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Author Topic: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread  (Read 12107 times)

Offline LightRunner

Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #15 on: January 04, 2017, 04:37:27 AM »
I'd be interested in critiques for "There had to be a reason".

Here's one for @Nora for "Time's Arrow."

Spoiler for Hiden:

Selected Quote: "At the bottom of his message are some universal scribbles, present over all the greatest buildings of mankind and whatever school desks might have survived the ages: a B+E in the middle of a heart, and under it 2030– and the looped symbol of eternity."

Something Awesome: I thought the relationship was really well done – particularly the bantering dialogue.

Theme Appropriateness: I tend to be pretty lax on the interpretations of the prompt, so re-interpreting 1750 didn’t bother me too much, but it might have been better if the start of the new calendar could have been explicitly tied to the event that Bobby and Ellen were escaping from.

Conflict and Tension: Was there a particular reason they chose that day to enter stasis? I felt the characters’ desperation, but didn’t quite understand their urgency, since it seemed like they had been planning this for a while. What was the tipping point?

Strength of Characterisation: As I said before, the relationship was great. If it wasn’t well done, the message from Bobby wouldn’t have had the impact that it did. I think this was due to the dialogue, as well as the way Ellen talks about Bobby.

I wasn’t bothered by their use of names in the dialogue. I think people are sometimes more likely to use names with people they are close to, in the same way they would use monikers like “sweetie,” “honey,” “darling,” etc. That being said, I agree with m3mnoch that non-verbal communication is important, and I think some of that was lost when there were multiple lines of dialogue without any tags. That would be one thing that might help improve the portrayal of the relationship.

Something Confusing: The first time through, I got confused by some of the jumps in time and place. In particular, the segment “One day I had offered to exit…” confused me. I didn’t realize that we were still in the present, not on the day that Ellen had offered to exit stasis.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2017, 06:18:55 AM »
I'd be interested in critiques for "There had to be a reason".
Critique for "There had to be a reason."   I liked the story and thought the premise interesting, and very well done in the teacup that the space limit was for such a piece.

Spoiler for Hiden:
On the positive, I liked the dialogue and the physics references. Your writing was clear and concise. I felt for Sam and I liked the irony that Sam's knowledge was not enough to protect her. Yay pharmacies! I liked the irony of Plank's final thought in direct opposition to what he told Sam, but thought Sam got a really bum deal. That means you made me sympathize with her, so good on ya. So most of my points don't relate to your execution, but rather to the shaping of the story itself.

In terms of issues that might be improved:

First, you begin with the question of “why”, which seems straightforward, but I think is actually too open-ended. The opening of any time-travel or other weird piece is complex. The big questions are potentially distracting elephants in the room, at least for me. These are 1) how did this happen? (mechanically), and 2) why did this happen? (at all, to her, and not to someone else, etc.), and then there's the "why" you were focused on 3) for what purpose?

So I think the question needed a frame or precursor to knock these distractions off the table, queue the audience to forget notions of time machines, spells, potions, etc., and establish that she has no idea how it happened at all, etc. I think inserting a "how" with the question would have helped. Or something like “Sam believed everything happens for a reason. But if there was a reason for finding herself instantly and inexplicably X number of years in the past, she had yet to discover it.”

This puts us in the same mental space as the character, wondering "OK, so what was it?" and leading us to where she is at, trying to figure out "why" since "how" is a mystery.

Second, the story's plot is thin and depends entirely on answering the question above, on Sam realizing what's happened. The dialogue was good, but its end was abrupt, and I felt she was cheated somewhat. Plank's motivations and character come across as dubious - if he was comfortable killing the girl, why bother talking? What did he hope to achieve by it? What about their conversation went too far?

This is a really tough story to write, which is why I punted and went with a pithy poem, so I do not suggest you missed X, Y, or Z easy options - if I thought I could engineer a clever story in the space available, I'd have written one. The only thing I come up with is having Plank's goal be to calm and reassure Sam as he waits for the chronologically best moment to end her life. Or maybe, really changing things all around and sending her back, but that required her to destroy her own notes.

Thematically, there's a final issue relating to this story's unpleasant ending. It's refrigerator logic, but still, if this event was a cosmic accident, did God not feel she got sort of cheated by life? History deserves protection from them - but a single person does not? Seems like a case that warrants a cosmic Mulligan. He couldn't just zap her back once things aligned properly? Anyway, my point is the end was darker than expected.

