Writing Punctuation within Dialogue

Think about it: there’s a pretty boggling array of punctuation marks at our disposal — not just your run-of-the-mill sentence-enders like periods, question marks, and exclamation points, but slashes and dashes and dots of various sorts. I just used six of them in that first sentence, alone. No wonder some writers think of the whole mess as though it were Dorothy’s lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).

Like it or not, punctuation is something you have to master. Think of all those odd marks as your guideposts for your readers. Punctuation marks tell readers to pause or stop when you intend them to; in partnership with the words you choose, they add meter and rhythm to your writing and make it dance off the page; they help convey emotion (…don’t they? You bet!); they clarify your meaning. (What’s your first reaction to this sentence?: “While we were eating the cat on the table jumped down.” While we were eating the cat?! What a difference a comma makes!: “While we were eating, the cat on the table jumped down.”)

Punctuation in dialog can be particularly intimidating. Now you’re constructing sentences in which characters are speaking sentences of their own! Where do all those punctuation marks go?

If your character utters a complete sentence, should you punctuate it as such? Only if that’s all there is to it:

Mark pointed at the sky. “It’s going to rain.”

Here there are two separate actions, treated as two separate sentences. So you punctuate them as such, the only difference being that Mark’s speech is indicated by being enclosed in quotation marks.

Dialogue Tags

What if you want to make sure the reader knows Mark is speaking by including a dialog tag? If you’re adding a straightforward tag like “he said,” “Mark whispered,” or “shouted Mark,” that’s part of the sentence, so you include it in the sentence with a comma:

“It’s going to rain,” Mark said.

Mark pointed at the sky and whispered, “It’s going to rain.”

Two mental tricks that may help: think of Mark’s speech as something you’re relating to a friend. You wouldn’t say, “Then Mark said. It was going to rain.” You’d say, “Mark said it was going to rain.”

Or, try taking the quotation marks out and punctuating the sentence as a normal sentence:

It’s going to rain, shouted Mark.

Then put in the quotation marks when you’ve got that sorted out:

“It’s going to rain,” shouted Mark.

Shouting implies that Mark is a bit more excited about all of this rain than a mere comma indicates, however. Perhaps an exclamation point would better signal his excitement to the reader. But an ! is ending punctuation, and you’d really like to make sure the reader knows Mark’s the one getting excited. You can do this in two ways. You can avoid the whole issue of comma vs. exclamation mark by inverting the sentence and letting the exclamation mark fill its end-punctuation role:

Mark pointed at the sky and shouted, “It’s going to rain!”

Or, you can take advantage of the double standard sometimes offered by quotation marks by treating them — and what they enclose — as something of a parenthetical element within the sentence. Just as you may enclose a comment in brackets (the proper term for these brackets is parentheses), you can think of anything within quotation marks as something a little separate from the rest of the sentence. In cases where you want to convey excitement or confusion, the comma can safely be replaced by an exclamation point or a question mark:

“It’s going to rain!” Mark shouted.

“What do we do now?” asked Cindy.

Perhaps Cindy doesn’t come right out and ask Mark what they should do, but only thinks this. There’s a question involved, even if it’s not spoken out loud. Where does the question mark fall?

Again, you could avoid the whole issue. You could fall back on exposition:

Cindy wondered what they would do now.

But you lose the immediacy by stepping out of your character’s head and telling the reader what she’s thinking. You don’t want that.

It’s perfectly all right to treat Cindy’s internal dialog as though she’d spoken it:

What do we do now? Cindy wondered.

Note that, in character dialog, whether internal or spoken, the question mark always falls after the actual question, not after the dialog tag at the end of the sentence. That’s because you’re relaying Cindy’s thoughts, complete with the guideposts that will make them clear to the reader, not actually wondering yourself what the characters will do now — one hopes.

Punctuation Within Dialogue

You have noticed by now that all end punctuation falls inside the closing quotation mark, right?

Correct: “It’s going to rain,” said Mark.

Incorrect: “It’s going to rain”, said Mark.

Okay, so what if you’re writing a sentence in which your character is quoting what someone else said? How do you punctuate that so the reader can sort it all out? Simple. Just as you treat character dialog as a parenthetical element within a sentence and flag it as dialog by enclosing it within quotation marks, you treat the quote as parenthetical within the character’s spoken sentence and flag it with single quotation marks:

“I don’t like Cindy,” Mark said. “I told her it was about to rain, but she turned to Biff and asked him, ‘What do we do now?’ instead of asking me.”

Multi-Paragraph Quotes

Perhaps Mark has more to say about Cindy; maybe he goes on for several paragraphs, complaining about every little thing about her that annoys him. How to punctuate that? Well, he’s still speaking, even though he’s speaking so much, it needs to be broken into paragraphs. So, you start out with your opening quotation marks to signal to the reader that somebody’s speaking. But when you reach the end of the first paragraph in Mark’s tirade, you don’t end that paragraph with closing quotation marks. By leaving the closing quotes out, you’re telling the reader that Mark has more to say; drop your eyes down to the next paragraph, reader, and you’ll read what more there is.

And when they do, there they find another set of opening quotation marks at the beginning of that paragraph, assuring them that yes, Mark’s still speaking. And so on and so on, for as many paragraphs that Mark may speak, until the end of the last paragraph of his tirade, where he finally shuts up and you tell the reader so by inserting those long-awaited closing quotation marks:

“I don’t like Cindy,” Mark said. “I told her it was about to rain, but she turned to Biff and asked him, ‘What do we do now?’ instead of asking me.

“Now, if you ask me, Cindy’s a bit snooty. She thinks she’s too good for me, that I don’t know anything except that it’s going to rain. Well, let me tell you, I know a lot more than that!

“I know, for instance, that if it had happened in Antarctica, that rain would have been snow!”

What if Biff had been standing there listening, and didn’t agree with what Mark was saying? What if he’d interrupted to say so? You signal the dialog of each new speaker with its own quotation marks, and you make it even clearer to the reader that someone else is talking by giving the new speaker their own paragraph for their action:

“I don’t like Cindy,” Mark said. “I told her it was about to rain, but she turned to Biff and asked him, ‘What do we do now?’ instead of asking me.

“Now, if you ask me, Cindy’s a bit snooty. She thinks she’s too good for me, that I don’t know anything except that it’s going to rain.”

“She’s not snooty,” Biff said. “She asked me because you don’t know anything except when it’s going to rain.”

“Well, let me tell you, I know a lot more than that!” Mark retorted. “I know, for instance, that if it had happened in Antarctica, that rain would have been snow!

“I also know that you and Cindy are having an affair, and — “

“Oh, shut up,” growled Biff.

Just as you break a big project down into smaller parts to make it more manageable, if you break your dialog sentences down into their separate sections, punctuation isn’t so scary, after all.

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Writing Dialogue

One of the most common problems in beginning writing is the “talking head” syndrome. Essentially, characters in a scene begin talking, and after some discourse, we lose track of who’s talking, where we are, and what the characters are doing.

