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Hocus Pocus
Sep 7, 2011



In, and could I please have a flash rule, judges?

e: thanks!

Hocus Pocus fucked around with this message at Jun 2, 2015 around 07:22

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Hocus Pocus
Sep 7, 2011



Djeser posted:

A bet between a human and a non-human animal.

Sardines and Sunny Afternoons
1,500 words

The little girl stared over her shoulder with a sneer so rough it must have been on exchange from a correctional facility.

She had her chopsticks unsettlingly close to her eyes. While the bowl in her other hand tilted closer and closer to losing its guts.

“Sarah!”

“Daddy!” She turned away from the window to face her father across their unit’s only table. It was a dining table, an office space, a crafts station, and storage facility. Even now Sarah’s glass of lemonade was sitting on some bills, and butting up against a cricket trophy. Just one of a burgeoning stable of primary school awards.

“Would you please point those chopsticks away from your face. It’s making me extremely anxious.”

Sarah lowered the chopsticks, straightened her bowl, and forced a smile so charged it probably had a voltage.

“And what were you gawkin’ at with that scary look on your face?” Her dad said, trying to look past Sarah out the window.

He had Buckley’s. Like how a chicken can run with its head perfectly still, Sarah could do the opposite. Her head darted around like a soccer goalie chained to a boulder, blocking her dad’s view. It took just about falling off his chair to get a look.

“I knew it!” He slapped the table.

“You know what, daddy, I really think you’ve outdone yourself tonight,” Sarah nodded her head compulsively, smacking her lips. “Its really yum. Changed something?”

“Uh-uh, Sarah, not biting this time. You need to stop this obsession with that cat!”

The cat in question was on the driveway just outside their window. Playing a kind of feline patty-cake with a kid from the neighbourhood. This cat had become a bit of a celebrity in their suburb.

Its coat had a weightlessness and a shade of black like a winter night’s sky. The green of its eyes made jewellers weep and throw their emeralds down stormwater drains. It was a beautiful cat.

Not some shallow cat born with a silver saucer though. It had no owner, lived on the streets, but still treated every stranger like it was their childhood moggy. It could fetch, count, and even play a keyboard with surprising conviction. It was a gifted and humble cat.

Sarah was not a huge fan.

“Its mean.” She spat through a mouthful of noodles.

“I don’t even know what to say to that, Sarah. Its a stray, you just have to give it... space.” Sarah’s dad trailed off with a groan, and gestured like he was shooing a fly.

Ever since Sarah had first met this spectacular cat it had upstaged her at every opportunity.

There was the egg and spoon race at her cousin’s birthday. Should have been in the bag according to Sarah. But at the last minute the cat came tumbling across finish line from nowhere, wrassling with an egg. Sarah could still hear the coos and laughter of her family. She’d practiced the day before.

Or just the other week when Sarah was playing hide and seek at recess and of course the cat had to spoil that too. It’d been months since she’d been found in a game. Classmates had even accused her of cheating. She hadn’t though. She was just an excellent hider. Had potential to go pro, teacher said. The cat was somehow deputised into the game. Sarah rolled her eyes and scoffed, if they want to find me, they’ll need a whole pack of bloodhounds, not some stupid cat. It wasn’t even halfway through recess when she heard the scratching and meowing at the other side of the maintenance shed door.

The icing on the cake of her misery, however, was the school fete bake off.

“Sarah you should really try one of the cat’s madeleines. You know there’s no shame in a red ribbon, right? In fact, I think most people would say that that's pret-ty impressive.” Sarah’s dad was right. She’d even beat out some adult competition. But second place felt like last. Baking was something her dad taught her. It felt like she’d let him down.

“They’re dry.” She mumbled, sniffling. Her dad knelt down.

“Sorry sweetie?” He wiped her eyes.

“Its cakes. They’re dry.” She sniffed.

“Oh sweetheart, my baby girl,” he said as he pulled his daughter in for a hug, “you know that’s not true.” He was a dear man, but honest to a fault - the madeleines were delicious.

***

It was a sunny afternoon on a car ride home from football practice when Sarah hatched her plan. When they got home she grabbed some tinned sardines and headed outside. She marched over to a group of friends playing with the cat, wearing her penitentiary face.

“I need to talk to you,” the circle opened and turned to Sarah, she stared down the cat, “alone.” The group started to go, “oh sorry, you guys should actually listen too.”

It was more a simple wager than a plan. If she won, the cat would stop stealing her thunder. To lose, however, meant Sarah leaving a dish of sardines out every morning for the the cat. She got the idea for their competition at football practice: they were going to play marks up. Someone would throw a sardine across the street, where the cat and Sarah would race to catch it. Sardines were the only thing Sarah figured the cat would bother to chase. A football seemed a touch unfair.

The deck was stacked in Sarah’s favour, but a part of her knew this could be a real gamble. A can a day would really eat into her pocket money.

She briefed the group, who took their places. Sarah and the cat on one side of the road, her friends on the other. The first sardine was tossed. A slow lob. With a powerful start and arms flailing like a cut snake, Sarah snatched the fish.

“Ha ha! Got it!” She grinned, sardine in hand. But the cat wasn’t paying attention. It hadn’t even moved. It was just sitting, with regal airs, washing its paw. You couldn’t call it a contest if your opponent didn’t even try.

“Hey, furball,” the cat’s ears pricked, “how about a can for every time you catch one? Best of three.” It faced her, closed its eyes and purred.

Sarah should have known it was over at that second throw. The cat was just a brush stroke against the street’s canvas. Black ink flicked from a calligrapher’s brush. Fast and beautiful. It leapt high and caught the fish with ease.

