The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Five

Banner for Episode Five

She Only Touches What She Wants to Touch

 

When we last caught Moxie, Nettles had just accused her of wrong doing . . .

“What do you mean what did I do? What did you do? You just contaminated a crime scene! I saw someone in dark clothing with green eyes run out the back.” Moxie waved her arm up and down pointing out Nettles dark attire and green eyes.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just got here and I didn’t see anyone leaving the castle. But never mind that. Call 911,” said Nettles.

“With what? I don’t have a phone,” said Moxie.

“Right. Stay here. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll run up to the front office. I’m going to tell everyone I see that you’re in here with the King’s body, so don’t even think about running.”

“But I—”

Nettles ran past the thrones, down the steps and straight up the hill.

Moxie felt adrenaline soaring through her body, her fight or flight response revved up to max. She did want to run and keep running all the way back to her apartment, but instead walked over to King Terrence’s lifeless body, careful not to touch anything. She tried to piece together what she had heard. She had expected a pool of blood and some bloody blunt object, but there weren’t any signs of an attack. The King’s face was slack. He looked peaceful like he was only resting. She really wanted to bend down and shake him, wake him up, but she didn’t dare touch him. At the moment, not having her fingerprints on anything at the scene was all she had going for her.

Nettles burst through the door then rested his hands on his knees breathing hard. “This,” he started but then took a few more breaths, “This is Harry Hawkshaw. He’s a detective.”

Moxie admired the tall, thin man; his black curls peeking out from under his floppy velvet hat framed his strong features. “Wow. That was fast,” she said.

“I was already here enjoying the fair with my family. Okay. Where’s the King?” said Detective Hawkshaw in a deep, buttery voice.

Nettles guided Mr. Hawkshaw to where the King lay crumpled next to his overturned throne.

“Did you rent that?” asked Moxie pointing at the detective’s fancy doublet.

“I am afraid not. My wife is really into this whole medieval life thing. She made it herself. It took her weeks.” Mr. Hawkshaw tugged at one of his thighs. “I really wish those poor blokes hadn’t worn tights.

“This is Moxie Sharpe,” said Nettles. “I caught her in the act. She almost bludgeoned me with that lute.”

“That is absolutely not true, Nettles. Well the lute part is, but I was defending myself from the real killer.”

“Ah, so you saw who did it. That’s great. A witness. It will be a while before the boys from the nearest precinct can get here, so take your time and tell me what happened. Let’s start at the beginning. What were you doing when the killer arrived?” Harry, to Moxie’s great surprise, pulled a small notebook and pen from a brown leather, drawstring bag hanging from his belt. He began to take notes. “Go ahead,” he said.

“I don’t think I was here when he arrived. I mean I think he was already here.”

“Wait. Back up. So you left and then came back?”

“Right. My fellow musicians left very quickly after the show. Nettles said a quick ‘On the morrow’ and was gone. I was excited about some free time, so I was hurrying back to camp through the woods when I noticed I didn’t have my jacket.”

“Didn’t you need to return your costume? I recognize it from the rental. We used to rent before my wife made our costumes. My wife wore that one a few times.”

Moxie looked down at her bodice and long skirt and imagined the hundreds of sweaty people who had worn this costume before her. Suddenly her skin crawled like she was standing in an ant hill. She unconsciously took a couple steps to her left running into a music stand.

Harry Hawkshaw tapped his notepad with his pen. “Miss Moxie?”

“When I came here for the second joust I had my helmet and my leather jacket on. I walked through the woods so no one would see me. I was taking them back to my tent the same way. Then I was going to return the costume. Well, actually, I hadn’t thought about returning the costume. Since I had to wear it tomorrow you know.”

Had to wear it tomorrow? So you think you won’t have to wear it tomorrow, now that the king is dead? Don’t you think the show must go on?” Nettles needled. He turned to Harry, “She never wanted to be here. She probably did it just to get out of her contract. I think she’s here under false pretense. I don’t think she ever even touched a lute before this morning.”

“You never complained while we were playing,” said Moxie, surprised that she hadn’t fooled Nettles after all. “But since you brought it up, what really happened to Sir Gerald, Nettles? I spent some time out on his patio and rock wall at his campsite. He put a lot of time and care into that space like he planned on spending time there. I don’t think he would just run off.” She turned to Harry. “The lute player I replaced has been missing for almost a week and no one seems to be looking for him.”

“Moxie doesn’t know what she is talking about. Gerald was a flake and a womanizer, Nettles said suddenly very professional. The previous whine in his voice had vanished. “When he didn’t show up for rehearsals, I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised.”

“How long had Gerald worked with you?” asked Harry.

“Eight years,” said Nettles.

“Seems a little strange to me,” said Harry, “just not showing up after showing up for eight years. Did you fill out a missing persons report?”

“No. Like I said, I believe he’s holed up in some motel with his latest fling.”

“Right,” Harry said lifting one eyebrow and tilting his head. “Well, I’ll talk to the local police about that as well, when they get here.”

“No,” Nettles exclaimed too quickly and too loudly. “I mean. There’s no reason for that. After I sent him a breach of contract complaint, Sir Gerald sent me a letter of apology. I have it on file in the front office.”

