I call this stage The Last Stage but that’s optimistic. It’s the last stage of the process but that doesn’t mean the MS is now perfect. Stage 4 is proofreading.
During this stage I read through the MS from beginning to end, often aloud. Reading aloud lets me become a reader again and helps me avoid reading what I expect to be there, rather than what’s actually there. This includes things like missing commas—or extra commas. I look for all types of errors when I’m reading this stage. Some basic errors I’ve found myself make over and over again:
Sometimes, during the proofreading stage, I’ll notice things in structure or characterisation that don’t feel right for the story. I put a note next to them and go back and check them later. If I allow myself to get distracted from the process, I miss important things.
That’s the four stages of editing I do with my work. Once I’ve done that, the work is ready for critique partners and beta readers. Often my critique partners have seen the story as it’s been developed. I only show them the finished product if I’ve made extensive changes to the structure and/or characterisations. That happened with Warrior Pledge where one plot line was removed completely, and the characters that were the major characters in the first version became secondary characters. That meant point of view changed throughout, scenes were deleted and new scenes were written. It became a completely new (and much better) story.
After this week, the completed edited version of The Gingerbread House will be posted to the Free Stories page on my website. The older versions will be removed from that page, but will still be available in the blog archives.
The third stage of editing a story is looking at characterisation. I leave this part until third because I often make a lot of changes to the characters and their reactions to various things. There’s no point in changing how a character reacts to a specific plot point if I’m going to remove that plot point from the story during a structural edit, so characterisation goes after structure.
This is the section where I have to go back to my character profiles and check that the characters’ GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) is clear throughout and the growth towards the goals is clear. I look at how characters are behaving, the way they speak to each other and what they think while they’re doing it. My focus includes:
The two right hand columns of my scene map provide the template to analyse character development. Mapping that along with the structure ensures the characters grow and change as the story develops.
As I go through the structural edit, I might think of things I need to check with the characterisation. I write them in the scene map rather than trying to fix everything at once and losing track of what I’m trying to achieve with the structure.
I’ll work through the character notes as they stand at the end of the structural edit, and make the changes noted. Then I’ll map the character profiles, particularly the GMC into the scene map and check the manuscript again. With really short stories, I can do all this in one pass. Often though, this part of the editing will require more than one pass through the document. With a lengthy manuscript, I might need to do a separate editing pass for each focus (eg, one pass for voice, one for personality glitches, one for interactions, one [or more] for individual GMC).
Throughout the entire editing process, I’m also watching for proofreading errors, spelling mistakes, grammatical glitches, homonyms, etc. I correct those as I go through the MS with the aim that the final stage of editing—proofreading—will be fairly quick. Even with all the passes through the MS, I still pick up errors in the last stage, so I make sure never to ignore the proofreading stage.
My day job has finally settled enough that I don't need to work all evening and all weekend anymore. To celebrate, here's the next instalment of The Gingerbread House:
Tristan passed the next day pouring over his spell books, frantically writing notes that would be used to create a new spell that would free Hansel and Gretel and trap Mistress Osborne forever. He didn’t think either Andrew or Hansel noticed he was still in the house.
Andrew baked all day. He made gingerbread, ginger cake, ginger biscuits, even a ginger and chilli stirfry. Hansel spent most of the day groaning in ecstasy while he ate gingerbread and breathed deeply of the heady ginger fragrance throughout the cottage.
After lunch, the stirfry having dragged Tristan away from his books, Tristan gasped. Andrew looked over from the table where he rolled another batch of gingerbread.
“That’s the key,” said Tristan as he stared at the latest batch of gingerbread men. “We need to finish cladding the house.”
Andrew frowned at him. “What’s the point? Both Hansel and Gretel know they can get as much gingerbread as they want if they just come inside.”
“They do, yes,” said Tristan with a grin. “Mistress Osborne doesn’t know anything about it, and I’ll be Gretel doesn’t tell her about the gingerbread either. She won’t want the mistress to know there’s an alternative source tempting her gremlins away.
“How can she not know? Won’t Gretel tell her all about how we trapped Hansel?”
“She won’t mention the gingerbread,” said Hansel from his prone position amongst his cushions. “That’s our secret weapon.”
“Exactly,” enthused Tristan. “So, when Mistress Osborne arrives and sees the house completely covered in gingerbread—”
“Minus the bits we ate,” interrupted Hansel.
“—minus the bits you ate, she’ll go completely mental.” Tristan clapped his hands together. “She’ll storm in here, flinging spells around all over the place, and won’t notice what’s really happening.”
“Yes!” Hansel jumped out of the cushions. “She won’t know what’s going on until it’s too late.”
Tristan and Hansel grinned at each other.
“What will be going on?” asked Andrew into the triumphant silence.
“Er…,” said Hansel.
“Um,” said Tristan.
