Wednesday, March 25, 2009

#6 1000 Words

TITLE: Wife of Heracles
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The gleam in his eyes was unnatural, I knew. We’d had fights before, but this was different.
He approached us with his right hand clenched tight around his raised club. He was breathing heavily, his mouth twisted in an ugly scowl. It did not look like he was coming home to kiss his sons good night. He looked plenty mad, and I knew better than to provoke him. Although, it didn’t appear as though he needed any provocation to beat us to a pulp.

I knew Heracles. I was married to him since I was thirteen years old. I’d lived with him for seven whole years, given him three beautiful boys. Through that time, I’d seen his temper before. Heracles was a man easily roused to anger, passionate, but quickly moved to remorse. It was probably bad that he had married me, someone who had similar personality traits, but without the enormous strength. Bad for me, not necessarily for him.

Sometimes, when we argued, I got mad to the point of pushing him, knowing it wouldn’t do any good, but he would then push me back unthinkingly. Once, it sent me flying into the wall. That left a bruise. He was stricken afterwards, walked with his shoulders hunched over and apologized for days. That was my Heracles. That’s just what I got when I married the son of Zeus.

Luckily for me, our boys were feisty, but not freakishly strong to where I wouldn’t be able to force them to bed at nights.

He kept coming forward at us. I picked up Creontiades nervously. He was the youngest, only two years old, but still heavy. He whimpered a little bit and buried his curly golden head into my shoulder. I told the other two to get behind me, not knowing exactly what the threat was or what I could do against a man like Heracles, but sensing that my husband did not exude good will at the moment. I scanned my mind furiously for any past disagreements we’d had recently and came up empty. At any rate, marital problems generally never amounted to him attacking me with a boar-killing club.

“Heracles?” I said tentatively. “What are you doing?”

Instead of responding, he growled. Like a wild animal. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I looked deep into his crazed eyes and saw that bizarrely, he did not recognize us at all. “It’s me! It’s Megara, your wife! Stop it. Wake up!” I said desperately, hoping to rouse him from his unexplained trance.

The fear in my gut bubbled up, traveling up my insides to my throat, almost choking me. I wanted to scream for help, but my voice caught. He was only a few feet away.

Scanning the room, I saw a butcher’s knife on the cutting board and thanked the gods I hadn’t washed the dishes and put away the knife before Heracles stormed in. I didn’t have time to contemplate an alternative. I tried not to look in that direction and tip him off, but it looked like he wouldn’t have processed it anyway. He was far beyond his senses. My free hand shot out and grabbed the handle of the knife.

“Don’t make me use this,” I warned. He made no sign that he heard what I said, but his ears got redder.

“Mommy, what are you doing? What’s wrong with Daddy?” said Therimachus, the eldest, his voice muffled behind my dress. My heart ached. This was not right. My three sons, just five, three, and two were watching their parents have a showdown with a club and a cleaver. And it terrified me that if I didn’t win, Daddy might. But how could I win against a man who was half-god?

“Everything is fine. Just close your eyes and be very quiet, okay?” I said softly, afraid of making loud noises and sudden movements. Even now, I hoped Heracles might awaken from his madness and save us.
I backed into a wall. I thought to myself, “This is the end. He is going to kill us all in cold blood. Why is this happening?” I sent a prayer up to Hera to protect our short marriage and Artemis to protect my sons. Surely, I hadn’t done anything to offend the gods. Surely, they couldn’t want us to die like this. The gods were merciful.

There weren’t many options. I decided I was going to fight. I was going to hurt Heracles to get him distracted long enough that we could get past him and run for help. I didn’t know if I could injure anybody, much less the father of my children, but there was no other choice. I couldn’t let him kill my babies. He was almost close enough for me to reach if I stuck my arms out.

It would have been more logical if I let go of Creontiades, but I couldn’t bear to set him down. He trembled, and I could feel the shoulder of my chiton soak with silent warm tears. I wouldn’t let him go for anything.
My heart shuddered and stopped when Heracles let out a maddened shriek and lifted his club to strike us.

