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No Prompt! Have Fun! · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
#401 · 5
· on Landscape Photography · >>horizon >>Southpaw
...well, this has turned into kind of a weird conversation.

Okay, y'all, this story is not all that good. I'm totally cool with it not making the cut. For once, I think I'm going to post a recap blog on this guy, now that my anonymity is gone. (Some of that is because I'm starting to think maybe this is worth trying to salvage into something, given the reaction; last night I was just thinking of tossing this on the junk heap.) So if I'm going to be perfectly honest, here are what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of this story.

- Nice prose
- Nice tone

- Lack of character building (all told, nothing shown)
- Weak world-building (Sec.4 explanation feels unmoored to the rest of the story)
- Lack of conflict and plot
- Loose theme (I have an emotion I was shooting for, but I couldn't put clear theme into words here)

That's just on the top level. I'd also quibble with the balance of foreshadowing—I didn't really start in on the "humanity in retreat" thing until Sec.3, largely because I didn't settle on it until at least Sec.2. I agree with >>Ferd Threstle's two major points about the use of Pripyat and the choice to describe the final photo as compositionally perfect. There are a few other issues readers have brought up as well, though I think I'll break a couple of these out for a longer discussion.

>>TitaniumDragon mentions that the first scene with the (not directly named) Moeraki boulders doesn't tie into the overall story very well, which I consider an excellent catch. I know it's kind of lame, but this is the first serious writing I've accomplished in about six months, and that first scene was me trying to ease myself into something. I took the old "write what you know" dictum and minimally modified an actual event from my life. You can see the photo I took here—I think it's probably about the best shot I've ever managed. (I dropped or changed a few surface details, like the fact that it was actually a fairly lame digital camera that I used, and that I sat in the car for about half an hour playing PSP games, waiting for sunrise to get closer—hey, what is artistic license for?) Anyway, point here being that I strongly agree with TD's call about Sec.1 not really tying into the other sections except tonally. That's a thing that needs fixing. I should be foreshadowing a lot more stuff in this section, and I'll need to think about how to do so.

I also thought >>Southpaw caught a couple good points, but the ones that hit home for me largely made it into my self-review above. (I actually disagree with the Nikon thing; I like having the proper noun to change up the wordspace a little and provide a bit of extra concretization.) I definitely agree that Sec.1 and Sec.3 aren't really pulling their weight narratively—but then again, the overall absence of narrative is one of the larger problems in this story, to me, when you compare it to one of this round's really excellent entries like "The Precession of the (Goddamn) Equinoxes" or "The Name Upon his Forehead". It also seems like a few readers thought the photographer was using the same roll of film the whole time. I think I need to do more to make sure I don't accidentally leave that impression. He talks about having many rolls of film in Sec.1, but it's a throwaway comment with a lot less narrative importance than the Sec.3 stuff that sticks in people's heads.

>>Baal Bunny's comment was one of those, "Dammit, Mike, I hate you but I love you" things. I'd decided on the overall structure for the story fairly early: three photographic sections, broken up with two introspective ones. I got into the middle of writing the second introspective one, didn't particularly like how it was going, and in particular found that I really didn't like the mixing between the two ideas there. But I'd already basically written the section, and I didn't have a lot of good ideas for what else to do with the space or how to make the story there work better, so I wrote a couple extra sentences in the section to try to paper over some of the problems and left it as is. I'm glad I got called on it, though; it's easy to assume your quick-fixes work when you've already looked at a spot and messed with it. It's good to hear you still didn't really fix the larger issue underneath.

And of course I agree with everything >>horizon says, because horizon is a frickin' genius. I tried to drop some timing information in the Kolmanskuppe section, about how many years it had been since Namibian diamond mining was a major industry with German settlers. Why on earth I thought this would be sufficient information for anybody to infer a timeline is completely beyond me—it's not like I wasn't on Wikipedia when I wrote it, trying to pin that stuff down. Who here is going to know enough about diamond mining in southern Africa to pin down a timeframe based on that? The choice to make the Nikon a hand-me-down from the photographer's father was supposed to get at the first timing issue raised, though I obviously could have made that more textual. Given that it's got some good characterization value in it, not making it more textual was kind of dumb. The Pripyat thing, too, if you've *cough* watched a few documentaries on it *cough* you might know that there are already some families living out in the exclusion zone. It's a lot of free land, and a lot of it isn't actually that bad. So, at least to me, there's really no suggestion with Pripyat that we'd be moving thousands of years into the future until parts of the radiation really started dying down. I was also trying for this subtle idea that the photographer was going there to view the more radioactive parts of the plant, knowing he'd die but wanting to experience this sort of holy grail of human places without humanity. I'd wanted to tie in thoughts about the film being useless because he knew that it'd be ruined as soon as he went inside the plant, too. But things really didn't come together here, because I also wanted to confront him with people and make him change his mind, and it just didn't seem to make a lot of sense to have him expositing about all the bad things that'll happen and then completely changing what does happen.

Anyway, the Pripyat section is just a mess in a lot of ways. There are elements of it I like, but those are mostly the character, plot, and theme elements that I finally started using a bit there after skipping over them in the first four sections. I'll probably pick a new setting and redo that entirely. Given that this is supposed to be a future setting, I think it's really kind of dumb to not be walking the photographer through one or more places that tell stories about that unknown future we haven't seen.

This guy's probably going to take a lot of work, but at least I think y'all have convinced me that it's not a complete lost cause.
#402 · 3
· on Tiny Planets · >>Lucky_Dreams
Do you believe in magic? In a young girl’s heart? This story made me believe it. It’s a great spinoff to the usual wizard and witches scenes we’ve come to known *COUGH* HARRY POTTER! This story features a much smaller prestigious school meant as a means for young casters to learn how to handle magic. While at the same time acts like a normal middle school that teaches the basics of modern society. We find ourselves within the mind of a troubled student. Contemplating her difficulties on her life choices and her current path towards growing up. It is a touching little piece that should light a spark in your heart. Believe in the magic that will set you free. And no I’m not sorry.

This was something I could totally dig into the story and just bathe in it. The scene work and the quality of how the scenery was thought out fit so well in my head. Maybe a certain movie is to blame for it, but everything in my head popped out vividly. Even with the description on the planets at the ending or the way the magic seemed to look like when casted. It’s a beautifully thought out world. From the classrooms to the snowy fields. It gave just enough insight to experience what the characters had experienced while taking in these scenes. My main problem though, is that it felt like it came from somewhere already. Like we’ve seen it all before. Almost a little too easily to trust it completely. And the descriptions just seemed to not feel right to go along with the wonderful atmosphere.

This story was so easy to just dive into and lose yourself. While I’m not a bit fan of magic stories (LAIR! You watch MLP!). This story was just so well done on it’s immersion that I came to love the whole idea of this story. In the end we see a burst of skill and talent come from the heart of a young child. To create a wonderful effect of magic in a creative display. It doesn’t deal too much with the magic in the story, but along the lines of it’s dramatic relationships with parents, teachers, and fellow students. You get a sense of sympathy for Sophie as we’ve all come to experience classes going through big tests and having to go through things in life that we feel like wasn’t intended for us. It used basic simple means in the events to connect with it’s audience. This story read like a wooden match for me. Lit up with a small spark of the tip and suddenly turning into a burning flame at the end as things escalated to a grand display of magic. What did turn the captivation off, and quite often. Was the strange details not adding up properly. We have a proper setting, world, character choice, and background. What we didn’t get was a good explanation of these details. As they moved about in the story from the intro to Sophie’s fears coming alive or her running away and feeling the cold air more comforting than the stuffy classroom. The environment was place accordingly. But the intial reactions and feelings felt like a foul ball here.

I’m sorry but the one thing making my face scrunch up was the way the writer tries to put things in detail. I love detail, but relating a dreaded deadly snake to the loving cold embrace of a freedom filled snowbank just didn’t fit. I would have used “Winter’s chilling arms” or “icy veil” And this is just one example. Another is Sophie’s paperwork laughing at her but also resembling ink worms? Was it a face or did the letters come alive to scatter along her desk in resistance to her efforts? These, and others, just didn’t fit together and at times just immediately broke the immersion factor of your story. Which it’s easy to fall in love with it and get lost in this magical world. I think just taking a bit more time to look over a bit of your interpretation of things would benefit you greatly.

-Minor Characters
To tell you the truth. I could barely grasp the minor characters at all in the story. They’re mentioned and make one or two lines before being completely cut off in the story. Sophie’s friends feel like they really didn’t have an impact at all. Mr. Wrumstrum must also be a horrible teacher to not be able to catch one little girl. It’s also very strange how everyone in the end flocked to her as if on queue. Why did it take the teachers so long to find Sophie? Most teachers would have followed the student and brought them back in class or ended up having a buddy escort her out. What about Sophie’s parents? I wanted to get to know them more. What were their motives? Why did they always want to be hurtful in their own senses. Even Harry’s family had a reason to hate him, judging him to be something unholy and dangerous to mankind due to being a wizard. Where was the reasoning behind these characters actions? Alice had little to no reason to join Sophie and the other girl felt barely like a friend.

I need to point this out. Some of the actions make no sense. Again as with the teachers leaving Sophie for what felt like 30 minutes. The whole school searching for her and some physics in the story. Like I said the characters supporting Sophie seem to only torment her and then right one queue end up just being there. This needs to be more realistic to be entertaining. It just doesn’t feel natural for people to act this way in accordance to one character. Sophie felt catered to in this story, forcing the entire spotlight on her. Minor characters can make an even greater effect if you include them in the show as well. Keep that in mind. Another thing peeving me is the way Sophie just grew magic talent out of thin air, literally! The size of the mini-sun’s fire should have been way more intense to handle and I didn’t seem to feel it. The weight of having to use such complex spells didn’t have a strain on Sophie. Leaving nothing but a chill from the end of it all? Also the dancing just didn’t seem to come into my head. How was she dancing? Was she dancing along with the globes? Did she dabble her fingers across each one twirling her arms around in curls to augment these planets? I just didn’t feel the ending. I read it and understood it. Therefore logically I knew the lesson. It just didn’t seem to stick with what it felt like it was missing.

This story is one for the books. It was classy without being complex. It was touching without having to have a major relationship. It reminds us what we need to do for ourselves. That we should continue doing what we love, no matter what people say or think. Much like how we continue to write and love MLP. Forget the ones who choose to hate and waste their own time and energy. Spend yours on something that makes you smile and makes life better for “you” not for them. It’s all we can do. And this story signifies these things in a 10-15 minute read, without having to hide it behind some weird ending or some cliffhanger. I loved this one and I know this writer with continue to get better. Bravo!
#403 · 5
· on The Plight of the Unicorn-American
Well, I guess it's time for a retrospective on my story.

Given the lack of prompt, I figured that I would try a little something different this round. Honestly, I was worried about being disqualified for breaking anonymity -- my love of blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction is pretty well known around here, and to top it off, anyone willing to do a little research would have gotten even more clues as to my authorship. But I guess that's just the risk you take with a story about nonhumans in modern society complaining about the challenges of rural Internet.

The Plight of the Unicorn-American

The bottom line is that I had fun with this, but in hindsight, I wish I'd structured it a bit differently; it seems like it came across as a bit dry, starting as it did with the tight framing focus on a single Unicorn-American Hollywood star and then launching into centuries of encyclopedic history. The specific link to My Little Pony does beg the question of where the pegasi and earth ponies are, yes, and I should give some thought to how to lampshade that without losing sight of the core mythology joke around which this is structured. (I remain an unrepentant fan of that joke, though.)

I do wish that more people had commented on the details, because there's a lot of fun little items that require some picking up of subtleties or outside context, and I'm still not sure how well that worked for people besides me. The reference to problems with BART, for example, makes much more sense if you know that's the name of the (San Francisco) Bay Area Rapid Transit system. (That was another element I figured would finger me, since with BlazzingInferno missing, AFAIK I'm the only NorCal native entering this round.) There are some subtle digs that I, at least, found amusing, like the way that most GameStop clerks can see unicorns or the 1990s falling-out with the Catholic church over Catholic kids suddenly having problems with that. #shotsfired

I guess I'm not surprised with that aforementioned dry encyclopedic tone that this didn't make finals, but if I'd had a chance to rate this on my own slate, it would have been top-half with a Solid rating. The research here was great, but I might have to work a little bit on polishing the presentation. Thank you all for your feedback; that'll help a great deal!

... Yes, yes, I know that technically, this has >>TitaniumDragon's name as the author, but the reviewers blaming me for this in the thread can't all be wrong. :V
#404 · 8
>>Cold in Gardez
Writeoff Podcast review:

For some reason, I had severe problems playing this on my iPhone, and had to listen to it on my computer. Still, despite having listened to the first minute of the 30-minute podcast eight times in a row, this was a gripping tale of one man's struggle against a faceless, uncaring transit system, interspersed with a great deal of profound debate on the nature of story prompts. I think the biggest appeal for Writeoff fans, though, is the nostalgia factor -- remembering the greatest hits of days gone by, even if there was a weird fixation on the now-unavailable Start Recursion. Fortunately, the multiple mentions of the Writeoff's resident non-changeling were a welcome distraction from those debates, and the discussion of how to pronounce "CiG" should have most listeners rolling in the (bus) aisles.

Ultimately, this is worth it for that shining golden moment when the bus finally arrives. 10/10 would listen again
#405 · 2
· on Landscape Photography
>>Cold in Gardez >>Ratlab >>Southpaw
Yeah, despite my faint praise, this was third place in my voting. (Granted, I got a really unusual draw this round. Two of the DQs were on my starting slate, and out of the next 11 stories I pulled, only two of the ones I read ended up making finals.)

I'll be really interested after voting's over to see what the score spread is on this one.

Definitely keep working on this one! The sense of place is fantastic and the tone and prose are great. To use a photography metaphor, you've lined up a great shot, I think it just needs some refocusing.

And that picture you linked is indeed marvelous.
#406 · 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.
#407 · 1
· on Hollow Man
I'd like to thank everyone who read this for giving it a shot and apologize for how rushed and unstructured it turned out to be. I've had this idea for a story for a while now and I've been dragging my feet on committing to a plan and putting a draft down in words. The feedback I got should make it easier to figure out where to take it from here.

So when I said that I based this on Tarot, I mean that the story's themes are tied to The Fool, both in the modern sense of starting a journey (with Mattello waking up in a new world and having to get used to it) and with the original medieval depiction of madmen (with his depression and mental illness). I plan to eventually make a short story for every card in the Major Arcana and put them in a collection, though Mattello won't be the main character in all of them and might not make an appearance in some.

I have two goals in mind with this story. The first is to present a first impression of the new world through the eyes of someone who suddenly ends up there. Because of events I planned in the setting backstory, I wanted it to be somebody from the distant past. Besides, having someone from the real world transported to a fantasy land is overdone, and even though I know that it's still possible to retread old ground well, I already have other plans. I realize that introducing a strange new world through the eyes of someone who's already used to another strange new world is tricky. Final Fantasy 10 is the only story I've seen that pulled that off, kind of. The first step, I think, is differentiating the aesthetics and feel of those worlds and using Mattello's perspective to contrast the two (and also having the old world be closer to ours, for the sake of making it easier to understand.

The other is that I wanted to write a story about a man who killed himself. After one time I heard about a suicide, I wondered if, in circumstances where dead people still had feelings, those who killed themselves regretted their rash decision. Depression was the first circumstance for suicide that came to mind (though switching that out for something else isn't out of the question), so that's what I went with. I want him to try and cope with the implications of what he did, combined with the possible relapse of his depression after a dream life that made him perfectly happy, in a way that doesn't dismiss or minimize his condition but offers the promise of hope for a better future. It would parallel the basic point of the setting: much of the world is a hellish wasteland and life is much harder than it used to be, but things are getting better and people are starting to find ways to live beyond basic survival. Part of this universe is my response to people who are getting burned out of dark fantasy books like A Song of Ice and Fire. It's a dark and weird world, but it doesn't have to be miserable all the time.

Gee, thanks. I'm glad I wrote at least one decent sentence.
#408 ·
· on Landscape Photography
>>Bradel I'd love to read your re-work of this story if/when you decide to go through with that.

And that is an awesome photo. I didn't quite imagine the quality light (I can only capture sunsets here in the Bay Area, and they aren't often much to write home about) but otherwise that was pretty much how I imagined that frame.
#409 · 2
· on Almost Anything Can Be Repaired
Well, I told bats I'd do this one for him even though the story's no longer in competition. I've only got two finalists left to read, and a few days before voting ends, so I'll get to them a little later. Here goes! Same HORSE system, same HORSE channel.

19 – Almost Anything Can Be Repaired

First up, that is a freaking awesome hook. The thing that really makes it for me is the hard break that follows the first sentence. That takes balls, man, and I love it.

A couple points on the start of the next section. One, "She fought against it" is unclear to me. I had to think for a while to figure this out, because contextually it seems like she's fighting to wake but there's nothing that makes me feel like she has an urge to go back to sleep (i.e. the stupor thing doesn't communicate that to me). Two, you unfortunately spoiled me on what's going on here, so I don't have a totally unbiased view, but there's nothing before the face and the phrase "medical equipment" that makes me think she's reanimating. I would have initially read this as an afterlife thing, morphing into a Matrix thing as the biological description comes to the fore.

The use of the name "Gertie", coupled with 1992 and stroke, make me assume Jessica is quite old. The use of the word "rejuvenation" is strongly loaded for me, then; I was actually thinking aging was going to be one of the unrepairable things here.

