Master – 3.2

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Ch. 2

Ch. 3

“Oh… yeah, bring her in.”

“Loretta, come in now.” says Master.

I want to scratch my temple, but I’m having trouble lifting my arm. Loretta enters through the door. She sits in the sofa across from me.

“Babe, I didn’t know you came-”

Master interrupts. “It’s not just football, Phillip. It’s finances, it’s your inability to be a true ‘man of the house.’ Everyone thinks you’re a joke not because you never made it in football, but because you’re a loser in real life.”

“What kind of therapist-”

“I’m not your therapist, I’m your master.” He stops behind Loretta, and sets the canister of gasoline on her shoulder. “How many people will you kill to save your family?”

“What?”

Master unscrews the canister. “Loretta and Avery are mine. Are you, or are you not, willing to kill to see them alive again?”

I take several breaths through my nose. “Move that gasoline away from my wife.”

“Answer the question, Phillip.”

“I’m not a man of violence… get that god-damn gasoline away from her!” I try to stand – my legs won’t budge.

Master pours gasoline onto Loretta’s head. I can’t do anything but listen to the ‘glup glup glup’ as he drenches her dark hair.

“My bet is, you are. Our actions often contradict our words.”

“What are you-” I want to charge him, but my back is stuck to the sofa, my feet are glued to the ground.

“Light it,” says Master, then tosses the lighter to Loretta.

It lands in her lap. She stares up at him and blinks, then turns to face me. She looks like a sick puppy dog.

“Do something baby,” she says.

“What’s going on?” I scream. “What is this, where are we?”

“Obey your Master, Loretta.” Master pulls a handgun out from his pocket. “Light it.”

“Baby I’m scared,” says Loretta.

“Why can’t I move!”

“Light it!” Master says. He loads the gun.

“Help me Phillip!”

Master reaches his arm long, then presses the barrel into Loretta’s temple.

“Light it.”

Loretta and I meet eyes.

“Save me,” she says softly.

Master pulls the trigger. It clicks. No bullet comes out.

I wince my eyes closed, then return my view to my still-living wife and let out a breath. “Thank God,” I mutter.

Master opens the chamber, then seems disappointed to discover he’s out of bullets. He drops the gun on the ground, walks over to his desk, then opens the draw.

“What is going on here,” I say, calmly as possible. “Why can’t I move the rest of my body? When did you drug me?”

“Stop speaking.” He finds something in one of the draws of his desk that makes him smile– it’s a book of matches and a cigarette. He lights up.

“What are you doing?”

Master takes a seat, sniffs the cigarette, then frowns. “I need you to deliver a package for me.”

“You got it. Let us leave.”

Master grins at me. “Sounds lovely. I’m fond of that idea.”

“Great.”

He sighs. “Not practical though. Tell her you love her before you leave, you may never see her again.”

“What are you talking about?”

Master flicks the lit cigarette at Loretta.

“No!” I scream.

Flames engulf her from head to toe. Her skin melts like wax, her hair shrivels up like dry weeds. “Baby!” she says.

“I can’t move!”

The heat from the fire warms me. I smell my wife’s flesh burn away. My wife dies in agony before my eyes.

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  • Thomas M. Watt

Suspense vs. Conflict

SUSPENSE VS. CONFLICT

Writers often confuse suspense and conflict, or even worse, use the two terms interchangeably, as if they imply the same thing. They don’t. See if you can figure out the element that is employed in each of the two scenes below in order to test your own understanding.

Scene 1 –

George saw his favorite ball sitting on the grassy hill in the middle of the park. He raced over to get it, but before he came close, a dog ran by and scooped it up with its jaw. George chased after the dog, but soon tripped and fell flat on his face. He returned to his feet and broke into a sprint, chasing the dog into the picnic area. George hurdled over families, dodged joggers, and tumbled under frisbees. When he was finally close enough, George launched off his feet and tackled the dog to the ground. He let out a sigh of relief, before a shrill cry reminded George the dog wasn’t his. He stood up, ball in hand, and hurried to escape the mob of angry dog owners chasing after him.

Scene 2 –

She told him not to open the box. She warned him sternly that he was to never, ever, open the box. Still, George stared at it with his eyes fixated upon the single, unbolted latch that held it shut. All he had to do was flip it up and he could finally learn what was inside. So many years, so many sunny afternoons, so many times had he pondered what was inside that box. Never had he a chance to see before, but this day, this bright, beautiful day, George had a chance – his sister was at her friend’s house.

George gulped. It was go-time. There was no backing out of it now. He had already entered her room, and one loud noise would result in a week’s worth of chores, dictated by his mother. He crept closer on his hands and knees. Carefully, and as silently as possible, George flipped open the latch. He couldn’t help but scream after what he saw. His mom came running, and he knew an incredible punishment was in store for him. It didn’t matter – he was too angry to care. Inside the small box was a single note, written by his sister.

“Got ya.”

* * *

Figured it out? The first scene employs the use of conflict. The second suspense.

Conflict is anything that gets in the way of the protagonist and her objective. Suspense is information withheld.

In the first scene, George’s objective is to attain his favorite ball. The elements of conflict involved are the dog, the families picnicking, the frisbees, and George’s own clumsy feet. These are all elements of external conflict. Internal conflict is equally important, but we’ll save that for another day.

In the second scene, the elements of suspense are George’s sister’s refusal to tell him what is inside the box, the latch, and the prospect of his mother overhearing his sneaking around in his sister’s room.

Both suspense and conflict are extremely important elements of writing, and one would be wise to employ each element into every scene that they write.

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script analyst for specscout.com

– author of A New Kingdom