Pyromaniacs 2

Welcome to the bold second 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 a story for your reading & critiquing pleasure, with many thanks to the writer who courageously volunteered it.

Encendador. CC2.0 photo by Villegas Lillo.

Encendador. CC2.0 photo by Villegas Lillo.

A Boy is His Dog
Written by One of You 🙂

“You two fight like cats and dogs.”

It was the last thing Momma said before the accident. As she left the room, Sissy threw a baseball at my head. So obviously, the whole mess was her fault.

Naturally, I ducked. You can’t blame me for that, anyone else would have done the same. 

The ball ruptured a plasma line in the wall behind my head. The explosion killed our bodies, so suddenly our consciousness only existed on our computer. You see, we had downloaded a freeware version of a backup utility and had it syncing with our brains in real time. So as soon as we blinked off in our bodies, we blinked on in the old laptop.

If Momma understood such things, she could have cloned us and restored our consciousness. Momma didn’t understand. If we had registered the software and paid $1.99 each, the computer would have emailed her instructions. Only we never paid, so the message wasn’t sent.

We were stuck in the computer, still fighting. She would threaten to delete me. I would threaten to reprogram her as a spider. She recolored my hair to shades of pink and purple. I changed her favorite food to candied mealworms.

Repairmen came to fix the hole in the wall. We watched from the built in camera.  Suddenly we realized he was about to turn off our computer. Without a better option, my mind was zapped into Sparky, our springer spaniel. Sissy had nowhere to go except a little toy robot.

She hated it, probably because it didn’t contain enough RAM to hold her entire consciousness. I tormented her about it every chance I got. She retaliated by spilling bleach over me, so I bit off one of her mechanical arms.

Eventually the robot’s batteries began to get old. I waited to see what she would do, but she didn’t do anything. As power decreased her consciousness got weaker. Eventually I felt more pity than annoyance, so I booted the old laptop. It was tough considering I had to use paws, but I pulled her back up to the computer. 

First thing she did was start calling me names. And with all that computational power, I wondered what she would do to me now.

Just then Whiskers walked into the room. Before she could figure out what I was about to do, I zapped her into the cat. Then I peed on the computer to make sure she would never be able to return and terrorize me with her superior power.

I guess Momma was right. And a little prophetic.

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

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?
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9 thoughts on “Pyromaniacs 2

  1. This is a fun story. I did like the first line, and wondered what conflict was coming, since you’d immediately set one up. I appreciated the cliche contrasted against a futuristic world.

    I think you could delete a few adverbs to help with flow – such as Naturally in the 3rd paragraph, or the two Eventuallys later on. Excising a number of smaller words would tighten things up, especially those you repeat. Given the tone of the narrator, you could also shorten could have to could’ve, or we had to we’d – I think it fits the voice.

    You said repair men, but then went to singular – he – in the line. Maybe you could remove “we realized,” and say something like, “As he moved to turn off the computer, I zapped my mind into Sparky, our springer spaniel. I had no better option.” It’s a little more concise, and more actively phrased.

    I really enjoyed this, and, as my kids hang around me squabbling this morning, could totally picture it. I think tightening up the language would tighten the tale as a whole. A good job!

  2. Tricky one, this. I read it first time round a couple of weeks ago and thought it worked really well. II must have liked it because I remembered it) You’ve obviously developed it now for a longer word count, but I’m not convinced that that development has added much in the way of value.
    The most notable thing for me is the opening phrase, which contains grammatical error. “You two fight like cats and dogs” should be “You two fight like cat and dog.” It’s a problematic issue, because it’s the foundation of your whole story and it would often make me skip to the next.
    There’s a sense of entropy here that I really like. The way they’re running out of places to go, and how every new bolt-hole seems worse than the last. It’s also got a nice Tom and Jerry feel, as if they’ll be doing this long after we’re gone.
    But there’s a detachment to the style- especially in this re-write, where things are told very matter-of-factly, almost as if they don’t matter much. By the end of it, we get “I did this, then I did this,” and I’ve lost all my emotional attachment.
    But you’ve got some real gems here. The bit about re-programming her favorite food to candied worms, and the description of the battery wearing down. I just wish there was more… soul in it. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the reason why it’s so detached is because the narrator’s personality has been uploaded to a computer – but I suspect I’m reading too much into it!

  3. Sci-Fi is tricky, writing as well as reading. So, I am going to write my thoughts rather than doing a formal critique.
    I liked the premise of the siblings fulfilling their mother’s prophesy into the digital world. I was hooked by the opening and was involved in the narrative for the first half. Any genre can be employed to cast the light on the human condition, so I wanted to know more about why the mother couldn’t pay the $1.99 required to register the technology.
    After the repairmen (or just one) had come, the magic fizzled for me. Still, the sibling rivalry is portrayed well through the pranks they play on each other. I just felt that there was a little repetition. Once we get the point that they are trying to outdo each other, the focus needed to be on the emotional conflict rather than on the different set of pranks. Just my preference.
    Overall, well done.

  4. 1. Does the first line catch your interest?

    While fighting like cats and dogs is a fairly popular saying (also I suppose, raining cats and dogs) it’s a nice take and there is no delay in getting into the story. Though not terribly original, it is absolutely necessary to the story and especially the punch line.

    2. How is pacing — does the story move smoothly from beginning to end?

    The story is entertainingly linear. It does drag some mid tale what with the batteries wearing down.

