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Death’s Apprentice – Part 58

She rolled her eyes. ‘Ideas so we don’t lose each other. IN. THE. FOG.’ She said the last words very slowly.

I’m not stupid, thought Joe, but unless he came up with an idea, and fast, he would end up looking stupid. Think, think, THINK!

Breadcrumbs? He thought to himself. No, crap idea. No doubt some shitty insects or birds would eat the trail. What about…

‘Got any string?’

‘Why on earth would I bring string?’

He shrugged. ‘They use a line when people go cave diving-‘

‘What has cave diving got to do with this?’

There was another howl.

‘Well, cave divers lay a line of string down so when visibility gets really low they can-‘

‘Still find there way back,’ finished Agnes. She ruffled his hair. ‘You’re not as stupid as you look, are you?’

‘But have we got any?’

‘What?’

‘String.’ God, thought Joe, this was getting really difficult. This is why he prefered working on his own.

‘You want string? I can give you string. Look in your bag.’

Joe stared at Agnes for a second. He knew there was no string in his bag. Why on earth was she pretending there was?

‘Go on then.’

Joe sighed and did as he was told. He took the bag off his back and unzipped it. He peered inside and low and behold there was a ball of string in there. A big ball of crimson string. He put his hand in and retrieved it.

‘How did you…?’

Agnes just winked at him. ‘Come on then, no time like the present.’ She held her hand out.

It was the first time he’d noticed that her hands were decorated in intricate patterns that reminded him of Henna tattoos. He placed the ball of string on the palm of her hand.

She took the string and began to tie it around the nearest tree. It looked like a tall Beech tree to Joe. It was very tall, and silver with pockmarked bark. There were no leaves on it so that it looked like a skeleton. If trees had skeletons, that’s what they’d look like, thought Joe. Once she’d finished she gave the string a ping with her finger.

‘Seems strong enough,’ she said. ‘It reminds me of that Greek myth. You know the one, Hel?’

‘You mean the one with Ariadne?’

‘Yes, that’s the one, except everyone knows it as the Theseus and the Minotaur myth when, in fact, if it hadn’t been for Ariadne giving Theseus the thread he would never have been able to find his way back out of the maze.’ Agnes looked off into the distance before adding, ‘ Bloody typical.’

‘And how did it end for Ariadne?’ asked Hel.

‘He abandoned her,’ said Agnes, looking straight at Joe.

So, you want to be a writer? Five things to avoid in your plot.

I do like my “Five Things” posts, don’t I?

Well, this one is focussing on five things to avoid in your plot. No shit Sherlock, I hear you say, it’s literally the title of the article 🙂

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s crack on!

One – Delaying the introduction of the main quest in your story.

This can make your story boring. And it can put readers off if they begin to read and they haven’t got a sense of what’s in store for them or what the book is about.

To avoid this, use a plot outline and make sure you introduce the quest by the end of the first chapter. Don’t fill that first chapter with lots of character introductions and description.

Sometimes, I like to get the quest in the reader’s mind right at the beginning, in the opening line. I love to open a book with a bang.

Two – The conflict and obstacles aren’t escalated.

To make a story interesting, the hero has to face greater and greater challenges and obstacles. What’s the point to a story where the hero overcomes everything thrown at him too easily?

There has to be an increase in the difficulty as the plot develops. When you’re plotting, start off with little challenges in the beginning and then start to develop them. For example, the first challenge could be finding a key, the second challenge could be to use that key in a door that’s guarded by a big three-headed dog. Then, as the story progresses you can have the hero momentarily hurt as he defeats the bad guy’s henchmen. The hero then rises up, and, after a huge battle, he overcomes the big villain.

Three – Avoid too much unnecessary stuff.

Don’t cram your story full of things that don’t matter and won’t move the story on.

Refine your plot and make sure everything has a purpose.

Don’t give the hero a magic artefact if he’s not going to use it. Don’t add a character if they’re not part of the plot. Get rid of all unnecessary crap. Everything should have a reason.

Why?

Because unnecessary crap will only bore and confuse the reader.

Four – Deus ex Machina.

Deus ex Machina means God from the machine and is something that has its origins in ancient Greek theatre. It’s a plot device where an unsolvable problem is suddenly solved by the help of God.

This worked in Greek theatre. It doesn’t work now.

Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.

If you’ve written yourself into a corner don’t use Deus ex Machina to get yourself out of it. It will turn readers off. If you find yourself in this situation, sorry, but you need to rethink that plot and write it again.

Five – Inconsistency.

