Wednesday, March 18, 2009

29 Secret Agent

TITLE: Monarch
GENRE: Suspense

The blood pooling under the dead man's back reminded Nick of butterfly wings. It spread from the twin wounds, sweeping to each side in graceful arcs that sparkled in the sunlight from a kitchen window.

Nick turned away and stopped his hands from trembling. Strange, they rarely trembled. Self-defense and high adrenaline—that’s all it was. He had fought for his life before, but this was the first time anybody had tried to kill him in his own house.

Watching the two pools of crimson ooze across the linoleum, he recalled the musky scents of decaying wood and pine needles in a cool West Virginia forest. A thousand butterflies swarmed around him. He thought of butterflies every time he saw wings. And the bloody wings on his floor were the strongest reminder of a butterfly he had ever seen. It was more unnerving than the fight.

It was quick. Breaking glass. A smashed coffee table. The Brazilian was strong, but not smart. He had sent a fierce blow to Nick’s chest, heaving him into a set of kitchen drawers that rattled. Nick looked up to see a block of knives next to the sink. Just what he wanted.

The assassin aimed his pistol and walked calmly toward him, grinning with yellow teeth. The smile didn’t last long. It crumpled when Nick straightened his shoulders and knocked the pistol out of the man’s hand with a high kick. When the blow whipped the assailant’s body around, exposing his back, Nick snatched two cold steel knives and launched them with perfect aim.


  1. Have you considered starting with the fight?

    "It was quick..."

    Then go on to adrenaline/wings/butterflies.

  2. Full of amazing, vivid descriptive details and symbolism. The assassin's yellow teeth and grin makes him even more detestable to readers (I could really picture the scene in my head).

    The short passage is chalked full of action and tension. Again, I LOVE the symbolism of the butterfly wings and the [red] blood. I'm wondering what that leads to and if it is reocurring. I want to know the meaning behind it. I would definitely read this. Is there a love story anywhere? (lol)

  3. This is a great opening. Very vivid writing; I could picture the entire scene and especially the fight.

    This may be because I'm not one for lots of description, but I think you could shorten the third paragraph a bit, maybe by a sentence (the fourth?) and not lose too much in order to get to the fight sooner.

    But I loved the tense atmosphere and I even had a sharp intake of breath when I found out the dead guy was laying in Nick's own kitchen and Nick is the one who killed him.

  4. Overall this is interesting; I too liked the image of the butterfly wings. Three things struck me:

    1 - The fact that we find out almost immediately that Nick had fought for his life before deflates the tension. If I'm imagining him as some average guy, it's a lot more exciting if he's just killed someone than if this is a regular habit!

    2 - The tenses in the fourth paragraph bothered me. First you say "the Brazilian was strong," then "he had sent." Shouldn't it be "the Brazilian had been strong?" I could be wrong.

    3 - He "stopped his hands from trembling." This seems like an odd construction, since I have no idea how one stops such an involuntary reflex. Does he clench them? Does he hold them out and WILL them to stop?

  5. I love the imagery, but the opening paragraph made me stumble a little.

    I think there's a trick singular/plural transition there. You start off comparing a pool of blood (singular) with butterfly wings (plural) then back to "It" (singluar) then back to wounds (plural). Also, the mention of the kitchen is distracting, and can be moved down later to the linoleum.

    Maybe this?

    "The pools of blood expanding under the dead man's back reminded Nick of butterfly wings. They spread from the twin wounds, sweeping to each side in graceful arcs that sparkled in the sunlight from the window."

    With that, you can shorten the 3rd to "Watching the crimson ooze".

    I also agree that starting with the fight might make more sense. The jump backwards is a little disconcerting.

  6. I think blogger ate my comment, so please ignore if this is a duplicate.

    You've got great imagery here. I completely agree that the scene would work better in chronological order. You've taken a dramatic fight scene and leeched all the tension out of it, cuz we already know the outcome.

    Let the reader experience the fight along with Nick in real time, then segue into your awesome butterfly wing description.

    I would read on.

  7. The second paragraph was awkward. the reflection on trembling hands seemed a bit misplaced and the last line would go better with home not house. Other than that I loved this beginning.

  8. I agree with the previous posters -- let the fight actually start the scene rather than flashing back to it. Otherwise I really like it; the writing is good, everything is very vivid, and it's an interesting story already.

  9. I made a comment earlier, but it seems to be gone, hopefully this isn't a repeat!

    I liked your vivid descriptions - they really set the scene for me. I would consider changing "It was quick." to "It had been quick". For a moment I thought there was a new attack. Nicely done!

  10. I, too, think it should start with the fight or just no go into the passive recap here--it feels disconnected from the image-heavy/reflective style of the first paras. I don't see how the MC (we are in his POV) can go from remembering the woods and butterflies, to recapping the fight he just had. Seems abrupt.

