Author Topic: Dubhglas - Fiction - 1994 word chapter fragment. Language & implied violence  (Read 808 times)

Offline Stayce

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 16
This is a fragment of the first chapter of something I'm working on right now. It's a bit of urban supernatural fantasy and horror that I'm hoping to see published one day. Any and all feedback is obviously what I'm here for, so feel free to have at it.



In the beginning, there was only pain. 

It hit her hard, a tearing and eviscerating agony that drilled its way right down to her core. She arched, twisted and writhed, but it was fierce and unrelenting.
 
Then, suddenly, as quickly as it had come upon her, the pain was gone. For a few blissful moments, all was at peace.

Next came the flashes. 

There were hundreds of them, maybe even thousands, each one a moment in time, frozen as if in amber and stretching out into infinity. Some of them were familiar to her; a hand scorched on a hot plate, a dash of pride as her mother’s smile beamed up from a crowd of other smiling faces, the taste of salt as tears streamed freely and without pause. The rest were not familiar; sights and sounds, smells and tastes, feelings and thoughts, all of them alien and unknown. They were so very, very many – more than she could count – crashing in one after the other until she was overwhelmed and crushed beneath wave after wave of purest memory.
     
She could feel herself sinking deeper and deeper into that sea of time and sensation with every passing moment. She was beginning to drift apart at the seams, the very memories of whatever her life had been slipping away into the dark. She tried desperately to cling to those memories that were hers and hold herself together but it was all in vain. The more she tried, the deeper she sank, and the more those moments that were not her own pressed in around her. She had no choice but to surrender to them and allow all that she had been to float away. At that moment, she felt lighter, no longer weighed down by herself, but instead buoyed by all these other lives she had never known.
   
And so, she began to rise. 

-----

A sharp intake of breath filled the room, and a moment later the woman struggled upright as if awakening from some terrible nightmare. Her eyes were wide and rolling, and her breath was coming in laboured gasps that sounded all the louder against the otherwise pervasive silence. Suddenly, something caught in her throat and she gagged. Leaning sideways, she broke into a bout of hacking coughs until whatever it was that was blocking her airways was finally dislodged. With a last fit of violent choking, she felt something thick and coppery fill her mouth. She spat, and a disgusting globule of clotted blood and mucus slapped onto the enamel floor tiles beneath her.
   
Repulsed but finally able to breathe clearly again, she straightened once more and scrubbed the back of her hand across her mouth as her breaths finally began to slow. It came away crusted with more congealed streaks of blood. 

Somewhat calmer now, she used the brief respite as a chance to take stock of her situation. She was sitting on a flat steel slab in the centre of a large room. Its walls were an antiseptic-but-aged white and each was empty save for the one directly in front of her. It was made up of a grid of square, steel doors, each one opened by a thick handle. There was a chill in the air that was beginning to bite at her skin, and it was then that she realised she was naked from almost head to toe. The only thing present that even approached clothing was a thin white sheet gathered across her legs and hips.   

Not sure why she was doing so, she reached up to rub at her chest. She did not know what exactly it was that she had expected to find, but was certainly surprised when all that she could feel beneath her fingertips was smooth skin. A shiver ran down her spine and she grabbed for the sheet at her waist, wrapping it tightly about her shoulders more in an effort to protect her own modesty than to keep the cold at bay.   
 
Returning her attention to the room around her, the truth of her present circumstances was beginning to dawn on her, and a queasy feeling began to grow in the pit of her stomach. 

Besides the wall of metal lockers, the room was primarily occupied by a row of five steel slabs that included the one she was sitting on. Above her, a series of neon tube lights ran in straight lines across the ceiling. Only those few immediately above her were actually lit, bathing her own slab and the one beside it in a harsh white luminescence. 
Her eyes fell upon that second slab. A motionless form lay upon it, stretched out in quiet repose, and covered by a similar white sheet to the one she had cloaked herself in. This sheet was pulled up past the figure’s head and obscured all of the body save for its feet, one which had what looked like a luggage tag tied to its big toe. Looking to her own toes, she noticed that an almost identical tag was fastened there as well.   

Her heart quickened in her chest again. Breathing hard, she reached down and snatched at the tag. It tore free easily and with what little strength she had, she hurled it away from her as best she could. Her mind was beginning to race. She had no idea how it was she had come to be here, but she had her suspicions of just where ‘here’ was, and she knew she could not stay. Something was out there. She could feel it in every fiber of herself, a deep and penetrating sense of wrongness. She was not safe here. She had to get away – far away preferably – and as fast as possible. 

