Medieval Monday: The Towerhouse

For this week’s Medieval Monday post, I thought I might share the information I’m currently researching for my work in progress. We are pretty familiar with castles through pictures, movies, and if we’ve been lucky, tours of the real thing. We also know something about ordinary living structures that peasants lived in (see related post). But there is another class of structure that is somewhat more elusive, and I’ve been doing some digging to find good information on it. I’m talking about the towerhouse.

Some classify these as castles, but they didn’t have all of the components of castles or keeps, nor were they ordinary houses. Still standing examples of them are rare, and any supporting structures that once existed around them even more so. Towerhouses were built by wealthy lords to be fortified homes. They were meant to protect the lord, his family, servants, guests, and valuables–mainly from would-be marauders rather than from organized armies. Such homes were typically constructed in remote areas that were difficult to get to and had some strategic importance. Sometimes towerhouses were built in isolation, but they might also have a town constructed around them, or they were expanded upon over time to become part of a larger castle. They became increasingly popular toward the end of the medieval period, but for my own research I’ve been most interested in the earliest examples.

While no two towerhouses were precisely alike, their 3-4 story design and layout followed a distinct pattern. On the outside they were plain and rectangular with very thick walls, occasionally towers were built into the four corners for added space. There was no forebuilding or outer defensive wall, and the ground floor didn’t have windows. The ground floor was primarily for storage, perhaps even keeping some animals, and often had its own separate entrance.

The first floor was common living space with a hall and a fireplace built into the wall. Service rooms might be on this floor as well. Winding staircases would have been built into the inside of the outer walls, connecting the first floor to the upper stories in a way that made entry difficult for anyone who might breech the entrance. The second floor had private space—perhaps another hall, and sleeping chambers. If there was a third (or even fourth) floor, it would have contained another hall and space to house a garrison in times of siege. For security reasons, only the very top floor or floors would have had windows to let in light. There would have also been battlements around the top where guards could watch for intruders and rain down arrows, stones, hot oil, or other projectiles as necessary to protect the home.

Some towerhouses had kitchens on the main floor, but kitchens were a constant fire hazard so often they were in a separate building. Though it would seem towerhouses were completely self-contained, there were by necessity additional structures to support it, such as stables, buildings related to farm work, or even additional living quarters since space inside the towerhouse was at a premium. Guests staying in the main house might have to share sleeping chambers, or even beds, but it provided security that the outer buildings could not. Furniture seems to have been kept to a minimum, and interiors differed in decor–some were more lavishly decorated than others.

As I continue to research these unique homes and learn about what daily life was like inside of them, I will update this post or even make a new one if I find enough to make one. I did find a video tour of an Irish towerhouse for your enjoyment. Some components of the layout are different than what my research indicated was typical, but then again, no to towerhouses were the same, so some variation is expected, especially between regions.

 


Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

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It’s Time to Say Goodbye

This last year working with Joshua and Allison on this newsletter has been great, but things are picking up in our writing careers, and unfortunately, we no longer have time to keep up with this newsletter.

It doesn’t have to be goodbye though…

Allison, Joshua and I have our own newsletters where you can keep tabs on us, and we all love hearing from you.

Joshua and I will be adding you all to our newsletters automatically, and of course if you don’t want to remain on those lists you can always unsubscribe. You’ll have to subscribe to Allison’s newsletter if you’d like to keep following her, however. You can do that here.

I’ll also be keeping the Weekly Fantasy Fix blog going, and you can still follow on Twitter.

Thank you for all your support over the last year!

Read the rest of the last Fantasy Fix newsletter.

 

 

Fantasy Art Wednesday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Wednesday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


This curious image caught my attention for today’s post. I sense no danger in the peaceful, sun drenched glade. It seems to be a place of seclusion, of meditation. I can imagine that some wise sage lives in that shabby little house built up in the tree. It has obviously been there for many years, perhaps even many ages. Is the figure in red the sage himself? Or perhaps a sentry who ensures that he can meditate in peace without being disturbed at inopportune times by those who come to seek out his wisdom.

