Dialogue: Building Character Through Speech

Currently listening to “Before Time” by Thomas Bergersen.

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OK, it’s official. I simply cannot keep up with the post-per-day thing. (Probably because I can’t seem to comprehend how I could possibly write a post in only 300 words). On the upside, that little experiment has gotten me back in the writing spirit (I wrote just under 3,000 words on one of my stories yesterday). But since I’m here to give everyone a status update, I thought I might as well talk about something useful while I’m at it. And that something useful is: dialogue.

Description and plot are often hailed as the most important elements of any story, and I would be remiss to say they aren’t critical aspects of writing a successful book, but one element of story and character development that often gets forgotten about is good, old-fashioned talking.

A lot of people I have met get intimidated by dialogue, and for good reason. It is not just an important part of any story, but a vital one, and can too easily go wrong with a simple misplaced phrase. Some readers are rather forgiving about limited or over-done description. They are not always so quick to forgive stilted, awkward, or cliche verbal interaction. This, however, tends to lead people to take the minimalistic approach or avoid dialogue all-together, leaving the reader with a story that is only partially developed and highly unrealistic. (Unless we’re talking about a certain group of teenagers I know who sit side-by-side on a bench and text/Snap Chat each other for hours on end without so much as a spoken word between them).

I am far from what I would consider a “Master of Dialogue,” but I do enjoy it and use it regularly in my work. For me, dialogue gives me one of the best chances I’ll ever get at making my characters real to my readers, not to mention offering a perfect method for clarifying events (within reason) and propelling the plot forward. It is also where most of my comic relief takes place. For instance, here’s a scene from one of my Skyrim fanfictions, Dovahsil.

The innkeeper, Hulda, slid a mug of mead across the counter as Marcurio plopped in a stool, and she flashed him a playful smile when she caught the look of surprise he gave her.

“It’s been a while, Marcurio,” the woman grinned, picking up a rag and rubbing down the counter.

“You remember me?” the mage grinned back, grabbing up the mug and taking a swig. “And you missed me so much that you even gave me a mug of free mead. I’m touched.”

“Oh, that mug isn’t free,” Hulda chuckled, almost menacingly, Marcurio thought. “And of course I remember you,” the innkeeper continued. “You still have a tab.”

A series of coughing and sputtering ensued as Marcurio choked on the mouthful of mead he had almost managed to swallow.

“But it’s been nearly 4 years, Hulda,” the mage protested, setting the mug on the counter and leaning forward, slapping a charming smirk on his face for good effect. “Those were hard times. Can’t we let the past be the past?”

“The past can be the past,” the innkeeper replied nonchalantly. “But last I checked, your tab was still valid today, which means that technically it can’t be considered ‘the past.’”

“Alright, then. Out of the kindness of your heart?”

“If I ran a business like that, I wouldn’t have a business to run.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“Pretty please?”

“No.”

“You know you want to.”

“You know I’ll make you scrub every privy in town if you don’t stop.”

Marcurio recoiled at the suggestion.

“I’ll stop begging,” he squeaked, adjusting the collar of his robe as though it had suddenly become very tight.

“That’s what I thought.”

At that, the man sighed, reaching into his satchel and placing a bag full of coins on the counter.

“There’s 300 here,” he said, sliding it toward Hulda.

The woman’s jaw dropped slightly. Cautiously she reached out, picking up the bag of money and glancing suspiciously inside.

“Just let me know how much more I owe you,” Marcurio continued. “This one included.”

He held up his current mug with a quirky grin.

“This will be enough,” Hulda replied, tucking the bag securely away behind the counter. Then she swatted the mage with her rag.

“You had the money and yet you were trying to weasel out of your debt. You’re such a bum.”

“I prefer business-minded, myself.”

“Cheap-scape sounds more appropriate to me.”

“Oh! You wound me with your words.”

“You’ll make a full recovery, I am sure.”

Recently I read a post called “9 Easily Preventable Mistakes Writers Make with Dialogue.” As the title suggests, in this article, the author explores some of the most common mistakes a writer (both professional or otherwise) can make when writing dialogue, and I find that I am (or previously have been) guilty of the large majority of them.

The first two problems presented in the article are “too formal” and “too casual” dialogue. There is a very delicate balance between the formal and casual methods of speech, and using either one to excess or not enough can make any story into a difficult read. Remember, we’re not trying to reinvent Hamlet or Tom Sawyer here.

For me, I tend to use a mixture of formal and casual speech with my characters. For instance, here is a section of dialogue from my book The Four Stars:

“We really do need to continue on,” Gavin said, turning to look at his companions. “Remember that we aren’t actually here to explore. King Dorrian and Lord Rolf need us. We’ve found the end of the path and solved all its puzzles. It would be selfish to ask for more.”

Rayne glanced at the boy with a disappointed pout, then sighed and nodded.

“You’re right,” she said, sheathing her swords. “I had almost forgotten about that little issue.”

“Issue?” Radek inquired, raising a curious eyebrow at the group.

Razi nodded as she sheathed her own sword.

“The Gauls,” the redhead replied. “They’ve invaded the mountains and have our kingdom’s armies cornered in Altis Pass. A messenger came and said that we were being summoned to join the battle, but that we should take the Old Road instead of the pass. That’s how we ended up here.”

“The Gauls are here in the mountains?” Radek inquired, looking up at Nantlais.

“Hmm…yes…” the giant mused. “The Black Banners, the Gauls, as you call them, have sent many scouts through here over the years, so I thought little of it when I received the report that the number of scouts had recently increased. Our duty has never been to guard the pass, though, so I did not know that there was an army of them there.”

