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Winnowna, Meet Patrick

Published November 6, 2016 by nruhwald

winnownapatrick

Time for a new sneak peak of my upcoming novel The King’s Children. If you haven’t had a chance to meet my main characters Patrick Hood or Winnowna, you may want to do so now.

If you have, read on to see what happens when they meet each other for the first time.

 

Winnowna sat alone at her table in the tea parlour. Scant few others took tea in the spacious room; the resort town popular only in the summer months. The others talked and sipped their tea as if nothing was wrong. They knew who she was. Even in a drastically reduced mode of dress and without her entourage, no one could fail to recognize Princess Winnowna Illusia. Still, they pretended they did not know her.

She stared at her cup of tea, at the reflection of the chandelier in its surface. Her hand shook as she raised the cup to her lips. The next hour or two would decide her fate. After the rebels arrived and signaled their presence, Winnowna would run. Some of them would ensure the guards did not get in her way while others guided her to the docks where a ship waited for her.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Winnowna smoothed the mauve satin of her skirt. She would have difficulty running in the voluminous dress and fine shoes, but she could not have worn something more practical without alerting her maid to the fact that she planned to escape.

They would come soon. Winnowna looked out the windows.

A strangeling walked across the roof of the buildings on the other side of the street and a chill of horror swept over her. She considered fleeing deeper into the inn, but she sat and watched him as though caught up into a dream.

Murmurs of concern arose from the other patrons in the tea parlour; some of them stood and began backing towards the exit. Her guard stood stiffly, hands on their weapons. What was this? Strangelings did not brazenly walk the streets in broad daylight.

Winnowna felt her mouth grow dry as his eyes met hers. The strangeling slid down the shingles on his feet, caught the eaves trough before he fell, let go and kicked off a pillar before landing on the street. He must be a strangeling, no human moved with that eerie feline grace.

He began to walk across to the street towards her, but didn’t get far. A group of men advanced on him and soon had him backed up against the wall of a haberdashery. A few onlookers watched uneasily from a distance or quickly ducked into buildings.

Who were these men? Was this the group of rebels she was supposed to meet? They could just as easily be an impromptu gang of concerned citizens. They outnumbered him ten to one, but nevertheless the strangeling did not appear intimidated.

Winnowna picked her opera glass out of her reticule to better observe the scene. The strangeling said something, but she could not tell what. One of the men pushed him against the brick wall.

A knife flashed in the hand of one of the men. The strangeling made a quick, precise gesture, and the knife flew from the man’s hand and struck the wooden sign above the door of the inn. One of the patrons shrieked.

The men backed off, dismayed at how easily their leader had been disarmed. The strangeling walked out from their midst and stalked down the road, back in the direction he had come. He hadn’t gone far before the men started to follow him. The strangeling glanced over his shoulder and began to run. The men gave chase, and were soon lost from sight beyond the window frame.

A breath of relief, the strangeling was gone.

Her guards were still preoccupied, looking out the windows, trying to work out what had happened. She could imagine no better opportunity to escape.

What if the strangeling was still out there?

Winnowna hesitated at the thought, but her choice was clear. Many strangelings awaited her in the gulf. Now she faced only one. And her allies were out there too. She must find them.

She jumped from her seat, hiked up her heavy skirts, and darted for the servant’s door, dodging a maid carrying a tea tray as she ran down the hallway, into the kitchen and finally out the back door into the narrow road behind the inn. Thinking of nothing but ensuring she was not followed, Winnowna ran down the cobblestone street, turned left, right, and right again.

The broken door of an abandoned theatre presented itself as a likely hiding place. She burst through the door, and hurried down a set of rickety steps into the dark and dusty basement.

Winnowna ducked behind a large backdrop, trying to catch her breath. She heard no shouts or running feet in the streets above. For the moment at least, she was free. She giggled. Free, think of it!

It took her over two weeks to accomplish, but now—

A shadow moved in the darkness. She froze. Her eyes searched the cluttered basement, and were met with too many possible threats. Painted faces leered at her out of the dark, and ominous shapes lurked in the shadows.

The princess crept deeper into the room, shying away from a trunk full of gruesomely realistic body parts. She bumped into a coatrack, knocking a rubber mask onto the floor. A hummed tune floated to her, gone almost as soon as she heard it.

She halted, listening intently and watching, but she heard nothing. Perhaps the sound had come from outside?

“They’re coming for you.”

Winnowna whirled at the unexpected voice, her heart convulsing madly in her chest.

The strangeling stood barely fifteen feet from her, his eyes flowing ghastly green like the eyes of a wild animal caught in lantern light. One of the creatures who preyed upon her family for the last three hundred years.

He looked—nothing like she expected a strangeling to look. Indeed if he hadn’t been a strangeling Winnowna might have thought him handsome. Where were the horns and deadly fangs the stories promised? And he was young; he could not be much older than she was.

He wore a long, dark coat that reminded her of a highwayman, tailor made for him. Actually, it looked like a costume.

He brushed his hair out of his eyes. “They’re coming. I tried to tell your friends, but they wouldn’t listen.”

So those had been the rebels.

“What have you done with them?” she demanded.

The strangeling frowned. As he shifted, the green glow disappeared from his eyes, revealing them to be blue, almost black in this light. “Nothing. I’m trying to warn you. My name is Patrick.”

“Patrick Hood?”

“Yes.” He looked up. “They’re coming.”

 

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for part two!

Writing Fundamentals: Adjectives and Adverbs

Published July 24, 2016 by nruhwald

how-to-writeGood writing shows rather than tells. Good description is the means by which writers do the showing.

