Tuesday, April 28, 2009

#13 1000 Words

TITLE: Between the Shadows
GENRE: Science Fiction

Two trains and fifteen minutes ago, Daniel Evans’ life was perfect.

The locomotive was in motion before Daniel had a chance to think. His footsteps, fast and uncompromising, led him instinctively to the back of the car. Three men stood caught in conversation, oblivion to the world around them. They were dressed in similar black suits, like dirty carbon copies of himself. Praefects. His disheveled suit was a mockery of their position.
As he pushed past the men, one of them pivoted to the side, running smack into Daniel’s shoulder. The man, unsteady on his feet, fell over and into a pole reserved for those who opted to stand. A yell followed after Daniel as he pried the door open to pass between cars.

Don’t look back, he told himself. Never look back.

The Wretched were after him now.

All he had left were exaggerated stories and water cooler discussion to guide him through the underworld of the city. He didn’t put much faith in any of them.

The air in between howled around him, calling for him or anyone foolish enough to venture out too long. A sharp gust of wind pulled at his jacket, claiming only his loose tie. It fluttered in the air for a moment before being ripped to the side and away. A flash of flesh twisted his face to the side.


He pulled his coat tighter, grasping no comfort from its tight fabric. He searched the mixed darkness and artificial light. When nothing revealed itself, he entered the next cabin. A light at the back flickered slightly. Shadows played on each person’s face, obscuring their features and transforming them into something else.

Something less than human.

He shivered.

The intercom above crackled to life, freezing Daniel in place. “Next stop . . .”


Daniel’s eyes locked on the singular exit. He prepared to bolt.

“Central Square,” the announcer stated in a calm and soothing voice. A click signaled the end of the announcement. Daniel breathed a sigh of relief.

As the train ground to a halt and the doors started to open, his breath caught in his chest. In those fleeting moments, the doors seemed unwilling to budge for any man. Finally, they broke free of what had held them.

Before they opened completely, Daniel squeezed through the narrow gap. Daniel wrestled himself free as the doors slid shut behind him. He let out a pent up breath and the silence around him was comforting. He looked around in sudden confusion. Something was wrong. There was no one here. Daniel turned back to the train and watched it disappear into the darkness.

The lights above the platform shut off.

In an instant, the knot in his stomach tightened into an unbearable grip. His joints seized and a cry escaped his lips. The pain was gone as quickly as it had come, but a dull ache replaced it moments later.

Daniel sprinted toward the exit.

The Wretched crept onto the platform. The clicking of their claws echoed off the stone walls, mixing with their wet breaths, twisting into an eerie harmony. They anticipated the brief chase . . . anticipated the takedown. The exhalations came out in gurgles, as if they were drowning in their own fluids.


Another light went off.

Darkness nipped at his heels, toying with him, as it brought the Wretched that much closer. His panicked breathing filled his ears. The world became infinitely smaller in those moments, focusing on the damned as they came closed to one another.



The hunt was on.

Running on instinct alone, Daniel dodged right toward the thin sliver of light. The breathing of the approaching Wretched intensified to the point of near hyperventilation. An overzealous Wretch landed just short of its mark. It skidded in a shower of sparks as its claws dug into the concrete below. A growl erupted from the darkness behind him, something unearthly and ancient.

Daniel didn’t look back.

The open doorway seemed to widen as he neared it. He pushed his aching muscles harder. They screamed in protest but followed his commands. A burst of adrenaline propelled him out of the station into the humid night air.

A fresh breeze lit his skin afire. Bathed in light of a fluorescent bulb, Daniel breathed a sigh of relief. A dull ache filled his joints as he bent over and tried to catch his breath.

Blue light washed over the street, the marquee of time circled each of the grey buildings. Daniel tensed once more. He had to find somewhere to hide out.

A low buzz filled the air as the bulb above brightened. Daniel turned to look at the light, a growing sense of dread filling his bones.


A hand shot out of the darkness of the station, pulling him back in.

Daniel slammed into the pavement. A thud filled the humid air. Pain shot through Daniel’s chest as the air ejected from his lungs. His face ached, blood flowed into his mouth.

He spat without much force, the mixture of blood and saliva landing right in front of him, and then regretted it a moment later. Without hesitation, his face smashed into the ground once more.

“Oh god . . .” Daniel managed to moan as the Wretched swarmed around him. Looking toward the last source of light, Daniel saw the single beam falter as the door slid shut.

They’re always watching, Daniel thought as the hunters smothered him with their hot and sinewy bodies.

Screams filled the air in the next moment.

“Twenty-three minutes and two seconds,” a man noted. A metallic snap followed. “Impressive run, Evans. Too bad it ended a bit quickly. I was starting to have fun.”

His voice was lost amongst the screams.