Still breathing heavily, she slid her legs over the side of the slab and lowered her feet down to the tile. As she moved, the walls seemed to heave around her and a strange roaring sound thundered inside her skull. Her head swam as she clutched tightly to the slab with her free hand in an effort to steady herself. She gripped the sheet about herself with her other hand, and tried to remain as still as possible in the hope she would manage to regain some kind of equilibrium. 

After a moment or two, she decided to make a move. She did not know if her legs could take her weight, but she could not afford to waste another moment. Releasing her grip, she let out a muffled curse as her knees buckled and she collapsed heavily to the tiles. With a frustrated grunt, she braced with her arms and managed to push herself up into a sitting position, her back propped against the cold steel of the slab for support. She waited, ears straining for any kind of sound beyond the semi-stifled rasp of her own breathing. Nothing. All remained silent. 

Gritting her teeth hard, she dug in with her heels and braced against the slab, sliding up it until she was standing once more. Again, she paused for a moment and tried to calm herself. This time, when she released her grip, she managed a few tottering steps before listing sideways into a wheeled cart beside the slab that she had not noticed before. The cart teetered then toppled with a crash, scattering what looked like surgical tools across the floor. 
 
The woman collapsed to her knees again, only just managing to avoid a face-first fall into the varied knives and bone saws by catching herself with outstretched arms. She remained that way - propped up on all fours - for what felt like a good minute or two, unable to tear her gaze away from the sharp angles and serrated edges that were glinting wickedly back at her. Even just the sight of them was enough to make her chest itch. 

Eventually, and with a firm swallow, she reached out with a trembling hand and grasped the handle of a particularly sharp looking scalpel. Her heart was pounding so hard now that she honestly thought it might be about to leap up her throat and out of her mouth. With a strange kind of terrified fascination, she settled back onto her knees, rubbing at her breastbone and staring at the blade between her fingers. There was something about the gleaming metal that conjured the image of a too-wide, perpetually grinning mouth; one lined with steel teeth. She flinched. The image was too familiar to be some mere flight of fancy. It felt frighteningly more real than that.
 
The sound of muffled voices coming from somewhere behind her snapped her back to the here and now in an instant. Craning her neck, she caught sight of a pair of large double doors that were set into the wall at her back. Each one had a small round window in it at roughly her head height. The voices were coming from just beyond them.   
Tightening her grip on the scalpel she had snagged, the woman grabbed for the slab a third time so that she could heave herself back up on to her feet yet again. That same feeling of danger and the need to flee was becoming almost overpowering. 

This time, her attempts to walk were more successful. Bare feet padding on the tile, she managed a shambling half-run over to the double doors, her sheet-cum-cloak trailing behind her as she went. Once she reached the doors, she pressed her back up against the wall beside them. A bright light was streaming in through the small windows from outside, but she did not dare to risk so much as a glance through them. The voices were close now, and the people behind them would almost certainly catch sight of her if she were to stick her head into view.   

“...telling you, I heard something,” came a man’s voice. He sounded nervous.

“Seriously?” a second man replied, his less nervous than the first and instead sounding much more tired and irritated. “I get it, okay. It’s creepy down here. No need to let it spook you so much, though.” 

“I’m not spooked,” the first man replied indignantly. “But you weren’t here when the paramedics wheeled ‘em in. Seeing the girl all torn up was bad enough, but the old man...” there was a pause, and when the voice spoke again, it was in a more hushed, conspiratorial tone. “...someone really went to town on him. It looked like he’d been mauled by a wild animal. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
 
The second man chuckled. “You’ve been watching too many horror movies. It’s not like we don’t get people who’ve been cut on in here all the time, but you’re talking like it’s Halloween or something.”

As they were speaking, one of doors began to swing open. The woman took a deep breath and tried to force herself even further back against the wall. She could feel nervous sweat on her brow and palms, and her fingers were gripped so tightly around the scalpel that her knuckles were beginning to turn white.   
The second door also swung open and the two men emerged into the room. Both were still locked in conversation and had their backs to her. They looked young and were dressed in pale green hospital scrubs with clean white sneakers. The younger of the two, a little shorter than his partner, clean shaven and with a short crop of dark hair, froze almost immediately when his eyes fell upon her empty slab.
 
The second man was still speaking and so did not immediately notice the empty slab. He was a little taller than his companion, with unkempt blonde hair and a dusting of stubble across his jaw. “I mean c’mon man! This isn’t Zombieland! They’re hardly about to get up and walk...” He froze too as he finally noticed what it was that had given his partner pause. “...away.”

