The Constructive Criticism Thread:

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Please read the rules below before posting. We're taking turns to post text, and text posted out of turn will be hollered.

The discussion over at the "Is being Troperiffic a Bad Thing?" thread got a few of us seriously talking about starting a full-fledged, free for all dedicated ConCrit thread. Thanks go to your friendly neighborhood Herald, Chihuahua0, for giving this the go-ahead smile

This is how it's going to work:
  • This thread is for helping people improve as writers. Please stay away from needlessly gushing or needlessly being mean when handing out criticism.
  • No mentioning your own work when giving out criticism. This is to prevent "Let's talk about ME" derails.
  • Feedback will be given to one person at a time. We're taking a deliberately slow pace; a person's turn to get feedback is generally supposed to last a week, but we're not ending someone's turn until they get feedback from at least five different people. On the other hand, the person getting feedback can end their own turn if they figure they're done.
  • When a turn ends, we wait 12 hours to see if anyone of the people who have just given feedback wants to be up next. If they don't, we pick the person up next from the feedback request list.
  • Yes, it's okay to point out spelling and grammar errors made by the person you're giving feedback to.
  • If you're unfamiliar with the original verse of a piece of Fan Fiction up for feedback, pretend it's a piece of original fiction and criticize accordingly.
  • If and when you step up to receive feedback:
    • Post actual writing (not world-building, concepts, layouts, character lists and so on).
    • Be specific in what you are looking for, or at least mention what is troubling you the most.
    • Fan Fiction is fine, but take into account that anyone not familiar with the source material will judge your piece "blind", essentially by the same standards as original fiction. This means you might get called out on flaws that fan fiction usually gets away with in practice, perhaps even justifiably so. Just like any other kind of criticism, consider it or ignore at at your discretion.
    • Be ready to hear some things you probably didn't want to hear. This should go without saying, but, please: No being bitter, being sarcastic, calling people out for "going too far" or otherwise expressing disapproval of the criticism given to you. If you think people are being unfair to your writing, make your case civilly.

With that said, I suppose we can begin and see whether this goes anywhere. The first person to respond with a post to the extent of "I'll go first" will go first.

edited 17th Feb '12 5:07:01 PM by TripleElation

Because everyone is busy with the end of the semester final exams, most likely.
427 Lockedbox26th Jun 2012 07:37:15 AM from Australia , Relationship Status: YOU'RE TEARING ME APART LISA
The first thing that struck me about your story, is that there is very little in the way of description. There are a few nice little patches of it here and there, mostly regarding the dinosaurs but for the most part, I have no clue what the characters look like, what their environment looks like, what they are feeling or anything or the culture, apart from the hunting tradition. If the characters didn't have recognizable African names, I would not have known that this took place in an African inspired culture or setting. Because of this, it all seems very mechanical. The story would be greatly improved if you took a moment to stop and describe every now and again, show us how the characters feel by describing the nervous sweat on their palms, or their fear as their eyes dart around the jungle surrounding them, looking for enemies and try to paint a picture of the world around them, is the jungle hot and humid? Are there plants squeezing in towards them from all sides, chocking out the sun? Or is it a more open, airy forest? Try taking a moment to step back from your characters and simply picture the setting in your mind hold it there, draw a picture if you like, and then write down every single detail you can imagine, how much light there is, how humid it is, what animals are calling, everything that comes to mind. Then you can put your characters back into the setting, and try to weave the details you wrote into story around them. Then have your characters interact with their setting as a way of furthering the description, saying that they have to push back foliage as they travel through the jungle shows that it is thick and dense and having a character swat at insects and itch at her arms shows that there are insects just as well as flat out telling us that there are insects would.

Your characters posses a nice variety of personalities, but too dumb to live is very prevalent here, and they seem completely vacant of emotion at times when they should be brimming with it.

For instance, the squabble with the triceratops is completely idiotic on the part of the characters. You give no hint that the characters are actually doing anything, and by all accounts they are standing and tantrum within eyesight of a dangerous beast which can and does attack them. This is a textbook case of too dumb to live, and it is not a trait that can be used successfully with heroines of this genre. If I were an impartial reader, I would have stopped reading at this scene, which is a very bad sign. Altering this scene to reduce the carelessness on their part would be best in terms in my humble opinion, perhaps they know the triceratops is close, but do not see it? Perhaps they had reason to believe the triceratops will not attack them, however incorrect? Adding some pragmatism to their behaviour would greatly improve this scene, allowing the audience to empathize with the characters more.

