Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Adorable Editors Winners #9


She appeared in late afternoon, at the tree line where our mowed grass ended and the wild woods began. Gene and I couldn’t help but stare. With the leaves stuck in her hair, and the way she squinted at the sun just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes, and her naked-as-a-broken-jaybird body, we were left to conclude that the only possible explanation was that she’d been born in a hole and abandoned there.

But we knew the ranch woods better than our own skin; never once in our seventeen years had we seen a girl our own age out there. We’d never seen anyone out there at all.

When she managed to unglue her eyes from the sun, the sight of us seemed to stop her short: two slackjawed ranchers in cowboy hats, Wranglers, boots, plaid shirts with the sleeves rolled up. Pick-up trucks, hay bales. The usual. For people who’re from these parts.

We stared, in the kindest way possible, at her face.

She stared back. Blinked. Brought a hand to her temple, where a line of three little stones sparkled, embedded in her skin. “I found him,” she said, pressing into the diamond closest to her eye. And then, again—little more strength, little more awe, lot more desperation: “I found the—”


She fell in the grass like an arrow-pierced dove. But there was no arrow, no archer. Just a pale pile of limbs and an unfinished sentence.


  1. This is really intriguing, and I would TOTALLY read on. Your opening line is actually a massive hook, and you really deliver on it, painting a picture of a strange, otherworldly girl. All in all, I don't have any complaints about content, but some of your sentences are a bit tangled, particularly third sentence first paragraph. 'she squinted at the sun just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes' was both unwieldly and didn't make much sense to me. Does the sun melt eye slits? Not that I'm aware. Choosing a new way of phrasing this or leaving it out would go a long way to making that paragraph parse better.

  2. It seems odd that the narrator speaks about Gene’s feelings/thoughts/knowledge as well as his own. Normally, a first person POV would only be able to tell what he/she is thinking.

    Lines I had issues with:

    “…squinted at the sun just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes.” I know what you meant, but it sounds weird the way it’s written.

    “…her naked-as-a-broken-jaybird body,” this comparison is just weird. I picture a featherless baby bird which has fallen out of its nest and is dead on the ground, but she is not crumbled on the ground yet and since she’s standing erect, it seems like she couldn’t be broken.

    “we were left to conclude that the only possible explanation was that she’d been born in a hole and abandoned there.” Why? Why is that their first conclusion? And how does the narrator know that Gene came to the same conclusion? Did they have a conversation that we (the readers) were not privy to? And again, with the baby bird imagery and saying she’d just been born in a hole, it’s making me picture this girl as being very small…almost infantile. But then the next paragraph says she’s 17ish.

    “We stared, in the kindest way possible, at her face.” Um, no they didn’t. She’s a naked, 17-yr-old girl. They are 17-yr-old cowboys who’ve never seen a girl their own age. They are most certainly NOT staring at her face.

    “She fell in the grass like an arrow-pierced dove.” This is the second bird comparison in this selection. I liked this imagery far better than the jaybird one, but neither really accomplished what I think you were going for. She didn’t fall out of the sky; she just collapsed.

    I am interested though because of the title and the genre. I’d likely read on to see where this is going.

    Good luck!

  3. This has tons of appeal. I like the intrigue and set up though I was also confused by some of the language. At first I thought she was an abandoned baby (born in a hole, eyes as slits, etc.). Then I realized she was 17 like the "we" characters. I wonder why the two 17 yr olds talk and move as a pair. Is this part of the world building? Or simply a narrative glitch?

    While those fixable issues pulled me out a bit, overall I am quite interested in who this girl is and who the "we" characters are. It's interesting that she says found "him". So who's the other in this pair? I also love that she is talking to someone obviously far away and that she is some sort of agent.

    Well done.

  4. This is different and interesting and I would read on, but I think the language could be smoothed out in a few places.

    'Gene and I couldn’t help but stare.' - well, of course not, a naked dirty girl has just appeared. 'Gene and I stared.' would suffice.

    I agree with others that the 'she squinted at the sun just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes,' is clumsy, and 'her naked-as-a-broken-jaybird body' doesn't quite work for me because she isn't feathered.

    I didn't have a problem with 'we were left to conclude that the only possible explanation was that she’d been born in a hole and abandoned there.' in fact I liked it a lot, because I took it as humour based on what she looked like, not a real hypothesis.

    'We stared, in the kindest way possible, at her face.' I have to confess I thought this was a little unlikely, maybe 'I tried to be polite and keep my eyes fixed on her face, but it wasn't easy.' or something might ring truer for me.

    With the diamonds on her temple, I'm now wondering how close they are to her, that they can see that - I'd presumed they were a little way off, so perhaps clarify that.

