Once upon a time, there was a handsome Concept, and its name was Action.
Far away, there was a girl, and her name was Kat. She was locked in the dark tower of Loose Plots, held captive by the ghost of a dead Concept called Simplicity. Up in her tower, she little dreamed of the possibilities in the world below.
But then one day, the Concept, Action, having heard of the girl in the tower, and it being in its very nature to do something, mounted its trusty steed, Learning, and rode to her rescue. The ghost, Simplicity, fled in a huff and left the girl to the Concept. And so Learning brought Action to Kat and opened the way to all sorts of literary possibilities yet unexplored. She was happier with her writing than she’d ever been. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.
Isn’t that an awesome story? Great, I thought so too.
Of course, that might be influenced by the fact that I’m in it, and that I wrote it. 😉 It’s true, though, just told in a different way than I usually tell it.
Now, if you’ll hang with me, I’m going to illustrate this story. With words. If you aren’t interested in spending precious minutes of your time reading some horrible homebrewed-by-a-15-year-old-but-writes-like-a-11-year-old material, then go ahead and skip the italicized stuff. It looks long, but it’s really just one scene each – the climaxes compared. The first is a clip from my story Secrets of the Lost Kingdom. And believe it or not, this is the climax. Really. I wrote it before I met Action. I tried to put “tension” in it, but… Fail.
The second is from my story Mastermind, which I wrote a year later, after I met Action. I’m still practicing, so it’s a bit forced, but worlds better than Secrets of the Lost Kingdom. Not that that’s saying much. Just. Don’t. Go. There.
“Paige had been straining her ears to hear the conversation that was taking place between the warlord Roshech and her cousin Lee. The intensifying pain in her ankle was searing through her whole body now, it seemed, and made it hard to focus. She gripped the sill and listened hard. She caught the words “battle” and “save”, but it was surprisingly Roshech’s voice. Then she could hear Lee speaking but could not catch the words until the very end when the ringing words of the challenge bounced clearly as a tolling bell even in the hall in which she stood “surrender or die”. At last! The cue she had been waiting for! Every muscle tensed, ready to spring into action with lightning speed, she listened to hear if, or rather when, Roshech refused. She heard a defiant shout and the words ‘you die tonight, elf!” and knew that her time to act had come. Wincing but ignoring the pain, Paige dropped on to one knee and began frantically striking the flint against her blade, hoping her icy hands would be able to accomplish the task. Twice she tried with no success. Cold sweat poured from her and her hands trembled. Setting her teeth, she forced herself to use smooth, precise motions and seconds later, the sparks flew. The string hissed and shriveled, turning black at the end and then with a flash, the fire sizzled down the hall away from her. Paige rose to her feet and limped to the window, hauling herself gingerly to stand on the sill. Only a second after she had ignited the string, and while she still hovered on the sill, there was a brilliant blaze of light at the end of the hall and a loud explosion. Paige gazed at it, transfixed. She had never seen anything so amazing and incredible in her life. Time stood still, and she marveled at how remarkable it was the something so potent and powerful could be used both for good and evil purposes, and still she did not take the leap. It was as if she had suddenly been cast under a spell and could not move, even to save herself, even if she wanted to, but she didn’t want to. A sudden and inexplicable desire to stay and see what the rest of the trap would look like when it exploded came over her and for one fraction of a second, she remained motionless. In the gulf of stillness that gaped in the air after the first explosion, one critical memory drifted back into her consciousness as if borne on the gentle breeze that stirred about the fortress, and her own voice seemed to whisper around her as her last words to Izzy and her father pounded in her head. “I’ll stay as safe as I can, I promise.” With a shock, Paige came to herself. She was not on the verge of witnessing something exciting, she was on the verge of death, and to remain foolishly would break her word, and for no good reason at all. In that second, she sprang through the window, only just in time.”
OOH!!!!!!! I almost died from
boredom I mean, tension!! Yeaahhhh…. So, on to Mastermind…
“I stepped out, into a wide space, not a stair but not floor.
I was suspended, and if one could walk on fog, it might have been that. There seemed to be nothing beneath my feet, or all around. I lost the direction of the stair, and just before I started to panic, a voice throbbed into my mind, beating as it were with the pulse around me. It was low, barely perceivable as a foreign thought, almost like when Dixie spoke to me, but this was deadly. It was insidious, too sweet, like honeyed poison.
I was struck by the word. Who spoke it? The voice was horrible and frightening, but the word – oh, how wonderful it was to call me welcome! The word sounded so, so, so welcoming! For an instant, I was aware of my self-possession slipping away, and then I only felt warm inside, warm and welcome.
