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Message from the Underground · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
#1 · 6
The blank page is stained with precision, not by the regiments of letters that call deep thoughts from their abstractions, but with curves that lead the eye to compare what it sees to what it knows: the character of the line calling forth a cloud, a flower, a blade, the look on her face after you said no, the rustling leaves in the treetops after the storm, the wedge of sports car as it misses the curve, the trail left by the crawling baby, the pain of one who almost had it, felt it brushing past the fingers.

Let the scrawlers say what shall be written here.
#2 · 2
Looks like a pretty good prompt. Can't wait to see what our illustrators can do with it!
#3 · 4
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Maybe I could write something for this? The prompt tastes yummy.
#4 · 1
Welcome back! Please do.
#5 ·
· on In the End Was the Word · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Nice usage of darkness to highlight the bright yellow letters. The idea of a volcano leaking words instead of magma creates a grand visual. I like the titular reversal of the famous Bible verse too, with the implication that these words will doom the world.

Only thing I would criticize is the words' seemingly solid textures. I feel like if they were more liquid-like on the ground and gaseous in the air, they'd look a little more effective and naturally indicative of something connected to the volcano.
#6 · 1
· on Signs of Life at Event Horizon Station · >>Comma Typer
A classic minimalist tactic of tinges of light at the end of a dark tunnel. It captures the viewer's attention and forces them to wonder if the signs of life are friendly or otherwise. The contrast between the blackness and pixelated beams creates a spottiness that fits a perspective from a person squinting in the dark.

The one pet peeve I'd say is the image at the end of the tunnel being a little too formless to work. Since the object looks much the same as the surrounding beams, it's hard to distinguish it as something like light or a far-off human form. A more consistent figure might strike the viewer's eye a little better.
#7 ·
· on Root Causes · >>GroaningGreyAgony
The image has a great simplicity about it, with the image of the plants being absolutely clear even when drawn with crayon. The little shapes in the soil give a good implication about the different minerals that make up the dirt. The roots overlapping via one extension is an interesting touch that gives depth to the inanimate plants.

However, the image's uneven line work and colors outside defined boundaries make the image seem a little too off. The overlapping colors are not so far over the lines to implicate subtle artistic license, but instead an unsteady hand or unwieldy crayon. Unlike many of the other pictures, this one also offers a rather vague situation that seems to rely more on the author's creativity in story formation than the artist's own ability to invoke imaginative thought. There may be a greater freedom on the writer's part, but it comes at the expense of the artist's own storytelling.
#8 ·
· on What Comes with Spring · >>GroaningGreyAgony
The photo provides a wonderful sense of mystery via the title and the incongruence of a letter nestled amongst plants. The letter's earth tones contrast well with the plain greens, as well as the rumpled texture of the letter smattered with dirt. The seal likewise gives the correspondence a certain gravitas, like this is from someplace important (perhaps a certain wizarding school?).

My only complaints involve the stone wall in the back, as it seems a little too close to the letter's color and risks making the letter's contrast with the plants a little more diminished. The angle of the shot likewise made it a little confusing about whether this was taken at a sharp angle or closer to the ground at initial glance. I only figured out the stone was a wall and not a sidewalk from the pipe poking out from the 11 o'clock of the letter.
#9 ·
· on gift from the below
The different shades of red and the grasping claws give a great sense of menace to the picture. Putting the reds into a stained glass window gives a certain religious implication, like this figure is a sort of Anti-Christ perverting a typically holy symbol. The sharp angles to everything likewise fit the stained glass aesthetic, as well as highlight the aforementioned menace.

Only things I would critique are the pot and the borders of the red window. There are a few spots where the darker coloring doesn't seem quite on point. It's trying to replicate the stained glass format of slight incongruencies, but often comes across as overdone rather than natural like the shades of red.
#10 ·
· on As Above...
The sketch texture of the piece works really well in the underground, where the human(?) shapes are still detailed despite their near-invisibility. The white lines growing more fainter and erratic the deeper the picture goes is likewise a nice touch.

