Just had another interesting dream last night–or at least I thought it was interesting.
I’m sitting in a set of bleachers inside a massive circus tent. It’s a packed crowd for the feature presentation, the introduction of alien beasts/animals that were found on another planet and brought back to earth. They look much like dinosaurs, but with a definite otherworldly quality about them.
At a point, things got out of hand and the beasts started turning on their tamers. Some of them were flying creatures, and these began attacking the audiences in the upper levels. While everyone was trying to escape through the main entrance, creating a bottleneck congestion there, I found cover backstage, where several workers who didn’t speak English were working away, none the wiser to what was happening.
A group of men dressed in black and wearing combat vests encountered them. I heard something about a cover up, and when the workers looked toward them the men open fired. Unseen, I darted behind a stack of something on pallets. I heard something else about an invasion…a kind of Trojan horse where these alien animals were controlled and set to attack at a specific time…that outside the tent were more attacks.
Fast-forward and this tent area and the small town surrounding it became a kind of safe haven for survivors. For some reason, I felt like I had to hide, like I’d be killed too if I was found. Maybe they had seen me witnessing the murders and were looking for me. I don’t know. It’s a dream, so don’t overthink it :).
So I grabbed a shawl I found and hid among the survivors…for months. Sleeping where I could and always keeping my face hidden. One day, however, the “authorities” found me. Apparently the shawl I was wearing had a government emblem on it and they thought it was stolen, so they found me out.
It doesn’t end there, though. I was tied to a chair and this futuristic torture device was attached to my wrists. I saw right away that they were going to electrocute me. They blindfolded me and the first shock struck. I remember feeling jolted and tense, but it didn’t hurt. The guy said the next would hurt quite a bit more, but then I heard screaming. This man and the few guards with him were under attack.
When I was able to jimmy out of the restraints and pull off the blindfold, I was alone in the room–the men had been killed in brutal fashion.
That’s when I woke up.
Don’t fret (in case you were fretting). I will be continuing with this site, as well, but wanted an outlet for the madness that comes with parenting young kids. Join the insanity and check it out!
I remember having this nightmare a few years ago (my dream log tells me it was in October of 2012), which is odd because I rarely have nightmares and, when I do, they rarely startle me this much. This one had me staying awake for a bit.
In the dream, I was living in some secret, secluded society—almost like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Villagers, but not quite: nobody wore pioneer clothing, but the garb was simple, uniform and concealing. The village was secluded like that, but more in the guts of a forest. There were two roads leading out of town: one that led East and one that ran West. Members of the society traveled East for supplies, but only to a point. Supposedly a man met them there and gave them what they needed in exchange for goods (produce farmed by the society…clothes we made, etc.). If you went East, you were never allowed to stray from the road, not even a little. I had only ventured a short ways along the road, but (in the dream) I recalled another boy taking only a few steps off the road into the forest. He turned and taunted his mother about it. The caravan of folks all stopped and stared, horrified. His mother’s dramatic reaction seemed to frighten him, for he leapt back onto the trail and into her arms, eyes wide in alarm.
We were often told to never, ever go down the West road. Of the many rules, that’s the only one I really remember.
I don’t remember all the happenings of the dream. There were interactions with townsfolk and other side dramas going on, but at a point something spurred an argument at a late-night town festival. There was a conflict brewing between two families and it was reaching peak escalation here and now. I didn’t see the whole thing unfold over the crowd of witnesses, but I heard the shouting. I tried to push my way to the front and heard one man call out another, heard the gasps when one man hit another and then, when I could finally see, watched in horror as one man threw a bucket of gasoline at another and then a match.
This was the thread that fully unraveled everything, it seemed, for chaos ensued. The festival had turned into a war field, with women herding their children indoors and fights breaking out everywhere. Things were getting ruthless. I watched one man bludgeon another’s face with a four-by-four…then another hold a man’s face against a hot branding iron.
Not all the men were fighting. Several were just trying to get away. Buildings were burning and bodies were everywhere. Without a stake in things, I followed suit and found myself heading down the West road by myself.
Dense forest aligned both sides of this road, and the path ahead looked dreary—even the sky seemed to dark further down the road. After a few minutes, I found myself at a stone wall that ran alongside the left side of the path. Lit torches had been mounted against the wall every few feet or so, and this wall evolved into an alley with a few leading downward into it. There were people there—maybe ten or so—men (judging by their size and how they walked) wearing heavy, gray cloaks. The cloaked men were exiting a door at the end of this alley, some forty feet away from where I stood. Before they could see me, I hid behind the edge of the wall, peering from behind to watch them.