Your writing – from writing style, tone, characterisation etc. – must stay consistent throughout the novel. There is nothing more off-putting than reading a story where someone changes their character inexplicably. Or their eyes change colour. Or the way they speak changes.

Keep it consistent.

I find plotting on paper helps me to keep inconsistencies to a minimum. As for character and world-building, I suggest putting together a “bible” of character sheets. I have these for each character where I write on their eye colour, for example or a few words that they like to use a lot. It’s a handy reference for when I forget. And, I do. Especially as I’m getting older!

Ohh, today’s post was very naggy wasn’t it? I’m sorry, it’s probably to do with the full moon or something 🙂

There are other things that you could add to a list of things to avoid in your story writing but I thought five items was probably enough for this post.

So, the question is. do you agree with what I’ve put on the list and is there anything you would add?

 

 

Dragon Rider – Part 40

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen Continued

The Iron Fortress

‘Alchymia sent us,’ said Willow cutting through Brimo’s train of thought.

Drake glared at Willow.  Why couldn’t she just keep her trap shut?

‘What?’ screeched Brimo turning to look at Willow, her green eyes blazing with thunder.  ‘My sister has sent you?  It can’t be that important if she sends three miscreants to do her bidding!  Mind you, being down here does play havoc with her skin!’  The Overseer’s raucous laughs echoed around the room, then stopped abruptly.  ‘How do I know you tell the truth?’ she demanded, as she swept around to face Drake, her claw-like finger dangerously close to the end of his nose.

‘She gave me this,’ said Drake reaching for the Amulet of Isis but his fingers found only cold skin.  ’Damn!’ he cursed, as he remembered trading it with Arthur Tinks.  ’I forgot, I-’

The Overseer lurched at Drake and he froze still as her fiery hand felt the top of his chest.  He thought he heard a deep hiss, too low for many normal people to hear, as she removed her hand with a sneer.  Curiously the skin she had just touched felt icy cold, almost like it had been frozen using liquid nitrogen.  He looked down and there upon his chest was burned the image of the Amulet of Isis.

‘My sister has helped you too much!’ screeched Brimo.  ‘How dare she presume to send others down here to do her dirty work!  She disrespects me, always has!’  Brimo began to pace up and down ranting to herself.  ‘So, she wants to play games, does she?  Too precious to come down here and see me.  Sends these instead…insults me.’  Suddenly she stopped pacing and turned to face them, her eyes narrowed into slits.  ‘Hermes, you say?’

‘Yes,’ replied Drake.

Brimo stared off into the corner of the room.  ‘Hermes?  What could she possibly want from him?’  She turned to face them again, ‘What does Alchymia want from him?’

Drake studied her for a few moments before finally, he spoke.  ‘She wants to know where he hid The Emerald Key.’  Well, there was no point lying about it now, was there?  Not now Willow had dropped them in it.

‘I see,’ she sneered.  ‘You may seek out Hermes, he is in the Waiting Area.’

‘The Waiting Area?’ asked Drake, unable to believe it would be that simple.

‘Yes, still has unfinished business, poor fool.  You can talk to Hermes and only Hermes.  Do not talk to any other soul, or remove anything from the Waiting Area, if you do, you will be claimed by me to stay here forever, my sister cannot stop that, do you understand?’ asked Brimo, her eyes narrowing to slits again, like a snake waiting to strike.

Drake and Willow silently nodded.  Pyro was skulking at the back of the room, clearly terrified.

‘You will need these,’ said the Overseer thrusting three small cards at Drake, all with “Visitor” printed on them in bold black letters with the Overseer’s signature underneath.  ‘You have one hour to find Hermes and then to leave this place.  If you exceed that time limit your lives will be forfeit and you will languish here forever.  That is my price, my conditions, do you accept?’

Drake nodded his head once.  ‘And how do we get out of here?’

Brimo smiled broadly.  ‘As if I’m going to make it easy for my sister!  I will help you with one last thing though.  Take this.’  She reached into a small filing cabinet and took out an hourglass the size of a teacup, turned it upside down and gave it to Drake.  The liquid inside the glass began to drop down to the bottom part of the figure of eight, drop by silvery drop.  ‘I can give magickal gifts too,’ she cackled, ‘now be gone before I change my mind.’

Without any hesitation, they sprinted away from the Control Room, took the lift to the ground floor, ran across the foyer and into the yard, then followed the signs for the Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room was a single-storeyed building covered in a cream lime rendering with bay trees in terracotta pots dotted along its exterior.  A burly soldier, dressed in a dark blue uniform with a modified MP5, stood at its entrance.

