Jump to content

Reading Excuses - 09/25/17 - SalMonroe - +1 (L, V, G, S, D) - 3920


Recommended Posts

Hello everyone,

This is a standalone short story. I'd be super grateful for anyone who decides that the grammar and syntax are atrocious and red inks my entire story, but at the moment I do have some pretty specific questions that I wanted answered on the last page of my story. I'd hope that you answer those questions as it would give me an idea of whether I should make some big changes or not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey, @SalMonroe, thanks for posting! I enjoyed the story!

So, first off, make sure you're double-spacing your whole piece, it makes it easier to read and I believe it's part of the posting rules in the introduction, no big this time, but for next time it'd be helpful.

Make sure you're indenting your paragraphs.

page 2, paragraph 3, is a little awkward. I think maybe unnecessary. I think I think it's a pretty common habit to look up after sitting down, in general, I really don't think you need to go into why he does it. You can just say, "he looks up at the tv out of habit." and that would be sufficient.

I think you do well staying in first-person and your dialog with S works for me.

What doesn't work for me is the ending dialog with Micheal. It feels really awkward and stilted. If you make your dialog more concise and direct, I think it'll read better.

Instead of, "it's just a metaphor, John"
use "it's a metaphor."

It feels more natural. In conversation, we typically don't address each other by name directly. I wouldn't usually say to my friend, "Okay, Dylan, I get it." I'd just say, "Okay, I get it." or "Okay, man, I get it."

Why go to the park? I'm fine with it, but I think you need to provide a reason other than there is a cross there to pray to. You can pray anywhere. Your home, your car, your bathroom, literally doesn't matter, so this part seems odd simply because there's no defined reason, other than it be quiet and empty of people.

I did like the guy puking on the cross, it felt symbolic. Like the devil laughing at God. It was almost another hit at something more going on.

Regarding your ending questions:

I think it was just enough fantasy. I like stories like this because it leaves you right on the edge of, "is this dude just imagining it, or is there something more really going on here??"

Suzie being dead at the end: I suspected, but I'd like to be a little more concrete. You could write in the last sentence that when he goes back into the bathroom and looks in the mirror the number is 24. You could throw in an off-hand comment on J wondering how S slept through his screaming. That would solidify it. If you want to leave it open-ended you could just throw in the off-hand comment, but I think that's leaving the door open.

You could also have J go back to the bathroom, look in the mirror, and react, but not outright tell the reader what he sees. Just describe his reaction to the #24.

Ending it like that would also solidify that fact that something fantastical is definitely at work.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. Thank you for posting, hope we see more work from you!

Edited by TKWade
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yay, my first critique.

Also, my bad. I was probably too excited for my first post that I skimmed through that part. Probably not a good enough reason, but that's my reading excuse. *insert waggling eyebrows here*

Bad puns aside, I sent a revised copy out that has double spacing and indents. I'll make sure to keep the formatting in mind for any of my future works.

Now onto the actual critique...

Page 2 Paragraph 3:
I completely agree with you here. I think my thought process was that since this was the action that introduces the main conflict of the story, it needed some importance to go along with it, but my attempt at legitimizing it was pretty unnecessary and dumb since I'm supposed to be talking about the 23.

Dialogue with Suzie:
I'm very happy that you liked it. The writing for this story took around 4-5 hours total, and the intro with Suzie took up around 2-3 hours of my time just rewriting and trying to get it decent.

Dialogue with Michael:
A little less focus was put here I admit. To be honest, I'm mostly fine with it but that might just be because it's too fresh to me. I'll give myself a day or two to defamliarize myself and then destroy Michael.

The Park:
This was a hardcore author force on my part. I absolutely needed John to be in a position where he would feel like he almost died and I couldn't do it in the safety of his home without making the near death experience too nonsensical or too suicidal. I toyed with the idea of an almost car crash or some industrial accident, but I wrote him into the park and the cross just happened to pop up and I continued to write from there without taking the time to give the cross any importance. I'll probably stick with the park and the cross, but I'll also probably give the cross and park a backstory. Maybe he used to play there as a kid. Maybe that particular cross just calmed him down for no reason. Who knows. I sure don't.

