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  • Locked thread
Dec 28, 2009

Oh hey I remember this Thunderdome thing that was fun I should do it again.

I'm in. Wiz me.


Dec 28, 2009

Hair of the Dog
1,300 words

I woke to a headache pounding its way into my skull like a woodpecker, all ratta-tat-tat with bursts of pain and flashes of light. I had to pry my eyelids open against a thick crust. With the way my day was going, I figured it was probably blood.

Memory trickled back like a reluctant drunk. There’d been a lady, and a job, and neither of these facts surprised me much. How that got me here, cuffed to a pole in an unremarkable basement while blood dribbled down my face, I still couldn’t remember.

I heard shifting from behind my head, then a woman’s voice. “Y’all awake back there, mister Bastiat?” she asked, pain turning her smooth drawl into a quaver. I grunted. “This sure is a fine pickle, don’tcha think?”

“Been in worse,” I said, gruffer than I intended. “You cuffed too?”

“Uh-huh.” I heard movement, felt long hair tickle the backs of my arms. Took me moment to realise she was nodding, cuffed to the same pole as me. “I’m sure a resourceful guy like you can get us free, right. Right?” Fear cracked her voice.

“‘Course,” I said. Soft fingers found my own and gave them a quick squeeze. I swallowed hard. More memories drifted back - Marie, that was her name.

“Hold still,” I said, and tried to focus. A lock of Marie’s hair slipped through my fingers. I swore and plucked a hair from my arm instead, whispered words of power. The hair twisted like steel between my fingers, probed the lock, wrapped itself around the pawl and tightened with a crunch.

It was easy enough to free myself after that, easier still to free Marie. I felt a flush of pride I always got when I used magic for something more subtle than breaking faces, pride the whiskey hadn’t entirely drowned.

“Well, color me impressed,” Marie said, smiling from behind sweat-streaked blonde hair. “How’d you do it?”

“Allow me a a few secrets of the trade, won’t you?” I said, looking away before her smile dug any deeper.

The locked door provided an excellent change of subject. I brushed splinters out of my shirt and led us up out onto the street. Whoever had left us tied up and disarmed was nowhere to be seen; best guess was they’d be back later to finish the job, but I planned on being long gone by then.

It was raining outside, water turning the reflections of streetlights in shop windows into incomprehensible scrawls. The water sluiced the blood from my face and replaced it with recollection.


It had been raining when Marie came to my office. She hid her curves under a shapeless overcoat, but nothing could hide her smile. It lit the room like a spotlight, showing up all the grime.

Her voice cracked when she told me about her brother. It was an old story, one I’d heard too many times before and rarely with a happy ending. Wide-eyed country boys and the big city never did go well together, and Marie’s pursuit of him was as doomed as she was naive. I was all set to turn her out, let her add her sorry tale to the missing persons lists, but the words stuck in my throat.

Her smile when I agreed to take the job was worth a thousand times the handful of dollars she could afford to offer.


We’d been trawling her brother’s known haunts when we got rolled, so I figured I may as well finish the job and see what else I could stir up. She gave me one last name, Martens Imports, before I bundled her into a cab and sent her back to her hotel.

I made my way to the meatpacking district and tried not to think too hard about what I was heading into. Eddie Martens was tied up with the College, a dark side of the wizard’s union that everybody knew but nobody dared mention. I’d tried, once, when I was young and foolish. Spent every day since then paying for it.

The place was closed, quiet as a grave and thick with hexes. Sore and out of practice, it took me an age to sidle through them. I headed for the office; it seemed the best place to start looking when I didn’t know what I expected to find. I was halfway through the third drawer of the desk in a fancy wood-panelled office when it found me instead.


Eddie smirked from the doorway, a looming brute of a man. He’d barely changed since the College days. Weathered a bit, perhaps, like a cliff-face.

“You’ve got guts, snooping around here, “ he said. “This is College business, Samson. You know what that means.” I backed away, but the wall was behind me and I had nowhere to go.

I saw the glint of bronze around Martens’ knuckles, felt the surge of magic in the air and remembered his sphere. His smile broadened as I reached helplessly for the space where my revolver should’ve been.

“Hardly seems fair,” he said, as if he cared much for fair. He gestured to his hair, cropped to stubble. “What’s your magic gonna do to me, Samson, make me itch?”

He laughed uproariously, then snapped a right-hook at my head. I barely ducked in time, lashing bronze turning the panelling behind me into splinters.

I put my dukes up, turned the hairs on my arm into razors and did my best to duck and weave around him, but we both knew I was outclassed. He caught me once on the chin, slammed my head back against the wall and opened every wound I’d already taken that evening with a vengeance. I slide down the wall leaving blood behind me.

“Gonna do what the College should’ve done when they threw you out, boy,” he said, looming over me. “Guess they just didn’t have the balls.”

I glared up at him with as much defiance as I could muster and hunted through the fog in my head for a plan. As he raised a fist, the fog cleared just enough.

“Neither will you,” I said, spitting blood and magic. I felt the magic bite deep, twisted hard. Eddie collapsed with a whimper, hands clutching late, far too late, at his crotch.


I had Eddie disarmed and tied to the chair by the time he came around but he wouldn’t talk. Nothing but denials, claimed he’d never even heard of the boy. I was about to try one more time when a shot rang out and Eddie’s face blossomed red. I spun around to see Marie in the doorway, smoking revolver held steady as a rock.

She smiled, thin and cold. “Let me save you the trouble, Sam,” she said, all trace of her country drawl flown south for the winter. “He couldn’t tell you anything about my brother. I don’t have one.”

“A setup?” I stared, incredulous.

“Who else but a wizard could get through to Eddie?” She smiled again. “And what wizard but you would have so little left to lose to try? With him out of the way, ohhh, the doors you have opened for us Sam. If only you knew.”

“Why the basement?”

“You hid your past well. I had to be sure.”

“And now you’ve proved it, you’re trying to threaten me with just a pistol?” I sent my magic out again. It cost me dear - I’d lost a lot of blood already - but I pushed back the darkness and grabbed. My magic slipped off her like a hot coal on ice.

“Oh Sam, you really are so naive,” she said with a smile, shaking her head. The long, blonde wig fall to the floor as the darkness rose to claim me.

Dec 28, 2009

Right, I got distracted from writing crits by writing a Google Docs to BBcode converter instead, so if something's mangled in here that's why (or I suck at formatting things in the first place, which is also possible). The amount of sarcasm and bile in any given crit is not particularly well correlated with the quality of your storytelling, except where it is.

The bit where I still had enthusiasm: Entries 1-11

1 angel opportunity Wesley the Wizard

Wesley is… unlikable. There are plenty of authors who make schoolboy bravado and embarrassment relatable in a protagonist, but in this case I’m just reading and thinking “oh god, maybe he’ll stop talking soon.” A couple of re-reads and he grows on you, but that was definitely my initial impression.

The twist at the end comes out of nowhere; I ended up reading back to see if you’d done anything to telegraph it but Janice gets three very short sentences before that point, none of which hint to her overhearing the magic phrase. Wesley doesn’t have much agency in this story. He tries to get the girl, fails, and then gets hit by a passing plot point.

I did like your interpretation of the prompt - it was a nice way to keep internal consistency with what might’ve otherwise been an awkwardly unbelievable magical power.

There’s some clunky phrasing that doesn’t help. A couple of examples:
Cynthia said to her friends, “Hey guys, I’ll be back in a bit. I have to talk to Wesley.”
Better options:
“Hey guys,” Cynthia said to her friends…
Cynthia turned to her friends. “Hey guys,” she said...

Wesley already thought she was the most beautiful girl, so nothing changed, he just hoped she didn’t realize she’d actually used the phrase on him.
Hard to parse, doesn’t add a vast amount. Either make it more explicit, or cut it.
eg, “Wesley felt a tingle of wizardry as the phrase hooked itself into his heart. It didn’t change anything - Cynthia was already the most beautiful girl in the world, after all - but he hoped she didn’t realise all the same.”

Honestly, though, if you find yourself writing “He hoped” or “He thought” then it’s not often a good sign.

2 Noeland Three Dimensions, More or Less

Welcome to the Thunderdome. Prepare to suck.

Your opening paragraph is not strong. Directly addressing the reader is rarely a good framing, and there’s a lot of minor problems. The rest of the story continues in the theme, but I don’t have time to do this for all of it.

Paper cuts aren’t that bad. They usually sting a bit, last only only last for a short while, and minutes later you forget all about them you just said this. The same does not doesn’t go the same what for a paper cut received when you're pulling books from the dark, dank, dusty dull, disagreeable, dreary, diversity-less shelves of the deep congratulations you found another adjective that begins with D stacks in the libraries of the University Arcanus. The last student to get a paper cut while pulling stack duty was found 3 three days later with his head turned inside out standing in front of his bathroom mirror his head was in front of the bathroom mirror, but where was the rest of him? Swap the two clauses, insert a comma, then take a good, hard look at yourself and consider whether you want this sentence to be this long anyway.. I think I think personally “I think” is completely redundant. If you’re going to insist on addressing the reader, don’t add even more fluff. Start this sentence at “Personally, I … “ I personally got really lucky that I didn't cut my finger on the pages of the first edition Necronomicon like he did. Instead, I cut myself on the pages of less sinister, but no less dangerous comma belongs here volume, a 9th edition 'Practical Papercraft for the Occasional Occultist'.

So by the time I get to the end, your framing is at least justified in-story, but there’s not much in the way of actual story to hang it on. Your whole piece is just “A funny thing happened to me on the way to actually writing a story today…”. Protagonist has no goals, no obstacles, he’s just explaining this thing that happened to him and why it’s totally not his fault, moooooommmmm. He’s not likable, there’s no sense of wanting to find what happens next (except in the “ this actually going to have a point?” way), and I don’t care about him as a reader. It’s not awful, it’s just not engaging.

For your next story, I’d recommend starting from a plan rather than just writing words until you get to the end. A character with a goal, an obstacle he overcomes (or fails to overcome) before he can reach that goal, a narrative arc and a reason for the reader to care what happens next.

3 ravenkult Nine Wolves

This is a good story, but perhaps a touch bland. I don’t feel much in the way of motivation for the protagonist; he does all this dark magic, but without me understanding why. Was it just because his favorite slave girl got stolen from him? What’s going on with the monologue as he casts his spell over the dead earl’s blood but addressing the living brother?

There’s a lot of hand-waving over the finer points of the story, imo, which leads to me not feeling engaged with it. Beyond that, you write well - the dialogue is pretty tight and the action well-described. Err a little more on the side of explaining yourself rather than keeping things spooky and mysterious, and it would be very good.

You get a short crit because I can’t find much else to lambast you for. That’s probably a good thing.

