Tuesday, December 15, 2009

9 Drop the Needle


Shale, a snake, has been entrusted by Fredrick with the task of guiding James, a bird, Safya, an ant, and Alysha, a squirrel, through the secret passages of an underground city. James, the story’s protagonist, must be protected at all costs.

Something was not right. Instead of travelling higher, towards blue sky and fresh air, they were headed lower. The snake seemed to sense his discomfort.

“Sssomething wrong, Jamesss?” The snake grinned. “If not, we bessst keep moving. Don’t want to be ssstuck down here forever. I wouldn’t mind, but I think you might.”

James wanted to turn around and fly as fast as he could in the opposite direction. Shale was a bad bad creature, a very bad creature, no matter what Fredrick had said. Even a dog you have known your whole life can turn around and bite you. Shale was a dog, a bad dog. James wanted to run. But Shale’s voice was just so… so sssoothing.

Mindlessly, James followed Shale step after step. He could hear Safya in his mind telling him to stop, to turn around, to grab Alysha and run, but he had fallen under the snake’s hypnotic trance.

Something crunched under James’ foot. It was a bone. A jawbone. He heard a crack to his right, and, with enormous effort, turned to see what it was. Alysha, also under the snake’s wily power, was following Shale too. She had stepped on a ribcage. It was all going to end here, in this underground tomb where Shale lured his prey to be consumed. Even as he walked, James could see where he was headed. Shale waited at the edge of a large, black pit, willing the bird and the squirrel to jump into it.


  1. I definitely feel the danger in this, so nice work.

    I'm not sure about comparing Shale to a dog. With so many animals, that gets confusing.

    Also, I understand why you're using all the extra 'ssss' when Shale speaks, and even though this is MG, I'd cut back on that some. After the first couple times, it's implied.

    Nice work. Good luck!

  2. I enjoyed your excerpt. It moved along quickly and definitely gave a sense of danger.

    Constructive criticism: you seem to be telling this from the point of view of both the snake and James, which threw me a little. You are showing us James' thoughts and in the last paragraph tell us the snake is willing his prey to jump into the pit. I would pick one or the other.

  3. I think part of my problem is the instant I read the intro, I had this mental picture of the size of a snake that preys on birds and squirrels. The other thing is most birds (except nightbirds) can't see in the dark and have a natural instinct to go completely still in the dark. They react to predators by sound and vibration - which is why they are taken so easily by snakes who slither silently up. Then again, that could be the reason why the snake is luring the bird into the darkness...

    Then also, why would a bird immediately think of a dog? Most dogs like cats can't be trusted too much around birds, because they think they are toys to be chased and shredded...

    Can you tell I'm overthinking this? :)

    Pushing all that aside, I can definitely sense the danger and think this is nicely written. :]

  4. Very nice sense of danger and suspense! I loved the crunching bones beneath their feet!

    Comparing the snake to a dog did throw me off a bit. I was wondering, at first, if the dog was an actual character.

    I didn't get a sense of it being dark underground, but the rest works really well so maybe you don't even need it, but it could up the feeling of danger even more.

    Very nice!

  5. I really liked the Sssss.
    Especially when James thought of them in his head. I think it showed (without telling) how enchanted he was by Shale.
    The bones cruching added a great, grim sense of doom awaiting ahead.
    I would watch out for these sentences:
    "This underground tomb where Shale lured his prey to be consumed." (stop after tomb. the rest is assumed)
    "Shale was a dog, a bad dog." if that one sentence was left out, the paragraph would shine.
    And be sure to change all passive tenses (was following Shale too, could see, could hear) into active tense (followed Shale too, saw where he was headed, He heard Safya).

  6. I admit, I had to look back up at the intro to see if Shale was a dog or a snake, but I think there may be some backstory here that dropping in hasn't given us. If not, would middle grade be able to make the leap that the bird is comparing? I don't know. I don't read a lot of middle grade.

    Now, this is picky but you say "Mindlessy" and then say "he could hear Safya in his mind." So is he mindless or not? I think I'd just omit the mindlessly.

    And then as others have pointed out- is he thinking that he's fallen into the trance or is the narrator telling us? Maybe you should just go from "sssooothing." straight to "He could hear Safya...run" both those lines are about sound.

    Then say "but he kept following Shale." and end the para instead of the bit about the trance. It is implied. I think middle grade would get it. You do continue the idea in the next bit.

    I do want to know what will really happen at the pit- is it the way out? was Fredrick right? is the snake?

  7. The third paragraph jerked me out of the story a bit. James's repeated use of the word "bad" stuck out to me, though not in a good way; he actually came across as a little mentally inept to me.

    Other than that, though, I think this passage has some good tension. Good luck with it!

    P.S. One other thing I noticed just before I pressed the publish-your-comment button: Is James the bird walking? He must be, if he feels something crunch under his foot. So is there not enough clearance for him to fly?

  8. Interesting dilemma: James is under the snake's spell but is lucid enough to tell us? Perhaps James could become increasingly less coherent as the scene goes on so that by the end, as he realizes he's fallen under the spell, he feels the inevitability of it, is desensitized and only aware of moving and who is around him, not so much what it means. Just a thought!

  9. I thought you did a great job here. I'm feeling more worried for these animals than I did for many of the humans in these pieces.

    I do agree that the dog comparison is a little confusing with all the animals, but it's only a very minor issue.