Andrew sighed as he placed another tray of gingerbread on the table. As he slid it farther onto the table, the other trays lifted to make room for it. Within seconds the hovering tower of trays stabilised.
“Why is it so important that the house be covered in gingerbread?”
Tristan smiled again, back on secure footing. “She uses gingerbread to control Hansel and Gretel. If she thinks they’ve found an alternative source, she’ll want to destroy it.”
“What’s stopping her from just burning the house down?”
“She’ll want to make sure whoever is making the gingerbread can’t start over somewhere else.”
“That would be a given if she burns the house and us with it.”
Tristan scowled at Andrew. His fatalistic, simplistic attitude wasn’t helping. “She won’t burn the house down until she knows that’s all it would take to stop us. To be sure of that, she’ll have to come inside and assess the situation.”
“You seem pretty confident that she’ll actually want to know who’s doing it, rather than just kill us.”
“I’ve worked with her for four years. She needs to know what causes everything because that’s the only way she can make sure she controls it. Destroying the house would only be a temporary measure, and she’d be losing a potential source of gingerbread with which to control the gremlins. She’ll storm in here and try to intimidate you, then browbeat you into offering to support her.” Tristan leaned back in his seat, triumph bubbling through him. “It won’t even occur to her that you might say ‘no’, particularly as coercion spells are her forte. And there’s a pretty good chance she’ll totally forget that her magic won’t work inside this cottage.”
I missed last week's post because I was tied up with my day job all weekend, so this week, you have a bumper issue of the story--double what I've been posting.
Remember, if you've missed any part of the story, you can find it on my website on the Free Stories page.
It wasn’t long before the tingling in Tristan’s hands stopped and he could finally move. He staggered over to help Andrew onto his feet.
“How’s your head?” he asked as he gently probed Andrew’s skull. “You hit it pretty hard when you fell.”
Andrew brushed him off. “I’m fine.” He reeled, tripped over his own feet and made a lucky landing on one of the chairs. “Fuck. What did she hit me with?”
“Petrification spell. It’s a gremlin specialty. They’ve probably been practising it since they learned to walk.” He glanced at Hansel as he spoke but the gremlin was still staring, fuming at the door his sister walked through. He nibbled on gingerbread, each bite cutting into the scowl on his face so that his expression swung comically from anger to ecstasy with each piece. “We got one of them,” he said, although one was as useless as none.
“Does that mean you can break the spells and escape?” Andrew filled a glass with water from the ever-present jug on the table and drank as if he’d been in a desert for years.
Tristan spun his glass around, the rocking of glass on wood loud in the silence. “No. I can’t even weaken it.”
Andrew’s shoulders slumped. “So everything we did was useless.” He glared at the cage. “Can he use his powers?”
“No, that’s holding. He’s as helpless as any human in there.”
“And just as useless.” Andrew’s glass clattered against the table as he slammed it down. “We might as well let him go, then.”
Tristan leaned forward, his elbows on the table, and buried his face in his hands. “We can’t.” He peered at Andrew through his fingers. “Gremlins have terrible tempers. If we release him, he’ll attack and there’s nothing I can do to protect us.”
“Won’t your Mistress’s spells stop him hurting you? Doesn’t she control the house?”
“We broke the rules when we captured him. The house will still provide for us but it won’t protect us from him anymore since we wronged him.”
Andrew stood, his chair clattering to the floor behind him. “So what was the point of all that? You still can’t get out and you’ve lost whatever protection you had. And we have to keep him prisoner.”
A low growl emanated from the cage and Tristan and Andrew swung to find Hansel glaring at them. His arms were shoved through the bars, fingers extended, reaching for them. His chest bumped against the bars and fizzing light arced through the room. Hansel jumped back with a howl.
“You bastard. Just you wait until I get out. You’ll fry!”
“What was that?” Andrew’s voice was filled with awe. Or perhaps that was fear.
“Lightning spell. Gremlins don’t like it.” As he spoke Hansel batted at his shoulders. When he finished, his shirt had two vertical black burns, exactly where he’d touched the bars.
“Holy shit. It burned him.”
“Don’t worry. It won’t hurt either of us: it’s specifically designed for gremlins.”
“I get that they’re nasty buggers but why would anyone design spells that only work on gremlins. Apart from the whole wanting-to-fry-you thing, he seems nice enough.”
As Andrew spoke, Hansel’s face morphed from a bad-tempered scowl to an ingratiating smile. “That’s exactly right,” he simpered. “I know we haven’t always treated Master Tristan well, but Mistress Osborne pinches us dreadfully when we’re kind to him.” The simper turned into a whine.
Tristan rolled his eyes. The gremlins might be as bound to the mistress as he was, but he knew they enjoyed their work. He broke off a large piece of gingerbread and tossed it to Hansel. The gremlin caught it deftly as it sailed between the bars, sat and began eating ravenously.
