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#25756 · 6
I think you can just ignore the drawing part if you want.
#25732 · 2
· on Polemics · >>Monokeras
For the record, I'll stand behind >>libertydude's critique here -- I'm not at all sure my eventual interpretation is in fact the story the author intended to tell. And so I'm torn between ranking the story high because it was the one that didn't make me go "meh", or ranking the story low for how opaque it is.

Occam's razor probably favors the hypothesis that the author was attempting satire but failed to carry it all the way through. The first half of satire is extrapolating a real-world trend unto the absurd. And the story certainly does that, inasmuch as it presents an absurd world that feels vaguely at the end of some sliding scale that starts at ours. But the second half of satire is when the story anticipates the reader's objection that it's absurd, and responds with as straight a face as possible: "No, dear reader, this world makes perfect sense, and here's how". It doesn't need to actually make sense, of course -- but the inhabitants of the story's universe must genuinely believe it does, and tell us (or each other, or an appropriate audience-surrogate character) why. It only really becomes satire when their rationalizations echo arguments we've heard in the real world, in support of less obviously absurd outcomes.
#25731 · 2
· on Lemonade Run
Thanks for the explanation, >>libertydude. That matches the working assumptions I've formed from from media references. I still wasn't sure if "little Freyja"s hard-nosed attitude towards the business was normal or an explicit point the story was trying to make. (Some of her grievances near the start of the story sounded so adult I could almost think I was reading Ender's Game).
#25726 · 3
· on The Library With No Shelves · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Not really a story, just a vignette -- but in itself that's fair game in the minific category.

The confessions of a compulsive bibliophile who has moved a lot and is apparently well into the autumn of life. It sounds like there are books they haven't even unpacked for fifty years! Or are they simply reusing the same boxes from move to move? But it sounds like they are actually keeping at least some of the books in boxes between moves.

The only hint of conflict is the narrator's intention to scan the books instead of holding on to them physically. That doesn't really ring true to me, though I'll willingly believe they're telling themself that. But realistically, if you bought a book decades ago and haven't ever gotten around to reading it, how can you tell yourself with a straight face you "care more about the text"?

Of course, that's the point here -- that the narrator isn't being rational. Very well, but then what? They come across as moderately eccentric but not dangerous or unhappy. I end up wondering why we're being told this.
#25725 · 2
· on You Can Pay in Gold or Lead · >>Monokeras
A wild-west gunfight, for no particular reason that the story deigns to tell us about. One of the guys ends up dead, the other (who is the narrator and didn't shoot first, so he's the one we root for) lives. The End.

The writing is competent and clear, and there's some promise of character in the narrative voice -- though at this length it doesn't really get a fair chance to distance itself from regular cowboy noir.

I'm not really sure where the prompt connects to this.

All in all, my reaction is as to spiked lemonade: Meh.
#25724 · 2
· on Lemonade Run · >>libertydude
Hmm, so he spiked his own stock with booze and some kind of herbal poison, and spiked that of his rival with laxative, and then for good measure also sabotaged the water supply? Why? It sounds like he's just Chaotic Evil.

Lemonade stands are a bit of Americana that I know of only from media in-references, so it's quite possible that I'm missing some crucial cultural background to understand this story. Are they generally supposed to be as serious business as portrayed here? Permits from the housing association? Paying someone money for the stand itself? Worrying about whether your shopkeeper roleplay breaks even?

I struggle to imagine how that laxative must taste if the immediate reaction it elicits from everybody is consistently the particular word "meh" ...
#25723 · 2
· on Polemics · >>libertydude
So what the heck is going on here?

1. Taking the narration at face value seems to be impossible. Of course we'd have to imagine a seriously alternate universe, but even so, the numbers simply won't work out for enough kids to be left alive to still form a group by the time this becomes a slice-of-life event. The lack of emotional investment from the mother would also be a very tough nut to swallow.

2. It might be Alex simply embellishing his humdrum walk from school in his head, like Calvin would. Perhaps Susie Irene is also in on the game, but what's up with the teacher and mother playing along too? We could chalk that up to the unreliable narrator embellishing their lines too. But if so, the story seems to be missing some kind of punchline or denouement.

3. There's a few points -- "pedagogue", "agora", "doric columns", "for Zeus's sake" -- where it sounds like this is a straight "what if" premise: ancient Greece customs with modern weaponry. But offhand I don't think even the Spartans had their youth routinely indulge in outright fights to the death; that would have been too wasteful of manpower.

4. It's all completely symbolic and intended to illustrate a polemic point. This has the advantage of allowing the prompt to participate in the interpretation -- not "this is a situation that could be worse" but "this is how it could be worse". However, then what is the actual point being made? The opening lines naturally lead towards thinking about school shootings and disputes about how society should or shouldn't react to them. On the other hand, the whole allegory could also be about plain old-fashioned bullying. Or it could just be a generalized accusation of the education system for amounting to psychological abuse of children.

