View Poll Results: Favorite Character?

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  • Percy DuChamp

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  • Edward Nicholas Levy

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  • Walter Graham

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  • Stella De Luca

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  • Ava Rice

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  • Anthony Gault

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Thread: This needs work. Your help is requested.

  1. #1
    Registered User ubergookjr's Avatar
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    This needs work. Your help is requested.

    This was my final paper in a fiction writing class I was required to take as a part of my literature requirement (which I recently found lying around on my hard drive). Contrary to my initial reluctance to take a writing course, I ended up enjoying this very much. However, I have exhausted my creativity. I hereby call upon the people of the internet to help me! Your help would be much appreciated.

    Before you read this, you should know that this is an alternate history where the world ends in the late 1960s. Seven characters, all with one thing in common (will be revealed in the event that no one can figure it out, which I doubt), the difference being that some obviously need more work than others. None of this is set in stone. Creative ideas and criticisms regarding replacement characters, plot, setting, historical timeframe, grammar, spelling, semantics, etc are all very welcome. Please enjoy.

    P.S. Go easy on me. I'm not majoring in any kind of literature.

    -Josh



    Pendulum

    The end is near—for real this time. This much is obvious. The question is when. Like so many swings of a pendulum, incorrect predictions and false alarms come and go. With every empty yet dreadful swing, your tensed muscles slightly relax and you breathe a sigh of relief, but before you know it the blade is on its way back, only lower this time. You don't know when the blade will hit, but what you know for sure is that with every swing, you are that much closer to certain death. The true torture is in the anticipation of the blade—not the blade itself.

    April 13, 1959. The blade is lower than ever. A non-periodical comet four times the size of the moon is on a collision course with the earth at approximately 23,625 miles per hour. The nameless comet, colloquially dubbed “the Fist of God” in morbid humor, has already blotted out the sun in the blackest eclipse mankind has ever witnessed. The earth is plunged into two minutes of momentary darkness, which will be followed by eons of eternal night. Then the earth will be no more—for real this time. This much is obvious.

    People are in panic. Cities are in chaos. The hopeless criminals steal, murder, and squander. The religious fanatics pray, lament, and prophesy. The pragmatic invent new and efficient ways to kill themselves. How hysterically ironic is it that in the midst of our peak technological advances, we return to the absolute baseness of human nature? Morality has jumped out the window. Ethics has euthanized itself. Restraint has been dethroned by mindless hedonism. Altruism slaughtered by selfishness, and philanthropy eaten alive by the laws of natural selection. Surely this spectacle reaffirms man's original sin. This is quite the sight for a sadistic God to watch as he plunges his fist down into the earth he gave life to. When faced with the last few minutes of life and the prospect of a nonexistent future, humanity finally shows its true colors.

    ***

    Piana, France. Behind the deep burgundy-colored velvet curtains in the den of a beautiful oceanside chateau, sat Percival DuChamp and his half-brother, Edward Nicholas Levy. Their faces were invisible in the blackness of the eclipse, but even in broad daylight it would be impossible to tell that these two men were even remotely related to each other. Percival was of a dark Mediterranean complexion and was very handsome, for he had inherited the strong, defined nose, jawline, and chin of his father, Pierre DuChamp. Edward on the other hand, despite sharing the same father as Percival, had weak physical features and in fact looked to be almost genderless. He also suffered from albinism—his skin was as pale as milk, and his hair was as white and thin as wisps of smoke. He would most certainly pass as a ghost if it weren't for the coral-pink hue of his odious serpentine pupils. Edward's terrible eyes darted back and forth in the darkness, studying his brother's submissive posture and unfamiliar demeanor.

    Percival usually had a proud air about him, but tonight was a night of mourning. Percival's wounded pride and shaken countenance were clearly visible in the flickering candlelight, for his wife, a famous American opera vocalist, had left him that morning at daybreak. She left a letter, written in beautiful penmanship and excellent French on a small piece of parchment:

    Percy, I want you to know that I've loved everything about you except the person that you are inside. A formal divorce would have taken weeks—the kind of time no one has anymore. If you truly love me, don't come looking for me. Farewell.
    p.s. Our son is safe with me. -Stella


    Percival DuChamp had never been so disgraced in his life, and Edward, his jealous serpent of a brother, knew this all too well. His brother had always been the typical proud and smug firstborn. Perhaps it was fate that the proud heir of the DuChamp house would face the retribution he deserved for unjustly keeping his half-brother out of the family inheritance. Though titles of nobility had been abolished since the French Revolution in 1790, the stubbornly old-fashioned DuChamp household still strove to preserve the integrity of the family name.

    “He is tainted with my father's lack of self-control and the blood of a prostitute,” he had proclaimed at Pierre DuChamp's funeral. “I will house him, feed him, and clothe him, but my bastard brother must not taint also the family name. Though my father had also tarnished the family's honor with his poor judgment he has since cleared his name by dying an honorable death.”

    Edward did not hate Percival DuChamp because of this incident. It was the obvious decision. When in history did the bastard child ever receive an equal share? No. Edward hated his brother for the same reason Stella De Luca did not love her husband. It was in fact Percival's self-righteous pomp that was the root of Edward's hatred. But Edward didn't have it all that bad considering he was a bastard—day and night he dined on the most decadent food, drank the choicest of wines, wore the finest of clothes, and lived in the grandest chateau that France could offer. Even now, he gingerly sipped on sixteen-year-old vintage pinot noir. However, Edward Nicholas Levy, jealous by nature, still felt that something in his life was awry. He hated his brother and yet, for some inexplicable reason, he wished to become the one person that he hated the most. This compulsion was beyond even Edward's own comprehension.

    But if Edward knew anything for sure, it was the fact that the greater one's pride, the harder their fall. This very moment was in fact proof of that statement. The sight of Percival's crushed spirit chiseled a sadistic but nevertheless rare smile onto Edward's thin, pale face. Though the dark room was barely lit by a flickering candlelight, he impulsively hid his satisfaction from sight by taking a sip of the fine wine in his glass. He mused to himself, ‘Chateau La Mondotte Saint-Emilion. So sweet and fragrant, but nowhere near as sweet as this justice. Oh sweet, sweet justice, you ought to be more punctual.'