In the case of my Legend of the Stars series, I use formal and informal speech to indicate the status and language of the character. Razi, Rayne, Eryn, and Gavin are somewhat educated, but they are also young orphans who haven’t had much interaction with the world outside of their home. As such, they use more contractions in their speech, along with things like “I dunno” and “Okay.” On the other hand, characters like Radek and Nantlais, who have also lived for many years in an isolated community and whose native language is Ancient Elvish rather than Trade Speech, use more formal language, often opting for sentences that have no contractions in them. This is also reflected in places where characters are speaking specifically in one form or another of Elvish, as the idea behind the language is that there are no possessives or contractions (thus, no need for apostrophes in general). This whole system of dialogue, though, is something new to the rewrite of the series, as the original books contained speech that was downright awkward in places thanks to the excessive formality or informality of the language.

I will admit, I have tried the “too realistic” part of this spectrum before on more than one occasion. When I was in high school, there was a website called Worth1000 that regularly held creative contests. Every contest started with some sort of prompt or theme, and the goal was to create something interesting enough that it would garner enough votes to win on-site tokens.

One such contest that I participated in featured a prompt in which the participants were to write a story surrounding an unusual use of money won in a giveaway. (I no longer remember the exact prompt, though). The story I created, titled “Calling Ma,” featured an eccentric old man and a curious young neighbor boy, and the dialogue went like this:

“Um…what are you doing?” Gage repeated, though this time he was slightly more hesitant.

“I’m making a galactic telephone, see?” the old man replied, patting the giant hunk of metal fondly, causing a piece of hot-glued aluminum to clatter to the ground and a length of copper wire to pop into view. “Those generous fellas in the black car gave me all the money I needed to do the job.”

He was referring to the million dollar give-away that had taken place a few days before.

“A…galactic phone?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What is it supposed to do?”

“What’s it s’posed ta do, he says!” Mr. Goodrich laughed, wriggling out from under his invention and bounding to his oversized feet. “Why, ta call me ma, that’s what!”

“Call your what?”

“Me ma. Ye know, what some people call d’eir mother,” he replied, being sure to stress the “o” in “mother”.

Writing quality aside, what really turned the readers off of this story was the dialogue of Mr. Goodrich (which is significantly cleaned up in the version I’ve posted here, as I did some editing after the competition had ended). And looking back on it, I can see why. Every other word was a misspelling or included an apostrophe, forcing the reader to spend so much time trying to understand what the characters were saying that they couldn’t focus on the rest of the story.

Next on the list was “Obtrusive Dialogue Tags.” And I’ll be the first person to claim, “Guilty as charged.”

To be honest, I have never understood the problem with this one. When I was in college, my mentor, Dr. Robinson, hounded me about this, and I have been accused of being downright “allergic” to the word “said.” (You might notice there’s not one “he said” in the section from “Calling Ma”).

I think some readers take more issue with the dialogue tags than I do, and I would wager that it comes down more to style than to actual writing rules. (After all, this sort of dialogue is present in several of my favorite books, all traditionally published). To me, they aren’t a detractor, and actually help me to envision vocal tone and physical action better than a simple “he said.”

Then there’s phonetic spellings, (I sort of addressed this in the “casual dialogue” section), followed by using characters’ names too often.

I am fairly certain that I don’t use characters’ names too often in the actual speech section. Most of my characters are rather familiar with each other, thus making the use of direct address unnecessary. If anything, I’d say I used names most frequently in my earlier work, probably because of a fear that the reader wouldn’t know who was talking or being talked to. The exception to this that I can think of would be in The Four Stars, when King Ceallach regularly adds the name “Cloony” in his sentences directed at that character. But then, considering the fact that King Ceallach is, in fact, purposefully mocking the character and his name, the overuse makes sense.

Number 6 is “Having No Narrative,” and I would say it’s something I had more trouble with in my early writings than I do now, all thanks to Dr. Robinson, of course. I often write stories containing at least one character who has some sort of secret (often more than one character, but that’s beside the point), and somewhere during the plot, the truth is revealed in the form of a confession of sorts. There are also multiple instances in my books where characters read aloud from documents or books so that all the other characters involved can hear the truth or information at one time. When I first started writing, there were times when this could turn into several pages of strict dialogue/story-telling. When I went to college and took Narrative Writing from Dr. Robinson, however, he was quick to point out how monotonous this sort of writing can be and suggested that I include interjections and action into the mix to remind the reader that there are other characters (and events) present. Here’s an example from my retro fantasy novel, Prism World:

“But even with their powers, they were no match for our guns and our armies,” he read aloud. “The Mythikans, who call themselves the Nalivai, fought bitterly, but they were many tribes of many different minds. Not even those great mages could withstand our power. Little by little, we crushed out their villages, killing their men and women and capturing their children. Admittedly, they were frightening opponents with an ability to kill the like of which I have never before seen. Though they learned all too late how to defeat our armies, we saw in them a potential far greater than that found in a common soldier. In body and in mind they were human, but in power they were something else entirely.”

I glanced down at my scarred left hand as Leif read those words. So…even the masters said that, to some extent at least, Phantoms were human. But if we were human, why did they…? Leif continued to read and I turned my attention back to the book in his hand.

“Our last battle was fought at the foot of the Sajaro Mountains. Their army was small and weak, but their leaders were the most powerful of the Mythikans left alive. Elithe and Feron were their names, and I remember them well for they were the most noble and most courageous of all beings I had ever crossed paths with and, I dare say, ever will. Wielding the powers of lightning and of fire, they scorched the mountain with fervent passion, shaming our generals and standing at the very front of their army, prepared to defy us until their very last breaths…

The last three points in the list were “Having Every Character Sound the Same,” “Using Indirect Speech Poorly,” and “Spelling Everything Out in the Narrative.”

I’m gonna have to defer to my readers on that first one. Most people tell me that my characters are all pretty unique, though I’m sure I could do better.

As for indirect speech, I actually have become rather fond of it, considering the fact that if I spelled out every single conversation, I would need a whole library just to accommodate one story. I think the key here is to summarize the unimportant conversations and expand the ones that really affect character and plot development.

And then, of course, there’s that last one. Of these final three points, I would say the “Spelling Everything Out in the Narrative” is one of my greater weaknesses, and it goes back to something Dr. Robinson pointed out time and again both in my writing classes and in our writing club, the Rough Writers: show, don’t tell. One thing I have learned over time is that readers typically prefer to be able to see what is going on and make conclusions for themselves. Give them too little, and they’ll be confused and frustrated. Give them too much, however, and they’ll feel like you’re demeaning their intelligence.