“Who am I?” It almost seemed to chuckle. “I am your only hope – Alex.”
How do you know my name? I shot back, terrified but amazed.
“You told it to me. No, you didn’t know, but I read many things in the minds of people that they will not tell me otherwise.” The pulsing seemed almost to have music to it, dancing around me, through me. I felt a most wonderful sensation of being happy. I relaxed a little.
How do you plan to help me? I asked dreamily.
“I will send you home.”
What! How can you do that? I took a step forward into the blackness.
“I have magic stronger than worlds. I can cast you back across the gulf into you own world. But you must trust me.”
Trust you how? This had to be a friend, since the voice wanted to help. Hadn’t Atahl the Messenger himself said I would find help in unexpected places if I looked for it?
“Relax into the beat, and you will know.”
I swallowed, myself again and nervous for a moment. Then I felt as though I was drifting away from the body I had been in and floating in the blackness. The pulsing took me, swirled me into its dance.
“One are all and all are one
We have no need of light or sun
A drop means nothing in the tide
We come alive when we have died
Deep in the dark where none can see
We beat our dance eternally
Individual is an empty word
Singleness of mind is far preferred
Your mind shall be my own
Your will shall be my own
Your soul is useless and shall depart
But I myself shall be your heart
When all are one and one are all
Then darkness will descend on all
Trust the darkness and you will find
Freedom comes when we are all one mind.”
Grimly the dark verses beat through me. My heart began to drum in time with the swing of the words. I was not in control of myself anymore. Someone else had taken the helm – the Presence. It was all around me and through me now. I didn’t fight it. It was reeling me in like a fish on a line, drawing me into itself. Soon I would be a part of it. Why had I thought it was so horrifying? Here it gave me peace, freedom from decisions, utter surrender of my will to someone else, and they could make all the choices for me.
But what kind of life would that be? I jerked loose a little from the Presence’s grasp. Yes, I had made bad decisions in my life – just look at my worlds – but that was part of being human. What made Man “Man” was that he had a soul – he had free will. He was different from all other creatures in this way. If I lost my individuality, if I lost everything that made me “me” and was controlled by another force, what was I but an automaton? A simple robot, responding to each signal directed by the someone with the controls, with no “Man-ness” left, none of the special things that made us unique. Yes, unique. It was a beautiful word.
Pain blasted into me. I was suddenly aware of my body again, no more floating off from it, but it was not the body that was in pain. It was my mind.
“Wretch!” the voice roared. “Submit to my kingdom to be. Quiet your awkward soul and bend! You shall be mine. Are you not here? You cannot escape. You can give in now, and it will be easy – you will have peace. Struggle, and only more pain will be your inheritance. Bend! Bend!
Somewhere in a void of darkness, I crashed to my knees, writhing in pain. Then it was gone. I sensed the silence, as if the voice was holding its breath, waiting patiently to see what I would do.
I thought my eyes were still closed, but sight was meaningless. I saw the room with other sight. It was huge, circular, and I saw no floor. All I saw was the Black Heart, darker than night, beating out the rhythm that throbbed through me. It was suspended in the air like a moon that devoured light instead of reflecting it, and from it things like veins ran off and disappeared, carrying the intoxicating liquor of evil to every part of this world. With thundering realization, I knew that it was the voice that had spoken to me, it was the Presence that surrounded me. I had to fight.
Somehow it sensed I knew. A nauseating black wave washed over me, carrying away the moment of sight and understanding, but not the truth. That was still in my heart. Then the voice spoke again, but I resisted it, holding the truth of its identity up like a shield against it. “Listen to reason. I see you intend to destroy me.” Its chuckle shivered through my mind. “But don’t you realize that if you do, you will die?”
Yes. I am prepared to die, so there. I braced every spark of strength I had against the Black Heart’s overwhelming persuasiveness.
“I understand that. But think of your dog.” Blast the thing, how did it know about Dixie? “And think of your family. If you live, you may yet return to them. I have promised to get you back there if you surrender to me. What would they think if you could have lived and gone back, but instead chose to die in some petty fight far from home? I tell you, I can’t be important enough of a threat to cost you your family. They would want you to come home, would they not?”
I struggled for breath like a choking man. The fog of blackness was infiltrating my brain, and I fought to clear it. No. Not if they understood. I might never be able to explain it to them, but it doesn’t matter. I have a job to do, and I’m going to kill you. I grabbed at where my knife ought to have been, unable to find it in the darkness. Fight for your solidity, Alex. How much could I fight for at one time? Fighting to keep control of myself was taking nearly all my concentration.
