The Best Debts Often Go Unpaid (Part 1)

Even though it’s true that I’ve written as far back as I can remember, there were people along the way who either directly or indirectly inspired me to create and as a part of my planting memories in a retrievable location for later use, I’d like to acknowledge as many of those individuals as I can recall, while I’m still able to recall. FYI, this’ll be one of those long and winding roads to a heartfelt thank you, so if you’d rather move on to juicier posts, I won’t hold it against you.

Some stories are meant for you… this one’s meant for me.

I’ve lived with a variety of people and families growing up. My mother was an unconventional woman who lived life the best way she could manage, but that lifestyle couldn’t bear the weight of additional passengers, so I was often the extra bit of her life that she couldn’t quite fit into her travel bag when she was bitten by the wanderlust bug.

I won’t bore you with tales and half-remembrances of the various and sundry family doorways I’ve darkened in my youth—not now, at least—but sometime back in the early seventies I landed in the final household of strangers I’d ever be forced to call family. Don’t bother pressing me on an exact date. My mind doesn’t do date-stamped memories all that well. The family isn’t the focus of this story, the kid who lived across the street is. A kid named Gary.

Gary was several years older than me and how or why we became friends is still a mystery, but we used to talk about superheroes into the night—-in particular, Captain America and Bucky. You see, Gary’s take on the whole superhero thing was that it was actually doable, given the proper dedication to the cause and constant training. In the mind of a normal kid, these talks should have been one of those topics that you explored as a fantasy and laughed about when you bumped into your childhood friend years later on some random street corner.

But bugs have a nasty habit of planting themselves in my brain.

I trained everyday, sometimes with Gary, but mostly without, trying to duplicate some of the more physically achievable moves found in comic panels or mimicking fight scenes from TV shows, especially those Shatnerific Kirk-moves from Star Trek. Yeah, I know, but I was a kid, remember?

And I believed in the superhero cause so much that I began recruiting members, much the same as Charles Xavier, in order to create my own Avengers or Justice League. Carefully selected individuals who were kindhearted and often bullied, kids who could be taught to fight back for a cause larger than self. It soon blossomed into a superhero big brother program.

Gary hated the team idea, but to his credit, he stuck around longer than I thought he would have and even trained with us on the odd occasion, but eventually he hung up his cape and cowl and called it quits. Shortly thereafter he informed me that we had to stop being friends because his mother thought I was a bad influence on him.

She wouldn’t be the last mother to have that impression of me.

I was saddened by his departure, sure, I mean it was initially his idea, but I had a group to run, and our roster was growing. We had the nimble guy, the scrapper, the acrobatic guy, the tagalong guy (hey, he was my best friend and I couldn’t say no, even though he wasn’t truly committed to the cause, he just wanted to hang out), and the leader guy (me), but we were still missing one key ingredient… the muscle guy.

Turns out the acrobatic guy knew someone from school whom he thought would fit the bill perfectly. Enter: Derrick. Hated him from the moment I clapped eyes on him and the feeling was probably mutual. We met at our headquarters. The X-Men had the School For Gifted Mutants, The Avengers had a mansion, the Justice League had the Secret Sanctuary (inside a cave in Happy Harbor) and we had… the public library.

Our first meeting was across the table in the Children’s section of the library (hey, it was the only empty section after school) and Derrick sat there grunting and throwing bits of paper at me for some odd reason. He was weird, to be sure, but I chalked it up to muscle guy mentality, bit the bullet, and despite my intense dislike of the kid, accepted him into our ranks. Not like I was inundated with candidates for the position.

I don’t know how long we kept it going, my memory being the spotty thing it is, but I think we had at least one solid summer of training for The Superhero Thing. Yes, that’s what we called it. Well, we eventually came up with an official name, but that’s a story for another time.

And since all good things must come to an end, the following summer the group disbanded when all the members moved away to parts unknown. The only person who remained was Derrick. We kept the group alive for as long as we could in comic book form, drawing our exploits as we battled Mugly, Schmultron the Schmobot, Quirst (yup, named after the drink… it was a tragic soda factory accident that set him on the path of evil) and other baddies either based on real people or swiped and modified from the pages of our favorite comics. We’d even sometimes swap pages and continue each others stories. Derrick would, of course, eventually grow up and live the life of a proper adult, while I went on to publish comic books for a seven-year stint.

So, a tip of the hat to both Gary (don’t worry, your mom was probably right) and Derrick (stop whining, dude, I didn’t use your last name, so your secret identity is still intact) for providing me with creative outlets. Especially since they’re so very hard to come by these days.

Sally forth and be superheroingly writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

PS. Derrick is the only childhood friend I’ve managed to keep throughout the years. Go figure.

P.P.S. If I may be so bold as to quote Elwood Blues, “I’m thinking of putting the band back together.” so if you were a member of The Superhero Thing and you’re reading this, I’d advise you to brush off the latex. It’s crime fighting time!

Out of Sorts

out-of-sorts

I’ve been out of sorts for the past week or so. Not physically under the weather, but artistically less than okay. As if my creativity somehow caught a head cold.

Replete with out-of-sortsosity, my inspiration receptors have become clogged and in the wee hours of the night I’m no longer able to decipher the Aramaic Morse code of the house creaks that whisper my dreams back to me as it settles.

My fear is that The Order Of Things has finally caught up with me and placed a lien on my Adulting Account, something I’ve been attempting to stave off for most of my life. There’s no way in hell I could withstand a grown-up audit, they’d revoke my maturity license for sure.

Hell, I still watch cartoons—-but to make myself sound more posh I refer to them as animation, or anime, depending on the crowd I’m addressing, I still read the occasional comic book—-that’s graphic novel to you, pal!, and I’m that waaaaay-too-old guy you sometimes spot out the corner of your eye in the supermarket, waving my arms like a lunatic while trying to maintain my balance on the back of the shopping cart I’m riding like a Honda Kick N Go Scooter down the candy/soda aisle, singing Blur’s “Woo Hoo.”

