Writing Report November 23, 2016

“When I was a young man about to go out into the world, my father says to me a very valuable thing. He says to me like this... ‘Son,’ the old guy says, ‘I am sorry that I am not able to bank roll you to a very large start, but not having any potatoes which to give you, I am now going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand new deck of cards on which the seal has not yet been broken. This man is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of that deck and squirt cider in your ear. Now son, you do not take this bet, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider.’" -- Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), Guys And Dolls

guys-and-dolls-marlon-brando-1955The female barbarian fantasy sequel is proceeding nicely (good thing I restarted it rather than slug ahead), but it did make me realize my original ending was not a very good one[1].

I posted the following on Facebook and asked for suggestions:

Working on the second female barbarian story I mentioned earlier. Will post a full writing report in a day or two, however...

Could use some suggestions re story's climax. Without giving too much away:

Story is set in fantasy equivalent of Middle East in ancient / Biblical / classical eras. Climax involves a small city besieged by vampire / zombie-like monsters that only come out at night and are vulnerable to sunlight, requiring coffins or caves to hide in during day. (These are monsters of my creation so I can give 'em pretty much any vulnerabilities I wish.)

City has several caravans and store houses with standard trade items of era: Spices, silk, salt, oil, etc.

I'm trying to figure out:

How to prevent monsters from returning to coffins (the location of which are known to protagonists) by leaving something in them / doing something to them

Effective way of fighting them / holding them at bay until sunrise

No religious / magic solutions such as charms, spells, etc. Real items (such as wooden stakes, salt, silver weapons, etc) preferred.

Suggestions?

About two dozen FB friends posted a variety of suggestions, some workable from a story POV, others not[2].

And their ideas certainly helped: They kicked loose the log jam and got me to thinking and doing some research and I realized my main protagonist and one of her allies would have a perfect reason to know what to do and how to do it to counter the monsters.

Now I have to go back and indicate they know this information long before we get to the point of the story where it’s necessary for them to know it.

It’s known among literary writers as “prefiguring” and among Hollywood scribes as “laying track,” “laying pipe,” or “hanging a lantern on it.”

It can be done well or it can be done badly.

When a no-name character actor is introduced as Steven Seagal’s bestest friend ever in the whole wide world in reel one and his first line of dialog is, “Hey, thanks for lending me all your guns last week; as soon as I clean ‘em all I’ll bring ‘em back” well, we know he’s not going to see the beginning of reel two and at the end of the movie, when Steven Seagal is alone and unarmed and outnumbered a gazillion to one, he’ll remember all his guns are over at his bestest deadest friend ever in the whole wide world’s house and that the production armorer is buying blank rounds by the bushel.

I’m trying to do it better than that.

There are two places where I can prefigure / lay track for my climax: One in which my protagonist sees something in the fortifications as she first enters the city, a second when she and her ally discuss a previous campaign they served in.

Now, that scene is interesting because it’s really not about them serving together; that point has already been brought up in dialog.

Rather, it’s about a secret the ally is hiding, one that doesn’t go back to the campaign in discussion but involves another character crucial to the story. Originally my intent was just to introduce the fact that this third character exists and that the ally is no longer in contact with them.

And the scene will still serve that purpose.

But changing it slightly will also give me a chance to explain how my protagonist and her ally know all about the technique they will use to fight the monsters and so in the end when our guys are surrounded and threatened with the proverbial fate worse than death…

My protagonist will say, “Wait, remember that time in the earlier campaign…?”

And her ally will say, “Yes! Of course! Quick, men, do what she tells you!”[3]

And then it becomes a fierce battle of men vs. monsters, with the men desperately holding on until the first rays of sunlight will decimate the monsters.

So what’s that got to do with Sky Masterson’s advice and his underworld of gamblers and gangsters?

Simple: It is a perfect example of prefiguring as one could hope for.[4]

It is establishing the rules of Guys And Dolls to the audience: You will be tricked. You will be tricked in a way that seems random and unbelievable, but when it happens because you have been told this is a story where the random and unbelievable are to be expected you will laugh and cheer and feel happy for the characters.

Everything I logically need to make my new ending work is already established as being in the city. And this scene will make my protagonist seem smart and tough and capable…

…and not like the author is pulling it straight outta his ass.

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[1]  It involved A Much Too Convenient Volcano, which is always bad news for a story. If the whole point of the story is centered on the volcano -- say The Last Days Of Pompeii or You Only Live Twice -- you can use a volcano. But if it’s just an arbitrary device to force the plot to work, well, then you can’t. Or at least shouldn’t.

[2]  Because I did not include all story details, and so without knowing it they suggested something that wouldn’t fit.

[3]  Hopefully not that baldly. Or badly.

[4]  As opposed to the all too real Steve Seagal example.

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