If you came here and are confused, see my first post in this series.
Organized by Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft . Please purchase the book if you find these helpful. I’m only skimming along the top of it here.
First Major Lesson: Show, Don’t Tell
1. Utilize specific detail
a. Active voice (i.e no helping verbs)
2. Details must matter, and be sensual
a. Show emotion through character action
Before: This entire story will have to be redone. I’ve been a bad boy and wrote it expressly in “telling” knowing this would be the first major lesson. The first version sounds like a fable. I expect this to be the heaviest rewrite of the project.
After: Wow, this was actually difficult towards the end. I have a lazy streak, and I’ll just use indirect discourse or a quick sentence to glance over what I should write. Fun. Well, at least I’m learning now. Haha. And I was right! It tripled in word count.
(V.2) 3200 Words
Once upon a time, there lived a Prince in a kingdom. He was beloved by all, and all who came to know him.
The Prince pushed his soft sheets down the bed, greeting the warm sunshine coming in through the window. It always shone like that during the summertime, but in winter, the light dwindled this early. He left his room for the dining hall, hearing the soft click of the door behind him. In the hall, a savory smell wafted to his nose: bacon, eggs, and toast with mounds of butter. His usual large chair scraped the bare stone floor as he sat down to dig in. One servant, a plump woman with a face now careworn, grinned at him as she poured him a cup of apple juice. Her joy was mirrored in the other servants; all displayed the steady, measured work of the fulfilled. While the table sagged underneath the weight of the mounds of food, the Prince’s fork was the only one clicking against teeth.
Sated, the Prince bade his servants a hearty good day and headed to the stables. His horse, Chestnut, nickered in greeting, green leaves tangled in his mane. The stable’s large grounds were a neighbor to the palace orchard and the smells of both apples and hay mixed in the air.
Saddling Chestnut, the Prince swung up, heading into the orchard. Ripe, red fruit glistened with morning dew like an elaborate art display. Early morning pickers were already at work, and they waved as the Prince rode by. Bushels of apples waited in several wagons, ready to go to livestock, other countries, or the people in the villages.
The stench of copper and bedpan washed over the Prince, and he covered his mouth. Chestnut whinnied softly and pawed at the loamy earth.
All around him, the fruit hung, blackened, splitting open, or had already fallen to the ground. Unlike most rot, no maggots or flies took to the flesh. An unnatural quiet settled in the orchard.
Dismounting from Chestnut, the Prince walked to a fallen apple, kneeling to pick up the rotten fruit. It squished between his fingers. The shiny red skin was marred with rotting goop, and black ooze dripped from the flesh. He turned it over to study it in his hands before dropping it with disgust back to the orchard floor, wiping the grime away on a handkerchief.
Remounting Chestnut, clumps of dirt flew behind them as the two rode between the trees. He took familiar riding pathways that wound around hillocks and over creeks. Every corner he sought, he found eaten away, replaced by black pus. The western orchard was lost. As he rode back to the eastern side, the Prince swore it moved closer to the stables in that hour. Whole trees were left barren, trunks split and rotting, exuding a miasma into the air.
He covered his mouth with his riding cloak and gripped the leather reins, wheeling Chestnut around. They passed the stables outright and didn’t stop riding until hoof hit palace steps. An alarmed guard reached out a hand to steady the Prince as he swayed once dismounted. Another came to get Chestnut but was dismissed.
“Get the captain, and rally the guards, all of them,” the Prince said. The guard saluted, a clank of his halberd hitting the helmet.
The Prince ran his fingers through Chestnut’s soft mane as he did when he was a boy. The horse nuzzled his arm, searching for an apple that would not come. Soon enough, a silent crowd gathered. No words were spoken, but enough people fidgeting in armor created their own music.
“The western orchard is lost to some dark rot,” The Prince said. “And it’s creeping toward the eastern one near to the palace. I need you all to scout the villages west of here and see how far it has come. See how many people are affected. This couldn’t possibly have happened overnight. Someone must have seen something.”
