Pyromaniacs 5

Welcome to the FIFTH (already!?) 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.

Faith, Hope and Charity
Written by One of You 🙂

    Walk up the hill and turn left at the sign post. I stopped and looked up – this must be it I thought before reacquainting myself with the note in my hand. I followed its instructions to the letter and climbed the old stone steps until I arrived at the predicted pathway. The grey of urban slowly changed to the green of grass as the path meandered towards a large open space.

    The local shopkeeper had given me directions as to where I’d find her. He said she waited here everyday – had done for weeks – spending her time sitting on a bench overlooking the urban sprawl. Everybody knew her by sight but nobody seemed to know her name or even where she lived. I hurried past several walkers and joggers in my journey along the pathway, keeping an eye out for this mysterious woman. Eventually, far off in the distance, I noticed a figure huddled on one of the benches.

    As I approached she seemed lost in thought, her fingers toying with something on her lap. But before I could speak she stood and reached out to stroke a passing dog. She wiped away a tear and I forced myself not to approach immediately, not wanting her to find out I was watching – just incase she was the wrong woman. But the decision was taken out of my hands when I was suddenly pulled at speed towards her; my palms blistering on the makeshift lead.

    ‘Where have you been?’ she cried as the dog leapt up and licked her face at the exact moment two paws landed on her shoulders.

   ‘She was wandering the streets,’ I said recalling how the dog had followed me home. ‘All I got was s name from her dog tag. What’s yours?’

    ‘Thank you. Faith – my name’s Faith. Thank you for looking after her,’ she said clipping the leather lead she’d been holding onto the dog’s collar.

    ‘I always knew Hope wasn’t lost forever.’

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

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 5

  1. It’s a really lovely story! I do like the first line. It does draw me in. I think the next few sentences could be edited out, and the story could pick up again at, ‘They grey of urban…’ – a sentence that I really love. I think this might make the introduction sharper.
    The woman is interesting, and I wanted to read about her. I think you successfully take the reader off in another direction in this paragraph. I was convinced I was reading a ghost story or thriller, at this point, which made the ending surprising.
    I really appreciate how you have worked with structure. The woman clapping the passing dog sets us up (without our realising it) and using names that are linked does round things off. I am not sure whether I  would definitely have gone for those particular names just because they, perhaps, stray into cliche. (But that’s probably personal taste as I’m usually trying to kill off most of my characters and don’t really do upbeat stories.)
    The feel at the end is very uplifting. I very much enjoyed reading your work.

  2. The story does have a clear beginning, middle, and end, despite it’s brevity, and the author creates mystery quickly with the note and the searching. But I feel the story is more allegory, and not necessarily meant to be a “tale”. I think the reason it feels like a ghost story (as the critique above points out), is that the “woman” isn’t really a woman. The author writes, “Everybody knew her by sight but nobody seemed to know her name or even where she lived.” When I first read this, it seemed out of place, and strange when you’re just talking about a woman who lost her dog. But, once you get to the end, it makes sense as an allegory for spiritual faith.

    I did struggle over the language in this piece, having to read sentences several times to get their meaning as I tripped over words. It felt a bit stiff or forced, rather than smooth. When I read, I want to forget that my eyes and brain are breaking down little black marks on the page, and just absorb the imagery and feelings. I can’t do that when phrasing is awkward, or cliche jumps out at me. I do think some of my stumbling at the beginning is just due to formatting. If the first line could be italicized (which might not be the case here on the blog), and it’s own sentence separate from the next paragraph, that would help. Same as “This must be it,” before the I thought. Without the italics, and the comma that’s needed, I had to read the sentence several times to get what was going on. Easy fixes.

