The Dance

She looked up at the sky as it changed from a bright blue to the dark of night, bloody streaks of emerald and purple tainting the black. It meant nothing to her, the sudden change, but it meant something to the aunt who pointed at the sky with a quivering, vein-lined hand.

The aunt’s shout brought the attention of the entire group and she watched as the aunt lowered her hand to cover her brow, the other one covering her heart, the eternal symbol of danger. Others pointed to the sky now, the colours transforming and blending until a large creature emerged flying through the sky, lightening flickering as its wings beat the air.

The aunt cried now, collapsing and she leant down to comfort the older woman, her small hand rested against the ragged edges of the woman’s spine while she continued to look up at the sky. More colours were appearing around the creature, gold and silver, green and yellow, orange and brown. They all coalesced to form similar beings, their wings reaching out to cover the entire skyline.

Fear should have entered her, but it was only curiosity that flooded through her, a burning desire to see the creatures close up, to be consumed by them. She stepped forward, her hand dragging along the aunt’s spine before falling off and hanging loosely at her side. Her toes dug into the dirt below, feeling the movement of the earth and she continued on, a cry behind her going unnoticed.

No one tried to stop her and she stepped outside the circle, her eyes reflecting the dance of the creatures, her ears full of their music. They weaved amongst each other, sending splashes of colour further across the sky which in turn birthed more of the dancers, their movements wild yet graceful.

She wished to be one of them, flying so powerfully through the sky and her body moved of its own accord, doing its own clumsy interpretation of the dance. Her heart soared, reaching to join them so high above her and they turned to look at her as one, bodies shifting in the sky. Her feet scuttled across the ground as she moved faster to meet them, the creatures of the air, beautiful in their might.

Her hand reached out, begging to be taken, to be released from the earth which held her prisoner. They looked at her but did not help. She needed to do this herself, lose herself in order to find herself. Time became meaningless as she danced, her movements becoming more graceful as she edged towards the creatures, their wings beating air into her face as she approached, blowing her hair back, stripping away her entire being.

The dance quickened, encouraging her to move faster, to match the rhythm and she did so, effortlessly now, as her spirit started to pull away from her body. Her heart no longer hammered with the exertion, her breath no longer misted the air and blood no longer flooded through her veins. She left pain behind, just another prisoner of earth.

It all came to a stop and she rushed up to meet the creatures, a colourful streak in the sky joining the dance of the dragons.

My character walked in and punched me in the face.

How do your characters come into existence? Do they appear in your head fully formed or do you develop them slowly over time, adding pieces of personality here and there?

My characters come from all over the place. For instance, in the story I’m writing now, my main protagonist just appeared to me one day and I haven’t changed her in the slightest. Her friend however, she’s based on my younger sister, a flighty young girl who should take things a little more seriously. I’ve changed that character countless times.  I also have one character that I discovered while doing research for the story, and this is the man I want to talk about.

He was a handsome fellow.

He was a handsome fellow.

Not many people know much about – or have even heard of – Paracelsus. He was a Swiss German physician, alchemist and general all around occultist, whose writings surprisingly talked about God a lot. That doesn’t matter though. What matters is this quote, because it was the reason Paracelsus became the basis for one of my characters:

And I do not take my medicines from the apothecaries; their shops are but foul sculleries, from which comes nothing but foul broths. As for you, you defend your kingdom with belly-crawling and flattery. How long do you think this will last? … let me tell you this: every little hair on my neck knows more than you and all your scribes, and my shoebuckles are more learned than your Galen and Avicenna, and my beard has more experience than all your high colleges.

BURN! This guy was badass. Not only that, but his real name was Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. He liked to be called Paracelsus because he believed he was next to Celsus in terms of skill as a physician.

How can you not make this guy a character? He is the most interesting person I have never met. The intimidating thing is trying to create a full character based off of him that does him justice. He is that awesome. Listen to me, I sound like a groupie.

I'm not the only one who wanted to adapt him into a character.  Anyone recognise this certain father?

I’m not the only one who wanted to adapt him into a character. Anyone recognise this certain absentee father?

Anyway, he fit perfectly with what I wanted to do with the story, so I adapted the real person into a character that hopefully does him justice.

So tell me, where do you get your characters from?

Vulnerability

Vulnerability

I dream of machetes. I dream of men threatening me, friends killing me, enemies hugging me, and they all have one thing in common. They all hold the machete. Everything fades when it appears, the flat of the blade painted black and decorated with three large holes, contrasting with the gleaming silver of the sharpened edge. It wasn’t fair, I tell myself.

The clock had read 11:23pm. Seven minutes until I walked out the door, safe from harm. I pretended to work, staring at a piece of paper but not really seeing it. I was just counting down the moments until I could go home.

