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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Friday, October 28, 2011


Have you ever played the character game where you guess what a person’s job is based on how they’re dressed? With the business industry’s more relaxed protocol over the past few years, it’s a little harder to gauge apart from a uniform or a logo. The next step is to guess what the duties are in their section of the tier. Society still seems to measure people by position, regardless of vocation. And then find ways to lever an advantage.

In the BBC series Downton Abbey, each servant is well aware of their responsibilities and, in some cases, jealously guard their distinction. But they show no hesitation when ferreting out any personal secrets as a power play. In fact some take great pleasure in seeing another servant publicly humiliated or embarrassed.

A young housemaid is ridiculed for taking a typing class. Her attempts to leave ‘service’ are considered snobbery. Two other servants conspire to get rid of the new hire, because they resent his personal connection to ‘The Earl.’ Plus he guards his privacy. Upstairs is not immune either, as a rivalry between two sisters puts their family in jeopardy.

The personal mysteries are as varied as the daily menu. A few seem harmless and a little comical, while others raise ethical dilemmas. To protect his own secret, and therefore his job, a servant stands by while a daughter of the house is placed in moral danger. Later he manipulates and blackmails to attain another position before his own thievery is made public. The lure to uncover secrets for personal gain is as old as time. Cain resented God’s favor of his brother’ offerings over his own and his anger resulted in murder.

Journal Prompt

Put your protagonist in a new workplace situation. What is one thing her co-workers must not know about her? How does she sidestep their questions and remain friendly? Give one version where she answers with vague comments and another where she bristles at intrusion.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Some memories we hold on to with such fondness that they gain a saintly status over time. Likewise, parts of our past we’d rather not be reminded of increase in regret to the point we lock them away. Sometimes we actually forget they exist. Until a memory surfaces as in a jolt and we’re forced to acknowledge them.

The very proper and fastidious butler Mr. Carson, in the BBC series Downton Abbey, crashes into his past face to face as an old acquaintance forces his way into Carson’s life. It also shows the social atmosphere now shifting that this charlatan would actually dare enter the estate, especially by the front door. But he is made bold by Carson’s own fears and attempts to keep him quiet from exposing his previous life as an entertainer.

Faithful to ‘his’ family and the position he holds, Carson sees only the possibility of disgrace and loss. In fact, he offers his resignation when all comes to light. Fortunately his employer sees through the blackmail. He also recognizes Carson’s longtime service to the family and sets that commitment as more valuable that Carson’s previous life. Although mildly amused at the concept of Carson in show business, he does not give the situation the weight of shame that Carson himself has. Now Carson is able to see his own memories with a different perspective and interpretation. And yet, his initial concern would have been completely accurate had the Dowager been in charge. She would have immediately dismissed him without even a hearing.

Journal Prompt

Make a list of activities your character participated in when young. Choose one that could become an embarrassment for her if told in her workplace, or publicly at a social function. Make the teller someone who is putting a sinister or shameful twist on her participation. What does she stand to lose if the story is accepted at face value?

Friday, October 14, 2011


One tiny smudge on a map, or a slight error, can be enough to send a traveler miles off their route. The delay may be a minor side trip, or a serious delay in destination. An east coast conference I once attended had to revise two days worth of lectures and speakers because the airlines had inadvertently sent a main presenter to a western state in error. They had made an assumption based on the city name and didn’t take the time to notice the state address. Then winter conditions aggravated the correction.

Misheard or misunderstood conversation fragments can also send a character down a wrong path. In the BBC series Downton Abbey, a servant is chastised for crossing respectful boundaries and, instead of acknowledging her error; she fusses and bears a grudge. Then while eavesdropping, she overhears a snippet of conversation and believes she is to be replaced. From then on her attitude and actions become increasingly hostile. Finally she acts on her feelings and makes an immoral decision. Even though she immediately regrets it, and turns to undo it, she is too late, and a death occurs.

While grieving both her own choices and the loss in the family she discovers that, rather than replacement, her mistress had been holding her up as an example of a quality lady’s maid.

Journal Prompt

Make a list of possible comments someone close to your protagonist might say about her actions. Make the range from very negative to glowing support.

Have your character overhear a portion of one of those statements. How does she ‘hear’ it emotionally? What is her immediate reaction and her long term reaction to this fragment of conversation?

Thursday, October 6, 2011


It’s interesting how a metaphor can contain a number of meanings, and that even when it has the same meaning it may also carry a variety of perspectives. Over the past year I’ve watched several ‘period piece’ series from Britain. Downton Abbey and Lark Rise to Candleford top the list with their quality of actors and setting. However all have phrases, metaphors, and references to common historical threads that don’t necessarily transfer over to other heritages.

For example, the central importance of the manor and all that it implies. “To the manor born” reflects an inheritance to prestige and wealth. Or it also means a personality is well suited to manor living. But in many circumstances it’s not only the titled families that are born and raised into the manor, but also many servants can trace their heritage back decades to a life style bound to the manor.

Tenant families considered a position tied to the estate, or in the manor itself, as the highest possible opportunity for their children. Both segments of the societal hierarchy took their position and privilege seriously. Newcomers to the manor though often saw it simply as a job and sometimes with disdain. Not all inheritance manor families accepted their position as a responsibility but took it as a right and misused their power.

Using the word manor, even literally as a location, has the potential to create emotional tensions, questions and perspectives. One word alone can open up multiple threads of possibilities.

Journal Prompt

Choose an expensive dinner celebration, such as an anniversary or graduation. Choose four people involved in the actual meal and write a few sentences for each showing their feelings. Suggestions: guest of honor, family member attending, a staff person in the restaurant, a server or cook in the kitchen, a passerby, another diner close enough to overheard pieces of conversation.

"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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