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Reading Excuses 9/18/17 The Privacy Fence v2 4955 words


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The privacy fence

p1 - 

- "seen a Predator drone before."

p2 -

- redundancy regarding drone wedding gift

p4 -

- at this point the character dialogue is 'okay', but it feels really flat. I'm not getting a sense of life from the characters and the husband seems, hmm, incompetent? Not really sure what my impression is of him yet, but you can definitely tell who is in control in the relationship. It's sounding like an interesting concept so far. The dialogue just isn't pulling me in at all though.

p8 - 

- So far I think the characters are holding consistency. The dialogue between M/J and the neighbors felt much more natural and I felt like a got a better sense of M. On the second paragraph of this page you have two sentences that are virtually the same. You might be just driving home a point, but I thought it was unnecessary. I think either sentence does the work you're wanting well enough.

- "better things to do than stare"

p9 -

“Conservative estimate states they are" Either, estimates is part of an estimates organization, and should be capitalized, or it should be plural while states should be singular. Also, "there are" instead of "they are".
p10 -

I'm feeling the pace, but the tension isn't quite there for me. I don't understand why she should be reacting the way she is to the drones before she finds the pictures online. It seems like an overreaction. If she had discovered images of herself from drones, online first, then there would be more reason to act that way. I understand getting spooked, but running into your house like you're taking fire from militants seems a bit extreme to me. I think you need to define your stakes before that scene to give it the impact it deserves.
p11 -

If as a reader, if I had the information she'd just experienced online, before the scene outside, there would be so much more impact and tension. I'm not sure how you can swap those two around because it's kind of a chicken and the egg scenario. But honestly, having some sort of foreshadowing of those drones stalking her beforehand, and giving her some insight into what's happening, would allow the readers to appreciate the stakes that are involved. Before she sets down and sees the images, it all seems really over-reactive and non-sensical.
From all the descriptions we've had about Joe, this seems really out of character. It's like a 180 from his default passive, quiet self. Joe doesn't really have a voice in the first half of this short and it's in no way hinted that he has any kind of backbone. While his reaction makes sense, it's also inconsistent with his character up to this point.
I'm not sure about where this is going. I understand they're rural folks, but even rural folks who seem to be as young as they are, don't live under rocks. If there was a privacy issue of that magnitude happening I'd bet it'd be well known and documented.

The punch on the arm doesn't shout, a married couple, or a Joe that defends his wife. Maybe it's just their dynamic, but between myself and all my married friends, I've never seen that. I've seen a wife slap her husband's shoulder with the back of her hand in a playful manner, but when you say something like, "punched him lightly on the shoulder, it sounds like buddies, not a couple. You could maybe say, "Jerk." M leaned in with a smirk and nudged his shoulder with her fist. But it just reads really odd the way it is.

I went ahead just finished it to the end. The basement scene was odd. Again, her reaction and his reaction just didn't seem realistic or genuine. They must be ultra-gullible to let that dude just install his privacy gadgets. You had an interesting direction going, but it really left me wanting at the end. Why were the drones taking pictures? Was it truly a default mode? It would have maybe been more interesting if there were malicious motivations and some real reason why the drones seemed to be stalking her.

And like I mentioned above, if cell drones had this problem, then it would be all over news outlets and it would be well documented. They would know about it. It would be super easy to find on the internet. You didn't give us any real lead-in on how society views privacy until N came around with his gadgets. If you perhaps provided us with more info on that front, then it may help clarify and make sense out of some of the responses from the neighbors and N.

M and J have some really lovely banter, but they do seem a bit inconsistent. She seems like a really take-charge kinda gal, and he the passive pragmatic spouse, but they just didn't seem to have the right chemistry overall.

There is potential, but it needs work. I think you need to work on your ending. M seems competent, but then you have her acting erratic. J seems kind of aloof, but he has his moments. And the end just doesn't make sense to me. I like that you circle back to Arnie, but the solution to their problem doesn't work for me on a realistic level.

Hope this helped :) 

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The premise itself is interesting. The characters... yes, inconsistent and very sexist, bordering on misogyny. Telling a woman (or anyone, really), that you have to live with one person spying on you to prevent a lot of people spying on you, especially when it is coming from a partner, is just not okay (unless you've built up the partner to be a jerk, in which case, it would be in character). Marlene could be a much deeper character, and I think you would get that from showing how she reacts to the drones instead of telling.

3 hours ago, TKWade said:

It seems like an overreaction.

