Chapter hooks on WIP Wednesday

McRae’s hotel after the eruption my hero and heroine are hiding from in the following scene.

I’ve evolved the tactic of not putting in chapter breaks in first draft. I just tell the story, and then I use the initial edit to reshape it, putting in breaks, baiting hooks at the end of chapters, and setting hooks at the beginning of the next.

I’ve spent a couple of hours today doing just that with a novella, so I thought chapter hooks might be quite fun. Please give me an excerpt from the start or end of a chapter, in which you intrigue your readers and pull them in. Mine is from Forged in Fire, my story for the Belle’s 2017 box set.

And the uncle and aunt abandoned her, ruined by their daughter’s lies and a conscienceless scoundrel, bereaved, poverty stricken. “I have been content, on the whole.” Tad was moved beyond words, her gracious acceptance casting sharp relief on his anger at the players in his own tragedy. And his break with his family had given him freedom, not enslavement to the whims of a cantankerous widow.

He rubbed his cheek gently on the soft hair that tickled his chin. She was wrong about her appeal. She might not have the kind of spectacular beauty that attracted fawning courtiers, but she was pretty. If she was his, he would dress her in colours that better became her. Green, perhaps, to bring out the green flecks in her eyes.

But she could not be his. So foolish to even think of it, when he was leaving New Zealand, heading back to the very Society that had wronged her fifteen years ago. He had no right to be holding her tenderly, caressing her, thinking about kissing her and more. He was no wild boy to act on this inconvenient attraction, this protective tenderness. But he didn’t let her go.

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Tender moments on WIP Wednesday

After several weeks of focusing on mayhem, I’m taking a gentler theme this week. Give me your tender moments. Perhaps between your hero and heroine, perhaps not. Two friends? A mother and child? Show me what you’ve got, and I’ll show you mine — this is from A Suitable Husband, one of my stories in Holly and Hopeful Hearts, and features my heroine in a vulnerable moment, being comforted by two friends. None of them know that my hero is listening at the door.

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“Do not cry, Cedrica. You are doing wonderfully well, and the duchess knows it. Lady Stanton will receive no support there.”

Cedrica? That cold-hearted bitch had upset his Mademoiselle?

“I agree with Grace, Cedrica. Aunt Eleanor shall give one of her deadly little set downs, and I should dearly like to see it. Here. Dry your eyes, darling. It shall all be well, you will see.”

consolationThen Mademoiselle’s voice, trembling with unshed tears. “You are right. I know you are. I do not know why I allowed her to upset me so. Only… I am just so tired of stupid conflict. This gentleman does not want to share a room with his wife. That one has kept every guest in his wing awake with his snoring. This lady cannot have the same breakfast as that one, and another must be served the identical tray, right down to the colour of the inlay. And as for the war between the kitchens! I swear, if I have to referee one more battle over who has first use of the lemon zester, I shall scream.”

Really? She was not enjoying their little dramas as much as the two combatants? Marcel frowned, and shot a glance both ways down the hallway to make sure he was not observed as he leant closer.

The two other ladies were making soothing noises, and offering to take up Mademoiselle’s duties while she rested.

“No, no. Aunt Eleanor would be so disappointed in me. Besides, you have your own tangles to straighten. Making sure that Lady Stanton and her cronies are not in a position to bully Miss Baumann, that Lord Trevor is dissuaded from taking out a gun, since he cannot see beyond the end of his arm and refuses to wear glasses, and that Lady Marchand can only cheat at cards with those who know her little ways.”

The three ladies laughed together, Mademoiselle’s chuckle still a little watery.

Her voice was forlorn when she said, “It was the other that hurt most, you know. Because it is true.”

More soothing noises, which she rejected.

“No. I am not a fool. I know that I have dwindled into an old maid. Well, look at me. Plain ordinary Cedrica Grenford. A useful person to have on a committee, but not one man has ever looked at me twice nor is likely to. I know Aunt Eleanor thinks dressing me up like a fashion doll and sending me in to talk to all these lords will turn me into a… a swan. But I am just a plain barnyard hen when you come down to it.”

