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#21536 · 5
· on Wordsworth · >>Posh >>No_Raisin
>>scifipony
I know I shouldn't jump on this bandwagon at so late a stage, but ... screw it.

Patronizing would have been for me to enter this event but to not have critiqued every other entry.


No. Submitting a story and not reviewing might be selfish, but it is not patronising.

I don't generally like to lean on pedantry, but I would have thought a professional writer and alumnus of Clarion such as yourself would pay more attention to the meaning of words.

To be patronising is to give something with a presumption of superiority. You can tell it apart from generosity because the giver doesn't care about what the recipient wants; they assume the gift must be valuable, that they deserve respect, and that the recipient is a fool for not appreciating it.

So when you make a feeble attempt to win some imaginary pissing contest by bragging about being a professional writer, going to Clarion, and making people vomit, yes, you are being patronising. When you release your own vomit of vapid advicelets like "Never attack the critic.", yes, you are being patronising.

Now, on a level of basic principle, I don't think there's anything wrong with the content of your original review. I mean, I wouldn't have the same problem, but that's a matter of personal taste. In fact, I think Posh's criticism of it is mistaken.

But that's no longer the main issue here. The issue here is with your personal conduct, which we all seem to agree is piss-poor. (Most decent people wouldn't consider making others break into tears and throw up something to brag about.)

Now, to be fair, you've said a couple of times that Raisin is free to ignore your criticism, and that your point about faith was from one person's perspective only. So it seems that behind all the pomposity you are capable of humility.

See, writing is not the only area where people give feedback. Every area of social interaction gives you feedback. You're getting some right now.

What does it say? I'd summarise it as: Learn that your perspective is not the only one. Learn to interact with your fellow human beings with some basic civility.

And I think it would behoove you to listen to it.
#1287 · 4
· on Extra · >>Not_A_Hat
Extra


Ah, here it comes. The first story to make me jealous. A clever metafictional riff on Star Trek and its kin. Excellent craftsmanship, well paced, funny without being ridiculous, and, I suspect, perfectly engineered to match the audience.

But not perfect.

I get the feeling the story, like the narrator, suffers from a sort of loss of purpose. At the height of its powers, something slips, and the story Focus begins to weaken. Except it never quite comes back. More riffing on space opera doesn't cut it; a lecture about the existentialism & power of stories comes next, which feels positively hamfisted compared the grace of the beginning; then at last an ouroboros ending, which is cool and all, but doesn't really connect. It strikes me as a better end than having Inkindri meet the show's runners, whatever they might be, but it's still not satisfying.

A couple of question I've yet to answer:

What is the significance of In Kin Dri?

The following sentence leans heavily close to an external awareness: But from what I understand, those three Episodes were one of the ship’s best adventures that far. How is it obtained?
#1406 · 4
· on Just Do It · >>Bradel
Just Do It

In this feel-good tale sharing the title of a Nike advertising slogan, Tim the stereotypical millennial learns to stand up to the corporate world and deal with the guilt of having to listen to a poverty-stricken widow by abandoning his job in the middle of his shift and fucking his co-worker.

You may have noticed I didn't like this.

It feels almost as though everything in this story is engineered to rub me up the wrong way: It's shallow, melodramatic, cloyingly sentimental, and filled with a continuous, grating snark, both in the narration and the voices of both characters.

Perhaps I shouldn't penalise it on those grounds. Some people like schmaltz, after all.

But there are two things I can't forgive. First, for a character piece, it has close to no characterisation. Tim and Kayla are essentially identical boxes of watered-down aspiration and sarcasm. Second, for a message piece, its message is not only unrealistic but self-indulgent.

Judging on those criteria, it won't go to the bottom of my slate even though it was the story I liked the least. But neither will it get a good ranking.
#1564 · 4
· on The Last Burdens of Childhood, Cut Loose
The Last Burdens of Childhood, a Post-Mortem



Yeah I dropped the ball on this one. The brief I was aiming for was something along the lines of The Cask of Amontillado, in the form of a ghost story, as told by Gene Wolfe. And I suppose that last part turned out to be my downfall.