Like Nora's story, I really felt bad for the character, in this case, even as she learns what the hell happened. That's effective writing, so I have no real execution advice to offer. Hope this is helpful.
The Gem Cutter
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Offline Lanko

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Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2017, 12:46:08 PM »
Time's Arrow, by @Nora

Spoiler for Hiden:

Selected Quote:

Quote
His hands are around my face, cupping it behind my ears, turning me in some sort of parabolic dish directed towards him, tuned to receive the warm radiation of his love.

I felt that was perfect to reflect their personalities: NASA scientists, dinosaur lovers and watchers of Sci-Fi channels who met and fell in love, and also the desperation at that part.

Something Awesome:The emotional aspect was the best part of the story. Specially because you built them so well. I think their situation was very well handled as well, as in surrounded by a world at war, radiation and being a shelter with each other, making them think and rethink their best moments. The letter at the end also really packed a punch.

Theme Appropriateness:Low

You asked if it theme appropriateness would make you lose a vote. I read the stories in the final week, so I forgot that the 1750 had to be our 1750. The only thing I remembered was people talking about different calendars in the Discussion thread and I somehow thought Xia said yes.
So your reinterpretation of 1750 went fine by me, even if gave me the impression to be there just for the contest theme, not something that had a plausible reason to have changed within the story context.

Had I read it earlier and voted earlier... I think I would be conflicted. So the answer is... maybe. Probably. Then again, November had so many restrictions that one or other loose thread wouldn't really bother me.

Characterization : Very Good

The emotional aspect was the strongest part. How they cared for each other. Their little quirks. The choice Bobby had to make.

I liked how you showed things in a very implicit way, so to speak. They seemed calm, joking about dinosaurs, how their stasis pod built by them were amazing, remembering how they met, having lots of drinking and sex.

But in truth it was like soldiers going to battle making jokes to ease the tension, the probability of not returning. After all, they did had trouble with the cables. No spare parts. Slight tremors or bombings could glitch the pods.Someone could find them. Not to mention the claustrophobic feel of being in that shelter for so long. And seeing TV channels going out, leaving them even more isolated and that things were getting worse.
In short, they were terrified. Probably feeling hopeless, hence why the marathon of sex and drinking.

Eventually Bobby couldn't take it anymore and broke down (which is why that part is also my favorite quote). All that without shoving how I should feel/perceive any of those things, I hate being spoon fed. 

Conflict and Tension:Very High

I'm going the opposite way of m3mnoch here. We can't have agency all the time and against everything. We do hit our Great Walls. And then we need other people's help, be it their physical support, or know-how or their emotional support.
Sometimes we do have to get carried a bit instead of carrying.

In their case, there was a nuclear war going on, an environment that was a wasteland filled with radiation. Plus their lack of resources and psychological conditions of their situation. They did what they could do and knew how to do. Anything else seemed totally out of their reach and influence.

I think the conditions of the cables being checked was a nice foreshadow. More important, I liked the underlying, discreet psychological struggle going on, like I mentioned in Characterization.
Making them both so in tune with each other can make a story lose some conflict, but it compensates in tension when bad things can or do happen with one of them, or both. The letter did that.

Also, another thing I kept thinking was Bobby's situation. Imagine waking up in such circumstances and that your pod is lost. While he said he struggled to not wake her up, I didn't think it was just to say good-bye.
He also considered it for our primordial fear of death. "Do I wake her up to see if she can help me fix it?" Even if he knew it couldn't, the urging sensation of preservation was to at least try. Then he simply enhanced her. Imagine what was going on in this guy's head.

And the other thing was: How did Bobby die? They ate and drank previously, but aside from wine, what food would last for 88 years? Did he simply starved to death? Did he suicide? Painfully or painlessly?
If he had food, considering what he did to Ellen's pod, I could see him totally eating and drinking, but heavily rationing it to leave as much as possible for her. And simply dying of old age, with years passing by, agonized without being able to talk to her and the same time, during all those years, carefully making sure nothing affected her pod.   

And none of this was shown or told, it's up to you to imagine it happening. And I guess that's why I read, to sometimes imagine it my way, to make my own assumptions.
Did I already say how I hate being spoon fed? Maybe you didn't even think about these things, but I did when reading it.

So considering all that, within their specific circumstances and context, I thought they had agency, if mostly emotional control for each other's sake.

Something Confusing: ---

Addendum:I believe the letter was to be fully in italics but only the first paragraph made it.

The Witches Bottle, by @Crystallynnfairy

Spoiler for Hiden:
Selected Quote:

Quote
Peregrine laid down the tears flowed as she realized what was in the other bottles.

Damn, loved that line, despite a probable typo. What was in the other bottles? Creepy and dark endings for the win!

