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_JohnUtah's picture


By _JohnUtah in Arrest Us

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An unnamed narrator grapples with right and wrong, when he develops a conscience during a routine robbery. 


Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. June 21, 2014 - 12:16pm


I really like your take on the classic sort of thug tale. The seemingly random italics were a little irksome and you had a few typos here and there but overall it was a really fun story. I particularly liked your indirect approach to the subject, never giving too many details and I found the narrator extremely compelling. Particularly his bizarre relationship with Marybeth. It was refreshing to read a story in this vein with that sort of surreal touch. Well done. I really liked it. 


_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 21, 2014 - 12:35pm


Thanks for the input! I wanted to portray the italics as an "inner thought" so to speak. But thank you for reading my work, means a great deal. 


Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. June 21, 2014 - 12:51pm

Oh that makes sense. Sorry, my mistake.

No problem, it was a pleasure. Thanks for writing it.

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 21, 2014 - 12:34pm

Thanks to all those who read my story!

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 21, 2014 - 6:12pm

Hey Utah.

You've got a good story here. There are grammar issues throughout that need to be cleaned up, though. The one thing I didn't really like was the protagonist talking to himself. It was neurotic, but his actions weren't.

Other than that, there are just little things you can do to tighten up the prose. You have this line at the beginning— We are sitting on what resembles a long brown couch with six marble tables and six ottomans across from us. You cut cut the sentence entirely, or cut out what resembles.

Later on in the liquor store, Gary is eating what looks to be a pie. Just say he's eating a pie. It puts the image in our head rather than taking us out of the story to stew on what kind of pastry he's eating. Instead you could have him mad dog the guy and create some tension in that space.

All in all, good job. 


_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 21, 2014 - 6:39pm


I really appreciate you taking the time to read my work. Thanks a lot for the input very helpful stuff. Yeah grammar isn't really my strong suit, but its good to know my weaknesses to improve on. I can see your point on the narrator coming off as neurotic by talking to himself, with that I kind of just wanted to ground him in a human sense. But once again thanks for the input.


Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 21, 2014 - 7:14pm

Hope it helps.

Amy Taylor's picture
Amy Taylor June 23, 2014 - 11:21am

Hi John, 

I really enjoyed reading your story. I felt the energy and loved the beginning. It really stood out for me and made me feel as if I were there. Aside from a little bit of grammar, I thought the story flowed well. 

Thanks very much. 


Tim Hennessy's picture
Tim Hennessy June 23, 2014 - 6:47pm


I like the premise of a guy looking to rob a liquor store, but getting beat to it. That said, beyond that initial setback things really seem to fall into place for our narrator pretty easily. How else could you complicate things for the protagonist? The first couple pages provided a lot of exposition, maybe starting closer to the action and integrating some of that information while he’s in the liquor store anxiously wandering around prior to the robbery might help set the scene and give us a sense of the store.

He gets the jump on the holdup guys and they just hand over their score without saying much of anything. I find it hard to imagine, even if our narrator is that physically intimidating. How else might you be able to challenge our protagonist and keep him in peril?

Also, you describe the two gunmen as Batman and Robin, that at first had me picturing two would be gunmen dressed in costume. Why did you go with the Batman and Robin description? Might there be another reason for that in the narrator’s mind other than that they were a duo?

I also agree with the use of italics that the others said. Generally, when you’re in first person you’re already in the head of the narrator so wouldn’t need to use them unless you were intending to emphasize something specific.

I would also suggest paying closer attention to grammar, verb tenses, and punctuation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to track changes on a PDF, otherwise I’d have some specific examples for you. All elements we all overlook, but fixable.

I hope this is helpful. I think you have a promising start, and hopefully, with some revision it will shape into an interesting story.

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 23, 2014 - 9:43pm


First off thank you so much for reading my work. Your review has been extremely helpful! Grammar isn't my strong suit, but I'm slowly trying to get a handle on the damn thing, but thank you for pointing that out!

You ask some interesting questions and offer some good insight that I feel can drive my narrative a bit more and I thank you for that. It's interesting you point out Batman and Robin, the initial draft had them depicted as Bert and Ernie type characters. I could have elaborated on them a bit more I see that now but for the story itself it was mainly that they were a duo.

