ASIM pre-slush workshop post #5

Here is the fifth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

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Original text:

Hunger

The first bullet hit the trunk of a tree, a few feet off target. Gart dove to the right, crashing into the bushes as he heard more shots being fired. The bullets missed him, but the thick brush took its toll in hair and blood where his bulky frame tore through; plenty for the hounds to follow.

It had been days since he had any sustenance at all. Constantly on the move and staying just barely ahead of the hunters, he had no time to look for a meal. Even now he had a more immediate problem. He needed to throw the dogs off his scent.

His luck held out. There was a stream, just a few feet wide, but enough for his purpose. He crossed over and lingered on the other side for a few moments, to create a false trail. He then returned to the water, walked in and waded downstream, an ice-cold current nudging him along. Neither hounds nor trackers could follow his path as long as he stayed in the water.

Gart remained in the stream for an hour, his fur-covered skin barely registering just how cold the water had been. It felt more like days. Hunger was an overwhelming presence now, an enemy as deadly as the hunters. It made him weak and sluggish, and unable to keep up his pace.

A few years ago Gart had been a myth. Humans rarely met his kind, and an occasional sighting was dismissed by the skeptics. They were called yeti, abominable snowmen, and a dozen other names in remote areas where a chance encounter could take place. But the world kept shrinking – humans explored and populated much of the land that was too forbidding and harsh to their ancestors. Their discovery became inevitable.

Editor’s comments:

Writing is generally quite clean, but I feel the pacing is uneven.

In the first paragraph, we meet Gart, who is on the run and far too busy explaining his current situation. People are after him. Cool.

In the second paragraph, we experience a huge change of pace, where Gart as narrator starts explaining what he was doing in the previous days. The only sentence in the second paragraph that moves the scene forward is the last one. The first two sentences of the second paragraph meander. This is not-so-pressing, everyday stuff that feels out-of-place in a chase. I’d delete those sentences and replace them with one sentence that tells us something enticing about why he was followed.

The third paragraph still doesn’t volunteer this information. By now, I’m getting a bit impatient. There is a lot of detail about actions Gart goes through, but none about why. I want to know why this happens, preferably in the second paragraph.

In the fourth paragraph we get some sort of an idea. Except the structure of the narrative takes the story further back from the chase by offering the start of a history lesson, signified by the red-flag word ‘had’. To be clear, the word ‘had’ is not evil, but it often indicates a spot where a writer lapses into infodumping, lecturing about history or what people tend to call ‘telling’. It’s not always a deal-breaker, but I think this narrative does not belong in a chase. Having created the urgency of a chase, the subsequent text needs to stay closer to the character and concentrate at first on why he is fleeing in the here and now, and then work its way into the history. It is my guess that the history probably does not belong in this particular scene, since history-dumping bleeds a lot of tension from a scene.

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2 comments on “ASIM pre-slush workshop post #5

  1. I found this critique really helpful – especially re ‘had’ as a red flag. It’s even harder when you find yourself with the double red flag of ‘had had’! Excellent lesson in pacing and drawing the reader in. Thanks 🙂

    • No one would suggest had is a bogey-word, but it does indicate a change in pace. Ideally, I think an urgent scene should have no hads. The hads belong in a slower scene, where you have the peace-of-mind to explain, and where the reader probably expects some explanation.

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