Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #12

TITLE: Lord Randolph and the Witch
GENRE: Fantasy/Romance

Valentina Roselli’s off-the-grid summer hideaway in Nova Scotia has, unknown to her, been transported to an alternate earth where magic works. A group of locals think she is a witch and show up with a knight and his sergeant to burn her out. The house is entirely powered by a 500-gallon propane tank. It’s on fire.

Valentina had no idea if one hundred yards would be enough if the tank exploded. Kneeing Brownie she got him trotting, then galloping away from the burning shriek behind her. The heat penetrated even through the heavy denim shirt.

A patch of brown homespun caught her attention as she galloped toward safety. Lying in the dirt was the man Brownie had kicked. Damn. She pulled the horse to a reluctant halt and turned. She couldn't leave the man, even if he had tried to kill her; it was far too close to the fire.

He lay sprawled, not much more than a kid, really, eyes staring blindly at the blue sky. A trickle of blood, already dry, leaked from the corner of his mouth. He was obviously dead. She shook her head and turned the horse back toward safety, kneed him…

A savage slam drove the air from her lungs, bugged her eyes open. A thunderclap of sound deafened her. The shockwave passed, flicking a line of dirt and vegetation along the ground as it traveled toward the group ahead of her. She saw it hit, jerking them like puppets, bowling some over.

She screamed along with the horse as the fireball overtook them, yellow tendrils curled around, engulfing them. She burned. Her back was on fire. Brownie reared and took off running. Valentina felt herself start to slip and she kicked her feet from the stirrups.

The ground came up to meet her and the world went black.


  1. Fantastic! I found myself holding my breath as a read.

    My only suggestion would be to infuse the prose with a little bit more tension - her desperation to escape, the time limit she's under, how aware that dithering to try to help the dead man could mean she won't escape. Just a bit more FEAR would do it.

  2. Hey,

    I agree with the infusing more fear. Also, I love all the build-up to the explosion, her escaping on the horse, stopping to possibly help the guy, riding away again, but maybe because you could only use 250 words the explosion seemed almost anti-climatic to me. Like it needed to be bigger and more fiery and more explosion-y!

    Good luck!

  3. "She burned. Her back was on fire." -- wow, some nice high stakes here. I'm always telling my writing cohorts to put them in impossible situations and this would make a great example. If I had a motto, it'd be: Don't let em off easy! (or at all!)

    I'm a bit murky on "the man" and "the group ahead" and I think they might deserve a bit more detail just to make them gritty and real for this reader.

    For 250 words, this does a good job and I'd like to read on to see what happens next.

  4. Great idea! Magic and knights and gas tanks!

    The weaknesses here are hard to pin down in a summary. It's mostly subtle word tense choices.

    "Valentina had no idea if one hundred yards would be enough if the tank exploded."

    That was just awkward because of the double "if".

    "Kneeing Brownie she got him trotting, then galloping away from the burning shriek behind her."

    "Kneeing" isn't a verb you see often, so with it capitalized because it starts a sentence, and missing the comma after "Brownie", I thought it was a name or a title at first. You might consider that. Also it felt like "galloped" should be there, because you want to describe what SHE's doing, not the horse.

    "bugged her eyes open"

    I'm not sure "bugged" is even a word used this way, but it definitely didn't convey to me what you were going for.

    "She screamed along with the horse as the fireball overtook them, yellow tendrils curled around, engulfing them."

    This is a great example of what I mean by subtle. "screamed along with the horse" is just an odd visual. It evokes singing along with someone, rather than something more urgent like two beings screaming at the same time. "Tendrils curled" could be justified grammatically, but it feels off. I'm expecting the more active "yellow tendrils curling" and I had to go back and read it twice.

    It's actually a really cool scene. I think with a little attention to the specific word choices and sentences, it could be great.

    Good luck!

  5. You've set up an extremely perilous situation that drew me right in. But I agree that you could really ramp up the tension by showing us more of Valentina's emotions. More panic. I'd be scared out of my wits. I wouldn't waste time trotting. I'd be slapping the horse (could she have a whip?) and yelling.

    I'd like a glimpse of her feelings about this guy who tried to kill her. Does she hate him or fear him? I would have her worry about the precious time she wasted trying to help him. (I wonder, is he really dead?)

