Writing a short story: part 7

The past few days I’ve given a post-writing review of what I did and how. Today I thought it might be more helpful to talk about my pre-writing process and how I get started.

The first thing I do is look at my outline, which in this case is pretty simple: a single sentence describing pinch 2 as “the posse attacks the necromancer in his lair, things go horribly wrong, and they get killed/captured.” With that in mind, I take stock of where the story is so far: I know who’s on the posse, I know who was kidnapped, and I know the necromancer’s capabilities. I also know what my complication is going to be that ruins the attack: Jacob, the wounded, overzealous brother, is going to come back at the wrong time. I like this because it will allow me to make the posse look competent: they can have the best plan in the world, a plan that would actually work if nothing went wrong, and then Jacob will ride in without knowing what’s going on, get himself in trouble, and the characters will have the choice of either following the plan and dooming Jacob, or ruining the plan and trying to rescue him.

I also at this point take a look at any themes or character arcs I need to satisfy, and this scene doesn’t really have anything out of the ordinary. Silas will be heroic as he tries to rescue his brother (a big step forward, since I made his last combat fairly unheroic), but he hasn’t yet come to terms with his powers and thus will refuse to use them. That will probably end up being a reason that the posse fails, and Silas will realize in his emotional climax that he has a responsibility (Spider-man style) to step up and use his powers when he can.

So: what is the posse’s plan? There are six of them: Silas, his father, an old man named Brother Creedy, Jacob’s friend Benjamin (the brother of Jacob’s girlfriend), and two other fathers with kidnapped daughters: Brother Sutton and Brother McKillop. Brother Sutton, I should point out, has been one Silas’s most vocal opponents. I want at least one to die, and I want it to be sad, but I’ve already killed Silas’s mother and I don’t really want to kill anyone else in his family. After them, the meanest one to kill would be Brother Sutton, because his daughter has already lost her beau to the necromancer, and losing her father as well will be pretty terrible. It sounds cruel, but I don’t like killing people unless it means something, and killing Brother Sutton will give me the biggest bang for my buck. I don’t think I want to kill anyone else, but I could be persuaded if I get into the thick of things and see a really good opportunity.

So anyway, back to the plan: I have six guys, and they need something brilliant. They are assaulting a necromancer’s “lair,” which in this case is essentially just a creepy farmhouse nestled into a forest; farther back in the forest is a half-cave, fire-circle kind of place where the necromancer does his rituals, but I don’t think we’ll need that place yet. The posse will attack in the dark, partly because that will make it easier to approach unseen and partly because that’s about when they’ll arrive at the necromancer’s place anyway. I’m going to put two men on covering fire, wielding long rifles and attacking from a distance; these will be Creedy and…Silas’s father, I think, because then when Jacob shows up he might leave his post to help his son, thus cutting their long-ranged support in half. That gives us four men to actually raid the farmhouse and rescue the girls: the two young men, Silas and Benjamin, and the two other fathers. This puts Brother Sutton in harm’s way so he can get killed (possibly right in front of his daughter), and of course Silas wouldn’t be in any other group because he needs to be in the thick of the action. They will approach under cover of darkness, not through the trees but out in the field, where the two long rifles can cover them. The two young men will be in charge of finding, untying, and/or carrying the captives, and the two older men will give them close support with shotguns and short rifles. They’ll get in, shoot any zombies who get in the way, find the girls, and get out. They’re not necessarily planning to kill Gideon, but Brother Sutton (my most fiery guy) is likely to put the mission at risk by seeking him out anyway.

This setting will give me plenty of great atmosphere–an old farmhouse in the middle of the night, maybe some very dim moonlight, some mist shrouding the forest to help make it even spookier when zombie loom up from between the trees. The insertion team (not a phrase I’ll actually use in a pioneer story, of course) will creep up slowly, their plan working smoothly, until suddenly they hear hoofbeats and see someone come riding into the kill zone–it’s Jacob, approaching directly from the road where it’s more dangerous, hoping to get there in time to help but instead destroying their element of surprise. The zombie will rise up around him, Silas will do his best to help, and the careful plan will fall into disarray as the team is quickly separated and reduced to running and hiding and trying to stay alive. The scene will end with at least one man dead, several of them wounded (possibly fled) and most of them captured.