“Shouldn’t you give him something a bit healthier to eat?” asked Andrew.
“Gingerbread is the best thing for them. It has all the nutrients they need to maintain good health. That’s one of the reasons Mistress Osborne rations them. With every bite, they grow stronger; she doesn’t want either of them in a position to overwhelm her if her hold over them fails.”
“Why feed him so much then? Isn’t he going to be stronger than ever when he finally gets out of the cage.”
“The way I see it is he’s stuck there for the duration. It wouldn’t matter if we starved him, once he left the cage, I still couldn’t fight against his type of magic. The only way to truly control gremlins is through blood magic and I won’t do that. Whatever happens afterwards, the least we can do is make his stay as comfortable as possible.” As he spoke, Tristan gestured. Inside the cage, there appeared a small white bed piled high with fat cushions and fluffy quilts. A matching nightstand popped up beside it, with several books piled on top. In one corner of the cage, a deep enamel bath materialised with a pile of soft towels beside it. In the middle of the cage a small firepit sputtered to life, along with a small table and chair. On the other side of the nightstand, an overstuffed armchair with a fluffy throw appeared with a soft pop.
Hansel looked around the space and cried out with delight. He surged to his feet and took a flying leap at the bed. He bounced once onto the cushions then burrowed his way underneath. The sounds of joy that burst from the moving mound made Tristan smile.
Andrew watched Hansel’s antics with the cushions for a while, a smile growing, then he turned back to Tristan. “What’s going to happen when Gretel gets back with the mistress?”
Tristan waved his hand one last time and the remaining gingerbread in front of them disappeared and reappeared on Hansel’s little table. The gremlin squealed and shot out of the cushions. He landed neatly on his feet, like a master gymnast, and raced to the table.
“Mistress Osborne won’t come here, regardless of any argument Gretel puts forward.” At Andrew’s confused look, he continued. “Her magic is the same type as mine. Once she enters this house, we’ll be on equal footing. She’ll have lost her advantage. She won’t take the chance that I’ve become stronger than her, and she won’t risk the chance that the gremlins will support me and turn against her.”
“Would they do that?”
Tristan shrugged. “Possibly, if I could guarantee that Mistress Osborne’s hold over them would be broken.” He leaned against the table, his hip close to Andrew’s shoulder. He wanted to slide closer, but held his position. If Andrew was interested, he could move.
“Will Gretel return on her own?” asked Andrew, sitting back in his seat, putting more space between them.
Tristan released a tiny sigh of disappointment, then dragged his mind back to the topic. “Of course. Hansel is her brother. Her magic is halved without him. The mistress will insist on it too. She wants access to their full powers.”
Andrew stood and surveyed Hansel who was now lounging against the cushions on his bed, the bowl of gingerbread beside him, reading a book. “If you have both of them, could you break free?” he asked on a whisper.
Did Andrew and Tristan manage to trap Hansel and Gretel in the cage, or are they exposed and helpless? Find out in the next instalment of The Gingerbread House.
Tristan watched in horror as the Hansel and Gretel flung out their spells toward him and Andrew. He’d hoped they wouldn’t notice Andrew at all and be captured in the cage as it fell, but nothing went the way they planned.
Andrew lay motionless on the floor, perhaps alive, perhaps dead, Tristan couldn’t tell from where he stood. His feet were stuck to the floor and every muscle in his body frozen solid. He could breathe, but shallowly, as if there was a vice squeezing his chest. He could blink, but not swallow. A dribbled of saliva trickled and cooled on its way down his chin.
In front of him, securely in the cage, paced Hansel. Gretel, after her one disastrous attempt at freeing her brother, was at the table, stuffing her face with gingerbread. She tore each piece roughly off the slab, dipped it in the icing glaze, then stuffed it into her mouth with the rest of the half-masticated sweet.
“Gretel! Get over here and let me out,” yelled Hansel.
Gretel shook her head. “Can’t.”
“He has no power over us. Of course you can.”
“He’s not doing anything to us,” Gretel said through a mouthful of food. “He’s controlling the cage. Inside this house. His domain, his power.”
Stinging tingles attacked Tristan’s fingertips. About bloody time. The urge to move rippled through him but he contained it. He wanted to be fully in charge of his faculties before he let Gretel see the spell was wearing off. He flicked a look at Andrew, still in his back, his arms raised, hands cupped as thought the rope had just then been let go. As he watched one of Andrew’s fingers twitched. Tristan wanted to yell at him, tell him to stay still, but he still couldn’t even swallow. The movement stopped and Tristan breathed a long, soft sigh of relief.
“You have to do something,” said Hansel, his high voice taking on a whinging quality Tristan only heard in the best houses.
