Pyromaniacs 1

Welcome to our very first episode of #Pyro! The rules are short and easy: your job is to read this story and critique it! Please remember our purpose is to HELP the writer, so (1) focus your comments on the story, not the writer; (2) try to address story elements specifically (WHAT works/doesn’t work, and WHY/HOW); (3) be honest but kind (imagine someone is giving you this feedback). Ad hominem or mean-spirited comments will be deleted. And now, here’s our very first story, with my effusive thanks to all of you who courageously volunteered!

Encendador. CC2.0 photo by Villegas Lillo.

Encendador. CC2.0 photo by Villegas Lillo.

Party Animals
Written by One of You 🙂

The invitation was not unexpected. Whipple Parsons had been putting out signals for quite a while that something peculiarly unusual was in the wind. Weeks earlier, we had walked down to the sea at midnight, sauntering out on the public dock that stretched two hundred yards into the bay; the moon was full, the sky sparkled with an explosion of sprinkled stars.

The night, as usual, was mightily abuzz. Sea lions, slipping and sliding on rocks across the bay, were testing their choral range, grouching and gargling a saltwater serenade.

“Look Sam. There!” Whip pointed to a distant light. “Do you ever wonder what’s out there?”

Whip knew I had little interest in space. I am a reporter. I deal in the real world; crime, politics, love, hate; the peccadilloes of mankind. That is what anchors me. His mind, his heart, on the other hand, are afloat in the heavens.

“You know I am spellbound by extraterrestrials, Whip,” I tweaked him gently. “Space visitors, turnip recipes, all grist for my mill, buddy.”

“You are such a know-nothing, Sam. Open your mind!  Soon, don’t know when, but soon, I’m going to call you and insist you come to my place lickety split. I expect your compliance.”

I reassured him that when he called, I would get off my high horse and gallop to his door. That seemed to placate him.

Late one afternoon, he made THE promised call. “Come,” he ordered. “Bring Kate.”

Kate resisted. We had been over to Whip and Arlene‘s a few weeks earlier for an excruciating Canasta party. Cards and Singapore Slings. It all got a bit much. She wanted nothing more than a night in front of the tube.

“Do we have to attend another Canasta party, Samuel?”

“Whip didn’t mention Canasta. I think he has something else up his sleeve.”

We seesawed back and forth. Finally she agreed to tag along.

We arrived just after 7:00. Whip came out on the veranda and greeted us.

“This is so great. You are going to have to brace yourself, guys.”

“I think we are prepared for anything,” Kate advised our excited friend. 

“Good. Okay, come on in….”

I’m not sure what I expected. Kate was probably anticipating a couple of card tables and 2 other couples.

There was only one other…couple. Or whatever they were.

My family had never produced any arachnologists but I immediately saw two humongous spiders.

“Great, eh?” Whip effused. “I know, I know just how you feel. Arlene feels the same way…except she’s locked herself in the john.”

As I too had been considering flight, or the locked security of the bathroom, I could well appreciate Arlene’s choice of sanctuary.

“I looked them up,” continued Whip. “Peacock spiders! From space! And do these two garish fellows love the ladies!”

With that, Whip’s multi-coloured 8-legged guests did a bit of a jig and pounced on Kate.

She screamed.

I fainted.

The last thing I heard was Whip gleefully hollering, “Isn’t this incredible?”

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

QUESTIONS you may wish to address: 

  1. Does the first line catch your interest?
  2. How is pacing — does the story move smoothly from beginning to end?
  3. Does the dialogue sound realistic/natural? (If not, which lines?)
  4. Are the characters developed effectively within the confines of this piece? Are they realistic? Sympathetic/resonant?
  5. Is point-of-view clear and consistent? Is the voice unique, interesting, compelling? 
  6. Is the story mostly free of grammatical/punctuation errors?
  7. Is the plot clear and believable? Are there any plot holes that need to be addressed?
  8. Does the story follow the rules of its genre? If not, were the rules broken well?
  9. Is language used well: does the story rely on cliches and too-common devices, or does the story contain striking imagery, colorful and vibrant descriptions, powerful metaphors?
  10. Does the last line effectively conclude the story?
Advertisements

19 thoughts on “Pyromaniacs 1

  1. The first sentence is short, sweet and engaging. The second could be halved without loss to the story and this would aid the pace, there is repetition in the sentence too so you need to watch that. The situation is lovely and clearly drawn but I noted that the speaker states that he is not so much interested in nature but people. I think he would probably mention any human activity or lack of it that he observed. The dialogue in direct and reported speech flows well and brings out the characters.