Paling, liveried guardsmen followed his orders. The sun sunk in the sky when they returned to the Prince and his guard captain bent over a map. Together, they brushed inky water on the places verified with the taint. The final guard returned, bowing before them.
“The southernmost village is the same way. All are frightened of the darkness that showed up this morning,” she said.
The Prince and the captain shared a grim look. The map before them held roads, communities, markets, a port, and farmland. All blighted by the drying ink, The Darkness.
And it did happen under the cover of one night.
“What is to be done, my prince?” The guard captain flexed her fingers, encased in a gauntlet, the oiled metal creaking.
“We go to see the wise woman in the mountain forest. I’ve heard her balms help the villages nearby. She is our one hope.”
Half an hour passed before the entire retinue was outfitted. The snaps of leather and creaking pots clanging together filled the courtyard. People spoke in hushed tones between each other as if their loud voices would somehow give the occasion bad luck. The Prince studied the faces of his guards, settling on his captain. Her mouth was set in a grimace. It was a face he’d never seen on her before: fear.
Seven suns came and went. As they rode, the retinue saw villages in ruin. Houses crumbled in on themselves. People keened in the streets, begging and clutching at the royal party as they passed. In a field, a family stood with their dead crops surrounding them. They turned their dark, haunted eyes to the Prince but did not approach and did not speak. Their silence slowed him and he met their gaze with his own. He nodded once before continuing on, stifling tears.
Before the week’s final sunset, the Prince and his guards stared at the wall of trees marking the mountain forest. It was the boundary behind their kingdom and the wilds. Somewhere behind the evergreen curtain was the wise woman’s cottage.
“Look at the trees here, untouched,” one guard said.
“Witch,” another whispered. “Burn her for keeping her protections to herself.”
“Hold your tongue,” the Prince said, glaring at the one who spoke. While she voiced it, he saw an equal fear reflected in the rest.
He stopped the retinue. “We are coming to this woman for help. I understand your frustration, but we cannot push blame upon her because we don’t understand her. If any of you are unable to maintain yourselves, stay here at the edge.”
Shamed, the soldier fell back in line. When no one backed up, the Prince reined Chestnut, and they moved on.
Fear moved through them as the forest’s edge disappeared behind them. From hearsay, the Prince knew the wise woman’s cottage was not far from their entry point. His guard captain scouted ahead. Toward sunset, she reappeared and brought them to their destination.
Growing out of the landscape, the cottage was covered in fallen pine needles. Only a door and a chimney marked it as a home. The more the Prince looked, the more he spotted herbs growing nearby, a small well, and an altar; all seamlessly blended in with the forest.
“I’m going in alone,” the Prince said. He removed his sword and handed the heavy weapon to his guard captain. She accepted it but followed him to a tree arc. Two saplings were bound together loosely at their crowns by a braided rope, teeth and feathers hung between them.
“Your Highness, please, I’d feel better if you at least took your sword,” she said. The other soldiers behind them held their mouths closed, but their brows creased.
“I will not,” the Prince said. “It will be disrespectful, and you know our need. We can’t afford to offend.”
The guard captain clutched the royal sword and watched as her prince strode through the tree arc and up to the wise woman’s doorstep.
The door was one large bark flake from some immense tree that curled at the edges. It looked fragile so he knocked at the door’s frame instead. The strikes echoed on the solid wood into the abode. After he knocked, the door swung open, and his shoulders squared as adrenaline hit. When you’re afraid, chin up, and face it. His mother’s words and perfume echoed in memory.
He smelled the same fragrance inside the wise woman’s cottage. Hanging near the door were the tiny dried flowers. Their mild, apple-like smell must have triggered the memory, and he took in their fortifying scent. His exhalation shook as a deep sadness left with the air.
“Feel better?” A strong voice came called to him from the interior. The Prince saw a blazing fire pit in the room’s center and more dried herbs hung from the rafters. Drawers and jars lined the walls, and the same style oven was connected to the chimney. In all, it looked similar to the homes his subjects owned.
“Much better,” he replied.
“Well, come in then. I assume you’re here for a reason.”