And here’s where Out-of-sortstein rears its monstery head and blocks my attempt at crafting a pithy wrap-up that brings everything all together and ties it in a neat little bloggy bow.

Instead, I gots nothing.

So just this once, I’m asking you in Peter Pan fashion to use your imagination and pretend I wrote something clever and clap your hands. Petey asked his audience to do it when it looked like Tinker Bell was dying so she could get well again. I’m asking mine to help bring my creativity back to life.

I’d do no less for you.

Sally forth and be hand-clappingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Savior Complex

“You have a messiah complex, got to save the world.” — Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

I’ve never been much for crowds, not even as a child. People huddled en masse tended to embrace a hive mind of boorishness, which was why I tended to do all my necessities shopping early on Tuesday mornings. Fewer people and less hassle as I collected my weekly provisions, zipped through the express lane, out of the market and on to the next chore on my list that required social navigation. But something wasn’t quite right today. Tuesday? Of course. Early morning? Naturally. Empty supermarket? Not by a long shot.

The aisles were crawling with miscreants of every possible variety. Attention deficit disordered shoppers who treated their shopping cart like cars out of a Fast and Furious film, crashed into other carts and shoppers with reckless abandon in search of the ever elusive sale of nearing-their-sell-by-date items they probably had no practical use for; forsaken carts parked in the middle of aisles blocking throughways and creating bumper to bumper trolley traffic; and coupon carrying cretins stalling checkout lines because they hadn’t quite mastered the simple art of having payment in hand for their items and beating a hasty retreat out into the open plains of the parking lot.

I contemplated pivoting on my heels and leaving the shopping for another morning or possibly next Tuesday—surely I could have survived a week on basic rations. But had I left, I wouldn’t have run into Tatum.

It was seventeen years since I laid eyes on her last. She was still attractive, more so now, a slender Honduran with mocha skin, shoulder-length dreadlocks, and a disarming smile that tended to pull a bit to the right side of her face. Unlike previous times when I randomly encountered someone from my past on the street and immediately began flipping through my mental card catalog for any excuse to walk away, I was actually pleased to see her. In that moment of reciting the usual social pleasantries by rote, all the negative history hadn’t existed. We waded in a pool of heart-warming nostalgia.

Her smile never wavered as she told me how her life hadn’t turned out quite the way she planned. When we were together, she studied to be a lawyer. Now, she worked as a marketing senior manager for a cosmetics firm, was the mother of two, a girl and a boy, seven and nine years old respectively, who were fathered by a deadbeat boyfriend who ditched both the wedding and his kids in one fell swoop.

I had no idea how long we stood there blocking the aisle much to the ire of the other shoppers nor did I care. For the first time in quite a while, I honestly enjoyed exchanging words with a person who wasn’t trapped within the confines of a television set. But all good things, as they say—so, we exchanged numbers, promised each other we’d call and went our separate ways.

And on the way home, the strangest nagging notion crept up from the back of my mind: had we been able to work things out all those many years ago, her life might have turned out differently. Better. Then came the guilt as if my absence was somehow responsible for the direction her life took. And on the tail end of that guilt came the shame for not being a better boyfriend to her and a better person in general.

I promptly crumpled up her number and kicked it down a storm drain. Neither she nor I needed to be reminded of what might have been.

Less than a week later, once I had time to regret trashing her phone number, she called me out of the blue with an invitation to have lunch and meet her children. I wasn’t particularly keen on the latter, but I definitely wanted to see her again.

We met at a faux Italian restaurant, a fast food chain done up in dime store décor to give the eatery a stereotypical taste of Italy, and I had to admit that I didn’t mind her kids all that much. They were a bit unruly, but what children weren’t at those ages? Although I felt a little awkward being interrogated by her brood, it was nice being in Tatum’s company. I experienced a level of comfort in her presence that oddly felt like home.

That was, until her daughter, Tracie, asked, “Did you and Mommy have S-E-X?” as if spelling the word somehow made the question safe to ask.

Confirmed bachelor that I was, I wasn’t comfortable chatting with a nine-year-old about sex. I had no idea what the proper protocol was, so I turned to Tatum and with a look, asked, Did we have S-E-X, Mommy?

Without batting an eye, Tatum answered, “Yes. We had sex.”

Was that how it’s done nowadays? Was it the norm for ex-boyfriends to be brought to lunch with the kiddies to openly discuss their sexual history? I was still reeling from that exchange when her son, Lee, chimed in, “You could be our Dad!”

The old one-two punch. These kids worked me over like a speed bag. They laughed at my embarrassment and I tried to play it off, but it unnerved me on a deep level. The rest of the conversation was downhill after that in terms of my personal discomfort. We got on well enough, the four of us, better than expected and when we said our goodbyes after lunch, I was hit with another weird sensation—jealousy. Because her children weren’t our children and in her family, there was no place setting for me at the table. It only lasted an instant but long enough to have registered.

I tried to put things into perspective, tried to remember why our relationship ended in the first place, it wasn’t a build up of all the minor things, the petty annoyances that masked the underlying truth that people simply grew apart. If I was honest, it was the Santería, the Afro-Cuban ritualistic and ceremonial worship of saints her family practiced religiously that rubbed me the wrong way. She asked how I felt about it and I told her I didn’t believe in things like that and it was the truth, but the other truth, the deeper truth, was that it scared a part of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

To be clear, it wasn’t Tatum practicing rituals so much as her mother. That woman hated me from the moment she clapped eyes on me, no rhyme, no reason, just pure unadulterated hatred. For some reason, I hadn’t measured up to her exacting standards of what constituted a proper boyfriend for her daughter and she never bothered hiding that fact. She visited our apartment constantly and after she left, I would find things hidden around the house, under the bed, in the refrigerator. Little Santería objects tucked away everywhere.