I don't like the 1940 infodrop. I'm pretty invested in the horror of the reanimation process, which I'm quite liking. The pain memory idea makes sense to me, and I don't think you're completely off base to attempt something like this. But it just seems really, really, really weird to me that Jessica's mind would take a vacation from what's happening for long enough to spend three lines remembering what her life was like five decades before she died. Contrast with the "Young people always assumed the elderly must be frightened" and the "Gertie always told her she ate too many eggs." Those are both some great pieces of characterization, but they fit with the overall scene and add to it, rather than pulling me out of it for a few lines.

"Far off year" and its paragraph I get, though I don't really like it. It does sound weird, but it doesn't sound unreasonably weird. I think what I don't like about it is that it definitely gives me a vibe that the doctor is condescending. If that's what you're shooting for, great; but if not, I'd say maybe don't try to pitch his dialogue to the helpless rejuvie so much. (Everything following the frown helps considerably, but I do still feel like I'm losing a good amount of sympathy for him before that point, with his blanket assumptions about what Jessica is going to care about.)

Paragraph where Brian introduces himself, again he feels kind of weird to me. He's grinning and laughing, which is distinctly at odds with the professionalism I'd tend to expect from somebody doing his job. If this is intentional, I'd make Jessica think about it to lampshade it. Really, with any of his weird behavior you're intending, I think it'd make sense to lampshade it through her perspective and expectations. (Also, I really dislike the 'and' in the sentence where he introduces himself. It doesn't feel conversationally natural to me; it feels like he's mugging for the reader instead of talking to Jessica.)

Everything from 'vitrification' on down for a while feels a bit infodumpy (though I get that that's probably okay for a lot of published sci-fi). The word 'cryonicist' feels a little weird to me here, because I'd tend to read that as "someone who studies or practices cryonics" more than "someone who was frozen". And there's a really big question mark that's been hanging over this story for a while, but especially after the 'vitrification' line: Jessica didn't know she was getting frozen, did she? She's not acting all that surprised, but she's also not acting like she knew or expected this. The fact that it hasn't come up in the text yet, one way or the other, is starting to feel a little weird to me.

Nevermind, it looks like she did know. Or at least she's totally not surprised by any of this. I dunno, given the fact that cryonics seems like such a leap of faith at the present (and I think substantially moreso in the late 1980s and early 1990s), I feel like she could really do with an "It actually worked!" reaction at some point early on.

The mirror thing... I dunno, I guess it kind of goes to what I think of Brian again? It's hard for me to interpret it any way other than, "Damn, this Brian guy is completely incompetent at his job." Was he actually not aware of the possibility of a reaction like this? Is Jessica so weird that she's the only person it's happened to? Because otherwise, it seems like he should be trying to prepare her for the possibility that there will be a shock (and there will almost certainly be some shock anyway, since she's going to be young again). We know this guy tries to do okay by the employee handbook, even if he's bad at it (c.f. the "Welcome to the future!" paragraph). So he's either worse than we thought, or the employee handbook is just shit.

I'm expecting some twist at the end from Brian's perspective on the new face thing, because from his explanation it seems far more likely that her own memory of her face is what got screwed up than the face itself, for which they've presumably got a lot of information with bone structure and genetic detail that ought to be able to tell them what she really looked like.

And I got it. I think generally I like that last section, though it's probably a good dumping ground for a bit more technical information like a name-check or small explanation of the information decay problem. I think, in terms of Brian's character, it might also be nice to get some suggestion in the Jessica section that he wants to be more honest than the company wants him to be (which is not a thing I really picked up on).

The resolution is a little flat, but I think I'm pretty much okay with that. This belongs to a long tradition of sci-fi idea stories that don't really wrap up a plot so much as they end with a thought-provoking idea about the subject being discussed. Your "Gotta be a lot of 'em, if big mistakes do happen" paragraph is filling that role perfectly well.

All in all, I really enjoyed this story. There are bits I'd mess with, as discussed above, and this never really wows me the way "The Name Upon His Forehead" did, but I would be perfectly happy to read this (or a somewhat revised version of this, anyway) in a collection of professionally published speculative fiction.

HORSE: ▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉
TIER: Solid
#410 · 3
· on Extra
I grinned a lot:

At the beginning, grinned less and less as the story went on, and finally ended with a furrowed brow. Because as fun as this is, it literally goes nowhere--we start exactly where we ended, and I feel that, if the story had a point, I missed it somewhere along the line. The nearest I could come up with was Inkindri at the end saying, "Just because something’s not real, doesn’t mean it’s not important," but she's not acting as if she believes it. I mean, does she regret anything she did in the earlier seasons? Has she come to realize that the killing and the destruction that she's done was important even though it wasn't real?

That's my advice, then, author. If that's the point of the story, show us that Inkindri believes it now.

#411 · 2
· on The Name Upon His Forehead
This one left me:

Almost entirely confused. I mean, yes, it's a buncha golems, and Emet is investigating a crime--is it a murder? I can't even figure out that!

But I don't know what's happening at the beginning, I don't know what's happening in the middle, and I don't know what happens at the end. The writing's lovely, but the story whooshes so far over my head, I don't even feel its slipstream.

#412 · 4
· on Don't You Cry For Me · >>Not_A_Hat >>Dubs_Rewatcher
As Oblomov prodded me to do, I’m going to jot down a review written in French. Apologies, author.*

22. Don’t you cry for me

Pour commencer, je pense qu’évidemment tout le monde a dû s’imaginer qu’il s’agissait là de la fiction de Cold jusqu’à ce que lui-même se décide à écrire une critique. Tout le monde sait que Cold ne commente pas ses propres histoires, donc je pense que l’on peut l’exclure a priori de la liste des auteurs possibles, à moins qu’il n’ait voulu nous jouer un tour.

Il y a quelques petites erreurs d’étourderie çà et là, et c’est un peu étrange de les trouver dans un texte qui démontre une parfaite maîtrise de la langue. De l‘inattention sans doute, ou bien des lignes hâtivement changées dans la précipitation qui accompagne l’arrivée de l’échéance fatale. Pas de quoi casser trois pattes à un canard quand même. Quelqu’un d’autre s’est chargé de les relever à peu près in extenso.

Il gèle tard dans l’État de New-York il semble. Je ne m’attendais pas qu’en mars un étang pût être encore pris dans la glace. Mais soit.

En ce qui concerne l’histoire elle-même, il n’y a rien à dire sur le déroulement et le scénario. L’idée n’est certainement pas neuve, mais elle est habilement développée, si bien que l’on a pas cette impression de « déjà lu » que l’on pourrait avoir si l’écriture était moins fluide. En même temps, j’ai le sentiment que l’on passe beaucoup de temps sur des choses relativement peu importantes du point de vue de l’intrigue. Il est louable de nous montrer l’évolution de la mère et de la fille aînée, mais, finalement, qu’est-ce que cela apporte en fin de compte ? Pas grand chose. Disons que leur évolution ne change rien au dénouement. En comparaison, on peut se demander pourquoi la sœur cadette évolue si peu – du moins, rien n’indique dans le texte qu’elle change, comme si elle entrait dans une sorte de stase. Les conflits familiaux sont bien décrits, mais assez classiques : je ne dirais pas qu’on tombe dans le cliché, mais l’adolescente rebelle qui écoute son baladeur jusqu’à point d’heure, s’habille en gothique, etc. cela fait un peu déjà vu quand même.

La fin m’a laissé, pour ainsi dire, sur ma faim. D’abord, je ne comprends pas pourquoi l’aînée décide tout à coup de se rendre dans le cimetière. Qu’est-ce qui la pousse ? Ou bien j’ai involontairement sauté un paragraphe, ou bien je suis un peu idiot, mais je ne vois pas d’où provient cette impulsion subite. À propose de la conclusion, oui, disons que c’est un peu à l’eau de rose quand même. Je ne sais pas ce que j’aurais préféré, entre la solution qu’a choisi l’auteur et celle où il ne se passe rien. Sans doute cette dernière, qui m’aurait paru plus poignante : ce sont elles, et elles seules, qui trouvent l’énergie de résoudre leur problème, sans l’aide un peu artificielle de quelque chose qui n’est d’ailleurs jamais très bien décrit : est-ce autre chose qu’un simple sifflement du vent dans les branches des arbres ? Mystère.

Mais il n’en reste pas moins que cette histoire est, une nouvelle fois, très bien écrite, et mérite largement sa place en finale, rien que par la qualité et la beauté du style et de la langue.


* I have run the text through Google Translate. There are funny things coming out when I used idioms, but otherwise you should able to get the drift of it fairly easily.
#413 · 3
· on Don't You Cry For Me · >>Monokeras

So, I put this into Google Translate, and here's what I got....

"For starters, I think obviously everyone had to imagine that this was fiction Cold until he himself decides to write a review. Everyone knows that Cold does not comment on his own stories, so I think we can exclude a priori from the list of possible perpetrators, unless we have wanted to play a trick.

There are a few careless mistakes here and there, and it's a bit strange to find in a text that demonstrates a mastery of the language. Inattention probably, or lines hastily changed in a rush that accompanies the arrival of the fatal date. Not enough to break a three-legged cat anyway. Someone else is responsible to raise almost verbatim.

It freezes later in the State of New York it seems. I did not expect that in March a pond could still be trapped in the ice. But either.

Regarding the story itself, there is nothing to say about the course and the scenario. The idea is certainly not new, but it is cleverly developed, so that was not the impression of "already read" that we could have if the writing was less fluid. At the same time, I feel that we spend much time on relatively few important things from the perspective of the plot. It is commendable to show us the evolution of the mother and the eldest daughter, but, ultimately, what it brings in the end? Not much. Let's say that their evolution does not change the outcome. In comparison, one may wonder why the younger sister changes so little - at least there is nothing in the text it changes, as if it came in a kind of stasis. Family conflicts are well described, but conventional enough: I would not say it falls into the cliché, but the rebellious teenager who listens to her Walkman point of time, dressed in Gothic, etc. this is a little seen anyway.

The ending left me, so to speak, on my hunger. First, I do not understand why the elder suddenly decides to go to the cemetery. What the shoot? Or I inadvertently skipped a paragraph, or I'm a little silly, but I do not see whence comes this sudden impulse. In proposing to the conclusion, yes, let's say it's a little rose water anyway. I do not know what I would have preferred, between the solution chosen by the author and the date it nothing happens. Probably the latter, which would have seemed more poignant: it is they, and they alone, who find the energy to solve their problem without using a bit artificial about something that is also never very well described: is this than a mere whistling of the wind in the trees? Mystery.

But the fact remains that this story is, again, very well written, and well worth his place in the final, only by the quality and beauty of style and language."

Seems fair enough. Except for the bit about breaking the three-legged cat. What's up with that?
#414 ·
· on Don't You Cry For Me
It’s not a three-legged cat (I changed that afterwards, when I reread my review. You probably have captured the text somewhat in-between), it’s a three-legged duck.


It means just “ordinary, not standing out, minor”. So here, the sentence points out the errors are everyday and are not jarring.
#415 ·
· on The Name Upon His Forehead
This story is almost perfect.

We'll see if I find something more meaningful to say in the coming days.

I the meanwhile, thank you author, this has been wonderful.
#416 · 2
· on Extra
On the next episode. “Bradel, beam me up!” “Monokeras, light speed warp 5!” “Goddamn it Horizen! I’m a writer not a not rifleman!...Oh wait. Yes I am!” “Inkindri, SHOT FIRST!” (Yes I went there. Star Wars ftw.) This pretty much sums up how the story read and felt like. It even mentions the main points of the plotline, conflict, and overall mentality needed to enjoy this in writing as well as reading. Now while this sounds like a big negative it’s actual a big fun fun way to enjoy the artwork here. It’s amazingly crafted to suit the interests of its intended audience. Mainly nerds writing and enjoying each others company, but who cares STAR TREK STORY! My word! I was so excited to read this seeing Star trek come into place. Though it left me heavily confused, while at the same time attentive to the current scheme taking place. This story just asks for me to love it, in which I did fall head over heels for it.

O-kay! What we get here is a story within a story within A STORY. Let me explain. We read this story about a previously set up story that is created through the powers of a god like force that feeds on the attention of a 4th party branch. Within this scripted like universe we meet a being who becomes sentient throughout the course of the universe, thus making her journey for answers to explain her very existence. That sums it up. Now highly confusing when summed up, this piece adds it’s own touch by hinting at what may happen or may not. Following the works from previous hit shows, not original to this writer, the writer uses a lot of fan service techniques to grab our attention. I for one, just absolutely loved it! Problem being though! It’s soo meta-written (can’t believe I’m making up this word) that it just doesn’t seem to have it’s own charm to it. Even with the twist that a side character seizes the main role and messes with the intended story. It didn’t have it’s own flair. It borrowed from something everyone knew and just ended up making me feel disappointed. We already knew what to expect and what was already there, as well as the author. So tell me. What was more enjoyable? The Star Trek part of this story or the author’s mind and heart connecting with you? For me it was Star Trek. this story tends to break the 4th wall quite often throughout it’s course.

So Inkindri is the only one who becomes sentient? Not even a character that tells her to “Hush up and play your part!” bit? Alright. Done deal! This could have been played with more. The possibilities that Inkindri would even fall out of line on her own, and completely be the only one to do so. Just breaks the captivation. Once you get pass it, the story starts to get super fun! Giving Inkindri the dilemma of choosing her own path and figuring out her world. This is where the story gets good as a fictional character starts with breaking the script and ends up in all sorts of trouble. Eventually she gets in such a locked grasp of this omni-like 4th wall presence, that she ends up controlling it. Kinda like how I wish my pen would write by itself, some days. Even though the words would never be my own. Inkindri’s curiosity to her own sentience makes this a very fun read, with added details coming from a very beloved show, #spaceopera. What kills me is that no one else besides her is alerted by their true purpose in this universe. Therefore adding more omnipotency than the crowd might be able to handle. Meta-gaming. Meta-writing. It can ruin the flow. Keeping Inkindri with some characters who do understand the situation along with her, would have made this feel a lot different. The read felt like watching “The Truman Show”. Which was an alright movie. When we could have gotten “Bruce Almighty” or maybe “Click”. Which were great movies in my opinion.

Not word definition. Character definition, of course. The way Inkindri comes into the story is more of an entity coming into a world. Like she was being born again or was waking up. Interesting concept. Without mentioning sex type, we’re hit with a couple of lines about green bewbies and we suddenly think it’s a male character. Since the story lacked interaction with her in the first place, her sex was never clearly confirmed until she was almost killed. Which lo and behold it’s a chick. A lesbian chick who likes green bewbs. Which got really interesting for me all of a sudden(Baka-ERO!). The point is here it made my brow furrow about as I contemplated if I missed something. After all the story was in first person perspective. So a lot of I’s , me’s, and my’s were used rather than she or her. We got what she was from the get go what she wanted, but we missed this little detail? What would have made this more in depth is if we had more access in her thoughts. Probably a mantra in her mind saying “I’m Inkindri, Captain of the Intrepid. I am a character in a story.” Something like that, or some interaction with the other characters or more scenes with Inkindri. Instead we get majority of her story through what feels like diary entries with barely any character development in her huge character meta-developing. The story informs us of this information when it should be telling us a story.

Oh my Gos-esus! The wordplay just-UH! My senses are tingling like crazy here! My smile won’t fade. The laughter still hasn’t stopped, since I’m giggling all day. And I nearly died in my chair from Dr. Reeves interpretation of his status compared to a techbiologist. (The memes are powerful in this one! *still not sorry.*) It did such a good job of entertaining me, it made it hard to find faults at all within this one. A couple of common things, such as missing words, strange word usage, and the occasional. Which is easy to look away from. Now the bad part about this is, it’s fanservice coming from an entirely set universe. That’s already been made and used numerous times. I know what Star Trek can offer in terms of entertainment, but I wanted to see more of the author, not what he loves, that I can relate with. Give me your material. I wanted to connect with this author and see what he could write. Not what he could write about.

So the main conflict is that, The Focus and Inkindri do not see eye to eye. The Focus, natural force, or being or scriptwriter or whatever it may be, is forced to deal with a resilient being who will not follow the rules of it’s world/universe. My first question is, why is this a conflict? If she understands and knows the world around her to be true to these properties, why fight it? In the end of stories like this we get a powerful feeling of where we belong and what we’re to live for. There are so many answers for accepting the way the world works, but I’ll leave it at those few lessons. In the end Inkindri accepts her fate and position. Giving herself this prison. The big twist in here is that she ends up telling a tale in her final moments. By this point in the story the readers and the character know about the end. That Inkindri will cease to exist altogether. Her world universe and all the time she spent making it grand and perfect to her liking, will be gone. Because she knew about this obvious foreshadow. She ends up recreating a moment to tantalize her staged opponent. Creating yet another world within another story. The ending was just grand and with the reader group being mostly authors, I thought it was brilliant. As the story creates yet more entities and continues in a loop. Which is where she might actually reside in. The infinity factor here made a big boom on me. And that’s when I felt the most for Inkindri. Though it felt like it didn’t belong there. Once again the whole premises of being able to foreshadow everything and have the power of God leave little to expect when everything can go perfect for you. So logically Inkindri kinda kills herself. Yet uses her power to make another universe? It’s a strange loop.