The Prince entered the cozy room, and the door swung shut behind him. The wise woman busied herself on the other side of the fire pit, but he could not see for the flames. His station called for a chair, but his kingdom ended at the forest’s edge. He was in the wise woman’s domain. Her attention remained fixed on her work, so the Prince took a seat in the dirt opposite her and waited. She pulled her shawl about her shoulders and the flames illuminated the lines on her face. It was a kind face, he decided, but he knew not if it was kind in truth, or if it was his intense hope that put it there.
“There we are,” she said. Getting to her feet, she revealed dough on a flat rock. At the oven, she removed the lid of a jar and reached inside, sprinkling a savory herb blend into the mix. Kneading it twice, her expert hands placed it in the cheery oven. Once closed, she turned and looked upon her guest.
“Wise woman,” the Prince said. “My kingdom is in danger. I need to know how to stop The Darkness from killing my people.”
There were no windows in the cottage, but her gaze was far away as if she could see into the kingdom through the wattle and daub. The smell of bread baking filled the room.
“Prince, since you insist on titles, there is no stopping it. The Darkness comes and eats for it is its nature. I wait with my fire for it to knock at my door.”
The Prince drew into himself, crafting his next question. The flames warmed his skin, and the wise woman cleared her throat. He smiled, embarrassed. Those close to him were accustomed to his inner searches but the wise woman was a new acquaintance.
“Wise woman, if it cannot be stopped. Can The Darkness be turned aside?”
“Prince,” she began, rolling her eyes at the formality. “These are questions for The Darkness, not for a woman who tends fire and heals maladies.”
“You are right, wise woman. How may I come to question it?”
She looked down at her guest, a man dressed in royal fabrics, dirtied by her floor. His posture was proud, but his need was naked. He beggared himself in deed before her. She pitied him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You must travel to it, through this forest and the devastation,” she said. “You must go alone for it will not listen to one swayed by the voice of others. All this, and be polite.”
“Thank you, wise woman.”
With whispered farewells, the door shut behind the Prince, leaving him alone on the wise woman’s doorstep. His shoulders slumped, and he closed his eyes. After a few deep breaths, his boots scuffed the forest floor as he walked across the cottage’s yard and out of the tree arc.
Faces lit up and worry melted away as his soldiers rushed around him. Questions bombarded him, but he held up his hand to still the torrent.
“The wise woman spoke to me. She said The Darkness will only allow one visitor,” the Prince pointed farther into the trees. A fog had rolled in between the trunks, obscuring the distance. “I am to travel farther into the forest. Go home, good men and women. I order you to live out your days as well as you can. I hope that we will meet again.”
The guards saluted, a sharp snap of their arms, and held it for longer than necessary. Pack leathers were tightened again, and the soldiers remounted. The guard captain stood to the side, watching, before approaching the Prince herself. She held his sword out to him.
“Your weapon, Highness,” she said, her voice broke.
He smiled and laid his fingers lightly on the scabbard, pushing it back toward her. “Keep it for now. I have a feeling I won’t be needing it.”
“At least take my bow. For hunting,” the captain said. She withdrew it and offered both the bow and quiver. “You’ll need to eat on the way back.”
He accepted the gift, slinging it onto his back. “Thank you, now go, please.”
With another sigh, the Prince put Chestnut’s reins in her hands and turned, striding into the fog. The captain disobeyed him for the first time since her posting and watched him disappear.
Muck clung to the Prince’s boots as he trudged. Rot hung heavy in the air around him. Like the orchard, the trees in the forest were blackened, and the cones that fell split and sagged with ooze. After an hour of walking in the nauseating smell, he tore at his cloak until a piece of cloth ripped free. With this, he wrapped his mouth and nose. It helped relieve the smell, but he lifted his legs slower with the passing time. A deep fatigue settled into his bones.
Even with the malaise, he traveled onward.
Three times he convinced himself to keep going: once for when he felt foolish, once for when he felt exhausted, and once for when he felt alone.
At the end of the day, even the stars were out, and the moon hid her face from the sickness.