One day when I arrived home early with the intention of whipping up a surprise dinner for Tatum when she got off from work, I walked in on Tatum’s mother and sisters in the middle of a Santeria ritual. There were others with them, perhaps family members I hadn’t met or just fellow practitioners, all clad in white. Drummers talked to the saints, playing their specific beat, eyes closed in a trance while robed dancers chanted in ancient Yoruba as they spun and shook off the evil eye.

And in the center of the living room, Tatum’s mother stared at me like I was a burglar, like I was the thing that didn’t belong in my own home. Before I knew it, the last of my resolve evaporated and I began yelling for her and everyone else to get the hell out of my apartment, jabbing my finger in the air at her for emphasis. The old woman ignored me and she walked in ever-expanding circles while smoking a cigar that smelled of things I’d never smelled before and blew smoke in my face as she spoke in tongues. It made me gag and start to cough. I clutched at my throat and lost consciousness to the sight of Tatum’s mother and sisters laughing at me.

When I came to, Tatum was home. I told her what happened and she called her mother on the phone. After a lengthy conversation, she said she understood how things must have seemed and apologized for not telling me she allowed them to use the apartment while we were out but ultimately she sided with her family over me.

That was all it took. I moved out of the apartment that night and never looked back. Depending on how you looked at it, if her mother was casting a spell to get rid of me, it actually worked because I was out of her daughter’s life.

I kept this firmly in mind when Tatum phoned and invited me around hers for dinner. I accepted the invitation, mind you, but I kept the incident with her mother firmly in mind. It had been a month of Sundays since I had a proper home-cooked meal because no one in their right mind would have called what I did cooking.

Tatum greeted me at the door, apron on, dusted with flour and seasonings, happy homemaking in full effect. The kids were in the kitchen and to my astonishment were finishing up washing the dishes. They dried their hands before they ran up and hugged me. I looked into their faces and something seemed off. Their smiles were too wide, teeth too white and there was something unnatural about the intensity in their eyes. And their faces looked different. They still possessed features that were reminiscent of Tatum but the rest was somehow different, incomplete, like faces in transition. I chalked it up to being overly tired and thought no more of it.

Dinner went well. Who knew Tatum could have been such a gracious hostess? The kids made the meal a pleasant experience, as well. They stopped bickering and playing with their food when I asked them to, laughed at my jokes and listened with rapt attention as I talked about the time I met their mother.

When dinner was over we sat in the living room. The apartment was too small for two growing kids but Tatum arranged everything in a way that made it feel roomy, as though it was a real house.

We sat on the sofa, all of us, Tatum paging through a family photo album on her lap. Pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancy, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee and later with Tatum holding a newborn Tracie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.

Tatum told me how difficult things had been. Deadbeat had developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his children only to beg off some money to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell or threatened to take the kids.

One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he made good on his threat and Stacie and Lee were taken from her by Child Services because of alleged abuse charges. She described the hell she had to go through to get her family back.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicks on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me. “Everything all right, Tate?”

It was like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Oscar lost his mind and no manner of reasoning calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to kill me, get his kids and make Tatum pay.

Tatum convinced me not to involve the police but only after she agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Tracie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.

The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could manage, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return, afraid that I wouldn’t be much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.

When the tension of the evening finally loosened its grip and I began drifting off, Tatum came to me. Without uttering a word, she slid her nightgown off her shoulders and let it fall to her ankles. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the living room window, and I knew then and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in my arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was gutted.

My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that, combined with the feeling that something still wasn’t quite right, meant there was no sleep for me this night. And so preoccupied was I that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.

I strained my ears, trying to locate the noise again. After a few moments of silence, I wondered if it had just been my overactive imagination. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys, surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding into a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but the glass was solid enough to crack a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway and heard the front doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building’s hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack holding a hooked wire, perhaps a piece of a clothes hanger, that scratched at the door until it found purchase in the handle of the security chain which it then dragged along the track slowly until the chain fell away.

I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tension that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning. I threw the candy dish with all my might into the darkness and knew that I missed my target completely when I heard it crash off the front door and glass rained down on the floor.

Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room, obviously awakened by the noise. Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm those kids!

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, I was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me onto the floor, unleashing a hail of punches and kicks that knocked me senseless. I put my arms up to protect my face and instinctively curled into a ball but my defensive position blocked none of his attacks.

He must have sensed how weak I was, what a uselessly pathetic man he was dealing with because he stopped hitting me and chose instead to wrap his hands around my throat. I flailed spastically to get him off as I gasped for air but the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.

But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—

Who was no longer there. And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my own grip. I staggered to my feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.

“Who’s Oscar?” the kids asked and, “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

“Stop that! It isn’t funny anymore!” I tried to yell through a raw throat. “I’m not your father!”

A genuine look of pain danced across Tracie and Lee’s faces as they turned to Tatum, asking, “Why is he saying this, Mommy? Why is he acting so strange?”

And I was feeling strange like my entire world had suddenly shifted on its axis.

“I can prove it,” I said as I ran past them into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of both her pregnancies. The pair of us cradling a newborn Lee and later with us holding a newborn Tracie while Lee lurked in the background pulling a silly face.

These weren’t the pictures I had seen earlier and I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

And I looked at Tracie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong and she explained that I, Daddy, just had a nightmare, that’s all. She told them that everything would be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.

After Tatum swept up the shattered candy dish, she began to usher me to the bedroom, grabbing the pillow off the sofa when something fell to the floor, something that had been resting under the pillow. It looked like a figure made of red-tinged folded palm leaves, bound together by hair but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what it was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after I got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.