Ultimately, dialogue is an art that has to be honed over time, but it isn’t something that any narrative writer should neglect or fear. Also, spending time actually listening to real life conversations and carefully considering the structure and words used will go a long way toward helping you become more familiar and comfortable with it.

I am interested to see what other people think about these points as well, and that includes readers as much as (and probably more than) writers. Are these all things that you notice when you’re reading/writing? Are they things that annoy you? Why or why not?

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from you soon. Cheers!

 

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The Modern Writer

Currently listening to…a live stream of “Mass Effect 1″…because not every day is a music day…I guess… >.<

As some of you may have noticed in previous posts, I am, without a doubt, a modern writer. I was born during the rapid rise of modern technology, and I really can’t remember a time in my life when there wasn’t a computer in my house. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of when I would sit on my dad’s lap while he worked on his computers. I got my first email address when I was roughly 7 years old, taught myself basic HTML at 10, and was self-publishing my “books” online at the age of 15. I am a gamer and a YouTube addict, and it is not uncommon to find me tapping away at an app on my phone or watching a game stream on Twitch while I wash dishes.

I’ve heard a lot of talk in recent years regarding technology and its effect on writing. For instance, some of you may have noticed the increase in remakes of older movies that have been hitting the theaters, and Hollywood doesn’t seem poised for a real comeback of original material any time soon. Most of the articles I’ve read focus specifically on Hollywood’s drive for money as the reason for their lack of inspiration, but one person I spoke with the other day told me, “It’s because everyone is so focused on consuming their technology that no one is going out, living life, having adventures, and coming up with their own ideas.”

McCauley Marketing Services wrote a blog post addressing the effect of technology on creativity a few years ago. Even though it is certainly a company-focused post, it still is a very interesting read.

So is technology having a negative effect on the writing world? I think it’s highly likely that the obsession with it could, but as a techie and modern writer myself, I have found that there are also some very positive possibilities for writing improvement and inspiration available thanks to the advancement of technology.

Recently I have been searching through my smartphone’s app store for things to help me with my writing. There actually seem to be quite a few options, but I thought I would go ahead and list the four I’ve become particularly fond of. (All free, mind you). Please note, these are all for Android. For those of you who use iOS, I’m sorry, but I have no idea if these are available to you or not.

1. Plot Generator

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Plot Generator is an app that focuses on generating ideas for stories, and comes with a variety of genre options. Every roll of the digital dice will throw out a random combination of location, character, detail, and objective ideas. As far as the details and objectives for the fantasy genre go, they don’t seem to have a lot of options (of course, fantasy is known for its cliche plot lines), but it’s still a really good way to get the creative juices flowing.

2. Writeometer

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I am a certified chronic procrastinator, so when I found the Writeometer app, I was pretty excited. This app features a word counter, a goal-setter, a timer, and reminder notification options. Completing daily goals earns you “guavas,” which theoretically can be turned in for little “rewards,” though I have not dealt with that feature yet. This could be really helpful for NaNoWriMo, too, so I’m already itching to give it a try on a brand new project in November. (As if I actually need to start another project).

3. WritingExercises wp-1474554154821.png

WritingExercises functions a lot like Plot Generator. Except that instead of generating plots, this one’s focus is on generating prompts. Whenever you open the app, you are given the choice between a random first line, subject, character, or plot. I’d say it works well alongside Plot Generator, and fills in some of the proverbial gaps of the other app.

4. Character Planner wp-1474554200807.png

Character Planner is a full-scale (manual) character creation app. It has so many options for recording character information, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to answer all the slots even if I was doing a profile for my own mother. The point is for you to really get to know your character, and to record that information so you don’t forget it later.

Over all, I think that modern technology has a lot of potential to improve a writer’s abilities and projects, if used properly. I am interested, however, to hear other people’s opinions on the matter. In any case, thanks for visiting my blog, and happy reading!

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It’s All Perspective

Currently listening to “Book of Days” by David Arkenstone & Kathleen Fisher.

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This picture pretty much sums up my attempt at blogging yesterday. It also is, more or less, what I met when stepping out the door this morning. My life is never dull, that’s for sure.

I live on a small farm outside of Austin, TX. It’s the same piece of property that my family has lived on for the past 60 or so years, a place that is very near and dear to my heart, but somewhere in the mix of rushing to and from work (which is an hour away thanks to traffic) and my obsession with electronics (I have been having way too much fun with my MMOs and screen capture software as of late), I sometimes forget what a blessing (and endless source of entertainment) my rural life is.

There is only a small pasture that separates my house from my grandparents’ house, and because we are usually too busy to mow the acre or so of yard space around our house (the rest of the land is intended for pastureland), we usually end up bringing their cows and donkeys into the yard to do the job for us. Which would be fine, except that the rest of my family has taken great pleasure in regularly feeding the creatures treats, making them as much of a nuisance as an asset.

To add to the excitement of it all, recently one of our cats (the only one of three that was indoor-outdoor; the other two have been indoor all their lives) got injured in a fight with another cat, which has resulted in permanent house arrest (long story) and the “cone of shame,” much to his chagrin.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been very tired recently (part of the reason I couldn’t come up with anything to write yesterday), and today has been no exception. I dragged myself out of bed late this morning and spent a good portion of my time wandering around the house in a zombie-like daze trying to remember what it was I was supposed to be doing. (I am not, in any sense of the word, a “morning person”). By the time I did wake up enough to actually be coherent, it was almost time to leave for work.

I quickly threw some food into my lunchbox, gathered up my things, and headed for the front door when I noticed a little black shadow leering just behind the coffee table. It was our injured cat, Pepe, who decided early on in his recovery that he was through with house life and has been trying to make a break for the great outdoors ever since, cone-of-shame or no. This morning was no exception, and I could tell, judging by the look on that face peering at me from inside the reflector-rimmed, black fabric cone, that if I so much as cracked that door, he was going to make a run for it.

