red writing hood prompt — advancing the plot
As I type this, Austin is being pummeled by a torrential rainstorm. To avoid losing power and/or being electrocuted (does that actually happen?), I suppose I’d better make this snappy.
Whether dialogue heavy or rich in description, every scene should serve the story; whether it is from flash fiction, a short story, your memoir, or an epic serial novel, every scene must advance the narrative in some fashion. If it doesn’t, it’s not holding its weight in words. Consider that as you head into your writing this week.
And now the prompt:
For this week, I’m offering you this opening line:
“Two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.”
The line above is the first line of a well-known novel. Did you recognize it without Googling?
[Incidentally, I did not recognize the line without Googling.]
Below, please find my response. I welcome your feedback, suggestions, and critique.
Two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. Drawing closer, Bright realized it was the quilt of fog which had obscured them — these weren’t specters — and their sudden presence pumped her legs with adrenaline. She ran faster toward the two, each step carrying her inches closer to home.
Home. The word felt like a lifetime gone. Now, her temples throbbing and her blood thick from dehydration, she couldn’t be sure how long she’d been in these woods. As she ran, the two figures sharpening with the closing distance, she imagined her homecoming; to Kent, to Glenlake. She imagined her stepfather greeting her in the newspaper-littered foyer, his eyes papery in the corners and shot through with red, his shirt crumpled from late nights and protracted phone calls, his cuticles bitten raw. Aunt Laura would be there, too, gold bracelets clicking up her arms as she trapped Bright in her embrace. “We are so glad you’re home,” Aunt Laura would sigh into Bright’s ear, crying quietly. “We haven’t closed our eyes since you went away.”
And what about school, Bright wondered? What had the kids at school made of her absence? Had they counted her as a casualty or a runaway? Had they thought of her at all? Bright was acutely aware that, while she never thought she cared about being missed, she relished a singular daydream. Imagining Kent, Aunt Laura, her teachers, her classmates… imagining their thoughts trained on her absence, their prayers aimed at her safe return; picturing them hanging urgently-lettered signs on the community mailboxes around Glenlake (would they?), she was mortified to admit even to herself that this felt good. She liked the fantasy of their regret.
Considering this, Bright realized she was now ten steps away from the moonlit men. In an instant, she also realized that they were not two men, after all. One was, stout and black-haired, and one was a girl who looked to be about her age. As she neared them, she tried to get their attention.
“Hey!” Her voice was strangled, dry from lack of use.
“Hey!” she tried again, “Could you please — I need some help… hey.” Each word weighed a hundred pounds, stuck in her flaming throat. She tried to raise her arms for emphasis, noting that the man and the girl just stared at her in silence.
Whether caused by fog or dehydration, she couldn’t be sure, but Bright couldn’t keep either face in focus. Each shifted and bloated, frightening her. She stopped running.
“Please help me,” she muttered one last time, right before the world went dark.
I’m pretty sure my world might go dark soon, too, in this phenomenal storm. I hope you have all the rain you need, adrenaline for days, and people who will miss you if you leave. Thanks for taking a moment to read my work, and thanks, always, for showing up.