It’s the point in the story where everything goes suddenly and terribly wrong. The hero and heroine are parted. Their relationship, so bewitching and wondrous, is at an end.
Of course it isn’t, and the reader knows it. But you must be on top of your game as an entertainer and make her think it is. In other words, your problem can’t be fake or contrived. The abyss must be real, the bleakest moment must be dire.
And the heroine must take matters into her own hands. Somehow, some way, she must act to bridge the gap and set into motion Happily Ever After. If there is a miracle deliverance, be realistic. Look, you know how answers to prayer work in real life. They’re always shockingly unexpected and come at the last desperate minute. Why should the Almighty be boring, right?
When it comes to sharing an excerpt, I’m kind of stuck. First, because I can’t post pages and page, and second…well, because I don’t want to spoil the fun of my novels! So I’ll give you a scene where something goes wrong, and then Elizabeth is forced to act. It’s not exactly The Bleakest Moment, but it’s fun.
So I borrowed Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice—as a social climber, she’d fasten on to the daughter of a baronet, right? You will see how much Elizabeth likes that! The two are at a house party, each scheming to snare a husband. Caroline might have money, but Elizabeth has the breeding and the looks. And she has caught the interest of Patrick McGillvary. Poor Elizabeth is beginning to discover that an intelligent man (unlike the men of her circle) is both unpredictable and fascinating. His letter had an enclosure, but you’ll have to read the book to find out more.
Elizabeth quelled an unladylike impulse to dig an elbow into Caroline Bingley’s side. The pew was uncomfortable—anyone would agree to that—but it did not give Caroline leave to squirm so! Elizabeth folded her hands piously over her mother’s open Testament and turned her attention to the sermon.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ…
Elizabeth stifled a yawn. Miss Bingley twitched once more. Perhaps because of her own recent misfortunes, or perhaps because she was in church, Elizabeth chose to be charitable. No doubt Caroline’s bony posterior was the cause of the trouble. She gave Caroline a sidelong look. That one should be thin, pigeon-breasted, and devoid of taste were heavy burdens for anyone to bear. Elizabeth’s pity was short-lived, for she then remembered that Caroline was arrogant, opinionated, and possessed a truly handsome independence. The rector continued with his reading.
…who died for us that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
Whether we sleep? The man should take a hint and finish up! Another text was announced, and Elizabeth directed her attention to her mother’s Testament. What a very good thing it was that she’d thought to bring it. It was obviously well used, as Mrs Rushworth had no doubt noticed. A folded square of paper fell from its pages. It was the note she’d received at breakfast. Elizabeth slowly unfolded it.
My Dear Miss Elliot,
It appears that you were right. Overzealous suitors are everywhere it seems—even in a moonlit garden. I cannot issue you a cutlass, which you would doubtless handle with aplomb, but this should do the job in a pinch. Aim for the eyes, Miss Elliot and do not hold back, no matter whom your opponent may be.
“My dear, what have you there?”
Elizabeth looked up. Caroline Bingley’s fingers were fastened on a corner of the letter. She pulled playfully at the page. “Eliza, she whispered. “What is this?”
“Nothing! Nothing at all!” Elizabeth tightened her grip. But her gloved fingers could not keep hold; she felt the paper slip.
“Don’t keep secrets! Let me see!” Caroline pulled harder.
Elizabeth flushed, aware of curious looks. “Caroline, please!” she whispered back. “You are causing a scene!”
“You are causing the scene, dearest. Let me see!”
The rector brought his sermon to a close. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Out of habit, Caroline and Elizabeth joined the congregation in saying, “Amen,” before resuming their tug-of-war.
After the hymn was announced, the congregation stood. Caroline gave another pull. Elizabeth held on with all her might. There came a tearing sound and an audible gasp. The rector glanced up with a look of reproof.
Elizabeth kept her gaze focused on the altar as she sang, leaving Caroline to fumble with the hymnal. Let Caroline be blamed for tearing up a prayer book! After all, she was the one holding the torn paper! One question burned in her mind: exactly which part of that letter did Caroline have?
Up for Monday, the importance of running Risks.
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Rough a Course by Laura Hile, 2009]