Writer’s Tools

Writer’s Tools

I am hip deep in trying to bring Lydia arc in the time of the Wardrobe to an end. As I write this, I am a bit over 109,000 words…and stand at about 70% complete. Because of the portrait painted by Miss Austen, Lydia has the most (I believe) to learn about herself, life, and her position in the family. T’is a great amount of work.

And, as such, almost every ounce of writing energy is being channeled in that direction.

Thus, today, rather than diving deeply into something esoteric, I think I will examine the tools we writers <should> use in the creation of #Austenesque literature.

Note that I am stressing the word literature…for is not what we are doing a craft, a skill, an offering of an artistic effort? If it is something of which we are to be proud, should we not work to create fictional art that is a tribute  to the Lady?

I come to this question in the appreciation of the utter originality of Austen’s tales. True, she did have the advantage of being early in the novel’s epoch, and, thus, had a leg up in the chance to describe love lost and won before others.

However, what sets her apart is that she did it so well.

Today, we seek to explore the universe she created by building our own tales bringing (mostly) the Bennet family into greater relief.

Of course, the best plot in the world cannot survive if the style of writing seems adolescent or is rife with anachronisms which distract the reader.

While we can debate on the timing of the Elizabeth/Darcy story (me: I am invested in the 1810-11 window), we cannot ignore that railroads did not exist until the early 1820s. There were no telegrams. Travel to India took about four to six months (ocean route around the Cape of Good Hope) as the shorter passage through the Mediterranean and then on foot across the Suez into the Red Sea was generally barred by the Napoleonic Wars. Few prisoners were transported to British Canada—the Americas—(Georgia having been lost in 1783), so Australia was the only logical choice. Sending Wickham to “the Americas” in 1811 would have consigned him to the Spanish colonies?

As I have noted in other posts, I do not seek to replicate the voice of Regency England. I fear it would be rather inaccessible to readers…not as bad as Chaucer…but it might make comprehension difficult enough that the story would be lost. Thus, I work to offer my own interpretation of how a 21st Century person might think a 19th Century individual would sound.

Knowing a touch of etymology helps here. For instance, while contractions were in common use throughout the 19th Century, they did not enter the upper-class lexicon until the 1860s. Colonel Fitzwilliam would not have used can’t when conversing with his parents even though he may have learned it from his soldiers.

Writers need to be curious about the words they choose. A critical question is Did this word even exist in 1811?  For instance, teenager did not enter English until the 1880s. Closure (a word I used in Part 2 of The Exile) did not appear in its psychological garb until the mid-1920s.  Alright still does not exist as a proper English word (all right as I was taught by Carol S. is the only correct way to compose this).

A copy of the Oxford English Dictionary (mine is print) as well as Fowler’s Guide to Modern English Usage are two tools I use. I also know the wonders of a Google search using the term ‘(((pick your word))) etymology)))’. Either will deliver the results you need to keep your vocabulary consistent with the times.

Of course, if your characters have lived in the future…but I digress.

However, t’is when words of unique historical origin are used incorrectly that they stick out like a sore thumb. For instance, one of Elizabeth and Darcy’s children might be written to have been found clutching a teddy bear. That babe must have snuck out of one of my Wardrobe stories as the stuffed plush toy was not created until after Theodore Roosevelt’s 1902 bear hunt where he refused to murder a bear his beaters had tied to a tree.

However, there is something which traps #Austenesque writers…

#1 Favorite Word Anachronism:  OK or Okay.

This word was originated in the American Presidential campaign of 1836 which pitted Vice-President Martin van Buren against Henry Clay. Van Buren, whose political machine controlled politics in the Empire State, was a descendent of the original Dutch patroons who had settled the Hudson River Valley. Van Buren was known as Old Kinderhook. A good nickname like a memorable trademark was useful in pre-literacy America.

Politics of the time were very personal as the spoils system ensured that government jobs would be staffed with partisans. Those men could expect a few years of guaranteed employment (and corruption) if their man won. Thus, it was important to confirm everyone’s loyalty.

OK grew from the response to being quizzed about preference. One who was voting for Van Buren would aver that he was “O-K” and would pass the test.

Lest you think I am slacking…here is an excerpt from The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion. God willing…I have another three weeks of writing.


This excerpt from “The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion” is © 2019 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction in any form without the expressed written consent of the creator is prohibited.

Chapter XLIX

The Acorn Harvest, October 1943

Lydia stole a glance at the man working beneath the crowns of the great oak forest that flowed from the continent’s interior all the way to the dunes that fronted the Atlantic. Even in the chill air made sharper by the shade of oak leaves yet to release their hold on the great gnarled branches, Hans Richter was perspiring as he labored by Mrs. Wickham’s side.