4 Guiness13 Joy

There is no joy here. There’s also no plot, really, just a little vignette of a sad woman and a metaphor for psychiatry. Your prose flows reasonably well, you have a knack for metaphor but it sometimes runs away with you. I don’t like your aversion to contractions in speech, though I’m prepared to give you half-a-pass because it’s someone talking in a formal setting. In general, though, no matter the setting it still sounds really goddamn awkward.

The problem with this piece is I don’t care about the characters much. It reads like you’re trying to make a deep and artistic point about depression and psychiatry and the sad, human habit of clinging on to familiar pain. You make the point well, but this was a fiction competition, not a moralising one.

I also hate it when the characters in a story start talking to the reader. Stop it, all of you.

5 Bompacho Colours and Councils

I read your wizard’s name as Rymdkraft and now I will be reading your story to a cheery chiptune soundtrack. Just FYI.

poo poo son, that’s a good thesaurus you’ve got there. Good work. Now go find the entry for “said” and draw a picture of a dick over it so you don’t use it again. “Said” is one of those words that’s noticeable only by its absence - when you just use “said” every time, the eye skips right over it; when you try and use a million synonyms because your teacher at primary school was an idiot and told you never to reuse a word, it stands out like a sore thumb.

You’re infodumping a lot there. You blew the first two-dozen paragraphs and all I know is there’s this guy, he’s a wizard of photoshop filters, and look at all these cool wizards and facets of wizard society I made up, please pay attention to them. I’m at the half-way mark now and I all I have is a feeling of being lectured at about magic poo poo I don’t care about.

Look, a magical battle of indescribable something! Yes, you’re definitely telling me I should be impressed by the impressive things happening here. I’m not, though, because I don’t give a single drat about what either of the wizards are fighting for, their motivation, or their struggle. But they’re secretly Michelangelo and Beethoven, which is kickin’ rad, right? (Hint: no).

You really, really need to work on improving your flow. It hits your dialogue and your prose alike, and it’s really glaring. Big, long, breathless sentences with nothing to break them up. Stilted phrasing with no contractions. Your piece reads like the kind of lecture where half the audience are nodding off by the mid-way point, long and droning and sanctimonious but ultimately irrelevant.

You have nice ideas, but need to focus on your prose first and your storytelling second (goal! obstacle! resolution!) and leave the world-building behind for a bit.

6 RedTonic The Rules of Return

Off to a bad start, as I couldn’t keep track of who was talking and being referred to until I re-read the opening few paragraphs three times. When you’re using gender-neutral names like “Hines” and “Salt” you need to be a bit more obvious before you immediately jump into the he/she.

Also, contractions. Use them, I hate you all.

You had to insert a link to a website to explain a joke in your story. Please stop, take a long, hard look at yourself, and consider what you’ve done. Now never do it again. There’s a glimmer of a half-good story in there, somewhere, but it really feels buried under in-jokes and references and places where you think you’re being so drat clever.

I think you were trying to write comedy. Unfortunately, funny is hard, and your story wasn’t funny. Stripped of all that, I think there’s a reasonably good story that, ironically, would probably be funnier without all the comic asides and smartass remarks.

7 J.A.B.C. A Distant Hand

First-person present tense is an awkward choice even when you don’t flub your tenses within the first two paragraphs. Stick with past tense, it works fine for this story anyway, which is good because you seem to revert to it pretty quickly anyway.

It’s a sweet little piece, but I hesitate to call it a story. As a vignette it works well, and I honestly quite like it despite its flaws. It gets better as it goes, to be honest, and it’s a shame your opening is the poorest part. Just for you, line-by-lines of that part.

I smile as I watch the rat's legs kick again, its eyes blinking open. I spare only a few more seconds to observe before turning to my tome. The enchanted silver arrowhead outperformed my expectations, reviving the creature within ten seconds of contact.

The crash of shattered air echoes through my tower and slams into my back, nearly blowing my hat off. I turn and watch as a ship floated whoops now it’s past tense down, aligned with the clearing outside. I judged past tense again, and drop the verb it a newer model by the forward-swept wings and sleek design. Blue, gold and green bars on the wingtips were the only color on the chrome body, telltale signs of a Imperial embassy ship. A lot of infodump to tell me something he trivially knows. If we’re first-personing this poo poo, you can cut the “as you know Bob, the blue, gold and green bars signify an Imperial embassy ship. You can tell from the angle of the wings and some of the pixels that it’s a newer model”. It’s an Imperial embassy ship, new model, the protagonist will know that without needing to think through the details, so don’t subject us to them either.

I take the narrow stone staircase slowly, counting each step, letting me calm down before I made my way across the drawing room odd choice of room; if we’re being old-fashioned enough to have a drawing room we probably also have a reception room or entry hall and to the old wooden door. Breathe. Be impressive. I reach for the staff next to the door, feel it's its weight in the palm of my glove your glove has feelings? Maybe you feel it in your gloved palm. It helps the image.

I push the door with all my might, swinging open you swing open? That sounds painful with a thunderous crash, stepping forward, staff raised high.

“WHO DARES DISTURB THE GRAND ALLAMENDO?!” I DO! I get he’s probably intending on sounding like an overblown cliche here, but still.

A woman leaned Did she start leaning just as Allamendo opens the door, and you hosed up your tense again? Has she been leaning all along? on one of the landing struts, clad in a greatcoat over her flight suit. Her sharp face stretched and their hazel eyes widened in that way one does Hate this phrasing. “Like” is a perfectly good word. when they've seen a ghost. Or a celebrity.

“You're the wizard?” She asked nervously. Less with the adjectives. Show her being nervous, don’t just tell us she’s nervous.

“And you are the pilot,” hate this phrase, it’s not as witty as you think it is. There’s only one pilot in the whole universe? Wizard is plausibly a significant title, pilot a lot less so I shot back. I also hate your speech tags “Why are you on my planet?”

She stared two actions at once! Truly she is a talented woman. as she removed a small touchscreen pad from a pocket not a specific pocket, just a pocket in general.Whoever sent this poor fool I could say something about poor fools, but I won’t, because I’m nice hadn’t told them about my gloves. Gloves! My goodness! How unusual and clearly worthy of wonder! “If this is a jest, then it is not amusing.” Who’s talking here? You got so busy mocking this pilot lady that I don’t know.

She put the pad away, impressed gaze changing to somewhere between annoyed and apprehensive. I hate this sentence even more. If you find yourself writing “somewhere” or “somehow” or “sort of like” or otherwise adding unnecessary ambiguity to your adjectives, stop. It’s a very common thing and people use it in speech all the time, but it just doesn’t work in writing. You’re not ad-libbing here, you’re writing and (hopefully) editing so take the time to find a way of describing what you actually mean, not what you sort of like mean. “Alright then, um, sir Wizard. I feel like you want to have her stop and take a breath, or clear her throat here. Might be just me, though. Firstly, Her Imperial Majesty would like to thank you for your past and future service to the Empire under her reign.”

So the Emperor died. Assassin, or he took off the ring I sold him years ago for this planet. Get what you’re saying, still reads weird. ‘Traded’ or ‘gave’ rather than sold? “I thank you for the message, but Again, for whatever reason I want to put a break in here. Maybe a “I bowed my head formally” before he lays back into her again why was this not sent with my supply drop?”

“Ah, that's the other thing,” Another little thing people say a lot in real life but doesn’t work so well in written dialogue. she said. “Her Imperial Majesty has assigned me to be your supply pilot. She believes that a savior of the Empire shouldn't have food dropped on his head from space. In her words.” She can use quotation marks when she’s quoting someone, then you can use quotation marks when you’re having her speak. I’d do this (using quotation marks to quote my version of her speaking and quoting someone, poo poo now I’m getting a headache): “She believes, I quote, ‘A saviour of the Empire shouldn’t have food dropped on his head from space’” The way you’ve phrased it, I don’t know until the end that she’s doing that slightly different voice people do when they’re quoting someone else.
Perfect. Another distraction from my work.
You probably want to move your internal monologue onto a separate paragraph, it’s sort of speech. It’s also quite common to italicise it to differentiate it from narration.

“Will that be all?” I said, turning around.. I found a missing period! Guess you won’t be a parent after all.

“One last thing,” she said, touching her hand Glove? Hands don’t have buttons on them. Usually.. The bottom of the ship unfolded outward. and A platform descended, stacked high with containers. “Where do I put these?”

I like the premise and the arc I think you’re shooting for. It’s a nice conceit, but falls a bit short from your prose and also through not really being a story. Still, the idea shows promise.

8 Pham Nuwen Chance Man

Welcome to Thunderdome. Prepare to suck with a statistical significance of p<0.95.

A lot of infodump/background and I never like stories where the protagonist is busy expositioning to the reader. You did at least start with something action-shaped, so I’ll return half a point.

You know, other than that, I can’t find a huge amount to dislike about this story. There is conflict, and the fact that the protagonist survives by dumb luck is somewhat fitting. It’s not great, but it’s not really awful either.

Some little things. New speaker needs a new line in the third paragraph. I’m not sure the guy’s much of a wizard, per the prompt, this feels more like a psychic-power scifi story.

For a first timer, this is pretty good really and with some editing could be even better.

9 Hammer Bro. Sequelae

Man kills death, people stop dying. Oh god this is so cliche :(

Honestly, other than the plot, I don’t dislike this too much. The writing is pretty solid except where you slip up (who’s Randall? Did you chance Dominic’s name and forget to search/replace?), the kids’ dialogue at the beginning is believably dumb, though the conversations with death are cliche and camp.

It’s the plot I don’t like most, it’s a cliche and heavy-handed and trails off at the end - we don’t see what Dante’s achieved, other than loving up some more. I’m not sure what he was really expecting to happen, for that matter. Dante’s an rear end in a top hat and an idiot, and it’s hard to sympathise with someone who casually wipes out most of a city to further his own ends.

It’s not awful, but it’s not great, either.

10 Something Else Seeds on the Wind

Oh god stop talking to me. Why is everyone having their protagonist talk to me. I blame sittinghere’s prompt style for this.

This isn’t a story. It’s a monologue, and frankly that’s a kind term for a 1200-word rant that smells of hemp and unwashed hippies. There’s no characterisation, no motivation, no obstacles, no development. We just get the narrator blustering about how totally sweet his plants are and how horrible humans are and gently caress you dad I’ll grow weed in the attic and gently caress plants if I want to.

Come up with a story next time, and a character anyone will care about.

On the plus side, you can at least spell and punctuate reasonably well.

11 Claven666 Old Lady Carbuncle

Oh god I’m being talked to again. Stopitstopitstopit. Oh, alright, it’s not your protagonist, this only slightly sucks. It’s still not the best framing technique, especially when you’re writing flash fiction. You could’ve saved a lot of words wasted on the narrator being a good ole hillbilly and actually used it for plot, given the only real action happens in the last half of the story.

