Edward Willett

The Space-Time Continuum: Frankenstein, the first science fiction novel

This is my Space-Time Continuum column for the latest issue of Freelance, the magazine of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. It’s a modified version of a column I wrote ages ago as one of my newspaper science columns. It seemed appropriate to bring that old column back to life…bwah-ha-ha!

freelance-oct-nov-2016-for-web-1As I write this, it’s about three weeks until Hallowe’en, a time when people’s thoughts turn to monsters. While in this modern age there are a great many more monsters to choose from than there used to be, there’s no doubt that one of the most popular (which is an odd thing for a monster to be, perhaps, but still) is the one created by Dr. Victor Frankenstein, assembled from pieces harvested from multiple corpses and reanimated through the miracle of electricity.

It’s probably a safe bet that those who choose to dress themselves as Frankenstein’s monster on Hallowe’en don’t do so to honour the birth of science fiction—and a new way of looking at the world—but the novel that gave us the monster, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, marked both.

At first glance, Frankenstein seems like just another Gothic novel, full of dank castles, wandering spirits, mysterious, brooding characters, barren moors, and strange doings by midnight.

But Gothic novels relied on superstition and magic, and Mary Shelley, a bright, thoroughly modern 18-year-old, had no time for such things. She saw vast changes being wrought in society through the revolutionary idea that the world could be understood as the product of natural forces, not supernatural ones, and that those forces could be harnessed and used. Mary became the first writer to use science as the springboard to a tale of imagination, and in so doing, not only launched science fiction, but also ignited a debate on science’s role in society that continues to this day.

Mary Shelley was born in England in 1797, the daughter of philosopher William Godwin and author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. She met the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1814, and two months later, left England with him. They were married in 1816, after the death of his first wife. Before they were married, she had a son by him, who died in infancy.

The year they married, Mary, Percy and another writer spent a rainy summer at Lord Byron’s house on Lake Geneva. They passed the time by reading ghost stories; Lord Byron suggested they each attempt to write one. At first, Mary couldn’t come up with an idea; but then, one night, the conversation turned to the nature of life, and whether it might someday be possible to return life to dead creatures, possibly using electricity, which had been shown to make an amputated frog’s leg twitch.

That night, Mary dreamed: “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion…”

The next day she began writing Frankenstein. Published anonymously on March 11, 1818, it became a huge success, and hasn’t been out of the public consciousness since.

The story, in brief: a Captain Walton writes to his sister from his ship, on an expedition to the Arctic. The crew saw a monstrous creature driving a sledge across the ice; the next day they rescued a man, Victor Frankenstein, who told Walton a terrible tale of his successful quest to create life, and the horror he felt when he succeeded.

Within Victor’s narrative are several chapters from the viewpoint of the creature itself, describing how he was driven out and betrayed by his creator. Victor tells Walton he promised to create a bride for the monster, but couldn’t bring himself to fulfill his promise. In revenge, the creature killed several people dear to Victor, who has been pursuing the creature ever since.

Victor dies; the creature appears on the ice-bound ship and, torn by grief, remorse and self-loathing, swears he will kill himself. He disappears into the cold and darkness.

At the time Mary wrote, chemistry, physics and physiology were advancing rapidly; railroads were being built, gaslights illuminated factories and would soon light cities, a steamship would soon cross the Atlantic. In the dawn of the scientific age, anything seemed possible: as the chemistry professor Waldman says in Frankenstein, modern researchers “ascend into the heavens: they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air that we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its shadows.” By contrast, the magicians and alchemists of the past “promised impossibilities, and achieved nothing.”

But in Frankenstein, the promise of scientific advancement was balanced against its cost. Today, we do bring people back from the dead, shocking their fibrillating hearts with electricity. We alter life through genetic engineering. But in the era of nuclear weapons and global environmental devastation, we also know that scientific advancement is a two-edged sword. Our creations can turn on us…just as Victor Frankenstein’s did.

Forget Boris Karloff with bolts attached to his neck, and read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, the world’s first science fiction novel. As is usally the case, the book is better.


Flames of Nevyana “a wonderful YA read”

2016-05-30 FLAMES OF NEVYANA COVERThe Flames of Nevyana blog tour continues with a review from Book Horde.

“Great world-building, a fantasy feel with an SF twist, admirable characters, and the themes of courage and truth above all make Flames of Nevyana a wonderful YA read. I know my teen will really enjoy it.”

Read the whole thing! 

