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Hello, writers. I don’t see movies very often, and it seems maybe the last one I saw was Alice In Wonderland.

Good movie, but it had a chase scene in it. Chase scenes always bother me. I imagine an old-fashioned silent-movie title flashing onto the screen that says The Chase Scene after which the characters go through a long, long series of near-escapes, prat falls, and vine-swingings. Then our heroes get away, and they and the audience can heave a sigh of relief because The Chase Scene is over.

Less obviously, a lot of novels have “why did we go there and do that?” scenes. Including, by the way, an earlier draft of the sequel I just wrote. The editor read it, and told me that there seemed to be no point to that scene. I almost replied that the point of the scene was to revisit a character we liked from the first book. Then I thought about it.

Not a good enough reason. If the protagonist is going to go somewhere and do something, it has to serve the story, not the writer. It has to build the stakes, build the tension, remove whatever possibility there may once have been that the protagonist could just walk away.

And that last is a real concern, plotwise: Why can’t your protagonist just walk away? What happens if s/he doesn’t solve the murder, doesn’t get the Jewel of Togwogmagog, doesn’t win the fickle heart of Lord Postlethwaite-Praxleigh, Viscount of Twumley? At the very least, the world should explode.

So I rewrote the scenes leading up to the faulty scene, introducing a whole new element to drive my protagonist into that scene I wanted. He didn’t want to go, but he realized he had to, not because some unseen Author was making him, but because the things he valued and the things he was trying to accomplish made him feel it was the only sane choice, even though it scared the bejeezus out of him.

Or at least that’s what I tried for. I don’t know yet if it worked.

An easier solution would’ve been to just delete the scene, but I really wanted it.

Anyway, one more thing to think about, as you write or revise: Why is my protagonist going through all this? What are the stakes? Does s/he have the option of just walking out of the story and going home?

Tonight’s challenge:
A callow youth and his/her stout companion have just emerged from the Swamp of the Dread Least Grebe, carrying the Onion of Othmar.

Or at least they thought they were carrying it. Oops.

Now at this point, the sensible thing to do would be to say “Screw the onion. Let’s go off to the Startled Duck and quaff ale.”

Show us why the characters can’t do that.


Try to limit yourself to 100 words.
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Comment Preferences

  •  As the story goes on and things get tougher (19+ / 0-)

    for your protagonist, it's going to be even more tempting for him/her to just walk away.

    So you keep raising the stakes...

    -9.0, -8.3 "Remember, a writer writes. Always." --Throw Momma from the Train

    by SensibleShoes on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 03:54:51 PM PST

  •  that's why i love the macguffin (11+ / 0-)

    it has to be clever enough to appear to drive the action, while really having nothing to do with why we enjoy the story. once we're caught up in the people and the action, the macguffin can be all but forgotten.

    but i also love beckett and robbe-grillet, not necessarily for the reading, but for the questions of who the protagonists are, if there are protagonists at all, and why we do or do not need protagonists.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 05:12:07 PM PST

  •  Oh my. (10+ / 0-)

    Quaffing ale (or the moral equivalent) is about all I can do this evening. It's below 0, the wind chill is brutal., the house is cold. And my fingers are freezing. So I can't play. At least not right now. Alas. Can I have a raincheck for next time?

    I should add that anybody who wants to understand Manifest Destiny can come over here tonight and go out in the yard for 5 minutes. When you come in, you'll be ready to move to Kentucky (and beyond) along with the rest of sentient Eastern NY. The miracle is that anybody stays.

  •  OCD. (9+ / 0-)

    Even back when I played Dungeons and Dragons, my characters always had mental health issues woven in to their personas.  So give those swampwalkers OCD so that they simply can't leave a task unfinished ;)

    •  Any D&D character played half way realistically (6+ / 0-)

      ought to have mental health issues. Can you imagine actually living through a tenth what we put those characters through?

      They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance. Terry Pratchett

      by Toon on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:16:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Funny You Should Say That (0+ / 0-)

        I was once in a CHAMPIONS role-playing campaign where many of the characters suffered from some serious mental disablilities and even the more stable characters were a couple strings short of a ukulele.  Our GM decided to give the group an NPC psychiatrist whom she modeled after the Cary Grant character in The Bishop's Wife.  (He might have been an angel, but our GM was too wise to confirm this one way or another).  "Every team of super-heroes should have a psychiatrist," her husband, who often played him, would say.

