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Ink and Fairydust

An Extract from the Diary of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Percy asked.

Last evening a furious storm blew over the lake. The wind sounded like a thousand furies from Hell, and the rain so thick that the fountains in the gardens all overflowed.

“Often,” said I. Then I frowned. Difficult as it was to see in the dark and the rain, I was quite certain that two figures were advancing towards the house. “Quick Percy!” I cried. “The door!”

My dear Percy and I sat ourselves down in the living room, each with our writing utensils. We have struck a bargain with our friend Byron in which each of us three is to write a ghost story this summer. So far my story has little to do with ghosts. I've introduced a young man named Frankenstein who seems to have quite a terrible relationship with his father. I'm almost afraid to show it to Percy for fear he will say it is far too autobiographical and hardly Art. However, I digress. We had just sat down when, without a knock (as is his custom), in came Byron. He was completely soaked and his black hair tumbled down every which way across his face. With a furious exclamation (which I shall not copy here) he threw down his coat and marched to the fire.

My husband had scarcely thrown it open when two men stumbled in. Their hair, like Byron's, was soaked, but cut most unfashionably and their clothing was strange. The older one, who was dressed most plainly and in clothing of poor cloth, was the first to speak. “Where on earth did the rain come from?” “That was just what we were wondering,” said Byron. “It came up most suddenly.” “I didn't even see it,” the elder man agreed. “But I ought to have known that no good could have come from taking the road less traveled.” Percy and I exchanged quizzical looks.

“It is a regular Shakespearean Tempest tonight!” he exclaimed as he rubbed his hands over the flames. Percy laid down his pen and called for some hot tea to be brought. “What brought you out in such a night?” he asked. “Why, it was not raining on my side of the lake!” said Byron. “Twas but a sprinkle, a fairy's dance. Hardly worth worrying oneself over. Indeed, mere rain would never keep me from your dear company, my friends.” I went to the window and stared out into the fury. “I did not know Geneva could have such a storm. It reminds me of my childhood home in Scotland.” “Did you have such tumultuous winds there, dear Mary?”

“Road less traveled?” said Percy. “I was not aware of any such thing in these parts.” “No? I mean the old riding path out back in the woods,” said the man. “There is no riding path or even woods here,” I told him. “No woods? Have you all gone mad? They're just back there –,” here he rose and went to the window, but all he saw was the wind-tossed lake. “Why, what is going on here?” Now the second man spoke. He was small and dark with a full moustache. “Stranger things have happened. To travel

to Italy in a heartbeat can be no more upsetting than the haunting of a man by the thumping of a long-murdered heart.” “Has such a thing happened?” I wondered. “Indeed, I have written it,” said the small dark man. He bowed very low. “I am Poe. Edgar Allan Poe. Perhaps you have heard of me?”

very fierce!” “No, you are not allowed to protest,” Byron insisted sternly. “Sit down this minute and not another squeak out of you, madam!” The woman looked too startled to protest and obeyed. However she perched on the very edge of the chair and looked quite uncomfortable. I quickly filled a cup of tea and handed it to her.

“I'm afraid not,” I said. The man's face fell. “Alas! Is my fame so small?”

“Here,” I said. “For this stormy night all of us strangers are friends. I am Mary Shelley. Might I make your acquaintance?”

“And what is your name?” Percy asked the older stranger. “Frost,” he answered. “Robert Frost.” But I could care less for the cantankerous old man. I went instead to Poe and caught his attention again. “Do you really think it possible for a heart to beat after it is dead?” I asked. “Why not, Madam?” said he. “All things are possible in this day and age, are they not? Just because we've never seen them happen doesn't mean that they shall not someday.” Before I could question him further, the door opened again. This time it was a woman on the steps, a small plain woman with no especial beauty to merit our attention. Yet the very mystery of her sudden appearance seemed to appeal to Byron, who leapt up from his own chair to offer it to her. “Oh, I couldn't,” said the woman. “I would never intrude on such an intimate setting. It is only that this rain is so