Lady de Courtenay disagreed. “Oh but surely Lord Hythe—”

Another heart-wrenching chuckle. “See, his sister is shaking her head. And you are right, Sophia. Hythe is polite to everyone, and kind to me because I was at school with Felicity. He treats me as a lady, which is nice of him when I am, as Lady Stanton so kindly pointed out, merely hanging onto gentility by the charity of Her Grace.”

“Oh Cedrica…” That was both ladies. Marcel’s response to Lady Stanton’s cruel words would have been much more forceful.

“He does not look at me and see a woman. No one does.”

Lady Sophia spoke decisively. “You are blue-devilled, my dear. Who knows whether any of us will meet a man who can see past our elderly exteriors to the treasures we all are? And if we do not, you and I shall be old maids together.”

“Yes,” Lady de Courtenay agreed. “Perhaps we should set up house together? Certainly Sophia and I have no more wish to live forever on the sufferance of our brothers than you do on the Haverfords. Who needs men, after all? Selfish, conceited creatures, always jumping to conclusions.”

This time, Mademoiselle’s laugh was more genuine.

Lady Sophia said, “Rest for an hour. Read a book. I will order a pot of tea and some cakes, and Grace and I shall deal with anything that arises.”

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Scolds, gossips and harpies on WIP Wednesday

VFS109732 Ladies Gossiping at the Opera (oil on canvas) by Barnard, Frederick (1846-1896) (attr. to) oil on canvas 39.3x37.4 Private Collection English, out of copyright

Ladies Gossiping at the Opera, by Barnard, Frederick (1846-1896)
English, out of copyright

The scandalmonger is a staple of Regency romance. I like my protagonists (of either sex) with a bit more meanness to them, and lean therefore to malicious gossiping. But maybe yours is just a garrulous person, or a mother with a bit too much interest in the actions of her adult children. Or maybe your work in progress has an outright villain (male or female) who uses social position to exert power.

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Please share. Mine is an ex-lover of my hero, expressing her jealousy by supporting an attack on poor Ella, the heroine of A Raging Madness.

Ella, watching Alex treating a crowd of admiring females to his best imitation of a man pleased with his lot, was surprised when Mrs Fullerton spoke at her elbow. “Silly . He is being polite, of course, but I dare say our new Lord Renshaw is hating every minute.”

Ella controlled her surge of irritation. She had no place objecting to Mrs Fullerton’s possessive ‘our’, or her implicit claim to understand Alex. Diplomatically, she replied, “I was surprised at how quickly the news had travelled. He only heard this afternoon.”

“I owe you an apology, Lady Melville. I was very rude when we last met. I was jealous, you see. Alex never looked at me the way he looks at you.” Mrs Fullerton gave a deep sigh. “But one must accept reality. He has eyes only for you, and I was quite horrid. I am ashamed of myself, truly.”

She seemed sincere, her eyes meeting Ella’s, a tentative and apologetic smile just touching the corner of her lips. Ella suppressed the urge to ask how Alex looked at her, and gave way to the impulse not to correct Mrs Fullerton’s misconception about Ella’s and Alex’s relationship.

“We all do things we later regret, Mrs Fullerton. Think nothing of it.”

“You are very gracious.” Mrs Fullerton lifted her glass to her lips. “Bother!”  Somehow she had managed to spill quite a large splash of the drink on one shoulder of her gown, a red spreading stain against the pastel green. “Lady Melville, I hate to impose, but could you…”

What could Ella say? She accompanied Mrs Fullerton to the ladies’ retiring room, helped her sponge out the liquid, and waited by the door to the large drawing room while Mrs Fullerton went out to the front hall to retrieve a shawl to cover her shoulders.

She returned with a footman in tow. “Have you tried the punch, Lady Melville? It is strongly spiced, but hot and quite pleasant.”

She collected two glasses from the footman’s tray and pushed one into Ella’s hand.

