Hunter Maximus sat quietly with his hands folded in front of him, nervously waiting for one of the world’s most powerful beings to crush him like a bug. His mind raced, thinking over how he had gotten himself in this situation and wondering how to get out of it.
He thought briefly about escaping, because that was what he was trained to do. Always be aware of your surroundings, they had taught him. Always know where the exits are.
The room had three exits: one door and two tall windows. The door was behind Hunter’s chair. Through it was a short hallway which opened out into a large reception area. Going out there would be foolish. Hunter could hear several people talking in the reception area. One of them was the powerful being who would soon be coming for him, his voice quiet but deep and commanding.
Just eleven years old, Hunter was large for his age but easily small enough to fit through one of the windows, which were closed but not locked. Unfortunately there was a heavy oak desk between Hunter’s chair and those windows. It would take precious seconds to get over or around the desk, and the deep-voiced being in the reception area was more than powerful – he was also terrifyingly fast.
His eyes went to the phone perched on top of the desk. Maybe this could work. If he was ballsy enough to break into this office, of all offices, he was brave enough to try and brazen it out.
Yes, the being was powerful enough to crush him, fast enough to be upon him before he could blink, wicked enough to destroy him without even asking the reason for his presence; but quite possibly stupid enough to be kept out of his own room.
Hunter picked up the receiver, stabbed the button marked 'Reception' and said, "No more visitors today, Mrs. Varmighan."
Opening: JRMosher.....Continuation: Anonymous
Too late. The door opened and in walked the TSA agent.
“Okay, kid, explain why you’re wearing all these Roman clothes and we’ll let you board.”
If he's seriously considering escaping through the window, and escaping is what he's been trained to do, it seems the precious seconds it would take to go around the desk would be better spent going around the desk than sitting there thinking about his situation. In the time it takes to read the first three paragraphs he could be halfway to Gaul.
Does the villain have to be referred to as a "being" three times? Is there a name for this type of being, like a giant, or does this being have a name, like Borgo the Disemboweler?
The name Hunter Maximus doesn't seem to belong in a world with reception areas, but I'm sure there's a good explanation.
You've managed to both info dump and not give us enough info.
Things we don't need to know: that Hunter is large for his age. His last name. Really, his age, though it's traditional to plop it on page one of a MG and I usually do it myself.
Thing we most need to know: what the powerful being is. You're not building suspense by not telling us.
You can only *honestly* withhold information from the reader if it's something the viewpoint character doesn't know.
Man, this is classic authorial throat-clearing! Just get down to brass tacks! Quit looking around and backtracking, move forward! And by concealing the nature of the powerful man, you're concealing the entire genre, making it super easy for me not to care. Back to work! *raps knuckles with ruler*
Fear without context doesn't work so well. Maybe it would be better to start a bit earlier. Don't know if his panic is justified. Maybe it would help to know how he got into the room, what kind of room it is, why he's about to be crushed, and what sort of monster you've got looming in the hall.
Plus, he's a sitting duck. If he's supposed to be hard to kill like the hero of a thriller he should be busy doing something useful, not sitting there making a list of unsuitable moves.
Please don't tell me that the "powerful being" is the principal. Because if it is, I would toss the story across the room, and be done with it.
This all felt like false setup.
You've picked a hard place to enter the story. The MC is static and feeling sorry for himself. As EE points out, in the time Hunter frets abuot escaping, he could have.
Winnow this down, and tell me what the "being" is up front. I'll worry more and be more interested if I know the "being" is an evil robot monkey than being teased about what it might be. If "it" is something as mundane as a principal, you need to make me care about Hunter even more.
Just too many words and for a middle grade story I'm not sure how to cut it. If it were my opening, It would be this:
Hunter Maximus sat, hands folded, waiting for the world’s most powerful being, Gigglefart, to crush him like a bug. Escape was possible but of the three exits, the door behind him led to the Gigglefart and in front of him there was a large desk to vault to get to escape through the windows behind it. He was small enough at 11 y/o to fit through the windows but perhaps not fast enough. Gigglefart was terrifyingly fast.
Now I picked the name. Principle Stern would work for a name.
My thoughts are to make it tighter and not a round-about-ish.
I agree with everyone else so far – I’d cut about half of this, starting with the entire second sentence of paragraph one (that’s telling, not showing). It's spending too much time describing the surroundings and not getting to the story. Middle grade has to go low on description and high on stuff happening, and pretty quickly.
