Through the door (part 4) w/o AI

[ Continued from here. Still no AI extension associated with this, though I threw in what AI suggested for a picture at the end. Generally speaking, I find AI art to be rather horrifying mockeries of what passes for art. But that’s just me. I wanted to get the storyline into an action scene to see what the AI will suggest. Stay tuned for that in the next post. ]

The column of villagers snaked out of the ruins of their homes and up the forested trail. As hours passed, the group paused periodically for short breaks. Yet, the pace was relentless as the group moved deeper into the forested landscape. Some villagers struggled to keep up despite the warnings, lingering behind the main body. They were mainly older men and women with few exceptions, and the few villagers burdened with small children.

At one of the stops, Arianna finally spoke to Rhinna. “What are you going to do about the stragglers?”

“They know the consequences. We can’t stop for anyone.”

“That’s not fair. Can’t we have some hunters stay behind to escort them to the falls?”

“No, I will not risk losing our few hunters over those who can’t keep up.”

“But some of them are women and children. They deserve a chance.”

Rhinna set her jaw. “I know it’s not fair, but helping them means risking everyone’s chances to reach safety.”

Biting back her disgust, Arianna chose to not argue the point. No reason anyone had to be sacrificed just to make it to the falls. “Can you tell me anything about the King or Freehold?”

“Freehold is simply where King Anthirian lives. He is a good man, though not as wise as he thinks he is.” She glanced at Magnus. “It’s fair to say that is not an uncommon issue with most men.”

“I certainly agree with that,” Arianna commented. “What can he do to help me return to my world?”

“He can help you capture Dathon and release the Aldewater magic that the man has stolen. That should allow you to use the book to open a portal back to your own world.” Rhinna leaned close to her. “I want you to promise you’ll leave the book before you go and take Dathon with you.”

Leaving behind the book would mean never returning to Aldewater, which was fine with her. Taking Dathon with her sounded ideal if he wanted to come. “What if he doesn’t want to leave?”

“It would be better for everyone if he did, but if he doesn’t willingly, there might be consequences,” Rhinna said, fingering the knife’s handle in her belt.

The meaning couldn’t be more apparent. “Understood.” He’d have to listen to reason, right? Still, why did he leave her and come here? What would she say and do when they met? It was so confusing. She’d finally come to terms with him being gone, only to find him here. Did she mean nothing to him? “Wait, what about this other woman you said looks like me and is with him. What do you make of that?”

“I have no idea. You look identical, but you’re not. This other ‘Arianna’ is vicious and cruel. I don’t know if she’s a corrupted reflection of you in some way or a manifestation of Dathon’s Aldewater magic. The King knows more about Aldewater magic than anyone.”

“Whoever or whatever she is,” Arianna replied, “I don’t know how she’ll react to me or let me near Dathon.”

“We’ll deal with her once we find Dathon,” Rhinna answered.

Magnus tugged on Rhinna’s arm. “We need to get going.” She nodded. “Let’s go,” Magnus shouted. A cascading series of shouts repeated the message up and down the column.

The sun traced a path across the sky until it sank below the treetops. Despite pauses in the march, at least a dozen villagers fell off the pace, drifting so far behind they could no longer be seen. Ahead of them, rushing water could be heard. The outline of ridgelines could be seen through gaps in the trees. The air also grew noticeably colder.

“The falls must be near,” Arianna commented.

“We’re still several miles away,” Rhinna replied. She glanced at the sharply slanting rays of sunlight and increasing shadows. “We should still make it before dark.”

Darkness continued to increase as the rays of sunlight faded. After a sharp turn in the path, rushing water sounds reached thunderous levels. A broad rocky outflow of water crossed the trail from a plunge pool, fed by a waterfall plunging off a rocky projection two hundred feet above them. Long vertical lines of water roared downward in a sinuous and relentless manner. Cool droplets of water filled the air.

Arianna had never seen anything like it before and stood staring. Rhinna and Magnus, on the other hand, began shouting. “Time’s wasting. Quickly, fill your water skins, and line up behind us.” The villagers did as they were told, and soon a long line formed behind the two leaders. Picking their way carefully through the large rocks surrounding the plunge pool, Rhinna and Magnus followed a narrow trail behind the waterfall.

