Vi caught a glimpse of her reflection in the next shop window. The pale figure before her had lived longer than the shadow-self she’d watched a few days prior, the sun and inner turmoil both doing their parts to etch lines on her face when she wasn’t looking. She hadn’t experienced any more flashes of memory since that night with the book. But she wheeled away from her reflection, suddenly felt self-conscious about how she’d changed, and how she still seemed to be changing.
Vi’s body relaxed and she rolled to face the wall to better welcome sleep. She breathed into the gentle dark for a few moments, then an alarm bell suddenly went off in her head. Without thinking, she quested outward with her extra sense to find the danger. A ghostly energy approached, and for a moment she thought it was just Peter remembering his promise to a little boy, but a wave of malice rippled through the air in greedy tendrils. Her senses touched it and recoiled, scurrying back to the safety of her skull like a whipped pup.
Pins and needles spread down her spine, an acid burn that singed deeper as the spirit approached. The angry blur came to their car and paused for a moment, as if scenting the air. The ghost moved again and came to a stop just on the other side of the wall. An old, childhood instinct squeezed her eyes shut. But her whether her extra senses or her imagination were to blame, she was sure the ghost raised its hand and rested it on the wall beside her head.
The ghost chuckled and leaned against the wall. “Got yourself some light fingers, eh kid?”
“I didn’t do it!” the little boy cried. “I swear!”
“We know you didn’t,” she assured him, then favored Peter with another glower.
“I was always getting blamed for things when I was your age, too. And you know what I did?” Peter whispered.
George leaned forward with rapt attention. “What?”
“I proved them right,” he said with a chuckle.
“Oh, excellent advice!” Vi interrupted.
The ghost just shrugged. “It’s true.”
“And look where it got you!” she spat.
“I thought I had you to thank for that.” His quiet words stunned her to silence even as he blazed clearer and darker before her, his pain manifesting in his spectral body. His sharp edges dissolved as he turned to the boy. “Anyway, Georgie. I figured as long as people were going to think the worst of me, I might as well live down to their expectations.”
“I figured it out,” Bonnie declared as she slid open the cabin door. George waited patiently in the hall, ready to tidy the room once the ladies left for the dining car.
Vi stood inside the cabin, doing a final check in the mirror of how much damage her sleepless night had done to her face. She gave her cheekbones a pinch to add color. “What did you figure out?” she asked eventually.
The other woman waited until she’d slipped out the door before answering. “Your secret,” she whispered mischievously.
“You’ll have to be a bit more specific than that. I’m a woman with many secrets,” Vi replied. She tried for a chuckle but it came out strained, her new and unpredictable ability weighing heavy on her mind.
Bonnie savored the moment as they passed to the next car. Once they’d shut out the rush of wind she smiled. “I know why you’re looking so grouchy.”
“Really. And why is that?” Vi asked levelly.
“Well, you keep trying to hide it, but I know the truth…” the little brunette trailed off suggestively, eyes shining. Finally, she announced, “Trains make you sick to your stomach!” Relief flooded Vi’s body, and she let out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. Bonnie mistook it for admission of guilt. “Aha!”
“Yes. You’ve found me out,” Vi replied, applying just the right amount of remorse to her voice to sell it. Feigning motion-sickness was far more appealing than trying to explain the true source of her sleepless night. Bonnie may be proving more resilient than she first appeared, but there were limits.
Army of brass is the Collaborative Writing Challenge’s seventh novel. For the past few projects, they have also included short stories in the same genre as the project.
The deadline for submissions is just two days away! Get your stories, 2500-3500 words, submitted by Aug. 31 to make sure you are considered for the contest. First and second place winners have their stories showcased on the CWC website. First place also has their story edited and published in the pages of Army of Brass this fall.
Visit the CWC website for the guidelines, and GOOD LUCK!
I once heard the title, Save the Cat!, bandied about at a writing symposium, and once or twice in various writing groups on Facebook. I had never given screenwriting much thought, but the general wisdom said this book transcended movies and had a lot to teach writers about commercial fiction. It slipped my mind until I got some feedback about a problem with pacing in No Rest for the Wicked. The editor recommended I read Blake Snyder’s book to help me iron out the problems.