At the end of the line of men came another man who was not cloaked. This man was being dragged out in chains, crawling alongside the others—crying, clearly beaten.
I continued to watch, horrified, as the cloaked ones spoke something ceremonial in a tongue I didn’t recognize. When they finished with what must have been a prayer, one of them stepped forward, which elicited a strident cry from the beaten man. This cloaked man called two others over to hold the beaten man down, and then he stabbed him in the heart with a blade.
Adrenaline took over and, as stealthily as I could, I retreated down the path from whence I came, not understanding what I had just seen, but knowing that it wouldn’t be wise to stick around to find out.
When I got back to town, it was in much worse shape than how I’d left it. Most of the ten to fifteen houses were aflame, and things were quieter with fewer conscious or alive people to scream and shout. I spotted a woman hiding by a tree, frightened to the point of hysterics. She wasn’t very well hidden, and I surmised that she wasn’t safe where she was either, so I took her by the arm and led her away.
I’m not really sure where we went, exactly: maybe inside a house or something like that. Nevertheless, we found a better hiding place—there was still a significant sized mob out there attacking whomever they chanced upon.
The woman’s eyes bulged to the point of freneticism, and she kept asking me the same couple of questions: “What are you? Why are you doing this to me?”
I would try to respond each time with, “I’m trying to help you.” When her hysterics reached yet another level, I responded with a series of “It’s OK. It’s OK,” but I got the sense that she wasn’t hearing me at all.
After a half minute of this, however, my words started sounding strange to me, like they were coming out a little different each time, and I slowly began to realize that I had not said these words at all. I’d only thought I had—in fact, I’d only thought them…but I knew that wasn’t exactly right either. I had done everything to try to say these words, but the feeling of my mouth and throat and lungs actually working together to speak them was riddled with phantom sensations.
I continued to try to speak the words, “It’s OK”, but my lips refused to move even as I continued to hear them in my head. Gradually, those words evolved so that I could hear them in the physical world, but it wasn’t my voice speaking them. The voice was deeper and with a heavy rasp, and the audio of it didn’t seem to sync with the rhythm of my intended speech—it was close, but still off. And, while I was using the contraction, “it’s”, the voice was saying “it is.”
My lips began moving in tandem with the strange voice that spoke, and now the woman could hear the words, hear the voice. She looked at me with a terror I don’t think I could ever forget, but she wasn’t really looking at me. Her eyes had a vacuous quality to them, as if she was staring into nothingness.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t really there at all—not in the physical sense, at least. I had a strong sense that I wasn’t alive.
Then I woke up.
My writing projects have been slow going of late, mostly because of how crazy busy life’s been. In short, I’m stuck on where to take them at the moment. But I still have the itch to write, so I’ve decided to write random scenes: some completely new ideas; others ideas I’ve toyed with before. So read on and let me know what you think. It’s just a quick draft, so bear that in mind, but feedback is always appreciated.
This scene/chapter/what have you I like to call The Kal’shee Grave Lands.
“Ghosts don’t feel swords,” Barnabus had said.
Jeffrey didn’t have to answer to recognize the truth in his words, but he had lied about his concerns over Milia’s recent cough. Entering the dead’s circle without one’s sorceress at full strength was foolishness, but there was little choice. They had been overrun in Sook and would have to hope the King’s armies weren’t so bold as to follow them into that ghastly place.
“Keep your minds closed,” Milia had said, “or if the spirits do sense our presence, focus your thoughts on your shield…and pray to the Guardian.”
It was the last thing said before they passed through the final brush of quagmire and entered the wooded hills that led to Harkstrom. Some would die here; Jeffrey knew it, and anytime he felt a semblance of hope against the notion, it was squelched by the low moans of the Kal’shee just beyond the trees ahead.
They had missed their last two meals, and Jeffrey’s stomach grumbled something fierce as they came upon the long moor of the grave lands. Dusk had painted the wisps of clouds with orange, purple and red, yet the forest had darkened the ground to near-pitch. The path ahead had been thinned by the reaching arms of overgrowth, and gradually their line of near two hundred men thinned for easier passage.
Dominick was one of the first to reach the headstones, not far ahead of Jeffrey, and he muttered a troubled, “…by the Guardian’s grace.”
“Easy, fellows,” Jeffrey said. “Remember, empty your minds.” He knew that would be impossible to do for the full length of the grave lands. A thousand paces or so of eternity to pass and it wouldn’t take ten for the first of the Kal’shee to awaken.