    Finally, I found 'arrow-pierced dove' a touch purple, but that might just be my taste.

    Sorry, this seems like a lot of quibbles, but I do think you've got something really interesting and original here!

  5. First of all: What Samantha Jean said.

    But, while it's well and good to point to individual issues like that (the narrator speaking/thinking for both characters; the imagery that doesn't line up when tested), I'm looking at the larger whole.

    If I received this excerpt in my inbox, I would think that the author was trying too hard. There is so much imagery in metaphor and simile that it's hard to get a sense of what's actually going on in the scene and what's comparative description, especially because those elements contradict.

    Melty eye-slits, broken bird body, born in a hole, ungluing her eyes from the sun (ow!), arrow-pierced dove...it's too much all at once. I've got a mental image of everything EXCEPT what matters.

    I want to know how close they are to her when they see each other. I want to know if she's conscious of her nudity, I want to know if she looks healthy or dirty or clean or malnourished -- all I get is that there are leaves in her hair.

    The emphasis on what the two POV characters are wearing does help set the scene, but it feels forced. How do they know that it's the clothing and the trucks and the hay that stop her short, and if those things are usual around those parts, why would the first assumption be that they were strange to her?

    So, at this point, I'm not buying it. When I get to the three stones in her skin, I'm intrigued. She's clearly an agent of something, and possibly an alien or from the future. Okay. I like that there's a description of what's actually on the screen, not a contrived comparison.

    Then Crumple is where it really loses me.

    It feels like a stage direction instead of narrative. It's melodramatic, and it distances the narrator(s) -- and therefore the reader -- from the scene. By removing any hint of a reason why she crumples, it seems like the reason for it is beyond the scope of the narrator's attention. He doesn't care, so neither can we. He seems more inconvenienced by the unfinished sentence than by the fact that some naked girl just collapsed.

    My advice would be:

    1. Replace the imagery with images that are compatible with the scene. Descriptive comparisons should enhance the reader's understanding of the text by pulling in connotation and emotional cues that we're already triggered to respond to; they shouldn't obfuscate the content.

    2. Bring in the settling in a more natural way, by integrating the set pieces instead of just mentioning them. When they see her, they can drop the hay back into the back of the truck, shade their eyes with their hats when they stare, etc.

    3. Narrate her fall in prose, and with empathy. Does she really fall like she was shot, or like she's exhausted? Are they more concerned about the vulnerable person in front of them, or just that they didn't get to overhear the rest of her sentence?

    It's a strong hook, and with a little revision it can keep the strength going. It just needs to show a little more empathy and to ease back out of its own way a little.

  6. I like your first line, as well, but later found myself tripping over some of the phrasing. In particular, the second part of the first paragraph, starting with “With the leaves stuck in her hair…” felt over-wrought/convoluted (what does “naked-as-a-broken-jaybird body” mean? I’ve never seen a jaybird, naked or broken, so there was a total disconnect for me. When I think “stark naked girl,” I don’t picture a broken bird!). A lot of the prose/voice didn’t feel YA to me. It felt like the astute, literary observations of a late 20-something (or older). And even a late 20-something would have far more to say about surprise!naked chick than politely looking at her face! (even with genders reversed; I think encountering a naked person in a field, especially if you are both teenagers, begs for a more organic reaction)

    I was confused by the “Crumple” and the following paragraph, since it’s time travel and I was picturing her disappearing. Then I finally realized she’d just collapsed/fainted. I would ditch “Crumple” altogether and clean up the description of her falling to make it clear. The “pale pile of limbs” really caught me off guard; made me think she was dead/dismembered!

    I liked everything in the middle a lot, though, particularly the way you described the cowboys and the rhythm of the sentences. Your third paragraph is your strongest in your opening, IMO. I could really picture the boys, and got a real sense of who they are/where they live.

  7. I like this a lot. I had trouble with some of the phrasing and images (as everyone has mentioned above) but the author writes with such confidence that I wasn't thrown out of the story. I'd like to see more worldbuilding and to know more about our two observers. How does the narrator know what the other boy is thinking and doing if s/he is staring at the newcomer. Wonderfully intriguing and atmospheric, though.

  8. I love your first line. It caught my attention and dragged me right into the story. Unfortunately, I got lost in all of the flowery descriptions and had a hard time keeping track of what was really happening in the scene. For instance, I had no idea the girl was standing until she crumpled to the ground. And I imagined her as a baby until the narrator said he was seventeen, and she was the same age.

    Perhaps taking a step away from the scenery to focus in on the characters a bit more would help. For instance, what were the boys doing out there, when they found the girl? And how did they react when they discovered her? Instead of just telling us they "couldn't help but stare," show us that they were staring. Some concrete, descriptive details (blonde hair, blue eyes, or whatever she really looks like) would help ground us in the scene and show the narrator's interest in this intriguing girl all at the same time.

