Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#37 1000-Word

TITLE: Historian: A Tempest Guard Novel
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Chase drew in a single deep breath and breathed out responsibility. He let all his stresses ease away. No worrying about the stuck drain in 5B and how he was going to have to page through the do-it-yourself plumbing books yet again. Hopefully he’d end up with less scraped knuckles this time. He could put off ordering in new light bulbs for the hallway lighting fixtures for a few hours. And there was no sense dwelling on the fact that he was pretty sure that Mrs. Hattaway in 3D was switching out the bulbs shortly after he replaced them.

All those concerns could wait.

Chase slouched against the side of the wide windowsill in his almost-uncle Mack’s apartment. He’d just meant to drop some groceries off while Mack was at work, but as often happened, he had gotten seduced by the peace of his window perch. Mack’s place was small and sparsely furnished, but just as clean and orderly as his automotive garage a few blocks away. Chase liked it here, and he liked Mack. But when he had the place to himself, he always came to watch from the window. From up here he could look out over the streets and not have to be involved. He didn’t have to worry about turf wars, getting knifed in the back for his shoes or getting roughed up for what few scraps of cash he might have on him.

He also didn’t have to be in charge of his apartment complex. No seventeen-year-old should be, but it had been status quo for him since he was about twelve. His mom had stopped even making an attempt right around that time and simply stayed doped up on whatever she could get her hands on. Chase had kept the complex going with Mack’s help or he wouldn’t have eaten. Now he took these precious minutes to simply watch and let the weight of responsibility slip away.

Then they ruined it. They looked innocuous at first – a chick completely tricked out in a leather biker babe getup and the tall, corpse-looking guy walking beside her. Weird people showed up down here all the time and this duo could be just two more in the long list.

Usually it wouldn’t bother him. Strangers came and went. They came down here by accident, to escape their own lives, or to tiptoe around danger and feel brave. His instincts, however, were screaming at him - the same instincts that warned when he was being followed; he’d learned to trust them.

These two stiffs had checked every street sign and hadn’t greeted a single person along the way. In fact, people were giving them a wide berth like they were dangerous. That last was what decided him. After they entered the squat abandoned storefront across the way, he blew out a disgusted sigh and hopped down from his roost. He’d go take a look-see, find out what they were all about and if they looked like serious trouble, he’d go tell Mack.

He hustled down the three flights, fought for a moment with the busted door knob, and then finally emerged into the dark night. Strolling across the street, he automatically avoided both the glaring street lights that would ruin his night vision and the deep shadows that hid the human predators stalking the area. A pungent odor had him looking at the pavement. Stepping lightly, he avoided a pile of desiccating newspapers and a puddle that smelled like piss and vomit.

Gak. Wouldn’t want that on his shoes – they were in rough enough shape.

A flicker at the edge of his peripheral vision caught his attention. A guy about his own age, thin and lanky, with a predatory glint in his eyes took a step towards Chase. Jakes or Jaz or something like that was his name. He was a small-time thug. But even wanna-be gangsters could be dangerous. Chase returned a slow smile and reached behind him, hand going under the bottom of his shirt to his waistband. He only had a small knife there, but this guy didn’t know that. As he started to withdraw his hand, Jakes or Jaz, whoever, hesitated, splayed his hands out and backed away. Chase smiled bigger. God loved a good bluff.

Once he reached his target building, he stuck to the shadows and methodically worked his way around, listening carefully to the sounds of the streets around him. The usual faint night traffic was reassuring. No sudden ruckus or tense silence. Nothing going down. The truly rough denizens weren’t out yet but it still paid to be vigilant.

He peeked quickly through each grimy window he could reach. At one time, someone had tried to brighten the place up by hanging colorful curtains at some of the windows. Chase snorted at the wasted effort. Now those curtains were ragged and bleached by the sun. Some windows had been boarded up.

Finally, around the back he saw light gleaming faintly from a window. Faded red draperies gapped a couple of inches at the center.

As quietly as he could, he crouched down to one side, brushing away the chunks of chipped mortar peppering the ground. His grungy gray sweatpants were already torn in three places and the drawstring was almost completely ripped out. The last thing he needed in them was another hole.

Settling himself on his knees, he took a deep breath and spared another quick glance at his surroundings. He was still alone. Leaning over, he darted a look through the window. Blazing teal eyes stared back at him from the far wall. His heart jumped and a shocked breath forced its way into his lungs. In that heartbeat, his brain refused to process anything more significant than the eye color. They were no normal shade of blue or green, but a shade in between.

