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Good for you, for making it this far into the submissions! You deserve a sticker, or maybe a girlfriend. In fact, if I could give you a submissive concubine for your troubles, I most certainly would. Unfortunately, for now you'll just have to settle with reading the remaining eight reviews of Newgrounds's finest and brightest wordsmiths' impressive submissions to gumOnShoe's Writing Contest for last May.
At the end of this post, I might end up telling the top five submissions, in the form of a picture. If you're lucky, that is. And if the next eight submissions are as masterly as the first thirteen, there'll be a real competition on our hands for the top spots
14. TROPICAL ENVY - Dr34m3r
I have to compliment this story on its extensive use of diction and rich vocabulary. It really does make the whole experience more lifelike when more descriptive words are used in place of those common words that evoke the reaction of blasé indifference. The vocabulary in this tale served to enrich the fictional experience into a more naturalistic portrayal of reality.
The submission can be likened to a Two-Act Play. The helicopter-above-the-Jungle scene would constitute Act One. And it was, on the whole, an excellent endeavor. I found it convincing and intriguing in its characterization of the jungle and the air itself, and seemed to be very well-planned and executed. The jungle provided a proper outlet for the atmosphere of foreboding that permeated the submission, and the situation, and there were some very Human-centric moments of clarity that really brought home the inherent fallibility of Man's mortality.
The one reservation I had about Act One was the dissonance with the atmosphere that was brought on by the description of objects and things as "Cold". The Amazon jungle is congenitally hot, because it is located in the Tropics. By describing temperatures - even at 10,000 feet up - as downright COLD, right in the middle of a Tropical Rainforest, the story kind of shatters the fourth wall between audience and author. The use of "chilly" might have worked more effectively, but the intense focus on "cold" was somewhat offputting, and conspicuous.
While Act One was lagely good, Act Two felt like the submission was losing the laser-like focus on survival and physical strife that had characterized the first Act. I felt almost as if Act Two was unnecessary to the story at all, to tell the truth. The second that the helicopter landed in the river, I asked myself what the point of continuing the story was; what benefits stood to be gained from its continuation? But I found myself at a loss. Why risk losing all the steam and tension built up, by pursuing a tangent storyline?
The very moment the words "The final resting place of the Aztecs" flashed through my mind, I was overcome with a sense of disappointment. The whole "El Dorado" storyline, I must admit, I am not a fan of. When one starts to delve into National Treasure sort of territory, it's probably not a good sign. What I found especially disillusioning was the sort of lumping of all native American cultures into one group; the Aztecs lived 2,000 miles north of the Amazon, in southern Mexico.
But I would say what most bothered me was the ending. It seemed to be a quite obvious cop-out, thought up in order to void taking full responsibility of the characters' destinies. Unnecessary plot twists do not make a story significantly better. Overall, I'd say a great deal of positive momentum was built up in Act One, but I don't know if it was enough to cancel out the negative momentum in Act Two.
15. YE OLDE NG - PeterLoper
There isn't much for me to say about this submission. It's short, perhaps mercifully so, and it certainly doesn't beat around the bush as to what its main intentions are. It occurs to me that themes could at least have been undertaken, as a basis for so short a submission, if this work was not composed specifically for the contest. If anything is certain, it most certainly must be that the tale would not have taken an excruciatingly long amount of time to rewrite around a central (provided) theme.
But insofar as the submission captures the incoherent nonsense that passes as humor on Newgrounds these days, it is very true to reality. And I couldn't help but smile at the line "Returning once again to newgrounds, he inserted his floppy into the drive of his old computer and presto!" - which is, whether or not intended, a subtle nod to Phallic Sex Humor that is so prevalent on the Forums.
As I have said before, short length is not necessarily a disqualifier for a writing competition, but there is definitely less opportunity to flesh out one's characters, to give them the proverbial Breath of Life, and convince the audience via Ethos (author credibility), Pathos (emotional involvement), and Logos (factual involvement), that one's story most effectively conveys a given theme.
What I saw, here, was really a lack of effort. You know, it really doesn't bother me that much if an author uses Newgrounds as a starting point, or even a central pillar of a story. What bothers me is straight-up Laziness and Idea Plagiarism - not even caring enough to add something new to the mix of elements that have already been so repetitively hashed-out.
I think that's where the real flaw of this submission lies: That it was too timid, too conventional in its staunch refusal to try anything beyond the prevailing orthodoxy, ingrained in this writing style.
16. THE BUTCHER OF KRANKHAFTE - WritersBlock
This submission is intriguing, because it is beyond definition as a singular style. It's more a medley of quite a few styles that are blended into a single cohesive unit in an innovative, and a very unique way. At times it morphs into a religious exegesis, a rise-up-and-fight-the-power yarn, an atmospheric thriller, a Planet Of the Apes-esque drama, and even a historical allegory.
As a religious exposé, the story is highly effective. The complete saturation of the story with biblical and divine references to God and Satan as two diametrically opposed forces at odds, is a strange and interesting parallel to World War II's Allied and Axis powers, respectively, which were at odds during the established setting timeline of the submission. The attractive composition of the story, which I always admire in a story, is illustrated simply by the following line, which seemed almost Dante-poetic: "I waded towards the center of the room, where an ancient stone sculpture of an angel stood with all the grace of God, and all the tragedy of hell, its chipped and stained figure opening its arms in acceptance."
