The Diner: Post One (Introduction)

Person A walks into a diner for lunch. As he’s waiting to be served, person B sits down on the other side of the table. Person B flashes a gun, and says this: “In an hour, I’m going to shoot you in the head. There’s nothing you can do to stop that. Whether I tell you why you’re dying, whether I let you say goodbye to your family, all depends on our conversation between now and then.”

I’ve had this idea for a movie script rolling around in my head for a couple of weeks. I don’t know much about scripts outside of a handful of tutorials, and I don’t have the time to research screenwriting when I don’t mean for this idea to sell, necessarily.

Originally, this meant that I would post the idea on my Facebook Author/Editor page and release it into the wild, as I sometimes do with ideas I don’t mean to develop. I still welcome anyone to take inspiration from this idea and craft it well enough to get published or bought.

However, I’ve decided to take inspiration once again from Brandon Sanderson. A few years back, he started Warbreaker, a Fantasy novel. He decided to publish each draft as he wrote it, all the way to completion, for free. As far as I know, it’s still up there; it’s both a great novel and an interesting look into the writing process.

I’ve decided to use this idea in a similar way. But I mean to take it a step further. In a series of posts, I plan to share my thought process, developing the basic concept by choosing characters and location and outlining the plot, eventually even publishing a full first draft of a script.

This will probably take several weeks and a dozen posts at least. I have a tag cloud that will help you find all posts, under “The Diner”. I’ll also number the posts as I make them.

Feel free to give feedback or ask questions in the comments! I hope you have as much fun with this as I think I will.

Imaginary

It’s completely normal to have an imaginary friend as a child. Studies say that over sixty percent of children have one. It’s a way for children to mitigate loneliness or to cope with a big change in their lives.

 

A lot of times, children will blame their own behavior on their imaginary friend. It was Benny, the yellow dinosaur, that broke the vase, that hid the controller, that drew on the wall. Sometimes this is a clever deflection on the part of the child. But sometimes, the child really believes it.

 

As it’s been explained to me, children will sometimes use imaginary friends as a safe way to give in to impulses that they know are wrong, behavior that is often mischievous or even willfully destructive. They can project their actions onto these friends. It wasn’t them who dropped their parent’s phone in the toilet, who threw a toy through the window. It was Benny.  The child isn’t bad; Benny is.

 

I never had an imaginary friend as a child. I met my Benny when I was twenty-five.

 

Benny isn’t the name that I know him by. But I’ve been discouraged from using his name other than when it’s absolutely unavoidable. And he’s not, in my case, a yellow dinosaur. He’s a handsome, fit guy about my age, blonde hair, blue eyes, and a surfer tan.

 

We became fast friends. Like an old married couple, we could finish each other’s sentences. It was almost like we shared the same mind. I’m a quiet, introverted person. I’d rather play games than go out and party. But Benny is boisterous, charming, witty. He wasn’t quite the stereotypical drinking game jock, but he wasn’t far from it. After many nights in, he convinced me to go with him, do what he liked to do. Which was go out, drink, dance, and try to get laid.

 

You’d think that it would be obvious, a grown man talking and laughing to himself at a party. But somehow, Benny didn’t have any trouble bringing the first girl home.

 

According to police, Leila Matheson received five perimortem stab wounds to the torso, but she was killed by strangulation. More specifically, judging by the angle of the bruises, she was forcibly hanged, and the killer stabbed her multiple times before she died from asphyxiation.

 

I know that Benny isn’t real. That he’s a construct my brain has built in response to some trauma or due to some chemical imbalance. I guess that’s why it’s called a delusion. I know Benny’s not real, and yet, it’s Benny who killed those girls. I was a helpless witness.

 

The second girl, Carrie Vance, had sixteen stabs and slashes, but many of those were messier, more rushed, and some of those were postmortem. Police must have wondered if the killer had been forced to kill more quickly. By the time the third victim, Rosalina Franco, was discovered, this time with nine stab wounds, precise and unhurried, the police must have been analyzing the size and shape, the number and placing. Was the killer sending some sort of message?

 

No. Benny was just competing with himself. How many times could he stab the girl before she died from lack of air. Only stabbing her stomach, could he kill her with his knife before she died from hanging?

 

I still remember his laughs, his taunting. My pleading for him to stop. My helpless shame at not being able to save the girl, my disgust at my own inability to turn Benny in. Knowing what I know now, trying to imagine what it must have looked like, sounded like, for each of those girls, keeps me awake at night. Did she see an insane man arguing with himself? Or did only one of us make it out of my head?

 

Victims four and five, Fatima and Mimi, had twelve and fourteen wounds. Benny was slowly ramping up his score. The profile that the police released was of a white male in his mid-twenties, awkward and introverted, holding down a job in some technology-related field and living on his own in a house he owned. Benny laughed when he heard. That sounded nothing like him. With the police that far wrong, I was losing hope that they would catch him without me finding the strength to come forward.

 

The doctors say that the inability to turn him in was a part of the condition. Children don’t go crying to their parents that Benny wrote on the walls; the parents find the scribbles and confront the child. The doctors say that I was as incapable, mentally, of turning Benny in as I was of stopping him. Of stopping myself.

 

Victim six, Sari, changed everything. Sari escaped. Police picked me up, and I broke immediately, telling them everything I knew. Even knowing that I would be charged as an accessory, even knowing I’d spend the rest of my life in prison, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It was over.

Imagine my surprise when they charged me with five counts of murder in the first degree. Imagine my surprise when my lawyer went with an insanity plea. Imagine my surprise when, upon hearing expert witness testimony and the recorded confession from the night I was taken into custody, the jury decided in favor of the plea.

 

Of course, it all makes perfect sense now. I am less insane than I was then, can see just how unwell I was at the time. Three years in an institution with daily therapy sessions (both private and group), and a pleasant cocktail of chemicals, will do that. I’m not what you might call sane. But I’m making progress.

 

Now there’s just one little fact that’s bothering me.