“Drink up, Lady Melville, and then we shall go and rescue Lord Renshaw.”

It was over spiced, but Ella did not wish to be rude. She took a large sip, and another.

An instant before the drug in the drink hit her, she saw the flare of triumph in Mrs Fullerton’s eyes, and knew she had made a mistake. She opened her mouth to shout for Alex, but suddenly the footman had a hand over her mouth and another under her elbow, and was hustling, half carrying her through the door Mrs Fullerton held open.

“I will give you a few minutes to make it look good,” she said, and whipped out of the room, shutting the door behind her.

Ella was struggling against the footman and the fog trying to close in on her mind, the dizziness that wanted to consume her. She stamped at his foot, kicked back at his chin, but her soft indoor slippers made no impression. She squirmed, trying to jab her free arm as low as possible, and he twisted away with an oath, pushing her from him so that she fell face forward onto a sofa.

In an instant he was on her, tugging her head back by the hair, straddling her torso. “This will do well enough,” he commented, lifting himself enough that he could push up her skirt and petticoats.

Ella fought to retain consciousness, the pain of her pulled hair helping to keep her from sinking into the fog. “Scream,” she instructed herself, as her assailant’s free hand fumbled at her buttocks, and she shrieked as loud as she could.

Doors burst open: the one onto the hall and a double set into the drawing room next door, and the room filled with people.

It was her worst nightmare come again: the indrawn breaths of shock, the buzz of excited comments, the avid staring eyes. The last thing Ella heard before she sank into oblivion was the amused drawl of the man on her back. “Oh dear, Lady Melville. It seems we have been caught.”

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What’s up?

leonid_pasternak_-_the_passion_of_creationI’ve been neglecting you, and I am about to start doing better.

I’m blaming winter, a touch of ill-health, a busy time at the paying job, and the decision to first refocus Revealed in Mist, then to rewrite large chunks of it, and then—when I got it back from the developmental editor—to rewrite it again. (Revealed in Mist is the book that was Prudence in Love, and before that Encouraging Prudence, and before that Embracing Prudence).

At the current pace, I’ll finish the last rewrite this week, so expect to see the book at long last before the end of the year. But the long drought in book publishing has given me time to think about my future plans, and one thing I wish to do is be more deliberate about how I post on this blog.

I’m planning four regular posts a week.

I’ll be starting each week with a new feature post: Mondays for Tea with Her Grace the Duchess of Haverford. So on Mondays, I’ll be inviting other authors to bring a character to tea with my duchess, and to talk about their book or post an excerpt (or both).

On Wednesdays, I’ll be continuing Work-in-Progress Wednesdays, where I choose a theme and post an excerpt to fit that theme, and invite other authors to post their excerpts in the comments. I love reading everyone else’s snippets.

Friday will be research day. Footnotes on Friday will be the place I post little bits from my research that intrigue or delight me, and that I think you might enjoy.

And I’m saving Sunday for a post about writing. This might be a post on the craft of writing, or an update on my current projects, or an opinion piece about anything to do with writing or the romance genre or whatever else is on my mind.

How about subscribing to my newsletter if you’re not already on the list? The signup link is on the right menu.

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Entertainments on WIP Wednesday

_DDI5334At the weekend, I attended a workshop on Regency dance at the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference. And on the way home, I read Mary Balogh’s Only Beloved, which is partly set at a house party, where people find ways to entertain one another and themselves.

No tv, no internet, no radio. If you wanted music, you sang or played an instrument. The local sporting events were keenly followed. And gathering together often meant long journeys, so once people arrived, they made the most of it. The tutor at the dance class suggested that balls finished in the early hours of the morning, because people didn’t want to go home until dawn lit the sky and made travelling easier, and I’ve read that many country assemblies were scheduled for the two or three days around a full moon.

For today’s work-in-progress Wednesday, I have an excerpt from A Raging Madness. Alex and his family are taking Ella out in London. But any type of leisure activity anywhere in time or place is welcome. I’ll show you mine and you show me yours.