I also found a striking analogy between this story, and the 1970 Science fiction film Beneath the Planet of the Apes. In that film, an underground city is filled with grotesque humans, who have evolved to a technically "higher" state of existence, in that they have a greater potential for mental exploit, but at their core, they're still the same weak creatures with a lust for blood and war - They kneel and worship before the "one, true God," which turns out, ironically, to be an atomic bomb. In the same way, Friderik's father was described as, "A man knelt before the altar, embracing this false God as his own. He sat in silence and prayer before rising to his feet and turning to face me."
But the Historical Allegory was surely the most hard-hitting of the medley of these constituents. As Friderik cautiously traverses into the night, curious as to the processes for gathering dead bodies into the fold of the Living Dead, he cannot know that he allegorically personifies the whole of the German People, in their response to the Dutiful Monsters, or Adolf Hitler's henchmen, who carried out the real-life genocide known as the Holocaust.
It is, though, when the submission begins to take a turn for the "Rise Up and Fight The Power" mentality, that it begins to dull the ironic thrust that had been sharpened throughout the earlier elements of the story. The predictable disillusionment, and removal of the self from a corrupt system seemed to be an already too-often-explored avenue to be an effective edition to the evolution of the plot.
During this part of the story, the progression of events seemed particularly rushed, as well. Sequential Events occurred as if in mere flashes, rather than fully fleshed-out scenes: "I was shocked at the operation, but a part of me was desperate to see her alive, and to talk to her again. My mother took her reincarnation terribly, her brain refused to believe the truth, and she denied her symbiote the ability to live, and she died." Small, half-realized paragraphs like this hemorrhage emotion from the situation; an unembellished statement such as "and she died" serves to psychologically remove the character from the reader's consciousness, and to dehumanize them to a certain extent.
On the flip side of the coin, there were also places where unnecessary bulk was added to the bloated mass of the libretto. Long technical paragraphs about how the body functioned in combination with the symbiote were unnecessary in the grand scheme of the story. They could have been easily excised, and the narrative would have stood to benefit.
17. THAT SMELL - TacticalShoe
It is difficult to write a story that is both succinct enough to be enjoyable, and descriptive enough to be admirable. That Smell, I think, is able to accomplish both of those tasks, and add an innovative twist to the whole process as well.
As I have previously stated, I enjoy immensely the employment of bitter irony when called-for in a story, and this submission is no exception to that rule. In fact, a Cautionary Tale may just be the most fitting venue for irony to reside within; the character who pines to be better, metaphorically and physically raped by the forces which accomplish her goal.
In a way, the story proceeds in a manner not unlike the Classical Cautionary Tales upon which it is based; Icarus venturing too close to the sun, etc. It reminds one of a famous anecdote by Eugene Field: "This is a gun. Is the Gun loaded? Really, I do not know. Let us Find out. Put the Gun on the table, and you, Susie, blow down one barrel while you, Charlie, blow down the other. Bang! Yes, it was loaded. Run quick, Jennie, and pick up Susie's head and Charlies lower Jaw before the Nasty Blood gets over the New carpet." To that end, the story is highly efficacious.
Although I appreciate the conciseness of the opening, I did feel that it deserved more lead-in. Before Julia sees the commercial, there should've been more substantive illustration of the desperation of her monotonous and disregarded life. It would have placed a higher emotional toll on her world-weary attitude, and it would have really brought home the suffocating situation for a reader to be able to better understand. It would also have set up her willingness to buy in to the Tropical Envy product, with few, if any, reservations.
As much as I understand how Cautionary Tales must work ("a taboo or prohibition is stated: some act, location, or thing is said to be dangerous. Then, the narrative itself is told: someone disregarded the warning and performed the forbidden act. Finally, the violator comes to an unpleasant fate, which is frequently related in large and grisly detail.") - and as much as I appreciate the adherence to classical tradition, here, I couldn't help but feel a bit deflated and let down by the ending. Perhaps that was unavoidable, given the nature of the parable, but I felt like Julia could have been given a second chance by the magical apparition, and gained a new lease on life as a result of her experiences, à la Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
Though I must admit, I really did think the application of themes was cleverly, and expertly executed in a way that would definitely not have been expected.
18. MISFORTUNE - toastofwar6789
If ever there was a true definition of a wall of text, surely Misfortune is the dictionary entry. For future reference, it is difficult to read a story that is a solid block of words, unparsed into neat paragraphs. Reading things of that nature cause one's eyes to water, for if one blinks, one tends to lose the spot where one was last reading.
Besides that, I suppose I enjoyed the magic-tinted fairytale aspect of experience. It reminds one of grim European fairytales from the Middle Ages, like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. The archaic mindset of the characters indicates that, despite not being outrightly stated, the time period is quite antiquated. Nobody in the Western World relies exclusively on hunting as a means to gain sustenance, anymore.
