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  1. #1
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    Desert 1st Chapter wc-982

    Desert

    Chapter 1
    Sweat


    If it wasn't for being tied to his saddle, Marion would have fallen off Phoebe hours ago.

    The day he started the trek, the sun was barely a thought on the horizon. The desert appeared less formidable, but by noon, when he stopped to water himself and his mount, he noticed a hole worn in the goatskin, and most of the water gone.

    He rationed the few drops until the following day, and that's when his mind wandered. Sweat. Such a curious thing. Water leaves your body at the least opportune time. Why would your body's water leave you when needed the most? He licked a salty drop from his upper lip, trying to stave off its escape.

    It would be two days more to the Oasis Siwa. He would never make it.

    He dug a finger under Phoebe's saddle and felt for moisture. She'd stopped sweating...

    It was an odd distant sensation, and by the time he opened a crusted eye, the desert floor was swirling toward his face. Marion landed head first, his back arching and his arms flailing. He lay still and took stock of himself. Nothing broken? He turned carefully and propped himself up on an elbow. Sand was thick on his lips. When he breathed, he sucked in the grains and coughed. He tried to spit out the desert, but it was like trying to blow gun powder out of a rusty musket.

    Phoebe's glassy eyes stared at him, not a sign of life left. He reached over and closed them. She had been his best and most reliable friend this past year. He wouldn't be here at all if not for her. Now she had sealed his fate. As if he had a chance.

    He pulled his shemagh over his eyes and pictured her the first day they met...

    Marion had been purchasing pickles and goat meat at the Cairo market. Arriving in Egypt only the week before, he was still enthralled by the sights and sounds of the busy city. He was walking along, loaded up with bundles of food, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning he saw a boy tethering a handsome Arabian horse. She had a bandaged left foreleg, but besides that, she was stunning.

    After a quick inspection and quicker bartering, he loaded his sacks upon her back and headed back to the British base where he wondered if he'd be allowed to replace his assigned mount.


    Five years later, Lieutenant Marion and four of his comrades had just been discharged from the British armed forces. His Sargeant, Albert Macky, had a grand plan after they were mustered out.

    With only three months left in their enlistment, they'd been sent to scout a line of oasis on the eastern tip of the Sahara, in Egypt. They were hurriedly returning to their base in Cairo. Corporal Nichols had malaria and his fever, combined with the heat of the Sahara, was often a death sentence. Two days out, they came across a nervous caravan. Upon inspection, they found a king's fortune, looted from a forgotten tomb. Not having much authority over civilians, and not to mention the thirty carvaners were armed, and no military weaponry was being smuggled, they had little choice but to let them continue their journey.

    As they rode away, Sargent Macky made a request of Marion. “Lieutenant, permission to follow them.”

    “For what purpose?”

    “They are carrying contraband. We should see where it goes. It might go to be sold to purchase weapons for our enemies.”

    Marion thought for a moment. “No ulterior motives. Sargent?”

    “Of course, sir. Your permission?”

    Marion simply nodded at him, giving no verbal order.

    Sargent Macky headed east of where the caravan was en-route, skirting to their flank.

    Two weeks later in the barracks, back in Cairo, Sargent Macky returned, looking bedraggled, but the light in his eyes had them itching with curiosity. Lieutenant Marion, Corporal Nichols, Sargent Devon and Private Percival, immediately cleaned him up, then hurried Sargent Macky to a quiet corner in the local cafe, where they gathered around Macky eager for his story.

    Marion ordered a bottle of brandy and five glasses. He prodded Macky. “You're killing us. What happened after we left you?”

    “Well, it was the first week out after you fellas left, and me low on water and getting desperate, when the caravan finally set up camp. Then they dug and dug, until the blackness of night hid them from sight.”

    “So they buried the treasure?” Marion asked.

    “Wasn't quite sure about that, yet. The next morning, I followed them a ways. Just over the first dune, I saw a line of Bedouins ready to attack.” Macky, still looking thin and haggard, shot down his brandy. He was unshaven and his rusty colored hair fell over his collar. His skin was peeling and his eyes had a far away look.

    “Well...?” Corporal Nichols, the most reserved and youngest of the comrades, prodded.

