Thursday, 9 December 2010

A Rifleman

A song is playing. A song about a policeman who does drugs. I smile, and look around me, knowing that my colleagues have no idea why I’m acting like this. Oh, how awfully fitting!

We’re packed into our uniforms, ready to deal with “the folk upstairs” as our Chief Officer has christened them. I’ve got my bag ready next to me, and the extra pocket in my uniform is prepared.

“Steady. We go in 5,” is whispered around. I look at my firearm, my lovely little MP5. A 9mm, fully automatic, hand-sized portion of hell for those on the business end of her, but a real darling for those handling her.

“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine,” the words come unbidden, but ever welcome, comforting me, and reminding me of days where life was simper, and I was handing out bigger portions of hell to more people.

My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life,” They continue, leading me on, killing the time, before the time for killing.

My rifle, without me is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless,” these words however echo around, and I look up. My fellow ex-marines are mumbling along, our words almost in prayer, and the rest are watching warily. We jarheads continue our prayer.

Now the song switches. Hail and kill. I smile again. Ironic really. At the moment, we jarheads, who are now police, are hailing our weapons. We are preparing. Soon, we will kill.


  1. Well, Muffin Man, what a compact and menacing piece of writing. You’ve taken what you found impressive in your chosen novel opening and clearly applied it to your own. That element, as I read it, is the combination of a hugely dramatic content (murder, or at least a dead body, in the extract; in yours, a man fetishizing his weapon in anticipation of violence) and a partial withholding of information so as to destabilise the reader. There is also the question of the psyche of the narrator, and how this is gradually unveiled to us.

    The opening of a novel (or story) is all about giving ground rules to the reader, so they know how to read it. Extract #8 shows up the disturbed psyche of the narrator by starting with a piece of bland advice (“If you ever go window-shopping, don’t stop by the butchers’. The meat is all locked away at night. Nothing to see”) only to move onto the fact that she (we assume it’s a she) is dismembering a body in the second paragraph. Then, as a second shock, we find out she’s a schoolgirl. Rational mind > possible murderer > possibly murderous schoolgirl is quite a leap to make in so few words, but it sets up the reader splendidly for what is to come.

    Perhaps you could use that structure in your piece. In yours, you set up the difference between the narrator and his colleagues (that he’s more psychotic than they are, or more murderous, or has some special job) BEFORE you have entirely established what they’re up to. The crucial sentences are “I smile, and look around me, knowing that my colleagues have no idea why I’m acting like this. Oh, how awfully fitting!”. If you could shift that, or at least the sense of it, to a bit later on, then you would have a structure that went: Rational Mind > Bunch of hyped-up psychos on some kind of murderous mission > But THIS ONE is madder than the rest. It's all about the parcelling out of information to the reader.

    In terms of dropping hints and clues, you’ve done well to introduce private jargon like “the folk upstairs” and the technical specification of the gun, while never actually explaining what they’re about to do. The sense of suppressed adrenalin is all. What is the extra pocket for? Creepy.

    Some of the language, though, feels a little out of place: “christened”, “the words come unbidden, but ever welcome, comforting me”, “these words however echo around” – these phrases don’t fit entirely easily alongside the more macho language. I assume you’re trying to indicate the darker psyche of the character, but that intimate creation of a voice from disparate elements is something that might only come with time. Right now the two registers jar a little.

    The only other thing I would say is that what with the song, the muttering, and the praying, there is a slightly vague, passive feel to the scene. With so much that is important happening quietly inside the narrator's head, it might be useful to be a bit more concrete about what is happening outside of it – where are they? Are they sitting/standing. To have them ALL mumbling/muttering to themselves, when that is also what the narrator is doing, leaves them rather undifferentiated. A line like “My fellow ex-marines are mumbling along, our words almost in prayer, and the rest are watching warily” is a touch confusing.

    But other than those minor points, well done. This is an intelligent response to the task at hand.

  2. Hi! Sorry it’s so late, I wasn’t very well.
    This is a really powerful piece! I love the way the speech moves the piece along, and the menacing and sinister feel of the piece. I really like the first two lines. They add so much to the piece and we are brought straight into the action.

    The line “oh, how awfully fitting” I feel doesn’t need the exclamation mark. Without the it sentence comes out as a egotistical sneer, but with it the man seem hyped up and less intelligent. It depends on what you were going for, but I think omitting the exclamation mark makes him sound more psychotic.

    I really like the use of private language, but don’t feel it’s necessary to tell us who calls them that, just as you haven’t told us why. Using the quotation marks shows us that they aren’t actually called the folk upstairs, but that someone specific calls them this.

    I love the distancing of this character to the others in the piece, although feel you could have made more of this. Mention more, only have him muttering, or maybe thinking deeper, darker things about the people he’s with.

    I think the use of repetition of the word rifle is really great, almost obsessive and definitely a little creepy. Fantastic piece!



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