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Cursed Be He That Moves My Bones
#1438 · 5
· on The Last Burdens of Childhood, Cut Loose · >>TitaniumDragon
In terms of criticism, I don’t feel that I have much to offer that hasn’t already been covered. That ending really does just come out of nowhere and makes her seem psychotic – the relationship between her and Alex isn’t nearly as developed as it should be.

Perhaps you were going for shock value? Perhaps you wanted it to feel like a surprise? But I think it’s worth bearing in mind Alfred Hitchcock’s little story about two people having a conversation at a café as a time-bomb ticks away beneath their dinner table (obviously, he was talking about film, but the same principle still applies). In one version of the scene, the audience (or reader) doesn’t know the bomb is there, which means that the explosion comes out of nowhere and does nothing more than give us a little shock. But the other way to approach the scene is to let the audience know that it’s there, and that it’s ticking away. Suddenly, the character’s conversation becomes fascinating. Every word of it is like a countdown.

The ‘bomb’ in this story would be the reader’s suspicion that your MC is planning to kill Alex. In another version of this piece, the tension would be electrifying i.e is she really going to do what we think she’s going to do? Does she have the guts to go through with it? Is she really that mad at him? But instead, all that potential intrigue and tension is traded away for a cheap twist at the end, and it harms the story as a result.

(Granted, ol’ Hitchcock does make the caveat that perhaps the surprise is the whole point of the story. But in this case, I don’t think that the twist is nearly strong enough to get away with it).

However, there was a lot of stuff which I honestly liked! In particular, I loved the first third of it where she’s telling us the lore behind the ghost and the game she used to play and such. Her voice feels authentic, her character motivations relatable. And the story of the ghost itself is wonderfully strange and creative, and genuinely creepy to boot.

But what makes the tone of this piece truly special is the matter-of-fact way in which everyone casually accepts the existence of the spirit, as though it’s completely and totally normal that there should be a killer ghost lurking on the beach. Nowhere is this exemplified better than with people’s reaction to Tom’s death, where, rather than explore every other possible, more sensible explanation behind his disappearance (kidnapped? Ran away from home? Swept out to sea in a tragic accident?), instead, all the characters leap straight to, “Tom’s gone missing, you say? Welp! I guess that means the ghost got him or whatever. Let that be a lesson to rest of you.”

… Sorry, written down like that, I must make it sound like the story was being lazy. But I really did appreciate this element of your work. As I said, it gave it a very unique tone, and it was fun to read.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Needs work, but definite potential for something really cool.
#1267 · 4
· on No Story! I Had Fun! · >>The_Letter_J
Ohmigosh, it's the 4'33" of Wirteoff fiction! Top marks, author, top marks :-D
#1396 · 3
· on Don't You Cry For Me · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
From my spot at the bottom, I couldn’t see the top of the hill. Just twisted brown branches and weathered granite slabs, stretching out forever. Getting some major Neil Gaiman vibes here. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the rest of this piece is nothing at all like The Graveyard Book… but this whole paragraph is just sooo up my alley that I think I’m already in love with this story.

The word seemed to strike her like a gust of wind. Had a bit of trouble interpreting what this was supposed to mean. Do you mean that she’s been taken by surprise? That she’s shocked, or perhaps hurt? Or indifferent?

“Maybe that counselor was right,” May said, face screwing up into a smirk. “Maybe you really are crazy.” There’s something about the way this information is delivered that feels off to me? I mean, I appreciate that you’ve taken the effort not to have Claire simply state in some boring info-dump that she’s been in therapy. Even so, I think this line still comes across somewhat… expositiony, I guess is the word. Like, it didn’t feel very natural to me.

I was way too old to be getting help from my sister, after all, and I still wanted to be mad at her. Having grown up with an older brother, this character detail rings incredibly true to me. Great job!

When I asked Mom, she said that they were baby corns—I didn’t even know that corn could have babies. Hah! Nice!

May affixed me with a wretched glare. “Shut the fuck up, Claire.” There’s part of me that wants to call this conversation melodramatic and over the top, but May here reminds me so much of what my older brother used to be like that it isn’t even funny. So again… yeah, this whole scene works for me. Each member of this little broken family feels distinct, vivid, and three-dimensional. I feel like I already know them intimately.

I knew deep down that all of this was my fault. It was up to me to fix things, and once again I had failed. Obviously, Claire’s not thinking rationally here... even so, I wish that you had spent more time showing us how she reaches this conclusion as opposed to the tiny paragraph that we end up getting. Why does she say that she’s always failing? So far, there hasn’t really been an awful lot in the text to suggest that she regularly feels this way.