  9. I believe the narrator should only speak for himself. Also, some of the imagery is forced and doesn't really add to the scene. The third sentence is a good example of this - the language trips us up and the imagery doesn't make a lot of sense so it pushes the reader out instead of drawing us in.

    I would have liked the girl described in greater detail, especially from a teen boy's POV. The paragraph right before the word "crumple" is fantastic and really pulled me into the story. The descriptions and imagery here add to the intrigue instead of distracting. Not sure I like the word "crumple." But the last sentence is fabulous. I do wonder what emotions the POV character is feeling through all of this though. I feel a bit distanced.

    Overall, this is intriguing and I'd definitely read more, but I believe you can make it a lot stronger.

  10. The contrast between the known world and this alien visitor begins to build your world nicely. My only concern is the distraction of her nekkidness. The ending hook is strong. I'm ready to read on.

  11. A terrific opening, one that presents an unusual character and tantalizes my interest. Perhaps the sentence about Gene and I staring should be last in the first paragraph, after we know all that they are staring at. I'm not sure what a broken jaybird body is or why its nakedness is more pronounced than any other nakedness. Since you later write that the creature falls like a dove, it may be too many bird comparisons.
    We get the sense of isolation from the simple statement that they haven't seen anyone out there, a good way to suggest that their loneliness is about to end.
    Some of the things I want to know: who is the narrator and what is his/her relationship to Gene? If the three stones in the temple is not something Gene and Narrator share, shouldn't that have drawn their attention earlier, even before the leaves in her hair?
    I love how you state a great deal, creating contrast, atmosphere, and a suggestion of humor. The final line makes me want to turn the page, and I think that's a very strong beginning. You've compelled me to want to learn who these people are and what's going on.

  12. I like the imagery of the farm and surroundings. The short descriptive from the farmhand worked really well for me. I liked the "born in a hole and abandoned there' line. I think it rendered the confusing (is she injured or just naked?) 'naked-as-a-broken-jaybird' line unnecessary. If the point of that description was to demonstrate her apparent vulnerability--her nakedness does that all by itself. (Or, perhaps that line could be included as dialogue, if it helpful in situating the story geographically...)

    Where I got hung up was with the sudden input of the jewels at her temple. When confronted with a naked stranger, people do their best not to notice details; averting their eyes completely. For me, the story went from realistic to unable-to-suspend-my-disbelief in the space of two sentences. I think this could be solved with introducing the surreal or fantastic elements more slowly, or with greater confusion on the part of the observer.

    I also wondered whether the narrator is relating an event that has already happened or as it unfolds, because he(?) seems to be able tointerpret her action of pressing the diamond closest to her eye. It always takes me a minute to realize that someone is talking on a bluetooth phone piece in their ear and not to me, let alone that this girl is talking to someone else and not the two guys staring at her. If the narrator is speaking about the past, he could editorialize a bit on his reaction to the situation. If he is speaking in the present, I think his narration could be infused with a greater sense of his confusion.

    I also agree that the crumple description is unnecessary. You get a stronger picture of what has happened in the next sentence, anyway.

    Just my thoughts. I think you've got a strong voice. Keep at it. :)

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  14. I liked this and would read on, but I have a suggestion.
    The imagery gets a bit heavy handed and confusing: 'She fell in the grass like an arrow pierced dove'. '...she squinted at the sun, just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes.' I would go over this passage and tone down the imagery, making it less flashy so the story is understandable and accessable. A few of your best images could be kept as spice, that would make them stand out more.

  15. Liked the set-up, but the boys do seem awfully self-contained when encountering a naked girl by the woods.

    Loved "naked-as-a-broken-jaybird body." But "born in a hole and abandoned there" made me go back and reread to see if this were an actual baby. Maybe if you said: "... born in a hole and abandoned there for sixteen or seventeen years."

    A few suggestions: Delete "...we were left to conclude that..." from the first paragraph. // Tighten "...seemed to stop her short" to "she stopped short. // Delete "who're": "For people from these parts." // Add an A to each: "... a little more strength, a little more awe, a lot more desperation." // Not sure "crumple" is the onomatopoeia you want.

    Great last paragraph!! I'm sure the next line will reveal that they rushed to her aid, or some action on their part.

  16. Things like "the way she squinted at the sun just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes" in the first paragraph really pulled me out of the story. I had to read it twice to make sense of it.

