Novel Excerpt (Feedback Welcome)

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    Profile photo of Elizabeth

    I am Kara Cassidy, known to the prison guards as Elemental AG10567. Sometimes, I forget I have a real name, a human name. I’ve been in the prison for so long now that I forget there was a world before, when the Elementals didn’t exist and people didn’t go by their ID numbers.
    In here, in the gray walls of this prison complex, it is easy to forget. My days are spent in training, working, and sitting in my cell. There is one thing, and one thing only, that I can never forget, no matter how hard I try: My future was decided decades before I was even born.
    If the prison did not exist, I would live in a little town called Brooks, which is somewhere in the state that was once called Maine. I would go to the public high school there, and have a job at the book shop. I would squabble with my siblings daily and fight with my parents just as much. I would love my family regardless, at the end of the day.
    This is the life I wish I had. This is the normal routine I wish I lived every day. But I do not.
    I do not have this life, because fifty years before I was born, a fight broke out in the town called Brooks. The regular humans staged a massive attack against those who were different, and my people—the people with elemental powers that came from who knows where—were helpless to resist. They fell. The “Elementals” who did not die in the fight were rounded up and thrown out of the town; forced to fend for themselves, they starved to death and died out.
    The regular humans thought it was over. They went back to their normal lives and rebuilt their precious, normal town, with one notable difference: they built a prison for the Elementals, should they ever return. And return they did, in a force greater than any the humans could have predicted.
    Over the coming decades, the prison was expanded, until it towered above every other building in the town.
    The town grew quickly, until it sprawled outwards for miles. Eventually, it outgrew the term “town” and became a huge metropolis. The people called their new city “Brookstone City”.
    Today, the prison stands at five feet aboveground, and stretches down ten more stories below the earthen surface. There are more cells than I could ever count, and twice as many guards. There are tens of thousands of Elementals in the prison, each with the ability to control fire, water, or earth.
    I spend every day in this prison, reading, writing, sparring, and working. Every day. Every. Single. Day. I am bored, so bored.
    More than anything, I wish I could be free of this place.
    But freedom demands a high price, and my life is not worth it. I will stay in this prison until I die, even if the boredom kills me first. The dangers outside the prison walls are worse than anything I could face within.
    And so I sit.
    I will remain like this.
    Until I the day I die.

