First chapter impressions

This is the first chapter of my WIP. It’s shortish as far as chapters go, but I realized that shorter chapters were working better for me at this stage. All feedback – including Floss – welcome, but I’d prefer larger structural issues rather than copyedit-type stuff, as I’m still in the initial draft and no revision has been done yet.

To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.
Bruce Lee

If you ever hold a gun on someone, don’t stand too close to your intended victim. If she has the right training, and her hands are free, and is willing to get shot rather than keep following your orders, then she will probably take that gun away from you before you can react. If she knows how to do that, she probably knows all sorts of other nasty things to do once you no longer have a weapon to hide behind. You, without your gun, are going to have a bad day.

Our kidnappers didn’t know this. Maybe they did and just didn’t believe an American teenage girl knew it too. Either way, chalk up one seriously bad day for four low-life British thugs, courtesy of me. I was either getting out or dying trying.

Punk Number One had a Glock 17, the over-hyped pistol favored by two-bit delinquents everywhere. He was holding the muzzle about six inches from my chest with his right hand.

Shuffle step to the forward left, rotate to the right. Left hand up from waist, palm striking back of his right hand. At the same time, right hand up from waist, palm striking inside of his right wrist. His wrist bends violently to the left, immediately releasing his hold on the gun.

He was especially unlucky. Most of the time when this move works, the attacker’s muscles flex before he can tighten them and he drops the gun before he can react. Punk Number One was strong enough to hold on to the gun for a fraction of a second longer than normal and quick enough to pull the trigger before it dropped. By that time, his hand was already twisted so that the muzzle was now pointing somewhere in the region of his own left shoulder. He shot himself just as he dropped the gun, leaving his friends stunned by the sound of the discharge and giving me an unexpected opening.

I still had his right wrist in my left hand, I was expecting a shot, and while I wasn’t trained to count on a freak chance I was trained to capitalize on it. A second later, he was on the ground with a broken wrist and dislocated right shoulder to complement the gunshot wound in his left shoulder. His friends were momentarily half-blind and deaf from the muzzle flash and report of the 9mm round. I now had the initiative, but let’s not get ahead of things; a three to one fight is bad odds for just about anyone.

I could be scared later; now, I had to look around the room outside the closet we’d been locked in and figure out my next steps for survival. Going for the gun was a sucker’s bet, as I’d just proved; besides, most legal jurisdictions are very squeamish about foreign nationals shooting their citizens, even in self-defense. The British courts would especially go nuts over an American gunning down four Englishmen. No sense playing into stereotypes.

Shelves with supplies. Plumbing supplies. Pipe sections leaning against the left wall 20 feet away.

My feet were moving before I had time to consciously register. Two inch copper pipe, about as long as I was tall, would make a perfect ersatz bo staff. It would be heavier and slightly larger than the traditional oak bo I trained with, but the added heft would help me put down punks two through four quickly. They had chains and knives and numbers. I had a length of metal tubing, years of training from bad-ass senseis, a serious will to live, and the knowledge that if I failed not only was I going to die, but Kim would also pay for my misjudgment.

Punk Number Two recovered enough to pull a butterfly knife out of his pocket and move toward me, flipping the knife open expertly as he came. He was dangerous; he held his knife down out of his right fist, blade toward me, so he could slash at me with every movement of his arm. His grip greatly increased his attack flexibility in return for reducing his range; in a normal fight I would have to close to hurt him, but any move he made to defend himself would almost certainly cut me in return. Even with my pipe, he could probably move inside my guard faster than I could react. I would only get one chance at him, which meant I had to draw his attack now.

Right foot and hand forward. Shuffle step forward and right overhead strike.

As long as he wasn’t an idiot, the first strike wouldn’t hit him. Always a chance, though. I needed him to close the range, which (if he was good) he wouldn’t do until I’d committed to an attack. He bought it and moved forward toward me, swinging his blade toward my head in a blinding sweep.

Shuffle step back. Belly roll high striking his arm and deflecting knife as shuffle step in, return stroke impacting left temple. Follow with three flowing up strikes to his chin. Finish with a forward strike.

