Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Stupid Sword

At the end of my “Writing Motivated Characters” post the other day (the one most of you discovered on Freshly Pressed – thanks WordPress!), I advised people against writing stories about stupid swords because no one wanted to read such a thing.  Several people disagreed in the comments, saying that, in fact, they did want to read a story about a stupid sword. So I wrote one.

In all its one-and-a-half draft, 900-word glory…

♦ ♦ ♦

The Stupid Sword

© 1352

by Elrick J. Bakirke

Bernie and Carlos stood over the object, hands on hips.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bernie said. “What do you make of it?”

SwordCarlos shook his head slowly. “I don’t know what to make of it, man.” He wished everything would just go back the way it had been three minutes earlier, before they found the thing. Carlos and mystery went together like muskrats and cobras. Or like Doritos and chocolate chip mint ice cream. Both of which Carlos liked, by the way, but not at the same time.

“That’s got to be the stupidest damn sword I’ve ever seen,” Bernie said.

“Sword?” Carlos said, confused. He studied Bernie’s face. Bernie was 20 years older and had been working here a long time. He knew a lot of stuff.

Bernie nodded. “Yeah. I’d go as far as to say it’s deformed, but I don’t know if a sword can be deformed. I think they use that word for animals. You know, like a two-headed turtle or a goat with six legs.”

Carlos made the sign of the cross and looked toward the heavens. He noticed a water stain on the ceiling tile. “What do we do?”

Bernie shrugged. “We call Fabermann, I guess.”

Carlos was careful not to show a reaction, but he was thinking, “Why did I open my big mouth?” The last thing Carlos wanted was Fabermann poking around. Fabermann had gigantic lips but a tiny nose and even tinier eyes. He looked like a pink toad who needed a shave. Now that’s deformed, Carlos thought, chuckling a bit, despite the gravity of the situation.

Bernie, who was technically Carlos’s supervisor even though it was just the two of them, said, “Wait here,” and then pulled up a chair at the computer terminal. He made a Skype connection with Fabermann.

Carlos guarded the sword. “That’s one stupid sword,” he said, though he really had no idea what made it stupid. He just wanted Bernie to like him.

“Fabermann,” Bernie said. “We got a… concern here.”

Fabermann’s big head filled the monitor screen. “A concern? You’re wasting my time for a ‘concern’? Whattya got a water leak in 3H? Fix it!”

Bernie’s face scrunched up, which it did whenever he had something serious to say. “Well, it’s more like a problem. I think you should advise.”

“Spit it out, Bernie.”

Bernie shot a nervous glance at Carlos. Carlos shot a nervous glance at the sword. He had gotten so caught up with Fabermann that he forgot to watch the sword. Damn it!

Bernie said, “Carlos and I… we found something here in the break room. I’m not sure, but I think it’s a sword.”

“A sword?” said Fabermann.

“Yeah. A stupid sword.” Bernie sat back and sighed.

Carlos shuddered. Bernie hadn’t sighed since 2010. That was the last time Max Fabermann had gotten involved in their affairs. Events were more dire than Carlos had imagined.

Fabermann looked this way and that, contemplating. “You guys say you’re in the break room, eh? Sit tight.”

The door to Fabermann’s office swung open and Fabermann strutted through. “Show me!”

Bernie ran to meet him, hobbling like a chimpanzee with no knees. Carlos hated to see Bernie get pushed around. “Uh, right here, Mr. Fabermann.”

Carlos was scared, but mostly out of solidarity with Bernie. He pointed at the stupid sword, in case Fabermann was unsure.

Fabermann chomped his cigar and took a closer look. “Hmmm. This right here? This is the sword?”

Bernie and Carlos nodded.

Fabermann circled it, mumbling, then stood straight. “This sword. This stupid sword right here is why you called me?”

Bernie said, “Yes, sir.”

Fabermann whapped Bernie and Carlos in the head with his beret. “That’s my nephew, George, you idiotic baboons!”

George Fabermann peeked up from the magazine he was reading, People’s 50 Best Episodes of Cupcake Wars. “Hey, Uncle Max.”

Carlos’s pain was acute. Not from being struck by Fabermann’s hat, but from his sudden realization that Bernie Shempstein, his hero, mentor, and ersatz father was, in fact, a blithering moron. Carlos knew it wasn’t a sword! He knew it looked like a person reading a magazine, but he’d trusted Bernie!

