WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #3



Before we get started, I wanted to address the issue a few readers are having with not being able to post comments, or having those comments show up as UNKNOWN even though they have a Google Account.  There are several things at play here. First, if you are using the Safari Browser it has a known problem with Blogger and you have two choices. Switch to Firefox as a browser (I've never had a problem using it), or change the setting on Safari as illustrated below.


The other problem is Blogger not recognizing you when adding a comment and therefore designating you as UNKNOWN. This could happen if the reader is a Blogger user themselves and they have not changed their settings since Google + went away.  To do this follow these steps:

Go to Blogger dashboard.
SETTINGS
USER SETTINGS
Set User Profile = Blogger (instead of Google +)
Save

Hopefully, that will resolve everyone's issues and let the votes/comments reach our contestants. If you missed the first two bouts because of one of these issues, remember the bouts remain LIVE for a week so you can still go back and let your choice be known.

Now that we have that taken care, it's back to business. WRiTE CLUB (sponsored by the DFW Conference) is tournament-style contest that runs during the eight weeks prior to the conference and it provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win free admission to next year’s conference (along with other prizes). Here’s the kicker—it’s all done anonymously. Writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names. The chosen (pre-decided by a group of twenty slush pile readers) are paired off to go head-to-head in daily “bouts”, with the winner of each match determined by you the reader—by voting for your favorites. Bout winners keep advancing until there are only two remaining and that’s when a panel of celebrity judges, who include well know authors, agents, editors, and other publishing folks, choose the ultimate champion.

Even though the contest is sponsored by DFW, anyone can vote (as long as you have a Google sign-in or verifiable email address), and when you do, we encourage you to leave a mini-critique for both writers. Oh, I forgot to mention that the voters can win a $60 Barnes and Noble prize. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed into a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize.

How this works—two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples are waiting in the ring below. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) should read both entries and then vote by leaving a comment for the one that resonates with you the most. We also ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest—FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date I post it to give as many people as possible to have a say. Voting for today’s bout will close on Tuesday, May 12th (noon central time). To help keep up with which bouts are open, you can follow along on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard updated right HERE.

It’s that simple. The writing piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

A few more rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.
2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.
3) Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will cause that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!
4) Although not really a rule, it is suggested that you cast your own vote BEFORE you read the comments by other voters. Don't let yourself be swayed by other opinions.

That’s enough of the fine print – time to ring the bell.


On one side of the ring stands Alexander Scribbler representing the Adult Dark-Comedy genre.

Fooled

 

Who the hell paints one eyebrow? One bushy fucking eyebrow.

“Corena?”

“What?”

“I asked how you feel?”

How do I feel? I feel like snatching that caterpillar off your forehead with my fingertips. That’s how I feel. “Oh, I’m doing well today Doctor. In fact, I think I’m ready to go home.”

“Really? Why do you think you’re ready?”

I wonder if they let the doctors decorate their own offices. I mean avocado green? It looks like a cat threw up on the wall. Jesus.

“Are you still with me?”

“Yeah, I’m ok. I just wanna make sure I think about my answer, that’s all. I’m ready to get back to my life.”

“That’s not quite what I meant. Let me put it a different way. What skills have you learned in here that translate into you having the best chance to cope with life when you get home?”

“Well, I think I’m a lot calmer.” Oh, let me take a scouring pad to that damn eyebrow. Scrub that shit right off. “If you remember, I couldn’t sit still when I got here. Look at me now.”

“I agree the medication has helped, but what about anger? Do you feel you have it under control?”

You mean other than threatening to kill that twit roommate two hours ago? I told you I wanted my own room. But no, everybody thinks they know what’s best for me. If she dies it will be your fault; you sorry sack of shit. “It’s funny you ask. My bunkmate Misty and I were just talking this morning about how easy going I am lately. She’s such a sweet girl.”

“Ok, good. What about what brought you to us? When you think back on the incident; how does it make you feel?”

I’m going to sit here like I’m really thinking of an answer. Should I tell her it makes me feel good? Does she need to know that I can’t sleep at night until I play the joy of it over and over in my head? “I know it was wrong now. What he did to me was just part of life and I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”

“I am so proud of you Carena. In a year, that’s the first time you’ve ever shown remorse for what happened.”

I can still see his smug little face. Did he really think he could do that to me? “I believe you’re right doctor.” Let me throw a smile out there to her. “I feel so much better.”

“Oh, I so hope this is a breakthrough for you. You’ve come so far.”

Idiot, she has no idea. I wish I could have seen the face of his new girlfriend when she opened that box with his bloody heart in it. “Thank you. I’m doing my best.”

“You’re welcome.”

 A razor blade, me and that eyebrow. Two seconds, that’s all I need.
#############################################################################


On the far side of the ring we have WizardInc who is representing the Adult Fantasy Romance genre.

