The Finalists in The ROCK PAPER TIGER Chase/Action Writing Contest Extravaganza!!
But first, as always this was such a difficult decision and there were many, many excellent entries. Thanks so much to everyone to participating, and one more big round of applause to Lisa Brackmann for the publication of ROCK PAPER TIGER! Honestly, if you read the first two pages of this book I don’t know how you could possibly put it down. I dare you!!
These entries were quite tricky to read because even moreso than other stretches of a book, chase/action/suspense sequences drop you straight into the action. But there were some things that stood out in the ones I ended up selecting:
– Economy and Precision of Description – Action sequences tend to use fewer words to keep up the pace, which places an even higher premium of very very precise description.
– Vividness – It’s always great when you both can picture what is happening and the stakes are very clear.
– Interesting setting – Chases are, at heart, a character moving through a space. If that space (i.e. the setting) is interesting the chase scene can really come alive.
– Characters reacting in unexpected fashion – It’s not enough to simply show that someone is scared – how does this particular character act when they’re scared?
– Originality – We’ve all seen and read hundreds if not thousands of chase scenes. It’s tough to come up with something that feels wholly original, but people still manage to do it.
Some things I saw a lot of (which, don’t get me wrong, aren’t necessarily bad in context, just interesting to see what repeats):
– Lots of moments when things slow down, seem as if they’re happening in slow motion, etc.
– Sighs of relief
– Characters filled with (or wide-eyed with) panic or terror
And one last thing on the precision: everyone check their adverbs and make sure they’re very very necessary. I saw quite a few lines like “he froze suddenly.” When you are using the word “freeze” with the connotation coming to a stop, is there any other way to “freeze” than suddenly? Freeze by definition means stopping suddenly. So you don’t need the suddenly: you can just say “he froze.”
Here are the honorable mentions, who are quite honorable indeed:
And now, before I announce the finalists, please remember the voting rules:
In order to vote for the winner, please leave a vote in the comments section of this post. You will have until approximately 4-5 PM Pacific time on Sunday to vote. Please do not e-mail me your vote.
Anonymous comments will be closed during the voting to diminish covert voting opportunities.
Also: Please do not campaign for yourself or for your favorites out there on the Internet. Let’s keep this fair. Please remind friends of this as well.
The grand prize winner will be announced on Monday, followed by Last Week in Publishing. Page Critique Monday will be Page Critique Tuesday next week.
The five finalists are…………
Josin L. McQuein!
There’s a knock from outside the door, a set of very human knuckles rapping out a pre-arranged rhythm so we know it’s safe. The last beep of the security code unlatches the door and we lurch forward as the one outside pulls Jonah into the hall by the wrist.
Mr. Pace touches each shoulder, counting as we pass to make sure no one’s forgotten. Tobias loops his hand back through the strap on my shoulder for the inspection, then grabs me around the waist again once we’re clear.
“If we have to run, go limp,” he says. “I can carry you faster than you can move on your own.”
Before I can protest that I don’t need to be carried, or that I don’t trust him not to toss me aside and leave me here, Tobias stumbles forward from a sudden push at his back. The force ripples through our chain of hands. Elbows and knees hit hard on the ground, and the yelps that come after are followed by frantic shushing.
“They’re through,” Mr. Pace shouts behind us, but he isn’t talking to us.
“Move! Move! Move!” A voice I finally recognize as Lt. Casey shouts and shoves our line again.
As soon as we hit the hall, everything falls apart. We’ve only ever marched in silence with no real sense of urgency or danger. Now we’re a hive mind with a massive case of brain freeze. Total chaos – all the drills mean nothing.
Our lines break. What used to be our classroom erupts into the sound of shrieking, gunfire, and something that is in no way human.
I hit the floor with my hands over my ears, curled into a ball against the sound – the other side of my edge. Loud noises are overwhelming. For the first week, I couldn’t handle light, either, because my eyes were still attuned to the Dark. That one’s getting better, but the sounds still kill me.
“That’s not what I meant by limp, Marina!”
Tobias is beside me, pulling me up by one arm. The next thing I know, we’re racing toward the shelter beyond the maze of hallways. Well, he’s racing, I’m being dragged – gaining speed is hard after getting shot in the leg, even when the wound’s had a few weeks to heal.
Good to his promise, Tobias has me off the ground before I can remind him that I can’t move as fast as he can, and over his shoulder I watch what everyone else is trying to hide from.
Now I know why they tell people not to look back when they’re running away.
Mr. Pace and Lt. Casey. Three others I can’t name. They shoot at shadows in the dark, every round making them twist and jerk from the impact of the rifles hitting their shoulders. A flare illuminates the face of Honoria Whit with the odd bald “V” scarred into her hairline.
“Bring it down,” she orders. “Collapse the doors!”