I do like the idea of having the narrator getting into peril a bit more. In that retrospect the limitations just got the better of me and I was nervous about going over or under the word count with to much or to little detail. I was playing around with the ideas of, "Should I toss in more action?" "Or make him a contradiction straitlaced robber?" (that type of ordeal)

Finally, I was a bit skeptical of the italics at first, I just enjoyed the notion of a narrator not only telling a story so to speak or living it, but talking to himself and answering his own questions in the process. One example of that, is when he tells the reader "I think it was a convenience store or laundromat", then later on when he walks in the store he hears the noise and sort of answers himself stating "maybe this was a convenience" kind of keeping that information to himself. So I wanted to deliver a way to distinguish that. But thank you for pointing that out to me it was very helpful.

Again thanks for all your input, it has been fantastic! Thanks for reading my work I really appreciate it.


Tim Hennessy's picture
Tim Hennessy June 24, 2014 - 2:56pm


I do think that you could work in the idea of the narrator's "mental chit-chat" with himself, but it would be more effective to do without italics. The only current example of a similar voice that I've seen recently(and really to all extent this can be/is done in all first person stories) is with Matt Fraction's run on the comic Hawkeye. Fraction's Hawkeye has tons of action and a completely compelling and original voice, granted not prose but you'll see another way it can be done effectively. Often enough Hawkeye will mentally talk to himself, but it's also done sparingly. I can work, you just have to play with it some more. 

Even just using spacing on the page can do wonders for that. Steve Weddle's Country Hardball is a fine collection and he uses the page to great effect.

Also, and I say this as someone who has had to work to get better use of it, grammar and punctuation are a pain in the ass, but they are tools that help shape your work -- especially if you're trying to write in a distinct voice. And we're all trying to write in distinct voice. The class through Lit Reactor is affordable and well worth the time. 

With the Bert & Erine or Batman & Robin duo, regardless of the pop culture reference it's an opportunity for you to unpack a description of the two. Depending on the tone you want, they could be dressed as anything, so long as their choice has some reason for being. What if they were dressed in some sort of costume? What would that say about them? Does that make them more or less threatening? It's a character beat, and you can play with it and turn it into some distinct. 

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 24, 2014 - 3:02pm


Thanks so much for the advise, it has helped a great deal. Thanks for the guidance, hopefully I can ask you more questions in the future. 


Tim Hennessy's picture
Tim Hennessy June 27, 2014 - 8:30pm



Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland June 25, 2014 - 4:28pm


In the first person p.o.v everything is essentially your narrator's thoughts, so I'd nix the itallics as well. Especially, if you say "I thought" afterwords. Just use clever line spacing to seperate random thoughts. 

I think I have a good way to address his talking to himself, I can see why you did it and I think it could work. The guy is a little out of touch with reality. He has this unhealthy obsession with his pistol and that is one of your character's best selling points. So I'd suggest that all the things he says to himself, have him address it to Mary Beth. You do a good job keeping who she is under wraps for a while, but at times I wondered where she was when things were happening. So if he says all these things to her, and maybe mention that he's laying on top of her in the liquour store to "protect" her or something. keep her in the scene without giving away her identity as long as you can. Then when the reveal comes and we realize he's been talking to his pistol the whole time, the height of his insanity and infatuation without will have a much stronger affect. Then instead of us asking ourselves why is he talking to himself for halfway through the story, we'll just think he's talking to her, and when it's revealed he's been talking to his gun = mind blown. Wow this guy is a nut job. 

I like a little of the repetition on the last page from the first scene but I think you repeated too much. Cut that down, make it short and sweet. And it can just loop his insanity for us. 

I don't have a problem with your M.C. calling them Batman in Robin if that's the first thing that comes to his mind. Or Burt and Ernie. Make sure it's coming from him and not you though. Show us why he makes that corelation, other than it just being two guys. That could tell us alot about your character. Maybe he always sided with the joker when watching/reading the series. Maybe he thinks Burt and Ernie are harmless puppets so he goes with that. Let what he calls them tell us about him. 

A little more struggle when he robs B & R might be good. I do kind of like how they are street punks who are harmless when caught off guard. 

I don't quite understand why he goes back. He already thought Gary was dead. He says as much to the Mexicans. Then he goes back to tell them and kill them. It's another opportunity for you to show us how dellusional your M.C. really is. He doesn't want to do it. It was Mary Beth's idea. Keep her identity underwraps until this scene. Have Marybeth talk to him (maybe, that could be stretching it) If you did. That could be in italics because it would be coming from him but he thinks it's coming from her. 

