Thursday, May 3, 2012

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes #19

TITLE: Parallel Lives
GENRE: Literary/commercial

Chris Burke recalls the events leading up to the death of James LaValle. Convinced that James killed his best friend's dog, Chris encounters James in the school parking lot.

I left black streaks on the pavement as I careened into the parking lot, heedless of the danger to the car or the kids who were drifting back to the building after lunch. Heads snapped around as I roared through the lot. Kids jumped out of my way and cursed at me. I barely saw them. My attention was focused on the far end of the lot, where James was gathered around the back of his car with a small group. I screeched to a halt and flew out of the car, homing in on LaValle like a missile.

“You killed her dog! You killed her f****** dog!”

I grabbed him by his jacket and threw him back, using every ounce of strength I had. He bounced off his car and fell to the ground. I chased him down and aimed kicks at his side, shouting and cursing the whole time.

He scuttled in between his car and the one next to it. I lunged after him but strong hands grabbed me and pinned my arms. I was propelled backwards and slammed against my car. Breath exploded out in a painful gasp. I struggled to regain some air, tried in vain to pull my arms free from the iron grasp of Frankie Balsam and Tommy Dunne.

“Lemme go, Tommy,” I said in a weak voice around gasps. “You’re not going to help that dog-killing scumbag, are you?”

LaValle got to his feet and checked his face for blood. Students who had been heading to the building were drawn back to the commotion like moths to a streetlight.


  1. This is great. It's very descriptive, it flows well, and it packs a lot of action into a short excerpt. I get a good sense of the conflict and Chris's rage.

    Since he's hanging around the trunk of his car with a couple goon-ish fellows, I get the sense that LaValle is a punk. If that's what you're going for it worked.

    My only real critique is that I find it a little metaphor heavy. You use two metaphors in this 250 word excerpt. That being said, you use them well so I'm not necessarily saying that they should go.

    Great job.

  2. It's fantastic! It's all action and very well portrayed. But it's not in anyway metaphor heavy. The similes are spot-on and only add to the visualization. I love this excerpt!

  3. I didn't find it metaphor heavy, but your last simile is cliche.

    The scene is very good, showing Chris' blind fury. The characters are also portrayed well. I have nothing to add to this.

  4. I definitely feel the action, however I have a couple nits.

    Chris didn't leave black streaks - his car did. And one person can't be "gathered", so maybe "James and his friends were gathered . . ."

    Good job.

  5. I like this excerpt very much and am intrigued by the MC's sense of justice over the dog killing.

    I think the first paragraph could be trimmed to half its length. (Fewer words will still convey the car careening into the lot, barely missing students and screeching to a halt -- all the while the MC is focused on James.)

    I'd dropped the "moths to streetlight" simile as well.

    Good pacing with the action!

  6. I think that overall, you should look to cut down on some of the words you are using -- words that (for me) aren't necessary. For example: "I said in a weak voice around gasps." How about just "I said gasping." Or "I said in a weak voice." I really don't think you need both.

    And, "Kids jumped out of my way and cursed at me." How about: "Kids jumped out of the way and cursed."

    And, "My attention was focused on the far end..." How about: "My focus was on the far end..."

    I know some of these seem minor, but in the aggregate, edits like this can make a big difference in flow and impact.

    I also think that both of the following similes are cliched: "homing in on LaValle like a missile." and "drawn back to the commotion like moths to a streetlight."

    I do think Chris's rage comes across well and this passage makes me wonder if Chris and James have had problems with each other before.

  7. I agree with much of what RedCard has said. The emotion is great in this, but I think some of it is lost in the overwriting. Tighter phrasing can go a long way to conveying the urgency of the narrator. Sentence structure should also reflect the urgency. Longer, flowing sentences reflect a calmer feeling, while shorter, staccato sentences push the reader forward.

    For example: "I chased him down and aimed kicks at his side, shouting and cursing the whole time."
    The MC didn't chase him down, they're standing right next to each other. Rather than "aiming kicks", the MC can just "kick."

    "LaValle got to his feet and checked his face for blood. Students who had been heading to the building were drawn back to the commotion like moths to a streetlight." A lot of telling in the final paragraph. If he's running a hand under his nose as he climbed to his feet, the reader will know he's checking for blood. If the MC had been so focused on the group while careening through the parking lot, how do they know the group had been heading inside? Perhaps they can just notice the crowd and assume they were drawn by the violence?

    An interesting excert, and it makes me wonder where it will lead. Good job.

  8. Good emotion, but some sentences are much wordier than the need to be, eg 'I aimed kicks at his side'. To me, that doesn't sound very immediate, or even like he's managing to connect his foot to LaValle. 'Kicking out' or 'Kicking at him' would probably do just as well, or even 'kicking him'. Maybe it's a style thing, it just seemed a little removed for my taste.

    It really bothered me that he was in a car, yet it kept being referred to as 'I'. 'I left black streaks' 'I roared through the lot', 'I screeched to a halt'. I'd build a better image of this scene if 'I' is controlling the car, not being the car.

    Anyway, overall, very good and strong emotion.