The Looming Wall of Words Unwritten

I’ve reached the point in the current story (untitled as yet – not even a working title I’m happy with) where the looming Wall of words yet unwritten is bearing down on me.

I’ve been working through the outline, breaking the chapters down to get an idea of what happens in each, and about half way through the story finally starts to click into place, more and more ideas forming and fitting together. It’s started the momentum towards the point when I have to start writing, which means that The Wall, previously ignorable as being a way away, is now distracting me from preparation to write.

Which is unfortunate as there’s still a bit of work to do on the outline. I need to work through the individual characters and make sure their necessary character arc beats are noted in the chapter breakdowns, now I have a better idea of who they are and how they’ll work in the story.

(Breaking it down also allows you to focus on smaller chunks of the wall, which when the writing starts can make it seem more manageable – provided you can ignore the mass sat behind the individual scenes.)

Then I need to work through the chapter outlines again to make sure these beats fit in, and that everything I wanted (such as the numerous scribbled lines of dialogue on various pages) will be included rather than having to be shoehorned in during revisions.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get at least another pass at it done before the impulse to start writing become uncontrollable. Otherwise it just means more work in revisions. Which may be okay for small inserts, but major things needing changing can be far more daunting. By that point The Wall is more solid.

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale

Smashwords have their Summer/Winter Sale this month (snuck up on me, I thought it was later), and most of my books are enrolled in it.

Most of my novels are half price (using coupon code SSW50), except Grey Enigmas, which is free (using coupon code SW100). I’ve also got the priced stories of the Tales of the Thief-City series free, and may reduce the prices of others through the month.

Omissions

While a story needs the sequence of events clearly expressed (as a whole; keeping things hidden from the reader is fine if they’re to be revealed at some point), it can sometimes be tricky working out what you can leave out or skimp over.

There’s a difference in large stories like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – where entire important battles happen off screen, but where there’s a lot happening and including everything could pose a health hazard to anyone carrying one of the hardbacks around – and a short story where a scene accounts for far more of the story.

(Or maybe it’s more a matter of how the scene relates to the overall story, or character arcs. Maybe moving away from the viewpoint of those caught up in the scene allows it to be only heard about.)

It’s a challenge when faced with scenes that just don’t work whether or not to omit it. Ideally you find either what it is about the scene that requires its inclusion, or what makes you want to write it, and focus on that, or you find what isn’t working and determine why not.

 

Necessary Scenes

In Games of Shadow, part 5 of Shadows of the Heavens, the dinner party at the end was almost painful to write, and the first draft was far more sparse, with blocks left to fill in later. I could have ended the main strands of the story differently, but it wouldn’t then have introduced characters who’d play greater roles in the rest of the series. And it said more about the main characters, and the setting. So the scene served multiple purposes, some of which would be lost without it.

It was therefore necessary to keep it, so on the later draft I went back to it and outlined that scene in more detail than I had. I didn’t rewrite it until happy with the way it worked, and interested in it.

 

Unnecessary Scenes

In the recently released Dreams of the Dead there’s an omitted chase scene that I’m worried readers might find slightly jarring. The story skips from trouble about to happen, to the characters having evaded their pursuers, without giving the chase scene.

This was never written. It was in the rough outline, but many action scenes I never break down that much, preferring to maintain spontaneity and energy when writing them. I couldn’t find any interesting thing to do with the chase scene, and it wasn’t doing anything else (no character work or world-building for which it could be utilised). It had only a single purpose, and held little interest for me, so I left it out. Its omission doesn’t feel like it affects the overall story. Possibly the increased pace of the action could have been useful, and the brief build-up without the payoff may trip readers, but the series overall tends to have sharp, brief action scenes, so the scene could have felt incongruous as part of the overall narrative movement.

Possibly (okay probably) I’m overly neurotic, and readers won’t particularly care about the omission. It’s a danger when writing that you study the structure in more detail than you might otherwise. (I find when reading I notice ‘said’ far more than I’m sure I used to, when it’s supposed to become invisible to readers.)

Ultimately I can only write what feels right. If a scene feels like it’ll be a slog to write then maybe my unconscious is telling me there’s something wrong with it. And if the scene can be dropped without affecting the story in any way, maybe it should be.

Dreams of the Dead

I’ve just released the fifth story in the Tales of the Thief-City series, Dreams of the Dead.

Dreams of the Dead small When a friend goes missing, Rax Darkthorn must disturb the ghosts of his past in search of an answer. The trail leads to the second-to-last place he’d want to revisit, forcing him to deal with the dead, the undying, the neverborn, and the never should have been born.

Fifth in the Tales of the Thief-City series. A 20000 word fantasy novella.

 

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Smashwords

It’ll be free until the end of July (apart from on Amazon – unless price matching is working again).

 

Unlike the previous parts it’s a novella. It was an attempt to do a longer story based in the setting, since a few reviews had said they’d like that.

