Category Archives: Excerpts

Progression of a Scene: Layer 2

I have integrated my rough-drafted conversation into my narrative flow on novel restart 3.0. Here was layer 1 of my revisions/cycling edits (where you go in and edit the last scene you wrote before you start writing again, as opposed to saving all editing for after the final draft – I am a cycler, which may be why my final editing session changes so relatively little if I got the story right). Below is where the scene stands now after I went in and drafted in my narrative writing. I decided I didn’t like their banter broken into verse, so I took that out. I need to make one or two more passes through this scene, but I will likely doit  on the novel-wide edit. Primarily I need to add in more physical description of the world around them (as opposed to merely character blocking and expressions), and I need to dig out the sexual tension if more physical description doesn’t do that.

This should offer you a better sense of how I write. I have to build my writing out from being nothing but a narrative inside a character’s head to something that creates a followable story.

LEGEND:

[bracketed comments] = editorial aside explaining what I did if it’s not a textual change that can be noted by changing the color of the words involved

black = original words

blue = compositional mode additions

red = editorial change

To recap the scenario: a masquerade. Their Lord and Lady Winter costumes match; hers, intentionally, because she wanted to match a man from her past and thinks the hero is he. He’s not. He takes her for a courtesan he’s supposed to meet there. She’s not.

Up close, she was beautiful.  Her eyes were startlingly blue, almost like faceted sapphires, and framed by dark lashes so long and so curled they brushed the top of her mask’s eye holes.  The skin around the silver papier-mâché was fine-grained and glowing.

The bosom which had caught Lysander’s attention across the room looked magnificent at touching distance.  He simultaneously wanted to yank down the fabric covering her and leave that perfect frame in place while he lost himself inside her.

He had no idea where John—or Tristan—had found such a creature or what she must have cost, but Lysander was unequivocally, profoundly grateful for her presence, and for the smirk that remained on her lips throughout his perusal.

He should speak.  The two of them could not simply stand there in the midst of the ballroom staring at one another, and he had been the one to approach her.

Unconsciously, Lysander smiled his most charming smile before voicing any words. Then he recalled his mask.  He left the expression in place anyway as he greeted her with a shallow bow.

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,” he said, reaching for the one bit of poetry he knew that might suit her attire. he murmured as he stood, offering the one poetic reference he could bring to mind that might refer to her costume.  “Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.”

“Do you not think yourself unkind to speak to me of your ingratitude?”

Her question took him aback. Had she been inconvenienced to come tonight? Had he been hard to find? [paragraph break]

While he parsed the meaning of her words, their cadence struck him. She’d replied in the same meter his verse quotation employed, with a slight pause to emphasize her phrasing—she meant to speak in verse. It was a parlor game he knew well from his sister. She always won. He wondered how he’d fare against a lady of the night. Dismally, most like, if she were an actress.

Lysander framed an iambic reply anyway. After all, she might be a dancer.

“Then should I simply note that you’re well met, my lady fair?”

The smirk deepened. “Well met, indeed, my lord.”

He held her gaze. “Am I your lord?”

“Tonight it doth appear you are.”

A chorus of angels could not have sounded sweeter. Lysander took half a step closer—an inch more, and he would have his shoes under the hem of her gown—and tipped his head down to keep their eye contact. She was not breaking it, and he could not bring himself to. He inhaled and smelled roses and some winter spice. Her body was a warm glow against his chest, discrete from the heat of the crowd.

“Then how shall I best please my love?”

“A kiss to shame all lovers here; but first a dance to cast all dancers in despair at their incompetence.”

Damn all, she must be an actress.

“A feather to your cap, my dear,” Lysander saluted, “for I cannot compete with prose so fine.”

She shook her head, mirthful. The movement drew his eyes to a strand of paste diamonds winking in her hair like snowflakes under the candles. “A sorry piece of prose, good sir, for by my count we doth converse in verse.”

“My lady has a clever mind, to match her dex’trous tongue.”

“And know you this because you dream about my tongue?” Her tone was as bold as her words. Every look she gave him from beneath those dusky lashes promised everything he wanted.

Lysander leaned in and lowered his voice. “For cert, my love: the fairest of its kind have I encounteréd.”

“A pretty piece of flattery, if true.” Bold to coy in ten syllables. Definitely a demoiselle of the stage.

He spread his arms. “Can you doubt me?”

“I have done nothing else since took you leave to speak.”