“Now!” I screamed in my head, and I darted forward and brought the cleaver down as hard as I could on his thigh. I felt it cut through flesh and hit bone, and bright red blood bloomed from the wound and traveled in rivulets down his leg. I thought I was going to be sick.

His club still met its mark and hit me in the small of my back. I fell to the ground on my chin, but managed to keep Creontiades from coming down with me. I heard the other two cry out. My chin felt dysfunctional. I tasted salty, metallic blood. Unfortunately, there was no time for me to lie there and get my bearings. I scrambled up, dizzy.


  1. This seems kind of . . . clunky. I stumbled over the first sentence.

    There's too much 'telling' going on too soon.

    Also, the tone is definitely YA in the first few paragraphs but then tends to switch to an older perspective (meaning reader) later in the narrative.

    I can see the potential of the tale, but I'm definitely not hooked. The voice is almost 'there'. Just a little tweaking here and there. Good work.

  2. This is a very interesting idea, and I can see its appeal for YA. My biggest problem with it so far is believability. Your main character is Heracles, an extremely powerful half-god. The tension is palpable, the drama is definitely there. I just found it hard to believe that having been married to him that long, the woman would contemplate a knife against his club. The idea that being hit by him into a wall would just leave a bruise is a bit too far fetched for me, even though the genre is mythical fiction. You've taken a myth and attempted to make him more human. But it seems like you are asking the reader to accept both worlds, that he is this powerful demi-god and yet not-so-powerful human. Its a good idea, but I think it needs to be re-worked a bit. The writing on the whole is good though, and enjoyable to read through.

  3. I am intrigued... I want to know more, but I stumbled a lot through this. I am so stressed for the family. What could make the halg god we all love act like this? I am very stressed for him, and I would definitely read more!

  4. I'm not hooked. Here's why:
    It strikes me as overwritten and the premise is not entirely believable. For instance, in the first paragraph you wrote: "The gleam in his eyes was unnatural, I knew." Of course you knew, who else would? You continue: "We'd had fights before, but this was different." But, you don't explain how it was different for another few sentences. I don't think this adds the tension you might think it does. You add: "It did not look like he was coming home to kiss his sons good night." That's excessive after you've already explained he is scowling and has a club clenched in his hand. Also, language like "he looked plenty mad," doesn't sound at all like it would take place in a European/Greek sounds U.S./Southern to me.
    Anyway, that's just the first paragraph, but those types of problems continue throughout the rest of what you've written. Perhaps a writing group can help you work out these kinks. I'm a big fan of stories involving Greek gods/half-gods; I wish you good luck with this!

  5. I wanted to comment something helpful but I think PCB nailed pretty much the pointed I would make already. Just try to remember--assuming your reader is old enough to read on his own--he probably intuits well enough to get the feel of something with a well-spaced description or two, which leaves you the room to jump into the action sooner.

    Hope that helps somewhat.

  6. I'm in agreement with the others. It needs work.
    But I'm very intrigued, and would totally read on.
    Have someone edit and proof with you, because it has great potential.
    Best of luck!

  7. I also found this choppy, especially the telling (such as the adverbs 'I said softly' or 'I said tentatively' or 'unthinkingly'). As with overused adjectives, adverbs are usually unnecessary, though learning to write without them is difficult to say the least!

    In a way, I feel as though this is a strong first draft and can be cleaned up with editing as the central premise is intriguing and has great potential.

  8. As someone who is familiar with the real Greek myths of Heracles, I must point out that Heracles killed his wife and sons in a fit of rage. The Gods punished him for that, which is why he ended up having to complete the tasks that most American school children learned about.

    A lot of the sentences were clunky and had some grammatical issues, there was too much telling, and too many adverbs.

    I'm not sure if your intention here is to rewrite Greek mythology or give it a modern spin or something else entirely, but I can't agree with the others who feel that the central premise is intriguing. I would not read on, and I question whether the real myth is a suitable subject for YA.

  9. This is YA?
    I'm rather familiar with Greek mythology, and I know how violent it can get. Yours gets even more violent than some of the stories. Are you sure this is for kids?