This is usually because the writer is aware of repeats in dialogue attribution, so they try to compensate by cutting away tags — resulting in lots of “floating” quotes. Another way beginners will compensate is with “swifties” and a myriad of variations and synonyms for the word “said”. Swifties are adverbial modifiers for attributions, such as he said hotly, she said coolly, he said quickly, she said tartly, etc. Used in moderation these aren’t so bad, but when we start seeing several per page their effect becomes both diluted and annoying. More importantly, while they might describe how something is spoken — they are more tell than show.

‘Said” synonyms are like swifties, they’re okay in moderation (one, maybe two per page). When every attribution is he snarled, she snapped, he interjected, she declared, he asserted, she affirmed, he announced, however, this displays a loose technique that shows beginner! There are better and more effective ways to handle dialogue and character interaction.

“There’s Nothing Wrong with ‘Said’,” he said.

Let’s start with one little rule to keep in mind:

The word “said” is perfectly okay. It’s a nice, very innocuous word. It’s a word that most people barely even register as their eye passes over it. That’s a good thing. The less noticed the better. If some other context doesn’t already identify the speaker, go ahead and use “he said” or “she said” to identify who is doing the talking. It’s all right — really.

Adding Dynamic Elements

The real world is dynamic: rarely is it devoid of sound or sensation. Your world should be the same way. Think about the setting where the scene is taking place. If it’s a private scene, in a quiet place, any environmental cue will work: crickets chirping outside, a cold draft of air causing the drapes to flutter, some smell or anything else that heightens our sense of place. The slats of the bed can creak. Floorboards can groan, or bricks can moan as the building settles…

If you were there, what sounds, smells, tastes, visuals and feelings would you note? Make a list of these sensory details, then consider which of them your viewpoint character might note. Choose this list carefully, because the details they notice will characterize them. Keep this list on hand for when you start polishing the finished scene; it will become important.

Next, set the stage. You are the director. In the movies, rarely is a scene shot straight on. The camera is usually at an angle or pans around the characters. As a writer, you can simulate these dynamics.

You can also do something else they do in Hollywood: Add props. Rarely are characters alone in a scene without a phone, a knife, something. People talk with their hands and bodies as much or more than their mouths. When a warrior reaches down and grips his sword whiteknuckled while glaring at someone, he/she has communicated. Not a word has been said, but a message has been sent. This kind of indirection is an extremely valuable tool for effective and stylish storytelling.

Make props a part of the scene. Use them. Props can be fiddled with, gestured with, massaged, tapped, crunched — all putting an otherwise static character in motion. Motion is good. Characters should never sit still unless the stillness — such as “freezing” in surprise — is a mechanism in itself.

Next, tag the characters themselves. Clothing, jewelry, hair, scars — anything that sets that character off from others is good. These tags help us not only to visualize the person, but also to identify them. A simple example: one female character in a group is always portrayed as wearing bells. It’s dark in a room and the main character cannot see. He can hear, though; he hears bells that jingle to a stop nearby and he hears a feminine voice. We don’t have to identify the speaker now. We might add — “a familiar feminine voice said from on his right.” This is especially good, because we’re inviting the reader to fill in the rest.

Provide Interesting Interactions

With our scene preparations taken care of, it’s time to start looking at good methods for making the character interactions interesting and dynamic. Never have two characters simply discuss something — always break it up somehow. Another character can interrupt; sounds can cause the characters to look up. Do whatever you can to vary the rhythm of the interchanges. Another helpful hint is to give characters noticeably different speech patterns. It doesn’t take much. One character may use a particular curse, or always speak in third person. Patterns can be used simulate dialect without using apostrophes all the time. Even something as simple as a character always putting the verb before the noun can be used, creating sentences like: “Go we to the mountain”, “leave us now”, “Going away am I”. Simplistic — yes. Simple is good. The more easily identifiable a pattern, the less you will have to attribute it.

Here are some ways to make your characters’ interactions more interesting, more alive:

  1. When voices change pitch, register, or tone — tell us. Don’t say “he said angrily.” Show us. Give us the stiffening of the man’s body, his face turning red, the dropping of his voice, the clenching of his fists. That is how vivid storytelling is done.
  2. When the intent of dialogue is other than the dialogue suggests, give us the character’s expression, or some kind of visual context that clues us to the actual emotion at work.

John sighed and shook his head. “Oh sure, this’ll be loads of fun.”

  1. Physical contact is one of the strongest kinds of human communication. Lovers and friends demonstrate their closeness by touch. Don’t underestimate the power of this mechanism for visually reminding us not only of the presence of significant “others” but to reinforce their relationship to the viewpoint character. This rule can also work very well in reverse, with the character isolated from contact.
  2. Eyes are marvelous tools in scenes. Much can be “said” with a simple raise of an eyebrow and no dialogue at all. (Look what it did for Mr. Spock!) Eyes can narrow. They can flash. They can mist over. But don’t overdo it! Watch out for disembodied eyes that “follow people around”, that slide up legs or down deep cut blouses. Eyes don’t do this. A person’s gaze might, but their eyes stay in their skull (at least so we hope).
  3. Hands speak as loudly as any words. Be mindful of what a character’s hands are doing. Characters can emphasize with them, they can threaten, they can plead. Yelling “Why me!?” doesn’t have half as much effect without the visual image of the gaze turned toward the sky and the arms flung out to either side.
  4. When used sparingly, the em-dash ( — ) is an effective dialogue tool that helps simulate broken or interrupted speech. Characters interrupting and overriding each other in a scene give the narrative more punch and realism.

Example: “You can’t! It’s not —

“Fair?” Celia interrupted. “Who said it had to be fair?”

  1. Remember attitude. In every scene, characters will play roles and serve different functions — passive, aggressive, instigator, or instigated. Opposition is key to maintaining the energy of the scene. Consider two men, friends for years. Their banter is often faintly abusive; it’s simply part of male machismo and an aggressive trait of human nature. The characters don’t have to fight, but play up the tension; give us the possibility of anger or insult. Let us look for hidden agendas, guessing at hidden meanings and intent.
  2. Less is more. You’ve heard it before, and it’s still true. Remember that tension — especially large amounts of it — is hard to maintain. Paint your scene, satisfy your agenda, and move on. A scene can be perfect right up to the point it begins to drag. You have to cut away before that happens.

These are all tools for your tool box. They are energy you can use to pump into the scene. The more visual and interesting the details, the more spark they will put into the interactions you depict. When you are creating the cast for your book or story, giving them traits that can be exploited in this fashion will provide a bounty of visual and sensory “beats” that will anchor the reader.

Greed: A Recipe for Murder

Donald and Angela Rutherford were anticipating the proudest moments of their lives, this very day, when Donald’s father Sinclair was handing over the running of the family chain of hotel’s to him, at the board meeting later that day.

Photo by kat wilcox on Pexels.com

A dark blue express delivery van pulled up at the gates, and the driver exited, announcing that he had a package, which required a signature, moments later the gates opened and he drove up the long cobbled driveway to the house.

