Saturday, March 17, 2012


Title: Begging to Breathe
Genre: YA mystery

I spend the first length of the pool underwater, dolphin kicking along the bottom, dragging my fingertips across the tiles. The bulkhead that separates the part of the pool for competition from the part of the pool for easy swimming floats two or three feet off the bottom, and from my perspective, I can see a shadow of something trapped underneath it. Something big.

I porpoise up, take a deep lungful of air, and dive back down. I’m less than five yards away, and my heart is pounding, because what I think I see can’t be real. I need air again, even though I can usually hold my breath for a couple minutes. I start to remember last year. As I tread water, taking deep, shaky gulps of oxygen, oxygen that refuses to inflate my lungs, Blue comes up behind me.

“Get out of the middle of the lane,” he says, swimming forward.

I pull his ankle backward. “L-look under the bulkhead.”

“Is it a condom again?” His voice breaks. He bites his lip.

Usually he throws out dirty jokes like I throw out second place ribbons—or, like I would if I had any—so I narrow my eyes. He raises his chin. I sigh. “Ew, no.”

He turns around and swims back the other way, leaving me alone. With it. Whatever it is. I focus, exhale, then inhale, and dive down, keeping my eyes closed until my searching fingers hit plastic. I follow the bulkhead down until it ends, then I open my eyes—and let out a scream of bubbles and kick away hard, fast, choking and gagging.

Oh my god oh my god oh my god.

Because it’s Julia.

And she’s dead.

And it’s all, undeniably, my fault.


  1. I really, *really* like this. And want to read more. Anyway...

    While they're talking, I was slightly confused at first by who is saying what. I figured it out, but still. I LOVE the line about throwing dirty jokes like second place ribbons—partially because I know the feeling, though not specifically with ribbons—but also because it's such a great way to tell us something about the MC. Great work! :-)

  2. I like much of the language you've chosen. There are some nice lines. You might consider streamlining/condensing some of your sentences, however, to make them read a little faster.

  3. This is great. I love your voice, and the horror of this moment. Only one bit stood out negatively. The line " He raises his chin. I sigh. “Ew, no.” " felt weird to me, and out of place. First she's stumbling over her words, saying "L-look under the bulkhead.", which comes across to me like she's upset, and then she says "Ew, no." with a sigh. It felt like the wrong moment for that kind of thing. I also don't understand why he's raising his chin.

    Other than that, I actually want to read more. Good job!

  4. The ending is really dramatic. Love it! I second Maggie concerns, except maybe about raising his chin. Isn't that natural in the water? But maybe it doesn't need to be said. Other than that, let me read the rest!

  5. I really like this. It's a gripping beginning, it makes me want to read on -- "Why is it her fault?" and so on. For me there was just one section that kind of threw me off...

    "Usually he throws out dirty jokes like I throw out second place ribbons—or, like I would if I had any—so I narrow my eyes. He raises his chin. I sigh. “Ew, no.” "

    For the first few seconds, I understood this line. Then I thought about it too hard, and now I'm not sure of the exact meaning you're trying to get across.

    He throws out dirty jokes meaning he makes them? Or he throws out dirty jokes meaning he avoids them?

    Also, these lines kind of broke that panicked mood for me. Like, first she's absolutely freaking out. Then there's a kind of pause where she responds to his joke. I think the pause between his line and her reaction is too long:
    "I narrow my eyes, he raises his chin," etc. I'm not EXACTLY sure what the nonverbal communication is trying to bring across here, and it seems like the dialogue would've been her immediate reaction -- something said without thinking.

    Also, I know this is just 300 words. But I can't really tell what the atmosphere is between the MC and Blue. Are they friends, rivals? Friends WITH a rivalry? From this little bit. I can't tell for sure...

    I think I agree with Nicole -- a few things could be a bit more condensed. But on the whole, this was a very good excerpt. Great way to plunge into the action. :)

  6. I have to say that I felt like I had to hold my breath while I was reading this, which is a GOOD thing! :-)

    I'm trusting that everything that's a bit confusing is only that way because I've been dropped into the story -- like how they talk underwater or how the protag can hold her breath for 2 minutes.

    What most concerns me here is why Blue wouldn't even take a look when the protag says she sees something under the bulkhead. Is he that much of a jerk? I'm wondering if, maybe, this scene would be stronger without Blue. Just have your protag make the horribly grisly discovery on her own, without the detraction of a dirty joke from a person who is horribly not-curious at best.

    There's so much lovely tension built into this scene that will build beautifully toward discovering her dead friend without the small detour with Blue.

    Good work! Good luck with this project!

  7. I really like this. :) Great tension, and I love the last line.

    The only thing that tripped me up is the fact that Blue swims away. Wouldn't he be curious about what she means? Him raising his chin was a bit odd, too. I sort of like Authoress's suggestion to maybe keep Blue out of the scene.

    Other than that, nice job. Good luck with this!

  8. What a great excerpt! I'm entirely sucked in, and now I want to know what your protagonist did that led to Julia's death. This is a really polished set-up.

    Authoress stole the words out of my mouth. Do you need Blue in this scene? I think you've built up intrigue and mystery making the reader wonder just as much as your protagonist what rests under the bulkhead. But Blue breaks the tension, effectively putting the moment on pause. The result would be much stronger if you cut his presence here completely and just move toward that strong pow moment.

  9. I agree with everyone about Blue. He seems very random/out of place.

    I got stuck a little on this sentence—"The bulkhead that separates the part of the pool for competition from the part of the pool for easy swimming floats two or three feet off the bottom." I wasn't immediately sure what was being said b/c of the wordiness, and I think it could be cleared up, like 'The bulkhead separating the competition and easy swimming parts of the pool floats two or three feet off the bottom.'

    The only other thing that stood out to me was the use of porpoise as a verb. It pulled me out of the story and ruined the building tension, b/c it distracted me with its oddness. Also, porpoise as a verb gives off a more fun, playful vibe, and if she thinks she's seen a dead person at the bottom of the pool…? Not the right mood. At all. O_o

    Other than that. LOVE it. ^_^