“Press 1 to sell your soul. Press 2 to speak to an eternally suffering representative.”

The absurd choices were exactly why Walter refused to use a touchscreen phone when calling hell. One wrong move and he'd be one of the eternally suffering. Some would ponder what the value of a soul would be, instead, Walter very carefully pressed 2. The 90s Nokia screen went from green to crimson,

“How can we-”

The soul on the other end screamed so high and pleaded so much that Walter wished he were deaf.

“Tempt you today?”

Walter looked over his carefully worded script and cleared his throat, "I would like to unsubscribe from the Apocalypse Disciple newsletter."

The representative mewled very much like a sad animated puppy, before answering,

"We of the abyss are sorry to hear you are dissatisfied with your subscription."

Something cracked on the other end filling Walter's ear with a high pitched whine.

"As recompense, we are prepared to offer this soul for burning or crucifixion."

The words came out muffled, and Walter was certain he could smell something sulfurous.

"If you upgrade to Apocalypse Zealot, you will be-"

"I have no further interest in hell or its subscriptions, remove me from your list or I'll convert to Christianity."

This was, in part, a bluff. Walter had immense respect for the diligent churchgoer, but his church was the Library. Which had also been where he’d found the damn book that started all this.

“We have no wish for the Enemy to gain another follower, I am transferring you to my supervisor.”

“So far, so good,” Walter thought. Then, the smell of roses filled the room and a smoky voice greeted him.

“Hello, my name is Lucidina, and I am here to satisfy your needs.”

Walter adjusted his collar before answering,

“Yes, I need to unsubscribe from Apocalypse Disciples.”

Lucidina’s chuckle was the hungry sort that made Walter feel like her next dish.

“Oh I understand, you don’t want the world to end. I don’t either, there are so many things to enjoy!”

Walter cleared his throat, “Quite right.”

“There’s the next Royal Rogue book after all.”

Walter had no better idea than to ask the obvious question.

“You enjoy period dramas?”

The scent of roses and perhaps the hint of tea poured out of the Nokia, and Walter felt his cheeks heat.

“I adore them.” She made the word adore sound delicious. “The dashing rogue, the social chastity, and love that crosses class.”

Walter could not help the next words. “There is something so human about it all. A change in station, the excitement, the taboo of it all.”

“Yes, exactly yes!”

Lucidina’s excitement was palpable and Walter then said something very uncareful.

“Would you like to come to tea and read it with me?”

The scent of roses and tea vanished and for a moment it seemed the phone had gone dead.

“I would love to.” Her smokey whisper brushed his ear.  

##############################################################################


Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detractions.

We’ll be back tomorrow with bout #4. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


53 comments

  1. Lots of dialogue. I love dialogue when it's done right. In the first piece I needed a little more description to ground me in the scene. I'm still not sure where it was all taking place. If that's the point, well, it got lost on me.

    In the second piece, I could picture Walter sitting with his phone and making the call. I could almost sympathize with him (who hasn't wanted to unsubscribe without going through hell??). Therefore, WizardInc gets my vote.

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  2. Great reads, again!
    I enjoyed the inner dialogue in the first piece so much! It was quick-paced, believable, and now I am a little frightened of Corena.
    The beginning of WizardInc's piece was really clever, but I got a little distracted halfway through. However, the premise is fun and I'm definitely interested in this as a story.
    For this round, my vote goes to Alexander Scribbler.

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  3. Two great entries, both dark comedy and devilishly delicious!

    A note to both contestants: Your writing, pacing, etc., is superb. I honor your wit and creativity. But you both need to learn the proper use of punctuation, especially commas. The punctuation errors (and there were several in both entries) may not bother some people. For writing of this quality, they bothered me greatly. I'll jump down from the soapbox now.

    Alexander Scribbler: The back and forth between the protagonist's spoken words and thoughts is hilarious. The stark contrast compelled me to read on and ask, Why is Carena in this facility? What happened? You ramp up the tension bit by bit until I'm on edge at the end, certain that Carena is going to slash the sympathetic doctor.

    WizardInc: The creativity throughout? Amazing. The line "... you don't want the world to end." stopped me at first. Then I realized how well-thought-out the piece actually is, the nuance and meaning in each sentence, how it all connects, and I was amazed all over again.

    So hard to choose between the two, but for sheer creativity,

    Vote: WizardInc.

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  4. Choosing between a mental asylum or hell is a nearly impossible choice today. I want them both.

    Did I just say that?

    Narrator: He did.

    I love the twists in both, but I could picture the second clearer. It flowed a bit smoother, although the hectic back and forth of the MC in the first piece fit her personality perfect. I would have preferred a little more grounding early on. It's challenging with only 500 words though and overall I already know whatever author doesn't advance here, I'll expect to win their cage bout.

    By the NARROWEST of margins, WizardInc gets my vote

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  5. I loved both of these entries. They each deftly conveyed a cockeyed and creative sense of humor in a hellish situation. Kudos to you both.

