A written critique of a fellow writer’s work in a creative writing workshop (names omitted).
The following is an example of my general written feedback and critical analysis of a story in development.
Hi again, XXXXX. Very nice work with the changes in this story. I’m so glad that we’ve been able to see it develop and grow through a couple of different forms.
For the most part, I really like the changes you’ve made. The story feels tighter and a lot more perfected. There’s a real sense that everything is there for a reason and that you’ve really calculated how to write it for maximum effect. The new parts (and some of the cuts) lend it a more cohesive feel. It’s more of a story now than simply a plot.
Cutting some the more bogged down sections (the young cop, the cars, the family) make the story much smoother and helped get rid of a lot of the repetitive wording. Although I was a little sad to see the squad car rant go, it was the right decision, and you still show him as passionate about his horse. The plot proper begins earlier and the tone is more consistent.
The ending took two reads to really grow on me. At first I found it a bit abrupt and a little difficult to figure out because there is a very obvious lack of motivation on the part of the criminals. On second read I began to analyze it a little bit as if I was reading it for class and that helped me pick up on the meaninglessness motif you have here. Once I found it, it really worked for me: there’s a quiet critique of post-modernism and a nice comparison of the aimless criminals with the obsolete sheriff. Once I picked up on that, the ending made perfect sense, and the theme meshes wonderfully with the imagery and the plot. The only thing to watch out for is that I did miss it until I read it closely. There are also a couple of words in the final couple of paragraphs when he’s dying that didn’t quite work. The “crying” jarred me especially—didn’t seem like something he’d do. He seemed more accepting.
The beginning also didn’t quite work for me—though I liked that you brought it back into the ending. The train opening is good, but heavy on detail and a little long. I also miss your original opening, which you’ve moved down a bit. I wonder if you could steal those two paragraphs (which don’t fit that well where they are now) and move them a bit higher? They were a great hook for your story and set your psychologically surrealist tone very well, something you need right off the top.
The tone in general is superb and the writing is just generally great. Word choice, diction, pacing (with a couple minor exceptions) and narrative voice were all excellent and create a really vivid picture of the place in my mind. By establishing your setting so well you create an excellent platform for your plot to live and breathe within it. I especially like how you name drop locales even if they’re not 100% relevant. They add local colour and they help to characterize Percy as a veteran.
Percy comes across very strongly—much moreso than in your original version. I like that you’ve honed in on a couple of aspects of his relation with his father and focused on those. There were a couple of odd verbs as I mentioned above, but generally, I got a strong feel for him established earlier. Although I like that you add other characters (which again shows his extensive knowledge and his past) and getting rid of the policemen has really helped make him the strong main character you needed. The boys, by virtue of being alive, are more useful than your dead Mexicans in the original version. Maybe tinker with them a bit to give them just a little personality while also keeping them tied to that meme of aimlessness.
The dream sequence at the end works really well. I’d almost encourage you to try one more earlier in the piece. I’m not sure it would work, but it might be a cool experiment. I like the in-and-out-of-memory thing you have going on and I love the way you play with reality in a very quiet yet very meaningful way. The surrealism is powerful and I almost wonder if you could use it more. On the other hand, you don’t want to overload it and lose that connection to reality and change that you have.
All in all an excellent story. It still was before, but I think you’ve really improved it in several somewhat intangible ways. It “feels” better now, and although that’s hopelessly vague, given your surreal tone and themes of barely perceptible change, I think it’s everything you needed.