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Susie took close to 100 flower photos while in Singapore. Here are a few - taken at what appears to be an arboretum.
I struggled with a title for this week's blogs. Definitely not "Story Arc," which has been done to death and which I also suspect leads authors into a frenzy of attempting to copy the recommended "step by step," to the detriment of creativity. So . . . Highs & Lows? Ups & Downs? Hills & Valleys? Better. For those names are vague enough to remind us of what we need to do without providing obstacles to the way we want to tell our story.
All this came up this week as I sat down to my keyboard to write Chapter 27 of my latest Regency Gothic, Shadows Over Greystoke Grange. At the end of each day's work, I make a habit of typing notes (in all caps) about where I think the story is heading over the next few scenes. And at the top of my notes was: APOTHECARY SPREAD OUT ON STONE CROSS.
Except . . .
I'd just written about a fire, certainly a dramatic moment, and followed it with a scene in which the heroine barges into the hero's bedchamber to discover for herself how badly he is injured. So . . I'd written Fire, Quieter Scene—and assumed I'd reached the moment of ratcheting up the plot with the apothecary's murder. Right?
Well, that's what my notes said, but my fingers refused to move. What was the reaction to the heroine's shocking invasion of a man's bedchamber? How was she holding up to all that had been happening around her? And wasn't it about time I revealed further unfortunate tendencies in the possible villains of the story?
And yes, these questions needed to be dealt with BEFORE the "big" moment when someone is murdered and the intensity of the tale explodes into the final series of dramatic events. (Although even these important scenes will have more impact if they have short "breathing spaces" in between.)
All this led to the birth of an "interim" chapter that extended the Contrast between the Fire and the Murder. And also moved the story forward. When writing these quieter scenes, it's all-important to remember that you do not create Contrast by plopping in a scene that is merely "words" with no relevance to your story. Use this "down" time to explain, emphasize, add color to what has gone before, or give hints of what's to come.
Believe me, your "big" moments will be all the more dramatic for the "lulls" that come between: the "planning" scenes, "discussing" scenes, the "conversations at table," etc.
Below is a the chapter I hadn't planned on writing, the one that insisted on inserting itself between Fire by Arson and Death by Stabbing. Please note the deliberate effort at the beginning to lighten up the angst the young heroine has been suffering ever since she arrived at Greystoke Grange.
Chapter 27 has had only one edit so far, but hopefully it will be enough to illustrate what I mean by "Interim" chapter. It provides a bit of relief from the dramatic events that have been plaguing the young heroine's life, but it also shows that those problems have not gone away. And at the end, the next "big" drama raises its head.
Background for the scene: Adria, the young heroine, is a guest in a house in Shropshire, where she is supposed to be teaching Daphne, the young lady of the house, the niceties of the London ton. Dudley is Daphne's twin brother. The twins are only a year older than Adria, but infinitely older in experience.
Shadows Over Greystoke Grange
“On dit,” I intoned. Daphne dutifully repeated the words. “Meaning?”
“Gossip,” Daphne drawled.
“Literally, ‘they say’,” I returned, “but yes, the term refers to gossip.” Daphne heaved a much-put-upon sigh at my quibbling.
“Tout de suite.”
Daphne repeated the phrase, her tone leaving no doubt she was eagerly listening for her release at the chiming of the hour. “Fast,” she said, her lips escaping their droop of ennui just enough to reveal that she was pleased with herself. I nodded my acceptance, not pressing for a literal translation.
“Je ne sais quoi.”
Daphne stumbled through the repetition, adding, “I will never say such a thing, so why should I bother to learn it?”
“Because when some high-born lady is described as having ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’, you will not stand there, blank-faced, not knowing it means she has 'that certain something' that distinguishes her from others.”
Daphne flounced back onto her favorite mound of pillows in the corner of the sofa, eyes closed, her lower lip jutted out in a pout.
She peeked at me from beneath her long dark lashes. “My dear Adria, I am surprised you let the word pass your lips.”
For several seconds I simmered, hanging onto my temper by a quivering thread. I would not bandy words with her. I would not! “It is true,” I said at last, “that ladies tend to be mealy-mouthed about certain topics. Which is why, I suppose, they fall back on French. But since you seem to be acquainted with the word, we may move on.
“Comme il faut,” I pronounced.
No response. “Daphne, please repeat the phrase, even if you cannot translate it.”
She sat up abruptly, dark eyes gleaming. “Enceinte is what happens when young ladies ride off ventre à terre and visit their beloved in his bedchamber.”
I couldn’t think, couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. I was hearing things. She could not have said that.
But she had. For she was sitting there, triumph radiating from her in waves. She had held back her knowledge, waiting for the right moment, and then struck to the heart. Whatever had made me believe word would not get out?
At the time I had not cared.
“Mr. Kincade was badly injured,” I managed at last. “Swathed in bandages and in a great deal of pain.”
“But on dit, my dear Adria. On dit.” She smiled. The smile of a vindictive sans culottes as the guillotine crashed down.
Once again, it was as if Daphne were a decade my senior instead of a mere fourteen months. Nor could I refute her words, for what she was saying was all too true. My fate lay before me: the gossip about my visit to Kincade Park was about to be as vicious as the rumors about Drake and Rose Kincade.