‘Passes please!’ he barked, as the three of them approached.  Drake flashed the passes at him.  The guard grunted and stepped aside to let them enter.

The foyer was sterile in appearance with white walls, white ceiling and mottled floor tiles.  In the far corner a squat receptionist, dressed in a white dress two sizes too small for her with a white cap perched on top of her brown bun, sat behind a mammoth white desk, her chin barely reaching the top of it.  ‘May I help you?’

‘Er yes, we’re here to see Hermes.’

‘Hermes who?’

‘Trismegestus.’

‘Sign in please,’ she said, pointing a chubby finger at an opened book on top of the desk, its pages blank.  Drake grabbed the blue biro at the side of the book and did as he was told.  She flicked through the database on her palm held notebook, ‘You’ll find him behind the Cypress Grove, under a Fig Tree in front of the sacred cave in the upper left quadrant of the yard.’

‘Thanks!’ shouted Drake, and they raced out of the automatic double doors and into the yard beyond.

The yard was covered in lush green grass surrounded by Oak trees, their leaves burning red against the dead sky of The Underworld.  A row of mobility carts sat idle just outside the foyer.  ‘Come on, we haven’t got much time, let’s take one of these,’ said Drake jumping into the nearest one.  He gave the hourglass to Willow, turned the small silver key in the ignition, and the cart spluttered into life just as Pyro scrambled into the back.

The cart chugged through the Waiting Area, struggling with the different types of terrain it had to cover, from lush grass to mud, then to baked, rocky earth.  They passed the silent figures of Geishas making tea under the pink blossoms of cherry trees, a pirate shouting commands from the helm of his battle-scarred ship, its skull and crossbones flag in tatters and faceless Spirits trudging continuously through knee-high mud, their Tommy guns held aloft as invisible shells blasted the mud around them.

Willow held up the hourglass; only half of the silvery liquid remained.  ‘We haven’t got much time left.’

‘It can’t be much further,’ said Drake staring out into the distance to where ten armoured Gladiators practised their sword strokes against the backdrop of lofty cypress trees.

‘Look!’ squealed Willow, ‘A cypress grove!  That’s where Hermes should be!’

Death’s Apprentice – Part 57

Agnes’ shoulders dropped and she sighed loudly. ‘The truth is…I was careless. I loved him. And I gave my heart away -‘

‘But you said, he stole it.’

‘Joe,’ said Hel, ‘she means she gave it away metaphorically speaking.’

‘Yes. One night we…and then…when I woke up, he’d cut my heart out.’

‘But what did he want with your heart?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ snapped Agnes. ‘I just want it back.’

‘Okay. Fair enough,’ said Joe. ‘So, what’s he like, this Woodcutter? Is he scary? What’s the plan of attack?’

‘The plan,’ replied Agnes, ‘is for one or two of us to distract him whilst the other sneaks into his cottage and steals it back.’

‘Good plan,’ said Joe, ‘any details?’

‘Well, as I’m going to be helping you get through the Valley of the Dead after I get my heart back, I was hoping that you might be able to have some input into the plan.’

How did I know that was coming, thought Joe.

There was a howl. Joe ignored it thinking it was Hel’s hounds.

‘How are we going to find our way through the forest?’ asked Hel.

‘Yeah, that will be a bit of a problem,’ said Agnes. ‘If we’re not careful we’ll end up losing each other in that thick fog.’

Joe was so tempted to ask why that was a problem. He kind of liked the idea of losing them. They were giving him a headache.

‘Any ideas?’ asked Agnes.

‘What?’ asked Joe.

She rolled her eyes. ‘Ideas so we don’t lose each other. IN. THE. FOG.’ She said the last words very slowly.

I’m not stupid, thought Joe, but unless he came up with an idea, and fast, he would end up looking stupid. Think, think, THINK!

Breadcrumbs? He thought to himself. No, crap idea. No doubt some shitty insects or birds would eat the trail. What about…

‘Got any string?’

‘Why on earth would I bring string?’

He shrugged. ‘They use a line when people go cave diving-‘

‘What has cave diving got to do with this?’

There was another howl.

‘Well, cave divers lay a line of string down so when visibility gets really low they can-‘

‘Still find there way back,’ finished Agnes. She ruffled his hair. ‘You’re not as stupid as you look, are you?’

‘But have we got any?’

‘What?’

‘String.’ God, thought Joe, this was getting really difficult. This is why he prefered working on his own.

So, you want to be a writer? Story prompt.

Okay, one to think about today.

