Sam to his Friends
I wonder if you would be kind enough to have a look at a piece of my writing and let me know what you think?
It is the opening to a story about a man called Samuel who begins to realise that his life is a little different to most people. He has no family or friends and very little understanding of the world he is blundering through.
(Story is quite dark, not a comedy)
Sam to his friends
A moment of stillness; a snapshot of calm. It had been raining and the air in the alley was still damp, a myriad of shimmering neon lights from the main street reflected in shallow puddles.
At the mouth of the alley a man silhouetted against the bright lights stood motionless over the lifeless body of a woman.
Standing in the shadows where the smell of fried onions, burgers and doughnuts from the main street began to merge with the more unsavoury aroma of rotting vegetable peelings and urine of the alley, Samuel Clarke stared in horror at the man in the blood stained shirt. He knew that he should run; knew that there was a good chance that he could be next but fear coursed inexorably through him.
The man looked up from the woman on the ground, raised bloody hands before him and let loose a primal scream, his eyes bulging with an insane fury. Heavy footfalls reverberated from the high alley walls as he stormed forward. Samuel Clarke, Sam to his friends, finally found his feet and raced blindly into the darkness of the alley. Overflowing bins raced by either side as Sam frantically willed his legs to pump faster. Deeper into the alley and the dim light gradually faded to almost complete darkness so that soon every step he took was a gamble, the result of which was only revealed each time his foot landed safely onto solid ground.
From the look of his silhouette the man had appeared to be very powerful. Sam didn’t reckon much to his chances of being able to fight him off and by the sounds of it those heavy footsteps were getting closer by the second. Fear was threatening to paralyze him but somehow he managed to press on, his eyes searching desperately for an escape.
Suddenly a stream of light slashed through the darkness as a cat burst from a doorway up ahead and to the right, leaving the door ajar. Sam pressed on for the door, grasped the rusted handle and yanked it towards him. The rotten wood protested as the chain securing it to the doorway became suddenly taut. Sam cursed but the pounding footsteps so close behind told him that this had been an all or nothing gamble. He thrust himself into the slim gap of the doorway, splintering wood piercing his belly as he wriggled through. With a guttural cry of rage the man threw his immense weight against the door, crushing Sam between door and frame and forcing the air from his lungs. Thick, powerful fingers raked Sam’s back and gripped his jacket. There were tears in his eyes and Sam shrieked, wriggling more forcefully through the tiny gap and out of his jacket.
Sam tumbled to the cold concrete floor of what seemed to be some sort of store room. The pale yellow light, in contrast with the darkness of the alley stung his unaccustomed eyes. Behind him the man was repeatedly snapping open the door against the chain trying to force his way in. Before him, Sam could see several paint tins each spattered with various shades of either eggshell or magnolia. Panic replacing reason, Sam selected one of the tins and rushed back to the door. As the door snapped ajar again he could see from this side that the ring that held the chain to the door was now hanging on by only two of the four iron screws which had originally secured it.
The door slammed shut and then instantly burst open again, the screws squeaking in protest. Sam swung the paint tin over his head and sent it arcing through the slim gap in the door where it collided solidly with the man’s head. The man grunted and his huge form crashed to the ground. Sam backed away from the door, the paint tin swinging idly by his side. He became suddenly aware that he was shaking and his breath was coming in sharp gasps. Questions filled his mind.
“Why?” he thought “Why was this man so full of hate?”
Sam was positive that he had not harmed this man before now, had not even seen him before tonight. He was equally positive though that had the man caught him, Sam would very quickly have joined the woman, like her lying in a scarlet pool of his own blood.
Sam was dragged abruptly from his thoughts as the door snapped open again. The brute was back on his feet!
Sam let the paint tin fall to the ground and rushed further into the room. On the opposite wall was a staircase leading to the floor above, he sprinted for it as the door behind him finally burst open. The man let out a cry of triumph as he surged through the doorway.
