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Hello, writers. Happy Harry Potter's birthday!

So last week we talked a little bit about raising stakes. I thought I'd done a diary on it recently, but a search shows I haven't, not in several years. My understanding of the concept is changing, so I'd like to take another look at it.

The stakes are what will happen to your protagonist-- and to the people and things your protagonist values-- if s/he fails in his/her mission. They're the reason your protagonist can't just walk away. (If your protagonist can just walk away, that's a plothole.)

For the most part, in today's fiction and narrative non-fiction, the stakes should be high and they should get higher.

As I've said before, The Hunger Games is a study in stakes-raising. The protagonist, Katniss, starts out making sacrifices to protect her sister. As the story progresses, everyone is in danger, and as Katniss comes to know and care about more people, the stakes are raised because she has more people to lose. The story is flawed in that Katniss for the most part fails to protag-- except at rare moments, she merely reacts to circumstances, and fails to actually resist the corrupt government. The success of the books makes it clear that that flaw doesn't matter as much as the expert stakes-raising.

Stakes aren't just death or the end of the world, though. I'm slowly learning this. Last month I had lunch with my agent in New York, a charming ritual of the publishing world for which Emmet says I should have worn a hat.

We talked about our current, post-Jinx project, and then, for some reason, I started telling her about another fantasy I was working on, one about a boy in DC, that is still just notes and an idea. I watched her face as I told her the plot. She was smiling, which was encouraging. Just at the point that I thought of as the zenith of my stakes-raising, her smile became rather fixed.

“It seemed like you lost interest right at the part where he discovers the evil senator's plot to start a war,” I said.

“Yes. That's where it stopped being about his family and started being just politics.”

“But he has to prevent a war--” I protested.

“But the thing with his mother was more interesting.”

Whoa. Major revelation.

Stakes aren't just death and saving the world. Stakes are personal, and they're personal because of our emotional connection to the protagonist and the other characters.
Since it's his birthday, let's look at Harry Potter. *Spoiler alert*

In the first chapter of book 1, we don't even meet Harry. We just see hints of a magical world, humorously presented even though, as we learn later, there's just been a tragic murder. It was smart of JKR not to lead with the tragic murder. It's not tragic to us, after all. We don't know the victims. We're playing along because the world sounds amusing, and the Dursleys sound insufferable. We love to hate 'em.

Then we meet Harry. Stakes raised. A child is at the mercy of these dreadful people. His life may not be in danger, but his well-being is, and we're hardwired to react to that. We connect to Harry because he's a child in danger. Later, as we meet other characters, we connect to them. We now care if something bad happens to them. And as the series progresses, more and more bad things happen to the characters we care about the most. I'm willing to bet that the offstage deaths *spoiler alert* of Lupin and Tonks in book 7 caused more emotional distress than the very onstage death of Cedric Diggory in book 4. We had more invested in Lupin and Tonks.

The key to stakes-raising is that we have to care about the person or thing that's threatened.
So it's a two-step process. First, there has to be a reason for us to care about the protagonist or the other characters involved. Then, the stakes have to be large to the character.

(Harry's parents' deaths never seem as emotionally wrenching as the author intends them to be, because not only did we never get to know these people... neither did Harry.)

What about genres that don't generally trade in life-and-death, like romance?

Personally, I've never been able to make it all the way through a contemporary romance novel. I just find them a bit boring. In a romance, the stakes are usually will-she-get-the-guy-or-won't-she, and we strongly suspect she will. To me, this works as a subplot but isn't enough to carry a plot.

However, I sometimes enjoy Regency romances. It's still will-she-get-the-guy-or-won't-she. But in a time and place when even upper-class women had few rights and little usable education, the stakes are higher. The protagonist may face a miserable existence if she doesn't get the guy.

So. Stakes = someone we care about + a threat to something they care about. Does not have to be life or death. Does not have to be the end of the world. Does have to be hugely important to the character.

By the way, stakes-raising isn't essential to all fiction. A highly successful example of low-stakes fiction that comes to mind is pretty much anything by Alexander McCall Smith, but most particularly his Botswana books. There is a place for this sort of thing. But in general, in most genres, you need to raise the stakes to keep the reader turning pages.

Tonight's challenge:

Rewrite the scene below so as to raise the stakes.
The bar-room at the Startled Duck smelled of beer, stale cheese, and worse things. The Callow Youth made his [or her] way gingerly across the sawdust-covered floor, thinking s/he would clean his/her boots later.

The innkeeper looked up from the dirty tankard he was polishing with a dirty rag. “Help ya?”

“I'm looking for a woman,” said the Callow Youth.

“Wish ya all kinds of luck with that,” said the innkeeper, and went back to his polishing.

“A specific woman,” said the CY. “She was supposed to meet me here. She's about six feet tall, and she has spiked blue hair and a strong southern Togwogmagog accent.”

“Haven't seen her,” said the innkeeper. “Sorry.”

