Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On The Block Concession Crit #13

TITLE: pale green light
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

When intruders sneak onto the paleo dig-site where her mother works, sixteen-year-old Maya follows them into underground chambers infested with dinosaurs and ruled by strange green light. Maya wants out, but her survival depends on a guy she just met—and he’s not interested in escape.

I hear my name, Maya, softly spoken.

“Beck?” I can’t see him. I can’t see the portals lining the chamber’s perimeter. I can’t see a hint of the hatchway or the slightest fizzle of electricity. My shoulder throbs where something hit me. I hold my fingers in front of my face. Nothing.

Beck and I ping our names like radar against the black. It’s a relief to find him, an amazing, unexpected comfort. He wraps his arms around my waist, pulling my back to his chest. “Until we know what’s going on,” he breathes into my ear, “don’t move.”

A girl yells, “My cell doesn’t work!” Others say, “Mine doesn’t either.” A guy bumps into me.

“Evvie?” he asks.

“I’m Maya,” I say. “Maya Norris.” Beck’s arms tighten around me.

Clicking noises pierce the dark. People whisper, “What happened? What is that? What should we do?” The clicking grows louder, the sound wheeling over us like gulls over water.

Someone shouts, “Hey Cam! Are you doing that?”

“I’m not a clicker,” Cam says into the void.

I hold my breath and feel Beck do the same. “Don’t move,” he says again. But we do move.

Everyone does. We crowd together tight as a fist.

The girl crushed against my right side shakes so violently that I start shaking too. “It followed us,” she whispers. “It’s here.”

“What’s here?” Cam asks.


Beck squeezes his arms around me until it hurts.


  1. Fun concept! It took me time to get oriented though, and I'm still not too sure where we are. You might need to back up a wee bit to give more context.

  2. Nicely written and interesting concept! I, too, had a little difficulty situating myself in the excerpt. The only clues we're given are 'portals' and 'chamber,' and those can mean lots of different things, depending on the concept. I'd agree that you should consider either starting a little earlier to help situate the reader, or add some more details to the beginning so the reader doesn't feel lost.

  3. Okay, well, first off, sign me up for a book with dinosaurs, please. That just sounds awesome.

    I think for me, I feel very ungrounded in this entry. Which, I understand is kind of the point since the characters don't know what's going on and it's dark, but it doesn't really work for me as a reader. I don't know who Maya is, or Beck, or any of the other people, and even though there is some creepiness (I particularly liked the "it followed us" bit, and that miiiight be enough to keep me reading) it's not enough to carry me as a brand new reader.

    I suspect this story might be served better by backing up, by giving the reader some set up before diving into this creepiness. Even though starting with action can sometimes be awesome, a lot of the time just starting at a point where the reader can understand the setting and characters and world, where the reader can be grounded, works a lot better.

    1. Thanks! I'm a dino-freak as well. This story grew from a recurring childhood nightmare (I used to run down a long, dark hall to my parents' room, babbling through my tears about dinosaur dreams). I will ground the story in the dark ... because to me, that's where it has to start.

  4. I'm going to assume this is the very beginning of the story. Because of that, I'll skip over repeating the other comments about backing up just a little bit in order to provide the reader enough context to better know the characters and setting. NOT too far back :) Just enough to let them relate to Maya and Beck...not so much that you're completely taking the reader out of the immediacy and action of this scene.
    However, having said that: Your setting is completely black. Which is BRILLIANT and has so much potential. And I love the unknowns introduced both in characters (random voices) and in action (motion, etc). All of which adds to the mystery and the sense of terror.
    But...while 'show, don't tell' is one of the primary rules of quality fiction writing, there are times when you can tell. THE FIRST LINE OF A BOOK IS NOT ONE OF THEM.
    Yes, I'm truly screaming that :) 'I hear my name, Maya, softly spoken.' is telling. You are telling the reader that she hears her name. Softly, which is an adverb and all adverbs should be killed off in every book (again: yes, I know, exceptions exist to every rule). '"Maya,' Beck whispers.' shows the same thing. Neither is really a very interesting first line.
    Then, you tell the reader 'I can't see him.' etc...while it's ok to repeat (in threes) some things in fiction, it tends to be frowned on. In this context, it's all telling. Plus, you're telling us that Maya knows what's around her, which lessens the sense of terror in the darkness.
    And then, when the showing/action starts with Beck and Maya 'ping our names' you solve the 'problem' of her isolation in the darkness within one single sentence. In other words: you've created a situation filled with terror and dread and mysterious noises and random voices...and then rush through it as though you're trying to 'get to the good stuff.' The 'good stuff' is in the pausing, the building up of that terror in the darkness.
    This is a GREAT scene waiting to be found in the shadows. Play with the shadows, explore them, befriend them. Force the reader to be in the darkness with you, with your characters. Make them fear. Make them hear their own hearts racing. Use all five senses (yes, including sight, most definitely: Blackness is a character in this scene)...show us their terror. The smells of damp earth and sweaty terrified humans and whatever it is that is a 'clicker' in addition to the sounds of them. Are Beck's hands sweaty on her? Etc...every sense should be at play here.
    And don't rush :) Let your scene, characters, setting, etc breathe...let them terrify :D

    1. Thank you, Peter. I can't tell you how awesome I find this feedback. This is my original submission, and though I've since made some of the changes you suggest, now ... I'm inspired. Wish you could read the whole book. :D

  5. Okay, so I LOVE your pitch, and your page has me intrigued but way too confused. I need more explanation and details about what is going on. We're just thrown into things which can work but is a little jarring and would be better with more build up. Tell me more of what's going on because it sounds so interesting but I'm just confused! I love creepy, intriguing beginnings and this would probably have me, personally as a reader, sticking around to find out what's going on but it's also a turn off. With this beginning, this book could literally be about anything. Is it sci fi set on a spaceship? Horror with a creepy something coming after them? Somewhere in between. I don't know!
    But I do LOVE your pitch and concept.

  6. Really great sense of tension running through your opening. That said, like others who have commented, I was a little bit lost in terms of what was happening. A bit more up front to establish additional detail would be useful. Despite that, I would likely read on beyond your opening simply because of the good tension.

    1. Thank you! (Things really get tense when the lights come on)

  7. Very very good. Maybe one or two lines too many. I want to read more!

  8. I love the tension and fear you've created here. Like the others commenting I could use a little more grounding in setting because I'm not sure if we're in a cave or a vehicle or what. Maybe adding some sensory elements - smell, sound, temperature - would help. Also, my first impression was that she was coming out of unconsciousness, but on re-reading I see that could be wrong. If they are plummeted into darkness suddenly you might include, or present that more dramatically. Good job. I would read on.

  9. I agree with everyone else about starting earlier than this. When I read chamber and hatch, I immediately went to submarine. Find a way to let us know who your characters are (Maya and Beck) and where they are, before this. And once you're here, you might slow it down more to draw out the tension and suspense. Give us details. Minute details. The sound of Beck breathing. Any noises they here in the chamber. Use them to create a mood.

    My other suggestion is to show this, As is, it's all told. You have a great set up for tension and suspense, and just changing the telling to showing will up both of them tremendously.

    You might also want to work some emotion into it. Is Maya terrified? Curious? Confused or nervous? Slip in a few lines that let us know her emotional state.

    It sounds like it will be a tense, action-packed adventure!