Re: RE: Whirlybird

Home Forums Critique Central Mystery/Crime Whirlybird Re: RE: Whirlybird




Hey Vic,

As a whole, there are a lot of things to like in your story.  There’s plenty of action, the peril is gripping, and overall, your writing style helps move the story.  I think you’ve come up with a creative take on the prompt.

If I had to highlight one thing to work on, it would be to limit the descriptions — in some ways it seems counter-intuitive, but usuing too many words in an effort to provide detail can actually get more distracting than informative.

I’ll give you a few other in-line thoughts:

ironvic – 2009-03-21 8:53 PM

The Bellingham Airport’s helicopter pad offered no shelter from the chill wind howling out of Canada. We pulled our coats tight against the intruding snowstorm.

Nice opening sentences — sets the scene and the mood

Mary in green, electric yellow for Emily, Jim, the pilot, in a musty brown leather jacket and faded jumpsuit festooned with faded military patches.

Overall, this sentence is a collection of descriptive phrases with no real subject.  I’d either tie it into the ‘coats’ of the previous sentence with a colon or em-dash, or give another one, like ‘The coats rippled in the wind:’. I’d also separate each person’s description by semi-colons for clarity.  Finally, you use ‘faded’ twice.  It contributes to the sense of too many descriptions.

Rod arrived late, the only one in the group still dry and warm from the heated airport office. He clutched a metal clipboard close to his leather jacket. Heavy boots with clunky soles guaranteed not to slip on icy pavement.

‘metal’, ‘leather’, ‘heavy’, clunky’, ‘icy’ — that’s a lot of adjectives in a short span.

We faced west, toward the muscular rescue helicopter, our backs to the east, collars turned against the Frasier Valley’s Northeaster. Wind whipped clouds ripped across the sky. Jim gave us a thumbs-up from the cockpit, the whirling blades whipping the snow deeper into our flapping overcoats. His unlit cigar punctuated words shouted from lips silenced by the howling wind, the whoosh of the chopper’s blades, and the roaring engine.

I’m not getting how an unlit cigar ‘punctuated’ shouted words.

We made a crouching approach to the big red helicopter. Rod popped the sliding hatch and helped Emily aboard. “After you, Ma’am.” “Why thank you, sir!” she replied with her trademark grin.

This was a business/pleasure trip. We were headed eventually to Orcas Island, ostensibly to test the helicopter’s new engine under a full passenger load in foul conditions, a must for a large rotary wing aircraft designed to haul personnel to offshore oil rigs, with a little rescue work thrown in from time-to-time.

How is the trip a ‘test’?  This seems distracting — a detail that detracts from the way these five people are really connected.

The Five Writer’s Club was off to another weekend adventure. We were all on edge, though. A weirdness hung in the air around us. Body language and personal space uncomfortably suited to total strangers, not the close circle of writing associates, bound together by a love for the story.

This seems confusing to me — I don’t know how the bdoy language and personal space are ‘uncomfortably suited’.  Does it mean they are actually total strangers or a close circle?

No one seemed to have their usual convivial flair for conversation. I felt lonely among friends. Jim taught me to fly and saved my ass when I almost turned a Bell UH-1 into a pancake, Emily loved me with all the secret, naked tenderness inside her, Mary shared her favorite teas and homemade cookies whenever we got together to critique each other’s writing. “Lightning” Rod Davis was “Jumpin’ Jim’s” wingman in two wars, but they never spoke of war and the things they did, or what it did to them, for that matter. Those things were saved for their stories.

Some nice elements of how they’re related.

Jim and I got along alright, that is until he invited Emily to join our group. He was obviously uneasy whenever she touched me. I always figured he was jealous, but Emily was a touchy chick, she did it to everybody she talked to. I figured she didn’t mean anything by it.

‘touchy’ makes me think of quick-tempered, not what you’re going for here.

Until things began to heat up between us. Emily, a social worker, was the kind of girl who you’d expect to see at a library counter. Behind the bedroom door, she was a wildcat and that was eventually going to come to a head between me and Jim.

The huge chopper revved up to full take-off speed, with Jim’s hand on the throttle, the propeller’s scything bladetips whistled like spinning banshees on a mission of fury.

A trifle over-written, I’m afraid.  For one thing, banshees don’t whistle, they scream.  ‘A mission of fury’ sounds cool, but really tells the reader nothing.