Hear me read a Hallowe’eny poem

the-creeping-shadowLooking for something both poetic and Hallowe’eny? (And who isn’t?) The Science Fiction Poetry Association has a page of audio files of SFPA members reading their Hallowe’en-related poems–and it includes a file of me reading “He Really Should Have Written,” one of the poems I wrote for Poet Laureate Gerald Hill’s “First Lines” project back in April. A shorter version of this poem appears in the new First Lines anthology published by Burton House Books, which launches November 24 at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon (I’ll remind you, don’t worry.)

Here’s my audio file, although I urge you to over to SFPA and listen to them all!

The image above is a photo I took (and then manipulated, obviously), which has the cheery name “The Creeping Darkness.” It’s actually a very ordinary apartment building just down the street from where we used to lie in Regina.


Answering a question about how I write characters


The Flames of Nevyana blog tour continues. Today, I have this guest post at The Avid Reader about how I write characters…

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?

Characters are the heart and soul of fiction: just as excellent acting can redeem even the ugliest set in a theatrical production, so excellent characters can go a long way toward overcoming deficiencies in an imaginary world. On the other hand, even the most wonderfully constructed world, however interesting it might appear at first glance, will soon will seem as flat as the aforementioned theatrical set without excellent characters to inhabit it.

By the time I’m ready to write a book like Flames of Nevyana, I know who the main characters are going to be: I knew, in this case, that there would be three viewpoint characters, each of whom comes from a different culture within the Kingdom, each of whom follows a different god or goddess and thus has a different take on the world from the others. But that’s not to say I knew everything about those characters before I began. Writing is a very strange business. Words flow out of my fingers through the keyboard to the screen. Each word launches the next word, each sentence the next sentence, each paragraph the next paragraph. As a scene takes shape, characters may literally appear from nowhere. A main character has been called to a meeting; clearly there must be other people at the meeting; next thing you know, there’s someone at the meeting who has a secret which changes everything. Before I began writing the scene of that meeting, I didn’t know that character existed. Suddenly, he or she is important.

This is usually an unconscious process for me, but not always. In my science fiction novel Terra Insegura (DAW Books), sequel to my Aurora Award-winning novel Marseguro, I found myself in the quandary of needing to dramatize an important event taking place on a starship in orbit when all of my established viewpoint characters were down on the planet’s surface. I had no choice but to create a new viewpoint character so readers would have a window into the events in orbit. Having created the character, I had to flesh him out. His backstory informed his characterization, and led directly to what proved to be a pivotal scene later in the novel that I had no idea would exist when I began writing the book. The character I had created merely to solve a technical problem ended up being a major secondary figure in the story, with his own tragic story arc, and also a useful foil for the main character, forcing him to question his own actions and beliefs.

This kind of thing happens all the time, and I’m glad it does. I’ve never written a story yet that adhered perfectly to my synopsis. Instead, my story constantly surprises me, as events and characters pop up on the page. I know they came out of my head and through my fingers, but they’re still a surprise. That’s why I’m never bored when I’m writing—and I hope readers are never bored when they’re reading.

The world of Flames of Nevyana


From the ongoing blog tour for Flames of Nevyana, here’s today’s guest post from Lisa’s Loves (Books of Course):

The world of Flames of Nevyana began with a simple kernel of an idea: the magic of electricity.

I was driving from my home town of Regina, Saskatchewan, to Meadow Lake (about 500 kilometres north) for a library reading/presentation, and passing the time by trying to come up with a new YA novel idea. I got to musing on what is known in science fiction circles as Clarke’s Law: Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I reflected on the fact that what we accomplish with electricity would certainly have seemed like magic to our distant ancestors. From there it was a hop, skip and jump (and another couple of hundred kilometres of driving) to the world of Nevyana, a land of magic—but one where the magic, known as Blue Fire, is essentially electricity, albeit produced and controlled through magical means.

My process of world building is a bit like an oyster crafting a pearl. There’s the initial idea—the grain of sand that irritates said oyster—and then the gradual building up of layer upon layer around that initial irritant/idea. For me, the process takes the form of a series of questions. The first question: how did the people of this otherwise medieval society learn to harness Blue Fire?

I decided that the magic had been bestowed upon them by their gods. Thinking of gods led me to think of how, in Earth mythology, there are often gods of specific aspects of nature: a God of the Earth, a God of Lightning, a Goddess of Wisdom, etc. I ended up with three gods, survivors of a war among the gods that devastated the original home of the people of Nevyana and drove them to a secluded valley, where they have built a new kingdom over the ensuing centuries. I made the three surviving gods the gods of Earth (Vekrin), Sun (Arrica), and Moon (Ell). Then I began thinking about how each of those different gods might approach benefiting their followers.

