Saturday, August 29, 2020

Lightning Jenny (2)

Previous: paranormal instigator M Galwaith prepares for a coming storm at the old Bowdler Manor, one which brings with it more than just dry lightning.

I had arrived before the day was far advanced. The dusty and cobwebbed ballroom lay neglected in the wan glow from overcast skies. The storm blew up quickly, and would soon be upon us--me and my spectral opponent, unerringly drawn by nature's darker moods. My sole preparation was to place a letter opener on a side table I had righted. Nothing else presented as a potential weapon for my foe, since I had tossed out glass from broken panes.

Leaves skirled in a rising wind that brought  no rain. Thunder rolled across sinister cloud shapes that pulsed with lightning. Darkness came to the room, whose only illumination came from the nearby lamps of the new manor.

A fantastic display of fork and ribbon streaks gave me a chance to scan the space--and there she lurked, a dark shape at the staircase wall. The obligatory thunder rattled some surviving panes at the patio, a place I was loathe to venture far from.

The folly of that decision soon evidenced itself. I turned at the next glare of lightning, confronted by a face of such sepulchral horror that I quite forgot my weapon, lashing out with a strangled cry. But my arm met nothing by witchy laughter. I must regain control before Jenny found the letter opener.

I began a dance with an imaginary partner, known to be Jenny's romantic rival. "We must be discreet, Matilda, so Jenny doesn't find out about us." I slipped a hand into the coat pocked containing my weapon.

As I whirled my "partner" about, I kept keen watch between flashes. One flickering burst picked out Jenny near the side table. Knowing the likely direction of her approach, I braced for the inevitable.

The stab came high to the back, and would have floored me had I not expected it. I pulled out the bladder of holy water and squeezed a spray behind me. The specter screamed and lurched away, enveloped in blue flame that gave off neither heat nor light beyond its confines. Jenny collided with a wall in the attempt to escape, but the holy water could not pass through. She collapsed there and burned to an oily stain.

I slumped to my knees and pulled out the letter opener from my back, having earlier rounded the weapon's point. The wound was therefore shallow. I began to pick my way out of the ruined manor. Mr Bowdler's bill for services was due, though he must delight at being rid of the family "inheritance".

Friday, August 28, 2020

Dialogue with Misspellings

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Lightning Jenny

The estate of Mr Bowdler rose in close proximity to its moldering predecessor. Those stately halls played host to a vengeful spirit reluctantly inherited by each new generation. The current owner figured it time to opt out of the arrangement.

We finished our tour in his spacious kitchen. A few domestics lingered, though they clearly would not pass the night here, and would bolt at the coming of a storm. That, I understood, was the spirit's preferred milieu--the raw power of nature.

My host paused next to a scarred prep table. "Things took a sinister turn when a cook was stabbed last month. The blow was high in the back, perhaps amateurish, but lethality was assured by a sharp butcher knife. It had lain on this very work surface."

"Then the spirit," said I, "is capable of handling solid objects, and must use those close to hand." Having decided to engage, I proferred my card.

"M. Galwaith, Paranormal Instigator," the host read. "An unusual title."

"One might say that I bring things to a head."

Bowdler exited to a brick patio overhung by dripping trees. A servant laid out a table with tea and biscuits. Even on so fresh a morn, the nearby ruins proved daunting, enshrouded by clutching trees.

"As you may expect," Bowdler began, "it all started with a storm. Jenny stabbed an unfaithful lover on such a night in a ballroom, and was later hanged for it. Thus we live in dread of storms."

"How do you cope?"

"There is nothing in my chambers more dangerous than a pillow. I keep the shutters closed so I don't have to see the specter, keeping a lantern close by. But she makes her presence know when some object shifts to a phantom hand."

"The shutters?" I queried.

"Ah yes. She becomes visible in the glare of lightning. That would prove opportune if there were some weapon for use against spirits."

"I believe there is such a weapon."

The host leaned forward. "Excellent! I timed our interview based on a weather report. In two days, we shall have an electrical storm of prodigious magnitude."

I set down my cup to ponder the decrepit manor. "Then I shall intrude on that very ballroom. It's an affront she won't let pass unchallenged."

Monday, August 24, 2020

Creating Mood in Writing

Too often we describe a scene like a flat picture. Adding mood presents it in terms of how a viewer feels about it. The fabulous empire capital here evokes such feelings: it casts mighty shadows across golden waters, and spires pierce a bowl of light opening in mauve skies. We sense the magic in this place.

The value of mood
1) Brings a setting to life and draws readers in.
2) Resonates with personal memories.
3) Raises expectations of more gripping immersion.

Prose should use effective word choice to keep it brief and intense. Too much description stops readers in their tracks when they want to keep moving.

This technique also applies to brief character scenes.

Here we have a character reacting to obviously cold water, probably a sprinkler. A little imagination makes it a sudden cloudburst on a sunny day, evidenced by the corona of light on hair and shoulders. We can just feel that cold spray, and it's time to run for shelter. Compare this with the lifeless "Suddenly it began to rain".

Now let's consider an ordinary outdoor scene. This could be a view from a remote manor the protagonist is sheltering in. It's a day best spent cozy indoors. But tension is always there somewhere in the background, even when we pause to enjoy a break with the hero. Long blue tree shapes creep across the snow. Maybe a careless shape moves across their path. What's the hero's response?

In this example of a close indoor scene, our hero considers a powerful talisman he's charged with protecting until he figures out how to use it. It sits in a block of late evening sun on a counter  streaked with shadows from the window he just looked out of. It looks like the hero won't be spending a cozy night here after all.

To sum up: detail is important for true immersion, but don't forget how it  affects a character's mood and feelings. That's a true immersive experience.