For those of you who enjoy a little action, here’s another anonymous excerpt ready for your constructive criticism. Please read the piece, then leave some feedback in the comment section below.
The autopilot-controlled Mooney gracefully banked into a coordinated left turn to the new southeast heading of 131 degrees. By Roy’s preflight calculations, in 34 minutes his airplane would turn back to the southwest over Catalina Island and climb out to sea.
Roy planned to be unconscious by then. He briefly fondled the Percocet bottle, and then swallowed six pills with a generous swig of Glenlivet. As numbness rushed to his brain he reminisced about Jordan and their last night together, ten years ago during Desert Storm.
Their F-14 Tomcat had just gone feet wet returning to the aircraft carrier after a routine combat air patrol over southern Iraq. Once beyond range of Saddam’s depleted air defenses, the two friends relaxed into casual conversation.
“What do you hear from Rachel?” queried Jordan from the backseat.
“Starting college next month,” Roy answered. “I don’t hear much from her these days.”
“Probably another guy in her life now, man. Time for dear old dad to take the back seat.”
“She may have a boyfriend,” said Roy, “but Daddy will always be first in my little girl’s life.”
Jordan laughed. “You talked like that about her mother. Viv had no trouble finding someone new.”
“You are a real jerk, Jordan,” Roy barked. Then suddenly, “Hey, what the–” A flashing yellow light on the instrument panel captured his attention. “Shipmate, we have a fire light, right engine.”
Larry recited emergency procedures as Roy shut down the troubled engine. The Tomcat yawed forcefully. He jammed the rudder to the floor, desperately trying to keep it in control.
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Julie Duffy says
I like the way the guys talk to each other, the language they use. I also like the use of appropriate jargon “gone feet wet”, without explaining it fully until later when we start to see what that meant (if we didn’t already).
There is good suspense in this: who is Jordan and what happened to him/her? (presumably ‘him’, as I read on) and good foreshadowing. I’m intrigued.
I think the opening could be tightened by cutting ‘auto-pilot controlled’ from the beginning and just saying “The Mooney gracefully banked”. Sure, people like me wouldn’t know that that meant, but the context would make it clear. Then in the next sentence you could introduce the auto-pilot, saying, “by Roy’s preflight calculations, in 34 minutes the autopilot would take his airplane back to the southwest…” I just found the ‘autopilot’ in the first sentence was like an obstacle I had to step over to get to the action.
I’m not a fan of blanket-writing advice but there is one place where I think the admonition to avoid adjectives applies. There’s nothing wrong with saying “The tomcat yawed forcefully”, but I think it would be stronger if you said “The tomcat yawed,” and then went straight into how that affected Roy physically: snapping his head to one side, or sending the blood rushing to his ears, making his heart pump, making the horizon lurch like a drunkard, whatever (clearly I’ve never been in that situation 😉 Put me there). And how Roy reacts to that swift change (automatically bracing with his legs, whatever experienced Tomcat pilots do to ward off dizziness, or to sharpen their focus) will show us how experienced he is. Whether he gets it right shows us whether or not Jordan’s comments have really rattled him. I’m reading a James Lee Burke book at the moment: he does this kind of internal/external thing really well with Dave Robicheaux, if you need inspiration. This kind of reminds me of that.
Oh, and I wouldn’t say “queried Jordan’. The question mark does that for us. Keep attributions simple: “said” is good. (Though I do think “Roy barked” works just fine because it reinforces what he’s saying and the way he said it.)
One last question: is there more? 😉
Alice Fleury says
This is an interesting beginning. I think leaving auto-pilot, gracefully and new out of the sentence moves us faster.
The Mooney banked into a coordinated left turn to the southeast heading of 131 degrees. By Roy’s calculations, …
I’d also leave preflight out. I do realize you want us to know he planned this, but I think we would get it when reading about the percocet.
This sets us immediately in the sky even if we don’t know what a Mooney is. (which I didn’t.)
