Starting a piece of fiction isn’t the same as just starting to write. You have to set a lot up – lay the foundations, to through out an effective metaphor. You can write and write and write until your fingers bleed but unless you have a plot to write about and a story to wrap around it then you probably won’t get very far – this is many people’s issue when they suffer from Blank Page Syndrome. They don’t know how to start, or continue, writing because they’re not really sure what they are actually trying to write!
I’m going to continue my story/adventure with our heroes of the Wild West – last time we saw them Hank, Saphi and Javier were looking to blow some demon-things to kingdom come. That segment began the story, or rather explained why the story was taking place. There wasn’t really much in the way of plot besides what I’ve written above, however. It is often assumed that ‘story’ and ‘plot’ are synonymous – this is a terrible mistake to make while writing. Plot without story is a step by step break down of things that happen which can brush over subtle events or character development, and makes plot twists either hard to hide or worryingly close to breaking a reader’s suspension of disbelief (Deus Ex Machima). Story without plot has no direction or purpose and will rarely be enough to keep someone reading for an entire novel.
So this segment is going to be introducing some serious plot. How can one do this without it being a blaring plot hook? Why, tie it in with the story! If the plot for a story is ‘slay the demon king’, then give the characters a reason to do that. Once they do, then it makes perfect sense for them to begin their journey. Kill their family, threaten their kingdom, make them the only suitable person for such a task and make sure their character has a reason to accept this duty – for example, an absolute coward isn’t going to seek vengeance for his family being killed by a Demon King, but he might go on said quest if he had been threatened with death were he not to. Or make your character a firm believer in a particular faith or creed and then have an authority figure issue a proclamation to provide plot.
How can one tell the difference between plot and story then? My simplest explanation is that plot is what happens whereas story is how it happens. Character development and relationships can influence and forward the plot, but they are intrinsic story elements. The death of a character can cause reaction and changes to character, but is nearly always a key element of the plot. If it’s not a key element of the plot, then that character probably didn’t have to die but if their survival inhibits the development of other, more important or central characters then they can be killed for story purposes. Similarly if you need a betrayal to occur in your plot make sure you have a character who has story-based reasons for doing so. We all understand that Loki is untrustworthy, and understand his character’s motives for betraying Thor; if Captain America betrayed his friends for the same reasons, we as viewers/readers would stumble on it because his previous behaviour doesn’t match up with the reasons for the betrayal. If you have to explain or justify as character’s actions at any point then you haven’t previously set up their character well enough to behave in the way you’re trying to excuse.
Now on to adding the plot!
Saphi and Javier were already at the bounty board when Hank left the saloon – for the last time, he thought grimly as he walked over to them. There was always a job on the board, usually a dozen; today was no different. Paper pleas for help and violence covered the wooden planks, none of which were asking for bandit heads or help with rustlers. Hank wasn’t the only one who wanted the hellspawned creatures gone.
“What we got?” he asked, setting his jaw and shouldering his shotgun.
“People wanting ranches watching, kids saving – mierda, if they’ve been taken then it’s too late for that,” Javier shook his head.
“No one looking to hit these things where it hurts though,” Saphi frowned at the board, “People just worried about them and theirs.”
“Can you blame them?” A new voice half-whispered from an alleyway. It was feminine with a faint hint of mocking in it.
“No. Folk is folk,” Hank said. Javier passed him some tobacco, which Hank took with a nod and began to chew like his hispanic friend. “Who are you?”
“People call me Lilith,” the woman said, walking into sight. She was thin and pale, untidy black hair falling below her shoulders. She wore a clinging dark purple robe or dress, it was hard to tell, made of some course material. Her grey eyes seemed slightly unfocused, as if some of her attention was elsewhere.
“Early to be trading, Señorita,” Javier spat.
“Don’t be rude, Javier. You don’t know that’s what she does,” Saphi said doubtfully, looking the other woman up and down.
“I wouldn’t offer it to you if that was what I did,” the other woman laughed, brushing her hair out of eyes.
“Good,” Javier grunted and resumed chewing.
“What do you want, Lilith?” Hank’s tone was suspicious, not sure if he should believe that was her real name.
“I heard you talking. Sounds like you’re looking for something a big…bigger that what people are asking. I can help you,” Lilith turned to Hank, notably ignoring Javier’s comment.
“The creatures come out of portals in the mines, where…where it’s easier for them to come through. I know someone with a means to close these portals.”
“Uh huh. Why don’t he do it then?” Hank asked. By now everyone else had scattered, leaving the three friends alone with Lilith. Suspicious and hateful looks had been thrown behind those leaving; it appeared she didn’t have many friendly faces to be asking favours of.
“He’s old, and scared. He’s looking for people with the means to do what he can’t – and I want to help,” Lilith smiled broadly, but it held no warmth – it was closer to a copy of a smile than a natural one.
“So you got a job you can’t do by yourself and you want our help. That it?” Hank asked skeptically.
“Yes,” Lilith smiled that same, empty smile at him again. “He also won’t tell me anything about it.”
“Why not?” Safi cocked an eyebrow.
“We have…different theological views.”
“Puta bruja,” Javier spat.
“Uh huh. And how much is it paying?” Hank ignored his friend.
“Fifty dollars. Each,” Lilith waited for the group to respond. They shared a look; fifty dollars was a lot.
“Where’s this preacher?” Hank asked.
I’ve not written about the interaction with the quest giver. It’s boring and unnecessary – the details can be filled in as shown below so the story and plot flow seamlessly without introducing an unimportant character.
