Quick Skills: 5 Essentials of a First Chapter

There are a lot of checklists for building a first chapter, and sometimes they can get overwhelming. MBT has an advanced checklist we use to help people build their Frasier Contest Scene (it’s the same checklist I use when building my first chapters!). However, I admit, it can get overwhelming.

So, let’s start building that chapter one with 5 essential elements.  In fact, this is step two in your process. As Sally and I talked about yesterday in Conversations, sometimes it just helps the writing process to let your characters walk on the page and wander around a bit. We can hear them, talk to them, discover if we have profiled them correctly.  No, these wanderings probably won’t be the final first chapter, but it gives you a chance to get some words on the page.

But, after that initial jump into story, you need to go back and craft a foundational first chapter. You add the elements of the advanced checklist later.

Let’s start with 5 things.  (I made a nifty acronym to help you remember, just because that’s how my brain works.  You don’t have to use it. 🙂 ) .

You’re starting your story at the edge of a CLIFF:

Competence: Show that your character is good at something and can eventually win the day with these skills.

Lie: Where will your character start their inner journey (at MBT, we call it the lie they believe…which sets them up later for the “truth that sets them free.”_

Ignition:  Set up the Inciting Incident. Perhaps it’s just the hint of the II. Maybe it is the actual II.  But hint that that something could be happening…even if you are setting up a perfect world situation, we will then suspect your character is about to fall, hard.

Fear:  We want to know what your character fears – maybe he sees something, eh says something, it’s usually very subtle, but something that we can look at later and say, yes, we saw what he didn’t want to have happen!

Focus:  We want to see what your character wants, what his goals are.  What is he about?

Because you know your character, you should be able to craft this scene.  If not, start with a character interview.

Questions to ask your character to help build the first chapter

  • Competence: What are you good at?  What are your super power skills that we can highlight now to show how you’ll save the day at the end?
  • Lie:  What Lie do you believe and how do you show this in your everyday life?
  • Ignition:  What will happen in this chapter, big or small, that will change the life of your character and ignite him on his journey?
  • Fear:  What fear hangs over the book and how can you hint at it in this first chapter?
  • Focus/Want: How can you express your characters focus in this chapter?  Show who they are and what they want?

Now, pull out your first scene draft.  What elements from this first scene reveal your character’s identity?  Add that to the recipe.

The final step is to wrap all of this up in Home World:  inserting the 5 W’s – Who, What, Where, What, and Why.  All these should give you the framework of your first chapter.

Here’s a hint.  Don’t write, just talk through the scene with a friend or craft partner. See if you have captured all the elements. If it doesn’t work, try a different scene.  Now that you know what you’re looking for, you can build the scene verbally before you get it on the page (but remember to take notes of your conversation!)

Remember, you don’t have to get the scene right on the first pass…you’re still in rough draft mode.  Just shoot for these 5 basic elements. You will go back later and add in the advanced list to bring your scene to publication level.

Quick Skills:  Start the first scene with your character on the edge of the CLIFF…ready to take off into the story.  Build in the 5 elements: Competence, Lie, Ignition, Fear, Focus  into your Home World and you’ll have a powerful foundation to your story.

Have a great writing week!

Susie May

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Conversations: Walking your Hero onto the page

“Today, you write,” I said to Sally as she plunked down her bag. She appeared frazzled today, her blonde hair pulled back into a frizzy ponytail, and she wasn’t wearing makeup.

“Good, because I need some writing therapy,” she said as she sat down on the chair.  “After week with the kids home from school, it’s time to escape.  In fact, I might have already started.”  She handed me four pages of her manuscript.  “It’s the first scene.”

I scanned it.  “No, it’s not,” I said.  “It’s a smattering if the first scene and a lot of backstory,”  I handed it back to her. “But it’s a great start.  And you’ve done what I would have suggested you do – sit down and start writing that first scene.  I expected you to do just this – start telling the story, loaded in with backstory and narrative about your hero.”

“But isn’t that information important? Like knowing where he went to college, and his job, and why he went into the military, and how he wants to be a doctor, but he can’t afford the training, so he is a medic?”

“Yes, it’s important…later in the story.  And that’s what we’re going to talk about today – delivering your hero or heroine to the page in a way that makes them seem alive and three-dimensional.  Your goal here is to let your character walk onto the page fully formed, thinking and acting as if you suddenly dropped in on him in the middle of his day.

