Friday, November 29, 2013

(12) Thriller: PENNY CANDLE

TITLE: Penny Candle
GENRE: Thriller

Joan Bowman joins the Constitution Defense Legion to fight a runaway government in Washington, D.C., but after working her way into a leadership position, she discovers the underground resistance group is as bad as the government it is fighting. The only way out alive is by becoming a state’s witness, but betraying the group means betraying her mentor and lover.

Something changed. The encircling woods went silent.

Joan’s heart pounded against the moss under her belly as she squeezed and released the grip on her M-16 assault rifle. She scanned the surrounding undergrowth.

Jason tapped her shoulder and pointed to her right. “Seventy-five yards at our two,” he whispered. “The oak with two notches. The notch on the left.”

“How did they get so close without us seeing them?” she said as she zeroed her attention on the double-notched tree.

“They’re shape-shifters, man.”

Joan pressed the rifle butt against her shoulder, tucked a stray strand of brown hair behind her ear and snuggled her cheek against the stock so she could see down the barrel. In a measured movement, she raised the rifle until the notch of the tree was centered in her sights. “I’ll shift their shapes for ‘em,” she said.

Jason pressed his tattooed hand down against the barrel of her M-16. “Let’s go down the other side of this hill and slip away. No sense getting shot when the exercise is almost over.”

“We can take them.”

“Ever get hit with a round of simu-nition? It hurts like a mother—”

A twig snapped to their right.

Jason snatched the back of Joan’s shirt and jerked her upright. “Let’s go. Now.”

Joan planted her feet, set her jaw and glanced over her shoulder toward the sound. “I’m a fighter. Fighters stand their ground,” she said, but she was talking to herself. Jason had disappeared through the nearby stand of mountain laurel.


  1. I like the way you start right in with the action. I get a pretty good sense of your main's personality from this, which is good.

    I do feel that the later dialogue feels intentionally expositional and therefore doesn't sound natural.

    Maybe we don't need to know about simu-nition. Maybe we can see that she's a fighter and fighters stand their ground.

  2. I think this starts off really well. The whole scene, actually, is full of tension and action.

    I was taken out of the narrative, though, by the use of "shape-shifters". Because I wasn't sure if it was literal or not. I see the genre is listed as Thriller, so I suspect not, but then I don't really understand the context.

    Good luck!

  3. Just a question about the logline - are the lover and the mentor the same person? It seems like turning on the group would mean betraying a lot of people. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it.

    I like the opening. It does grab you, and you get a sense of the protag and the context. I wondered if the shape-shifter thing was literal of not, because the genre doesn't seem the type to include those elements. I also wondered whether "simu-nition" was a thing, or just a thing in the story/ world. From the clues in the logline/pitch, I'd guess the latter.

    It's intriguing, and i would read more. If there was one thing I'd lose it would be the "tucked a stray strand of brown hair behind her ear" bit. I've seen it done quite a bit, this particular type of description disguised as action. Not sure if it's over-used enough to be cliche, but the rest of the piece is so tight it stood out to me. (Though to be fair, if I'd been able to read on I would have, and not been hung up on it.)

    Hope there was something useful in the above. If not, well, I did enjoy this little taste, and I wish you luck.

  4. Oh no!!! My biggest writing pet peeve, the "tucked a stray strand of *insert colour here* hair behind her ear!" Please, no!

    Also did not care for the "I'm a fighter. Fighters stand their ground". Would someone really say that? I think it would suffice to have her actions show that.

  5. I really like the solid descriptions of handling the weapon--it gives me confidence in your authority to tell the story. However, I would ditto others in that I was confused as to how speculative this might be (shape-shifters, simu-nition), and I was not prepared for the military aspect by the logline. From the logline I thought this was about a protest/lobbying group, or a more radical economic organization; from this opening scene I'm guessing Joan has joined a militia--? If it's the latter, then I would need something in the first chapter to really make me feel sympathy for her, otherwise I'm not sure I would read on.

  6. I like the quick pacing of the opening lines. Maybe "went" could be replaced with a stronger verb, such as "fell" or "turned."

    I also paused on the shape shifter line, which caused me to check genre for paranormal. Given the smart-aleck comment that follows, I'm guessing not actual shape shifters. I saw another entry here that mentioned a person being like an angel which really threw me. I would caution using descriptors that could be misconstrued on the first page; the word might be fine later when the reader is sure that shapeshifters aren't actually part of the story universe.

    I admit, I also cringed at the tucking of the brown hair. If you can avoid this sort of hair color telling, please do! The entry is strong otherwise, this detail feels unnecessary.

    I kind of liked the fighter line she says to herself because it showed me something about her. The pacing here is great, the setting details and her expertise with the gun are shown well. I wanted to see a hint of her personality here, even just a light touch, which I think the fighter line does. Maybe this can be worked in elsewhere, a detail within the description that traces back to her training or her habits with the gun. Something that shows her personality. I hope that makes sense.

  7. This drew me right in because there is immediate tension and suspense, but it all goes down the drain once the 'exercise' is mentioned, because suddenly, what I've just read no longer matters. It's sort of like getting all involved in a scenario, then finding out it was all a dream. My thought would be to start somewhere else.

    I also had a problem with the shapeshifter line, and it had me going back to the genre and logline to see if I'd missed something. So perhaps if there are no real shapeshifters, make that clear.

    And you might change belly to chest, since that's where her beating heart would be.

    Good luck!

  8. Nice taut language here, very appropriate for this sort of thriller. The MC is a fighter, she's trained, she's dedicated. All good.

    Like other reviewers, I got thrown by "shape shifter" bit. Made me wonder if we were in a supernatural story, like the Sookie Stackhouse books.

    The other thing is if there is moss under her belly then she is on the ground, but later in same scene she is on her feet. So might want to tweak that.

    Nancy Bilyeau

  9. Very captivating premise, and overall I enjoyed the entry.

    I will say some of the tension leeches away for me once we find out this is a simulation. I was very concerned for them in the opening, but that quickly goes away (without knowing the stakes of the simulation exercise, that is). I think you could easily expand this a bit and draw out the reveal, to maintain the tension a while longer.

    Note: "I’m a fighter. Fighters stand their ground." felt too much to me like the character speaking directly to the reader. Personally I'd prefer to see that she's a fighter rather than have her tell me.

    But I liked the writing overall and I'm hooked enough by the logline to read on.

    Best of luck with it!

  10. The logline for this reads very promising. However, when I started reading the opening paragraphs, I had to go back to check the genre. As it stands--if this has paranormal elements in it, I'm not sure 'thriller' is the best category, as it runs the risk of promising one type of story while you deliver another.

    The writing is very tight, with a solid sense of the character's voice. However, I think the world should be brought out more. There is a lot of information given through the dialogue that doesn't provide context for the reader. Going deeper into your character's POV/perception of the conversation lends a significance to what's going on in the moment and the ability to give more world building. And this lets readers experience the story with Joan, rather than waiting to be caught up on what's going on. It also allows the pacing to be spread out to bring more tension/atmosphere to these opening moments. Slowing down a bit to give us this insight on who she's fighting, what the stakes are, how they play into the broader scheme of things, etc, will capitalize on the fantastic job you do of starting right with action!

    Good luck!