Sam threw himself up the wooden staircase, the first three steps creaking dangerously and the fourth giving way beneath his weight. His leg crashed through the broken step up to his thigh, his chin striking painfully on the step above. His head swam and Sam fought desperately to stay conscious. His hands scrabbled above him, finally finding purchase on a flimsy wooden hand rail and hauled himself back to his feet as the man sent several of the paint tins tumbling across the storeroom floor. Sam leaped over the broken step and steadied himself against the dizziness in his head. The man reached the bottom of the staircase and Sam bolted to the top.
I don't understand why Sam was inside the alley and the killer was near the entrance. And I'm afraid that running away DEEPER into the alley (not out of it into the street) and then INTO a building and UP THE STAIRS is so cliched and worthy of the Freddy Kreuger award! Maybe that's what you're going for. What do I know?
Hi, Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I really appreciate it.
My submission is taken from the prologue which unfortunately is just over 1000 words (the limit for this section) so I had to trim the ending off. I think that the ending addresses your questions but I would be delighted to hear your opinions.
This is the end of the prologue.
The man reached the bottom of the staircase and Sam bolted to the top. The upstairs was cloaked in darkness and he threw himself into its concealing protection. He could hear behind him the man reach the top of the stairs and hesitate. Sam was now in total darkness, he slowed his pace trying to move silently on floorboards that squeaked and groaned with every step. His own heartbeat pounded deafening in his ears but he could just make out the eyrie sound of the man pacing slowly into the darkness and describing in hushed tones the slow painful death that Sam was to endure. Sam pressed his back against the coolness of a brick wall and tried to clear his muddled mind, hoping to discover some inspirational idea that would see him safely out of this living nightmare.
Floorboards creaked beneath the man’s hefty weight and Sam tried desperately to quieten his breathing in case he could be heard. Fear had now become terror that made Sam’s entire body tremble so that when a floorboard gave way with a sickening crash he squealed and physically cowered.
The man cried out in pain and then was still. Sam listened in the darkness and could hear the man grunting and gasping as though exerting great physical effort. Slowly, quietly he reached into his pocket, drew out a torch and shone its light into the room before him. About six feet ahead the powerfully built man with the blood stained shirt was waist deep in a hole in the floorboards, a pointed part of which had punctured his side and now his own blood spewed onto his shirt and mixed with that of the woman’s. He struggled to lift himself clear but was unable to find the necessary leverage and it seemed all he could do to stop the splintered floorboard from sinking further into his flesh.
Samuel Clarke, no-one called him Sam, felt the ecstasy of fear drain from his body. A startled rat scuttled from under a pile of rags, his foot stamped down on it just enough to hold the creature in place. If his own fear was ecstasy then witnessing the fear of others was like experiencing a total utopia, an elevation of his very soul. The rat began to squeal and writhe as Samuel Clarke applied pressure to its fragile body. As the rat’s eyes bulged in its head and its tiny heart pounded through the soul of his shoe he bit his lip against the almost erotic pleasure. His eyes shifted to the big man, hungrily consuming the expression of horror on his face as the rat’s spine finally snapped.
He savoured the moment, breathing in deeply as if taking in the fragrance of an aromatic flower as he planned his next move. The man’s wife had been entertaining but it had been all too quick. This time he would not rush.
First of all, I must admit I feel a bit inadequate critiquing someone else's work. Sometimes it feels like pointing out the imperfections of another when you have imperfections of your own. However, given that I have endured a few critiques myself, I figure why not? You can love it or lump it, right?
Here goes . . . and bear in mind I say these things with the utmost respect for you, your work, etc.
First of all, watch your use of adjectives and adverbs, especially adverbs. Stephen King really makes this point in his book On Writing. BTW, if you only read one book about writing, read THAT one. I didn't note too many abuses in that regard, but still it bears repeating.
Now these are notes I made as I was reading the prologue --
The matter of the attacker's "powerful" silhouette. How can a silhouette convey power? It's just a shadow. No dimensions to add depth or contour, thus conveying power. Now a PROFILE might convey power, as you are viewing the actual person from the side. You can see muscle contour, general stature, set of the jaw, so forth.
When the person winds up in a store room, or what he assumes is such. Perhaps you should give just a brief, BRIEF mention of how he reaches that conclusion. Maybe he trips over something, or notes a familiar smell. Again, keep it brief and carry on.