In those days, but three months removed from the fire. I’d rephrase this a little. It sounds out of character – like, it feels a lot more formal to me than how she’s been narrating so far.

before Dad got that call in the middle of the night, before he grabbed his gear and ran out the door. Before the police came the next morning, hats over their hearts, beards twitching, and asked if Mom was home. Before May turned white, and before Mom ran out to throw up. I wonder if possibly this is a tad overboard? So far, the story has done a truly excellent job at giving us enough information to let us piece together what happened without making it seem saccharine or overdone and such, but this paragraph kinda ruins that a little. It’s really on the nose. It’s like I’m gone back in time 12 years and I’m stuck in the cinema again bored out of my skull watching friggin’ Ladder 49.

heaving mass of flesh on the bed opposite mine. Perhaps use a different description? This makes me think not of a teenage girl, but of a big pile of raw meat or something -_-

Also, Kurt Cobain was apparently “overrated trash.” Who knew? Yikes!! May, for goodness sake, ditch your friends and make new ones!

At least I didn’t have to see a counselor anymore. I would seriously suggest fleshing out the details of her counselling, since so far it feels totally ham-fisted and thrown in there – considering how subtle and effective this story has been so far, it really sticks out, and not in a good way. (EDIT: Having now read to the end, and having seen how much she fears that she might actually be crazy, I feel this point is more important than ever. I love your work, but this whole aspect of her character is poorly set up, and ends up hurting the story as a result).

I would fall asleep thinking of our old home, and the friends I had known since childhood. Seems a bit weird for a nine-year-old child to think about the friend she ‘had known since childhood’. Maybe say ‘known since kindergarten’ or something?

I hesitated for a moment. Then, as quiet as I could, I grabbed my coat, put on my gloves and boots, and headed out. The build-up to this is another moment which I wish had lasted longer – I think it would hugely benefit from showing us more of Claire’s hesitation. She’s only nine after all, and even the most fearless and foolhardy nine-year-old might think twice before sneaking into a creepy graveyard in the middle of the night. Is she scared? Does she stop to think that she’s just hallucinating? Or is she genuinely that confident that her father’s really returned, and that there’s nothing to be afraid of?

My nine-year-old mind ranted and raved, every instinct telling me to run and bury myself under my sheets. Ah, now this paragraph is more like it! Though I stand by what I said before.

“I was about to go out looking for you!” May hissed. “You know that? Mom ran in here screaming and crying. You wanna give her a heart attack or something? You wanna be a fucking orphan…” When I was younger, I did something very similar to what Claire does here, so I can say from first-hand experience that everyone’s reactions here are completely on point and relatable.

Even at that young age, I felt pathetic. I wouldn’t put ‘even at that young age’. You’ve just spent several thousand words showing us that you have a real grasp on the fact that children are perfectly capable of feeling and understanding deep emotional pain, but narration like this kind of undercuts that a little. Perhaps you could argue that it’s in character for the Claire of 2016 to come up with such a flippant remark? But if so, I still don’t think it’s worth the trade-off. This story isn’t about Claire-the-adult-narrator, but Claire-the-nine-year-old.

“I’m not a… a scizzo,” I said. The lights went off. “You are!” Yeah, you tell her, Claire :-P

___________________________________________________


Egh, this comment ended up being looooong >_<. And I didn’t even touch on the whole ending sequence, which was the best bit of all.

Obviously I can only speak for myself here and nobody else, but damn, this just worked for me on so many levels – pacing, plotting, characterization. It’s bittersweet without feeling saccharine; it ends on just the right note of magical realism. I would go so far as to say it’s one of my favourite things I’ve read in ages.

Thank you for writing it.
#1648 · 3
· on Tiny Planets
>>Monokeras >>Ferd Threstle >>Ratlab >>Baal Bunny >>Bradel >>wYvern >>Haze >>georg >>Not_A_Hat >>Remedyfortheheart >>TitaniumDragon >>Scramblers and Shadows >>horizon >>Dubs_Rewatcher

Thank you to everyone for such brilliant reviews! I swear, the feedback on this website is second to none.

This was something which dates back from around September 2014 or something? It was supposed to be for a collaboration with Wanderer D which unfortunately never made past a few private messages on fimfiction (though to be clear, the idea is 100% my own). It then spent the next year-and-a-half or so in limbo, in that I liked the basic concept enough that I didn’t forget about it, but at the same time, I wasn’t taken enough with it that I could ever be bothered to actually sit down and develop it beyond the initial spark.

Then that prompt happened, and I was like… well. Let’s get it done once and for all.

