Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #15

TITLE: The Skylark's Song
GENRE: YA Steampunk Action/Adventure

Robin is a steampunk vigilante named The Skylark. She is attempting her first bit of terrorist espionage in an enemy ammunitions factory. When she is caught, she creates an explosion to cover her escape. WINGS is her rocket pack – Weaponized Individual NaviGation System.


Robin slammed her hand down on the ignition and shot into the air. She ducked around the catwalk and burst out of the roof hatch just as the first warning rumble echoed through the factory. It was followed seconds later by a resounding boom that shook the sky, and Robin.

She tumbled through the air, swung around for counterbalance, and managed to find her equilibrium in time to pull up and keep from smashing into the ledge of somebody's roof. What she didn't manage to avoid was their laundry line.

WINGS caught on the thick cord and Robin whipped around. She swiped at the control box, cutting thrust, and came to rest a foot off the roof.

The ragged hem of the end of her braid tickled her nose. The rest was trapped in the line, tugging painfully at her scalp, cords coiled around her knees and elbows. She felt, all told, utterly ridiculous.

She tried wriggling, but it only seemed to make the tangle squeeze tighter, pinning her arms to her sides at the elbows. In the distance, the factory was belching great fireballs into the air, lighting up the night like a holiday celebration and spewing great clouds of black smoke and ash. Robin hoped all the men had gotten out. Her worry was muted by a surge of fierce joy a second later.

I did it!

Her first mission was, all told, a complete and perfect success. Except for the part where she was stuck upside down like a pheasant in a snare.

10 comments:

  1. Steampunk Ironman. I'm intrigued.

    I really liked some of your descriptions like "The ragged hem of the end of her braid tickled her nose." It paints a vivid picture.

    You've got a ton of action, and it all happens very quickly. I started to get a little lost at points.

    "She tumbled through the air, swung around for counterbalance, and managed to find her equilibrium in time to pull up and keep from smashing into the ledge of somebody's roof."

    There's so much going on in just that one sentence. I would suggest breaking it into several short sentences.

    We don't really get a sense of Robin's emotions or what's going on in her head until the very end of the scene. Maybe pepper that in a little throughout.

    I hope we saw her weigh the potential harm to the "all the men" before she pressed the button.

    Overall, I thought this was a very strong scene. The explosion works, although what we see here is more the after affects than a buildup.

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  2. I love this concept! A few thoughts on pacing:

    P1. First sentences carry me along, but the passive voice in the last sentence slowed everything down. You could trim "it was followed second later by," cut straight to the boom (readers will figure out where the boom came from). You also might lose "and Robin." It reads as an afterthought rather than understatement. The next grafs show what happens to her clearly enough.

    P2, P5. I'd also lose "managed to" and "seemed to" and other similar equivocal language. Just jump right in. She *does* find her equilibrium, she *is* tangled up.

    P2. The last sentence is supposed to throw in some humor via the contrast between the successfully executed explosion and the ludicrous situation of being stuck in a clothes line, right? I'd trim this whole graf. E.g. (just a suggestion, obviously). It would also be helpful for what follows to know what part of her body was tangled up in the line (I couldn't picture it):

    She tumbled through the air, swung around for counterbalance, and found her equilibrium right as she barreled toward a rooftop ledge. What she didn't manage to avoid was a laundry line.

    P3. Do you mean "cut and thrust"?

    P3. "rest a foot" -- do you mean the length of her foot, 12 inches, or that one of her feet is hanging off the roof?

    Hope this helps!

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  3. "It was followed seconds later by a resounding boom that shook the sky, and Robin."

    I think you could cut the passive voice by saying something like: "Seconds later, a resounding book shook the sky, and Robin"

    I'd consider cutting "What she didn't manage to avoid was their laundry line." It's humerous, so if that's what you're going for, keep it, but my personal preference is to see what's happening as it happens.

    Maybe have the previous sentence, then have a phyiscal reaction of some sort. She jerks to a halt-- gasps, something that suggests what happens without directly saying, then go on to WINGS being caught on the laundry line. Something to play with.

    I like the image of the braid trapped in the line.

    Rather than saying seemed, cut straight to "She tried wriggling, but the tangle squeezed tighter..." It cuts word count, attributes the action of squeezing to the tangle, and reads faster.

    Try "the factory belched" without "was". I've found when writing, especially action scenes that removing "was" "has been" "seemed" "looked" and the like can make a scene read much snappier and smoother.

