RedBeardRaven

Reading Excuses 10/17/2011 -RedBeardRaven - To Play with Certainty [L, V]

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This is a short story that I came up with after following the first writing prompt from WritingExcuses. "Take a side character from the future, bring them back into the past, and write a story about them." We follow a homeless man and a college student once they start hearing voices in their head. Thanks for reading!

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Alright, I just finished it. First things first, it needs a good line edit. There were quite a few times when grammar or structural errors drew me out of the story.

Second, your characterization was good, creepily good at times. I had a good sense of both MCs and they were interesting, if disturbing.

Third, the subway scene wasn't very believable. There was some dialogue there that didn't really fit and the actions felt off. Also, there's no way the man could have changed clothes wihout being caught by the police, especially if he was wearing layers of filthy clothing already, that is, unless he put the suit on over it.

And finally, I get the ending, but I didn't really like it. It felt cheap. There was soap opera once that ended in the final episode by doing a panoramic withdrawal only to reveal a snow globe, implying that the entire soap opera had taken place within it. It was widely panned as one of the worst final episodes in history. This isn't quite so bad, but it feels somewhat similar. It trivializes everything that happened.

To make it a little better, I think it needs to be foreshadowed a bit more. If it were my story, I might have Pieterre let slip something like, "If we're going to win this, then you have to . . ." or something like that. Yeah, Pieterre had difficulty articulating a reason why the girl was so important, which tipped me off that something was afoot, but when I found out what it was, I was like, "So what?"

I guess, the whole story ends up being about the two jerks from the future screwing around with how people's lives end. That is what the story is ultimately about, and yet the events that unfold ultimately don't affect that aspect of the story other than a snarky, "You lost, dude," or the essential equivalent. Now, if you made the story somehow have some meaningful effect on the future characters, I think I would like it better.

Edited by recovering_cynic
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Thank you for your feedback!

Could you elaborate on the dialog that didn't work for you?

Could you explain a little more on what was off with the action? Was it just with the subway scene or the scene at the fountain as well?

I can understand what you mean with the hobo getting caught and I was thinking of reworking that scene anyways, but it's sort of difficult since the majority of it is in Lizzy's perspective. So you don't get to see what he does after she leaves.

That's interesting that you say that about the ending. For me, it's horrifying to think that someone in the future could project themselves in the past and mess with anyone. I had an idea for a totally different short story that involved this reading prompt. I decided against it because of the investment that would be necessary to make it work. That's why I went with this story instead because it doesn't mess with history or cause and effect for the future. (I can PM you if you want. I can explain a bit more and maybe we, or I, can figure a way to address it in the story from there.) I can see where it would feel cheap though. I think I can fix that with a quick edit in the end.

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Could you elaborate on the dialog that didn't work for you?

So, the homeless guy jumps her on the subway and is beating her senseless, then the business guy

"stood up to confront the attacker. 'Woah, woah, woah pal! You need to calm down and step away from the girl'

The hobo stood scratching his head furiously before replying. 'Ain't your fight! You let it go so I can be about my own business.'"

This seems off. In a situation like this, people don't really talk. This is violence. It seems like the businessman would jump on the homeless guy, hit him, grab him, kick him, or react physically somehow. He might say something while doing so, but he wouldn't wax eloquent, nor would the homeless guy. There doesn't seem to be any emotion here, and violence breeds emotion more than anything else.

Then after that,

"Outside the windows the rushing walls shifted into the view of the next stop. The cars jostled as the subway halted and her attacker lost his footing. The professional caught him, locked his hands behind his back, and smiled mischievously. 'What's this world coming to; a pretty thing like her can't take the B-line without getting attacked.'"

Again, he smiles mischieviously? Really? After witnessing a homeless man trying to beat a girl to death? And then again, he flirts with her, knowing he is grapling with a deranged and dangerous person. It doesn't fit for me.

This particular bit also leads to what could be a potential plot hole. The businessman dies as a result of their interfering. Wouldn't that alter the timeline. Doesn't that mess things up?

Could you explain a little more on what was off with the action? Was it just with the subway scene or the scene at the fountain as well?

There were some problems at the fountain too, but not as much. The hobo climbs up on top of the statue in the middle, which seems like it would be really obvious to everybody. How could anyone miss it? Also, I got the impression that this fountain was particularly tall, which would make it both difficult to climb and difficult to jump from, plus it would give the girl ample time to notice him coming. You describe the sound around the fountain to be the "soothing lap of water" which doesn't seem like it would mask his aproach well. The homeless guy was able to hear her crying quite easily, so why didn't she hear him climbing on the fountain?