“Okay. That's cool. Thanks,” said the CY, and managed to make his/her way out without getting his/her pocket picked.

(When I say rewrite, I mean, as usual, “change as much as you want”.)
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Comment Preferences

  •  As Blaise Pascal said, sorry to write such a long (25+ / 0-)

    post; I didn't have time to write a short one.

    (He very confusingly said it in French, however, so the quote is usually attributed to Mark Twain, who had the sense to speak American.)

    The only other writing I've done so far today is to my Congresscritter to give him what-for for wasting time with this silly lawsuit thing. Oh dear. To work.

    -9.0, -8.3 "Remember, a writer writes. Always." --Throw Momma from the Train

    by SensibleShoes on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 09:01:11 AM PDT

  •  Okay, I'll bite. (19+ / 0-)

    The bar-room at the Startled Duck smelled of sawdust stuck together with stale beer, and with worse things.  Jeremy gulped a deep breath, ignoring its flavor, and leaned over the bar.

    The innkeeper glanced up from the tarnished tankard he was rubbing with a dirty rag.  "You old enough to be in here?"

    Jeremy didn't have time for the answer to that question, or for the conversation it would lead to.  "I'm looking for a woman," he blurted out.

    "Are you, then?" The innkeeper spat on the side of the tankard and rubbed harder.  "Wish ya luck with that."

    "A woman who works here."  Jeremy swallowed.  "Delilah, her name is.  About six foot tall, blue spiked hair, and she --"

    "Whoa, son," the innkeeper broke in.  "No such creature tending my bar.  I'd remember hiring one like that, y'see."

    "But she said --" Jeremy's voice was wavering; he swallowed hard.  "She told me to meet her here.  She's my shares a room with my sister, and she said she knows where Jenna -- I've been waiting outside, but she never --"

    "No, she never."  The innkeeper banged the tankard down on the bar.  "Never worked here.  Never drank here.  And you shouldn't never have come in here, laddie, not til you're old enough to stomach something more'n milk.  Scoot, now.  Outta here."

    "But what -- how can I -- ?"  Jeremy started to shake.

    "Through the door, laddie, that's how.  And this minute, not the next one.  Scoot!"

    Fouled sawdust slid under Jeremy's shoes as he stumbled toward the door.  Delilah had fooled him -- again, again.  Where the hell, where the hell had Jenna got to?

    OD'd on pie in 2010 and took a long break, but I couldn't quit the Orange for good. Hey, all -- nice to see you.

    by Lize in San Francisco on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 05:37:59 PM PDT

  •  Something like... (19+ / 0-)
    The bar-room at the Startled Duck smelled of beer, stale cheese, and and things it was just as well not to think about. Clarse picked his way across the sawdust-covered debris field, and resolutely did not think about what was happening to his boots or what he would have to do to salvage them later.

    The innkeeper looked up from the dirty tankard he was polishing with a dirty rag. “Help ya?”

    “I'm looking for a woman,” said Clarse.

    “Wish ya all kinds of luck with that,” said the innkeeper, and went back to his polishing.

    “A specific woman,” said Clarse, mentally crossing his fingers. “She was supposed to meet me here. She's about six feet tall, has spiked blue hair and a strong southern Togwogmagog accent.”

    “Haven't seen her,” said the innkeeper, casually flicking his glance towards a table in the corner for a moment. “Sorry.”

    “Okay. That's cool. Thanks,” said Clarse, and managed to make his way towards the door without getting his pocket picked. It was a real accomplishment because his mind was suddenly on other things.

    "That wasn't the proper response to the code phrase. Something is very wrong here" he thought to himself. An unwelcome itching began to manifest between his shoulder blades, the kind he did NOT want scratched by a blade in the night. Behind him, he sensed movement coming from that corner…

    He ducked out the door into the street. It was about to begin.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 05:55:25 PM PDT

  •  mine (19+ / 0-)
    The bar-room at the Startled Duck smelled of beer, stale cheese, and worse things.  Jasper made his way gingerly across the sawdust-covered floor, thinking he would clean his boots later.  He looked around the walls fearing to see someone hanging by their thumbs for not paying their bill.  The Startled Duck had a reputation.

    The innkeeper looked up from the dirty tankard he was polishing with a dirty rag. “Help ya?”

    Does he recognize me from last time?  

    “I'm looking for a woman.”  

    “Wish ya all kinds of luck with that,” said the innkeeper, and went back to his polishing.

    “A specific woman. She was supposed to meet me here. She's about six feet tall, and she has spiked blue hair and a strong southern Togwogmagog accent.” And she's a troll, but he will know that if he has seen Dulcinea.

    “Haven't seen her,” said the innkeeper. “Sorry.”  But his eyes shifted to the left toward a door behind the bar and Jasper knew the innkeeper was lying.  

    Jasper closed his eyes and uttered a little prayer to the goddess of fools such as he, mustered his courage for the sake of Hitch who was in love and could not bear to lose this woman, and leaped over the bar.

