Storytelling Essentials: Deep 3rd Person Perspective

*This was originally posted over a year ago. I will have a brand new sketch posted tomorrow at 7:00 AM PST tomorrow. See you then!

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: DEEP THIRD PERSON PERSPECTIVE

So you’ve decided to write fiction, but have no idea what perspective to use. You love the way “Hunger Games” reads in first person, and wish to emulate it, but are uncertain how to describe situations and events that might be beyond your main characters current level of intellect. You decide to move to third person, but a short ways in realize that your story lacks emotion – and every time you try to broadcast the feelings of your protagonist, they come directly out-the-mouth through dialogue. Not very effective, seeing as how everyday people don’t commonly say, “I’m really scared right now.” And if they did, they’d be a pretty wimpy hero (Sorry, just saying).

I prefer deep 3rd person perspective. It’s sort of a hybrid of 1st and 3rd person that has become increasingly common in recent years. Here’s what it looks like –

* * *

George walked over to the wobbly wooden table, sat down, then stared at his now-cold cup of coffee. Since he’d first set that mug down, so much had changed…

George took a sip. He needed to think. He needed to be awake, no matter how much he needed to sleep. George groaned, ran his fingers through his oily, slick-backed hair, then crossed his arms and hunched over the table top. What could he do? Where should he start?

He winced his eyes closed, then gulped. The fact that he’d lost had yet to sink in. It was a terrible thought, but the fact that her murderer was still out there gave him something to keep his mind off her gruesome death. The way she looked, half naked, burn marks everywhere, and that thing she had on her face. What was that? Was it even human??

George shuddered then smeared his face. He took another big gulp of coffee, then smeared the brown from his sun-worn lips. He stood up so fast he knocked the mug down to the floor, bringing it to shatter.

He caught himself just short of swearing, then grabbed the chair backing with the tightly closed fold of his hand.

“Barbara,” He said with his eyes closed, then sniffed. “Who did it. For the love of God, show me something. Tell me who murdered you.”

After a short wait in dead silence, George let out a muffled whine, then scrunched his eyelids together.

A creak.

George’s eyes shot open. He slowly raised his gaze, and looked in the direction of the ominous sound. It had come from just above the mantle piece, right where he kept the picture from the fishing contest. The one Barbara always begged him to take down.

George remembered that picture fondly, almost able to smile even now from it. He’d caught the biggest fish in the water that day, won the contest and everything. He never understood why Barbara refused to smile when their photo was taken. He never understood why she always hated that photograph.

The creak sounded again. Same spot.

“Barbara?” Said George. The grin left him. He walked with a kind of slanted focus, keeping half-an eye on the picture. As he crept closet to it he felt his heart begin to beat a little faster.

“Are you… trying to tell me something?”

A thump. The sounds were coming from straight above, up in the attic. George didn’t think much of it – He was too rusty to even consider climbing the ladder to check it out.

George stopped by the picture. He placed his hand over the corner of the frame.

“Oh my God.”

He fell back a step, tripped, then crashed onto the short living room desk. He shut his eyes and pressed his hand to his heart. That man. That man in the picture Barbara had always asked him about. Jim was his name.

George gulped. A quick race of noises came from the attic – like footsteps.

After George won the fishing contest that day, he’d never seen Jim again – until this day. At the crime scene. Why the hell was Jim there, anyway?

George’s eyes flew open. He remembered something else – Jim asked where he was living at nowadays. And George had given him his exact address.

There was another thump from above. George had to get up, but he needed Barbara to help him…

* * *

Okay, so a lot of deep third person perspective in there, but you know what other story telling element was frequently employed? If you tuned in to my post a few days ago, you may have guessed it already – suspense. Once again, suspense is information withheld. Every time you found yourself asking, “Who? What? Why?” That was thanks to suspense, and is an effective tool to keep your readers reading. If you want to be a diligent student of the craft, you’d be wise to find and circle those sentences on your own, that practice employing them in your own scenes. When writing suspense, the questions are more important than the answers. In other words, your mind doesn’t compel you to keep reading because of how awesome the thing on Barbara’s dead face was – it compels you to keep reading because you don’t know what it was, but want to.