Text and Audio ©2013-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

braid

“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.

It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.

It drove my parent crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Rhyan-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.

Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.

She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.

It would take many years for me to become that type of person.

But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retried Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.

I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.

Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.

At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.

While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.

Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.

I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retried-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.

And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Rhyan-ness afterwards. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings on in the world we created.

Sally forth and be world-braidingly writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.

The Duh Moment: I Love it When a Story Comes Together

I was toiling away at a short story for the longest time—-it was an elusive bastard of a thing that simply refused to cooperate—-but there I was knee-deep in the rising action stage and the words were flowing at a pretty decent clip and some of it was even good if i do say so myself—-

And then I hit the Duh Moment.

It’s that precise instant when a puzzle piece your subconscious has been working on without your knowledge slips into place and your entire universe makes absolute sense. What’s the matter with me? The solution is so simple! How did I not see this before? It was staring me right in the face, plain as day!

One of the single best experiences when writing. That magical moment of crystal clarity. And it lasts for just a moment.

Just like the episode of Star Trek where the Eymorgs steal Spock’s brain and McCoy has to put on the Teacher in order to perform a reverse brain transplant within the three-hour time limit that the implanted knowledge lasts—-phew! that’s a mouthful—-you’re in a race against time to commit as much of that new-found genius to the page as possible before it slips away like a dream upon waking.

You’re also trying to beat the crash.

Coming down off the adrenaline rush when your story came together, your mind will lock onto something and detour on a tangent and you’ll miss a vital piece of information and the structure will topple like a Jenga tower.

In the end, your mind winds up bone weary and you’ll need to step away from the inspiration carnage in order to rebuild your depleted creativity reserve. No worries, though. It’s all part of the process.

As for the aforementioned short story? Still working on it. The first draft is still in the construction phase, but thanks to a bulletted list as long as your arm, I was able to jot down all the important bits.

Is it just me or does this happen to anyone else?

Sally forth and be Duh Momently writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

11 Things Every Writer Needs to Know (More About You and Less About the Writing)

“Write like you’ll live forever — fear is a bad editor. Write like you’ll croak today — death is the best editor. Fooling others is fun. Fooling yourself is a lethal mistake. Pick one — fame or delight.” ― Ron Dakron

  1. Writing is a steep, uphill battle but it’s fierce and it’s beautiful and you’ll regret walking away from it before you’ve seen it reach its potential.
  2. New people, experiences and opportunities to write about won’t stop coming into your life but you need to make space for them. Reexamine all your current relationships, obligations and habits and if you find value in them, hold onto them tighter. If their value escapes you, it’s time to let something go.
  3. Resolve to be awesome for the rest of your life, starting right now. Just because.
  4. Writing goals are not reserved for January 1st. Get in the habit of setting them monthly, hell, even weekly. Set them so that you’re moving forward and always trying to progress. Your writing can grow stagnant without them. Beware.
  5. Confidence is an attractive thing. Readers dig it. Non-readers dig it. We all dig it.
  6. Negative people chip away at your spirit. Flush the toxins and get yourself into a better writing head space.
  7. And if you slag off another writer because their abilities fail to impress or interest you, maybe you’re on the road to toxicity. Peer relationships are too valuable to muddy with what you perceive to be the shortcomings of other writers. If you can’t find enjoyment in someone’s writing, don’t read it. Plain and simple.
  8. You’re human and as such you’re going to waste many hours focusing on who you aren’t, or who you want to secretly be. But you won’t ever wake up and magically become that person. You’ve got to embrace what you bring to the table. If you don’t like what that is, have the courage to change it.
  9. Regret is a very real thing. It’s going to happen to you at some point. Don’t hold onto things forever but learn from them and let the past go. The past will be a dictator if you let it.
  10. Yes, when we write we create worlds, but the world doesn’t revolve around us. Turns out we’re just punctuations in a much larger story littered with periods and commas and dashes. How are you helping that story to be better? How are you being the best punctuation you can be?
  11. Tech advancement is coming at us fast and furious and it’s all too easy to let an emoticon laden text do the talking for you, too easy to click a Like or +1 button instead of engaging people in an actual dialogue. Never lose sight of the beauty of a conversation where you can watch a person’s face express actual emotions. Let a person know that they are worth your words. They are worth your presence. They are worth more than just letters on a screen. Face to face connections are fading faster everyday. Please don’t let the machines win.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

What Dreams May Come — Journaling Your Sleep Inspired Stories

“Even today I keep a Dream Journal. It’s whatever’s going on in my subconscious, or things from dreams or even interesting items that pop into my head. I have thousands of pages of notes which I hope someday will turn into stories, or movies.” — Clive Barker

I had the craziest dream last night—which is why you’re reading this—more lucid than any dream I can remember having for quite a while now. It was strangely reminiscent of World War Z—the Brad Pitt movie, not the far superior book—where I was trying to make my way to Washington, DC to avert a catastrophe brought about by the government shut down and hot on my trail was a dinosaur assassin. And not just any dinosaur assassin, THE dinosaur assassin. Only the best is hired to bring about the expedient demise of yours truly. Yeah, I know… it’s a dream, gimme a break here.

Anyhoo, when I woke up—before the dinosaur pulled the trigger—I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I dusted off the old dream journal.

I’ve been dream journaling for a number of years, mainly to collect source material for future writings but I soon discovered that exploring my dreams in this fashion helped me connect with different dimensions of myself, mainly the way my subconscious communicated with my conscious mind through metaphor and emotion.

And I know at least one of you is going to come at me with, “Well, that’s great for you, but I can’t keep a dream journal because I don’t dream.

That is so not the case.

