Wednesday, March 25, 2009

#8 1000 Words

TITLE: The Locked Door
GENRE: Scifi/women's fiction


I have tried to imagine the day I died in that other world almost ten
years ago. Certain details stand out because it was an especially
aggravating day. The rest is easy to fill in with all the mundane
details of college dorm life. I was never one to place any stock in
the chaos theory or the butterfly effect. You know, the nonsense that
a butterfly flapping its wings in Argentina is going to cause a
tornado in Texas. I always figured if that were true, the jiggling of
my thighs would be causing tsunamis in Southeast Asia.

It turns out that there are ripple effects that derive from
our very existence, even from a life as pathetic as mine.
And there are worse things than a tsunami.

Even though this story is about me, I can’t look at her death in
first person. I lived. I didn’t die that day. So I am evoking third
person, just for this. Just so I can tolerate the gruesome nature of
my own murder.

Hannah Dean was nineteen years old that day in October 1999. She was
a skinny, geeky thing with flat mousey hair and granny glasses. It
was her sophomore year at the University of Washington and she was
engaged to a wonderful, handsome man who had graduated months before.
Nathan was commissioned in the United States Navy. He had already
gone through Officer Candidate School during the summer and had just
started Naval Nuclear Power School in Goose Creek, South Carolina.
She lived for his phone calls, when they got through. Which was rare
because her psycho-bitch roommate, Daphne Davidson, was always on the

Daphne was the roommate from hell. She was gorgeous to behold, and
she knew it. That was the problem. When Daphne walked into a room
with that certain saunter to her hips, you could feel everyone’s gaze
turn to her. However, her beauty was the exact opposite of her
corrosive character. She was a user, and proud of it. Her parents
were sweet and moneyed, but it was easy to see their weariness. I’m
sure it was a relief to have her away at college, where someone else
had to suffer her machinations. Boys were the usual victims. She
changed boyfriends like underwear – very nasty underwear. One
desperate boy crawled across asphalt naked, just to gain her favor.
She mocked him and shared pictures of the stunt with all her friends,
who passed them on to his friends and so on, like a wicked game of
Telephone. Her friends weren’t treated much better, but they still
remained her satellites, circling her in endless awe and devotion.
They were little blonde clones, dressing the same, eating the same
(which meant not eating), and listening to the same music. They even
spoke in the same chatty tone, all with the same cadence and gestures.
The Stepford Skanks.

Most any other year, Hannah could have applied in writing and been
able to switch roommates after the initial waiting lists were filled.
No, that wasn’t possible that 1999 school year. The campus was
slammed with new residents. The rooms that should have been doubles
were forced to triple capacity. Hannah ended up getting an additional
roommate, Kendall, a blonde with a frizzy poof of hair like an
electrocuted poodle. Kendall wasn’t one of the blondes like Daphne;
no, she was the real thing, the one all the blonde jokes are about.
Sweet, innocent, and a total airhead. It was nice not to suffer
Daphne alone, but they suffered enough by being pressed together as
tight as a Friday night laundry bag.

Despite the distracting presence of Daphne, Hannah insisted that her
dorm room was her sanctuary and study zone. Hannah was the sort who
received an assignment in class and returned to her room to start it
immediately. Procrastination was a dirty word that only referred to
the actions of other people. That October brought an endless stream
of literature assignments – the peril of any English major. Hannah
loved reading, she loved writing, but sometimes it just seemed like
too much. Regardless, there was no point in putting it off.

Nathan had left her an old laptop and printer. It was a clunky
thing, slow, but it was perfect for typing, even if she couldn’t go
on-line. Since there wasn’t space for three desks in the room, she
had the laptop set up on a stretch of counter underneath the room’s
singular window. Her laptop and implements took up half the space on
the counter; Daphne’s make-up and beauty supplies occupied the rest.
The keyboard, screen, and printer paper all bore a lacquered-layer of
hair spray. Ahead of her, the window offered a spectacular view south
of the campus where Mount Rainer loomed like an omnipresent god. The
volcano looked down upon Seattle, upon the campus, upon Hannah, its
gaze cool, aloof, yet always majestic. A single glance reminded
Hannah of childhood hikes and the crunch of snow, even on a baking
summer day. Rainier was a friend beyond her window, and not even
Daphne’s whining could take that vista away.

Besides the computer and a stack of books, Hannah’s most
important accessory was a pair of good headphones.

Daphne would not shut up.

“Oh my God!” Daphne cackled. “You so did not! You did? Seriously?
What did he do then? Oh my God, you mean it actually worked out just
like it said in the magazine? Serious?”

