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Monday, March 25, 2013

Action crit #1: perceived time

(cracks knuckles and sharpens red pencil -- let's crit some action!)

There are no windows, but bulbs on the ceiling shed plenty of bright, white light. For every few feet along its length stands a Genocider, gun held across the heart.  

We walk slower. 

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” says Mindy for the first time since entering the hole. She whispers without moving her lips.

I take in the white porcelain tiles that line the sides of the tunnel. It’ll be easy to wash off the blood. “Holocaust.”

Mindy nods. “Gas Chambers.” >>Lowercase

“Before Gas Chambers. When they lined them up in ditches and shot them one by one.”

“One of the classes I didn’t pay attention in.” >>So these people are called "Genociders"... but we're not sure what their intentions are?

We keep on shuffling. I start to think out loud. “Wonder if they’ll start in the back or the front. Not in the middle. That will create too much of a panic.”

“Where are we?”

I can’t tell too well. “A little closer to the front from the middle,” I guess. >>than, rather than from

“At least we’re closer to the end of the tunnel.”

“Maybe there’s no end to the tunnel.” The words slip past my lips. “The way we came in could be the only way out.”

I don’t regret the broken look on Mindy’s face. Optimism has gotten me this far, but now I leave it behind me. This is our situation and I’ll tell it as it is. I won’t do what I did to Joanna, for the sake of both Mindy and me. I take her hand and squeeze.

“By the devil I swear.” Mindy mutters. “We’re going to make it out. You’re going to make it out, Sibyl.”

A guard is looking at us suspiciously, so we stop talking. 

My shoulders tense up as we continue walking nowhere. I roll them back, hunch them up. I don’t know what’s taking them so long. It’s inevitable that they have to start killing at some time. There are too many of us. I know that.

But still my body takes over when I see the glint of a raised pistol. I find myself pushing a girl in front of me forward. The bullet arcs behind her skull and hits the porcelain wall instead. >>use a more active description here

The front receives an order to stop moving. Genociders swarm up and down our line. They pick out a boy from my School called Sloane. It must be his arms that give him away as a Boxer. >>first sentence: a gunshot in a tile-lined hall is going to be pretty loud. I would think panic would break out instantly, and it'll take a lot more than an order to stop the crowd(?) of victims. Second sentence: you already said there were Genociders standing in the hall at regular intervals. Why do they need to swarm?

“Maim her,” a woman Genocider commands, a grin on her face. Sloane looks at her, uncomprehending. >>Who?

“If you don’t…” She clicks her pistol. >>cocks? 

Sloane’s jaw hardens as he crosses the distance between us in three strides. I don’t even see his fist coming. 

But then it’s in my stomach. And I’m still alive. It takes a quarter of a heartbeat to realize what he’s done. I double over his fist and force out a gasp that scratches my throat. I pretend I cannot support myself. My hair curtains my face as I lean on his fist, stare at the tendons and veins that bulge in his forearm. >>Be more specific.

Maybe I am supposed to cough up blood. Or die. Because the woman shoots Sloane anyway. And the spray of red makes up for my lack of it. He shudders, then falls on me. I stagger under his weight. Mindy cries out my name.

And the massacre begins. 

# >>Implying passage of time... I don't know if that's a good idea. See the comments below. 


I want to reply. Tell whoever it is I’m not dead. But I must be taken for dead, because death rages around me but I’m far from the target of the killing. >>Seems unlikely, given the scenario.

The person calls again. >>Use a stronger verb

“Mindy,” I wheeze. I push helplessly on the weight that crushes my organs and bones, that squeezes the air out of me. Sloane’s body is killing me and shielding me at the same time. 

I hear a grunt, then I’m no longer seeing black but the tiles of the tunnel ceiling. Once, they were white. Now, they are splattered with blood.

Mindy drags Sloane’s body aside. “You have to get up,” she pleads. Blood drips from a long scratch between her collarbones, which protrude as she leans down to tug on me.

I yank her down. “Play dead,” I say to the haunted look of prey in her eyes, the prey that I can’t save should it decide to bolt. She starts to protest, but I cut her off. “Just for a minute.” >>Speaking to a "look in her eyes"... ergh. Let her be a whole person. And a she, not an it. 

Mindy finally gets my point. “There is a door at the end.” The screams of the dying and wounded keep our voices to our ears. “It’s open.” >>Putting mouths near ears is what keeps the voices there. Screams would be drowning their voices out.

“Are we closer to that door than the other one?”


This is it. The next words come out in rush, before I can lose control over the fear that sours my mouth. “We’ll make a run for it on the count of three. One—“

 “Sibyl, you can’t run.”

“Yes, I can.”

“No, you can’t. Not in a way that will save your life.” Mindy’s brown eyes lock mine. 

It dawns on me. “You…” I shake my head. I open my mouth, ready to argue. But I don’t. Because we don’t have time. Because I’ve grown up with Mindy. If there’s one person that I can’t argue with, it’s her.

“When it gets louder,” she says. “We’re fooling no one but ourselves, but I like to think the noise distracts them.”

