Teaser: Be Still, My Heart

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.


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.

35 thoughts on “Teaser: Be Still, My Heart

  1. why aren’t you published yet woman?

    Themes..when I first started writing it was among my many many English classes that always (I thought) over analyzed every literary book they came across. Sometimes – a lot of the time – I would sit in class thinking, you don’t know so-and-so put this fish here to symbolize Christ, or this water doesn’t symbolize life. Sometimes a fish is a fish and water is water. Then, we moved to themes and I had the same arguments in my head.

    When I started writing I couldn’t write with a theme in mind because I would get preoccupied with making sure it came across correctly. So I wrote and wrote and the good people of FP found themes and foreshadowing I 1) didn’t intend and 2) didn’t even realize were in the story.

    BTW, I’m <3's James 🙂


    • “why aren’t you published yet woman?”
      RE: You flatter me, madam. Hopefully I will one day find an agent who shares the same question as yourself. Until then, I will develop my craft, haha.

      In my English Lit class at university we could spend hours after hours on what fish might symbolize. Seriously. I get what you mean. We were studying this one poem, analyzed it to death, got a whole lot of meaning from each line, and learned that it was basically a conversation the poet overheard and jotted down word from word in a pub. Then broke it down into verses.

      I, like yourself, picked up on the reoccuring themes/foreshadowings in my story through FP reviewers. They seem to see our work in as a bigger picture. We writers, however, tend to look at our work in fragments. Don’t you think?


  2. I’ve always discovered themes after I’ve written the first draft, then upon revising I might try to emphasize it better. I’m guessing that’s probably what happens to you as you write. Better that way, in my mind because we’re writing from the heart the first time around even when the first drafts are considered crappy!

    Whether you’re writing a Christian novel or a Christian who is writing novels, I think you’re always going to be drawn to writing the themes that Christ emphasized: Grace, Forgiveness and Redemption. And your reader doesn’t have to be a Christian to appreciate those deep human longings.

    Thanks for sharing another exerpt. 😀


    • Becca!!! I jotted down in my planner to email you and ask how Covet was going. So glad to hear from you!

      “…then upon revising I might try to emphasize it better” I couldn’t word this better. A very good technique, I find. That’s exactly what I do myself and it works wonders.

      I agree with you completely in that, as a Christian writer, the major themes that comprise the core of Christianity is what emerges naturally in our writing. I didn’t realize this until you mentioned it!


  3. LOVE! I like how you develop your characters over the storyline as I see specks of it in the excerpt. Very envious. I’m having trouble at the moment. So despondent! Reminded me of the times when I wanted Rochester to bloody notice Jane at the little gatherings he had at his place. Love. Love.


    • *Wipes off sweat*

      If Kim liked the excerpt, I’m in safe zone.

      It seems I must now write James in a way to compete against Lucas. I wonder who you will end up liking the better…. (I think Lucas will always be my first love, haha. Since he was the very first male hero I sucessfully developed)

      Oh gee. I remember the very frustration I suffered with Rochester. Grr I wanted to kick him and growl at What’s-Her-Face. Ingleby or some such.


  4. “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.”
    How very true! I used to do this as well and just found that all the time and energy I put into forcing the theme was wasted b/c it all turned out to be corny, superficial crap.

    On the bright side, your teaser is wonderful. I agree with your sister that that statement from Lord Carlyle is foreshadowing in its truest form. Perhaps the piece it ends up foreshadowing could be the piece you need to light the sparks between these two? I know before you said that you felt they lacked romantic connection.

    And on that note, I couldn’t think you were more wrong. Yes there is more of the tale I have to read, but from this excerpt, it seems like they are suiting each other well. All good romances start out with the two either hating each other or being frustrated with each other. Henrietta and the Earl are obviously frustrated with each other and they are discussing something other than the weather, which means they have much to talk about and are building their relationship on something concrete. As far as the attraction goes, the sentence, “looking in his eyes made her feel like she was committing a crime,” is absolutely stellar and says it all.

    I do believe the writing could be tightened here and there and a few phrases and grammatical parts could be altered to sound more in the times and social sphere but overall it was superb. I want more!


    • “….all the time and energy I put into forcing the theme was wasted b/c it all turned out to be corny, superficial crap.” Sounds like the story of my writerly life in the days when I was trying to force a theme in. I think I was so conscious of the theme that my writing did end up becoming crap.

      I’m SOOOO glad you can see the spark of a possible romance between Henrietta and James. That took a load off my back.

      This excerpt does indeed need to be tightened here and there. I’m also sure that I probably slipped into modernism a few times. I can’t wait to put this baby through revision. Mwuahaha.