    He didn't take time to see if the door was locked.  He crashed into it with his shoulder.  Time was of the essence.  Seconds could count if the pirates knew he was coming and slit her throat.

    There was a scramble in the room as he entered behind the unhinged door.  Three hooded characters plunged out the window opposite the door.  

    In the corner tied to a chair was the elegant Dulcinea.  Jasper cut her free and then took the gag from her mouth.  "Hurry!" he said.  "Hitch is holding off the dragon while we run for the river."

    Both of them plunged out of the window since the innkeeper was coming through the door with a marlinspike in his hand instead of a dishcloth.

    As they ran, Dulcinea sobbed.  "I am so embarrassed.  I had no clue they were rotters.  I thought I could buy the map and leave safely despite what Hitch said."

    "No problem.  No need to be embarrassed.  Such things have happened to me, too."

    "But you were never captured by dwarves!" she said.  "I can't face Hitch and tell him how small they were."

    "Best hope that you can tell Hitch anything at all," Jasper said.  "He is going to have to be really clever to escape Malford and meet us as he promised."

    Jasper looked back before he dove into the river and all he could see was trees writhing in smoke behind the inn.

    "You go ahead," he said to Dulcinea.  "I am going back."

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 05:57:02 PM PDT

  •  Hey, those are good points. (14+ / 0-)

    It's a million degrees here and I'm having trouble forming concrete thoughts.

    Greenish gas and orange smoke mingled in a noxious assaultive aerial cocktail.  Persimma could hardly make out the mead taps as she slammed her hand onto the bar hard enough to be heard above the roar of the Happy Hour melee. No bartender. She grabbed a nearby combatant and slammed his helmeted head into the bar with gratifying rhythmic thuds.
    “BARKEEP” she yelled. Bunny Nesbit jumped up and tattooed the bar with martial thumping.
    “Show yourself, you sniveling little mouse!” Bunny Nesbit added.
    “Yeah, yeah.” The bartender appeared through the haze over the smoked slug chips.  “Dinnya ever hear of a break? Kingdom-mandated.”
    “Have you seen her?”
    The barkeep looked conscious, which for him was a stretch. “Who?”
    Persimma had him by the slippery throat, her face an inch from his.  “You know who. Serendipita of the Swamps. She was here last night.  She never left. Godsdammit, tell me where she is!”
    “I don’t know who—”
    Bunny Nesbit’s teeth met in the back of his fat neck.  The very back, we’re not talking lethal here, but the bartender had a sunburn already. He screamed. The bar seemed to scream with him as the melee reached fever pitch.
    “Tell me!” Persimma hissed. Spit went everywhere on the bartender’s face. “She’s my sister!”
  •  I've been called out on an emergency... (15+ / 0-) here's as far as I got.

    The bar-room at the Ruptured Duck stank of stale beer, stale cheese, unwashed bodies, and a moldy casserole of food scents foul enough to turn the stomach of a starving hyena. The floor was covered in an unusually deep layer of sawdust, and the greater part of it, about two-thirds, was innocent of either patrons or furniture, both of which huddled at the end of the room around a long, polished bar that appeared to be the only clean and well-lit object in the room. It looked a bit like a bowling alley in which the proprietor had had the misfortune to have all of his equipment repossessed by the manufacturer.

    The Callow Youth stepped cautiously through the door onto the sawdust surface. Inspired by his invincible clumsiness, he tripped over the sill and stumbled in a good deal to the left of his intended path.

    “You missed me, damn!” howled a voice from the direction of the bar. Calvin looked up suddenly, wondering whether he had been accused of being careless with a rifle or with an appointment. He found himself momentarily wishing it had been the former, and that he had had time for a second shot. It wouldn't have made the situation any worse, he thought grimly.

    The voice came from a tall, lanky man of indeterminate age who appeared to be wearing not one but two eye-patches, as if he hadn't been able this morning to decide which side of the world to boycott for the day. “That took me twenty minutes and I was damn embarrassed 'fore it was over, but I thought it was worth it, and then you have to go fall over your two potato feet!”

    Calvin gulped. They'd told him that the crowd here was “odd, to put it mildly, but harmless.” With every second that passed, he doubted the second descriptor a little more. He turned to close the door behind him, only to find himself anticipated by a cadaverous figure who slammed it shut, then turned the lock and removed the key. He glared at Calvin and said, in a grim whisper,

    “I'm Doors. Name is Doors, duties are doors. I shut them. And I open them. Don't forget that.” He held the key up with a glint of triumph in his watery eyes. Calvin half-expected him to swallow it, but instead he inserted it into his pocket, after which he remained standing and staring like a waxwork figurine.

    This is the landscape that we understand, -
    And till the principle of things takes root,
    How shall examples move us from our calm?

    (Mary Oliver, "Beyond the Snow Belt.")

    by sagesource on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 06:12:52 PM PDT

  •  Garden variety stakes just aren't enough (14+ / 0-)

    when the slugs are the size of a moose.