I wanted a story in which the pivotal event and key the whole thing is conspicuous by its absence, because the narrator refuses to recount it, but is still evident (roughly, at least) from the events surrounding it.

This was a poor choice. First because Wolfe-style stories tend to invite a niche audience. Even I have to be in the right mood to try and engage in one. Second, and more importantly, because such stories require a lot of engineering to make all the implications fall into place, and I'm not skilled enough to get all that together in the timeframe. But I was too busy being impressed with my own cleverness to see that until I was too far in the turn back.

Oh well. Cautionary tale, I suppose. On to the individual replied.


¬Hat,
Thanks for the comments! You seem to have pinned down some of biggest screwups here. I'm also starting to think that your overall reaction is a pretty good litmus test to tell which story is mine: “Well-crafted, but I disliked it.”

The narrator comes off as psychopathic? Well, yeah. She just murdered a man for revenge. It's definitely intentional.


bats,
Right, so the fact that Ella got out safely primes to reader to expect a more benign ending – hence the twist is still in the death, for a different reason? That's an excellent suggest, more workable that what I came up with, and I genuinely wish I'd come up with it.

Cheers!



Solitair,
You almost had something decent. Ouch, damned by faint praise or what?

Still, thanks for the comments. (And I do honestly mean that.)



Lucky Dreams,
I wasn't aiming for either of Hitchcock's options, and I think the man's example misses the point of a good twist, which isn't just to shock, but to force the reader to reinterpret the story up to that point in a coherent way. (Remember back in the old days when Shyamalan lucked on a good story? Sixth Sense didn't enjoy its fame just because the ending was shocking.)

That said, the ending still failed, so a more traditional suspense ending would have served me well had I been smart enough to see it. I appreciate your compliments not just because they give me a fizzy feeling, but because they tell me there's enough cool stuff in the story without me trying to get clever with an unreliable narrator.


Ratlab,
Thank you! I guess that's more confirmation that I should've just written this as a more normal ghost story, then.


horizon,
Yeah, the hook was iffy. I banged my head against it for ages, trying to get it to work, and it never did.

I suppose it's academic now, but the italicised bit is another hint that the narrator has it in for Alex. Something along the lines of, You still get the chance to run off the stag parties, while he never will.


TD,
Yeah, that's a good call on when to introduce the issues with Alex.


Georg,
Well, I guess I don't have much say here beyond: Thanks!



Bradel,
Hm. What you have to say about voicing is interesting. I didn't notice that, but I suppose it's because I was never properly clear on how close the narration is from the character (in other words, whether it's in the style of her talking about something from some time in the future when she has a bit of emotional distance, or whether it's right up alongside her as the narrated events happen.)

Also, going by the comments, you're the only one to notice the link I intended between the death of the narrator's brother and her revenge on Alex. And if that still isn't making the ending work, I can take it as confirmation I screwed up pretty bad.
#3593 · 4
· · >>bloons3
Finally, finally got my piece in.

For everyone who's joining me, good luck!

For everyone who's not, tough break! I'm sure your story would've been cool, though.
#1288 · 3
· on Landscape Photography
Landscape Photography



This excels in all my favourite ways: It's subtle, delicate, almost humble. Its description comes as tightly-controlled poeticism. It works its magic in between the lines. Its message, melancholic and humanist, comes out as action, and action imbued with meaning by the strength of implication.

Damnit, this sort of thing half makes me want to delete my whole stories folder.

I can't think of much more to say than that.
#17210 · 3
· on The City in the Ice · >>GaPJaxie
When I read this, I realised I'd need a few days to organise my thoughts. Now it's been a few days, am I'm no closer to understanding how I reacted to this story. But something is better than nothing, so have some inchoate thoughts instead.

Suffice to say, I found it a slog to get through, it didn't arouse any emotions in me -- and right now I kind of want to put it at the top of my slate.

The technical skill on display here is undeniable. The structure is everything I can ask for. It's novel, but complete. Everything weaves together in a coherent whole. The theme of noble lies, gets its variations from the grand to the miniscule. Repetition is used as it should. The ending – a farce with a Chekhovian inversion – underlines it perfectly.

So why didn't I like it?

