Q & A with Jane Austen Made Me Do It Authors: Question 5 & Giveaway!

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (2011)On to question five of the JAMMDI author interview that started on August 3rd. This question is about Austen’s style and influence…

The range of writing experience in this anthology covers veteran literary bestselling author to debut new voice. How did Jane Austen influence your writing career? What insights could you share with an aspiring writer on Austen’s technique and style?

  • Jane Austen started my writing career! After almost thirty years of wondering how Darcy became the man Elizabeth could admire, I decided I’d find out myself…by writing it. It was all an experiment, really, that went seriously awry. – Pamela Aidan
  • Well as the “debut new voice”—I must say that I am thrilled to be here!  Jane Austen has long been a muse of mine.  She does dialogue and human interaction so well that an in depth study of her technique would yield volumes of writing wisdom.  In fact, it can be overwhelming at times on the outset to compare yourself with one of the “greats”—and Jane Austen is most definitely that.  There is so much that she does right that trying to imitate her would only lead to frustration and ruin, I think.  Her voice is uniquely her own and, in my opinion, the strongest facet of her body of work.  I would advise any aspiring author, like myself, to find your own voice and don’t be afraid to use it, and use it often. – Brenna Aubrey
  • Jane’s been half my writing career—eleven novels and counting, out of twenty-two I’ve written under two names—and I return to her world as I would to a childhood home.  I’ve been reading her novels for over thirty years, and there is no better primer on her voice and style.  Read her prose enough, and you start to sound like her.  Then write down what she tells you. – Stephanie Barron
  • Jane Austen was my writing teacher, pure and simple, and has been for lo these forty years.  I’ve read her books not hundreds but thousands of times and savored them line by line. Her felicitous way of turning a phrase, balancing her sentences, every small connective bit perfect and epigrammatical, has truly provided more than enough of a study for a lifetime.  No matter how many times you read her books, every single time you find a new and amazing thought, a secret joke, an observation about life that is eminently useful. Really Jane Austen is a philosophy, and I would urge aspiring writers to read her over and over.  Even if the writing they want to do themselves is a million miles away from what she did, exposure to her will make them far better, more evolved and sophisticated users of the English language. – Diana Birchall
  •  Well, she didn’t write about cannibals in the Caribbean, she did what every advisor tells every starting writer: write what you know. – Diane Meier
  • The reason our (Diane Meier) answers are so short here has to do with presumption. Neither of us would presume to be influenced by her. She died in 1817, so come back in 2205, 194 years from now, and ask us. As to her technique and style – Diane, being a true American, likes the economy of the Austen prose, and I like the way she allows me to dig into her themes and find all kinds of subtleties, such as her use of words to describe colors, and how she delays them until the excitement needs to build. – Frank Delaney
  • Before I wrote The Other Mr. Darcy, I published a Regency romance called An Improper Suitor, and it really was a different kettle of fish! Genre writing is quite specific in what you can and cannot do. When I moved to writing Jane Austen sequels, I had a huge range of options: do I write a contemporary version, a sequel, a “what-if” variation, a mashup (which I think is extremely difficult), the story of one of the characters, or the tale of the Darcy’s children? Then there is the choice of style — how closely do I stick to Jane Austen’s style? Another choice is between making it “hotter” or sticking to the traditional. There is a whole range of possibilities. The anthology reflects this range. I chose to write two sequels, but from the point of view of different characters — one Caroline Bingley’s, the other Georgiana Darcy’s in The Darcy Cousins. I chose to follow a more traditional approach, but didn’t think I could replicate Jane Austen’s style, so I made it a bit more modern. Still, I resolved to use only vocabulary that was historically accurate, to avoid anachronisms. I hope I succeeded. For someone who is just coming into the field you have to ask yourself all the questions I asked and more. For example, how familiar are you with the Regency period? How much research are you prepared to do to get a sense of the customs and acceptable behavior of the time? You need to determine which aspects of Austen you want to emphasize — the humor, the romance, or the characters? Who do you want to focus on? All these are personal choices, depending what kind of a writer you are. Ultimately, the important thing to remember is that no one is going to clone Jane Austen, no matter how much an author may wish to do so. You may be able to reproduce one aspect of her style, or two, or even three, but you can’t reproduce all of them, because she was a complex writer and she worked on many different levels and you’d have to be a genius to do what she did. What you can do is translate her writing into something you want to write, something that brings her alive through you. I like to think of it as “capturing the spirit” of Jane Austen. You have to be true to yourself as well. – Monica Fairview
