20,000 Words

So I'm digging into my new novel, tentatively titled The Duke Who Never Forgets.  I've always been a plotter, and I pride myself on building at least one cool 'twist' into every book I write. With The Orphan Pearl, the twist comes when you find out exactly why the hero, Luke, is so convinced he's on the lookout for an orphan girl when he ought to be on the track of the Orphan Pearl.  This was my take on the Big Misunderstanding.  My attempt to write a story where two smart, intelligent people are kept apart by one crucial piece of misinformation.

With Sweet Surrender, the twist comes when Adam is accused of murder.  He'd been making love with the heroine, Caro, when the crime was committed and he's too honorable to name her as an alibi.  Caro has to choose between her reputation (which is everything to a Victorian debutante) and Adam's life.  That leaves Caro face to face with the reality of love for the first time - caring about someone else's welfare more than her own.

I suppose that's not a 'twist' twist.  It's more of a proper twist when Caro finds out that the thuggish boxer who attacked her in the first scene is actually a courtesy earl and heir to the dukedom of Hastings.  But for Caro the murder is a revelation.  It turns everything she's ever known about herself on its head in the space of an hour.

In my current book, The Duke Who Never Forgets, the big twist is front-loaded.  The hero, Julian, inherits a dukedom after his predecessor commits suicide.  But one look at the old duke's suicide note and he knows it was forged.  If the suicide note was forged, the previous duke was murdered - and Julian knows who forged the note, so he's pretty sure he also knows who murdered him.  Namely, the heroine.  Sophie.

So I like this twist and I like where it goes.  Sophie didn't kill the old duke.  How is that possible?  Why would he pretend to commit suicide?  Who's he trying to protect?  And who did kill him?  In order to find out, Sophie and Julian will have to dig deep into the past - and the terrible, bitter end of their youthful courtship.

As you can guess, this story has elements of mystery.  I'm building in clues and suspects.  Every character has a motive.  It's more complex than anything I've written before - and my stories are generally on the complex side.  I'm always struggling to make these complicated scenarios feel simple and obvious to the reader.

In any case, I need to write while I plot and so I'm trying to break the story of The Duke Who Never Forgets down into manageable chunks.  Hence the title of this post.  20,000 words.  I've got 20,000 words before Julian's going to realize that Sophie's not actually the murderess.

This is my favorite part.  When the hero and heroine are at opposite sides of a line in the sand, ready to do battle.  When there's attraction and chemistry but the characters won't admit it to themselves, let alone anyone else.  So now I get to ask myself: how much fun, awesome, enemy-lovers stuff can I do in 20,000 words?  How many ways can I find for my characters to lash out in frustration?  How many terrible, painful missteps?  How much worse can I make it, in such a short number of pages?

So, fingers crossed.  Hopefully this is the tool I need to divide and conquer.