    The letter dropped from Percival's limp fingers onto the marble floor. The garishly crimson wax seal, still slightly warm from that very morning, became disfigured on impact.

    At last, Percival broke the silence, his voice as shaky as his hands, “What good is a man who has lost his family? What good now is his fame and wealth, if his own wife does not love him, and his son will never know who his father is? Can fame and wealth return his family back to him?”

    Edward chose his words calculatingly, “Why are you asking me, Percy? I have not pride nor honor, brother. What do you think?”

    Percival replied predictably, “I do not know what to think. What does it matter anyway?”

    Edward retaliated with false earnest, “No, brother, you mustn't speak ill of yourself like so. What would your father think? He would think that you are as shameless and despicable as I am for living off of your wealth. Your judgment is clouded. He would want you at least to uphold your honor. Am I not correct?”

    Percival sat for a few moments in reflective silence. Then suddenly, with a look of determination he declared: “Of course! I have no need for wealth and fame so long as the family name lives on! I will rid my name of shame just as my father had done!”

    This time Edward had to look and cover his mouth in order to hide a most devious smile. But quickly, using all of the willpower he could muster, and by straining all the muscles in his face, he summoned a few drops of moisture from his tear ducts, dry for many years. But a stone could shed more genuine tears—under this facade of superficial sympathy, Edward was a heartless creature, lying in dormant wait for this day and opportunity.

    Edward spoke with teary eyes, “Brother, I see that you have made up your mind. If you would allow me to, I would like to assist you in your dignified death in return for providing for me.”

    “I allow you to do so,” Percival replied. “Bring me my pistol from the fireplace, Edward.”

    Truth be told, the stench of his father's rotting corpse would probably be more bearable than Percival's air of deluded dignity, yet Edward's fanatical joy outweighed his disgust by far. Despite his ecstatic fervor, he calmly walked to the cold, dying fireplace next to the great mahogany bookshelf and took the ornate dueling pistol from its rack. He brought it back to where Percival sat and slowly made his way behind him. Percival's eyes were closed, as if he were already dead.

    He spoke one last time, “I have no place in this world anymore. Empty-handed I entered this world, now empty-handed I leave. There is nothing I can take, and only one thing I can leave—my name. Pull the trigger, Edward. Grant me an exit.”

    Edward's eyes were dilated. The blood pumped in his veins so fast that his eyes were as bloodshot as his pupils. The perspiration ran from his brow to his lips which were contorted into a twisted smile. He firmly held the muzzle against the back of Percival's head, and in a less-than-human voice, whispered into his half-brother's ear his farewell, “As you wish... You naive fool.”

    The gun was beautiful—inlaid with mother-of-pearl on an ivory body with roses embossed in gold lacquer. But its beauty went unnoticed in the infernal blackness, as did the crack of the pistol.

    ***

    September 1910. Little Rock, Arkansas. Walter Graham was brought into a fatherless world. He was born in a bathtub nearly month premature. He grew up with a sadistic older sister and a neglecting mother in a dirty shack. Walter's mother whored herself out to just about every man in town. With the money she earned she would put meager meals on the table and spend the rest on that night's poison of choice. There was not a night that passed without her in a drunken rage, screaming words such as “lousy husband” or “irresponsible bastard” or “chauvinist pig”. His sister, seven years older than he and born of another man, sexually humiliated him and physically abused him at home and at the schoolhouse during his mother's absence. Walter Graham was not raised as a boy. Nor was he raised as a girl. He dressed and acted like neither. No one knew what he was or what he was supposed to be, including himself.

    But it was only a matter of time before primal fury raged up within Walter's chest. It was the day of his sixteenth birthday. It was the only day his mother bothered to remember, in fact. This day only came once a year, but it was nothing Walter looked forward to—in fact, it's imminence only rattled his malnourished joints. He found solace in his usual treatment: to be locked in his room with his daily bowl of stale cereal and sour milk. The ammonic stench of excrement would calm his nerves. But on this special day, even that luxury would be taken away from him.

    He would suffer hours of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. The drunken rant was louder than usual, and the pain more intense. The menu today consisted of a single bowl of vinegar, filled generously to the brim. The scars that covered his mind and body would be freshly torn open today. Those banshees would scream, “Your birthday is the day you should realize how lucky you are! Be thankful we don't beat you every day! Be thankful you don't get a bowl of vinegar every day! Be thankful for it! Be thankful!” As his mother and sister cackled in sadistic pleasure, Walter's tears would quietly join the puddles of excrement that covered the floor.

    Walter was absolutely miserable. But he was not stupid. No, far from it. He knew he couldn't go another day living like this. He would literally die of misery. He remembered what he had learned in the broken-down schoolhouse—that he was a boy, and that a boy becomes a man at the age of sixteen—that a man is physically superior to his female counterpart—that a man ought to assume control over his life and his family—that America itself had been founded on such principles. Walter remembered this lecture, no, this principle of life that he had learned in his brief days of schooling, and his misery gave birth to wrath. On the day of his sixteenth birthday, Walter Graham, turned from boy to man, snuck out the window in the dead of night. He silently barred the doors and covered the windows from the outside, and with the single strike of a match, sent those witches back to hell.

    Fifty-six years later, in the heart of New York City, a heavy storm of sleet and rain relentlessly battered the roof of St. Patrick's Cathedral on East 51st street. The street was rampant with chaos, but the cathedral itself was silent, forsaken by the masses. Only a small group of devout Catholics remained, waiting in line for the confession room. There, Father Walter Graham sat behind the screen for the third night in a row performing the last of his good works.

    “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.” That must have been about the thousandth time he had said that this night. He was tired. He had barely eaten or slept in the past few days. He felt his hair whiten a little bit with every passing hour. His eyes, long ago a clear blue hue, were now as gray as his hair. But he understood very well that this was simultaneously his punishment and his path to redemption. He did not take up the cassock because he was better than all the sinners in the world, but because he knew that he was in fact, the worst of them all. Nevertheless he found it to be beautiful that a wretched sinner such as himself could gain favor in the eyes of God and be granted eternal life. It was this promise that kept him going.

    “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.” One thousand and one. Father Graham was tired, but not as much as he was joyful in absolving the sins of his pious church members one by one as they prepared for the Second Coming. He knew who was behind the screen just by listening to their voice and the nature of their sins. As a matter of fact he knew he had just absolved the sins of Sister Julie, who was secretly seeing another boy outside the church. So pure were her tears and anguish—surely God had forgiven her.