        Posh. Expensive. Exclusive. A soft tinkle of music cascading across the dangling chandeliers over every table. He was tracking mud across the white carpet, earning stares from the few early diners. He didn’t belong here.
        "May I help you?" inquired the bartender, quickly, discreetly appearing at his elbow. He betrayed his calm demeanor with a nervous twitch of his tail. A Sandian, Jake winced. Bartender and bouncer in one.
        "I’m looking for a woman," Jake said softly. He was going to get 'escorted’, discreetly, of course. Maybe if he caused a scene-
        "How lucky of you," the bartender sneered, quickly waving a hand. Several waitresses appeared, each seeming to take care of a task that caused them to brush by. Jake opened his mouth and failed to get anything out. Embarrassment warred with an emotional surge. The young women projected feelings of hopelessness, stuck in their plight of servitude, of competing with each other-
        Jake closed his eyes, forcing back his 'gift' before it could unleash itself again. Saving them? He had to save himself. He had to find her.
        "No. Not that," he hissed through gritted teeth.
        The bartender’s tail quirked up as he waved the women away.
        "Tall," Jake stared at the bartender, willing him to listen, "Blue-"
        How the bartender managed it, he wasn’t sure, but he was pulled close, the claw like fingers digging into his sternum.
        "Get out of my head. Get trained. You’re looking for a Tiban-  down the waterways," the bartender hissed into his ear.
        I’m sorry- I- Jake hurried away.

    True wealth is a measure of what one gives.

    by WiseFerret on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 07:00:00 PM PDT

  •  I hope this works. (13+ / 0-)
    The Vape-bar smelled of strawberries, bananas, and Vanilla-Shot Chocolatte; whatever the hell that is. Anyway, it was better than the car exaust outside.

    The guy (Vapista?) mixing e-juice looked up from his scales and said "Need some help?"

    “I'm looking for a woman.”

    He looked me up and down. "So am I" He said with a grin.

    Bartenders...sheesh, they're all the same. This might work.

    Lots of women come in here, I'll need more than that.

    "Uh, Brown hair, skinny, my height, supposed to meet me here, her name's Julie." I throw out off the top of my head. "She's been vaping for a while and is going to show me how she got off cigarettes."

    "Well, I don't know any Julie, but I can show you the ins and outs of Vaping..." He let it drift off into a question.

    "Could you? I'd really appreciate it."

    He did. When I left with my Vape pen and juice, I left two things behind. A half a pack of Winstons and my phone number. My cell phone rang as I turned the first corner.

    Never tried this before. It was fun.

    Jobs, shelter, food. It's all they ever bleat about - Master of Laketown.

    by Caddis Fly on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 07:02:59 PM PDT

  •  I'll have a go (12+ / 0-)

    First it was the sound of feet. Some were booted, some were delicate hoofs sporting jeweled ankle rings, they were everywhere and their sounds and smells woke Ceedub making her scrunch back into the corner behind the curtain. Drat! she had slept all day and the bar had opened.

    Ceedub peered out into the haze of smoke and dust and tried to focus. The air was thick, like a solid or maybe more like a liquid with individual dust moats swimming back and forth in front of her. The adrenaline buzz had begun to fade from her body and she found herself making patterns out of the swimming dust.

    With little warning one of the little air fishes drew a bead on her and headed straight her way. The moat grew bigger and more filled out, it had on a black tunic, leggings and boots with long black hair to match tied back in a waist length braid. "Jonna! I can't believe you found me!" Ceedub's whisper was enough to blow the small man into a back flip and it took awhile for him to right himself.

    Ceedub put out her hand and Jonna settled down on it in a cross legged pose. "Jonna, I have to find Silvie and soon. If she comes down here she's done for, the King has everyone out hunting her. I came here hoping that maybe you'd warn her. Tell her that I know where she can hide but no one must know that I'm here."

    Jonna put a tiny finger next to his nose and nodded. He leaped off her hand and zigged to the bar. Ceedub stood on her tip toes trying to see over all the heads to where he had gone. Just as she caught sight of of Sylvie's blue spikes she realized she was not alone behind those filthy curtains. An arm wrapped around her chest and another went over her mouth. Then the doors blew open and the King's hunter strode in.

    Some humans ain't human some people ain't kind. They lie through their teeth with their head up their behind. You open up their hearts and here's what you'll find - Some humans ain't human some people ain't kind. John Prine

    by high uintas on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 07:07:31 PM PDT

  •  I kept thinking that today (9+ / 0-)

    was Sunday. But I also thought last Tuesday was Sunday. Or something. Clearly, I need to consult my calendar more.

    So here I am, late to the party. Most of the booze is gone, and there's no food left; even the salted nuts are down to just a few tags ends of filberts.

    Ah, well.