Their son Francis, 22, opened the door, to see a pistol wielded across his face sending him sprawling across the floor.  The man then boldly strode into the house confronting Angela, 41, in the hallway.  He shot her in the face and neck.  Donald 44 was in the cloakroom, and the gunman shot him in the face and chest, as he came out to see what all the commotion was.  While the attacks were taking place in the house, a dazed and injured Francis lifted the telephone receiver, requesting help from the house security officer.

Richard Hamlin’s thoughts dwelled on Donald and Angela. Hamlin shivered at the mental image.  There was such a stillness in their bodies; he realised they were all but dead … Both had been repeatedly shot.

Hamlin ran to James at the grounds mans cottage for help; once he saw the white crimpled-haired Irishman, a sense of relief overwhelmed him.

“James, James, Donald and Angela have been shot, and Francis appears badly injured.”

“Show me.”

As they headed back to the house, Hamlin commented.  “I have called in the authorities, an ambulance will be here in ten to fifteen minutes, but I fear it will be too late.

“This is the worst time for this to happen, Sinclair Rutherford due back from Switzerland any time now.”

“So who shot them?” asked James the grounds man as they walked into the house.

“Francis let in an Express Delivery van, and he shot Donald and Angela, and struck Francis across the face.  I nearly got run down, as the van exited the grounds, fortunately I saved myself, by diving into the bushes.”

Angela died on route to the hospital; Donald some four hours later, neither regained consciousness.  Francis, suffered a skull fracture and broken cheekbone, and was hospitalized for ten days.  The senseless double murder rocked the tranquil community as police wondered about a motive … Money!

“This estate says money,” Detective Inspector Mathew Hawks. Early forties, medium height, greyish hair, of athletic build, wearing grey cords, a white polo-neck jumper, and grey tweed jacket, in control as usual, stated looking up at the house.

“Lots of it,” commented Detective Sergeant Daniels, “this is the son of Rutherford Hotels.”

Hawks gazed at the house once more.  “So what have we got here?” he asked his partner.

“It seems Sinclair Rutherford was due to host a dinner party for company board members, to announce he was stepping down as Managing Director, and passing over the position to his son Donald.”

The dining room had a polished parquet floor, so polished one could see their reflection in it.  Multiple chandeliers dangled above a long oak table big enough to serve thirty.  Multi-paned windows looked out over the estate, what could be seen of it in the floodlights.

Daniels was prowling the hallway scene while a police photographer snapped picture after picture, obtaining every possible image of the scene, making sure nothing was missed.  Everyone knew this would become a high profile case, Sinclair Rutherford was known to have connections.

“A billionaire’s son and daughter-in-law dead before the main course,” suggested Daniels.  “Somebody didn’t agree with the appointment?”

Money is a powerful motive for a killing, and police were well aware of the Rutherford’s vast holdings … with his parents dead, Francis Rutherford inherited Donald and Angela’s holdings in Rutherford Hotels.

Hawks had served the police force for over twenty years, and sensed when things weren’t right.  “Our murderer must have had inside help that I am sure of.”

Ten days after the slayings, police submitted Francis to a polygraph test, by court order.  The results of the test were inconclusive, meaning he neither passed nor failed when questioned about his involvement in the brutal deaths of his parents.

Police were convinced that this was a planned assassination, there appeared to be no other explanation.

Police found .32, .38, and a .357 Magnum calibre revolvers at the Rutherford’s home, all licensed to Francis Rutherford.  Tests carried out on all three handguns, came back with a match; the .357 Magnum had fired the fatal shots.

According to police files, the Magnum had been reported missing a little over a month ago.

Police were perplexed.  The Magnum had been replaced in its gun display case; along side the other revolvers, by the murderer.  He knew where it was kept … a former employee?

What was the motive?  Framing Francis or taking police eyes away from him?

AFTER THE FUNERAL:  Sinclair Rutherford sat scowling at the head of the table, his piercing black eyes studying each face in turn.

Could one of his guests, be responsible for the death of his son Donald and Angela his daughter-in-law.

Christian Weaver, Byron Farmer, Darren Cartwright, Frank Mason, Carl Mulder, and Max Wheeler, all old time friends and board members of the hotel chain they had built up.  We all go back many years, and we are all rich, beyond our wildest dreams.

Each man looked back at him with respect.  They saw a tall, thick set man, with a thick mane of grey hair.  There was pain in his eyes.

On one hand Sinclair Rutherford had been considered a gentle man, with much understanding, on the other he is known to be cruel and merciless, if one believes the rumours.  But to get where he is, these rumours could be true.

PRIVATE EYE:  It was a mild morning, and I didn’t particularly relish a long drive out to High beach Road, just for a meeting.  Why couldn’t the client, or someone representing the client, come down to my office?  It was not possible.  Her employer was a very busy man, but insisted on a face-to-face.  My $250 call out fee was no problem.  But, no, she could not divulge any further details over the phone.

What with the nice empty roads, I made good time reaching my destination ten minutes ahead of time.  The driveway to the Rutherford’s house was a long gravel road with thick pinewoods on either side.  A huge old-style stone-pillar gate, rigged up with electronic surveillance, blocked the entrance.

I came to a crunchy stop and rolled down the window, waiting for the disembodied voice.  The security camera, high atop the gate, continued giving my car the once over.  Obligingly, I leaned out of the window, and spoke my name.  A loud buzz-click sounded from the innards of the gate, and then two massive halves rolled back, giving me entrance to the property.

As I pulled up in front of the house, I immediately pegged the broad on the wide porch as the one on the telephone.  The voice had been young, efficient, well-tailored in a dark blue suit, with an impassive face.  This piece of work seemed to fit the bill.  Reluctantly, I snapped off my radio, and got out.

“It is nice to see you, Mr Spencer,” she said confirming my hunch.  She stepped from the porch, extending a delicate, well-formed hand.  “I am Hilary Parcett, Mr Rutherford’s personal secretary.”

Ever the gent, I pulled off my glove, giving her my professional once over as we shook hands.

As expected, the inside f the house was loaded, but there was no pretence at interior decoration.  There were wood panelled walls, thick carpets, with wooden chairs placed strategically in alcoves, with side tables and lights.  It had the feel of grandeur from a past age.

I followed Hilary Parcett up the long, carpeted stairway, and along the main corridor with a few twists and turns, we arrived at a set of double doors; we immediately, though quietly entered.

My guide, moved across the room.  I duly followed.  At the far end was a large table, covered with files and phones.

Hilary paused for a moment, waiting for him to raise his hand in acknowledgement of her presence.

“Mr Rutherford, this is the private detective, Mr Spencer.”

A few minutes of silence reigned.  Then he stared up, directly at me.  “I hear you are the man to solve crimes,” he said rising to his feet.

I could tell by the way he was eyeing me that he was trying to size me up; to judge if I was the guy who fit the bill.  From my side of the table, I could see he was one hard, old bastard.  Rough, and no doubt had screwed many people in business.

“Sit down, Mr Spencer, he said.  “I want to tell you a story.”