  5. Excellent work! I think I enjoyed this excerpt even more than the first one. I recall you mentioning in another entry that you were having a hard time with the chemistry between the two characters, but I thought you portrayed their interaction very well 🙂

    I read Ramona back when I was in middle school and once I adjusted to the language, I really enjoyed it…I’m surprised to see that it was written back in 1884!


    • “I think I enjoyed this excerpt even more than the first one.” Reading this bit of your comment made me very, very, very happy. I wasn’t too satisfied with this excerpt; I didn’t know what to think of it. Thanks a lot for enjoying the snippet!

      I just discovered this book. It doesn’t seem to be a very well-known book…Well, I mean, not as well known as the major classics like those written by Dickens, Austen, Bronte..etc., Anyway, it took me about a quarter of the book to adjust to the language and the culture. I love the whole native american aspect of the story. But the Spanish culture bit threw me off a bit, as I know nothing of it. I’ve adjusted now and am enjoying it!

      However, it’s very melodramatic. So I’m trying to de-melodraticize it in my imagination, while my eyes reads: “I love you, I love you, I love you! I’d die without you! Love, love love!!!” cried Alessandro. ….That was just a made-up example. But there’s many such outbursts… haha


  6. Great scene! I really like the exchange between these two characters. Henrietta is sympathetic, as is her love interest. 🙂

    I agree with what you said about themes: they are a natural bi-product of what the writer values/questions most.

    I think when a writer tries to contrive a theme it risks coming off insincere. The best work comes from the gut and is refined after.

    – Corra


    • “I think when a writer tries to contrive a theme it risks coming off insincere. The best work comes from the gut and is refined after.”

      This is so, so true. I think if a writer doesn’t write from the heart, at times, a reader can notice the insincerity…


  7. Love this scene! Oooh, am so excited about this one, June–BSMH is shaping up beautifully! I love their dialgoue–refined but so much simmering under the surface. Can’t wait to read more…

    I think that themes and story wind together for me. I do start with some themes–just vague ideas I want to capture with the story. Emotions that come out of certain scenes that float around in my head before the plot comes together. But I don’t force themes into the story–they develop as the plots and characters develop. I wouldn’t want to write something that was trying too hard, you know? I think it would come out strained. I hope I haven’t written anything too strained…

    Thanks so much for posting this scene!!


    • Like yourself, I start with a “vague” idea of a theme I want to revolve my story on. A very broad, vast theme that I can write freely in. Then, when I revise, I try to make that theme stand out more.

      “I wouldn’t want to write something that was trying too hard, you know? I think it would come out strained.” I totally agree with you. And what I’ve read of December–you have no need to worry about it reading too strained. I thought it flowed ever so well


  8. I admit I don’t think about theme when I start writing a story. I can see a pattern through my writing – love in my teens, friendship between 25 and 35, outcasts since then, but I don’t consciously follow it… it just happens! 🙂
    Keep up the great writing!


    • Exactly! That’s the way to go. It just happens. And when one rereads their story, like yourself, and like Becca… you see that pattern. And you make it more prominent as you revise!


  9. Well, my face is pea green as I write this, knowing that’re only 21 (!!!) and have such a strong writing voice and have more that one novel under your belt–gag!–but, WAY TO GO! I agree w/ Rosemary that the line about her looking at him felt like a crime; it jumped off the page (a pox upon you!). So that makes me think you’ve got things simmering for H. and J. more than you think. Sometimes I can’t feel anything my chars. should be feeling and it feels like I’m moving puppets around a cheesy stage. When I leave it alone and come back later, it’s usually better, smoother and reads w/ an emotion I never felt while writing. Sometimes we have to write w/ our head and our gut and not our heart. At least it’s that way w/ me. I call it writing on faith. If it does still seem substandard on later reading, usually only a line or two will improve the emotional impact.
    Kudos on BS,MH!


    • “Sometimes I can’t feel anything my chars. should be feeling and it feels like I’m moving puppets around a cheesy stage.”

      I like how you put that, sharmon—exactly expresses my issues right now trying to finish my first draft. I feel like one big ventriloquist behind my characters trying to write this ending 🙂

      I am likewise humbled by the fact that you’re only 21, June, and write with such grace and sensitivity. Very well done. How are you finding it trying to write in a period voice? My manuscript is predominantly modern day, but about 5-10% involves a voice from the past, of which I’m constantly questioning the authenticity. Ah well, it’s making for a fun diversion from the overall story when I get into a rut with the modern portion.

      My prevailing theme in whatever I write tends to center on identity, with time as a recurring motif; because these recur in my mind, I knew my story would involve them as I went into it, but it hasn’t had to be forced around them…they’ve emerged surprisingly naturally, assuring me (hopefully) I’m pursuing the right focus. Thoughtful post!


