Jordan McCollum
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Pride and Prejudice is a literary classic. But can you find the principles of character sympathy in a two-hundred-year-old novel? You can find the full text of Pride and Prejudice online with Project Gutenberg.

484px-Jane_Austen_coloured_versionA true Regency novel (the formal Regency period only lasted nine years until the Prince Regent ascended to the throne), Pride and Prejudice focuses heavily upon society and the social interactions of a wide circle of people. It’s written in omniscient POV, enabling the narrator to convey more information about all of the characters than any one of them would be privy to in the course of a story. Of course, with such a broad focus, it takes a while to really establish Elizabeth Bennet as the main protagonist of the story.

She’s introduced in the first chapter, which focuses on her parents discussing the arrival of Mr. Bingley, a “single man in possession of a good fortune” (who “must be in want of a wife”). Elizabeth’s father pretends he won’t go to meet their new neighbor, not even to improve the marriage prospects of his five daughters, and will send his wife to meet him instead. He says he’ll write a letter to go with her:

“I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying which ever he chuses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.”

“I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference.”

“They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he; “they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.”

Elizabeth is off-stage in the first chapter and only has three lines of dialogue in the second chapter, so our first real encounter with her character for a while is through her parents discussing her. In this direct characterization, we’re told she isn’t as pretty or as good humored as her sisters, but her father favors her because of her “quickness.” This wit, which we do get to see throughout the book, is probably her chief strength.

Elizabeth’s first real scene comes in chapter. Mr. Bingley has brought his friend, Mr. Darcy, to his estate and to a ball. At first, Darcy makes quite a stir (being rich, noble and handsome), but when the crowd sees how conceited he is, the tide of their favor turns against him. Especially Mrs. Bennet, after Mr. Bingley invited Mr. Darcy to dance with Elizabeth. Darcy “looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ‘She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.’” And he knows she can hear him.

She won’t allow herself to be crushed by the judgment of a man nobody likes anyway, of course. But this embarrassment at being slighted is the beginning of her struggles. More subtly, her struggles are woven throughout as we also get to see others’ harsh judgments of her and her family. This use of dramatic irony can be an advantage of omniscient POV.

Throughout the next few chapters, we see two defining features of Elizabeth: her wit and her prejudice. She’s quick to judge not only Darcy by Mr. Bingley and his sisters quite harshly. (While she’s off-scene, it does seem that this judgment, at least of the women, is justified). The prejudice sets up her character weakness (but that’s a post for another time!).

4066326120_1380d87422_mIn my model of character sympathy, to generate full reader identification, a character needs to have struggles, strengths and sacrifice. Elizabeth shows this last characteristic when her older sister takes ill while going for a short visit to the Bingleys and must stay there to convalesce. When word reaches them the next day, Elizabeth is concerned enough for her sister to walk the three miles to the Bingleys’ and stay there to care for her. The walk, she insists, is nothing, but the exertion puts her into a bit of disarray, especially to be seen by society people (who are already pretty conceited about how much better they are than all these country folk). But her sister’s welfare is more important to Elizabeth than anyone’s opinion.

Although we typically focus on establishing character sympathy at the beginning of a novel, these forces of character sympathy continue throughout Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth juggles her often-inappropriate mother and her own tendencies to let her wit run wild, and is embarrassed by Mr. Darcy even more, until she ultimately must sacrifice her own pride and admit her prejudice—and that she was wrong in her judgment.

What do you think? What else makes Elizabeth Bennet a sympathetic heroine?

Photo credits: University of Texas, Lily Monster via Flickr & CC

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Sam Taylor Mullens, a pseudonym, began promoting her third novel in the usual way—taking sign ups for a blog tour, passing out advance review copies to bloggers. Unfortunately, one of the bloggers noticed something strange about The Auction Deal.

4371001458_5e12899950_m It bore an absolutely uncanny resemblance to another novel she’d read. And by uncanny, we mean almost sentence-by-sentence copying. The “author” had taken someone else’s clean, Christian romance and altered it by changing it to first person, switching out character names, paraphrasing virtually every sentence, and adding in sex scenes.

Original, Love to the Highest Bidder ©1998 (republished in 2012 as A Bid for Love) The Auction Deal advance reader copy
The Dark brown curls were everywhere. They were a curse, and had been for twenty-eight of Cassi’s twenty-nine years. They puffed out from her scalp and plunged halfway down her back as if they had lives of their own, helplessly tangled and twisted together. The bathroom lights above the double sink reflected from the brown tresses, bringing out the subtle gold highlights. Dark brunette curls were everywhere. They were a curse, and had been for the thirty-one years of my life. They puffed out from my scalp and plunged halfway down my back. They helplessly tangled and twisted together. The bathroom lights above the sink reflected the brown tresses.