    I was thrown off a bit at the start of Alexander Scribbler's story, since I couldn't tell if "Corena" was spoken by the MC or the other person until I got a few lines in. Once I placed it, I started over and it all fell into place. The contrast between the inner thoughts and the overt words was creepily delightful. This would be a terrific start to a longer piece, where we follow along on Corena's path to redemption or destruction.

    The concept for WizardInc's story is hilarious. I can immediately picture the poor MC trying his best to break his long-term contract, and knew instantly how hard it was going to be. The idea of having carefully scripted it out ahead of time is perfect. I had a bit of a problem accepting that someone who worked this hard to get it right, who clearly wanted so much to escape, would be compelled so easily to fall again just because he loved a particular period drama. That didn't ring quite true to me.

    Another tough choice this week, but my vote goes to Alexander Scribbler.

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  6. Alexander Scribbler - The inner voice started off fun and pithy, which engaged me in the story. The problem for me is the actual voice of both characters. The dialog doesn't ring true. Also, the dark turn at the end is a good idea, but the heart in a box may have been a little over the top if the patient has any hope of leaving the facility. Nothing technically wrong with the writing besides the misused semicolons, but it would have been nice to see some literary devices to spice this up.

    WizardInc - Also started pithy, with some fun language choices in the beginning. The concept was good, and hard to pull off in 500 words. I think the piece could have benefited from some tightening, and maybe dropping some sentences altogether. -- Lucidina’s excitement was palpable and Walter then said something very uncareful. -- stands out as clunky and overly wordy. Liked seeing a simile in there with the mewling like a puppy, but then it gets blunted with the -- very much like a sad animated --

    My vote goes to Alexander Scribbler.

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  7. The devil made me vote for WizardInc.

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  8. Great job making it in!

    Alexander - I loved the idea of the patient saying one thing and thinking another--so very human. I also like how Corena even thinks about what would be the appropriate thing to do, like throw in a smile. Personally, I would recommend cutting down on some of the dialogue and showing us a few small actions. Nothing big, but a little could go a long way. Like Corena clenches her hands under the table as she responds, things like that to help draw the reader into the scene and connect with Corena more.

    WizardInc - I enjoyed the humor in this piece and felt for your poor protagonist trying to navigate cancelling a subscription. I laughed at the end when Walter asks the demon (succubus?) if she likes period pieces and how often we as people try to cancel something only to be drawn into subscribing into something else. Great job!

    My vote: WizardInc.

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  9. Another fantastic round! Congrats, contestants!

    Alexander Scribbler: You did a fantastic job of setting up the scene and letting us know that Carena was clearly not ready to be released. At first, the thoughts vs. dialogue was amusing, but by the end of the story, I had grown weary of it. Instead of more dark thoughts, I would have liked a little sensory input. Shifting in the uncomfortable chair, counting breaths to calm herself. That kind of thing. Unfortunately, the story broke down for me because of the twist. If she's been in an institution for a year because she cut her ex's heart out and sent it to his new girlfriend, I don't believe her psychiatrist would even entertain the notion of her returning to the outside world. Still, this was a well-written and amusing piece. Good job!

    WizardInc: There's nothing I hate more than phone mazes and being forced to call customer support, so I immediately connected with Walter, and I laughed out loud at the descriptions of all the sounds from the other side, like the screams and the mewling. I started to get annoyed with Walter, though, when he started rambling to Lucidina, but then it occurred to me that he was aware he was talking and couldn't really stop himself because she was enchanting him. I love the line "she made the word adore sound delicious."

    Congrats again to both writers! This has been my most difficult round to date.

    My vote goes to WizardInc.

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  10. A pair of nice contenders, but after awhile, the back and forth of dialogue-monologue in Alexander Scribbler's piece grew monotonous, as did the one-note character. WizardInc mixed things up more, had more character depth and opened a view to a hilarious premise (the road to hell paved with romance novels!). Bonus points for sensory details -- whiffs of sulfur, scents of tea and roses. Let me cast my vote for WizardInc before I die laughing!

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  11. Scribbler: so much voice in this piece! Some little typos, like the MC’s name being spelled two different ways. Interesting structure with no narrative at all, only thoughts and dialogue. I cannot believe someone who ripped out their ex’s heart is being considered for release from a mental facility after one year. This really takes me out of the story.

    Wizard: great concept! I like the scents coming out of the phone. Some details are distracting, like Walter not pondering the value of a soul - this could’ve been cut. This doesn’t really seem like the romance genre.

    Tough choice, but I vote for Wizard. A little more relatable - figuratively!

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  12. This is a tough choice. I really liked both of these pieces! I love the dialog in Scribbler's piece, the typical questions followed by the bullshit answers with the truth sandwiched in between. One wonders what the mc will do once released...Well. ok. I have a pretty good idea what she'll do! Wizard: I want to read more. I love anything that plays with the notions of heaven and hell. "an eternally suffering representative" hooked me immediately and the mention of a library also made me curious.
    My vote goes to Wizard.