In that the story relies on the occult, and our innate fascination with such endeavors, it is at its greatest moments of cynosure. But these moments are few and far between, through the lion's share of the submission. The most obvious indication of the ineffective points of the tale are the ubiquitous employment of simple sentences: "He told himself he would come back for body later. Then Rick thought that he had better go back to the house for more ammo. He returned to his cabin and placed the bloody hoof on the small table in his den. After five minutes of searching for his lost shells he finally found them on his bed stand. As he ran out the door he forgot the hoof. He ran all the way until his lungs felt like they had been cut open." Literally, it made it feel as if there was a language barrier between the readers and the author.
I thought the ending felt a bit too contrived, as well. Firstly, how would it have been possible, if Rick's dog Rex were indeed his loyal companion for years, for the man to not recognize the head of his own best friend, which could not have looked anything like a deer? And I understand the nature of Dark Fairy Tales, but wouldn't it have been more effective if Rick had committed suicide, per se, but instead become something less than human; a shell of his former self?
Again, I think probably the way the story was written completely in simple sentences aided the perception of the story as choppy and uneven. Case in point: "Rick had committed suicide for only one reason. Because he lost everything that ever meant anything to him. His best friend Rex was gone and his life is gone to. The man said he found Rick hanging there while his hand was tightly gripping a cut up deer hoof. If only he hadn't forgotten the hoof."
19. HOMECOMING - subpar
While admittedly a little sadistic, this story is also very inventive in its use of themes. Originality is a trait that is often absent in these submissions that I have judged, but there was no lack of it here. The diction and flow of this piece was very professional, and it progressed in a suspenseful and compelling manner.
Circularity was the real highlight of the presentation. The expert way that the beginning was a circular repetition of the ending was the zenith of creativity showcased, and it added an element of planning that could not be fully understood until the entire story was completed.
Planning, I suppose, was the real underlying motif of the story. Nicolas, the just-released felon, certainly performed his fair share of it. Barbarous though his plan was, one has to admire the simple ingenuity of it: to make his brother think he was chasing the boy, to kill him with an axe, when in actuality he was only chasing the boy to tire him out, and let the asthma do the dirty deed on its own.
I didn't, however, find the length of the chase scene to be as effective as it should've been. It was quite a suspenseful and interesting scene for the first few paragraphs, but after much of the same repetitive running, getting tired out, then running again action, it seemed to become a little dull and monotonous.
The final confrontation was quite dramatic, and it really erased a lot of the boredom of the lengthy chase scene that had piled up. The revelation that the pursuer was the boy's brother was a bit of a shock, and it worked well enough to that end. One gripe I had, though, was the fact that the brother's crime was never fully explained. The submission really left me a bit cold in that we are never told the nature of the crime; the very impetus for Nicolas to kill his brother Anthony; the indirect cause of their mother's suicide. It seems, to me, a bit of an essential piece of information to gaining a window into the psyche of the family.
20. CLARITY - JackPhantasm
The experience of an autonomic being; a drone and a slave to an unknown purpose, has sort of animalistic appeal to it. Never have we before been able to experience how a vassal to the lord of reflex may respond to stimuli from that lord.
Clarity - in its first stanza, so to speak - deals with this strange and innate land of pure impulse. The main creature, I suppose, represents our own primal roots as beings grounded in the unconditioned knowledge of reflex. In that way, the submission serves to honor the base elements upon which all animals are based. Even if a bit inconsistent, the main point of this passage was fully understood, and duly noted.
The Perpendicularity of two opposite worlds is a decent concept to run with, and definitely had potential. The way the two storylines were set up, in third and first person, respectively, was a good way to emphasize the differences in their perceptions of the world around them.
I thought, though, that the sharp transition into Aenaes's world (and vice versa), represented too drastic a tonal shift, and had too little relation to the other storyline to be an effective member of the same submission. I understand that the submission's purpose is to set up a dichotomy of sorts; The autonomic existence of the ponker's, in sharp contrast to the free will and choice of Aenaes's. Nonetheless, I feel that the two characters should have had some sort of interaction - whether mental or physical, or even metaphysical - at some point during the story's progression. After all, perpendicular lines, despite their opposing stances, must by nature intersect at some point.
Another point that I'd like to mention was that I thought the intent of the submission was off. Having written quite a few essays and stories in my time, I can tell the difference between when a writer is aiming to please himself, or aiming to please others. When one aims to please others, one goes into writing mode with the express intention of writing what he or she thinks others will want to see, regardless of whether or not one finds it engaging personally. When writing for one's own benefit, it becomes a question of whether or not one finds the story captivating; whether one would want to read this story his or herself. When one finds the tale evocative in such a way, one's own true values have shone through.
In summation, I think that the singular flaw, here, was that coherence of plot was sacrificed in order to make the story stylish and attractive as a piece of judging fodder.
21. JACOB - Kidlazarus
Zombies are dangerous territory. Not only because they're vicious monsters, but also because their use in stories is teetering on the edge of hackneyed.
Despite that unfortunate truth, Jacob is a very smartly-composed narrative. The extensive visual and perceptual interest is maintained throughout the duration, and it keeps a reader on the edge of their seat in a way that is very difficult to achieve for such overly-tread territory. It sort of reminded me of the 2007 Will Smith film I Am Legend, in that respect, as Will's character is parallel to Jacob's as an island of calm, in a sea of storms.