The top half is the picture's weak half in my mind, with the buildings and human figure seeming a little too simplistic to mesh with the detailed figures below them. Half-drawn windows and doors come off more as shortcuts than an earnest artistic flourish, especially considering the obvious effort put into the subterranean beings.
#11 ·
· on Signs of Life at Event Horizon Station · >>Comma Typer
I love the ambiguity here! The pixely texture lends this piece a very ominous vibe, a la 2001: A Space Odyssey. The sci-fi direction given by the title is a welcome dose of clarity. I get the impression of arches and gothic churches and grand designs in a digital space.
#12 ·
· on As Above...
WOO, this freaks me out and I dig it. The shapes below are just humanoid and dim enough to lend an appropriate amount of spookiness. Even though they don't have faces, I get the feeling they're looking at me...
#13 ·
· on In the End Was the Word
Dark, moody, apocalyptic; the Earth is speaking to us and we won't like what it has to say. I agree the words could have been harmonized more with the background. I take it this is based on a real location, judging by the copyright notice. This will go in my top slate, thanks for creating it!
#14 ·
· on Signs of Life at Event Horizon Station · >>Comma Typer
This looks like a mining tunnel to me more than a space station, but the art method perfectly suits the mood; this is a creepy image that calls SCP-087 to mind. Thanks for creating it, Artist!
#15 ·
· on Root Causes
A simple sketch, but effective. I have to give other pieces in this round higher ranks for creativity, and some things will have to go in my lower tier accordingly; nothing personal. Thanks for creating it, Artist!
#16 ·
· on gift from the below
I like the stained glass effect here, both in the window and on the hand. Is that a pot or a baptismal fount? I will rank this in my upper tier, thanks for creating it!
#17 ·
· on As Above...
Rough in execution but eloquent in expression, this displays two worlds in juxtaposition very effectively. A creepy piece that justly inspired a lot of stories. An upper tier effort, thanks for creating it!
#18 ·
· on What Comes with Spring
I love it when photographers take the time to create props. Great envelope and seal! Libertydude said most of what needs to be said. This belongs in the upper tier; thanks for creating it!
#19 · 1
· on Signs of Life at Event Horizon Station · >>Comma Typer
To me, this is the coolest of the art pieces. It does bug me somewhat that there’s not enough definition in the light at the end of the tunnel to suggest what it could be. That’s a wasted opportunity IMO. But the mood and style of this is epic. It’s dank, creepy, and retro-technological. Love it.
#20 ·
· on gift from the below
This is amazing. Really good stylized stained glass look. Only downside is that it looks a bit like a hand coming out of a flower pot. But the composition remains very strong.
#21 ·
· on In the End Was the Word · >>GroaningGreyAgony
This was my early favorite. I love the 40K Necron vibes I get from this. Heck, recolor the runes to green and this would scan perfectly as 40k fanart.

It’s strong and stylish beyond that, too.
#22 ·
· on Root Causes · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Traditional physical art is always cool!
#23 ·
· on As Above...
Creepy stuff here. This is a great composition. You just keep scrolling down and it keeps GOING. Very strong concept.
#24 ·
· on What Comes with Spring · >>GroaningGreyAgony
There’s a strong sense of mystery here born of the letter and the title. I assume this must be a love letter. We don’t truly know though. But there is much room for interpretation.
#25 ·
· on In the End Was the Word · >>GroaningGreyAgony
In which words will not just break bones but also melt them.

This is very good as a piece of art, with my only gripe being that the words on the ground seem a bit too obviously Photoshopped (maybe lower the Alpha/transparency/whatchacallit levels on it so it blends in more with the ground)? Other than that—yup! I like that you probably used a Google Maps/Street View image for this (at least, that's what I can tell from the info on the bottom-left corner): thinking outside the box, that's for sure!
#26 ·
· on Signs of Life at Event Horizon Station
In which we don't need to go to space for black holes.

This feels like someone took an ancient Nokia phone, went to some abandoned railroad place, and took a picture. Because if that's not how you made this picture, then it sure feels an awful lot like it. Nostalgia, for one... but nostalgia in the same way I would consider a creepypasta version of a game to be nostalgic.

I agree with some others here that the little thing at the middle is a bit too little or dark to become truly worthwhile, but otherwise, this is pretty good!
#27 ·
· on Root Causes · >>GroaningGreyAgony
In which plants grow. (And it's a long stretch, but I would like to point out how wistful it is to see a piece about plants drawn on paper.)

On the alt text: Quite touching. I don't have much else to say other than that it feels like a quote some famous or wise person would say.

On the picture itself: Traditional art always rings nostalgic to me especially because a lot of things done these days can also be done digitally—you can say I've been spoiled by pony fan art, but enough about me. This picture is pretty and easy on the eyes. Sadly, I would have to give this a pass from the top of the pack with the same reasons as Grey.

Have a good one anyway, kind creator!
#28 ·
· on What Comes with Spring · >>GroaningGreyAgony
In which we grow letters.

Thanks to the prompt, I now think that the message is literally from the underground (either by someone from underground or if we're actually growing letters), so I am more optimistic and bright-eyed than usual than I guess the others here for this pic. Even the wall/sidewalk problem libertydude pointed out just turns it into a flickering illusion for me which is another bonus point.

Yup! Nice job! Thanks for this.
#29 ·
· on gift from the below
In which zombies. Don't buy them for your kids on Christmas.