Gretel glanced at Tristan as she shoved more gingerbread into her mouth, then began to fill her pockets. When she could fit no more into the folds of her skirts, she lifted a large slab of gingerbread from the table and took it over to Hansel in the cage. As she slipped the gingerbread between the bars, she said, “I’ll go back and get the mistress. She’ll be able to release you.”
“You’re leaving? What about these two? What about ME?”
“You said yourself they have no power over us.” She gestured at the gingerbread Hansel was already eating. “That’ll keep you from getting hungry before we get back.” Gretel rummaged in her bundled skirt and popped another piece of gingerbread in her mouth, then she waved and sauntered out the door.
Tristan noted that she went around the cage on the opposite side to where Andrew was laying, his arms now by his sides.
I'm finally past the less-interesting boring middle part of the story. It won't always be boring--I'll edit it and increase the tension through there. Today, we're building toward the climax. The gremlins have arrived at the cottage, but Thomas and Andrew need to get them inside or it will have been a wasted effort.
Whistling woke Andrew from a restless nap in front of the fire. He opened his eyes at the call of a voice.
“Hansel! Stop eating it. We’ll never find out way back.”
There was a muffled choking sound. “Look! Gretel, come and look at this!”
Andrew rose and tugged on his clothes. He met Thomas at the door.
“Where did it come from?” Gretel’s voice was filled with awe.
“I don’t know, but it won’t last long.”
“Do you think we should? What if it’s a trap?”
“Who’s trap?” Disdain filled Hansel’s voice. “He has not power over us, not while he’s trapped here by her.”
Within seconds, the sounds of gingerbread breaking off and quiet crunching, and louder moans of delight, filled the darkened room. Thomas reached for the door handle.
“Wait,” Andrew whispered. “You stay here.” Andrew sidled in front of Thomas. “I’m not a wizard, so even if they run this time, they’ll dismiss me.”
Thomas caught his arm. “No. you have no defences against them.”
“Nor do you. Your magic doesn’t work on them.”
“Inside this house, it does,” said Thomas as he opened the door and slipped outside.
“They’re not inside, you idiot,” Andrew said as the door closed in front of him. He rushed to the window and peered through a gap in the curtains. One of the gremlins broke a piece of windowsill of and chomped on it. A look of pure bliss flooded his features. Andrew felt a grim satisfaction wash through him. His gingerbread really was that good.
“Well, well.” Thomas’s dry voice drew Andrew’s attention. Thomas stood a few feet from the door, feet planted firmly on the stone path, arms crossed over his wide chest. “You’re eating my house.”
“It’s gingerbread!” replied Hansel through a mouthful of crumbs.
“Do you like gingerbread so much you’re willing to eat all that stale stuff?”
“Stale?” Gretel paused with a chunk of icing lacework in front of her open mouth.
“Of course. It’s been there for days. The fresh batch is inside. As soon as it’s cool, I’m going to put it on the door and ice it with a scene of forest creatures.” Thomas sounded so reasonable, Andrew almost believed him.
“It’s still warm?” Gretel swung to Hansel. “Hansel, it’s still warm!”
Hansel shoved the last chunk of windowsill into his mouth and darted over to Gretel and Thomas. “Bring it here. We’ll eat it first, then the rest of this.” He swept his arm around, indicating the cottage.
“The trays are too hot. I can’t move them until they cool.” Thomas turned back to the house. As he walked away from them, he said, “Come in and get it if you want it that much.”
Andrew continued watching through the curtain just long enough to see Hansel and Gretel stare at each other, then he rushed to the rope in the corner. He unwound the rope from the hook in the wall and took the weight of the cage Thomas had built in his shoulders and thighs.
Thomas entered the house and walked directly to the Aga. He kept his eyes lowered, not acknowledging Andrew at all.
Andrew leaned back as much as he could, his muscles shaking at the strain. Above the door, the cage swayed. Would the gremlins take the bait? He couldn’t see out the window from where he was. They could have left completely and he and Thomas would have to wait until they came again.
Thomas turned from the Aga, a mug of tea in his hand. He stared steadily at the open doorway. The corner of his mouth tugged in a suppressed smile.
Worrying about how my character was reacting to every little thing stopped my writing, so I decided to ignore Thomas’s character profile for the time being and just continue writing. I know I need both characters to show more emotion, but that's a difficult thing for me to do at the same time I'm making up a story. I'll come back later and layer the emotion in.
Last week, Andrew and Thomas were on the verge of making a plan to capture the gremlins. Let’s see what they came up with.
Then just as quickly, it died. “There’s no way we’ll be able to do it, whatever you have in mind.”
“You’re very fatalistic, aren’t you?” Andrew settled back in his seat at the table. “I’d have thought with your skill level—”
“They never come into the house, and I can’t go outside while they’re there. Do you think I’m going to stand at the door and hand out cookies like some trick or treat monster?”