Actual story? Reasonably neat, it fits the tone of your framing even if I don’t agree with that way of doing things. It’s not much in the way of progression or narrative arc, though, as it’s just “some things happened, bad guy got what’s coming to him, nobody else did much of anything”. I’m not really sure who the protagonist is supposed to be, or who I’m supposed to care about. The smelly old woman? The narrator’s grandfather? I town itself? I dunno.

Neat little piece, not horribly mangled english, could’ve done with a stronger story arc but I don’t hate it.

Dec 28, 2009

Some more crits, from a different bit of the list...

The bit where I started to regret this, and also skipped a few so the guys at the end weren’t left out: entries 30-39

30 Thyrork The Hum of the Woods

I don’t like your reliance on “X would”, “Y thought”, “Z hated” constructs. See showing/telling arguments and subtle infodumping. It’s not awful, just detracts a little from what’s otherwise an okay story.

You drop the actual explanation for what’s going on quite late. As an aside, ambiguous sentences like “ without certain things they wouldn’t survive the coming winter” should be avoided. Specificity lends strength. Say “medicine” or “blankets” or “early 1980’s Action Man figures” rather than implying you don’t quite know what’s happening in your own story.

Your flow is a bit off, though it’s hard to put fingers on it without getting line-by-line. Your action scene is all short sentences, which gives a sense of urgency but perhaps went a bit too far.

The story itself feels a bit weak. I’m not sure why, but it feels like a rather forced solution to their problem, but that may just be me.

31 cargohills A Day in the Forest

Hey, congrats, you completed! Good work.

It’s short, but not awful. I dunno if you just don’t have time to finish and figured this was better than nothing, or ran out of ideas, but whatever. Less to read, hurrah!

This is a recurring theme this week, but try to avoid “I dunno how this works, so nor do you”, in this case with Landon just mysteriously knowing how to read.

For such a short story, you still did an okay job of fitting in a little bit of plot, though it really is only a little bit. With more time and words you could’ve made more of the conflict.

Finally, it’s important to distinguish between child protagonist and child’s story, a line which you drift across a few times.

32 Noah Familiar Patterns

A very literal take on the prompt you were given, but that’s not an automatic negative mark.

There’s a lot of typos and mechanical flaws in this work. If you didn’t do edit/proof passes, you should; if you did, well… (is English your first language? Some of the constructs seem like ESL ones)

A few examples from the opening:
Niclaus had been sober a whole year. He reclined on his bed, hands behind his head, confident being able to say that Meredith was visiting her mother’s and not because he had a made a scene. That was how a beautiful morning had started. Weird way of cutting in the flashback, which I don’t like. By mid-afternoon Dulahan’s Raiders had breached the forest surrounding the village, and would be upon his tower soon.

He stood on the parapets,
a spellbook in one hand a spellbook, the other performing minute movements, weaving the fabric of reality into a tapestry of horror. Niclaus’s brow was drenched in sweat, and while his hand was mechanical in its precision, the rest of his body shook all over. The familiar upwelling of strength and energy left him staggered as it left repetition doesn’t work well here as the meaning of each ‘left’ is subtly different his outstretched hand, and forced him missing a verb? “to take”, perhaps several moments to right himself and peer over the parapet.

The meadow surrounding his tower became a field of treacherous, slimy and wriggling worms. They poked their tiny heads from the dirt, creating a slick expanse the marauders continued to charge through, albeit slightly more gingerly. Niclaus hanged his head in defeat. So far he had managed to summon a storm of lice, which he guessed they probably already had, and a mist of what looked and smelled like lemon juice. And now he had managed to wrench from the earth,
Don’t like the structure here, don’t think it works. I get what you’re going for, but it’s not doing it for me.

“loving worms,” he said.

Descending from the roof, he moved down past the solarium and into his library. Several books lay scattered and strewn about the floor; a stark reversal of activity compared to the dust that had been collecting on some of the other shelves. He scanned the shelves, searching for inspiration amid the taunting repertoire of ancient lore that he barely remembered from his college days, much less wield in his current state.
Take the first clause out and you get “that he barely...wield in his current state”. Missing a ‘could’ or a rework.

Behind him another arsenal loomed. He cursed his obstinacy when Meredith had suggested maybe he didn’t
shouldn’t? keep his liquor in the same place he studied.

Your punctuation in dialogue frequently jars me out of the flow. I think replacing a lot of commas with full stops would make it work better, for example in “I don’t even know how I did it, I gave up trying after the first month.” or “Without my protection, this village would have crumbled years ago, not something Archfield Jones can say,”.

Dogspot is an oddly comedy name that seems out of keeping with the tone of the story.

Towards the end your flashback/forward/sideways jumps get really confusing. You either need to signal them better, or reduce the number of jumps. I mean, we go “a long time ago” to “a year ago” to “earlier that afternoon” to “present” to “welcoming banquet even longer ago” and back to “present” again in about 300 words at the end, with no scene change markers.

I like the idea of “alcoholic wizard saves the day by drinking” but it doesn’t present itself as an obstacle to overcome so much as a descent back down the pit. Also your prose detracts from the story in this case.

33 Capntastic The No-Nothing Thief

I really like the weird world you’ve made with rumours and information given magical strength. Unfortunately it wasn’t the wizardry you were given in your prompt, which only shows up a tiny bit at the end. It’s not an unforgivable crime, but personally I count it against you as it ends up feeling like adhering to the prompt was an afterthought.

Your tone overall is quite expositiony, which I’m not fond of, though you avoid gratuitous infodumping at least. Still, you spend a lot of your words, and early words at that, telling the reader about the world rather than showing something interesting happening. Even your opening sentence abruptly turns out to be exposition rather than dialogue.

There’s a few parts of your story that seemed logically inconsistent, which I found jarring. Turning books sideways to stop people reading them seems futile (what about people sitting next to her, for that matter), calmly painting tar onto books in the middle of a bonfire, Ridulph being too hasty to look behind her or wait before entering the room, but then spending an hour staring at the wizard to make sure it’s not a trap.

Your ending is abrupt, a bit too clever for its own good, and if I didn’t have your prompt in front of me I’m not sure I’d’ve worked out what was actually going on. Maybe telegraphing the wizard’s power in advance might make it a bit less out-of-nowhere.

34 Jagermonster Of a Feather

A lot of little mechanical flaws, especially early on. Using ‘Trultag’ twice in quick succession, and doing the same with ‘the soldier’ again later, both spoil the flow. Your first few sentences are all very short; again, flow. Starling shouldn’t be capitalised. Some of your dialogue doesn’t flow well off the tongue to me, such as the second sentence especially in “I still have shelter and friends. That’s all one really needs, so yes, young Roddie.”.

Trultag’s change of heart about punishing the king is a bit abrupt, though you later hint this is maybe intentional. Still, the ending seems a bit hollow, almost rushed to me. I get the whole prank-gone-wrong thing, but it just accelerates so rapidly from prank to accident to regicide to minor civil war, and your protagonist doesn’t really have much part in any of it. He just sits at the edge, looks horrified for a very brief period and then is all “welp, guess I wanted to witness wholesale slaughter today after all. Hey, buzzards! Grub’s up!”

I didn’t really like the arc of this story as a whole. Not enough was made of Trultag’s arc from pacifist to prankster to indirect murderer; I just didn’t feel like I cared enough about him as a character and the story seemed to be more about the effects of his actions than himself.

Otoh raining birdshit on the king’s parade was pretty funny, in a 12-year-old kind of way.

35 Wangless Wonder Sigil

The first note I have about this one is I found the opening very, very confusing. I couldn’t tell who was talking to whom, as your protagonist started out with a monologue, and then another character showed up without much ceremony and picked up the conversation in the middle. Some clearer introduction of James, and a clearer cut when the protagonist changes to addressing him rather than the mesmerised cop, would help a lot here.

Describing the sigil out loud bugged me. It seems really unnatural. I get you wanted to work the description into the story, but I suspect you could probably have held the story together just fine without ever actually describing it. As we’ve got first-person protagonist, it’s something he knows so intimately he won’t ever need to explain it.

A few minor gripes about pacing and sentence flow, for example: “The can of spray paint clattered against the floor. My, my work here was done. They’dThey had been…”. The comma just doesn’t flow well for me, and when you’re writing first-person narration you want to stick with more natural sentence flow with contractions like you’d hear in speech. When you suddenly skip to the flashback about the storm passing through, you probably want past perfect tense (“A storm had passed through…”) given you’re already telling the story itself in past tense.

The plot and magic were pretty cool, a fairly clean arc of setup, goal (not die, I suppose), antagonist, resolution. I liked the ending. It’s not an awful story, but a lot of little niggles made it less pleasant to read than it should’ve been. Work on those and the rest will shine more.

36 Cache Cab Cities Fall Yet Rivers Still Flow

So, dicks, pop culture and autism, then. Shock factor is a valid writing style, but you gotta know your audience. It’s like showing up to a life drawing glass, dipping your dick in the prussian blue and using it to write “Hitler did nothing wrong” all across your canvas. Sure, it’s art and some people are gonna love it, but stories like this don’t go down well in TD any more than a little seaside art gallery is going to display your thirty-canvas epic “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Dich”.

Which is almost a shame, because once you look past the gratuitous crude poo poo, it’s not a bad story and you write good prose. A few minor mistakes here and there, eg He gasped for breath, and Rivers could hear the gurgles as Ranged Range sucked in, then he saw though I don’t personally like the change in tense the blood that Range hacked up as he coughed and coughed. and “Raaaa! Urrrrr! Thraa gaa sssuhhh!” Waswas all anyone heard, except the bugs.
Nothing another editing pass couldn’t pick up, though.

37 spectres of autism Cloning Blues

Bunch of random bits that offended me in your opening:
My door disintegrated, sending splinters flying at a million angles. I ducked, a couple grazing my cheek and drawing blood.

As Personally I’d either write this as “I took my hand… as the intruders” or better yet, skip the “as” entirely. They aren’t really related actions so tying them together doesn’t add much to me. I took my hand away from my face the intruders stepped past the door fragments. Bronze armour glinted in the sunlight shining through the open space. Guardsmen.

“There’s been some sort of mistake,” I began, but then I saw those crossbows raise A bit weird with “raise” in the middle of all the past-tense, it’s not ungrammatical but just flows odd and was moving, ducking behind my desk as the bolts thudded into the wall behind me. Serious thuds. Serious weight on those things.

I reached out into the ether. My clones were still out there, so I could do it quickly and easily. Lucky. This was a bad spot, and I realized I’ve ranted about this a lot this week, but you can usually skip the “I realised” or “I thought” or whatever when you’re doing first-person narrative. This sentence is really a good example of what I hate in first-person narrative - you’re telling the reader that you’re thinking some facts about the situation, rather than just describing your character’s reaction to the situation. You could probably replace the entire thing with “Whatever this was, the guards clearly weren’t interested in talking it through. I was going to have to shoot my way out.” and even that is more “let me tell you about my motivations” than I like. that the fact that the Guardsmen were already firing at me meant they were probably as pissed as could be. Whatever this was, I was in deep already. I had to shoot my way out.