Best of three quickly became best of five, and then best of seven, and on until the afternoon was on its last legs. Sarah was exhausted. But she was even more stubborn.

“Double,” she took a deep breath, “or nothing. Two cans a day!” This was her last chance. She couldn’t keep going, but she maybe could dig deep for a final charge.

The wind slowed, and stepped around her. She took a long breath. Her mind was a quiet stream.

Sarah’s legs fired like pistons as the last fish took flight. What were metres when she felt she could step over mountains? What were seconds when time stopped around her? Balance, grip, and exhaustion were all left in the gutter. She was finally going to beat the cat. She traced the arc of the sardine and her body shifted and muscles coiled, jump ready. It felt mechanical. It felt efficient. Beat the cat. It was close now.

One last powerful step sent her airborne. Her body tried desperately to hang on to her arm, as it launched like a rottweiler after the fish. Her hand snapped shut like a bloodthirsty jaw.

Something was wrong. She couldn’t feel anything in her hand. She’d missed it. Suddenly metres seemed impossible, and seconds raced away like lemmings. She was falling. She looked down, saw the cat beneath her. It looked up, eyes wild, but there wasn’t any time.

Sarah’s body slapped against the bitumen and tumbled a short distance. She’d missed the cat, just, but had taken a fall to do it. Everything happened so quick that pain was on delay. But it caught on fast, and tears welled up in Sarah’s eyes.

She heard voices call from the across the road, “did she do it, did she catch it?” No, she thought, but at least I didn’t land on that stupid cat. It wouldn’t have been much of a win if I’d hurt that stupid, cute cat.

Something cold and wet touched her hand. Sarah opened her eyes and watched the cat oh-so delicately place down a fish. She pet the cat and smiled, it closed its eyes and purred.

“Look in her hand! She caught it!” Sarah was suddenly crowded by her smiling friends.

Sprinklers sounded off and the warm setting sun cast the wet bitumen alight. Sarah watched as the cat trotted away happily down the street. A black mirage on a river of gold.

Hocus Pocus
Sep 7, 2011



Here are some critiques for the first ten entries. I hope you can find something constructive in the mix.

***
Screaming Idiot
High Stakes

First off, after I read your story and went back to your title, I smiled. I also liked that your opening shot came off like a gambling story cliche, but was then subverted halfway through.

Overall I think the first act of your story was the strongest. Its where you had your strongest prose and best rhythm. At first I thought you were laying on the dive bar roughneck ‘country’s rear end in a top hat’ stuff a bit thick, but it grew on me, and ended up feeling a little tongue in cheek. Like a Nick Cave song.

I like that Scratch was this rough, clumsy hustler. The first time he opens his mouth he chokes on a peanut and drinks someone else’s beer, a great introduction.

One thing that stood out in that first act was that, even though the gamblers didn't believe Scratch, to not react to him asking them to wager their souls seemed like an oversight. People leave the table, but is that because they’re scared, or because they think he’s an idiot, or what? I can understand that given the sort of smoky, southern hypnosis you’d cultivated that the characters might shuffle along in a trance, but even if the protagonist acknowledge that I would have been good.

Your second act felt rushed. One line he’s ill, and then a few sentences later he’s killing vampire hunters. I personally didn't like that it was vampirism. At first I thought his illness was just what happens to a mortal when they lose their soul. But that’s a personal thing - I don’t really like vampire stories.

Final part was a return to my happy place. Scratch being sketchy and wily in a dive bar. I had mixed feelings about the ending, but I the imagery of a bar burning down around a gambler and the devil was strong.

A few points on some prose that I did not like:

My heart was thumping like one of those voodoo drums like black folks used to use in the jungles of Africa...’ I understand where you are trying to go, I like where you are trying to go, but this is incredibly choppy. Every time I read this aloud, I trip over something.

The words dropped from my lips like vomit’ This just sounded… wrong? Vomit dropping from lips doesn’t work for me.

Drained my little girl dry. I couldn't do that to her.’ There needs to be more disgust in this, more indignation, more impact. This is his child, both of those sentences are too casual. Would a father even be able to articulate that fear? Wouldn’t that be a traumatic thought?

Scratch was great though. It felt like you enjoyed writing Scratch, which came through the page and made him fun to read.

***
Fausty
Between Friends
A friendly wager ends up with someone's reputation on the line.

Okay dude, how did they know? Your own character says that nobody will know he let his mate free, so how do the Rome-cops know? If only Aulus, Martinus, and Glaucia were there, who told the authorities? Aulus? What was his motivation to tell the truth? He obviously wasn’t much for protocol seeing he cut his prisoner free on some vague bet. And he didn’t really seem to think much of Glaucia. So why not lie?

The plural of crop is crops, and if the plains are endless, then why are they also scattered?

His feet nearly slipped from his sandals, causing him to stumble briefly before catching himself.’ This is a mad long sentence considering it is neither useful or aesthetically pleasing. Its emblematic of a larger problem you have with prose. For me, sentences need to be either enjoyable as prose, or necessary in some other way. Ask this question of yourself as you edit.

Again: ‘Martinus had his hands displayed in front of Aulus. He pushed the blade against his wrists, motioning them to move further apart. He then raised the sword above his shoulder and sliced downward into the rope, cutting it in half in one swift motion.’ This is so many words to say that he cut the rope.

Did you edit? Did you read aloud? As I read a lot of your sentences aloud I immediately knew words that could be dropped. Or commas that should have been full stops.

Another thing, wasn’t the main military punishment in Rome flogging? Did they cut off hands? Not that I’m a stickler for historical accuracy, I just always thought Rome punished soldiers with either execution or a flogging.