I was already running late by this point and definitely didn’t have time to try to herd a cat around our expansive yard, so I abandoned the idea of leaving the easy way, grabbed up my belongings and shoes, and hauled everything into the laundry room. It’s a slightly longer walk from that side of the house, but at least there’s an extra door on that end that separates the yard from the plotting inmate.

With the laundry room door closed and Pepe no longer a concern, I slipped on my boots, picked my stuff up again, and opened the door. It took about two seconds for a nearby cow to realize there was someone at the “treat door,” and the next thing I knew, not only was I balancing my belongings and trying to lock the door, but I was also trying to keep livestock out of the laundry room at the same time.

“No cows in the laundry room,” I scolded as I turned to head toward the car.

Then came the bleating of the goats nearby, who are also beggars in their own right, and by the time I had driven down to the end of the drive, opened the gate, parked on the other side, and closed the gate again, I couldn’t help but stop and laugh for a minute. What a way to start my day.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite sets of books – or, rather, audiobooks, because as we have previously established, I was not much of a reader as a kid – was the All Creatures Great and Small set written by British author James Herriot. Herriot had a way of making veterinary work and farm life seem infinitely entertaining, and I think I’m really beginning to appreciate that outlook on life now.

I’ve written before about how life seems different depending on how you look at it. I think I had forgotten this somewhere along the way between my first years in college and now, but as I was dodging animals this morning, I began to realize that part of the reason I had forgotten how to find the humorous side of life was because I was taking the little things for granted. Yeah, it’s a pain to dodge escapee cats and greedy livestock, but I don’t think I would want to live any other way. And if I can just keep thinking that way, I am sure there will always be a funny story to tell at the end of the day.

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Writing Soul: True vs. Hobbyist Writers

Currently listening to “Faith on Fire” by Brueske & Bond Families.

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So…that “post-a-day” business finally came crashing down this weekend. With everything else that I was doing, it was simply a no-go, but now that things have settled down again for a little while, I’m back to blogging.

This last week was crazy busy with church events and whatnot, so even though I did manage to squeeze a few posts in (confession, the ones for Thursday and Friday were scheduled beforehand >.<), there was just no way I could get posts done for Saturday and Sunday. I did, however, come up with the idea for this post Saturday night.

After a very busy day on Saturday, I ended up going to a youth night hosted by another local church at a skating rink just north of Austin. (Even though BuzzFeed thinks I’m retro, I swear I still count as youth…) I didn’t expect to know anyone there, to be honest, but after failing to convince my cousin or my brother to go with me, I finally decided to swallow my phobia of strangers and go by myself.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find not only several acquaintances there, but also none other than my childhood best friend – the inspiration for both Rayne (Star Trilogy) and Shadowraith (Infinite) – who I have not seen or heard from in roughly a year.

We had a nice time catching up while we skated (or, rather, while she skated and I tried not to fall flat on my face, considering it’s been quite a few years since I last put on a pair of skates). We talked about school and work, and eventually I mentioned that I had started working on Infinite, a story she helped inspire.

“Oh, cool,” she said. “I don’t really write anymore. I just read now.”

For those of you who have been following my blog for some time, you might remember me mentioning that while I was still a young teen working on my first book, Random, I happened to get two friends – who were the inspirations for Rayne and Gavin – to start writing stories with me. I considered both of them to be good writers, but neither one still write as of now. And it got me to thinking: what separates a real writer from a hobbyist?

I remember, back when I was taking Narrative Writing in college, that my professor and mentor, Dr. Robinson, told a story about how when he was in college, he had a friend who was a much better writer than Dr. Robinson himself. However, that friend never really put forth a lot of effort to continue writing, and so, in the end, Dr. Robinson was the one who became a published author.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve been accused before of being a hobbyist writer, of “growing out” of writing, and for good reason, as my long absences here on my blog suggest. But the thing about me is that even the thought of not writing terrified me. “Writer” has been my identity for over a decade. Losing that would be like losing myself.

Is writing always easy for me? Absolutely not. There are days (like this weekend, for instance) where it’s all I can do to keep my head on straight. There are days when I’m so exhausted I don’t even want to see a computer, or a notebook, or even a pen, for that matter. There are days where I want to melt in a puddle and wave a white flag of surrender. But I can’t ever imagine a time in my life where I would actually stop writing.

So maybe, in the end, that is what sets apart the true writers from the hobbyist writers. If you can imagine not writing, you’re probably just a hobbyist writer, and that’s OK. Some people only ever have one story they feel they need to tell. Some people write because it’s the best way they have of coping with their current situation in life. To write is, I think, to build character and cope with life. Some people can do that in just a few sentences, some in just a few chapters. And then there are some of us who are just too addicted to quit.

And for what it’s worth, we writers need readers, especially readers who are familiar with the ways in which writing works, to give us feedback and help us grow. I think in that way, it makes hobbyist writers just as important as serious ones.

So if you’ve been struggling with finding the drive to write, or if you’ve been worrying over whether or not you’re actually a “real” writer, think of it this way: if you can’t imagine living without writing, you’re a real writer, so just keep plugging away and have faith that even if you’re struggling now, you’ll grow as you practice. And, if you can imagine living without writing, know that it doesn’t make you any less valuable to the writing community. Your input and support are vital to those of us who can’t give it up, and it may be that somewhere down the road, you’ll find you have a story to tell, too. You might just not know it yet.

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Character Interview: Scythe

Currently listening to “Friends” by Stephanie (from Gundam 00).

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With my focus having been turned to Remnant Moon recently, I thought I’d try another round of character interviewing for you today.

Today’s interviewee is none other than Scythe, the obnoxious, rather perverted, happy-go-lucky Phantom. (Also Lightning’s older brother, much to her chagrin. >_<).

Scythe is a difficult character to “interview” because who he is in front of everyone else and who he is when he’s alone are two very different people, so this will be interesting. That being said, here we go!

