I decided it was time to put my writing skills where my typing fingers are regarding the story engineering business and write something that fits the story structure. Not easy with the 2500 word limit I have stuck to and it is all relatively simple but hopefully shows the story structure at work.
All comments and discussion are very welcome.
Word count: 2500 (approximate excluding commentary.)
Title: Peter’s Vane Struggle
Genre / Setting: Historical fantasy set in rural southern England in 1872
Synopsis: Vicar Peter is in a terrible rush to get a new weather vane for his church. When it turns out, this is not as simple as he hoped and the going gets tough Peter’s imagination and the cherubs get going.
[Commentary in bold square brackets]
[Peter’s inner weakness, all good protagonists should have one: Fear of dogs (simple but it will suffice for this exercise)]
[Set up and hook]
‘… I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, until thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.’
Vicar Peter shut the Bible with a snap lamenting his namesakes fear and looked up at the hole in the roof. The wind tugged at the waxed canvas covering like little Mikey Sparry pulling on his cassock for attention in Sunday school.
Peter wasn’t concerned with Mikey right now, he was thinking of Mary. Mary was a smiler. When he baptised her, she didn’t wail up at the cherubs like most of the infants; she gave one of those baby half-moon smiles. On her fifth birthday, she beamed him a smile when he came in carrying her birthday cake as Mr Sparry was on business in London. She smiled at him on her confirmation day and smiled at everyone when she helped run Sunday school. Peter had all those smiles tucked away in his memory. He raked his fingers through his greying black hair and felt worry creeping in. A week Saturday was Mary’s wedding day. Jake the Millers son from the next village. Bless him if he wasn’t a smiler too.
Peter looked up at Worry, the name of the cherub lowest down in the North West corner. He had names for the other cherubs too. Names like Conscience, Patience, Fear and Inspiration.
He bid the cherubs farewell and left the church money purse in hand.
“I need the weather vane by tomorrow or I’ll not be able to finish the roof before that wedding you’ve got planned.” Frank, the builder, had told him.
[The Hook: Peter’s got a story goal, he has to get the roof fixed and a weather vane in place before a wedding that is important because the bride is someone who has dedicated so much to the church herself. The stakes are setup, what is at risk if Peter fails.]
[Set up continues]
He could count on Billy at the smithy to help him out of this tight spot so that’s is where Peter headed.
Peter strode through the village with its white picket fences grinning at him like over white sets of teeth. Any old weather vane will not do. It must be a cockerel in remembrance of his namesake’s denial of Jesus ‘three times before the cock crew’.
Raucous barking from a hound that sounded as if it came out the gates of hell itself jolted Peter out of his revere. His heart jumped into his throat and sat there beating like a frightened sparrow.
[Peter’s inner weakness is shown – fear of dogs.]
“Bed Buster.” The hound scowled and loped away from the gate it was guarding. “Sorry Vicar, he’s a bit territorial.” The owner apologised.
Peter nodded and nervously hurried on.
“Billy are you there?” Peter called out into the gloom of the blacksmith’s workshop. Somewhere in the depths an orange glow flared up and danced across the walls and ceiling.
“Just a moment.” A muffled voice replied.
A sooty black creature emerged with a gap-toothed grin. Peter wondered if there was ever a time Billy would look clean.
“Bit of a rush Billy, I need a weather vane for the church by tomorrow, a cockerel. Can you make it?”
“Oh, you want copper for a weather vane so it don’t rust.” Billy replied knowledgeably.
“Yes, that’s right. Can you do it by tomorrow?”
Peters’ face fell like an over tall stack of bibles.
[First Plot Point / Inciting Incident: Peter’s plans will have to change.]
“Billy, I’m in a bit of a bind here can’t you help me out.”
“Got no copper see, no one around here asks for copper horseshoes or copper barrel braces or…”
“I get the picture, Billy.” Peter sighed.
“So I got no copper.”
“I need this weather vane, it’s Mary’s wedding next week.”
“You try that Scottish fella Mackintosh, Mactavish or whatever he calls himself. Just set up on Mill Lane, he made vats for the brewery, he might have a bit of copper left.”
“That’s two miles away in Brayton!”
“My old Dad reckons its two ‘n’ ‘arf may be three miles at least.” Billy smiled helpfully.
“Thanks, Billy, I’d better get walking.”
[Set up ends here at the First Plot Point / Inciting Incident. Peter’s plans have changed, Billy can’t help so Peter’s mission is to find someone else to make a weather vane.]
[Response (to the inciting incident) Peter now needs to struggle and fail to get the job done, the antagonistic force – he has delays and distractions…]
Peter hustled down the road leaving the village houses behind and looked forward squinting into the sun. It was getting warm and the heavy black cassock started to drag and suck the sweat from him.
“Morning Vicar.” The cheery call came from a man caressing the biggest pumpkin Peter had ever seen nestling like a giant bird’s egg in the vegetable plot in the field.
“I reckon I got Mr Simpson beat this year, I got a secret formula for me manure this year.”
“Well done Mr Jones, good luck at the harvest show.”