I built up my magicks, feeling the flame of Panika burn inside me. Flash fiction is not the place to be dumping lots of made-up magickckc terms on your reader. Save it for the five-book epic with glossary at the end of every volume. You can get away with maybe one made-up concept.

“loving kill him!” shouted the sergeant, or whatever rank he was. I get that you’re using an unreliable narrator here, so he genuinely doesn’t know, but I have this habit of jumping down people’s throats when they use “somewhat like” and “whatever” and “sort of” so consider yourself told. It’s a pattern that translates poorly from speech to written word.

I cast Explosivus. Aaand you blew that one. Does this phrase add anything? Would the character actually think that? Are you doing anything more than adding extra cognitive effort to your reader as they have to parse an unfamiliar word and work out what it means? “I blew up the room” not only has more impact through casual understatement, but is less effort to read.

Your vast amount of infodumping and made-up terminology spoils what’s otherwise a reasonable story, frankly, as it only gets worse from there on in. Spending time explaining everything just makes the narrator sound patronising, and every word you spend telling me what your next cool spell does is a word you didn’t spend advancing the plot, describing action or actually making me give a poo poo about the story. I wanted to read a story, not chapter 12 of your totally rad home-brew RPG’s spellbook.

Weak ending, the random interlude about the stitching falls flat though I know what imagery you were trying to evoke. The same imagery without the explicit reference to the tailor would’ve been stronger. I get this “he was dead a clone all along!” but you fumbled the reveal a bit, especially as with all your other made-up terms I wasn’t entirely sure if “Fikr” wasn’t just an in-world curseword.

There’s some neat ideas in there, but work on telling the story rather than describing the world.

38 Broenheim A Brat's Request

Alright, it’s a cute little piece, but it mostly reads like the storyline to Fetch Quest #322 in another copy/paste MMO and I think you gave me PTSD.

Sure, you’ve got the arc of a story there - motivation, obstacle(s), resolution - but it’s all just buried because you have to spend so much of your time introducing new characters, describing them, having them make their requests, and then unwinding the whole stack again at the end. Your protagonist just doesn’t really do much in all this, other than trundle around taking McGuffin A to Character B, skipping through the dialogue, repeat. It’s only on the last god that he even does anything active himself, and frankly that feels more like because you had to end the recursion somewhere rather than it fitting the story. Why can’t he throw runes at any of the other gods? There wasn’t much challenge there anyway, given it’s all “oh, you could’ve just asked :eeyore:”. Honestly, the protagonist just feels like an rear end in a top hat throughout.

Bunch of minor mechanical errors show you could’ve done with another proof/editing pass (But the snow still feel hard early on, don’t capitalise even after question marks, exclamation marks or both in speech, repetition of ‘body’ in The snow fell onto Astol’s burning body, steam rising from her body etc etc).

Your dialogue with Astol is clunky, and I can’t work out what you’re trying to do with her character. Some of her lines make it sound like she’s supposed to be a young child, but she’s smirking all the goddamn time (seriously, enough already) and at others sounds like a willful teenager, or a bitchy adult. I think you could’ve worked harder on her voice there. The other two gods basically have the same voice, which is I AM ALL POWERFUL CLICHEREON, LORD OF FIRE AND BAD FANTASY. That’s a hint, by the way, that I didn’t like them either.

The underlying idea was nice, and I liked it, but it just got drowned. In conclusion, more work on (likable) characterisation, less WoW clones please.

39 Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi The Square Root of 13

Right, seriously, I’ve had enough of the loving infodumps and exposition and explaining your goddamn made-up fantasy bullshit to me this week. You have 1300 words. Do you really want to be wasting them on explaining what “wiz-steel” (which sounds like something out of a schoolboy joke catalogue) is?

You had a lot of neat little turns of phrase (I especially like “open-skyscraper surgery” for some reason). Those are good, keep that sort of thing, but stop before you get to the “lecturing the reader” stage. I don’t need your narrator infodumping to me, especially not when he’s also your protagonist. The whole reasons-behind-his-secret-code spiel is the worst offender, as it adds in a bonus “Look Ma, I read wikipedia!” to the endeavour.

The fight scene at the end is just a bit too far on the side of ridiculous to fit with the rest of the hard-boiled-cop theme. It reminds me a lot of kids educational TV shows, which is probably not what you were aiming for. I think you could’ve made it work if you’d skipped all the description of the numbers themselves, and just concentrated on the fact that he’s making ink/pencil marks fly off the wall and stab you in the face. Telling me that getting attacked by the number 5 is particularly unpleasant just doesn’t have the same gravitas to it.

Plot-wise, you were doing great until the big reveal at the end was just “eh, I don’t like irrational numbers” (ps you really missed an awful “it just makes me so… irrational” pun there. This may or may not be a good thing). It’s a shame because the rest of it was kinda neat, you handled the whole “crazy wizards in a normal world” quite well, though I question how this guy has form for wiping out 13th floors on a regular basis and hasn’t been locked up for life yet.

Still, some neat ideas in there, but like so many other entries this week they were buried under expository bullshit. Quit it, all of you.

Dec 28, 2009

Initial judgenotes, fresh from the gdoc! Full crits to follow, but I figured you lot might want to know how much I loving hate some of you right now.

I have literally no idea what the point of this story is. Tenses swap wildly. I can’t actually work out what’s happening or what you’re trying to tell me other than everyone in your story is batshit insane.

Story: 1, Characters: 2, Prose: 1

Bottom pile/dm/loss candidate.

An Old Friend
Bland, boring, obvious.

Story: 2, Characters: 3, Prose: 3


They Say Fish Have No Word for Water
Meh. The world is cute, but the story is just “wander around talking to people” and then some kinda-hinted-at love subplot at the end? I’m not really sure what’s supposed to be happening, tbh, it just gets sprung out of nowhere at the last minute.

Story: 2, Characters: 2, Prose: 3

Clap Happy
I just don’t care about your protagonist, or your story. It’s just a series of things that happened, only you blew so many words on setup and crap that the presumed-focus of the story (the spooky hands coming out of nowhere) shows up too late for me to care, and doesn’t even get resolved properly anyway.

Story: 1, Characters: 1, Prose: 2

All That He Was
Stuff happens, protagonist almost has a goal and achieves it! But then he throws himself off a bridge and it all just peters out.

Story: 3, Characters: 3, Prose: 3

Up Back Medium Punch Down Forward Heavy Punch
I… didn’t hate this, though it’s corny as gently caress. Sloppy storytelling but there’s an actual story, even if you did cop-out the ending completely.

Story: 3, Characters: 4, Prose: 3

A promising start, and then it just fizzled and died in a sort of “oh”. Also the idea of a deep-space probe being able to land on solid land, intact enough to steal anything useful from it (rather than splashing down the samples in an ocean and everything else burns up on re-entry) is a bit much.

Story: 2, Characters: 3, Prose: 3

A Shiny Red Apple
Inoffensive, kinda cute. Which by current standards puts it near the top of the pack.

Story: 3, Characters: 4 (fuckin’ tree yo), Prose: 3

Some Old Hood poo poo
I don’t know who put “Cringeeeeee” at the end but they were right. Your dialogue is loving awful, your protagonist sounds like an upper-middle-class white kid who’s just found a new swear word. Hint: ‘voice’ is more than just saying “friend of the family” every sentence. I probably couldn’t make genuine small-time-hood-gansta voice sound believable either, but at least I don’t try.

Awful, awful voice aside, not much else happens because it’s all autobiographical boring poo poo right until the end. First-person-past-tense-narration is often a risky choice because it often makes it hard to care (everything’s already happened and a lot of the interest goes away as a result) and your story is a prime loving example. 90% boring waffle I don’t give a poo poo about, and then boom! he gonna be a baby daddy. But I’ve already stopped caring by then.

Story: 2, Characters: 1, Prose: 1
Low, maybe even DM for atrocious use of ‘friend of the family’.

Maybe Being Crazy Ain't Such a Bad Thing
Kinda sweet little story, kinda spoiled by really clunky phrasing and exposition in the middle. I think the same story with better telling (there’s pretty atrocious basic errors in there too) would work better.

Story: 4, Characters: 2, Prose: 1
Middle for bad writing, high for story

Sort of sweet, if a bit awkward (much like goths in love). I like it, despite its flaws, it has a nice little curve though the ending felt rushed.

Story: 4, Characters: 3, Prose: 3
Mid/high, maybe hm/win contender

A lovely fight scene with some exposition dumped on its doorstep like a flaming dog turd. Also lots of typos. I don’t care about the character, I don’t hate the evil fascist cyborg whatever-the-fucks despite how many times you try and tell me they’re evil fascist hordes, and I don’t see any story arc or character progression or resolution.

Story: 1, Characters: 1, Prose: 3

Holding What is Left
This is a really sweet, well-told little vignette, but it’s just a bit of backstory. I worked out what was going on about ¼ of the way in, and there weren’t any surprises from then on. Given you only used half the wordcount, I assume this was a rush job, which is a real shame as the writing is very good and the descriptions excellent.

Story: 2, Characters: 4, Prose: 5
Mid, maybe an HM for prose alone, but not a winner

Packs in a lot of rather ominous world-building in quite a short space, and the story isn’t bad either. I felt it was a bit too hard to follow/ambiguous in places, but that’s partly because of how you’ve (not) formatted your scene breaks (alternatively writocracy ate them, but it’s generally better than that).

Story: 4, Characters: 3, Prose: 3
High, maybe HM/win

The Once and Future King
The premise is a bit wacky, almost, but you carry it off reasonably well. A nice story, well ended, and I almost cared about the characters. The first ⅔ just felt… weak, though, jumping around quite a bit, a little too much directly-addressing-the-reader, and some random punchups that just feel like they’re in there to make it clear the protagonist is a hard-nosed soldier who’s not to be messed with.

Story: 4, Characters: 2, Prose: 2

What a Shame
What the gently caress did I just waste my time reading.

gently caress you.

Story: 1, Characters: 1, Prose: 2

All th’ accentin’ all o’er th’ place got real tired real quick, but beyond that it was a good story, albeit far from a new one. It’s an old story, and the ending was pretty predictable, but you told it well enough. Partly because of your voice, I never quite worked out whether the Lictor was supposed to be a firearm literally weighing tons or if the narrator was just exaggerating a lot. Also said bookisms, but not bad enough that I even caught it on the first read-through.

Story: 3, Characters: 4, Prose: 3
Mid/high, might HM or win as the competition is poo poo.

I think you forgot to actually write a story. That’s 1100 words of backstory for some lovely, generic fantasy novel and I want the time it took me to read them back.

gently caress you.