    Not hooked, sorry. I know I read this before (probably here, lol) and that time left us wondering what the POV character had to do with the dead body. Now we get an explanation, but I think it divulges a little too much (such as his hands trembling, having fought before, the scene being his home, etc)

    I think it just needs a little more work and the retention of a little more mystery.

  11. The description of the pooling blood, the dead guy and the adrenaline rush worked really well for me. I was drawn in because Nick had just gone through a life and death struggle and was now coming to terms with it.

    But then I got confused with the description of the fight. He's pulling martial arts moves and throwing double knives. All the sudden, he sounds like some commando and I'm wondering why his hands were even shaking. He seems like a professional who dispatched with the guy pretty soundly without batting an eye.

  12. I love this story idea, and your writing style as you very well already know.

    I agree that the second para feels a little misplaced or tie it in better. Maybe Nick could think that he's too old for this kind of action. :)

  13. Aha, an adult novel at last. Seems to be a lot of YA/MG here (guilty, one of them is mine!)

    Anyway, loved the imagery, but was thrown when you went to the fight. Nick seemed so sensitive - the wings, the trembling, the butterflies - he seemed like a shocked bystander. Then you change him into a cool killer. People are complex, but something didn't quite gel there for me. However, it may just be me.

  14. I love the vividness of your writing. Great use of color, sound, imagery. I'm right there with Nick getting slammed into the cabinets and freaked out by the blood on the floor flowing into the shapes of butterfly wings. With so many comments on the order of events it might be interesting to consider changing things to a time linear account. It would definitely follow the "no flashbacks at the beginning" rule. Try putting the last 2 paragraphs at the beginning and see what you think.

  15. Of the five paragraphs here, three are flashbacks/backstory. I think that is an indicator that you should probably start your story with the fight, which would be a much stronger hook, IMHO, than a MC just standing around, thinking--which is a passive and cliche opening.

  16. This didn't hook me as much as impress me with the imagery and writing. If this had an interesting blurb, I'd read on. I agree with others -- start with the fight, then move to the image of the blood and memories of butterflies.

  17. I love the first three paragraphs. They are beautifully written...but I don't want to go back to the fight. I love the line, "It was more unnerving than the fight." But then, the fight reads more like a summary. It's still written well, but I'm not *living* it. Does that make sense? I'm just being told about it. I want to BE there. It didn't carry the same emotional weight as the beginning, which might be what you're going for.

    Either way, maybe you can work in the fight later? Like when Nick calls the cops or something? IDK, just thinking out loud.

    Great writing, though.

  18. I think this is a nice change to the suspense genre. People are saying start with the fight...but most books do. You get the character right off this way—a guy who's so used to killing he sees wings in blood.

    It doesn't seem like that fight is central to the story, but what he does after.

  19. Hi,

    I loved the first para and the butterfly imagery. At the same time, I have to agree with an earlier comment that this would have been more powerful if this was an ordinary man who'd just killed somebody than somebody used to death.

    Also, jmo, the fight scene needs more emotions. Now it's sort of like insert Tab A into Slot B.

    Your first para proves you've a voice, so let it come out.

  20. Maybe it is just me, but I vote for leaving the story the way it is. If this is the beginning of the story this description of the fight tells us that the main character knows how to kill; yet is troubled that this level of violence has come into his own house.

  21. The premise should be grabbing, but reading it as a past event took the grab out of it for me. Indeed. it would be much more focused if the action was happening in the moment and not as a reflection.
    Good luck

  22. Lots of folks picked up on my question, which is, Why do you need to make the tenses so convoluted, when you could start with the fight (and perhaps even add to it), and then go to the image of the pools of blood looking like wings (and then get into his butterfly fetish...)?

    You have a good hook and a promising beginning--don't get too fancy.


  23. Suspenseful, yes. Weird, that he harks back to the quiet forest full of butterflies at such a time. He's just stabbed a man in the back with two knives! I would have to find out a little more about the MC before I gave up, especially if the writing were less wordy. This scene seems to be about action, but with all the butterfly references, the MC begs to be analyzed. The kick let me know he's young, not old, and in good physical shape. I'm just not sure about this yet.

  24. Start with 'It was quick..' and the next paragraph then do the butterfly bit. Perhaps have another run through and look at sentence structure and get rid of excess words. The butterfly imagery is original and vivid but don't overwrite it. You're a good writer who will only get better.

  25. Thanks for all of your comments! I'm annoyed with myself for shifting the focus of this scene on the wrong thing entirely.

    I'm not going to start with the fight because the scene is about the character being more disturbed by the image of a butterfly than killing a man. That's Nick for you.

    I have rewritten the scene to shift the focus. Thanks for helping me see this, everybody! I'm much happier with the scene now.