Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

bookdesign346Doesn’t time fly when you’re writing? It’s May already, and Writing Excuses are a third of the way through their year-long podcast writing course. I still feel like I’m learning a lot from it, and recommend it anyone who’s into writing, especially writing sf+f.

This week’s exercise is:

Pick your gee-whiz, whatever it may be, and describe it in 150 words from ten different perspectives. Yes, that’s 1500 words.

I suppose the biggest gee-whiz factor in my Epiphany Club stories is the steampunk technology, so I’ve picked a moment involving this from the third book, which I’m currently working on. Here’s the emergence of a Prussian tunnelling machine into the streets of Paris, from five points of view (because I only half did the exercise):

Dirk Dynamo

The rumbling grew to a roar, the ground shaking beneath Dirk’s feet. He flung himself to the ground as the road in front of him exploded in a shower of dirt and fist-sized stones.

Out of the hole a vehicle emerged. It was unlike anything Dirk had ever seen before, but it was a moment’s work to see it was built for war. Seven feet high and three times as long, it was covered from end to end in heavy armoured plating, scraped from its journey through the earth. Great wheeled shovels protruded from the front, and small wheels propelled it into the street.

Dirk thought he had seen the future of war in the bloody fields of Gettysburg, but in that single moment he knew he had been wrong. Humans were far smarter than that. Smarter and more terrible.

Timothy Blaze-Simms

As the dirt settled, Blaze-Simms stared at the machine sitting in front of him. His eyes went wide with wonder, a smile lighting his face.

He had considered devices like it in the past, of course. Trackless trains, motorised wagons, that time he’d built a mobile factory. But this was something entirely new.

He pulled out his notebook and started frantically sketching. The armoured plating was clearly thick to withstand bullets, yet streamlined so as not to cause obstructions as it travelled through the dirt. The digging wheels looked to have been influenced by moles’ paws, as well as some of Brunel’s wilder inventions. The engine must be incredibly powerful, and most of the space filled with fuel.

A hatch opened in the roof. A glimpse of its fastening was all Blaze-Simms needed to make a note of the design. Someone was emerging, a gun in their hands.

“Get down!” Dirk slammed into him, knocking him to the ground as bullets whizzed past their heads.

Isabelle McNair

It was quite the ugliest thing Isabelle had ever seen. An ungainly mass of steel, smoke billowing from its rear and dirt sliding from its sides. The roar of its engine was accompanied by the grinding of ridged wheels over cobbles, the clang-clang-clang of its shovel wheels spinning against the street.

Stepping back into the shelter of a doorway, she watched as a hatch opened in the roof and soldiers started pouring out, guns already barking as they opened fire on anyone in sight. Because of course, what else would one do with a spectacular new advancement in transport, if not fill it full of soldiers?

She could imagine the excitement of the men who had made this thing, and of those riding in it. They would be like children with a new toy.

Still there was potential in the thing, if she could just get inside.

Hans the shoveller

Hans grunted as he flung another shovel-full of coal into the boiler. They told him this wasn’t just coal, it was something special, something powerful. Hans didn’t care. It was all just the same when you were the man who did the shovelling.

The floor tilted beneath him. He grabbed hold of the overhead rail as the whole vehicle swayed and then righted itself. The floor was horizontal again. That probably meant they were above ground.

Sparks flew at the disruption, smoke clogging the room and Hans’s lungs. He coughed, a wretched, rasping noise that had only gotten worse through all the weeks of training.

Join the army, they’d said. Fight for the homeland, they’d said.

So much for glory. Hans shifted his grip and kept shovelling coal.

Miura Noriko

The machine crawled down the street, smoke billowing from its rear, soldiers jogging along beside it with guns drawn. They looked ill-disciplined to Noriko, their blue suits impractical, their stances slovenly. Not real warriors.

The machine would be easy prey. It was so European she almost laughed. Bigger, harder, tougher, that was the way of westerners. Cover your machine in enough armour plates and you would make it invincible. Unless you left a hole in the top to come in and out by, or an open pipe to release the fumes. Everything had its weak points, even this.

Still, there was something admirable about it. A thing singular in purpose, all that engineering poured into the single task of digging through the ground. By the standards of these people it was almost subtle, to emerge from the ground beneath your enemy’s feet.

Almost.

Reflecting on the Exercise

The main thing I got out of this was that I’m not clear on what the biggest gee-whiz excitement factor for these books is, except in the last volume, the climax of a hunt for the lost Great Library. Purely from the point of view of getting people excited about the story, I need to think about that.