“And what did this letter say?”

“Oh, the usual. He’s sorry he let me down. He met this great girl and wants to make it work, so he’s giving up the minstrel life. He’s too old to live in a tent in the woods. That kind of thing.”

“I’ll need to see that letter,” said Harry. “As soon as we’re done here, I’ll follow you to the front office and get a copy.”

“The front office will be closed and locked by then. I’m afraid I don’t have a key. Do you want me to run and get it now? You can stay here and get Moxie’s story and I’ll run and get it before they close up.”

“No. That’s okay. You can send me a copy tomorrow. I’m more interested in getting both of your stories of what happened here while they’re still fresh. Since Sir Gerald isn’t actually missing, he is not my concern.”

Moxie heard Nettles’s huge sigh of relief. She wondered if Harry had heard it too. If he was any sort of detective, he had to know Nettles was lying. And if Nettles was lying about Sir Gerald. . . . Moxie had a sinking feeling that she was in more trouble than she could imagine.

“Moxie, let’s get back to your story. You came back to get your jacket and . . .”

“I didn’t notice anything until I had already walked to the other side of the room by that trunk. I put on my jacket and was ready to leave when I heard loud voices and a crash. I stayed hidden behind the wall, so I didn’t actually see anything.” Moxie suddenly realized that she didn’t know what had happened at all.

“But you saw the killer,” said Harry.

“Now that I think about it,” said Moxie, “I don’t know if that person killed the King. All I saw was someone in dark clothing with green eyes leaving the building. I think they saw me, but I’m not sure. They could have been looking at a shadow in the dark just like I was.”

“You keep saying ‘they’. Was it a man or a woman?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tall or short?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You said he or she was near the door. What was their height compared to the door?”

Moxie walked over to the door. She put her hand on the door to mark her height then stepped back and looked at it. “Taller than me,” she said. Then she looked at Nettles. “I would say Nettles’s height.”

“Oh shut it, Moxie.” Nettles walked to Moxie in two long strides. “Hold your hand still,” he said and stood up against the door.

The top of his head lined up barely an inch past her hand. “So you’re saying you can tell the person you saw was taller than you, but barely an inch taller, from across the room, but you couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman?” said Nettles like he was the prosecutor at her trial.

“Guess I’m not much a witness,” said Moxie. She walked back to Harry. “Sorry I can’t be of any help.”

“Actually, Moxie, you’ve been a great help,” said Harry. “Nettles, why did you say ‘On the morrow’ after the joust? Don’t the minstrels usually end the day after the evening parade?”

“That’s right. Nettles told me there was an evening parade, but I forgot all about it,” said Moxie.

“She must have misunderstood me,” said Nettles. “She had absolutely no familiarity with the vernacular.”

“Is this true, Moxie? Are you not familiar with Old English?” asked Harry.

“Not really. But I know an ‘On the morrow’ when I hear it.”

“I should fire you right now. Missing afternoon wandering and planning to skip the parade. I think I smelled alcohol on your breath at second joust.”

“I’m curious, Nettles,” said Moxie, “I came back to get my jacket, but what brought you back here after leaving in such a hurry?”

“I—”

Nettles was interrupted by the arrival of the police. Moxie, Nettles and Harry were quickly corralled into the musicians’ section. Once all of the new arrivals had entered and gotten to work marking the scene and removing the body, Harry introduced himself to the officer in charge leaving Moxie and Nettles to watch in silence.

Moxie expected they would be invited down to the station any moment, but the longer they waited, the more they seemed forgotten. Harry and the officer were talking casually, laughing and smiling. Their behavior didn’t seem appropriate for a homicide investigation.

Finally, when the other officers had cleaned up and left, Harry brought his colleague over to speak to them. “Moxie, Nettles, this is Officer Ormerod. He has some very interesting news for you. Go ahead, Jim, tell them.”

“I think the only crime here is a false report,” said Officer Ormerod, “but we’re not worried about that. You were just over-zealous. We’ll have to wait on the medical examiner’s results, but it appears this man died of a heart attack, or maybe an aneurysm or something. I would say natural causes. There aren’t any apparent signs of foul play.”

Harry patted Moxie on the shoulder. “Sorry you got such a fright, my lady,” he said with a wink, “but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“What?” Moxie exclaimed. “Are you sure? What about the person I saw?”

“Probably someone who saw him die or came across the body and was just as afraid as you were. Hopefully that person will come forward once he or she knows they are not a suspect.”

Moxie wasn’t convinced. She looked at Nettles.

Nettles gaze held Moxie. The pierced lips of his regular, strained expression slowly curved up at the ends into a sinister grin.

What really happened to the King? What is Nettles hiding? Tune in next week for another twisting, turning, action-packed misadventure.

 

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The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Four

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe banner for episode four

Episode Four: She Only Tastes What She Wants to Taste

When we left Moxie, she was buying shoes and overheard Nettles making mysterious plans . . .

