Surprises on WIP Wednesday

My friend Caroline Warfield shared the following story about a conversation between the Hollywood screenwriter Charles MacArthur and Charlie Chaplin.

“How, for example, could I make a fat lady, walking down Fifth Avenue, slip on a banana peel and still get a laugh? It’s been done a million times,” said MacArthur. “What’s the best way to get the laugh? Do I show first the banana peel, then the fat lady approaching, then she slips? Or do I show the fat lady first, then the banana peel, and then she slips?”

“Neither,” said Chaplin without a moment’s hesitation. “You show the fat lady approaching; then you show the banana peel; then you show the fat lady and the banana peel together; then she steps over the banana peel and disappears down a manhole.”

This is a wonderful hint for plotting, so this week I’ve been thinking about those manhole moments. Do you have any? Where you’d set up a certain expectation for your readers and then you do something else? Please share an excerpt in the comments.

My excerpt is from The Lost Treasure of Lorne, a made-to-order story I’m writing as a party prize. The curse comes to fruition at midnight. Or does it?

The three of them met in Michael’s private sitting room to wait for midnight, and in ones and twos the ghosts seeped through the walls to join them.

“Do you suppose the servants are mistaken about the date?” John asked as the clock chimed eleven times.

“Or about the consequence,” Michael suggested. “The ghosts will stay in the castle, and not all be forfeit to the devil.”

“If the curse is true and the date is true…” Caitlin said, as the ghosts crowded around her nodding, “then we have less than an hour to find the answer.” The ghosts seemed to lose interest, wandering off again to their corners.

“I can’t think of anywhere we have not looked,” Michael grieved. “Fiona.” He stood in front of the ghost of his young wife, so that she had to look up at him. “Fiona, I want to help. Can’t you tell us how to find the treasure? And the casket with the marriage lines? Please, Fiona.”

But Fiona slid her eyes away from him and circled around him to join the others in the corner.

They watched the hands of the clock shift with glacial speed towards midnight, and still the ghosts remained, even after 31 August became 1 September. Caitlin had no idea what she expected. Anything from a silent disappearance to Satan himself arriving in clouds of fire and sweeping her relatives into the maw of hell. For nothing to happen at all was almost a let down, relieved though she was.

“Is the clock slow, perhaps?” John suggested, and they waited another interminable half hour.

“We might as well go to bed,” Caitlin said at last. “Either the legend is wrong or the date is.”

“The date!” Michael stopped short, halfway across the room to the door. “It isn’t 31 August.”

“No,” John agreed. “It is after midnight.”

“That’s not what I mean. The Calendar Act. The Calendar Act, Caitlin.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
rss

Secrets on WIP Wednesday

New Zealand television currently has an advert for a car that says ‘when they write the story of your life, will anyone want to read it?’ To which my response as an author is ‘I hope not’. Boring fictional stories are happy life stories.

To keep our fictional stories compelling, we authors look for plot twists and surprises. Where would we be without secrets? If all the characters and all the readers knew everything we know, the plot twists would disappear and the way to the ending would be obvious. No story.

This week, I’m inviting you to give me an excerpt about a secret. Finding it out. Becoming aware of it. Deciding to keep it. Hearing a hint at it. Whatever you wish.

Mine is from The Lost Treasure of Lorne, a made-to-order story I’m currently writing.

Caitlin spent a restless night ignoring the ghosts, which was becoming more and more difficult. She was in the kitchen and had already stoked the fire to toast a slice of bread when the cook arrived from the village, trailed by several kitchen maids.

“A bad night, was it?” Mrs McTavish asked.

Caitlin nodded, threading a slice of bread onto her toasting fork.

Mrs McTavish shook her head. “I can’t say I blame them. Just a week till the young master’s birthday and the end of the three hundred years. Sad, that. I can’t say but that the villagers will be pleased to see the castle free of its haunting, but it seems tough on the poor ghosties. If only there was someone to help young Master John fulfill the prophecy. Have a care, Mrs Moffatt. You’ll have the toast in the fire.”

Caitlin jerked her head back to the toasting fork, and returned it to the proper distance from the flame. “Just a week?” she repeated.

