Here is another excerpt from Be Still, My Heart (yes, I’m adding in the comma now). I’m more than halfway through the first draft. Right now, if I don’t go astray from my plot outline, I have about six-ish more chapters to write before I can type the words: THE END. The thing is, it’s the six most dark and emotional chapters. So this will be a challenge.
If you don’t have time to read the excerpt, skim down and read my thoughts on themes in stories. I’ve always wondered how writers moulded their story around a theme of their choice, or whether it just emerged as they wrote on. So I’ve written my take on this question.
BE STILL, MY HEART
Excerpt from Chapter Eight.
Henrietta and Lord Carlyle at a dinner party
Being a poor relation, it was her duty to be invisible to the party, so Henrietta retreated to the far corner of the room and pulled up a chair by the window. Sitting back in her seat, she watched everyone around her. She half wished she could join the card game. What would it feel like to laugh, gossip, and be so carefree? For the several years after her father’s death, she had neglected her social life, for she‘d always been with her mother, keeping the recluse company, feeling guilty each time she left her—for she was all her mother had, after all. Then, after her death, living with Rosaline had not given her any further opportunity.
Henrietta was cut short from her train of thoughts when a gentleman called out: “Here at last, Carlyle!” She glanced up. Her heart slammed against her chest when her eyes clashed with a pair of green eyes. Quickly, she dropped her gaze and stared at her hands. Looking at him—she felt as if she’d been caught committing a crime. However, driven by curiosity, she watched him from beneath her lowered lashes, as he moved towards the table where whist was being played. And then he paused. His hesitation spanned so many seconds that someone asked if he was going to join the game.
“If you will excuse me,” came his lowered voice, as he bowed out from their company, and began walking towards her. Her hand became clammy with anxiety. Her confusion only accumulated when the Earl pulled out a chair and drew it right next to her. And there he sat down. Henrietta could not help but frown as she peered up at him. His muscles were tense, his face expressionless, as he stared out the window.
“Why are you alone?” he asked.
For an odd reason, she found his question very humiliating. “Why should you care?”
“You’re right,” he murmured. “Why should I care indeed.”
“I hope you know that you’re not doing a very good job at ignoring me.”
He glanced warily at her. “I beg your pardon?”
“You have been ignoring me all evening. Why the sudden attentiveness? If it is out of pity, you may take your leave, for I was enjoying myself without you.”
“I came to apologize,” he said stiffly.
She tilted her chin up. “Very well. I am ready for it.” When he only stared at her, momentarily at a loss for words, she arched a brow at him. “Well? Where is my apology?”
The hard lines of his face softened. “Miss Wilson, I pray you might forgive my behaviour,” he murmured, as a smile played at the corner of his lips. “Though I intended to ignore you for the rest of this evening, when I saw you all by your lonesome self, hiding away in this corner, I realized how brutish it was of me to withhold myself from your company.”
Henrietta didn’t know whether to be offended or amused. “That is not a gentlemanly apology.”
“Is it not?” His smile only lasted a moment longer before it faded away, along with that charming facade she’d come to learn was a mask, leaving a solemn looking man. He flicked a glance at the party before looking straight at her. Henrietta’s cheeks burned under his intent stare.
“I avoided you, Miss Wilson, so that I might avoid seeing your judgement of me. I am sure that the day you saw me last has led to my downfall from your good opinion. You said so yourself.”
His unexpected honesty chased away the insolence that had earlier clipped her voice. “My opinion is never etched in stone,” she said warmly. “One act of kindness wipes away the thousand wrongs made against me.”
His eyes drifted away as he muttered, “That is an admirable trait, Miss Wilson. But there are accompanying disadvantages. It allows for others to trample over you, because they know you are forgiving, and thus do not fear the consequence of their mistreatment.”
“But whose heart is at peace at the end of the day? The one who forgave or the one who added to his number of rivals? I assure you that the peace I feel in forgiving another makes up for the thousands of times I’ve been trampled over.”
He looked at her strangely. “Have you no pride?”
“And what right have I to any pride? My father once said to me that our life is but a dot in the span of history. Yet we labour to obtain glory for that one speck. Instead, he says, our mind must transcend this worldly perspective, and view ourselves as vessels of the Lord—”
“You say all this, and yet, I wonder at you meaning any of it.”
Her smile faltered.
“Just as I said to you once before, I think you are living this all in your head. But when reality arrives, when your dignity has been crushed to the point where you cannot even lift your chin, could you look at that man and forgive him?”
His words gave her pause. The first thought that crossed her mind was whether the Earl had his father in mind as he spoke these words. The second was that she had no recollection of ever being crushed. Wounded perhaps, but not destroyed. Yet, in all the instances when she had been wronged, her grudge against the inflicter had never hardened into hatred. With time, she had always forgotten their offence. So, surely, if such a day arrived—she would be able to forgive?
“Why does my lady hesitate?” Lord Carlyle whispered, his dark eyes upon her.
“I suppose you must wait and see then,” Henrietta finally answered. “Wait until such a crisis strikes me and see whether I am able to act upon my words. Until then, you may doubt me all you wish.”
His voice was deep, but gentle, as he said, “I sincerely hope such a day will never arrive. But, should it come, I shall remind you of your words—and encourage you to stick by them.”
She smiled at him. “I would be very grateful if you would…” Her heart stirred with a strange emotion. She looked away, disturbed. Why, of all the people, was it always the Earl she had such conversations with? With others, she rarely spoke past the superficial matters of life. They never seemed interested in what she had to say. Or she could never seem to find to right words to express her thoughts. She tended to be a flower whose petals closed back into an ugly green bud. And yet, with Lord Carlyle, she could feel herself blooming.
When James says to Henrietta: “…But when reality arrives, when your dignity has been crushed to the point where you cannot even lift your chin, could you look at that man and forgive him?” my sister (the only person I let read my first draft) asked me if this was foreshadowing what was to come… My response was: Possibly.
Forgiveness is a reoccurring theme in both my books. It’s not that I purposely make it that way…it just…appears in my writing all the time. I wondered at this, and realized: if my life were turned into a book, love and forgiveness would be its most major theme. The climatic moment of my life (speaketh the 21-year-old who still hasn’t even reached the meridian of her life) was comprised of a tearful apology, answered by a forgiving embrace, which changed a heart hardened by years of contempt into one softened by love. And this event is what inspired a big chunk of BSMH.
What is a reoccurring theme in your book(s)?
During the earlier years, I would try to force a theme into my story, because I thought that was the way to go. But I found that you can’t let the story flow out from your heart when you’re constantly trying to force it to mold into/and compliment a certain theme. I truly believe now that a theme emerges in your writing because writing is a subconscious act. What is most important in your life, what has impacted you the most, what you value the most, is would brims over in your writing and becomes most prominent. And, voila, there you have it: The Theme.
Reading: Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson
A moving love story with grand melodramatic touches, Ramona was linked with Uncle Tom’s Cabin as one of the great ethical novels of the 19th century. A bestseller in 1884, Ramona was both a political and literary success and will continue to move modern readers with its sympathetic characters and its depiction of the Native American’s struggle in the early West.