Stained glass windows are usually more happy and cheerful than that, so to have such a window portend doom (thanks to the zombie hand) is a nice subversion. If I may be technical, the lines seem a bit too uneven at times to look like a proper stained glass window, but maybe that's what you were going for—a sense of unease.
#30 ·
· on As Above...
In which the average human doesn't know of his Morlock neighbors.

The top half is somewhat lackluster (especially with the drawn human figure there), but the bottom half makes up for it and then some. The idea of a Morlock-esque group of humans living in the underground and being able to crawl on the ceiling like lizards?! A sense of dread to be had, that is for sure.
#31 · 1
· on Dead in the Water
In which—boom.

Up front, I'll have to abstain on this one because the story is a work-in-progress. I like the reasoning in the outline for the latter parts of the story, but I think it would be unfair to judge those parts of the story as is.

From the parts of the story that are fleshed out: there is a good sense of worldbuilding without being too heavy that it bloats the word count, and there is good characterization (especially with calm Tobias and ever-angry William). The investigator paragraphs (talking about the murder) fit right in with a crime thriller: tight, logical, and rarely if ever going into useless tangents.

All in all, a pretty good story but sadly an incomplete one. I'll vote Abstain for now.
#32 ·
· on The Americas and the Second Sun
In which foreign relations reach the next level.

There are quite a few errors here and there, notably the periods at the end of the letters and then resurrecting Sergeant Major Adam Montgomery into a First Lieutenant on the other side of the war—which makes the whole official/professional format of the story being discovered in some terminal computer (Fallout style?) somewhat unbelievable.

William also comes off as too jerkish for Charlotte to love. It was alright when he was a clueless lover, but his final appearance with him in the room with Charlotte gives off creepy vibes. Or maybe I'm reading too much into this, but still.

Also, the payoff seems muddied. We get the reveal on what's actually going on (the reveal of Operation Second Sun), but it makes the other threads going on in the story seem irrelevant and useless. A mystery fic where it baits and switches here and there is good if the red herrings are few and far between, but I think the story borders on having one red herring too many.

All that aside, this is a good fic in terms of ideas and I can't fault the writer for being creative by restricting himself into just writing through discovered media. The ability to tackle the sheer variety of voices in this fic (especially when you contrast the dry Metanormal Divison correspondence with that sappy love letter from William) is no easy feat and I think you've managed to hit the mark almost all the time. Worldbuilding-wise, it's good enough: didn't flood us with too many incessant details; just gave the reader enough details to know this isn't exactly Earth and to be immersed in some of the flavor. And the moral(?) of duty as well with that final letter from Charlotte... yes, that too.

Overall, a great story about being out of this world!
#33 ·
· on Signs of Life at Event Horizon Station

Well, this was a wonderful surprise!

First off, this is photo manipulation. The source image is here.

As for the pic itself, I must admit that the signs of life at the center is a bit too dark or indistinct as libertydude and CoffeeMinion have pointed out. Sadly, the idea never occurred to me to just add more to it—I had the incorrect mindset that I could only manipulate photos that I didn't at least try, well, adding some more into it (or at least changing the color of the little lights there so it stands out more—like a thermal imaging camera).

Still, I was and still am glad about how the pic turned out. It is good to know that you've enjoyed it so well that it got first place.

Thank you, and see you around for the fic stage!
#34 · 1
· on In the End Was the Word
>>libertydude, >>CoffeeMinion, >>Comma Typer

In the End Was the Word

Thanks for the great comments and the silver, y'all.

This is the volcano of Augustine Island, Alaska. I altered the vertical height in Google Earth for a dramatic effect (though it is impressive enough in its own right), and overlaid font effects with Illustrator and Photoshop. The font is called Alphabet of the Magi, and the words that are dooming the Earth are the lyrics to These Are Days by 10,000 Maniacs.
#35 · 1
· on Root Causes
>>libertydude, >>CoffeeMinion, >>Comma Typer

Root Causes

After that intro post of mine to this round, I wanted to include one pic that was hand drawn. I sketched this with colored pencils the night before everything was due. I had nothing in mind save that plants can form underground networks by which they can 'learn' things from each other.
#36 · 1
· on What Comes with Spring
>>libertydude, >>CoffeeMinion, >>Comma Typer

What Comes with Spring

Thanks for the comments and the fics!

I thought of a letter being delivered to the surface from below, and originally wanted it to be in flames, but this was a bit much considering the doom-volcano. I wound up making an envelope from parchment paper and a seal crafted from Sculpey with golden powder inlaid, and took a torch to it gently.

