Serenity. Chapter 3. Inciting incident.

Serenity made sure to keep her leisurely pace as she hiked up one of the larger hills of the day. She was still trying to break the habit of speeding up whenever they went uphill.
Twenty carts followed behind her, each pulled by a single horse. Dozens of kids ran alongside the carts, some of them playing with toys, others chasing each other with screams of delight.
Altogether, there were only about a hundred of them. Still, they were more than ready to take down the city.
As she reached the top of the hill, Serenity shielded her eyes from the sun, searching the landscape for a decent place to stop. They were still hours from nightfall, but they weren’t in a hurry. Serenity had all the time in the world.
In the distance, she noted a large building with farmland surrounding it. At the pace they’d been traveling, it was maybe an hour away. A perfect place to stop.
A single bead of sweat suddenly fell from her brow, drawing attention to the heat of the day.
Serenity grimaced in frustration before waving to the caravan to stop. Cursing the sun, she watched as the carts unfurled their tents, shading everyone from the heat.
“Henry!” She called, unsure where her assistant had stored himself.
Suddenly, Henry’s head popped out of the second cart, followed by the rest of him. He was a portly man and nearly a full head taller than her. And that was with her being taller than most.
Obviously flustered, Henry ran to her holding a sheet of parchment.
“Stop,” Serenity commanded, holding out her hand. “What did I say about running?”
Henry immediately froze, composing himself before answering. “That it’s never worth the effort. Forgive me, my lady.”
Serenity nodded in appreciation as he proceeded to approach her with exaggerated care. It was exactly the same way he approached her dragons when they were in heat.
“I’ve found our host for the evening,” Serenity said, pointing to the farm. “How much longer to the city?”
Henry checked his parchment before answering. “My best estimate would be two days.”
“Good,” she said, fondly petting one of the horses, “I’m beginning to grow tired of traveling and we’re running low on food.”
“We have plent—,” Henry began.
“Only because you’ve been rationing the supplies,” Serenity interjected.
“My lady…” he stammered.
“No more,” Serenity ordered, her eyes hard. “They will eat their fill.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Make sure they do,” she said. “In the meantime, I’ll introduce myself to our hosts.”
Henry nodded, hunching his shoulders in compliance as she turned to make her way down the hill.
A sudden breeze filled the air, cooler her off just enough that allowed herself to pick up the pace. Distant memories journeys long passed pressed themselves against her mind. Paths of suffering and torment.
Serenity frowned, shaking her head as she focused on her present surroundings. Long-stemmed grass rolling toward the farm, the smell of manure drifting along with the wind.
Frowning, she pulled a scented cloth from her trousers and placed it over her nose.
As she got closer, she was able to pick out a handful of workers digging holes in the field around the farmhouse. Eventually, one of them noticed Serenity and ran inside the house.
Serenity didn’t wait for the owners to come out. Instead, she walked right up to the remaining workers. The four of them stopped working as she approached, each staring at her warily.
Three of the four were middle-aged men. The fourth, however, was a young girl in her teens. All four of them bowed to Serenity when she finally stopped in front of them.
Serenity frowned, noting the tension in their postures. These people were suffering.
“Good evening,” Serenity said, removing her cloth to smile.
The workers looked at each other, unsure of themselves. All except the girl, who looked at Serenity with curious eyes.
“What are your names?”
Again, they were hesitant to respond, glancing back at the farmhouse expectantly.
“Allie,” the girl eventually said. “Pleased to meet you.”
Just then, an older man rushed out of the house, followed by a middle-aged woman and a little boy. The woman looked to be the worker from before.
