Pyromaniacs 6

Welcome to the 6th 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 Writer’s Life
Written by One of You 🙂

The police detective followed the med tech down the long hallway. Painted the universal hospital green, the walls seemed to stretch to infinity, the doors evenly spaced. The whole thing looked like a scene from one of the Matrix movies and was a bit unnerving to a newly minted detective.

    The med tech, also in the ubiquitous white outfit found in mental hospitals, paused before one door and slid the cover over the small observation window to the right. The detective peered inside then looked at the med tech.

    “That’s a padded room,” the detective said.

    “Yeah, we keep a few of them ready,” replied the med tech. “For special cases.”

    The detective peered inside again. The creature crouched in one corner of the padded cube was the epitome of wretched. Gaunt, hair and beard unkempt, eyes darting wildly about, dark circles like black holes in his face. He had curled into a fetal position, hands clenched beneath his chin, his mouth gibbering, drool pooling beside his head. Yellow and brown stains marred the crisp, white padding in the room.

    “Geez,” the detective said. “He’s a real nut case.”

    “Which is why he’s here,” the tech said. “I assume you saw the apartment we took him from.”

    “Yeah. A hoarder’s paradise. We’re more interested in the fact that the iMac he tossed out the window almost hit a woman with a kid in a stroller on the street. It was the usual thing. Neighbors said he was quiet, they hardly ever saw him outside the apartment, then he went nuts,” the detective said. “So what’s the diagnosis? Paranoid schizo? Psycopath? PCP? What?”

    “Naw,” the tech said, sliding the door over the observation window closed again. “More basic than any of that.”

    “What then?”

    “He’s a writer.”

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

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

13 thoughts on “Pyromaniacs 6

  1. This read very smoothly to me from beginning to end, nice transitions between sentences and good use of language. Lovely description, especially in the first paragraph, so I get a feel for the setting with minimal language. I didn’t see a lot to critique in this other than minor preferences here and there. It’s well-written and fairly seamless.

    That said, I thought there were a few places where the narration could be shortened for more concise, powerful sentences. One example: “We’re more interested in the fact that the iMac he tossed out the window almost hit a woman with a kid in a stroller on the street.” Four prepositional phrases could be cut down to two at least? Otherwise, it leaves a rhythm in the reader’s head that almost feels like should be mirrored through the rest of the piece.

    Lovely last line. Made me laugh out loud.
    *Takes laptop into padded room to begin NaNoWriMo.*

  2. Loved that first paragraph- laid the scene well and made me smile. Absolutely giggled at that last line!!! Great job here. Grammatically, I thought it looked good, the Detective and Med Tech, should have been capitalized because they are the titles we have of the characters. I liked the flow of the piece. Good read.

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

    The first line does pique my interest but I am a reader of police procedurals so I’m easily captured.

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

    I found the first two paragraphs somewhat more telly then showy.

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

    The dialogue, once we get to it, is fun and snappy. I would suggest more banter from the get-go, but that’s me.

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

    The characters are set up nicely and they do their job well. Their job is to get us to the punch line.

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

    We are drawn in, especially those of us with a detective bent.

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

    Someone else mentioned a few missteps.

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

    The plot is painfully believable as I am sure most of us will attest.

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

    Again, not to bore (which is breaking the rules) but more dialogue or inner voice would be my preference. The inner voice of the detective is often a useful, perhaps overly used conceit, which I like in the extreme.

    9. Is language used well: does the story rely on clichés and too-common devices, or does the story contain striking imagery, colorful and vibrant descriptions, powerful metaphors?

    Description is well done and all focused on setting up the last line.

    10. Does the last line effectively conclude the story?

    More than most, the last line is a decider, a concluder. A fun story. And ripped from an all too real condition.

  4. And in keeping with my personal goal of committing grammatical gaffs at the drop of a hat, I found “the first two paragraphs somewhat more telly then showy,” my #2 answer, has an obvious error which most writers not hospitalized for meltdown would get in a flash.

  5. It seems as though you’ve written the overall story arc in your head, but you need more background on mental institutions, psychiatric wards, or crisis stabilization units to get a feel for how they are in reality. The story seems dependent on imagery from fiction and movies rather than actual health facilities.

    I’d spell out medical technician the first time you use it, or move the word hospital before you use med tech. The reader might stumble on the shortened phrase at first without the hospital location being clear.

    Instead of saying it looked like a scene from one of the Matrix movies, you might think of what makes those images so spooky. Flicking neon bulbs? The disturbing color they give off? There are actual images of psychiatric wards on the Internet, and you might want to contemplate them for more original imagery.