    Chapter One:
    I am reading the memoirs of some old American president when my cellmate, Tam Arlo, speaks.
    “I’m going to kill him.”
    My book falls to the floor. “What? Who?”
    “That son of a-“ Tam cuts off as I glare at her; I cast a pointed look at the camera above my head, then pick up my book and start to read once more. “The guard.” She says, calmer now. “Your guard. Brady.”
    “What about him?” My tone is smooth, ice cold compared to her fiery tones.
    “I’m not blind, Kara.” Says Tam. “I know what he does to you he thinks no one else is looking. You still have the scars.”
    Absentmindedly, my fingers reach up to my temple to better trace the raised, bumpy path of a long-healed scar. I scowl.
    “How can you stand it, Kara?” Tam asks me. “You just sit there and…and just take it. Why? Don’t you wish you could do something? Say something to get the Warden’s attention?”
    “No, because I know the consequences of doing so. I also know how risky summoning the Warden can be.” I say evenly. “Tam, the fact that we’re even having this conversation is ridiculous. I’m fine. There’s no need to-”
    “We’re having this conversation because you’re afraid of what might happen if you defend yourself!” Tam’s voice reaches a thunderous volume. She whirls away from me, curses, and plops herself down on her cot, adding, with a tone of pure acid, “And that’s the most ridiculous thing of all.”
    With a soft, disbelieving grunt, I relax and return to my book.
    A few moments pass. I continue to pour over the pages of my book. It is new, and it has held my attention almost exclusively since this morning, when one of the other guards dropped it off at my cell.
    Now, though, Tam’s ultimatum draws me away from the curious life of Abraham Lincoln, and I look towards her cell once more, thoughtful. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
    “I’m not going to let him keep hurting you, Kara.” Comes the reply. Tam’s tone has not changed; if anything, the fury in her voice has only grown stronger.
    “You must be insane.” I mutter through gritted teeth. “I’m not worth it.” I wonder if Tam can feel the heat of my angry glare. My eyes burn into hers. I can’t believe she would even consider something so blatantly stupid.
    “Careful, Kara. You’ll burn a hole in the wall.” Tam laughs at me.
    I scowl—she has a habit of teasing me when I get upset—and follow her gaze to the wall beside me. My hand is engulfed in flames, and the spot where I was resting it is charred black. I take my hand down and will the flames to die away. They do.
    “He’ll be here soon,” When she speaks again, it the first time that I hear a nervous flutter in her voice. She tries so hard to hide it, but I know her too well to miss the worried tinge to her tone. We are best friends. She’s not as invincible as she struggles to seem.
    “The cameras,” I point out, nodding towards them.
    Tam shakes her head. “They can’t hear us.”
    She says, often, that the security cameras all around us cannot hear a thing we say. I do not believe her. Tam says a lot of things that are not true. It is one of the things about her that amuses me. Usually. On the days where she doesn’t talk about killing one of the prison security officers.
    My stomach sinks. Tam exaggerates—a lot—about a lot of things. But this time, I sense that she’s serious. And I am scared for her.
    Sometimes I wish the guards could hear us. Maybe then things like what is about to happen would be stopped ahead of time.
    Thump, thump, thump.
    I flinch as heavy footfalls echo down the hall. It could be anyone, I tell myself, but know that the hope is false. Brady is coming, and the power inhibitors in Tam’s cell have been inactive since her free hour this morning. My guard is walking to his death.
    “Hey, freak.” Brady grins when he sees me. His expression is hard, but his eyes have a gleeful glaze to them, as they always do. He swaggers up to my cell, and before I can react, hits me. I wobble backwards and steady myself as Brady enters my cell, still grinning, fist clenched in preparation for another blow.
    There are no bars. The only thing keeping me from leaving the cell is the strange mechanical contraption at the very top of the doorway; the machine is capable of shocking by body to the point of death. In fear of it, I have never tried to escape. Not once.
    “Hey!” Pain lances up my jaw as Brady slaps me again, and I realize that he was trying to talk to me. “Listen to me when I’m talking to you, freak!”
    I hear Tam growl across the hall and look towards her, silently pleading. Please, please don’t do anything.
    “Sorry.” I murmur, casting my eyes to the floor for a moment. “What were you saying?”
    It’s no use. Across the hall, I see Tam’s fists tense. An amber light turns her gray eyes to crimson. She thrusts one hand forward and releases an orange jet of flame from the tips of her fingers.
    She yells at him, screeching out a string of curse words that make me flinch. She’s so angry, and on my account…
    “No!” I reach forward as Brady turns around, no doubt in order to investigate the source of the burst of flame. Right as he moves, however, Tam strikes again; these flames are hotter than the last, and they sear into Brady’s face with an agony I myself can feel. I turn in an unsuccessful attempt to save myself from the awful sight, but it’s no use.
    Brady screams. It is one of the worst sounds I have ever heard. I can’t see what’s happening, but I can smell it. The odor of burning flesh is enough to make me stagger backwards; nauseated, I retreat to the far corner of my cell. Brady collapses to the ground.
    Footsteps—more of them this time, enough for at least six guards—rumble through the hall. In mere moments, three armored men take Brady in their arms, and the other three take Tam into their custody.
    “Don’t be afraid to fight back, Kara.” My best friend whispers to me, tone void of emotion. Without another word, she lets herself be taken away. The guards murmur quietly to themselves as they walk down the hall.
    A tear runs down my cheek. I cannot help but stare at the empty cell in front of me. Every part of me trembles with anger, terror, and sickness.
    Tam is gone. God knows what the guards will do to her. I’ve heard stories, but…
    The Elementals who are taken away never return. And that fact alone is enough to give me nightmares.