But this is only my initial impression. Who do you think lives in this moss and vine covered tree? 

Title and Artist Unknown

 

Medieval Monday: Inns

 

Last week’s post was about medieval taverns, so it seemed natural to make this week’s about medieval inns as their services overlap somewhat. Like commercially run taverns, medieval inns catered more to the wealthy than the average person. They were equipped to accommodate not just lone travelers, but people like merchants with carts full of valuable wares, and nobles with their families and attendants. Whereas taverns offered basic, or even poor quality food, inns were prepared to host elaborate feasts as necessary for guests–including wine and other alcoholic drinks. Inns also provided temporary storage and stables where horses could be cared for.

Inns were actually big business, and they made a considerable profit. Innkeepers were wealthy and played a prominent role in the community—sometimes also serving in the local government, or acting as banking agents. Inns were often centers of trade as well, and investors were eager to back them, expecting a handsome profit in return.

The layout of a typical inn included a main hall, possibly a secondary common space, a kitchen, storage space, quarters for the innkeeper and his family, and of course, sleeping rooms for guests. It is hard for us to imagine today, but not all of the sleeping rooms were private or even lockable. Many were communal, with a number of guests sharing a room together, sometimes even the same beds. Private rooms became more popular as the period progressed.

However, not everyone could afford to stay at an inn, even when they were available and had enough room. Ale houses sometimes provided basic shelter for the night for a very limited number of people. Monasteries might run hostels (hospitals) where travelers could stay free or for a minimal fee, particularly on routes that were heavily traveled by pilgrims. When there was no inn, hostel, or other building for shelter, people might sleep outdoors. If this was necessary, travelers stayed together in groups for safety. Nobles might have the advantage of finding hospitality with a fellow noble living nearby. They would send a harbinger just ahead of them to make all of the arrangements.


Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

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Who am i?

For the indie author, this is a frequent and persistent question, especially at first. There isn’t a publisher to tell us, “you fit here and this is where we’re marketing you.” So we have to figure it out on or own, and it isn’t always easy. We end up going through this existential crisis of a sort; what did I just write, and where does it belong? Where do I belong as an author? Sometimes we get too caught up in worrying about where readers think we belong, and we get dragged down all sorts of dead end paths trying to market to every potential reader, in every dark corner of the universe. It can be exhausting, deplete our limited resources, and still get us nowhere.

And it’s no wonder we’re confused—some genres, like fantasy, are so huge it’s easy to get lost. When you search for fantasy books on Amazon, you get 739,684 returns! Who could possibly search through all of that for a new book to read? It’s completely overwhelming. Renee’s March 4th article talked about how the fantasy genre has now been split up into many different sub-genres, presenting both benefits and challenges for everyone. For the writer, it can make that existential question where do I belong even harder to answer, particularly if our work fits equally well into more than a couple of categories. But it can also help us finally settle in someplace—find a cozy corner to call home, where we can quietly build up a loyal fan base and gradually expand from there. It sure beats drifting around the book marketing universe like a hobo, holding out our collection cups to anyone who passes by, hoping for some reader to take pity on the poor indie author.

And that’s pretty much what we do as new, inexperienced authors. We chase after every new marketing gimmick, trying to imitate the top sellers without having any understanding of the huge amount of plodding groundwork it took to get them there. We try to copy the mechanics of their journey in the hopes it will take us along the exact same road, instead of going through that painful existential process of figuring out who we are, and forging our own path. We read all the author self-help books written by people who claim if you just follow steps A-Z you’ll become just as successful as they are. But no two authors are alike, and no two journeys are either. They might offer good advice, but we need to take it with the understanding that it will most likely work differently for us, and that’s OK. Eventually we all grow tired of chasing the wind and come to realize our biggest successes have come about when we’ve just been our truest selves.