Anyway, despite all my rambling it was a quick read with great pace. I think you can amp up the tension and the character by taking some of the advice offered in the comments above here and maybe one or two of mine can help. It's mostly subjective so take what helps and leave the rest. Good Luck. 



_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 26, 2014 - 12:12pm


Thank you so much for the review of my work. I found it extremely helpful and assure you I will put it to good use.

Thanks for addressing my characters obsession with Marybeth. That was one of the main things I wanted to get across. I didn't want to write the story, just for it to be in he first person perspective. But almost to let the reader decide if he was telling the story to them, or simply talking to himself the entire time. I might play around with the idea a bit more but I just find the first person perspective to story telling just fascinating. It gives you that feeling of "is he talking to me" mixed with "I can be this guy" while you read. 

One of the main things I tried to move away from was that I didn't want the narrator to dip into the realm of "serial killer nut job." Like complete psycho type due to the parameters of the writing challenge. But I did want to mess with that dynamic of him looking at his pistol as a person, an attachment of himself. I will defiantly remember the logic behind describing secondary characters such as B & R for future stories. That was just taken from own logic. I myself tend to just group people in that way calling a pair of people Bert and Ernie just for the sake of it, but now I can see how it can add depth to a character. Very helpful thank you for that. 

The last portion of the story I just wanted to paint the character as a bit of an anti hero. Sure he was a criminal a robber. But now he finally had the chance to help a neighborhood avenge their fallen leader so to speak, since he wasn't able to back where he was from. But the idea of having Marybeth say it, is fantastic wish I would have thought of that. But again I didn't want him to fall under the Serial Killer psycho umbrella.

Thanks once again for reading my work, the tips are sure helpful. The knowledge you provided will go a long way, thank you.


Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland June 26, 2014 - 12:28pm

Actually, I write the majority of my stories in first person too. Just love coming up with unique voices and getting enveloped in the head of my characters that way. I mean i get so into it sometimes I cry when they do, or get really angry when they do and then I chanel that into my writing.

As far as nutjob serial killer goes you don't have to go all Dexter with it, or not even like those moveis where they don't know what they are doing like Angel Heart or anything.

He could just be a little off kilter, and probably not vigilante do-gooder most of the time. Maybe he's partly pissed because he got shot at. Maybe he does mourn the passing of the guy because it reminds him of the dude he mentioned from his hood, so maybe in extreme circumstances he kind of snaps and Mary Beth decides to comit murders of passion, not calculated executions. Maybe it's like he knows what he's doing and doesn't really want to but his urge when he's holding on to Mary Beth is really hard to deny. It's just an option. Or something to toy with. Don't make it seem like something that happens every weekend. More like the Hulk, he can control it most the time unless he's really emotional.

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 26, 2014 - 12:44pm

Damn fine point you make there. I will look into that for future writing projects. Thanks a great deal for your advice and help good sir.

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch June 25, 2014 - 6:13pm



Overall I liked this story enough to give it a thumbs up, and I think you have tons of really great lines and a good hold of the main character, but there were some things that kept stopping me as I read it.

The italic thing definitely stood out. I'm generally not a fan of stories that take solely in the character's head, so for me the story picked up around the liquor story, there there seemed to be more of an equal mix of action and monologue in each page. The line 'Two Batman and Robin characters' didn't work for me, because it felt a little bit too lazy of a description, especially considering that nothing in the description really alludes to them looking like those two.

Since most of the story takes place in the character's head, the few times where the character speaks to himself stand out and I'm not sure if they add much to the story, as opposed if you kept them simply as thoughts. Though I might feel that way because I caught on pretty fast what Marybeth really was (the six kiss line was a give away for me).

All that said, I really did enjoy the story and more importantly the character was interesting enough that it kept me reading. I was personally a bit dissapointed that you had him go back and kill the two robbers, as I liked the idea that even if he felt bad for Gary's fate, he would hae left things alone after paying them one visit already, but that's just me.

Thanks for sharing.

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 26, 2014 - 12:15pm


Thanks a lot for reading my work! It's good to know that it's appreciated by others like yourself who generally stay away from the first person narrative haha. But thank you none the less for your input, it will be put to good use I assure you.


Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 26, 2014 - 1:50am

This was a good little story, and I liked it coming full circle, but it does have a few issues. As others have said there are spelling and grammar slips, plus odd comma or incorrect semi-colon, but my main problem was the italics. Some thoughts are italicised, others weren't, and it just constantly interrupted the flow of the story. As previously mentioned, if you removed the italics your prose would work better. Nice job, a little work and this will be great.