“But why? I’ faith, my lady, I have only ever spoke spake my heart’s confession.pax! I concede. oh, damn all! Pax; I concede.Damn it! Pax, my lady; I concede. You have mastered me.”

She laughed in victory. “’Twas ever thus, if I recall.”

She must win as often as Miranda. Lysander harrumphed. “No one likes a braggart.”

“In a woman, you mean. Men may, of course, talk all night of their exploits without receiving censure.” Her words, Lysander noted idly, flowed despite her no doubt assumed—or, at least, adopted—accent, with no hesitation over her vocabulary. In speech she was more than passable for a lady.  But that much was to be expected; no abbess would allow one of her girls to masquerade amongst the ton if she could not play the part.

“Mayhap,” he replied, glancing around them at the couples beginning to form up. A new set must be about to start. “I, however, prefer to spend tonight in exploits, not in talk.”

Ever a Always the man of action.”

Lysander shrugged, once more meeting her eyes. “Better a man mere master of action than a king of unmet dreams.”

“Am I just a footnote to your action, then? And here I thought myself a dream.”

The words, the tone, the smile—all were drenched in a wistfulness that made Lysander’s chest ache. He grabbed her hand and pulled it against his racing heart. “My lady, you would be a dream to any man, and me especially. Yet, this is proof” (he squeezed her hand) “you are no mere vision, so action you must be—aye, but the pinnacle and the point, and not a sorry postscript.”

For a moment her eyes looked haunted; for an instant the light shimmered wider across her irises. Then she dropped her gaze to their linked hands.

“Your talk of postscript makes me sad. Let us dance, if we aim to.”

And she was right: there were the opening strings of a quadrille.

[right now that is the scene in entirety, where it begins and where it ends. I might add a bit to it – not sure yet. That’s for another night’s work!]

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The Progression of a Scene

Since my original post of this excerpt was a true rough draft – which for me means basically dialogue, void of physical grounding, blocking, and character thoughts – I thought it would be fun or at least informative to show what I do in editing* to make it an actual narrative scene and also how I tweak it to make it that 3% better. (*I say editing…in reality it’s what I do when writing. I have mentioned before that I have two modes of writing, compositional and inspirational. This scene was written in the inspirational mode, so primarily what the changes will be are what I add when I integrate it into the narrative in compositional mode. I also tend to tweak wording as I go along, rather than only in a formal editing pass, so most of these word swaps would naturally occur in the drafting phase rather than the editing phase.)

I will copy this post and publish a new version as the scene changes, so that each layer of tinkering can be viewed discreetly.

LEGEND:

[bracketed comments] = editorial aside explaining what I did if it’s not a textual change that can be noted by changing the color of the words involved

black = original words

blue = compositional mode additions

red = editorial change

To recap the scenario: a masquerade. Their Lord and Lady Winter costumes match; hers, intentionally, because she wanted to match a man from her past and thinks the hero is he. He’s not. He takes her for a courtesan he’s supposed to meet there. She’s not.

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,” he said, reaching for the one bit of poetry he knew that might suit her attire. “Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.”

“Do you not think yourself unkind [line break – trying out a means to emphasize the poetry. Not sure I will keep it]
to speak to me of your ingratitude?”

Her question took him aback. Had she been inconvenienced to come tonight? Had he been hard to find? While he parsed the meaning of her words, their cadence struck him. She’d replied in the same meter his verse  quotation employed, with a slight pause to emphasize her phrasing – she meant to speak in verse. It was a parlor game he knew well from his sister. She always won. He wondered how he’d fare against a lady of the night. Dismally, most like, if she were an actress.

“Then should I simply note that you’re well met,
my lady fair?”

“Well met, indeed, my lord.” [increased indent, again to emphasize verse…all or none will be kept in the end]

Am I your lord?”

“Tonight it doth appear you are.”

“Then how shall I best please my love?”

“A kiss to shame all lovers here; but first a dance
to cast all dancers in despair at their incompetence.”

“A feather to your cap, my dear, for I
cannot compete with prose so fine.”

“A sorry piece of prose, good sir,
for by my count we doth converse in verse.”

“My lady has a clever mind, to match her dex’trous tongue.”

“And know you this because you dream about my tongue?”

“For cert, my love: the fairest of its kind I have I encounteréd.”

“A pretty piece of flattery, if true.”

“Can you doubt me?”

“I have done nothing else since took you leave to speak.”

