Thursday, March 9, 2017

Talkin' Heads (SSF) #3

TITLE: Kairos
GENRE: YA science fiction

The power has just gone out, trapping sixteen-year-old Maya five stories underground. She’s with Beck and a group of kids from school—though except for Cam, she doesn’t know who else is there. Beck stands behind Maya, holding her. She wonders what makes a strange clicking noise.

If it’s a giant bat I’ll freak. I hate bats.

Someone screeches and people shout, “Don’t DO that!” The air stinks of breathy fear and something else. Something horrible.

“Did anyone see it?” a girl whispers. “Does anyone know what it is?”

“What’s that smell?” a guy asks.

Someone yells, “Shut up!” God. I think it’s Lance Monson. He’s a total jerk at school.

“We all heard it,” a girl offers. “Back in the hall—”

“I said shut up! You guys are gonna get us killed!”

“You mean like Dustin?”

The darkness swirls with clicking. A girl whispers, “We don’t know he’s—”

“Shut the freaking hell up or I’ll shut you up myself!”

A sudden jet of air tickles my ear. Then the darkness sniffs me with reeking breath. My eyes open wide, burning to see. “Wh … wha—?”

Beck exhales, “Shhhhh.” His hold on me is cement.

Prickly fur or whiskers touch my cheek. My skin crawls hot then cold. I dig my fingernails into Beck’s arm.

He relaxes his hold on me and disappears.

I whirl around, grabbing at air. “Beck!” My voice cracks. “Where are you? Beck?”

A girl yells, “I can’t take this anymore!”

Something slams into me. I punch and kick it with everything I’ve got. A warm hand catches my wrist. A quiet voice says, “Maya. Stop.” Beck pulls me into a full body hug. I almost melt. “It’s okay,” he whispers. “It’s just me.”


  1. I think I've read this excerpt, or an excerpt from the same scene before.

    I think this works. I think if it were a different scene it wouldn't work, but because the MC is in the dark, and can't see, and doesn't know who else is there, the ungrounding the reader feels from the tagless dialogue works really well as a sort of mirroring. Because Maya is confused, any confusion the dialogue creates just evokes that in the reader.

    It's a thin line to walk, though. A little bit further in one direction, and the confusion could be enough to push the reader out instead of drawing them in more with Maya.

    So it works for me, but I would get some other opinions, too, to make sure you're on that line instead of over it.

    1. Sarah:
      You read the first 250 words of this chapter in a different submission :-)
      Thank you for your thoughts!

  2. Super creepy! Which I assume is what you're going for. I like the sensory descriptions interspersed with the dialogue, painting the frantic feeling of not being able to see.

    As for the dialogue tags -- in the majority of cases, you're better off using a simple "said" (or "says" in the case of present tense). Too many different kinds of tags, especially consecutively, end up being distracting. You want the focus to be on the dialogue itself.

    Hope this is helpful. Good luck!

  3. Like Sarah said above, the confusion of the speakers/tags can work with this being set in the dark. However, you may want to play with trying to crystallize the other voices a little.

    As readers, we can't hear inflection or tone, but your MC can. So just like I would be able to tell the difference between my mom and aunt if they spoke in the dark, your MC can do at least a little of that. Even if she doesn't know the characters by name, she can tell whether one person is speaking versus another. But you have to show the reader those differences.

    You actually do this with the lines:

    “Shut the freaking hell up or I’ll shut you up myself!”


    “I said shut up! You guys are gonna get us killed!”

    These, in my head, come from the same character without a single dialogue tag because the tone is the same. But many of the other lines are not as clear...and if they aren't clear to the MC, then we, as readers, need a little hint of her confusion. Definitely a fine line because the short, clipped sentences help ratchet up the suspense, but perhaps something like:

    "I can't take this anymore!" A different girl, more hysterical than the first.

    Tough job, but you've got the tone right and it's not far off at all. But it's enough to cause just that slight hesitation as a reader. Good luck!

  4. I thought this worked really well and I had no problem with the tags, or lack of them. You get the fear and confusion across very well, as well as the mc's dependence on Beck, and his concern for her. There's tension and suspense, as well as nice tone and mood.

    My only suggestion would be to change the word 'swirls' in The darkness swirls with clicking. Clicking is a sound, so swirls should probably be replaced with a verb that represents sound. Vibrates, maybe?