A Matter of Scale – Critique 2
I got some more great feedback on A Matter of Scale from fellow handsome writer John. I’m going to put his comments in a post as well so everyone can see them.
Mike! Did I know that you were writing? What fun! I feel like maybe I didn’t, or maybe I did and forgot, either way, saw this in my hotmail box and spent some time exploring your wordpress site. I don’t think I’m quite adventurous enough to tackle one of your longer pieces, but thought I could at least help with your Fungus Amongus story. Plus, it gives me an opportunity to shirk my responsibilities for a bit.
So, I read this a couple times. And I copied it into word so I could track changes with my edits and comments.
Being as I am me and you are you, I will skip the pleasantries if that’s OK, and dive into the edits.
And now onto his comments. First, he noticed plenty of parts where the timeline is inconsistent.
Comment on timeline. I think the timeline is a bit overworked, and more confusing than it needs to be. So the actual timeline of this story is one night, PC is at the club, is distracted about what he knows about Mecium and the reef, and goes home to write about it in his journal. What’s the impetus? Why is tonight the night to write or why are his thoughts about mecium occurring today. The inciting events from Mecium must have taken place a while back because the scene on the street and Mecium’s death must have occurred at least a little while back. I like the idea that Mecium’s death gets introduced earlier, it’s a nice hook, and could start as a better jumping off point as PC thinks about what there is to say about his once close friend who is now dead and then can retrack what lead to his death, thus giving us the meat of this story. Otherwise, if you don’t want to do that, it would help if this story had a bigger lag, like PC is recounting this story as an old man, thinking back on his old friend Mecium and the oddity of his death.
Timeline again. He can’t have met Mecium on the street the same night that he’s writing this log, or how would he know that Mecium is dead?
He’s right! At the beginning of the story, the narrator is talking about how he was distracted this evening at the SMRAM club because of the strange story he had recently heard from his pal, Mecium. By the end of the story, the narrator is writing in his journal after having just run into Mecium in the streets earlier that evening.
I’m not quite sure I like the idea of the narrator telling the story many years after the fact. I think that hearing the story and exposure to Mecium’s “sample” would have a quick insanitizing effect of the narrator.
Let’s say the narrator holds onto the sample and keeps quiet about it until he’s old. Before he dies, he wants to get his story out and heard by people. That would jive with his confessions of vanity earlier on.
“how would he know that Mecium is dead?”
There’s a little line at the end: “Mecium is dead. His desiccated corpse will be found floating…” I thought having the narrator display knowledge of horrible events yet to come might make it seem like he’s already starting to go a little mad himself. Maybe it was too much of a throw-away line?
If the narrator meets Mecium one night, hears his tale and receives the sample, then Mecium could disappear mysteriously. Years later, a bizarre, unidentifiable corpse could be found. The narrator knows who it is: Mecium. And that prompts him to write his journal entry.
I’d prefer a particular finding/fake journal article title instead of “latest findings in the fashionable scientific journals.” Think something concrete will feel more real.
I have to agree with that. Some old timey, clearly crackpot pseudo-science talk would sound good here.
“I record Mr. Mecium’s tale tonight as a cautionary one for whatever audience…”
Story isn’t really a cautionary tale, feels more like the recounting of some fantastic insight, but it doesn’t end with a warning.
True, again. It sounds good, though. He doesn’t need to explain that it’s a cautionary tale if it’s made clear he’s writing it in a fit of hubris.
I think I want to focus n that aspect of the narrator a little more: his need for being remembered, living on. At a guess, I would say protozoa live only a very short time. A fungus lives longer, but still way less than a human. It might be cool for the narrator to look at a blink-of-the-eye, POS fungus as eternal.
I want more description in this scee[Mecium's tale of his personal experience with the supernatural]: size of the balls of light, where he was, how long it lasted, how did they disappear, was there sound, etc…
Sally requested more detail here too. The problem is that I want this encounter to be revealed as merely mitochondria at the end of the story, so I can’t gve too much away here. I kind of thought that since this was the narrator recounting Mecium’s story that he would just say, “Oh, he saw some dang old balls of light or something.” Really, though, but the point that he’s writing this entry, he would be more open to the possibility of the supernatural.
Maore detail can’t hurt, right? Duration, size, sound, just like you suggest.
“many hours of conversation that we partook in .”
I think that if you rephrased to have sentences not end in prepositions that will help with the “old-timey” feel, i.e. “many hours of conversation in which we partook.”
Good spot and suggestion! I should look for that kind of phrasing throughout the story.
“After all, what was electricity a mere hundred years ago if not magic? To our ancient troglodyte ancestors even the sun rising each morning must have been an hideous occult mystery “
These two examples of magic: I think it would be fun if one of them was an incorrect thing that we today know is false. Like something they believe in at PC’s time that is greater than the wisdom before it, but we the reader know that that thing is discredited today. Like something about the body’s humors or something.
