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Improve & Encourage #13: The Tollbooth Operator

Renee Stevens


Hello all, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday!  It's hard to believe that the year is nearly over, and it's been such an exciting year. For today's blog, we're going to start wrapping up one of our previous blog features. The Improve & Encourage feature was a fun one to do, but it's time to move on to a new feature. With that in mind, I'm working on getting the final few Improve & Encourage posts and it will be complete in the near future. Today, to help get us started, we have a critique by @aditus of The Tollbooth Operator by @Timothy M.. Enjoy!


The Tollbooth Operator

Timothy M


Critique by: aditus


Please give us a short summary of the story you chose.


Frankie lived all his life in a gated community. Like his father, he works as their tollbooth operator and lives in a tiny cottage attached to the booth. Residents and colleagues like him for his work ethic, friendliness, and helpfulness, even though some might think him slightly odd. Every day he unwavering follows a strict set of routines. One of those routines proves to be very helpful in a criminal investigation; as a result, Frankie has to step out of his comfort zone and leave his home for the first time.


What do you see as the strengths of the story/poem?


The Tollbooth Operator originated from Cia’s newsletter Grid & Dice game. Timothy M. had to write a flash fiction piece from: A neurotic tollbooth operator hides in an inner city one-star no-tell motel because: "Fuck, they saw me!"


When I read this combination it made me grin at first, then I was tremendously glad I didn’t get this particular challenge. I found it difficult to think of any ideas for this prompt. Timothy however, obviously didn’t have a problem with the task, or so it seems after having read the story.


Usually we learn about a character by observing them while the story unfolds —not this time. We get to listen in as Frankie recaps why he has to hide from criminals and how he feels about it. I loved this. It’s a sneaky way to show us how uniquely his mind works and what an extraordinary and strong person he is. Timothy developed an engaging tale around him and gave it a nice twist by cleverly using Frankie’s quirks. On top of that, he somehow managed to include the one-star no-tell motel because “Fuck, they saw me!” without it being awkward or forced. Unbelievable!


What do you see as the weaknesses of the story/poem?


Obviously Frankie is not your run of the mill character. There are only hints at what makes him special. I liked this, but I found the just hinting a little overdone. A small piece here, a description there, emphasizing certain quirks, detailing unusual needs and routines.... At some point, I was  thinking ‘Okay, I I got it.’ But this is admittedly just nitpicking.


How do you think the story/poem could be improved?


That’s easy, with writing an end that doesn’t feel as if the author ran out of time! Or at least by adding a part two.


‘I was hoping this open-ended finish would leave you in a state of mind similar to Frankie's, so you'd feel the uncertainty and what now?’


Sorry, that didn’t work .Well, not with me. I’m greedy. I want an ending for this unusual, quirky story written by the author himself and not cobbled together by my inadequate brain. Pretty, please? You can do this so much better than me, Tim!


What was your favorite part? (scene/sentence/etc)


I loved how Frankie handled the reporters. It showed that he isn’t a push-over. It was an important realization for my understanding of him.


And then there is Detective Kasumaki. Let’s whisper his name together with Frankie and hope the author finds it in himself to write a little something more.


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15 minutes ago, Timothy M. said:

Aaaw, thanks, Adi, what a lovely julegave. :heart:  :hug:  Luckily the suggestions for improvement are those things I also think could be better, including writing a sequel. I'm hoping to return to Frankie one day and get him out of that one-star motel.

Yay! Sequel :D  

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Just now, Timothy M. said:


Eventually. I'm off writing at  the moment. :( 

Sorry to hear that.  I look forward to reading it when you're back to writing. :hug: 

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2 hours ago, Timothy M. said:


Eventually. I'm off writing at  the moment. :( 

I'm sorry to hear this. Anyway. Expect me to bug you. I'm still waiting for the piece you started a few weeks/months ago. It was good.

If I can help, writing a thing with me just for you, just tell me. Or I'll wait patiently (haha) 

Edited by aditus
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Thanks for prodding Aditus, @Renee Stevens - It was so long ago, I thought my turn had slipped by both of you, which would have been OK. But I'm happy Frankie had a quick spell in the spotlight. 

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On 12/26/2018 at 11:09 AM, Timothy M. said:


Eventually. I'm off writing at  the moment. :( 


I know how that feels...

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