His knife went flying — it’s hard to hold a knife with a shattered wrist — and he dropped like a sack of wheat with a gash in his temple and a broken jaw. Two down, two to go.

Punk Number Three was trying to unwrap a length of chain. I didn’t give him time.

Shuffle step forward, forward punch to the bridge of the nose. His hands come up to his face. Left foot step forward, upper strike into the groin, continue into forward strike on crown of head as he bends down.

Punk Number Four had also grabbed a length of pipe and was holding it in a vague imitation of a ready stance. He yelled, stepped forward, and tried to hit me with what I charitably considered to be an overhead strike.

Left foot step back at an angle, change body and drop to one knee. Circle right hand out and up, coming back into bicep curl to impact his right arm just behind the wrist. Pool cue strike to the throat.

I stood up and back off a step, staff at the ready. Punk Number Four had fallen to his knees with his pipe dropped at his feet, hands brought up to the bloody crushed ruin my pipe had made of his throat. I could hear him gargling for breath. He looked at me with eyes full of panic.

“Don’t look at me,” I said evenly. “You were going to rape and kill me and my friend. The wages of sin and all that.”

He shook his head and gargled some more. I was unimpressed by his argument, even if I could have understood it.

“Doesn’t matter if you didn’t personally touch us. You never once complained when your friends did. Besides, by the time I could get emergency services here, you’ll be dead anyway. I have no idea where I am, remember? Oops. Maybe that was a bad decision.”

He sighed helplessly and fell sideways to the floor. In a few moments, he stopped twitching, for which fact I was grateful.

Punk Number One was on the floor feebly moving, moaning in an impressive pool of blood. Punk Number Two lay motionless where he’d originally fallen; I could see a large gory dent in the side of his skull and his jaw was obviously dislocated. Punk Number Three was curled into a ball of agony and appeared to have vomited all over himself. Having your testicles crushed back up into your abdominal cavity has that effect, I hear. He was the lucky one, though; he’d probably survive. I didn’t think the other three would, but I wasn’t sure. I’d never killed anyone before.

I walked back towards the closet where they’d kept Kimberly and me captive for the past three days. “Kim, are you awake?” I asked softly. I was worried about her. She was the famous personality, while as far as my captors knew I was just some useless American teenage girl. Between no food and Punk Number One having a sadistic addiction to his taser, she’d by far gotten the worst treatment. At least they’d given us water.

“Amanda.” Her voice was low, slow, and exhausted, like she’d run a marathon. “I heard yelling and a gun. What’s going on? Are you okay?”

Even as mistreated as she was, she was still trying to protect me. If I hadn’t still been so keyed up by adrenaline, I probably would have started weeping. No time for tears. I checked out the door again. There were no further signs of movement, so took a deep breath and willed my hands to relax. Then I leaned the pipe by the door and knelt down beside her. “I beat the hell out of them. They gave me an opening and I took it and got lucky.”

There was a long enough pause I worried she’d lost consciousness. “That’s…good. Are you hurt?”

“You bet it’s good,” I agreed as I picked up the remaining cup of water we’d been saving. “Drink this, and then you need to sit up. And no, I’m not hurt. Turns out my senseis actually know a thing or two. Now, we’re getting out of here as soon as I recover a cell phone. By any chance, do you happen to know the British equivalent of 911?”

I was hoping to have at least gotten one or two comments. For those who have read and not commented, was that a “looks fine, nothing to respond” sort of silence or more of a “oh lords, where to start” sort of silence? :slight_smile:

you say this is an early draft, so i,ll keep my comments high level and to the point.

it feels like this story needs to start a little earlier. i,m all for in media res, but this feels like i,ve misjudged the length of the trailers and sat down 5 minutes late for the movie.

the opening line doesn,t work for me. don,t get me wrong, i,m a fan of this style of opening. andy mcnab and lee child are sound proponents of it… i think i quote the first lines of lee,s book gone tomorrow somewhere else on the forum… but if you,re going to use this style of opening it has to be something that isn,t bloody obvious to anyone remotely interested in this genre. it has to establish the character as being someone who knows more than us. in short they have to tell us something we don,t already know.