Unfortunately the style of the series doesn’t seem to lend itself to that, and what was initially hoped to be a novel ended up a short novella.

The series was conceived as pulpy short stories that maintain a fast pace and have a fairly compressed story. I find first person narratives tend to work out shorter than third persons for me anyway. (The sequel series, assuming I finish this one, would probably be third person since the viewpoint character is different, and probably wouldn’t work as well in first person – or would be far more work for me, and probably still work better in third person).

Dreams of the Dead wasn’t going to be part of the series. It was more of a stand alone that looked at the character’s history. It’s still not tied strongly into the overall narrative of the series (which is a single long story), but some of the information will come into play later in the series so it’s easier to include than reintroduce them from scratch elsewhere. And given events to come it has a definite position in the series, so it might as well be numbered as such.

For those wishing for a longer story, I can only hope they stay till the end of the series (currently planned to be around twelve stories) and find the whole things satisfies as the longer piece they’re looking for.

Guest Post by Nikolas Baron of Grammarly

**Please welcome our guest poster for today, Nikolas Baron of Grammarly.**

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer

Glasses on, he was Superman. Glasses off, he was an ordinary journalist. As part of my job at Grammarly, I research what people write and which tools they use. I rub shoulders with a lot of freelance writers … a lot of freelance writers who wear glasses. What is a day in their lives like? How do they accomplish the heroic articles that I read every day? After all, we walk past these people all the time on the street. We laugh at the jokes that they print. We cry when they bring some sad account to our porch by means of the daily journal. However, we rarely look into the process that brought the writing to life. Let us take that moment today.

The Morning Routine

Almost every writer has a set of habitual behaviors that he performs at the start of each day. I do not think that I will surprise you by saying that, for the majority, it involves a caffeinated beverage. Besides that, here are the top three activities to get authors on their way!

• The Important Stuff

For the worrywarts, it is better to first run errands to get them out of the way. They clear the slate, physically and mentally to focus on writing. Slow cookers are hidden secrets of the trade. As one of my author friends cooks breakfast, she throws in a roast and some veggies into the crockpot. No concerns will distract her from writing, except the delicious smells of dinner being ready.

• Meditation

Another colleague assured me that, by meditation, he does not mean thinking about the famous handclapping question. Instead, he takes a little “me” time. He sits out on the deck to watch the squirrels and birds bustling about in their affairs. He may read a chapter of the Bible or a few pages of a self-improvement book. He chooses a positive thought and meditates on how he can introduce it into his own life. He forcibly removes any thoughts of writing or what he has to do for the day. It is his time of peace.

• Brainstorm session

In one interview, the author of Drop Dead Healthy encourages writers to “generate dozens of ideas”. This exercise has to be free of fear. Expert authors do not waste one second fretting over quality brainstormed ideas. Most will be garbage, destined for nothing. Nonetheless, the great ones are grand! Like artists with a sketchbook, some writers keep a notebook of ideas to use when they need inspiration.

The Grind

Stay-at-home professionals often schedule working hours. This ensures productivity. As writing is a creative profession, one may plan fewer hours than those typically allotted for manual labor. Breaks are also an important part of the process. Failure to do so can cause writer’s block, the dreaded nemesis of any wordsmith. The following section will discuss what some smart writing professionals do during downtime.

The Procrastination Destination

There are the obvious break activities- eating, bathroom breaks, and a quick nap. However, a number of authors do not like to feel as if they are wasting time. They chose productive ways to procrastinate! While waiting for writer’s block to subside, they proofread for grammar and clarity. They cut and paste their documents into online proofreading websites. By the time the revisions are made, they are ready to start creating again. What a guilt-free mental break that is!

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”

By the day’s end, an author sighs… with relief if the day has been productive or with grief if the output disappoints. By the bed, quite a few writers keep a pad of paper. These authors also assure me that the notepad is essential. They never regret anything as much as the great idea that got away.

The next time you devour an article in five minutes, take a few moments to consider the author. He may have taken days to write that article. He may have sat in front of his computer screen for hours, praying for a flash of insight. Smile at those bespectacled faces in the street. You may be smiling at a superhero.

By Nikolas Baron


Bio:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

The Wastefulness of Character Death

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve killed off a character too early? That maybe you could have done more with them if they were still around.

Maybe it’s not a bad thing. If you feel that way, maybe it’s due to a connection to the character, and hopefully readers will feel similarly. It doesn’t remove the nagging doubt it could have been wasteful, even if it was what the story required of you.

[There will be SPOILERS below, vague where I can make them, for Glyphpunk, Blade Sworn, and Grey Engines]

 

Planning Murders

Since I outline most of my stories, I usually know from early on whether a character is going to die. This makes the death part of their story, becoming fixed enough that it doesn’t necessarily feel the same way to me as to a reader who wasn’t expecting it. It’s the role they play in the story, a part of how I see them.

