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Old 10-07-2007, 10:56 PM   #1
Varian P
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Post Story Discussion: October 8, 2007. "Down" by Varian

Hi all,

Yes, another one from me, but for once I'm not here with chapter seven of a thirty-eight chapter novel--I have a real live short story! How about that?

The immediate impetus for writing Down was the Halloween contest, but the seed of the story has been germinating for well over a year, and the ultimate inspiration brought that dark seed to flower a couple weeks ago. I confess that I rushed the writing and skimped on proofing, and I'm aware there are some typos--my apologies.

I have a notion I might attempt to develop this story into a screenplay--something I've never tried. So, the story would be significantly expanded.

It's my first attempt at anything in the horror/thriller vein, and might tie in the with another thread here in the SDC on writing and reading dark stories, so if anyone wants to explore it in that spirit, aside from the usual critique, have at it.

-Varian
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Old 10-07-2007, 10:58 PM   #2
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Down is the week's sacrificial offering.
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Old 10-07-2007, 11:10 PM   #3
Varian P
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Author's questions

As I mentioned, this is my first attempt a story in the horror or thriller milieu, so the big question for me is, am I succeeding at making the story suspenseful and scary? Any thoughts on where I'm failing and ideas as to why would be helpful.

Second, there's nothing I loathe more in a story of this nature, than when we get to the end, and realize the story doesn't actually make sense, that the internal logic of the fictional world is full of holes, the plot is painfully contrived to force certain situations, the characters act unbelievably to facilitate the plot, etc. So if there's a place where you feel like you're watching a girl inexplicably trip and struggle to get up while the monster chasing her closes in, please let me know.

At the conclusion of the story, do you feel like you understand who the main character is, and what has been done to him?

Finally, all general criticisms and reactions are welcome.

In advance, thanks for having a look and offering your thoughts!

-Varian
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Old 10-10-2007, 11:41 PM   #4
Penelope Street
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Hi Varian,

The opening presents a character with issues, and that's good, but I didn't feel terribly sympathetic toward him at that moment and I certainly didn't warm up to him while the story progressed.

Because I was kinda curious what Paul did to deserve being haunted, the story did hold my interest, but I can't say that I was ever really frightened. Maybe this was because, even if I didn't know why the ghost was after him, Paul seemed to know and I never got the impression he thought she was unjust. Or maybe it's just because Brian's right- he is a fucking prick. On that note, why is Zach living with his father? I'd never let my child stay with that man unless a court said I had to, and maybe not even then.

The moment Paul tries to hit one of his assailants and misses, I guessed what had happened and pretty much what would happen. If anything, the story felt a bit rushed just then- not much, just a little. I didn't foresee him being committed for thinking he's himself. Nice touch. The last scene in the asylum wraps it all up neatly, though I found it a pinch hard to believe that the elderly sorceress can't tell a villain from a victim.

I guess I don't quite get the title either.

The only time I was kinda confused was during the second scene. At first, I wasn't sure who was speaking and even once I figured it out, I didn't know what either one of them wanted, so I wasn't sure what the point was other than to introduce Zach. Did you consider showing us Paul the father in the first scene instead of the second? That might have made him more sympathetic, if only for a while.

Other than those quibbles, and they are minor, I think it's a well-written and engaging tale. Great job with the characterization and the narration style. I would never have guessed you penned it in something of a hurry.

Take Care,
Penny

P.S.
Did I miss answering any questions?

Last edited by Penelope Street : 10-10-2007 at 11:56 PM.
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Old 10-12-2007, 02:47 AM   #5
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Hi, Penny.

As always, thank you for once again taking the time to read and comment on another one of my pieces.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
The opening presents a character with issues, and that's good, but I didn't feel terribly sympathetic toward him at that moment and I certainly didn't warm up to him while the story progressed.
No, me either. One thing I was playing with here, was a twist on what I think of as the usual dynamic in horror stories, by making the 'victim' despicable, and the thing haunting him ultimately sympathetic. I'm not sure how well it works, though, since I never give the reader a chance to get close to and empathise with Lena, either when she was Paul's vulnerable victim, or as she 'haunts' him.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
Because I was kinda curious what Paul did to deserve being haunted, the story did hold my interest, but I can't say that I was ever really frightened. Maybe this was because, even if I didn't know why the ghost was after him, Paul seemed to know and I never got the impression he thought she was unjust. Or maybe it's just because Brian's right- he is a fucking prick. On that note, why is Zach living with his father? I'd never let my child stay with that man unless a court said I had to, and maybe not even then.
You raise an interesting point--is it necessary for the character being terrorized to be sympathetic, or seem an innocent victim in order for the torment to be scary o the reader?

Perhaps I should consider holding off on having Paul recognize Lena, so that he can be terrified of some unknown thing for a bit before I reveal that he knows who/what is after him.

As for Zach living with Paul, you've hit upon the main thing I feel needs to change in this story. I can't imagine Paul sustaining any kind of reasonably normal marriage, much less getting custody of a child. Not unless he's really managed to pull off a secret double life. I've been developing an alternate plot-line, where Paul's never been married, but got Lena or one of the other girls pregnant, and one of his big crimes is having stolen the baby from that woman. When Paul disappears, then, and the authorities investigate him, Zach will end up in the foster care system, giving the story a truly innocent victim, which I feel it needs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
The moment Paul tries to hit one of his assailants and misses, I guessed what had happened and pretty much what would happen. If anything, the story felt a bit rushed just then- not much, just a little. I didn't foresee him being committed for thinking he's himself. Nice touch. The last scene in the asylum wraps it all up neatly, though I found it a pinch hard to believe that the elderly sorceress can't tell a villain from a victim.
I left the supernatural element pretty vague, I know, but what I intend is that there is this tradition of women learning to focus their rage and suffering against whomever has hurt them. There isn't anything else to their power--it's narrow, and purely destructive. Not only does their vengeance destroy the person who's hurt them, but their families (Jennifer, Zach), and also the woman, herself as she expends her whole life force on avenging the wrong done her. It's my little exploration of that dilemma between having the satisfaction of getting someone back, at the expense of all else, versus spending that energy on recovering.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
I guess I don't quite get the title either.
Um, yeah. I admit I didn't put too much thought into that. Just that after twenty years of getting away with his crimes, Paul is brought down by someone he used horribly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
The only time I was kinda confused was during the second scene. At first, I wasn't sure who was speaking and even once I figured it out, I didn't know what either one of them wanted, so I wasn't sure what the point was other than to introduce Zach. Did you consider showing us Paul the father in the first scene instead of the second? That might have made him more sympathetic, if only for a while.
Thanks for pointing out the confusion--you're the second to mention it, so I do think it needs cleaning up.

