My post “An Alarming Message (News about Chapter 1)” is already four months old. But I haven’t been idle: Besides having blogged enthusiastically on Regency Explorer, I have finished my second chapter. Here is an account about what happened at the writer’s desk.
In chapter 1, Lady Linfield was the leading character. She set out to arrange a marriage between her nephew Robert and a suitable bride. The Regency romance enthusiasts among us will quickly have figured out that Lady Linfield is not the heroine of the novel.
But who is?
I decided that chapter 2 is the place to introduce my heroine to the readers.
When you introduce a new character, the storyline comes to a halt. This halt can be very brief if the preceding chapter closed with the end of a scene or even in the middle of a scene, and the next chapter picks up a new scene with different characters. In this case, the halt merely is a switch from one scene to another. It allows speeding up the storyline. Thrillers are often written in that way.
The pace of a Regency novel is generally slower than that of an action thriller. So when introducing a new character, you can take the time and give some background information about him or her to the reader, for example in a flashback or by narrating important facts.
If you want to see examples of both approaches, have a look at Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Mansfield Park”. While the former starts right into a scene (after that famous first sentence, of course, and a short elaboration of it – about six lines in total), “Mansfield Park” first provides a great deal of family history.
A point to watch for every writer is how an arc of suspense can be build up after a report of background information.
The Arc of Suspense
How can there be an arc of suspense in a Regency novel when we all know that there will be a happy ending between hero and heroine?
Conflict is meant in a very broad sense. It can relate to disagreements or opposing interests of characters, or a dangerous situation a character has to escape from.
In my second chapter, the heroine is informed that she is required to enter into an arranged marriage. She does not like the idea at all, but the pressure is high. She must make a decision.
What are my heroine’s options in her situation, and how can they be used to create an arc of suspense?
She says “No, I will not!”
Interesting. Obviously, she is a strong character who is willing to contradict others and therefore seems suitable for a leading character. But be cautious: Her background and upbringing must enable her to act in this way (in the patriarchal Regency era!). If she is not equipped for it, she becomes implausible as a character.
“Of course, father. If you say so”, she answers.
Oh dear. That is boring. She is boring. Your reader will think the hero is probably boring, too, and start reading something else. You see: Once the reader knows what the heroine will do, the chapter (and maybe even the story) runs out of steam.
The heroine does not make a decision yet.
By not making a decision, I do not mean a meek “oh-what-shall-I-do-and-wringing-hands”. The reader would feel fobbed off by such aimless behaviour. Not making a decision rather means postponing it or attaching conditions to doing anything (i.e. negotiating). Uncertainty remains. The reader wonders if the heroine’s plan will work – and reads on.
When editing chapter 2, I decided to use this version.
Some uncertainty can be a basis to build an arc of suspense, as the future development of both the characters and the story are not limited by a fact put in stone.
Do not misunderstand me: The purpose of making your character postpone a decision is not to deceive your readers. If you describe a fact, it must be true. But things do not always happen in a deterministic order. In real life, people postpone decisions, change their mind, say this but prefer that, or start doing things without knowing where they go. A novel is more plausible and more entertaining if some things are kept open.
You can find additional information about creating the character of your heroine in my posts “Managing the Characters – Part 1 of 3: Attributes” and “Managing the Characters – Part 3 of 3: Sample Biography and Quiz“.
To explore certain aspects or opinions of a character, you can use the interview technique. Find out more about it in “Cross-Examining the Characters of Your Novel“.
Please feel free to download my free Character Matrix, an Excel-file helping you to keep track of your characters, their appearance and biography. You find it in “Managing the Characters – Part 2 of 3: Tools and Free Download”.