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa June 26, 2014 - 12:17pm


Thanks for reading my work. Yeah, the grammar stuff I'm slowly working, tricky bastard. But thanks for pointing out the one consistent flaw. Now I know what I need to work on to polish things up for next time. I appreciate your review. Thanks!


Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 6, 2014 - 11:59am

There's some good stuff in here, but I wish I hadn't read the other comments, because pretty much everything I'd want to say has been covered.

The italics were a bit of an issue, but it's been covered and I don't want to bash you over the head with it. I agree with Jonathan here that you are writing from his perspective, so don't need these.

I did love the reveal on Marybeth. Maybe I was slow on the uptake but I didn't see that one coming at all. I liked the premise, being beaten to the punch on robbing the store, only to rob the robbers. It's a nice bit of justice at the end when he takes them out on his second trip.

Best of luck with this.

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa July 14, 2014 - 2:12pm


Thanks for reading my work. Yeah it seems like the italics is a consistent things I need to work on. But I am glad you enjoyed reading my work and I appreciate your review of my story!


Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 12, 2014 - 12:27pm


Great reveal of Marybeth.  Didn't see it coming, and even when I should have, it still took me a second.  After the line about pulling Marybeth from her resting place I was like "Wait, huh?" then as I kept reading I went, "Oh! Well, shit."  I felt like I got fooled twice, which in the case of story presentation is a good thing.

I wish I had more of a sense of the main character's obsessive qualities throughout it.  That revelation sort of came with the final paragraph - a great way to bring the narrative full circle, by the way - but I would have liked to see that part of him built up more.  When I went back through it after my first read, knowing that about him made it more enjoyable.  The first time through, it was like having a conversation with somebody that I didn't really click with.

There were a lot of things about the narration that I had an issue with and found really distracting.  I know you have a lot of comments here, but I made a point to not read them, so I apologize if I'm a broken record:

There were a lot of surperfluous phrases and/or details.  An example of one type of such phrase/description is when he puts his bandanna on.  He says "I'm smiling under my bandana, neither of which can see."  The "neither of which can see" part brings things to a momentary halt.  I already know that the guys looking at him can't see his smile based on the first part of that sentence, so it's perceptually redundant.  If something like this happens every once in a while it doesn't have much of an impact on the story as a whole and is a minor fix, but this happened often enough to interrupt my flow and bog down my immersion.

Another type of such phrase, this time not involving detail, is when Batman and Robin come into the store (as a sidenote, I didn't understand referring to them as B&R outside of the fact that there were two of them and they probably had masks on). I feel that when writing in first-person-present-tense, where you're giving a real-time thought process, there should be a sense of immediacy here, when instead we got a critical assessment of the robbers' technique.  For instance,  "Why do people always feel the need to swear to GOD? I only wonder this because, I to have uttered that exact phrase before. Is it standard robbing dialog? Obviously not buying into the childish threats, Gary..." We saw the main character go from fury to condescension, from rushed to ruminative, in an instant, with no change in environment. One of the great advantages to first-person-present-tense is the ability to allow your character to ruminate in real-time.  Some of my favorite writers do that, and it's a tactic I enjoy using as well, so I understand wanting to provide his thoughts on something that he has strong opinions about, but it needs to better serve what's happening in order to give the story the immediacy it needs to be engaging.  It's an issue I had throughout the story.  Also, in the quote above "I only wonder this because" and "Obviously not buying into childish threats" are two more of those phrases that bogged down the flow.

The italics threw me off.  I wasn't sure if that's something that was being emphasized, or what.  I know they are typically used to show something going on in a charater's head, but in this story, where it's clear that everything that's not action is the character's thoughts, it's confusing.

I hoped my comments helped, and good luck in the contest!


_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa July 14, 2014 - 2:10pm


Thank you so much for reading my work! I'm glad you enjoyed the reveal of Marybeth, that was my main purpose, to give a sense of shock. To show ones attachment to objects can be on a more personal level. There was indeed much more I wanted to do with the character, but due to the parameters of the assignment I didn't want to take him completely psycho and portray him as a serial killer of some sort. I wanted him to just be a guy making his luck the wrong way, with a slight obsession with his pistol. haha

Thank you for breaking down your comments in detail. Speaking on the italics, I myself tend to only read first person narratives, some of them can be straight forward and others a bit crazy. I wanted to make the italics a sort of, "answering his own questions." Sure with first person narratives everything is in the characters mind, but he could also be telling the reader his story. So I wanted him to sort of "off the hinge" just a bit, so to speak. I have slowly started to work on correcting this and I have noticed the italics do tend to bog down the text for some people.

