Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Beyond The River
GENRE: Literary Fiction

The narrow path led up and away from the rushing water to where the forest thwarted the sun and the river’s hiss diminished until it was no longer heard. Twigs snapped beneath Brad Lucas’ boots. He listened intently for the cries of birds, for a foraging squirrel—any sign that everything was okay. As a boy, his father had told him, “When the woods go silent, a predator is on the prowl. Even if you can’t see it.”

Perhaps he was being paranoid. Then again, maybe he wasn’t. Brad parted his lips and whistled sharply.

A few feet ahead, Dean Romans stiffened with surprise and halted in sun dappled shade. “What the hell was that for?”

“Bears. If they’re around, they’ll move on.”

“Please provide advance warning next time.” Frenzied gnats circled Dean’s head and he swatted at them.

Here it comes, Brad thought. He’s finally going to complain about how stupid it is to be out in the middle of nowhere.

Dean snatched a water bottle from his backpack, drank, and then grinned, his gleaming white teeth contrasting with his swollen black eye. Brad was tired of following Dean—he’d been doing it for too many years now. “How much farther?” he demanded.

“I must tell you,” Dean said, sauntering off. “I haven’t been totally up front with you about this trip.”

Of course, Brad thought. You’ve never been up front about anything.

“What do you mean?”

Dean glanced back triumphantly. “Patience. It’s all part of the surprise.”


  1. I would read more. I like the way this opening is clearly focused. The first paragraph establishes place, character and a sense of suspense. Then the scene expands to include the second character who is gradually revealed to be a possible threat. "Hints" about the past shared by these two are revealed. Nicely done. The language really adds to the suspense--words like predator, prowl, stiffened, frenzied, gleaming white teeth, swollen black eye...all contribute to the underlying threat. When something is this well-written, I find myself getting picky. I would revised the second sentence in the 5th paragraph to read: "Dean swatted at the frenzied gnats circling his head." But that's a small detail in what reads very well.

  2. Your first two sentences feel very heavy, but the prose relaxes afterward. I'm not sure the scene hooks me on a personal level, but writing is subjective.

    I would read on a few more pages. Maybe even chapters to get a feel for what the story is about.

    Keep writing. You're doing a good job.

  3. I would definitely read on and I endorse all that Sestina says. I particularly like the comforting feeling that the MC has learnt some hunting skills from his father and won't be at a disadvantage in this environment in the event of a dangerous situation arising. Good stuff, keep writing.

  4. Not sure why we need first and last names here. A hint of the ages would help. Some suspense, but not enough to hook me.

  5. A lot of evocative imagery here. And haunting words from Dad! There's not need to give first and last names upon introduction of a character, though. I'd suggest loosening up your dialogue some. "Please provide advance warning next time" and "I must tell you" sound awfully formal for friends.

  6. I enjoyed it, but had a little bump in the middle where Brad is anticipating Dean saying how awful it is to be out there. Then Brad is the one complaining. Huh?-Threw me a bit.

    I loved the tension and the imagery though.

  7. I would read more.

    The first name/last name threw me, as it seems the sort of thing one does at the beginning of a novel or story to get the names out there. Since the last names don't matter to the main characters (they already know each other) or the narrator, we don't need them either.

    I really like the tension that builds here. Nice.

  8. I was also confused with the two men, who was complaining who was leading the adventure? Their characters seemed mixed up. I thought the dialog was stilted as mentioned by the secret agent. I don't think this i my type of book, but I would read a few more pages to be sure.

  9. I would echo everything Sestina said. I thought this was very well done, overall.

    A couple of nits: I think "stiffened with surprise and halted" could be pared back to "halted," without losing anything. The last sentence would be stronger if you showed Dean's facial expression instead of relying on the adverb "triumphantly."

    Formal dialogue can work if there's a reason for it, such as when a character is a non-native English speaker or has a very uptight personality. I think the problem here is that Dean's dialogue is inconsistent. The lines "what the hell was that for?" and "please provide advance warning" don't sound like they came from the same person.

  10. Like the description of the setting and action. The actual dialog feels to formal and rigid for two people who seem to know each other well.

  11. You have an interesting concept for an opening. I'm not sure whether it's the danger I should be focusing on (predator) or the interpersonal relationship (some antagonism in their dialogue & internal narrative). I also think the opening paragraph is a little heavy and hard to wade through--although beautiful images. I wonder if it would read more smoothly if we saw those details through the narrator's eyes as he interacts with the setting.