the secret to making this genre work is to be really sharp on the technical aspects. i,m not saying you have to go all technothriller on us, but you do need to work on the details. e.g.…

  • no-one is going to be half blind and deaf from the muzzle sound and report of a 9mm round.
  • someone who has self-defence training (rather than military, say) would think in terms of specific martial arts moves. those moves have names. as an aside, i find it hard to visualise the action when you describe it. that,s not your fault as such… my eyes skip ahead when lee child does it too… but with so many sequences in such a short section it means i,m not bothering with half your chapter. not good if it,s your first chapter.
  • i,m not convinced your moves ,work,. when i was taught to disarm someone, you do the opposite of what you are doing here. this would get you shot, probably in the stomach.
  • british courts aren,t going to go nuts if a teenage girl uses a gun recovered from four thugs to defend herself when her life is threatened, she has a witness, and the physical evidence to support the story of abuse and kidnap.
  • is a glock 17 really over hyped? is it really favoured by two-bit delinquents everywhere?

Mostly, I agree with Floss. However, you might start at the same place if you get into the action sooner, saving details and modifiers for later. Cut the opening in half.

Not a recipe, just an example.


I’m not qualified to have a technical opinion. I can tell you my preference.

I liked the writing, but the facts seemed off (floss’ points about MA, UK self defense, etc). I could over look the facts with no issue, but it would make the story less … authentic. Odd to look for authenticity from fiction, but you seem to be placing this in modern times in known places so you have an obligation to stay factual


If this were a fantasy or clearly “not really our world” then you’d be fine. But you need to establish the alternate rules (or the fact that there are alternate rules) early enough to keep floss, and apparently me, from going “hey, you’re bending physics here…”

Seems like a great start.

Well, I think that overall it’s pretty good.

I’m sure that Floss is probably correct with his (her? :wink: ) detailed points. Additionally, I query one or two other things; for example, occasionally the vocabulary slips - for example, ‘mistreated’? But for me, above and beyond those details, the tone and feeling of the piece is spot-on. The pace, length of sentences, hard-boiled ‘masculine’ expression, meagre use of adjectives and adverbs, ‘expert’ knowledge (especially in the opening sentence) even if conceivably wrong (I believe it because it’s stated with confidence), the fact I can understand it all on a quick read - all contribute to the mood of an action thriller, which is what I assume you’re writing. I like it. As a draft of a WIP - well done.

In short, I liked it. Not my normal genre, so I can’t make meaningful comparisons, but I would keep reading. Mainly because I want to know the relationship between these two girls and how, and why, Amanda got to be such a “kick-ass” martial arts expert.

Like others have mentioned, I was distracted by perceived factual/reality inconsistencies (like being ill-treated by the justice system for self-defence against her captors; or why she was so energetic and capable after days of deprivation and torture; or, if she was so kick-ass as to be able to take down 4 thugs after all that, why she hadn’t acted earlier). Although I wasn’t entirely convinced of the legitimacy of the moves as described, I was prepared to go along (I mean, what do I know?). I actually found it more helpful to describe her moves rather than use names because it meant I could visualise them (except I got confused whether she was using her fists or the staff at one stage during the melee).

I thought the format was effective (e.g. describing the action in italics) and the pacing worked.

Are you trying to get us in trouble?

No, that doesn’t require any effort on my behalf…

Where is floss? 5 of Floss’s 6 ends are sharp. That will put you in your place.

First, thanks for the feedback, this is exactly the sort of feedback I’m looking for at this point.

Ah. Back up to the point where “a man with a gun enters the room.” Gotcha.

Didn’t know that! Now I do.


Here, I disagree. Close room, dim lighting – a single 9mm round discharge can be extremely disorienting unless you’re pretty familiar with being around weapons. Hell, even in a well-lit room the bang alone can cause ringing ears that last a good bit of time…as I found out the hard way when a friend accidentally discharged his pistol inside.