“What’s going on here?” The man shouted, pointing a finger at Serenity.
“Good evening—” Serenity began.
“Get back to work!” the man suddenly yelled, turning his finger on the workers.
In an instant they were back to shoveling dirt, eyes focused on the ground.
“Now what do you want?” The man growled at her.
That was when the boy caught her attention, hovering at his father’s side. The boy was watching Allie as she shoveled the dirt.
“What do you grow here?” Serenity asked, surveying the field.
“None of your business what I grow,” the man said. “Who are you to be roaming around my land?”
“I have money,” she said, watching the workers’ labor.
The man eyed her thoughtfully, his frown receding ever so slightly. “Do ya?”
“What do you have to sell?” She asked, taking note of the stable across the field.
“We have grains,” the man said, forcing a smile onto his face. “How much do you want?”
Serenity ignored the question. “What’s in the stable?” Sheasked, beginning to walk toward it.
“The pigs aren’t for sale,” the boy said suddenly, moving between her and the stable.
Serenity stopped, analyzing the boy. There was a certain harshness to him that made her shudder. She’d seen eyes like those before.
Making a decision, she turned back to the man. “Do you live alone?”
The man cocked his head. “Do you want grain or not?”
Suddenly, Serenity whistled loudly, causing both the man and his boy to jump. The workers looked up as well, startled by the sudden noise.
“What was that about?” The man said, instinctively searching the area for some sort of threat.
“You don’t deserve this farm,” Serenity said matter of factly, frowning at the man.
“Now just who do you think you are?” the man said, visibly shaken. “Get off my property.”
“This farm is no longer yours,” she replied.
Suddenly, the ground erupted in an explosion of dirt and dust. Prepared, Serenity managed to keep her feet as everyone else fell to the ground.
And through the dust cloud emerged a dragon, its crimson jaws glistening in the sunlight.
The man’s jaw fell to the ground, his face stricken pale. His boy was frozen in shock as he wet himself. Several of the workers were already running away. The only remaining worker was the girl who was huddled in a ball against the dirt ground, unmoving.
Then the ground began to shake once more. Eager to keep from losing her balance, Serenity sat cross-legged on the dirt as the ground erupted again. This time from multiple directions, as three more dragons emerged from the ground.
Tears ran down the man’s face as all four dragons perched themselves on the edges of their holes and let out simultaneous roars.
Serenity smiled at the sound of their voices, each in harmony with the others. She waited a moment for the rubble to settle before getting to her feet.
As she stood, the dragons crawled out of their holes, gathering at her side. She whistled again as she wiped the dust off of her blouse, issuing a set of commands.
Suddenly, the dragons grew smaller as they approached her side, shrinking from the size of houses to their natural size of horses.
Neither the man nor the boy moved from their spots on the ground as the dragons sat one by one at her side. They were each different colors today; red, gold, yellow, and black. They often changed the color of their scales according to their moods.
“As I said,” Serenity finally stated. “You don’t deserve this farm.” And with that, she clicked her tongue twice.
Suddenly, the dragons crept forward, using their sense of smell to guide them to their prey.
With a cry, the boy finally screamed and leaped to his feet, trying to run away. But as soon as he let out a sound, two of the dragons leaped on the boy.
The father, however, remained on the ground, helpless as the other two dragons leaped on top of him.
Instead of watching, Serenity walked over to the girl still huddled on the ground.
“Allie,” Serenity said, tapping her shoulder. “Allie it’s okay now, you’re safe.”
Allie slowly turned her head, her entire body trembling.
“You don’t have to worry,” Serenity said, “I’ve set you free.”


