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tklepko's picture

Truth be told...

By tklepko in Arrest Us

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Tom Lydon's picture
Tom Lydon from Britain July 5, 2014 - 12:53am

I like the premise of this story, and it has a lot of promise, but needs some work to get going.

Characters:

The lead character and his dad start off well. They both have a complex emotional back-story, and the lead character's emotions at the start of the flashback are coherent and interesting. His dad's speech is a little expositionary, as reported (see below on the lack of dialogue), and seems like it should be more supportive in this moment, rather than dredging up the past.

The other characters don't seem as well-formed - mostly they seem to be there only to persecute the protagonist, and are lacking any characterisation or motivation of their own. I think this is partly an inevitable result of the first-person POV, which is fine, but I felt like they needed more space than they are given to be realistic - otherwise they just feel like cyphers.

Plot:

The premise is an interesting twist on quite a classic tale of persecution and revenge - I personally think it falls on the right side of cliche, given the decent back-story, but YMMV. I think the initial idea works well up until the persecution really kicks in - this, I felt, was far too fast and concentrated.

Essentially, the entire meat of the plot happens in one afternoon and evening of the kid's very first day of school. This didn't seem plausible to me, as opposed to, say, a bad first day, leading to a worst first week, leading to the eventual climax - this would also give more time to establish characters and motivation. Not to say the single-day descent into madness couldn't happen - but it feels to convenient and contrived as it is.

The climax itself I liked, up to the point the dad returned. Until then the emotions felt very real, and the idea of the protagonist going from fear to rage felt right. But after the shooting of the lead jock, things didn't hang together as well - it seemed far to neat for the dad to be able to take the fall. What about all the physical evidence on the protag - blow-back, blood? What about the other two kids witnessing him brandishing and firing off the shotgun, and presumably they would still be in earshot of the fatal shot.

So the dad's cover-up definitely needs more attention - and there were also some anomalies after the police show up. Why didn't they question the protagonist and take his statement? Why, later, did the dad plead "not guilty" if he wanted to take the fall? Again, this is probably all doable - but it needs work to make it realistic.

Writing:

I think you could look again at some of the stylistic choices you made in the writing. The lack of any dialogue at all, or any character names, makes it hard to relate to anyone but the lead character. The lack of dialogue especially means the story doesn't flow as well as it might. On the other hand there are lots of ways to use these tricks to your advantage, but as it stands I don't feel like they are working hard enough to help the story.

Otherwise the writing style is good - I liked the sense of trepidation and hope leading up to the lunch-room incident, along with the climax. But there is a lot of random punctuation throughout the text ("Wiping tears from: my eyes"), and not enough where it should be. There are also a few strange mis-spellings of common words/phrases ("one flew over the coo coos nest" = cuckoo's; "Love they neighbor" = thy) which need to be fixed.

The last few paragraphs are confusing - they hint at a bigger mystery not yet revealed, but give no hint as to what that might be. This needs to be made clearer, as otherwise it's a frustrating note to leave the reader on.

Overall there is a lot to work with, but right now the story doesn't come together in a satisfying way.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 5, 2014 - 9:13am

A nice idea, although personally I would lose the flashback element as in this case it removed all the tension. If you started with the protaganist waiting for the school bus, and told that first day of school in present tense, it would be much more tense. It's quite a large change to the story, so you don't have to take this on board, it's just my opinion. The lessons at the end can all be suggested, but the reader can figure the morality of his dad's decision without you explaining it. The terror of a first day at school is a great subject to focus on, with the spiralling menace you introduced. Another thing to look at might be your punctuation, for example:

Wiping tears from: my eyes, I skipped downstairs to see my father, a strong, educated man, preparing my favorite breakfast scrambled eggs, bacon and French toast.

Finally, why didn't they plead self-defence? The bullies were on their property, trespassing, carrying baseball bats. The first shot was a warning, the main bully didn't leave, so he got shot. Self-defence, or manslaughter at most, not murder. That, in my opinion, is another reason to end the story as the police arrive, with the dad taking the gun. Still, nice concept and an engaging read.

YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 7, 2014 - 5:50am

I get what you weretrying to do with this and I think it could bereally improved with some trimming and re arranging of style. This is a good story idea that has the chance to be very poignant. But I was taken out of the story a few times by these stylistic choices:

You do a lot of telling and not showing.

' The morning continued in this blissful manner. Class after class, simple introductions of myself and new peers, coupled with small amounts of homework. No name calling, no shoving, no pushing or beating. Finally I seemed to relax and wonder, is it all over?'

paras likethis and the following bits about the bully and the principal could be a lot moreeffective if you toook your time wi them, describe th events with dialogue and action instead of telling us all these things happened. Especially with the principal, make it a conversation between them snd the protagonist instead of explainingg what happened--otherwise its hard to get engaged with the action.

similarly there are issues of pacing, i see you taking yourtime wi the bus ride and the build up tosc but the final scene seems rushed, as does developing the bully-- we dont know what they look like or talk like, except for limited snippets and that theyre captain of the football team. more time needs to be taken  with things crucial to the plot

I guessin general this story could be better with more careful selectioon of which scenes to draw out and show people the interactions between characters,and which scenes to omit or shorten. Thiis kind of thing comes with practice though and the story shows a lot of potential, keep at it!

Tom

 

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 12, 2014 - 12:22am

I’ve given this a thumbs up because I don’t think it deserves to be on 0%. There is some decent craft on display here, and enough potential shown to think that this could be a good story.

There are some issues, and the other comments are pretty much spot on with what these are. You have a passive voice at present, which affects any tension felt, but it wouldn’t take an awful lot to turn that around. Drop the opening where it is obvious that this is something that happened in the past, because again, this is a tension killer. Write it from an immediate point of view, and immediately you build a level of tension. The more tense your protagonist is, the more tense the reader will feel.

There are some unanswered questions. Why is he so bullied? Why does nobody take him seriously? The fact that the principal blames him for the bullying in some way is crazy, and not particularly believable. That the kids then come to his house (how did they find his house?) after just a couple of incidents is also fairly unbelievable. Then the court fobs off his claims out of hand, when surely they (or the police beforehand) would have had to investigate fully. There were other kids there; would they not have said that they saw your protagonist with the gun?

I’d also consider playing this one out over more than one day. As it is, it feels rushed, and is harder to swallow. If this happened over weeks, with escalating incidents, that ending would be easier to take. Maybe end it at the shooting as well, or rather the immediate aftermath with dad taking the blame as the police approach. Everything that comes after that point is not relevant to your story.

Best of luck with the next draft(s)!

tklepko's picture
tklepko from Montreal is reading The Inheritors July 12, 2014 - 8:40am

Hi everyone.

I jsut wanted to say a quick thank you first of all for taking the time to read and secondly for all the constructive criticism and comments. This is the first time I have written something that was not a term or research paper in 8 years therefore all pointers are much appreciated. Honestly all your questions are good ones and to be honest I never thought of the answers. Except one. Why do any kids get bullied? More often then not the answer is "just because". I find that sad and creepy all at the same time.

Thank you all again its much appreciated,

Tara

Grant Williams's picture
Grant Williams from Wichita, KS is reading Friday July 30, 2014 - 12:24pm

I enjoyed this piece.  You did a good job of establishing the narrator's voice and it paced well.  I would have like to have seen some proper dialogue, but it isn't all that necessary.  Thanks for sharing and best of luck.