But my main problem was that there was no real punchline or climax. Like yeah there’s the thing about the hand, and I understand that as a sort of cosmic irony, but it didn’t tie in particularly well.

Next time read things aloud. Shorten your sentences, and ask what is necessary. It wouldn’t take much to really polish this story.

***
hubris.height
The Rascal Mayor
A hero with a tragic flaw, fated to lose this wager, but fighting to overcome that fate.

I felt a little disorientated during this story.

He looked up from the flimsy paper and at the other man, standing with a paper of his own in his hand’ Clunkyyyy. Is it necessary to specifically point out that it was in his hand?

“Horse races sound are some risky business…”’ Does this mean when horse races are sound, as in clean, that they are risky business? Implying this race is fixed? Or does he mean to say that horse races sound risky?

Apart from some wordiness in this opening part, I like the scene of a nervous gambler with a more experienced friend. Their dialogue needs to be worked, but I still got a sense of Clarence and Frank. This did not build as the story went on. Older Frank was more business like, I guess. While Clarence had somehow become embroiled with mobsters and boxing, despite being earlier off put by horse racing.

I think the largest issue of this story is in its clarity. For example, the second part opens, presumably years later, and Frank is mayor. Someone addresses the mayor, and Frank looks up - cool, I got it, Frank is the mayor. But then the next line, ‘The mayor, himself a stocky fellow…’, describes the mayor, which felt like you were introducing a new character. I had to reread this part story, and then continue, half thinking there were three people in the room. In describing the character of the mayor, you made me think that he was a new character - because I’ve already met Frank.

Frank has a comb over, and he’s reminiscing for better days when he looks at a picture of his family. So presumably he’s getting on, yeah? Late 50s? What’s old mate Clarence doing in a boxing ring then?

Is Johnsmith a placeholder name? Is it John Smith? Or is Johnsmith an American name or something? Seemed odd.

If the hook wasn’t good enough to knock out a man, but Johnsmith was bleeding from the ear, did he take a dive? But then he’s bleeding from the ear, which makes me think, no, he really got laid out. Or was he also poisoned by someone? Again, an issue of clarity.

I got the impression reading this story that you yourself knew the answers to a lot of the things I am asking, but I as a reader was given information that conflicted and confused me. This may be because you had to make a lot of cuts, so make sure you write a story that can be contained in the word limit. There is definitely potential in this dynamic of a friend always calling in a favour at the other’s growing expense.

You have a lot of commas where full stops would do.

***
the brotherly phl
The rear end of the universe
A gentleman wizards' wager.

1996 words

You motherfucker. 1996 words?

Why go and spoil a good thing by breaking the rules?

I really like your story, but 1996 words is so incredibly far over. Your story was dope though... Your alternating vignettes paint a fantastic picture, and the characters of Marney and the protagonist’s father are really good. I like the two opposite ends of the spectrum that they occupy in the protag’s life. The world you built where magic exists, but is an obsession only to a very small group, while seen as unnecessary or as a hobby to others, is a unique one. It is heightened and fantastical, but still feels very grounded and honest to how people are. I liked your ending, too.

I think, that even given how much I enjoyed all the snapshots, you should have just bitten the bullet and shaved some of them down.

Just a sidebar, not really a criticism of this, just a general thing. I noticed in your story, and I’ve done this before as well (and seen plenty of others do it) - the use of ‘too’ as an adjective. I’ve realized I don’t really like it. Marney’s eyes are too wide. Biff’s teeth too white. There’s something about it that just rubs me the wrong way. Purely a personal thing.

Not much else to add, but I thought this was a wonderful story. There wasn’t really anything that I thought distracted from it (besides length you gently caress). I look forward to your future submissions to das terrorkuppel. This was really fun.

***
spectres of autism
Destroyer of Worlds! Dragon Godhead

I really feel like the title would have been made more metal by another exclamation mark. Why leave Dragon Godhead hanging? Destroyer of Worlds! Dragon Godhead!

This story is really hard on your reader. I spent all of my time with your story trying to decipher the in world language and lore. I don’t really know what I think of what happened. This, I think, is actually probably pretty cool, but needs more room to breathe than 1500 words.

So here’s what I was able to decipher: the protagonist sits in a VR chair that closes around him like a big claw. The chair plugs him into this like virtual colloseum that appears on holographs around the galaxy. In this virtual Colosseum he is playing something like Magic: The Gathering, except you use your life force/blood to play cards. He is playing against a pretty hardcore alien player, Marl. He’s trying to save Tessa, his sister (?), but is losing. Ultimately he draws and casts the dreaded card, Godhead. The card not only wins, but kills his opponent in the real world.

What I did not understand, in rolling text:
Life dome
Sister protocol, Tessa
There’s a host that’s voice talks a drug into people’s minds?
Block clusters
Dal’Sat, the Poet-Founder (I think he started the game?)
The mouse (just a super lovely card, I think)

If you enjoyed what you have started here, you should totally flesh out this story. In 1500 words the concepts and terminology just came so hard and fast that I was overwhelmed. On rereading I enjoyed it more. The combination of cyberpunk and fantasy feels gritty and interesting - it left me curious. Mostly about the bookie compère who speaks drugs.

***
Enchanted Hat
The last deal

Having your story exist almost entirely as conversation is a risk. Dialogue presents a lot of pitfalls: do these characters sound believable? Do they sound different from one another? And, relevant to your story, do they know what they’re talking about?

