Keep the Ideas Coming Two: Try Something Completely Different

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Read other writing advice blogs on my writing page!

 

Keep the Ideas Coming Two: Try Something Completely Different

 

You may feel in a rut for new writing ideas, but a great way to give your creativity a boost is to do something else creative – but totally different.

 

basket weaving

There’s actually a merit badge for this.

Photography. Painting. Dancing. Piano. Even if you aren’t creating through writing, anything that flexes your mental muscles will keep your brain working and active. These new pathways in your brain will often unlock ideas that were hidden when you actively hunted for them. Knit or build a model or put together a puzzle. Build with Legos or blocks with your children to keep your mind working. Going on a hike or bike riding gives you exercise while clearing out clutter and stress.

Writing something completely different helps just as much. Are you a fiction writer? Try writing poetry about a scene in your current or a past work. Write newspaper copy about a current event, or an event in your story. You don’t have to concentrate on quality for these pieces. This effort is to take your mind out of the familiar and tackle creativity in a different way.

Your focus may be writing, but writing isn’t the only way to be creative or to find ideas. Make sure your mind gets variety, and you’ll be surprised how well your trove of ideas starts to fill.

Chapter 7 (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Seven for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

I worked on a lot of blocking issues from the first Chapter Seven draft, and also added a few more details that I was not explicit enough on before. The incident with Eugene is also shifted to be more logically consistent with what would have really happened. You can check out the current version of Chapter Seven here.

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Chapter Seven

Garrison

 

“You drew aggro from a couple of heavyweights, bro,” Eugene said over my earbuds. “And this Jesper dude is no slouch in the pain-in-the-butt department, either.”

“Tell me,” I said. Streetlights shimmered off the sheets of water that rippled down the steep hills of the city. Mist hung suspended in the cool night, fresh and salty with the scent of the Sound. Distant horns and sirens rebounded from the buildings, their sounds hollow and flattened by the drenched air.

“Let’s start with Mr. Hoodjink. Born in Finland in 1990. His family moved to St. Petersburg when he was six. He was an amateur MMA fighter until he joined the Russian mafia. I watched a couple vids of his fights. Guy seems to get off on getting hurt.”

“Forward me the links.”

“On the way. He’s been with the mob full time for the past five years, so I can’t say what other training he has.”

“He’s at the King’s Inn, room 220?”

“Room 212. Not even under an alias. You okay?” Eugene paused long enough to take a deep draw from a straw. “Your voice sounds, I don’t know, slurry.”

“I’m fine. What about the Filitovs?” As he talked, I watched the pixelated videos of Jesper’s fights on my phone. Beneath his tight black shorts, his skin looked dusted in flour and cut with networks of pale blue veins. He seemed heedless of opponents battering him, appearing to enjoy the pain, even inviting it. Then he would twist them to the ground with his long limbs and either fracture bone or choke them out. None of them left the ring under their own power.

“Ursula and Vasily Filitov are legends. Most people think they’re code names or titles or something. A pair of Filitov siblings have been in charge of St. Petersburg for a century. We’re talking both the spy and mob circles. They’ve been involved since the Cheka days, back during the Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin. It would make the Filitovs one of the first connections between government espionage and Russian organized crime. Fascinating stuff.”

“Don’t get sidetracked. Did you go any further back? We know it’s been the same brother and sister the whole time.”

“Hold on, they’re not brother and sister. They’re like eight decades apart. Like, she’s his great aunt or something.”

“But they look like twins.”

“That’s the funny thing about genetics. Dominant genes get passed down through generations. Even with long breaks between offspring, grandchildren can share up to fifty percent of-”

“Eugene.”

“Right. I’ve got more info on the guy. Vasily was born in 1871. During St. Petersburg’s capitalist boom he was in the thick of the subsequent crime wave. But there’s a decade between his last record there and when I found him again. Get this, he was a captain in the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese war.”

“How did he get to be a captain with no records?”

“Probably destroyed. He only shows up because he deserted. He disappears again until he shows up with Ursula in the Cheka after the Revolution. He was her liason to the city’s crime bosses.”

I did a quick mental calculation. “He looked like he was in his thirties. He must have been Cursed around when he deserted. What about Ursula?”

“She did a better job staying out of the spotlight. I found a birth record that might be her from 1788, and a few investments through the 1800s. She doesn’t really stick her head up until the Revolution. Her connections to the State since then are well documented.”

“She’s over two hundred years old.” I shuddered and unscrewed the top of my flask. “So why do they care about me?”

“No idea. Their interests seldom leave Russia. Hopefully Jesper knows something.”

“I can only hope.” I took a pull from the flask and slipped it back in my pocket. “212?”

“Yes. Watch yourself.”

“Call you back.” I slipped my earbuds out as I reached the parking lot of the King’s Inn.

Whether by luck or design, Jesper’s hotel was only a few blocks from mine. The King’s Inn was a three-story dive wrapped in a U around a mostly deserted parking lot. The lot’s mouth was the only way in or out. The room windows, most dark, looked down on the lot from a railed walkway that ran the length of the entire hotel. No great exit options. The exterior lights threw rainbow halos into the mist.

I slid the Lamat from my arm holster. The whole hotel would hear if I fired it, but it was menacing enough to intimidate and heavy enough to break bones. I kept out of the pools of illumination from the parking lot’s lights and made my way to the nearest stairwell.

A scarred and dented legacy of violence marked the door of room 212. The drawn curtains hung motionless over a cracked window framed at the corners by spiderwebs and gray stains. A Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob rocked quietly in the breeze. I gripped the Lamat with both hands as I pressed my ear to the metal. Passing cars, the whisper of wind thickened with rain, but no sound from within. I took a step back and smashed my boot into the door.

The door shrieked open. The doorframe exploded, the lock and deadbolt tearing through wood, to reveal a room swallowed in darkness. Pale shadows of furnishings rose along the corridor of light that spilled from outside. I kept my gun raised and reached around the inside of the door to flick on the light.

“Jesper, it’s time for us to-” I said, then stopped. Blood pooled on the crumpled sheets of the bed. It took a moment to make out Jesper’s pale body sprawled atop the stained piles of bedding.

I swept my gaze over the room, the Lamat following the path of my eyes. The room was still and empty of anyone else. I looked back to the body.

Jesper was tied to the headboard by towels, but his face appeared peaceful despite the skin flayed from his glistening chest. Blood splattered his teeth and lips under gray-blue eyes that stared at the ceiling. No restraints held him in place. The cool air kept the scent of the carnage at bay, but Jesper had died too recently for the smell to thicken. Not even flies had begun to congregate. Even if he had been killed the moment he reached his room, he couldn’t have been dead more than twelve hours.

