The Craft of Plot: Show, Don’t Tell & The Whole Story

NaNoWriMo Course 4, Week 3 and Week 4

This entry is special, because it was originally written for Week 3 then expanded into a full story, which was then submitted for Week 4.

Also, it serves as an excellent backstory for a character in my planned novel for NaNoWriMo.

Assignment Description – Week 3:

As with the first assignment, you will create another scene where someone wants a concrete physical object more than anything else in the world. This time, instead of focusing on rising action entirely, consider the full story structure.

Write for a few minutes, then give that character a disease where they learn they have only 24 hours to live. This is your first significant rising action.

Write some more, then give that character a choice between that object and an antidote. This is your second significant rising action.

Finish the story with a conclusion. Your final story should not exceed 500 words. If you are considering participating in the capstone and have a larger story in mind, you can consider this an opportunity to write one scene from it, but remember your reader will not have any outside context.

Assignment Description – Week 4:

Write a story (up to 1,000 words) following the ABDCE structure that includes at least one full scene. Also, your story should have at least TEN sentences of rising action.

After your story, along with your submission, ask two specific questions of your readers. Think back to the 21-point checklist. Within the time and logistic constraints of Coursera, we can’t follow all the best practices of writing and revision, but as you work through your assignments and especially as you write beyond these courses, keep them in mind.

Example questions you can ask your readers could be: “What did you think of my main character’s actions?” Or: “Were there any parts that seemed confusing or hard to follow?”

As you end this course with your reader feedback, process it and see if it makes sense. Consider the feedback as you move through other courses in the Specialization, and your writing in general.

The Sister’s Dream

1024 words

The sun is behind me when I arrive at the sandstone outcropping in the middle of Eazala Desert. Climbing into a human-sized opening at its base, I find a dome-shaped cavern that would make any archaeologist faint with glee. The daylight pouring through the circular opening at the top reveals a strip of bas-reliefs decorating the walls. I make my camp beside the entrance, chanting the Wahaian song I learned from Haroun during my five years under his tutelage.

When the longest day comes

and the sun stands above time’s head

The path of the golden arrow

Will guide you to reversal

The song is a crucial piece in my path to obtain the Time Reversal Magic, hidden in the Temple of Time somewhere within Wahaian lands. Haroun was the only one willing to teach me about Wahaian legends. Though a respected elder, he received backlash for teaching me, ‘yet another greedy foreigner,’ the most sacred knowledge of his people. Yet another reason why I can’t fail.

I sleep, and my dream takes me five years back. Fergus lying in the hospital bed, his legs missing from enemy mortar. I wake with a gasp. The image of him in vegetative state haunts me every night, but somehow, it brings more motivation than despair this time.

I have three hours until the midday of summer solstice— ‘time’s head’ in Wahaian. I spend it by pushing everything that looks like a secret button while searching for any hint of where the entrance is, but there are none.

“What the hell,” I grumble. Some detective I am. Either this is a very complicated puzzle, or there is none to be solved.

Just then, the ground shakes. A pedestal rises out of the ground, right in the middle of the circle of light. On its top lies a golden arrow. How literal. I read the carvings on the arrow. In ancient Wahaian calligraphy, it says:

The gates open with time’s touch.

“Time’s touch?” I muse. This place has been straightforward so far. I charge the tips of my fingers with temporal energy and touch the calligraphy. The magic imbued in each character resonate with mine. It rises and flies towards the entrance tunnel of the dome, revealing a portal where the narrow opening used to be.

I step through to arrive in a lush courtyard of an ancient complex. In front of me, several grand steps lead to what looks like the main building. On the top, a dark-skinned man with curly black hair stands, wearing a sleeveless brown leather armor with a golden arrow etched on his silvery chest plate. Without a word, he aims his bow and shoots an arrow through my thigh. I scream as crippling pain courses through my veins.

“You seek the Time Reversal Magic, I see,” he says in fluent Realtan. He walks towards me, weaving a bubble of air to suspend me midair. The portal closes behind me with a crackle of magical energy. I grit my teeth as the pain slowly turns to numbness. This is not good.

“You’re the Guardian, then,” I retort. He doesn’t reply. How rude.