“The secret is, my manures got chicken dung and …”
Peter stopped and politely listened to Jones retelling a decade in pumpkin growing and the delicacies of dung. Patience appeared in a puff of smoke, stretched his cherub wings, sat on Peters’ shoulder and drummed his fingers on Peter’s cheek. Jones couldn’t see Patience, Peter wished he couldn’t either, but his imagination had a way of defying him.
A clatter of horse hooves caught both the men’s attention and Peter looked up at Mrs Sparry approaching on her new horse-drawn wagon. She beamed a smile not quite the match for her own daughter Mary’s smile.
[Here is the mid-way pinch point where the reader gets a reminder of what is at stake in the story – failure to get the roof fixed and weather vane in place in time for the wedding.]
“Morning Vicar. I do hope the church roof will be finished in time for Mary’s wedding. I’ve got the Sullivan’s coming… and one hundred and twenty other guests. Can’t have them coming to an unfinished church now can we? Imagine if it rained!”
“No of course not Mrs Sparry. Got to go now Mr Jones, the Lords work doesn’t do itself.”
Peter hurried off down the road to Brayton before anyone could object.
The Haymaker pub came into view, a yellow building with a red tile roof that drooped over the upper floor windows like a drunks eyelids.
“Morning Vicar.” Two men chimed in unison.
“Freddie, Johny.” Peter nodded briskly.
An excited Freddie handed him a glass.
“Hey Vicar, get some of this into you, better by far than the communion wine I can tell you.”
Peter sniffed at the glass and took an experimental sip.
“Wow, oh no, not my cup of tea at all gentlemen. What is it moonshine?”
“Somut like that, Ah well, try some o’ the new ale we brewed instead then.”
‘Must I?’ Peter thought but soon found himself warming to the flavours in the glass jug Johny handed him.
“I have to admit this is more like it gentlemen.”
“See, told you people would like it.” Johny told Freddie with a grin.
A ringing sound tickled at the edge of Peter’s consciousness and he looked up in alarm at the Brayton church clock.
“Got to go lads.” Peter said and downed the rest of the pint in one huge gulp and let out a wheezing cough when he’d finished.
“Wow, that’s got an after kick, what you put in it.”
“Spiced it up a bit with a slug o’ the moonshine Vicar.” Johny smiled.
“Oh Lord preserve me.” Peter gasped.
“Well if the Lord doesn’t the moonshine will.” Laughed Freddie.
Peter shook his head in wonderment and started off down the road. A road that seemed to sway like a small ship in a rough sea. He concentrated hard, aimed himself somewhere in the middle of it and tried to resolutely march towards the refuge of a row of houses ahead. Something he could lean on just for a moment to regain his composure.
The brick of the house felt like it would burn his hand, so hot it had become under the fierce sun.
“Peter, just the man, I wanted to speak to you about…”
Peter looked up and saw Brayton Church’s Vicar frowning back at him.
[Here is the mid-point, Peter now starts to fight back against the antagonistic force of delays and distractions, but he is still not resolving the issue of the weather vane yet.]
“Really Edward?” He blurted. Vicar Edward seemed to split in two. Two halves of a shadow that could not seem to decide whether to stay together or not.
“Can’t talk. I’ve got an important errand to run.” Peter burbled starting to totter off.
“Are you OK Peter?” Edward called after him.
“No, not really Edwards, I’ll talk to you both later.” Peter burped as he called back.
Mill Lane stretched out before Peter and teasing him, getting longer with each step. Then suddenly it seemed the refreshing chatter of running water joined his scraping footfalls as he looked up at the mill house.
“Ah vicar, just the man I wanted to talk to.” The Miller and the father of the groom to be shouted out.
Peter thrust out his open hand palm towards the Mill and his brain wrestled with his ungainly tongue.
“Noooo, I have an impossible… I mean impractical… improbable… Oh, there’s something I gotta dooo… later.”
Peter wavered onwards to the end of Mill Lane where a red brick workshop with a chimney stood with it’s the doors open wide.
“Hellooo” he called through the doors.
“Be with you in a minute laddie, just hang there by the door.”
Peter clung to the door in the hope it might be the best way to stop it moving around so much.
“Ah vicar, nice to see ye. Say your lookin a wee bit off colour.”
“I think it’s something I drank. Are you Macteezy, Mactozy, Mac… What’s your name?”
“Yes that’s right, Maceezy, wonderful, I’ve found you.”
“Here I think you better have a wee dram o’ this, it’ll snap ye right round in no time.”
Peter hesitated then sniffed at the bottle.
“What is it? I seem to have lost my sense of smell.”
“Some o’ the moonshine the boys down the road have been cookin’ up.”
“Nooooo, no thank you I’ve had quite enough of that. I need a weather vane urgently to finish the church roof before a wedding a week Saturday. One made of copper. One with a cockerel on it.”
“A cockerel, a rooster, you know, cock-a-doodle doo… wakey wakey. Some Pope’s idea not mine.”
“Oh, ha ha, of course, vicar. Let me see.”
MacKenzie flicked studiously through a large dirty ledger on a no less dirty workbench.
“Friday is no problem.”
“Oh thank God you can do it tomorrow.”
[Pre second plot point lull is here, that all hope is lost moment, the weather vane will not be ready in time.]
“No vicar, I mean week Friday, the day before the wedding.”
Peter let go of the workshop door, clutched his sweating head and span around on the spot before falling to his hands and knees.
“Beg pardon vicar.”
“The builder said he needed it tomorrow to finish the roof by next Friday.”
“I canne do it that soon vicar, the rod you need is over there in the corner but it’ll take me a few days at least to make the vane.”
Peter starred in resignation at the large metal rod in the corner of the workshop MacKenzie had pointed at. Just as Peter’s mind started to jumble through ideas and possibilities Inspiration appeared, fluttered his wings and landed on the end of the rod. Peter frowned at Inspiration as the little cherub walked along the rod arms and wings stretched wide like a circus tightrope walker.
[Here comes the second plot point where Peter learns the last thing he needs to know to resolve the plot.]
Peter stood up like a new born fawn and asked.
“If I take the rod now the builder could finish the roof.”
“Aye, good thinking vicar, and then I can come over in the week and fit the cockerel for you and all would be done for yer wedding.”
“I could kiss you!” Peter exclaimed.
“Ha ha, three pounds and four pence will do just fine vicar.”
[Resolution, now we see Peter as the primary catalyst for resolving the plot.]
MacKenzie lifted the rod with a grunt and dragged it noisily over to Peter.
“Is it heavy?” Peter asked, then “oof” as one end of the rod dropped onto his shoulder.
“Sorry, my carts away for repairs. Far to go?”
“Aye, that must be three miles away if it’s a yard.”
Peter saved his breath, nodded and began to plod back along Mill Lane.
“Nice rod vicar.” Freddie called from outside the Haymaker pub.
“What you doing?” Asked Johny.
“Its’ for the church. New weather vane.”
“Looks heavy.” Observed Freddie.
“You have no idea.” Peter gasped.
Sweat poured down Peter’s face and back as he dragged the rod up the hill between Brayton and Chawton. Through bleary eyes, he saw Mr Jones break away from tending his vegetable plot to lean on the fence as he approached.
“Heavy looking rod vicar, what you doing with it?”
Peter stopped and looked down on the grass verge and there lay Patience on his back looking up with a mischievous grin on his round face.
Peter breathed his reply “I’m trying to get closer to God and Jesus by experiencing what Jesus must have felt like bearing his cross Mr Jones.”
“I am impressed by your dedication vicar.”
Conscience appeared in a puff of smoke, a thin-faced stern cherub and slowly shook its head. Peter ignored Conscience, swapped the rod to his other shoulder and plodded on up the hill.
Nearing the edge of the village where the white fences started Peter heard a horse and cart rattle up beside him.
“So noble of you vicar.” Mrs Sparry cheered.
“Useful looking cart Mrs Sparry.” Peter gasped.
“Yes, it is. I’ve had flowers and grain sacks in it. Very exciting. I’ll be using it to fetch all sorts of things for the wedding. As I was saying, very noble of you, Mr Jones told me what you were doing with that rod. I think I better leave you to it, toodle ooo.”
Peter closed his mouth to prevent whatever he was thinking coming out. It wouldn’t do to displease Conscience any further.
[Here is Peter now overcoming his inner weakness – fear of dogs – as part of the resolution.]
Peter dragged the rod into the village and stopped his path blocked. There was a low growl. Standing there in the road was the hell hound. At that moment Patience appeared, grabbed Fear by his cherub wings, dragged him to the ground and started to drown him by pouring an ale jug of what could only be moonshine down his throat. Peter barked at the hell hound “Bed Buster” and the dog squealed, whined as if the weight of the rod had been dropped on its back and it loped off into its garden.
Peter plodded on.
He reached the churchyard and dropped the rod with a bell-like clang.
“Got the weather vane vicar?” Frank, the builder, asked packing up his tools.
“Yes, this is the rod.”
“Where’s the rest of it?”
[Peter has to be the primary catalyst so he needs to get the builder in on his plan…]
“You can build the roof with this in place and MacKenzie will fit the cockerel next week.”
“Good thinking vicar” Frank nodded “that will work nicely. Good night.”
[The denouement, a return to normal life now the plot is resolved. If you can offer your protagonist a reward, maybe pin a medal on him, or perhaps he/she gets the girl/boy so much the better. In this case, Peter gets a metaphorical medal in the form of one of Mary’s smiles he can collect in his memory.]
The marriage service was over. Peter watched Mary in flowing white walking through the churchyard arm in arm with Jake.
“What a nice shiny cock you have up there vicar.”
“What’s that Mrs Sparry?” Peter replied.
“The new weather vane, positively glows in the sun.”
“It won’t shine like that forever Mrs Sparry.”
“No, did you know we use cocks on Church weather vanes to symbolise Peter denying Christ three times before the cock crowed?”
“Is that so Mrs Sparry.”
“Pope Nicholas decreed all churches should have them.”
“Really Mrs Sparry.”
Mary looked back over her shoulder at Peter, rolled her eyes to the heavens and back, beamed a smile and winked. Peter tucked the new smile into his memory, smiled and winked back.