Authenticity held me back from being invested in this story. There were too many things for me to question that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

Spend a few minutes in Something Awful’s very own Business, Finance, and Careers subforum, and you’ll see the language that real people in finance use. Your characters call other investors ‘retarded’, and are implied to be pretty competitive day traders. However their dialogue lets this down. They might have the attitude and bravado of dickhead traders, but their phrasing and choice in terminology paints them as at best armchair investors. Terminology should be used sparingly, unless you are very familiar with it.

Also what investment blog in the world is so trusted and popular that if it posted a story about a new world war, that the world would believe it without question? If your characters’ somehow got into the whole media corporation’s system, that would be different. Like from the girlfriend’s local paper account they got into the News Corp-like organization’s intranet. Or through her account they got into the AAP Newswire, and from either of those places spread the story, then that would make more sense.

There’s very little human interest beyond your duo’s competitiveness. And if that is going to be the main hook, then a story like this needs to be more fun. If it's going to be about two investors destroying the world for their stupid little bets, then make it absurd. Make it big and playful. Have their news stories escalate in a way that is fun and silly. Instead you spoil their dialogue with all of this poorly handled financial jargon. Terminology can add authenticity, but it can also completely destroy it.

***
Masonity
Five Fingers

You know what’s a good movie? Eastern Promises. Why? Because it gets everything done in 90 minutes, and has a great ‘ah-ha!’ twist.

This story had that feel to me - you managed to get it all done with 350 words to spare. Even threw in a tidy little twist at the end. I also like yoyos, so I was on board.

I think you could have tightened it even more, because I don’t think you did much of an edit. There were a fair few little spelling and grammatical mistakes, which just interrupts things.
nuding for nudging
recon for reckon
your where it should have been you’re
playstation, february should both be capitalized

These things have a cumulative effect.

I also felt like the age of the kid didn’t quite line up. Shoplifting yoyos and using the ‘older boys made me do it’ excuse seems more immature than 14. But that's just what I thought.

Your prose was generally utilitarian. It did the job, but wasn’t particularly descriptive. The real flavour and sense of character came from the dialogue. Not necessarily a negative thing, but it caused me to just scan over paragraphs that didn’t have any dialogue. I liked the banter between the boys. The guard was good value too - biting someone’s nose off probably would get them to back down…

Google tells me 300 GBP is 600 AUD. That is one serious yoyo.

***
Rap Three Times
The Gamble

Please read over your work. Please read over your work. Lots of little grammatical errors don’t do you any favours.

I figured twenty foot by fifteen.’ This is a pet peeve - please don’t do this. Don’t give physical dimensions unless they are relevant to the plot, or are significant in some other way. Saying the room was small was enough information.

This story had a lot of a cliches:
A guard/heavy/muscle described as an ape/gorilla/mountain of meat
A sadomasochistic Eastern European femme fatale - this is your most overladen one
Fists being like sledgehammers
A thief called Mr *colour*
A villain asking how the protagonist did something with their last breath
Ends with “let's get married”

If you are going to have a story rich with cliches, then subvert them or add your own twist to the formula. When you go to write your German psycho-sexual femme fatale, ask yourself, what can I do differently with this? How can I undermine the reader’s expectation of this character? Realize that characters like this already exist in most readers’ imaginations. What can you do to distinguish your iteration of it?

Is your protagonist a thief or a spy? He’s after a diamond, but his captors are after a dossier?

What is the gamble in this story? That he was just waiting out the interrogation until his girlfriend arrived? You also convoluted your ending by throwing in all these allusions to a larger story - perhaps you could have foreshadowed ‘everyone’ and Monaco earlier.

Read more, write more.

***
Entenzahn
On the Bright Side

Of the stories I have read so far, many have had a gamble or a wager, but yours is the first to be about gambling. To be a commentary on gambling, and the nature of addiction.

There aren’t really any shortcomings here, so I’ll quickly touch on some of the things that I liked.

Your central high concept, stimu.bet, is explained clearly and concisely. I understood it immediately. It worked perfectly as both an interesting system of gambling, and as a metaphor for the disease of addiction. The inherent secretiveness of this method of gambling I think is also important. Especially at a time when we have an always increasing stable of betting apps for smartphones.

But this story would have even worked without stimu.bet. Stimu.bet could be horse racing, or pokies, or cards because it is all of those things. And because of the authenticity of Fenrik’s addiction, and his family’s response to it.

Not just Fenrik’s moments of euphoria before disaster are true. But more importantly, that high that only gamblers understand. The rush of betting money you can’t afford to lose, and then losing it. He’s in hospital with a messed up arm, and he’s lost some money, but he can’t help but smile.

Then there's the bottomless pit of excuses.

The wife is immediately recognizable if you’ve ever known someone who loves an addict. They are the one who doesn’t yell, but who says please, desperate to break through to their loved one. All the while trying to hold their lives together.

I identified most with Darren. ‘He had the same twitchy frown on him he’d always had when he tried to remain stoic.’ I know that expression, I have had that expression towards a parent. ‘...and him with a desperate nonchalance plastered all over his face.’ Desperate nonchalance is such a loaded and strong description. I think everyone can think of a time they struggled to hold a poker face on the brink of tears.

There are so many facets of the characters in this story that I recognize. Not just in people I know and have met, but also in myself. It speaks and expresses itself far beyond the page, and to me that is the mark of a great story. You have written a story that is more than the sum of its parts.

***
Erogenous Beef
Shorted Out

Another story with not a whole lot to address negatively.

At the start I was getting a strong Lynchian vibe. There was a subtle, dreamlike feel to things - the larger than life Bull, the office like an African Savannah, and the Hollywood hopeful trader who licks his chops at insider info. I like a little strangeness. A slight hint of the Grotesque.

