We writers all have our philosophies about what makes a good story. For me, it is all about the characters and the emotional content. Characters matter because how interesting would a story be about a chair?
Not only do characters matter, but the reader has to feel something about the character for the story to work. Love, Hate, disgust, sympathy—getting your reader to feel these is what makes your story enjoyable to read. In order for the reader to feel them, your characters must show them.
In The Eastern Factor, the protagonist has issues. He hasn’t had the best childhood, and if you read Stenson Blues, he made a mess of his first chance at love. He’s damaged goods, and he has a hard time trusting—especially women. So of course, one of the biggest hurdles he faces is learning to trust Neasa, the woman that becomes his strongest ally. Here is the scene where they begin to bond (sort of):
Traveling in a litter makes you feel like a king. It was a heady feeling—lounging on cushions while strong men hoisted you down the street—or maybe I was light-headed from being enclosed with Neasa after our bath.
I was still a bit warm, and she smelled of some exotic spice that reminded me of the spearmint that grew wild in the woods outside Kartoba. Neasa seemed to revel in the experience, stretching on the cushions next to me like a cat and giving me a look that I preferred to ignore. Instead, I peered out through a gap in the curtains and watched the scenery go by. The fresh air on my face helped clear my mind.
There weren’t many people walking the street, and the houses we passed were more lavish than the one I had borrowed from Factor Einhardt. It seemed like a different town than the one we’d marched through earlier.
“Close the curtain, Olaf,” Neasa said. “They’ll think you’re an oaf from the west.”
“They who?” I replied as I pulled the curtain shut. “The streets are empty.” The minty smell became stronger with the curtain shut. It made my eyes water.
Neasa reached out and patted my arm. “They are watching, believe me.”
I fought the urge to pull away. The litter was wide enough for us to recline side-by-side, but with little room to move otherwise. Besides, I didn’t want her to realize how frightened I was of her.
It was hard to admit, but I finally had to: Neasa terrified me. She was pretty and powerful and deadly—and, worst of all, she had decided that we were destined to be together. I hoped that she saw us as allies and nothing more, but I was afraid to ask. My body lay stiffly on the cushions and I stared at the curtain in front of me, waiting for her to pull her hand away.
Instead, she ran her finger down my arm. “Why are you so tense, Olaf?”
When I didn’t respond, she finally pulled her hand away and let out a sigh. “I just want to talk.”
I peeked at her from the corner of my eye. She looked back at me with a serious expression. I wasn’t sure if that was better than her teasing.
“Olaf, we are allies in this. I know that I might have …” She paused as if choosing her words carefully. “I know I startled you during the New Year celebration.” She looked contrite, almost sorrowful, with a little frown on her face and a tearful gleam in her eye. “I keep forgetting how spooked you Uplanders get when there is talk of the gods, but I’d had a vivid vision, and I could not keep it to myself.”
I didn’t want to hear about her vision again. I could feel my chest tighten as soon as she mentioned the gods. Anyone from the Seven Kingdoms would have had the same reaction.
“I’m sorry for springing this on you, but you have had plenty of time to think about it since.” She moved to reach for my arm again, but I shied away. Her hand paused, just out of reach. “Know this, Olaf. I will not try to trick you or force you to do anything. We are allies and our destinies are intertwined.” Then she lowered her hand to rest it on my arm. “Your enemies are my enemies.”
Even through my coat sleeve, her touch sent a thrill through me. It was nothing carnal, but more like a shiver of fear. I suddenly felt as though the gods were watching our every move.
The litter came to an abrupt halt and she pulled her hand free again. “We have arrived.”