Critique Group – Wait! Stop! Look!

I guess it could be worse … maybe.

Don’t forget the critiquing guidelines. All I ask is that you post a comment about the submission below. Don’t feel like you have to critique the whole piece. Even a short comment on one aspect can be helpful.If you want to submit a manuscript for critique, please read the guidelines as well as this list of common mistakes to avoid before submitting.

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Wait! Stop! Look! – by John

“Wait! Stop! Look!” cried the small man in the wrinkled suit, holding out his hands to the crowds that surged around him in the underground train station. He stood in the middle of the platform on the near side, cradling a silvery ball with both palms. It was his life’s work, his best invention, and this was the best place to run his final experiment.

“Wait!” he called to the masses descending from the surface on the escalators. “Stop!” he cried as they hurried past him into the open train doors…and also as they made their flurried escapes on arrival again. Every so often one individual would get distracted and not notice the little man until he was almost upon him. “Look!” The invitation almost always produced a fearful start, and then the quarry was gone without a backward glance.

The little man, tired, yet not defeated, stayed throughout the day. The shadows don’t change much underground, but the smells do. His forehead was covered by a dry film of perspiration, the exasperation of the day seemingly all drained out through his pores. There were a couple last inbound trains before the long pause in the night schedule. He hiked up his pants, ran his finger around the inside of his shirt collar, and turned to face the opening doors.

“Wait!” he said, somewhat hoarsely, looking down at the shining orb in his hands. In its reflection he saw the figures pass all around him, passing so quickly as to blend one into another. And then, a face appeared. The young boy’s eyes were keen with interest, but wary. The man looked up from the sphere.

“Look?” he gently offered, unfolding his palms reverently to the boy. He smiled as he raised the ball up to the lad’s eye level, releasing a weary sigh. The boy studied the device from a distance, one brow raised. “What is it?” he asked, stepping closer. He focused intensely on the sphere. And then he was gone.

Always a scientist, he mentally dictated his observation: “There is a strange character trait held in common by large metropolitan travel complexes. Namely, no one pays any attention to what’s really going on.” The crowds kept surging, the train doors closed, and the old man stood still without a single soul noting the boy’s departure.

Five minutes later, with a slight quivering of the atmosphere, the boy reappeared. His eyes shone with excitement, his lips curled upward in joy. “Thank you, sir!” he called back over his shoulder, as he skipped toward the escalators. Or rather, danced in the general direction of the exit.

As the boy went, he snatched up a discarded drink can here, a crumpled newspaper there, and other random detritus so carelessly dropped by the day’s passengers. Into the nearest trashcan they went, as he spiraled along his merry way. With that relentless energy of the schoolboy, he circled the platform a dozen or so times, popping in and out of the crowd that beat its way surface-ward. When the rush died down, the platform looked new again, not a shred of litter to be seen in the near glow of the electric lights.

A drifter in a hooded sweatshirt had been leaning against a wall. As the boy drew near, the drifter stepped back to admire the fresh graffiti he had been sheltering with his body. The boy shouted and the drifter dropped the paint pen and ran. Spinning to a stop, the boy toed the pen with his shoe. He bent and picked it up. His nose wrinkled at the strong chemical odor.

Humming a little and bouncing on one foot, the boy studied the drifter’s artwork. He raised the pen and pressed it firmly to the wall. And with the same spontaneous happiness that had cleaned the platform, the boy drew.

Wild arcs and straight lines spilled across the concrete wall. A symphony of shapes and puzzles, words and pictures sprang into being. Monochromatic, yet somehow evoking vivid color; simple, yet soul-searching. The undecipherable message sang out courageously from a cathedral of silent subway walls.

The paint ran out, and the boy ran home. The small man smiled, sublimely satisfied, and thought, One down, two to go.

———————–

Her hair was definitely the worse for wear; she ran her fingers through it as she stepped out of the train. Her professional blouse was coming untucked and her skirt showed signs of the teriyaki she’d grabbed for dinner. A fellow passenger bumped her and the purse she’d hastily fastened came open and poured a shower of personal belongings all over the platform around the small man’s feet. She muttered something and bent over to start the pickup.

The little man stood and watched her, afraid to move and risk stepping on some fragile-looking items: Contact lens case, perhaps, he thought. And maybe a makeup compact with a mirror? Teacher’s ID. Flash drive. Mechanical pencils. He stood still, growing more amazed at the quantity of stuff that had been ejected from her bag. His own experiments in space-time and matter permeability came to mind, and he grinned.