That does sound fun and goes back to the suggestion of the comment where he wanted more detail about what the SMRAM club was talking about. The humors of the body is just about perfect sinec it sounds so ye olde timey AND fits perfectly with single celled organisms.
“I suppose it was the mention of “speaking through time” to our descendants that spoke to me, that made me pause to take his nearly babbling rambles seriously. “
PC seems to be the staunch empiricist, rigid and tempermental, it seems a little bit off to me that he is pliant just because of this mention of the journal. I think at this point he still keeps his intellectual distance, but remains interested in a scientific sense, with a desire to observe and analyze Mecium and his story, versus being convinced by him.
While the narrator is the voice of reason in this story, I think he needs at least a dash of imagination and romance in him. That’s why I put in the part where he gets excited about the exploration of the reef. If he was just a no-nonsense, science dude, he’d dismiss the entire affair as twaddle(a word I should use more often in this story).
Focusing more on his desire to achieve immortality through memory will, I think, help to explain why Mecium’s speech here strikes a chord in the narrator.
“The key difference was that instead of chip-chipping away with these facts at the stone and mortar of the universe in an attempt to uncover the secrets held within, we used these new data as road maps . We followed them outward in the hopes of expanding our knowledge of our world ever farther.”
Road maps feels too modern. Cartography maybe?
I really struggled with this sentence. I like the comparison between Mecium/Fuligo versus the narrator. The narrator whittles away the mysteries and magic of the word to get to the cold hard facts at the center. Fuligo opens his mind to the supernatural to gain a wider view of the world.
I like the first half of the metaphor: the narrator chip-chipping away at a marble block to reveal a statue. The “road map” half is weak, though, I agree. What else could go there? I guess building blocks that fit together into an ever growing structure? That sounds better to me.
“Fuligo was THE Fuligo. The one I had been reading about week after week only a few years back.”
This feels like a late reveal. I think its fine at the beginning of Mecium’s story we can reveal the he knows the famous Fuligo. It seems odd that Mecium would have mentioned Fuligo a few times prior at the SMRAm club without ever noting that he knew a newsworthy intrepid explorer.
This is especially true if I cut out Mecium altogether and just have the narrator meet Fuligo. I think there should be a period where the narrator is disgusted with this new Fulgo chap with his superstitious baloney. Then he can feel embarrassed when he finds out that Fuligo is a famous scientist and explorer.
Not a huge fan of this third layer coming in. Maybe mecium recounts Fuligo’s tale, his own circumspection, his journey to discover the truth behind Fuligo’s words, etc, instead of a rote recital of Fuligo’s letter.
I’m pretty sure at this point that I’m getting rid of the middle-man Mecium. That should help this part out.
Boson feels too modern.
Feels too early for fractals too.
Boson I can cut easily.
Besides fractal, is there another word that conveys that each part of a whole contains the entire whole within it?
I think we need something of the “man learns a lesson” trope to cap off the story a little bit, like PC realizes the limited nature of what he call science, or that he wishes he had the nerve to taste the fungus and challenge it with his mind or that he will be the pioneer to truly understand the fungus and its ramifications, or that he wishes he could dismiss what he knows and turn back to a world where everything made sense. I need him to change or retrospectate (love that word I just made up) a little.
At the end, he should definitely be admitting how wrong he’s been his entire life. That there are crazy things out there that his science just can’t explain.
They’re protozoa! I get it and like the reveal. Actually, I had a suspicion that something like this would happen, although I don’t think the story forecasted it so much so as possibly from knowing you. Anyway, overall I thought the story was fun, and certainly has that classic horror feel to it. It’s also a fun idea, but I can see how it’s a head hurting one trying to determine just what about the protozoan world is like us and unlike us.
A thought about the world: I think it should feel one of two ways, 1) distinctly set somewhere in our history, i.e. the history of human lives like turn the 1800s or something or it should be distinctly be similar to our world but with some minor description, incidental information that makes the reader aware already that there’s something a little bit off about the world we are reading about, not enough to give it away, just some sense that things aren’t quite right with this place. Does that make sense?
I didn’t get too much into the specificities of language too much, copy editing and style, that sort of thing, since I spent most of my time on the big structure and story arc. I could go back into a later draft with a finer look at things like that if you want.
Anyway, big fun, but I suppose now I’ll have to race you to my own story about fungus as such:
It began with the Clinton growing nose watch.
Then the Rotato.
Also, some Fungus.
Man, that’s like two entire novels! I’m properly cowed.
As for setting the story in a “slightly-off” version of our world, does the giant reef do enough of that? Maybe I should specify that it’s a “land reef” or something?
The problem, again, is that I don’t want to give away that they’re protozoa until the end and I don’t want to give false details at the beginning.
I guess I mention fireplaces and bookshelves, though, which amoebae don’t have. (OR DO THEY dun dun DUUUHHHN!!)
Anyway, tons of great feedback! Thanks again!
Now to rewrite this entire damn thing.