    Is the detective newly minted, or something else? The detective likely has some police background, so he’s not newly minted. You also described the walls a green just moments earlier. Perhaps another word would help the reader avoid linking “mint” and “green” in their minds.

    You say the med tech is in white, but that detail might be unnecessary. Maybe a comment on the color was perceived due to the walls or lighting, or the emotions they inspire?

    The text, “slid the cover over the small observation window to the right” might be better phrased. The observation window is in the center of the door, and the door covers the window. There are some companies specializing is security equipment and doors, and it might behoove you to take a look at the sites to see how they are built, and what feeling you get from them. Take a look at, for instance, http://www.celltech.com.au. The VA has design standards for mental health facilities on-line, and they can appear quite nice.

    I’d be very cautious about describing the person in the cell. At present, you’ve created a caricature that could be offensive, and I believe with some research you could refine it to be more personal, more moving, and less a stereotype.

  6. I liked the way you described the scene. The punch line was good. All in all an enjoyable read, only I would have preferred you not mentioning the movie Matrix. I would have liked to imagine your world not zoom into the movie. Just my two cents. Well done!

  7. I also enjoyed this story. I think it is very well written, and the punchline is so funny.
    The first paragraph really sets the scene and establishes the characters. I agree, you could leave out the reference to the Matrix, though. It isn’t necessary. I do like the way the backstory is handled through the back and forth dialogue. I think it is very hard to write humor, but this story is a fine example of how it’s done.

  8. I really like this feature and don’t want it to go away, so here’s my attempt at feedback. Everything is very much personal opinion so please take it all with an oceans worth of salt 😉

    The police detective followed the med tech down the long hallway
    Personally I’d name the characters, it will make things flow easier later on and help the readers to relate to them more. Repeating a name is normal, repeating ‘med tech’ is slightly jarring. Also, you don’t have to tell us what they do, you could imply it. For example:
    John’s handcuffs clanged against his hip as he walked down the hallway. He hadn’t had a chance to use them yet outside of the academy, and that wasn’t going to change while he was running errands for the police chief.

    He’d already forgotten the name of the med tech he was following. So much for remembering every little detail.

    Painted the universal hospital green, the walls seemed to stretch to infinity, the doors evenly spaced
    I’d flip this sentence so the reader knows right away that you’re talking about the hallway. Something like: The walls stretched off into the distance, an endless streak of hospital green, broken up only by the doorways.

    The whole thing looked like a scene from one of the Matrix movies and was a bit unnerving to a newly minted detective.
    When I read this I made the assumption that this meant the detective is newly minted, although it doesn’t actually say this, it just says a newly minted detective would find it unnerving. See above as to how you might imply the detectives lack of experience without having to outright state it. Personally I try to avoid using film references if I don’t have to. If your reader hasn’t see the Matrix you don’t want them wondering if they are missing out on something.

    The med tech, also in the ubiquitous white outfit found in mental hospitals, paused before one door and slid the cover over the small observation window to the right.

    Again, I’d hint at some of these details rather than state them outright – for example:
    The med tech paused before one of the doors, his name badge hanging limply from his white coat. John made a mental note of it for his report before he said, “So Frank, what have you got for me?”
    Frank reached over to the small observation window on the door and slid it open. The hatch protested with a loud squeak, a desperate cry for a dab of WD40.

    The detective peered inside then looked at the med tech.

    “That’s a padded room,” the detective said.

    “Yeah, we keep a few of them ready,” replied the med tech. “For special cases.”

    All good here, but I’d use their names instead of their professions.

    The detective peered inside again. The creature crouched in one corner of the padded cube was the epitome of wretched. Gaunt, hair and beard unkempt, eyes darting wildly about, dark circles like black holes in his face. He had curled into a fetal position, hands clenched beneath his chin, his mouth gibbering, drool pooling beside his head. Yellow and brown stains marred the crisp, white padding in the room.
    There’s a lot going on here! This is where you’re selling the reader on the depravity of the ‘creature’ so I think you’re on the money with the detailed description. One thing I’d suggest is bring in other senses. Instead of saying ‘yellow and brown stains marred the crisp, white padding in the room.’ you could say, “the distinct aroma of warm piss emanated from a puddle in the corner that was still steaming.” You want the reader to wrinkle their nose and imagine what a sorry sight this poor wretch is.

    I’d also throw in a tint clue for the reader here, something to hint at the ending without giving it away. You could say “hands beneath his chin, the fingers twitching uncontrollably” That doesn’t mean anything to the reader at this point, nor should it, you don’t want to give away the finale, but if someone reads the story again it’s that kind of detail that they might notice. Is he still trying to finish his story without a keyboard? Who knows 😉

    “Geez,” the detective said. “He’s a real nut case.”