I very much like your idea about setting Paul up as "Dad" at the opening, to create a sense of normalcy, and make him momentarily sympathetic. I'm only torn because, structurally, I really like the 'deadness' of Katya in that opening scene--I feel like it makes for a nice 'full-circle' feel to the story. But perhaps that should be sacrificed for bigger gains.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
Other than those quibbles, and they are minor, I think it's a well-written and engaging tale. Great job with the characterization and the narration style. I would never have guessed you penned it in something of a hurry.
Thanks! After reading some other stories on the site recently, I was kind of moping that I haven't been writing anything with--for lack of a better word--richer prose, lately. But here, the plain-spoken narration seems right for the character. I'm glad you thought so, too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
P.S.
Did I miss answering any questions?
I think you got 'em all.

Again, thanks so much for the feedback. You're always so generous.

Take care,

Varian
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:58 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian P
One thing I was playing with here, was a twist on what I think of as the usual dynamic in horror stories, by making the 'victim' despicable, and the thing haunting him ultimately sympathetic. I'm not sure how well it works, though, since I never give the reader a chance to get close to and empathise with Lena, either when she was Paul's vulnerable victim, or as she 'haunts' him.
I did get a chance to emphathize with Lena, but it was late in the tale. I don't see why the twist can't work, but I think it would work better if the reader gradually came to understand Paul's nature.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian P
You raise an interesting point--is it necessary for the character being terrorized to be sympathetic, or seem an innocent victim in order for the torment to be scary o the reader?
For me, yes. If I'm not able to identify with the character, I'm not likely to be frightened by their plight.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian P
As for Zach living with Paul, you've hit upon the main thing I feel needs to change in this story. I can't imagine Paul sustaining any kind of reasonably normal marriage, much less getting custody of a child. Not unless he's really managed to pull off a secret double life. I've been developing an alternate plot-line, where Paul's never been married, but got Lena or one of the other girls pregnant, and one of his big crimes is having stolen the baby from that woman.
I can see Paul trying to be a father. If he has a son, that is. What I can't see is Zach's mother allowing it, so the stolen baby idea could work.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian P
Perhaps I should consider holding off on having Paul recognize Lena, so that he can be terrified of some unknown thing for a bit before I reveal that he knows who/what is after him.
That probably would have helped.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian P
I left the supernatural element pretty vague, I know, but what I intend is that there is this tradition of women learning to focus their rage and suffering against whomever has hurt them. There isn't anything else to their power--it's narrow, and purely destructive. Not only does their vengeance destroy the person who's hurt them, but their families (Jennifer, Zach), and also the woman, herself as she expends her whole life force on avenging the wrong done her.
I liked this idea.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian P
I very much like your idea about setting Paul up as "Dad" at the opening, to create a sense of normalcy, and make him momentarily sympathetic. I'm only torn because, structurally, I really like the 'deadness' of Katya in that opening scene--I feel like it makes for a nice 'full-circle' feel to the story. But perhaps that should be sacrificed for bigger gains.
This is a difficult choice. I liked the corpses eyes too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian P
You're always so generous.
Thank you.

Last edited by Penelope Street : 10-14-2007 at 04:06 AM.
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Old 10-14-2007, 12:04 PM   #7
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comments to varian.

Generally i enjoyed the story, and found it sufficiently spooky and well written. Its structure is elaborate, which is fine, but I almost felt i had to make a list of the characters, esp. the various women with slavic names and not much to distinguish them. so the comments below are to be understood as responses to questions and various concerns that do NOT--despite the prolixity-- detract from my overall favorable impression of the story. (sorry that the comments come out a bit disorganized.)



VARAs I mentioned, this is my first attempt a story in the horror or thriller milieu, so the big question for me is, am I succeeding at making the story suspenseful and scary? Any thoughts on where I'm failing and ideas as to why would be helpful.

P: i would say it's mildly suspenseful, and potentially quite scary. it becomes clear, early on, that Paul is going to be hunted down and brought low ("down") by avenging ghosts, so the only question is the manner. There would have to be some hitches or surprises, e.g. Paul thinking he'd escaped the hunt, for there to be real suspense. Paul would have to be more than helpless, as he is. maybe even 'kill' or over come one demon, only to be beset by five others...


Second, there's nothing I loathe more in a story of this nature, than when we get to the end, and realize the story doesn't actually make sense, that the internal logic of the fictional world is full of holes,

P: the fictional world is generally logical, in its basic assumptions that ghosts can take many forms, and 'possess' people [as demons do];

more unusual is that 'persons/identities' can be given different bodies, sort like the comedies where mom wakes up in her teenage daughter's body. that is one interpretation.

ON the other hand: Note--, however, there is some evidence that the author intends something more complicated; [by analogy] mom stays the same, and the body of mom stays the same [in some metaphysical sense], but the body simply *looks* and "feels" (to others) like the teenagers body, but isn't.



P: i do have some minor questions about the mechanics of what happens to Paul. If he's in a woman's body, he would be fucked in the vagina, or possibly the ass. Apparently the first. So does the "inner Paul" experience a vaginal rape? i would think so. Instead he seems to have his rectum (his "metaphysical rectum") violated. I realize all this shape shifting is complicated, with different personalities in different bodies, but what's going on?

HOWEVER: In accord with the "note" i've added above about an alternative--and perhaps the author's preferred--interpretation:

i'm cognizant of the possibility that Paul with Paul's real body is there [in some sense], but that body *looks* and *feels* like a woman's body. if that were true, varian's described event could happen as it does: presumably his anus looks like a pussy. this raises the question what corresponds to the perceived woman's anus. well, the second man sees a woman's anus, and fucks it; Paul's anus looks both like a pussy and an anus. perplexities!!!


the plot is painfully contrived to force certain situations, the characters act unbelievably to facilitate the plot, etc.

P: the plot is simple, an evil man, who's harmed many women is going to pay for it, in being tortured by their ghosts, while--karmically, one might say--- being given the form of a woman so as to allow him to be raped, etc....

that said, Paul's abduction is kind of out of the blue and involves, apparently real people, under Lena's direction (whether they know it or not). the next scene is like the Pulp Fiction homo rape scene.

one might say that while the events have a kind of sequence, their concatenation is unclear, their linkages. often, for instance, in a story, a fleeing person runs from bad person A, straight into the arms of bad person B, pretending to be helpful.

the characters are believable, or plausible, though the women are just sketched, and for a time at least seem like mere victims or fodder; other than going 'dead,' they offer no resistance. Lena takes up the attack.

