Monday, April 16, 2012

Start the Story Where the Story Starts

pic by Steve Ohlsen
In my first book, the first three chapters dealt with backstory and the main character's post-partum depression. She finally got to London in chapter four, and we met the hero for the first time in chapter five. It's my love child and I've tried to right by it, but the book, in its entirety, will never be published.

My second book, chapters one and two were character growth. Yes, there was action and dialogue, but the story didn't really start until chapter three. Solution? I cut out chapters one and two. It hurt, but it was necessary -- like deadheading.

By my third book you'd think I knew what I was doing, right? I started with action and some humor, then some snappy dialogue and set up the love triangle. Problem: I spent a lot of face time on the guy she was not going to end up with. I also, since it was book three, gave too much time to the characters featured in books one and two. Yet again, we do not meet our hero until chapter three, which is when the story starts. Chop. Chapters one and two, gone.

I am currently reading through a story for a friend. The first fifty pages are so are character development and back-story. When I finally give my critique, it will be to start the story where the story starts -- something I obviously struggle with.

I like to think that someday I'll learn from my mistakes. 

So, without further ado, here is the NEW first 1000ish of Courtly Abandon. If you take the time to read, please let me know if you get a sense of the time/place, who the main character is, and a feeling for where the story is going. Most importantly, where you hooked?

If being ladylike meant wearing corsets everyday, Jane would just have to suffer through it. Even in one of her less ornate courtly gowns– a wool dress more suited to her station, she had to wear the full ensemble complete with corset, bumroll, and farthingale. Given the confines of fashion, this was as comfortable as it was going to be. At least the wool was fine and the moss green dye was even and smooth. Of all the gowns she bought at court, this was the plainest, but even this one was trimmed in dark green velvet. It seemed silly to get done up for a dance lesson but if she wanted to get used to movement in courtly gowns, she had to actually wear them regularly.
She locked her chamber door behind her, tucked the key into her bosom, and practiced walking gracefully down the corridor. She imagined herself gliding, her hem just dusting the floor. Instead her legs became the clapper for the bell of her skirts. If she bent her knees a little with each step and tucked her hips forward, her skirts did not sway so much. Walking like this must make her at least an inch or two shorter – at barely an inch over five foot, she did not have much height to spare. If being a lady meant shrinking, she wasn’t sure if it was worth it. Cursing at her self-defeating attitude, she continued to put one awkward foot in front of the other. The woven rush mat covering the floorboards seemed to go on forever.
“Mistress Jane!”
The high squeal was the only warning she had before little Elizabeth LeSieur barreled into her arms. Luckily, Jane’s somewhat crouched walk gave her the stability not to fall flat on her back. Jane settled herself and shook out her skirts to fix the hem while Elizabeth babbled excitedly.
“Elizabeth, what has gotten into you?”
She was gyrating in place. “Mother has brought in a new tutor. He is a gentleman and able to give dance instruction!” She twirled once more and her ribbon slipped off the end of her braid.
Jane picked up the ribbon and gestured Elizabeth to stand before her. “You have had dance lessons for years.” She re-plaited the errant strands and fastened the ribbon.
“Yes, but only in country and French. The French dances are so boring. These new ones, the Italianate ones, those are what the ladies do at court.” Elizabeth did a series of mock steps in a circle that was probably intended to look courtly. “Mama says if I am to be a lady, I must know the dances. She told me to make sure you joined in – that you need the practice.”
Jane groaned inwardly. She’d had that same lecture from Frances, herself.
“Well then, let us march forth and meet our fate.” Jane took Elizabeth by the hand as they reached the stairwell. “Today we shall both continue on our quest to become proper ladies.”
Elizabeth giggled and hopped down the steps, two feet at a time. “Oh Mistress Jane, you cannot be a lady. You are my friend.”
“You have no idea how correct you are.” Jane smiled as she stepped onto the landing of the second floor and crossed the broad balcony to turn and head down to the first floor. Midday light poured through the long, narrow windows, sending shafts of sunlight to guide their way to the main hall.
The hall was at the center of the great home. It served as a banquet hall, a ballroom, and for tenant meetings with the magistrate of the shire, Master LeSieur. The polished oak floors were usually covered in braided rush mats, but in honor of the dancing lessons a quarter of the room had been cleared. For the first time, Jane saw how Holme LeSieur could indeed host visiting nobility. Perhaps Frances’ house party idea would be a great success.
“Ladies, pray sit you down. The fiddler will be joining us anon.”
At the sound of his voice, Jane’s eyes flew to the young man sitting by the massive fire place. He rose and walked toward them, as proper as a gentleman scholar should be. Stopping to reverence, he met her eye without any sign of recognition.
 “Mistress Radclyffe, I am Master Percy Mortimer. I will serve to tutor you in dancing for these next weeks.”
Jane stood rooted to the floor, her heart pounding in her throat. Percy was here! She swallowed and remembered to breathe. Somehow she found the presence of mind to respond. “God give you good den, Master Percy.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “What would you have of us?”
He directed them to sit on the chaise before the fire and began talking about something. Dancing.
God’s blood, what was Percy doing here? Why hadn’t anyone told her he was here? Why hadn’t he sought her out?
She sat in stunned silence, just staring at him while he continued his discussion about… French bransles. How could he talk about dancing at a time like this? He had changed so much; he was bigger now – a man. Still, with those thick sandy lashes and the serious set to his jaw, she would recognize him anywhere. She had not seen him since her marriage four years ago, since they day he told her he loved her…
How could he talk about dancing at a time like this?
Well, he was the LeSieur’s tutor – he was doing his job. Wait, why had he become a tutor?
“Mistress Radclyffe, are you well?”
Jane looked up into Percy’s heavy lidded, hazel eyes. His face was so close, she wanted to reach out and drag her fingertips across the hint of shadow on his chin, down his neck, beneath his proper pleated collar. His tawny curls, tied back, secure under his velvet cap, showed no hint of sun kiss they way they used to. He had always been serious when it came to scholarship, but the intensity in his eyes made her step back. After all these years, and here he was.
           She wasn’t sure if she should laugh or cry.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments.


Susan Kane said...

I am engaged by her connection to Percy. I think too much writing is spent on the dress description, altho it is historic. Her struggles with the awkward clothing is good, and there should be more self-dialogue. She could curse here, about her shortness, about her features.

I like how she re-met Percy, and how he did not seem to recognize her. She was married 4 years ago--is this an issue? To whom? To Percy?

That is unclear. I hope this has been helpful. Susan

Unknown said...

I think that you can get away with a fair amount of description in a historic novel, romance in particular, but you do need to watch it. I definately like your style, though!

And I totally get where you're coming from with starting the story where it begins... I need to tell myself that over and over again, and still, my main WIP suffers from severe backstory...

Thanks for stopping by my blog today!! I answered your comment in my comments, btw... ; )


Sash's Secrets and The Book Bunnies

Daisy Carter said...

First of all, I LOVE your voice here. I was hooked even though I wasn't quite sure where I was. I like the way Jane thinks. And you've left me VERY intrigued about her past with Percy. I was shocked to learn she was married - great job there!

I was a little confused about the place and her station, but as I don't read a lot of historical, maybe the clues are there and I just didn't see them? If she's been married for 4 years, wouldn't she already "Be a Lady" by now? If not, then wouldn't that mean her station is lower than that?

I wish I knew a little more about who she is right off the bat - is she a governess for the little girl? Or a relative?

Again, I love the voice and tone. I didn't mind the description because it felt organic, to me, since she was practicing walking in the dress you described. Plus, you definitely did a great job starting where the story begins! Brava!

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