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Monday, April 2, 2012

Critique of "Untitled"," Waking Dream", and "For Better or Worse I Give You Me"

Critique of “Untitled”, “Waking Dream”, and “For Better or Worse I Give You, Me”

I preface these critiques by firstly saying, I dragged my feet on these. I don’t know if it was the Not Wanting to Let Go of My Spring Break Blues playing in my head or the material, though I suspect it was the former rather than the latter. I was pleasantly surprised by this week’s crop, including the fact that two of the writers had coincidentally (not ironically as all the old Alanis Morrisette listeners would have incorrectly labeled it) given their main female characters the same name, right up to the spelling – Lori. However, I’m never one to chase anything less than an “A”, so I dug in and did my work.

Waking Dream

 The writer made some interesting choices in this piece – twins, waking coma, struggle over keeping someone around just because you want them not because it’s what’s good for them. These were some nice choices. However, the follow-through for most of the choices just weren’t there. For instance, the whole thing of them being twins never gets played out properly. Why make them twins if you’re not going to really use that to further your story? It’s like putting a gun in the room – if no one is going to fire it, why is it there?
The writing was pretty good. The descriptions of the waking dreams were fairly detailed and engrossing, which made other parts confusing. When it came time for Brooke to talk about them as children, she had nothing specific to draw on. She made sweeping remarks that sounded like she was describing a stereotype, remarks that an outsider might make, definitely not someone with inside knowledge. For instance, (and could for the love of Pete, could somebody please start using page numbers I their work? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally dropped a pile of printed out sheets and had to guess which order they were supposed to be in – which is another telltale sign of a troubled story line. If you can drop the pages, mix them up, and not tell automatically where they go without page numbers, then you’ve got a problem…), in the section where Greta starts asking questions about the twins’ connection, Brooke merely responds, “Twins, we have always been inseparable. We even swore when we were kids that we would never be apart, that we would grow old together….” Unless she’s closed up tighter than a drum, she’s probably going to give away a more intimate detail. For instance, she might remember them being in a treehouse their father built the summer before he left their mother. Reember, she’s in a vulnerable state at this point. She’d be more open to accessessing these intimate and personal memories than if she were in a boardroom or at the grocery store chatting with the clerk. Her sister is likely dying. It will cause a person to drudge up all sorts of memeories, ones you’d likely thought you’d forgotten. You’ll remember smells and the feel of a dress’ fabric. And, yes, there’ll be odd memories mixed in with the bunch.
You’ll also forget to eat. It one of the worst kinds of diets, but your head is so filled with trying to capture everything you’re sure you’ll lose when that person passes that you can’t think about doing everyday things, simple things like eating, or putting gas in the car, or watching the series finale of a show you’ve watched for eight seasons.
I liked that you included Vivienne’s process through this journey. It seems to be a story of both sisters coming to terms with Vivienne’s death – Brooke wanting to tether her sister in this world while Vivienne is trying to muddle her way into the next. For me, that part of the story needed to be stronger. It was hidden beneath too little specific detail.
And when I say “too little specific detail” I mean in places where you reuse the word “gray” over and over in one paragraph, but don’t give use anything new to help expand the vision of what either girl is seeing. I have nothing against “gray”. “Gray” is a great word to describe loneliness, depression, gloominess, but it doesn’t tell your story alone. If it did, you could just write “gray”, turn off your laptop, and go sip on some Tequila Sunrises by the pool instead of writing anything more. Give us another angle to see the picture you see.
The ending was pretty abrupt and for all the previously drawn out process, this didn’t match. It would be different if it were something like Brooke had to sign some papers to allow them to pull the plugs. She might do that in striking and hurried motions in order to jump from the desperate feeling of wanting to keep her sister alive to being okay with letting her go. However, that’s not what you’ve written. If you want to stay with what you’ve written, it’ll need more there.
I liked your opening line. First lines are always the kicker. You need to write them in such a way that draws people in, but also makes them want to find out more. Like I said, I liked your first line.
(By the way, you describe the twins as being inseparable at least twice that I can find without looking hard. Find something new to say about them. Anyone can say they are inseparable. I want to read what you have to say about them, what you found unique and interesting enough to want to write about them. Something drew you to these two characters and made you want to put them on paper so they wouldn’t be forgotten. So, make them unforgettable. Tell us what makes them stand out. Point them out in the crowd with your pen and paper.)
Keep going at this one.


This was a cute and interesting story. Seriously. It was engaging and the pacing was good. I liked how she slipped in an out of what she said aloud and what she said to herself. This is a very quiet piece, something that lends a hand to underscore traits of your main character. The ending need sot be rework a little. It’s too pat. Plus, the way the story begins, it seems more like conflict between Lori and Marissa (sorry for my comment earlier. I go the characters’ names mixed up. Lori is a secondary character in this one, not a main character… but I digress.).
I have very little to say about this because I think you’re fairly close on this one. You’ll need another draft or two to get it closer to home, but it’s definitely there. You have the usual grammar problems we all find when we’ve worked on a piece for too long. There are a few punctuation issues, but nothing that can’t be fixed. The main thing is you have something that, in my opinion, is on its way to being a beautiful sketch of a simple life and a hurried resolution.
I definitely would want to see what you do with this, even if you don’t use it as your final piece in class.

For Better or Worse, I Give to You Me

Ever seen Switch? It’s film with Ellen Barkin and Jimmy Smits. Your story reads like a married version of this film. It’s rife with misandry, which is a dangerous road to go down. It’s pretty tricky stuff to alienate a good chunk of your reading audience (see: Zachary Kinsey’s critique of this piece for a typical internal dialogue of someone you piss off, someone who in most cases has just bought you book/story/manuscript and is now searching his/her apartment for their Barnes & Nobel receipt.) Am I saying you shouldn’t write about this? Nope. I’m one of those rare writers who really believes – and doesn’t just say s/he believes – that a writer should be free to write about anything. It doesn’t mean I, the reader, have to buy it, though.
So, let’s dig into this piece, shall we?
First, I like this humorous take on role reversal, but again you might want to make it a little less one sided. Imagine you’re on a see-saw when you’re telling this story. You don’t want the other side to leaving you hanging, or worse, drop you suddenly and very hard to the ground. You want him to go along with you story. Remember, you’re not just talking to the women who are fist pumping along with you, you are (seemingly) trying to make the other side see something new about themselves, something you obviously think they need to change or improve. Comedy is a great way to approach touchy subject like that. But, people tire of being the butt of the joke. They like it better when you can laugh at yourself, too. They’re more willing accept the criticism and listen when you smile and tell them they have lettuce in their teeth. You’re not telling them to hurt them. You just figure they didn’t know and probably didn’t want to go to their next meeting, grinning with their lunch gunking up their freshly bleached chompers.
Secondly, find another doctor’s name. Likely, if anything happened with this story, the real Dr. Laura would have a probably case against you. You’ve put her in your story that, while obviously parody, does not parody her enough to make someone believe it couldn’t be her (Although you could argue with the whole giving-an-unknown-patient-vials-of-drugs thing, though even that might not go in your favor.) The point is this – avoid a lawsuit if you can. Pick another doctor’s name. Her being named Dr. Laura really adds nothing to the story and you don’t parody her enough to make it worth the possible hassle.
The Dr. Laura call in the beginning had a lot of good dialog, but it needed to be trimmed. It also needed to be formatted correctly because Lori’s responses were mixed in with Dr. Laura’s questions. That can be easily straightened out. Go back in and look at what you can remove from the dialog that doesn’t take away from the story line. What details can you afford to lose?
Listen to one of these calls in shows a couple of times. You’ll hear how the radio personalities are very adept at directing their callers. Most callers are prescreened, but even when they are, radio hosts have to be able to structure and push and pull a conversation to make it interesting. Dr. Laura would be doing most of the talking. If someone flips through the channels on their way to a country station, they want the listener to be ale to identify them easily and stop rather than slide on down the dial.
The transition from Dr. Laura asking Lori questions to asking her if she’s willing to do anything is too abrupt. She’s not even asked her what she’s done so far, and certainly nothing Lori has revealed would convince anyone that the situation was at such a crisis that voodoo was the next logic step. I realize you’re looking for a quick fix to get your story going in the direction you want, but you rally forced the wheel on this one. Nobody’s remaining in the car with you on this one – you a crazy driva’, as my 2 year-old niece likes to say.
Okay, I buy that maybe Lori is at her wits’ end, trying to save this marriage, and while when she’s on the phone she might be whipped up into a frenzy that’s frothy enough for her to go along in that immediate moment with what Dr. Laura is saying, but no way that with the simple written instructions that are sent along with the vials do you have me believing that Lori is still in that same mental state. She’s had ample time to come back down to Earth. Maybe if the box arrives, she discards it because she does realize it’s crazy, but then her husband does something so egregious that she feel it’s the last straw. She goes to the closet, grabs up the box, pops the tops on the vials, pours it in his favorite beer, and goes smiling to deliver it to him, apologizing as she does – he thinks for the arguments, she for what she about to do to him.
You want funny? Take another crack at describing Lori’s first attempt at peeing like a man. Ask your husband/boyfriend for funny stories about it. The funniest ones I’ve heard were ones about after a guy’s has sex at night, but forgets about it when he goes to pee in the morning. Apparently, it clogs the “drain pipes” and causes the urine to go flailing in multiple directions, completely uncontrollable. Now, that’s funny – to me. Maybe you end the night before by her sighing and giving in to having sex him, figuring the potion didn’t work and she’s stuck with the same old same old. The next morning, she’s painting the walls with his pee.
I like the nicotine bit. I’ve never smoked, so I don’t know what that intense, instinctive drive to light up feels like, but you described it aptly for my tastes, or lack thereof.
The phone call to the brother is completely believable. Of course, she wouldn’t know what she sounds like! She has spoken yet! Good call on that detail.
I’m with the reviewer who said if you’re going to use slang and/or cuss words, spell them out. We’re grown-ups. We can take it. And if we can’t, there’s a nursery in the main building where someone can drop us off until after class.
(Besides, this is a perfect time for Lori to start feeling the testosterone coursing through her veins, and grow her some balls – or maybe feel the ones she grew the night before).
Brandon’s greeting of Sean (“Are my sister and the kids all right?”) is stiff. Likely, he’d call her by a pet name or a shortened version of her name. I know, I know, he name is already short. But think about it. The relationships, unless strained, between Sean and Brandon is likely to be very intimate, for guys. He probably knows more about what’s going on in their trouble marriage than Lori does.
I like that his previous ailments – his bad elbow, for instance – are issues she has to deal with now. (By the way, Subway in this case is the name of a company. Go ahead, capitalize it.)
I love the details about being in line and getting a hard-on for the barista/counter girl. Here’s a detail you might want to use. There’s a product truckers use that’s basically baby powder and it’s to help with chaffing. It’s called Anti-Monkey Butt. I kid you not. We have a container of it at home. It works great, and had a fantastically hysterical name, especially for a short story.
The bits about all the stuff she had “him” do that he would never do are great. Here’s a great detail. Instead of nicotine gum, consider having her pick up his old prescription for Chantix. Not only will he stop smoking, he’ll have God-awful nightmares.
Of course, the problem by this point is that you’ve now heaped a lot of flaws on Sean and not a one on Lori (though without you telling me, I can point out she’s a controlling bee-yatch who needs to take it down a couple of notches, but that’s just me. Maybe she needs to pick up her old prescription for Xanax.)
Maybe she finds out that he is arranging for a standing order of monthly flowers to be delivered to start on hr next birthday, or while searching for the maps in the truck, she finds a book she’s been going on about that’s out-of-print that’s he’s bought for her. You’ve given him enough flaws. Let her use this as a chance to find out the things she’s stopped looking for - the things she chose him for. She loved him once. Is it possible she’s becomes so blinded by what she wants that she can’t see the loveliness of what he’s giving her?
Cut all the stuff from Sean’s point of view. This has been Lori’s story from the beginning. It’s too abrupt and doesn’t add enough, unless this is a straight out revenge story (which is sounds like it’s shaping up to be.)
I’m guessing you have an ex-husband in your near past, or will about to have one, at least if he reads this.
For instance, Sean jumps up and can’t find Lori or his body, but immediately assumes she did this. That’s not a logical leap or conclusion. A logical one, even if he hates her, is to first consider something he did to get in this mess. He probably wouldn’t even notice her missing until he starts thinking about where his body is. Once he notices that, he might freak out because he doesn’t know if something happened to his body or if it’s gone for good. Calm and adapting would not be in his wheelhouse at this point.
The “Hey go f@#* yourself man don’t be look’n at my wife” bit is great. But here’s the thing…if she’s getting his spontaneous hard-ons caused by his testosterone, then he’s not going to be turned on by her body. Likely, he’d be turned on by the guy who just cussed out. And that, that is funny.
When Lori’s dad shows up, we get that they’ve switch bodies. You don’t have to reexplain it to use. We get the awkwardness of Sean hugging up on his father-in-law while Lori glares at her dad and husband.
You gave away your ending, though, and that just killed it. You had this great, funny ending, and you told the punchline six paragraphs too soon. In fact, you bury the punchline by giving it away TWICE before it’s even necessary. Ugh!
The lines coming out of Dr. Laura’s mouth off the air are offensive. I get it that maybe that’s the way you want her character to be, but she sounds like a parrot of Lori, so it sounds like it’s coming directly out of the mouth of the writer – again, you’re reading audience is looking for their receipt.
The ending paragraph is rush and sounds like you were trying to beat a deadline and needed to tack an ending on.

Okay, all this to say, you have a conflict – the “magic” changing them into each other and their struggle to get through it and Lori’s struggle to change them back. You even resolve it in the last few sentences. But you’ve alienated the majority of your audience by this point – if they’ve stuck around for the ending, which you gave away like a sixth grader who can’t stay behind a curtain without sneaking an arm out to wave to the newly seated crowd.
Go back, make some changes, and come at this again. This could be good fun.

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