 

Moxie signed her receipt with her well-practiced illegible scribble and hurried around the side of the tent, but Nettles and his conspirator were nowhere to be seen. She didn’t have an appetite for greasy fair food, so she decided to spend the rest of her break relaxing at her tent. She enjoyed the new spring in her step as she followed the footpath. The trees and underbrush thickened around her until it was almost dark in the mid-day sun. The first couple of tents she passed were obviously new and temporary employees—small tents with no sign of life around them. The further she walked, the larger the tents and more elaborate the living space. The camp across from hers had a full wood dining area with a table, shelves, two walls and a roof.

Moxie’s tent had been set up where Sir Gerald, the missing lute player, had lived every summer for the last eight years. The entrance of her three room, eight-person tent opened to a stone patio with a rock wall with little nooks for candles and outcroppings for coffee cups or bowls. Moxie imagined him spending all of his free time wandering the area alone searching for the perfect large, flat stones to plant in his patio and collecting shiny treasures for the wall. Then she remembered Nettles had said Sir Gerald liked the wenches, so maybe rock gathering walks was how he drew in his conquests. She now saw each of the prettiest rocks as a notch in Sir Gerald’s bedpost.

Moxie dove into her complete mess of a living space. Her bags had exploded, throwing her possessions everywhere, the moment she opened them. A slight smell of musk made her think that Pearl must have stuck her with some old, used tent. She grabbed her motorcycle helmet and put it on, buckling her chin strap just to feel normal. She unburied her leather jacket and hugged its thick leather to her chest before slipping her arms into the silky lining. The smell of motor oil and the grime of the road embraced her like a friendly hug.

Moxie believed that to be the best she had to always push her boundaries. That philosophy had led to many gnarly spills, so now she lived in constant pain. Walking up and down the hills of the fair on uneven ground wasn’t helping. She set up a folding chair on the stone porch and sank into it. The sound of frogs chirping in ecstasy bounced off the trees from a distant unseen pond. She popped a couple Tylenol 3 and washed them down with a swig from her flask. The warm burn finally loosened the knot in her shoulder and she took a deep breath of clean forest air which instantly threw her into a coughing fit.

Finally feeling like herself again, Moxie took another swig from her flask and contemplated the events of the day. Sure, she was a stranger to the ways of the renaissance fair, but this place and these people seemed extra strange. She wondered what Nettles was up to. And the King and Queen were certainly worried about something. Maybe the Queen was the one talking to Nettles by the shoe tent. Or maybe it was Megan. Megan and Ryan were involved somehow. What about the angry jouster? What did the King do to make that actor so angry? Does any of it have to do with Sir Gerald’s disappearance?

Moxie caught herself imagining Sir Gerald looking similar to the angry jouster, flowing blonde mane, perfectly groomed facial hair, muscular arms and those abs. . . . Wait a minute. The jouster was wearing armor. She was fantasizing about the lead singer of Sex With Helmets. He was so hot. And she should be spending this weekend with him at Scandrum. Why Pearl, why?

 

Family of skunks

from hww.ca

Moxie’s thoughts were interrupted by a little grunt that sounded like a tiny pig under her chair. She froze when she saw the black and white critter waddle out only inches from her foot. She imagined she was a statue and held her breath. She had heard many horror stories of the consequences of startling a skunk. This place was bad enough without having to bathe in tomato juice for the next few days. The skunk sniffed and grunted along the little rock wall, circled her chair and waddled back under her tent. As it ducked under the pallets she saw a little family of eyes and noses welcome it home. Oh great, thought Moxie, not only do I have to worry about my fellow musicians, the King and Queen and a violent jouster, I get to live in fear of stepping on a skunk every time I’m near my tent. What if I have to pee in the middle of the night?

Moxie took a long swig from her flask and with a big sigh got up and left her camp. She walked down the path to the bottom of the hill near the frog pond and tromped through the woods to the back of the joust field. Her helmet protected her head and face from branches and leaves and her leather jacket protected her arms from brambles and thorns. She was thinking how well her motorcycle gear prepared her for life in the woods when she opened the door at the back of the castle.

“My lady, hast thou lost thine God given mind?” Nettles shrieked. He ran over to Moxie and tried to yank her helmet off of her head.

She pushed him away with one hand while undoing her chinstrap with the other. She calmly put her helmet under her chair and put her jacket on a trunk along the wall. “Calm yourself Nettles. I walked the back way. Nobody saw me, except a skunk and maybe some frogs.”

Nettles scowled and returned to his seat. “You were supposed to join us earlier as a wandering minstrel. Where were you?”

“I needed to buy shoes and then I needed to set up my camp. I’m sure you understand.”

“Indeed. However, you will be expected on the morrow.”

“Whatever you say Nettles.”

During the second joust, the angry knight was nowhere to be seen. He was replaced by his squire who could barely stay on his horse and yet managed to win his joust. Everyone stuck to their script and their lines were stilted and emotionless. She wondered what happened to the King and Queen. They had been such amazing actors this morning, now they might as well be wooden cut-outs. She also wondered where the angry knight had gone. The show was completely lacking without him.