    Callie looked into the bar-room, wrinkled his nose at the stink. Gawd. Beer and stale cheese, at a guess, and probably more things less mentionable. There was an ominous stain on the sawdust-covered floor.

    He sidled up to the bar, hitched onto the stool that had the least-cracked top, and waited for the bartender to notice him.

    “Help ya?” A walrus mustache, some missing teeth, and an angry scar down the left cheek. Hands the size of baseball gloves busily scrubbing a filthy-looking towel around the inside of a tankard.

    Callie considered the ramifications, decided that notification to the health department could wait until later.

    “Um, yeah. I’m looking for a woman.”

    A snort. “So are we all, my friend, but many of us search while few find.”

    “Not just any woman,” Callie snapped. Really. “She planned to meet me here. She’s close to six feet, with spiky blue hair, and if you heard her speak, you’d recognize her Togwogmagog accent.”

    “Yeah?” The barkeep sounded interested. “A southern Togwogmagog accent? Or a northern one?”  He looked thoughtful.

    “A southern one. Strong.”

    “Sorry. Haven’t seen her.” He polished some more. By now the man should have been able to see his reflection in the tankard, Callie thought. He could, however, he realized, see reflected a rather scruffy-looking character stealing up from his left.

    And not a double reflection, either, because that was another scruffy-looking character on his right.  

    “Somethin’ else I can do for ya?” Polish, polish. “Wish ya luck with your meeting.”

    “Thanks,” Callie said. He swiveled around on the stool, elbows on the bar behind him. One scruffy character suddenly developed an intense interest in his shoes, the other in the chair and table next to him.

    “Okay. That's cool.” Callie opened his hand over the bar, dropped the twenty he’d palmed earlier. The bartender abruptly finished his polishing, and the bill disappeared.

    “Ya know,“ the man said, blowing aside the huge mustache, “I might just have seen the lady in question, after all.”

    Great Questions of Western Philosophy: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 08:13:42 PM PDT

  •  I'll give it a try (7+ / 0-)
    James stumbled into the bar-room, blood dripping from his wounded arm and thigh. The bar stank of stale beer, burnt roasts and old arguments. James made his way across the sticky sawdust-covered floor to the barkeep. It was only mid-afternoon, so there were only a couple of drinkers in the great room. No one bothered to look up at the newcomer.
    The barkeep fixated on the dirty tankard he was polishing with a dirty rag. He ignored James.
    “Monsieur,” James rasped out, his voice tired and wane, “C'est le Canard Surpris?”
    The barkeep stared at him for a moment, as if judging him before venturing an answer. “Yes,” the barkeep said in French-accented English. “This is the Startled Duck. Who are you?”
    “I'm looking for a woman,” said James, panting. His wounds and the loss of blood was catching up to him.
    “What woman,” said the barkeep, and went back to his polishing.
    “A tall woman in a red gown and a blue cape,” said James. “She was supposed to meet me here. She told me to meet her at the Canard Surpris in Castine.”
    “Haven't seen her,” said the barkeep. “Sorry.”
    No, Elisabeth must be here, James thought. He had to think. What was it she had told him to say. Something else in French. James fought to clear his head and remember the phrase.
    “Reste dans la paix.” Pass in peace.
    The barkeep stared at him again. James wasn’t sure if his words had even been intelligible. The man put down the dirty tankard and rag and came around the bar.  He took James’ arm and led his over to a corridor near the massive fireplace. A door opened and James was pushed over the threshold into what looked, at first, like a plain pantry closet.
    The air shimmered around him. The closet doorway opened into another tavern, a much nicer one than the one James had just left. “Elisabeth,” he blurted out, just before his blood loss and injuries finally collapsed him. "Elisabeth, help." Then he said no more.
    Happy Harry Potter B-Day!
  •  Work In Progress (7+ / 0-)

    I won't be participating in tonight's exercise, because I'm working second shift tonight and I'll have to get up early tomorrow.  I'm writing this in advance, partially to plug my Dark Redemption story, but also because working on this week's chapter had me wrestling with something that might be of interest to this group.

    I have a situation where Cassandra is interested in Strephon, and he seems to be interested in her but keeps holding her at arm's length.  And she's starting to get annoyed by his evasiveness and his late-Victorian habits.  In last week's installment, she discovered Strephon's Big Secret; but she also discovered that her best friend, Cecily, has fallen victim to a vampire.

    Now, originally my idea was that the Cecily/Vampire subplot would be a way to Raise The Stakes, as Sensho likes to say, and also to bring Cassandra and Strephon back together, as she will ask him to help rescuing Cecily.  (And also to expose Strephon's rival, Saul, as a jerk because he would be of no help whatsoever).

    But the more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea of Cassandra going to Strephon for help.  Wouldn't she try to handle things on her own?  I had an idea of a confrontation between Cassandra and the Boss Vampire in town, Kuriyama;  Miss Kuriyama would say that what happens between her minion and Cassandra's friend is their own business and nobody elses; Cassandra, completely out of her depth but determined to save her friend would threaten to make it her business and... not sure  what.  But it would be a nice, dramatic scene and I still might use it.