“Consider this.  I saw you walk into today, and even though I didn’t know what your life was like this week, your demeanor and appearance told me you’d had a rough week.  If I were writing this, in your POV, I might have said.  “She just wanted one hour without the kids hanging on her.  Sally slid into the chair at the coffee table and managed to untangle her bag from her shoulder, realizing she still had enough kid supplies to last her  and her brood stranded by the side of the road for a week. Real business-like. She’d have to figure out how to balance her four kids, a tired husband and her decade long hope of being published.  She slid into the chair and took out her notebook, pushing away the thought of the mounds of laundry at home. For this hour, her time belonged to her.”

“That sounds about right.”

“Now, if you were a reader, you’d know a few things about Sally. She is married, her kids demand a lot from her, and she has some conflicting values between writing and mothering.  We also know that she is pursuing a life-long dream. We don’t really need to know any more than that – and it’s told through her eyes as she walks in.  I can teach you some storyworld techniques later to layer in her emotion, but for now, think of it like this.

As you walk into the scene, you’re in your character’s head.  Everything your characters sees, thinks, and feels filters through her POV.  Your job as the author is simply to BE that character.  Don’t tell us what the character is thinking, just think it.  Don’t tell us what they feel, just react to it.  Open your mouth and speak and let the character come alive.

“Think about it; do you know someone from their bio, or from experience the journey with them?  This is what you’re offering your reader as you open your story – a taste of the journey and an invitation to come along.

“You’ll give them a hint at what is at stake, and the kind of person they’ll spend time with, and even the goal and main problem you want to solve, but that’s all.  Don’t bog us down with a bio about your character and who he is – which is what you wrote in this first scene – get us into the story.

Here’s a tip – if you feel you have to write the bio for the sake of understanding the character, that’s fine. Just start the story in chapter two, then file chapter one in the “for the author only” file.  Your story starts when your character stops explaining who he is and what he’s done to this point and gets up and begins to engage in the journey.”

She nodded.  “I think I get it.”

“Now here’s a few things you need to get across in the first chapter. First, we need to know who your character is   – and what I mean by that is, what is personality is, what he believes about himself, and life, and what he wants.  You do this through his mannerisms, what he says, what he thinks and how he treats the situation he is in.  This is showing and is the best way to get the story across. Oh, and don’t make him perfect – he has to have a flaw and a fear is he is going to be real.  Something that comes from  his dark moment, and fueled by his greatest fear. By the way – you need to do the same thing with the heroine.”

She was looking at her manuscript, circling things, crossing out others.  “I think I understand.  It’s like I’m just starting the story on the day of his life, cutting into the action, not introducing him like he was speaking at a seminar and then opening the story.”

“Yes.  Remember, you’ve already done the hard work of character creation – figuring out their identity, their dark wound, their happiest moment, and all the added character elements about him.  Now, you just need to let him walk onto the page. Next week, we’ll talk about the two different kind of romance structure.  Now….go write.”

Truth:  Your character needs to walk onto the page without any backstory baggage to get the story going quickly, and you do this best by getting in the skin of your character.

Dare:  Try writing the scene without any backstory at all.  When you’re finished, hand it to a friend and only answer the backstory questions they have at the end with some line of inner thought or dialogue information.

Tomorrow I’ll give you a little trick (or challenge) to helping your character be unique from all his friends on the page!

Happy Writing!

Susie May

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Putting it all together: Adding the Romance beats to your first chapter

For the last two weeks on the blog, I’ve been going through the 10 beats of a romance that we discussed last February so as to refresh our minds before we start putting the elements together.  This week, we’re going to dive into taking those beats and combining them with our story structure so that we can actually build our novel.

 

Just to sum up, we’re going to be working with the first three beats as we start putting together Act 1. 

 

Beat 1: Boy Meets Girl:  In this component, there is an event, goal or circumstance that occurs to bring our hero and heroine together—Usually this happens in the first chapter, but it definitely needs to happen by Chapter 3.

            Some examples that you thought up before:

            You’ve got mail—they were both in a chat room and started talking about New York City in the fall.

            Sleepless in Seattle—the phone call to the radio show

            Harry Met Sally—the car ride

While You Were Sleeping – Christmas at the family’s home.

The Cutting Edge—the hero and heroine bump into each other at the Olympics when he knocks her down. But really later, she needs a skating partner.

 

Titanic—the Ship!

Chasing Liberty—the heroine runs out and needs a ride to get away from the paparazzi.