She planned to ask her fellow musicians after the joust, but they were packed up and out the door as soon as the last note finished resonating. She took Nettles’s brisk “On the morrow” to mean they were done for the day, so she grabbed her helmet from under her chair and hurried out the back of the castle. She happily skipped back along the path she had made through the woods thinking that this gig was actually not that bad. Then she felt a stinging, itching sensation and noticed scratches on her arms. She had forgotten her jacket.

Moxie hurried back the way she had come. She didn’t want to give up a minute of her free time. She didn’t notice that she wasn’t alone until after she put on her jacket. She recognized the King’s voice. He sounded nervous.

“Look. I made a mistake. What do you want me to do?” he said.

She didn’t hear another person, but then something heavy scraped across the floor and she heard thuds and a crash like something or someone falling over.

Then the King begged, “Please, don’t.” She heard a grunt like someone was punched or kicked in the gut and then the King yelled, “Oh God. No.”

Then nothing, complete silence, so Moxie peeked around the wall. She saw the King lying in a heap on the ground and a dark figure at the back wall about to open the door. Before she could duck back behind the partition, the figure turned and stared through her with piercing green eyes. The figure paused. Had he seen her? Was he coming to get her? Moxie didn’t dare to look. She grabbed the lute, holding the body of the instrument to use the tuning pegs as deadly weapons. Just as she was sure the figure would be upon her, she saw Nettles.

“Lady Sharpe, what doest thou?” he said.

Moxie screamed and almost impaled him, but caught herself and put down the lute. She peeked around the corner. No one was there, except the motionless king.

Nettles followed her gaze. “What’s going on in here? Is that King Terrence?”

Nettles hurried forward and checked for a pulse. “Oh the realm is lost. The king is dead.”

“Really Nettles? This is real life. Could you stop?”

Nettles turned sharply. His green eyes bore into her like daggers. “Moxie what have you done?” he said.

 

Is the king dead? Who was the shadowy figure? Is Moxie a suspect? Tune in next time for another heart-pounding, thrill-a-minute misadventure.

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

Episode Three: She Only Smells What She Wants to Smell

When we last joined Moxie, she thought she had witnessed a jewel heist, but when the dust settled nothing appeared to be missing . . .

During the rest of the parade Moxie felt accosted by stench. Every few feet brought a wave of yet another foreign smell. A hint of honey or beeswax lofted over the sawdust and dirt, but was overpowered by baskets of over-ripe tomatoes as they passed the fool in the stocks. Then they passed the food booths wafting of all kinds of edibles crisping in boiling oil. Moxie could feel a coating of thick burnt fat forming in her nostrils. As they rounded the bend near the lower theater she smelled damp moss, or was it mold and fungus? And finally, the stinging she recognized from this morning as the smell of horse dung marked their arrival to the jousting field.

At this point the parade disbanded, the majority of participants preparing for their next show at one of the theaters or the town square. Some went to work a shift at a booth. Moxie followed her fellow minstrels to the castle to play background music for the joust. The King and Queen with their court continued their regal show gliding up the front steps to their thrones.

Moxie slipped through the back of the castle and took her seat. It felt good to sit. The thin, black slippers from the costumer let every sharp pebble leave a mark on her foot. She would need to find some real shoes as soon as she got a break. She removed her music from the joust music envelope and quickly looked over all of the pieces. She felt a pang in her gut when she saw a bunch of sharps and flats, but quickly recognized a simple D-minor B pattern. Once she felt sure of the music, she looked up and saw the crowd.

There were people everywhere. It looked like a tsunami of moving colors had hit the front gate and poured down the hill. Moxie was shocked. She couldn’t believe this many people would want to spend the day re-enacting the Middle Ages. From all the people in t-shirts and jeans, she realized they were actually people watching other people re-enact the Middle Ages. She couldn’t decide which was stranger.

The jousters’ introductions caught her attention. There were four knights in shining armor. Each had a squire who introduced him to the King and Queen and to the crowd. A knight on a horse with a light colored blanket had been challenged by a dark knight on a horse with a dark colored blanket. A straight forward battle of good vs. evil, but one light colored knight seemed to have lost his script and was picking a fight with the King.

When Sir Ivan was introduced to the King, he rode his horse to the very edge of the building holding his sword to the King’s nose. The Queen’s cheeks blushed. She looked prepared to leap from her perch.

“The King abuses his power,” shouted Sir Ivan. “He takes what is not of his kingdom. He does not respect the boundaries of the land and does not repay his debts.”

The King quickly stood and moved closer to the Queen. “I believe you have become overzealous in the spirit of battle. It is not I who have brought you challenge,” he said looking to the Queen for support.

“Yes, dear knight. Save thy blood lust for the joust,” she said.

“I cannot hold my tongue any longer, my lady. The King is a tyrant and his moments for this earth are at an end.” The knight lunged forward but his horse and the building kept his blade far from the King who now stood behind his throne.

The crowd gasped and rose to its feet. Moxie was enthralled. That was some incredible acting. She really believed that knight wanted to kill the King and that the King and Queen were afraid. She would never have expected this caliber of talent at a renaissance fair. This place must pay serious bank to get that kind of talent. That reminded her that Pearl had never told her what she was getting paid. In the future, she would have to ask Pearl more questions before taking a gig.