I took a number of shots on the rainy day before the contest closed with indifferent results, but got this shot on the sunny morning after, an hour before the deadline. The foreground plants are hostas, reappearing in front of my house in time for spring.
#37 · 1
· on The Americas and the Second Sun · >>Comma Typer
So I think the key issue with the story here is that the two narratives don't really play nice with each other within the context of the story. The character story ends up going underdeveloped because our view is so far removed from the characters (and served out between a lot of metastory) and the metastory doesn't end up functioning because we are kept in a little too close to every get a solid enough understanding of what's going on to really invest in the stakes.

I think both story ideas are solid in and of themselves, but I think together, in this format, they actively detract from each other. A really solid example of this is the entire ending. We don't really understand Charlotte's emotional stakes (we're told she's a patriot, but we don't really have an opportunity to understand why), so her decision at the end feels somewhat hollow - especially because we understand very little of what she's gone through. What we do understand of what she's gone through actually paints a picture of a woman who has been abused substantially and should, by all rights, be very, very angry.

I think the main thing you really want to change here is you want to focus in on the story you actually want to tell: is this a story about a parallel world interfering in a war or is it a story about one woman's personal journey through that? You can have both elements (although in a more unusual narrative like this it is going to be a bit harder), but you need to understand what your real goal is so that you can provide a satisfying resolution to that narrative.

I want to really hammer it home with the conclusion of the story. It really doesn't at all follow with the narrative we are provided. The first character we actually get a view from is William (which sets up the expectation that he is actually the primary character), and, in fact, perspective (as it is) is pretty heavily channeled through him given Charlotte disappears part way through the narrative. And (I'll double check this when I get more to the in-line reading stuff) it feels like the majority of notes are not directly about their personal journeys, but are more about building the meta narrative. So it is very jarring to suddenly have this deeply personal resolution.

I haven’t chatted about the ever popular MICE quotient, so let’s do it here. Obviously writing rules can be broken, but I generally approve of the MICE idea and I think it effectively demonstrates here. Basically, there are 4 main types of story: milieu (a story about a world), idea (a story about an idea), character (a story about… well you get the idea), and event (a story about a thing happening). It’s basically “what is the focus of the story that is being told.”

Now obviously stories can be composed of all these things. Most larger narratives are gonna feature more than one. And that is where nesting MICE comes in. See, you want to have you story resolve in a roughly first in, last out order. Like, this is a sloppy example, but Disney’s Hercules (my child has watched this a lot recently) I’d say, in quick fashion, is a character and event story. The character is about Hercules, the event is Hades trying to do evil shit.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get a bit more specific. The story opens by presenting us Hercules and his life, establishing that this story is primarily about him. It then proceeds to move us into Hades’ plot, establishing the villainous plot. Now, we fast forward and the climax of the villainous plot is then the one to occur with Hercules stopping the Titans, and then the character plot resolves with Hercules becoming a true hero. And it feels good because the primary plot we established was “this is a story about a person” as the biggest idea. Imagine if we resolved Hercules’ internal character conflict earlier in the plot, then dealt with the hades plot. It would feel a bit… limp. Because we were communicated that the main focus of the story was Hercules himself, with a secondary focus on the villain plot, because that’s the order information was presented to us.

So the point I wanted to make with all that rambling was this story sort of trips itself up in three big ways. One, it ostensibly opens as a milieu story (what little we can derive from the actual opening lings positions it as sorta being about the world because that is the only info we have) but ends as a character story, two, it ends as a character story but doesn’t really take us on a journey to get there (not only does Charlotte not change, develop, or really do anything within the context of the story, but we also don’t really see it happen even if you want to argue it does), and three, it unexpectedly swaps characters on us for no real gain by setting us up to believe that William is the protagonist but concluding with Charlotte.

Whew. Anyway. Onto a more detailed look at individual scenes.

Your opening lines are actually a bit of an anti-hook. They do establish some minor things, but the fact that they are basically just me looking at a computer screen in a white room that is providing me with some fairly generic stuff immediately sets me into skimming mode. Ideally we should actually frame Charlotte here, properly establishing her as a primary character. We don’t need to name her, detail her, or anything, we just need to frame it so that she exists, is clearly our primary protagonist, and present some sort of emotional stake that we can key into with that ending. We can let the letters provide the context that leads from opening to ending, making her identity a reveal in that way.

This also cleans up the issue a bit with leading with William’s letter, since now we’ve established our true protagonist, and this instead lets you set up for the subversion to be clearer where you present it as a war romance but instead it is about her lover of her country.

That said, it might still be worth leading with like, the New York City Occupied article with some slight expansions (or just rolling more of that info into William’s letter). There really isn’t much to be gained from obscuring a lot of the basic facts here (who the war is between, what the time period is, etc). It’s clear that it is an alternate timeline (or at least unlikely to be near future) and I don’t think the doling out of those facts adds much.