Writing a scene from different viewpoints is always helpful though, and adding Hans in particular made me look at this in a different way.

Have you tried this exercise? What did you think?

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On a completely different note, today’s the last day my book From a Foreign Shore is free on Amazon, so if you like historical fiction, alternate history, short stories or just my writing, why not check it out?

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From A Foreign Shore - High ResolutionOlivia pushed her cart down the track, feeling each stone beneath her feet. Up ahead was a small lowland town, the sort where people kept their voices quiet and did what their lord told them. Hardly a place to start a revolution, but maybe one more she could connect in to the cause.

There was a wooden palisade around town, charred and battered by an English raiding party. No-one stopped Olivia as she walked in and set up shop in the muddy square, pulling out needles and thread, hammer and rivets, all the tools of the cobbler’s trade.

“What’s this then?” The man striding toward her was tall and stern, flanked by a pair of guards in chainmail. She knew him by reputation.

“Lord Fraser.” She bowed her head deferentially. “I’m just a cobbler on my way to Edinburgh. Hoped to drum up business here on the way.”

“What kind of Cobbler wears no shoes?” He glared at her bare feet.

“A poor one.” She didn’t say where her money had gone. Depending on his views, that could get her arrested.

Olivia’s stomach tightened as one of the guards leaned over her cart and start peering into bags. If he found her Bible, that one precious object on which she’s spent all her money, and if he realised it was a translation…

Fighting the trembling in her hands, she tore her eyes away from the cart and looked up at Lord Fraser. She took a deep breath. Perhaps she would get lucky, and he would be the contact she needed. Perhaps he’d have her locked up. But if he was going to find out anyway then better to stand by her belief than to try to weasel out of it.

“You’ll want to see this.” She rose, reached past the guard and took out the Bible. Heart racing, she handed it to Fraser.

“I see.” His voice was icy cold as he turned the page and saw it was printed in Scots rather than Latin. “Another Protestant plotter.” He slammed the book shut and glared at her. “The last thing this country needs is more plots.”

“The last thing this country needs is foreigners trying to tell us how to live.” Barely able to believe that she was talking to a lord this way, blocking out the terrified voice of panic in her mind, she nodded toward the town’s damaged defences. “Whether they’re Protestants or the Pope.”

Lord Fraser’s guards had closed in on her. One of them grabbed her arm. But then Fraser held up a hand and the man released her.

“This I should confiscate.” He held up the Bible. “But I also think it’s time I had my boots mended. And there’s no law against us talking while you do that.” He placed the Bible in the cart. “Let’s hope I don’t forget that when we’re done. Now, about my boots…”

* * *

The more I read about the 16th century the more fascinating it is to me. I’ve recently been doing some freelance work relating to Scotland in this period, which is where the subject of this week’s story comes from. Maybe another day I’ll write a story about a Catholic in the period, to balance things out a little.

This one’s for Olivia Berrier, who recently wrote a lovely review of my history and alternate history collection From a Foreign Shore on her blog. Please go check it out, and if you like what you read then you can get From a Foreign Shore for free today and all this weekend via Amazon.

And as always, if you enjoyed this story then please share the link or leave a comment below.

Drugged and cast out on the Yorkshire Moors by the villainous Abbot Arnulf, Sir Richard de Motley finds himself battling a throng of fluffy demons.

Drugged and cast out on the Yorkshire Moors by the villainous Abbot Arnulf, Sir Richard de Motley finds himself battling a throng of fluffy demons.

Continuing my new hobby of making scenes from my stories out of Lego, this week’s production is from the story ‘Leprosaria’ in my fantasy short story collection By Sword, Stave or Stylus, which is free on Amazon today – why not go download a copy and find out how Sir Richard got into this mess.

Picture by Ed Alkema via Flickr creative commons

Picture by Ed Alkema via Flickr creative commons

The ditch below the town walls was a dense stew of mud and blood. The remains of the fallen protruded from the filthy mass of wet straw which bridged the gap – pale fingers outstretched as if digging their way out of Hell. Sir Richard de Motley couldn’t remember the name of the town – something unpronounceably French – but he was determined that those men’s sacrifice should not be in vain.

“Onward!” He charged gloriously toward the wall, shield in one hand, one end of a ladder in the other. Arrows whistled down around him and the small band of brave men who had chosen, despite the caution of their commanders, to follow him in his assault.

“Bad idea.” Adam, Sir Richard’s squire, helped him raise his ladder, one end sinking into the mud, the other resting against the battlements above their heads. “This is all a terrible idea.”