Moxie felt a kick in her calf. Nettles said, “One, Two, Three, Four.” And the first song of the joust began.

Image of jousting on horsepack

photo from prweb.com

The first joust went as expected. Moxie couldn’t watch very closely because she had to follow her music, but it looked like the good knight was hurt, but then he rallied and won. No surprise there. The second joust, however, the joust between Sir Ivan and The Black Knight, Sir Shadivan, took a strange turn. In the middle of the second run at each other, Sir Ivan took a right turn and went straight for the King. The King lunged out of the way a second before the jousting lance pushed his throne over and put a hole in the back wall.

Megan screamed to Moxie’s left. The floor shifted like an earthquake under Moxie’s chair and she worried that the building was coming down.

An announcer came over a loud speaker saying, “There you have it, folks. Wasn’t that an exciting joust? Please exit the grounds in an orderly fashion. The next joust is at 3:30. Enjoy the fair.”

“Wow,” Moxie said. “You guys really know how to put on a show. That was my kind of joust. I’ve only seen motorcycle jousting which is, of course, way cooler. But that was better than expected.”

Megan and Ryan had disappeared. Nettles laughed nervously.

“So what now?” Moxie asked.

“It be the time of the midday repast. Returnest of an hour and a half. Then we will wander the grounds playing until the second joust. Again, I wonder if thou hast read thy prepared materials.”

Moxie ignored everything but that they had a break. “Perfect. Where can I get some shoes?” Moxie held out one of her feet to display the pathetic slipper.

“The cobbler’s booth is next to my jeweler’s booth. I’m headed that way. Prithy walk with me.”

“Sounds good.”

The cobbler wanted to measure Moxie’s foot and make her custom, leather knee-high boots, but that would take a week and $600 and she needed shoes now. Her smallish feet were just the right fit for a sample pair the cobbler had on hand. They were an unattractive pea-green short boot, but they felt like hugs for her feet. Moxie hated dropping $100 for shoes she would never wear outside of this place, but she was desperate and the cobbler had a monopoly.

While Moxie waited for the cobbler to run her credit card, she smelled the sweet smell of honey and overheard Nettles, on the other side of the tent flap, talking to someone in hushed tones.

A girl’s voice said, “Went off without a hitch. No one will ever know.”

“Are you sure? She didn’t see you?” Nettles replied.

“So what if she did? Nothing’s missing.”

“Right. So when’s the exchange?”

“Don’t you worry your little head. I have everything under control.”

“Yeah like last time?” Nettles hissed. “I think I’ll take the lead this time.”

“Sure, Nettles. Whatever you want. But I think this guy could be trouble.”

“Yeah, I think he made that clear to everyone.”

“Fine. You asked for it. He said directly after second joust.”

“So where’d you stash it?”

“Where I stash everything.”

“Guess that’s convenient enough.”

 

What is Nettles up to? Are the re-enactors just great actors or is the King in real trouble? Tune in next week for another hair-raising, action-packed misadventure full of twists, turns, anachronisms and . . . skunks?

Writing a Page Turner: Chapter Endings

Our exploration of conflict and suspense sprinted out of the gate in the first month of 2016. We have great books to read, a study plan, tools for evoking emotion and Moxie Sharpe is having weekly misadventures to put it all into practice. Exciting!

So what’s in store for February? Application.

Writing Moxie’s misadventures is a fun exercise, but, for me, this study is about turning my novel into a page turner. This month, we’ll be diving into aspects of revision where we can apply our new tools for creating conflict and suspense.

I began this focused study based on advice from a friend who said I needed to work on my chapter endings. So let’s start there. Chapter endings are convenient places for readers to put a book down and come back to later, right? Wrong! We don’t want the reader to ever put the book down, so chapter endings are tricky. We want to create a satisfying conclusion to the chapter, but also keep the reader in suspense so they will have to read the next page.

How do we create suspenseful, cliff-hanger chapter endings without being too obvious?

First, take a look at how your favorite authors do it.

I made a simple chart for exploring chapter endings. The left column is the number of the chapter; the next column is for checking if the chapter ends in a cliff-hanger and a quick note of how the cliff-hanger is accomplished followed by a column for the conflict at the end of the chapter and the fourth column is for the chapter’s final emotion and whether it is positive or negative. I have filled it in for Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay

Chapter Cliff-hanger Conflict Emotion +/-
1. No. Occupational death Sarcastic/Bored
2. Yes. “Something’s happened” Ex-wife and new boyfriend Concern/Guilt
3. Yes. “Is our girl still alive?” Daughter left things in room Hope +
4. Yes. “Your daughter’s car” Found car Surprise +
5. Yes. “It’s blood, isn’t it?” Possible physical death Fear
6. No. Daughter’s bad-girl friend Humor +
7. Yes. “I’m pretty sure your daughter is alive” Is email telling truth? And Kate’s mental health Hope +
8. Yes. Yolanda legit. Daughter on other side of country? Psychological death- it trust Yolanda, more mystery Trust +
9. Yes. Picture of Syd Will picture arrive and be Syd Joy +
10. No. Airplane ride Hope +
11. Yes. Yolanda not answer phone Yolanda not work   at shelter Confusion/Disapp-

