Project Fifty

I don’t really know if the headlights shining into my tent or the engine driving within feet of my air mattress awoke me, but having been asleep for what felt like several hours in the silence of my isolated campsite, the sudden arrival of another vehicle brought me from deep sleep to deep terror in a moment. What time was it?
Certainly space remained for another group of campers since the other four sites at Janice Landing were unoccupied when the rain lulled me to sleep. How long ago had that been? Time’s passage was uncertain and I awoke groggily, but with urgency. Now I heard voices, more than one, maybe as many as three, all men, and they didn’t attempt to be quiet, nor did they sound intoxicated. Nor did they sound as if they were setting up camp.This wasn’t my first time camping, even if I still considered myself a novice. Having a routine for setting up and breaking down my gear, my tent, my blankets, and my belongings, both in my car and in my tent certainly seemed much easier when I enjoyed a private campsite, like the one in which I fell asleep just at the tail end of dusk. Now I remained still, listening to the unexpected voices over the chirping of the damp, forest night, wondering what these intruders’ intentions might be. My mind went to the worst possible scenario.

The engine kept running, even after the vehicle came to a stop. I patted my hands around my head trying to recall where I set my phone before falling asleep. When my hands found it, I pulled it under the blankets, hiding the light of the screen from the increasingly uncertain strangers. How late was it?

12:30 am.

My eyes squinted shut against the immediate illumination. If I arrived at a campsite this late, I would certainly attempt to keep my disruption of sleeping neighbors to a minimum. Clearly these men had no such intention. Panic was only superseded by my half-hearted attempt to think rationally given the wide band of sleep still wrapped around my head. ‘Think,’ I told myself. I should send a text to someone so if what I thought was about to happen did indeed happen, at least someone would know. I was debating with myself as to whom I should send the text when I finally again squinted my eyes open enough against the screen’s light. I only had six percent battery life and my phone, in its own mode of self protection, shut itself off.
In this Mississippi forest alongside a trickling creek, I found myself just far enough from adequate cell service that my phone spent the last several hours pinging away in an attempt to find a clear signal. Why didn’t I fully charge it before crawling into the tent? Crap. Crap, crap, crap!

I silently pulled the blankets away from my face, already feeling claustrophobic in addition to terrified. I tried to hear any type of specific dialogue, without making noise myself, but over the running engine, the task of identifying the activity outside my tent without a visual proved fruitless. I was even less relieved when the engine shut off but the headlines remained on.

I recalled being afraid the first few times I camped, primarily of wild animals and my car breaking down. I tried to recall how I handled my fear previously, but I never felt fear like this. I faced the real possibility of attack, perhaps violently. Sexually assaulted. Raped. Injured. Killed. And no one would ever know. I tried to remain silent, focusing on the voices, and I felt certain they could hear my heart roaring above the sounds of nature. I certainly could hear it and feel it. I could only catch bits and pieces of their conversation, and a small, uncontrolled part of me, still hovered on deep sleep, tugging on my eyelids. I tried to remain alert, but silent, and calm while terrified, and non-judgmental despite the horrific feeling that my life was about to change forever by the light of the strangers’ headlights.

Damnit I wanted to be brave! No footsteps approached my tent, yet why would I still not hear any indications of a camp being set up? The strings of “Dueling Banjos” uncontrollably strummed in my head. I hated that I was stereotyping these men, but I was a woman alone in the forest. The closest object I had to a weapon, should self-defense be my last option, was a two-blade utility tool. I presumed I would have better success with the serrated blade, although with three or four of them and my mere two-inch blade, my odds of success were slim. My odds of being gang-raped were much higher. I tried not to think about it, but rather how possibly to protect myself. Still no one approached my tent, but it was only a matter of time until they did.

The only other structure in the area was a vault toilet, which was on the opposite side of my tent from the truck. They obviously did not stop to use its facilities. Perhaps they didn’t realize I was alone. Clearly that was wishful thinking, though. If their headlights shone in my SUV the way they crossed my tent upon their arrival, they would have noticed the interior so full that only one occupant were possible. I toted so many of my personal belongings on this voyage that even the bag of belongings strapped to the roof left itself easily accessible. If they approached, the rudimentary wind chimes I attached to the bag’s zipper would do less to alert me to the thieves, and more likely give away the fact that inside the small, blue, pup tent, a female cowered by herself.

I did cower, and I hated myself for it. I kept my face buried against the pillow, keeping my mouth exposed to keep from suffocating under my blanketed bunker. My body wanted to sleep, my mind wanted to focus, and my fear just wanted the men to leave.

8 thoughts on “Project Fifty

  1. karengrikitis says:

    Your first paragraph has me hooked – tell me more! I’m not interested in details about your camping experience. I feel your nine paragraphs could be condensed into two very easily. There is a lot of internalising here (and quite a bit of repetition) which doesn’t move the story forward and doesn’t tell us much about the protagonist apart from the fact she is very frightened. Too may words – not enough story-telling!

    • Isabel says:

      I feel.that you’re telling too much through her thought. Let the reader feel the tension, don’t tell us its there. What are you trying to achieve with this scene? Will she end up getting raped or are you showing that she is a nervous woman?

