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.

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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.

Chapter Two (first draft)

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

Again, previously the tense was present, and I moved the Andrasi encounter entirely to the second chapter. I also amped up the sexual tension Tricia feels. You can check out the current version of Chapter Two here.

Back to Hunters

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Chapter Two

The Cursed

 

I step out of the private room, leaving crumpled rapist husks laying in the darkness behind. Constellations of body fluids flare across my body under the black lights of the dance floor.

It will be awhile before anyone finds them. They would have made sure no one would interrupt their conquest of a drugged teenager. No rush to leave. But a club is a dangerous place for me to be. I just gorged on four corrupt souls. They are mere sustenance, not nourishment. Their memories, their sadistic plans for me, their recollections of past conquests strip their souls of any purity. I feel satisfaction ending their miserable lives, but I still hunger.

Holy Christ, I still need to fuck. Really fuck.

I close my eyes and stand still. The body heat of the dancers flowing past beckons me. Desire, everywhere desire, need. Theirs are mere whispers next to the screaming inside me. Every doubt about coming here explodes. The hunger is too powerful to resist. I have no desire to. My mind goes numb.

I reach out into the human sea, grasp the nearest person by the hair and spin her toward me. She lets out a squeal of surprise, cut off when I drag her lips to mine. At first she stiffens and presses her lips tight. Then they quiver, open, and we devour each other. She tastes like spearmint, cigarettes, cum. Her embrace is sudden and fierce. The world dims. Her body melts into mine, scorches like an inferno. Our hands move over each other, exploring, wanting. Her rich and intoxicating scent engulfs me.

I feel her passion, her power, her eager soul. The lasers strobe over the seething dance floor around us. Lust thunders from the crowd. I tremble as it pulls at me. I want more. I want it all. The dancers are so embroiled by lust that I could drop my human glamour, walk across the dance floor in my full demonic glory and take every last soul in an orgy of desire.

Her mind opens to me the second we touch, and Stacey captivates me. Not like the worthless raping shits I ate. Stacey is kind, she doesn’t steal or lie, she doesn’t cheat on her boyfriend and wants a family with him. My God, she is the purest, kindest, most delicious creature I’ve tasted in decades.

And if I enslave her, I would damn the soul I’m struggling to redeem, if it’s redeemable at all.

Fuck. I shove Stacey away.

She stares at me, gasping. Her short-bobbed blonde hair curls over one eye, but the other stares, the thin rim of her dilated eyes the color of a winter stream. Her cheeks flush fire.

“The fuck,” a guy next to her says, and wheels her away by the elbow. The boyfriend. His haircut is a mirror of hers, but brown with gilded strands like wood grain. His shirt looks painted on his sculpted torso. Groomed stubble carves out his jaw, and his straight teeth glow in the black lights. My head barely reaches his chest.

I turn my attention to him. I couldn’t actually feed from another woman, just enslave her, but her boyfriend was another matter. I can feel desire mixing with his anger. Seeing me kiss Stacey again would shatter his resistance.

I stop myself before I indulge the thought further.

“Thought she was someone else,” I say.

“She’s not. Fuck off.”

His biceps strain as he holds Stacey back from me. Her gaze hasn’t left me the whole time.

God damn it. I spin away and bolt deeper into the crowd. In a moment I can’t see them anymore. I’m trembling with desire, but my sanity slowly claws back. Rapists and sinners, their souls empty of true satisfaction, at least deserve death. But a few more seconds and I would have enthralled that girl whether I wanted to or not, and I would have consumed her boyfriend’s soul for the fuck of it. A succubus isn’t built to cope with abstinence or control. Demonkind call themselves Cursed for good reason.

I can’t let myself give in to my nature, and a feast like this club is too much temptation. I won’t be able to look at Pastor Tom again if I throw away all my work fighting my Curse now. I have to get out of here before I do something I’ll regret. I push my way toward the doors.

I feel its presence behind me an instant before its sword slashes at my head. I wheel to the side. The black sword misses me by less than an inch. The blade carries straight through two guys dancing in front of me without slowing. The music drowns their screams. Blood sprays over me and the dancers around them.

