J.G. Keely's Reviews > To Read or Not to Read

To Read or Not to Read by Vincent Hobbes
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's review
Sep 15, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: short-story, horror, reviewed, be-careful-what-you-wish-for
Recommended to J.G. Keely by: Jairus Reddy
Read on September 15, 2011

A rather simple, straightforward story with no surprises. It's very difficult to build up and maintain a sufficiently disquieting mood for a short piece of twist horror, and requires a much more precise tooling of the details of the story.

However, in this story, the dialogue is often repetitive and cut up, serving the immediate needs of keeping things moving, but not looking forward to the climax. It reminds me of the advice everyone gets in Creative Writing class about how they are supposed to 'write naturalistically' and 'listen to how real people talk'. This is really terrible, novice advice. Real speech--full of pauses and 'um's and repetitions--is painful to read, often bordering on the nonsensical.

Speech which seems to read naturally is actually highly contrived, using breaks and repetitions sparingly, since they will always stand out to a reader, much more than they would if spoken aloud. It is important to tailor the specific cadence and use of speech to give personality to the characters, but not to the point that the speech becomes conspicuous or distracting. It's difficult to cut up speech without losing the flow of the story.

Instead of the mood being developed through incongruities between the characters, descriptions of scenes, or unexpected quirks, we tend to just be told how the characters feel, even if it isn't always clear why. If the reader isn't able to share the view of one or another character, it will be difficult for them to eschew disbelief in the face of a reaction which seems inexplicable.

A particular difficulty in horror is writing a skeptical, wary character when it is very clear to the reader that something unnatural is going on, especially if it is clear to the reader exactly what that thing is. Unless the character's disbelief is delivered in an idiomatic way which reveals something about the character, it will just end up sounding repetitive and will not ring true.

Even if it makes sense for the character not believe, it can still be annoying to depict them as resistant, because we, as genre savvy readers, already know what is going to happen, so such delays just end up feeling like the story is stalling out for no good reason.

Likewise, reminding the reader of the state of things through numerous clues and hints grows quickly tedious if there is no mystery left to be revealed to the audience. Sometimes, tension can be built by letting the audience know something the character does not, but only if there is some specific climax that character is inexorably moving toward. If the reader thinks they know what is going on and no other reveal has been foreshadowed, then no further tension will be created by delaying.

All in all, the story has little dynamic. The bookstore owner has no specific role, nor can we quickly identify his character. He is not menacing, nor is he mysterious, because he has no motives, nor any no apparent agenda. This means his discourse with the protagonist, who also has no particular agenda, comes off rather flat.

The conflict she has with another woman, later in the story, has a great deal of conflict, but to no end. They banter uneasily at length, but not toward any outcome or climax. The story lacks focus. It is not all building to the twist climax, and has many redundant or periphery parts which lead nowhere in particular and add nothing to the mood, meaning, or climax, especially in such a short work.

PS: one of the characters is also described as a 'circus ringleader', which is not a thing. A ringleader is the head of a gang of criminals, a ringmaster is the Master of Ceremonies in a circus.
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