Thursday, September 22, 2011

When Editing Makes Babies Cry

Sunday I got notes back from one of my critique partners. The inline notes were minimal, but in her email, she mentioned some pacing problems she'd seen--problems I knew existed, but that I hadn't been able to fix despite trying.

The story moved too quickly from Darcy thinking about Elizabeth's words at Hunsford to her being at Pemberley. There was some reflection, but not much that showed why he might have begun to change.  This had been plaguing me for weeks, and it was the source of my problems with balancing the front and back halves of the novel as well. (Front half was about 55-58% of the story, way more than the 50% it should be.) 

I turned to another crit partner who happened to be online and asked for her thoughts, and she pinpointed one chapter that could be expanded on to show his thought process. Here's the original: 

None of these tasks, however, were capable of driving Elizabeth from his mind. When he walked the estate with his steward, he remembered Georgiana commenting that he needed a wife who could walk with him, and he thought again of Elizabeth and the walks they had shared in Kent. When he visited a tenant and awkwardly held the baby he was handed, he thought how much more comfortable he would have been with Elizabeth by his side.
It's not bad, but there's not much detail. The question became, "How can I expand that into something that really shows him missing her and beginning to take her words to heart?" In the end, this is what I came up with (please be kind, this is quite rough):

Richard left the following morning for the Fitzwilliam family seat near Matlock, and Darcy, in desperate need of distraction, threw himself into the affairs of his own estate. In consequence of his lengthy absences over the last year, there were many things that have been left unattended to.
 Nothing, however, could drive Elizabeth from his mind. With every task he completed, he was conscious of how much easier or pleasanter it would have been with her by his side.
 When he walked the estate with his steward, he remembered Georgiana commenting that he needed a wife who could walk with him, and he thought again of Elizabeth and the walks they had shared in Kent. How he had looked forward then to showing her the grounds of Pemberley and his favorite walks through the park. Those spots he had loved all his life lacked luster, now that he saw them without Elizabeth.
 Not long after his return to Pemberley, one of his best tenants celebrated the birth of his first child. By rights, the mistress of the estate would visit the family—but Pemberley had no mistress.
 When Darcy appeared on the Coombs' doorstep, the man could not hide his surprise. "Mr. Darcy!"
 "Good day, Coombs. I hear your wife has provided you with a son."
 Coombs snapped his gaping mouth shut and swallowed. "Yes sir. That is… Well, yes sir. May I ask, sir, why you are here?"
 Darcy raised an eyebrow. "I should think that obvious, Coombs. I came to congratulate you."
 Coombs nodded slowly. "Of course, Mr. Darcy. Would you like to come in and see James?"
 Darcy took his hat off and followed Coombs into the cottage. Mrs. Coombs smiled up at him when he entered. "Mr. Darcy, this is such a surprise!"
 He knit his brows together for a moment. Why are they both so shocked to see me pay this form of courtesy? 
Before he could think any more on the question, a babe was thrust into his arms. "This is our James—isn't he the sweetest lad you ever did see?"   
Darcy held the child six inches out from his chest, and when James yawned and stretched, he panicked. Please do not wake. But young James had not yet learnt that the master of Pemberley was always to be obeyed, and the tiny eyes opened. On beholding an unfamiliar face, the mouth opened in a wail that would have scared years off the life of a grown man, had he not known where it originated.
 Mrs. Coombs bustled over and took her child back into the comfort of her arms. "There there, Jamesey—Mama's here. You aren't afraid of Mr. Darcy, are you?"
 Darcy watched in wonder as the child immediately quieted and settled back to sleep. Never had he been more aware of his own awkwardness, or longed more for Elizabeth's ease of manner.
 The incident did not quickly leave his thoughts. Late into the evening he pondered it, always coming back to one thing: his own tenants, who knew him to be a generous landlord, had been surprised when he also showed them courtesy.
 "Your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance…" Was there truth in her words? Did he look down on those he saw as beneath him and not treat them with the same kindness he treated those of his own class?
 Darcy paced the length of his study, an empty brandy glass in his hand. How do my fellow landowners see me? Would they be likewise surprised to receive a note from me on the birth or marriage of one of their offspring? The answer came in an instant—they would not. Those common forms of politeness were de rigueur among the upper class.
 Am I then so caught up with social standing that I cannot offer simple congratulations to a family without it being a noteworthy event? Was Elizabeth right about me?
 Darcy had long acknowledged he had not the ease or openness of manner that many did, and of course he had pride in his family and his land, but he had never taken the time to consider how that was presented to others. In truth, he had never cared enough for the opinion of others to care what they thought of him, but now he wondered if it was more than how he appeared. Am I truly prideful?
 Over the next few weeks, he examined his interactions with all he met: staff, tenant, and landowner alike. What was his first response in all of these situations? Was it one of habitual pride? Did he consider himself so far above even his friends? Were Elizabeth's accusations true?
 Such self-examination is never a pleasant course of study, and therefore, Richard's return in late May was welcome for the diversion it offered. "Did you grow tired of your family so soon?" Darcy gibed when they were seated in the study.
 I had particular fun with the image of Darcy holding a squalling baby. Poor man... I do so love to torment him.

So class, what did we learn today?

  1. Pay attention to your gut. I knew from the start that I needed more here, and I never did anything about it.
  2. 2. Critique partners are worth their weight in gold.
  3. Editing makes small children weep.
Until next time!

PS: Don't forget, my giveaway of The Annotated Pride and Prejudice is still running.

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