Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #22

TITLE: Evenwood

Opener for a SciFi YA story. The location is the "Safe Zone," where people reside after they pledge non-involvement from a centuries old revolutionary war.

The entire house shook from a forceful blast. The bed upended, throwing Jerymy across the room to find himself face-flat on the floor.

What’s going on? That’s not supposed to happen not here. We’re in the Safe Zone!

“Dad!” He reached out to grab the beeping game toy laying near him and clutched his father’s gift tightly to his chest. A blinding burnt-orange glare consumed his room from a second explosion that blew out his bedroom windows. He drew himself into a ball to cover his head against flying glass.


Unworldly sirens wailed in the near distance; remorseful banshees awakened from a long, fitful slumber.

What’s happening? Has someone broken their vow? His father had promised that no one would ever do that. Ever.

That thought brought an icy fear to his heart. He stared at the forbidden toy in his hand his father brought from the mainworlds. Could it be because of his father?  Did this mean the end to everything his family believed in because of a toy? He scrambled to his feet and raced toward the bedroom door. “Dad!”


Jerymy’s head jerked to one side as if someone had banged him with a hot iron skillet and his small world went dark.


  1. I like the mystery you set up. What rules are broken? Why is it the dad's fault?

    But I'm not sure if this is a great opener. Starting with an explosion before we get to know the characters can put of the reader. You want explosions once the reader knows the characters and cares about them!

    Could something more subtle happen that alludes to someone breaking the rules? Perhaps an argument, or someone is arrested and the MC sees it happen? Or people start getting ill?

    Just some thoughts FWIW.

    Sounds interesting. Good luck! :)

  2. Cool concept for a story!

    So this is the opening scene? I'm afraid I don't know Jerymy well enough to really worry for him right now -- though I'd like to. In fact, I feel very distanced from him, though I should feel like I'm in his skin, experiencing this explosion as he does.

    To get the reader deeper into his point of view, I'd suggest adding tactile sensations, sounds, odors, etc. Instead of saying his head jerked to the side, show us what forces his head aside? A hot burst of air?

    The other thing I'm concerned about is that I don't know the rules yet. The first thing I know about this world is that an explosion happens, even though you tell me that this is unusual. Try setting up the world, characters, the rules, and how everything usually is -- and then wreck everything. That way the reader gets the emotional impact you want this to have.

  3. I think you have some great stuff here, good descriptions, good mystery set up. The 'beeping game toy' seemed odd to me, though. Is there a more succinct way to put that? Is that really what he'd call it? (I know I'm being picky. And speaking of picky. . .) The spelling of his name is too weird for me. It seems like it's trying to hard to make sure we know this is not contemporary. But that might just be me. :)
    Overall, well done! I'd want to read more.

  4. "second explosion that blew out his bedroom windows" - now that's a scary thought! a few more sensory details could really put some fright into me; what does it smell like? smoke? chlorine? sulphur? gasoline? Does the floor jump a notch? Is their a baking heat, like opening an oven? Do all the pictures of Jerymy's family/girlfriend shatter portentously?

    The voice of the narrator is struggling a bit, just not feeling natural in every paragraph, but that's okay--each one is different and takes some exploration to dig out.

    I'd read on to see what caused the explosion and what will happen next. But I'd certainly like a few more, well chosen details of Jerymy's world to help make it real(ish) for me.

  5. I'm not sure if this is the best place to open the novel. I'd rather see a little of their "normal" life, Dad kissing him goodnight, him playing with his forbidden game. A little set up of the world beforehand would allow you to cut those things from this scene and give it more impact, plus the reader would be attached to the character already.

    Also, I'm not sure about the voice. The thoughts seem very collected and complete for a young adult in an explosion.

    Lastly, it's just a pet peeve of mine, but names that are spelled funky draw me out of a narrative because I spend too much time trying to figure out if this is just a play on Jeremy or if it's really pronounced another way.

    Good luck with this ms!

  6. I could really see the action going on here - but I couldn't really *feel* it, if that makes sense. It's very visual. Adding other senses (smell, for instance, or touch) would help round it out and really draw the reader in more deeply.

    I know this it nitpicky, but the way the MC's name is spelled kicks me out of the story. Every time I read the name it made me stumble and I had to figure out how to pronounce it in my mind.

    "remorseful banshees awakened from a long, fitful slumber." -- I like this line. It kind of draws an analogy to a war starting up again after an uneasy peace. It's a good way to work in backstory without saying anything outright.

    "beeping game toy" sounded odd to me. Like, it made me think of some little toddler's toy with blinking lights and sounds. "game toy" is so generic, I don't really know what to visualize.

    The last line I thought was great. Like I said, really visual. This is an intense scene to start out with. I would suggest backing up a bit, maybe thirty seconds to five minutes before the explosion, to let the reader get into the story instead of upending them right away. Lull us into a false sense of security and then pull the trigger. Your explosion will have more impact that way.

  7. The opening line here lacked any sort of impact (considering you've chosen to start with an explosion). "Shook from a forceful blast" is just so ... lack lustre.

    I liked the line "remorseful banshees awakened from a fitful slumber" but I did wonder why the sirens were "Unworldly"

    I'd also be careful of using internal dialogue (particularly when we don't know the character yet). Is this really what he would be thinking or is this the author telling?

    I think you should slow down and take your time to set the scene. It's like you're trying to cram all the world building onto the first page. If you build up and make me care for Jerymy a little then I might be more worried about his predicament.

