Allie. Chapter 46. Catharsis.

Allie knelt beside Miguel’s body, her hand wavering over his head. His eyes rolled around unfocused as if unaware of his surroundings, only to connect with hers for the briefest of moments.
He was alive in there somewhere, changed forever. And yet he was responsible for Draco’s death.
Allie’s hand shook over his head as she struggled with what she was about to do.
Frank knelt gently beside her, digging into the sand that lined the stadium floor. “Draco wanted to bring him to his sister. We can still honor that.”
Serenity stood behind them both, her eyes fixed on the sand she dared not look at Miguel’s body. It was all she could do to refrain from attacking him, no matter how helpless.
Patty’s eyes were distant, absently petting Jade as she watched Allie making her decision. Miguel had done more than take Draco from her. He’d taken her entire village. Her mother. There would be no mercy for him if it was up to her, but that’s not what Draco wanted.
Sensing her pain, Jade purred reassurance, nuzzling Patty’s hand.
Finally summoning the nerve, Allie placed her hand on Miguel’s forehead. His eyes continued to wander, unseeing, but his body stilled at her touch.
She felt the tension leave him as she closed her eyes. She focused on his breathing, ragged and uneven.
Reaching out was natural, as instinctive as Claiming, only there was no response.
Broken images flashed through Allie’s mind, unintelligible and disorienting. “Your sister,” she whispered, frustrated. “Where’s your sister?”
The images continued. They may have been people or places for all she knew, but none of them were discernible.
“Miguel,” Allie whispered again, refused to give up. “Show me your sister.”
Miguel stiffened at his name, his eyes meeting hers just long enough to be on purpose, and an image appeared in her mind. Or, rather, a series of images, all of the same person.
A baby on his arms. A little girl with bows in her hair. A teenager scowling at him. A middle-aged woman with sadness in her eyes. An old woman with a cane in an alley, turning her back. And it turned out Allie recognized the street. Then the images became scrambled once again.
With a sigh, Allie removed her hand, rising to her feet as Frank did the same.
“Well I know where to start,” she said, meeting the gaze of her companions one by one.
Frank nodded firmly. The others had no response.
“It’s what he wanted,” Allie continued, raising her chin.
Patty pressed her lips together into a thin line, but eventually nodded as well.
Serenity remained unmoved, her mind on other things. Past things.
Allie let her shoulder slink a little as she glanced at Claire, Shean’s body draped on her back next to Draco’s.
“We should bury them both first,” Allie said, breaking the silence. “Before I go searching.”
“I’ll bury Drumond,” Serenity said, standing up straighter.
“We’ll help you,” Frank said, his chin wavering as he held back his emotions.
“No,” Serenity said, “I need to bury him alone.”
Allie nodded. “And I need to bury Shean,” she said. “Also alone.”
Allie and Serenity made eye-contact, each nodding to the other.
“When I’m done, I’m leaving,” Serenity added, her voice breaking ever so slightly.
“To chase down the others?” Patty asked, a hint of eagerness in her voice.
Serenity shook her head. “No. I’m going alone, and for no other purpose than to be alone. I need time… space.”
Patty scrunched her eyebrows in confusion. “You’re leaving us? What about family?”
Serenity smiled. “You have your family,” she said, nodding to Allie and Frank.
“And the city?” Allie asked, eyeing the townspeople peaking down into the stadium. “Aren’t you their Queen?”
Serenity sighed. “Let them rule themselves… unless you want to rule them?” She offered Allie. “You do have two dragons now. More powerful, even, than me at the moment.”
Allie frowned at the idea, unable to comprehend the full meaning of Serenity’s words. The idea of more power than she’d ever dreamed… didn’t feel right. She had no desire to be Queen.
“No,” she found herself saying. “I may have been born in the city, but I don’t belong here. I don’t want to belong here. I want to go back to the farm.”
Frank smiled, looking back and forth between Serenity and Allie. “Would you have any room for a stable-hand on this farm?”
Allie smiled back. “I should think so. I may even have room for a little sister if she’ll have us…” she said as she looked to Patty.
Patty’s lips trembled as she held back her tears, her face contorting in the effort. “I’m not going anywhere near the pigs,” she finally managed, nearly choking with emotion.
“Oh come on,” Allie said, beaming. “They’re really quite majestic animals.”

——

Lots of topics to cover here at the end…

First off, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read this story. I realize it can be quite frustrating to wait this long to finish a book, but it also gives a good indication of just how long it takes to write a story.

I wrote each chapter the week it was published without exception, and did no editing. I’m sure that was obvious at times, but, again, it gives a good indication of how a first draft looks. It’s messy and a grind, which I hope gives any aspiring writers the freedom to proceed. It’s not going to be perfect the first time. Keep working at it.

I intend to self-publish this book for anyone who doesn’t want to read it in blog form, but only after it’s gone through a round of editing. This can also give an idea of how different a chapter can be after a round of editing for anyone interested in that.