Vekrin, being of the Earth, would naturally want his people planted and stationary, so I decided he gave his followers access to Blue Fire through the Godstones, massive sources of power (generators, in other words) that cannot be moved and around which the twelve Cities of Nevyana naturally accreted. Arrica, being of the Sun, would naturally want her people to move across the face of the land as does the Sun. As a result, her followers, the Free Folk, obtain Blue Fire through Sunscales—magical versions of solar panels—which collect energy from the Sun during the day and store it for use at night. And Ell, being of the Moon, the ever-changing Moon, chose to change her followers, turning them from ordinary humans into furred, fanged-and-clawed, near-feline Nightdwellers, who cannot bear the light of day, and whose own measure of magic is focused on hunting and hiding.

With those basic ideas in place, the world of Nevyana took shape: a world in which Citydwellers hide inside walls, clustered around the Twelve Godstones strung the length of the Kingdom; the Freefolk of Arrica travel freely through the wilderness, using the Blue Fire they draw from the sun during the day to power a protective, glowing-blue Fence at night; and the Nightdwellers, long alienated from the others, who seek out and kill any followers of Vekrin or Arrica they find in their forests at night. My main characters are three teenagers, each a member of one of these three groups: Petra, a Priest-Apprentice of Vekrin, Amlinn, granddaughter of a leader of one of the Freefolk clans, and Jin, an apprentice Scrollkeeper of the Nightdwellers. They all have reason to mistrust or even hate each other (among other things, Nightdwellers killed Amlinn’s parents when she was a toddler), but they must work together to save their Kingdom when the sacred secrets of Blue Fire are stolen by a renegade priest and a scheming prince and turned toward conquest.

It’s a complex world that all began with a single thought on a long autumn drive northward, and I’m rather astonished myself how much came of that first inkling of an idea. But that’s what makes writing so exciting, for both authors and (I hope) readers.

A mini-review of Flames of Nevyana


The Flames of Nevyana blog tour carries on. The first review (well, a kind of mini-review) how now appeared on Paula Johanson’s blog.

A few excerpts:

It’s always a treat to find a new book by Edward Willett. He’s a Canadian writer who can be relied on to put narrative — story, if you prefer — before anything else…

In a few images, Willett presents the differing communities of his protagonists, making these young people and their surroundings distinct and memorable…

Anyone who can write with such immediacy about light, rain, and mystic discipline has my attention!

Read the whole thing.

Flames of Nevyana blog tour begins today: here’s the first interview


The Flames of Nevyana blog tour begins today (full schedule here), and it kicks off in grand style with a fun interview I did for Susan Heim on Writing. Susan is also running a giveaway, so head over there to enter that if you’d interested in a free copy of Flames of Nevyana (and who wouldn’t be?).

Here’s the interview part of my guest post over there, which also includes an excerpt.

You’ve written more than 50 books! How do you find the time to be so prolific? What is your writing schedule like?

It’s funny, people think I’m prolific, but to myself I feel lazy—I always think I could be really prolific if I tried.

The truth is, there are two elements to my prolificity. The first is simply the fact that I’m a full-time writer, and have been for…let’s see…23 years as of this writing. All I do is write, so naturally I have more time to do it. The second element is speediness. I’ve written a 100,000-word novel in a month (Shadows, second in my fantasy trilogy The Masks of Aygrima, written as E.C. Blake and published by DAW Books), and earlier this year I wrote a 60,000-word novel in two and a half weeks (Door into Faerie, the fifth and final book in my YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, published by Coteau Books). When all is going well, I write about 1,500 to 2,000 words an hour. That adds up in a hurry.

My writing schedule depends on what I’m working on. I’m not always writing. I write a lot of non-fiction as well as fiction, so often I’m researching instead of writing. When I do get into the writing, I usually put in about four hours a day, in a couple of sessions. I like to write on my laptop out of my office—in a coffee shop or (ahem) bar—when I’m working on fiction. When I’m working on non-fiction, I’m more likely to work at home because I need to spread out reference materials on my desk.

The rest of my day is taken up with email, driving my daughter to and from school/dance/musical rehearsals, playing with the cat (very important), posting to social media, reading, etc.

How did you get the idea for this book?

