Making a Start

Sometimes starting is the hardest part of writing a novel (read more about that subject here). That’s seems to be the case this time. At least I certainly hope it gets easier going forward!

I knew I wanted to write a Sense and Sensibility novel, as I told you back in June (post: What’s Next?). Then after your feedback, I settled on telling Colonel Brandon’s story. (Proposed title: Colonel Brandon in His Own Words.) I will delve a little deeper into his backstory – his relationships with his family and especially with Eliza, a bit about his army years, returning home to find Eliza dying, his inheriting Delaford. Then his life is reanimated by meeting Marianne – their relationship evolving from one-sided through to mutual love and marriage. Everything from Brandon’s point of view and in His Own Words.

I looked forward to filling in all those blanks – the stuff Jane Austen only hinted at, just as I did in my previous book (Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words). But still I couldn’t seem to get started. First roadblock: some research, which is not my forte. Another challenge was deciding at what point in time to open the book.

I didn’t want to start at the beginning of his life, writing the book like a perfectly chronological diary: “I was born October 19, 1778…” After all, authors are always told that we should start our stories where the action is. That’s something I haven’t always succeeded in doing. Of course, neither did Jane Austen, so I don’t feel too bad about that.

I could start close to the end and tell nearly everything in retrospective; that would be another perfectly viable option.

But I think I’m going to start in the middle instead, at Colonel Brandon’s point of crisis, when he’s sure he’s lost Marianne forever. There are actually six days between when he goes to Elinor to confirm that Marianne is going to marry Willoughby (“Tell me then, Miss Dashwood, please. Is everything finally settled between them?“) and when he learns that Willoughby is actually engaged to Miss Gray.

What a miserable week that must have been for him. Plenty of time to think through all that has gone before as well as the bleak outlook for the future. So that’s the situation in the excerpt below. Hope you enjoy this sneak peek! Then I’ll want your opinion.


It is happening again, and I suddenly feel very old. Although I survived it once before – just – I have the gravest doubts that I can do so again. Some days, I do not even wish to.

The circumstances are quite different this time, it is true. But the pain is the same – the sudden wrenching in my gut each time I think of it, which I do nearly every minute of every day; the repeated jolt of panic in my brain, which tells me that I must do something to stop it; the hollow ache in my heart and the certain knowledge of my own pathetic powerlessness. It is all too familiar, for once again the hand of the woman I love more than life itself is being given irrevocably to another, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

It is no doubt weak and self-indulgent, as I have repeatedly told myself, but my mind will persist in entertaining questions of morbid curiosity. I cannot seem to help asking if, overall, it is better or worse this time. Is my disappointment more or less profound, the circumstances more or less regrettable? Will the resulting pain last as long as before and leave scars as deep?  

On the surface, the current event appears worse – at least for myself personally – for I shall not only have the pain that she is lost to me forever but the additional mortification of knowing she does not care for me. Well in fact, she thinks nothing of me at all. So, God willing, I shall be the only one to suffer, which was not the case before.

Poor Eliza. I would not wish Marianne Dashwood to experience the same fate, not for the world. In fact, that must be my chief consolation: knowing that she is happy, even if it must be in the arms of another man. I would willingly sacrifice my own happiness and more if it would secure a lasting one for her. And yet who can say that her current bliss will endure, dependent as it is upon a man of whom I have every reason to think ill? And so my mind cannot by any means be easy for the future – hers or my own.

I’m still very open to suggestions at this point, so what do you think? Is this a good way to start the book? Does it capture your interest and make you want to read more, or not? Do you think it’s cruel of me to leave poor Brandon stuck in this painful place for so long? But then, that’s another bit of writing wisdom: You must torture you hero/heroine before giving them their happy ending. And of course there will be a happy ending!

