*I’m honored to introduce my first ever guest blogger, Madeleine D’Este. She’s here to talk about her latest steampunk novella and provide us all with a little insight into her writing process. This was an easy decision for me because I’m a fan who’s read all three of the novellas in her series…
Short reads, feisty females and misguided beliefs: how I wrote Evangeline and the Spiritualist
I’ve recently released my latest novella in The Antic of Evangeline series – Evangeline and the Spiritualist. This is a series set in a steampunk Melbourne in the 1880s. Marvellous Melbourne, as it was known, was the second largest city in the British Empire in the 1880s and perfect for a steampunk setting.
Rather than the story itself, today I’m going to talk about my writing process. Hopefully you’ll find something useful to help your own scribblings.
What are the challenges of keeping a character fresh over a series?
Evangeline Caldicott is my main character, a feisty teenager with a wretched past now starting a new life in the Colonies. I built Evangeline around a few inspirations, she’s a little bit Buffy Summers, a little bit Anne Shirley and a bit Leila (Dr Who companion from the 1970s – most notably in the episode The Talons of Weng Ch’iang).
This is the third episode in the series and I have another three in various draft stages, but so far, touch wood, I haven’t struggled with keeping her fresh. I think this is because I am learning more about her each time. I’m like any reader, Evangeline is revealing more of herself to me as I put her in different situations. It’s like a friendship, blossoming over time, she’s telling me more about her background and her feelings as she begins to trust me more. I didn’t start the series with an overarching character arc in mind (which could be a bad thing as I get towards the ending), so I’m in discovery mode just as much as the reader. I think this keeps it fresh for me too. And a little scary.
My natural writing strength is plot and so to grow and improve as a writer, I focus on giving my characters’ realistic flaws, idiosyncrasies, habits, mannerisms and back stories. A really good tip I heard recently is to write about the ‘misguided belief’ that each character has. What is something my character believes about herself that stops her from getting what she wants? What was the one incident in her life (usually early on) which set this misguided belief?
I’ve also got a great group of beta readers and despite warnings otherwise, I do read my reviews and try to learn from other people’s perspectives. Writing is a solo art and I get far too close to my work. Someone else needs to clean my windows every now and then, so I can see clearly again.
Any tips for writing novellas?
I’m a long form writer, novels are my usual bag, but for some reason Evangeline has come out as novellas. I didn’t set out this way, it’s just how the stories unfolded and her short adventures have lent themselves to around 20,000 word mark. Perhaps in my head, I see Evangeline like television or a penny dreadful/Dickens style serial.
But for me, the structure of a novella is the same as a novel, just less sub plots. I use the same beats and the same methods (The Story Grid and Foolscap Method) for basic plotting and analysing.
I initially wrote Evangeline and the Alchemist as a bit of fun to amuse myself while writing a serious dystopia. I would have described myself as a strict plotter and I do plot each episode but I seem to be pantsing the series as a whole!
How do you approach writing strong heroines and secondary characters?
As I said before, I based Evangeline on some of my favourite strong female characters and the women I know. There is so much strength in women but men and women show their strength in different ways. Strength can be physical, moral, intellectual, emotional and I wanted Evangeline to have her own strength. I’m not a fan of the female lead character who is basically a man with lipstick and tight pants. Yes, she and Mei can kick arse if needed, but she has a belief in her own intelligence and a fierce curiosity.
Mei, Evangeline’s best friend, is a straight-talker. She’s the friend I need to tell me that I’m talking bollocks (in fact this is one of her favourite words). She is Evangeline’s reality check when she gets too fanciful, but without malice.
Miss Plockton is based on a Scottish teacher I had in primary school. Miss Plockton plays a subservient role in the household but she has her own firm religious beliefs which are her strength. And in Evangeline and the Spiritualist we get a glimpse of her softer side.
Strength is more than round-house kicks and aggressive quips, and I want my characters to show that true strength is more subtle but just as valid and effective.
I hope this gave you a few insights into my writing process. If you have questions, drop a comment below or contact me.
Website: Madeleine D’Este
Goodreads: Madeleine D’Este
Madeleine D’Este is a speculative fiction writer from Melbourne. Her latest novella, Evangeline and the Spiritualist is available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. This is the third episode in The Antics of Evangeline series.
Evangeline is a seventeen-year-old ex-urchin and aspiring world-famous inventress, recently resettled in Marvellous Melbourne with her long lost father, the Professor. When the infamous spiritualist Madame Zsoldas moves into Collins Street, Evangeline is determined to attend a séance to unravel her family secrets.
Mystery, mysticism and gadgets, Evangeline and the Spiritualist is another romp through 1880s steampunk Melbourne. With plenty of tea and crumpets, of course.