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No Such Thing as an Unimportant Day · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Drinks Without Friends
Dave was far beyond the legal limit by the party's two hour mark. He wasn’t unique in this regard; the rest of Mulvane Law School's graduating class sat at the other end of the bar, downing shots of Johnnie Walker and laughing at jokes no sober individual would enjoy. The other inhabitants of the Orland Tavern cast no judgmental gazes their way, save Dave’s own occasional glare. But he’d switch to a smile whenever one of them looked his way, doing his best to pretend he cared where any of them were going.

After the next refill, he grabbed his Guinness and waddled over to a nearby high-table. A single man with a green shirt and black jeans sat there, staring at the graduates with a bored expression.

“I’m taking this seat,” Dave said, putting his drink on the table and flopping into one of the high-chairs. The man turned to see the interloper across from him, a certain annoyance overcoming his face as the stench of alcohol emanated more and more with each of Dave’s attempts to steady his wobbling chair.

“I’m not with anyone else,” the man said in a tone just short of antagonistic. Dave sucked in the moisture hanging around his lips, evidence of the beer drops sticking to his handlebar mustache.

“I know you,” Dave said, pointing at the man. “You’re a freshman. Came to our class one day.”

The man nodded. “Nate Robson. Figured I’d say goodbye to some of the seniors. You one of them?”

“Yup. Only one graduating with honors. Better than any of those fuckers.” He motioned to the group at the bar, now cheering on a disheveled brunette (whose name Dave had forgotten three drinks ago) as she chugged a shot of tequila between feverish giggles.

“Congrats,” Nate said.

“David Nance,” Dave said, jabbing his thumb in the air. “Remember the name. You’ll see it next to Morgan and Morgan within the next five years.”

“Alright.” Nate took a sip of the short beer sitting in front of him.

Dave followed suit with another swig of his Guinness, then exhaled. “They say lawyering is the unhappiest job out there. Say they’re three times more likely to get a drug addiction than any other occupation.”

“Bummer,” Nate said, looking up at the rotating ceiling fan.

Dave sighed. “Real bummer is that Tom’s not here.”


“Tom. My man, homeboy, whatever the fuck people call friends these days. He was supposed to come.” Dave looked around, as if Tom had already popped out now that someone mentioned his name.

“What’s he look like? Maybe he’s hiding around here." For the first time in the conversation, Nate's words seemed eager.

“Tall with glasses. Black hair, pale skin, always looks bored.” Dave stared into his still-filled glass, blowing raspberries at his reflection. Nate’s eyes wandered for a few moments, flowing from the bathrooms with bottle caps spelling out the genders and back to the graduates surrounded by empty glasses.

“I don’t see him,” Nate said.

“Figures,” Dave said. “It’s the most polite way to say ‘fuck you’. An asshole to the end.”

Nate looked down at his glass of short beer. It was filled three-fourths the way up.

“He was cool though,” Dave said. “A cool asshole. The one that farts in your face instead of shitting on it.”

Nate nodded, downing his beer in large gulps.

“He just had to come,” Dave said. A grimace filled his face, and the edges of his eyes shimmered. “One goddamn party. I didn’t give a fuck about graduation. That’s for sentimental fuckers. Parties are fun though. Perfect for an asshole like him. Anything he does, say he got drunk and all'd be forgiven. And I could tell him all the shit we could do. All the things-”

“Empty,” Nate said, slamming the glass down. “Time for a refill.”

“Sure,” Dave said. “Sure. Come back, though. You need to tell the others.”

“Tell them what?” Nate said, putting on his windbreaker and taking out his wallet.

“To go solo. You can’t trust anybody around here. Not even the assholes.”

“Alright,” Nate said, walking off towards the cash register.

“Alright,” Dave said. “Alright.” He sat there, repeating the word like a prayer and staring up at the neon Miller sign glowing on the wall.

“Yes,” he said, not seeing Nate snatch the receipt and hustle towards the door. “I hope it will be alright.”
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#1 · 1
· · >>libertydude
The POV here:

Felt really weird to me. We're kind of in Dave's, but not really. We get a little bit of his thoughts and feelings in the first paragraph, but after that, it's like we're pushed outside. We just get surface images till the very last line, and there, we're completely removed from Dave and are floating around, seeing things that we're specifically told he doesn't see.

I made the whole thing really distancing. I mean, this is a minific, but halfway through, I couldn't remember if Dave or Nate was the law student we'd started with. I had to page up to the beginning of the story to check because without a strong POV, I'd gotten completely detached from the character.