As more ladders were raised, the first of the men fell, skewered by arrows or struck down by rocks. Sir Richard raised his shield to protect his head and began climbing as fast as any man could while wearing chainmail.

Amid the screams and thuds of falling bodies, Sir Richard heard a clang and a curse as a crossbow bolt skimmed Adam’s pot helmet.

“Can’t we come up with something smarter?” the squire pleaded. “I know you like charging in, but-“

Sir Richard ignored him and leapt over the battlements, knocking a Frenchman from the wall as he landed. He drew his sword and parried a blow, then began to advance along the wall, cutting down his enemies while more followers reached the battlements behind him.

Now that he was up here he could see defenders in the streets below, hurrying toward them from the fighting on the far side of town. Soon his band would be completely outnumbered – a perfect opportunity for great deeds of heroism.

“To the citadel!” he exclaimed, pointing toward the fortress at the heart of town.

Two English soldiers fell from the walls as arrows rained down. The men were not following him toward the enemy with the eagerness he had expected. What was the matter with them?

“Perhaps the gatehouse?” Adam pointed toward a pair of towers two hundred yards along the wall. “We could let the rest of the army in.”

“And give them all the glory?” Sir Richard scoffed.

“And ensure that they owe you every one of their victories.” Adam was glancing around anxiously, fingers white around his halberd.

Sir Richard thought of the whole army cheering his name.

“To the gatehouse!” He turned and charged back along the wall.

With enthusiastic cries the men followed him, archers pausing to provide cover as they left behind mass of enemies now ascending the walls.

The door to the gatehouse was solid and bolted from within. It held firm as Sir Richard slammed his shoulder against it. Rocks again fell upon him and his men – less men than he remembered – and the floor was slick with blood. Boiling oil hit the man beside him, who stumbled screaming and fell from the battlements.

“This is…” Sir Richard didn’t have a word for what he was feeling. It was cold and heavy in his stomach, and drained away the thoughts of glory that had spurred him on.

“Terrifying?” Adam’s halberd was covered in blood, as was his face. It was impossible to tell how much was his.

But fear was not for Sir Richard. Of that much he was sure, no matter what this feeling was.

With a great cry, the enemy soldiers charged toward them along the wall, and Sir Richard felt his spirits rise again. A blocked door was a hindrance, but war, war was glorious.

“Huzzah!” He rushed past his men and met the enemy head on. He hacked one man’s head from his body, knocked another off the wall with his shield, ran the third one through. Faced with his sudden, furious onslaught, and with no way around him, the enemy hesitated.

Sir Richard grinned, passed his shield to Adam and grabbed a two-handed mallet dropped by one of the enemy. As both sides stood uncertain, he raced back along the wall, swinging the mallet with all his might.

The gatehouse door gave way beneath the blow, flying back with an almighty crash. The two men inside took one look at the furiously grinning and blood-soaked Sir Richard. Then they ran, leaving the windlass that operated the gates unattended.

“Adam!” Sir Richard bellowed, turning to rejoin the fighting on the walls. “Open the gates.”

“Yes, Sir Richard!” Emerging from the melee with unseemly haste, Adam set to the mechanism.

Shield and sword once again filling his hands with their familiar shape, Sir Richard marched out onto the balcony, through pools of blood and across scattered bodies.

Just as he’d expected – a glorious day.

* * *

If you enjoyed this, you can read more of the adventures of Sir Richard de Motley in my collection of short stories, By Sword, Stave or Stylus, in which the bold knight faces a strange cult, a flock of sheep, monsters lurking in the French forest, and the disdain of many smarter men. And if you enjoy any of these Friday flash stories, do please share them with your friends.

233849776_ca4a1b5497_zLady Joanna thought of herself as well-mannered, but there were times when the world tested her patience. Sending her servants to join Queen Mary’s army at Framlingham had been the just act of a woman aiding her friend, even if it meant having to dress herself. The possibility of raids from the pretender Jane’s supporters instilled fear in her, but pride that they might consider her a worthy target. Discovering that she had been sold a useless mummy, powdered fragments of its wrapping providing no power for her visions, no way to tell how the struggle went? That was beyond the pale.

“A pox on Simon of Ipswich,” she muttered as she reached inside the upright sarcophagus. She should have known that a man that obnoxious would sell false goods.

Scraping pieces of mummia from the wrappings into her mortar, she ground them, tipped them into wine and downed the gritty, bitter results. But no vision came as it had in the past.