Return to Me—the hero is on a bad date in the restaurant.

 

 

Beat 2:  Interest/Need: Something about their own situation makes their heart vulnerable to romance.

 

Some examples might be:

 

Titanic…Rose hates her life, feels suffocated and longs for freedom and adventure.  Jack is a vagabond, and when he sees this beautiful woman who loves him, he is affirmed. She believes in him!

 

Sleepless in Seattle—she is marrying a man she doesn’t really love. He’s lost the only woman he thinks he can ever love.

 

It’s very important for you to figure out what it is about your characters that make them ready or vulnerable to romance. Often this element is revealed though a conversation they have with their friends. Or is a part of inciting incident.

 

Beat 3: Why Not: These are the Obstacles between the hero and heroine, the True Love that conspires to separate them.

 

As we’ve talked about before, there are two romance structures:  Why/Why Not and Why Not/Why.

 

The why not/why structure is when the obstacles appear first, and the why (they need to be together, which we’ll get to soon) appears second.

 

Or, you may have a why/why not book where they fall in love first…and then realize why they can’t be together.

 

Never the less, a hint at the obstacles in the beginning are a way to keep the tension high between them.

 

So, now we have the three beats we’ll be using to insert into our first Act elements:

 

Let’s review the First Act:

 

ACT 1

Life

Inciting Incident

            The Big Debate

Noble Quest

 

We start with LIFE – that snapshot of their ordinary, everyday world, the starting place of their journey.  Many romances start with the hero/heroine meeting in the LIFE chapter, and if you are writing for Love Inspired or Heartsong, this is a must.  If you are writing a longer trade novel, you can have them meet in chapter two, but definitely, you want them together by chapter three. 

 

So, let’s say you’re putting them together in chapter one.  Along with the other first chapter elements of hinting at what is at STAKE for your character, putting them in Sympathetic Situation (or a situation that makes the reader identify with them), Anchoring them into the world, starting with the story already in motion and finally hinting  at the story problem, you also want to weave in the beats:

Boy Meets Girl – you want them to meet each other.  Now, they don’t have to talk to each other, but you want to make a statement that they’ve seen each other.  Some of my first scenes are running into each other, seeing one or the other on television, tracking someone down as the object of an investigation, being assigned to protect/interview/fire someone. Asking for a job, rescuing someone on the side of the road, being assigned to work with them…  anything that would put them together.  They might even be haggling over the same pumpkin/Christmas tree!  Whatever works.  Like I said, they don’t have to talk – they just have to remember meeting each other.

 

Start with asking:  How do your characters meet? 

 

Weaving that in with the other chapter one elements – can you combine this Sympathy?  For example, in Escape to Morning, my heroine has just come off a body recover with her K9 SAR dog, and the hero nearly runs the dog over with his car.  He feels badly for her, so he invites her out for dinner. 

 

Ask: Does your Boy Meets Girl moment contain any elements of sympathy?

 

 

Now, after you have the Boy Meets Girl, you might add in an interest/need.  Something about their life suggests they are single, or in need of a good woman (or man).  For example, in Taming Rafe my heroine has a date to her gala event, but he’s rude and condescending and it is clear she’s with the wrong man.  In Nothing but Trouble, my heroine, PJ, breaks up with her boyfriend in the first scene (and thoughts of her old beau Boone enter her mind almost immediately. This is how I get him on the page. J )

            In Reclaiming Nick, Piper sees Nick as a patron of his café, and watches him rescue a girl in need. She makes a comment about how she doesn’t need a man rescuing her – and we realize she’s never had anyone protect her. 

            They may not REALIZE they have a need or interest, but the reader does by the way they react, or comments they make, or an opinion or internal thought.  The idea is that they notice the other person and something about them piques their interest because they have a need/latent desire for a relationship.

 

           

Ask: How do your characters show they have an interest or need for romance?

 

 

Finally, you’re going to add in tension – by hinting at the Why Not.  Now, let’s go back to the other elements.  You might incorporate the element of sympathy here.  OR, you could move onto the STAKES of the story – what might happen if she doesn’t get what she wants, and how does HE stand in the way of it?  Let the Why Not do double duty and be a part of her overall conflict. 

 

For example – in Reclaiming Nick, Piper and Nick’s Why Not is that she is trying to prove that he helped kill her brother.  At stake is her career – she is trying to land an anchor position and landing this story will cinch it.  So, if she proves his guilt, then she gets the job.  The Why Not plays a role in the plot – she has to choose between happily ever after in love, or happily ever after in her job. 