The blogger who discovered this contacted the author of the original book, Rachel Ann Nunes. Rachel tried to contact Sam Taylor Mullens to receive an ARC but Mullens informed her the book would not be published, and declined to provide the ARC. (Eventually another book blogger sent Rachel a copy of the ARC.)

Other bloggers then read Rachel’s original novel, which was already available for free, and verified the prima facie plagiarism themselves. But when one dared to post on her Facebook page about it, three different Facebook profiles with the middle name “Booklover” as well as Mullens’s profile defended her actions, insisted the allegations were unfounded, even when the blogger posted side-by-side comparisons, and began to turn accusations back on Rachel.

Another blogger expressed her support for Rachel, and one of the “Booklover” accounts used her personal profile to accuse this blogger of selling ARCs to pirate sites (making the accusation at least four times in twenty-four hours).

Since then, at least one more “Booklover” has joined the fray (though amazingly, these profiles—75% of which were creating this spring—disappear as soon as they get involved). Rachel has received a number of harassing, accusatory messages, threats to go to prominent and powerful members of her local community, abusive (and obviously fake, IMO) reviews, and increasingly bizarre excuses for how and why Mullens copied her work. Meanwhile, all of Mullens’s novels have disappeared from Amazon.

Truly, if I had a character go to the lengths that these people have gone to protect their “friend” the plagiarist (if they’re even real people at all; careful observation of their comments suggest they’re not), readers would never believe it. Rachel has shared the full story on her blog.

Rachel is now gearing up for what may be a long legal battle. If you want to help take a stand against plagiarism, please consider donating to her cause!

Image by opensource.com

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A few years ago, one of my husband’s workers left at lunch and didn’t come back. My husband was concerned. He knew this guy—I’ll call him Adam, not his name—had been struggling with family and other issues lately, but Adam had actually seemed happier the last few days.

Later that night, my husband got a text message informing him that Adam was dead. He had gone home, lined his garage with plastic, called the police so they would find him instead of his mother, and shot himself.

I have a friend who once spent months blogging about how to serve your way out of depression. While that may be useful for some people suffering from lesser, non-clinical forms of depression, upper case, big deal, Clinical Depression is not that. It’s not that at all.

3701046913_04ae7df7dc_mClinical Depression is a mental illness. It is a broken brain. It is a mind that cannot see the world as it is, only as a horrible, twisted alternate reality where living hurts and it will never stop hurting and you can try this self-destructive behavior or this one or this one and it won’t hurt as much—or maybe you’ll just feel something for a few minutes—and sometimes death really looks like the only way out. Depression lies, and then Depression kills.

You cannot serve your way out of Clinical Depression any more than you can serve your way out of cancer or diabetes or heart disease. You probably won’t be able to pray your way out, short of an actual miracle of healing (because remember, this is a malfunctioning organ, not the blues). If you need help or if you need medication, you are not bad or weak or even responsible for this awful thing.

Asking for help is hard. Sometimes nigh on impossible. Depression lies and tells you no one cares if you’re suffering, and you’re better off suffering alone, and you can’t ask for help, and even if you did, nobody can help. These are lies. We do care, it will make a difference and you can do it.

To those of us who do not or are not currently suffering from Clinical Depression, 1.) don’t judge. There but for the grace of God/the fickle fates of brain chemistry, okay?

2.) Look out for your friends, acquaintances, family. If you know someone has struggled in the past, don’t continually harp on it, but do remain vigilant and look for ways to be extra supportive when they begin to show signs. Again, asking for help is hard for someone who is in that situation. If you can make it so they don’t have to ask, you could be saving a life.

Depression is real. Depression lies. Depression kills. Whatever it takes for you to beat it—medication, therapy, support—is worth it. It will get better. YOU will get better. Suicide is not the answer.

Comments closed. Go talk to your friend instead. You know which one I mean.

Photo by Berlin Streetart

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I don’t know if it’s just the circles I’m in, but I’ve noticed a large number of authors who’ve suddenly had trouble with beta readers, who read a book and offer feedback before publication. Even experienced betas have been doing things that are frankly unethical, so I thought perhaps we just need some guidelines on what is appropriate and not for a beta reader.

The ethical beta

3726858061_8c21ebdc63_mYou have been taken into a position of trust. The author has helped you to make their book better before they publish it. The ethical beta reader understands that they are reviewing a book in a prepublication format. Errors, typos and room for improvement are to be expected. The ethical beta reader gives feedback to that effect—as complete and detailed as asked for & warranted.

