story process #4

I'm that kid in A CHRISTMAS STORY who licked an icy pole to satisfy a Triple Dog Dare.

I'm thtuck! I'm thtuuuuck!!

I have what I think is a great premise--a man caught between accepting orders that will prove his loyalty to the "good" army in a demon war and sacrificing his own capability to resist his evil tendencies, much less the woman he loves, if he follows through on those orders. (More compelling, Wyrd?)

I have rules to make the piece marketable: utilizing the threat of violence over actual violence and a relatively happy ending (he doesn't kill her--they're both coming out of this alive and wiser).

But the premise and rules have painted me into a bit of a corner. I feel like I'm missing some piece that ties this whole thing together--especially to Kaelin. Great stories are built on many things, especially that which means most to the character. And good characters have more than one thing that means something to them--even in short stories.

So? What's a writer to do? Go back to the outline.

Reading it, there are some bones there, but not quite enough. I want Kaelin, the most angsty character this side of the dad in THE ROAD, to really suffer. And reading it over again, I realize I'm missing something big--something I came up when writing another of these posts.

Warrick Oman does not want Kaelin to come out of this alive

The foundation for this is laid in the opening page--I believe it actually lays out the primary story problem, if not in so many words. And I'm a bit of a stickler for having the story problem stated on the first page.

As he walked to the center of Oman's study, a room that desperately needed the coals kicked up in the hearth, the latch caught behind him with a soft click. He kept his hands behind his back, his pistol within easy reach. It had been many years since he had bowed his head to a Council Lord, though he owned no particular status as a ranger. Lord Oman sat at his desk, hands resting flat on it. But for all Kaelin knew, he had a pistol in his lap. His back prickled under his heavy wool cloak.

A short moment of silence passed as they stared at each other. Oman broke it. “I don’t like you. I don’t like your family. I’ve never made a secret of it.”

Kaelin felt his lids start to blink, but he forced himself to keep looking at Oman.

“But for this mission, I need you--” Lord Oman broke their stare and leaned back in his chair. "I need your…particular array of talents."

I spend some words showing their emnity. So, while Kaelin may think this story is about him and saving Ryanne, he's blinded to this true challenge by his love for Ryanne and the shocking thing Warrick is asking him to do. But the ultimate reversal--the Dark Moment, must be when he realizes Warrick Oman set him up.

Difficult. No real answers are coming to me about how he'll get out of it. But getting to the Dark Moment, something I didn't have prior to writing this post--is a step forward. I'm now 3/4 of the way through a fairly solid plot.

Now, you might ask--will I start writing? I might. I have plot laid out to that point. But I personally am uncomfortable working on short stories without a pretty good idea of how things are going to end up. I know Kaelin will get out of this, but I'm not sure how yet. This is a personal, professional quirk that keeps me from writing unfinished short stories and novels. I have enough projects, some paying, some not, to keep me going for a couple of years at least. Do I really want to waste time and words on a project that won't pan out? It's a bit of what I'm doing here, but more for a teaching tool. (And who am I teaching, btw? Mostly me.)

Sounds like the Dark Moment And What Follows is fodder for the next post. :)

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