    I would suggest the author look again at her / his use of imagery and some specific phrases that are awkward word choices, or cliche. Examples: “reacquainting myself with the note” (reacquaint didn’t seem like the right verb), “followed its instructions to the letter” (cliche), “until I arrived at the predicted pathway” (predicted…a note doesn’t really predict. It describes. This was awkward), “The grey of urban” (urban is an adjective, so you’re attaching an adjective to another adjective, which made me stumble, because I thought a noun would be coming after urban, but it didn’t…urban sprawl, urban life, urban buildings, urban ???).

    I think with some tightening up of language, this can be a neat allegorical story.

  3. This is a great story, but a couple of things to think about.

    The first sentence is great, piquing curiousity and drawing the reader in. I don’t think the following two sentence are required however – how do they move your story forward, either in terms of plot or character development?

    I was also a little confused when it became apparent your MC was walking a dog. I can understand why you withheld the information, but I think the emotional impact of the story would be heightened if you had established a connection between the mc and the dog before the mc had to hand it over to the old woman.

    The story alludes to the bible verse about Faith, Hope and Charity and you have three characters. I would think carefully about how you name them and to see if you can work in all their names into the story. The old woman – sitting there Hope (fully)? The dog – Faith (ful friend) and the MC full of Charity.

    The verse is taken from Corinthean’s – maybe the Park they are called in is called ‘Corinthean’s Park’. Are there ways you can incorporate the language of the full verse into your story? I liked the contrast between the ‘grey urban sprawl’ and the ‘green openess’ of the park – the contrast reminded me of the ‘through a glass darkly’ part of the verse. Is there a way you can make the comparison more explicit.

    This way you will heighten the emotional impact of the story while giving it a greater depth of meaning.

    It’s a lovely, lovely story, so well done!

  4. I like the general concept of the story. Some editing would improve it. The first sentence should likely be in quotes. Since the next sentence shifts to past tense, quotation marks would make it easier to distinguish between the text and the recollection. The text has some typographic errors and could use some editing. I could use a few more commas where you’d like the reader to pause. I too have difficulties with editing and I miss errors, and I now use a speech app that reads the story back to me. Hearing it helps me catch problems. There are some problems with the flow which could be easily fixed. One example is: “But before I could speak she stood and reached out to stroke a passing dog. She wiped away a tear and I forced myself not to approach immediately . . ..” The first sentence suggests the next sentence would be an interaction with the pooch.

    I hope these small observations will be helpful to you. Thank you.

  5. Charming, feel-good story!

    1) The first line draws you in, making you want to know where the narrator is going.

    2) The pacing is good, building well towards introducing and finding the woman, seeing her upset and then happy at the end. The only thing that jarred a bit for me was the sudden introduction of the woman’s dog – it came out of nowhere a bit.

    3) Dialogue is realistic and to the point.

    4) I like the character of Faith – it’s built up well from observations of the narrator (Charity, I presume) and creates a perfect personification of faith, refusing to give up on her dog and returning to the same spot every day.

    5) POV is clear, and you also get a feel for the selflessness of the narrator, taking time to return Hope to her owner.

    6) I found a typo – ‘all I got was s name’. Maybe commas after ‘I said/she said’. I think ‘incase’ is two words. Personally I would have put a comma in front of ‘my palms blistering’, not a semicolon but that may be subjective. Only small things though – mostly grammar/punctuation is fine.

    7) It’s a good, believable plot and enjoyable representation of three virtues. I would like to know from the beginning that the narrator is walking a dog, though we wouldn’t need to know it is Faith’s dog?

    8) This story follows the feel-good short story genre with a well-executed happy ending and reunion!

    9) Overall the language is clear and well thought out, there are just a couple of confusing sentences. For example: ‘the dog leapt up and licked her face at the exact moment two paws landed on her shoulders’. I’m not sure how this would actually happen in reality? Also, on first reading the part when Faith strokes the passing dog, then the narrator is pulled forward by another dog, I thought these were the same dog. Probably just me being an idiot though.

    10) The last line closes the whole story beautifully.

    I enjoyed reading this lovely little story, and hope these comments are useful (though late!). Thank you for sharing 🙂

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