Deep third person perspective is merely a blending of plain, straight-forward depiction of events, persons, and things, with the inner thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. To better display the difference in perspectives, let me show you how the opening to this scene would have looked had I written it in third person limited:

George sat down at the wobbly talbe. He rested his hands on it, then let out a short winded breath. He balled his hand into a fist, then uttered a soft moan.

“Barbara… I can’t believe I’ve lost you.”

There was a creak. George raised his eyes to check it out.

The reason you now feel alienated from George, rather than involved with him, is because every description is entirely physical. The voice is that of the author, rather than George’s own, and the scene is akin to what you would see if observing, rather than partaking in. Here is how it may have read in first person:

I sat down in the chair and looked at my cup of coffee. It was cold by now. I couldn’t believe all the events that had transpired since the time I’d first brewed that cup. I couldn’t believe I’d lost Barbara. I couldn’t believe how she’d been killed; the way her body looked.

One of the drawbacks of first person is you must remain in character at all times. Your descriptions, your insights, even your suspense – everything is coming straight from the mind of your protagonist. She is the writer, not you.

Deep third person perspective may sound confusing, but after some practice you’ll get the hang of it. Of course, deep third person is my preference, and every author is different. Some even prefer second person:

You see George sit in the chair. You can tell he’s nervous by the way he stares at his coffee. You watch his hands tremble.

Blows, doesn’t it? Yeah, don’t ever write in second person.

 Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom

Analyzing East of Eden – 1/17

EastOfEden

It’s been a while since I talked about writing, as my mind has been more consumed with film production. I took a few minutes today to read a brief excerpt from East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, and analyze it. I think this is a great practice because it helps me understand the techniques great dramatists employ in order to have the most emotional impact on viewers. Here is the excerpt, followed by my thoughts:

***

Ethel tried to keep her fingers from grabbing at the money. [Kate] fanned the bills like a poker hand – four tens. Her mouth began to work with emotion.

Ethel said, “I kind of hoped you’d see your way to let me take more than forty bucks.”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you get my letter?”

“What letter?”

“Oh!” said Ethel. “Well, maybe it got lost in the mail. They don’t take no care of things. Anyways, I thought you might look after me. I don’t feel good hardly ever. Got a kind of weight dragging my guts down.” She sighed and then she spoke so rapidly that Kate knew it had been rehearsed.

“Well, maybe you remember how I’ve got like second sight,” Ethel began. “Always predicting things that come true. Always dreaming stuff and it come out. Fella says I should go in the business. Says I’m a natural medium. You remember that?”

“No,” said Kate. “I don’t.”

“Don’t? Well, maybe you never noticed. All the others did. I told ’em lots of things and they come true.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I had this-here dream. I remember when it was because it was the same night Faye died.” Her eyes flicked  up at Kate’s cold face. She continued doggedly, “It rained that night, and it was raining in my dream – anyways, it was wet. Well, in my dream I seen you come out the kitchen door. It wasn’t pitch-dark – moon was coming through a little. nd the dream thing was you. You went out to the back of the lot and stooped over. I couldn’t see what you done. Then you come creeping back.”

“Next thing I knew – why, Faye was dead.” She paused and waited for some comment from Kate, but Kate’s face was expressionless.

Ethel waited until she was sure Kate would not speak. “Well, like I said, I always believed in my dreams. It’s funny, there wasn’t nothing out there except some smashed medicine bottles and a little rubber tit from an eye-dropper.”

Kate said lazily, “So you took them to a doctor. What did he say had been in the bottles?”

“Oh, I didn’t do nothing like that.”

“You should have,” said Kate.

“I don’t want to see nobody get in trouble. I’ve had enough trouble myself. I put that broke glass in an envelope and stuck it away.”

