My throat was on fire, my skin burnt as we finally approached the foothills of the mountain range.
I could sense Jade’s resolve stiffening as we walked side by side. There was still sadness within. And hurt, but it was hidden alongside past pain long-forgotten, weathered over and callused. It was time.
I imaged flight to Jade, posing it as a question. In response, Jade stretched out her wings, prepared to take us the rest of the way to the mountain town. Our mourning period was finished by necessity. We needed food and water.
I climbed on her back as she grew in size, ensuring stability on takeoff, and seconds later we were gone, flying over the hills and into the mountain range.
A layer of fog still engulfed the mountains, though it wasn’t as thick as when they flew through it before. Night quickly approached as we wound our way through, the lack of light becoming more dangerous with each passing moment.
It was only through Jade’s keen senses that we managed to find the little mountain town from before.
As soon as Jade sensed the town, she began her descent through the fog. I was still blind as we touched town outside of the town. For some reason the fog seemed thicker here, and darker.
Alarms went off in my mind as I slid off Jade’s back. Mentally, I told her to stay hidden as I crept closer to the town, feeling my way across the cracked ground.
Slowly, the outline of the town homes room shape, appearing through what I now identified as smoke, not fog.
Suddenly in the thick of the smoke, I tore off my shirt and wrapped it around my face, protecting my nose and mouth as I approached the homes.
Once close enough to see the whole picture, my heart quickened with fury. Every house in the town lay in ruin, the foundations burned to ashes. Embers were still lit amongst the rubble, smoke mingling with the fog.
Suddenly frantic, I searched about for the bodies of the townspeople, hoping beyond hope that they were alive despite the complete stillness of the scene.
In the first of the twelve homes, I found two bodies, neither of them whole. I carried them out of the house anyway, laying them in a row in the center of the town.
In the second house, I found one adult and one child. Aching, I laid them with the others and moved on to the next.
In the fifth home, I found Esme, who had taken us in the night before. Her face was half burnt, but it was clearly her. As soon as I recognized her, I dropped to my knees, shaking with despair, but my sense of duty prevailed.
Sobbing, I carried her out to the others, distracting myself with the task of caring for the dead. Questions threatened to overtake me as I carried out body after body.
A part of me didn’t understand why Miguel had done this. But another part of me knew. I’d known for a long time now. In this World, evil wins and suffering prevails. But what I had done to deserve an eternity of this, I didn’t know.
Then I checked the tenth home, prepared to carry more dead bodies to the center of town when I heard something from the inner room.
Startled to attention, I carefully picked my way around the rubble, searching for the source of the noise. What I found was another body of a woman, moving despite the horrible wounds across her back.
Scarcely daring to hope, I carefully turned her on her back, checking for vitals. There were none, but underneath her lay a child. A little girl sobbing as quietly as she dared, her eyes shut tight.
At the sight of the girl, I let out an involuntary sob, overcome with relief and sorrow. Without saying a word, I gently picked her up, holding her in my arms.
It wasn’t until I’d lifted her off the ground that she finally opened her eyes, looking down at the woman at my feet.
“Mommy,” she whimpered, stretching her arms toward her dead mother.
“I’ll come back for her, okay?” I said, trying to stifle my sobs. “Let’s just get you somewhere safe first.”
The girl shut her eyes once more despite stretching out her arms even farther, continuing to cry out for her mom.
I let my tears fall as I carried the girl through her broken home. The girl knew. She knew her mom was gone, but she called out anyway, crying to be held by her one last time. I knew what that was like.
As we emerged from her home, the moonlight illuminated the girls’ ashen face, half-cleared by her tears.
Mentally, I called Jade to me and asked her to watch over the girl as I darted back inside the house to get her mom. Moments later I reappeared with her mother and laid her at the girls’ feet.
The girl never stopped crying as she threw herself on top of her mother, hugging her with all the force she could muster.
Torn, I left them there to finish gathering the bodies. Not a single other person was alive. All told, I counted twenty-six bodies. Eighteen adults and eight kids, all dead at the hands of my dragon.
Limp with devastation, I eventually sat beside the girl and her mother, watching the girl empty herself of tears.
Hunger. Thirst. All feeling was distant from me in that moment, but my survival instincts were too strong to ignore. Reluctantly, I sent Jade to search for food as I sat beside the girl, gently laying a hand on her shoulder.
We stayed there the entire night. Some of the time we were silent. Other times we both cried until we couldn’t anymore.
By the time Jade returned, the girl had slipped into shock, wearing blank expressions as she ate and drank what was offered her. And then we slept.
Two huge concepts to learn regarding plots. We’ve explored a couple of ways to go about plotting a story, and we’ll definitely explore more as we move forward, but it’s important to first understand the core of a plot in of itself.
Stories are about struggle. They’re about how human beings respond to struggle; about heartbreak and redemption.
Every other aspect of storytelling is in service of this concept of the human struggle. So the question is posed: how do we create compelling tension (struggle) in our story?
Stories are often structured as: make a plan, execute that plan. That’s great and dandy, but if that’s all it is, your story is in trouble. This has to do with expectation vs. delivery, entertainments value, etc. concepts we’ve already discussed.
So here is a good way to make sure that formulaic method of plan vs. Execution provided good and meaningful tension:
Either use “Yes, but” or “No, and”
I want to get free of this prison…
YES, I can be free of this prison, BUT I have to give up my dragon
I want to keep my dragon…
NO, AND I’m going to be left behind and indirectly get almost everyone in this town killed
This is how you make sure your story always has tension. It’s making sure your character has to make difficult decisions and provide for us a meaningful story experience.
“Yes, and” is too easy. (Yes, I get to go free and I get my dragon back! Hurray!)
“No, but” is, you guessed it, still too easy. (No, you don’t get your dragon back, but here’s a free ice cream sundae on the house – not how the World usually works)
So what I’m saying is that when you’re plotting your story, but your character through the wringer.
More suffering = more redemption = more compelling