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  13. MY VOTE: Scribbler

    This was a super close one and I had to sit on my vote a few hours before I could decide. I liked both of them for very different reasons, so instead of focusing on what I did like, the fine line came down to what bothered me in the end about each piece.

    In Scribbler I would have liked to have had a better, more impactful resolve. What that would look like, I'm not even sure. Maybe actually lashing out physically during the last line, perhaps. Take the reader out of the mind of the narrator for one "final scare" so to speak with the actual assault of the doctor?

    While i did enjoy WizardInc's story, the concept might have been lost on me. I didn't feel the connection, even after a few hours of thoughtful reflection. I get the idea, i suppose, I just didn't feel a resonance with it.

    It was a super slim margin, but I can only choose one. Scribbler gets my vote.

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  14. Scribbler: Premise was good, but I found myself unable to engaged in the story, and I don't really know why.

    WizardInk: The premise was fun, but "sad animated" did not work for me. Almost an oxymoron. And uncareful did not work. Not huge issues overall, but when the story is only 500 words long, proper word choice is important.

    I give you both kudos for good imagination and originality. My vote goes to WizardInk.

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  15. My vote is for Scribbler.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. There seemed to be a spelling error on the main character's name but these things happen. The writing flowed nicely and, as a writer that has a hard time when writing dialog, I thought the exchange between the patient and doctor was well done and believable. I would love to read more.

    Wizard's story was entertaining and an interesting take on selling one's soul but I was a little confused as to why one would be a disciple in the first place and not already have sold his soul. Did he subscribe and then have second thoughts? I did really like the concept of Lucinda distracting the main character to the point of him forgetting that he called to unsubscribe and feel this is a very real representation of how temptation works in real life. Still I just connected more with Scribbler's story.

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  16. Not an easy choice today at all, but by the narrowest of margins, I'm going with WizardInc. Both very strong pieces that manage to ground the reader using dialogue.

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  17. My vote is for WizardInc.

    I really enjoyed Scribblers take on the inner thoughts of someone leaving an asylum, i might have liked a little more setting setup, but the banter between the thoughts and what’s actually said is done well!

    For WizardInc.
    I love the imagery behind the way Lucidina’s words seem to enter the room Walter is in. How the scents in general come through the phone. The word choice and sentence structure for your characters clearly sets them apart. I can almost hear their voices in my head while reading!

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  18. This was a hard one! Congrats to both entries for making it in, what an accomplishment. Scribbler: this piece was a brilliant idea, and reminded me of the closing scenes of Psycho. But I think because it was such a short piece, it was overwhelming. If this was made into a longer piece, I think it would be more enthralling. I think it needs the extra word space to really pull me in and set the scene because it took me too long to "catch up." Because of that, it fell a little short for me.

    WizardInc. I love a good story about Hell, and this was a fresh concept. The subtle connection between religious Hell and our perceived electronic hell was also brilliant. How many times have we felt like we were selling our soul to get out of one subscription or another.

    All that being said, my vote is for WizardInc by a nose. For me, it just came down to the fact that this one worked better as a 500 word piece than Scribbler. Good luck!

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  19. Scribbler: Premise was good, but I found myself unable to engaged in the story, and I don't really know why. you did have less grammatical errors.

    WizardInk: The premise was fun, but "sad animated" did not work. It's an oxymoron. No huge issues overall, but when the story is only 500 words long, proper word choice is important.

    I give you both kudos for good imagination and originality. My vote goes to WizardInk.

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  20. Congrats to both contestants! My vote is for WizardInc

    Scribbler: I can feel your passion for your story oozing off the screen, but there were a few issues with the execution for me. I love dark comedy, but although the MC was very over-the-top it read less as funny to me, and maybe a little awkward. I think it was probably that the tension was always as ten, with no ebb and flow or layering to the characterization (which is hard in 500 words, so not necessarily a problem you would have in a longer piece!). I also found it difficult to suspend my disbelief in terms of the psychiatrist and their reaction to the crime. Watch out as well for typos and small errors like the spelling on Corena/Carena changing (I find reading aloud to myself or someone else helps me catch these).

    WizardInc: I really enjoyed this piece. There was something of Rowan Atkinson's Hell comedy sketch to it for me. The humour worked, as did the larger allusion you were making. I expected a slightly punchier ending, or perhaps, given the ending, deeper characterization elsewhere, but those are really minor quibbles. Great work!

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  21. My vote is for WizardInc this time. Really liked the premise . . . and the smells coming over the line!