The snow blasted clear of the tarmac, erasing our footprints, as if to say, “Get the hell out of here and don’t come back!”

I’d remove the ‘as if to say, “Get…”‘ part. It doesn’t add anything, I think.

Just like a flapjack popping off the griddle, we flipped sharply forward and lumbered into the brewing storm.

‘popping’ and ‘flipped sharply’ clash with ‘lumbered’.  One is fast, quick motion, the other is slow and labored.

After Rod completed his flight-test sheets, and Jim put the whirlybird through some gut wringing paces, we would head for Orcas and a warm woodstove fire. Then we’d spend the weekend writing up a storm. Our reward was a group writing party where we’d take on a particular subject, chosen by a different member each month. Then we’d arrange the stories into one final work with many voices. This month’s subject was murder. Or, specifically, “ending a life with horror and pain, but no blood on the killers’ hands.” Mary hand delivered mine over tea and cakes. I never got the original e-mail. Funny how they worded “killers’” in the e-mail. I still wasn’t sure if it was really supposed to be singular or plural as we were never to discuss the subject until our arrival at whatever monthly venue was chosen.

In my story, Emily dies in a dirty alley at the hands of a murderer wearing kid gloves (I still puzzle why I chose her). I hadn’t written it yet, it was just a story fragment flitting about inside my head. Her pearls falling to the sewer as her life is squeezed slowly out of her, giving her murderer pleasure as he controlled her last, agonized breath. How would I describe her feet scraping dirt as she’s dragged behind the dumpster? Looking at Emily seated in her jumpseat, her trim blonde hair (how convenient for her murderer) emphasized her bare neck.

‘kid gloves’?  An old expression, but I think it means the extra-padded boxing gloves worn by beginners — there’s no real damage caused when you’re ‘treated with kid gloves’.  I don’t get how someone could be killed with them on.  Also, the extra insertion of parentheses is more distracting than anything.  I’d suggest clarifying and rephrasing to eliminate them.

She glanced quickly at me, her dark blue eyes matching the snow laden clouds outside. Her thin lips curled back at me in a forced smile before averting her eyes to study the snow slashing into the chopper blades. I still don’t know why I chose one of us or why it had to be Emily, a woman who loved me like no one else ever had. Our love was a secret, nasty thing, both of us agreeing not to tell the others for fear of poisoning the group dynamic. Ah well, it was just a story, a fiction to delve deep into the dark side. I wondered if she wrote about me… T

he helicopter suddenly lurched. Jim yanked the stick hard and the helicopter jerked hard right then violently nose down. If I had eaten this morning, I would have lost my breakfast right then and there. The old Sikorski could take this and much worse and she was in the hands of an expert; Jim was one of the best pilots I knew. The rest of the group seemed lost in their private thoughts, teeth clenching with each violent maneuver, shaking and jerking with the chopper. No one screamed, no one gasped, no one said a word.

Until Emily suddenly chirped, “Here’s an Idea; let’s kill Victor.”

She met my eyes with a cold, playful, twinkle in hers. “Let’s kill him now. Throw him out the door to sail off into the storm and smash him against the waves below.”

Separate the dialog from the paragraph for clarity.

To listen to Emily’s words and dispassionate, almost playful, way of describing my death sent a chill down my groin.
For the first time in this wild flight, I was beginning to get scared. “You gotta be kidding!”

My gut crunched in a cold knot. “Right?!”

Emily spoke first. “Nope, we all agreed. You can’t write, really write, about murder until you’ve done it.”

She squeezed a sour smile and explained, “Jim’s gonna throw your ass out the hatch. You’ll feel the cold blast of air when it hits you. You can scream if you feel like. Its alright, we won’t hear a thing. The downwash from the prop will slam you down and you’ll hit terminal velocity almost immediately.”

Jim twisted in the pilot’s seat looking over his shoulder and grinned, “It’s been nice knowin’ ya Vic.”

Again — spread out the dialog. Begin a new line with each change of person speaking.

Emily got the door for me. The chill explosion of noise, blasting, frigid, the pure violence of blades ripping the sky sucked my breath as my diaphragm clenched in fear. I shoved my panic down real deep, where people lock up their secret horrors.

Rod affirmed, “Yup, ‘splat!’ like a pigeon slamming into the propeller blades!”