 

In every plot, there’s a moment where the main characters are drawn out of ordinary life and thrust on the adventure of the story. This can look like the villain causing trouble or the mentor instigating change. Whatever sets the story in motion. This is called the inciting incident.

In this case, the inciting incident is Serenity.

The main characters need a reason to break out of their old lives. Maybe they’re physically incapable of change, maybe they’re letting fear rule them. Whatever the reason, they need a powerful counter-reason. In this case, Allie was left no choice. There is no master to go back to. So now what? This is the question that surges us forward in the story. So in order to write a good inciting incident, I have to know at least the basics of my story.

Before this chapter, I had no idea where this book was going. My only focus was on writing compelling chapters and introducing my characters. But in order to write the inciting incident, I had to know the direction of my story so I could write an inciting incident that not only left Allie no choice, but also set up multiple other plot lines throughout the story.

This is because good storytelling is about multiplicity. You should always be doing more than one thing at a time. This applies to all levels of story. You should never just be describing the landscape. You should never just be delivering the necessary dialogue. You should never write an inciting incident just to get the story rolling. If you do it right, everything serves more than one purpose.

So my challenge to you is to look at this chapter and see if you can determine how I am constantly giving multiple layers of information at a time.

(Note) Usually, you would want to spend more time ingraining the character in their lives before the inciting incident, but this is a unique format in which you have to wait a week for each chapter. This means your sense of time as the reader becomes distorted and stretched vs. a reader who reads all of the chapters at once. This also means that I need to deliver enough momentum in the story in each and every chapter to make waiting another week worth it. Regardless, it’s good to take your time ingraining the characters and the readers in the environment, but that’s not how this book is going to go.

Allie. Chapter 2. Introducing Characters.

I awoke to a pig-snout in my face, the smell of slop assaulting my nose. With a start, I rolled off my straw pile and hit my knees against the hard wooden floor of the barn, adding to the mess that was my dress.
The pig laughed at me, oinking as he nodded his muddy head.
“Shut your snout, Wil,” I said, rubbing my knees as I picked myself off the floor.
Wil just shook his head, oinking even louder as he pranced away toward the other eleven pigs.
The barn wasn’t very big with barely enough room for the thirteen of us to sleep in, but it was the coziest place I’d ever slept in. A quick glance around told me the sun was just waking and all of the slats of the barn were still in place. Another successful night.
I shivered as I checked the health of each pig, my bare feet slapping against the puddles left by the rain the night before. I pointedly ignored my distorted reflection in the water. I didn’t need any reminders.
I saved Wil for last, checking his hoofs and snout with care. He was easy to pick out because he had a brown spot around his left eye and he was bigger than the other pigs. That also meant he’d be the first to go. It was just a matter of time.
Confident everyone was healthy, I allowed myself to return to my pile of straw. It would be a little while longer before the rest of the farm would awake, giving me enough time to work on my gift.
With great care, I took the gift from beside my bed and placed it on my lap, examining it before continuing my work. It was a necklace made of straw, the most intricate design I’d done to date. It had already come apart several times, but it seemed the gift was finally coming together.
A storm of emotions whirled within me as I pulled back my hair, tying it in a knot to keep it from interfering with my work. Then I went about examining my bed, looking for just the right piece of straw to add to the necklace.
That was when I heard the shouts from outside, coming closer by the second. Kendrick.
I immediately started sweating, fighting away the dread threatening to overtake me. There were plenty of reasons he could be coming to the barn. Though none of them would bring him out this early…
Suddenly, Kendrick kicked in the fragile barn door, a satisfied smile on his face.
“Morning, Allie!” Kendrick said, his eyes disturbingly wild as he licked his lips. He was the eeriest twelve-year-old I’d ever met.
“Good morning, Master Kendrick,” I replied, bowing as I carefully placed the necklace in the pocket of my dress.
Kendrick eyed me, looking me up and down before finally nodding. “Guess what?
I made my voice as light as possible. “What?”
“I said to guess,” Kendrick frowned, “don’t you listen?”
I nodded, counting to three before answering. “My apologies, Master Kendrick. Is it… Market already?”
He smiled wickedly, “no… guess again.”
Just then I heard the sound of wheels squeaking outside the barn, confirming my fear.
Fighting a whimper, I gave in. “It’s… Feeding day.”
Kendrick nodded vigorously, skipping over to the pigs in delight. “Do you wanna choose which one?”
My hands began to tremble. “You know your father will choose.”
Kendrick frowned at me again, but said nothing as my owner appeared in the doorway.