Following the mass of villagers, Arianna wiped moisture out of her eyes. She stepped past the rushing water to discover a wide cave opening into the rock face. Rhinna stood on one side of the entrance and Magnus on the other. Together the two pulled each village into the cave. Darkness surrounded them until a torch flared to light at the feet of a villager who stood over it with a flint and stone. In rapid succession, other torches already mounted along the walls were soon lit, casting the cavern into view. The pinkish-yellow walls of the cave rose high and deep into the rockface and flowed into a large chamber. The villagers entered the open area and found places to sit next to the walls and stalagmites protruding from the floor.

As Arianna looked about at the wonders of the cave, shouts carried from the entrance. She turned to find Magnus pulling a few more villagers inside and yelling at them, “Hurry.” Screams followed villagers running further into the cave.

“Spear carriers come to the entrance,” Magnus bellowed.

Arianna started, remembering suddenly that she had such a weapon. Dropping her travel bag, she slipped the spear out and ran toward the entrance. A deep-throated growling greeted her as she approached. Just beyond the cave opening, reddish orbs floated in the darkness. It wasn’t until she stood next to Rhinna that she could determine what they were: reptilian-like eyes with very dark irises set into faces with hairy snouts.

“Night demons,” Rhinna said, thumbing her amulet.

Through the Door (part 3 — extended, w/o AI)

[ Continuation from Part 3 — AI extended edition. I did not use much of what the AI suggested, as it was largely summary, and ignored/bypassed details that will be important when conflict arises. So, instead, I concentrated on getting the villagers ready for the journey and will (in the next post) focus on the journey (as suggested by the AI) and have our hidden antagonists show their hairy (possibly fanged) faces. Enjoy. ]

Arianna hoisted a traveling bag over her shoulder and nodded at Rhinna. The older woman had been kind enough to supply traveling clothes and accouterments necessary to make the two-day trek to Freehold. All the other villagers hastened to grab their essentials as the sun was drifting low in the sky.

“How are we going to make it safely to Freehold without the protection of the Aldewater tree?”

Rhinna pointed toward a medallion hanging around her neck. “We each have one of these.” Opening it, inside was a golden seed. “These are seeds of the Aldewater tree. They provide some protection from the night demons.” Despite her saying this, her demeanor did not convey much confidence. The older woman dug into a bag and produced a medallion. She handed it to Arianna. “Take this and wear it. I hope it will do you more for you than it did my sister.”

Arianna took the medallion and hung it around her neck. “If you don’t mind, can you tell me what happened?”

“She wandered off two nights ago when her dog ran into the woods. We found her yesterday.”

“Did the night demons get her?”

Rhinna sniffed back a tear. “I don’t think so, but she was hanging from a tree.”

“Oh, how awful. But how do you know it wasn’t the demons.”

“Because she was hanging from the tree by her medallion. No demon could have come that close to her to have done it. She either killed herself, or someone else did it.”

Arianna ran her fingers over the medallion. “Did Dathon and his followers have medallions?”

“No,” Rhinna replied after a pause. “At least I didn’t see any.” She shouldered her travel bag. “We must get going to reach the Great Falls, the halfway point to Freehold.”

Magnus reappeared. “We’re ready to go, Rhinna.” The older woman nodded and then followed him into the village square. Arianna followed along as well. The huddled mass of villagers stood with bags over their shoulders and, in some cases holding children’s hands. All of whom looked terrified. The adults did not look much better, with long faces and nervous eyes.

“We must make it to Great Falls before dark. Do not wander off, and don’t fall behind. We can’t stop for stragglers. Fill your water skins. Magnus will hand out what weapons we have, so don’t lose them. There are not enough of them to go around, so only one per family. Line up by the tree.”

The villagers did as they were told, shuffling over to where Magnus stood. A pile of bows, arrows, staves, spears and short swords lay behind him. He began handing out a weapon to each group that approached. Slowly the line began to shorten, and Arianna moved to join it.

Rhinna pulled Arianna aside, “Have you ever handled a blade?”

“Only to cook with. I am pretty good with a bow, however. I placed second at regionals in college.”

“I don’t really understand. Does that mean you bow hunted before?”

“Uh, no, it was paper targets at a distance.”

Rhinna frowned. “We’re limiting the bows to experienced hunters.” She turned to Magnus, “Hand me a spear.” The man did so, and she handed it to Arianna.

