What went wrong in WIP Wednesday

What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong?

And I didn’t choose the title of this post to acknowledge that it isn’t even Wednesday. Today, I’m using a writing tip as my starting point for the day’s theme.

When writing, don’t ask yourself what happens; ask yourself what goes wrong.

If nothing goes wrong, there isn’t a plot, and every plot is a series of obstacles, external or internal, between the protagonists and their goals.

So please share a few lines in your WIP where things seem to be going as they should but suddenly turn pear-shaped.

My excerpt is from the second book in The Golden Redepennings series, A Raging Madness. Alex and Eleanor have stopped in a village so that Alex (who has large chunks of shrapnel floating around in his thigh) can rest and Eleanor can go through the worst of the withdrawal from the opiates her horrible relatives have been forcing down her throat. But Alex has just met someone that Ella knows; someone who believes her brother-in-law’s claims that she is insane. Note that Alex, a product of his time, tries to avoid a direct lie.

Ella sat at the table under the window, where she could peer around the curtain at the garden without being seen. No rector yet. Down below, Alex had moved her chair so he could watch the path from the house. He was eating her toast, and drinking tea from the cup Jonno had poured her. After a moment’s hesitation, she lifted the window, just slightly. There. If they talked in the garden, she would hear the whole conversation.

She flinched at the sound of the door knocker, and fought the urge to run across to the other side of the house to see who was calling.

“See who that is, Jonno, would you, since our landlady is out?” Alex said calmly, and he had buttered and jammed another slice of toast before Jonno ushered two men out into the garden. Yes. The rector, and the other must be his friend, the local vicar.

From this angle, she could see Alex’s face, but not the rector’s. She could hear their voices, though.

“So! You are this Mr Reid. What are you playing at, Redepenning, and what have you done with poor Lady Melville?”

At the last question, Alex, whose eyes had been twinkling, sobered. “Lady Melville? She is still missing then? Surely you do not think I…?” He stood suddenly, looking so affronted that the rector took a step back. “Rector, I must protest. What sort of a gentleman would take advantage of a woman of frail mental capacity? I am not such a villain!”

He subsided back into his chair, waving the piece of toast he still held at the other seating around the table. “You will excuse me; the walk tired my leg. Please. Take a seat, gentlemen. Can my servant fetch you tea? I regret that our landlady is from home, but I would happily convey a message.”

The vicar sat, while the rector remained standing. “Mr Reid, or is it Major Redepenning…?”

“Mr Redepenning, in fact. I have sold out, sir, because of my injury. But I beg you to keep my true name a secret. A lady’s reputation, you know, though I am embarrassed to discuss such a matter with a man of God.”

The rector sat then, and rushed into speech, leaning towards Alex in his urgency. “Yes. Well that is the point, is it not? This so called lady; this Mrs Reid. If she is not Lady Melville, who is she? Eh? Who is she? That is the point.”

Alex, amusement lighting his face, said, “Jonno, is Mrs Reid still off on her walk?” He dropped his voice, confidingly. “You would be reassured if you could meet the lady, gentlemen, though I do not suppose she would be pleased with that solution. Alas, I fear I have been a disappointment to her. Hence the walk! And last time she lost her temper, I did not see her for months. Still, you are welcome to wait. I am sure she will return.”

He dropped his voice, and Ella had to strain to hear him. “She is not happy about her condition,” he confided. “Well. And one cannot blame her, of course.”

“Her condition?” The rector seized on the words. “She is ill?”

“Oh yes,” Alex confirmed. “That is why we stopped in this village. The motion of the carriage… One hopes the child is her husband’s, distressing though the thought is. It would be most unfortunate were it born with fair hair like mine. Or the Redepenning blue eyes. That would be hard for a husband to overlook, do you not think?”

“Sir!” The vicar rose to his feet, almost spitting with shock and horror. “I take leave to tell you, sir, that you are a despicable cad.”

(And yes. I’ve been missing my usual WIP Wednesday posts because things went wrong. But hey. Life.)

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11 thoughts on “What went wrong in WIP Wednesday

  1. These are great! This is the closest excerpt I have to the theme. This is from novella for the next Belles box set. In this scene, things have gone so spectacularly wrong for actress Charlotte Halfpenny that she is contemplating suicide. Fortunately, the Earl of Somerton arrives and ruins her plans.
    *

    “There are two ways to look at everything.” Charlotte paused for dramatic effect, curling blue fingers over the side of the bridge. “All beginnings are endings in disguise. Place of arrival or means of escape, will I find my end at the bottom, or fall clear through the other side?”