    But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that before Cassandra does anything, she needs to talk to Cecily about it.  Because if you look at it one way, (the way Kuriyama would, certainly), what I'm wanting Cassandra to do is stake her best friend's boyfriend because she disapproves of him.  Which even a Victorian like Strephon would agree is rather presumptuous, and borderline rude.

    I didn't want this to become an angry confrontation with accusations and name-calling on both sides.  Maybe that would be the best way to raise the stakes further and establish that Cecily's boy-fiend really does need to be staked for her own good; but it's not the scene I wanted to write.  I wanted there to be some reason in the conversation; and I wanted to let the reader see it from Cecily's point of view.

    Normally, I only post teasers for my Dark Redemption chapters; this time I'm posting the whole thing.  This is how I handled the scene:

    Cecily did not roll into the flat, giddy and exhausted, until the far side of 3:00 am.  She did not expect to see Cassandra sitting on the couch waiting for her.

    “You shouldn’t have waited up,” Cecily said.

    “I know.”  Cassandra’s reply was dangerously quiet.  Cecily realized that they were about to have that conversation which begins “Cecily, we have to talk.”  She had been dreading that conversation for days, and especially did not want to have it now; not when she was so tired and after the night had otherwise gone so well.

    “I suppose you went to the Cyba-Netsu,” Cassandra continued.  “Did you have fun?”

    “Yah.”  Cecily could guess by the careful way Cassandra phrased the question that it was a trap.  What the hell.  Get it over with.

    Cassandra just gave her a hard, long look, like she was trying to nerve herself to say something.  Then she said it.  “I was wondering.  I know when you donate blood at the Red Cross, they give you donuts afterwards.  What do you get at the Cyba-Netsu?”

    Cecily’s hand darted to the scarf around her neck.  The accusation veiled in the sarcastic remark felt like a slap in the face.  Sandy didn’t usually do sarcasm, at least not very well.  Cassandra’s face reddened, but she kept her relentless gaze on Cecily, daring her to deny it.

    “It’s not what you think.”

    “Then show me your neck.”

    Damn!  Why did Sandy always have to make things difficult?  She didn’t want to have to deal with this!  She just wanted to crawl into bed.  Cecily felt herself growing angry.  She pulled off the scarf defiantly and let it flutter to the floor.  “There!  Are you happy?”

    Cassandra bit her lip and stared at the puncture marks on Cecily’s neck.  Any moment now, it would come:  the disapproval; the anger; the judgment; the disappointment.  Well let it come.

    “I’ve been worried about you.”  Cassandra’s voice was low, but it was still a reproach.  “I wish you had told me.”

    “You wouldn’t understand.”

    The two glared at each other for a moment.  At least Cecily glared; she couldn’t tell exactly what Cassandra was thinking.

    Finally Cassandra looked away.  “That’s too bad, because I have a problem.”  God, here it comes, she’s going to bring up the rent again, Cecily thought.  “You see, I just found out why Strephon’s been lying to me, and I’m not sure what to do about it.  I’d like to ask a friend I can trust for advice, but I’m not sure if I can trust her if she won’t trust me.”

    Cecily wasn’t expecting that.  All the anger, all the defensiveness, all the self-righteous mind-your-own-business-ness she had been building up just oozed out of her.  She was tired.  She just couldn’t maintain it.

    She sat down on the couch next to her.  Cassandra’s eyes were moist with tears, but she was trying not to show it.  Cecily put her arm around her.

    “Sandy, we have to talk.”

    And now I realize that I might be making things too easy.  I don't want to resolve the Cecily/Vampire subplot too quickly.  Then again, I don't want it to dominate the story either.  I'll need to think on where I go from here.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 09:42:46 PM PDT

  •  Mockingjay Spoiler ahead: (6+ / 0-)

    I had a student who, when reading Mockingjay, said that at one point she flung the book from her, throwing it at the wall, and she refused to read any more for a day or two.

    She was that upset.

    If you've read Mockingjay, you know the part of which I speak.

    When Prim dies.

    "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 10:33:07 PM PDT

  •  After the fair by hours, but anyway (7+ / 0-)

    Stale beer, moldy cheese, and odors far worse wafted out the Startled Duck's door as Caillou stumbled in. Days of travel and sleep-shorted nights made for another weary little trek across rotting sawdust to the bar, but at least it was where it had been described.

    The innkeeper looked up from polishing a dirty tankard with a dirtier rag. “Help ya?” she inquired.

    “Looking for a woman.” It came out hoarse, punctuated with a road-dusty cough.

    “Ain't we all.” The innkeeper went back to polishing, this time with a smirk.

    Caillou coughed again. "No, I mean, a specific woman. Supposed to meet me here. Six feet tall or so, spiked blue hair, foreign accent, heavily armed.”

