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Thoughts on Writing – Multiple Character Motivations in One Scene

Though I’ve primarily been focusing on getting the paperback edition ready for Magic’s Stealing (I ordered the proof copy today!) and making edits to The Multiverse Chronicles, I’ve still been thinking about the plot for The Shadow War. My goal is to iron out as many inconsistencies as possible before I get into the heavy writing/editing phase.

Today I’m going to look to look at a scene from The Shadow War and focus on how knowing the multiple character motivations in that scene can help improve the logic of what’s going on.

Warning: There are spoilers in this post regarding events in Magic’s Stealing, along with certain character motivations and the first major event of The Shadow War.

In other words, if you don’t want spoilers, you might want to pick up a copy of Magic’s Stealing before reading this post, then come back to read this post. If you don’t mind spoilers, then by all means, please continue reading. 🙂

Toward the beginning of The Shadow War (the second book) there is a scene in which it is very important that the main character, Toranih, is captured by the shadows. In the current draft of this scene, a city guard requests her presence for legitimate reasons, but once she’s separated from her friends, a pair of shadows ambush her and the guard, then drag her through a portal to where Shevanlagiy (the antagonist from the previous book) is waiting to kill her. Shevanlagiy makes the attempt, but Toranih takes her by surprise and knocks her aside, leaving Lord Menchtoteale (the leader of the Shadows) to try. He attempts to strike her once, but since Toranih knows that shadows can’t be killed by mortal weapons, she grabs the nearest shadow’s knife and strikes her own hand. She falls into the shadow realm, and Menchtoteale again attempts to kill her, this time making what should be a devastating blow with the Wishing Blade, but Isahna (the trickster god behind the shadows, the god Menchoteale answers to) heals Toranih, orders Shevanlagiy to leave Toranih alone, and orders Menchtoteale to train her.

At this point in time, though, I’m a bit concerned that all of that is going to seem rather… confusing.

Why does Isahna prevent Menchtoteale from killing Toranih, and more importantly, why can’t these big bad guys successfully kill an almost defenseless teenager?

(Though I do have to say that Toranih has been working on her magic, and she is good at physical combat. But still… shouldn’t a well-trained sword fighter with a magic sword, or a super-powerful sorceress, manage one partially-trained kid?)

Since I want these scenes to make logical sense, I did my usual day-dreaming to work out the problems with this scene. As a result, I considered the character motivation for each character involved.

Toranih: She wants to get out of this alive. Being caught by shadows? Not exactly conducive to her plans of warning the port city of the upcoming attack. Now, she’s been in the shadow realm before (in a slightly alternate timeline that got erased because of her actions–read Magic’s Stealing if you want to know how that went), so she has a bit of an idea of how shadow magic works. She also knows that–at least according to her memory–she’s resistant to Menchtoteale’s attempts at magic’s lure (basically, a mind control power).

Shevanlagiy: Thanks to events in Magic’s Stealing, Toranih has part of Shevanlagiy’s magic… specifically her resistance to magic’s lure. Before that event, Shevanlagiy could ignore Isahna’s commands (so long as ignoring his commands don’t alert him to her own secret plans). Now that Shevanlagiy has lost part of her magic, she’s not sure how much it will take for Isahna to give her orders that she must follow, which isn’t good when she plans on stealing the Wishing Blade from him later. At this point, she needs to kill Toranih as soon as possible. However, it’s important that she be the one to kill Toranih, otherwise she won’t get her magic back.

Menchtoteale: He’s in charge of wielding the Wishing Blade, and his job is to collect as much power into the sword as possible. He needs an army of shadows (to overrun the Immortal Realm so that he can kill the gods and force their powers into Wishing Blade). Toranih was one of the few mages who didn’t lose her powers when he wished the magic of Cirena into the Wishing Blade, largely because she had the support of a lower-tier goddess behind her. For Menchtoteale, killing Toranih with the sword means finishing that part of the job. Alternatively, striking her with a shadow blade means he should be able to command her. But he knows that someone who looked like Toranih was particularly resistant to his ability to command the shadows. As such, killing her is the more practical option, even though having a shadow mage on his side could be good for the army.