I don’t need to know about the exact layout of the room. Maybe, as he hears this person approach, he’s so scared he thinks briefly about escaping, or at least that he wants to, and “maybe it would work, I’m big for my age, but I might just make it through that window –“ and that’s almost all we need to know about the room. Then we can get to the scary person faster (considering this is an 11 year old, I’m expecting anything from the school principal to Voldemort).
In my early drafts, I write out a lot of stuff that I need to know, but the reader doesn’t, and it gets cut when I revise (and then I cut too much, but that’s a different problem ^_^). So this is normal. I can’t tell enough about what’s going on with the story yet to know if I’d like it or not, but it’s fine, so far.
I didn’t have a problem with Maximus as a last name – the “Hunter” makes me feel this is not ancient Rome, but more recent in history – could be contemporary, could be Victorian, could be a fantasy world, I haven’t seen enough to tell, but it’s early yet, so I’m fine.
As long as we're playing Revise-O-Rama:
Know where the exits are. That was the first rule.
Well, Hunter knew where the exits were, all right. There was one right behind his chair. The chances that he could reach it before the Gigglefart crushed him like a bug? Zero.
And yeah, I'm with Nancy, though because of what my life has been lately I assumed he was waiting for a doctor.
VICE-Principal Gigglefart, guys. We all know who does the heavy lifting of middle-school discipline.
One tip I've picked up about revising and making writing stronger is to seek and destroy (squash like a bug, as it were) most or all -ly words. You have two in your opening line: nervously and quietly.
Both are telling, not showing. Show us Hunter being nervous! Showing him being quiet might be more difficult, but maybe unneccesary if you've done a good job showing us his anxiety.
And I'm guessing powerful being is a principal, too.
Author here. One thing to note upfront -- this is a rough draft of an unfinished work so it hasn't been edited or polished much, yet. The queue was empty, though, so I figured why not. I sent another one from my work-in-progress for grownups that is also an early draft for the same reason; you'll all be able to slice and dice that one soon.
That said ...
Literally in the very next paragraph is the reason that going out through the window is not much of an option (he's on an island in the middle of the ocean, and he's not even sure which ocean, let alone how far it might be to another piece of dry land) and the identity of the "being" is revealed. Maybe if I'd sent 300 words instead of 200 ... :)
Nancy, sorry, it is indeed the principal. Does it help to know that this is a school for superheroes, and the principal is not completely human, and is in fact huge and terrifying?
Gigglefart. Love that. This book (and the one that precedes it, Captain Kissy-Face) was written for my kids moreso than for publication (though I sm still trying to get it out there) and they'd love that, too. Might have to find a way to make use of that name, if you don't mind.
Best thing I can say at this point is that you're all correct, this is a bit wordy and throat-clearing-ish, maybe to sludgey for an opening, but I'll take all of the above into consideration in the revision and polishing stages. I appreciate the input from everyone.
A small tip from one who has travelled this road.
Don't write about what the character isn't going to do.
Hi, author! While you're in there editing, "the reason that going out through the window is not much of an option" is another piece of clutter to get rid of. The Turkey City Lexicon calls those "Bogus Alternatives" and (like us) advises you to just get on with it.
Go ahead and use Gigglefart if you can. I can't use it in my stories. It's perfectly suited for kids books.
200 words is too long to stay coy about something the viewpoint character knows and the reader doesn't.
100 words would be too long.
30 words would be barely acceptable. In some circumstances. And only if it were done subtly.
Few people can write adequately for both middle graders and adults. As Stephen Colbert would say: Pick a side.
If you were wanting him to consider non-viable alternatives, something like "going out through the window was an option, particularly if he wanted to have a mammoth-shark sink its two foot long teeth through his legs and spit his bones out like grit". Then again, if he was superhero material, this option may not worry him much!
A actually quite liked the first two paragraphs, though I agree you don't need both nervously and quietly.
After that, I agree with the others about getting to the action. I'd love to see the revised version of this with the action bumped up. Personally, I have no problem with the being being a principal.
Yes, I said being being. And I meant it :)
Author again. Been away for a few days for the dreaded (but necessary) day job so I'm just seeing the latest posts now. Wanted to say thank you again to everyone on the comments and suggestions. I'm still plowing ahead with the draft but when it comes time for revision and polish I'll keep the above in mind and find a starting point more with more oomph.
Oh, sigh. The principal. I don't care that he's superhuman. Just tell me upfront that he's waiting for the superhuman principal who can literally squish him like a bug. It will make me worry more for / about Max.
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