 

Ask: How does the Why Not contribute to the stakes of your story?  Can you hint at this in the beginning scene, or act?

 

I know it’s a lot to think about, and yes, you can stretch some of these elements over the first couple chapters, but as you put together your romance, you need to know how to let elements do double-duty and lay a firm foundation for every story thread. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about how to incorporate they why/why not into Act 1, and move your story into Act 2!

 

By the way, although the story crafting retreat is full, ACFW Denver is having a one-day intensive seminar on story crafting – I’ll also be introducing my new “Managing the Muddle” class on how to strengthen the middle of your novel. J  http://www.acfwcolorado.com/events.html

 

If you have questions about how to build a great romance, check out the romance discussion at www.mybooktherapy.ning.com

 

Susie May

 

Final rough draft of Chapter 1.2 + Thoughts to prep Chapter 2!

Here it is – the final rough draft of chapter 1.2.  (I am sure you are tired of reading it by now!)  Note, I’ve made a few more changes (especially after reading more of the VOICES comments and reviewing SKD’s edit notes again!)

 

Now comes the hard work.  We have to write chapter 2! 

 

So, what considerations go into writing chapter 2?  First – we’ll probably open back in Mackenzie’s pov.  We want to catch up with her and figure what happens next.  

 

How do we do that? 

First, we know it is a REACTION scene – because she had a strong ACTION scene in the first chapter.  Which means we have to figure out her current DILEMMA, as raised in the last chapter.  Then, we determine what CHOICES are before her, and then she should make a DECISION.  That decision is based on her motivations…so, whatever decision she makes needs to have a strong enough motivation to carry her.  I often call it the “Push-Pull” of a decision – meaning, something should PUSH her into it, and something about that option should PULL her as well. (I discuss this more in the On The Couch newsletter from MBT – if you haven’t already signed up for this monthly Therapy Gram, then do so at the right).  

 

So, let’s start brainstorming over on VOICES – Go to the Chapter 2 Discussion, and start noodling on her current DILEMMA, her CHOICES, and finally her DECISION!  Every Voice counts!

 

 

Chapter 1.2 : Final Rough Draft

 

Luke took one look at his father and wished he’d never come down from the mountain.

“Pastor Alexander is having a good day today,” said Nursing Assistant Missy Guinn as she wheeled William Alexander III into the community room.  She set the brakes on his wheelchair, adjusted his soiled bib, and patted him on the shoulder before leaving him to celebrate his seventy-second birthday with a family he only sometimes recognized.

Really? A good day? Luke ran his gaze over his father, his chest tightening as he took in his glazed eyes, the soggy dress shirt, his big, arthritic hands positioned on the tray attached to his chair, the way he listed to one side. Because this didn’t look like a good day for a man who once stood six-two and practically knew the Bible by heart.

 Luke tightened his hold on his lukewarm, stomach-rot coffee, hoping to shore up his courage. He’d promised Ruthann he’d stay. At least until the cake. Especially since this was the old man’s first birthday without their mother.

      “Hey Daddy.” Ruthann pressed a kiss to the old man’s tissue-paper cheek and wiped the corner of his mouth. “Happy Birthday.”

She stepped away, and it seemed to Luke that maybe the old man followed her with his eyes.  Maybe that was just wishful thinking.

      He knew he should greet his father, but he couldn’t move from his post by the wide picture windows overlooking the grounds—a few barren picnic tables, the grass yellow and crunchy under the crisp Tennessee air, the oaks still, their bare arms reaching up to the murky gray sky as if in supplication for spring.

“Uncle Luke, look at me!”

Luke looked down just in time to see his six-year-old nephew, Trevor, sail by in an unoccupied wheelchair. He caught the back handle, arresting the forward motion.

“Whoa there, Andretti. Whose wheels did you boost?”

Trevor grinned, revealing a gap where his two front teeth should be.  “I found it over there.”  He pointed to a gathering of the elderly watching Jeopardy. Or, appearing to watch Jeopardy. Luke pinpointed the victim of the lost wheels as the tiny woman snoozing in the recliner.

“Return the hotrod, pal.” Luke gave him a slight push. “And keep it under the speed limit.”  

      “Always a cop, even when you’re out of the park,” Ruthann said, shooting a glance at her son. Clearly she didn’t see the problem with him tooling around the nursing home. Then again, they spent a lot more time here than Luke.

