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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Critical Thinking

-=ad=- has bravely offered his flash fiction story “Questions” for dissection. If you're a member, you can find it here. If you're not a member, why aren't you a member?*

I like this one. It’s like a mix of Red Dwarf’s Better than Life and Doctor Who’s Cybermen.

First thing. In these types of set-ups (mysterious man visits protagonist), the protagonist is often a doctor or scientist. His profession usually has something to do with what’s going on. I can accept that the technology is ubiquitous enough that a relatively educated man would know about it, but it would be nice to know who Mick Vanora is. It could be slipped in as a thought—He’d retired from ___ to escape the suits like this guy. Or as part of the explanation of the tech—"I was a professional cat scratcher, not a rocket surgeon."

Actually, the first option would ease up the telling creep you get into with Mick ignored the stranger for a long stretch. Thinking back to his job and how the appearance of this guy brings back memories would add a nice beat. It would also help to explain why the stranger was giving Mick this line of questioning. When I’m fishing, people don’t generally walk up and start talking about…well, I don’t fish, but you get the point.

This paragraph has a lot of unnecessary words that could be nicely cut for flash fiction. The way the description of the stranger flows into the dialogue, it feels like the stranger is speaking.

Mick gave him a puzzled look… Intentionally? How about something like Mick raised an eyebrow in question? You need to decide if you’re going to go with tight third-person or omniscient narrator. This bit straddles the fence.

...the man just stared at him, clear blue eyes below a balding head and behind small round glasses. There’s a more elegant way to say this, although I don’t know if I’m going to find it in a busy Starbucks with music that I swear sounds like Chrissie Hynde singing in French. (Why are they playing French on St. Patrick’s Day?)

In between small round glasses and "You know what..." you could easily slip in a bit about Mick’s change of heart. Glance around the empty lake? Think about the empty cabin? Realize he can’t eat three fish on his own? It would also add a much-needed dialogue attribution. Actually, watch your speech attributions throughout.

The verb “scooped” is great, but I had a vision of him actually scooping his hand into the barrel and pulling out some fish like a bear.

The stranger followed in silence, at a respectful distance behind him. Is following behind someone respectful in this culture? Considering the ending, maybe Mick could catch a glimpse of fear or apprehension in his visitor.

Mick’s visitor—if you use the appearance of this guy to compare with Mick’s former occupation, you can give him a more descriptive nickname.

Regarding the conversation. You’re having a “dumb puppet” convo without the puppet. Both men know everything there is to know. I understand the stranger needs to come onto the subject gradually so Mick realizes the implications, but it could be done more elegantly. Mick has been retired and out of touch for some time. His memory of the basics could be a little hazy.

Eg: “Uh…the guys who did that Lifeware thing?”

In addition, in a year and a half, there must be major advances in the tech. Mick may have learned the basics when he went under, but it’s very likely things have changed. That would give the stranger opportunity to explain more and lead less. Perhaps when Mick went under, they weren’t able to animate the comatose bodies yet. Mick honestly thinks he’s retired at a lake, but then argues that being in Lifeware isn’t so bad if this is what it’s like until Stranger nudges him to understand someone’s using his body? It sounds like that was where you were going, but it’s a little too subtle. And I like how the Stranger gradually leads Mick to realize he’s under. Maybe Mick thinks this guy is asking his help with the tech, and grows to realize no, the point is that he’s under? That might be too clumsy and cliché-ish, but Mick’s gotta be wondering why this guy’s here.

Oh-and-one-more-thing: mention how the “virus” needs to be physically present? Because I’m thinking the virus has to be at the mainframe at the command and control center, not physically next to the dreamer.

From Emergency Abort to Mick opened his eyes, I think this could be rewritten to be more Mick’s POV. Disorientation; words projected onto his retina? He feels the false input slide out of his brain, replaced with heat and pressure and pain?

I understand Mick’s just coming out of a dream-state, and he’s going to spend the first few moment taking in his environment, but the last paragraph is pretty static. There are a lot of “was” and “were.” And it’s written in omniscient POV. How does he know he’s in a burning building? All he can see is smoke through the scratched plastic of a face shield. What does it smell like? The metallic tang of an air tank or the fumes of burning computers? Does the armor feel confining after being outside in fishing clothes?

Imagine you’re waking up from an intense dream. What do you notice first? The air’s different? Hot breath on a mask? Shoulders feel heavy? Room hazy with smoke? Yeah, flash fiction has to be short, but short, choppy sentences will add to the mood.

I like the nice twist on the whole Matrix/Total Recall thing. Instead of our bodies static and our minds active, they’re split, doing their own thing. And the story is very immediate instead of academic. It makes me wonder if Cybermen dream.

Those were my thoughts; hoped they helped. What do you-all think?

*Yeah, I know it's a pain, but if we publish -=al=-'s story here, he can't submit it anywhere. And membership's free with one small sacrifice to OTOGU.
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