Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Places Where the Birds Don't Cry

Another SCP, but this time as a short story. I also will change up the format by only including post commentary as it's really short and I don't feel like I have much to add.

Original Document (Please be nice)

I think the biggest issue this piece faces is the fact that nothing happens... or at least it feels like nothing happens. This is a tough thing to get right, but it's definitely easier to realize why it went wrong.

The first paragraph is mostly filler to set up the framing device of the journal. It's hard to cut, and while I don't mind it being there, the reader's brain is likely to skim this and forget it almost immediately. The transition to the new paragraph brings the reader back into focus and one of the first things that they notice, the thing that will get imprinted on their memory is the description of the last person who had the papers. This tells the reader exactly what the plot is. After reading that, you can extrapolate the story to it's end and exactly nothing will surprise you.

I get that it's supposed to be foreshadowing, but it doesn't set the tone and there's zero subtlety to it. In fact, that is more severe to anything that happens to the other characters. What happened to the patient is the more interesting story since somehow their obsession lead to them acting out and killing people. They somehow imagine a plot in which the world is in danger from the number 18 and he alone can stop it. The narrator just... writes the same thing over and over. The plot progression is like a ball gently rolling down... a hill... until... it comes to a stop... all by itself.

The other issue is the SCP itself. These papers aren't interesting in either power or delivery. They cause the person effected to become obsessed with some innocuous idea (which isn't pareidolia, just so you know) until they eventually find a reason to kill themselves. It's not 'unoriginal' but it lacks something to make it interesting, something that makes it stick out. Then the way it gets you is by paper cut? Or at least ingesting the strange dust on the paper.

Again, I think this is supposed to be a set up. Something that gets the reader to feel like there's something wrong before it kicks off, but it's so obvious that it's the hook for the rest of the plot that there's no mystery or wonder.

Essentially, this story is able to be told in one sentence. The author manages to stretch this into three sentences that occur in the first quarter of the story.

"A guy called Raul Sounder, went crazy and killed a bunch of people. Said he was on some kind of 'quest for meaning', whatever that is."

"It's the oddest thing, those papers had this… stuff on them, not like dust exactly, but some kinda powder, like they'd been stored in a room full of the stuff. I got a pretty nasty papercut on one, too. It's swollen, looks infected."

Okay, so it ended up being four, but I feel like I proved my point.

Until next time, remember to keep some of the details to yourself. The reader can do a little leg work of their own to connect at least a couple dots and they'll like you better for it.
-Cheshire

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SCP-902

A kinda short post while I'm working on one of the longer articles. For those of you not in the know, SCP (Secure, Contain, and Protect) is a community wiki that was created to hold stories written in the format of research documents about objects with special powers. (Think of it like Warhouse 13 but with a horror bent) Certain conventions were also developed, like the use of censorship to remove specific details to give it the feel of a classified document and a darker view of the organization, using an army of expendables that are subjected to horrible experiences in the name of science. Since it's creation, it's grown large and even has a sort of fan fiction scene going on where people write normal fiction set in the "SCP universe."
This particular document happens to be one of the better ones around, and used to be my go-to as an example of when people do this right; at least before I got around to reading it again. Not much room for jokes this time around, so this one will mostly be substantive critiques, like I'm an actual editor for once.

