Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #23

TITLE: Ari's Traveling Rat Spa
GENRE: YA Fiction

Seventeen-year-old Ari has just painstakingly set up a room and all her research to prepare for an important meeting which may decide whether or not she can resume operating her traveling rat spa. She’s in her van, waiting for the meeting to start, at the beginning of this scene.

There’s a loud BOOM and my van rocks sideways. I grip the steering wheel, worried about an earthquake, although those are uncommon in the Central Valley. But after the initial boom and rocking, the world is still again. A fire alarm blares, quickly followed by sirens from the nearby fire department.

What happened? Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

I clamber from the van, hugging the folder to my chest. After wading through a mass of onlookers, I reach the front steps of Town Hall, where many of the workers have gathered.

Frankie is standing on the steps, wringing his hands. I bound up to him. “What happened? Are you okay?”

“No, I mean, I’m fine. The building was firebombed.

“What about my hearing? Can I still do it?”

He keeps wringing his hands.

“Frankie, snap out of it!” I wave my folder in his face. “My hearing!”

“The meeting room was the focus of the bombing,” he says.

“You mean…all the stuff I set up in there, all the research I did…”

“Whatever didn’t burn is soaked.”

I walk back toward the parking lot in a daze.

Jameson was right. It isn’t always about winning and losing. Sometimes it’s about not even getting the chance to compete.

A couple of firefighters are talking when I walk past.

“A Molotov cocktail,” one says. “Right through that window— pyeeeeew.” She makes the kind of sound effect I’d expect to hear on a primary school playground.


  1. I really like the voice here! Your description of the explosion is straightforward and easy to imagine, and Ari seems like she'd be a fun MC to follow around (hello, rat spa?).

    I think that you could break the dialogue up with some more internal narration, though. What is Ari's reaction to hearing that the building has been bombed? Does she think about terrorism? Does she think it could have anything to do with her presentation? Even if she's more concerned about her presentation than the cause of the bombing, isn't she at least relieved that she wasn't in the room?

    I think we need to be in her head a little more, especially between the lines "The building was firebombed" and "What about my hearing?"

    Good luck with this project!

  2. I agree with Tara. I really like the voice and you've set up a very direct and accessible passage here.

    The word "hearing" threw me because, out of context, I thought she meant her physical hearing which might have been damaged by the blast.

    But aside from that, and yes, being in her head a little more, I think this is very strongly written.

  3. Rat Spa? I want to read it just for that. That made me laugh.

    However, this is all telling. I have no sense of being in the moment, no real excitement. It's more vague curiosity. What details are there actually hurt the action.

    "Is it an earthquake? Those don't happen here."

    As the reader I'm going 'boom=earthquake?' Since when? Especially when they're not likely at that location?

    Also, maybe because it's out of context, but when she asks about her "hearing", just after an explosion, I thought she meant her actual ability to hear. It isn't until a few lines of dialogue later I realize she means "meeting". I admit, the confusion was entertaining, since it seems she's asking him if she can hear.

    I'd love to see anything with Rat Spas work out, so really scour this one for all the telling. Put us IN the action rather than have her reporting the sequence of events.

  4. Traveling . . . rat . . . spa? *fascinated*

    Actual notes:

    My experience with earthquakes is limited, but neither of the earthquakes I've been through have involved a boom. (I'd think the boom would come during/after the shaking, if something boomed because of the earthquake.) The first earthquake felt like a semi-truck speeding by my house, while the second was more swirly and was pretty identifiably an earthquake.

    My experience with explosions, sadly, is a little less limited. (Three months of dynamiting the bedrock across the street to install underground pipes. Thanks, Town.) I have no idea how dynamite compares to Molotov cocktail, but my explosions definitely sounded like explosions, no question about what it was. They were short, loud bursts, and the ground rippled once. (Since they were 'sploding the ground. I don't know whether a Molotov cocktail would ripple the ground if it's not underground. *shrug*)

    All that to say, given the rarity of earthquakes in Ari's area, I doubt she'd be confused at all about what just happened.

