Reaction Before Action

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

Reaction Before Action

Time to continue going through a few areas we’ve been addressing in each chapter but not necessarily highlighting.

Adverbs are not your friend, and neither is the word when.

  1. When you use and adverb, you’ve chosen a weaker way to say your thought

From Stephen King On Writing:

Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind…

Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word?

So, as you go to type a word ending in -LY, think about a better way to say it. Scan your MS and search for the LY words. Ask your CPs to. Then think of better ways to say that idea. After a while – like after spending a month removing them from your MS – you will react as though your keyboard gave you an electric shock whenever the letters L and Y are typed together. (In a good way. You’ll be learning and saving yourself lots of time down the road, so enjoy your time in LY removal hell. It’s cheap education.)

  1. Reaction Before Action (RBA)

If you see this comment once in your MS, you’ll probably end up seeing it a lot.

As the writer, you know what’s coming in the story. For drama and stagecraft, you have to think like you don’t know, but as the actual creator or the scene, you do. So occasionally you’ll get ahead of yourself and have a character react to something that hasn’t happened.

What?

Yeah. Here’s an EXAMPLE from a MS that has since been revised.

“How’s it feeling?” she finally asked when he expressed a particularly dramatic wince.

  • This is a snag for two reasons. One, the reaction comes before the action causing it (RBA), which we will explain in a moment, and
  • Two, How’s it feel? DUH! He just made a dramatic whine.

(For me, the adverb particularly is okay here because it’s kinda sarcastic, and the dialogue tag may be okay because of the amount of conversation happening among multiple characters that I’m not showing here.)

Okay. The RBA.

What information comes to the reader first in the example above? Her question.

What happened first chronologically? The whine.

Our brains are complex things, but for smoothness we process things best when we get them in the right order, as in, the order in which they happened.

Here, the whine happened first but we learn about it second, so for a nanosecond we have to back up and digest what’s happening. We received the information in the opposite order. She asked because he whined – so the way it’s written the reader’s brain has to back up for a second to understand it. It’s a nanosecond, and your brains will all do it and understand what the author means, but it’s a tiny snag we can easily avoid. Have him whine first.

EXAMPLE 2:

“It’s eighteen miles from here to the next town,” Jane said after they turned east at the road and finally found a sign.

What information comes to the reader first? Her statement. What happened first chronologically? They turned east and found a sign that allowed her to conclude it was eighteen miles to the next town.

See? We got the reaction – her statement – before the action – her reading of the sign. Chronologically, what happened? She found the sign first and then announced what it said.

EXAMPLE 3:

Stepping back, Betty threw the rock at the window, wincing when the sound of breaking glass disrupted the morning calm.

Where’s the RBA? She winces at the sound of breaking glass.

What information comes to the reader first? Her wince. What happened first chronologically? The glass broke.

The glass should disrupt the morning calm and then she should wince. The word when allows for the things to happen simultaneously, depending on the reader’s mindset, but as far as delivering information, the glass would break and then she would wince. Why? Because wincing is a reaction that implies she didn’t expect it to be as loud as it was. So does “disrupting the morning calm.” So she does the wincing as a surprised reaction to the glass breaking being louder than she expected. Therefore she has to hear it breaking first.

EXAMPLE 4:

Chloe stopped her shaking hands from removing the bandage when Dillon groaned through his clenched teeth.

What information comes to the reader first? She stops removing the bandage. What happened first chronologically? He groaned.

He groaned – that’s why she stopped taking off the bandage. Reader brains have to back up to get that. Again, it’s a nanosecond – but why do it? These are the little things that, once corrected, no reader will ever come up and thank you for. No CP will laud you for your non-use of RBAs. But it’ll be one of those little things that allows your manuscript to be a little smoother for having done it.

WE ALL DO IT

So be on the lookout!

Three of the four examples used the word when, so take this as a heads up and do a manuscript search for it after you’re done writing. Some of you will do it more than others; some not at all. If you do, list it with your crutch words.

It’s simply removing the little things that can collectively lessen your reader’s constant, deep immersion in your story. Or to have them come away – possibly unable to quite articulate why – feeling your story was not as polished or professional as others they’ve read.

  • Immersing a reader completely in your story is the goal.

  • Un-immersing your reader from the story is the ultimate sin.

Now…

Go forth and sin no more, my child.


Chapter 42 “FINAL”

 

 

The windshield wipers thrust bands of rain down the sides of the Navigator as I drove north on I-75. Long stretches of water ran sideways across the glass like little rivers.

The three gas cans in the back ensured we’d we make it to Atlanta without stopping—on paper. The numbers worked, but the rough weather made it long a game of cat and mouse. Wind would gust up from nowhere and push the car around, and as the skies darkened with the onset of twilight, the fun was only getting started.

I checked the fuel gage and the clock. Six hours into our trek and we’d already consumed most of our gas. I’d be using the spare cans sooner than I thought. In the rearview mirror, Mallory and Sophie slept. No point in waking her for that.

Leaning forward, I squinted out the windshield. The highway curved to the left, but this section didn’t have reflectors or lights. I gripped the wheel and eased my foot off the gas pedal.

Lightning flashed, turning the road white—and illuminating a massive tree sprawled across the highway.

My heart jumped. I stomped the brakes and spun the steering wheel, sending us into a tailspin. The force of the turn threw me into the side window. I yanked the wheel in the other direction as the ground disappeared out from under us.

Mallory screamed. Our big car slid sideways down the embankment. All I could do was hang on.

Don’t roll over. Don’t roll over. Don’t roll over.

It was only a second or two, but I tried to look back to see where we were headed. The next flash of lightning showed more trees.

Lots of them.

I held my breath and braced myself. I couldn’t steer while sliding in reverse.

Don’t hit a tree. Don’t hit a tree. Don’t—

The booming crunch of metal smashing into wood met us with a massive jolt. My head slammed the headrest. Our suitcases and gear went flying.

I rubbed my skull and opened my eyes. The drumming of rain on the Navigator’s roof was the only sound. Our headlights illuminated a wet hillside—and two huge ruts of mud that traced a path from the empty highway to our car.

Mallory gasped. “What’s going on?”

I twisted around. Sophie was buckled into her car seat. The shattered rear window was filled with a huge tree. Splinters dotted the remaining glass and a distant lightning flash illuminated a huge gaping split in the tree trunk.

I popped open my seat belt. “We had a wreck. Check Sophie.”

The car vibrated with a low groan that shook our seats, and the sharp noise of cracking wood.

“Hang on! It’s coming down!” I put my hands over my head and ducked.

Mallory reached for Sophie as tree limbs suddenly appeared in all the windows.

Boom!

Half the roof compressed into the cabin, shattering the windows and scattering glass in all directions.

I unclenched my teeth tried to lift my head. It pressed against the ceiling. Drops of cold rain fell on my arm.

Miraculously, the tree truck had fallen diagonally across the car. It smashed the roof between the front and back seats, but didn’t directly hit any of the occupants.

