Reply To: Student: Cynthia Young Homework Thread

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Linnea Sinclair

Hi Cynthia,

Love this concept and time-period and setting. Love the working title. So let’s get this thing plumped up and mean and full of impact so we can launch this book.

London June 1860 Elizabeth Ashton looked toward the sky and frowned. The clouds lingered. There was, at least for the moment, sufficient light to penetrate the narrow street. She adjusted the tripod before gazing through the camera.

London 1860 is just about pre-Sherlock Holmes and I’m a frothing-at-the-mouth Holmes fan and have been for decades. So I’m so there in all this. I’m also not a historian and not about to go look up the history of cameras (my son-in-law would know). My assumption is that the whole camera-thing is fairly new in this time period and, mores o, for a woman to be behind the lens and, as well, working for a newspaper.

So, our intrepid heroine adjusts the tripod and looks through the camera… which is all NOT 1860s for me. If I’m wrong, correct me but tripods and cameras must be rather NEW for her, kind of like me every time I have to get a new cell phone. Or worse–we were just gifted a Google Mini and hubby tossed the box to me and said, You figure it out. (I’m the computer guru in the family, unless son-in-law is around.) My point is… so, yeah, I get tech stuff TO A POINT. But the newer tech stuff always makes me pause…

Given that, I think your female protagonist would be a little less sure of the operation of the camera and a little more aware of the parts and the names. Wouldn’t she look through the LENS, not “the camera” in the sense that the latter is more generic and the former, more specific? Okay, wait, I will have to Google this… Okay, Wiki tells me there were a few female photogs in or before that year, the British Journal of Photography came out in 1854, and another site shows that accordion-looking camera… is that what she used? In any case, I can’t say cameras were commonplace, so somehow I’d like to 1) feel her familiarity and expertise with the contraption (if that’s fact) and 2) FEEL the contraption but the correct use of terminology. Yes, we have cameras now but they’re NOTHING like back then. And they were still rare back then, so her familiarity would still have overtones of fascination and fear/unease.

Why I want something of that stuff in the opening is the brain will crave it. It’s the unfamiliar familiar. It will also SHOW us her expertise as she adjusts the left-handed widget and aligns it to the whosis-whatsis frammajammit. Do NOT go overboard but specificity and details matter greatly in the opening (and we have a lesson on that so, see, not your fault).

She adjusted the tripod before gazing through the camera.

Before her, Bertha Langham sat on a crate with her two young boys. The woman gazed steadily at the camera through blue eyes lacking sparkle. A layer of grime covered the trio. Their clothes were worn thin and had been patched numerous times. Life had not been kind to this family, even the boys’ eyes were dull. Hope had left them long ago.

This is TELLING not showing/seeing. She’s actually using this newfangled contraption and has a deep purpose for doing so which is important to her. I want to FEEL that.

She adjusted the wooden tripod legs then put her left eye against the curved glass of the lens. Three figures filled the rectangular (I have no clue what it looks like to peer through an old lens) space. She squinted slightly, her lashes brushing annoyingly against the small eyepiece.  Blindly (or perhaps, with studied expertise) she adjusted the _____.  And there! Yes. Bertha Langham and her two young boys, no longer smudges but people (Londoners?), positioned primly on a rugged wooden crate…

Or whatever, but I want to BE IN HER HEAD when she peers through the camera and starts the photography process. It’s far more involved than today’s selfies. Also, I love the bit about Bertha’s blue eyes, and I think not only Elizabeth would note that as you did, but that she’d regret the color WOULD NOT BE APPARENT IN THE PHOTO. Maybe she’d even feel that the drabber grays are more accurate and fitting?

The layer of grime, the thin fabrics, the dull eyes… and that hope had left are lovely and just need a bit more emotional undertones. You’re cataloguing here but we’re not feeling HER feel it. It needs to feel more personal and deep third POV is your friend at times like this.

Elizabeth turned toward her assistant, Mr. Appleton. “Please watch over the equipment.”

He shot her a resentful look and without a word moved to stand by the camera. Mr. Lester, the editor of The Illustrated Telegraph had assigned the surly Mr. Appleton to assist her. He’d protested at the assignment and didn’t hide his displeasure at having to take orders from a woman. Well, the editor hadn’t been pleased at having to assign her something besides her weekly gossip column.

This is telling. Your remote from her. I love the details and I get what’s going on, but I’m not emotionally invested in her and I want to be, because I love this set up.

Don’t tell me /he shot her a resentful look/ SHOW me his resentful look, SHOW me and let me feel her body’s reaction. You’re summarizing what we should be experiencing. Is this just Ol’ Nasty Appleton as usual, or has he been getting progressively nasty to everyone, or just her? IF he’s been always nasty, then when she turns to him with the request to watch over the equipment, she’s going to FIRST have some internal reaction because she knows he’s going to go all pissy. Put. Me. In. Her. High-button. Shoes.

“Hold still, please.” Feeling satisfied, she pulled on the dark slide of the plate holder, removed the lens cap and counted, then replaced the cap.

“I have to go back in the tent to develop the plate before it dries out.” She nodded at Bertha and hurried into the tent.

She emerged minutes later and held the plate up to the sky. She smiled at Bertha and the children. “It turned out well. Come look.”

I love that we now get to know what it’s like to work that contraption called a camera, that there’s a lens cap, a plate holder. We need some of this earlier.

BUT then she takes the image plate, goes into the tent… and WE LOSE OUR SOLE FOCAL CHARACTER. She goes off-stage whilst we twiddle thumbs.

/She emerged minutes later/ is NOT in her POV or through her eyes. Her eyeballs have been with her in her head the whole time in the tent. So… she goes into the tent and …. is plunged into darkness? Or is there a low light of some kind? Is there a rhinoceros inside? 🙂 You can summarize some of this, but I want to BE this plucky ahead-0f-her-time photographer in ACTION. Is it dark and dusty inside, or smelly (what smell?). I’m old enough to have developed my own film (yes, film) and the photo lab back then (mid-19702) had a distinct smell (rotten eggs) and the red lightbulb and it was SO COOL to watch the image form on the photo paper in the solvent tray….

This whole process HAS to hold a fascination for her. I’m not saying give us lessons in how-to. But let us IN to her experience. And that’s really what I’d say for the rest of the selection. I really like it. I like the concept and her and the issues I can feel on the edges. But you’re playing it safe and distant, my dear. I need you to open your veins and bleed on the keyboard. I want to hear and see and smell this dirty part of London. I want to hear and see and smell Elizabeth’s existence. She’s cutting edge. She’s a ground-breaker. She’s going to take on a rich dude in what I suspect is enemies-t0-lovers trope (love it) and I want her to be gutsy (within respectful boundaries, yes!) and WORTHY.

My brain wants to crave what she craves. You can do it. It’s an awesome set-up.

//Interstellar Adventure Infused with Romance//


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