Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Drop the Needle: Anger #10

TITLE: Punishment Summer
GENRE: Young Adult/Contemporary

After we walked in silence for close to an hour, the woods started to look familiar, I didn't trust my eyes at first, but another ten minutes on, I felt sure we were hiking one of the trails Queenie and I had explored together. The dog lifted her nose. I took that as a good sign, but waited. When I spied the log where I ate my first lunch after coming to Grandpa's, I sped up and grabbed Ben's arm. "Are you crazy? If you want to organize a suicide mission, that's fine. But the whole point of suicide is to kill yourself. Not other people."

Queenie growled her support.

Ben's gaze flicked from me to the angry dog. He tore his arm free, then climbed over the downed tree, putting the hunk of wood between him and Queenie. "What? You're freaked out over the guns?"

Guns. Plural. There was more than one gun? My face burned hotter than before. "Yes. I'm freaked out about the guns. And about the huge pot field. That wasn't some itty-bitty operation. What did you drag me into?"

"First, I didn't drag you. You were bored and tagged along. You don't like what happened, next time you don't gotta come with."

I felt like he'd slapped me. I stepped back.

"Second, I told you what I planned to do. If you thought I was making up some story to impress you, that's your problem, not mine. Third, that's the first time I've seen armed guys in any of the fields. That's out of my control. You can either get over it, or we say goodbye right now."

He was right about warning me. That I went with him because I had nothing better to do and thought he was talking big. But his argument still felt like a huge justification. Plus I didn't believe a single word he said about the guns, though I couldn't say why. I stared at Ben, looking for the truth, but his handsome face revealed no sorrow, no regret. That was answer enough. "Then I guess it's goodbye." Queenie and I headed down the slope. I felt Ben's gaze on my back. Grandpa got it right: the guy was bad news.


  1. I'm missing the lead-in to this, so I'm not sure I'm grounded in the scene. This might be something you've answered in previous scenes, but I'm not sure if Ben is walking with your MC or if he sees him when they get to the log.

    Small areas can be tighter. For example, after the dog growls, I assume the dog is angry. I also assume that Ben is looking at the MC. This makes, "Ben's gaze flicked from me to the angry dog," feel partially redundant. I like the movement, because it implies the fear Ben has, but something like (this is just off the top of my head), "Ben's gaze flicked to the dog," might say what you want without the extra words.

    This sentence--"You don't like what happened, next time you don't gotta come with."--doesn't use the same word choice as other things Ben has said. It feels less educated than what he says throughout the dialogue.

    I guess my overall comment is that I'm not sure why the MC is angry, but the anger also feels fleeting. By the time the MC leaves, it seems to be gone. Also, is the log important to why the MC has the initial outburst of anger there? I feel like it is (maybe its importance is covered earlier).

  2. I like this scene a lot. I thought the protag came across as angry when she realized where they were (I'm saying "she' because she's got a dog named Queenie and felt like he'd slapped her, not punched her--probably other context clues, too. Just hope I'm right ;-)

    I thought Ben came across as angry, too, and that surprised me. But it fit. What he said made me believe he would be angry for her challenging him now.

    But I would have expected her anger to ramp up. Instead, it seemed to fizzle, even though she chooses to leave. I'd like to see that same fire I saw at the beginning. Instead, she's like, Oh, he's right, it's my fault, but I'm leaving now.

    And maybe that's exactly the way you want her to come across. Hard to know in a short excerpt. I don't know this character, but for the sake of the tension in this scene, I think more anger from her at the end would be appropriate.

  3. I thought the passage was well-written, the emotions well described by actions and tone of dialogue.

    I'm sure things have been explained prior to this, but the mention of suicide and guns was a little confusing without context. From the first paragraph, I couldn't tell if they're going toward something bad or returning from seeing it. It sounded like she was stopping a suicide mission that hasn't happened. But then in the rest of the passage it seems they've already seen the scary stuff. Like I said, I'm sure it's all been explained.

    I'd use past perfect here: When I spied the log where I'd eaten my first lunch...

    In the last paragraph, "I didn't believe a single word he said about the guns" makes me think she didn't see any guns, but earlier it sounded like she saw at least one.

    You might break up this paragraph, starting a new one with "I stared at Ben,..." Then start another one with "Then I guess it's goodbye."

    I think she IS mad at the end. Mad at him. Mad at herself for believing he cared about her feelings. Maybe it didn't come through as clearly as it could. (Or maybe I got it all wrong.)

  4. Nicely written. The sentence, "You don't like what happened, next time you don't gotta come with" seemed a bit clunky and pulled me out of the scene. Possibly consider changing.

    Good Luck!

  5. I didn't see this piece as one showing anger. It seemed more of surprise. And I didn't sympathize with her. It seems Ben told her exactly what she was getting into and she went anyway. She says as much herself, so it doesn't seem she has anything to be mad about, or even surprised about. So in that respect, I don't think it works if I'm supposed to empathize or she's supposed to be angry.

    I do think it works in showing us who exactly Ben is, in showing that Grandpa was right about him, and as a possible growth experience for the MC, as well as a way to further the plot. So it's not a bad excerpt, I think it just probably doesn't suit the contest scenario so well.

  6. Thanks so much for the feedback. I appreciate everyone reading -- especially since the excerpt lacks a lead in. (Our internet was down and I wasn't able to add it in a timely fashion.) I've found all the notes very helpful.

  7. The first paragraph could benefit from breaking into a few shorter sentences, the first one in particular reads a bit like a run on. And then her dialogue seems to get lost there at the end. Separating to its own line would help for readability.

    Your call, but I don't think you need the "itty bitty" line. The "what did you drag me into?" conveys enough; it doesn't matter the size of the operation, but that guns and drugs were involved (I'm guessing that's the sentiment).

    It might be good to show Ben's physical movement, or physical state in between Two and Three in his speech. He could be pacing, ticking off the list on his fingers. What emotion or attitude do you want to reveal about him through this scene? Can you show him acting in a way that supports that (likeable or unlikable).

    This line here might be an issue: Plus I didn't believe a single word he said about the guns, though I couldn't say why.

    The MC should probably know why she feels so strongly about the guns. It could be as simple as them being guns and she's afraid of them. But she should know that to justify her anger and reaction to the reader.