April 14, 2014

Oh No! Say It Isn't So. Matthew Can't Be Dead and Other Writing Tips We Can Learn from Downton Abbey - Part Two

By Linda Wood Rondeau 


What better place to demonstrate emerging societal changes than an old world English manor, where nobility rubs constantly against the middle and lower classes—tools used by classic writers such as Jane Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, and R.F. Delderfield (God Is an Englishman) to name a few.

Murry Pura accidentally chose the same setting, in his book, Ashton Park /Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2013) in roughly the same time period as Downton Abbey, a time of much social upheaval: war, the Irish Uprising, and the Spanish flu epidemic. It was also a time of social change: pursuit of equal rights for women, and the dwindling power of the nobility. Pura believes this backdrop of political change in rural setting of a noble family in crisis provides an ideal setting for the development of conflict.


Downton Abbey is rich in unforgettably believable characters from the upper, middle, and lower classes. Such a conglomeration creates high drama and conflict. Fellowes craftily utilizes the cleverly designed idiosyncrasies to create biting drama to fit his theme. By their very nature, each character will eventually come into conflict with any other given character, whether from hidden desires, former scandal, or future hopes. Violet is irascible, Isobel is meddling, Mary is assertive, Sybil is rebellious, Carson is stodgy, Lord Grantham is honorable, and so on. Yet, each character shows their humanity by stepping outside their box: Obrien repents, Lord Grantham skirts around a possible affair, and Violet demonstrates unexpected compassion. When a character is well crafted, the element of surprise enriches rather than detracts. 


Every character seems to be embroiled in at least one triangle of testing and turmoil.  Julian Fellowes states that his favorite characters are Anna and Bates who habitually struggle against external forces seemingly destined to tear their romance to shreds. “These are two people who have not been given all that much in life,” Fellowes says, “but what they have been given is a real love. I wouldn’t ever want to undermine that. But they’ve got to suffer a little. Nothing harder to dramatize than happiness.”


Downton Abbey masters the use of dialogue to reveal a character’s personality, likes, ambitions, and moral compass. Many say that the best lines are given to Maggie Smith’s character, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Her quips demonstrate her pride in her status. For example:

“Don’t be defeated, dear, it’s very middle class.”

Fellowes masterful use of creative dialogue, true to the character, yet witty and sharp keeps the viewer attached to the story.

What can writes learn?
Ultimately, the praise Downton Abbey receives is the praise we strive for in our fiction. Veronica says it best. “Most of all I love the story line that does not sugar coat life. This is fiction at its best on television.”

With two cast members leaving the show, Fellowes was faced with a huge challenge.  “When an actor playing a servant wants to leave, there isn’t really a problem – [that character gets] another job. With members of the family, once they’re not prepared to come back for any episodes at all, then it means death. Because how believable would it be that Matthew never wanted to see the baby, never wanted to see his wife? And was never seen again at the estate that he was the heir to? So we didn’t have any option, really. I was as sorry as everyone else.”

Wouldn’t you love to create a character that everyone hated to see die?
Linda Wood Rondeau is a native of Central New York, she graduated from North Syracuse High School and later Houghton College. She moved to Northern New York where she met and married Steve Rondeau, her best friend in life, and managed a career in human services before tackling professional writing. After thirty-four years she and her husband have relocated to Jacksonville, Florida to start a new adventure...leaving rural America to live in a city of one million. Of course, the more favorable temperatures allow her to follow another great passion--golf. Rondeau's romantic suspense, The Other Side of Darkness, is the winner of the 2012 Selah Award for best first novel. Her romance, It Really IS a Wonderful Life is already a best seller. Joining her contemporary works is her first non-fiction, I Prayed for Patience/God Gave Me Children. Her paranormal suspense, Days of Vines and Roses is now available in both book and ebook format. Find her at and and

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