Story: 1, Characters: 2, Prose: 3

The Black Cat Cafe
Short, cute, not awful.

Story: 3, Characters: 4, Prose: 3
Mid/High, maybe HM/win

Dec 28, 2009

There was a lot of mediocre crap this week, I’ll be honest, and the winners and HM entries all had flaws aplenty. Still, some of you sucked a lot less, and for that I am truly grateful because others of you sucked so, so much more. Length of crit and/or level of swearing inversely correlates with quality because, frankly, I’ve got less to say about the good stories and less of it is “gently caress you”.

A lot of you chose to write your stories in first-person this week. The results were… mixed, to say the least. Those of you who hosed it up (you’ll know, trust me), read the ones that didn’t and see how it can be done better. If you’re too goddamn lazy to read every last story/crit, that means They Say Fish Have No Word for Water, A Shiny Red Apple, I.O.U and Trigger.

A not-entirely-distinct group of you also hosed up tenses a lot this week, so I’ll call that out now. If you’re going to write in present tense, realise that you’re probably more likely to gently caress up and slip in past tense if you don’t pay attention so proofread your goddamn stories. It’s not going to save an otherwise lovely story, so don’t pretend like you’re being some super edgy and novel author by using it if you can’t tell a good story in the first place.

Did I mention a lot of you need to proofread your stories? You should do that.

You know something else about circles? They’re very boring. Much like the opening to your story, which grabs me about as effectively as a sausage-fingered arcade claw (that was a circle reference, see). Congratulations, you’ve managed to flag “this story is boring and/or crazy” in the first sentence. At least you warned me.

Peter reminisced on the times when his name meant as little as his did.
If you gave this sentence to someone to parse in isolation, they would look at it for a bit, then stab you with a hanging pronoun. Note that pronouns aren’t circles, so they hurt more.

Peter is an ad man.
You got bored of past tense pretty quickly, I see But it’s okay, past tense! You’re not forgotten! In fact, you’ll be welcomed back with open arms not two sentences later.

Pick a tense and stick with it, for crying out loud.

I’d say that in 10 years time, a 51” LCD screen will be considered delightfully quaint and outdated, and thus the entire point of that line will be lost, but if anyone is reading this story in 10 years then it will surely be a sign of the end times come upon us, so you’re probably safe.

The ad opened with a fade-in of a dirty and carpet-bombed urban street where a bag exits stage left and then tumbles hypnotically across.
Because you don’t specify, my mind conflated “carpet” and “bag” in this sentence and assumed it was, if not an actual carpet-bag, at least a duffel or something quite substantial. The resultant imagery was far more entertaining than anything your story produced.

Also, your bag exits the scene and then continues to tumble. I’d assume that you left out any loving noun for it to tumble across as some pointless metaphor to try and imply it was floating across a blank white screen, but I suspect the actual reason is you have no loving idea what you’re doing. Stop throwing in random cliches that sort-of match what you’re going for and actually think about what you’re writing.

If I wasn’t busy despairing at everything else you’re writing, I’d also bother picking up on the “where” in that sentence, and suggesting you could cut it and split into two sentences because I dislike pointless glue phrases like that, but honestly the whole thing is a lost cause so don’t sweat the details.

Please tell me you’re actually implying that the dreamy voiceover lady is pronouncing “™”.

And then your story, already somewhat pointless (PS that sounds like the most generic, dreary lovely advert), takes a nose-dive into poo poo creek via the pointless-exposition canyon. Two paragraphs on Chloe’s backstory, which I imagine in your head in some way relate to the upcoming events, but the actual connection is a complete mystery to me, your reader. Instead I get to hear about completely unrelated bits of her life and how she met your equally crazy, uninteresting protagonist.

I assume she hates this advert, without ever being told why (I will give you credit though, you didn’t explicitly tell me she hated it and actually showed it! Good job!). Also she hallucinates the dishes talking to her. I have no idea why. I have no idea why most of the things in this story happen.

Dude just walked out with the water running? I hope his house floods. Also they’re both terrible parents.

So now, some random tense changing later, Chloe’s stormed off but it’s okay because Peter never needed her anyway. Which is good, because at least one person escaped this story alive, and it wasn’t me.

In conclusion, I have absolutely no idea what you’re trying to do with this story, what you’re trying to tell me, or why you can’t make up your loving mind what tense to tell it in (but here’s a hint, the present-tense bits were even more unmitigated poo poo than the past-tense ones).

gently caress you.

An Old Friend
Metaphor good; overused cliched metaphor, less so. You pile a lot of cliche into your description - it’s not awful, but you could go further and come up with something fresh from time-to-time. Also not everything needs to be told in metaphor and simile; sometimes people just do things.

I presume the “guest” is supposed to be either death, an angel, or some other supernatural thing. You give it away far too early (with the hosed-up “a seemingly man”) and then the rest of the story becomes obvious and bland. The fact that you refuse to give him a name and have to spend the rest of the story coming up with increasingly clunky, awkward dialogue tags for him just hammers it home with all the subtlety of a case of trench-foot. There are authors who can sneak this sort of reveal up on you, and when it’s done well it’s very good. You are not one of those authors. If you want to try that kind of trick again, you need to be re-reading with a very self-critical eye to make sure it’s not loving obvious from the beginning. Find ways to avoid giving your surprise away, don’t just drape a huge loving pink sheet over it and pretend it's camouflaged.

The main problem with this is the premise, cliched though it is, has plenty of potential but you completely squander it on an old man waffling away for 90% of your words. Your story is about as exciting as sitting around in an uncomfortable armchair watching crappy old re-runs on afternoon TV. Nothing happens. No interesting anecdotes are told, just meaningless platitudes about how war is hell and soldiers do bad things, but at least they’re not bad at heart so they’ll probably get into heaven on a technicality. You had plenty of opportunity to put something interesting in Laurence’s reminiscences, or his strained relationship with his son, but instead we just get told “bad stuff happened in the war” and “you’re an rear end in a top hat to your ungrateful sod of a son” without seeing either of them.

The ending, I’m sure, is intended to be moving and sad, but given a) I saw it coming from about two paragraphs in and b) I don’t give the slightest gently caress about your cardboard cutout of a character, it just whistles by.

They Say Fish Have No Word for Water
This gets off to a cute, surrealist sci-fi theme that I really like, but ultimately the lack of any real significance to the plot lets it down. When you boil it down to a summary, it’s “Protagonist learns about a new word, so she wanders around asking people what it means until finally an old guy tells her” which frankly sounds like the kind of depth you’d expect in a book printed in bright colours on cardboard pages, starring Spot the Implausibly Cheerful Talking Puppy.

Also you throw in the whole romance-subplot at the absolute last minute, possibly so you could pretend you had some character development that was otherwise sorely lacking, but it’s so half-assed and poorly explained I couldn’t even really tell you what it actually meant. Either act like you actually intended for this to be a part of your story in the first place and have some kind of loving foreshadowing, or at least explain things properly at the end. As it is, I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a childish crush, unrequited teenage love or “omg I thought we were going to be on the soccer team together, how could you!”

I like the theme, the setting, the implication of the title, and a lot of the little moments in your story, but those can’t quite carry the unexciting plot. Not every story needs to be about people saving the world or star-crossed lovers, but you just fell a bit short here.

On the other hand, amidst a sea of loving awful first-person narrations, yours was really well done. Other people: this is how you are supposed to do it.

Clap Happy
gently caress ton of backstory exposition before we get to the actual meat of the story, told in awful first-person-past-tense narration that leaves me so utterly detached that even if the protagonist wasn't an unrelatable, irredeemable, cartoonish villain I wouldn’t care about him.

You lost me completely once he turned from weirdly hosed-up serial killer into maniacal nouveau-riche parody who laughs at the pathetic poors whilst grinding them under his heel. Also you/he used the word ‘paupers’. Take a good, hard look at yourself and never do it again. It’s possible to write villains who are relatable, or at least interesting enough that we want to keep reading just to find out what happens next. This is not one of them. He’s just so unbelievably over-the-top that I can’t even be bothered to dislike him.

What I see (and hate) a lot in first-person narration like yours is when the narrator is clearly trying to impress the reader with how funny he, the character (and by extension you, the author) is. Stuff like “But I had a joke to tell: after another successful set, I killed him.” and “I bet this would have baffled the forensic psychologists something rotten.” come across as so try-hard-teenager that it’s almost painful to read. It’s only missing “and then they all stood up and clapped” for it to be pure stdh.txt levels of awkward. First-person stories can be fine (see, for example, the one posted before yours), but you have to treat it like any other third-person narration and stop trying to use it as a platform to show off to the reader.

Then, suddenly, three-quarters of the way through the story, action! Holy poo poo, this was almost worth wading through all the dreary crap to get to. Only no, it really wasn’t, because you make so little of it it’s more of an afterthought than an actual plot. You didn’t even bother to resolve it in any way, you just had your protagonist go “welp, guess my past’s caught up with me, better move to Texas and go back to killing people”.

“Dear Diary, today I turned three people down for mortgages, foreclosed on a disabled veteran with three children to feed, emotionally abused my wife and child, and the severed hands of my victims came back to haunt me, so I left home. Love and kisses, Bob”

It’s a nice idea, on paper, but you hosed it up by wasting so much time on your narrator hammering home what a clever, witty, horrible person he is that you didn’t have any space to explore it, so instead you (and he) just ignored it and ran away, probably cackling maniacally in the process.

On prose and formatting:
  • Proofread your loving stories
  • The phrase is “continued in this vein
  • Proofread your loving stories
  • “The truth was I liked to force the them...“
  • Proofread your loving stories
  • New speaker = new paragraph
  • “Said” is a perfectly good word and you should use it more. Stop throwing “chipped in” and “inquired” and all that poo poo out there, just use “said”, it’s not going to bite you.
  • Did I mention proofread your poo poo? Seriously, try reading your paragraph with all the dialogue near the end out loud, it’s nigh-unmanageable.

All That He Was
Another surreal-dystopian future, apparently this was the week for them. Not as humorously weird as They Say Fish… so you get less of a pass from me on it.

Killing off your protagonist in a short story is a bit tricky as you risk the reader not really caring enough for it to have any impact, which happens a bit here. I’m not completely apathetic, and I think you did a reasonable job of making John relatable even in his weird future dystopia, but even so your story really feels like it radio fades out over someone going “doo doo doo” rather than ending on a satisfying crescendo. The fact that you’ve turned a death into something so flat is, in itself, quite impressive.

I think because you already have the high of him finally performing in public followed by the low of him getting booed, fumbling and screwing up, so the follow-up of a further down loses its impact. It would’ve been more cliched, but perhaps a lot stronger, for him to be doing well and succeeding in wowing the crowd right up until the police arrive and drag him away from the confused and slightly angry public who might start questioning their weird society.

