Friday, 26 February 2016

Review of Dianne’s story in the OU course on Fiction Writing:

Bad Memories

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals?

Dianne, you have portrayed only two characters, a wise choice in view of the space available. They could so easily have been similar in outlook and temperament and therefore less interesting, because they were (two of) triplets. The difference is brought out through their recent history of injury, long-term rehabilitation and amnesia for the one, against caring, compassion and revenge for the other.
     You use dialogue and action to portray character – as I tend to do. If that’s done well, as it is here, the reader’s imagination adds the physical stuff, with whatever snippets of physical description you only put in if they’re needed.

Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction?

The timescale confused me a little in the short para starting ‘She booked . . .’
May I suggest a way to clarify that?  If you transpose and slightly change the two sentences to say:
‘You were stationed here when it happened. Laurie and I flew out to surprise you for our twenty-fifth birthday.’
The booking wasn’t important. That they flew out together was.
     Another confusion was “Dave smiled . . ran a hand over his belly. He looked .“
     Danny’s confusion of mind was well done. But you avoided confusing the reader even when you described his action and his thoughts in the same line:
Danny looked towards the door. Who’s Danny. Am I Danny?

Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you?

I liked the dramatic start and the questions it posed. It struck a chord with me – straight into the action. If there’s any scene-setting to be done, it can happen later - and to the minimum as far as I’m concerned.
     Even in a short story like this, you managed to summarise a completely satisfying plot: conflict, accident, death, grief, revenge, escape. You also used the flashback technique well. It suited the story – and Danny’s state of mind.
     There was clear cause and effect. Nothing happened that wasn’t connected to or caused by something that happened before.
     Strong conflict too. It couldn’t really be much stronger, could it, when it results in two deaths? Though it might not be described as conflict by most readers, the struggle that Dave goes through to help his brother would have involved an internal conflict and it’s also explicit in a way as he tries to stop Danny hurting himself physically and torturing himself mentally.
     It engaged me very strongly. In many ways.
     I’ve already told you I was in the army, in Cyprus. It was at a time when Greek Cypriot terrorists (or freedom fighters) were involved in a struggle to end British rule and seek union with Greece. There were many deaths, not all of them according to the rules of war.
     Apart from personal feelings, the telling of the story was dramatic, cleverly condensed to fit into the word-count and I got wrapped up in it to such good effect that I didn’t stop to notice the little mistakes here and there.

So now we come to the “petty niggles” I promised you. They are the sort of thing that would put a publisher off, or even a picky reader like me.
     A lot of grammatical errors, probably caused by changing minor things to fit the word-count, then forgetting to check them. I won’t list them all, but look at “her bright blue eyes were twinkling with her popped into his head” and “will never be seen again here again”.
     Research: only artillerymen refer to “guns”; that’s the seriously big stuff, with wheels. Soldiers generally call a smaller weapon a pistol or a rifle or maybe by the manufacturer’ name. I had a Browning 9mm automatic pistol or a Webley .38 revolver at different times. You could always find someone to ask who had been in the Forces at the time you were writing about.
     A few more. Brace yourself! I know these well; I’ve been told so often myself.  “Soft fluffy white”. Three adjectives in a row are at least one too many.
     No man will admit to having “locks”. And” burst into floods of tears” is a cliché. Of course, you knew that.
     I’ll agree that getting hold of and later “losing” a handgun can be done, though it’s not easy. You didn’t have the space to explain how. Frederick Forsyth would have given it three or four pages. It would be more difficult to get to and return from abroad as if you’d never been there, but what the hell!

    What matters,  Dianne, is that it’s a good story well told.

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