There was visible joy in the way he wielded the wooden acorn rake, so old that the wood had aged to a silver grey. Richter was a man who rejoiced in the physical manifestation of life. The Hauptmann had stripped down to his undershirt. To Lydia, this was the best way to appreciate Richter—any man, for that matter, as she recalled Wickham, Tomkins, and Wilson engaging in cutlass and axe drill in front of Longbourn’s barn. Hans’ long, lean frame was efficiently corded with long- and short-fiber muscles which rippled as he pulled piles of dark brown oaknuts toward him, separating them from the loamy undergrowth. He rarely paused as he took part in the acorn harvest.

His distinct maleness strummed a chord running from deep behind her breastbone into the chalice of her hips. The aroma of dried leaves combined with the spice of witch hazel and the green scent of moss to bring her senses into pinpoint clarity.

Her awareness of Richter’s closeness stained her cheeks, already pinked by her exertions which relieved the sundry discomforts her memory would dredge up. Lydia had begun to move ahead, haltingly perhaps, but ahead none-the-less, in the weeks after the trial. Now, as the cycle of life began once again, she had immersed herself deeply into the engrained habits that had measured life be it ancient or modern.

Autumn had wrapped its arms around Normandy early this year, the Channel-cooled mornings and evenings forcing the last gasp of summer’s heat off to the south to ripen Bordeaux’s fruit. The shorter days naturally led to harvests both in fields and forests: barley and wheat from the former, acorns from the latter.

In late October, Deauville’s residents had engaged in the centuries-old ritual by loading their families into wagons to head northeast the twenty-five or so kilometers. There, in grounds traditionally reserved for their commune, past Honfleur in the Marais-Vernier Forest bordering on the Seine, they took advantage of nature’s bounty. Dozens of men, women, and children went to work freely harvesting acorns beneath the leafy canopy. The ancien regime, in one of its few well-considered decisions after the ascension of Louis XIV, had deemed it necessary to permit paysans unrestricted rights to exploit the otherwise useless piles of acorns. While the nuts may have been free for the taking, the work necessary first to hull and later to leach the tannin from the acorns before making a nutty flour was as close to back-breaking as agriculture could get. The upper-class prejudice against dark bread probably saved France’s peasants from losing even this narrow margin between starvation and survival.

As had been traditional since the Dark Ages had begun to loosen their hold on medieval Europe, the atmosphere in the encampment was akin to a market-day fair where  families would combine work and vacation, sleeping out in the open or beneath weathered, but colorful canvas shelters erected by the men. While every hand was expected to work to fill their buckets multiple times, there was ample opportunity to play over the three or four days the campsites were in place. Children found inventive ways to vex their mothers during the day. Evenings beside campfires saw great vats of soup disappear into hungry people who used chunks of acorn bread to sop up the rich lamb, pork, or chicken gravy that coated the bottom of their dishes. Copious quantities of home-brew consumed by the adults made the dancing and games all the more raucous.

The Germans tended to ignore the two-way migration of villagers throughout the region. They felt that there was little chance for rebellious activity amongst crowds composed of townspeople that seemed biased toward the young and the old. Many of the men of military age were still held in POW camps or bending their backs in labor battalions along Rommel’s Atlantic Wall. They had weighed, however, the attitude of starving persons, and had resolved, like the late, but unlamented, French aristocracy, to allow the people to forage for food that would not otherwise be dedicated to German soldiers.

As she thought of the Germans, Lydia realized just how lucky Deauville had been thus far in the war…at least when it came to German interference in the daily lives of the people. The insertion of von Schiller and Richter into l’hôtel de ville had meant so much, removing as it did the threat of mass arrests, deportations, and expropriations.

Even now, von Schiller had eased any possible restrictions on the acorn harvest by arguing that Deauvillards were generally a peaceful folk. The Oberst had promised the powers-that-be that Richter would accompany all from the town to act as in loco parentis, representing the Kommandandura as the people moved between administrative areas.

As she bent to her own work, Lydia imagined how she must have looked to Hans: a woman in full, although thinner than she had been when she first arrived in Deauville. However, much of what she had lost in cushioning had been replaced with firm muscles thanks to the laundry, housecleaning, and other chores she had undertaken around the House.

She was dressed in high-waisted slacks above a pair of paratrooper boots—where had Hans discovered a pair of these clodhoppers that were small for a man even though my feet are large for a woman?  Her outfit was topped by a serviceable, multi-colored rayon blouse tucked in at the waist. Her face was tanned—what would Mama have to say about that considering how she constantly nagged Lizzy about how she would never catch a man if she instead caught freckles?

