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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Critting THE SERENDIPITY LABS: internal consistency builds reader trust

The author of Operation Daffodil bravely submits a second story...

Chapter 1

Natalie could hear them moving around her. The soft padding of shoed feet. The clean squeaking of the cart and the delicate tinkle of glassware. She could smell the antiseptics and the perfume on the nurse’s wrist as the woman misted something from a spray bottle onto her face. Peaches and vanilla. >>is that what was in the spray bottle, or the nurse's perfume?

“This might sting, sweet.”

It doesn’t, Natalie wanted to reply, but she found that she couldn’t move her mouth. >>What did the nurse do that didn't sting? Did she mean the spray? why would something for your face (and eyes) sting?

A doctor—she guessed he was a doctor from the way he spoke to her in a calmness that only a professional would have mustered—came in a little later. He leaned in over the bed, ID tags around his neck falling onto the blanket over her stomach, and hooked a animuscope to Natalie’s scalp. The rubber suction cup burped close to her ear. She imagined that it must have been cold against her skin.


Half her hair had been shaved off. Natalie realized with the same numbness that encased her from the neck up, possibly because it was a realization that didn’t quite translate in her mind. >>if she can't feel cold, how would she know she's been shaved?

“Ms. Laenus, do you remember what happened?”

What happened…what happened…

It was dark, for one. And wet. Dark and wet—yes, she had been in the dungeons. And then…

“Good girl. You were in the dungeons. And?”

A flash of white, not the color but the sensation. White, blinding, blinding white for pain.

An unrecognizable feeling, a heaviness, settled in her stomach, bunched in her throat. She ignored it at first until it became harder to breathe.

“There, child,” said the doctor. “Don’t be afraid. Relax.”

What am I experiencing? What am I…

“There now. Relax. Just go to sleep. Things will be better in the morning.”

Tell me what happened—

With a hiss, the suction cup was removed from her skin. With the same softness in step as he had when he entered, the doctor left.

The heaviness squeezed at Natalie’s throat, ever-present until she at last drifted from one black world to another.


Where are the parents?

Her pain had been white, tender and white like corneas and soft-cooked eggs.

With the social worker on the third floor. 

Everything about the man had been unyielding, from the structure of his jaw to the set of his shoulders. And yet, he had been broken, as prisoners often were.

Did they have a breakdown?

He had asked for a tin of water.

Of course they did. Hydrochloric acid. Strong stuff. Burned half her face off. 

She had fetched it.

They say that the father works as the prison keeper, that an inmate did this to her. Is it true?

But before she could push it past the bars, it fell out of her hand.

I wouldn’t be worried about that. It’s none of our business. >>this is pretty good as expository dialogue goes, but it always rings false in my ear. It smacks of TV dramas where the writers don't trust the audience to think for themselves. This would actually be a more intriguing, and realistic, conversation if you told us less. Plus, now that you've told me she's lost half her face, the rest of her implied injuries don't fit in.

The tin hit the cobbled ground with first a clatter, then a splash.

Poor child. She must be so afraid. 

And then the white.

She is not feeling any pain. We’ve cauterized what remains of the epidermal nerve endings. 

I know. But still. To wake up alone, in the dark…

Oh well. We did the best we could. I say, I’m a little rusty. People only ever die now. Neat endings, not this. >>this line is much better, it makes me curious.

And the water had trickled, dark and thick through the valleys of the cobblestones as the white engulfed her.

The people in her dream and their voices shuffled away. >>we know they're not a dream, don't try to pass them off as that.

Wait, thought Natalie, I remember. But without the animuscope, she was mute, and they left anyway.


The doctor returned the next day and went through the same procedure of leaning over her bed and hooking the suction cup to her scalp. This time, Natalie thought she could feel a little bit of the cold plastic.

“Talk to me, Ms. Laenus. Just think what you have to say.”

Is this really it? Will I never get better?

“You will acclimate with time.”

Can you…can you show me? Can you take my hands…



He took her hands as if they would break and lifted them to her face. Gingerly, Natalie touched. >>she hasn't done this already, on her own? why not?

Pocked. Wrinkled. Uneven. Hard and crusty where it had seared. What was left of her skin was coated in a sticky gel substance that coated her fingers, confirming the reality of it all.

