I cannot praise the pigeon metaphor enough. Wonderful stuff.

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Aaaaaghhhhhh!!!! Thank you, Chuck! I hooted so loud I probably woke up the neighbors. Thank you for all the specific feedback I can use to make it better by incorporating sex and possibly more death.

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What you say about the series of 3 completing too much energy is definitely true. You can feel it when it happens. But are there any situations where a series of three works better than a series of two or four or just a single item?

I loved the fact that you were nudging parts of the story to go into a dirty direction. Sexy times or rubbing one out. Very visceral. As I was reading that, I was thinking, "That'd be so gripping!" Pun intended.

Chuck, is that why you like to give people the last word? So that you can become that likeable underdog? I'm onto your secrets!

I noticed that the author uses "um" and "uh" in their lines of dialogue. How do you feel about that? Do you think the lines would be more concise by limiting them or simply removing them?

Small point here. Barry and Bobby sound very much alike. I learned that similar sounding names can potentially confuse readers. And when I read the name Bobby, my mind had to take a few seconds to figure out who that was. Your substitute name, "tweed jacket" is a pretty solid choice.

And the line about the plunger sucking up the turd at the gas station bathroom...made me laugh.

Good job on the story!

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And you weren't kidding when you said you had a long one lol

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Just wanna say, I appreciate the hell out of what you're doing on your Substack. You're really going above and beyond. To me, you have earned more thanks than we can afford to give. So, for what it's worth, thank you again. For taking the time out of your day, your precious time, to help improve our writing and to feed us insatiable little subscribers new content!

You know we can never get enough of that shit lol

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Also, what do you mean by "foil"?

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“Dreaded character alone”. Is this a big no-no? If so I may be in trouble.

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Now every time I go to the nursing home, I’m going to watch for that lost condom sliding out of someone’s pants leg onto the floor!

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The more i use these minimalism rules the more i wonder how boring a "maximalism" story would be, using the exact opposite rules. Could be kinda fun to write though, less fun to glove off it.

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Hi Chris!

Thank you for sharing “Martha” with us.

An interesting thing I kept finding myself drawn to was that the story takes place on Christmas. I kept thinking about Scrooge from The Christmas Carol; for some reason, your story was giving me the same vibe, which I quite liked.

The bird thread you have going is neat and unique. I had to look up what an ornithologist was, but once I had the definition handy, the bird knowledge really clicked, and of course a guy who’s into birds is going to have on that filter no matter what he’s doing. (Side note, my grandpa Harlan is a serious bird watcher, so much so that you do not want to be a passenger in his car--he is watching the sky more closely than the road!!)

I am digging Chuck’s advice on keeping the action present. About not stealing your own thunder; how much to tell the reader and when. And also on the three’s thing. I am always thinking/writing in threes and now I will end on a two to build tension like Chuck suggested.

Thank you again for sharing. I love how all of us can learn through specific examples from each other’s work.

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I really enjoyed the metaphors in this one as well. I can’t wait to hear you sprinkle more in about the pigeons and tie it all together at the end. Also, I really liked how you used italicized font for the Big Voice. That is a nice trick.


A few times you mentioned ideas for painting more physical action. I’ve heard you talk about thinking it of a camera in a movie. One trick I’ve started to do is to not only imagine the scene as if I’m watching it as a movie (where the camera goes, what moves, etc.) but I also try to then write out the scene as though I’m describing it to someone who is sitting next to me wearing a blindfold. I’ve found this helps a lot -- especially if I do it fast, as if the scene is moving that quickly. It’s helped me to not overthink and to use natural phrasing. It’s like those cooperative group exercises they’d have in school where you’re on a team and only one kid can see the object that the teacher has built and that kid has to describe it to the other kids so that they can build it right.

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I enjoyed "Martha" and think with some tweaking it will be an even better story. Like Chuck, I also felt that the set-up of the steep no-railing stairway was somewhat of a Checkov's gun that didn't fire. I expected Barry to fall to his death while making his escape from the house, joining Martha.

And unless you want the reader to immediately think of "The Golden Girls" I'd change the name of Shady Pines.

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You always drop gems in your critiques. Here is just one of my favorites.

"A lavish setting does not make a story good. Neither does clever talk. Only good verbs and escalating action make a story work."

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Martha, Martha... That was also the name of the SMG shooter in Scarface when they're about to chop Tony with the saw. She stuck in my mind as the most scarry character of the whole movie.

I don't want to be repeating Chuck's excellent advice and observations.

So here are mine.

I liked you used death as an initiator for a new life. It also works with the snow, as winter is like a death (metaphorically). Maybe it would better work with early spring and sudden blizzard to suggest new times? Or don't tell and show daffodils now destroyed by snow, but some surviving nevertheless.

I'm not sure if cheesy, but Martha Colm? Colm is pigeon in Irish. They could die on the same date too.

And to continue Chuck's plot with dead sex partner, the hero could drive her/his dead body around in his white van to avoid suspicion of murder. Or maybe because he's slightly turned on by dead people - the reason why he lasted so long in the job.

Thanks for sharing!

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Love the story and I love the possible changes. For me, the things that I'd like to see (if you were to ammend anything), would be the chaos at the end and the shortening of the note.

Another story I really enjoyed.

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