Unless the author instructs you that they would like to drastically change their work, the ethical beta reader does not demand the author change the voice or style or entire book to suit the reader’s vision. The ethical beta reader only makes suggestions that they believe will make the author’s book stronger from a “neutral” standpoint, not change it into something different the reader would prefer personally.

Although it may not be mandatory, the ethical beta reader should also try to point out positives in their feedback. It’s not your job to stoke the author’s ego (unless you really love the book ;) ), but letting the author know what does work is not only helpful but encouraging. A list of entirely negative feedback is likely to be discarded in anguish. Note that the term “textbook,” even when meant as praise, sounds like an insult, especially if that’s the closest you can come to positive feedback.

The ethical beta reader does not use abusive or insulting language about the author’s work. All original novels require a lot of effort and the author has taken you into a position of trust. Insulting their work or them as a writer/person shows a total lack of not only professionalism but also common courtesy.

The ethical beta reader makes clear the issues they have with your book in their feedback to you, not through a public review after the book has been published. Not only is your feedback of no help at that point—when that it exactly what the author asked you for, prepublication help—but it’s unethical to withhold your real feedback from the author, especially if you’ll turn around and publicly attack the book for it.

The ethical beta reader only reviews a book if they have read the version that’s being sold (or are pretty darn sure the author made the changes necessary to the book). The ethical beta reader does not mention the issues that the book had prepublication if they are resolved. If an author has told you that they have addressed a concern such as citing sources or a particular subplot, it is unfair and unethical to publicly air your complaints about their inferior quality work, which they asked you for help with and which they (may have) improved before publishing.

Now, to be sure, if an author doesn’t take your advice, you can mention the perceived weakness/fault in the review, but there’s also no cause to say, “I warned her not to do this,” or anything of the kind. (Who do you think that reflects upon?)

The ethical beta reader has absolutely no reason to create a profile for an unpublished book on a site like Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, etc. When the book is ready for publication, the author may create a profile—or you might even do that, but again, it is unethical to air your grievances against an earlier version of the book.

The ethical beta reader does not use the author’s other books as a platform to review and attack a different book or the author. The ethical reader shouldn’t do this, and as someone who has been accepted into the author’s confidence, you have an even greater responsibility.

If the ethical beta reader realizes the book is plagiarized from another book s/he has read, the beta reader says something. This might include notifying the plagiarized author or the plagiarizing author, or both. (Note: if a beta reader comes to you to report your book has been plagiarized, do not share their name with the plagiarizing author!)

Note to authors

The term “beta reader” means different things to different people—and often it means nothing to people outside of the writing industry. Be sure to clarify what level of feedback you need (general plot notes, characterization, logical flow, wording & line editing, etc.) when you send the file.

What do you think? What else do ethical beta readers do/not do?

Photo credit: Tim

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Last day to get Tomorrow We Spy for 99¢!

Just a quick reminder: today is the last day to get your advance copy of Tomorrow We Spy for 99¢! After today, it will be off the market until October (at least—depends on how fast I can get the other book finished!), and it will be full price when we hit general release. So hurry! This offer has expired! Be sure to join my newsletter so you don’t miss out on the next one!

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Cover reveal & special surprise: get Tomorrow We Spy today!

Today I’m revealing the cover for the final book in the Spy Another Day series—with an awesome bonus! More about the book CIA operative Talia Reynolds (Fluker) is off the clock, off the continent and off on her Paris honeymoon. But the happy couple’s trip to the City of Love is cut short when the CIA tracks them down for a top secret mission. Only this time, the Agency’s assignment isn’t for Talia — it’s for her husband Danny. As an aerospace engineer, Danny’s the one with the connections they need to get to their target, an aerospace executive and a… Keep reading »

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Critique partners vs. editors

So earlier this month, we talked about what a difference critique partners make. And they do—mine routinely suggest the exact thing I needed to fix a plot line, a story arc, a scene, a character. They are truly amazing. But even amazing critique groups are probably not acquisitions editors. They may not think like acquisitions editors. As Alicia Rasley has blogged before, sometimes your editor hates what your CPs love, for myriad reasons. It seems sad and counterproductive to think that a book you’ve spent six or twelve months with in critique group may now spent that long in editing… Keep reading »

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Woot, Canada!

Today is my tenth wedding anniversary! I mentioned in passing that my husband took our anniversary trip last month to Alaska and the Yukon. In case you missed it in geography classes, the Yukon is in Canada. Which means I got to go to Canada last month. Granted, I was thousands of miles away from Ottawa, where my stories are set, but still, I got to enjoy some quintessentially Canadian things! The Real Canadian Superstore (a warehouse style grocery store) and me Whitehorse, Yukon Tim Hortons . . . and me. Whitehorse, Yukon I’m not sure what planet people thought… Keep reading »

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Author photo by Jaren Wilkey
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