Who wins? Who loses? What risks does your lead character run?
Because the encounter with Love causes men and women to change, oh yes. Men become fearful of loss, and they are more careful, more purposeful. Women become bolder and more outspoken. The risks your hero and heroine take to pursue happiness are both the heart and the fun of romantic comedy.
And your lead characters should be larger than life. That is to say, interesting to read about. This is where I found myself when writing Elizabeth. She’s quite sure that her opinions are right—and so am I. But unlike me, she dares to say what she thinks. And she’s beautiful enough, and socially secure enough, to get away with it. Ha!
We see her take a risk in today’s excerpt. Her father’s foolishness has brought financial shipwreck, and with time running out Elizabeth steps up to defy him. We know her plan will end in disaster, but we identify with her desperation…and keep turning pages to see what happens next.
On Saturday morning Elizabeth was up at first light, both from necessity and the state of her nerves. Everything depended upon how she handled her father. She could not order a travelling coach, but he could—indeed, he already had—and what could be easier than to arrange a change of destination? Nevertheless, it was a tricky bit of business. Elizabeth’s conscience was already smarting under the lies she must tell.
They aren’t lies exactly, she reasoned, as she went over the plan. Her most pressing worry was whether she could keep the various stories straight. She would simply be visiting a friend. Surely there was nothing wrong with that.
From her pocket came Miss Bingley’s letter. Elizabeth had to smile at her own ingenuity. What could be better than to hear from a friend at an opportune time? Instructing Elise to wait, she collected her things and left her bedchamber.
It so happened that she reached the landing just as the foot-boy came up from the kitchen with Sir Walter’s breakfast tray. She took it from him. She would deliver it herself and inform him of her departure. She went along the corridor and rapped on his door. Fortunately, he was awake. Ignoring his protests, she proceeded to unload the breakfast things. After placing his teacup on a small table beside the bed, she brought the pot and filled it.
“There is something I’ve been meaning to discuss with you, Father.” She took up her own cup and settled into the nearby chair. “Are you feeling well enough for conversation this morning?”
“Well enough? Of course I am well enough.” He gave her a scowling look. “If I appear unwell, it is because I am unused to being accosted at this ungodly hour!”
“Ah, but I am compelled by necessity. I have been invited to visit a friend of mine, Miss Caroline Bingley. You remember Caroline Bingley, do you not?”
“Bingley?” Sir Walter puffed out his cheeks. “I do not recall any Bingley.” He took a cautious sip of tea.
“We have met the Bingleys during our visits to London. Caroline’s sister is married to Mr Hurst. Surely you remember Mr Hurst?”
“Bingley? Hurst? Sir Walter brought out his handkerchief. “Bah! Mushrooms, all of them! Parvenu! Pigs in clover!”
Elizabeth set her cup in its saucer and waited.
“Guttersnipes!” he continued gleefully, beating the bedclothes with one hand. “Upstarts! Vulgarians!”
“Miss Bingley’s brother has taken an estate in Herfordshire,” Elizabeth said. “Or is it Derbyshire? Bah, it makes no difference; I am not going to that place. Miss Bingley lives in Grosvenor Square.” She paused to allow the effect of this prestigious address to sink in.
Sir Walter’s brows went up. “Good gracious, Elizabeth, you cannot mean that frightful, over-dressed creature! A jeweler parading his wares could hardly be worse!”
Elizabeth had to smile at this home assessment. “Dear Caroline does tend to over-do a little.”
“And she is hideously ill-favored, besides!”
“And who taught me the advantages of being seen with such a woman? For by comparison…”
“Yes, well…enough of that,” he said.
“Caroline’s invitation came last week. Surely you remember me mentioning it.” She had done no such thing, of course. Let him think he was losing his memory! “And,” she continued, “because we have already arranged—and paid for—the traveling coach, I think it best that I make use of it today.”
Sir Walter lowered his cup. “Make use of what today?”
“The coach. To visit Caroline Bingley in Grosvenor Square.”
“Ah, but I sent word yesterday evening,” he said. “The coach will not come.”
Elizabeth had intercepted the message before it went out. “I do not know about that,” she said. “But the coach is here now, and I intend to make use of it.”
“Do you mean alone?” Sir Walter’s face grew red. “Nonsense!”
“Now, Father…” Elizabeth laid a hand on his arm. “Remember what the physician said.”
“Don’t you “now, Father’ me, miss!” he said, drawing back. “I am not a child to be coddled! Or hoaxed!”
Elizabeth met his scowl evenly. “Nor am I.” She lifted her teacup and said serenely, “Richmond is not so far; Miss Bingley and I will attend my Lady Claverling’s rout-party on Tuesday night. All of London will come, of course. They always do. Except for you and I, who have never before been invited.”
Sir Walter’s complexion paled; he now looked every bit the invalid.
“I understand Lord Burnham will be there,” continued Elizabeth. “He lost his wife last winter, poor dear. Perhaps by now he is wishful to find another?” She set down her cup and saucer.
“Not alone!” said Sir Walter. “Elizabeth, you shall not travel to London alone!”
“Of course not. I shall have Elise and old John with me. And did you not engage a reputable coach for us?”
“It will not do!”
Elizabeth rose from the chair. “I am very much afraid it will have to do, Father. Mary will arrive by…” She hesitated. When would her sister arrive? Would she even come at all? It could not be helped. “Mary will arrive by tomorrow night to look after you.”
“Mary?” he cried. “What do I want with Mary?”
“She will keep you well entertained with all the news of Uppercross, I am sure. And I shall return from Caroline’s within the week.”
“Elizabeth! You may not go!”
“I have no choice, Father,” she said, “and neither do you.” Her voice became sharp. “Before the spring is gone I shall have another birthday. I’ve not much time to find a husband. And my new clothing, which was such an extravagance,” her voice now shook, “will be outdated by summer’s end. I cannot wait for another opportunity like this one.”
“Opportunity?” he cried. “You call this an opportunity?”
“I am leaving now,” said Elizabeth, “so I must bid you adieu. Give my love to Mary.”
Sir Walter sent the bell pealing for Roberts; Elizabeth nearly collided with him in the corridor.
“Father’s in a temper, Roberts. Best not to mind what he says. Come, Elise,” she called, and ran down the two flights of stairs to the waiting coach.
Up next for S, Sensible Suspense.
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Rough a Course by Laura Hile, 2009]