Right then, a transient woman stepped off the train, right behind the teacher. With a look of compassion, she dropped to her knees and started to help gather up the things. When the teacher noticed the transient woman, she stiffened and glanced around the platform, presumably searching for a security guard.

At that moment, her eyes caught the glint of metal in the small man’s hands. The transient woman noticed it too and tilted her head for a better look. “What is it?” she asked. Quite suddenly, both women vanished.

The inventor was puzzled. This was unexpected. He didn’t know for certain what would happen; this was a variable he hadn’t anticipated. Anyway, he thought, I better scoop this mess back into her purse. So he did.

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18 replies

  1. Wow, I love it! Sci-fi and transformation in the same story, you’ve stollen my heart. Well written. Only thing I would point out is maybe more of an indicator of the scientist’s motives. Is his long day in the subway merely scientific or more? Want to read more.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this. I definitely want to read the rest of the story. I wonder what the scientist’s motives are, or where the people go when they get sucked into the orb.

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    • Thanks, Lottie! It was about 3,000 words, so I had to cut it right before 1,000 for this critique group. I’m very new to writing, and I haven’t yet figured out when/if it’s appropriate to post “the rest of the story.” Nevertheless, your encouragement makes me want to keep writing. Thanks!

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  3. This is really interesting. I am very curious as to why all those people disappeared, and what that orb does. Great way to draw people in, I really want to know more now!

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    • I just wanted to add that I really like the part about the boy, and the painting he did (what did that orb to do him? I’m really curious).

      The line, “The undecipherable message sang out courageously from a cathedral of silent subway walls.” sounds really cool.

      It also reminds me a bit of the song ‘The Sound of Silence’, by Simon and Garfunkel.

      Keep writing, please! This is an excellent story.

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  4. This opening is filled with a lot of mystery and intrigue. Good job.

    First:
    “Wait! Stop! Look!” cried the small man in the wrinkled suit, holding out his hands to the crowds that surged around him in the underground train station.

    This is a very long speaker tag. Consider shortening it or breaking it into two sentences.

    Also, who is the point-of-view person? Who is noticing that he is a small man in a wrinkled suit? This reads like it’s from the POV of a person who is observing the man. Are you trying for omniscient POV? If it the man’s POV, I don’t think he would consider his own size or that he has on a wrinkled suit.

    If you want to use the man’s POV, consider something like this to replace the first two paragraphs. (I am guessing at a name):

    Oliver scurried down the stairs to the underground train station. He rose to tiptoes, still too low to see over the heads of the surging crowd. He ran a hand along his suit, wrinkled but good enough. From a pocket, he withdrew the silvery ball and cradled it in his hands, his life’s work, his greatest invention. Now it was time to conduct his final experiment, and this was the perfect place. After clearing his throat, he cried out, “Wait! Stop! Look!”

    Notice that this is clearly in the man’s POV, and I showed his lack of size instead of saying he is small.

    Next:
    “Wait!” he called to the masses descending from the surface on the escalators. “Stop!” he cried as they hurried past him into the open train doors…and also as they made their flurried escapes on arrival again.

    In both of these sentences, the speaker tags are again long. I suggest rewriting them by using dialogue beats instead of speaker tags. Check this post to see what I mean – http://www.theauthorschair.com/2015/09/07/dialogue-mechanics-part-two-speaker-tags/

    Next:
    Every so often one individual would get distracted and not notice the little man until he was almost upon him.

    Again this sounds like the POV of someone other than the man. He probably wouldn’t consider his size at this point. I won’t mention this issue again, but, if you are writing from the man’s POV, look for places where you refer to characteristics about the man. I would also use his name instead of “the man.”

    His forehead was covered by a dry film of perspiration, the exasperation of the day seemingly all drained out through his pores.

    This is passive voice. I would change it to – “A dry film of perspiration covered his forehead. The day’s exasperation had seemingly drained through his pores.”

    Next:
    There were a couple last inbound trains before the long pause in the night schedule.

    Insert “of” to make – “There were a couple of last inbound …”

    Next:
    In its reflection he saw the figures pass all around him, passing so quickly as to blend one into another.

    You don’t need “he saw.” Just write “In its reflection the figures passed all around, so quickly as to blend one into another.”

    Next:
    “Look?” he gently offered, unfolding his palms reverently to the boy. He smiled as he raised the ball up to the lad’s eye level, releasing a weary sigh. The boy studied the device from a distance, one brow raised. “What is it?” he asked, stepping closer. He focused intensely on the sphere. And then he was gone.

