Tag Archives: suspense

Carbon Footprint – a #BlogBattle entry

Genre: Suspense Thriller (ok, maybe that was the goal, but this is more of a plain old action scene.)

Word: Air

Part two of my Supernatual Fanfic from last week, where Sam and Dean Winchester set out to find Teagan McSwain’s missing husband and instead encountered a strange, wood-clad being of natural fury.

P.S.: I went too long with this one (1,134 words) and I don’t have time to edit it. I apologize, and I’m fine if it doesn’t really count for the BlogBattle (too long and not quite the intended genre). I figured getting part 2 out was better than nothing.


Deep in the woods of Colorado, on a gentle sloping hillside that led up to the Rockies, vines the size of young trees twisted across the hood and around the tires of the Winchesters’ black Chevy Impala. Creeping tendrils slid and scratched the windows, seeking entry. Sam pumped the pedal, trying to shake the car free. The engine whined and the Impala shuddered, but the barricade of plant-life held firm.

Between leafy strands, Sam spotted Dean grappling with Thorn. The humanoid’s wiry limbs held unexpected strength, its body covered in flexible tree bark, its glowing eyes radiating an emerald light.

The car shook as Dean rebounded off the front bumper. “Hey Sammy,” he growled, “Mind getting something to help kill this thing? Or are you just gonna sit there and—”

He screamed as Thorn hurled him across the clearing. The wooden creature glared at Sam, then lumbered toward Dean.

Sam dove out the passenger door and dodged a reaching vine, then popped the trunk. More strands curled toward him, but he wove and ducked through their attacks. One heavy branch lay across the trunk. Sam’s arms strained and his jaw clenched as he lifted the plant off the vehicle.

The trunk sprang open, revealing a stash of weapons both conventional and supernatural. Sam dug through a duffel and tried the usual implements—salt, holy water, garlic, even chili powder—all to no avail.

At first, the vines curled around Sam’s ankles like tangled shoelaces. He broke into a madcap trot, high-stepping around grasping plants while trying other resources in their arsenal.

The vines twisted around the Impala’s exhaust pipe, but recoiled with a hiss from the heat of the car. After that, they reared back and lashed at Sam, thwacking the Chevy and stinging his legs through his jeans.

On the other side of the rumbling Impala, Thorn’s thick strands wrapped around Dean’s waist and flung him into the trees before dragging him across the ground. “Could really use your help, Sammy! Any time you want to stop dancing and start fighting.”

“I’m trying, Dean. Nothing’s working.”

Dean hit the Impala’s hood with a thud. “I bet that ax would work.”

“This might be our only lead on finding Grant. Hell, it might even be Grant.”

“I don’t care if this is Captain Planet,” Dean growled. “You need to make like Paul Bunyan and chop this thing down.”

Thorn tossed Dean into the air like a child’s toy, and Sam turned his gaze toward the canopy. Along the tree line, massive lengths of vine thick as Sam’s arm writhed and wriggled, forming a wall that stretched higher and higher. Leaves and branches mingled overhead, blocking out more light with each passing second.

“We’re being closed in,” Sam yelled.

Dean flailed through the air, thrown toward the growing wall. Instead of smashing into the plants, he hung suspended upside-down from several strands.

Thorn stalked toward his prey, eyes lighting up the shade under the spreading canopy. “Sammy! No time for screwing around!”

Sam reached into the back seat. His fingers wrapped around the haft of the ax, then something yanked him from the car. Vines twisted around his wrists, shoulders, waist, and ankles, holding his thrashing form in the air. Another strand inched a path around Sam’s neck like a python.

With his wooden arm stretched toward Sam, his fingers splayed and flexing, Thorn grinned. Sam wheezed and struggled against the restraints but felt his strength failing.

A rushing sound like wind through feathers filled the clearing, and a bright-eyed man in a long tan trenchcoat stood beside Sam. He surveyed the scene with disinterested curiosity, like someone watching clouds roll past. “Hello, Sam,” Castiel said in monotone.

“Cas,” Sam gasped. “Thorn.” He tried to say more, to explain the situation to the angel who often assisted the Winchesters. But his chest burned, clinging to what little breath remained in his lungs.

“Dean doesn’t appear to be winning,” Castiel said. “Then again, a spriggan by nature is imbued with inhuman strength.” His face lit up with a grin. “I think I made a joke, Sam. ‘A spriggan. By nature.'” He chuckled to himself.

Sam gritted his teeth and fought against the vine around his throat if for no other reason than to unleash a stream of profanity at the angel.

With considerable effort, Castiel snapped the vine around Sam’s neck. “You need air to breathe, Sam. You shouldn’t have let it choke you like that.”

“Great idea, Cas. I’ll try to remember that for next time.” But Castiel’s comment sparked a thought in Sam’s mind. When he rummaged through the trunk, the vines recoiled each time they drew near the exhaust pipe of the old Impala’s grumbling engine.

Across the clearing, Thorn raked Dean’s chest with his claws, and Dean bellowed in pain.

Sam fought the vines holding him to no avail. “Cas,” he called, “you’ve got to help Dean. Get in the car and floor the gas pedal.”

The angel furrowed his brow in hesitation, then strode toward the driver’s side door and slipped into the Impala.

Sam listened, waiting for the engine to rise in pitch. But nothing happened.

Castiel appeared in the passenger side window. “Which one is the gas pedal?”

“The long one!”