What makes a monster? Is it the way they look? Or is it something inside them? Or is it both?

Write a story where the monster of the piece is absolutely gorgeous. What makes him or her a monster? What’s inside them? What evil drives them?

man wearing gray suit
Photo by Mihai Stefan Photography on Pexels.com

Next, write a piece where there is a beast but actually he or she is the kindest person you could ever meet. What do they want? How do other people react to them? How do they feel about themselves?

person s gray hoodie
Photo by sebastiaan stam on Pexels.com

Good luck!

Dragon Rider – Part 39

Dragon Rider

Chapter Sixteen Continued

The Iron Fortress

A tall woman, dressed in a khaki uniform, approached them.  ‘Welcome to The Processing Centre, may I help you?’ she smiled at them through thick red lips.

‘Yes, we’re looking for the Main Tower,’ said Willow.

‘Certainly, if you just follow the central path through the Processing Yard you will reach the Tower in a few moments,’ she said, pointing the way with a bright red fingernail.  ‘Don’t look so scared, the Afterlife isn’t like this, this is just the Processing Centre.  Here we have to make sure everyone reaches their correct destination as quickly as possible.’  She thrust a piece of paper at them, ‘Please fill in this questionnaire to tell us how we can improve your experience at the Centre.’

Willow took the paper from her.  ‘We will, thanks for your help.’

Drake, Willow and Pyro negotiated the yard easily, finding themselves at the foot of The Main Tower in a matter of minutes.  Willow discarded the questionnaire into a plastic bin at the side of the entrance before they crossed the wooden bridge over the moat of liquid fire, and entered the tower through the two automatic glass doors.

The foyer of the Main Tower reminded Drake of an ultra-modern hotel like the ones that lined the Business District in Devilsgate.  It was incredibly bright; row upon row of chrome spotlights dazzled from the ceiling, the rays bouncing off the polished black marble floor like dozens of miniature fireballs which had the curious effect of making Drake feel like he was walking on the night‘s sky.  In the centre of the room stood a statue of twisted chrome (An Angel in Contemplation read the silver plaque fixed onto its base) with several designer acrylic chairs arranged around it in a semi-circle.  The receptionist, an elegant brunette, sat behind a black granite desk polishing her nails.

‘Over there,’ whispered Drake, pointing to the steel elevator situated to the right of the receptionist.

The receptionist looked up briefly as Willow, Drake and Pyro made their way over to the elevator.  The phone rang and she looked away.  ‘Hello, you are through to the Main Tower, Tracy speaking, how may I help you?’

Drake scanned the chrome sign on the wall beside the elevator that listed all the various departments within the tower.  ‘Un-human Resources…Complaints and Appeals…The Exit.  I wonder if that really is the way out?

‘Makes sense that it’s in the Main Tower,’ said Willow, ‘we better remember that for later.’

‘Ah, here it is,’ said Drake, ‘the Control Room.’

They stepped into the elevator and the doors glided shut behind them.  ‘Which floor do you require?’ asked a chirpy disembodied voice.

‘Seven-hundred and seventy-seven, please,’ replied Drake.  The elevator ascended so quickly that it didn’t feel as though they were moving at all.

There was a sound like a balloon deflating and an unpleasant smell wafted around the lift.

‘Please refrain from that kind of behaviour in the lift,’ said the Lift-voice.

Pyro shrugged.  ‘What can I say?  I’m surrounded by iron!’

After what seemed like only a second, the elevator came to a stop, a bell pinged and the doors opened.  ‘Welcome to the seven-hundred and seventy-seventh floor, The Control Room.  Please enjoy your stay,’ chimed the voice.

‘What is it with this place; why is everyone so blooming-well happy? snapped Willow.

Drake shrugged his shoulders and then stepped out onto a small landing with large steel doors that slowly opened as they approached.  ‘Let’s go and meet Brimo.’

‘I might just sit this one out,’ said Pyro, slinking to the back of the lift.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Drake, pulling Pyro out by his collar.

‘Will you quit manhandling me?  What is it with everyone thinking they can order me around?’ said Pyro, grabbing back his collar and brushing himself down, although he refrained from flaring up and burning Drake.

Tentatively they stepped through the doors.

Colours leeched out into the darkness from the television screens that covered almost every available surface, each screen broadcasting its own unique image.  Drake could see the brunette receptionist picking her nose and an image of the lobby from which they had entered the Control Room, whilst other images were clearly beaming back at them from the Land of the Living, a small hour glass counting down in the right-hand corner of each of the screens.

‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ said a cold voice from behind a black leather chair in the centre of the room.  The chair swung around to reveal a youthful, but severe, looking woman with red hair tied in a bun on the top of her head.

Drake cleared his throat.  ‘Are you Brimo, the Overseer?’

‘I am.’

‘You’re Death?’ asked Pyro stepping closer.

‘Not exactly,’ said the woman, tilting her head so that her jaw jutted out, ‘I organise the practicalities, the collecting of the Souls, making sure they have the right paperwork, that kind of thing.’

‘Interesting,’ said Pyro nodding his head as he inspected the Control Room with his eyes.

‘What?  Don‘t you think a woman should be in charge of such an operation?’

‘I don’t think he meant that,‘ said Drake.  A fight with Death?  Now that seemed too much like tempting fate.

‘Women give life to the people of the world, it seems only right that a woman also takes it away, don’t you think?’  Brimo’s green eyes blazed, challenging them to disagree.

‘Er, yes I suppose so,’ said Drake.  Was that the answer she was looking for?  God, she was even pricklier than Alchymia!

Brimo rose elegantly from her chair and glided over to the wall of television screens.  ‘So what is so important to two living beings and one fire-djinn, that they risk life and limb to travel through The Valley of Death?  What do you want?’

‘We’re looking for someone who’s dead,’ said Drake, almost immediately regretting the words he had used.

Brimo snorted in derision.  ‘Well obviously,’ she said, her jaw tensing slightly, ‘there aren’t many living things here.  Name?’

‘Hermes Trismegestus.’

‘And what makes you think you can just stroll in here demanding to see one of my Spirits?’ said Brimo looking at Drake over her shoulder.

‘I-’

‘I should strike you down now and be done with you,’ she said, sweeping around to face them, ‘What arrogance you have shown coming in here and disrupting the balance of things!  And the mess you have made of the Forest of Suffering, do you know how long that forest has been there?’

‘Er-’

‘No, I didn’t think you would,’ said Brimo.  She stroked her thin fingers over her chin, ‘So, what to do with you?’

‘Alchymia sent us,’ said Willow cutting through Brimo’s train of thought.

Drake glared at Willow.  Why couldn’t she just keep her trap shut?

‘What?’ screeched Brimo turning to look at Willow, her green eyes blazing with thunder.  ‘My sister has sent you?  It can’t be that important if she sends three miscreants to do her bidding!  Mind you, being down here does play havoc with her skin!’  The Overseer’s raucous laughs echoed around the room, then stopped abruptly.  ‘How do I know you tell the truth?’ she demanded, as she swept around to face Drake, her claw-like finger dangerously close to the end of his nose.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part 56

They’d been walking for hours before they even reached the edge of the Haunted Forest. I mean, thought Joe, how more cliché could you get than the Haunted Forest? He felt like he was in a bloody fairy tale.

Agnes had insisted on preparing him a little rucksack. She’d filled it with sandwiches full of green mushy stuff (Joe didn’t know what it was, nor was he going to ask as he thought that might get him into even more trouble than he already was in) and a flask of tea. Although, after having the last cup of tea with the Dead Man Walking, it had kind of turned him off but she was, at least, trying to be helpful. Joe had slipped the Book of the Dead into the rucksack even though it had proved pretty useless so far.

The bag itself was a little bit of a problem. It was pink with a picture of a My Little Pony on it. This raised several serious questions in Joe’s mind; why had Agnes got a pink My Little Pony Rucksack, and what did that say about her character? He buried these thoughts in the back of his head. He was far too much of a chicken to ask her.

It was pretty obvious, even to Joe, when they’d reached the edge of the Haunted Forest for a thick blanket of fog had started to envelop them in gloom.

‘So, before we go In,’ said Joe, trying to delay the inevitable moment of actually entering the forest, ‘what’s the deal with the Woodcutter?’

Agnes came to an abrupt halt. She spun around, her fists in tight little balls at her side. ‘What do you need to know other than he has my heart?’

‘Well, how did he get it? How did he steal it? It’s not really something that I thought would be easy to steal.’

‘Are you trying to say I was careless?’

‘Well, no…I…was just asking.’

Agnes’ shoulders dropped and she sighed loudly. ‘The truth is…I was careless. I loved him. And I gave my heart away -‘

‘But you said, he stole it.’

‘Joe,’ said Hel, ‘she means she gave it away metaphorically speaking.’

‘Yes. One night we…and then…when I woke up, he’d cut my heart out.’

‘But what did he want with your heart?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ snapped Agnes.