|Hello Bonnie! After our lovely conversation yesterday, I knew which Rising Stars portfolio I'd visit first for my October M2M reviews! I read a few items from your port and got to know your writing style a little better. I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed "The Victims" .
Initial Reaction: The first time through this story offered emotion, intrigue and the kind of climactic scene writers really enjoy sinking their teeth into. I was reminded of the Richard Gere / Diane Lane movie Unfaithful.
What I liked:
This is the kind of story that would have produced drastically different versions if you'd let Isabel or Grieg narrate. (And what a fun character exercise to write all three versions!) I thought it was a good call to use Luke as the POV, since he was the deceived party in the story line. Introducing him in the moment when he becomes aware of what's been going on behind his back allowed me to feel immediate sympathy for him. But how clever of you to slip in lines by Isabel like: "You've been working much too hard."; and "I know that Luke, I love you too. But sometimes you forget to show us that.” These sentiments are clues for readers indicating Luke may well be a bit unreliable as the narrator. At the very least, he hasn't realized how his actions have contributed to his marital problems. Not only did this intrigue me, but it allowed me a glimpse into Isabel's perspective which served as an invitation to participate more in the story, to make guesses and predictions that kept me engaged until the end.
Your ending was deliciously ambiguous! The enormous stress Luke felt from the beginning, and certainly after leaving Stanton's apartment, became exasperated when the police came to call. His flu-like symptoms could have been a direct result of that duress, but I got to the end of the story and realized they could have been something more, something worse. The wording of the last paragraph put a spin on everything -- I loved that! And bravo to you for not spelling it all out. Spoon-fed endings on a story like this one spoil all the fun for the reader.
Suggestions: The following comments reflect just one opinion. Please disregard anything that doesn't work with your inspiration for this piece.
To me, this reads like one of the story's tight, but early drafts. It has all the emotion and creativity produced when a writer sits down with a great idea and writes furiously, fingers hardly leaving the keyboard. At that stage, character movement within the scene is less important, typos don't matter and punctuation isn't so vital; it's all about getting that story out and on paper. Now that you've done so, I suggest working through edits that will tighten up the characterizations and mechanics of the story.
For example, this line appears in the second paragraph: He looked at the package again then picked up his letter opener, took the envelope, and made a swift clean cut along the top, and tipped the contents onto the desk. This is a perfect example of a draft sentence which can be taken to the next level with simple edits and wordsmithing. First thing I notice is the long length. There are five verbs in this sentence, so I would think about breaking it up into at least two smaller chunks and streamlining the action. This is just for illustration sake, but something along these lines: He looked at the package again then picked up his letter opener. He took the envelope, made a swift clean cut along the top, and tipped the contents onto the desk.
Next, I'd suggest replacing the more commonplace verbs (looked at; picked up; took; made; tipped) with more interesting verbs, ones with higher emotional impact on the reader. Again, the following example is only to get the gears turning: He forced his gaze on the package, before snatching up his letter opener. With one swift clean cut along the envelope's top, the contents spilled onto the desk.
Applying these types of revisions throughout will polish an already great story and heighten the overall impact it will have on readers.
Grammar/Spelling Oops!: As I said above, early drafts aren't as concerned with typos or punctuation as are those later in the process. Some areas on which you can focus grammatical edits are:
Commas -- I know I had to brush up on the comma usage rules, since I started writing long after I left school. A great site to bookmark is http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm.... Look for these kinds of mistakes:
Silent tears ran down his face; mixing with the bitter tasting saliva. -- Offset phrases beginning with a gerund with a comma, not a semi-colon. Silent tears ran down his face, mixing with the bitter tasting saliva.
"I will see you later.” said Isabel. -- When spoken dialogue is followed by a dialogue tag, use a comma (or question mark, or exclamation point -- but never a period), inside the closed quotation marks. "I will see you later,” said Isabel.
One of those interior designers you were interested in hiring, died in an accident the other day. -- Never place a comma right before the verb, unless it is the second of a pair of commas offsetting a nonessential modifying phrase. One of those interior designers you were interested in hiring died in an accident the other day.
Semi-colons -- I reference this site all the time: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/semicolons.... A few examples:
When he reached the fourth floor he was breathless, he stood for a minute before waking up the hallway to Stanton's apartment. -- Though the rule states you use a semi-colon, not a comma, to join two independent clauses when there is no conjunctive, I think a sentence like this is better as two separate sentences. When the two sentences are closely related, they can go together. But in this case, each sentence stands well alone. (Also, waking should be walking.) When he reached the fourth floor he was breathless. He stood for a minute before walking up the hallway to Stanton's apartment.
They showed different locations; restaurants, a park, bars, a few photos revealed them entering an apartment building, and then more of his wife leaving alone. -- Here, the phrases following the semi-colon represent a list, so I'd use a colon in place of the semi-colon.
-- Will nodded and climbed back into bed, his energy spent having a shower. -- I'm betting Luke's name was Will in an earlier draft? If I had a quarter for every time one of these missed changes got past me in my own work...!
I've often described myself not as a writer, but as a re-writer. My first drafts are messy, full of typos and blatant verbiage, and virtually lacking in proper punctuation and capitalization. For me, the fun part is reworking those early drafts, building on the creative foundation achieved when the story first poured out. If you decide to shape and hone this story, I believe it will become a true work of art. Best of luck with it and all your writing projects!
All my best,
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