        Ultimately, it was revealed in the campaign that all of the characters actually were inmates in a mental hospital and that their super-powers and their adventures were part of a shared delusion created by another character with reality-warping powers.

        "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

        by quarkstomper on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:05:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Is anyone entering the ABNA contest? (12+ / 0-)

    It is still open for submissions (official closing is 27th unless the quota is met)
    I'm having another go at it. I think I did a much better pitch (I'm submitting the same story, revised).

    As for my characters- either quitting would never occur to them (pigheadedness or naive or foolhardy) or the stakes are too stiff or not doing leads to worse. I don't think I ever offer them much choice whether it's personality or situation.

    As for the Jewel of Togwogmagog, my protagonist would never stop striving for her goal. It is simply unthinkable for her. Whelk (said Jewel) doesn't have it in him to protest. Leaving only the stout sidekick, Ray, to be the voice of reason.

    I have so much fun with sidekicks. They whine, moan, protest, offer wise advice yet get dragged on into disaster. Sometimes they wind up more interesting than the original character- which has led me to a story starring them!

    (Not Togwogmagog, mind. Gad, I hate 'em. It's the story I love to hate and love making my characters hate me.)

        “Why?” Ray pleaded, “Why gallivant about tempting fate to collect meaningless artifacts to fulfill a prophecy you both suspect is bogus?”
        “There’s enough Onion of Othmar powder to cover twenty or so,” Prince Whelk passed Honra heavy leather bag. She began tossing handful of powder out to sift down upon the golem army below them.
        “You’re both beautiful and smart and talented- you could be anything! Besides, its supposed to end in a fruitful union and you hate each other!!” Ray screamed in exasperation.
        “Fire,” Honra snapped her fingers. Both looked up at Ray.
        “You do realize we are in a tree, which will burn along with them?”
        Still, he handed over Everfire charm.
        “Hope they burn faster than the tree,” Whelk offered sympathetically.
        “Still- WHY!?”
        Honra shredded the leather bag and set it on fire, letting the burning bits drift down. Explosions began as fire touched the onion powder.
        “Because someone must die,” Honra grinned.

    I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

    by WiseFerret on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 05:34:05 PM PST

    •  How did I forget the amazon contest? (7+ / 0-)

      Aside from barely having half a second to think about anything in the last two months? I'm glad you brought it up.

      Emmet made it to the semi-finals last year, as you no doubt remember, and I think Tara did the same the year before that.

      It's my understanding they're not using Penguin this year, but will publish the winner themselves. Could you post a link to the contest in a comment please? I'm finding tonight that if I open a second window the browser crashes.

      Ah, the fruitful union of the onion... I'm thinking the tree will burn faster than the golems.

      -9.0, -8.3 "Remember, a writer writes. Always." --Throw Momma from the Train

      by SensibleShoes on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 05:48:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Links! (8+ / 0-)

        Hopefully. When I tried to preview, the links were not showing up. Usually they do and I can test the links. So, there's copy/paste and hopefully a clickable link too.

        At Amazon http://www.amazon.com/...

        Createspace (where one enters) https://www.createspace.com
        You do have to create an account, but its free and you can opt out of their emails, which they do respect.

        And yes, they've ditched Penguin and changed the categories (5) so that there can be a winner from each genre- all get publishing contracts and advances, 4 at 15K and one grand prize for 50k!

        It's all with Amazon with a stated goal of getting to print faster. From the comments, it sounds like they felt Penguin's process was way too slow.

        I'm thrilled that they'll pick winners from each group since sci-fi has rarely done well. It's lumped with fantasy and horror, but I feel these genres often get short shrift (and small sections at bookstores) compared to general fiction.

        I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

        by WiseFerret on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 06:42:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  mine (10+ / 0-)
    It was Hitch who noticed the cut strings of the purse on Jasper's belt as he pulled him onto the dry path.

    "Where is onion?" he asked.  

    "No, really, Hitch.  A cutpurse in the swamp?"

    "Be one who knows what onion can do," Hitch said.

    "And what can it do, really?" Jasper asked.

    "If it be sold to dragon, he can find us wherever we hide.  No place be safe.  People's brains be eaten while they alive so they tell where we are."

    "We will go back," Jasper said.  "I had it by the least grebe's nest.  I waved it around to get him to come to us.  Remember?"

    "You be right.  We go back."

    Jasper clutched his head.  His brain was on fire.  

    "Hurry, Hitch!  Someone is trying it out on me!"

    "Me doubt it be working so soon and your head be too empty to be much use to sorcerer," Hitch said.