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  22. Wow, two great entries.
    Alexander Scribbler: I loved the set-up. Doing an all dialogue piece is a tricky proposition, especially an interior monologue is added. But you pulled it off. Corena’s personality comes through. And even though it is a small extract of a large piece, the 500 words are a somewhat self-contained story. The one little nit: the main character’s name is spelled two different ways.

    WizardInc: A neat concept. The idea of Hell having comcast-level call centers and having to argue with the damned to cancel a service is brilliant. There seems to be a twist suggesting Walter is not a person, but maybe a demon or devil (he does note romance novels are human). Because it’s not referenced before or after, it makes me wonder. If that is the case, I wish the submission could have acknowledged it at the end. If it isn’t the case, that line is a little confusing.

    I think whoever doesn’t advance from this bout will definitely get my vote during save week. This really is a coin toss.
    I’m going to pick WizardInc.

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  23. I'm voting for WizardInc today--I think that this entry is the strongest one we've seen so far in the competition. Mixing the horror of navigating a phone tree and trying to unsubscribe from an unwanted service with the everyday tedium of trying to deal with hell's minions was a great concept--reminiscent for me of Tom Holt or even Terry Pratchett. Even though it wasn't listed as a comedy, the humour here is really strong, and quite clever. I loved reading it!

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  24. This is a tough one, to be honest. Each piece has its strengths and weakness.

    Alexander Scribbler: I was distracted by the change in spelling of the patient's name, as well as by the occasional missing or misused punctuation. I also found it hard to believe a) that a medical/psychological professional would be this gullible and b) that anyone who'd done what she did, especially in response to something as mundane as a breakup, would ever be considered a candidate for rejoining the general public. On the positive side, I enjoyed the contrast between Carena's thoughts and speech, and I got a good feel both for her and for the doctor.

    WizardInc: This was a fun piece, and you did a good job developing Walter's character and bringing in the smells and sounds, but the writing needs a little more polishing. The separation of dialogue from the actions/descriptions of the speaker was particularly distracting for me and, at times, made it hard to follow who was speaking.

    In the end, my vote goes to Alexander Scribbler.

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  25. Vote: WizardInk

    Scribbler: I can't put my finger on why, but the story was a bit too discordant for me. Great job making it in though!

    Wizard: I loved the imagery. You captured the literal hell of navigating call centers. The smells coming through the phone and using an old school nokia.. they're almost indestructible so great choice! Great job on making it in as well!

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  26. Another strong round. Love the dark humor in both of these pieces!

    Scribbler - The MC's voice really came through on this, and though I didn't necessary WANT to be in her head, you were able to pull us into that uncomfortable psychosis. It was truly only some plot holes that tugged me out. Applying the rules of our own world, I had a hard time believing the fate of the brutal murderer could be decided in a relatively amicable and surface conversation. And I totally get it, 500 words. But even if you clarified this was a decision between life in prison and life in an asylum, I could have accepted. Similarly, I wanted to see a flicker of an alternate emotion--hurt, shame, passion--so I could empathize more with Carena. This piece gave me Netflix "You" vibes, which makes its viewers want to rally around the witty psychopath for some reason. You could get there with this!

    Wizard - Hilarious and unique concept. It's dripping with metaphor. I didn't mind the lack of context because it felt delightfully random, and you dropped some hints about the MC's values (LIBRARY! BOOKS!) and also his weaknesses (WOMEN TALKING ABOUT BOOKS!). I was pretty thrown by your dialogue tags though. That would be something I would clean up in revision if you continue with this piece. I'd also love to see some of the wordcount shifted from the interaction with the operator to some additional backstory for the protagonist (what kind of hell has the subscription been stirring up in his life?)

    My vote goes to WizardInk for giving us more character depth. But well done to both writers!

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  27. These are both strong, dialogue-driven pieces but my vote goes to WizardInc. Here’s my input:
    Alexander Scribbler:
    I enjoy the concept of a maniac being interviewed by a doctor. But I craved description. Mostly I wanted to see body language. Great ending line about the razorblade to the eyebrows though
    WizardInc:
    I love the concept of trying to unsubscribe from Hell’s newsletter. I found this super funny and it made me ask myself questions like: why is he unsubscribing? How invested is he in this library and how did a book lead him to this dangerous place? Keeping it all dialogue worked better for me here, because dialogue is what I expect from a phone conversation.

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  28. My vote is for WizardInc.
    Scribbler - Loved the inner dialog the heart was too much. burning down the house or car but no one is getting out if they cut out a dudes heart.
    WizardInc - I love the seduction of a reader. The Royal Rogue thing felt like a plug though.

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  29. Alexander Scribbler - Really interesting to be in that head space!

    WizardInc - Oh this feels so unique!

    I love both of these. I want more of both of these. Whichever one of you doesn't win this round, I'm almost certainly going to be voting for you in save week.

    Alexander Scribbler has my vote for today.