I took a cautious step into the room. A shape darted from the bathroom. No time to catch any thought. Something made a popping sound in his hand. Two tugs of barbs snagging my pants, and the first click of a taser discharge. Lightning crawled through my veins and dragged agony with it. Every muscle in my body clenched. Vision sparkled, flared. Body rebelling. Gun dropping. Floor. The taser’s metronome beep counted the seconds of agony. Five seconds of mind-numbing agony. On the second beep, my only thought through the pain was that I had three more to go.

A boot kicked my gun into the shadows under the bed. Whoever had tased me stepped over my body – I tried to see what kind of shoes, but my muscles refused to obey any commands – and the deadbolt and lock crunched shut in the shattered frame behind me. Springs squeaked on the bed as he sat down on its corner. I clamped my teeth together and through force of will drug my head around. The short, bristling carpet scraped against my cheek.

The man staring down at me wore combat boots, camouflage shorts, a stained T-Shirt and torn blue Seahawks windbreaker. A matching sweatband circled his bald head. His braided white goatee, the only indication of age, glared against his black skin. The taser rested on his lap while he dug at his nails with the tip of a foot-long army knife. Islamic symbols were tattooed across the knuckles of each hand.

“Who are you?” I grunted, my words muffled against the carpet. My muscles twitched every time I shifted my body.

The man said nothing and swept his dark eyes over me as if inspecting a slab of meat.

“Why did you torture Jesper, Antoine?” I asked.

Antoine grinned. He nodded to Jesper’s corpse. “He said you read minds. Maybe he weren’t full of shit. The demon tale he spun true, too?”

“Vasily didn’t ask you to torture him.” My fall had pushed one of the taser barbs deep into my calf, and it throbbed. “You did it anyway.”

“Yeah, that was me time.” Antoine snorted. “This Vasily guy don’t care what I did. This – Jesper, was it? – cared lots, but in the wrong way. That was sick, man. I stopped after awhile and he just jawed till he bled out.”

“What did Vasily want, then?”

He stuck his newly-manicured thumb back over his shoulder at Jesper’s body. “Beyond whitey there dead and you caught? Fuck if I know.”

I sighed. “Vasily had you kill Jesper so I couldn’t learn more from him. And you don’t know anything.”

“Oh, I know plenty. Like I know Vasily don’t care what condition you’re in, neither, long as you’re still breathing when he gets here. Which might be awhile. Hope you didn’t knock the sign off the knob.”

An emotional fist clenched my stomach. “You mean, you assume.”

“Fine, I assume he don’t care.”

“Are you willing to take that risk?”

“I assume,” he overemphasized the word, “he’ll do the same thing I’m gonna do when he gets hold of you anyway. I’ll just be saving him the trouble. I got my own mind reading powers, and they work damn good.” He tucked his middle finger under his thumb and flicked it against the blade of the knife. The metal sent a cold ring through the air.

The moment his finger struck the blade, I grabbed at the taser wires and rolled. My awkward fingers tangled in the wires, but my momentum was enough to drag the taser from Antoine’s lap. The electrodes popped free as the weapon clattered to the floor. I rolled twice more in an arc, stopping with my feet facing him.

Antoine leapt from the bed. An incoherent snarl erupted from his lips. He leveled the knife and dove at me.

My feet caught him in the chest. I rocked backward and kicked. His momentum carried him over my head in a graceless tumble. He smashed into the dresser, tipping the TV on top of him. His knife buried itself in the floor beside my head.

I tried to stand and toppled in the tangle of wire that wrapped me. I looked up just as Antoine dragged himself to his feet from the wreckage of the dresser.

“Vasily gonna get you back alive,” he said, “but not in one piece.”

He made it two steps. I stomped my boot heel down on his instep. He yelped and stumbled to one knee. I hauled myself up by the edge of the bed, the wires still snarled around my legs.

Antoine grabbed the knife hilt and started to yank it free of the floor. I drove the heel of my hand into his forearm. His arm went limp and he let go of the knife. In the same move I smashed the heel of my hand into his nose. His eyes flooded with tears. Blood gushed in a fan down his face. He fell backward, cradling his shattered nose with his good hand.

“Broke my arm,” he groaned. The limb dangled motionless against his chest. His good hand was cupped under his nose with a puddle of blood forming in his palm.

“Sprained,” I corrected. “Stay down.” I pulled free of the coiled mess of wire and tossed it aside, then tore the barbed electrodes off my pants. The knife remained upright in the floor. I studied it before tugging it free. “Nice knife. You ex-military, Antoine? Let me guess, Desert Storm. A sergeant, really? Too bad about the dishonorable discharge. Life would have been very different if you’d finished your twenty.”

“If I finished my twenty no drunk guy woulda put me down.” His voice was wet and slurred from the broken nose. “I smelled ya before I heard ya.”

I grimaced but didn’t answer, pulling out my phone and punching in Eugene’s number. “Hey, Eugene, change of plans.”

“I hope Antoine is still alive.”

I froze. The voice was not Eugene. Deeper, less emotion. Thick Russian accent.

“Vasily Filitov.” My heart pummeled my ribs. Millions of questions flooded my mind, but one screamed the loudest. “Where is Eugene?”

Antoine started to laugh, a ragged, slurping sound. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

“Antoine is alive, then,” Vasily said. “Let him go.”

“Not until I know Eugene is-”

“The only thing you know is Eugene will certainly be dead if you don’t let Antoine go.”

I clenched my fist and pounded it into the bed. I tried to will Eugene to make a sound, give any indication he was still alive, but nothing. Antoine kept laughing and had pulled himself to a sitting position. Blood stained his white beard a brilliant crimson.

God damn it. There was no sense belaboring the only choice open to me. I nodded to the door.

“Get out of here,” I said to Antoine.

His laughter dribbled away as he pulled two Kleenex from the box lying next to him. He twisted the ends and slid them into his nostrils, then stood and held his hand out expectantly to me.

I glared at him, but flipped the knife hilt outward and thrust it toward him.

He plucked it from my grasp and spun it once in his hand. “Well, I should get, then.” He winked at me, then whipped the pommel at my temple.

His thoughts telegraphed his plan before he moved. I slid to the side and felt the breeze from the hilt’s handle as it passed.

I tapped my temple. His scowl could have melted concrete.

“See you around,” he said, and opened the askew door. In moments he had disappeared into the night.

