The fifth book I published was a collection of short stories called Love Lasts Longest. I had lots and lots and lots of these very short stories that random things would inspire. A lot of the writing “gurus” in JAFF at the time were claiming novellas wouldn’t sell. Some even said they weren’t real books. Well, I had published three in short order. You can imagine what they said of short stories.
In hindsight, I’m surprised the book sold so well. It must have been because I had three other releases earlier that year and the Amazon algorithms were working in my favor. The industry has evolved many times since then and I’m not sure if I were looking at my 5th book today if it would do as well. Perhaps it would, though, because JAFF readers have only grown more comfortable with shorter works.
While we’re discussing it, let’s talk about what defines a story versus a vignette. Any type of story, no matter its length includes a beginning, middle, and end. There is some kind of goal that needs to be met or conflict to overcome. A vignette is just one scene, like a brief glimpse in time.
Here are some examples.
Elizabeth stared at herself in the mirror as her sister put the finishing touches on her hair. The delicate, fresh orchids complimented her simple and natural beauty. She only hoped they would hold up for the evening. Across the hall, her youngest sisters still argued over who could wear the blue gown. Mary, who dressed the simplest of all the Bennet daughters, practiced the sonata she hoped to perform that evening. Now and then, Jane would pause over Elizabeth’s hair with a far away look in her eyes. Elizabeth fancied her sister gazed over the miles of distance between Longbourn and Netherfield.
Here’s another rendition of the same scene.
Elizabeth stared at herself in the mirror as her sister put the finishing touches on her hair. Elizabeth prayed Jane’s dearest wishes would come true this evening and that their family would not shame them. That began with leaving on time. Elizabeth intended to dance as much as she could this evening and hoped the flowers would withstand the movement and heat. Her youngest sisters bickered over a gown and Mary’s fingers skillfully flew over the pianoforte downstairs. However, if she insisted on singing, Elizabeth would be mortified to be sure. Now and then, Jane paused as she arranged Elizabeth’s hair. Undoubtedly, she was thinking of Mr. Bingley at Netherfield. Elizabeth consulted the wall clock in her chamber before reminding Jane to hurry.
Can you see the difference between a vignette (example one) and a short story (example two)? The first scene is very descriptive and evocative. It moves slower and takes it time, painting the scene. However, we see nothing about goals. There’s no idea that we’re in the beginning or the end. It’s as though it is suspended in time. In the second example, it begins very similarly but we have a goal: not to embarrass Jane. The objective: leave on time. The challenges: sisters arguing, Mary practicing, and Jane is distracted. Solution: Elizabeth minds the time.
My stories in Love Lasts Longest are all classified as short stories. Typically that means 1,000 to 7,500 words. The shortest story, Teddy, is 805 words. It could be called a microstory or flash fiction. However, it is still a story with a clear objective. Will Darcy come home in time on his son’s birthday? The longest story is not quite 5,000 words.
The very first JAFF I ever wrote was a short story called An Ungentlemanly Manner. I’m still just as delighted with it as I was nearly six years ago!
I’ve always wondered what would have happened if Darcy reacted to Elizabeth’s claims of him being ungentlemanly. This was my very first completed Pride and Prejudice story and I posted it on an online fan fiction forum.
“You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.”
She saw him start at this, but he said nothing, and she continued: “You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.”
–Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 34
“….had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.”
And just like that, seven and twenty years of education and good breeding disappeared from Mr. Darcy’s mind. If she will accuse me of being ungentlemanly, I will show her conduct that is truly ungentlemanly!
Darcy stepped forward with a decided air before she could continue her rantings. “You accuse me of ungentlemanly conduct towards yourself? I see you prefer the gallant, like Mr. Wickham, perhaps? So, should I have approached you at the impressionable and young age of fifteen while on a holiday without your elder brother—your only surviving family and your guardian—and convinced you of an elopement? When confronted by said brother by the merest chance of arrival before the event could take place, and it was made clear that I would not receive any of your substantial dowry of thirty thousand pounds, should I have announced that you were not worth the marriage otherwise and left you grieving and brokenhearted, so much so that almost a twelvemonth later and you are still painfully unsure of yourself and decisions, certain that your every action will be the ruin of your family? All your joy and liveliness vanished? So much that you are merely a walking ghost in your homes, leaving your brother to grieve as though the last member of his family has passed?” He saw her begin to shrink back from his claims, but still he ungentlemanly pushed forward, regardless of her sensibilities. She was speechless, and he would not give her a moment to collect her thoughts.
“Or should I have flattered you and seduced you until you begged for me to take your virtue, only to abandon you and leave you with child like most servants and tradesmen’s daughters and even a few gentlewomen unfortunate enough to cross his path?
