Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#21 1000-Word

TITLE: Shadowplay
GENRE: Urban Fantasy




When I shift out of the night onto a tidy front yard in Dallas, it takes a second to figure out what I’m seeing.

It’s like the gates of hell broke open and all the inmates have come out to play.

“Oh goodie, I’m not too late,” I mutter to myself and draw my sword, shaking dark light down its length and deciding which enemy to attack from the many, many choices.

A vampire charges me and I dance sideways, just evading his crushing grasp as he blows past.

“Good guy here!” I yell at him, then duck as he throws a snarling bodach at my head. “Dammit, I said I’m a good guy!”

He growls a reply but, with his fangs out and hunting instincts fully engaged, it’s hard to understand the words – his lethal intent is clear, however, as he spins and comes at me again. I don’t want to hurt him but, if he gets hold of me, I’m a goner.

The only space clear of combatants is up and I shift just in time, sensing the charging vampire’s swing fill the place I just vacated – if he’d made contact, the blow would have snapped my spine.

Of course, shifting with bodach around is asking for trouble and, sure enough, one of the nasty creatures surfs in behind me as my feet touch the cottage’s roof. I dodge the rows of vicious snapping teeth and block the forelimb as it strikes at my stomach, my ehrlindriel blade’s keen edge slicing through the shaggy black fur with ease.

Being three-legged barely slows the bear-like thing as it stands erect and swipes with its remaining forelimb – the two-inch, toxin-laced claws whistle past the tip of my nose, forcing me back a step on the canted roof. I’ve never figured out how bodach see, since they don’t have eyes and their faces are mostly muzzle with lots of wicked-sharp teeth. But the face unerringly tracks me, foam dripping from its lips as they skin back to reveal a mouth that shouldn’t exist.

“You’re beginning to piss me off,” I tell it and the answering snarl expresses its own feelings on the matter.

When it charges, I leap over it, and bury my sword to the hilt at the spot where neck meets spine. There’s a sickening, wet thunk as the point buries itself in the composite shingles, then the creature’s weight slides down the sword’s length. Death from such a blow is instantaneous but, still, the venom in those claws can melt flesh like hot candle wax and I’m not taking any chances. With care, I yank my sword free and wipe the viscous yellow blood on the bodach’s fur, then put the length of the roof between it and me.

Looking down on the melee in the front yard, I see that the battle has spilled out into the street. A shriek draws my attention to a knot of humans, vulnerable and pale in a wild assortment of boxers, bathrobes, and even a pair of bunny slippers, their terrified expressions lit by the bonfires of burning vehicles. There’s an explosion as an SUV goes up in flames and the mortals duck and scatter. My breath catches when several veer into the path of a group of bodach, then a red-haired vampire and the guy who took a swing at me get between the mortals and the attacking nasties.

Almost directly below me, a Light Fae woman stands back-to-back with a handsome, dark-haired vampire. They’re surrounded by a swarm of bodach and I’m interested to see that both carry ehrlindriel swords – made by Fae mastersmiths, there aren’t very many in existence and no swordsman would just give one away. The couple’s movements complement one another with such grace, it’s like they’re following complex, deadly dance steps. The woman seems impervious to the peril she’s in, but I sense the male’s tension from where I am on my perch – even if she’s okay with the danger surrounding her, he’s not and his concern for her well-being touches a cobwebbed corner of my heart.

Shaking off the unaccustomed feeling, I look away and see a male and a female vampire go down under a pile of black bodies, but I don’t spare any concern for their well-being. Bodach can’t hurt vampires – only ehrlindriel and vamp teeth can penetrate their skin. But I do worry about the panicked humans running around and, even as some make it in their front doors, more leave their houses to see what’s going on. And, great, a couple of them are talking on cell phones – I can hear their shrill and frantic voices from here.

Sure enough, off in the distance comes the wail of a siren and it’s only a question of who will get here first – the fire department or the police. Either way, it’s about to get very public, which is a bad thing for me and all the other supernaturals down below since we have to keep our existence secret.