He turned toward me as he unbuckled his safety harness, grabbed me by the jacket with one hand and unsnapped my harness with the other. Before I could defend myself, Jim’s powerful grip pulled me bodily out of the seat and I barely registered the streaks of colors flash by as I slammed against the rear bulkhead’s padding. Warm blood tainted the compartment red through my vision.

“Damn, my forehead’s bleeding.” I looked toward demure Mary, words slurred by the impact, my ears ringing. “Mary, ugh, help me…”

Mary smiled and poured from her thermos. I couldn’t read her face, trim red bangs hid her expression as she poured a cup of jasmine tea. She looked up at me quizzically, “Want some?”

More parsing of dialog…

Rod was a powerful but lanky fellow. Still as trim as the Army pilot he was in Vietnam. He was in such good shape that even after a long career in the military, he was still rated to fly spec-ops missions in the first Gulf War.

It suddenly flashed in my mind, “Maybe he was one of those guys who punctuated his interrogations by throwing Viet Cong prisoners out the hatch at 6,000 feet.

I believe this is the end of the thought?  So a close-quote here…

Eventually, I’m sure the rest of the “passengers” spilled their guts for him. Rod drew closer, angry, animal-like in his movements. His graying, rainslicked mane streaked across his forehard. His ponytail spun like a propeller in the slipstream. Rod grabbed for me, I parried his wrist, grabbed the other and used his body to haul myself up off the deck. He lost his balance, cleared the hatch without a scratch, and easily flew screaming into the storm. The final landing of his unblemished career was gonna be a hard one. I’m sure he reached terminal velocity somewhere over San Juan Island rather quickly.

Your action is written pretty well.  Your sentences get shorter to emphasize the rapid pace of events.

Mary was easy, I hauled her out of her seat, grabbed her by the ass and threw her out the hatch. The last memory I have of her is her green eyes, wide and filled with terror at the assurance of a violent death waiting 6,000 feet below.

“You bastard! Emily screamed, it was just supposed to be a joke!” Jim said we’d just scare you a little so you could write the set up to the story!”

Separate the dialog again, and the quote between ‘joke’ and ‘Jim’ isn’t needed — Emily’s words end with ‘story’.

I felt a rush inside me as I grabbed Emily by the neck, and pinned her against the bulkhead.

“Don’t bullshit me Em! You wanted me dead, just like the rest! You could never lie to me, not with those eyes!”

Then she was gone. I hardly remember what happened to Emily. One second she was in my arms, wrestling, trying to kill me. Then she was gone.

I stumbled up to Jim who was desperately yanking at the controls to throw me off balance, maybe pitch me out into the raging seas in the process. Instead, I managed to fall into the co-pilot’s seat and draw the 9 millimeter pistol he kept stashed in a clip hoster under the instrument panel.

I hauled back on the Glock’s slide and said, “Put ‘er down now, right in that field or I take the controls and you die right here!”

I thought he was made of much tougher stuff. But he had put on a few pounds, lately. Alright, quite a few pounds since Desert Storm, a pushover. Fat little piece of crap, he would gladly kill me, just to write a story and thrill the girls.

The chopper set down with a thud and Jim quickly unbuckled. “Look, man, don’t kill me. They’re all gone, I can back up your story. We’re in it together now!”

“Sorry, Charlie, won’t work. Get out.”

I covered Jim with the pistol while he moved his fat butt out the door and, as quick as the wind driven snow, he was on the ground having a heart attack. I checked his pulse, full arrest. Dead and gone, just like that. I wiped the Glock clean, stuck it back into its holster then walked away from the helicopter after wiping the interior. Not a drop of blood on the bulkheads, damn I’m good…

This whole weekend seemed out of kilter, ever since Mary feigned mis-delivery of my e-mail. Hell, I wasn’t even on the group recipient list. They would’ve had to take me off purposely and that just seemed odd.

Oh well, it’s over now. I’ll clean up at the gas station, restroom’s always unlocked, and the video surveillance cameras were never replaced after the vandals smashed ’em up. Then I’ll walk walk over to the docks. No one will be out in this nasty weather. Jumpstart a motorboat and head on over to the Fidalgo Inn where I have a reservation and dry clothes waiting. I think I’ll write a murder mystery tonight. Short story. Maybe kill Emily all over again.

Tense change — from past tense to present tense…


Again, I think this is a clever idea, and you have some nice tidbits of action and drama in here.  I’d just do a little weeding and pruning of the excess adjectives and adverbs and tighten things up a bit.