    Upon Sister Julie's exit, the clack of stilettos gave away the presence of another woman. Her voice was unfamiliar in the sense that she was not one of the normal members of the church, but her beautiful, sultry tone of voice was unmistakable. There, on the other side of the screen, sat Stella De Luca, famous American opera vocalist. Sure, it was unlikely for a celebrity to walk in through the doors of a cathedral, but her Italian roots must have gotten the better of her. She was unsure of what to say, really. Her parents never enforced Catholicism on her.

    She went by the books. “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been...twenty-eight years since my last confession.”

    Walter paused for a moment, then continued with the routine dialogue, “What are your sins, my child? Confess your sins to the Lord, for forgiveness is in repentance.”

    She paused, still debating if pouring out her heart to this hidden stranger was truly the right thing to do. Then she slowly spoke. “I...left my husband.”

    “When, my child?” Father Graham asked with a slight frown.

    “Yesterday morning, at daybreak.”

    “Why did you leave him?”

    “...He was too proud, brash, and so full of himself. I just felt like I deserved better than him.”

    “You understand, that in your thinking that you deserved better, you were also being proud?”

    “I do, Father.”

    “What else, my child? What other sins are you willing to confess?”

    “After I left my husband, I...engaged in drunken debauchery with multiple men...on multiple occasions. And in doing so I harmed my child. I...am a horrible mother.”

    Just like Walter's abusive drunkard mother. Walter was taken aback. Stella's confession began to trigger old memories—memories that began to fuel his dormant rage.

    He continued, slightly agitated, “Lust is a powerful vice, the basest of desires. It is very hard to control. You slept with many men?”

    She seemed hesitant. “Yes Father, with at least...seven different men.”

    Father Graham's eyes were shut tightly closed and his brow was wrinkled in stress. His anger continued to escalate toward its boiling point. He crossed himself.

    He asked through gritted teeth with a shaky voice, “What other sins have you committed? How have you harmed your child?” His heart broke for the child. He remembered the violent beatings and abuse that he himself had to endure and grew increasingly agitated.

    Stella's beautiful voice broke into a mournful sob. “In my drunkenness—” she cried, “—I mangled and tore out my unborn son from my womb! Oh Father, will God ever forgive me?!”

    Father Graham was robbed of the power of speech. He knew not how to respond, despite his belief that all sins can be cleansed through the blood of Christ. He clutched his prayer beads with a grip so vice-like that his knuckles turned white and he bled from his fingernails.

    How dare this woman step inside the holy church on the last day of her life and expect forgiveness for these atrocities? He had been saved from his suffering and in return devoted his life to the church—how can this woman, who knew God all her life but never sought Him once, deserve the same grace? How dare she cheapen the blood of Christ! The wrath of God manifested itself within Walter Graham, and although he himself had once been saved by grace, spared no mercy for this poor woman Stella De Luca.

    “The blood of Christ was spilt in vain for you,” he declared. “Your sins are terrible—” he bolted up from his seat, “—and it is rightful that you suffer!” Upon uttering this foul condemnation he shuddered violently and clutched his chest. The swift clacks of Stella's heels were hardly audible over the commotion outside. Father Graham sat for a few moments to catch his breath. Then, ignoring everyone and drowning out everything they said, Father Graham escaped to his quarters. No one dared follow him, for they had never seen him so upset.

    Walter Graham furiously rummaged through his belongings and found his old half gallon of whiskey. He swigged a few mouthfuls though he had sworn to abandon such vices.

    A gentle knock at the door. “Father? Father Graham? Are you alright?” It was one of the altar boys.

    “Yes, my child,” he replied without looking at the door. “I just had not eaten in a few days.”

    “Shall I go get some food for you, Father?”

    “No, my son. Just go, bar and bolt the front doors for me. The noise outside makes me feel unwell. And have everyone gather in the nursery.”

    “But what of the Godless? How will they be forgiven if our doors are closed?”

    Father Graham's eyes flared up and he darkly murmured, “No one deserves it.”

    “What did you say, Father? I can't hear you through the door.”

    Graham replied in a normal tone of voice, “Our work here is done now, my child. Now shut the doors and gather everyone in the nursery.”

    “Yes, Father Graham.” Footsteps on the creaky hardwood floor signaled the boy's departure.
    Walter drank four or five more mouthfuls of the burning liquor. “We are sinners in the hands of an angry God. There is no forgiveness and there is no salvation.” He left his room and headed for the nursery...

    *

    Stella De Luca, riddled with guilt, stumbled into her hotel room. She threw off her stilettos and filled up the bathtub. She lay down in the water, dress and all. She reached for the straight razor that sat on the toilet...

    *

    “Romans 3:23,” murmured Father Graham. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” He quietly barred the door of the nursery—the children and the nuns sat inside, oblivious...

    *

    Stella winced as she dug the blade deep into her fragile wrists. With watery eyes and gritted teeth, she pulled sharply upwards. She softly whimpered in pain, but her will to die was strong...

    *

    “Matthew 3:11—I baptize you with water for repentance.” He poured the whiskey over his head. The alcohol burned his eyes and nostrils. “But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire...”

    *

    She grimaced as she felt every muscle and vein in the way of the blade sever and snap like taut ropes and the razor carve a deep crevice in her bone. Her eyelids twitched and the fingers of her left hand contorted into odd angles while her right hand maintained a death grip on the handle...

    *

    “1 Kings 18:38—Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the soil.” He reached for the matches in his cassock...

    *

    She shook so hard beads of sweat, mixed with her tears, rained down into the bathtub water, now turning a rosy hue. She struggled to keep her right hand moving—it had become heavy and rebellious as if it had a mind of its own.

    *

    “Genesis 3:19—Return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” He struck.

    *

    As Stella gruelingly pulled through the last inch of flesh above her elbow, she felt the tendon snap and her wounded arm limply plunge into the water. She watched as the life drain out of her painful gushing wound, the process accelerated by the warm water she doused herself in. “God is dead,” she whispered tearfully. Stella writhed in pain for a few moments, but within ten minutes she lay still.

