Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drop the Needle #23

TITLE: Wilderness
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fiction

The day after Mia finds out that the only way she can get off academic probation is to sign up for the Wilderness trip, she goes out to a birthday dinner with her parents and her best friends, Val and Blade.

After dessert, Blade slides a shoebox-sized present in front of me. “Happy Birthday.”

I slide the top off. Inside are four pairs of wool socks and a flashlight.

“That’s the kind of flashlight I used last year,” Blade says. “It gets dark early in the mountains.”

I gasp. “I haven’t even signed up yet!”

Blade smiles. “I have a feeling you will.”

Mom sets down her wineglass. “Honestly, girls. Traipsing around with snakes and bears and sleeping in dirt?”

“Wilderness is a life-changing experience,” Blade says. “It gets you in touch with who you really are inside…your best moral self.”

“By living like an outdoor savage?” Mom bursts out in drunken laughter like it’s the funniest thing.

"I think most people are better than they think they are,” Blade says. “More honorable.”

“That’s very inspiring.” Mom says. “I like you, Blade. I hope you can be Mia’s co-leader so you can look out for her. And while we’re on the subject of Mia, why don’t you ask her out sometime? On a real date?”

“Mom!” My ears are on fire. Blade’s face flames red.

“What?” Mom says innocently. “You are seventeen, you should go on a date. With a young, responsible gentleman. Prom is just around the corner.”

Dad tries to hush her up. “Cherie, stop. You’re embarrassing Mia…”

“Alright, alright, it’s just when I was her age…” Mom says.

Blade gives me a shy smile.

I want to die.


  1. I like how you ended this segment with "I want to die." The mom's comments confused me, though. When she said "honestly, girls" I assumed Blade was one of the girls. Then she says Mia should go on a date with a responsible gentleman. Does mom have some issue with the girls traipsing around in the woods but not a gentleman? Blade's response about people being better than they think they are is also confusing. Maybe he can say a little more to clarify what he means and how it's a response to mom's comment?

  2. There's some really effective characterization going on in this passage -- we learn a lot about the cast in a tight space, and have an easy time choosing who we admire (Blade) and who we see as irresponsible or lacking in priorities (Mom).

    I wonder why, somewhere in here, Mia's friend Val doesn't pipe up. . . perhaps the context within the novel itself would demonstrate that. But I have to imagine she would register a reaction to Mom's "you should ask her out" gaffe.

    A final thought, and one which you should be prepared to ignore and hate me for: I simply can't take the name "Blade" seriously. If it's actually the name he was given, then I have to wonder about his family; if it's a nickname he uses by choice, then (again, please, remember this is just me being 100% subjective) I can't take HIM seriously because it seems too tough-guy pretentious.

    Overall, I admire that you've used this space to capture a slice of the kind of character tension I imagine must inform the whole rest of the novel.

  3. I like the voice in this. Especially the last line.

    I, too, don’t care for the name Blade. I thought maybe he was one of the girls, then noticed you mention Val and Blade (in the lead-in), yet Val isn’t mentioned in this bit at all (except maybe in the “girls” line). I’m sure the scene leading up to this bit explains all that anyway.

    My only nit-picky thing is I don’t get a feeling as to what the gift means to her. I’d like that explored a little more. Also, if it’s not shown later, I’d also like to hear what Val has to say about the gift. It might help cement to the reader what the relationship between those three is like.

  4. This is cute, but I'm concerned that the situation and the dialogue are a bit clichéd. For example, both the mother's and the boy's statements about camping are pretty predictable.

    (Not that plenty of real people don't have those exact sentiments, of course! It comes down to having them express those attitudes in a way that shows them as believable individuals even if they have traits that might make them fit into a stereotype.)

    Since of course it can be difficult to tell from one brief scene, I'm assuming there are plenty of elements in your story that make it unique that don't show here. Just be sure that all of the characters -- whether they're teenagers or stuffy, interfering mothers! -- are three-dimensional people that you can clearly imagine doing and saying these things; that's where modeling characters after people you know (even if it's just using a specific attribute or two) can come in very handy!

  5. Overall, I like this and am curious about the entire story. I, also, was confused about the "girls" comment when I discovered Blade was a guy. I realize we would know these characters better before we read this, but Blade's comment about learning more about yourself in the wilderness seems very adult and not like something a typical teenager would say in a group of people; maybe one-on-one it wouldn't seem as odd. The "I could die" at the end seemed unoriginal. Nonetheless, you've hooked me.

  6. I like this a lot, except that the dialog - the specific words, not the beats - seems contrived. (One exception - the "more honorable" beat strikes a false note for me. Less is more here.) I might like to see a bit more - what does the scene look like? Is Mom nervously playing with her glass, for example? How does Blade (agree with the others on the name, BTW) slide the box? (And watch the word echo on "slide.") Does he push it with his hands while remaining held back physically? Does he do some sort of flourish that half-embarrasses him after he does it? What is Dad's body language before he speaks up to his wife, e.g., when she bursts out in drunken laughter?

  7. The idea that you can get off academic probation by going on a camping trip seems a little far-fetched to be, but still intriguing. Though, like the mom, I do think it's be fun if Blade went of the camping trip with her.

  8. I had some of the same issues as others. The name Blade doesn't seem to fit the type of story presented in these 250 words. And I wondered why Val didn't speak a word.

    What's missing is Mia's reactions to the gift. How she reacts will tell us not only how she feels about the camping trip, but also how she feels about Blade, too.

  9. I like what's going on here, and it seems the story has places to go and tension to be had. My only suggestion is to lighten up on the dialogue tags and show the characters doing something, e.g., drunken mom tipping onto Blade's shoulder when she talks about the real date. That way we'd know who's speaking and get some insight into the character.