    If you are restricted for words I would cut out much of the conversation with Kate and the pre-party warm up. It is a pleasant read but the essential parts are further on, they serve to slow the story. After you talk about the other couple, in my opinion (and that is all it is) I would warm up Sam and Kate a bit as you are coming to the punchline. You hit it a little too fast.

    Eg…Or whatever they were….
    `You are going to love my new friends,’ said Whip, `they are such colourful characters and so friendly and they are fantastic card players, they deal like nothing on earth.’
    Somehow, I think we need to know or have an impression of how Whip met this creatures but obviously after Sam has met them he is no longer able to listen. I would probably say something like (but better than) `I met them over the web, I googled them and friended them on facebook…’

    The story ends a little abruptly perhaps.

    Overall, you have great grasp of grammar, dialogue and character, i just think the story needs a bit of jiggling and it will be excellent.

  2. First of all, as an arachnophobe, it took a great deal of mental warfare to make it to the comments section. But I’m here; hooray! Victory! 🙂

    I really enjoyed this. The tone is fun and light, and it kept my attention all the way through.There was some phenomenal language in it that made me pull in a deep, satisfying breath of: “ah, I wish I had thought of that.” (i.e. Sea lions, slipping and sliding on rocks… grouching and gargling a saltwater serenade.) Beautiful.

    I liked the contrast between Sam and Whipple: one earthbound, one with attention beyond the earth. It added nice depth to the story to have two such opposing contrasts. From what I gather, the main contention in the story is that Sam is not a believer in ETs and Whipple wants to prove him wrong? So the end of the story brings a nice resolution, if that’s the case.

    One thing I would have loved to see that I didn’t was a frame. It would really help to pull the whole thing together. “The invitation was not unexpected” is a good beginning with enough of a question to keep me reading, but if the piece could end with a reference to that invitation, it would have felt more completely wrapped up.

    For pacing, it feels a bit like two separate stories to me. It begins with some fabulous language (see sea lions, et. al.), and then it moves on to Whipple’s home, and if there’s anything at all to critique about that, it’s that the transition felt just a tiny bit jarring. Perhaps some references to the first part in the second half, or references to the second half in the first part would help to resolve that?

    I thought the dialogue flowed easily and naturally and enjoyed how it helped to create Whipple’s character. Sam’s voice throughout was nicely clear; however, I would have enjoyed more introspective reaction to Whipple’s spiders. I got a good chuckle out of how he fainted, but would have liked to hear (from his PoV) a bit more of what was happening in his thoughts. But then, perhaps that would have weighed down the light tone, so take it with a grain of salt.

    Grammatical edits, I know, can swing a little differently in various parts of the world. For what it’s worth, I’ll include a few edits for what they would be here:

    “I deal in the real world; crime, politics, love, hate; the peccadilloes of mankind.” – I’d suggest a colon after “world,” and then an em-dash after “hate.”

    come on in….” – I think all ellipses have three dots. Some grammar sources I use say that an ellipsis should always be formatted space-dot-space-dot-space-dot-space. I think it’s whatever works for your goals and your editor, if you decide to use one.

    “other…couple” – Another ellipsis with no spaces.

    And for the sake of consistency: “way…except”

    “8-legged” – it’s generally agreed in most sources that if using a number under “ten,” it should be spelled out: “eight-legged.”

    Overall, I thought it was a brilliantly written story with beautiful language, a lovely tone that pulled me in and kept me there (despite SPIDERS), and well-plotted character development. A strong contribution for the first go at Pyro. Well done, Author! 🙂

  3. Hello. First of all – nice story!

    It has a defined structure and movement through the narrative. You also conjure up some cracking turns of phrase.