“But why? I’ faith, my lady, I have only ever spoke spake my heart’s confession – pax! I concede.  oh, damn all! Pax; I concede. You have mastered me.”

“’Twas ever thus, if I recall.”

“No one likes a braggart.”

“In a woman, you mean. Men may talk all night of their exploits without receiving censure.”

“Mayhap. But I prefer to spend tonight in exploits, not in talk.”

Ever a Always the man of action.”

“Better a man mere master of action than a king of unmet dreams….”

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A Parlor Game in Iambic

I don’t normally post exerpts from a work in progress. It seems dangerous to assume any of it will remain the same between the writing and the publishing…arrogant, perhaps, like I could jinx myself. But this one tickled my nerdy bone, and the amusement of it does not rely on context but simply on the text. Also this started entirely by accident…I knew he initiated a conversation with that particular quotation, because I knew she replied about ingratitude, and I just let them talk from there and scribbled down what I “heard.” After about two exchanges, I noticed they were both speaking in iambic, or damn near it. Always fun when characters do something cool without your intention! So I ran with it. You can see below the point where I stopped writing in full prose style and just started transcribing their conversation. The main point of the scene is them having two different conversations via subtext, hers about what happened between them in the past (well, between her and the man she thinks he is), and him about what he assumes will happen between them in the imminent future. Pray, enjoy my deathless prose verse!

The scene: a masquerade. Their Lord and Lady Winter costumes match; hers, intentionally, because she wanted to match a man from her past and thinks the hero is he. He’s not. He takes her for a courtesan he’s supposed to meet there. She’s not.

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,” he said, reaching for the one bit of poetry he knew that might suit her attire. “Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.”

“Do you not think yourself unkind to speak to me of your ingratitude?”

Her question took him aback. Had she been inconvenienced to come tonight? Had he been hard to find? While he parsed the meaning of her words, their cadence struck him. She’d replied in the same meter his verse employed – a parlor game he knew well from his sister. She always won. He wondered how he’d fare against a lady of the night. Dismally, most like, if she were an actress.

“Then should I simply note that you’re well met, my lady fair?”

“Well met, indeed, my lord.”

Am I your lord?”

“Tonight it doth appear you are.”

“Then how shall I best please my love?”

“A kiss to shame all lovers here; but first a dance to cast all dancers in despair at their incompetence.”

“A feather to your cap, my dear, for I cannot compete with prose so fine.”

“A sorry piece of prose, good sir, for by my count we doth converse in verse.”

“My lady has a clever mind, to match her dex’trous tongue.”

“And know you this because you dream about my tongue?”

“For cert, my love: the fairest of its kind I have encounteréd.”

“A pretty piece of flattery, if true.”

“Can you doubt me?”

“I have done nothing else since took you leave to speak.”

“But why? I’ faith, my lady, I have only ever spoke my heart’s confession – pax! I concede. You have mastered me.”

“’Twas ever thus, if I recall.”

“No one likes a braggart.”

“In a woman, you mean. Men may talk all night of their exploits without receiving censure.”

“Mayhap. But I prefer to spend tonight in exploits, not in talk.”

“Ever a man of action.”

“Better a man of action than a king of unmet dreams….”

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Twelfth Night – First Scene

Olivia Gardener is the toast of London.  Charismatic and beautiful, she can command the attention of every man in the room—except the one she wants.  But when a risqué wager threatens to end in scandal, will her old friend prove she already has his heart and save her from her own folly?

London, 1818

Miss Olivia Bellatrix Gardener was in the mood to behave badly.  It was a mood she knew well, for she was a fickle creature of mercurial temper.  That was a known fact of her character. 

In fact, it was part of her charm.  And she was quite charming.  Everyone thought so.  With rare exception, none of them notable, people liked Olivia.  Well.  Men liked Olivia.  Some women found her antics amusing and some found them inspiring, while others were jealous of her admirers, her beauty, her confidence, her…impunity. 

Olivia did not much care for the opinions of those women.  They could not control her entrée into the drawing rooms and salons of London so long as she did not step beyond the bounds of acceptably high spirits.  Olivia knew that line within an inch, and she walked it about that closely.  But as long as she was on the right side of it, the women did not matter.  The men mattered.  They had the titles.  They had the power.  They had the right to choose—and they chose her.  They liked her.  They liked the heavy blonde hair she knew how to toss just so, and the green eyes that glowed with enthusiasm or mischief, because Olivia had only two moods:  delight or bedevilment. 