  1. IMO, this is just too wordy and I found my eyes glazing over less than halfway through. The first line is great, the rest...not so much. You're telling way too much of this story and I'm not feeling 'involved'. Then it ends with it being an exercise/experiment in something which is equivalent to being a dream.
    When you rewrite it, I'd suggest either showing it from the pov of the person watching or from Daniel without ending with the person watching.

    Just my opinion. =)

  2. Hi,

    This excerpt has some intriguing elements. I like the idea of the Wretched and I wanted to know what Praefects were. A chase is always good, and you did manage to make me feel sorry for Daniel.

    However, this excerpt suffers from a great deal of overwriting and plot inconsistences. For one, why two trains and fifteen minutes? I mean, it's a good line--but I'd leave out the two trains. Frankly, you want the reader to feel his life just went askew--that's not going to fit with the timeline of catching not one, but two trains, and then adding another fifteen minutes.

    Lines like him pushing past and then having a man pivot and smack into him and then into a pole--you just spend to much time describing actions. Take when Daniel feels fear--it's takes a paragraph to describe all that he feels. If he's that sick, how does he run right after?

    In fact, there's a lot that needs to be explained here. Like why Daniel knows about the Wretched, yet doesn't know he's part of an experiment (but since he's dead we'll never find out). Why he seemed to be searching the train for something, only for me to realise he's running away from something. Why you say the platform lights went out--but then immediately say another light goes out, and after that, say Daniel's in darkness--but then he heads toward the light.

    And most of all, where did this 'man' at the end standing over the Wretched come from? And how does he dare get that close?

    There are some descriptions that are just plain bad in here like 'hot sinewy' bodies, which make the Wretched sound like male models at an orgy, or saying a fresh breeze lit his skin afire (So now he's naked AND burning? Poor guy! ::grin::). But I think it's where you contradict yourself that I got most confused. Like when you have him, in an obvious pause, spitting blood, only to have you say 'without hesitation' his face is smashed into the ground.

    Overall, you have good elements here, and I have never met a chase scene that couldn't work. But between the overwriting, plot inconsistences, contradictions and bad (or non-existent) descriptions, it was very hard to follow this. A thorough edit with an eye to that would help. And my bit of advice would be that if you're trying to build a suspenseful or tense atmosphere, drowning the reader in bodily reactions and long descriptions of nothing in particular does not help. A short focused line about a specific tense element will do more than a paragraph about how afraid Daniel is.

    Hope that helps, and I'm sorry to be a bit harsh, but please remember, it's just an opinion and worth what you paid for it ::grin::

  3. This takes a little too long to develop. Its very interesting once the Wretched show up, so try and get to that sooner.

    Some of those first sentences were hard to follow. I had the idea you were trying to give me quick images and sensations but, "a flash of flesh twisted his face", I'm just not sure what that means. I think it means, he caught a glimpse of skin and turned to look at it, but I shouldn't have to be thinking so hard.

  4. I loved the first sentence. Absolutely fantastic. The rest . . . too wordy and somewhat confusing.

  5. I really, really wanted to find out what was happening, but I have to agree that there were too many words. I think the scene would need to be stripped pretty bare to keep the energy moving through this scene.

    Perhaps try reading it out loud to yourself? Sometimes that shows you the tricky spots.

    I think it could be a really good, exciting story if it was tightened up.

  6. I think this has potential, but the overwriting is killing the tension we should be feeling.

    The first line is great, but by the next paragraph I was losing interest and getting confused.

    Shorter sentences will increase the pace/tension. Also, consider how important each detail is before including it at the beginning of your story - do we really need such a long description of the Praefects? If this can't be cut, maybe at least move it until after the mention of the Wretched, which is much more interesting.

    Some of the other commenters already mentioned some of the things that stuck out at me - the inconsistency with the lights and the 'flesh twisting' sentence.

    But there are several other places where I think you are trying too hard to describe what is going on.

    For instance: In those fleeting moments, the doors seemed unwilling to budge for any man. Finally, they broke free of what had held them.-->Is someone/thing actually holding the doors closed, or are you just trying to describe his fear that the doors won't open in time? If it's the latter, then try to find a shorter/clearer way to show this.

    Your last line confused me - who was screaming - Daniel, the Wretched, someone else?

  7. Three men stood caught in conversation, oblivion to the world around them.

    I think you mean oblivious...

    I caught myself scanning this halfway through, which tells me it was a little too wordy for me. Honestly it's good, and I am intrigued, but I would like to see maybe shorter paragraphs. The break up will help your reader read through it better. :)

    It's a fun story though! And the screaming is interesting!

  8. This reminds me strongly of the literary fantasy/ sci-fi I've got sitting on my shelves at the moment.

    I like that it's a little wordy (let's say verbose) and very firmly paints a picture. While there are bits that could be simplified I think that if you cut or simplified everything it would lose its very distinct feel/flavor. It's definitely got style.