    *

    In the same ten minutes the roaring flames blazed around Father Graham's cassock. The cathedral echoed with terrible screams and howls of agony as his flaming body stumbled through the halls like a rabid dog, setting everything he touched on fire. The stifling stench of burning flesh was unmistakable and invoked terror in the hearts of those who were trapped. The nursery door continued to shake furiously as beams fell and the fire roared, but no man would come to their rescue. But God would put them out of their misery—surely enough His Fist still ripped through the vast emptiness with destructive force and unimaginable speed, ready to punish the world for its faithlessness.

    ***

    Asbury Park, New Jersey. A small gated house.

    The telephone rings once. Twice. Thrice.

    “Hello...?”

    “Good day to you. May I speak to Ms. Ava Rice?”

    A pause. “...This is she. Who are you and what do you want?”

    “Hello, Ms. Rice. This is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We understand you are in mourning due to the recent death of your husband and we are sorry for your loss, but the country needs your financial support in overcoming—“

    “I have no money.”

    A confused pause. “Ms. Rice, from what our records show, your multi-billionaire husband left a very large property in Massachusetts valued at sixty-eight million—”

    “I own no such property.”

    “We know you don't because you recently sold it to gourmand and food critic Anthony Gault. In addition to your formerly deceased husband's five-hundred-million dollar life insurance policy and his death benefit of seven million, he held more than 27.6 billion dollars. In cash. Are you aware of these facts?”

    Ava Rice briskly glanced at the large bookshelf that hid a custom bank vault.

    “All of Gerald's property went to my son.”

    A short sigh. “Ms. Rice, you and I both know that you have no offspring of any sort, biological or adopted. We aren't asking you to give up all of your assets, just enough to—“

    “I've already given money away! To some other damn organization looking for handouts! Just yesterday I left the house to give away a few million dollars to the hospital!”

    A flagrant lie. In truth she had not left her house in over a month. She had enough food, water, and cash in that vault to feed and clothe a third of South Africa's population.

    A slightly sardonic reply. “We appreciate the generosity you've shown towards your community, but we just need all the help we can get.”

    “What does it matter anyway? The entire world is doomed to—“

    “The government is in the process of approving the use of nuclear weapons to destroy the comet. It shouldn't take more than a few hours from now before the bill reaches the Oval Office.”

    “God f***ing dammit! Why the f*** are people so lazy nowadays?! Ask someone else for handouts! I'm just a f***ing old hag who just lost a husband! Leave me alone!”

    She reaches for the phone. A clutter. A crash. Dial tone.

    ***

    “Mr. Gault, your dinner is ready.”

    A rather tall white man looked up from his newspaper at his butler. “Thank you, Benson. I trust everything was received in a timely manner?”

    “And paid for. Quite handsomely, I might add.”

    “And all preparations are complete?

    “Yes sir.”

    “Excellent. Then let us make haste. There is no time to lose.”

    “Very good, sir.”

    Anthony Gault hastily folded up the newspaper he was reading. He stood up and swiftly walked down the hallway of the east wing in his recently acquired mansion at Cohasset Harbor, Massachusetts. Anthony knew very well about the impending catastrophe that was upon the earth, so being the affluent hedonist that he is, decided to spend all of his money.

    But mind you, Anthony Gault was a no-nonsense individual. He wasn't like the other people he knew who blew threw their cash on impulse buys and lavish parties. He was one who always knew what he wanted. He was hardly indecisive. He never beat around the bush when criticizing a dish on national television, and was world-renowned for his snappy remarks and incredible wit. If he said it, he meant it.

    That aside, he had money—lots of it. He wanted to spend it on something he loved and took seriously. And everyone, especially himself, knew that more than anything, he took his dinner very seriously. So with the wealth that he had left over from buying his property, Gault organized an eight-course meal of the most expensive and highly sought after food in the world. He had his butler Benson make arrangements three weeks in advance, calling all around the world for the rarest ingredients, choicest meats, and most skilled chefs to be present in his kitchen tonight. They too, like Anthony Gault, wished to die doing what they loved the most. After a handsomely paid two week vacation, they would return to Cohasset Harbor to cook and die in the kitchen of one of the world's most renowned food critics—they would not have it any other way.

    Gault had spent over ten million dollars on buying, shipping, booking, and even bribing, all so that this dinner would be possible.

    Last week he had paid five-hundred thousand dollars to a researcher to have him calculate the exact time he had until the comet collided with the earth. This way, he would be sure he had enough time to take his time and enjoy every sweet second of his dinner. He timed this dinner so that upon finishing the last bite, the comet would collide with the earth and he would die doing what he loved. And he was willing to spend as much as it takes to make his Last Supper a reality. So spend he did, and very generously at that, but Anthony Gault did so in a very, very meticulous and well-planned method. More than the nine-acre estate itself, Anthony valued more highly his last project, which he dubbed The Last Supper.

    He sat down exactly an hour and a half before the apocalypse to have his last supper. He made a gesture to his butler, who proceeded to turn on a recording of the opera Don Giovanni. Dinner commenced.

    90 minutes left.

    First, the appetizer: beluga caviar with crepes and Russo-Baltique Vodka valued at over one million dollars. Beautiful presentation. A delicate but briny taste engulfed Anthony's palate as the crepes and the one-hundred-year-old fish roe entered his mouth. The vodka was as smooth as water and the gentle burn of the alcohol was accompanied with notes of tropical fruit.

    85 minutes left.

    The other courses arrived, increasingly decadent and delicious. With every scrumptious bite Anthony closed his eyes and sighed in pleasure. He chewed very slowly and carefully, trying to draw out and taste all of the unique and complicated flavors in the food before him. After all, this would be the last time he eats this kind of food—or the last time he eats at all, for that matter. So though his eyes saw beautiful food, his nose smelled delicious aromas, he tasted and felt heaven on his palate, and his ears were filled with the sound of Mozart, Anthony made sure to keep his eyes on the clock.

    Course 1: Shark Fin Soup and Kona Nigari desalinated deep-sea mineral water.

    75 minutes.

    Entree 1: Beef Wellington filled with Japanese Wagyu beef from cows fed with grain and sake.

    60 minutes.

    Entree 2: Scallop Amuse Bouche with star anise, leeks, truffle and persimmon. Served with a glass of 1811 Château d'Yquem worth one hundred fifty thousand dollars a bottle.