    The first sentence is a cracking one. Short, punchy and piquing the reader’s curiosity.

    Clever use of ‘putting out signals’ in the second sentence as it becomes ambiguous on a second reading – Whip’s putting out signals to his friend…but is he also putting out signal to his alien friends?

    I think the last sentence could do with a rethink. It’s quite long – beyond locating the opening scene, what other purpose is it serving? I would probably carve out some of the language and keep it in reserve to beef up the denouement.

    I like the second paragraph with its comparison between the sea lions out of their natural habitat versus the aliens out of theirs at the end. Possibly I would think about bringing this comparison into sharper relief.

    Think of paragraphs four and five in terms of show and tell. Paragraph four ‘tells’ us something about the MC’s attitude to aliens. Paragraph five then ‘shows’ the reader the same attitude. So together there is a little bit of duplication. ‘Show’ is I think a more efficient use of language than ‘tell’. I would consider merging the two paragraphs into one to make the same point

    With the language saved I would beef out the ending a little – focus on the MC’s reaction a bit more (the ending ‘he fainted’ is abrupt). If there was a way you could refer to the introduction at the end – perhaps by echoing the language used in it, or referring to ‘the invitation’ in some way you would give a clear indication to the reader that the story was ending and bring it to a more ’rounded’ conclusion.

    Well done for putting yourself and your words out there! It’s by far easier to make suggestions and critiques than to make the effort to create something original. I look forward to enjoying your stories, anonymous or otherwise, at FlashFriday! Cheers! @dazmb

  4. I enjoyed the forays into the past but perhaps they could be either condensed or placed more strategically because the story seemed to start and stop a bit, which was a distraction. You have a great concept and a clear line of thought. Keep writing and stay courageous.

  5. Fun story, but there are some points I would like to include.

    First, I misread the first sentence. I read, The invitation was unexpected. I have noticed before that when a negative is put before an implied negative (I am not sure what else to call a word like unexpected.) I often miss reading the not. Perhaps I am not the only one.

    Partially because of this, but also because of the emphasis on a long walk on the pier and the emphasis on the stars I was expecting Sam to be short for Samantha and for the two to be a romantic couple. This was not straightened out for me until very late in the story, which necessitated a restart on reading from the beginning.

    The sentence which included, my family had never included any arachnologists, interrupted my flow because I wondered if there was such a thing. If this was an intentional device to put my mind in a spidery perspective, it worked.

    I also got interrupted wondering how you could look up the name of a space spider, or for that matter how they have a name, if the general assumption is we have not made contact as of yet. So I thought the reference to looking up the type of space spider worked against the story.

    I might be the only one but I wondered if the spiders interest in the ladies was social, culinary, or . . erp . . . something more personal. Perhaps leaving it vague is useful, but maybe not.

    And yes I agree with the previous comments that it started off leisurely and then rushed to0 much at the end.

  6. Well this is an interesting one to start us off with!
    Please note that I’m writing these WITHOUT reading the other comments first. That way I know my opinions are my own.
    I’ll deal with the negative first to get that out of the way.

    Neg 1 – Were you working to a work count? Because I think you would benefit from adding at least another couple of hundred words to the last third of the piece. I understand you’re working to convey a sense of shock, but the details get more and more patchy as we get towards the end.
    Neg 2 – I think “I fainted” needs a lot of work. Fainting isn’t something you mention, it’s a sensation that you describe.
    Neg 3 – Then we’ve got a line I would definitely rework “My family had never produced any arachnologists but I immediately saw two humongous spiders” Okay. You saw two spiders. What does this have to do with other people in your family? And how ‘humongous’ were they? Mrs Parkland says that about things that would fit in a match box….
    Neg 4 – We’ve got quite a lengthy description about sea lions and the bay area before we start. It’s nice, but it’s not adding any value to the story. You can lose it without any detriment to the impact of the flash piece.
    Technical Issue – When mentioning the time, why not say “after seven” rather than 7:00. You’re writer, so use words (This goes for all the instances where you’ve used numbers in place of letters as well). Also, the zeroes in the time are precise. You’re using numbers which convey accuracy. “Just after 7::00” means some time specifically between 7:00 and 7:01.