    This isn't for everyone, true, and still could use a final polish but I like it.

  9. I think you build the tension fairly well, but as I read through I got hung up repeatedly. First, a nit "oblivion" to "oblivious." "His disheveled suit was a mockery of their position." Not sure what that means. "...like dirty carbon copies of himself." made me think he was better dressed; I'm confused by this.

    I would eliminate the paragraph "The air inbetween..."

    The paragraph that starts "Before they opened completely..." "Daniel" twice in a row, Daniel squeezed, Daniel wrestled, He let, He looked, Daniel turned...
    This all needs to be rewritten.

    It seems two sentences are used a lot when one makes the point. I think that would drastically improve this. Also, eliminate cliches, such as "nipped at his heels, toying with him."

    Finally, I'm a little confused over what's going on. I think this could go somewhere with work.

  10. Hmmm. I agree with many of the comments above about the first sentence. That's a keeper. Unfortunately, I also agree the prose quickly falls into a laundry-list of 'should haves', as if you're trying to make sure there's enough backstory/character info to get everyone's attention, like you're trying to cover all your bases. The problem with that is spreading the coverage too thin and lessening its quality. Find the point you really want to make and refine, refine, refine.

  11. You start with action - good. And there are questions that come into the readers mind as they read - good. There is detailed description - good.

    Now some of the bad. The other commenters are right in that the wordiness interrupts the sense of urgency and flow.

    You have built a scenario, but not a world. We get too much description of things that aren't important, and not enough for the essential elements that show us where we are and what's going on.
    I want to know what he's running from. What do the Wretched look like (scare me).

    Three men stood caught in conversation, oblivion to the world around them. I think you want "oblivious". Oblivion is a noun.

    We get a lot of breathing, too much. Print a copy and highlight any word beginning with "b-r-e-a-t-h".

    What is "the marquee of time"? You lost me there. And what are all the "clicks". Are they important? If so you need to do a better job of cluing us in to why they are.

    “Twenty-three minutes and two seconds,” a man noted. A metallic snap followed. “Impressive run, Evans. Too bad it ended a bit quickly. I was starting to have fun.” -who is "a man"? Is he important to the story or backlot extra? If he's important and shows up later, give me more than "a man". And what is the "metallic snap" and why is it important?

    I think you may have the start of something good. It just needs tightening.

    Good luck, and I hope we get to see the next version.

  12. Okay, let me be clear that I’ve not read the other comments. I treat these crits as learning projects to improve my reading and crit technique. If you get 30 crits, I’d put this as a newbie on the bottom! Thank you for sharing.

    Greats: Love the first line. You’ve built great tension in these pages. I feel breathless moving with your character through his paces. These are great features!

    Scene concerns: I’m on this incredible ride, which I really don’t understand. I’m feeling like I’m Nimo (or whatever the character is) in Matrix but I’m just a human and I’m lost and confused. Then it appears I’m killed? If that your intention in these pages, if so it works. As a reader’s contract? I’m as lost 1000 words in as I was at the beginning.

    Nit-picking: 2nd paragraph, If he’s caught unprepared as the train starts, wouldn’t he bobble a bit rather than moving fast and uncompromising? oblivion to oblivious; love dirty carbon copies, but I’d cut the like; again love the image-but the working is bothering me on the suits. First they are dirty carbon copies, but his is a mockery (I assume because it is disheveled while theirs are not, right?) So I have image of dirty and disheveled and had trouble getting his as a mockery in comparison. Easy fix. And I really like the image.

    6th paragraph, “A flash of flesh twisted his face to the side.” Huh? Lost me.

    Further on: “the silence around him was comforting” is a tiny break in the tension you’ve built all along, but then he’s immediately back in the tension. As a reader the quote section is mis-leading and stops the action.

    Confusion: “A fresh breeze lit his skin afire.” Why? It’s hot humid air in the paragraph previous then moves on to sigh of relief and needing to catch his breath. So that leaves this section in questions?

    Again a breathless ride, even if I am a bit confused. Thank you for sharing!

  13. I'm not going to restate what others have said. Instead I'll give you some general feelings. The first line is compelling, but weird phrasing. From there, the story goes from one confusing description to another. Now if you're trying to create an environment of chaotic thought, you've done that. The problem is I really don't know what parts I SHOULD know about and what parts are momentary. There is definitely a frantic pace to the action, and it does draw me in. The concepts you're throwing out there of dangers in the darkness, the Wretched, the Praefects - all of these are good, but they're too "hands off" for me to get a good feel for things. Its almost too chaotic. I don't think you should toss this. With some careful re-writing, this can be a good beginning.

  14. I didn't read any comments, so I wouldn't be influenced.

    The opening is good, and there's some good tension throughout, although it did get a bit confusing at times. If you're echoing the MC's confusion, that's fine, but there's a thin line between achieving that and having a confused reader. I think you're dangerously close to crossing that line.