His stomach rumbled, and he wished there was some amount of light. The bow pressed into his back as he sat down by a tree. The ground squished beneath him, but he was already wet from the day’s travel.
No game was around, no birdsong nor the chattering of squirrels. The Prince settled in for the night in an uncomfortable quiet, only his breathing broke the stillness.
Just as he was nodding into sleep, movement caught his eye. His heart jumped into his throat. Aching from adrenaline, the Prince leaned forward, peering into the pitch.
Something was coming.
He got to his feet, bow forgotten. An inky black figure took shape out of the night and stood before him. It was only a few feet away, but he could barely make out its outline. Its only indication was that it was a deeper dark than the forest.
The Prince took a deep breath and spoke.
“Darkness, I have come on behalf of my people. I ask that you turn aside and sate your hunger elsewhere.”
“Prince,” it replied. Its voice was inside his head, a deep thrumming like when the earth moved. The words formed themselves through from the intense vibrations and it made the Prince clutch his temples. “You ask me to go to another kingdom. When that one is done, I will come for another, and another, until yours is the one left.”
He could not thrust this upon his neighbors. It would only delay the inevitable. With his chest still vibrating, the Prince’s mind turned the situation over in his head like the wise woman kneading her dough.
“Darkness, why do you eat like this?”
“Prince, why do you protect? It is in our nature, yet I do not ask you to betray yours.”
The statement hit him like a runaway apple cart, and he stumbled backward. The tree caught him, and he sank into the ooze in the bark. He thought about his people: the guards, the villagers in the field, his captain, his castle servants. All of them placed their hopes in him.
The Prince’s eyes lost focus and he drifted on his stream of thoughts. Memories and lessons of the past were dredged up. The Darkness waited. It knew the sun rose but here in its power, no light would penetrate their sacred debate. Soon, the Prince’s thoughts turned to the wise woman and her words.
“Darkness,” he said. “Why do you knock at the door of the wise woman but not at our kingdom?
“Prince,” it replied. “She accepts me. She does not seek to turn me aside or deny my nature.”
The Prince thought about the starvation coming, and the people sickening, but he thrust back his shoulders. “Darkness, I make you welcome in my kingdom. I only ask for advice. What do you like as a guest?”
The figure took a step back and the inky pitch around them receded. Rays of sunlight broke through. The unnatural night surrounding them proceeded, but now filaments of light broke through.
“No one before has asked me what I like,” it said. The deep thrumming was gone, replaced with a more natural voice. The Prince was grateful and didn’t have to hold his head as it spoke. “I have never had company. I would like to try it once.”
The Prince, now a host, returned with the figure through the mountain forest. All the while, they spoke. Once they returned to his kingdom, the Prince told it stories of the people that lived there and the history of the land. Mostly, The Darkness listened. While it did, the rot receded.
As they rode through communities, no one was outside. Fearful eyes peeked from curtains. A child’s gasp was heard once from a barrel, but no soul could be found until they reached the palace gates.
The guard captain met them and saluted. Behind her stood the steward, he crouched as if the captain could shield him. She had tears in her eyes but from relief or fear, the Prince could not tell.
“Captain, it’s good to see you’re well,” the Prince said. “I’ve brought an honored guest.”
She bowed, a deep motion. “Welcome.”
After the bow, the steward moved forward and took both his Prince and their guest into the castle. The visible staff shied away from the tour but continued their duties on until true night drifted over the premises.
The Prince awoke to a darkened room, but that was to be expected. He asked the steward to place their guest in the room next to his. Once dressed, he went next door to find his guest awake and waiting for him. Together, they entered the dining hall.
The same spread was placed before them, and their delicious smells wafted throughout the hall. Each took their seat, tucking into the magnificent feast. Only one woman, the Prince’s personal cook, served the two at the table.
The Darkness looked outside, seeing the rot receding but not gone. “Prince, today, I will enjoy your company, but tomorrow I will continue my journey.”
The Prince smiled. “Darkness, I understand, and I accept that, but for now, have some more eggs.”