Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Gang's Review Sunday
Paranormal Short Story

Today we're reviewing Sarah R.'s great story! Only one of you seemed to read it yesterday, but you can always post a comment on it here. We encourage you to! Also, submissions are now open for Paranormal First Chapters! We only had one entry this week, so we hope more of you enter this week!  Deadline is Thursday. Remember: If you've already been chosen this month, please wait until next month to enter. We want to give a fair shot to everyone. 
By Sarah R. [The following material is copyright to Sarah.] 
He’s decided that he won’t drink anything for at least two hours before he goes to bed. Maybe that would stop him from waking up and he would sleep through an entire night for once. He raised his arm as he felt for the light switch around the corner and froze. Another man stood in his kitchen, silhouetted by the moon in his back door window.
He found his senses, fumbled for the light switch till his clumsy hands found it, and illuminated the hall. The light spread to where the figure stood but no one was there. Barely thinking, he called out the name of his landlord. He was the only one that should have a key and he knew the doors were locked. He was the only one he knew that could come up with a barely logical reason as to why he’s in his home so late at night, standing so casually.
He took a step forward and immediately regretted it as a floor board groaned underneath him, stealing the sounds he wasn’t making from his ears. Though he was sure that he didn’t hear any sound anyways, he was only seeing things. He blamed it on his lack of sleep, or perhaps it was a fading memory of an interrupted dream. Still, he resolved to go back to bed instead of finishing his trip down the hall.
He shut off the lights and the man came back, closer now. They were sharing the same room. Quicker this time he flipped the lights again and he was gone. Not once did he look away from where he stood. The man had nowhere to go. He had nowhere to hide in the mere seconds that it took him to turn up the lights, nowhere to go that he couldn’t see him.
He knew what he saw, but it was just his eyes he told himself. They’re still adjusting to the light. His sleepy brain is playing games with him. He reached out to shut off the lights for the final time but his hand just hovered over it before letting it fall back to his side leaving it untouched. He shook his head and turned away, almost rushing toward his room and pretending to ignore the chill he felt at his door.
Spotlight Comment from Serena (Applause for Serena for being Sarah's only commenter! Thanks, Serena!): GREAT story! I really was hooked! There are only a couple things I would change.  First, the opening could have been a little more powerful. Like, you could have talked about WHY he wanted to sleep through a whole night, or how intent he was on getting what he wanted. Also, when you say that he saw a man in his kitchen, I think you could have expanded upon the fact that he froze. Like, maybe by describing his fear, his confusion, his curiosity, or something like that. However, your ending was PERFECT. Amazing. I really got the sense that the character (the human one) was trying really hard to ignore the situation, or blame the ghost sightings on himself or his vision, which really aided in your character development ALOT. The ending gave me CHILLS :) Overall, I absolutely loved your story :)

The Gang's Review: You have a great story here! The subtle paranormal aspect is nice. You don't overdo it, which gives the reader a good change from all the paranormal today and goes for the intrigue factor. We definitely think you can develop more to really make the feeling of the story pop out and make the story go from great to fantastic! Our thoughts, changes, and suggestions are in bold and brackets. They're all just that: suggestions, so feel free to dismiss!

He’s decided that he won’t drink anything for at least two hours before he goes to bed. [Tense problem here. The rest of the story is in past tense and while this could work as a generalization, for a short story, it’d be better to keep the same tense. Also ditch some of the words. For example: He decided he wouldn’t drink anything for two hours before going to sleep. It makes the sentence much smoother.] Maybe that would [allow him to (or something similar because you don’t need the extra words] sleep through an entire night for once.

[New paragraph. Each paragraph in writing should have a purpose. Your first part was about hoping our MC gets to sleep through an entire night if he doesn’t drink for two hours before. Now we’re jumping into the plot, so definitely a new paragraph.] He raised his arm as he felt for the light switch around the corner and froze. [Two things here: After the opening, the reader may be under the impression that the MC is already in bed. We need a transition because now a reader may be confused as to why our MC is all of a sudden in the kitchen. Is it not night? If not, why the opening lines? You want a connection between these lines and the opening ones. Right now, there isn’t one. Second thing is watch the vagueness too much. “He did this and froze.” Why did he freeze? Sure, we get the answer in the next sentence, but you want your reader on their toes as much as possible. Maybe build the tension and put in more emotion and feeling. Did he just freeze? Or did his heart jump or his mind race or shivers up his spine?] Another man stood in his kitchen, silhouetted by the moon [shining through the] back door window.

He found his senses [Where’d they go? Another example of where more emotion and feelings can come in. We only know he froze, but for how long? Does he mumble anything? How does he feel about seeing someone in his kitchen?], fumbled for the light switch [until] his clumsy hands found it, and [then] illuminated the hall. The light spread to where the figure stood, but no one was there.

