First, I must apologize for not blogging for a while. I got bogged down both with traveling to two conventions in two weeks and with the Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve also put myself on an intense deadline to get my latest novel into the hands of my advance readers by Christmas Eve, and I’ve been letting everything that is not part of that novel slide.
Since I’m knee-deep, well neck-deep actually, in editing, I have decided to take a little break from my Making Make-Believe Believable posts and write a couple of posts on editing.
I had mentioned earlier in a post entitled “The Writing Process: Part 7 – Editing for Grammar & Style” (click here to read) that we should try to use strong verbs in our sentences. I listed a few of those verbs, and a few other over-used words we writers love to pepper our paragraphs with as well. I figured for the next few days, I would give you my full list of what I call “Stupid Words” and then show you how I use this list (and Microsoft Word’s absolutely amazing find/replace function) to improve my own writing. I plan to cover:
- Overused, boring verbs (today’s next post)
- Verbs we writers use too much
- Other overused, boring words & phrases
- Cheesy Cliches
- Grammar mistakes we make too often
To do this, I figure I might as well share a bit of what I’m working on. Here is the prologue to my next novel–BEFORE I have begun seek out and eliminate the overused words we will be discussing this week. It’s a paranormal thriller (NOT in the Elysian Chronicles series) about a woman who discovers that the person stalking her is 1) responsible for 90% of the world’s serial killings and 2) isn’t human. This prologue is currently a work in progress, meaning it will change a bit between now and publication. I also am still in the “massaging” stage of my second draft, which means that some of the parts are over-dramatic and need to be toned down while others need to be turned up. Oh, yeah, and there is an 80% chance that the dialogue sucks because my dialogue always sucks during the first and second drafts. With that disclaimer, here it is. Throughout the rest of the week, I’ll show you how I change it, starting with today’s next post on overused, boring verbs.
Oh, yeah. And pardon my French. 😉
No, seriously. I haven’t had the French parts edited yet… Where are your minds???
Unleashed [Working Title]: Prologue
Sogne d’Auvers, Provence of Gévaudan, France, June 19th, 1767
A hogtied wolf, deformed and tinier than most, swung back and forth as it dangled from the gallows in the village square. Blood trickled from its abdomen, which had been ripped open, down to its snout and onto the ground below. It dripped on a collarbone that had once belonged to a small child—a collarbone the villagers had recovered from the wolf’s stomach.
Cries from the villagers rang out across the town and into the hills. “La Bête! La Bête! La Bête!”
La Bête du Gévaudan, the beast that had terrorized the French province, mauling and killing over one hundred people since 1764, hung limp and lifeless. This beast was not a loup garou that many had suspected when the attacks first occurred, nor was it the wrath of God pouring out on Gévaudan as Bishop of Mende had declared. La Bête was real. She was a wolf. And the wolf was dead.
Only one man refused to share the crowd’s joy. Gustave Géroux leaned against the tavern wall with his hands thrust in his coat pockets. The coat looked a few sizes too big and hung limply off his shoulders. His knickers buckled under his belt, indicating there was once more of him to clothe. His gaunt face was sunken in, making his cheekbones protrude more than normal. His eyes, which should have been alight with celebration, were downtrodden. A large pit formed in Gustave’s stomach as he listened to the villagers rejoice. Each cheer nauseated him.
A twenty-two-year-old nobleman who wore a silk, navy waistcoat with gold trim stood near the wolf’s carcass and addressed the crowd. Marquis Jean-Joseph d’Apcher had spent every Sunday for the past three years organizing battues, hunting parties, to search for the beast. Gustave, and many others, suspected the young lord might have enjoyed the excuse not to attend church, but they still admired and loved their lord. They would love him more now that his fierce determination to find the beast finally produced results. The members of his hunting party stood behind him.
“I am not your hero,” said the Marquis d’Apcher. He pointed to the roughened, burly man with a large face and prominent cheekbones standing next to him. This man wore no dainty wig, as the Marquis did. Instead, he kept his coarse hair tied back with a ribbon. Some of his hair had been pulled out of the ponytail, and he had not bothered to put it back. A rust-colored bull mastiff sat obediently at the man’s side.
“Here is your hero. La Bête’s killer, Jean Chastel!”
As the marquis stepped aside to allow Chastel take the stage, his gaze fell on Gustave. Gustave looked away and shifted his weight from one leg to the other. The marquis had been eyeing him strangely for the past four months.
Chastel, oblivious to the marquis and Gustave’s exchange, stepped forward, and the crowd roared. He raised his hands to quiet the crowd and began to tell the story of how he shot la Bête.
