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MobileRead Short Story Anthology - [DISCUSSION & REVIEW]
#11  gmw 03-06-2014, 07:01 PM
Quote mrmarlowe
Nice going guys. Pls don't forget about me though.
You're not forgotten, but I only have limited time, so I expect I will only be reviewing only one story each night.
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#12  gmw 03-06-2014, 07:43 PM
Quote Graham
I also read Annie the Dreamer this morning; as you say, quite a disturbing tale, but I was drawn through the story nicely and it's memorable. I was thinking about it for quite a while after reading it as with a little rework I think it could pack even more 'punch'.[...]
This gets a little awkward to do neatly, but I thought I'd add some comments to your comments...

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Graham said: "It jarred that Annie would leave the younger children behind and go off at the end.[...]"

I didn't have too much trouble with that. A combination of things. While the story is not explicit about Annie's age, my assumption is that she is still quite young, so this sort of reaction didn't seem unreasonable given the violence that had just happened.


Graham said: "First, I wasn't immediately sure who was making the phone call, i.e. whether the opening sentence was spoken by the person on the other end of the call or the person putting down the phone. We don't find that out until the third paragraph."

I did have trouble with the early paragraphs, but for me it wasn't so much the "who" and much as the way the sentences flowed (or didn't).


Graham said: "Secondly, I didn’t know what 'kraft pulp' was, so again I took a beat out of reading the story. Do you need to mention that the cargo is kraft pulp? Would Annie necessarily know? Could you just say 'a ship that was taking on cargo'?"

"kraft pulp" made me pause too, but (this is going to sound silly) for me it was cheese. In my head, Kraft make cheese (in my family we call Kraft cheese "plastic cheese"). It took my mind a moment to review the sentence and realise we definitely weren't talking about cheese.


Graham said: "Annie's silver rings are mentioned in the very first paragraph, and again later on. As a reader, I immediately assumed that the rings were going to be important to the story, [...]"

I was mostly happy with them as a character defining element. This story is something I would probably call a "mood piece", and I thought the rings were part of that.

Quote Graham
In Annie the Dreamer, there is one paragraph where the point of view shifts from being in Annie's head to being inside someone else's:[...]
Did this bother anyone else? How do you feel about point of view switches like this, generally?
Third person omniscient is allowed to switch points of view, it's allowed to peek into different characters heads and see what they're thinking. Where you run into difficulty is something like this story were we've been with just one character, carefully reviewing who she is and what she's thinking, for long enough that the reader feels as if the character is the only point of view. In which case the introduction of another character makes the switch feel inappropriate.

I think this story perhaps exaggerates the problem because only the first two paragraphs feel omniscient, after that it does seem that Annie is the only POV for a long time. In such a short story it will probably be better to either keep Annie as the only POV, or to give the reader more regular reminders that the narrator is omniscient.
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#13  arjaybe 03-06-2014, 08:00 PM
@gmw

I already said how the story felt cohesive to me. Now some specifics.

In the third paragraph the phrase containing, "first of the evening" should go with the first sentence, rather than the second. I noticed a few sentences containing two topics. Knocks me out of the story.

You changed tense in the paragraph beginning, "I got a thing for the fifties." Twice. There's more tense switching elsewhere, too.

The reference to doormen is appropriate, given the fifties mood, but it seems out of place the way it's done.

"presumptive" should be "presumptuous."

You paced the drinking of the whiskey and its effects well.

She discovers (we discover) about the first night effect too easily. It makes it look as if you're just telling us that.

Jim

Spoiler Warning below






Conflict: We're told that the first night effect allows her to be physically present, then we learn that it can happen when she gets her itch.
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#14  gmw 03-07-2014, 01:06 AM
Quote arjaybe
[...]In the third paragraph the phrase containing, "first of the evening" should go with the first sentence, rather than the second. I noticed a few sentences containing two topics. Knocks me out of the story.
Thanks, I'll keep an eye out as I edit.

Quote arjaybe
You changed tense in the paragraph beginning, "I got a thing for the fifties." Twice. There's more tense switching elsewhere, too.
Could you elaborate a bit here? I'm not sure I see both problems. "He is not yet ready..." should probably be "He was not yet ready...". Otherwise the only mix is inside Gavin's dialogue and that seems appropriate to me.

Quote arjaybe
The reference to doormen is appropriate, given the fifties mood, but it seems out of place the way it's done.

"presumptive" should be "presumptuous."

You paced the drinking of the whiskey and its effects well.

She discovers (we discover) about the first night effect too easily. It makes it look as if you're just telling us that.
Thanks.