Andrew shook his head. “Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. You really need to stop blindly following the rules.” He jumped up and flung open the front door.
A narrow path meandered between two fields of wildflower-dotted grasses. A warm breeze wafted across the landscape, wriggling the grass and flowers and making the leaves in the trees tinkle and jangle. The path petered out between two tall, narrow pines and disappeared into the undergrowth. The mystery of it tugged at Andrew and he had to suppress the urge to skip down the lane and see where it led. Instead he took five large steps outside and turned back to look at the house.
The low-set cottage sat in the small clearing as if it has grown up from the ground. Ivy covered the southern wall except where the windows sat, and stopped neatly at the corner, exposing the pale stone wall across the front. The door was thick wooden planks, secured by leather hinges that looked new. The gutters surrounding the tiled roof was simple and functional but Andrew easily imagined what it would look like in white and green lacework.
“The roof tiles would look amazing with scalloped edges, graduating from pale gray to forest green. I could do olive and blue-gray lacework with white tips, like snow, along the gutters. The walls could have a cream glaze. Rose pink and white windowsills and shutters would add sweetness. I could build a low fence across the front, and cover it in flowers, all the colors of the rainbow.” As he talked his way through his plans, Andrew wandered around the house, mentally estimating measurements and calculating how much gingerbread he’d need. When he stopped, he was back at the front door. Thomas stood in the doorway, waiting for him.
“It’s going to be a big job and take some time, but as long as you have enough ingredients, it’s doable.”
Thomas scowled at him for a few moments before pursing his lips and sighing. “The house responds to my needs. If I need four cups of flour, there’ll be four cups of flour in the bin. If I need ten, that’s how much there’ll be.”
Andrew grinned. The quicker they got started, the quicker he would get out of here and be able to buy his bakery. He rubbed his hands together. “Let’s get started.”
One thing I’ve been struggling with in this story is that Thomas isn’t following his profile. He’s supposed to be a talented wizard, very smart and a bit arrogant. He’s not coming across that way at all. I’ll keep writing and see how he develops. I might need to rewrite his character to make it stronger so that he makes sense within the story, or I might need to adjust his profile to match his personality.
Now that I have basic character profiles and a basic plot, my main focus is to get the story written. The profiles and plot will be adjusted as I write and things change, but they provide me with a starting point.
I’ve been getting a bit behind with the editing so the Free Stories section of the website isn’t up-to-date. I’ll get to it as soon as I can.
Let’s continue the story.
Andrew’s father and brothers were experts at getting out of places they weren’t supposed to be able to. The only place his father couldn’t escape from was the jail and that was because the magic that locked it was so ancient, it predated even his family. Andrew was reluctant to attach the word Fae to his family because that would bring all sorts of trouble down on them, but there was nothing else that would allow them the power they had. Some of them. Andrew had never shown any magical ability whatsoever. All he could do was bake.
“That might be it,” he murmured, his mind racing. There had to be a way out of there. His father’s blood ran in his veins; there had to be something of it that Andrew could use. Perhaps he could only get it to manifest through his baking. He got up and walked over to the Aga.
“What might be it?” asked Thomas as he turned in his seat to keep Andrew in view.
“Where did this come from?” Andrew asked.
“It’s a stove. It came with the house.” Thomas stood and joined Andrew in staring at the black cooktop. “What might be it? Might be what?” He jammed his fists on his hips and turned to glare at Andrew.
The Aga was hot, the radiant heat warming the entire house. Andrew had moved the bacon pan off the boiling plate when he’d made the sandwiches but hadn’t lowered the lid to preserve the heat. He did that now, then opened each of the ovens, bending to put his face close to check the heat in them. “Perfect,” he murmured.
Thomas grabbed Andrew’s shoulder so he had to look at him. “I want answers, and I want them now. You appeared in my house bearing one of my spells, take over my kitchen and tell me nothing.” Thomas shook Andrew a little. “You ate my bacon! Now tell me what you are talking about.”
“The gremlins visit regularly, don’t they?” Thomas nodded so Andrew continued. “gremlins love gingerbread.” Andrew grinned. “They love gingerbread so much that they’ll keep eating it until they fall over in a gingerbread coma.”
“Everyone knows that. That’s how Mistress xx coerced them into working for her. She gives them gingerbread rations.”
Andrew clapped his hands together. “That means they’re used to getting gingerbread regularly, but not as much as they want.” He eyed the Aga again with glee. “Do you know what else they say about gingerbread and gremlins?”
Thomas crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. “My studies didn’t include anything but the basics on gremlin sociology.”
Andrew twirled once then settled. Now wasn’t the time to be excited about baking and working out quantities and times. He turned back to Thomas, knowing his grin would look slightly manic. “If a gremlin eats too much gingerbread they literally go into a gingerbread coma. While they’re in the coma, their magic is weakened. I don’t know if it would be weak enough for us to escape, but we’d certainly be able to contain them and make them release us.”