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  30. My vote's for WizardInc; this piece was clear-cut, concise and quite amusing. The former piece from A.S. left me feeling uncomfortable, and not in a way I'd prefer to be left by a dark humor peice. -- while I appreciate the realism of mental illness, I struggle to connect to this piece in a way that makes it feel not only relatable (as all people have darkness) but rather I'm unsure what's funny about racing mental thoughts of impulsive murder. Eh. Just not for me, perhaps.

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  31. Both are such devious enteries. I worry how the first might impact people with mental illness who fear seeking help because they don't wish to be seen like that MC. It's just fiction, but still.

    WizardInc gets my vote.

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  32. It was hard to decide.

    I liked the premise of both pieces and I thought the inner thoughts sandwiched between the dialog were hilarious in Alexander Scribblers piece.

    But my vote is for WizardInc. I totally related to the story. I was laughing all the way to the finish and wanting more. The only thing is that I would have liked to see the actions and dialog together on each line. It might have made the back and forth, who was saying what clearer.

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  33. Both of these made me laugh! Voting for WizardInc.

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  34. As always two interesting premises! My vote goes to WizardInc.

    Scribbler: I think you juggled what the character was saying vs what they were thinking very well, and she is a realistic character. Which led to me feel this wasn't a dark comedy. To me this felt like someone with barely repressed rage and her urges to lash out at everyone innocent and or trying to help her also cost her sympathy points. Violence and dark comedy usually go hand in hand, but there is often enough justification for the violence to happen. In this case not sure the character has that.

    WizardInc: Hell makes damned souls work a call center. This feels real to anyone who has worked a call center, and the character calling in and getting rerouted also feels real. Walter's befuddlement at finding a fellow fan of a book series made me crack up, wish we'd gotten more time with her maybe see them in the same room, see what kind of chemistry they have.

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  35. Okay, now I hate this.

    It’s so hard to choose between two great entries. Congratulations! These are both excellent. Well-written, funny conceptualizations with skillful execution.

    I love the characterization in Mr. Scribbler’s story and the way the plot is slowly revealed through Corena’s demented internal dialogue, contrasted with her calm external behavior. Though you tried to tell the story mostly through thoughts and dialogue, a bit more grounding with physical descriptions of the scene and characters would have been helpful. Funny, yet chilling.

    WizardInc’s story is funny in a different way. We’ve all had hellish encounters trying to unsubscribe to things, but poor Walter actually has to place a call to hell. I had a few nit-picks on this one. It wasn’t clear who’s doing all that screaming on the phone. The phone operator? Or someone else in the background? I didn’t quite believe the change in Walter’s demeanor when Lucindina came on the phone. It would have helped to see more of Walter’s thought process as he’s being seduced. As it is, his attitude switched too quickly from being wary and anxious, to being intrigued and enthralled, with no second thoughts. The last line, however, sent a tingle down my spine and I loved that.

    So because I feel the writing is a bit smoother, I vote for Alexander Scribbler.

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  36. Well done to you both. Today I slightly prefer SCRIBBLER for my vote.

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  37. Oh my gosh!! Is all I can say for both. Lol. Alexander made me really think if that's what really goes through patients heads when they are in a counseling session with a doctor in a mental facility. Kudos for Alexander!!

    WizardInc makes you feel like you are really on the phone with someone and before you know it you're sucked in.

    My vote is for WizardInc.

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  38. Both great reads. I vote for WizardInc, which seems more finished.

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  39. My vote goes to WizardInc

    Alexander Scribbler - Great use of dialogue and letting the reader into the main characters inner thoughts. The twist at the end was a bit expected, but still satisfying, the piece sets us up to expect something terrible for the reason the protagonist is speaking to a Doctor - I felt from the beginning this was some sort of therapy session, or an interview before a mental patient was released.
    I didn't really get a humorous tone from this at all, even though the genre listed is Adult dark comedy. There wasn't enough play on words to reveal any humor, and the mention of "painting on one eyebrow" at the beginning just made me wonder the whole time if the narrator was looking at a picture instead of a real person.

    WizardInc - I laughed all the way through this piece. Great job taking the trope of hell and the devil and bringing in some fresh perspective. I loved the little details mixed in with the dialogue - the character adjusting his collar as he spoke to the demon. Great hook at the end, I wanted the story to continue and I'd love to see the outcome of this date! Very funny having a demon like period drama - I can just picture them sitting down to tea together.

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  40. Scribbler. This one scared me. Not something I would enjoy reading, though written well.
    WizardInc. More interesting to me and I liked the points like adjusting his collar. My vote would be for WizardInc.

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  41. Scribbler, absolutely frightening and a chilling reminder of just how dark a mind can really be. It was very well written and I love to read dialogue. The darkness dominated any humor for me though.
    WizardInc, was very clever. Romance is always kind of fun to read. It is really humorous in that the “Fooled” title might apply to this entry as well. After all, as humans, we are so easily tempted. I love that the character totally forgot about unsubscribing when he became attracted to the smoky, sexy voice. WizardInc has my vote.