“I trusted you,” he said. The words fell from his lips like they were made of liquid nitrogen, which must be heavier than air, if you think about it logically. It’s a liquid.

Bernie hung his head. “But… I thought… I mean, George didn’t say anything, so I just figured… Uh, am I fired?”

Max Fabermann laughed. “No, Bernie. You aren’t fired. You are forged!”

Carlos and Bernie said, “What!”

With that, a ball of flame burst from the ground, and Max and George Fabermann unfurled their wizard capes. The room crackled with sinister magic. Max pointed his staff at Bernie. “This is a fantasy story, you fool! Never mind that its author has no clue how to write one. He promised a story with a sword, and his readers are getting a sword.”

An arc of purple lighting – the only kind of arc in this story – issued from the staff and struck Bernie, turning him to a sword. A stupid one, by Carlos’s estimation, now that he’d had some experience with them. George the Wizard took hold of the sword and flew from the room with his uncle, their chilling laughter echoing through the halls of the maintenance department, which was in the basement of building 4.

Carlos fell to his knees in slow motion and screamed “Noooooooo,” because that happened in Lord of the Rings and it seemed like the right thing to do.

   ♦ ♦ ♦    ♦ ♦ ♦    ♦ ♦ ♦    ♦ ♦ ♦   ♦ ♦ ♦

The only sword song I could think of, Strike of the Sword, by Japan’s premier metal band of the 1980s, Loudness. Akira Takasaki shredding on guitar.

 

Advertisements

Giving Characters Choices

Source: The Internet

Source: The Internet

Last time around I talked about character motivation, my philosophy being that interesting fictional characters must have intrinsic motivations as well as external goals. Otherwise, they are merely devices that serve the plot. Placed in another story, people should still have the same qualities driving their actions, but toward a different objective.

For example, if you take Luke Skywalker out of the Star Wars universe and put him in a Chicago slum in the 1920s, he’s still a restless young man with big dreams but an unclear picture of his destiny who feels trapped by his circumstances. Maybe he gets involved in organized crime and eventually becomes Don Skywalker. Perhaps he joins the FBI and foils the assassination of Shirley Temple. He might even go into acting and win an Oscar for his starring role in a Mark Hamill biopic. After all, the resemblance is uncanny.

Today I will build on this concept and discuss giving characters choices. Choice is where the character’s motivations intersect with the plot.

In most cases, a writer knows what her story is about, so her characters don’t really have a choice as to their actions. If Luke Skywalker had decided not go to Alderaan with Ben Kenobi, the second half of Star Wars might have been a bit of a downer. But still, we don’t want our heroes and villains to be like marbles rolling down a slide that leads to the climax. We should give them choices, and then give them reasons to make the correct one for the plot.

I got to thinking about this because of a story tossing around my hard drive for about three years now. I believe I created an interesting main character who is appropriately flawed and who has intrinsic qualities that steer his behavior. His backstory makes him sympathetic, if not likeable. I also included plenty of emotion and a dark, dramatic climax.

Disney is too big to sue me

Disney is too big to sue me

But it doesn’t work.

About every six months, I open it up, read it, move a few words around, add or subtract a line, then stick it back in the nether reaches of MS Word. I just haven’t been able to figure out what is wrong with it. Until now, that is.

Upon hard analysis, I have identified the fatal flaw: When my character’s motivations intersect with the plot, he does not make a choice. He just does what I told him to do, and that sucks the tension out of it. Enlightened by this sudden awareness, I now understand the choice he must make and the revisions I must do to set it up. Unfortunately for him and for his likeability factor, he will make a bad choice. Sorry dude.

Think about the choices you’ve made and how things that seemed insignificant at the time have had a profound impact on your life: The party you almost skipped… where you ended up meeting your future husband. That day you ran back into the house to grab a Milli Vanilli CD for the road… only seconds before your idling car was obliterated by a meteor. That time Obi Wan’s ghost told you to switch off your targeting computer, and you used the force to hit an impossibly small opening in the Death Star’s exhaust port, thus saving the galaxy.

Our fictional characters must have options too. Instead of making them follow a pied piper, imagine the plot not taken. Ironically, by giving them choices, we make their outcomes seem all the more inevitable.

Thoughts, comments, insults?

 <<<<<<<<<<<<<o>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I promised no more 80s videos, but, darn it, those cats back then anticipated my blog topics so well. If One Direction has a song about making choices, let me know. For next time.