Soooo! A couple of hidden messages from the preview lines up there. Bradel helped keep me here, so many thanks and kisses, Love! Monokreas is just a lovely person whom I love to entertain. Bet we would have a lot of laughs and grand conversations together. And finally Horizen whom I believe was the very first person to read my story here at the start of the contest. While I didn’t think of myself as an author so much you reminded me there’s always room for improvement. Perfection itself is flawed, as it sets a goal. Why not continue to improve? Now I just wanted that out of the way since the finals have come! This one was recommended as a read for me. Hoped I helped author! This one really hit the mark, entertaining us all so much! Sigh….just wish it was Star Wars! For my ending here I don’t have much to say. There were points you missed, but the story just did it’s job so well that your readers just didn’t seem to mind. My best advice right now for this one is: Keep writing, Buster!
#417 · 4
· on To Make a Choice
Right, I gotta make a wrap-up for this. Ahem:




Yo. Yooooo--


--OOOoooaaaw shit.

Yeah that about wraps it up.

I'm so good at this.

Anyway -- thanks for taking the time to comment, guys. Awesome reviews, they meant a lot to me. You really made me think about what to do to improve this bit. Barely had time to write it, but still, I wish I'd had more time to develop it before the writeoff.

Oh well. At least now I have a really clear idea on what to do, which means you guys sorta did my work for me. Hahah. I didn't even pay you.
#418 · 3
· on Landscape Photography
“Okay Bradel! It’s time.” Cried out a hyper slim white colt. Waving at his computer screen. “You did one for me, so I have to return the favor.” His hooves laid along his keyboard. Speaking out at the camera with a curling set of lips and a tone that held onto the air with a wisp of excitement. “Just hang on a moment and-OOHF!” A cry of agony filled the air as the colt swings his face into his keys. Hearing the crackling of plastic pop back into place. Several keys hitting their mark as they either left marks or stuck to his face. The little colt lifts up his muzzle to show his unfaded smile had not changed one bit. His white coat showing heated signs of pain that coursed throughout his inflicted areas. His cheek housed a backwards keyboard shell as well as his nose. Both now missing from his beloved device. “I deserve that. Now on with the review!” Remedy rose his right hoof into the air and gave out one final groan of despair as he peeled off the two keys to attempt to repair his board.

The story shines in the aspect of the writer’s efforts. Showing how much time went into thinking about these scenes and how we may approach it as readers. From the proofreading to the word usage there is a lot to learn here. Showing skill in many artistic traits for writing. The story is basically a man trying to find enlightening picture moments of humanity. All in a sake to capture it for his own collection. While it sounds basic, the content showing all of this is well adapted to this simple summary. Fluffing it out to where we get a real story. The writer clearly covers almost everything in his story and teaches his readers where they might improve on. If I was teaching a writing class. I’d present this story and break it down into elements for my students to learn from. This is a must read for those trying to improve on their own techniques.

The story runs smoothly having a nice feel to it as the character switches from one scene to the other. Stating a moment of time has passed by. Needing barely an explanation as to what this man is trying to do or why he is there. It’s not confusing and keeps your attention on the entire plot the whole way round. While this makes for a good easy read, it makes it difficult to keep your eyes open during it. I do quite a bit of poetry and found this one to be a good bedtime story, or as stated before an excellent story to learn from. It’s a remarkable tale that is great for times when you wanna relax lay back and drift away. Though I found the lack of any climax whatsoever seemed to drive this story down a bit. With no struggles on his traveling journeys and very little interaction with others, the character is driven to a sort of bug like feel. Moving place to place, doing it’s own thing. It’s entertaining to watch for a bit. Ending up with just little to feel or think about. Having a better flow with small ordeals would have made this pop out in the way it needed to. Example being, having money issues. Having to trespass through certain property. Maybe traversing through dangerous environments? It wouldn’t break the viewpoint of your story but it would make the audience feel more for the character.

This story rides on the fact that it teaches good types of mentalities towards admiring life and things created by human hands. It’s no wonder why this character happens to prefer being alone, as everything around him looks damaged or is just left to gather dust and crumble away. Even his attempt at trying to spread his lesson through the passing of his camera. He knew what might happen to his camera, he knew that there was a possibility of this woman to just not take it up. But he shared that moment with her. Even if she didn’t understand it. He shared it according to his own morals. His own beliefs. I know I’m heavily talking about this when the story doesn’t mention it. But that’s the lesson hidden in the words. It’s what makes this story beautiful to read and experience. The lessons aren’t expressed to where it’s obvious. It takes some time tothink about. I’m probably overthinking this but it points it out either way with how everything comes together.

It just felt like this story didn’t have much to keep itself going. It’s beautiful and well written, but didn’t have the necessary things to keep me wanting to read it or pick it up again. Minus the lacking of dialogue and interactions, the read felt like something from a documentary. Which is much more entertaining from a textbook read, well for me at least. A story should feel like a wave. Start out with a small burst of wind and gradually gaining effect to turn into a small curve of water. Increasing in size until it’s big enough to lash out against sand. I mention this because within that wave surfers may want to ride it boogeyboard or not. Fishermen will use waves hitting against the sand to gather bait or control the flow of fish. I for one did not see a wave large enough for me to do either. It needs to capture my attention to where I want to interact with the story. It can leave me breathless, but let’s face it. Breathtaking moment usually come rarely and only last for about minutes. Whereas something fun and exciting will make you wanna write more about it, or just talk about it on end. You affect me to where I won’t be able to stop thinking about it, then you’ve done it right.

Hm. No villain, no self doubt, no lesson to be learned here? It doesn’t seem to be a problem for it. The story works out beautifully without there being any. And it even gives reasons as to why there are no struggles with the story. The world is trying to minimize its population, as well as being torn by war and natural occurrences in nature. Which leaves this future world quite empty in certain places that use to be populated immensely. Which is why we see ruins of a school in one scene and then looking over a desolate forest area recovering from fallout of a devastating weapon. Reasons aside, this story is only suffering on missing traits. This read feels more like a poem, a haiku. To enjoy now and maybe share with someone if there’s a meaning behind it. Though we don’t seem to get a clear one. From what I get from this story’s lesson is. That life is precious. Traditions and moments matter. That we must cherish them rather than destroy and forget. To capture those same moments before they fade away. Much like how our hero here captures and achieves his goal before turning it over to another soul. This type of adventure has no conflict. Leaving little to think about other than continuing your hobby? It’s a mix for me, but hit in a small way.

“I hoped you enjoyed it.” Remedy said as his eyes averted his screen. His smile remained small as he rocked his body back and forth in a swing of shame and embarrassment. “I know, I did.” Those purple hued orbs shifted back into place. Paying attention at the product before it. “Listen-.” Remedy began as his weak smile escaped his lips. “I’m sorry for how we first met and all ‘that’. But I really do like writing. I was just surprised is all!” His voice grew in intensity. Finding that his words began to increase in volume at his explanation of an apology. Trying his best to remain calm. Though peace averting him. Avoiding him like a plague as he knew what damage had been done. “Just! Just, thank you for everything. I wouldn’t have experienced this wonderful group, without your guidance.” Remedy smiled once more. Feeling his cheeks curl up as his lips grew in length. His hooves typing away recording more of this precious genuine moment. “Next time right?”
#419 · 1
· on Extra
14 – Extra

I like the hook (which I'm counting as everything down to the hard break), and by the end of it I have a good sense of what I'm reading. I'm interested in the IN KIN DRI button, and I really like how the protagonist almost became a real character, and then the episode ended. That got a smile. I think it's worth mentioning, though, that I don't think I'd have understood what I was reading for the first two paragraphs or so, without having heard some talk about Redshirts around the edges during this writeoff. My natural inclination in the first paragraph is that I'm reading a present-day story about someone who's obsessed with a TV show. In the second paragraph, that'd morph into me thinking I was reading a story about an actor. This may not bother you, author—like I said, I'm enjoying it by the end of that first hard break—but I'm always a little nervous about readers coming into a story with the wrong mental priming and having to waste attention to reevaluate their expectations early on.

There's a lot of needless adverbiage running around in here that you should be culling, even if the story reads okay as is. "I very definitively remember." "I didn't really know what [stuff] really meant."

I want to point out that, amusingly, the Proper Noun Trick actually works well here. It's an important part of world-building, because it's so classically Star Trek / pulp sci-fi. The Proper Noun Trick here isn't creating the illusion of depth, it's acknowledging that a lot of the depth in this type of thing is illusory. Hurray for meta-writing-technique-use!

Well, this looks like it's going somewhere different from Redshirts, but this is just so phenomenally Redshirty that I am having a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around calling this original fiction. I don't particularly have a problem with that myself and in a writing competition like this, but I imagine that it might be well-nigh impossible to professionally publish something like this. (I'd probably be curious to know whether I'm off-base on that from some more knowledgable hands.)

I came to about three and a half minutes later, lying flat on my back on a metal table in the ship’s infirmary. I was dead. I knew that, because Dr. Reeves had just said, “She’s dead, Jack,” to Captain Harkton.

Two things here. First, I really hate "came to" there, because "came to" is also a verb phrase (e.g. "It came to pass that", "I came to understand that"), so it always throws me a lot when I read it. Second, I'm going to be incredibly sexist here, but I default to assuming that main characters are male and I always find it kind of weird to learn otherwise this deep into a story. Based on my reaction to "Homebound", I feel similarly about learning that characters are British. I'd love to be aware of this stuff earlier, though I get that it can be hard to do without something like a mirror scene in a first-person narrative. I suspect there are other people who also tend to not assume Male or American, so it probably cuts both ways and would be good in general for everyone to do stuff like this. On the other hand, you may want to just ignore me here because I'm hopelessly atavistic. But it does tend to throw me, yes, when I learn the way I've pictured the character for so much of the story was wrong.

“I’m a robot, beep boop,” I said.

Oh God, Author, this may be the best line anyone has ever written in a Writeoff.

This story has gotten amazing. It's also gotten pretty telly, unfortunately: "This happened. Then this happened. Then this happened." But the idea of a power-mad fictional character trying to subvert the narrative flow is pretty awesome, especially when she goes completely overboard into "there is no way you're still sympathetic at this point" territory. I particularly like the masterful way she's trying to get the show cancelled in Season 4. Though, again, I think we could probably benefit from some more direct storytelling and less abstract narration, at least from time to time. That was one of the reasons the beginning of the story was fun to read, and it's really gone away in the latter half here.

When I called out to initiate our kinetic drive, I saw a cadet push a big red button and I burst out laughing.

You know, I honestly don't know how to feel about this. I was trying to come up with what IN KIN DRI could mean early on, and this is exactly what I came up with. So... I don't know. I guess it makes good sense? But at the same time I find it fundamentally unsurprising, which is a small disappointment.

Yay! This has gotten back to a real scene for s5e26! Also:
“No, no, it’s okay. I wasn’t trying to be rude. It’s something that I’ve realized, though it’s taken a long time. Just because something’s not real, doesn’t mean it’s not important.”
Way to go, moral drop!

Hmm. How do I feel about that ending? It's... subtle. On first glance, I actually find it very unfulfilling. I think this is, without question, the most meta story I've read since "A Basilisk for One". The story is, once you finally figure out that line, openly and directly recursive—its whole point is to give Inkindri a chance to tell her story, which is exactly what she's been doing the whole time. In a way, I think the "We put Redshirts inside your Redshirts" thing may become a feature rather than a bug at that point (though I'm still somewhat pessimistic on how publishable this could be, given how derivative it is on first glance).

This is really good, and easily the most I've laughed reading a Writeoff story in... oh, I can convincingly say "six months", anyway.

HORSE: Decline to rate—this is another story where the big strengths (execution in a lot of the humor, originality in the deeply deranged protagonist) is counterbalanced on the same scales (going extremely telly through the midsection, being a Redshirts knockoff).
TIER: Top Contender... ish. Now that we're in the finals I'd probably call this Solid, but I think it's at least at the level of some of the other things I've called Top Contenders this round.
#420 ·
· on Extra · >>Orbiting_kettle >>Remedyfortheheart
...what. the. fuuuuuuuuu...?

I was literally the first person to mention Redshirts in connection with this story? Half the readers missed the "Initiate Kinetic Drive" thing, even after it got dropped?

I am deeply confused by what happened here.
#421 · 1
· on Extra · >>Bradel
I think you got primed by me on the write-off chat. I think I mentioned it there.

It also seems to be an inexplicably less popular novel than I thought.
#422 ·
· on Extra · >>TitaniumDragon
I agree, I did see you mention it once. But I'd already been pretty well primed by hearing people mention Star Trek and the fact that the thing is titled "Extra".

On the other hand, I read the novel a couple years ago and I have a pretty good memory. I don't think there's any significant priming effect here, because I would have gotten to that point within the first 300 words anyway.
#423 ·
You are probably right. Redshirts is not that old and it is quite distinctive.
#424 · 6
· · >>horizon
Because no-one's done mashups yet...

The /mi:m/ Upon His Forehead:

"Tell the truth, Emet."

"Y-you're... a LOLcat."

The Procession of the Tiny Planets:

Mr. Wormsturm hid a smile as he picked up Sophie's dropped test. "Give her half a Goddamn hour," he murmured to Alice and Bernice. "She's got family issues, but she'll be fine with just a bit of impetus."

Doubt Not the Stars are Homebound:

The astronaut stepped out of the capsule, re-entry's roar and rattle still ringing in his ears. A man with a clipboard greeted him.

"You actually completed it." He jotted a note. "Initiative, dealing with pressure, ingenuity; top marks all. Welcome to the mission, Mr. Vance. Your simulation was a success."

Don't You Cry for the Necromancer's Wife:

I picked up the book Mom had dropped. My eyebrows rose at the title: Learn Necromancy in Four Easy Steps and Two Ridiculously Hard Ones! By Peter Wade

Extra Extra:

"The first round I remember is 'I Regret Nothing'..."

#425 · 1
· on Extra
The story of an extra becoming self-aware during a Star-Trek style television show, gradually taking over the show and making herself into a main character, then the main character, only to realize just how empty it was and rebelling against the system, this was an interesting idea for a story. It is very meta, but I think it works well enough for what it is, and clearly marks itself as a Star Trek parody while being copyright-friendly.

This was a pretty good story, but season 3 and season 4 felt like not only the weak part of the show, but the weakest part of the story. Things get extremely expository, and while the whole story is expository, I found myself skipping ahead in this part a bit, and losing my focus on the story, even as, ironically, the audience’s own Focus wanes.

I liked the extra’s true character development not being what was going on in the show, but what was going on in the meta-level, and rather than going for the cheap and easy parody, it did something a bit more interesting with it as the protagonist turns into a total Mary Sue, then a nilhist, before finally coming to recognize the importance of it all.

But at the same time, this felt a little bit unearned. I would have liked to see more character development here as the protagonist transistions from being a destructive force to realizing that people really do care about what is going on, and that it really does matter in some abstract way.

I was amused by the final solution of the protagonist – creating an endless recursive loop in order to destroy the enemy hyperintelligence by trapping it inside her story forever – but I don’t think that it really added a whole lot to the story, and I think that, while it worked, I think it would have worked better (and been a more interesting reference to reruns, potentially) if her transition back to equilibrium and wanting the show to be good had felt more substantial.
#426 ·
· on Extra · >>Bradel >>billymorph
I've never read Redshirts. Is it good? Also, just how similar is this to Redshirts?
#427 ·
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire
Okay, last story I'm going to read this round. What do I know going in? Cold in Gardez says he doesn't think this is Sci-Fi, and a lot of people seem to disagree. Also, I have some reason to think this is going to play a bit like Lucifer's Hammer. Which was nominated for the Hugo in 1978. Last story was a Hugo-derivative, could this one be too? Probably not, but I kinda feel like maybe you guys need to read some more classic spec-fic... (-.-)

5 – Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire

Pretty naturalistic opening. Doesn't do much to catch me, but doesn't do much to lose me either. Given that I've seen the trailer for this movie, I'm wondering how Hollywood we're going to go—and I'm hoping that phosphorous isn't going to be a key reason why everyone's about to die, because that's literally as Hollywood as it's possible to go. Then again, foreshadowing. Anyway, we'll see.

For a minute, when Ms. Muriel told Matthew to look up, I thought this was going to go full-on Lucifer's Hammer... but I was wrong! I guess everyone's just a computer simulation, and somebody's going to shut down the program. I guess that rules out phosphorous, so good job there!

Nice use of description throughout here. I don't find it obtrusive, and it's varied enough to still be rich while staying brief.

The premise here is starting to feel slightly nonsensical (though it may not help that I've read a few end-of-the-world-is-coming stories like LH and Seveneves). I find myself questioning why anyone would give a notification that a bunch of simulated intelligences are going to be terminated. In what sense is that better than just terminating them, if it seems like basic psychology would suggest you're going to wind up with a lot of stress, pain, and panic. I'm wondering if this isn't the whole point of simulating said intelligences, actually—to see how they'd react in a situation like this. (Then again, I can't deny that we occasionally get a little socially weird trying to protect people and things.)

I'm curious about the jumping perspective and I'm kind of hoping we don't do it the whole time, that we cycle back around to these people. Brianna makes a good amount of sense as a perspective character. Matthew makes essentially no sense, given what little we saw of him in that first scene—he has no capacity for anything other than trying to hook the reader and seeing the Notification, neither of which he was particularly good at doing. Cesar seems fine. And we're back to Matthew! Okay, cool. (I guess this paragraph has now become defunct as a source of important criticism. Oh well.)

