Critique Group – The Kid

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The Kid – by Faith Song

Short, pounding footsteps made Maxwell’s hand drift to his gun. An instant later, his training kicked in, and he recognized the length of the footsteps. A child, who limped.

The kid ducked through the door and skidded to a stop, her gaze darting between the doors, likely looking for an escape route. Her hand was clenched into a fist against her chest.

Maxwell shifted, his hand moving away from his gun holster to steady himself on the thin rafter.

The steadily growing presence of the two agents following her kept his senses peaked, but they were far enough away that he would not need his gun as of yet.

She took a small step forward, rubbing a slightly dirty hand along a scar which curved around her face.

Nervous habits.

Maxwell scanned the kid. She was around ten, obviously at least poor, if not homeless. The scar looked as if her skin had been scraped off at some point and healed poorly.

She evidently heard the agents behind her, because she started and limped toward a door.

Light from the dusty window glinted on the edge of the object she held in her clenched fist.

Maxwell glanced up at the hallway where she had come from, quickly estimating how long it would take for Wilson and Sutherland to arrive. Too soon, but it seemed he had to risk it.

Nuts.

He dropped out of the rafters, landing lightly on his feet a foot away from where the kid stood.

She jerked back, letting out a small yelp.

Maxwell grabbed her wrists. “Shh. Quiet, kid. I’m not with them. I won’t hurt you.”

Her small hands trembled. For a moment, he almost felt sorry for her.

Only almost, of course.

“What is it you took from them?”

Her fists tightened. “I-I didn’t know they were—I thought they were police after they saw me, but then they shot something at me, and I just took a—” She stopped, her voice cracking. Her voice came out as a trembling whisper. “Please don’t let them shoot me, mister.”

Maxwell slid one hand down to her clenched fist. “I’ll try not to, kid. What’s your name?”

Tears glimmered in her eyes. “D-Debbie Marcel.”

“Okay, Debbie. I’ll try to keep you from them. Let me see what you have, mm?”

Her hand slowly relaxed. Maxwell took the coin carefully. It was split in half down the middle, with a crumpled paper lodged inside one end.

His gaze snapped up to her eyes, which were wide and blue. “You read it?”

She hesitated, then nodded, trembling. “I thought it was a coin, so I just took it out of his pocket, and then it came open, and there was a paper, so I read it…” She shook her head, “And the man saw me and tried to get it, and when I ran, he tried to shoot me.” She shook her head sharply. “Th-they were going to sh-shoot—”

Maxwell scowled. “Stop it. Calm down, or I won’t be able to get you out of here.”

Debbie bit her lip and stood a little bit straighter, meeting his gaze.

The agents would be here any second.

He shoved the coin halves into his pocket, pulling Debbie through a doorway to a stairwell.

There was no way she could get down the stairs at a reasonable rate with that limp of hers. He crouched and pulled her onto his back. Her hands latched around his neck, and her legs around his waist. He pulled himself up to his feet and frowned, creeping quickly toward the iron stairs.

“What did the paper say, Debbie?” he murmured, starting down.

“A ship number.” Her grip tightened around him. “I know because D-dad was a ship pilot.”

“And the number?”

She repeated what sounded like a valid ship ID number.

So she was a liability. Fabulous.

Something clicked above him. He spun around, pulling his gun out with one hand.

Debbie cried out and slumped against him, slipping a bit without the support of his other arm.

He sensed the presence of both agents crouched behind the door frame.

This kid was way too distracting.

He adjusted his grip on Debbie and sprinted downward, firing a warning shot upward when he was halfway down.

Maxwell reached the base of the stairs and set Debbie against the wall beside the door, outside the stairwell.

He pulled the dart from the back of her collarbone and leaned out of the doorway enough to see Sutherland leaning out enough to fire. He aimed and fired in a moment, then jerked back at a sharp pain in his forearm.

He yanked out the dart and dropped it on the floor.

Despite his training, Maxwell would be unconscious within fifteen minutes, and their Interrogators would be worse than a bullet to the head. Not only for Maxwell.

He growled under his breath and scooped Debbie into his arms. No Interrogator would get the information out of either of them.

Unfortunately, with Debbie unconscious, Maxwell couldn’t reach his gun.

Maxwell tightened his hold on the street kid and sprinted out of the building.

Cole met him with a car in one of the city’s many dirty alleys. Maxwell put Debbie on the car floor and crouched beside her, below window level.

Cole drove out into the stream of traffic, chuckling under his breath. “Found a new friend, or is she ID codes in disguise?”

“A liability.” Maxwell muttered, pulling the coin out of his pocket. The paper did, indeed, have a ship ID identical to the one Debbie had recited.