Barely thinking [According to the next sentence, he was thinking pretty well about the landlord and that he would be the only one with a key. Try something like: Knowing his landlord was the only one besides himself with a key, he called out for him. Or something to avoid contradicting yourself.], he called out the name of his landlord. He was the only one that should have a key and he knew the doors were locked. He was the only one he knew that could come up with a barely logical reason as to why he’s in his home so late at night, standing so casually. [Ditch this sentence or shorten it. You used “only one” twice in a row, and it’s not clear whether that’s intentional or not. But if it is, you’ll have to make that clearer. If it isn’t, try making the sentence different. If you use the earlier suggestion (or something similar): Knowing his landlord was the only one besides himself with a key, he called out for him. No one else could possibly have a logical reason for being in his home so late at night, standing so casually. On that note, also: You can tie something into “standing so casually.” You could add something earlier about the landlord needing something, or maybe the landlord had done something similar before. Connecting the casual part to a reason would give the reader more of a reason as to why our MC is thinking it’s the landlord besides just the key. Also because someone could also think, What if someone stole the landlord’s key?]

He took a step forward and immediately regretted it as a [floorboard] groaned underneath him, stealing the sounds he wasn’t making from his ears. [The last half of this sentence reads a little bit off. It took a few reads to understand halfway, but “stealing sounds from his ears” is a little hard to understand. What you’re meaning is it took the silence from the room, right? You could probably just ditch this part of the sentence, or make it a little easier to understand.] Though he was sure [X that (you don’t need “that” all the time] he didn’t hear any sound [anyway;] he was only seeing things. He blamed it on his lack of sleep, or perhaps it was a fading memory of an interrupted dream. Still, he resolved to go back to bed instead of finishing his trip down the hall. [What did he go there for anyway? Also, we still don’t have any actions or feelings from the character. You’re telling what’s happening, but you still need to get the reader into the character’s shoes. Is he rubbing his eyes to try to wake himself up? Muttering under his breath? What’s he feeling?]

He shut off the lights and the man came back, closer now. [Another example of “vagueness.” The man came back. Does he appear out of thin air? Does it look any different? It’s just a shadow? Big? Tall? Short?] They were sharing the same room. [This we already know, so you don’t need it.] Quicker this time, he flipped the lights again and [the man/figure] was gone. Not once did he look away from where [the man] stood. The man had nowhere to go. He had nowhere to hide in the mere seconds that it took [X him (don’t need it)] to turn [on] the lights; nowhere to go that he couldn’t [be seen.]

He knew what he saw, but it was just his eyes, he told himself. [They were (another tense shift)] still adjusting to the light. His sleepy brain [was] playing games with him. He reached out to shut off the lights for the final time, but his hand just hovered over it before letting it fall back to his side, leaving it untouched. He shook his head and turned away, almost rushing toward his room and pretending to ignore the chill he felt at his door.

Overall Suggestions/Critiques: When you read through, notice how many times you use “he.” Each paragraph started with it and many sentences as well. Watch that. Since this is in third person, you can say many of the same things without using “he.” Also, when you’re not using names and you have two male characters like this, you really have to watch it because your reader will easily get confused on who’s who.

You have the paranormal plot thought out and it really shows, but you also need a setup plot. A beginning, middle, and end for the character. You start with talking about the drinking before bed, but then quickly jump to seeing the figure and never get back to the point of the opening lines. An example of what you could do is, instead of having his story start with him flicking up the light switch, have him wake up, even though he didn’t drink for two hours before bed. That would connect to the opening lines. E.g.

He decided he wouldn’t drink anything for two hours before going to sleep. Maybe that would allow him sleep through an entire night for once, but it seemed that wasn’t the case tonight. Though, it wasn’t a full bladder that woke him, it was one of his many night sweats.

Night sweats are just a suggestion for the example. But do you see how you can give him something to connect to your opening lines. Then have him pull himself from bed and head to get a drink of water or something from the kitchen. That’ll also give us an opportunity to see how tired he is. So you’ll have the “setup plot” (Shouldn’t be waking up, but does anyway, goes to the kitchen for something, sees the figure, goes back to bed) and then the paranormal aspect.

Lastly, more development with descriptions and details. Add more suspense, describe the rooms, the sounds, or lack thereof. Is it storming outside? Is it cold when the figure shows? You have them sporadically throughout the story, but you really want to make your readers feel what's happening. Add more detail and paint a picture that people can visualize so we can really feel to horror this man is feeling.

Overall, really great job! Thank you so much for entering! It was a pleasure reading your story!

Gang, remember to always edit everything you work on and never complety settle as there is always room for improvement!

Also, submissions are now open for Paranormal First Chapters! Enter now! Deadline is this Thursday.

3 comments:

Andromeda said...

Heh, I was determined to try to always comment on people's work here. I missed yesterday, but I just read it. I agree with what y'all said!

To Sarah: I hope you write more of it! :)

Sarah said...

Thanks for the review guys!

And thank you Andromeda! :)

Kate Anders said...

Nice review and nice story! I'm like Andromeda, but I was in Florida for a field hockey tournament since Wednesday with limited internet access. Can't wait to see the paranormal first chapters people submit!