Gustave barely listened. The rumors about Chastel had already begun to spread. Some said his son, Antoine, teetered on the insane and owned a unique menagerie of animals including such exotic species as hyenas. Some accused Chastel of poaching, insisting that he had spent time in prison for it. Others dismissed the accusations, saying his jail time was due to a prank he pulled on some of the king’s soldiers. Whatever the rumors, Gustave didn’t trust the large country bumpkin. Not that it mattered. Not that any of this actually mattered.
Chastel held up a book of litanies to the Holy Virgin. “I was reading this,” he said, “when I saw her!”
The crowd hushed. They had already heard the story, but Gustave knew they wanted—no, they needed to hear it again. The retelling made it feel real. If this beast was La Bête, their terror would end. Their woman and children, the beast’s main targets, could finally walk through the woods and mountainsides in safety. The king’s soldiers would leave Gévaudan, allowing them to return to their farms and work the fields instead of seeking out the beast. This year’s harvest would be plentiful, and the people would not starve. Yes, the villagers needed to hear Chastel’s story once more.
Chastel held up his rifle. “I loaded it with silver bullets, in case it was a loup garou,” he said.
The crowd hung on his words. The wolf hanging before them was no werewolf, but Chastel enjoyed reveling in his own forethought. “I knelt on the ground and prayed. When I finished, I looked up, and I saw her: la Bête!”
Chastel shook his fist in the air. His dramatic intonations had become more fantastic with each retelling of the story, noted Gustave. Next time, he might even jump in the air and land on the ground like a werewolf.
The mob gasped on cue. They knew their role by now, as it was Chastel’s fourth retelling.
“I knew it was a sign from God,” continued Chastel. “I took my rifle; I aimed; I fired.” Chastel acted out the sentence, pretending to hold a rifle made of air. He paused for a breath. “And la Bête fell!” He raised his fist to the air again, and the crowd roared.
Except that’s not la Bête. The thought made Gustave’s stomach churn. The crowd should have known as well, he mused. The eye-witnesses had described a much bigger monster with a flatter snout and a more ridged back. This wolf was probably a scavenger that had eaten the true Bête’s last victim.
Gustave turned away and walked home, feeling sick to his stomach. What would happen to the villager’s joy when la Bête killed again?
Gustave stopped as he approached his home and saw something that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Under his door, someone had tucked a folded piece of paper. He reached for the note. His hands shook as he unfolded it. He stepped closer to the door so he could examine the contents without anyone noticing. The violent trembles made it almost impossible for him to read it.
Once he read the message, he folded the note as best he could with the shaking hands. He would burn it later, as he had done with the others. He started to put the note in his pocket when he heard the click of a musket near his left ear.
“What time does it say to meet?” The voice belonged to the Marquis d’Apcher.
“Ten o’clock. Tonight.” Gustave stared at the ground. He had been unable to look the marquis in the eye for months. Why start now?
Gustave said nothing. He had stopped reading before he reached that part.
The marquis snatched the note out of his hands and read it. “La Ténazeyre forest? Interesting. The same forest where the wolf was shot. Appropriate, don’t you think?”
“Yes, my lord,” said Gustave.
The marquis motioned to the villagers. “They’ll be celebrating long after that, Monsieur Géroux. And I would hate for you to miss your appointment this time.” He shoved the nose of the musket closer to Gustave’s face. “Move.”
A few hours later, the Marquis leaned against the tree with his hunting rifle pointed at Gustave. “There is still time,” he said. “I can get you a priest to perform last rights.”
“No priests,” muttered Gustave. He might have deserved absolution for his sins before the attacks began, but not now.
Every passing moment brought them closer to ten o’clock. The only thing Gustave felt stronger than guilt was fear. He had seen what happened to la Bête’s victims. He began to sweat. “My lord, please have mercy.”
“Mercy?” The marquis’ face remained emotionless. Noblemen knew how to maintain control. “This is mercy. Hiding from la Bête has reduced you to a skinny mass of bones. It’s not good for your health,” he added, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “This ends tonight. And we will let the people think they have their Bête.”
“You won’t escape it either,” said Gustave, trying another ploy to escape.
The marquis threw the note Gustave had found earlier at his feet. “I’m not the one it’s after.”
Nearby, bushes and underbrush began to rumble and creak. Something much larger than a wolf approached.
Gustave’s heart beat increased. He felt numb. He considered running, but the Marquis was an expert huntsman.
The rustling in the bushes grew nearer. Gustave fell to his knees in terror the moment the darkened form stepped into the clearing. He heard the marquis’s rifle drop to the ground behind him. This was no bête—no beast.
It pounced, and the forest of Ténazeyre echoed with Gustave’s tormented screams.
On the ground lay the original note stained in blood. Along with the Ten O’clock and La Ténazeyre Forest, it contained the words:
Your day of reckoning has come.
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.