“Time to end this,” I tell myself, knowing I’ve delayed doing what I felt sure all along would have to be done. “Crap.”

I time my leap from the roof to land in a clear spot and, mindful of the claws and teeth, sheathe my sword – having to free my hands with bodach all around is just one of the reasons I’ve put this off.

Extending my senses, how I perceive the surging battle around me changes and I see the energy signature, the life force, of each individual. As always, the dark spectral seething mass of the bodach are the most pronounced, and I shove away the familiar pang that I see darkness so much more easily than light. At least in this particular moment, it’s a useful thing since it reveals the three vampires concealing themselves in the shadow of a house across the street.

18 comments:

Melinda said...

I enjoyed this. Exciting place to start, nice voice, lots of story questions raised, and when I reached the end I was disappointed there wasn't more. I want to know what happens next.

However, there were a few spots where the writing seemed kind of rough and could be tightened. You also have some run-on sentences and comma errors.

In this sentence the comma should be before the 'but': He growls a reply but, with his fangs out and hunting instincts fully engaged (you have the same mistake in the next sentence and at least one other place also).

Here's an example of how you could tighten with just a few cuts (the words I would cut are in brackets):

“Oh goodie, I’m not too late,” I mutter [to myself] and draw my sword, shaking dark light down its length and deciding which enemy to attack from the [many,] many choices.

A vampire charges [me] and I dance sideways, just evading his crushing grasp [as he blows past].

“Good guy here!” I yell [at him], then duck as he throws a snarling bodach at my head. “Dammit, I said I’m a good guy!” (I really liked this line since I didn't expect him to be on the side of the vampires.)

Basically, any place where you can cut words without changing the meaning, you need to do it. Especially in a fight scene, you want to keep the pace up with short sentences.

Several of your run-ons occur when you connect two sentences with a dash: The only space clear of combatants is up and I shift just in time, sensing the charging vampire’s swing fill the place I just vacated – if he’d made contact, the blow would have snapped my spine. (This should be split into separate sentences; also you use 'just' twice here - try to cut one.)

I don't like the repeated use of italics for bodach and the other unusual words. The italics make me pause each time and jar me out of what I'm reading. Maybe only put them in italics the first time they're mentioned?

Good luck and I hope this helps.

vrleavitt said...

Good action for the first 1,000 words!! You give a good sense of setting too, with the comment about the 'tidy' yard in Dallas. Tells me it's present day.

In my opinion, the vampire thing is rapidly becoming overdone, HOWEVER, you also use bodachs which aren't uses a whole lot, and for me, balances it out really well. I also gather that the narrator is not merely human, and am curious what he/she is and I'd definitely keep reading to find out.

There were a few places where the writing seemed to bog down the pace a little, but I think you can easily fix it. In most cases, I think just cutting a word or two will help.

For instance... “Oh goodie, I’m not too late,” I mutter to myself and draw my sword, shaking dark light down its length and deciding which enemy to attack from the many, many<--(cut) choices.

Actually, the sentence above you might be able to cut into two sentences. Partly, because in my opinion, 'shaking dark light down its length' is fascinating...if you leave it separate, it makes it stand out more, and shows us how important this action is. Then he/she can attack.

You have a few run ons - here's one: He growls a reply but, with his fangs out and hunting instincts fully engaged, it’s hard to understand the words – his lethal intent is clear, however, as he spins and comes at me again.

I'd stop it after 'hunting instincts fully engaged.' Again, it draws more attention to that action, rather than dragging us to the next thing so quickly. And for a fight scene like this, I think a more staccato pace will serve you better. The action will come in quick little bursts and add more drama.

Good stuff! Hope this helps.

JS Bangs said...

I like the voice and the action here. The writing is good, the action is interesting, and our protag seems interesting and engaging.

My only reservation is with beginning right in the middle of an action scene. Others may disagree, but I dislike being dropped straight into the swordplay--I'd like a little while to straighten out the characters and the situation first.

Anonymous said...