    Ahhh… I did it. I’ve never actually asked anyone for a critique on my writing before, so this should be interesting…

    Profile photo of Elizabeth

    *coughs* Forgot to tag you @kate-flournoy

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy


    Okay, first of all, may I just say congratulations on the very strong character voice. Most people go for the snazzy voices of characters like Tam to carry their story if it’s first person, but I love the subtle yet very distinct tone of Kara’s. It’s beautiful.

    In fact, your prose itself is actually very strong, and I don’t have much to say about the story either except it seems intriguing. I think you could probably cut the entire prologue or weave it into the first chapter because it’s mostly telling (the reader is better left to figure out all this for themselves as the story progresses and the information becomes pertinent).
    But really the only other criticism I might have is that at this point, your premise seems a bit cliche. From what I see here, it’s about elementals in a prison outcast from society because they’re different. A lot of people have already done that. You might want to think about spicing up your premise a bit more. Nothing wrong with elementals (I have some 😉 ) but the freak outcast from society who learns to stick up for themselves and saves the world is a very, very well-used storyline. That’s where it looks like yours is going. Just be aware of that. You don’t need to scrap the whole thing— just look for a way to break the mold. Maybe the elementals think the humans are as freaky as the humans think them and want to destroy them? And maybe Kara is different and disagrees with both— she just wants to get along.
    Just something to make your premise unique; your own.
    Personally strong characters can really make up for weaker plots/premises for me, though, and you seem to be pretty good with that. 😉 Good job. I really like this.

    Profile photo of Elizabeth

    @kate-flournoy I know that the plot definitely seems cliche now, and I’ve sensed that myself, so I’m trying to figure out a way to expand it so that it isn’t the same as the stories circulating through society nowadays. Not that that’s an easy thing to do… *sighs*

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @That_Writer_Girl_99 no, I know. It isn’t. 😛 Have you come up with any ideas so far? Need help brainstorming? Seriously, just dump them all right here and I’ll help you pick through them if I can. That’s what we do here. We’re all writers after all… 😉 Even if you think the ideas are dumb, please— share them. I have dumb ideas all the time. :’D I understand.

    Profile photo of Elizabeth

    Ooh, yes, definitely. @kate-flournoy

    Here’s a handful of the ideas I have so far:

    –The prisoners believe that they are “privileged” with the ability to live in the prison. They also believe that their powers are a curse.

    –The world outside of the prison is wartorn. Its been through a lot, seen a lot of destructive things–the elementals aren’t the worst, but the prison Warden would like his prisoners to believe that they are.

    –The prisoners are being brainwashed. They think that an angry mob (or something) seeks to destroy their kind, and would kill any one of them that dares to leave the prison.

    –I don’t have much of a climax yet, but it will probably involve an escape of some sort. (also probably a cliche idea)

    Any ideas that come after the “escape” will involve Kara and Blake, a character you haven’t met yet, coming to realize that the city isn’t anything like how they were told. They then have to decide what to do with the new information.

    I’m not sure what comes after that, or what I need to add in between the plot-points to make the story bigger and better…

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @That_Writer_Girl_99 ooooohhhh… you know what? It looks like you’ve got really good potential here for a disillusionment story. I really, really love the idea of the world outside being even worse than the prison.
    What do you know about theme/message and building your story around it?
    Because if you do have the world outside be worse than the prison, you could face your characters with the choice of going back to the prison and remaining captive in comparative comfort and innocent bliss, or trying to do something about the world even though the world was so horrible to them. Basically a message of forgiveness and courage.

    Profile photo of Daeus

    @That_Writer_Girl_99 I’ll just repeat what Kate said that the character voice is really well done. I’m especially surprised you’ve been able to get this good without anyone critiquing you. Honestly, that’s downright crazy.

    It does seem that the plot needs some development though, as well as the question of what to do with the elementals.

    I agree that it would be cool if the world outside the prison were worse than inside. Where I really see a lot of potential though is with the warden of the prison. I think it would be great if he were trying to protect the elementals from the outside world. That would make an excellent plot twist. On top of that though, I’d recommend that his plans to protect the elementals be misguided. That would lead to more moral and relational complexity and tension. Yet on top of that, I think it would be great if he has some sort of plot for how to use the elementals to save the world.