    Then Hitch grabbed his head and howled.

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 05:38:46 PM PST

  •  "Screw the onion. (12+ / 0-)
    Let’s go off to the Startled Duck and quaff ale."  Clearly, Stout's last nerve had been so thoroughly trampled by their last experience in the swamp that he was content to end the quest right there.  It had been weeks since his last ale-ish quaff.
         "I'd love to, Stout, but..."
         "But!  Always a 'but'!  For once, Jasper, I'd love to hear you finish a sentence without adding a 'but', much less the words that usually follow it."
         "Okay, then."
         "Okay, what?"
         "Okay, then we go to the Startled Duck."
         Stout blinked.  "Really?  No 'buts' this time?"
         "Really.  No 'buts'."
         Stout grinned broadly.  "That, my friend, I've been longing to hear.  Let's get out of this godforsaken wherever-we-are.  What's the map say?"
         "The map, my friend, is wrapped around the onion."
         "..."
         "Which is back in the swamp."
         "..."
         "And so I think we should be heading back there first."

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 05:52:52 PM PST

  •  Because this onion fried up with (9+ / 0-)

    the most tender cut of meat off the first lamb foaled after the solstice will make a dish so savory that you can trade it with the faeries for ambrosia...which will make you immortal until you choose to die.

    But only if you make the dish before the new moon.  And the moon is just a sliver right now.

    And the next onion won't ripen for another 144 years.

    So yeah, it's worth a trip back into the swamp as long as one of the characters has a reason to want to be immortal.

    Duh :)

  •  "I'm finished with this!" Persimma screamed. (10+ / 0-)

    She turned her back on the Swamp.  The roaring wind approved the choice, slamming into her back and pushing  her toward The Startled Duck. "Let's go, Bunny.  I've had it with this damn quest and these damn curses and these damn grebes and this whole courageous struggle against insurmountable odds."

    She'd taken two steps when what felt like the untrimmed nails of the Ogre of Othmar dug into her thigh.  "SHHHHHHTTTTP!"

    Bunny Nesbit was wrapped around her leg.  His paws dug in almost as sharply as his teeth.  He disengaged his mouth and snarled at her.  "Gaia's collarbones, Persimma, you can't beard the Duck without the Onion!  They'll use us for seasoning instead!  We've got to have it, unless you want to LIVE in the Swamp!  This is the only exit."

  •  We Have a Problem (13+ / 0-)
    "Crumb's Adenoids, but I'm glad we're finally out of that wretched swamp!"  Cal leaned back in his chair and took a long draw from his mug of ale.

    "M-hm."  Murray hadn't even noticed the barmaid bringing their drinks.  He was rummaging through his pack.

    "Looking for something?"  Cal set his mug down.  "Tell me you didn't lose our money."

    "It's not that.  It's... Oh crap."  A funny look came over Murray's face.  He licked his lips.  "Say... Cal, there's something I need to do.  Why don't you go on ahead without me and I'll catch up in a day or so, okay?"

    "What is it?"

    "Diedrie can keep you company.  You'll have fun."

    "Tell me.  What."

    "It's not important.  You have your quest to complete.  I can handle it by myself."

    "The hell you can.  You stuck by me through swamps and the snolligoster and the dire grebes.  I'm not letting you down now.  What do you have to do?"

    Murray grimmaced, as if struggling to come up with a plausible excuse.  Then he sighed.  "A while back I must of dropped something.  Something I need.  It has nothing to do with the quest or anything," he added quickly.  "I think I know where I lost it.  It's nothing you have to worry about."

    "It's the Onion, isn't it?" Diedrie said very quietly.  Murray lowered his head and Diedrie regarded him with a look of sorrowful understanding.

    Cal did not understand, and the fact that neither of them were explaining anything was starting to annoy him.  "Listen, Murray, you're my friend, and you've been my friend since forever.  I've lost track of the number of times you've saved my neck.  If there's one thing I've learned on this stupid quest is that some things are more important than Jewels and Destinies and Kingdoms, and that's doing right by the people you care about.  Now where is this onion you have to find?"

    Murray sighed.  "It's in the swamp."

    "Oh, Crumb."

    There's a reason why Murray needs that onion, but I wanted to write this bit from Cal's point of view, and so I had to leave both Cal and the reader in the dark.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 06:12:39 PM PST

  •  "Sorry, Old Friend," said the stout companion... (13+ / 0-)

    "...but I seem to have left the onion in that dreadful bloody swamp you made us go into."