    You need to break the paragraph before the boy speaks.

    Next:
    Always a scientist, he mentally dictated his observation:

    The closest antecedent to “he” is the boy, not the man.

    Next:
    The boy shouted and the drifter dropped the paint pen and ran.

    This is a compound sentence. You need a comma after “shouted.” Also, when you use “the” before “paint pen,” readers assume they’re supposed to know about the pen, but you had not mentioned it to this point.

    You have other compound sentences that need a comma, but I leave it to you to search for them.

    Next:
    Spinning to a stop, the boy toed the pen with his shoe.

    Please check this post for participle usage (item #4) – http://www.theauthorschair.com/2015/04/10/critique-group-avoidance-list-what-to-look-for-before-you-send/

    Next:
    His nose wrinkled at the strong chemical odor.

    How does the man know that the boy reacted to a strong odor? He couldn’t smell it from a distance.

    Next:
    Monochromatic, yet somehow evoking vivid color; simple, yet soul-searching.

    This is a fragment, not a valid sentence.

    Next:
    The undecipherable message sang out courageously from a cathedral of silent subway walls.

    I think this is somewhat overdone. If it is undecipherable, how can it be courageous? And this is a cathedral? I know you’re trying to be poetic, but since the message cannot be understood, I don’t see how anyone could perceive the notions you’re trying to communicate.

    Next:
    A fellow passenger bumped her and the purse she’d hastily fastened came open and poured a shower of personal belongings all over the platform around the small man’s feet.

    This appears to be the woman’s POV, but you then mentioned “the small man” as if she is already familiar with him, when actually this is the first she has seen him.

    Next:
    The little man stood and watched her, afraid to move and risk stepping on some fragile-looking items:

    Now you have switched POV to the man.

    Next:
    Right then, a transient woman stepped off the train, right behind the teacher.

    Two close-together uses of “right.”

    Next:
    With a look of compassion, she dropped to her knees and started to help gather up the things.

    You don’t need “up.”

    Next:
    The inventor was puzzled.

    Can you show his puzzlement instead of telling it? Also watch for overuse of “was.”

    Keep up the good work!

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    • Thank you for the detailed critique. You have given me a list of specific action items to improve this story. I am chagrined to have missed something listed on the posting guidelines. I’ll do a more thorough self-review before I submit the next one!

      My POV will definitely get a lot better with dialogue beats! (Thanks for the link to that post, too.)

      Now that you mention them, I find some of these gaffes quite humorous. You’re right! I broke POV and had the old man smell the pen from a distance. Some readers might infer (incorrectly) that the guy had a super-powered nose! Doh!

      And…you nailed it. I come from a poetry background, where sentence fragments and symbolism (like “cathedral”) are common. But this is prose…so, should I avoid all poetic techniques?

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      • Poetic style can greatly enhance any manuscript. You just have to make sure it fits in the piece.

        For example, Paul Simon could get away with it in “The Sound of Silence” because the entire piece is poetic, filled with contrasts and contradictions.

        Yet, in your piece, you have traditional prose that suddenly breaks into poetic narrative and then reverts to traditional again. The poetic portion contains logical contradictions that don’t match the rest of the narrative.

        If you have a character who sometimes waxes poetic, then it’s not such an oddity to have him say something poetic. Or he might have a rest period in which his thoughts drift into poetic musings.

        But a sudden shift in narrative is different. It is a jarring bump in the road.

        In my own stories you will see that I often separate my poetic verses in an actual poem, which allows me more freedom to release my desire for poetic style.

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  5. I enjoyed this submission. Like the others above it did raise questions. I hope you continue to build on this. I beleive you have a really good start.

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  6. This raises a lot of questions, which keep me reading, but it leaves me wondering who the main character of the story will be. (If this is the prologue, I’d be fine with it, but if it’s the first chapter, I’m somewhat confused.)
    I’m not seeing many writing errors.

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    • Yeah, sorry about that. Bryan Davis has pointed out a lot of POV problems I should fix. The POV character is “the little man”…who probably needs a name.

      This is actually the first third of a short story. Thanks for the critique. 🙂

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  7. I don’t think I’ll submit the conclusion to the critique group, because Part 1 taught me that the whole story still needs a whole lot of work. But…if you’re curious, here’s Part 2:

    https://twostarshipgarage.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/wait-stop-look-part-2/

    I appreciate any feedback you have (on both the story and on the site). I’m very new at all this.

    Thanks!
    John

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