The man entered through the side door. He was behind the desk before I even felt a shift in the air. I turned towards him and my eyes were drawn to the machete. It lay inches from my stomach, lifeless, a tool specifically designed to kill with ease.

He said that he would kill me, the man holding the machete. I pictured it being raised up, to slice down into my shoulder. Would it stop at the bone, I wondered, or would it slice right through me, leaving two parts of one whole. Would he run after he killed me, leaving my body lying in a pool of blood that painted the carpet red?

He had said something else, after the threat. What had he said? Money. He wanted money. My eyes flicked to the drawers. That was where we kept the money. But I had taken it away, the manager putting it in a safe I couldn’t access. I couldn’t give him what he wanted.

The machete streaked towards my face, a punishment for my hesitation and slammed into the desk, shards of wood splintering up. The laminate was torn, leaving an ugly gash in the desk. The image blurred, and time slowed down.

I found myself in the storeroom, holding the door closed because it wouldn’t lock. I don’t quite remember how I got here, but the man is not here. He is somewhere though, and I do not know where. On the other side of the building, or on the other side of the door perhaps. All is silent though.

Relief is coupled with guilt, as I realise I left my manager to face him alone. Guilt at having saved my own life and condemning his. The image of the machete flickered before my eyes, reminding me of the danger my manager faced.

You don’t know how you’ll react when threatened with death. You picture yourself as the hero, knocking the man unconscious with a fire extinguisher or distracting him so others can get away. You picture yourself crumbling, tears streaking down your face and bile at the back of your throat.

In the end, it’s just instinct. They tell you afterwards that you did all the right things, that you’re a champion, that it could have ended much worse.   It’s all just instinct though. Instinct doesn’t allow for choices.

The police caught up with the man a few weeks later and he led them on a merry chase through the city, which ended with his car wrapped around a pole.

The newspapers released his name. I found out his age, place of residence and what high school he went to. I even found his Facebook page.

It didn’t help, though. I had thought putting a name to the man, trying to understand why he did what he did would lessen the fear. That it would allow me to regain control of my life. It didn’t.

I look at a picture of him and see an ordinary boy. Someone’s son, someone’s brother. He smiles out at me as though we are best friends, this boy who ruined my life. He isn’t the drug-crazed lunatic I was expecting. He’s just ordinary. Like me.

Just as vulnerable as I am, a person caught in a world where one is forced to hurt another in order to survive.

Someone tells me that he fell in with the wrong crowd. He had to get money or they would hurt him. He had to protect himself. So he hurt me instead.

“Prepare to meet your doom!” he cackled, the villain with all the bad dialogue.

Who else finds it really hard to write a villain scene with good dialogue? It’s very easy to make him sound unbelievable, cartoonish and just plain corny. Gone are the days of the 80’s movies with the cardboard cut out villain imprinted with a set of predictable lines. These days, your villain has to have a reason for the way he is, be a believable character and has to have some amazing lines.

Villains can no longer be mindlessly evil. They have to be after something. Be it the throne, or the world, or the universe. But they also have to have another side to them. Readers are into the grey characters these days. No villain can be wholly evil, and no hero can be wholly good. This makes the dialogue even harder to write.

How do you portray an evil man as having a soft side to him in his dialogue? Hitler, according to his friends, had a way with animals. Did we ever see this when he spoke? Did he ever make a speech about how to care for your dog? No, he didn’t. We only know that Hitler had another side to him, from reports from his friends and possibly a few photos.

It’s all well and good to say to just show it in their actions, or get someone else to tell the main protagonist some feel-good stories. But not all stories roll like that. Sometimes, the only interaction we have with the villain is during a tense scene with the hero. It seems implausible that the villain is going to be able to show his good side during those scenes. For all we know, Sauron may have run a free daycare for his little baby orc minions. He may have had free healthcare in his kingdom. The heroes never knew about it though, so we don’t. Therefore Sauron comes across as the ultimate villain.

I’m going to put up a little snippet of a scene from the story I’m writing (unedited), and please feel free to tear it to shreds. I struggle with dialogue, so would appreciate any opinion on the matter. I was aiming for ever so slightly crazy.

Enjoy!

Brie shook with anger. She might never have met her parents but it didn’t stop her loving them. ‘My mother died when her Elemental took over. Don’t try to make me think my own mother did all that, because she didn’t. And whoever you killed in order to take over their body, it wasn’t their fault either. No matter what everyone thinks.’ She shuddered.