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
    Answer: We’re trying to keep this appropriate for Vin’s ears, right? Well…I don’t know if I believe in perfect happiness, but…eating that picnic lunch with Vin and getting Elaine all riled up…that was pretty fun. Milly, too. Milly…I think I was happy when I was with her…
  2. What is your greatest fear?
    Answer: …That I will eventually lose control of myself.
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
    Answer: My bloodlust. I hate it because the masters put it there, and because I’m always afraid I will lose myself to it some day.
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
    Answer: I don’t think much about people. But…maybe cowardice? Honestly, though, the only people I really hate are people who try to take away what’s important to me.
  5. Which living person do you most admire?
    Answer: My sister, Lightning. I admire her for her strength, and for her ability to fit in with the rest of society.
  6. What is your greatest extravagance?
    Answer: That highly depends on your meaning. On a more Vin-appropriate level, though…I like to buy things for people I care about, like drinks, or clothes, or…houses…
  7. What is your current state of mind?
    Answer: I would say my usual state of mind is not child-appropriate. *laughs* In all seriousness, though… I don’t know… Sometimes I’m only barely aware that I’m alive at all.
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
    Answer: I’d probably say “idealism.” I don’t believe in an “ideal” world.
  9. On what occasion do you lie?
    Answer: …never
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
    Answer: Dislike? I happen to be quite fond of my appearance, myself. So do the ladies. Even though Elaine doesn’t want to admit it.
  11. Which living person do you most despise?
    Answer: There aren’t many living people I despise, if you get my meaning.
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
    Answer: I don’t especially think too much about men, to be honest.
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
    Answer: I have to pick one? “Quality” doesn’t mean body part, right? Hmm…stubbornness or independence, I guess. I like it when they play hard-to-catch and aren’t even trying to.
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
    Answer: Whatever it takes to make the ladies swoon. I don’t have one specific method or phrase, but I do use the word “love” a lot. Usually when I’m flirting with a girl… Which would be most of the time…
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
    Answer: Well…Elaine and Vin are the most important people in the world to me…
  16. When and where were you happiest?
    Answer: …Living in the townhouse with Milly.
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?
    Answer: X-ray vision. *smirk*
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
    Answer: Why would I want to change myself? I’m perfect, right? …No? Well…let’s see… I would probably get rid of the bloodlust I’m constantly battling…or my memories…
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
    Answer: I suppose that would be the time I escaped the Phantom Legion. That was no easy feat, not just to escape but to survive, too. But then, my survival was mostly Milly’s doing, so I can’t take much of the credit.
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
    Answer: Elaine’s dress. *wink* Well…maybe a snowflake. I feel a strange connection to the snow.
  21. Where would you most like to live?
    Answer: I don’t know. I never really thought about it before. I never really “belonged” anywhere, and I go wherever I please. I just live wherever I happen to be.
  22. What is your most treasured possession?
    Answer: Hmm…probably my scythe. It’s been my companion for a long, long time. My trench coat would be a close second.
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
    Answer: …To have absolutely no purpose in life.
  24. What is your favorite occupation?
    Answer: Tormenting Elaine. *impish grin*
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?
    Answer: That would be my charm and good looks.
  26. What do you most value in your friends?
    Answer: Friends…I still have a hard time with that word, but…probably their patience and loyalty. You need a lot of patience to be friends with me…and a few missing brain cells. At least, that’s what Elaine tells me.
  27. Who are your favorite writers?
    Answer: I don’t read much, so I can’t say I have any.
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?
    Answer: Well, it’s difficult to have a fictional hero when you don’t read, right?
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
    Answer: I don’t know that I identify with anyone, modern or historical. The world can only handle one of me, right?
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?
    Answer: I don’t know that I’d say I have any “heroes,” but I do admire Lightning. I think I’ve answered a question similar to this earlier today.
  31. What are your favorite names?
    Answer: …? I don’t…think much about names. But my favorite people would be Milly, Vin, Elaine, Lightning, and Glen. Do those count?
  32. What is it that you most dislike?
    Answer: …Living alone and without purpose.
  33. What is your greatest regret?
    Answer: …That I couldn’t protect Milly…
  34. How would you like to die?
    Answer: In bed with a pretty girl. *laughs* …Hell, I’ve tried to die a hundred different ways a thousand different times. Before Elaine and Vin, I’d have said any way that didn’t require me doing it myself. Now…I guess I’d like to die in my sleep, as an old man, with the people I care about still around me.
  35. What is your motto?
    Answer: I don’t think I have one. Unless…well…I’m starting to think it might be, “Life matters. People matter. I matter.” Or…something like that…

Save

Viper’s Last Stand

Currently listening to “Behind These Hazel Eyes” by Kelly Clarkson.

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And here is the second short story, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post.

The story is called “Viper’s Last Stand,” a story about Scythe and Lightning’s father. This is another even that is referenced in Prism World but is never actually shown.

The story is written from the point of view of one of the Phantom masters, Mr. Perei, who is also featured in Prism World, and it is probably my favorite of the short stories I’ve written so far. I hope you enjoy it, too. Happy reading!


“Viper’s Last Stand”

He was a tall, solemn, mysterious creature, with eyes like ebony and black hair that glowed faintly of blue in the moonlight. His footsteps were inaudible, his movements so deft that he could have been compared to a breath in the night. He was every bit the ghost he should have been.

His name was Viper. His specialty: poison.

In another life, had he not been born a Phantom, Viper might have made an excellent doctor. His weapon was the needle, and his eyes and instincts were so sharp he could find the smallest of veins in the darkest of nights. He was quick and efficient. He killed dozens in his lifetime. While he was active in the field, not one mark escaped.

I remember the first time I met Viper. I had heard stories about him. He was the pride of the Alpha 6 establishment of the Phantom Legion. Actually, I’d say he was the pride of the entire Phantom Legion.

He was retired from the field by the time I met him. His mates were carefully selected for him, in the hopes of improving the Phantom bloodlines through him.

