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Nick Porisch's picture

Thieves' Highway

By Nick Porisch in Arrest Us

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Description

Two college students find a way for their poor friends to steal what they need from the mega corporations of the urban Midwest. 

Comments

Geert Mostrey's picture
Geert Mostrey from Belgium is reading Gone Girl June 11, 2014 - 12:44am

Hi Nick,

this story is quite original and has potential. There are in my opinion however a few loose ends that need cleaning up to make it work.

From a writing point of view it flows well most of the time, but it would be good to use some hooks to allow you to go from one scene to the other, especially if (like I had the impression you did one or two times) you introduce a flashback moment.

With regard to the story itself, first there is the implausible fact that a gang of thieves would advertise via a website and than have an "open" meeting in a diner. I imagine nobody who hadn't been thoroughly screened would ever be allowed in, and the meeting would be a lot more discrete.

The fact that Andy and Rudy reveal themselves as cops is quite original. I wasn't expecting that. However that than contradicts Rudy's worry that the cops would be able to trace him through his mobile phone. If he were a cop, he would probably want the police to know where he was, especially undercover. 

The ending got me totally confused. Andy and Rudy reveal themselves as cops, but Andy ends up shooting Rudy and running off with Dave and Cal ? Without any explanation in your story this is just not understandable.

So all in all, I believe you have the basis for a good story here, but it needs finetuning, editing and probably a few more paragraphs to make everything understandable.

 

Nick Porisch's picture
Nick Porisch from Brainerd, Minnesota is reading The Stand June 11, 2014 - 6:38am

Thanks for the tips. I'll look at the things you mentioned and clear them up. I appreciate the honesty.

Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading Pet Sematary June 11, 2014 - 8:42pm

This is a neat concept of a underground criminal system brought into the modern age. I like the idea of "thieves with honor" who play by a set of rules with noble intentions. Even if their plight isn't really that desperate. 

You could use some tightening up and maybe some more back ground into Andy's motivations. He made a huge life changing decision and his motives for doing so aren't that clear.

All in all, an entertaining story.

David James Keaton's picture
David James Keaton from "the water" is reading Kill Kill Faster Faster by Joel Rose June 11, 2014 - 8:58pm

Thanks for sharing this piece, Nick. I like what you're going for here, with the commentary on the dire straights of college students and other young folks these days. A few thoughts to help you develop this further, though - first, I'd like to hear a little more background about these students. A bit more character development of each (say, a sentence or two even) would help me to keep track of who's who and to develop more of an attachment to their fates. As written, I get a bit confused about the interchangable characters, which undercuts the impact of the big reveal at the end. Even with the word limit, I think you could develop characters more if you cut a bit of the first few pages down - maybe you could set up the context on the U of M campus but condense the process of meeting the "thieves highway" crew and their first operation. Also, though I like a sense of movement and urgency promoted by the short paragraphs, I think you might make it more connected by combining paragraphs together in a less journalistic style.
Overall, though, I like where this story is heading. Good to put your work out there and keep honing it. Keep it up, man.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 12, 2014 - 1:11am

(SPOILER ALERT TO ANYONE WHO HASN'T READ THE STORY YET)

Hi Nick,

This didn't work for me. The biggest problem I had with this is that the idea you picked had the potential to be either serious or comical, and I don't really know which you were going for at certain points in the story.

College students robbing grocery stores because they're hungry is a pretty ordinary idea, even if it probably does happen for real. Throwing in the part about how they do it through sewers could have made a simple idea into something a lot more fun, even if it was serious. At the moment I can't really take it to be either. These guys are going down into the sewage system wearing only doctor masks? I can't buy that for a second; it simply wouldn't work. I've worked on farms and know how overpowering shit can be when there's loads of it around...let alone when it's human! In England people did used to work down sewers with no kind of protection, but there's a reason most of them got pretty serious health problems. This is the first of several holes in your story that you could fix, so here's what I mean when I say this could go either way:

It could be hillarious watching these guys try their first robbery through the sewers and finding out what I detailed above and coming out puking and stinking of shit. Then they could go back to the drawing board and work out what gear they need to be able to do this effectively and maybe steal that. You'd then have the comedy value and the seriousness, because these guys are doing their research.

Other problems I had with this is the level of trust involved in how the thieves are invited ito one meeting and then pretty well signed on straight away. This is a lot of trust even if the person doing it is a college student and probably very naive. Cops in riot gear just to bust some students on the take in a grocery store? I couldn't quite stretch to believing this one either. The scene where Cal is left behind as a cover I'm not quite sure about either. Why did they need a cover there instead of him just running with the others?

The ending of this simply baffled me. I wrote a comment about how the revellation that two people are undercover cops came out of nowhere and was a bit too deus ex machina, and then I found maybe it was a bluff, then I find they were working under different names despite this, then one shoots the other for no reason I can discern. Shout if I've missed something blindingly obvious (I'm only human after all) but after three reads of this I can't work it out.

It seems you're going for the angle of wanting the reader to like these characters because they're going hungry and they're desperate enough to go to these lengths to rob a store, or perhaps to like them because they're doing something sneaky and there are two layers of that (the robbing and the undercover work, although you need to hint more at that early on if yo keep the idea.) At the moment I don't feel for these guys at all. More on that in the LBL.