In the case of their emotions, you seem to have a problem with telling, but not showing, such as in the scene where Arai gives them a second chance.

You tell us that they have there heads hung low, indicating shame but you do not show us any further emotions. When a character speaks take time to describe their emotional state, put inflection and emotion into their voices and dialogue, are they ashamed? Can they bear to look Arai in the eye after what has happened? Do their voices waiver with emotion as they tell the bad news? Do their hearts lift when Arai gives them a second chance? Their three teammates have died, I would expect them to feel great, tangible shame or guilt from what has happened, the kind that sticks to your throat and clenches at your chest, take a moment to explore this state as the conversation happens and describe how it worsens or lightens as Arie shames them, and then offers them another chance. This will greatly enhance the scene.

One, last problem I noticed is that your characters tend to announce what their going to do before they do it. Unless this is something that your characters do at all times, I feel you should consider altering it. Having Dasua announce, “It’s my turn to leap now!” and then tell us that she did so is redundant and a little bit silly, simply describing how she attacked or having her shout some other warcry would give the scene a more serious tone and would read better. This is more than a stylistic issue than an error, but I believe it’s a cliché best avoided.

Apart from these issues, I feel that you have a very creative mind, the setting is unique and the characters have an interesting dynamic with one another grin

edited 26th Jun '12 9:28:12 AM by Lockedbox

428 SnowyFoxes5th Jul 2012 09:39:18 PM from Club Room , Relationship Status: I know
Drummer Boy
So, uh, Black Elephant hasn't been spotted on this site since June 21. Should we wait a little while longer and then move on?
The last battle's curtains will open on stage!
429 Morven5th Jul 2012 10:58:24 PM from Seattle, WA, USA
Not banned, either.
A brighter future for a darker age.
430 MrAHR6th Jul 2012 05:32:32 AM from ಠ_ಠ , Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Let's move on, and if s/he shows up, first dibs?
431 Lockedbox12th Jul 2012 06:32:47 AM from Australia , Relationship Status: YOU'RE TEARING ME APART LISA
Since no one else on the list is stepping forward, may I submit a piece for feedback?
432 SnowyFoxes12th Jul 2012 09:33:47 AM from Club Room , Relationship Status: I know
Drummer Boy
I think we should PM Kyle Jacobs first.
The last battle's curtains will open on stage!
433 KyleJacobs12th Jul 2012 11:03:23 AM from DC - Southern efficiency, Northern charm , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
Hi guys. Enjoy. Also, please note that I've already drawn the first 22 pages, and they can be viewed at the link in my signature.

edited 12th Jul '12 11:12:37 AM by KyleJacobs

This is kinda difficult to put into words since its something i read long ago, but didnt care enough to discuss it on ANY forum (I dont even know if this is the correct thread to place this)

Now that i am interested on writing, i kinda have to talk about it because i think i should learn something of it.

It was an original work that was quite short but it was about Artist/Directors and their relation with their audiences. Everytime that the artist refereed to the in-universe "audience" he talked about it like it was something impossible to comprehend, a mass of stupidity yet almost omnipotent in power if only they could just do it themselves (the way he mentioned every time, it felt like they were talking about some Lovecraftian Horror, to the point that even his expressions felt out of character compared to his more "jovial and affably" state of mind) He also mentioned that "The Audience" doesn't care about attention to detail and is (again) too stupid to give a fuck about tiny things.

The work also had POV Switch's every now and then. We, the readers or "The Audience" if you will, see everything normal, and each one of the characters that we see with their eyes sees a different color, pattern, or the world is just plain different in every way. In fact, before going into someone's POV, there was a "zoom to the face so we see the eyes only" kind off pattern that ALWAYS repeats every time we go into POV, without exception.

So, in the end comes "The Audience" and effectively, it was a Eldritch Abomination all along. However, we actually go for a POV of the monster and we see..................exactly the same as us. So that was the big twist of that short story, "The Audience" its supposed to be us, we are the omnipotent yet retarded morons who dominate every aspect of the Artist lifes and they cant do nothing about it but comply. But here is a problem that disconnected me from the story. If that thing is supposed to be us, then how is it possible that we become AWARE of this twist only by PAYING ATTENTION TO DETAIL? isn't "The Audience" supposed to be retarded to the point that it cant notice this kind of things? that makes a disconnect on the twist and falls flat on his face.