I was driving from my home town of Regina, Saskatchewan, to Meadow Lake, about 500 kilometres further north, to do a reading at the library. Whenever I’m on my own in the car on a long trip I do a lot of thinking about writing, and on this occasion I deliberately set myself the task of coming up with a new idea for a YA fantasy novel. I got to thinking about Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and that led me to think that our mastery of electricity would certainly seem like magic to someone from the Middle Ages. From there it was a short leap to the idea of a magic system based on electricity. In my book, Blue Fire is definitely magic, and is controlled through magical means, but it’s clearly electricity, too. With that idea in mind, I began my usual process of asking myself questions about the world: how would Blue Fire be used? How did the people learn to harness it? Who might be harmed or benefit from it? By the time I got to Meadow Lake, I had the broad outlines of the story sketched out in my head. I think I even talked about it in my presentation that night.

You also write and perform in plays. How does playwriting differ from novel writing?

The biggest difference is that plays are told almost entirely through dialogue. There’s no opportunity to explain what’s going on through paragraphs of exposition; anything you want the audience to know has to somehow be worked into dialogue, without falling into the trap of characters explaining to each other things they already know as denizens of the world of the stage. There are also technical limits. In a novel, I can write, “The sky turned black and began to rain fire.” Nine words, and a vivid mental image. Yet on stage, that effect is nigh impossible to achieve. Special effects of any kind on stage are difficult, expensive, and prone to not working. You end up, again, depending on dialogue: one character telling another how she felt when the sky turned black and began to rain fire.

As an actor and director, when I write plays I’m always conscious of how it can be staged. The simpler you can make the staging and set, the more likely you can find a company to produce the play. That said, if your characters and dialogue are fascinating enough, and your actors skilled enough, they can perform on an empty stage and still make the play a success. As a friend of mine who directs musicals likes to say, “Nobody ever left the theatre humming the scenery.”

To flip things around, though, I think that being an actor and director helps my novel-writing. When I critique or edit, a common problem I encounter is a scene where characters seem to “float”—you’re never sure exactly where they are within their setting. This can be disconcerting if, say, a character is looking out a window one second, and the next is staring into the fire—but there’s been no description of him transitioning from the one location to the next. In my mind, as I write scenes, I’ve always got a firm idea of where each character is in relation to all the others, and I think that useful skill has been honed through directing plays, where the positioning of actors on the stage is vital to the success of a scene.

Which is your first love: writing or performing?

Performing is more fun, but writing is ultimately more rewarding. The reward of performing is immediate, and wrapped up in the joy of the craft itself: of inhabiting another character’s skin for a while, of singing a song beautifully, of moving an audience to laughter or tears and, hopefully, applause. That’s all wonderful, but it’s ephemeral. The play is done, the audience goes home, the moment is gone.

The reward of writing is more subtle, but far more enduring. As a writer, I still inhabit the skin of other characters. If I write a scene beautifully, I may still move my audience to laughter or tears. In that way it’s similar to performing. On the down side, I am seldom made aware of my success: the occasional review, the occasional email from a satisfied reader. But on the up side, and the reason I say writing is more rewarding, a book may last, essentially, forever. William Shakespeare was an actor as well as a playwright, but it is his words that have endured, not his acting. Nobody will remember me as an actor in fifty years (the art of a stage actor is seldom recorded for posterity; movie and TV actors have a better chance of being remembered), but my books will still be around, still finding new audiences, and still moving them to laughter or tears.

Why do you find the science fiction and fantasy genres particularly appealing as a writer?

I write what I love to read. I have two older brothers, and they both read science fiction when I was growing up. I wanted to be like them, so I started reading it too—and I was immediately hooked, as is evident from the title of my first science fiction story, written when I was 11 years old: “KastraGlazz, Hypership Test Pilot.”

For me, writing fiction strictly about the here and now, or the recent past, seems incredibly limiting, like typing while wearing a straitjacket. Science fiction and fantasy allow my imagination free rein; any time in the past, the present or the distant future and any place in this universe or any other are available to me as settings; creatures both human and non-human are at my beck and call to serve as characters; and there is no idea so outré that it cannot be couched in science fiction or fantasy terms and turned into a story.

For me, the question, “Why do you write science fiction and fantasy?” has never made much sense. The obvious question to me is, “Why doesn’t everyone?”


Blog tour begins next week for Flames of Nevyana!