“Or do you prefer my cousin? I should flirt shamelessly and raise your expectations all the while knowing that I must marry a well-dowered woman to continue married life in my preferred lifestyle? It would be great love indeed that would make him overlook such things.” Elizabeth had turned pale at his information about Mr. Wickham but now blushed. Darcy would wager his cousin had said something of the effect to her.
“Shall I evaluate Mr. Collins? Tell me, in his proposal to either you or Mrs. Collins, how many utterances fell from his tongue on the greatness of my aunt?” Elizabeth’s eyes widened in confusion and disbelief, so Darcy clarified what he knew. “Oh yes, I know of his proposal to you as he did not keep it a secret from my aunt! Of course, his version could hardly be the truth. He claims you rescinded your acceptance of his suit after realising how ill-suited you are to be the wife of a minister. Did he expect for you to grovel to her and cater to her whims as well as he?
“Do you believe Mr. Bingley is the epitome of gentlemanly behaviour?” Instead of Elizabeth’s usual impudent confidence, she looked uncertain. He knew she had believed Bingley far more gentlemanly than him, but he would not allow her to lay Bingley’s defection of Miss Bennet all at his door. “Bingley’s attachment of only a few weeks must be no deeper than any other time he has supposedly fallen in love, as testament to his agreement to abandon the acquaintance when pressured by his sisters concerning the prudence of the match and my uncertainty regarding the lady in question’s affections.
“Yes, I can see how any of these actions would be much more gentlemanly than for me to declare my ardent love for you despite the objections I shall face from my family and society. A love that has been strong enough to overcome the differences in our station and take on the lower connections of your family and yoke myself to their most improper behaviour—all while receiving no great sign of your regard. Yet I could not leave and not pay you my addresses, certain as I am that fate threw us together again.” Elizabeth had been looking at her feet, but her eyes met his with his final statement.
“And yet, I will show you my ungentlemanly manner now. I will tell you that by our third meeting I was more bewitched by you than any other woman of my acquaintance. Your eyes were the first to strike me, followed by your pleasing form. As I moved from staring at you across the room to listening to your conversations, I discovered your playful manners, intelligence, and quick wit.”
He took a step forward, but Elizabeth did not move backwards. “Shall I tell you how disappointed I was when you denied me a dance, not once but twice? Me! No other woman would ever dream of denying me a thing. Shall I describe the jealousy I experienced each moment you danced with another at the Netherfield Ball? That I can recall each time I have seen you bestow a smile on any and all others but me? Should I tell you that I saw your friendship with Miss Lucas? That while you were affectionately nursing your sister, I desired my own sister to have the same claim on you? That I see an inner strength and beauty in you when you would overcome Miss Bingley, and even Lady Catherine’s, belittling words? That you are the most genuine and unaffected woman I have ever met?”
She looked at him as though she were seeing him for the first time. Perhaps other men would have described their lady’s beautiful face, but he needed Elizabeth to comprehend that it was her character and spirit that had captivated him. As she remained silent, he would tell her the extent of his truly ungentlemanly thoughts. “Or shall I tell you that the image of you arriving at Netherfield, flushed and windblown, was so captivating that it will stay in my memory for eternity? In light of you rejecting my suit, I pray to God that is the last image I see in my mind’s eye before departing this earth, although my imagination has created much more tempting images. Shall I tell you that I know the room you stayed in at Netherfield was seven paces from my door? That so intoxicating is your scent that I have ordered lavender bushes to be planted outside my study window at Pemberley and even acquired a jar of lavender oil to remind me of your fragrance? Or can I convince you to accept me if I admit that I, a very private man, have laid out my faults bare to you like none other, and instead of feeling indignation, only feel more love inspired by each reproof?
“And there is one fault I have not admitted to as of yet, though I am certain you have deduced it. I am unbelievably obstinate and will do everything in my power to get my way.” He stepped even closer to Elizabeth and gently stroked her cheek. She took in a startled breath but did not move or look to be unwelcoming.
“And now I will tell you the ungentlemanly ways I have imagined the feel of your soft skin…so soft, and how your silken strands would feel in my hands.” He undid several of Elizabeth’s hair pins and ran his fingers through her delightful curls.
“Your lush ruby lips on mine,” he leaned in and gave her the lightest of kisses. She gasped, her breathing turning heavy.
“I will tell you how I have imagined your breathing ragged for me, you trembling for my embrace.” Seeing her doing thus, he pulled her in his arms, nestling his head above hers. The exquisite feeling of home he experienced nearly overshadowed the desire he felt as her soft body moulded to his.
Stroking her back lightly, he murmured in her hair, “I will tell you how I wish to see your eyes drunk with desire for me. In my imaginings, I have held you in my arms all night long, every night since the fourteenth of October. I have a passion for you that would make me give away Pemberley itself, lay aside everything to my name if needed, just to have you in my arms as my wife.”