    I was then thrown by the plural of pick-up trucks. Did they drive in with separate vehicles? Again, I had to read twice to establish (I think) there aren't any trucks, you are just using it to describe what a rancher is. I also think you could have stopped the description after sleeves rolled up. I had a good image at that point, and going on about the trucks - hay bales - the usual - people rom around these parts - seemed like overkill.

    I'd rephrase the the whole "eyes glued to the sun" - impossible feat.

    I started to get interested when there were three stones embedded in her skin - I'd move this up as I think it is something you would notice immediately when you first saw her.

    The last paragraph - you don't need to tell us that the sentence was unfinished - we've already worked that out from the dialogue being cut off.

    Overall, I'd read on to see who she is communicating with.

  17. I liked the juxtaposition of the cowboys characters and this alien/girl. You set up a very intriguing beginning.

    The line "she squinted at the sun just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes" confused me. I wasn't sure if she had oddly shaped eyes or what.

    It was strange that no one said a word aloud or the narrator didn't think something more emotional than "she'd been born in a hole."

    Does anyone go toward her, especially after she crumples to the ground?

    This excerpt seemed emotionally distant to me. She's naked and the two characters are guys, right?

  18. I'm so intrigued. I actually like the description. The only descriptive phrase i didn't love was "begging it to melt the slits of her eyes." You could tone it down by just saying "The sun melted the slits of her eyes." Nothing wrong with having a little more of a lyrical style if that's your voice.

    To address an earlier comment, I think that if the jewels on her head were pretty bright and noticeable, the boys would notice them despite her nakedness. Their reaction I think is pretty realistic...I don't know what they would do besides be self-contained. I think any southern boy would hesitate to approach her while she was stark naked, but would probably rush to help after she crumpled, which your characters probably do next.

    I think rather than emotionally distant, I see this as suggesting astonishment and discomfort, but maybe sharing your character's opinion about what's happening would be good.

    The last sentence is awesome. My biggest suggestion is in the second to last sentence maybe use the imagery of a gun instead of a bow and arrow. I know people still hunt with bows but guns seem to be more of a natural thought for ranchers with pickup trucks.

    Great work! I would read on for sure.

  19. I really enjoyed the lyrical quality of this. There may be places where the imagery could be toned down, as others have mentioned, but I still thought it was beautiful. My hesitation is that until I read the comments, I assumed the narrator was a girl, even though the description of the clothing was the same for the MC and Gene. I think it might be because such poetic writing doesn't ring quite true for a male character. Maybe if he'd shown some embarrassment at seeing a naked girl in the woods, it would be more realistic. That could also explain how he recognizes the kinds of jewels on her temple -- because he's being darn sure to look there instead of anywhere lower.

    In your description of the girl, I got a clear picture of someone who was out of place in this world, which was great for what I assume is a time traveler.

  20. What struck me about this, and that hasn't been mentioned yet, was the first sentence and the word 'appeared.' The others don't just come across her there. She 'appears,' which would be an event in itself, but the boys just gloss right over it.

    Having your characters react to this would set up the otherworldly aspect immediately and play up nicely `the diamonds by her temple and the fact that she is different and out of place. Perhaps play up the 'appearing' aspect a bit more.

  21. I love that opening line—I think it creates a delicious tension between the obviously tamed side of the narrator’s world and the obviously untamed side of this “other’s” world; it is also, simply, a beautifully written sentence. You do lose me, however, in that third line with the turns of phrase “just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes” and “we were left to conclude.” With the former, I find the idea of a begging sun hard to imagine. And with the latter, I find the phrasing formal and stilted. That whole sentence could be rewritten and centered around one dominant image that gives the reader a clear sense of this girl, rather than a sequence of images that compete for attention.

    I’m also a big fan of “But we knew the ranch woods better than our own skin,” though it’s worth mentioning that lilting sentences like that one (like your opening line) feel at odds with your main character. My overall sense from this excerpt is that your main character is male, but some of the observations and how they are written originally made me think this was a female narrator. These are all nuances, to be sure, and another reader may well feel differently—but it’s important to recognize that even small things make a narrator come across as more male- or female-seeming, and it’s good to be even-handed in your treatment.

    Finally, I will add that the series of sentences before “Crumple.” do feel melodramatic, and while you need to build to that moment, you might be better served making it more organic and less like you’re taking this big, drawing breath. I also think you could lose “Crumple.” and go straight to “She fell…”

    Nicely done, and best of luck with this project!

  22. Hey, everyone—author here!

    I want to thank you all for taking the time to read my intro and share your thoughts on it. I'm super excited about this project, and am thrilled to have had the opportunity to hear your unbiased reactions to it. I know this project will be stronger, thanks to this experience, and I am grateful.

    Thanks again, and good luck with your own projects, too!

    :) Kayla