When Sam wonders why the attacker is so full of hate. Hate's a bit much. If I were in Sam's shoes, being persued by someone this blood-hungry, I would wonder why they are so psychotic. The person could be a schizo without a hateful bone in his body. But because he's not properly medicating or, worse, is self-medicating with booze and illicit drugs he's . . . nuts. Killing is not necessarily born of hate. A lot of times, it is due to a fractured mental/emotional state.
"Scarlet pool of his own blood." Unless we're talking about someone who is not human, all blood is scarlet. Okay, mine is burgundy if you want to get right down to brass tacks, but it's because I have a high hematocrit count (i.e., I have a LOT of iron in my blood). Perhaps you might say, "lying in a pool of cold and final scarlet." Thus denoting a bloody death.
"finally finding purchase." Perhaps a phrase common elsewhere, but not where I live (US). Gotta watch against that because you don't want readers who aren't where you're from to have to stop and figure out what it means. Fortunately, I am pretty good at inferring from context so I had no problem figuring out what you meant. Others may not be able to draw a similar conclusion.
My aim is not to offend or hurt feelings. If I have, I do apologize. I can run off at the mouth (or finger), without thinking sometimes. But it is my sincere hope that you see this as what it's intended to be: constructive criticism.
Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help.
Please do not worry about offending me. I am sure I will raise no eyebrows with the revelation that I have not had any writing tuition beyond the basic English classes at school (so nothing at all since I was 16). I have never so much as read a book on the subject, though I may well take your advice on that and look up Stephen King’s book. I am certainly under no illusion that my work is perfect.
To be honest, what shocked me was not that my work contains errors, but how glaringly obvious they are now that you have pointed them out! That scarlet blood sentence for example is rubbish!
If you were holding any criticism back to be polite then please by all means let me have it all. I want to gauge where I am starting from and what I need to do to improve.
Oh no, my dear. I said what I had to say. Now go write something awesome!
My submission is taken from the prologue which unfortunately is just over 1000 words (the limit for this section) so I had to trim the ending off.
Andy. The 1000 word limit is really a guide, not a rule. I don't think most people care if it's a little longer, particularly if you can include the whole section with just a few hundred more words. I've posted pieces longer than 1600+ words. Just add a word count at the top of the piece to warn them. Good Luck!!!
Andy, your writing is very convoluted and you're trying to add details to a type of scene where staccato sentences work better to produce the atmosphere of fear and where decisions are made on the spur of the moment without any thought.
For example you wrote: Sam was positive that he had not harmed this man before now, had not even seen him before tonight. (of course he didn't know him or he would be thinking: OMG, Jimmy Ragehead just killed that woman. And if he had harmed the man before, then he would probably be thinking: Oh sh!t, I bet Jimmy's still pissed about me accidentally tripping him in the bar the other night. Don't let the writing for your MC wander off into areas that the MC doesn't really have the time to think about.) He was equally positive though that had the man caught him, Sam would very quickly have joined the woman, like her lying in a pool of his own blood.
But this would capture his immediate fear better: Sam knew that had the man caught him, he would even now be lying in a pool of his own blood.
So Sam is the real killer and the man chasing him is the husband of the dead woman in the alley.
That is totally unbelievable. Tell me how a grown man squeezes through a chained door. Have you ever seen how narrow the opening is on a chained door? And don't entry doors typically swing in, not out, particularly chained ones? This storeroom place is so old and dilapidated that men break through steps and floors just by walking on them, but there's electricity, there's a light in the place? Sam the heartless killer momentarily knocks his assailant senseless, and he doesn't press that advantage? Instead, he spends those precious seconds wondering why the husband of the woman he just killed is after him?
Sorry...made my nonsense-o-meter spike. Re-think the story, then we can talk about the writing.
Thanks everyone, some really great stuff there.
Oddly, the storeroom is based on a real place but I suppose if the reader perceives it as unbelievable then that's what is important. I'll bare that in mind in future.
The whole point of the prologue was really to introduce Sam's rather unique personality, the action was supposed to be secondary but what I am hearing is that Sam's thoughts and ridiculous decisions just make no sense.
Right! I'm off to give it another go. I am feeling very positive; I'm better prepared this time!