|Title: "Dragoman Challenge C3"
Author: Heather LT
How I came across this item: Review request
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Plot: The race begins! Ellie and Toby endure the pre-race chaos around them, then drive off into the jungle after the starting gun blast at midnight. They drive for a while (Ellie slowly acclimating to the bumpiness of the ride, her first real taste of the adventure she'd gotten herself into) and then sleep in the car. In the morning, Toby introduces Ellie to jungle living--no bathrooms, no masking your body odor with smelly spray, bugs everywhere. They drive on, having to stop and pull the Jeep out of some mud (into which Ellie face-plants, to Toby's amusement), then they bathe in a waterfall pool and set up camp next to it for the night, Ellie's first camping experience.
Great start, full of trouble and excitement and bonding moments for Toby and Ellie. It felt very realistic to me. I like how the race starts out on a good note--nothing catastrophic happens, just small things that probably boost Ellie's confidence when she's able to be helpful in overcoming them. I'm sure much more danger is in store, and this relatively low-key beginning will help throw that danger into stark contrast when it finally happens.
Toby drove the route he’d taken on previous races. A direct route from Medellin to Lima with only two scheduled stops: Guatape, which wasn't too far away from their current location, and Huaraz, a city in Peru located over a thousand miles away. I LOVED the specificity of this detail. This is the first time I felt truly oriented in the story. It would be great if there was more of this!
They reached Guatape in no time at all, but they didn't stop to rest. Instead, Toby gave Ellie a short tutorial on how to use the satellite phone so she knew how to check in with headquarters or call for help if necessary. Three hours later as they traipsed on, she had memorised the procedure. What did they do for the three hours they were there, besides try out the phone?
Scene: Quick-paced action made these scenes exciting, but I wished to spend a bit more time in Ellie's head, feeling her reactions, her rationalizations, her emotional response to all the things that happened. There is plenty of action--the story would not be slowed by expressing Ellie's thoughts along the way.
...Toby woke up with a start. Halfway through this chapter, we briefly enter Toby's point of view. Unless there's a reason for this, I'd suggest staying in Ellie's point of view the whole time. Maybe you could have her wake up in the morning with Toby expressing how flabbergasted he was that she slept through the howler monkeys.
Setting: I loved all the details of the jungle here! The crunching twigs, the howler monkeys, the waterfall, the bugs, the humidity, the soft clay mud along the banks of the flooded river.
I had a bit of a hard time visualizing the start of the race. For example, are the people milling around just the contestants and some race organizers, or is there an audience of some sort, the racers' family and friends, maybe? A bit more detail would help the reader be fully present in this exciting moment.
Character development: Ellie and Toby seem to be getting along well. I wonder if any complications will arise in their relationship...!
Some questions and observations:
“They say it makes things more interesting,” replied Toby Who's "they"?
Having resigned herself to fate, her nerves were steel. This seems to contradict her nibbling on her bottom lip in the previous paragraph.
"Don't let the chaos worry you," Toby smiled. "It’s just last minute panic." This is the third time Toby has said something of this nature, and Ellie has never offered him a response. I want her to say something to him, ANYTHING really. (Ideally I'd like her to say, "I'm NOT worried--stop treating me like a child!" But if she does appreciate his protectiveness, it would be great if that could be indicated somehow.)
He escorted her to do her business at the back of the jeep. To what extent did he "escort" her? Sounds like he stood there the whole time rather than just showing her where she should go. I'd be a little uncomfortable with that if I were her.
“No chance of a change of clothes?” she asked... Why would she assume this?
The task of connecting the chains to a nearby tree to winch the jeep out of the sticky situation fell to Ellie. I feel like there should be a conversation surrounding this. Between the two of them, Ellie is clearly NOT the best person for this job. Did Toby want this to be a sort of initiation for her? Did she protest at all? This would be a great opportunity to further develop the characters and their relationship.
Ellie didn't sleep well at all, preferring the extra safety the jeep offered. Why wouldn't she sleep in the Jeep if she wanted to? Her motive for staying in the tent could be explored here--maybe she wants to toughen up, take advantage of the opportunity to sleep in a tent in the jungle? Or maybe she wants to impress Toby? Or maybe she's too embarrassed to ask to sleep in the Jeep?
Style/grammar/spelling/punctuation: Clean and clear, as always!
My favorite thing about this story: I love that the race starts at midnight!
I also loved this exchange:
"H-h-how d-do you st-stand this-is?" She stammered almost every time she spoke, the bumps taking the wind out of her voice.
He grinned in amusement at her broken up speech. "You get used to it," he told her in natural cadence.
And I loved this because I knew exactly what would happen next:
Ellie finished her breakfast, and then quickly drenched herself in her jasmine-scented body spray.
Oh, and this: The mud immediately melted from her skin, swirling around her like a storm cloud in the chilled water. Beautifully worded and wonderfully specific.
Overall: Awesome chapter! Lots of action and potential for some real, deep character building. Great job!