Also, when she first approaches the fountain, you just say that she sat, which gave me the impression that she was on a park bench looking at the fountain, which is what I thought was going on. It wasn't until my second reading that I noticed that she was actually sitting on the edge of the fountain, not on a park bench, but you don't mention this in the story until you switch to the homeless man's perspective; I would mention it earlier.

Anyway, those were the bits of dialogue and action that didn't work for me. They are easily fixable and I think they can be quite powerful. As to the ending, yes, it is horrifying that these people are messing with the past, but that little twist makes the story about them, not Lizzy and Richard, and really, the way it's written, the story has been about Lizzy and Richard, not the jerks from the future. I think that's why the ending doesn't work for me. It takes your two important characters and trivializes them. Perhaps if the exchange between the two future-jerks was witnessed by Lizzy, and we get to feel how it impacts her, then it would mean more. It would also be more horrifying. As it is, Richard kinda witnesses it, but all it does is "badger[] at his once tranquil isolation" which lacks punch for me.

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Awesome! Thanks for this. I need something like this in order to help me grow.

I didn't even think about that plot hole, and sadly I added it in on a whim instead of thinking it through. That was also the case with the ending and Lizzy hearing it. I was thinking that having them "leave the mic on" and say those lines with her listening.

All of your points are valid and I appreciate any other information that you or anyone else gives.

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Well, I liked that story much better than your previous one.

The characters are much more likable (even the mad one), and I liked the gradual way they each give in to the voices in their heads.

Now, my main issue of course is the twist ending. I have this bad habit too when I write short fiction, and each time, my writing group gets frustrated, and they're right : the twist ending, unless very well foreshadowed, only ends up cheating the reader. I know it's hard not to twist, but in this case, I would have liked the story much better without the last scene.

As the others, I have my doubts about why people in the future would play such dangerous games with their past. It's sort of like the butterfly effect : changing only the tiniest thing could have disastrous effects. People should only do that for extraordinary reasons, and not to play.

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I'm going back a ways and doing some catching up here. I won't belabor the points others have mentioned, but add a few observations I didn't see yet.

My first note is on potential editing. I don't know when you look to do this, but I think the piece would have worked better if it was more concise. All the action, setting, etc., but with maybe 500 or so fewer words in the piece. I think that would have had me reading along a little faster, and therefore a little less likely to take a moment to consider various potential plot holes, etc.

Secondly, and going along with what others have mentioned, I think the ending could be foreshadowed better. I personally got into the story a bit with the intro, thinking it would end up being along the lines of The Dead Zone by Stephen King (mixed with Terminator). When it moved to Lizzy's viewpoint and she gets contacted, however, I started to suspect something was up, since if humanity needed saving, why warn her? However, I wasn't sure if my feelings about something being off were 1) because things were a little bit not like I expected, 2) because the first section altered the timeline to another problem and new people want it altered back, or 3) because the author messed up. Either of the first two could make interesting stories, but things weren't set solidly enough one way or another to let me know which to expect, and I think that led to some of the problems I had with the ending.

One suggestion you might consider is to make the story given to Lizzy more directly conflicting with the one given to Richard. For example, if Richard is told he must kill a woman lest she cause a disaster, perhaps tell Lizzy she needs to survive because being killed by Richard leads to the same disaster. This might give the reader a better sense that at least one of the sides is not being entirely honest, which would help set up the end that neither one was.

I did hesitate some to use that example, however, because I did like the implication that Lizzy's future "meet a husband and have a promised kid" was not to be, despite being something she might fight for. If I was getting the correct feel from that, I would have liked for that part to be brought out more before the reveal at the end (assuming the reveal is properly foreshadowed).

Finally, on the end, I would have liked to know a bit more somehow about how Lizzy figured into things. You mention that she's terminally ill, and at the end that Richard was deathly ill also, and potentially dead in a short period of time. Was the timeline altered so that he died then? Was part of the rules of the game such that they could only choose nearly-deceased people? How nearly deceased? If within 3 days, say, that also has implications for Lizzy's result, despite her fight (that I'd like to see) for the illusory husband and child. If this was the case, casually revealing it through dialog to Lizzy would also make for an interesting variation on the title, where she finds out she is going to die within X time anyway.

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Well, I liked that story much better than your previous one.

The characters are much more likable (even the mad one), and I liked the gradual way they each give in to the voices in their heads.

Now, my main issue of course is the twist ending. I have this bad habit too when I write short fiction, and each time, my writing group gets frustrated, and they're right : the twist ending, unless very well foreshadowed, only ends up cheating the reader. I know it's hard not to twist, but in this case, I would have liked the story much better without the last scene.

As the others, I have my doubts about why people in the future would play such dangerous games with their past. It's sort of like the butterfly effect : changing only the tiniest thing could have disastrous effects. People should only do that for extraordinary reasons, and not to play.

Thank you!

I am glad to hear that the characters are more likable than my previous story. I too agree that a twist ending is generally a bad idea (after writing this and coming back to read it.. ackh) After reading and thinking about it for a while I feel that the best way to add a twist like this is not in the end but rather in the middle of a story. Yay for learning!

As for the concept of it, I am going to be answering that below. But I agree if the butterfly effect is real in regard to time travel and the like then it should only be used for a good purpose.

I'm going back a ways and doing some catching up here. I won't belabor the points others have mentioned, but add a few observations I didn't see yet.

My first note is on potential editing. I don't know when you look to do this, but I think the piece would have worked better if it was more concise. All the action, setting, etc., but with maybe 500 or so fewer words in the piece. I think that would have had me reading along a little faster, and therefore a little less likely to take a moment to consider various potential plot holes, etc.

Secondly, and going along with what others have mentioned, I think the ending could be foreshadowed better. I personally got into the story a bit with the intro, thinking it would end up being along the lines of The Dead Zone by Stephen King (mixed with Terminator). When it moved to Lizzy's viewpoint and she gets contacted, however, I started to suspect something was up, since if humanity needed saving, why warn her? However, I wasn't sure if my feelings about something being off were 1) because things were a little bit not like I expected, 2) because the first section altered the timeline to another problem and new people want it altered back, or 3) because the author messed up. Either of the first two could make interesting stories, but things weren't set solidly enough one way or another to let me know which to expect, and I think that led to some of the problems I had with the ending.

One suggestion you might consider is to make the story given to Lizzy more directly conflicting with the one given to Richard. For example, if Richard is told he must kill a woman lest she cause a disaster, perhaps tell Lizzy she needs to survive because being killed by Richard leads to the same disaster. This might give the reader a better sense that at least one of the sides is not being entirely honest, which would help set up the end that neither one was.

I did hesitate some to use that example, however, because I did like the implication that Lizzy's future "meet a husband and have a promised kid" was not to be, despite being something she might fight for. If I was getting the correct feel from that, I would have liked for that part to be brought out more before the reveal at the end (assuming the reveal is properly foreshadowed).

Finally, on the end, I would have liked to know a bit more somehow about how Lizzy figured into things. You mention that she's terminally ill, and at the end that Richard was deathly ill also, and potentially dead in a short period of time. Was the timeline altered so that he died then? Was part of the rules of the game such that they could only choose nearly-deceased people? How nearly deceased? If within 3 days, say, that also has implications for Lizzy's result, despite her fight (that I'd like to see) for the illusory husband and child. If this was the case, casually revealing it through dialog to Lizzy would also make for an interesting variation on the title, where she finds out she is going to die within X time anyway.

Thank you for your comments!

I agree, after having the obvious being pointed out to me, that the plot holes are glaring. A slight sore spot on my writing in which I hope to be more concise with my stories in the future.

About figuring out something was up; I tried to be very subtle with the foreshadowing which might have been more annoying than interesting. That might have led you further off the story with worse story telling. I apologize about this. Thank you for your input on a possible correction to this. :D

You are correct that Lizzy was terminally ill and so was Richard. They both were "chosen" for the game of it by the players and Lizzy was meant to die the same day. (Which I failed to include in the ending and creating further issues.) The story about the husband and child were just a lie told to Lizzy because Peiterre was a novice at the "game". My main consideration with this piece of work is that; I wondered what would happen if there truly was not significant change in the future if something like this happened. What if there was no true butterfly effect caused from a single change in the past?

A part of me has always thought about altering something in the past was relative only to those who traveled back then. (The Dark Tower has a similar idea) What if a change in history occurred and the only thing that changes is the memory of the instance? What if the people in the future were in the altered future already regardless of the change?

I figured that humans always have a mischievous side to them that would lead to similar activity like the one depicted in the story. Some sort of tampering/teasing of lives, potentially killing off those who were already dying in order to give them (the dying) or the user(the person from the future) the thrill of it.

I might revisit this with what everyone has said and I truly appreciate the time that all of you have taken to just read my story, let alone comment on it for my personal growth. Thank you!

Edited by RedBeardRaven
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