I turned my horse around, ready to get the hell out of there, when a fourth grenade went off behind me, shaking my bones and teeth. I felt death claw at my back, and then the world went silent. Blades crossed in front of me, horses stumbled in a screen of smoke, men’s mouths shouted words, but I heard none of it. I was on the path to the afterlife. Death was the only explanation for why my vision had narrowed into a long dark tunnel. And then Lt. Daniels rode up beside me and screamed at me to ride for the trees.
“Go!” he ordered, pointing with his sword.
Delivered from deafness, I heard the word lift off his lips and realized I wasn’t dead. Not about to ignore him a second time, I prodded my horse through the drifting smoke to the line of oaks on the right, as the lieutenant slashed at one of the devils who tried to chase. My horse broke for the trees, galloping in a zigzagged pattern as she maneuvered the wood. I hugged her neck and held on, diving to avoid low branches. We made it about a quarter of a mile into the thick of the trees when I heard the pounding of hooves behind me. I risked a look and saw the lieutenant riding hard to catch up. Three attackers followed.
That’s when it ignited: the flash of defiance that rises up in me whenever danger chases me down. I don’t turn from the fight. I meet it head on like a rock in a river. Perhaps it is nothing more than foolhardy daring that will get me killed one day, but every muscle in my body made me pull up on the reins and turn my horse around to end this. With only a second of surprise on my side, I hugged my legs tight around my horse and nocked an arrow against the bowstring. Daniels ran his horse hard right, breaking from the enemy, and I caught the first rider right where his heart ought to be.
I quickly set another arrow and drew my bow, arms tensed against the strain of wood and sinew. Riders hurtled toward me. Daniels leaned left and I prepared to release when his horse suddenly lurched. Hit from behind by an arrow to her hindquarter, his horse went down, throwing Daniels to the ground. I never saw him get up, but there was no time to find him. The second rider flattened out on his horse and charged straight at me. But arrows are quicker than horses. I stuck him just below the ribs and he fell from his saddle into the sea of ferns.
I had killed two of the assassins, and if I could kill the third I might just get away with my life. But I had made a dangerous mistake. The third rider had already stopped twenty yards in front of me, aiming his arrow true.
Ryan Z Nock!
A gunshot explodes in the jungle night. Four men, rifles in hand, tromp out of the brush and into the headlights of our wrecked car. Gabi, already mostly hidden by the vehicle, ducks down and looks at me, but I try not to react, hoping the men might not have noticed her.
They certainly don’t look like the Amazonians I’d expect. Bare-chested, yes, and burnished bronze skin with multiple layers of stone- and metal-beaded necklaces, but they wear Hawaiian print shorts and brand-name basketball shoes.
The biggest of the group wears an old bluetooth earpiece, and he actions the bolt of his rifle, then levels it at me. Another spots Gabi and raises his rifle at her.
“Pare!” Gabi shouts. “Vamos dar-lhe o que quiser!”
The second rifleman yells to the bluetoothed leader. He in turn barks something at us.
“Não,” Gabi says. “Ele é um Americano.”
The bluetooth leader spits, then walks up and shoves me.
“Jaime,” Gabi says, “he says to do what they want, or they’ll shoot us.”
“What the fuck do they want?”
I hear a diesel engine approaching from up the road to the left. We all turn to look, and maybe a half mile away a white truck, trailer bed laden with lumber, takes a wide curve toward us. The natives start yelling.
Gabi says, “We have to go with them.”
“They have guns!”
I glance back at the truck. It’ll be on us in less than a minute.
“We jump on the truck.”
“We can do this!”
Bluetooth steps up to grab me, and I bat his hand away. He yells, and the other three men take aim at me.
“Stop!” Gabi cries.
I creep toward the other side of the road, trying to use Bluetooth as cover against the firing squad. Bluetooth lunges after me. The truck begins blaring its horn, and the driver guns his engine.
Gabi breaks for the road, but one gunman grabs her hair and yanks her back. I take a step to help, but Bluetooth whips the barrel of his rifle at the side of my head. I duck, then grab the rifle, but he wrenches it out of my grip, and then smashes his elbow and the rifle stock into my face. My right eye goes blind with the hit, and headlights blind me from the left.
Bluetooth jumps back as the truck roars between us. I throw myself into a run down the road to the right. A rifle barks, his or one of the others I can’t tell, but the massive trailer blocks their view. I jump and grab at a yellow cable on the trailer bed, ram my foot onto a blurring piece of metal.
The retort of another rifle blasts in my ears. Pain sears in my hip, and wet heat smears across my thigh. I yell to Gabi, but I can hear her screams for help fading into the night as I’m carried away at forty miles an hour.
“What is that?” Ceren asked, her voice squeaking with fear.
A blonde-furred Destroyer tumbled from the sky and slammed into the ground twenty paces down slope from them and tumbled toward the river. For a second it looked like it would roll right into the raging waters, but its impossibly muscled arms lashed out and dug its long, curved claws into the ground, gouging deep furrows and slowing its headlong rush just short of the bank.