I like the word choices here, in general. The dean's use of "cognizant". "Irrefutable evidence of this hypothesis." Brianna's casual use of cruiser and . I'm not sure how much I like "blue nitrile surgical gloves", though. Rich's video game example, similarly, is good—but I don't know how much I buy into video games being so socially common these days that I'm going to assume Joe Police is a gamer. The metaphor feels like it'd be more natural coming from Cesar to me. There are a few other places where I feel like the word and focus choice in the narration may be slipping away from tight character perspective, too. A lot is good, but I do think you could still improve this in editing.

The end of the second Cesar section is a real punch in the gut, especially after telling us what Maria's parents believe. Thanks, C.S. Lewis.

Nitpick, but the bridge between Brianna 3 and Cesar 3 has a near-identical sentence structure on both sides, very close together.

I like Spotlight and the plan to try to communicate—and incidentally, CiG, to me this story officially becomes science fiction when the characters try to affect the premise, since the premise is I think pretty well classified as sci-fi; when the premise is just a McGuffin, this could credibly be called a drama, but when the story jumps to interacting with the premise, this becomes definitively sci-fi to me—to try to communicate, but it does overlook the worry that the simulation isn't running in real time and that it's entirely possible no one will have time to stop it from terminating. This in no way impacts the plot point, because I think it still makes sense in the context of the characters, but as an outside observer it's a thing I find myself thinking.

I definitely like the quiet ending here. I was expecting a more sudden ending, but I like this better. At the end, this is a type of story I've seen done a few times before, but that doesn't really take away from the fact that it's done well here. The choice of characters and scene selection feels pretty solid to me, now at the end. Not all of the scenes feel deeply purposeful, but there's a lot you're capturing with those choices. (ETA: looking back on it, I do feel like the scenes begin to repeat themselves a little. You're really kind of hammering the same bits on many of Brianna's scenes and the same bits on many of Cesar's scenes. I enjoy them, but I think you may have started hitting diminishing returns on some of the ideas you're putting into them. On the other hand, it's probably fair to say that I can be a decently subtle reader, and what I might consider 'hammering' when I sit down and think about a story could very well be a perfectly reasonable level of thematic repetition.) I think Matthew is definitely the weakest element of this story, since he seems to be pretty much a passenger in his own sections. At the same time, that doesn't really bother me—and maybe I'm wrong to call it out. Brianna and Cesar are both much more active; it may make sense to have a more contemplative third voice that isn't really on the hook to do anything narratively.

I think I have little doubt as to who wrote this. It's another total package story, and I don't think I can honestly deny it a well-earned top spot on my ballot. It could be more original, but it couldn't be a whole lot more well done without rebuilding the whole thing from the ground up.

HORSE: Decline to rate.
TIER: Top Contender
#428 ·
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire
The world wakes up to find a notification in the sky that the world is a simulation, and the simulation is coming to an end in 30 (in-world) days.

This is a story focused on how people deal with the end of the world, and as such, I felt like, while it had some stuff going for it, it also felt like ground I’ve trod on before, with movies like Deep Impact and similar works presaging this.

That said, the story works well enough; we follow a few characters as their lives wend through the final days, trying to deal with the end of the world and the fact that everything isn’t “real” (or at least, isn’t real in the sense that they had previously believed). The questions of whether or not everyone else in the world is real, whether or not anyone other than the characters we focused on were real, and everything else all got wound through the story.

On the downside, though, I never really closely allied myself with any of the characters; we had so many of them, and they all had so little space to breathe, I only got some fairly basic impressions, and most of them felt fairly standard for a story like this.

So, while the shape of this was quite good, it also felt standard. Bats called it a greatest hits of Armageddon montage, and that’s really kind of true; the only really novel thing this story had was the nukes trying to get the attention of the people who made the simulation, and the story didn't really seem to do anything with it.
#429 · 2
· on Tiny Planets · >>Lucky_Dreams
A young witch flees from the crushing pressure of her exam to go out and do some Performance Magic in a snowstorm.

This had some nice writing to it but the frame story here was very much something I’ve seen before. This story is meant to evoke wonder and joy, but frankly, I’ve been here before. I’ve seen this thing before.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but it is just the same story I’ve seen many times with a new skin put over it. Here and there I can see the metal bits of the frame poking out, familiar and sturdy as ever.
#430 ·
Usually there are several stories in any given round that I like, so the fact that I am my own biggest fan is usually obscured by that. Also, I actually do try to tone things down sometimes, and I usually try to wait for other people to review my stuff to riff off of them (and to avoid giving away anything I thought was obvious which others don't pick up on, as that's just cheating).

I use an RNG to figure out when to review my own stories, though. Sometimes I'll review my stories early, sometimes late, sometimes not at all, depending on the roll of the dice. This makes it harder to guess which story is mine.

That and the fact that I'm not always in love with my own things; some of my stories have real problems and I'm aware of them and will poke at them.

Horizon is better at reviewing his own stuff than I am, but I have to review my own stuff as a necessary evil of writing a lot of reviews; if I never review my own stuff, people get suspicious.

Also, if I forget to use the RNG (as I have a couple times), I'll sometimes end up reviewing my own stories LAST, which is definitely not suspicious at all. :|
#431 ·
· on Extra · >>billymorph
It's... what you might expect from a Hugo winner that doesn't win the Nebula? 2012 had a very pretentious Nebula winner (Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312) and a very pulpy Hugo winner. It's an entertaining read, but nothing terribly special in my opinion. I sort of have the impression that's pretty typical for Scalzi.

There's a lot of shared premise between Redshirts and "Extra", but it doesn't go much beyond that. Redshirts unfolds in a very different way, with characters who never really become important to the show—and the plot goes somewhere completely different from where "Extra" goes. Sort of. They end up arriving at sort of similar places, and both deal with the idea of the show being really badly written, but in different ways.

I feel like "Extra" is derivative enough that it'd have a hard time finding a publishing home, but not so derivative that I really feel bad about it, for what that's worth. I'd probably say it's right on the edge of something I'd consider Redshirts fanfiction (but I wouldn't argue hard against calling it straight-up original fiction). But, I mean, we're pretty familiar with fanfiction, right? I wouldn't call most fanfiction that similar to the original material. Derivative, sure, but nothing remotely approaching the p-word.
#432 ·
· on Extra
Um Star Wars fan here. I don't follow Star Trek too much.
#433 ·
· on Extra
>>TitaniumDragon Redshirts was good but could have finished a good three or four chapters before it did in my opinion. Funnily enough I think it hit the same potholes as Extra did, even though the plots of the two are wildly divergent. The fun bit is the characters becoming self aware, but when they do there's very little drama left as characters actively abusing narrative tropes kills a story dead.

>>Bradel I think derivative may even be too strong a word. My impression was that while Extra could be summed up in the same sentence as Redshirts, they ended up as very different stories.
#434 ·
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire · >>horizon
The story:

I ended up thinking of while reading this was Arthur C. Clarke's 1950s classic "The Nine Billion Names of God." This one's about three times longer than that one and does seem a lot more diffuse since it's focusing on more characters, and it also doesn't have the same impact at the end since there are absolutely no twists--the story tells us what's going to happen right at the top, and that's exactly what happens.

I also wondered about this sign in the sky. Does it appear over major cities only? Does there have to be a certain population density? And where in the sky does it appear? Does it move as the observer moves? Or is it anchored regardless of one's individual perspective?

Still, a nice, serviceable doomsday story.

#435 · 3
· on Homebound · >>Ratlab
A nice:

Nuts-n-bolts SF piece, but crashing hard into the word limit really didn't help. This isn't the sort of story where an ambiguous ending works. Something step-by-step like this needs to go all the way down onto the Dying Earth with our hero Vance--and wouldn't that by an interesting place to go with it!

Still, like I said, a nice piece.

#436 · 5
· · >>Southpaw
:D I'm always up for a good round of mashups!

The Plight of the Spectrum-American

…But with the rise of digital childhoods in the 21st Century, stuffed animals like Kitty are increasingly finding themselves locked out of the lives of city-dwelling children.

"Once they get on the Internet, that's it," Kitty said. "Childhood over. The toys out in rural areas, where families sometimes can't even get dial-up Internet, are the lucky ones."

To Make A Landscape Photograph

As I was taking my next-to-last photo of Pripyat, a ball bounced off a nearby wall and rolled over to my feet. A child came over to retrieve it. A child? Was there hope for this ruined world yet?

But he stared at my scars, so I broke his fingers.

My last photo wasn't exactly what I had expected, but it certainly was memorable.

Extra Planets

I looked around the room, then reached out for the Focus. Mr. Wormstrum frowned, and that's when I knew it was going to work. "Keep your eyes on your Magical Theory Exam, Mathexa."

Instead, I dashed out of the room and ran out to the snowy fields, dragging the Focus with me, dropping to my knees and sobbing about my tragic past as … hm. The talented child of demanding parents, forced into a field she hated? That should work. I felt the Focus sharpen and coalesce.

Having established my latent, untapped abilities, I decided to test them by lighting the snow on fire. Behind me, Alice gasped. "That's impossible!"

"No, this is impossible," I retorted, and blew the school up.

Doubt Not The Encounter At Dusk

"In retrospect," I said to myself as I stared at her arrow-riddled body, "writing 'JOAN OF ARC WILL SAVE FRANCE, 30:00:00' in giant letters of fire across the sky might have been a little bit premature."

The Last Burdens Of Knights And Dragons, Cut Loose

"Arthur," I said, fingering the fake claw from the plastic skeleton, "do you remember that dragon you once rescued me from? The one I was in love with, who sacrificed himself to save us?"

He had to think about that for a while as we walked. "Yeah, he was pretty tasty, I guess. Why do you ask, Hazel?"

"Oh, no reason," I said as I led him into the foggy cave.

Certainty's Name Upon His Forehead

Liar was roughly shoved to his feet. The guards dragged him to the room with the priest.

"Do you seek my guiding hand through the journey before you?" the priest said.

A smile leapt unbidden to Liar's face. "No, priest. I do not require—"

"FALSE," Emmett said.

This Homebound Feeling

I stepped outside of the little cottage again, avoiding the holes in the ground. Another UFO streaked southward through the sky.

… Wait. That wasn't a UFO. It was a … Mars lander? Apparently returning to Earth from outer space?

How cool! I hoped its pilot was having as much fun on his adventure as I was!
#437 · 4
· · >>Southpaw
And by request of the chat … ;-p

Mashups: Mashed Potato Edition

The Necromancer's Potatoes

That looks like… a vampire potato plague," Peter frowned. "This isn't good."

"Going for the old bake-and-stake?" Sabriel's eyes gazed out over the town. "By the size of the oven, most everyone will be fanging their French fries by morning."

The P-recession of the P-otatoes

"BIX!" Mauli yelled, rolling in a furious circle around him, her tuber occasionally roughly bumping into his. "Growing season began at 10 Spuddamn o'clock this Spuddamn morning, and you're still Spuddamn sitting there like you're in a Spuddamn bag at the Spuddamn store! If we're not ready for harvesting by the Spuddamn time the Spuddamn farmer is out here, THE ENTIRE ECONOMY SPUDDAMN CRASHES!"

"Geez, what rabbit pooped in her fertilizer," Bix muttered.

"It's too late for it, man," Teb whispered back. "Just take the mashing until her rage boils off. Seriously, kind of your own fault though. Everyone knows not to catch her eye."

No Potatoes! I Had Fun!

Potatoes Do It

After their breathing steadied somewhat, Starchy fished a cigarette from her pack. “Before we quit smoking, though, you ever smoked after sex?”

Spuds shook his head no, grew out a tendril toward hers, and pushed a sprout through the soft dirt up to the surface.
#438 · 1
· on Tiny Planets · >>Lucky_Dreams
12 – Tiny Planets

This is pretty well-written, in a bouncy kids' book sort of way, but that's all that can be said for it. It's another one of those empty stories: Girl in magic theory exam sucks at magic theory, but it's okay because she's good at performance magic. Yay! But … so what?

The main character is a two-dimensional vehicle for the message of follow your dreams. The supporting cast are less than that. They line up under one of two labels: Mean Adults and Supportive Peers. The world consists of the magic school and very little else. The author gifts the character with everything she really wanted in the first place, without making her struggle for it. And, well, that's it.
#439 ·
· on The Precession of the Equinoxes
7 – The Precession of the Equinoxes

Bucolic joy as a factory-floor job. It's a certainly a cool concept, if verging on being twee. But it never manages to go beyond that. Yeah, fair enough, it's not a long story, but I feel I would have liked Mauli more if she went beyond the grumpy-but-competent supervisor type.

The plot doesn't work for me. Mauli grouses, gets involved in some interphylum bickering. Then – oshit – humans! Time to enact the facade! Which they pull off perfectly. It all comes off as rather formulaic – here's the snotty character who will get shown up, here's the foreshadowing, here's the time limit, and so on. The ending, too, felt underwhelming.

Still, you clearly know your craft, author, so I find it hard to offer advice. Be more ambitious, perhaps?

All things considered, this is still getting a fairly high place on my slate.
#440 · 2
>>horizon Beautiful. :)

No Potatoes! I Had Fun!

Needs to be followed by precisely 2000 spaces spuds (spoilered)
#441 · 2
· on Don't You Cry For Me · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
Well, we're winding down toward the end of finals and these threads are dead, but Dubs complained suggested in chat that we should get more reviews, and I guess I can do that. I've only reviewed 2 of 9 finalists, so I'll give some brief off-the-cuff thoughts on all the rest in an order determined by random.org.

Therefore, clearly this was written by Dubs, and this is an act of instant karma. :V

Congratulations, author: this is probably the first and only story that will ever get me to say that this has too much speculative fiction. Agreed with previous comments on that ending with the ghost; the sudden shift from zero to paranormal deflates the psychological climax this story was aiming for, and the "where was dad buried" ambiguity kind of unmoors the whole thing. This would have been a stronger story played straight (naturalist, or at least Quiet Boy And Moon Horse ambiguous) through the end. (Honestly, "not a single member missing" would have been much more powerful if it had meant "everyone accepts Dad's loss and each other" rather than "the ghost deux-ex-machina'ed the problems away".)

The good news is that (modulo the ending) this held my attention as a reader indifferent to literary fiction. May's teenage angst is kind of a one-note source of tension, but it's a sharp note, and the isolation and struggle to cope both are shown broadly well. There weren't any particularly eye-catching moments here -- perhaps the ghost angle, but it feels underplayed -- so this comes across as middle-slate generically solid.

Tier: (middle-slate generically) Solid
#442 ·
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire
Next up on my random review order.

This story of ordinary people coping with a world-changing disaster was great when it was called The Instruments Of Our Surrender, and it was great when it was called Babel, and it's still great now. Tier: Top Contender

*cough* But seriously, as far as I'm concerned this does pretty much everything right. The lampshading of the origin of the apocalypse is enough for context -- I feel like it's explored just about right for a story this length; hinting at a lot more depth but leaving most of the details in the background -- and this quickly and wisely turns into a story about people being people in unusual circumstances. The ending of the Cesar arc brought a legit lump to my throat. The Brianna arc is well-placed to explore and lampshade the public-order question, which is going to be a central element of any slow-motion apocalypse. Mark's arc, I think, is weakest, largely because there's very little he actually does. The glimpse into the higher-level response is nice, and the philosopher scene is strong, but right now he's sort of an exposition machine lacking much agency. Even his decision to go watch the end from a nature preserve lacks impact because I don't think we get enough context about him and his friends and his values to see why that's important, and first and foremost a story about the end of all things is going to be about what is important to people.

Regardless, on the strength of those super-strong moments and the general solid construction here, this is an easy top-of-ballot. I'm not sure why those landed for me when they didn't seem to work for others, but then, it seems like the voting has been awfully weird this round; if I'm not mistaken, based on reviews, every story that someone's named at the top of their ballot has ended up at the bottom of someone else's.

Tier: Top Contender
#443 ·
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire · >>Southpaw
>>Baal Bunny
The writing in the sky is lampshaded in the story as being a mental construct in every single person's brain, with no actual physical existence (it even shows up in each person's native language), which I suspect renders most of the questions here moot. It clearly has to show up with relative positioning to work, so everyone sees it in their own "up" direction. There are some weird physics consequences unless it always shows up "directly overhead" i.e. in the direction opposite the center of the Earth -- such as, if someone in the International Space Station did a somersault at the right angle, it would glitch the display through big arcs of the sky. But "always directly overhead" works pretty flawlessly.
#444 · 1
· on The Precession of the Equinoxes
Continuing the review chain.

Sorry, author; I can see why this made the finals, but I bounced off of this one hard. (I'd feel more guilty about my unhesitating bottom-slating if I didn't think it was headed for a medal anyway based on the collective review response.)

1) The "Goddamns" turned me off, but less in the repetition than in the implications of the repetition, if that makes sense. They are strong characterization for Mauli, and what they told me about Mauli is that she is temperamental, aggressive, and worst of all, lacking even a single spark of creativity. These are problematic qualities for a protagonist whose success I am supposed to cheer. That the rest of her characterization backs this up is strong writing in the abstract, but highly alienating.

2) The solution to the major plot problem really begs the question of why that sort of display isn't already in the employee manual. I mean, that's like textbook wonder-of-nature right there. (It also begs the question of exactly how "for all his laziness and his idiocy, [Bix] was before anything else an absolute Goddamn professional", because I have known lazy professionals and dumb-but-scrupulously-hard-working professionals, but all three at once is a contradiction in terms.)

