I was a princess; she would do whatever I asked. I looked at the picture again; I’d forgotten about the flowing in back part. I looked at myself in the mirror again. The material was already there, and it was hard to get the quiet lines back after my spin. I liked those lines and the surprise they hid. “I like that idea too.”

Aimée had me kick off my shoes and stand on a pedestal. First she pinned the length of my sleeves so that only my fingers showed, and then she spent the next half hour trimming and pinning the hem. When she had come full circle, when I thought she was now done, she said, “Now for the last layer. I can’t figure out how to do the front.”

She brought out an armload of the sheer blue material; I’d forgotten all about it. This was made almost like a cape, only it was designed to go over this dress. It had very wide sleeves, but there were no pleats in this, just lots of see-through material. It was the same with what covered the skirt, though it didn’t cover the front panel. More of the white buttons trimmed the edges all around. The only unfinished part was the top in front.

“At first I was thinking about giving you a hood, but you wore your hair long last time I saw you. Will it be long again, do you think? If so, we can’t really do a hood.”

“I really don’t know what mother has planned for my hair,” I said. “Better not have a hood though, even if I don’t wear it up.”

She nodded and began tucking and folding, holding and pinning here and there, and quite by accident came up with something she liked. “Do you have a brooch? That’s a silly question. Pin it right here.” She poked her finger right between where my white collar came together and where the blue line of my dress was closest. She made a couple more tucks and flicks. “Yes. More pea buttons along the edge and curving down to your waist in the back. Perfect.”

It sure sounded good to me. I liked those little white buttons. I smiled and pulled her into a hug. I simply had to. If you ask me, she had worked magic. “Thank you so much.”

She blushed. “You really like it? It’ll be ready in a couple days. Would you like me to send it to the palace?”

“Yes, very very much, and yes again, if you would, please.”

She curtsied very low. No one had ever curtsied to me before. Now it was my turn to blush.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Top Model

Have you ever read one of those books where the writer can't quite figure out how to describe the main, first person, character?

Take the sentence: I slid my long slender legs out from under the covers.

Another example: I twined my long, auburn hair into a practical bun.

And another: I bared my straight white teeth in the mirror to make sure there was no food stuck between them.

When you do things like this, it comes off sounding sappy at best. Sickly-sweet is what comes to my mind nearly every time.

Try to remember, you never give a lot of thought about your own appearance unless you are trying to make sure things are perfect in preparation for meeting someone important. A model probably will think about everything listed above, though the hair style would be something different.

That makes it kind of difficult for a writer to tell you what their character looks like. There are ways though.

It's easier for a girl, because a girl is more likely to be more critical of her appearance. You just have to decide if such personal criticizing is fitting with your character's personality. I can tell you from personal experience that a rancher's caught probably isn't likely to care what she looks like much, not unless her mother is successful in girlifying her. My mother was far more successful with my older sister than she was with me.

There are men like this too, those who are incredibly self-conscious about about their appearance and those who are just lucky. My husband falls into the latter. I still don't look at clothes as anything more than a covering for modesty or warmth.

At any rate, how do you describe yourself without sounding shallow and selfish? There are all manner of subtle hints you can use, but basically it boils down to trusting your reader to develop a picture of your character that will do just fine.

Either gender might pick colors to accent eye color or at least not clash. A girl might do the same with makeup, maybe even selecting contacts to change her eye color to match her clothes. Hair color is another thing, but if your character is ever doing anything nefarious at night, they'd need to do something about light colored hair so it wouldn't show up. Having another character make a casual comment about hair color is another way.

The mirror thing works just fine, but you really have to be careful how you use it. Once again, you have to decide if your character is going to think about what he or she looks like or if they're just using the mirror for functional purposes.

Believe me, when it comes to self appearance, third person is best. I like third person close, it's very like first person, but it's outside of the body, rather like a gnome riding on your character's shoulder. Give it a try. You might like it. However, I do understand that some stories just hit better in first person.

Happy writing.

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Eliciting Emotions

So how do you elicit emotion with your writing? The formula is somewhat ambiguous. What will work for one person might not work for another. However, we are all softies down in there somewhere, so you are the person whose emotions you need to jerk around.

This afternoon, I was reading The Hunger Games, book 2 for the first time. At one point my husband caught me crying complete with runny nose and real tears, and then like ten minutes later (or less), I couldn’t help but laugh, and I had to laugh out loud. And then of course I had to stop and try to explain why.

Speaking of The Hunger Games, this is the second time I read the first book, and I’m happy to say many of the issues I saw the first time around seem to have been fixed. It makes the reading much more pleasurable if I’m not backing up and trying to figure out what the point of some sentence or paragraph was making. Don’t be afraid of those nifty little squiggly green lines; they can tell you if your sentence is incomplete. Last time around, I was very nearly ready to strangle the writer by the time I was half way through the book, and it was already a movie by then, I think.

Back on track here. I have always been one of those who cries during sad movies, and I’ll cry every time I watch it. Being out here in the middle of nowhere, I may have a lot of movies, but with nine months of winter, we watch a lot of movies, and we might only get one or two new movies a year, unless we make the trip to town for long enough to go shopping. It’s a great time to browse the used movie bins.

Oops – let me try again. So how do you make yourself cry? It’s not easy. I’ve managed to do it once in all of the books I’ve written, and I know I’ve done a good job because I cry every time I read that part.

The trick is to show the agony – key word being SHOW. The whole ‘show vs. tell’ is a pretty big deal. You need to describe each tear, squeeze our chest with the broken heart, choke up our throats with the terror that won’t let us scream. Can you do that? Believe me, it’s not easy.

I’m in the process of rewriting the next book I intend to publish, and here in a few pages, I’ll be at a point where my princess becomes paralyzed with horror, but she doesn’t dare show the true depths of the horror in front of her. Can I bring chills to your spine? Can I choke you up with the tears she can’t afford to let fall? Only time will tell. Maybe someday when you read that book, you will remember reading this post and you might find it in your heart to let me know what you think.

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