  • Jane Austen gave me a lifelong love of the Regency and so I set my novels in that period, with some of them (Mr Darcy’s Diary et al) being directly based on her books. Her technique and style are a lifetime’s study! – Amanda Grange
  • I’ve learned so much from Jane Austen’s novels about character, plot, and morality. I recommend that all aspiring writers read her books over and over, and study them—they’re full of wonderful details that you miss in the first couple of readings. – Syrie James
  • What I’ve learned from reading Austen is the supreme importance of author involvement. It’s the writer who decides how much the reader should know and when they should know it, when the reader has to work something out for herself, and when it should be told to her. – Janet Mullany
  • I will confess that I am a bit single minded in my focus. Austen has been an incredibly strong influence in my writing. Her style is spare in details leaving you craving more. Her language, plot placing, and characterizations is Nonpareil. She inspired me to create a blog devoted entirely to her writing and the many books and movies she has spawned. After reading the novels and her letters many times over the course of my life, I see something new every time I read them. I encourage every young reader to embrace Austen – but only when you are ready. Be patient with the early eighteenth-century language. It grows on you and becomes more familiar. Be as observant as our “dear Jane” of how she crafts her characters, chooses words, adds drama and tension. It’s all there. Jane Austen is the best teacher of writing 101. – Laurel Ann Nattress
  • Wanting to continue Jane Austen’s work was the biggest influence for me initially. I was completely obsessed with her writing, and wanted to capture something of her style and language in my own. Being passionate about her work helps, and if you want to attempt to get inside her head, I would advise reading her books and letters over and over again. – Jane Odiwe
  • We all owe Jane Austen a great debt, because she opened the path for female writers who followed.  She embodied mastery of her craft, a genius for telling stories, and an appreciation for the domestic sphere that, in combination, made her novels timeless.  Austen’s novels paved the way a century later for Georgette Heyer’s work and ultimately for the romance genre, which has grown into a billion dollar a year industry. While romance novels still battle prejudice and disdain from many quarters, they provide a varied, enduring, and profitable genre for novels about women’s lives and women’s concerns. If Austen could see us today, I think she’d be astounded at the number of women writing in ‘her’ genre and at their commercial success. – Beth Pattillo
  • I wouldn’t say Jane Austen influenced my writing career in terms of technique and style, as the way I write is very, very different from her. However, her influence is much greater, as if it wasn’t for Jane Austen, and the other female authors of her time, I probably wouldn’t have a career. It was Jane Austen who paved the way for female authors, who made it acceptable for women to write, who put forward women and their issues as subject matter around which a novel could be focused. She is the forerunner of Bridget Jones Diary (and Helen Fielding acknowledged this by naming her hero Mark Darcy) and ultimately of all chicklit. So for that, I’m forever grateful! – Alexandra Potter
  • My advice to aspiring writers is to not try to imitate anyone’s technique and style.  Write as yourself. – Myretta Robens
  • My mystery series featured a Jane Austen-loving amateur sleuth named Cat Austen, who has named her daughter “Jane” – so I embedded Jane Austen into my first published work. For insights – as previously said, I don’t underestimate the ability of speech patterns to give dimensions to characters. Very often I read books where the dialogue seems very homogenized, devoid of character. Attribution should be employed for clarity and simplicity, but should not be necessary to identify the speaker. – Jane Rubino
  • I really admire Jane Austen’s dedication, just in the practical terms of writing a book.  I mean, I’ll complain it takes me forever to finish a story, and I’ve got all this shiny new technology to help me.  I can’t imagine having to do all of it with a pen and paper, and have to edit and do a fair copy by hand.  That’s a discipline that I envy and aspire to, and I’d encourage new writers to do the same.  I also really appreciate Jane Austen’s sense of simplicity — she says exactly what she wants to say, no more, no less.  As someone who often has to cut back, I admire that. – Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