I'll disagree with this and say that it would freak me out, too. I'd probably react the same way.

3 hours ago, TKWade said:

You had an interesting direction going, but it really left me wanting at the end.

Yes, this. I also wanted more information on the whys.



As I go

- page two: if you're going to mention it is a wedding present in dialogue, then you don't need it as narration

- page three: why is this drone so large? If it needs to be strapped down like that, it doesn't seem like any modern drone I am aware of

- page four: wooden portal? Like, portal to another world? Or did you just mean 'door'?

- page five: so the new drones do everything an apple watch does. Why drone instead of watch? Is this an AU?

- end of page six, 'neighbors' is misspelled

- page 11: 'the pictures made her feel violated' is more telling than showing. I want to feel her anger, and her vulnerability, not just get a single line about it. Like, I'd be mad as heck and also feel sort of naked. Would she go put on long pants and an oversized shirt? Would she cross her legs? Her arms? Show us!

- page 13: holy rape apologist line. Tracy can get punched any time

- page sixteen: Joe, if he was a decent human being, would allow Marlene to threaten Nat properly, or follow up on her threat, not change the topic. Marlene's lack of ability to set up a computer, have a job (apparently), her willingness to let people consistently talk down to her or over her, seems at odds with the initial set up of a strong willed farm woman. Character inconsistency here. Is she a retiring housewife with a 'traditional' husband (haha, if such a thing exists), or is she the farm woman who can hold her own?

- page 22: "Maybe that's the price we pay." What? Seriously? No. Retiring housewife or not, Marlene deserves privacy and self autonomy and Joe has just swept both of those away in a single sentence. This is my angry face.

- I don't understand the ending. What did Arnie do? Just terrorize everyone into keeping their drones to themselves? I was sort of hoping Arnie would eat the smaller drones or something akin

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@TKWade it might be a gender thing, too. I'm AFAB, and having been raised within that social structure, things spying on me or paying me too much attention when I am in shorter clothes is freaky as all get out. That part of the story, I thought, was spot on with female perspective. 

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Overall, it's a good start, but like your one last week, I got hung up on the tech.

As I go: 

I am slightly confused by the location. On the way in,  M is feeling claustrophobic about skyscrapers (which is a good line, btw! Very evocative), but the bulk of the story is set in what feels like is a send-up of suburbia. (Aside: they can't be THAT poorly off financially if they can afford a house with a yard close enough to downtown proper to feel overshadowed by skyscrapers!). 


Once again, I think this day-after-tomorrow story is suffering from not-enough-future. Everything the "cell drone" is described as doing a regular iPhone already does (including the household tasks -- I keep telling my friend he's going to create Skynet with all the household appliances he has linked to his phone).


"default programming" -- I feel like this would be a superhuge deal, letting military-grade programming out to the general public. It's not *that* hard to run a wipe delete on things before letting them out... In fact, I just looked up Illinois' policy on recycling surplus electronics and it states a 3-pass wipe delete as a minimum for data storage devices, and for resold desktop computers to have their hard drives removed and outright destroyed/recycled.   I can't imagine the procedures for decommissioning missile-firing attack drones would be any less rigorous...


"the internet" -- I'm confused. Even if these drones did have default programming left in some kind of actionable form on them, I don't understand how the pictures got to a publicly-accessible place on the internet that also had an image search function and public commentary.  Theoretically, wouldn't government-default programming upload to a government-default server? Even presuming it uploaded to a private or consumer location, who is opening the database to the public? Who is paying for bandwidth for all these people to visit and view images? Who wrote the code to change an image database into a website and implement public commenting? Why hasn't this site been taken down, like, immediately from privacy violation complaints? Websites don't just generate themselves, comment widgets are fairly complicated, and image searching is even now annoyingly difficult (despite what TV tells us). Again, even touch-sensitive, internet-connected tables are existing tech, and that combined with the other already-existing technology makes this instant-upload-to-a-public-website-that-is-somehow-easily-searchable-down-to-an-otherwise-private-individual idea a very hard sell for me. 