That said, I must admit that this narrative felt like it was an abridged story. I can understand how that might be interpreted as a "day in the life of..." sort of endeavor, but to me, it felt like there was far too few branches that led off of the excellently-established foundation. Essentially, what material was there was great material, but there should have been more of it.
The ending, as I've probably intoned more times than can be counted in these reviews, is really where things kind of fell apart. In this story's case, the problem was too little closure, and perhaps too conveniently so. In a period of less than two paragraphs, Jacob went from silently working at home during early afternoon, to looking back at the wreckage of his house, hours later. That seemed, to me, to be a severely rushed portion.
And regarding the final sentence: "Jacob turned around and began his trek toward the mountains," - not only is walking off into the mountains a banality older than western civilization itself, it's also a lazy man's ending to a story; a way to shirk the responsibility for the characters' fates by sending them off into the proverbial sunset à la John Wayne in some old Western.
I think even killing off our character would have brought a more definite ending that was sorely missed here, although, admittedly, there would be many ideas that would have worked better. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded following Jacob into the mountains to watch his trials and tribulations unfold there for a few more paragraphs.
I think Wendy's universal question was pretty much spot on in describing the end of the story, when it proclaimed during that famous commercial from the '80s, "Where's the Beef?"
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FINAL NOTE: I had a lot of fun reading all your entries, and I apologize to some of the late entrants who I didn't have the opportunity to write as much about, with me being so late on the uptake and all. I hope you enjoyed reading my critiques, as well, because I sure spent long enough writing them. I'm sorry if I ever came off sounding overly critical or punitive of your submission, that was definitely not my intention, and I must admit, I had a hard time finding faults to talk about in a lot of your submissions. You definitely exceeded my expectations on this measure, and I would actually like to follow some of the entrants in their future writings.
Thanks to everyone for the effort and the participation.
This is only going to be a temporary newspost, to anyone who religiously follows my critical analysis of users, via the Hate List (Everyone on Newgrounds, I'm sure). The purpose of this post is - Surprise! - more critical analysis.
Only more in-depth. And probably not quite equal in terms of offensiveness to the sensibilities. Hopefully.
For more information about gumOnShoe's May Writing extravaganza, see this thread: . Or, more importantly, this thread, which is a direct link to the collection of stories currently under judgement: .
Alternately, if you've already read through the critique for entries 1-14, you can take the shortcut:
By GOS's good humor, we judges have been granted a two-week grace period after the contest has ended, in which to compile our judgements of the various merits of each story. You will see this blogpost lengthen as the week continues. In the interest of fair representation, I will chronicle my reactions to each story, and not just what I believe should be classed as the top five stories.
This is a qualitative analysis, not a quantitative one. Which is why I'm not assigning a numerical respective placement of each story UNTIL THE END OF THE JUDGING. This means that the current order is based on chronological submission, not final placement. Sorry to shatter your hopes and dreams, early submitters.
1. THE BASAR DEVELOPMENT - OneWhoListens
The first thing that caught my eye about the story was the fact that it wasn't parsed very well into paragraphs. Technically, that fact itself has no real bearing on the writing's quality itself, but just a tip: it is not as appealing to read something that, itself, is unappealing to look at. It would really only take a few keystokes to make an extra space between paragraphs, considering that Newgrounds does not have a good relationship with the tab key. Really.
On the matter of the story itself; While the concept itself was clever, I think we are all well-aware that it's really a one-trick pony. The story was clearly built around the "All Your Base" concept that was revealed towards the end. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it lends a sort of choppy quality to the work. Instead of being about the development of character, the story becomes a a dynamo - pushing us ever forward towards the inescapable conclusion which we figured must be the logical conclusion, around halfway through reading.
Not to be a nag, or anything; the quality of the writing itself is not terrible, and I found it to be somewhat endearing in its conventionality at times, but that conventionality also served to become a hinderance in the end. I, in general, find the whole concept of a "galactic war" somewhat derivative of previous writings, especially here on Newgrounds. We saw these writings hashed out to probably unnecessary degrees last year, right before Story Threads were unilaterally banned.
I just feel like, if you're gonna bring an old concept to the table, you've gotta find a new way to present that concept to make it fresh and interesting. I'm not sure that could have been done with "The BASAR Development," but I think a valiant attempt could have been made.
And, finally, having glanced over the themes, I'm forced to agree with my fellow users that no theme application has really been applied to the story, even by a stretch.
2. THE NOMAD - Phantom
To begin, I have to mention is how much I enjoyed the little details of the story. Insignificant things such as the brand of a car, or the price of a bike helmet might weigh down some stories with unnecessary baggage and length, but I think they are put to great use here, and are effective at the task of actualizing the fictional nature of the story.
What I found most attractive about the whole construction, here, is the fact that it's so well choreographed. The opening scene feels like a dance, or maybe a painstakingly-planned and executed drama, where the main characters sort of revolve around each other in a slow circle and trade banter before a conflict.
One qualm I had with the story, however, and this might just be my taste, but you seemed to slip in and out of third and first person. Specifically on Day 2, your simplistic declaration that "we survived" contradicts the earlier precedent of third person.