    The wind swallowed her famous voice and carried it away, taking the last thing she had of any value. It was the ice in the air that had caused her voice to shake, she reasoned. She was far too cold to feel the fear lurking in her heart, insulated as it was by dread and resignation. It was too dark to see anything but a great growling blackness over the side, but the smell assured her she had reached the right place.

    “It’s only a river,” she reassured herself, though the observation brought her little comfort. Ravenous beast or churning waves, it would swallow her just the same. “Would it be better to drown or be devoured?”

    She turned to face her audience, but they paid her no mind. Not ten paces away, they shuffled their wings, dark feathers gleaming in the moonlight like polished knives as they pecked at a murky spot beyond. The play had been over perhaps an hour, and now she couldn’t even command the attention of crows.

    Her laugh brought a welcome puff of warmth to her lips as she turned toward the river once again. The night was worse than cold, it was merciless, and it carried with it a dampness that seeped into her every pore, chilling her to her bones and invading her weary heart. Perhaps she would freeze before she could drown.

    The bridge was famous as she was, a dubious honor. The fastest way between London and the poorest boroughs to the south, the city’s whores frequently threw themselves off of it as they returned home from long days servicing the wealthier streets in rented gowns and sagging feathers. It got them all, in the end. Perhaps it was not the easiest way to go, but it was there. Living the way they did, all that silver had to look tempting from time to time.

    What was an actress but a whore? Her father, a playwright, loved his quill to distraction but had nothing but disdain for the painted players who brought his words to life. The last time she had spoken to him, he’d asked her that very question and Charlotte, in her wisdom, had asked him why he had married one.

    “Prescient as ever, Father,” she addressed his memory, straddling the railing of the bridge, the only barrier between her sort and their inevitable end. She didn’t want to die, but what choice did she have? Cast out by her lover and sacked by her theater, she had no family, no income, no future. All she had was an expanding belly and a week to vacate her rooms.

    “A week until Christmas,” she muttered. “Prick.”

    She didn’t kid herself she’d be able to get back onstage after the baby came. After ten good years of drawing crowds, she was already being replaced by younger, fresher women, actresses from the country who couldn’t enunciate if she took their jaws into her own hands and moved their lips herself, but didn’t London love a new face? She’d passed for twenty-two for years now, but it was only a matter of time until someone remembered she’d been nineteen ten years ago. Christ.

    Before long, she’d be little more than a buttock broker’s bunter. If her child survived, it would be destined for the workhouse.

    That was not something she could abide.

    “Wesley Thomas Cheltenham Sneed,” she seethed, searching her overdeveloped imagination for a curse befitting the man who had abandoned her, noble in birth if not character.

    She let out a long sigh. There was no point to it.

    She had met his betrothed. He deserved precisely what he was getting.

    The sound of wheels popping over the stones startled her and gripped the edge, struggling to keep her balance. Oddly enough, she didn’t much care for the idea of falling in.

    She clung to her perch as the coach passed, hoping the darkness would shield her from prying eyes. What would it matter if they saw her, really? She was just another Drury Lane Vestal succumbing to the inevitable, after all.

    Her jaw clenched in protest at her morose line of thought. She didn’t really believe that, did she?

    The wheels stopped.

    “Miss Halfpenny?”

    Charlotte turned as she heard her name.

    The coach was old and cumbersome but meticulously maintained, set high above the street on wheels the size of card tables. Unadorned but for a coat of lacquer, it was dark as the team of blacks that idled before it. The door stood open and a man leaned out, his youthful appearance illuminated by the glass-encased lantern swinging from a hook on the side.

    He regarded her with an expression caught somewhere between confusion and terror. “Might I be of assistance?”

  2. Hmmm. In this bit, Rand Wheatly has come to town planning to find work for the mother and son he found squatting in his house during his absence. He doesn’t want to simply throw them out, particularly with winter coming on, but he does want them gone. If he can get them settled, he can be rid of them. It doesn’t go well.

    “Wheatly!” The greeting filled Rand with distaste. He turned around to see Douglas Gibb following him. Gibb eyed Drew with a curl to his lip.

    “You hiring out boys now?” Gibb asked. He managed to caress the word ‘boy’ just enough to be insulting. Drew moved closer to Rand.

    “This young man is a friend’s son,” Rand lied without thinking, eager to turn the conversation.

    “Friend? Didn’t know you had any.”

    Rand ignored that salvo. “What do you want, Gibb?”

    Gibb reached over and squeezed Drew’s good arm. “Scrawny, but I suppose he can work. Mill can always use good hands. Who owns him?”

    Anger threatened to choke Rand. The only thing he despised more than a lying woman was a man who bullied those weaker than themselves. Douglas Gibb’s bullying terrified half the village. A man lost a hand in his mill a year ago. Gibb withheld his past wages “’cause he damaged my equipment.” The man died and his family almost starved until they got passage to Montreal and on back to Ireland.

