We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
Hi Dark Huntress! I’m reviewing your short story, The Choice, as a member of the Paper Doll Gang-Newbie Project and a student of the PDG's Rockin’ Review Academy.
Good writing requires re-viewing and revising. I think it’s realistic to conclude you can only review as well as you can write. In many cases, I may benefit more from reviewing than the writer being reviewed. Please consider the following review as my humble attempt as a fledgling writer to help other writers in the pursuit of their art.
In just over 1000 words, you have written a powerful story of desperation, terror, and the bittersweet triumph of good over unfathomable evil. Midway through the story, you know what choice Ramona must make. As a reader, you want her to make the “right” choice, but would any of us be able to uphold our beliefs of what is right and wrong if we were facing these consequences?
This isn’t a story you can read and then immediately direct your attention to some other activity. As I thought about the plot, I began to think of this story as portraying the female version of a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save the other men in his platoon or a similar tale of great courage and heroics. Does Ramona represent the archetypal Mother? The “Man” even used this against Ramona. Mothers are supposed to be willing to sacrifice anything and everything for their children.
Does this choice illustrate the maternal “hardware” that was instrumental to survival of man? Now, I’m not going to go into a deep philosophical discussion. It just makes me think this represents behaviors/beliefs that would perpetuate mankind. Sort of like the instinctual fear of snakes the majority of humans have. Those attracted to and unafraid of these reptiles were unlikely to contribute to the gene pool! So that’s one type of curiousity, I bet, that died out very quickly in our ancestors.
I’d like to think you fretted over every single word in this story. Your word choices heightened the intensity of each scene. I could see the storm, feel the cold, and the very planks of the boardwalk under my feet as I ran alongside Ramona. I wouldn’t be surprised if my heart rate jumped up.
Essential Elements (i.e. Characters, Plot, Setting, Dialogue etc.)
All the elements were there to make the story real. It was just amazing what you packed into this story. All belief is suspended. I was caught up in Ramona’s despair. There was no time to reason—Ramona was running off of pure adrenalin.
Only much later did I start to ponder why this unnamed, unseen man would be willing to kidnap and kill one child, but not another. What reason could he possibly have for this decision? And why was this infant girl targeted? I had to conclude this man knew the infant’s mother and, in fact, had a relationship with her. She wasn’t his child. He could not risk any tangible connection to this murderous scheme.
Once again, instinctive behaviors to insure survival of an individual’s genetic makeup came to my mind. It’s seen as pathological behavior when a human does it (and rightly so), but it is common in the animal world. For example, a male tiger will kill the cubs sired by another tiger; this will cause the female tiger to go into estrus. The male tiger has increased the probability of his genes being passed along to the next generation. I know this is peripheral to your story, but isn’t it interesting how a story can set off a whole chain of thought?
Nuts‘n Bolts (i.e. spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, grammar etc.)
think of the “nuts ‘n bolts” as the area in which a new pair of eyes can save the writer a lot of time. The fact is it is extremely difficult to edit your own work. As writers we just don’t see these types of mistakes. We know what’s on the paper/screen—or at least what we “think” is there. We tend to automatically fill in the blanks. So let me help you save time better spent on capturing your ideas on paper.
I had to reread to find these few typos. I couldn’t see the words for the story.
In the 4th paragraph, 3rd line, the apostrophe in “won’t” was left out.
In the sentence where Ramona dropped her cell phone, “final” was misspelled.
Now this is really picky—and I’m guilty of this grammatical error; frankly, I sometimes think it just sounds better even if it's considered incorrect---you have a split infinitive: “No human being would expect a mother to truly make that choice…” Rewritten as: “No human being would truly expect a mother to make that choice…”
Of course, with this statement, I had to think what kind of human being would force this on a mother. So maybe my comments in the “Essential Elements” section were germane.
Now this is almost always the most difficult part of a review. There were 7 points within the story my mental "picture show" of your story kind of “flickered.” Of course, it could just be the bulb or maybe a short in the extension cord. Doubt it was a power surge. So I’m going to point them out to you to consider.
The phrase “trying to get her to fall back into sleep” Maybe it’s colloquial, but I always think of it as fall back to sleep.
Now in the scene where Ramona takes the baby out of the blanket, then thrusts her out over the water—all the while making sure she does not see the infant's face— I had a little difficulty in connecting it all in one fluid motion. I thought maybe a conjunction might help: “as she turned away” or “and turning away.”
In the next paragraph, I noticed the phrase “running back down the pier to about halfway.” Do you see any improvement in rephrasing it as “running back halfway down the pier”?
In the next line, you’ve created an impenetrable cover: “but all steeped in shadow and storm.” I thought it might read better as “but all were steeped in shadow and storm.” Rereading this, I realize all is generally considered singular. Here you are referring to the warehouses and the line of shops, so I'm going with "were."
When her legs began to give way under her, I’m not sure my suggestion is an improvement, but here goes: “…robbing her legs of their strength as she sank to her knees on the pier.” That might not be any better.
I wondered about the use of “incredulous” to describe her fingers. It certainly needs to be a "strong" adjective.
It seems strange to say I love the last 2 lines as they depict a mother’s worse nightmare. Here I was looking at word order: rather than “a sound even recognized by the gods…”, what about “a sound recognized even by the gods…”?
To be honest, if you choose not to use any of these suggestions, your story will not suffer! As I mention in my “disclaimer,” I very well may benefit more from reviewing than the writer being reviewed. In this short story, you’ve demonstrated both the importance and impact of specific, sensory words in creating mood and ratcheting up tension. At the end of your story, I would like to think the man’s final act was psychological torture, rather than homicidal.
As the author—you will grow and nurture your story as you see fit. I’ve just tried to add some nutrients, pull out some weeds, and tell you how your garden looks from my side of the fence. But when it comes down to it, it’s your plot and you don’t have to please anyone else but you. If I have encouraged and/or aided you, my fellow writer, in perfecting your craft, then this has been a very worthwhile endeavor. I am certain I have benefited by reading your story.
Thanks for having the courage to share you work.