The Lord leant back, his eyebrows raised as though impressed, then he leant forward. ‘Are you scared that your Elemental will do that? Will throw you out of your own body?’ His lips drew back in a semblance of a smile. ‘Just imagine yourself lost in oblivion, dead to all the worlds, but your body still walks around, breathing, sleeping…killing. That’s what happened to your mother. And it will happen to you, eventually.’

Brie looked away, ignoring his words. He was trying to scare her, make her doubt herself and it wouldn’t work. Not if she closed her mind to his words.

‘Your father died at what he thought were his wife’s hands. How would you like to kill the person you care about most, feel their blood drip down your hands, their muscles twitch as you bury your fingers deep down to where their organs lie? How would you like to pull their still beating heart out of their chest? Your Elemental can make you experience all that before they cast you off. They can make you go mad before they kill you.’

The words didn’t affect her. She had already killed the person she loved most. The Lord couldn’t make her feel any more guilt then she already felt herself. Faces flashed through her mind, reminding her that however much she tried to hide it, there were still others that she cared for. Malise flashed before her, a smile upon her wrinkled face only to be replaced by Braum, his jaw clenched but that twinkle in his eye to show that he was amused about something. Lastly, Lasa flashed up, her innocent face transforming into something else, something sinister. Brie shook her head, clearing her mind of the images and looked up at the Lord. He appeared frustrated that she wasn’t reacting to his words.

He sighed and in an instant became that man she had first seen upon the stairs. His shoulders slumped and he looked at her without focus. ‘I should do something with you then,’ he said, more to himself then to her. He walked over to the stool and stared into the fire once more, an identical image to what Brie had seen when she had first walked into this room.
He sat there for long enough that Brie started to wonder whether he had forgotten about her. She was just working up the courage to try to escape the room when he spun around on the stool and looked out into the dark hallway. Two guards emerged from the pitch black to kneel in front of the Lord. Brie frowned. She had begun to think that the Lord didn’t allow anyone above the ground level.

The Lord looked over the heads of the two guards and said, ‘Take her to the pier cells. Give her a nice one, though.’ He paused and focused on Brie for a split second before turning back to the guards. ‘Wait, no. She annoyed me. Put her up the end, but one that won’t fall into the ocean. Check the screws.’

The men gave a curt nod, then turned and dragged Brie to her feet. She started to sweat. The pier cells were well known throughout the city. The cells dangled below the pier, open to the lashings of the ocean. It was said that if you managed to survive the first night from exposure, the cell would fall into the sea and drown you the second.

‘Brie, I’ve been thinking and-‘ Lasa appeared next to her as they started out the room.
Lasa! I told you to go away. You’re no help here. Leave before- Brie’s frantic thoughts were interrupted by the Lord’s shout behind them. She closed her eyes and counted to ten, trying to calm her hammering heart. It didn’t slow down her pulse and the guards pulled her back into the room. She opened her eyes to the Lord, his body quivering with excitement. The Lord didn’t look at her. He was looking directly at Lasa. That shouldn’t be possible. Lasa only appeared to those she wanted to be seen by. She saw Lasa’s horror struck expression and knew that the Lord shouldn’t be able to see her.

The Lord sidled closer to Lasa, his eyes bright. ‘It’s been so long…’ he said, his voice quiet. The guards didn’t react to their Lord talking to thin air. For all Brie knew, they could see Lasa as well.

Lasa backed away from the Lord, baring her teeth. ‘Don’t come near me. You’re all wrong. Where’s the other one? Why is there only you? Your face – it’s not right. Brie…Help me.’ She turned to Brie for guidance, but Brie could only shake her head, wide-eyed.

Brie had no idea what Lasa was talking about. The Lord seemed to, however, and he took another step forward, almost as though he were being drawn to her. ‘Ah, I understand now. You still think like them.’ He jerked his chin towards the guards and Brie. ‘You must forgive me, I thought that the girl had locked you away. That man you killed, well I assumed that was you displaying your power, trying to get my attention and my help. You can understand my confusion.’ He had a rueful smile on his face, as though he were genuinely contrite. He turned away from Lasa, in thought once more. He started to talk to himself, ignoring the other presences in the room. ‘Well, this is a puzzle. What to do with her now. Don’t need to put the girl in the cell anymore. But how to get her to snap out of thinking like the humans…’ He turned around, snapping his fingers together and addressing Lasa once more. ‘Of course, easy solution. I’m going to send you to your brother spirit. He’ll be able to change your way of thinking. Don’t worry, we’ll have you fixed in no time.’

Lasa looked at Brie with concern and then asked, ‘What about Brie?’

The Lord looked confused for a moment, but his eyes slid over to Brie and he nodded. ‘Don’t worry, we won’t kill her. You need her. Her body, anyway. She’ll be going with you to Obsideo.’