Original Document Please be nice

Item #: SCP-902
Object Class: Keter
Special Containment Procedures: SCP-902 has been relegated to Arctic Base Theta-12, the only SCP to be contained at this site. 
I guess there are people who like this sort of format, but to be honest I think that most of the time it leads to clutter. So many of these details mean absolutely nothing, which is why normally SCP writers redact it, but if you can remove details from your story with it literally impacting nothing, common sense says not to even have it take up space on the page, it just wastes your reader's time and ruins the tone.
The site is to be staffed by a team of fifty security personnel. At this time, no research is to be done on SCP-902. 
I do like this segment on containment being put before the description of the item because it hooks the reader early on and sets the tone for the rest of the story.
Knowledge of SCP-902 beyond its number is to be limited to level three staff and lower. It is imperative that only a limited number of Senior Staff know of the existence of SCP-902. Only one O5 is allowed to know about SCP-902 at any time.
In this case though, knowing about what this item does, the restriction on who knows about it is slightly confusing. I'll explain more later.
In the event of a security breach from inside Arctic Base Theta-12, the onsite hydrogen bomb is to be detonated remotely.
I would hope so, do you want to be the poor guy who has to manually detonate the H-bomb?
SCP-902 must be guarded at all times against premature destruction.
Premature destruction doesn't really make much sense here either. The item destroys itself, but is also in danger of being destroyed too early which I guess is a bad thing?
Description: SCP-902 is a box roughly the size of an adult human head. It measures 30 cm x 15 cm x 19 cm. It appears to be an ammunition box of a type used roughly thirty years ago, despite this item having been in Foundation custody for roughly sixty years.
This time warp element has no bearing on the powers of this item, this detail is entirely forgettable which makes you wonder why this was included in the first place.
SCP-902 is made of lead. The composition of the item inside SCP-902 is unknown.
There is no item inside SCP-902, in universe, the person writing this part doesn't think there's an item inside the box either which ends up being important. This is just a small oversight.
SCP-902 emits what has been described as a 'ticking' sound, and anyone who hears this sound becomes convinced that the item is counting down. When opened, the box appears empty. 
Because it is empty, which is an important detail to not mess up.
However, the ticking remains, the object continues counting down. Anyone who becomes aware of SCP-902, whether through personal interaction, or by reading this report, becomes convinced that whatever is in the box is horribly dangerous,
By reading this report? That's a check literally impossible to cash. As a writer (especially a horror writer) you should avoid including the reader like this. It destroys their suspension of disbelief and proves that the danger isn't real which is the last thing you want in the reader's mind.
and needs to be destroyed as soon as it finishes counting down, and not before. 
BUT not before. Also why? If whatever is in the box is actually dangerous, wouldn't they want it destroyed as soon as possible? I mean, "It's the box's power" or whatever, but that doesn't make enough sense for the people effected and extending the power to forcing people to wait adds nothing interesting to the story.

A better idea would be to have it be unable to be destroyed just due it being invulnerable and then the added layers of security would be the logical effects of the box influencing people as opposed to just "something else it does".
Staff exposed to SCP-902 will typically continue to attempt to open and then close the box, trying to find the object inside.
Again, really making it vague about whether the writer thinks that the box has something in it.
There is no object. There is an object. That was quick It has to be destroyed, when the countdown stops. We are doing great work. That's a bit of an overstatement We have to be stopped. Could you make up your mind?

Okay so I like the concept, but clearly it needs some more work. Deleting the red herring of the time anomaly is a good place to start, as well as some consistency of whether the writer of the report believes that there is something inside of the box.
The restriction about who knows of the box doesn't really make sense since everyone who interacts with it thinks it's incredibly dangerous, so you would think that they would want as much resources on it as possible.
The core of the story is that there's this box that seems to be counting down, yet has no indication of what would happen or even if something would happen at all. This person took it in the direction of everyone being afraid of it, which I get, but the mind control aspect is what steps over the line for me. Instead, I think it would be much more interesting it was just a box that ticks. Maybe it's locked and nobody can open it, but the important thing is that it has no direct effect on the people interacting with it.
If you do this instead, then you can include how people react. Knowing that there's something already amiss means that people would probably be made slightly uneasy, which means that they would want to have people guarding the box and constantly observing it. On the other hand, a lot of higher ups would probably also want to know what it does, even if they're concerned about it being bad so nobody could just preempt the box and destroy it.
A box that ticks so people are afraid of it, yet they can't bring themselves to do anything but wait for it to finish is much more interesting than a box that mind controls people into being afraid of it, especially if you happen to go deeper into this wiki. Mind controlling objects are a dime a dozen and it's pretty rare to get any sort of human element included in these reports.

All in all, good base of an idea, but the execution takes it in a direction that makes me think they had no idea what to do with it and just filled in the blanks by copying the most common conventions.

Hope to have something more fun next time,
Cheshire

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Exploration of Beer Woods Creek Chapter Two

We left off last chapter with some vague mention of danger and an unbalanced person maintaining a firearm. Chapter two is almost a completely different, standalone story that just happens to be about the same couple characters from the first chapter.

Original Document Please be nice

Chapter 2 [I didn't include this random header. Also, you can't tell because of the way I format these but chapter two is spontaneously in bold. All of it]

Nothing was a better aid to the explorers that good weather. No wet socks, wet tinder, and cold that comes from rain. No sweat and fatigue that comes from hot weather. It was windy and slightly cool, ideal for the journey. The ground was damp, not soaked, and Dusty's boots gripped the earth just right.