I peered at the front passenger seat as water splattered onto it. The tree had crushed the seat. Anyone sitting there would have been killed. Mallory’s habit of riding back with Sophie had saved her.

Sophie.

My stomach dropped. I whipped around and lowered my head to see between the seats in the dim light. Mallory clawed at the child seat restraint. Sophie’s head lay on her chest at an awkward angle.

Mallory strained against her own seat belt. “Sophie! Sophie!”

I was cut off from them by the smashed roof. Mallory lurched backward and undid her seat belt, then pushed her way through the spilled cooler to the child seat.

“Sophie,” she whispered, easing her hands under our daughter’s chin.

Mallory gently lifted Sophie’s head. I opened my mouth to caution about neck injuries, but there was no stopping her.

Sophie’s eyes rolled and then opened.

Mallory froze. I held my breath.

Sophie blinked. “Are we there?”

I collapsed in relief on the console. She had slept through the whole thing.

Mallory laughed and unbuckled her. “Good girl.” They hugged. “Good girl.”

I sighed. We had come down the hill slow enough to avoid injuries.

“Dad.” Sophie held up a wet arm. “Put the window up.”

“We can’t honey,” Mallory said. “The window is broken. We wrecked the car.”

Sophie frowned at me. “Why did you do that?”

We all laughed, including Sophie—even if she wasn’t quite sure what was funny about it.

I instructed Mallory to check herself for any hidden pains that she might feel now that the initial shock was over, and then check Sophie as best she could. I tried to open my door. It moved a little, and with some effort I was able to pry it open. The car’s overhead dome light—now barely six inches above the driver’s seat arm rest—illuminated the wet ground.

Our headlights shined upwards toward the highway. Other than that, it was nearly black all around. Up on that curve, other drivers would be able to see our headlights. Leaving them on would attract attention.

I reached in and turned on the emergency flashers. That would send an unmistakable signal that we needed help down below.

Putting my hands on my hips, I squinted through the rain at the hill. I was probably going about 50 miles per hour when I hit the curve. It was so slight, no guard rail had been erected. I turned to face the wreck. We’d slid down the hill, losing momentum until we hit the trees.

I shook my head. Any faster and we would have been killed by the impact; any slower and we might have rolled over coming down the hill.

I pushed my wet hair out of my eyes. I didn’t know how much, if any, of the first tree was still blocking the highway. I thought I might have hit part of it, but everything happened pretty fast. I might have knocked it out of the road, but either way, the rest of it was probably still be up there causing a hazard.

In the car, Mallory was barely visible under the smashed roof.

I put my hand on the door frame. “Honey, I need to go check the road and see if the tree I hit is still there.”

“Why?” She glared at me. “We need you here.”

“If another car hits it, they might end up down here on top of us. I just want to go check. I’ll be quick.” I glanced around the car. It might be a while before any help came. “If you guys are okay, try to find something to keep dry with, and maybe put some of our stuff back in the cooler.”

The grass near the hill was soaking wet and muddy. My feet sunk with each step. Slogging up the incline, I reached the curve.

The highway was empty. There were no cars or distant headlights coming, no road noises—and no tree, either. I must have taken it down the hill with us. I peered through the rain at the split roads to the muddy hill on the other side. I guess the tree slid off from there. A few others were leaning, like they might be coming down soon, too. Between the rain-softened soil and the wind, the heavy tree must have slipped right off.

I couldn’t see much. The tree probably went over the hill with us and disappeared into the darkness somewhere.

The rain smacked the asphalt all around me, hissing like skillet full of bacon. As it rinsed the mud off the road, I stared up at the sloping hillside. That tree had to come down just right to even be on the highway at all.

A jolt of fear shot through me.

Unless it had been done on purpose.

I peered down the hill at the Navigator, blocking the glare of the headlights with my hand. Mallory and Sophie were alone down there. If the tree had been a trap, it had worked to get me to leave them alone and defenseless.

My heart pounded as I sprinted across the highway, slipping and sliding my way down the hill. The wind pushed me sideways as I pulled each mad-laden footstep from the soggy ground.

Lightning gave me a good look at the damage. The rear of the Navigator was smashed, and the roof, but the tree had fallen onto the car and more or less rolled off the passenger side. That’s why I was able to get out.

When I got to the car, it was empty. The wind whipped my face as I glanced around. “Mallory?”

“Back here!” Mallory had gotten Sophie and herself into some plastic ponchos, and the two of them were sitting on the cooler behind the car. Cold, heavy drops beat down on all three of us.

I yelled over the noise of the rain. “You guys okay?”

The plastic hoods bobbed up and down.

“It smells like gas in the car, really strong,” Mallory said. “I think the spare gas cans may be leaking.”

A pang of fear gripped my guy. If gasoline was leaking, it could become a fire hazard. That’s why you’re not supposed to drive around with cans of gas in your car. That, and the risk of explosion in a wreck.

Thunder rumbled overhead.

The Navigator was a loss as a vehicle now, but it might have kept us out of the elements. The leaking gas cans spoiled that, and would ruin our spare clothes and supplies if it got on them.

I looked at Mallory. “I’ll try to pull the cans out. If they did spill, it won’t be safe to sit inside the car. The fumes are dangerous to breathe.”

She stared blankly at me. “That’s why we’re out here in the rain, sweetie.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding. Then I turned back to the car. “Okay.”

I reached through the broken rear window and grabbed one of the heavy gas cans. The smell of gasoline hit me in the face. The cans were definitely spilling gas into the car. I climbed onto the rear bumper and grabbed the roof rack, straining to pull the wet can through the broken window. They were heavy enough to lift into the car with two hands when the tailgate was operational. With it smashed shut, I strained to hoist each can over the tailgate and through the broken glass.

Overhead, the lightning intensified. The storm was coming closer.

I leaned on the side of the car, sweating and trying to assess our situation. Gas fumes aside, we would be better off in the car. Wet seats would be more comfortable than the wet ground if we had to spend the night. We’d be safer inside than being out in the storm—if we didn’t get sick from the smell. Lightning was everywhere, and it might hit one of the nearby trees. If it did, the roof of the Navigator had already proven sturdy enough. If trees attract lightning, being under them was a liability.

I peered at the caved-in wreck. No windows, rain coming in on all sides, and filled with toxic gasoline fumes. I took a deep breath and stood up. Mallory and Sophie could wait by the car while I took a flashlight and tried wave down a passing vehicle. I peered at the dark highway and sighed.

If there are any passing vehicles.

A quick check of the Navigator’s floor produced my cell phone. No signal. We were either out of range or the towers were down. No surprise there—it was rough enough to knock down every tower from here to Tampa.

The nagging unease in my gut wouldn’t go away. The tree, the rain—if something was determined to get us, we had allowed ourselves to become sitting ducks, just as Mallory had predicted.

I swallowed hard. I had just allowed us to become sitting ducks. She would have had us sitting on our nice dry couch at home.