What the Widow Bennet would have thought in 1815 mattered not to the Widow Wickham in 1943. For months she had denied that which was her nature; she was a passionate woman with a woman’s needs. She required a man’s hands, a man’s body to sate her desires, to lift her soul with the music only a man could play. Yet, there was more: Lydia needed a man who existed like a calm pool of fathomless water into which she could plunge, to explore its depths without fear of slamming into hidden shoals.

For her, she had rapidly become convinced, was Hans Richter.

If her ruminations of Richter had caused her to blush, how would she have reacted if she could hear his thoughts on her figure bent over her own bucket?

The revelation that was Lydia Wickham had given Hans pause.

She has opened up to me all the more since Letty put down those two dogs. Lydia still has her moments when her eyes dim, and she turns inward. What is different is that before she would vanish from this world, running away. Now she comes toward me, to share her pain and to allow me to bring her the peace I can.

What I have discovered is that she utterly despises people who avoid speaking of Georges Henri. True, they fear saddening her, but the silence erases the little man’s existence, as if he was made a non-person by that Bolshevik Stalin. Their good intentions—who was it who said that ‘The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions?’—bring more pain.

The Stoic in Richter helped him to see that pain was an essential part of life for without it, how could one understand the joys that pleasure could bring?

While he would never willingly hurt Lydia, he cherished her enough to know that whatever disquiet she would experience if he broached Georges Henri would bring happiness, lighting that pair of fine eyes.

The past two days had been magical as they moved through the forest, stepping around thickets, and building great mounds of nuts. Then they would spend evenings wrapped together beneath the lambswool coverlet that Lady Kitty had insisted they carry with them in the cab of the rickety Renault truck, an artifact of the last war. All those huddled around the bonfires that warmed the communards studiously ignored the couple, he a German officer and she an Irish relative of the Countess. These friends had seen the cost of blind prejudice and refused to allow it to hinder the couple.

Every evening when they separated to their individual tents, Lydia’s natural musk, more powerful than usual after two days of hard labor and no bathing, tortured him whether awake or asleep. T’was an aphrodisiac that aroused him, agitating his loins in a primeval manner. He struggled against his passions, knowing that Lydia could not be taken, but rather gratefully accepted when she fully opened her heart and offered her body to him.

Even now, hours before they were to leave to return to the House, he could feel his body quivering as if he were iron filings being drawn to her lodestone.

There was little more he could do. He needed to await her decision.

He stopped his work and stood panting in the cooling breeze circulating between the giant trunks.

Eventually though, his breaths became slower and deeper. A preternatural peace flooded throughout his being. His eyes drifted shut, for a moment, until he could sense everything nearby. A vast plane stretched out behind his closed lids. The space there was curved with a dent nearby. That hollow was filled by a ball of energy, coruscating across the spectrum between sky-blue and hazel with longer and longer periods of the richest green hue.

That was his Lydia, his center, his reason to exist. He could not resist her raw power.

Lydia, her own efforts arrested by his sudden halt, straightened and focused on the blond Atlas, his rangy paratrooper’s form leaning against his acorn rake, broad shoulders vee-ing down to narrow hips. With his eyes closed, his visage assumed an almost childlike innocence, all stress and care erased from its features.

Standing just four feet from her, Richter’s own scent, sweetly redolent of cinnamon and apples…a farm boy’s aura, so much like a pie she mused…wafted on the zephyr’s shoulders, disrupting her equilibrium.

Try as she might, Lydia could not find anything about Richter that she could not appreciate.

His entire body began to lean toward her. That motion erased the last vestiges of doubt and released the bindings around her heart, ligatures that had kept the pieces of her soul from flying into infinity in the months since the accident.

She exhaled, releasing a sigh between slightly parted lips, the deepest rose they were, which bordered on a hum.

The sound of this woman purring galvanized Richter.

His eyes flew open, their blueness drinking in a vision of loveliness.

Lydia’s sun-dappled skin glowed in the early afternoon sun filtered by leaves and branches. Shadow and light played across her creamy complexion implying motion even though she stood stock-still. Her lean figure was arranged in the pose of eternal Eve, one knee cocked, all her weight resting on the other leg. Her woman’s hips, shrouded by her slacks, framed her womb’s dome. Her full breasts rested high upon her ribcage, proud beneath the multi-colored blouse.

But, t’was those lips that enslaved him. Their fullness , swollen as if they already had been thoroughly kissed, cried out to him, pulling him into the vortex that was Lydia Wickham.

She moved like a leopard, sinuously covering the separation, until she stood before him.

He was mesmerized. His hand rose of its own accord, two fingers closing the gap to gently caress first her downy cheek and then to trace the edges of her mouth.

Their eyes locked, and their stares bored deeply into the core of their beings, answering all the questions they had ever asked themselves or each other.

Her arms embraced him. His free hand cupped the back of her head.