I thought the piece where Jack was explaining to Chris the nature of a bar fight, was a detail that really added to the pathos of the story - it was a very personal, and a very endearing moment, and I thought it was made wonderful use of in the context of the story's progress.
The saturation of the story with high-brow quotations was an interesting concept, but I felt it kind of deflated the simplicity of the Duo-Outcast tale a bit, with too much philosophizing for its own good. As much as I hate to call the story "cliché" in its portrayal of the Outcasts, I think the quotes themselves may have aided that perception that it shifted to aggrandizing the cliché-loner mentality late in the game.
What really disappointed me, though, was the ending. I felt like we were taken on this "spiritual journey" as it was put, and then let down by a rushed and insubstantial ending that was far too ambiguous and unclear to possibly be the continuation of the charming story of self-discovery. Ending it on a stronger note would have improved the overall perception.
3. EFFECTS OF WAR - Wargrave
I'm kind of torn on the submission. I guess I can see how it fits with theme one, though. I have to mention the shortness of the story, because that's what kind of threw me about it. Shortness in and of itself is not always a bad thing. There are very short stories that are very well put-together, and come off as so.
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to come up right off the bat and say that this submission needed to be longer. There has to be some substance to a story, in order for it to be effective. The way it's postured right now, it's really little more than a - and I hate to pull out this word again, but I think we need to grasp the concept - cliché 'Didactic Repercussion' tale with a hint of modernity there to ostensibly spice things up.
I have nothing against Didactic Repercussion Morality, except that it's very easy to come off as too heavy handed, and appear to be sermonizing instead of educating. I'm afraid that's the main issue with this submission; it's just too heavy-handed, and the way it plays out is in a very conventional, slow-motion Gladiator sort of way, which comes off as proselytizing and as Sarai put it "preachy".
The thing about all that is, though, that had there been more detail, more imagery, more sentiment beyond the logos -- the sheer fact of that the story was occurring -- all the heavy handedness would have played the reader right into the writer's waiting arms, instead of pushing them metaphorically apart.
4. TOWN TROUBLE - yurgenburger
My, my. I'd really have liked to sit in on your thought process while it was in motion creating this sadistic piece of literature. I'm not even sure what to class it as. Is it a Cautionary Tale? I suppose that would make the most sense.
The theme, of course; felt like it was a bit of a last-minute addition, instead of a central pillar of the story, but I enjoyed the rest of the tale enough to overlook that. TheGoldenYoshi's rather inaccurate comment on this story's post, is something I would like to draw attention to. He claims that the submission does not use the basic literary technique of "showing" and not "telling" the audience about the events of the story, thereby providing us with a dull narrative. But this seems to be a rather oft-cited criticism on his part, and I think it is ill-suited to this story, which is full of rich detail that illustrates both Club Life's thrills, and its incredible hubris in a way that is gripping and unique.
Some who are easily offended would shiver at the mere suggestion of a cautionary tale as graphic as this one, but I firmly believe that the graphic nature was a justified effort to explain how a simple misunderstanding, or a lack of communication can lead to such a broadly detestable act taking place.
I think, towards the end of the more - illustrative? - portion, that the masochistic rape began to feel more like a gimmick than a valid literary technique, simply because it went on for such an uncomfortably long time that it began to feel rather forced. Overall, I thought that the paradigm shift of the Anthony character from a sympathetic single to a criminal sadomasochist was a strong point in the narrative, that illustrated a very intriguing, and unexplored aspect of human nature; how we can be so outwardly placid, but when a single chink appears in the armor of normalcy, a different, primal human appears, free of the moral bondage of society, and disturbingly violent.
The writing style itself was superb; very polished. Except during one weak portion: the moment of George's consumption of the rohypnol. In this moment, the story takes a very quick turn: "George begins drinking. He awakens, unsure of where he is or how he got there." That blackout time period, I thought, needed to be represented visually in the story, with at least a line separation, or perhaps a "George began to feel unsteady, then he blacked out" (in more flowery diction, obviously). The transition just seems a bit rushed.
5. FRIENDS FOREVER - Earfetish
Coming into this submission, I have to admit, I was expecting very high-caliber work. Your reputation precedes you, Earfetish. I will say that I was in no way disappointed in that regard.
What really shines through on this piece is pacing. Pacing is the mark of a writer who knows how to grab and hold a captive audience. The way that the piece was started, I would describe as a slow, methodical drumbeat. Pacing in the submission allowed the drumbeat to - instead of jumping from a low tempo immediately to a high-paced tempo - gradually migrate from low to high, on an exponential curve.
The ethos of the main character was lent by the very convincing employment of personal experience. Almost as if you can feel the unnamed character's anguish, as they're describing the sleepless nights, and growing ever more frantic, as if there are two drumbeats, now playing against each other, arrhythmically.
But suddenly, they consolidate into one unified beat that grows faster as it solidifies, and becomes rather than a musical instrument, an actual representation of the character's life. It was such a physical shock when that revelation was made in a single line, because I had not expected that turn of events: "I had never even considered the idea, but your cold fist gripped my mind and killed him. It was messy."