A bright flash of lightning ripped across the sky, blinding me. I crouched, almost falling to the ground. The thunder clap that accompanied it was like a cannon shot in my ears. The lightning was close, its rumbling echo rolling through the tree tops. The flash illuminated a clearing a little farther down the hill. It was horseshoe shaped, with a stump off to one side.

I breathed hard in the falling rain. The skies roared, reloading. Clouds churned and boiled while the wind whipped my face. The tree tops banged into each other like wind chimes.

I had gas cans sitting on one side of my car and a tree sitting across the other side. My wife and daughter were sitting on a cooler cowering, and nobody in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area was out on the road. With a flashlight in one hand and a worthless cell phone in the other, I’d had just about enough.

I stood in the mud and cursed at the sky. “What do you want from me? What do you want?”

The skies rumbled their reply.

Stepping toward the clearing, I held out my hands. “Isn’t it enough that you ruined the old man at the winery? That you nearly killed that young woman there?” I gripped my flashlight and spit into the wind. “You killed Tyree! What did he ever do?”

The wind ripped at me, pushing me—but I kept walking.

“I’m here now! Is that what you wanted?” I wiped the rain from my eyes. “Well here I am! What do you want?”

A flash of lightning blasted the ground a few feet away from me.

I jumped backward, my heart in my throat. Adrenaline surged through me.

Shaking, I continued walking into the clearing toward the stump. “I’m not afraid of you! Is that all you’ve got? Lightning?” I forced a laugh. “You could have used that on me at the beach! Come on, come get me!”

Each step drew me closer to the clearing and further from my wife and child.

I threw my hands in the air. “Show yourself, you damned coward!”

A blast of lightning lit up the ground, knocking me to my knees. I shook my head, my ears ringing. Mallory waved and screamed at me to come back.

I glared at the sky. The rain was coming straight down, and I could make out thick round clouds. Lightning rippled back and forth between them as the thunder groaned like a monster.

My heart was in my throat. I was never going to be much more vulnerable than I was right now. If the demon was here, it wasn’t making its move. Why was it waiting?

I looked around. The grass of the clearing offered no cover for protection, just a stump.

I clenched my fists. “I’ve had enough, do you hear me? Enough running, enough being afraid.” If something was going to happen, it was time to make it happen. Time to make a stand.

I gritted my teeth and bolstered myself, willing to confront whatever was coming.

And I stood, alone in the clearing, hoping to make a difference. My heart pounded. Just like in the parking lot with Muscle T and the bar manager, I was ready to—

A long ripple of lightning rolled across the clouds, illuminating the clearing—horseshoe shaped with a stump. I recognized it. The one from the lion dream.

My breath left me. This was it. This was where it was supposed to happen. Here, in this wet ground—the fourth lion. The fourth tragedy.

I swallowed hard. I’d come unprepared. I had nothing to fight back with. My heart sank.

And yet . . .

I squinted at the night sky. If I was so vulnerable, why didn’t it make its move?

We’d caught the demon off guard. Like Tyree had advised, the dark angel wasn’t ready yet. And if he wasn’t ready, he might be able to be provoked.

And nobody can provoke somebody like I can.

I pointed to the clouds. “You’re a coward! You think I’m afraid of you? At least I’m here! I’m scared and I’m shaking, but I’m here! Where are you?”

The rain poured forth, ignoring me.

“You want a fight?” I tossed my phone to the ground and balled up my fist. “Come and get me!”

The wind howled through the trees, a low moaned wrapped in the rustling leaves.

My heart was racing, almost jumping out of my chest. “You—you went to all this trouble to get me out in the open. It worked. Show yourself to me, dark angel. Here I am.” I thumped my chest. “Come and get me!”

The wind roared again, moaning words that were almost echoes from somewhere else: I don’t want you.

I shuddered. Alone in the clearing, I’d made contact. It was here.

Fear and anger welled inside me, shaking me. I’d fallen for the trap. I glanced at Mallory and Sophie, cowering by the car as the rain pelted them.

I widened my stance and raised my fists. “I don’t care what you want. You pull all this crap to come after a little girl?” I spit the rain water out of my mouth. “You’re not getting her! Over my dead body, do you hear me?”

I gritted my teeth and shook my flashlight at the sky. “I swear to God, that’s not happening. You’re not getting her. Not today, not ever!”

A blast of lightning ripped from the sky lit up everything around me in a blaze of white. A huge tree top exploded and crashed to the ground. Across the clearing, a second tree burst at the middle as bolt after bolt of lightning streamed from the sky. Steam poured from a splintered tree, a trail of smoke following its massive trunk as it smashed to earth. The ground shook from the impact.

A violent crack of thunder filled the air and a blinding white streak sailed past my head, exploding on the ground. I covered myself with my arms and fell to my knees.

Terrified, I opened my eyes and took a deep breath, hunching my shoulders for the next blast. My head ached and my hand was throbbing.

Laughter came in the rushing wind. Overhead, clouds moved together in a giant circle. Lightning flashed across the sky.

Heart pounding, I put a hand on the stump and righted myself.

This is it. He got us.

The thunder rumbled and rolled through the trees.

He got us all.

My shoulders slumped as a hollowness crept through my gut—an ugly, dark sadness like a cold, bottomless black well had opened inside me. I knew I was going to die right there in that field. First me, then my family. I leaned on my knee, holding back tears, knowing I’d failed to protect my daughter.

I gazed at the churning sky. Maybe one would be enough. Maybe he’d take me and spare her.

I swallowed hard, forcing myself to my feet. “Come on, then. Do it.”

A loud roar filled my ears. I gritted my teeth and cringed, holding my breath and bracing myself for whatever the demon was readying for me.

The noise grew louder, coming from behind me. I bolted around to see whatever hellish thing was coming to finish me off.

A single light came moved along the hillside, bouncing toward me. I squinted into the darkness. It was a motorcycle.

A really loud motorcycle, like it didn’t have a muffler. I blinked the rain from my eyes.

A distant lightning bolt illuminated the scene. A red motorcycle with a pull-behind gray trailer slid sideways down the muddy hill. The rider wore an orange and black jacket.

Tyree.

My heart swelled with disbelief and excitement. He was alive.

How the hell did he manage that?

He slid to a stop behind Mallory and Sophie, jumping off the motorcycle and stumbling through the mud to them. Mallory pointed at me. Tyree nodded. After a moment, he hunched over and raced out to my position.

“Here comes the cavalry!” He plopped down next to me at the stump.

“Tyree!” I slapped him on the back. “How the hell did you get here?” I smiled and shook my head. I couldn’t believe he was here. “You son of a bitch. I thought you were dead!”

“Come on.” Tyree fumbled with something in his rain coat pocket. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

Thunder rumbled overhead.

He glanced at the sky and winced. “How you doing out here?”

“Pretty bad, I think.”

“Yeah, that’s what it looks like.” He jerked at his pocket, producing a large white cross. “Maybe this will help.”

He handed it to me. The relic cross.

The thunder rumbled again.

