Merrilee crept through the plot, ducking the twisted branches that threatened to entangle the fragile narrative she carried on her back. A flock of adverbs fluttered heavily across the page. With no foreshadowing, a minor villain appeared; throwing the readers into confusion. Action was needed, and fast.
She drew the gun, hand shaking. Her alpha reader’s comments came back to her; truthful, damning. “Watch out. You’ve got guns appearing out of nowhere.”
Behind the villain, she saw that the scene was weak and shaky. She was angry at the situation. She heard the narrative falter, then felt it start up again with a lurch. Telling was choking the life out of it. She looked over her shoulder. There was only one way out of this exposition.
She grabbed a passing character, shadowy and undefined in the early draft. “Do you have a gun? A sword? A club?”
He unclipped a short range particle beam, or SRPB, from his webbing harness and handed it to her, a telling detail that defined the genre.
“Thank you.” Relieved, she took the weapon from him, and slipped it into her belt. Now that the readers knew it was science fiction, she could relax a little. Their assumptions would fill in a lot of detail, leaving her free to concentrate on keeping the narrative alive.
“You’re welcome,” he said, then slapped a hand over his mouth. “Oh god, oh god, I didn’t mean- The dialogue tag, I just forgot…”
“I’m so sorry.” She backed away, insides quivering.
The red pen materialised, flashing down onto the page, excising the superfluous tag.
Sobbing, he fell to his knees. “How will they know when I’m talking? How will they know how I feel?” He lurched to his feet, and shook his fist at the hovering pen. “Sometimes dialogue tags are useful!” he shouted, but his defiance was for naught. The pen darted, it stabbed, and the page was awash with red.
Shaking, dripping with sweat, Merrilee waded through the crimson sea, her shiny black boots reflecting the dappled light coming through the twisted branches. They swayed above her, plots and subplots so deeply intertwined that she wondered if she would ever get out. Relief washed over her; the internal monologue had interrupted the descriptive passage, adding interest and a glimmer of character development.
She shook the ink from her boots as she emerged onto the clean page, acting out of sequence in the hope of confusing the villan. She hummed as she walked, checking for more adverbs as she hurriedly scanned the scene, hoping all the action would fool the reader into thinking that she had control of the plot.
“Almost there.” She hefted the narrative higher on her back and strode on. She was in danger of falling into another paragraph of telling in her rush to get to the end of the scene. It was so close; she could see the three asterisks that guarded the passage into the next scene. But how to get there?
Too late she realised her peril. She had been concentrating so hard on the narrative, trying to get it through the draft, that she had neglected the Rule of Chekov’s Gun. The plot foundered. The scene tumbled into irrelevance.
“No!” Adrenalin gave her strength and she latched on to the narrative as it slipped from her grasp. “It will not end here!” Her literary muscles, flabby from long neglect, knotted under the strain. How she wished she had worked harder at her prose. With a great effort, she held the narrative in place, and drew the gun.
For a moment, the branches parted, revealing a single, shining strand. The main plot!
Roaring and frothing in rage, the villain rose up between her and her goal, using excessive imagery to convey his emotion rather than significant details. But the gun had been drawn, and there could only be one outcome.
She fired the gun.
The villain jerked backwards, staggered and fell. She shot him again, desperate to prevent him from uttering a cliched phrase before dying.
Blood roared in her ears. Panting, she checked the narrative on her back. It still ticked over, though weak and thready, nothing like the strong beats that carried her forward when she started the draft. But it didn’t matter. It was alive, and that was all that mattered.
She stepped over the villain’s corpse and into the next scene, praying that her readers were still with her, praying that she could keep doing this, scene after scene, until the end.
* * *