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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.