Here's the hook for a short story I'm working on. At this point, I only need critique on the hook. Feel free to tear it apart...please be picky. I don't think I'm happy with the last 2 sentences in the 2nd paragraph. Thanks in advance.
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The seagull flew through the window and crashed into Wheezeâ€™s face. It screamed and flapped its wings like an old woman with no hands and no teeth and no sanity. Then it died.
Wheeze didnâ€™t know why he suddenly couldnâ€™t breathe: it might have been shock, it might have been his asthma, or it might have been that he was allergic to seagulls. The breathing didnâ€™t worry him too much; he was used to being breathless. He was not used to having a two-pound seabird corpse collapsed on his keyboard. Wheezeâ€™s breath came back to him all at once, and he sucked in one of the loose feathers that fell around him in slow motion. He reflexively swallowed it, noting that his desk smelled like the beach.
Blood seeped out of the seagullâ€™s wing and onto Wheezeâ€™s cracked monitor. (Would his warranty cover this?) He pulled his hands, fingers still arched for typing, out from under the bird. It rolled onto the floor and bled on the carpet.
[This message has been edited by Bad Juju (edited March 29, 2005).]
Hmm. Actually, I don't know what else to do with the last two sentences. If you want to get the gull off the desk, that's as good a way as any.
What I think doesn't work is the somewhat choppy rhythm in the first few 'graphs, in particular the first one.
I think you're trying for a flat, emotionless rendering of the incident to shock people a little bit more (correct me if I'm wrong). The presentation is just a bit too flat, though--"The seagull flew through the window and crashed... [t]hen it died." You're just telling us what's just happened. I don't harp on "show and tell" too much because I think it's a rule that's often applied wrong--in writing, everything is essentially telling--but in this case I will go with "show." Below, you've got Wheeze reacting (in a dazed manner) by wondering if the damage to his monitor is covered by warranty. That works quite nicely. But I need to know what it's like for Wheeze to be smacked in the face by a hapless seabird. I don't get that here.
As for the analogy in the second line, I'm iffy. It does has a nice ring to it (very Gothic) but I think you need to note that the madwoman would be beating her arms, since mentally ill elderly women don't necessarily wave their arms and scream.
Third graph, all I think you really need to do (other than smooth out the transitions a little) is lop off "that he was allergic to seagulls." "That he had an allergy" would do just fine and get across the same amount of info in fewer words. You might want to replace "The breathing didn't worry him too much..." with "He was used to breathlessness." The reader will get the connection with asthma, because you've just mentioned it.
Last note, same 'graph: How would Wheeze feel about swallowing a feather? I did this once as a kid with a feather that came out of a feather pillow we had around the house that I was trying to nap on. Let me tell you, it was not a physically pleasant experience--"choking, retching, and gagging" comes to mind. Have Wheeze react to the beach smell later. He doesn't have to cough up the feather (if that's important to your story), just have an unpleasant experience while it's on its way down.
I hope you don't think I hated your story from this; I thought it was an interesting hook. Hope it works out for you.
I don't really see a hook or where this story is going, to be fair. All you've done is shown a beach-faring bird crash into a computer monitor and die, and some dude aptly-named "Wheeze" inhaling a feather.
It's odd. And if oddity is your hook, I guess that works.
But there was one line that I think has true promise as a hook. And that is the warranty line. Consider starting with that -- for instance:
"Numb with shock, Wheeze stared at his cracked and bloody computer monitor and wondered if his one-year, limited warranty covered accidental damage from a wayward seagull."
That would compel me to read further. But seeing a hapless seagull fly in through a window and crash into a computer monitor isn't necessarily as interesting as it first might seem. Skip the detail, cut right to the chase.
EDIT: By the way, I've seen birds smack into windows at full speed. An office I used to work in had huge, clear glass windows. Once a month or so, a pigeon would collide with the glass... hard! Inevitably, they lived -- after shaking it off for a few minutes. They didn't bleed. But it was always interesting to see the "after-image" of the impact left on the window. The oils in their feathers left a perfect, dusty, grey silhouette on the glass that captured the moment--the very essence--of impact.
[This message has been edited by HSO (edited March 29, 2005).]
This is probably just a nitpick, but it doesn't look like your layout is making sense. You have the bird flying through the window and crashing into Wheeze's face. But the bird also apparently broke the monitor on his computer (which he would normally be facing, since he is typing). Fortunately, you have to hit a computer monitor pretty hard to break it (I say fortunately because I have a 3 year old; if it was easy to break computer monitors by banging things into them, I'd know it.) The only way I can see this bird hitting the monitor hard enough to crack it is if it hit the monitor directly, not on the rebound off Wheeze's face. And if it did hit hard enough on the rebound from his face to crack a monitor, I'd hate to think what this did to his face. You may want to make a quick sketch of the place he is working, determining the location of the window, Wheeze, and the computer. Then figure the trajectory your bird would have to follow to go through the window and hit both the monitor and Wheeze's face (not the back of his head on the way to the monitor). Or you could just drop some element here to simplify things.
On a happier note, I would probably have kept reading. The hook for me is assuming that there is something unusual about this seagull (my first thought, though it doesn't hold up on reflection, was that someone had shot/launched the gull at his window); the event is certainly unusual, and I'm okay with the way you describe it for the most part. I just couldn't picture the scene in my mind's eye because of the difficulty mentioned above.
This is humor, I take it! So I would like to get to the funny stuff earlier. Something like:
The seagull flew through the OPEN [otherwise I get a silly picture of glass shards flying] window and killed itself on Wheeze's computer monitor [I say, since I agree, it wouldn't bounce off a face to hit a monitor that hard -- and if it did, Wheeze might be facing some broken bones of his own]. The monitor was cracked.
Would his warranty cover this?
Thing is, seeing a bird die isn't funny to me. The "warranty" thing was funny to me. Breathing in a feather was funny (I don't think he'd reflexively swallow it, at least not without a lot of coughing first). I'd play down the blood and death, since seeing a hurt animal is hard to make funny, to me.
I liked most of the humor in it. Though I didn't care much for the old woman simile. Just seemed a little odd to me. The warranty part was great, and so was the "he was used to being breathless. He was not used to having a two-pound seabird corpse collapsed on his keyboard" I don't know if you should have it bleeding, though maybe instead saying that the bird stained his carpet or something.
Posts: 39 | Registered: Apr 2005
Now I liked the old woman simile. If you are going for humor as some people seem to think I didn't see it, except for the warrantee bit. Liked the first and last paragraphs, but the middle one was choppy and I did wonder why, if the seagull hit his face, he wasn't more hurt than just having trouble breathing. Seems to me he'd be bleeding as much or more than the bird.
Posts: 27 | Registered: Apr 2005
My thought are simply that if poor Wheeze happens to be allergic to seagulls, he would be extremely uphappy about ingesting the feather. I am allergic to mushrooms myself and having asthma...well poor Wheeze is up a creek.
Posts: 2 | Registered: Mar 2005