“Dad, can you make Allie choose the pig this time?” Kendrick asked, imitating his father as he straightened his posture.
“Good morning, Master Smith,” I said, bowing once again.
“Lower,” Smith growled, his eyes cutting me. He was dressed in his finest clothes, sporting both a hat and cane, just as he always did for Feeding day.
I bowed again as low as I could manage, holding the position as blood rushed to my head. I waited a full five seconds before straightening back up, inwardly seething.
“I will choose the swine, as usual, son,” Smith said, promptly ignoring me, “as soon as the girl comes to her senses.”
Shaking myself out of it, I quickly grabbed my bed and laid the straw on the ground, making a path from the door to the pigs.
As soon as I finished the path, Smith strutted toward the pigs, eyeing them for only a moment before waving a hand. “The eye-patch.”
I nodded, my hands shaking worse than before. Internally numb, I went about tying a noose for Wil as Smith walked back out of the barn. I’d never gotten used to this part. Kendrick never took his eyes off of me.
Not long after we were on our way to town, Smith leading the horses as I held down Wil. Kendrick had yet to be allowed on these trips.
We were one of the further farms from town, though still less than a day’s ride away. My stomach churned as we rode across rolling hills. There were no sights along our path, nothing to distract me except black scorch marks scattered across green pastures.
As we rolled along, I worked my straw necklace, trying desperately to finish it before it was too late. The entire time Wil kept his eyes on me, trusting me to keep him safe just as I had done for the past year. I couldn’t meet his eyes.
The sun was just barely past it’s highest point when the town came into view, appearing suddenly as we crested the last hill. The town wasn’t much of a town, not even a shadow of what it once was. It was settled on the outskirts of the city, with only a few buildings still standing. Only scavengers remained.
The scorch marks were especially prominent here, not a single blade of grass in sight. In the land in-between the remaining buildings, the ground was black and cracked, a single giant hole in the center.
The other nine farms had arrived already by the time we pulled up, their pigs gathered just outside the town where the cracks began.
A line of soldiers stood before them, each with a special set of leather armor in place of the traditional metal.
“And Smith Farms is last to arrive as usual,” one of the guards grumbled, walking around our cart to get a look at Wil.
“It’s the girl’s fault,” Smith replied, gesturing to me with a frown.
“Well, girl,” the guard said impatiently. “How ’bout ya stop causing trouble and get going.”
I stood hurriedly, bowing to the guard before leading Wil off the cart. As soon as he hit the ground he started whimpering, apparently sensing what was about to happen.
The guard quickly checked him out before walking back to the other pigs, gesturing for me to follow him with Wil. Of the nine slaves standing next to their pigs, I recognized seven of them. Only two slaves had died in the last month. A small victory.
As we got closer to the cracks, Wil grew louder, squealing along with the other pigs. As soon as we joined the rest, the guards gestured toward the scorched earth, giving no special direction.
All of us hesitated, our pigs pulling against their tethers in the opposite direction.
“Move,” one of the guards yelled. “Before it gets agitated.”
I glanced at the other, meeting one of their eyes, a newcomer. Steeling myself, I stepped out onto the cracks, leading Wil across the scorched earth.
I forced myself not to look back, trusting that the others would follow. My arms strained against Wil as I led him toward the gigantic hole in the ground.
Despite my heart breaking, I felt no tears on my cheek. There were none left to give. Close behind me, I heard the squeals of the other pigs echoing Wil’s. Good, they had followed.
When we were far enough out I stopped and pulled out my un-finished necklace. With a whisper of comfort, I laid it around Wil’s neck and pet him behind his ears. Ever so slightly, his squeals subsided. It was so little, and yet it was all I had to give.
Suddenly, the ground below us began to shake, nearly throwing me off my feet. The end had come.
Just then, a screech erupted from the earth and the dragon emerged from its hole, it’s wings stretching across the sky as I released my hold on Wil’s noose. Wil ran for his life.
With yet another screech, the dragon launched into the sky, it’s tongue flicking back and forth as chaos ensued around me.
I huddled on the ground, immobile as it soars above me. Trembling, I watched it swoop down on its prey, careful not to move my head even an inch.
Looking back I was relieved to see that most of the others imitated me, huddled against the ground. Three of the slaves, however, had panicked, and were screaming as they sprinted away from the dragon.
With disgusting grace, the dragon swept from one victim to another, focusing on the slaves first. Within seconds, the screaming had stopped, leaving only the squeals of the pigs.
Wil was the second to last to be caught, almost making it outside the town before being dragged back to the dragon’s hole.
One at a time, the dragon dragged it’s prey down into the ground, eventually remaining submerged after it was done.
It was sometime later before I managed to stand again, pointedly ignoring the blood-stains as I tip-toed back to the cart. The others eventually followed after me as I made my way back to my cart, already planning a new necklace.