    But in actual writing notes, trim things that tell Ari was worried. Show her heart pounding. Show the gasping. If you want confusion, you can say "Was that an earthquake?"

    And can we see the explosion? Or the aftermath, when she's walking up to Town Hall? Is there smoke? Fire? What does it smell like? Put the reader in the scene. We're in first person, present tense. I want to feel completely grounded in what's happening to Ari right now.

  5. The voice of this piece hugged my by the shoulders and pulled my right off the ledge. I didn't fight it. I plummeted right on down.

    The events and the details chosen to describe them were a bit muddled and confusing. But after reading the other comments, I've deleted mine here as they are mostly "ditto".

    Great work, I'd happily read on. There is plenty of promising conflict, unfairness, reluctant heroism, and engaging narrative.

  6. I love the title of this work!
    I don't love the use of boom and rocking twice in the first paragraph. Like some of the other commenters, I was confused by the hearing after the explosion. I'd love to see some more physical manifestations of the explosion. The voice in this is good and has a lot of potential.

  7. The "What about my hearing? Can I still do it?" totally threw me out of the narrative. Try a version where you work on varying your descriptions. An example is: "I walk back toward the parking lot in a daze." Then a few lines later: "A couple of firefighters are talking when I walk past." Try and give the reader a little more to latch onto as far as your protagonist goes. What might be substituted for "walk" in the above lines that could tell us more or give us a unique insight to how this person moves or handles herself? Good luck with this!

  8. Nice! I really loved the end. The narrator definitely has a strong voice.

    Other commenters have pointed out some great stuff. Here's my two cents:

    Try not to repeat info in an action scene. Twice in the paragraph, the sensation is described as a boom and rocking. Instead, try to use different words to describe and expand the situation.

    In some spots, specifics and brevity would help convey the tension of the situation. One sentence that stood out to me was: "... I reach the front steps of Town Hall, where many of the workers have gathered." The second phrase could be shortened to show "where workers already gathered." To add more context to the scene, get specific: "where workers already gathered. One woman's carefully hair-sprayed hair now waved in all directions, which combined with her pants-suit made her look like a mad scientist." Or... whatever. Anyway. Help build your unique scene with details!

    In a similar vein, the dialogue needs more context. Other commenters have recommended more feelings and thoughts from the character. I'd second that, but also say you can show what the narrator is thinking/feeling by what she sees and how she sees it.

    I also wondered why the first thing she'd worry about after a bombing was her hearing. Perhaps this has development in the novel, so it might be neither here nor there, but unless bombings are a norm wouldn't her first concern be terrorism or people being hurt? Just a thought.

    Good luck! And keep writing. :)

  9. Most of what I wanted to say has already been covered. I'll just reiterate the point that the explosion itself went by far too quickly. In one sentence, Ari hears a noise; in the next sentence everything's OK. There are sirens, but no indication that they're heading toward her. If it were me in that situation, I'd probably think "oh, that's weird," and then go on about my business. I think you need to show something more immediate happening to or around Ari to create tension here.

  10. Not sure you need "the" before Central Valley. Also, I'd cut "and rocking" after "But after the initial boom."

    I might suggest splitting the sentence "After wading through a mass of onlookers, I reach the front steps of Town Hall, where many of the workers have gathered." It feels a bit long-winded as is.

    For the dialogue, I think we might need a bit more description, lightly intersparsed through it, in order to help us keep straight who's speaking and what's going on. I might even keep:

    "What about my hearing? Can I still do it?”
    He keeps wringing his hands.
    “Frankie, snap out of it!” I wave my folder in his face. “My hearing!"

    in the same paragraph, since she's still the same person talking, on the same subject. I do like how she's so focused on her hearing after the bombing.

    I'm also intrigued as to why her room was targetted. I would like to see her initial reaction to knowing her stuff is gone, then see her dazed as she goes back to the parking lot.

    I do like the voice, and it sounds interesting. The dialogue felt a bit hard to read for me, but over all, I'm curious to know what happened before this.

    Good luck with it. :-)