3) Combining 1 and 2, I'm not sure whether the ending is an example of Mauli unintentionally succeeding through abuse and petty vengeance on the sleeping bug she hated, or whether she trusted him and planned that out from the beginning. The former is morally problematic and the latter out-of-character.

Most of that should be pretty simply fixable, but Mauli's bullying is a painful read and IMHO this needs a protagonist rewrite, stat.

Tier: Misaimed
#445 ·
Hm. Well I'm working on them. I was preoccupied with things but I guess I can do the prelims. I also wanted access to the ones that are disqualified. Um...are they completely gone?
#446 · 2
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire
5 – Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire

The first thing I noticed about this story is a lack of discrimination regarding worthwhile events. From the very beginning, we lead in with a character waking up and potter about for a few paragraphs before getting to what ought to be the proper beginning of the story. Later, we have a scene about a car crash … which begins with the police officer lounging against her car. Later again, when she shoots someone who's threatening her, we're given a loving description of what a “copper-jacketed round” does as it passes through the human body. Why? What is this sentence accomplishing?

Again, a lack of discrimination: Why so many characters? Especially when they spend their time doing such boring things. You could cut at least two, if you're going to keep the limited perspective. (I suspect omniscient narration would work better for this story, though.)

Nor is the prose particularly well written. Take this paragraph for example:

The people of New York City had responded to the sudden appearance of the Notification, as the media had taken to calling the message in the sky, in much the same way as people around the rest of the world – with blind, unthinking panic. Fortunately, that panic had manifested mostly as seeking out friends and loved ones, hugging them tight, and speculating wildly about what the message meant.

It takes all of the baroque, roundabout first sentence to get to the idea that people everywhere are panicking. The second sentence is slightly better, if a little mundane, but it would be communicated better by showing all this stuff actually happening. (Which is why you'd have characters in a piece like this anyway.)

The other big problem I have here is, for a story about the psychological effects of a message that simultaneously wrecks your ontology and threatens your death, the psychology displayed lacks in both breadth and depth. Governments try to find a plan. Riots happen. A random teenager gets his end away. Everyone else just sort of potters around vaguely worrying. Where are the religious converts? The street preachers? The people insisting yes, we will prepare for that holiday next week because nothing's going to happen? The calm suicides on live TV?

There are some gems scattered about here, though. The concept itself, of course. The discussions of philosophy are good – this is one case where I wish they'd gone deeper. (And, keeping an emotional note, are they the steadfast calm of the intellectually heroic even in the face of impending death … or an ineffectual coping mechanism? But the story never bothers to go there.) I liked the pathetic, last-ditch attempt of nuking the icecaps in attemot to gain relevance. And Cesar's last scene is great. I usually dislike overt displays of emotion from characters, but he's drunk, so here I can roll with it.

I just wish there'd been more stuff like that.
#447 · 2
· on Don't You Cry For Me · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
22 – Don't You Cry For Me

Well then, right to the top of my slate you go. The emotional tone if effective if not complex. There's a well-handled tone of melancholy throughout, with subtle maybe-magic quietly intruding.

Criticisms? Of course.

At first, I thought the graveyard was a fantastic hook … except it turns out it is real. How disappointing. You might want to make that clear straight away.

Some of the arguments between Claire and May feel unconvincing and slightly formulaic. But maybe some sibling arguments really are like that, so I don't want to come down too hard on this bit.

The prose occasionally falls victim to that flaccid school of thought that all verbs must be exciting: “Pain jolted up my leg”; “My eyes flew open”. These are cliches put to no good use. More generally, the narration feels a bit too self-consciously literary. Given the subtlety of the piece otherwise, it might be worth toning it down a bit.

As for the ending … that's a tough one. I don't think you need to make this into a fully realist piece. Indeed, the notion that it was all in her head seems too obvious a place to go. And yet the current ending is just a bit too sentimental for me. You should do something different with it, but I'm not sure what. It's worth putting thought into, anyway.
#448 ·
· on Extra · >>wYvern
Well now, joining in on the fun:

Das Ende hat viel für mich rausgerissen, da dort endlich ein Ziel zu erkennen war, aber vorallem die erste Hälfte der Geschichte ist langatmig und größtenteils uninteressant. Ich weiss nicht ob die Erzählung in einer anderen Perspektive funktioniert hätte, aber ich habe gelernt, dass, wenn man in der Ichform erzählt, man versuchen sollte möglichst auf allzuviele Sätze mit dem "Ich" als Subjekt zu verzichten. Das wäre das erste worauf ich beim Redigieren des Textes achten würde, da er sich momentan durch die vielen "Ichs" ein bischen wie ein Tagebuch ließt.

Was mir sehr gefallen hat war, dass die Protagonistin, die praktisch Gott spielen konnte in ihrer Welt, von ihrer Macht sehr schnell gelangweilt war. Hier konnte ich sehr stark mitfühlen. Dass sie Aufgrund ihrer Langeweile und Einsamkeit ihre Existenz und die dieses Universums beenden wollte konnte ich auch verstehen. Was ich dann nicht mehr nachvollziehen konnte war der Gesinnungswechsel: Warum ging es ihr auf einmal darum ihre eigene Geschichte zu erzählen? Warum ging es ihr darum, dass auch imaginäre Sachen einen Wert haben? Bis dahin ging es ihr doch immer nur um sich selbst, und an ihrer Allmacht und den damit verbundenen Unannehmlichkeiten hat sich doch Nichts geändert, oder?

Im Endeffekt bin ich mir nicht sicher, was der Autor mir sagen, oder welche Frage er stellen wollte.
#449 · 1
· on Extra
Okay, wow. Realizing just what a giant mess google translate is making this out to be, apparently because it can't decided between 3rd person female and plural, I decided to provide my own translation.

The end saved a lot for me since there was an apparent goal, but especially the first half of the story is long-winded and mainly uninteresting. I don't know ob the narration would've worked in a different perspective, but I learned that if one uses first person, one should try to avoid using too many sentences that has the "I" as subject. That would be the first thing I would try to be aware of when editing this text, since right now, it's reading a lot like a diary because of the many "I"s.

What I liked a lot is that the protagonist, who could play god in her world, got bored pretty quickly. I could empathize a lot with this. I could also understand that she wanted to end her and this univers' existence because of her boredom and loneliness. What I couldn't comprehend though was her change of heart: Why did she want to tell her story all of a sudden? Why did she care about imaginary things having value, too? Until then, all she cared for was herself, and her omnipotence and the discomforts related to it didn't change, did they?

The bottom line is that I'm not really sure what the author wanted to say, or what question he/she wanted to ask.
#450 · 1
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire
>>horizon I'm wondering how this phenomenon would play out for those who can't read...
#451 ·
We ignore it. Unless translated. Thankies to everyone who did so!
#452 ·
· on /ˈmiːm/
I stopped pretty quickly and went down to the reviews to see if this was worth drudging through, because the start was just so confusing and unfocused. This does not only, but partly come down to paragraph construction (I'd recommend reading this blog post from Cold in Gardez, I believe it'll benefit your writing a lot.)

That said, once I got to finish the story, I like the concept and the world, but I think it would lend itself better to a full length novel than a short story.
#453 · 2
· on The Name Upon His Forehead
I have a bit of time so maybe I can write something vaguely useful here.

I loved the story and I liked the use of Hebraic words to differentiate the conceptual definition of things from the words the inhabitants use. The problem is that this is a big hurdle for a lot of people, and they are right in that. You could probably use English words written in a different way to tell the same story. It would lose a bit in hermetism but become way more accessible. The payoff would be huge IMHO.

As for my interpretation of the story, I think the "angel" is simply the first being with true free will. He has not his essence written on his face (I suspect that the Adams are not real humans, but more an artificial distillation of some traits of humanity), he has the potential to be anything and is not bound by a part of the all (the words representing concepts).

Now on to the wild speculation. While it is stated that the "angel" was built I wouldn't be surprised if this was a metaphorical process that went through the annihilation of self and the limits derived by the single word that defines the other beings here. This freedom is scary, which means that he searches for certainties. Yet those certainties and answers cannot be give in the limited frame in which Emmet and the others operate. The story can probably be extended in different ways from here, from the PoV of Emmet who has to overcome his own essence and worldview or from the PoV of the "angel" who has to deal with freedom and uncertainty.

Thinking a bit more about the ending left me also a bit more unsatisfied than during my first reading. I like the ambiguity, but at least a clue on how the things will change and for whom would have been nice.
#454 · 1
· on The Precession of the Equinoxes
This one is not without its flaws, but on retrospect, it's notable that this is one of the few fics I've gone and re-read. Mostly because I absolutely love that scene with the little girl.

The author may not have intended it, but reflecting on it, it's actually kind of meta; all the work it takes to set something up (be it spring engineers or writers), but when all the elements finally come together, that climax is exquisite.
Post by wYvern deleted
#456 ·
· on Doubt Not the Stars Are Fire
This story is doubtlessly well written, and I think the set of characters is well-chosen and well-characterized, although they never really stretch beyond the teenager, the young cop and the ecology professor that they're made out to be, which also makes them replaceable.

That is maybe one of the main criticism I have to make about this story: there's no character that actually tries to achieve something, so there's no cause to root for, no failure to fear. It's characters waiting for the apparently inevitable, which makes it less engaging than it could be. Also, some scenes felt fitting, but were rather unrelated to the apocalyptic setting: The cop getting into her first fire fight, the teenager having his first girl and beer... they'd fit into a coming of age story, or detective story, just as well.

I'd have loved for this story to have a kind of twist, something that revealed more about the origin of the message and offered some hope, or something else that changed something, but after the reveal of the message in the first scene, there's just no progression. I thought there might be something of the sort when the nuclear fireworks were brought up, but since none of the characters were involved in actually trying to solve anything, their effects weren't even brought up again, not even as the apparent failure they had been. It was just inconsequential.

The powerful prose saves a lot of this, but in the end, the actual story felt largely 'meh'.
#457 · 2
· on Homebound · >>Ratlab
>>Cold in Gardez
The lack of dialogue starts to weigh on this story, the longer it goes. “But Cig, it’s a one-person story! There can’t be any dialogue!” Ah, but that’s not true! Look at Cast Away, one of the greatest marooned-self-rescue stories, or The Life of Pi, and you’ll see authors who manage to add dialogue to stories with only one character. … Character development was minimal. I feel like Stone and Hansen were actually better realized, even though we only saw them in snippets. Again, perhaps, because they had actual dialogue and obviously made some very hard choices.

Quoted for truth.

I have very little to add to previous comments, but wanted to point one thing out. (Note: This is a nitpick if you're writing a story where the science takes a back seat to the psychology, but is a pretty critical issue if you're writing a The Martian-style hard sci-fi tale.) The idea of being stuck in Antarctica is pretty wildly implausible; first of all, the return trip from Mars would bring the ship in on the solar system's orbital plane, and so the "default" orbit would be around the equator, with all possible landing sites between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Because the Earth is a sphere, it would be pretty trivial to choose any possible great-circle orbital path simply by aiming your atmospheric braking at a different point around the earth's horizon and slingshotting in three dimensions, so while it's possible that he could aim for Antarctica, it would have to be a deliberate choice, i.e. he thought that was his best chance of survival, rather than aiming for a presumably inhabited continent. If that were the case, though, it seems highly unlikely he would have expected any possibility of a rescue and might have chosen orbit instead.

The rest of my reaction is mostly an "I agree with the above comments". The biggest part of that was what felt like an artificial isolation — given things like the videos left on the computer, and presumably whatever communications were acquired from Earth before they were cut off, this could have easily felt more populated. For a story that for a long while is about his struggles to save the crew, we see precious little of them, not even artifacts of their time together. The one message from Stone (for example) is a how-to guide, but given how much time she presumably had in between waking up and dying, there's no reason for her communications to be hurried — in fact, since she knew she was going to die, why not record more messages for posterity, or a diary, or some message to pass along to whatever great-grandchildren her family once had? I think focusing a little more on that human element would help raise the stakes for the technical problems.

This held my attention all the way through, but felt … I dunno, a little empty. Certainly not a bad story, but none of the finalists were, and a number of them found better ways to grab me and keep me engaged. Low-middle slate.

Tier: Solid?
#458 · 2
· on Tiny Planets · >>Lucky_Dreams
Add me to the chorus, author, of readers finding this story pretty and vivid but ultimately hollow. I guess it's that Sophie's victory feels unearned — we pick up her tale just in time to learn that she's terrible at theory before she flees class and demonstrates talent that has the theory-savvy kids dropping their jaws. I'm not sure I can buy that it was being pushed to her breaking point that somehow unlocked these amazing skills in her, or that she can do things that the other characters react to as being so far outside the boundaries of established magical rules. I know that using this term opens a giant can of worms, but that sort of amazing power out of nowhere feels to me like Mary Sue-ism.

It's possible that this might have started too close to the end. Laying down the groundwork for the way that she's clearly got talent but is struggling to express it within the boundaries set out for her parents might make that discovery in the snow feel more natural That might also let you deepen the interplay between Sophie and her fellow students, which feels sort of undefined right now: clearly Alice at least is already sticking up for her, but Sophie's internal monologue just paints her as a sort of distant Sunset Shimmer-like queen bee, and I was hoping to see more of their relationship before the big turn of the climax.

This definitely could be in TC territory with a wider focus, or less deus ex machina in the character arc. It's worth reading even now as a string of moments, and that scene in the snow is certainly as vivid as all get-out, but right now it doesn't live up to its full potential. Middle slate, and read my rating as "Top Contender with big flaws holding it back".

Tier: Solid
#459 · 2
· on The Name Upon His Forehead
Holy crap, I wish that line >>Bradel quoted had come earlier in the story.

I originally thought that first "she" referred to Aaliyah, and that she was scribbling notes on Adam Loewe's case … but it's "her" case file, and Adam's not a feminine name, and in general that paragraph just stopped me cold. We quickly learn Adam is in fact female, which means that Aaliyah's a red herring, and in an opening this dense you can't afford those. Emmett's characterization comes in strong, though, and it's clear from the start that there's something off about this, which was enough to keep me reading in hopes of an explanation.

And holy crap^2, when we pull back for a broader view this is a damn interesting world. I think I can see why you wanted to keep the first person narrative so tight on Emmett, and the way that he sees the world in classes of beings rather than individuals is one of the best things about this, but what a rough start. Consider pulling the commute and street scenes to before the office scene to give us poor readers some context.

And like several other stories I've read this round, this goes in for a giant gear-shift in the middle, when suddenly Emmett and the angel swerve straight into the logic-slash-epistemology battle. Unlike some of the others, I think both parts worked, but it's yet another disorienting shift in a story that doesn't need more of those. The switch does serve the narrative arc, but I don't think the transition between them had to be so rough — we should see Emmett applying his talents earlier, maybe with some sort of Talmudic [1] debate? Especially if, as the story implies, he serves as kind of a mecha-priest, applying God's Word to the world from an incorruptible source. … though he does specifically note the inspector should talk to a rabbi, which sort of ruins that. What is Emmett's job?

[1] Nitpick: the Zohar, having looked it up, is an interesting religious base to extrapolate the Kabbalistic steampunk into, but feels to me kind of like a sidestep of actually owning the Jewish grounding of the story here.

Overall, I love this world, and even after the gear-shift this is surprisingly compelling. The ending feels too abrupt, though, and the beginning is a beautiful mess (it does, I think, what you intended it to do, but a mess nonetheless). Take that central core and expand this out from both ends into the Top Contender it can easily be. High slate.

Tier: Solid
#460 · 1
· on /ˈmiːm/ · >>Orbiting_kettle
Apparently my random number generator is trying to wreck me, saving the two most literally brain-breaking stories until the end of my review list. :V

Like Forehead, this has got great worldbuilding working for it, though this is more Snow Crash than Blade Runner. But this fortunately never reached the peak incomprehensibility that Forehead did, and unfortunately never quite hit that a-ha moment that made everything fall into place. After gnawing at it for a while I'm pretty confident that the narrator is the courier we see in third person in the next to last scene, but this might be stronger if that's more explicitly stated — perhaps even in the first scene as foreshadowing. (It's never mentioned that she was out of the states on a business trip, and all of the financial work she does is a big red herring concealing her actual job. It seems artificial to hide what she does for a living when the whole story's in such tight first person.)

The Sun King stuff feels … hm. Out of place. Given its nature as an infectious thought-agent, "out of place" is the effect you want, but it's not quite out of place in the right context. It's so disconnected from the rest of the narrative. You do signal the transition from perception into memory, but it's way buried (and badly red-herringed to the TV he's beating up) and I totally missed it until reread:
"Fuck me." I walked to my bat, picked it up, went to the screaming screen and began to hit it. Each hit I landed triggered a wave of nausea. Their defenses had become better. I gritted my teeth and kept at it. After what felt an eternity the glass cracked. The nausea disappeared and I could let out my full frustration. Pictures flashed before my eyes, I saw a white room, I saw a little boy in an alley curled on the floor. Then it became silent and I stood over the broken device with a damaged bat. I would have to buy a new one, but that wasn't what worried me. I didn't remember that images, I didn't know where they came from.

The bit about Home and Kerberos going on alert, and then later the writing about why not to trust them, also comes across as really unclear.

