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Danse Macabre with a Contract

Fortnightly Flash Tablet of Transit

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#1 Offline Prodigal

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Posted Nov 04 2012 - 09:52 PM

Danse Macabre with a Contract

“But will it work?” The matoran asked, gesturing with hands in a frantic and utterly helpless manner. His wild, nervous eyes were glistening with the madness of one being tracked, one whose very life is now worth nothing more than what any bounty hunter could collect. “Perhaps. It’s your best bet, but then again, you’re a desperate man, aren’t you?” The response was apathetic, of relaxed tone. “You would sell your own soul for protection. A rather ironic business deals, considered you would be giving what you hoped to keep in your body…” The second figure paused, his insane eyes, eyes of pure, utter madness, glaring at the matoran. “But you are not interested in philosophy or pondering at the moment, are you? Of course not.” “The price. What is the price? What do you want?” The matoran was frantic now, hands on the desk in front of him, his voice nearing screaming as he stood, shaking slightly. “Something infinitely more valuable than your soul, my good sir. Your money. Every thing. That ring of keys in your pocket. The cap off of your head,” With a sudden swipe, the seated figure grabbed the matoran’s hat, and placed it on his head, grinning manically as he did so. “Your very life, every component, every piece.” The matoran said nothing in return, only staring at him for a moment, his mouth open, his protest dying in his throat. “Do you have a wife? No?” The figure behind the desk looked rather disappointed when the matoran shook his head slightly. “I would have taken her as well. Now, down to business…” Holding out his hand, the figure pointed at the key ring, and the bag of widgets attached to the matoran’s belt. Shaking with uncertainty and insecurity, the matoran placed the requested items in the outstretched hand, glancing at the figure in pure and utter disbelief. At first, there was nothing, no response, only those maddened, cruel eyes, bright amber in color, and utterly manic in expression. And then the figure tossed it at him. It was small, much smaller than he expected, and he stumbled as reached for it, barely able to save himself from falling. Reaching out a split second before it met the ground, the matoran managed to snatch the stone, and as he leaned against the desk, breathing heavily, the figure behind the desk, clothed in darkness save for his eyes, coughed, ever so quietly, and ever so menacingly. With a startled gasp, the matoran stepped back, expecting the figure to make another demand he could barely obey. “What? What now?” He cried, half in frustration and half in rage. “It is truly a shame you do not have a wife. Then again, I don’t think I would want to meet a woman who is attracted to you, my good, psychotic sir.” The figure said, following the sentence with a long, drawn out laugh, appreciation of humor only he recognized existed. “Well, go on. You have the transition tablet, go find a Makuta to squeal to.” Suddenly, his voice was serious and utterly merciless. His eyes wide, the matoran pushed himself away from the desk, running as fast as his legs would take him. He continued running out into the street, never stopping. Remain in his seat, the figure took a long, calm drag on his cigarette, sucking in the smoke before slowly breathing it out, letting the grey wisps curl around his lips and rise above. As he did this once more, a terrified scream could be heard from the street, a shriek of pure pain and terror, and then an equally terrible silence.“You never grow tired of leading them on like that, do you?” The voice apparently came from nowhere, originating from the air behind the figure. “I suppose even one as cruel as you has uses to our organization, Jilsud. Congratulations on guiding yet another poor soul to their deaths. Deaths beneficial to us, you can be assured.”“Ah, Jerbraz, I never grow tired of your congratulations and comforting words.” Jilsud said, turning around in his chair so that the light illuminated his face, the face of a Vortixx, grey-green in color, with peculiar mechanical components, resembling things steampunk and clockwork, the color of copper, and the matoran’s hat, a black fedora, perched on his head. “Who exactly did I just kill, if you would be so kind?”“That matoran was one of the last beings to know of Artakha’s location. Tobduk is going to be jealous: Killing them off is his job. I have to say, using that false Tablet of Transit was genius. Why kill them when you can have a brotherhood minion do it?” “How flattering.” Jilsud said, turning his chair around once more, taking another drag on his cigarette, apparently uninterested. “Now, unless you have more information, I suspect I have another customer approaching. A few second later, a female Steltian, wringing her hands in worry, and glancing around nervously, stepped inside the open doorway. “I heard you can supply tablets of transit-” She began, wincing at the words that left her mouth.“The supplier of your information is most talented. Please, take a seat.” Jilsud said, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk. As soon as she sat down, he began to weave his enticing web once again, draining her of every possession, promising to give her salvation, but only handing her a death sentence, in the form of false information, a tablet of transition missing one tiny detail, a possession for which she would be killed on sight. A business deal between the untruthful and the desperate, an arrangement between a devil and a dead man, Danse Macabre with a contract.

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#2 Offline Tolkien

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Posted Nov 11 2012 - 01:12 AM

Hello, Giant of Lannister. An SSCC review is coming.------------I liked the story overall. Very dark, with some good characterization and sharp, minimalistic dialogue, as well as a unique take on the Tablet of Transit theme. You did a good job with setting up the final twist at the end, and both the Matoran’s fear and the sadistic nature of the Vortixx come through very clearly. I’d say the best parts of the story involve the interaction between these two characters—hopelessness and desperation on one hand and cruel manipulation on the other. Well done.Now, normally I begin a review by hitting the broader points of criticism, narrowing down to the typoes/grammatical nitpicks by the end. This time I think I’m going to switch things up: nitpicks first and broader issues after. So, we’ll start off with the main typo-related point that stood out for me: punctuation of dialogue:

“But will it work?” The matoran asked...

