Critique Group – Before Dawn

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Before Dawn – by Tyler

Nick sat up sharply, his eyes snapping open.  Sweat soaked through his shirt, and his heart thundered in his chest.

He blinked several times in an attempt to calm himself.  He had been dreaming… but try as he might, he could not remember it.  The only remnant was the raw terror that still pounded through his veins.

Shaking his head, Nick threw off his fraying sheets and rolled out of bed.  His leg hit his bedside table, shaking several metallic miniatures.  What time is it?  He thought sleepily.  He glanced at the clock, which read “3:10.”  What?  Wh…?  Why?  It was much too early for him to get up.  The moon was new, shrouding the world in shadows.

Nick stumbled to the door of his room, swatting at the light switch.  It clicked, but nothing happened.  Argh… power’s out.  He did recall hearing a few strong drafts of wind the previous night.

He reached a hand blindly to the side, scrabbling for his flashlight.  It clicked on, and cast a pale beam of light upon the floor.

Nick squinted and walked carefully out of his room.  Shining the light before him, he thumped down the staircase and loafed into his small kitchen.  Deciding that he should save the cold air in the refrigerator, he opened his cupboard and grabbed a blueberry muffin.

After collapsing onto his leather couch, he bit into the pastry.  As he ate, the tired man wondered what he was going to do in the hours before work.

A dull knock on the door startled him.

Crinkling his forehead, he shone the flashlight at his watch.  3:15.  What in the…?  Nick pushed himself off the sofa and staggered to the door.  Suspicion sizzling in his mind, he peered out the peephole.

A yellow streetlight illuminated his well-kept lawn and chain link fence.  The asphalt beyond was clear… besides his, there were no other cars in sight.  Could it be Polly?  No… she went on vacation this week.

Scrunching his eyebrows together, Nick quietly turned the deadbolt.  He twisted the brass doorknob and slowly swung the door open.

There was no one.

“Hello?”  Nick called, against his better instincts.  “Is somebody there?”

All was silent and dark.

Just to be sure, he stepped out onto his deck, scanning the area with the flashlight.

Shaking his head, the confused man swung his door shut.  He mumbled to himself, turning around.

His flashlight cast a large circle of light against the wall on the other side of the room.

Wait… what…?  He narrowed his eyes.  In the center of the light was a dark figure, a shadow.  Oh, it’s just my shadow… Something about that wasn’t right.  He slowly moved the light to the left, until it no longer shone on the silhouette.

Nick moved it back.

The figure was gone.

A stabbing pain drove into his chest, and a sound like the wind blew into his ears.  He dropped the flashlight, crying out and falling to the ground.  Moaning, he blacked out.


Nick sat up sharply in his bed.  He peered around with wide eyes.  Sweat soaked through his shirt and his sheets.

He tried to think back to his dream… for some reason, he couldn’t remember it.  All he knew was that it had been terrifying.

Nick blinked his bleary eyes and glanced at his clock.  3:10… hmph.  Way too early…

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10 replies

  1. Hey, Tyler. I’m glad I read this in the bright morning and not late at night! I like what you’re doing, esp. with the repetition at the end. It makes me wonder if he’s stuck in a loop, or what?

    The first paragraph could be tighter, methinks. Perhaps somethig like, “Nick awoke like a snap and jerked upright.” (This is important later…)

    “He blinked…to calm himself.” Good explanation of blinking. My first novel manuscript was full of people blinking and shivering, but I never quite explained why. This is much better.

    (…here.) “Nick sat up sharply in bed.” This paragraph might be stronger if you repeated the first paragraph verbatim.

    Minor nit, but I think a baker would not call a blueberry muffin a “pastry”. Maybe just say “muffin” instead?

    I’m definitely curious about what’s going on. I don’t have much context, so I can’t speculate whether it’s horror or alien sci fi abduction or spiritual in nature. You’ve definitely got plenty of ways to go with this!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. The ending definitely threw me, as I was thinking the knock, the figure, etc. all had to do with the dream (Like he had received a warning or premonition). I loved the twist!

    A more careful second read brought the full meaning of the shadow to my attention. If he’s holding the flashlight, of course he won’t be casting a shadow! Great way to turn “Oh, it was only my shadow” realization on it’s head.

    It was unclear to me whether the pain and blacking out at the end were from some sort of attack, or if it was terror, or (after reading the ending) if it was one of those strange disasters that occurs in dreams. I am guessing that was intentional. 🙂

    All in all it was very engaging and definitely sparked questions. First about the dream and its importance, then about whether he is stuck in an endless loop, if so how will he get out, and ultimately, what on earth is going on!

  3. Interesting mystery brewing, that was a cool twist with the dreams (or possibly dream within a dream?)
    Your descriptions of the environment felt very natural and I had a good picture of what the house looked like.
    One note is it seems like several of the sentence in the first couple paragraphs start with he/his. Reworking the sentences a little (I.e he sleepily glanced at the clock… instead of two sentence back to back starting with he) can help engage the reader a little more.

