In Part 1 of Let the Ghosts Speak, we saw the essential beginnings of a story.
- Grab the reader’s attention with a hook beginning (“I have forgotten love. My chains have driven it from me.”)
- Raise questions that the reader wants answered (e.g. What is going on with Justin’s back story?)
- Provide a goal for the protagonist (Survive the party without offending Francine)
- Show the protagonist’s qualities and flaws (Thoughtful but timid)
- Set the physical scene with only essential details (A few essentials about his room and the party scene)
- Begin building a bridge to the back story (A couple of mental flashbacks)
- Establish a feeling that a crisis of some sort is coming (Climbing dark stairs)
- Complete the journey toward the initial goal by showing success or failure (Justin failed in his initial goal)
Also, we needed to establish an emotional connection between readers and the main character, as described in this post.
- Physical need – A common handicap, illness, or negative environment (Justin is poor)
- Emotional issue – A need or desire that most have felt (He is afraid of the opposite sex)
- A purpose – A goal that most would find praiseworthy (Be kind to Francine)
- Urgency – The goal must be gained soon (He has no choice but to attend the party tonight)
- Obstacles – Barriers that readers would identify with (An offensive woman at the party)
- Vulnerability – A soft spot to exploit (Justin’s own mother is shown as his soft spot)
- Sacrifice – Character performs a sacrificial act to overcome obstacles (Willing to protect Francine from her mother. This is a poorly executed sacrifice that isn’t exactly endearing, but his sacrificial ways will improve as the story progresses.)
Now we move on in the story toward the crisis event, which will come in two sequences. Today’s excerpt will show the first.
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please post them.
When I reached the top of the stairs, I extended my light and pivoted slowly. Bookshelves towered into the darkness. Arranged in rows and columns, the shelves zigzagged here and about, creating a veritable maze of dusty wood, steep ladders, and tattered book spines. Perhaps the keeper of this assemblage understood the logic of the shelf placements, but with no labels to indicate order, the reasons escaped my perception.
I walked between two rows and slid a finger along an array of book spines. The candles combined with lightning flashes at the windows to provide enough light. A stroke of luck had put me in English literature, Shakespeare, to be precise. When I came upon Hamlet, I drew the book and tucked it under my arm. On a stormy night like this, trapped for time unknown in a dark, abandoned library, a ghost story seemed appropriate.
After finding a bench near a window and removing the mask, I set it, the candelabrum, and the captain’s hat at my side and sat with my back to the storm. The moment I opened the book to page one, lightning flashed, sending a burst of light across the text – ACT I SCENE I: Elsinore. A platform before the castle.
Of course I was intimately familiar with the content, having played the role of Polonius in a production that lasted a fortnight. In this environment, however, maybe familiarity would drown in a sea of mystery. Imagination could come to life in the shifting shadows and rumbling thunder. Yes, let the ghosts come forth and speak their minds. I was ready to be entertained by their gloomy fantasies.
As I read, the frequent thunder and pelting of raindrops on glass, along with the ongoing violin from below, played a hypnotizing concerto. Whether or not I dozed, I cannot say, but a particularly loud thunderclap snapped me to full wakefulness. From that moment onward, anxiety about the possibility of flooding kept me from slumber.
Soon after reading that something was rotten in the state of Denmark, a dull thump shook my attention toward a place unseen beyond the boundaries of the candlelight. A draft ensued and extinguished all but the central taper. Perhaps a window blew open, which could usher in rain, or wet air at the least. Books in that section would not fare well.
I set Hamlet on the bench, rose and, carrying the candelabrum, walked toward the source of the sound. With my light only one fifth of its former strength, rendering the floor ahead a dim mystery, I shuffled my feet to avoid tripping. At the same time, I slid the lit candle from its place, hoping to reignite the others, but the flame fell prey to another breeze.
Darkness enveloped me. If not for the frequent lightning, I would be lost in a sea of shelves. With each flash, I took note of the distance to a shelf or corner, walked to it, and waited for the next bolt, taking care to make my way toward the mysterious thump.
A new sound arose, a sort of mewing. Perhaps a cat had found its way to the open window and took advantage of its good fortune—a dry place to spend the night.
Now tracking the cat’s cries, I strode with more confidence that I had found the right path. Yet, as I drew closer, the cries took on a new character, more like whimpering than a cat’s lament.
A bright flash lit up the room. Two paces away, a small boy sat with his back to a shelf, sobbing with his hands over his eyes. When darkness again veiled him, I imagined the son of a party guest becoming weary of the inane conversations. He wandered upstairs to seek adventure and became lost in the maze of shelves.
Not wanting to startle him with a call, I whistled a nursery-rhyme tune, though I no longer remember its name.
Words blended in with his sobs. “Who’s out there?”
A new flash provided another momentary view. The boy was now looking straight at me, trembling, tear tracks evident on his cheeks. How he could see me in the dark was a mystery. Perhaps he was catlike after all.
I attempted a cheery tone. “I apologize for disturbing you, young man. I heard a noise in this direction and wondered if perhaps a window had blown open. I feared for the well-being of the books.”
He said nothing. Total darkness blanketed everything.
Of course, suggesting that he was lost or afraid of the dark might injure his pride, so I thought it best to allow him to confess his own fears. “I heard your travail. Are you hurt? May I help you in any way?”
“I’ve lost my primer.” His whimpering restarted. “If I don’t find it, my master will beat me.”
“Your master? You mean a schoolmaster? Your teacher?”
A lightning flash provided a glimpse of his tearful nod.
I took a step closer, knelt within reach, and set the candelabrum down. “Well, we’ll just have to find it, won’t we? I will go downstairs and relight my candles. Then I’ll come back, and we’ll look for your primer together.”
When I imagined leaving this poor, weeping boy alone in the dark, I decided against it. “Better yet, why don’t you come with me?” I reached for his hand but touched only air. Lightning flashed. The boy was gone. Vanished.
Categories: Story Development