I sat, discreetly sliding my right hand into my coat pocket, clicking on my micro-recorder.  It was just reflex action.

“You have seen the news, my son Donald and daughter-in-law Angela were brutally gunned down in their home, a few weeks ago, and it was headline news.  I want you to find the murderer.”

“But, aren’t the police handling that?”

“We both know they are useless, they need a helping hand.  Just nudge them in the right direction.  You understand … give them a name.”

Hilary Parcett, moved forward, pulling a cheque from her clipboard for $7500, and handing it to me.  “For ten days work, Mr Spencer, my employee expects results.”

“We won’t speak again; any contact will be through my secretary.”

Minutes later, I found myself driving out the gateway, considerably richer with a job, which when I entered, I had not expected.  He never asked if I wanted the job, it was a statement of fact, that I would take the job.

The weeks passed by, and police leads were fading into nothing, when a surprise phone call, brought the team back to life, from a private eye known to them.  “The gunman was Peter Hillier, 31 of Lower Manhattan, a former employee of the Rutherford’s, recently sacked for smoking dope on the job.”

Police files, showed he had a record.  Convicted of marijuana possession in 1992, and cocaine possession in 1994, in both cases, small amounts, not enough for a custodial sentence, treated as personal use only.

The Drug Squad had him under observation, in connection with the supply of drugs, to minors.

Hillier’s fingerprints held on file, were checked against prints found on the murder weapon … and they matched.

Was it nothing more than an act of revenge, or was it more likely, a contract kill?

Police searched Hillier’s flat, and found a Delivery Driver’s Uniform, and a holdall containing $248,520 along with photo’s and drawings of the Rutherford House.  He was arrested on the spot, for the murder of Donald and Angela Rutherford.

Francis Rutherford recognised Hillier in a line up, and a neighbour confirmed seeing the van, leave minutes after the shootings.

“I am innocent of these murders, I was in Florida at the time,” claimed Hillier, in a loud voice.  “This is a fit up.”

Police didn’t buy the story for one moment, the evidence spoke of his guilt.  Hillier was formerly charged with two counts of murder in the first degree, and one of grievous bodily harm.

As the date of his trial grew nearer, Hillier changed his plea to one of guilty, under advisement from his brief.  A deal was done; Hillier would serve a maximum of 30 years for his actions. 

“Why should I wholly carry the can, Francis Rutherford paid me to carry out these murders.”  Hillier stated after hearing the term he could expect.

Hillier issued a sworn statement that it was Francis Rutherford, who had given him the Magnum revolver, with twelve bullets, a week before the murders were due to take place.  He also paid me $250,000 in advance, some of which I have spent, promising me a further $250,000 when he got his hands on their estate.

He made it clear, that once I had shot Angela and Donald, I was to replace the hand gun in the display case in the study which he would leave open, and then snap it shut.

The trial began on June 10th 2007, at the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco.  It would prove to be high drama, indeed, attracting a lot of attention.  The states star witness was, of course; Peter Hillier.

He gave the jurors what they wanted a detailed account of the preparation involved in plotting the murder.  Making it appear to the police, that it had been a contract killing … and under no circumstances was he to rob the safe.

Hillier admitted that he shot Donald and Angela Rutherford, and knocked Francis unconscious, to remove him from police eyes, as a possible suspect.  You can’t blame me for this, when Francis Rutherford offered me $500,000 for two murders!

The main portion of the defence’s case focused on Francis, who attorney David Miller argued had the most to gain financially from his parent’s murders.

The judge let Miller call the polygraph examiner to the witness stand to testify about the inconclusive test.  In addition, detectives had given Francis, a second test six weeks before the trial, with the same results.

The jury convicted Peter Hillier on murder and conspiracy charges after only four hours of deliberations.

Hillier shouted across the courtroom.  I am not a bad man at heart … I only did it for the money.

Peter Hillier ended up serving 30 years for two counts of murder at Colorado Federal Prison, deemed one of the most secure institutions.

Francis Rutherford stood calmly in the dock, as the sentence was read out:  “You have been found guilty by the court, for conspiracy to murder, and sentenced to 25 years.”  All through the proceedings he just sat in the dock, smiling.

Sinclair Rutherford, could not believe his own grandson could be responsible for collaborating in such a violent act, that of murder … all in the name of greed.

 

F B S R

This stands for First British Serial Rights and confirms to the editor exactly what rights he would be accepting if he buys your article.

Serial Rights are the rights to publish the material in any publication that is issued in series.  In effect, this means the rights to publish in any newspaper or magazine.

British serial rights are simply the rights to publish in any newspaper or magazine published within the UK.  This still leaves you as the writer, with the rights to sell your article to another publication outside the UK.  A writer will often find that, with a little adaptation, an article is also saleable in the USA – in which case he is free to offer First US Serial Rights (FUSSR) or (FNASR).

First rights means, of course, the right to publish the material for the first time.  The editor therefore knows that your article has not already appeared elsewhere (either in whole or part) in the UK.

For a variety of reasons writers use different pen names, these names may alter in relation to the subject being written about.    

Serial Rights

Selling first serial rights – slices of your book that run before publication – offers you the opportunity to get paid to publicize your book.  If you have been writing articles about your subject for trade or consumer newspapers, magazines, newsletters or websites, you may already have the connection you need to sell excerpts.

The best time for first serial excerpts to appear on publication, when your book is in the stores.  This is especially true if your book has newsworthy revelations that you don’t want to leak out before publication.

However, there are two reasons to steal your own thunder by selling serial rights before publication:

You need money to sustain yourself while you write your proposal, or you need more money to write your book than you can expect in advance.  Selling one or more excerpts from your book, or even serializing the whole book as you write it, may make the difference in whether you can survive while you write it.  In this case, the money you earn will be the meat, and the publicity you generate will be the gravy.

You want to use an article to attract agents and editors.  The right article in the right publication at the right time will sell a book.  If your idea and your article about it are impressive enough:

Editors and agents will find you.  (If you have a novel in progress, your short story may enable you to sell it with only a partial manuscript and a synopsis.)

You may be able to use the article as a sample chapter in a nonfiction proposal.  (Your idea and your ability as a writer will have greater credibility if a magazine pays you to write about your topic.)

Can someone else who sees your article write a book based on your ideas?  YES.  You can’t protect an idea.  However, stating in the brief bio that appears with your article that the piece is from a ‘forthcoming book’ or ‘ a book in progress’ will signal agents and editors that a book is in the works and will help deflect potential competitors.

Unless they sell articles or first-serial rights on a regular basis, agents won’t have the connections, the time, or the interest to sell them for you.  And unless excerpts from your book will have strong potential or your publisher is giving your book a big push, their subsidiary rights department won’t do much, if anything, to sell them.

You want whoever has the most skill and commitment to sell serial rights.  Unless you are convinced that someone else will devote more time and energy to selling them than you will, you’re better off trying to serialise your book yourself, even if you have to learn how to do it as you go along.