Quote arjaybe
Spoiler Warning below






Conflict: We're told that the first night effect allows her to be physically present, then we learn that it can happen when she gets her itch.
Spoiler Warning below






It must not be clear. She only gets the itch when the apartment becomes vacant (sometimes after just one night, sometimes it takes longer). Then she gets the itch which allows her to seek out a new man spend the first night. The itch doesn't happen while the apartment is still occupied. Hence Cooper had to be away for a night (at least), prior to the one being told, so that Vera could get her itch and seek out a new victim.

I did wonder if I should expand on the events of her becoming a ghost, giving a bit more weight to the "first night" aspect of the story. But, of course, this is all being explained as Gavin is falling under the influence so I didn't want to drag it out more than necessary either.
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#15  mrmarlowe 03-07-2014, 01:42 AM
Quote arjaybe
@mrmarlowe

Since you've updated to v1.1, I'll assume you're open for comments.-)

I see a story here, but I had trouble getting into it. The story feels disjointed. I get the feeling that you wanted to make sure to get the ideas down, but the result is a bit scattered.

In one sentence I first thought you were living in one room, before learning that there was at least one other room, where a light was left on.

Some questions:

1. What contracts? You mentioned contracts and never got back to them.
2. Why was he clattering utensils? Was he a cook?

I think this story can work, with work.

Jim

Spoiler Warning below






3. It was just a dream? People tend to feel let down when they learn that.
Yeah, I deliberately left the #1 out of the story coz I wanted to work with one straight plot and not also insert an unnecessary subplot. The contracts are not important to the story; something else is. So I thought that making a passing reference would be ok. You are right about #2: I have to think up something about it.

Looking forward to others' feedback here, and YES, I am open to comments.
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#16  arjaybe 03-07-2014, 01:45 AM
Quote gmw
Could you elaborate a bit here? I'm not sure I see both problems. "He is not yet ready..." should probably be "He was not yet ready...". Otherwise the only mix is inside Gavin's dialogue and that seems appropriate to me.
It happens again in the next paragraph, but again it's him thinking. If it's deliberate then at least it's consistent.

Spoiler Warning below






It must not be clear. She only gets the itch when the apartment becomes vacant (sometimes after just one night, sometimes it takes longer). Then she gets the itch which allows her to seek out a new man spend the first night. The itch doesn't happen while the apartment is still occupied. Hence Cooper had to be away for a night (at least), prior to the one being told, so that Vera could get her itch and seek out a new victim.

I did wonder if I should expand on the events of her becoming a ghost, giving a bit more weight to the "first night" aspect of the story. But, of course, this is all being explained as Gavin is falling under the influence so I didn't want to drag it out more than necessary either.

Spoiler Warning below






So she discovered the effect on the old man's first night, and after that she can do it when she gets the itch, but she didn't get the itch before the old man. I think I'd better turn in.-)
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#17  Graham 03-07-2014, 06:00 AM
Very readable, with nicely paced twists which I didn’t see coming. The revalations worked for me:

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I understood how the first night effect of the Itch worked as written, so if you are tweaking to support arjaybe's comments, I don't think it needs to be by much.

The only thing that I did wonder was whether Gavin needed to come across as such a jerk in the opening few paragraphs.

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I can’t make my mind up whether having Gavin being so unpleasant for the first few paragraphs is necessary for the plot to work or whether the potential for turning some readers off the story early might be worth toning it down a little.

I think you're down to the line editing on this one; the structure and feel are good. Do you want to do another pass before we weigh in too heavily on line edit comments or would these be helpful now?

Graham
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#18  Graham 03-07-2014, 06:20 AM
The overall shape is fine, but like arjaybe I think you need a new ending.

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The 'it was just a dream' has become very hackneyed and as a reader I feel cheated by it. Given that you’re putting 'Died' in quotes in the title, we're already expecting a twist, and the most obvious outside of science fiction is that this will be a dream.

Also, I was primed to expect a twist to the death by the quotes around 'Died' so when you used the word 'process' in the very first sentence my immediate thought was that this was some peculiar death procedure rather than a straightforward cremation or burial, and that this would become significant. I assume this is a cremation, and I think saying 'cremation' instead of 'process' would help.

The parts of the story that work best for me are the insights into life in India and the Brahmin culture. However, you don't realise that this is set in India, or even that the protagonists are Hindu until a third of the way through the story. I would really enjoy this being clear from the outset. I'd also want to know if this is set amidst the dust and bustle of a big city like Delhi or in somewhere more suburban. Either way, for a Western reader, you've got an exotic setting to exploit more here.

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... which will also help to make the supernatural aspects more plausible.