Verbs and nouns, as I will explain a bit later, can be descriptive too, but our main descriptors are the adjective and adverbs.

Today I’m going to show you how to use these words properly.

Adverbs

Or, in the case of adverbs, how to seek and destroy them.

Adverbs are words which modify a verb. Basically, anything that ends with -ly. Although I suppose some -ly words are adjectives too, but don’t use -ly words even if they are adjectives.

For example, let’s examine a sentence: “He chuckled grimly in the dank chamber.”

A very bad sentence. We’ve established that all adverbs are bad, so lets get rid of the -ly adverb and see what we get. For practicality’s sake, I’m going to call the character in the sentence Stan, even though I’ll just use the pronoun in the sentence. Okay, let’s try out the adverb-less sentence.

“He chuckled in the dank chamber.”

We just made it worse. Now Stan sounds like a yo-yo, giggling in an underground room. The readers still wonder why someone’s laughing in such a place, but now they’re giving him a weird look. Not good. Unless Stan actually is a bit of a nut ball, but let’s assume he’s not.

We need the “grim.” With it, Stan could be a prisoner, plotting revenge. Or he could be an antagonist, thinking about what he’s going to do to the protagonist. It gives the reader something to wonder about and implies conflict. So, we turn “chuckled” into “chuckle” to make it a noun, which makes “grim” an adjective instead.

Adjectives

Now we have: “His grim chuckle echoed in the dank chamber.”

Much better. The sentence is still dramatic, and now we have added an additional description in the form of a strong verb. The chamber is now large and echo-y.

There is some controversy about adjectives, however. Now of course I agree that strong verbs should be the backbone of a good sentence, and adjectives cannot really help a sentence with a pathetic “to be” type verb (was, had been, had, would. etc.) But adjectives have their place.

It is not enough to simply say that your character has eyes, a chin, cheekbones. Well duh they do (unless stated otherwise). You must say what color and/or shape the eyes are. What sort of chin and cheekbones. Not that you have to use those specific details of course.

Some people advocate not describing characters at all, but in my experience readers don’t like this. I have read some fiction in which you could picture the characters perfectly just from what they said and did, but not every writer can (or even should) achieve this. Most writers do describe their characters, and to do so, they need adjectives.

Clearly, there are some instances in which adjectives are downright essential, and other instances in which they make description stronger. But could we remove the adjectives from our chosen sentence?

If our sentence came in the middle of a scene, and we had already established that Stan is a creepy guy, and that the chamber is rather unpleasant, we could do something like:

“His chuckle echoed in the chamber, sending shivers down my spine.”

However, if the sentence comes at the beginning of a scene, the earlier adjective-laden version does a much better job of establishing setting and creating atmosphere.

So, to sum up, when using descriptive words, get rid of adverbs and use adjectives deliberately, when needed.

Writing Fundamentals: Ex Machina

Published July 9, 2016 by nruhwald

frog-1446244_640Many of you know what an ex machina is already (and why to avoid one) but for those of you who don’t, I’ll explain.

Ex machina is a shortened form of deus ex machina, which means “god out of the machine.” In ancient Greek plays, the major conflict of the play would be resolved with a god being lowered to the stage (via a machine), who would then fix everything.

Though popular in ancient Greece, this plot device is no longer encouraged. In fact, don’t do it. Ever.

Your readers spent all this time watching your protagonist fight the antagonist, and they want to see your protagonist triumph in those efforts. They don’t want your protagonist to win because of some coincidence or the intervention of a third party out of the blue.

It’s no fun. And it’s often a sign that the writer didn’t think through the plot enough to know how the protagonist was going to triumph. For example:

“Oh, my character is in a sword fight, but the villain is way better than my character. I know, the wall they’re fighting on crumbles at the right moment and the villain falls to his death.”

Yuck.

Fortunately, if you find you’ve got an ex machina, it’s not all that difficult to fix. Granted, you may need to do some serious rewriting, but you don’t have to come up with something totally new.

All you need to do is make sure your protagonist has some agency in the situation, and make sure that your reader already knows that an event like the one you have planned could happen. Agency + awareness = fixed ex machina.

For example, the latest Jurassic movie, Jurassic World contains what some have so wittily described as a dino ex machina. Just when the bad dinosaur seems like its going to kill the good dinosaurs, a mososaur jumps out of the water and eats the bad dinosaur.

They could have fixed this easily without losing too much shock value. If our friends Blue the velociraptor and her buddy T Rex had seen the mososaur cruising hungrily in its pen, and pushed the Indomitus Rex towards that pen…

Voila. No more dinosaur out of the machine.

It’s not even necessarily a bad thing for your conflict to be resolved this way. Some may have preferred to see Blue and T Rex kill Indomitus Rex themselves, but there are all sorts of reasons you might not want your protagonists to be the ones who kill the antagonist (assuming the antagonist has to die).

Your antagonist may be immortal for some reason, and therefore the only way to “kill” it/him/her is for demons or other things to drag the antagonist back where ever it came from. As long as it’s not a coincidence that these gatekeepers showed up just then, and your protagonist has some part in getting them to show up and do what they do, you’re good.

This happens a lot in Disney movies, where parents don’t necessarily want their children looking up to a character who has killed somebody, but the villains in these movies are often evil enough that they deserve to die. Anastasia and the new Frog Princess movie both end this way.

So if your antagonist must be defeated by a third party, (angels, a crumbling wall, a hungry dinosaur) just make sure your reader knew it could happen, and that your protagonist helped make it happen in some way.

 

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