Kate said softly, “And so you are coming to me for advice?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll tell you what I think,” said Kate. “I think you’re a worn-out old whore and you’ve been beaten over the head too many times.”

“Don’t you start saying I’m nuts-” Ethel began.

“No, maybe you’re not, but you’re tired and you’re sick. I told you I never let  friend down. You can come back here. You can’t work but you can help around, clean and give the cook a hand. You’ll have a bed and you’ll get your meals. How would tht be? And a little spending money.”

Ethel stirred uneasily. “No, ma’am.” She said. “I don’t think I want to – sleep here. I don’t carry that envelope around. I left it with a friend.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I thought if you could see your way to let me have a hundred dollars a month, why, I could make out and maybe get my health back.”

“You said you lived at the Southern Pacific Hotel?”

“Yes, ma’am – and my room is right up the hall from the desk. The night clerk’s a friend of mine. He don’t never sleep when he’s on duty. Nice fella.”

Kate said, “Don’t wet your pants, Ethel. All you’ve got to worry about is how much does the ‘nice fell’ cost. Now wait a minute.” She counted six more ten-dollar bills from the drawer in front of her and held them out.

“Will it come the first of the month or do I have to come here for it?”

“I’ll send it to you,” said Kate. “And, Ethel,” she continued quietly, “I still think you ought to have those bottles analyzed.”

Ethel clutched the money tightly in her hand. She was bubbling over with triumph and good feeling.

***

*Let me preface my analysis by confessing I have not read this novel in its entirety. Nevertheless, I’d like to share my insights and you can correct me in the comment section if I’m wrong.

This scene is great in so many ways. It is really a mini-story, and clearly demonstrates Steinbeck’s dominance as one of the greatest writers of all time. I remember when I first started studying writing, I read somewhere that Steinbeck preferred to use one syllable words. I had always thought his style of writing made him a legend, but now that I have a better understanding of some of the more abstract writing concepts, I can see his ability to play with the emotions of readers is what makes his pen so devastating.

Right from the start, we can see that Ethel is desperate for money, so clearly this is her objective. But it is not enough for her to simply accept the original offering, and that is what makes her courageous here – she wants every nickel she can squeeze out of Kate.

Kate, on the other hand, begins the scene by desiring Ethel get out of her hair. After Ethel all-but threatens to turn in evidence that could potentially put her behind bars, Ethel changes her tune and her new motivation becomes doing whatever it takes to keep Ethel quiet.

What I like most about this scene is how Ethel goes about manipulating Kate to fork over more dough. She never explicitly states that she knows Kate is responsible for the death of Faye, but she implies it through a most devious way – by slyly feigning to have psychic abilities, and almost comedic-ally stating she had a dream where she witnessed Kate’s crime.

Once Kate gets the hint, Ethel has her over a barrel – and knows it. After a brief outburst of her true anger at the situation, Kate presents Ethel with a much more generous offer than the original forty bucks. But this still isn’t good enough for Ethel(rising tension!). Ethel requests a hundred dollars on the first of every month, then has the audacity to requests that it be delivered, so she does not have to go out of her way to retrieve it.

I believe that Kate threatens Ethel when she tells her that her biggest concern should be how much the night clerk, who “never sleeps”, costs. She appears to be implying that she could always pay him enough money to look the other way while Kate has somebody eliminate Ethel.

This scene features two foes with clashing objectives. Their dialogue, at the surface, appears to remain cordial – but the truth is always written in the subtext. This is one area of writing I need to improve upon. I have a bad habit of allowing characters to state their objectives outright, and go about getting their way through direct and obvious threats. This is fine for characters who maneuver through life this way, but it is so much more fun and engaging when characters behave in ways that force viewers to read between the lines in order to keep up with their motives and ploys.

I hope these insights have helped you in some way. I already know these realizations will benefit me in my own writing. See you tomorrow at 7:00 am PST.

  • Thomas M. Watt
  • Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Books, 1952. Print.