      • @thefallenmonkey: Identity is such an important theme! Reading books on books centered around such a theme always has a deep impact on me.

        You make me blush! I write with grace and sensitivity… It’s hard for a writer to know the style of her writing. so thanks for your comment!

        Hmm…writing in a period voice is tricky at times. I sometimes write a phrase, feel that it is too modern, yet do not know how to rephrase it to sound more period correct. So usually I have to search through period novels to find an example. I also need to constantly read books set in the period I’m writing in, and watch movies set in that time, or I’m worried I might lose touch with writing accordingly to that era.

        So yes, it is a bit tricky…. But I think if researches often enough, and reads many books set in that era, it just comes naturally in the end. For me, I’m still somewhat of an amature, and have much to learn about the Regency era


    • @Sharmon: Aw, shucks. No need to be pea green! I still have so, so much to learn as a writer. And I’m sure I’ll be pea green when I read an excerpt of your work! Geez, I got the shivers just reading your book’s summary!

      “…that makes me think you’ve got things simmering for H. and J. more than you think” Thanks for such a nice comment. I really needed this encouragement. Waiting for responses from agents, knowing from some of their lack of responses that I was rejected, can be emotionally draining. So your words brougth a smile to my lips!

      Sometimes my characters feel like puppets… Especially when I just start working on these characters and they’re new to me. That’s why I love revising much more than I do writing. I know the characters so much better so writing about them comes more easily to me


  10. Loving someone you can’t see (either because of the circumstances or because they are not alive anymore) and looking at the world from a different perspective are both themes that keeps recurring in my stories… I don’t do it purposely, but it seems to have a will of it’s own- whenever I start thinking about an idea and begin playing with it, plotting and writing it down, the issue about eyes and seeing comes up almost always…
    I think theme should not be implied or manipulated but it should emerge within the story.
    Btw- that was some apology he made! Love the excerpt 🙂


    • Those are all very lovely themes. I noticed them when I was reading your excerpt btw 😉 I guess, like I mentioned in my entry, that those themes are what occupy much of your heart and mind. Or what has impacted you the most in life. Beautifully put: “I think theme should not be implied or manipulated but it should emerge within the story.”


  11. Wonderful, June H.! > Applause, applause! < 🙂

    Those last two lines were just perfect. They really were. You a great writer, June H. and very soon you will be a great published writer!

    About your question surrounding themes. It reminds me of THE WORD that Elizabeth Gilbert brings up in her book (I just finished Eat, Pray, Love.) She looks for a WORD that describes her, her WORD.

    Your word is FORGIVENESS. I really think that my word is LOVE.

    Everyone of my characters survives with the help of love, love of self, love of others, and there is a running theme that it is love and the understanding that we are all the same, that in the end beats the bad guys to dust.

    No, I agree with you, I don't think we choose our word, or theme. It chooses us.


    • Yay! So glad you enjoyed my work!

      Love. It’s likely one of THE most powerful themes to write about. Because I think it’s THE most important thing in life


  12. Yes, I definitely felt a sense of foreshadowing here. I think it’s important that you let the reader see Henrietta deal with what has only been, in her past at least, a theory. I really love the dialogue, it’s creating a great tension between them. You’ve captured the period so well.
    Loved it.


    • Most definately! I think I plan on making it all her own theory. I don’t want readers to be 100% confident that she would stick to that theory because I hate making a heroine who seems holier-than-thou. It really is a struggle, for both the righteous and self-righteous, to forgive an enemy


  13. It looks like you’ve pulled in one important theme here:
    The unglamourous nature of genteel poverty, and the murky social distinctions it created in a class society.

    I think you’re doing well maintaining attractions as well as conflict between the two. But may I offer some of my own thoughts on the general nature of romance novel conflicts? It’s not necessary related to your work here, but it may help, if you find it helpful.

    A woman struggling with changed social circumstances in itself is a great area for conflict. e.g. She used to be rich, now she isn’t, she struggles to accept this new role and so she tries to stay away from the hero. They like each other but they are both constrained by the way people look at them because he’s way above her and someone’s calling her a grasping hussy and that hurts her etc.

    Now, I like that type of conflict. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of h/Hs who are always *fightfightfight*kiss*ohiloveyou*letmetearyourshirtoff*
    If they clearly like each other, we will like both of them too.

    And I think you’re handling the line between conflict and liking well. Keep at it.


  14. The reoccurring theme in my books, I’ve noticed, is family, if that can be called a theme. I always write about dysfunctional families, which is weird because I get along with my family and we all love each other. Sure, we’re not normal and of course we argue, but we get along.

    Kayleigh (Luckynumbr22 on Twitter 🙂 )


  15. Pingback: Love-story with… reading « creative barbwire (or the many lives of a creator)

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