A to Z 2017: Structure and Swashbuckling

My A-Z Blogging theme is to cover 26 touch-me-not categories of fiction writing. These are frequently the trouble spots which can be useful components of the story if handled properly, but when rushed through, can cause all kinds of trouble. While the genre is fantasy, the tips can apply to anything, from romance to literary fiction.

Enjoy!

While exploring the ruins of an old castle, Mordekai and his sister Monique accidentally destroy an old tower only to find themselves in a different place, or time, entirely. Then a giant goat crashes through the wall and carries Mordekai off, leaving Monique with the unpredictable Princess Mural. After a variety of adventures, they’re reunited in the courtyard of the villains castle. 

S: Structure and Swashbuckling

Mordekai untied Mural first before getting to his sister. (He felt he owed her that much after restoring his power of touch, after all.) He was just in the process of getting the last knot off his sister’s legs when the goats who’d gone to fetch him from his dungeon returned.

“He’s gone!” they yelled…or so he interpreted the bleats. They were short and panicky enough to be that.

Mordekai got to his feet even as the goats turned towards them. The giant bent down as though to pick them up, and they collectively ducked. The furry head swept over them. They scrambled across the courtyard, and Mordekai tried to find something to fight with, but they had nothing. And now that I’m touchable again, they’ll be able to hurt me, he thought as he leaped over a short fence into a corral or stable or some kind of shelter.

The goats leapt after them. Keeping Mural and Monique behind him, he picked up whatever he could find in the way of weapons…which was mostly handful of straw. There was a thick stick at the bottom of the haystack, though, and he snatched that up and turned to whack the first goat’s head that presented itself.

***

A much older Mordekai looked up from the page he’d been reading, turning to smile at his granddaughter. “How ’bout stopping there for the night?”

That brought out the expected pout. “No.”

“But the rest of it’s scary.”

“No more scary than you’re getting carried off by the goat.”

“Yes, but it’s getting late. It’s past your bedtime.” He stood to his feet and made a show of going towards the door even though he knew he’d never reach it.

“Please, Grandpa? At least…finish the battle?”

He smiled and returned to his seat. “Alright. But if we get into trouble…”

“I’ll take the blame,” she said, snuggling under the furs with an expectant expression in her blue green eyes.

***

He’d never done much in the way of martial arts, but he had practiced enough quarterstaff to know what he was doing. As his enemy discovered much to their chagrin. The stable backed up against the castle, but it was approachable by three sides, and the goats were using every angle. He turned, spinning on the heels of his synthetic boots to cross the expanse.

His thick stick crashed against the goat’s horn. It slid off, shoving the creature in the neck, and it bleated. Mordekai changed direction to jab it in the ribs before turning to address another, this one eager to knock him off his ankles. He hopped in the air and landed awkwardly on his opponent’s back. They went around the stable, knocking other goats over as the first one panicked, trying to get him free. At last he was tossed off to land in a heap…a none-too-padded spot, bare of helpful hay. He looked up to find Mural watching him, a stick of her own in her hand. “You do well, Sir Mordekai. But this is a threat we all must face.”

Tossing another stick at Monique–who surprisingly caught it–she progressed towards the goats but didn’t attack. Instead, she spoke. “Would you fight against your rightful monarch? I know you desire freedom from your goatish form, but ’tis only possible when right is enthroned.”

Mordekai looked at her as though she was crazy, keeping his staff up just in case the goats decided to answer her question with a counterattack.

“I cannot promise all will be well if you turn from my uncle, but I know your lot shall not improve as long as you serve him.”

For a moment, the goats seemed to consider her words, which made Mordekai wonder if they really were transformed-something-else’s. Or did they lose something else, like the ability to talk? He’d only seen the captain speak.

Just then, something flew through the air. Whether rock or crossbow bolt, he never saw, for he was struck down. He hit something–the ground, a goat horn, or maybe even Mural’s staff–and his vision faded to black, just like the end of a movie.


I want to talk about two things with this letter (to make up for the fact that I’m a bit behind in the A-Z challenge).

First, structure. Once you figure out how you’re telling the story, you shouldn’t change in mindstream, like I did here. Sure, we stuck to third person close narration, but the whole “idea of the story” was that it was unfolding in real time and we were tagging along, watching. Now, with this scene of Mordekai and his granddaughter, we get an entirely different angle.

Not to say the angle is bad; it can be a great way to smuggle in information you wouldn’t otherwise get, and can be used to great effect, as it was in The Princess Bride movie (which was one time the movie was better than the book…Buttercup’s baby? Seriously, people?). Because it hasn’t shown up anywhere else, though, this interjection would come across as jolting, just as jolting as putting romance suddenly in a book that didn’t have a hint of it, or adding a thriller twist to a plot that was much more sweet and sentimental, day-to-day recounting (like Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie). Again, the story angle is fine, but it needs to come up earlier so that it doesn’t feel tacked on…so readers who like that sort of thing know what they’re in for, in a general sense. (Unless you’re trying to do something that will likely earn you a lot of flak from readers…at which point, totally make Matthew a psychopath or something at the last minute.)

Second, swashbuckling. When describing fights, you can either go technical and explain exactly what happened, or you can be more general. In the above case, I opted for specific–not overly technical, because Mordekai doesn’t know the names for the moves he’s doing–but still, you get the play-by-play. I chose this because the battle is short, so I knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of blows to recount, and because fantasy, in general, has been moving towards more specific battles.

But not everyone jumps into the thick of the battle. Some use words or projectiles so they can stay further back, and the battle needs to reflect that. Everyone shouldn’t be an instant, amazing fighter. Some will naturally hold back until they have to fight, and even then, they might not do much, looking for the first opportunity to get away. Training, personality, temperament, current physical condition and location, strategy…all these things will affect who does what, when.

Until the next letter,

Andrea

 

Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren

Photo courtesy of gratisography

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