Despite her best efforts, Arianna couldn’t suppress her disappointment. “I supposed I can handle a stick.”

“Don’t be like that. Spears are very important. All of these are made from Aldewater wood. A few of the arrows are as well.” She produced an arrow from a nearby quiver. “See the red fletching on this?” Arianna nodded. “This is an Aldewater arrow. If you find one of these, grab it. The heads are sharpened Aldewater wood. Useless for hunting but good against demons. But we only have a few, so they are precious.” Replacing the arrow, she pulled her blade. The six-inch blade gleamed in the sunlight. “See this symbol?” she said, pointing at the tree symbol on the pommel.

“Yes. I take it that has something to do with the Aldewater tree?”

“When the blades were forged, they are quenched in Aldewater oil, which makes them dangerous to demons.”

The last of the weapons were handed out. “Gather on the north trail,” Magnus shouted out. The mass of villagers moved through the village toward the northern outskirts. Magnus and Rhinna sorted them out. Experienced hunters, both men and women, stood on the group’s periphery. Caretakers for the children formed in the center.

Rhinna directed Arianna into the center of the column. “You stay here.”

Arianna leaned close to Rhinna.” What are our chances of making Great Falls before dark?”

The older woman noted the sun’s position, hovering just above the treetops. “We’ll be very blessed if we do, but the fact remains, we have no other option than to try.”

Magnus stood at the head of the column as Rhinna joined him. “March,” he called out. Together the crowd of humanity trudged up the trail as rays of sunlight lanced through the surrounding trees. Shadows cast by the trees crept slowly but relentlessly out of the underbrush.

[ Next post continues story here. ]

Let’s Talk

Good dialog is critical to good writing, after all, drama is not always about action, sometimes it relies on communication, or more often, miscommunication. Further, unless your characters are communicating in a nearly context-less manner – such as emails or texting, there are often subtle cues that characters do, that imparts information that can drive a scene. Witness the following:

Sal looked around the freezer. Chunks of meat hung on large hooks from the ceiling.

“What are you doing here?” Sal asked.

“Oh, just doing my job,” Victor replied. With a smack, his hand struck a side of beef. 

“You work here?”

Victor stared at his hand, now glistening crimson. “Sometimes.”

Beats and tags

The mechanics of dialog are relatively straightforward. Someone speaks, and someone else replies. But who is speaking? Attributions are needed in dialog to allow the reader to follow who is saying what.  There are two basic methods for doing this, sometimes done in combination, namely beats and tags.  A tag is a direct attribution in the manner of an identifier (e.g., a name) alone with some equivalent to said or ask.  i.e., Tim said, “He’s going to kill you.” We know precisely that Tim is speaking.  Fairly simple, but sometimes terribly overused.

Tim said, “He’s going to kill you.”

“But why?” Roger asked. “I’ve done nothing.”

“You had an affair with his sister,” Tim said.

“Jennette is his sister? I had no idea,” Roger said.

“Well, you do now.  What are you going to do about it?” Tim asked.

“I can try to apologize,” Roger said.

“Good luck with that.  He is usually armed,” Tim said.

As you can see, we clearly know who is speaking – but is all the attribution necessary? No, of course not.  We have two characters talking to each other, back and forth, the attributions (beyond the initial identifiers) are annoyingly redundant, and can be eliminated.

Tim said, “He’s going to kill you.”

“But why?” Roger asked. “I’ve done nothing.”

“You had an affair with his sister.”

“Jennette is his sister? I had no idea,”

“Well, you do now.  What are you going to do about it?”

“I can try to apologize.”

“Good luck with that.  He’s usually armed.”

Eliminating attributions is not without caveats in the sense that if the conversation is interrupted, or one of the characters shuts up, and the other keeps talking, we may need to throw in an attribution to reorient the reader. See the following:

“Jennette is his sister? I had no idea.”

Tim rolled his eyes.

“I can try to apologize,” Roger offered.

“Good luck with that.  He’s usually armed.”

Things get more complicated when more than two characters are talking, like a round-table type discussion.  Still, it can be handled, by not letting the conversation hop around like a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest.

Tim said, “He’s going to kill you.”

“But why?” Roger asked. “I’ve done nothing.”

Joe looked incredulous.  “You had an affair with his sister.”