While kisses previously had been taken, given, and shared, this one moved into that high country where rarified air, ionized by Sol to shimmer in their memory’s rose-colored lenses, haloed each of them. T’was as if this was their first.

But, if not first, then best.

They broke and regarded one another at arm’s length.

Calmly licking those self-same lips, employed so pleasantly but a moment ago, Lydia wordlessly looked up at her man and nodded. Then she tapped her fingers against his lips and nodded again. Richter held his peace.

Leading him across the clearing, Lydia bent, offering Richter a tantalizing view of her firm bottom, and rifled in her oversize musette, pulling out the soft grey lambswool throw. Draping it over her arm, she brought him to a laurel thicket where she dipped her head and vanished into a shadowy, grass-lined den.

Confused, Richter stopped until her blonde head poked back out, looking up at him with a fire that raced across the arid hillside that had been his heart before Lydia.

“Come, Hans,” she urged, “let this be our bower. Leave this world and come to me.

“Make me yours as I will make you mine.”


13 Responses to Writer’s Tools

  1. Interesting post. I find it difficult to make words consistent with the times without confusing modern readers or becoming awkward. You’ve done a good job with that. I tend to go with more modern wording when I run into either of these problems, such as using “beautiful” instead of “handsome” since “handsome” now has a masculine connotation, which it didn’t have then.

    “OK” is not only common in English today, It has jumped to other languages. See https://www.indifferentlanguages.com/words/ok

    • How true about OK. I imagine l’Academy Francaise clutching its pearls. I do think one of the ways is to also use the vocabulary consistent with an upper class, educated speaker.

  2. I so enjoyed your foray into Regency word usage. I teach Shakespeare online to high school students, and alerting them to Shakespeare’s many contractions is key in helping them to understand the Bard’s poems and plays. For example, ’tis is a contraction of “it is” just as o’er is a contraction of “over,” and so on. Shakespeare often used contractions to assist him in maintaining blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) in his plays (not to mention the iambic pentameter of his sonnets), so using ’tis and o’er to drop a syllable could help him keep to his metrical pattern.

    I do find myself raising an eyebrow here and there when I see a contraction from the gentry/nobility in Austenesque literature. And I can’t stand an “okay”–it’s rather like hearing fingernails raked down a chalkboard. (All right, ’tis not quite that bad…but close!)

    I enjoyed your story of Lydia–and it looks like it will be a satisfyingly long one, given the current word count and percentage completed. I always enjoy long novels as I hate it when they come to a close. I wish you all the best as you expertly wield your writing tools!

    Susanne 🙂

    • I think I spend half my life researching etymology. My inner being just rebels when I see anachronistic words or facts. But, that is the historian in me.

      Th Lydia book is the seventh in the current Wardrobe series. She has much to learn. I may add an earlier book (a third book), thus turning this into the 8th. There is yet one more novel in the series after this, the one which explains the Wardrobe’s entire MO.

    • Susanne…also should have added another wonderful word anachronism. I have always been a “stone turner” as in “wonder what’s under that rock.” I got my copy of the OED (pictured above) about seven years ago. We were living in Chicago at the time. I was waxing poetic to a friend about how the OED would dig into the etymology to find first use. Anyway, there was a word that was in fairly common usage in Chicago as the city changed its nature from a tired old place to something much more upscale. That word was “gentrification.” Kind of a neat sounding word…and one which was on the lips of politicians and activists seeking to navigate the wonderful world of Chicago real estate development. I was curious as to its roots…”gentri-” sounds like “gentry.” Maybe that were saying something about turning old, run-down neighborhoods into places that gentlefolk would find suitable. I grabbed my OED…and could not find it. Then, I looked at the publication date…1973. So, the word Gentrification–which describes a process– did not exist to the satisfaction of the folks at the OED. If it had, it would have fallen between the entries for “gentrice” and “gentry.” Thus, while we might wish to have a character speak of Cheapside “gentrifying” reflecting that wealthy folk, albeit tradesmen like Mr. Gardiner, were doing the Regency version of teardowns (another modern word), they would have to be Wardrobe travelers having visited a time about 180 years in the future. I am not saying that an author seeking to write their truth should not use the word, but I think it would be problematic if they put it in Mr. Darcy’s mouth.

  3. Great post! The excerpt was good too! Lydia hasn’t changed a bit but then that’s what makes her an interesting character!

    • Thank you. I do hope…as you read The Pilgrim…that you will see her evolve. Yet, I am hoping to offer a Lydia who is her essential self but more in tune with the realities of life.

  4. I love the history behind what authors are doing and how they create their stories, their word choices and why… especially the why. Some of those antidotes I was familiar with and some I wasn’t. I find it fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

Comments are precious!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.