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Old 05-29-2009, 10:38 AM
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Default Re: Behind Closed Doors [Galleon is Grading]

Advanced Grade, as requested.
Note: This is not how a typical grade should be done. To any of you graders out there who might be looking at this for whatever reason, please don't think that you should try to model your grade after this. But if you're just trying to get an idea of what else you can examine in a story besides the usual junk, then maybe this'll help. Hold on to yer butt. ^^

Plot: Quite dark and original, for the most part. The big twist in this story comes from the fact that Kolbe was not in love with the person he murdered, but rather the Pokemon that belonged to that person. This was certainly unexpected, to say the least; however, this twist doesn't really impact the story in a very profound way. It is a twist that provides a bit of surprise, surely, but it does not really change the way we see Kolbe very much. Kolbe still murdered a little girl for practically no reason at all.

When it comes to plot twists, it's really all about how well you plan ahead, how well you set things up. Whether it's from building suspense or from making good use of foreshadowing, that plot twist should be prepared carefully. In this case, you're building suspense by allowing Kolbe to drag things out over a period of four days, which ultimately culminates in the man's execution.

I s'pose I should also mention your battle, which came entirely through a gruesomely detailed flashback. I don't generally regard the battle as particularly important (especially for an advanced grade such as this), but I would be remiss if I left it out completely, because you seemed to put quite a bit of thought into it. For this story, the battle served as an important plot point before the ultimate revelation that Kolbe was not after the little girl, but her Shinx, instead. You might say that the battle built up the suspense for the big twist, which is good, but when the twist actually came, it wasn't particularly clear what had just happened. It came as more of a slow realization than a moment of surprise, and perhaps that was the effect you were going for, but I'd still argue that the latter would have been more worthwhile. I'll talk more about this in the Grammar section, though.

Themes: The big ones I saw were Life, Death, and Beauty. Life & Death are important themes in that, well, your main character has taken someone's life and will subsequently have his own life taken as a result. Kolbe reflects on his actions, but he has apparently come to accept his fate already, even if he does think that no one understands him. Compare this to Cearmada's "outsider" life, and we have a nice contrast between two starkly different characters. Beauty - or perhaps more accurately, "appearance" - comes into play numerous times throughout the story; Kolbe's reason for murder was essentially beauty; the way you provide such dank, disgusting description also lends itself to the contrast between Kolbe's sense of beauty in terms of the world around him.

It's not uncommon for authors to be unaware of some of the themes in their stories, so if what I just described is news to you, then you shouldn't feel upset. However, themes can play a powerful role in a story, whether it's sending a message, setting a mood, or something else entirely. There are themes present in any story, regardless of whether we see them or not. In the typical "kid wanders into forest and catches a Pokemon" story, the big theme may be Discovery or Fate or what have you. As writers, if we recognize these themes, then we will be poised to utilize them in ways we may not have done otherwise. For instance, in that same typical story, we could play off the theme of Discovery by - just off the top of my head - having the kid come to some kind of life-changing realization or by letting the kid stumble upon the secret of freaking Atlantis; suddenly, it's not such a typical story, anymore. Those may not be the best examples, but that's the general idea behind themes.

With regard to this story, however, I think you could've made better use of the three themes I mentioned. For instance, to better illustrate the contrasting lives of Kolbe and Cearmada, you might've chosen to include Cearmada thinking about Kolbe's case as he's doing something that is normal to the doctor's everyday life, like mindlessly watching television as he muses about Kolbe's personality. Or, perhaps from a more dramatic angle, you could've had Cearmada looking at another little girl who is completely unrelated to Kolbe (perhaps Cearmada's daughter or just some girl he sees playing in the street). Then, the doctor might have a moment where he wonders what could possibly make Kolbe, or any human being for that matter, hurt such an innocent child as this. But those are just some examples to get you thinking.

Characters: This story is what's called a character study; it focuses on specific character archetypes and explores the nature of these characters. Here, we have Aidan Kolbe, a murderous psychopath, and Dr. Gerard Cearmada, a self-absorbed psychologist. These two characters work off of one another as the story progresses, and we gradually learn more about them, about how the world sees them, about how they see each other, about how they see themselves. I find this strategy very intriguing, but at the same time, I don't think you're quite using it to its fullest potential.

First of all, consider the purpose of your story. This is a story that revolves around the characters; this story lives or dies by how interesting the characters themselves are. If the reader is not intrigued by these kinds of characters - by the mind of a demented killer or by the mind of a veritable amateur trying to analyze said killer - then the reader will find very little reason to keep reading this story. And really, these two characters do not really present anything that is particularly revealing or forthcoming in their personalities. They seem to think themselves very different, for reasons of their own, but in the end, they are still very much the same as their first impressions describe. Kolbe is a crazed murderer who, unsurprisingly, does not understand the value of human life, despite the fact that, in a strange twist, he very much values the life of a Shinx, simply because he thinks the Pokemon is "beautiful." He is bewitched by this apparently random Pokemon, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why, exactly, Kolbe is the way he is. I'd suggest including a little more about Kolbe himself, perhaps a bit of personal history, whether it be from a prologue or a flashback or what have you. Maybe Kolbe went through some kind of traumatic experience at some point in his life that affected his perception of beauty, or maybe Kolbe has simply thought this way his entire life. Regardless, you have ample opportunity to address Kolbe's life, from flashbacks to Kolbe's childhood or from the psychological profile Cearmada is supposedly studying. It'll help you to flesh out the backstory of this important character, because the real drama and intensity of the story rest entirely upon the machinations of this one person's mind.