ointment

12. Yes. Left stuff in diner (not resolved) Psychological death – thinks sees Syd in every blond girl Frantic
13. Yes. The house had been trashed No luck in Seattle went home Defeat
14. Yes. “I think we found what you were looking for.” Psychological death. Scarf from Seattle pic found in room Betrayal
15. No. Can’t stay at home-crime scene
16. Yes. Ian carrying blonde girl over shoulder like a sack Question of physical death Curiosity/Fear
17. No. Not Syd Relief/Humor +
18. Yes. Found cell phone Conflict w/x’s boyfriend Curious +
19. Yes. A new clue X’s boyfriend’s son Surprise +
20. Yes. Syd might be pregnant Fist fight at car lot Surprise
21. No Evan’s sorry not good enough
22. Yes. Car-napped Threat of physical death Fear
23. Yes. Jumped from car Threat of physical death only temporarily avoided Humor +
24. Yes. A girl’s voice said, “help me” Phone woke him up in middle of night Concern/Fear/Hope
25. No. Daughter’s friend Tired
26. No.
27. No. Drive-by but okay Attempted physical death Relief +
28. Yes. Patty’s missing Police suspicion Dread
29. Yes. Andy from work connect Recent dealings with Andy Surprise
30. No Police suspicion Anger
31. Yes. Sets up going to bar to find Gary Conflict with Andy from work Anger
32. No, but intrigue Human trafficking revelation +
33. Yes. Place where Syd’s pic taken was hotel Saw something shouldn’t have Weird

discovery

+

34. Yes. Dead Kate in house Physical and psychological death -He will be a suspect Discovery
35. Yes. “For being Patty’s father” Psychological death surprise
36. No Two daughters missing revelation
37. No Patty’s dad humor +
38. Yes. The bad guys reveal Imminent death Betrayal
39. Yes. Has a plan Imminent death Hope +
40. No.
41. Yes. Leaving for Stowe Ex’s boyfriend Bob coming along Humor +
42. No Hands over wheel to Bob
43. Yes. Is Patty alive? Syd still missing Surprise
44. Yes. Bob has Syd Patty knew where Syd was whole time Relief +
45. Yes. Woman with gun Imminent death Surprise
46. Conclusion

 

That was a great exercise! I am going to add it to the reading study plan. A quick glance at the table shows that the majority of chapters end in some kind of cliff-hanger. Mr. Barclay uses an array of techniques to keep the reader turning pages past the end of a chapter.

End of chapter techniques:The cover of Fear The Worst by Linwood Barclay

  • Split dialogue
  • Middle of action
  • Surprise
  • Revelation
  • Character has a plan

While filling out the table, I also discovered that when I read a chapter that did not end with a cliff-hanger, I had trouble identifying the emotion and/or the conflict. These are the chapter endings I will look for in my own work and try to increase the conflict and suspense.

Now it’s time to apply this chart to my own work and see where I can improve my chapter endings.

I hope you’re excited for Moxie’s next thrilling, chilling, spine-tingling, action-packed misadventure coming this Sunday. Oh, the suspense!

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode One

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe serial banner

Episode One

She Only Hears What She Wants to Hear

 

Moxie Sharpe felt increasingly uncomfortable as a young costumer pushed and prodded her breasts into the highest possible cleavage while tightening laces through each layer of metal holes. Pearl had messed up before, but this time was the worst.

“Take a deep breath.” The girl grabbed her reigns and yanked.

“You know I’m going to slap you once I figure out what the hell is going on,” said Moxie.

“Now I do,” she said. “Usually, this is why women pay for this costume. I’m just doing my job. Enjoy the faire, me lady.” She curtsied.

Moxie saw herself in the mirror. Damn, that girl knew how to make cleavage. “Sorry,” she said as the girl strangled her with a large necklace and handed her a claim check.

“You can keep the costume, but we have your clothes and we know where you live,” she said.

The script did not move the costumed.

The dresser whispered, “I know who you are. You are Moxie Sharpe. Would you sign my hands? Like, ‘These touched Moxie Sharpe’. Here’s a marker. I won’t tell. I mean, I will, I won’t be able to help it if you sign my hands.”

This costume rental comp didn’t make up for anything. After signing the girl’s hands, Moxie left the building cursing Pearl, human beings in general, life on any planet, the universe, and skirts. She was not costumed for the show she was prepared for and she did not walk into the world she knew. She especially did not walk into Scandrum–The largest rally for all motorcycle enthusiasts, not to be confused with Scandium the largest medieval larping excursion.

It is a fact that renaissance fairs, if well costumed, are all about great boobs and cleavage, so the pawing was not what upset Moxie. Moxie was upset because she was at a renaissance fair. When Pauline Pearl, Moxie’s mentor and seriously overworked agent, said Moxie was going to play Scandrum, Moxie jumped at the chance. She had dreamed about being the headliner at Scandrum since she was tall enough to compete in the bike-o-lympics. Her dad had taken her to the annual rally every year when she was little and she continued to go even after he split. She believed one day she would run into him and he would explain why he left without saying good-bye. She thought he would congratulate her the first time she won the bike-o-lympics, or maybe the fifth time. Now, up on the huge stage, he would have to see her. And how could he not be proud? Sure, she was only a stand in—The bass player for Sex With Helmets had crashed his Harley through the wall of the Wild Boar Saloon just three days before the largest gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in the country. It had been all over the news—but it didn’t matter how she got there. It was the big show.