I kinda wanna know if i am the only one that feels this way (i know that its kinda difficult without reading it but i will trust you guys that my recollection is enough for a criticism)

EDIT 1: 1) I dont care about knowing where or WHAT was the name of that work, i only care about the execution of that twist

2) I believe that "The Audience" was supposed to be Azathoth, The Almigthy Moron, The Deranged Idiot and The Nuclear Chaos. So the "retard" is actually part of the name as you can see in the mythos page and most likely the most unsubtle way to refer to him in that work.

edited 21st Jul '12 4:56:34 PM by LabyrinthineMind

435 SnowyFoxes21st Jul 2012 04:12:34 PM from Club Room , Relationship Status: I know
Drummer Boy
This is not the thread for asking such questions. Go to You Know That Show. If you have a work you need critiqued, please add yourself to the waiting list.

Also, could you please not use the word "retarded" in such a way?

EDIT: Misread.

edited 21st Jul '12 4:15:13 PM by SnowyFoxes

The last battle's curtains will open on stage!
[up]1) I dont care about knowing where or WHAT was the name of that work, i only care about the execution of that twist

2) I believe that "The Audience" was supposed to be Azathoth, The Almigthy Moron, The Deranged Idiot and The Nuclear Chaos. So the "retard" is actually part of the name as you can see in the mythos page and most likely the most unsubtle way to refer to him in that work.

edited 21st Jul '12 4:55:50 PM by LabyrinthineMind

437 SnowyFoxes21st Jul 2012 04:56:00 PM from Club Room , Relationship Status: I know
Drummer Boy
This isn't the thread for that, either. Maybe use the appropriate Media subforum.

And was I supposed to know that?
The last battle's curtains will open on stage!
Well, yeah, because i say it before that it was a long ass time ago, so most likely that i would never find it.

Besides, with twist like that its just a matter of time before someone point its name (if it is really THAT memorable, that is)

BRB, posting somewhere else.
439 nrjxll21st Jul 2012 05:09:08 PM , Relationship Status: Not war
This thread has a very specific purpose; general media critique isn't it.
[up]Well then, where should i post that? keep in mind that i only want an opinion on that rather than looking for the work (it was an online short story, may as well be a Jorge Luis Borges work that one can see online for how short it was)
441 nrjxll21st Jul 2012 05:20:53 PM , Relationship Status: Not war
Like Snowy Foxes said, try one of the media subforums, probably Literature.
442 KyleJacobs26th Jul 2012 09:01:56 PM from DC - Southern efficiency, Northern charm , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
And I got all excited when I saw new posts here...

Speaking of which, does anyone have thoughts yet, or are you still reading?
443 TeChameleon27th Jul 2012 12:04:30 AM from Alberta, Canada , Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
Irritable Reptilian
Wellp, I stuck my name on the end of the list; seeing as how I'm still sitting here, I'll throw some criticism out on Remus for you, Kyle.

I'll start off with the obvious; the airliner flying into the White House on page one. While I readily understand the desire for striking symbolism, that's... ridiculous, honestly. Anything that deviated that far off its flight plan in D.C. airspace is going to be blown into its component atoms by a squadron of F-22s out of Andrews long before it could take out anything important. And that's assuming that there aren't any other anti-air defenses in place, which strikes me as unlikely.

Otherwise, overall... well, up until page 37, it's not bad. Well, aside from some bits that my brain just filters as "Americanism, Americanism, Americanism, ah, plot moving again, here we go...", but that's probably more a fault of me as a reviewer than of your story. I will say, though, that you seem to be in danger of falling into the most seductive trap of decompressed storytelling; letting the desire to show details determine the pacing, rather than the needs of the story. I like that you've taken the time to establish a mood. Just be cautious with it- there will be times where you'll want to pick up the pace a little.

As to the art... hmm. It's a bit schizoid, honestly. The composition isn't bad at all... in fact, it's rather good. Mood and pacing aren't bad either- I'm admittedly a bit of a fan of decompressed storytelling (when used sparingly), and you (or your artist, although I don't recall seeing anyone else credited) do a fine job of setting the scene.

That being said... anatomy and perspective. Putting it as delicately as I can... ouch? It's made ten times worse by the fact that I can see what you're trying to do, and the intent is good. I meant what I said about the atmospherics; not sure where you learned it, but the angles chosen and the lighting (even in its relatively crude state) and whatnot set the dystopian feel quite nicely. And that makes the errors all the more jarring.

