Pyromaniacs 4

Welcome to the fourth dynamite 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.

The Nimbys
Written by One of You 🙂

What sounded like the rumble of thunder grew into an eardrum-rending roar, rattling the Royal Doulton teacups, spilling the Darjeeling into the matching saucers, and pulsating the plate of petit-fours across the hostess trolley.

When Col. Sebastian Cholmondeley-Pratt’s military career ended, he retired with his wife Sybil to a beautiful Somerset village. They found little common ground on which to rebuild their marriage – until the protest campaigns. Proposed bypass, social housing development, planned wind farm: they had each needed his strategic planning and her organisational skills in order to press their case. Each had taken years, but they’d won every time.

There were no more battles to fight, but they still indulged in afternoon tiffin, a ritual now desecrated by the explosive boom. They stared out of the picture window and located its source. Sebastian squared his shoulders. “You know the drill, Sybil.” She nodded curtly as he headed to the back door.

A gleaming, seamless sphere, thirty metres across, perched on articulated struts in the scorched meadow behind their property. Sebastian marched down the garden as, below the sphere, a ramp descended like a drawbridge. He opened the gate and stood defiantly defending his property.

Down the ramp waddled two slate-blue, reptilian creatures, like iguanas but much bigger. They were on all fours but, when they reached the ground, they rose upright on their hind legs, presumably in deference to Sebastian. They lumbered over, towering over him by a good metre.

The Colonel was not phased. “I demand to know the meaning of this violation of our airspace and invasion of our sovereign territory.”

The taller of the extraterrestrials raised a stubby forelimb and began to utter undecipherable, gravelly syllables.

Sebastian impatiently interrupted. “I’ll have you know that my wife is inside, drawing up a petition to the borough council, phoning family, friends, acquaintances, supporters to mobilise a campaign, and emailing contacts in the media to get our retaliation in first to this invidious intrusion into our rural idyll.”

It was hard to construe the reaction of the aliens to this opening gambit, but the larger one looked momentarily at the other and its scaly tail twitched, giving the impression of agitation.

In his element, Sebastian gesticulated dramatically towards the shimmering sphere, formulating his soundbite for the evening news. “This metallic monstrosity is totally inappropriate to an agricultural area. It is a blot on the landscape, marring the majesty of The Mendips that we cherish so dearly.” The seasoned campaigner allowed himself a moment of self-satisfied smugness at this skillfully honed harangue.

The extraterrestrials faced each other, swapping guttural sounds interspersed with sibilant whispers. Then they dropped down, turned and waddled back to their craft.

Sebastian would never know what was said between the reptiloid creatures before they left our world, never to return. But anyone able to understand their language would say that it roughly equated to:

“You just wouldn’t listen, would you? I told you it was a waste of time stopping to ask for directions!”

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

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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5 thoughts on “Pyromaniacs 4

  1. There needs to be more of a threat in the story. Maybe instead of going into the relationship of the two main characters, the writer could talk about a recent battle against these same aliens and maybe a treaty that’s in negotiations? So when you get to the end…it’s kind of funny.

  2. I think I would begin this story with the second paragraph, letting the reader get interested in this busybody couple and understand their personalities and motives. Then, let what starts out as smallish, localized conflicts grow and grow until this intergalactic threat arrives. There’s comedy in these two trying to use their civic prowess to go after aliens. Then wrap the details, like the teacups, around the story like unsuspecting victims in this overblown conflict. Those details play up the ridiculousness and tunnel-vision of these two.

    I often find that I write a passage and then discover the paragraphs are out of order. The progression of idea-having doesn’t always want to follow what makes the most sense for the reader. That’s the human brain for you.

    I also wonder if there’s something to exploring the fact that there’s not a way to communicate. This is often glossed over in science fiction – everyone in Doctor Who magically speaks English. The lack of a common language and attempts to convey a request for directions through gestures or some such could give the reader clues to what the aliens want before they learn for sure at the end.

    Okay that’s enough!! Clearly I like this plot since there’s a lot to talk about!

  3. I think you’ve used the tone of your piece to great effect.
    The title is very witty, and I enjoyed the satire throughout which is actually why I would change the ending. I think it turns a clever piece into more of an extended joke (maybe it’s just a personal thing, but I am not keen on flash ending on a punchline).
    I admire the language of your humour- eloquent and economic. You are obviously a skilled wordsmith.
    In essence, your wry social commentary is so sharp that I couldn’t help but enjoy reading your work!

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

    Though I enjoyed the first line, I would suggest something shorter. Additionally, the observation that the second paragraph should perhaps set the stage appeals to me. It also spells out the recent actions of the Nimbys. Good context.

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

    The pacing is fine. It’s the tense that I find disconcerting.

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

    I would love more dialogue. Sebastian is delightfully pompous and hearing from the bemused aliens, playing off of his pomposities, while it might dilute the punch line, could be more of a hoot. Also, you could write some “gutteral sounds,” rather than mention them.

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

    The characters are fun…Sounding not unlike some I have met in my rural paradise.

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

    The POV is fairly clear. Fun.

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

    You are a very skilled writer. Much of the narrative would suit a longer piece, again, from my perspective, if the tense was more immediate.

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

    Sci-fi mixed with Rural angst. What could be more believable?

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

    As someone who doesn’t know the rules of most genres, I had best not comment.

    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 love the writing, the narrative is smart and yet might be better delivered as, say, reportage from a Television newsperson covering the breaking event or a commentator offering a learned opinion.

    10. Does the last line effectively conclude the story?

    It’s a punch line. It might work better elsewhere but that would take a rewrite. Regardless, a fun set of circumstances delivered well. Thank you. And I hope I didn’t ramble on. I will enjoy the movie when it comes out.

  5. I like the concept: a tweedy Englishman lacking in curiosity and shooing away aliens to continue his idyllic country life. The writing is very enjoyable. I think another conclusion might be more consistent. The protagonist lacks any curiosity, so knowing what the aliens said goes somewhat against the grain of the storyline. Thank you for sharing the story!

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