    That character would be fascinating because he’d be walking the line between trying to fight an evil society and having to suppress innocent people. He’d be thrown between what he thinks has to happen for the greater good and what really is morally right.

    Now, as for the elementals, here’s the number one thing you must NOT do. Please do not make this a story about freaks being misunderstood just because they are different. Not only is it cliche, but you’d be walking a thin line. In real life, anyone who can do things like make fire come out of their hands is a sorcerer (or, on occasion, maybe God is performing a sign through them.) Therefore, generally speaking I don’t recommend showing freaky magical people as normal or good. Now, there are exceptions, because it’s not the abilities themselves that are the problem, its the source. For your story, of course, we don’t want the source to be demonic. We also don’t want the source to be unidentified, because powers like that don’t just come from nowhere. That leaves us two options. One, it’s either a manipulation of science by man to create these powers or the powers come from God. Either of these options could be downright fascinating because they assume these people were created for a purpose. If you discover what that purpose is, I think it could unlock all sorts of thematic and plot related opportunities for you.

    Anyway, I truly think you did a fantastic job with this scene and I hope your book turns out really well! If you have any more ideas you want to share, I’d love to hear them. 🙂

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @That_Writer_Girl_99 yeah. What he said. XD

    Profile photo of Elizabeth

    @daeus That’s a good thing, right? Thanks, I think…

    Oops, you’ve discovered my secret–I really didn’t want to start writing just yet, but the words came anyway…

    Lots of good ideas here, thanks! I definitely think I’ll be able to dig into some of what you’ve suggested.

    Ugh, don’t worry, I’m not going in that direction with the elementals. Their place in the world is deeper than a cliche, I promise. Not that I’ve figured out all of it yet. Also, the elementals’ powers are definitely scientific.

    The Warden is definitely an interesting idea, and I haven’t exactly figured out what to do with him yet. Those are some good points.

    Yayyy I’m very excited now…

    Profile photo of Daeus

    @that_writer_girl_99 Not sure exactly what you’re referring to, but I think everything I said was good. Keep at it! May the ideas be with you.

    Profile photo of Elizabeth

    @kate-flournoy I agree. It’s got a lot of potential to be wibbly-wobbly and twisty-turny in a lot of fun places. (That’s a reference you probably won’t understand, lol)

    Oh, themes… I’m still figuring a lot of that myself, unfortunately, but off the top of my head…

    –the influence of media on society
    –dealing with hypocrisy
    –accepting differences
    –bravery vs. cowardice
    –intelligence vs. ignorance (and the side-effects of ignorance)
    –the dangers of pride

    All of these will tie into the characters in some way. I’m still figuring out some of the themes, though.

    Profile photo of Elizabeth

    Sorry…I tend to be rather vague when I’m thinking about other things. Just know your response really helped me. @daeus

    Erm, quick question– just out of curiosity, how did you and @kate-flournoy picture Kara? Like, her hair color and all that? I don’t have a good picture of her in my head.

    Profile photo of The Impossible Girl
    The Impossible Girl

    @that_writer_girl_99 *opens mouth to speak* *shuts it again* Only just read this and it looks like everyone else has said everything I was going to say! I will find something… It’s interesting that you’re writing a story in present tense. I’ve read books that have a narrator that occasionally talks about what’s happening while they ‘write’ or ‘tell’ the story. For example, the prologue could be present tense, then they say, “and this is the story of how I escaped…” or something like that. Then it would change to past tense, as the narrator tells of the events that have already happened. Just a suggestion and I understand if you don’t want to be changing who-knows-how-many-words into past tense. I like the idea, but have to agree with what others have said. It’s a little bit cliche. I’m sure you’ll be great at adding your own unique flair to the story anyway. 🙂

    Profile photo of Elizabeth

    I’ve had several people tell me the story sounds cliche, but I’m not sure how… @f5a8c3e92

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