Not that the death is always planned. In Blade Sworn there’s a character who would’ve continued to play a set role later in the series (if I ever continue it). During the writing I decided he should die at the end, his later role going to one of the other characters (for whom it would work well in where I saw them ending up). As I got closer still I realised he should die earlier than the final confrontation where I’d envisaged it, and differently than I’d imagined.

Literally as I was writing the scene I decided that was where he should die. I feel the story works fine with it, and even if I hadn’t originally planned it for him, I’m happy with it. Maybe he could have done more, but I don’t consider his death wasteful.

 

Outside Influences

Then there’s Glyphpunk (and here I’m getting more spoilery). I kill off one of the major characters, Augni, shortly before the end. It was considered in the outlining, but I was undecided on whether or not to bring him back at a suitably dramatic point during the climax.

The ultimate decision to leave him dead could well have been influenced by other factors. As I got close to finishing the outlining we had to have the dog put down. That was the day after my father went into hospital for the last time (he had prostate cancer for around fifteen years). With nothing else constructive I could do, I started the writing at that point. I was probably a good way through when he died a fortnight later, so my state of mind probably influenced my decision.

While I feel the death works for the story, I felt the loss more in the sequel, Glyphwar. As did Thjorn. They’d been designed to work together, and much of Glyphwar had Thjorn trying to find a replacement for him. It was during this I missed the character, and how much I enjoyed their partnership. The story would likely have gone differently were Augni still around, and a part of me still wishes I could bring him back. But the story has to come first.

 

That is not dead, Which can eternal lie

Of course, writing fantasy and science fiction one always has the option of reusing dead characters in a myriad of ways. It risks cheapening the death, and is best done when planned from the start, else it reeks of hackery or sentimentalism.

In Grey Engines I have a built in out for this: the Ghost Bank. Barring nefarious intervention, a telepathic individual’s mind is usually backed up to the Ghost Bank at death. While they don’t often directly interact with the living, they can, and so even dead characters can return.

The main thing, as always, is to ensure it serves the story.

Static

The silence of the last weeks has been less due to lack of stuff to write (although there has been that) as back problems preventing me writing anything. Initially I was barely able to sit at the computer (or stay in any one position) for longer than quarter of an hour without it getting painful. It’s receded into a dull ache (not quite the background back pains I’ve had for years yet), so hopefully I can get back to work, if not posting here, soon.

This has just been to confirm I am actually still alive.

The Thirteenth

Here’s the short story I wrote as part of the Nibfest writing competition I mentioned last week. The opening line they gave was ‘It was a bright day in May, and the clocks were striking twelve’. I had to reinterpret some words in order to get the idea for the story.

I’m not that happy with how it’s turned out, and it doesn’t offer enough for me to spend any more time developing it, so I’m releasing it into the wild as an example of why I need to outline my stories beforehand.

 


 

The Thirteenth

It was a bright day in May, and the clocks were striking Twelve. Thirteen did his best to avoid their attention. He knew little of Twelve’s true identity, and vice versa, so he should be safe for a while. At the least they’d keep Twelve in a timeless stasis field until the Church hierarchy decided what questions he should be asked. That could take a few days.

Thirteen joined the flow of arrivals, just another vacationer determined to enjoy his bright day and not get involved in whatever unpleasantness was occurring. The clocks didn’t generally police the city of May itself, limiting themselves to checking visitors at the gates.

While the city permitted most things without censure, science was not among them. The clocks’ primary role was to keep time safe from science, and they did so with vehemence.

Having Twelve carry technology through security had always been a risk, but their job would be harder without it. Harder still on his own. Thirteen didn’t delude himself that leaving as easily was much of a possibility. The job he’d come to do was what he should concentrate on.

While his instinct was to not show any hint of relief on clearing the checkpoint uncontested, that could draw suspicion. He forced himself to match the inane grins of his fellow bright dayers.

The Church allowed workers one day out of every forty to themselves. While these bright days could be spent as they wished, many things they might wish to do weren’t permitted in society. They had to come to special cities where sin could be exercised as repayment for their services to the Church. Not that it was presented as such. Their services to the Almighty – through his representatives in the form of the Church – were expected, and bright days were his largesse to the faithful.

Many saved up their bright days so they could travel to the larger and more equipped bright day cities, of which May was the largest and most indulgent.

Every sin was encouraged here. Patisseries and brothels stood side by side, near more disreputable places that didn’t advertise their services.

Nearly all debaucheries and perversions were catered to somewhere in the city, yet the pursuit of knowledge was punished by the puritans. Questioning was the greatest sin.

Even the most intoxicated of revelers had – to Thirteen’s eyes – an edge of desperation to their enjoyment. As though they were determined to eke the as much enjoyment as they could from their limited bright days. As the Church intended. If they’d really wanted it to be someplace people could relax, they wouldn’t have built it here.