The shriek came from his left, strident and sustained. The glowing apparition snagged the soldier’s foot and carried him upwards half the height of a grand hemlock before heaving the poor soul back down to the earth like a meteor; his armor did little to preserve his body as it struck a grand statue of a past king. The man’s shrieking stopped immediately, but this stirred others to charge the creature with hoisted shields and swords postured.
Fools! Jeffrey thought, and panic squeezed his heart. “To me, men! Gather in clusters and hoist your shields!”
More Kal’shee had taken notice. Jeffrey saw what may have been ten to fifteen flashes spring up from their resting grounds on all sides. The specters hovered for a moment and then flew toward his army with frightening speed.
“Remember your training, men!” When Jeffrey needed to be heard, he could make it so. This was a necessary skill as a commander. But amidst the cries of the Kal’shee, he wondered if anyone was listening. “Hoist your shields in cluster formation! Remember Milia’s words!”
And as he said this last part, Milia’s words spoke prominently in his mind: “…pray to the Guardian.” There had been more, details about how to use their shields and group up with others to form a shell around them, about how the spirits prey off their fear and the cries are meant to draw out that fear…but all of this was distant and faint.
“Pray to the Guardian.”
And for a moment, that’s just what he did, for nobody was following his command, nobody was keeping their heads…
…we’re all going to die here.
It wasn’t death that had him so afraid, but failure. He had led them into the web of the Kal’shee and they hadn’t even made it past its threshold before coming to this grisly end. He had failed his men in the revolt against the King and now he had failed them here, as well.
He felt his fingers loosen their grip on the strap of his shield as he began to give in to what was inevitable. No, he wasn’t afraid of death and began to open his heart to its icy grip, readying himself for the passage to the Guardian’s court, to Onallos.
“Young sire…to me, to me!”
The request came from a soldier named Patric, his silvery beard pushing out at the base of his helm. To Jeffrey’s surprise, several soldiers behind him were obeying his orders, clustering their shields together, sealing themselves in a kind of husk. Most of the soldiers probably hadn’t heard his command, but once one cluster formed, others began to form.
He followed Patric into the circle and raised his shield above his head to create another piece of the covering—when his shield touched the others’, he felt a jolt of energy pass through him. It was invigorating, renewing his focus so that he became aware of every movement made by each of the soldiers in their circle. He knew this was Milia’s doing and couldn’t help the smile that stretched out his cheeks.
The she-devil came through! I’ll have to kiss her if we get through this.
“One thing at a time, ol’ boy.” This he said aloud, but amidst the ruckus his words went unheard.
The cries of the Kal’shee had grown to an almost-deafening scale, but Jeffery was now tied in to Milia’s magical chain of protection and so he heard the words of her conjuration clearly in his mind. Beyond their wall of shields, he spotted her pacing about the men with arms held outward and her lips flapped like the wings of a hummingbird.
…dethros, arga es uul…
He had once heard that magic could leave an imprint on a person, and that sometimes that imprint could be accompanied by a curse. But he didn’t care. If a curse was what it took to live through this, he’d gladly accept the terms.
He didn’t know how the old sorceress could walk about the Kal’shee unprotected and exposed like she was, but they didn’t seem to notice her. As if reading his thoughts, he heard Patric utter, “Scary powerful, that Milia, aye?”
They looked like an army of giant scarabs in a terrain that had been dark when they arrived but was now filled with the glow of an army of Kal’shee, zipping and wailing as they sought out the men who had yet to find a shield cluster to join. Occasionally, another blood-curdling cry could be heard, but they were fewer now.
We might make it through this after all.
There was nothing left to do but move.
“Forward, men!” But he saw that the men in other clusters hadn’t waited for this command; already several were plodding forward one step at a time.
As they walked in a collective crouch, his arms began to burn from the pressure of the wailing Kal’shee beating against his shield. Slowly, they made their way toward the Dithe fortress, hoping the elements hadn’t claimed it.
What were you thinking, Jeffrey. He pushed this thought aside, knowing he hadn’t the luxury of dwelling on a decision at this late of an hour.
Every so often, a Kal’shee would slip into one of the other shield clusters. Jeffrey knew this, because of the screams—it was horrifying to hear a grown man scream, especially one who had seen the things his men had seen. He bit hard on his upper lip, keeping his focus on his own movements, his shield, allowing the pinch of Milia’s spell to strike him where his shoulder touched the comrade to the left and then letting it pass through him until that energy emptied into the other soldier on his right.