Credit where it's due, this beginning is infinitely better than everything in the last chapter.

There were there were four others on the journey besides Dusty, John and Alt. There were Sunny, Heather, and Jake, their friends, and Tom, Dusty's boyfriend.

Kinda lose points though for this confusing wording. I get what it's supposed to say, but it sounds like there is 6+ people with them as opposed to an extra four.

Sunny shared Dusty's love of nature and the uninhabited areas of the world. Heather wanted to go along were ever her friends were headed. A wilderness survivor, Jake wanted to put his skills to the test.

Every time I come back from a camping trip I consider myself a survivor of wilderness. How much can you really test your skills when you're with six other people?

And Tom loved Dusty, so he decided to come along.
"So my aunt was talking to this girl, and she said that she wanted to have an abortion done in her house…" Jake said.

I uh... what? How did we suddenly end up here?

"No! Jake it's not cool that your aunt is an abortion doctor!" Heather interrupted. She was the one who believed that abortion should be illegal and wanted to know what it was like to be a pregnant teenager (and at the same time did not want to be a pregnant teenager).

I don't understand what that is supposed to even mean? I think most people know enough about what it's like to be a pregnant teen to never want to have to learn more about what it likes to be a pregnant teen. (Spoiler: it sucks a bunch)

Dusty was afraid for a moment that Alt and John, the political geeks, did not get involved in the debate and start the trip off on the wrong foot.

So you want them to get involved? Bit odd.

She looked around for them, and then realized that she did not have to worry about that, because they were ahead of everybody, trying to run the trail.
Once Dusty was sure that the abortion debate was over, she yelled for Alt and John to come back and stay with the group. They would need energy for later.

For what? Setting up the tents? You're on a normal camping trip.

Sunny ran up behind Dusty and hugged her, "This is so exiting!!" she said. "I can't wait to set up camp!".

The group walked along the trail. The sun peeked through the trees. Water slowly moved in Beer Run Creek across the moss covered rocks and the birds chirped their happy songs. Tom caught up to Dusty and hugged her. She was happy. But things haven't always been that way.

A surprise to absolutely nobody currently reading this.

The first two years of high school were hell. In the beginning, Dusty broke up with her boyfriend of two months.

On the list of bad high school experiences, two month breakup isn't really that bad. I was expecting her to be bullied or something.

The night of the breakup, she remembered that her evil ex had carved their initials onto a tree in the park across the street. She was mad. She was crazy. (We all figured that long ago.) She decided that there was no way that that tree will haunt her for the rest of her life. Dusty would not let the romance fade, the memories slip away, she had to kill what was left.

Kill is a very... very strong word, maybe we should scale this back a little. Also, I think there was some mistake somewhere in here because it sounds like she wants to forget but also remember forever.

The moon outside was pale as Dusty put on her jacket and slipped into the shed. She tiptoed over to where the tools were kept and pulled out a battery powered chainsaw.

Is the shed just an armory at this point? You own way too many weapons, especially with somebody whose that interested in the end of the world.

Then she was on her way to the park. The way to the tree was familiar and she got there in a matter of minutes. She got to the tree and started to kill it.

I like this main character who would kill innocent life just because it happened to have the misfortune of reminding her of a fling she had. This relationship was shorter than a summer vacation, and we have zero evidence that he's actually this bad of a person.

The chain saw must have disturbed some of the residents of the backwoods, (you think?) because the lights of a police car blinked in the distance. Dusty had already been busted once for riding on the back of some guys' motorcycle without a helmet and could not afford to be busted again.

I'll die before they send me back there man.

She turned off the chainsaw and ran. (Remember: "Don't run with chainsaws!") She ran past her house and into rock creek. Then she went further into the woods. Dusty had not brought a flashlight, and was now running without any idea were she was going. Then, in the moonlight, she saw a doghouse and decided to risk it and go inside.

You could probably loop back around to your house, they're probably not going to mount a manhunt for some teenager who vandalized a park.

Luckily, there was no dog inside it and she hid there for the rest of the night, wide awake for the entire time.

Now, Dusty thought that what she did that year was stupid. (We all do) She had changed her ways and calmed down. Now she had Tom. Now she knew what she was doing. (Oh, I very much doubt that) And now she had a gun.