Isahna: His intent is to have Menchtoteale get as much power in the Wishing Blade as possible so that he can eventually take that sword, confront the high gods, then take their place. (It’s a bit of a vendetta after he lost the bid for power to a different god). He’s gotten surprisingly useful information from Shevanlagiy, but he’s certain that she’s playing him for a fool. Unfortunately, he’s not all-knowing, so he’s not sure what her end-game is. He does have an idea that her resistance to his powers may have dropped recently, and has something to do with Toranih. Thus, keeping Toranih around might give him a few insights into what Shevanlagiy has planned… especially since the kid has strong powers (if she can be coaxed into using them) and an interest in military operations (unlike Menchtoteale, who Isahna chose as his general mainly because the guy could forge the Wishing Blade).

There are other motivations behind these guys, as well, but I’m trying not to give away all the twists of this scene. 😉

Anyway, looking at those motivations, let’s take a look at the scene again and at what could happen instead.

First, Toranih must be captured early on in the story (or at least, she needs to be in a position where she becomes a shadow). This is critical to the plot, as she needs to be working against the shadow army from the inside. The problem with this is that, in theory, Shevanlagiy really should just sneak up on Toranih and stab her in the back.

Problem solved (And we have one very happy Shevanlagiy).

But we know from Magic’s Stealing that Shevanlagiy is hesitant to do that so long as Toranih’s other two friends are around. They have an artifact which can effectively wipe out shadows (and is a large detriment to her own powers). Not only that, but one of those people is Toranih’s sister–who has proven to have particularly good aim with a throwing knife and nearly killed Shevanlagiy once before (Shevanlagiy doesn’t die, per se, but she can get thrown into another realm and thus lose all her progress in this realm). The other person is Daernan–someone Shevanlagiy has been working very hard at making sure he stays alive. Putting him in danger isn’t a good idea for her–not yet.

Even if Shevanlagiy simply stabbed Toranih with a shadow knife and commanded her to hold still while she delivered the finishing blow, the possibility that Toranih might get destroyed by the artifact her friends have–thus permanently losing her “stolen” magic–is not a good risk.

So that’s an area I’m still running into issues with. Shevanlagiy needs Toranih dead, so the question is how does she make that attempt?

For now, let’s say that Shevanlagiy still orders a pair of shadows to kidnap Toranih and bring the girl to her. Now she’s putting the shadows–but not herself–at risk. Shevanlagiy’s first goal is still to kill Toranih… just on her own terms. She’s ready to strike when Toranih arrives, and makes an immediate attempt on Toranih’s life.

Since we don’t want Toranih dead yet, this is where we can see Toranih’s growth with magic from the previous story. She successfully thwarts Shevanlagiy with telekinesis… even though her chances are looking bleak if she can’t find a way to quickly escape.

Now enter Menchtoteale. He’s in the same location (which makes me consider… why would Shevanlagiy bring her captive to the same place as someone who might kill Toranih before her? Perhaps he comes back to their base unexpectedly early? Or perhaps Isahna gets wind that Shevanlagiy is up to something, so he sends his puppet along to check things out). Either way, Menchtoteale arrives unexpectedly, realizes Toranih is the same person he saw earlier, and he knows he won’t be able to control her easily. Forget making her a shadow, then. While Shevanlagiy is still dazed from her earlier attack, he attempts to kill Toranih and be done with it… except that Toranih, in her desperation, snags the knife from one of the nearby shadows and prevents her death by turning herself into a shadow. The catch here is that if he uses the Wishing Blade, that would kill her (but she might not be thinking about that)… unless he stops mid-strike because he’s bewildered that anyone would willingly make themselves a shadow.

He’s not the only one. Toranih isn’t sure what to make of her decision, either.