An Andrasi rage demon towers behind me. I’m at eye level with its belly button. No glamour to disguise its nature. Angelic wings fan out behind it. Its muscular arms hold a blood-stained sword as tall as me. Long hair that looks like a tangle of wet eels hangs to its shoulders. Its translucent crimson skin glows from the fiery black skeleton underneath. Its eyes blaze emptiness.

“You die, succubus,” it growls, straight into my mind.

“What….” A girl turns as blood splatters across her face. She stares at the two bodies on the dance floor, shocked in to silence for a handful of seconds. Then she looks up, straight into the eyes of the Cursed that cut them down. She screams.

The club goes apeshit.

Humanity surges past me in terror, scattering in all directionss. I use the chaos to crouch and draw the kukri at the small of my back. I had spent the last century working to become a physical badass – a necessity in the Northwest, alone and surrounded by Andrasi – but I haven’t needed to draw a weapon in decades.

Since the last time a rage Cursed swung a five-foot sword at my head, come to think.

A vacant bubble has formed on the dance floor around us. Hentai sex screams over the screens. Lasers ripple through the translucent body of the Cursed as it stares at me with those empty eye sockets. Blood curls down its black blade.

“You don’t want to destroy me,” I say, as calmly as I can. Despite my mental guards, I feel the Cursed’s aura of rage needling at my self control. It smells like blood and ash and mindless anger. The shouts and crashes from the fleeing patrons confirm that the mortals are as intent on fighting as getting away, all because of this fucker.

Its voice boils into my brain. “You break oaths, you die.” It laughs, a chilling sound that claws my mind with fury, and strides toward me.

I skip sideways, keeping out of sword range. “I’m not the one in someone else’s territory,” I say. “Makes you the oathbreaker.”

“You die, then I kill your friend,” it says.

Friend? Oh for fuck’s sake. Talking to these things is like throwing eggs at a brick wall.

“Fight me,” it says. “I like when you fight.”

“Well, then.” I snap invisible, then lunge.

It’s one of my tricks. Makes up for not showing up in mirrors, cameras or video, which is a bigger pain in the ass than you’d think. The Andrasi know I can do it, but I need every millisecond of surprise it might give me.

The Andrasi swings its sword across my expected path in reflex. I roll out of its path and spring to my feet at its exposed side. My kukri chews crimson jello. No blood from the cut, it just opens like raw steak. Arcs of chartreuse energy flicker from the wound. I hope that means it hurts like hell.

Its elbow smashes the back of my skull. The world sparkles and tilts. I turn the fall into a sideways tumble away from the Cursed, cradling my head. Agony.

“I smell you,” it growls. Its eyes no longer follow my movement, but it charges straight at me.

I slash the kukri across its wrist on its next swing and break for the doors. But thoughts of escaping that way vanish. The front of the club is pandemonium, a pile of people tearing themselves apart, some to get out and some overwhelmed by the rage aura. Not getting out that way.

“Fight me,” it says again. Its blind slash takes a chunk of my jacket.

I wheel around and charge it again. Badass or no, I can’t go toe to toe with a rage Cursed. Need to get out in the open.

It smells my approach and swings again. This time I leap over the blade and spring off its rocklike bicep into a somersault over its head. I grasp where its wings meet its back as I tumble by. It roars. My momentum drags it backward, upside down in front of me with wings and feet thrashing in midair.

I sprint forward, smashing my shoulder into the small of its back.  Its screams shake my body. It feels like carrying an active volcano. I barely hang on long enough to plow it into the wall.

Masonry and rebar explode. The impact knocks the air out of my lungs. A second crash, a second wall. My shoulder wrenches and shatters. Rock cascades over me seconds before the constant Seattle mist. I let go of the Cursed and collapse on all fours. The momentum carries the Andrasi face first into the opposite building, cracking brick. It collapses onto its back, leaving a cracked indent half a foot deep in the wall.