Everyone dreams—with the exception of those suffering from extreme psychological disorders—even the blind. A good thing, too, as studies show that dreams help prevent psychosis. The bad part is that upon waking, half of your dream evaporates from your memory within 5 minutes and 90% is gone by the 10-minute mark.

Is dream journaling for you? Well, I think it’s an interesting experiment that’ll cost you no more than a few minutes a day, a notebook and a pen. All you need to do is capture the dream when you wake up. Hell, you can even keep a voice recorder by your bed and dictate everything you recall. And if you have a hard time remembering it, one mnemonic trick is to go through the alphabet and assign a word for each letter. You’ll be surprised how many times this will actually jog your memory. And the more you do it, the stronger your intention, the stronger your connection becomes.

If you do decide to explore your dreams and nightmares in order to pull yourself out of a creative rut and get cracking on a brand new piece of writing, you would be in good company. The following famous books were inspired when the authors’ bodies were at rest and their minds were at play:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: This horror classic sprang into existence because of Stevenson’s graphic nightmares. In this case, a “fine bogey tale” tormenting him as he slept grew into one of the most famous and genuinely scary English-language novels ever penned — most especially considering its all-too-human antagonist and protagonist.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: After the death of her 12 day old daughter, the heartbroken Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin dreamt of her child coming back to life after being massaged near a fire. She wrote about it in the collaborative journal she kept with her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, which grew into one of the most iconic, influential horror novels of all time.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach: This story initially sprung from Richard Bach’s daydreams of a drifting seabird. In fact, he could only finish the original draft following another series of subconscious visions.

Misery by Stephen King: While dozing off on a flight to London, King found inspiration in a chilling nightmare about a crazed woman killing and mutilating a favorite writer and binding a book in his skin.

Stuart Little by E.B. White: The tiny boy with the face and fur of a mouse sauntered into White’s subconscious in the 1920s, though he didn’t transition from notes to novel until over two decades later.

Twelve Stories and a Dream by H.G. Wells: The title says it all. “A Dream of Armageddon,” sprouted from a dream that speculated on the dangerous directions in which mankind’s technology could ultimately lead it.

“Kubla Khan” from Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Coleridge, woke one morning after having a—-believed to be opium induced—-fantastic dream. He transcribed his vision in a dream in the form of the now famous poem. 54 lines in, he was interrupted by a Person from Porlock and when he returned to the poem, he couldn’t remember the rest of his dream and thus the poem was never completed.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Works: Lovecraft pulled much of his inspiration from the vivid nightmares he suffered most nights. A shock to anyone? In particular, the novels and short story featuring the Great Old Ones drew themselves from the more twisted corners of his subconscious.

Book of Dreams by Jack Kerouac: A book that does as it says on the tin. Kerouac kept and published a book comprised entirely of his dreams, spanning from 1952 to 1960 and starring characters from many of his other works.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer: In Meyer’s own words, the dream “was two people in kind of a little circular meadow with really bright sunlight, and one of them was a beautiful, sparkly boy and one was just a girl who was human and normal, and they were having this conversation. The boy was a vampire, which is so bizarre that I’d be dreaming about vampires, and he was trying to explain to her how much he cared about her and yet at the same time how much he wanted to kill her,”

Fantasia of the Unconscious by D.H. Lawrence: Lawrence so perfectly maps out dream experiences and explains their importance and inspiration in such great detail it edges out any other competing works.

The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P by Reiko Matsuura: Adapted from Matsuura’s most unusual dream, the novel tells the story of a woman who wakes up with a penis for a toe and explores gender identity and relations.

And before the Sandman returns to slip me another Mickey Finn, here are a few additional interesting factoids about dreams:

  • Your mind doesn’t create faces for the strangers in your dreams. Each one is an actual person you’ve encountered, even if only briefly. Your noggin is mug book filled with hundreds of thousands of faces.
  • You don’t dream when you snore.
  • People who quit smoking have more vivid dreams.
  • While asleep, your body is virtually paralyzed.
  • The real world invades your dreams through sounds, scents, and bodily sensations.
  • Toddlers don’t dream about themselves until they’re at least 3 years old.
  • Children from 3 to 8 years old usually have more nightmares than adults.
  • You’re more likely to remember your dreams vividly if you’re awakened out of REM sleep.

Sally forth and be dream storily writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

24 Truths About Being a Writer

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“The great thing about being a writer is that you have a long, perhaps frighteningly long time in which to do your work.” —- Julia Leigh

  1. Your writing will mature (mature should not be mistaken for get better).
  2. You will receive a rejection letter once in your life (it will actually be more than once, much more, but I wanted to break the news to you gently).
  3. You will be asked to write outside your genre/comfort zone and the criticism you receive from it will cause you to doubt your talent.
  4. You will eventually write something that you will regret.
  5. You will be envious of a hot new fad writer whose name you won’t remember in 20 years.
  6. Your friends will think one of your characters was modeled on them and will reevaluate your friendship based on how the character is treated in the story.
  7. The content of your writing will isolate you once in a while.
  8. Your opinions of writers whose work you dislike will change once you get to know them.
  9. You’re going to run into someone who absolutely despises your work.
  10. You’re going to regret letting an editor pressure you into chopping down what you consider to be a perfect story.
  11. You’re going to read one book in a genre that holds no interest for you that you actually enjoy.
  12. Some people are going to think you’re a talentless hack, and other people are going to think you’re a genius. Either take both camps or neither one seriously.
  13. You’re never going to finish all your stories. Despite your best efforts.
  14. Someone’s opinion of your work will tear out your soul and you’re going to need a hug from your mom, significant other, or a really good friend.
  15. You’re going to bullshit your way through at least one writing assignment and pray that you sound like you know what you’re talking about.
  16. You’re going to get lost in the middle of a story you’re writing and meander through the plot until you find your direction again.
  17. You’re going to reenact a scene from your story all alone in your room when no one else is around.
  18. You’re going to write the most raw and unapologetic story ever that will make you cringe in five years.
  19. You’re never going to stop looking for yourself.
  20. You’re a writer, so stop trying so hard to be famous, expecting success to happen so quickly (or at all), and getting down on yourself so often.
  21. You’re going to be ashamed to tell people you’re a writer. Break that habit and walk with your head held high.
  22. You’re going to talk shit about other writers. Quit it. Yes, Stevie King, I’m looking at you. Put your pea shooter away.
  23. You’re going to become a hermit. Take a walk outside.
  24. You’re going to fall in love with your stories, characters, ideas, and speculative elements and one day you might really figure out how to love yourself the same way.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Health Dose of Realism About Writing