I watched the darkness for a second to confirm he was gone, then clutched the phone to the side of my face. “Now where is-”

I heard a thump as Eugene’s phone hit the floor.

“Eugene?” A beat, and nothing. “Eugene!”

Something dragged across carpet, then the sound of someone picking up the phone. “Good lord, that guy is fast.” His voice sounded weak and unsteady, but it was Eugene.

I let out a long sigh. “Thank God you’re okay. Where’s Vasily?”

“Gone. Like I said, he’s fast. I’m not too quick but he’s, like, ridiculous Flash speed. He just appeared next to me while I was surfing and bam, I’m on the floor. He didn’t even ask me anything, just sat there till you called.”

“You’re sure he’s gone? You’re safe? Because I need you to look up an ex-Army sergeant named Antoine Golden.”

“Yeah, sure. Who’s Antoine… holy wow there’s a lot of blood all over the….” His voice faded.

Silence on the other end of the line.

The stubble prickled on my scalp. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

“Um. All the fingers on my left hand are gone. To the knuckle. He must have cut them off. I didn’t know he did that. When did he do that.”

I pressed my eyes closed. “Listen to me. Hang up and call 911.”

“I’m going all Jackson Pollock on the walls. Hey, aren’t you supposed to put fingers in milk or something? To save them for reattachment.” His voice was slurred, like he was half asleep. “I don’t want prosthetics, how hard would it be to type with a fake hand? Damn, when did he do this? I don’t remember, his sword must be really sharp-”

“You’re going in to shock. You have to hang up and dial 911, now. Text me when you’re at the hospital, but… don’t contact me after that until I tell you, okay?”

“But how will you find out stuff? You can’t find out stuff. I can find out stuff. I need to find my fingers and get them in milk. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

“Eugene. 911. Don’t contact me. Repeat it.”

“911. Don’t contact you.”

“Do it.” I ground my teeth together. “I’m sorry. Goodbye, Eugene.”

I hung up before he could say anything else.

God damn it. There was no way I could risk Eugene, or any of my other contacts, with Vasily on the loose. I had to assume he was targeting my support network of rescued thralls. Until I could make sure none of their lives were at risk, I couldn’t drag any of them into this.

Sirens sounded over the hiss of mist outside, getting nearer. Antoine had probably stopped at the front desk to report Jesper’s body. Not only was I in a room with a corpse, but I had about half a dozen chemicals in my body and no believable explanation of the situation. No time to dawdle.

I dropped on all fours to retrieve the Lamat, scooped up the taser and wire and slipped out the door. Once I was out of the danger I could think about my next move, but that would have to wait. Right now I had a crime scene to leave and cops to escape.

Chapter 8 (a) (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Eight (a) for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process. You can check out the current version of Chapter Eight (a) here.

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Chapter Eight

Tricia

 

The street artist slashed his charcoal stub across the sheet with the precision of a swordsman. Fat drops of water, rustled by the damp breeze from the trees overhead, popped against the umbrella that sheltered him. He sat back for a moment and adjusted the lamp above his easel to examine his work.

“Are you done?” I asked. The street lights around us were flickering to life in the encroaching dusk.

He picked up the smoldering joint resting in a cracked Bob Ross mug that served as an ashtray. “You can’t rush it,” he said, holding his lighter to the tip and taking a deep drag. His voice squeaked as he held in the smoke. “Especially not with a slice like you.”

I tugged a crumpled twenty from my jacket pocket and thrust it toward him. He rolled his eyes. “Or maybe you can.” His words washed a cloud of foul smoke over me. He stabbed a last few marks with his free hand, then whipped the sheet from his easel. He handed it to me and took the bill in the same motion. “Suit yourself. Price is the same.”

I glanced at the drawing. As I had requested, the rendition was more realistic than his displayed art selection of cartoon motifs and exaggerated features. The bruises across my face were nowhere to be seen. I had slept for hours after getting home, and the rest had made more difference than I expected. I smoothed my tangled hair before folding the drawing into squares and slipping it in my back pocket. The artist winced but said nothing, filling the air around him with a nimbus of pot smoke.

I turned my attention to the glass and concrete office building across the street. A large gold police shield flashed on the building’s doors. I searched the street to make sure no one was watching and snapped invisible.

At this hour the lobby was empty except for two security guards, one watching the nightly news and the other reading a tattered novel. The one at the television looked up as the doors opened on their own, followed by a breath of cool wind. He grunted and returned his attention to the program. I walked around the metal detector, scanned the display of offices and floors of the building, and found the King County Medical Examiner. Neither guard reacted when the elevator chimed and opened. I was used to people, even guards, giving little heed to doors and elevators misbehaving.

Getting in the building was never going to be the problem, anyway.

I dropped my invisibility as the elevator doors opened. The click of my boots on the laminate roused the man behind the desk. He closed his laptop and pushed his bifocals down, clinging to me with his gaze.

“Can I help you, miss?” He straightened his green smock to hide the paunch it did little to conceal. A fringe of gray hair ringed his glistening pate. His nametag said Grayson. He had yet to look me in the eye. “Are you lost?”

“No.” I stopped at the edge of his desk. “I’m looking for someone.”

His eyes refused to lift from the curves of my body. He smiled broadly, displaying teeth stained by coffee. The indent of a wedding ring stood out on his finger. His nails were chewed to the quick. Sweat gathered on his upper lip, stirring to life the sickening spice of his cologne.

“I’d say you found someone,” he said.

Desire already held him in its grip, and I had done nothing proactive. I could brush my fingers against his cheek, stare into his eyes, and his will would crumple. It would be that simple to get what I wanted.

Instead I pushed a hundred dollar bill across the desk toward him. It was the last cash I had, but it was worth the expense. My next victim had better be loaded. “I’m afraid a friend of mine might be here.”

Grayson stared at the bill, then looked back up. Our eyes finally met. “We would have notified the family if-”

“I’m actually looking for many people,” I clarified, pushing the hundred closer to him. “I just need to see the bodies. Or see that they aren’t here.”

A look of apprehension displaced the desire in his gaze. The change unsettled me. “Who are you looking for?”

“Have any unidentified teenagers died recently?”

Grayson’s face settled into a grim cast that unsettled me even more, as if whatever worried him had been confirmed. “Are you a reporter?”

I shook my head.

“You look too young, anyway.” He stuffed the bill in his pocket and stood up. He motioned for me to follow him through the double doors behind the desk.

I pushed through the doors in his wake. Florescent lights arced from the gleaming floor and cabinets of the room. I paused for a moment, staring at the multitude of warped reflections in the stainless steel surfaces. Nothing for it but to depend on inattentiveness. I took a step into the room, then froze. The doors swung back on me and I stumbled forward.

