Writing a short story: part 4

I had great progress on the story yesterday, adding around 2500 words (and shaving two pages off what I had previously written). The story is now at the halfway mark, which actually comes right before the midpoint—since the second plot turn is essentially a moment of decision, rather than a scene unto itself, it just going to be folded into the finale. That means:

First Half: meet the characters, set the scene, introduce the conflict and villain.
Second Half: craft plan to defeat villain, plan fails, hero overcomes his personal problems and saves the day.

Writing the villain was great fun: he’s an old cowboy necromancer named Gideon Price, known to the town as just a criminal refugee who lives in the wilderness and comes into town every now and then to buys supplies and leer at women and creep people out. He arrives at the town social in our story because he’s preparing for an especially dark ritual that requires some sacrificial virgins. (“That’s what I love about Mormons: you have plenty of virgins, and you love getting them all together on one place.”) His character ended up being very verbal and irreverent, probably as a natural reaction to writing about a reverent, taciturn hero. He arrived at the social with a group of reanimated dead, though the people couldn’t tell that right off the bat; the hero just referred to them as “pale men,” and described how creepily they looked and moved.

I wanted to escalate the tension even further, so the first time a girl gets taken the bad guy pulls out a pistol and shoots one of the rescuers in the back. This ramped up the consequences very quickly and helped portray the townsfolk as innocent and helpless—they have guns of their own, but they left them outside in their wagons. They have nothing to fight back with…except the hero’s superpower.

The bad guy’s guns worked especially with the superpower. First of all, once he finally realizes the only way to survive is to turn into stone, the bad guy’s weapons are now suddenly useless—he fires at the hero, but the bullets bounce right off. It’s a fun hero moment, and we get to watch the hero smash some zombies and rescue one of the girls, and it looks like things are turning around. Then the villain gets an idea: instead of shooting at the hero he shoots at his mom, distracting the hero long enough for him and his zombie thugs to get away with the rest of the prisoners. It was a great way to follow our outline (ie, kill the mother) while showing that the hero is still vulnerable AND giving him a plausible excuse to blame himself for his mom’s death. I didn’t plan the pistols, but I had planned everything else and I knew what needed to happen, so when the pistols showed up I could fit them in easily.

You may ask why, if this guy’s a necromancer, he uses guns instead of magic. Three reasons: first, this is a western, and I need a gunslinger; when combining genres you have to balance each side’s needs carefully, and in this case I choose western over horror. Second, I don’t see necromancer’s as having a lot of combat powers—they can, but in this story they don’t. Magic necrosis-missiles or whatever would make his magic seem too easy, and I want the big ritual he’s planning to have the proper weight. Third, I wanted to keep the fight scene simple: I’m already introducing, in one scene, zombies and stone transformation, and if I get too much wilder than that it could be too much, especially in a short story. I toyed with giving the bullets magic effects, like having anyone he shoots rise from the dead, but that would mean his Mom would rise from the dead, which I think is too much—we already have the “I blame myself for killing her” trope, and using the “family member rises from the dead” trope wouldn’t be adding anything to the story, just repeating that same trope again when he has to kill his zombie Mom. In a short story, where space is at a premium, we definitely don’t need both, though honestly I’d hesitate to do it in a novel, too.

My one worry is that the hero’s transformation in this scene might be too heroic, which will make it hard to follow in his second, more climactic transformation later on. However, I never want to tone something down because it’s too awesome—I’d rather come up with something incredible for the second scene than de-cool-ify the first one.

Last night, after writing, I did something horrible to my back, and today I have medically instructed not to bend at the waist if at all possible. That means no chairs, which means no writing. I should be back into it tomorrow, and I’ll be sure to tell you how it goes.

7 Responses to “Writing a short story: part 4”

  1. Aeriim says:

    “That’s what I love about Mormons: you have plenty of virgins, and you love getting them all together on one place.”

    Love that line.

    And until you talked about not being bent at the waist, I didn’t realize how much time we do spend bent at the waist. I probably spend 75%+ of my day that way. That sucks, so get better soon!

  2. Thank you for posting these articles on writing this short story. I’ve really enjoyed reading them. I can’t wait to play around with the 7-pt system.

    Something that might help with the no back bending thing is writing with the keyboard elevated via a high counter or a podium. If you’re down for just a day or two, you’re not going to be out much, but if the problem persists, this might allow to continue to be productive.

  3. Dude, sucks about the back.

    If it’s okay with you, I’d like to borrow ‘de-cool-ify’ please. Lovely word.

  4. Arlene says:

    Come on, Dan. I’m sure you could get some writing done. Didn’t you ever see Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story? I bet your wife would love for you to dictate to her. :)

  5. John Brown says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading this story.

  6. > …once he finally realizes the only way to survive is to turn
    > into stone, the bad guy’s weapons are now suddenly useless

    > My one worry is that the hero’s transformation in this scene
    > might be too heroic…

    Then make it inwardly cowardly, outwardly heroic. He can still do the same stuff, but play up the idea that the reason he turns into stone is his own personal survival. He’s not thinking “If I turn into stone, I can save these people,” he’s thinking “If I turn into stone maybe I won’t get killed.” Only after he knows he’s invulnerable to bullets does he start being “heroic” — and he doesn’t give himself credit for that because facing down a rain of bullets that can’t harm you is no more heroic than facing down a rain of … well, rain.

  7. admin says:

    Eric, you are truly a master of ye olde storytelling arts. That’s awesome.

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