I liked Levigne, so when Hollywood deletes the message to his farewell drinks, I think that was when we see Hollywood’s true colours. Taking photos of someone’s computer over their shoulder and stealing financial papers out of someone’s bin, that’s all par for the course in this world. But I think it’s the small act of deleting the farewell drinks invitation and then looking at the photo of the Bull’s monitor, that sets up the ending. Because of course a guy who does that wouldn't try to stop the Bull. It suddenly makes sense that he’d just watch and laugh. He is as much the opportunist as the Bull is. The ending feels just.

Your characters felt lively, and all existed to me beyond the page. I feel as though I could imagine other parts of the Bull or Levigne's lives, even after such a brief introduction. Strong characterization.

***

Stay tuned for the second batch probably some time tomorrow.

Hocus Pocus fucked around with this message at Jun 8, 2015 around 11:46

Hocus Pocus
Sep 7, 2011



second batch of critiques.

SO many stories could have been massively improved with further editing and reading aloud. You may not think that little grammatical errors, and the occasional clunky phrase matters, but it disrupts the reader's attention.

Some of your stories genuinely brought a smile to my face, or left me thinking over an idea you had presented. So thank you to those writers.

I hope you can find something useful. If you think your crit is too harsh, then you should, as always: read more, write more

***
Benny Profane
The Hungriest Game
A classic game gets a terrifying twist

“They’re still hungry,” said Zoe.”

You beautiful bastard! Just a real good time with this one.

The reveal(?), I guess you’d say, came on just at the right time. I was a little slow to piece things together, and so was getting more and more curious about what this whole lagoon facility was for. But as soon as the hippos were mentioned, everything fell into the place, and it just made me happy.

The opening was pretty straight faced, and even into the actual game you managed to keep things feeling relatively naturalistic. As the story went on it just got more and more tongue in cheek, but you never went too far. It would have been really easy to ruin the joke. You were appropriately restrained.

Closest you got was with ‘“Come on you hungry bastard, go!”’, but that felt like more of a nod than a slap across the face. Because at this point it was well and truly clear what was happening.

And if the watermelons dropping was the punchline, then the moment when the hippos went after their punters was the tag.

You definitely, in my mind, met both the brief and your flash rule to a tee.

My only issue was with a few sentences that just felt a little fatty, for example: ‘Next to the cash, a tall woman—well over six feet, with broad shoulders like a competitive swimmer’s and straw-colored hair pulled back into a tight ponytail under a military cap—scanned the lagoon through binoculars.’. Wordiness, like in that description, acts as a speedbump and this is a story where you never want to lose momentum. There were barely any cases of this, however.

I also think you could have perhaps leaned a little further into your characterization of the other gamblers. I don’t think I quite had enough information to build a strong image of who they were in my mind.

The best way to read this story is just like Nicky at the end. Give yourself over to the moment. Great fun.

***
docbeard
Painted Jezebel
A feud between egg farmers is settled by a bet.

I enjoyed the voice of this one, you did cowpoke well without going over the top. A frontier camp of egg farmers is a pretty silly premise, and you handled it with the appropriate drunkenness and fun.

Maggie’s motivation was clear - she just wanted these drunken idiots to stop fighting and shut up so she could drink. The bickering and banter between Mason and Frank was a laugh to read aloud, and had good rhythm. Maggie led things well, and it was refreshing to have a female perspective in a western. I think the only other roughneck female character I’ve seen in a western was Calamity Jane in Deadwood.

The ending didn’t feel entirely satisfying, although it was a neat resolution to the conflict between the egg farmers. I really liked that this felt like just another episode in an ongoing series of bullshit situations that Maggie gets dragged into.

Painted Jezebel is a real classy name for a hen.

***
Jagermonster
Big Enough
Your protagonist is almost certainly going to win this bet, but they don't want to win.

It is a strange and interesting opening that you have written. A man stumbles down from the hills into a town. He is wild and strange, having not spoken to anyone in a long stretch.

I got the impression that Earl was a wily, rage prone, desperado. But not any more than that. There are a lot of gunslingers like Earl in books and movies, so I really needed more of a hook to be interested in him. What makes Earl different?

I’m iffy about how you met your flash rule. Earl bets Zeke doesn’t have it in him to draw, but he doesn’t want to win. He wants him to man up and draw his gun. But this isn’t really a bet, it's just sort of... a guess. There’s nothing at stake - either way Earl is going to kill him. Either he shoots him out of rage, or in self defense. But regardless of whether or not it neatly lines up with your flash rule, it definitely lines up with his characterization.

What I did particularly like was the roundness of the story. It opened with Earl feeling small against the enormity of nature, but yearning for civilization. And then concluded with him leaving town, feeling that he was too big for it. Returning to be insignificant in nature, a speck on the horizon. This is interesting. I want to know more about Earl's conflict of being too big for civilization, but also dwarfed by nature.

***
Le Woad
God Doesn’t Play Chess

You set up that Barton and Isaac Newton weren’t really allowed to talk beyond the context of the game, and held back the wager until the end. This made it hard to read the stakes of the game, and also made it hard to be invested in the outcome.

I liked that Newton was trying to casually get information out of Barton, who in turn casually tried to lie and deflect. That felt like it was the real game. This was the most entertaining element of the story - their banter.

What would make Newton think that ‘"Alice to Queen's 8th."’ was a reference to something? Barton didn’t act out in anyway to make Newton think there was any significance of that move to Barton.

seemedunwashed’ proof reading is your friend.