So if there's a place where you feel like you're watching a girl inexplicably trip and struggle to get up while the monster chasing her closes in, please let me know.

P: i did not see such an instance, or contrivance. but see the note above about sequencing.

At the conclusion of the story, do you feel like you understand who the main character is, and what has been done to him?

P: Yes.

----
P: Overall:


given the simplicity of the plot, the dramatic values only emerge in the way it's told, which is rather sophisticated, involving several scenes with their implied or stated back stories.

a key scene, for instance, that first indicates the scale of Paul's evildoings is the conversation with Brian, where B, essentially says, given what you've done, a, b, c, what happens in retaliation is to be expected.

it's an interesting twist that B doesn't just function to inform the reader, but is immediately indicted by Paul, as profiting from the evil doings.

two other points: A) depending on the audience, some of Paul's doings, as described early on, seem scarcely in the league of Leonard Lake or Paul Bernardo. for a general audience, an orgy may seem the epitome of evil, but for younger persons, and Litizens in particular having one girl eat another while being bumfucked, apparently consensually, is not going to cause 'oh how could he'. nor is 'sharing' by Paul and Brian, esp. of a prostitute, experienced as outrageous.


to strengthen the story, i would somehow make the sex scene more depraved, whereas now it's merely graphic. For example: let A fuck B in the butt till she's leaking blood and shit and have her 'raped' by C with a giant dildo that sends her into shock and causes them to drop her half dead in front of the emergency room.

my last point, B), made privately is about the decision to cast Paul as a longtime serial evil doer (and reveal this to the reader in the latter parts of the story.) in effect, it's like having one of Tony Soprano's nastier psychopathic associates (such as "Ritchie," who marries Tony's sister), come to the point where he has to be brought down. at that point, the only question for the reader is the ingenuity with which a team of ghost demons rip the flesh off the bad guy, make him eat his own testicles or whatever. this interlinks with the suspense/surprise issue, already mentioned, i.e. arguably detracts from suspense.


one might take another approach: i suppose it's basically a different story, and it's not fair to ask an author to write a different story, but personally, i think there's something to be said for minor or infrequent mistakes leading to disaster. for example, Paul, instead of being a slaver, would a occasional patron of slavers. this approach is a kind of 'opening pandora's box' theme as opposed to the proportional retaliation theme of Jack the Ripper being torn apart by demons from his victims....

====
Note after a fourth reading. I am able to keep the ladies straight, though most are not individually memorable.

I remain convinced that the battle could be written so as to supply suspense, rather than simply have Paul 'go down', pretty helplessly.

The scene where Katya becomes the dead Lena is kind of a grabber; i would have liked to see it followed up, i.e. a variety of unnerving things happen to Paul, instead of (mainly) just visitations, then the kidnapping and rape.

Probably the 'end' in the Russian asylum in not necessary, esp. in relation to learning black magic. Paul could be picked up, a quivering wreck, in a russian girl's body, and carted off to the back wards of a loony bin (where foreign speakers have been interred for decades, because no one understands them.) Neither is it necessary to have the police recap the entire sequence for the dumber reader. It should be clear in its outline, by then.

Lastly, on the overall plan: arguably the bringing of an evil man to justice, at the hands of demons, is more of the horror genre. In my view, already stated, it would have been darker to make Paul less totally villainous. For instance, if any male reader has patronized a prostitute, he must have been aware that she might have been coerced. Hence the real possibility that he's committing evil, beginning with, essentially, raping her (since her consent cannot be genuine). That such an average joe does evil and is chased 'down' by demons would be a helluva dark story, though it's not fair to ask Varian to write a different story.
----

Further note, 10-16. I see, based on the dialogue of Varian and Penny, that i have had some misconceptions and in particular did not directly consider the author's strategy of gradually revealing Paul's evil. However i've had my say above, in far too many words.

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Old 10-15-2007, 02:02 PM   #8
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Hi, Varian,

Once again, I'm delighted to be reading something of yours. You, and probably everyone around, know how much I admire your writing, so I hope it won't appear unseemly if I just say I thought it your usual kind of superb in this story, and focus only on what I've seen as problematic.

In general, I could say my concerns have to do with structure and protag's character, but I'm not sure I have any fixes to offer, or even that I can pin down the problems with accuracy. I'll try to just relay my impressions and hope that you'd be able to find something of use.

The problem I can perhaps isolate with most ease is that of the denouement. I loved the conclusion, but the presentation of the last portion of the story struck me as somewhat anticlimactic, so I'll take it from there—from the end, instead of from the beginning.

Once Paul's ordeal in hands of his captors was over, the story, as well, was over for me. I'd lost the emotional involvement and stuck through the explanation without real interest. In a way, it reminded me a bit of those old-school murder mysteries where the detective has to gather everyone in the room and make a post script explanation of everything that didn't get to be previously addressed. I can't say if pacing a story that way is necessarily bad, but I do wonder if it could have been done differently, synchronizing the explanation with the action so that the suspense doesn't let up till the end.

One idea that comes to mind—though it's just thinking aloud and possibly at odds with other goals—is that maybe you could have opened with a brief scene of an old woman whispering to a girl, before introducing us to Paul. Provided this could be done without revealing too much, it could give you a nice hook, while at the same time allowing you, later, to go for a quicker ending. You could cut to an ending scene of his and the old woman's storyline converging (instead of the rather detailed account of what happened to Paul after his release from captivity) and let the reader make the necessary inferences.

Admittedly, this is probably easier said than made to work—despite the appeal the idea has for me for the circularity that would correspond with the circularity of the plot—but even if the old woman doesn't make a previous appearance, it would be a good idea to speed up the denouement. Cutting to Paul's awakening in Belarus and having to orient himself, instead of going through the events linearly, could well do the trick.

Here, since I mentioned circularity, I have to stop and say it was one of the things I particularly appreciated about the story. I don't find much enjoyment in tales of revenge, but a subtle point you made by making the perpetrator become indistinguishable from the victim (and, it could be said, vice versa) lent the story a satisfying depth. It was early during Paul's torture that the thought created unease in me; when he got raped in the asylum, it became impossible to ignore, and with the final revelation, you drove home the question you wanted the reader to take with them—or so I thought. Therein, I found the true darkness of this story.

As for problems related to Paul's character, I don't know if I can sum them up better than to say I wasn't sure how to feel about him. I gather it was your intention to change our perception of him gradually, but the effect it had on me was one of indecision. By which I don't mean to say that I didn't understand who he is (in answer to one of your question), but that I didn't feel it in a convincing enough way.