2016-05-30 FLAMES OF NEVYANA COVERI’m looking forward to the blog tour for Flames of Nevyana, organized by my publisher, Rebelight Books, through Chapter by Chapter. Here’s the schedule–hope you’ll check out everything!

Week 1:

October 17, 2016 – Books,Dreams,Life – Spotlight

October 17, 2016 – Susan Heim on Writing – Guest Post

October 18, 2016 – The Silver Dagger Scriptorium – Spotlight

October 18, 2016 – Paula Johanson Books – Review

October 19, 2016 – Lisa’s Loves(Books of Course) – Guest Post

October 20, 2016 – The Avid Reader – Guest Post

October 20, 2016 – BooksChatter – Interview

October 21, 2016 – Book Horde – Review


Week 2:

October 24, 2016 – Lori’s Little House of Reviews – Review

October 24, 2016 – The Right Geek – Review

October 25, 2016 – The Alchemy of Ink – Spotlight

October 26, 2016 – Chapter by Chapter – Interview

October 27, 2016 – Jorie Loves A Story – Review

October 27, 2016 – Writing about magic and medicine – Guest Post

October 28, 2016 – Rockin’ Book Reviews – Review


CanCon and SaskExpo after-action reports

Just since the beginning of September I’ve been to two conventions, one in Ottawa and one in Saskatoon, and both very different.

The Ottawa convention was CanCon 2016, a.k.a. The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. I was Guest of Honour last year (this year the Guest of Honour was Tanya Huff), and returned this year as a special guest. It was held at the Novotel downtown, and once again proved to be one of the best small conventions around, with great panelists and great panel topics.

CanCon has two tracks, a literature track and a science track. Here are the panels I was on, just to give you taste:

The First Great Terraforming Project: Alyx Delamonica, in her address at the Toronto Spec Fic Colloquium, argued that the first great terraforming project is making the Earth sustainably habitable for humans. Our panelists discuss what sustainably habitable looks like and then discuss 21st century tools to begin the process. Alyx Dellamonica, Dr. Alison Sinclair, Katrina Guy, Nina Munteanu, Ed Willett (m)

Why Doesn’t Epic Fantasy Get Any Respect? Or Does It?It’s been said that it isn’t often that epic fantasy is short listed for the major awards, or even receives critical recognition the same way other kinds of fantasy, science fiction and horror do? Is this true, and if so, why? Ranylt Richildis, S.M. Carriere, Peter Halasz, Evan May, Ed Willett (m)

Youth Gateways into Genre Fiction: Every author can probably, tell you when they first got interested in their chosen genre. Today, though, the way that younger readers are accessing speculative fiction is much different than it was even five years ago. How are new readers being hooked into sci-fi, fantasy or horror? Have there been changes for older readers, too, and has this changed the way we write or market our fiction? Authors of Young Adult fiction discuss. Ed Willett, Leah Bobet (m), Fanny Darling, Mark Shainblum.

9780993969607-front-cover-1-1-2In addition, I took part in the Blue Pencil sessions (reading a piece of writing someone brings to me and making suggestions for improvement), and took part in another launch event for  Strangers Among Us, the new anthology from Laksa Media that includes  my story “I Count the Lights.” This themed anthology approaches mental illness from a speculative fiction angle, and the publisher is making a donation to the Canadian Mental Health Association from the proceeds.

Just like the previous launch event I was at in Calgary, this one was emceed by my fellow DAW author Julie Czerneda, who also wrote the introduction. Once again she had each attending author talk a little about the inspiration for the stories.

There are many great writers and great stories in the anthology: check it out! Reviews have been very positive.

14258337_10153796023861720_2146789066879771385_oOne of the most fun sessions (although you wouldn’t know it from the photo at right (courtesy of Nathan Burgoine), where we’re all concentrating on other things before the panel starts) was a group reading by DAW authors (DAWthors, for short). All of us are edited by Sheila E. Gilbert (who won the Hugo Award this year for best professional editor, long-form, as I just MIGHT have mentioned earlier). We read in the same order as you see us in the photo, left to right: Violette Malan, me, Julie Czerneda, and then the Guest of Honour, Tanya Huff. We each contributed books to a raffle–I gave away a set of The Masks of Aygrma trilogy in paperback.