 

Doctors say that the symptoms I present are very similar to those of a child with a troublesome imaginary friend. I suffered trauma or change too large to cope with on my own, or isolation too great to tolerate, and so I created a friend. And sometimes I projected my own urges, my own actions, onto this imaginary friend. Deviant urges. Violent urges.

 

It wasn’t me that murdered five young women by stringing them up and stabbing them as they hanged. Who teased and taunted them, who competed with himself to be a more brutal killer. It was Benny.

 

I understand all of that, now. Benny isn’t real, and never existed.

 

The doctors say that I couldn’t have reported him to the police any more than I could have stopped him from killing the women. That, as a projection of my impulses, he held a sway over me, that as a part of my condition, I was helpless.

 

But Sari, his final victim, escaped. Because I stopped him. I couldn’t have done what I remember doing, struggling for the knife, cutting her loose, holding him so she could run. That must have been an interpretation my sick mind created. What must have truly happened was that I held the knife all along, that I overcame my urges to kill her, that I cut her loose, that I told her to run.

 

When I explain this realization to my doctors, they tell me it’s wonderful. That it means I am stronger than Benny, that I don’t have to give in to Benny. And that, realizing this, I’m far out of Benny’s reach.

 

The doctors tell me it was impossible for me to physically stop him. Just like they tell me that it’s impossible for him to actually make me do things. But I did stop him.

 

I know Benny isn’t real. But that hasn’t made him disappear. And now that he knows that we can interact with one another… Make the other do things, or stop the other from doing things…

 

Benny sees it as a game, now. Can he make me drop my spoon? Can he make me choke on a drink of water? Can he make me bang my head against the wall until I’m put in a personal safety room? If he makes me file an edge onto a spoon, how many times can he stab my doctor before I’m pulled off of her?

 

I hope the doctors figure it out before I kill someone. I can’t tell them about what he’s planning, any more than I can stop him.

 

Late Halloween Treats

In the spirit of Halloween, here are a couple of incredibly short Horror pieces I’ve written in the last couple of months. They’re just quick scribbles, so forgive the grammar.


The other me is insane.

It’s like something from the Twilight Zone. Some evil copy from another dimension. But this isn’t some twisted thing pretending to be me, a mirror opposite that is everything I’m not.

He IS me.

In the madness of the world around me, the WORLDS around me, going insane is the only action that makes sense. Anything else feels like delusion.

This other me has given in, has made the choice that makes sense. He’s become a part of the tableau of horrors. He belongs. Even now I can hear him, like some animal thing, scurrying.

Everything around me is what COULD be, everything that could be. Maybe not all in the same place at the same time. I turn my head, and the once-shattered lamp in the corner casts a flickering light. I blink, and the wallpaper changes. Once I saw the broken lamp sitting beside the one that still worked, like twins, like he and I. More than once the wallpaper melded into an eye-aching mix of patterns, two realities occupying the exact same space at the exact same time.

Sometimes I worry about that happening to me and to the other me outside the door. Is it possible for us to be twisted together into an ungodly amalgam? For me, even for a moment, to be trapped as a part of him?

Maybe not. It seems that only non-living things flicker in such a way. For living things, like me, it is the world that moves, the reality that moves, not me. But then, maybe the lamp would not perceive its own movement, either.

I’ve had too much time to think. The other me won’t go away. Most of the time it makes nonsense noises, fingernails scraping against the door, head thudding against it. Sometimes it laughs, a cackle like a boot on broken glass. But sometimes… Sometimes it whispers.

Is he some alternate me, a might have been that I never became? The thought is chilling. That perhaps a thought or word turned my path away from what this other me has become. That, as they say, there but for the grace of God go I.

What he whispers is worse. Disjointed, almost nonsensical, he rambles about the nature of time and space. Of alternate realities breeding grotesqueries when given enough iterations–but also of the nonsense that can be made of sense, when thrown out of order.

He whispers that, perhaps, he is not some other might have been. The other possibility is even more terrifying.

Maybe he’s not something I never became.

Maybe he’s something I haven’t become YET.

My eyes follow the doorknob as it changes from crystal to brass, as the lock changes from key to turn to button. The door is bare wood, or is painted, is carved with squares or with circles.

Outside, I hear the other me eating. The knowledge of what he is eating, who he is eating, strains my mind until it threatens to splinter. Whoever that other, dead me had been, he didn’t deserve this.

My eyes watch the door.

Are all these things that might happen? Or things that have to, that haven’t yet? Either way, one thing is certain.

Some time, in some reality, the door between me and the other me doesn’t exist.

 


 

The dead don’t moan. They don’t hiss. They don’t screech or growl or whimper. They’re silent. Silent, except for the wet slap of rotting flesh striking the ground, of dead joints popping and gas expelling.

The dead aren’t hungry. They aren’t angry. They aren’t anything. They’re biological machines, meat pressed into the service of the virus. A series of impulses in response to stimuli. A host that creates more hosts, with no reason, and no end.

The dead make a cold, terrible sort of sense.

Suicide Squad Review

Suicide Squad was an incredibly fun movie. The first fun movie I’ve seen from DC since The Dark Knight. Will Smith is so good as Deadshot that it makes me miss him as the lead in action flicks. While I had problems with Harley Quinn’s character, Margot Robbie was fantastic in the role and still somehow captured much of what’s great about the character. Most of the supporting cast is good, the action is cool, and the humor works.

I meant every last bit of that. I liked the movie, and do recommend it. However, the main thing that stuck out at me, the thing I’m going to spend most of this post on, is a place where the film struggled.

How did Suicide Squad’s influences, and its anxiety about influence, keep the film from being truly great?

DC has been in Marvel’s shadow since Man of Steel. The tone they chose for their universe was mainly to set themselves apart from their rivals. The structure of their shared universe was specifically, intentionally inverted from the way Marvel did it. And yet at the same time, Suicide Squad wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a Marvel film.