Something Awesome:The plot twist when it turns out Lilura is a real witch and Peregrine is trapped was really cool. It made the sense of calmness, routine and safety in the beginning and middle a total illusion.

I also liked the foreshadows, like amazonite being able to dispel electromagnetic pollution and boneset to protect from ghost sickness, and all the while Peregrine didn't get the clue despite her tablet that stopped working in that moment or that Lilure might've really seen her and that to her Peregrine might look like a ghost.

Theme Appropriateness:Very High.
Peregrine goes back to 1750 and doesn't return. Perfect.

Characterization:Low

This is the only issue I had with the story, despite voting for it. I didn't get to know who the characters, Peregrine and Lilura, really were.

For Peregrine, why did she go back in time? What was she going to do with the grimoire? Did she needed it to help someone? The world? Or was for totally selfish reasons? This made connecting with her a little hard.

Lilura had a little more going on. She is nice to Edi but has those bottles who contain... we guess what. So there is a dark contrast to her nice exterior. And also how she kept her cool when noticing Peregrine around and how she prepares the trap.

However, I also didn't get to know who she was. Peregrine returned in time directly in her house. So who was Lilura? Was she famous? Or what was she known for? Is she related to Peregrine, a distant ancestor? What the grimoire she created does? Why does she have those bottled, supposedly "dark experiments"?

I like when things are a little suggested or ambiguous, but for me here things were a bit too shrouded.

Conflict and Tension:Medium

The plot twist at the end was really cool, also thanks to the foreshadow. Lilura really was a witch and she did saw Peregrine.

To that point there wasn't a conflict or tension going on, but it was just a complete false sense of security and control that Lilura gave Peregrine until her trap was ready.

It would be High if I had a bit more characterization to really feel more for Peregrine's fate or understand or loathe Lilura.

Something Confusing:---

Addendum:"Thank you August head" and "What the hell" were sentences that appeared in the narrative that I'm pretty sure were internal thoughts, so I believe you intended them to be in italics.

EDIT: Wow, I just kept writing and this turned out really long  :o
« Last Edit: January 04, 2017, 12:53:35 PM by Lanko »
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Offline Lordoftheword

Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #18 on: January 04, 2017, 03:53:36 PM »
I would love some feedback on Youthful Optimism if any of you would be so kind.

Critique of @Crystallynnfairy's "The Witches Bottle"

Spoiler for Hiden:

Selected Quote: "Peregrine swatted at the bone thing but it caught her. The suction pulled her into it. She fought and kicked but to no avail. She had been wrenched into the bone. Her world was still for a moment. Then  a big gush of breath pushed her out of the bone and into the waiting glass bottle."  ;D

Something Awesome: I thought the story premise was very interesting. You gave me shivers when I read it a second time and realized that Lilura was aware of Peregrine stalking around her place the entire time and every little new herb/stone was another ingredient to be used in her entrapment. It was like one big mouse-trap, except the mouse watched the hunter lay, bait and set the trap. Too fun!

Theme Appropriateness: Bang on.

Conflict and Tension: Lacked in both.

We know Peregrine wants the grimoire, but we don't know exactly why or why it's even important to obtain. A few lines could easily solve this problem and add to the tension (ie: the grimoire holds the secret knowledge that Peregrine needs to save a loved one.)

There isn't any conflict, not until the end. But it works fine without it. This is more of an Idea Genre piece of short fiction anyway, and conflict would actually take away from the entire story.

Strength of Characterisation: Low. Not much character development. I would recommend showing us how the characters feel either through action or internal dialogue a little more often.

ie) Just one example. You wrote: "Stop following me." Lilura said, and placed the inescapable round bottom bottle down.

Simple character development: "Stop following me," Lilura said with a sneer, peering into the inescapable round-bottom bottle with disdain.

Perhaps that's not the kind of Lilura you're trying to portray in my (crappy) example, but that's kind of my point.

Something Confusing: Nope!


Overall, this was one of my favorite stories. Your entire idea pulled me right in from the beginning, and the twist at the end evoked an emotional reaction of dread that none of the other stories gave me, which is why you got my vote. I remembered The Witches Bottle long after I read it, which is a rarity these days, so bravo!  :D




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Offline LightRunner

Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #19 on: January 04, 2017, 11:24:27 PM »
Tim Tripper, Lost in Time
@Jmack 

Spoiler for Hiden:

Overall, I thought this story was well-written and engaging. It got a vote from me because it drew me in, I could really imagine Tim working in the garage with his oblivious parents, and the ending made me smile.