So that’s the plan. Now I’ll write it and see if it actually works.

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

  1. Alan says:

    Glad to see some horror elements starting to sprout up in this story. For a while there, it seemed like this story was starting to drift into the “adventure” genre, necromancer villain notwithstanding. A nice scene with the pioneer men in the pitch black forest full of zombies they can’t see would do wonders, especially if they can still hear the zombies approaching, shuffling over the forest ground and sniffing the air in search of living flesh. The waiting, the darkness, the tension!

    Just a suggestion.

  2. Steven says:

    This is a a huge bit of nit-pickery on my part, but have you considered that when it is night it is also very dark? Unless you’re offered a full moon an attacker lacks the ability to see what he’s shooting at, hence why most military confrontations take place during the day (unless you have night-vision–which is why the United States loves playing at night). The logistics of any sort of engagement at night render one side (the attacking side) at complete disadvantage, since the defender will be able to either use the natural cover night provides, or hide behind a screen of illumination. The latter has the effect of “flying into the sun,” and blinding the attacker. Regardless, unless the defender is woefully unprepared, an attack at night is doomed, if not to failure, then at least to ignominy.

    Sorry for the nit-picking.

  3. admin says:

    You raise an excellent point. I was imagining them going in at twilight, when they can sort of see but not really, but you still have a point about the long range rifles. Maybe the insertion team’s plan could include setting something (say, the barn) on fire, as both a distraction and to give the snipers enough visibility to fire. I like that idea.

  4. Dan I like where this book is going but I have to be nit-picky too. Setting a barn on fire at night will not lead to the sharpshooters being able to see better. When your eyes are trying to adjust two light levels at the same time it leads to blindness. Your eyes are not letting enough light in to see things in the shadows but too much to see things around the fire. What you would get is people firing at indistinct human shapes and that may not be the enemy. If that’s how brother Sutton dies that would be OK. Larry Correia might be able to help being the gun nut that he is.

  5. Hann1bal says:

    Or maybe they’re getting into position at night so that they can attack at dawn. That would mean that they could (in theory) get into position without being spotted as easily. So they’re approaching Gideon’s lair as quietly and carefully as possible, and then Jacob comes thundering down the road, and accidentally alerts Gideon.

  6. TadinMesa says:

    I’m not an expert but you mite want to call them Carbines not short rifles.
    World English Dictionary
    carbine (ˈkɑːbaɪn)

    — n
    1. a light automatic or semiautomatic rifle of limited range
    2. carabin , Also called: carabine a light short-barrelled shoulder rifle formerly used by cavalry

    [C17: from French carabine, from Old French carabin carabineer, perhaps variant of escarrabin one who prepares corpses for burial, from scarabée, from Latin scarabaeus scarab ]

  7. admin says:

    My research yesterday turned up the same thing: single-shots were rifles, anything with a magazine was a carbine, and shotguns were still primarily called coach guns.

  8. TadinMesa says:

    A rife has a barrel that is rifled. A rifle or a carbine can be single shot or have a magazine. That’s the difference between a musket and a rifle the rifle has a rifled barrel and the musket has a smooth bore. The first carbines were short muzzle loading rifles used by Calvary, typically dragoons.

  9. John says:

    I’ve been thinking about the story structure and try/fail cycles. (For other people–Mr. Wells knows this–writing books make mention of the try/fail cycle, where someone tries something three times to succeed.)

    If you’ll notice, the story structure above has three attempts to solve the story. The first step (plot pinch 1) is nearly always running away–but they’re knowingly trying it, and it makes sense for us readers, too: why go looking for trouble?

    Then at the midpoint they make a plan: they’re going to do something about it. This is the reactive-to-active part. At Plot Pinch 2, they try the plan and it makes things worse.

    They get to plot turn 2 after that…and find the insight they need, try a third time, and succeed.

    Now, for certain things you need to add try/fail cycles, or for long works you have this structure repeated several times and each of them has a try/fail cycle–but it is part of the actual plot outline. And I suspect it would work well for short stories.

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