Guardians of the Galaxy proved that an obscure, ensemble comic book movie could be successful. Suicide Squad borrows a lot of its style—underdogs in a funny action romp, iconic music playing throughout.

That’s not a problem, though. The Hulk wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Jekyll and Hyde, the Joker’s design was inspired by The Man Who Laughs. Influence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Making decisions solely through influence IS, however.

For instance, the soundtrack is filled to the brim with awesome, classic songs. Sound familiar? It should. Guardians of the Galaxy is a pretty clear inspiration here. That’s not a problem, in and of itself. But watching the movie, it becomes entirely apparent that the decision to include the music wasn’t because it resonated emotionally, or because it informed character, tone, or time period, as Guardians uses it. Instead, it’s because it’s catchy, or because each character needs a theme, or because the soundtrack will sell. Or, sadly, because Guardians did it, and it worked.

On the other side, when the studio is too concerned about being accused of ripping something off, we get something like the new Joker. Jared Leto is a world-class actor. But I feel that he and the director spent too much time worrying about being too similar to previous incarnations, that in straining to avoid those, they completely missed the heart of the character. He’s psychopathic, yes. Zany? Unpredictable? Definitely. But I realized after I watched it that I couldn’t think of a single actual joke that the Joker told. Not a pun or a witticism or a snappy comeback. There’s some physical comedy. But the Clown Prince of Crime needs to make the audience laugh.

This struggle, to not allow other pieces to influence you too much, without stripping our own piece of its heart in the name of being different, is common among artists. We all fall too far to one side or the other at some point.

The trouble is, DC is falling into this trap consistently. Should we do this because it worked for someone else? Should we not do this so we won’t be accused of copying Marvel? Should we, should we, should we?

DC needs to find its own voice, its own identity. To stop with this bravado and find real confidence instead. Stop worrying about how others will see you, and focus on what will serve your story best. Until then, whether an imitation or aberration, you will ALWAYS be second-best.

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SPOILERS/RANDOM NOTES

Amanda Waller was CHILLING. I’d love to see her turn and have the Suicide Squad have to take her down in a sequel.

Killer Croc was a joke for the most part. Animal noises and weird fishy strut? I get what they were going for. But don’t cut away the character until all that’s left is a monstrosity, and THEN not show him being monstrous! He has superhuman strength and speed. Show him tearing through the enemy (like the single head-ripping-off I saw). EATING the enemy. Don’t downplay his disorder so that you can get the actor’s performance through his face. If you want to treat him like a monster, don’t quit half way. Neutered is the only word I can think of for what they did with him.

Jai Courtney was…good? Those words, arranged in that order, don’t make sense to me. But he was! He was funny, and likable in his own way. He WORKED.

The Joker/Harley Quinn romance. All I’ll say is, I didn’t like it, and I could write a post twice as long as this one on why I don’t.

The villains were cut-and-paste, both the underlings (cannon fodder, I get it) and the main villains (I’ll use thing to destroy world because reasons).

Half the cast was a bit short-changed to give Harley and Deadshot a chance to develop, but even then I feel like Deadshot is the only one whose development 100% worked.

Diablo’s transformation needed more foreshadowing, as well as his ability to see through illusions and Enchantress’s ability to CAUSE illusions.

From what I’ve heard, most of my problems with the movie come from the theatrical cut taking out essential pieces. I feel like I’ve heard that before. Maybe from now on I’ll skip the theatrical cut and watch the director’s cut of DC movies.

Crash Course on Perspective: Third Limited

This is my second post of three on the subject. Here’s the link to the first post in this series in case you missed it:

https://nathanhalledits.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/crash-course-on-perspective-first-person/

In Third Person Limited, the pronoun used for the character is “he” or “she”. That’s why it’s called Third Person. It’s called Limited because, unlike in Omniscient, we don’t have access to all of the characters’ thoughts at any one time. It’s limited to just the thoughts of the viewpoint character.

So that’s what it is. This is what I feel about it.

Third Limited is the perspective that I would choose if I could only ever write in one of them ever again. Good use of Third Limited is the reason that I write and edit today.

Why do I love it so much?

It’s incredibly versatile. It has many of the advantages of both First Person and Third Omniscient, with few of the drawbacks of either.

It is almost as intimate as First Person, and allows the writer to develop a voice for each PoV character in a way that Omniscient doesn’t. However, unlike in First, Third Limited doesn’t make the writer a slave to that voice. There is a separate, uniform quality to a novel’s prose that allows you to, for instance, describe the city as the character sees it, in greater depth or with more poetry than that character might do themselves.

What it gets from Omniscient is that uniform voice, but it’s also the ability to be in more than one character’s head (without jumping through hoops to do so). However, it allows the reader to really sink into the character in a way that Omniscient can’t easily do. It allows for a more character-driven experience.

This leads me to the thing that Limited can do better than First or Omniscient, and the reason that it’s so important to me. Third Person Limited allows you to write a scene from one character’s perspective, and then switch to a different character for the next scene. It allows you to more easily juggle multiple viewpoints.

The ability to juggle multiple viewpoints allows the writer to tackle large-scale conflicts from multiple sides, each with nearly the same depth and personality as First person would be able to do with one perspective. This changed the face of Fantasy forever.

There are inherent weaknesses to Limited, dangers that a writer has to be aware of.

The first, most common danger is omniscient slips. This is where the writer slips in knowledge that the PoV character couldn’t possibly have. For instance, character A can’t know what character B is thinking or feeling. A could see B’s expression, and make an educated guess. You’re still bound to the rule of First—unless a viewpoint character receives information, the reader can’t have it.

The second danger is infodump. Unlike in First Person, where the character’s voice can often carry infodump well, there is very little leeway for this in Limited. The writer has to be careful to keep information either directly relevant, or at least give the character a good reason to think about the information. It’s much more of a magic trick than in First, because the writer needs to get the information across without having it seem like the purpose for the words is to get the information across.