That's one of the attributes of the story that most impressed me, the ability to catch me off-guard with something I didn't expect. I'm hard-pressed to experience that through even professional writers' work. And I suppose that I should mention that the use of a hypnagogic jerk as the unifying element of the piece was clever, and attention-grabbing.
I didn't, I have to admit, feel as impressed by the ending. That seems to be the weak point in most of the submissions thusfar, and understandably so, considering that most people are rushed to put the finishing touches on something they're proud of so they can send it off into the public domain. It felt too much to me like your run-of-the-mill sort of literal Consumption-by-Inner-Demons first person account. If that sounds kind of silly, bear with me. When I was in 7th grade (12 or 13 years old), confronted by a creative writing prompt, this exact consumption-by-inner-demons type of account was literally the first thing that came to mind, and I wrote an entire essay about a guy in prison, consumed by inner demons from his past, even so far as to include the inmate removing some guy's heart with a spoon, in place of the Molotov device used in your own story.
Despite the fact that the submission was well-conceived and fully realized, it almost felt like a retread of a concept that's already been beaten to death by the Rake of Overuse. And use of themes; at first I didn't see them applicable at all, but now I guess they can be justified.
This is a stretch: Theme One states "Yeah, I'm starting to feel I shouldn't have left that at home today." What the character left at his proverbial "home" - that is, outside of prison - is his sanity. Outside of prison, he at least maintained a modicum of that composure, but inside of it, with his thoughts allowed to run wild, he loses every last vestige of it.
6. LEGACY - TheGoldenYoshi
At this time, I'd like to make known, the fact that badmouthing others' work, while having an embarrassingly short résumé of one's own, is never a particularly smart course of action to pursue. When the only technique of one's own, and the only technique one can cite in criticism is the same advice ("show, don't tell"- consequently the advice I was given in 7th grade during the anecdote I shared in Earfetish's section, above), over and over again, it lends one little credence as a legitimate purveyor of criticism. That said, I can now get down to the business at hand.
I am, at the outset, a bit disturbed that you cite David Sedaris and Ira Glas as major influences on your short story. While I have enjoyed the work of both of those author / orators before, I think the general nature of both of those authors is very distinctive, and difficult to achieve without the plagiarism of ideas (not necessarily exact words). I am by no means accusing you of this, and since I have not read either of the influences in question, I do not question your intentions.
Of the story itself, though - it's short. As Phantom pointed out, just 314 words. While not impossible, it is very difficult to achieve a well-rounded story in such a short length, which is why in this contest, many submissions are tending to be longer, and consequently more fully-developed.
I liked the theme of the story: The transience of life illustrated by the impartial judge of death. Instead of fearing death, the parrot makes light of it, and embraces fate as a part of life. Mild humor also lends itself as an effective rhetorical device.
But, again, the real magic of the story is constricted by its short length. I think the whole piece could have been more poignant, and I think you violated your own oft-cited rule of "Showing" and not "Telling", by hardly filling out your story with any visual or perceptual interest. It's just the straight-up facts. That kind of thing works well as a newspaper; a little op-ed vignette about life through the childlike kaleidoscope of a parrot. But it doesn't necessarily make an effective short-story.
7. ATTACK OF TEH NOOBS - NG-Unit
From the look of the title, I was already wary of this submission. It is an established fact that I harbor some negative perceptions of Newgrounds-themed stories. The main reason for this perception, is because most of these stories' poor quality was a direct cause of ALL story threads' banning in 2007.
After reading through the entire saga - which can be described as a classical tragedy with a technological twist - I feel that it is of paramount importance that I highlight the fact that the story is based on absolute Linear Progression.
Linear Progression is the most basic form of storytelling, essentially amounting to "this happened, and then this happened, but this happened as well, the end." The style gives little opportunity to express characters' conflicts of past and future, which are essential in identifying who a character really is. The hallmark of a linear progression storyline is excessive use of the phrase "and then". If you Control + F the narrative, and type "and then" into the text field, you'll find that you used the phrase 16 times in a single essay. In the paragraph starting "So I went down..." you used the phrase three times in relatively quick succession.
As far as the story serves to illustrate a juvenile, and almost childlike obsession with Newgrounds, and a perception of Newgrounds applied to the metaphor of a bustling city, it is effective. The most effective parts of the tale are, in fact, the expression of wonderment that is displayed upon first entering the metropolis.
But the story loses any meager steam it might have acquired in the rest of the story during its tepid final act. The melodramatic, tragic, histrionics of the final "battle" are woefully misused, and as I have said before highly derivative of those works from years past that I so dislike. The plot device of the Protean Weapon seemed like a half-hearted attempt to appeal to the inherently video-game-enamored populous of this site, rather than act as a legitimate goalpost for the field goal attempt at the denouement of the story.
8. YELLOW RIBBON - Mishypie
What I most enjoyed about this story was the angry tone of Reality Denial that pervaded the simple foreboding atmosphere in this submission. Bill's anti-social behavior is described in no uncertain terms, and I think it is done very artfully, as well.
Despite the benign nature of his character, at least until the very last paragraph, there is a real sense of moody unease that really is a model for dispassionate and disaffected outcast sort of stereotype characters. Simple details like the shabby house, the antithetical opposition of the two main personalities of Bill and Simon, and the idiosyncratic cleanliness impulse all seem to be unrelated elements of the character himself.
