Back in the McDaniel days, Jenny Cruise once told us a story about a book she was writing that wasn’t working. She had her friend Lani Diane Rich read it, who said the main character, Liz, just observed other characters’ problems; she didn’t have any of her own. Lani suggested that Jenny throw a rock at her character, figuratively speaking. Jenny decided to write that into the book, almost as a joke, and it ended up becoming a key scene:
“I took another step and then something definitely moved in the dark at the side of the house. It was just a shape in the shadows, but it was there.
“Hey!” I said, and started toward it, and something came winging out of the dark and landed in the dirt beside the walk. “Hey!” I yelled and bent over to see what it was, and about the time I registered that it was a rock from my mother’s rock garden, something smacked me hard on the temple and the lights went out.”
I’m in need of a big rock and I think I figured out where to throw it: Susannah’s engagement.
As I read through my manuscript from beginning to end, I’ve been playing with the idea that Susannah’s uncle announce to the public at his first opportunity her engagement to the viscount, rather than having it happen later in the book (as it is currently written).
To help me figure out whether or not this was a good idea, I made a list of things that might happen (particularly related to conflict, i.e., action/reaction, as I discussed in last week’s post) depending on which way I go. I’m looking for “rocks.” Those events that will shake things up.
If Uncle Announces the Engagement Later
- Why would he want to do this? What is the compelling reason for staying silent? To not draw attention to himself or Susannah? If so, why?
- Nate can be angry with Susannah for not revealing this piece of information when he began courting her; it throws a wrench into his plans, albeit later in the book (and in a different way)
- It’s easier for Susannah to find a husband when no one thinks she’s already attached to someone else. Her choice of suitors is “better” (more men of quality vs. those who would willingly interfere when she’s already engaged — does that matter?)…too easy for Susannah?
- It’s easier for Nate to court her. (There’s that word again: “easy”)
- Does her engagement not being announced give her uncle more reason to keep her housebound? Does this matter?
If Uncle Announces the Engagement at Once
- This seems the most likely thing the uncle would do to put off any other suitors/interest and “brand” his niece as the viscount’s intended
- This can be particularly complicating for Nate if he meets her first, thinks she’s hot, then finds out not only does he have to woo her, but she’s engaged! It also gives the guys at the Home Office a clear view into her uncle’s motivation to marry her (they presume his motivation to bring her back to England is to get his hands on her dowry, but they have no proof)
- Because Susannah is engaged, it will make it difficult for Nate to justifiably be near/with Susannah, particularly in public. Must he enlist his sisters for help? How does their involvement make things easier/harder/more complicated, particularly for him (i.e., his sisters wanting to pair him up with Susannah)?
- Because Susannah is branded “unavailable,” it will make it harder for her to find a decent husband-in-name-only of her own. This could set her up for only attracting the dregs of society, men willing to defy her uncle/the viscount in order to snag her fortune. Makes for slim pickings and hard choices (and if Nate scares them away, too, all the more conflict).
- It gives “permission” for the viscount to take liberties with her (however, this can work against the viscount — for reasons I won’t reveal online ‘cause it’s kind of a secret I’m trying to keep about this book — the only one)
- Her uncle can restrict her movements out of the house unless she’s with the uncle/viscount (but I suppose he could do this whether or not her engagement is public)
I think that the right thing to do to amp up the conflict (but make my job as a writer harder) is to announce the engagement at once. NYT bestselling author Sarah MacLean said, “Every bit of conflict must work to bring the hero and heroine together.” By throwing a big rock at the beginning, I’m hoping it will create the additional conflict I need to force my hero and hero together under circumstances that lead to more sparks between them.