And the last danger is, Limited can enable a writer to make their story too big. It makes it very easy to scale up the story, but it makes it hard to know when to stop scaling up. If the writer isn’t careful, it can grow difficult for either they or their readers to remember who is where, when, and why—and even harder to remember who knows what.

If you plan to write in Third Person Limited, I’d highly recommend The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This is the series that made me want to write. It does things with Limited that I’d never seen before, and have rarely seen since. While it gets some largely deserved criticism for slowing down and growing too bloated with PoV characters—there’s that danger I was talking about—it remains one of the greatest achievements of the viewpoint, in my opinion.

As promised, here’s a passage I’ve written using this perspective. It’s…a bit longer.

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Leaning against the ancient stone wall, Jerin sucked in a breath, and winced at the stitch in his side. The fields in the distance and the untended tall grasses, and the forest beyond, were vibrant, verdant, dancing with wind. He could imagine, in hours to come, the farmers out in the fields. For now, despite the dawn, the town and the fields were still eerily silent.

Jerin slowly reeled in his breathing, and tried to quiet his mind. Would he hear them, before they were upon him?

He pushed the thought down, down into the quiet depths where the Masters had taught him to leave anything that weakened him. There was no time for weakness. No time for fear. He sidled to the corner of the wall and peeked around the corner, down the streets he had run before.

The world was bright enough to sting his eyes, orange from a sky just on the other side of dawn, green from weed-mottled grass, yellow from thatched roofs that poked up over tall white wooden fences. All of it was so deep, so full of color that he could almost reach out and touch it from where he stood.

The fences kept the people safe in their houses, separate from The Road and whatever might travel on it—especially from those that could Pull. The houses were set at odd angles and with odd spaces between, so that he could only see little ways down the street. He might not see them, if they were following, until it was too late.

The Gluttons wouldn’t care if he was afraid. Wouldn’t care if he begged. They wouldn’t care that the Masters had never asked if he wanted to join them. They would only care that he could Pull. That made him dangerous, made him less than an animal, but more, to the Gluttons, it made him food.

Sria

Jerin tucked his head back behind cover, trying to push the name down into the dark. It resurfaced, too buoyant to drown.

Srialleine’s scream breached the surface of his thoughts; her scream, and the sharp, sudden end to it, like the breaking of a branch over a knee. She’d been beside him, laughing, leaf-green eyes sparkling in the campfire’s light, and then she was screaming, and they were on her, all claws and teeth. They had been focused only on her—she had been stronger than he, many times stronger, and years more practiced—and he had run.

He had run.

Pain lanced through memory, jerking him back to the present. He swallowed the acrid taste of blood. The Masters had trained him relentlessly, more so even than they had the others. The throb at his lip didn’t matter beside the renewed focus it brought.

The Nine Edicts demanded that houses outside the cities were staggered, demanded the fences, so as not to aid those who could Pull. The Gluttons couldn’t see through houses any better than Jerin could, but they didn’t use their eyes much during a hunt. It was all smell with them, smell and taste, instinct and hunger. Jerin took a deep breath, careful, quiet, and peered around the corner again.

The breath in his lungs seemed to freeze solid.

Green grasses, blue sky, yellow thatch behind white fences. The grey paved Road, and crawling on it a half-dozen sickly, ashen silhouettes. Smallish, man-shaped but for spiny tails, they scurried with a lithe, predatory grace. Eerily human. And too close for the silence. He should have been able to hear their claws clack on the pavement. Even watching them now, he heard nothing.

Nostrils, flush against their faces, sat between long slits for eyes. Layered, curving fangs kept callous lips in a perpetual rictus, and forked tongues flicked out to taste the air. To taste for him.

His lungs felt swollen in his chest, straining. Carefully, he let the breath out in a slow stream from his nose, mouth tightly shut. As close as they were, they may not smell sweat enough to track him. But could they smell the blood? His eyes stung, but he couldn’t make them look away long enough to blink.

Watching them made his stomach clench. Naked, hairless, skin almost rough enough for scales, all of them that queasy shade of grey. They lacked any ears beyond holes in the sides of their heads. Grotesqueries of humanity, primal and sinuous, always hungry. Male. They were all male. He didn’t know where their females were, but the males were put on the hunt.

Gluttons. These vile things had a name. As feared as they were, they still had a place in the world. Jerim swam in the terror, unmoving against the ancient wall, and weathered a sudden wave of hatred. These things were almost pets to them, to the Veritiers. Cats hunting mice, hunting vermin.

Worse than all of that was the horror of memory. Muscle tearing under serrated teeth, bones snapping from the pressure their jaws could bring to bear. And all the time, there was silence. He had been close enough to smell their unwashed fetor, the stench of rotten meat in their mouths. But he hadn’t heard them. Hadn’t heard her screaming, once they were on her. Sria had watched him, green eyes dripping with terror and pain. All he could do was watch them. All he could do was run.

He watched them now, hand clenched around the edge of the wall. Trembling.

Saliva dripped form gaping maws, trailed in viscous lines to pavement. Long, swaying tails scraped silent against the road, claws making minute scratches. Why didn’t the things make noise?

Blood pulsed in Jerin’s ears, throbbed almost painfully. The colors of grass and sky and thatched roofs pressed in on him in waves. He could make them make noise. Make them scream. In the moments before he finished ripping them apart.

Putting his feet beneath him, he pushed off the wall, back toward the fields and the tall grass and the forest. Yes. He could attack. And die. With another of those breaths through his nose, he checked his belt, the pouch and the half-haft ax hanging from the loop. Hadn’t he been afraid, only a moment ago? Maybe it was still there, buried beneath shame, loathing, and rage. Sria deserved better. She deserved to be avenged. The Gluttons deserved pain for eating her. And Jerin deserved death for leaving her to die.

He managed another step backward, and another, and turned to start toward the tall grass. This wasn’t about what they deserved. This was about the Masters, what he knew, what they needed to hear.

The Hundred Swords had been drawn, and the Defilers were awake.