Intrigued, this time I picked it up immediately. And I didn’t put it down until I’d read it cover to cover.
What Does “Commercial Fiction” Mean?
There are LOTS of genres. Some of them correspond to age groups, some of them correspond to themes, and some of the correspond to the amount of violence and sex involved. The term “commercial fiction” isn’t so much a genre as it is an umbrella term that covers popular reading material. Even though scholars rarely give speculative fiction and romance writers enough credit. They aren’t creating “literary” fiction, so the academics aren’t interested even though some of the most innovative and imaginative stories come from these traditions.
During a meet and greet with Steampunk author Gail Carriger during Steampunk World’s Fair this year, she spoke for a while about this term. She proudly wears the moniker of “commercial fiction writer” because to her, this simply means her goal is to write things that the general public want to read. And this is a very worthy goal.
So, I put aside any fear that I might be “selling out” somehow, and decided to open myself up to Snyder’s advice.
Formulaic? Or a “Recipe for Success?”
It’s a fact: humans love stories. Sharing information and tales of our day out on the hunt or gathering the food to get through the dry season meant survival in our early history. And we are still captivating by a good story today.
But just because we love stories, doesn’t mean we will love all stories equally. As anyone who has ever botched the punchline of a joke will confirm, it’s all about how you tell it. There are so many elements of timing, repetition, building tension, delivering on promises, and any number of other tools in a writer’s toolbox that can make or break a book.
And as unpoetic as it is to say, if people don’t like one book you write, why would they decide to try the next one? They don’t even need to be able to say why they didn’t like your book. That’s not the burden of the reader; that’s something only the author can tease out.
I am sure for many, Snyder’s approach seems far too cookie cutter. He tells you, sometimes down to the page, when certain beats and reversals should occur. It’s important to remember though that he isn’t saying that you can’t write a story that follows a different path, only that this sort of pattern and trajectory has proven itself to grip readers and leave them wanting more at the end of the day.
One of the most astonishing things to me about comparing my outline of my piece to Snyder’s recommendations is how often what I had already written aligned with what he said. This seemed to strengthen the idea that there was something innately motivating about the structure I was naturally following. And the places where my betas and potential editors had found problems were ALWAYS the places where things didn’t match up.
Looking over the recommended structure also showed me that No Rest for the Wicked as a novella wasn’t really the complete story I thought it was. When I started to toy with the idea of making it a novel instead, I found that things fell neatly into place. The order of my chapters didn’t change, but I did find places where I needed to expand on the action in order to deliver a big enough pay off to leave the reader satisfied.
No that I have finished this latest iteration of No Rest for the Wicked, I started work on the next Mistress of None book. I haven’t decided on a title yet, but the pre-writing is being aided in no small part by Mr. Snyder’s sound advice.
I decided to write a series of posts about my experience using his methods from the start of a project, and hopefully help other people escape any of the hidden traps I come upon. So, check back soon for more on my writing journey using Save the Cat! as my guide.
George tumbled into the room, his head swinging wildly from side to side. When Vi flagged him, he mouthed the words “They’re coming.”
The grifter returned a silent, “Good boy,” and shooed him away. She tossed down her rag, then reached for a pair of long, black gloves she had waiting on the counter. Once her fingers had wiggled their way to the boundaries of the satin, she draped herself against the bar and waited to see the scope of the enemy forces. Sure, she’d doubled her meager numbers, but she had the sinking suspicion the most reliable lieutenant in her army was the one too short to see over the counter.
A line of bodies passed by the windows. Jeb entered first, trailed by at least a dozen men who pooled around the entryway like the contents of a giant upturned ink pot. A few people on the fringe of the audience shifted uncomfortably as the cause of the artificial nightfall took in its surroundings with appreciation. Their leader spied the table meant for them and sauntered over. The gang had grown since that afternoon and they wouldn’t all be able to fit around it. A handful approached a full table, and a few snarls later, claimed it as their own.
Bonnie nattered with a couple of regulars across the room, unaware their marks had entered the bar. Her late husband wasn’t the only one watching her as she flitted from person to person, which was more than likely the point. Nothing like a little petty jealousy to make your man squirm, dead or alive. As far as Vi was concerned, the widow could play whatever games she wanted – just as long as it didn’t interfere with the real stakes.