You could also have thrown out the entire final scene and your story would have been better for it. It adds nothing beyond “John died” and detracts from the already weak ending.

“ retardedly difficult…”
Using unnecessarily colloquialisms in exposition feels really jarring. I get that the paragraph it’s part of is trying to be quite informal (with the “...more years to come to a level of feigning understanding that approximated that of his coworkers.”) but it’s a very hard style to do right and often comes across as poor tone.

How can you silently tune a guitar, exactly? >:(

Up Back Medium Punch Down Forward Heavy Punch
If you’d just presented the concept for this story, I probably would’ve nominated you for a DM on the spot, it’s such a bad idea and could’ve been done absolutely awfully (see, for example, What a Shame for shameful use of video games in storytelling) but you didn’t completely gently caress it up. So, that’s something good, you managed to come up with a really bad idea but at least went some way to redeeming it in implementation.

Despite that, it’s still a pretty poor story. You dump a fuckton of exposition on us right at the beginning, when you’re trying to hook the reader in, and it’s all boring-nerd-poo poo about a fictional video game from the 90s (and boy does it show, some of your writing could’ve been straight out of cringeworthy 90s ad copy written by a balding 40-something trying to sound like a 12-year-old).

The underlying plot is okay, a bit ropey in places, but the ending was a real let-down. Yes, you can leave the ending of a story ambiguous or open to interpretation if you do it well, and it’s not by itself a bad thing. But it has to be subtle, you can’t just literally write “MAYBE IT HAPPENED, MAYBE IT DIDN’T, GUESS WE’LL NEVER KNOW EH” which is pretty much what you did. Again, a nice idea, spoiled by the implementation and details. If you wanted to do follow through this idea properly, a PoV shift in the final scene to some anonymous kid of the next generation observing things at the arcade might’ve worked better.

There’s a lot of generally weak style in your story that it’s hard to pick up on individual things to improve; read more, and read widely, and see what you like in other people’s styles is the best general advice I can give there.

That said, one thing I can pick up is that I’m seeing a tendency to write as if you were telling a story out loud and just transcribed that into writing. It’s not an uncommon thing to see, but generally bad - there are very clear differences between spoken and written English style, and it often feels weird to be reading. It’s not far from someone starting to put “um” or “like” or mispronunciations/pauses/wrong words in a story.

A few examples:
  • Pick a narrator’s perspective and stick with it. It feels like we should be following Tom, especially in a short story, but “Being trapped in that game compounded my P.T.S.D.,” Wilson had said, tossing off a perfect salute. comes across as if we’re witnessing it, not hearing it recounted by Jack.
  • Starting a paragraph, let alone a sentence, with “And…” Yes, people talk like that, but they don’t make a habit of writing like it because it’s poor writing style. Avoid it except for emphasis, and use it sparingly at that.
  • The paragraph that begins “Once you entered in the combo…” which is pure “how you’d tell this story to your friend in the playground” but not written story style. Put it in the context of the story - relate it to Tom, show it to us through his eyes and experience, don’t just present it in pure isolation to the reader.
  • “general hobo aura“ Don’t use vague, non-specific descriptions like “general” or “somewhat” or “sort of”. You’ve got time to pick the right adjectives to describe the situation, so don’t lean on verbal crutches.
  • The ending couple of paragraphs, which again just give up and directly address the reader in a very weak “Maybe the ghost is still there ooooOOOOoooo <shines torch under chin>” way.

Still, this wasn’t as awful as it could’ve been, so take some reassurance in that.

Nice concept and world, but you start with what amounts to addressing-the-reader exposition which isn’t a good hook. Dude’s just staring at the wall and then you starting telling us, the reader, about how going out without a mask will kill you. As a rule of thumb I just made up from an informal survey of tabbing through this week’s entries at random, putting “you” outside of dialogue implies crappy exposition is happening which probably explains why it always unconsciously annoys me when I read it. There, you have furthered the cause of science with your story, I hope you’re loving happy (because I’m not).

Weak opening paragraph aside, you build your world fairly quickly through info-dump exposition you lazy fucker but at least it’s over and done with and then you get on with actually telling me a story rather than describing exactly how someone’s post-apocalyptic hobbit hole was made. About the only relevant part of all this crap is “oh it’s the post-nuclear-war kind of future dystopia” and “solar panels are useful”, the rest is all just fluff trying to set the tone.

So, coherent world, moderately nice story hook in the satellite, but then your arc just goes “...and then Sarah was a greedy rear end in a top hat and crashed the satellite. Welp, guess that happened.” The important parts of your story don’t get the words they deserve - the moment when Gerard notices the satellite, the moment when he confronts Sarah at the end, both are just told with about the same gravity as “Gerard went to the shops to get some milk”.

The problem I have with reading relatively hard sci-fi (by which I mean, the near-future supposed-to-be-realistic stuff) is that I will start nit-picking your story for plausibility. Mostly, returning probes are going to be dumping into the ocean under a parachute; I can’t really see why you’d waste carrying enough fuel for controlled braking and landing on dry land (and with enough useful parts that didn’t burn up in re-entry) so that bit struck me as unlikely. Otherwise, though, the rest of it held together so I’m not actually going to get angry and shouty at you about it. Good job.

A Shiny Red Apple
Gets off to a really nice start, you pull out strong descriptions without dropping into cliche, and really nail the first-person narration without a lot of the fuckups that others have perpetrated this week. Your protagonist has a definite, human voice without it overwhelming the story and turning it into some smug rear end in a top hat showing off to me.

The opening hook is really catching, but I did feel it was a bit weird that you just completely dropped the confused wife with no further explanation.

Otherwise, honestly, I rather struggle to find much to say about this. It’s not a strong story, nothing earth-shattering happens, which probably kept it from winning this week, but otherwise it’s cute and fun and inoffensively pleasant to read. Thank you, it was a breath of fresh air compared to some of the stories this week.

Some Old Hood poo poo
So there’s two problems I have with this story. One, it’s really loving boring, told as first person past-tense narration with a bonus extra framing to make sure the reader is completely and utterly uninvested in your character and what happens to him. Describing action sequences in first-person-past-tense is a great way to drain any tension out of them, because we already know the broad outcome (narrator survives) and often, as in your case, we get a lot of spoilers for the details anyway (in this case, explicitly - really, the whole shootout thing doesn’t tell us anything new that we didn’t get from “...for killing a nigga that pulled a gun on my brother over some pussy”).

Two, Dante’s voice (as I alluded to in my brief comment) sounds like you just threw random cursing into some really dry, stilted dialogue and called it a day. Not using contractions, really long run-on sentences without enough room to breathe, really out-of-place phrases interleaved with cursing up a storm. I’m not going to open the whole accurately-portraying-AAVE can-of-worms because I’m just not in any place to comment, but it’s just bad regardless of what dialect you’re trying to ape (unless your dialect is actually “dystopian far future robot overlord with a case of tourettes”). Writing dialects outside of your comfort zone is a good and noble goal, but if you gently caress it up it sounds even worse, and from reading this I don’t have much confidence in your ability to write two guys discussing the weather without making me want to gouge my own eyes out. So, get the basics right first, then try for bonus points.

Beyond those two huge flaws, it’s also just a poorly written. The redemption at the end, which is nice (cliche, but not too bad) on paper just doesn’t hit because I’ve spent so long not giving a poo poo about Dante’s fall from grace in the first place. You’ve got the bones of an okay story there, and it’s one worth telling, but the meat you put on those bones is stinky roadkill, not oh gently caress it this metaphor is really falling apart now so I’m going to stop trying to force it. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is you could’ve taken the elements of this story and done something much better with it. Split your time better - more words on the pre-fall period where he’d got a good job, a good girl (presumably this itself is also in contrast to a previous, worse time) so we actually give a gently caress about him losing them again, less words on a drawn out lovely recount of an action scene, and then drop the loving framing so you’ve got more words to play with and you might get some emotional impact out of it.

Also, you randomly break into present tense right at the last minute, it’s pretty jarring, especially as you immediately drop back into past tense.

Maybe Being Crazy Ain't Such a Bad Thing
The story’s actually quite sweet, but the telling is really loving atrocious. I mean, seriously, what’s going on here: Then she passes by as she left, say a few kind words, then Dylan waves bye, and start typing away again. Either your narrator is switching dialects every sentence, or you really, really need to learn to proofread your loving work because that’s just awful. Your whole opening paragraph is in a really weird, awkward, sort-of-present sort-of-present-perfect tense that I found genuinely hard to follow, above fuckup of a sentence notwithstanding.

It gets a bit better after you’re done trying to do scene-setting in present-tense-first-person, but not much.

Story wise, it’s not awful. The protagonist is really the imaginary friend, as (s)he’s the one who gets what they want in the end, so it’s kinda empty-feeling that despite getting the narration from them we don’t learn much about how they feel about the changes. Sure, the friend goes off a huge, wall-of-loving-text monologue in the middle about how much of a shithead Dylan is and how the imaginary friend has suffered for him, but splitting your PoV and emotional reactions between the friend (PoV) and Dylan (happy) at the end left both feeling a bit emptier for it.

I don’t like those monologues, if you hadn’t guessed, because you’re really expecting me to read a huge-rear end pile of dialogue in one go. I get what you’re trying to do, but it’s just such a massive expository dump that it interrupts the flow of the story.

I’d have a scene cut after Dylan runs to the bathroom.

You gently caress up present-perfect again right at the end with “...his smile still as wide since he talked to Elizabeth.” Honestly that’s not a salvageable sentence; there’s better ways to word what you’re trying to do.

I didn’t start off liking this one, as the opening sentence is weird (it implies the story is either about Isobel, or made me think that she was coming to a home she shared with Simon, whereas really it’s ‘hometown’ rather than ‘house’) and the opening paragraph is a confusing jump between past regrets and present loneliness that didn’t really make any sense until I’d already read the rest of your story (also repeated ‘lonely’ in one sentence).

The rest of it, random change of names aside, gets much better. The interactions are pretty real, though the bit where Beth’s putting her foot in it is probably the worst. Same with the bit where he sticks Rammstein on, could’ve used another editing pass for flow and clarity. Otherwise the characters are likeable and believable.

The ending is sweet, though I think too short - cut a few words elsewhere to make room here and it could’ve been better. As it is, it feels rather abrupt which is a shame.

I liked this one a lot, and had it down for a possible HM; as it is, it fell just a bit short of that.

Doom! Drama! The horrors of war! These are all things I’m sure you’re trying to make me feel with your story, but I just fail to give a single gently caress about your character or world because you give me nothing to hook my feelings on. Your protagonist spends a bit of time musing about man, war’s pretty poo poo, you run out of ammo and oh god the enemy are so generically evil and whoa, it’s so ironic that now my home planet’s turned into a warzone it’s full of fascists, and then there’s an uninspiring fight scene, and it’s all over. Nowhere in this does she feel like anything more than a vehicle for you to infodump a bunch of lovely exposition. Does she have feelings? Desires? Does she remember this place before it got turned into a war zone? Has she lost friends, family, favorite bowling alleys? Nobody knows, because she’s just a two-dimensional cardboard cutout with a gun.