In the opening scene, my impression of him was that he's just a guy suffering from ennui, which left me neutral and even willing to be sympathetic. I wonder if you wanted that much ambiguity or if my reading had been overly optimistic. (E.g. the dead eyes I initially perceived as "lack of passion", not as "broken spirit".)

The following scene with him as a father seemed not to fit too well, but at the time I was willing to see where it leads. Upon reading through to the end, though, it seemed to fit even less and left me entirely unsure as to what it was supposed to establish.

The next scene, of the group sex, showed Paul as a small time jerk, though nowhere near to what we'd later learn of him, but didn't seem to correspond too well with either of the two Pauls we'd already met, and seemed to me to last too long and establish too little.

With the introduction of the horror element, the story hooked me with more firmness (your horror descriptions are every bit as affecting as your erotic ones), but unfortunately I'd already developed the impression of some aimlessness.

It occurs to me now that Paul's character (and with him the plot) weren't clearly defined by a problem till Lena's first appearance, which could be why I felt a bit lost till then.

Once we learned the true magnitude of Paul's past vileness, I had a problem readjusting my already wavering image of him yet again, but even more importantly—and this I should stress—I couldn't be truly affected by enormity of his deeds because I haven't observed them directly. Compared to the vividness of the present-day events, the past about which we'd only heard lacked emotional impact in the same way a bit of gossip can't compare to a direct experience. The amount of attention you gave to Paul's particular traits influenced my perception thereof more than their content.

Paul, the small time jerk, I've seen in some detail, and that's the Paul in which I believe; Paul, the utterly despicable, sadistic criminal, I've only heard of, and him I recognize only on an intellectual level.

On further thought, I wonder if I've read him the way you intended after all. Did you intend—as I have read—two Pauls, so to say? The past, irredeemably vicious man, that of Lena, and the present guy, who 'merely' mistreats his girlfriends, like Katya?

If so, it could be a good idea to draw these two personas further apart, maybe make the present Paul lead an entirely clean life, and explore the dynamic between his present and past. (I.e. whether he feels guilt.) His past would probably have to be revealed in flashback/s in that case, and through deterioration of his comfy new life due to fear/paranoia, which could be tricky but could also give it the immediacy I thought lacking.

If, however, you wanted one, continuous Paul—one that's exactly as bad with Katya as he used to be with Lena, except it's being revealed to the reader one bit at the time—you should probably make an effort to give him more consistency and also make him nastier with Katya. Somewhere along the lines of this relationship between the present and the past seems to lie my main uncertainty about the story.

How much these observations help, I'm not sure (little, I suspect), because I am aware you had to pull a hide and seek in order to make a pretty straightforward plot suspenseful. You've succeeded in that for the most part, as well as captivated me with the overall atmosphere, too many exquisite passages to quote, and a thought-provoking conclusion. I hope you won't hesitate discarding my ramble if it has been entirely off the mark, or asking, if you'd like, additional questions.

Best of luck to you, as always,

Verdad
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Old 10-16-2007, 02:36 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
I did get a chance to emphathize with Lena, but it was late in the tale. I don't see why the twist can't work, but I think it would work better if the reader gradually came to understand Paul's nature.
I'm convinced, on this point, thanks to you and others. I think holding off on revealing Paul as deserving of the haunting will help to keep the spooks spookie, and also save some intrigue for later in the story.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
If I'm not able to identify with the character, I'm not likely to be frightened by their plight.
Intuitively, I suspect this is true of most readers, and I'll bear this in mind as I rewrite.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
I can see Paul trying to be a father. If he has a son, that is. What I can't see is Zach's mother allowing it, so the stolen baby idea could work.
Yeah, more and more, I'm thinking this is the way to go.

Thanks for sharing your further thoughts!

-V
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Old 10-17-2007, 10:53 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
On further thought, I wonder if I've read him the way you intended after all. Did you intend—as I have read—two Pauls, so to say? The past, irredeemably vicious man, that of Lena, and the present guy, who 'merely' mistreats his girlfriends, like Katya?
This tale could have been truly horrific for me if Paul had actually changed, found God or something, repented and married and somehow had become a decent man with an intact family- but Lena either doesn't know or doesn't care and haunts him anyway. How much more powerful would the last scene with Katya be if Paul's lover is a woman he truly adores instead of merely his latest amusement?
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Old 10-17-2007, 03:13 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
This tale could have been truly horrific for me if Paul had actually changed, found God or something, repented and married and somehow had become a decent man with an intact family- but Lena either doesn't know or doesn't care and haunts him anyway. How much more powerful would the last scene with Katya be if Paul's lover is a woman he truly adores instead of merely his latest amusement?
I was just wondering if I'd gone completely on a tangent and scared Varian away (I hope not ) but Penny's comment shows I maybe came close to the problem after all.

I meant something similar to Penny's words when I said it could be a good idea to draw apart the past and the present Paul more clearly (i.e. make them differ from one another more).

It's perhaps a stretch to think that a guy like him could be truly reformed and truly love someone, but for the purposes of the story I think it would be enough if he were just seemingly reformed. He could be living a nice life with a trophy wife, for example, arrogant in his conviction that the past is safely buried and can't catch up with him. I imagine his paranoia would be that much worse when the signs of Lena began appearing, because there'd be so much more to lose.

Conversely, following Penny's idea about being truly reformed, it could be possible to make Paul's original crime occur under hazier circumstances. Instead of being, in the past, the one who blackmailed and abused Lena, he could have been a guy who'd 'just' let his moral standards slip for long enough to profit from a situation someone else created. (That's who Brian is now, essentially.) There'd be a gray area, if tiny, to his guilt, which could make it easier for a reader to empathize.

In either scenario (or some in between), I think his fall would be more terrifying than that of a completely evil man, living a completely unrepentant and sorry existence, getting exactly what he deserves.
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Old 10-17-2007, 03:41 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Verdad
I was just wondering if I'd gone completely on a tangent and scared Varian away (I hope not )
Au contraire!

You've all just given me so much to consider, I'm indulgently taking a bit of time to digest the feedback and ponder the possibilities.

Rambling replies coming soon...

-V
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Old 10-17-2007, 04:26 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Pure
Generally i enjoyed the story, and found it sufficiently spooky and well written. Its structure is elaborate, which is fine, but I almost felt i had to make a list of the characters, esp. the various women with slavic names and not much to distinguish them. so the comments below are to be understood as responses to questions and various concerns that do NOT--despite the prolixity-- detract from my overall favorable impression of the story. (sorry that the comments come out a bit disorganized.)
Hey, we prolix types have to stick together!