Six corpses in the middle of examinations rested on wheeled autopsy tables. Grayson did a silent circuit around the room as I stared, pulling out at least as many more body drawers. Similar corpses occupied each one. All of them cold, gray, undamaged but for the autopsy incisions.

Bodies just embraced by the transformation of puberty. None over thirteen at most. Bodies not just dead, but empty. Bodies ripped of their souls.

Fuck. The edges of my world started to crumble. The smell of antiseptics and Grayson’s cloying aftershave faded. The air grew colder, deader.

And carried the flutter of a scent I hadn’t smelled in decades. Memory swelled. I could smell him on all of them.

Grayson pulled out the last drawer and gestured at the room with an air of futility. “The media would go crazy if this got out. I don’t know how it’s stayed quiet so long.” He gnawed at the nail of his middle finger. “All of them John and Jane Does. If you know any of them, we could use some help identifying them.”

“When did this start?” I could barely form words.

Grayson shrugged. “A few weeks ago. They’re from all over. These are just in King County.”

My body trembled. “It’s happening in other areas.”

“They have at least this many in Tacoma. A couple more in Snohomish. If it weren’t so spread out and happening so fast, we’d be thinking serial killer.” He walked among the gurneys, his eyes darting from the bodies to me. “None with an apparent cause of death, no identification, no one asking about them….”

He might have kept talking, but I lost his voice in an encroaching silence. I stepped closer to the nearest body. She was the only one not yet scarred by an examination. Her blonde hair spilled down her shoulders and over the edge of the table. Acne concealed under makeup, breasts mere bumps under the autopsy sheet, face peaceful in a death so thorough it left nothing of her behind. I could smell her even in death, faint but newly blossomed. Mixed with the dark, intoxicating scent I dreaded.

A delicate golden cross lay askew at the hollow of her throat. It flashed in the colorless light above. I couldn’t tear my gaze from it even as the crush of bombs shattered the air around me.

 

 

Chapter Five (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Five for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

I left this draft unfinished. I gave more background into what happened to Garrison, but decided most only needed to be implied rather than shown. I also changed Chapter Five to incorporate more B-story conflict. You can check out the current version of Chapter Five here.

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Chapter Five

The Telepath

 

Stupid. Fighting four demons at once, one a succubus, was sheer idiocy. I was lucky to get out of Rothchild manor alive. Even luckier to make it out with my will intact.

I hadn’t learned a damn thing in two years. I knew the risk, yet I sought out the temptation. Toyed with it. Wanted it.

My leg ached in the cramped coach-class seat. I knew the agony of shattered bone was in my mind, the acrid smell of avgas and burning meat stinging the dry desert air. But the itch started with memory. Then calculating how long before we land in Seattle. How long since I last dosed. The panic, drugged to a low murmur with anxiety meds, threatened to rip back.

The thoughts of the stewardess morphed to concern as I asked for another vodka. She didn’t know I would be jumping out of my skin without the previous five. But I couldn’t waste a week on a trans-country train trip.

Mere days after a succubus had played havoc with my emotions, with my addiction, I flew across the country into the jaws of the succubus. This was either the end of my quest, or the beginning of a new hell. I didn’t know which one I wanted more.

I stared at my laptop screen, telling myself I needed to review my notes on Tricia Priest. Aissa was just the latest in a string of memories inching me toward that elusive hell bitch. But again I opened the diary entry from two years ago. Homecoming. The night my life changed. The wound that would never heal, like the veins I tore open in a futile hunt for relief.

I reopened the wound to remember.

 

Two years ago.

It was the first time I’d felt clean in months. A full shower in my own bathroom. The water scorched enough to turn my skin red. No cast encased my leg, the pale flesh once again whole save the pink valley that carved down my thigh. I dug at nonexistent grains of sand under my fingernails out of habit. I rinsed my mouth in the spray and spat a stream of unsoiled water down the drain. I tried to enjoy a luxury I hadn’t known in years and forget.

A swirling cloud wrearthed me as I stepped out of the shower, fogging a mirror cabinet empty of toiletries. The moonlight in the bedroom spilled pale and silver over a barren closet. My suitcases sprawled open on a bed stiff with pristine guest sheets. The stale air, the pile of unopened mail, spoke of how long my wife Helen had left this life behind. 

We hadn’t spoken in months. When she wasn’t there to greet the boat, only denial kept me from accepting reality. The thick manila envelope on the kitchen table, stamped with a lawyer’s name and contact information, shattered even that.

At least she’d been thoughtful enough to leave our pictures.

I toweled off but didn’t bother with clothes in the warm night. My bare feet creaked across the wooden floor as I walked to the dining room and its bar. A patina of dust covered bottles untouched since her departure. I grabbed a bottle of scotch and poured two fingers into a tumbler, swallowed two vicodin to chase the ones already dissolving in my stomach. The military threw pills at me despite all the warning signs. Thank God it was easier to medicate than cure.

The front door lock clicked.

My fingers ripped the chef’s knife from the block. Two windows, sliding glass door to the deck, bedroom hallway, arched entry to the living area. Against the wall next to the arch, all other entrances in sight. Steps, quick, light. Movement. I grabbed the thin wrist as it came through the arch, hurled the body over my hip. Crash to the foor, knife at the throat, and my wife screamed under me.

I jerked back and dropped the knife. Sweat broke over my trembling skin.

Terror lit the deep mocha pools of Helen’s eyes. Her hand went up to her throat, came back with droplets black in the moonlight.

“Garrison,” she managed in a weak voice.

“Christ.” My voice shook. “What are you doing here?”

“This is our house.” She tucked her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.

 I cupped my face in my hands and tried to slow my breathing. The hammering pulse, the adrenaline frying my veins, refused to abate.

“I could have killed you,” I said.

“It’s you. You’re back, you’re really-”

“Of course I’m back!” Anger plowed through my frazzled nerves. “How could you not know?”

“I didn’t pay attention… I mean….” Her voice failed. She began sobbing on the floor in front of me.

I could see her beauty even through the confusion and fury and tears. Long auburn hair. Flawless light brown skin. She wore a tight crimson top and skirt in the balmy summer evening. Her face was beautiful despite the terror twisting her expression.

“What are you doing here?” I repeated. The words hissed through clamped teeth.

She scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “Why do you bother to ask?”

“Because I keep my word.”

Her laugh sounded wet and distant, eyes darting to the untouched envelope on the table. “I was sure you would break that promise the second you saw me.”

