The quest of your protagonist will matter more to your readers when the repercussions of failing at that goal will have known devastating internal or external consequences.
In the following scene, James puts Penny on such a high pedestal that his initial encounter with her will have a drastic effect on his psychological well-being. All of this build-up is being done to create greater tension and conflict later on, which you will see in the second half of the chapter when it is posted tomorrow.
Every piece of dialogue or description that is designed to increase the stakes (the importance of James’ 1st conversation with Penny) is in bold typeface. The following is an excerpt from my novel “A New Kingdom.”
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TSSH TSSH TST. The clamor from pots and pans being whacked together rang throughout the room. James slowly wiggled out from his bed and peeled his crusty eyes open. The clashing metal meant that it was time to wake up and get some breakfast, at least for James’ group.
It’d been nearly ten months since the invasion. Life in the underground military base consisted of the same monotonous routine, day-after-day. But group breakfast was the moment James most looked forward to – that was because Penny’s group always followed his.
Penny was the name of the blonde girl who always wore the yellow rubber boots. He still hadn’t ever spoken to her, but a couple times she’d caught him staring at her. This day, though, James planned to ignore her completely. That way he could tell if she liked him back. If she did, he’d catch her staring at him. It was a foolproof plan.
James and his group made their way into the long hallway. Juan put the pots and pans down. James wished him a ‘buenos tardes’ and received a smile back.
“I hate this friggen hall,” Roy muttered. He never woke up in a good mood.
“Morning Roy,” Janie said, as she past him.
“Morning,” said Roy. When she was far enough away, he whispered to James, “What a smoke-show.”
“Good morning guys!” Said Bill, who was walking right behind them.
“Morning Bill! Uhh, Great day, huh?” Called back Roy.
“Sure is.” Said Bill with a chipper voice, before letting out the standard giggle that came at the end of his every sentence. He skip-jogged to catch up with his wife.
Janie, who was second chair in the Underground Council, led James and the gang through the plant room and into the food area. Roy refused to refer to it by that name, and insisted on calling it the, ‘Homeless Buffet.’ He called it that because the ‘Food area’ was no more than an aluminum trashcan. It was filled twice daily with palm-sized portions that were determined by the council. Conservation was a fundamental rule for survival, Fitz had declared. Even those who were whittling down to skin and bone, and spent their days with arms over their bellies, were not permitted to eat more than their allotted share.
Janie handed out a packet of instant oatmeal to each of the bedmates, as well as canned pineapples for them to share. On the clipboard hanging from the trashcan, she wrote down exactly what foods they ate and the size of their portions. To avoid mistakes, each person had to sign off. This process was required by every group, for every meal.
James waited anxiously for Roy to sign. Penny and her group would be coming down the hallway any minute.
“Canned pineapples again, huh? You really ought’a talk to Fitz about changing it up a little,” Roy said to Janie.
“I would, but every man I talk to around here looks at me like they want to bend me over and-”
Roy popped the can open and spilled juice onto his chest and stomach. He hurried over to the sink to let the excess liquid drain out.
“Are you alright, Roy?”
“Uh, yeah… How do men look at you?”
James poked his head outside. Penny’s group was coming down the hallway. He didn’t want her to spot him sitting by himself, though. Then she’d think he was a loser.
“Like they want to bend me over to their perspective on things.”
“C’mon Roy, sign the sheet,” said James.
“What’s your hurry, kid? Got a date?”
“What? No. Why?”
Roy laughed as he dried his shirt off. “All right, all right.” He signed the sheet and walked along with James out into the hallway. They reached their typical spot and sat down. Roy and James always played Go Fish during breakfast.
“Hurry Roy, deal them out,” said James.
“Geeze, hold your horses, I will!”
James wanted to look like he was busy when Penny walked by, so that she wouldn’t know that he was ignoring her on purpose.
After Roy dealt the cards, he spotted Penny and her group coming up the hallway. Roy looked back at James with a troublesome grin.
“What?” whispered James.
Roy shook his head and continued to smirk.
James adjusted his sitting position to be more upright, and when he spoke he did so with a manlier voice than normal. She might have been close enough to hear. “C’mon, let’s play.”
“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 absolutely certain he was about to do.
To be continued…
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Hope this helps!
– Thomas M. Watt
Author of “A New Kingdom”