In the meantime, Shevanlagiy has had enough time to get back into the game. Now it’s more important than ever that she kill Toranih. She prepares to make the kill, but is stopped when Isahna shows up and orders them to stop. She can technically disobey his orders at the moment, but deliberately breaking his rules now would make it clear that she has her own agenda, which would jeopardize her later plans. She holds back, though she’s still trying to figure out how to take out her enemy.

Now, this next section needs some work, but this is what I have in mind so far:

Isahna orders them not to harm Toranih. Both Menchtoteale and Shevanlagiy protest, and Isahna makes the case that Toranih might be useful to have around. He orders Menchtoteale to train her, and orders Shevanlagiy not to kill her. When Shevanlagiy expresses her displeasure with the idea, he begins to question her why. Shevanlagiy tries making excuses, to which Isahna starts giving her minor orders with magic’s lure, ones which he knows she will deny if his suspicions about her are correct. Each time she refuses, her ability to resist magic’s lure dwindles, until he finally gives the order not to kill Toranih. This time, he successfully uses his power against her. Not only can he now keep Shevanlagiy away from his new military interest, but he has also discovered exactly where her resistance to his powers ends.

This is important for multiple reasons.

1st – This sets up a rule of magic that we will see throughout the rest of the series, one which Menchtoteale tells Toranih (paraphrased): “Better to accept the little things that Isahna orders of you, and thus be able to resist the commands that matter to you, rather than resist the insignificant things and be forced to do something terrible.”

2nd – We now see exactly why Shevanlagiy is afraid of Isahna… and why she is more desperate than before to push her plans along and find some way to strike Toranih and get her powers back… especially now that she physically can’t unless she takes care of Isahna first. Not only that, but this puts her in a position to ignore Toranih for the time being and focus her attention on Daernan, which gets into the sub-plot regarding glass-stone and protecting the kingdom from the shadows. Shevanlagiy is playing both sides, which makes her, to some extent, unpredictable.

3rd  – Toranih has now seen firsthand how magic’s lure works from Isahna, which affects her decisions through the rest of the series. This is especially important when Isahna offers her a legitimately useful deal later (Though it comes with it’s costs,of course. I rather enjoy stories with villains who can offer a hard-to-resist deal. Probably one of the reasons that I enjoyed Rumpelstiltskin’s character in Once Upon A Time). Along the same token, we’ll also see Isahna offering Menchtoteale a deal regarding Menchtoteale’s own freedom if he can get Toranih interested in trading places with him… and that gets into a whole nother set of character motivations. Needless to say, Isahna is going to try covering all the angles.

In the long run, taking a close look at what motivates each primary character to act, especially early on in your manuscript, can really help to work out the kinks not only in a specific scene, but also in the full length of the plot. Not only that, but you’ll also have more believable antagonists and stronger protagonists, because we can understand what they’re up against.

Now I just have to figure out how much to actually show in the story. On the bright side I’ve already shown multiple points of view in the first book, so it won’t be as odd if we see the occasional point of view from the antagonists.

I hope this post has been helpful. 🙂 Have you ever explored a character’s motivations to solve problematic scenes?

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Thoughts On Writing – Using Subplots To Tie Everything Together

Last time I blogged, I talked about figuring out what happens next in a scene. That process helped me out considerably with the scene I was working on, along with a few scenes before that. However, I’ve been running into a new problem–figuring out how to get the ending to fit together.

The story I’m currently working on is supposed to be a romance with science fiction elements. One of the scenes I visualized for the ending was… well… not romantic. The characters stay together, but there’s this looming shadow of oppression hanging over them both.

Not exactly a happy ending.

I tried day-dreaming alternative ways the scene could play out. I originally had Special Forces tapping Cole’s phone, and so they overhear when Amy says that Mr. Rivera is a member of Challenge, a supposed terrorist organization. But then my husband pointed out that, as Cole’s supervisor, Mr. Rivera would be the one to hear the message first.