    “Which is why he’s here,” the tech said. “I assume you saw the apartment we took him from.”

    “Yeah. A hoarder’s paradise. We’re more interested in the fact that the iMac he tossed out the window almost hit a woman with a kid in a stroller on the street.

    This is all good, a couple of sentences could be slightly tightened up. You don’t have to state that the kid was in a stroller, one or the other will suffice. I’d go with something along the lines of: We’re more interested in the fact that the iMac he tossed out the window almost hit a baby. The mum saw it just in time and swerved away. A few seconds later and this guy would be locked up somewhere very different.

    It was the usual thing. Neighbors said he was quiet, they hardly ever saw him outside the apartment, then he went nuts,” the detective said. “So what’s the diagnosis? Paranoid schizo? Psycopath? PCP? What?”

    “Naw,” the tech said, sliding the door over the observation window closed again. “More basic than any of that.”

    “What then?”

    “He’s a writer.”

    Great ending, I like how you’ve flipped it to humour after a fairly gritty tone throughout.

    Overall it’s a solid story and although it might seem like I’ve suggested a lot of changes they are mostly just minor tweaks rather than anything drastic or structural. I hope this helps!

  9. First off, I enjoyed this story. Now, onto the questions:

    Does the first line catch your interest?
    It’s an good introductory line, but to be honest… I think starting it a little further down the story might work better – looking in on the man in the padded room and his state would be more of an attention grabber. Unless you’re planning on making this a longer story, a lot of the information from the first paragraph adds depth but does not move the story along. (and yes, I subscribe to the school of ‘grab their attention with the first line.’ which admittedly is not everybody’s cup of tea.

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

    It is well paced, with the story starting off slowly and then whipping around the corner.

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

    Most of the dialog sounds real to me, except maybe the first spoken line of “That’s a padded cell.” – It’s an observation… and it lets the reader know that the man he’s observing is indeed in a padded cell.

    You might want to try it as more of a question, such as – “Why is he in a padded cell?” It conveys the information and makes the detective sound a little less obvious – unless of course you want him to be totally new and then it works, but in almost every police department I know of, detectives start out as beat cops, and as beat cops… they’ve seen it all.

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

    They are effective in this piece. As I said, for a short story, you could actually do with less… the only reason to build on them more is, again, if you’re planning on making this a longer piece.

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

    It’ a good narrative and you did a good job of keeping the voice through out (and included descriptions which always gets extra points from me since i’m really bad at that myself.

    Is the story mostly free of grammatical/punctuation errors?

    I didn’t see anything glaring.

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

    It’s a short simple story with a very straight through line of following the information.

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

    All rules seem to be in tact and functioning.

    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?

    Everything blends together well, so there is nothing that really stands out as overused.

    Does the last line effectively conclude the story?

    the last line is closer to a punch line – (which I tend to favor in short form) but it does nicely explain what the guy was ‘on’ all too well… Throw in muttering something about deadlines and maybe “I can’t kill him” and you’ve got most of us at the end of NaNo ;).

    Thank you for sharing.

  10. Dear Brave Writer;
    I like the opportunity to critically read a piece of writing without someone taking my commentary the wrong way. After all, it is only my opinion and nothing more. I put my comments in brackets, so read through the story again.

    I like this story. I thought this story could be tighten-up and more sensory details added. I am not big on names so long as the read knows who is talking, but name dropping like product placement in movies irks me. I don’t know if there was a word limit to this piece, but the addition of character blocking in the form of movement details and the body language of the detective and the medical technician could convey meaning too.
    ***********************************************
    The police detective followed the med tech [medical technician] down the long[is this word necessary? You talk about the length of the hallway in the next descriptive sentence] hallway. Painted the universal [maybe not universal but institutional] hospital green, the walls seemed to stretch to [into] infinity, the doors evenly spaced[. The whole thing looked-delete] like a scene from one of the Matrix movies[.] and [All of this] was a bit unnerving to[for] a newly minted detective.[first day on the job?]

      The med tech [not fond of med tech], also[is this a necessary word?] in the ubiquitous[lose ubiquitous] white outfit [not sure if this is true-do homework.] found in mental hospitals, paused before one [room number? Metal door, wooden door?]door and slid the cover over the small observation window to the right. The detective peered inside [,]then looked at the med tech.

    “That’s a padded room[Is this a question?],” the detective said.

    “Yeah, we keep a few of them ready,” replied the med tech. “For special cases.”