Moxie would have known something was wrong if she had looked at the music when it was sent over, but she knew Sex With Helmet’s set list. The bass player liked to bang away on open strings which made stepping in a breeze. This was important since he was also accident prone. Before this latest crash, she had stepped in when he had drunkenly stumbled into a bull and then again when he accidentally took a dangerous cocktail of controlled substances and tried out his new gliding suit. His foray into urban skydiving chipped some bricks in a downtown building and his front tooth. Luckily, the band name was a reference to the fact that he always wore a helmet. He never took it off.

Moxie also might have known something was wrong if she had been asked to provide her own instrument, or organize her accommodations, but Pearl had taken care of absolutely everything for Moxie since her first band hit the charts when she was sixteen. Moxie finally noticed something was wrong when Pearl sent a car without a trailer for her bike. Pearl explained that the misunderstanding wasn’t completely her fault when Moxie finally got her on the phone.

“I never said you were playing Scandrum. I got you the gig at Scandium before Sex With Helmets called about their unfortunate accident. I was having trouble finding you anything and then this job fell in our lap. The lute player for The—”

“Did you say lute?”

“Yes, the lute player for The Midsummer Minstrels had mysteriously vanished the Tuesday before opening weekend. They were desperate for an emergency replacement. And you seemed so excited when I called. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by how happy you were.”

“Pearl, I don’t play the lute. Why would you take that gig. Can’t we back out and get Scandrum. I want Scandrum.”

“No. They already went with Shayla. Besides, you always tell me you can play anything with strings. A lute has strings, right? I’m really asking. A lute’s kinda like a mandolin, right?”

“Yes, Pearl. But that doesn’t make this any better.”

“You’ll be fine. Plus, that lute player might show up and you can come home. You get paid either way. It’s a cushy gig. And you love camping.”

“Camping?”

“Yes, a big fancy tent set up on pallets in the woods. It will be magical. You might even meet a wood nymph. Who knows? There could be mini-dragons.”

“You are nuts Pearl. You know that? Fine, but I’ll need a couple rehearsals.”

“The fair opens tomorrow early.” She hung up.

Pearl was known to get confused sometimes. And shiny things like motorcycles and knights in shining armor can be incredibly distracting. But Moxie had to admit she might have heard what she wanted to hear.

Moxie couldn’t get a full breath without the bodice biting into her ribs. Despite her discomfort and devastating disappointment, Moxie was surprised to feel a little excited. She wasn’t sure if she was lightheaded from lack of oxygen or if it was the bright sunlight slanting through the thick green trees combined with the dust kicked up as she walked the sawdust covered path, but she felt a little dizzy in a good way. She passed the wenches setting up their food booths along the center path and the fool setting up his slack rope at the small theater as she continued down the hill to the joust field.

The moment she reached the bottom of the hill, her nose stung and her eyes watered, her senses overcome by sweaty horse and man. She covered her nose and mouth and ran around the jousting field to the faux castle at the far side. At the back of the plywood building she gasped for air and was rewarded with the fresh scent of pine.

“Good morrow, me lady,” said a man holding the door open and beckoning her inside.

I guess my character will be mute, thought Moxie, because I am not going to talk like that.

“You must be Sir Gerald’s replacement. He’s been amiss these four days. Your lute awaits. Follow me.” He beckoned and Moxie followed.

The Midsummer Minstrels’ main job, he explained, was to entertain the king and queen during the joust, once mid-morning and once in the afternoon. They were also part of the parade in the morning and evening. Moxie was sure she would be fine during the jousts because she could read the music, but during the parades she would really be winging it.

Moxie should have known she couldn’t be mute, not even for a minute, she was too curious. “What do you think happened to Sir Gerald?” she asked.

“I assuredly do not know. Though his eye doth wandereth upon the wenches.”

“Hey, man. Can you cut the crap. The show hasn’t started.”

Moxie’s companion looked shocked. “One should express oneself in language of the day every moment one is upon the grounds.”

“Wow. My bad,” said Moxie. She sat down and picked up the lute.

The instrument was badly out of tune. The first tuning peg felt gritty and sticky. She slowly let go and looked at her fingers then held them up. “Is this blood?” she said.

What happened to the lute player? Is there something sinister lurking in the forest? Can Moxie play the lute? Tune in next week for another pulse-pounding episode of daring misadventure.

Read to Write: Conflict and Suspense

Studying conflict and suspense

My selection of books to study conflict and suspense

Improve your writing while you read

Experience Writing is all about bringing you along on the roller-coaster of my writing life. Changing my focus from my writing life to yours means I need to let you in on my plans, so you can join me, right? To do that, I typed up my plan of action for studying conflict and suspense.

