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.