I have no idea.

Perhaps it's because the story claims wisdom – it seems in love with its own portentiousness – and yet seems to lack it. There are many offhand observations here, the sort of gently ironic jabs at human foibles that can work so well. And yet none of them do anything for me. In fact, most of them seem, if not cliches, then on the border of becoming so. The main thrust of the story, we all its utilitarian pulpit-thumping, certainly is. Then there's the feminist showing strength by socking a sexist.

Perhaps its because that for a story driven by questions of humanity, there's not much humanity on display. Most of it feels like it's told at a remove. I don't want to say unemotional prose is bad – used effectively, it can be incredibly heart-wrenching. Indeed, my favourite author writes like this pretty much all the time. But here, for whatever reason, it isn't effective. There are a couple of moments of genuine tenderness – Victor's telegram, and Helena's last moments with him.

But everything else feels like a grim slog through duties. That doesn't arouse much melancholy in me.

The end result: Most of the time, my reaction to events wasn't “this is sad”, but “oh look, the sotry is trying to make me feel sad”. And that's no fun at all.

What else can I say to a story that seems to be doing everything it should, but is failing at its most important task: Making my feel something? After some dithering between putting this at the top of my slate and the abstain box, I think I may have to opt for the latter.
#20765 · 3
· on Caught Between Confusion and Pain
Overly-long last minute review activate!

It's always a risk to make a story out of a single character contemplating their life. At least part of that, I think, is because narrative works best on multiple levels, weaving them together, playing the physical, the metaphorical, the conceptual, and the emotional off against each other. If you've only got the one level, the medium doesn't really work.

Fortunately, this story clears that first hurdle. For one level, we've got Entrapta going about her business and studying robots. For the other, we've got a deep dive into Entrapta's character (squee!).

But the point of having two or more layers is to have them interact. And here … they don't really do that. At least, not enough. The emotional journey here is mostly bunched up at the end, which make sit hard to weave it into robot-watching strand because they don't really share much space. The result is that a lot of stuff seems to come out of nowhere. For example, Entrapta suddenly lurches into melancholy near the end. Why? She just does. It's arbitrary.

Okay, now, you could say that she does so because she sees the scrap robots looking after each other, which makes her think of her own friends, which leads to the sudden realisation that they're not with her. The problem is that the story doesn't draw this connection. In an introspective fic, this is exactly the sort of place where you could follow her thought processes. And on top of that you've got three paragraphs between these two events filled with other stuff, which weakens the link even further.

From there, a couple more things pop up. First of, she decides she's okay again. Again, this just happens. Second, near the end, we learn that Entrapta's motivation is …. helping people. This really comes out of left field. The big issue is that we've seen none of that in the show. By all appearances, show-Entrapta is motivated by a childlike, amoral curiosity, a need to understand and control. She's shown as largely indifferent and ignorant of the effects her actions have on others.

This doesn't mean that you can't add a moral dimension to her character – one of the goals of fanfic is to expand upon what we see in the show. But since it is a big change, it needs a lot justification. It needs groundwork. We need to see why it doesn't become apparent in the show. We need to see how it connects to the behaviours of the character we've seen. Once again, it's a matter of connections. And this story doesn't give us those connections, so this event, too, seems arbitrary.

That's it for structure, what about voice? There's both good and bad here. Let's start with the bad.

A lot of the time, the voice is often off. The most common problem is that it often feels like a third person voice with the pronouns changed. Entrapta has picked up a weird habit, it seems, of describing her facial expressions instead of displaying emotion. You get stuff like “I furrowed my brow in thought”, which doesn't seem Entrapta-ish at all. (Even in third person, this way of doing things can seem a little stilted when compared to free indirect.)

Now, I don't really blame you for this. That most imbecilic form of show-don't-tell, the idea that you should write facial expressions instead of emotions, has a lot to answer for. It's repeated by people who ought to know better far too often, so it's easy to fall under its spell. Right. Enough of S&S Soapbox Hour. Let's get back to the review.

I do want to flag this phrase here: “Like that time she’d programmed her computer to print out the results of an experiment.” This is difficult to parse. It seems like it's actually referring to Entrapta in the third person … was this fic written in third person and then converted? Because that would explain my earlier problem.