A noise made her spin around, eyes wide and staring at the mummy. Something was amiss, but what?

That noise again, a low groaning. Then the mummy’s arms rose, and it stepped slowly out of the sarcophagus, bandaged feet thumping on the tiled floor.

Joanna’s heart pounded – this was not how a corpse was meant to behave. But she was determined not to let her fear show. She straightened her shoulders and looked the creature in the eye.

“I don’t know what you are playing at.” She waved a finger in its face. “But I am having none of it. Your time of moving around has passed. Get back in your coffin so that I can take more mummia.”

Taking another step forward, the mummy reached out toward her.

“I said back.” Glaring did no good.

Joanna was all out of gentlewomanly options, but then serving her own breakfast had been an ungentlewomanly act. The line had been crossed, and there was no sense worrying about it now. Placing both hands on the mummy’s chest, she tried to push it back into the sarcophagus.

“Back I tell you!” It was no good. The creature was far stronger than her, and completely unmoved by the assault.

The thunder of hooves and rattle of gravel announced new arrivals at the house. Rushing to the window, Joanna peered out through the leaded pains. Four ruffians were dismounting and making for her door, swords drawn.

“I will deal with you later,” she said to the mummy as she tried frantically to plan her next step. Could she flee? Probably not, without the stable boy to saddle her horse. Could she fight? She had never used a sword, but how difficult could it be? Except that there were no swords in the dining hall, and the men’s footsteps were already coming close.

The door burst open and the ruffians stomped inside, leaving muddy footprints all over her floor.

“You’re to come with us.” Their leader walked past the stationary mummy and straight toward her.

“Most of this stuff, too.” Another of them started grabbing silverware off the sideboard.

“I will not.” Joanna folded her arms and prepared to argue, but two of the men grabbed hold of her. “Unhand me at once!”

“Not a chance.” The leader’s laughter was as ugly and brutish as he was.

Determination turned to nauseating fear in Joanna’s stomach. She had heard terrible things about what happened to women in times of civil war, even noblewomen.

But the laughter was cut short as a bandaged hand descended onto the ruffian’s shoulder. He jumped six inches into the air and spun around, sword stretched out toward the mummy. It stumbled toward him with slow, steady steps, groaning once more.

“Get back!” The man thrust his sword a few inches into the mummy’s chest, where it became stuck, not budging as he wrestled with the hilt.

The man next to him screamed in terror, dropped a pair of candlesticks and ran from the house. His companions followed suit, the leader sticking around just long enough for the mummy to lunge at him again before he ran, pale and shaking, out onto the drive.

They galloped away in a spray of gravel.

“I’m sorry about that.” Lady Joanna placed one hand on the mummy’s chest, grabbed the protruding sword with the other, and gave it a twist. The blade quickly came free. “I would never normally allow such riffraff into my house, but these are trying times.”

The mummy tilted its head, apparently looking down at the sword and then back to Joanna’s face. It raised a hand, and after a moment’s hesitation patted Joanna slowly on the shoulder.

She sagged with relief, and then offered the mummy a smile.

“Fine, I won’t keep scraping away your wrappings.” She poured a new goblet of wine, this time without any gritty additions. “I could do with some help around here anyway.” She took a sip, and a thought crossed her mind. “I don’t suppose you know how to prepare dinner, do you?”

* * *

This story was inspired by a whole bunch of different little details. I learned about mummia, the dust taken from the wrappings of mummies, while visiting a museum in Dorchester last week. Considered to have magical properties, it was genuinely consumed for medicinal purposes in the sixteenth century, doing far more harm than good.

Lady Joanna is named after one of my incredibly helpful beta readers – huge thanks to that Joanna for her help. Given that ‘Visions of Joanna’ by Bob Dylan is one of my all time favourite songs, putting visions in with that name was almost inevitable.

As for Queen Mary and the pretender Jane, I’ve been doing some freelance work about the Tudors this week, so they were on my mind. The Duke of Northumberland’s attempt to stop Mary Tudor inheriting the crown and instead put his daughter-in-law Jane on the throne was a complete failure, and there was never even a war. Northumberland’s men did do some robbing and burning though.

If you enjoyed this then you can read more of my fantasy stories in By Sword, Stave or Stylus, available as an ebook through Amazon. You can read more of my flash fiction for free here, and get my steampunk collection Riding the Mainspring for free by signing up to my mailing list.

If you’ve got any thoughts on this story I’d love to hear them, and if you’ve got a suggestion for a future Friday story then please leave it below – I can always use fresh ideas!

