Posted by : Wendy B Sunday, 18 October 2015
With characters established, we're moving on to discussion of plot. A few of this week's guest speakers promote E.L. Dotorow's metaphor of driving in a car with headlights through the fog. You know where you need to go, but don't know what might be hiding in the plot. I like this idea, but another writer adds the caveat that you have to remember that you also have a passenger in that car and you need to make sure that they understand what's going on in this ride.
Some writers also suggest not working with structure and instead letting the story and characters reveal the plot as you go along. Just write! they say.
I work with both concepts. I prefer to have a solid structure; an idea of where I am and where I want to get to. A road map, if you will. Then I'll hop in the car and see where it takes me. If the characters tell me to turn off the road, then I will obey and trust in them to eventually get me back to where I want to end up--although sometimes they know better than I do where that might be.
This week's assignment:
Write a story with any number of characters (these can be newly created characters or borrowed from your Class Session 1 and 2 writing assignments), where an external force demands that a character or all the characters jump into action. Additionally, include in the story a separate decision made by a character/the characters that does not result directly from the external force. You can introduce these characters, this external force, and this internal force in any order, at any time.For the sake of time, I'm mostly not writing anything new. This is not 'cheating' per the instructions of the class. In fact, many of the assignments as you to consider how your scene would work from different angles, different starting points, different perspectives. So in this case, I've revised a scene I wrote last year, and added the required external force that pushes the characters to action. The resulting action is small, but it did reveal something significant about the two characters and their current relationship.
Senia stood still amidst the ruins and closed her eyes, imagining the cobbled streets lined with flowers, the statues gazing down at her with their beatific smiles. Amidst the churning winds, she could almost hear the trickling fountains and rushing water falls and see the shining white spires rising up to touch the sun. So much beauty and symmetry above the surface, but it was what lay beneath that caused her feet to dance. The webs of magic that snaked beneath the earth, writhing and twisting and singing her name. The capital city had indeed been a sight to behold, but it was not a vision she cared for. Senia cared only for the magic that hummed beneath it. Magic that had burst forth when the earth had opened up to swallow the Emperor's capital city and shatter its fragile glory.
What Senia saw before her now when she opened her eyes was the truth. A city in ruins. An empire crushed. A place where only the chaos of magic reigned. But it was not High Magic. The quake had unleashed the power from below the surface, but it had also severed the connection to the world spirit from which all magic was born. That was why she had broken her promise and finally returned. After 200 years of ignoring the incessant taptaptap that called to her, denying the roiling magic that still sang to her very core.
Senia gazed through her wind whipped locks into the unnatural blue glow and the cloying mist that clung to the ruins. A flash of lightning lit a path before her and thunder grumbled its welcome. As far as she could see, no building remained intact and with each step she took, the rocks crumbled under her feet.
She could control it all, if she wished; the elements were hers to command. But she never asked the elements to do that which they did not want to do. Once, this place was the epitome of the Emperor's power and majesty. Here, now, the wind and mist and lightning and stone were in charge, and they desired only chaos. She would not take that from them. Instead, she reveled in their unbridled violence and let their corrupted magic lead her.
The taptaptapping grew louder as she stepped deeper into the roiling desolation. She knew exactly where the echoes would lead. There were no more soaring towers to mark her place within the ruined capital, but she knew when she reached her destination. The turmoil of magic was even more powerful here, marking the place where the Emperor's tower, the pinnacle of his sprawling palace, had once stood.
An unusual outcropping of rock caught her eye and she moved toward it. It was a dirty gray, darker than the shadowed marble of the crumbled buildings. The surface seemed to tremble and as she stepped closer, it shrank away from her.
"There you are," she murmured. "I won't hurt you." She let the wind take her words directly to the ears of the huddled form. She had every right to hurt him for what he had forced upon her and made her do. But they say time heals all wounds. She had learned so much since then and Senia's desires had always run well beyond vengeance.
She knelt beside the creature that once had been a man. He shied away from her touch as if it burned, but she had been careful not to let her ever present magic grow too strong, despite the temptation all around her. Reaching for the filthy, tattered cloak, she drew back the heavy cowl. He flinched and turned away. Lank strands of silvery hair failed to hide his face. No matter. She had seen his true self enough times that it was impossible for him to hide from her. She crept around before him, taking his brittle face between her hands. She traced her fingers along the leathery flesh that clung to the gray skull. She traced the lines of his cheekbones and ran her hands through the thin hair.
Yes, she owed him much for what he had done to her, but as she gazed into the dark pools that once glistened with power and hunger, she saw only shadows and loss.
After several attempts to use a voice he had probably not used in a long time, he managed to ask, "Who are you?"
"Oh! You've never seen me like this." She giggled, releasing him as she rose and stepped away.
Warily, he watched as the molten lines that ran along her charred skin extended and widened, snaking over her entire body. The blackened crust of her flesh flaked away, first in small pieces, then increasing in size. The brittle chunks fell all around her to reveal smooth, pale flesh. Her hair, the colour of flames, whipped in the wind as if it had a mind of its own.