Like, initially the language provided, the style of letter, ane “North” stuff, etc, instead makes me think this is like, closer to the Civil War or somewhere between. And I just don’t see what the slow roll out of that adds aside from forcing me to reevaluate my mental images.

Oh. And how the hell William and Charlotte come into contact is something that just… never really makes sense to me? Like I sorta get the gist that his unit gets a letter from her, he responds, etc, but all in all it kinda ends up feeling weird because how casually and easily these letters seem to reach each other kinda creates a much less urgent air? I suppose this helps ramp the stakes later, but it does feel weird.

Language is kinda wild in this. The diction puts me in mind of WW2 letters, but the language is often pretty modern. Maybe too modern for the actual timeframe of the story? But I might be wrong there. It just feels like some of the slang and color is more at home in 2020 than 1980.

Sending letters with information like “we’ve joined with a bunch of preppers” feels a bit like a bad idea. To a similar degree, her mentioning that the courier has more info in a separate note also feels a bit weird, sine our private doesn’t really need to know that, does he? This kinda gets acknowledged in a letter or two, but I don’t think it solves the concern.

The introduction of the mysterious building levelling is a problem because, as this subplot grows, it kinda gets more confusing and I feel there is never a satisfactory answer for it? We’ll see when I get back to it, but the combination of the increasing mysteriousness (half of New York gone!) is kinda undercut by the fact that I’m never really sure what it actually means. Like, it’s too mysterious in that I don’t even understand what’s happening in the broadest terms, let alone the secret background explanation.

That said, at this point you’ve pretty reasonably established the overall stakes and players, filled out some motivations, etc. That’s a really good thing! Despite the more unusual formatting, you’ve gotten us to the key information with solid speed and each letter has been important for forwarding the plot. It’s a great use of your format.

It occurs to me that the timeframe for this story is a bit odd. Like, the nature of letters means these are probably getting spaced out, but William seems to take forever to do anything.

The letter about the scuffle works fine in the moment, but it actually feels a bit like a cheat in retrospect? Like, is Estate Zero really so bad at their job that they managed to start a brawl because they didn’t think someone would be curious about the newer tech they were bringing out?

The pronouncement of love is a bit… awkward. Even in terms of it being an immature and brash declaration, the skipped irrelevant letters feel really important here to better establish where this comes from – even if it is just a crush. I dunno. This might just be personal though.

Also, some of the notes are odd. Is this the computer informing that intel gathering efforts in the area increased? Seriously though, personal letters being sent this way seems really iffy. Like, you’re really risking courier lives and getting followed to hidden areas for this stuff?

The old USA reference is actually a pretty clever hint. Though it muddies the timeline further in that I was under the impression the split was somewhat recent, so referring to the old USA wouldn’t be that weird?

I also feel like I must say that I stand corrected and the early half is waaaaay more letter heavy than I remembered.

The Sergeant Major Adam Montgomery note is a weird one and I’m not sure what to make of it aside from portraying William’s obsession as escalating dangerously? Because I’m seriously not sure why he is interrogating a crystal ball reader at gunpoint. Like, it doesn’t feel like we have the build up to this, especially since Andrew refusing to send messages (which might be an additional trigger instead of just one intercepted letter) is the next scene.

Andrew’s response here feels really late here, but I mentioned that above.

It looks like this is why I misremembered the letter ratio: this is where they kinda disappear. And not just the letters either. William and Charlotte kinda disappear from the narrative for a while, which doesn’t work when, at its heart, this is a character story.

This was something that bugged me a lot. The initial implication with the apartment building was that it was destroyed, but now we are talking “vanished” buildings. And what that actually means is important. Like, is it just an empty plot of land? Ruins? Etc? This problem gets way worse later with the more extreme disappearances because I, the reader, don’t understand what I’m supposed to be confused about, if that makes sense.

The intercepted conversation feels a bit forced, largely because David kinda oscillates between being sick of William’s shit and humoring him.

I stand corrected again. We are back to letters. My memory sucks. Though how these letters are happening is a bit of a question mark.

So travelling down, the reveal of Keith’s stuff here is a little awkward, because we get no real view of him. The fact that he is essentially as important as William (arguably moreso to the metaplot) but we get this kinda out of nowhere “stop crushing on Charlotte, dude” letter kinda jarrs the shape of information. In a way that I don’t think works.