Your publisher will keep second serial rights, the rights to sell excerpts after publication.  The contract usually calls for a 50/50 split of resulting profits.

Writer’s Copyright

The copyright act of 1956 protects your work as an author.  Technical manuals for the installation, operation and maintenance of machinery.

Written articles in books, magazines, newspapers and sales literature.

Trade Marks and industrial designs used in Publications/Handbooks.

Prints, slides, microfilms, audio, video taper, computer programs.

Pictorial and graphical material, charts, diagrams and technical drawings.

Designs of work still in progress and being developed.

What does the Copyright Act cover:           Published Works:

Magazine articles, technical manuals, specification and maintenance.  In these works, the actual content of the text, any illustrations artistic work or graphics are the copyright of the author.

The way the publisher has arranged the typeset and reproduced the text and illustrations is the copyright of the publisher.

The copyright of the author and publisher are quite separate and different in practice.

The authors copyright lasts for the life of the author or illustrator and for 50 years after the authors death.

The publishers copyright lasts for 25 years from date of publication.

© Year Name

All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording without prior permission of the publisher.  This publication may not be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise disposed of by way of trade in any form or binding or cover other than that in which it is published without prior consent of the publisher.

©       Text R.B.Bussey

©       (Illustrations) R.B.Bussey

Claims to copyright are usually stated on the back of the title page of a publication.

Legal copies of materials may be made in two ways:

          With the copyright owners permission

          Without permission provided certain conditions are complied with

If in doubt, take legal advice, under certain conditions it is legal to copy without permission.

Permission can be granted free of charge by a publisher, but certain conditions are frequently imposed:

          A fee payable for permission.

          A time limit imposed, after which the fee is renewable.

Restrictions forbidding changes to be made to the material without prior consent of the publisher.

          World rights in one language only.

A credit mentioned in the acknowledgements section of a work or a credit line printed on the page with the material including, author, title, copyright date, publisher, and stating the material is reproduced with permission.

Restrictions preventing the material from being incorporated in other material with credit to other sources.

Restrictions preventing the material from being used in electronic and computerised systems.

In return for permission to copy, publishers usually impose certain conditions.  Make it clear to the publisher exactly what you want to copy and for what purpose.

Ask what fees are payable and what conditions are imposed.

Always acknowledge permission when it is granted.

The publishers have made every effort to trace the copyright holders but if inadvertently overlooked any, they will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.

If you have overlooked copyright, give yourself a way of escape by stating that you are prepared to make amends.

Blanket Licences allow organisations to copy defined areas of materials on payment of royalties.  Copies made without direct permission of the copyright owners include copies made for the following circumstances:

          Research or private study.

          Copying by prescribed libraries.

          Copying in the course of education.

Who owns the Copyright:

Copyright is usually vested in the author, although if a photograph or illustration is commissioned and paid for, the copyright is vested in the person who commissioned it.  The author can either sell the entire copyright and retain it and licence part or whole of the work according to an agreed contract.

A French Martyr…

Joan this peasant girl
believed God, had spoken to her,
believed it was her duty
to save France, from English forces.

She was mocked by her peers
that a peasant girl, could save France,
but what choice did they have
as French lands, fell to the English.


Joan led French armies into battle
wearing her white armour,
her victories, her fame, were widespread
as French forces, drove back the English.

She was captured and sentenced to death
to be burned at the stake,
burned for being a witch
whilst praying for her accusers.

Characterisation

BRINGING CHARACTERS ALIVE:

In a short story, what happens is less important than who and whom.  A plot can be as simple as a central character recognising inner turmoil, reviewing their situation, and finding resolution in their thoughts.  What grabs the reader in this case is not events but personality.  We need to picture the character as a real person with a pulse and a heartbeat, before we feel involved with their challenge.  Empathy begins with recognition.  Ideally, a short story should establish rapport with the protagonist from the opening lines.  These opening lines, illustrate different techniques to ensure the reader can visualise the essential characters from the outset.

Voice:

You should never have married me.’

‘I haven’t regretted it for an instant.’

‘Not you, you fool!  Me!  You shouldn’t have got me to marry you if you loved me.  Why did you, when you knew it would let me in for all this.  It’s not fair!’

‘I didn’t know.  I know it’s not.  But what can I do about it?’

‘I’m being mashed up and eaten alive.’

‘I know.  I’m sorry.’

Starting a story with speech, so we hear the characters’ voices even before we meet them, can arouse a voyeuristic curiosity, rather like overhearing an encounter in a restaurant or on a train.  When two voices are used, both need distinct differentiation and some indication of gender and age, since page text, unlike radio, do not reveal these factors.  Conversational mannerisms are an effective way to ‘show, not tell’, and colloquial speech can be a dynamic way to introduce a character.  Here, Frances is complaining to Jonathan about their demanding baby.  Her shrill fatigue and his apologetic ineffectualness are established from the outset as they try to enjoy a holiday in Dorset retracing the steps of earlier, less stressful times.

Appearance:

Kate stood in front of the mirror trying on dresses.  She could almost get into her dark suit, but that couldn’t be right for the New Year and it was almost eighty outside.  She put on a yellow sleeveless dress with a white linen blazer and white sandals.  Too summery, but not bizarre.  Do Jewish women         wear hats?  Kate stared into the mirror, sweating in her slip.

Clothes give graphic evidence of personality and aspirations.  This opening glimpse shows us the full flesh-and-blood woman, without extensive physical description that might flatten our own imagination.  In entirely different use of the same technique, here is an opener which creates a character almost merging with the rural landscape where he has spent a long hard life.

Hawkheel’s face was as finely wrinkled as grass-dried linen, his thin back bent like a branch weighted with snow.

Memories:

Her earliest years were the best.  Anna was reared on the smell of floor wax and polish, in a flat in the centre of a proud    and dirty city with gold plates on its doors and a river full of ships that carried diamonds, coal and guns, and cafe’s that served bacon grease soup and gritty chips.

Memories give insight into a character’s formative experiences as well as revealing their present age and situation.  Recollections of hardship or commonly-shared times, like war or child-rearing, create empathy.  We meet the central character through their accumulated history, which gives a context for their thoughts and decisions and allows us to see the world through their eyes.

Relationships:

Immediately on wishing my mother dead and seeing the pain it caused her, I was sorry and cried so many tears that all the earth around me was drenched.  Standing before my mother I begged her forgiveness, and I begged so earnestly that she took pity on me.  Placing her arms around me, she drew my head closer and closer, until I finally suffocated.

Most stories are about relationships in some way – their initiation, their ending, or their place in the cycle of an individual’s life.  This story explores a mother-daughter relationship, and the opening goes straight to the point, vividly evoking passionate feelings of both love and fear.

Name:

She says to him, ‘on your birthday, McCreedy, what do you want to do?’

She always calls him McCreedy.  You’d have thought by now, after being his wife for so long, she’d have started to call him John, but she never does.  He calls her Hilda; she calls him McCreedy, like he was a stranger, like he was a footballer she’d seen on the telly.