Wild hope bloomed on Thomas’s face.
Wait! There’s another character there. I’ve only just got used to the first one.
That’s what happened to me this week. I wrote the end of the last scene three times before I was half-way happy with it. It might still change, depending on what I come up with this week. If you've missed any of the posts, you can check the archives or you can find the whole story, built week by week, on the Free Stories page (The Gingerbread House).
I’ve spent a lot of time this week, thinking about my first character and what his reactions are going to be to the situation he finds himself in. At the moment, he’s rather blasé about it all; basically a ‘you rang?’ kind of thing. I’m not sure if that’s going to work in the long term. I still don’t know him very well.
The second character I don’t know at all, apart from the fact he’s tall and thin, and cooks. I think he’s a baritone, although Andrew saying ‘you rang?’ in a very Lurch-type voice is very appealing for me.
I’ve begun exploring Andrew’s personality. I asked him to tell me a little about himself. What he has told me so far is a little about his background and what his main goal is and why he wants it. I haven’t yet touched on any magical ability or knowledge he might have. The opening scenes give us a pretty clear idea what’s stopping him from achieving his goal. I’ll clarify Andrew’s GMC (Goal, motivation, conflict) as I write, eventually writing it into a clear statement that will drive his responses, and also the plot.
(19 years old, slim, 5’9”, quick on his feet, quick mind and mouth. Dusty brown hair, irregularly cut, flops into his dusty brown eyes all the time, runs his hand from forehead back to push his hair out of the way. His skin is golden brown with a rosy flush because most of his time is spent in the bakery with the hot ovens. Andrew wants a quiet, calm, legitimate life as a baker but every time he thinks he’s within reach of it someone in his family needs to be rescued or a stranger needs help. He has a slight hero complex because he’s the eldest and has always looked out for others.)
I come from a large, improvident family. I’m the eldest of eight but not the first to branch out on my own. My sister, Beatrice, younger by a year, began in domestic service two years ago, when she was sixteen. I was a second-year apprentice then and still living with my mother and other siblings. My father was away, avoiding the coppers after a robbery that went wrong. He’ll come back after the statute of limitations is up, providing he’s still alive. He did a similar thing when I was eight. That’s why there’s such a large gap between the fifth and sixth of us. There’ll be a longer gap after the eighth, if there are any more children at all from them. Mum wasn’t too happy about this one. It means seven years of him away so he doesn’t get caught and deported. Some of my younger brothers are old enough to work now. Martin, at seventeen, is a second-year blacksmith apprentice. John, fifteen, has followed our father into the ‘jewellery trade’. He’s small and quick, like me and, so far, hasn’t been caught. Jocelyn, at fourteen, has been scamming older men for a couple of years already but she has dreams of becoming an artist’s model. The others are still too young to be working outside the home so they help Mum with her sewing and apothecary.
Apprentices in my home town don’t live with their masters until the last year. I’m glad I didn’t have to live with Jackson for more than one quarter of my apprenticeship. I probably wouldn’t have survived. I’ve been on the road for two weeks now and the last of the bruises have finally faded. My wrist still aches by the end of the day, but it’s not broken.
I’m on my way to put in a bid for a market bakery in Eden. I need my bid to be successful even though I can’t offer Borog as much as I’d like. I can’t go back home. If I go back, Jackson will have me thrown in jail. Or he’ll beat me to death. He refused to sign my Baker’s ticket, proving I’d completed my apprenticeship and was now approved to purchase my own bakery. I won’t tell you what he’d done to me during the year I’d lived in his house, but I wasn’t going to let him keep doing it if I didn’t have to. When he started beating me that last time, I fought back. I’m not a big man, but I’m quick, and after four years, I know how to wield those heavy pans. It only took three hits to his head and one to his balls and he signed my papers. I left before he pulled himself up off the floor. My bag was already packed and waiting by the door so I grabbed it and ran. I left a message with the green grocer for Beatrice when she shops for her employers. She’ll let the family know I’ve gone.
Buying Borog’s bakery is part of my dream. I want a quiet life; one that won’t bring the coppers through a broken door in the middle of the night. I don’t want any drama or unexpected things happening. That doesn’t mean I can’t deal with the unexpected. My whole life has been mopping up the disasters my father and, later, brothers and sister have caused. I keep a level head during a crisis and can think on my feet. I might be awash with fear, but no one would know it. I get that much from my dad.
My next task is to find out who the second character is. I can just begin writing him the way I did Andrew but that means the next scene will have to be in his point of view. This is where things begin to get complicated because the two of them need to interact and I have to know how they respond to each other and why. I don’t need to know as much about the second character yet, so his profile won’t be as comprehensive as Andrew’s. Both character profiles will build as I write.