I'm hooked, and I hate vampire and supernatural stories! I like the character and how they think, and I like the setup so far. I agree with the other folks about the run on sentences, but I have to say, I'm very picky and they didn't interrupt my pleasure with the story, unlike some errors that just jolt you right out of the story. I'm truly shocked that you kept me reading, I normally stop at even a *HINT* of fangs or blood or supernatural or vampires etc. WOW. Keep writing!!

rhea said...

I like your voice. You can tighten some areas as Melinda pointed out. It took me a moment to realize what a Bodach was, so it was a bit confusing in the beginning. Other than that, it flowed smoothly.
It was a nice surprise that he's on the vampire's side, and hooked me right in. I would like to read more.

Scott said...

Great voice/action in this piece.

What do you mean by 'shift'?


This is just my own personal opinion, if you started the piece with "Looking down on the melee in the front yard . . ." I think there would be far more impact that would draw the reader (well, this reader at least) in. I got caught up in the 'wth does the writer mean by shift', so my reading was immediately stopped. With the other paragraph, I'm intrigued and want to keep reading.

I agree with the comments about tightening things up, and eliminating unnecessary words. Trust me, better to do it in early drafts, than have to elimiante 20,000 words (or someother amount) during one of the many revision phases.

Definitely want to read more. Great job.

Sam said...

Professional, engaging writing. I felt like I was watching a movie. Your dialogue and fluid descriptions are terrific.

My constructive criticism: I need an anchor. Just one sentence would do it. Why is the main character in the middle of all this madness? It doesn't even need to be the full answer, just half an answer, a question, something. No matter how great the writing, I need an anchor, or at least sometime soon after these 1000 words or my attention would flag.

Also, I would ditch the italics and the bunny slippers. The bunny slippers are cliche. What do people really wear? Plaid bathrobes, NFL T-shirts, etc.

Good luck!

Barbara said...

Content comments - I thought you had a nice, exciting opening here. I would have liked to have known what the fight was all about and why it was 'I's' job to stop it. I would have also liked to know who "I' was, and why it was okay to kill the bodaches but not the vampires, but I'd be willing to wait a bit longer to find out.

The fight scene was good but could be made stronger with some cutting and sentence restructuring. If your character is explaining things to the reader, you should cut it and find a way to get the info in through action and dialogue.

The ending scene of all the chaos and the police arriving felt really visual to me and worked great.

Writing comments

Par 1 - When I shift out of the night - makes it seem he's coming from some other dimension. Is he? If so, it works great. If not, you might explain where he's coming from.

Par 2 - would make it part of par. 1. Great line!

Par 3 - would cut 'to myself' and one 'many.'

Par 4 - would cut 'just'

Par 5 - A bodach is coming at his head. Have him duck or dodge or get hit before his next comment.

Par 6 - would cut 'a reply but, with' so it reads - He growls, fangs out, hunting . . .' You might also put a period after 'engaged.' and cut 'it's hard to understand the words - his lethal intent is clear, however as.' This is a fight scene, and adding commentary or asides slows it down. All you need here is the fight.

Also, I'm not getting if they are on the same team or not. It doesn't seem so, but his comment of "good guy, here,' and his not wanting to hurt the vampire makes me think they might be.

Par 7 - All telling. You might reverse the order of sentences so things happen in the order in which they occur. "Sensing the charging vampire's swing, I shift upwards - the only place clear of combatants. Then add the spine sentence.

Par 8 - would change first sentence to "A nasty bodach surfs in . . .' The rest of the sentence is you explaining to the reader. Everything that is happening should be made clear through action and dialogue. Explanations are cluttery baggage.

Also, look at the word order in your sentences. Put the vivid stuff first, especially if they happened first. Viscious, Snapping teeth came at me, and a forelimb struck at my stomach. I dodge the teeth and block the arm . . .' because the attack comes before the defense and viscious snapping teeth is far more attention getting than 'I dodge the rows of'

Par 9 - more explaining. He's in the middle of a fight. Cut the whole 'I never figured' sentence and Incorporate the bodach's description into the action. 'The eyeless face unerringly tracks me.'

Not sure about the use of skin in 'skin back.'