      I think it has some potential and could be a good starting point.

  2. NobHobbit says:

    I agree with that. The writing is good and the scene has a lot of promise, but the internal panicking goes on way too long. Let something happen. 🙂

  3. Gentle Reader says:

    I’m glad that you understand the importance of beginning a novel with some kind of disturbance. This started getting interesting toward the end of the section, but I’m not sure someone browsing in a bookstore would continue reading long enough to get to that part. The opening needs to be condensed and tightened.

    Let’s look at the first sentence:

    “I don’t really know if the headlights shining into my tent or the engine driving within feet of my air mattress awoke me, but having been asleep for what felt like several hours in the silence of my isolated campsite, the sudden arrival of another vehicle brought me from deep sleep to deep terror in a moment.”

    You’re overwriting here. The sentence is too long and rambling. In writing, shorter sentences tend to be better at showing panic and surprise.

    Get rid of awkward phrasing. Show, don’t tell. Example:
    “Time’s passage was uncertain and I awoke groggily, but with urgency.”

    Try something like:
    I sprang up into a sitting position and rubbed my eyes.

    You could get rid of huge sections without losing any meaning. For example:

    “This wasn’t my first time camping, even if I still considered myself a novice. Having a routine for setting up and breaking down my gear, my tent, my blankets, and my belongings, both in my car and in my tent certainly seemed much easier when I enjoyed a private campsite, like the one in which I fell asleep just at the tail end of dusk. Now I remained still, listening to the unexpected voices over the chirping of the damp, forest night, wondering what these intruders’ intentions might be. My mind went to the worst possible scenario.”

    In general, think about how sentence length affects pacing.

    Good luck, and keep writing. I want to know what happens next!

  4. C. Longoria Gonzalez says:

    I’m right in line with the previous reviewers. You have great descriptions but a few paragraphs in, I was ready for the encounter. If you want to condense this, when I condense my stuff, I remove the obvious, and the redundant.

    Example: Everyone knows cell phones run out of juice even when not in use and that she would have to charge it before “crawling into the tent”. The only line you needed regarding her cell phone dying:

    “Why didn’t I charge my phone? Crap. Crap, crap, crap!”

    Another example:
    “I recalled being afraid the first few times I camped, primarily of wild animals and my car breaking down. I tried to recall how I handled my fear previously, but I never felt fear like this. I faced the real possibility of attack, perhaps violently. Sexually assaulted. Raped. Injured. Killed.”

    This could be condensed to (just a suggestion):
    “I used to just fear my car breaking down and wild animals. Now, it’s fear of being raped and murdered!”

    Since wild animals violently attack, too, you don’t need “attack” and “violent”. Those words are also implied in “rape” and “murder”. And “Rape” implies sexual assault. See what I mean?

    Condensing sentences will make your story punchier and more accessible. In doing so, you’re not dumbing your story down or anything like that, you’re taking out the fluff to keep the reader’s attention.

    Hope this helps. You have a great premise for a story and I am curious to know what happens next. Good luck!

  5. Pam Portland (@TruckingWriter) says:

    Hey all, thanks for the feedback. This was an actual encounter – my own experience – and yes, I am alive and well and stayed awake in my tent for almost three hours before they left, but it did take a miraculous twist more than an hour into the encounter. If anyone can follow up on their thoughts, I would ask this: the protagonist was groggy, for quite a while, awakened by sounds, and confusingly alternating between immediate concerns (what time is it, what is that particular sound she hears, is this a flight-or-fight moment), rational thoughts (not wanting to sit up and make noise, contemplating ways to defend herself, trying to identify how many men are actually in the camp, etc.), and trying to consider whether to stay awake out of fear or fall back to sleep out of exhaustion. How do I relay the ongoing stream of consciousness of the protagonist during that hour with the “wrap it up” urgency that the scene probably needs?

  6. C. Longoria Gonzalez says:

    Wow. I’m really sorry you went through that Pam. Glad you got out unharmed.

    A friend of mine writes stream of consciousness writing but I haven’t read any of her stuff yet so I’m not familiar with that style. (Hell, I’m a newbie at novel writing.)
    What I wrote in my previous comment (and what I failed to mentioned, sorry) I learned from studying the craft of screenwriting in the last couple years. They say for the heart-pounding adrenaline scenes, keep the sentences short, some of them one-word.

    Your story screams ‘Thriller’ to me for some reason. (Bad pun, I know.) If you want to keep it more about what she’s thinking during the event vs. the events to follow that you’re building up to, hopefully, someone else more familiar with stream of consciousness writing can chime in.

    One thought that just came to mind: If she’s alternating between the different levels of consciousness and thoughts, what if she took sleep medication or drank alcohol or ate some poisonous plant, etc. so she’s not capable of being consistently coherent? Just a thought. Again, sounds like you’re more familiar with this setting. I think I watched too many horror movies as a kid that take place in the forest, so I don’t camp much. And I’m terrified of snakes.

    Best of luck! Like I said before, I look forward to finding out what happens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s