    "Ah well," said the callow youth, who may have been callow as a result of having pickled every synapse in his decidedly not so young body as a result of consuming quantities of ale rivaling the annual consumption of the City of Limerick, Limerick Country, Ireland - even as he continued, for licensing reasons to refer to himself as a "youth," "We'll go back some other time in some other book.    I'm damned thirsty and can use..."

    "...some ale," said the Stout companion, exasperated as he was from having spent over 300 very boring novels with this aging pre-embalmed dimwit who seems to have misplaced some damned stupid "jewel" that undoubtedly was actually a cheap zircon imitation of a "jewel."    The Stout companion sighed, wishing for once he'd been invented in some moderately interesting cheap nearly pornographic romance book back in the early sixties, anywhere but here...but...but...oh well, the dimwit deserved what came next, "Well I'm afraid we'll have to get it, you see, I put your pancreas in the onion sack."

    "My pancreas?   What'dya do that for?"

    "Don't ask me.   Ask the damned writer of this interminable series.   Personally, I don't care if you go get it or not, since if you die in this edition, I won't have to be in any sequels...all I know is that your pancreas is in the bag, and we're supposed to compelled to go back and get it.    I don't write this crap, I just have to live it..."

  •  no worlds exploding, and (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Emmet, pico, WiseFerret, Aunt Pat, Youffraita, cfk, kurt

    not sure how much this is raising the stakes, but here's mine.

    Feeling peckish and fearing the arrival of some nasty bug, going to sleep early.

    We’ve got the Onion of Othmar. Let’s go have a beer.

    Stoutie, don’t stand there shaking your head at me. We’ve got the Onion right . . . here?

    Where is it? Nooo, not in the swamp.

    Forget about it. Stupid thing’s just a yellow ball, not even a real golden orb. C’mon. Let’s go down to the Foreign Relations Committee and have a beer.

    Leggo my arm. I am not going back into that black muck swamp.

    What are you trying to tell me? And why did you have to come down with laryngitis, today of all days. We’ll look for it tomorrow, you know, in daylight.

    Because, you? OK, you. Sounds like -- stirred? No. Um, sautéed? Hmmm. Cooked? Sounds like cooked. Ah, hooked.

    You hooked the Onion to . . . Ohmigod. You hooked the Onion to the car keys.

    OK, back to the swamp.

    We are often so identified with whatever thoughts we may be having that we don’t realize the thoughts are a commentary on reality, and not reality itself. -- Gangaji

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 07:11:10 PM PST

  •  I went way over 100 words. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Toon, WiseFerret, Youffraita, cfk, kurt

    I could have done it on 100 words, but once I started writing, it just kept going. Anyway, here's my version:

    "I'll never get the stench of that swamp out of these clothes. Let's take this damned onion to the apothecary already. Then we can go the Startled Duck and get some ale," Zog said.

    "There might be a little problem with that," Bog said.

    Zog stopped and took a deep breath. "What is it now? What have you done?"

    "It's the onion."

    "Yes, the onion we have."

    "Had."

    "I don't like had. Had is bad. I like have much, much better. So explain to me, slowly and carefully, why the operative word is 'had' rather than the much preferable 'have'," Zog said.

    Bog held up the burlap sack. It had a very large hole in it. And no onion at all. “It was the swamp juices,” Bog said. “They splattered on the bag, and ate a whole right through it, and the onion...”

    Zog held his face in his hands and groaned. “... and the onion fell out. An onion the size of a pumpkin, and you didn’t notice the bag was considerably lighter than it ought to be.”

    “Now we have to go back and get another,” Bog said.

    “Back? Are you out of your mind? My clothes stink. My shoes are decomposing. We spent the last 18 hours fighting snakes, kobolds, goblins and things that ought not be spoken of. And you want to go back there?”

    “Someone has to.”

    “I suppose someone has to go, but it doesn’t have to be me.”

    “Why ought they not be spoken of?”

    The segue caught Zog by surprise. “What?” was all he could answer.

    “The things that ought not be spoken of. Why ought they not be spoken of?”

    “Because they are evil, unholy, unnatural and just plain disgusting. Satisfied?”

    “I suppose so. But we still have to go back to the swamp.”

    “Why? Why can’t someone else do it?” Zog said, scowling as he kicked a rock.

    “Because without the Onion of Othmar, the apothecary can’t make the medicine for the plague.”

    Zog grumbled. “We don’t even know the plague will come.”