I will continue the blog primarily through short stories self-contained in each individual blog, so I hope you enjoy them! And I’ll continue to tackle writing principles after each short story.

Now for the breakdown of the actual chapter:

The last chapter. The very end. Should be about catharsis.

I spent the entire book attempting to build up your emotions, and now, at the end, this is my attempt to allow you to release them. A sigh of relief. A spark of hope. Whatever you want to call it, it’s supposed to be satisfying.

In the very beginning, I had no idea what this story would be about, but it eventually became clear that it was about justice and mercy. Absolute freedom vs. Rigid judgement vs. Mercy. Draco, through all his faults, stood for mercy.
And even though he died. He also won, because mercy won. And in that way, he truly has become Immortal. He lives on through his friends (and wife) who are forever changed because of his actions.

This in of itself should be good enough to bring a sigh of relief, whether consciously done or not. But as I’ve already implied, it’s not a self-contained character arc. All of the characters are tied to each other.

Draco’s mercy is the catalyst to Serenity’s character arc. Not completed within the story, but hinted at.

Simultaneously, Allie has been shown how to wield her new power. For her, it wasn’t just about taking control of her life, but what to do with that control.

And then there’s Patty, her family taken from her, and a new one given; the beginning of a whole new story, and a representation of Allie at the beginning of her arc.

All of these arcs tied together and represented by the one decision to show what little mercy they could to the person they hate. I didn’t plan that ahead of time. It’s merely the natural conclusion to the story of these characters.

Now, I’ll end this chapter with one last topic: sequels.

I do not intend to write a sequel to this story. But it is written in such a way that there could be a sequel, or there could not. I could end the story right here. Or I could continue it. Both are completely viable. And if you’re a new writer, I highly recommend you approach your story in this way. Allow me to explain.

If you go into a story intending for it to be a trilogy, that’s cool. More power to you. But that becomes a problem if you’re also trying to sell that story to an agent or publisher.
Publishers do not typically trust new writers to deliver on trilogies. They might give you a chance for one book, maybe. And that one book cannot end with a cliffhanger, because you just don’t know if you’re ever going to get to write the next book or not.

What does this mean? That if you’re a new writer, you have to prove yourself by writing a great satisfying story in a single novel. You don’t have multiple books to prove it to them. Just one. So you better know how to end a story right. How to provide that catharsis necessary for the reader.

This is why you read so many trilogies where the first book reads like its own story. Because the writers didn’t know if they’d get another two books to finish it. So when they do, they tack on the other books to the original story. They still had a plan in place in hopes that they’d get more books, but they needed to write a satisfying story in the first place. So how do you do that?

Don’t hold back. Give them everything you have in the first book. End the story in a satisfying way. And if, in the process, you’ve given the readers a world that captures their imagination and characters they want to spend more time with, you’ll get your chance to tell more of the story.

Allie. Chapter 43. The Breakdown.