  1. Arrogant new aspiring writers usually don’t have decent stories
  2. Shy, unsure aspiring writers anxious to get feedback are more likely to have a decent story
  3. Aspiring writers unable to write decent descriptive prose haven’t found their voice yet
  4. Most new aspiring writer stories have no second act
  5. Most new aspiring writers are under the delusion their idea is more original than it is
  6. Many new aspiring writers, regardless of age, haven’t read the classics, especially within their preferred genre
  7. Because an aspiring writer is an avid reader does not mean they’re a good writer
  8. Fanboys don’t necessarily make good writers; they’re inspired but imitative
  9. Most new aspiring writers with novel manuscripts over 110,000 words don’t have a handle on their story
  10. Many new aspiring writers read too many how-to books and get totally confused
  11. New aspiring writers hate to kill their darlings and their pages are over-populated with them
  12. Experienced writers hate to kill their darlings but do it before asked
  13. First time aspiring writers usually tell biographical stories
  14. Gory, ultra-violent horror is most often written by young men under the age of 25
  15. Dull romantic dramas are most often written by women over the age of 45
  16. Unfunny romcoms are most often written by young men under the age of 25
  17. Action stories are almost always written by men of any age
  18. First time aspiring writers think their first novel is brilliant
  19. Experienced writers will never show you their first story – ever
  20. Experienced female writers write well in any genre
  21. Inexperienced female writers often write about love
  22. Good characters never have bad dialogue
  23. Structure is confusing for the first three stories – then something clicks
  24. Whether a writer is shy or charismatic has no bearing on the quality of writing
  25. No new writer is realistic about breaking in to the business
  26. The location or gender of the writer has no bearing on the quality of the writing
  27. Age does not define an ability to come up with fresh ideas (most fresh ideas are in fact not fresh at all)
  28. Older writers most often write true or historical stories
  29. Young male writers often imitate their favorite authors
  30. Female writers are quite capable of writing great action but rarely do
  31. Divorcees often write about romance or revenge
  32. Most writers haven’t built up a good arsenal of stories; all their eggs are in one basket
  33. New writers think getting an agent is easy and will happen within a year or so
  34. Newly agented writers think their career will automatically take off in a huge way
  35. Experienced writers know they’ll go through many agents over time
  36. Newer writers don’t test their premises or write outlines properly
  37. Writers who regard themselves as writer-savants refuse to write what’s commercial – and may very well succeed after years of failure
  38. Writers who regard themselves as auteurs refuse to embrace that this is a sales job – and melt into a pool of bitter disillusionment and hate publishing houses thereafter
  39. Wealthy writers try to buy their way into the business using the most expensive software and consultants and gurus and melt into a bitter pool of outrage
  40. Writers with disposable incomes obsessively attend conferences more than they actually write
  41. Writers who’ve been disappointed over and over hate consultants or anything designed to help them succeed and nurse outraged, red-hot victim complexes
  42. First stories generally aren’t good
  43. Second stories generally aren’t good
  44. Third stories generally aren’t as bad as the first two
  45. Writers with successful other careers feel entitled to success in getting published
  46. A writer’s determination to keep trying is in direct proportion to their talent
  47. Entitlement is in inverse proportion to talent
  48. Talent is delightful and easy to spot from the first sentence
  49. A bad story is a bad story from the first sentence

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and this list is merely an observation. You may agree with most, some or none of it at all. If you’re able to turn a Holmesian eye upon yourself and spot a few less than stellar things that relate to you on this list, that’s the first step in making a change for the better.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