The kid had a memory like an elephant.

“She saw the codes, then?”

Maxwell grunted an affirmation. “Picked their pocket.” he muttered.

“You alright, Victor?”

His mind was growing foggy. He leaned his head against the car door. “Mmmhm. Keep driving.”

“And the kid?”

Maxwell clenched his jaw against a headache. “She’ll stick around until the ship takes off.”

“Is that wise…?”

Maxwell smiled grimly. “Of course not.”

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13 replies

  1. Very good! This has a sort of dangerous mission, spy-to-secret-agency sort-of flair about it that I like. Firstly, I would compliment you upon the character creativity of Maxwell. He did and thought things that were somewhat unfeeling, which for most writers destroys the endearment of a character, but then he thought and said them with that hint of humanity, like he really did care in there somewhere. Now, I’m going to try and critique specific things, which I have tried to avoid so far, and I’m going to do it because on the whole I can’t think of any super, super huge problems. Firstly, I will start with yet another small compliment to it (I can’t help it!),
    ‘Despite his training, Maxwell would be unconscious in fifteen minutes, and their Interrogators would be worse than a bullet to the head. Not only for Maxwell.’

    I like that mystery above. Why is it not only for Maxwell worse? Good question! I hope to perhaps someday know the answer! Next,
    ‘He sensed the presence of both agents crouched behind the door frame.’

    How did he sense them? Did he see them? Did he hear them? Did he feel their heat? Did he smell them? And, if he just sensed them by his instinct, then how could he know there were two? For all he knew, one could have been right behind him!

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    • Thank you so much! ^-^ That was the feel I was going for. *nods* Honestly, I’m not sure I can completely figure Maxwell out, but I do know quite a bit more about him than I had the words for in this particular section of writing.

      Weeeell… Actually, I didn’t realize that this would be confusing for my readers. I normally write fantasy, and I guess it shows… 😛
      Maxwell has rudimentary telepathic abilities, so he can sense when people are around, and where they are, and occasionally strong emotions that they have, but he’s not strong enough to be officially considered a telepath.

      Yeah, I saw the repetitiveness, but my words were limited, and I couldn’t figure out how to phrase it better. Do you have any suggestions?

      Heh. Actually, Cole was waiting until Maxwell got out because Maxwell was originally waiting for the agents, so that he could intercept the information that was being passed.

      Maxwell knew how many agents there were, and who they were, because they were his original reason for being there, and he used his telepathic abilities to sense where they were at all times, up to the point when he was distracted.

      Thank you so much! I’ll make sure to clarify certain things more when I rewrite this. God bless you!

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  2. Sorry, that critique was cut short! I was told to go and eat breakfast. Alright, now I can continue! Next,
    ‘He puled the dart from her collarbone and leaned out of the doorway enough to see Sutherland leaning out enough to fire.’

    Here, there is a grammatical flaw as well as what I was going to originally note. You used ‘enough’ twice, perhaps would take out the second? And, perhaps find a synonym for ‘leaning’, as you also used it twice? And also, if he was just barely leaning out enough to see, and Sutherland was just barely leaning out to fire, how could he tell it was Sutherland, and how does he know Sutherland? Proceeding,
    ‘Cole met him with a car in one of the city’s many dirty alleys.’

    I could just be reading inadequately, but how did Cole know to come? And does he work for Maxwell or is he just a friend? Okay, the latter part isn’t so much a problem as I REALLY want to know. But, moving on,

    ‘quickly estimating how long it would take for Wilson and Sutherland to arrive.’

    Okay, between this and another sentence preceding it some, it makes it seem like he knows how many people are coming, he knows they’re coming, and he knows who they are. How? Now, this wouldn’t be so much a problem if he had something to do with why they were coming, but he doesn’t! And, he was surprised by the little girl, so how did he know about the agents before she told him and before they came? Really, other than these and the above problems, I’d say that this is one of the best works I’ve seen in this setting, and I am proud and grateful to be able to read it.
    God bless you and help your talented efforts,
    Isabelle.

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  3. I also enjoyed this piece! Maxwell is an excellent antihero. As Isabelle said, though he’s a bit unfeeling, he also shows redeeming qualities, and he has great potential for growth. I also really liked the mystery of the whole scenario. I’m just going to critique a couple things.

    First: After Maxwell sets Debbie down, he pulls a dart from her collarbone, but I couldn’t find where you said the enemy agents shot her. If Maxwell heard a gunshot or Debbie slumped against his back, or both, that part would make more sense.