    Also, lots of telling and no discernible plot. He kills his wife. Doesn't that put a damper on the story-writing. Starting at the end and then flashing back?

  10. It's difficult to start a story with this subject matter, especially with a YA target audience.

    The wording struck me as awkward and passive, especially at the beginning. (Example:"He was breathing heavily, his mouth twisted in an ugly scowl." This can be rewritten to avoid the passive "was.") The voice shifted, too. Megara sounds too young and modern - or is this supposed to be a more modern version of her telling the tale? It still doesn't work in context of the original ancient time period.

    I'm afraid you'll have a hard time selling the story if it begins with this scene. In a sense, it's easier to have people killed outright (like in Harry Potter) than to see a woman and children beaten with a club. You're not graphic here, but we see what's happening here, and it's uncomfortable.

    It may be best to start the story elsewhere and leave the details of this fight to emerge elsewhere in the story.

  11. The story is told in the underworld, with Megara as a spirit.

    Thank you for the input. Very enlightening, and I will be sure to incorporate it.

  12. I would mirror what others said on passive voice, over-writing, and tell v. show.

    But I will say that you did manage to create a lot of tension with this scene. And as a YA writer myself, I don't see anything wrong with starting your book with a violent death.

    As a mom, however, I couldn't read about the boys being killed. It's one of those things I just can't deal with at this point. Even reading their fear freaked me all the way out. I'm a wuss on that stuff.

    That said, your "tell" gets in the way of the tension, and I think you could drop all of the backstory from this scene... every word. It would make your beginning stronger, and I'm pretty sure that's not what she would be thinking in the moment.

  13. I really wanted to get into this story, as I LOVE Greek & Roman myth, but it just didn't happen for me.

    The first paragraph (though it has some passive voice problems) was great--tension, action, fear. All good stuff to hook your reader. Then we get three paragraphs of backstory about what their relationship was like. Those paragraphs slow down the great pacing you started off with. Why waste word space musing about the past when it's over and done, and here in the present there's something exciting happening?

    Some of the verbiage irked me, too. Words like "freakishly," "dysfunctional," "Mommy," and "Daddy" all feel too modern for a tale taking place in ancient Greece, IMHO.

    Also, I'm not entirely positive about this, but I don't think a husband beating a wife in this time would have been chalked up to the gods punishing the wife. As in many societies (unfortunately), both ancient and modern, a man reserves the right to treat his wife however he wants to. In other words, she's his property. And though it isn't right or fair, it wouldn't be considered the gods will--only the husband's.

    Good luck with your writing!

  14. I agree with most of the other critters. One or two more points -she sent a prayer to protect her short marriage. They've got three kids and been together for seven years - that's pretty long imo! Also, too much stating of the obvious - "I knew Heracles." "He looked plenty mad." "Like a wild animal." etc. Get rid of all that is redundant or obvious - it slows down the story far too much.

    I'm not sure I'd keep reading this even if you fix it up. I'd give it a page or two to see what makes it interesting but it would have to pick up quickly. Good luck.

  15. I loved it.

    I didn't really find too much wrong with it, so good work. I'm hooked.

  16. I like the idea, but I don't think the action you describe fits in a believable timeframe. Here's what I mean:

    At the start, Heracles is close enough for Megara to see his eyes and know something is wrong. He starts to approach her from that close distance. While he's approaching, Megara: (1) thinks about their relationship and previous fights, (2) picks up one son and tells the other two to get behind her, (3) tries to remember past disagreements to see what might have set Heracles off, (4) asks him what he's doing, (5) looks into his eyes again, and sees a lack of recognition, and (6) identifies herself, tells him to stop, and tells him to wake up. Now Heracles is a few feet away, but hasn't finished his approach. While he closes in, Megara: (1) sees the knife and grabs it, (2) warns him not to make her use it, (3) hears her son ask what she's doing and what's wrong, (4) tells the kids that everything is fine and to close their eyes and quiet down, (5) backs into a wall, (6) wonders why this is happening, (7) says a prayer, and (8) decides to fight. Then Heracles attacks.