  • Boastful, cock-sure writers usually don’t have very good scripts
  • Shy, unsure writers anxious to get notes are more likely to have a good script
  • Writers who can’t write good action lines have no “voice” yet
  • Most beginning writers have no second act
  • Most beginning writers think their idea is more original than it is
  • Many writers, regardless of age, have not seen the classics
  • Because a writer is a cinefile does not mean he or she is a good writer
  • Fanboys do not necessarily make good writers; they are inspired but imitative
  • Most writers with 133 page scripts do not have a handle on their story
  • Many writers read too many how-to books and get totally confused
  • Newer writers hate to kill their darlings and their pages are crowded with them
  • Experienced writers hate to kill their darlings but do it before asked
  • Clumsy, over-written action lines are the most accurate predictor of a bad script
  • First time writers usually tell biographical stories
  • Gory, ultra-violent horror is most often written by young men under the age of 25
  • Dull romantic dramas are most often written by women over the age of 45
  • Unfunny romcoms are most often written by young men under the age of 25
  • Action scripts are almost always written by men of any age
  • First time writers think their first script is brilliant
  • Experienced writers will never show you their first script – ever
  • Writers who use camera directions secretly want to direct
  • Experienced female writers write well in any genre
  • Inexperienced female writers often write about love
  • Good characters never have bad dialogue
  • Bad dialogue is never accompanied by good characters
  • Structure is confusing for the first three scripts – then something clicks
  • Writers who can’t articulate a quick logline have sprawling, confusing scripts
  • Whether a writers is shy or charismatic has no bearing on the quality of writing
  • Good writers never include pictures, maps or music with their script
  • No new writer is realistic about breaking in to the business
  • The location or gender of the writer has no bearing on the quality of the writing
  • Age does not define an ability to come up with fresh ideas
  • Most fresh ideas are in fact not fresh at all
  • It takes a long time to understand “the same but different”
  • Older writers most often write true or historical scripts
  • Young male writers often imitate their favorite movies
  • Female writers do not write American Pie or Harold and Kumar knock-offs
  • Female writers are quite capable of writing great action but rarely do
  • Divorcees often write about romance or revenge
  • Most writers have not built up a good arsenal of scripts; all eggs are in one basket
  • New writers think getting a rep is easy and will happen within a year or so
  • Newly repped writers think their career will automatically take off in a huge way
  • Experienced writers know they will go through many reps over time
  • Younger writers often do not think send thank you notes when they get a read
  • Older writers think Hollywood is more polite than it is
  • Newer writers do not test their premises or write outlines properly
  • Writers who regard themselves as writer-savants refuse to write what’s commercial – and may very well succeed after years of failure
  • Writers who regard themselves as auteurs refuse to embrace that this is a sales job – and melt into a pool of bitter disillusionment and hate Hollywood thereafter
  • Wealthy writers try to buy their way into the business using the most expensive software and consultants and melt into a bitter pool of outrage
  • Writers with disposable incomes obsessively attend conferences and pitch fests more than they actually write
  • Writers who cannot execute a script mechanically generally don’t have a good story
  • Writers who have been disappointed over and over hate consultants or anything designed to help them succeed and nurse outraged, red-hot victim complexes
  • First scripts suck
  • Second scripts suck
  • Third script suck a little less
  • Writers with successful other careers feel entitled to success in Hollywood
  • A writer’s determination to keep trying is in direct proportion to their talent
  • Entitlement is in inverse proportion to talent
  • Young writers think that Hollywood is only for the young
  • Older writers think that Hollywood is only for the young
  • Experienced writers know that Hollywood needs good stories and that a good story and being good in a room trumps age any day
  • Talent is delightful and easy to spot on page one
  • A bad script is a bad script from page one

– See more at: http://www.justeffing.com/tag/being-realistic-about-your-writing/#sthash.EAgP2PBB.dpuf

  • Boastful, cock-sure writers usually don’t have very good scripts
  • Shy, unsure writers anxious to get notes are more likely to have a good script
  • Writers who can’t write good action lines have no “voice” yet
  • Most beginning writers have no second act
  • Most beginning writers think their idea is more original than it is
  • Many writers, regardless of age, have not seen the classics
  • Because a writer is a cinefile does not mean he or she is a good writer
  • Fanboys do not necessarily make good writers; they are inspired but imitative
  • Most writers with 133 page scripts do not have a handle on their story
  • Many writers read too many how-to books and get totally confused
  • Newer writers hate to kill their darlings and their pages are crowded with them
  • Experienced writers hate to kill their darlings but do it before asked
  • Clumsy, over-written action lines are the most accurate predictor of a bad script
  • First time writers usually tell biographical stories
  • Gory, ultra-violent horror is most often written by young men under the age of 25
  • Dull romantic dramas are most often written by women over the age of 45
  • Unfunny romcoms are most often written by young men under the age of 25
  • Action scripts are almost always written by men of any age
  • First time writers think their first script is brilliant
  • Experienced writers will never show you their first script – ever
  • Writers who use camera directions secretly want to direct
  • Experienced female writers write well in any genre
  • Inexperienced female writers often write about love
  • Good characters never have bad dialogue
  • Bad dialogue is never accompanied by good characters
  • Structure is confusing for the first three scripts – then something clicks
  • Writers who can’t articulate a quick logline have sprawling, confusing scripts
  • Whether a writers is shy or charismatic has no bearing on the quality of writing
  • Good writers never include pictures, maps or music with their script
  • No new writer is realistic about breaking in to the business
  • The location or gender of the writer has no bearing on the quality of the writing
  • Age does not define an ability to come up with fresh ideas
  • Most fresh ideas are in fact not fresh at all
  • It takes a long time to understand “the same but different”
  • Older writers most often write true or historical scripts
  • Young male writers often imitate their favorite movies
  • Female writers do not write American Pie or Harold and Kumar knock-offs
  • Female writers are quite capable of writing great action but rarely do
  • Divorcees often write about romance or revenge
  • Most writers have not built up a good arsenal of scripts; all eggs are in one basket
  • New writers think getting a rep is easy and will happen within a year or so
  • Newly repped writers think their career will automatically take off in a huge way
  • Experienced writers know they will go through many reps over time
  • Younger writers often do not think send thank you notes when they get a read
  • Older writers think Hollywood is more polite than it is
  • Newer writers do not test their premises or write outlines properly
  • Writers who regard themselves as writer-savants refuse to write what’s commercial – and may very well succeed after years of failure
  • Writers who regard themselves as auteurs refuse to embrace that this is a sales job – and melt into a pool of bitter disillusionment and hate Hollywood thereafter
  • Wealthy writers try to buy their way into the business using the most expensive software and consultants and melt into a bitter pool of outrage
  • Writers with disposable incomes obsessively attend conferences and pitch fests more than they actually write
  • Writers who cannot execute a script mechanically generally don’t have a good story
  • Writers who have been disappointed over and over hate consultants or anything designed to help them succeed and nurse outraged, red-hot victim complexes
  • First scripts suck
  • Second scripts suck
  • Third script suck a little less
  • Writers with successful other careers feel entitled to success in Hollywood
  • A writer’s determination to keep trying is in direct proportion to their talent
  • Entitlement is in inverse proportion to talent
  • Young writers think that Hollywood is only for the young
  • Older writers think that Hollywood is only for the young
  • Experienced writers know that Hollywood needs good stories and that a good story and being good in a room trumps age any day
  • Talent is delightful and easy to spot on page one
  • A bad script is a bad script from page one