Thanks so much, Pure, for such a detailed and carefully thought-out response to my little piece. It's fun and inspiring to get a glimpse of all the possibilities you gleaned.

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Originally Posted by Pure
P: i would say it's mildly suspenseful, and potentially quite scary. it becomes clear, early on, that Paul is going to be hunted down and brought low ("down") by avenging ghosts, so the only question is the manner. There would have to be some hitches or surprises, e.g. Paul thinking he'd escaped the hunt, for there to be real suspense. Paul would have to be more than helpless, as he is. maybe even 'kill' or over come one demon, only to be beset by five others...
A promising proposition... The idea your suggestion has provoked is that Paul might suspect that the thing after him has to do with Lena, and this prompts him to look into what has happened to her in the years since he's seen her. Meanwhile, the haunting ratchets up. Eventually, he learns her fate, to some degree, and, out of a combination of fear and guilt, makes some effort to ameliorate her condition. The 'haunting' could abate for a while. Then, after a period of calm, the terrorizing could revive with greater intensity.

Pondering, pondering...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
P: the fictional world is generally logical, in its basic assumptions that ghosts can take many forms, and 'possess' people [as demons do];

more unusual is that 'persons/identities' can be given different bodies, sort like the comedies where mom wakes up in her teenage daughter's body. that is one interpretation.

ON the other hand: Note--, however, there is some evidence that the author intends something more complicated; [by analogy] mom stays the same, and the body of mom stays the same [in some metaphysical sense], but the body simply *looks* and "feels" (to others) like the teenagers body, but isn't.

i do have some minor questions about the mechanics of what happens to Paul. If he's in a woman's body, he would be fucked in the vagina, or possibly the ass. Apparently the first. So does the "inner Paul" experience a vaginal rape? i would think so. Instead he seems to have his rectum (his "metaphysical rectum") violated. I realize all this shape shifting is complicated, with different personalities in different bodies, but what's going on?

HOWEVER: In accord with the "note" i've added above about an alternative--and perhaps the author's preferred--interpretation:

i'm cognizant of the possibility that Paul with Paul's real body is there [in some sense], but that body *looks* and *feels* like a woman's body. if that were true, varian's described event could happen as it does: presumably his anus looks like a pussy. this raises the question what corresponds to the perceived woman's anus. well, the second man sees a woman's anus, and fucks it; Paul's anus looks both like a pussy and an anus. perplexities!!!
The crux of the 'supernatural' element is one of suggestion, a form of hypnosis, centered on the intended victim. Lena is first able to affect Paul's perceptions—make him see her when there's nothing there, or see her in others who are near him—a random passer-by, the woman he's fucking, his son's friend, etc. As Lena's power increases, she is able to affect the perceptions of those near Paul, so they imagine his appearance, words, etc., are different than they really are.

So, to answer your question about the mechanics of the rape, essentially the rapists perceive Paul's anatomy to be whatever corresponds to their particular intentions at a particular moment. There are a number of ways in which this scheme could be taxed—an attempted vaginal/anal double penetration, for example.

Even more problematic for the author would be maintaining a suspension of disbelief as Paul-as-Lena goes into the system. If s/he is examined by a doctor, given a gynecological exam, tested for STDs, etc., I run into serious problems.

I'm comfortable with the idea that there are limits to the witch Lena's powers, that ultimately a lot of things won't quite make sense to those seeing Paul-as-Lena, but that those limitations won't be enough to get Paul out of his fate.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
P: the plot is simple, an evil man, who's harmed many women is going to pay for it, in being tortured by their ghosts, while--karmically, one might say--- being given the form of a woman so as to allow him to be raped, etc....

that said, Paul's abduction is kind of out of the blue and involves, apparently real people, under Lena's direction (whether they know it or not). the next scene is like the Pulp Fiction homo rape scene.

one might say that while the events have a kind of sequence, their concatenation is unclear, their linkages. often, for instance, in a story, a fleeing person runs from bad person A, straight into the arms of bad person B, pretending to be helpful.
My idea, there, was not that Lena puppeteered the rapists, but that she sensed that predatory element near Paul, and chose that moment to make him vulnerable to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
two other points: A) depending on the audience, some of Paul's doings, as described early on, seem scarcely in the league of Leonard Lake or Paul Bernardo. for a general audience, an orgy may seem the epitome of evil, but for younger persons, and Litizens in particular having one girl eat another while being bumfucked, apparently consensually, is not going to cause 'oh how could he'. nor is 'sharing' by Paul and Brian, esp. of a prostitute, experienced as outrageous.
Yeah, here is where I think I've been far too blurry in my telling of the story. Or, more accurately, I have failed to tell this part of the story, at all.

My intention is that Paul repeatedly follows an identical pattern with the young women he tricks into sexual slavery, though the pattern unfolds in increasingly quicker periods of time:

He 'obtains' a girl through various forms of trickery, such as mail-order bride type schemes.
The girls he particularly likes, he keeps for himself as a personal sexual slave, at the beginning. At this point, they don't even realize what their actual fate—prostitution--is going to be. They only realize that they are trapped with him, and somewhat helpless. As they start to get demoralized and numb, he gets increasingly bored, and begins ratcheting up the cruelty, giving the girl to his friends while he watches, forcing them to have sex with multiple people, etc. Finally, when he's completely done with them, they simply become his prostitutes.

So, in the scene with Paul, Brian, and the two women, Katya is just starting to slip from Paul's favor, and is mere days from being 'turned out.' The other girl is just one of his prostitutes—not one he's ever taken a special interest in.

I definitely need to fill this out, if I decide to keep it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
to strengthen the story, i would somehow make the sex scene more depraved, whereas now it's merely graphic. For example: let A fuck B in the butt till she's leaking blood and shit and have her 'raped' by C with a giant dildo that sends her into shock and causes them to drop her half dead in front of the emergency room.
Eep!

