Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #28

TITLE: Kasmir
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Liz, a young girl who was trained as a warrior for this purpose, prepares to fight the Great Dragon. She is standing at the entrance to its cave and must draw it out.

As quickly and silently as she could she lowered her sword to the ground and took a small, lumpy package from her belt. This was the most nerve-racking part of her plan. When face to face with the dragon she would be prepared to fight, but now she felt her vulnerability keenly. Her hands trembled as she pulled two stones and a small leather pouch out of the bag. The pouch had a piece of cloth poking out. It was wet with a concoction of her own making. Holding the stones next to the cloth she struck. Nothing. Glancing nervously at the cave entrance she struck again. A small spark flew from the stones, hit the fabric, and grew into a flame. Liz held her breath. It was working. She grabbed the pouch and flung it into the dragon’s home.

For a moment nothing happened. The mountain itself seemed to hold its breath. Then there was the sound of a small explosion and smoke billowed from the cavern’s mouth. Moments later an inhuman screech ripped through the air. The warrior snatched up her sword and ran across the clearing. She had only moments. Halfway across she stopped, turned, and raised her blade. Blinding streaks of fire tore through the thick cloud of smoke. That wasn’t her fire. In one great burst of fury the beast emerged. Its reptilian body writhing with rage, it flung its head into the sky and let out a roar that made the whole mountain tremble.


  1. I thought this was nicely paced. I like the "old-fashioned" (sorry, can't think of another way to describe it) more formal tone versus the often jokey tone in much MG. The tone seems appropriate to the gravity of a story about dragon slaying.

    I found the pauses in pacing from contrasts between micro and macro moments and the setting very effective in giving readers a tiny moment to catch their breath:

    This: "This was the most nerve-racking part of her plan" balanced Liz's (3P-narrated) anxiety as she prepares the fuse versus her expectation she'll be ready to actually fight the dragon and the burst of fire from the dragon.

    This: "The mountain itself seemed to hold its breath" created a sense of momentary stillness, enormity and foreboding. Especially when the graf ends with the mountain trembling. (I'm thinking, way to go, dragon, even inanimate landforms know how terrible you are! The stakes for Liz are obviously huge, which makes the story all the more compelling....)

    In the second graf "the warrior" confused me -- even given the somewhat formal narrative tone it seemed a little stilted, but maybe the story has always referred to Liz this way? Also, from this snippet, it wasn't clear to me which direction she is running when she runs across the clearing. To the dragon? Away? Where? (It's obvious shortly afterward, but my confusion about this slowed the pace of reading/action for me)

    I'd definitely want to read more!

  2. For me, I feel like there's a lot of telling happening at the beginning of this section.

    "This was the most nerve wracking part of the plan," "When face to face with the dragon she would be prepared to fight..."

    Personally, I like seeing the action as it happens. Show her nervousness-- is she jittery? Does she fumble as she strikes the stones? Drop one, then tense up, afraid the dragon heard her? If you show us it as it happens, I think you could raise the tension in the scene. :-)

    Maybe cut "for a moment nothing happened", and start with the mountain seeming to hold its breath. More punchy, and it still gets the feeling of a tense moment of silence. How does the explosion sound? You might not need the "moments later." Sometimes the transitions work well, other times I've found it increases the action to cut straight to the chase.

    "She had only moments" (you've used the term moments three times already in the same paragraph)... what is she feeling? What is her physical reaction?

    Overall, it seems like a good start. Personally, I'd focus on getting more into the character's head and bringing the reader closer to the action, but you have created good sense of what's going on and the placement of characters within the scene itself.

    Granted, I tend to be more interested in YA than MG, so that may make a difference in style, too. Good luck with it. :-)

  3. Dragons! I love dragons.

    I felt like this section needed more commas, though. For example, the first sentence: "As quickly and silently as she could COMMA she lowered..." Grammar Girl's section on "How to Use Commas" might be a good refresher for you and could help to make the prose here flow a little more naturally.

    Also, watch out for moments of telling, when you could be showing for better effect. Such as "This was the most nerve-racking part of her plan." I know we're in third person, but I still want to feel this fear in my gut. I want to know exactly what it feels like to stand outside a dragon's cave and prepare to draw it out and fight it.

  4. This is good. It's wonderful to see an MG high fantasy played straight. Dragons and explosive pouches? Fun.

    There were a few things I think could be improved here. One is that there's a lot of telling. Instead of using physical and emotional cues to show me that Liz is nervous, you say 'This was the most nerve-racking part of her plan'. Emotions always pack more power if you show rather than tell. Often, it's better to avoid words like nervous, happy, rage, in favour of describing how it looks, sounds, feels. You do this well with 'Liz held her breath' and 'Her hands trembled'.

    There's also telling in the action. I assume this isn't the opening of your story (if this is, then disregard this comment) but this section was a red flag to me:

    'Her hands trembled as she pulled two stones and a small leather pouch out of the bag. The pouch had a piece of cloth poking out. It was wet with a concoction of her own making.'