The sun had just begun its climb back down for the day when they finally saw the city emerge on the horizon. They’d been forced to slow down as the day wore on, constantly looking over their shoulders, expecting an attack that never came.
“Maybe Stephen doesn’t care enough about Brianna to hunt us down…” Allie said, daring to hope as they approached the city.
“Doubtful,” Draco mumbled, pulling himself out of his melancholy. “Even so, we’d still have to deal with all three of Brianna’s dragons. Only a matter of time until they find her, and they won’t rest ’til they do.”
“I know one of her dragon’s heels,” Serenity said, her voice projecting a confidence that didn’t exist.
Frank nodded, willing himself to take what small comfort he could. “What heel is that, mother?”
“Wood,” Serenity said simply.
“Wood?” Allie asked, “how are we supposed to kill a dragon with wood?”
“A spear thrust deep enough through an eye should do it,” Frank said. “Simple enough.”
“See?” Shean interjected. “All we have to do is walk up a dragon’s face and stick a stick through its eye. All the sudden it’s only two on one. Easy pickings.”
Draco shook his head, watching as the city grew closer. “What about Stephen’s dragons?”
Serenity shot him a suffering look. “I recall three of the four heels.”
Patty popped her head up, still looking groggy from her sleep. “Three aint bad,” she said enthusiastically.
“Three out of four wouldn’t be bad at all if we were able to do anything about them,” Draco said, eyeing the city as they eclipsed the outer walls. “What we need to know is Stephen’s heel. It’s the only way to get out of this fight alive.”
Draco glanced at Jade flying behind them. She was still exhausted, but managing well enough now that she had less of a burden. Gently, he reached out to her and imaged the stadium below. “Allie,” he said. “You can have Claire follow Jade. She knows where to go.”
Moments later, they landed in sand still stained with blood. The stadium was empty save a single pair of men scrambling toward the exits.
“Everyone in the city saw us land here,” Serenity said as they slid off of Claire and into the sand. “Soldiers will be here soon enough.”
“At which point they’ll learn their Queen has returned,” Draco snapped. “Do you suppose they’ll fight with us? When they see seven dragons against our one, do you think they won’t turn on us? They’ve done it before.”
Serenity shook with frustration, clenching her fists. “I won’t apologize for ridding them of a tyrant.”
Draco bit his tongue, knowing a reply would only escalate the matter.
Silence fell upon them as Frank threw Miguel and Brianna into the sand. “What the soldiers will or won’t do is mute. There aren’t enough of them to make a difference either way.”
As soon as they hit the sand, both Miguel and Brianna began to stir, shaking themselves out of their blackouts.
“Then we force what we need from these two,” Allie said, looking down on the two concussed Immortals.
Draco saw fire in Patty’s eyes as she took a step toward Miguel, but Draco caught her arm, gently pulling her back. “We need him,” he whispered, squatting down to put himself level with her.
“He killed my mama,” she said, choking on her words. “My home…”
“I know,” Draco said, fighting back tears. “He deserves worse than death. But we’re not the ones to give it to him.”
Patty stared down at the sand, no longer able to look at her mother’s killer. “I promised her,” she whispered. “I promised he’d pay for what he did.”
The others watched in silence as they stood in a circle around Miguel and Brianna, who were just beginning to open their eyes.
“We’ll deal with him once we’ve won this fight,” Draco promised, resting a hand on her shoulder.
“We’re not going to win this fight,” she said, refusing to look at him as she walked back to sit with Jade.
Miguel was the first to sit up, rubbing this temples as he squinted at his captors. “So we made it all the way back, eh?”
Something about his casual demeanor made Draco snap. Not thinking clearly, he lunged for Miguel, punching him repeatedly in the face until his fist was as red as Miguel’s chin. Eventually, he rose to his feet, re-composing himself just as Miguel’s face did the same.
“Where are the others?” Brianna asked after a moment, her voice measured.
“We don’t need the others,” Serenity said, looking down on her. “We just need you.”
“You want to know our weaknesses?” Brianna guessed.
“Just Stephen’s would do nicely,” Frank said, his eyes unusually hard. “But we’ll take yours too, if you’re feeling generous.”
Allie shuffled her feet, making eye-contact with Shean as Miguel managed to sit back up, his face completely healed despite the blood staining it.
“You’ll get nothing from me,” Brianna replied evenly, her voice betraying something close to boredom. “The others can’t be far behind. You have maybe, what? An hour or two to torture me before they get here? No time at all. No leverage at all.”
Serenity snarled, her eyes turning wild. “We can have fun trying.”
“There’s no need for that,” Miguel said, smiling as if he hadn’t just been pummeled. “I can give you what you want.” Brianna shot Miguel a look of confusion, the tiniest bit of fear slipping through as Miguel continued. “Or, rather, part of it anyway.”
“What are you talking about?” Draco asked, holding his breath for fear that’d he’d lose his cool once more.
“Let me loose,” Miguel bargained, “and I’ll tell you Brianna’s heel.”
Miguel’s offer was met with silence, none of them daring to hope he was telling the truth.
“Alright, Miguel,” Allie said, when it was clear Serenity and Draco weren’t going to respond. “Tell us, and if you’re telling the truth, we’ll let you go.”
Miguel chuckled. “I’ve been alive far too long to believe such a promise. Let me go and then I’ll tell you.”
“Impractical and even less likely,” Draco said with a scowl. “You’re just going to have to trust us, Miguel.”
“I think not,” Miguel said, still smiling. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll prove you can trust me…”
“Miguel,” Brianna hissed. “Don’t be a fool.”
Miguel ignored her. “I know someone else’s heel as well. And you can test it out here and now with no strings attached. Glass.”
Draco went stiff, his breath quickening.
“Good ole’ Draco’s heel is glass,” Miguel repeated, smiling wide. “Didn’t think I’d figured it out, did you? But I’ve studied heels, I’ve heard the stories, and I put them to the test over the last year. Who knew something as simple as glass could take down the mighty Drumond? Stephen was quite pleased to here it.”
Allie watched the tension in Draco dissipate, leaving him deflated. Even as she watched Serenity, she knew what Miguel said was true. Their worried looks confirmed it.
“What of Brianna’s heel?” Allie asked. “The truth will buy your freedom. On my word.”
Miguel eyed Allie with a mischievous grin. “I don’t believe you,” he said finally. “But I think I’ll tell you anyway. It’s fairly simple… most of them are after all…”
“Miguel,” Brianna warned, rising to her knees.
“Simple steel,” Miguel said, ignoring Brianna once again. “Steel to the abdomen. I’ve seen the scars.”
Brianna screamed, throwing herself at Miguel, but he rolled backward, letting Frank and Shean restrain Brianna for him.
“So,” Miguel said, rising to his feet, brushing the sand off of his clothes. “Do we have a deal?”
Serenity stepped forward, pulling a knife on Brianna, who was still being held by Frank and Shean. “We’ll have to test it first.” Then, with a grunt, she thrust her knife toward Brianna’s stomach.
“No!” Draco yelled as he tackled Serenity to the sand. The knife, already bloodied, fell out of her hands as they rolled across the ground.
“She deserves to die!” Serenity yelled, punching and clawing at Draco as hard as she could.
“She can still help us!” Draco yelled back, trying to extract himself from her claws.
Brianna knelt in the sand, holding an arm across her bleeding stomach. “Get me a cloth,” she pleaded, breathless as Serenity and Draco continued their tussle.
Allie ripped off a piece of her skirt and let Brianna staunch the bleeding.
“The cut was shallow,” Frank assured Allie. “She’ll live.”
Allie let out a sigh of relief just as Jade flew over their heads.
“What the…”
Then she saw Miguel running toward one of the stadium exits. He’d taken advantage of the chaos, having already climbed two-thirds of the way up the stairs by the time Patty noticed him.
As soon as he realized what was happening, Draco took off after him, but Patty and Jade had the head start. Before any of them could intercept Miguel, he disappeared through the archways and into the city.
Jade flew over the arches, touching back down on the crowded city-street. Swarms of people had gathered around the stadium, drawn to the excitement of the dragons, yet unwilling to draw attention to themselves by entering the stadium.
As Jade landed, the crowds scattered, screaming as they clawed their way from danger. “Move!” Patty yelled as Jade carefully made her way through the city, smelling her way toward Miguel.
Finally, Patty spotted him turning down an even bigger street filled with vendors.
Jade turned down the street, locked-in, yet forced to wait for people to move out of her way.
“Patty!” Draco yelled from somewhere behind her.
She ignored him, making ground on her prey. She had promised her mom.
Finally, they were almost on top of Miguel when he spun and threw a dagger right at her. Too late, Patty turned, trying to dodge the knife. Jade managed to pull up just in time to protect Patty, but the knife lodged deep in Jade’s leg.
Jade let out a roar as she stumbled in the street.
“Patty!” Draco yelled again, coming up on their heels.
Miguel’s look of satisfaction turned into one of determination as he frantically searched the buildings around him. Almost immediately, he let out a roar of victory as he ran to the nearest house and smashed its window, pulling out a shard of glass.
Draco didn’t blink as ran toward Miguel, weaponless and wild.
As calm as could be, Miguel let Draco come to him, the crowd around them fleeing for their lives.
With blind rage, Draco lunged for Miguel just as Miguel slammed the glass into Draco’s leg.
Draco crumbled to the ground, but forced himself to stand in the face of his death.
But death never came, as Miguel suddenly fell to his knees, foaming at the mouth. Slowly, he let the glass dagger fall from his hand, his eyes unseeing as he entire body convulsed. Then Draco finally understood.
The blood oath. Miguel had violated the blood oath.