    45 minutes.

    Anthony Gault was in heaven. This food was more than exceptional considering the top chefs in the world were making their entrees on a very strict schedule. Every entree came out at a precise time, and every bite, chew, sip, and slurp that Anthony took was perfectly timed.

    But suddenly, the butler Benson, with a very nervous look on his face, approached the dinner table where the master of the house sat. Upon having something whispered in his ear, Anthony Gault bolted up and began to yell angrily back at his butler.

    “What the hell do you mean the lobster is spoiled?! I didn't pay ten million f***ing dollars so that I could have my last supper disturbed! What?! No! You will absolutely not use the one that died! Are you asking me where to get a lobster!? This is f***ing Massachusetts, you buffoon! Go catch another one! I don't care if your supplier doesn't have any more! Don't tell me you're f***ing sorry! Can you buy me an extra five minutes of life? Yea, I didn't think so, so why the f*** are you wasting your time telling me sorry?! Go! Get me a f***ing lobster!”

    Anthony was in a violent rage. How could this go wrong at such an important time? He had planned everything perfectly.

    He looked at the clock and winced. 'S***. Only forty minutes left,' he thought.

    It took twenty minutes for the next dish to come out, which was incredibly fast and demanding given the circumstances, but Anthony Gault was absolutely anything but happy, though he was currently drinking out of a bottle of Henri IV Dudognon Heritage, the most expensive cognac in the world, valued at two million dollars. He was cursing and fidgeting with his silverware and drinking cognac like it was some cheap drink at a bar. He also ordered that all of the entrees, including dessert, come out all at once.

    As soon as the food came out, Anthony rushed to get a bite into everything. The food was still excellent, but because all sorts of food were mixing in his mouth, the flavors became distorted and unpleasant. Despite knowing this, Anthony forgot all of his anger and dissatisfaction, and focused on finishing his meal.

    20 minutes.

    He reached for the Spanish Paella that he had been waiting so long for. It was topped with generous portions of grilled lobster tail, calamari, shrimp, Sevruga caviar, and the finest Spanish saffron, which costs almost seven hundred dollars an ounce. He quickly but methodically used his silverware to finish his rice. He had almost lost himself in the enjoyment of the food when he glanced at the clock.

    5 minutes.

    Anthony Gault cursed aloud and hurriedly reached for the Strangozzi with black truffle. As he stuffed the pasta in his mouth, he looked up at the clock again with a frantic look.

    3 minutes.

    His eyes opened even wider than they already were, and at this point, he had thrown his silverware aside and was stuffing his mouth with his hands and swigging alcohol so fast that he nearly choked. Sushi, fine wine, Kobe style fillet mignon.

    1 minute.

    Brut champagne, Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, vintage whiskey, more pasta. All the food he hurriedly ate mixed in his palate, destroying the individual flavors. But he didn't care at this point.

    40 seconds.

    All that mattered was that he finished his meal. Chew. Chew. Swallow. Swig. Gulp. Bite. Chew again.

    30 seconds.

    He was intoxicated now. He had too much to drink. He swooned in dizziness but still ate, though he could hardly taste anything in his mouth.

    10 seconds.

    He was running out of time. He had not even started eating the Amedei Porceleana chocolate wrapped in the edible gold leaf. He reached for the chocolate. It was supposed to cost a few hundred dollars an ounce, but it tasted like nothing.

    5 seconds.

    He had always loved caviar. He could never have enough. He grabbed a handful of the black eggs and stuffed his mouth with it. It didn't mix well with the chocolate.

    3 seconds.

    He threw up on the table. The black eggs and strings of pasta were clearly visible. But he kept eating.

    1 second.

    Tears of greed coursed from Anthony Gault's eyes though he was sick of eating. But his hands kept reaching for the food. He didn't know why he was still eating yet he wished that he could consume everything on the table in the second he had left to live. But even as the blinding light of the comet filled the room and obstructed his view—even as he felt the entire earth shake—his hand reached out for more food. After all...this was a meal to die for.

    ***

    “Like lambs to the slaughter,” murmured Samuel Thorn.

    “What was that Mr. President?”

    “Nothing...it was nothing. Just talking to myself here.”

    “With all due respect sir, I believe Operation Humanity is of the utmost priority right now. I do not think this is best time for you to be—”

    “Yes, yes. I know, Miss Smith. I also know that I don't pay you to express your innermost thoughts to me. Now would you kindly excuse yourself? I've got a lot on my mind.”

    “...Yes, Mr. President,” she answered with a slightly indignant look. She left the room.

    Samuel Thorn. President of the United States. It was a great job to have during years of peace, but not during this chaos. No one should have to go through this pressure.

    He sighed and thought to himself, 'I never signed up for this...'

    And it was true. He hadn't. All he wanted was an easy life. And it certainly was easy enough—just sign some papers here and there. Meet a bunch of random “important” people and then go out into the public to shake hands with “normal” people. To think that such a man could become the President of the United States was absurd but not impossible—things were certainly changing for the worst.

    Samuel honestly didn't want to think about Operation Humanity right now. True, the United States was the only country in the world currently in possession of a fully deployable ICBM that was currently ready for launch (the Soviet Union had already launched their SS-6 loaded with Sputnik), but this was a very risky project to undertake considering all of the potentially catastrophic side effects. Given the order, the first U.S. ICBM Atlas-D would fire off into space, loaded with three atom bombs, the most destructive weapon of mass destruction known to man at the time, on a trajectory set to collide with and destroy the comet. Mankind had built this detestable weapon to destroy, but ironically now it was the only chance of saving mankind from its own fate of certain destruction.

    Samuel's eyes trailed down and stopped to stare at the authorization document the whole world was waiting for him to sign. He slowly reached for the pen that sat on the document, only to retract his hand and cover his eyes with it. He shook his head.

    “My head hurts too much to think about this right now.” He reached into his humidor for his last Cohiba. “Sometimes you just gotta enjoy the little things in life...”

    The president turned around and faced the wide windows behind his desk and looked out past the curtains. As expected, angry citizens rioted in the White House lawn, barely contained by the riot control squad. They held picket signs and posters. One such sign read, 'SAMUEL THORN HATES THE WORLD'. The one next to it read, 'DEATH OR HUMANITY. WHAT'S THERE TO THINK ABOUT?' And another poster in the front read, 'DON'T BE A THORN IN AMERICA'S SIDE'.

