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A is for “Art”
Book: The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell
My dice roll: 138
Lesson: Utilize the Q Factor as a strategic weapon for motivation at just the right time. (Q refers to the Bond character who gives James Bond his gadgets.)
There’s a moment in the story when the protagonist needs a little something to get from point A to point B. That something could be a gadget, a piece of advice, a memory— really, it’s anything that has come up earlier in the story. The reader sees there’s a bit of page devoted to something, but it isn’t especially relevant at the time. It sticks in the back of their mind. Later, that something is brought up and it has a purpose, often at a story twist point or darkest hour.
The book does an excellent job explaining this lesson. It offers a five-step exercise, which I’ll now do to serve as today’s writing example.
1. Select what the element will be.
A ring with a seemingly empty triangle shaped glass in the center.
2. Write a scene early in the narrative that anchors this element emotionally to the Lead.
“Hello, I am Candra of the Isle people. Are you new here?”
“I am Monoghan of the Forest. I am not new, but it has been many moons since my last visit to this place.”
Xavier conversed with Candra in the game for several hours. Her warm, sweet nature calmed him. His jokes made her laugh endlessly. Time flew by until night’s heavy velvet curtain finally lured him to a reluctant slumber.
He woke up before his alarm sounded. As he turned the device off, he noticed the ring on his nightstand. It was an antique gold ring with a triangle-shaped piece of seemingly empty glass in the center. Except it wasn’t empty now. Xavier rubbed his eyes and looked again. There appeared to be a mini cyclone twirling in the glass. As he picked the ring up, the cyclone vanished. He put it down and went to shower.
The water rolled down his body as he thought about the ring. It was a birthday gift. Was he thirteen or fourteen at that party? He couldn’t recall. There had been no card to indicate whom it came from. It wasn’t even properly wrapped. Just a plain velvet ring box mixed in with the other gifts on the table. Weeks later, he found the note inside, under the ring. It said to take care of the ring because one day it would lead him on the path to saving his heart and the world.
It had never done anything interesting before, which is why he rarely wore it. Xavier wondered what the ring was doing on his nightstand. As he got dressed, he decided to have a peek in his jewelry chest. It was locked, as usual. He opened it and found everything in order, except for one black velvet ring box, which was open and lying on its side. He relocked the chest, slipped the ring on his finger, and left for work.
3. Refer to the Q factor once in the middle section, as a reminder. You should do this subtly, almost as a throwaway.
Xavier stopped packing for a moment. He looked at them both. “Wend is in trouble. She needs me. I have to get to her, now.” He gave them a stern look and then went back to packing. He pulled on his old gold ring with the triangle glass solitaire. Gray storm clouds swirled inside the glass.
“Is this about the phone call from this morning? Do you think something happened to her just because she’s still not picking up? Jez, will you please tell him that she’s just pissed off, and his showing up is only going to make it worse.”
“This isn’t about the stupid phone call!” Xavier barked. Jez and Heath were both taken back by his temper. “She was about to drown herself! She is out of her ever lovin’ mind! I need to get to her before she does something else stupid, or before she unintentionally draws enough attention to herself that they find her first. I must reunite our kind before it is too late, this time.”
“If you are going to California, I am going with you,” Heath said.
“No, you aren’t. You are going to stay here and make sure Beverly feels safe.”
“I’m sorry, but did that come out sounding like a request for your permission?” Heath’s tone was not one he had ever taken with Xavier before.
“It will be trouble enough when she sees me show up. I don’t think adding you to the mix will help matters any.” Xavier’s eyes shot to Jez. “And before you even think about it, the answer is no, you are not coming either.”
“I wasn’t planning on it.” She leaned across the bed. “I don’t particularly want to be there when you tell her what she is. And I really don’t want to be around when she remembers why she left us in the first place and figures out how much damage she has caused as a result of that choice.”
Xavier flinched. He glanced to the ring. A tiny lightning bolt flashed in the clouds. Each time another appeared, he received a tiny shock.
Jez toyed with a fuzz on the blanket. “Besides, it sounds like you’re on a suicide mission. She’s already so upset that she’s trying to drown herself. Hilarious, by the way, because we all know she’d have failed at that. Yet, you say it as if she were in real danger. And to get her to feel better, you plan to drop this bomb on her? Are you packing extra salt to pour on her wounds?”