And I think this is really emblematic of why this format doesn’t work with the character story here. We have essentially skipped a lot of character information in reaching the delivery of this information: why William is so obsessed, why he goes AWOL to find Charlotte when it doesn’t seem like he needs to, how he finds her, etc, plus anything about Keith, what Charlotte has been doing, etc. And the issue just sort of expands as it continues. Why the hell is Estate Zero letting them see each other. How has Keith so easily evaded the estate. Why Charlotte is saying anything about keeping fidelity when she hasn’t expressed anything back. Etc. basically it gets TOO involved in the character minutiae for the format to keep up with.

So the full reveal occurs and… it sorta leave a lot of questions to be answered? Like we can write a lot off by “the organization is incompetent,” but even then, there are questions like: why? How did they break things so badly? Etc. I also feel like the timeline scanner statement kinda breaks things, because wouldn’t they be better able to predict outcomes with that? It also kinda removes a lot of meaning from the actions of the characters because, essentially, they have been robbed of agency by a larger and more powerful force that they have no impact on. Hell, William doesn’t get any real resolution to anything, getting memory wiped, shoved out, and… ??? I mean, presumably dead by nuke, but for a character who was sorta set as our protagonist, it is a real non answer.

Oh, and the missing buildings are never explained. I assume it is timey wimey, but you really can’t present that as a real mystery and then not provide some sort of definitive answer.

And then we hit the end and… it is kind of a messy in terms of Charlotte. Like, honestly, the entire plot represents a pretty severe violation of her personhood. She is manipulated, kidnapped, brainwashed, etc and she comes off as very… casual about it? Even kind of positive. Yet at the same time she so badly wants to go back to… what is probably a nuclear hellscape? And she romanticizes this in a way that just doesn’t feel like it connects. She is more a symbol than a character in a lot of ways, and it is no more apparent here where nothing about her choices really feels like it adds up. And maybe you could get there, but we lack the character work to do it.

So, returning to the beginning, my opinion remains largely unchanged. I think you’ve got two excellent story ideas here, but you really need to focus in on one of them.
#38 ·
· on The Earthworm: A Child's Tale
So, as seems to be a trend for this round, this is another story where I feel the ending kind of lets it down. I actually like quite a bit of what is going on here, and I think about partway through the mood established really flourishes into a nice sense of eerie surreality that is pleasantly pretty affecting.

Which sort of becomes a problem when the end slams us into “it was reality all along, mother fucker.” I said it in chat, I think, but I much preferred this story as allegory rather than the titular Earthworm being metaphorical. And hopefully I’ll be able to sort of organize that into a somewhat coherent thought.

I think the sense of disjunction that occurs with the metaphor that occurs throughout the story is a little easier to deal with when this is just a grand and mysterious earthworm, rather than our decidedly less mysterious (but just as grand) Earthworm. The worm being magical allows for a slightly greater sense of disbelief to be easily lent, while the worm being a boy ends up causing me to ask questions. Especially since it is posed as a reveal, which encourages me to go back and find the clues.

And they are most definitely there and well laid, I feel. Maybe I was just a doofus reading the first time through, but I did bypass the clues as our worm being somewhat fantastical in nature, but could clearly see them looking back. But I think they ultimately end up raising more questions then the story was prepared to answer.

Looking back at the beginning, it really sort of amplifies my issue with the end in a few different ways. You start with a fairy tale beginning (quite literally), but the ending does not create a proper mirror for it (at least insofar as I see it, it has been a bit since I read a bunch of fairy tales). I realize you could be going for a bit of a subversion, but I don’t feel like it quotes get there either. The problem is that the story’s throughline just… doesn’t really exist?

That’s where I feel the big disconnect happens. I’m just not sure what the story is trying to say. There isn’t really an emotional or narrative arc that goes the whole through. There are definitely hints of them, but it doesn’t feel like you managed to bring them into the actual conclusion.

Anyhow, back to the body. You start off real strong, introducing idea and motivation. Like I said above, the ideas are pretty well woven here and you do a decent job of concealing your intention. But with foreknowledge of the end, I’m kinda positioned to ask “why?” Assuming I’m not really completely failing at this story, I’m not really sure what the twist here really manages that is better served by making it a twist instead of spelling it out more directly initially, aside from an “ah-hah!” moment.

(I also wish to aside here to say that I remain disappointed this was not a magical worm carving Lovecraftian designs beneath the Earth. Obviously I shouldn’t judge the story for what it’s not, but oh, for the road not travelled…)

With the departure of the family we have a potential idea, the connection between the earthworm and humans, but I feel this goes kind of underexplored, mainly because the two interactions he really has are short and kind of unexplored.

After the departure of the family is where my attention started lagging the first time through, and a second read doesn’t really seem to help. The time spent ruminating on the lost family and in a fairly straightforward “chase” sequence is really long and doesn’t do much to actually advance the story in a meaningful way.

Honestly, I think in the same way that Water is too long for the format, Earthworm is too short for the format. You could probably tighten up to sub 2500 fairly easily? Maybe.

