about writing and life and God

How firm a foundation…

on October 18, 2012

I wonder how many of you ladies out there remember “foundation garments”? In the glossy catalogues of long ago, there were pages and pages of pictures of ladies encased in these strange pink (why were they pink?) or white body-suits made of heavy-duty elastic in the days before lycra, often with bones (thin metal strips by the time I was aware of them rather than the whalebone of previous ages), all designed to hold in, lift up, push down… whatever was needed to create the desired shape, all dictated by the fashion of the time.

How glad I am I was a child of the sixties when we didn’t need such instruments of torture! And as a rather flat-chested teen at that time, I was bemused by the bra-burning of the women’s libbers!

As I return to the Work-in-Progress, my novel about the herring fishing, I discover that it’s not a good idea to do without foundations.

I have spent part of today sorting out my timeline of events to make sure my young couple can qualify for the seven days’ residence requirement before the Registry Office will marry them. And I discovered I have a day over.

My heroine Lydia arrives in Yarmouth on noon on Saturday 8th October 1921, after a day and a half’s train journey. She’s going to be tired and if she’s anything like me, her back will hurt. (My trip north the other week definitely involved hands-on research.) What I’ve written already is that she books in at her hotel, sits down for a little rest and falls asleep. But then she gets up and gamely starts the search for her brother.

But the next day is Sunday. Surely she’d be better looking for her brother on Sunday? The Scottish boats never went to sea on Sunday so there would be more folk around to ask, and she would have a much better chance of finding him.

So I need an extra chapter.

If I’d constructed the timeline before I got started into the writing, I wouldn’t now have to go back and readjust.

Once upon a time, when I started writing, I went to a writing class where the teacher told us novels had to be 60,000 words long, of 12 chapters, following a set pattern with the crisis coming in chapter 11 and worked out and wrapped up in chapter 12.

I wrote my first novel that way. I got a very kind rejection which made me very miserable. I tried to follow the pattern for the next two but hit various insurmountable-seeming rocks on the way. Book two was finished and declared ‘predictable’ by a male agent (it was a fairly classic gothic). And I got bored with Book three.

Since then I have discovered I bore easily. If I know the entire plot, then I really don’t see the point of slogging away writing it out. What I enjoy is finding out what happens along the way. I love being surprised by my characters. By characters popping our of the woodwork and demanding their share of the story. (I rather think Granny Leslie – or is she going to be Granny Chalmers? – is going to do that.)

I think you have to work out exactly how much you need in the way of underpinnings. Ladies’ dresses in the nineteenth century had tiny waists so girls wore highly engineered corsets that needed help to be laced into. They often fainted since they couldn’t breathe properly. Some were crazy enough to have their lower ribs removed so they could be squashed more effectively into these instruments of torture.

How glad I am to live in the 21st century!

But I do need a certain amount of underpinning for my story so I can present it in all its beauty!



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