She was never sure what brought about the latter, but it had ruled her since she was a child.  She was helpless to deny it and rarely tried. 

Olivia could not, in point of fact, remember ever trying to resist misbehaving once the mood to make trouble struck her.  Surely there must have been times when, as a child, she had thought better of one or another of her schemes…but she could not recall the occasion now.  What she remembered instead were the innocent capers of a high-spirited girl—taking her father’s hunter for a ride and leading half the grooms he employed on an hour-long chase.  Stealing a jug of hard cider before Twelfth Night and spending her twelfth birthday getting roaring drunk.  “Falling” out of the boat on a lazy lake outing because she’d accidentally seen Viscount Mabry’s son, Francis, swimming the day before and had wanted to try it for herself.

Her punishments had never been severe enough to curb her behavior.  They had taken the form of extra lessons, usually, so Olivia was set to reading books her twin didn’t have to and plunking at the pianoforte for hours more than Viola played her harp.  But their governess had to discuss the books with Olivia to be sure she had read them, and extra music lessons meant extra praise when she played well.  She hadn’t been allowed to ride for three months after the hunter incident, but when the privilege was reinstated it came with a new horse, one energetic enough to keep her busy during a ride so she wouldn’t feel the need to take out one of her father’s horses because her own placid pony “bored” her. 

Between the lack of significant consequences and the almost compulsive grip of her mischievous moods, Olivia had never found a reason to fight them.  Perhaps if she had any real notion of what caused them, even, she might have resisted better.  But the smallest things could cast her into that hell-bent mindset.

Tonight, for example.  Olivia had no idea what had turned her mood.  There she was, on her way downstairs, excited and glowing with enthusiasm for the Twelfth Night masquerade—also her nineteenth birthday celebration—the first one dressed and mad with impatience for the festivities to start.  Then she had heard her father’s voice, and after just a few eavesdropped words she had noticed how much her shoes pinched and how the edge of her domino cloak was scratching her arm and how a pin was digging into her scalp intolerably.  Suddenly she almost hadn’t even wanted to go to her own party.  Her delight in the evening ahead vaporized under the heat of discomfort and petulant dissatisfaction, and it sent her back up the stairs in a pout over her hair.

“What is it, darling?” her mother asked when Olivia burst into her dressing room.  Anne Gardener sat at her vanity while her abigail coiled and twisted her hair into a dozen or more ropey strands.  Mrs. Gardener was masquerading as Medusa, complete with fake snakes that attached to her headband and kohl-darkened lips. 

“There is a pin stabbing into my scalp most distractingly.  Millie will need to re-dress it,” Olivia lied.  Exaggerated.  There really was a pin stuck a bit too hard into her hair.  It was just one that she likely could have adjusted herself without damage to her coif…but if she had done that, then she’d have had to stay downstairs.

“Francis, you know we have discussed this before, and we both thought it best to wait a bit longer.  But I no longer see the need for delay.  Viola has not shown a particular interest in any man this year.  She has not shown a particular interest in men, period.  I see no reason for you to put off your suit any longer.  It is my hope, in fact, that you will make your offer presently.”

Her father’s words of but a few moments past.

Olivia did not want to be downstairs for their consequences.

 “You’ll have to wait until I am dressed,” her mother decreed.  “Arthur was expecting me down—”  She turned her head just slightly, just enough to read the clock out of the corner of her eye.  “—five minutes ago.” 

Olivia sulked, exactly as her mother expected her to for being made to wait.  Anne had no idea, of course, that Olivia had reasons for wanting to wait.  For dragging her feet about attending her own party.

Olivia tried to think about why that was as she watched Millie’s deft hands tie off yet another braid of Anne’s long, light brown hair.  Olivia and Viola’s hair, too—fine and slightly waved, too golden to be a true brown and too dark to be a true blonde.  Perfect English hair, to complement the creamy perfection of their rosy skin.  His English rose garden, Arthur liked to call them.

Why his pronouncement to Viscount Mabry should have soured her mood, Olivia did not know.  It was nothing she hadn’t expected since she and Viola came out last spring.  Francis had been expected to marry Viola for two years or more, after all, waiting only her formal debut and a nominal chance to peruse her options.