Offline An Albatross Man

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 14
First, thanks for sharing and good luck (we all need it, or we wouldn't be here)

Overall: great premise, waking up in a morgue; generates automatic tension from the get-go. When you wrote that she reaches up to touch her chest, I was kind of hoping she'd find a stitched-up Y-incision. Because if you wake-up *after* you've been autopsied, you know you've got problems.

Quibbles and comments (take or leave):

1. Can she have a name at this point?  Do you not tell us her name because she doesn't remember it at the moment?  I want to get inside her viewpoint, but to me that's kind of hard when I don't know the first thing about her. Just a name can say a lot.  Plus, it helps reduce the number of pronouns in your narrative. There is an awful lot of "she" and "herself" in there, sometimes very close together. Not sure all that's necessary anyway. Which brings me to my next point . . .

2. I'll bet you could sit down and cut this segment down to 1300 words and not lose a thing. Try it. You build tension like a boss, but then squander it by dragging out the time with heavy prose.

3. Are the two guys in scrubs going to be recurrent characters beyond just this scene?  If not, I wouldn't personally waste any time describing their height, build, coloring and facial hair. Let them just be types. The reader's own "inner casting director" will throw together a couple of generic hospital dudes.  Also, if we are seeing things from the viewpoint of your very stressed-out character, it's unlikely she would notice any of that. Put your self in her shoes; you probably couldn't pick them out of a line-up five minutes later--so why should the reader be able to?  If they become important to her later, you can show them through her eyes, when she finally gets a good look at them. 

My two cents...

Vin, The Albatross Man     

   

Offline Stayce

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 16
Hey there, and thanks for the feedback! Much appreciated.

To be honest, some of the things you've noticed as missing are in there, but they come a little further down the line. The touching her chest thing is an example. I didn't want to go over the 2000 word limit recommended by the board. I actually do have a couple of chapters already typed up, but chose this opening bit as the most complete fragment that would make sense in isolation. I think you're right about the prose, though. I've been over this a bunch of times and cut it down a little already, but it could still be leaner, and there definitely are further darlings still to be taken out back and shot. I probably just like to hear myself type. I will take another crack and see if I can keep things a bit more terse and on the money.

With regards to the other comments, a couple of answers. You're right with your first guess. She doesn't have a name, because we're in her perspective and she doesn’t remember it. It's the same reason she's not described, yet the hospital dudes are. She doesn’t know what she looks like. I did think about things like her reading her name off the toe tag, or seeing her reflection in the scalpel, but the sting at the end of the whole chapter is that she realises she’s a complete amnesiac. Tropey, but useful for helping build mystery, and there is a narrative explanation for the amnesia. The downside is that it seems to be keeping her remote at first. I may need to rethink this...

The two hospital dudes; one of them is important. The other a nobody, so that's good advice right there. Thanks!

Again, I really appreciate the feedback. Your two cents... solid gold.

Stayce
« Last Edit: April 18, 2019, 11:58:57 AM by Stayce »

Offline poetryman123

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 80
Great story! Had me reading it the whole way through.
yonathanasefaw.wordpress.com

Offline Stayce

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 16
Wow, thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Offline poetryman123

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 80
It's my pleasure.
yonathanasefaw.wordpress.com

Offline Stayce

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 16
Just a quick update to this. I've taken Albatross Man's advice and attempted to streamline this opening, and have managed to knock about 400 words off the previous fragment. I've posted the update here, minus the little 'prologue' section and due to the lower word count, I've also included a bit more from the rest of the chapter. The total is still around 1,980, but those words are now going significantly further. Anyone wanting to let me know what they think, and especially how this compares to the original, please feel free.


A sharp intake of breath filled the room, and a moment later the woman struggled upright as if awakening from some terrible nightmare. Her eyes were rolling frantically, and her breath was coming in laboured gasps that sounded all the louder against the pervasive silence. Something caught in her throat and she gagged, leaning sideways and breaking into a bout of hacking coughs. With a last fit of violent choking, something thick and coppery filled her mouth. She spat, and a disgusting globule of clotted blood and mucus slapped onto the floor tiles below.   

Repulsed, but able to breathe clearly again, she straightened and scrubbed the back of her hand across her mouth. It came away crusted with more congealed streaks of blood.

With her breathing finally becoming more regular, the woman used the brief respite to take stock of her surroundings. She was sitting on a steel slab in the centre of a large room. Its walls were an antiseptic-but-aged white, save for the one directly in front of her. It consisted of a grid of square, steel doors, each one with a thick handle. 