No Special Forces agents descending on the group, leading to a major fight scene that doesn’t end well for anybody. Not unless Tamara called the police earlier, but that didn’t make sense with her motives.

So I started plotting what might be said if Tamara and Cole sat down confront Mr. Rivera directly. One of the things I pictured Mr. Rivera saying was that not all members of Challenge were the bad guys. Then I realized that I already had the elements in place to include an actual bad guy who was working for Challenge.

All in the form of a separate subplot that I’d largely forgotten.

This is a scene from earlier in the story, one which made me realize I had an undeveloped subplot waiting to be used.

“What took you so long?” Amy looked up from her phone and raised an eyebrow. She was probably playing an EYEnet game, or something like that. “Get lost in the cafeteria? Or did you meet somebody cute downstairs?” She eyed my empty laundry basket suspiciously.

 

“Unless you count the police officer, not really.” I dropped onto the bed and yawned.

 

Admittedly, the guy had been cute. Light brown hair, closely cropped to his head. Square jaw, and a smattering of super-light freckles across his cheeks. Didn’t look badly built, either. But I’d been too worried about the ‘painting’ to dwell on his looks.

 

“Police officer?” She frowned and lowered her phone to her lap. “What happened?”

 

“Someone drew a picture on the wall.” I sighed, already removing my phone from my pocket to show her.

 

“A policeman came for a picture?”

 

“Not just any picture.” I passed her the phone. Her green eyes widened as she stared at the picture I’d taken. “You okay?”

 

I wrestled the phone back from her fingers. Her knuckles had gone white from how tight she was gripping that thing.

 

“Yeah,” she whispered. “Wish I’d thought of that.”

 

I blinked. “What?”

 

She laughed dismissively. “Using laundry detergent to paint a picture. It’s imaginative. Even if it is… well… you know.” Her voice dropped off, and her lips twisted into a frown. She was still eyeing my phone.

 

“Should I delete the picture?” I asked.

 

“What?”

 

“You know… so it doesn’t look like I’m supporting them?”

 

She scoffed. “You? Supporting them? Please. You’re like… the community ideal. Or you will be, if the whole EYEnet Match thing works out. You already reported this to the police, didn’t you? That’s how they found it?”

 

I nodded.

 

“Then you’re fine. Long as you weren’t the one who painted it.” She swiveled around to her computer.

 

“I’m fine? Someone around here is painting terrorist symbols on campus. In our dorm.”

 

Amy shrugged. Her blond ponytail bobbed inconspicuously. “I’m not worried. It’s probably just a student wanting to cause a ruckus. And even if it is someone from Challenge, I still wouldn’t worry too much. Didn’t you read those articles I gave you? Most those people probably aren’t going to do an outright attack. They need allies, not enemies, and attacking innocent people isn’t going to win them brownie points.”

Originally, I had planned for Amy to be the one doing the painting, since she has ties to Challenge. But as I wrote this scene, I got the distinct impression that Amy wasn’t the culprit. While I want readers to wonder if she is the culprit, this scene is also foreshadowing. If I weave in other incidents similar to this one, I can hint that there’s someone else on campus who is leaving behind these symbols.

Someone being reckless.

When I get to the scene where Tamara and Cole must choose between reporting to the police that Mr. Rivera is part of Challenge, or working with him, it helps if they have someone to rally against. In this case, a rogue member of Challenge who might actually be a threat.

The stakes are high for both sides. If this rogue is discovered, they draw attention to the ‘good’ Challenge members–Mr. Rivera and Amy. In addition, if this rogue makes an attack, innocent people are at risk. Since Tamara is interested in finding out the truth behind Challenge, she’s likely to get involved. Cole may get involved to protect Tamara and learn more about his supervisor’s (Mr. Rivera’s) secrets, while Amy would get involved because she wants to dispel the notion that all members of Challenge are terrorists.

Thus, by following a subplot that got planted earlier in the story, I may have a way to bring both sides together, raise the stakes, and still have the potential for a happy-ever-after.

But that’s still to be determined.