  8. It looks like this is the opening of a novel, but I haven't had time to get to know Jerymy -- which means I don't have as much sympathy for his situation. It's a good scene, just maybe isn't the best scene to open with.

    As for how you've written the explosion, there are a few points I think you could improve on.

    1) Sentence length. In a scene of action and confusion, short or choppy sentences can up the pace when used well. However, as you use this as the opening scene, your sentences tend to be longer (not LONG, just long for an action scene) in order to fit in information -- like that the toy is a gift from his father and toys aren't allowed. Which brings me to my second point

    2) Too much info. An explosion is plenty to be wrapping my head around without all this extra information about the setting -- which is another reason I think an explosion isn't necessarily the best place to start.

    3) Engage the senses. The blowing out of the bedroom windows could be terrifying, but you just tell me it's happening. Where's the sound of shattering glass? Where's the feeling of shards cutting the skin?

    4) Use emotion. The only emotion you use is fear, in this line:

    'That thought brought an icy fear to his heart.'

    Which is telling the reader what the emotion is rather than describing its effect (trembling, heart-rate, dry mouth... whatever). I think this is largely because you're still trying to tell so much about the setting. Jeremy is constantly thinking questions about what's going on in order to reveal the setting, instead of experiencing what's happening right now. In a way, this is just more telling rather than showing.

    I think this is good, and this is only a small excerpt of your writing, and beginnings are the WORST. I know I struggle to find the right place to start. A lot of the issues I have would be much less if I didn't suspect this comes right at the start of your novel. But at any rate, I hope you find this useful.

  9. I adore this idea, though unless this is starting well before the main story, the character sounds way too young for a YA book. I'm guessing he gets older pretty soon.

    There are a lot of prose problems in this, though.

    "The entire house shook from a forceful blast. The bed upended, throwing Jerymy across the room to find himself face-flat on the floor."

    Are there non-forceful blasts?

    Look at the construction of the second sentence. Pull out some of the modifiers and you can see you've said "throwing Jeremy to find himself." That's an entertaining idea, but probably not what you were going for.

    "What’s going on? That’s not supposed to happen not here. We’re in the Safe Zone!"

    I know it's an opening and you feel like the reader needs this information but it sounds incredibly stilted. No one's saying that in their head when they've just been thrown across the room. More like a groggy "WTF?"

    "“Dad!” He reached out to grab the beeping game toy laying near him and clutched his father’s gift tightly to his chest. A blinding burnt-orange glare consumed his room from a second explosion that blew out his bedroom windows. He drew himself into a ball to cover his head against flying glass."

    "Game toy" is redundant. "clutched his father's gift"... maybe I read too much adult lit, but I thought that meant something else ENTIRELY.

    You've also said "[something] consumed his room from a second explosion" I'm not even sure exactly what I could make that mean. "Consumed his room from." What could that mean? The point is, after sitting here thinking about it, I still have no idea.

    You've said a glare consumed. I'm a fan of unique ways of describing things, but that one doesn't work. A glare is too specific a description of how light might be perceived visually. Once it starts gobbling things up I'm gone.

    "to cover his head against flying glass"

    That's odd too. It could easily be read that he's covering his head AGAINST, as in he's laying against it to use that as cover. You definitely want to rework that sentence. It doesn't say what you think it says.

    "near distance"

    Where is the near distance?

    "What’s happening? Has someone broken their vow?"

    I'm REALLY picky about internal monologue. We rarely think in complete sentences. Sure, sometimes. But when something's exploding? The internal monologue is more like "ALISUOINFSLI HDREWOBFOIWL DFOFJNBALIWRH GAAHHHHHHH!!!"

    "his small world went dark.

    I totally love that.

    Your biggest trouble is the way you're putting your sentences together. They're confusing and sometimes mean nothing or mean something you didn't intend.

    Have fun with the edits! ;)

  10. This sounds like an interesting concept, and I want to know more about the Safe Zone and it's rules, in particular, how possession of a toy could be cause for a bombing.

    You've already gotten a lot of good advice here about how to add life to this scene. I won't repeat what others have said, but let me point out one more thing about the sentence construction: in both explosions, you're using passive language. "The house shook from a forceful blast." "Glare consumed his room from a second explosion." Flip these around so the cause precedes the effect: A blast shook the house. A second explosion blew out his bedroom windows and a blinding bright-orange glare consumed the room. As said above, try to involve the other senses here, too, but just changing these to active voice will add energy to the scene.

  11. "to find himself" doesn't quite work for me. I get the image, but I think the sentence may need to be reworded for clarity.

    I'd cut "That’s not supposed to happen not here. We’re in the Safe Zone!" because it's telling us something we should be able to figure out as we read. Show his confusion, how he acts, what does he think happened? Does he think they were targetted? If they're in a safe zone, does he think an accidental explosion take place?

    I'd cut the first 'Dad' (I wasn't sure whether he was calling out in grief or fear), and show his reaction first... then show his dialogue, and why he's calling for his dad.

    I like the line "Unworldly sirens wailed in the near distance; remorseful banshees awakened from a long, fitful slumber." However, I'm wondering if this fits for something that Jerymy would think, since he is thus far acting a lot younger.

    Now I like the "What's happening? Has sonmeone broken their vow?" line. It fits better here, I think, because he's had a chance to actually consider what's going on... and it slowly immerses us into the world.

    I like his curiosity if the problem is the toy.

    I like the use of a hot iron skillet as a descriptor, but I think rewording might be useful to clarify and make less clunky.

    Good luck with it. :-)