    It would help me visualize the scene if you added a little more description in a few places. For instance, when you mention that a patch of homespun caught her attention, you should give us a location. Is it on the ground up ahead? Or does she see it in her peripheral vision as she passes?

    "Burning shriek" confuses me, unless the fire is really making a shrieking noise.

    A good scene with lots of potential. Good luck!

  6. I love the premise (and the name Valentina)! :)

    Here are a couple of word choices that gave me pause: the use of yards (would it not be meters in Canada? This may be my American ignorance showing) and the use of the word "shriek" (I wondered if it was a typo for "shack"?).

    Also, while I really liked your description of the explosion, I felt like the structure of the sentences describing it got a little repetitive ("A savage slam drove... A thunderclap deafened...The shockwave passed" and then "She saw it hit...She screamed...She burned.") I think that you could probably cut "She burned" and jump straight into "Her back was on fire" in that spot.

    I'd totally be interested to read more. Good luck!

  7. Some good action and descriptions here! I especially liked: "...flicking a line of dirt and vegetation along the ground..."

    I guess nobody else was confused by this: She's galloping away from the tank, which explodes, but the fireball overtakes the people in front of her first???

    Some suggestions:

    "Valentina had no idea if one hundred yards would be FAR enough AWAY..."

    "Kneeing Brownie she got him trotting, then galloping away from the burning shriek behind her."

    (I try to stay away from "ings" that aren't absolutely necessary. Could you say, "She kneed Brownie and they trotted, then galloped away..." And what is the burning shreik?? The tank hasn't exploded yet, has it?)

    "He was obviously dead." (Say this less obviously? "He had no more need of her, or anybody else's, help." Or something.)

    " she galloped toward safety." (Second use of "gallop." Could say "raced.")

    ..."kneed him…" (Delete and leave off with "turned the horse back toward safety."

    "A savage slam drove the air from her lungs, bugged her eyes open. A thunderclap of sound deafened her."

    (Even though this is in the active voice, it sounds passive. You're telling us what happened TO her, instead of what she's experiencing.)

    "The shockwave passed, flicking..." (Make the flicking the active verb: "As the shockwave passed, it flicked..."

    "She burned. Her back was on fire." (Delete: "She burned.")

    The ground came up to meet her. (There's almost always a stronger verb than "came/come." Maybe "The ground rushed up to meet her...")

    Lastly, I'd check with horse people, but I seem to remember my horsey friend telling me that you don't "knee" a horse to make him go.

    Good Luck!

  8. For me, the explosion was an explosion. It wasn't just things blowing up. You got the shock wave in, the sound, the heat.

    I wondered about the burning shriek. A shriek is a sound. Can a sound burn? Maybe end that sentence at 'away.'

    Perhaps, instead of - He was obviously dead - you just say - Dead.

    SHe might gasp after the air is sucked from her lungs, and you might cut - She saw it hit - and combine what follows to what comes before it.

    In parg 5, let the fireball overtake them before she and the horse scream. You might also cut - She burned. and instead of saying her back was on fire, say fire burned her back, to make it active.

    I think it works overall, but the writing can be cleaned up and tightened.

  9. I might say "when" the tank exploded, if it's a likely occurrence. Might increase the tension, though I like the first sentence already.

    (Might say galloped, instead of galloping). Confused about term "burning shriek," since I don't normally consider a shriek to be on fire.

    Maybe attribute the shirt as belong to her... "The heat penetrated through her heavy denim shirt" and maybe note her reaction to this: does she wipe away sweat, ignore it, etc...

    "Brown homespun" what? I'm not sure what this refers to.

    I like that she's sympathetic to the man. I'm curious who he is, though I imagine that might be explained earlier in the story.

    I like the paragraph "He lay sprawled..." It gives a clear image and shows her voice.

    "A savage slam drove the air from her lungs, bugged her eyes open" The idea of this is intriguing, but the sentence feels a bit clunky.

    Jerking who? Valentina or the locals?

    (The horse screamed? I like the image seperate, but connected with the protagonist's scream, it felt jarring. I'd cut "she burned" since it's clear in the next sentence.

    Overall, sounds interesting and has some vivid imagery. Good luck with it. :-)