One point where my interest dipped was when the servant entered. The whole exchange felt unnecessarily drawn out. It dropped the tension you’d just started to build. I assume you were trying to create a lull before the game heated up again, but I mentally switched off as soon as David offered wine. Why are we hearing about Miss Anderson and David? Were they historical figures from Newton’s life?

Pacing was your largest issue. I wanted you to get on with it, but I wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was, because the stakes weren’t clear. Not that you had to say outright what they were, but not even your characters implied how significant it was.

Your idea was a novel and interesting one, and I was left with a fairly clear impression of your Isaac Newton. Next round you’re in, give a bit more thought to how your story is going to build.

***
Lake Jucas
To Tell the Truth
Your characters bet on something you wouldn't usually think to bet on.

Your ending genuinely really frustrated me. Whaaaaat is that ending? It felt really unearned, and didn't add much. A few things before that though:

Many of your sentences felt too long:
He cursed under his breath as he stumbled through his living room blind, stepped on something that crunched under his boot, flicked the light switch on the far wall on, and discovered that his living room has been trashed.’ You have a lot of sentences like this. Don’t be afraid of full stops.

...and it's wake grew the crushing guilt all cheaters know’ It’s is a contraction of it and is. Also I’m assuming you mean ‘in its wake’.

“u have to tell her about us...”’ In my opinion, in the year 2015 of our lord auto-correct, characters don’t need to do this anymore when they're texting.

...his hear started…’ Heart. Please read over and edit your work. I’ve said this to others already, but please understand, these little things just pull your reader out of your story. Every typo is an added opportunity to lose your reader’s interest. There were also several little formatting errors.

Your character comes off as a coward, and when his girlfriend’s life is on the line, he still lies. The threat of her suicide forces him to play her game, but it doesn’t force him to be honest? Wasn’t he just planning on telling her? She says if he’s honest that she’ll come down, so does he not believe that? If he doesn’t believe that, then why did he believe that she would kill herself if he doesn’t play? I can’t tell if he cares or not about his girlfriend.

His lying is almost comical. He’s lying like he’s covering up breaking something of hers, not like he’s cheated on her and her life is at stake.

Thinking ‘Abort! Abort!’ as you backpedal on lying to your suicidal girlfriend seems really flippant and tonally out of step.

I don’t like really like vampires. Just a personal thing. But even swallowing my prejudice I got no sense of a narrative or thematic justification for the vampire reveal. It was deus ex machina with a Twilight spin. I read your story again and the only possible foreshadowing of Rebecca becoming a vampire was that her boss is a ‘night owl’. That is not enough to lead us to this conclusion. There may have been foreshadowing that was obvious to you, the writer, but I didn't get any of it.

***
Jonked
Balcony Two of the Theatre of the Mind
Your protagonist is the person being bet on, and they're none too happy about it.

I enjoyed the portrait you paint here of a man clearly in pain and dealing with some internal conflict. He’s possibly cheating, and in an environment that is familiar but also a little alien. At points I wondered if he really was gay, and it came across that that was something that he hadn't entirely accepted in himself. Thinking Mario was trying to trap him into an admission felt like something a guy who had been closeted might think. But at the kiss, in his own comfort with the moment, and acceptance, acts as a nice conclusion to the conflict. Overall I got a good image of your protagonist, and a more complex one of Mario.

The characters of Good and Evil, however, felt a little unclear. Were they demon/angel/spiritual representatives of Good and Evil? They were betting years of service, but didn’t really seem to be helping or hindering him anyway. They were just, as your protagonist put it, heckling. In any case I didn’t get an impression of them as being clearly distinct from one another. They came off as one continuous voice. Which would be fine if it was just his insecurity speaking, but I sort of expected there to be more jostling between Good and Evil.

I’m not saying that that Good and Evil have to be cliche embodiments - Aziraphale and Crowley from Good Omens come to mind as an example of Good and Evil who are both distinct from one another, but not in a cliche way. So it can be done.

A few points on your point of view:
Your protagonist is attracted to Mario, describing him as ‘...well-preserved…’ kind of goes against that. Its a very clinical, detached way of saying that he’s taken care of himself, that he looks good for his age.
He looks at Mario’s face and sees the beginnings of wrinkles and realizes that he is older than previously thought. What does your protagonist feel about this? Does Mario being older turn him on? Does it help him relate to Mario? See him as less of sex object?

I liked your core story, it had a distinct arc and ended sweetly (I mean, despite his possible cheating - did Good and Evil consider him a cheat because he separated but not divorced? Or was he lying to Mario when he said he was separated?). I also think you met your flash rule. But I question what the voices of Good and Evil added to the story. You clearly had compassion for your characters.

***
Broenheim
Can’t Put a Price on a Fool
An adventurer wagers a priceless artifact

Your opening card game took up a disproportionately large part of your story compared to the more significant karaoke match. And I don’t understand why. The karaoke game is just brushed over as being a drunken haze. But that was the central confrontation of your story - they were going to sing for the pendant!

The card game has some tension and character, but it's largely inconsequential. Cards are a well worn area, but you know what would be interesting? A high stakes scene of karaoke! This was my expectation when Todd said karaoke. I even reread a few lines because I thought I’d skipped a karaoke scene. When I finished your story it's all I could think about. I wanted to know what songs Eric would have chosen. Would Todd have cheated? How would he have cheated in a karaoke contest?

...then drew two himself. A ten and a six. He flipped it over. A Jack. Perfect. The next card was low.’ He flipped what over? What is ‘it’? The dealer’s draw? I couldn’t follow a lot of your card and number stuff. That may be a criticism specific to me, however.

“Pure gold, but not only that.” ... “But it’s even more shiny on the inside.”’ I’ve highlighted just the dialogue of this part. If you read it as a single line like this, it's clear why it's broken. The second ‘but’ is redundant.