Colonel Brandon… was silent and grave. His appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.  – Sense and Sensibility

Making a Start

About Shannon Winslow

author of historical fiction in the tradition of Jane Austen
This entry was posted in excerpts, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Making a Start

  1. John Rieber (aka John Karlsson) says:

    This sounds like a great project and a great approach. I will read the “beginning of your beginng” when I have a little more time, and post a comment. (Please remind me if I forget.)
    Colonel Brandon is my favorite character in my second favorite Jane Austen novel (my favorite is P&P). When you’re done with Col. Brandon, maybe you should have a try with Colonel Fitzwilliam.
    I was a military man myself, although not as a career. I think that the mid-20th-Century U.S. Army Reserves were a bit like the British Militia of the early 19th Century.

    • I’ve enjoyed writing Colonel Fitzwilliam in my P&P books, where he features pretty prominently. But, yes, a whole book would be a fun challenge. I’m determined to do an Emma book, though, so Mr. Knightley may be up next!

  2. ptrollan says:

    Will love reading this! I sent you an email. Blessings and happy writing! Phyl.

  3. Stephanie L says:

    I am quite the fan of Col. Brandon. Though I always feel he deserves to be loved by someone a bit less…dramatic…than Marianne. LOL perhaps because I am more Elinor than Marianne. That said, I think it’s a great way to start his story. He is once again in the throes of it and that propels us both forward and back. I’m looking forward to spending time in his head!

    • Glad you’re liking the approach, Stephanie! But I do understand your other comment. I, too, am an Elinor, and I seriously considered writing a book where she ends up with the colonel. However, all my other novels supplement canon instead of changing it, so I’m sticking with that for now. 😉 At least by the end, Marianne has matured a bit and is perhaps more deserving.

  4. taswmom says:

    I love that beginning! From there it should be easy for you to backfill whatever is needed, but it immediately grabbed my attention and interest!

  5. Billie Barrett says:

    I found the beginning interesting. There are a lot of paths to follow from your Prolog. Colonel Brandon is a very good character to expound on. There is not a lot we learn about Col. Brandon’s past in JA’s book. Even though his that is laid out in the her book leaves plenty of room to enhance on his past life and go where ever you wish with his future. It is easy to understand that, yes, he loves Marianne but in the small recesses of his mind he has some doubts. He can’t help it. That’s the way a military mind might work. If I was going to marry Marianne I would have a few lingering doubts myself. He does love her very much and he knowns that she needs him as much as he needs her. This is only my own interpretation of your thinking in the very beginning. That is one of the reasons I love JAFF books. JA left a lot of room for reworking and/or adding to all her books.
    Best of luck. I hope your new book does exceptionally well.
    Be safe – be healthy.
    Billie Barrett

  6. sheilalmajczan says:

    I avoid reading excerpts as I read so many books I can’t remember what they said when it comes time to look at buying or borrowing that entire story. So I will wait. I have enjoyed your stories and know you will do this man justice. Good luck with the writing and the release.

  7. Carol Lisa OBrien says:

    Hi Shannon, I enjoy your writing and C Brandon and Marianne are among my favorite couples. Personally, it is hard for me to engage with a character’s suffering right at the beginning because I read for happiness. I would be interested in seeing Brandon’s first reaction to Marianne and following it from there. My guess is that he would not spend much time analyzing his own feelings toward her, positive or negative; they are just there and he is powerless to do anything but good towards her due to his strong traits of duty and goodness. My two cents! Good luck with your book!

    • I like your idea, Carol, and I will give it some serious consideration! I don’t like to “dwell on guilt and misery” either, so perhaps starting with that sets the wrong tone. Hmm. You’ve certainly given me something to think about!

    • If you’re still listening, Carol, I wanted to let you know that I just wrote the first meeting between Brandon and Marianne, as you suggested. At least for now, it’s chapter 1, so you won’t have to go far to get to it! 😀

  8. Marie H says:

    I think it’s a perfect place to begin. I loved your last about FD and will look forward to reading this one too! Carry on!

  9. pedmisson says:

    I liked it. I would start here and move forward and backward like when Eliza and Marianne are compared.

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