    Maybe cut "a second later" after surge of joy. For me, having the thought on the next line acts like that extra second without having to say it.

    I like the last line.

    For me, I definitely enjoyed it, and would likely have enjoyed it more if I'd seen more of the character from the earlier story. I liked the humorous sense the excerpt has.

    With a little bit of work to clean up some of the passive statements, I imagine this could be a very enjoyable read. :-)

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  4. "What she didn't manage to avoid was their laundry line." -- tee hee! great stuff, also a surprising... twist.

    The pacing is a bit swift, but that seems appropriate for someone zipping around in a jet pack (or WINGS).

    What's critical to keep in mind for the action sequences, though, is we actually need more detail to keep up. The real chore is painstakingly compacting it into the perfect details that create the overall sense of things without slowing the pace.

    So I would disagree with the votes to reduce the pace for clarity and vote instead that the narrator work more for that active, engaging voice, and more carefully chose which blanks to let us fill in.

    For instance, if instead of being told she's tumbling down and flipping over out of control, I'm told the wind is roaring in her ears and the rooftop is growing exponentially as it spirals up toward her, I can easily fill in the gaps and also get some solid grounding details that will put me right there in the sky, all while the fast pace is maintained.

    I'd certainly read more just to see how she gets rescued from her apparel crisis.

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  5. I actually really loved this. I would definitely read more. I know that's not good by way of critique, but I found this very well written.

    My only comments would be that I think you could lose the italics on ridiculous. There's no real need for emphasis on that word. It doesn't change the meaning of the sentence. Unless it's in dialogue and used to show how a character is speaking, I'm not a fan of italics. Also, I think you could cut the "was" in the second line of the fifth paragraph. "...the factory belched great fireballs into the air," reads a little smoother.

    Good luck with your ms!

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  6. I love the humor in this. I totally want to read this.

    Nitpicks:

    1) "boom that shook the sky, and Robin." My brain read the clause after the comma as a sentence fragment. I think you could drop the comma and/or add "shook both the sky and Robin" for clarity.

    2) "and came to rest a foot off the roof." I'm confused by what this means. Is she hanging in the air a foot away from the roof? Beneath it?

    3) "Her worry was muted by a surge of fierce joy a second later." I thought something else had happened to mute her worry. It took me a couple of reads to see that she had simply made a realization. This could probably be clarified (assuming you agree, of course :-).

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  7. This is great overall. I'd love to read it.

    There's a lot going on here and it all happens so fast that the reader could easily get lost or disoriented. When you have action scenes like this, things are already moving so fast, try to stretch things out a little - it will help the reader slow down and focus. (Really, it won't slow the pace down, because it's already so fast!) Break up your sentences a bit if you can. Honestly, during action sequences, my eyes are moving so fast over the words that the breaks help keep me from rushing ahead and missing things.

    At the end I wasn't totally sure that an explosion had actually happened, mostly because of this line: "the factory was belching great fireballs into the air, lighting up the night like a holiday celebration and spewing great clouds of black smoke and ash." Because I think of a factory, especially in a steampunk, to already be spewing ash and smoke into the air, could you try adding a couple details that make it clear that there was destruction as well as fire and smoke? The "fireballs in the sky" bit was good, but I'm not sure relating it to a celebration gets the point across that this is like a majorly bad thing.

    I like that she worried for the men who were in the factory, that she has a conscience.

    Anyway, I think you character sounds fascinating - I'd just like to see more destruction ;)

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  8. Ooh, I liked this, and the lead-up description was helpful (and intriguing). My comments have pretty much been stated already: changing the passive line: "What she didn't manage to avoid was their laundry line." and show this instead, which already happens in the next lines. If it's all shown, then maybe the character can say something either outloud to themselves or as dialogue--foiled by laundry! or something that keeps some humor consistent with the character.

    I agree to add in at least a couple character reactions to what's happening, maybe some physical sensations and feelings using the senses. What does Robin hear, what's going on in her insides?

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  9. This is quirky and fun. Love her braids and being in the air with her. How does she get so far from the factory so quickly though? It seems like it would take her more time to fly all the way to a bunch of houses. That threw me a bit. This phrase seemed too long: "the ragged hem of the end of her braid." Can a braid have a hem? Maybe just say the ragged end of her braid. I'd also cut "all told" in both places. It is maybe part of her personality to use a phrase like that but I think the description is stronger without it. Watch out for using "great" twice as well. Really like the tone and humor here! Seems like a fun story! Good luck.

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