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Old February 2nd, 2012 (4:37 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
    Join Date: Mar 2010
    Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
    Age: 23
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    The dead are walking? In the Pokémon world? Oh, surely I must review this; I've done something similar (although completely insane and in a different medium) myself.

    Now, this story has the traditional horror set-up: nice, tranquil calm beginning, which is brutally shattered by the unexpected arrival of the aggressor. With the title, it's a traditional piece of the dramatic irony typical of the Gothic, and I wouldn't have expected the story to start any other way. It tells me so much about the piece right off the bat - I know immediately what to expect from the first chapter and look forward to it, because since this is a Pokémon-themed zombie apocalypse, it'll have something more than the expected, a subversion or clever alteration of the norm for the genre.

    Right. That's the pseudo-literary bit out of the way. Time to get down to the important stuff. Firstly, I think your introduction needed to last longer. I've already said that I know what opening you're going for - the traditional calm-is-shattered-by-zombies/dragon/natural disaster/aliens scenario - but in order for that to be more effective, I would make it longer. We don't get enough time to get comfortable with Leo and Jay before they're suddenly plunged into the action. For the sake of example, let's take the two great Gothic novels: Frankenstein and Dracula. In the former, we have the same opening you have here: some letters, which set up the idea that something terrible has happened to our protagonist, then the boring, neat, orderly life of Victor Frankenstein - which is abruptly shattered by his feverish obsession with giving life to a man. (I always wondered why he didn't start with something smaller, like a mouse, but I suppose he wouldn't be a mad scientist if he didn't have ambition.) Anyway, the point of this is that that description of his life goes on long enough that we become very familiar with it and with Frankenstein himself. This has three effects:

    1. We know Frankenstein. We actually care when something bad happens.
    2. We're quite tense. We know there's a monster coming, and we know things are going to get scary - but not yet.
    3. We begin to realise how much the general writing style has evolved since 1816.

    Dracula does the same: Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, comes to the castle of the Transylvanian noble Count Dracula, and as the tension mounts, the reader is presented with a series of interminably boring letters, after which the Count climbs headfirst down the castle walls and runs off into the night.

    Er, I think I'm rambling, but my point is: there needs to be more of the calm, to establish your characters and their world, before you come to the sudden zombie attack.

    Point the second: your choice of words is sometimes a little underwhelming. Take this:

    She grasped his left elbow, quickly bringing her mouth to his flesh.
    All right, we know what's going on. But 'grasp' and 'quickly' don't really convey the speed or ferocity of what's happening; 'grasp' is such a weak word when compared to something like 'grab' or 'snatch'. I might grasp a door handle; if I were eating someone alive, I'd probably grab them. It's not that these sentences are wrong, it's just that you could make them better; in general, you write well, and it'd be great to see you make the most of that, with more powerful, engaging words.

    At times, you also seem to make rather little sense:

    A disturbing, uncannily human scream burst from her mouth as blood gushed out of the new wound and covered my face in thick warmth. Her skull broke much easier than I'd anticipated, and she fell face-first to the floor without another sound.
    I really don't know why anyone would think the scream was 'uncannily human'. It is human. This is a human being, however dead/mutated/diseased (delete as appropriate) she might be. Some explanation (later, of course; Jay doesn't know now) might be necessary to tell us why the skull, a rather strong bone, would break so easily when hit by someone who you've already told us isn't very strong. It just doesn't make that much sense to me.

    On occasion, you also tend to word your phrases rather oddly, so that they come out a bit wooden. They don't sound like something anyone would actually say or write - and that's a problem, since you're writing in the first person. They need to be believably from Jay. Let's take an example:

    Breathing heavily, I stood watching the flames engulf the body for a long while. Dark, extremely thick blood dripped slowly from the end of the Staravia's beak, forming a small red puddle just below it. All at once I felt an overwhelming urge to vomit, and I gasped briefly before collapsing to my knees and throwing up whatever I'd eaten earlier that day. The weather vane made a loud clinking noise as it dropped to the ground and rolled away from me. I coughed a few times, feeling disgusting.
    Does anyone stand watching flames engulf things? Wouldn't it be more natural to say that he watched the body burn? I would have thought that the body would be the greatest focus of Jay's attention and therefore the subject of the sentence, seeing as how he just killed it. Another oddly-focused sentence is where the weather vane falls to the floor. It would read better if you rearranged it so that it went like this:

    The weather vane fell from my hand, making a loud clinking noise, and rolled away from me.
    The sentence reads better and flows more nicely if the emphasis is laid on the fact that the weather vane fell from Jay's hand, rather than it making a clinking noise. Remember, you're writing in the first person: things that affect Jay are the most important, and things that happen should be written as he perceives them. What would he notice, the weather vane slipping out of his hand or making a noise? In all likelihood, he wouldn't even notice dropping it in his current state of mind. He's pretty freaked out. He's just killed a woman, and even if she was a zombie he's still going to feel like he just killed a woman. 'I coughed, feeling disgusting' doesn't even begin to cover what it feels like to end a human life; Jay is probably in a personal Hell at that moment.

    I also don't think that the 'whatever I'd eaten earlier that day' is necessary; it makes the sentence too long, where it should end punchily with Jay throwing up. You might disagree, of course; I'll admit that this is partly down to personal taste.

    Those are just a few examples of clumsily-worded or oddly-constructed sentences; there are a few more throughout the story, but I took that paragraph as an example because it's probably the most extreme instance of it. I wouldn't worry too much about it - writing first-person for a character who's just killed for the first time is incredibly difficult.

    Finally, because this review is getting far too long, I'd like to point out that the ending of this chapter was really kind of weak.

    We heard another distant scream, and I gulped- all at once feeling like I'd lost something extremely important to me.
    That doesn't feel to me like the end of a chapter. There's no sense that we've come to an end here; it's not a good moment to stop at. I would either stop with some sort of cliffhanger (a method much beloved of Ian McEwan, it seems, who appears to end every single one of his chapters on one) or, as is more common and more generally useful, with something that brings a sense of closure to the chapter, while (optionally) hinting at things yet to come. I've made it sound really complicated, but it's not. Basically, all I'm saying is that you need to end a chapter on a stronger note than what you did end on, which seemed to me to be like part of a longer thought.

    Now is the part where I look up, see I've written 1400 words of straight criticism and feel really guilty, so I'm going to change tack and point out the things I did like. I mean, you are writing a Pokémon zombie apocalypse story, which is inexpressibly awesome - and, despite whatever I might have criticised above, it is genuinely interesting and I would like to see more. Zombies are welcome pretty much anytime, and, having some experience in their combination with Pokémon, I for one will be following this story to see what future chapters bring.


    For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
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