Work from Kathy

Annalisa could feel the blood gushing from her back as she lay motionless on the bed.  Her heart was beating, and with each beat, more blood seemed to gush forth.  She wondered what she had done to anger Josh so much.  Usually, just a slap across the face was his worse comeback, but tonight, he seemed more intense than ever.  He had ran from the house and jumped in his jeep and spun off after beating her with a whip, and throwing her across the bed.  How could she possibly get to the phone to call for help?    She tried to move off the bed, but could not.  She fell back on the bed and staring praying.  Life was so precious…..she had never really thought about dying like this.  Suddenly, she saw the lights of a car flash through her windows, and the sound of the motor come shut off.  Who could this possibly be?  Surely Josh did not come back to finish her off.  Oh, God!  Don’t let it be Josh!  Suddenly, she heard footsteps in the hall, and a soft voice call her name.  “Annalisa”, “Annalisa”.  She did not recognize the voice.She began to feel dizzy, as blood was still pouring from her back.  She could not move, and her lips could not seem to answer.  The voice called her name again, and could not respond.  She was helpless.  She would die here alone if someone did not find her soon.  She waited for the voice to call again, but she heard nothing.  Then she heard a car crank up, and saw the lights as it pulled from her drive.  She would die alone.  Oh, God! Where are you?

Instructor Response

You’ve achieved excellent momentum–you’ve carried the reader through a period of story time, delivering essential and related-to-scene story information within the scene action–and you’ve engaged the reader firmly with an admirable sense of drama. The reader wants to know more, wants to know what happened, and feels sympathetic to Annalisa’s plight. Here are a few things to consider as alternatives.


1. Scene veracity and word choice. You have a woman on a bed. It is assumed she’s lying face down, but for the reader’s image development it might help to indicate how she is lying. (It makes a difference in what she would feel and how she would feel it. Bleeding from the back against a mattress is different than bleeding unhindered, for example.). You are in her point of view. She has been whipped. In assessing your scene, would she feel gushing blood from back wounds? Isn’t gushing like oil from a ruptured BP oil line: lots of oil and fast? Would back wounds, where there are no major arteries, gush? Would a heartbeat be perceived as causing a gushing from a back wound? Would “ooze” or something like it be a better choice? This has to do with veracity. You don’t want the reader thinking, even subconsciously, could this have happened? Readers are more engaged if they believe the scene could have happened in the real world. They tend to have more sympathy with real people than animated or fantasy characters, especially in literary fiction, where the expectations are for character-based fiction. If there are images or ideas that don’t make sense or lack logic, their intensity of involvement is lessened. So in revision, always check for credibility of the situation and images you create.


2. Backstory positioning. In the second sentence you are internal–in Annalisa’s mind–and you are in backstory. It’s done effectively. But you might ask: What is the effect of backstory on the scene action? And since this is a beginning, when you have engaged a reader’s interest in the progression of the story by describing the feelings of a woman, her thoughts about her tormentor, and her motivation, does information unrelated to the immediate moment add to the scene? This information is essentially exposition (introducing Josh, exploring possible motivations, etc.). Then you slip back into immediacy of in-scene writing, providing information about her dilemma: she can’t reach a phone, she is praying, she muses about dying. What if you delivered your information with a slightly different structure? What if you engaged the reader with what is happening in the scene: the bleeding, trying to get off the bed, praying, seeing lights, someone coming, speaking her name, and leaving, her inability to call out to let them know she’s there and needs help. Things seem to be moving along. Then she’s abandoned by someone she doesn’t recognize but who knows her, and she’s afraid of dying. What’s going to happen next?

            This might all be done before dropping into backstory about who tried to kill her, and Josh and the whip and what he did to her before. (Remember, we know she doesn’t die; in this point of view she’s telling the story from a later time, so she has to live. So the tension is not whether she dies or not, but what happens.) You can deliver backstory in the next few paragraphs, choosing one of many techniques: exposition, narrative description, dialogue, internal reflection, continued in-scene action, etc.

            To effectively analyze your scenes, you can ask yourself: Is that possible? Is there a more effective placement of information? Will that require suspension of disbelief (the veracity issue)? Is the plot momentum logical? Is there a better word to create the effect I need? Is there too much in this scene and I need to cut or replace ideas and images?


3. Energy dissipation. This suggestion addresses scene energy. You’ve created high energy (and dramatic tension) in the scene. But it suddenly drops off at the end when the mysterious person drives off. Consider why. You’ve introduced a nice bit of tension in this unknown voice who calls out her name but she doesn’t know who it is. But is this nice tension in conflict with the tension of the immediate action? That is, will she be found and will the bleeding be stopped to save her? When you’ve chosen the scene to address dramatic action, will the momentum you’ve created be continued, or augmented, by introducing other significant mysteries too early and too fast (who the stranger is and why he/she came and how they know her? and why did Josh do this and where is he and will he be punished for his crimes? are examples). This might be too much to envelop in a single opening scene that has engendered significant momentum. Addressing this idea could help maintain the energy at the level you’ve established.


You’ve done a great job. My suggestions are for learning through choice of alternatives rather than demanding implementation. You’ve got the potential for a lifetime of enjoyable writing, an enviable gift. WHC

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