    Secondly: It’s very brave of you to drop us into the setting and the action without much explanation. That being said, you’ll probably want to set the scene better; I can’t picture where they are at all. I also don’t know what Maxwell is doing there; realistically, he’d probably think of that at some point, so you might want to include it.

    Other than that, great job! You’ve set up some very interesting characters in a suspenseful scene. It can only get better from here. Good luck!

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    • Well, I didn’t actually state that she was shot, but Maxwell heard a noise from above him and Debbie slumped against him… I suppose I probably should have clarified that better. 😛 Sorry about that.

      Sorry… I was working with a word limit, and didn’t realize I hadn’t set the scene well enough. Thanks! I’ll be sure to add more description when I rewrite.\

      Maxwell was waiting to ambush the two agents. 😛 He was originally going for the paper, but Debbie got there first! xP

      Thanks for the critique! 🙂

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  4. I’ve already critiqued this so I’m just commenting so I’ll be subscribed.
    From what I know, this piece is a bit of flash fiction that had to be cut down to 1K. That might be something readers would like to know since FF tends to be more straight to the point.

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    • If cutting words harms the story, then the writer shouldn’t cut them. One thousand words is an arbitrary limit and should not be the deciding factor.

      I ask for the first 1000 words here, but I hope writers don’t cut words just to make the limit. They should just send the first 1000 (or so) no matter where that word count ends.

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  5. Faith Song,

    This looks like a cool idea, kind of a hard-boiled crime story. It should be fun.

    At the beginning, I had a hard time picturing the scene. You mention “the” door and “the” doors. Whenever you use “the” like that, readers expect to know about the doors, but you had not mentioned them earlier. Is Maxwell outside on a street? Inside a house? Where are those doors in comparison to him? Later I read that there is a hallway and a rafter, which threw me off.

    I highly recommend setting the scene first, establishing where Maxwell is so readers can “see” the backdrop. As it stands, I feel blind and disoriented.

    “The steadily growing presence of the two agents following her kept his senses peaked, but they were far enough away that he would not need his gun as of yet.”

    How does a presence grow? They are either present or they are not. Were they running? Walking? Where were they?

    “Nervous habits.” I didn’t understand this fragment.

    “Maxwell scanned the kid. She was around ten, obviously at least poor, if not homeless. The scar looked as if her skin had been scraped off at some point and healed poorly.”

    I think you can delete “at least” and “at some point.”

    “She evidently heard the agents behind her, because she started and limped toward a door.”

    Maxwell probably first noted her movement and then concluded that she heard the agents, so this is out of order. Also, it seems to be taking quite a while for the agents to catch up.

    “Maxwell glanced up at the hallway where she had come from, quickly estimating how long it would take for Wilson and Sutherland to arrive. Too soon, but it seemed he had to risk it.”

    If Maxwell knew the agents names, why did he refer to them simply as “agents” before this point?

    “She jerked back, letting out a small yelp.”

    Be careful about using this construction too often, that is, a main verb phrase followed by a participle (ing verb) phrase. You use this a lot.

    “Only almost, of course.”

    I don’t understand why you added this. It makes your character far less sympathetic, almost as though he is proud of being uncaring. Also, again, I am wondering why it’s taking so long for the agents to arrive, especially considering that they have been in sight for quite a while.

    “She stopped, her voice cracking. Her voice came out as a trembling whisper.”

    Two consecutive mentions of her voice’s quality is probably overkill.

    “Maxwell took the coin carefully.”

    Using “the” with “coin” makes readers think they should know about the coin. Let readers see “a” coin before Maxwell takes “the” coin.

    “It was split in half down the middle, with a crumpled paper lodged inside one end.”

    I am having trouble picturing paper lodged inside an end of a coin.

    “I thought it was a coin, so I just took it out of his pocket.”

    How could she see a coin in his pocket? Why would the person let her take it?

    “The agents would be here any second.”

    Once again I am perplexed at how slow they are.

    “He pulled himself up to his feet and frowned, creeping quickly toward the iron stairs.”

    He likely did not pull himself up and creep toward the stairs at the same time. Better to write, “He pulled himself up to his feet and, frowning, crept quickly toward the iron stairs.”

    Also, this is the first mention of the stairs. Using “the” makes readers think they should have seen these stairs earlier.

    “So she was a liability. Fabulous.”

    How does knowing a ship number make her a liability?

    “He sensed the presence of both agents crouched behind the door frame.”

    What door frame? I thought he was on the stairs by now, since he spun to react to something above him.

    “This kid was way too distracting.”

    I don’t understand why you are making your character so negative. It was his idea to take her with him. It seems odd that he would complain about rescuing a little girl.