I don't think I'll be taking things in quite that direction. I'm more interested in the theme of using people and throwing them away, oblivious of having destroyed their lives, than that level of brutal violence—which is a frightening realm all its own.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
my last point, B), made privately is about the decision to cast Paul as a longtime serial evil doer (and reveal this to the reader in the latter parts of the story.) in effect, it's like having one of Tony Soprano's nastier psychopathic associates (such as "Ritchie," who marries Tony's sister), come to the point where he has to be brought down. at that point, the only question for the reader is the ingenuity with which a team of ghost demons rip the flesh off the bad guy, make him eat his own testicles or whatever. this interlinks with the suspense/surprise issue, already mentioned, i.e. arguably detracts from suspense.
Yes, I'm increasingly convinced this is a big flaw in the story.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
one might take another approach: i suppose it's basically a different story, and it's not fair to ask an author to write a different story, but personally, i think there's something to be said for minor or infrequent mistakes leading to disaster. for example, Paul, instead of being a slaver, would a occasional patron of slavers. this approach is a kind of 'opening pandora's box' theme as opposed to the proportional retaliation theme of Jack the Ripper being torn apart by demons from his victims....
I'm very attracted to this idea, but also very much want Paul to be guilty of that particular crime. What I might rather do, instead of exonerating Paul of the crime of sexual slavery, is hint that Brian is next.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
the characters are believable, or plausible, though the women are just sketched, and for a time at least seem like mere victims or fodder; other than going 'dead,' they offer no resistance. Lena takes up the attack.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
Note after a fourth reading. I am able to keep the ladies straight, though most are not individually memorable.
A fourth reading?! I'm going to get onto ebay and start looking for an appropriate medal.

I wanted to portray the women through Paul's eyes—he doesn't really see them, except to the degree that they reflect him (when they are at the height of their fear, he feels powerful and alive. When they grow numb from hopelessness, he feels his power, his sense of being alive, ebb).

So, I meant to make them kind of invisible as human beings, because they're invisible to Paul. But I don't want them to come across as actually homogeneous, limp victims. I may have to give this issue some attention.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
I remain convinced that the battle could be written so as to supply suspense, rather than simply have Paul 'go down', pretty helplessly.
Again, ideas are percolating...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
The scene where Katya becomes the dead Lena is kind of a grabber; i would have liked to see it followed up, i.e. a variety of unnerving things happen to Paul, instead of (mainly) just visitations, then the kidnapping and rape.
Yes, this is one way in which the story was terribly rushed. I agree with you, and I'm definitely planning on doing a more elaborate and nuanced unfolding of the terrorizing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
Probably the 'end' in the Russian asylum in not necessary, esp. in relation to learning black magic. Paul could be picked up, a quivering wreck, in a russian girl's body, and carted off to the back wards of a loony bin (where foreign speakers have been interred for decades, because no one understands them.) Neither is it necessary to have the police recap the entire sequence for the dumber reader. It should be clear in its outline, by then.
Again, I'm inclined to agree with you re: the recap. That was an expedient to making the back-story clear, out of fear I hadn't managed to do so in the body of the story. In re-write/expansion, I think I'll be able to dump that bit.

There are things I like about Paul ending up in the foreign asylum. One is the eerie (for me, anyway) feeling that his fate is sealed, and he is doomed forever. It's a kind of buried alive feeling, for me.

The other is the idea of the endless cycle of cruelty and revenge. Now, Paul will choose someone to blame for what has happened to him, and another person will suffer something like the fate that Lena visited on him (though the reader is—I hope—left with the question of whether Paul has anyone to blame other than himself, which is another form of eternal suffering, living out the rest of his days in the horror of the asylum, knowing he dug his own grave, so to speak).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
Lastly, on the overall plan: arguably the bringing of an evil man to justice, at the hands of demons, is more of the horror genre. In my view, already stated, it would have been darker to make Paul less totally villainous. For instance, if any male reader has patronized a prostitute, he must have been aware that she might have been coerced. Hence the real possibility that he's committing evil, beginning with, essentially, raping her (since her consent cannot be genuine). That such an average joe does evil and is chased 'down' by demons would be a helluva dark story, though it's not fair to ask Varian to write a different story.
I thoroughly love this variation. I agree that it's both scarier to see someone more 'normal' than a professional sex slaver undergo this kind of punishment, and it's also a far more effective cautionary tale. Someone who's made a career of enslaving girls for sex and profit is pretty far outside the realm of most people's experience. But who doesn't feel like they've profited from the exploitation of others committed more 'innocently'? Patronizing a prostitute is one level; watching pornography is another, etc., etc.

I confess, there's a personal motivation behind making Paul who he is.

The general idea of the story I wrote has been in my mind for a long time. Originally, the revenge was going to be visited on a group of men who'd committed an non-pre-meditated gang rape.

But I recently watched a film about a Russian teenager who is abandoned by her mother, then tricked into going to Sweden to 'pick fruit' but is forced into prostitution. I had the obvious reaction, getting thoroughly enraged at the men who'd duped that vulnerable kid into such a horrible existence, and I sort of don't want to let go of punishing 'them.'

But I very much agree with what everyone seems to be saying—that the story will be better if Paul's not so far out there in his nastiness, and I'm pretty sure I'll be making him a bit more gray in the re-write.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
Further note, 10-16. I see, based on the dialogue of Varian and Penny, that i have had some misconceptions and in particular did not directly consider the author's strategy of gradually revealing Paul's evil. However i've had my say above, in far too many words.
Not at all—every point you made gave me a great deal worth considering.

Thanks so much for taking so much time to read (four times! My god!) and offer such helpful and provocative comments.

Cheers,

Varian
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Old 10-18-2007, 12:11 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Verdad
It's perhaps a stretch to think that a guy like him could be truly reformed...
I agree, but in a ghost story it would be far from the longest stretch.
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Old 10-18-2007, 09:49 AM   #15
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note:

there are a number of ideas being floated about the 'how evil should Paul be' question, and should he change. i will forbear quoting.

this is what came to me last night. varian overdid the evil, imo, at a couple points, as if to say, "see, how evil is that?"

having Paul seize the FIRST girls passport and etc., is NOT, imo, necessary. let that be the 'ripe' Paul. in the first case of Lena, let Paul slide into things. he brings her over out of genuine interest. she has immigration problems, he doesn't help. then takes advantage; and ends up pimping her to friends. THEN he goes to work.

i also like the idea that Paul might reform or improve: fall for one and NOT enslave her. maybe even marry her and have a kid. that way when the demons come, it's more horrifying.

all of these ideas have in common that Paul is not quite so black, at most points. while perhaps allowing some truly evil deeds in the middle of his career.

---
as regards the first sex scene, i now withdraw my earlier horrific suggestion. but i remain convinced the scene not really evil. how about something more subtle, more humiliating. like have Paul ask a girl to give his unhygenic friend a rim job.