The price to see them imprisoned had been the end of the world. The crumbling of kingdoms, a devouring chaos that had left the people with a fear of those who could Pull but no memory of why. He refused to think what the price would be now, if the Masters were caught unaware.

The smell warned him. Rancid skin and old carrion. Without thought he fell forward, twisting as he did, pulling the ax free and throwing it in one practiced motion. The ax whistled through the air in a shining arc, and stopped silent in the creature’s skull. The beast didn’t make a sound as it hooked almost upright with the force of the ax’s impact, blood spraying noiselessly against the stones behind it, and then fell limply onto its stomach. The ground shook beneath Jerin’s boots when it landed, but he still heard nothing.

As blood pooled beneath the creature’s ruined head, another of them paced around its fallen comrade. Its head turned to the dead at its side, tongue flicking out, before it turned back to Jerin with a silent snarl, and pounced. Sucking in a breath, Jerin Pulled.

The orange of the morning sky sang in his skin, the green of the grass seeping through his pores. The white fence stood cold and impassive, and the grey pavement lay beneath him, uncaring. Seconds slid by, slow enough to feel them prickling on the hairs along his skin.

Each touch was different. Red was always strongest, a searing pressure, demanding use; that was why the Nine Edicts forbid red. White exuded nothing.

Jerin drank it in, sang with its sweetness. Training had made the next step almost beneath thought. He reached into a blade of grass between himself and the monster. Time snapped back as power flooded the blade, lighting it with the colors of the world.

The blade of grass swelled and shot tall, twisting so that its edge turned to the Glutton. The thing had just enough time for its eyes to focus on the blade before they collided. The blade’s keen edge sliced clean through the monster’s shoulder and into its chest. Fallen, twitching, to the ground, its mouth opened in a whine, but no sound escaped.

The blade stood tall, solid and crystalline, a milky, translucent white beneath the blackness of blood.

Jerin pushed himself to his feet, regaining his breath. Five heartbeats had passed since the first had fallen. Maybe ten. He had to hurry. They wouldn’t have heard his Pulling—it was silent as the Gluttons themselves—but they would smell the blood of their kindred and come running.

Giving the second, still-writhing creature a wide berth, he put a boot on the first monster’s back, pulling the ax free with a sharp jerk. He kept his ax in hand as he hopped down away from the Road, away from town. Tall grasses brushed at his thighs as he sped his pace, almost running.

They would smell the thing’s blood, be able to track it. His breath caught for a moment at the thought, but he made it steady, made himself move. Yes, they would smell their own death on him. It would drive them forward, in fear and rage. It would consume them almost as it had Jerin.

Leaving the Road was a dangerous gamble. There were things in the wilderness, things nearly as dangerous as the Gluttons, and far more numerous. But this way was the Masters. Closer than by the Road. And the Gluttons would be prey in the wild no less than he was.

The sky was brightening, the orange fading to blue, but he soaked up that orange while he could. At dawn he was strong, fueled by the traces of red in the morning sky, the bleeding of the sun.

The wind brought the sweetness of the dark forests ahead, and the grass grew all the way to his waist. It slowed him, but he was glad for it. It would slow the Gluttons even more, would make them almost equal. He was careful of his footing; one stumble, and they would be on him. He didn’t look back, but he could feel them there, in the prickling along his neck.

Moments passed, bringing him closer to the forest’s edge. The tension between his shoulders melted as the trees loomed overhead before him. He let his pace slow a little, to a step he could hold for hours. He would have to, as long as the scent on him drove the Gluttons beyond caution, beyond conditioning.

Conditioning. He’d never taken to the Master’s training as well as the rest. Had never truly learned to bury weakening thoughts. Even now he thought of Sria.

Sria, without a doubt, would have welcomed death, if it got the message to the Masters. But it was wrong. He should have been the one to die for it. She had always been the strongest of them, second in power only to the Masters themselves, had saved more young than anyone from the purges. She was a hero. He was an upstart, brash, foolish. Stubborn. If he hadn’t insisted on stopping, if he hadn’t insisted on the fire—if he hadn’t run—then maybe Sria—

Fire tore through his shoulder, knocking him forward. Instinct rolled him back to his feet, and hurled the ax at the landing creature before him. Even as he watched the thing go down with the ax in its side, he knew he was dead. Cursing himself for a fool, he spun to face the creatures stalking him, and Pulled.

The last traces of orange in the sky bled into his soul. Time drained like honey through a sieve. Jerin threw his hands up, pushing into the grass ahead, and they were radiant, twisting as they shot upward into a fence taller than those surrounding the houses. The creature in the lead tried to jump over the sprouting, crystalline barrier, and took a point in the chest, dangling from it as it grew overhead.

The fence bought him seconds, not nearly enough time to worry about the ax. Jerin glanced at his shoulder as he ran, and grimaced. Long scores along his skin, almost hidden by pooling blood. Not as bad as he’d feared—the needle and thread in his small pack would close the wounds cleanly—but they might be fatal, nonetheless. He drank in the calm blue of the sky, pushing hard.

The wounds from the Gluttons were were a poison, leeching the body’s strength. If he didn’t get away from the pack hunting him in the next few moments, he wouldn’t have the strength to fight them.

Now he looked back often as he trudged toward the forest. He had to reach the Bastion. It was worth his life, was even worth Sria’s. If he died before he reached the Darkroads, her death would be meaningless.

Beyond the tall grasses was a clearing of scrub and dirt, moss and mushrooms, where the trees blocked the sun. He was close.

He could trace the Gluttons in the wavering of the grass around the new wall’s edge. The silence of that movement was eerie, repeated on either side, reconverging behind him. Reaching into the pockets of his bag’s shoulder strap, he retrieved rounded vials, full of bright red dye. If only he could Pull through glass. He pushed forward through the grass, keeping the vials in hand.

Jerim counted breaths. How many did he have before he reached the edge of the grass? How many breaths before they were upon him? How many breaths away from dying? He counted them. Six. Four. Two.

