In my last post, we discussed how to raise stakes for specific situations. By constantly reminding the reader of the importance of your protagonist’s current quest, whether through direct writing or subtext, you will build toward a rewarding climax. Even though this is only one chapter out of the book, it is important to constantly fill your stories with build-ups and pay-offs. If you missed my last post, I suggest you take the time to read it in order to understand the importance of it. Reach it by clicking here.
In the following scene, I’ve created a rise in tension by making the situation more and more uncomfortable for James. Remember from the last scene, his initial meeting with Penny is going to have an enormous effect on his psychological state, one way or the other. Here’s the excerpt from “A New Kingdom.”
* * *
“That’s it kid, I can’t watch you embarrass yourself any longer.” Roy tossed his cards, stood up, and walked toward the group. James looked away nervously, hoping to God that Roy wouldn’t do what James was certain he was about to do.
“Excuse me, miss – it’s Penny, correct?”
James could hear Penny and the rest of her group slowly come to a stop.
“Yes, that’s me.”
James watched Roy cup his hands together and speak more elegantly than he ever had before.
“Well Penny, my name is Roy, and that there’s my friend James.” He pointed right at him with two fingers glued together.
James looked away. Every part of him wanted to smash his own face into the wall. The other part of him wanted to tackle Roy.
“Give us a wave, James,” said Roy.
James gulped, then looked back and waved hesitantly with a terribly corny smile.
“You see Penny, James here is the greatest guy I’ve ever known. And he’s done so many great things for me, I wanted to help him out a bit.”
“Oh, O.K,” said Penny.
Roy continued. “And this great guy, who I like to call James the great, he really digs ya, Penny. He says you’re the most beautiful gal he has ever set eyes on. Every time you walk by, make your bed, or read a book, James is watching you.”
Penny took a step back and looked horrified.
“Don’t worry, Penn. James is no stalker. As a matter of fact, he told me yesterday he wants to start a stalker awareness club. You know what’s not a joke? How lovely James thinks you are. I think you ought a give him a chance. After all, you two are the same age, stuck underground in a base, it seems like it’s meant to be, don’t ya think?”
James looked up at the ceiling. He wanted God to hear his prayer. He prayed that the brick ceiling above would collapse and kill him. And if it wasn’t too much trouble, to please let it kill Roy as well.
“Fine,” said Penny with a shrug, “I’ll meet him.”
“Best decision you ever made.”
As Roy walked Penny over, James wiped instant oatmeal crumbs from his jeans and held his hand out for a handshake.
“You can call me James.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather ‘James the Great’?”
James laughed loudly and for a bit longer than the joke deserved. He made a face at Roy like an awkward cry for help. Roy countered with a wink and a smile, then left him to fend for himself. James felt his heart in his throat. He stood up.
“James is fine. Uh, you like to read, huh?”
“I guess so… I never read much before, but down here I don’t have much of a choice, not in this hellhole.”
Afraid his nervousness might become visible, James put on the best front that he could. He leaned smoothly up-against the wall beside him, and casually slid his hand into his pocket.
“Yea, life is pretty plain down here. Me and crazy Roy pretty much just play cards all day. Life would be a ton better if it wasn’t for that stupid council, all those idiots do is make schedules and stupid restrictions. Without them, life down here would be great.”
Penny looked down at her feet, “Yeah, ha, right… Ummm, tell me about your friend Roy. How do you know him?”
“Met him the night of the invasion. Crazy Roy keeps it real, and he’s a former pro poker player! Plus he can play some tunes on the guitar, and I think he said he used to be a pilot or something.”
“That’s kinda cool.”
“Yeah, and he has all this chewing tobacco stuff, and he lets me take as much as I want.”
“Ew… Does he have any alcohol?”
“Oh ya, he does.”
Penny moved in and put her hands on James’ wrist. Her bracelets jingled, “James, me, you, and Roy. We’re drinking tonight!!”
“Well… yeah, okay.”
“Don’t tell me you’re scared?”
James laughed awkwardly, “I’m not scared, I’m down. I’ll ask Roy.”
“Good.” Said Penny. With a wide, seductive smile, she left to go to breakfast. At first James walked away with calm strides, but as soon as he was in the clear he practically sprinted over to Roy.
* * *
– Thomas M. Watt
Author of “A New Kingdom”
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