It was like the color they’d used on those Geos so many years ago, was his bemused thought. Hideous color on a car, but absolutely kickin’ on the lady chained to the wall before him.

His brain started catching up with the scene.

Ah, s***. Who the hell chained people to walls, nowadays anyways? This was no castle and dungeon setup, although she definitely looked like a damsel in distress.


  1. Nice writing.
    I got bogged down in the backstory, though. I think you'd have a stronger hook, if you started with the with the action, the pursuit of the bad guys.

  2. Good world-building, but maybe too much of it. Nicely written, but pare it down to get to the action more quickly.

    And I need a motive for a guy, who is already overwhelmed by his responsibilities, to go looking for trouble. More trouble. If he's sure the potential threat will spill over to "his" building, let us know that. Otherwise, as a reader, I'm, like, "Dude-stay home. Take a nap. You're exhausted."

    Intriguing, though, so keep at it.

  3. I had the same feeling as Texcat. He's too exhausted to order lightbulbs, and yet he goes out to spy on strangers and potentially be seriously hurt of killed. You say the reason he likes Mack's apartment is because he can watch the streets without getting involved, and then he goes out on the streets to get involved.

    Perhaps we need a reason for this. What makes him give up the peace and serenity of Mack's apartment and walk out into a place he doesn't want to be? Curiosity, I think, isn't enough. Not with the setup you've given us. SHow us his motivation.

    I also wondered what he thought Mack could do about the people he was checking out, or why Mack would care. The twosome didn't seem to be doing anything to Mack's property. Perhaps make clearer why Mack would care.

    The intro was slow with all the back story, but it did help to place him in a setting and give us some background. Perhaps start a bit later with him spying the twosome and deciding to follow them, and maybe slipping the back story in bit by bit as you go.

    I didn't think the Geo parg. did anything for the story. You might want to consider cutting it.

    And when he sees the woman chained to the wall, except for his initial gasp, he seems kind of blase about it. It doesn't come off as as big a deal as it should, IMO, because it's not a big deal to him.

    I liked the way you showed us the world he lived in, the 'chipped mortar peppering the ground,' his grungy sweatpants and worrying about getting a hole in his grungy sweatpants. The worrying says a lot about his financial position.

    Overall, I'd suggest trying for a bit more conciseness.

  4. Hi there

    I like Chase and you do an excellent job painting his world. I can feel the grit.

    There were a few descriptors or phrases that I found awkward:
    "deciding him" "desiccating newspapers."

    While I found his back story interesting, I found myself wanting action. Consider starting with the woman chained to the wall. That got my attention. His blase attitude toward it was intriguing as well. Start there and fill in the rest as the story progresses.

    Best of luck!!

  5. It looks like you have some good ideas and a potentially interesting story building here, but it is drowning in too many words and too much backstory. A little setup is necessary, but we don't need to know everything about this character and his situation yet. Let us wait and wonder about some things for a while. Most of this should probably be cut to get to the action sooner.

    Just as a suggestion, I pulled out what seemed to me the most important sentences of your first few paragraphs to show how this can still make sense without all those extra details:

    **Chase drew in a deep breath and breathed out responsibility. When he had his almost-uncle Mack’s apartment to himself, he liked to watch from the window. From up here he could look out over the streets and not have to be involved. He didn’t have to worry about turf wars, getting knifed in the back for his shoes or getting roughed up for a few scraps of cash.

    Then they ruined it. They looked innocuous at first – a chick completely tricked out in a leather biker babe getup and the tall, corpse-looking guy walking beside her.

    Usually it wouldn’t bother him. Weird people showed up down here all the time. His instincts, however, were screaming at him - the same instincts that warned when he was being followed; he’d learned to trust them.

    They entered the squat abandoned storefront across the way. He blew out a disgusted sigh and hopped down from his roost. He’d take a look-see, find out what they were all about and if they looked like serious trouble, he’d go tell Mack.**

    Overall, I think this could benefit from some extreme cutting/tightening. Concentrate on putting us right in the scene with Chase and only focus on the details he would focus on in any given moment. I'd also consider starting with something other than Chase standing around thinking in the apartment. Maybe he could be on his way to Mack's when he sees the two people and takes a detour to investigate? Or maybe start with the encounter with the thug (I thought this was one of the strongest parts). Think about your reader - you need to hook them right away to ensure they don't set your book down and move on to something else.