Stumbling as he breached the field’s edge, he spun and threw. The vials shattered, spraying dye in all directions, thick and vibrant enough to sit on the scrub. Jerin let the glistening red fill him until he thought he’d burst.

Heartbeats bled by as he stepped backward, away from the dye and the ground it had stained. Not even breaths until they reached him now. Now he counted heartbeats. Three. Two.

On one he Pulled, sucking in the green and brown and blue, but more than anything sucking in the red. Jerin pushed the power into the dye, into the grass. Time flashed to normal as the dye exploded and the grass burst into flame all along the front line. A dark form broke the line of fire and bounded into the air, pinning him onto his back.

One had gotten by. The thought was frantic, a rat’s thought as a cat snapped it up in its jaw. The field was aflame. Impassible. But one had gotten through, and one was more than enough.

Instinct, beaten into him by the Masters’ training, brought his hands up, up to the leathery sag of the beast’s neck, pushing it to arm’s length. Claws cut long trails of agony in his side, in his arms, and sparked that terrible heaviness wherever they touched. Their claws were dangerous, feeding apathy and exhaustion, but their teeth were death.

The thing pushed down on him, jaws snapping silently, inching closer despite the desperate work of his arms. The stench was on him, making his stomach heave. Drool leaked in a thick line, and he jerked his face away, but it spattered on his cheek, stinging. A cry ripped from Jerin’s throat, but no sound escaped.

Jerin managed a single, powerful shove, and the thing was lifted onto its hind legs, its face far from Jerin’s neck. The Glutton’s claws ripped through leather and wool and skin, biting deep into muscle. Cold agony announced where they scraped ribs.

The heaviness infected his thoughts, made it hard to reason. Hard to care that he was dying. That, without warning, the Defilers would sweep the Masters into the abyss. That the rest of the world would fall without them.

Jerin’s hands faltered, falling at his sides; with a soundless growl, he pushed them back up aginst the creature’s chest. He was too weak. Barely an inconvenience for the thing anymore. The Glutton reared back, claws and teeth and hunger. Death.

Jerin looked down with a cold detachment, watched the blood gush dark and red from wide gashes in his chest. Lethal by themselves. The beast’s mouth opened wide, and started forward, down toward his neck. Jerin didn’t have the strength to fight it. He had no weapons, and nothing to Pull, not close enough to matter, not the right color to do what was needed.

Something inside Jerin shifted, like snapping into place. He couldn’t. It was impossible.

Jerin Pulled.

Blood could not be used to Pull. It was one of the first lessons ingrained in him, before he even truly knew what he was. They’d had him try, again and again over the years of training, as if to make sure that this inability felt as true as the inability to fly. Blood could not be used to Pull.

But power flowed into him now, stabbing hot, scorching away the cold of the wounds, the emptiness. Time stood solid, a thick line of drool drooped halfway to his face, the creature’s eyes open just wide enough to reflect a shadowy image of Jerin’s face. Shock twisted his features, but he felt it as he saw it in the Glutton’s eyes, like it belonged to someone else. It was impossible to Pull from blood, the same as it was impossible to do what he did next.

Without moving his hands from the cold roughness of the creature’s chest, Jerim pushed the power into the Glutton. Time leapt forward.

The explosion drove him into the dark earth hard enough to squeeze the air from his lungs, hard enough to crush his bones. His ears shattered with the enormity of the thunder, and the light seared his eyes shut. Pain grew beyond bearing, beyond knowing. His heart slammed in his chest, a handful of beats from ripping to pieces.

Seconds passed in false silence as the explosion tore through the world. Seconds passed, beyond what he thought he could endure. The fires continued to rage not far away, their color stabbing at him even while blind. The sky fell down on his skin, pressing, throbbing. With a breath that rattled in his chest, he Pulled.

It was impossible to Pull from blood. He knew that to be true. And it was impossible to push that power into thinking creatures—any being it was tried on developed a slow rotting disease, but nothing else. And yet he had done both.

Last, it was impossible to Pull power into himself and keep it. No matter what use he had for it, it would burn out the core of him and leave him smoldering but untouched on the surface. It was impossible to save himself.

As he pushed the power through crumpled veins, into torn muscle and pulverized bones, he cackled bloodily. Flesh knitted, bone set, muscle reattached. Languidly, he soaked up the blue, pouring it into himself, and laughed.

The sun was sinking violet on the horizon when he pushed himself, stumbling, to his feet. The fire had burned wild among the summer grass, still covered the area in seeping smoke. It had driven the Gluttons away or taken them with it. Shedding a leather jerkin and wool tunic too torn and burnt to cover him and finding smooth skin underneath, he smiled. Jerin abandoned his pack and turned to the forests, and the Darkroads beyond.

He had a message to deliver. And questions to ask. The Masters had a lot of explaining to do.

Crash Course on Perspective: First Person

I originally started this post years ago. I though I’d lost it when my computer crashed and burned, but I found it a little while ago, and I guess I’ve finally found the motivation to move forward with it.

Because I’m tackling all three perspectives, I don’t go into a lot of depth on each. This is, like I say, a crash course, rather than an intensive study. If anyone wants a more in-depth approach to one of the three, just let me know!

In the meantime, I’m tacking on a brief passage from each, to demonstrate how I use (and occasionally mangle) the perspective.

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Before I start, what is perspective?

Perspective, also called Point of View, can be looked at as the camera in a movie. It determines where the overall focus is in your story. Is it on one character? Is it on a handful of characters and the story they tie into? Is it on a bunch of characters, the world they’re in, and the story they’re a part of? Deciding on what perspective you’re using can help you choose where your focus will be, and vice versa.

There are three kinds of perspective commonly used in fiction. There’s First Person, which uses I as its pronoun, and Third Omniscient and Third Limited, which both use he or she. I’ll get to the other two in future posts, but for now I’m going to focus on First.

First Person perspective is the most immediate, the most personal. Have you ever seen a scene in a movie that is from the character’s eyes? That is First Person.

