What’s in your pocket? The Vikings on the Capital One credit card commercial will ask, their ‘pitch’ to us to make sure we have one. Right…
My question is to the writers – what’s in you head? Or more likely, who?
I had to write a short stint on how I came up with the idea for my debut novel. Interesting. Writers have different reasons, influences for their stories. A thought, a scene, a casual remark, whatever that gets us to stop, listen the voices inside our heads, which basically direct our hands on the keyboard.
Today, I’ll expose how I came up with the storyline for my Victorian novel, Great & Unfortunate Things. My agent at the time really likes stories set in England with lords and ladies and the hierarchy of English society. I’d just finished my Ancient Rome novel, not sure if I’d write the sequel right away so it was an opportune moment to suggest a novel. I wasn’t pulled back to Regency England but instead, a line from Sherlock Holmes where Robert Downey’s Holmes’ makes a comment about Watson’s service during the war in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan? In the 1800s? Hmmm…Yes, Watson was involved in the British Second Anglo-Afghan War, or The Great Game. Afghanistan was the battleground between Great Britain protecting her treasured India from the Russian Tsar who wanted to seize it. A game of espionage and intrigue prevailed and gave me matter for my story. My tortured hero, Tristan, was a soldier, a spy, in Afghanistan, forced to return home for a title he never wanted and as third son, shouldn’t have had to worry about getting.
The beginning of the story is the black moment, the defining set of circumstances that drive him through to the end. This is a dark Victorian romance with romantic suspense woven in. But how black can you go, right off the bat, and make the reader keep reading? Let me know & show me if you’ve set off one of your stories with an opening that would make a reader maybe not want more…
Great & Unfortunate Things –
Afghanistan, June 1868
The blade slid inside the skin with ease, like butter. Blood, deep red, seeped around the steel, spilling downward. The victim helped force the weapon into his own flesh but as the sword sliced through the skin and into the organs beneath, his hand dropped lazily. The muted gasp of pain, barely audible from the man kneeling before him, registered in the killer’s ears.
Tristan St. James stood, his hand on the hilt of the sword, every nerve inside him on fire. Appalled at what he had been forced to do, he fought against showing his anguish. If there was hell, it was here, on earth, right now in front of him. His vision blurred.
The man before him, Grifton Reynard, looked hard at him. As his robes turned crimson, he gagged and blood dripped from the corner of his mouth.
“Promise me you’ll take care of her,” he gritted out. “Promise me!”
“I promise. And I will find the bastard who did this,” Tristan hissed, his voice low and angry.
His friend gave a tense nod. He coughed, a rattling noise as he choked, blood spewing like a geyser from his mouth. It hit Tristan on his face, adding to the stream he bled from the face wound, and the front of his robes, staining the cream and maroon trimmed cotton. But it didn’t matter. He couldn’t move, his feet firmly glued to the hard dirt surface. Grifton fell backward, his body thudded against the ground, eyes opened but no longer seeing, his mouth askew, his lips and chin covered in his blood.
The sword fell free and hit the ground with a clank, as if it’d hit a rock.
His best friend, and his subordinate in this awful war of intrigue, lay dead before him. By Tristan’s hand. A pain, deep, gut wrenching and as violent as the act he’d just committed, seized his chest, strangling his heart. Swallowing hard, he shut his eyes for just a moment, an attempt to subdue the pain, to deaden it.
Unable to leave Grifton here, he bent and grabbed the man’s arms, yanked him up and threw him over his shoulder. The lifeless body hung like a sack of grain. Not that Tristan cared. No, his mind was assessing, reassessing and analyzing the material in his head. Like the cold-blooded killer they had made him, he narrowed the field of suspects who could orchestra this. Someone with everything to gain and more to lose if it failed.
No, he’d find out who had betrayed him and his men, the man responsible for their deaths – and kill him.