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  42. My vote goes to WizardInc.

    Alexander Scribbler - I always wonder what is going through a person’s mind and how it compares with what they say out loud, and you’ve provided us with a very lively example! I like how Carena is distracted by trivia, a bubbling stream of venom even as she is being offered the exit she wants. Even so, there are a few things I’m struggling with here: the psychiatrist seems to be very gullible and offering freedom to someone who has been extraordinarily violent; would Carena really have been able to maintain a calm facade for long enough to merit the offer; and I don’t believe that someone can have such dissonant, vicious thoughts and not leak any of it in body language for a professional to notice. I’m a fan of subtlety: I think I would believe it more if there were an ambiguity in the phrasing of her responses, such that they sound reasonable yet her thoughts explain their true and dangerous meaning.

    WizardInc - Poor Walter! Unsubscribing from a contract is hard enough without risking literal eternal suffering, and Lucidina is the temptress employed to keep subscribers paying. I very much like your voice in this, which, since you have made me think about food, reminds me of a slightly tart strawberry creme in a chocolate. I am highly taken with the phrase ‘The scent of roses and perhaps the hint of tea poured out of the Nokia.’ I got a little lost in the Royal Rogue section - it seemed to jump from Disciples to Rogues to period dramas and I’m not sure I ever worked it out. I’d also need a little more sense of how Walter lost his ability to resist Lucidina - perhaps he thinks something determined and yet something drooling comes out of his mouth. That’s how it goes in my life, anyway. The line-space-line-space speech formatting was a bit hard on my brain and rather staccato - I think it could be compressed, making it smoother. But other than these minor tidy-ups, I really enjoyed this piece and it has my vote.

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  43. Scribbler, I would really love to see this expanded. I want to know what happened before this part of the story. Very well written.

    WizardInc, interesting twist to the automated answering system where nothing goes your way. Nice piece and very frightening.

    Tough decision but I'm voting for Scribbler.

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  44. Congratulations to both writers for making it into the ring!

    Alexander Scribbler: I enjoyed the banter between her inner thoughts and outer thoughts. Trying to frame her actions and thoughts in so something socially acceptable is something we all struggle with everyday. The first line threw me off a bit as I had no frame of reference, but once I understood the thought process it all fell into place.

    WizardInc: Fun modern twist on how even selling your soul has become big business. Enjoyable amount of small details that showed the thought and care that went into this piece. Probably a bit too much for the short space allowed here, but the introduction of the period drama needed a bit more explanation for me to fully follow.

    My vote goes to Alexander Scribbler.

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  45. My vote is for WizardInc. I enjoyed the creativity and humor. In the first piece, I appreciated the concept and enjoyed the inner dialogue, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the second piece.

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  46. Well done writers and getting through. The pieces feel very evenly matched.

    I would have liked to have seen some redeeming quality in Scribbler's character, even if it was tiny, as it is hard to route for a character who appears nothing but evil.

    Wizard's story was for me a little harder to follow, and I got lost a few times in it, though I think your premise is very creative.

    Because I understood the story as whole more, my vote this round goes to Alexander Scribbler.

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  47. I'm voting for Alexander Scribbler ... I enjoyed the internal monologue juxtaposed with the outer dialogue. Good premise and in few words I got the character(s) and the setting.

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  48. My vote goes to Scribbler. I really thought the character was devious. Well done there. I thought going with the heart in a box was a bit overboard -- not likely to be released, etc. -- that character was compelling in a way that I enjoyed.

    WizardInc -- I liked your overall idea, however, I think you needed more space to develop the mood you wanted. Still, well done to you, too.

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  49. For this round, I am going to cast my vote for WizardInc. Scribbler's idea was interesting but I just did not enjoy it as much as the other.

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  50. Alexander Scribbler
    Personally, I enjoy the pure dialogue here and the story told through the back-and-forth. Way to be bold with a different style of format!

    I'm with Corena (Carena?): Why does this doctor have one painted eyebrow? I'm not even sure of the context of why you would paint an eyebrow that still exists at all. I've heard of painted on eyebrows, but not sure I get what this painted eyebrow is/looks like. Since it's described as bushy, I don't think it's painted on? Very curious about this.

    "I feel like snatching that caterpillar off your forehead with my fingertips." This doesn't actually sound all that aggressive or violent. Perhaps "I feel like peeling that caterpillar off your forehead" would work better? Or "plucking each little hair of that caterpillar off your forehead." The "with my fingertips" isn't necessary.

    Couple instances of missing commas. Example:
    "Oh, I'm doing well today[,] Doctor." Missing comma of address.

    And incorrect punctuation usage:
    "If she dies it will be your fault; you sorry sack of shit." Should be a comma, or possibly an em dash, instead of a semicolon.