    The detective peered inside again. The creature crouched in one corner of the padded cube was [the epitome of wretched. Is the epitome of wretched necessary? Why not show me, and let me get a sense of just how wretched this writer has become.] Gaunt, hair and beard unkempt, eyes darting wildly about, dark circles like black holes in his face. He had [restructure the sentence to lose the word “had”]curled into a fetal position, hands clenched beneath his chin, his mouth gibbering, drool pooling beside his head. [who is going to see this? I assume the detective]Yellow and brown stains marred the crisp, white padding in the room. [Maybe this whole paragraph could be rewritten so the reader sees the room through the detective’s eyes. This is a new detective–greenhorn. This scene is going to be repulsive to his newly minted detective. This paragraph is missing sensory experience and its effect on the detective. I bet this room smelled bad too.]

    “Geez,” the detective said. “He’s a real nut case [we the reader should draw this conclusion from the above paragraph as seen through the detective’s eyes].”

    “Which is why he’s here,” the tech [tech works here] said. “I assume you saw the apartment we took him from.”

    “Yeah. A hoarder’s paradise. We’re more interested in the fact that the iMac he tossed out the window almost hit a woman with a kid in a stroller on the street. It was the usual thing. Neighbors said he was quiet,[.] they hardly ever saw him outside the apartment, then he went nuts,” the detective said. “So what’s the diagnosis? Paranoid schizo[no abbreviations]? Psycopath[psychopath]? PCP? What?”

    “Naw,” the tech said, sliding the door over the observation window closed again. “More basic than any of that.”

    “What then?”

    “He’s a writer.”

  11. I like this story with a nice twist at the end.

    For me the biggest area that needs work is in the descriptions. While I know exactly what the writer is describing, the descriptions themselves feel a little bit cliche. This might be the point but I feel the other use turns the descriptions into cliches rather than commenting on them. The first paragraph suffers from this the most. I’d also remove the reference point of the Matrix. While a brilliant film it is over 15 years old now so not only dates your story but won’t help get across your vision for those who haven’t seen the movie.

    Finally I love the description of the patient and his room. I really got a sense of who he was and the room he lived in with the image “yellow and brown stains marred the crisp white” giving a sense of smell as well.

    Over all very good but i think stronger descriptions at the start would make the story much more powerful.

  12. Nicely written, with a fun pay off. I liked the matter of fact conversation and the description of the wretched writer. I would suggest a little editing in the following lines:

    Painted the universal hospital green, the walls seemed to stretch to infinity, the doors evenly spaced. (The description of the “universal” hospital green is redundant, and the point of the line is to suggest how endless the corridor seems, so switch the last couple of phrases to make it more pointed – Painted Hospital Green, with evenly spaced doors, the walls seemed to stretch to infinity)

    …like a scene from one of the Matrix movies (as you’re assuming that your readers are familiar with the series, shave a couple of words from that precious word count: like a scene from The Matrix)

    …also in the ubiquitous white outfit found in mental hospitals (“also” suggests that someone else is in the ubiquitous white, but we haven’t seen anyone else dressed this way. It’s also identified in the first paragraph that we’re in a hospital, while the Detective’s apparent surprise at the padded room suggests that it’s not necessarily a mental hospital, so you may want to take out the reference. If you need to include details of what the tech is wearing, try it in the first sentence: The police detective followed the white-coated med tech down the long hallway.)

    The creature crouched in one corner (A strong image, but one contradicted by the reference to a fetal position. Change to something like: The creature curled in one corner)

    I assume you saw the apartment we took him from (purely a personal thing, but I read that as a question, so would end it with a question mark)

    …almost hit a woman with a kid in a stroller on the street (this is a bit unwieldy, and doesn’t fit with the sharp dialogue preceding it. I would decide which element is the most important – the woman, the kid, the stroller or the street – and edit to make it clearer: almost hit a woman pushing a stroller, almost hit a kid in a stroller, almost hit a woman on the street etc.)

    …the detective said. (I think you’ve established the pattern of conversation well so don’t need this, but if you still want it in, I’d suggest putting it earlier: “Yeah. A hoarder’s paradise,” the detective said. “We’re more interested…)

    Disclaimer: I have no formal training and just like to read and write flash. If any of this helps then that’s great, but most of it is my humble opinion only and can be ignored.

    🙂

  13. I am writing this from a mental institution. I am in a padded cell and came across your story. I am a writer, of course. But I have to write this quickly because they do not know that I have a device. These other people that commented are in the cells next to me! We all love your story and can’t wait for the sequel. I hear someone coming so I have to go. You know… Life imitates art.

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