Thursday, January 14, 2016

Talkin' Heads #26

TITLE: Civil Wars
GENRE: YA - Dystopia

Alice, a soldier in the US Army, was bleeding out when she was rescued by a rebel. She has just woken up, and doesn't understand why she's still alive.

“I’m saying that I know that we’re in a war, but I can’t look at someone bleeding out and not help them—not help you.”

“I’m an enemy soldier,” she said.


She didn’t see how there needed to be anything after that. They were in a war, and they were on opposite sides. They were supposed to fight each other, to kill each other. “And I was already dying,” she said. “You didn’t even have to kill me, if that’s what you were concerned about. You could have just left.”

“I could have,” he agreed. “It would have been easier.”

“But you didn’t,” she said. “Why?”

His gaze met hers, and his voice was fierce and very low. “If I hadn’t saved you, I would have killed you just as surely as if I had taken my knife to your neck. To walk away would have been a coward’s way out.”

Alice did not know what to make of him, this enemy soldier that had refused to kill her. “Then thank you,” she said, without even meaning to, without even realizing what she was doing, “for being brave.”

He broke eye contact first, his gaze flickering away from hers with something like surprise. “Alice, you are very unlike the girl I imagined,” he murmured.

“How so?” she asked, wondering what he had expected of her, when she was lying there delirious and half-dead.

He shook his head, a faint smile on his lips. “I thought for sure you would have tried to kill me by now, good Army soldier that you are."


  1. I really liked this! It does a good job of building the relationship between the two characters and making them both sympathetic to the reader. I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens.

    In my opinion, it could use just a little bit of tightening up in some places. You repeat the same thought two or three and cutting one instance out would actually make things stronger.

    For example: "she said, without even meaning to, without even realizing what she was doing" could be more succinctly stated "she said, without even meaning to,"

  2. Nice job. I would start with "I know we're in a war, but..." and go one from there. Saying "I'm saying that..." sounds a little odd.

    Try "I'm your enemy" instead of "I'm an enemy soldier." It's more direct so it has more punch.

    He says if he hadn't saved her, it would have been like killing her but that's not exactly true because he could have tried his hardest but she could have been too far gone. In which case it wouldn't be like he killed her. Have him say, "If I hadn't tried to save you..."

    I agree with Suzanne that your dialogue builds the relationship between the characters well. It also characterizes them. Nice job!

  3. The pace of the scene moves slowly because of the interruptions between the bits of dialogue. It cuts the tension in what should be a tense scene between enemy soldiers.

    Take out the first sentence: "I’m saying that I know that we’re in a war" because it's hard to read, and I had to go back and read it again. At least cut it down to: "I know we're in a war." You can easily just start with "I can't look at . . ." and not lose a thing.

    Doesn't the reader already know they're on opposite sides of a war? If so, go right into "I was dying. You could've left." Nothing else in that paragraph furthers the plot.

    You have three descriptions in the next sentence. Gaze, fierce, low. Choose 1. Cut the others.

    Leave "Alice didn't know" but cut "this enemy soldier . . ." because it repeats info we already know and that slows things down.

    "without even meaning to, without even realizing what she was doing" - This really tells us nothing and repeats the same message twice. I'd go for an internal, emotional reaction, something quick that conveys she respects what he did, even it puzzles her.

    Really good last line - I want to read on - until you draw it out too long with "good Army soldier that you are". Keep the sentences in these pivotal scenes short and sharp and you'll be well on your way to a great scene.

  4. It does need a bit of tightening but it's engaging.

    Lots of great suggestions already. The only thing I'd add is his murmuring. Usually people are kind of talking to themselves when they murmur, yet he starts by using Alice's name. If he's talking to her, is murmur the best word?

  5. Well, trying to kill him now would have just been rude...

    I liked it well enough on the surface. On a close inspection, I have a couple of quibbles:

    I feel like they're saying very obvious things to each other that they probably shouldn't need to. "I know that we're in a war," "I'm an enemy soldier," "And I was already dying," "If I hadn't saved you, I would have killed you...," And Alice is thinking some very obvious things: "They were in a war, and they were on opposite sides," especially since you follow it with, "they were supposed to fight each other," which is basically just using three different phrases to get to the same point, and, "this enemy solder that had refused to kill her."

    I think when we write dialog, we feel like we need all this extra padding to show voice and nuance, that we need to lengthen conversations to draw out the emotion, but I also don't think we should ever be afraid to tighten the heck out of these scenes and then fill the space with information the reader doesn't already know. If you need to show Alice coming to grips with this, find a way that's not just her repeating the facts of the situation back to herself in the simplest terms possible. Figure out a way to make her thought process about it very personal. Accepting an enemy is very personal and we need to know where she's digging that mindset shift out of.