    He turned his back on the angry mob and chuckled dryly at the clever signs, cut the cap of his cigar off and laughed again. He found the fickleness of Americans to be quite amusing. People had been pleasantly disposed to him before he assumed presidency, for he was an amiable man—just a little bit sluggish at times, that's all. And now here they were, having abandoned all of their civility, screaming and yelling at his front door like frenzied apes.

    He slowly lit his cigar and lazily leaned back in his chair, putting his feet up onto his desk. He heard his heels wrinkling and scrunching up the document that would authorize Operation Humanity. He took a few puffs of his red dot maduro.

    Suddenly, there was a sharp knock at the door.

    “Come in,” Samuel said almost automatically. It was his secretary again.

    “Yes, Miss Smith. Is there something you need?” he said without standing up.

    “Mr. President, the mob outside is threatening to set the White House on fire.” Samuel Thorn let out a gait of thunderous laughter. His secretary watched with pursed lips.

    “Well, it's a good thing this building is indestructible, isn't it, Miss Smith? Let them do as they please. In fact, tell them I'll have the riot squad stand down as soon as I finish this delightful cigar. From what I recall, we are all going to die today anyway, am I not correct?”

    She replied with earnest. “Mr. President, I know you don't pay me to speak my mind, but may I be frank with you this time? Since we're all going to die?”

    “Yes, Miss Smith, go right on ahead.” He chuckled scornfully again.

    “Mr. President, no one has to die today if you sign that document. And by not doing so, you are selfishly condemning billions of people to death.”

    Samuel took a few puffs of his cigar again. He replied, “Good point, Miss Smith. But if it's selfish for me to choose, why haven't you fired the rocket already? Hmm?”

    She stared with disbelief at his smart-a** comment.

    Samuel spoke again. “Nevermind. I don't want to hear your answer to that. I simply find Operation Humanity to be silly, that's all. As if a comet headed toward earth at 23,625 miles per hour is not enough trouble, these people want to fire a rocket loaded with three doses of the most dangerous nuclear weapon known to man in hopes of blowing the comet to bits? This impromptu “last resort” seems to be a far cry from saving the planet—the broken pieces from the explosion would rain down like brimstone and destroy the earth anyway. Not to mention the nuclear fallout and radioactive debris that might come with it. Why not just set off a giant hand grenade the size of Mars?”

    “It's our best chance at mitigating the damage, Mr. President.”

    “Also a valid point. But let's say some people do survive—how long would they last in such a devastated world anyway?”

    His secretary was about to answer, but Samuel cut her short. “I'll tell you how long. Not long. It would be too hard...” he sighed and slowly looked up at the ceiling. “Too hard to start all over...” He took another few puffs to keep his cigar lit.

    He continued. “It would be cruel to have mankind suffer in such a way. It would be more swift and humane to have everything wiped out at once. Besides, whatever happens, people will do one of two things: they will either live to die, or die trying to live.” His voice began to increase in volume. “Everyone has to die eventually just as everything has to end eventually. No one lives forever, and nothing lasts forever! Not planets, not stars, not even gods!” He was practically yelling at this point. “Stars explode! Planets get hit by f***ing comets! Gods die when humans die, because humans are the creators of gods!

    Secretary Smith was taken aback. She didn't know how to respond.

    “Humans are full of complete s***,” said Samuel Thorn. Another few puffs.

    “People always complain that humans are tampering with nature, and yet have no problems defying it to save themselves from extinction. They say nature should be left alone and scream bloody murder at the idea of eugenics or natural selection, saying it's unethical and spewing out some other hippie bulls***. Death and extinction are also a part of nature, but it is not in their vocabulary. A bit hypocritical, don't you think? They are all about enforcing the rules while they themselves constantly try to find loopholes around them. And now they want me to sign this document?”

    Samuel Thorn laughed contemptuously at the one-sided rationale and self-centered ego of humankind. “No, not a chance. For once this time, nature will take its course. You're excused, Miss Smith. I am not signing this document, so I advise you to go outside and pray to whatever god you believe in. And please turn the lights off on your way out.”

    She stood still for a moment, then with a blank stare, Secretary Smith slowly turned on her heels and walked out, speechless.

    The Oval Office was dark now. Now President Samuel Thorn could relax. Better to die at peace than in panic. Both outcomes are the same, after all. As his cigar continued to burn down, the world became closer to its demise, and mankind closer to its extinction. Death had already begun to swing his scythe. As the comet got bigger and bigger in the sky and the blade of the scythe inched closer and closer, the ruckus outside only became louder. But Samuel Thorn did not hear the crowd. Nor did he fear his impending death. Instead he placed the cigar butt gently in his ashtray and sat there in his chair in silent reverie, reveling in the scent of the heavenly smoke with closed eyes. He could not think of a better thing to do before dying. The crowd was louder than ever now, but there was a good reason. As President Samuel Thorn sensed the blinding light of the comet seep into his room through his closed eyes, the embers in his ashtray died without a sound.

    ***

    Finally, the torture is over. The blade is on its final swing. Relax. No need to tense. What will it help to struggle or squirm? Accept the blade with comfort, for the torture is over and the end is here—for real this time.
    Last edited by ubergookjr; 12-06-2013 at 02:17 AM.

  2. #2
    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    You're asking for help in numerous areas, but you haven't said what your object is. Do you want to polish this for publication, are you simply looking for writing tips to carry on to another story, etc.? Whatever the case is, posting the feedback you got when you submitted this as your final would save people the trouble of reinventing the wheel.

    One bit of feedback I can give you without having read it yet is in response to "Seven characters, all with one thing in common (will be revealed in the event that no one can figure it out, which I doubt)". If this is important to the story, it should be revealed clearly in the story, not made a guessing game for the author to answer outside the story later if necessary. If it's not important to the story, then it's irrelevant anyway. The story should stand completely on its own.