Not that Viola had taken the chance.  She was a veritable wallflower, while Olivia was the reigning queen of the debutantes.  In truth, Olivia felt a little bit sorry for her sister.  She hadn’t really become acquainted with any other man, which meant she would marry Francis without knowing if there might be someone else she would prefer.  And Francis was—well, Francis was Francis.  It was a little difficult for Olivia to judge him as the world must, because she had known him her whole life, or close to it.  He was the family friend, older, wiser, and childhood hero to both girls.  Olivia had looked up to him just as Viola had—but he had only ever tried to play that part for Viola.  It was a heroism that came at the cost of painting Olivia as the villain.  In his eyes she had been too reckless, too rash, too headstrong, and Francis had wanted to protect her sister.  From her.

Viola had never complained about where Olivia led her.  Francis was the only one who seemed to mind….

__________________________________________

Want to know more?  Twelfth Night is available now through these fine ebook retailers:

And be sure to check out Viola’s story, What You Will, as well!  (Also available via Smashwords and Amazon.)

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What You Will by Lily White LeFevre – first scene

Viola Gardener is tired of living in the shadow of her vivacious twin. When her parents host a Twelfth Night masquerade, she decides to dress up as the one thing sure to catch the attention of the man of her dreams: her sister!

 

What You Will by Lily White LeFevre

 

London, 1818

 

Miss Viola Alexis Gardener carefully examined her appearance in the cheval mirror. 

She looked…daring.  Almost scandalous, even.  Last century’s styles had been much more revealing than the current mode even in England, and her silk and lace concoction was based on a French design.  The full skirts were heavy and awkward for a girl used to the relative freedom empire gowns offered, but their flare made her waist look ridiculously narrow.  And the top…good heavens, the top.  Her bosom threatened to overspill the rim of the bodice when she breathed, even with the two inches of lace her mother had insisted the dressmaker add to attempt a reclamation of modesty. 

Viola reached up and tied her matching mask into place, then put her hands back down and reconsidered her appearance.

She looked…mischievous.  The mask covered only her eyes and half of one cheek, where the dyed leather curved down in a fanciful curlicue, while a pair of peacock feathers flared in opposite directions over her temple on the same side.  Through the eyeholes her irises gleamed back, greener than their usual hazy mix of green and blue thanks to the surrounding color.  She looked mysterious and playful at once, although considering how easily identifiable she would be in such a brief mask, Viola wasn’t sure how she could also look mysterious.  It wasn’t like anyone was going to mistake her for someone else.

At least, not someone besides Olivia. 

Viola tilted her head and smiled flirtatiously.  She looked…like her sister.  It was undeniable.  This was a dress that people would expect to see Olivia wearing, not Viola. 

Her mind stuck on the thought.  Perhaps it was just the tightly drawn hairstyle, pulling at her scalp and making her lightheaded.  Perhaps it was the excitement that accompanied a masquerade ball, and Twelfth Night, and her birthday, making her giddy.  Perhaps it was simply that she was tired of being good.  But for any of those reasons, or none of them, Viola suddenly felt reckless. 

She felt like acting like her sister, to go along with the costume.  She knew exactly what she wanted to do, too:  get Leighton’s attention. 

Leighton, she sighed to herself.  Leighton Fortesque, Lord Carrick.

His name had used to make her smile, eight months ago when she had first met him, golden and laughing and touched by the devil.  Back when he had been merely Francis’s best friend.  Before he had become one of Olivia’s admirers.

If Viola were an ounce more sociable, she might have taken his interest in her sister as a sure sign he would be interested in her, as well—after all, she and Olivia were identical.  But Viola was not her sister, was nothing like her sister, in fact, and so she could not believe that his partiality for the elder Miss Gardener would extend to the younger.  She had no hope of pulling his attention off of her vivacious sister and onto her own silence.  She did not know how to do it, and had too little hope of success to even try, and so she had let her come-out Season pass by in a wave of commonplace greetings and sightings across the ballroom that gradually went from exciting to painful as her own obsession with him deepened and his indifference to her grew more marked.  He was one of the men who gravitated to her sister at any social function and, like all the others who did so, ignored Viola.  For all that she looked exactly like Olivia, and was therefore imbued with the beauty they all claimed Olivia had, Viola was in essence a wallflower.  Ignorable, and, therefore, ignored.

But tonight…tonight, she looked like her sister.

Tonight she could claim his attention for herself.  If she did, perhaps she would be able to keep it.  If she couldn’t win him even as Olivia, she would know there was no hope for Viola and banish his image from behind her eyelids at night.

Viola gave her reflection a wicked smile, and Olivia smiled back.  She was ready for the masquerade.

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