Plan of attack

I consulted my notes from several books on writing and laid out a plan of questions and exercises to explore while reading a selection of novels. I included identifying conflict in character, setting, dialogue, and story beats. Each section includes exercises to apply to our writing. If you would like to join me on my quest for knowledge, or are curious to see what I came up with, you can download my action plan.

I want it button

 

Poll results show you like book reviews, so

For a quick primer on writing conflict and suspense, I recommend:

conflict and suspenes

The ideas are clear and well explained with many useful examples and exercises. I like the idea of creating a personal actors stable to audition for your characters, but did not include it in my study plan as I didn’t see that helping me with my study of suspense. I created a different character conflict chart for our action plan.

Please let me know what you think. If we find the exercise satisfying and worthwhile, I can imagine creating this type of Read to Write action plan for many aspects of writing.

Don’t forget to tune in on Sunday for the first episode of The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe. I’m excited to see what Moxie gets into. Oh, the suspense!

 

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe: Conflict and Suspense in Practice

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe serial banner

 

My current area of interest is conflict and suspense. How do I write scene after exciting scene to keep my readers turning pages?

I realize that to become a better writer, I can’t just read about writing suspense and read suspense novels, I need to write using the techniques I learn.

So, for our enjoyment, starting next Sunday afternoon I will be writing a weekly serial called The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe. Each Sunday I will post a new installment of Moxie’s story with all the conflict and suspense I can muster and cliff-hangers to keep you coming back for more.

For inspiration, I spent some time on archive.org checking out the great trailers for the old serials like Radar Men from the Moon, Zorro, and Mysterious Doctor Satan. If I manage to apply my studies and follow their example, you can look forward to:

Moxie Sharpe in a punch-packed, lightning-paced, sensational adventure of world-shaking importance. She will dazzle and surprise and her courage will thrill and chill. Each episode will be filled with pulse-pounding, jet-propelled excitement. And as Moxie’s electrifying, explosive adventures unfold, we’ll have a lot of fun and hopefully learn something about writing page turners.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Experience Writing Newsletter. I filled up this first one with useful information and techniques for getting to know your readers. You also get a free conflict and suspense study plan!

I want it button

I am planning a detailed explanation of my Read to Write: Suspense, Conflict and Tension study on Wednesday.

Oh, I can’t wait! The suspense is killing me! Right?

Conflict, suspense,tension: Keep readers reading

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Build tension within and between your characters. What do the three minor birds (characters) have against the lead bird? Are they ganging up for an attack, or is the lead about to turn and show her dominance? Every second they swim closer, the tension builds.

 

What keeps readers’ eyes on the page? What makes a book that you can’t put down?

These are the questions I’m exploring to start the year. It’s an important topic so I’ll be covering different aspects each week this month. As usual, I’m reading, watching, and listening to everything on the subject. I am also using my notes from Story by Robert McKee and Elements of Fiction Writing:Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell. If you have suggestions of other books and posts on the subject, please let us (me and other readers) know in the comments.

According to Robert McKee, a story is a design in five parts:

  • an inciting incident
  • progressive complications
  • crisis
  • climax
  • resolution

Four out of the five parts scream conflict to me. So, how do we come up with all this conflict?

Before you even think about plot, scenes, action, or dialogue, you can create tension and conflict within and between your characters.

Think about yourself and your close friends. Think of a moment when you thought wow, I’m a hypocrite, or s/he’s a hypocrite. Why do you think that? Usually, it’s because you, or someone you know, does something that they say they will never do or complain when others do it. These don’t have to be major events like murder or joining a cult, but by the time we’re done learning about conflict and suspense, they probably will be.

Those times that you accuse yourself or others of hypocrisy, you are perceiving dual nature. It’s what makes for well rounded characters and also creates inner conflict.

 

For instance:

A performer who has social phobia and gets sick before every show.

A person completely against standardized testing in schools who takes a job scoring and later teaching others how to score standardized tests.

A developer who says we need more trees for clean air and people need space and privacy for mental health.

 

You get the picture. Why would people do things that make them sick? Why would people take jobs that are completely against their values? Why do people say one thing and do the exact opposite? It happens every second of every day and it is conflict–the stuff that readers can’t put down.

Try this exercise by James Scott Bell:

Create a background for your character that is in conflict with his/her current social setting. His version was cliche, but when I applied it to my work in progress, it made sense.

 

You can’t help but put yourself in your writing and reading, so why not start with you?

Here are a couple of James Scott Bell’s exercises (with my little additions):

1.What issues in life really make you mad?

Make a list

Choose the most important and write about the issue from both sides (like you’re in debate class). It’s hard, but that’s the point. Get outside of yourself and put yourself in the opponent’s shoes.

2.Make a list of the ten things you care about most.

Write a paragraph or two about why these things matter to you.

Now write from the perspective of someone who is opposed to these things, or stopping you from doing these things.

I was going to finish this up with a chart and a poll, but it published itself when I thought I was saving it as a draft.

So happy writing and I’ll write more about conflict and suspense next week.

Please sign up for my Newsletter (If you have signed up, check your junk mail for the confirmation letter). I’ve put in a lot of juicy information about getting to know your reader.