“Then what of your dog?” The Presence challenged. “If you do this, she will die, and what will you have gained? You will have lost everything for the sake of nothing.”
I didn’t answer, focusing on getting my knife. There it was, and with an effort, I found I could draw it and hold it in my hand. The hilt seemed to absorb some of my hand, but it couldn’t be helped. At least I had it.
“Come, my friend. I know you are a smart girl. Listen to my words, and you will see their wisdom. Think of your dog, if nothing else.”
The beating was becoming more persistent and pervasive. My nerves were just about shredded. It was worse than listening to your own heartbeat through a stethoscope. It was more like running until your heart pounded and then listening to the heartbeat of someone sitting in an easy chair. It was out of sync, confusing, and it muddled my mind. I did think of Dixie, and all she had done for me – all she had ever been to me.
“Yes, that’s right. How can you let her die?” I was very annoyed with the voice.
You think of nothing but yourself, I told it. You use hatred and witchcraft and lies to get your way and to protect yourself. But I am not like you. I am here because of love and truth. You have no power over me.
Then, fumbling through the black fog that stood between me and Dixie, I flung out my last thought to her like a message in a bottle. Dixie, you are the best dog a girl could ever wish for. You are one in a million. You are a treasure, and it’s been a joy to spend the few days with you that we were allowed. Since we both have to die, I could ask for no greater honor than to die with you.
I was ready. I stood slowly. My knife was still in my hand. I grasped the diamond with one hand, seeking the reassurance of something solid in this darkness, and with the other I brandished my knife. I directed every ounce of tangibility I had into my hand and the one stroke I would have. As I said, sight meant nothing in the blackness, but I sensed instinctively that I was less than an arm’s length away from the source of this world’s evil – from its very Heart.
“For the first time,” I said with irony, “one divided by one will make nothing.”
The single word was like a battle cry, intended to freeze by blood, and indeed it was more terrifying than anything I had yet experienced. But it felt as though it had nothing to do with me. My mind was set and made up, my arm already in motion. Every bit of strength I had, all I had left to give of me, was behind that desperate stroke. One Black Heart, one deadly stroke of a knife, and the world was torn, soon to be nothing.
I felt myself hurled back, heard crashes and roars, icy water washed over me, but the voice, the Presence, the overwhelming evil that had threatened to swallow me, was gone – forever. I felt a feeling of great release, like someone who has carried a heavy burden for a long time suddenly having it lifted. Then there was a moment’s struggle against the water, and then it was all blotted out by darkness, and I knew nothing more.”
Sorry that one was so long. So. If you’re still with me??? Or did I lose you along the way with too many boring samples of my own stuff? Sorry. Less red tape that way. 😉
So, things I learned from that handsome Concept, Action. 😀
- Action is imperative to not losing readers. I hate books that have no plot, but worse is a story that has “a plot” but no action. Mine always lacked action. Which makes you wonder how I could have written it, hating actionlessness so much.
- Incorporating Action is a process. Unless you just ooze Action from your fingers. It’s going to start out with the age-old “‘Oh, MY, Martha! Look at that! We’re going to die!’ ‘No, we won’t, Frank! The Hero just stepped through the door, and he’s the Incredible Ninja Master! We’re being rescued… just in time!’ Oh, yay, Martha!'”. With practice, and practice, and practice, it will get better. But it’s work, and a process. But skipping Action means flat writing, so it’s worth the work.
- Action likes to, well, act. It doesn’t like to talk, to be “told”. The more Action and the more intense the Action, the more you should rely on “showing”. Let the Action speak for itself. It is amazingly more potent that way. (see James Scott Bell’s Show/Tell Zone in Plot & Structure)
- And Action is awesome. Just plain is. It is like this sign I once read in a store: “You are the cheese to my macaroni, you are the horizon to my sky, you are the bacon to my eggs, you are the laces to my sneakers, you are the jelly to my peanut butter, you are the smile to my face, you are the gravy to my mashed potatoes, you are the bubbles to my bath, you are the milk to my cookie, you are the ink to my pen, you are the ketchup to my French fries, you are the water to my ocean, you are the icing on my cupcake.” Why isn’t “you are the action to my story” in there?? ^This be true of Action when it comes to writing, in my book (arr, arr) 🙂
I’m sure this is no novelty for you. Just sharing my first Concept Meets Girl moment. More will be coming later, as I learn them and as I remember them.
Looks like that’s it for now, folks. Thanks for swinging by and hanging with me!