    Finally, you can make this a lot more readable, and thus likely to be read, by adding a line of whitespace between paragraphs.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

  3. #3
    Registered User ubergookjr's Avatar
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    Haha you aren't completely incorrect in saying that I have no direction. To be perfectly honest, I don't really know what I want to do with this either, though it would be pretty sweet to get it published. It was a decent piece of writing, one that I find too difficult to throw away. I guess I just want to see how good I can make this piece, by starting with feedback from total strangers. The feedback I got for this paper was obsolete, because I wrote way more than the suggested number of pagees and had to cut down on it. This is an extended revision that I've been working on for fun. Oh, and as for the paragraph spacing, I do apologize for my negligence. I hate reading single-spaced papers as well. I will edit my original post.

    Secondly, though it would spoil the fun to tell people the significance of the characters without letting them figure it out for themselves, if I am to get constructive feedback that is usable, I suppose you are right in suggesting that I reveal the significance now.

    There are seven different main characters in my story, each of them a human manifestation of the deadly sin they represent. They were named by scrambling up the letters of the sin they each represent and infusing them into a name that fits their race, ethnicity, and character. My characters were characterized by their names:

    Pride: PERcIval Duchamp
    Envy: Edward Nicholas leVY
    Lust: STella de LUca
    Wrath: WalTeR grAHam
    Avarice: AVA RICE
    Gluttony: anThONY GaULT
    Sloth: SamueL THOrn

    Each sin's representative character already had a template to go by at this point. After naming them, I proceeded to give them professions or backgrounds which matched their character. As I have mentioned, some need more work than others. And being someone who is very reluctant to scrap ideas completely, I lack the creativity to develop characters more suited to the roles of the current ones. This is my primary concern, I suppose.

    And by the way, thank you for that very helpful reply.
    Last edited by ubergookjr; 12-05-2013 at 05:49 PM.

  4. #4
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    Show, don't tell. Saying somebody's sister was a sadist is boring. Showing the priest with a mess of scars and a memory of who gave them to him...much better.

    Avoid stage direction in your characters' speech. Ever tried to say something calculatingly?

    Your tenses are all over the place. Don't lose your story thread in your zeal to cram in your research. Your glutton ate, past tense. So the food should have been purchased, also past tense.

    The pendulum analogy doesn't work and distracts from the story. Lose it. It's meaningless filler disguised as clever wordplay.

    Above all, less is more. In order to write a good short story you must be willing to be very honest, even brutal, with your editing pen. You say you are "unwilling" to discard such good work and that is the wrong approach. Words aren't solid gold, they're rough gems, and they need lots of polishing and cutting to be worth anything.

  5. #5
    Registered User ubergookjr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dono View Post
    Show, don't tell. Saying somebody's sister was a sadist is boring. Showing the priest with a mess of scars and a memory of who gave them to him...much better.

    Avoid stage direction in your characters' speech. Ever tried to say something calculatingly?

    Your tenses are all over the place. Don't lose your story thread in your zeal to cram in your research. Your glutton ate, past tense. So the food should have been purchased, also past tense.

    The pendulum analogy doesn't work and distracts from the story. Lose it. It's meaningless filler disguised as clever wordplay.

    Above all, less is more. In order to write a good short story you must be willing to be very honest, even brutal, with your editing pen. You say you are "unwilling" to discard such good work and that is the wrong approach. Words aren't solid gold, they're rough gems, and they need lots of polishing and cutting to be worth anything.
    Wow. I had no idea this paper was such a mess. First of all, thank you for you input. Secondly, allow me to explain that I, in fact, am here in order to receive assistance in "brutally" editing this piece.

    Now that that's out of the way, may I ask why the pendulum analogy doesn't work? I added it in to reference the little apocalypse scares we've had in the past, such as Y2K, December 2012, global warming, the world running out of fossil fuels, WWIII, etc, and how those were all empty threats that humans conjured up with their imagination (hence empty "swings" of the pendulum). I put a lot of thought into this analogy and I'm not about to scrap it because of a one-line opinion without any supporting explanations:

    "The pendulum analogy doesn't work and distracts from the story. Lose it. It's meaningless filler disguised as clever wordplay.

    If there is in fact a very good reason why this doesn't belong, please explain it to me and I will gladly heed your advice if I deem it noteworthy.

    Next, while I may not be a grammar Nazi, I find it hard to believe that my tenses are all that screwed up. The only potential "problem" I see is the mixing of perfect past tense and past tense. If my tenses are in fact "all over the place" I would at least like a few example quotes from the paper itself so that I can either fix it, or learn something new. Who knows? Perhaps I need lessons in elementary grammar altogether.

    Also, would you kindly tell me more about "stage direction"? As a student of the sciences I am not very versed in literature jargon.

    Lastly, thank you for the whole lecture on "show don't tell". I think I will in fact edit this piece so that the memories are integrated into the plot.
    Last edited by ubergookjr; 12-06-2013 at 02:22 AM.

  6. #6
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    I wasn't trying to be brutal, just honest. Having been down the road you are on I understand what it feels like not only to be especially attached to a piece of writing, but also to have your work torn apart. Try not to take my opinions as personal attacks. They are not. But I will try to clarify.
    1. Regarding tenses. Using your glutton as an example, all his actions were past tense as he ate, grabbed, stuffed, etc. But when you list the prices you shift to present tense (costs, tastes,). The effect is that of the author breaking into the flow of the story with unnecessary information and disrupting the action. Especially during the climactic gorging scene, when you really don't want to jar your reader loose from the story. There is a rhythm to storytelling. If you feel you HAVE to include prices do it during the buildup as he is surveying his menu before he begins. Continued next post for brevity.

  7. #7
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    2. Regarding show, don't tell. When writing characters you want to convey a certain attribute to, as you are attempting with these sinners, it is unnecessary and kind of a cop out to define them with a sentence or two that says "character A was full of rage because his mom was a whore." It presents character A as a passive victim of circumstance and leads the reader by the nose. Something you want to avoid. Instead, simply show the character acting unreasonably enraged and let them figure it out. Your job is not to defend these characters. Your job is to describe them and decide how you want them to be seen: sympathetic or unsympathetic. Next post for brevity.