---

lastly, though i see the appeal of the hypnosis idea, in accounting for the weird things done to Paul, i think, as you, varian, say, it's ultimately inconsistent. the last people to deal with Paul-as Lena, then, have to be hypnotized. so i agree with the simpler thing, as in the mom- becomes-a-her-teen-daughter movies. Paul the personality is given a woman's body, perhaps Lena's. for more horror, he might discover his own body, at some point; ...rotting away.
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Old 10-18-2007, 07:28 PM   #16
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... in the first case of Lena, let Paul slide into things. he brings her over out of genuine interest. she has immigration problems, he doesn't help. then takes advantage; and ends up pimping her to friends.
I like this idea, and I like it even more if, after Lena, he never did it again.

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Originally Posted by Pure
...like have Paul ask a girl to give his unhygenic friend a rim job.
Yuk! I'm not sure how this would improve the tale. To me, simply destroying Lena's dreams is enough.
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Old 10-19-2007, 12:30 AM   #17
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well, then, penny, what's the point of the first sex scene? a couple guys sharing a couple prostitutes, and getting off on it, perhaps one of them being a pimp of one of the prostitutes. i don't see the point.
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Old 10-19-2007, 12:36 PM   #18
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well, then, penny, what's the point of the first sex scene?
Like Verdad, I originally thought Paul to be just a man suffering from ennui, so for me the first explicit scene served to develop his character. This was my first glimpse of a callous manipulator, though I did not yet understand the true nature of his relationship with Katya. Perhaps what's missing from the scene is what she feels- but this is difficult to convey because Paul doesn't really care what she feels. I gathered Katya didn't really want to have sex with Maria (btw, I think it would be better if Maria was not known by any name other than 'Brian's girl') or Brian, so the scene worked if the goal was to cause me to agree with Brian's later assessment of Paul. If a reader thought Katya a willing participant, then I could certainly see a different reaction, or no reaction at all.

If Paul evolves into a reformed character, I don't envision Katya's character remaining in the story, so I'm not sure what happens to this scene.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian
Not only does their vengeance destroy the person who's hurt them, but their families (Jennifer, Zach), and also the woman, herself as she expends her whole life force on avenging the wrong done her.
If Lena spends her whole life force on Luc, then would she have anything left to haunt Paul?
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Old 10-19-2007, 03:55 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Verdad
Hi, Varian,

Once again, I'm delighted to be reading something of yours. You, and probably everyone around, know how much I admire your writing, so I hope it won't appear unseemly if I just say I thought it your usual kind of superb in this story, and focus only on what I've seen as problematic.
Hi, Verdad.

As always, I'm so grateful for your comments; once again you've managed to stroke my ego, while pointing out both the shortcomings I suspected, and problems I was less aware of, but which now seem obvious.

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond to your comments, but I really didn't want to just rush through them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
In general, I could say my concerns have to do with structure and protag's character, but I'm not sure I have any fixes to offer, or even that I can pin down the problems with accuracy. I'll try to just relay my impressions and hope that you'd be able to find something of use.

The problem I can perhaps isolate with most ease is that of the denouement. I loved the conclusion, but the presentation of the last portion of the story struck me as somewhat anticlimactic, so I'll take it from there—from the end, instead of from the beginning.

Once Paul's ordeal in hands of his captors was over, the story, as well, was over for me. I'd lost the emotional involvement and stuck through the explanation without real interest. In a way, it reminded me a bit of those old-school murder mysteries where the detective has to gather everyone in the room and make a post script explanation of everything that didn't get to be previously addressed. I can't say if pacing a story that way is necessarily bad, but I do wonder if it could have been done differently, synchronizing the explanation with the action so that the suspense doesn't let up till the end.
I completely agree; I rather shoddily plunked in that court-room wrap-up to fill in the blanks I hadn't properly woven into the story, and I think it would be far better to work them in, little by little, as clues along the way so that, but the time the climax occurs, the reader pieces it all together just as they realize what Paul's fate will be.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
One idea that comes to mind—though it's just thinking aloud and possibly at odds with other goals—is that maybe you could have opened with a brief scene of an old woman whispering to a girl, before introducing us to Paul. Provided this could be done without revealing too much, it could give you a nice hook, while at the same time allowing you, later, to go for a quicker ending. You could cut to an ending scene of his and the old woman's storyline converging (instead of the rather detailed account of what happened to Paul after his release from captivity) and let the reader make the necessary inferences.

Admittedly, this is probably easier said than made to work—despite the appeal the idea has for me for the circularity that would correspond with the circularity of the plot—but even if the old woman doesn't make a previous appearance, it would be a good idea to speed up the denouement. Cutting to Paul's awakening in Belarus and having to orient himself, instead of going through the events linearly, could well do the trick.
I adore this idea. It actually gave me the chills, thinking of that opening image of the old woman and the girl, and the idea that there is a creepy kind of bait-and-switch possible, because the image fits with the encounter Lena would have had, at some time, prior to haunting Paul, and as the pieces start to come together, this is what the reader would think. In the end, though, it would be revealed that it's Paul they'd seen as the young girl. Which would, in effect, be the one time during the story when the reader was, in a sense, under Lena's spell.

I'm not sure I can pull it off, but oh, the possibilities!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
Here, since I mentioned circularity, I have to stop and say it was one of the things I particularly appreciated about the story. I don't find much enjoyment in tales of revenge, but a subtle point you made by making the perpetrator become indistinguishable from the victim (and, it could be said, vice versa) lent the story a satisfying depth. It was early during Paul's torture that the thought created unease in me; when he got raped in the asylum, it became impossible to ignore, and with the final revelation, you drove home the question you wanted the reader to take with them—or so I thought. Therein, I found the true darkness of this story.
For me, this was one of the most delightful aspects of bringing a supernatural element into this story. In the earliest genesis of the idea, the victim was going to take her revenge without supernatural means, essentially kidnapping and torturing the perpetrators of what was originally conceived as a rape.

But the idea of turning the perpetrator literally into the victim is a way of exploring elements of human cruelty like seeing one's victims as so other, so unlike oneself, as to erode the ability to empathize, to see them as human as oneself, as well as the idea that, to a degree, who is likely to become a victim, and who is likely to exploit that vulnerability, is largely determined by fickle elements of circumstance—social structures, being born male or female, wealthy or poor, etc. Forcing Paul to live in the skin of one of the small, young women he's exploited—particularly while he still retains his sense of himself as a big, strong guy—seems a deliciously cruel bit of justice.

There's also the idea that, while circumstance means certain people will be exploited, while others will exploit, the human psyche is fundamentally capable of committing atrocities, so one some basic level, the 'innocent' are no different from the 'guilty.'