She shivered. There was a chill in the air, and it was then that she realised, she was naked from almost head to toe. The only thing present that even approached clothing was a thin white sheet gathered across her legs and hips. Her chest tingled, and she reached up to rub gingerly at it, surprised when all that she could feel beneath her fingertips was smooth skin. Another shiver ran down her spine, not due to the cold this time, and she grabbed for the sheet, wrapping it around her shoulders in an attempt to protect her modesty, although from who, she was not really sure.     

Looking around the room once more, the truth of the woman’s present circumstances began to become apparent, and a queasy feeling started to grow in the pit of her stomach. Besides the wall of metal lockers, the room was primarily occupied by a row of five steel slabs, including the one she was sitting on. Above, a series of neon tube lights ran in straight lines across the ceiling, but only those few immediately overhead were actually lit. They bathed her own slab and the one beside it in a harsh white luminescence. 

The woman’s eyes widened. Another person lay upon that second slab. They were stretched out in quiet repose and covered by a similar white sheet to her own. It was pulled up past the figure’s head and obscured all of the body save for their feet. One those feet had what looked like a luggage tag tied to its big toe. 

Looking to her own toes, the woman noticed that an almost identical tag was fastened to her as well. Heart pounding in her chest, she reached down and snatched at it. It tore free easily, and with what little strength she had, she hurled it away as best as she could manage, not even wanting to think about what its presence meant. 

Her breath rattling in her chest, she slid off the side of the slab and lowered her feet down to the tile. She had no idea how it was she had come to be here, but she had her suspicions of just where ‘here’ was, and she knew she could not stay. Something was out there. She could feel it in every fiber of herself, a deep and penetrating sense of wrongness that screamed at her to get away – far away – and preferably as fast as possible. 

As she moved, her head swam and the walls seemed to heave around her. She clutched tightly at the slab in an effort to steady herself. After a moment or two, she decided to make a move, uncertain if her legs could take her weight, but not wanting to waste any more time either. 

Releasing the slab, she managed a few tottering steps before listing sideways into a wheeled cart that she had not noticed before. It toppled with a crash, scattering what looked like surgical tools across the floor. Collapsing to her knees, the woman only just managed to avoid a face-first fall into the wicked-looking knives and bone saws by catching herself with outstretched arms. She remained that way - propped up on all fours - for what felt like minutes, unable to tear her gaze away from the sharp angles and serrated edges that were gleaming back at her. The mere sight of them was enough to make her chest start tingling again.

Slowly, she reached out with a tremulous hand and grasped a particularly sharp looking scalpel, all the while feeling a strange sense of morbid fascintation growing within her. Settling back onto her knees, she rubbed at her chest and stared at the blade. The shining metal conjured images of a too-wide, perpetually grinning mouth; one lined with teeth sharper than knife-edged steel. She flinched. Those teeth were no mere flight of fancy. There was something about them that was frighteningly more real than that. 

The sound of muffled voices coming from somewhere behind her snapped the woman back to the here and now. Craning her neck, she sighted a pair of large double doors that were set into the wall to her rear. Set in each at roughly head height were a pair of small round windows. The voices were coming from somewhere just beyond them.   

Tightening her grip on the scalpel, the woman grabbed for the slab and heaved herself back to her feet. That deep-seated urge to run was so overpowering now, she was having trouble keeping her thoughts straight. 

This time, her attempts to walk were more successful. Bare feet padding against tile, she actually managed a shambling half-run over to the doors. Once there, she pressed her back up against the wall beside them. Harsh, fluorescent light was streaming in through the small windows from outside, but she did not dare to risk even a glance through them. Those voices were so close, she would almost certainly be seen if she were to stick her head into view.   

“...telling you, I heard something,” came a man’s voice. He sounded nervous.

“Seriously?” a second man replied. He did not sound nervous at all, but rather irritated. “I get it, okay. It’s creepy down here. Still don’t have to let it spook you so much.” 

“I am not spooked,” the first man sounded indignant. “But you weren’t here when the paramedics wheeled ‘em in. Seeing that girl all torn up was bad enough, but the old man... They really went to town on him. Looked like he’d been mauled by a wild animal. I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

The second man chuckled. “You’ve been watching too many horror movies. It’s not like we don’t get people who’ve been cut on in here all the time, but you’re talking like it was Michael Myers or something.”

They were right outside the doors now. The woman took a deep breath and tried to force herself even further back against the wall. There was sweat on her brow and her fingers were gripped so tightly around the scalpel that her knuckles had turned white.   

A moment later, the two men were through the doors and into the room proper. Both had their backs to her and were dressed in green hospital scrubs. The shorter of the two stopped dead in his tracks almost immediately. Clearly, he had noticed the empty slab. 