It took me a few years, but I think I’m finally settling into my small corner of the indie book world. It’s actually pretty comfortable—not particularly flashy or high profile, but it suits me. Readers are finding me, and my book sales are slowly but steadily growing. When I first published in 2011, I couldn’t imagine the place I’m at right now. Humble as it is, it seemed so far out of reach. Since then I’ve had plenty of dreams to keep me working hard, and those dreams grow every day. I hope that in another 5 years, I’ll be able to look back and say, “I couldn’t imagine this place I’m in right now—and I’m so glad I’m here. What’s next?”

Read the rest of this week’s Fantasy Fix newsletter.

 

 

Five Tips for Writing Good Dialogue

Throwback Thursday! I thought it might be fun to resurrect this post from my other blog two years ago this month!


Five Tips for Writing Good Dialogue

Many writers struggle with dialogue, maybe because there is so much pressure to get it right. Speaking in someone else’s voice isn’t always easy, yet as writers we end up with a whole cast of characters who all need distinct, unique voices, and it is up to us to provide them. Who would want to read a book where all the characters sound the same? Boring…and confusing.

But creating our characters’ voices is only the beginning—they still need something authentic and interesting to say, not to mention the writing itself must have all the correct grammar and punctuation.

I thought this week I might share some tips for writing dialogue, and anyone who wants to add their own in the comments section is welcome. No, I am not an expert. These are based on my own experience as a writer/editor, and on advice I have received from others over the years. I am still learning and improving, and frequently need to go through and re-examine my own dialogue when I am editing.

Tip 1 – Finding your character’s voice.

As I mentioned earlier, the last thing you want is for all of your characters to sound the same. Even people growing up in the same household will vary in their speech patterns. An outgoing person might have the tendency to talk a lot, while a more reserved person may say very little at all. Knowing your characters well is vital to writing good dialogue. What are their personalities and thought processes? What would they say, and how would they say it? Would they use big words or simple ones, formal speech or slang? Does she talk faster when excited? Does he deliberate over every word? Do they live in a region with a dialect? All things to consider. A good test is to strip away the identifiers in a section of dialogue. Can you still tell who is speaking, just from the way the words are spoken?

Tip 2 – How much realism is necessary?

I took a writing class once where we had an unusual assignment to help us learn about dialogue; go sit in a public place and listen in on the surrounding conversations.   We were supposed to return with our observations about how people naturally speak to each other. Several things stood out for me.

  1. People rarely give direct, simple answers to a question. They tend to dance around it and give explanations rather than just say yes or no.
  2. They easily tangent from subject to subject, sometimes having multiple conversations simultaneously. They might eventually circle back to the original topic, or never resolve it at all.
  3. There tend to be lots of extra pauses, ummm’s, uh’s, like’s, and external interruptions.

Does all of this really belong in a story?  Probably not, especially the latter two.

While the point of that assignment might have been learning how to re-create realistic conversation, I think for me it was a lesson in how not to write dialogue. When it comes to what our characters do, we don’t think twice about skipping over all the mundane parts of the daily routine. No one wants to follow their characters to the bathroom ten times a day, or watch them cruise around the grocery store checking package labels—unless there is a point to doing so. Why should dialogue be any different? If it does not enhance our character’s development or further the plot in some way, it doesn’t belong. Make every spoken word count so that it has purpose and meaning, otherwise it is just taking up valuable real estate.

Tip 3 – What about special speech?

Regional dialects, “thee and thou,” historical, and traditional fantasy dialogue are all under this category. My advice is to proceed carefully. It is usually better to give the occasional flavor of a dialect than try to replicate the whole thing, especially if you do not speak in that dialect yourself. It won’t sound authentic, and you’re bound to make mistakes. Writing in dialect can get very tedious for the writer and hard to understand for the reader. Choosing a selection of words that will make it obvious where the speaker is from, and using them consistently, can be quite effective.

Thee and thou I wouldn’t use at all in a long piece, unless you know you can authentically pull it off and the story absolutely needs it. Most writers don’t get the grammar right consistently and it just doesn’t work. Readers also tire of it pretty quickly.