The monster turned and fastened amber eyes on them. It opened its long snout and roared, showing a mouth full of sharp teeth.
An arrow slammed into the center of its chest.
“That’ll teach it,” Adalia said with a satisfied smile. But her smile faded when the Destroyer rose to its full twelve foot height and yanked the arrow out of its fur, apparently unharmed.
“We be in trouble,” Adalia said, but her hand never slowed. Even as she spoke, she drew another arrow, knocked it, and took aim.
The monster lunged down onto all four legs and charged, tearing at the earth in its hunger to reach them.
Ceren raised her sword, but her hand shook with terror. It’s not fair! A defiant spark blazed in her soul, driving the terror back. She hadn’t just survived death by a Makrasha to die by this horror.
Adalia let fly a second arrow and caught the monster mid-leap in the face, just missing the eye. The shaft grazed its head and deflected away, leaving a thin crimson scar.
“By Jagen, that aint right,” Adalia shouted, already drawing another arrow.
The monster barreled toward them, its terrifying gaze fixed on Adalia’s tiny form. Unfazed, she knocked another arrow. “See how ye like this,” she snarled, drawing the bow with a rock steady hand.
She would get only one more shot.
Then Nikias arrived.
A blur of blue flame, he intercepted the monster, slashing at its torso with the burning silvered blades of the Bladestaff.
The monster skidded to a halt and grasped at the puny human, but Nikias danced aside and slashed again, whooping like a lunatic. His blades sliced across the monster’s arms, cutting the thick hide but not penetrating into the dense muscle below. The fire racing the length of the blades seemed to have no effect on the monster.
It lunged at him, but again he danced aside, moving faster than anyone Ceren had ever seen. He twirled around behind the beast and stabbed at its back, but again did little more than slice the skin. The monster spun after him but he dodged its grasping claws and slashed again, and again.
The two lunged and ducked, slashed and clawed, spun and dodged in a deadly dance punctuated by the beast’s frustrated roaring and Nikias’ incessant whooping yells.
Then Nikias misjudged a dodge and instead of ducking under a huge arm, it clobbered him in the side of the head. He tumbled to the ground, and the monster pounced.
Bane of Anubis!
“Come on, Baby, let’s go.”
But her gaze, like mine, is fixed on the cave, on the dozen men dragging five large nets to the ledge. The gunship’s side doors open. Hooks are lowered, nets attached. The chopper lists beneath the weight, but soon the cargo’s loaded, still faintly glowing, and I’m absurdly reminded of chickens, even though I’ve never seen one get its head cut off.
Two other helicopters retrieve the soldiers. I watch until the last saunters aboard. No gurneys, no rush, nobody injured. Not a battle. A slaughter. As the two transports move away, my breaths come faster, sharper; my chest constricts.
“Let’s go,” I whisper.
I meant for us to retreat, to hide, but Baby rises up and launches herself over the mountaintop and at the nearest helicopter with a sky-shattering howl that reminds me of her parents. The gunship makes half a revolution toward us before being swallowed in a cone of ice.
Its blades grind to a halt. For a half moment it sits there, suspended in death. I’m close enough to see the soldier manning the side-door machine gun. He’s an ice statue, sculpted with mouth and eyes wide open, finger at the trigger.
A sudden intense sadness grips me as the frozen gunship plummets into the valley. Those men died because of me. Maybe I was a reluctant sympathizer before, but now I’m a full-fledged traitor who’s killed fathers, sons, brothers, husbands.
The missile shrieking toward us consumes my sorrow, sets my heart aflutter. Baby reels sideways and sends a funnel of liquid frost at the attacking gunship. Another missile races toward us from the left. Two from the right. Shrieking death everywhere. I glance back to see the first missile spin around.
Baby dives and the missiles follow. “Go cold!” I shout.
Her skin cools to frigid and her glow brightens to blinding. She dodges three more missiles, heads for the helicopter with the red dragon heads. Bullets zip everywhere, a swarm of metal locusts criss-crossing our path.
Baby bucks, bolts and swerves, always breathing her ice. Ten gunships become five. Missiles churn the mountainside, send fountains of rock and snow hundreds of feet skyward.
In the blizzard of destruction, I lose my orientation. Shadows in the flying detritus could be a thousand feet away or ten, enemies or flying boulders. I call out every blur, imagined or not, shouting against the thunder of war until my voice goes hoarse, my lungs grow tight, and my body burns cold fire.
The explosion hits us from below. Warmth and pain surge through me. Baby tumbles head over tail. My grip loosens, legs slip, head spins.
When my focus returns, Baby’s crashing into the mountain and I’m hundreds of feet in the air without a dragon.
Congratulations, everyone! And don’t forget: Page Critique Monday will be Page Critique Tuesday next week.