His partner was still speaking however, and did not seem to be paying as much attention. “I mean c’mon man! This isn’t Zombieland! They’re hardly about to get up and walk--” he stopped short, finally realising what it was that had given his partner pause. “...away.”

“Told you I heard something,” the first man hissed. “You think she’s still in here?” 

The second man had already started backing out of the room. “No idea,” he said, his voice cracking slightly. “Probably wasn’t laid out properly and just slipped off the slab. Tell you what; why don’t you check, and I’ll go and grab Doctor Simms?” 

Without waiting for an answer, he turned and fled from the room, sneakers squeaking against the floor tiles as he ran.   

“Hey, wait a second!” the first man shouted after him. There was no reply save for the sound of another pair of doors somewhere outside banging shut. 

The remaining man grunted before turning back to examine the room once more. “Well, shit,” he muttered to himself under his breath. 

After a moment or two or peering into the gloom beyond the slabs, he began to shuffle forward. “Hello?” he called out, voice quivering in the dark. “Is anyone there?” 

The woman started after him. 

“Hello?” the man called again as she crept closer. 

The woman bit her lip and lifted the scalpel. She did not know what she was going to do with it, but she wanted answers and if this man had them, then she was going to get them... one way or another. She was almost within arm’s reach of him and was about to make a grab for his shoulder when the doors behind them swung shut on their closers. 

There was a loud bang, and the man started, whirling on the spot to face the source of the noise. His eyes widened in shock as he caught sight of the woman he had thought dead now coming right at him with a raised scalpel. “JESUS!” He began to backpedal furiously, only to find her slab barring his way. 

She lunged for him again but this time he ducked sideways, narrowly avoiding her clumsy attempt to grab hold of him. She cursed as her balance failed and only managed to stop herself tumbling headfirst to the floor by grabbing at the slab. 

The man did not waste the opportunity, backing away from her and circling back toward the doors. Growling in frustration, the woman righted herself and moved to cut him off. 

“Easy, easy!” he said, lifting his hands with palms open in a soothing gesture “Go easy okay! I just work here!” 

“Where’s here?” the woman’s voice cracked harshly when she spoke. It was as if this was the first time it had been used in months.

“You’re in Fairfield District Hospital.” Unable to reach the door, the man was now moving to try and keep the slabs between them.

“Doesn’t look like any hospital I’ve ever seen.” 

“Well that’s because we’re in--” the man stopped short, as if he had just realized what he was about to say and even he could not quite believe it. 

“In the what?” the woman hissed. The man just stared at her, dumbfounded as the reality of what was going on slowly began to sink in. She gritted her teeth and jabbed the scalpel in his direction. “In the WHAT?” 

The man’s mouth opened as if to speak, but no sound came out. Eventually, he swallowed and tried again. His voice was little more than croak. “It’s because we’re in the morgue.” 

The woman pressed her lips together tightly. She had known the words were coming; did not make them any easier to hear. “Why am I in the morgue?” she said stiffly. There was a dull ache in her throat, and she found herself blinking to keep back tears.

The man’s face turned ashen. “Hey, c’mon now, I’m not a doctor, okay. We can talk about this later all you want, but first, you have to just put the knife down and--” 

“WHY AM I IN THE MORGUE? JUST TELL ME!” 

“Okay, okay!” The man winced. His eyes darted warily to the scalpel. “It’s because you were dead, alright?” 

Offline An Albatross Man

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 14

A sharp intake of breath filled the room, and a moment later the woman struggled upright as if awakening from some terrible nightmare. Her eyes were rolling frantically, and her breath was coming in laboured gasps that sounded all the louder against the pervasive silence. Something caught in her throat and she gagged, leaning sideways and breaking into a bout of hacking coughs. With a last fit of violent choking, something thick and coppery filled her mouth. She spat, and a disgusting globule of clotted blood and mucus slapped onto the floor tiles below.

Try this cutting down on the adjectives and adverbs. I'm not a complete Fascist on that sort of thing, but I do think they are often redundant ("a terrible nightmare"--is there any other kind?)
   

Repulsed, but able to breathe clearly again, she straightened and scrubbed the back of her hand across her mouth. It came away crusted with more congealed streaks of blood.

With her breathing finally becoming more regular, the woman used the brief respite to take stock of her surroundings. She was sitting on a steel slab in the centre of a large room. Its walls were an antiseptic-but-aged white, save for the one directly in front of her. It consisted of a grid of square, steel doors, each one with a thick handle. 

She shivered. There was a chill in the air, and it was then that she realised, she was naked from almost head to toe. The only thing present that even approached clothing was a thin white sheet gathered across her legs and hips. Her chest tingled, and she reached up to rub gingerly at it, surprised when all that she could feel beneath her fingertips was smooth skin. Another shiver ran down her spine, not due to the cold this time, and she grabbed for the sheet, wrapping it around her shoulders in an attempt to protect her modesty, although from who, she was not really sure.     