——

Because the conclusion of the story is so important, I’m taking this chapter to breakdown my thought process going into the ending of this book.

We’re getting to the point where the smallest mistake can now ruin the story, because, typically, the ending of a story gives it’s definition. Meaning your story will be remembered for how it ends. A comedy is called a comedy when it has a happy ending. A tragedy because it has a sad ending. And even if a story is good all the way until the end, if its ending is bad, only the most forgiving of readers will look back on it as anything other than bad.

So let’s look at this chapter:
This was the first time in the entire story that I already knew what was going to happen before actually sitting down to write the chapter.
My goal here is to start tying up the loose ends before the final fight. We need to know all the stakes so we can be completely invested in the fight. We need to understand where everyone stands and conclude every arc in order of importance. (As explained in a previous chapter)

Primary in this chapter is Miguel:

He’s been a helpful villain since chapter 1. So I had him help us one last time before sealing his fate. There’s a final component to come in the next chapter, but his arc is ultimately coming to a close because of Draco, Patty, and Jade. All three of them had very good reasons to want revenge, so it was them who chased him down. He would have gotten away if not for Patty and Jade, and he would have beaten Draco if not for making the (semi) fatal mistake of forgetting his oath. He tried one too many tricks, and in the very same place as when we were first introduced to him.

Secondary is location:

As mentioned above, there’s something poetic/symbolic about returning to where the story began. There are practical reasons to go back, but it’s more about providing the reader with a feeling of completion. If the story had ended in a desert, there’d be an implicit message of unfinished business. The city means something important to all of these characters, and ending the story there carries more weight than it may seem at first glance.

Third was the set-up:

I had to plan this chapter out to make sure the ending was set-up well enough to be satisfying. If I was editing this book, I’d have the luxury of going back and doing it later, but alas…
Now we have:
Leverage over Brianna
An opportunity to settle Draco and Serenity’s beef represented by a singular conflict (what to do about Brianna)
A chance for (somewhat) evened odds in the fight to come
And clarity on the situation as a whole (how many dragons are likely coming and how many of them we know how to take down)

It’s these kinds of things you should be thinking about when writing the endings to your stories. We have three chapters left. The rest of the set-up, the conflict itself, and the results. Strap in.