The name you give your protagonist arouse immediate expectations.  John is solid and reliable.  Hilda is older than Tracey and less romantic than Melanie.  Here, another element is added because John’s wife addresses him by his surname, a lack of intimacy central to the theme of this sad, skilful, story.  Choosing an apt name can subtly convey the class and age of a character, and hint at temperament.  Naming ‘against type can be effective too; many readers feel at odds with their given name, and will sympathise with

the feelings you explore.

Look at short stories of the genre you admire, and analyse what element brings the character to life.  Is their name immediately evocative?  Do you hear or see them clearly as if in a film?  Or are you taken into their head, and shown dreams and memories which

arouse your empathy?

Examples:

“James Hi,” Richard said as he held up his hand.

“Hello Richard.”

“Where’s the car you borrowed from the car lot,” James said quite insistently.

“You must be mistaken,” replied Richard.

“That evening I saw the car you borrowed listed on the television news as a vehicle involved in a ram raid on a local shop, but the number plates were missing.”  James said in a knowingly manner.

“I’m no fool,” said James as he stood there coming his wavy hair.

“Who you going to tell, the owners or the police,” enquired Richard, his head gradually showing signs of sweat.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet, but you’ll get your comeuppance soon.”  Stated James.

“Are you going to make sure that I get it?”  Said Richard, in a satisfying voice.

“If that’s what it takes to put you back on the straight and narrow path, I sure will,” James replied.

“I don’t think so,” said Richard, as he threw back his head.

At that moment Richard walked away from James, ignoring the issue.  James walked over to the telephone and rang the local police, informing them about the vehicle on the news.

– – – – – – –

“Take off the laser and drop it to the ground,” the officer instructed.

“But, officer, we’re here on legitimate business,” Merton said defiantly.

The officer slowly raised his eyebrows.

“Yes, my partner, and I are salvage men,” Merton explained.

“Ah, scavengers.”

The officer looked at Merton as if he was something they scraped off the bottom of their boots.

“No offence officer, but can I see some proof of identity?”  Merton said queasily.

The officer scowled, then begrudgingly reached into his breast pocked, and with his free hand pulled out at Inter-Gallactic Officer’s ID card, which carried a Holographic image of the bearer.

The name on the card was Yenrab.

“Now, let’s see yours,” the officer said in a gruff voice.

Merton unzipped his side pocket and slowly removed his ID card.  Yenrab snatched the offered card, examined it and handed it back to him.  Everything seems ok here man” he said.

A great tide of relief surged into Merton’s heart.  “Now officer Yenrab, if you’d like to tell me what all this is about, perhaps I can help you,” he said.

“Don’t you know what the wrecked ship is?”

The question was unexpected and Merton hesitated for a moment.  He slowly turned to look at the old ship as if for help, only to see the looming face of Regor, who had seemed to appear from nowhere.  Neither Merton nor Yenrab had heard him approach.

“Hey Merton, who’s your friend?” Regor inquired.

“Inter-Gallactic Officer Yenrab.  I’ve checked his ID out, and he seems ok.”  Merton said knowingly.  He turned and looked at Yenrab for a moment, as if acknowledging the situation.  His face turned to stone for a moment.

“Let’s see some ID pal, and quick about it,” Yenrab barked his terminaser back in his hand quick as lightning.

“Steady on, Officer!  This is my partner, Regor.”  Merton intervened bluntly.

“Cork it!”  Yenrab shouted at Merton.  Come on, come on, he waved his terminaser impatiently at Regor.

Regor handed the card to Yenrab and stood quietly by apparently unfazed by the officer’s attitude.  Yenrab examined the card and slowly looked up at Merton and Regor.

“How long have you known this man?” he asked bluntly.

Merton was surprised by the question.  “About two years or so, he mumbled.

Yenrab turned and faced Regor, but his words ere for Merton.  “This card is a forgery, and you are a fraud.  His real name is Minefta and a known collaborator of a very dangerous criminal known as Lepal.”

Merton stood and stared in total disbelief at Yenrab.  He searched the officer’s face, for some kind of humour, but there was none.  The man was not joking!

“Hand over your laser, butt first and make it slow,” Yenrab barked.

Regor shrugged his shoulders.  “I’m not armed.”

Merton looked at Regor.  He had never known him to lie before.

“Hand it over, or I will blast you here and now!” insisted Yenrab.

An author has to know everything about his or her character, from their life history to the size of shoes they take.  It can be found helpful to compose character sketches; list colours of their hair and eyes, physical notes, as well as personal details like preferences in food, favourite colous, tastes in fabrics and furniture.  This can be built upon as the story progresses.

Example:

  • Cara glanced out of the arched window into the courtyard and her delicately curved brows drew together.  Her slim hands with their exquisite nails tightened on the polished wood of the window seat.  Sparks in the depths of her sherry-coloured eyes indicated a storm to come – and it was not often that her sunny disposition turned stormy, for she was a delightful creature, unspoilt by her wealth, whose temper was seldom provoked.

* * * * *

No matter what sort of fiction you’re writing, you’re going to have to populate your story with characters, and a lot of them, if not all of them, you’re going to have to create from scratch.

Empathy and sympathy are two sides of one coin — empathy is understanding, while sympathy is an affinity you share with your character that creates change, allowing the character to affect you. You must feel empathy for the characters you create, both the heroes and the villains, but you can never feel sympathy. In other words, you have to understand why your characters do what they do, but you can’t let that understanding tempt you to ease their suffering, or let them take the easy way out of situations, or experience sudden miracles that remove their obstacles.

CHARACTER CREATION:  Start first with a name, followed further in the story with a physical description, as and when the story dictates it.

If you want to make your character come to life, you could choose something that terrifies him.

A dramatic problem within the story, could lead to enhancement of your character.

ALWAYS EXPAND CHARACTER TRAITS.

Creating Conflict

Creating Conflict and Sustaining Suspense

“Dan stood on the wet paving, his arms limp by his side, his jaw hanging in horror, as he peered through a crack in the curtains. Before him a man crept towards the figure of his wife as she lay on the sofa.

“Leave my wife alone,” his mind screamed silently. His mouth formed the words but no sound would come.

On the sofa his wife smiled and opened her arms invitingly. Dan did not notice his car keys drop from between his numb fingers. They landed in a puddle at his feet with a dull jangle. At the sound, the stranger turned to the window to look at him and Dan’s heart skipped a beat.

He wondered how hard it would be to murder his best friend.”

Did that little excerpt leave you wanting more? I hope so – that was the point.

Conflict is the driving force behind all good fiction. Without it, there is no story. The good news is, creating conflict is much easier than you might believe.

Many new writers believe that adding conflict to a story is as simple as inserting violence into the plot line. Nothing could be further from the truth. The conflict in the example above is only present in Dan’s emotional state. Physically, he has not moved from the window.

Let me give you an example of writing without conflict.

Dan arrived home from work. He stepped out of the car and hurried up the drive to escape the rain. Through a crack in the curtains he spied his wife awaiting his arrival. She was curled up on the sofa, a serene little smile on her face. His car keys fell from his grasp and he stooped to pick them up, before hurrying into the house.