I'm not sure how I can get this across; Kyle, you have a fairly rare talent as far as maintaining visual story flow goes. Your art serves the story well, which is about the highest praise I can conceive of for a Sequential Artist. But it needs serious work.

Oh, and minor art-glitch that confused me to no end- the last four (or possibly five) panels of page 22 break out of the 'flashback' grayscale, implying a return to normal time, when such a thing has not happened.

Hmmm. One major addendum; up to page 70 now, and I believe I can safely say: what the hell is going on? I've gotten a vague notion of the US turning into some sort of evil dictatorship or something, with 'rabid dogs who happened to be born in human shape' running about 'peacekeeping', but... yeah. I'm not entirely sure why I should care about any of what's going on, or even what's going on half the time. I'd recommend either reducing the scale- establish things with a one-off 'America is no longer the land of the free' or something to that effect, then focus on the conflict between Williams and Ryan, or else step back a little and let us see more of what's going on at a national level, because as it stands now, I'm left very unsure as to what level we're playing on here.

Final summation; More than a little promising, but painfully unfocused at times.

edited 27th Jul '12 12:05:14 AM by TeChameleon

444 KyleJacobs27th Jul 2012 02:10:38 AM from DC - Southern efficiency, Northern charm , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
Thanks for that, I really appreciate it. I do want to address a few things, though:

1. Reality Is Unrealistic - Reagan National Airport is ~5 miles due south of the White House. I happen to live in DC, and I've flown in and out of said airport fairly often. The White House is not actually that far out of the flight path. Andrews is 13 miles away. Not saying you're wrong, but I don't think that it's completely impossible.

2. Thanks very much for your compliments on the non-perspective-and-anatomy parts of the art. I tend to look at it the same way I would cinematography and work out how I'd shoot the scene if it were live action. As for the bad stuff - I'll be the first to agree with you. Pages 13- 15 in particular are, in my opinion, unforgivably awful. I've already signed up for drawing classes in the fall, so hopefully this will see improvement.

3. Regarding the coloration of page 22 - I wanted to show the flashback was ending. I may end up going in and decoloring it, but I'll make that decision later.

4. Thanks for the honesty regarding Chapter 2. Would you mind elaborating on what about it you found confusing, if you can?

edited 27th Jul '12 2:11:32 AM by KyleJacobs

445 TeChameleon27th Jul 2012 02:10:33 PM from Alberta, Canada , Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
Irritable Reptilian
1. Fair enough, I'm not that familiar with the DC area; I live in Western Canada, so...

2. Very cool on the classes- hope that goes well for you. Just be warned that it can be an intensely frustrating experience. It can also be a really good one. Get what you can out of it in whatever case- you've got some genuine talent.

Random aside on that note- if you want to see how an absolute master sets the pacing and stage for a comic storyline? Check out Stan Sakai's work (Usagi Yojimbo being his most popular). Other (highly) recommended reading, if you haven't already picked these up- Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art", along with Will Eisner's "Comics and Sequential Art" and "Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative". Let's just say that there's a reason the highest award in comics is called the "Eisner Award" wink

3. My recommendation on the end-of-flashback colouring is a trick I've seen before- have the final panel be partially grayscale and partially coloured with the colour 'leeching' back in (meeting the gray at an irregular soft border). Might be annoying to pull off, depending on your toolkit, but might not be too hard.

4. Mostly, I'm really not sure what the larger conflict is, or what drove it. I get 'America is dystopia', I get 'there is a revolution', and I get... some kind of vague 'governmental abuse of power after checks and balances are removed', I think, but that's about it. No real clear indication of what triggered the revolution or why the government was allowed to go as far as it did. The second bit may just be my non-American-ness showing through, but eh (er, no pun intended).

Anyways, glad that I was able to be of at least some help to you.

Highly Visible Ninja EDIT- On the topic of #4 again, I've been thinking about it on and off for a while. I just don't get what's going on in general. I mean, specific events are clear enough, but I don't know why any of it is happening. We've got all these characters running around doing things, but no idea as to what their motivations are, or even really what their personality is in most cases. Or at least how their personality relates to their actions that led up to where they are in the plot.

