Story from the Start: Getting to the Peak
So, we are drawing close to the final confrontation between the forces of Good and Evil, or perhaps in this case, less bad and really evil. We have our nomadic-for-the-moment horse herders, our sophisticated-at-a-price urban dwellers, and a system built on something that the horsemen (and one hopes the readers) consider to be beyond the Pale. We also have something lurking in the background that needs to come to the foreground in order to bring the story to a conclusion: the river that we saw in the very first excerpt.
At this point, I’m going to sketch out what’s been developed thus far in the story. Normally I do not outline or set a hard plot down on paper. I’ve tried that twice and it does not work for me for fiction*. So this is a very brief run through, including some ideas that I just picked up this week from a research book that I read.
The nomadic herders arrive in the valley. They are fleeing from somewhere because the gods got angry at the other people and our protagonists knew better than to stick around. They find a beautiful, well-watered land with cities and towns, some small farming villages, and communities that are sophisticated and very civilized with lots of luxuries. The farmers and the horsemen do a little trading but there’s mutual hostility. Something strikes the horsemen as “off,” especially when they ask about the two main cities. People are effusive in their praise, but they twitch as they speak. And one or two of the clan members hear stories about older towns and villages that were erased, burned to the ground, and all the new cities and people built in new places. There’s a minor earthquake.
[At this point, we have background, foreshadowing, setting, and a sense that all is not well. You’re not seeing character development, setting development, or cultural development, because this is a summary. You also do not see the lulls in the action, the quiet moments of rest and humor, a little flirting and possible romance, that allow the pace to relax and both characters and readers to breathe. I write “slow” books. Not quite Tristram Shandy slow, but not thriller pacing, either. ]
Two of our protagonists visit the greatest town and are very impressed. They also realize that something is even more “off” than they’d thought, and the headman that they meet sets off internal alarms. Not too much later they discover why. They will move away from the cities to the foothills. A few more minor earthquakes. There they find something diverting the river, something that needs blood magic to maintain its strength, something the true gods are not pleased with. They also learn, from exiles, about the source of the blood magic.
[At this point, readers should be demanding that someone “make it go away/nuke it from orbit”. The good guys are good, have done decent things, and the bad guys are complicit with evil and really nasty evil. Enough is enough!]
There is a two-pronged climax here. The tricky part is: what has to be done first? Break the dam and let the river go back to where it ought to (which will also de-water the valley and the cities), or attack the cities, shatter the blood magic, and punish evil? [Debate, debate, argue, argue, consult oracles] Earthquake. The dam starts to crack. The protagonists decide to go to the city, end the blood magic, and then do what is needed to break the dam the rest of the way.
That’s where we will pick up next time. We have the background, the pattern of the plot, the huge events that have to happen, and the order. We have rising and falling tension that always returns to a slightly higher point than before. We have dropped clues that the innocent will be able to survive after the final confrontation, although life might not be as comfortable as before. They are slightly complicit by inaction, although they have reasons. We should also have readers who are desperately turning pages or tapping the next-page button in order to find out how our heroes are going to punish the wicked.
Next episode: The Final Battle (or other Confrontation)
*For non-fiction I must do it in order to have a framework with notes that I can then smoothly turn into a text with citations. By the time I get to the outline, I’m 80% done with the monograph or article (with 70% to go!)