Perhaps Lady Greystoke would send me home. An empty Chillworth Manor was far preferable to life in Kirkby Cross. Except how could I abandon Drake? Who was suffering because he had refused to abandon m—
“Aha!” Dudley rumbled from the doorway, interrupting my angst. “I was coming to impart the news, but it would appear it is already out. Our perfect young lady from Wiltshire has feet of clay.” He sauntered toward me, leering, his triumph matching his sister’s.
My feet longed to run, but I stood my ground. “Mr. Kincade is a friend. He has done nothing wrong. Nor have I, except to express concern for his health. And well you know it!”
“My dear girl,” Dudley purred, placing one long slim finger under my chin. Though tense as a bowstring, I did not flinch. I could not show fright, for Dudley Greystoke fed on fright, and I would not give him the satisfaction. “What will Mother say, I wonder?”
“Your mother is female,” I told him. “She will understand it is our lot to care for others, that women do not turn their backs on the sick or injured.”
“I do,” Daphne declared.
I opened my mouth, closed it, knowing anything I might say would be futile. The long clock in the hall, echoed by the ormolu clock on the mantel in the Gold Salon, began their count toward twelve noon. I sidestepped and rushed, rather ignominiously, toward the door, leaving the twins to enjoy how thoroughly they had routed the little miss from the South.
I hid in my room for the remainder of the day, expecting a summons from Lady Greystoke at any moment. It never came. Had this latest bit of gossip not yet reached her ear?
Hardly a rumor. You did visit a gentleman in his bedchamber.
And so it went, my conscience in agony, even as my heart insisted I had done the right thing.
Pleading indisposition, I asked for dinner to be brought to my room. I ate in a silence so profound it was as if I were the only person in the house. Except for Bess, I did not hear so much as a footstep in the corridor, a creak of the stairs. So many thoughts chased through my mind I expected to toss and turn all night, but exhaustion caught up with me. I was in bed as darkness fell and slept the night through—for the space of a few hours, my cares obliterated.
I dreamed of Drake, a Drake without bandages, and woke with a smile on my face.
It was a perfectly glorious day. Though I sensed it was a good deal earlier than I usually waked, bright sunlight peeked through a crack in the draperies and birds were singing with such glee that their chirps and trills, punctuated by an occasional squawk, easily penetrated the heavy fabric. Fresh air as well, drifted in, bringing the scent of flowers, greenery, and fresh-turned earth. At this moment, with Drake’s image still floating in my head, Shropshire seemed almost as pleasant as Wiltshire.
If only . . .
But why had I waked so early? Another smile—a trifle smug. Perhaps my dreams of Drake had waked me. Far better than a nightmare about—
No! I would not spoil the moment. Dudley Greystoke did not exist. I had cast him out.
If wishes were horses . . .
Begone! I will not listen.
Ah, that was but a phantom finger beneath your chin, phantom breath blowing in your face.
Idiot child that I was, I squeezed my eyes shut, placed my hands over my ears.
As if I could shut out my own common sense. Mocking laughter surrounded me, filling the room, drowning out the joyous birdsong. Taking my fleeting pleasure with it.
Something else . . . ?
I forced myself back to reality. The atmosphere around me had changed, the house no longer caught in the deathly silence of the night before. There were footsteps on the stairs, in the corridor—more rushed and bustling than usual. The murmur of voices. I peered at my ladies’ watch on the small table beside the bed. Yes indeed, still too early for the household to be awake. I frowned, was reaching for my nightrobe, when Bess’s head peeked round the edge of the door. When she saw I was awake, she skittered across the floor, skidding to a halt beside the bed. She opened her mouth, wrung her hands. “Oh, miss, now I’m here, I scarcely know what to say.”
“Is it Drake? Tell me this instant!”
Bess blinked. “Oh no, miss. Not Mr. Kincade. ’Tis Mr. Talbert.”
Talbert? Not Drake. My whoosh of relief cut off as I realized only something dire could have set off a disturbance so early in the morning. “Then what has happened?”
“The news came with the milkman, you see. And we all heard Carys shriek when she heard. ’Twas enough to set Mrs. Pettigrew and Cook running to the door, with half the staff on their heels.”
“Bess! Without roundaboutation. Tell me now.”
“He’s dead, miss. Spread out on that great stone in front of the church. Dead as a doornail. A dagger in his heart.”
It was a good thing I was sitting on the edge of my bed. For great as the shock of George Talbert’s murder was, it took only seconds to see where it would lead. Straight back to Drake.
I must ride there immediately, warn him . . .
Milkman. They already know.
I must be sure!
Send John Jenks. You are already skating on ice too thin to bear your weight.
I slipped out of bed, dashed off a quick note, which I entrusted to Bess. “Make sure Jenks gets this,” I said, wincing at the fear in my voice, the fear that betrayed how much I cared. “He must leave for Kincade Park immediately.” I rushed to my special hiding place, and drew out a golden guinea from my treasured stash of coins. “This should be more than enough.”
Bess’s eyes met mine. ’Tis too much, miss. John’s a good man. He’d do this for you but for the asking.”
My lips curled—how sad to discover I was rapidly becoming a cynic. “It will be something to go on with if he loses his position over this.”
Bess’s brown eyes widened. “Ah, surely not, miss.”
I heaved a long sigh. “Truth to tell, Bess, I am unsure what will happen from one moment to the next. Now go. The sooner this is done, the better.”
As the door shut behind her, I said a prayer that my warning would be in time, that Drake was well enough to travel. For he must leave Shropshire this very day. Whoever the villains were, they were going to make certain everyone believed Drake Kincade had killed George Talbert.
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