    Now the positive!
    Pos 1 – Dialogue. I absolutely love your dialogue. It’s original, it has a voice – especially Whip’s voice, which is straight out of Ray Bradbury. I don’t say that lightly because he is my second favourite writer of all time. “…I’m going to call you and insist you come to my place lickety split. I expect your compliance.” It’s great to read.
    Pos 2 – Whip. You need to write lots more with Whip in it. I love the fact that he’s so oblivious to the danger (I imagine) that he’s putting his friends in. The way he’s blindly happy about Arlene locking herself away and completely un-fazed by teh narrator hitting the floor like a felled horse. This works really well because we suddenly realise that we’re on a crazy ride with a madman at the wheel.
    Pos 3 – The story. It’s genuinely unexpected. A great little horror story that really does leave me wanting a bit more.

    Let’s talk about what I would do – I like the way that you set it all up. We’ve got the harmless dreamer, who turns out to be unexpectedly dangerous. It works very well. My suggestion would be to provide some sort of foreshadowing. Maybe lose some of the seal-lion stuff and have the narrator squash a bug, or a spider while standing there. That way we get a sense of payback or Karmic justice. I would add more words to the last act. Flash it out a bit. And also add more clarity in the description of the spiders. Exactly how big were they?
    Good luck – one thing that ‘s for certain is that you really can write well.

  7. Disclaimer: Whatever I find can be improved in this story, applies to much of my own writing. So please keep in mind that there is no offense intended. I have a way of offending folks without meaning to. (Think of Sheldon.)

    1. Does the first line catch your interest?
    Yes

    2. How is pacing — does the story move smoothly from beginning to end?
    The first paragraph builds the atmosphere slowly, but then the scene transitions to the home abruptly. The reason for the initial build-up isn’t justified by the later part of the story. The pacing felt uneven to me. Paragraphs 4-5-6-7 could be compressed as there is a lot of repetition.

    3. Does any dialogue sound realistic/natural? (If not, which lines?)
    Dialogue is flowing and natural.

    4. Are the characters developed effectively within the confines of this piece? Are they realistic? Sympathetic/resonant?
    I didn’t get the significance of Canasta game. Since Whip is a so interested in space and extraterrestrials, perhaps some other game in that genre would add to his character build-up.
    Sam is a reporter, so I expected his curiosity would motivate him to investigate rather than to flee.

    5. Is point-of-view clear and consistent? Is the voice unique, interesting, compelling?
    The narrator is Samuel, a reporter, is consistent with the dispassionate voice of a reporter.

    6. Is the story mostly free of grammatical/punctuation errors?
    Mostly. A few errant or missing commas and such.

    7. Is the plot clear and believable? Are there any plot holes that need to be addressed?
    More or less, I am like Sam, so.. 🙂

    8. Does the story follow the rules of its genre? If not, were the rules broken well?
    I don’t know what the rules of this genre are.

    9. Is language used well: does the story rely on cliches and too-common devices, or does the story contain striking imagery, colorful and vibrant descriptions, powerful metaphors?
    I am probably the only one who will say this, so take it with the grain of salt. Some clichés (like the grain of salt 🙂 ) are okay to use. They convey the meaning perfectly. Coming with fresh metaphors that fit aptly is tricky.
    This is me nitpicking.
    “Whip gleefully hollering”: holler implies some anger or displeasure. You won’t holler gleefully.
    Also serenade implies (to me) a pleasant love song. The sound of gargling seals is anything but pleasant; it’s more of a cacophony.

    10. Does the last line effectively conclude the story?
    Yes.

  8. I love the concept of your story, but I think you could easily cut more. You have words that are not really needed, such as, ‘seesawed back and forth.’ which is repetition, as back and forth is the definition of seesawed. Another example primed for culling is, ‘The night, as usual, was mightily abuzz,’ which would read better as, ‘The night was abuzz.’ Trust the words to work for you.

