A Matter of Scale – Critique
I got some amazing feedback on the first draft of “A Matter of Scale” from Sally Panayiotou. Sally, thank you once again for writing out this great critique! I think it’s really going to help me shape AMOS into something readable and enjoyable.
Sally has a great site all about the writing, editing and publishing process. Take a look at it here.
And don’t forget to download her free novels!
Sally was nice enough to let me post her comments here along with my responses. If anyone else reads this, please chime in with your opinions.
Before I start, here’s a little history about this story. It is intended as a complete short story for Fungus, which is being published by Innsmouth Free Press. You can read all about Fungus here.
The requirements for Fungus are:
1. 5000 or fewer words (it is)
2. A fungus of some type must be a key element in the story (it *spoiler alert* does)
Innsmouth Free Press has a real love for H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. You can see that I do as well if you read my 2011 NaNoWriMo entry, An American Warlock in R’yleh.
If you’re unfamiliar with Lovecraft, or just interested in reading his stories, you can download them in digital format free and legally here.
For AMOS, I wanted to take a traditional Lovecraft tale of encountering an unknowable horror and give it the fungal twist that Innsmouth Free Press is looking for.
For inspirations for AMOS, check out Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”, arguably his most famous work as well as the story that AMOS is most paying tribute to.
Let’s get started! In Sally’s comments, I’ll interject my thoughts in bold.
This is well written and there’s intrigue here to keep me engaged So far, so good. This chick really seems like she has a head on her shoulders, but as you’re clear this is a draft I’m going to try and be constructive here. This is just my opinion so of course accept or dismiss at will. Also I don’t have any background on this so I’m not sure if this is an extract partway in or the beginning: This is supposed to be a full short story. Does it feel incomplete?
- There are some beautiful phrases and choices of words in here. “It was there that I met many of my closest friends and also where I made several of my dearest enemies”
The oxymoron of ‘dearest enemies’ as well as the contrast of using such an affectionate term against the lukewarm ‘closest friends’ is fantastic. It instantly tells us so much about the character. This phrase hadn’t really made a ripple in me. I’m glad you liked it. Maybe I should even “luke warm it up” a little? Change it from ‘friends’ to ‘acquaintances’ or something along those lines. That whole paragraph is beautifully written, with the word ‘hindsight’ giving us a good sense of him having travelled some kind of journey.
I also really liked:
“The subject of his mania – once a source of derisive laughter from me – became merely an endearing quirk that I happily side-stepped during the many hours of conversation that we partook in. Mecium, a true gentleman, was all too happy to leave the offending subject behind and to focus on our more mutual interests.”
It gives us a good sense of both characters.
- This feels as if its set in the 19th century and written in the style of the time. On the whole that works well, although there’s a bit of a contrast when we get to the description of the reef, which feels a little more contemporary (also I’m not sure how true ‘awe-inspiring’ is to the style). I’m not sure what the solution is but it left me a bit unclear on when it is actually set. I did want this story to sound “Old Timey”. If there are parts that stick out and contemporary, I need to fix them.
- There are a few example where I feel you over-describe:
“Or the preternatural or super-mundane While back then, of course, I would have used the words occult, even eldritch or simply weird.” (‘simply weird’ is modern vernacular, which feels stylistically out of place)
I feel like “weird” is the right word to use here. These days, “weird” means “silly” or “strange”, but it used to mean “unearthly” or “eerie”. Like the Weird Sisters in Macbeth. That’s the usage I was going for. Would it seem less out of place if I spelled it “wyrd”? Not sure I like that, though. What if I changed the “simply”? “…or – more succinctly – weird.”
“Listen to it well and take heed, for although it may sound fantastical, even ludicrous, remember that I do have in my possession a physical bit of evidence that lends it a certain air of credibility and phenomenality.”
“micrified and belittled by still a more prodigious bulk”
“My mind reels and rebels against the image of the thousand thousand unfinished, embryonic, compound bodies that comprised it.”
A lot of the time you’re using two words that say the same thing, which slows the pace of the story. I’m not saying only ever use one word, but if you do it more sparingly it will be a stronger emotive device.
This is something I should probably really listen to. I use double – even triple when I dare! – adjectives a lot! I think it works well with the old-timey and slow-boiling, Lovecraftian horror feel, but I need to watch out not to over use that technique. She makes a good point here(that can be applied to any trick of writing, not just multiple-adjectives): save it for when you really want it to hit home.
- First couple of paragraphs on Mecium’s tale need to make it clear what his claims were – was he claiming paranormal activity?
He was certainly supposed to be doing so! I guess I need to make that more clear, probably by adding a little more scoffing from the narrator at the “preternatural events” Mecium describes.
- The biggest issue for me is that it only becomes clear at the end why this is being told from Carolinensis’ viewpoint. We start the story from his view and get a sense of impending drama, but then there’s a long reportage section from Mecium, who in turn is telling Fuglio’s story.
This means you lose the opportunity to make the most of the drama of what happened because you’re telling us something that happened rather than showing us and I started to wonder why we were hearing this from Carolinensis. It may be this is an extract later in a book so we’ve already engaged with C. but I think it would benefit either from somehow taking us to the action; or greater promise of impending action from the beginning. For example something like starting with C. in a high drama, impending doom situation, with the report of the encounter being more of a flashback to explain how he’s ended up here. Maybe start with the knowledge that Mecium is dead so we’re more engaged with his story.
I was a bit worried about the three layers of narratives, to be honest.
I think, in order to stick with the Lovecraft tribute feel, the story should be told from the POV of a reader after the fact. The horror is supposed to come from someone discovering the terrible events that happened to someone else. Many of Lovecraft’s stories are told as journal entries recounting something that has already happened. I think this story needs to stay as a journal entry.
What about getting rid of Mecium completely? Can’t the narrator just tell the story of his friend Fuligo? Wouldn’t that keep the entire spirit of the story, but remove an extra layer of BS that might not be adding anything?
Starting with the fact that Mecium – or Fuligo, if Mecium gets cut – is dead does sound like a good way to draw the reader in. And it makes sense. Of course the first thing the narrator mentions in his journal is that his friend is dead! And the death of Mecium/Fuligo isn’t the punch at the end of the story, so there’s no harm in revealing it earlier.
Phew, I hope this helps and you absolutely have nothing to be embarrassed about – you’re a great writer!
Sally, I can’t thank you enough for leaving these comments. If we loved in the same city, state, country or even continent, I’d buy you a drink!
Well, faithful readers, anything to add?
What do you all think about the ending by the way?
Was it clear at the end that the reef was a patch of fungus and the main characters were all protozoa?
Was that surprising or interesting when you read it?
Did I make it clear that to a Dog Vomit Slime Mold (Fuligo) and a Pelomyxa Chaos Carolinensis (the narrator) even a simple spot of mold is an ancient(1), unknowable(2) terror from beyond the realms of sanity?