She took the tea from me most gladly and nodded. “Yes. My name is Charlotte Bronte. I was just taking a walk out on the moors when this gale hit. I shall not stay long, else my sisters will worry.” “Walking on the moors? Alone?” said Byron, raising his dark eyebrows. “You are a brave woman!” “Not at all,” Charlotte said quietly. “But I find it the best place for inspiration. I am a writer, you see.” At this there was a sort of general chorus as everyone else in the room chimed in with the revelation that they too were writers. “Why, this is fate!” said Byron. “By magic or some supernatural means or science, it has been decreed that this storm has the powers to bring together all like-minded of our craft.” “Nonsense,” Frost snorted. “You all have just had too much to drink.” Here Percy and Byron let up a chorus.

love with her employer.” “Too much!” cried Percy. “Never say such a thing!” “Oh!” Charlotte exclaimed. “But that would hardly be --” “Why not?” asked Charlotte. “Drink is surely of the devil.” I turned to Mr. Frost. “See? Charlotte has not had any strong spirits, and surely you would not accuse me of such either?”

“Proper?” asked Byron. “The point exactly! And to make it all the more shocking, the man ought to have a mad wife locked up in the attic.” Here he shot a wink at Percy. “I say,” Percy growled. “That was hardly fair.”

The old man looked rather abashed. “Why, no, I didn't mean...” “What need is there to understand it?” said Poe. “It is a gift of the weird and strange and we should use it to our advantage.” “Indeed!” Percy agreed. He jumped up and started pacing the room. “We have here great and creative minds – excepting, perhaps, Mr. Frost --” (here Mr. Frost growled and Byron chuckled) “-- and as Poe says, we ought to use it. And how else could it happen but to aid each other in the culmination of our masterpieces?” “Masterpiece is a strong word,” said Charlotte gravely. “Is it?” Byron asked, taking the stool at her feet. “Tell me, Miss Charlotte Bronte, what is your latest work about it and how might you need assistance?” Charlotte folded her hands primly and tried to ignore the blush rising on her cheeks. “Oh, it is a very dull tale, I fear. An orphan girl goes to a mysterious house to be a governess.”

“She's not mad and she's not in the attic,” I added. Charlotte looked supremely horrified. But then a glint came into her eye. “I suppose there are all sorts of moral and ethical dilemmas that could be intriguing to expound upon,” she said. She leaned forwards and rested her chin on her fist, taking careful survey of Byron. “I think I'll make the employer a rough, conceited sort of man, with a dash of the darkly sinister about him, yet inside a heart that truly longs to be good.” Raising his head, Byron let out a long laugh. The comparison was not lost on him. “Are you trying to reform me, Miss Bronte?” “Oh, never,” said Charlotte with a smile. “And what of you, Mr. Poe?” Percy said, turning to the little dark man. “Can we be of help to you?” Poe sighed. “Unless you're in the police department, I doubt it.” “And why is that?” I asked.

“That is a very dull tale indeed,” said Mr. Frost. “But any tale can be redeemed!” Percy added. “Mary, you're a woman. You first.”

“I am composing a mystery story, about a Parisian detective.” “Oh, Paris!” said Byron. “Delightful women.”

I smiled at Percy. “Why, it is simple. The girl must fall in

“Well, yes,” Poe said rather ruefully. “It has to do with a woman's secret and a purloined letter that the police cannot find. I've fully established that the letter cannot be in the thief's house, and that he could not have taken it anywhere else... and now I'm beginning to wonder if the man is innocent!”

“I've my help already,” he replied. “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. An excellent line for a poem, don't you think?”

“How do they know the letter isn't in the house?” Charlotte wondered.

“It does conjure up all sorts of ideas,” Percy agreed.

“The police have gone over every inch of it with rulers. There's not a single fraction of a millimeter left unaccounted for.”

The others nodded.

Suddenly Charlotte rose and went to the window. “Look, the rain is lifting. And I can see my moor.” “And I my woods,” said Frost.

Frost chuckled. “Sounds like they're so obsessed with details that they're missing the whole picture.”

“And I my own driveway,” said Poe.

“What do you mean?” said Byron.