Moving on...  I feel like a lot of the tropes going on here are kind of... dated? Like the vaguely Stepford neighborhood. The book the trope is named after came out in the '70s and it just feels a little old to be played straight as it is here. Are people really still afraid of suburban uniformity? The neighbors also feel a little Stepford-ish, but mostly remind me of '80s-era yuppies. Again, if they're supposed to be hipsters, I think the tech misses the mark a bit (also, aren't hipsters by definition around more urban centers, not the suburbs?).  I feel like the husband is hewing very close to a sitcom-style incompetent husband, with all the issues that come with that stereotype (it's not fair to men or women).  @kais has hit on the most problematic of the ones in the story here, so i won't rehash them. To me, the husband himself looks dim and slightly contemptuous of his wife, constantly pooh-poohing her fears and only doing things to humor her. The fact that he only gets involved when he reads internet commentary disparaging his wife feels especially cringeworthy to me.  I'm wondering a little bit what she sees in him (also, thinking about my farming cousins just now, why didn't she just shoot the darn drones? I'm decently sure they'd just shoot it, if they were in a similar situation...). 


I did laugh at the end with Arnie, that's some good build up and payoff with him, but then I wondered at the implication that Arnie still had weaponry. Wasn't he remade into a crop duster?  How can he terrorize camera drone yuppie stepford neighbors into submission with duster tanks? 

Again, the setup is good, M is a good and interesting character, but the tech needs a decent amount of work, and I felt like the husband is a bit of a fixer-upper as well.

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I remember this somewhat from the first time you posted, and this time it's reading smoother. The others have good thoughts on Joe lacking a personality and the privacy invasion. I didn't have as much problem (although selling surlpus military drones is a bit odd) with the lack of privacy, but maybe I was already expecting a dystopic society, from having read this before. If that part gets some more setup, I think the drones might be more believable. Maybe some of them belong the government and citizens just started following along?
As @kais said, this does need some editing on the show/tell front. Some of the dialogue and reactions are a little too on-the-nose and the dialogue is still one of the weakest parts. If you don't already, it might be good to say the lines out loud and see if they sound right.
Aside from that, I really enjoy the payoff at the end of the story. You've got a good try/fail cycle, and good feeling of success at the end.

Notes while reading:
pg 1: "Marlene Schaffer"
--I'd maybe put this with the first instance of the name rather than further down in the paragraph.

pg 1: "Predator done before"

pg 2: "Wedding present" repeated in the same paragraph

pg 11: "They showed every part of her body in lurid detail. The pictures made her feel violated. Then she saw the comments below the pictures."
--The middle sentence is uneccessary. Telling

pg 17: "Joe pretended not to hear what the privacy fence had just said. The cold, glaring expression on Marlene’s face showed otherwise."
--again, telling

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I’m happy to read this again. I enjoy your short stories and like to see them evolving. The wold one is still my favourite, but let’s see if that still the case of reading this one again! :)

  • in the reflection of her rear view mirror” – I think ‘rear-view’ is hyphenated, personally. Also, I don’t think it’s the reflection ‘of’ the mirror, but ‘in’ the mirror, surely.
  • a Predator drone before” – typo.
  • upgrade to an F-35” – this sounds like a fighter jet (as in F-16), is it that, and not another type of drone?
  • Her husband said nothing, his hands bracing the steering wheel. M knew when her husband was pouting” – I would switch one of these; they’re pretty close together.
  • the crowded skyscrapers put the sky in a chokehold” – nice line. Puts me in mind of the first line of Neuromancer.
  • If they’re in a moving van, and the drone is on a trailer behind it, how can she see the drone in the rear-view mirror?
  • I think ‘farmhouse’ is one word.
  • The wooden portal swung open” – sounds like it did so without their intervention.
  • shaking both of their hands” – sounds like he’s shaking both their left then right hands.
  • This was the default line conversation starter for Marlene with her nearly six feet tall height” – grammar.
  • She looked (up?) to see a shimmering object
  • from its mechanic dome” – I think this is a person, as opposed to, say, mechanistic, or mechanical.
  • the jets from its turbines” – given where we are now with drones, this feels rather dated.
  • a whirling click sound followed by a brief flash of light” – no way is this the level of tech involved in taking a picture from a drone. This suggests there is an SLR mounted on the darn thing. Why on earth would it need a flash? Is it not daytime?
  • golf waves and courtesy laughs” – awesome phrase! :)
  • a diesel garage” – not quite sure what this means. A garage that only services Diesel cars, or only sell Diesel fuel?
  • The paint was peeling on the trim.” – This is the only thing mentioned, despite the inference of loads of things needing done.
  • two buckets of paint out the door in either hand” – so, four buckets of paint?
  • before she even opened the paint cans” – you wouldn’t open all the cans at once, assuming they are all the same paint, or even if they were not, as you’re only going to use one at a time, surely.
  • She stopped in mid-motion, her hips still turning towards the directions of the sound” – confused. So, she doesn’t stop? And how can her hips turn to multiple directions, and why are there multiple directions? I see that I was supposed to be disoriented, but I kind of got confused first, and stopped. This may well be a reading-as-writer, instead of a reading-as-reader issue, though.
  •  “sounding like an angry hornet’s nest” – I’ll see you and raise you ‘nest of angry hornets.’
  • burst into a sprint, dropping the paint cans” – I'm not at all convinced she would stop to pick up the paint cans – all four of them? All two of them?
  • final whirl-click silenced” – faded?
  • hear the drones anymore” – I think.
  • Her husband had uploaded their settings to the home computer system” – this sounds archaic. Surely, it’s all in the Cloud and you just sign in.
  • female voice crisply answered” – Can I have a show of hands? Does anyone care anymore about splitting the infinitive? I must be an old fuddy-duddy, because I’ve always thought it sounds weird, and yet pretty much everyone on here does it. I do it myself sometimes in dialogue, because I think you can have a character speak that way. Sometimes avoiding the split does sound weird: fair cop, split away, now and again, but more often than not, I think it sounds… disjointed, awkward, kinda clumsy. Compare with ‘crisp female voice answered’ or ‘female voice answered crisply’. I think not splitting the infinitive sounds way sharper and more direct, literally because you are keeping the verb with the ‘doer’ I would be horrified to think that agents, editors and proof readers don’t care about stuff like this anymore. I think maybe that some of them don’t however.
  • Conservative estimate states they are approximately one point seven million” – (1) Grammar, and (2) a typo. Surely, AIs(?) would be calibrated to speak properly?
  • its substance resembling the crowded page seven of a newspaper” – surface?
  • At first, she saw cell drones pictures” – (1) comma; (2) is it the picture of multiple cell drones, or of one drone?
  • navigate away from the image” – but there are multiple images, surely.
  • The pictures made her feel violated” – you’ve shown this, I think, so when you go a say it straight out it feels very ‘on the nose’. I can see why you would want to get the word ‘violated’ in there, but I think you could do it more subtly/effectively.
  • She did her best to ignore” – last name you mentioned was T. I think you need a ‘Ma-----‘ in this next sentence.
  • Marlene brought up her the pictures on the glass table before them” – grammar/typo.
  • until he saw the comments about his wife” – the lurid sensationalist in my wants to know what the comments are.
  • He was (a) tall man in a gray jacket”.
  • I'm not convinced the argument about the government, privacy and the fencing business holds together. How is it that the new residents don’t know this is a thing in the city? Surely it would be all over the new if it was a new thing, and would be accepted if it was an old thing, but still well known nationally. Also, Green’s character seems inconsistent. If he’s so nervous, how does he muster the nerve to be so objectionable. Plus, a privacy salesman being a sleaze seems, I don’t know, off? Pat? Like, jamming it down the reader’s throat. I found myself wondering how it would read if he was just a man in a suit, and the couple are getting all irate, and he’s just ‘Well, these are the facts of life in the city.’ Or something, dunno.
  • How much is this going to cost?” – Why would they let him install the equipment before enquiring about the cost, and why would he make the installation before getting their signature on a contract? I’ve never been a salesman, but seems kind of bad practice?
  • It was worth it if it stopped Marlene from becoming a prisoner in her own home. It was worth it if it got Nat Green out of their house forever” – Eh? That’s really fuzzy logic, surely. Paying $4,200 a year to get a guy out of your house who has now right to be there?
  • Maybe that’s the price we pay.” – What?! No! Nobody thinks that.
  • He’s just working late” – I don’t see how this follows on from what they’re talking about now.
  • house across the seat” – street.
  • Neither one seemed to have the backbone to be a real person” – What does that mean? We already know these two are jerks, this seems unnecessary, to me, even counterproductive.

I like the close of the story, the tone that your strike and closing on A doing a fly-over. There are several notes within the story that do bother me to various degrees, as noted above. Some of the events seemed a bit odd/unlikely to me, and I must admit that some of the tech and societal factors seemed a bit to me like low-hanging fruit.

The premise of the story is good; I think it’s an area well worthy of examination. I just wonder if there isn’t a somewhat more plausible and technically rigorous version of this story to be teased out.


Edited by Robinski
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