    "When you think back on the incident; how does it make you feel?” Same here. Semicolon only used to separate complete independent clauses.

    "What he did to me was just part of life and I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.” The therapist applauds Corena for showing remorse here. But this line in no way indicates remorse. The "it's just life" expresses acceptance and can actually imply that Corena's actions were outside of her control, so she's abdicating responsibility here. The "I shouldn't have reacted" sounds more rote than heartfelt. A real therapist should have picked up on these cues.

    Agreeing with others that the murder of the former boyfriend after he dumps Corena (I am assuming that's what happened) is too extreme for her to be let out on its face. Since this is a dark comedy, I'm willing to suspend that realism in exchange for satirical commentary on the state of healthcare, the prison system, etc... In this short piece, we don't see any evidence of satire, however.

    My biggest feedback on improving this is to make the therapist her own actual character. Right now, she's merely a wall for Corena to play off of. She has this really fascinating eyebrow, but that's it. Otherwise, she's just bland tofu that sounds like someone playing at a therapist, rather than a professional. Maybe that's the point, that this woman got a degree when really she shouldn't have, but with no evidence of that intention here, it comes off more like she as a character is really an afterthought.

    I think it'd be much more engaging if the therapist is actually intelligent, or has her own motives. What if she knows Corena is still fundamentally screwed up, but she's intentionally leading her to answers in order to get her out? Maybe she doesn't want to deal with her. Maybe she's hoping Corena will screw up so that she can make a case for why they need more funding. Maybe Corena is her own form of revenge. Or maybe Corena just creeps her out so much that she's willing to release her to get her away.

    You could even play off of multiple characters having internal thoughts. That might be a really fun structure and could easily be the foundation for intriguing satire.

    Corena is only going to be as interesting as the world around her. If everyone else is just a backdrop for her own angry thoughts, that will become tiresome quickly and limit who she can be.

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  51. WizardInc
    HOOKED with line one! I LOVED the concept of hell as a call center. That is gold! In some ways, the end is a huge let down for me as a result. Playing around with unsubscribing being on the magnitude of hell is hilarious and brilliant. And since Walter has obviously prepared for this with his "carefully worded script," for him to get so easily diverted from that after one simple transfer is a letdown. I also really wanted to see what the rest of his script was. it sounds like he's tried to unsubscribe before, so I find it really odd that he'd be completely unprepared for the seduction of the retention department.

    The opening has such delightful detail and focus on the intent of the call itself (e.g. Walter not using a touchscreen to be careful not to lose his soul, ha!), but the moment Lucidina comes on, those great details and the hellish call-tree concept are immediately dropped. Bummer. I'm betting this is because you wanted to get to the start of the romance in this short sample, but to me, I'd have carried on with the unsubscribe concept. That would have sold me, hands down. Or else, the other approach would be a scene where the romance is already in swing and reveal that Lucidina is a demon of hell. That would also be quite fun and interesting. Right now, I see two great concepts suffering because the great ideas are rushed to get from one to the other.

    I also have to admit that romance is not jam. Part of that has to do with how it tends to only allow the protagonist to be a full person and it's all about their desires, rather than being a story of 2 full people with autonomy, desires, and consensually coming together (the one-sided nature to me isn't compelling). And it tends to objectify the other person. Given Lucidina appears to be a succubus, that aligns right with those 2 tendencies. A highly sexualized female demon also feels very expected (swapping the roles with the demon being an incubus and the caller being a woman still has the issues I've mentioned, but would be more unique).

    The joint interest in the period drama is a nice twist and adds some great dimension! But I'm personally already turned off because of the sexualization and shallow attraction. If Walter is totally unaffected by the seduction, but gets thrown off and super intrigued by the mention of this period drama and Lucidina immediately drops the seduction angle, realizing this guy cares about something she actually likes, that to me is more engaging, original, and heart warming than him just immediately unable to help himself, them bonding over something, but her still coming off as this femme fatale. His goal was to unsubscribe and he's prepared for it. So he shouldn't be affected by all the seduction ploys. That would be where the great link and humor comes in: he's hardened against hell's expected tricks, but can't help himself when this series is mentioned and he finds a fellow fan. He doesn't have to be socially awkward or nerdy, either, to go this route (it's more original and refreshing if he's not).

    Other than that, there were just a couple places that confused me or didn't work so well (many have commented on the mewling, sad animated puppy, for example).

    "One wrong move and he'd be one of the eternally suffering," threw me off. I didn't connect that all call reps were those who'd sold their souls so the first mention of eternally suffering didn't translate to "loss of soul" = the same group.

    Tough call. I'm going to have to go with WizardInc due to tighter writing and fantastic ideas. Really hoping the romance angle gets reworked and more of that great hell call center is seen in the full version!

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  52. This was a well matched round but I prefer WizardInc. Reminiscent of one of my favorite books Screwtape Letters. I loved the snap, crackle pop terror of the last lines!

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