Picture by a2gemma via Flickr creative commons.

Menelaeus’s fingers were sore from picking cotton, his back stinging from Mr Stenson’s lash. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him. With one hand he clutched his totem, intertwined figures of man and woman, diviner and spirit. With the other he picked up a handful of corn and scattered it across the skin of the drum.

“What do you see?” Octavia’s expression was serious, making her face appear even more wrinkled in the oil lamp’s light. He had learned much from her wisdom, her strength and her grace, but had still more to learn. With her man’s clothes and her fierce resolve, she embodied the world in between, the place where boundaries fell, where humans and spirits met. She was, in so many ways, the person he wanted to be.

Most of the kernels had bounced away to the floor. He looked carefully at the positions of those that remained, where they lay on a grid that served as both game board and tool of their art. The signs were all too familiar.

“This is Stenson.” Menelaeus pointed at a dark, twisted symbol marked by the corn. “Tomorrow we will suffer his wrath.” He pointed to the signs for suffering and for the field hands, both singled out by his spirit twin through the grain. Another symbol had been marked, one that filled him with even more dread. “There will be a death.”

“Again.” Octavia nodded. “Now tell me anything we can use to lessen the harm.”

#

“Keep back, boy.” Blood dripped from Stenson’s whip. At his feet, Octavia Brown lay dead beside the cotton buds she had dropped in the dirt – ruined, as Stenson put it.

At least Octavia’s son Saul was not here. His fury would have got him killed. Thanks to Menelaeus and Octavia, the Brown children would not be orphans.

That knowledge did nothing to still Menelaeus’s pounding heart. He wanted to rip out Stenson’s throat with his bare hands. But Stenson and his men had guns, and Menelaeus would not be the only one they would punish.

So he stood still and silent. But now he knew – divining the future was not enough. He had to shape it.

#

In the stillness of the night, Menelaeus stared at the totem, two carved beings intertwined. He could still feel his spirit twin, but without Octavia he was weaker, and he needed to be stronger than he ever had. He was just a man, and that was not enough.

“Stenson comin’ for you.” Saul stood beside Menelaeus’s bed. “Says you been stirrin’ trouble. You want I should kill him?”

His voice was ragged, torn up by hate.

“No.” Menelaeus rose from the bed. “Ain’t no-one else gonna fight for me. But I’m gonna need some things of your momma’s.”

#

“Who the hell d’you think you are, boy?” Stenson’s voice was even more menacing coming from the darkness behind the lanterns. His men cackled at his words. “Goddam faggot as well as a nigger now, huh?”

“My name is Meredith.” It felt natural, not just the name but the dress and the shawl. Becoming more than just the man he had been. Becoming both parts of the divination.

As the person who had been Menelaeus placed the corn kernels on the drum, she could feel the power flowing through her, her spirit twin stronger for sharing her change, for breaking a line that defined and divided him.

“Always knew you were an uppity nigger.” Stenson’s gun clicked. “Now we gonna end that.”

“No.” Meredith slid a kernel across the drum skin, from the sign for the overseer to that for death.

A shot rang out.

“Oh shit!” A different voice this time. White, male, scared.

“What the hell you done, Hank?” The lights shifted, illuminating Stenson’s body and casting Meredith back into shadow.

“I don’t know,” the man whimpered. “It just gone off in my hand. I don’t…”

As fear turned to panic and accusation, Meredith picked up her drum. The plantation men would be busy for a good long while.

As she walked away into the night she touched the totem hanging around her neck and remembered Octavia. She felt torn by loss, and yet, more than ever, she felt whole.

Lies banner 2

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This is the latest in a series of stories set in a weird western setting, where magic is (for the most part) achieved through games. I think this one may have given me more insight into how that works. If you enjoyed this then you might also like the previous stories, Straight Poker and Counting Coup. And you can read my other weird western work in my steampunk collection Riding the Mainspring, which is free if you sign up to my mailing list.

This particular story comes about thanks to Ben Moxon, who came up with the idea for connecting games and divination through a decorated drum. He also led me to this fascinating article on divination, around which Menelaeus/Meredith is built.

Once again, I’m sharpening my writing skills with the exercises from Writing Excuses’s year-long writing course. This week was their last episode on character. The episode was a Q&A, and covered such interesting topics as how to work with character flaws and how to write characters with offensive views without alienating your readers – it’s well worth a listen.

This episode’s writing exercise builds on the previous two, which used a scene of a dead-drop to illustrate character. It also provides a bridge from discussing character to developing story structure:

Sketch out the events before and after your dead-drop scene from last week and three weeks ago.