Number 1 Deadliest Sin for Writers

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Writers Group… or maybe it’s just a pic from Thanksgiving that seemed more convenient to include, but who knows?

I’ve been writing for a while now and have had the pleasure of connecting with a large number of amateur writers who share hopes and aspirations similar to my own. During this evolutionary journey, I’ve realized their is one common trait that hinders nearly all of us from realizing our dreams:

Egoism.

Don’t get me wrong, maintaining confidence in pursuit of your goals is crucial. It takes an enormous amount of stubbornness to believe you can become a published author when so many realists jump to criticize your chances.

The ill-side of ego I’m referring to here is the tendency of writers to fall so in love with their own unique concepts and ideas that they disregard the story-saving input of others.

I spent one full year working on the same book everyday without allowing anybody else to glance at it. One. Full. Year. In my mind, this book was so incredible I actually worried about people breaking into my Tacoma just to steal my USB flash drive(spend too much time in your own head, you will go crazy).

When I finally allowed people to look it over, their obvious indifference to the material shocked and defeated me. Somehow I summoned the courage to rewrite the entire book, but my ego took even more of a hit when I found my drastic alterations did nothing to sway the opinions of my readers. I wound up rewriting again and again, and even revised the first chapter over thirty (!) times before accepting the fact that I was missing something.

For the first time in my writing career, I decided to study writing. The book that changed me was called Story Engineering. This book describes rules and structures that all good stories abide by, essential tools I never could have found on my own. Though I’ve since read books that discuss more advanced topics, Larry Brown’s work laid the groundwork for my writing education.

The only way to grow as a writer is to learn. It is impossible to learn something you already know. Therefore, if you wish to improve your craft, it is absolutely vital that you listen to readers who criticize your work. You will be amazed at how quickly criticism can turn to praise.

  • Thomas M. Watt

Author of Master

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storytelling Essentials: How to Buy Time for the Boring but Important Stuff

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The hardest storytelling element to successfully integrate into any story, in my opinion, is theme.

The theme of your story is the message you are trying to teach your readers. When theme is successfully implemented, story has the power to influence viewers and readers into perceiving the world in a different light.

This is where fiction earns its value – tell a kid not to smoke and he may not listen, but show him someone dying of lung cancer who still can’t kick the habit and he’s bound to think twice about lighting up.

Properly integrating theme into your story is one of the most difficult things for writers to do, and only the greats can truly master it.

Part of the problem with giving out moral lessons, however, is they’re generally pretty boring.

That’s why I’ve titled this post “Buying yourself time.” In the following excerpt, Danny O’Keefe gives James a speech that could easily bore readers and keep them from reading on. One of the great powers suspense wields is the ability to keep your readers zoned in on crucial information due to the urgent threat of danger, lurking just around the corner.

Notice how anticipation keeps you locked in on an important, but not riveting, conversation in the excerpt from “A New Kingdom” below:

* * *

“Everyone is going to die.”

James pushed away from the window, shoved his way through the tree branches, then ran up the steps to the front door and threw it open.

“What is going on?”

Mr. O’Keefe’s eyes dropped to his bottle of whiskey. Gregg pinned his lips closed and looked away.

“Why can’t I know?”

Gregg tried to make eye contact with Mr. O’Keefe, but Mr. O’Keefe was too infatuated with his whiskey bottle.

James marched over to his dad then grabbed the whiskey from his hands. “I’m seventeen now. I have a right to know whatever the hell is going on.”

Mr. O’keefe stood up and swatted the bottle back to himself. “Oh, quit whinin’! It don’t matter how old you are, I’m not even old enough to understand this.”

“Danny, we have to leave now. It locks shut at midnight.” Gregg said.

“Alright Gregg, can you give me a minute to talk with my boy?” Mr. O’Keefe moved over to the sink and poured himself a shot.

“We don’t have the time!”

“Then make the time!”

Greg shook his head, then waved his hand as he left the apartment and went outside.