And I’m glad that I did, if mainly because Sophie came as a complete surprise to me. I went into this having absolutely no idea whatsoever of her backstory or sort of character she was (which I think was the main reason that the plotline ended up feeling both disjointed and on-rails at the exact same time? Sorry everyone. It did cross my mind as I was writing it, and I completely agree with all the comments that brought it up. It’s one million percent understandable why some of you weren’t so keen on this -_-). And I assumed that once this story was done then that’d be it for her, but darn it, I haven’t enjoyed writing about a new character so much in ages! Even if she does need work done to make her more distinct and original. I’ve been coming up with ideas for her ever since finishing this, so I don’t think this’ll be the last of Sophie.

As for what happens next with this particular story? I’m not entirely certain yet to be honest. But I’m very tempted to rework it as fanfiction – I’ve had so much wonderful advice that it’d be a shame to see it go to waste.

Oh yeah, and congrats to Dubs_Rewatcher, Cold in Gardez, and Baal Bunny. In fact, congratulations to all of the finalists, and even most of the stories that didn’t make it past the prelims. I know it’s already been said, but this was such a strong round.
#1729 · 3
·
I can't believe I managed to get something done on time, but I'm dreading the reviews on it. Though it seems like this was a bad weekend for a lot of folks, so at least I'm not alone here.

Still, I'm looking forward to everyone's work. Good luck guys!
#1432 · 2
· on Homebound · >>Ratlab
I won’t lie here: whilst I really do appreciate what you were trying to do with the ending, honestly, it left me feeling cheated. The best way I can describe it is… imagine if Gravity had ended the moment Sandra Bullock starts her descent towards Earth, or if, when watching The Martian, Matt Damon begins his attempt to make it into orbit over Mars, only for the credits start rolling halfway through said attempt. Picture the reaction from the audience! There would’ve been rioting in the cinema!

And I bring those two films up not only because they share similar plotlines to your story here, but also a similar adventurey sort of tone… whilst I consider both of them to be major artistic achievements, ultimately, neither of them were aiming to be high art. (Though don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do not mean that as a slight against them, and by extension your story. I think a lot of people severely underestimate how gosh darn difficult it to write a decent crowd-pleaser). Both of them showed enough self-awareness of what they were to know to give us a definitive ending for their respective characters. I hate to say it, but for me, your ending didn’t feel particularly meaningful or challenging so much as it simply felt abrupt and non-committal.

BUT! It would be amiss of me not to acknowledge that, judging from some of the other comments here, this wasn’t such a problem for other readers. Maybe I wasn’t the right audience for this?

And honestly, right up until the ending, I was digging the absolute hell out of this story. The tension in the beginning was fantastic, and my mind was going into overdrive imagining what horrors Vance was going to uncover (‘This one works’ was such a brilliant moment). This was followed by a wonderful middle where the high stakes contrast brilliantly with the mundaneness of life aboard a tiny spacecraft. And the approach to Earth was both beautiful and chilling all at once – Lord knows that I spend enough time worrying about the future, so the vague clues we’re given that something horrible has happened on Earth hit me pretty hard.

As for Vance… I think my thoughts here are going to contradict themselves a little bit, but please bear with me. On the one hand, a few more little character moments here and there would be a huge benefit to this story – it would give us more of a reason to like him, and empathize with the sheer horror of his situation. On the other hand, it was also very cool to read about a level-headed professional handling a terrible situation with grit and ingenuity. I think a lesser version of this story would’ve taken the easy route and just had him PANIC, PANIC, PANIC in a cheap attempt to wring our sympathy for him. I sooo glad that you rose above that.

I mentioned The Martian earlier, but it’s worth bringing up again, even if it was in a different medium to this (I haven’t gotten round to reading the book yet). That film was a masterclass in walking the line between having the main character being a likeable human being with deep seated emotions vs having him act as cool, calm, and collected as you’d expect any NASA professional to be. It achieved just the right balance, and it was enthralling. By comparison, Vance isn’t quite there yet. But he’s close. Very close.

To summarize, for as much as I hated the ending, for the most part I really truly enjoyed this one. Bradel probably said it best. ’If I were shopping for a magazine, this would get a very definite "Sorry, we're not interested—but please send us your next story" letter.’

TIER: Solid
#1504 · 2
· on Just Do It
I loved, loved, loved the writing in this one! It was clean and crisp; it did a great job of conveying character and setting; Tim and Kayla’s dialogue was incredibly fun to read, and their chemistry was fantastic.

As for the actual story itself, I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed it so much. Which is a shame, because I really, really wanted to.

I mean, there’s no conflict. They decide to do something, and then it works out perfectly with no trouble at all. It makes the whole piece feel weightless, since without that sense of struggle and sacrifice, Tim and Kayla achieving their dreams doesn’t mean anything. It’s like… what have they learnt? That getting your dream job is as easy as just walking into a building and simply asking for it. There’s no possibility of failure, and everything will be wonderful forever and ever. The end.