“Jennette was his sister? I had no idea,” Roger admitted.

“Well you know now.  What are you going to do about it?” Joe asked.

“I can try to apologize.”

Tim scoffed. “Good luck with that. He’s usually armed.”

In that example, I had my three characters fill certain roles in the conversation.  Tim became the summarizer, Joe, the interrogator, and Roger the accused.  Further, I started with Tim and ended with Tim to book-end the conversation.

The Beat Goes On

A beat, on the other hand, is more of an implied attribution, such as a background character action or movement, that combined with a chunk of speech, indicates that the person is talking.  For example, Tim stared with wide eyes at Roger. “He’s going to kill you.” The implication here is that Tim is speaking, though you can say it might also be Roger.  This is where text placement plays a role.  Consider the following:

Tim stared at Roger with wide eyes. “He’s going to kill you.”


Tim stared at Roger with wide eyes.

“He’s going to kill you.”

Is this Tim or Roger speaking? Hard to tell, and the reader might have to slow down and re-read to answer that question, which is not a good situation because you risk losing the reader’s attention and focus.

Adverbs in attributions

One of the marks of amateurish dialog is the use of adverbs with attributions.  (i.e., Tim spoke loudly, Roger replied happily, Tim asked questioningly.)  That is not to say that you can’t use adverbs to get your meaning across in an early draft, but they should be pinched out before you get to a critique review draft.  Either delete them entirely, or alter your speech to imply the effect, or add a beat to infer what you intended.

“He’s going to kill you,” Tim said emphatically.

“But why?” Roger said questioningly. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

“You had an affair with his sister,” Tim said accusingly.

First off, saying something emphatically is an intonation, like raising your voice, jabbing a finger, or something like that.  Hence:

“He’s going to kill you,” Tim said in a raised voice.

Second, doing anything questioningly is either asking or acting like you don’t understand.

Tim tilted his head and pursed his lips. “But why? I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Third, sometimes just choose a better verb or attribution.

“You had an affair with his sister,” Tim accused.

Attribution variation

Be careful with attributions, though.  “Said” is the accepted standard. Some replacements of said make sense, like the word “accuse” mentioned earlier.  You can also grouse, mumble, whisper, and shout. But you can’t chortle or laugh and speak at the same time. They are separate actions.

Tim chortled. “Good luck with that. He’s usually armed.”

If you really want some other options, consider these:

Still, said is the default, and overuse of substitutes is akin to overuse of a thesaurus, making you sound like you are trying hard to look like someone not to be taken seriously.

Beats Vs Attributions

The trend nowadays is not to use tags but rather beats.  That said, beats have the problem in shifting attention away from the ongoing conversation, and has the potential to put “noise” in the mind of the reader as they are trying to follow the conversation. A suggestion would be to limit the use of beats, particularly if they don’t aid the discussion. 

Roger rubbed his arm and glanced toward the window. “But why? I’ve done nothing.”

Tim scratched his nose and adjusted his collar. “You had an affair with his sister.”

Argh! Give these guys some cortisone, ADD medication, or get rid of the beats entirely.  Rule of thumb, if it doesn’t contribute to the scene, it has to go.

However, the judicious use of beats has the ability to add emotion and weight to a scene, that would require narrative elaboration.

Roger lifted his cup of tea, it wobbled slightly in his grip. “Jennette is his sister? I had no idea.”

Tim narrowed his eyes. “Well, you do now.  What are you going to do about it?”

Roger blinked. “I could apologize.”

Tim smirked. “Good luck with that. He’s usually armed.”

The beats impart some personality into the scene, beyond what is being said. They can also completely change the interpretation of the scene:

Roger smirked. “Jennette is his sister? I had no idea.”

Tim stared with wide eyes. “Well, you do now.  What are you going to do about it?”

Roger settled back in his chair and glanced at his watch. “I could apologize.”

Tim grimaced and leaned in. “Good luck with that. He’s usually armed.”

In the first instance, Roger is nervous, in the second, cool as a cucumber. So what is going to happen when Roger apologizes?  Will he wet himself, or shove the pissed off brother out the window?  Maybe they’ll talk first, but whatever they do — they won’t be chortling their words.

I hope this discussion has helped. Creating good dialog is such a complicated chore that I’ve scratched the surface.  Here are some links that might help continue the thread.