In doing this exercise, I’m also going to think about how those events expand on the central characters in this fantasy western – Sarah, an escaped slave; Marcus, her Underground Railroad contact; and the local sheriff, our antagonist.

Before the Dead-Drop

Sarah’s pre-dead-drop narrative is the one that comes closest to writing itself. She escaped from the plantation where she was held, with the help of a man named Seneca, who also gave her instructions for contacting the Underground Railroad. This sets up the dead-drop.

To show more about her character, and how she copes on her own, I also want to add in a scene where she’s almost caught the night before the dead-drop. Sarah’s smart, but because of what she’s suffered in slavery she’s also timid and lacks self-confidence. Her response to being pursued isn’t to run or fight back, but to curl up and hide in a ditch. She uses her smarts to hide pretty well, covering herself in stinking mud to try to hide her smell from the sheriff’s dogs, but they almost find her. Fortunately for her, she doesn’t know that she has some magical power (I’ll work out how later) using the system of magic through games I’m using in this setting. The simple prayer she frantically mutters in the ditch is also a rhyme from a childhood game and taps into that magic, and that’s enough to send the dogs and sheriff in another direction.

So in one scene I’ve shown her character, foreshadowed a character arc of learning magic, and had a chance to characterise the sheriff through his dogged and foul mouthed pursuit of escaped slaves, as well as how he interacts with the other pursuers as they close in on Sarah – he’s jovial with those he likes, but vicious towards others.

Meanwhile, Marcus is meeting to plan for Underground Railroad activities. I’d have to do research to write the planning, but what I’m mostly concerned with right now is characterisation and plot driven by the characters. The meeting is a way to show the magic of the setting. Marcus himself can’t use the magic, but is a leader who has magic users working for him. Like so many Railroad activities, their use of magic has to be subtle and low key, and though he works within these limitations it frustrates Marcus. He’d like nothing more than to be part of a full-on uprising against the slave owners of the southern states.

Though he’s not present in Marcus’s scene, the spectre of the sheriff hangs over all their decisions. They know that he’s looking for proof of their activities with growing ruthlessness. They recently lost a friend to him. Like so much else, not being able to punish the sheriff frustrates Marcus.

After the Dead-Drop

Now I get to bring Sarah and Marcus together. As they seem to be my central characters, I want to make things more interesting by developing a conflict between them, one that stems from their personalities.

Having received the note at the dead-drop, Marcus finds Sarah and takes her to a safe house. Waiting there, Sarah players chequers with Meredith Brown, one of the magic users from the dead-drop scene. In doing this, she inadvertently displays magical power, and Meredith realises that Sarah could be a huge asset for the local Underground Railroad. She tells Marcus, who obviously wants Sarah to stay – his whole motive is to grow resistance against slavery.

But Sarah’s scared, and she just wants to run away north to freedom. This leads to an argument with Marcus, who’s frustrated at her not wanting to help, and doesn’t understand why she wouldn’t. Because of her subservient, non-confrontational personality, Sarah backs down. But now she sees this potential ally as another bullying enemy, and is thinking about how to escape him.

Then news arrives that Old Sam, the other local Underground Railroad magic user, has been lynched. This ups the tension and creates an opportunity to show how the characters present react to this – Marcus with anger, Meredith with sorrow, Sarah with fear. We also get to hear about the sheriff’s reaction, which reveals more about his character. He’s furious, and now hunting the perpetrators of the lynching. Because while he might be a racist villain and antagonist of the story, there’s more to him than that. He really hates law-breakers.

On this issue at least, all the characters will be on the same side.

Reflecting on the Exercise

A lot of what I put into the characters wasn’t planned in advance, it emerged through outlining these few scenes, and I’m really pleased with the results. I think it’s a good illustration of what Robert McKee says in his excellent book Story – that plot and character aren’t really separate things, at least when they’re done right. Characters drive the plot, and the plot helps to show the characters.

Take the argument between Marcus and Sarah. That didn’t occur to me when I was developing their characters in the scenes before the dead-drop, but it made perfect sense based on those personalities. It adds a whole new plot strand, a conflict between them over Sarah’s fate, and it’s one that’s all about these characters and what motivates them.

Often, putting your character in a situation is a good way to develop them. I’m pleased with where these characters are heading.

If you’ve got any thoughts on the exercise, or had a go at it yourself and feel like sharing the results, then please leave a comment below. Next week, on to plot structure.