    “You should have seen it. Those devils, in a line as crisp as the Royal Lancers, on horses black as oil, charged down the dune in a formation that would have pleased The Duke of Wellington. They slaughtered the carvaners, giving no quarter. They pillaged everything they could carry, which wasn't much and left before an hour had passed. I sat back and realized I was in the middle of a miracle. Now the digging made sense.

    “All I could think of was getting back here and telling my mates we would be the richest men on earth. The miracle being, I was the only man alive to witness where the treasure was buried . The Bedouins hadn't had a clue that a fortune lay buried just a dune away.”



  2. #2
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    I was impressed with the writing. But when I hit:
    He pulled his shemagh over his eyes and pictured her the first day they met...
    I threw up my hands. We have someone in the desert, tied into the saddle, out of water, in danger of dying. Then, with no transition or time break he's falling—and as it turns out, so is the horse. but since he's tied into the saddle, the horse will have fallen on his leg. I'll accept that the fall probably wouldn't have broken his head, unless there was a rock. But I cannot buy that without transition he's free of the horse.

    Next, comes the question of why this is a surprise, since he appears to have been carrying only water for himself. But all that is minor, next to the fact that the reader has been set up to know that he's in dire straights. They're expecting him to at least think about what to do. But instead, you abandon him and talk about when he met the horse? Seriously?

    If the idea is that his miond is drifting he can't have a lucid memory, of flashback. So this can only be a device, of the author's to provide backstory. And in fact, you provide an info-dump of backstory, explaining the backstory to the reader as a report. But this is the opening and you're trying to hook the reader, who comes to you to be entertained. Do they need any of what you say? No. Not for the scene you began. In his viewpoint, the one the reader wants to live the story in, what matters to him is survival. For you he's a story character. For him, it's rteal, and happening moment-by-moment.

    Which would you rather do, live the vacation or have the one who took it narrate the slide show—with a broken projector?

    The problem with our medium is that it's slow. Glance out your window and you see everything at once, including the suspicious looking man across the street. But to give the reader the picture you see in an instant would take the proverbial thousand words a picture is worth. That's four standard manuscript pages for a static picture—four pages in which nothing happens in the story. But the furtive man is what matters. So why not tell the reader what the character has focused on as requiring a response, and what his reaction is? He is, after all the one who will have to deal with it.

    Part of the problem is that when you read this you already know the story and the people. So when you mention, "Two weeks later in the barracks," you know what they look like, how the people are dressed, and how they react to each other. So you "fill in the blanks." But from my viewpoint, you're talking about two people who I know nothing about, in an unknown location. So in the end, I've read 957 words, and I'm at the top of page five of the manuscript. And what's happened? A man I know precious little about is in the desert next to as dead horse, and likely to die. How old is he? Dunno. Why is he there? Dunno. Why was he bound to the place mentioned. Dunno. What are his resources? Dunno. And given that, why should I care if he lives or dies? But I must, because I began reading with mild curiosity, which will swiftly fade, unless you can turn that to active interest. As the great Sol Stein put it:

    “A novel is like a car—it won’t go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The “engine” of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better.”

    You write well, and your use of imagery is excellent. But your approach is to much that of nonfiction—fact-based and author-centric. But that only informs. Your reader is expecting to be entertained, which is emotional. They don't want to hear that the protagonist of a horror story is afraid. They want you to make them afraid to turn out the lights. They want an emotional, not an informational experience. And that takes writing that is emotion-based and character-centric.

    I looked at the full excerpt on Writers-Beat, and the story improves when you get to the story of the dead camel, primarily because it's all dialog. But while the story would have made for a good scene, presenting it as a tale told to others, and interjecting actions to break it up serves to distance the reader.

    Based on what I see, you have the chops, and it seems, experience, because it's the kind of writing I've seen from journalists and academics who turn to fiction. But what you need to add is a few of the tricks-of-the-trade the pros take for granted, to place the reader into the story as a participant, rather than audience. For why that matters, this article might help. As for how to improve the work, I'd suggest you go to the best I've found, Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

  3. #3
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    Great critique and things to think about.

  4. #4
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    Wow. I'm in. Just give me a date and a year. In the first few paragraphs. And maybe flip flop what really are two sections and bridge the second section with "Now here he was tied to his saddle, alone..."

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