Draco. Chapter 40. Setting the Scene.

I fought the urge to gag on the stench of burnt flesh, unwilling to give my torturers the satisfaction.
Sarah, however, found herself retching on the ashen ground at my feet. Frank held her hair back, his face a blank slate of despair as he stared at the pile of bodies before us.
Neither of them acknowledged my presence, but I didn’t blame them. What do you say to someone when you hate them? When you love them? When you’re waiting to die with them? So I ignored them as well, keeping busy by familiarizing myself with our surroundings.
Dragons milled about all around us as the sun began to rise over the remains of their slaughter. They paid us no mind, but were our guards none the less. Ten dragons ready to tear us to pieces, and six Immortals to give the order.
Most of the Immortals had yet to bother approaching us, leaving Miguel to keep watch while they feasted through the night. It wasn’t until the sun had risen that finally saw what they feasted on.
That was the final straw as I doubled over next to Sarah, emptying my stomach along with hers.
“I owe Serenity a silver piece,” Frank muttered. “I bet her you’d break before dawn.”
I looked up, still dry heaving. “Only a silver piece?” I asked. “Huh. Conservative even unto death.”
Sarah looked up, wiping her mouth with the back of her arm. Her face was pale, her eyes unseeing as she stared at the bodies nearest to us.
I watched her for a moment, fighting the temptation to despair. “I can end things quickly for you both,” I offered Frank. “I remember your heels.”
“No,” Sarah snapped before Frank could respond.
“They’re going to torture you,” I said, softening my voice. “They’ll torture us in front of you. They have an eternity to break us. And, eventually, they will.”
“I won’t take the coward’s way,” Sarah said, her voice wavering. “Not like you.”
My reply died on my lips.
“I’ll kill you if you like,” Miguel said, knives spinning in his hands. “Just tell me how and I’ll make it quick. It’ll be my pleasure.”
I shot him a look as my stomach finally settled, allowing me to rise to my feet. “How merciful of you.”
Miguel frowned, his eyes distant. “It is a mercy.”
Behind him, the other Immortals were gathering, making their way toward us, their clothes soaked with blood.
“We do not deal mercy,” Frank said, helping Sarah to her feet. “Nor do we accept it.”
I shook my head at their pride, but kept my mouth shut as the others approached.
“My King and Queen,” Stephen said, his voice mockingly smooth. “Have you found your accommodations to your liking?”
Neither of us responded, my fists tightening to the point of drawing blood.
“Does the royal couple have nothing to say?” Brianna hissed, her eyes wide with disdain.
“Where’s my dragon?” Miguel interrupted, feigning boredom as he spun his knives.
“You are free to hunt, brother,” Stephen said, biting off his words. “But we will not be giving you our own.”
Miguel frowned at that, but kept his mouth shut as Stephen stared him down.
“It’s the same with all Immortals,” Brianna said a little more gently. “We are to earn our own dragons.” As she spoke, three dragons crawled up next to her, followed by four more dragons, all of which gathered around Stephen. The other three Immortals were left with one dragon each.
“It doesn’t matter how many dragons you have,” Frank said, holding his chin high in the air. “You will never be our King or Queen.”
Stephen strolled up close to Frank, measuring him with his eyes. “We never intended to rule. Only to conquer.”
“And now that we have,” Brianna said, “there’ll be peace among Immortals. We’ll finally be free to live as we see fit. To take our place over the humans as is our right.”
“You’re no better than humans,” I said, emboldened by Frank’s defiance. “You have no right to rule them. You have no claim over their lives.”
“We have every claim,” Stephen snapped. “Our right is given by our power. We give life and death as we see fit. We are gods, Drumond. But you… you’ve forfeited your right to goddom.”
Suddenly, the dragons perked up, their ears open and alert. They seemed to sense something nearby.
“If you tell us your heels, we’ll do it quickly,” Brianna offered, her lips pursed tightly. “We’ve wasted too much of our lives on you already. Years away from our homes. There’s no need to draw it out any longer.”
I looked to Sarah, but she stood firm, her face hard will resolve. I didn’t want to see her suffer, but it was her choice, and the least I could do was take on her suffering with her.
“Do what you must,” I said eventually, steeling myself against what would come next.
Brianna pulled out a knife, her lips twisting into a thin smile. “If you insist.”
Suddenly, the dragons let out a series of growls, grabbing their Immortals’ attention. “Go then,” Stephen commanded, sending three of his dragons into the sky. It seemed as though they’d caught scent of some unfortunate prey.
Most of the other dragons joined them, fighting each other for position as they began their hunt.
I watched the dragons disappear into the clouds, leaving only two behind to keep watch. Both of which were clearly agitated at their forced restraint.
Suddenly, Brianna stepped forward and stabbed me in the right eye.
The shock, as much as the pain, knocked me to my knees. Brianna kept the blade lodged in my eye, not allowing it to heal. The pain, rather than receding, only increased as my body fought to remove the blade from my head.
“I can keep it here, you know,” she whispered. “Just hold it here for years. But don’t worry, I’ll make sure you keep your other eye so you can watch.”
With my one good eye, I saw Stephen pull a sword from his sheath and step toward Sarah. But I never saw what he was going to do, as, suddenly, the ground exploded beneath us.
All nine of us Immortals were thrown to the ground as a full-sized dragon emerged from the Earth, letting out a soul-shaking roar.
Claire had returned.