5. Oh! I've got it! Combining options 2 and 4: Alex and Irene are harassed by bullies on their way home from school. The narration of the attack itself is Calvin-style embellishment. The uncaring attitude of the adults is real, with just minor adjustments of word choices to match his interpretation. Alex decides to get back on them all and (after the story) becomes an actual school shooter.

Hmm, that's a whole lot more chilling than I thought this review would be when I started writing ...
#25710 ·
· on Will
After thinking more of it, I'm now not quite convinced "if, when you search you mind ..." was actually a metric flub. Sure it sounds atrocious if read with "schoolboy scansion", but English verse is not really supposed to be as rigid as that. For example, Wikipedia says:

However, marking stress is not the same as marking meter. A perfectly regular line of iambic pentameter may have anywhere from 2 to 9 stresses, but it is still felt to exhibit 5 pulses or beats. This can most easily be understood through the principle of relative stress: an unstressed syllable between 2 even slightly weaker syllables may be perceived as a beat; and the reverse is true of a stressed syllable between 2 even slightly stronger syllables. These phenomena are called "promotion" and "demotion".

"Unstressed syllable between 2 slightly weaker syllables" sounds like a fair description of how the "when" behaves in a natural prose reading of the sentence.

So I think I'll stand by my initial gut feeling that even though this isn't quite a thumping ba-DUM at the beginning, it still sounds like a rhythm that would have been good enough for Shakespeare.
#25709 ·
· on Corridor
Ah, with that explanation I think I can see what you were going for.

What prevented it from causing anything but irritation for me, I think, was that the overall grammatical shape of the poem is that of a whole, integral thought, so I assumed the speaker intended to say something clearly.

Perhaps it would have been more effective if you had chosen a sequence of sentence fragments. With full stops between them. Implicitly inviting the reader to start guessing at their relation. Syntax that doesn't pretend there is one correct solution.

That could be argued to be a bit of a conventional solution -- but with a single poem of this length you don't really have time to negotiate a completely fresh contract with the reader from scratch. You need to rely on conventions to establish expectations.
#25701 · 1
· on Will · >>GroaningGreyAgony

I was alerted to this prompt by a friend in a kink forum, and with that context I immediately understood it as being about the BDSM paradox of wanting to be forced. So the grand plan was to use the villanelle form to inject a negation between the refrains in the first stanza. This gives a progression that starts at normalcy: A mind will try to escape whichever bonds that limits it. At the end we've arrived at the kinky condition: A mind that's willing to be bound cannot be made to give up its chains.

Perhaps it was expressed a bit subtler than ideal, but I had to keep it SFW. :-)

Thanks for the comments!

The slight rhythmic hiccup in the middle line is sort of deliberate. I did consider a few smoother alternatives to it, but I felt they would make the whole thing too monotone with baDUM baDUM, baDUM baDUM throughout. The location also underscores that this is the point where the poem changes gears and veers from fauxlosophical musings about love and minds, into BDSM propaganda.

In the final stanza, though, I must plead guilty. I read to myself, "if WHEN you SEARCH your HEART you FIND," and thought it scanned cromulently. In retrospect, that was just tunnel vision after thinking in iambic tetrameter for hours ...
#25698 · 1
· on A Dreary, Harrowing Dilemma
This is really the only one of the bunch where it's plain and clear what it's saying. It doesn't quite have the lyrical force I felt from "A Parting of the Ways" (interestingly, it has almost exactly the same form), but being understandable can excuse worse flaws than that.

The approach to the prompt is ever so slightly subversive: What I get from the poem is that even if the mind is in principle willing to stay focused, it still can't be made to. Thus, you cannot force a mind period, no matter if it's willing or not.

The title needs to chill, though.

Hmm, I can't hear anything wrong with the first line. Perhaps it's a dialect difference? Various online dictionaries suggest that pronouncing "towards" with two syllables is less common in American English than in British.
#25692 ·
· on A Parting of the Ways
I like the sound and feel of this. It feels very, um, poetic.

Alternating between tetrameter and trimeter gives some life to the rhythm. This saves the repetitions of "you cannot ..." from overwhelming with their monotony -- which they could easily have if everything was in tetrameter, like some of the other entries.

I'm less sure I understand what it all means. The songbird and the sailor are the clearest images here. They seem to imply that "you cannot force a willing mind" means that if something is likely to happen anyway by its own nature, then it would be ridiculous to say you somehow "forced" it. By following that parallel, the first eight lines together seem to say that the willing mind will fill the day; the soul will approach eternity. Even if it's a bit unclear to me what that means in practice, those sound like good things. So far so good.

