|Title: "The Eyes of the Beholder" (The Eyes of the Beholder)
Author: Max Griffin 🏳️🌈
Plot: I am questioning this piece for one reason. I cannot abide a twist. I do not hate this story, but it feels a little unfair that you did a 180 at the last minute. I understand that keeping the strangeness of the ending a secret was crucial to the dramatic climax, but it felt like reading a western with gunslingers at a high-noon shoot out, but then they’re aliens who actually just really love fruit cake. I do not mean to be blunt or sound negative, but I felt there needed to be more of a hint that this kind of ending was within the realm of possibility.
Near the middle, I had a feeling that death would be involved, but I thought it would be Jeff who bought it. I imagined that he would fail, and then later the father would kill him, and maybe the rest of Timmy’s family. This is reminiscent of a killer you might have heard of on AMW, a staunchly religious father who one day came home and for no apparent reason massacred his entire family and then disappeared for 40 years, starting a new family under a new name in another city. I was actually kind of disappointed that the story did not go in this direction.
How you might fix it: I would hint a bit more about sacrifices in the prose, mention them in passing at the breakfast table, in conversation, even in the prayer. If you already addressed it, I missed it.
Style & Voice: At first, I wanted to give you strictly kudos, cause your writing style and word choice are rich and diverse. Still, I thought there were parts where the wordiness was intentionally obscure, but not to benefit the prose, more to make the writing “seem” more intelligent. That’s not a cut down, I do it a lot myself, so I know to look for it. My example for this is the use of the word “lilt” to depict branch movement. I last heard the word used by Dennis Miller in 1993 to describe Kathleen Turner’s fakey, pseudo-European accent. I would just consider describing more in this part.
There were other parts where you use words over and over. “Lilt” was used twice, the word “voice” was used 6, and so on. In the case of the second, you seem to hit the same road block that I do trying to think of an original way to say, he said, without tagging it too blandly or obscurely. Maybe describing the voice’s traits, gruff, gravelly, irritable, smarmy, pandering, etc., might help. Stephen King said, “The road to Hell is paved with Adverbs,” but it is not necessarily lit by adjectives when used wisely.
Referencing: I don’t know that this piece was long enough to reference much in the way of genre. I put it at near Earth, or Earth itself, between the 50’s and today. There was enough here to suggest that it was modern, newspapers, school sponsored sporting events, and a town happily committing ritual sacrifice. This suggests either a warped Earth-type dimension where these things are common, or a rural community where the sense of morality has shifted to a deadly distance from center. The religious angle draws me more toward the latter.
Scene/Setting: The setting was bold and vibrant, reminding me of my own childhood and the way I saw the world. I felt that this was where you shined. I cannot give you much here except to say that sometimes, less is more. Being descriptive is awesome, but be careful not to drip the adjectives over the rim. Again, a problem we share.
Characters: The characters were well-though, and specific. Only once, right at the beginning of the race scene, did Mitzi and their mom seem to conjoin a bit, but that was fixed by the time the race started. The characters were clear cut, and each one seemed very likely to operate in their world and in their narrative roles exactly as they should. The father being a killer was not a big leap, so that wasn’t the problem. The twist, as I mentioned, was too sudden, but that had nothing to do with characterization, which you have down cold.
Grammar: There were a few minor details that I’ve highlighted. I’ll make my remarks where they appear below. Otherwise, excellent in execution. You do a great job, appearing very professional and concise.
Just My Personal Opinion: Max, you are a great writer. I loved the work, though I felt a bit cheated by the ending twist. I needed more cohesion to make it justified. I sound like a broken record with this, but I promise I’ll not make a post about it. My last editing post did not go over well. I want to be led a bit more here, given some sense of the finale throughout. Maybe some aggressive chopping by Mom in the kitchen, skewering the breakfast sausage or something like Abraham taking out his chirrens (the Nawlins word for “children.” “Nawlins” is Nawlins for “New Orleans.”) in the name of God. The quote at the top, for me, is very cryptic. Very, very, very cryptic, as I do not come in contact with the good book that much (or at all). Still, I’m not convinced that it does not belong. I have a sweet spot for tying ancient references into modern prose to add background texture. Still, if there could be something at the end that helps define the passage as it relates to the rest, I would understand it better. I have no idea from what tale of scripture this bit takes place.
1) I remember that day began filled with excitement and anticipation.
(If he had forgotten, would he still have mentioned it? This is redundant. Of course he remembers it. He’s the narrator. If he forgot it, it would be omitted from the story and we’d never know.)
2) I giggled and squirmed while she ruffled at my hair and pretended to tickle me.
(Does she really need to pretend to tickle Timmy? How does one do this, and why? Is she holding her hands above him and making tickly motions? I hate it when my characters start doing complex actions that are difficult to define, and force me to make statements like these. I usually just let the characters to what they are attempting and call it a day. Why doesn’t she just tickle him, anyway? It sounds like it would be fun for both of them. If I get a vote, I say that it’s okay. Tickle away, Mitzi!)
3) Poppa's voice paused. I sneaked a peek and saw his lips purse and his forehead crease.
(Here’s another of those moments where a character’s actions force the writer to make a difficult choice on wording. Obviously, Timmy cannot see his father until he takes the time to look, and you make a clear point to do this, but you go on in later sentences to describe other dialogue with the same word “voice” again and again (and again and again and again).
4) Jeff's voice was muffled behind pancakes and sausages. He gulped at his milk.
(Here’s a two-fer. Voice, again, a challenge to substitute. I suggest not substituting, or using the awkward reference, but to let the character do what they want to do. I put this to you, do you find sometimes that your characters tend to wander off? Do they refuse to listen when you order them around; they won’t go into that room with the dark stalker that you need them to enter because they’ve seen the same movies you have (cause they are you in a way)? I try, within reason, to let them be who they want to be. It’s hard, but they’ll thank you for it in ways you can’t imagine in the long run. I also thought that the word “at” made the following sentence unnecessarily wordy. I’d just omit “at”).
5) Poppa will beat me if I don't ask, but I cannot tell Aaron that.
(You break tense here).
6) Nyah, nyah!"
(I just thought this was cliché. Stephen King wrote a story called “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon,” and in it he had his protagonist, a modern, 9 year old girl, say this when she was angry, “Aw, chicken guts!” It felt like a 60+ year old man wearing a little suit and speaking the dialogue. Avoid this whenever possible.)
7) Her voice lilted with astonished joy.
(Here’s another two-fer. “Lilted” and this, find a word that means both astonishment and joy, like wonder, awe, etc. This reminds me of anime, where the character is about to have an awesome-happy-fun time. I would avoid using two very similar words as modifiers when there is one better word that means both.)
That’s it. I told you there wasn’t much. Now, understand that wherever I’ve sounded snippy, it’s meant with humor, not sarcasm or talk-downitude. I hope my comments help, and I hope you’re this brutally honest with me in the future. Of course, I know you will, so have a happy-fun-awesome day!
A. T. Miller
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