Like all writers, I started as a reader. I read Austen for the first time in high school after devouring Jane Eyre, assigned reading that I finished about a month ahead of my classmates. I fell in love with the romance of the 19th century and went looking for more. Pride & Prejudice came first, of course, and after I had read the rest of Austen I delved into every costume drama the public library had on VHS before hitting the books again.
The first variation I ever read was a completion of Sanditon, and then another. The second one delighted me less, and so I started writing out my own Sanditon variation, chiefly for the entertainment of myself and my little sister. Unaware that I was following in the footsteps of Miss Austen with this foray into juvenilia, I proceeded with all the confidence of a teenager, shambling through balls and gowns and romance. At the time, it felt like a triumph. My characters enjoyed themselves at the Georgian seaside with very little to distress or vex them, such as period-appropriate behavior, and no discernible conflict for most. Looking back, I am at once proud of my seventeen-year-old self, and yet I cringe. Half a lifetime ago, I had done so much, while knowing so little.
It’s strange to think that I took a decade and a half off from writing. The demands of school, and then life, soon took over, leaving so wide a gap as to make it impossible not to compare what my writing was then, and what it has become. Fortunately I have spent that time wisely, in the improvement of my mind through extensive reading. (Sorry, it was too easy.)
While I couldn’t say whether I would meet Mr. Darcy’s standards for accomplishment, or surpass Jane Fairfax’s epic reading list, I have spent the better part of the last 15 years reading every JAFF I can get my hands on. For more than a year I compiled notes and jotted down countless ideas for a story of my own, until I resolved that I could daydream (read: overthink in the shower and wash my hair three times) no longer. Once I resolved to pick an idea from amongst the many I had compiled into a substantial list, I chose one seemingly at random and ran with it. The story grew faster and larger than I expected, characters surprised me, and I fell in love not only with the familiar friends in Meryton, but the incredible Janeites I met online and the readers whose feedback kept me from giving up when I posted Happier in Her Friends the Relations on AHA.
I just published my fourth novel and my fifth is in the works, and I cannot but wonder at how far I’ve come in terms of literary comprehension and plot development, and how far yet I have (and hope) to go. I also cannot continue to horde so many plot bunnies away in the list I keep, which has grown substantially these three years. And so, I hope to liberate a few of them, in the hopes that they will find good homes amongst my dear Janeites here. I released a few plot bunnies into the wild on my own blog about a month ago, and cherish the hope of soon reading the novels they become in the capable hands of my peers, but I have a few more to part with today.
I have kept a few to myself – enough to last me the next 2 years at least – but the following are notions I have played around with, but never thought myself up to doing quite right; should anyone wish to adopt a plot bunny, please be my guest, and I look forward to reading what grows from these humble nuggets!
The Widow Bennet:
Elizabeth Bennet is the well-dowered daughter of parents who died and left her in the care of older siblings when she was a child. At sixteen she left school and eloped with a handsome young country gentleman. She was welcomed into the family by his four sisters, while Mr. Bennet encouraged Lizzy to continue her education, and Mrs. Bennet encouraged Lizzy to provide an heir. Elizabeth accomplishes both, endearing her forever to her in-laws, and she and her young son live in the dower house of Longbourn after her husband tragically dies. Elizabeth is sure she has everything she could need or want, and wishes only that her sisters-in-law might find a more lasting happiness than what she fleetingly enjoyed, but when Elizabeth’s brother purchases Netherfield and brings a party of friends with him, she finds herself unexpectedly tempted….
Mrs. Bennet has it all planned out. Kitty is intended for their new neighbor, Mr. Bingley, while Jane is to catch his wealthier, handsomer friend, the viscount. As this will throw their sisters into the paths of other rich men, Lydia must not flirt with officers, not even Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mary must disregard Mr. Collins, and Lizzy must never dance with Mr. Darcy. Though Mrs. Bennet has it all figured out, her disobedient daughters have other plans.
Mr. Bennet’s Second Wife:
Mrs. Bennet dies shortly after Jane and Lizzy’s weddings. Two years later…. Lydia is a widow after Wickham was shot by the husband of his mistress, and is furious that she should remain in mourning so long. Mary is wed to the Colonel’s younger brother, who is at odds with Richard over family complications. Bingley has taken a mistress at Caroline’s behest, and Jane moves in with the Darcys after discovering it. While Lizzy is trying to hold everyone together, as well as plan a season for Kitty and Georgiana, Mr. Bennet throws a wrench into her plans by announcing his intention of remarrying so that he might father a son and deny Mr. Collins the entail.
Their Just Desserts:
In the background of a Darcy & Lizzy love story set in Sanditon, the most despicable characters from Austen’s novels flock to the booming seaside resort…. Col. Forster’s regiment quarters in Sanditon instead of Brighton. The village gets a new parson, Mr. Elton, whose fashionable and forward wife quickly grew to detest the happy inhabitants of Highbury. An influx of visitors includes newlyweds Lucy & Robert Ferrars, John Willoughby and his bride, the Crawford and Thorpe siblings, and an assortment of fortune hunters such as Lady Susan Vernon and Mr. William Elliot. As Elizabeth and her sister Jane find love, Darcy and Bingley end the tale happier than perhaps they deserve, and the rest end just as they deserve as well 😉
A Connoisseur of Human Folly:
When Mr. Bennet hears from his estranged cousin, he discovers a young man very like himself in disposition. However much he approves of the wry and witty parson, he is not ready to part with any of his daughters yet, and only caves to his cousin’s eagerness to come amongst them when Collins begins to form an attachment his noble patroness cannot approve of, and he is pressed to select a wife at Longbourn. Collins petitions Mr. Bennet, who agrees to receive him with one small caveat – Collins must indulge Mr. Bennet’s whim of vexing his family by pretending to be ridiculous.
Thinking to amuse himself at Lizzy’s expense, and to a lesser extent the rest of his family, Mr. Bennet is confident his favorite daughter will ultimately laugh it off, and be quite happy with the man he knows Mr. Collins to truly be. But what starts as a lark takes a surprising turn when Mr. Collins reveals himself too late. His absurdity is so fixed in the neighborhood that when Lizzy finally begins to take him seriously, she falls drastically in Darcy’s opinion, and only then does Lizzy realize how much Darcy matters to her.
A Disposition to Dislike:
The Vernons in Kent receive two relations at Churchill: their sister-in-law Lady Susan, and Mrs. Vernon’s brother, Reginald de Courcy. Lady Susan’s ambitions escalate when she meets the Vernons’ nearest neighbor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her visiting nephews. Lady Susan suspects she has found a kindred spirit in the parson’s visiting cousin, who is received no better by Lady Catherine than Lady Susan herself is treated by her sister-in-law, and Lizzy’s judgement of character is put to the rest once more as she attempts to puzzle out the characters of those offering friendship in a neighborhood where has matrimonial schemes of their own afoot – except the unlikeliest of couples, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Let me know in the comments if any of these plot bunnies tickle your fancy, and fellow writers feel free to share your origin stories too!