My personal opinion is that I understand the remembering of the conversation, it sets up questions and possibilities why Roy is going to kill himself. Do you need to go into all about the danger with that flight? Or does the story go all through his past most of the novel and then brings us back to him about to crash? He changes his mind? I don’t think having a lot of backstory at the very beginning is a good thing. Anyways, that’s what I have read. There is always exceptions to the rules. I do like that you let us know right away who is piloting the plane. And it isn’t forced the way you let us know.
I already hate Roy, he’s going to leave his daughter and I have no pity for a person who wants to commit suicide. That could be a good thing because I would read further into the chapter to see what is going on.
I have a problem with all your adverbs. Also, the part “Then suddenly”… I think you could leave these two words off. The light would be sudden, he didn’t expect it.
And here: He jammed the rudder to the floor, desperately trying to keep it in control.
How about>>>He jammed the rudder to the floor trying to keep control.
I’d also like to know how a person gets to submit for a crit. I would love to have my beginning tore apart by critters.
I put up a call for submissions on the blog every six months or so, then queue up one excerpt to run every second week until they’re all gone. I’ll probably need to do another call in June or July.
Jim H says
As a pilot, I offer these suggestions:
Immediate reaction: I became interested from the first sentence.
Likes & dislikes: I like the use of some aviation terms; not all are necessary.
Anything unclear: “Jordan” becomes “Larry” in the last paragraph.
Language issues: Can eliminate most adverbs. (They’re not “evil,” but can be avoided.)
POV: Clear to me.
Voice: Clear within the excerpt.
Inconsistencies: The Jordan/Larry switch (which might be clear in a larger excerpt)
General encouragement: Good opportunity for some tension.
Alice and Julie have already offered several good suggestions. I’d agree that most of the “-ly” adverbs can be eliminated. The precise terms “34 minutes” and “131 degrees” are unnecessary. The engine fire light on an F-14 may indeed be yellow. They’ve been red on every plane I’ve flown, but those planes were all civilian. (Not a huge issue.)
I’d like to see Roy in control of the plane in the beginning, then make a conscious effort to let go:
“Roy banked left in his single-engine Mooney and rolled out on a southeasterly heading. His finger paused over the autopilot switch. After a deep breath, he turned it on. In half an hour, his plane would turn itself toward the southwest, cross Catalina Island, and climb out to sea. He planned to be unconscious by then.”
Most of the other items I’d suggest have already been mentioned. (This is being nit-picky, Suzannah, but I’d like to have seen a photo of an F-14 or Mooney accompany this post. 🙂
Ha ha, yes, someone else already pointed out that mistake. Completely my fault. I’ll have to go searching for something more appropriate to replace it with.
I get to the end and I want to know what happens next…. good beginning. There is a good visual picture of the action in my mind. I didnt know what a Mooney was but I could figure it out. Having Glenlivet & percocet is an indication pre-planning, they arent usual flight equipment.
I am in agreement it is a bit wordy, not a problem really, but it could be crisper/cleaner.
I assumed Larry might be the navigator, but its not setup. Im thinking a Tomcat is a fighter plane, so no navigator. ??
Good descriptive writing.
I would have liked to see a picture of a Mooney or Tomcat instead of a twin-engine ? Being an ex-pilot, I enjoyed the suspense and aviation jargon. Looking forward to more …
The picture is my fault, Marjory! I have to search Flickr for Creative Commons photos that are available for commercial use (since there are ads on this site) and there’s not always many available that are also high-resolution photos that don’t clash with the site.
Plus, I don’t know anything about planes, so you can blame me!
Here’s a comment that came to my inbox from “David H”:
An American from the Iraqi Gulf War Pilot with survivors guilt is attempting suicide. At this time, we really don’t know what his reasons are for suicide. This question leaves alot of lattitude for development, historically speaking, because the US Navy was in the process of replacing the F-14 with one of the new models. The Navy needed to choose between the F-15 and the F-16 during this time frame. Also we can’t be sure if it is because of the Kwaite Invesion or the actual Iraq War. There is a good deal of events to choose from historically.
In terms of a “critique” I believe every item, phrase of whatever has been noted and you might want to heed some comments.