  • I started my writing career very late, after a long stint as a University teacher of French literature, so The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy was my first novel. Of course I had written academic books before, but writing novels is very different. The framework of P&P helped me cope with the plot side of the writing. It was liberating to retell the events we all know with a completely different slant. The close reading I did of Austen’s text was amazingly productive – I don’t think one can do better than to study a great writer’s work really closely – one learns so much. I think the aspect I admired most when researching her was the epigrammatic wit apparent on every page of P&P, which, I do believe, is inimitable.  It was also instructive to note what was missing from the text. The novel is so rich that you don’t even notice the dearth of contemporary references, allusions to current events, the whole ‘social history’ side. This struck me particularly when writing as Mr. Darcy. A man of property keeping a diary would surely take a keen interest in contemporary life, which I had to include, so I did a good deal of historical research, for which Austen was no help. – Maya Slater
  • Jane Austen’s fiction is a masterwork of style that any aspiring author would do well to study. All the rules of writing fiction can be seen in her novels. It’s interesting that some critics mark Austen down for not writing about the Napoleonic wars or the larger social problems of her time, because today, authors aspiring to write literary fiction are encouraged to “write what you know” and keep the scope of their novels small—three or four singletons in an urban setting, perhaps, similar to the “three or four families in a country village” that was Austen’s stated favorite setting in which to write. Also, she keeps big drama to a minimum. Austen advised her niece, who was writing a novel, to avoid cliché and melodrama, and to write only what you know, or can research with confidence. I have a theory, completely unproven, mind you, that the first three of Austen’s six main novels—Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey—are all experiments in improving the fiction that she read and loved. It’s interesting to the writer who wants to learn not only to study Austen’s novels, but the novels that she read by—Burney, Radcliffe, Richardson, Edgeworth—and compare them to Austen’s novels to see where and how she improved on the work of those who preceded her. Also, fellow writers, don’t be afraid of the semicolon. It is your friend, and will allow you to write long, elegant sentences in which Austen delighted. In film, long shots with few edits are considered “quieter” while many short edits give an impression of suspense and excitement; prose works pretty much the same way. – Margaret C. Sullivan
  • Jane Austen sat in a chair and delivered the goods, day after day.  She didn’t believe anyone would take her seriously, but she took herself seriously, and as you see, that is the cornerstone of success. Whether you are a new writer, or an experienced one, Jane Austen reminds us that believing in ourselves is the start of something wonderful.  Have the guts to tell a story and the audience will appreciate your efforts and find you. – Adriana Trigiani
  • Austen’s ability to infuse the diverse elements of drama, comedy, romance, suspense, and social commentary into a single novel is a tremendous inspiration for me, as well as her masterful use of the omniscient point of view. What I also find inspiring is how multi-layered her works are. On one level they are sheer entertainment, storytelling at its best. On another level, they are full of insights and revelations, from the heroine having a big a-ha moment to a comic villain remaining steadfastly dense. The former becomes aspiration for the reader, while the latter is an amusing cautionary tale. And thus Austen has inspired me to tell stories that comprise diverse elements and can be read on several different levels. What I’d like to share with aspiring writers is this: Be inspired by the great works of Jane Austen and by the works of every other author you admire. Do not be discouraged. Study the stories, chapters, and passages you love, the turns of phrase, the character arc, the themes, the dialogue, every aspect of the work that appeals to you. Analyze them and contemplate them to determine why and how they work. Close reading is the greatest writing teacher. Again, be inspired. Have faith that you too have your own unique voice, and allow it to emerge through practice, practice, practice. – Laurie Viera Rigler
  • Austen was my go to girl on two major fronts: characterization and style.  The only writer I can think of whose keen eye for characterization might equal Austen’s and who manages to portray quirks and weaknesses with something of the same tolerance and affection is L.M. Montgomery, who, like Austen, does a beautiful job of seeing the worst in people, but portraying it with humor and charm.  They say people fall into two camps, tragedy or comedy.  You can tell that Austen sees the tragedies waiting to happen—in Mrs. Bennet’s narrowness, Lydia’s selfishness, Kitty’s weakness—but she chooses to take the comic road, mitigating the potential pain by playing up the glorious absurdity of it all. Which leads me to style.  I remember, early, early on, perhaps in my very first read of P&P, being struck by a description of the Bingleys which went something along the lines of “they were all that was charming and insincere”.  As a young writer in training, that sentence was a revelation to me.  Austen had achieved her comic hit so perfectly and so easily, all through the placement of one word.  No one beats Austen for delicately snarky description.   Watch the way Austen turns a phrase or a scene.  There’s always that bait and switch.  It works beautifully. – Lauren Willig