“I keep my word.” My voice was iron.

It wasn’t just a promise to her. I kept out of the thoughts of everyone outside my work. It had broken too many relationships.

I wouldn’t violate it even for a relationship that had already disintegrated.

“I needed to see you.” I barely heard her voice. “I fucked up.”

“How exactly did you fuck up?” I said with surprising calm, all the more menacing for it.

“Don’t make me tell it to you. You could just—”

“I want to hear it.”

She shook her head. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Try.”

Her body tensed.

“Shit. I wasn’t doing well after your first tour. Another two years without anyone….” She shrugged, and her voice struggled to claw through her tears. “I had an affair. No one you know. Then a fling. No one I knew.  And it just got easier. Christ, just like before we met.”

My mind spun. She had been a borderline alcoholic and sex addict through college and med school, and had still managed top honors on account of her brilliance.

“We weren’t talking, then you got hurt, and….” She nodded with her chin at the envelope and buried her face again.

“You hoped I’d die,” I said.

She glared at me. “You fucker. Promises shit.”

“I don’t need to see your thoughts for that. It would have made everything easier if I hadn’t survive.”

Her head bobbed, and she tucked her chin behind her knees. “But then you were coming home. You’re going to laugh, I looked through our wedding album. I remembered how happy we were.”

It sounded like a line, but the expression etched on her face howled a different story.

“I came to get that.” She pointed to the envelope. “Before you saw. I couldn’t put my stuff back in time, but least I could hide how far I’d gone.”

I stood in silence, watching her curled up on the floor.  Emotions seethed. I felt my dormant attraction and caring for her wrestling with my anger. But I said nothing. Silence begged to be filled, and I knew she would fill it.

“I can’t lose you,” she said. “You saved me. You gave me more than I deserved. I still love you.”

Her waiting eyes fixed on me. I stood still, smothering my conflict of reactions.

“Can we work on this?” Her voice was pleading. “Do you still love me enough to do that?”

I closed my eyes. Exhaled long, trying to release my tension.

“I still love you,” I whispered.

“You do?” The joy was palpable in her voice, and I heard her shift on the floor.

“I never didn’t. It kept me alive after that crash. I still love you.”

I opened my eyes to see her now on her knees, expectant. “I had to know, sweetie.”

“Know? Why was there any doubt?”

“I had to make sure you still loved me. I can’t just look into your head.” Her smoldering eyes slid across my body. “I like you bald. And cut. And the scars! You should go to war more often.”

I had forgotten I was naked. I dropped my hands to my lap, just as my penis stirred with her gaze and my realization.

“Don’t be modest.” She flowed to her feet and started to glide toward me. “Aren’t you at all curious?”

My throat clenched. In seconds her bearing, her demeanor, had transformed. “What’s gotten in to you?” I took an unsteady step away from her.

“Don’t you want to know how lonely I really was?”

Her smell enfolded me, the scent of her skin, her hair, her sex. My back hit the wall as she neared. Confusion at her change replaced my anger, and a raw, unfocused lust began to swallow me.

“You want to know how many men I fucked?”

Anger flashed, sputtered as her hand brushed against my erection. My thoughts tangled and stumbled.

“How many women I fucked? How many I fucked at the same time?”

“You’re lying.” I couldn’t move.

Her eyes swallowed me, pleading and demanding. “The sex and cheating and lust and unfaithfulness. Look into my mind. See how much of a dirty cheating slut your wife has been.”

“I promised—”

“I want you to.” Her hands curled around the back of my head and pulled me closer. “It’s the only way you’ll know how naughty I’ve been.”

I couldn’t think. Her mere presence agonized, ignited, overwhelmed. It had been years, but time was not the barrier that separated us. She was a different person. Changed.

Her mind blossomed at my mental touch.

Bars, beds, men and women growing less and less familiar with each encounter. The old vices taking sway, choking the fear and loneliness and resent at my absence. Complete surrender to her desires. The lustful sins of her past not gone, but dormant. Reawakened.

Then the last stranger. A young girl. Black hair, perfect skin, stunning curves, scent like concentrated desire and need. Burgundy eyes that burned lust. Tricia Priest, the name whispered, moaned, screamed, before….

Burning.

Then more men. All dead. More women. All her slaves. Ravenous, unquenchable hunger.

“What the hell happened to you?” I said. “What are you?”

Her eyes flashed fire against obsidian skin, magma crackling veins and hair blistering with lust.

“I will be your universe,” Helen said. “And I will savor every last drop of love that you harbor in your soul.”

Then she touched me, and the release I craved with every drink and pill faded in the ecstasy of her demonic touch.

“It was so lucky you survived for me,” she purred in my ear. “And so, so much worse for you.”

And she slowly began to kill me.

 

“Are you alright, sir?”

I started at the stewardess’s voice. My hands trembled on my lap.

“I’m fine,” I mumble, wiping my face. The time on my laptop said the flight had an hour left. “Can I get another vodka?”

Her deep brown eyes looked concerned. “I think you’ve had enough. Let me get you a ginger ale.”

I started to snap, clenched back the retort and nodded. She smiled with a mix of emotions that didn’t include humor as she turned away.

God. I stared at the white space on the screen. That entry had been my last act off defiance before I didn’t care anymore. Months of no entries. No thoughts. Nothing but a slow death masked in a veneer of endless, unfiltered ecstasy.

I forced myself to continue to the next entry, written weeks after the fact. The memories I truly needed to relive.

 

Six months later.

I focused on the creeping, frozen clarity spreading like a spiderweb up my arm. A handful of seconds of coherent thought. I tossed the needle aside and repeated to myself what I did this for, what I had to do.

Helen would devour the shadow that remained of my soul.This was my last chance. If I didn’t resist now, I never would. I still didn’t know if I wanted to and focus dissolved.

The ice in my veins disappeared as quickly as it had come. A haze descended over the world. My body sank into a warm, luxurious bath. Thoughts drifted. My limbs grew warm, languid. The sharp pains and aches of new scars, bruises, burns, all disappeared in a blanket of euphoric content. The gnawing desire for the demonic pleasure of my wife faded. Still there, but I no longer craved it like before.

I lay naked in the basement that had become my dungeon. No doors, no locks, I remained with no consideration of escape. Thick pillows, cushions, silk bedsheets, walls of domination equipment and anything Helen’s twisted mind desired. I left only when compelled by Helen, to work out, to stay in shape for her, to serve her.

But for my most lucid moments, I craved nothing but the near-constant ecstasy of her presence. I read in her thoughts what she did to me, milking the emotions I held in my soul for her, more delicious than the men she fucked and killed for sustenance every night. I drank more, popped more pills, because they gave me the slightest respite to her control.