He couldn’t be sure of how much time had passed since they’d first entered the grave lands, but he had the idea that it had been longer than it felt, perhaps as long as an hour. One step forward at a time, he pressed on, letting out an occasional cry of adrenaline as he struggled to keep his shield hoisted—he didn’t know how much he had left in his arms, and his eyes stung from the brightness of the Kal’shee.
Finally, when the moans had grown dull and distant and the men of the cluster began to separate, he dropped his shield and fell to his knees. He allowed his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness once again, tempering his breath to calm himself. He wasn’t quite there yet, however; he knew better than to fully trust his ears. The Kal’shee was clever and knew how to lure its prey into traps. He’d seen it before, though never with of the spirits to worry about at once.
Men around him fell to their knees in exhaustion. Others stripped out of their armor to breathe easier.
“Don’t let down your guard, men,” Jeffrey said. “Not yet. The Kal’shee can smell you still!”
But Jeffrey eased a bit when he spotted the massive stoned structure in the distance that could only be the famed fortress of Dithe.
“Weather has not been kind to that place,” Barnabus snorted. Jeffrey saw that he was in all ways correct, and he heart dropped a little. A sizable piece of wall spanning forty or fifty paces was missing from one side, and the upper halves of three of the four pillars had all but completely collapsed.
“I’m not staying in there,” another said. “And have it cave in on us as we sleep? No…by the Chalice, no!”
Jeffrey surveyed what was left of his army, with the final cluster of soldiers just now coming into view through the trees. When he saw how few they had become, tension built in his stomach and he had to fight the urge to vomit. They had already been cut down to a couple hundred from their last battle—now he was looking at…seventy? Maybe eighty men?
“Heavens,” he grumbled, gripping the back of his head and clenching his jaw.
“It was a necessary risk, my Lord.” Jeffrey barely heard Patric’s words, and kept his eyes locked to where they had exited out of the grave lands, praying for more clusters to appear.
When none did after a time, he spoke: “Form a group to check for injuries. See that Milia is safe and still with us. I assume she is—we’re here, after all, thanks be the Chalice. We’ll camp here tonight and assess the structural soundness of the fortress at first light. Nobody is to re-enter the grave lands for any reason. If someone claims to hear a soldier crying out, remind him that the Kal’shee can mimic voices. We’ll camp here in the clearing.”
Patric gave his Lord a half-salute and left to carry out his instructions.
Jeffrey undid his garb and lay upon the earth, his upper body propped up by his elbows. The ground was damp and warm, which meant the bugs would be out tonight. Sleeping would be difficult, though Jeffrey supposed that he’d rather sit awake all night than dream about the souls of his fallen men.
Legend held that Lord Lancaster, once the keeper of the fortress, had built an underground passage that bypassed the Kal’shee graves. It was only accessible from the fortress–that meant one had to be let in. It was a way to keep unwanted visitors out. According to the stories, there was a stone map in Lancaster’s quarters that showed the way. Jeffrey hoped this was true—his plan had centered on it being true. He didn’t think he could lead his men through such a hell as the Kal’shee graves a second time.
“Never an easy choice in war, m’Lahd.” Milia had a way of sneaking up on even the most alert warrior. She stood behind him, all four feet of her, smiling her crooked, toothless smile and gazing at him with those gray, vacuous eyes. Her white hair had thinned over the years, revealing scalp in some parts.
“Our losses were much fewer than they could have been—thanks again to you, Milia.” There was no warmth in Jeffrey’s voice. Yet, his fatigue had displaced most of his sorrow. Remorse was not a weakness a future king could afford.
“You protect me from swords…I protect you from the dark conjurin’. I’d say we do well for each other.”
In the distance, the Kal’shee continued their shrill cries. Every so often, Jeffrey could see a flicker of one from behind the patches of trees. The glow would wink out just as it had appeared, and eventually they would become fewer and fewer.
“We’re safe here?” he asked.
“Safe here,” confirmed Milia. “The Kal’shee don’ go far from the graves, so says the good book. They remain bound to their mortality, foolish, poor souls, they are.”
The two sat in silence, watching the men pitch tents and tend to the wounded. Jeffrey sat awake until all others slept – even Milia. She placed a cold but somehow comforting hand on his shoulder before curling up against a mossy tree and closing her eyes.
