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Writing Snippet: Forced to Choose

I wrote this fantasy fiction exercise in October 2020, to explore the “ABDCE” story structure taught in the Wesleyan creative writing certificate program available on Coursera (specifically, in the class that focuses on Plot). Specific requirements for this exercise were: use the full ABDCE structure, max 500 words, main character wants a concrete physical object more than anything else, then they learn they have a disease that will be fatal in 24 hours and have to choose between the antidote to the disease or the object. I had an epic fantasy feel in mind – possibly because I was working on my D&D campaign around the same time.

Brennek wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of one hand, his other holding a delicate tool inside the locking mechanism attached to the display case. Weeks of research had led him here; this lock was all that stood between him and the legendary jewel The Eye of Heaven. The lock, and the deadly trap built into it, according to the guard he’d bribed the night before.

“Why not just smash the case and take it?”

Brennek paused. This was the guy he was supposed to trust as backup? 

“Do you want every guard in the palace in here? Breaking the glass sets off an alarm. Stop distracting me.”

He peered into the lock, light from the crystal attached to his headband illuminating the gears and pins. He could just see a bit of green glass, out of place amidst the metal. With slender tweezers, he grasped a tiny spring connected to a small piston and began to disconnect the two. Sweat dripped into his eye, and he squinted against the sudden sting. His hand slipped.

There was a tiny crack, and a jet of green dust puffed from the lock. Brennek inhaled reflexively then pulled back, his tools clattering to the floor. He wiped his face with his hands and spat the dust from his mouth, but his tongue and lips were already going numb. He turned to his companion, eyes wide and face pale.

“Unfortunate,” said the other, a figure in a dark gray cloak, face nothing more than faint gleams of light reflected off eyes hidden in a deep hood. “That dust will rot your organs. You’ve got about one day to sort out your affairs, friend.” He said it with as much concern as one might state that the weather was cloudy.

Brennek stared at him in disbelief. His heart raced, his pulse loud in his ears. His throat was dry and tightening, his mouth numb. He felt a wave of dizziness and fought down nausea, taking several deep breaths to calm down.

He looked at The Eye, glinting in the light from his crystal. The focus of his work these past weeks. The price of his father’s freedom.

Dry throat barely working, he whispered, “What can I do?”

“Mummy dust is deadly,” said the other with a faint shrug of his shoulders. “There is magic that can counter it, but the spells are … expensive.” The figure’s head shifted pointedly toward The Eye.

Brennek’s numb tongue licked his unfeeling lips as he considered. He wanted his father free, and he wanted to rub it in his brother’s face that he’d been the one to arrange the ransom, but was that worth dying?

Alarms rang out as he smashed the delicate crystal of the display case. He snatched The Eye and leapt into motion, racing for the door as shouts echoed from deeper within the palace. He glanced at his companion, running alongside. “How expensive, exactly? I can steal a lot in one day.”

Peer feedback on this piece was that there didn’t seem to be enough tension, and we don’t learn until almost the very end why he wants the jewel. Perhaps revealing his motivation earlier in the piece would have solved both problems.

Published inWriting Samples

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