Mr. O’Keefe addressed James. “Now, if he hadn’t been my good friend, I wouldn’t ‘ave believed him. And when he told me what was going on, I wouldn’t ‘ave even listened to ‘im if he hadn’t been pacin’ so bad. And after he finished talkin’, I still didn’t believe him, until he had me look through his telescope. Now, son, I believe him.”

Mr. O’Keefe took James by the arm and led him over to the scope. James peered through and felt his heart race from what he saw – Giant balls of light were bouncing around like mad, multiplying even.

“Gregg says, and this doesn’t roll off my tongue too easily, that we got aliens coming. That’s right boy, aliens. We’ve known about ’em for a while, apparently. They’ve been kept secret by our own government, Greg says. Up until now they’ve been friendly, but I suppose that was their way of getting to know us, to prepare for their invasion. They’re coming to ‘Take earth’, so to speak. Which means destroy us. I asked Gregg why we don’t fight the damn beasts, we got no shot, he says. Compared to them, we are as smart and powerful as little bunny rabbits, he says. I think that’s rubbish if you ask me, I never saw a fight that couldn’t be won, somehow.”

James’ attention remained glued to his dad.

“So Gregg tells me that a military man knew this invasion was going to happen. He sent out Gregg, among others, to retrieve those privileged enough and take them to Pine Mountain. There’s an underground base there. He says if we don’t get to it in time we won’t be alive come morning.” Mr. O’Keefe played with his shot, swirling it around a bit, then brought it to his nose and took a whiff. He then looked at James, then lowered the shot and smiled.

“What?” said James.

“Not tonight.” He laughed. “I’m not going to drink tonight.” Mr. O’Keefe poured the shot out in the sink. He then grabbed the bottle and poured the whole thing out, watching it blip blip blip its way down the drain. He rested the empty bottle on the counter, composed himself with a quick glance out the window, then took a seat in the wobbly wooden chair across from James. He scooted in close so that he sat face-to-face with his boy, then spoke with a direct, wise tone of voice.

“I’ve been really angry for a while now, James. Mad at my enemies, my friends, but especially myself. But more than anything else, I’ve been mad at God. And I think it’s because part of me knows that there is a God. That makes me so mad, Jimmy – knowing that there is a God, and he chose to let my beautiful, perfect wife die. He let your mother die, James… I try to understand that, with everything in me, but I can’t. Your mum loved God, you know. A lot more than I ever did.”

Danny smiled and went on. “But God let’n mum go dying didn’t just hurt me, James. It hurt you, too, and I know this. I see a lot of pain in you, Jimmy. I see a lot of struggle, a lot of sorrow. But beyond all that, buried deep inside a you, I see potential for greatness. You’re going to do great things, Jimmy, I know this in the bottom of my heart. There is greatness like I have never known within you.”

The front door swung open.

“We gotta go now!”

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

Excerpt from A New Kingdom

Storytelling Essentials: Suspense

zombie-t-shirts

Suspense.

We’ve all heard the term, but an alarming number of people, writers even, don’t have the slightest idea of what suspense actually means. Hearing the term alone may enough to bring to mind images of zombies, dolls that talk, or maybe even a person rocking back and forth, biting their nails, and darting their eyes every which way.

In reality, none of those things have anything to do with suspense.

Suspense – information delayed.

In other words, the last example about the “nervous rocker” in the bit above is exactly what you want your reader to be doing when attempt to incorporate this element in your future stories. And in terms of importance to stories, suspense is not too far below conflict, which is really saying something.

The television show “Lost” thrived on suspense. Take that back – lived on it. And that’s also why the ending came as such a disappointment – though the writers were masters at keeping you glued to your screen from questions, they weren’t so good at delivering meaningful answers.

The key to good suspense is to get your readers to want to know what happens next. Zombies running out to tear you apart isn’t suspense, it’s violent and horrific. Approaching a door that may or may not be an entryway to a room-full of bloodthirsty zombies, however, is suspense. In fact, once you get your readers to care about the lives of your characters, you will have them hooked from the moment your characters approach that door until the moment they open it.