I will myself to stand and leap on the Cursed’s chest before it can recover. It tries to get up, but I hang on by its greasy hair, ignoring the pain of my broken arm. I hack my kukri repeatedly across its neck. It howls in my head. My side explodes with pain, I feel its sword plunge into me and split out the other side, but I keep slashing. Its body glows putrid with each cut.

I hit spine. The jolt travels through my body. Its howls silence and it collapses back to the ground.

“Don’t die yet,” I say, and plant my lips on a mouth big enough to swallow my head.

Flashing, discordant images fill my mind to replace its dying whimpers. Images tear through my thoughts, and I shove myself away with a gasp. I grip its head by the sides, my broken arm howling in protest, and twist.

Its head tears off with a wet, ripping sound. The Cursed begins to smoke as it crumbles. The smell of burning carcass fills the air.

I stumble back on the surrounding rubble, hitting the ground hard. My entire body is agony. I touch where it stabbed me, confirming the sword dissolved along with the Cursed, and focus my energies on sealing it and mending my shattered shoulder. It takes most of the power I got from the rapists to heal the damage.

Holy fuck. I lay in the drifting mist for what must be minutes, still invisible, trying to make sense of what happened. The Andrasi haven’t bothered me in years, because we stay out of each other’s shit. They keep out of Seattle, I let no other Cursed – specifically, no incubi or succubi – in. But this one decided to kill me in the middle of my city, in a nightclub full of mortal witnesses.

And I find out why as I sift through the jumble of its dying thoughts. A pale man in a tailored gray suit worth more than a car, getting out of a limo at the most expensive condo tower in Seattle. Long black dreadlocks, a goatee and eye patch, smoking a black cigarette. Just a momentary image, but the image bites just as deep as the Andrasi’s sword had. Nothing has changed about this Cursed beyond the cut of his suit in the century since I last saw him, or in the centuries before that, knowing him.

My end of the bargain with the Andrasi is easy to keep since no one gives a shit about a place surrounded by roving packs of rage demons. Besides, I don’t like my kind any more than they do. But there is an incubus in Seattle. One purposefully shielding his presence from me, or I would have felt him the second he entered the state. And one I know more intimately than I would ever want.

Sebastian Essex is going to tell me what the fuck he’s doing in Seattle, or I’m going to kill him.

 

 

Amp Up Your Conflict Four: Throw a Rock at the Planet

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Amp Up Your Conflict Four: Throw a Rock at the Planet

A great way to raise the stakes in your story is to add something that’s beyond anyone’s control.

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The title of this post is a bit facetious. Hucking an asteroid at the Earth does not make PLOT! appear, contrary to what Armageddon would have you believe. I am not a fan of making natural disasters the antagonists in your story. (This does not mean the man vs. nature conflict is invalid. The story still has to be about character, and giving your antagonist a face keeps that focused.) However, as both a setting and a crisis, natural disasters can add urgency and suspense to your story.

Think about any story set against the backdrop of greater calamity (Gone With the Wind, Slaughterhouse Five, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Postman, The Stand). All of these use various disasters like war and disease outbreaks as the setting and much of the conflict in the story. Natural disasters can add tremendous conflict and add tension to normally mundane tasks like day-to-day survival. But we still remember Scarlett O’Hara and Billy Pilgrim. It’s their struggles against these disasters that give them conflict and drive their characters. Even minor disasters like a power outtage, a flood or an unfortunate storm can drive forward a plot that doesn’t have the disaster as a central theme.

The Odyssey is popularly characterized as a man vs. nature story, and in a way it is. Odysseus is struggling against nature to get home. However, nature has a “face” through the Gods, which make it a struggle of Odysseus vs. the Gods more than nature.

Disasters (like an impending asteroid!) can crank up the tension in your story. Just remember that the disaster isn’t the point of your story. Be sure to keep your characters in the forefront and disasters can add an unexpected twist to your tale.

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.