First is the most immediate, and the most intimate, viewpoint. You can do things in first that you can’t easily do in one or both of the others. The PoV character can address, manipulate or even lie to the reader. They can directly tell jokes to the reader. The PoV character is a legitimate character, in the way that the perspective in Third usually isn’t. You can build a voice and a character that carries the book in a way that the other perspectives don’t. You can even infodump—within reason.

However, this Point of View is inherently limited. It’s very difficult to tell a story from more than one perspective; while it can be done, it’s usually not worth the trouble. This means two important things. First, if the reader doesn’t like the character, they don’t get to hop to another that they might like better. You have one shot to make them like it. Second, you can only give the reader what the character either experiences directly, or learns about later. If some important event has to happen while the PoV character is somewhere else, then you miss out on the chance to have that happen in-scene.

There’s an important question you’ll want to ask at the outset of writing First. Are we inside the character’s head as events happen? If so, you can’t directly address the audience, or deliver information until the character learns it, or have them comment on the current actions with the hindsight of someone who’s seen the outcome. If we aren’t in the character’s head as events happen, then we must be taking in the character’s words, whether written or spoken, after the fact. If this is the case, then we have to assume that the character is alive, and in a state that they may deliver these words in this way.

As you can see, there are serious pros and cons to First Person.

If you’re planning to write First Person, I’d highly recommend Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. It’s my favorite single novel ever written, and it shows off the strengths of First Person while deftly working around the weaknesses. If you read it with the use of First in mind, I think there’s a lot it can teach.

Now that I’ve given my bit about what First is and how to use it, here’s what I used it for. Warning: it’s pretty bleak.

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My hands trembled, almost fumbling the cigarette on the way to my lips. Stuck on the steps of the old brick porch, stuck between the cheerful winking of Christmas tree lights spilling from the living room window and the gloom of the sinking winter sun, about all I could do was tremble.

Tremble and smoke.

I pulled the lighter from my coat, trying to snap loose buttons to keep the ratty thing shut, but my hand refused to work the little wheel.

The cold made my veins throb darker, closer to the surface against the back of my hand, and sitting on the porch felt like sitting on the edge of a knife. My breath was a hot fog against a numbed, runny nose. But the cold had nothing to do with it when I dropped the lighter.

If I listened, I could understand the voices stabbing at me from inside. I didn’t want to pay attention. Didn’t want the jumble of noises to suddenly become words, become sentences. I didn’t want to hear what they were saying about me. But my brain was an idiot, and kept right on with the translation.

“Sure, Paul,” Mom said, her words dripping venom. “Keep yelling. That always works.”

Paul took a breath—I could hear it in the pregnant quiet—and the walls shook when he spoke. “Why don’t we just sit down and talk it out, right?” If his words dripped with anything, it was with alcohol. “Like she’s still a child, like she’s not doing this on purpose! Juvenile, Jillian. That’s where she’s headed. And talking isn’t going to—”

“How do you know it won’t?” Mom interrupted. With a shudder, I pulled my hood further forward, and wished the zipper hadn’t busted last March. My aching fingers scrabbled at the step below for the lighter. Paul didn’t like being interrupted. Ever. “Did you try it some time when I was at work? I think that if you actually tried to talk to her—”

“What do you think we should do, Jill? Ground her? So she can steal the car again?” My fingers were back working the wheel of the lighter. Sparking, sparking… “Or take her cell? She can run away again. Who knows? Maybe next time she sleeps with somebody to let her stay with them, we’ll know the guy? How do you like the odds?”

God, finally! I took my first delighted puff of the cigarette, leaning against the wooden banister beside me. It had almost two hours since I’d finished the last one—right before our nice, holiday dinner. Just us family.

Paul had only drank two beers, then, and had only started on the bourbon.

We’d been five minutes away from Mom pulling the chicken out of the oven. Fifteen from her going to take the phone call. Twenty-five from my plate shattering against the wall. My lips curled at the thought of the smears the mashed potatoes must have left. I pulled my fingers under the frayed cuffs—it was starting to feel like the cold was physically squeezing them—I rolled the cigarette across my lips and took another mouthful, letting it out through my nose.

“She promised me she wont do that again…” Mom sounded not quite as sure of herself. Defensive. She was losing. Good for her! Maybe if she was smart, she’d take a dive.

“Did she?” Surprise and mock-relief didn’t sit on Paul’s lips as easily as a bottle. “Well, then. At least we can rest easy there. If only we’d thought to make her promise everything else! “Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry! I promise I won’t get high, break into my school, steal the computers for drug money!” The slur should have made his prissy whine of an imitation funnier.

A few quick, rough puffs shot smoke straight to my brain. Thankfully, every great once and a while, my parents decided to choose their battles. Between taking me to the clinic for gonorrhea and practically strip-searching me for joints, they never did quite find time to bring up the smoking. Thank God. I can only imagine how sanctimonious mom would have gotten about the dangers of freaking smoking.

“I’m tired,” Paul said, almost quietly. If I hadn’t lived under the man’s roof for about two-thirds of sixteen years, I might have felt sorry for him. He sounded sad. Listening to that voice, an outsider could almost believe he’d tried to be a real father. “Jillian, I’m so tired. But you always pull this crap. I always have to be the bad guy.”

“No,” Mom said, her voice just as soft. “Not always. Just when you’re drunk.”

I knew it was coming, but my shoulders still rocked a the sound of a fist making contact. Distinctive, that sound. Impossible to mistake it for anything else, once you’ve heard it a few times. Felt it a few times. My stomach made a funny twist as I heard her hit the floor.

Dropping what was left of the cigarette on the step, I pulled myself up by the banister. I heard Anne’s door creak open, next door, and her head poked out. Looking at her face—like a bulldog, with great hanging jowls, but with eyes glittering in a rabbit’s panic—I gave her an exaggerated nod. She disappeared back into her house.

It usually only took them ten minutes to get here. Sometimes as little as five, but rarely more than fifteen.