Selected Quote:

“He tossed the empty spool toward a trash bin, but it bounced away and settled at the bottom of the short flight of garage steps.

Dr. Tripper glanced up from his work. ‘Make sure you clean up, Timmy. You know how Mother feels about messes.’ “

After reading these lines, I immediately knew that something about the empty spool would be important to the story.

Something Awesome: I loved the depiction of super nerdy young Tim tinkering in the garage while his academic father worked through the drudgery of grading.

Theme Appropriateness: The main character did end up in 1750, but what is the reason that Tim can’t go back to the present if he’s the one that built the time machine in the first place? The other Tims seem to have been able to find parts to build other machinery.

Conflict and Tension: I was engaged by this story all the way to the end. My notes from the first read through indicate that the ending might have been too unexpected – there is nothing earlier in the story hinting at negative universes or girls. Is there a better way to foreshadow this?

Maybe showing Tim thinking about the math earlier on, or the role of the echostat would be a way to foreshadow the ending so it doesn’t quite come out of the blue. It could also be a way to turn this from a “premise with a ha-ha/hmm” to a story if Tim has an initial goal related to negative universes or the echostat.

Strength of Characterisation: Should each of the Tims have the exact same personality? I expect that the older Tim will have changed from the younger Tim, but it also seems like each Tim has a different level of understanding of math and the inventions. Shouldn’t they all start from the same point as the original Tim? Am I missing something here?

Something Confusing: What is an echostat and why would one Tim appear every year? I’m not quite sure I understand this.

Again, I really liked this story, and most of these questions only came up once I started to dive into it for this critique. I hope it's helpful!

Offline LightRunner

Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #20 on: January 04, 2017, 11:47:01 PM »
@The Gem Cutter

Thanks for the thoughts. I have been surprised to discover that the most problematic part of this story was not the science and my convenient interpretations of quantum mechanics, but the characterization problems that arose from how I dealt with with the science.

My intention through the final switch to Plank's POV was to show that there is something going on that is much greater than Sam as an individual. I didn't flesh out what that is during my brainstorming, but if I had, maybe I would have been able to more effectively show that in the story and set it up for the darker ending. Or, as you suggested, another solution might have been to give Sam some closure through the conversation with Plank, and at the end show Plank upset about what he had to do.

Thanks again! It's helpful to see where the weaknesses were so that I can know what questions to ask when I write future stories.

Offline JMack

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Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #21 on: January 05, 2017, 01:12:16 AM »
Thanks, @LightRunner!

I think the "why can't he return" and the preliminary topics (maths, etc.) are good sources for improvement.
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Offline Lanko

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Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #22 on: January 05, 2017, 05:49:17 AM »
Tim Tripper, Lost in Time, by @Jmack :

Spoiler for Hiden:

Selected Quote:

Quote
"Come, Tim, come. You can do better than that. Last year's Tim was just a little faster."

That and the previous question is what made me realize there were alternate Tim's in there. I thought the old Tim was actually his father and meeting his alter ego made me "wait, what?"

Something Awesome:Various Tims were pretty awesome, each dropping in a different timeline. And how they just their genius to make the capital Tripperton. 

How they got the pieces of the machine made me chuckle. Like the line about the timebelt from Sears.

Theme Appropriateness: Very High.

Tim goes to 1750 and doesn't return.

Strength of Characterisation: Good

For the proposal of the story, boy genius was well established. He works better than his father and changes History.

Conflict and Tension: Medium

Not much conflict and tension, but since the piece is humorous and lighthearted, and the situation made me curious enough, it goes up a notch.

I definitely wanted to see an army of "Timantha Trippers" arguing with the hundred Timmies. I think the bickering between them would be pretty amusing and would have added some conflict and tension, even if for comical effect. That was really intriguing and think that should've been shown.

Something Confusing:The story says various Timmies were spread throughout the ages, the first one (that they knew of, at least) arriving in 1650. But since the thing was set to random, there was nothing preventing him from going to the future as well, was there? So the future ones could go back and prevent the first accident from ever happening.

He made a bunch of settings on the echostat but I think it was a little confusing for me to understand what he really did. "1750" was checkboxed along "repeat/random". Was 1750 the final limit? Multiple same Timmies to 1750? Multiple Timmies everywhere up to 1750? Or they could appear after 1750? How did these settings overlapped?
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Offline JMack

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Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Critique Thread
« Reply #23 on: January 05, 2017, 11:51:30 AM »
@Lanko, in one version of the story concept (ultimately rejected), Tim got twisted into Timantha on the way back in time.  :D
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