I learned to write by posting serialized stories on a Internet fiction forum. I have tried to step aside from this practice, but I just can’t. Having my work “go live” for a reading audience is just too valuable.
Through doing this I have come face-to-face with this important fact: my readers are smart. Ve-ry smart. In their comments, they can’t help guessing where the story might head next. (Wait, what? They figured it out? Dang.) Tell you what, their guesses keep me on my toes. Yes, my intelligent readers have made me a better writer. “Fiction for thinking readers” (see sidebar) has even become part of my brand!
Not that I take suggestions for where the story goes, but you know. It’s too much fun to keep readers wondering. Do I cackle as I type a scene for them? Sometimes I do!
So what have I written to foil readers? Aha, this, from Chapter 7 of Darcy By Any Other Name, is a deliberate tease. Everyone knows that in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins ends up marrying Charlotte Lucas. So when Darcy-as-Collins encounters her, it puts the Austen readers’ “Spidey-sense” on high alert. Because this Mr. Collins is intelligent and clever. Will Charlotte fall for him in earnest?
So occupied was Darcy with this new thought that he did not notice the presence of a seatmate. He glanced up to discover a young woman beside him on the sofa. She looked to be about his age. What was her name?
She leaned in to better see the cover of his periodical. “Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine. Addressed Particularly to the Ladies,” she read aloud, smiling. “Such fascinating reading, Mr. Collins. Are you enjoying it?”
La Belle Assemblée? He’d been reading La Belle Assemblée?
Darcy felt a blush rise to his cheeks, and he thought quickly. “Not in my usual line,” he admitted. “In fact, nothing female is in my line.”
“And now you are surrounded by us. Poor Mr. Collins. Are you a cat among pigeons? Or,” she added, “are you rather a pigeon among cats?”
Did Collins have sisters? Given the shabby state of his clothing, probably not. Darcy decided to risk it. “We have precious few girls in my family,” he improvised.
“I see.” Her smile was kind “So this is the perfect opportunity to investigate feminine reading material.”
Though not beautiful, she was most understanding. It seemed she would not make sport of him before the others. They’d been introduced, he knew it. If only he could recall her name!
“If I might make a suggestion?” She took the magazine from him and turned it right-side up. “Elizabeth dislikes being observed so closely.”
“I…” he began, and stopped. Had he been so obvious?
“Perhaps we might move to another location?” She indicated a pair of chairs on the other side of the room.
A gust of Wickham’s laughter sealed Darcy’s choice, and he cast the magazine aside. “That,” he said, “is an excellent idea. Conversation is more to my taste, and I have much to learn about Meryton village and its inhabitants. I expect that you,” he added, “are an expert.”
He rose to his feet and offered his arm. Sudden memory brought a wave of relief. “Lead the way,” he said, “my dear Miss Lucas.”
Tomorrow’s post for P is Pain. There’s nothing like a little suffering to sweeten the ending, right?
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