I sighed at the wasted half of a cigarette. Then I ground it out beneath my tennis shoe and slipped what was left of the pack out and left it on the banister. The lighter on top would keep it there.

Dear ol’ Dad wouldn’t get a special, free fare ride to the station, an all-expenses-paid stay at the city’s most popular hotel. He’d only got that once, years back, when he was too free with his fists on Mom’s face. Now he was careful. Now all he got was a few minutes in the back of a cruiser while mom swore up and down that we were a sitcom family. Never mind the daughter; she’s a druggie and whore, so who’s surprised she’s a liar, too?

I could have laughed.

I couldn’t leave. I’d promised. And I was tired of sitting out on the steps, listening.

Turning to the screen door, which let out the vague forms of writhing victim and towering, swaying menace, I took a breath of clean, sweet air. Cold, but without sweat, without fear. Ten minutes, maybe fifteen. Then the night would be over, and he’d be done for a week or two. He was always better, afterward. Apologetic. It won’t happen again, it was the booze, yadda yadda. I didn’t so much smile, swinging the screen door open as noisily as a screen door swings, as I sneered.

Ten minutes was easy. I’d learned better than Mom. Know when the hit’s coming, Mom. Know when, know where. Anticipate, and move away. Don’t dodge, don’t try to block. But soften it, and overplay it afterward. He’s drunk. He doesn’t know the difference. I knew the bit well enough to sell it on a late-night infomercial. It had been years since he’d broken anything.

Ten minutes was easy. Two years was hard.

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is the movie that Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Winter Soldier wished they were. It’s unabashed fun that makes sense, remains driven, and keep its focus on its characters, from beginning to end.

This isn’t to say that it’s perfect—I’m looking at you, shaky-cam and quick-cuts in the first act—but it’s one of the better Marvel movies we’ve gotten in a while, up there with the first Iron Man, the first Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

I have a lot that I could ramble on about. And I will, I’m sure, in the spoilers section. But for the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus on one thing that Civil War gets right: theme.

Theme is important in a work. It helps to tie elements of a narrative into a cohesive, powerful whole.

The reason that, in my opinion, The Dark Knight is the best out of the Nolan trilogy, is because it sticks to simple, resonant themes. The Joker announces the main theme of the movie when he says, “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules”. The whole movie is about people placed into situations where they might have to compromise on their moral foundations in order to survive, and what it turns a person into when they do that. It’s repeated again and again and again, always from different angles, always asking different questions about the issue.

In Civil War, the theme is the past coming back to haunt the present. Whether that’s Tony being made to feel the lives they didn’t save, or Bucky being pursued for his actions as the Winter Solder, or the Avengers as a whole and the agreement that would put them under government control. Even the villain’s actions are bringing the past back to haunt the heroes.

The story has other themes, themes that tie in beautifully with the primary. Revenge vs. justice, yes, but also revenge vs. mercy. It asks the question: Even if revenge is sometimes justified, is it ever the right choice? What happens by a person driven by revenge as opposed to a person driven by justice, or driven by mercy?

These themes are present from the first minute of the movie to the last. They are the beating heart of the film. This movie is a master class in making theme work for you.

I’ve heard complaints about the villain, and I can see some of the flaws. He probably has little in common with his comics counterpart, and the plot he brews up is convoluted if not downright contrived in places. But he is essential to the movie, in my opinion, because of the way that he fits into this beautiful exploration of theme.

Almost everything is wonderful about this movie. The actors give their best performances so far, which is saying something, from Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans. Every character we know that’s in it gets their own moment to shine, including characters that you might truly expect to fall into the background. The two new heroes are fantastic, and the actors are great. The action is unbelievable, minus the shaky-cam and quick-cuts mostly isolated to the beginning of the film. There’s one action sequence that makes the movie worth the ticket price all by itself, and it’s far from the only great action scene in the movie.

This is in my top 5 Marvel movies. And if you know me, you know how much of a compliment that is. It’s tied for my favorite superhero movie of the year, and despite how excited I am for Doctor Strange, I don’t expect it to reach the heights that Civil War has climbed.

If for some reason you’re still on the fence, go see it. I can guarantee that anyone who likes comic book movies, and many people who don’t, will love this film.

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SPOILERS

Spider-Man! Every moment he’s on screen, I grin ear-to-ear. I love the fact that he reacts to his spider sense out loud. He’s very ADD, very talky, and that works perfectly for the character. He’s also able to hold up literal tons and can fight two other super-powered characters to a virtual stalemate. He’s my all-time favorite comic book hero, and I just got to see all kinds of awesomeness that I never thought I would on film.

Ant Man continues to annoy me. Not the character or the actor or the humor, which is all fantastic. The technology. No, wait, “technology”. I’ve started to just wave my hands and say “Magic!” whenever he’s involved, to keep him from ruining those scenes.

I’m not the first person to complain about it, so I’ll be brief. Shaky-cam doesn’t add tension to a shot. All that it does is cover up sloppy choreography, sloppy acting, or sloppy effects. If you’re a competent filmmaker, you NEVER need shaky-cam. Particularly not so much that it hinders the viewer’s ability to understand what’s happening.

Zemo at the end, talking to Black Panther, gave me chills. The fact that him listening to the message on his phone has entirely different meaning there at the end is just a stroke of brilliance!

Weren’t those title cards with the locations weird? They covered up the whole screen! I hope the DVD release will have normal, corner-of-the-screen cards there instead.

I loved Rhodey’s speech. I’d have loved for Cap to hear it, and it makes me look forward to possibly seeing a scene with Rhodes and Falcon together. It’s really powerful, and is a nice little stamp on the end of the movie. HOWEVER, I was incredibly disappointed that this takes place as he’s GOING TO BE COMPLETELY FINE because of Tony’s technology. Make us live with the repercussions of his injuries. Make him give this speech in the face of permanent disability. That would turn this ultimately throwaway scene into an emotional powerhouse.