That’s why great suspense writers keep always keep us reading on the edge of our seats – for every answer they give us, another question is instantly raised, and another three probably already exist.

If I can get you to take anything away from me it’s this – your ability to raise questions in the minds of your readers will always be more important than your ability to deliver an incredible answer, though the ability to do both successfully will make you a master. But if the meat of your story is boring, than nobody is ever going to make it to that epic ending you put all that time and thought into.

The following is an excerpt from “A New Kingdom.” I’ve highlighted every line that is meant to make you ask a question and keep you desiring an answer.

* *

There was a loud pounding at the front door. James shared a look with his dad, until Mr. O’keefe finally got up and hobbled over. He opened the door to find Greg, dressed in combat boots and army attire.

“This is beyond urgent.”

“Why hello there Gregg, my wallet’s on the counter over there, judging by your entrance that’s what you’ve come for, isn’t it?”

“Where’s James?”

“He’s here… Why?”

Greg barged in, rushed over to James, then grabbed him by the back of his shirt and began shoving him towards the door.

“What tha hell are you doing? What’s going on here, Gregg?!” said Mr. O’keefe.

The military officer kept his firm hold on James and didn’t break stride. He tossed James down the steps of the stoop, turned around and headed back in.

CHAPTER 3

Whatever Gregg had to say was important, and James knew it. He crawled under a cluster of trees limbs and made his way over to the kitchen window. He couldn’t hear anything, but Greg’s frantic pacing and sporadic arm-waving told him all he needed to know – James and his dad were in danger.

James watched as Gregg finally stopped, tossed his arms in the air, then raced through the contents of his backpack. He hurriedly put together the pieces of a telescope, then set it up by the backyard window. After some frantic jolts of aim, he found whatever he was looking for. Gregg waved Mr. O’Keefe over to take a look. Mr. O’Keefe looked amused before he did. Afterward, the expression on his face dropped to a blank, lifeless stare.

Mr. O’Keefe walked over to the counter and swiped his bottle of whiskey into his chest. He took it with him to the kitchen table, sat down, then reached to unscrew it. He stopped short, then placed his hand around its body instead. He leaned back, ran his hands through his hair, then squeezed his eyelids shut. His lips moved so slow even James could read them:

  “Everyone is going to die.”

 * * *

Hope this helps!

Thomas M. Watt

A New Kingdom

Storytelling Essentials: The Maze Runner

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: The Maze Runner

I want to talk about The Maze Runner today, a novel written by James Dashner and adapted into a screenplay. I saw the movie with a beautiful girl this week and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to point out some of the reasons it was such an effective story.

The movie begins with Thomas rising in an elevator shaft. He reaches the top, and the hatch doors flip open to reveal twenty or so teenage boys staring down at him. He has no memory of his past, and does not even recall his own name. He tries to run, only to discover the young men are surrounded by giant walls that close and open by their own power. When he stops at an open section of wall, thinking about running into the spooky woods, one of the boys violently shoves him to the ground, then assures Thomas that he was lucky for the knockdown.

This is an outstanding opening. Let’s discuss why:

1. Who is this young man? I’ll tell you who. He’s any and every person. Thomas does not recall his past, let alone his own name. Creating a protagonist with general characteristics is a great way to give the readers someone they can relate to (think Harry Potter).  Still, crafting a protagonist who can stand out in any crowd will create someone more memorable, as long as your readers can identify with them on some level (think Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men)

2. Instant conflict – The elevator Thomas rises on travels at an incredible rate of speed. It looks as though he is headed for a collision at the rooftop. Instead, the doors open to find a group of boys staring down at him. But these boys don’t readily accept him as a friend – they look like a group of punks who want to start trouble with the new kid. Thomas tries to flee, only to find he is trapped by the giant walls surrounding the area, and will be forced to live with them.

