Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drop the Needle #25

TITLE: Exile

The two characters, age 15, are exiles in an low-tech society. He has been practicing for two days with her spearthrower (atlatl), proving as incompetent at it as he is expert at bringing down rabbits with stones.

She bites her lip, turns away, and says in a voice I strain to hear, “I made you something.”

Dinner? I don’t say it aloud, and then I’m glad I've kept my mouth shut when she reaches into the smaller cave and pulls out her spearthrower.

It’s different, somehow. It takes me a dozen heartbeats to realize it’s more than changed. It’s new.

“For you,” she mumbles.

“A….” I can manage no more. I thought the world had barred all presents to an exile, allowing no rewards beyond the bare price of survival we eke out each day. My eyes hurt. I turn away so that she doesn’t see me rub surreptitiously at them.

“Do you like it?”

A weight falls across my heart. I have nothing for her, nothing to offer in return except – at best – yet another rabbit.

“But that’s what a present is,” she says. “Otherwise it’s just trading.”

“Well, then…. Thank you.”

“See,” she says, laughing, “You did give me something. A thank-you is gift enough.” I don’t believe her, but she points to the cave. “You’ve given me a lot. You saved my life.” She whispers the last part.

We’ve saved each other’s lives. No bartercounter keeps track, but I suspect there’s not much owing either way.

The next day I hurl spears at two more deer. I might have hit the second one if a tree hadn’t gotten in the way.

("Bartercounter": accountant, sort of. )


  1. Hi, I really liked your voice a lot, especially since I'm normally not a fan of first-person. I also enjoyed your internal dialogue.

    I'd be interested in reading more.

    Good luck!

    My first comment ever.

  2. I love the idea that they keep giving each other by helping/saving each other's lives. The only confusing part was that he narrates he can't give her anything in return and then she comments on it. I understood what was going on, but it took me out of the story a moment to figure it out.

  3. You relate the emotions our male narrative wonderfully ("A weight falls across my heart. . .") and I'm sold from that moment. . . Although I do wonder if, perhaps, something is missing between that bit of internal narration and what "she" says a moment later: "But that's what a present is. . ." etc.

    I love her response, but the trouble I'm having is I don't see what she's responding TO. He has not said aloud that he has nothing to give. He hasn't tried to turn the gift down. Unless she's done an exceptional job of reading what he must be thinking, I can't quite attach that lovely line to the actual dialogue that's happened.

    And as a final note, there's a kind of sly humor to "I might have hit the second one if a tree hadn't gotten in the way" I truly enjoyed -- as if the tree has maliciously leaped into his path. A nice touch of voice there.

  4. I appreciate the small bits of humor, for sure.

    (I thought the world had barred all presents to an exile, )

    Barred is a strange word choice and makes this an awkward idea to understand. The world has barred presents? Gifts aren't given to exiles. That makes more sense.

    (allowing no rewards beyond the bare price of survival we eke out each day.)

    Is the bare price of survival something you eke out and a reward? I think the word PRICE throws me.

    (My eyes hurt.) Love that.

    Surreptitiously is an awfully big word for a 15 year old.

    Like the other said, something is missing for her reply to make sense.

    “But that’s what a present is,” she says. “Otherwise it’s just trading.”

    (You saved my life.”) "She whispers" would be enough, cut the words that follow.

    (but I suspect there’s not much owing either way.) Very nice turn of phrase.

    Good job.

  5. I like the way you write. It's hard to put a finger on what makes it that way, but to me, I read this and thought it was 'good' writing. It's the quality of writing I wouldn't be surprised to see in a published book.

    I disagree slightly with the above comment about 'surreptitiously' being a big word for a 15 year old - I would definitely have used that word when I was 15, but at the same time it depends on the circumstances - I grew up reading a lot, and I don't know enough about this particular character's background, but 'low tech society' does make me wonder.

    I really liked that even in such a short paragraph, I feel like I've got to know the characters and their world a little bit. It comes from your little inclusions - things like the cave, and the spearthrower, and that they talk about bartering; and with the characters from the way he reacts to her gift, and how shy she seems as she offers while doing it anyway. If the rest of your story is as polished as this, then good job, and if not, I'd say this is the standard you want to aim for in the rest of your MS.

    Good job! :-)

  6. Thanks for the comments and suggestions.

    In relation to the missing dialog: Good point. I write in dialog a lot (background in the theater, where it's all dialog). I know that can be too much, since I'm not George V. Higgins, so at times I elide the dialog via the narrator. Here obviously I've missed a critical transition - and indeed I had it in an earlier revision and tightened it too much! Again, thanks.

  7. I loved the voice and had no trouble understanding "bartercounter" in context.

  8. The writing is excellent. I've got a great feel for the characters and the scene.

    I adore some of your lines.
    “But that’s what a present is,” she says. “Otherwise it’s just trading.” - is my favorite.

    I did find a couple of things confusing. You say "I thought the world had barred all presents to an exile" but they are both exiles. I'm not sure the same rules would apply. Part of this comes from this being an excerpt. I'm sure its well explained elsewhere.

    You also say in your summary that he is expert spear thrower, yet at the end of the scene he only goes 1 for 2. You said it in a very clever way but I would think an expert would do better... unless his concentration is off because of the gift.

    I'm sorry I don't have more in the way of critique. I would simply encourage you to continue with this. I like the characters and the story and I'd love to read more.

  9. This has a nice voice to it, and I immediately liked both characters. The only thing I saw that hasn't been mentioned yet, is his reaction to the gift. Does he appreciate it? Does it mean anything to him, touch him in some way?

    You kind of go there with the sentence about barring presents, but it's more words than feelings. Maybe show us how he feels, and what the present means to him. Get some emotion in there.

  10. Thanks for the additional comments. @Ailsa, he is incompetent with the spearthrower, but that's probably easily missed in the one-line precis that precedes this excerpt. He spends time before this scene wearing out spears without hitting anything useful, such as a deer. @Barbara, you've hit on something I'm wrestling with. He's not emotionally very available, but since he's the narrator his self-view is a bit limited. I'm trying to find other ways to convey what he feels but cannot share even with himself. "We've saved each other's lives" is in context a significant admission, since until now he has resisted the interdependence on his fellow exile (and in fact kicked her out when he discovered she was a she, though he's finally starting to understand why that was a mistake).

    To everyone - thanks so much for the comments. You've helped me tighten this scene and given me good food for thought elsewhere.

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