Your story needs a pulse, a ticking clock running in the background. Like a time bomb, this sense of urgency is quietly unrelenting, pressing the story forward.
Think of suspense like the tempo of a song, the thing that causes you to tap a foot, even without meaning to. Readers might say they want “Happy People in Happy Land,” (hat tip to James Scott Bell), but they don’t. Without a looming crisis, a story becomes flat and uninteresting.
On the other hand, continual, unrelenting drama is exhausting, which is what comic relief is for. Give the reader an emotional break, while that story clock continues to tick quietly. The Mercy’s Embrace books have Jane Austen’s Sir Walter Elliot and Mary Musgrove. Darcy By Any Other Name has members of the Bennet Family, Lady Catherine, and (of course), Mr. Collins.
There are several ticking clocks in Darcy By Any Other Name, the most prominent being the body swap. How much damage will Mr. Collins cause Darcy before they switch back? If they switch back! And, oh no, Elizabeth Bennet is falling in love with the wrong man! But wait, he’s Darcy, so he’s the right man! Well, kind of. Arg! We want handsome Darcy!
Here’s an illustration of comic relief from Chapter 9. Notice how the ticking clock is woven into the scene, running silently in the background. What if Darcy-as-Collins betrays himself? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Or wait, that might be disaster.
William Collins was probably as ignorant about billiards as he was about everything else. It would never do to show skill, or even aptitude. While the lamps were lit and a second footman ironed the green baize table, Darcy selected his cue stick. He made an awkward business of it, first gaping at the rack like a yokel and then taking down one stick after another. He asked a greenhorn’s questions, too—about the cue ball, the spot, the red ball, and the rules by which they would play. Bingley showed remarkable restraint, answering each of his questions with kindness. At last Darcy became ashamed of himself.
Collins’ hands were not as large as Darcy’s, so he chose a stick with a smaller shaft. And he made sure to hit Bingley’s ball during the lag, giving his friend the advantage. Darcy hesitated and chewed on his lower lip; he moved around the table and sighed like an old woman.
But once the game was in play, long years of habit and competitive spirit took precedence. Without thought, Darcy assumed the correct striking stance; his follow through was straight and relaxed and therefore all wrong. He felt Bingley’s eyes on him as he moved round the table. Blast!
And so before he took the next shot, Darcy chalked up with vigor, twisting the chalk on top of the cue stick like a rustic. He then studied the position of the balls from multiple angles, leaning over the table and waggling his hind end to and fro.
He heard Bingley choke back laughter, disguised as a cough.
When Darcy finally took his shot, he struck the ball with an abrupt hit so that it bounced. A foul! Fortunately his stick did not damage Bingley’s baize-covered table.
Charles took his shot and then set aside his cue stick. He said, with studied nonchalance, “Bye the bye, how is Miss Bennet?”
Darcy’s stick went clattering to the floor. So the wind was still in this quarter, was it?
Tomorrow’s post is V for Vulnerable. Because even the most heroic hero has foibles.
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