But at the very end, we discover that all of these elements combined paint a wholly different, and a more unsettling picture of Bill, as the unknowing perpetrator of not just questionable anti-sociality, but truly detestable actions. That is another strength of the story that serves to aid its premise: the man is more than the sum of his parts, in a very negative, and a very malevolent way.
Although I appreciate the ambiguity and the confusion of the ending, I almost wish there had been more lead-up, and then more positive confirmation of Bill's criminality; something to make us believe that Bill himself had some sympathetic quality, instead just being a creepy, lonely loser, before a definite positive revelation of his guilt. That way, it would have been a shock, and an emotional horror when we see that the Bill we "knew and loved" as it were, for the first 95% of the story, was really a different man underneath that hardened shell of routine and ennui.
I can say with little hesitation that this is one of the better-constructed short stories that has graced my tired eyes during the course of this contest. To justify a theme: I'd say #1, in that Bill has left at home his sense of security through isolation
9. TROPICAL MAYHEM - VihnoVerde
This submission, I must note firstly, has probably the best application of themes thusfar witnessed. Instead of being an addendum to the main event, the Tropical Envy theme is fully incorporated into the storyline, as an integral pillar.
The reflection mentality is a clever interest-spawning rhetorical device that was very effective when used to look back upon this particular day's events, and the atmosphere of malaise is fully realized in the omniscient third person literary progression.
Another point of intrigue was the use of the death of the fish - describing it as a "body" - to make the reader believe that it was a human she had killed, probably her boyfriend, and not a fish. This maintained the level of interest throughout the short story, and it never was really allowed to peter off.
One point that I didn't find as effective was the repetitive use of "Vinho Verde". Instead of being ironic in some way as it was likely intended, it just seemed distracting to me, an unnecessary detail that weighed down the end product. I realize this is your username, and maybe this is just personal preference, but I think that drinking wine over a dead body might just be construed as an over-visited concept.
That, in addition to the fact that I think we could've used more description. After the opening, events proceed in a largely Linear Progression, which I believe could have been accentuated by addition of sensual (of the senses, that is) details. Event-based stories sometimes tend to lack sufficient pathos to inspire a deep emotional response in a reader. While I view the story as largely and on the whole an effective venture, it had, at the same time, potential to be a more introspective and inspiring piece.
10. GOD BLESS YOU, AARON HARTLEY - Scribbler
A reviewer once described the film Freddy got Fingered as an outrageous exercise in Neo-Surrealism - like watching a movie that's literally about nothing, but knowing that beneath the abyss lies something tangible to grasp if you can find it in the mangled folds.
God Bless You, Aaron Hartley, if anything at all, must be the literary equivalent of that. Starting all the way at the very first words, "" and continuing in a long thread throughout the submission, we see a subtle nod to the ludicrously cut-and-paste structure that all stories tend to form, and in that sense, this nonsensical adventure is brilliant social critique.
The farcical adventures of the main character, whose name (presumably) is Aaron Hartley, only seem to balloon out of control as the plot pushes into ever-more-dreamlike oddity, from the strange obsession with pink and purple hues, to the cadenced revelations of the "Dad" character's dementia. In fact, "Dad" is perhaps the most effective microcosm of the ballooning hyperbole: "Dad kept all his money in an old coffee can," "He never liked to spend his money. The only time he ever spent his money was to bribe the police officer of our small town. Dad was a serial killer."
The ridiculous emphasis on the Climactic moment was also very clever, "After about 302 blows, I cease pummeling at his now concave face and take some time to breathe." And perhaps even more intriguing is the final transposition of "The Denouement," and "The Plot Twist," which in a normal story are placed in the opposite order. This is indicative of a sort of rebellion against generally-accepted conventions of writing.
But there were also some issues with story. While the explanation of how the themes were incorporated was quite tongue-in-cheek, the fact remains that they were largely tacked-on at the end of the story to satisfy their necessity for contest participation. The facetious use of two prompts at the end (#2 and #1, respectively) was not quite as saturated a usage as was perhaps called for by the contest.
And also, the incoherence of the story, while serving a purpose from the social critique standpoint, left something to be desired from a unification standpoint. It almost seemed like there was a section or a chapter missing from the story when I finished. I think what it needed was maybe a single element of coherence, amidst the incongruity, to really draw out the full impact of the submission.
11. GIRL - whatty
The real stylistic Elephant in the Room, so to speak, that is put into heavy use in this piece is that of the stigmatized - an social outcast, or a stranger in a strange land. Sights and smells and sounds, swirl as in a mist around the main character, the Irish traveler; and he doesn't quite know what to make of them. It's not that he's bewildered, so much as that this distant lifestyle is not compatible with the way that he's lived his entire life.
In nonrecognition, in incompatibility, there is an inherent fear. When a person is confronted with a situation which they have never encountered, the natural human response triggered by that stimuli is a primal, and an overwhelming panic. What is most effectively rendered into actuality by the narrative in this case is this particular figment of truth, the impact of abject poverty when viewed up close, after experiencing a lifetime of veritable luxury in compare.