Stop telling me how bad war is and how evil the unspecified-robo-fascists are and actually find a way to show it. Do they brainwash prisoners of war to make them join their serried ranks of identical, obedient soldiers? Are their armies actually horrific chimerae of flesh and machine, fighting against their own will? Did they raze half the planet to the ground with nanotech bombardments just to make a point? Nope, all we get is “fascist” (which is not, by the way, just a synonym for ‘evil’. It has a very specific meaning which, for all I know, you might well be aware of but you sure as gently caress don’t give any indication of it in this story. Of course, given your descriptions are so bland, you don’t give any indication of much depth anywhere.), “some kind of cyborg” (thus utterly failing to distinguish it from the protagonist, who has various laboriously described cool cyborg implants) and “four legs”. What other horrors from the past would return? Well, gently caress knows, because I don’t even know what horrors have returned already because you never loving told me.

I mean, if I squint very hard, I could imagine that your story is supposed to be about a fight between Ian Banks’ Culture and the Borg, but it could also be about a fight between a bunch of space-hippies all blissed out on synthetic weed and the robo-animal minions of Dr Robotnik, for all the detail you give me. Specifics!

In terms of actual writing, it’s awful. Typos all over the loving place (you need a line-by-line to catch them all, I just give up at this point), awful flow and rhythm, missing hyphens in compound phrases, the enemy is alternatively “it” and “she” with pretty much no rhyme or reason, etc etc. It’s also littered with repeated words that sound poo poo. “Scrambled/scrambling” and “here she was” twice in the third para. “Cracked” in the fourth. “...into the rubble strewn street as Latoya came down from the rubble.” “Leaping/leapt” in the tenth para. “Adrenaline coursed through Latoya as her adrenal pump kicked in.” These and others just sound dull, repetitive and uninspiring. Find some loving synonyms, seriously. Bonus points for some utterly nonsensical similes too, I’m not sure what barren moonscapes you’ve been looking at but it’s not a phrase that brings to mind “rubble of bombed-out buildings” to me.

Re-reading this to give you a full crit made me even angrier than when I first judged it, so be thankful it doesn’t matter anymore and I can’t retroactively change my vote to DM.

Holding What is Left
Honestly, I can’t find much to add to my initial judge notes on this. It’s beautifully written, some of your descriptions are inspired (I especially liked “yellow eyes, like two pinches of turmeric” for being both very arresting and adding yet more to the cultural feel of the piece), but ultimately it’s just a vignette, an epilogue or a prequel to something bigger.

10/10 for writing, probably the best prose this week, but there’s no story there. I guessed what was going on pretty much as soon as you wrote “Will you let me in?” and after that, there wasn’t really any surprise or interest, just “this is nice to read. Oh, it’s over.”

Oh, if it were me I’d probably either quote or italicise the speech in “Will you let me in, he would say.“ at the end.

The world building, the mystery and that you didn’t take a cheap exit by explaining things at the end are the strong points in this story. That said, and despite the fact that you won, it’s still got its share of flaws.

The biggest problem I have is the scene changes. You double-space a couple of them, but others just flow from paragraph to paragraph (the first line to second line is a break, and though you’re recounting a lot of discrete events at the time, I think you need a scene break before “When Sylvia came back…” as its signalling the start of a separate bit of the story). Using a “----” to separate them would help, though might make it obvious quite how often you cut between scenes in that story; it’s a lot, perhaps a bit too much.

The opening line is a good hook, but that you cut to “I woke up” immediately afterwards robs it of something, to me, and turns it into a slightly confusing opening couple of paragraphs.

The cut from opening scene to him staring at the envelope took me a while to work out - it feels like a flashback (receive IOU > crash truck into tower in rage), rather than what we’re actually seeing which is (crash truck > go back home and stare at envelope some more). Maybe you need to make it clearer that he’d received the letter prior to the start of the story; as it stands, because you never said where it came from, my initial assumption was he’d picked it up on the way home or something. Just a quick “The letter was still sitting on the table…” or something.

Other minor nitpicking:

“The four-thousand-and-twenty-three dollars they gave me for Sylvia”. I’d use “they’d given” instead; your story is already told in past tense, you need to push this event further back in time.

You language describing him trying to work out what’s niggling about Sylvia bugs me; it’s not very clear and I dislike some of the phrasing. Probably would rework those two paras if it was me, but it’s as much a personal style thing as anything so make what you will.

I had to google succotash, because I’m British, and it’s apparently food with corn and beans in. Why is that stuck to his forehead? I am confused.

Beneath what amount to problems with flow rather than anything deeper, it’s a good story - another editing pass and it would’ve been excellent.

The Once and Future King
So your protagonist comes across as, basically, a prick. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but he seems really up himself in the opening couple of paragraphs. Not a particularly good start for getting me to care about him, as I’m really rooting for someone to take him down a peg by the time he’s done declaring what a manly war-man he is.

Then he goes on to be smugly over-British for a while before the actually interesting bit of the story starts. Honestly, the whole scene setting bit is really loving weak compared to the end. This line:

Percy leapt across the table and tackled me to the ground. I have him a punch to the ear and a knee to the gut for his troubles. We wrestled for a bit before Arthur gave a disapproving cough.

Is probably the worst of it all. It’s just so… vague. Like “well, it’s like, er, some poo poo happened, I gave him a bit of a what-for, y’know”. For what’s supposed to be a brief fight, it’s utterly unexciting and flat. Either go all the way to complete understatement or actually bother to describe things in detail, don’t just give me weak poo poo like that.

So, unlike a whole bunch of other idiots, you actually managed to do some worldbuilding without burying it in pointless narrator-led exposition. That’s good. Once you get going, the rest of the story rattles along quite nicely. I think you could’ve cut a lot of the setup crap at the beginning and focussed more there, maybe found room for some actual in-the-action scenes rather than a big summary of “we fought the French a lot, it sucked” but it’s still pretty good.

“I was wondering why you showed up here. And then I realized.” I stepped the rest of the way into the office. “We survived just fine the last time you died. And we’ll survive again.”
So I don’t actually follow this - “we survived the last time you died” doesn’t explain, to me, why he showed up in the first place. Was it just to die again? You don’t say that and “surviving” his death isn’t really a particularly strong outcome. “poo poo son, he showed up and then died again, all our problems are solved!” He’s King Arthur, not loving Jesus.

Did he show up just to be wrong and get overthrown and killed so the British and French could do the right thing afterwards? I don’t get that from what you’re writing either, so basically your dramatic one-liner falls flat and I’m left wondering what the gently caress was the overarching message.

Also did you intentionally name two of your characters Percy(ival) and Lance(lot) and then assign them to be reincarnations of other knights (you never name Percy’s reincarnation, but Percival and Balin don’t show up at the same time in the original stories so I assume it can’t be him) as some kind of “gently caress you I’m not going for the obvious ones!”? It’s really weird.

Anyway, mostly this was just middle-of-the-road, I’m afraid. Premise could’ve been loving appalling, but you did a reasonable job at it, but the rest of it - the characters, the storytelling - were just mediocre. Still, at least you didn’t suck.
What a Shame
I have nothing further to add than my initial reaction, because seriously, what the gently caress was that poo poo. Try telling a story rather than writing some teenage-nerd, masturbatory wank-fest next time. I don’t even know what you were thinking.

So, the very strong voice of the narrator took me a while to get used to, and I was kinda confused at whether the Lictor’s gun was supposed to actually be some massive two-ton artillery piece or if it was just gratuitous exaggeration. That aside, you did a good job with first-person narration, something a whole bunch of people hosed up quite royally this week. Good on you, may you serve as an example to others.

Honestly, I can’t find much to pick at on this because it came very close to winning - you tell a comfortable, easy story very well, but it’s the ‘easy’ that lost you the win. In another week, or with other judges, you could easily have got it.

That said, a couple of nit-picks:

“Gallio Barrius Venustinia,” he said, and nodded politely.

Daddy spit on the street. “I made it pretty clear, last time we spoke,” he growled.

Made what clear, exactly? Sounds like you cut a line of dialogue from the middle.

...and I knew I was watchin’ my father fight.
This feels like a very light way of doing what should be a big reveal. I think it’s maybe too light, especially as she seems to have worked it out for herself at this point but barely seems to give a poo poo - I mean seriously, “maybe that rear end in a top hat isn’t actually my Daddy” seems worth more than a passing mention. Basically I almost missed it the first time through, and didn’t catch the significance of Jacobus paying close attention to her age until second or third read-through. Honestly, it’s a well written little revelation, and I don’t think you necessarily need to change it - other readers may have picked it up faster than me.

Otherwise? Good job, HM well earned.

This is possible the biggest bait-and-switch bullshit I’ve had to judge for TD. Helena, the girl who would become the hero, doesn’t show up for 90% of your story. And even when she does it’s basically an afterthought of “oh, by the way, the person we mentioned at the beginning? Yeah, she goes off to do foment rebellion, overthrow the king and kill a bunch of people. I’m not going to show you that, thought, because it might be too interesting.”

I mean, maybe she was meant to be appearing somewhere in the intervening 1000 words and you just forgot to actually mention this? I dunno. Was she there? Did she come back to all this and that’s why she would become the hero? You don’t say, it’s just vaguely implied. How is this even relevant to the prompt, given it’s not something from the past returning (except, perhaps, my breakfast) - it’s just backstory for some lovely novel you summarise in the last paragraph. Please tell me this isn’t actually the prequel for your magnum opus 15-book-series fantasy epic you’re totally going to write any day now, because if it is I may have to kill you for the good of mankind.

So, complete and utter failure to follow the prompt or tell the story you actually started in your first paragraph aside, let’s look at the rest.


That’s some completely forgettable, predictable, cliched fantasy then. Totally worth it. The dialogue sounds like people reading lines from a play, it’s all “He is a mere boy” and “spare him his life from this monstrosity” (no, wait, that would’ve been better than your dialogue).

The way you’ve framed this makes 90% of the story redundant, because you already tell us in the first two paragraphs that the end result is the village being razed to the ground. Pretty much as soon as the soldiers are mentioned it becomes obvious how this happens, and at that point there’s basically no reason for me to even bother reading the rest of it because I already know what’s going to happen. The fact that the middle bit is so loving predictably cliche (because I haven’t read “hot-blooded teenager starts a fight with the soldiers, whole village is slaughtered in petty retribution as a ‘lesson’” enough times already, christ) doesn’t do anything to disprove my point. You can tell that story and have it be interesting, but you have to leave at least some reason for me, the reader, to want to keep going. Drama! Interest! Will a character I care about (hint: none of those present here, don’t worry) die?