    Also, check out this post from Rachelle Gardner on backstory:

  6. I'm hooked by this character and his setting, well done on fleshing those out in this short entry. Like the other people who have commented, I was scratching my head over why he'd go after two sort of scary people when he was so tired. You mention that his instincts were screaming at him, and since this is a fantasy, I had the feeling his instincts might be somewhat, um, enhanced, maybe? If this is true, and this is the reason he goes out, you need to give us readers a better clue.

    Also, would he really be ruminating on her eye color after seeing her chained to the wall? I think the first thing I'd notice was that a girl was chained to the wall, not her teal eyes. But I loved the phrase, "absolutely kickin'"

    Good luck!

  7. This is really, really good and very appealing - so I'm going to go into deep editing mode here and nitpick.

    fewer scraped knuckles - this should be less scraped knuckles
    scraps of cash - this seems an odd phrase, unless cash in this world is very different from our cash
    since he was about twelve - I think he would know exactly what age he was when this happened
    these precious minutes - just not how a young male protagonist would think
    take a look-see - a very old-fashioned phrase that I don't think a 17-year-old would use
    dessicated newspapers - I think disintegrating would be a better word
    was his name - I would ditch this phrase
    was his bemused thought - this is passive and odd phrasing

    Paragraphs that need tightening:
    grafs 5-6-7, talking about the two guys across the street - keep these moving; tighten
    the one near the end that begins "Settling himself on his knees" - this is an action sequence and I would tighten it, trim to keep it moving

    And some mild tightening and editing throughout - but I definitely, definitely want to read more.

  8. I agree again with Sara. You've got a good story here but the writing needs tightening. "as so often happens" just say "as usual." You may think that's being picky but there was a lot of words before we got to what was happening. I started to zone out in the first paragraph with his to do list. Cut that down- we got it without needed 3 whole long sentences about it.

    And you tell me twice about his brain processing- more detail than we need. Trust us to understand that he's nervous, schocked. We know this is a rought place, he's aware of the danger. You explained all that and he's "listening carefully" being quiet, "crouching" "darting"- all good action clues. I say go from teal eyes staring back from the wall straight to- It was like the color.

    Good luck for a good story!

  9. Suggestions:

    Maybe start with a short scene where he finishes helping a colorful resident and is glad to escape when it's over. Instead of telling us he's seventeen, the resident could say something about his age. Then you aren't telling us what he does in the building.

    Or ditto for a brief scene with his drugged out mother.

    Did you ever watch the first season of the old NYPD? Reading this, I feel like I want to be in one of those scenes, but you're keeping me on the surface.

  10. Nice writing, but I would rethink your beginning.

    Start in the middle of some action. You can slip a little backstory into conversation or later on, as the story develops.

    Many, many novice writers begin their stories with explanations. I think this comes from grammar school, when they taught us to write essays by explaining the theme and then developing it.

    Don't start with an explanation about your character while he leans back and sums up his life. Show us who he is in some action.

  11. I second Sam's suggestion that you might want to start with him finishing a chore for a resident and immediately get drawn into what these two are doing. You could just tighten, as others have recommended, and that would work well too. But backing up a tick and then moving forward with more tightly written paragraphs would give us information about your main character through action and dialogue rather than rumination.

    You've got good stuff here, though! I'm interested in your character and his situation. Good luck.

  12. I think this has a lot of potential. I would like the action to start sooner, and I was puzzled, like others, as to why he was so tired but so willing to investigate what these two were up to when they didn't seem any direct threat to him. But overall I thought it was good.

  13. Economy is great, but I'm not sold on paring this down. I think your detail here is a strength. To me, it sets your piece apart from a fairly generic trope.

    That said, once you do remove that attention to detail, and considerable narrative flow, it *is* a fairly generic trope. What I get is:

    "Urban kid is forced to grow up too fast in order to support himself and his deadbeat single parent."

    This rings true. Works for me. So does the entry of (what I presume will be) the fantastic:

    "But when he investigates a pair of troublemakers as an extension of what he sees as his responsibilities to his building, he's drawn into trouble that's way outside his depth."

    None of which is taking a huge step outside of convention. I don't yet see that crackle of something new, but would read on for a while, because I feel like I'm in the hands of a competent writer and I hope the story lives up to that skill.