Some other, more generalized bits of advice- your transitions can be a bit choppy and/or unclear. Not all that often, mind you, but there's occasionally a pretty bad disconnect between one page and the next. Simple, quick example- page one to two is one of the worst. Perhaps ironically, it's also the one with the simplest solution. A quick copy-and-paste of the final panel on page one, add the news ticker to the bottom, and make it the first panel of page two. Page three to four is a bit rough as well, although it's forgiveable given the seventeen year timeskip, heh. One thing that could smooth the transition greatly is adding in a transparent reflection of Williams' eyes that matches the final panel of the previous page to the screen he's watching in the first panel (perhaps even with something on the screen that echoes the blood smear on his visor). It'd also make it a lot clearer that the faceless goon from the previous page was a recurring character, and someone important.

Also... and this isn't a major worry on my part, just a bit of 'hmmm, well, best to mention it, anyhow'... while your instincts seem to be pretty good on it so far, don't forget that the most cinematographic angle isn't always the one that best serves the story in a sequential art piece. Different demands on reader and viewer, pacing, difficulties in portraying time in a static medium, all that jazz.

Oh yeh- one final bit. Reading ahead a ways, it kind of stands out to me that the action sequences get a bit over the top in places. Not hugely so, but enough to be jarring. As if the characters were briefly replaced by the ones from the action movie being filmed in the lot next door. It doesn't seem to fit the harsher realism of the rest of the story.

edited 31st Jul '12 1:31:25 PM by TeChameleon

446 Conjure29th Jul 2012 09:27:47 PM from New England

edited 19th Aug '12 11:08:19 AM by Conjure

"The Future will be the death of us all."
447 Jabrosky30th Jul 2012 07:12:44 AM from San Diego, CA
[up] I added you onto the list.

edited 1st Aug '12 8:34:52 AM by Jabrosky

448 MorwenEdhelwen14th Sep 2012 02:39:00 AM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
Here's a number of scenes from my novel. The narrator, a young boy living in Cuba who's a Mixand Match Man based on Che Guevara, who works as a kitchen boy in Guantanamo, has received a note promising to explain his purpose at the end of the last entry in this set. I want feedback on a) the depiction of Cuba, especially the culture of the Guantanamo region, b) the characterisation, and c) the pacing.

Monday May 7

Today the radio in the kitchen was turned to Military and Presidential Radio Cuba, the government’s official news show. “A street fight which began last week as a struggle between groups of freelance smugglers in Vedado over payments for shipments and arrests due to trafficking of cocaine to the U.S. has become a battle extending from parts of the capital, mainly the barrios of Vedado, Jesús María and Belen, over the American border to the Florida Keys. The chairman of the Havana syndicate has stated that he will attempt to deal with the violence, and Havana police and private enforcers are being deployed to Vedado as we speak. American police are also planning on crossing the border on 24-hour patrolling duty at the docks to enforce the blockade, according to interviews with the FBI chief.”

Meanwhile, in Guantánamo, the local syndicate is attempting to enforce stricter border laws and prevent illegal immigrants crossing the bay. In the last four months, the number of illegal immigrants has increased. The government is considering requiring them to be housed in Guantánamo Bay prison while their applications are processed or identification papers are found or created.” It was on TV too on PLAN (Pan Latin American News). “Contracted enforcers working for casino owners in Havana and local police officers have been deployed to the Vedado district in order to deal with the escalation of last week’s street disturbance. The president and the Commissioner for Narcotics Trafficking want to assure you that everything will be under control and that a presidential address is planned for later this month to discuss certain policy issues concerning the average Cuban.” The newscaster sounded like a gringo.

Right now I’m writing in this journal because Fidel’s gone out- maybe because of his call this morning about his friend Pedro being shot at the club because a smuggler asked him where the money was that he was going to pay back - and Celia and I’ve finished cleaning up the leftover food.

Celia’s making arroz con frijoles for lunch and arroz con pollo for dinner. She and Fidel will talk about the broadcast tonight. I know that.

Today’s Señora Valverde’s twenty-fourth birthday. She got extra fanmail because she’s a famous actress and model. I’ll take my satchel off the counter and keep this book in it. Then I’m going out to the courtyard, looking out near the fields and bohíos. The one we used to live in is nearest to the house. I’ve been waiting to practice my pitching all week. I couldn’t because it rained.

This morning I got up early. I’m used to it, but it’s still hard because my legs are sore making me more tired. I keep an inhaler in my satchel. “Ay, muchacho, I need you in the kitchen.“ I pulled the blanket up over my head and shut my eyes, ignoring the street food vendors outside and waiting for Celia to leave. No luck. “Che. Come on.” Then a yell. “Che Guevara Serna!” My full name. Sounded like bullets. “Get dressed now and get out of there!”