Par 11 - would cut, 'and I'm not taking any chances.' We see that in the next sentence with - 'With care . . .' No need to tell what you are showing.

Par 13 would cut 'made by fae . . .' Explaining again. This can come out later at a less volatile moment. Would also cut 'from where I am on my perch.' It's obvious he's sensing it from where he is.

Par 17 - he was free of the bodach just a minute ago on the roof. Why couldn't he have done it there?

Par 18 - would change 'that I see' to 'of seeing.'

Hope it helps. Good luck!

Sara J. Henry said...

I love action starts, and this is powerfully written. But here it bothered me that I never got to see or know the MC. Old, young? Tall, short? Male, female? Human or other?

It can be tricky to weave this into an action-packed first-person beginning, but it can be done, by mentioning clothing or hair or jewelry or having the MC mention what he/she was doing when all this started. (Heck, you're clearly a good writer - you can figure it out!)

Dominique said...

Just from a visual perspective, you might consider varying the length of your paragraphs. It looked to me like several blocks of text in a row.

ella144 said...

This was good: action-packed, well-paced, edgy. I wanted to keep reading. Really.

Really, really.

1) Watch for run-on sentences.

2) Review the rules for commas.

3) There were some very wordy sentences and phrases (some of them run-on, some of them not) which broke the flow of the language, and dropped me out of the action.

Build the flow by starting a paragraph with short sentences, use longer sentences in the middle and end the paragraph with shorter sentences. Not a hard and fast rule, but it's a good guideline.

4) Not knowing anything about the protag/speaker was disconcerting for me. I kept trying to picture him/her and couldn't. I couldn't determine gender, age, race--nothing. This might be intentional, but it is also an inherent difficulty when using first person. You might consider giving the reader something.

5) First person present tense invites wordy, stream of conscious-type scenes. Jodi Meadows writes about some of the difficulties with FPPT on her blog here and here. You might want to check it out.

Really, really good start. (What happens next??)

Elise said...

Wow, thank you everyone -- what a lovely way to start the week. I'm one of those fantasy writers who wants the reader to KNOW and LOVE my characters before I get the story rolling. But with this MS, I decided to cut loose and have fun, right from the beginning. It's a thrill to know that this was well-received.

Your comments/suggestions are all very helpful and right on, and I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to provide the gift of detail.

I am laughing about one thing -- immediately after the first 1000 words, the question of the protag (who, why) is answered.

Warm regards,
Elise

Anonymous said...

Great action scene. Some sentence tightening can be done, and I won't repeat what the others have said, only that I agree. I think you can add some punch by shortening some of the longer sentences. In the actions scenes, I find it easier to keep track of what is going on.
Great start!

LoriStrongin said...

The MC's voice here is wonderful--humorous, engaging, and well written!

Suggestions:
1) The opening fight scene isn't as tense as I think it could be. There's more internal narrative and snarkiness (which I normally love, don't get me wrong) than focus on the actual fight. Starting the novel off with the MC thrown into a new place with enemies surrounding him is a GREAT opener, but some of the focus and fast-paced tension get lost in the midst of the heavier narrative (from "He growls a reply" to "a mouth that shouldn’t exist" though I kinda think the whole fight scene could be tightened up a bit). Maybe focus on the fight itself, rather than the rationale behind it (ex: the fae sword's descriptions--at this point, I'd rather see them in action, versus learning where they came from and Told how they're used--Show us instead).

2) Like I said, you're style is strong and flows very well. But one thing I love to see in fight scenes like these is a "what's at stake" for the MC. Is he afraid he'll be killed? He'll fail at a mission? A friend will lose their life? Etc? Briefly (so, no heavy backstory here), maybe add a hint of why the MC is fighting, and what's at risk for him.


Best of luck with your writing!

Luc2 said...

I haven't read the other comments, so they wouldn't influence my views. So excuse me if this is repetitive.

Good writing, great pace and flow, and also a distinct voice, which is hard to achieve in an action scene. Very well done!