The same can be said of Dr. Cearmada; there is little information given about Cearmada's past, merely that he hasn't been very successful as a psychologist. It's clear that Cearmada is uncomfortable with his task, but nothing ever really comes out of it. In the end, the doctor simply asks Kolbe about what happened, and Kolbe gradually tells him. Kolbe has no fits of violence as his psychological profile implied earlier, and neither does Dr. Cearmada offer any genuine insight about Kolbe or himself. And that's fine, if this is the way you want to portray Cearmada, but you should consider why you chose to include the man's perspective at all. You're constantly swapping between these two characters, telling the story from the perspective of both the psychologist and the patient, but in this case, the psychologist does not bring any important information to the table, so why even bother with that part? Kolbe is clearly much more relevant and important, so it might've been better to simply go with Kolbe's point-of-view for the entire story and merely present Cearmada as a minor character.

Also, I'll mention a little about one of your more important minor characters: Tesla. As a Pokemon belonging to your main character, Tesla presented an opportunity for you to elaborate more about Kolbe in a way that you might not otherwise have been able to do. But you didn't use this opportunity. You mentioned briefly that Tesla was only trained to kill, which implies some kind of intense relationship between Tesla and Kolbe, but this is never further spoken of or elaborated upon, which begs the question as to why Kolbe would have such a violent partner in the first place.

In essence, what you should take away from this section is that the level of detail you provide for your characters will depend on what kind of story you're writing. For this particular story, your characters should be your chief concern, as they are the driving force behind everything that occurs. You should almost always be very concerned about character creation in whatever kind of story you write, but in many cases, the characters need not be your biggest issue. For instance, you may write a story that is more about the plot, about what happens to characters, rather than the characters themselves, in which case your characters are still very important, but not nearly as much as they would be in a story like this one, where we spend much of the time inside your main character's head.

Length: Mm, while it does fall within the range specified by the list of URPG Pokes, I hafta say that this story feels a little bit... incomplete. Of course, this is an Advanced Grade, so I'm not really abiding by typical URPG standards here. Rather than being worried about your character count, I'm more concerned with whether or not the length of your story is appropriately proportioned under its own terms, and I don't really think that it is, for reasons that I've already mentioned.
Flow: I noticed in some places that you're letting your sentences run a bit too long, when you're describing certain things. Like here:
Originally Posted by Scourge of Nemo View Post
The man, even garbed in a dull grey one-piece prison suit while handcuffed to a chair, reeks of average. Cool grey eyes, blonde hair just tinged with red, a frazzled beard that makes the inexperienced psychologist in him think “There is a sad man with a sad life and a sad family who returns to his sad little home on the weekends, locks himself in his sad, small office, uses his sad, slow internet for an hour, then departs with his sad friends to attend a Lord of the Rings cosplay as Gimli (in, of course, a very sad replication of movie!Gimli's costume) and completes the night by drinking himself into sad, dismal oblivion at a sad, dingy bar… all in an attempt to avoid his sad, dysfunctional family and sad, dead-end cubicle job”.
Dr. Cearmada's terrible typecasting aside, this paragraph is incredibly difficult to follow. I'd give you an example of how to improve it, but it's a rather easy problem to fix, really. It's just unnecessarily drawn out. I mean, we get it; Cearmada thinks Kolbe is of a very typical appearance. This is not a particularly enlightening analysis on the doctor's part, so there's no need to spend so much time on it.

There was also here:
Originally Posted by Scourge of Nemo View Post
No, it is most certainly not the temperature that makes Doctor Gerard Cearmada imagine icicles forming on his clouded breath, falling through the air, shattering across the ground; it is not the temperature that makes Doctor Gerard Cearmada want to shudder, shiver—convulse until it all goes away. It is not even the worn fluorescent lighting that bathes the wall’s Spartan features in a frozen gleam—or the glimmering metallic surface of the table bolted to the floor—that reminds the psychologist of early morning frost crunching beneath his boots, that carries the jagged-pinprick feel of snow slicing into his face.
Like before, this is a place with too much information packed into too small a space. It makes it unnecessarily difficult to follow for the reader, and really, the description here is not particularly important for the reader, either. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say this is a bit overdramatized, because by the end of the story, Kolbe has done nothing more to play on this apparent fear that Cearmada holds, except for perhaps tearing up a piece of paper, but that's a bit... insignificant, compared to his past actions.