Hannah gnashed her teeth, fingers curling in rage as she tried to
type. The volume was so high that she couldn’t even hear the
obnoxious clunking of the keys, yet Daphne’s babbling on the phone
rang through with the clarity of a car horn. It had already dragged
on for over an hour, ever since Daphne returned from class. When one
call ended, another began, and all of it was about sex, gossip, and
parties. It was never ending.


  1. My suggestion: cut back on the description on the dorm room. It will help speed up the pace of the story. Right now it seems to lag.

    I kept waiting to get sucked into what happened to her, but the room description got it the way.
    If you keep it to a few sparce details, it will still give the overall feel so the reader can take it and move on.

  2. When I read the first paragraph, I had mixed feelings about this piece. I wasn’t sure how I felt about starting in first person and transitioning into third, and having the character explain this transition. By the end of it, however, I was completely in love with the style of your writing.

    You have a clever voice, and a knack for giving tiny details a unique spark. Looking at this from a distance, I might say “well, not a lot happens here.” But, despite that, I really enjoyed it.

    The first sentence, however, grates. It’s clunky and awkward, and made me cringe – and made me wary of reading on. But since this was listed as sci-fi, I wanted to stick with it since it’s a genre I read the most out of our submissions for this session. The whole first paragraph has me going yeah, yeah, I’ve heard of this and it’s been done. Then you add the last sentence, giving it a twist of the humor and wit that’s present in the rest of the piece.

    This sentence: “Even though this story is about me, I can’t look at her death in
    first person.” Left me a little confused. I wasn’t sure if it was an attempt to be clever, but her death should be my death? While I understand the point – I think – of making the transition into 3rd person, I’m not sure it works. I’ll be interested to see what other people think.

    Since this is a lot of talking, back-story, etc, I think you might be able to trim it down – though there are so many good things in here, I can see it be difficult as the writer to cut. I do think you can cut down the paragraph about Daphne, for the sake of moving the scene along a little quicker. I think you can remove
    “One desperate boy crawled across asphalt naked, just to gain her favor.
    She mocked him and shared pictures of the stunt with all her friends,
    who passed them on to his friends and so on, like a wicked game of


    “They even spoke in the same chatty tone, all with the same cadence and gestures.” Also “gorgeous to behold” feels a little clichĂ©. Even without these things, you’ve described Daphne in bold and sharp detail.

    You should keep that in mind moving forward. Since you have the ability to say a lot in a very short way, make sure you aren’t putting in too much. It could bog down the text and make this fun style become overbearing. Just a thought. :)

    Overall, nice start, though I’m curious to see if this would be sci-fi-enough in the long run. And this is labeled prologue – so I’m also curious to see if this is a flashback of sorts, just to cover her death, and then chapter one starts in on whatever is sci-fi side of things really is. It doesn’t feel like sci-fi yet to me, but based on the caliber of writing I would read on. I think you made a good choice labeling it as women’s fiction also, which left me open to the concept, instead of growling because you didn’t give me spaceships or something right away. ;)

    Nice work.

  3. I love love Daphne, and I only have a tiny little piece of her. haha the clarity of a car horn. That's priceless!

    The beginning started a little slow (after the intro in first person) but then it REALLY picked up and caught my attention.

    Again... I am so loving the description of Daphne without ever actually describing her!

  4. I was a little confused at the beginning, though I did like the humor. But as I read on, I finally realized what you were doing.

    I do not mind background as long as it is written well, and you accomplished that.

    I would read on.

  5. I wouldn't read on at this juncture. But, if you edit this and rework the intro (which is confusing with the third-person bit), I think this could be very good. You already have a great voice ("jiggling of my thighs would be causing tsunamis in Southeast Asia") peaking out from around cliches ("gorgeous to behold") and overwriting ("When that call ended, another began...It was never ending.") I see a lot of potential in this.

  6. Great opening, you set up the conflict immediately and hooked me in with the first three graphs.

    But I got bogged down in the middle of the piece with all the Daphne stuff and background description. You had some good lines and description in there, but a lot of it felt like the dreaded info dump. I really think you can cut out or condense some of those middle paragraphs without losing any sense of character or setting. Look to push the plot forward. Give us only what's necessary in that moment, tease us with a few tantalizing bits, then move on to the phone call, or whatever the next bit of inciting action maybe.

  7. I like the voice. I - personal opinion only - dont' like the switch from first person to third person. For me, it's too jarring. Other than that minor inconvenience (for me), I thought it was very well written and I would definitely read a bit more.

    I want to know where Hannah Dean is 'now' reflecting on her death ten years ago. How'd she die? How is she 'alive' right now? Did the volcano explode? Was she buried in ash? You definitely have my curiosity piqued.