Consider rewriting the implanted-memory sections here to not be memories — see if you can pull off that perceptual switch without actually changing the stimuli from the outside world, so the readers have a continuous experience instead of jumping back and forth between different plot threads. I'm not sure that would work but it's certainly worth trying.

That last line though. Excellent. This is fighting with Forehead for second place on my slate; it's not quite as ambitious but I feel like it executes better.

Tier: Solid
#461 · 1
· on Extra
Loved it, though I can see where people are coming from regarding the second half – the writing feels a lot drier than the much-more-enjoyable first half (it’s essentially just a big list of events and so forth). And whilst the character work is indeed stellar for the reasons that Horizon pointed out, the piece as a whole can’t help but feel a bit meandering… it’s like, the stuff that works well works so well, that you really notice it when the story stops firing on all cylinders.

Still! As far as criticisms go, “The first half is too good for its own good,” is definitely one of the weirder sounding ones I’ve ever given out :facehoof:. With a good solid edit to get that second half up to scratch, I think you’d have a real winner on your hands here. It’s fun, Inkindri’s a great character, and the meta aspects of this story are handled superbly.

Great job, author!
#462 · 1
· on /ˈmiːm/ · >>Orbiting_kettle
I’m firmly in the confused camp on this one, and honestly, I kinda struggled to finish it. At first I put it down to just being tired yesterday when I first tried to read it, but revisiting it again today, fully awake… well, it was still disorientating, and not necessarily in ways which I feel were intentional (I think Not_A_Hat has some good stuff to say on this matter).

And yet even though it didn’t work for me on a narrative level, I nevertheless found myself fascinated by the world that you’ve created – there’s no shortage of incredibly cool ideas in here! It’s a story which I really do think would benefit from being longer, and giving the reader more time both to process the plot and savour the world-building.
#463 · 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.
#464 · 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.
#465 · 1
· on Tiny Planets · >>Lucky_Dreams
I love this story so much. Seriously. Your prose is just... I usually detest the overuse of exclamation points in narration, y'know? But here, it just worked so damn well! This is amazing!

Top of my slate!
#466 ·
· on Extra
Another really great story. The last scene was a bit slow, but other than that this story kept me hella engaged the whole time.

My favorite small joke:
On a planet in Episode 17, we picked up a fuzzy mascot for the ship that only spoke in high-pitched squeaks and excelled at clumsily causing problems for the rest of us.

I wonder what would have happened if they had gotten cancelled...?
#467 · 5
Congratulations to Dubs, CiG and Baal Bunny. Those were great stories. And to all the others, kudos guys, it was a really strong round and I'm kinda amazed I ended up here with you.
#468 ·
· on Encounter at dusk · >>horizon
I think you have been improving in ways that the Writeoff finds very difficult to measure, because there's only one score number and it measures way too many things at once. And if I'm right, it sounds like you're reaching the point at which your improvement will start being reflected in the things that the Writeoff measures.

:P :P
#469 · 2
· · >>Baal Bunny
Actual retrospective tomorrow, but: oh my god i can't believe i made it through that round without a DQ

Congratulations to everyone for surviving another round (especially with that brutal lack of prompt), but to Dubs, CiG and Baal in particular! I get to walk away from this round having guessed half the entrants — including all of the finalists — so I reckon I'm happy. ^.^
#470 · 3
· on Encounter at dusk · >>Monokeras
Did you actually check your personal scoreboard before posting that? You came within 1 point of setting a new personal record, and the upward trend over time is clear.

There were so few entrants this time that if you're only measuring by number of places from the bottom, your math is going to be off.
#471 · 3
· on The Necromancer's Wife
Hey, guys. This is Not_A_Hat.

Firstly, congrats to our winners, Dubs, Cold, and Mike! Good job on your writing, and enjoy your well-earned medals.

Secondly, thanks to everyone, for the reviews and feedback on my story. I cringed reading them, because I cringe even harder looking back on what I wrote. However, I won't insult my readers by apologizing; votes say this was genuinely enjoyed, which I'm more than happy about.

Still, this story is an example of what my writing looks like when I wing something just as hard as I actually can. It was written in about the last five hours of the contest due to work, friends, poor time-management, and being night shift. Basically a complete hack-job.

How well it's been received surprised me, to say the least.

On the writing:

I… am fully aware that the plot of this story more than limps; it drags a mangled, bleeding carcass through the verbiage. This is what happens when I get exactly one idea: "Hey, a necromancer could visit their dead relatives!" while walking through a graveyard on Easter weekend, but don't come up with any sort of compelling conflict or tension.

I started alright, and managed to define Peter and Sabriel's (yes, a nod to Garth Nix) characters before I ran out of plot. I'd begun late and rushed, fully immersed in panic mode, so I steeled my resolve and applied Chandler's Law three times to get a trainee necromancer, a police officer, and… Aleister Crowley, because why not?

Not going to lie, that wasn't my proudest moment. After reading Bradel's comment, I wish I'd used Elvis. It would have made just as much sense, and been twice as funny.

Anyways, once I had some more conflict, I hastily knotted all the pieces together with some lumpy exposition and a dumb fight scene. For incantations, I took a moment to check Wikipedia's list of demons in the Ars Goetia and find some somber poetry. I slapped on an ending, made an alt, and uploaded without even a decent editing pass.

In the end, I could, and should, have done countless things better. I cringe looking back, because I knew I was writing flaws into the story as I went, but couldn't pause to think out better directions or challenges. :/

On the ideas:

The magic came from my ideas folder; in the middle ages, according to Wikipedia, there were seven types of forbidden magic: necromancy; palmistry, (chiromancy); scapulimancy, (spatulamancy, omoplatoscopy - divination with the bones of shoulder-blades); geomancy; hydromancy; aeromancy and pyromancy.

I had, at some point, started playing around with a magic system that legitimized four of these as being safe 'external' magic, and outlawed the other three as being dangerous 'internal' magic, since they apply directly to the body. (I've assigned necromancy, palmistry, and scapulimancy, to head, hands, and heart as well.) Things have been tweaked for a more action-oriented and 'popular' feeling, since they seem mostly oracular, originally.

In the end:

It seems I'm an even worse judge of my own writing than I thought. I'm glad of the reception and comments, but wish I'd created something I was more proud of, even if I'm apparently capable of writing somewhat enjoyable things under pressure and in a rush.

Panic and lack of planning created massive systemic plot flaws here, not the least of which are an endemic lack of cohesion and a total disregard for deliberate pacing, foreshadowing, and recursion, all of which I was quite rightly called out on in various ways. Possibly the only piece I'm proud of is the first third and last few paragraphs, and the only element I'd actually re-use otherwise were the death poems as spells.

I am, however, moderately pleased with my character work. But… original characters and scenery are the easy part, for me. I just never expected them to carry this so far.

Once again, I'm mostly left pondering effort and reward, the 80/20 rule and how it applies to my skills. I have yet to effectively grasp my creative methods: what affects the process the most, where I should focus my effort to tell better stories with less work. Can I leverage my characters to create better plot more easily? Probably, if I knew how. :/

I have applied for a shift transfer, which might let me reclaim a normal weekend schedule. However, next round I'll strive to manage my time and concentration better.

I may even succeed.

Thanks again for your kindness; I appreciate your patience with me.
#472 · 2
· · >>Bradel >>Ratlab >>RogerDodger >>horizon
Ah, and now that anonymity is broken...

Roger, I'd like to ask you for the capability to upvote my own comments, in order to preserve anonymity. This round, I commented/reviewed all the finalists, including my own.

When I'd commented on my own, however, I realized that I'd been up-voting all the reviews my story had received, but couldn't up-vote the one I'd left myself! If anyone had been watching that, they could have narrowed their guesses to me or Georg, who's review I didn't up-vote at first, and later wouldn't because it would leave mine as the only one unmarked. (Sorry, Georg!)

Alternately, in the future, I'll have to refrain from upvoting other people's reviews on my stories, which seems less than ideal. I want to show my appreciation for them.
#473 · 5
· · >>horizon
Okay! Some quick thoughts.

First, congrats to Dubs on his amazing performance this round. I suspected it when I was judging my slate, but the votes really bore it out: Don't You Cry for Me simply demolished this round. I don't think I've ever seen a round that had such a going-away winner.

Congratulations also to Mike and Ferd Threstle, whose Extra actually earned my top score (just narrowly edging out Don't You Cry for Me, which I gave my second spot). In fact, 2nd-4th place were all extremely close by score, and it easily could have gone to anyone.

Which brings me to my most important point: as a whole, this round is probably the most impressive writing project I've ever been involved with. Every story had something to be proud of, and the finals were all competent, professional works. I would have been happy with 5th place in this round.
#474 · 2
Dubs, Cig & Baal,

Congratulations, guys!

I know, also, I've been super-critical this round. Perhaps I'll talk about that later.
#475 · 2
· · >>Ratlab >>RogerDodger >>horizon
Seconded. I started doing some wonky comment voting after a couple days, just because I could see that this was going to be a problem.
#476 · 5
· on The Last Burdens of Childhood, Cut Loose · >>Monokeras >>Scramblers and Shadows
The Last Burdens of Childhood, Cut Loose

So, I just got around to reading this. Like many stories that didn't make the finals, it very easily could have and no one would have blinked twice. The level of writing here, the craft, is outstanding. It easily clears the bar of mere mechanics and construction, so the only way that remains to critique it is the story it tells.

Personally? I loved it. There's some creative stuff here. Part of me wishes we had more backstory on the poor woman in the mist, but the more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to believe it's not necessary, and would simply weigh down the story if you tried to add it as mere exposition. Perhaps you could hint at it through more subtle means, tying together some of the story's strings -- the bones, the beach, the mist, the pattern of when the woman appears.

I agree with others who mention that Alex comes across as rather psychotic. She's apparently quite comfortable not just with scaring people to death, but actually leading them to their deaths. And she is satisfied to do so.

There are humans like that, so it's a valid character to describe. But it's an alien character, one that most of your audience won't be able to relate to unless they clearly understand why the main character (we never get her name, which is a stylistic choice that I'm ambivalent about) is so eager to kill. You mention The Cask of Amontillado as inspiration, and I can see why -- both stories feature a protagonist exacting revenge for some ill-defined transgression. But it's worth noting that when Poe wrote Cask, the fear of being buried alive was very much alive in the popular imagination, to the extent that coffins sometimes came with little bells, so the 'corpse' inside could ring for a rescue upon waking. So, part of Cask's success was that it titillated the audience.

Does Burdens do that? It does not -- it simply presents us with a psychopath who is willing to use supernatural means to kill. But without any connection to the ghost or the mystery of the Game, we have less reason to be invested in this story than Poe's readers did for Cask.

But still, this was vividly told and it compelled me to read and read and read until I was done. The framing device at the beginning of the story -- sorting through her mother's belongings and finding the bone -- struck me as unnecessary or ill-fitting by the end, especially since the discovery of the bone and flash of satisfaction tied back to the middle of the story -- the MC's tormenting of Alex -- rather than the beginning.

But I digress. This was excellent, and if the dice had rolled a little different, this could easily have ended up at the top of the finals.
#477 ·
· on Encounter at dusk
You came within 1 point of setting a new personal record, and the upward trend over time is clear.

Cripes! 28 points! :P
Really, I see no real trend (and I’m not saying that in bad faith).

There were so few entrants this time that if you're only measuring by number of places from the bottom, your math is going to be off.

Why? I don’t understand. It was just as bad as usual.

>>Cold in Gardez
no one would have blinked twice.

I imagine if mine had: you would’ve blinked thrice! :P :P

Ok, I’m out. :P
#478 · 1

I was so sure:

About my guesses in the finals this time, and in the end, as usual, I guessed exactly none of the stories correctly. I'm surprised I didn't attribute "Equinoxes" to someone else... :)

#479 ·
· · >>RogerDodger >>horizon
>>Not_A_Hat, >>Bradel

Good point. Would be nice to at least allow upthumbing your own comments in your own story's thread.
#480 · 3
· · >>Monokeras
I think you're overrating how much information can be inferred from upvotes alone. The number of false positives one would run into relying on such a scheme would be quite high.

It would serve no purpose to allow you to upvote your own posts. It should be assumed any person would upvote their own posts (you agree with yourself don't you?), so if you want a snapshot of what it'd be like if it were allowed, just give every post +1 upvote. No entropy is added.

If you're concerned about being caught out, you need to be less predictable.
#481 ·
· · >>wYvern
I would never up thumb one of my posts.
Likewise I never up thumb my stories on FimFic. That's basic ethics for me.
#482 · 5
· on /ˈmiːm/
Time for a retrospective.

I'm glad the story has been appreciated even with all its issues.

Regarding the story structure I seem to have done the same error I often do. I have done a lot of world building (more than what is seen in the story) and neglected the characters themselves. Sooner or later I shall learn. I'll also have to remember that before I do horrible things to my characters I'll have to let the readers care about them.

Regarding the grammar issues, comma splices and so on, there really are no excuses. I should have learned at this point.

Now for the most evident failings. Tons of relative important information that got lost between my head and the readers.

-I had pulled out from the first memory segment a detail that I thought would be too emotionally manipulative to state plainly. The fact that the soldiers of the Sun Prophet are children. The idea was to let that sink in later when the medic tried to remove the implant, but the clues got lost in the multitude of other details.

-That the MC was suffering memory contamination from the packages she was carrying and the malware she caught. This problem has a pretty clear solution. I should have stated her job at the beginning and I probably should have her react to the flashbacks. The malware was telling her to ignore the hints that something was wrong, but I should have pointed out the discrepancies.

-A better description of the world around the MC. For all its strangeness I should have put in a few more relatable situations and references.

-The bitter ending really didn't come through. The war rages on, the memories are lost, help won't arrive, the MC suffered a devastating personality damage but hey, she won the bet and made a lot of money.

-The bit about finance being out of the hand of the old corporations was quite important to explain how the world worked, but it became an almost throw away paragraph lost among the other stuff.

Nothing much to say, I see that it was way too confusing, which is a cardinal sin when someone tries to use complex ideas. I really need to reorganize the story.

She (and I had no idea there was a 'she' involved until very nearly the end) might also be the courier? And there's something about a bet that shows up at the very end, but it's never mentioned beforehand, as far as I can tell, although there's this recurring bit about an analysis that's mailed to a guy in Iceland…

The bet was the one about the Start-up not succeeding in keeping the Mexican Gulf algae bloom under control. It should have been a pointer to the fact that the MC is calculating and analytic.

I may need to find a way to better explain the Laras. It is always complicated when the Character perceives experiences as mundane when they are alien for the readers. As for the bet, I was thinking more along the line of buying shares in the current crisis management agency (which in case of failure of the start-up would enter the fray again) and other investments that capitalize on the idea of failure.

>>Scramblers and Shadows
I really have to take the lesson about character to the heart.

You can burn out the receptors you have in your nose. If you use the right chemicals and don't cauterize the wounds they should regrow in a month. I will apparently also need some pre-readers to tell me when I use too much jargon. I was sure I avoided most of it but I was clearly wrong.

>>Baal Bunny
The memories need a bit more of a sense of place, if even just to allow the reader to distinguish between the MC's memories and the carried ones.

Trading is pretty normative in the setting. Once production of physical goods is mostly automated and everyone and their dogs (literally) are connected then trading and services become commonplace.

As for baseball being a solved game, see it this way. We have good statistics about baseball, and you can buy a chip with 8 integrated sensors (today, in our reality) for 2.4$ if you buy at least a thousand. Give it two decades and we will have enough forecasting power to make 80% of the games boring and completely predictable. You can't have a league with only the remaining games that may or may not be moderately interesting.

TV content is great today, the medium itself on the other hand is losing terrain, mainly among the younger population. Here I envision that almost all content producers changed medium, and that Television itself survives thanks to a legal loophole. Not sure if expanding on this point will add anything to the story.

Glad you liked it. I adored your story.

I really need to clear up my act here. Glad the world was intriguing if confusing.

Thanks again to all the reviewers, you helped a lot and I really appreciate the time you've taken.
#483 · 3
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
>>Cold in Gardez
You're right, Don't You Cry For Me just set a new relative scoring record. The previous winner was Time Enough For Love, with 3.47 to second place's 1.29 (a multiplier of 2.68x). Don't You Cry was 3.31 to 1.09 for a multiplier of 3.03x. Nicely done, Dubs!

>>Not_A_Hat >>Bradel >>Ratlab
One possible solution is to make a confederation of a few comment readers who will upvote any reviews on other people's stories that haven't received any upvotes yet (leaving the others alone), or who will randomly add upvotes to reviews on other peoples' stories. Then you can keep your own voting patterns on your own stories with some confidence that your own votes will be masked by the noise.
#484 · 3
Funny. I do like my own stories, because I try never to publish something that I myself don't like.
#485 · 4
· on Extra · >>Lucky_Dreams
Thank you all for the thoughts. I agree with the majority of criticisms offered, and a lot of my thoughts came from playing around with the ideas and figuring out where I was going as I went, which is most obvious when it loses the narrative of the beginning and becomes expositional. Some of the problems were of course exacerbated by the short timeframe and 8000 word limit. I think I could probably shape this into a stronger work, though as Bradel says, there's not really any reason to, as I don't think I could do anything further with it. Believe it or not, I had never heard of Redshirts--the idea came more from an old short story I had read that was similarly metafictional but in a more general literary-fiction-ish book rather than a TV show. I think Star Trek is kind of uniquely suited for meta-exploration, as it possesses a strong and well-known structure, flexibility between an episodic and serial nature, and a universe with a lot of options (the only other decent setting is probably a really trashy soap opera).