Now that I know someone other than Amy is leaving the symbol in public places, I’ve got to decide who they are, what they want, and how far they’ll go to get that.

Lesson learned? Subplots can be a helpful tool to move your story along and flesh out the world.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you ever found a piece of foreshadowing or minor subplot to be useful later when writing a story?

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Thoughts on Writing – Figuring Out ‘What Happens Next?’

As you may have read in my last blog post, I’ve been working on a new adult, science fiction romance set in the Distant Horizon universe. Which has been… interesting, to say the least. Romances in that particular universe have a habit of not ending well.

However, since I challenged myself to write a romance, and not a science fiction story with romantic elements, that means I’ve got to figure out how to give my hero and heroine a happily ever after with each other. Or at least a happy-for now ending.

*Head-desk.*

Right now I’m working on the climax. I’m in a lovely spot where I’ve figured out what triggers the ending… but not where to go from there.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Quick back story: Tamara is the main character. She doesn’t have powers and she craves stability (and a stable relationship), but secrets bug her to no end. Meanwhile, Cole (the hero), is a telepath working under Mr. Rivera, who has ordered Cole to date Tamara so that he can get close to her best friend, Amy (who has successfully concealed her powers), to see if Amy has ties to a so-called “terrorist” group, Challenge. There’s plenty of secrets surrounding them, which Tamara is trying to unravel.

Got all that?

So here’s the precursor to the scene I’m on.

Tamara figures out that Cole has telepathy, thanks to her long-running interest in super powers. She calls him out on it, and though he physically can’t tell her everything, he gives her enough information that she finally realizes that he has some kind of telepathic block holding him back. While he’s trying to work around that block, Amy bursts into the room. (She’s Tamara’s roommate and doesn’t expect to find them nuzzling). Cole instantly notices that his powers have been shielded. Since Amy was already scanned a while back… and she didn’t show as having powers, Cole attributes this as proof that she has a rare set of powers and that she may be working for Challenge. He runs off to report to Mr. Rivera because he’s worried for Tamara’s safety if Amy is involved with Challenge.

Shortly after their talk, Mr. Rivera reports to his superiors (his actual superiors, he’s a double-agent for Challenge) so that he can try to recruit Amy. But Cole doesn’t know this, so he’s moping around thinking that he’s just sent away the best friend of the woman he likes.

Meanwhile, Tamara goes to Mr. Rivera’s office in hopes of getting information from him about Cole’s strange behaviors. Instead, she finds an empty office with a folder of incriminating evidence on Mr. Rivera’s desk that suggests the counselor is a member of Challenge… along with a note that has Amy’s name on it. Worried that he’s going after Amy, she tries to contact her best friend. After no response, Tamara then contacts Cole to confront him and see if he had any idea that Mr. Rivera was a double-agent. Cole is perplexed, since Mr. Rivera has been his supervisor for the last several years. But he begins to question himself when Tamara shows him her evidence.

This is where I run into problems.

Tamara has just enough information to be suspicious of the government’s motives, but she has no absolute proof. Cole, on the other hand, has long believed that his powers were a result of the plague he survived, and Amy has been rather vocal in her distrust of the government’s recent actions. So when Cole explains that Amy might have blocked his powers, Tamara is not entirely surprised. But she has evidence that, prior to the plague, Challenge was typically a criminal group (and they had super powers), so she’ not ready to trust them immediately, despite evidence suggesting that Challenge might no longer be criminal. If the government has been corrupted, Challenge is not be the bad guy everyone thinks they are. However, if the government hasn’t been corrupted, then Challenge is most definitely the bad guys.

Back to Tamara and Cole.

They could sit around and hope for the best, (but that would be boring and they have enough evidence to be worried for their friend’s safety), they can call the police, or they can investigate on their own.

In order to figure out what should happen next, I needed to look at the whole picture, even that which isn’t going to be shown to the readers.

Let’s figure out what’s going on with Amy and Mr. Rivera, even though we may not see this particular exchange in the story.

