Welcome to the Steel Rose tour stop, brought to you by Goddess Fish Promotions. Author Barbara Custer will award one randomly drawn commenter at every stop a backlist eBook – it could be City of Brotherly Death, Twilight Healer, or one of her Night to Dawn magazines, and one randomly drawn commenter on the tour will receive a $15.00 gift certificate to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, winner's choice. Best sure to leave a comment for your chance to win! The complete tour can be found here.
About Steel Rose: Sometimes they come back. At least the Kryszka aliens do. Their leader injects captured humans with a drug, turning them into zombies. Yeron escapes the Kryszka colony, hoping to practice medicine on the humans that fear him. Alexis, a patient, is afraid, too, until his seductive attentions arouse her. Despite his experimental drug, severe arthritis leaves her too weak to handle most guns. The Kryszka troops and zombies who break into the hospital are hungry. Very hungry. How will she fight them?
Guest Post: Writing tips from author Barbara Custer
Bang! Chekhov’s Gun
The term “Chekhov’s Gun” originated with a literary technique built around playwright Anton Chekhov’s advice. He suggests that if you show a loaded gun on stage during the first act of a play, the gun should be fired during a later act. Otherwise, the gun should not be shown at all.
At first I thought he was talking about foreshadowing, but he’s warning us against putting too much emphasis on unnecessary details. You can have guns, knives, bombs, or in the case of Steel Rose, balloons and screwdrivers, but they’d better go into action before the story ends. That doesn’t mean you can’t describe your setting and characters. Steel Rose opens with a scene in the intensive care unit. Despite protective splints on her wrists, she’s in terrible pain. The cardiac monitors, ventilators, and nurses’ station dress up the setting, and we know straight off that she works in a hospital. Without a setting and character description, the story would read flat.
Then I draw attention to the Good Grips screwdriver she carries in her pocket. Alexis carries the screwdriver for her protection because she’s unable to handle most guns. She’s thinking if necessary, she might use it to defend herself against an assassin, and that’s exactly what happens several chapters later. When the Kryszka renegades breaks into her mother’s home, Alexis stabs her in the eye with it. If Alexis hadn’t done that, I would have disappointed the reader. The screwdriver has become Chekhov’s gun.
Another example of Chekhov. While Alexis recuperates from her injuries, she begins stockpiling Mylar balloons because she believes the helium in them will protect her from Kryszka renegades. Yeron counts thirty balloons during his initial examination, and this doesn’t go over well. The helium in them is deadly toward his species. The balloons threaten Yeron, and an imaginary conversation plays through his mind:
Balloons: That’s right, Yeron, you don’t belong here.
Yeron: I do not like you either, so the feeling is mutual.
When Yeron contemplates his next approach to Alexis, the balloons grin at him. Is that so? You don’t know as much as you think you do, buddy.
Some people might think I was being cute. Much as I like balloons, I introduced them for several reasons. The balloons let us know Yeron and the way helium affects people like him. We watch Alexis’s psychokinesis in action. I promise you that the helium in those balloons will poison someone later in the story. Like the screwdriver, the balloons have become the gun.
Of course, my discussion on Chekhov’s Gun wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the MacGuffin. The MacGuffin is a goal, object, or person who motivates the protagonist in the beginning pages. As the struggles play out, it becomes less important. Does Steel Rose come with a MacGuffin? Sure it does. Alexis’s mentally challenged sister, Robin, is our MacGuffin. Alexis made a deathbed promise to her father that she’d protect her mother and Robin. Robin was the catalyst who gives Alexis the courage to fight the renegades, disability notwithstanding. She’s determined to keep Robin safe. Like many MacGuffins, Robin fades into the background as the story progresses.
Used properly, both devices can help you create a delightful story. The MacGuffin is easy to plant if you don’t know where you’re going, but the Chekhov’s gun can be tricky, especially if you don’t know the ending. After you’ve finished your draft, look for any Chekhov’s guns, in case something you focused on early turns out to be unimportant. As you revise and rewrite, look through your story and ask yourself, will the details advance the plot or teach us something about the characters?
Have you used the Chekhov’s gun and MacGuffin in your writing? I’d love to hear about your experiences with them and how they influenced your tales.
Excerpt from Steel Rose:
Silence. Her splints flashed white against the gloom. The footsteps started again, outside the window. Kneeling beside her mother’s bed, she shone her light toward the window. A tunic-clad woman stood outside, silhouetted against the moonlit night. The flashlight kicked too much reflection off the windows to see her face, but the intruder was too short and thin to be Laurel.
The footsteps stopped. The glass shivered. Alexis could hear so much now: the quivering window, the house creaking the way her joints did in the early morning, Robin’s soft weeping from the living room.
She gazed into the ominous night and then the window shattered inward, showering the bed and Alexis with glass slivers. A look up close and personal revealed the intruder’s fiery red eyes, needle-sharp teeth, and crooked snarl of hate. No, not hate...hunger.
“Oh, my God!” she hollered, and her cry betrayed her. Her ankle buckled when she tried to stand and run. She dropped her knife. The Kryszka grabbed her arm and flung her onto the bed.
She groped for the screwdriver and cried out at the glass slicing her right hand. Her back and neck hurt worse. The Kryszka withdrew a cylindrical device with her free hand. It looked like a plasma gun, the weapon that Steve had described. Its power would dwarf Alexis’s piece-of-shit weapon.
Hot stabbing ripped through Alexis’s spine. Something–an invisible force perhaps–rubbed her against the broken glass on the bed. This monster was dragging out the torture before killing her. Her right hand closed around her screwdriver. Despite the razor blades of agony slashing through her wrist, she pointed its tapered bit toward the Kryszka’s face. The creature was too busy drooling over her shoulder and neck to notice. Eyes rolled back and teeth gaping, the Kryszka angled for her right shoulder. Alexis sank the screwdriver into the creature’s left eye, slick as goose shit.
About the Author:
Barbara lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she works full time as a respiratory therapist. When she’s not working with her patients, she’s enjoying a fright flick or working on horror and science fiction tales. Her short stories have appeared in numerous small press magazines. She’s published Night to Dawn magazine since 2004.
Other books by Barbara include Twilight Healer and City of Brotherly Death. She’s also coauthored Alien Worlds and Starship Invasions with Tom Johnson. She enjoys bringing her medical background to the printed page, and then blending it with supernatural horror. She maintains a presence on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and The Writers Coffeehouse forum. Look for the photos with the Mylar balloons, and you’ll find her.