Another city had previously stood where May did now, its name long since banned. It’d been the site for man’s first – and, so the Church threatened, last – experiment with controlling time. It’d destroyed the city, and facilitated the Church’s rise to power. They made sure to remind even the revelers of what had happened here.

Large monitors were set up every so often along the busy, elegantly paved street leading away from the checkpoint – prime real estate for catching the new arrivals first. The screens displayed advertisements of the diversions on offer which were acceptable for broadcast. The more risqué ones were advertised more discreetly, their surreptitiousness part of their allure. Yet even those displayed here in the street were beyond what you’d experience in standard broadcasts outside.

The advertisements were interrupted every so often with subtle – for the Church – reminders that they protected the world from the dangers of unchecked science. They didn’t refer directly to the one that occurred where May now stood. They didn’t need to.

The sect which had become the dominant church, and dominant political entity, had been the loudest declaimer when scientists announced the discovery of a way to control the flow of time within a limited area. A public experiment had been announced to show how safe the technology was – which, to be fair, was probably asking for trouble.

The panic when it went wrong and destroyed the city was seized on by the fanatics, who also seized much of the associated technology. It still wasn’t clear who developed the weaponised chronal technology their enforcers – the clocks – were suddenly armed with, but it appeared their own people were considered trustworthy enough to handle such diabolical devices. Or willing to sacrifice their souls for the good of the many.

Effortlessly ascending to power, they instituted laws limiting which sciences could be practiced by whom, among other draconian laws necessary for the good of society. It’d happened so quickly that they’d become dominant before anyone had a chance to think.

They offered security and peace, blanketing the concerned populace in a hazy ignorance to convince them all was for the best. But at least they made sure the streets were clean, even here, and there were plenty of smiling faces – if people knew what was good for them.

The smiles on the staff were more forced, as though desperate to convince visitors they were having fun simply by being here. Thirteen matched the false smiles as he passed by with the confident stride of someone who knew what he wanted and was determined to enjoy as much of it as he could fit into his time. He wouldn’t stop for hawkers looking to target undecided vacationers.

Having gone over the instructions a few times, he found his target after getting lost only twice. It was situated in a less travelled area, where more specialised recreations were indulged.

It was simply identified as The Dungeon. It wasn’t non-descript, since that would stand out, but little about the front gave a hint as to what occurred inside. That’d make it easier for the proprietor to gauge a visitor’s interest, and tailor the claim of what went on there to discourage casual guests.

Thirteen stood a short way up the street from the building, staring at the door.

Once he approached, he’d be committed. There’d be no turning back. Was there now? Twelve had sacrificed himself for this. And while the other eleven, also probably in clock hands, hadn’t yet led the enforcers to his door, there was always the possibility that something in their contact had left a trail. No precautions were foolproof. He’d be a fool to think they were.

This was what he’d been working towards for so long. He couldn’t face living any longer in the world as it was. The hesitation was simply his nerves getting the better of him.

Caging the butterflies in his stomach, Thirteen advanced and pressed the bell by the door – an oddity where most doors were open and inviting of browsers.

It took a minute, and another ring, before the call was answered.

The door opened, and an elderly woman glanced at him over thick-rimmed glasses, a polite smile sitting at ease below them. ‘I’m sorry dear, I think you’re at the wrong place.’

‘I want to offer a prayer for inspiration,’ said Thirteen.

Her smile remained, but the eyes grew sharper and harder. ‘There’s a church a couple of streets over.’

‘Not the denomination I prefer,’ Thirteen completed the code.

She was reluctant to admit him, but after glancing along the street she relented. Possibly to avoid a scene, and not without a faint scowl.

She moved aside enough to let him slip into the corridor. Closing the door behind him, she turned with a frown. ‘I’d heard there was trouble.’

‘Twelve was seized on the way in.’

The frown deepened, her concern understandable.

‘He didn’t know the location,’ said Thirteen. ‘We felt it was worth the risk to carry some specialised equipment in rather than build it from scratch, so we came separately.’

While the frown eased, she obviously wasn’t convinced. Or any more willing to invite him further in.

‘That would make you the last of the Thirteen Immorals still at large,’ she said.

Any renown their group had achieved was thus far limited to a small community of malcontents and intellectuals.

‘Why should I risk my freedom on the hope you’ll be any less foolhardy than your associates?’ she said.

‘Why do you do any of this?’ said Thirteen.

‘To keep certain secrets safe from the Church. Secrets worth more than your curiosity.’

‘If we could’ve done this without coming here, without risking the watch the Church undoubtedly places on visitors, we would have. But we were hoping you have what we need. With it we may finally be able to fight the Church.’

She snorted lightly at that, but reluctantly led him further in. Gone was the vague stoop of age she’d adopted for answering the door. She now assumed a more severe posture.

‘Your Sixth visited a year ago. Given his caution, and the fact he was taken before you, I’ll allow you the benefit of the doubt.’