Anyhow, the chase especially is where I sort of lose the plot of what is really happening, so that’s another problem. Like the actual action being committed doesn’t read cleanly either with a literal worm or a metaphorical worm, which really kinda amplifies the sequence feeling a bit flabby.

And then we roll into the end and, like I keep saying, I’m just not sure what to do with it. This is not to say that every story must give you some straightforward, clear answer, it’s just that I’m not sure what direction to take this. Like there is nothing for me to glom onto. The exploitation of art? The dual nature of humanity? The corruption of the innocent? Etc. There are things I think about, but none of them really read well into the text.

The reveal and the final lines and everything have a definite sense of poignancy – they’re good lines – but I just don’t think they stand up under scrutiny.

What I’m saying is this story really needs needs a stronger throughline to deliver a conclusion. I really do love the early half of this story, but I just think it loses steam as it continues. So tighten that up.

Or make it about a magical earthworm that summons otherworldly abominations.
#39 ·
· on The Brave and the 'Bold · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Let’s start this pretty straight out: of the four fics this round, Brave and the Bold is the one that most successfully achieved its goals. Those goals are not necessarily to my liking but, in measuring terms of success as a complete and cohesive work, this goofy fantasy quasi-grossout romp did it. So kudos. There is 100% something to be said for just doing a solid job telling a story.

I do think the bookends of the story are kinda wasted space. The opening narrative bit efficiently sets some information and then allows you immediately undercut it to humorous effect. So I could live with it. The end one, however, I think, falls flat. The story, as set, is about our two moron protagonists. The introductory paragraph does not establish enough plot relevance to this scholarly presence to really justify closing out on it. It just ends up feeling a bit limp and disconnected.

Imagine if Terry Pratchett had concluded his Discworld stories with an outro that flew back out to Great A’tuin. It’d be a bit of a thud (heh) for an ending because, ultimately, that is not the story being told.

Also it means you miss out on the obvious comic opportunities of our two protagonists to snipe at each other as they drift out to sea. Which I also think would be a better bookend for what feels very much like an episodic adventure.

That said, if you did want to stick with the narrator thing, then you need to establish it as an actual narrative rather than just a brief world setting device.

I actually feel kinda bad after expending like, a million words on the last two stories, because I have a lot less to say here, because you aimed for a very straightforward narrative and you successfully executed on it.

Still, let’s look into the lines a bit.

Oh, right. This might be a somewhat unique problem, but your calling of the victuallers scavs caused a massive derail for me, because I was trying to figure out if they were supposed to be yinglets, especially since you switched to a mammal swear when referring to them too. Obviously being aware of every fantasy race name/slur/nickname is a bit hard, but it just jumped out, especially since the kobolds kinda evoke them too.

But yeah, even looking back through, I don’t really have much to say here. It’s a low-class comedy that executes its pieces well. I suppose maybe trying to work a bit more in the way of actual jokes into it? A lot of the comedy ls leaning on the toilet humor (though there are a couple other lines), so if that falls flat, the whole thing falls a little flat?

The beginning especially is a place where the fic probably plays a bit straight for its own good, with the scene being bereft of any real jokes or even humerous situations outside mildly dumb characters and a bit of silly cursing.
#40 ·
· on Dead in the Water
Author, I know your pain. I'm sorry you had to commit your fic in such a state.

My main critique in this state is that if you mean Raegin to be the killer, don't make him such an inviting target of hate from the start and choose a less sinister name. Or he could become a red-herring, with the takeaway that he may be racist/genderist, but that doesn't mean he'd stoop to murder... As it stands, he's sort of telegraphed as the person the author intends to make the scapegoat, and a murder mystery shouldn't foreshadow that unless it's a how- or why-dunnit.

Thanks for making the effort, and I hope to see you next round with a completed story.
#41 · 1
· on The Americas and the Second Sun · >>Comma Typer
I wish to string along with Andrew here; the leaping back and forth seemed to sap the energy from the fic rather than enhance it. I haven't anything else to add. Good luck, Author, and see you next time!
#42 ·
· on The Brave and the 'Bold
As Andrew asseverated, this is a silly romp that largely achieves what it set out to do. I got a chuckle here and there. Good work, Author, and see you next round.
#43 ·
· on The Earthworm: A Child's Tale
A sort of reminder that the age tends to influence the artist more than the artist the age. I agree with Andrew that you didn't quite stick the landing. I hope to see more in future rounds, Author!
#44 ·
And, to round out our quadrology of stories with flawed endings, we have one where the ending didn't actually happen. That is a pretty big flaw and probably the first thing to be fixed. :p

More seriously though, much like I feel Earthworm probably wanted to dip below the minimum word count, this story probably exceeds the max. And probably by no small amount either. Even accounting for the unwritten portion, there is the bigger problem in that, as it stands, it's way too easy to immediately guess the culprit on nothing more than conservation of characters. It isn't the protagonist, it isn't the trans mermaid woobie, it isn't the "abrasive but really just cares for His People" guy... and that only leaves one other character, who has no other obvious purpose in the narrative and drips offputting racism at every opportunity.