I held it up, trying to see more in the darkness. “Does this thing have some special powers?”

“No,” Tyree said. “But if you can get close enough, maybe you can plunge it into the angel. If you can get him to appear to you. I also brought this.”

He held up a plastic bottle of water.

“Water?”

“Not just water,” Tyree said. “Holy water.”

I huffed. “You got this out of our cooler over there!”

“And then I mixed it with this.” He held up a tiny vial. “This is holy water. You mix it with the bottled water, that makes it all holy water.”

Lightning flashed across the sky. I flinched. “You can do that? It counts?”

“Yep. When the two waters touch, they are all sanctified.”

A loud booming thunderclap rolled across the clearing. Things were getting restless. The wind picked up. Tree branches smashed into one another.

I took the water from his hand. “What’s the plan?”

“Well, again, if you can get close enough, you can douse him with it. That should do the trick. But do it with conviction. This is no time to be faint of heart.”

A bolt of lightning turned the clearing white.

I raised my head from my between my shoulders. “No lack of faith, huh?”

Tyree nodded.

I took a deep breath. “Okay then.”

My trembling hands at my sides, I jumping up from behind the stump and shouted at the sky. “Is this your big move, demon? A little lightning? Some rain?”

I swallowed hard and regripped the relic cross, holding the mixed waters in my other hand. “What are you going to do? I’m here now. Come on. I’m not afraid of you.” I widened my stance and braced for a bolt of lightning, gritting my teeth. I was scared to death but I had to draw the demon out. I took a quivering breath and shouted. “I’m not afraid of you!”

Then it occurred to me. Maybe it was afraid of me.

I wiped the rain from my eyes with my arm. “Are—are you such a coward can only pick on a little girl?” I frowned at the sky. “Then . . . you’re not strong one. I’m the strong one. Me.” I pounded my chest with the relic cross. “I’m here to fight for that little girl. You’re weak!”

The clouds rumbled.

“If you weren’t weak you would’ve done it by now! I’ve got you all figured out! You tried three times, and you screwed up every time. Every time! You’re a failure. You’re weak!”

Tyree peeked out from behind the stump. “You’re doing great, pal!”

Then he crouched back down.

Breathing hard, I took a few steps and held my arms out. “You think you beat us? You won nothing!” I looked around, shrugging my shoulders. “Here we are, in the middle of nowhere, right out in the open. Where are you?”

There was a rumble, and a flash.

I shook my head and screamed at the sky. “I am not going to live my life running from you, do you hear me? I won’t. Here I am. Show yourself to me, dark angel!” I took a deep breath, as if shouting louder would summon the spirit from its world. “I’m shaking and I’m scared, but I’m here! Prove that you are not afraid of me!”

The sky lit up with lightning flashes and booming thunder. Out in the clearing, a faint flicker of light glowed.

I swallowed hard and took a step toward it.

The flicker turned blue and glowed, like a reflection of distant lightning off a deep lake. It swirled and moved, an embodiment of energy or electricity. It was the blue flash I’d seen on the face of the man in the park all those years ago.

Lightning rippled across the sky.

I crept toward the glow, squeezing my relic cross. “I’m not afraid of you.” I was gasping, scared and hesitant, easing my way across the clearing inch by inch. “A person who was afraid would run. I’m not running.” I swallowed hard. “I’m done running from you.”

The ball hovered before me, swirling and glowing in the night.

I stared at it, shaking my head. “You can’t defeat me. You don’t have the power to defeat me. You couldn’t defeat my daughter, not even when she was a baby in her crib.”

I spat on the ground and gritted my teeth. “You’re a coward and you’re afraid of me.”

A blast of lightning flashed again as a massive wind gust threw me the ground.

The voice rumbled in the echoes of the thunder. I am not afraid of you.

Lifting myself to one shoulder, I glared at the light. “Of course you are. You’ve been afraid to face me. Even now, it was me who had to draw you out.”

The skies rumbled again.

I rose to my knees. “Here I am. You won’t get a much easier target than this. You’re still a coward, hiding behind the wind, hiding in the trees like a little scared animal.” I stood, clutching my weapons at my side. “Show me what you’ve got. Because I don’t believe you can do it. You’re not powerful enough.”

A loud groan rolled through the clearing. Lightning cracked through the sky and another tree fell.

The voice became just a rumble. In the blue light, a pair of eyes appeared. Huge and grotesque, like fiery spheres they stared at me from the electric blue cloud. It swirled and stretched, growing to ten feet tall, then twenty, brandishing massive teeth and a wide, curled cat’s maw. On the sides of the naked skull, long pointy ears made of sinew and skin, like a pig’s. Flames danced behind its eyes and inside its mouth.

The ground shook and the lightning flashed at its appearance, the wind emanating outward from the beast.

I shuddered, backing up a step. It seemed amused at my shock. Then it spoke in a thunderous, booming voice.

Who are you, to dare confront me?

I swallowed hard. “I’m the only one that matters.” I held up the relic cross. “I’m telling you, dark angel, you will leave this child alone!”

It snarled. Lighting rippled over the trees.

Sloshing toward it in the mud, I held the relic cross high and put the water bottle to my mouth. I clamped the cap in my teeth. With a twist, it popped open. I spit the cap out and stepped forward, squishing and sinking in the soggy ground.

I leaned forward and brandished the cross again. “Dark angel, you will leave this family alone!”

Laughter rolled through the clearing, riding on the thunder. Heavy rain poured down upon me.

“No? How does ‘fuck you’ work for you, then?”

The demon growled and the blue cloud swelled, surging higher. Light bounced all around.  It loomed I front of me. A ripple of lightning flashed again.

The cross burned in my upraised hand as I neared the face of the dark angel. It was a vision of Hell itself, a gaping, snarled lion’s mouth with a throat filled with flames. Boiling red eyes peered out from under a mane of satanic fire, worse than any image of the devil from any Sunday school class I’d ever gone to.

A long, spindly yellow arm uncurled from the ball, pointing. You!

It wasn’t pointing at me. It was pointing past me toward Mallory and Sophie. I looked back to see my daughter’s eyes, mesmerized in the blue glow.

I turned back to the demon. He grew larger, swirling with energy.

I held up my hands and squeezed my eyes shut against the blinding blue light, running at the demon. I flung the cross high into the swirling blue cloud. As I did, I lifted the water bottle. “Holy water of God and the Church, mix with this water and become one!” I waved the bottle back and forth, flinging its contents everywhere. “Mix with this rain water and become one!”

I splashed it onto the muddy ground. “Mix with these puddles and become one!”

Then I reared back and took a deep breath, heaving the rest at the face of the dark angel.

A piercing scream filled the air. The skies flashed white as the demon’s face opened wildly in a hellish scream. A brilliant shock of lightning burst forth with a deafening crash of thunder, shaking the ground and ringing in my ears.

I fell to the ground as the demon burst into a screaming ball of fire. It howled in pain as the Holy water seared it, burned it, ripped through it. Flames shot out in all directions as a gigantic explosion of thunder roared through the clearing.