Amp Up Your Conflict Two: Make Everything Worse

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Amp Up Your Conflict Two:Make Everything Worse

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 In every scene you write, always think about how you can make the situation worse. Making your moments of crisis as dire and emotionally charged as possible will keep the tension ratcheted up and your narrative moving.

It’s important that nothing ever goes your protagonists’ way. They should succeed through their choices and actions, not luck. Readers will spot luck and deus ex machina the moment it appears, and they won’t buy it. However, those same readers won’t question if something bad happens. That gives you as the writer the freedom to make the situation as awful as possible.

Start with your base conflict. Your protagonist wants to flip gender stereotypes and propose to her boyfriend. She plans a dinner at his favorite restaurant and secures the best seat in the place. But the restaurant loses her reservation. They have to wait for an hour to get a seat, which is in the back of the restaurant near the kitchen. Their waiter never remembers to check in on them, and a leak starts dripping onto the center of the table.

You have the scene set up with plenty of conflict. The night is a disaster, and not the right mood at all to propose. But now think of just one additional crisis to make the scene even worse:

Just as the leak stops and dinner is finally served, giving your protagonist hope she can salvage the night, her boyfriend’s ex walks into the restaurant with her date. Maybe they get the table your protagonist originally wanted. And it upsets her boyfriend so much she can tell he still harbors feelings for her.

Not only did you tease the readers with a satisfactory resolution and then rip it away, you also opened up new plot possibilities. Does the ex share in the lingering feelings? Does your protagonist know and like or dislike her? Is her new date the jealous type? With one additional crisis, you’ve introduced a Pandora’s box of potential conflict. You can follow all, some or none of these new possibilities, but regardless of your decision, you’ve just heightened the tension in your story.

Whenever you write a scene, always think about how it can get worse for your protagonists. Never let anything come easy for them. You’ll keep your reader turning pages, and when your protagonists do succeed, their victory will be all the sweeter.

 

Hunters: Chapter 8 (a)

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The first half of Chapter Eight of Hunters! This is the longest chapter yet, almost double my previous chapters’ lengths. Tricia has confirmed Pastor Rosie is unharmed, and now she must find out if her insane master has truly returned for her.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

 

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Eight

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

The street artist slashed his charcoal stub across the sheet with the precision of a swordsman. The breeze rustled fat raindrops from the trees overhead and they popped steadily against the umbrella that sheltered him. He sat back for a moment, rubbing his chin as he examined his work. His blackened fingers added to the streaks already bruising his face.

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

He picked up a pipe balanced on the rim of a cracked Bob Ross mug and held a lighter to the bowl. “With a slice like you, things like this can’t be rushed.” He took a deep drag, his voice squeaking as he held in the smoke.

I tugged a crumpled twenty from my jacket pocket and thrust it toward him.

“Or maybe they can.” His words washed a cloud of foul smoke over me. He stabbed a last few marks on the page, then whipped it 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 selection of caricatures, though the exaggeration normally reserved for chins and noses was focused instead on my breasts and hips. The bruises across my face were nowhere to be seen. I had slept for hours after getting home, and the downtime 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 made no comment, filling the air around him with a nimbus of pot smoke.

The artist was blocks away from the Medical Examiner’s office, but he had put his station right along my path. Some compulsions were more powerful than even the matters pressing me.

It was full dark when I reached the glass and concrete office building with a large King County police shield on its 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 the building’s offices and floors next to the elevator, and found the King County Medical Examiner. Both guards glanced when the elevator chimed and opened, but lost interest when they saw it empty. 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. My guts churned as I went through my options for getting inside. For decades I had obeyed a self-imposed vow never to use my powers on innocents. That Hinge was formidable enough a threat to make me consider softening my moral resolve was troubling.

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 down to the skin.

“I’d say you found someone,” he said.

Sweat gathered on his upper lip, stirring to life the sickening spice of his cologne. 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 with the slightest effort crumple his will with my Cursed allure. It would be that simple to get what I wanted.

Instead I took a step away. The fact that he was an old, lonely man might be just as effective as using my demonic powers. I nodded at the examination room doors behind him. “I’m afraid a friend of mine might be here.”