“Why, yes. 1485 it was that the Fourth Marquis of Lorne killed his daughter and her lover, and his father and mother for good measure. On the last day of August, so the old stories say, Lady Normington prayed to God for vengeance, and paid with her blood for the justice she sought.”

So Mrs McTavish was of the school that held the Normington woman was a prophesying saint, rather than a cursing witch. And no wonder the ghosts were growing so agitated. But wait. “Master John is a Normington, Mrs McTavish,” she pointed out.

“Half Lorimer and living in Castle Lorne. That’s been enough to doom someone to be a ghost afore now. He is Lorimer enough to find the treasure. But it is too late. Two, the lady said, and he the last Lorimer of Lorne.

This time, the toast caught alight before she noticed. It was not just what Mrs McTavish had said that distracted her, but the reaction of the ghosts. Crowding into the kitchen, row on row, even standing in the fireplace itself, they were cheering and clapping.

Two Lorimers. She had known that two were required, but — like the cook — she had believed it was too late. The King’s heralds had hunted down all branches of the Lorimer family tree and so had the Duke of Kendal, looking for one surviving twig, and coming up empty. They were wrong.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
rss

Letters on WIP Wednesday

letter writerIn these days of email, instant messaging, Skype, and a myriad of other ways to connect with our loved ones, we find it hard to imagine how much distant separated families and lovers in the past, and how important letters were to keep them connected.

I am working with my friend Mariana Gabrielle on Never Kiss a Toad (being published in parts on Wattpad), where the lovers are separated for years, with letters the only contact they’re permitted, and those vetted by the heroine’s father. But my piece today is not from Toad, but from one of my short stories. I wrote Magnus and the Christmas Angel for a prize as part of my support for Cat Day, and I’m currently rewriting it as a novella, to bring some of the backstory into the foreground.

As always, share your excerpts about keeping in touch: any method, from letters and verbal messages through modern social media and the telephone, to the ansible or whatever other sci-fi device your imagination has given future heroes and heroines.

Mine doesn’t quote a letter. Instead, they’re discussing years of lettersMagnus and the Christmas Angel.

Magnus remembered her letters? From the day he left, she had written to him. A few lines a day, a letter a week, a bundle of letters posted every month. Trivial stories of a country girl on her ordinary daily round. And he had written back, letters from all down the coast of Africa, then up the other side and into Asia, and across the Pacific. Letters full of exotic stories and drawings of strange and wonderful places.

How boring he must have found her dull and commonplace ramblings.

“I kept writing,” she blurted. Letter after letter, at first sent in the hopes the missing ship would finally appear, and later put into the chest where she kept the much read, much cried over letters he had written in return.

“After my ship went down?” Magnus asked, his eyes warm.

Until the evening before her date at the altar to marry Magnus’s cousin. That letter, much smudged where she wept on it, and creased where she crushed it in her hands, lay with the others in her chest at the Abbey.

Callie nodded.

“I should like to read them,” Magnus said.

Callie shook her head, helplessly. Her domestic ramblings, her outpouring of grief after her father died, her increasing desperation as her brother spiralled down into ruin, stripping the estate to spend his wealth and eventually her dowry on horses, gambling, drink, loose women, and ever more extravagant schemes to rescue their fortunes. Abetted and egged on by his dear friend Lewis Colbrooke, who somehow always seemed to be the winner in any game of chance, and to come unscathed out of any risky venture. Until the swine won even the deeds to Blessings, and Callie took refuge with Squire Ambrose and his wife.

Magnus took her shake as refusal. “Not if you do not wish me to,” he said, the warm eagerness in his eyes turning to disappointment.

“I am afraid you will find them dull,” she explained. And far too revealing. She had censored nothing, thinking no-one would ever see them.

“Never dull.” The warmth had returned to Magnus’s eyes, and his voice slowed to the meditative tones, like rich brandied honey, that always sent a shiver through her. “They were home to me, Callie. I read them over and over and again, until they were thin with touching, and they brought me here, to Blessings and to the Abbey; to my own land, and to you. When the ship went down, I had your latest package of letters with me, inside my shirt, and as they hauled me out of the water, all I could think of was that I had a little part of you still with me.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
rss