“Well, Mr. Guardian,” I spit, “no sane person would come here otherwise.” He taps my arms and legs; I don’t feel anything. The air bubble dissipates, dropping me face-up on the sand.

He snorts. “You have no idea.” He sits cross-legged beside me, his sharp violet eyes observing my struggle.

“I’ll get straight to business,” he says, fiddling with his bow.

“The venom from that arrow will paralyze and kill you in twenty-four hours, and you have three choices. One,” he raises his finger, “You can beg for the antidote, which I will give you after I kick you out of here, so you can weep upon your failure to attain fame. You won’t remember anything about this place, including how you got here.”

He raises another finger. “Second, you can choose the magic, which you can use to reverse your state before you were shot. But no fame for you either, because you’ll be bound under a geas to stay here as my coworker.” He meets my eyes and smirks. “Forever, because immortality is part of the contract.”

If I could move my limbs, I would kickbox that pretty face to the moon and back.

“Great,” I say, rolling my eyes. “What’s the third?”

“Slow death by indecisiveness,” he answers in a sing-song voice, then stands up and leaves for the fountain in the courtyard. “Call me when you’re ready to choose.”

I stare at his armored back. It feels eerily similar to when Fergus went off to his last battle.

I’ll come back and stay; the war is almost over, he promised.

He came back, but he didn’t wake up. Even after I called until I lost my voice.

There’s only one answer, even though that means leaving him alone.

I’m sorry, Fergus. I’m a selfish little sister.

“Hey, Jerk Guardian!”

“It’s Zorambua.”

“I’ll take the magic!”

He stomps back to my side and squats. He searches my eyes with a piercing stare. After a while, his expression softens.

“You’re serious.”

“I want nothing more than my brother’s life.”

“Even if it means never seeing him again?”

I take a deep breath.

“Even so.”

We arrive in Fergus’ hospital room by portal at midnight. I hurry to his side, taking his hand for the last time. Zorambua walks up beside me.

“Are you sure?” he asks. “You’ll be dead in his memories, you know.”

I squeeze Fergus’ hand.

“Do it.”

He takes my hand and Fergus’ in his. He closes his eyes and chants in an unknown language. An overwhelming pressure of magical energy surrounds him, answering the Guardian’s call. An intense light envelops Fergus’ body. It dies down with the pressure, and he is once again complete.

Zorambua releases his hands and steps back. I plant a kiss on Fergus’ forehead, my lips lingering on his pale skin.

“I love you, brother,” I whisper. My eyes linger on him as I step through the portal back to the temple.

It closes, and my cry breaks the temple’s serenity.


The temple scene was submitted for Week 3. I had too much fun and it evolved into a full-blown short story.

The beginning was originally much longer and had the main character, Aislinn, saying goodbye to Haroun the morning before she arrived at the sandstone dome. Haroun couldn’t come with her to the dome because in the legends, only people who have time magic could find the entrance. Haroun would get lost or turned in a way and never reach the sandstone outcropping.

A reviewer in the course wondered why Aislinn thinks she’s being selfish by saving Fergus’ life. The answer:

  • Fergus would have wanted her to live her life. He’s that kind of selfless older brother. Restoring him violates his wishes.
  • Reverting Fergus to his healthy state six years prior would make her ‘die’ six years ago: right before he went to battle.
    • This works by the ‘equivalent exchange’ principle: for a 6-year period to be restored, another 6-year period must be sacrificed. The ‘influence’ of the person named ‘Aislinn Mahony’ during her last 6 years before Fergus’ restoration would be nullified.
    • Background context: he had to take care of her since he was just a 10-year old boy; their parents died in an accident. The spell Zorambua cast altered her ‘alive’ status in the ‘world state of six years ago’ to ‘dead’. Thus Fergus would remember her as ‘my only sister who died before I went to battle’ and the scar of thinking he failed to take care of her would hurt for the rest of his life.

Trivia: Fergus would remember her visit as a dream; thus her first name.

The questions I asked in the peer review were:

  1. Tell me your impression of the main character, Aislinn, and the Guardian, Zorambua. Describing how their personalities seem to you will help me know if I have successfully conveyed them in the story. I also want to know if they’re believable or not.
  2. Are there parts where the story is hard to follow? Plot holes? Should there be more information (or less)?

Feel free to write your thoughts in the comments!

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