Another things, is I get where you are coming from with the phrases you spoke on, I never really though of it that way. So thank you for pointing that out, it makes complete sense. And I have gotten a bit of criticism for using B&R, it was just one of those writers characteristics I tossed in there. Every time I see a pair of people it is always think B&R, no logic behind it. But I can see now how a little more detail as to why B&R can help drive the character a bit more.

I really enjoyed your review of my work, and thank you again for reading it!


Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 19, 2014 - 2:26pm

Hi there,

I had a hard time getting into this one. The first paragraph, well it's describing the coffee shop, and the other patrons, but it's a bit of a shopping list. Can it be worked into something more naturalistic, action, conversation, that sort of thing? And his commentary on his fellow coffee shop-ers would work better if we had a little insight into him at this time, whereas all we know is he is rather implausibly a) working b) researching how to pick locks. And this opening paragraph ends with the awkward mouthful : where focus can meet activation

The basic story; lets see what you've got, and what you need. These are suggestions, but I hope good ones. You've got a guy who does armed robberies. Okay. Who likes a few beers before he does them (why? he seems to do fine on this occassion without). Who ends up having his boost stolen by someone else, who then robs them, and then decides that wasn't enough. All good enough, though I'd like to feel his sudden flush of anger when he finds out it was the birthday, and I'd like to feel the scare when bullets head his way.

So, lose the coffee scene. As it is you describe it and then he leaves it, which is a bit pointless. Think of a way to get him on the street in the wrong gear, with no wallet, and a thirst. Everything else can play out pretty much as you have it, but lower his aspirations. He knocks over convenience stores. So is there a need for this to be a first step in a process, why not be the end all and be all? And Gary has a reputation - would he pick on him? Why not have him not know Gary - you can have the 50th birthday, is that enough to drive him to angry revenge? Hone the reasons for his actions, and the story comes out a lot stronger. And don't overcomplicate it. (No laptop for this petty thief...)

Couple of other comments before I leave you.

6 tallboys is a light buzz? Maybe for an elephant! difference between dutch courage and enough to impair his judgement)

If you want to keep MaryBeth a surprise, leave it at "if she kisses a guy". "six kisses" is immediately obvious... plus it clashes with the number of tallboys. You don't need to exactly echo at the end, "sure, things got a bit messy" is enough. 

Why is this italicised? I can’t remember which. And it's not the only one. They're so frequent and largely unnecessary I'm beginning to think maybe he's schizo. Seems very angry with himself, so maybe...

Ultimately, a short story has little space for anything which doesn't pull it's weight, that isn't necessary to drive the action, or show character. Yes, this is one of the shorter stories, so you might struggle if you JUST cut, but I would like to get more thoughts from this guys head. I'd quite like to know whether he is delusional or tricky with his calling his gun by a girls name. And if you CAN'T make it back up 3000 words, so be it - a story has a natural length, and forcing it to be something shorter or longer doesn't usually improve the story!

Good luck



_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa July 19, 2014 - 3:47pm


That was one of the things I thought about to begin with, was the "coffee shop" opening necessary. It was just one of those opening where you cut straight to the character. The character of "The Narrator" was never meant to be an armed robber type, more of a man who does what he needs to, to get by. The drinking portion only dealt with the so called "work" he needs to do at home, not during his robberies, he is contemplating the robbery during the story only out of complication..."No wallet". 

Gary was simply portrayed as a "legend" of the neighborhood, which relates back to the characters own version of him, which in tern creates the "why" he goes back to seek revenge. I couldn't help my neighborhood out, so I will help this one, so to speak.

haha 6 tallboys isn't much at at all. A bottle of whiskey could have been something completely different. The italics was meant to be more of him talking to himself, answering his own questions so to speak. 

That was one of the things I struggled with, do I make him more like a serial killer and crazy? Or do I risk the writing challenges word count and eliminate it that way. Ultimately I sided with cutting the story short, instead of risking having the character come off as to serial killer like.

Thank you for reading my work! And thank you for the review, was extremely helpful.