So that's my advice: put us firmly in Dave's head. Let us see what he sees and hear what he hears, and give us the thoughts and feelings those sights and sounds stir up in him.. As it is now, I'm so far outside, I've got no connection at all.

#2 · 3
· · >>libertydude
As always, I'm willing to take the bait of a story that seems to be directed towards me. I can't help but feel someone took my commentary about law school as somewhat informative of how they decided write the characters in this entry. That being said, that might not be the case as the story here seems to be more European.

Since the location is fictional, it's hard to tell for certain, but the fact that the law school in question appears to be a four-year LLB program rather than the American three year JD system, and the usage of the phrase "short beer" which is British gives some scant indication that the setting may not be American. But then again, the vocabulary usage seems to be primarily of an American cadence and "short beer" is also a phrase that is used regionally in New England, so this just might be an oversight of an American who doesn't know how law school works. Indeed, there's a Miller sign, an American domestic which I tend think doubles as a shout-out to Miller Minus, which to me grounds the setting in America.

So, operating under the assumption that the author is in fact an American, I will tell you this: Law schools don't use designations like freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior. Almost universally, we refer to each other by our year: "1L, 2L, and 3L." I don't know any other designation anywhere else.

One of the details that isn't apparently clear is how many people from the law school are at the bar. You describe it as "rest of Mulvane Law School's graduating class." The most natural read of this sentence is that the entire graduating class is at the other side of the bar, which would be impossible unless this is a tiny, tiny school, so tiny it probably couldn't even be accredited; which would make the fact that Dave doesn't know the "disheveled Brunette" fairly improbable (it's also improbable that he'd not know everyone in his graduating class by the third year unless his law school was unusually large, but whatever). But let's be generous and assume that's not what you meant. You most likely meant that the rest of the portion of the graduating class that showed up to the bar was over there.

There's a lot of small details that still are a little off. Like a group of graduating students ordering shots of Johnnie Walker. Rounds of whiskey shots aren't necessarily unheard of, but I've never seen people downing shots of Red Label or ask for Johnnie Walker by name for a round of shots. If it's a shot of whiskey, it's usually going to be something that goes down easy, like fireball. Or something cheap or with a recognizable name like, Jack Daniels, Jim Bean or Jameson. In the event someone wants something celebratory, it'll usually be a Maker's Mark.

Similarly, it's strange to hear about someone "chugging" a tequila shot. I get the impression either this draft was a tad rushed or you haven't been to a bar in a while.

Couple of other small nitpicks: the story as written seems to imply that Dave is the only student in his graduating class that's receiving latin honors. By virtue of how law school classes are graded, this would be pretty much impossible. Again, being generous to the author, it's probably meant that he's the only one present at the bar that's graduating with honors, but that's not what the most natural reading suggests. Additionally, it's strange that he says you'll see his name "next to Morgan and Morgan" within the next five years. There's two possible reads of this phrase, each one sort of confusing. Either he's implying that he's been hired at Morgan & Morgan, and expects to become a partnering attorney, and such a good partnering attorney that he gets his name on the firm name, so he's essentially saying: "In five years, it'll be Morgan, Morgan, & Nance." This is confusing because presumably if he's such a badass, he's going to be going into BigLaw where he'll make the big bucks, but there's not really a chance that at such a huge firm that he'll literally change the name of the firm, especially because BigLaw firms have pretty set in stone names even though they have a large number of partnering attorneys (e.g. Jones Day, Kirkland & Elis, Lathan & Watkins, etc.) The other possible read is that he plans to start his own firm and be on the level of this supposed BigLaw firm... which, yeah good luck with that. Not gonna happen. Furthermore, when referring to the title of a firm, the word "and" is almost universally an ampersand, not written out. You can get a little leeway because this in dialogue, but it's still a minor detail that stands out.

So after 800 or so words of me complaining about minor details, it's time to get in the story itself. There's sort of a strange dynamic between the Nate and Dave, as Nate seems to not even want to be there, even though, as he explains, he came by specifically to send off the "seniors." Consequently, his utter apprehension of having to interact with a senior seems out of place, unless David is indeed THAT smelly.

Side Note: no self respecting lawyer would have a handlebar mustache

So, what is this story about? By my estimation, it's about a dead guy. More specifically, it's about Dave dealing with the death of his friend Tom. It's pretty apparent by the way Dave speaks that he's not just merely speaking about someone who is not present, but rather someone who is more likely than not dead. The way that Dave opens up with a seeming non-sequitur about lawyers being unhappy drug addicts and immediately segues into talking about Tom makes it clear from the context that Tom may not be around anymore. If this is not the implication you were going for, then you fucked up.