Giveaway of Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Enter a chance to win one signed copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress by leaving a comment answering what you like about Jane Austen’s style? Is it her characterization, plot, humor or romance or a combination of elements? Deadline to qualify for the drawing is 11:59 pm, Wednesday, September 5, 2012. The Winner will be announced on Thursday, September 6, 2012. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine Books (2011)
Trade paperback (446) pages
ISBN: 978-0345524966

Read: Question 1, Question 2, Question 3, Question 4

Please join us next Friday for the sixth of the fifteen questions and answers that will be posted over the next several weeks.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

22 thoughts on “Q & A with Jane Austen Made Me Do It Authors: Question 5 & Giveaway!

  1. What I like about Jane Austen’s style is that she allows her characters to reevaluate themselves, grow, and change. For example Elizabeth and Darcy or Emma and Knightly; they start with childish ideas about love, society, and the roles of the opposite gender but then they fall in love, grow-up, and discover their is more to the world than what they had previously thought.

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  2. I’ve always described Miss Austen’s humor as a hammer covered in velvet. For instance: Elizabeth describing Mr. Collins as “having nothing to recommend him;” The hysterical meeting between Mrs. Ferrars and Lady Middleton; the cloying familiarity of Mrs. Elton; The “fat sighings” of Mrs. Musgrove; the incredible boorishness of John Thorpe; The extreme idleness of Lady Bertram. Austen gives us the ‘this’ with ‘that’ regarding her characters….a sort-of oxymoron of ‘good news, bad news.’ That unique trick of hers is difficult to define but her stories are full of them (you all have your favorites don’t you?) and no other author even comes close.

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  3. Several writers have mentioned the economy of Jane Austen’s style and that’s an element of her writing I greatly admire. Laurel Ann said her style was “spare in details” and Caitlin Rubino-Bradway used the phrase “sense of simplicity.” The elegance of her prose appeals to me. She also, as Diane Meier said, wrote about what she knew — that famous country village with a few families. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her legendary and sophisticated wit. These are some of the reasons I never tire of reading Jane. Her novels are timeless.

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  4. I love the romance. . . true romance that makes your heart skip a beat. Modern day novels are nice, but the pure romance of her characters makes you want to read Jane’s books again and again and take make you long to be Elizabeth, Emma, etc.

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  5. What I truly love about Jane Austen’s writing is the romance. The pureness of the romance makes you want to read them over and over again. It also helps that her characterizations of her heros and heroines are amazing, which has laid the foundation of many characters of novels today.

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  6. I love Jane Austen’s humor. It’s so funny, but unless you pay attention it will just go right over your head. I think that’s part of what makes it different from any other romance novel; she’s so witty!

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    • I think modern comedians call this style “dry humor”. It does not slap you in the face but creeps up on you. It is one of the reasons why I love Austen. She is so sly about it!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Cheers, LA

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  7. Jane Austen knew how to turn monotonous, humdrum, everyday, life into something interesting. She knew exactly how to explain things; not too much detail to bog the story down, but she got the point across.

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  8. Hi Laurel Ann,
    Don’t enter me in the giveaway, please, because I already have, and have greatly enoyed your wonderful book! :-) I just want you to know that I’m enjoying this series of questions and answers very much. Thank you for doing it!
    Cathy Allen

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    • Hi Cathy, thanks for your kind complements on my book. It is really fascinating (to me) how others react or are inspired by Jane Austen. The 24 authors that I worked with come from a diverse writing background, but you can see similarities in how they respond to Austen’s characters and plot.

      We are only at question 5, so there are 10 more to go.

      Enjoy!

      LA

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  9. I love Jane and her ability to come up with some amazingly quirky characters. Oh, if I could only narrow it down. Ms. Bates, Sir Elliot, Mrs. Jennings. The books wouldn’t be complete without them though.

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  10. I love the plot but I think I really love that she was not so descriptive of what they looked like. I get to picture them as I want to and I really love that.

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  11. Ive always liked the plotline, romance and characters. In all of her novels i can relate to the characters in some way, pride and prejudice along with persuasion are my favorites withh the romance and their plots

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  12. Jane Rubino mentioned Austen’s way with dialog, and that is my favorite aspect of JA’s books. Her dialog sounds the way people actually speak, and every single character has their own very unique voice. As a writer myself, I love studying her dialog in an effort to improve my own.

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  13. I love her characters. No matter how funny, quirky, silly, austere, romantic or otherwise she makes them very real and believable. Austen truly was a keen observer of human behavior and within the context of societal rules and expectations it strikes me as incredibly fascinating that she could give them such depth in spite of restrictions that could have kept them one denominational. Even the ones more caricature aren’t so beyond the realm of reminding me of someone I might actually know.

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  14. Pingback: Giveaway Winner Announced for Jane Austen Made Me Do It Week Five « Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog

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