 

The soul of a story is its characters.

Even if you don’t have an exciting story concept, if you have interesting characters, you’ll have a good story. Easier said than done.

There are a lot of ways to make interesting characters, but the gist of it is: make them sympathetic.

Here’s how you do that:

Make them relatable.

If the reader doesn’t connect to the characters, then they won’t care about what happens to the characters. So you have to give the reader a way to connect to AT LEAST one of your main characters. you do that by:

  • Giving them relatable passions
  • Making them flawed
  • Making them seem real through details
  • Making them struggle

These are all things that most every human can relate with. For most readers, they will identify with the character, making it them who is passionate, flawed, and struggling.

In this chapter, I showed you Allie.

Now let me ask you, do you like her? Why? If you do, it’s probably because:

  • She sleeps in a barn
  • She cares about the pigs
  • She doesn’t complain about her situation
  • She is constantly humbled
  • She actively uses her free time for others
  • She’s courageous
  • She gets motion sickness
  • She’s a survivor

This is all experienced in the first chapter and powerful motivators to care about Allie. Because she’s constantly humiliated, most people will automatically relate with and root for her.

 

Make them admirable.

But we can’t just leave it there, because that’s not a story, that’s just a description. In order to satisfy the reader, the character has to pursue their passions, overcome their flaws, and persevere over their struggles. By the end of the story, the reader shouldn’t only identify with a character, but they should also aspire to the character. It’s about providing hope.

So we must give the characters attributes to admire, otherwise, they become unlikeable.

  • Samwise had no special powers, but he was the best friend a person could ask for
  • Sherlock starts as a horrible person, but he’s so smart and intriguing that we are usually willing to forgive him

Give them a positive trait and then lean on it until they overcome their flaws and struggles.

For Allie, it’s her courage and resilience that makes us root for her. We love that she cares and has the strength to face danger. On the other hand, we have an automatic disdain for Smith because it’s his cowardice, among other things, that is the source of her struggles.

Make them active. Make them good at something. Anything at all.

Make them surprising. 

Just having the first two traits of relatable and admirable can be enough, but nowadays it’s really hard to write anything that hasn’t already been done. We expect mentors to be older men, the knight to slay the dragon, and the guy to fall in love with the girl. So if you really want to write a special story, surprise the reader.

Now, it is actually really easy to surprise the reader. However, it is really difficult to surprise the reader AND write a satisfying story. And writing a satisfying story comes first. So if you can’t come up with something completely unique, that’s okay. Most people just settle for using quirks to set their characters apart.

For Allie, we don’t see much yet, but we do see enough to make us care for her. Her weaving straw doubles as a way to show how much she cares for the pig and reveal one of her hobbies. And for good measure, we may even notice that she gets motion-sick. A lot of people can relate with that.

As far as real surprises, I did it a little with Kendrick. In stories, we don’t usually expect a little boy to cause so much dread. And I made him interesting enough, and unlikeable enough, that a reader may keep reading just to discover how he gets his butt handed to him. As for Allie, there will be surprises regarding her growth, hoping making for an unforgettable character.

(For good measure, I tried to make you care about Wil as well so the ending of the chapter might have a little more emotional impact – if it worked, maybe ask yourself why it worked – there’s multiple potential reasons)

Draco. Chapter 1. How to Write Engaging Prologues.