“Then we will bid you farewell and many thanks for this fantastical evening,” said Percy.

“No, he's right!” Percy exclaimed. “Explain,” Byron demanded. In reply, Percy reached over, plucked a letter from my writing desk, and turned it inside out. He then grabbed a pencil, scribbled another address on it, and stuck it back in the pile. “There,” he said. “No name to catch suspicion, and no one would ever dream that a thief would leave the stolen object lying where it could be so easily found.” Poe's face lit up. “Brilliant!” he said. “Absolutely canny! No one will ever suspect!” “All right,” said Frost. “Who's next? Mrs. Shelley?” “No, no,” Byron put in quickly. “Percy, Mary and I are all out. We've a wager to win and no outside input is allowed. What about you, Frost?”

Poe bowed and Frost tipped his hat. “Our pleasure.” Who says that? Meanwhile Byron offered his arm to Charlotte. “May I see you up the drive?” “No sir,” she said with a pert smile. “I think you offer more dangers than any I might meet on the moor.” “Wise woman,” said Percy, laughing at our friend's crestfallen face. As they all took their leave, I turned back to my writing desk and took up my pen. Poe's unquiet heart had set my imagination on fire. What if it were not merely a heart, but an entire body, brought to life by the skills of men, just as we authors brought characters to life by the power of our imagination? After all, there is no limit to what one can devise upon the pages of a book.

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“Why the long look?” Marcie asked as she stuffed her books into her locker. Her best friend, Shannon, was walking around with a nearly visible storm cloud over her head. Shannon let out a long sigh. “Does killing a fictional character count as murder?” “You mean like killing off the villain?” “No,” said Shannon. “I mean like hitting the delete key so many times that it erases the heroine from existence.” Marcie's eyes went wide. “But I thought you liked Evangeline. Wasn't she the most amazing girl on the face of the planet?” “No. She's the most infuriating, soulless girl to ever lack personality and motivation.” This ever happen to you? You start writing a book and then halfway through the third chapter, you realize that the most interesting person in the book is the little sister. Your heroine, on the other hand, might as well as be a brainless automaton. (I'm going to refer to the character as a heroine for simplicity's sake, but of course all of this applies to males as well.) You are most definitely not alone. Main characters are absolutely infuriating to write. Getting that right balance of personality is a delicate job. And then you've got to make them relatable to the audience as well... sometimes it seems tempting to throw in the hat altogether. There is no easy fix to this problem. Crafting the perfect lead for your story is going to take work, no matter which way you go about it. You may have to spend hours writing pages of backstory, or dialogue between her and all the

other characters, or draw sketch after sketch of her. Some people like to fill out character charts. These consist of all sorts of information like hair color, personality type, relationships, feelings toward religion, etc. I do think it's wise to write a brief biography about each character for easy reference so that you remember who has blue eyes and how old everyone is. However, I find a character list rather cold and limiting. To understand my characters I need to talk about them, usually while driving in my car. Describing motives, backstory, history, personality and relations aloud is strangely helpful for me. Maybe I've written a scene that describes an interaction between the hero and the heroine and they both reacted differently than I expected. That doesn't mean it was out of character, it just means that I have to figure out why it was in character. Or maybe it was out of character and I need to fix that. No matter what way you decide to explore your character, it is important that you take the time to do it. You need to know things like whether she is introverted or extroverted, why she hates cats, and what her problem is with accepting help from other people. And she should have quirks like this because all people do. It is what will make your heroine real, and will carry her memory on in the minds of your reader long after they have set the book down. Still at a loss? Pull out a pad and paper and start interviewing your heroine. Write her answers in the voice you see as hers. It may evolve over the interview, but that's just the point. Keep writing and discover who she is!

In February A Gir l in th e

Tower of Shalott


Arthurian Detective!

S in g le o n

Valentine's Day

The Once and F u tu r e K in g ...and More!

January 2011  

Stave off winter boredom and learn about poetry and poets in the latest issue of I&F!

January 2011  

Stave off winter boredom and learn about poetry and poets in the latest issue of I&F!