The event was a ball at Haverford House, a monstrous palace of a place and the home of the Duke of Haverford and his duchess. The Duchess of Haverford was an old friend of Lord Henry’s and welcomed Ella warmly.

“Henry has told me what you did for Alex, Lady Melville, and,” she gave her hand to Alex who bowed over it with courtly grace, “I can see for myself how much improved you are, you rogue. Lady Melville, you have my gratitude and my support.”

Her Grace was supported in the receiving line by the notorious Marquis of Aldridge, who greeted Alex with a nod, Susan with a peck on the cheek, and Ella with an elegant bow.

“I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Lady Melville,” he said, and Alex stiffened beside her, but the man’s flirting did not bother Ella. It was an automaton’s reflex, with no predator’s purpose behind it. Lord Aldridge was not interested in her.

Ella’s mourning precluded dancing, but she enjoyed watching the colourful couples turning and swooping in the patterns of the dance.

“Dance if you wish, Alex,” she told her escort when Susan had been swept onto the floor by a naval captain she knew. But Alex demurred. “I am claiming privilege of injury, Ella, and will beg you to come sit by me and keep me entertained while I rest.”

He did not look strained, or in pain. “Is your leg troubling you?” she asked, but he did not answer directly.

“Last time I danced, I could not walk at all. Did I tell you? I took to the floor in an invalid’s chair, with Jonno to provide the push.” He grinned at the memory. “Great fun, it was, with my partner standing on the platform of the chair to be twirled. It did not end well, sadly. A villain sabotaged the chair while I was at supper, and it collapsed as I threaded the line.”

He chose an alcove where they could continue to watch the dancers, and he told her more about his adventures in the resurrected chair.

“You may meet the maker when you come to Longford for Christmas. She is a frequent guest at the Court, I understand.”

Ella was intrigued. A maker of invalids’ chairs who was not only a welcome visitor to an earl and his countess but also a woman?

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Backstory on WIP Wednesday

mourning-picture-watercolor-and-gouache-on-silk-1810-nh-metpWe writers know a whole heap of stuff about our characters that never makes it into the final novel. We call it backstory, and every rounded character has one. The art is to trickle out just the facts the reader needs without making it boring, while hinting at further depth underneath.

So this week on WIP Wednesday, show me your backstory. It could be a scene that you have decided not to use, or it could be the trickle of facts that will probably make it all the way through to the final draft.

Whether the passage that follows will survive editing I don’t know. It’s the first few paragraphs of A Raging Madness, and I wrote them yesterday.

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 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 expected 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. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really because she took loud and potentially uncomfortable exception to his appetite for whores. 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. Ella was the closest to a physician the company had since her father died. The commander found Ella innocent.

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Missed opportunities in WIP Wednesday

regency lady and gentlemanSince I’m a day late, I thought I’d post a few lines about missed opportunities. This could be a meeting that didn’t happen, or words that were not said that could have saved a misunderstanding, or an action not taken, or anything else that could have meant the story’s happy ending came much sooner (bad for the characters, but great for the readers!)

Here’s mine. I needed two bits, from different chapters and different POVs. (And the incident they both refer to was last weekend’s Teatime Tattler post.)

As always, I look forward to reading your pieces. Please post in the comments, and share.

First Prue:

She would be calm; professional; indifferent. She would never let Shadow know how much she longed for him; how often she replayed that final scene between them, searching for the words that would lead to a different outcome. Perhaps if she had stayed… No. He had made his opinion of her quite clear, and she could not trust a man who did not trust her.

Then David:

He’d gone upstairs looking forward to seeing her again more than eagerly than he wished to examine. The guarded look on her face, the stiff way she held herself, stopped him in his tracks.

And her voice. Calm. Devoid of emotion. As if that passionate night had never existed. Or as if it meant nothing to her…

Perhaps, while David had spent five months longing for her, she had moved on, and his presence was an embarrassment.

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