It's good that you're trying to provide a detailed picture for the reader, but be wary of the needlessly lengthy sentences; if you take too long to finish a sentence, then the reader may get lost in trying to follow each new piece of description that you provide. Think of each descriptive sentence as a single thought; if one thought includes a large amount of information, then that thought will be much more difficult to understand. It may be better to break the thought up into two. Of course, I'm not telling you to use really short sentences all the time, because that would only make your text choppier and would thusly stifle the flow in a completely different way. Instead, you need to strike that delicate balance with your sentences, your thoughts, and exercise your own judgment as a writer in order to determine when you're beginning to ramble and when you could use a little more detail. As you might imagine, this is very difficult to do, but it'll come to you as you gain experience. For the most part, you're doing very well right now; there are just a few kinks to work out.

Atmosphere: You provide a very dank and sullen environment for the reader, which fits quite appropriately with the subject matter. From the dingy cell of Kolbe's prison to the desperation-soaked air amidst the flashback battle, you provide a fitting level of apprehension, which helps build suspense for the ending. I consider this to be quite well done.

Symbolism: It seems like you did make quite an effort to include symbols in your story. Some of the things you described, like the grotesque chamber where Kolbe is kept or the picturesque alleyway where we see Kolbe's flashbacks, could stand to serve as representations that tie into some of your themes. The "once-white walls" in Kolbe's holding cell are reminiscent of the whole notion of "the past against the present" that comprises much of your story. The alleyway could be representative of Kolbe's psyche - or that of the world around him - in that it embodies the concept of "knowledge" and "experience." For the most part, I thought this added a nice bit of depth to your description, so good job.
Clarity: There was one big section that was rather confusing; it was only upon a second read that I was able to fully understand what you were saying here. And this is particularly important, because this is where you reveal what Kolbe's true intentions were.
Originally Posted by Scourge of Nemo View Post
“And she was there, just waiting, stari—looking up at me, tilting her head so… so… sweetly, innocently, like she didn’t see it coming—” and his voice breaks again, jagged with pain “and I needed her and I couldn’t—couldn’t wait, not any longer. So I—so I grab… pull… took a Pokéball from my pocket and I threw it at her.”

The girl with the hair blue as a Shinx’s pelt enters the alleyway, her companions at her side. She glances around and forms a childish pout—it appears as if she is searching for a person who has neglected to be present. With a bare-footed kick at the ground, she flops onto a box… and waits.

Fingers pick at each other as the teeth bite into the lip. He bleeds. “And she got out and then—then the mongrel, the human child that always commands her attention, turned and she was scared, so, so scared and made her attack me and all I could do was defend myself and I called Tesla out, and—and—” The words flow in anguished streams of garble, pouring from his mouth with the blood.

Before the girl even realizes it, everything has gone wrong. Her Pichu is cowering behind a box and her Shinx is struggling against a Pokéball as a man advances toward them.
There are a few different reasons why this was so difficult for me to follow. The first is, well, the obvious one: you intended for this to have a double meaning. Much of the time when Kolbe says "she" or "her" throughout the story, he is referring to Shinx, not the little girl. When Kolbe says here that he "threw a Pokeball" at "her," the reader originally believes that the "her" he is referring to is still the little girl, and that leads to some confusion, at first. Which is fine, in and of itself; it's clearly your intention here to make the reader stop and question what's going on, but when you combine this intended confusion with the confusion that I think you did not intend, you have yourself one seriously discombobulating mass of text. I'm referring to two other sources of confusion, actually, which are: the way you swap in and out of the flashback very quickly during critical moments, and how the pace of the story is suddenly much faster than it was before.

The swapping is, for most of the story, fine; it's only in this particular section that is a bit too jarring, I think. You might argue that this jarring feel is meant to play off of the also-distressed mind of Kolbe at the moment, but even then, I would argue that you took it a little too far. Kolbe is hard enough to follow on his own, with his stuttering, rambling words. And if you account for the fact that up to this point, the story had so far progressed rather slowly, this sudden leap forward only serves to compound the matter even further.

Instead, I think it'd be more prudent to go for a single moment where everything suddenly becomes clear to the reader, rather than having this "slow realization" like I mentioned in the Plot section. You could have Kolbe in the flashback, closing in on the Shinx, which we still think is the human girl, and then abruptly, you describe Shinx in full, and we see that this figure is not that of a human being... Or, still another option would be to - within the flashback - describe the object of his affection, when suddenly the "human mongrel" shows up at the edge of his vision. Again, just some examples.

Diction: You used a nice range of different words, which added a bit of flair to your description in some places, as well. I'll just point out one thing I saw, which happened to be in one of the quotes I previously used:
Originally Posted by Scourge of Nemo View Post
It is not even the worn fluorescent lighting that bathes the wall’s Spartan features in a frozen gleam...
"Spartan" probably shouldn't be capitalized, unless you really mean to refer to that wall as "having features related to Sparta," which would be kinda weird.
Outcome: Normally, this story would probably pass with relative ease, but since this is an Advanced Grade, and I warned you that I'd be very harsh, I'm only going to award you a partial capture. Two of the four Pokemon captured.


Last edited by Galleon; 05-29-2009 at 12:50 PM. Reason: Yarharhar... stupid 20K character post-limit...
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