The room into which she led him was light and airy. A pair of large tables occupied the majority of the floor space, covered by tidily arranged paraphernalia, and surrounded by shelves filled with various liquids and substances. Those unsafe for consumption sat within locked cabinets.

While all sciences were heavily monitored, some were more dangerous than others. Chemistry wasn’t considered as sacrilegious as physics, provided it was practised with a limited array of substances.

A majority of those coming to practice it here would be more interested in the popular pastime of inventing new beverages. The substances available would be monitored, and all rules would be strictly adhered to. Sufficient to convince the clocks this was an upstanding establishment that merely catered to those who wanted the thrill of experimentation without risking punishment.

It was a lie, of course. Or at least a facade. A cover for the place’s true purpose.

His host, the Archivist, didn’t slow or show him around the workshop. She led him through to the curtained corridor on the far side of the room. Half way along the corridor a flight of stairs led down.

Their descent ended at a solid-looking door. Inserting a key in the lock, the Archivist turned it, then turned it again. A doorway he hadn’t noticed opened by his side, revealing a more severe workshop. Its table was empty, any equipment probably behind the door at the far end.

This was the Dungeon’s true purpose, and Thirteen couldn’t help the thrill at actually being here. This was the last place scientists could come to do proper science. Only in a limited fashion, admittedly, but it was better than he could hope to find outside.

He could probably assemble the necessary equipment elsewhere, if he acted slowly, over years. The main draw of the place was the Archivists’ true treasure: the notes of previous experiments, and earlier scientific knowledge otherwise only held by the Church.

Six had brought back some of the facts which had led to their current avenue of interest. It’d been disseminated covertly, as Six had remained in self-imposed quarantine until certain he’d evaded attention. He hadn’t, and had disappeared shortly thereafter.

‘This is the workroom,’ said the Archivist. ‘There’s a room upstairs where you can sleep. Knowing your kind, I doubt it’ll see much use. What type of experiment were you hoping to conduct?’

‘Chronal,’ said Thirteen.

While hardly over-animate before, the Archivist’s stillness became more pronounced. It almost had an exclamation point to it. ‘That would be precarious.’

‘I’m aware.’

‘Your group’s previous activities with which I’m familiar have been directed against the Church.’ The Archivist picked her words with precision. ‘I hope desperation isn’t leading you to use such technology against theirs. I doubt that would end well.’

‘I have no intention of confronting them in any such manner. My specialisation is communication technology. I work for the broadcasting ministry. I believe I’ve come up with a way to use limited chronal manipulation to create a two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional aperture, which should be more stable and avoid problems encountered in earlier experiments. The correct camera set-up could also deal with the haziness which occurs on reversing time.’

The Archivist’s stare remained unflappable, but she was considering it. ‘You believe you can see into the past?’

‘To begin with. Maybe even the future, if we’re lucky. Think of the advantage it would give us over the Church.’

Admittedly, looking into the future was dubious.

The initial breakthrough in the science had come with controlling the flow of time within a limited area, speeding it up or slowing it down. Further advancements had let them actually reverse time so as to see the past. It had limitations: it was even more energy intensive than the massive amounts required for regular time manipulation; attempts to enter the field while viewing the past caused it to collapse; and the further back one tried to go, the hazier the image became.

Many doubted seeing into the future would be possible. Advancing one area faster in time than its surroundings aged it, but didn’t make it the future. They only made it older.

But the study had only been in its infancy. And the possibility should entice the Archivist.

‘Is it technology or knowledge you seek?’ she said.

‘A little of both. Six told us you had details of some initial experiments. We were hoping there was something in there regarding the…’ he hesitated. Many found even discussing the accident unpalatable, and he didn’t want to cause offence.

‘Event,’ said the Archivist. Her face was slightly stiff, but determined to be clinical. ‘I have some earlier notes, of limited scope. Little survived of later research. It was propriety knowledge, and back then commercial realities necessitated secrecy.’

‘Yes, but their competitors must’ve tried duplicating their achievements, even based on the limited work generally available. We hoped some may have made it into your care. A long shot, I know, but anything you have may be useful.’

She pursed her lips, regarding him judgmentally. She took a few moments to reach a decision. ‘I have notes on such experiments. Not here. They’re secure elsewhere. It may take a day to retrieve them.’

Thirteen nodded, displaying his enthusiasm. ‘It’ll take time to replace what Twelve carried. If you have the appropriate spare parts. I have the expertise to build it. That’s why it was Twelve carrying it.’

‘I should have something you can use,’ she said with a strained smile.

#

Thirteen remained perfectly still, the device he’d been working on laid gently on the worktable. If he could risk moving he might’ve found a dark corner to hide in, for all the use that’d do.

The voice upstairs sounded official. There was no back way out if they came down here.

He forced himself to calm down, knowing it was unlikely unless he’d seriously misjudged the situation. What he’d seen so far said he hadn’t. He should still have a short while longer in which to act.

