Creative Writing Workshop

I have a story I’d like comments on, but it’s a bit too long for a message, so I’ll post a link.

I wrote this close to three years ago for my advance writing class. My professor had insulted us the week before by telling us “beginning writers should only use the third person POV.” (beginning writers? I’d been writing more than 10 years! So what if I was only 21?) So, being ever the defiant one, I handed this in, and, to my shock, it was one of the only stories that semester that he praised(despite a handful of what I consider “artful use of coma splices”) Here is Answering Machine Messages for your, I hope, enjoyment.

Ok, this is a monolauge for a weekly theater thing that happens weekly here at the ol’ U of I. To give you an idea of some of the pieces performed, last week 2 guys juggled naked fire naked and 2 other guys followed up on a weekly “poop in your mouth” skit. Despite all that, I’m nervous about doing something I wrote unless someone says it’s pretty good. Getting boo-ed off that stage would be pretty embarrasing. So, here it is, don’t be kind. :slight_smile:

Ok, on preview, it’s waaaaay fargin longer than I expected.

If ya wanna read the rest, go here: My Story

If anyone knows a real good Egyptian woman’s name that I can use, tell me. :smiley:

I’m revising my entry as we speak. I had it posted at a blog I built for my short stories. Thanks everyone who contributed; the story’s coming along great!

Is there any MB out there that’s like this thread? This is something that could be really useful.

Screwed up my signature. Here’s the blog address:

This really doesn’t qualify at the moment, but I do have an art feedback forum on my boards. See, I was a creative writing major too, and made a few friends in my classes. Unfortunately, my closest friends (two in particular are wicked writers when they’re “on”) are lacking computers and/or Internet access at the moment. Well, FWIW.

Yue Han, I like the story, but why does he end up making up with the girlfriend? She seemed like a scary bitch type to me. Maybe you could expound upon that somehow, perhaps getting some is more important to this guy than his friend. :slight_smile:

Hmmm. I think I’m just suffering from Overly Sympathetic Author’s Disease. I like my characters-all of them-and want to redeem them. The problem is that the narrator is being unfair to his girlfriend, and since he’s the narrator it seems like she’s a bitch. But I’m not sure I can convey that without breaking voice. Maybe they should break up. It will be too bad for them, but, such is life. People break up when they shouldn’t. I’ll try and fiddle around a new version of the conclusion.

Thanks for the feedback, folks!


Little Bird, I liked your story. I tried to imagine you reciting it rather than just reading it, and it seems like it could be really funny (hopefully that’s what you’re going for… funny but with a hint of seriousness). I think everyone will be able to relate; I was in a long distance relationship and it sucked, just like you said.

Having said that, I did feel like it wrapped up a little too quickly. What’s your message? Do you want people to avoid LD relationships altogether? Or just be careful if they do find themselves in one? The LD aspect of the relationship I was in ended in a good way when I actually moved to be with her. And we’ve been living happily together for two years now.

I guess what I’m asking is, what do you hope to achieve with this monologue?

[sub]P.S. I promise I really did like it, I just want to hear your thoughts and motivations…[/sub]

About this story of mine.

It was written fairly last minute, probably the night before it was due, knowing me. I don’t think too highly of this story, but my professor at the time, himself an author of some small fame, really liked it and suggested I right more short stories about the same character! :confused:

Well, tell me what you think. And, as usual, no need to be nice.


An intriguing start. I agree that you’re having a little trouble with narrator and tone. You need to remember that when writing in the third person your narrator is a character as well.

I thought the way you described things was a little repetitive and ordinary, though I liked the foggy eyes, and the dragging legs of Mouse. Both those descriptions convey his age, and give the feel of age much better than you say he was old.

I think it’s a problem that’s easily addressed though. I’d suggest picking a character (from movies or literature, or even somebody you know who’s coloful and appropriate,) and write it as you would imagine that character narrating it.

For your piece I almost picture a Vincent Price kind of narrator with lots of rolling consonants and baleful descriptions.

