Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Reading and writing and blogging . . . challenges

Victorian Era Women

Last night, I started reading Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and was transfixed by her evocative writing that spelled out character and setting so perfectly. As I fell into her story and admired how beautifully she captures external and internal realities, I thought of a writing prompt:

We all have rich inner lives, informed by our experiences. Memories speak to us when we least expect it. So, what is dearest to each character in your current work in progress? Consider the senses, memory tied to particular time, person or place; life cycle events, childhood, adolescence, an embarrassing moment, a joyful time, music, dance. What would your character miss most of home? What memory most repels them? Freewrite for 15 minutes about one of your characters. Let the words flow -- scenes, dialogue, descriptions. Above all, consider memory. 

The reason for this prompt is that one of my female characters is very passive. She's always fainting. I think it means I don't understand Victorian era middle class women. I'm ok with blue collar and lower class women. Their dialogue sings to me. And I've worked with upper class folks who can sneer with a lifted eyebrow. Another book on my to-read-list is Jane Robinson's Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers. If you have any suggestions about research that would help me understand Victorian women, please send it to me!

One sad part of being a writer that reads is that I cannot pick up a book without thinking about what strategies this writer used and what I might learn from this writer. Some books I start and cannot finish because of clumsy writing. Some potboilers I'm hooked from the very first page and cannot put the story down. So, here are my writing-related challenges for 2013. 

READING CHALLENGE.  I have enjoyed being a part of GoodReads this last year. Not only because I now have a 'hit list' of 'to reads' that matches my interests, but there's a whole online community over there with other writers/readers who talk about the books they love and review. My first challenge is to read 50 books in 2013 through GOODREADS Challenge 2013.

WRITING CHALLENGE.  ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days) starts up again on January 7. I'm ready with tighter goals and more accountability. Sometimes this is a little scary, but the daily, weekly goals help me keep focused, especially as new projects beckon and I don't know where to fit them in! 

My main focus right now is reading (and taking notes on) Years of Stone with an eye to catch plot holes and minor editing along the way. But Deidre's character now grates. Does she have to simper, sigh, and faint? And drink tea? I know she is grittier, but it just doesn't come through. Aargh! I will complete the above exercise for Deidre.

This 1845 portrait of Angelina Grimké, a US abolitionist and activist for women's rights, who moved from the South to Philadelphia, shows so much character (source Harvard University Open Collections).

ULTIMATE BLOG CHALLENGE. This is something new -- do you like these kinds of challenges that motivate you with daily prompts? The A-Z Blogging Challenge last year was fun and useful. So I signed up for this one too. The Ultimate Blog Challenge runs just for the month of January -- and it got me to write today's entry!

The image of Victorian Era Women came from Victorian Era Women.


  1. Queen Victoria herself kept a diary for almost her whole life. I'm not sure if its available in print but for the inside track of the most upper class of upper class Victorian ladies, it would take some beating!

    1. Thank you, Janet. Queen Victoria's diaries are in the process of being put online (announced May 2012), but access is limited to academic researchers! So since there are four versions available in book form, I'll try interlibrary loan (one of the four costs $184). Very helpful comment!

  2. I am not a a writer the way you are, but I do a lot of proofreading and I come across the same frustrations you do with books that are poorly edited, contain terrible grammar, have incorrect word usage, and even include plain ol' typos. I have donated books that I couldn't finish because they drove me straight up the wall.

    I found you through the Ultimate Blogging Challenge and I am interested to see what you have to say! My favorite downtime reading genre is historical romance, but many of them are so inaccurate that I don't finish those books, either. I am excited to check out your work.

    Best of luck on your three challenges!

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Shannon, and for jumping into the Ultimate Blogging Challenge. I hope this next month of daily blogging goes well for you.

  3. Sounds like you are in for a very challenging year. It'll be a wild ride.

    1. Thanks, Hale. So we go, one day celebrating, the next day, doubting. But we persevere!

  4. I have done extensive research on the Victorian Era for a novel I am writing in that era. One book I always suggest (if you can find it) is Victorian America 1876-1915 by Thomas J. Schelreth. And there is also the Time-Life book This Fabulous Century 1900-1910 that gives you a nice peek into a lady's life from that period.

    1. Thank you, Angie. I will try to find these two books, but my period is early Victorian Era (from 1837-1850). The books I've found most useful so far are Sally Mitchell's Daily Life in Victorian England (social history) and A. N. Wilson's The Victorians (arranged chronologically and more traditional history). Thank YOU very much for these references!

  5. I've had this page sitting open waiting for me to have the chance to reply thoughtfully for days now, and I realize that at this point "thoughtfully" really is an illusion. I'm just glad you wrote this post and offered people a glimpse at the prompt you use to inspire your writing, and I intend to use it as well--soon.

    Thank you. And I dearly hope you find your characters as you feel they should be...

    But also, remember that the standards we've been taught to expect from certain generations are often the ideals of other who wanted to create a "more perfect image" of their lives than often existed... as in, a 100 years from now imagine what people will think about our generation--with videos showing all women skinny and made-up, all men with six-pack abs or chiseled chins, even the poor must have 4 bedroom apartments...

    The reality of e generation is in the people that often don't fit the image.

    And well-behaved women seldom made history.

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