It knocked me backward into the mud. I lifted a hand to shield my eyes from the white-hot flames, grimacing as the dark angel was consumed. It’s scream bounced off the tree tops and folded into the last rumble of thunder as the last of its blue embers faded into the night.

I laid my weary head back onto the wet grass and let the cold rain wash over me. The drops just floated down gently on me now, and there was silence.

In the sky, as the fading lightning flickered in the distance, I thought I saw a woman’s face. A different face, warm and kind, barely visible in the outline of a cloud. A round face, with bright eyes and dimples, smiling at me.

The last traces of lightning dissipated with the wind, and the clearing was dark.

 

 


Original Chapter 42, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

The car was nearly impossible to control.

The next torrents of rain had started. The “high wind profile” of the Navigator made it easy for the gusts to hit it; the heavy frame kept it on the road. It still got knocked around left and right.

It was a game of cat and mouse, constantly correcting against the brutal elements.

But the elements won.

We were about two hours outside of Atlanta. The road curved around slightly to the left. In daylight, or even at night, we would have seen any objects in the road with ease. But with the wind and rain, I never saw the tree until a flash of lightning illuminated it.

By then it was too late.

I swerved and hit the brakes. That sent us into a tailspin. The big car swung around backwards. Then the road disappeared out from underneath.

We slid down the embankment sideways. I just gripped the wheel.

Don’t roll over. Don’t roll over. Don’t roll over.

It was only a second or two, but I tried to look back to see where we were headed. The next flash of lightning showed more trees.

Lots of them.

I couldn’t steer while sliding in reverse.

Don’t hit a tree. Don’t hit a tree. Don’t –

Then we hit the tree.

Wham!

Everybody bounced backwards into their seats. My head slammed the headrest. All our suitcases and gear went flying.

Michele woke up with a jolt. “What’s going on?!”

“We had a wreck. Check Savvy.”

Then I heard a loud groan and the crackling of wood.

“Hang on! It’s coming down!”

The tree we hit had broken. Now the top was falling. Savvy was buckled into her car seat. Michele reached for her as I watched tree limbs suddenly appear in all of the car windows.

Boom!

The top of the tree hit the roof of the car. The windows shattered. The roof came down about a foot into the car.

I unclenched my teeth and opened my eyes. Still alive.

Miraculously, the tree truck had fallen diagonally across the car. It smashed the roof between the front and back seats, but didn’t directly hit any of the occupants.

I looked over at the front passenger seat. Anyone sitting there would have been killed. Michele’s habit of riding back with Savvy had saved her.

Savvy.

I turned to see Michele frantically clawing at the child seat restraint. Savvy’s head lay on her chest at an awkward angle.

Michele strained against her own seat belt, still buckled into her own seat. “Savvy! Savvy!”

She lurched back and undid her seat belt, then pushed her way across the floor through the spilled cooler, over to the child seat.

“Savvy,” she whispered gently, putting her hands under our daughter’s chin.

Michele gently lifted Savvy’s head. I wanted to caution about neck injuries, but there was no stopping her.

Savvy’s eyes rolled and then opened.

“Are we there?” Savvy said innocently. She had slept through the whole thing.

A rush of relief swept the car. I laughed out loud while Michele unbuckled Savvy and hugged her. “Good girl,” she said. “Good girl.” We had come down the hill slow enough to avoid injuries.

Savvy then noticed the rain coming in through her window. “Dad, put the window up”

“We can’t honey,” Michele said. “The window is broken. We wrecked the car.”

Savvy looked over at me. “Dad, why did you do that?”

We all laughed; including Savvy – even if she wasn’t quite sure what was funny about it.

I instructed Michele to check herself for any hidden pains that she might feel now that the wreck was over, and then check Savvy as best she could. I tried to open my door. It gave a little, and with some effort, I was able to pry it open.

The car’s headlights still shined upwards toward the highway. Other than that, it was nearly black all around. Up on that curve, other drivers would be able to see our headlights. Leaving them on would attract attention; I snapped the emergency flashers on. That would send an unmistakable signal that we needed help down below.

I was probably going about 50 mph when I hit the curve. It was so slight, no guard rail had been erected. We just slid down the hill, losing momentum, until we hit the trees. Any faster and we would have been killed by them; any slower and we might have rolled over coming down the hill.

I didn’t know how much, if any, of the first tree was still blocking the road. I hit part of it, but the rest of it might still be up there.

I turned back around to Michele. She was barely visible in the reflected glow of the headlights shining up the hill. “I wrecked trying to avoid a fallen tree that was in the road. I need to go check to see if it’s still there.”

“Why?” she demanded. “We need you here.”

“If another car hits it, they might end up down here on top of us. I just want to go check. I’ll be quick.” I looked around the car. “If you guys are okay, try to find something to keep dry with, and maybe put some of our stuff back in the cooler.”

I pried open the door again and jumped out. The grass was soaking wet and muddy. My feet sunk in a little.

There were no other headlights that I could see making the turn on the highway; the rain was still coming down pretty hard, but I climbed up the embankment easily.

The highway looked empty. There were no cars, but there was no tree, either. I must have taken it down the hill with us. I glanced across the split roads, up the hill on the other side. I guess the tree slid off from there. A few others were leaning, like they might be coming down soon, too. Between the rain-softened soil, and the wind, the first tree must have slipped right off. It had to come down just right to even be on the road at all.

Unless somebody had done it on purpose.

That thought hit me like electricity. Michele and Savvy were alone down in the car. If the tree had been a trap, it had worked to get me to leave them alone and defenseless.

I half ran, half slid back down the hill. A gust of wind practically pushed me along til I got to the car. As I approached, lightning gave me a good look at the damage. The rear was smashed, and the roof, but the tree had fallen onto the car and more or less rolled off on the passenger side. That’s why I was able to get out.

When I got to the car, it was empty. “Michele?” I called out.

“Back here!” she replied. Michele had placed Savvy and herself into some plastic ponchos, and the two of them were sitting on the cooler outside the car. The rain was beating down on all three of us.

“You guys okay?” I said loudly over the noise of the rain.

The plastic hoods bobbed up and down. “It smells like gas in the car, really strong,” Michele said. “I think the spare gas cans may be leaking.”

Crap.

I looked back at the car. Thunder rumbled overhead. If there was gas leaking, it could become a fire hazard. That’s why you’re not supposed to drive around with cans of gas in your car. That, and the risk of explosion in a wreck…

The Navigator was a loss as a vehicle now; leaking gas cans would ruin our clothes and supplies. I turned back to Michele. “I’ll try to pull them out. If they did spill, it won’t be safe to sit inside the car; the fumes are dangerous to breathe.”

She stared blankly at me. “That’s why we’re out here in the rain, sweetie.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding. Then I turned back to the car. “Okay.”

