I hope you all enjoyed the last Improve & Encourage feature, because it's time for another one. These features are meant to both provide feedback to authors and, similar to story reviews, point out stories that readers might not otherwise have found. It's similar to a review, in that the person doing the critique tells you what they liked about the story, but it differs in that they also provide constructive criticism. Each author signed up to participate, and sign up's are still open! These will post once a month until we no longer have content. Once that happens, I will critique the last author that posted. If you'd like to provide a critique for the blog, sign up in the thread. I'm hoping to have a lot more authors sign up, and just remember, by signing up, you are also volunteering to have your story critiqued and featured.
Critique By: Timothy M
Please give us a short summary of the story you chose.
This is a story of strong friendships and of budding love which goes awry at times, due to insecurity, mistakes and the misplaced interference from other people. Clay, or Little Man as his best friend Eric calls him, is in college and a talented artist. He spends most of his time around straight jocks like his BFF. But one of them has more in common with Clay than he thinks, and the sparks fly from the very first, unexpected kiss. However, hiding their attraction leads to all sorts of problems and hurts, yet Mann keeps the reader hoping till the end.
What do you see as the strengths of the story/poem?
The main strength of Mann’s first story is the way he makes the characters come alive before our eyes and persuades us to like them in spite of all their faults and mistakes. The wrong decisions are logical at the time, even as we cringe to read about them. Mann’s message is loud and clear: don’t lie to your best friend and don’t deny love. I also admire the way he portrays the insecurities and fears of Little Man without once making him come across as whiny, feeble-minded or weak-willed. Clay doesn’t let his emotions rule his mind for long, even when they mess up his heart. And perhaps I should mention the sex is sizzling hot.
What do you see as the weaknesses of the story/poem?
Let me start out by saying it's bloody difficult to find any weak points in Mann's stories. That's part of the reason I chose his first GA story.
It has only one real weakness IMO, and that relates to Mann’s choice to drag the three friends, but Clay in particular, through all sorts of terrible, painful situations. At one point I felt as if he’d made a list of all the bad things which might ruin relationships (whether as friends or boyfriends). E.g. lying, cowardice, anxiety, homophobia, loneliness, physical hardship and violence, cheating, rejection and abandonment, betrayal, depression, and any other nightmare conceivable – someone had to suffer from it. I guess you could say Mann comes clean about his style of writing from the very beginning, since all his main story characters suffer.
I could accept most of the misfortunes, since they advanced the story development in a logical and believable fashion, and I’m not ‘sensitive’ or generally squeamish about violence. But, to my mind, the final incident in chapter 9 detracted from the main message and over-all contents of both the story and the chapter.
The graphic violence was barely acceptable, but the rape seemed unnecessary, illogical and over-the-top.
I wasn’t the only (shocked) reader thinking this way, so I guess my feedback isn’t very original. Mann does address the issue in his replies to comments, and by adding a chapter note warning, and I can respect his reasons. But it remains the only weak point I could find in the story, and I still hate it. (Sorry, Mann)
How do you think the story/poem could be improved?
Not surprisingly, it ties into the perceived weakness, but it’s almost impossible to go into details without a major spoiler (see above). The worst part of chapter 9 crossed a line for me, which prevents me from fully enjoying and recommending this otherwise great story. I think the epic and brilliant resolution in chapter 10 could take place without going to the previous painful extreme. If I had beta read this story, I would have advised removing the most offending ‘detail’ but keeping the rest of the graphic violence, as an acceptable compromise. It’s not as if the three guys don’t suffer enough mental anguish already from the fateful consequences of their mistakes and I think the showdown would stand out much stronger with the suggested rewrite.
What was your favorite part? (scene/sentence/etc)
My favorite parts may be the very first and the very last sentence in the story. Mann sure knows how to start and end his story with something to make us and I also loved the visit to the mall (Heidi is awesome), and the body painting in chapter 1 was a brilliant idea.