I wouldn't give up on this - it's potentially quite a fun story, just IMHO it needs quite a lot of work. Gramatically at least you're pretty clean, hence I haven't red inked much of the writing itself in the LBL. Stylistically I think you've got all right building blocks; I've suggested some style changes that might help as well.

LBL attached, hope this helps. -C.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 12, 2014 - 3:02am

As other people have said, you've got a bit of work to do. Perhaps fragment this into different stories. It feels like you've combined the underground gang, the thieving students and the undercover cops all together, but each could make a separate story. Also, an open sewer under a manhole in a supermarket? I know they've done that in films (The Watch, if I recall, had this) but it really doesn't seem like it would pass hygiene standards, plus why would the store need that? They have sinks and industrial waste disposal units. That being said, a good effort and a nice starting point. Keep at it, take everyone's advice on board, and try simplifying next time.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) June 23, 2014 - 2:14am

This is an interesting idea, though I agree that the execution of it needs a little work. The concept of students resorting the robbery is a good one, and I love the name referencing the sewer entrance/exit. There is a lot to play off with this kind of Robin Hood adventure, especially if you can show that the idea behind it truly is honourable. For that to play off, we really need to feel more of the daily struggle these students face.

I have to agree with other comments that the characters are completely interchangeable, and it was a constant struggle to work out who was who. Partly this is due to names (Cal was the only one I could grasp, because he had a slightly different name), but mostly this is due to personality. None of your characters have one. I would suggest you pick a character and stick with them all the way through. Let us see everything play out through their eyes. The leaping around from person to person may work in film, but in a short story it is just confusing.

Others have picked up on the ending, and I certainly agree with them. You have two revelatory moments in quick succession, but give us nothing in the build-up that would hint at either. I got the impression that the diner sequence was your attempt at a Tarantinoesque moment, but it lacks tension because we haven’t grown to like or even just to know any of these characters. Mickey appears early serving them as customers, and then in the showdown he’s a confidant and fully aware of what they do. Andy’s turn makes no sense without any kind of information towards why it happened. There is no suggestion of a bond formed with Dave and Cal, and no suggestion that he has been really shocked by how students struggle enough that he goes from cop to robber.

There is a lot of stupidity in your characters. The Thieves’ Highway is ridiculously open about everything, to the point where they are taking on newbies on the raid that haven’t even attended meetings. No wonder Rudy and Andy were able to saunter in without suspicion. Dave hands control over the final raid to Rudy without so much as asking what the plan is, especially as there seems to be no plan, given all they are doing is raiding the Costco again. Rudy gets them to come up into a room filled with riot police, and yet they all seem to get away. Andy, who is ultimately going to let Dave and Cal go, arrests Dave before Rudy even makes the diner. Even though he has a gun trained on Dave, he still lets the guy pull a gun out. Where does Cal’s gun even come from?

Ultimately what you need to do is marry up the concept to a more coherent structure. This should be a journey with slowly ramped up tension. Set up the conflict (students need to steal to live), ramp up the conflict (Dave’s getting doubts as to how long they can keep this up, a couple of new guys are looking to take over, though they don’t always agree with each other), resolve the conflict. It’s not a question of going back to the drawing board at all, but I think you can really hone this one with a few edits.

Grant Williams's picture
Grant Williams from Wichita, KS is reading Friday June 23, 2014 - 6:06am

I enjoyed the concept of the story, so you get a thumbs up, but I agree with the other reviewers that it needs some work.  I feel like there were too many characters to keep track of in a story this size.  Just trying to keep it all straight took me out of the story a bit.  And like Chacron said, the trust level between the characters should be expanded upon.  Also, the idea of putting up posters to advertise seems like a flashing beacon for the police.  Even a private facebook group would be more secretive.  Just some things to consider.  

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 18, 2014 - 4:55am

Hi Nick,

The idea of a thieves highway could be quite cool. A bit "Fantastic Mr Fox", but that's certainly not a bad thing. Nor is it a bad thing this reminds me of "Fight Club". (Or fight club -light...)

But there's a number of (serious) problems with this story. The first and most obvious, is the change of POV - it starts off as Andy, then it's Dave. You also pop back to the past for Dave and Cal's invention of the highway. Keep it linear, unless you have to.

There are also inconsistancies - Rudy is Andy's buddy, but then seemingly an experienced part of Dave's gang. (And then later a cop...)

"slammed - lightly"?

You can't lie  to your reader. You introduce Andy as a student at the start, and then as a undercover cop? You can do this is you just have him as a newbie, but once you have put us in his head, you can't. (Or at least, not with your beginning when you patiently explain what Andy has learnt. You COULD do it if we're in Andy's head during the first meeting of the Highway, and you go about it cleverly enough.

You don't explain why Andy swaps sides. You don't explain why Costco is burning, and you don't explain the size of the police reaction - two undercover cops, and an earlier chance to finish it before the "big finale". You don't explain why Mickey helps them so. Seems like you just wanted this stuff to happen, though it doesn't make so much sense.

There is a story in here, a story about a thieves highway, struggling students, the obiquity of hashtags and internet fame, perhaps even the delusions of getting away with petty crime, so the idea is a goer, but this story doesn't push the right buttons, for this reader at least.