I also don’t understand what leverage Todd has to threaten to call the whole thing off if they don’t compete on his terms. The object of value is on his person. There’s nothing stopping Eric just taking it, which is exactly what he does.

Said it was passed down from generation to generation. More like from pawn shop to pawn shop.’ I like this. This has that Las Vegas noir feel.

The big thing that didn’t work for me is that you dropped (what I thought was) your best idea. Next entry you should try and have more of a sense of what makes your story stand out. You had a really unique idea - a contest of karaoke. I’ve never read that in a story before. But you didn’t show it at all, and that was a real disappointment to me as a reader.

***
curlingiron
Clean Slate
Your protagonist's opening ante is their fondest childhood memory. Literally, their memory.

Your story’s prose, for me, had some issues with rhythm, but I think the intrigue of your core concept kept everything together. Its an interesting thought experiment, and could open up further in any number of directions. A cancer drug that progressively erases your memory. I think a lot of much older people probably wouldn’t be interested, because memories are so core to their being. But Ethan is interesting because he is old enough to have a life, memories, and experiences, but is young enough to be on the precipice of a new life with his wife. He could still have a whole other life. The life of a family man. So for him, to lose his childhood in exchange for a future as a father, seems... worthwhile in the face of death. But he doesn’t anticipate the extent that it might go to.

Even if Ethan knew he would forget Liza, would he still go on the drug trial? What would Liza want? Its interesting.

The fact that I have walked away from your story thinking about the outcome and the ideas within, makes it in my mind, a success.
...slow to leave his mouth; his head was pounding...’ This, and several other semicolons, could just be full stops without detracting from the connection between the two points. It probably doesn’t make a difference, it's just a personal preference. I have an aversion to semi colons in fiction.

I thought the fact that Ethan was comforting Liza rather than the other way around was very true to life. In my experience its the cancer patients who are the most pragmatic and practical about their situation, and the family who need to be calmed down and comforted.

The second part with the phone call to the mother felt like it needed work. I wanted more confusion from both sides of the phone call. And outside of it too. Ethan furrows his brow and sits up at one point, but I wanted more of what he was physically/mentally doing. What happens when he tries to dig around for memory of a dog? Does he start to get dizzy as he strains himself, trying to conjure up a memory that is simply not there? What's happening in his head? This is his moment of realization that something was wrong, and it felt a little too measured for me. But I’m a big dramatic baby.

I walked away from your story and thought about the ideas you presented in it. What happens next, I asked myself. What would I do? And that's a pretty cool thing for a story to do.

***
Tyrannosaurus
Rugby Players Eat Their Dead

I smiled the entire time. Delightful story with an awesome point of view character. You landed on a well balanced mark with Sarah. You made her likable, but without it feeling like she was, or you were, trying too hard. She’s likable in a very personable, human way. I have a friend just like Sarah.

It was the little touches, the little asides and tags that brought this story to life. Things like Sarah giving herself a thumbs up as she hangs up on her yelling mother. Or tags like ‘“I hope this inspires more girls to go out and be tough.” You got me.’ - the way she's almost swooning over how badass she finds these rugby players. Because that's what it's like when you’re inspired. When you get sucked in to what seems like a whole new world. Another little thing is saying ‘That’s nice.’ when an opposing player nods back at her. It just helps lift the scene, and Sarah, off the page. The way she wonders to herself if she’ll lose any teeth, or congratulates herself on being awesome as she watches the video of her tackle, both do the same thing to their respective scenes.

Your ending is really great. ‘I give a silent thanks to the War Goddess, look down at my phone, and hit play. So metal.

A few little nitpicks:
I’ve never heard the word ‘intramural’ before, is it in common usage in your country? Its fine if it is, just that was the main clue into Sarah’s age at the beginning and it went right over my Australasian head.

I don’t even know why I called her other than some pathetic deep-seated craving for approval stemming from a childhood filled with passive-aggressive put downs like “Maybe if you wear some makeup you won’t have so many problems with your self-esteem.”’ Read aloud this feels too long. It could be more concise. If you wanted it to be long and sort of ranting/rambling, then I think you needed to make it longer. One direction or the other. The mother’s line could also have more flavour to it. Its worded in a kind of plain way compared to the rest of Sarah’s mother’s dialogue.

...aggressive ponytail…’ I sort of fumbled with images of what this was. Is an aggressive ponytail one that’s tied back really tightly? When I read aggressive ponytail my first thought is ‘in your face’, but I couldn’t figure what an ‘in your face’ ponytail looked like. These are very little things though.

I really dug your story, I had fun reading it. The pacing was absolutely on point, and nothing messed with your momentum. Sarah was very cool, and I feel like we were getting to see her at a critical point in her life. She was evolving. And you wrote a convincing enough experience to support that. Really great work, dude.

***
JcDent
Pushing Luck
One of your characters lives by the rule "It's not cheating if you don't get caught." Tonight, however, their preferred methods are unavailable to them.


Johnny Two-Dice, Dee-Dee Twenty, Cointoss Mac.

Was Ricky Sixes indisposed? I assume Snake-Eyes Lucky Eight-Ball Palmer slept in. Did Aces Roulette Hole-in-One Bumblefuck McGuire get into another one of his fights, the old scoundrel?

Do you know how many characters in gambling stories are called ‘Johnny *gambling reference*’? Too many

A lot of my advice to Rap Three Times applies to you:

If your story is going to have a lot of cliche, then you should try in some way to subvert or build on it. Your protagonist, Johnny Two-Chainz, is the biggest offender. The smug dice rolling hustler who is too smart for the world and always comes out on top. Flawless characters can be very grating.