This is what I have about the second character so far:
Tall (6’2”), thin (bony), dark chocolate hair, green-hazel eyes, fair skin, 25, wizard, more powerful than the mistress he apprenticed with. Officially has one more year on his apprenticeship but he has already mastered all the requirements and then some (a lot of things studied in secret because Mistress Osborne refused him access to the texts). His mistress, upon realising Thomas’s strength, coerced the two gremlins she raised [Hansel and Gretel] to imprison him in the house. Hansel and Gretel are the only ones who have access to the house, and therefore Thomas. They visit regularly, trying to get him to agree to allow Mistress Osborne to leach his powers from him. He won’t agree because he knows she’ll kill him once she has what she wants. While she is his mistress, she can contain his powers, but she can’t ever take them by force. Others she’s taken powers from have succumbed to her sexual wiles. Thomas is immune to her, but not the gremlins.
His incarceration has lasted two years so far. His confidence in escaping is teetering but his innate arrogance hides that fact. He can’t fight against the gremlins’ magic, but he’s been working the last two years on a way to freeze it so that he can circumvent it and find a way out of the house. If he can defeat Mistress Osborne, the gremlins’ magical hold over him will dissipate.
In his first days in the house, when he realised he couldn’t use his magic to escape, Thomas sent out a call for help. It didn’t work and, in his despair, he forgot about it. He doesn’t realise his call manifested as a coin that would appear only to someone strong enough to break the spell holding him captive.
Now to continue the story:
Andrew slipped sideways, staying out of reach of the scowling man. “Is that any way to greet a guest?” He fished the coin out of his pocket. “I can’t be that unexpected,” he said as he held the coin aloft again. “You did leave your invitation lying around for me to find.” As he rounded the table he glanced at the pan on the stove. “Hmm, bacon smells good, but you might want to take it off the heat before it burns.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough for two in the pan. Andrew’s stomach grumbled.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the man as he stalked Andrew. “How did you get in here?” The upper half of his body swayed slightly as his feet stopped as if stuck to the floor. “Can you get out again?” The scowl fell from his face, replaced by boyish hope. He looked around wildly as if a portal was about to open in the middle of the room.
Immediate violence apparently averted, Andrew grabbed a ladle from a hook above the Aga and quickly stirred the bacon and onion mixture before moving the pan off the heat. No sense in letting perfectly good food be burned. He checked on the tall man before spying a loaf of dense bread on a shelf next to a small stack of plates and bowls. Swiftly he lifted items off the shelves and assembled an impromptu stack of bacon and onion sandwiches. He deliberately placed on plate in front of himself and the other at the far end of the table.
“Sit, sit,” he said jovially. “You can tell me all about yourself.” Andrew pulled his chair out and perched on the edge, trying to make his upper body appear totally relaxed while his feet and legs were positioned for quick escape. “I’m Andrew,” he said expectantly as he picked up one half of his sandwich and bit down. He hoped he’d have long enough to eat it all before the tall man attacked.
To his surprise, no attack came. The tall man glanced around the room once again and, appearing disappointed, pulled out his seat and collapsed into it. “You can’t get out, can you?” he asked despondently as he prodded a finger into the heavy bread in front of him.
Andrew chewed through another bite of his sandwich before he responded. If he was going to be thrown out or killed, or whatever, he wanted it to be on a full stomach. “I haven’t had bacon this good in ages.” Probably never. This much salty goodness wasn’t something his family ever got. He could remember only twice he’d had bacon at all. One of those was a sample from the butcher at the markets. The other was a packet his brother had lifted from somewhere. They’d eaten it all in one sitting and used the drippings in a pudding for the next day, in case the coppers came looking. It had taken longer to get the smell out of the house than it had to dispose of the evidence.
“I’m Andrew,” he said around his third bite. “This is good.” He wasn’t sure if his words had been intelligible. He was mostly moaning over his food, his stomach cramping in joy that the first food it was given in three days was so good. “Pity about the bread.”
“What?” The tall man dropped the sandwich he’d just picked up. “That’s the best loaf I’ve ever made.” He picked up his sandwich again and took a large bite. His cheek bulged and he grimaced as he struggled to chew the dense lump.
“You’ve got the balance of ingredients mostly right; a bit heavy on the yeast.” Andrew squeezed the remnants of his meal before popping the morsel into his mouth. “I’ll show you how to fix it.” He poured himself a mug of water from the carafe on the table, then sat back and sipped. “What’s your name?”
“Oh.” Strawberry pink suffused the tall man’s cheeks. “Sorry. I’m Thomas.”
Wizard trapped in an oak/house, waiting for someone with power to release him. Apprentice master baker, rushing to purchase his first permanent stall (his final exam before qualification), becomes trapped by the same spell that caught the wizard (with different impact). The only way he can break the spell is to lure the two goblins who cast the spell back to the scene of the crime. The goblins are masquerading as two children: Hansel and Gretel.