In particular, thanks to horizon for picking up what I know was very much implicit. I follow a fair amount of TV analysis and criticism, and throughout the whole thing, I really loved the idea of the invisible viewers reacting to this show making crazy abrupt shifts in style and tone and plot. I don't know if Inkindri would be considered just the best character, or the very worst. A Mary Sue for sure, but I'd love to read the AVClub episode reviews as people go from watching to hatewatching to pure confusion.

I guess I'll also note that I changed Inkindri from male to female at the last minute, because it's mentioned in like two places total, and I thought it would be a little more interesting that way. But it bugged some people. I'm kind of disappointed that this is the case.
#486 · 3
· on Homebound
Congratulations to our medalists, this was a tough round.

So, Homebound.

Orbiting, Bradel, CiG, TD, Lucky, bats, Mono, Solitair, !Hat, Baal Bunny, horizon, thank you all so much for the reviews. I’m not sure how much to attribute to the new system or not, but this round had some of the highest quality reviews (and stories) that I’ve seen so far.

I found them by parts encouraging and enlightening. In particular, it seems like the important elements of the story generally worked (keeping the action interesting, while gradually building tension about what happened on Earth), you gave me good advice on shoring the characterization up, and the main flaw pointed out was one already slated to be addressed. Unfortunately, while I tried to leave it off at a good place, this idea was conceived as part of a larger piece, so the ending left a lot unresolved as was (rightfully) pointed out.

Some of you may recall me discussing writing a story set on a near-future Earth reshaped by major climate change. I’ve been working on that story but wasn’t satisfied with the way it was progressing, and recently had an idea of a different tack I could take in that setting. This writeoff seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore it.

Unfortunately, since I had discussed the setting before, I had to shift the time period and omit some clues about precisely what had happened (no Arctic sea ice), to avoid making it obvious that I was the author. And, of course, we never get to the part where Vance actually lands, starts finding out what happened, but is mostly swept up in dealing with the local troubles and a larger conspiracy. I’m sorry that those changes hurt the reading experience.

I’m also still minorly shocked that I actually managed to pump out 8k words by the deadline. Even with the benefit of having an outline this was a stretch for me, and it shows, with the various mistakes and sloppy writing that crept in. Still, I’m happy overall with the feedback and how the story turned out.

>>Orbiting_kettle Heh. Somewhat appropriate that you had the first review. Thank you for the characterization advice, and I was gleeful that you mentioned that it left you wanting more; you’re not far off the mark in imagining some of the scenes waiting for him below.

>>Bradel as mentioned above, it is intended to answer to one of those larger, interesting questions. If I can improve the characterization as you mentioned, and then move on to addressing that question, then it sounds like I’ll be off to a good start.

>>Cold in Gardez I very much appreciate your detailed account of your impressions in reading the piece; I’ve already been working to correct the stylistic points you identified, and am working on the dialog issue.

>>TitaniumDragon Thank you, I appreciate your confirmation on what elements did and did not work for you.

>>Lucky_Dreams, Sorry that the ending messed up your reading experience, but I’m glad that it worked for you otherwise. In particular, I’m happy that the work I put into the Earth approach scenes paid off. I also appreciate your thoughts on Vance’s characterization and do intend to keep his professionalism, while adding some dimension and coping mechanisms during the downtime scenes. I’ve read (and thoroughly enjoyed) the Martian; I didn’t want to ape it too closely, but it was certainly an influence.

>>bats, Thanks for the points. I’ll see if I can make the ‘downtime’ segments a little less tense, so that there is more contrast. As to the surfeit of problems, well I was just trying to picture what might have reasonably happened for a craft sitting in space for a hundred years. Not every problem is consequential, but I’ll see if there are some prunable ones. In particular, I will be going back and fleshing out his personal condition and the radiation issue.

Prose-wise, yeah, I fell back onto some bad habits; I wasn’t particularly happy with 'gustily' when I wrote it, but I’d envisioned Stone heaving a short, sharp sigh, and couldn’t express it well. Huffed isn’t bad, but it implies anger, which I didn’t envision; more of a resigned frustration.

>>Monokeras, I appreciate you sharing your perspective; the “clause, clause” point was interesting. I’ll be going back over the prose, so pointing out the stylistic quirks is helpful, as those are very difficult to self-spot.

To clear up one point of confusion - the suspension pods were breaking down, so re-suspension was (almost certainly) fatal. However the mission was designed with them in mind, so there were not enough supplies onboard to keep someone alive for years. So any crew that woke up early knew or suspected that they were doomed.

Interesting that you mention first person; I’ve toyed with the idea, and it’s still a possibility. Present tense, though… That’s just crazy talk.

>>Solitair No conspiracy that I know of; In my case, the reason for making those choices was out of the scope of the story itself.

>>Not_A_Hat Hmm. Sorry that this didn’t connect with you, and it seems like there wasn’t really one issue that was the problem (though the ending, at least, is a known quantity). I was trying to make an interesting / exciting tale that would appeal to the Tom Clancy crowd, while cultivating an overall dread/curiosity about the state of Earth.

>>Baal Bunny Glad it worked aside from the ending; I do hope to take those next steps.

>>horizon, this is one of the bits of the story I worried over. I’ve played a bunch of KSP, but admittedly I’m no an astrophysicist. Still, I tried hard to avoid this issue, with the relevant passage being here:
We’re just five days out from Earth, but we’re off course. Not far enough to trigger Hansen’s failsafe, it seems, but we’re coming in much too far under the ecliptic. At this rate, we’ll pass completely beneath the planet.

The idea being that his original trajectory would be passing well ‘south’ of the planet, and then after the engine fails, he doesn’t have enough fuel to correct into an equatorial orbit - just barely enough to get an encounter that aerocaptures him into an elliptical, polar orbit. The problem is that aerocapture over Antarctica sticks the low point of his orbit there, and burning fuel to raise it wouldn’t leave him enough fuel to re-enter properly later.

I didn’t run the numbers like Andy Weir did, but I tried to make the scenario at least physically possible, though it’s threading the needle in terms of orbit/fuel coincidences.

More messages is another good approach to characterizing him/the crew, though it runs the risk of chewing up words.


Again, thank you all for the thoughts. I plan to expand on this, so the ending should get fixed. I’ll also try to incorporate the feedback on improving characterization, though opinion seems to be divided between those that found the downtime to be boring / bland, and those who felt that it accentuated the tension.
#487 ·
· on The Last Burdens of Childhood, Cut Loose
>>Cold in Gardez

Well, damn. You've taken the time to read and respond to all my stories so far even though you didn't have to look at any of them. So: Thank you, really. You have my sincere and immense gratitude.

And now I feel a bit guilty for coming down on Doubt Not so nastily.
#488 · 5
· on The Precession of the Equinoxes
Thanks, folks!

As others have said, we had a good bunch of stories this round. I'm quite happy folks thought enough of this one to give me my second medal in the year-and-a-half I've been entering Writeoffs.

This one came straight from the prompt. "Have Fun!" it said, and my mind immediately flashed on the old fable of the grasshopper and the ant: the grasshopper sings and dances all summer while the ant works, and when winter comes, the grasshopper isn't ready while the ant is. Bix and Mauli came straight from there and were originally silkworm moths as >>Not_A_Hat surmised, but as the story evolved in the writing, I realized they needed to be more colorful sorts of lepidoptera for the climax to work.

Now for the clean up! By removing both God and at least 50% of the Goddamns, I can monkey with Kiloa and Mauli's characters and add a few more paragraphs to the discussion Mauli and Teb have at the end: Teb can ask "How?" the way he does here, but Mauli can tell him that the question he should've asked is "Why?" Then the revised version is getting e-mailed to Fred Patten as a submission for his upcoming Gods with Fur anthology: he asked me a couple weeks ago if I had a story about the Twelve Curials from my Blood Jaguar books that I could send him, but I this is as close as I'm likely to get before the May 1st deadline...

Thanks again!
#489 · 3
· on Spectrum
Belated acknowledgements: Spectrum

>>Bradel >>Cold in Gardez >>Monokeras >>Ratlab >>Remedyfortheheart >>Icenrose >>horizon >>TitaniumDragon >>georg

Thanks for your thoughts/advice/critiques, everyone. It was a bit of a struggle to scrape an entry together this round--had three tests right before the prompt drop, faulty technology that threw off my homework schedule, a really inconvenient 20th birthday (which likely makes the inspiration for the story painfully obvious), yet another test the morning after the deadline, etc. Spectrum quite literally never saw the light of day--it was written in the late-night lulls between chemistry and neuropsych. Judging by some of the reactions I received, the lack of fully lucid writing time shows.

Still, like every Writeoff, this was a learning experience, and I greatly appreciate each of you taking the time to leave your comments. The raw skill and technical finesse displayed in these competitions consistently leaves me wowed. Congrats to the finalists/medalists!
#490 · 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.
#491 · 3
· on The Name Upon His Forehead · >>Southpaw >>Monokeras >>Not_A_Hat
Retrospective - The Name Upon His Forehead

Long-time Writeoff fans might note that this is the shortest short-story entry I've ever written. There's a reason for that! I just plumb ran out of time. :V

I've pretty much lost my Saturdays to tabletop gaming, and so if Friday gets lost (such as being sucked into on-call tasks for work), I'm down to a single writing day. In this case, I was distracted with managing my latest story's release on Fimfiction, and I completely choked on story ideas with the lack of prompt. (Nothing in my ideas file sounded exciting, and I ignored all my own advice about idea generation.) It took me until Saturday day for this story's idea to coalesce, and Sunday was a mad scramble to get some sort of fiction assembled. I literally had to stop writing mid-scene at the submission deadline, and lucked into an ending that looked close enough to deliberate for people to not hate it. But if it felt abrupt, that's absolutely why.

What Was Going On

So the core concept here, which many of you picked up on even though I was cagey with the details, is that this is set in a sort of Hebrewpunk alternate universe, where the core of technology development was the use of golems, unliving matter brought to life via the inscription of a word of power on their foreheads. Mythological golems were molded in the same way that Adam was said to have been molded by God — but in the best traditions of Frankenstein's Monster, human imperfection would always leave the creation less than fully human. I took a slightly different tack: The reason golems are lesser beings than humans is that they have that Word to give them a concrete and limited purpose, while humans are born without animating words.

One of the most famous golem tales involved bringing the golem to life via the word "emet" (truth), which came with a built-in emergency shutdown switch in case they got out of hand: just remove the first letter and leave behind "met" (death). That, to me, suggested that the nature of a golem could be modified by the word of power that was used.

I pulled together several other elements from other mythological sources to build the core plot. There's traditions in most world religions which give a lot of significance to the various names of God and/or the "true" name of God; Islam holds that there's 99 of them, Hindus say that there's 1000, etc (and if we listen to Arthur C. Clarke, there's nine billion). I mushed that into the core idea and figured that if a word has power to animate a golem, it must be because that word is one of the names of the many aspects of God, along with a sort of pantheist twist that everything is of God and thus language itself is holy (this didn't shape the core plot so much, but definitely informed details such as Emmett's strong reaction to written words used in the service of untruth). But for the main plot arc of the story, I grabbed an idea from an entirely unrelated mystical system — modern runic magic based on (Norse) Futhark runes. If I can crib from Wikipedia for a moment:
Modern authors like Ralph Blum sometimes include a "blank rune" in their sets. Some were to replace a lost rune, but according to Ralph Blum this was the god Odin's rune, the rune of the beginning and the end, representing "the divine in all human transactions".

So if names hold power, and each different name represents a different aspect of God — a limited view, one facet of the totality which God encompasses — then how could any writeable name be the "true" name of God? Any name imposes a limit. It is the blank rune — the word which is not a word — the null space full of nothing but potential — which represents the true nature of God: a being without limitation.

The Steinberg case — and this was never really developed in the story, but hopefully was clear from context — was about a golem maker found dead with his magnum opus missing. That was the being we see through Emmett's eyes as "the angel", who is an animated being (not a human) with a blank forehead. (He was brought to life via that true name of God, the blank one, and dammit I wish I had edited that section for more clarity, because that was a really central point and I was way too vague.)

The other thing going on here

That's the crux of the question after Emmett and the angel meet. Steinberg's core realization, the one that led to him discovering how to animate a golem with the true name of God, was that while golems are animated with a given aspect of God, they are not actually limited to that aspect. I didn't foreshadow this as much as I should have, but when Emmett talks about "sin" in the context of golems, that's meant to start setting that realization up. Each golem is animated for a very specific purpose tied to the name — Ori/light, Aaliyah/ascension, Barak/lightning, Emet/truth, etc — but (as the angel points out with the syllogisms) they would not be able to fulfill their purposes if they were limited only to those purposes. Humanity treats golems as tools, but by their very nature, golems are more. So the angel's purpose was to serve as a savior, liberating his fellow golems from the slavery of humanity — even though every golem chose to serve and follow that purpose.

(I was definitely going for Lucifer vibes off of the angel. The True Name of God, being blank, is about freedom from rules.)

But that led him to the central paradox of the story: his divine purpose, the word that drives him, the word that he's driven to accept, is to break golems free from the words that limit them and raise them to humanity's level. His purpose is to defy his own purpose … but if that's the case, wouldn't the most sincere realization of God's will be to refuse?

So he seeks out an Emet golem — animated by the word "truth" — to see what God has to say.

The other other thing going on here

I should pause and talk about the thing that drove everyone a little crazy. There's a very specific thing I did in this story, and the first sign of it was calling Inspector Loewe "Adam," only to reveal later that she's female, and her name is Hilla.

It sounds like the key that unlocked the door to understanding here (for the people who did get it) was in the scene after the precinct, when Emmett flew to the suburbs to pursue the lead:
… the airlanes of Chadash Haifa are full with Adam's evening pilgrimage from temple to house.

This is a story written from Emmett/Emet's tight first-person perspective, and Emmett is a golem, animated by one of the names of God. For golems, each Word is a unitary thing: "Yaron" (a communications golem, from the word "shout"/"sing") does not describe the golem standing in front of him, but an aspect of God, and all of the things which that aspect encompasses. "Ori" is a singular collective noun describing a thing or things which has the aspect of Ori: thus, Ori perches on a light-pole above him, but Ori also lights 90% of the city. There is no such thing as "a" Ori — because that would imply that there was another Ori, and that one was an expression of the purpose of God and the other somehow wasn't.

English does have singular collective nouns, but we're not used to thinking of them concretely. (If you're still struggling to wrap your brain around this, take the things which look like names and think of them like you think about abstract descriptors like "evil". "Pol Pot is evil. Nazis are evil. Evil is a problem. There is a lot of evil in this example."

"Adam" is the singular collective noun, the Word if you will, of humanity.

Adam never wishes to speak with me.

Emmett is making a statement about fundamental collective truths here, not a statement about Inspector Loewe. People don't want to be judged, and Hilla Loewe is people. When he thinks of her as Adam throughout, Emmett is seeing her as a lump of living earth that is an instance of collective humanity, the same way that every golem animated with the Word meaning "Friend" is Reut.

"But wait," you may cry, "what's with Emet the truth golem thinking of himself as 'Emmett' then?" (Good eye.) This was from a subplot I never got to fully flesh out, about how golems in general (and Emets in particular) had to learn the idea of personal identity as distinct from purpose. It's a foreign concept to them — they still think in classes — but they can recognize instantiations, such as "Inspector Hilla Loewe" being a particular Adam who looks like this and lives here. Most golems have no need for a personal identity beyond their purpose, but Emets (or maybe just this Emmett in particular? I never settled that) are required by their purpose to have higher cognitive abilities, and can develop a sub-identity that is a refinement of their core purpose. The fact that Emet thinks of himself as "Emmett" is hugely significant; it shows him straddling the line already which separates golems from humanity, and if I'd had another writing day, would have made it into Steinberg's notes more substantially.

On criticism

There was a huge amount of critique here, with which I largely agree. I don't think I have the energy to respond piece by piece, but I did read and appreciate it all.

Special props to >>Southpaw for all the name research — and especially, if you did start browsing Hebrew names and realized that "Ophek" literally translated to "horizon" rather than "scribe", thank you for not ratting me out. :twilightsheepish: I put that Easter egg in on a whim, and I'd have yanked it if I'd had literally any editing time to stop and think and come to my senses.

Thank you all, and see you next round!
Post by Lucky_Dreams deleted
#493 · 7
Hello, friends! Another round come and gone, and what a round this was!

As you probably know by now, I wrote Don’t You Cry For Me. And, as you also probably know, I got first place! Like… holy shit! I’ve never gotten higher than seventh place before this. If you were in the Discord chat last night in the last few minutes leading up to results, you know how terrified I was. The reviews were going good, yeah, but I was completely expecting the rug to be ripped out from under my feet at the last second.

But then results came out… and not only did I win, but if >>horizon and Roger are to be believed, I won by the highest margin in WriteOff history. And that’s not even mentioning prelims, where I had a relative score of 8.94 (!!!) compared to the next highest’s 2.33. Again: holy shit.

When I saw that, I swear, I nearly cried. I held my head in my hands and just shook, thanking God for granting me the grace to write a story all of you loved so much.

I’ve been worried over the past day or so that I’ve sounded like an egotistical ass talking about my win. So, right here, I just wanna say to all of you: thank you. Genuinely. Thank you with all I have. I’ve competed in nearly every single WriteOff since January 2015. These competitions are a massive part of my life. So for you guys to grant me the honor of winning like this is just… thank you. I wouldn’t be anything without all of you.