“I’m not a cop, Ruth. I’m a park ranger. There’s a difference.” Although, admittedly, up on the mountain, in the backwoods of the Appalachian Trail, not much of one. At least not this weekend.

 “Then what’s with the shiner?”

Luke’s mind flicked back to the so-called hunters he’d happened upon, the ones on the ATVs who’d managed to double team him before getting away. He still had a warrant out on them for poaching.  

“I had a run in with a Siberian tiger.”

Ruthann’s jaw tightened. “Funny.”  She pushed their father to the table where she’d already lit the chocolate layer cake, smoke curling from the chunky number seven and two candles.  

Seventy-two short years. Most men at this age should be on the golf course, touring Scotland, or fishing with their grandson. Especially a decorated Vietnam vet, a faithful husband of thirty-five years, and long-time pastor of the Normandy Ridge Community church.

Alzheimer’s was a cruel thief.

“Come over here and blow out these candles with us.” Ruthann shot him an undisguised, Help make this good for Daddy expression.

Hey, he’d wanted to do this outside, maybe bundle up his father, wheel him out to a picnic table, let him smell anything other than the trapped, piped-in air that probably sucked the life out of his father with each breath.

His judgment wasn’t fair, and he knew it. The residence house had kind aids, and he’d never seen his father neglected. Yet, with everything inside him, he wished his stomach didn’t turn to knots, his palms slick with cold sweat, his legs quivering with an almost Pavlovian urge to bolt every time he saw his father

      Like now. Luke pried himself away from the windowsill and forced his body over to the table in obedience to his sister’s request.

He managed to set down his coffee without spilling it and leaned over to his father. “Happy birthday.”

Ruthann was straightening his father’s bib, trying to prop him upright.  “For a guy who’s not a cop, you certainly get in enough scrapes. I’m just saying that it doesn’t look like the Appalachian Trail is any safer than the jungles of Columbia.”

Yes, probably it seemed the same to her—a woman who had her life tucked neatly together with her beloved son, her own business, her accountant husband, her three-bedroom house with the front porch attired in rocking chairs, as if already preparing for their retirement years.

“Let’s blow out the candles, Pop.” He crouched beside him and, to his surprise, when he looked over at his father, he saw someone there. Someone who knew him, who had nursed him through his nightmares when he’d arrived home six years ago broken and jumping at his own shadow.  

Most of all, Luke saw the soldier who understood the difference between Columbian drug lords and a couple of illegal hunters on the top of Roan Mountain.

And then, just as Ruthann dove in and blew out the melting candles for all of them, his father moved his hand off his tray.

Touched him.

Luke stared at the hand, once strong and firm, now warm and soft on his. His breath hiccupped, and suddenly he could only hear the whirring inside. Faster, louder, drowning him, filling his throat—he couldn’t breathe—

 “I think I’m just going to get some more coffee,” he said, jerking his hand away, standing. Somehow he managed to sound normal. As if his world hadn’t blown apart, right then, into a thousand bloody pieces.

Again.

His sister caught him on the way to the door.

“Stick around, Luke.” He looked down at her, and the gentle look on her face stopped him from yanking his arm from her hand. “It’ll be okay.”

      No, it wouldn’t. Because regret had teeth, and when he wasn’t looking could gnaw right through him, tear him apart piece by piece. One touch, one memory at a time.

He stepped away from her, probably harder than he should have, and started for the hallway, his breaths coming fast. Too fast. He just needed to make it outside. Where. . .there. . .was. . .air—

Antiseptic hit his nose, burning his eyes. Striding down the hall, he kicked a cart of half-eaten food, turned and caught the a bowl of cold chicken noodle soup overturning on his hands. It splashed, sticky between his fingers, down his pants.

Setting it right, he grabbed a napkin, whirled, and crumpling it in his fist, headed for the door, his jaw on fire as he held in his breath, his chest about…to…explode –

He slammed through the doors, gulping the cold air, one breath lapping another. Bending over, he gripped his knees, closed his eyes.

And for a long second, he could taste the past—the tinny acid of own fear, his body, sweaty and rank, the grimy feel of starvation in his teeth. The surreal shriek of his own screams.

“Luke?”

He jumped at her voice, whirled to face her, his breath caught, his fists tight.  Ruthann recoiled fast. “It’s just me.” 

Luke clenched his jaw, breathed out hard, forcibly opened his hands.  Just his kid sister.  Not a couple of thugs dragging him out for a beating. 