All that said, however, sometimes the voicing here is really good. Take, for instance “The modifications I had made to the plasma rifles had reduced kickback by twelve percent and the number of shoulder injuries had gone down to unprecedented levels!” That sentence is so Entrapta. More of this, please.

And how about this beauty? “Science was evolving and ever changing, too, but it was also honest … it would never stop, or abandon you.” This is even better. It expands on Entrapta's character is a way that's consistent with what we've seen. And notice what is does: It connects two things we've seen in the show: Entrapta's love of science, and her pain at her friends' apparent betrayal.

And what a serendipitous segue into final thoughts that is. Because the main takeaway here is connection. Tie things together. Unify things that look unrelated. Follow the roads of implication. That's your route to improving this story.
#21528 · 3
· on Transcribed Memories
The star attraction here is the characterisation. The voicing here is pure Scorpia. And on the level of structure, this hits that note of overwhelming, optimistic, and slightly oblivious glee, followed by the moments of self-doubt we see in Season 2. I wish I could write character this well.

The emotional structure is simple but sharply drawn. Scorpia is great for making something feel light and fluffy, and this is where we start. The foreknowledge of Season 2's end remains a subtle tension. From there, things get darker and more difficult. The final entry is filled with pathos. We end with Scorpia's optimism too – but how much it has changed. We see her determination, her thoughtfulness, her the nerves of steel that lie beneath the blithe demeanour. And what a wonderful contrast that is. The latter is why we love her; the former is why we respect her.

If I have a gripe – and I'm not sure if I really do – it's with the lack of originality. Everything we see of Scorpia here, well-rendered as it is, is nothing that the show hasn't already given to us. Every entry apart the final one tells us about things we've seen firsthand.

But is this a problem? Is fanfic obliged to add something original? I'm not sure it is. It certainly didn't hurt my enjoyment of this story (which is odd, because I tend to penalise stories for lacking originality). What this story offers is a perspective, an (admittedly not new) way of looking at canonical events. I won't penalise it as such, but if another story does impress me with an original take, that's probably going to get a higher rank.
#21532 · 3
· on On Scorpia's Watch
I want to love this, but I'm not sure I can. I'm intensely ambivalent about it.

The good: This story is saturated with a melancholic maturity, a sense of largely decent people doing their best in ugly, messy circumstances. It's right up my alley. It's ambitious but effective: Behind all the adventure! and drama, She-Ra does have a tragic sense of life.

And to go along with that, you're teasing out some of the darker implications the show glosses over: The costs of war, borne largely by all those faceless soldiers.

But as impressive as all that is, it doesn't quite land. Why? Characterisation.

There's no trace here of Scorpia's bubbling brio. She's gloomy and pensive the entire way through. When we get free indirect, it's stuff like “Proms were stupid, anyway. They deserved to get blown up.” For dialogue, we get “The longer we keep this up, the more chance someone’s going to find those bombs” – a grimly practical complaint. The Scorpia we know was largely occupied with the shrimp. On top of that, at the end we get an unusually self-aware Catra at the end.

Now, I'm not saying you can't have a glum, grumpy Scorpia. Indeed, the reason we're all in love with her now is because Season 2 gives her some worries. But you need to justify it. You need to account for the phenomena. In other words, to show how this fits in with the chirpy Scorpia we've seen in the show. (Is she hiding her worries? Is it all a coping mechanism? Etc.)

A couple of other thoughts:

There's an odd lacuna before the final scene. Some drama at games night? I don't recall that happening in the show. If it didn't, and you're just skipping over a key dramatic scene … that's an unusual choice, but not a bad one. I thought it worth flagging, anyway.

The prose here is generally pretty good, and I have a thing for rich descriptions, but sometimes it could use a polish. In your first paragraph, between “dreary hum” and “carefully-ventilated corridors”, almost every noun has a modifier. It makes the prose seem plodding rather than rich. On the other hand, “She was not jealous of Adora./She was so jealous of Adora.” is a great turnaround.

In short, a strong story, but not such a strong fanfic.