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