There was no point getting uptight anyway. He’d accepted he wouldn’t get out of this. But accepting it intellectually and in his gut were two different things.

The voice died away, and he was sure he heard the door. Footsteps didn’t carry that well through the solid floor, so he jumped slightly as the hidden door opened.

The Archivist entered, fully composed. ‘Just a random check of stock on display. They only do a full inspection once a year, and the last was a month ago. We’re safe to continue.’

Thirteen nodded. His work was nearly done, but his time was running short. It was the morning of his last bright day. While monitoring people’s activities here may be lax, the clocks paid close attention to how long an individual was allowed to stay. If he hadn’t registered as leaving May when his time was up, a manhunt would be instituted.

They’d be used to the occasional person enjoying themselves so much they lost track of time, so may not be too intrusive at first. They wouldn’t be as lenient once they apprehended their prey, and it wasn’t uncommon for individuals to lose bright day privileges for a few years.

Thirteen was confident that wouldn’t be a problem. He was certain by now he wouldn’t escape them. He’d almost made peace with that.

His attention returned to the worktable as the Archivist joined him. She’d been helpful, and skilled enough at engineering that she was able to work on some of what they’d needed. Not the recording equipment, since that was his specialty. Despite her understandable apprehension at tampering with certain technologies, she did her part.

The limited array of spare parts available to them didn’t help. The table was covered in an sprawl of disassembled devices cannibalised for components. Some she’d had to acquire from elsewhere, and he’d carefully avoided asking where.

While they should be able to assemble what they needed to prove the theory, it wouldn’t create anything viable for proper use. Eventually, if the theory proved workable, he’d have the spatial aperture focused in the lens. Ideally it’d be a portable camera, albeit bulky.

For now, the camera was separate from the time distortion field mechanism. The latter had taken most of their time and spare parts. They’d probably taken longer than necessary, out of concern for the danger. It’d also allowed him the time necessary to set the camera up correctly, and he’d now installed the final part, waiting until the Archivist was absent to do so.

The camera was set up. It stood on the far end of the table, facing them with its vacant gaze. He found himself staring into it, lost in thought. Now wasn’t the time for thought.

The Archivist was focussed on assembling a solid frame for the time distortion device. Not that they were yet sure the thing would work.

He’d have liked to have seen it working, for the sheer spectacle and wonder. There was so little of that in the modern world. The Church viewed such things not directly attributable to the Almighty as suspect, to be eradicated from society before influencing the susceptible minds of the sheep they had lined up to be fleeced of their freedom.

She glanced up from her work to meet his puzzled gaze. ‘Is there a problem?’

He focussed on her, taking a moment to respond.

‘Where did you acquire the notes on the time distortion experiments?’ he said.

The Archivist raised an eyebrow. ‘A safe place.’

‘Not just now,’ said Thirteen. ‘I meant its provenance. Who originally wrote these. Was it a competitor?’

‘I presume so,’ said the Archivist. ‘It was donated by a guest. I don’t ask questions, so I can’t divulge anything if discovered. Therefore I can’t offer much more than that.’

‘Makes sense. And you presumably record things electronically, since this was obviously recently printed.’

She regarded him with an even stare.

‘And you don’t answer questions like that for similar reasons,’ said Thirteen, grinning apologetically. ‘I suppose there’s always the danger of a spy coming here.’

‘I make every effort to avoid such,’ said the Archivist. Contacting her had been difficult. Even with Six having done so before, the contact protocols shifted to ensure it remained secure. ‘Does the provenance matter?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘What is it about the notes that concerns you?’

‘It’s just occurred to me that some of the implications of where they’d reached could easily have led to the point of the experiment that led to all this.’

‘Hardly surprising that a competitor was so close behind,’ said the Archivist.

‘But it’s far closer than I’d expect for the tidiness of the notes.’

‘Possibly the work was organised by the one who provided them.’ She paused, as though a thought had occurred. ‘You don’t believe he could have been a member of the research team not present at the time of the experiment, do you?’

‘No,’ said Thirteen. ‘While the work’s similar, and could have led to the same place, the main path seems to he headed in a different direction. In fact it seems more likely to lead to something explosive than what was tried.’

‘Which is speculative,’ said the Archivist. ‘With that research lost to us, we’re only guessing what they tried.’

‘We have years of guessing by many to understand what went wrong.’

‘Years of guessing by disparate minds, unable to confer. You’re hardly offering anything scientific.’

Thirteen shrugged, gathering his thoughts on how to approach his point. ‘But you see how this research could lead to something dangerous?’

The Archivist pursed her lips, staring at him. ‘Anything can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Science can always be weaponised.’

‘Often, yes,’ said Thirteen. ‘The Church has done so with some of this technology for their weapons. You could even say they’ve weaponised communications technology for propaganda purposes.’

‘Hardly a weapon.’

