Thursday, February 26, 2009

88 Drop the Needle: Chapter Endings

TITLE: Raymond Figg and his near-death experience of the soul
GENRE: Adult Fiction

Raymond Figg has everything a guy in his early 30's could want and yet he suffers a panic attack, seemingly out of nowhere. "Meltdown" is the first chapter and it chronicles Raymond's panic attack in all its frightening intensity. Fear and doubt will follow, anxiety, seeds of doubt over the true value of his life. What follows after this chapter's end is Raymond's plunge into the dark abyss of depression and his long journey back to the light.

He wanted to get up off the bed but the floor seemed insubstantial, incapable of supporting his weight. How am I going to get to the phone? He felt a steel collar clamp around his windpipe; he felt his heart pounding against his ribcage threatening to beat its way out of his chest. What’s wrong with me?!!!

He felt the need to run but his feet were rooted to the floor. He began to hyperventilate. His brain went blank, his body flooding with adrenalin. He felt like his limbs were charged with electricity. He leapt off the bed and charged down the hallway to his study, wheezing loudly as he tried to suck oxygen into his lungs. He burst through the door and spotted his phone resting in its charging cradle. He snatched at it, knocking the charger and phone to the floor underneath his desk. He fell on hands and knees, trying desperately to locate the phone that had bounced into a jungle of cables and power boards. When he did sight the elusive object, his arm flashed out at it like a striking cobra, his hand clutching at cables, missing the target several times before finally hitting its mark. His fingers shook violently as he flipped the phone open, his chest continued to heave as his lungs desperately sought air. I don’t want to die, he said to himself as he struggled to focus, as he struggled to aim for the three numbers that would dial ‘Emergency’.


  1. Big block of text. It has tremendous opportunity for white space, though. Try breaking each symptom apart. The internal thought acts like dialong and deserves its own paragraph. it'll help the pacing and reduce skimming.

    The one thing that caught me and wouldn't let go--and not necessarily in a good hook-like way-- was the punctuation of "?!!!"

    The word choice and the circumstances should provide all the necessary emphasis. Drop those exclamation points straightaway.

    You do have a sense of style and the ability to describe panic. I've been there. You took me back. For doing that, I say well-done.

  2. I like the description. I think you'd take us closer if you rethought using phrases like "he felt". Just reword to say "A steel collar clamped around his windpipe" or "He needed to run".

  3. Good action, you definitely give us the sense of his panic. I agree that you should break up that second paragraph. Also, eight of your sentences begin with "he" and I think you should vary that. I know you want the short declarative to create the panicked action, but you could vary some of the sentences simply by rearranging the order of the clauses.

    I'm interested. I'd definitely read on.

  4. I love the idea and the title of this Chapter "Meltdown" - people have pointed out in my own story my need to "show more" and tell less... I do see the same issue with yours. This would eliminate your problem with the "he felt" that begins many of your sentances. Use the visual points of your story.

    "A steel collar clamp around his windpipe; his heart pounding against his ribcage threatening to beat its way out of his chest."

  5. You've got a good array of the signs/symptoms of a panic attack here, but I think the scene would benefit from you getting closer to your POV character. Get rid of the filters - 'He saw...' 'He felt..'

    Ex. He felt the need to run...
    vs. He needed to run...

    Which feels more in the head of the character? Filters distance the reader, and in a panic attack you want the reader right there feeling it as well.

    Also - I'd vary your sentence structure more and try to get rid of some of the he/his words. Also, minimize adverbs and try to use stronger verbs instead.

    Thanks for posting.

  6. I agree with what others have said, and would add that I think you need to somehow separate out the "I" phrases from the rest of the text, whether with italics or whatever. It could be that the formatting was lost when you pasted the segment... but I thought I'd throw it out there.

    I will say that you use a lot of similar sentence construction, which lead me to think that you are repeating yourself even when you aren't.

    He leapt... wheezing
    He snatched... knocking
    He fell... trying


    I went back looking for the repeat phrases, and discovered it was the structure, not the words, that repeated.

    Other than that, fantastic sense of urgency. And I think there are a lot of people who will really relate to these feelings.

  7. Good read but definitely follow the previous advice. Loose some fillers to tighten the pacing a little. Do new sentences/paragraphs for any internal dialog since it conflicts with the 3rd person narration.

  8. The title of your story threw me -- somehow it sounds like this is going to be a humorous book, and panic attacks and depression are dead serious as is your take on it. Personally, I like the idea of using your title for Chapter one as the title of the book -- Meltdown" -- that makes me want to pick up the book.

    If you haven't had a panic attack yourself, you are close to someone who suffers with them. You got the symptoms right.

    What I'd like to see is less narrative and more interaction between Raymond and the panic attack itself. I used to have panic attacks, and to me they always seemed like a real entity or foe -- so the panic could almost become a character in this story, much like some authors use the setting or the weather as a character. I think this technique would give this story a lot more strength and would enable the reader who has never had a panic attack to get closer to experiencing what a panic attack is like.

