Friday, January 10, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #43

Most Wonderful Author: Emmy @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: Event Horizon

The impact of the hard ground jarred his senses, forcing a soft grunt and air from his lungs. Fighting back the pain and catching his breath, the boy scrambled to his feet and continued to run, shedding bits of gravel and dirt from his hands and knees. The echoes of gunfire and whistling artillery shells, and the dull orange glow of a land engulfed in flames only worsened his fear and confusion. All around him in the midst of smoke and stars stood tall, faceless phantoms. Some spoke words, but they were muffled and unintelligible. The boy tried his best to weave around and avoid running into them, but his legs, burning and crying for rest, refused to obey. Clumsily pushing through the crowds and eliciting several angry responses, he continued to flee.

More gray phantoms rose up to impede his flight, this time brandishing the shadows of assault rifles. Again he tried to avoid them, but when the first one became intangible, his eyes widened in shock as he lost his balance and fell right through. The impact of his chin on the concrete rattled his teeth. He saw enough stars to form whole constellations. The distant sounds of gunfire and artillery shells grew near, now joined by a chorus of missiles and bombs and the roaring of jets overhead. The pain from the first fall was worsened by the second. Tears began to well up in the corners of his eyes as he struggled back onto his feet.

Strong Points –
Firstly, this is a great example of starting off with action and effortlessly establishing lots of good questions, like, “What the hecking heck is going on around this little boy?” But, of course, the intro never directly states the question. It’s easily implied. This is an awesome thing.

What I also like about this intro is how it builds, little by little, on the surroundings/setting. Details are dropped, one piece at a time, as the boy proceeds onward, starting with “gravel and dirt”, then gunfire, and so on. And, since the boy is running and hardly has the time to digest much detail, vague descriptions such as ‘the dull orange glow of the land engulfed in flames’ is a quick way to mark some surroundings believably. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in over-describing things during a scene that’s supposed to be fast-paced (especially with the question of “How much is enough?”), but moments like the aforementioned are good displays of resistance.

Some Tips –
Okay, so, I’ve two things to talk about here: pacing and voice.

Let’s start with pacing. I’ve already mentioned one thing that’s done well in this intro – quick descriptions – but what I’m thinking about more here is in regards to structure and flow. As it stands, simply looking at these two intro paragraphs, I never would have guessed that a boy was running for his life here. Reading brought me a little closer, but there’s still more we can do.

Firstly, check out this exercise on pacing, then check out the list of exercises provided on the final Description vs. Pacing post. Before climbing into the examples at the bottom of each exercise, here’s what to look for: how the sentences change depending on the pace. Even look at how the size of the paragraphs will change.

In fast pacing, when a character is running or being chased or whatever the thing is, less is more. The way information is communicated becomes briefer, sometimes communicated in short bursts. Think of it in terms of the character (or narrator) not having a chance to describe actions or setting in long sentences because everything’s moving too fast.

Suddenly this is happening. Then this. Another thing happened, and the character doesn’t know what to do. Then ultimate thing.

New paragraph begins.

(Do, however, refrain from mimicking the italics. Otherwise, it might read like, "Then she opened the bathroom door." I mean, I guess that could work in certain stories?)

So, while checking out the above examples, compare and contrast. Consider how information is being communicated in the different scenarios. Consider also that the writer’s own personal flair and style is very present in all examples as well. (As in, these are only examples and not the only way to write!)

Secondly, let’s take a look at voice. And, by voice, I mean character voice.

The boy’s young, right? So simplified words make sense. But through reading, I felt a bit distant from him, a step removed, and I think that may be because I didn’t really feel his voice in the writing. It felt closer to a list of events instead me watching this boy race to safety.

Let’s take an example:

Some spoke words, but they were muffled and unintelligible.

So, I don’t know if the phantoms are actually phantoms, or if they’re people. That’s fine if it’s by design (though, ‘tall’ made me think pretty darn tall, because ‘tall’ is a very relative word, such as ‘beautiful’ or ‘great’). But if this is a young boy running from ghostlike people, is he really thinking that the words they speak are ‘muffled’ and ‘unintelligible’?

Perhaps he’s thinking the words don’t make any sense, or the sound of their speech drives him to panic, distorts them into actual monsters, or maybe he tries to understand them and can’t, like when his mom calls for him in a dream and her words don’t make sense.

Think about a dominant impression. ‘Muffled’ and ‘unintelligible’ are words that are particularly uninvolved, emotionally detached – basically neutral. Those words don’t leave an impression. This event is particularly terrifying to the boy, so the trick is to find ways that really, truly communicate this instead of ‘the boy tried his best’, ‘clumsily pushing’, ‘he tried to avoid them’, and ‘the pain of the first fall’. Really think about how to express his character through the narrative.

On a final note, I would definitely advise working more on that title. “Event Horizon” makes me automatically think of the 1997 movie, and it fills up the entire Google search page, which isn’t good from a marketing standpoint. But, you have a start! Having something to work with makes things a lot easier.

Would I Keep Reading?
At this point, not yet. I would personally need to have more emotional investment with the character first (and I actually set down a book on the shelf in exchange for the book next to it just the other day for this exact reason – and the second book won because the character voice was much stronger). But I would definitely like to see a revision!

Good luck! ♥♥♥♥♥

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