‘I work with it. It may not be as structurally destructive, but it can be far more invasive in the war they’re waging on mankind.’

She raised an eyebrow, but gave little other response to his rant. Not that he’d expect one.

‘Anyway,’ said Thirteen. ‘My point…’

‘You have one then?’

‘My point is that if someone else was this close, and had an idea that appears as though it could be weaponised, how do we know it wasn’t?’

There was no raised eyebrow this time. The Archivists’ face froze.

He waited.

She licked her lips as she considered her response. ‘You’re suggesting industrial espionage? It seems to have gone a bit wrong if so.’

‘Possibly,’ said Thirteen. ‘But that doesn’t seem likely. If they were simply sabotaging it, a simple explosion could have been more controllable. It wouldn’t have given the radiation signature, but it wouldn’t need to. Accidents in the machinery could’ve caused damage more easily than a new technology being so precisely calculated before use. To have used a bomb made of this technology, probably knowing the effect it would produce, implies a desire to discredit the technology as too volatile.’

‘You’re talking about the Church?’

‘It crossed my mind.’

‘Yet they abhor the technology,’ said the Archivist.

‘Which they’ve since had developed into weapons,’ said Thirteen. ‘And it was the incident that allowed them to quickly seize control. So quickly one might almost think it was planned in advance.’

The Archivist started to say something, but hesitated a moment. ‘Are you serious?’

‘I think I am. What happened here wasn’t an accident of science. It was the conscious act of fanatics.’

‘How then did these notes come to me, if developed by fanatics? I check those I allow in here, as much as I’m able. I’m confident he wasn’t one of them.’

Thirteen hesitated, appearing thoughtful as he steeled himself for what came next. ‘That is a problem. I’d imagine if the Church had an inkling of any scientific inquiry occurring outside their supervision they’d come down hard on it. So how would someone within the Church learn of it. No one aware of it would be likely to entrust the knowledge to someone they knew had a connection to the Church.’

‘Exactly,’ said the Archivist. ‘While I agree your thought raises questions deserving of consideration, your conclusion doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.’

‘Assuming the Church doesn’t know about this place.’ Thirteen ran his fingers through his hair, staring into the distance as though thinking things through. ‘It was soon after Six visited that he was taken. We were always careful about not being detected. Do you have many return visitors?’

‘Most of those I’ve housed have been here multiple times.’

‘How many of those with science the Church might consider dangerous?’

‘The Church considers all science dangerous, but I take your meaning. I haven’t noted any fall off among those inquisitive in particularly ill-regarded areas. There are enough among those I’d consider high-value targets who haven’t disappeared that I consider the proposition unlikely.’

Thirteen frowned. ‘I doubt they’d be particularly subtle about such things. But it makes so much sense that they’d try to keep an eye on illicit science. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d set up something like this as a means to…’ He trailed off, staring at his host.

The Archivist raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

Thirteen glanced at the recent notes they’d used, then back to the Archivist.

Disbelief slid away to leave her face stony. She regarded him with a hard gaze. ‘I do wish you’d kept your epiphany to yourself. At least until you were out of my house. You may as well come down.’

Heavy boots clomped down the stairs.

‘I was right, wasn’t I?’ said Thirteen. He had to get the truth out of her before they dragged him away. ‘You people created the bomb?’

Three clocks emerged through the still-open door, fanning out but holding position.

‘A necessary lesson for the world,’ said the Archivist. Her tone was now cold. She had no further interest in him, but probably got so little chance to gloat over her prey that he might be able to keep her talking. ‘The ultimate result of tampering with things one shouldn’t is destruction.’

‘But it wasn’t. It was the result of you wanting everyone to do as you say.’

There was no hint of heat in her gaze. She wouldn’t anger easily. ‘We simply wish everyone to serve the Almighty. As they should. Had your kind taken heed of our warnings, such loss of life would have been unnecessary.’

She’d happily admit the truth, content he’d never pass it on to another living soul. He needed to play for a little more time. Get her to say something else to show them for the madmen they were.

‘How far would you have let it go?’ Thirteen gestured at their work.

‘I’d already ensured the device wouldn’t open an aperture. We simply needed you to finish your work in case it offered anything of interest. I doubt it, but as I said, I prefer not to have people seized on the premises. I do have a cover to maintain. The experiment wouldn’t have worked, and the time would have come for you to leave. I’d promise to dismantle your device and store the schematics safely. Which I shall. But we couldn’t risk one of your kind playing with such forces.’

‘But the idea was too attractive,’ said Thirteen. ‘A device to let you look into peoples’ pasts, to see what sins they’ve committed. Attractive enough to make you offer up this information that the Church developed, even with the danger of me working out what it implied.’

‘A marginal danger, given you had little chance of escape. For a marginal gain, given what you’ve achieved. I see little here that could work.’

‘But you risked it. Because as dangerous as you consider time, you also can’t resist using it for your own ends.’