    “It’s struck Kelthond, Meltos and Versan. We both know it’s only a matter of time before it comes to our town. And we both know it only grows in the Swamp of the Dread Least Grebe.”

    “Fine, it has to be done. Why can’t someone else do it?” Zog asked, his determination fading.

    “If we give up, others will be sent. But will they come back? We could handle the things that ought not be spoken of. Do you seriously think that Berland and Gothus could?”

    “Those two? The swamp juice would kill them before they could face so much as a swamp rat.”

    “But they’d go, and you know it. And how would Altea feel if you just walked away for some ale?”

    Zog blushed, and then grimaced. He knew Altea would never agree to marry him if he left others, especially those less capable, to finish what he started. “Fine, the town needs us,” he said. “But do we at least have time to change clothes?”

    Bog nodded, and said “Sure, we can do that. You may not have noticed, but you smell pretty bad.”

    The wolfpack eats venison. The lone wolf eats mice.

    by A Citizen on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:33:18 PM PST

  •  Freeform stab at it (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WiseFerret, Youffraita, cfk
    A callow youth and his/her stout companion have just emerged from the Swamp of the Dread Least Grebe, carrying the Onion of Othmar.

    Or at least they thought they were carrying it. Oops.

    Now at this point, the sensible thing to do would be to say “Screw the onion. Let’s go off to the Startled Duck and quaff ale.”

    Show us why the characters can’t do that.

    Here goes.
    "Zarthar damnit.   I can't believe I dropped that damn Onion".  

    It had taken days for Beatrice to collect the onion, a simple plant that only grew in the shaded caves, where alongside mushrooms it developed it's unique form.

    "Zarthar on a crutch.  Jumping fragoozle cobbleswing."  She stared at the ground looking for the brown sliver of a plant that hid amongst the dirt.

    "Listen, I'm not going to tell you what to do, we can go back, but you've got to stop taking Zarthar's name in vain.  He's going to strike you dead or make you blind.  You know that.   Maybe we can go back."

    That was Grog.   What an idiot.   He kept repeating all the mystical crap but in all of Beatrice life she had never seen Zarthar grant any prayers and if she wanted to take his name in vain then it was up to him to come and do something about it.   Besides, if he was as bright and shiny as the fools kept saying he was at least see could see something amongst this fragoozle cobbleswing ground.

    "Look, we're not going to turn back.  It's here.  You've got to wonder why the mystics can't grow this stuff locally.    And you know if I hope to have another mating, the only way the family is going to give me their first born is with a gift."

    Stupid traditions.   With so few women and so many men, everyone knew that genetically women needed at least three children by three different fathers.   It was the easiest way, and in a few generations they could rethink it.   But having husbands who were known fertile was a hell of a trick.  Negotiating for first rights was important.  Younger men were more likely to be viable.    But even after you found a mate who consented you always had to pay off the family.   Dowry.  What a bunch of cobbleswing.  If he was willing, why pay them flangerspit?   Oh, but they had to have this damn onion.  

    Maybe next year there would be better options.  Maybe one of her current set was able to fulfill their role.   But as she looked at Grog she that wasn't a good option.  She was taken in that deal; two gilliepigs and his willingness and she ends up with a mate who isn't worthy to have an heir.   Looking at Grog made it easy to realize that she had to succeed.     Grog wasn't worth another chance.

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:18:56 PM PST

  •  The Berenstain Bears and the Onion of Othmar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Youffraita, terrypinder

    “Screw the onion," said Papa.  "Let’s go off to the Startled Duck and quaff ale.”

    And they did.

                                       THE END

    [Note: Jan should rest in peace, but I never could stand her books, and I would always read them to the kids with strange twists and endings.  They would howl, being 4 and 8.]

  •  Just outside the swamp... (0+ / 0-)

    Clarse was finally getting the mud sluiced off when he heard Bodrin start cursing.

    "It's not the damn onion! #*€##>^!!! "

    Clarse slowly turned to Bodrin and deliberately said as calmly as he could "What?"

    "It's a bloody swamp-diamond. I couldn't tell until I got the flinkin' thing rinsed off. " He tossed it aside in disgust.

    A great sense of... inevitable doom settled over Clarse. "Well good. We can just pick it up on the way back."

    Bodrin stared. "...back?" he managed as he staggered out of the stream they'd been trying to wash off in.

    Clarse sighed. "Two things. The damned grebes drove us out of the swamp on the far side. We have to go back anyway. And I am NOT going to do this twice without getting my hands on Othmar's bloody vegetable!!!

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 06:31:36 AM PST

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