    There's just too much happening in the really small amount of time it would take Heracles to come close enough to swing a club, even with her backing away. It feels like Heracles is moving in slow motion or something, and that just drains the tension from the scene.

    Maybe you could make this start outside, and Megara flees into the house so that there's more time to get this stuff in?

  17. I like stories based on Greek mythology. I love David Gemmell’s trilogy about the Trojan wars.

    This is an interesting premise, and the conflict of a wife protecting her children against the husband she loves is really very good.

    Overall, I think the writing could be a bit tighter. I’ll try to point out some things here below, by picking some stuff apart.

    He approached us with his right hand clenched tight around his raised club. Here, you don’t need “tight”. It is implied by the verb “clenched”.

    He was breathing heavily, his mouth twisted in an ugly scowl. I have no problem with the occasional adverbs, but beware to use them to strengthen generic verbs. If you use the verb “panting” instead, you don’t need “heavily”. Also, make your descriptions count: “ugly” is a generic word, and IMO not adding anything. His mouth is twisted, we know it’s a scowl, so we can assume it won’t look pretty.

    It did not look like he was coming home to kiss his sons good night. This sentence I like a lot, since it helps to establish the POV character. A father kissing his sons tonight is a natural motherly thought.

    Although, it didn’t appear as though he needed any provocation to beat us to a pulp. What I miss a bit in the first paragraph, and especially here is the emotion, it’s almost descriptive. I’d like a better sense of urgency, to get into her skin. It’s a bit too distant. But despite that, it is a good opening paragraph, and I want to read more.

    But then it’s followed by three paragraphs of backstory, which IMO kills the tension, stops the flow. Sometimes it’s good to drag out the tension a bit, but it doesn’t work here for me. Maybe if you’d limit it to one of these three (preferably the first), it would work much better.

    I picked up Creontiades nervously. This is telling, and flat. Pull is into the scene. Just as an example (a bad one): “Unable to avert my eyes from Heracles, I groped for Creontiades. My sweaty palm slipped over the smooth skin of his arm.” I know, it is much more words, but you have some sensory input and implied nerves.

    Like a wild animal.. When you use simile, make them count. To me, this one is not very imaginative.

    He trembled, and I could feel the shoulder of my chiton soak with silent warm tears. This is great sensory input, and brings me much closer to her fear. I want a bit more of that stuff. Since we’re firmly in her POV, we don’t need Ï could feel”. To tighten, perhaps: “He trembled, and the shoulder of my chiffon soaked with his silent warm tears.”

    The last two paragraphs are good action and tension, and you picked a nice cliffhanger> I would read on.

    I hope this helps. Use what you want, ignore the rest. :-)

  18. I am a fan of Greek and Roman mythology and there is a lot of potential in a character like Heracles who is a demi-god among mortals.

    This felt distant to me considering it is a scene with the potential for a lot of fear and violence. I felt none because it felt as if the narrator was telling it long after the fact so there may be some tense problems. It didn't feel immediate and so there was little tension.

    Also, it felt contemporary rather than as if taking place in the time of Heracles. I think it's because there is very little to situate us in the scene in terms of description and setting. If you were to add some details to create a picture of the setting, it might feel more authentic to Heracles' time.

    I wonder if this is appropriate for a YA novel. A father killing his wife and children seems quite traumatic for YA. If the killings were to happen off stage it might be less of a concern. It would depend on the rest of your novel and where you are going with this.

    Good luck with this.

  19. As a newbie writer I can see the points made by others about the backstory, passive voice etc but I gave it to my YA son to read and he had no problem with the way it was written. Ages ago I scanned a random page of Harry potter and found over 15 dialogue tags which include 'ly' words on one page. YA kids today are aware of issues such as family violence but they also know what is fiction. They do like a bit of a scare and compared to other YA stories where people fall in love dead zombies, blood-suckers, aliens, werewolves - a bit of myth is not going to shock too much. I think a tweak should do it.