That's pretty cool, but I don't think you really cinch the emotional core here. The depth of despair and how it relates to Dave's character requires a lot of inferences in order to justify his behavior and attitudes, and ideally there'd be more in the narrative to inform why he feels certain ways. There'd also need to be a couple lines perhaps about Tom's particular importance or connection to Dave that makes him different from the other people Dave treats so dismissively, and perhaps some detail that adds a bit more import to him being around for Dave's graduation party. Details that would tie the narrative together and make it more apparent as to how all these disparate details intermingle together.

The alternative possibility is that the conversation about Tom is supposed to be read literally, and Dave is just really upset that he didn't come, perhaps due to a falling out between the two, which culminates in him advising Nate to trust nobody. Like Dave, Tom also put on a front, and Dave's feelings are hurt. This is a weaker reading, both because it makes the references to Tom seem very oddly phrased and also doesn't really address why Dave is so cagey around everyone else in the class.

Even with these two potential reads in mind, it's still a bit mystifying why Dave advises Nate to go solo. Even discerning what he really means is a bit of a challenge. Why can't you trust people? Certainly Dave isn't worth trusting, considering his duplicitous nature of putting on a face. Dave's character isn't really informed enough to make a definitive conclusion of why he's such a loner and a cunt, and the narrative doesn't really give him any reason to be so bitter about his classmates outside the fact that he's did better than them in school, which to me isn't much a compelling reason. His arrogance may be a trait that's properly informed, but his contempt for those that he feels are beneath him needs more explanation.

I suppose the irony that Dave advises Nate to go solo, which prompts Nate to finally leave, is sort of interesting, but it's hard to see the through line that ties all these ideas together. This may be a case where the subtext of the story and the story proper don't really align together to create a coherent vision. The best you can say is that Dave's grief over the death of his friend has soured his graduation day, and he's acting like a dick because of that. He is hurting and doesn't want to rely on others, thus he bitterly advises Nate to go solo. Sort of a hard sell, given the sheer amount of inferences required to arrive at that conclusion.

I do otherwise like the dynamic of Nate and Dave, wherein Dave is essentially monologuing to a completely disinterested Nate. Although I think of the wordcount is squandered by giving Nate too much of nothing to do. What I mean by that is that Nate is often given actions that indicate he's not paying attention, which is fine, but you do it for almost every line of dialogue that Nate has, which is just unnecessary to inform the reader of that point. Additionally, you don't need to be so rigid about using speech tags for every line of dialogue when it's a conversation between two characters.

I think there's a rich emotional tapestry here that's not quite fleshed out enough to give the full sense of the scope and character of what's going on. I can say I liked this story, but there's definitely a lot of palpable shortcomings, a lot of niggling details I had to ignore, and a lot of inferences I had to make in order to make it a cohesive experience.
#3 ·
· · >>libertydude
I agree with what Baal Bunny said. That fic left me at arm's length. It's not badly written or technically atrocious, but he fact that I can't relate in any way with what's going on there, the shifting PoV, and most of all the clear impression that I'm none the wiser at the end (What does the fic want to tell me? I have no idea.) piled up to produce that sort of distancing ("Err… Okay, but what of it?"). It's somewhat frustrating: you fancy there's a message here, a takeaway, something you missed, but even if you scrape hard enough, you have no clue as to what it is exactly. Goddamn.

I'm probably not the right audience for that fic, so rather than sentencing it to the dregs of my slate, I will simply abstain.
#4 · 1
· · >>libertydude
I really like the idea here, which was to nail a very specific feeling/concept/theme with a compact and targeted interaction between two characters. This entire piece feels crisp, planned, and well-thought out.

What I ended up having trouble with—and forgive my bluntness—is that I found it ultimately difficult to care about Nate or Dave. And I think a lot of it has to do with the pacing of this piece.

The primary character conflict, here, is that Dave wants Tom to be celebrating with him, but Tom is not. At its core, it's a pretty simple premise, but that's usually not a problem in minifics. What really hurt, IMHO, is the fact that this central conflict is not mentioned until we get a whopping 400 words into the story. At that point, there's really not much you can do anymore. We finally learn what's bothering Dave, and then Dave mopes at Nate for what remains of the story. The interactions just ends up feeling somewhat pointless.

Now, I get that the point of the story was to contrast Dave's hurt to Nate's indifference, but that really does require us to sympathize with Dave. And I think the best way to do that is to introduce Dave's primary conflict sooner and develop it a bit past its basic premise. Cass's interpretation that Tom is dead would be pretty interesting if it were what you intended, but unfortunately this interpretation didn't manifest in my personal readings, so if this was what you were going for, I think it needs to be more clear.