    I would also suggest you use more contraction in your dialogue. People abbreviate in speech, interrupt each other and very rarely, in a one to one situation, call each other by name. If you want to distinguish between characters give one an accent or a particular way of speaking. One line where you can use contraction is, ‘I think he has something else up his sleeve,’ which could become, ‘I think he’s got something up his sleeve.’ Another example would be, ‘You are going to have to brace yourselves guys,’ which easily cuts down to, ‘Brace yourself guys.’

    I like the name Whippie Pearson and think that you should start with this line, removing, ‘The invitation was not unexpected.’ There’s something wrong there, it might well be a double negative.
    Use your title for exposition because it’s usually outside the word count. Also you might find it works better if you rearrange the last three lines to read, ‘Isn’t this incredible?’ Whip hollered gleefully. Kate screamed. I fainted.

    One last point on grammar, If you use an ellipsis it consists of just three dots and indicates omission of a word or phrase.

    Of course this is all written from my own point of view and your welcome to disregard anything I’ve said, but I know from my own workshop experiences that, even if you don’t entirely agree, it does at least make you reconsider some points. It’s a good story that I’m sure, with a few tweaks, will become a great one.

  9. I’ll give you my readerly reactions as they occurred:

    First impressions: Nice opening grab, begging the question from the outset. The name Whipple drew me too, sets a light tone.
    Okay, we’ve got a flashback on signals (second sentence) then again with “weeks earlier”. I’m not a big fan of flashing back before getting a bit of grounding in the here-and-now. The mention of an invitation (in the now) is not quite enough for me to want to jump away into the past for several paragraphs.

    Nice imagery of the star-sprinkled sky. Very romantic. Hilarious choir of seals. They sure know how to kill a mood.

    Oh, okay, they’re just buddies. For the first few paragraphs, I thought the invitation might be romantic what with the moonlight on the water and them walking out on the dock together. Even when I understood the narrator was a man (Sam!), I thought it still might be a romantic relationship.

    Interesting contrast between the narrator and Whipple. Makes me wonder how they might have forged a friendship. I find myself very much enjoying the way Sam talks and thinks in cliches.

    “THE promised call”–I’m assuming that’s the same as the “not unexpected invitation” of the opening. I wonder if this line could be reworked so that we’re assured that yes, indeed, we’re back to the “now” of the story.

    And we’re back into another flashback. A funny one, yes, but the old stickler that I am still craves the grounding. The flippant mention of an excruciating canasta party makes me chuckle as it makes me want to peek in on what Sam might call “a little bit much”.

    I’d like to get a little more of Kate–and it wouldn’t take much. A single sentence to humanize her since right now she seems like a dull nag. Maybe instead of see-sawing, you could have the two make a deal: she’ll go, but he has to paint her toenails on Sunday (or something). That way we would get a peek at their relationship as well as her preferences. [Second read: hmm, maybe her being a negative ninny is intentional so we’ll find her being attacked by a spider funny?]

    Cool! Aliens! Spidery aliens! (I happen to like spiders; anything that kills parasites–e.g., mosquitos–is my friend.) The arachnologist in the family fell a bit flat for me. On the other hand, “Arlene feels the same way–except she’s locked herself in the bathroom” made me chuckle. It works for me because it says so much about Whipple: that he just assumes everyone else would feel the wonder he does despite behavior to the contrary. I would really like to know how he managed to hook up with this other “couple”.

    I got a bit squirmy when the one pounced on Kate as the incident just after the line that they “love the ladies”. My imagination went right to the mama creature in Alien impregnating John Hurt’s character.

    So, overall, a fun start. Whipple makes for a nice impact character for staid Sam (especially when he introduces aliens into his earthbound worldview). Thanks for the read!

  10. Hope it’s not too late to comment! This is my first critique so apologies if it’s unclear/offensive (I hope not).

    I really enjoyed this story in all its weirdness. I love weird! I’ll comment on each point below.

    1) For me the first line is good in itself, but then it takes a while to figure out what invitation it’s referring to. I’m wondering if you could just start straight in with the second sentence?