Suzie's dead:
Yeah I'll definitely add in something to hint at Suzie's death. I've gotten some feedback from people who were absolutely clueless. Don't know about writing in his reaction to the 24 though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome welcome, and congrats on your first sub!


The emotion is there, and the voice is there, I'm just a little lost on plot and purpose. What is the purpose of the narrative? Where is it supposed to go? It's a good look at PTSD, but it doesn't seem to have an arc.

And reading through above comments... Suzie is dead? Wait, where is that mentioned? I skimmed back up and the only indicator is that she doesn't wake, but that just seems more like 'why is this woman suddenly such a hardcore sleeper' than anything. Also...not a fan of this trope. Like, really and truly, her being dead and his sole motivation makes me not like this piece. Women are not vehicles to push empathy for male characters. See women in refrigerator's trope.

Your questions

Is the fantasy element in this story too weak to justify having a plot based around it? The plot of this story revolves around the whole death avoidance number thing, but I didn't want to give that mechanic any focus, so I blamed it on the Devil. Is it enough?

Fantasy? This reads more just like a story about PTSD. I don't see any fantasy elements to it, mention of devil or no.

Suzie is dead at the end of the story. Did you figure that out before I mentioned it?

Nope, and I greatly dislike it. See above comment.

Did you notice the clues? (Suzie doesn't wake up from his shouting, despite John being certain that she'll wake up if he closes the door too quickly.) (“Hell, you could've probably woken the dead with your damnation shrieking.” “You're exaggerating, right?”) (I need to check myself out in the mirror to see how much damage I did.)

I did notice, as you can see below, but to mean that means less that she is dead and more that something is going on.

 If not, how much clearer should I make it? I usually operate under the creed of “Always respect your reader. Pandering is cheap,” but right now I'm afraid it's much too vague after showing it to a few of my friends (who are not at all huge fans of reading).

I'd suggest having the neighbor make a comment like 'you just haven't slept well since your wife died' or something like that. But what I really suggest is not having her be dead, or if she must be dead, not using her as the focal point upon which the MCs every emotion and action is based. Women are not disposable plot devices.

John is “destined to die” when he tries to commit suicide, but is “saved” when he thinks about Suzie. After outright telling you that Suzie is dead and that his number increased by +1 *insert finger guns here* would you have made that conclusion yourself?

Wait, she dies mid-piece? So it wasn't just a memory at the beginning? Gah, I'm too confused. It's worse fridging if she dies mid-piece. I still would not have made that connection, I don't think

Again if so, how much clearer should I make it? Solve all three problems I have by making it a more obvious divine intervention, making it more fantastical, giving more clues that someone died, and making it obvious that he was saved, all in one go?

Solve all three problems by not putting Suzie in a refrigerator. I'd rather see him try to work through his PTSD. If you want this to be a fantasy, I think you'll need to up the fantasy elements substantially. They're too subtle right now.

It's a good start, but could use edits. Keep at it!

As I go

- you've got redundancy issues in the first page. Try reading your work out loud to yourself. That'll help you catch them

- page six: he lives on the 7th floor but he's only ever taken the elevators once before? Like, even if you like to take stairs, there are still plenty of reasons to take the elevator, groceries being a top contender

- numbers should be written out (so twenty-three, not 23)

- page 11: so... if he has survived death 23 times, the guy in the park is 24. Shouldn't that break the momentum here? Shouldn't he be happy, or at least relived?

- page 13: shouldn't Suzie be hearing these screams?

- wait, so the college student across the hall woke up, but not Suzie??

- and he's...he's in the apartment? How? Why? I'm so confused

- end: still super confused as to how Suzie has not woken up



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello and welcome. Thank you for submitting one with the double spaces! TKWade beat me to the reminder. :) Yes it is in the rules, and it is really super helpful for people like me that have some difficulties reading things on the screen.  


In general:  i want to say that this is a well-written story. The grammar is solid, the characters are mostly believable and the main character's personality really shines through. 


As I go:

Moving on to the story, I have to admit that present tense is not my favorite way to read a story, bit it works with the narrow, personal focus in this one here. 

There are several paragraphs, especially at the beginning here, that kind of loop back around on themselves.  They're in the format like "I said A. Therefore B and C. Which is why I said A." People talk like that a lot, but writing is usually expected to be more linear.

Ah, I see a Perfect Girlfriend here, I bet this collection of idealized qualities on a female-shaped pedestal is marked for some horrible end, to occur before or during the timeframe in question... (note from future me: ha! called it!) 

"When the Devil first came to me, I'd asked him" This really sounds like he's asking the Devil to teach him prayers... 

So... he's never been on the elevator in his own apartment before? Is that a phobia of some kind? I am confused. Also, I did not really get "avoidance of all reflective surfaces" from the story. I think that needs to be played up more if it's an important beat. 

I don't really have a problem with the cross or the park one way or the other. People need to get out and walk off stress, and parks have odd statuary. I've certainly gone walking around the block during insomnia attacks at half-past too dang late at night before. Though the bum did seem a bit random. I think the encounter there was the roughest part of the story for me. 


To get to the questions 

Yes, the fantasy element is "weak," but I don't think its weakness is a reason to change the plot around. I wouldn't call this story a "fantasy story" based on the elements within it, however. Plain fiction, maybe. Magical realism, maybe. Surrealism, maybe. Not fantasy. That would affect where to market it, but not whether or not to hang a plot on the elements in question. If it was a longer work, I'd expect a little bit more, maybe some kind of eventual commitment to whether or not the thing was his survivor's guilt talking or an actual crossroads deal, but here, in this short format, I don't think it's really necessary to know the whys and the hows of the mechanic by which he is still alive. 

Suze... so, yeah. What @kais said. She's fridged, and that's not good. She's barely a character, more just a collection of idealized notions for the main character to moon over. If i'm supposed to feel... anything at her death beyond the satisfaction that comes with calling a plot reveal before it happens, there's not enough of a person there to engender it.  This also ties in to what I feel is the lack of resolution in the story. The story doesn't resolve so much as simply stop. What's the purpose here? Why did we spend this time with the main character? There's not condescending to your readers, and there's being purposely obtuse and leaving things unresolved. An ending that hammers home that it was the main character's attempted suicide that killed his love would go a long way to both giving the story some kind of resolution and not make it feel like it's being intentionally obtuse or simply random.  As I said above, I don't think it needs more magic or godly intervention so much as a bit of streamlining and a real ending. It wouldn't help the fridging a whole lot, but if you're gonna axe a chick that's barely a character like this, at least use the death to give the story a good resolution. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome to Reading Excuses!

I'm in general agreement with @kais and @industrialistDragon, so I won't belabor the point. I was a little turned off at the beginning of the story by the "perfect wife" syndrome with Suzie. Seemed to be taking it too far. I was also completely surprised that Suzie was dead, at the end. I wondered why she didn't wake up, but assumed something else was going to happen. I'd make this very concrete, as it's the point of the story (unless you can change it completely to get away from the fridging aspect).

Also agree on the park/hobo thing being extraneous. Unless he takes another life this way, I don't see what it adds. The story does wander a bit in the middle, for being so short. You could note that he's "cursed" or "a murder" or something like that early on to prepare the reader that this will be a story about John fighting with himself.

As to whether it's fantasy? I'd maybe go with magical realism at best, if not simply a story about PTSD. Not that those are bad subjects, just that this doesn't really fall under the "fantasy" umbrella.

Notes while reading:

You tend to write around John seeing parts of his own body a lot. You could probalby cut these down to make them more concrete.
"The first thing I see as my eyes travel up is my chin, then my smile, then my happy eyes."
"I notice out of the corner of my eyes that I'm no longer smiling."
"I suddenly feel something cold hitting the palm of my hand. "

pg 1: "I try to shrug, but her hands are clasped to my shoulders and her whole weight is pressed down on me."
--that seems kind of oppressive.

pg 7: "but there's only a small spot of blood, about as wide as my own head."
--That seems pretty large.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Always excited to read a new author on RE. Let’s get right to it.

  • Straight away, I'm engaged by your style. It flows nicely and starts to shape character. There’s a good amount of dialogue, which gets me into the story really quickly.
  • Repetition of ‘clearly’ in P1, Para.1. Word repetition always sticks out as awkward to me.
  • You said you never remember about what you dream of (about?)” – Struck me as awkward. I know it’s dialogue, so it’s okay for folks to speak weird if it’s in their character, but it seems a pity to break up the easy flow of the piece with this.
  • I smile at the sight” – it was too dark for him to see earlier. I appreciate her face was shadowed by her hair. Just raising the question.
  • my smile frowns” – meh, his features or his face frowns, surely.
  • preferring my lap instead” – Hmm. Now then. They're sitting together watching TV of an evening, binging on Game of Thrones or some such, and she’s going to spend two hours (whatever) sitting in his lap? I don’t buy it. This seems extremely clingy and rather weird. Maybe that’s what you intend, but I would suggest (I’ve been married for 25 years, and have many married friends) that this is abnormal behaviour when taken to this extreme.
  • While I stick by my comments about the easy flow of the story, I will not that there is nothing especially interesting happening. You’ve got some decent tension / portent going, so I'm still engaged, but I'm conscious that, in 5 pages, he has had a rehashed conversation with his wife, got up and sat down again in front of a TV.
  • Whoa, what? 23? They made a movie about this (with Jim Carey, dir. Joel Schumacher). I now really dragged out of the story with a bump. Suddenly I'm thinking what am I reading? Fan fic? Sequel? Rehash?
  • Why are there clothes in the living room? I’m a bit disoriented about the house layout.
  • meant for children that were are under four feet tall” – I think.
  • Phrasing sounds like he asked the Devil to teach him the prayer.
  • I hadn't killed 23 people
  • I run out of things
  • I would not call a head-sized blood stain a small spot. That thing must be 6 inches wide?
  • The story (chapter?) ends really suddenly on a totally ‘pregnant’ moment. Is that the end? I'm confused.


Is the fantasy element in this story too weak to justify having a plot based around it? The plot of this story revolves around the whole death avoidance number thing, but I didn't want to give that mechanic any focus, so I blamed it on the Devil. Is it enough?

I’m okay with it. It’s simple enough and you don’t try and explain it, which would be fatal to the story. I’m okay with the premise.

Suzie is dead at the end of the story. Did you figure that out before I mentioned it?

Did you notice the clues? (Suzie doesn't wake up from his shouting, despite John being certain that she'll wake up if he closes the door too quickly.) (“Hell, you could've probably woken the dead with your damnation shrieking.” “You're exaggerating, right?”) (I need to check myself out in the mirror to see how much damage I did.)

Yeah, bottom of Page 11. But, you never say she’s dead, or rather you never show it. Did I miss something? The story ends in the middle of a paragraph or sentence, it felt to me. Okay, you don’t need to show her body, or even the number having changed, but I just feel like the phrasing of that last line promises something more, another sentence, something.

After outright telling you that Suzie is dead and that his number increased by +1 *insert finger guns here* would you have made that conclusion yourself?

someone died, and making it obvious that he was saved, all in one go?

But I don't see anywhere that you confirm she's dead. There's just this lingering, semi-certainty, but sort of left unfulfilled, I think.

I enjoyed the style of the story, and how easily it flowed. Like everything, there is scope to tidy up, refine and improve. I did feel left hanging at the end. Also, there is the potential for interpretation as fridging of the only female character. I feel certain that there will be some discussion from others over this, which I await with interest. There’s too much background on this forum with this topic to go into it, but it revolves around the unconscious (or otherwise) tendency for female characters to be ‘poorly served’ in some stories. I think that is probably a problem here.

My overall impression is to be left somewhat unsatisfied for the reasons noted. Also, the Number 23 I have highlighted. Why that number? It could be any number, it seems to me, but the call-back to the Schumacher/Carey film is hard to ignore. I think any professional (editor, agent, etc.) would call you on this.

I hope that these comments are useful. In conclusion, I say again that I like your style and look forward to reading more of your stuff. I feel sure that you have stories (written or not) that I will find more interesting, but I really was pulled through this one by style alone. Decent job!


Edited by Robinski
Link to comment
Share on other sites

- I like the opening lines, just dropping us into the middle of the story, post-nightmare.

- "Where else can you go to find shelter from the Devil?" A church immediately spring to mind, which makes it kinda weird that he's going to a park instead.

- Why does Michael have a wooden sword? Does he practice martial arts? Otherwise, it feels like a weird thing for a person to have. 

- I figured Suzie was already dead, but it feels unnecessarily ambiguous in this setting. It's something you probably have to come out and say one way or the other.

- It's a good story, but I kept thinking of "The Number 23", that movie with Jim Carrey. Not sure if it's what you were going for. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh man, where to start...

First of all, thanks everyone for the waterfall of feedback. Been busy with life lately so I only returned just now.

To be honest, I didn't even know this was a trope until now. Looked it up and my story fits it perfectly. That being said, I don't think it's avoidable here. Maybe I'm too narrow-minded or too inexperienced of a writer, but in a story this long, I honestly don't know how to avoid it. It's obvious that Suzie is just a tool used to establish something that John wants to live for, but I really don't know how I could make her into a fully fleshed out character without making the story a lot longer (which is always an option, but I also think that Suzie isn't important enough to warrant it). There's also the option of Suzie not existing in the first place, but then it weakens the punchline and purpose of the story. Speaking of which...

I realize from your comments that I need to do a pretty big overhaul of the story. The general consensus is that my story is a story about PTSD with a hint of maybe-it's-actually-magic mixed in. I'll be honest and say that I 100% intended for it to be the opposite, where the curse is something concrete and there and the numbers are the biggest part of the plot but that might just be a product of insanity or something. I intend to fully take out the mention of war and replace it with something else in order to reduce the potential for this whole plot to be a product of PTSD. My original plan for this story as supposed to be a "curse of immortality" story. The original ending that I had planned was that the story continues past the point where he discovers that his number has gone up, Suzie has died in her sleep as a product of his number, he tries to end his life and now that Suzie is gone he expects that he has nothing stopping him, something does stop him, his number goes up again, he realizes that he can't actually die, whether it's through natural death or suicide, and realizes that he's stuck... Which is obviously something that I didn't convey at all in this rendition of the story.

I should also make it clear that Suzie dies.

I'll work on that.


The elevator: Originally, I made him avoid the elevator because it's covered in mirrors and he's uncomfortable with reflective surfaces because he doesn't want to look at the number, but I really didn't do enough to establish that he's uncomfortable with mirrors so I guess it ended up unreasonable. Unless of course, he has an unexplained fear of elevators.

The park and junkie: The purpose of this was to make him have a scenario where he legitimately believed that he should have died and make him feel like his number should have gone up. I'm either going to make the reason for him being there a bit stronger, or just throw that entire thing away.

Micheal's toy sword: It's a toy sword. I'll probably just make it a broom or something. It's not important and it doesn't deserve to be.

Jim Carrey: I'd never heard of that movie, let alone seen it. The number 23 in my story is just a number that I chose completely at random. Easy fix to just change it. Probably to a much lower number if I take out the whole war thing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

11 hours ago, SalMonroe said:

To be honest, I didn't even know this was a trope until now.

So much so that we have a counter! Alas, it is now reset to zero (but it's not just you. It reset previous just last week. Almost every newbie fridges in their first sub. @TKWade can tell you stories).


Best part of the knowledge is now you know, and you can fix it! 

11 hours ago, SalMonroe said:

It's obvious that Suzie is just a tool used to establish something that John wants to live for, but I really don't know how I could make her into a fully fleshed out character without making the story a lot longer (which is always an option, but I also think that Suzie isn't important enough to warrant it).

If you can't figure out how to make a female character an actual character, it's best not to write one at all. Suzie doesn't even pass the Sexy Lamp Test, which is the lowest bar for judging female characters in a work. My suggestion would be to remove this sexy lamp altogether and replace it with a dog. Dogs are lovable. Dogs engender devotion from their owners. Dogs don't mind being plot devices, especially if you give them a treat after. Women do mind being plot devices, and that Suzie could be effortlessly swapped with a dog in this narrative should also give an indication of how troubling this type of representation is. 

Go forth and edit! You can do this!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...