Pulling back, he tilted her head up, and he was helpless when he saw passion in her eyes. His mouth sought hers with hunger. Though timid, Elizabeth was quick to learn. His body was on fire, and yet he only desired to hold her closer. His hands gently caressed her face, her arms, her back. Elizabeth’s hands wrapped around his waist, then stroked up his chest and settled around his broad shoulders.
So enthralled in their activity, they did not hear the carriage arrive with the Collins party nor the parlour door open. With a gasp, Mrs. Collins ushered Miss Lucas upstairs though her husband remained.
“Cousin Elizabeth! You wanton girl! Unhand Mr. Darcy at once!” Mr. Collins’s words crashed on their heads like a bucket of water.
“Mr. Collins, you will never insult my betrothed again!” Mr. Darcy’s countenance brooked no opposition; however, Mr. Collins was too stupid to see the promised threat written all over Darcy’s face.
“Betrothed? But…but…Miss de Bourgh is your betrothed!”
“I assure you, she is not and never shall be. Miss Elizabeth Bennet is the only woman who shall ever become Mrs. Darcy.”
“She has drawn you in with her arts and allurements! I will speak to Lady Catherine at once, and she will remind Elizabeth of her place!”
“Mr. Collins, I told you to never insult her again. I shall know how to carry my point.” Mr. Darcy would have continued with explaining his connection to the Archbishop, but Elizabeth laid a hand on his arm, forestalling him. By the time he looked back from Elizabeth, Mr. Collins had fled the parsonage.
“Elizabeth, forgive me for my ungentlemanly display. I had wanted to convince you of a courtship after this, but now you must see….” He trailed off, unsure how to explain that by his actions she was now forced to marry him, against her will. A deep frown marked his sad face.
“To which display do you seek forgiveness?” Elizabeth interrupted his thoughts.
Stroking her jaw in mock thought, Elizabeth paused before answering, “I should say not. I quite enjoyed the display.” She then cast him an arch look. “Both of them.”
The passionate side of Mr. Darcy wanted nothing more than to capture her about the waist and bring her close while kissing her senseless again, but the gentleman settled for a teasing reply. “Well, if I cannot earn forgiveness, do you wish to extract penance?”
“In due time, Mr. Darcy, in due time.”
Before Mr. Darcy could reply, a maid brought in tea and some pastries, presumably requested by Mrs. Collins, though the maid fled before they could inquire, undoubtedly due to the recent displays. Elizabeth began to pour the tea and offered for him to sit, puzzling Darcy by her seemingly indifferent actions at such a time.
“Mr. Darcy, you questioned my sister’s affections as she did not give enough outward display of them to appease your observation. How shall a woman act to reassure the man? Shall one seek to accidentally touch him?” As she spoke, she handed him a cup filled with tea, intentionally allowing her fingers to gently graze his. He shivered.
“Oh, dear, I forgot to put the sugar in.” She reached for the cup again, and her fingers touched his once more. She stood slightly to accomplish her task, allowing her napkin to fall. Returning his now sweetened tea to his hand, she spoke again. “Or perhaps she should try to put her charms on display more often? How clumsy of me! I dropped my napkin.” She then bent low to retrieve it. Darcy groaned.
“Perhaps she should not hesitate to flatter and compliment the man? My father excelled in debate at Cambridge; I should think you did as well. I have found your arguments most persuasive.” Darcy could take no more. His tea cup, which had not even made it to his mouth as it stood agape in a stupefied manner, was put down with a clang. In an instant, he was next to her on the sofa, wrapping his arms around her again.
After a long, deep kiss, Darcy breathed, “Elizabeth, you are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but though we must still marry, one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”
Elizabeth leaned forward for another kiss, but Darcy insisted on knowing her answer. Sighing, she replied, “My feelings are much altered. I see now you are the best man of my acquaintance, and my feelings are quite overwhelmed.”
Darcy cupped her face, but just before kissing her lips, he turned his head and whispered in her ear. “In that case, allow me to tell you how I have envisioned our children. Daughters with their mother’s curly hair and expressive eyes, sons full of liveliness.” He trailed kisses from her ear down her neck.
Moaning from his ministrations, Elizabeth murmured, “Oh, and how many children do you envision for us?”
“At least six, my dear, and I am certain it shall take much practice to become a true proficient, as my aunt would say.”
Shocked at such blatant forwardness but refusing to show any sign of intimidation, Elizabeth playfully replied, “Now, sir, about your penance….”
To be continued…
I wrote a sequel to this short story called An Unladylike Display which is also in Love Lasts Longest. I hope you’ll read the collection if you have not.
Do you have a favorite short story?