3. Suspense – So many great questions are raised in this opening. Who is this protagonist, and why was he sent here? And where is ‘here’ – what is this new world? And the moving walls – we already know he is in a maze (the title kind of gives it away), but what is behind those walls? After Thomas is violently shoved just short of entering the maze, he is told he should be grateful. The viewer is left to wonder what could possibly be behind those walls that’s worse than a violent, forceful knock to the ground. It isn’t until later we learn about the mechanical creatures lurking behind them, and by the time we do we are already expecting them to terrify us.

We want to know the answers to these questions, and more specifically, the answer to this one – Will Thomas find a way out of the maze? (that’s the plot)

Anyway, I strongly suggest you go check out this movie. And bring along a beautiful date if you can, it will only make it more enjoyable.

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Storytelling Essentials: Rising Tension

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: RISING TENSION

The key ingredient to a powerful climax is the rising tension that precedes it. This is one of the more complex elements of storytelling, but the ability to implement it into scenes separates an amateur author from a professional. Let’s take a look at an example of a scene with rising tension.

* * *

Larry had ten minutes to get to Benji’s house. If he didn’t make it in time, Benji would slaughter his dog.

The entire thing was out of control. It all started with a small bet among friends. Larry never could have guessed their sick game would have spun this far out of control…

Larry ran faster as he approached the street corner. He wasn’t too far away, if he could just-

A street parade. Of all the days, the Fat Pride parade had to be today. Why, God, did they have to fill the sidewalks and proclaim their mutual fondness of morbid obesity on this day, of all days. Larry stopped. He didn’t have any options – how was he supposed to wiggle through these giant marshmallows?

The images flashed through his mind again – the blazing car, the confused car wash guy, and then his wife Leona. Leona at the swingers club. Leona with… them.

“Dammit!” screamed Larry, as he punched his thigh.

He didn’t have time to think about that now. His dog was next, unless he could get there in time. He checked his watch – seven minutes. He had to trek about a quarter mile in seven minutes.

Larry looked at the main roadway then gulped. The big boys and girls were marching through the street as they waved hoagies like they were batons. He looked down at his own gut and gave it a jiggle. Larry was qualified.

He tore open his button down flannel then ran into the roadway with the rest of the parade. More than a few onlookers seemed to notice he wasn’t in costume. But it wasn’t them he was worried about – it was the group of policemen pointing at him a little ways up. They were on their radios. They were still looking for him, and Larry knew it. Every step he took towards his house brought him closer to his own arrest. Still, he proceeded.

It should have ended that night – right at the bar, where it all began. The ‘quarter toss’, they had called it.

The game was simple. Larry was fifteen drinks in when he’d invented it. He took a quarter, then made a deal – if it landed on heads, Larry would buy the drinks. If it landed on tails, Benji would. Larry won that first toss, but incited a competitive nature in all of them that led up to this.  Everything from the purses of their wives to the trophies of their children had been wagered. Then the quarter game seemed boring – they needed a bigger fix.

And it all too quickly escalated into this game of exhausting challenges with huge payoffs and ridiculously high stakes. If Benji got to his house in time, he’d get the kind of prize that every man with blood in his veins and juice in his dick dreams about – but if he didn’t, he’d have to explain to his wife why their dog’s head would hereby be placed on the mantel piece above Benji’s fireplace.

“That’s him!” yelled one of the cops. The group scattered out, clubs drawn, and chased after him.

Benji took one last glance at his watch – two minutes left. He looked up. His house was six down. He had to book it, but he was no triathlon athlete.

The cops were having trouble squeezing through all the fatties behind him. Larry was having trouble breathing.

That’s when he noticed it – the segways! A bunch of the big boys were driving them at a furious pace. They weren’t like the segways mall cops used – these were the ferraris of the stand-up, two wheel vehicles.

“Get off or I’ll eat you!” Larry barked at one of them.

The man looked scared out of his mind, and with one more grunt Larry startled the man enough to jump away.

