So today, I struggled mightily with a scene. It’s one of those scenes that need to be there (also known as the CHARACTERS EXPLAIN TO SOMEONE WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN THE LAST BOOKS SO THAT THE READER CAN ALSO CATCH UP scene).
In books like mine, there comes a point early where I have to state what is going on, what the rules (and Rules) are, and so forth. This is most easily done with a character who does not know WTF is going on, and so the reader learns along with her and in a way that is organic to the scene/story (and hopefully the dreaded INFODUMP can be avoided — I have not always done so successfully.) The best example? Charlie and Drifter. Charlie doesn’t know crap about the Guardians, so while she’s digging a bullet out of Drifter’s back, he tells her. I like that scene a lot. (I’ll put it at the end of this post.)
I’m a talky writer. I like to have my characters talk, especially if they are the main characters and we can get the romance/flirty/tension stuff going in the conversation, too. Sometimes, the worldbuilding comes out smoothly in the course of their discussions, even if both characters know what is going on (although it works best if both only know parts, so they piece it together). Unfortunately, sometimes it means that I end up in a room with talking heads … even if one of those heads doesn’t know WTF is going on.
I hate writing those scenes (usually put them in brackets and write them last, hoping that by some miracle I’ll get the info out another way and won’t have to write it) but sometimes — especially if the person with the information isn’t one of my POV characters, I can’t get around it. My main characters have to be told, and we have to listen. If I’m lucky, the scene is short.
Today, it was not. Well, it wasn’t long … but I was resisting every single word. I HATED IT. I had a character who didn’t know WTF was going on, and she’s going to be necessary to the story, so she isn’t a throwaway character for the sake of the scene, and she needs to be brought up to speed, but it was effing boring — especially since it had just come after an emotional fight between my hero/heroine. Then my hero stood around in an effing boring scene, so HE seemed boring. And I realized: okay, this cannot be.
So I had him move. And yes, he’s relaying all of the needed info as he’s moving, but now he’s relating it to everything/everyone he’s seeing, giving me a chance to introduce the setting and a few more characters, and it all pulls together when he runs into Khavi at the end of the scene … which is where DEMON BOUND left off.
And because I erased so much and started over, I probably won’t make my word count for the day … but thank goodness those stupid words are gone. In about a year, I hope you’ll be thanking me, too, for sparing you an effing boring talking heads scene, and giving you an Alejandro-stalks-broodily-through-SI scene instead.
Here’s that excerpt from DEMON NIGHT, when Drifter explains to Charlie the origin of the Guardians:
Ethan nodded. â€œI owe you some explaining.â€ He seemed to smile at her snort of agreement, though his lips didnâ€™t move. But she saw it at the corners of his eyes, the slight lift of his brows. â€œAnd Iâ€™d be much obliged if youâ€™d help me out while Iâ€™m doing it. How strong is your stomach?â€
Blinking quickly didnâ€™t make his question make any more sense. â€œWhat?â€
â€œThe bulletâ€™s giving me some trouble, and itâ€™s coming out too slow. I canâ€™t protect you like I should if my arm donâ€™t function when I need it. But if the bulletâ€™s out, itâ€™ll heal up quick and clean.â€
It took her two more blinks. â€œYou want me to get the bullet out of your back?â€
â€œI reckon itâ€™ll hurt like a son of a bitch if I go in through the front,â€ he drawled, and she closed her eyes, pressed her lips together. â€œNow, Charlie, donâ€™t you start laughing and lose your mad, because if youâ€™re angry itâ€™ll be easier to use a knife on me. Though I must be all kinds of a fool, hoping youâ€™re riled up before I give it to you.â€ He paused, and the drawl slipped away. â€œBut only if you feel up to it, Charlie.â€
That was the voice sheâ€™d heard from him the night on the roof. Still slow and long, as smooth and warm as a sip of scotch, but without an exaggerated flavor to it. â€œYouâ€™ll tell me who you are? What you are?â€
â€œYes. But weâ€™d best do this in the kitchen.â€
Charlie looked down at the pale rug, realized that they were moving to avoid staining it with blood, and wasnâ€™t sure if she was up to it. But Ethan was already walking that way, so she hurried after him. He stopped just inside the kitchen, in front of a security panel. Light flooded the room.
And maybe her stomach wasnâ€™t all that strong, because it began roiling when he laid a knife on the butcher-block island top and pulled a ladder-back chair in from the breakfast nook. He straddled it, crossing his forearms on the backrest.
She took a deep breath, stepped up behind him. The hole in his coat centered above his right shoulder blade. Charlie gingerly touched the skin showing through the tear. â€œRight here?â€
â€œYes.â€ His muscles shifted under her finger, and she looked up to see him tilting a black felt-tip pen her direction. â€œMark it, so you wonâ€™t have to cut moreâ€™n once or twice.â€ He turned his head in profile to her, his brows drawing together. â€œThat hole pisses me off more than getting shot, Charlie. I donâ€™t have a talent for creating my own clothes, particularly something that fits me this well. You got that marked?â€
â€œYes.â€ She couldnâ€™t say anything else. His jacket, suspenders, and shirt disappeared, leaving his broad shoulders naked and exposing tanned skin over long, rangy muscles. Her fingers itched to run the length of his back, from the short thick hair at his nape to the tight ridges of flesh hugging his spine and narrowing down to his waistband.
But she didnâ€™t want to touch him like this.
The knife gleamed wickedly on the countertop.
â€œForgive my blushes, Miss Charlie. Iâ€™m so awfully modest and bashful.â€ He grinned and rested his chin against the top of his shoulder, watching her sidelong. â€œAnd youâ€™ll have to pardon any groaning I do. Itâ€™s not becoming a man to cry, so we groan real loud instead.â€
Â â€œI know youâ€™re trying to make it better, Ethan, but youâ€™re just freaking me out. Do you want a drink or something first?â€ She could make a drink, that would be nice and comfortableâ€”
â€œI doubt Colin and Savi keep any around; liquor doesnâ€™t do anything for me, in any case. Nor would medicine or painkillers. Iâ€™ll talk myself through it.â€
And her, too, she hoped. â€œHow deep is it?â€
He rolled his shoulders, grimaced. â€œAbout two or three inches. Just dig in there until you hit lead and then use the tip of the blade to wiggle it on out.â€
Oh, Jesus. â€œThat doesnâ€™t sound like a good plan.â€
â€œItâ€™s likely not, butâ€”â€ He sat up straight, and his jacket was suddenly in his hands. He lifted the sleeve up from the rest of the bundle; from the wrist to the elbow, it was dark with blood. â€œThatâ€™s mine, Charlie. Nearly lost my hand to a demon. Now, I can reattach it, or wait until I return to Caelum and get a Healer to fix me up, or eventually grow another oneâ€”but next time it might be my head, and I canâ€™t put that back on. And next time might be the moment I let the shield down around the house, because thereâ€™s no way for me to know if a demonâ€™s waiting for us when the spell is up.â€
Demons, spells, being constantly prepared to defend himself…Charlie could barely imagine life at that level or think in those terms.
But she had to now, didnâ€™t she?
â€œAll right. All right.â€ She shrugged out of her coat, tossed it onto the island. The ivory-handled knife was as cold as her fingers, and gooseflesh crawled over her bodyâ€”but Ethanâ€™s skin was smooth, as if he didnâ€™t feel the chill in the air. â€œDo we need to sterilize this?â€
â€œNo. Just quick and deep, Charlie. And soon, before I turn yellow and embarrass myself.â€
â€œJust hold on a second, Ethan. Jesus.â€ She thought his lips twitched before he turned, facing straight ahead. â€œI need a towel. Or five. Youâ€™ve got some ofâ€”â€
A rainbow of her neatly folded hand towels appeared on the island.
â€œMy tweezers, too.â€
After a second, Ethan said, â€œThey in something?â€
â€œA brown makeup bag. Itâ€™s got a fleur-de-lis design all over the outside. Yeah, that one.â€ God. Just wiggle the bullet on out, Charlie. He was crazy. She wiped off the tips of the tweezers and laid them next to the towels. â€œAre you ready? Youâ€™d better start talking. You said youâ€™re a Guardianâ€”what does that mean?â€
â€œYou ever play DemonSlayer?â€
â€œThe video game? No.â€ She held the blade over the black circle sheâ€™d made on his skin. Just stabbing wouldnâ€™t let her work in there; she needed an incision.
â€œGood, because itâ€™s mostly bullholy fucking whoresonâ€”!â€ His jaw clamped together and he dropped his forehead to his arms; his knee lifted and he slammed his boot against the floor.
Charlie felt the vibration in her feet, and she stared in shock at the deep wound sheâ€™d made, the blood pouring from it. Sheâ€™d convinced herself it wouldnâ€™t really hurt him. For Godâ€™s sake, heâ€™d been shot and she hadnâ€™t heard him complain about the pain, just the inconvenience. â€œEthanâ€”â€
His voice was muffled against his arms. â€œGet in there, Charlie, or itâ€™ll close up and youâ€™ll have to do it again.â€
He was right; it had bled hard the first second, but it was already slowing. She grabbed a towel and her tweezers. â€œGuardians?â€ she prompted.
â€œYes.â€ He hissed when she probed the incision, and she thought she heard wood splinter. â€œYouâ€™ve heard about Lucifer and his rebellion in Heaven?â€
â€œI think so.â€ She couldnâ€™t see anything inside the wound, and looking at it was just making her sick; she closed her eyes and gently felt around for the bullet. Sheâ€™d forgotten what a distinctive odor blood had. â€œLucifer and his followers were turned into demons and thrown into Hellâ€”but Lucifer decided to trick humans into wearing clothes instead of leaves, so he turned into a snake and made Eve eat the apple and then humans were eternally screwed.â€
His back shook under her hand, like he was holding in laughter. â€œI donâ€™t know if the snake and the apple is trueâ€”but the demons did begin tempting humans, and angels remained on Earth to stop them. Except it wasnâ€™t long before humans started thinking the angels were gods, and the demons got almighty jealous.â€ He sucked in a long breath. â€œYouâ€™ll have to open it up again. Deep as you can. Poke around in there, Charlie. You donâ€™t need to be gentle, because itâ€™ll only hurt for a secondâ€”I can hardly feel the cut you made now. And you arenâ€™t doing any damage.â€
â€œOkay.â€ Charlie wiped the blood from her hands, the tweezers, then his backâ€”cleaning the work space. â€œItâ€™s all over your pants.â€
â€œIâ€™d take them off and sit here in my skivvies, butâ€”sonofabitch.â€ He gripped his knees, the muscles and tendons in his hands and arms standing in sharp relief. â€œBut I ainâ€™t wearing any.â€
Heâ€™d probably meant that to be teasing, instead of sounding like it had been ground between two jagged stones.
â€œSorry,â€ she murmured, and swiftly got the tweezers going. When the steely tension in his back eased, she said, â€œSo the demons were jealous?â€
â€œEnough to wage another war against the angels. Only this time Lucifer had creatures from Chaos, a dragon and demon dogs and such, and they just about slaughtered the seraphimâ€”thatâ€™s the angelsâ€”until humans began fighting with them. I felt it there, Charlie.â€
â€œYeah, I found it.â€ She bit her lip and held her breath as she carefully dragged the tweezers against the bullet, searching for the edge. â€œSo the demons started killing people, too?â€ She made a frustrated noise in the back of her throat. â€œItâ€™s slippery.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll get it.â€ Her probing must have been hurting him; his thumbs were working circles on his thighs, though the rest of him was still. â€œDemons canâ€™t kill humansâ€”itâ€™s against the Rules. No killing or hurting them, no denying them free will.â€
â€œUsed to be, they got dragged back to Hell by Lucifer, then Punished or destroyed.â€
â€œUsed to be?â€
â€œThe Gates are closed now. But thatâ€™s another story, Charlie, and not nearly so old. This one, the men who joined in the battle turned the victory back the angelsâ€™ way.â€
â€œOne of themâ€”Michaelâ€”killed the dragon.â€
â€œGot it,â€ she breathed, and slowly began to draw the bullet out. She lost it, and fished back in, trying to work under it instead of squeezing this time. â€œDamn. Itâ€™s going to take a second, though. And then what?â€
â€œAnd then the angels gave Caelumâ€”their homeâ€”to Michael, gave him a Guardiansâ€™ powers, and left him to recruit others.â€
â€œWhen did all of thisâ€” Oh, shit, here it is.â€
The slug landed with a plop in her cupped hand, and she held it over his shoulder, grinning.
Ethan whistled low and picked up the mushroomed bullet between his thumb and forefinger. â€œA forty-four hollow-pointâ€”unfortunately, only the light cartridge behind it. If theyâ€™d used a Magnum round, itâ€™d likely have punched right on through, made it all a bit easier for me.â€ The slug vanished, and he slanted a glance up at her. â€œThank you kindly, Miss Charlie.â€
The darkness of his lashes only made the impact of his amber eyes more intense, knocking the wind out of her. She swallowed, forced a reply. â€œSure thing. Just give me another minute, and Iâ€™ll get you cleaned up.â€
Herself, too. Blood covered her fingers, pooled in her palm. She didnâ€™t want to look down and see how much was on her shoes and pants.
â€œIt ainâ€™t necessary, Charlie. I can…â€ The rest of it was lost beneath the sound of the faucet, and by the time sheâ€™d soaked a towel with warm water and lathered soap into it, heâ€™d apparently decided to let her help.
His elbows were resting on the seat back, his posture easy, his booted feet flat against the floor. He tensed beneath the first swipe of the towel over his skin. His right boot slid back a couple of inches, his heel lifting, and she paused, remembering how heâ€™d reacted on the first cut. But the incision had healed; only a four-inch pink line remained against his tan, and that was fading quickly.
The triumphant haze of getting through the operation without fainting was fading, too.
â€œThat didnâ€™t hurt, did it?â€ It wasnâ€™t really a question. And now she recalled how heâ€™d vanished the blood from her hands in the booth.
â€œNot a bit. I suspect thereâ€™s more hurting to come, though.â€
She wasnâ€™t so slow that she couldnâ€™t interpret that. â€œYet youâ€™re still sitting here,â€ she said, and wiped another section of skin clean. Efficiently, though she was tempted to take her time, to make that hurt just a little worseâ€”maybe even bad enough heâ€™d want to relieve it.
â€œWell, Charlie, I just ainâ€™t man enough to walk away when a pretty woman offers a warm bath.â€
A dark emotion grabbed at her throat. Sheâ€™d been pretty enough to kiss, too. And apparently pretty enough to get his dick hard, but sheâ€™d bet that if she walked around the chair and took any of that for herself, heâ€™d push her away and tell her it was for her own good.
She let the towel drop to the floor. â€œBut I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m woman enough to keep nurturing a man who doesnâ€™t need it.â€
She backed up to the island, lifted herself up onto the wooden surface, and kept her hands clenched on the edge of the counter. Her fingers were screaming to do something, and sheâ€™d have done just about anything for a cigaretteâ€”anything but ask Ethan for one.
Even something as innocent as asking for her knitting seemed too much a giveaway of her hurt, so she just squeezed the wood instead.
Ethanâ€™s gaze lifted from her hands to her face. â€œCharlieâ€”â€
â€œSo you can fly, and heal fast,â€ she interrupted, because she sure as hell didnâ€™t want to talk about anything else. Didnâ€™t want to hear him say again that she was needy, or to think about how easily he saw into her.
Didnâ€™t want to think about how simply knowing that sheâ€™d aroused him had created an ache that centered much lowerâ€”and was much warmerâ€”than the one in her throat.
She was good at wanting things that she shouldnâ€™t…and equally good at denying herself them.
Ethan watched her carefully as he stood. A blue cotton shirt appeared in his hands. â€œYes. I can run quick enough a human canâ€™t see it, lift a city bus if it needs to be lifted.â€
A thin scar bisected his navel horizontally, rippled across the left side of his abdomen. She swung her legs out so that she had something to stare at besides his stomach. Her shoes were spotless; so were her pants. Considering how much blood had spilled, and how close sheâ€™d been to him, that was impossible. â€œAnd you make stuff disappear.â€
â€œIf I can get my head around it, I can store it. Blood doesnâ€™t feel good, though.â€ He slid into his shirt, frowned at the length of the sleeves. He met her eyes again as he rolled up the cuffs. â€œIf I have the opportunity, I choose to clean it off in the normal way.â€
She didnâ€™t know if that was an apology or an explanation, or just an excuseâ€”but it helped that he offered one. â€œDo you drink blood?â€
â€œNo. Donâ€™t eat, donâ€™t drink, donâ€™t sleep.â€
â€œThat must be nice,â€ she said.
â€œNot to need anything. Then it wouldnâ€™t hurt so much when you didnâ€™t have it.â€ Or when you had to give it up.
His lips tightened. â€œWell, the lack of sleep is more difficult than the others. Close your eyes, Charlieâ€”Iâ€™m about to make new britches, and I donâ€™t always get it right the first time.â€
She did, but an image of his body appeared behind her eyes anyway. â€œWhereâ€™d you get that other scar?â€ Not as a Guardianâ€”heâ€™d said the one on his lip was from when he was human.
How many did he have? â€œHere.â€ She lifted the hem of her shirt a couple of inches and ran her finger in a quick line over her stomach.
She heard him swear lightly and fabric rip before he said, â€œA saloon in Cheyenne. Iâ€™d tracked…hell if I remember his name, but heâ€™d swindled a nice bundle out of some society matron in New York. A little dude, and I never expected heâ€™d pull aâ€” Now, Charlie, what about that is so almighty funny?â€
It took her a second to stop laughing, but she finally managed, â€œDude?â€
His voice suggested that he was smiling again. â€œAh, well, a â€˜dudeâ€™ back in my day was a fancy man who had no business being out west. And Iâ€™m decent now.â€
Indigo denim jeansâ€”not formfitting, but falling straight from his hips, like the old-fashioned Leviâ€™s sheâ€™d seen miners wearing in pictures. His suspenders looped the length of his thighs, and Ethan had his head bent, working a metal button on his waistband through the end of the leather strap. His shirt was still unfastened, exposing a wide swath of skin. Dark hair roughened his chest, arrowed down the center of his stomach.
Nothing about that visual was decent; it embodied some kinky fantasy Charlie hadnâ€™t even known sheâ€™d had. She picked up her makeup bag, began digging through it to distract herself.
â€œYou tracked himâ€”you were a cop?â€ Old Matthew hadnâ€™t been wrong, after all.
He shook his head. â€œI was employed by a detective agency.â€
â€œLike…like…â€ Dammit. â€œIt starts with â€˜P. â€™â€
â€œPinkertonâ€™s?â€ He glanced up from his buttons, and she nodded. â€œSimilar to it, yes. I worked with Pinkertonâ€™s for a spell, but they mostly wanted thugs to hassle unionizing workers. So I moved on to a smaller agency where I could be put to better use.â€
She leaned to the side and turned on the faucet in the middle of the island, rinsing her tweezers. â€œYouâ€™re big enough to be useful as a thug.â€
â€œBut Iâ€™m more useful thinking like a thief and murderer.â€ His eyes narrowed. â€œWhatâ€™s it with you and letters? â€˜Starts with â€œP.â€â€™â€
â€œI remember the sound I associate with the thing easier than I do the actual word or name.â€ She kept her focus on her hands as she dried the tweezers and replaced them in the makeup bag. Hopefully, the threat of a unibrow would overpower the memory of where theyâ€™d been. â€œThey teach you that in conservatoryâ€”mnemonic devices so that you donâ€™t forget the lyrics, or where to come in. Except words donâ€™t pull so easily for me. Not unless you set them to music.â€ She pursed her lips, finally glanced up at him, and was glad he wasnâ€™t staring at her throat. â€œI canâ€™t spell, either.â€
â€œHell, Charlie, â€˜reckonâ€™ and â€˜ainâ€™tâ€™ trip off my tongue like I was born saying them, but the truth is, my ma would have whupped me something fierce if sheâ€™d ever heard me speak like this.â€ He smiled when she laughed, and it softened his face, as if mention of his mother had struck a sweet memory. His fingers began working up his shirtfront. â€œBut it served me well to start, and I donâ€™t figure Iâ€™ll stop anytime soon. My ma ainâ€™t going to protest, at any rateâ€”and I can sum up my human life by saying that I was born on Beacon Hill in 1854, where I learned to talk a certain way, but by the time I died thirty-two years later in a no-account Arizona town, I had speaking habits that would make my parents roll in their graves.â€
That didnâ€™t add up to as little as he claimed, but though she was curious, Charlie let it go. She didnâ€™t like to talk about the details of her life, either. And when she did, she just twisted them up into barely believable stories.
Ethan had already heard several of them.