The cap off of your head,” With a sudden swipe, the seated figure grabbed the matoran’s hat...

...Then again, I don’t think I would want to meet a woman who is attracted to you, my good, psychotic sir.” The figure said...

These were just the first few instances of dialogue I came across. A piece of dialogue, like any quotation, should be punctuated as in the following example:“Quotation,” he said.If you’re following the quotation with a dialogue tag (i.e. “he said”), the convention is that the sentence should end with a comma (or question/exclamation point if needed), and the dialogue tag should not be capitalized. Taking the second example above, this would be revised as:“...a woman who is attracted to you, my good, psychotic sir,” the figure said...There were instances of periods followed by capitalized dialogue tags throughout the story, so I’d suggest going through and revising those. In the end, it’s a pretty minor issue, but still important for convention’s sake. Okay now, on to the stuff that matters:

The response was apathetic, of relaxed tone.

The phrase “of relaxed tone” feels awkward. I would suggest rewording the sentence or the dialogue itself simply due to the fact that this feels like too much overt “telling” (see below). If you do want to keep this sentence, maybe reword to: “The response was apathetic, his tone relaxed.”

A rather ironic business deals, considered you would be giving what you hoped to keep in your body…”

“deal, considering”

Shaking with uncertainty and insecurity, the matoran placed the requested items in the outstretched hand, glancing at the figure in pure and utter disbelief.

You are telling the reader that the Matoran is uncertain and insecure. In this case, it might be better to just state that the Matoran was shaking and let the reader draw conclusions.

Remain in his seat, the figure took a long, calm drag on his cigarette...

“Remaining”

As he did this once more, a terrified scream could be heard from the street...

I’d suggest rewording this passage in the active voice, e.g. “he heard a terrified scream”. The active voice generally helps punctuate an event such as this, but it’s up to you.

The voice apparently came from nowhere, originating from the air behind the figure.

This felt like a contradiction when I first read it. The voice comes from nowhere, and then it originates from the air behind the Vortixx. Rewording might help fix this.I also noted some over-repetition of specific words throughout the story: “madness”, “maniac(al), manic”. Also, intensifiers such as “utter” and “utterly” should be dealt with cautiously—I noticed overuse of both of them at various points. This actually ties into the next point:The description of eyes in the first half of the story: I counted three separate instances where eyes were described using some variation of “mad” (also “insane”, “manic”, “wild”, etc.) The first instance seemed to be describing the eyes of the Matoran, while the subsequent instances were describing the eyes of the Vortixx, but both characters are described as having the same kind of eyes, as follows:

His wild, nervous eyes were glistening with the madness of one being tracked

The second figure paused, his insane eyes, eyes of pure, utter madness, glaring at the matoran.

At first, there was nothing, no response, only those maddened, cruel eyes, bright amber in color, and utterly manic in expression.

It’s always vital to make sure you keep your characters distinct—avoid using the same or similar descriptive terminology for two characters if those characters need to be distinguished. In this case, they certainly do need to be distinguished, so that would be something to improve on in a further revision.The final point I’ll bring up has to do with the age-old issue of “showing” vs. “telling”. In this case, it involves the expression of emotions in your characters. Overall, there seemed to be a bit too much “telling” going on with respect to how your characters are feeling. Frequently this centers on pieces of dialogue. There is always a delicate balance between expressing emotion through the actual words your character says and through the narrative surrounding those words. If a particular emotion is not expressed in the dialogue itself, you can express it either by showing some action performed by the character (“...gesturing with hands in a frantic and utterly helpless manner”) or you can tell the reader straight up (“...apathetic, of relaxed tone”, “Suddenly, his voice was serious and utterly merciless.” etc.).Overall, I felt like there was a bit too much telling going on in this story. It’s usually a good rule of thumb to try to express an emotion through the character’s dialogue itself, but if that’s not possible or ideal, always try to be conservative with both showing and telling. Too much of either one can be bad, and I definitely think there was too much going on in this story. I’ve already quoted a few instances above, and the others shouldn’t be difficult to find (check all your instances of dialogue, pretty much).The showing/telling issue was really the only other thing that stood out to me as needing improvement, so I’ll end the critique at that. Once again: good job overall. With some minor revisions, the narrative of this story will be greatly improved. I look forward to more!JRRT

Edited by Tolkien, Nov 16 2012 - 04:58 PM.

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#3 Offline Prodigal

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Posted Nov 16 2012 - 01:33 PM

Thank you for all the critique, I modified the original document of the story. All the points you made were excellent and appreciated, every one of them edited into the work. It was an honor, as always, to be reviewed by the SSCC. Your advice is immensely useful and supportive, and it has, without a doubt, increased my literary skills.
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