First of all, I needed to know what Amy could do to get out of a tough situation. If you recall, she’s a shielder, which means she can block powers. More importantly, shielding is a combination of three powers: life-spirit, radiation, and power steal. That’s a pretty nice combo to have, especially if she has any training. Given that she’s been meeting with her cousin, a member of Challenge who would want her to protect herself, it’s certainly not impossible. In addition, her power blocking skill is coveted by pretty much every group involved.

People want her alive.

Mr. Rivera, on the other hand, does not have powers, but he does know of a ‘key’ that has been telepathically embedded in Cole’s brain that would allow Mr. Rivera to issue commands to Cole… which Cole would have to follow. The particular process could be experimental, though, and may not always work properly (especially if anyone else knows they key).

The question, then, is the order of events after which Mr. Rivera learns that Amy has powers and might be sympathetic to his cause. He might inform someone in his group that he’s going to approach a potential recruit in case he needs backup. Or he might approach her directly. If Amy has a night class, he might wait until she’s done with class and try to talk to her afterwards, if he’s not afraid of scaring her off. (Granted, I’m not sure about taking this route, since a similar scene happens in Distant Horizon).

Or Mr. Rivera might contact Amy shortly after he learns what she can do, and not bother talking with other members of Challenge. He tries to approach her directly, and thus meets with her in a semi-public place to ease her concerns.

As for Amy, she would be skeptical. She knows that the government is trying to weed out people with powers. But she’s also been trying to get involved with Challenge, so she might take risks that she wouldn’t otherwise take.

Let’s say that Amy skips her night class and goes to meet Mr. Rivera at the coffee shop in the student union. She’s in public, so she’s not meeting a stranger in a high-risk situation. But she’ll have to be careful about demonstrating any of her powers. If innocent people notice and she causes a scare, the security involved may just wipe out the whole area and claim the campus was devastated by the plague.

Wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

Now that we know where Amy and Mr. Rivera are (not in a secret facility, like I initially day-dreamed, though that may happen later, depending on the outcome of this scene), let’s jump back to Tamara and Cole.

If Tamara and Cole call security because they’re worried for Amy’s safety, they’ll be questioned and a search will go out for Amy and Mr. Rivera. If Cole mentions Amy’s powers, Special Forces will get involved and everyone’s chances of surviving gets really slim.

This makes for a difficult happily-ever-after, though it has nice stakes if I can figure out how to get them out of trouble. Amy can fend for herself, while Tamara and Cole could potentially help them escape (not quite sure how yet), unless they go the ‘bad guy’ route and go pro-government, entirely believing Challenge is the bad guys. (This could happen if Amy and Mr. Rivera aren’t careful of what they say).

But if Mr. Rivera has a chance to explain himself first, he may be able to prove that the government has been killing off people with powers, and doing a few other nasty experiments on them, too. Cole, with his telepathy and persuasion powers, would be a perfect test subject for their major experiments, and Cole can’t be certain they would let him go after Mr. Rivera gets captured, even if he complies with their orders (and does he even want to? His life hasn’t exactly been his for the past few years).

If Cole agrees to help Mr. Rivera, they could get Amy to safety, and then Cole has to find some way to stay in the country without drawing attention to himself. Or he could flee altogether.

In the meantime, we have Tamara. She would want to protect Amy and get answers, and she would get a lot more transparency if she leaves with Mr. Rivera. But then she wouldn’t be able to see what’s going on from the inside the way that Amy has. By playing the part of the ‘good citizen,’ Tamara might be able to help other people with powers escape.

But then she wouldn’t have the stability she longs for.

Here we have a sacrifice on either end of the spectrum. Does Tamara flee the country, in which she gets the stability she longs for and a more definite idea of what’s going on? Or does she stay behind to pass along inside information to Challenge and help others escape? How does Cole figure into this equation?

This story is supposed to be a romance, after all, with the two of them discovering that they want to be together.