Xavier’s footsteps echoed loudly in his ears as he crossed along the path of Wend’s lawn. He kept in Tred’s shadow as he walked. He remained on the porch while Tred fetched Wend. A loud crash came from inside. A ball of white fur shot out the door and leapt onto Xavier. He stroked the quivering hare as Wend rushed outside after it.
“Yule! Why must you run away now of all times?”
Xavier looked at her tear-stained face and felt his heart rip to shreds. He moved the hare to his shoulder, where it gracefully remained perched. His hands took her shoulders to keep her close, and yet prevent her from drawing too near. The triangle-shaped glass on his gold ring caught his eye. Gray clouds and tiny cyclone filled it.
“Wild creatures are never happy very long indoors. I shall see that this little guy is taken safely back to the forest. Neither of us will grace your doorstep uninvited, again.”
“But you are both invited,” Wend cried. “You are my friends. Why am I not allowed to choose my own friends?”
“You are Wend, you are. But you cannot have everything. Neither of us can.”
“I gave you the moon, Xavier. Why will you now deny me the stars?”
He ran a finger along the fresh trail of her most recent tear. “It is not my place to decide for you. I will leave here today and go back to where I belong. You have my address. Should you ever be ready to walk away from here and into a new life, come find me. Keep Jansen’s number, he’ll book the flight.”
Xavier slipped the ring off his finger and placed it in her hands. As she slipped it on her thumb, the triangle-shaped glass filled with water.
Her ears were greeted by music, noisemakers, and the sound of a large crowd. Bright lights stood out in the dark night to welcome her to Times Square, but she had no celebration left in her heart. She stood there for a while, in the midst of the most massive crowd she had ever known, feeling completely alone.
Xavier’s ring on her thumb felt heavier than usual. She looked at the glass solitaire and saw a storm. Waves crashed against a rock. Lightning flashed in a non-existent sky. A little cyclone twirled back and forth between the water and the rock. She wondered how she had never noticed the scene before. Something about it bothered her, so she looked away.
Her eyes centered on someone on a television the size of a billboard. That red hair, those green eyes… could it be? The camera operator clearly meant to only capture the entertainers on stage, but Wend’s eyes were captivated by the front-row audience. Between a seductively hot redheaded woman, and an intimidating hulk of a man who held a set of sexy blonde twin ladies in his arms, appeared to be Xavier!
She bolted into the depths of the horde before she realized that she had no idea which way the stage was. Asking people proved difficult, as few could hear her, and even fewer seemed capable to provide any sort of reliable answer. She jostled her way through the sea of celebrators and slammed into a large wooden box that was nearly her height. Unsure of its function, she climbed upon it to try to get a better view.
“Xavier!” she screamed uselessly as she scanned the area. She finally spotted the course she needed to take to reach the stage.
“Miss, I need you to come down from there right now,” an officer ordered. Wend took his hand as she climbed down, then hurried into the crowd.
Over and over again she called to him as she battled her way through the huddled mass. The wind eased over her lips, caught her words, and carried her escaped breath away. The band stopped playing. All eyes but hers were on the great ball.
“Xavier!” she cried out again.
“Ten!” The voices in the crowd united to chant the countdown.
A gust of wind slammed several people ahead of her. Shocked by the powerful burst, they parted, which gave her a clear chance to run through unhindered.
Another powerful shot of wind caused more people to part. Never before had Wend felt grateful instead of fearful in such weather.
In a window overlooking the square stood several people dressed in matching attire with identical tattoos under their right eyes. They noticed the woman who appeared to cause the assembly of people to part before her. She created a path where there ought not to be one. They nodded to each other as they agreed wordlessly on a plan.
Wend was nearly there.
Yet another slamming wind came to her aid.
She could see him now. It was only the back of his head and one shoulder, still she felt certain that it was him.
His arms were around the sinfully gorgeous redheaded woman. She yanked off his ring and threw it at his back.
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
Fireworks went off. The ball reached the bottom of its pole and lit up the numbers 2006.
What’s your favorite object in fiction that was mentioned casually and then came up again later?
Mine is the time-turner from Harry Potter.
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