That is the premise behind the story I began last week. At this point, I don’t know a lot about the characters or the setting; I only have the premise that interests me enough to explore.
I love fairy tales. I like that the original versions are always so much darker than the sanitised ‘Disney’ versions. I am also fascinated with the idea that there are always two sides to every story (at least), and often we only hear one side.
This week, I’ve changed a few things. Last week, Andrew was a general merchant; this week he’s a baker. That fitted better with the Hansel and Gretel premise. In this scene, we learn a bit more about Andrew: he’s no stranger to magical happenings (Gran, and the way he prepares to pick up the coin); he’s realistic but not necessarily fatalistic; he knows when his choices are limited but still makes sure his chances are as good as he can make them—showing determination and ability to think on his feet; he maintains a hard-won calmness.
I’m nearly ready to begin writing down some things about Andrew, fleshing out his profile. I’ll begin that before I write the next scene.
We also meet another character—the tall, thin man cooking bacon. We don’t know much about him, other than he cooks his own meals, he didn’t expect Andrew to drop in, and he’s been waiting for him (or someone at least). The coin was obviously placed to bring whoever picked it up to him. We don’t know yet whether or not he placed the coin, but he definitely knew it or something like it was out there to bring someone to him.
What I’m hoping to achieve with each scene:
Each week I’ll post the first draft of the scene I’m writing in this blog. The edited versions will be added to the stories page of my website. I’m calling the story The Gingerbread House (but that might change).
The forest was dim, the air thick with damp earth and decaying wood. Somewhere to Andrew’s left, water dripped. Everything else was silent. The birds he’d listened to throughout the morning no longer sang. The path ran under his feet in a straight line through the forest in front and behind. When he turned to his right, the path ran there as well, still straight. The same when he turned to the left.
Andrew’s heart pounded and he clamped down on the urge to spin in a circle in a desperate attempt to find a way through. He already felt disoriented enough to be unsure which way was forward and back.
At his feet, the coin glowed eerily in the low light. Not a normal coin, then. He bent down and reached for it, drawing his fingers back from touching it at the last minute. What had his gran told him about touching magical things? He couldn’t remember, but nothing good, that’s for sure. Gran’s stories of magic and magical beings were the main reason Andrew decided to become a baker.
Sweat prickled his spine. He was still breathing fast from his dash under the house, as if he’d been running an hour or more. The sun-dappled forest appeared only a few feet away. Andrew took three slow steps. With each step, he drew closer to freedom, only to have it slip away as soon as he put weight on his forward foot. The coin remained resolutely beside his left foot.
Andrew stopped, his shoulders slumping. He’d lost the ability to make any other choice when he decided to make a run for it rather than go around. He adjusted his pack on his shoulders and tightened the straps across his chest. He pulled his hat tighter onto his head and made should everything in his pockets was shoved as deeply as possible. Then he crouched and took a few deliberate, deep breaths. Finally, as prepared as he could be, he took a deep breath and held it as he lifted the coin with his fingertips.
Thunder rolled as the coin left the ground. When it settled into his palm, warm and getting hotter, lightning flashed. The ground began to spin, faster and faster, falling away under him, and Andrew closed his eyes against the growing nausea. His lungs burned with the need to breathe and he slowly released some air, trying to fool his body he’d breathe in again soon.
He landed with a thump, falling to his side and knocking all the remaining air from his lungs. He gasped and opened his eyes, spots swimming in the flashing after-images from the lightning. Beneath him, the mulched forest path was gone. In its place were floorboards, worn smooth with years of wear. The rich forest smell was gone, replaced by the scent of bacon and onions. Andrew looked toward the sizzling to find a tall, thin man, wooden spoon in hand, mouth agape, staring at him.
Behind the man was a huge, ancient aga. A deep pan sat on top, gently smoking as the bacon and onions continued to cook, unsupervised. Andrew pushed himself to his feet, checked his hat and backpack were still in place. He patted his pockets, reassured at the familiar lumps and bumps. He held the cooling coin up by the edge so the tall man could see it.
“You called?” Andrew said, pleased his voice showed none of the heart-pounding, trembling terror racing through him.
The man’s mouth moved, like a fish gulping, but no sound came out.
Andrew pocketed the coin, using the motion to take a deep, calming breath as he looked around. No one else was in the rustic room. There was only a small table with two chairs and a large bed piled high with quilts and cushions. Amongst the nest appeared to be a mound of wool with the points of several knitting needles poking out. The bedside table was almost buried under teetering piles of books.
The wooden spoon clattering to the floor brought Andrew’s attention back to the man. A fierce scowl greeted him. “Who are you?” He strode toward Andrew. “How did you get in here?”
E E Montgomery
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