It’s been a weird couple of weeks. I continue to write and push forward but I had a few days where no words hit the page. Definitely in the home stretch, though. After breaking all the characters up for a time, I’ve just managed to bring them all back together for the wild ride that will be the end.
I find that one of my strengths lie in dialogue. That isn’t me bragging, it’s something that other people tell me quite often so I’m gonna own it. There are times when I will blow through and write tons of dialogue and then have to go back through and add in all the extra stuff we expect from our stories. I also think I’m particularly good at banter and with younger voices.
Example. Agden is older/a mentor/teacher, Allan is just 17:
“Archers,” Agden said, pointing. “We have to take them out.” He jumped down and pulled his own bow from the back of the saddle. Scrambling up the rocks, he found a decent vantage point and shoved the quiver into a crack where it stood upright.
Allan appeared next to him and they quickly strung their bows. “They’re gonna see us.”
“Probably,” Agden admitted.
“Do we have enough arrows?” Allan asked.
“Only if you don’t miss,” Agden replied. He tested the draw on the bow. “You work from the left, I’ll start on the right.”
Allan groaned. “You’re making me shoot farther.”
Agden fitted an arrow and drew the fletching back to his ear, sighting along the shaft. “You’re younger. Adversity builds character.”
Another example just because I like it. This has 3 teenagers doing what teenagers do – breaking the rules:
“This way, I think,” Jared said. He started down the darkened corridor, looking for a landmark to tell him they were heading in the right direction. Sadly, there wasn’t one that felt familiar to him.
“You think?” Lorna asked. She was trailing behind him, with Allan bringing up the rear. After just two weeks, the three had begun spending nearly all their free time together. For his part, Jared admitted to liking Lorna; she was smart, quick with a barb or joke, and serious about learning how to fight, so he was happy to have her around. Which made Allan extremely happy since it meant he got to spend more time with Lorna, and hoped to get to know her much better. Whether she felt the same about his brother was still up for debate. If anything, she was amused by his attentions, though she did not discourage them. At times, though, she would get a look on her face, shudder, and fall silent. Whatever was bothering her, she did not or could not say, and he did not pry.
Allan snorted. “He’s lost.”
“I’m not lost,” Jared replied. “It’s here. Somewhere.” Halfway down, Jared moved a tapestry aside on an inner wall to see if a door was hidden behind. When there wasn’t one, he continued on.
“All these halls look the same to me,” Lorna commented.
“You have to look at the columns,” Allan told her. “At the base and top are numbers etched in a gold plate. The first number tells you which tower you are in, the second, the floor. In this case, Tower Four, Sixth floor.”
“Here!” Jared shouted. A painting hid the door. He could see the faint outline in the stone. The painting was attached to the wall by a metal frame that kept it a fixed distance from the wall. “Help me,” he told the others. Soon, they were all three looking for a secret lever or switch.
“How do you even know about this?” Lorna asked. She was running her fingers along the edges of the painting, which depicted some unknown, dark-haired man riding a white stallion.
Jared took a moment to stare at it, deciding that the rider looked very heroic. “Enmaleth.” he answered while pushing on all the stones to the left of the painting. After a moment, he took to tapping them with the hilt of his dagger, listening for an echo or something to indicate one might be different from the rest. “There isn’t much about this castle he doesn’t know. Occasionally, you can get him talking about things you want to know, rather than what he plans to tell you.”
“They go to a lot of trouble to hide it,” Lorna muttered.
“To keep people like us, who aren’t supposed to know about them, from doing what we’re trying to do,” Jared said.
“Here it is,” Allan announced with a whoop. Standing before a sconce, he gave it a tug. There was a click inside the wall. The stone, painting still affixed to it, slid forward until a foot and a half of space separated it from the wall.
Allan, Jared and Lorna all grinned. Cool air smelling of equal parts mildew and dust rushed in from the opening. Jared slid into the darkness inside. Behind him, Allan sparked the torch they’d brought and passed it to him. Orange light licked up the walls, illuminating cobwebs falling from the ceiling and stairs thick with dust.
“This isn’t creepy at all,” Lorna said.
Allan squeezed in behind her. “Trust us,” he said. “It’ll be worth it. Now, how to close the door from this side?” Jared passed the torch back so Allan could use it to inspect the inner wall. “This looks good.” He found a lever and pulled it down. The stone door closed. Allan grinned. “Come on.” He took the lead, holding the torch before him.
Up the stairs they went. These were not the polished steps seen elsewhere throughout the castle. Here, they climbed rough cut stone steps inside a narrow passage barely wider than their own shoulders.
“What is this even for?” Lorna asked.
“Murder,” Jared said as melodramatically as he could manage. Walking between Allan and Jared, Lorna turned and gave him a look that was swallowed in shadows.
In the lead, Allan laughed. “In times of invasion, passages like these can be used to move around the enemy.” He paused on the next landing to point out another door. “There’s a peep hole here somewhere. Let’s you see into the hall without revealing your position.” They scanned the door but couldn’t find it.
Jared took up the explanation. “Supposedly, all the towers have similar tunnels running through them. Some go from the base to the top. Others only for a few floors, then you have to head up a few more the old fashioned way to find the next one. There’s also places where archers can hide and shoot from cover.”
“Clever,” Lorna said, rubbing her nose. Jared’s own nose was feeling the itch from all the dust, but he fought the urge to sneeze.