While I say it doesn't need cuts, it also sort of does need cuts, because there's so much extraneous stuff going on here. Building a fantasy world, then crashing that fantasy world with a bunch of earth humans, and also some of those earth humans are monstergirls, and also some of them are in the wrong gender body, let's throw both fantasy racial issues and earth racial issues and trans issues and class issues and fantasy economy issues and also make the crime scene an aquatic D&D adventure for good measure. Why the heck not! (see above for the answer of why not)

Seriously, there is a lot going on in the story and while it is interesting and you manage to get a lot of information out there with real efficiency, it borders on overwhelming. This would probably be be better as an individual episode in a larger story or something, where you don't have to slam all this information down at once.

And to reiterate, this really does need another viable suspect. Even if it's not a true mystery story and more a police procedural, that still requires there be a little more give and take with potential suspects.

And honestly I'm really tired right now and can't focus on giving this a line by line. Check out the Discord if you didn't, because they had some good thoughts. If you're still interested, let me know and I'll put the time in this week.
#45 ·
· on The Brave and the 'Bold · >>GroaningGreyAgony
In which high-class brandy meets low-class toilet.

It's a very subtle piece and, for the most part, it held solidly because the story is focused on some two goofballs trying to get in some drinking party—nothing too complex or convoluted. Just that, and the simplicity is quite fun.

The only problem I have here is the italic sections at the beginning and the end. With slight modifications, I think the story would do better without them. As is, they feel more like tack-ons in which the archaeologist(?) doesn't bear much importance at all to the story other than to offer a little humor here and there.

Overall, a great story from the underground sewers, no less!
#46 ·
· on The Earthworm: A Child's Tale
In which a good earthworm goes to war.

The ending is too ambiguous for me to be satisfied with. A part of me wanted to see some kind of status confirmed for the family that left the earthworm: Are they dead? Are they missing in action? Are they just very far away, safe and away from the war zone? Speaking of war: the theme is slightly unfocused—the defining trait of the earthworm is that he can sculpt and that holds very well even long after the family leaves, but when the soldiers start coming in, I have to wonder what their point is in relation to his sculpting ability. Why would the higher ups (presumably of a military sort) want a sculpting earthworm? Maybe because they don't have to pay an earthworm any salary, but I'm already making assumptions.

However, out of the four stories here, I think I could relate to this one the most in terms of tone and everything else. It reminds me a lot of childhood stories, which makes the dark turns later in the tale somewhat surreal. Granted, I was listening to some ambience while reading this, but still: it's nostalgic and a little dreamy reading this thanks to your style. In terms of reading experience alone, this one takes the cake and then some.

So, overall, this is a fic that's quite solid despite the depressing and somewhat unresolved ending.
#47 ·
· on The Americas and the Second Sun

I agree with pretty much everything said in the reviews (or, rather, the one long review and the one short one here).

I think clutching onto a gimmick for too long did it in for this story. I was inspired with the clinical form and discovered media that the SCP Foundation uses a lot in their fiction, and I tried to replicate that here—except, having never even attempted writing an SCP article before, I think I got Dunning-Krugered a lot here. That, coupled with having a Turtledove book in my collection and wanting to worldbuild, made me get sidetracked by a lot of things that I ended up losing focus on what the theme of the story should be—or wo or what I'm even supposed to be writing about in the first place.

Needless to say, this is definitely not my best piece of work: but at least I did it and can lean from it.

Thank you for the feedback you've given and for giving this story a shot. I'll learn from it and hope to do better!
#48 · 2
· on The Brave and the 'Bold
>>AndrewRogue, >>Comma Typer

To Boldly Ko...

Thanks for the gold, congrats to Comma and our unknown author, and commiserations to Andrew.

On the night before deadline, I was close to being dead in the water myself; I was a thousand words into a story that needed several thousands more to be effective, and I knew I couldn't finish it in time. I set it aside and managed to come up with a simple idea that I felt I could execute in the time I had left. I was in a snarky enough mood to comment on the ill-considered activities of venal little drunken monsters, and so the thing was done.

I regret the yinglet confusion; I meant them to be kobolds, but ones whose duties included scavenging human trash for edibles and delicacies. I did pick up the term "scav" from Out of Placers. outed as furry oh noes