View Full Version : The Smell (Excerpt from a short story)

June 17th, 2013, 04:50 PM
This is a small excerpt from a short story I've written and am continuing to work on. It's a short passage, but it would be great to get some feedback on it. Thanks very much. (Foul Language included!)


Jasper sat alone, cigarette burning in one hand, brandy swilling in another. It was dark outside, and rain pitter-pattered against his living room window.
The lights were out. ‘Coronation Street’ was the room’s only source of illumination. Not that Jasper paid any attention. Typically, his tv attention would cease after his second drink. This was not his second drink, nor his third. He smiled as he felt his limbs grow weaker and his mind hazier. He enjoyed living through a haze. It was numb.
His head started to nod and his eyes began to close. The relief of nothingness was approaching.
An inhuman scream shredded through the house.
Jasper put his cigarette and brandy down. With a grunt and a heave, the tired man rose from his armchair, wincing as his knees cracked.
It had been his hope that this particular evening would yield a rare occasion where oblivion would arrive undisturbed. It was not to be. Instead, he plodded upstairs, his calloused hand gripping the banister for support.
The rest of the house was in near complete darkness. However, a strip of light coming from the bottom of the door to his wife’s room faintly illuminated the upstairs hallway. Jasper grasped the doorknob. Wrinkling his nose, already he could notice the unpleasant yet familiar smell. He turned it, pushed, and walked through the door.
“Hello, Tracy” He said as he walked through, doing his best not to flinch at the overpowering stench.
She was sat on her bed, facing away from the door. Without turning to look at her husband she said:
“My dearest, darling lovely, would you possibly be so kind as to bring me up a glass of warm milk?”
Without changing her seated position she turned her head slowly around, like a human owl.
“I’ll claw out your eyeballs and cut out your tongue if you don’t”
Her eyes were wide, wider than it should be possible for a human, and bloodshot. Black, bruise-like, circles outlined them and she had pale, lifeless skin.
Her head turned 180 degrees to look at Jasper, who remained expressionless. She was beaming ear to ear, revealing pointed yellow teeth.
“Do you hear me? I’ll claw out your eyeballs and cut out your tongue”

June 17th, 2013, 06:04 PM
(please add a language disclaimer at the top!)

The interesting scene you present is over-explained, IMO. It's too wordy and really purple in places. This:

Outside, rain pitter-pattered on the curtain drawn windows and an angry wind rustled the remaining leaves on near-naked autumn trees. Below them, silent hurricanes of their dead brothers swirled, unseen in the dark. Thick cloud obscured the moon.

Is the exact sort of stuff that the editing knife goes for first.

The second paragraph contains an overuse of commas. I'd fiddle with your syntax to avoid creating a stifled sense of pace. It is hard to connect with the character with such punctuation in place.

For me, the question mark after 'JASPER' numbs the impact of the curse before it. Neither word is very effective. I'd either break up the two with your well-worded description of the sound (shredded... nice word) or get rid of the f word.

The first descriptions demonstrating the volume of the scream are good. The description of the cyclist is drawn out for too long and takes away from the focus of the scene.

I'd take away this:

A scream that should grip the heart of a human being with an unyielding icy fist didnít even draw a flinch.

As we already know that. These are wasted words.


Instead, a weary sigh escaped his lips, the cigarette and brandy were put down, and with a grunt, a heave, and the sound of tired knees cracking, the tired man rose from his armchair.

Is a great line with, again, too many commas.

All in all, this is the perfect example of a draft; too wordy, but with good potential and a well-rounded, but still incomplete, perspective on the events. Keep working on this.


June 17th, 2013, 07:26 PM
very much agreed on the wordiness. i think this would be much more gripping if tightened up with simpler language.
as is, it sounds a bit too "writerly" and a bit forced at that; it doesn't flow naturally. it's your choice of how you want to tell your scene, but maybe get closer inside Jasper and tell/show it thru his language?
a small note:
"All of the lights in the house were off. The only light to be found..."
seems to me like a direct contradiction. perhaps "All of the lights in the house were off except the light..."

June 18th, 2013, 02:55 PM
Thanks a lot for your feedback, guys- a huge help.

I've posted an edit if you'd care to take a look.

Thanks again.

June 18th, 2013, 04:41 PM
much more natural language flow to this version in comparison. kudos.

June 18th, 2013, 05:50 PM
I like it. I'm interested to read more. But I think you can still cut a little more. For example, "It was numb" could be cut since we can assume it from the scene that this is why this particular person is drinking. Plus, it is covered in the sentence "the relief of nothingness was approaching. I also think you could cut the sentence that says the rest of the house was in complete darkness. Just start with how the wife's room faintly lit the hallway. We understand from this sentence that the rest of the house would have to be dark for the light under her door to faintly light the hallway. Possibly, give it another reread and see if you can find other places where you can cut it a smidge. Finally, and maybe this is just me being a woman who wears makeup, your description of her dark circles doesn't match with the analogy of natural mascara. When I think of dark circles, I think of a raccoon, or at best an extreme overuse of eyeliner. Natural mascara actually sounds pretty. Mascara opens up your eyes and makes them look bigger in a pretty way. Plus, it is on the eyelashes, where as dark circles are on the skin around the eyes. Yes, I could be being a little picky right now, but I just want you to get the description right. Any woman reading it would pick up on this misuse of mascara. Try heavily smudged eyeliner. Sorry again to harp on that description. But I think you have a great excerpt here. I was really interested, and I wanted to read more about their relationship and what exactly the wife was! Great suspense! I enjoyed it!