However, I have the delightful role of being able to read the piece for the pure enjoyment and that is what I just did. Twice. I loved it twice and I’d read further if I were able.
I, too, found this very interesting. Enjoyed reading it. Strong. Banking gracefully is something seen by an outside observer, not someone with the pov inside the plane. The wing can lift gracefully up past the clouds. Didn’t like “fondling” the bottle, that’s something an alcoholic would do. Finally, numbness doesn’t come one sentence later.
Laurel Kriegler says
You’ve definitely got my interest with this excerpt. Well done.
I agree with most of the comments before me: lose a lot of the ‘-ly’ words – if they are within speech, it is ok as it gives the character’s opinion, but if it’s the narrator, then the sense should be left to the reader (my view on -ly words); there seems to be an inconsistency between Larry/Jordan.
The technical terms and specificities (degrees, minutes) don’t bother me. I’d put the first sentence of the second para at the end of the first para. It continues the thought better.
Well done on this, and keep writing. You set the scenes well, and tell a great story!
Brigitte Morys says
This excerpt got my interest from the start and I would like to see how the story goes from there. I agree with the previous comments. The story needs to be tightened up.
My question is : how would you tell the story if you had to get rid of all the labels you used?
Look at what questions we may ask after reading two paragraphs : what are Mooney, Glenlivet, Percocet, where is Catalina, why does the airplane turn first southeast then southwest, do six pills of Percocet suffice to do the job? Is numbness an immediate effect, etc.?
And look at what we don’t know : what time of the day is it? Sunrise? Sunset? What is Roy seeing? Is it a cloudy, rainy, sunny day? And the plane: is it old, noisy, is it new, does Roy own it or has he borrowed it?
You don’t have to answer all those questions of course, but it would give you tools to point to Roy’s state of mind.
I think that what you need is to give your hero some room and your story some breath.
Every time you use a general term to inform the reader about the context, you should instead give us the context in several sentences AND put Roy firmly in the middle of it, make us understand how he thinks or feels about it all. Take your time to build your character and the world in which he evolves. It would make him closer to the reader. And the story would gain in depth and intensity.
I took some examples from the excerpt. But let me repeat first that I enjoyed reading it and I sure would like to get better acquainted with Roy.
– “during Desert Storm”: Operation Desert Storm started on Jan. 17th, 1991 and ended officially on Apr. 11th, 1991. A lot of things happened during those months, especially 100,000 aircraft sorties. There were three phases with different objectives and targets. “during desert storm” is so imprecise as been meaningless. Context is needed here. You shouldn’t wait until after the consequences of the plane malfunction to give it to the reader.
– “the aircraft carrier”: US defense deployed three aircraft carriers during the Gulf War (ref. http://www.leyden.com/gulfwar/carrier.html), with crews over 5,000 each. To these people, who are aboard their vessel during weeks, even months at a time, this is not any aircraft carrier, it is their home. And their home has a name. And sometimes, one is happy to go home, sometimes not.
– “Routine combat air patrol”: again, no meaning. What is “routine” in a combat patrol? This is dangerous business. During Operation Desert Storm, US Army lost ten aircrafts to the Iraqi defense. Small talk is OK, but you have to give us more context to make it believable.
– Roy’s age: having a daughter going to college puts him in the 35-45 age bracket. At this age, he could be a Lieutenant, even a Frigate Lieutenant. Wouldn’t that make him a flignt leader? Where are the other planes? (Even if Roy is not the leader, there should be at least one other plane patrolling with his.)
– “recited emergency procedures”: what emergency procedures? Is it just something you recite? Aren’t there some actions needed, you know, checking indicators, dials, and do on… What are Roy’s reaction’s, his friend’s comments, how do they feel? Annoyed? Worried? Panicked?
Hoping to read more of your story.
PS, “reminisce” means “to recollect events of the past and tell others about them”, something you definitely don’t do alone.
I liked the way the two characters interacted. I’m curious to read more about past lives like why is he taking 6 pills or what happened with the wife.
“Larry recited emergency procedures” slowed the pace for me. Do pilots really do that?