    “You found her," said a voice from the bar's darkest corner, devoid of welcome.

  •  Late again - was too tired to write last night (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TayTay, RiveroftheWest

    Though I'm not sure I've upped the stakes more than just moved the plot forward. And it's long.

    The barroom at the Startled Duck smelled of beer, moldy bread, and pond scum. Cal hovered in the doorway gathering her courage. Garth has the hard job, silly. She shuddered as she noticed the sawdust on the floor – writhing. A blue-footed goose stopped right in front of her and snatched up a nightmare-sized mealworm.

    “What!?” it squawked at her after gulping the thing down.

    “Uh, nothing, sorry,” she stumbled to the side, giving the irritated fowl a wide berth and trying not to think about the crunching beneath her boots.

    The bar itself appeared to be relatively clean, though Cal immediately revised that opinion after locating the barkeep, who was wiping a tankard with what might once have been called a rag. That once upon a time had been years ago, though, and Callandra, having been brought up to be the best upper crust snob her aunt could mold, was fighting twin urges to either faint or retch from the combined stench and filth of the place.

    “Help ya?” the grizzled barkeep kept rubbing at the tankard.

    “I’m looking for a woman,” Cal said.

    “And ya’ve found ‘un,” the barkeep leaned forward and eyed her with interest.

    “Um, what?” slipped out of Cal’s mouth before she could stop herself.

    “Ya’ve found a woman, ya fool, and I can please ya better ‘n any of them’s with a stick ‘tween their legs.”

    Cal felt her face flush red to the roots of her hair, “Um no, sorry – I’m – I mean I’m looking – “

    “No lairds or princes in yer future, not with that face. Mark my words girl –“ the barkeeper went on.

    Cal kept sputtering, “I’m not – what? I don’t want a prince! Or a laird! Look –“ she drew out the Malgorn’s sketch of the woman, “she’s tall, magics her hair into spikes,” smacked it down on the bar, “oh, and blue. Her hair, that is.”

    The barkeep set the tankard down with a clang and pinned the paper to the bar with a long, dirty fingernail. Tapped the picture a few times.  “Ah, her Ladyship, of course. Lots of folk come looking to see her Ladyship. The old legend saying the familiar of a dragon is lucky or some such nonsense.”

    The barkeep seemed to be lost in her thoughts, ignoring Cal; but the tapping continued, and that was when Cal noticed the ring on the barkeep’s finger: thick silver, set with a blue stone, glowing. Malford’s familiar was here. Get ready, Garth, she thought, wishing he could hear her.

    “Wahl,” the barkeep said finally, “sorry to disappoint ya, but her Ladyship declines the displeasure of yer acquaintance.” The barkeep smiled then, a mouth more full of gaps than teeth, and went on, “I’d be happy to make more than an acquaintance of ya though.”

    Somewhere in the back of the bar, a door slammed – then a loud boom shivered the timbered barroom. That was her cue. “Um, sorry, uh, another time – gotta go!” Cal tripped backwards over a lesser grebe and its grub, caught herself barely and fled.

    For a moment, the barkeeper stared after the stout girl before picking up the tankard and rag again. “Fool girl, hasn’t even looked at the cards she’s holding.”

    •  Oh and since people liked the Weaverly (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TayTay, RiveroftheWest

      and Tornbridge piece I posted awhile back, here is a stakes-raising thing I tried with these two characters and Froop. Again, long. Not sure how well the stake-raising worked versus filling in some back story with Froop and Weaverly. If anybody sees this at this point!

      “Oh come now, Weaverly,” Froop’s cold voice turned silky and overly familiar. “Do you remember none of my training?”

      Tornbridge looked up from studying the wizard’s fraying prophecy map to see Froop looming over the small witch.
      The witch glared fiercely at Froop. “I remember, and you’ve become ever more twisted since my father had you removed as Headwizard.” Tornbridge cocked his head, if he hadn’t known better, he’d have thought Ms Bantom was part troll, a volcanic one. She appeared ready to erupt.

      “You certainly believed me long ago.”

      “I was a foolish young witch,” Weaverly spat, swatting
      one of Froop’s long bony hands away from her face.

      “You have no beauty, but your mind is intoxicating –“ Froop seized her upper arm with one hand and flicked his wand with the other. Tornbridge found himself on the receiving end of a quell-spell, unable to move.

      “Daughter of one, sister to none, two of three heartbeats lost to strongest one.”

      “Leave my mother out of this!”

      “It’s your prophecy, Weaverly.”

      “There’s prophecy and then there’s madness, and my mother is insane!”

      “Prophecy and madness go hand in hand, my dear, you know that.”  Tornbridge watched, frozen and furious, as Froop propelled Ms Bantom across the cluttered room to the prophecy map.

      “She named you Weaverly, but you are the knife; you neither measure nor spin. Your sisters died beside you in the womb because of your nature. Who better to clean up this mess than a Knife of Fate?”