Looking around the room once more, the truth of the woman’s present circumstances began to become apparent, and a queasy feeling started to grow in the pit of her stomach. Besides the wall of metal lockers, the room was primarily occupied by a row of five steel slabs, including the one she was sitting on. Above, a series of neon tube lights ran in straight lines across the ceiling, but only those few immediately overhead were actually lit. They bathed her own slab and the one beside it in a harsh white luminescence. 

The woman’s eyes widened. Another person lay upon that second slab. They were stretched out in quiet repose and covered by a similar white sheet to her own. It was pulled up past the figure’s head and obscured all of the body save for their feet. One those feet had what looked like a luggage tag tied to its big toe. 

Looking to her own toes, the woman noticed that an almost identical tag was fastened to her as well. Heart pounding in her chest, she reached down and snatched at it. It tore free easily, and with what little strength she had, she hurled it away as best as she could manage, not even wanting to think about what its presence meant. 
Why not? Isn't she trying to figure out what this place is and why she is there?  A toe-tag is kind of a big clue. If she DOES realize where she is, and is just in denial of it, that's a different matter.  But then why does she go on to interrogate that hospital worker about where she is?  Maybe you save the Toe-tag reveal for AFTER he tells her she in the morgue. She resists the idea at first, but then looks down at the tag on her toe . . . and at the tags on the other corpses's toes. 


Her breath rattling in her chest, she slid off the side of the slab and lowered her feet down to the tile. She had no idea how it was she had come to be here, but she had her suspicions of just where ‘here’ was, and she knew she could not stay. Something was out there. She could feel it in every fiber of herself, a deep and penetrating sense of wrongness that screamed at her to get away – far away – and preferably as fast as possible. 

Oh, so she does know. Okay...

As she moved, her head swam and the walls seemed to heave around her. She clutched tightly at the slab in an effort to steady herself. After a moment or two, she decided to make a move, uncertain if her legs could take her weight, but not wanting to waste any more time either. 

Releasing the slab, she managed a few tottering steps before listing sideways into a wheeled cart that she had not noticed before. It toppled with a crash, scattering what looked like surgical tools across the floor. Collapsing to her knees, the woman only just managed to avoid a face-first fall into the wicked-looking knives and bone saws by catching herself with outstretched arms. She remained that way - propped up on all fours - for what felt like minutes, unable to tear her gaze away from the sharp angles and serrated edges that were gleaming back at her. The mere sight of them was enough to make her chest start tingling again.

Slowly, she reached out with a tremulous hand and grasped a particularly sharp looking scalpel, all the while feeling a strange sense of morbid fascintation growing within her. Settling back onto her knees, she rubbed at her chest and stared at the blade. The shining metal conjured images of a too-wide, perpetually grinning mouth; one lined with teeth sharper than knife-edged steel. She flinched. Those teeth were no mere flight of fancy. There was something about them that was frighteningly more real than that. 

Lots of strong images in the last two paragraphs, but they're stepping on each other's toes. Simplify. Don't tell us what she's afraid of, show us. And keep the action moving forward.

The sound of muffled voices coming from somewhere behind her snapped the woman back to the here and now. Craning her neck, she sighted a pair of large double doors that were set into the wall to her rear. Set in each at roughly head height were a pair of small round windows. The voices were coming from somewhere just beyond them.   

Tightening her grip on the scalpel, the woman grabbed for the slab and heaved herself back to her feet. That deep-seated urge to run was so overpowering now, she was having trouble keeping her thoughts straight. 

This time, her attempts to walk were more successful. Bare feet padding against tile, she actually managed a shambling half-run over to the doors. Once there, she pressed her back up against the wall beside them. Harsh, fluorescent light was streaming in through the small windows from outside, but she did not dare to risk even a glance through them. Those voices were so close, she would almost certainly be seen if she were to stick her head into view.   

“...telling you, I heard something,” came a man’s voice. He sounded nervous.

“Seriously?” a second man replied. He did not sound nervous at all, but rather irritated. “I get it, okay. It’s creepy down here. Still don’t have to let it spook you so much.” 

“I am not spooked,” the first man sounded indignant. “But you weren’t here when the paramedics wheeled ‘em in. Seeing that girl all torn up was bad enough, but the old man... They really went to town on him. Looked like he’d been mauled by a wild animal. I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

You're dialogue speaks perfectly fine by itself. You don't need to "direct" it with so many adverbs. Trust the words.