I found the parenthetical asides that explain Hindi words jarring, even though they were welcome, so please consider either casting the story as told to someone outside the culture (so that the use of parentheses makes sense in context) or reworking those parts so that the explanation appears more naturally.

I agree with arjaybe about the clattering of utensils and also noted the reference earlier to the father helping lots of people. A little more detail to explain what he used to do would be great.

There are some useful things you could do to tighten up the writing, like removing some unnecessary phrases and repetition, but we can leave that for now. I hope these thoughts on structure are helpful!

Graham
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#19  gmw 03-07-2014, 09:52 AM
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My first problem with this story came with the title. It seems to me that the quotes around "died" are an immediate spoiler.

I think there is a potentially interesting story in here. Shradh (elsewhere I've seen it written as sraddha, shraaddha or shraddha - I am assuming you mean the same thing), is not something I know much about, and that was enough to intrigue me.

Like arjaybe, I found the writing and flow of the story rather disjointed, and that made it a difficult to follow at times. Examples: it wasn't clear to me exactly what the sleeping arrangements were (all in one room?); you make a issue of the lighting and yet it wasn't clear that this really mattered (until it comes to not wanting to sleep in the dark); the paragraph with the tobacco pot left me puzzled.

The unfamiliarity of the setting was a problem for me. I didn't know where I was starting from, and it took me a long time to form any sort of feel for the setting, and - to be honest - I came away with only a very hazy idea.

The opening suggests some ambivalence to the father, and yet that aspect doesn't really show itself again in the story. If it's not important I think it should be dropped.

For my taste, there was too much recited to me as facts, rather than revealed as part of the story. There is a lot of detail in there that is needed (and more, if you hope to educate someone like myself who is so unfamiliar with any of this), so it is going to be difficult to do well in a short story.

Like Graham, I tend to think this might be better (for an audience like myself) told from the perspective of someone outside the culture. It is possible that telling it in the third person may give you the flexibility needed to make things clearer.

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As noted by others, the "it was just a dream" ending doesn't work, or not as it is. You might be able to force it to work by not having it as a "surprise ending", but by telling the whole story as someone's dream.

I also agree with Graham that while the writing itself needs some tightening, that should not be the first priority. The first thing will be to organise the story to make it more accessible to readers.


Note: There is an element of unfairness in some of these comments. When I write a contemporary story I tend to assume my readers will be in a culture recognisably similar to my own - and this lets me get away with a lot. My own story opens in a bar that I do very little to describe, I expect my readers to fill in many of the details. It's a cheat, but one that works when the readers already carry a reasonably common and predictable set of images about what a "bar" is. It wouldn't work at all if the story was handed to some other cultures. Your story doesn't have that advantage if you want your story to work for an audience like myself.
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#20  gmw 03-07-2014, 10:14 AM
Quote arjaybe
It happens again in the next paragraph, but again it's him thinking. If it's deliberate then at least it's consistent.
I will try to keep a careful eye out for tense conflicts as I edit it.

Quote arjaybe
Spoiler Warning below






So she discovered the effect on the old man's first night, and after that she can do it when she gets the itch, but she didn't get the itch before the old man. I think I'd better turn in.-)
Spoiler Warning below






I see what you mean, although I don't see it as a conflict. The first time has an inbuilt reason to be different - it's the first time. There are also seemingly reasonable explanations that I don't think I should spend time explaining inside the story: the story doesn't say there was no itch, there may have been, but its occurrence has no real consequence to this story; the old man moved in without being invited by Vera, so the itch wasn't necessary - it may be that the mysterious effect or knowledge that governs the itch already "knew" the man was arriving; or his arrival coincided with when the itch would have started. In short, I don't think it really matters to the story being told.

Quote Graham
[...]The only thing that I did wonder was whether Gavin needed to come across as such a jerk in the opening few paragraphs.

Spoiler Warning below






I can’t make my mind up whether having Gavin being so unpleasant for the first few paragraphs is necessary for the plot to work or whether the potential for turning some readers off the story early might be worth toning it down a little.
I may be wrong, but I feel as though Gavin's nature is part of the "spark" to the opening of the story. A more - I'd like to say "ordinary" but not sure that's accurate, so let's try - likable character would make the opening feel more sedate and may confuse the reader's reaction at the end of the story. (Or the reaction I was looking for.)

I suppose some readers may get turned off ... but I think I'll chance it as it is.

Quote Graham
I think you're down to the line editing on this one; the structure and feel are good. Do you want to do another pass before we weigh in too heavily on line edit comments or would these be helpful now?
I definitely want to do my own editing pass before I ask for line edit comments. There are several paragraphs in there that I know I want to smooth out.
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