When all was quiet, he sang a song into the darkness, one his mother had sung to him and his brother, Adam, when they were boys, telling the story about a band of soldiers crossing an ocean of fire and meeting a kind serpent along the way. For a moment, Jeffrey forgot why he was at odds Adam. He recalled a brother who had taught him to climb the old Oakwood tree near their cottage; who had given up half his rations of food the week Jeffrey had prepared for the Camden Tournament for Young Warriors; and who had promised to protect and honor his brother forever.
At a point, night’s stillness was stirred by the chirping songs of crickets, toads and the singing mosquitos, and he realized that these songs had always been there, that he was just hearing them now for the first time.
The Kal’shee had long returned to slumber, so Jeffrey thought he would now, too. He slumped against the root of an oak and, facing the silhouette of a massive stone structure outlined by the moon, he drifted to sleep.
We’ve all heard it: Avoid adverbs at all cost. While I’m never a fan of speaking in terms of “rules” when it comes to fiction writing—the “rules” of fiction writing tend to bend—this one I’d strongly recommend paying attention to. For starters, breaking the rules just for the sake of it is bound to backfire (see my article on breaking the ‘rules’ of grammar in creative fiction, which discusses writing with purpose).
First, let me address one thing to the nay-sayers: yes…they can work…but they usually don’t. The problem isn’t necessarily that they’re used; it’s that there is most often a better way. That and they’re a lot like mice. Once you see one, there’s bound to be many others.
Let’s get to the nuts and bolts. What’s the big deal with adverbs? Why do so many people have a bug up their butts about them?
For starters, it’s usually better to allow the reader to apply the mood or emotion, themselves. You’d be amazed at how adept the human brain is at filling in gaps—and this goes for storylines and scenes, as well. For instance, I’ve read about evidence that suggests that we don’t dream out entire scenes, but rather glimpses of scenes and that our brains naturally fill in the strings of thought to make some sense of it. Our brain does this with everyday life, too. We are fantastic at making assumptions, which is why we can process so many things so quickly. It’s important to remember to use this to your advantage.
Take this example. Let’s say you are standing in your living room minding your own business when your roommate or spouse or someone important to you walks in and says, “How could you?” before walking out.
Now, how do you suppose you know that person is actually mad at you? Do you think he/she is likely to walk in and say, “How could you? I’m saying this angrily!” Probably not. Nope—you can make the presumption that the person is angry with you because of the words he/she uses, that they’re said with a glare, with a sharp tone, and that the person went so far as to slam the door when he/she left the room. In other words, it’s the context that tells you, and that’s why adverbs are often thought of as lazy or timid writing, because using them can suggest that you either haven’t spent the effort in painting this context, or that you don’t trust your ability to have made your point. Either way, you risk losing the reader more than if you trust yourself and focus on the context within the scene.
It’s the difference between bringing the reader into the scene and simply explaining what’s happening in the scene. Or better, the difference between telling someone what goes into flying a plane and throwing them into a simulator. Most readers read fiction to escape, and if you’re not bringing them into your world, you’re not helping them accomplish this feat.
Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, hits the nail on the head, I think.
Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me…but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?
Here’s the deal, I’ve read lots of blog posts from aspiring novelists that slam the notion that avoiding adverbs altogether is the way to go. Their claim? That there is a place for adverbs if used properly. To that, I say: Sure. Occasionally. I suppose, yes. The caveat, however, is that you need to be able to find points where using them is most effective, and more often than not you’re wrong in your assessment of that. Even if you are able to identify the right time and place to throw in an adverb, that doesn’t mean you’ll have the finesse to pull it off.
Or maybe you have that skillset. Maybe you’re one of the few who can make them work on a consistent basis. But it’s still a risk, one that usually does reap much of a reward. Most nay-sayers will lump themselves in this category. I’d question if they’re being completely honest with themselves, however.
For the rest of you/us, this isn’t a knock on you; you’re dealing with a difficult-to-use tool that isn’t as robust in features as you may have thought. You’re duct taping things together to make it work. In the end, is that duct tape really going to hold those walls better than nails?
So go ahead and insert those adverbs. I won’t stop you. Just remember, the question isn’t whether or not you can do it, but whether or not there’s a better, more effective way.
Adverbs ought to be avoided when possible or, at the very least, ought to be the exception and not the rule. In either case, challenge yourself to train your eye to identify better and more effective writing practices when painting the scenes in your novel.
To further this discussion, here are some other related articles that might interest you:
Writing is about expression and often, especially in song lyrics, the meaning can be hidden under obscure depths. I’ve often been fascinated by the meaning behind some of the classic songs, so I did some internet detective work. This is what I uncovered.