Historic and fantasy-specific language is pretty well accepted. Readers of these genres are quite comfortable with the tradition and actually expect the use of older words and more formal, elegant speech.

What they are not as likely to forgive is language that will pull them out of whatever era they have settled into. Don’t use modern sounding words, or worse yet, metaphors or sayings that refer to things that would not have even existed yet. This is where an online dictionary can be your best friend. Yes, you already know what a given word means, but scroll down to see the word’s origin, or etymology. You can find out where the word came from, and when it came into use. If you’re writing a medieval era story for example, don’t use words that didn’t come into use until the 1700’s or later. It will greatly annoy your more savvy readers and make you look like an amateur.

Tip 4 – What comes after the quote?

One of the most difficult parts of writing dialogue can be knowing what to say after the quotation marks are closed. There are lots of different opinions out there, and I can’t say that I agree with all of them. He said, she said—pretty standard. Some advocate that you shouldn’t use much else, that the reader will just tune it out after a while and focus only on the dialogue itself. Others say varying it up strengthens the writing; he stated, she replied, they inquired, etc.

Both camps are pretty adamant, but I think this is one of those areas where writers have some leeway. Neither is technically right or wrong—it is just a matter of personal taste and writing style. I tend to vary it up because as a writer I get bored with just he said, she said. And sometimes including some extra descriptive words (yes, even those controversial words ending in “ly”) help me convey the emotions and facial expressions of the speaker.

That being said, be careful of ending your dialogue with phrases like, he laughed. Try to laugh an entire sentence sometime and let me know how that works out. It is more correct to say something like, he said as he laughed. The difference may seem subtle, but grammatically there is a difference. Also, be aware of whether your character is making a statement or asking a question. If there is a question mark at the end of the sentence, use he asked rather than he said, and vice versa.

Tip 5 – Commas, and periods, and quotation marks, oh my!

Quotation Rules

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, this is grammar, and I’m sorry. But as an editor, it makes me crazy when writers don’t know how to correctly punctuate their dialogue. If you are an American writer, please keep your periods and commas inside the quotation marks. “Yep, just like this,” she said. “Not like this”. Also note that I did not write, “Yep, just like this.” She said. She said is not a sentence by itself.

If someone in your story is speaking for a long time, requiring more than one paragraph of dialogue, do not end each paragraph with closing quotation marks. However, every time you start a new paragraph, begin it with quotation marks. The reader will understand your character is still speaking. Reserve your ending quotation marks for the end of the very last paragraph of the dialogue.

Quotation marks can also be confusing when someone who is already speaking quotes another person. For instance, My grandmother always used to say, ‘cheaters never win, and winners never cheat.’ The regular double quotes are for the person speaking, while the information being quoted is enclosed in single quotation marks. Make sure that you have both beginning and ending quotation marks for each.

Quotation marks should be reserved for spoken words only. Inner thoughts written as dialogue should always be in italics. That guy is crazy, she thought.

Lastly, check to make sure all your quotation marks face the right way. When typing things for the first time, your word processing program will position them correctly. But once you start editing, cutting, pasting, inserting, and moving text around, sometimes they can get turned the wrong way. It is easy not to notice unless you are looking, so make this part of your self-editing process. It is way easier to fix these issues as you go, rather than having to find and correct them in an entire manuscript after the fact.

These are just a few of my thoughts on writing dialogue. What makes good dialogue for you as a writer or reader? What makes the story stronger, and what makes you want to stop reading? How can you let what others have done inform your own writing to make it better?

Fantasy Art Wednesday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Wednesday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


Can you feel that frigid wind? However thick your clothes, it manages to work its way into them, stealing away precious warmth bit by bit. These mountain guards have the unenviable task of braving a shift of the watch. The wind has beaten the hems of their cloaks to shreds, and threatens to push them right over the edge of the mountain if they aren’t careful. They dare not get any closer as they peer down onto the winding road below. Are they watching for someone specific, or is this an average day on patrol that’s about to take an unexpected turn?

“The Moutain Guards” by Emmanuel Bouley