Could you make that sound any more threatening???

Dusty thought that she would never do anything so irrational ever again. But deep down inside, she knew that she was still the same.

This is in the same paragraph. You contradicted yourself completely within the span of two sentences, and you are definitely not making a case for you being allowed a gun.

The sun was setting very quickly. The camp was set up and a deer that Jake shot was roasting on the fire. Alt stared at the dead animal. He raised his eyebrows and sat on the ground, not participating in the debate John and Sunny were having about how early they were going to get up the next morning.

"Why are you so down?" Dusty asked him.

"I'm not sad." he replied. "I'm just thinking. Why do you live like this. (?<-you forgot this)  I mean, it's okay sometimes, but you can't do it forever.". (I know I haven't mentioned it so far, but you could really leave off these periods)

"Maybe you can't. But I can. Damn it, Alt, can't you see that I can't live amongst normal people? (Is Tom okay with suddenly joining the forest people?) I can't do normal things. I can't get up in the morning, go stare at a computer screen all day and then come home after the sun goes down. People were made to live out in the wild. Breathe some air."

You do that, I'm going to stay here with my computer... Wait a minute, you upload stories on the internet! You can totally work with computers if you wanted to.

"I guess it's best for you." Alt said.

Dusty looked around. Jake was re telling the story of his amazing hunt. Sunny and Heather were telling jokes and laughing. Tom and John were trying to climb a tree.

Guess trying is the operative word there. You would think a survival nut would be able to climb a tree.

"It's best for a lot of people." Dusty said, half to Alt, and half to the sky.

"Waiter, I'll have... two root beers, please"

That's the ending. For the most part she's illustrated that people are meant to be social, not that they all have to shed civilization, and to be honest, I'm not really sure if this was meant to say anything in particular at all. For the most part I think this is the semi-autobiographical ramblings of a teenager who has some free time and likes to write. It's meandering, it just drops ideas right after bringing them up, and half of the characters are completely useless. More than that, actually, with the exception of Dusty, Alt, and Tom, everybody gets about one sentence each. Tom says nothing at all.

But I don't hate this. Hating this would require me caring about this story more than the author did, which I figure isn't much. If you are reading this, Ms. Becky4Freedm, I don't think you're a bad writer, I just think you need focus and time to develop your stories more. Besides, nowhere to go but up ;)

Follow your dreams but remember to NEVER RUN WITH CHAINSAWS,
Cheshire

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Exploration Of Beer Woods Creek Chapter One

Let's start with a fun one, shall we? This is a short story I found a couple years ago and I always kept it around. It is not very good, but it falls short in the most charming of ways that makes it fun to poke fun at.

Original Document (Please be nice)

Dusty lived in an era of perfection. Nearly everyone strived to be perfect, nearly everyone strived to be the same. They didn't even know what they were doing.

The author is using the little known technique of opening your story by making your main character sound as unappealing to hang out with as possible. Here we can see her (and probably the authors) start to explain her view of "normal people" in the most pretentious way possible.

Of course, no two average girls in her high school would ever wear the same skirt as their friends on the same day, but they all owned the same clothing and it would often appear as if the school had some kind of uniform. They all watched the same music videos and listened only to the "hottest" pop hits, which, of course were all made by Mistress Lulu, who was the same as all the other "different" and "groundbreaking" pop stars.

This rant is pretty amazing already. The author clearly wants everyone to know how she's totally special and "not like everyone else" which ironically makes her just like everyone else.

Then there were the books. The Daybreak saga was the only book series the popular crowd ever read. The plot was a sad sequence of romance, depression, and car chases and the characters didn't have any personalities.

Glass houses, miss. At least stuff happened in Twilight.

And, of course, there were the boys. A clique called "The Nine" consisted of the basketball playing jocks that spent all day looking in the mirror. The popular girls followed them to the end of the earth, or across the fine line between drinking and drunk.

Not really sure what that last statement means unless it's a clumsy and mean spirited attempt at slut shaming? If it's not, then why does it matter that they get drunk together? I happen to get drunk all the time and clearly I clearly ended up great.

But even though the majority high school was bent on perfection or popularity, Dusty and her friends were not. 

That's surprising since you made it so appealing.

I want to take a quick moment to point out how injecting your personal view into writing almost never works. It completely ruins the pacing and let's face it, most people don't actually want to know what you think about anything, most of all what you think of them without you ever even having met them.