Overall, I think this story really needs to establish, develop, and pay off on its stakes in a clearer fashion. Right now, there are points were it definitely feels meandering, which I'm almost certain was not your intention.
#5 ·
· · >>libertydude
I have to say you wrote about a disagreeable protagonist in a pretty vivid manner, and I give you credit for making me relate to the venue and the situation of the antagonist(?) pretty viscerally. In all that, I am not sure I was made to care about the characters or the message, which I gather is "making a bad first impression is something that will follow you forever, so no day is truly unimportant." Having been accused of writing characters that are initially hard to empathize with, I could see this as the beginning of a story about "the fall" and "the redemption," but, sadly, this fragment can't be that. I make a point of not letting other's critiques color my critiques, but unfortunately my eyes fell on a few sentence fragments of the above commentators, so I am going to abstain from critiquing the characters or points of view. I see strong writing, but I think you need to consider your readers and this is an example of a story that did not win me over.
#6 · 1
Drinks Without Friends: A Retrospective

One of the great risks about writing, whether in a contest or anywhere else, is the occurrence of overcorrection. When I first started competing in the WriteOff, I found that I often had the tendency to discard story ideas very quickly without taking the time to really flesh them out. My reasoning back then was that if I couldn’t create anything solid fairly quickly, I needed to drop them and work on another idea. As time’s gone on and my writing has evolved, I’ve discarded this idea largely and kept to developing my initial ideas, many of which have turned into solid drafts on their own (“Vignettes of a Man You Knew” and “Watching the Show” to name some).

However, this story is the first time in a while that I’ve fallen victim to the opposing corollary: some ideas just don’t work and should be left alone. The inspiration for the story came from a graduation party I’d attended earlier in the week of the WriteOff, where one person’s absence caused a few other attendees (including myself) to reflect on how they actually felt about the missing party. In concept, it seemed like a solid story situation, a sort of riff on “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”. But the final product seems to indicate the story’s inadequacy at building a supporting narrative and firm characterization.

The chief problem in my mind is the story’s focus on the narrative with Dave, instead of focusing on the mood of the bar and how it contributes to his own dissatisfaction with both Tom and himself. So much time is spent trying to justify the story’s occurrence instead of depicting the events that the story takes too long to approach the central conflict (Dave’s feeling of betrayal). The constant verbalization of his feelings similarly feels off-putting, even with the excuse of inebriation, and I feel it should’ve had greater interiority. A story with the wrong kind of perspective is hard to bounce back from.

In the end, I feel like this story is a good reminder of the need to let certain ideas go. Sometimes there’s just not enough time to develop an idea, or the writing concept itself just can’t be done without prolonged reflection/research. A somewhat pessimistic idea about the artistic element of writing, but one everybody needs to learn at some point.

Now, for individual responses:

>>Baal Bunny Yeah, as I mentioned above, the perspective is one of the greatest problems I have with this draft. I personally think a first-person POV would be the strongest.

>>Cassius A lot of the anachronisms with the law school mostly come from faulty editing. The original drafts had the class as a graduating Pre-Law program, which would’ve followed undergraduate program traits, but for some reason I changed the school from a basic university to a law school. Because I didn’t account for the change in class dynamics, a lot of these details don’t match up. The alcohol inconsistencies similarly come from a lack of a thorough re-read.

As for the story’s deeper meaning, it really was just about Dave being pissed Tom didn’t show up. The idea of Tom dying of a drug addiction didn’t even occur to me during writing; I just included the drug addict line just because it seemed like a severely out-of-left-field line that’d come from an inebriated and self-doubting jerk. I mostly just wanted to create an awkward situation where a bunch of unhappy drunk people make each other miserable (hardly a unique situation in a bar). I’m happy you interpreted a deeper meaning out of it, though I’d say that’s more a testament to your reading abilities than my subtext capabilities.

>>Monokeras As I mentioned above with Cassius, the story didn’t really have a deeper message or point outside of an experiment in portraying miserable people. Similarly, the perspective definitely needs a lot of tinkering to really find its footing.

>>Bachiavellian Yeah, in hindsight, Dave’s motivation definitely needs to be clear early in the story. I think I wanted to establish his character a little more thoroughly before I got to his problem with Tom, but in its current form, the story feels more listless than engaging.

>>scifipony Writing characters that are hard to emphasize with isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think this story’s problem was it tried too hard to make Dave understandable and sympathetic. Had I focused more on his interior thought process and feelings (regardless of their nobility), I think the story would be stronger.