The surreal, and alien nature this new world lends an eerie sort of aura to the submission as a unified centerpiece to that larger mantle of stigmatization. In no place is this more evident than in the confrontation with the solicitous young prostitute. "she began to wink at me. I winked back in an awkward style, as if we were playing a game or simply just entertaining ourselves." The disconnect of these two worlds, bridged just for an instant by the small gesture of a wink, before being smashed apart as "The girl's face suddenly changed in the blink of an eye from an innocent sweet child, to an enraged wild animal ready to snap."
However, I found that the way the story was narrated, seemed to smack of a vague disconnect. I invoke this often, but I believe that it could have definitely been employed to a greater extent in this story: pathos. The dispassionate description of the city's poor, should have been more emotionally charged, in order to entice the reader to empathize with their sorry state.
Particularly in the confrontation with the prostitute, I felt as if the scene progressed a bit too quickly. That scene was the climax of the whole story, and I think it deserved a full blow-by-blow, if you'll excuse the sex pun. The repugnant uncleanliness of the prostitute, contrasted against the angelic face could have been delved into to a greater extent, and the events could have progressed more costive manner; a stingier, bit-by-bit revelation of the inner thoughts and feelings, as they swing from sympathy to repulsion in a matter of seconds.
Use of prompts;The object that could be interpreted as having been left at home is the character's own self-restraint, which is a noun, and thus can be defined as "that". In the sense that he was tempted and entranced by the girl / prostitute almost to the point of running away with her, his self-restraint was something that he really wishes he hadn't left back in Ireland before journeying to Kolkata.
12. THE BOMB - Needle-In-Haystack (Deleted since his story was submitted.)
On the other side of the coin of disjointedness, opposite from Scribbler's Aaron Hartley, lies this submission. Determine for yourself whether that is a good or a bad thing, but there are few other words that would as aptly describe the narrative progression in "The Bomb," as that.
First impressions are often deceiving, so I try not to base too many of my overall perceptions on first impressions. However, the frequent tense changes in even the first few lines make it difficult to overlook: "It a cold dark morning, as usual ... There a note here!"
It was difficult to read, visually, because of the lack of separation between paragraphs. But perhaps that simple nonseparation could have been construed as ingenuity, instead of laziness, if a Stream of Consciousness had been implemented in the submission. As it stands, it seems that what the story was posturing itself to be was a kind of surreal Stream of Consciousness, where the main character chronicles thoughts and feelings in an unbroken line of introspective thought - somewhat in the same vein as Scribbler's submission. But properly-rendered SOC, requires a solidly-defined first-person point of view, while this submission seemed to waver in and out of third person throughout the duration.
It was a nice touch to include so much dialogue, even if it was a bit too nonsensical to be really ironic or humorous. I suppose a greater range of vocabulary might've increased the ethos, or the author credibility in this submission. I think it had potential to be a really great idea, and I think the author is certainly capable of writing a much more cohesive piece. But truly, I am forced to cite laziness as the main issue in this work, illustrated by the sheepish admission that "I know it really isn't good, but I pulled this out of my files and it's probably worth a shot." There could've at least been an ATTEMPT to incorporate the themes, though.
13. THE CELLPHONE - 36Holla
Oh, irony. When so subtly played, it is one of the most gratifying literary concepts that can be grasped. Snaking through this clever narrative, the theme of the missing cellphone is seamlessly integrated into the objective of this pseudo-morality story: That bad things do happen to good people, and therein lies the binding strength of the submission.
So, the main adjective that I can rightfully apply to this submission is "cinematic" - polished to the point where it is quite easy to imagine the entirety of the scene as a film. I think that says something important about the quality of the mental image that this submission conjures in one's mind: the visual clarity of the scene, as in whatty's Girl, is an ever-present factor, and it serves to actualize the events like few other submissions. The mundane events of everyday life, to which we can relate, are set against a harsh background of unfair reality, and unfortunate circumstance.
We can all empathize with Brian's precarious position, and if we were in a similar position, we have to honestly ask ourselves if we would do the same; tentatively setting our own goals and aspirations above the very lives of those who would serve us in our journey of life.
I would venture to say that many of us know in our inmost heart of hearts, that we would make the same selfish decisions, and insofar as this submission causes us to examine our own priorities and intentions, it is highly effective. But I feel that it is when the melodrama starts to unfold that the progression begins to lose steam. I view the last scene as largely a misstep, in the grander scheme of storytelling.
While it serves to put a definite KARMA stamp on the ending of the submission, it seems to me as if it is there simply for the purpose of closure - and why must there be closure in an ironic morality tale? By arresting Brian, so to speak, the author sets up the actions which he committed as irrevocably criminal, when we know that they were not intended in this manner, because Brian was merely a victim of circumstance.
A much more effective ending would have left the conclusion open-ended: a stunned and shell shocked Brian retreats in on himself as realization dawns that his actions had repercussions beyond what he could have possibly anticipated. Ironically, he loses the job that he inadvertently killed the Cab Driver in order to attain, because he becomes so manically introspective that he loses focus on reality. This would set up the repercussions as more of a repudiation-of-self than repudiation-by-society.
> > > > > > > > > > > > CONTINUE ONWARD TO PART TWO > > > > > > > > > > > > >
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