Saturday, December 26, 2015


Name: Amelinda Berube
Twitter handle: @metuiteme
Genre: Horror

35-word pitch: 

Fifteen-year-old Skye has had it with her sister’s weirdness. She’s determined to leave the makebelieve games they shared behind. But when Dierdre’s kidnapped by her own stick-and-bone monsters, it’s up to Skye to save her.

 First 500:

            My sister disappears on a wild night, with a crescent moon sinking into the leafless claws of the trees, dull and red like a promise of violence.
When Mom bursts into my chilly basement room I’m half-dozing, the whistle and mutter of the wind prying into my dreams. I blink in the sudden flood of light framing her silhouette.  Even in the split-second before she speaks it’s obvious: something’s wrong. I’m coiled in my bed, stiff and rigid, bracing for it.
            “Skye, have you seen Dierdre?” She demands. She barely waits for my stammering answer before turning away from it. Her footsteps hammer up the stairs, her voice echoing through the house. “Dierdre! This isn’t funny!”
            I stay huddled in place a moment longer, some five-year-old part of my mind hoping this isn’t really happening, that any minute I’ll wake up for real. On the nighttable the clock flicks from 12:17 to 12:18. A gust of wind shakes the window. But instead of fading, the fear unfurls, blooms into an almost physical thing, an almost definable quality in the air. Like a smell, lingering on my tongue.
            The door slams as I come upstairs; outside, Dad hurries away from the light, shrugging his coat on. The darkness swallows him, leaving only the muffled echo of Dierdre’s name shouted into the night, over and over. Mom yanks closet doors open, hauls the couch away from the wall, slaps at every switch until the house swims with light, every corner exposed.
            I watch her in silence, hugging my sweater around myself, winding my icy fingers in the wool. I should help. I should do something. But the thought is distant, muted, like it’s trapped under a thick pane of glass. Outside, a little cone of white light from Dad’s flashlight tracks his path around the yard, the tree trunks flashing thin and gray when he turns it towards the woods.
            “Where could she have gone?” Mom cries, slamming out into the garage. “Dierdre! Dierdre!”
            I stand frozen. The grandfather clock ticks the seconds by. The chill sinks into me like teeth. Years ago, by accident, Dierdre once hit me in the head while she was throwing rocks in the river. That’s what this is like: the ringing, muffled space before the pain came crashing in.
            They’ll find her. Any minute now. They have to.
            The door to her room swings open soundlessly. The bedside light is on, throwing shadows all over the room. Its pale circle falls over Dierdre’s bed, the pillow dented, the covers rumpled, tossed aside.
            It’s full of leaves. Pinecones. Gray sticks, forked and bent. They’re heaped over the mattress in her place in a little drift; a few of the leaves are curled and scattered on the carpet, ground into brittle fragments. Dad’s voice drifts in through the open window with a spill of cold air, a distant shout, thin and ineffectual. Dierdre! Dierdre! The leaves twitch and ruffle as if they’re stirring at her name.


  1. Wow, I love the style in this piece! The imagery is powerful, the action is clear. The sentences themselves are a delight to read. I get not only the sense of what is going on, but also the *feeling* of it all, the panic, the uncertainty, the dread. It is obvious you have really honed this work to perfection. The only suggestion I have is that perhaps there are some moments when you could say a little less and still get the same effect. As in the first paragraph: "leafless claws" that are "red" already have the connotation of violence in a reader's mind. Is it necessary to add "like a promise of violence"? Even though I like that phrase on its own, I think your imagery is good enough not to need it. Also, I love the fear unfurling like a bloom, palpable in the air. Is it necessary to add "Like a smell, lingering on my tongue."? Again, it is a great metaphor, on its own. But it just slightly slows the pace of the action down. Being fond of more lyrical style myself, I always have to balance pacing with great figurative language. Your writing is a delight, I think it just matters how much you want to focus on that versus other aspects of storytelling.

    I would love to see what else happens.

  2. Hello Amelinda!! Thanks for entering #YayYA!

    Before I critique your work, remember that all advice in writing is subjective, and you are welcome to take or leave my two cents. Whatever works best for your story! Also, I haven't read the previous critiques, so I apologize for redundancy.

    The pitch is perfect. Don't think there's any way you could make it better, to be honest.

    So you've got a really chilling opening here with a lot of colorful imagery. I feel like the imagery is just slightly overdone for this scene. In a peaceful, more flowery scene it would fit better, but here, where everything should be dark and terrifying, it's a tad bit much and distracts from the moment. On a more personal note, I'm not the biggest fan of narrative analogies, but most people don't care. You do have a LOT of them (think I counted seven or eight, which is about four per page), which bothers me, but others may beg to differ, so feel free to ignore me on that account :D

    Otherwise, there are a lot of little details I really love: the clock switch, the cone of white light, the hammering footsteps... I love it. That's probably what makes this scene for me. Otherwise I don't have much to say. It's really good, and horror's not even my genre by far.

    Hope this helps! Thanks again for entering!!


  3. Hi Amelinda,

    Well that’s pitch perfect to be sure – only change I’d suggest is a hyphen between makebelieve. I’ve never seen it as one word before.

    You know I love your writing already, and your first 500 doesn’t diappoint. The language is beautiful, the sense of dread is visceral. I have only a couple suggestions: not sure you need the “She demands” dialogue tag in your 3rd paragraph. “Almost physical thing” and “almost definable quality” feel repetitive and I think you’d have more impact with just one. “Slaps at every switch until the house swims with light” is such a strong sentence, I’d end your paragraph there and leave out “every corner exposed.”

    “The door to her room swings open soundlessly” – it wasn’t clear to me if that happened on its own (creepy!), if Skye pushed the door open, or her parents did. Small thing, but you’d already given the sense of her parents tearing apart the house, so it seemed odd her room might be left for last, and still somewhat darkened.

    I’d keep reading this one for sure. If you’re looking for a beta you know where to find me!

    Karen (#4)

  4. Hi Amelinda!

    The second sentence in your pitch is a little bit confusing but the rest of it reads pretty well.
    The idea itself sounds interesting. It makes me wonder how many of their imaginary characters and friends we will meet along the way! I've played a lot of imaginary adventure games in the past and I think it's something any fantasy or Sci fi fan, who runs around hunting invisible orcs, will be able to connect to as a reader.

    The first 500: start in the main characters head. The first sentence is great but it seems like it would only get away in a movie beginning and not a book.
    Maybe start with Skye running around, helping find her sister. Even better, have her be the one to run around outside with the flashlight. You like to mess around with lighting a lot, from what I picked up, so maybe you can play around with her outside while she can see the shadows of her parents from the lights inside. Throwing in noises from outside as she explores could also help set the tone you're looking for.
    The part where you say she just stands is where I got confused. She's standing there without any reaction and then all the sudden we are in her sister's room looking at her sister's bed. Either have her walk to the room or explain how she can see the bed from wherever she's standing.
    I think if you cut most of these longer sentences into two or three you'll be surprised to see that sometime less word use actually pulls the reader in more. (The whole opening in Maze Runner by James Dashner would be a huge example of this)

    Hope this helps!
    -Bethany #5

  5. WOAH! This is really cool. The point of view and present active verbs are reminiscent of the Hunger Games. I really like it. Not much else I can say!