    Some of your descriptions are too wordy, which adds to the confusion.

    Just two sentences as an example: An overzealous Wretch landed just short of its mark. It skidded in a shower of sparks as its claws dug into the concrete below. Why overzealous, and what is it's mark (I assume Daniel). And if Daniel is running away, how would he see these sparks if the Wretch landed short of him?
    These questions are like speedbumps that keeps me from reading the story in one flow.

    But what bothers me the most is that at the ending, it seems that it was some sort of training/simulation, not real. If that's the case, it is just as big a turn-of like having a story start with a dream.

    Of course, just my opinion. Use what you want, discard the rest.

  15. A promise at the start, then a jumble of description and peculiar action. I'm not sure if this is intended at punk, with a lot of eyeball kicks, but if so, the overwriting deflated the purpose.

    And Daniel, Daniel, Daniel--did you know you could write this whole thing without naming the guy at all? Better than repetition of his name, and really, closer to the character.

    And the doors wouldn't open for any man? Maybe he could ask a woman to open one?

    There is a story here, no doubt, but if Daniel is the MC, and you
    kill him off, what's next? Retrospective?

  16. I agree with a lot of the comments above so there's no point in rehashing all of them here. I loved the first sentence and you absolutely had me on your side from the start, but as I read I got more and more frustrated. And, honestly, disappointed. I think you've got a great premise here and I desperately wanted to like it. In no way do I think the opening is beyond repair. I just think it needs some tightening and clarity.

    I would have liked more of a transition from the first sentence to the second. It just felt jarring. I was honestly thrown a bit at first, trying to figure out where the locomotive came from, what Daniel needed to think about, etc. I appreciate that you started in the middle of the action, as it were, but I could have used something to ground us a bit more in what was going on before Daniel's walk to the back of the train.

    This was mentioned before but I will mention it again. The whole part with the Praefects was confusing to me. They were like dirty carbon copies of him (I like that), but yet his disheveled suit (if he's wearing the disheveled suit, why are they the dirty ones?) makes a mockery of their position (what position?).

    I was confused again with "The air in between howled around him". After a moment I remembered that three paragraphs prior, Daniel had opened the door at the back of the car, and I realized that you meant "the air in between the cars", but it took me quickly looking backward to get my bearings again.

    This was a recurrent theme in this opening. I was constantly having to get my bearings, rather than being led effortlessly through the story by the author. As a reader, that's kind of tiring. I don't want to work this hard to understand what's going on. While I might give you a pass because I'm interested in the overall scenario, it won't last long and I'm already worrying about the quality of the storytelling in the rest of the novel.

    All he had left were exaggerated stories and water cooler discussion to guide him through the underworld of the city. He didn’t put much faith in any of them.This was interesting, but once he started trying to run for the door to get out of the train station, it's pretty much rendered moot. It doesn't appear that he's navigating the underworld of the city, just trying to get to street level. So I wonder if this paragraph is even necessary.

    Like others, I was initially confused by the apparent "lights going off" three times that happens once Daniel's on the platform. I get what you're trying to describe, but I would suggest rewording the initial clicking off of lights to make it clearer that he's not plunged into darkness immediately. As it stands it's redundant and a bit excessive. :)

    Running on instinct alone, Daniel dodged right toward the thin sliver of light.When I read this I thought "what thin sliver of light?" As I kept reading it became clear that he could see the exit to the outside, but this came out of nowhere. Since he's in the darkness (three times over), the sudden mention of more light is confusing.

    Blue light washed over the street, the marquee of time circled each of the grey buildings.I was completely thrown off by "the marquee of time". It's entirely possibly this is a world-building detail that I just don't know about yet, and perhaps if I weren't already so confused from everything preceding this, it wouldn't matter. But as it stands, this was just one more detail that pulled me out of the story and made me say "huh?" At this point I'm just feeling tired.

    He spat without much force, the mixture of blood and saliva landing right in front of him, and then regretted it a moment later. Without hesitation, his face smashed into the ground once more.Why did he regret it? Did the spitting cause the face-smashing a moment later? Unclear.

    And finally, I of course have no idea what this story is really about or what your intentions are after this opening. Personally, I was disappointed in the last three paragraphs. Not only did I just head-hop into some anonymous "man" while the POV character is killed (presumably), but a creepy and sinister scene is neutralized somewhat by the reveal that it was all some sort of training exercise. Now it may be that the fact that this was an exercise is vital to the story. Even if it is, I'd almost recommend revealing that it's an exercise later. This is much more powerful as a standalone scene of horror. If we were to go to the next chapter and "the man" was talking about the training exercise in which poor Daniel was murdered, I wouldn't be nearly as disappointed as I was with it presented this way. This ending seems to trivialize everything we just went through with Daniel.

    My two cents.