This was my last gambit. I had read her weaknesses from her thoughts, the only things within my power that could destroy her. It had taken all my will to find and purchase the heroin I just injected, because it meant the possible end to the domination she held over me. I knew tonight I would escape, or I would die.

This I could say looking back. But at that moment, nothing mattered. It took all my will to remember what I had to do. So simple to accomplish. So impossible to care.

I heard her before I saw her. I heard everything. Her soft steps. The whisper of her breath. The thunder of my pulse.

“Hello, lover.”

Helen, my angelic demon goddess, glided with unearthly grace down the stairs, dropping her guise as she entered. The hair on her head and above her sex blazed in a halo of sensual flame. Black upon black skin, smooth and glistening, glowed with veins and nipples and eyes fiery with concentrated lust.

She was well out of reach, but I stretched my arm toward her, a struggle to move. I had no urge to leap up like normal, whether I could have or not. My body felt leashed by weight, apathy, delicious bliss.

She ignored my lethargy. striding around the room to inventory the sexual implements available to use on me.

Then she stopped and turned to me. Her gaze pierced me even through the warmth and haze. Hard, pulsing sensations cut through the drugs. I arched my back in ecstasy.

“You look like shit,” she said.

I groaned and collapsed back on the bed. Afterglow mixed in the unfocused sea of intoxication. But my mind phased out and my god, the consuming need that her power brought did not return.

Her lips curled in disappointment. “Garrison, I don’t think you’ll live much longer.”

I saw her thoughts morph as the words, sultry and thick, flowed from her lips.

“I think this will be our last time together.”

She dropped on all fours and crawled over the bed toward me. “You don’t know how much I will miss this, Garrison. You mean so much more to me than the others I consume. But I always knew you couldn’t last forever.”

The heat of her body beckoned as she neared. Her mind bloomed with images of how best to enjoy me as she consumed my soul.

I gasped. She was going to fuck me.

My resolve shattered. She never gave me the height of her power, never shared with me the greatest pleasure she could bring.  But now she would. And Jesus, that was all I had wanted for months.

Helen’s talons stroked my cock as she threw her legs astride me. She drew me across her lips, burning with

 

Chapter Three (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Three for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

As the first introduction to Garrison, I felt it started too slowly. I also added an additional Cursed to deal with in future drafts to better show the difference between types of Cursed. You can check out the current version of Chapter Three here.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

Chapter Three

The Telepath

 

The worn flask felt warm and comfortable in my gloved hands. It had been my constant companion through miles and years and wars, and my fingers traced the stories held in every dent. The vodka within, just as warm and comfortable, but the past dimmed with each swallow, an amnesia as fleeting as the heat it brought. Watered down, the vodka aroused my thirst more than quenched it. Still I stopped while it remained half full. Even the predawn cold and the sour bromide aftertaste on my tongue couldn’t justify draining it.

I knew I would need the rest once I was done here.

A patina of ice glittered over the bronze R on the carved double doors in front of me. I pulled my coat tighter around my throat and shivered in the chill. Rough cement lions, covered by a carpet of frost-brittle leaves, flanked the long low steps leading to the doors. I knew from Lilly that a multitude of entrances existed to the upstate manor, but all were heavily secured. Not unbreakable, but a time waster. Better to be welcomed in.

The doors swung open. I couldn’t see what lay past the hulking man who opened them. Eduardo. His bleached hair and eyebrows made his mahogany skin all the darker. Tattoos peeked from under his collar and cuffs. He moved with a deliberate grace that belied his size, of a height with me but with fifty pounds more muscle.

“Mister Decker,” he said, in a voice an octave higher than I expected. “Lady Rothchild isn’t expecting you.”

Brazilian accent, which explained the capoeira training. Eduardo was not employed based on any butlery skill. I plucked other details – number and general location of security, basic layout – that were on the surface of his thoughts in case I caused problems.

I smiled and took off my cap. I felt steam curl off my bald scalp. “I’m sorry to call so early, but can I speak with Lilly? It’s urgent.””

“Lady Rothchild does not entertain visitors without an appointment, even at a sensible hour,” Eduardo said. His mind blossomed with images of the doors to Lilly’s study. He had never been inside, but she was there now, and seldom left when home. As far as he knew, she never slept.

The other two members of the Rothchild family had equally inexplicable eccentricities, though I already knew what I was up against from Lilly’s thoughts.

Eduardo started to close the doors, but his eyes lost focus as he listened to his earpiece. His expression changed, as if any concern over my presence had evaporated. He nodded once and swung the doors wide.

“Lady Rothchild will see you. She is waiting for you on the balcony landing.”

He stepped aside to reveal an elegant foyer. The intricate marble floor, inset with a coat of arms and another stylized R, reflected a cascade of light from the chandelier overhead. Two broad staircases swept up to the overlooking balcony. The still air was warm and smelled like leather and old books.

I hung my satchel on the coat rack beside the door, clicking the locks as I did so, and walked toward the stairs. My footfalls resounded on the marble. Eduardo’s eyes followed me the whole way. He was accustomed to people showing up to see his employers at odd hours, and he assumed that I, like many guests, would quite possibly never leave.

Poor guy had no idea what he was part of.

Lilly stood at her open door when I reached the landing. Slim, auburn hair pulled back in a bun, face ageless and smooth. She wore a crisp gray business suit with a light blue blouse at four in the morning, with a microphone at her lapel to summon staff at any need.

“Garrison,” she said. “Our next session is not for six hours. And I do own a phone.”

Her voice held the lazy southeastern accent I knew well from my childhood, and held no displeasure at seeing me.

“I prefer to do business in person,” I answered, letting the same easy drawl touch my words. “And the opportunity you alluded to sounded far too lucrative to pass up.””

“I thought that might be what drove you here.” She smiled and gestured for me to follow her into her study. “Money never rests, does it?””

I could feel her hunger crash in waves, nothing like I’d sensed in our sessions. She had been feeding, and cradled the thought that she already had me. I fingered the metal loop on the inside of my jacket. I needed a minute more, at least.

Her study looked out over the frozen grounds of the estate, shadowed blue and gray in the cold dawn. Decadence draped the room, illuminated by lamps and a flickering fireplace. An antique and well-stocked bar spread below oil paintings that would break millionaires. Her massive cherry desk held no paper, pens or a computer, just a desk lamp and an ancient wooden globe. Greek statues stood vigil in the recesses. The only nod to technology glowed on the wall behind the desk, a massive screen that tracked the indices of every market on the planet.