      On the map, the growing network of red lines spread outward from Togwogmagog like cracks on crazed pottery. Each line a pair of the questers they’d sent out.


      “You’ll cut all the lines, you and your troll, whether you want to or not!” Froop began an incantation, then quelled Weaverly as she fought against him. Tornbridge locked eyes with her, could see her trying to fight the quelling, even without magic.

      Troll magic is not like human magic; it works sometimes, others not at all. Neither were there  any records of witches and trolls working magic together, which is why it was ridiculous, but there was nothing to do but try; his son was out there. Tornbridge called to the volcano in Ms. Bantom. Her eyes widened.

      We are bigger than he.

      We pull down the wards.

      He saw the headwitch’s memory of the cairns marking Froop’s wards, felt the power in them, and pushed the heat of his mountain heart out to possess it.


      Together they pulled, but the power remained in the wards, despite their efforts. Froop’s incantation was drawing to a close when Tornbridge felt Ms. Bantom’s desperate cry to the universe.

      Help us.

      The air in the chamber seemed to compress for a moment, then a terrific crack shook the room. Froop was thrown back; the incantation unfinished. He scrambled back from the center of the room, scanning the dome for cracks that ought to be there.

      Tornbridge came around the table and helped Ms. Bantom to her feet. Her face was ashen and her hands shook as she pulled out her wand. Still, she turned smartly to the wizard who’d nearly succeeded in twisting them to his purpose.

      “Your wards are down, Froop. Time to pay the piper.”

      “That should not be possible,” Froop gasped as he slumped against the stone wall.

      “Should not be. Is.” For once, Tornbridge smiled at hearing the simple idiom of uneducated mountain trolls. And from Ms. Bantom of all creatures.

      With a snap and a crack, and a choking odor of brimstone, Froop disappeared.

      “That was not just us, Ms. Bantom.”

      “No,” she agreed, “but what?”

      “I think,” Tornbridge smiled widely, “that this mountain is not fond of Froop.” He scratched his boulderous head for a moment, “But.  It answered you, Ms. Bantom. That is something to ponder.”

      “How long does a troll ponder things, Master Tornbridge?”

      “Centuries, Ms. Bantom, centuries.”

      “Well, we’d best not ponder here. Froop may have fled or he may even now be resetting his wards.”

      He bowed in courtly fashion, then presented her with her broom.

      “After you, of course, Ms. Bantom.”

  •  Missed Rendezvous (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TayTay, not a lamb, RiveroftheWest
    The bar-room at the Startled Duck smelled of beer, stale cheese, and worse things. Ca made his  way gingerly across the sawdust-covered floor, thinking s/he would clean his/her boots later.
    The innkeeper looked up from the dirty tankard he was polishing with a dirtier rag. “Help ya?”

    “I'm looking for a girl,” Cal said.

    "Most folks come here trying to forget a girl."  The innkeeper snorted and went back to his polishing.

    “She was supposed to meet me here," Cal persisted. "She's about so high, has long, willowy hair and she's probably carrying a sousaphone.”

    The innkeeper's one good eye gave a twitch, and Cal became aware that the tavern had suddenly become very quiet.  A feeling of apprehension began to creep over him.

    "I ain't got no sousaphone," a painted bawd in an over-full corset sashayed over to Cal's side and fluttered her eyelashes at him, "but I can ring your glockenspiel!"

    A deep voice from a nearby table cleared its throat.  The bawd glanced sharply at a burly ruffian with a scarred jaw whose hand rested menacingly on the hilt of his sword

    The bawd's face paled under her rouge and she slid away from Cal.  "Sorry, sweetie," she muttered, and headed for the back of the tavern.

    The ruffian stood as Cal turned to face him.  Partially hidden under the man's cloak, Cal spotted the livery of the Sorceress Maldeve, Diedrie's mother.  Damn!  If she had her minions here already, the tavern was no longer safe!  Cal's only hope was that Diedrie hadn't gotten here yet.

    "Well, I can see she's not here."  Cal tried to sound casual.  "I suppose I'll come back later."  He started toward the door.

    The ruffian stepped to block his way.  "What's your hurry, kid?"  A couple other thugs rose to join him.

    Cal's hand wavered over the hilt of his sword.  Should he draw it and defend himself?  Or would that just precipitate a bigger fight?  He glanced around the tavern, trying to judge how many might be on the ruffian's side.

    Then he caught a glimpse of shining brass tucked behind the bar.

    The bell of a sousaphone.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 06:46:56 PM PDT

  •  My personal favorite (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    is in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove,when the world already appears headed for nuclear war, which what could be worse, and the Soviet Ambassador reveals the existence of the Cobalt-Thorium-G Doomsday Device, which cannot be disarmed and which will wrap the globe in a radioactive doomsday shroud and kill every living thing on earth if even one bomb goes off inside Russia:

    Dr. Strangelove: Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?

    Ambassador de Sadesky: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.


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