I joke that my creative process relies on the plot elves. I sit down to do my 500 words, or 1000 words, or 2000 words, or whatever the target for the day is, and the characters start acting out the scene disclosing all sorts of things the plot elves have been working on in the background.
The truth is that my creative process is a mystery to me. The invention of my Marquis of Aldridge is a case in point.
Here’s his very first appearance on a page, in my work-in-progress, Embracing Prudence. David Wakefield, base-born son of the Duke of Haverford, is investigating a case of blackmail.
A knock on the door heralded Aldridge’s arrival. A maid showed him into the private parlour. He’d clearly been treating her to a display of his facile charm; she was dimpling, blushing, and preening.
David examined him as he gave the girl a coin “and a kiss for your trouble, my darling.” The beautiful child had grown into a handsome man. David had heard him described as ‘well-put together, and all over, if you know what I mean.’ The white-blonde hair of childhood had darkened to a light brown, and he had golden-brown eyes under a thick arch of brow he and David had both inherited from their father.
Aldridge navigated the shoals of the marriage market with practiced ease, holding the mothers and their daughters off while not offending them, and carrying out a gentleman’s role in the ballroom with every evidence of enjoyment.
But his real success, by all accounts, was with bored widows and wives, where he performed a role in the bedroom with equal enjoyment. Society was littered with former lovers of the Merry Marquess, though he had the enviable ability to end an affair and retain their friendship.
He ushered the laughing maid out of the room and closed the door behind her, acknowledging David’s appraisal with a wry nod.
“Wakefield. You summoned me. I am here.”
David ignored the thread of irritation in the young aristocrat’s voice.
“I have some questions I wish to ask about the story your brother tells.”
Uninvited, Aldridge grabbed a chair and straddled it, resting his chin on his forearms. “Our brother,” he said, flatly.
I should, perhaps, explain that I’ve been creating an entire fictional world these last five years, peopled with enough characters for at least the forty books for which I have plot lines. Many of the characters are just names in my database and spreadsheet, but if I need a mother, or a cousin, or villain, or an old school friend, I look there first before I invent someone new. So when David needed a case to investigate, I involved his patroness, the Duchess of Haverford, and her son Aldridge came with the territory.
I knew Aldridge existed, and I knew he was a rake. There’s a crusading social zealot growing up in my world who will one day need a hero who is as much a challenge to her as she is to him. But I hadn’t given him much more thought than that, till I inserted him into David and Prue’s story. I generally start a book with tidy character descriptions (eight pages for protagonists and major antagonists, and one page for anyone else with more than a walk-on part), a plot outline, and maps. After I start, though, the plot elves take over and anything might happen. And so it was with Aldridge.
Very soon, he proved to be a larger part of Prue’s past than David knows. He is also deeply concerned about his younger brother Jonathan, who becomes David’s assistant in the investigation. What with one thing and another, by the time Prue, Jonathan, and David disappear from England, Aldridge has enough guilt riding him to dive into a bottle and hide there for months, as explained in this deleted scene from A Baron for Becky.
“Cousin, I don’t believe you’ve been sober since June—this business with Jonathan is not your fault, you know.”
Aldridge shook his head. He didn’t agree. Jonathan was his younger brother, and he’d promised to keep him safe. He’d promised Mama.
“Do you remember the frogs in your tutor’s bed?” Rede asked.
Aldridge was not fooled by the seeming change of subject. He’d taken the blame for that, though the prank had been Jonathan’s. “The tutor was a vicious fool, and would have beaten Jonathan until his arm fell off. And His Grace would have done nothing; Jonathan was only the spare. Disciplining me was reserved to His Grace, and the tutor would not disturb him for such a minor infringement.”
It was Rede’s turn for the dismissive shake. “Jonathan’s not nine any more, Aldridge. The scandal was of his own making; quite deliberately from what I heard. ”
Aldridge grinned. He was worried, and he felt guilty, but he still admired his brother’s strategy. “He wanted to travel and His Grace said ‘no’. So Jonathan arranged to be exiled. Pudding-brain. Doesn’t he know there’s a war on? I hope David finds him.”
Rede slid the brandy decanter towards him. “David? David went after his… after a lady that he loves.”
Aldridge busied himself pouring another glass and exerted every ounce of control not to tip it straight down his throat. There was the crux of it—not Jonathan’s defection, though Aldridge still believed he should have been able to prevent it. But Aldridge’s contribution to the loss of his other brother, his father’s bastard; Aldridge’s treatment of the woman David loved.
“Did you not know? She went with Jonathan. And I don’t think David will ever forgive me, Rede.”
I had just realised what a crucial part Aldridge played in Prudence’s backstory and the major misunderstanding between David and Prue when my group of Historical writers, the Bluestocking Belles, embarked on a three week marathon of interactive story telling on Facebook. We invented a magical inn that allowed our fictional worlds to collide, and brought along our characters for an impromptu party.
I contributed one drunk and depressed Aldridge to the fun, and it was fun! Poor Aldridge. He had a frustrating time, with his advances to one lady after another being rejected, sometimes violently.
Then along came Mrs A. Mrs Angel is the invention of Catherine Curzon, and she is a wonderful character, mistress to princes, owner of brothels, and a rollicking good-time girl. Aldridge’s pursuit of Mrs A. jumped from thread to thread and took days, with one accident after another keeping him from his goal.
I decided to write it up as a light-hearted romp; the story of Aldridge and the golden-hearted harlot who saved him. But I soon realised that Aldridge needed quite a different kind of experience at this point in his life. Becky began to take shape in my mind – a broken bird, rescued by Aldridge but carrying scars from her past experiences. The book became Becky’s story, and the elderly baron Catherine and I had first envisaged became Hugh, Aldridge’s best friend, a man with his own scars.
And so, in the end, Becky and Hugh took over what began as Aldridge’s story, and A Baron for Becky is a far better book than I originally intended.
Where to from here? I have a vague idea, but quite a distance to travel first. In the main stream of my novel writing, I have yet to finish 1807. Aldridge will be a bit player in several more books before 1814, when his own story begins with a social reforming spinster bursting into his bedroom demanding that he come save his bastard son from a molly brothel. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.