Maybe Tamara remembers that Amy has a night class, and decides it would be best not to jump to conclusions. Cole asks if she’s had dinner yet, and she hasn’t, so they decide to head to the cafeteria while they wait. But once they get there, they see Mr. Rivera sitting at a secluded table chatting with Amy.

But this feels like it has lower stakes, unless they make a pre-emptive call, only to discover the Amy and Mr. Rivera in the cafeteria, and security quickly descending on them…

I haven’t quite decided how this scene plays out, but I’m another step closer. By looking at the whole equation, the potential actions of each character makes a lot more sense, and gives me more room to play while narrowing the options to a logical path.

So… will they call security? Or will they set out to find Amy themselves?

To be determined.

I hope you found this post helpful. 🙂

What do you do when you get stuck with a scene?

Further Reading:

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/08/dont-know-how-to-end-your-scene-heres.html

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Thoughts on Writing – Creating Tension

In my previous post about what a serial episode needs, one of the key elements I mentioned was having tension and/or conflict. Each episode needs to have some kind of tension, or else the story will be boring.

Often times we add conflict to a story by adding action. But that’s not always what creates tension (and action scenes can be boring if the stakes aren’t right for the character involved). At times, I’ve struggled in my edits of The Multiverse Chronicles to see what is missing. In some cases, it’s the lack of scenery details. In other cases, the characters aren’t interacting properly. In yet others, there’s a lack of tension, as I discovered in one of the recent episodes I edited.

In the first part of that episode, Trish, a cadet in the Queen’s Royal Army, is riding a cart towards the camp where she will be stationed for the next six months. She has a chat with the driver, but everything is peaceful.

Too peaceful.

So I delved deeper into the scene. There needed to be some tension involved, or the scene would fall flat. Upon looking closer, I realized there was plenty of tension to be had. The tension starts with Trish. She’s not just a cadet, she’s a second-chance cadet. An earlier mishap got her dishonorably discharged. She still feels guilty for the incident, but she’s determined to prove that she will make a great rider. But, compounding the problem, she wasn’t the best student to begin with (she didn’t think pterosaurs would be that difficult to ride), and she’s prideful. By examining the scene through Trish’s eyes (What is she worrying about? What does she think of the driver?), the tension starts to develop.

So I built up the relationship between her and the driver (who unintentionally makes a major jab at her pride), showed her in a world where the details lend to uncertainty, and watched the tension rise.

(Note, this scene may change in the final version of this story.)

Example:

 The cart ahead of them swayed, sending its recruits wincing against the frame, and Trish braced herself for another jolt. The cart lurched and the young driver next to her yelped under his breath.

 (Already we know that Trish isn’t in the most comfortable situation. The stage is being set.)

 

Mr. Ó Riagán was lanky and pale—made more pale by his flame-orange hair and prominent freckles—and he sported a bright pink sunburn anywhere that wasn’t covered. Trish guessed he wasn’t more than eighteen years old, given his baby face, but he still donned the crimson uniform of Her Royal Army.

(The driver seems young. This will come back later.)

 

He drew back the reins and slowed the horses. “Easy there, Norwich,” he crooned in a soft Irish accent. “You’re going to break your leg if you hit one of those holes directly.”

 (Another problem… a horse breaking its leg isn’t good. Not a major hindrance, but it’s now something the main character could worry about.)

 

The mare nearest to him shook her head as if to protest. In fact, Trish got the distinct impression that she was more likely to break his leg if he didn’t give her a little more lead. He frowned uncertainly and loosened the reins a bit.

(Now we see Ó Riagán being a bit unsure of himself, at least in Trish’s mind, due to his earlier mentioned age.)

 

“So…” The guy glanced at Trish, licked his lips nervously, then went back to watching the roads. “You’re the one who can control the rogue?”