The second man chuckled. “You’ve been watching too many horror movies. It’s not like we don’t get people who’ve been cut on in here all the time, but you’re talking like it was Michael Myers or something.”

They were right outside the doors now. The woman took a deep breath and tried to force herself even further back against the wall. There was sweat on her brow and her fingers were gripped so tightly around the scalpel that her knuckles had turned white.   

A moment later, the two men were through the doors and into the room proper. Both had their backs to her and were dressed in green hospital scrubs. The shorter of the two stopped dead in his tracks almost immediately. Clearly, he had noticed the empty slab. 

His partner was still speaking however, and did not seem to be paying as much attention. “I mean c’mon man! This isn’t Zombieland! They’re hardly about to get up and walk--” he stopped short, finally realising what it was that had given his partner pause. “...away.”

“Told you I heard something,” the first man hissed. “You think she’s still in here?” 

The second man had already started backing out of the room. “No idea,” he said, his voice cracking slightly. “Probably wasn’t laid out properly and just slipped off the slab. Tell you what; why don’t you check, and I’ll go and grab Doctor Simms?” 

Without waiting for an answer, he turned and fled from the room, sneakers squeaking against the floor tiles as he ran.   

“Hey, wait a second!” the first man shouted after him. There was no reply save for the sound of another pair of doors somewhere outside banging shut. 

The remaining man grunted before turning back to examine the room once more. “Well, shit,” he muttered to himself under his breath. 

After a moment or two or peering into the gloom beyond the slabs, he began to shuffle forward. “Hello?” he called out, voice quivering in the dark. “Is anyone there?” 

The woman started after him. 

“Hello?” the man called again as she crept closer. 

The woman bit her lip and lifted the scalpel. She did not know what she was going to do with it, but she wanted answers and if this man had them, then she was going to get them... one way or another. She was almost within arm’s reach of him and was about to make a grab for his shoulder when the doors behind them swung shut on their closers. 

There was a loud bang, and the man started, whirling on the spot to face the source of the noise. His eyes widened in shock as he caught sight of the woman he had thought dead now coming right at him with a raised scalpel. “JESUS!” He began to backpedal furiously, only to find her slab barring his way. 

She lunged for him again but this time he ducked sideways, narrowly avoiding her clumsy attempt to grab hold of him. She cursed as her balance failed and only managed to stop herself tumbling headfirst to the floor by grabbing at the slab. 

The man did not waste the opportunity, backing away from her and circling back toward the doors. Growling in frustration, the woman righted herself and moved to cut him off. 

“Easy, easy!” he said, lifting his hands with palms open in a soothing gesture “Go easy okay! I just work here!” 

“Where’s here?” the woman’s voice cracked harshly when she spoke. It was as if this was the first time it had been used in months.

“You’re in Fairfield District Hospital.” Unable to reach the door, the man was now moving to try and keep the slabs between them.

“Doesn’t look like any hospital I’ve ever seen.” 

“Well that’s because we’re in--” the man stopped short, as if he had just realized what he was about to say and even he could not quite believe it. 

“In the what?” the woman hissed. The man just stared at her, dumbfounded as the reality of what was going on slowly began to sink in. She gritted her teeth and jabbed the scalpel in his direction. “In the WHAT?” 

The man’s mouth opened as if to speak, but no sound came out. Eventually, he swallowed and tried again. His voice was little more than croak. “It’s because we’re in the morgue.” 

The woman pressed her lips together tightly. She had known the words were coming; did not make them any easier to hear. “Why am I in the morgue?” she said stiffly. There was a dull ache in her throat, and she found herself blinking to keep back tears.

I suspect this is the first thing she would ask.

The man’s face turned ashen. “Hey, c’mon now, I’m not a doctor, okay. We can talk about this later all you want, but first, you have to just put the knife down and--” 

“WHY AM I IN THE MORGUE? JUST TELL ME!” 

“Okay, okay!” The man winced. His eyes darted warily to the scalpel. “It’s because you were dead, alright?”

Overall, I think you are tracking in the right direction.  Just work less at at.  Be stingier about your words. Hold back against the urge to show and tell everything right up front.  That, by the way, is the same thing I tell myself when editing my own work. Good luck.

Offline Dustin91

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 334
Hi Stayce,

You mention you are pursuing publication. When I see posters mention this, I put on my publishing house intern hat and see how long the author can sustain my attention, if at all, without tripping up. I'm acting quickly when I put on this hat, because interns have to sort through a considerable number of manuscripts in a small amount of time. Unfortunately, the first version of this "fragment" was consigned to my imaginary slush pile in less than 1 minute. The second version was stacked on top of it less than 30 seconds later.