Another quiet moment passed. The Impala’s brake lights shone bright red, illuminating the darkened enclosure Thorn built.

“The other long one,” Sam shouted. “The vertical pedal.”

Dean’s Baby roared with fury, a deep growl of a beast restrained, fighting against its bonds. Smoke poured from the exhaust, and Thorn whirled toward the car at the sudden noise.

The vines holding it shuddered as the engine revved several times. Sam’s nostrils filled with the harsh odor of burning oil and raging horsepower. He coughed and his eyes watered, but he managed a shout. “Keep going, Cas!”

Thorn grasped and scratched at the Impala as if to tear its engine to pieces. His eyes flared with anger, and he emitted a keening wail that rippled through the entire canopy.

Sam’s mind swam in the fumes. Everything became hazy, and he felt himself floating, drifting toward sleep. If this didn’t work, he decided, carbon monoxide poisoning wasn’t a bad way to go.

Sunlight broke through the darkness overhead. Here and there, the canopy opened. Then the whole structure retreated, withering vines pulling away from each other. Thorn stumbled like a drunk through the clearing, headed further up the path toward the ritual site Dean and Sam sought.

The Impala’s tires spun, throwing clods of dirt several feet, then the engine cut to idle. Freed from Thorn’s grasp, Dean and Sam collapsed to the ground, both gasping for breath. Castiel exited the car and rushed to Dean’s side.

Sam rose on weary legs and took deep, fresh breaths of Colorado air.


To be continued in one last segment next week… and hopefully I’ll pay more attention to the genre and word count.

Elements of Critique: Hooks

“It’s only 3 AM. Just one more chapter…”

I can’t count how many times I’ve looked at my watch or the clock in the middle of the night and justified reading the next chapter of a good book. What is it that sucks me in, holding me captive to the storyline?

Or how about the books I pick up at the store? I flip through the first few pages to check them out. What moves me from “Hmm, interesting” to a purchase?

The powerful concept that manages both these experiences is the Hook. And since most of us hope to do more with our writing than file it away in a desk drawer or folder on the computer’s drive, the hook is something I look for when I critique other writing.

A piece should start with a hook. “Why should I read this thing? Why should I care? Get my attention.” I say that, because that’s what an editor is going to be wondering. So if a fiction scene starts off with a long peaceful account of John and Mary’s mundane dinner conversation, or a description of the magnificent table and the sweetness of Grandma Myrtle’s special meatloaf recipe, no one cares.

Ok, the writer obviously cares, and maybe the critique group cares, because we’re friends helping each other out. So I might read that thing.

When daughter Sarah bursts into the dinner screaming “Help! Timmy’s bleeding all over the place. The neighbor’s dog did it!” – well, now it has my attention.

A hook creates questions that demand answers.

How bad is Timmy bleeding?
Was it his fault?
What’s the deal with the neighbor’s dog?
Do these families get along?

Better yet, consider the difference between “It was the neighbor’s dog” and “It was the neighbor’s dog again.” One added word tells some interesting backstory right at the start, creating more questions.

Conflict arises. Curiosity follows.

So the hook belongs as close to the beginning as possible. Depending on the length of a piece, it might go right at the start. A personal story would begin with Sarah’s outburst, then describe the disruption to a peaceful dinner as John and Mary scramble to Timmy’s aid.

The principle is still true even if the subject is nonfiction. A nonfiction article might pose a question or make a statement about the importance of the subject–better yet, suggest what life would be like if things were different. “Were it not for the heroic actions of the 82nd Airborne leading up to Normandy, D-Day might have been the greatest Allied loss of World War II.”

What did the 82nd do?
How did they impact the success of the Normandy invasion?
What might have happened if the Allies failed at Normandy?

Hooks are all about creating and keeping reader interest from the start. The work has to stand out in a heap of other submissions, blog posts, and manuscripts in someone’s inbox. So I look for something that grabs my attention near the beginning. Because if I’m not that interested when I’m reading something for a friend, no one will pay attention when it’s merely a matter of impersonal business.

In my post on “endings” I mentioned chapters in a novel needing some resolution to the scene they present. Sometimes a break from the urgency of events in the story might be nice, so there are certainly places where a calm ending is appropriate.

However, chapters should rarely end with a sense of satisfaction that lets a reader put in a bookmark for later. When dealing with longer works, a hook usually belongs at the end, in addition to the resolution of that scene.

The hook serves the same function here: it creates questions that have to be answered. But in this case, the answer is in the next chapter, and the reader dutifully turns the page, ignoring the clock.

When the hero develops an unspecified plan to defeat the villain, or when a third mysterious party arrives in the middle of a pitched battle, that’s a hook. When a character makes a decision to interfere in an upcoming event, or someone receives tragic news that makes them scream or clutch at the letter, that creates questions. The hero leaps into the fray even though he knows he cannot possibly win the battle. The heroine torn between two mutually exclusive choices realizes which one means the most to her, and moves into action to save that part of her life, at the cost of the other.

These questions have to remain largely unanswered at the end of a chapter, to create a demand for “What’s going to happen next?”

If I’m critiquing a chapter of someone’s project, if I don’t feel that drive, then I’ve identified a potential problem they’ll want to address before their work gets to the hands of an editor.

Otherwise what happens next is potentially a rejection slip.

What happens next on this A to Z? I’ll describe looking for writing that creates and maintains intensity. The first page and the last page matter, but so do the pages in the middle.