But then what happens in the final stanza? I suppose that's where ways are going to be parted. But the metaphors in this part don't "click" for me at all. The tone gives me an impression that the "you cannot ..." is now something to be sad about. I would be sadder if I understood more concretely what it is I cannot do, though.

Anyway, kudos for grappling honestly with how to make sense of the prompt.
#25689 ·
· on Corridor · >>Corinna
Good stable meter here. Perhaps too stable, though -- the entire long first stanza becomes a small wall of text with identical rhythms, similar rhyme sounds in most of them, and not even a full stop along the way for the reader to breathe and take stock of where we've been and which way we're going. There isn't much help from the rhyme scheme to break the sentence into natural smaller units either.

It reminds me of John Updike's Cosmic Gall, where a similar steamroller of lines in haphazard alternation between just two rhyme endings conveys a feeling of exasperation, almost out of breath.

Somehow it doesn't work as well for me here. I'm left out of breath all right, but also without a clear impression in my head of what the first stanza was actually trying to tell me. That makes it very hard for the final couplet to provide a clear contrast.

(Even reading it very slowly for this review, I'm finding it difficult to unravel the sentence structure. The relative clause "that's kind, benign, tenacious" comes after a deeply nested stack of noun phrases -- but which of them is it that has those qualities? The decent pace? The loads of time? The blinding shine? Neither of the possibilities really scream "this is it" to me.)
#25688 · 1
· on Sunset, Sunset, Goose · >>Griseus
Maybe next time I won't use life experiences from an MMO about bot miners?

Well, or at flesh out the mechanics a bit with a view to a more realist feeling. A game can get away with treating "to mine" as a single, uniform action that's just something you do, but with a story one expects some more details of what is actually happening. Is digging involved? Or are the crystals simply sticking out of the ground and it's a matter of picking them, like carrots? The latter seems to match better with how it can apparently be seen plainly from at least some distance away whether there are crystals to "mine" or not. The way it's described here, I suspect that "gather" would have been a better verb than "mine".

I don't think Confused Pegasus is a garbage as you say -- he's important to the resolution of the scene, and the way he suddenly backs down nervously helps set up the twist. However, he could easily be given a real name if he had simply replied "No, my name is not Soft Mist, it's So-And-So".

The real problem here seems to be that there were too many ideas to develop within the time you had. It shouldn't be 1000 words shorter, it should be longer. E.g., take some time to either allow Pony Sunset to be appropriately surprised at the interdimensional visitor, or alternatively establish more firmly that this is a world where running into one's dimensional alternates is something that tends to happen on Tuesdays.

Technical advice: I feel that each time we hit a stretch of dialogue -- especially the ones early in the piece -- you forget to tell the story and instead just produce an audio transcript of who said what in which order. If there's a viewpoint character, they must be thinking something throughout the conversation; tell us what that is. Or when that doesn't work, give the characters some stage directions, expressions to wear, directions to look in, little things to do while they're talking. Even if those actions don't openly move the story forward, it can make the scene flow a lot smoother if just every two or three changes of speaker there's a sentence with a description of something that isn't words. (Bonus points if you can pick actions that somehow illuminate the scene, but that's not strictly necessary, so long as it stops it being talking heads).

The last line confuses me. Suddenly there's an in-universe narrator? Is that supposed to be a character from the story telling it? The only obvious candidate would be Confused Pegasus, but that doesn't make a lot of sense.
#25687 ·
· on The Now Matters
This one's a bit of a headscratcher.

First, what is it? There's a consistent rhyme scheme in each stanza, so I don't think it's intended to be free verse. On the other hand, rhyming poetry pretty much always goes with some kind of meter, but I struggle to see any rhythmic unity at all here -- neither within a stanza between the two rhyming lines, nor between lines in different stanzas. If there's any pattern to the number of stresses in each line, or the number of syllables in each line, or the distribution of syllables between stresses, I've been unable to notice it. Perhaps I'm just deaf to poetry.

Second, how does this relate to the prompt? With the other entries one can at least imagine a possible train of thought leading from the prompt to the end result. This one seems to come from nowhere.

The author's message sounds heartfelt, that much can be said for it. Readers who already agree with the sentiment might appreciate the violent metaphors in the second stanza, but from a poetry point of view they don't go anywhere. All they do is to hammer home how strongly the author feels what he/she is saying; they don't inform or enlighten any of what follows. Stanza 3 pulls out and away and attempts some cool, abstract philosophical reasoning, but immediately stanza 4 gives up on that and descends to end with an angry scream of defiance.

On the other hand, other readers who don't already agree that something "has surely gone too far" can easily take one glance at the poem and dismiss the whole as a plea for the right to publish all sorts of reactionary drivel and not even face disagreement. That's the cost of being so nonspecific that each reader is left to fill in the blanks with their own preconceptions. Nobody ends up learning anything they didn't already believe.
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