Be still my beating heart!
Review of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, by Cindy Morson
Every reader finds a hero or heroine that embodies virtues and characteristics we value. We want to be like them, without being them. We want to be tough, courageous, witty, resolute, and overcome challenges with grace like them, but leave the poverty, hunger, war, betrayal, and destitution on the pages of their creator’s imagination. Heroines like Scarlet O’Hara, Lizzie Bennett, Lisbeth Salander, Katniss Everdeen, Hemione Granger were made more famous on the big screen, but it is the books that allow you to connect more intimately with what makes them tick. The inner thoughts and soliloquys of their struggles, allow the reader to empathize, to say, “I know how you feel,” or to take courage when they say or do something we may think we could never do, but always wanted to.
Personally, I love the classics, and I’ve re-discovered a favourite heroine in Jane Eyre. She kicks some noble asses, right off their shiny steeds. I read this book years ago, but it crossed my path (as a free give-away - yes, please!) and it had me ignoring meals and walking into walls as I turned pages, all over again. The language is so beautifully descriptive and poetic, I felt myself in the scene, wearing a grey silk frock, reading by the coal lit fire.
As an orphan with a loveless benefactress and cruel playmates, Jane tries to mold her character into a pleasing shape to receive the love any child would naturally crave in a household. She tries to change her true self a couple of times throughout the story to please others, but soon realizes that by doing so, the result is despair and further heartache. She finds role models and friendships in the boarding school she is sent to, where her strong principles and unyielding determination find roots. Then, Mr. Rochester enters the scene (dun dun duuuun!). Having read it once before, I was anticipating his appearance, like a school girl waiting for her crush to sit down next to her. (Don’t judge me). He’s no Johnny Depp, Ryan Reynolds, or whoever handsome creature floats your boat.
His mannerism is even quite brash, and, as Jane often describes, “brooding.” But Jane, having been told many times
that she is no goddess, is not one to value outer beauty over inner; and because we want to be like her, neither do we. Plus, we want our heroine to have the love she has lacked, and because Mr. Rochester provides love whole-heartedly to her, we adore him for it.
However, to me, this isn’t a love story, and that is far from the end. Charlotte Bronte provides a biography of the fictional Jane Eyre, much like Charles Dickens provides a life story of Oliver Twist: with a tragic turned noble character that overcomes all odds by sticking to her values and being rewarded with positive karma (especially when all seems impossible and destitute), and finding contentment. The reader loves her tenacity. Her principles are tested often and the more she passes the challenges, the more her values become cemented in her heart. We learn from Jane that to be anything other than our true self, to be “forced to keep the fire of [our] nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital – this would be unendurable.” Thanks, Jane, for reminding us.
By Doug Diaczuk
We all know that writing can be a struggle. For some of us, myself included, that struggle begins before we even write a single word. I’m not talking about fear and doubt, (though that is always present), I am referring to that dreaded question: to use an outline or not use an outline. This is something that I have struggled with since I first put pen to paper. As early as high school we are taught that any writing project, whether it’s a short story or an essay, needs to start with a thorough outline. Writing needs a plan. We need to know where we are going before we can even start. However, I have recently thrown off the shackles of the outline and I think you should, too.
Several years ago I drove across the country, from Thunder Bay to Victoria, British Columbia. While the idea to embark on a cross-country trek may have been spontaneous, the planning certainly wasn’t. There was months of mapping out routes, creating timelines, booking hotels, and deciding what to see. We even had a lime green binder full of maps, addresses, distances, and brochures that we constantly referenced while on the road. We knew exactly where we were going, how we would get there, and what we wanted to do when we arrived at the many stops along the way. And while this plan eased the stress and uncertainty that was sure to come with such a journey, some of the more memorable moments that we experienced came from leaving that lime green binder in the car and simply following our feet and our curiosity.
We experienced the power of a prairie thunderstorm in Regina after getting off at the wrong bus stop, we stumbled across the beautiful Mirror Lake on the side of a mountain while hiking to the tea house near Lake Louise, and we stood in the centre of a massive fir tree carved by lightning after taking a random path in Stanley Park. There was the delicious vegan buffet that we discovered in a market square while wandering the streets of Victoria, the delightful fringe festival in Saskatoon recommended to us by a friendly city transit worker, and nearly being attacked by a snapping turtle near Kenora after an impromptu decision to go swimming in a roadside lake.
Our destinations were carefully planned but we never hesitated to stray from that plan every once in a while. I now approach writing in a similar way - I know where I’m going, but always leave room for discovery. Some writers swear by detailed outlines, while others prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. I have tried both methods. I have written several stories that were carefully planned ahead of time with chapter outlines, bullet points, and character sketches. I have also written stories that were completely made up as I wrote them - no plan, just writing. After trying both methods, I find that I lean more towards the latter, though I will admit that a little planning still goes a long way.
Any stories that I’ve written that started with an outline felt too stiff, like I was trying to force pieces of a puzzle together that just didn’t want to fit. The writing was methodical, mechanical, boring even, trying desperately to adhere to the outline that was already established. There was no room for movement because if I strayed too far from the outline, I would never find my way back. I spent more time in front of my notebook than actually writing as I tried to plan plot points in chapter 27, then flip back to chapter 3 to make sure everything lined up. It was tortuous, unproductive, and in the end, didn’t really work. I was so focused on plot that the writing became a second thought. When the writing finally began, there was no sense of discovery. It was like reading a book that already had the ending spoiled, and who wants to keep reading after that?
The stories that I wrote with no outline or plan had a better flow, more attention to detail, and above all, they felt honest. I liked discovering the story as I went, as though it was being told to me and I was simply writing it down. The characters determined the plot, they grew right before my eyes, they set the direction, and I couldn’t wait to discover what would happen next. There was so much freedom. I always had a destination in mind, things I wanted to say or do, but I never let that determine or affect what I was working on in a given moment. I would get there when the time was right and discover new things along the way. But discovery doesn’t come without a price. There were times when things just didn’t work, where the plot just didn’t seem to make sense, if it was even there at all. Despite that, I still feel that these off the cuff stories have helped me grow as a writer more than any stories that were preceded by a carefully thought-out plan. We grow as writers by writing.
The approach that I take now does not involve outlines or any real planning. I don’t want to lose the spontaneity or the discovery that comes with simply writing. However, I still know where I’m going. I always have a destination in mind, however small, be it the next scene, the final words, or even the smallest of ideas. How I get there, though, is something that unravels along the way and sometimes the curiosity, the tangents, or straying can lead to amazing things.
When I think of my journey to the ocean, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m thankful for that lime green binder because it reminded us of where we were going. But sometimes you have to throw that binder in the back seat and just see where you end up. What you discover might surprise you.
Do you swear by outlines or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Do you have another method all together?
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