  8. The voice of your writing comes through pretty good. The first section however, was very confusing and needs to be reworked. I had to re-read a bit to keep track of who was who. This is not my genre of choice, but the style of the writing seems consistent throughout. Oh, and I would avoid a description of Mt Ranier being right next to Seattle, looming. The mountain itself is quite a ways away, and your description lends the idea that the campus is nestled nearby enough that the mountain rises over both it and the city. From the few times I've been in Seattle, I wouldn't ever have called Mt Ranier "looming". Close maybe, but not that close.

  9. I'm coming in as a reader, not a writer, FWIW.

    Like Eric said, Mt Rainier doesn't loom here; you can only see it on a clear day. (sorry -- I live in the area)

    I enjoyed the humor but couldn't get through the 'info dump'.

    The info about Nathan's career was awkward. That seems like it could be worked in as needed. I get it 'cause I spent 23 years as a Navy wife, but most folks won't care.

    Also didn't make it past the first paragraph of Daphne's description. Maybe consider other ways of imparting the important parts of Daphne's personality other than listing them all at once?

    I'm missing the sense of what makes this tale 'sf'. That's my favorite genre and I don't think I could get past this part without a little more of a teaser....

  10. My comment seems to have gotten eaten. Sorry about that. So, the uber brief version.

    Others are right; while the details are lovely they also take a while to wade through. I get what you're trying to do with all the description, and I appreciate the desire to set up a scene or a persona very clearly, but I feel you're doing so here at the cost of space. You've got an interesting story to tell (and the jiggly thighs bit proves you've got a fun sense of humor--though I'm not sure why a self-proclaimed 'skinny girl' would think about her thigh tremors) but you've only got so much room to make the reader want to know about it. Make Hannah or Daphne or Kendra DO things that exemplify WHO they are. Cut some of that description up and turn it into dialogue, instead of a check list of factors.

    Also, to more 'mechanical' things: Check your tenses. Make sure they don't flop from one to another, future, past, present. And the passive voice, where someone has something done to them or "is" something, see if you can rearrange the description in such a way that the person is doing the action. For instance, "Daphne embodied the idea of 'roomate from Hell." See how Daphne is doing something (she embodying something) vs. just being something.

    So, there you have it. I know criticism is a sucktastic thing to have to deal with, but if it helps at all I used to be one of the WORST offenders on many of these points until some wise 'cruel to be kind' friends of mine whapped me upside the head with a clue-by-four.

    Hope there's something you can use!

  11. You gave us a real character with a lot of depth in Daphne...and all I kept thinking was 'Hannah's the MC...she doesn't like Daphne...will Daphne even be IN the rest of the book?' That's not a question I can answer from this intro and for all I know it turns out she's pivotal. But if not, there's no reason for that much depth on an inconsequential character in this fashion, with her bio being listed out like this.

    I'm very intrigued with the whole 'death' sci-fi (or SyFy as the 'geniuses' at the network decided made for a good re-branding) aspect and would definitely keep reading, if only to learn more about Hannah and less about Daphne.

  12. Your writing style just doesn't work for me. I can see what you're going for, and I just don't think it's executed the way you had hoped.

    Also, from your description, I don't think Stepford was the reference you were looking for.

  13. I read it over to try and make sense of what journey you wanted to give your readers, not sure I got it but here's what I wanted to share about this first 1000 words.

    - It's 10yo history / 5 straight pages of backstory in a prologue which I stopped at because it said Sci-fi (no hint yet) and womens fiction (no hint yet)

    I'd cut it to a skeletal sketch and get into the story asap unless the sci-fi world she's in today needs us to know what these girls were like at school?

    I giggled at her take on the butterfly effect being about one flap of a wing and there's a tsunami - obviously her fiance didn't explain the theory of each action creating a reaction...
    Good luck with it, I'd just suggest you 'world-build' the sci-fi reality and start the main story to situate the reader up front and weave in only essential backstory.

  14. Sorry, but I can't say I was hooked by this. Though I LOVED the line: I always figured if that were true, the jiggling of my thighs would be causing tsunamis in Southeast Asia., everything else here is one giant infodump.

    First off, the switch from first to third person just doesn't work for me. Unless written for a literary audience, sticking to one tense is the norm. Deviations from that feel gimmicky and more like bad writing that done purposefully for some reason, IMHO. Here, it really kinda feels like you didn't know how to write this scene in first person, so you took an easier way out.

    Secondly, the following paragraphs felt like a laundry list of who our cast of characters are, *who* they are as characters, and why we should care about them. Which, unfortunately, I don't.

    Finally, to echo others' comments above, there's so much heavy description in here, parts of me were tempted just to skip over it and look for the core of the story. Which, if happening in a first chapter, would make me put this book back on a shelf in a bookstore.