‘Dangerous?’ said the Archivist. ‘Time is a gift from the Almighty. Without time there would be no continuity, no awareness. How then would we begin to comprehend the Almighty’s work? But he gave it to us to experience in a certain way. What your kind would do to it could warp and mutilate our perception of his work.’

Thirteen had no interest in theological debate. Reasoned argument seldom made headway in such discussions. And things should have happened by now.

‘It was never likely to be achievable anyway,’ said Thirteen. The panic slid from his face. He still felt an undeniable concern over what’d happen to him, but that was now beyond his control. He saw no need to continue the pretence. ‘But we knew the idea’d be too enticing for you to resist.’

That caused a chink in the Archivist’s impassive mask. The sliver of doubt on her face said she was wondering whether he was trying something, but couldn’t see what. There was little he could realistically do to get out of this. Nothing the Immorals had been able to come up with anyway.

‘Did you really think we wouldn’t suspect you after Six went missing?’ he said.

She sat back, regarding him with a steely gaze as she tried to see the play. The clocks remained at attention, eyes fixed on him in case of threatening moves, but otherwise awaiting the Archivist’s command.

‘So all this was to confirm I am of the Church?’ she said, an unfamiliar uncertainty to her tone. ‘Or to confirm we were responsible for the event. Neither of which would do you any good without a means of escape.’

‘Not necessarily,’ said Thirteen. ‘It’s only the information I need to get out.’

‘How exactly do you intend to achieve that?’

‘I believe I told you my specialty was communications technology.’

Her gaze shot to the camera that silently regarded proceedings.

‘Your confession will be broadcasting on the official channel,’ said Thirteen.

The Archivist signalled, and one of the clocks rushed to the camera and smashed it. Too late of course, the signal having been sent to a number of locations – tested from just down the street a month ago. Even if they somehow managed to stop all of the signal being broadcast, the others would ensure it was circulated. The world would know the truth.

Eventually they’d catch another of them and realise the Thirteen Immorals was just a name, not a headcount.

For now, let them think him the last of them. That this threat was dealt with, despite the revelations. He’d endure whatever punishments they inflicted.

All three clocks trained their guns on him as the Archivist rose and moved towards the entrance.

‘Deal with it,’ she said, and turned to stalk up the stairs.

Thirteen’s thoughts grew heavy as the clocks fired. His perception of time slowed relative to them as they approached. His sluggish mind prepared him for what was to come, reminding him what he’d achieved as the blows rained down.

It was the last bright day in May, and the clocks were striking Thirteen.

THE END

A week isn’t long enough for a short story

A week is apparently not long enough for me to write even a short story.

I took part in the Nibfest Writeathon last week (when I remembered about it, half way through Monday, leaving me 6 days). They provide the first sentence at the start of the week, and you have to write 5000 words (either a short story or the beginning of a longer work) by the end of the week.

The opening line proved to be fairly banal, so I had to reinterpret some words to give me a story (I’ll probably post it here when it fails to win, which is certain). It was close to an idea that’s been knocking about in my head for a while, but that refused to click so I had to go with something else.

Once the ideas cohered into a story, I managed to drag it out of my head in over few days. Then there was polishing, and filling in the plot holes. Leaving me with what I’ve submitted: a steaming pile of bland, flat, derivative, obvious mediocrity.

Maybe with time to let it lie before going back to it I could have seen what it needed. I’m not sure anything could be done to inject any life into this monstrosity, but taking half a day away didn’t do anything for my perspective.

If I were writing it without the time limit, I’d probably have taken a month (among working on other things) to consider it and work on an outline. Even if I rushed through the first draft faster than I wrote this – which I probably would have – I’d have had the chance to see the problems with it before I got to that point, and have either fixed them or put the project aside.

I find it harder to change things once a draft has been written though. I don’t know whether it’s the thought of losing all the work that’s already gone into it, or whether the manifest nature of the story once it’s written in that way seems more concrete, but I find changes easier to make in outlining. That’s why I prefer outlining to pantsing it. It feels less confining.

I suppose I should view it as a useful exercise, if not a particularly productive one.

Progress Report

It looks like the remaining Tales of the Thief-City stories are going on hold for a while, as this other irritating story is taking over my thoughts. When that happens I find it easier to just go with it than fight.

The Thief-City novella is in the final stages, so I’ll probably try and get that out before starting writing the new project (it’s been nearly a year since the last one in the series). The remaining seven are all roughly plotted, and the first two have initial drafts – not ones I’m happy with, so they could well need a bit of work.

The novel I’m now breaking down is one I’m fairly sure I’ll be unable to sell. I’ve no idea what I could put in the blurb to make it remotely interesting. It boils down to ‘orcs and goblins kidnap a princess’, which is hardly enticing. Anything else I can add could give away stuff I’m not ready to.

But while the story is forcing itself into my mind there’s no point fighting against it. So this is what I’ll be working on for a while (when I can find the time).