Now, tell me – would you like to see 400 more pages like this?

Did you happen to notice that Dan’s point of view is exactly the same in both examples? He is still outside, peering through a crack in the curtains, watching his wife on the sofa. The difference is, I have created tension and suspense by adding emotional conflict about what Dan is seeing and feeling.

Also in the first example, I have added the hint that it is raining. This is to introduce a sense of physical conflict. Dan’s first impulse should be to run into the house. He ignores this impulse and endures the physical discomfort, because he is emotionally preoccupied.

In the second example, there really is no reason for the reader to want to continue. Nothing special or unusual is happening to the characters. Nothing untoward is going on. Where is the point in continuing to turn pages?

Risk

In the first example above, Dan is trying to deal with the conflicting emotions of watching his wife with another man. The final line, however, introduces an element of risk. Morally, murdering a man is incomprehensible to most people. And yet, faced with a big enough emotional dilemma, Dan considers the risk. Most importantly, we touched on a nerve inside Dan that shows the reader why he is acting and feeling the way he is.

Inserting conflict for the sake of it becomes pointless unless the character is facing a certain degree of risk. In this scenario, Dan could be imprisoned for the rest of his life if he proceeds with the intent of murder. The situations and feelings that your characters must live through should still feel believable to the reader.

If I had written that Dan simply walked into the house and slapped his friend across the face, the risk becomes non-existent. Dan has nothing to lose (except maybe his wife) and the reader has no reason to continue reading.

Empathy

Most people can relate to Dan’s feelings of helplessness and hopelessness while he stares into the window. This situation also encompasses some peoples’ deepest fear, so the suspense is more poignant because of this.

But, even though Dan is contemplating murder, most people can empathize with him, because the dilemma he is in, is one that people can relate to.

Imagine how you would have felt if Dan had raced inside, thrown off his coat and joined in? The conflict is diffused, the empathy is shattered and the reader is thrown off balance.

When creating a scene, bear in mind that your readers want to see the protagonist win. But there is no point in winning at all, if the stakes were never high enough to make them care about your hero in the first place.

Raise the Stakes

Okay, Dan’s wife is having an affair with his best friend. Is this enough conflict to keep a reader turning pages in anticipation for 400 pages? Probably not.

Sure, Dan is contemplating murdering his best friend. But he hasn’t actually done anything. He’s still staring into the window, remember? Is this enough to keep a reader enthralled for another 400 pages? I doubt it.

Once the initial shock of the first conflict is over, the reader is going to want fresh conflict to keep the suspense high.

It’s time to raise the stakes.

“A rolling boom of thunder heralded a flash of lightning and the rain gave way to a barrage of stinging hailstones. Dan shook his head, his daze lifted, and backed away from the window. He ran through the blinding hail back towards his car, his mind working furiously. He had always kept a small gun in the glove compartment, but he no idea whether or not it was loaded. A quick check reassured him that it was.

He swallowed down the tears that threatened to overcome him at the thought of shooting the two people he loved the most and ran back to the house.”

So now Dan is no longer simply contemplating murder. He’s really going to do it! This forces the reader to start asking questions. Will he do it? And if he does kill them both, will he get caught? How will he ever escape a double homicide charge?

Not only does this increase the tension of our little story, but it throws the reader into a kind of dilemma, too. Is it possible to still feel empathy for a protagonist who has become a cold-blooded killer? Your reader will simply have to keep reading to find out.

Rising Complications

Once Dan kills his wife and best friend, where does a writer go from there? Once the trysting couple are dead, then what? Of course, Dan will need to contend with escaping the long arm of the law, he’ll have to face his own conscience …

Or we could lead the reader into a situation that is even more menacing than the first.

“Dan crept into the living room, arm outstretched, gun wavering uncertainly before him. With an effort, he stilled his shaking hand and took another step into the room. The entwined couple on the sofa had not noticed him yet. He took a deep breath, steeling himself against the nausea that bubbled up from the pit of his stomach and poised his finger over the trigger.

“… and so, darling, if you push him down the stairs, it will look like an accident.”

“Will you help me with the… you know… the body?”

“Of course. No one will ever know. I’m too high up in the force to be questioned about an investigation like this. “

Phew! Just when the reader thought it might not be okay to like a homicidal husband as a protagonist, it turns out that his cheating wife and best friend are plotting to kill him anyway.

The problem is, he knows that they want him dead and he can’t go the police – not now that we know the friend is a member of the police force. Who would ever believe him over the word of an officer?

Is it likely the reader will continue to turn pages to find out how he manages to beat these odds?

Creating conflict should be as simple as continuing to ask yourself questions during every scene – and then forcing yourself to be honest about the answer.

Ask about the actions of your characters

Is your hero reacting in a realistic way to the conflict you have thrown at him? Would he really do that?

Ask about the situations you have written

Would he really go and get a gun?

Is the situation really desperate enough to contemplate murder?

Ask about the continuity

Does this scene move the story forward?

Is a scene showing Dan sitting on the loo for forty minutes, humming the theme song to the Simpsons going to increase or decrease tension?

But most importantly, ask questions about your readers

Why should the reader care what happens to your characters?

Why should the reader keep turning those pages?

Why would the reader want to read what happens next?

Conflict in Fiction

Inserting conflict into your fiction is not quite as simple as inserting a fist-fight into the storyline. Conflict in fiction can be as diverse and as individual as you are. It can also be used effectively to heightened tension and increase suspense.

In many cases, the conflict within the story is the driving force towards the story goal. The need to overcome the conflict is often the central focus of the hero. The means to overcome that same conflict can then become a path to victory for the protagonist.

Yet not all conflict must be gut-wrenching, wrist-slashing, eye-popping suspense. Often, the more subtle forms of internal emotional conflict can impact upon a reader far more deeply.

My own first reaction to the word conflict is to think of violence, but what is the real definition of the word?

According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, it is:

1) To come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory; at variance or in opposition; clash

2) Discord of action, feeling or effect; antagonism or opposition as of interests or principles

3) A mental struggle arising from opposing demands or impulses

Conflict in a story does not have to be light sabers or laser guns, automatic weapons or explosions. It can be as simple as what clothes will our protagonist wear in the morning, or as deep as how far should modern science go? Conflict can also be an internal process. No matter where your story’s conflict arises, every story must contain an element of it.

The type of conflict used in each story depends largely on your target audience.

age – sex – special interests – genre – publications –
small press – large publisher – self-publishing

Certain genres and age groups will limit or restrict the type and depth of conflict the writer can explore. Special interest publications allow the writer to target a more specific conflict. YA novels and stories will limit the degree to which you can explore sexual conflicts and physical violence, but will heighten the importance of emotional conflict. A primarily male or female audience will vary in the type and style of conflict. A Christian publisher is more likely to focus on internal conflicts, rather than physical or sexual conflicts.

The type of conflict your novel has is part of what determines its genre.

