There is, truly, no such thing as the perfect piece of writing. It can always be improved. Recently I wrote short piece for Rachael’s Blog Battle which, by public vote, won. Part of the goody bag that came with the kudos was a critique from Cathleen Townsend. I thought others might be interested in Cathleen’s thoughts both generally and to see if any resonated with you, or indeed with which you disagreed. So here, in full, is the story and Cathleen’s suggestions. See what you think.
Green=passage referenced, Blue=my thoughts
‘You ready to be let loose?’
Betty meant well, Rich knew.
It doesn’t work well when you mix characters on a beat. I’ve learned this one the hard way. You can mix in an action or thought from another character if you use a dialogue tag (as long as the tag identifying the speaker is closest to the dialogue).
Ex: “Come away from that, dear,” she said, and Jordan spat in disgust.
You can’t do it with a beat. It has to be pure. Speaker only—dialogue.
She took a deep breath. “Come away from that, dear.”
Jordan spat in disgust.
Mixing a beat with other character thoughts will result in some readers becoming unsure of the speaker. This is many beta swaps talking.
In this case I’d suggest: Rich sighed. Betty meant well. This will also eliminate the unnecessary filter.
Getting out of quarantine was something everyone looked forward to. Air that wasn’t filtered, food you can could chew, <pick one> taste, the touch of the cold or the heat undiluted by spacesuits and sun screens. This last could be closer, more intense. For example, something like: the comforting warmth of sunlight on your skin, undiluted by spacesuits and sun screens.
But mostly it was the human contact.
‘Where first? The spa? The mall? The senzone?’ She Betty—remind us of her name smirked. Easy sexual fulfilment in the senzone for those who’ve been in space for more than 2 years. This is a sentence fragment—it needs a verb. Sex in limited gravity wasn’t the same and for the unattached like Rich the perfect release. This sounds like sex in limited gravity was the perfect release, which I don’t think was your intent. Or so a sister might think.
‘What about ice cream?’
Rich nodded. He had to keep moving or she’d begin to suspect. Betty’s bodysense was trained to pick up clues in ways sentients didn’t normally achieve and bots did. Why’d he have to have an empath for a sister? Suggest: This would be a lot easier if he didn’t have an empath for a sister. Gets rid of the awkward have to have.
‘So, you shaken off Mars dust yet?’
She meant well, trying to get him to talk. Another classic effect of the hibernation of space flight was the awkwardness later when normal interactions were expected. He nodded again, noticing the crease of worry on her forehead. She suspects, he thought. This repeats suspects and contains a filter. I’d suggest something like: He had to speak, to turn her thoughts in other directions.
‘Vanilla.’ His first word outside the debriefing, the investigation.
She laughed once Sounds odd, and it can be assumed that she didn’t laugh multiple times. ‘What happened to chocolate? Has Mars done for I’d prefer a stronger verb like ruined or stolen your tastespacebuds? Or is that a space myth?’
She linked arms. It took all his will power not to pull away, to let her get so close. She looked ahead as Character whiplash here—I’m not sure which one I should be following he squeezed his eyes shut, inhaling fem this threw me, her perfume like a cruel echo of that blast.
‘They kept you forever. Everything okay?’
Even a simple nod was beyond him. No, he’s already nodded twice. And that’s enough nodding for flash. I’d just cut this and maybe add, When he didn’t reply, she added…
‘People are saying…’
He slipped his arm free. He knew. They’d told him. The disbelief that he could survive when she Who? This pronoun isn’t working hadn’t. The complete and utter certainty everyone had that he must should—it would be strange to say he must have died when he’s walking and talking have died and yet, and yet…’ You’ve got an end quote here with no beginning.
‘They say you’re a miracle.’ She didn’t sound like he was a miracle, more a freak. Cleaner without. All she wanted, he knew it, was something, some rational explanation. Not even plausible just something. This doesn’t add, and it repeats something.
He forced his arms wide. ‘Yet here I am. Home.’ He blinked and surprised himself by saying, ‘Whole.’
‘Yes. Come on. Let’s get normal.’
Againcomma a simple enough thing to say but it loosened something This is vague. Suggest replacing with something more specific inside and he stumbled.
‘Here sit. It takes ages, doesn’t it?’ She added, unnecessarily he thought, I don’t think this adds, and it breaks up the dialogue ‘to get your legs back.’
He looked at her violet nobody has violet eyes eyes, her barely concealed worry. She didn’t know, he thought. It was stamped on his head, he had been certain, like a branding on cattle of old.
This gives me whiplash—she didn’t know, she must know because it’s stamped on his head. Suggest: She couldn’t know, even though it felt like it must be stamped… Killer. But no one said. Not even the most skilfull of bots had been able to delve deep into his psyche and prize out the truth. Ohcomma how they’d triedcomma but they’d given him a clean bill of health and released him.
As his gaze locked on Betty’scomma the beast within removed the shield and revealed to her, just briefly, the horrors that awaited. If you want to keep the ending phrase, don’t let Betty see it. It’s implausible to me that Betty would be horrified and not pull away. You could flood him with the horrors in store.
He fought, as he’d fought since being infectedcomma but he knew it hopeless. It wasn’t him who was now loose. Cleaner without, and you no longer need to use this word. He put a hand on Betty’s forearmcomma letting the essence seep through. It wouldn’t be long.
Hope this helps. Story-wise, this is good, or it wouldn’t have won blog battle, but I’d like a little more ending. Specifically, what will happen, at least to him. Something like: And then he’d finally be free. Or: They’d promise the torment would stop once he obeyed. Some final ending note.
Hope this helps. Take only what resonates.
If you are interested in finding out more about Cathleen here is her blog; thank you for your insights Cathleen they are fascinating.