    2) In the first half the pacing is fairly slow, then I feel it gets a bit broken up by the dialogue between Kate and Sam (is this bit really necessary?), then becomes quite abrupt at the end. There are some lovely descriptive passages in the first half (e.g. the sea lions) but not much in the second half at Whip’s house. I think the second half could benefit from a bit more description at times, which would even out the pace a bit.

    3) The dialogue was great, it gives you a clear sense of their characters. It was a bit clichéd at times but I’m assuming you made the choice it’s how they would actually speak, so it adds to their characters.

    4) The character of Whip is fantastic, you get a clear sense of his wonder but also the inkling that something’s a bit off. I’m a bit hesitant about Sam because we don’t get much info about him. At first I thought the characters were teenagers, then the bit about bringing Kate to the couples evenings jarred a bit as I realised they were older. Maybe you could include some references to Kate/Arlene in the first half?

    5) POV was a bit unclear to start, but then it’s consistent once you understand who’s speaking. I think a bit more of what Sam is feeling would add to his character and make the POV stronger.

    6) I picked up a couple of things, though I realise style varies around the world. First, inconsistent ellipses. Second, I would have written:
    I deal in the real world: crime, politics, love, hate. The peccadilloes of mankind.
    Other than that the grammar seemed sound to me.

    7) Overall the plot worked. There was a nice contrast between the gentle first scene with the sea lions and the stars, and the last with the spider monsters. I was unsure, however, how Whip would go about “looking up” the spiders, and how this would lead them to be sitting at his card table. Also, why did they walk down to the sea?

    8) To be honest I’m not sure what genre this is supposed to be. Sci fi? Satire? Horror? I think partly what makes it unclear to me is I don’t know what the spiders are doing to Kate at the end! Is it something sinister or are they just cuddling?

    9) I love the descriptive language you use in the first half, there are some really beautiful phrases. Sometimes there is some repetition (e.g. “peculiarly unusual”) that could be trimmed. But the language flows well and you’ve obviously thought about it a lot, though I find it slips a bit in the second half. (What does “humongous” mean in this context? As big as a cat? A horse? I would love some more description of the spiders here.) I was also a little stumped by the “arachnologist” sentence, trying to work out what you were saying (would an arachnologist not have seen the spiders?) and what relevance it had to the story.

    10) The last line is effective, in that it shows more of Whip’s character. However, I’m left wondering what’s going on. I’d like a bit more of what Sam is thinking/feeling.

    All in all an intriguing story with great characters (including the spiders!). I would love to read a second part to it!

    Again, I am new at this so apologies if anything here is inappropriate or too abrupt. I hope you can take something useful from it. I’m sure I make all the same mistakes and more in my own writing. Good on you for sharing! 🙂

  11. I like the idea about a character who loves the idea of aliens finally having a chance to show them off and there is much in this story that works.

    What stops this story being great for me is the amount of backstory that is explained to the reader rather than shown. From the opening section, up to “Late one afternoon…” is purely backstory in my opinion and could be weaved into the story more subtly. If it was me I’d start my story with the phone call between Sam and Whip with Sam making jokes about Whip dragging him around to look at yet more space junk.

    My final other suggestion would be to remove the character of Kate and spend the time (and words) introducing her to develop the character of Arlene who we know nothing about apart from the fact she doesn’t like giant alien spiders.

    Overall I really enjoyed the story but with a bit of more work it would be really great. Happy to explain any of my points in my detail on here or over Twitter if that helps.

    Stephen

  12. Generally I like the topic, the style, and the length. There were a few things that caused me some confusion. Whipple Parsons is an unusual name, so I thought that perhaps the author was trying to place us in a different time. The games mentioned are also dated, suggesting a different time, but the time period does not seem to be essential to the story. I’d probably suggest changing the name and games to avoid confusing the reader, or instead exploit the possibility that this happened in some other time. I’m uncertain where Whip could have looked up the names of the extraterrestrials. Again, is this a different time or world than ours? Some of the phrases seem to conflict, as when the night was “abuzz” but the sound was of seals, which do not buzz, but vocalize and noisily move about. I think the author painted a night more awash with life.

    Thank you for letting me comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s