——

Setting a scene.

It’s pretty simple in theory, but it takes a lot of practice to get right. Plus, as you’d imagine, most of it comes down to preference anyway… but here are the basics:

Ground the scene as fast as possible.

Your reader’s imagination usually does the majority of the heavy lifting. But if you don’t give them a starting point – something to hold onto – then you’re leaving them blind.
For this reason, most chapters tend to start out by describing the environment of the scene. But this is where subjectivity comes in…
Some people like to know the exact dimensions of the room, and how many petals are on the flowers sitting on the table, and exactly what kind of wood that table is made out of… and some people don’t.
Generally, the older your audience, the more patient they are, the more details you include. But then again… people aren’t really patient no matter how old they are. Very few people want to read three pages of descriptions before the chapter gets interesting.

Reveal information only as needed.

Sometimes you don’t want your reader to know something about the scene until the end. Sometimes you might want to wait until someone leaves before revealing they had a crossbow to their back the entire time.
But, assuming you’re not purposely hiding information, you want to describe your main character’s immediate vicinity first, and the slowly zoom out as the scene goes on.
Ex: Bodies. Then Dragons. Then Frank and Sarah. Then Miguel. Then the other Immortals.

Or if it’s important to you that your reader knows exactly where your character is in the city, start on the whole and then zoom in.
Ex: Describe part of town. (Harbor district) Then the street. (Dark alley) Then the wall your character is leaning on. (White stone covered in dirt) Then what the character looks like/whatever they need to know about what’s going on in that alley/etc.

However you do it, it’s impossible to describe everything about everything, especially all at once.

Describe the tip of the iceberg and why someone is sitting on it. Imagination will do the rest.

Allie. Chapter 37. The Pit of Despair.

“Stay close!” Serenity shouted over the rushing wind as they approached the mountains.
All five dragons drifted closer, slowing down so Serenity’s commands could be more easily heard over the flapping of their wings.
Shaking with nerves, Allie found herself stroking Claire’s scales to calm herself. She didn’t want anyone to die, but there was nothing she could do to stop this fight.
She was about to either be a victor or victim, and she was free to choose which. If she was a victor, she could advocate for mercy. All she had to do was pull out when the fight began. A voice inside of her was near shouting that she didn’t belong here. It would be all too easy to hold back.
Her other option was to run. She could take Claire and leave the rest to their fate. They all deserved what was to come… except maybe for Frank. And Draco for all she knew. But they weren’t her responsibility.
“I don’t see anything,” Frank said, scanning the mountainside.
“The dragons don’t sense anything either,” Serenity said, her voice suspicious.
“Looks like they may have run off,” Miguel said, picking his teeth with a knife.
“No, they wanted us here,” Allie said, prompting Claire forward toward the tree line.
“How do you know?” Miguel asked.
Allie didn’t answer as they flew over the trees and into a layer of fog.
“Pull up,” Serenity commanded.
The rest of the dragons listened, climbing above the fog, but not Allie. Her heart raced as she let Claire lead the way to the cave. With every breath, she tensed, preparing to be attacked, but the attack never came.
“Maybe they did run,” she whispered.
“Allie, pull up!” Frank yelled. “They’re not here!”
Ignoring their yells, Allie urged Claire onward. Eventually, they emerged from the fog and dove straight into the cave. It was empty.
“There’s no way they changed their minds,” Allie said, trying to wrap her mind around their absence.
Baffled, they shot back out through the fog, climbing above it to join the others.
“I think we found their cave,” Allie said warily. “Claire picked up the scent of dragons, but they’ve left it behind.”
“We need to go back,” Serenity barked, her face paling.
“We’re not going to try and track them down?” Miguel asked, frowning. “I still get a dragon, right?”
“There’s only one reason they’d want us here if not to fight,” Serenity said, gritting her teeth. “Let’s go!”
Suddenly, they took off toward the caravan, flying back twice as fast as they came. The wind whistled in their ears, but there was no more need of communication. Something told Allie that if Serenity was right, the fight was already over.
Serenity was the first one to see the smoke rising through the air; a beacon marking their caravan.
Then the flames became visible, the entire line of carts on fire.
“No!” Serenity cried, diving toward the flames.
Allie’s chest felt hollow as she realized what the Immortals had done.
“Mother!” Frank shouted, pointing to the other side of the flames.
As they flew closer, a crowd of people appeared beyond the flames. Hundreds of people corralled into a circle, surrounded by six dragons.
Serenity hesitated in the air, signaling for the rest of them to pause as well.
All of her people watched as she hovered next to the flames. All six dragons were tense, each with a rider and poised to strike at the crowd.
“Wait for my signal,” Serenity said glancing back at Frank and Allie.
“Do you know their weaknesses?” Miguel asked with calculating eyes.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Serenity replied as she prompted her dragon to land.
As they landed, all four of them staid on their dragons.
Suddenly, two Immortals broke from the circle, leaving their dragons behind.
“Queen Sarah,” Stephen shouted as he sauntered over with his partner. “It’s been too long.”
“Stephen. Brianna.” Serenity said, biting off their names in acknowledgment.
“I don’t think she’s pleased to see us,” Brianna said sweetly.”
“What do you want with me?” Serenity asked, not even remotely hiding her disdain.
“We know you still fancy yourself a Queen,” Brianna replied, her voice turning into a snarl. “You gather followers and pretend as if we are yours to rule.”
“You are mine to rule,” Serenity snapped.
Stephen chuckled, shaking his head. “Then today is the last day of your rule. Hand your dragons over to be Claimed, and we won’t hurt your people.”
“You’re a fool,” Serenity spat.
“But are you a Queen?” Stephen challenged. “Will you sacrifice the life of hundreds for the sake of your pets?”
“Is it too late to switch sides?” Miguel asked as he slid off his dragon’s back.
“You may stand with the rest of Serenity’s people,” Brianna said, pointing him to the crowd surrounded by dragons. “Your fate will be determined by the Queen’s decision.”
Serenity watched Miguel leave without expression, her face a mask of indifference.
“What’ll it be, Mother Sarah?” Brianna asked. “Will your people die today?”
For a moment, Serenity sat on her dragon in silence. Then, finally, she slid to the ground, gesturing for Frank and Allie to do the same. “I choose my people.”
Then Serenity’s dragons walked forward, two of them submitting themselves to Stephen and two to Brianna, Claimed one by one.
“Claire too, Allie,” Serenity said, her voice suddenly devoid of all life.
“The girl can keep hers,” Stephen said, his voice thick with victory. “She earned it.”
Then, without warning, all ten of their dragons let out a feral roar and tore into Serenity’s people.
Allie didn’t know what was happening until it was too late, their screams paralyzing her with fear. She chose wrong. They had all chosen wrong.

