Introducing First-Person Narrators

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I gave the first chapter of Featherfolk Draft II to one of my writing groups. The general consensus was that I didn’t introduce my main character very well. One of my groupmates was not even certain of the character’s gender.

I realized this is something I have long struggled with. How do I elegantly introduce facts about a first-person narrator?

There are plenty of (to my mind) inelegant ways, such as providing a convenient mirror within the first few pages for her to glance into, or otherwise having her dwell on her appearance at length for no apparent reason.

I did some research on how other authors introduce the gender of their first-person narrators. This involved pulling down twenty-odd books written in the first person from my shelves and reading until the author stated positively the character’s gender.

Sometimes this happened on the first page, or within the first paragraph. Often, it took a few pages. Always, it was within the first chapter.

And actually, it was fun to think about how and if the stories would have changed with a main character of the opposite gender.

I found six tactics that authors used to identify the character’s gender.

  • The main character told the reader his or her gender-specific first name.
  • The character identified himself/herself with a group of men/boys/sons or women/girls/daughters.
  • Another character spoke the main character’s gender-specific first name.
  • Another character spoke about the main character, using a gender-specific pronoun.
  • The main character described his or her clothing. (This only works if the character is part of a culture familiar to the readers.)
  • One author included a prologue in third person that described the main character.

As far as physical descriptions of main characters, some of the authors didn’t bother in the first chapter. A few gave full descriptions (one included exact height and weight). The most non-intrusive method I noted was comparisons to other characters’ appearances or to a desired norm, and these tid-bits of description came naturally in the flow of the story.

So, since my main character does not have a name that is clearly feminine, nor is she part of a familiar culture with western dress, I will try having her identify herself as one of the girls in her village.

And as she and everyone that she knows has black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin, I will have to find more subtle differences between characters to help bring out these facts.

Although, I really don’t care if my readers ever know that she has brown eyes. It doesn’t matter one bit.

Happy Yarning!

Adventures with Linen: Simple Wimple

Good Christian women cover their heads. Or at least they did in Europe for a lot of the Medieval period. Headgear is the first part of medieval garb to be neglected by “noobs,” simply because it isn’t very important in modern western culture.

I am guilty of this–also guilty of wearing renaissance-esque snoods with early period dresses. But I’m learning.

For my new garb, I made a white linen wimple.

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After spending some hours on research and coming repeatedly across the answer that “We really don’t know how wimples worked, but they looked like this,” I settled on the “circle with a hole” design for my first wimple. I was inspired by this handy page tucked away on rosieandglenn.co.uk, which made it look simple enough for everyday wear. However, in my research I read that the headband or fillet was worn under (not over) the wimple, so I made that adjustment for myself.

Of course, in my haste, I broke one of my cardinal rules of garb-making. When cutting any hole for your head, always start too small and increase the size. Oops. But it still works despite its mammoth hole.

I spun my own thread (see my earlier post about that) to sew the hems. Perhaps with future wimples I’ll do something fancier than these little rolled hems.

And with a fillet made from a piece of my serpent tablet-weave belt (from yet another earlier post), I have a wimple!

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We’ll see how it does on its maiden voyage next weekend. I shan’t be surprised if it does go sailing off my head once or twice. All in the name of science–I mean, reenactment–of course.

Happy Yarning!

Let it Go (Reprise)

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Remember what I said at the beginning of the month, about going back to finish Gwen’s story?

Well, I decided it’s not the right time yet–for a number of reasons.

I’m going to rewrite Featherfolk instead. The plot is solid. I forsee mostly tweaking the cultures and magic systems, fixing character inconsistencies, and addressing pacing/POV issues, but we’ll see what else comes up as I re-read the whole draft.

I’ll give myself part of August to research and plan, then spend September and likely October rewriting. I definitely want to have the second draft finished before our baby arrives in November.

Here goes!

Happy yarning.

Setting Research: Where Do I Even Start?

I’ve known since early on in the first draft of Featherfolk that the setting wasn’t…well…settled. I covered the mountains with familiar plants and animals because that was the easiest thing, but I knew I wanted to give it a more exotic feel. The only problem with exotic locations and cultures is that I know next to nothing about them. Hence, exotic.

Ever since I hit on the Andes Mountains and the Incas as a possibility for re-flavoring the world, I’ve been checking out stacks of books from the library, searching for documentaries, and scrolling through pages and pages of Google images, just to try and get a taste of the history and culture and climate and flora of such a place.

If I base the Featherfolk on another culture, I want to know more than just the tropes. Shallow knowledge would result in parody, which I feel would be disrespectful to that culture and its living descendants.

It’s quite overwhelming. How do you immerse yourself in a culture long dead, on another continent in another hemisphere, whose languages were not at all related to your own?

How do you start?

Hallo aus Deutschland: Research

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“Research” is a great excuse to do things. I’ve never ridden a train, unless you count the one that runs around Disneyland. And I was five years old at the time.

I’ve read about trains and seen them in movies, but since this is something I can actually experience–as opposed to, say, flying on the back of a griffin–I figure I should go ride a train.

So I’m off to ride a train today. “Book research.” Yeeessssss, that’s what we’re going to call this.

Happy Yarning!

Oh, the above picture of Burg Stolpen has nothing to do with trains. Oh well.