a zoo in hell



I participate in a fair amount of writing workshops, it's good for my own writing to focus my critical thoughts and the critiques I get help me understand what is getting through and what is getting lost on the reader. I wrote the following critique for one of these groups, and I think much of it applies to writing in general, but more specifically problems that those of us who try to create distorted realities face in the creation of our fictions. 

I've removed any indicators of who the story was written by or what the story is about in particular. I'm posting this because, in retrospect, I may have been discussing some of my own writing.

One of the more notable things of this piece is the imagination it contains. You manage to manifest worlds large and small within what is essentially one location. I think you also have a firm grasp on who your character is, what he feels and what he wants. Within the turns of text, there is a great deal of poetry and perhaps, a paranoiac-critical method. During the story, I was reaching to imagine it as illustrated by Moebius or Brom.

However, I am not sure if this is a story. I expect there is something experimental at work here, fantasy by way of Joyce, so I am not sure to which extent traditional critical methods will apply to what you seek to accomplish. More notes on this point would have been appreciated.

I should point out that there is no plot to speak of, and if there is, I couldn’t see it through the linguistic acrobatics. Essentially, the story concerns                          who decides to revolt and escape, perhaps through self-destruction. He’s see the world reflected in the strange things which occupy his room. Perhaps he is merely an extremely delusional fellow in a high-rise apartment, the style does not remove this possibility.

So, this is an extended inner monologue by a very unreliable narrator. Much of the language work is consistent with a being whose point of view isn’t entirely consistent, but even so, there are a few leaps which go far beyond what I’d think this character would think. Word choices, extended connections; some of these feel to me like the author intruding too far into the world of the narrator, which seems completely at odds with what you are trying to do here. You want the reader to surrender to the streams of this being’s consciousness, and not question it.

The temptation is to render the world around him as indistinct and vague as his perception, but the risk you run in this is confusing the reader beyond their willingness to play along. I continued reading for the purpose of this crit and because I value this sort of experimentation, but may not have completed it in another context.

To solve this, perhaps you could pull back the camera a little bit. Somehow let us see his world without him, let us see the room as we might see it if we walked inside. I think I have  a handle on the immediate confines, but I have no idea what the world outside looks like. There are suggestions, but these are so drenched in poetry that I cannot be confident of the objective truth.

More fundamentally, why should I care what happens to him? He strikes me as unlikeable, so why would I stay engaged with him. There needs to be something compelling to make me care about what happens to               . What does a stranger to this world have to gain from engaging with it?

Obviously, you will take what you will from my comments. As I said, I was in the dark as to your intentions so much of this may be of little use to you. Remember that if I were to read this in a magazine I would also be without your intent or goals for the writing.