I reached through the broken rear window and pulled out the gas cans. With six gallons of gas, each weighed close to 50 lbs. That was easy to move when the tailgate was open; with it smashed shut, the cans were considerably harder to remove. Getting all three out was exhausting.

The lightning intensified. The storm was coming closer.

I tried to assess our situation. Gas fumes aside, we would be better off in the car. If it was tolerable at all, it was safer than being out in the storm. Lightning was everywhere, and it might hit another one of these trees. If it did, the roof of the Navigator had already proven sturdy enough to protect us from another one falling on us. And the trees potentially attracted lightning; we could get hit just sitting nearby. At least in the car, we’d have some diffusion and insulation. Michele and Savvy could wait in the car, and I could take the flashlights and wave down a passing car.

I checked around and found my cell phone on the floor. No signal. We were either out of range or the towers were down. No surprise there; it was rough enough weather for there to be twenty tornadoes.

Either way, we weren’t out of danger. If the something was determined to get us, we had allowed ourselves to become sitting ducks, just as Michele had predicted.

I had just allowed us to become sitting ducks. She would have had us sitting on our nice dry couch at home…

A bright flash of lightning ripped across the sky, blinding me and practically knocking me down. It was close. The thunder clap that accompanied it was deafening. It echoed through the tree tops. The flash illuminated a clearing a little farther down the hill. It was horseshoe shaped, with a stump off to one side.

The skies rumbled again loudly, reloading. Clouds boiled and rain whipped at our faces. The tree tops banged into each other in the howling winds.

I’ve got gas cans sitting on one side of the car, and a tree sitting across the other side. My wife and daughter are sitting on a cooler cowering, and nobody in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area is out on the road tonight.

I’ve got a flashlight in one hand and a worthless cell phone in the other, and I’ve just about had enough.

I stood in the mud and cursed at the sky.

“What do you want from me? WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

I took a few steps toward the clearing, holding out my hands. The skies rumbled their reply. “Isn’t it enough that you ruined that old man at the winery? That you nearly killed that young woman there? You killed Tyree! What did he ever do?”

The wind tore at me, pushing me. I kept walking. “I’m here now, demon! Where are you? I’m right here. I’m not afraid! I’m here! Come on, you coward! WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

Suddenly a flash of lightning blasted the ground a few feet away from me.

I jumped.

Shaking, I continued walking into the clearing, toward the stump. “I’m not afraid of you! Is that all you got? Lightning? You could have used that on me at the beach! Show yourself, demon! Dark angel!”

Each step drew me closer to the clearing and further from my wife and child.

“Come on! Show yourself, you damned coward! What are you afraid of?”

Another blast of lightning lit up the ground, knocking me to my knees. My ears were ringing. I saw Michele screaming at me to come back.

I looked back up at the sky. The rain was coming straight down, and I could make out thick round clouds. Lightning rippled across them and the thunder groaned like a monster.

I was never going to be much more vulnerable than I was right now. If the demon was here, it wasn’t making its move. Why was it waiting?

I looked around. The grass of the clearing was thick and short. There was no cover at all for protection. Just the stump.

I was a sitting duck.

But I was willing to stand up and sacrifice myself if it meant my wife and child would be spared. I just wasn’t sure that was in the bargain.

I didn’t know what was in the bargain.

Then it occurred to me; we’d caught the demon off guard. Like Tyree had advised, the dark angel wasn’t ready yet. And if he wasn’t ready, he might be able to be provoked.

And nobody can provoke somebody like I can.

I turned my eyes to the clouds and called him out.

“You’re a coward! A little bitch! Well, screw you! Here I am! You think I’m afraid of you? I’m here! I’m scared and I’m shaking, but I’m here!”

“You want a fight?” I screamed. “Come and get me!”

The wind howled again, and a voice moaned out of it, speaking in echoes over the tree tops.

It was here. My heart was racing, almost jumping out of my chest.

I summoned my courage to yell at it again. “You went to all this trouble to get us out in the open! Show yourself to me! Dark angel! Here I am!’ I thumped my chest. “Come and get me!”

The wind howled again, and the voice moaned: I don’t want you!

That set me off. “Well too bad, bitch!” I was in a rage. “You pull all this crap to come after a little girl? You’re not getting her! Over my dead body, do you hear me?”

I was ranting. I shook my flashlight at the sky. “I swear by all that is good and right in the world, you will not get her! You will not succeed here today!”

Another blast of lightning stuck and knocked me to the ground. My head ached and flashlight hand was throbbing. I gasped for breath.

I thought I heard laughter in the wind. The clouds began to swirl. Lightning flashed across the sky. I struggled to get up on one knee.

This is it, I thought. He got us.

He got us all.

I blew it. I’m going to die right here in this field, and then he’s going to go kill my family. I leaned on my knee and yelled at the sky.

“Come one, then, demon! Do it!”

Then there was a roar, loud enough to ring in my ears. I looked behind me and saw a single light come bounding down the hillside form the highway.

It was a motorcycle. Really loud, like it didn’t have a muffler. I squinted through the rain.

It was red, and it was leading a pull-behind gray trailer. The rider wore an orange and black jacket.

Tyree.

He was alive.

How the hell did he manage that?

He slid to a stop behind Michele and Savvy, and went over to them. After a moment, he ran out to meet me by the stump in the clearing.

“Here comes the cavalry!” He shouted, crouching down next to me.

“Tyree!” I shouted back. “How the hell did you get here?” I slapped him on the back. “You son of a bitch, I thought you were dead!”

“You can’t get rid of me that easily!” he said.

The thunder rumbled ominously overhead.

“How you doing out here?” Tyree asked.

“Pretty bad, I think.” I answered.

“That’s what I thought,” he said. He dug into a pocket inside his jacket, producing a large white cross. “Here,” he said. “Take this.”

He handed it to me. The relic cross. The thunder rumbled again.

“Does this thing have some special powers?” I asked.

“No,” Tyree said. “But if you can get close enough, maybe you can plunge it into the angel. If you can get him to appear to you. I also brought this.”

He pulled out a plastic bottle of water.

“Water?”

“Not just water, Tyree said. “Holy water.”

“You got this out of our cooler over there!” I said.

“And then I mixed it with this,” he said, holding up a little vial. “This is holy water. You mix it with the bottled water; that makes it all holy water.”

“You can do that? It counts?”

“Yep. When the two waters touch, they are all sanctified.”

A loud boom rolled across the sky. Things were getting restless.

“What’s the plan?” I asked, taking the water.

“Well, again, if you can get close enough, you can douse him with it. That should do the trick. But do it with conviction. This is no time to be faint of heart.”

“No lack of faith, huh?” I said.

Tyree nodded.

Okay then.

I stood up and shouted at the sky. “Dark angel! Is this your big move? A little lightning? Some rain?

“What are you going to do? I’m here now. Come on. I’m not afraid of you. I’M NOT AFRAID OF YOU!

Then it occurred to me.

Are you afraid of me?

“Are you such a coward can only pick on a little girl? Then you’re not strong one. I’m the strong one. I’m here to fight for that little girl. You’re weak!”