I knelt alone on the dungeon floor with my eyes shut. That way the darkness was a choice.
Thunderous cheers echoed down from the stadium. Already, they were beginning to chant my name. Draco. A name born out of irony.
As if on cue, steel-toed boots suddenly became audible over the cheers, signaling the guards’ approach.
My breath quickened as I struggled to calm myself down, my heart throbbing against my chest.
Three guards, I guessed, distracting myself with the sound of their boots. It was a game I’d been playing for years. I’d lost only once.
Suddenly, the boots stopped inches from my face. Reluctantly, I opened my eyes and looked up at three sneering faces, the crookedness of their smiles highlighted by a flickering torch.
Beardy, Nosy, and Torchy. None of their names were ironic.
I smiled back at them. Thirty-five out of thirty-six. Not bad.
“Smile all ya want,” Beardy growled, “we’ll break it off of ya yet.”
I believed him. Still, I kept the smile, if only to claim one last victory over the darkness.
Beardy just shook his head and kicked me in the chest with his steel toes.
With a bloody cough, I doubled over, barely staying conscious as Nosy unlocked my chains.
“Careful,” Torchy said, holding the torch close to my face. “I have money on him lasting longer than last time.”
Beardy picked me up by my collar. “He’s fine,” he said, spitting on my chest. “He can fight. Right, Draco?”
I nodded, the pain in my chest already receding as my rib cage snapped back into place.
“Come on now,” Nosy said as he twirled the key around his fingers. “We’ve gotta rough him up a little right? Even things out a bit.”
At that, the other two guards smiled maliciously. I could see the glint in their eyes as they considered whether or not to beat me. I’d learned not to let them stew on those thoughts.
“My audience awaits,” I said, struggling to maintain my smile as I gestured toward the ever-increasing shouts.
Beardy frowned at me for a moment before finally shoving me down the hallway, my hands still clasped together.
Condensation dripped from the stone ceiling, adding to the puddles that lined the hall. At first, a single torch was all that illuminated my path.
Seventy-three steps later I caught my first glimpse of daylight at the end of the tunnel. Even knowing what awaited me, I picked up my pace, blinking against the tears falling from my eyes.
I was still half-blind when I emerged onto the stadium floor, forced to keep my eyes on the hot sand hugging my feet.
Even as I stumbled in the sand, the stadium erupted in deafening cheers. Thousands of people crying my name.
Slowly, my eyes adjusted as Nosy released my hands from bondage, focusing on the pools of blood scattered across the white sand. A part of me wondered if the blood was my own.
Then, suddenly, the cheering ceased, leaving in its wake a reverential silence. My heart beat louder, causing me to shake as my audience held their collective breaths.
Squinting against the sun, I forced myself to look up, searching the clouds for my foe. The people in the stands did the same, each listening for the sound of wings beating against the sky.
I heard it long before I saw it, like thunder cracking against the stadium.
Too afraid to look away from the sky, I knelt in the sand, grasping for the blade I knew would be there.
The thundering grew louder as my fingers ran across the leather handle. A useless weapon, but a weapon all the same.
With my hands securely fastened around the blade, I took a calming breath. And for the thirty-sixth time, I was ready to die.

————

How do you write a compelling prologue?

Set the stage & Make them care.

1. Setting the stage

Your prologue is more than just the beginning of your story. It’s what tells the reader if they should keep reading. Through this prologue, I’ve told people what to expect in the rest of the book:

  • Action
  • Suffering
  • Medieval environment
  • Resistance
  • Magic?
  • Dragons?
  • And implicitly; redemption and freedom

Because your prologue is so important in this regard, you should be honest with it. I could have started this book out with a simple conversation or someone walking down the street, but neither would have hinted at the nature of my book as a whole. Show your reader what they’re in for.

2. Making them care

If you want to tell a story, go right on ahead. But if you want someone to listen to that story, then you have to make it worth their while. No one is going to sit through (potentially) hours of reading if they don’t care about what happens.

So how do you make people care… Ask interesting questions!

Now, in truth, there are many ways to make someone care about a story, and we will address each of these over time, but at its core, I believe good storytelling is all about satisfying questions and answers.
In the prologue above, I gave the reader plenty of questions to ask and very little answers.
Potential questions are as follows:

  • Why is he in a dungeon?
  • What did he do wrong?
  • Who is keeping him there?
  • (That’s all in the first two lines)
  • Who is cheering and why?
  • Why was he named Draco?
  • Why is that name ironic?
  • Why are the guards coming for him?
  • How long has he been in there?
  • What does he have to fight?
  • How did his rib cage heal so quickly?
  • How has he died thirty-five times already?
  • How will he break out of the cycle?

There are more, but the questions above are the most pressing and engaging. Some which are answered within this same short passage and others which are only half-answered or not answered at all. All of which should leave you wanting to know what happens next.

It’s natural for humans to want answers to questions. Just make sure the questions are interesting enough, and they will keep reading for the answers.

Why Read The Chapter Blog?

I have published several novels and short stories and studied under some of the most prolific writers of our time. My hope is to entertain you and teach you how to write fulfilling stories. Many people are already doing this through video essays, but if you are interested in writing novels, there’s a better way.

A more direct way.

Through novels themselves. 

So, do you want to read a good book? Read this one. An entire free Fantasy Novel.

Enjoy short stories? New ones posted regularly.

Interested in learning how to write stories? Learn about writing principles and see them applied in each chapter.

Questions? Message me with questions about writing stories and I’ll write a new chapter based on the answer.

And if you like what you read, you can see a free sneak peek of my published novels below, available for purchase on Amazon/Kindle!

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. — G. K. Chesterton