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#1287 · 4
· on Extra · >>Not_A_Hat

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.

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.

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.


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.

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

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.

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

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

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.
#1279 · 2
· on Certainty's End
Certainty's End

My main problem here is that there's very little substance to this story. The plot is very simple. which would be fine if you gave us something else to chew on, like worldbuilding or character depth, but you don't. Nothing unexpected, and no surprises.

What takes up the bulk of the story instead? Cliches. Fantasy cliches like bright purple eyes and “the sounds of sorcery” are added for no reason. The priest seems like he might be a decent character at first, barring the eyes-showing-every-other-personality-trait cliché, but then all his does is … offer repentance. Then look angrily at Liar as he escapes.

As a particular criticism, let me pull out this:

Oddly enough, as Liar battled internally to keep peace, fear and sorrow held little sway upon his thoughts. Anger sat at the foremost, … Followed closely by a sadness directed towards those who relied upon him. … And that hurt most of all.

I don't actually have a problem with telling emotions; plenty of good writers do. But here, we're told sorrow holds little sway … then a load of stuff about the sadness he feels.

There're other problems with the prose, but those are less important than the lack of substance.
#1281 · 2
· on This Sinking Feeling
This Sinking Feeling

I thought the main mystery here and its resolution were pretty cool. But there are two big flaws.

First, you load up the story with too many other mysteries at the beginning. Who is the narrator? What's her name? What's happened to her? Why does she think this is an adventure? What's with the house? What's with the inconstant landscape? What's with the notes? There's so much up in the air, and so little solidity left to hold on to, that the confusion quickly goes past teasing into annoying. It doesn't help that at the end, a good chunk of these mysteries are still unresolved.

Second, we spend far too much time just wondering about aimlessly in a random landscape. This quickly becomes a drag because there's no sense of forward motion. And there's no real need for it. A couple of significant lurches frustrating the protagonist would drive home the mystery just as well, but be less confusing.

All that said, you've got a fun setup here. I think you just need to give the reader a bit more structure to hang on to while you assault them with unknowns.

EDIT: There also a couple of times where the narration slips into present tense. You might want to look into that. Unless it's intentional, in which case I'm missing the significance.
#1307 · 2
· on Revolver

The story's not a page-turner, but it doesn't need to be and knows it..

Overall, excellent character work. Dina hits just the right note of pugnacity and fragility in an Enid Coleslaw sort of way. The structure is so subtle you might miss it, but quietly does its job, and does it well. And the ending did actually manage to surprise me while being perfectly earned. (I was expecting something rather more soppy and sentimental, and was pleasantly surprised.)

I don't know enough of U.S. university culture to comment on the veracity of the world, but it worked fine for me.

Criticisms? I didn't much care for the psychiatrist. It seemed like he uncomfortably close to being an exposition piece near the end. Other than that, though, good job.