Better get up now, Che. I got dressed. Then I followed her into the main kitchen, where everyone except us and the other servants eat. She’s the housekeeper and I’m the kitchen boy. I walked as fast as I could, almost running with a limp because of my club foot. “Don’t run, mi vida. You’ll fall.” She reminded me, squeezeing my shoulder.

We made pastelitos. I lit the oven fire myself and mixed the flour and water for the pastry crust, shaped it and added the fillings Celia made. I was hungry and my right foot hurt like hell. I wiped my hands on a towel. Finally after a few hours we went back down the corridor to our apartment with the food.

There’s four rooms in our apartment, like the bohío we lived in until I was six. When we first moved in here, the first thing I noticed was all the iron bars on the windows and how big this house is. It’s as big as some of the houses that the smugglers have. I’ve seen them on TV and around the streets.

Fidel knows about them. When he was a kid, he used to do work for some of the big smugglers. He said they have huge briefcases stuffed with $100 bills from America and computers that are connected to government websites. “I tried to get in there all the time, and when I managed to do it, the computers were always on. If they’re good at smuggling, they can get more fancy houses.” He delivered messages. The syndicate paid for his baseball lessons and high school because his mother couldn’t afford it.

He and Celia taught me until the colonel hired Señor Mendoza to teach me most of my subjects. Señora Johansson teaches me music and politics. Celia made me sit down and gave me a sheet of paper and a pencil. Then she wrote letters and sentences in an exercise book and I traced and copied them. She also gave me a dictionary and I had to look up the meanings of the words and write them down. She taught me everything else too.

When he came in and joined us at the table, he was singing out of tune under his breath. He exclaimed, “Damn it, if I hear I’ll See You In C-U-B-A again one more fucking time, I’ll go crazy! Does the tourism commission have to keep showing that commercial? I’m sick of hearing about dark-eyed Stellas, panatellas and trips to Havana. And seeing footage of shows at The Shanghai Theater and the Montmartre. They don’t have to convince me to stay. Why would I leave?” He reached across the table and picked up a pastry and bit into it as if nothing had happened. “Celia, these pastries are the best you and Che have made.”

“Gracias, Fidel. Irving Berlin was right about that, at least.” Celia said. She laughed. Fidel kissed her. She complained about his beard. “Why don’t you shave it off? It scratches.” “Because I like it. You don’t really want it to happen, do you?”

Tuesday May 8

I’ve got some extra worksheets from Señor Mendoza, the teacher. I’ll concentrate on them instead of my baseball. Celia keeps flipping between stations. Something’s happening with Fidel too. He spent all morning after breakfast in their bedroom on the phone and checking the answering machine. His calls have gotten longer. Sometimes I can hear him yelling. “Listen here, you idiot. I know about the money, but do you want to get me killed? Pedro was shot because he pissed off the wrong man. Now he’s in hospital. You’ll get the pesos in the case. I’ve got everything else you want packed in too. And there are pockets. You can hide coke in there, transport it over the border to America with the package.”

He told me that before I was born or came to live with them, someone, a man, kept calling and leaving messages on the answering machine. He wouldn’t stop until Fidel said he could report him to the police. “¡Pendejo! I could have you arrested, or even taken out.“

“No, I wouldn’t call it that. It ain’t blackmail, it’s the truth. I can get contractors on my side as well. They know me. I worked for the Caimanera Syndicate once.” After he said that I heard a click. The caller had hung up.

“He didn’t even say his name.” Fidel spoke very fast under his breath. “Can’t even confess to what he did. Too scared I guess.” After that he said, “Confessin’ to what you’ve done is important, Che. I’m not going to be mad if you tell me the truth. But if you lie to me, and then I find out, I won’t like it. It’s dishonest. If you do it, there’ll be consequences. They’ll hurt me more than they hurt you.” This is code for “I’ll give you the belt.”

My butt burned for weeks the last time he took his belt off. I was ten and it was because I hadn’t waited for three hours before swimming after I’d had lunch. “You could have drowned. Or at least gotten cramps. Did you realise how worried you made me? I should push my foot into your ass. ” He picked up that phrase from watching That 70s Show. He pulled me inside through the front door, led me downstairs, yanked my clothes off and dressed me in another shirt and shorts.