    “No one owns him, and he isn’t desperate enough to slave in your mill,” Rand spat. He turned away and began to tie up his saddlebags.

    “Keeping him for one of yours?”

    “What do you mean, mine?”

    “Everyone knows you’re moving into the timber business. Bought land up north haven’t you? How many acres do you have?”

    How the hell does he know all that? Rand shouldn’t be surprised, though. He had been quietly buying up acres of timber for four years in modest transactions, making use of the earl’s money to augment his own. He doubted anyone knew the full extent of it—five thousand acres of heavily timbered land. He wasn’t about to show his hand until he had all the pieces in place to begin harvesting, and transporting. Milling too. It would dwarf Gibb’s little business.

    He lifted Drew up to the saddle and jumped up behind him. “You know everything, Gibb. You tell me.”

    The man’s sneer didn’t waver when they rode away.

    “You trying to find me work?”

    “Yes, but not from that man. You’ll need to help out when your mother moves into town.”

    “She won’t.”

    “What do you mean won’t?”

  3. What went wrong? Muahahaha, I’m writing about a man for whom virtually nothing ever went right. 😉 For the purposes of the exercise, however, I hope you don’t mind my sharing a passage from “The Long Shadow”.

    It’s not exactly the exact moment things go wrong, but it represents the moment John and Mary’s life teeters on the edge of disaster. Set in February 1793, it depicts Mary attending the Queen and Princesses, who have gone to Greenwich to watch the Duke of York embark with his troops for Flanders at the very start of the French Revolutionary War. If you don’t know how the Flanders campaign ended, you can probably guess (badly). Anyway, here’s Mary experiencing a sense of foreboding (and apologies for the length):

    “A band played a jaunty march. Flutes whistled; horns sounded; drums beat. The King appeared, on a white charger, his portly form wearing the scarlet of a general’s uniform. The Duke of York rode behind, his round, youthful face bright with excitement. Next to him was the Prince of Wales, dressed in the dark uniform of the 10th Light Dragoons. Behind them marched the Foot Guards. Their boots struck dust from the road as they marched to the stately beat of ordinary time.

    The King and his sons the turned this way and that to acknowledge the acclaim. When they caught sight of the Queen and Princesses waving their handkerchiefs from the window of the Governor’s house they removed their hats and bowed. Strains of “God Save the King” wafted through the cheering crowd.

    ‘The Duke looks so handsome,’ Georgiana whispered to Mary. Mary nodded, but kept her eye on the fifteen-year-old Princess Sophia. At the sight of her father and brothers the poor girl had gone white and started to teeter. Mary was certain the Princess was about to faint. Her gaze crossed with that of Princess Mary. Some message must have passed between them, for the Princess stepped forward and took her sister’s arm.

    The soldiers began to enter the flat-bottomed boats. They behaved as though they were on holiday, waving at the crowds and joining in with the patriotic songs. To Mary’s eye they were not quite sober, many moving in a markedly sinuous fashion. One or two stumbled out of line and were beaten back by their outraged sergeant.

    ‘Why are those men not marching in a straight line?’ Princess Amelia said, loudly.

    The Queen’s fan stopped whirring through the air. The Princess Royal, holding her younger sister’s hand, froze. Mary thought quickly and said, hurriedly, ‘They are overcome with the honour of Your Royal Highness’ presence.’

    Amelia looked satisfied and turned her large blue eyes back to the spectacle outside. Mary saw the relief cross the Queen’s face before the muscles tightened back into a neutral expression. Princess Augusta, on the other hand, looked across at Mary with a twitch that looked perilously like the beginning of a grin.

    The last men were embarking now. Only the Duke of York remained ashore. Mary watched the young general in his gold braid, the scarlet of his coat stark against the white road. He looked like a boy about to go on an adventure. When his turn came to board the boat he waved one last time at the crowds. The “huzzas” launched in response were deafening.

    ‘Isn’t it marvellous?’ Georgiana whispered again. ‘So moving.’

    Mary said nothing. Fifteen hundred of England’s best troops had just embarked amidst a show of loyal fervour.

    “O Lord our God, arise,
    Scatter his enemies
    And make them fall…”

    All outside was holiday, the sun high in a blue winter’s sky, and yet Mary shivered as though a shadow had fallen across her. The soldiers on the transport decks blurred into one indistinguishable mass, their coats as red as blood. She felt that her fate were somehow bound up with them, as though if they fell they would take her with them.

    Behind her, Princess Sophia groaned and collapsed in a dead faint.”

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