Thursday, February 26, 2009

55 Drop the Needle: Chapter Endings

GENRE: Dark Urban Fantasy (Or literary w/magical realism, depending on
who you talk to.)

The narrator, Axyl, has been on a revenge killing spree with
Shona, his unwilling sidekick. In the scene before this chapter ending,
Shona has talked him out of killing the last person on his list--a
former friend of his. Axyl has given her a pretty bad beating in the
course of this "conversion"to mercy. They've stopped for gas and Axyl is
returning from getting a cup of ice from the gas station.

Shona sat on the hood of the car with her face in her hands. I pulled on
the back of her shirt to make her sit up, but she didn't look at me.
Even when I pushed her hair back to take a look at her face, she kept
her eyes down. I'd messed her up pretty bad. Her left eye was swole shut
and her cheek was bruised. I didn't have nothing else for it, so I
pulled off my t-shirt and emptied the ice into it.


"Thank you," she said, but she didn't take the ice.

"No problem."

"Thank you for not killing them."

"Put this on your face." I put the ice in her hands and she pressed it
against her cheek.

A minivan pulled up to the pump next to us and some all-American family
got out. Mom, Dad, and two little girls. The kids stared at Shona and me
until Mom herded them toward the store.

You ever see them people, pass them at a gas station on the highway?
Driving an old car covered in road dust. The big, dangerous looking guy
with tattoos and no shirt,and the girl who looks like she needs to leave
him but she can't figure out how. You ever see them and wonder, "Where
they coming from? Where they going?"

Nowhere. Nowhere.

We got back on the highway, even though there was nothing up ahead of us
and nothing behind us, not even revenge.


  1. I'm assuming the misspelling of swollen was deliberate, although I'm not sure.

    This is good writing. It flows, it's easy to picture and there's some poignancy to it. But the question for this contest was "Would you read on?" This feels like an ending to me. The ending of the whole book. A pretty good ending, but if you are looking for a chapter ending that drives you onward, it doesn't work too well.

    This might be an unfair comment. Presumably, the driving force of the entire narrative would be enough to get us to turn the page. But that force is not present in this excerpt.

    Still, nice writing. Nice voice.

  2. Good, vivid writing! Definitely polished and written with a distinctive voice.

    "swole shut" made me pause, but it must be just how Axyl talks. I had to stop and think about it, though. Swelled? Swollen? No big deal, but it did make me stop reading.

    The transition from all-American family to a the question about seeing people who looked like Axyl and Shona at a gas station didn't register for me right away. I didn't realize he was talking about himself until a 3rd read-through. My thoughts are that you might want to tie it together better, make it clear. Otherwise it could appear digressive (as it did to me).

    As far as an ending hook, it didn't feel like one. It's kind of a "sigh" ending, like I could put the book down and go back to it in a month or two without the eagerness to see "what happens next."

    I still like it as part of the overall story, though. Nice job!

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  4. The swole shut made me pause for a nanosecond, and then I read on. I got that it's Axyl's pov.
    A more what happens next ending, making the reader want to turn the page would be better. It's a great end of book line.

    Like the writing and Axyl. Very well done!

  5. Great voice! For as violent a person as Axyl must be, he sounds like a good character.

    It felt like the ending of a book to me, too. It has this quiet sort of "Well, that's all, folks" feeling to it.

  6. I agree- fantastic voice.

    However, given what you've said about the Lead, I don't think I can sympathize with the character, and that would keep me from reading.

    Which would only hurt me, really, because your writing is truly good and worth reading.

    I'm all for the darkness within, trust me. But I need a bit of something redeemable to hang my hopes upon.

  7. I like dark and have a strong preference for male protags who are dark, bad boys, but they have to have a redeeming feature, a sliver of goodness that I can sense. I have to admit that I would have a hard time reading in the POV of a character who has abused his girlfriend -- there would have to be something really really transformative or something compelling about him for me to be able to read such a book.

    That said, the writing is very good, the voice really strong, and that is almost enough to convince me to grit my teeth and keep reading. I agree with others that the end does seem permanent as in this is the end of the story itself. If you had ended it like this:

    We got back on the highway with nothing ahead of us except revenge

    It would be a better closing line and hook to get me to read on.

    Good luck with this!

  8. Thanks so much, folks.

    Karen: good catch on the skewed referent of "them people." I need to tweak that sequence to make it fit together properly.

    As for the *sigh* effect, I'm actually really pleased. This chapter is quite late in the book, and is preceded by 200+ pages of violence, rough sex, murder, and mayhem. I wanted this chapter ending to be a little breather for readers who've made it this far. What doesn't come across in the scene is the looming cloud of consequences about to fall on Axyl's head. The reader sees it coming before he does. This is sort of a moment of respite that the reader knows won't last.

    I don't know--in a much earlier draft, the scene actually ended with something along the lines of: I was done with revenge, but it wasn't done with me by a long shot.

    I took it out, because it seemed too pat, I guess. Not necessarily something Axyl would think.

    (And to clarify--Shona isn't Axyl's girlfriend. It would be more accurate to say she's kidnapping victim, although by this stage of the game she's with him willingly for her own reasons, namely talking him out of killing more people.)

    Thanks again. This has given me some good stuff to think about.

  9. Yup, the only comment I have is not knowing who "those people" are at first.

    Soo, I made it through a whole page! And for the record, Axyl makes me want to run screaming in the opposite direction. :D

  10. Sometimes a quiet ending is a good pacing choice. And if there's a looming cloud in the background, all the better.

    You must be contrarian to post such an ending in a contest looking for page-turning appeal, LOL.

  11. Janet: Ha! Nailed me in one--my husband refers to me as "Born Against." Shame on me!

    Alice: You survived, and I can see why--you have excellent survival instincts. I wrote a whole book about Axyl and if I ran into him on the street in broad daylight, I would run in the opposite direction.

  12. the POV shift with the them people threw me too, but I was with you Axyl right up to then.

    A strong ending, but I think I prefer your alternative ending, despite its 'patness'