Ruthann held out a wad of napkins, her gaze flicking to the dribble of noodles down his jeans.

He took them from her without a word, but instead of wiping himself off, he turned back and listened to the snarling Watauga River, just past the grove of trees. The breeze raised gooseflesh on his bare arms, but he drew it into his lungs, glad for its brain-clearing bite.

“Why didn’t I come home earlier?”

His voice was so soft, he wasn’t even sure he spoke—it could have been more of a moan inside. But he had because Ruthann stepped up beside her, her arms crossed over her chest. “Because you needed to be away.”

“I needed to be here.”

“You needed to get well. To get your life together. And start over. We all understood that. Especially Dad. He didn’t want you to know—”

“You should have told me how bad he was getting.” He tried to keep the edge out of his tone, but it hit her anyway, and she flinched.

“I did. You didn’t answer my e-mail. Besides, it came one so fast, no one would have predicted how quickly he’d go downhill. It’s nobody’s fault, Luke. You were who you were, and you can’t go back.” 

And that was the problem, wasn’t it? He couldn’t ever go back, fix it, make it right. Not for his father, not for himself . . .

Luke closed his eyes; moisture pooled under them. The wind dried it to an icy glacier.

“I wish . . .”

“You’d been here? Of course you do. But you were here for the good parts.”

He couldn’t look at her. She said that a lot—a coping mechanism he supposed, something she gleaned from her support groups. Of course, it made sense. Yes, he’d grown up happy, with parents who loved him. Believed in him.

Even when he hadn’t believed in himself.

But his wishes went further back than just six years ago, when he was leaving town in a cloud of smoke. And that was the problem . . . his father was forgetting the wrong things, hanging onto the ones Luke wished time might erase from the old man’s addled mind.

“Come inside, Luke. Have some cake.”

“Miss Ruthann?” Missy Guinn stuck her head out of the door behind them. “Have you seen Trevor?”

“He’s not inside?”

“No ma’am. I came back to fetch your father, and one of the aides said she saw him pushing a wheelchair down the hall.”

“I told him to put that back—“

Luke held open the door.

Ruthann pushed past Missy. “Why didn’t she stop him?”

“She was busy with a patient—”
            Ruthann had already taken off down the hall in a jog. “Trevor!”

For crying out loud, the kid was probably pilfering someone’s candy supply. Luke hotfooted it down the hall, peering into rooms, wincing now and again at the inhabitants. Please God, he never wanted to be that helpless again.

His sister’s voice echoed down the halls. Perfect. Maybe they could make the newspaper. The Normandy Voice was always looking for juicy stories.

Especially if they involved Luke Alexander.

He passed by the side double doors leading out to the parking lot and out of his periphery, he glimpsed a gray blur. Oh…no—

Turning, he sprinted to the door, banged it open.

Sure enough, Trevor-the-Terror Andretti was making for the parking lot on his stolen wheels.

“Trevor!”

The kid paid him no mind, wheeling fast as he sailed off the handicap access into the lot. He shot past the few cars at the curb and was out into the smooth pavement, wheeling along with abandon.

Whee!

Luke broke into a run. “Trevor!”

            Because it wasn’t enough that Trevor was joyriding with the property of the Normandy Ridge Residence Center, but of course, was heading straight for trouble in the inclined drive toward the highway.

“Trevor, stop –”

But no, as Trevor put out his hand to stop the chair, it ripped at his arm, and he let out a howl. And of course, now he’d lost control of the wheels, set on a careening trajectory straight into death.

 “Trevor, jump!”

            A scream behind him—Ruthann had found them.

Luke peeled out into a full-run, his heart already ten lengths ahead of him as Trevor turned, holding onto the back of the chair, his big eyes now full of terror. “Help, Uncle Luke!”

            Luke lunged for the chair, managed to bang it.

It shot out of his reach.

            Brakes squealed, horns, the sound of metal crunching—

Just as the wheelchair hit the barrier between pavement and asphalt, Luke hooked Trevor around the chest and dove.

            Skin peeled from his arms, embedding gravel as he skidded into the ditch along the highway, grinding mud into his pores, his hair, his back.  He clutched Trevor to his chest.

Ten feet away, two cars had collided, the wheelchair crumpled beneath the bumper of a third.

Trevor struggled in his arms, but Luke held him tight, staring at the gray, sunless sky. Breathing. Alive.

            Alive.

      And, at the end of the day, that was probably the most important part, right?