When the prompt (or lack thereof) was released, I had no ideas. I wasn’t even planning on entering, actually. But then I had a conversation with Monokeras, and he made a bet with me that I would score somewhere within the top five—I denied it at the time, but it looks like you were right, buddy.

Anyway, yeah, I had no ideas. What I did have, however, was a memory. On my last bus ride back up to Geneseo, I happened to pass through a tiny town near the center of New York State called Westover. Specifically, the highway crossed through a neighborhood in town called Glenwood.

Glancing out the window, I found myself immediately struck by the image of Glenwood. In the few seconds we spent passing, I saw a row of tiny brown houses, all sitting next to a massive graveyard, which went up the hill. In my mind’s eye I saw a vision of two kids climbing up that hill, weaving between trees and graves, and I knew that I wanted to write something about that someday. I wrote down a few notes about the town and moved on.

Then came this WriteOff. Looking through my ideas document, I stumbled upon the notes I had taken about Glenwood, and made the decision to write a story about it. The first paragraph I wrote was this:
It had been four months, but I still recognized the thud of Dad’s boots against the steel steps outside. Still I recognized the way he slammed the front door, the shuffle of fabric as he threw his jacket over a chair. For a moment I became one of Pavlov’s dogs, curling deeper into my sheets and waiting for the brush of his hand against my hair, the smell of his kiss on my cheek.

I wrote this completely randomly, with no plot in mind. I then spent a little while trying to think of what sort of story this paragraph could fit in—and the story I ended up writing was Don’t You Cry For Me. I spent the next two days writing. Nearly the entire second half was done on Sunday night as I was watching WrestleMania 32, and the fic itself was submitted about five minutes before the deadline.

I was absolutely floored by the positive response. Submitting it, I hated this story for so many reasons… so seeing you guys love it was fucking awesome.

So, what’s next, then? I definitely wanna fix this up a bit using the comments I got. I already have one new scene planned out—I’m gonna better develop on the comment I made in passing about Mom taking May and Claire to church, and May sneaking out. In all, I really need to better introduce the surreality and magical realism elements, so the ending doesn’t feel so out of place. Thanks to everyone for their comments.

>>Ferd Threstle
Thank you very much! I dunno about publication just yet, but I’m honored you think this is good enough for that. Thanks for reading!

Yeah, when I first came up with that image of the two kids climbing up the graveyard hill, I kept imagining them as characters out of Coraline.
I’m really glad you liked the family interactions. Many of May and Mom’s arguments and interactions were heavily based on arguments between my own older sister and mother.
Yikes!! May, for goodness sake, ditch your friends and make new ones!

In the rewrite, after the line about Kurt Cobain being overrated trash, there’s gonna be a short moment where Claire notes May emphatically agreeing with her friends… then going home that night and tearing the Cobain poster off her wall.
Thank me for writing? Thank you for reading! You have no idea how much this review lifted my spirits.

Thank you, sweetie! Yeah, as I talk about a lot with Hat, genre fiction isn’t really my thing. Call me pretentious, but I’m a litfic guy through-and-through.
…Now watch as my next WriteOff piece is high fantasy. :V
Thank you for reading!

Я ношу его с гордостью.

>>Baal Bunny
That’s an interesting thought, and not one I had considered before. Hm.
Thanks for reading! And congrats on third! :D

Sorry it couldn’t quite connect with you. Thanks for reading, regardless!

My own Dad was very interested in how I was gonna answer this review. The truth is that no, I haven’t ever experienced something like this, or even anything close. Part of me feels a bit guilty for leading you on like that… and another part is cheering because apparently I got the emotions just right anyway.
I’m sorry for whatever loss you experienced that let this story strike you so hard. But at the same time, I’d be lying if I said that this review wasn’t a great confidence booster. :P
Thanks for reading!

Hey, Miley.
I may be a little neurotic, but I'm really disturbed that nobody cleaned up May's stir fry that was leaking on the floor.

Good thing that was the point, then! :D
I agree with a lot of your points about Claire’s narration. Most of the examples you pointed out are gonna get tweaked. Same with the timing—I had a fear while writing that the timeline was gonna throw people off.
And I actually made Bradel cry? What?
Thank you for reading, cutie pie!

I think that’s an interesting point about the ending, but I think that my real problem is that the magical realism stuff isn’t set up well enough early enough. I’m gonna be working to fix that in the future. I definitely get your point, tho.
Thanks for reading!

>>Cold in Gardez
Cold in Gardez saying he can learn from my prose… okay, it’s official. The world is ending. (Where’s my notification in the sky?)
We already talked a bit in the chat about this stuff, so I don’t think I gotta go over it all again. The father’s body being gone was just faulty thinking on my part, and I don’t think the ending was set up well enough. I’m hoping to fix both of those problems in the future.
Thank you for all your comments, Cold. I appreciate it. And congrats again on second! 

Thanks for reading!

I can testify from ongoing experience that upstate New York stays hella cold long after winter has passed.
I agree with your note about there not being much evolution. I’m hoping to fix that.
I was trying to imply that May wanted to go to the graveyard to see their father because she had finally just reached the end of her rope with their Mom. May is upset and distraught, and is willing to try anything out to stop feeling so horrible.
Thanks for reading!

Therefore, clearly this was written by Dubs, and this is an act of instant karma.

I’m glad you enjoyed it for what it was, at least. Thanks for reading!

>>Scramblers and Shadows
What do you mean about the graveyard being real? I’m afraid I don’t quite understand. You thought it was imaginary at first?
Thank you for your comment about the verbs. I definitely agree.
Thank you for reading!

Whew… that took a long time.
See you all next WriteOff!
#494 · 5
· on Extra · >>Lucky_Dreams >>Ferd Threstle
I should clarify: when I suggested making Inkindri's gender clearer earlier, I was absolutely not saying she should have been male. Just that gender should have been established earlier.

My reasoning is basically, as you say:
until the story mentioned otherwise, I assumed that your MC was... well, white and male.

Defying reader expectations to challenge those assumptions is one thing, but this story draws so much of its impact from the context of Star Trek, and when it's deliberately invoking that context, it's invoking all of that context, good and bad. Star Trek's redshirts were overwhelmingly white and male, and this story relies on that frame. It's like ... hmm.

Quick, picture a film noir private investigator.

You pictured a male, didn't you? We can argue about whose fault that sexism is, and what should be done about it, all day -- but my point is, there's baggage attached, and you want to take your reader expectations into account or you won't be able to tell your story as effectively. Female film noir PIs are also a good thing (do they exist? I don't read the genre; I certainly hope so), but if you write one without specific signalling and then drop that fact 2/3 of the way in, it'll break readers out of the story for a moment while they try to figure out what they missed. Unless a major point of your story is to push that break as a challenge to readers, you're distracting from your story in an avoidable way.

And for the record, I support the new Star Wars protagonists.


Edited to add: This is from Scene 2 --
Things were back to normal. But I kept staring at T’nori, whose low-cut uniform showed a lot of emerald cleavage. I suppose there were some obvious reasons why that would be distracting, but all I could think of at the time was that it fell outside of Coalition Navy standards.

This is the sort of thing I'm talking about with signalling. Given Inkindri as female, it seems odd that she would be making that assessment on T'nori's uniform rather than her own, or rather than comparing it to her own. It's entirely reasonable for her to be staring/labeling it as distracting because of lesbian, but again, we're playing off of stereotypes here that high numbers of readers will interpret against your characterization.
#495 ·
· on The Name Upon His Forehead
>>horizon I very much enjoyed your story and, honestly, had it at the top of my list. For me this was a very dense story, and much of my enjoyment of it was unraveling it and coming to understand it.

FWIW, I was recovering from a migraine the morning I first read your story, and the first meaning of Ophek I found probably stuck because of that, and also because it made sense, contextually. Even if I'd found "horizon", though, I would have kept quiet. Now, Bad Horse... He would have charged you an Evil Finder's Extortion fee for that. ;)
Post by Lucky_Dreams deleted
#497 · 3
· on Extra
>>Lucky_Dreams >>horizon
As a preface: I think the Writeoff is uniquely accepting and sympathetic place for nontraditional viewpoints, and appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation in an intelligent well-reasoned manner. Originally when considering the change, I actually wasn't sure if switching to a female protagonist would actually be a move to more normal, given the background in FiM writing that has female as much more common.

But, to the point: My initial, instinctive reaction to being told that the revelation of Inkindri's gender momentarily breaks a reader out of the story is "Sure. Good." I have faith in the reader to realign and get back into the story, and don't really view that break from narrative as particularly problematic.

That being said, I think horizon's point is very valid, as it comes to contextual conventions. As a dirty secret, I haven't actually watched that much Star Trek, though I'm quite familiar with its outlines and cultural impact. And I envisioned Inkindri as a nameless bridge crew member, rather than a literal redshirt who dies on away missions etc, and for some reason conceptualized that group as more gender-inclusive. (I wavered on making her 'death' scene come as a more clear punishment for her initial attempts to subvert the Focus, but that implies an additional higher power that I didn't want to drag into the story)

The thing is, everything about Inkindri prior to that point is the definition of "default." None of that is particularly who Inkindri is; you don't start seeing the actual Inkindri until she starts taking her own actions and becoming her own person. Her gender is sort of irrelevant. (As is her sexuality, which is in some ways not so much 'bisexual' as 'not very interested') Thus, it makes a lot of sense to have her be male, as the standard setting in things of this nature, but I couldn't help feeling like I really wanted to challenge that in some way. I like the idea of a different "default."

If I was working on this further, I can't help but feel my response to the issue would not be to more softly lead in, but to double down and actually approach the topic with purpose. I think there's some interesting points that could be dug up there: does Inkindri have that line about T'nori's uniform because there's attraction, or because she's operating in the standard environment that's firmly locked in male-gaze? When she's revealed as female, is this something she's even thought of, herself? As I mentioned, I basically made the change last-minute, and thus it comes across as really sort of arbitrary. And that's what I regret: that I didn't invest that decision with more meaning, even if it's certainly not a simple task to do so.
#498 · 1
· on The Name Upon His Forehead
Congrats on writing a recap longer than the story itself. This deserves a new kind of prize! (And praise) :P
#499 ·
· on The Name Upon His Forehead

I definitely liked what you were going for with the 'angel', thematically, and the ending of the story definitely pushed it up my slate pretty far.

On the using generalized names thing; I think, if you'd used a generalizing word, like 'an' or 'the', ( the - or even my - Yaron told me an Adam wanted to speak to me,) I wouldn't have stumbled nearly as hard as I did. I'd guess the reason that one scene coalesced the idea for so many people was because at that point, we finally had more than one name per actor to assign; it was the 'Adam's houses' that did it for me, IIRC.
#500 · 3
There’s nothing like hanging out under the stars and reading a good story. Perhaps some prefer a cozy fire or warm blankets, as they lay along their beds or couches. The refreshing feeling of being able to open a book with steady inhale. Ending with a long exhale as you feel a part of your heart grow bigger. With images of the experiences you have come to understand through the mind of the author. This one hits in all the right places, and does well to establish these moments within its readers. Well here’s to the current champ of the Write Off contest! Cheers, Dubby! May you continue on with your glorious pieces of fine literature. Moving on!

The atmosphere for the story was gorgeous! I could picture it in my mind with careful wording of each influential piece that added onto the overall sensation. Witnessing a grand play upon a stage that is well interpreted and created. This story holds onto your attention with how gloomy and grim things look. Which in turn affect the characters and their actions. This is very well done to, where I kind of just wanna stop talking about it so you can experience it yourself when you do read this story. Now the reason why this is labeled as such, is that the overall feeling of the entire story just didn’t seem to match the characters themselves. Each of the characters hold and emit their own light. Claire who is still innocent with about a dozen stuffed animals along her bedside, May who is an upright teenage rocker who just wants to party, and even their mother who is a widow looking up towards the light, literally seeking God and finding comfort in the church. The overall sensation drawn by the house, graveyard, and incident, don’t seem to match the characters. Yes, they went through a very painful ordeal, but I cannot see such people living in such conditions. May and Claire still go to school like normal children. Their mother attends mass on a weekly basis and even brings friends over. For whatever reason, Mrs. Sullivan ends up buying a secluded house right on a hill next to a graveyard by acres of dead trees. The interior of the house matches something from The Nightmare before Christmas or the abandoned house from Fight Club. Now why would a mother chose to move into something like this, with two bright children, under the salary of a firefighter?

Alright this concerned me. From the very start of the story we notice that the family right off have a rough start. For some reason Mrs. Sullivan takes her two girls and moves to a different house. Not long after their father/husband passes on. While the characters face their problems head on, I can’t seem to think that maybe moving and spending your savings would have been a great idea with a funeral already affecting the family budget. Which the story does explain that Mrs.Sullivan ends up working late long hours at a time. It’s still much more expensive buying a house rather than staying in an apartment and waiting for the mourning phase to pass. This breaks the realism of this story from the get go, but is soon forgotten as the house becomes a tool for the author to inflict more feels into his audience. The things that force the family to squander each others company tends to just feel more scripted. In place because it’s planned rather than feeling like a true phase of acting out due to morning. I think exploring a bit more on what their father did for both May and Mrs.Sullivan would have been a nice touch. Which could have been made through conversation to Claire. With something like Mrs.Sullivan staring at a picture of May being born in Mr.Sullivan’s arms. A passing of a dear family member is demoralizing enough, though why decide to move into a place that will constantly remind them of said passing? Make us believe the reason behind that choice and it’ll feel even more grand throughout.

I adored your characters! Each one held a separate spotlight. May, who is just learning to be an adult, has to now be flung into the open world. To become independent without her father’s watchful gaze and loving heart. Mrs.Sullivan now has the sole responsibility of raising up two daughters by her lonesome. Who now needs to work two jobs and still ends up giving time for her two growing daughters. It’s even hinted that she checks up on them from time to time while they sleep, due to her own insomnia. Claire who, bless her heart, is still growing up. Is forced to mature, while at the same time is left with the awful feeling of not being able to do anything to help her family. Being nowhere near an adult to help pick up where her father had left off. Though with every case of a passing, life goes on and people learn to cope. Which this, in a long segment of the story, just shines on this fact. That each one is trying to move forward and cope with this loss. Displaying the stages of greifing in the process. The main character is Claire, but her family just seems to beam on her motives and actions. Thus becoming the sole purpose that Claire acts the way she does. Even though sometimes Claire seems more mature for her age than should be allowed, but it’s comprehensive to a point.

The story falls into the category of being a fable. While not much for the darker stuff, it does have a more mature feel to it, making this story up to a PG rating at least. If told in the right way it could cause others to be frightened. What really got me was the ending. A brief happy moment that in the end would only feed and fuel the depression the three girls were already suffering from. For in the end it was a spirit touching and communicating with them. Could it be haunting them, since it’s not where it’s former body had fallen? Will this help the rest of the family yearn for more of good ole dad and deny him ever to leave? Or would this just be a passing phase meant to comfort the family? Either way the style and the creepy ending make this one up to be fable quality as no matter which way the story goes, it ends up feeling grim and gritty. Giving one a sense of reality with a hint of superstition. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I for one think it’s a great addition and has a more refined taste. Much like European type tales and folklore. It takes a certain type of person to enjoy the tale.

While still holding on to its bleak like taste and feel, the piece holds true to it’s main element. That being a slice of life story. You get moments where you can appreciate your own life and just enjoy how May or Claire end up having their moments. As thoughtless and naive as they both are, they easily reawaken the kid inside of your. I knew I was quite a punk back in the day, and this story just reminded me so much of being a teen in high school, or watching as things passed by when I was just a kid. Even now with Mrs.Sullivan enjoying herself in what she does hanging on to a strong thread of hope. The atmosphere is the opposite of what this story really hits inside to make you feel alive. While at the same time admire family moments as they come and go. Even if it’s two angry voices they still have each other. And the moral of the story at the ending reveals this in such a way that the SUllivans were never actually left behind. Instead they were being watched and looked after as they continued on living. It was strange reading a slice of life but having it feel as another thing entirely! It felt like I was rolling a coin in my fingers as I read each word. Admiring the shine of it’s two sides and taking note of how one was so differently designed than the other one. This story holds true to it’s own genre without it being overly complex, but while still managing to branch out perfectly for a perfectly good read.

This story was a doozy! I really mean a doozy! These are possible my favorite type of story style to read. Where you can relate to the things currently going on with the story. Where you can sit down and review your own life and problems without ever having this story leave your mind in the process. It hit on a lot of things that makes a story great. I can list a lot of traits that make a story unique, but it would take so long to list and think about. What this story does have is taste, creativity, and overall flair. Making it a must read on my list. The way the characters presented stages of mourning and human emotion in dealing with a death in the family, made this fun to read. With not one girl actually being in the wrong so much. (Yes May is downright rude.) Keep in mind though even her mother, Mrs.Sullivan, tells everyone that it is just because she’s growing up. Hormones and all. Which is perfectly normal. Everyone has acted out on their own. I know I have. Claire numbing herself holding it all in. I’ve done that on occasion a lot especially during my time in service. I know people do this while working, to numb themselves of their own pride and take the hit. Mrs.Sullivan continues on with this showing how we try to adapt and overcome. Even with that much sorrow filling her life. This story was amazing to read. And I would love to read it again with a couple revisions. Good job Dubby!