(He’s trying to make conversation…)

 

Trish blinked, surprised that he’d said anything. He hadn’t spoken more than a mumbled “hi” to her until now. (Apparently he hasn’t been very talkative.) She turned to their cargo behind her, the rogue pterosaur. The creature slept peacefully, drugged so that the trip wouldn’t be too stressful. The other drakes flew overhead, but since Trish wasn’t a trained pterosaur rider, this one had to be brought in by cart. (A reference back to how she was able to re-enlist, and a stab at the fact that Trish isn’t trained to ride yet).

 

With that in mind, Trish wasn’t sure how Colonel Pearson planned to handle her training. Her deployment had been sudden.

(This is all happening a bit fast for her.)

 

Still, she nodded to the young man and smiled fondly at the sleeping pterosaur. “You could say I can control her, but I think that’s because she likes me.”

 

The young man’s green eyes lit up in awe. “You have a familiar bond?”

 

“A what?” Trish frowned. She wasn’t sure what he was talking about.

(More uncertainty on her part.)

 

He blinked. “You don’t know about familiar bonds?”

 

Trish shook her head.

 

“Oh, I’m sure the colonel will explain when he has the chance.” The young man grinned. “I would try, but I’m afraid I’d butcher the explanation.”

 

“Butcher the explanation?”

(She’s trying to get information, but he’s not giving it.)

 

“Yeah… I graduated from the beastmasters’ academy in Oxford, but—”

 

“Wait. You went to Oxford?”

(Guy who looks younger than her went to prestigious academy)

 

“Yeah, well…” He scratched the back of his neck, sheepish. Trish hadn’t thought his sun burnt cheeks could get any redder, but they did. “The instructors said I was gifted. I started using beast mastery when I was eight.”

 

Trish stared at him. “You were eight?” Here she thought she’d been special, given the strength of her beast mastery. But she’d started showing her powers when she was thirteen, along with most the other people who had powers.

 

Not nearly so young.

(And now she’s feeling a bit dejected because this guy is obviously more gifted than her. Earlier episodes revealed her prideful tendencies.)

 

Mr. Ó Riagán nodded enthusiastically. “I liked to scare my older sister when she was reading. I’d have Jesse—that was our terrier—sneak up behind her and bark real loud.” He chuckled. “I was such a twerp.”

 

Trish forced a smile. “So what do you do now? Are you a rider, a pack master…?”

(She’s trying to change the conversation…)

 

“General Buford and Ruger are the pack masters for the wolves. I’m the head assistant for Lady Akeyo Kaburu. She’s the beasts’ caretaker.” He puffed out his chest with pride. “Just call her Lady Akeyo, though. She doesn’t like formalities. Not unless she doesn’t like you. By the way, I’m Sean. Do you mind if I call you Trish?”

 

“Um… sure.” She wasn’t sure what to think of him quite yet, and he was… chatty.

(She’s not so sure she likes this guy… but she’s trying to withhold judgement.)

 

“Hey!” he called out to the horses. “Stop trying to aim us for the potholes!”

 

The second mare nickered, as if she were blaming Norwich, but they maneuvered cleanly around the rugged hole that the cart ahead of them hit square on.

 

Trish eyed him, amused. “Do you talk aloud to all your beasts?”

(A sort-of jab at him.)

 

Sean shrugged. “Well, sometimes. Most the soldiers don’t talk to me. Granted, these fellows don’t talk back either, but I can get their general feelings.”

 

Trish nodded sympathetically. She hadn’t gotten much chat from the other soldiers, either, though that might have had something to do with the short notice in which she’d joined and been deployed to this particular station.

(And now they’ve found common ground. The tension has shifted from her dealing with Ó Riagán to her dealing with the other soldiers.)

By adding the details of the jolting wagon and the uncertain road, we’ve added scenery details to the world that enhances the tension. Those scenery details also lead to the characterization of Ó Riagán, who thereby gets into an in-depth conversation with Trish, which leads to more uncertainty on her part.

There’s not a lot of action, but there’s still tension between characters.

I hope you found this post helpful. Have you read any books where the story felt flat and lacked in tension? Have you worked on any stories where you realized that conflict was missing?

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