Romance novels require the primary conflict to involve two people struggling with a romantic relationship with/without sexual tension. By this, I mean the type of conflict that touches the reader emotionally, rather than intellectually – really “tugs at the heart-strings”. The audience’s age level will determine the amount of sexual content and tension. Because the romantic conflict is the primary conflict, it cannot be resolved until the end of the story.

Mysteries require an external conflict where a crime or disappearance must be solved. However, that does not exclude internal conflicts within the main character’s nature or personal relationships. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is a delightful character with a lot of internal conflicts between her own emotions, family and career choices.

What makes a thriller is a high stakes conflict. Here is where my definition of conflict finally holds up. The nature of the thriller is the risk of extreme bodily harm or death to the protagonist and/or those he/she cares about. The danger can be from other people in the form of terrorists, murderers, psychopaths, etc or a violent act of nature: flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake or volcano. Violence is at the very heart of the conflict.

Science fiction and fantasy are two of the most versatile genres. The conflict can range from sword and sorcery or space opera to questions about the morality of creating artificial life or cloning. While different publishers prefer different sorts of conflict, there is room for any variety of style and type. Literary stories are the antithesis of my incorrect definition of conflict.

Literary stories revolve around the internal conflict and how the character deals with it. The external circumstances and the character’s actions are the setting for delving into the character’s internal thoughts and the journey they take to decide upon their action or inaction.

All of these genres can be combined effectively. Often, combination – or cross-genre – stories are harder to market but some of the best novels I have ever read have included cross-genre settings and conflicts.

A Planet’s Hopes… Dashed by Disaster…

Mathew Sanderson, Captain of the HMS Bounty space ship looked out the window at the golden coloured surface of the planet Cirinius, some fifty thousand kilometres below them in the Pegasus system. Ten months of planning, six months in space, we humans had finally arrived at our new home!

Astronauts: Marcus, the expedition leader, along with Caroline, Phil and Ralph had been launched in their shuttle, our short-range space craft, to orbit the planet, waiting for the signal, that it was safe to land.

“Looks like the relay satellite is working,” commented Phil, seeing the lights on the control panel light up.  Their first major task had been to deploy a communications satellite into the planet’s orbit.

Cirinius was almost twice the size of Earth; the long horizon, mountains and rocks dotted across the snow covered landscape.  With the satellite in orbit, surface communications had been enhanced to cover a larger area, and was able to communicate with Earth, instead of piggy backing its way back using radio waves.

“Good to know everything appears to be working,” Ralph spoke to himself as he uploaded the video feed with NASA, as they came online.

“HMS Bounty,” she spoke without any emotion in her voice, “you are cleared for landing, proceed at your discretion.”

“You would expect more from Earth, this is  a momentous achievement after six months in space,” suggested Ralph.

The shuttle’s computers are designed to automate everything, from minor approach adjustments to the final landing,  In the event of computer failure, Ralph the pilot would land it manually.

The entire landing, start to finish was being recorded; sure to be heard millions of times over the next few weeks by space enthusiasts, the world over.  “HMS Bounty, beginning landing sequence.”

The world-wide co-operation in extra terrestrial matters was no longer political sustainable, when thousands upon thousands couldn’t afford to put food on their table.  The planet was in desperate need of space and food, to house and feed Earth’s growing population increase.

America’s suggestion of a new home in space, was considered no more than a pipe dream – forcing them to go it alone, with the eyes of the world upon them.

“I see one of the supply ship,” exclaimed Marcus.  “There’s another down by the tree’s,” he pointed out to his fellow astronauts.

A total of five unmanned cargo ships stocked with food, equipment, water, oxygen and seed stock had been sent ahead of the mission.  All had landed safely on the surface, where they waited the astronauts arrival.

“That’s precision flying,” Phil spoke out loud to anyone who would listen.  “Those boys on Earth are good!”

Marcus nodded in agreement.

Planting the flag in the surface of Cirinius was the moment everyone would remember, but in fact the first humans on the planet had but one simple task: to survive.  The hopes of their home world rested firmly on their shoulders.

The crew of HMS Bounty was methodically preparing to take their first steps onto this newly discovered planet.  The main video camera was extended from the underside of the shuttle, where it would film their first steps, and send back the live feed to Earth.

Caroline Joined Phil near the airlock.  “where’s Marcus?”

“Already in the airlock suiting up, he’s so excited to get out there.”

Inside the airlock, Marcus climbed into his pressure suit and helmet, under the watchful gaze of the empty suits and helmets lined along the wall.  The suits were white in colour with gold visors.  Average temperature on Cirinius, ranged from 25 degrees Fahrenheit during daytime hours to -40 degrees Fahrenheit at night.  Thankfully, the climate controlled suits would compensate, for the changes in temperature.

The order of exit had been predetermined by mission control.  Marcus the expedition leader would be first to step onto the planet’s surface, followed by Caroline, and finally Phil.  Ralph was to remain on board to maintain the link with Earth and monitor the vitals of the astronauts from a safe distance.

That was the way mission control wanted it to happen.

Marcus drew a few deep breaths to test the suits air valves were working, and checked the gauges on his over-sized wrist watch control panel.

Not waiting for Phil and Caroline to join him, he pressed the outer airlock door controls.  He watched and waited for the light to turn from red to green.

Marcus poked his head out, lifts up his gold sun-visor, and gazes in wonder at the deep ice plains which lay before him.  He finally steps down onto the surface.

The suit keeps him warm, as he walks away from the craft.  He surmises to himself, this must be their wintertime.

Some twenty paces later, he comes to a halt, as the indicator alarm on his wrist starts bleeping – a warning, as he crunches the snow beneath his feet to keep them warm.

He hears the hum of pumps and fans of his portable life support backpack, get louder and louder, as they strain to supply him with oxygen.

“Marcus,” shouted Phil through the helmet’s radio, “we three are supposed to step down together for all the world to witness our steps!”

Marcus debated whether to respond, but he turned faced the craft and smiled.  “I just wanted to be the first to step on this planet.”

An angry silence followed.  “We are coming out,” replied Phil.  “You are not hogging all the glory for yourself.”

Marcus could only imagine the furious face that lay hidden behind the sun-visor.  “Don’t come out here, the snow is eating through my space-suit.  Save yourselves.”

Phil gasped in awe.  “Marcus get back inside.”

“I only have minutes before it eats through my air tank pipes.  Shut the door, and save yourselves.”

Phil and Caroline looked in the direction of Marcus, the expedition leader and geologist.  His choice to go out alone, had saved them all from certain death.

As their leader, Marcus knew his primary duty was the safety of his team.  “You must leave the surface immediately, and return to the space-craft, there is nothing you can do for me.”

As the sunlight was fading, Marcus watched as Phil and Caroline, closed the door on him and the new planet – once thought of as a new beginning.

We had hoped to transform the surface of the planet Cirinius, melt its ice, plant seeds, build houses for a new generation of people.  Instead we found a deadly planet, that would kill all those who set foot upon it.  Our mission leader Marcus Clarkson, gave his life, and will always be remembered for his bravery!