When she finishes speaking, our noise comes. They must hit a boy somewhere non vital, because his screams are like that of a pig being gutted alive. >>The constant gunfire isn't loud enough?

We leap to our feet. Mindy bends her knees. I jump onto her back.

We’re off. 

The tiles melt into a continuous tunnel of white. We’re going at speed that makes me dizzy. Every step of Mindy’s pounds into my body. Her breathing starts to hitch, but she doesn’t slow down. We fly by limbs. Caved in faces, shattered faces, florets of brain and tissue. They melt, too, and puddle as one with the flying ground. 

They’ve noticed us by now. I hear shouts. Getting closer. Mindy goes faster. A bullet blasts a hole into the wall. I get a whiff of an odd smell. Singed hair. My hair. Then it’s gone. Mindy goes faster. >>See previous comment about the hall already being full of Genociders.

But we can’t continue to ignore the bullets from behind. When we are about four hundred meters away from the door, one nicks me on my arm. A sound escapes my throat before I can silence it. Mindy’s face begins to turn. 

The fresh image of a shattered face grips me. “Don’t.” I mutter into her ear. “I’ll cover your back.>>You mean something else here. Spotting?

Too exhausted to argue, she only pants. The sound makes me want to drag myself down and let her run without me, find a nice body and hide beneath it, But Mindy’s words ring in my ears. 

We’re going to make it out. >>Given your description of the speed they're moving at, it's what, a mile to this door? Through a corpse-cluttered hallway surrounded by executioners with guns? Maybe you've done the world-building already that explains why they haven't tripped, slipped, or been shot yet... but at a glance this looks pretty impossible. 

Then I remember. I grab the compact that I put in the blouse of my dress and wrestle the top open. The mirror shimmers with stray glitter and the mottled green of camouflage.


Mindy swerves to the right. The bullet whistles past.


Another swerve. Another miss.

We’re down to the last hundred meters.

“Left. Right. Left. Left. Left.”

They catch on to what I’m doing. Multiple bullets fly at the same time. I want to shout them all out to Mindy, but I can’t do that. I’d kill her if I did.

So I bet on luck. “Left.” 

Miss. >>You said multiple bullets. Now there was only one?

“We’re almost there,” gasps Mindy. “Hang on.”

I’m shaking. My hands are slippery with sweat. I don’t know if I can decide on something like that again. I pray that we can cross the last fifty without another round.

In the mirror, they take aim. >>No, they're already aiming because they've already been shooting. Also, I'm assuming they're wielding semi-automatics or full automatics, so they can just spray the victims with maximum speed, minimum effort. Which makes this whole dodging sequence iffy. Though maybe you've established what their guns are before this scene. Though also, if they knew the ability to dodge bullets existed, they ought to have something in mind to deal with that. 

Left right left right left right?

Too many lefts so far in a row. I should say right. But maybe its a trick—logic will expect me to say right. Yes. Maybe I should stick with left. But it still doesn’t feel right. Too many. Should I… >>Taking too long. She's got to go on instinct; cut this.

I think I scream left. 

In a flash, we’re at the end, bursting through the doors. I’m thrown to the ground by Mindy’s sudden stop. An awful retching sound fills the silence; I lift head and see Mindy vomit on the ground. It’s not a pretty sight, but Mindy has a habit of vomiting after ultramarathons and the familiarity comforts me slightly.

“We made it,” I rasp. I reach out a hand to my hazy image of Mindy. I just need to touch her, feel a brush of fabric or hair on my fingers. >>What's stopping everyone in the hall from following them? Firing out the door? Several people saw them run...

We made it.

My hand freezes. I’ve been breathing through my mouth, but now I sniff. There’s something other than the smell of bile that sways my head.

Mindy’s still vomiting, but now ice seizes my limbs. One by one, the nerves in my hand melt away, until I only see myself reaching out, don’t feel. I am frozen, unable to do anything, as a brilliant crimson dribbles from the corners of her mouth. My eyes search desperately, from the top of her dark head to the veins in her feet. And finally, I see. The dark spot, waxing like a crescent right in the side of her waist, that spells my failure. >>Bleeding from mouth = wound in mouth, or blood coughed up from the lungs. Her lungs are not in her waist.

The trouble I had with this scene is how time is passing. I don't see how the scene break could be more than a minute or two, and I don't see why there needs to be a scene break. Then the action stretches out what could not have been more than thirty seconds -- the rush to the door.

I don't know how many victims there are for each shooter to kill. But given that this seems to have been planned and done before, these Genociders should be prepared to deal with those who try to bolt. The amount of description put into the running and the dodging makes it feel like a long time -- and honestly, in the time it takes to say "Left!" the bullet's either hit you or missed already.

Stepping back from this critique, the perception of time in stressful situations is different. Some people experience "stretched-out" time; for others five minutes is reduced to a blur. How readers perceive time passing is different too -- and it can be as simple as more words take more time to read, so more words = more time passing. Short, precise sequences feel faster.

There's a fascinating discussion about perceived time in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. It's worth reading. We're not drawing comics here, but we are creating images in the reader's head...

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