    3. Does the dialogue sound realistic/natural? (If not, which lines?)

    The first line, Momma’s, is the only dialogue. The story might have been enhanced by voices or barks and meows.

    4. Are the characters developed effectively within the confines of this piece? Are they realistic? Sympathetic/resonant?

    Given the events, the characters (or perhaps characterizations) are developed effectively. Certainly they are developed enjoyably.

    5. Is point-of-view clear and consistent? Is the voice unique, interesting, compelling?

    The narrator is clear and crisp and surprisingly calm given the horror of the body being blinked off.

    6. Is the story mostly free of grammatical/punctuation errors?

    I think the story would benefit from a good editing. For example, “Eventually” appears twice in the fourth to last paragraph. Just one example. The story is told from a child’s perspective and that voice is captured in much of the narration.

    7. Is the plot clear and believable? Are there any plot holes that need to be addressed?

    Given the sci-fi genre, the rational mind should park itself at the door before entering this suburban home.

    8. Does the story follow the rules of its genre? If not, were the rules broken well?

    I am afraid I usually don’t write science fiction or fantasy. Are there rules?

    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?

    See # 6. There are some creative images…candied mealworms for example, unless they are real creatures. One slightly jarring note. In the second to last paragraph. “Whiskers “enters the room and is turned into a cat. I have to say that I assumed Whiskers was already a cat. But I am old and easily confused both by writers AND cats.

    10. Does the last line effectively conclude the story?

    Yes it does. I enjoyed the story and could see it visually, in my distant childhood mind, as a cartoon of epic proportion.

  5. Dear Author,

    I’m typing this without reading the others first, so forgive any repetitions, and of course, feel free to take or leave anything that’s said. 🙂

    First of all, I love the concept of this! It cracked me up, and brought back a lot of fights I had with my brother growing up. Kinda wish I could have turned him into a mechanical robot; he’s since redeemed himself, and we have quite a respectable sibling relationship. 🙂

    First point of critique, and one of the few: I felt like there was a lot of “telling” in this, and not as much “showing.” The parts where you DID “show” were amazing and strong. The “telling” parts weakened the story for me.

    For instance: “We had downloaded a freeware version of a backup utility and had it syncing with our brains in real time” was a lovely explanation, but could have been strengthened with “The freeware version of a backup utility synced with our brains…”

    Another instance: “Suddenly we realized he was about to turn off our computer,” could be changed to something like: “His finger zeroed in on the power button…” (or something more your own style).

    There were some passive sentence constructs that could have had more punch for switching around, for instance: “…my mind was zapped into Sparky, our springer spaniel.” Switch to: “I zapped my mind into Sparky…” or something similar.

    I LOVE THE FRAME!!! Brilliant way to begin and end the piece. I will say that in my personal preference, I don’t care for dialogue in a first line, but the ending wrapped up the beginning so well, that you got me over that little quirk quite nicely, and I hold no grudges. 😉

    I thoroughly enjoyed the tone of this; it was light and a little snarky and held my attention completely. Thanks for submitting your piece! This was great. 🙂

  6. I really love how your story is cyclical. I think the very last sentence is superfluous, though. The reader knows the mum was prophetic. I think the paragraph ‘We were stuck in the computer…’ is a fantastic and entertaining paragraph. I think you could elongate it. The paragraph that sets up the technical stuff does stray into tell rather than show.
    I love the relationship you draw and the context you place it in; it’s very original and yet recognisable!
    There is a little repetition (which I am very guilty of myself. I usually don’t see it until I’ve posted it!) I love that he feels sorry for her. That’s a touching part of the story; and yet, she comes back namecalling- brilliant!
    I really liked your story and how quirky it is. It’s a highly imaginative piece that does have a cartoon feel- bold and original. Well done!

  7. I really like the smart and interesting idea behind this story but for me the execution falls a little flat due to two reasons.

    The first is the emotional reaction to these events. I didn’t get the sense of how the brother and sister fell losing their bodies and being trapped in a computer. Was this a scary experience or an exciting one? Do they now have all the freedom of the internet for example?

    The second thing was the lack of follow through when Sissy has to put her mind in robot which doesn’t contain enough RAM to hold her entire consciousness. There seems to be no obvious effect on her character apart from her being annoyed. What part of her consciousness is lost? Assuming any loss of consciousness is important this should have a major affect on her character but I don’t see any.

    As I said this is a really interesting idea with a bit more work could become a very interesting piece of flash fiction

  8. Unusual, a little dark, and funny. First line definitely pulled me in. The pacing was very smooth, I wasn’t bored once or feel tempted to skip to the end. I think the characters are developed well enough for a flash fiction piece. We know they are a brother and sister who love each other underneath it all, since he saved his sister from certain death, but still can’t resist the juvenile urge to fight. No plot holes that I saw, or tired cliches. I loved the last line. Pulled everything together well. The writer knew the perfect point to end story. Though I think this one might be funny as a longer story, maybe a series of novellas, getting mom to figure out who they are, if it’s possible for them to be human again. Interesting.

  9. Quite entertaining. I especially like the fact that the children dowloaded freeware and some critical recovery components were missing. I have some difficulty understanding how the childrens’ consciences are moved to the organic pets. I would have appreciated some indications of the mother’s response to the death of her children. Surely, she must also eventually notice the behavior of the pets. You may have the foundation for a longer story or even a book.

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