Up and up they went, until the cool air wasn’t so cool and the three of them were sweating from the exertion. The stairs ended at a trapdoor that took all three of them to open. It fell back and light flooded in. The sun wasn’t directly overhead, but near enough that the heat was intense and quick, washing over them as they tumbled out onto the top of the tower. A low, crenelated wall bordered the space, and they rushed to look over the edge. Jared’s breath caught in his throat. Far below, the city lay sprawled upon the base of the mountain in a zig-zag pattern clearly visible from this vantage point. Above that was the lonely road leading to the castle gates, just below them and on the left. As breathtaking as the view was, it wasn’t the reason they had made the climb.
“There!” Lorna shouted.
Jared followed where she pointed, squinting under the hot sun. He could just make out the long train of horses, wagons and carriages as they made their way into the city. In a matter of hours, the castle courtyard would be full of royals and their retinues.
“There’s so many,” Allan observed.
“Thirty-three houses swear allegiance to Arador,” Jared said. “And I think they’re all coming.”
One of the first things I notice when I’m doing critiques of other peoples stuff is the dialogue. If it doesn’t flow well and feel natural, it’s a roadblock for me. Where I have difficulties is in explaining why the dialogue bothers me. I usually have to think it through before I can articulate it coherently and in a manner that will help the other person, which is the point of a critique in the first place.
One last example that serves a dual purpose. First, it shows you some more of what I believe to be good dialogue, and second, that I don’t only do fantasy…
“Now who is being absurd? Why would American tax dollars go to sharing space with their so-called enemy?”
“Damned fine point, don’t you think?”
Ameli jumped at the voice beside her. “Pause,” she said. Then, “I thought you were asleep.”
Blue eyes opened to regard her. “I was. But who can sleep with that jackass spewing his bile? What’d I miss?” he asked.
“Not much – usual rhetoric. Professor Schmidt is building to something, I can tell.” The professor had wild hair, wore a tweed suit with a sweater vest; very retro. According to her favorite Westernet vcast, the twentieth century was in. Personally, she didn’t see it.
“I was there, remember?” he asked.
“Oh, I do. But I had to miss the whole thing. Did Schmidt mention that the pyramids were launching pads for alien spacecraft yet?”
He snorted. “He has never said that.”
Leaning in, she gave him a quick kiss. “Give him time. Can you stay for breakfast?”
“Probably. My assistant wasn’t supposed to schedule anything before eleven.”
“Well then, Mister Camren, I’d best start cooking.” She felt his eyes on her as she slid out of bed and walked, naked, through the room to where her robe hung behind the door.
“You know I hate this part,” he said.
“Where you put clothes on.”
Looking over her shoulder, she smiled. “It’s just a robe.” He stretched and she considered it cheating on his part.
The timer on the coffee pot ensured there was fresh brew. A third of a cup in, breakfast was ready and Ken walked, naked, into the kitchen to pour himself a cup.
With a yawn he asked, “Is that bacon?”
“Turkey bacon,” she corrected. “You know I can’t afford pork.”
“I’m just happy to see bacon,” he said. “Can’t have it at home.” A crisp piece was quickly snatched off the plate and consumed. Vigorously. “News,” he said to the wall panel.
“…Headlines on the hour, I’m Madelyn Shore. Civil unrest in California, Arizona and Texas, with tens of thousands of people demanding answers from the President on the economy, and on the security of our nation. With numerous attacks on American soil in the past six months, many are calling into question the ability of this President to protect our borders.”
“Mute,” Ameli ordered.
“No buts,” she said. A firm slap on his rear, “Except for this one. Now eat.”
Ken walked around the kitchen island and took a seat on one of the high stools. A few bites in, he said, “This is good. Where did you learn to cook?”
“My mother,” she said. “She runs a diner in Bakersfield. I always helped, after school or over the summer.”
“Well, I owe her.”
Changing the subject, she asked, “What’s on your agenda today?”
“Oh,” he sighed. “Usual stuff. Meetings, mostly. Acquisitions thinks they’ve figured out the next solar system we should target for exploration. Probe shows high levels of iron in an asteroid belt three times the size of our own. Given how much iron they’re using to build ships these days, we’re looking at a massive cash crop, easily harvested.”
“I’d like in on that,” she admitted. “My next mission has a .00065% cut but we’re looking at mostly ice, a few heavy metals. Enough to make it a worthwhile trip, but not enough to get me out of I.D.E.A. housing.” With a wave of her hand, she posed next to the white refrigerator, “Complete with standard appliances, faux-wood cabinets, and a lovely, low-end linoleum floor.”
Ken swirled the coffee in his cup, eyes watching her closely. “I could help with that, you know. Make a call and you could be twenty floors up by Friday.”
She sighed. As much as she enjoyed their time together, she wasn’t sleeping with him to get ahead and she said as much.
“I won’t push you to take my help,” he said after a swallow of coffee.
Ameli walked around to take his hand in hers. “Please don’t be hurt. You know I want to do this on my own.”
“What are we?” he asked. “To each other, I mean? I am in a position to help you, but I can’t. You won’t let me.”
“What would your wife think about your helping me?” she asked.
It was his turn to sigh. “You know we have an open relationship. She has a girlfriend, for god-sake! She only married me for my name. Monica wants to be President. I want to be head of Extrasolar Acquisitions.”