The clouds rumbled.

“If you weren’t weak you would’ve done it by now! I’ve got you all figured out! You tried three times, and you screwed up every time. Every time!

 

“You’re a failure. A washout!”

Tyree peeked out from behind the stump. “You’re doing great, pal!” he said. Then he crouched back down.

I taunted the demon again.

“You think you have us? You have nothing! Here we are, right here, in the middle of nowhere, right out in the open. Where are you? You’ve achieved nothing. You’re a failure.

“That’s why you won’t show yourself. You’re too afraid!”

There was a rumble, and a flash.

I decided if it’s to come, then come. I can’t live the rest of my life afraid.

I won’t.

“Here I am,” I screamed the sky. “Here I am! Show yourself to me, dark angel! I’m not afraid of you! PROVE THAT YOU AREN’T AFRAID OF ME!”

I was scared to death shaking, but I was screaming at it in the howling rain, and out in the clearing I saw a faint flicker of light. I walked toward it a little bit and the flicker became a glow, blue in tint, like a reflection of distant lightning off a deep lake.

Like the blue lightning I saw flash across the face of the officer at the winery.

It was like a cloud of electrical fog. An embodiment of energy.

Lightning danced across the sky.

“I’m not afraid of you,” I shouted at it. “A person who was afraid would run. I’m not running. I’m done running from you.”

Now I challenged it directly, looking right at it. “You can’t defeat me because you don’t have the power to defeat me. I know, because you can’t even defeat a little girl. Not even when she was a baby in her crib.”

I was grasping at straws, trying to provoke a fight because I need this to end.

“You’re a coward. Let’s go! I’m here! I’m ready! Why are you afraid of me?”

A blast of lightning flashed again as a wind gust knocked me the ground. And then I finally got an answer.

The voice rumbled in the echoes of the thunder.

I am not afraid of you.

I saw my opening.

“Of course you are. You’ve been afraid to face me. You would have done something by now if you weren’t afraid. But everything you’ve tried has failed. I had to come here to draw you out. You didn’t do it! I did it!”

The skies rumbled again.

“Here I am; I’m not going to get much more vulnerable than this and still you can’t do it. You’re still a coward, hiding behind the wind, hiding in the trees like a little scared animal. Show me what you’ve got. Because I don’t believe you can do it. You’re not powerful enough!”

There was a loud groan. Lightning cracked the sky and another tree fell.

The voice became just a rumble, and the dark angel appeared to me. An electric blue cloud of fog, ten feet tall.

The ground shook and the lightning flashed at its appearance.

It seemed amused at my shock. Then it spoke.

Who are you, to dare confront me?

“In God’s holy name, I command you, demon.”

I held up the relic cross. “Dark angel, you will leave this child alone!”

He snarled.

I brandished the cross again. “Dark angel, you will leave this family alone!”

There was a rumble of thunder, and I thought I heard it laugh.

I held up the cross in one hand and pulled out the bottled water with the other, sloshing toward him in the thick mud.

“No? How does ‘fuck you’ work for you, then?”

That pissed him off. The demon growled and the blue cloud swelled up. It was now twenty feet tall and twenty feet wide, swirling like a slow motion tornado, light bouncing all around.  It began to loom over me. A flash of lightning struck again, and this time the lightning illuminated the demon’s face. The cross burned in my upraised hand as I gazed upon the face of the dark angel. It was the face of Hell itself, the face of snarled, malformed deformed demon that looked like every horrid picture from every Sunday school class I’ve ever gone to.

And it yelled at me in a thunderclap, motioning at me, pointing.

“You!”

Thunder crackled. Lightning flashed. The rain washed down my face. Then there was a loud rumble.

“You!” he yelled again loudly.

But he wasn’t pointing at me. He was pointing past me to Michele and Savannah. I looked back to see my daughter, mesmerized.

I turned back to the demon. He was larger still, growing more powerful. Now I saw what it was. If he killed her, he would just move on to the next death, and grow more powerful.

No way I was going to let that happen.

I held up my hands and closed my eyes. The wall of the blue cloud was upon me. “By the power of all that is good and right in the world, you will not succeed!”

Then I ran at the cloud as fast I could.

I flung the cross high into the cloud. As I did, I opened the water bottle.

“Holy water of God and the Church, mix with this water and become one!” I shook the bottle, flinging its contents everywhere.

I flung the Holy water up into the rain. “Mix with this rain water and become one!”

I swiped it at the mud. “Mix with these puddles and become one!”

I flung it at the face of the dark angel and watched as it screamed.

And in that moment the skies flashed white. A brilliant shock of lightning came, with a deafening blast of thunder. It shook the ground and rang in my ears.

I fell to the ground as the demon burst into a screaming ball of fire. It howled at the pain of its own destruction as the Holy water seared it, burned it, ripped through it.

A gigantic explosion of thunder roared through the clearing like a cannon shot. It was deafening. My sight became blurry. I couldn’t focus. I fell back into the mud and looked up into the rain, watching as the dark angel was consumed in flames. The intense heat forced me to look away, but I shielded my eyes and squinted at it, to see.

It’s scream bounced off the tree tops and folded into the last rumble of thunder.

I laid my weary head back onto the wet grass and let the cold rain wash over me. The drops just floated down gently on me now; and there was silence.

I looked up one last time at the clouds as the fading lightning flickered in the distance. I thought I saw a the face in the clouds. A different face. A round face, with bright eyes and dimples…

And as the last traces of lightning dissipated with the wind, the clearing was dark.

 

 


ANALYSIS

We took a few things out of this chapter – little things. We added a lot of words to this chapter, too. Detail. Descriptions.

Why?

  • To show, not tell, the actions.
  • To give emotions to the reader via the characters, thereby
  • making the scene more immersing.

Remember the teeter-totter: the T-Rex in Jurassic Park can growl, but the girl needs to scream. The scream sells the scary. Have a character do what the audience is supposed to be doing. (Here, Doug does it.)

HAVE SOME FUN, TOO!

Even though this is a dramatic scene, we got a few chuckles in this chapter. Doug’s wife says, “That’s whey were’re out here, honey.” Tyree says “You’re doing great, pal!” – and then crouches down. That helps the roller coaster. Get ’em scared, let them chuckle, then scare ’em again.

EXCEED EXPECTATIONS

This scene is basically goes where it had to go. Our MC was always going to confront the demon at some point; that’s how paranormal stories go. (Love stories involve, you know – people falling in love.)

HOW it did what it needed to is what makes all the difference.

A few zillion people saw the movie The Titanic, and we all knew the ending before it happened. Ship hits iceberg, sinks – the end. What we needed was Leo’s story to make us watch – and make us care.

Creating that difference is why people will read – and love – your stories and your characters.

Years from now, you will remember Father Frank.

Probably Dahlia, too. And with some prompting, Mrs. Billen (the train).