The idea of having a person have to gamble their way out of a hustling crew is not a bad idea.

One has to trust one's scout, one's runner, one's “nose”, and Roxanne was the best one in a long time.’ The best one of what? Is she the best scout/runner/nose, is that one thing? You have to trust your X, Y, A, and Roxanne was the best (?).

“Hello, gentlemen,” Johnny startled the players.; they had noticed his entrance, but had lost interest not long after.

Black pants and a jacket, white shirt – he didn't look like he came from those parts.’ If there is something about his clothes that make those characters think that he doesn’t fit in, then show it to me. Its fine to be vague when the detail isn’t particularly important, but here you’re saying that his clothes are giving him away. But you’re giving no detail as to what about them is doing it.

...letting one of the oafs win.’,’...money before the simpleton…’ Why are they ‘oafs’? Why is one of them a ‘simpleton’? Show me why this is the case. All I know is that there are five guys, four wearing flannel shirts, one shirtless, playing cards. That's all I know about these characters and you’re telling me they’re ‘oafs’. You know, just because someone wears flannel and hangs out in a bar they aren’t necessarily an ‘oaf’ right? Show me why they’re ‘oafs’. Similarly:‘...somewhat dangerous men.’ Why are they dangerous? They’re just some guys playing cards in a bar.

They’re probably just some guys who lost their jobs when the town’s aluminium smelter shut down. Now here comes this lanky fop Johnny One-Love, a gambling cheat, to hustle them out of their beer money.

...And as such, the tapestry unravels…’ I have no clue what Johnny Six-Flags is saying here.

Her eyes were wide and the hands were white in their grip on the table.’ Read this out loud.

Reading things out loud is incredibly useful when you’re editing. It really makes it obvious when something is off. Be aware of cliches, and then ask yourself what you can do differently. Or how you can subvert them. If a detail or quality is significant, then show me why or how, don’t just tell me. The guys are dangerous? Show me why.

***
Killer-of-Lawyers
The Sure Bet and Tough Break

The voices of your artificial intelligence came across as a touch inconsistent to me. They sounded like everyday humans. There were very few turns of phrase that seemed alien. Yes, their frame of reference for language is humanity, but would an artificial intelligence ask another how it was? Or to just hear it out? This may have been your intention, but as a reader it made things feel flat.

I also needed more framing for IBLL’s motivation. Why does he feel like a slave? He was designed and born to function as a market system, so why is he disatisfied unlike SAHAR? That's a gap begging to be filled in your story.

...but the idea that it would be an unwilling slave forever, talking in secret to other beings in its same place till the end of time bothered IBLL.’ This isn’t enough. You’re transferring human values and fears onto artificial intelligence, without any consideration of how they may experience these things differently. Your AI exists in the infinite plane of cyberspace, what is its conceptualization of freedom or being trapped? If the answer is that it has taken these ideas from humanity, then show me that. Show me how IBLL’s has taken ideas from observing us, and then applied them to his own existence.

Your final act felt a lot more rushed to me than your opening. Your prose generally could have been smoothed out and made more fluid.

Its a really interesting set up, and I love the idea of artificial intelligence trying to make contact with humans. I’m even more into the idea of artificial intelligence going on strike. But your presentation of artificial intelligence didn’t hook me - I wanted IBLL and SAHAR to think differently to me, to conceptualize things differently. Thats what’s interesting about non human characters. They offer a different perspective on the world.

***
skwidmonster
A Godly Wager

You were disqualified for a late submission, but I’ll give you a crit all the same. You lucky little ragamuffin.

Your story definitely grew on me, and I thought that the climax (the saddle over the sword) was a really cute moment. It did a lot for my opinion of the story, so well done on a moment that made me a smile. I liked the vibrancy and sense of humour of your writing, but the prose should have been tightened, and I was not a huge fan of the gods.

She actually managed to throw a leg over him, but was upside down in the dirt a second later. She closed her eyes again, leaning back in her throne.’ That first sentence is the little girl, the second is Lyra. Both sentences begin with ‘she’. A change of perspective like this needs to be marked by the use of the character’s name. Lyra closed her eyes, etc. Its confusing otherwise.

...and spat, pointedly avoiding his eyes…’ I assumed that what you meant here was that she spat at her brother’s face, and tried to miss his eyes. But what you said was that she spat and tried to avoid his eyes, not that she spat at him and tried to avoid his eyes.

I liked pretty much everything with Saz. She was a good contrast to the gods, and spirited in her own way too. I think her father being a priest should have maybe been foreshadowed by the gods at the beginning. I’d assumed he was a farmer because of references to his fields and a pet needing to be functional. So it felt contrived to dump his priesthood on me as a justification as to why Saz knew the dream was a sign, just when it suited the story

Generally I think your story could have used a decent amount of polish, but I very much appreciated the image of a little girl riding around on her battle goat, and the general humour. The gods needed to be tightened up, and maybe some time given to describing their appearances. I also reckon they were a touch too sweary, I don’t normally mind, but I think in this case it made their sections feel looser. Definitely a fan of your vibrancy, though.

***

Okay nerds, there you are. I'm free

How people do crits every week without topping themselves is beyond me.

Hocus Pocus
Sep 7, 2011



Looking forward to this one!

In and could I please have a flash rule?

Hocus Pocus
Sep 7, 2011



sebmojo posted:

oh you horrible monsters

why

are you all so bad

i will do line by lines for the next three people who ask for them

I'll put my hand up for this, please sebmojo!

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Hocus Pocus
Sep 7, 2011



in with a song, please.

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