Thursday, February 26, 2009

79 Drop the Needle: Chapter Endings


Emma is 13 years old and was asleep in her bed when her cat's hissing woke her up. After hearing some strange, muffled sounds coming from her parents' bedroom, she goes to investigate.

Emma walked into the room, unaware that she was holding her breath, and found one black arrow pierced through the bed. Delicate, down feathers from the mattress had escaped from the arrow's wound and littered the top of the sheet. Suddenly she was very cold, her heart thundering so much that she was afraid it was going to break through her chest. The large window in her parents' room was wide open, and the night breeze snuck in and played with the feathers. Emma stared at the ominous arrow and instinctively took a step back. Her foot felt like it was full of lead as she willed her eyes to adjust to the dark. She wanted to shout for her dad, but there was something terribly wrong with her voice. Emma turned sharply when something big and white flashed by the house, and a single, perfect, white feather floated into the bedroom through the open window. Nearby, she could hear the sound of beating wings mingled with the yelps of her dogs. Before she could find the source to the sound, a gigantic, gloved hand wrapped tight around her face. The putrid smell of the cloth hidden in the palm of the hand caused her to struggle, and she kicked the air a couple of times before her limbs felt too heavy to lift. Before her eyes closed, she saw again, through the slits between the gloved hand, the flash of white outside the window, and then, there was nothing, but black.


  1. First thought - that is a huge chunk of a paragraph. Very daunting for any reader, and especially daunting for a middle-grade reader. You could undoubtedly cut it down to more manageable chunks.

    You have great description. I think you could tighten up the writing a bit.

    For example, "her foot felt like it was full of lead" could be "her foot felt full of lead".

    The final sentence is awkward and long with a ton of commas. I think you could rework some of these longer sentences to be more precise.

    I'm interested in what happened to her parents and how Emma will fair. Overall, I'd say this is a good ending for a chapter with a bit of editing needed.

  2. This definitely leaves me eager to know what comes next and who is out in the dark shooting at unicorns. I like the visual images.

    I think it might be even better if the writing was tightened. It seems unnecessary to say that the arrow is ominous. Perhaps 'the cloth hidden in the palm of the hand" could be trimmed to "the cloth it held", since a hand has just been specified in the previous sentence? And I wasn't sure about the smell causing her to struggle--I think if someone grabbed me in the dark I would struggle whether or not their hands stunk.

  3. Giant paragraph of doom... ahahahaha You really need to break this up a lot.

    I think it's a great end to the chapter, as far as the content is concerned.

    But I think as you break up the paragraph, your pacing will get a lot better, and that will help with the urgency of the scene.

  4. I think you would get more tension from this scene if you used shorter sentences. Some of your sentences combine two thoughts and would be clearer if you split them or connected sentences differently - the ideas that are connected most closely can be in the same sentence and ones that are more different can be split into separate sentences.

    For example, try "Suddenly she was very cold. Her heart thundered so much that she was afraid..." The cold and the heart thundering both indicate fear, but they aren't so connected they need to be one sentence. Similarly, how about "Emma stared at the arrow. She instinctively took a step back, though her foot felt like lead. She willed her eyes to adjust to the dark."

    I love the image of a view through the fingers of the mysterious gloved hand. A very exciting end to a chapter!

  5. Nicely written, but break it up into smaller paragraphs. A bit wordy at times "her heart thundering so much that she was afraid it was going to break through her chest."

    I have to admit, though, I'm not exactly sure what happened here. Did someone shoot an arrow through the window and kill her parents? If so, perhaps she should notice that, or notice it enough so the reader knows the truth, but maybe she doesn't yet.

    Regarding the hand wrapped around her mouth, did the putrid smell cause her to struggle or was it the hand? Speaking of smells, reading this I wondered if the attacker were using chloroform to make her pass out. If that were the case, I don't think chloroform has a "putrid smell." I imagine it smells like chemical.

    It makes me curious enough to read on, though.