Then I heard him taking his belt off. “Come here.” He said quietly. I sucked my breath in and made myself walk closer. I knew what he was doing. It was a last resort when I did something serious.

He gripped both my hands and pulled me down on his lap. The belt swished on my butt six times. It smarted for weeks. After that he buckled the belt and held me on his lap for a while. When we went back down Celia looked at me with an unreadable expression. I think she could tell what was going on from the look on Fidel’s face. He just pulled up a chair and sat himself down. I played with this train set they bought me.

Several Minutes Later

I’ve spent the last few minutes doing my lessons at the table in Celia and Fidel’s room. Fidel’s pacing around, lifting out his wallet and checking his bolita winnings from last week. The Valverdes’ kids, Juancito, Isa, Miguelito and Chelo, go to school - paid for by their mother. I can’t because I’m a clone.

Sunday May 20

A few minutes ago I smelled mashed potatoes and chicken from down the corridor, which made me hungry enough to get out of bed. I’ve been in here for nearly the whole day, just staring up at the ceiling. I always do that when I’m tired or bored. And I didn’t want to do much.

I hobbled out of the door and out of our quarters and shuffled into the kitchen up to the table. Celia was in her black dress with patches on the skirt. Her dreads poked out of the cap. The food was cooking on the fireplace. Her ring stood out. It was a gift from Fidel.

“Celia?” She looked up. “What?” She sounded surprised, because I haven’t talked to her seriously in a while. “There you are. I’ve been waiting for you to get out of your room. What’s wrong, chiquitito? You didn’t eat much all day.” She wiped sweat off her forehead and walked over to touch mine. “You haven’t got a fever.”

“I’m fine. Just been thinking about something.”

She pointed to the bowl of peas. “Sit down. Could you shell these?”

“Yeah, sure.” I sat down at the stool and picked up the knife. She looked at me. “Can you tell me about it?” I swallowed. My mouth was dry. I didn’t know if I wanted to. “The señora left me a note.” My voice broke last month.

“She—What? Where?” “In an envelope. It’s in my journal. Apparently she’s going to tell me why I was created.” Celia paused and sang along to “?Quien sera”, the old mambo song on the radio.

Then she looked directly at me. “Oh Dios mio. Now?“ She hugged me. “I love you very much, mi vida. You mean more to me than anything else. I think she’s just thinking about the elections.”

Mostly Fidel stayed at home with me. At first I didn’t mind, but one day I ran as fast as I could to the front door. “Don’t go! Don’t go!” “No,” Celia said. “You have to stay here alone for a bit. I’ll buy you sugar cane. I promise.” She hugged me. “Don’t you like sugar cane?”

I do. But then I didn’t care. I tried to throw myself around her legs. “Why?”

“Because we need to work. We’re not abandoning you. Just stay here for a while.” She led me in and shut the door behind me. I heard the key turning in the lock and stared around at the boxes piled up the corner. Fidel labelled the toolbox with the words DON’T TOUCH! There were DON’T TOUCH and KEEP OUT labels everywhere. He was probably going there to talk to Colonel Valverde about me.

A while later, I heard footsteps. I opened the door to Celia and Fidel’s room, climbed up on the ledge and pushed open the window. Juancito yelled out, “Che!” He was standing in the middle of the vegetable patch holding a stick and some rocks. “C’mon.” “Wait.” I put my leg out. “I’m coming down.” I moved my legs down the ledge and stepped off in front of the door. “Where’s my rock?” A while later, I heard footsteps. I opened the door to Celia and Fidel’s room, climbed up on the ledge and pushed open the window. Juancito yelled out, “Che!” He was standing in the middle of the vegetable patch holding a stick and some rocks. “C’mon.” “Wait.” I put my leg out. “I’m coming down.” I moved my legs down the ledge and stepped off in front of the door. “Where’s my rock?”

“Here.” He tossed a brown rock with black edges into my hand. “You’re Red with me. Come on.” I followed him to the end of the patch, near the edge of the field. “We got ‘em from there.”