They walked through the hallways and never worried about what anybody thought. Most of her friends enjoyed it. But a few had an undying desire to be the leader of the pack, and thought that that could only be achieved through popularity and fame.

This is confusingly written since the author made it sound like they were a small group of friends, but talking about them like this makes it sound like Dusty has a lot of friends and a sizable minority wanted to be popular, but I'm pretty sure that she has, about six friends max.

Alt was one of those people. Dusty always had to remind him that, in the end, the popular people would all die out and they would go on.

That is an oddly ominous sentence... Wait, how many times does this conversation happen?

"Why does being different mean that we will survive in a worst case scenario?" Alt asked Dusty one night at her house in the woods. Most of their friends have left to go to the creek except her, Alt and John who was playing a computer game on Dustys' moms' laptop. Dusty dipped a cleaning cloth inside a smelly liquid and cleaned the barrel of her Colt 45 with a sigh.

WHY DO YOU HAVE A GUN?

"Because, when people all become the same, they abandon their real talents to pursue more 'fashionable' ones such as clothing design, big time acting, sports, and sometimes the worst of all, singing.

What's your problem with singers? Also you're going to tell me that a football player is useless during the apocalypse?

They take all the jobs that should be filled be people that actually have those talents and ruin the world for the rest of us.

So singers and actors are useless and will die out, but it's important for people to follow their talent, except that never works out because "popular" people will always take your job first? I don't understand this thought process one bit. Especially the comment about how they all "ruin the world" like Katy Perry is going to end up killing us all.

They fail to develop the talents necessary for human survival, such as farming, shooting and using weapons, building shelters and making flower beds out of tires." Dusty looked up from the gun she was cleaning and smiled at Alt. "Especially making flower beds out of tires."

Generally any sort of event that causes everyone to have to fall back on these basic survival skills would outright kill the majority of people, regardless of preparation. Also, you shouldn't normally have a life plan that requires the downfall of civilization.

Alt generally thought that she was insane, but this actually started to make sense to him.

This doesn't make any sense.

How else would you explain the failed amount of pop singers in the world who barely make enough money to buy a couple eggs at the grocery store? 

They have to get a normal job just like everyone else which puts them on the same level as someone whose best marketable skill is apparently "putting dirt in a tire".

How else would you explain the unemployment?

There's literally an entire field devoted to explaining "the unemployment" and let me tell you, none of them are blaming it on pop stars.

"You see, I'm doing O.K.

Whatever you say, just please put the gun away

So are you. What are you going to do if you become one of them?

Have better friends.

What am I going to do? Is there anyone else who can answer all my questions about cells?

Google?

I don't think so. (oh) The reason all of us get along so well is because we are all very different. We all have our own talents and are good at what we do.". 

Because popular kids never have any talents to speak of. In fact, becoming popular means you have to give up everything else in your life.

Dusty clicked the pieces of the revolver into their correct places and admired the machine. The materials shone and everything worked and clicked just the way it was supposed to.

Overshot quirky and headed straight into creepy territory. I wouldn't be surprised if this suddenly turns into a horror movie.

"John, please stop torturing the computer and go outside. We are almost ready to leave."

John pushed his glasses further onto his nose. "But I'm not done!" he complained. "I'm on level seven and if I quit now, I'll lose it!".

Ah yes, level seven of Video Game™ is the hardest.

John hesitantly stopped playing the game and stood up.

That conflict was resolved quickly. Really quickly. I didn't skip anything there, he just gets up anyways.

 "You should get a new computer, Dusty. Yours is as slow as the computers from the stone age.".
Dusty got up from her chair and stretched. She put on her leather coat, stuck the revolver into the worn holster,

I am intensely uncomfortable with the anti-social teenager being this familiar with a fire arm.

 and slipped on a pair of rubber camouflage boots. "Let's go you guys." she said. Alt lifted the food supply pack and John picked up the tent. "Time to set up camp in the most hell bent place on earth. Beer Woods Creek!"

I think I'll stay here if it's all the same to you, thanks.

The screen door was the last thing that separated Dusty from the miles and miles of wilderness and danger that lay ahead. 

What danger? Why do you need a gun!? What is happenening?!?

She kicked it open.

That's the end of chapter one. Since this is getting kind of long, I'm going to post the second half separately so keep an eye out for that over the next couple days.

-Cheshire