  4. Hey Tyler,

    I love these kind of stories. Looping for some reason and then slowly you feel deja vu and have to figure out why and how to stop it. I noticed a few things I can point out not mentioned, but besides them you have a great piece of writing here.

    What if you replaced the line, “He had been dreaming…” With “He realized it was a dream….” I feel it would engage the reader more showing that he discovered it was a dream than hearing a narrator tell us it was a dream.

    Watch out for too much use of the word “his”. His room, his small kitchen, his cupboard, his leather couch. I think the reader gets that it’s his house after you say his room, so maybe try different words like; the small kitchen, a cupboard, a leather couch. Repetitive words stand out to a reader and pull them from the story.

    I’m not sure you need him to look at his watch again at 3:15. He saw 3:10 moments ago so he knows it’s really early.

    When he opened the door a yellow light illuminated the yard, but I thought the power was out? In Canada, if my house loses power, most likely the street lights are out as well.

    I’d also agree with John about having the same line repeated at the end that was in the beginning. It makes the reader think, Didn’t I read this already? And then the loop hits them.

    Your writing gives the reader great description so they can follow along and see what the character sees. You built up the suspense making us neverous at the door and curious as to what is going on with the repeating dream. Definitely worth reading on.

    Great job, Tyler!


  5. I read this at 4:30 in the dark morning hours as I was getting ready for work…and was TOTTALY creeped out😂!!! There’s a lot of emotion to your piece and it gave it exactly the punch of information and feeling that it takes to send chills up someone’s spine. Especially the ending! That was a great twist that I didn’t see coming and would definitely urge me to read the rest if the whole book were in my hands. Great job👍! I hope to read more one day😄!!!

  6. I think this will be an intriguing piece. Good spookiness.

    I would like you to be careful to employ a closer intimacy with the focal character. I suggest reading my posts about intimate point of view.

    Here are some detailed points:

    “He had been dreaming… but try as he might, he could not remember it.”

    What is “it”? You appear to have no antecedent for the pronoun.

    “The only remnant was the raw terror that still pounded through his veins.”

    I know it’s a metaphor, but thinking about terror pounding through veins seemed too odd and jerked me out of the story.

    What time is it? He thought sleepily.

    Since it’s a thought tag, the He should be lower case.

    “It was much too early for him to get up.”

    You can aid the intimacy by getting rid of unnecessary pronouns that refer to your focal character. Just write “It was much too early to get up.”

    “The moon was new, shrouding the world in shadows.”

    If the moon was new, it wouldn’t create any shadows at all.

    “It clicked, but nothing happened.”

    Actually, something did happen. The switch clicked. Maybe say that the room remained dark.

    “He did recall hearing a few strong drafts of wind the previous night.”

    Try to remove narrator phrases, like “he did recall.” Just show him recalling. “A few strong gusts had rattled the house last night.”

    “As he ate, the tired man wondered what he was going to do in the hours before work.”

    Would the POV character refer to himself as the tired man? This makes it sound like someone else is in the room. Just show him being tired.

    “A dull knock on the door startled him.”

    Can you show the startle instead of just telling us he was startled?

    “A yellow streetlight illuminated his well-kept lawn and chain link fence. The asphalt beyond was clear… besides his, there were no other cars in sight. Could it be Polly? No… she went on vacation this week.”

    I thought it odd that he could see his lawn, fence, and car but not a person. I wouldn’t open the door unless I could see who knocked.

    “He twisted the brass doorknob and slowly swung the door open.”

    Would he be noticing that the doorknob was brass?

    “Hello?” Nick called, against his better instincts. “Is somebody there?”

    What would his better instincts have told him? It seems that calling out makes sense.

    “Shaking his head, the confused man swung his door shut.”

    Would he consider himself to be the confused man? Just show him being confused. Again it sounds like someone else is in the room.

    Wait… what…? He narrowed his eyes.

    You showed his reaction before the motivation. If you want to preserve intimacy, don’t do that.

    Good job overall!

  7. Tyler, thanks for this submission. I love how you were able to navigate the fine line of a “dream within a dream (etc?)”.

    Besides what is noted above, I noticed that the alarm clock was still working, even though the power was out. I know it was a dream (and there are clocks with backup batteries in case of a power outage), but it’s just something to keep in mind.

    As Tree noted, the street lights were on, but the house was not. I really like how it could give a feeling of sabotage, like somebody fiddled with the breaker box.

    Since I don’t have the rest of the context, I’m not sure what to say about the last paragraph. If you want to give the feeling of an endless loop, you should probably make both ends symmetrical. However, I personally liked the slight variation: I thought, “What differences will there be in reality/this other dream?”

    Overall, great work! Even the name is intriguing. What else happens before dawn? This has lots of potential. Keep it up!

  8. I wasn’t planning on reading this thing since I was just skimming, but it pulled me right in. Good job.

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