He was perfectly obedient. Too obedient…

Viper never spoke, but his dark eyes watched everyone and everything. Nothing escaped him. And though I didn’t notice it much at first, there was always a glint of rebellion in those ebony eyes. He was truly a perfect snake, a deadly viper waiting for the right moment to strike.

I suppose it was after his last offspring was born that I first heard Viper use his voice, and his words surprised me so much that I myself couldn’t speak at first.

“Master Perei.”

I jumped at his words. His voice was a deep bass, rumbling, powerful. His was the voice of a king, and for a moment I was taken aback.

“How is Mercy?”

It took me a moment to realize that he was asking about his last successful mate.

“Why are you asking, Viper?” I inquired, trying to dodge the question.

There was a pause before he spoke.

“I heard she had a child by me and that the child was ill.”

He never looked at me when he spoke. Part of me wondered if he was even speaking to me at all. His gaze seemed distant, absent.

“How do you even know what a child is?” I responded.

I could hardly believe I was having a conversation with a Phantom. If I hadn’t been running some simple tests on him, I might never have.

There was a moment of silence before Viper spoke again.

“I have ears,” he replied quietly. “And masters have mouths.”

I had no idea how to take that response.

“Well…yes, you were successful with Mercy, and though there were complications, your offspring is as strong as you now. She will make a fine addition to the Legion. Would that you had continued to be successful with your most recent mates.”

Viper didn’t look at me, but his eyes narrowed.

“I need no others,” he stated flatly.

I drew back quickly at this statement.

“Are you telling me you haven’t been successful on purpose?” I inquired incredulously.

At this, Viper finally looked at me. I could almost imagine a dark snake coiled and ready to strike as I stared into his ghostly-pale face.

“I am telling you nothing,” he responded.

Viper didn’t speak much after that. He didn’t need to. His behavior told us everything. The poison of rebellion that he had been harboring all his life was beginning to rise to the surface, and more than one of us noticed it. It had to be stopped before it got out of hand. That was what we told ourselves. And so we set a plan in motion, one we thought would bring Viper back under our control.

We should have just killed him then…

 

It was a cold day in early winter as I stepped out of my car and into the humid warmth of Alpha 6. I grumbled to myself as I removed my coat and dropped it in my room before heading to the conference room on the other side of the compound. I was supposed to be on leave. What could they possibly need me for that couldn’t wait until I had finished my vacation?

I ground to a halt as I entered the conference room. It looked like every employee in Alpha 6 was gathered there, with row upon row of heavily armed soldiers crowding the corners. And there, sitting in a chair in the center of the far side of the room, was a man with dishevelled hair, a black eye and dried blood streaked across his bare skin.

“Good of you to join us, Mr. Perei,” a voice called to me from nearby.

I cocked an eyebrow at my superior, Mr. Neims, from my position in the doorway.

“Care to explain, sir?” I inquired.

“A rebel,” Mr. Neims responded, nodding toward the bruised and battered man who sat silently glaring at us. “We have reports that he has been trying to start an underground rebel force in Randburg.”

I smirked over at the rebel when I heard this.

“Not so smart, are you?”

The rebel spit on the ground as his reply.

“There is another issue which needs to be dealt with as well,” Mr. Neims added, turning to face me. “I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about.”

“Viper?” I questioned.

“Precisely,” my superior nodded. “I’m afraid that in his retirement he has forgotten who is in charge here. Refreshing his memory would be for the best, don’t you agree?”

“Absolutely,” I nodded, turning back toward the door. “I’ll go get him.”

I quickly wound my way down the hall toward Viper’s room, inserting my key into the lock and watching as the dim hall light filtered into the pitch-black room. I could see a shadowed figure sitting on the bed, staring at the wall. If he had been younger, the punishment for remaining visible would have been exceptional. Viper was retired, though, so he couldn’t be expected to move with the flexibility of the younger Phantoms. Still, it didn’t seem like he cared to move at all this time.

“Viper,” I called. “You have a job to do.”

For a moment, the Phantom didn’t move. Then, slowly, he slid from his bed and stepped over toward me.

He followed me like a shadow, so quiet that I had to keep looking over my shoulder to make sure he was still there. He didn’t even flinch as I closed the conference room doors behind us. Instead, his gaze settled on the rebel in front of us, and his dark eyes narrowed.

“Good boy, Viper,” Mr. Neims smirked, reaching into a case nearby and holding out a filled syringe toward the Phantom. “Now, we have a little rat here who has been causing trouble, and we want to give you the honor of dealing with him.”

Now even Viper’s eyebrows were narrowed.

“You just can’t stand the idea of someone wanting freedom,” the rebel suddenly spat. He was too weak to move, but his mouth worked just fine. “You’re monsters. All of you.”

This time, Viper did flinch.

“Hurry it up, Viper,” Mr. Neims growled. “Kill him.”

“No,” the Phantom interrupted before Mr. Neims could even finish his last word.

There was a visible shift in the room, with all the armed guards standing up alert and all the other masters exchanging bewildered gazes. I don’t think any of us had ever heard a Phantom tell us “no” before. It wasn’t a word they were even supposed to know.

“Excuse me?” Mr. Neims said menacingly. “Now you listen here, Viper. I’ve had just about enough of your insolence. Now I’m a good man, so I’m going to give you a choice: your life or the life of this rat. Which will it be?”

The rebel laughed ruefully at the word “good,” but Viper didn’t so much as blink. Then, slowly, he reached for the syringe in Mr. Neims’ hand.

Good. This will take care of this issue and we’ll be back to normal, I thought to myself, allowing a victorious smirk to cross my face.

For a moment, Viper stared at the syringe, slowly pushing the plunger further into the outer casing and watching as miniscule drops of poison began to drip out of the needle point. Then, all of a sudden, he flipped the syringe backward in his hand, driving the needle deep into Mr. Neims’ neck and releasing every last drop of the poison in a flash.