Grayson looked up. Our eyes finally met. “We would have notified the family if-”

“I’m actually looking for many people,” I clarified. “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?”

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 kill had better be loaded. “Have any unidentified teenagers died recently?”

Grayson glanced down at the bill, then back up. His face solidified 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.

He looked uneasily down at the money, then back at me. Again his eyes fogged as he stared, clouded as much with desire as a sudden dissipation of his concerns. It seemed as if his worries no longer mattered somehow. “You look too young, anyway.” He stuffed the bill in his pocket and 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. I could only hope he didn’t notice anything. I took a step into the room, then stopped. The doors swung back on me and I stumbled forward.

Six corpses in the middle of examinations rested on autopsy tables lined at the room’s center. Grayson did a circuit around the room as I stared. Casters rolled and metal scraped as he pulled out at least as many more body drawers with similar corpses occupying 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 in the cold, dead air as they were swept aside by a scent I hadn’t smelled in decades.

Memory swelled. I could smell Hinge on all of them.

Grayson pulled out the last drawer and gestured at the room with an air of futility. “All of them John and Jane Does.” He gnawed at the nail of his middle finger. “If you know any of them, we could use some help identifying them.”

I stared at him. So many young, unidentified bodies did not seem to concern him in the least. Hinge’s effect on memory and emotion were far too familiar, but they never spread from afar before, never lingered around places or objects. Just as his scent clung to the bodies, his Cursed powers clung enough to cloud the thoughts of those simply near them.

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

Grayson shrugged. “A few weeks ago. Maybe a month. 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.” 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. Weird.”

More than weird. Horrifying. I wanted to throttle him out of his complacency. At least twenty-four teenagers dead in a month. That was close to one a day. At worst I needed one soul a month.

“Any beheadings?”

Grayson did a double take. “God, no. Just whole bodies.”

Fuck. That either meant he was burning the worst to prevent them from rising as Cursed, or….

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 buds under the autopsy sheet, face peaceful in a death so thorough it left nothing of her behind. Even in death the faint but newly blossomed aroma of her was potent. Mixed with the dark, intoxicating scent of my old master.

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 as memories stirred, and the crush of bombs from decades past shattered the calm around me.

 

Continue to Chapter Eight (b)

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, all rights reserved

Amp Up Your Conflict One: Give Your Secondaries a Crisis

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Read other writing advice blogs on my writing page!

All stories need conflict. It’s what keeps your protagonists developing, your characters on their toes and your readers on the edge of their seats. Conflict doesn’t have to be big or world-changing; anything that presents your characters with a challenge or drives your narrative forward qualifies, no matter the size.

In my next writing advice series, we’ll discuss ways you can amp up the conflict in any story so you keep your readers hooked and your characters dynamic.

Amp Up Your Conflict One: Give Your Secondaries a Crisis

 

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I would wash the Batmobile, Master Bruce, but I have a colonoscopy this afternoon. Long story. Regrettably, you will have to chase the Penguin with a soiled vehicle.

All your characters have backstories. From your protagonist to the clerk at the corner store, everyone has a story. Moreover, they have lives. Life is happening to everybody.

This doesn’t mean you need to know everyone’s backstories in detail, or that their life crises will add depth and conflict to your narrative. But a great way to shake up a slow section of your story, or add complication to an existing conflict, is to throw a curveball at a supporting character.

Say your protagonist is a devoted Catholic looking for moral support from his priest before he makes a rash decision. Have the priest accused of embezzling from the church. Your high-powered attorney is preparing for the big case of her career, but her paralegal starts to fall apart when his pregnant wife is hospitalized. In both of these examples, the ramifications for your protagonist make an already tense situation that much harder.

Conflict doesn’t have to come to your main characters exclusively. Conflict happens to everyone and can be used to heighten tension in your narrative. It may even take your story in new directions. Just remember that you don’t have to make life suck for just your protagonist. You have a whole world of characters whose lives you can make worse for the sake of your story.