Weekend Writing Warriors: Odd Duck (Storm)

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Several people were interested in continuing from last week, when Tom was just tipping into a PTSD flashback in his parents’ backyard.

No one asked for my entry in the World’s Longest Run-On Sentence, but I threw it in for free, anyway (Wewriwa moderators:  I swear I’m not pulling a fast one.  This is how it’s written, which might make me guilty of poor grammar, but not fudging my sentence limit. Right?):

Seabee Sandstorm

A howl, possibly from the second floor bathroom window, possibly from the past, echoed in my ears.

“Tom?”

“Yeah,” I said, rubbing my eyes.

Mahon! Down!

“Tom?”

Man down!

Hands closed on my upper arms and I twisted away and threw a punch, but that wouldn’t be enough (Bryan had taught me that) and I could hear Turner curse and Grant scream and there were more of them coming out of nowhere, leaping out of the swirling sand, taking down the ones who broke and ran because they didn’t know any better, and I didn’t have my rifle and the grip of my sidearm was wrong but it was in my hand and I took aim and shouted in Urdu, which wasn’t right for this region, but it made everyone pause and I might be able to buy the others a little bit of time with bluff and bullets and I knew it wouldn’t be enough, but if I was going to die, I was going to die trying

“Tom,” Turner said, appearing in front of me, “stand down.”  He sounded as calm and sure as always.

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I don’t have PTSD—librarians aren’t usually susceptible, even during the final weeks of the Summer Reading Program—but this is what my panic attacks feel like to me, including the inability to catch a breath.

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The image, which was taken in 2009 by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Patrick W. Mullen III, is actually of a Navy Seabee assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 in Afghanistan, but it was so outstanding, I had to use it.

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46 thoughts on “Weekend Writing Warriors: Odd Duck (Storm)

  1. Intense! I’ve been doing a good bit of reading about PTSD lately (there’s a great page on FB — send me a PM there if you want it) and this seems like it would be an accurate flashback.

  2. Awesome picture.
    I don’t know anything about PTSD, but as a reader, you got the idea across very well. And the long sentence? worked perfectly. It created the breathless, frantic feeling that the scene called for.

  3. I thought your long sentence was perfect for what you were trying to convey. I found myself holding my breath and getting a bit panicky on Tom’s behalf. That image is perfect too!

  4. Well done, Sarah. I think that’s an accurate description. And I’m pretty sure panic attacks are a “milder” form of PTSD. I think you nailed it. Great snippet. 🙂

    • Thanks, Siobhan! 😀

      I’m not certain if a soldier would panic like this, exactly, but maybe it’s never quite the same for everyone? Maybe Paula’s suggested research site will help a bit . . .

      • The thing is people will tell you “how it is”, but honestly, your own experience makes the writing more authentic, whether someone else experiences it like that or not. I don’t think you can go wrong. And if they ding you for that, that says more about them than your own writing ability. Good luck either way. 🙂

  5. Great snippet! I write a lot of action scenes, and I really loved the way you constructed yours into one paragraph. I could really sense the panic and as Kim said, it truly left me with a breathless feeling. Amazing work!

  6. No problem with the long sentence for me. I could feel the rising panic and the fear of not being able to take a full breath, the fear of dying. Well done. PTSD is so scary for everyone. For the person experiencing it: How horrible to relive the worse moment in your life over and over again, and anything from a sound or situation could send you right back to that place and time. I can’t even imagine, and don’t want to. It’s also so horrible for those around who love the person. I think most want to save the person they love, but you’re helpless to fight a person’s inner demons. There’s no way to help or fix it, or even step in and be at their side when they’ve gone to a place you can’t be.

    • I agree, Karen; I’m trying to imagine and it’s neither easy nor pretty. I also think you’re absolutely right about the effect on the person’s friends and family.

  7. That long sentence captures the rush he’s feeling quite well, I think.

    Poor Tom–he’s stuck in a scary moment. And poor the people around him, I’m sure he’s being quite alarming.

  8. I agree with everyone else – the run-on sentence was perfect for putting us right into Tom’s head and what he was feeling. Thank goodness for Turner! Enjoying the story very much, with all the twists and turns and character development. Excellent excerpt – wow.

    • Good! Thank you, Veronica. 🙂

      Turner is a blessing in many ways, though he has demons of his own, of course. Luckily, Tom’s don’t trigger his.

  9. Wow… That was my first reaction. Really intense and in depth snippet. Loved it. So accurate on what they might be thinking and experiencing, full of the emotion and fear too.

    That first line is amazing. So is the end of the long sentence where he said he’d die trying. Love it. Excellent snippet! I am very much captured by it.

  10. That run-on sentence was most probably the best way of communicating the rising panic to your readers, very intense and the longr it went the more I found myself holding my breath. Great job.

  11. I’ve had PTSD related to a former friend I now refer to as Nosferatu. For a long time after she crossed the line for the final time, in the creepiest way, I had panic attacks when she showed up at the student religious center, and I even left my seat or moved to another table to avoid sitting near her. I have a bit of PTSD related to my junior high school, since 21 years after I graduated, I still have a physical reaction when walking or driving past it, and even had a full-blown body memory and panic attack during a confrontation with my ex-roommate, feeling as though I were back at Hackett and barely able to breathe. Tom’s feelings expressed in that sentence are exactly the types of feelings rattling through the brain during a panic attack.

  12. I’m here. Late 🙂 And YEP–what everyone else said. I think the long sentence worked perfectly to show the mind works in times of over the top stress. The thoughts just tumble along, one after another. If we could speak them as we think them–and then write them, there would be no punctuation whatsoever. Nicely done, Sarah!

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