Hank walked out of the church with a grim look on his face, a black man carrying a shovel behind him. The other three were waiting around the corner, out of sight of the only church in Setto’s Mill. They eyed the newcomer warily as Safi greeted Hank.
“So what’s the story?”
“Lilith weren’t lying – the preacher says he’s got a way to shut the mines those creatures are using to get here. He says others have done it before but…” Hank trailed off, doubt scrawled across his features.
“How about we take a few barrels of powder? Bringing down that mountain should keep those demonios out,” Javier offered.
“Yeah, that’s about what I was thinking,” Hank nodded.
“Who’s he?” Safi nodded to black man. He doffed his cap and grinned broadly, his bright teeth in stark contrast to his dark skin.
“My name is John, lady – but I ain’t a crow! No, just John right here. Pleased to be meeting you,” he said cheerily.
“Preacher says he knows his way to the mine – he was the only one to come back from the last lot who tried,” Hank explained without looking at John.
“Not suspicious at all,” Lilith observed with a sniff.
“Exactly my thoughts,” Hank reluctantly agreed. John opened his mouth to argue but Javier cut him off.
“Nah, amigo, he’s just the best one there was there – that’s why he got left. Or the luckiest. If he’d robbed them he would have run for it,” the Mexican shrugged and stroked his beard, “That’s what I woulda done.”
“Javier’s got a point,” Safi said.
“Why thanking you, brother,” John smiled. “Ain’t often you find trust for folk like me all the way out here.”
“Javier doesn’t trust you, John,” Hank’s voice was low with warning. “He’s just excusing what he done before. You can come along, ‘cos we need you, but if you try to pull one over on us you’ll be deader than Javier’s parents.”
“And they got eaten alive my fire ants, amigo,” Javier grinned wickedly. “Not a pretty sight for a seven year old.”
“I don’t wanna lie to you folk, or rob y’all,” John frowned. “I just want to find work that isn’t cotton farming. That ain’t for me.”
“These things ain’t cotton, and you won’t be farming – rest assured of that,” Hank nodded. “You said you knew someone else that’d come along with us?”
“A gun for hire – by the name of Deadshot Jude. You may have heard of him,” Lilith brushed her hair behind her ear. “He’s very good.Wants to be the best, and prove it by killing the biggest demon he can.”
“God damned showoff son of a bitch,” Hank snorted. “He ain’t going to stick around when the going gets tough. Can’t depend on a man who’s trying to be the greatest gunslinger this side of the Rockies.”
“Surely he’ll stick around to prove it?”
“No good having that kind of fame if you ain’t about to use it.”
“The work of every great artist is more appreciated after death.”
“Heard of Danny the Gun? The Red Knives of Cactus Valley? The King of Glory’s Anthem?” Safi asked.
“I’ve heard those names, but not recently. Why?” Lilith replied.
“Hank and Javier killed them. Give it three months and people will be talking about someone else instead. Dead people don’t stay famous for long.” Safi stared flatly at Lilith.
“We’ll just see how long Jude sticks about,” Hank shook his head. “We need all the help we can get I guess.”
“Worst case scenario we leave him for the demonios, si?” Javier laugh in his low, suspicious way. “Might let us get out alive, you know?”
“That it might,” Hank agreed. “Where is he meeting us?”
“I’ll find him and meet you at the road out of town – which way are we heading?” Lilith asked.
“South,” Hank said, “Nearest mine is two day’s journey on a good horse South of here.”
“Nearest mine? How many of them are there, hombre?” Javier looked up sharply.
“Twenty,” Hank turned away and began walking towards the general store. “Not including Brimstone.”
Everyday was hot in the West, especially at high noon, but despite the sun beating down on them relentlessly a cold shiver ran through the group. Just hearing that name made brave folk fear for what might be lurking in the dark.
So now the group have a purpose – and I’ve finally brought all the characters together. They had a reason before, something that made them want to follow this purpose but I’ve set it up as being more than just a personal crusade now, or implying that their personal objective ties into a greater need, fighting a greater threat. It also shows that not all the characters are as close or have as interlinked a history as Safi, Hank and Javier which is important for group dynamics later on.
Two thousand words in and no one has fired a gun. However, I hope that there’s been enough casual references to violence and ‘action’ that the reader realises that none of the characters are against the idea or have a problem with it. I’m also avoiding that for now as Shadows of Brimstone, the game I’m basing this story off of, is a serious slug-fest when the action does begin. I don’t want this to be a story of needlessly long violent sequences or a blow by blow account of how everything dies or attacks each other. As such, I’ll even be editing out some of the fights we had in the mines – it just doesn’t make good reading or good writing:
They shot and swung desperately as they things swarmed around them. Flailing tails, swiping claws and other terrible appendages groped and stabbed and swung towards each of them as they clung to what little safety they good find. Some of the attacking creatures fell but yet more came on in a rush of otherworldly horror. Rinse and repeat this paragraph three times, add some screams of horror or pain, and then the dust settles.
The party move into the next chamber, lit by bio-luminescent growths on the walls. Repeat the above paragraph four times as there are slightly more enemies.
Yes, it’s a hyperbolic example but not inaccurate. On average it takes us three combat rounds to clear a small encounter, and we have three to four small encounters per mind. This is followed by a larger one, sometimes through an Otherworld portal, but it’s much the same action. So I’m going to adapt how the action sequences roll in the story. More on that next time though – thanks for reading and keep on the look out for more!