  8. #8
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    3. That perception of sympathy or deserved punishment is why the pendulum analogy doesn't work. You're trying to tell a story about seven sinners and their deaths. Some are facing a world-ending cataclysm while others appear completely unrelated. Remember that while life doesn't have to make sense or have a satisfying payoff...A story MUST have these things. You ask a reader to invest his or her time. In return, you promise there will be a reward for that investment. You have a great concept you are overlooking with your forced pendulum analogy, which never becomes pertinent to the story. If it were my story, I'd lose the pendulum and make the comet more central to the connecting thread. I'd move all the characters to the present day of the comet, and refocus the story on their choices in the face of death. You do it very well with the glutton and the president and the greedy lady: move the others into that group and your story suddenly has its "a-ha" payoff: even in the face of imminent destruction these sinners chose their sin over repentance.
    But that's just me. Obviously my opinions are subject to be freely disregarded, but they're not meant to be hurtful. I have a degree in English education and that's what I'd tell a student.

  9. #9
    Registered User ubergookjr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dono View Post
    3. That perception of sympathy or deserved punishment is why the pendulum analogy doesn't work. You're trying to tell a story about seven sinners and their deaths. Some are facing a world-ending cataclysm while others appear completely unrelated. Remember that while life doesn't have to make sense or have a satisfying payoff...A story MUST have these things. You ask a reader to invest his or her time. In return, you promise there will be a reward for that investment. You have a great concept you are overlooking with your forced pendulum analogy, which never becomes pertinent to the story. If it were my story, I'd lose the pendulum and make the comet more central to the connecting thread. I'd move all the characters to the present day of the comet, and refocus the story on their choices in the face of death. You do it very well with the glutton and the president and the greedy lady: move the others into that group and your story suddenly has its "a-ha" payoff: even in the face of imminent destruction these sinners chose their sin over repentance.
    But that's just me. Obviously my opinions are subject to be freely disregarded, but they're not meant to be hurtful. I have a degree in English education and that's what I'd tell a student.
    I understand that you were not trying to be hostile. I simply wanted explanations for your criticisms. Thank you for breaking all of this down into layman's terms and for citing examples of my mistakes.

    By the way, as subjective as your personal opinions may be, I find those to be of greater value than simple grammar corrections. I have read this story over one too many times and new ideas provide me with a fresh perspective. I'd hate to miss out on good critiques due to a petty reason such as pride. I value your opinion; you've clearly been around the block.

  10. #10
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    Before I forget, let me say Welcome to the LitNet, albeit not from any official capacity. Yours fooly is just an ordinary, everyday LitNutter. I hope you can return to this site regularly, not only to post more creative work but also to comment on the works of other LitNutters. You'd be surprised how much you can learn about the craft of writing merely by practicing the art of criticism. You can also learn much from the forum in the various reading threads, but of course that goes without saying.

    You requested some "help" about your writing, so here it comes, along with the suggestion that you take it with the proverbial grain of "salt."

    1. Subject matter.
    The ever-present advice to writers is to "write about what you know." That's not entirely true. For beginning writers, it's prudent to mine one's own experience for material, but resting in that familiar little spot doesn't allow for much creative growth. So maybe the advice should be "write about what you want to know."

    I mention this because I'm wondering why you picked such a doom-and-gloom topic for your maiden flight into fiction. In the past few years apocalyptic themes have been--well, "done to death." I'm tired of watching movies and reading stories about poor Old Mother Earth breathing her last. Or survivors trying to keep breathing in a devastated landscape.

    Not that you shouldn't take risks! What I'm saying is: cut off a smaller piece of the universe, focus your vision a bit closer to life as it is currently being lived,and present a unique picture of the human condition as glimpsed through your own personal lens. Not that the short story should be a glorified journal entry. You can bring your personality into your work without being personal.

    2. Prose style
    This is the area which needs the most work. By style I mean technique--both in the overall structure of your story as well as the expression in words, sentences and paragraphs.

    Hook the reader in your opening paragraph, if not the opening sentence, or word! Begin your story with an action scene, in medias res. When the opening lines spur the reader to ask herself "What in the world is going on here?" she's compelled to keep reading.

    This story takes too much time to get moving. The first three paragraphs seem as if you're warming up the motor. Hit the ground running.

    Don't be tempted by gimmicks, such as in the first paragraph which mimicks Jay McInerney Bright Lights, Big City second person, "you" narration. The second paragraph gives us the entire gist of the story--"Bye Bye, Earth!" which comes way too soon. So much for suspense or a dramatic climax.

    The third paragraph "tells" too much. One of the joys of reading is coming to one's own conclusion. Readers really resent being preached to or "told" what to think. All the explanations and polemics: "reaffirms man's original sin,""sadistic god," etc. belong in a persuasive essay, not a work of fiction. And avoid tautologies, such as in sentences like "This much is obvious."

    Avoid overpopulating your story with too many major characters. This tends to water down any desired emotional appeal. If you want the reader's sympathy(or antipathy) for the characters' respective "fates," make it easier for her to care about them(or hate them) through their individual characteristics, what they say and how they say it, what they do and how they do it. Cardboard outlines of their signature "sins" don't cut it. Even in a modern-day allegory, a little subtlety can be effective.

    And by the way, give them names that are interesting, but not so unusual that they appear pretentious. Such needless distractions detract from the effect of your story. (I read your "key" about the supposed allegories in the letters of each character's name, but to reiterate,avoid gimmicks, especially obscure ones.)

    Brush up on grammar and usage, and it wouldn't hurt to read up on ways to
    obtain an effective writing style. For instance, stick to one verb tense, preferably the past tense. (Present tense gives the illusion of immediacy, but can prove to be awkward in flashbacks and flash-forwards.)

    Don't lull the reader to sleep with passive constructions: "is plunged," "is slaughtered," "has been dethroned by." Use active verbs! ("John shot Mary" rather tha "Mary was shot by John.") Choose verbs that pack a punch rather hanging an adverb on them or attaching an adjective to a form of the verb "to be."

    Treat clichés (e.g."shows its true colors") as if they were virulent viruses--don't let your writing get anywhere near them. Also, when you use a particular word, try to ascertain that it means exactly what you want it to mean, e.g. look up the word "obsolete," which you used in one of your replies.

    Above all--READ! Read as many modern and contemporary stories that you can find. As you read, ask yourself not only what the writer is trying to say, but HOW he or she is saying it.

    More cheap advice:

    What Makes a Short Story Good?


    You Know I'll Stop Reading Your Short Story When. . .



    Show --Don’t Tell
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 12-06-2013 at 07:32 PM.

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