An overwhelming weight that washed over Natalie, trickling between her toes, her fingers, and sucking the warmth out of her. She pressed her hands into the soft bandages around her mouth until her flesh burned, closing her eyes though it did not make a difference. She didn’t want the doctor to see the wetness welling from the bottom lids.

The whispering people in her dream had not mentioned one thing outright, and it so happened that the one unspoken thing screamed the loudest.

So it was true. She would never see again. >>how does she know that?  



Restrain him! Damn you, just restrain the kid. He’s going into shock.

Let me see my sister! Let go of me!

Tarq…I’m right here. Come see me.


Someone was opening the door to the room.

Father? Mother?

Silently, the person approached. It was neither her father, who walked with a slight limp due to one leg being longer than the other, nor her mother, who liked to rub her dry hands together, nor any of the hospital personnel, who weren’t truly silent. >>Given that she only has hearing left, if the stranger truly was silent she wouldn't know he was approaching. Unless there's something else giving him away...

“Are you scared?” asked the person when he was three yards or so from the bed. His smooth and civil voice belong to someone between the ages of a boy and a man.

As if he could hear her thoughts without the animuscope, the bandages around her mouth came off. A soft rustle; he had set them aside on the bed stand.

Natalie had assumed that her lips would be in the same state as the rest of her face, but they felt normal enough as she formed the word: “No.” >>if she can talk, why were they using a gadget to question her?

“You aren’t lying.” A statement—mildly surprised but not a question. “Are you angry?”


“He attacked you,” he pointed out.

“I-I’m not angry.”

“Then what are you, Ms. Laenus?”

The heaviness returned, this time to her stomach, growing like a mold. It bubbled up and expanded, pressing against her diaphragm. For the second time, Natalie tried to place it. Was this fear? Was it anger?

Her next words came out funny, as if she couldn’t pump enough air into them. “What is this…this feeling?”

He knew without her elaborating. He knew she was talking about the weight in her stomach. Natalie knew he would. >>POV shift toward omniscient. You've been in a tight third person limited, so far; there's no way she could know this.

“Dread.” A heavy syllable to match the feeling.

“I didn’t know.”

“You wouldn’t have,” he said curtly. “It’s your first time experiencing it.” In a softer voice, he continued, “What is it that you want, Ms. Laenus?”



“I don’t know. I wish…I wish I could…”

“You wish you could see again?” From across the room he appeared by her bed. He moved  incredibly fast. >>wasn't he already by the bed? or is this a second man?

“You’re not from the hospital.”

He chose not to reply, instead touching his fingers to her forehead. They were cool. >>POV slip again

“You’re not from the hospital,” she repeated, and then whispered, “Who are you? How do you know my name.”

“This was a mistake. A technical failure. This was never meant to happen.”


“Do not question.” He put a slender finger on her lips with the pressure of a secret. “Think nothing of it. Tell no one of this. It’d be better if you forgot.” >>this is kinda blatant drama-mongering... can you be more subtle? Does saying things like this really fit in with his objectives in seeing her right now? 

IMO, this is much more organized and clear than Daffodil was. Better voice. Solid style, despite the few POV slips. (not to say that Daffodil was bad, of course -- it has the potential to be a lot of fun -- it just needs more work.)

Most of my crits are linked to internal consistency, as you can see. I'm a stickler for covering all the bases; it's one way that you project confidence as a writer and earn the reader's trust. I've thought of everything and I can explain, so trust me. 

I hope this helps. Keep writing!


Charity Bradford said...

:D L is right on again. Isn't she amazing.

I loved this piece and would definitely keep reading to find out what it is she dreads, what really happened and who this man is. The mystery is what I like, needing to solve the questions of what this world is she's living in. That's why I agree with the less is more idea that L brought up in the middle-ish section.

Patchi said...

I like this piece, the mystery would keep me reading. I agree with L. that you need to say less in some places. After you make it clear she is in a dark world, everything is sound and voices. But the memories in her head would have images associated with them, and you could even make them feel more real than real life if you want her to doubt reality.

mshatch said...

L's crit is spot on I have to say but I agree with Charity and Patchi that regardless, I was interested in the mystery of what was going on.