The Bolt-Horror 2011 Writing Competition is complete. In the future, I will settle for a shorter name for the tournament.
Still, four writers submitted stories which you can read if you would like. They are Mauthos, LordLucan, greywulf and YeOldeGrandma. I will be reviewing their work here and now.
I thought long and hard about how I was going to do the review process. I did it by three ways
Second, as I read the stories, I took down my favorite parts into a separate text file. I did this in order to review my favorite parts from each of the stories after I finished reading them all. You see, I think it’s common for people to really pump up a story after finishing it because of some sense of accomplishment. I sometimes feel that book ratings on Amazon tend to get pushed up by book lovers who become euphoric after they finish reading almost anything.
And third, I focused chiefly on only one thing: How much the stories creep me out. I let minor grammar and spelling issues go as long as they do not horribly weaken the story. They are, after all, stories of only 2,000 words in length and written in a period of a week.
Let us begin.
Untitled by Mauthos
As I read this piece by Mauthos, a few things struck me. First, I liked his ability to devise a setting in a concise manner. He had expended about a paragraph of words, and in the process had succeeded in setting up the stage for his story to be told upon. The setting is carefully maintained and cultivated as the story continues, suggesting that stage design is probably Mauthos best writing strength if this tale is anything to go by.
A few things about his writing style proved distracting, chiefly his use of run on sentences. There were a few portions which could have been broken down and apart to tell the story a little better. Second was that sometimes he got caught up in his descriptive words, as he sometimes tripped over them. One paragraph dealt with silence, and then mentioned rain, thunder and lightning. I also caught several homophones that were wrong. Headless over heedless, heal over heel.
These problems were markedly reduced towards the end as Mauthos seemed to hit a “groove.” The story picked up and took itself towards the climax, giving an explanation of how the main character was placed in such a desperation situation. The tale was satisfying, but Mauthos himself admitted that the story did not hit the theme of horror particularly well. If I were in Mauthos’ shoes with this idea, I would have taken this story and mixed a touch of the original Alien into it. I would have kept the setting but focused on the concept of knowing what your foe is and trying to come to grips with the terror it causes.
Little Harkan’s Adventure Behind the Mirror by LordLucan
Right from the start, LordLucan hits the nail on the head with a point some writers have been making for years. A fairy tale is really just a horror story for children and adults who don’t like horror. And doing a story this way immediately contrasts it with all the other tales.
LordLucan’s method is character dependent. Telling the story as though it were told to a child is both a blessing and a curse. It sacrifices details and plot for story and characters, but a fairy tale approach is more clever use of 2,000 words than a regular story in some ways. He doesn’t create the setting, but uses the cast to explain the stage for those who are Warhammer baptized. The story will ring clear as a bell for anyone who knows the Imperium and basic Eldar lore. For the uninitiated, this story would be confusing. Even I had to reread a few parts once or twice to make sure I understood the context.
But the creep factor for LordLucan’s work was undoubtedly there. As the story came to its conclusion, I felt a touch of nausea as to the fate of the protagonist. LordLucan was tasked with a horror story and sure enough, he delivered.
Residue by greywulf
First person perspective is misleading at times. Sometimes, the reader reasons that since the character is also the narrator, he or she will survive what happens. After all, if the narrator dies, the story is usually over. The beauty of FPP however is that things tend to feel a bit more graphic. It’s kind of a psychological trick. For example, a reader reads:
“Even though I was pulling against the black tendrils seeping from my fingers, the rope of bubbling pitch relentlessly dragging me.”
And in reading this, I have to fight down the thought that this is happening to me and not the protagonist.
Greywulf’s piece starts with a degree of creepiness that magnifies over time. From the get go, it capitalizes on claustrophobic fears and a subtle, slow sense of “something is wrong.” The writing style is stronger than some of the earlier entries with shorter sentences and simpler choices in words. This, both in setting and writing style, make it more accessible for general readers.
It was hard to find any particular flaw in greywulf’s work as I read and reread it a few times. And it slowly struck me. It was a well written piece overall and there are no weaknesses, but there aren’t any strengths either. There aren’t really any moments about it that captivate me. The story is a slow, chilling murmur where others are a shock or a scream.
It is Said by YeOldeGrandma
Forget characters and plot, let’s do a ghost story.
From the start, it was hard to stop reading the tale by YeOldeGrandma. It was short and sweet, the kind of story that isn’t meant to be read but rather heard over a camp fire. The repetition was tiring on the eyes when read, but when spoken allowed is meant to captivate the audience. And I know from experience that was exactly what it would do.
Rather than a description of the monsters outside, YeOldeGrandma cleverly left the monsters unseen and without explanation or detail. Doing so plays upon the word “monster” in our minds, conjuring an image of our own imagination. It’s a classic tactic, where the greatest motivation of our fears is our own design. YeOldeGrandma is merely exploiting our own over thinking minds against us.
Weaknesses? A few. With a few extra words to explain what Morrslieb and Drakwald are, I could recommend this story to anyone, Warhammer fan or not. And second, I have to pause and do some soul searching on it. It is a ghost story, but it feels like one that is meant to be told orally. It’s easy to forget that not all story tellers are writers. Is it a good story? Absolutely.
But is it a good written tale? I’ll dwell on it for a while.