Larry took the ride, turned the handle, and zoomed along the street. He turned around and watched as the cops gradually came to slow, realizing the futility of their pursuit. He weaved with ease between parade floats and men in sumo-wrestler attire. He checked his watch – 30 seconds. Larry looked up and laughed. He was going to make it. He was going to win the bet. He was going to have Benji’s wife-

Larry turned onto his driveway. He felt his heart skip a beat when he saw it – the front gate. It was locked, and he didn’t have any key. It was about ten feet high, with sharp spikes at the top.

He checked his watch again – fifteen seconds.

That was it. Finished. No chance.

He’d never jumped anything over 4 feet in his life. Well he did in high school, but that was only because he was on the-

Wait. He had a chance. It was a long shot, but it existed.

Eight seconds.

Larry turned and looked. A round man held a towering wooden fork. Larry took it from him without hesitation then started charging at the gate.

“Hey!” came the yell from behind.

Three seconds.

Larry planted the pronged end of the fork into the cement, pushed off his feet, then rode the handle as the fork used his own momentum to propel him into the air. Larry flew like the Michelin man were he a superhero.

One second.

Larry passed right over the doormat. He smashed into the front door with both feet and blew it open. He landed inside Benji’s house, on top of his front door, as a cloud of wood chips and dust puffed up around him.

“Well well well,” said Benji, holding an axe in one hand. The dog’s head was already locked in the guillotine. “Looks like you made it after all.” He sighed, then set the weapon on a table.

“You know the deal,” said Larry. “Go tell your wife.”

A short while later, Larry sat on Benji’s couch watching the football game.

“Here you go, Larry.”

“Thanks Benji’s wife,” he said, as he took the sandwich from her then had a bite.

“So, I have to ask… Is this really your wildest fantasy?”

“Not till you put a beer in my hand it isn’t.”

* * *

Okay, that was a long one (And sorry if you hate Larry, but sometimes assholes are more fun to watch).

Let’s take a look at the various elements employed, and figure out why exactly you felt the urge to read on as you approached the scene’s climax.

1. Suspense. Right off the bat, we learned that Larry needed to get home in ten minutes in order to save his dog from being slaughtered. This raises questions in the readers mind. Why is Larry’s dog’s life at risk? Why does he have only ten minutes to save him? These types of questions will compel your readers to read on right from the get-go. People read stories to get answers – but in order for your answers to matter, you need to raise the right questions, first.

2. Conflict – there are three major elements that keep Larry from getting to Benji’s house free-and-easy. The first was the ‘fat pride’ parade, the second were the cluster of cops, and the third was the locked gate with spikes at the top.

So, what exactly caused the tension to rise?

It was the combination of these elements. The main thing that pressed you to read on was the ‘ticking clock’ mechanism. This is any deadline you give to your protagonist. Even as we are reading back story about the origin of the strange game Larry is playing, the ticking clock is in the back of your mind. You are always aware that Larry has ‘x’ amount of time to attain his objective, and the fact that this ‘x’ is dwindling every moment creates a sense of urgency in the otherwise leisurely hobby of reading.

Stakes played a large roll as well. Nobody wants Larry’s dog to be slaughtered, it’s innocent! The ticking clock wouldn’t have mattered if the dog’s life wasn’t at risk, however. Try to imagine how this scene would have read if there were no stakes –

Larry had ten minutes to get home or else Benji would be really mad at him.

I bet you’re thinking something along the lines of ‘Oh, poor Larry… Have a nice life softie, if you need me I’ll be dealing with real problems while you risk getting your feelings hurt.’

Now the other element was the pay-off. If Larry gets home in time, something really good happens to him. I wasn’t too clear as to what that would be, so there’s a touch of suspense there as well.

These three ingredients – stakes, objective, and conflict, will make a good story whenever mixed together. Learning how to weave them effectively enough to create ‘rising tension’ is a skill that can be honed, but it takes both awareness and practice, just like anything else.

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom