Big, snuggly thanks to everyone who gave their opinions on the two hooks I posted yesterday! I’d been working on similar versions for so long that it never occurred to me until today to try something completely different. I thought about everyone’s advice, and how they liked the 2nd clip better than the first. I agree, actually. I prefer a little character development too, rather than jumping straight into the action.
I’m pretty excited about what I wrote tonight. I tried to capture a sense of Nissa’s personality, introduce a bit of her family life, create a sense of tension and conflict, give her a difficult choice, and reveal why she’s afraid of going into the woods without that internal narrative info dump. Let me know if this sounds better than the other two.
I’m pasting the entire new scene, and highlighting the first 250 words that I’d use for the contest.
The wind picked up, sending a shivery howl through the branches, and I skipped a few steps away. Like it was laughing, the forest flung a handful of dry needles after me. The air smelled like pine and chimney smoke. I stuffed my hands into my jacket pockets and quickened my pace.
Eva rolled her eyes, hurrying to keep up. “Seriously, Nissa? You just turned sixteen. Don’t tell me you still won’t take the shortcut home.”
“I’m not going in there.” I spared one glance at the dark spaces between the tree trunks before marching off along the field.
“But going around the woods takes another twenty minutes! My mom’s picking me up in an hour. We’ll never get our project done in time.”
“Let’s jog, then.”
My best friend yanked my arm, forcing me to stop and face the trees again. “Nope. You’re getting over this right now. I’ve walked down that trail a million times to get to your house and nothing’s happened. And your brother practically grew up in there.”
It was my turn to roll my eyes. “Go ahead and laugh, but I believe what my grandma saw–”
Eva did laugh. “Yeah, about some guy swinging a lantern around in the forest a hundred years ago. She was just messing with you.”
“No! I know she was serious. She always stuck to her story, no matter how many times she told it.” I pulled my arm out of Eva’s hands, and the well-rehearsed words spilled out in a rush. “When she was like eighteen or so, she was walking down the path and thought she heard voices in the wind. Then she saw a light moving straight toward her. And it wasn’t a lantern, it was this disembodied glowing ball. Something like arms were growing out of it and reaching for her. She said it made her head feel slow and fuzzy, but she turned and ran. She never went back in after that.”
Eva made an impatient sound. “No matter how many times you tell me what your grandma said, it always sounds like a campfire ghost story.”
“Well, if she was making it up to scare us, then why did she freak out when Drew tried to get her to go with him one time? Why was she always afraid of the wind? She never went back in!”
“It doesn’t mean you have to be stupid.”
“Your mom’s stupid.”
A slow, wicked grin crept across Eva’s face. “Okay, I dare you.”
“Grow up,” I sniffed.
“No, you grow up, Nissa! Haven’t they cut down half the woods since your grandma was young? This can hardly be called a forest anymore. Listen, I’ll make you a bet: If you can get all the way through by yourself, I’ll buy you a smoothie twice a week after school for the rest of the year.”
I snorted and took another step on the dusty path that circled the trees. Eva cut in front of me.
“Okay, and…you can pick out any pair of awesome shoes you want and I’ll get them for you too. As long as they’re not a hundred dollars or anything.”
“Why would I want you to buy me shoes when I can borrow yours anytime?”
She came up close to my face, lowering her voice. “But if you don’t do this, you have to convince your dad to give us movie passes every weekend until New Year’s.”
“He lets us watch movies for free all the time anyway.”
“Yeah, but you’ll have to bug your brother at the concession counter every time for snacks and drinks, no charge. Drew hates that.”
“You’re not convincing me, and you’re not threatening me. Come on, we could’ve been halfway to my house by now!”
Eva tossed her wild blonde hair out of her eyes. “I’m curing you! All right, if you’re not going to take a bribe, then…I’m telling Ethan you’re in love with him.”
I froze, forgetting how to talk for a second. “You wouldn’t…”
“You know I would!”
“Oh, come on, Eva, really!” Smirking, she folded her arms, knowing she had me. I fixed her with my angriest glare. “Fine. Forget the shoes, though. You’re going to be my personal slave every day until after winter break, and buy me the smoothies, and get me a Barnes & Noble gift card that doesn’t count as my Christmas present.”
“Done.” Eva waved toward the trees. “Go on, get it over with.”
The purple-streaked sky contrasted with the shadowy, waving branches above the path. I hesitated just under the first pine. “Why alone, though? It’d still be bad enough even if you went in with me.”
“No, it wouldn’t. You’re not really facing your fears if I’m there holding your hand. I’ll give you a two-minute head start. Run through if you have to, and just wait for me on the other side.” Eva gave me a reassuring pat, then a firm push, on the shoulder. “Better make it fast. It’s starting to get dark.”
The vivid image of a ghostly light creeping through the trees flashed through my mind. Before I could decide otherwise, I charged up the path between the trunks.