We all ran and looked at each other, waiting for the game to start. As soon as Juancito ran out, I gripped my rock and dashed in front of María, Juancito’s cousin who was there for two weeks and the captain of the Blue team. She grinned and aimed a rock at me. As she reached into her arsenal I threw mine in front of her. It hit her chest. “Gotcha!” One landed on my arm and left a white scratch up to the back of my hand. I woke up to hear people talking about that thing that lives with Celia and Fidel. For two months I lived in a room with iron bars and slept on a straw bed with wood shavings and newspapers for two months. My old toys from the bohío were the only familiar thing. I kept crying. It was the first time I wasn’t in the same place as Celia or Fidel. I always heard them talking in the kitchen or the next room. When Celia was out, Fidel was there checking his bolita ticket. Socorro, who was a maid here, said I wasn’t Cuban. And she always glared and yelled at me. “You’ve got a tattoo because you’re a clone cut out of a rabbit. That’s why you’re in here, because you’re defective.” She hit me when I cried and put chains on my arms. She brought me food three times every day and wouldn’t let me out. I used newspapers to pee and had bruises over my legs. I asked her when I was going to live with Celia and Fidel again. She said I wasn’t. “You’re so ungrateful. I could throw you out into the streets. They’ve spoiled you. This is no more than you deserve.” she hissed right in my face. Eventually Fidel and then Celia heard about it from Juancito. It must’ve been when he and María were spending a morning with me. We talked and Juancito asked me if I was staying. He said, “Mami said I can play with you even if you’re a clone.” I found out María was a really good Scrabble player. I remember she wore braids and had blonde hair and green eyes.

After that Fidel came and then he carried me to their quarters. “Mi amor,” he said to Celia, “look at Che.” He let go of my hand and slowly pulled up my shirt. She gasped. “His ribs are poking out. And his legs are all bruised. What happened, Fidel?” “She didn’t give him much food. I checked the table in the storeroom. The last thing he ate just before I took him was arroz con frijoles. The bowl wasn’t all that full. There was hardly any rice at the top. But he finished it. Hasn’t talked.” He started to pull my sleeve up. I grabbed his hand.

“Ow!” he cried. “That hurts!” “Sorry.” I said. He let go and I pulled it down. “He was cuffed, mi negra.”

“Oh, mi hijo.” Celia murmured. “I can’t believe this. My God. They told me she was taking care of him.” “It wasn’t just you. I thought he was in good hands too, after he skinned his knee like that. There was a bandage- she did that at least. That’s one thing I can thank her for. But everything else…” Then she put cream on my bruises and gave me warm water and sugar cane juice to drink. Fidel told me they were sorry for letting someone do that to me. “I love you, mi querido. It’ll never happen again.” I flinched as he put up his hand. He reached around my shoulder and hugged me. “What’s happened, Che?” I told him it was nothing. He gave me an “If you say so” look.

Then he tucked me in and kissed me goodnight. “Fidel, what does defective mean?”

“What?” He stopped straightening my covers and looked hard at me. “Nothing. I just wanted to know.” I stared at his face. “It means bad. Not perfect.” “What’s a clone?” His expression changed and his lips went tight. He swore. “Someone exactly like someone else.” “I’m a clone.” You’ve got a tattoo because you’re a clone. “Yes.” he said. “Socorro said I was born out of a rabbit. ” He swore again. “She’s right.” I asked him who I was cloned from. He said, “Che Guevara.”

“Who’s that?” I’d heard that somewhere before. On the street when I was walking with him. An old lady in a purple dress with a face like a roadmap stared at me. She went over and reached out to touch me. “You look so much like Che. You can’t be—“ Her mouth was frozen in a shocked expression.

I didn’t really hear the rest, because then Fidel walked up and said, “Come on,” and pulled me away, muttering something about me being easy to spot.

“He lived a long time ago. He fought against Batista and put Fidel in power. In the 1960s we became communist because of him and Fidel.”

“I look like him, don’t I?” “Yes.” The way he said it made it clear it was more than looks. “Your face, your brain. And your height.” He and Celia walked down the corridor to their room. So I wasn’t an orphan. I didn’t have parents at all. I was designed—based on someone else.

Later on I found out his real name was Ernesto. That explained why Celia sometimes called me Neto, even though my name‘s Che, not Ernesto.

edited 14th Sep '12 2:43:50 AM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on.
[up]While you are in the list, quite refreshingly, it's not your turn yet. Guidelines are in the original post etc. (And at this point you have more chances of someone responding to your actual thread anyway.)
450 Collen14th Sep 2012 07:44:08 PM from it is a mystery
the cutest lizard
Shouldn't we remove Kyle from the list? Also, is there anybody on that list who's inactive?
Gave them our reactions, our explosions, all that was ours
For graphs of passion and charts of stars...

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