———

The pit of despair. I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s an essential element in plotting. It’s when everything looks the bleakest, and there’s no obvious way out.
The pit is the beginning of the end of your story, and the worse your character’s situation at the pit, the more satisfying their triumph. If you’re too easy on them, the end will feel cheap and unearned. And if you’re too hard on them… well you can’t really.


The pit should be caused by your character’s decisions, either directly or indirectly, and, if possible, be the final challenge to their beliefs.
Why? Because everything after needs to be the climb. You need to get your character to a place where they’re ready to dig themselves out of the pit and triumph in the end.
Yes, they’re allowed to have help, but it has to be them, and primarily them, that wins the day. Otherwise, they’re merely spectators in their own story and they shouldn’t have been main characters in the first place.


This being the case, it should go without saying that you should not have a deus ex machina. Which literally means God from machine, but really means something powerful that comes in and saves the day. It happens often, and it’s not satisfying.


Ex: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (the movie)

When the ghost army comes in a wrecks shop. There was foreshadowing, but not much, and, honestly, it was just too powerful. However, it is somewhat forgivable because it’s not the actual climax of the movie anyway, so… whatever.


Ex of doing it right: Lord of the Rings: Two Towers.

Gandolf shows up with a human army and saves the day. We were constantly reminded that all they had to do was last until the third day, and they did. We knew help was on the way, and even if we forgot for a second, we remembered when the time came.


All this to say: make the pit as dark as you possibly can… as long as you have a legitimate way to triumph over it. Don’t back yourself into a corner to the point that you have to do something crazy or weak-sauce to win.
But, in the end, if you do back yourself into a corner… you can always fix it in edit.
So what I’m really trying to say is do the pit right = do the plot right.

Allie. Chapter 36. Effective Characters.

