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Advice from Jane
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One of the things I love most about the internet right now is how easy it is to find & read eighteenth-century books online. Lately I've been really enjoying Jane Austen's letters, and today I discovered a real jewel, which is her series of letters to her niece Anna Austen Lefroy, critiquing Anna's first novel. These critiques fill me with happiness. They're such a combination of kindness and perceptive criticism, ranging from fixing the realism of details ("They must be two days going from Dawlish to Bath. They are nearly 100 miles apart.") to consistency of character:
We are not satisfied with Mrs. Forester settling herself as tenant and near neighbour to such a man as Sir Thomas, without having some other inducement to go there. She ought to have some friend living thereabouts to tempt her. A woman going with two girls just growing up into a neighbourhood where she knows nobody but one man of not very good character, is an awkwardness which so prudent a woman as Mrs. F. would not be likely to fall into. Remember she is very prudent. You must not let her act inconsistently. Give her a friend, and let that friend be invited by Sir Thomas H. to meet her, and we shall have no objection to her dining at the Priory as she does; but otherwise a woman in her situation would hardly go there before she had been visited by other families.

And of course, being the Austens, the novel-in-progress was read aloud to the whole family, all of whom chimed in: "Your grandmother is more disturbed at Mrs. Forester's not returning the Egertons' visit sooner than by anything else. They ought to have called at the Parsonage before Sunday."

Her critiques are full of lovely detail for anyone who wants to write about the period ("As Lady H. is Cecilia's superior, it would not be correct to talk of her being introduced. It is Cecilia who must be introduced."), good writing advice ("I have scratched out Sir Thos. from walking with the others to the stables, &c. the very day after breaking his arm; for, though I find your papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book.") and also just the kind of wicked humor that makes me love her books so much ("Cecilia continues to be interesting in spite of her being so amiable").

And this is all perfect timing, too, because after all my flailing around for novel ideas, I've finally decided to give in to what I secretly wanted all along, which is to return to my YA Austen-era fantasy, Kat by Moonlight. I started it last year before Wiscon, ran into a plot snag...and gave up, telling myself that really, it was all pointless since I write adult novels now, not YA, it didn't make sense to write a YA novel, etc., etc., etc...

Except that I really like Kat and her sisters. Just thinking about them always makes me smile. They've been whispering in my ears, tempting me, for nearly a year now. And best of all, I've figured out how to work them into a pseudo-Gothick plot, including a ruined abbey. So how can I resist?

My new plan is to write it really, really quickly, while I simmer the plot of the next adult novel, and to read a Jane Austen letter or two for inspiration every day along the way. Which should be no hardship whatsoever. :)

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