Light crept from under the solitary door opposite the desk, muting murmurs and the clack of keyboards.

“What is it you want, Doctor?” She said. “What do you desire?”

“A glass of your Balvenie Fifty.”

She chuckled and gestured toward the bar. “I feel you’re thinking a little too literally.”

“Not at all. I seldom get fifty-year-old scotch.” I filled a rocks glass with two fingers and swirled it under my nose. “This would set me back six grand.””

“Six thousand dollars is nothing. What is it you really desire?”

“To hear more about the opportunity you mentioned in our therapy sessions.” I took a sip and let the flavors explode on my tongue. It was the first thing that managed to cut through the bitter taste of the anti-nerve agent that clung to my throat. ““This is good.”

“I should hope. You’re dancing around the question.” She leaned against her desk and crossed her arms, regarding me. “The investment requires one million initially.”

“I would have to liquefy everything I own. That’s quite a risk.”

“We both know that’s not true.” Her lips curled into a smirk. “You could pay for it all if you cashed your wife’s life insurance policy.”

The hook. I grimaced as I touched the bump of my wedding band under my glove. “How did you know that?”

“It’s my business to know. You could come up with the money quite easily.” She took a step toward me. “And you would never again want for anything.”

The nearer she came, the more real the temptation became. Mansions, women, cars, jets, drugs, every vice imaginable. It could all be mine.

“It’s been two years,” Lilly whispered. “Whatever your reasons, they don’t matter. What is it that you most desire, Garrison? Anything could be yours. Everything.”

I shot a blatant glance at the door opposite. Her eyes stayed on me, but her thoughts went right where I wanted them to. Laptops manned by empty-faced men and women, wasting in their endless pursuit of wealth, draining family savings and sacrificing friends in pursuit of one more million. One more dollar. One more penny. Their avarice sated Lilly’s hunger, so she was free to cultivate other more difficult – and satisfying – manifestations at her leisure.

The keyboards had stopped clacking.

I smiled at her, my clenched teeth betraying my anger. “I want my wife back, bitch.”

Lilly took a step back in surprise. She watched me with her dark eyes, calculating, severe. Her mind scrambled, unsure why I was there. What I intended to do.

“Eduardo,” she said into her lapel, “send in my uncle and aunt if you would be so kind.”

She waited a beat for a reply. Her brow furrowed.

“Eduardo.”

She shoved past me out the door of the study, and stopped at the edge of the balcony. In the center of the marble floor, highlighted by a sea of reflected light, lay the prone body of Eduardo.

I ripped the garrote wire free from my jacket lining and charged her. She had just started to turn when I looped it around her neck. She tried to scream and choked on her own blood. I planted my knee in the small of her back, pressing her against the marble balcony rail. A red fog sprayed out from her neck.

“Tell my wife Helen that I will avenge her, demon.”

I sawed the garrote back and forth. Lilly struggled, gurgled, went limp. The wire snapped free. Lilly’s head, a twisted and horned green reflection of its human guise, rebounded off the marble below before disintegrating in a smear of ash. Her body crumpled, imploded.

The nerve agent in my satchel would have dispersed through the entire mansion by now. I pulled out my pistol – a refurbished LeMat Confederacy revolver – and backed into Lilly’s study. Everyone here would be unconscious except for me and the two demons that still remained.

I had never taken on more than one demon at a time. They seldom worked, let alone lived, together, especially not ones of different types. But these three came from the same corrupt mortal family. Lilly was the youngest, untrained in fighting and new to her powers. Neither of the remaining would be as simple.

Angus Rothchild was a sadistic rage demon. Lilly had been terrified of him, even after her transformation. The Carolina slave master was the eldest of the clan, and might have been the patriarch if his grandniece Aissa didn’t control him.

I knew intimately well the power a succubus could wield. I touched my flask, then frowned and left it in my pocket. After.

Stillness and silence draped the mansion. From behind me, a grandfather clock beat its steady rhythm. I breathed the warm air, forcing my heart to match time with the clock, and edged toward the doorway. Back against the doorjamb, I darted my head out onto the balcony to make sure the floor was still clear.

Hands the size of turkeys clamped the sides of my head and dragged me out of the study. A nightmare Colonel Sanders with baleful eyes stared at me as I dangled in his grasp. Then he threw me. My stomach crashed into the balcony rail and I cartwheeled over. Floor rushed at me. Instinct kicked in. I tucked and rolled and tumbled onto my back. My flattened lungs refused to drag in breath. I lurched to my knees and grabbed for my pistol as it skidded across the floor.

Angus smashed into the marble in front of me. His white hair and moustaches glowed stark against skin the color of hot coals. Two wicked horns twisted up from his temples.

I finally managed a trembling breath. I raised my pistol, trained it on the demon’s chest, then dropped it and gasped. I collapsed to all fours as a wave of euphoria clenched my midsection.

“Why, you do not want to fight at all, do you?” A soft voice whispered in my ear. “I hardly had to try.”

I kept gulping air, trying to will my sluggish limbs to respond through the afterglow haze.

“He beheaded Lilly!” Angus snarled. His Appalachian twang was so thick I had trouble understanding it.

“You would have done that anyway, like you’ve done to all of the rest but me.”

I made a clumsy swipe for my pistol. Then another orgasm seized me, more powerful than the first. I felt cool marble against my cheek as I writhed.

“Stop it, you harlot!” I felt the floor rumble as Angus neared me. A constant growl churned from the depths of his barrel chest. “I’’m gonna kill him.”

“Oh, Angus. This doesn’t mean you don’t get yours.”

The rumble of the floor stopped, the growl changed to a soft mewl.

Aissa crouched over me. Her creamy bronze hair, the same color as her eyes, cascaded down in graceful curls to her shoulders. The light passed through her gossamer white gown to reveal her slender body, her delicate curves, her tattoos and piercings.

“I can make him come as easily as I can you, old man.” She laid a smooth, cool hand on the side of my face. “You’ve been the minion of a Cursed before, haven’t you?”

My mind screamed for me to pull away before she killed me, to grab my gun and shoot her in her lovely face. My lips brushed her palm, tasted her silken flesh as I raised myself toward her.

“Do you want another?” She cooed. Her lips were the color of raspberries. “Those were so rushed. So… weak.”

No, God no, get away from me. No words escaped my lips.

She patted my cheek. “Not yet. You did kill my niece. Angus will make you pay for that. But I want you to enjoy every minute of agony.” She leaned closer, curling her finger under my chin. “I want to make you beg for every minute of it.”

