When families give advice

“Mom?” asked Miss Fraser, age 8. “How’s the writing going?”

“Pretty good,” I replied. “Rose had some ideas for putting more conflict in my Christmas novella, so I’m working on fitting those into the story.”

“What do you mean, conflict?”

“You know–all the bad things and problems that make a book interesting, that the characters have to work through to get to the happy ending.”

“Oh.” She frowned thoughtfully. “I have a good idea. You could put an earthquake in the story.”

“Well, that would be exciting, only the story is set in England, and they almost never have earthquakes there.”

Miss Fraser shrugged and gave me a look that said, Do I have to do EVERYTHING for you? “Then put in something they DO have.”

I then tried to explain about internal conflict and all the baggage my hero and heroine have left over from when they last met five years before, but her eyes started to glaze over. Miss Fraser thinks my stories sadly lacking in wizards, Greek gods, and clans of warrior cats going on quests.

Snowy England

A few days later I got into a conversation with my husband about how sometimes problems are easier to solve than you think. I had a character in my aforementioned Christmas novella whose existence was critical to my other characters’ lives, so I couldn’t just write him out altogether. But he had nothing interesting to do within the few days of my plot, and having him around was pulling focus off the characters who DID matter.

At first I was stumped, but then I came up with a simple solution: I changed my atmospheric Christmas Eve snow flurries to a wind-driven storm that accumulated thickly, and I made my extraneous character’s wife heavily pregnant instead of halfway through her second trimester. Voila! Now Harry the Necessary but Uninteresting wouldn’t dare venture on the roads and risk having his firstborn delivered in a carriage mired in a snowdrift, and all was right with my fictional world.

Mr. Fraser wasn’t so easily satisfied. “What are you going to do when some reader comes after you with an almanac proving it didn’t snow that Christmas Eve?”

I shrugged.

“You don’t CARE, do you?” he asked, eyebrows climbing in indignation. (I should note here that Mr. Fraser is a bit of a weather geek. As a child his dream career was meteorologist.)

“Look, I’m all about historical accuracy–to a point. I wouldn’t write Waterloo without the big rainstorm the day before, since it had a huge impact on the outcome of the battle, or forget that 1816 was the Year Without a Summer. But looking up the exact weather of every single day is several levels of obsessiveness beyond where I’m willing to go. Besides, this is a CHRISTMAS STORY. A white Christmas is a TROPE. It snows in England NOW. No one is going to have trouble believing in a Christmas snowstorm in 1810–especially given that the more of a weather geek they are, the more likely they are to know about the Little Ice Age and how much colder it was back then.”

“But what if 1810-11 was the warmest winter on record? What if it’s the year everyone talked about the daffodils blooming in January and all the young rakehells swimming naked in the Thames on Christmas morning?”

“Hmph. Unlikely.”

“Hmph. Where is your story set, exactly?”

“Kent.”

Mr. Fraser opened a new browser tab for Google and searched for weather in Kent in 1810. When nothing much came up, he searched on London and found a bit of data, but nothing that specifically remarked on Christmas. Peering over his shoulder, I spotted a reference to the Thames freezing over in January 1811. “Ha!” said I. “I stand by my story.”

“But what if it was a sudden cold snap?”

“I don’t CARE. A white Christmas is a TROPE.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of living a writer’s life in House Fraser. Does your family give you helpful advice whether you ask for it or not? And where do you draw the line between accuracy and obsessiveness?

This entry was posted in Frivolity, Research, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to When families give advice

  1. Elena says:

    LOL, Susan!

    I don’t usually talk about snags in my writing to anyone, not even critique partners, not until I’m desperate. But my daughters, who are a bit older than yours, like to write fan fiction and are pretty obsessed with avoiding common errors in fan fic, like Mary Sue characters. They know about things like external and internal conflict. They might enjoy giving me advice, as long as it’s not on the sex scenes (yes it embarrasses them that I know about such things).

    • susanna says:

      I’ve only recently started talking about writing with my daughter, mainly because she’s been struggling with writing in school despite otherwise being very strong academically. It seems she’s a perfectionist with a habit of biting off more than she can chew, so I’m trying to set her a good example by showing that writing isn’t easy, but I do it anyway, and that I manage my time and am willing to write a bad rough draft and rewrite it.

  2. diane says:

    Luckily I have lots of writer friends with whom to work out these snags. My dh, who has not read my books, nor any romance novels and barely any other kind of novel (but ask him about Patton. He reads biographies now and then), is fond of giving me plot ideas, even to the point of creating titles. His latest is to set a Regency in America.
    DH: What was going on in America during the Regency?
    Me: Well, there was the War of 1812…
    (which occurred in our back yard practically, being near Washington, DC.)
    He instantly thought it was a great idea to set my next book in America during the War of 1812.
    I said: But it is a problem, because who do I make the villains? I don’t want the Americans to be villains; nor the British.

    I know others have done the War of 1812, but I don’t want to!!!

    • susanna says:

      I’m writing the War of 1812, and I’m trying not to present either side as the villains, except insofar as I can’t bring myself to write a heroic slave owner. I’m sure many of them were fine, upstanding people in all other ways, and a few of them were actually my ancestors, but still. Ugh. Can’t go there.

      When I was working on my alternative history that’s my book under the bed, my husband was FULL of ideas. He thought it would be interesting to write it as if it was a history textbook, written from the alternative version of our area. I had America involved in the plot, but all the actual action took place in Britain, and he thought I needed a lot more American characters. My protests that my protagonist was British, that his role in the plot precluded any side trips to America, and that it was HIS STORY fell on deaf ears.

      I love my husband, but I’ll always be baffled by husband-wife writing teams…

Comments are closed.