There was a scream as my superior realized what was going on, his hands reaching up to push Viper away, but it was already too late. We were all so surprised that it took a moment for us to respond, and in that brief instant of shock, the Phantom had already pulled a gun from someone nearby.

Gunshots rang through the room, deafening me as I drew my own pistol and aimed.

Bang, bang, bang!

It was hard to tell who was shooting who as I dodged behind a nearby chair. Luckily for me, the renegade Phantom was more focused on the soldiers in the corner than he was on me. Here a bullet pierced his gut; there another bullet split through his shoulder. Still, Viper kept fighting.

He really is a monster.

Just then, the Phantom turned his back to me. If I had any hope of stopping him, it was right here, right now.

Quickly I aimed and fired. The sound of the gunshot rang in my ears, but I didn’t move until I watched Viper slump down onto the concrete floor, rivers of red trickling out left and right. Then, when his body had stilled, I cautiously pulled myself to my feet.

For a moment, I could feel my blood run cold through my veins. Everyone was dead. Everyone. The soldiers, the masters, even the rebel. No matter where I looked, I saw red. 30 men. How had he managed to kill 30 men?

Slowly I stepped up to Viper’s body. He was lying on his back, his breath coming out in short, quick gasps.

He’s still alive?!

I paused over him, a feeling of rage washing through my body as I pointed my pistol at him. How could he? How could he betray the ones who had fed and kept him all his life? How dare he?

“Animal,” I growled, kicking the Phantom in the side and relishing the feeling of satisfaction I got from hearing his pained grunt. “You should have known better.”

“You think this is the end?” Viper snarled back, his coal-black eyes burning with pride and rage. “Kill me. But my blood has already poisoned your ground. My legacy will be the end of you. The Phantoms will not be your pets forever.”

“You’re starting to babble,” I spat back. “Looks like I need to put you out of your misery.”

For a moment, his lips drew into a fine line as his face began to take on the color of death.

“Mercy, forgive me,” he whispered suddenly.

“Too late for that, Viper,” I replied coldly.

Then with that, I pulled the trigger and watched as all life vanished from his body. A menacing grin crossed my face as I turned back toward the blood-stained door.

Idiot. Did he really think that would save him?

I laughed to myself, wondering at the sudden plea that Viper had given in his dying breaths. I should have known better. I should have known that his last words had never been meant for me.

Viper and Mercy

Currently listening to “Home” by Natalie Grant.

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The song I’m listening to actually sort of  fits with the topic of this post. Funny how that works…

So, the mind is an interesting thing. I’ve gone probably more than a year without writing anything notable on Remnant Moon, the sequel to my retro fantasy novel, Prism World. Yesterday, however, I started getting the stirrings of ideas, and today I’ve been working like a madwoman to get timelines and details organized so I can remain accurate as I write.

While looking through previously written material for this series, I came across a couple of short stories I wrote but never posted, though I’m pretty sure I wrote about them in a previous post. With my inspiration for the series coming back to me (and since I’m gearing up for a really busy rest-of-the-week/weekend), I decided it was about time I post them here.

This first one is called “Viper and Mercy,” and sets up the second one, which I will post tomorrow, called “Viper’s Last Stand.” Even though Viper is only ever mentioned in the Prism World series, and Mercy never does feature prominently in any of the stories, they are still two characters who have a lot – and I mean a lot – of influence on the course of the plot.

Before I post them, though, please be warned: These stories are not for children. While I wouldn’t call them graphic, the content is definitely not kid-friendly.

You have been warned.

With that being said, here is the first of the short stories. Thanks, and happy reading!


“Viper and Mercy”

I was only just 25, a newly-retired Phantom, when I first heard his name.

“She’s a very efficient Phantom,” I heard the masters say. “She never requires a second shot. Despite her emotional weakness, she is obedient, and I have seen few Phantoms with the reflexes that that one possesses. She would be an ideal match for Viper.”

I didn’t know what or who Viper was, but the masters’ mention of my emotional weakness frightened me. I curled up on my bed, hugging my knees to my chest and burying my face between them.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

As though to spite me, tears began to flow out of my eyes and trickle down my bare legs. I couldn’t help it. This was how I had been my entire life. I was always crying. It was how I got my name: Mercy.

I tried to be a good Phantom. I tried to make the masters happy with me. But I couldn’t. I hated to kill. I cried for every person I did kill. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to stop hurting and being hurt. I wanted to stop crying. But ever since that day…ever since the day I had been forced to make my first kill…been forced to kill the nurse who had raised me, the only person who had ever treated me kindly…ever since that day, my tears were my only constant companions.

The sound of footfall outside my door brought me back to reality, and instinct made me dart away into a dark corner of my room. I couldn’t let the masters find me. They would punish me if I was visible when they came in.

The door opened, and two pairs of feet entered the room.

“You can come out now, Mercy.”

Cautiously I pulled myself out of my hiding place and moved over in front of the master, my hands clasped together in front of me and my face turned to the side to try and hide the tears. It wasn’t as if the master would have been surprised, though. They had come to accept my tears as one of my odd little traits.

“I’ve brought you a companion,” the master said, motioning to the second figure who had entered the room. “His name is Viper. He will help you create a new Phantom to protect our government. Do as he says, and be a good girl.”

I nodded faintly.

Create new Phantoms? I didn’t really understand it, but if that was what the master wanted me to do, I would just have to obey. There was no escaping them.

I didn’t move until the door closed and the familiar darkness of my room enveloped me again. Then I looked up.

He was a tall man, the one who stood in front of me. His hair, which was mostly black with only slight hints of grey intermixed in it, hung just above his shoulders, framing a strong yet pale face. He watched me closely through a pair of familiar coal-black eyes. There was something about his eyes, though, that caught me. They were alive. I had seen other Phantoms only a handful of times, but never had I seen one with eyes as intelligent and vibrant as his. I wanted to know what that glimmer in his eyes was, but I didn’t know how to ask.

I opened my mouth, closed it again, then said in a barely audible voice, “I will…do as you say.”

Viper stared at me for another long moment. When he spoke, his deep, rumbling voice sent excited chills down my spine. I liked his voice.

