First words on WIP Wednesday

graveyard-wc1104wI tend to cast around for a long time till I find the start of a book—and even then, I often get it wrong, either deleting what I have in favour of a later passage, or writing something earlier that leads up to my original first chapter. As a writer, I want to start in the middle of the action, but in a place that lets me bring readers into the story quickly, without a lot of explanation. I want to avoid the acronym SDT in the margins. Show Don’t Tell. My friend and editor Mari Christie sends my drafts back with that plastered through them, but so far I’ve been able to avoid the dreaded letters in my first chapters.

So my methodology for starting a book is to write until I recognise the beginning, then second guess that decision once I’ve finished the first draft. Next month’s new release didn’t get its beginning until the final edit. The current work in progress still starts with the first words I wrote in May.

How about you? How do you begin? And does your beginning change as you work your way towards publication?

Here are the first words of A Raging Madness, the first draft I’m hoping to finish by the end of the month. As always, please post your extracts in the comments.

The funeral of the dowager Lady Melville was poorly attended—just the rector, one or two local gentry, her stepson Edwin Braxton accompanied by a man who was surely a lawyer, and a handful of villagers.

Alex Redepenning was glad he had made the effort to come out of his way when he saw the death notice. He and Captain Sir Gervase Melville had not been close, but they had been comrades: had fought together in Egypt, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Melville’s widow was not at the funeral, but Alex was surprised not to see her when he went back to the house. Over the meagre offering set out in the drawing room, he asked Melville’s half brother where she was.

“Poor Eleanor.” Braxton had a way of gnashing his teeth at the end of each phrase, as if he needed to snip the words off before he could stop chewing them.

“She has never been strong, of course, and Mother Melville’s death has quite overset her.” Braxton tapped his head significantly.

Ella? Not strong? She had been her doctor father’s assistant in situations that would drive most men into a screaming decline, and had continued working with his successor after his death. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really so he could chase whores in peace, without her taking loud and potentially uncomfortable exception. Alex smiled as he remembered the effects of stew laced with a potent purge.

Melville swore Ella had been trying to poison him. She assured the commander that if she wanted him poisoned he would be dead, and perhaps the watering of his bowels was the result of a guilty conscience. The commander, conscious that Ella was the closest to a physician the company, found Ella innocent.

Perhaps it had all caught up with her. Perhaps a flaw in the mind explained why she tried to trap Alex and succeeded in trapping Melville into marriage, why she had not attended Melville’s deathbed, though Alex had sent a carriage for her.

“I had hoped to see her,” Alex said. It was not entirely a lie. He had hoped and feared in equal measure: hoped to find her old before her time and feared the same fierce pull between them he had been resisting since she was a girl too young for him to decently desire.

“I cannot think it wise,” Braxton said, shaking his head. “No, Major Redepenning. I cannot think it wise. What do you say, Rector? Would it not disturb the balance of my poor sister’s mind if she met Major Redepenning? His association with things better forgotten, you know.”

What was better forgotten? War? Or her poor excuse for a husband? Not that it mattered,  any more than it mattered that Braxton used the rank Alex no longer held. It was not Braxton’s fault Alex’s injury had forced him to sell out.

The Rector agreed that Lady Melville should not be disturbed, and Alex was off the hook. “Perhaps you will convey my deepest sympathies and my best wishes to her ladyship,” he said. “I hope you will excuse me if I take my leave. I have a long journey yet to make, and would seek my bed.”


4 thoughts on “First words on WIP Wednesday

  1. I’m one of the people who can usually nail my opening right away, but it’s the other pieces – mostly in the middle – that need to be fixed and changed and shifted about. This is the opening to The Bride Price, which I hope NaNoWriMo will help me to finish this month.

    Lord Edmund Winthrop, Viscount Marbley.

    Emily Collicott whispered the name under her breath, her own voice added to the susurration of sound that rippled from one end of the ballroom to the other. From where she stood, she could not see him. There were too many other heads in the way, heads bedecked in various arrangements of ribbons and pearls and feathers. The feathers were the most dreadful of them all, flopping and tickling and occasionally smacking her across the face when she failed to keep a wary eye.

    Miss Fauntley had called on them this morning for the sole purpose of relating the news that Marbley had returned to town, after a nearly year-long sojourn in Paris. But he was back in London, the obnoxious Miss Fauntley had tittered between bites of marzipan and candied fruit. He was back, and his reappearance had succeeded in setting every drawing room abuzz.

    To tell the truth, Emily had found herself a bit underwhelmed by the news. This was her first season in London, and what was this Lord Edmund fellow to her but a tedious portion of gossip bandied about like a borrowed novel? But she was soon swept along by the bubbling, frothing tide of London society, and now that Lord Edmund Winthrop, Viscount Marbley had arrived in Lady Halloran’s ballroom, she craned her neck as much as every other young woman in order to gain a glimpse of his reputed beauty.

    He was tall, the women around her had whispered. He was broad-shouldered, another group had said. His hair was black as ebony, his eyes like amber pools, his nose a perfectly formed proboscis that would have sent the Romans into fits of envy. His smile was reputed to have caused no less than eight—eight!—young ladies to faint, leaving them as unresponsive heaps of silk and lace in his wake. He was witty. He was graceful. He was all that was kindness and benevolence.

    And he was here, Emily thought. Not more than half a ballroom’s length away from her.

  2. Oddly I sometimes get the opening first. That’s because the opening should get to the heart of the characters. I’m often right, although last time I flipped the first two scenes on advice of Mari Christie. She was right. This is the opening to The Reluctant Wife. I doubt if it will change, but we’ll see since I just backtracked 80 pages to take a different fork in the road.

    The captain leaned against an ornately carved pillar, around which numerous identical elephants marched in an orderly line, and blinked at the chaos in his inner courtyard. His rumpled clothing, obviously slept in, gave him the appearance of a care-for-nothing—at least they should have in Clare’s opinion. As it was, they hung loosely on his powerful frame and only added to a rakish air, as did the disordered, over-long auburn hair. Clare suspected the sun hurt his eyes and found it impossible to dredge up sympathy for the drunken lout. She pitied any woman who fell for his too obvious attractions.
    The dispute in his garden threatened to become physical and had already cost the captain some lovely spider lilies, which had been trampled. Two little girls, the ostensible causes of the contending parties’ care and concern, cowered in a corner where the elder tried to comfort the younger. Both looked terrified.
    Clare wanted to scream, “Do something!” at the worthless captain, but the shouting of the house steward, the retorts of the cook, and the wailing of the children would only drown her out. Reverend McKinsey’s attempts to preach above the fray didn’t help. She edged cautiously around the gesticulating steward, the irate cook, and the reverend, in an attempt to get to the girls.
    A gunshot stopped her in her tracks and made her heart stutter in her chest. She avoided dropping to her knees by sheer force of will, dove for the girls, and pulled both into her arms. They clung like limpets.
    In the silence that followed, only the quiet sobs of the younger girl, where she buried her face in Clare’s shoulder, could be heard. All eyes turned to the figure of the captain, one arm held high; smoke still rising from the horse pistol in his upraised hand.
    “What the hell is going on?” he demanded.
    The house steward stepped forward and bowed respectfully, hands pressed together. “Your woman is dead, Sahib,” he said woefully. Clare found the wizened old man’s sad posturing to be entirely false.
    “I know this, Prahdi, and I expected you to manage the thing without overturning my household.”
    As if the death of one’s mistress and nominal housekeeper didn’t disrupt it enough, Clare thought. Her scorn for the man deepened.

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