    “He pulled the dart from the back of her collarbone”

    What dart? How did it get there? This dart seemed to appear out of the blue.

    “then jerked back at a sharp pain in his forearm.”

    The sharp pain caused the jerking back, so this is out of order.

    “He yanked out the dart and dropped it on the floor.”

    What dart? You show him yanking it out before he sees it.

    “Maxwell would be unconscious within fifteen minutes”

    A dart that takes 15 minutes to work is far from effective. I don’t see how a person can be trained to chemically resist a tranquilizer.

    “Unfortunately, with Debbie unconscious, Maxwell couldn’t reach his gun.”

    When did she fall unconscious? You didn’t mention that.

    “Of course not.”

    If it’s not wise, then why is he doing it?

    I saw quite a few more minor issues, but this should be enough for now. The main issues are the lack of scene setting and using objects that seem to appear out of nowhere.

    I think you need more foreshadowing. Every object that you use in an active state should be shown in an inactive state before it becomes active. For example, you should show a warrior’s sword in a scabbard at his hip (inactive) before you show him battling with it (active). In your story, show that a door exists before you show a character passing through it. Show the dart before someone removes it.

    To begin your story, I think you should show Maxwell clinging to the rafters and mention the hallway and a series of doors. This sets the stage for readers. Then when the girl shows up and comes through one of the doors, we can see it on the mental stage. The first mention, write “a door” when it is inactive and when she enters, you can write “the door” in its active state.

    I hope that helps. Keep on writing!

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    • In my experience with darting cattle, darts do take a long time to take effect. (Normally around 20 minutes, and we do it in the neck.) If the animal is calm, they work better than if the animal is excited. (An excited animal that wants to fight might take double the dose and still not go down.) This leads me to believe that someone who has been darted might be able to be trained to resist. Also, since he was shot in the arm, 15 minutes makes sense since a dart get injected into muscle, not the bloodstream. There is a reason police don’t use darts.

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    • Mr. Davis,

      Thanks for critiquing my work! Sorry it took so long for me to reply… I intended to reply to this earlier, but life happened. XP

      I was going for a crime story feel, while in a more futuristic science fiction setting. You can’t really see the setting much, since Maxwell is inside a mostly-abandoned building for the majority of the story, but… Yes. 😛

      *nods* Setting. Judging by the feedback I’ve been getting for this story, I need to work on that. I’ll be sure to fix that when I rewrite.

      The presence is steadily growing closer.
      Come to think of it, I probably should have explained this better.
      In this story world, there are telepaths (Including T.I.s, which are Telepathic Interrogators). Maxwell has a very minor telepathic ability, so he can sense when people are nearby, and occasionally strong emotions, but his abilities are not strong enough to be officially considered a telepath.
      So he could sense the presence of the agents while they were still several rooms away, which, I noticed, was an object of confusion for several of the critiquers, and also why the agents were taking so long to get there. Since you mention this and things relating to this several times in the critique, I’ll just skip over that, since I addressed it here.
      I will make sure to clarify this when I rewrite it.

      I actually didn’t think about the fact that he should have thought of them by those names earlier on. I was trying to establish to the readers that they were other agents. I will make note of this.

      Yeah, I noticed that when I try to vary sentence structure, I just end up overusing another structure…

      Well, this is a bit complicated. Maxwell actually is a bit proud of the fact that he’s uncaring. It’s how he’s been raised. If he doesn’t care, he can’t be manipulated emotionally in to doing something he’ll regret. It’s a bit of twisted logic that he’ll have to work through later in his character arc.

      The coin is actually a fake coin, which is hollow and is, instead, used as a container.

      She couldn’t see the coin in his pocket, but as a pickpocket, taking coins from pockets is kind of what she does. XP

      Knowing the ship number made her a liability because there is something—or someone—being transported on the ship, which is not supposed to be common knowledge.

      The doorway leading into the stairwell.

      The dart was the reason that Debbie slumped against him. I guess I need to stress that more in the rewrite.

      The dart doesn’t normally take fifteen minutes to work (as is shown by Debbie’s quick unconsciousness), but as part of Maxwell’s training, he built up an immunity to it.

      Well, his only options are to keep Debbie with them, stash her somewhere to make sure she doesn’t let anyone know about the ship number, or kill her, and as heartless as he makes himself out to be, killing civilians is something he doesn’t do, and I don’t know that they have time to take her somewhere safe, where she won’t give stuff away or find out more things she shouldn’t know.

      Foreshadowing. Okay. 🙂 I seem to forget to do it in individual scenes, as opposed to across a large plot.

      Thanks for the critique! It should help. I’ll keep these things in mind as I rewrite this.

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