Wednesday, May 28, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #51

Most Wonderful Author: M. Halter @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Katie
Working Title: N/A

Pain drove Shannon to her knees.  One hand pressed to the grit of the floor, the other clapped against bruised ribs, fingers inspecting the rungs woven through her left lung where, deep within, the impeller of a pneumatic pump struggled to turn.  Don’t cough…don’t—   Stars swarmed her vision before she was through, and a nudging at the shutters again slammed the morning into focus.  She grabbed the black-headed spear and unlatched the window, piebald head of a stallion barreling through, nostrils flared, ears thrust forward.  Her soft laugh was a small victory.

“Ready, Atticus?”

They sighed as one, leaning against each other in wan light before he danced away and she followed, pulling low the brim of her shabby felt hat.  By nightfall, their fields lay far behind them.

Shannon scouted ahead, watching for black ground beneath lengthening shadow, gritting her teeth at the whine of axle motors pulling iron wheels through deep ruts of a dry summer.  She led Atticus from the road and into a copse on good soil, unhitching him to examine the catheter plugs dotting his body.  Unbuckled leather boots fell away from his sloughing flesh, exposing the bioelectric prosthetics replacing everything below his rear hocks.

“They’ll graft new skin on your legs when we get there,” she rocked back on her heels, sighing, “but until then you need the boots.” 

Strong Points –
We’re going on an adventure!  There is a lot of action happening right away in this story, which should help to pull readers in and keep them engaged.  A couple of questions spring to mind:  Where are they going?  Why are they semi-robotic?  What happened to Shannon and/or her horse?  There is an element of mystery that made me curious about the path of the story.  Also, the use of machinery in conjunction with a rustic feel in the setting makes a sort of steampunk vibe, which is an interesting take!  I got the feeling that an adventure was underway and I was dropped right before the thick of it, which is exciting to experience!  I feel bad for the horse, even though he seems to be doing okay.

I also really liked the word choice!  Saying “their fields lay far behind them” as opposed to “they covered a long distance” creates a more effective tone, implying that they have abandoned the familiarity of their home rather than just traveling aimlessly.  This connotation is what helps create a bit of dramatic tension and makes me wonder where we’re going!  Another bit that I liked was the description of the horse (“piebald head of a stallion barreling through, nostrils flared, ears thrust forward”), because these descriptive words lend to the feeling of impending action  I don’t know a whole lot about horses, but his apparent enthusiasm told through his body language feels like he is poised, he’s ready to go, and he’s excited to embark on Shannon’s quest.

Some Tips –
I think one of the most important parts of setting a scene is the pacing.  This passage starts out with “Pain drove Shannon to her knees,” something dramatic and troubling and mysterious, so I became concerned and found myself reading quickly from sentence to sentence.  A tension blossoms in the shortness of sentence fragments:

  • the pain strikes
  • her hand braces her body
  • she touches her mechanical parts to try and figure out what’s wrong
  • she almost blacks out

This quick succession of actions creates intensity.  But then the emergence of her horse interrupts the scene and this feeling of urgency dissipates; having a “nudging at the window” slows down the narrative because it is a much more mild word compared to the “clap” she gives her ribs or the “slammed” feeling her mind gets in reaction to the horse’s appearance.

As a whole, I think the transitions need to be looked over.  The initial setting seems to be in a building, perhaps in the morning, which is perfectly fine on its own, but there is no easing into the next bit where Shannon and Atticus are apparently outside.  This can just be a tiny note, like, “She met him beside the window,” or, “She climbed through the window and landed at his side.”

Then, I would consider the space they cover on their travel:  is it an easy, familiar ride?  Are they nervous to be far from home?  There is a lot of great implied emotion right before they take off on their quest (the pain bringing her to her knees, the fidgeting with her robotic parts, the laugh she gives when Atticus appears):  more small notes like this in the new surroundings that suggest the nature of the ride itself would really help to build up the feeling (i.e. how the characters are reacting to their situation), which can oftentimes be more effectual than describing the physical scene.

Fixing up the transitions from scene to scene will help to create a better, smoother overall flow to the story so reading along is easy and natural-feeling.

Another idea I had was this:  I think a great way to really understand how a paragraph or passage flows is to read it aloud.  I would try this to find instances of accidental rhyming, such as “fingers inspecting the rungs woven through her left lung”, or to pinpoint missing words, such as within the following: “She … unlatched the window, piebald head of a stallion barreling through.”  This way, hearing the words can help find quirks that reading them silently can’t.

Would I Keep Reading?
I think if you tweak what you’ve got, you could really have something here!  I like the idea of combining futuristic technologies with more rustic elements, and I think you could definitely root some emotional and political feelings in biotechnology that could definitely spark some interesting discussions.  I want to know about Shannon and Atticus’ respective history and future, and what their journey holds for them!

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