There weren’t a ton of RBAs in this chapter – but there were little ones in a few places. I’m not as overt as other authors with RBA. Get an action book happening and you’ll see otherwise. It’s my job to point out stuff you see here and stuff you’ll see elsewhere. RBAs are a pet peeve of mine, so I don’t have too many. POV issues are my weakness, so I have a friend whose strength is POV. See? We review each other’s work.

LENGTH – what’s too long?

I like chapters to be around 3,000 words – on average. That works for me. I find 3k to be comfortable for the reader and for me. The chapter above is about 5k AND it is preceded by a few chapters that are less than 3k, closer to 2k (some less), so it’ll BE long and SEEM long.

Only – did it?

I think it reads fast. Much faster than most 5,000 word chapters. Because action and tension. Also, because my writing style is pretty engaging. But let’s address a few things.

We are not in chapter two.

Early on in our story, it is NO CRIME to have shorter chapters. Readers feel like they are making progress and the story feels like it has a quicker pace.

If you try to get your point across in 3,000 words per chapter, you will. (Look at how many tell-y sections appear in the chapter above. It reads like narrative but I’m getting you through stuff quickly so we can get to the good stuff.

THAT’s a time to tell and not show.

Nobody needs to read Doug staring at the road for six hours. Hmm. What’s on the radio. How about a some Cheetos? I need to pee. Gosh, it’s windy…

Ugh.

Also, we used that space to give his thoughts about the situation and explain – set up – what was about to happen. Remember, when the prior chapter ended, he’d been visiting Jimmy in jail in a flashback. In less than 180 words, we got you back to current time, let you know the family was on the road, let you know they’d been on the road for a while, got you to relax with that tedium and showing Mallory asleep… See? Then, BOOM. Tree across the road.

All in under 180 words of set-up.

Then, the fun is on.

So since we are 40+ chapters into the story, you can ease up a little about certain things. Your reader knows your style now and has either bought into it or bailed out a long time ago. THEY ARE WILLING ACCOMPLICES and have been for a while. That is not a license to become boring, it’s an obligation to deliver. But you don’t have to worry as much about them getting it. Unless you start spouting Mandarin Chinese, they understand you.

(Look at how we did these lessons. Shorter lessons in the early chapters, longer ones at the end – after you concluded I actually might know a little on the topic I was talking about.)

Now: The Big Confrontation Scene

You waited for this scene, so I wanted to deliver.

But when we physically have given the reader shorter and shorter chapters, do have to be careful about a long one now? Kinda.

I probably won’t cut this one into two chapters, but if I did where, would the best place be? 

Maybe after he’s up on the highway (post-wreck) and thinks he’s been baited into another trap and his family is sitting alone – again – by the car, defenseless. That would make for a 1300 word chapter followed by a 3200 word chapter. Better, maybe. When you go on and on in your writerly wordiness, consider those things.

  • I may leave this chapter as is. There’s a lot happening and I think readers will stay engaged.
  • On the other hand, cutting it in the middle of all that tension might guarantee readers turn the page.

Where would you cut this 5,000 word chapter?

I’ll rely on you, and my beta readers, and my editor to decide. And I’ll be completely open to their suggestions.

LOOSE ENDS

We’re getting near the finish line. Time to make sure we took care of everything.

In a first draft, it’s not as important as a second draft. You’ll spot them the second time through if you let your MS rest.

I keep a running list of loose ends – thing I need to go back and address. Where is Sparkles? The family didn’t leave town and just lock him in the house, did they? Well, in the original you see he was taken care of, but in the “final” he isn’t mentioned. I need to add in a spot that addresses that oversight, and does it smoothly, like it was planned. Likely I will have Doug talk about their emergency plan when Tyree is at the house and Mallory will say, “Oh do we put Sparkles with the Jonses next door?” – something like that. Later, Sophie can say, “I hope Sparkles is okay” and Mallory can say, “You know Sparkles is always fine with the Joneses.” Case closed.

Actually, I’d better write that down. Just a sec…

And that’s a good tip. When you see a loose end, jot it down. Don’t try to solve it right away. Give yourself time to come up with a good answer. Have beta readers tell you if they saw any lose ends. No point in getting blindsided. Mine tend to come to me when I’m not writing, because I’m thinking freely. I jump out of the shower and write it down. Aha! Sparkles is at the friend’s house just like we said earlier. That’s another tip – keep a pen by the shower.

EXPECTATIONS:

What do readers want at the end?

After this scene ends, we have had our climax. What do readers want next?

Usually, I want my readers to

  • have enjoyed meeting these characters, to
  • have had fun on the journey with them, and to
  • know everybody’s gonna be okay.

Readers understand that story doesn’t start on the first day of the characters’ lives and run until they die. It’s a segment. The reader is hitch hiking along as a willing accomplice on a trip. I like to make sure they know certain parts of that trip keep going, but still let them step off the roller coaster instead of get throw from it.

That doesn’t mean my endings are boring. Far from it.

In Titanic, we wanted to see the ship sink, but we also wanted to know what happened to Leo and what’s her name!

And, to my point, even though he died, she was an old lady and remembered him to her dying day, didn’t she? * wipes tear *

Finally, a quick question:

At the end of the chapter, Doug sees a face in the clouds. A warm face, smiling.

Who was it? Whose face did he see, or think he saw? Put your answer in the comment section below.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapter will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15. Probably. So don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book versions, too!

16 thoughts on “Reaction Before Action

  1. Wow, another Annette…. AND I was going to say mother as well. So, the Annette’s have it, eh? Cutting this chapter? I’d sooner have you feed us canned frosting. The action, and the drama, kept things flowing. I too, wondered about Sparkles but only after you mentioned it in the analysis. Perhaps tossing in a Mallory comment would be appropriate. Tyree, ripping up on the two-wheeler… YAY! This is a remarkable piece of writing. I can see this chapter standing on its own as a short story. It could even be the beginning of a novel, with oodles of flash back sequences. #ShadesOfPulpFiction

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hmm. Seeing mom in a cloud is a little too…cotton candy for me. Maybe he could have the dream again and watch someone slay the 4th lion and when the hunter turns around, he sees that it’s him. And THEN when he turns around his mom is holding his daughter. ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a fine line between making the point and being too subtle. Or two overt. The first time through it was to subtle. The second time it’s probably too overt. I’m have to rely on some beta reader input to figure out how to toe the line. But since it’s not the end of the story, I think it’ll be OK. I mean, after all, ultimately this type of paranormal story ends a certain way. We hinted enough at it; time to deliver.

      But the story’s not quite over yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The smiling face with the dimples was his Mum. Wow, what a chapter, I was engrossed, exactly the reaction you wanted. When the motorcycle appeared I through my arms up, scaring Becca and said “yes..Tyree it’s Tyree he’s not dead. I am loving this chapter and how I felt for them when they careered off road and then I thought Sophie was dead and ohhhhhh……….Don’t split this chapter in two, it flows all on it’s own. For next time, the aftermath, I would love to know why, if there is a why, Sophie was picked on by the demon.

    Liked by 1 person

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