I came away with a few questions, like why the first vampire would see him as a good guy, and why does he care about humans, but these were the kind of questions that would make me read on.

You have some interesting worldbuilding, but a few times it was done in a bit of an info-dumpy fashion. The most glaring example: “I’m interested to see that both carry ehrlindriel swords – made by Fae mastersmiths, there aren’t very many in existence and no swordsman would just give one away.”

I don’t care for the italics for the exotic words. I think it’s distracting.

My main problem is that I don’t care about the outcome of the battle either way, because I don’t care about the MC yet. I know agents tell us to start middle in the action, but I think the choice of a battle as the action is a tricky one. It is difficult to give an MC some depth or interesting traits in the first few pages. It is even harder when the focus is on a battle and his fighting skills. Just my opinion, of course.

A related problem is that the battle lacks tension. Not only because I’m not invested in the MC, but also because he hardly seems to be in trouble, and appears to be a superior warrior. Adding to that is that we don’t get enough under his skin, and don’t sense any anxiety, fear etc. from him. Yes, there's internal narrative, but that doesn't give us much emotion. That’s too bad. Such emotional involvement would enhance the experience.

Overall, a fast smooth read, though.

Use what you can, and ignore the rest. I’m no expert!

Thanks for sharing.

Amethyst Greye Alexander said...

Hiya! Let me start by saying I try not to read previous comments so they don't influence what I have to say. I figure my gut reaction as a reader is the most helpful thing I can give you, right?

Kudos for starting out with an action scene. That's great.

Unfortunately, one of the hurdles (for the reader) of being dropped into the action, is keeping up. There's a lot to keep up with here, both the action and the introduction to the various new terms. To cut down on so much introduction I'd try to spread the terms out a little.

Secondly, the first person/present kind of threw me. That's a really hard thing to pull off, and I found myself conjugating verbs and pronouns throughout.

And finally, you have a very bold style, which is fantastic, but I worry you aren't giving your reader enough credit. Sometimes there are really strong verbs that make the following descriptives kind of redundant. For example:

"edge slicing through the shaggy black fur with ease."

You don't need the 'with ease' because 'slicing' already tells us the action is smooth, easy. If you'd used 'hacked' the descriptive might be needed, but you've already done a good job with your choice of verbs, so not so much in many cases in this excerpt. Cut those phrases you don't use to help tighten.

Hope this was helpful!

Amethyst

Sheila said...

Great title. I really enjoyed reading this, thank you for sharing.

Of course, I had no idea what a bodach is, but I like the way you gradually reveal details of the creature through the scene. There were a lot of little things that were new to me, and made me think that this was going to be an interesting story - the bodach surfing on the MC's shift, the MC's ability to extend his senses, the strange swords, etc.

Also, it's often hard to create a bond between the reader and the protag when the story starts with action, but here there are many things that endeared the MC to me - that he doesn't want to hurt the vampire, the "cobwebbed corner" of his heart.

Well done.

pj schnyder said...

Note: I haven't read other comments yet, so as to give you initial reactions.

I love urban fantasy and think this is an interesting start, introducing me to several concepts and lots of action.

I was confused for a moment with the term shift, mostly because I'm used to that term in the context of shape shifters and werewolves. The way you use it here is different and I had to read it twice to understand what actually happened. I imagine that this could be a minor confusion for other readers of paranormal/urban fantasy.

I love the imagery for the sword in the third paragraph. I like that it was done as action and not just description.

While the combat description is good, many of the sentences are long. The hyphenated sentences are drawn out even longer. I'd suggest that you tighten up and shorten the sentences to give an even faster sense of pacing through the combat.

By the time the MC looks down and sees the initial knot of humans, I am surprised that the MC doesn't spring into action. Standing up there and making observations seems counter to the action in the previous paragraphs. I would have thought the MC would move to do something or engage another opponent, possibly making the next observations in a corner of the mind while engaged in action.

I became very engaged in the MC in the last paragraph, because of the pang for seeing darkness so much more than light. Because of that line, I was hooked and wanted to know more about the MC.

Thanks for sharing and I hope this was helpful.