I’d also say that your piece lacks a scene up until the boy sees the old lady. You could make it a lot more vivid and flow easier if you relayed all this information in a scene rather than simply telling us.

You could do it with a scene of the boy walking through the rain in his three piece suit, plucking rocks from the crumbling sea wall and throwing them angrily into the sea which had taken his parents from him as he waited Mouse, who limped along with dragging legs and old foggy eyes.

I wouldn’t write that but you get the idea.

I think another good idea for this thread is that if you submit something, it would be a good idea to try and critique somebody else’s piece. That way we get lots of feedback.




I like the use of second person present tense here. It’s a risky choice but you pulled it off. Since we’re dealing with death, the second person forces the reader to confront the events directly, and the present tense creates the idea of ‘real time’ dragging us head long into events we want to run away from.

Because it’s ‘actually happening’, the narrative works best in specifics. When you say, “You’ll nod in stupid agreement when asked if he looks well preserved.” it might work better as an actual event in the story, like you did with “Someone whispers about how long you’ve been standing there, but you don’t have the energy to give a damn.”

The initial description of the funeral home is absolutely fabulous. You’ve captured all the impressions and fit them together well; anyone who been to a funeral home can feel the ‘rightness’ of the description.

"Next you carry your bag up to your old room, and set it on your bed oh so carefully, but its contents are far less likely to break than you are. "

I think this sentence could use reworking. I don’t think it works to tell the reader what they think so blatently. The fragments were a much more elegant way of doing that, and since that part is in the same paragraph, it really makes this look clumsy.

The title is really good; it’s one of the things that keeps a story about a funeral from being maudlin. Even though they’re only small events, the messages bookend the story nicely and don’t seem too trivial to be the title.

All in all, a good story. It wouldn’t seem out of place in a book of short stories, IMHO


I think this is a strong opening, kingpengvin that may be further sharpened by some good editing. Nothing drastic, just reworking sentences to make the narration tighter, more focused, to present a voice that is as hard as the character.
The revelation of a twisted faith is always compelling, and has particular resonance today, given recent historical events. Your main figure is clearly a tortured soul, full of wrath and self-pity. I would encourage you to take a great deal of care to let his agony come forth in as stark and clear a presentation as possible. Too many words, or loose narrative can soften the image. To illustrate, I include two excerpts with some suggested changes:some cuts, and changed text in bold.

I’ll be back.


Thanks for the advice, Scylla. Here’s what I think is my problem: James is childlike. Not mentally handicapped, but like an intelligent ten-year old. His body is an adult body- but I guess I was trying to get his thought process into the description- hence the repetition and limited vocabulary. I thought this might make it confusing and apparently it has- but I want to convey that in the third person somehow and it isn’t working. I like your suggestion of imagining the narrator as an extant person- I will give it a whirl.

KKBattousai, that’s creepy as all hell. Leaves me with some questions, but I like that. Eloquent and descriptive and unique. If I made one change- it would be this: The first paragraph doesn’t do much for you. It’s nice, but I’d like to cut right to the tea, or the knock at the door. This is advice that I give a lot but have trouble applying to my own writing.

Here’s my test: have someone read it. Ask them what the first thing they remember was. Start from that-no matter how important you think the earlier stuff is. Then, see how it reads.

Thanks Yondan,
I do find that my narration tends to be more open and often needs tightening. I’m not a good judge of these things and I wish I had an editor to help me with these things.

BTW This Character is the antagonist and from the opening you’d never guess where it actually goes from there.
It gets quite weird.

Scylla, it is a very good idea
I would like to also help critique, but I’m not sure how much help I’d be.

If I wanted to share something I had written, would I first need to offer my opinions on other submissions to date?

If so, I will give it my best shot.


I would just like to say that I am very surprised at the response this thread has received. I tend not to share my writings with anyone until they are finished and that can be a very long time indeed. I tend to edit, re-edit and polish until I get to the point where I say to myself, “Okay, that’s it, no more!”

Also, depending on the story, sometimes my point of view will change and this contributes to the time factor.

My compliments to the OP.