14292533_10153808250091720_8829945600646000416_nJust a week later (this past weekend, in other words) I was at SaskExpo. This is a growing comic-con style event that this year attracted more than 15,000 visitors. Big-name guests included Carrie Fisher, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies), James Marsters (Spike from the Buffyverse) and others. My daughter Alice came up with me and helped some at the table but also had a chance to take in all kinds of panels, get some photos, and get a couple of autographs. Mostly I stood at the table and sold books, and did pretty well, if not quite as well as last year (this year the con decided to put up full-length black drapes to set off the booths and I felt a bit trapped–no sight-lines to anywhere else in the convention, unlike last year.) Lots of new people signed up for this newsletter (hi there, new people!), and I introduced myself and my books to a lot of new readers, so I call that a win. I look forward to next year’s FanExpo in Regina and SaskExpo in Saskatoon, and I keep toying with the idea of maybe trying Calgary…

I did have to duck out of SaskExpo on Sunday afternoon to run downtown to be part of Word on the Street Saskatoon, the third year in a row they’ve had me on. I was on a half-hour two-person panel with Arthur Slade, talking about “prairie magic”–how we have both used and been inspired by the prairies in our fantastic fiction. We each read a short bit (he read the opening of his newest novel, Flickers, and I read from Door into Faerie) and then just kind of interviewed each other. It went very well, then I dashed back to SaskExpo for the final 45 minutes–and sold a few more books in that last stretch, so it was worth it.

No more conventions for a while now, after four in two months! Guess I’ll have to get back to that other thing I do…what do you call it?…oh, yeah. Writing. :)

Another Seven-Sentence Short Story

At When Words Collide in Calgary this summer I once again conducted a Seven-Sentence Short Story workshop, and had more people in it than ever before–30 or so, I’d guesstimate. This is a plotting exercise created by SF writer/high school teacher James Van Pelt, and it works great in this setting.

Below is my story written during that exercise, with each sentence prefaced with the corresponding instruction.

1. Introduce what the main character wants and the first action he/she takes to accomplish that goal.

Stanislaw crawled through the stinking mud of the escape tunnel on his hands and knees, screams chasing him through the darkness, the dim blue light that promised freedom glowing in the distance, seemingly just out of reach but drawing closer with agonizing slowness.

2. The results of the action the charact takes in sentence #1 has to make the situation worse. The character should be farther from the goal now.

Breathing hard, he reached toward the light, jerking his questing fingers back to his side as he felt the brush of a wire against them, but not quickly enough to keep from triggering the land mine that swallowed that faint blue light in smoke and flame, the shockwave a moment later hammering him into the mud with an ear-splitting roar and blast of hot air and steam.

3. Based on the new situation, the character takes a second action to accomplish the goal.

He spat filth from his mouth and then, jaw set, began backing up: he had no choice now but to take the other branch of the tunnel, the one he’d been warned to avoid—however dangerous it might be, he knew it led out, and returning to the camp would net him nothing but an agonizing death in the torture chamber.

4. The results of the second action the character takes from sentence #3 is to make the situation worse. The character should be even farther from the goal now.

Then he saw the deep green glow ahead of him that could only mean this path led to the lair of Chall, the poison-spitting devil’s worm whose nightly patrols had worn a deep groove in the ground just outside the camp’s stone walls, and he wondered if death in the torture chamber might actually be preferable to what might await him here.

5. Based on the new situation, the character takes a third and final action to accomplish the goal.

But there could be no turning back, and it wasn’t like Stanislaw was completely helpless: he pulled from his belt the obsidian knife he had laboriously chipped in secret night after night in his cell, the blade that had conjured the screams of the crippled guards that had followed him down the escape tunnel, and holding it thrust out before him, crawled out of the tunnel and into the devil-worm’s lair.

6. The third action either accomplishes the character’s goal, fails to accomplish the goal, or there is an unusual but oddly satisfying different result of the last action.

He hardly believed his luck: the devil-worm slept, stretched out like a cat on its back, its soft belly exposed, and he gathered his legs beneath him, leaped forward, and drove the blade into the soft flesh.

7. The denouement. This sentence wraps up the story. It could tell the reader how the character felt about the results, or provide a moral, or tell how the character’s life continued on.

But as the flesh parted, and sucked him in, and his vision changed, and his legs and guts twisted, and the blade became claws, and his teeth became fangs, he realized that the devil-worm was not a beast at all: for a brief brush of thought that was not his own touched his mind, a heartfelt “At last,” wrapped in immense relief, and he recognized the voice, and recognized the awful truth—the voice belonged to Victor, the last prisoner who had attempted escape, and Stanislaw had now taken his place, for the rest of his miserable existence, as the final guard of King’s strongest prison.