    So, break up the block of narrative. Tell one thing and then give Raymond's reaction -- tell me what his body is doing -- for example, He hyperventilated. That could be followed by his internal thought, "I can't breathe, what's happening to me?" That thought then perpetuates the next level of panic - his mind going blank, which causes him to think "Oh God, I'm losing it!" Which then leads to the tingle of adrenalin shooting through his body that makes him think "I'm going numb, I'm having a heart attack. I've got to get to where someone can find me." so he crawls to the front door and unlocks it. His heart is beating out of his chest, he's sweating profusely, more signs of a heart attack, so he thinks he must get to his phone. Let the panic and Raymond interact and play off one another.

    I like the "steel collar clamp around his windpipe."

    I don't care for the overwritten last line -- just say 911.

    While I can totally identify with the fumbling in trying to get the phone, I don't care for the way it's written. This is because you slip in and out of Raymond's POV -- telling vs. showing. Cut phrases like "When he did sight the elusive object..." that's a POV shift. And once you've cut those out, then once again, give me some inner thoughts show me his frustration and fear, the panic still rising.

    I think I'd end this chapter with him crawling out the front door on his hands and knees just in case he passes out -- so someone will find him -- and have him lie down in the shade waiting to die. That would make me turn the page.

    i like the premise of this story -- lots of potential, but in order to tell this story, I think you are going to have to bleed as an author and tell your highest truth. You've taken on a difficult subject and readers will be able to spot any kind of hiding of the truth, and they'll stop reading.

    Bottom line, I'd read on.

    Good luck!

  9. I agree with the other commenters, but would like to add that the jump between the narration and Raymond's thoughts in the first paragraph is a little difficult without quotation marks or italics, since thoughts are in present tense. Either add some kind of visual marker, or change those sentences to match the rest:

    How was he going to get to the phone?

    I think you captured the feelings very well here. I especially liked that Raymond knocked the phone over. It shows just how panicked he really is.

  10. I hate to give a "me, too" but I have to agree with the previous commenters. Whitespace, POV, and show-not-tell.

    I'd also drop a few of the adverbs, as I think the rest of the imagery is vivid enough without them.

    For example: "wheezing loudly" into just "wheezing", "trying desperately to" into just "desperate to", "shook violently" into just "shook" or "trembled" or somesuch, "desperately sought" into something more actiony like "scrambled for".

    I also agree with Beth about the quoted Emergency ... but I wouldn't go with 911. I'd go with "that would bring someone to help him" or something.

    Beyond all those little nits, yeah, your imagery is great!

  11. Warning: Dissenting Opinion

    After the first few lines of the description of the panic attack, I get it. Now I want to know more about the character. By allowing the reader into Raymond's thoughts and not just his physical reactions in a very pressure filled and frightening situation, you have opportunity to reveal character. You didn't take this opportunity. After almost a page of text, I don't know much about Raymond Figg and am not hooked. If you go back and give specific and definitive response to the panic attack that is Raymond's and Raymond's alone, then you can really improve this opening.

  12. You've got a lot of serious no-nos in here.

    Avoid words like "felt" because it's a sure indicator of too much telling. Avoid adverbs like the plague. Avoid cliches like "charged with electricity" and a pounding heart begging for independence (and all variations of) and anything flooding with adrenaline.

    There are better ways to use your writer's voice.

    The use of more than one punctuation mark is always unnecessary. Also, spare your exclamation points.

    There are way too many sentences with "He". Use different parts of speech to break it up. Don't be afraid of prepositional phrases and gerund clauses. You also have a lot of comma splices in here that need to be fixed.

    " . . .his arm flashed out like a striking cobra." is great.

  13. Hi to all who left feedback,

    Just woke up, it's morning here in Australia. I'd like to say a big thankyou to all who took the time to give me all the wonderful and insightful feedback.

    The whole chapter is posted on my blog for any interested to find out more.

    Yes, as Being Beth so eloquently put it, with 10 chapters down, Raymond is taking me on a journey that has forced the both of us to seek the highest truths.

    Wish me luck, determination and courage, I'm going to need them all to get to the end.

    Kind regards,

  14. It’s not bad, but at parts, I think you could make the language a bit more active (ex: When he did sight the elusive object). Also, that last paragraph is REALLY long. Maybe break it into two shorter ones, which will also mirror the tension your character is feeling.

  15. I agree there is a lot of text here! For someone suggering a panic attack, I think the sentences need to be shorter to convey that urgency. Also, it's slightly overwritten in some places.

    But it is very well described.

  16. I think a lot has been covered, POV, block of text, structure, distance, unrelatability to the protag.

    So I am going to say something else, which may or not be okay (I'm one of the new ones and couldn't find a link to the DtN "rules"). I read your blurb and just did not want to read the text itself. (I did, but if it weren't for the purpose of critting I wouldn't have.) As someone who has panic attacks and depression, I don't want to read a book focused on this in "all its frightening intensity", especially when you then promise it's a "long" journey back to the light. Is there a conflict (in the chapter AND the book)? I'm fairly sure this isn't the point of a DtN but if your set-up dissuades me from wanting to read it, chances are I'm going to go into the text looking for problems/not wanting to like it.