“We leave tonight,” said Serenity as her dragons emerged from the cracked soil. “We need to get there before nightfall.”
“Why fight?” Allie asked, stroking Claire’s neck. “Frank already said they likely have more than four dragons.”
“Six or more is my guess,” Frank said with a grimace.
“Exactly,” Allie said. “Versus our five. If you know they have us outnumbered, why ride out to meet them? Shouldn’t we run or something? Or at least come up with a plan.”
“Running will only put my people at danger,” Serenity said, her voice strangely calm. “We will fight, and we will win. They might have more dragons, but we have an advantage they can never match.”
Allie scoffed as she watched Serenity’s dragons inexplicably digging at the ground in the front of them, creating a large hole.
“We’ve encountered the other Immortals before,” Frank said. “They’re young. Not like us.”
Allie threw her hands in the air. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Serenity sighed, watching her dragons continue to dig. “Do you know your dragon’s weakness?”
Allie glanced at Claire, trying to read the answer from her thoughts. Nothing.
“I thought not,” Serenity said, letting out an imperceptible sigh of relief. “Few know their own dragon’s weaknesses, let alone the weaknesses of others. But for those of us who have lived long enough…”
“You know their dragon’s weaknesses?” Allie asked.
“As do I,” Frank said, frowning at the growing hole in the Earth. “At one point or another, Serenity has Claimed nearly every dragon to exist.”
“I know every dragon by sight,” Serenity said. “Once I know who exactly we’re dealing with, I can take them down one by one.”
“What if you don’t get the chance?” Allie asked, growing more and more curious about the hole. Serenity’s dragons grew smaller as they dug deeper into the hole, finally beginning to slow their pace. “Knowing how to kill them won’t do you any good if they overpower you before you can do anything about it. You’re only one person.”
“I’m more than a person,” Serenity corrected her sternly. “And we are four.”
Allie frowned. “Four?”
“You, me, Frank, and Miguel,” Serenity answered, never taking her eyes away from the hole.
Suddenly, a cry could be heard from the hole, the sound of it smothered by the Earth. Slowly, the cries became louder as the dragons finished digging, leaping out of the hole one by one.
Finally, a hand reached from the hole, its body following behind.
“Miguel?” Allie gasped, frozen as she watched him collapse onto the ground.
“We couldn’t figure out his heel,” Serenity explained, shrugging.
“Lying about it seemed kinder,” Frank said, frowning at the pile of a man in front of them.
Miguel laid on the ground for quite some time, giving into several coughing fits before finally pulling himself up enough to sit upright. After a moment, he looked to Allie. “Did you convince them to save me?”
“I didn’t even know you were down there,” Allie answered honestly.
Miguel grunted, looking at Serenity. “Time off for good behavior, then?”
“You bit my ear off when I put you in there,” Serenity said, her nose scrunched in disgust.
“You grew a new one just fine,” Miguel said, cracking his neck.
“You’re going to help us,” Frank said before Serenity could reply.
“Why?”
“Because we’ll set you free,” Serenity said. “And if we succeed, I’ll let you Claim a dragon.”
Miguel perked up at that, a smile creeping onto his face. “My original offer, eh? What do I have to do?”
“Fight,” Frank answered, offering his hand to help Miguel to his feet.
“Perfect,” Miguel said, taking Frank’s hand. “Who are we fighting?”
“Immortals,” Serenity said, glancing back and forth between Miguel and Allie. “We’re going to fly out there, spring their trap, and be ready to fight for our lives. Once I see the dragons, I’ll tell you what their heels are.”
“What kind of heels are we talking about?” Miguel asked, wiping off his clothes. “And where can I get my hands on some knives?”
“Their heels usually have to do with different locations of their body,” Serenity said warily. “A knife through the right scale. Fire in their eyes. It varies. But if we can weaken even one enough to Claim it from them, we’ll have turned the odds in our favor.”
“Shouldn’t we wait? Go over their potential weaknesses in detail before doing anything rash?” Allie asked, her heart racing at the prospect of what was to come. If she turned on them, or pulled out of the fight, Serenity and Frank would be finished. She didn’t want to be responsible for that.
“The longer we wait, the more time they have to hurt my people. We’re taking the fight to them.”
“Welp,” Miguel said. “It looks like I’ll be needing those knives then. When are we leaving?”
“Right now,” Serenity said, a thin smile spreading on her face. “I hope you got enough rest down there.”

———

We still have several chapters left in this story, but now is when things get interesting. Tension is building and there are about to be a lot of important moments for each of the characters.

So, naturally, now is a good time to take a step back and look at the arcs of the characters and the story as whole.

I’ve written about plot structures and the importance of character-driven story, staying true to characters, and how to make them compelling, but there’s one principle that ties everything together really nicely:

Your plot should be driven by the decisions of your characters.

That seems like an obvious rule, but it’s easy for many writers, myself included, to fall into the trap of making the main characters bystanders. They get swept up in somebody else’s plans and become pawns in their own story.

It’s okay for this to happen in the beginning of the story. Things are still setting up and your character may not be ready to stand up for themselves, etc. But when things start mattering. When tension is building. It’s the decisions of your characters that will define your story.

I’m not going to give too much away, but if dragons fighting each other decided the ending to this story, that would be a terrible ending. We don’t care (much) about the dragons themselves. We care about Allie, Draco, Frank, Patty, Serenity, etc. And it’s their decisions that will define this story.

So, especially at the end, don’t let your characters be bystanders.

Make us hate them or love them.

Because if they don’t affect their world, they sure as heck won’t affect us.