a little bit victorian

I received this morning a thoughtful critique on the prologue of ‘The Artificer’s Angels’, my steampunk novel. The gentleman in question had several good things to point out: a contradictory description, some wayward sentences breaking the flow, and imagery problems, all of which I was very grateful for.

But at the end he wrote this:

I also wonder if you are trying to emulate Victorian-style prose. If so, I think you might want to reconsider. The reason is that Victorian prose is really difficult for modern Americans to slog through, unless they are reading a book that was actually written in the Victorian era – then they recognize that they have no choice. The only other time I believe American readers would tolerate flowery prose and long, long sentences is if the writer were depicting the action from the first-person POV of a Victorian.

Now, I understand that this is an opinion, and should be weighed like all critiques. But it’s also a projectory opinion. “Other people won’t like it”, and that bothers me, especially since he said nothing at all whether he thought it distracting.

I’m not even a particularly flowery writer.

Ironically, a few minutes later I read a blog post by Mister Dave Kellet, writer and artist of the Sheldon webcomic. It included this:

One of my favorite things that Victorian writers figured out was how the inclusion of scraps of letters, telegraphs, and diary entries within their larger novels could help enhance a story and fill out a world.

Call me crazy, but I wonder if I would rather err on the side of more Victorian. Unrelated short steampunk stories between parts of the novel. Nano-fiction sprinkled here and there, to go with my pen-and-ink illustrations, my omniscient camera, and my insistence on spelling out titles like ‘Mister’. I’d not considered adding more material to flesh out the setting prior, but now I find the thought exciting.

Am I just being contrary? How does that sound, slogging modern American readers?

when the pov character can’t make it

Finishing this last chapter, I ran into a bit of a surprise. My villain is smarter than I’d planned. He has given my hero some false information to keep his attention focused elsewhere, and is trying to solve the problem of the rogue heroine on his own. … Without my pov character being present.

The hero doesn’t get to hear what’s going on, not yet, at least. Important things are going on, and they can’t be ‘filmed’. As pretty much the last obstacle in this book (and I still very much like my plot, even if it’s not to-code, as formulas go), this has been giving me some trouble. Worse, since it’s near the end, there’s no time for another subplot.

So, what do you do?

I came up with a few ideas to work around this, and I thought that I’d share.

Timeskip. Move to a place where the character can hear what’s going on. It might be a little late, in some cases, but there’s very little wrong with throwing a character into a developed situation that they’re not expecting. Shake them up and watch them stumble about a bit. So what if you couldn’t see things developing? Figure out what’s going on as new bombs explode on the poor guy. The downside? It’s hard to keep the character confused without doing the same to your audience.

Plot Device. This one’s a little hacky. Give the hero a spy for whatever reason. I don’t actually like this idea as much as the last, but it will work, especially if you want to carefully control what the character does and doesn’t know.

Rework It. So your hero is shut off? Change the situation– find a reason that they can get there, whether it’s reorganizing how things lay out or tweaking your other characters (in this case, my villain) so that the option of inviting the POV-guy is worth whatever downside.

Figure It Out. In this case, this isn’t an option for me. But in others, this is a nice alternative. Someone says something that reminds the character of something else. Put their ‘aha’ moment far away from the event. Spur them on that way. This isn’t always an option, but if so, you can motivate the character and get the pace increasing.

Just a few thoughts that I had on the situation. Feel free to add your own!

pondering pov

So! Now that the cover art is mostly out of the way (and I’m bouncing in anticipation of the coming sketches) I’ve turned my attention back to the book, the chapter, and the partial rewrite that I want to finish.

And I’ve run into another problem, and another answer that’s going to force me to rework much more than I’d anticipated: Rylan is not that effective of a POV character for what I want to do next. My heroine would be much better. She’s the one making the decisions, and later she’s the one who’s going to be in danger, and there are things she will say without Rylan being present.

I take a lot of care with POV. So far, it’s all been a third-person fixed and limited perspective, meaning the camera is on Rylan, and always on Rylan and has been for the last nearly 40k words. I prefer it that way; I like to keep things as simple as possible to avoid shifting needlessly. Except now? It’s not so needless.

Changing over to another character this late in the book, even using chapter breaks, is a jarring practice. I hate rules, but I’ll agree with this one: don’t switch cameras to a secondary character for one chapter halfway through the book, then never again.

With that in mind I’m changing chapter two (which I was never satisfied with) to Wyrren’s position. I’m probably also going to add another chapter somewhere between four and seven with her as the point of view character. And there’s a very important scene I’ll do the same. That puts her as the narrator for about 25% of the book.

It also changes the feel of the book, the lighting and mood, if you will. POV is important. It colors the pages with your character. In this case it’s steel and stone, oil lamps in the cold, blood and sweat, then to golden light, marble arches, velvet gowns and implication, implication everywhere, murmuring and gossiping, kind words one minute than slander the next; a fairy-tale ball of junior high girls who will never grow up.

It’s also going to be harder, longer, and double my work, especially handling the exposition and the secondary characters. I’ll do it, of course. I’ll do anything to make my book better. Even so, it’s hard, and I don’t want to. Consider the dilemma ranted and struggled with.