    I feel like if you're going to use an explosive pouch that she's made, I would hope it would already have been seen or mentioned before this scene, and therefore wouldn't need all the explanation -- if not, then it appears out of nowhere.

    But that point's definitely to be taken lightly considering this is an excerpt and I have no idea whether it's relevant.

    But overall, good.

  5. There is something awesome about trembling mountains, whether metaphorical or physical. :)

    "She grabbed the pouch and flung it into the dragon’s home." - I get the vague sense that these are very dangerous explosives and wonder if that couldn't be conveyed better through Liz's reactions.

    Does she tremble when she tries to light them? Does she hold her breath? Flinch when the fuse lights? Dive for cover after throwing them? Nearly get blown up in the aftermath?

    Also, as an instinctive writerly reaction, I thought this would be a wonderful place to tell the protag "no". For instance, the cloth could sputter out after she throws it, forcing her to actually go in and retrieve it, to light it inside, to make things even worse for Liz :)

    Regardless, I'm definitely interested in seeing the dragon through her eyes, based on her fearful dread of it, and finding out how the scene ends!

  6. Love the second paragraph! I was completely entranced in the scene. The only phrase that gave me pause was "The warrior..." Are you talking about Liz? Why don't you just say Liz?

    Personification of the mountain was perfect. Excellent visual of the dragon. I would read on.

    I agree with the previous comments about the first paragraph re telling. Also, the 'wet cloth of her own making' confused me, but perhaps it's explained earlier in the story.

  7. This is a nice entry! You've already gotten some great comments (I'm definitely with Jodi on the commas); what I'll add is that I think you could emphasize the more exciting twists of this scene by breaking the chunks of text up into smaller paragraphs. For example, you could break into a new paragraph at "Her hands trembled," emphasizing that action. Then again, maybe a new paragraph at "A small spark flew from the stones..." Anywhere where the scene is shifting a bit with a new action or development would be a good place to break things up.

    Also, I'd love a little more description than "there was the sound of a small explosion." What makes it small? Is it muffled? Does it sound like a pop, or a burst, or what? I'd like to have my senses a little more engaged instead of just being told that an explosion has happened.

    Best of luck with this story! I'm already a fan of Liz. :)

  8. Ohhhhh, this is going to be very cool. MG and dragon fighting with an explosion!

    The excerpt could be tightened to add tension. I wasn't really invested in it until the end. There was a lot of filler in that first paragraph that really slowed it down.

    "This was the most nerve-racking part of her plan. When face to face with the dragon she would be prepared to fight, but now she felt her vulnerability keenly. "

    Just show that she's nerve-wracked, it's blah just thrown out there like that. Also, I bet by this point we know she's prepared to fight the dragon. Restating it here is just wasting space. Feeling her vulnerability keenly is nice, but you don't have to contrast it with her ability to make it work.

    "The pouch had a piece of cloth poking out. It was wet with a concoction of her own making."

    Combined with "lumpy package" above, I feel like this is a whole lot of detailed yet bland explanation for a bomb.

    "It was working."

    Well of course it was. You just showed it working.

    "For a moment nothing happened."

    The mountain seeming to hold its breath says the same thing but way, way cooler.

    Comb these scenes for filler and unnecessary words and phrases that muck it up and slow it down. I'd love to read a story about a girl who brings Molotov cocktails with her sword when she goes off to fight a dragon.

  9. I'm a big fan of dragons, so I enjoyed this one, even though I think it could have used a few more commas.

    I love the last paragraph especially, once we actually see the dragon. And her comment about it not being her fire is fantastic! Great job.

    What bothered me was the order of things at the end. I would think that she would high-tail it to a safe distance before the smoke began to billow out of the cave, not wait until afterward. Once the smoke begins, her vision is going to be compromised, and she needs to have all her senses in optimum condition for when the dragon emerges.

    I'd love to read more of this.

  10. I thought this was very well done. I agree with some of the other commenters that there's a little too much telling, but I liked the sentence "This was the most nerve-wracking part of her plan," because it shows forethought and self-confidence. She's nervous, but knows she can pull it off. I think you could get rid of the sentence after that, though, and show more than trembling hands to convey her nervousness.

    Watch out for -ing verbs that make your prose passive. For instance, "The pouch had a piece of cloth poking out," could be "A piece of cloth poked out of the pouch." "Holding the stones next to the cloth[,] she struck," could be, "She held the stones next to the cloth and struck," or "She struck the stones over the cloth."

    Those are just minor nits in an otherwise good scene.

  11. I'm not completely sold here. I feel like this could be really awesome, but it's not quite there yet. Some things I would do: I'd see if you can improve the flow of your words. I kind of get a feeling "she did this. she did that. this happened." See if you can take the cadence feeling out of there. I did like the visual at the end, where the dragon made the mountain tremble; that was good. See if you can bring that to the entire passage. Good luck!