Wednesday, June 10, 2009

6 Are You Hooked?

TITLE: Smuggled Terror

Seagulls scrambled overhead slapping each other with their snow white wings as they struggled in midair for better positioning. They battled to catch the most treasures being offered from the little girl below. Smiles turned to giggles each time the little girl looked up through bangs of curly red hair and saw the birds snatch up her offerings of thumb-size bites of a doughnut in their beaks. She tossed them one final piece, and then stopped to enjoy the last bite for herself. Little Red brushed her hands together, and picked up her bright, blue, plastic pail with a yellow shovel attached. She looked up and squinted with one eye open and the other closed as she checked out the seagulls one last time. A swatting of her arm over her head confirmed to the maneuvering gulls that breakfast was officially over.

The little redhead’s mother had chosen a mounded spot on the powdery sands of Panama City Beach, which appeared to be the remnants of a large castle left by some of yesterday’s vacationers. The child went straight to work digging at the mound. The third scoop of the pail bumped slightly, but the little redhead pushed harder, forcing the shiny plastic through the fine sand. Looking down at her work, the child suddenly shook violently, let go of her bucket, and raced toward her mother. The woman tossed down her paperback, and sprang from her lounge chair to comfort her daughter. She cradled her daughter against her chest, looking toward the spot where the child was digging. The mom was expecting to find a dead fish or seagull, but her daughter’s discovery was more horrifying than that.


  1. I like it! The first paragraph has good visuals. The transition from a sweet story of childhood to one of terror was subtle. Good job. I'd like to see more of a reaction on the little girl's part. Why does her mother have to comfort her if she isn't crying or screaming? The mom needs more of a reason to toss down her paperback and spring from her chair. I'd keep reading.

  2. Okay ... This could possibly be interesting, and I'm intrigued by the girl's discovery in the last paragraph. But I almost stopped reading in the first paragraph due to not being hooked. At all.

    For me, you waste a lot of time with painting a watercolor portrait of Panama City Beach (where I'm from, fyi :)), instead of getting to the hook.

    This is what I got out of paragraph 1: The girl was feeding seagulls. Not enough for me to keep reading.

    The first half of paragraph 2: The girl was playing in the sand. Still, not hooked.

    The end of paragraph 2: The girl found something scary in the sand, something she had to dig to get to. I, too, thought the child should've screamed or something to cause the mother to react so severely, but I was finally interested.

    Don't get me wrong. I don't think you have to start by saying, "A little girl was playing in the beach sand, seagulls scrambling overhead, when she found ____ in the sand." I just think it takes too long to make your point.

    With some tightening, this could be a good intro.

  3. Enjoyed the writing, and the transition from a fun childhood day to the discovery of (I'm guessing) a body. I was a little confused by the "swatting of her arm over her head". Guessing she's covering her eyes against the sun when looking at the gulls.

    Was I hooked? Yes, I think so. I want to find out what the girl found...and I think you do need to say it was a body.

  4. Way too descriptive. I had a hard time getting past the first sentence. DOn't bother with snow white wings, most readers know what a seagull looks like. The color of her hair, the pail, the shovel don't really add anything.

    I see your premise and you have something good to work with but you need to bring it alive with less. Good visuals are developed in the readers mind, not on paper.

    Sounding like a broken recorder, but too much past tense.

    The transition from the seagulls to the mound is too abrupt. Perhaps she loses interest in feeding them, dropping the donut creating a frenzing ( you can set an omninous tone if you work on something like that) when she notices a mound in the distance.

    Try chopping this in half and saying the same thing.

    Good luck

  5. Not hooked. I read the entire excerpt to see if there was a hook somewhere and there was, but not until the very last sentence. I would cut the extraneous description and get right to the horrifying discovery.

  6. I struggled with the sentence structure from the very beginning which made it hard to get into the flow. The sentences are long and winding. It might help to vary sentence structure a bit. Also it feels a tad overwritten with a lot of metaphors and common adjectives.

    The opening has the potential to be compelling. The visual of the swarming birds and the child has potential, just work on smoothing out the writing. Good luck!

  7. I'm sorry but seagulls don't scramble.

    I did not read further, I'm sorry.

  8. I don't know if I'm too fussy over commas, but a lot of entries I have read so far have missed a comma somewhere, in my opinion. In this case, I would have put a comma after 'overhead'.

    That aside, I'm still not hooked. I agree with those that have said it needs tightening. I can see what you're trying to do: contrast the idyllic beach childhood scene with the horror of the discovery of the body (or whatever it is). But the description drags on for way too long. You need to get to the hook earlier. Have some description about the beach and the seagulls and whatever, but don't spend what would be more than a page of your book talking about a girl feeding seagulls.

  9. I think your scene is heading to a good hook. However, there are way too many details. Details are good for painting a picture, but they're bad when they bog the reader down so much that they get tired of waiting for something to happen. The trick is to subtly slip the details in while things are happening.

