It’s All in the Name


“Algie!” I cried, “Already?”

My boyfriend is not called Algie.  You can therefore understand his concern when I shouted another man’s name in bed.   Admittedly, I was reading and he was sleeping but that did not lessen his distress. The cause: the latest Regency Romance download on my Kindle. Page Six. Our alpha male hero was already insisting that he and the feisty heroine are on first name terms. Yes, Algernon Tightbottom, Six Earl of a Massive Estate in Devonshire wanted to be called ‘Algie’.  They hadn’t even had the anachronistic kiss yet!

I’m a traditionalist, I guess.  In my own Regency inspired WIP the heroine (feisty though she is) calls the hero by his title and surname.  He is always Mr Birling, even after the first kiss (anachronistic and illicit though it is).  I can’t bring myself to write it otherwise because in my head the reason Mr Darcy is so attractive is because he is Mr Darcy.  We never call him Fitzwilliam or, heaven forbid, Fitz. If we did the whole idea of him would be inadequate.

In the Regency etiquette and codes of behaviour governed courtship, and there were lots of them, including correct forms of address.  When you address Algie to his face he is ‘My Lord’.  It is unusual that a female he has picked up on the side of the road (and not paying) would even address him by the title that goes with that massive estate in Devonshire.  If you want to learn more about how to address an Earl go here 

I am not a complete kill joy and I do find it satisfying to see the heroine and hero negotiate their way to happily ever after by some times breaking the rules. Even the epitome of Regency heroines does it. In What Matters in Jane Austen, John Mullan writes that Elizabeth Bennet arriving at Netherfield with mud encrusted hems is a situation that would probably not happen. Young women did not go ‘scampering about the country because her sister has a cold,’ as Miss Bingley snidely remarks.  The improper behaviour therefore acts to define character because as Mullan insists, although Miss Bingley is correct, who would side with her against Elizabeth Bennet?

In the Kindle book however there did’t seem any particular reason for ‘My Lord’ to become ‘Algie’, not even to show him as a fun, laid back kind of rogue who can’t be bothered with all the rot of social behaviour.  These days, however, it seems to be quite the thing that first name terms are reached quickly. For propriety’s sake the heroine may insist on formalities to show that she can be a good girl when people are watching, but generally it doesn’t last long. Normally until that first anachronistic kiss.

It does seem like a rather inconsequential thing, especially in a download I paid less than a pound for. However,  I would argue that part of the attraction of the Regency Romance fairy tale world is the wit and ingenuity of the heroine (and sometimes hero) used to conquer the codes of etiquette as though they were dogs with eyes as big as saucers or bean stalks to be climbed.  The right to call Mr Darcy ‘Fitzwilliam’ has to be earned through trial, as does the privilege of calling Miss Bennet ‘Elizabeth’. In either case, if the liberty is given or taken too freely than the significance of the prize loses a great deal of sparkle, if not all of its titillation.

You may be wondering how my boyfriend reacted to all this.  Well, he listened with growing perplexity before laughing and going back to sleep. All things considered I think I got off lightly.


What are they Wearing?

There are quite a few articles about that recommend the tricks and methods writers can learn from the movies.  A couple can be found here, here and here.

This week though I’d like to scribble specifically about the costumes that characters have.  There is a really good website called Clothes on Film which talks about how the costume of characters in films tells the viewer information about them.

You may be thinking this isn’t very useful because you don’t have images in a book so the fine details aren’t really important.  I’d argue that a writer is prompting the reader to create their own visual image and therefore costumes can still really work to build a character, more so than information on hair colour, eye colour etc.  Although these things do help a great deal they are what the character has been ‘born’ with, not necessarily how they choose to present themselves.

This has all been in the forefront of my mind as ‘My Book’ is set in the Regency Period. That means that means learning a whole new set of cultural indicators that would have been obvious then but may not be apparent today.  Austen uses costume so subtly that you could miss it, but then she was writing at a time when her readers would be aware of social conventions and would automatically be able to fill in the blanks.  The implication that Frank Churchill would be in mourning dress while discussing his love for Jane Fairfax with Emma Woodhouse illustrates that black clothes do not always reflect the level of grief.

Some less than subtle details appear in Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy when Inquisitor Glokta is first encountered. He’s walking with his cane and a crippled leg.  The noises Abercrombie describes – the tap of the cane, the step of the healthy foot followed by the dragging of the ruined foot behind – is a really strong image that stays with you and is incorporated into the characters thought process to reveal the sort of person he is.  The cane itself also comes into its own in the last book as an important representation of his character and how that has changed over time.

Another example is in The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis.  The hero stands on the steps of the temple of Jupiter watching a young girl run towards him and the details of her bracelets, make up and hair all tell him she’s a rich young girl who wasn’t expecting to be sprinting through The Forum when she was dressed that morning.  The hero’s observation that the girl is wearing too many clothes also reveal his character to us.

Costume’s can also be symbolic of characters in books as well as in films. In Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon when the hero, Harry Dresden, looses his coat he consequently feels like less than himself until it can be replaced.

Costume changes are also important moments.  Hermione Granger getting beautified in The Goblet of Fire makes her friends see her in a new way.  Harking back to Abercrombie, when the practicals (the Inquisitor’s assistants) remove the masks covering the bottom half of their faces they become different people to those that are looking.  Or they can be grander, plot changing moments, when Gandalf completes his transition from grey to white.

Costume can reveal a myriad of information about characters, and not always the character that is doing the wearing.  The shush of a ball gown can also help to set the scene or define a character and make them more memorable in the reader’s imagination.

What do yours wear?

And if you want a freebie that I’ve found really useful for more general character development you can get an e-book from K.M Weiland’s blog here.



How to be a Transvestite (on paper)

One of the questions that crops up a great deal, at least on the writing websites that are dominated by young women, seems to be how to write convincing male characters.  Stepping in to an unknown world of life experience and cultural expectations is daunting. Young man biting his nails and pulling his hair over how to write female characters appear to be less common.   Although that probably has more to do with the websites I frequent.

While trying to come to terms with my own dose of paranoia on this issue the following were useful,

1) Talking to men helped.  Not necessarily launching in to full-scale interview of their most intimate life details. However, one of the key habits encouraged in writers is nosiness and general observation and chit-chat is harmless enough.  If you’re feeling brave also dip into men’s magazines. Take a pinch of a pinch of salt with you though.   GQ is about as representative of the male sex as Glamour is for women.  Relationship books also helped, but only so far as reassuring me that a male character would, by and large, feel exactly the same way about something as a female character would, although they would probably react differently.

2) Realising that it can be done. Some of my favourite male characters are written by women. I love Gideon Jukes and Orlando Lovell in Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis. They are polar opposites but both interesting, detailed and full of life. On the other side Ardee West in Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy may not have much page time but she is as complex and vibrant as any of the men he writes.

3) By far the most obvious thing to remember though is that male characters are still just characters. They still need a goal, conflict and motivation to make them readable.  Sort that out and anything else is just decoration.

How about everyone else? Has anyone else had issues with something similar?