Sorry, I don’t mean to sound so cynical, plus I appreciate the effect that I think you were going for – follow your passions, don’t let self-doubt get in the way. Those are great messages to have in a story! Yet you need something to ground them, or you run the risk of having readers react exactly the way that they’ve reacted by here. By accusing your work of being shallow and schmaltzy. And for the record, I like schmaltz – heck, my entire fanfiction career is practically built off it! But there’s a limit to how much you can get away with before it turns people off.

Your characters need to struggle for their goals. They need to face setbacks. The struggles don’t need to be big. The hardships don’t need to be huge. But they do need to be there.

I also had some issues with the depiction of Tim’s customer service role, though I hesitate to go too much into it since I’m having trouble deciding if my problems stem from the actual story itself, or from having worked behind a refund desk for the past four years. What I will say is that whilst this piece is one thousand percent successful in getting across the worst extremes of what it’s like to deal with the general public, at the same time, for me personally, it didn’t ring true that all his phone queries were bad to the point where ‘a humble request’ gives him pause for thought.

Now, obviously, I can only speak for myself in this regard (although Bradel’s comments makes me feel confident that my experiences aren’t unique). But I find that whilst awful customers are an unfortunate daily reality, most people are just… fine. Just fine. And whilst I also concede that possibly there are customer service roles which are as terrible as you’re making out here, that possibility alone doesn’t stop this story from feeling like it tries too hard to wring our sympathy for Tim. It makes the story feel too manipulative for its own good, and again, it can be a turn-off for some readers.

(Also I actually thought that Kayla made a good point about the widow but-I’m-just-a-horrible-awful-person-who’s-totes-going-to-hell-arrrggg -_-).

FINAL THOUGHTS: Problematic, but again, LOVED the actual writing itself. Despite my issues, this author is clearly very talented, and I would totally read more stuff by them.
#1531 · 2
· on Encounter at dusk · >>Monokeras
I actually really enjoyed this one – like, really super enjoyed it, and it made me smile throughout. Though at the same time, I can’t argue with any of the criticisms that have been levelled at it. In particular, Joan’s dialogue bothered me in how inconstant it felt, switching from full on countryisms to modern day city talk at the drop of a hat. And I fully agree with everyone who said that the middle section was noticeably weaker – in fact, I felt basically the same way as Ferd Threstle, in that the whole story kind of fell into place early on, and then didn’t offer up much in the way of fresh twists and surprises (although that said, I loved the ending, even if it wasn’t very substantial).

I had other issues as well, but I won’t dwell on them since other reviewers have already covered them. You’ve had some really great feedback on this one :-)

But yeah! Issues aside, the writing flowed smoothly, the pacing was decent, and the concept itself was irresistible. The adventures of a time-travelling robot teaming up with Joan of Arc!! What’s not to love? It's like some sort of strange riff on The Terminator, and I simply adored it.

This round has been incredibly strong, and I’ve absolutely struggling with how I’m going to vote. But I think this’ll end up pretty high on my slate.
#1621 · 2
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire
I thought this one was fantastic, although it’s probably worth mentioning that some of the stuff which worked for me was exactly the same stuff which turned some other commenters off. For example, I thought that the non-committal ending worked very well here, even though that sort of thing is usually a massive turn off for me. Like, the way I viewed this piece, the question of whether or not it was really a simulation was entirely beside the point. Heck, one of the characters even flat-out states it: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a simulation or a real meat-and-atoms physical being.” Ultimately, I think that you chose the right ending, since a definitive answer would’ve undermined the philosophical undercurrents running throughout your story (Are we real or not? Does it matter?).

As for the general feeling that this was simply an ‘apocalypse’s greatest hits’ montage… I can certainly understand that point of view, but again, it didn’t detract from the story for me. Execution is every bit as important as originality, and I thought that this was executed brilliantly. The characters felt vivid and alive; the writing was evocative; the pacing was good. I’m placing this one high on my slate.
#1622 · 2
· on The Precession of the Equinoxes
This was my last story, and I Goddamn loved it (… yeah, I went there…). What a perfect way to end what’s been an incredibly strong slate.

I’ll admit it: the Goddamns worked for me, since their usage felt purposeful, and they helped informed Mauli’s character. The writing flowed smoothly, the tone was a fun mixture of mundane and magical (I mean, stuff like supervisors and employee handbooks clashing with enchanted forests and the like – that sort of thing has always appealed to me), and the ending was probably my single favourite scene of all the stories I’ve read in this competition. It was satisfying to see everything come together, and it added a whole new layer of depth to Mauli – I think the temptation would’ve been to have her act curmudgeony and one-dimensional right to the bitter end, but it’s clear that there’s more to her than that. It was a great note to end on.

I hope this ranks highly when the results are released a few hours from now.