The effect I was going for was the textual equivalent of the fight visualization sequences in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock movies. I thought about using the specific nomenclature, but I was afraid that was going down the line of telling rather than showing – you have to know what the move is in order to know what I’m talking about, and there’s enough variation depending on what flavor of martial arts you know that when I say (forex) “kimura” and think one thing you may be thinking a different variation that leaves you totally confused because the next action doesn’t fit.

Obviously I have more reading and research and revision to do when I come back to this!

Not the canonical ways I was taught either. I was totally surprised to find out it works, and how well it works. My senseis said the exact same thing until I demonstrated it to them, and when I showed it to an instructor who teaches police and military forces, he basically said, “We don’t teach that one because it is more likely the gun will discharge, in a random direction, but often the perps shoot themselves.”

Verified the “shooting themselves” part with a couple of different replica weapons – airsoft, etc.

This was the part I wrote and a couple of days later thought, “yeah, that’s not going to work.” Nice to have it confirmed.

Every instructor I’ve worked with seems to think so. :slight_smile:

Again, thanks. Lots of food for thought.

Interesting. I was just thinking I’d taken care of the danger too quickly – as I introduce it, Amanda’s dealt with it.

Part of my challenge is that a lot of what people “know” is either crap or untested. Martial arts has a lot of religious wars, I’ve found. :slight_smile: But that’s my chore to work through it and make the reader at least okay with the choices I’ve made – thanks for the feedback.

Thank you! Vocabulary and tone are definitely rough, but it’s not yet time to polish. I am curious, though – can you give examples of said “masculine” expression? I ask because one of my goals in writing this is to avoid writing Amanda’s POV as “a guy who just happens to be a girl.” I am perhaps being overly ambitious, but I would like to avoid male gaze, default male assumptions, etc. as much as I can.

Awesome. The characters and their relationship are really what I’m trying to bring forward, so I’m thinking that as Floss mentioned starting earlier would help me establish even a bit more of that.

And my takeaway: clarity, clarity, clarity. Use sparing technical vocabulary to reduce repetition of description, so when I do describe action it pops. Stop adding commentary during action scenes when choices are being made and executed in the moment.

Sweet! Thanks again.

For example:

  • the conscious irony of “Having your testicles crushed back up into your abdominal cavity has that effect, I hear.”;
  • the use of many one and two-syllable words, and few of three syllables or more;
  • the use of few ‘weak’ (in ‘masculine’ terms) words (which is where I have a problem with ‘mistreated’ - a three-syllable word, ‘wet’ and high-pitched in sound, obscure and cloudy in meaning, and insofar as it has meaning, less than my imagination suggests to me Kimberly has actually been abused).

Personally, I see nothing especially wrong with Amanda seeming somewhat ‘masculine’ in physical conflict. I imagine there’ll be other less belligerent circumstances where she can display her feminine side.

@devinganger: Your replies here are among the most gracious, open and positive responses to critical feedback I have seen. Kudos to you, and thank you for modelling how to seek and receive and feedback.

I agree with nom.

WOW. Thank you very much! My wife would say on my behalf, “Thank you very much for validating my personal journey.” I would agree.

I would also note that I’ve been writing in the IT field for many years, including as a vendor for a product team known as “the most feared and loathed” in their company. Document reviews are…exuberant, and I had to learn the skill of separating the feedback (which was usually given with the intent of creating the best document possible) from any personal reflection on me. My boss said it best: “You may have done your best work on this document, you may not have. But now you have the advantage of multiple eyes and thought processes, and you have the opportunity to make your work even better.”

By showing me how to take even the most grueling and gutting feedback and reframe it as “what weakness is this revealing, and how can I fix it?” he helped me develop what is turning into a very useful skill in the fiction world – where the work is not just my daytime ball and chain, but MY BABY MY PRECIOUS OH LORDIE DON’T TOUCH MY PRECIOUS. :slight_smile:

Okay, I see what you’re saying there. So is it that you see that whole scene as Amanda being masculine, therefore the word doesn’t fit, or just that I have done an insufficient job of shifting out of the masculine mode once the fight is over?

Yes, I have one or two planned. :slight_smile: I am finding that her path brings her into more conflict than I had originally thought, though, so that’s been an interesting process.

Thanks again!