“Lie down,” he said, motioning toward the bed.

I glanced between him and the bed, then cautiously did as I was told, lying down on my side and curling my knees up to my chest as I looked up at the person in front of me.

Now what?

Again he watched me in quiet thought. He was always doing that. Always watching.

Slowly Viper sat down on the bed at my side, his dark eyes studying my face. He was quiet for a long time, but then his eyes softened.

“Do you like the masters?” he asked suddenly.

My heart lept slightly at the question as a feeling of dread washed through my body. I curled my knees closer to my chest and looked away from him.

“Yes,” I managed to squeak out.

No. I don’t. I really don’t.

But I couldn’t say it. I was too scared. If the masters heard me say otherwise, I would be punished.

Again Viper sat silently for several moments. Then, all of a sudden, he moved, gently cupping my face in his hands and turning me so that I had no choice but to look at him. He moved his face closer to mine, pressing his forehead against my own. His eyes were so soft.

“Really?” he asked. “You don’t have to lie to me. Tell me the truth. Say what you want to say.”

Images of all the people I had killed began to stir through my mind, and instantly my tears began to fall again. I couldn’t even see Viper’s face anymore, and so I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, as though somehow that would chase away the horrid memories.

“No,” I cried softly. “No, I don’t. I’m scared. I’m really scared. The masters scare me. Please don’t tell them. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know I’m weak. I never wanted to kill anybody. But I don’t want to be hurt again. Please…”

I never got to finish my sentence, because the next thing I knew, Viper’s lips were covering mine, drowning out my words. It was a sweet, exciting, yet absolutely terrifying thing for me.

For such a big man, his kiss and touch were surprisingly gentle. His lips didn’t leave mine until I stopped trying to talk, then he pulled away and, pushing my knees down and away from my chest, drew me up against him, wrapping a broad, strong arm around my body in a protective embrace.

“It’s alright,” Viper said soothingly, using his free hand to wipe at my tears. “You should never apologize for that. The masters don’t deserve that much.”

I don’t know how long we laid there, his broad chest and strong arms completely enveloping me. He didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t need to. His eyes told me everything.

I’ll protect you. I’ll comfort you. I care for you.

Quietly I wrapped my arms around him, burying my face in his chest. The touch of another person…a gentle, loving touch…I didn’t realize how much I craved it until this moment. Only one person had ever hugged me before. And because of that…the masters had forced me to kill her.

Again I began to cry as a chill of fear spread through my body. Would the masters make me kill Viper, too? Why was it so wrong for someone to treat me with kindness?

I don’t want to hurt him.

I felt Viper move then, and I looked up into his warm, dark eyes. He was looking at me worriedly, as though to ask me what was wrong. That only made me cry harder.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” I cried. “I don’t want them to make me hurt you. Never again. So if being kind to me means they will hurt you, please stop. Please don’t die.”

To a normal person, my outburst would have seemed bizarre and absurd. But it was almost as though Viper could read minds, because instead of looking at me strangely, he rolled me over on my back, straddling me and cupping my face in his hands as he pressed his forehead to mine. The barest hint of a smile caused his lips to turn upward slightly. There was a gleam in his eyes, as though to say, “We’ll both be fine.”

And finally, for the first time in my remembered life, I felt my body begin to relax.

I didn’t resist as Viper kissed me, running his lips and hands all over me. It was as though he sensed all the pain, and fear, and loneliness that I had felt over the years. There was a passion in him that I had never seen in any person before or after. And always, whenever possible, he kept his eyes locked on mine, as though to constantly make sure I was all right. If ever I acted like I was scared or in pain, he would pause, watch me, sometimes even go back to gently kissing me on the forehead and cheeks. And I trusted him like I had trusted no one else before.

Time passed. And when he was through, Viper gently wrapped the blankets around us and pulled me as close as he could, burying his face in the crook of my neck and breathing in deeply.

I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him back. The happiness and calm I had felt earlier exchanged themselves for a feeling of fear and sadness again, and I could feel the sting of tears at the backs of my eyes as I asked the question that was now gnawing at my mind.

“Will you stay with me?” I asked.

Viper’s shoulders sagged at the question, and slowly he leaned back, looking at me apologetically. I knew the answer, and so the tears began to fall again.

Quickly I put my palms to my eyes, trying to will the tears away. I was angry with myself for not being able to stop them.

I really am a horrible Phantom.

All of a sudden, Viper pulled my hands away from my eyes and kissed at the tears that were falling. He kissed the palms of my hands, then pulled me close, pressing my ear to his chest. I could hear his heart beating rapidly, a loud and strong thump that rumbled the way his voice did. Again he buried his face in my neck and tightened his arms around me, as though to tell me he didn’t want to let go.

We sat like that for several minutes. Then, at last, Viper released me and reached for my clothes. He gently helped me dress, then put his own clothes back on before curling up on the bed with me again. He was a good judge of time, I later realized, for within a few minutes, the sound of footsteps in the hall outside caught my ears.

Instinct made me try to jump up and hide, but Viper held me tightly, his eyes focused firmly on the concrete wall nearby, as though the look alone would bore a hole through it.

The door opened, and I curled up into as much of a ball as I could muster while plastered to Viper’s chest, trying to hide my face from the light and the master that stood in the doorway.

“I’m here for you, Viper,” the master’s voice called out.

For a moment, Viper didn’t move. When he did, he turned to glare daggers at the master.

I could sense the master stiffen.

“Viper.”

The voice was guarded and contained an audible warning.

Viper drew in a long, deep breath, sighing deeply before pulling himself away from me. The master stepped to the side, motioning for him to leave, but he paused for a moment to look back at me. I sat up on the bed, trying to control the tears that threatened to flow.

With his back turned to the master, Viper gestured slightly toward his own heart. Then, with one last glance, he stepped out into the hall and the door closed behind him. Once again, silence enveloped the darkness, and for the first time I realized just how empty my room was. That was when I began to cry. I already missed him. And I always would.