    That said, the writing and voice show strong potential. You have some vivid description.

  17. This was startling in it's rawness (in the best sense of that word) but, like others, I found the solid block of text off-putting. Short, sharp, pointed, painful sentences, structured differently might better convey the sense of panic that you're apparently trying to induce in your readers. I found myself almost feeling trapped by the weight of the one paragraph (which might be your intent, come to think of it).

    Like others, this is not my cup of tea but was well-written with great promise.

  18. Couple things here...

    There is a huge chunk of text here. I don't read other comments prior to doing my comment, so this could just be a formatting thing.

    If it isn't a formatting thing - this needs to be broken up. It's just too clumped together.

    Another thing is some of the descriptions seemed over the top for me. The other thing is I thought he might have had an idea what was going on.

  19. This is an intriguing end to the chapter; I'd read on to see what happened next!

    You could heighten the sense of urgency by taking us right into the protagonist's head by omitting the "he felts" (e.g., "His heart pounded against his ribcage..."). I'd also be careful of all the sentences starting with "he" because it feels repetitive. And watch the adverbs!

    Also, be careful of writing it all in one big chunk (I don't know if it was published that way to save space on the blog). Break it up, and for things that you really want to stand out, give it it's own line.

    This sounds really interesting!

  20. Yes Peter, that was my intention. The paragraphs preceeding this end paragraph are paced differently. I wanted to build to and end with the reader having a sense of weight and the feeling of being trapped just as Raymond is in his panic.

    That being said, the critiques have helped me to see that I could amplify this sense even further with the right sentence structures and POV.

    However, I do run the risk of completely alienating readers by using a heavy block of text to achieve the overall effect of weight and feeling trapped in panic. It would be interesting to see what readers think if they had the whole chapter in front of them, but we don't have that luxury.

    To Jess, yes I have thought long and hard about how people suffering from depression would respond to my writing. The fact that the blurb put you off is something I will need to think about as well. Hopefully Raymond's story will be an eye-opener for a lot of people (if it ever sees the light of day) but I don't know how people who have to cope with depression day-to-day will respond. I am writing from experience but if my skill as a writer does not do justice to the subject matter then once again I run a risk of being seen as a fool. Risks everywhere with this story.

    And to answer Megs question, when I had my first panic attack I had no idea what was happening, that was what made it so frightening, made me think I was going to die.

    Everyone's comments have given me food for thought. It's one thing to try for an effect but if people find it distracting then I need to listen. I'll certainly be employing many of your suggestions in rewriting this end and going forward.

    All your comments are exactly what I need to make my writing better. Truly, I thank you all.

    Have a great weekend,

    Keep smiling

  21. In the first paragraph, mixing up third person 'he wanted to get up' and first 'how am I/what's wrong with me' did bounce me out of the flow.

    Also, camera jerk: if he's still lieing in bed, how come the floor seems insubstantial? (I like the image that conjures up, but he should be further along the getting up process in order to have that thought.

    In the second paragraph, you have an odd mix of very firmly inside his head - 'limbs charged with electricity' and outside description 'flooding with adrenalin, wheezing' (not being able to inhale _feels_ different than it _looks and sounds_.)

    Also, the mixture of lethargy (not trusting the floor) and superchargedness read odd to me - and if he's in a frenzy, 'spotting the phone' is far too calm - to do that, you have to stop and look and oh, over there; whereas I feel he would be more likely to pat his pockets and shift piles of paperwork and knock something over where before he's got the phone. This is too easy, if all he has to do is notice it, too passive.

    Last but not least, and not to knock your experience, I think you need to structure this scene so that the reader is taken along. It did not create any sense of recognition in me at all - I've had panic attacks, but they were _nothing like this_ and in order to follow the story along, I want more - I need to be convinced that your character is really experiencing things as they are written down.

  22. I try not to read others comments to avoid coloring my own, so I hope this hasn't been repeated. I felt more like I was watching the panic attack rather than feeling it. I guess there was more of a description of what he felt rather than how it felt to him. For example, when he's searching for the phone, show his frustration at not being able to get it. When you're trying to reach something and you can't get it, how do you feel? Do you curse? Would he have caught his fingers in the cables or banged them off the table? Just some thoughts

  23. Unfortunately no. The writing has a lot of “felts”, which IMO you don’t often need, and draw attention to themselves. Instead of “he felt his heart beating”, you could tighten it to say “his heart pounded”. Obviously he can feel it. ;) So you could tighten this quite a bit without losing anything.

    Also, the multiple ending punctuation marks are annoying (in his thought). They are unnecessary, irritating, and scream melodrama (in a bad way). Trust the readers to get the emphasis on their own with one proper ending punctuation mark. (Comics are a different medium that get away with it. :P) It’s also been pointed out a LOT of sentences in a row begin with “he”. This gets repetitive, so try switching it up.

    I’m afraid the writing itself distracted me too much to focus on the actual story, so no, I wouldn’t read on. Keep in mind this isn’t my usual genre, though. Good luck,