This past weekend, our Washington (DC) Romance Writers workshop was a discussion of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, both the book and the Emma Thompson movie, led by our very own Austen scholar, Kathy Gilles Seidel.

In addition to having a Ph.D in English, Kathy has won every romance writing prize you can think of. She was the speaker at the very first WRW meeting I ever attended, talking about endings. I was enthralled and so very impressed. Kathy continues to impress me at every WRW Retreat where she is our opening speaker. Her talks are always intelligent, literary, accessible, and very practical.

This talk was fun. Kathy showed clips from Sense and Sensibility and compared and contrasted Emma Thompson’s adaptation with Jane Austen’s first published work. Interspersed in the discussion, Kathy imparted her Sense and Sensibility about writing books.

Here are a few of her gems (more or less direct quotes):

“Your opening should be consistent with the overall tone of your book.”

Originally, the S&S movie was going to start with a bloody fox-hunting scene in which Mr. Dashwood falls from his horse, but the tone would have been all wrong.

“If you have a character whose virtues are not appreciated, and you want the reader to invest in him, have a character criticize him.”
This was about Edward. Kathy felt that Emma Thompson improved Edward as a hero in the movie.

“Secrets are fabulous. Secrets keep readers reading.”
This was about Edward’s secret betrothal.

“Restraint is cool and sexy.”
A response to Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Col. Brandon! But we already knew Alan Rickman was cool and sexy in the role, especially when he says, “Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall go mad.”

“Books are all about the connections between people.”

I don’t remember the context, but I love the quote.

Kathy pointed out that the minor characters in the movie often provided the movie’s “feel good” moments and that it is important to think about “how readers will respond to minor characters.”

Kathy also pointed out that the point of “Ritual Death,” the “Black Moment” should be an “alternative to the happy ending,” the point where the character has to believe nothing will work out.
In S&S, the scene where Elinor believes Marianne is going to die is the Black Moment. Everything has gone wrong. Willoughby has abandoned Marianne, Edward is to marry Lucy, and Elinor is about to lose her sister.

I wish I could reproduce the discussion that led to these pieces of wisdom. All I can say is that it was stimulating and fun.

What’s the best piece of writing wisdom you’ve heard lately?

When you are reading, do you notice these things in the book, or do you just get lost in the story?

Try Kathy’s latest book about the mother of the groom, Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige.

Take a look at my website, with its new stuff and new contest. If you missed some of my early books they are being re-released in the UK. February is The Wagering Widow and March is my RITA winner, A Reputable Rake. See details on my UK page. Remember, Book Depository offers free shipping (and both are sold at discount)!

And while you are on the Book Depository website, also pre-order Janet’s February UK release, Improper Relations. I’m reading an advance reader copy and it’s fab! (and there’s a 53% discount on it!)