    I think your story could really begin where Daphne and Hannah start talking to each other. SHOW us their characterizations through dialogue, gestures, the way they respond to stimulus, etc. And perhaps try to work in the first-person narrator as a third-person POV.

  15. I like the premise but I think there are some problems. It was going well until the Daphne description paragraph, which should be about a third the length. I don't get the "desperate boy crawled across asphalt" bit. Honestly, I can't imagine anyone doing that but maybe it's just me.

    In the next paragraph, too long again. The first four sentences could be something like:
    The dorms were so full that year that switching roommates was impossible, and doubles were turned into singles. It's not important that she "could have applied in writing."

    I'm not sure I understand "being pressed together as tight as a Friday night laundry bag." Do you mean the clothes in a packed full bag?

    I'm not sure I understand:
    Despite the distracting presence of Daphne, Hannah insisted that her
    dorm room was her sanctuary and study zone.
    To whom did she insist? It doesn't seem to have worked with Daphne, judging by what follows.

    I like the premise and the humor, but the overwriting and inconsistencies would make me stop reading. A fixed up version wouldn't.

  16. I thought the opening was good but the rest was way way too much backstory exposition. All of that can be taken out and filtered in throughout the story itself.

    Best of luck.

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  18. I almost checked out after the first three paragraphs but I kept going and your story did grab my interest. But that opening feels part cheesy hook, part unncessary set up.

    I'd be much more interested if you started with "She was a skinny, geeky thing..."

    There's a story in here, but it's getting lost in a lot of details you think the reader needs but actually bog down your story. Pare it down. You don't need to tell us everything about Hannah and Daphne, just show us.

  19. I loved the "thigh jingling" sentence, and you had some other nice descriptions. However, there was so much description that it seemed to dilute the scene and slowed it down a little too much for me personally. It was clear early on what the personalities were of the roommates which made some of the additional explanation/description seem redundant.

    Best of luck and thanks for sharing.

  20. There are some potenitally great hooks in this for me as an SF reader. I like the idea of her previous "death" and that makes me wonder what kind of death it is and what the technology is in this future you have created.

    Unfortunately, the story as it is consistes of a long tell rather than a scene with action and drama to lure me into reading on. Instead of telling us all the details about the character and her life, you could show a lot of it to us in a scene, maybe even the scene of her "death" as that seems to be a central issue. Much of the telling could be slipped in in dribs and drabs throughout the early story so that we do not get a large amount at once. You might think of recasting this by starting in the middle of the death scene to make this more of a hook.

    Good luck with this.

  21. What a pleasure to read. Strong writingg about a strong character. I love the voice.

    There were only a couple of things I can criticize. First, this paragraph:

    Even though this story is about me, I can’t look at her death in first person. I lived. I didn’t die that day. So I am evoking third
    person, just for this. Just so I can tolerate the gruesome nature of
    my own murder.

    It pulls us out of the story, pulls the the curtain back on the wizard and shows us this isn't happening, it's being written about. The trick in good writing is going beyond the page and making the reader feel like they're there and experiencing things alongside the protagonist. You lose that when you outline the writing techniques you'll employ. Pick a point of view and stick with it, and start your story.

    Second, your writing had me hooked, but after describing the roommate from hell, I wanted the story to start moving, for something to be at stake. I know she's been murdered, but that was in the prologue, and prologues often aren't read. The other aspect of this is that I don't know that you want to start your story with her murder, then go back in time as that has become cliche.

    You will be challenged to find a start to your story that introduces tension and stakes early. Think of this as a roller coaster. If we don't start with plummet down a slope, at least build the tension of its approach with the clickity-clack of the chain pulling us inexorably up for the plunge.

    Good luck,


  22. Just my opinion, of course, but I think this would work better if told all the way through in first-person, a sort of confessional.

    >>I was nineteen years old that day in October 1999, a skinny, geeky thing with flat mousey hair and granny glasses.

    It might carry the naturalness in the top paragraph through the rest, eliminate the need to use some of the “was” which seems to be the overused word in this sample, and smooth out the flow. There are some phrases in this that seem awkward -- was gorgeous to behold—for example. Would Hanna be writing that in first person? Behold?

    Written the way it is now, the story is about the gorgeous Daphne, not Hanna. In first person, Hanna wouldn’t be as likely to be lost. I am a little bemused by the apparent obsession with Daphne, paragraph after paragraph, her nature, her parents, even her phone conversations, which seem to be the only place this breaks into what might be called a scene. All the rest is narrative about her. Is she the one who kills Hanna? If not, you should cut way back on her.

    Also, I think another critter mentioned that if she’s skinny her thighs wouldn’t jiggle. At all, unless she has a muscle disease. Although that is an amusing line, what with the tsunami and all.

    But what do I know about sorority girls? Nothing.

    Good luck.