General prose is pedestrian, but not actually full of errors. Good job. Give yourself a gold star.

The Black Cat Cafe
Personally I actually had this for HM nomination, but it didn’t quite make it.

It’s short, and cute, but I guess in the end there’s more vignette than story here. The actual protagonist doesn’t really do much of anything, just rocks up, watches things happen, and doesn’t stab his daughter with a poisoned hairpin. Jolly good. The only person who has a goal is Sasha, and she’s almost already achieved it. There’s no real tension there, nobody to root for, and I’m just watching a few things happen rather than feeling attached to the characters.

Honestly, I don’t think more words would fix that - it’s complete in itself, and trying to force more of a traditional story arc would only ruin that - but it’s probably not going to win a Thunderdome.

Which is a shame, in some ways, because I rather liked it.

So I told myself I’d crit this even though it was late in, because it brings the number of crits to an even 20. I now deeply regret this decision, because Jesus Christ that is crap.

Your concept is actually really neat - sometimes people don’t have a soul, but it can suddenly catch up with them - but you just flub the execution so badly it’s completely lost on me. I mean, I get Klimmer’s supposed to be an unsympathetic rear end in a top hat who has redemption forced upon him, but he’s just so loving blank I don’t give a single poo poo. Your narration is detached, clinical observation - not once do I get to actually understand what he feels or thinks about any of this poo poo.

“The subject performed his duties as normal for 6 hours, 23 minutes. The subject appeared mildly disturbed at intervals throughout the day. At 18:34, the subject was observed to interact with a hysterical, hispanic mother.” That’s basically how your story reads to me. You don’t even end it properly, there’s no action on behalf of Klimmer - he just asks around a bit and cancels dinner to stare at cars. Why the gently caress can’t he at least do something meaningful with his newfound humanity - try and help the mother/child, give all his money away to charity, do something remotely loving meaningful instead of staring into the distance like he rediscovered his missing emo teenage years. You want him to start listening to The Cure while he’s at it, maybe?

You fall into the same “friendly dude telling a tale” narration bullshit that so many people do. Stop trying to have your omniscient narrator get all buddy-buddy and clever with me. Stuff like “So saying that he found his soul is an overstatement.” and “Understandable, really.” are what I’m talking about. It’s not clever, it’s not funny, it just detracts from the story because now I’m not paying attention to what’s happening, I’m paying attention to the narration trying to crack jokes and they’re poo poo jokes. Either get funny or get the gently caress out the way and tell a story, and frankly you’re not showing much hope of either of those right now.

Probably a good thing you missed the deadline as this was almost poo poo enough to deserve a DM.

Meeple fucked around with this message at 15:34 on Jun 25, 2015

Dec 28, 2009

I failed my saving throw vs prompt. In and flash me.


Dec 28, 2009

Adventurers for hire, reasonable rates
1498 words
The sun beat down on the dry, dead soil. In the distance, behind the bones of a hedgerow, three skeletons were chipping at the dust with worn hoes.

“I must admit, this is hardly the all-conquering horde of darkness one might have been led to expect.” Hawkins knocked his pipe out against a dead tree and turned to face the group.

“Always the critic.” Marron was leaning on her staff, shading her eyes. Behind her, Scatha and Aranina looked on with amused expressions. “Look, they’re skeletons. And where you find skeletons, you get necromancers. It’s a symptom.”

“It will admit the current vista is symptomatic of something, though I’ll reserve judgement on just what.”

“Just what are you implying?”

“My dear Marron, I would never do something so uncouth as ‘imply’ anything.”

“You would too. Fine, apparently I have to do everything around here so let’s go look at these skeletons.” Marron barged through the hedge, the rest of the group trailing behind.

The skeletons didn’t appear to pay her any attention, even when she got close enough to see the chips and cuts in their bones.

“There! Battle scars. Told you,” Marron said. Scatha loped up, longbow in hand, and leaned down to inspect the skeleton. It continued to prod at the dirt.

“Marron’s right,” she said eventually.

“That she may be, dear leader, but they’re hardly rampaging around the countryside any longer.” Hawkins folded his arms. “I remain sceptical.”

“Nothing new there then.” Marron prodded the nearest skeleton with her staff. Its arm knocked against a hip-bone. Rattle.

“Maybe they’re tired.” She prodded again. Rattle rattle.

Rattle rattle rattle.


Rattle rattle rattle rattle rattle.

They all turned. “Maybe you shouldn’t’ve done that,” Aranina said, pointing across the field to an old barn. “I knew it was a bad idea,” she added under her breath.

Dozens of skeletons were pouring from the barn door, clutching a variety of rusty weaponry and farm implements. The rattling became a chorus.

“Whoops!” Marron turned back around, then ducked as a hoe whistled through the air above her head. She lashed out, her staff smashing bone. The skeleton fell to the ground, limbs twitching.

“My dear Marron, you do have such a knack for starting brawls.” Hawkins sighed theatrically, drawing his swords and stepping between the party and the oncoming horde.

“Must be my charming personality.” The other two skeletons were circling around Marron and Scatha, hoes raised. Marron’s staff caught one in the shin-bone, but it stumbled backwards before she could follow through.

“Skeletons,” Scatha said, letting out a long sigh. “I hate skeletons.” She slung her bow over her shoulder and raised her guard just in time to catch a hoe aimed at her head. She wrenched the tool out of the skeleton’s grasp, threw it to one side and countered with a left hook that sent a skull bouncing across the field. She turned to watch Marron dancing around the remaining undead with a broad grin on her face, staff weaving.

“Stop playing.”

Marron sighed and stopped for a moment. “Spoilsport,” she said. The skeleton tried to take advantage of the lull and swung for her head. “That goes for you too.” She caught the hoe crossways against her staff, kicked out to shatter its hip, and brought the head of the staff down to pin its ribcage to the ground as it fell. White fire ran the length of the oak staff and the skeleton shattered into dust.

Scatha rolled her eyes. “Ara? Hawkins?” she asked, turning.

Hawkins was standing in the middle of the field, swords loose in his hands. Scorched scars marred the field, and one corner of the barn was burning merrily. Of the skeletal army, there was no sign, though the air did carry a pungent scent of scorched bone.

“Don’t worry, I think we’ve got this,” Hawkins said, sheathing his swords.

“‘We’?” Aranina muttered. The sleeves of her robe were rolled up and her hood was down, revealing dishevelled hair and a scowl.

Scatha ignored her. “Done? Safe?”

“Perhaps a little surplus to requirements right about now, but otherwise just splendid, thank you for asking.”

“Never been better!”


“Good. Let’s move on. Marron, less poking skeletons please.”

“You never let me have any fun.”


It was another two days of long walking and uninteresting scenery before they reached the shadows of the mountains and the looming castle that nestled beneath. The occasional group of skeletons paid them little attention on the road, seemingly content to continue poking at the soil.

“Now this is more like it,” Marron said, gazing up at the blackened oak gates festooned with spikes. “Proper fortress of evil, this.”

“I’ll admit, it does forbode quite well,” Hawkins said, coming to stand next to her. “Perhaps the empire is merely… reduced.”

“I hope so. Would be a shame to not have a single good fight this entire time.” She walked up to the door and rapped with her staff. The door boomed satisfyingly and creaked open.

“Knock knock! Anyone in?” She called. “Scatha and Company, adventures ventured, treasures treasured, evil overlords overthrown, at your service!” There was no reply.

“Are you sure about this, Marron?” Aranina asked, peering around the taller woman. Her hood was back over her head, hiding her eyes from the sun.

“Sure I’m sure. Got the mark right here. Overthrow evil empire, slay necromancer, rescue princess. You know, the usual.” Marron reached under her jerkin and pulled out a sheet of parchment. It was yellowed and brittle, but the wording was still clear enough.

“Far from me to critique your selection process, dear healer, but where exactly did you find that mark?” Hawkins squinted at it.

“Oh, uh, this little place I know back in Nexus. Quite off the beaten path. Secluded.”

Aranina rolled her eyes. “Did you get kicked out of the Seasick Dragon again?”

Marron had the decency to look embarrassed. “Maybe. Maybe a few other adventurer inns too.”

“Some job-finder you are.” Aranina sighed, pulled her hood down further still and stalked past Marron and Hawkins to enter the castle.

“If you’re quite done bickering, we move.” Scatha stomped past them.

The pair looked at each other, shrugged in unison and followed through the door.


Past the gates, the castle opened up to a dusty courtyard littered with fallen stones. An old woman bustled her way along one wall, sweeping ineffectually at the dust as she went.

“Ahoy!” Scatha called. “Lady!” She strode across the courtyard, long legs eating up the distance while the other three scurried in pursuit. The old woman turned, eventually, to face her.

“Hmm? What is it, little girl?”

Scatha raised an eyebrow. “Astrodal the necromancer. His undead army of darkness. The princess…” she paused, snatched the mark from Marron’s hand as the latter caught up, cast an eye over it. “Princess Angelina. Where are they?”

The old woman stared at her for a long moment, then doubled over, clutching at her stomach.

“Hee. Heeheeehee. Oh dear oh dear oh dear,” she wheezed, tears running down her cheeks.

“What’s so funny?”

“Who are you, little girl? Why are you asking me this, now?”

“I’m Scatha. Adventurer. You know of the Nexus?”

“I’ve read books. Never thought I’d see a visitor from another plane, though. Why are you here?”

Scatha presented the mark. “A job. Defeat the necromancer, rescue the princess. Where are they?”

The woman laughed again. “How do I break this to you? You’re a bit late, dear. Forty years or so late.” Scatha blinked. “Astrodal won. Nobody came to stop him, or rescue me. I guess that mark of yours was father’s last-ditch plan and that didn’t work either.” She sighed and sat down on a fallen stone. “But apparently undead armies of the night aren’t very good at farming, or stonemasonry or, well, anything else much.”

Behind them, Aranina stuffed a fist into her mouth.

“Your meaning?”

“Astrodal starved to death twenty years ago. My people, well, we don’t need to eat so much. But what’s left of his armies still have orders to keep me prisoner, so here I am. I’d curtsey, but my knees aren’t up to it any more.” She looked up at Scatha’s blank stare. “Princess Angelina. At your service, I suppose.”

Scatha turned to glare at Marron, who merely shrugged helplessly.

“Oops?” she offered. “I guess it did look a bit faded.”

“You never checked?”

“I was in a hurry. Sorry.”

“If I may, esteemed leader?” Hawkins beamed a smile and knelt before the princess. “Fair princess Angelina, may I humbly offer you what meagre hospitality we may supply and, perhaps more relevant to your current predicament, transport to the Nexus via the next convenient portal? I have it on good authority one might be opening in the near future.” He looked backwards under his arm and winked at Aranina.

“Hmm. I suppose it can’t be any worse than here.”

She rose, and took his hand.

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