Yesterday, I took a shot at critiquing the first half of John’s 2-paragraph submission. As a reminder, here’s what we’re working with:
As she focused on the radio controls, Destiny never saw the two inch galvanized pipe protruding from the bed of the delivery truck that had quickly stopped in front of her. Except for a very loud noise, she had no sense of the pipe penetrating her skull and destroying her brain. Nor did she notice that the golden retriever puppy had broken its neck as it careened into the dash.
Bob Elliot could scarcely believe his eyes as the tiny sports car ran under the back of the flat bed truck without attempting to stop. He had been a medic in Viet Nam and acted instantly to attempt to save the young woman’s life, although he instinctively knew that the petite blonde-haired person would not survive as he began his resuscitative effort. Following the initial impact, the truck had pulled ahead a few feet removing the pipe from Destiny’s head. She had fallen partially out of the car onto the street, so he began CPR right there. AIRWAY, BREATHING, CIRCULATION, AIRWAY BREATHING CIRCULATION, AIRWAY BREATHING CIRCULATION. When the paramedics arrived four minutes later, Destiny had never been without a pulse or oxygen. Bob was relieved when they took the brain dead woman away in the ambulance.
There’s a POV shift between the paragraphs, and that’s always dicey. You want to stay with a character long enough for the reader to begin empathizing with her. And it’s generally difficult to empathize with a dead character. It can be done. Read THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold to see how.
Actually, John left a comment today to say that dear departed Destiny will play a role in the book. That does sound interesting, doesn’t it? So given that, I’d want to see quite a bit more development. John says this is the beginning of the story. I’d suggest showing us a few pages inside Destiny’s head. That, in fact, is just what Alice Sebold did with her character, who didn’t die till the end of chapter 1.
In any event, at some point the POV will switch to Bob. As I said yesterday, the problem is that the second paragraph is narrative summary. There’s a lot of telling. For some low tension scenes, telling can be an acceptable way to move on to the good stuff.
But this is a high tension scene, so it really needs to play out in real time. I don’t know this character well, so I’ll have to wing this. Here is my quick attempt to write this paragraph using MRUs. (For a quick review of MRUs, see my article on Writing the Perfect Scene.)
Bob Elliot braked hard, cursing the idiot truck driver two cars ahead.
The red Camaro just ahead didn’t even slow down.
“Brake!” Bob shouted, fighting the wheel.
The pipe poking out of the rear of the truck ahead shattered the Camaro’s windshield.
Bob fishtailed to a stop and flung himself out of his car. It was like ‘Nam all over again–blood all over the inside of the Camaro, the sound of roaring in his ears. He raced around to the driver’s side.
The young blonde had fallen halfway out onto the pavement. Major brain trauma, no sign of breathing, massive blood loss.
No way she could survive that. No way. And no way he’d give her up without a battle. He stretched her out flat on the ground, checked her airway, pumped twice on her chest, and breathed into her.
He’d done this a hundred times and quickly settled into a numb routine. Airway, breathing, circulation. Airway, breathing, circulation.
It went on and on and on. Finally, the paramedics arrived.
Bob backed away, letting them do their job. He’d done all he could. She’d not gone without pulse or oxygen since the collision.
And he knew in his gut that it was all useless. She’d been dead before he got to her. Damn!
You will note that in some cases, I’ve put the Motivation and Reaction in the same paragraph, when it seemed appropriate. It’s not easy writing fiction in a little blog window, so I’m not sure how I’d write this if it were in Microsoft Word on the big screen. I hope this is an improvement. I’ve tried to show this in real-time, up to the point where the repetition cuts in (CPR is very repetitive). That’s the time to do a little narrative summary, because repetition is boring.