    You definitely do want to set the scene as peaceful, because it seems that you're about to show us something shocking that doesn't fit the scene. I think you need to try to do it with wider brush strokes, though. Think Monet instead of Leonardo da Vinci...feelings and the overall picture of the little girl, rather than the color and size of her pail, the size and type of food she was feeding them, etc. Is it important that her hair was red and curly? That her shovel was yellow and attached to the pail? I don't think so.

    Can you paint this picture in three or four sentences? That's what I think you need to aim for.

    What IS important? I'm guessing the sense of peace and fun and laughter, because that's what you're about to contrast. Also, what POV is this going to move into. The mother's? Or are you going to stay in omni? The mother would probably be a good POV to start with, even if you stick with omni. Show us the mother smiling as she watches her daughter play. Let us feel her peace and relaxation, and her joy in watching her daughter's giggles. That will bring the peace closer to our hearts, and startle us that much more when the daughter screams.

  10. I want to know what the child found. It has me intrigued but, I'm not sure I would read on. I like your writing, I just wonder if every page reads as slow as this one does, to me anyway. Could you ratchet up the suspense? Cut some of the other stuff? Show the mothers shock at what she finds? And maybe, seagulls fluttered or hovered or something besides scrambled.

  11. Not hooked, sorry.

    My biggest problem is too many words and too little punctuation -- some combination of these makes almost every sentence of this excerpt long and hard to follow. POV is also sketchy: is the narrator another person at the beach, watching the little girl and her mom? Or are you going for a more omniscient-narrator idea? I'm afraid what I actually got was a lack of connection to the characters.

    I get that you are going for a shocking transition from idyllic day at the beach to horrifyingly gruesome discovery, and that does mean you need enough scene-setting to establish the contrast. But what you have is, I think, too much: too much probably irrelevant detail (does it matter what the little girl is feeding the seagulls? how big the chunks are? what colour her hair is, or her pail and shovel? whether or not the pail and shovel are attached to each other? that the seagulls have white wings?), too many words in general, too slow a pace, maybe.

    Then the shocking revelation, frankly, doesn't come as enough of a shock: the buildup in paragraph 2 takes too long and hints too much, thus deflating the payoff.

    At a more micro level, if my toddler is digging in the sand and I'm reading a book several yards away, I don't toss my book because she's silently shaking; I'm reading, which means I'm not looking at her. She needs to scream, or start to cry, or come barrelling over to her mom, in order to make the mom's reaction plausible. And honestly? Having seagulls fighting over food scraps right over my head would scare me, not make me giggle -- especially if I was really little. Seagulls are actually pretty big birds, and they're deafening at close range. (Which is not to say you need to lose the seagulls altogether -- just that you might want to rethink the parameters of the seagull-feeding scene.)

    I suspect this scene might make a stronger impression if we got to the next paragraph, when (I presume) we find out what the gruesome discovery actually is. And you could get there within 250 words if the first two paragraphs were shorter. I think it's well worth trying to get to that point, because your premise seems like a really good one that could go interesting places.

  12. I thought that there were a lot of adjectives in the first paragraph. I mean, a noticeable amount of adjectives that took away from what you were saying.

    Try breaking these two paragraphs into something smaller. It'll give the reader more space to breathe, if you follow me.

  13. Too descriptive. I stopped reading after the first paragraph. Nothing there held my interest. If I was on the beach, I would glance at the little girl, but nothing more. You've got to give me a reason to keep my eyes on her.

    I caught that something interesting happened by scanning the other comments, then went back and read your last few lines. That part is good...jump into it more quickly.

  14. I agree that there's a lot of description that needs trimming. Too many adjectives strung together makes for none of it sticking in the reader's mind at all. Usually just choose one.

    Also, you addressed the little girl as 'Little Red' at one point. I thought the name substitute interesting, but you use it no where else, so either call the girl Little Red when you introduce her or take it out.

    I like the premise of a little girl playing on the beach and finding something horrifying but the first paragraph takes too long and the second happens too quickly. I would choose a POV, like the girl or the mother and stick with it.

    I would like a hint of what she discovered, like a hand, or an octopus tentacle--something--before she goes running over to her mom. You have all these details, but they're over the wrong things, in my opinion. You don't have to walk the reader through everything that the girl is doing in the first paragraph, but you SHOULD focus on what she finds, because that's your hook. The reader can fill in the details of what you don't say with their imagination. We're fairly innovative people. :)

  15. I must disagree with the posters who argued there was too much description. You were setting a mood, and I thought you handled it masterfully. A little girl, playing in the sand, on a beautiful, sunny day. And then wham! That peaceful scene took a scary, frightening turn.

    That's one of the basic tenets of storytelliing. Show life as normal, good and then WHOMP! Something terrible occurs, completing obliterating that peaceful, serene mood. And life is never again the same.

  16. Not hooked until the last line, so I probably would not have kept reading.

    I thought the little girl was having a seizure.

    Also, I don't care about this beach or what it looks like--they all look the same to me when I am reading--unless there's a dead body on it.

    Good luck!