Here was my thought process for the first version:
Quote
In the beginning, there was only pain.  (Immediately passive. Not a plus, but not unforgivable.)

It hit her hard, a tearing and eviscerating agony (seems awfully similar to melodrama) that drilled its way right down to her core (cliche). She arched, twisted and writhed, but it was fierce and unrelenting (telling rather than showing, cliche, and passive. Clearly a fledgeling's sentiment).
 
Then, suddenly, as quickly as it had come upon her, the pain was (passive) gone. For a few blissful moments, all was (passive) at peace.

Next came the flashes. 

There were (passive) hundreds of them, maybe even thousands, each one a moment in time, frozen as if in amber and stretching out into infinity. Some of them were (passive) familiar to her; a hand scorched on a hot plate, a dash of pride as her mother’s smile beamed up from a crowd of other smiling faces (cliche), the taste of salt as tears streamed (cliche) freely and without pause.

At this point I've seen enough to know that this is the work of a novice and, though probably an interesting premise, not something my superiors would care to edit or publish. Too passive, too melodramatic, and too cliche.

Now, I see that you submitted a revised version of this fragment, and you have jettisoned the prologue. This makes me feel better because it means you're starting the story closer to the important stuff. I read on with some restored hope.

My thoughts on the second version:
Quote
A sharp intake of breath filled the room (What does this even mean?), and a moment later the woman struggled upright as if awakening from some terrible nightmare. Her eyes were (passive) rolling frantically (this image calls to mind the robot's eyes in this commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIWfc9aI1YI), and her breath was (passive) coming in laboured gasps that sounded all the louder against the pervasive silence.

I stop here. The author had the right idea starting closer to the action, but the new version suffers from the same passive, melodramatic and cliche ailments as the previous one. I add it to the slush pile. I take off my publishing house intern hat. I skim the rest but unfortunately miss anything that might be redeeming.

You seem to write well enough. You have a good grasp of composition and drama and pain. You seem to have read a book or two in your day. But it's clear you could use some more practice writing fiction. So here are the three things I think would best serve this story:

1. Seek out and address the prevailing passive voice issue.
2. Like Albatross noticed, the heavy prose could stand to be greatly reduced.
3. Seek out and work around cliches.

If you can adequately address these issues, I believe this story stands a better chance of avoiding the slush pile much longer, if not altogether.

Hope this helps and thank you for sharing,
Dustin

Offline Stayce

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 16
Oof. Some gut punches to my ego there guys, but thank you! I’ve long suspected that I’m guilty of overwriting and directing my prose, but it’s good to have it confirmed so precisely, along with some clear suggestions on how to fix it. You’ve both given me a lot to think about.

I can see I've got quite a bit of retooling and practicing to do in the near future.

Thanks again!
« Last Edit: April 24, 2019, 01:48:50 AM by Stayce »

Offline Dustin91

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 334
Major kudos for the positive attitude. Thick skin is a trademark of a good writer.

If I may offer one more bit of advice, take some time away from this chapter and come back with a fresh mind. Changing too much too quickly can exhaust the story and leave the author feeling doubtful of their ability to bring it back to life.

Dustin
« Last Edit: April 24, 2019, 10:10:45 AM by Dustin91 »

Offline Kit

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 36
Hi Stayce.

First, I really like your premise, I like how you start the story from the viewpoint of the woman and how she slowly comes back to life, slowly realizing what her situation might be.  I did not need to know the name of the woman, for me, it felt like part of the mystery.  I think you have a talent for building tension, but it does get lost in repetitions, adjectives and adverbs.  Take out the repetitions unless you really need to hammer a point.  Try using stronger verbs instead of an adverb with a verb.  I think there is a good story in there!

Kit 


Offline Stayce

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 16
Hi Kit, and thank you for the feedback.

After some of the comments here I've gone away and substantially reworked the prose, trying to make it more immediate, quicker and less wordy. I've tried to excise as much of the passive as I think feels right to do and tried to use more active verbs. I've also taken your advice (and the advice of many published writers it would seem) to try and avoid adverbs wherever possible, and stick to verbs.

To be honest its been quite the challenge, as cutting down the prose at first meant I no longer personally liked how the story read any more. It felt much more choppy and harder to parse for me, but with some judicious editing, I think it's in much better shape now.

I'm not going to post the revision here for the time being as I would prefer feedback on some other things later and don't want to bore people with the same bit ad nauseam, but should anyone wish to take a look I'd obviously be more than happy to PM it.

Thank you to all for the feedback so far! It's been fun - if more than a little headache inducing.