– See more at: http://www.justeffing.com/tag/being-realistic-about-your-writing/#sthash.EAgP2PBB.dpuf

Drop From the Sky to Rescue You

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“I’d run my whole life long to reach you; paddle my way across Atlantic and Pacific; traverse Jungle and Desert to find you; climb cliffs and drop from the sky to rescue you. Anything to be close to you. Any way to say I love you.” ― Heather Kris Thomas, A Place for You and Me

I was sitting around today, lamenting the upcoming series finale of Breaking Bad, while admiring the writing staff’s brilliant ability to jam the show’s characters up in impossible situations and finding creative ways to extricate them from no-way-out scenarios. Which, of course, got me thinking about The Art of the Rescue.

Don’t worry, this post is gonna be a light one. No how-to instructions—-although there is a list, I’m a writer, it’s in my blood, sue me—-or tips and tricks. Just a brief look at a few of the more common variety rescue archetypes:

Damsel/Dude in Distress

The person in distress is essentially a beloved character who has been rendered helpless and placed in danger in order to distract or delay the protagonist, leaving the villain to get on with their nefarious scheme.

Save the Girl/Guy

Different from the example above, here the person in danger is the love interest of the protagonist and when it comes time for the hero to make the sadistic choice of whether to save the life of the one she/he loves over anybody (companions, friends, family) or anything (a city, the world, the universe) else, there’s a moment of hesitation.

The trick is to have your main character struggle with the choice for the right length of time. Too short and your protagonist can come across as cold-hearted. Too long and they wallow in a pool of wishy-washiness.

A possible workaround would be for your hero to come up with a third option where both rescues can be achieved, and if you can pull this off properly, your main character wins the coveted medal for the clever badassdom.

The Dive Rescue

You’ve seen this time and time again.

A young child chases their runaway ball or some poor, unsuspecting sod wanders out into the street and lands smack dab in the path of a speeding semi-truck—whose horn works but the brakes don’t— and a character rushes out to snatch the child from impending doom, or dive-shoves the person out of harm’s way.

The variant of this is a character on the sidelines who dives into the path of a bullet or knife or other projectile weapon. This character tends to yell, “No!”, often in slow motion and lives long enough to confess their true feelings for the protagonist or to offer the one crucial piece of advice needed for the hero to complete their task.

If You Go, We All Go

Hand in hand—no pun intended—with the dive save, this rescue occurs when someone falls off a roof or a cliff to their most certain death… but, just before they slip out of reach, another character dives and catches them by the wrist. Then, as they both start slipping over the edge, another person catches the last person’s wrist, and so on and so on…

One Last Thing Before I Die

One of the protagonist’s friends or allies is presumably killed in the midst of a struggle and now the hero is on the ropes and is about to meet their end… when, just in the nick of time, the but-I-thought-you-were-dead-friend/ally intervenes and saves the main character’s life, giving them the Heroic Resolve to keep fighting. This risen from the dead character actually survives about fifty percent of the time.

The Big Guns Arrive

When a character—who can also be the protagonist in this scenario—is staring certain death in the face, and resigns themselves to it, because they know nothing can save him/her now…

BOOM! The door kicks in and standing in the doorway is the cavalry, ready to chew bubblegum and kick some ass! And they’re all out of… you get the drift.

Typically a ragtag bunch of minor characters whom the protagonist has saved in the past have banded together to mount a rescue. The great thing about these guys is that they don’t always succeed in stomping a new mudhole in the baddie’s keister. Their primary function is to free the protagonist and let her/him do all the heavy lifting.

One final thought before i let you go, the thing you need to be mindful of when penning your last minute rescue is avoiding the dreaded pit of Deus ex Machina:

Latin for god out of the machine, the term stems from ancient Greek theater and refers to scenes in which a crane (machine) was used to lower actors or statues playing a god or gods (deus) onto the stage to set things right, often near the end of the play.

Modern day Deus Ex Machina occurs when some new event, character, ability, or object solves a seemingly unsolvable problem in a sudden, unexpected way. Classic examples include:

  • In Homer’s The Odyssey, after Odysseus and Telemachus slaughter the suitors, the families of the suitors show up at the farm of Laertes seeking vengeance. As a battle is about to begin, Athena appears in the last few lines of the poem and tells both parties to stop, to which they comply.
  • In William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, just as the protagonist Ralph is about to be killed by the band of “hunters” at the end of the story, a ship appears from nowhere onto the island, drawn by the smoke produced by the wildfire on the island. One of the ship’s officers rescues Ralph. He and the rest of the boys are then taken from the island.
  • In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with Jim apprehended in the heart of the South and Huck unable to rescue him, Tom Sawyer reenters the story, having come hundreds of miles downriver to visit a relative. Huck’s reunion with Tom gives him the opportunity to free Jim and allows a channel for the resolution of all dangling storylines that the book had left behind in St. Petersburg, Missouri.
  • In Molière’s The School for Wives, Agnès is suddenly found out to have been betrothed all along to another man, which spares her from having to marry Arnolphe.
  • In Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, scientists race to find a way to contain an extremely dangerous extraterrestrial virus. In the end, they fail and the virus escapes into the atmosphere, but conveniently for mankind the virus mutates into a completely harmless form.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable. You will inevitably come to a place in one of your many and various stories where you’ve painted yourself into a corner with no other way out. If this should happen and you decide to coax god out of the machine, make sure your surprise solution not only moves the story forward but also causes minimal damage to the overall tone and ambiance of your piece.

Sally forth and be rescuingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys