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Jason Choi's picture

Burn, Baby, Burn

By Jason Choi in Arrest Us

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Description

Punishment comes for the curious in unexpected and terrifying ways.

A story about falling in with the wrong people and living with the consequences, set in Hong Kong.

Comments

Ray C's picture
Ray C June 30, 2014 - 9:05pm

Disturbingly haunting and surprisingly profound. Read the first few sentences expecting a violent crime story, but got so much more by the end. Incredible prose, and distinctive style. Great read overall. 

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch June 30, 2014 - 9:06pm

Thank you so much for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Ray C's picture
Ray C July 4, 2014 - 1:35am

Just read some of the comments, and wanted to emphasize on some points. This is still one of my two favorite pieces here and I think readers should take note of the following before they can fully enjoy the story in its depth. 
 

1) The point of this story really is detail. Paying attention to little comments, or descriptions that seem "off-handed", as the writer described, IS NECESSARY. For example, why does he dream in purple??? 

2) The theme of this story seems to be CURIOSITY. Pay attention to how that corrupts the protagonist.

3) The appeal of this story lies in its emotional arc and not in the who-killed-who kind of cheap thrills, as a comment pointed out. This is a bildungsroman about how a young man (or woman?) gets destroyed spiritually.  

 

To the writer: Someone made a suggestion about making Mark (Mak?) AWARE of what was in that room when they burnt it down. That will be a great change to the story. My story (which I couldn't submit because I missed the deadline) actually deals with similar moral implications, and I would love to see that explored more. 

Natalie Lollilolol Au's picture
Natalie Lollilo... July 1, 2014 - 12:18am

I still have the shivers! The prose is beautifully vivid, which makes the already chilling narrative all the more disturbing. I also appreciate the way you've written your character's introspection - it gives an insightful depiction of crime as not necessarily an act of evil committed by the bad guy, but as something that an ordinary person like myself could wonder and wander into. Your exploration of what crime does to those who commit it is very though-provoking too, and I think I'd still be mulling over this story for quite a while. I'd love to read more of your work!

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 1, 2014 - 12:25am

Thank you for your detailed review! I'm very glad you enjoyed it, gladder to know this story will be with you for a while.

Elizabeth Honey Chatjaval's picture
Elizabeth Honey... July 1, 2014 - 12:20am

Haunting, and will probably give me nightmares. Which means you did a great job writing.

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 1, 2014 - 12:26am

Thanks for the comment; haunting is definitely one of the things I was going for! 

Andrea Choi's picture
Andrea Choi July 1, 2014 - 7:04am

Great story. Love the suspense but the story is so much more than that. How you have managed to construct the characters' development within such a short story is definitely very impressive! :) keep writing!

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 1, 2014 - 11:08am

Thank you for reading! There is a lot I can work on in terms of character development, but thank you for your kind words.

wpcelo's picture
wpcelo July 1, 2014 - 3:53pm

Spooky story, really gripping! I thought the dialogue structure was very unique, and the flip between imagination and reality kept me guessing. I loved the insight into the consequences of curiosity, and I felt that this story took a cliched topic and spun it in a new, fresh, and enlightening way. Keep up the good work - I'd like to read more!

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 1, 2014 - 4:10pm

Thank you for reading and thanks for your review! These words mean a lot to me as a writer.

Mojopin12's picture
Mojopin12 from SA is reading Wheel of Time Book 7 July 1, 2014 - 8:38pm

Great story. From beginning to end I was hooked, and I actually felt for the protagonist and Mak. Cause nothing was free. Not the protaganist's indulging his curiousity and his yearning for experience, and not Mak's way out of the gang to embark on a new aspect of his life. It all costs.

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 2, 2014 - 12:15am

Thank you very much for the positive review. That was certainly one of the themes I meant to convey: that everything comes with a cost, especially when it comes to crime. Thank you, once again!

Nidhi Nair's picture
Nidhi Nair July 2, 2014 - 9:47pm

Well done Jason!

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 3, 2014 - 7:16pm

Hey Jason, 

I know this is going to sound harsh, but from reading the other reviews, I was expecting a lot more from this one. 

As you start to get into the story, the stakes aren't really there because you explained how your character went through depression and therapy. We know he got away. We know that nothing bad happened to him other than guilt. That was in my head through the rest of the story.

There are also a few things in there that didn't really make sense. The house keeper saw them but they didn't see her. Even believing the place was a vacant home, you would think that they would have noticed someone. And there was a baby in there that went unnoticed while they splashed gasoline around every room. I think it would have been a much bigger moral dillema, had one of them— preferably Mak— noticed the baby and still went through with it. (that could have been the stakes I was looking for.)

When the baby came walking out it jarred me a little. It took a turn toward horror, because I couldn't imagine a one year old walking out of a fire and calling for the caretaker in the real world. This was the big defining moment you were going for in the story, but it didn't really work.

As far as the craft goes. Technically, you did fine. There were a few paragraphs in there that could have been split up into shorter pieces, but that's your call. There are a lot of essays on this site that I've learned a lot from. I suggest reading Chuck's essays on Submerging the I, Thought Verbs, and On the body sensation.

You begin a lot of sentences with "I" which constantly reminds the reader that they are being told a story. Obviously this is a style thing.  Also, using things like I thought, I could feel, etc... bog down the piece a bit. When you say that you felt something, the reader takes an extra step in experiencing what you want them to.

Instead of saying: I saw his hand reaching for whatever it was he had in his back pocket, as if for reassurance.

Try: His hand dipped into his back pocket, as if for reassurance.

This way, there is a little surprise when he pulls out the box cutter. (The box cutter is a strange choice, too. Why not just have a knife?) It's good to take advantage of little things like this whenever you can.

I hope you can take some positives out of this. Kind of feel bad after the kind words you gave me. I tend to be a bit heavy handed with these reviews, but I think these things will really help. It isn't my goal to discourage you at all. It's to help you get better. This is what these things are for. Feel free to message me if you've got any questions.

Later,

Devon

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 4, 2014 - 1:01am

Hi Devon,

Thank you for taking the time to read my story and offering extensive advice - this is a much needed critique, and this is why I joined this website in the first place. That being said, there are some points I wholeheartedly agree with, but also some points I need to clarify.

I love your suggestion about Mak knowing about what was in the room, but still going ahead with it (how did I not come up with that!) - not only is there a moral dilemma, it also creates another dimension to his character.  This will make it harder for the readers to sympathize with him, which creates emotional conflict in the final act. Great call on that one! I will definitely change it in future edits.

Now to clarify about your other points of contention.

I intended this to be a gritty, realistic portrayal of what crime does to men. I deliberately eschewed the "is he doing to die?" cliché by revealing that my character did not die (the opposite would actually be impossible as I am narrating the events), and I don't believe that the protagonist's survival/death should be the only way to create stakes in a story. I wouldn't qualify depression, an abortion, a divorce, alcoholism, and self-harm as the character successfully "getting away" either.    

Much like in your own story, I intend to pique the reader's interest in finding out why the protagonist ended up the terrible state he was in (think Donna Tartt's The Secret History - a "whydunnit" rather than the hackneyed "whodunnit"). Of course, depression does not create as much dramatic effect as receiving 61% burn wounds, and maybe that's something I can work on.

As for your contention about the characters not seeing the maid and the narrator not seeing the baby, the devil is in the detail. I assumed the reader's attention to detail and deliberately buried clues. Sentences that may seem off-handed actually hold meaning (e.g. the opening remark about his wife having an abortion is because he couldn't stand the sight of an infant, but I'm sure readers figured that out by the end).

When the maid escaped in complete darkness, the narrator is in the corridor, whereas Mak is at the far side of the apartment; that's why she could escape. I made this clear in the scene and the subsequent interview - however, in retrospect the maid is not a necessary part of the story and I intend to remove that in future edits. Thank you for drawing my attention to that!

As for the narrator not seeing the baby, I also made sure I dedicate half a paragraph in describing how the narrator only poured gasoline on the closed doors of the rooms, and didn't actually open any of the doors. I should have gone into detail about how the door was only slightly open (explaining how the baby managed to push it open). But then of course, this will be irrelevant if I change my story according to your previous advice about Mak (which I intend to).

Once again, thank you for the honest and direct critique! Also, thank you for the suggestion about style and suggested articles to read, I really appreciate it!

Happy 4th of July,
Jason

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 4, 2014 - 5:39am

Hey Jason,

I didn't mean to imply that survival or death are the only way to create stakes. There are a million ways to do it. I was just saying that I didn't really feel anything was at stake. The depression and alcoholism and all that happens all the time, to everyday working-class people that have never done anything wrong, which makes it a bit cliche. I understand what you were trying to do with it, I just don't think that it carries the impact you were looking for. This is just one opinion, of course.

It might help if you zoomed in on some of those moments in the present. The reader would have a better feel of who your character is if we were shown the extent of that alcoholism, or an interaction with the wife concerning the abortion. The way it is presented in the story is all told information, which makes it easier to forget.

The abortion thing makes sense now that you mention it, but for me, it was lost in the story. Like I said before, it was just a word. abortion. 

Looking back at the story, you have a short beginning, explaining the present/aftermath, and a short ending where the reveal is made. The biggest part of the story is them splashing gasoline around the house. I had a firm grasp on what they were doing, but started to feel like nothing was happening to push the story forward, and I admit that I skimmed a little in that section, so I probably missed the closed door line. The Devil is in the detail, but you have to be careful not to bury those details. 

I do think you have a lot to work with in there. If your main focus is to show how the crime affected the character, it might be benificial to explore the character living with the regret instead of spending so much time on the crime itself.

Hope this helps.

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 4, 2014 - 1:57pm

Hi Devon,

Thanks again for taking the time to give me great, constructive comments; this is all really helpful to me as a writer. There's definitely consensus that I should focus more on the past and stop flooding the reader with too many details, i.e. overwriting. I will definitely try my best to improve on those.

Thanks again!

Jason

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch July 4, 2014 - 8:59am

Jason,

Unfortunately, this story didn't really work for me. I agree with a lot of the points that Devon has already brought up, with the main one being that the story is structured- The Narrator basically telling the story to the reader- robs it of a lot of tension that should be there.

I would have prefer that you kept us entirely within the past. With the narrator constantly intruding in, I was never able to fully give myself into the story.

The first paragraph didn't work for me because it's one big info dump. From reading the comments, I get that the abortion line is of importance, but rigth now, it's just smack dab in the middle of a lot of other details that the reader might not feel are important. It also really doesn't back as well as it should.

Once we're in the house with Mak, I do think that the story picks up and becomes more interesting. Your writing is good, but it feels overwrought and at times too writerly. Lines like:

With me was another apparition clad in black

Mak was perambulating around the extremities of the apartment

The leprosies of our sin were showing itself on the back of its head

I could almost see his smirk of derisive hauteur

I think a lot of times we as writers want to show how skill and descriptive we can be, but generally, it's better to stick to 5 cent words. LInes like those are good, but coupled with how the story is structured, I could never fully sink into the story.

The dialogue was a bit of an issue with me because it feels very, well, American. Other than the names, this feels like it could have taken placed in any random U.S city. If you can, maybe throw in specific dialect or sayings when Mak is talking?

The baby scene did feel like it strays unto horror. Im not sure I can buy the scene as it's described, with a one year on fire being able to push a door open, walk out and utter the name of the housekeeper. It also feels like such a big, big act that you have obviously been building up to, that everything that follows after is a bit anti-climatic. Which is a shame because what follows is good.

Sorry if this seems overly critial. I think you have the backbones for a great story, but right now, it unfortunately doesnt feel real, which I know is something you're attempting to do here. My advise would be to drop the narration entirely and keep us solely in the past.

As with these things, this is just one reader's opinion. There's clearly a lot of people that enjoy the story as is, so feel free to take anything that you find useful, disregard the rest.

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 4, 2014 - 1:55pm

Hector,

Thank you so much for taking the time and giving me a critique - this will definitely help me become better. I agree with your advice about overwriting, keeping it realistic and keeping the narrative in the past.

Do you think there's a key to starting with a narration in the present, but still keeping the reader engaged (e.g. The Great Gatsby)? This is a recurring structure in my stories and I would really appreciate any advice to improve it!

Thanks,
Jason

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 5, 2014 - 5:33pm

HI Jason,

I've been finding it easier for me to comment while reading as I go so I don't miss things, so here you go:

-Really like the way you've done the dialogue (alternating between quotes and no quotes).
-I'm having to look up some words in the dictionary which is funny because if you're a native to Hong Kong then you're totally one-upping a native English speaker with your second-language. Fuckin kudos!
-This sentence is super awkward: There was a tremulous hint of qualm in his practiced insouciance. I'm wondering if the protag actually has this kind of vocabulary or if you just wanted to show off yours. Nothing wrong with big words but when they're extremely uncommon I would think there should be a good reason for them.
-Beautiful/tragic cat scene -- and then the reveal -- and the title -- oh wow, awesome/horrible.
-I think sometimes there is too much use of adjectives. I'd suggest trying out sentences without adjectives to see if you think they really need them. It's a writing style you have, and it's good, but it seems a little showy at times.
-In other news, France defeated Nigeria two-nil in the world cup, and Paul Pogba’s performance was particularly astounding… -- excellent.
-The last paragraph of the story subtracts a bit for me. I think the story might be better with it removed, or somehow changed.

Thanks for writing this! Super awesome - an unreluctant upvote!

Feel free to read/review mine (there are some parallels between our stories, except I've taken the dark humor route and did too much telling and not enough showing): http://litreactor.com/events/arrest-us/born-again-packaging

 

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 12, 2014 - 12:19pm

Hi Max,

Thank you for the comment! Definitely agree with the over-writing parts; I will change them in future edits. Guess I was a bit too carried away with my words! Will hack away unneccesarily big words and superfluous adjectives.

I downloaded your story a while ago, and absolutely loved the dark humor. I gave it a thumbs up, and will definitely leave a review when I get the chance!

Thanks for reading!

Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading Pet Sematary July 6, 2014 - 5:57pm

Hey man, this is pretty damn good. I was hooked in from the start and it only rev'ed up from there.
The plot was clear and engaging. My only recommendation is a brief introduction to the flashback. I got a little confused in that I didn't know it was a flashback for a while. I had to scroll up and re-read a couple of times. Maybe just a one sentence indicator: "Two years ago, things were different." Or "It all steams from one event back in high school, before the abortion and divorce and the newspaper gig." Something like that.
Your writing is very solid. A lot of nice turns of phrase and smooth sentences. Particularly: "It was a trap for the curious, an altar for whatever future I had sacrificed the moment my feet stepped onto its wooden floors." A pleasure to read. A well deserved thumbs up!

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 12, 2014 - 12:16pm

Thanks for the comment, Joe. The reservation about the opening part is noted; there's definitely consensus among comments about that, and corresponding change will definitely manifest in future edits. Thanks for reading!

YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 7, 2014 - 4:24am

Really enjoyed reading this, especially in the last few pages the story absolutely gripped me. Both mak and the narrator are very well developed and i got a good sense of their different personalities.

in terms of critique I think the first section going over the narrators memories didnt fullywork for me-- i felt at least it could have been a littleshosrter if not rid of all together. as another commenter says details like therapy shows the scars created upon the nnarrator become better, or at least integrated into a functioning self, which doesnt add much to the tension of the story.

Another thing that occasionally took me out was the verbosity of the piece-- i have no idea what fugilinous means and there were a few such words where i had to look them up or infer meaning. Nothing erong with using less common words but I find in some cases they dont add much-- that may just be me though. 

I think devon mentions above the bit with the baby seeming more like ahorror. i agree but i found it worked for me. when ypu realise its a kid, with the vividness of your descriptions, my stomach literally sank. exactly thegut emotional reaction you want for in such a story; whether the kid burning and runing out is directly believable orwhatever i didnt find much of an issue, by this point i was already invested enough in the story to suspend disbelief so to speak.

Finallythere were two bits that confused me -- the caretaker seeing them and running out didnt seem to be logical, but I let it slide: tho tomake this work better maybe early on have a description of the apartment thatshows forexample the caretakers rooms path to the front door is blockedfrom sight by a wall-- something like that.  But not calling the cops seemed a bit out of character-- shes babysittinga police chief so it seems like agiven shed call someone.

secondly, I was unclear of where the characterswerewhen mak shouts burn baby burn -- hav the residents all left? are they alone in the corridor? and when do they take off their stocking masks cuz mak seems tobe smoking at some point. Apologies if this was all covered and i just didnt pick up on it.

hope the critique isnt too harsh-- i really enjoyed this story and it gave me a proper gut wrenching reaction. thumbs up!

tom

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 12, 2014 - 12:15pm

Thanks for the detailed comment; really appreciate the effort! There's definitely agreement among comments regarding the removal of the first part, and I agree: it can definitely be abridged in some way. Also agree that I can clarify on your two areas of confusion in future edits. Thanks for reading!

Dan J. Fiore's picture
Dan J. Fiore from Pittsburgh is reading too many things at once July 8, 2014 - 7:08pm

Woah.

I had to take a breather after that one. There were even a few moments throughout where I had to stop reading and just clear my head. Because, damn. That was some effective writing right there. 

The prose was wonderful and haunting and insightful and just simply beautiful. I felt this story at my core from page one. I loved the teaser at the start. I know some folks said they didn't like it, but it really pulled me into the story and created a huge question that I had to keep reading so I could find the answer. And that answer... wow. From (spoilers) thinking it was a cat to realizing it was a kid and then to end it with Mak killing himself (and pulling THAT off in such a brilliant way with his shoes disappearing) -- just gorgeously grotesque and hauntingly awesome. I loved it. I feel like I knew these characters and, more importantly, I understood via your writing how they felt at every turn. Because I was feeling it too.

As far as any flaws go, I had a hard time finding any. I would just  think through the actual lead-up to the fire as thoroughly as you can to make sure it doesn't seem TOO unbelievable that two people were in there. That said, however, I didn't have as much of a problem with that as some others. I thought you covered your tracks pretty well, but it's maybe worth a few extra edits to just be sure. 

I read (and am commenting on) this via my tablet, so as much as I'd like to point out the many, many wonderful lines I consider my favorite from your story, I can't. I'll just say that this was some of the greatest prose I've seen in the competition so far.

Wonderfully done, Jason. Thumbs up. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck. 

-Dan

 

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 12, 2014 - 12:12pm

Thanks for the comment, Dan - really appreciate your long and thoughtful response, especially after reading your great story. Definitely agree with improving on the believability of the beginning parts. Thanks for reading!

kevymetal's picture
kevymetal from Halifax, NS July 10, 2014 - 9:29am

Compelling stuff and super, super bleak. Reminded me of the film Paranoid Park. I'd maybe want one glimpse of faint hope amongst all the despair, but that only serves as a testament to how effectively downbeat you were able to make this story. Well done.

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 12, 2014 - 12:10pm

Thanks for the comment! Those were the feelings I was going for; perhaps a glimpse of hope isn't a bad suggestion either.

Damon Lytton's picture
Damon Lytton from Augusta, Kansas is reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow July 11, 2014 - 6:41pm

Hi Jason,

This isn't a bad story, but for some reason I always felt at a distance to it.  Maybe it's the fact the the MC is narrating from the future, or the way your prose is written - not that the prose is bad - but I never felt like I was in it with these characters.

The ending is a bit of a problem for me.  I'm fine with Mak killing himself and the MC regretting that he didn't stop it.  My problem lies in the second to last paragraph.  After seeing, smelling and probably tasting a baby burn to death, I don't think a purple, bloated face is the reason that you can't sleep at night.

This is a good story, but I definitely think there's room for improvement.  A couple more passes and it'll probably be damn great.

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 12, 2014 - 12:08pm

Thanks for the comments, Damon. I absolutely agree with your suggestions - though the bloated face being the thing that haunts the author is supposed to elicit disbelief and surprise. Definitely agree that I can make that stand out better though.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 17, 2014 - 12:41pm

This is an interesting one. There were a lot of things to like, but some things to work on as well. Devon and Hector covered pretty much everything I was thinking, so I won't echo them, but I do want to mention the plot holes. Your narrator splashes gasoline on closed doors, yes, but Mak then asks of he's covered every room. You imply Mak knew the baby would be there, so why would he ask your narrator to douse each room? Also, the walking, burning baby didn't work for me. I like the thought that it's a cat, as cats have evolved to evoke the same tones as a baby crying in order to gain attention, but a walking baby that can talk is much bigger than a cat, however this still kind of worked. Personally, and it might be just me, but I struggled to believe a baby could walk across a burning floor, through petrol-soaked carpet, let alone talk. The other thing is when they open the door - the rush of oxygen would cause a backdraft, pulling fire over them and into the corridor. Their clothes would have picked up some gasoline fumes, so they should also catch fire.

Those are my thoughts. There's a lot of positives in this story, the dialogue is excellent and your setting is good. Your story kept my interest and I enjoyed your prose, although it did feel very cold and calculated. Perhaps upping the pace as the story increases in pace will propel the reader further into the world you are creating and subsequently destroying. Best of luck.

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 20, 2014 - 9:18pm

Hey Jason,

Very well written story, man.  I liked it a lot. You clearly have a knack for writing and I thoroughly enjoyed the read. That said there were a few thoughts I had when I was reading it that I felt worth bringing up. Like many of these more popular stories, I did not read the above comments (as there are so many) so I would not be surprised if my suggestions have been covered to a degree elsewhere.
 
1) I wasn’t a huge fan of the opening paragraph. I do like the style of writing that goes into detail of a current situation, explains how the protagonist got there in the body of writing, then circles back to the present but I feel like you provide a lot of details that didn’t really seem as effective as they could have been. I viewed it as coming across as somewhat of a laundry list of how the incident affected him when, personally, I think focusing on fewer events in more detail would be a more productive route. Perhaps some things that specifically relate to children, though I suppose the abortion would, or suicide.

2) As a whole, the prose was solid. Your description of the child burning was seriously amazing. That said, I did feel like there were parts in which the level of detail seemed excessive/ the wording was just a little over the top. I realize I’m praising you for your prose and then saying it is excessive but I just feel like in general this is a very fine line. You’ve done it very well in some parts but this is just something I would keep in mind.

Once again though, this is excellently written. Maybe my favorite so far. I hope my suggestions helped at least to a small degree and if you have the time I would appreciate any feedback you could give me on my story. (http://litreactor.com/events/arrest-us/a-christmas-story).

Cheers,
Zack

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 21, 2014 - 1:14am

Not for the first time in this contest, I find myself sitting amongst the minority. Fortunately you have had a lot of positive comments (well done on rallying the troops by the way), so you can take or leave what the rest of us have to say.

For me, a lot of the comments I would have left have already been said by Devon and Hector, so there is little point in raking over the same ground. There are a few areas I want to cover though.

The main weak point you have here is Tina. I know you’ve covered how they didn’t see her in the comments, but she is a glaring contrivance, there only to justify having the baby in the house. Her actions make little sense, even if she is afraid for her life and not thinking straight. She sees two people pouring gasoline around an apartment in which she knows there to be a one year old infant. Not only does she run away to save her own life without thinking of the child, she also fails to raise the alarm and/or call the police. She is the housemaid of an anti-Triad commissioner. It seems inconceivable that a man who is this much of a target fails to adequately protect their child, leaving them in the care of someone completely incompetent.

The motivation of your characters is fairly weak across the entire story. Your narrator states a motive of, “youthful temerity and a naïve sense of curiosity”. That’s a very weak motive to go along and torch an apartment, with someone known to be part of a Triad gang, without asking any questions. Mak recruits someone to help him torch the apartment of the anti-Triad Commissioner by asking his entire class who wants to get some cash. Dai Los are happy to leave this dangerous and symbolic act of violence to a schoolboy, and whoever he chooses to recruit. Mak wants out of the gang (and they are going to let him go) to look after his mother, but then instead hangs himself (without kicking or making any noise, so that the protagonist in the very next cubicle fails to hear anything at all).

My personal feeling here is that you have the bones of an excellent story – two kids torch an apartment only to accidentally burn an infant. As a premise, it has promise. I’d certainly consider upping the age of the kid, because that is not a believable 1 year old, but that’s a minor point. I do feel very strongly that you need to sort the motivation issues out though, because as it stands, I just don’t believe in the characters.

Again, this is just a personal view. You have some good, positive comments, from people whose opinion I respect, even if I don’t always agree with them. It’s up to you to attach whatever weight you wish to any comments.

Best of luck with the contest.

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa July 27, 2014 - 7:41pm

Jason,

Wow, one hell of a story! Your characters where written brilliantly. Rather then a critic of your work I would just like to say I really enjoyed reading it. You painted each scene beautify and the writing was spot on. Fantastic story, I really enjoyed reading it. 

 

Utah

Grant Williams's picture
Grant Williams from Wichita, KS is reading Friday July 28, 2014 - 1:23pm

This was one well written piece and incredibly dark.  You did a good job of focusing on regret and curiosity.  Everything else has been pretty well covered above.  Best of luck.

Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine July 29, 2014 - 2:29pm

Hey,

Nicely written piece. When I was reading this I hoping for awhile that you would reveal Mak's motive. In the end I wasn't disappointed. The only thing I was a little confused about was the scene in the bathroom.Mak's feet disappear but the MC doesn't notice him hanging? Maybe I missed something in the description. Did the bathroom walls go all the way to the ceiling? It also seems weird that the MC wouldn't find it more odd that Mak had disappeared. Other than that, great story. Thank you for submitting.