She smiled and returned to him.
"Did you come here to kill me?" he croaked.
"Is that what you summoned me here for with your ceaseless taptaptapping?" She tilted her head, trying to read his unreadable expression. "No," she said finally. "You've been here too long to simply want death now. And yet, how is it you have only come this far?"
He mirrored the quizzical tilt of her head.
"You learned from me how to draw power from all around you. I feel you doing it even now. Yet you remain this pathetic creature after all this time. Such power beneath you, yet you have not embraced it to return yourself to what you once were." She took his face in both hands again and drew him close. "Come, Emperor. Let me teach you a new lesson."
The kiss was harsh and artless. Soft lips scraped against jagged teeth. Skeletal fingers scrabbled at her arms, but she held him firm as she sank her core into the earth, drawing upon the roiling chaos. The lines welcomed her with stinging lashes that left ragged welts across her soul. They struck out at her savagely, trying to pull her apart at the seams then put her back together again, over and over. The tainted magic seeped into her like poison. The pain was exquisite and she welcomed every drop of it. This was the way to true power. With every step toward new levels of power, there had been agony. Whether forced upon her by the Emperor, or by her own doing, it did not matter. It was pain that allowed her to achieve greatness.
And now she took the torment she drew from the devastation of the Emperor's kingdom, and channeled it all through her kiss.
His scream tore through him as the frenzied magic coursed up and down on a wave of venom fire. He felt what little flesh that remained to him flay from his bones. He felt the magic burn, etching its mark on every part of his desiccated body. Still he screamed. On and on as the pain crashed into him. He clawed and shoved, but she would not let go and he saw the death that she meant to give him. The death he had earned long ago.
Then some small part of him realized that he was standing, supported by arms that embraced him and hands that caressed. Somewhere within the scorching agony, he felt fingers moving along his back. He felt her hands sliding through his hair. He felt her tongue slipping between his lips and her teeth nipping gently as his own tongue responded. He realized that his hands were no longer fighting her. Instead, he was pulling her against him with a strength he had not possessed for so long.
After a time, he pulled away and stretched one hand out to examine the gold embroidery on the silvered sleeves of his robes, leading to long, elegant fingers covered in glimmering rings.Her emerald eyes sparkled as she curled a lock of his thick, silky, golden hair around her finger.
"Welcome back, Emperor."
He stood for a moment in silent awe until she stretched up on her toes and kissed him lightly. He leaned in to deepen the kiss, but she extricated herself from his arms and stepped back.
"Don't leave me!" he blurted and immediately cursed himself for such weakness. Yet, he could not relinquish the fear that overtook him. He stared after her with anxious eyes as she turned from him. He saw her hair stiffen and change colour from red to a golden brown as she lifted her hands to command the earth. The stones fought her and he saw the rigidity of her spine as she fought back, pounding and shaping dirt and rock with her magic, until amidst the fallen kingdom of rubble, rested a pair of high-backed stone thrones. She pivoted gracefully on one foot and grinned as she draped herself across one of them, beckoning to him with a crooked finger.
When he approached, he did not take his place at her side. Instead he stood above her, peering into her eyes until he saw her falter. He sneered then and his hand whipped out to lock around her throat as dark magic sprung forth from his body. It felt so good to have power again. It felt so good to have this woman at his mercy once more. "I could kill you."
"You could," she managed to gasp as she clutched at his arm, "but then you would be alone again."
"I could bring you back from the dead and you would be whatever I make you."
"But I would no longer be what you want," she wheezed. "You could bring me back… as a dead thing… but would… I still share… your desires?"
The darkness wrestled within him as he watched her eyes glaze over. She did not resist him as life slowly ebbed from her.
Her words echoed in his mind.
And then a roar pierced the sky.
Senia struck him with a gust of wind that sent him stumbling to his knees. He spun around to counter, only to find her standing still, encased once more in volcanic rock, staring up at the great beast that circled above them.
The very creatures whose magic he coveted. The very creatures that had destroyed his kingdom.
The dragon roared again, then turned and flew off into the distance. The Emperor rose and came to stand beside Senia.
"You have no more power over me." Her eyes were fixed on the beast until it was only a speck in the sky, but he knew the words were meant for him. She had always been the most powerful of his mages. Her magic and her desire for more had rivaled his own. It was why he had wanted her. It was why he had bound her. But after 200 years, he could feel the truth in her words. He could feel the truth in the power that radiated from her very core.
"Then what is it you want from me, Senia?"
She turned to him, her face parting in a molten smile. "I want what you promised me."
He raised an eyebrow, extending a hand to encompass their surroundings. "I have little to offer you now, my lady."
He felt her heat rise as her blazing eyes caught him in their gaze. "We will rebuild your empire," she purred. "And you will share with me the dragons' secrets. The ones for which they they tried to destroy you. We will finish what you started. We tear the dragons from the skies. Then we will take their magic and feast on their hearts."