Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.
Arguing with Authority
Let’s do some more work on what makes your hero tick this week.
Everyone–everyone–has SOMEONE in authority over them. Even a dictator has someone who can stop them in their tracks with a look. It might not be a traditional authority figure: a boss, a police officer, a teacher or principal, a judge, a parent. Maybe your hero has a sibling whose opinion matters more to them than anyone else’s. Or a mentor who holds strong sway over them. Even an antagonist who the hero feels strongly drawn to please in some way.
This week, I want you to think about who is in authority of your hero–and then have your hero argue with them. Think about the boiling point. That moment when your hero has had enough and has to choose their moral code or mission over what that person wants or needs.
(My work in progress is a retelling of Robin Hood set in modern Las Vegas. In this scene, Rob is meeting John Little for the first time–a man who will become both an authority and a mentor. This is kind of long, but I think it illustrates the prompt perfectly.)
A tall man walked out of the left tunnel, the clean tunnel. The closer he got to them, the taller he got, until Rob realized he was at least six and a half feet tall and built like a mountain. He wore blue jeans and a black leather jacket and carried a motorcycle helmet under one arm.
Mattie relaxed as soon as she saw him and said, “Mr. Little, I’m not sure if you remember me—“
The man looked at Mattie, and recognition passed his face, then he looked at Rob. The helmet landed on the ground. John Little took two long-legged steps toward him and before Rob could react, he wrapped one huge hand around his neck.
Rob grabbed onto John’s wrist with both hands and heard Mattie scream. John kept coming forward, forcing Rob back until came up against the wall, hard enough for his skull to bounce off the concrete.
“Rob Huntington?” John’s voice was low and dangerous. He used his free hand to push too-long dirty blonde hair off his forehead. “Are you Rob Huntington?”
Mattie reached up for his shoulder and pulled, putting her entire body weight into trying to pry him off of Rob. “Let go! Let go of him!”
John looked over his shoulder at her. She hadn’t managed to move him an inch. “Is this Rob Huntington?”
“Yes! Let him go!” Mattie kicked, aiming for the back of his knee. She hit her mark and his leg buckled. His hand moved from Rob’s neck to his chest, pinning him in place like a bug.
Robin gasped in a breath and struggled to get away. John had at least six inches on him, though, and he couldn’t reach him with his arms or legs. He attacked the only part he could reach, bringing his fist down on John’s forearm.
“You aren’t welcome here,” John said, grabbing Rob’s arm with his free hand.
Robin brought his other fist down again on John’s forearm, and this time was able to slip out from under his hand when the pressure let up slightly.
Mattie started to go to Robin, but before she could reach him, he launched himself at John, pushing hard against the wall of his chest and driving up his knee, catching him in the upper thigh.
“Stop! What are you doing?”
John let out a whoosh of air and stumbled back, caught by surprise. He reached for Robin, which was a mistake. The movement put him in position for Robin to drive his fist into John’s jaw.
John pushed with both hands and sent Robin flying several feet back. He landed hard, flat on his rear end. Mattie felt rooted to her spot, she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t move. Her eyes darted to the tunnel, where several people had gathered and were coming toward them.
“Robin.” Her voice came out in a choked sob.
The people from the tunnel reached them at a dead run just as John pulled Robin up by his shirt again and returned the punch.
“Hey!” Much grabbed on to John’s arm, which was a lot braver than Mattie would have been. John started to throw her off of him, but looked down and stopped before he could hurt her. “This is the guy who helped me last night. His dad just died, you know?”
“This is the guy who wouldn’t talk to Vivienne this morning,” John pointed out. He looked back at Rob. “And now she’s missing. Did you know that, asshole?”
“That’s why we’re here,” Mattie said, trying to be as brave as Much, who was half her size. She went to Robin and stood next to him.
“You think you’d know that Vivienne is missing before I would?” John shook his head and stepped back from Robin. John looked to Mattie like he was in his thirties, although there was something older about his face. It was in his eyes. “I spoke to her this morning, after your friend here put her out.”
“I didn’t put her out,” Robin said.
“You didn’t listen to her.”
“I might have, if I’d ever heard of her before. Finding out that I’m going to be a brother at the reading of my dad’s will took me by surprise, you know?”
John snorted and lifted his chin, giving Robin that point. Another man, about John’s age, walked through the small crowd and said, “Let me see.”
He reached for John’s face, persisting even when John tried to brush him off. He tilted John’s chin toward the setting sun, then looked at Robin with raised eyebrows. “Not everyday someone gets a shot in at our John.”
John yanked away from the other man. “Shut up, Tuck.”
Tuck was a black man with chin length dreadlocks, dressed in army fatigue pants cut off at the knee and a plain white t-shirt that was pristinely clean, despite the fact that he just walked out of a storm drain. He didn’t seem bothered by John telling him to shut up. He smiled and said, “Let’s invite our guests in, instead of standing out here fighting for every tourist walking past that sign to see.”
Tuck lifted his chin toward the iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign that was visible from where Mattie stood, and the three or four people standing at the chain link fence above, looking down on them.
“They don’t need to come in,” John said.
Robin looked ready to agree, but Tuck said, “Don’t be stubborn.”
“We only have an hour,” Mattie said. When everyone turned to look at her, she did her best not to shrink back. “If you want the food from the Nott, anyway.”
John’s jaw tightened, and Mattie thought maybe he was going to say they didn’t want the food after all. Much spoke up though and said, “We want it.”
Mattie smiled at her, then looked up at Robin, who still looked ready for a fight. Maybe going inside wasn’t such a good idea after all. Robin was wound tight as a drum.
“You haven’t seen Vivienne Staunton today then?” Robin asked. “Her attorney thought she might be here.”
“She’s not here.” A woman moved beside John and a look crossed his face that Mattie couldn’t quite place. Something like guilt she thought, but maybe not quite. “John spoke to her after she left the Nott. She had a doctor’s appointment today, but we think she missed it.”
“Can we help look for her?” Mattie asked.
John shook his head, and when the woman beside him put a hand on his arm, he lifted it around her shoulders. Mattie felt a jolt of compassion for her. She might be standing next to John, with his arm around her, but the man was clearly in love with Vivienne Staunton. “You’ve done enough.”
“What?” Robin asked. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t lie to me,” John said. “Don’t pretend—“
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“The woman who you just learned was pregnant with another heir to your precious fortune just disappeared.” When Robin didn’t respond right away, John said, “Where is she? What have you done to her?”
“You’re out of your mind,” Mattie said. “Robin didn’t do anything to Vivienne.”
“He doesn’t know,” Robin said, taking Mattie’s arm and pulling her back to him when she stepped forward.
Robin shook his head. “My dad left me and Vivienne’s baby exactly the same thing—a trust fund worth three million dollars when we turn twenty-five.”
“What about the Nott?” John asked. “What about Locksley?”
“He left them both to Philip Mark.”
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