  6. I'm sure by now you know that this needs to be broken up a bit.

    I am somewhat confused with the scene. Someone mentioned the fact that unicorms are being killed. I didn't catch a unicorn in this scene - unless the white thing flashing by the window is a unicorn. But if that's the case, what's the connection with the white feather floating in through the window? Do unicorns have feathers? I told you I was confused!

    Also, I don't know yet if the parents are dead. She sees the arrow in the mattress, but is she blocking out the others? Are there others? If her parents have been killed, wouldn't she be reacting more than noticing white things going by the window? If they aren't dead, why haven't they woke up? I'm still confused.

    I know there's a mystery here, but I just haven't figured enough of it out yet. I guess I would have to keep reading to figure out what's going on.

  7. Without having read anything yet, I have to say that 250 words in one paragraph for a middle grade, or any, book seems like way too much. Of the bat, I would suggest breaking it up.

    Now to actually read...

    I'm intrigued. Very mysterious. And it does make me want to keep reading.

    However, the writing itself was as daunting as the block of text. Almost every sentence could be broken apart and shortened to not only make the piece as a whole stronger, but also to speed up the pace and better appeal to your readers, 8-12 year olds.

    For instance, the opening line could instead read:
    ~"Emma crept into the room. But her mom and dad weren't there. The noise must have been...

    One black arrow had pierced through her mom's ugly floral bedspread. Delicate down feathers..."

    (Comma usage note: A good rule of thumb for commas used between adjectives is to only use one if the word "and" can be used instead. In the case of "Delicate down feathers" and cannot replace the comma. It shouldn't be used.)

    I took creative license, but adding details, like the fact that her parents weren't there (if that's what she was expecting had made the noise) and about her mom's bedspread, will bring this passage to life and make it more immediate and show-y.

    Honestly, this reads more like YA than middle grade, though that may not be representative of the whole book. There's a great article about that here.

    Good luck!

  8. There’s some technical things that threw me out of the narrative here:
    1) That’s a REALLY long paragraph that feels heavy to work through. I’d recommend splitting into two or three shorter ones, which would also help support the tension of the scene.

    2) Delicate, down feathers from the mattress had escaped from the arrow's wound As someone who dabbles in archery, a single arrow wouldn’t make a hole big enough for feathers to fly through—it would just be slightly larger than a ballpoint pen tip.

    3) The putrid smell of the cloth hidden in the palm of the hand caused her to struggle, So it’s only the smell of the cloth that makes her struggle, and not the fact that some stranger is accosting her?

    Sorry, but not hooked.

  9. There are things here I love... I love your descriptive words, and I love a lot of things here, I agree we need to see more paragraphs, I am assuming that was probably a cut and paste thing or something?

    but the black in the end does intrigue me enough to read on!

  10. I must admit, I agree with everyone above... you need to cut this paragraph into several. It will be easy for you to do. You have a nice touch with words. Cut into the drama and add some one sentence paragraphs for suspense and impact.

    I'm not sure exactly what happened with arrow. Was it shot from outside, from inside? Whose room is it?

    I like the unicorn at the end. I wonder if you could add something of the sound of the beating wings as she's swallowed by the blackness; the hearing is the last thing to go.

    Make your adjustments and I bet you'll have a winner of a chapter ending.

  11. Big block of text here. Needs breakin up.

    I had a tough time seeing what was going on here - part of it was the block text thing. Other thing is that there might have been clunky lines like "Before her eyes closed, she saw again, through..." That last line could be simplified.

  12. Very tense scene. It's compelling. But it could be more so if you tighten up the writing, as others have suggested, and break up this big block of text. "Her foot felt like it was full of lead," is both wordy and odd - just one foot felt full of lead?

    Also, the hand at the end is, I presumed, chloroforming her, which means it is clamped around her mouth. Since it is only one hand, I don't see how it could also be covering her eyes.

    Good luck!

  13. Wow, that's one huge paragraph... add white space?

    So, she got drugged (and probably kidnapped), which is interesting--there's a definite set-up for a hook here but I was unfortunately too distracted by trying to read such a big block of text I couldn't get into the story as well. I'm sorta on the fence, but if it was easier to read, I probably would flip the page.

    Good luck,