Our lips touched, first a casual brush, then deeper, my arms were around her and rapture filled me until her mouth became bitter ash. She screeched and tore herself away from me.

“What did you do?” She shrieked. Smoke belched from the blistered skin around her mouth, her skin now black with fiery red cracks and hair a mane of flame. Her talons clawed at her sizzling lips.

I ground my teeth together in fury. Emotions seethed through me in a torrent. I saw what she wanted to do to me. I saw my own weakness through her eyes. I felt disgust at my own vulnerability. At least in my haze I had managed enough self-control to grab my gun.

Most infuriating of all, I saw Her in Aissa’s mind. The one who corrupted Aissa. The same one who corrupted Helen.

The pocket of my jacket ripped as I tore the vials of holy water free. I mixed enough of it with my vodka that my urine would consecrate any toilet I used for a week. Before I could lose my determination, I hurled the vials at Aissa.

They shattered against her skin, fried like napalm. Shards of chandelier rained down on us, shattered by her shriek. Light flickered and died. She twirled and collapsed and bucked on the ground and dissolved into a smoldering heap.

Angus smashed into me like a boulder. His momentum carried us across the room, crashing into the far wall.

The demon could barely make a coherent sound. He clamped his meaty hands around my head and squeezed.

I fired the shotgun barrel of the LeMat, inches from his heart, loaded with rock salt.

The pressure on my head disappeared. Angus stared stupidly at the burning crater in the center of his chest, where his heart should be. His body shattered like leaves as he toppled to the ground.

I stood trembling in the again silent mansion. The pistol dangled from my limp hand. Sweat drenched my face, my clothes. I fumbled the flask out of my pocket and drained the last of the holy vodka in one long swallow. The horror never left.

On shaking legs I walked up the stairs to the balcony, back into Lilly’s open study. I took the Balvenie Fifty from the bar, not bothering with a glass, and collapsed into the leather chair behind the desk.

Lilly had shown me the existence of three demons, and their weaknesses. In my arrogance I thought I could destroy all three, but one succubus had brought me to my knees.

While showing me the one demon I had been hunting since my wife was taken from me.

I swallowed deeply from the bottle, but a gnawing need had grown since Aissa’s touch. The same insatiable need that had plagued me since Helen’s corruption, the need I could never satisfy. My hand went for my inner pocket. Empty. For an instant, panic gripped me, then I remembered I left my works kit at home when on missions. With everyone in the mansion waking up within the hour, I couldn’t dose here and risk capture.

But there was one thing I had to do, while the images from Aissa’s memory were still fresh. Taking another pull of scotch, I slipped the wrinkled slip of paper I kept always close to my heart and smoothed it out on the desk.

I had updated and redone the charcoal drawing countless times over the years, every time I saw her more clearly in a thought or more precisely in a memory. The demon had hung ephemeral since Helen, appearing in memories when I least expected it. And my rendition was all I had to go on.

Aissa had given me the piece that might lead me to the end of my journey.

The scotch had steadied my hand enough for me to draw in the simple wooden cross that hung around her neck, and sketch the faint outline of the Space Needle overshadowing her.

I’ve looked for you for two years, I whispered as I stared at her striking burgundy eyes. The one that destroyed my world, the one that took everything from me. And now I knew where you were.

I am going to destroy you, Tricia Priest, and finally, truly, avenge my wife.

Amp Up Your Conflict Three: Don’t Forget The Flipside

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Amp Up Your Conflict Three: Don’t Forget The Flipside

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Any narrative you write always has two stories it’s telling: the story of your protagonist(s), and the story of your antagonist as well.

A good antagonist thinks they are the hero of your story. Their motivations should make sense to them (and eventually the reader) and their actions, in their minds at least, should be the right thing to do. This still gives you depth to make them as evil or depraved as you need, but they should never do anything just because it’s evil or because it furthers your plot.

A well developed antagonist like this gives you as author tremendous opportunity to amp up tension – by throwing your antagonist some difficulty. Remember, most events in your plot are going to go the antagonist’s way. But that doesn’t mean they can’t suffer some setbacks of their own.

You can use these conflicts (a rebellious employee, or a past jilted lover) to give opportunity to your protagonists. Or you can also use them to build some sympathy for your antagonist, which adds depth to your narrative. Think Cersei from Game of Thrones. In every way she’s an antagonist, but when she’s captured and ridiculed, we feel for her. Not enough to forgive her of her past actions, and perhaps mostly satisfaction that she got what was coming to her, but at some level we have sympathy. Now our feelings toward her are more complex.

Every story has a flipside. Don’t forget that side when you’re looking to amp up your story’s conflict.

Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: You Cut The Backstory

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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 2: You Cut the Backstory

I don’t need backstory. I don’t want it. Neither will your readers.

It’s crucial for you, the author, to know your subjects and backstory better than anyone. But writing isn’t a test. You don’t need to show your work. Manuscripts I love respect my intelligence and don’t patronize me by feeding me backstory.

There are a lot of things I don’t need to know in order to enjoy a tale. Show me what’s happening. Know it doesn’t matter to me that your protagonist graduated first in her class from Harvard in 2005 and is an expert on North African Pre-Egyptian fossils, which her dead but much-loved grandfather inspired her to study. Show her in action and I know she’s an expert. Keep my interest by leaving her history unsaid until it’s pertinent.

The backstory rule also applies to historical, technical and mythical/magical information. You as a writer need to know every detail of pertinent information for your tale. If your story takes place in the Ottoman Empire in the thick of World War I, you better do your historical research, and probably study the military hardware of the time too. If you’re writing a speculative fiction piece, you need to know how the warp drive your ships use and the phasers your ships fire work. But after doing all your research or technical development, it’s tempting to tell it all as soon as something is referenced.

Don’t do it.

Here you need to know the target audience for your work a little bit. Some historical fiction readers want to get deeper in the historical weeds, and some science fiction readers want to go further under the hood. But ultimately the important thing for the reader is what these items do, not how they do it, or how life is during the time period, not how it got that way. You as author need to know these things so you can add background detail, explain when necessary, and, above all, avoid inconsistencies. Even if a reader doesn’t understand the technology or history, he or she will spot an inconsistency immediately. (“I have no idea how shields or transporters work, but I thought you couldn’t use a transporter through shields!”)

Too many times a good manuscript goes off the rails when the author starts to dump in backstory about characters, history or technology. It slows the narrative to a crawl, and most of the information I don’t need. Accept that I, and your readers, will appreciate your exhaustive research and backstory without needing to know it.