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
As for problems related to Paul's character, I don't know if I can sum them up better than to say I wasn't sure how to feel about him. I gather it was your intention to change our perception of him gradually, but the effect it had on me was one of indecision. By which I don't mean to say that I didn't understand who he is (in answer to one of your question), but that I didn't feel it in a convincing enough way.

In the opening scene, my impression of him was that he's just a guy suffering from ennui, which left me neutral and even willing to be sympathetic. I wonder if you wanted that much ambiguity or if my reading had been overly optimistic. (E.g. the dead eyes I initially perceived as "lack of passion", not as "broken spirit".)
You've caught me out, fair and square, on this one. I'm afraid Paul is hard to get a handle on because I have too loose a conception of him, myself. I guess the good news is that'll make it easier for me to draw on all the good suggestions everyone's given for using Paul's character to make the story more suspenseful and compelling.

My only real sense of Paul, at the time of writing, was that he is a callous person who sees the people around him only in terms of what they can do for him, emotionally, financially, etc., the exception being his son, whom he loves, and loves fairly well.

I did mean to sort of trick the reader into thinking Paul was a sympathetic character, at the beginning; his current affair (later to be revealed as an interlude with a girl he'll soon be renting out) is cooling, he's feeling old and tired and purposeless. Meanwhile the mother of his child is about to re-marry. Little by little, then, I meant to reveal that he's not just some average guy whose life is on the skids.

And you read that opening reference to the dead eyes just as I'd hoped—I only it to become clear that her deadness reflects her broken spirit much later, when the depth of Paul's criminality is revealed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
The following scene with him as a father seemed not to fit too well, but at the time I was willing to see where it leads. Upon reading through to the end, though, it seemed to fit even less and left me entirely unsure as to what it was supposed to establish.
I'm hoping to make the father/son thing work, with a couple of goals. One, I don't particularly want Paul to be a total shit to every person in the world, or totally incapable of love. I'd like his relationship with Zach to redeem Paul somewhat. He's done unforgivable things, but that's not all he's done.

Also, Zach serves the function of giving Paul something to lose. Paul's own life is already pretty pathetic, but the one thing that's not is his relationship with his son. So, when Lena destroys Paul, Zach learns the truth about his father, probably destroying his love for him.

I'm seriously considering everyone's suggestion that Paul be made into a more sympathetic character, though, so perhaps doing so will make Paul's relationship with Zach less incongruous than it is as currently written.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
The next scene, of the group sex, showed Paul as a small time jerk, though nowhere near to what we'd later learn of him, but didn't seem to correspond too well with either of the two Pauls we'd already met, and seemed to me to last too long and establish too little.
Yes, I think I need to rethink that scene. Much like the opening scene with the 'dead eyes,' here I was trying to show the action without revealing its true nature, and I think the sinisterness is lost.

I really mean for this scene to show the progression of his relationship to Katya; he's trying desperately to get the flame back in her eyes—which essentially means he's trying to wring some emotion out of her, now that she's grown kind of numb to simply being fucked against her will. But I see that the scene just reads as some slightly squicky group sex, and doesn't do what I intend.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
With the introduction of the horror element, the story hooked me with more firmness (your horror descriptions are every bit as affecting as your erotic ones), but unfortunately I'd already developed the impression of some aimlessness.
I'm glad to hear the horror imagery worked for you. I found them a lot more challenging to write than erotic scenes. It's far easier for me to ease through things than to conjure a sense of surprise. So, whew!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
It occurs to me now that Paul's character (and with him the plot) weren't clearly defined by a problem till Lena's first appearance, which could be why I felt a bit lost till then.
I see what you mean; there's a sense of just drifting around, watching this guy go through his motions, without especially caring about the hows and whys, since, as you point out, there's no problem.

I wonder if implementing your idea, having the scene with the girl and the old woman at the opening, would create an implied problem, since the presumption would be that the two stories must intersect, and immediately the reader would be trying to work out how?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
Once we learned the true magnitude of Paul's past vileness, I had a problem readjusting my already wavering image of him yet again, but even more importantly—and this I should stress—I couldn't be truly affected by enormity of his deeds because I haven't observed them directly. Compared to the vividness of the present-day events, the past about which we'd only heard lacked emotional impact in the same way a bit of gossip can't compare to a direct experience. The amount of attention you gave to Paul's particular traits influenced my perception thereof more than their content.

Paul, the small time jerk, I've seen in some detail, and that's the Paul in which I believe; Paul, the utterly despicable, sadistic criminal, I've only heard of, and him I recognize only on an intellectual level.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
On further thought, I wonder if I've read him the way you intended after all. Did you intend—as I have read—two Pauls, so to say? The past, irredeemably vicious man, that of Lena, and the present guy, who 'merely' mistreats his girlfriends, like Katya?

If so, it could be a good idea to draw these two personas further apart, maybe make the present Paul lead an entirely clean life, and explore the dynamic between his present and past. (I.e. whether he feels guilt.) His past would probably have to be revealed in flashback/s in that case, and through deterioration of his comfy new life due to fear/paranoia, which could be tricky but could also give it the immediacy I thought lacking.

If, however, you wanted one, continuous Paul—one that's exactly as bad with Katya as he used to be with Lena, except it's being revealed to the reader one bit at the time—you should probably make an effort to give him more consistency and also make him nastier with Katya. Somewhere along the lines of this relationship between the present and the past seems to lie my main uncertainty about the story.
More good points.

In expanding the story, I'm inclined to reveal Lena's story in flashback, so the reader would experience them directly. I do think it's crucial to either experience what he's done to Lena, or else show him doing equally horrible stuff to Katya, rather than dropping their interaction at a point where he just seems like a jerk.

As for Paul's wavering character, I'm considering a couple options, stemming from what you and Penny and Pure have suggested. I might attempt to reveal Paul's viler nature more slowly, to retain the reader's sympathy longer, and so hopefully maintain more suspense.

Alternatively, I'm pondering making Paul a better person, in the present, and have the level of cruelty he committed against Lena be only in his past—perhaps the birth of his son will have been the catalyst for his reform.

Either way, I'll have to make a concerted effort to ensure Paul unfolds as consistent (if dynamic) and believable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
How much these observations help, I'm not sure (little, I suspect), because I am aware you had to pull a hide and seek in order to make a pretty straightforward plot suspenseful. You've succeeded in that for the most part, as well as captivated me with the overall atmosphere, too many exquisite passages to quote, and a thought-provoking conclusion. I hope you won't hesitate discarding my ramble if it has been entirely off the mark, or asking, if you'd like, additional questions.

Best of luck to you, as always,

Verdad
As usual, Verdad, your comments are insightful and extremely helpful in seeing where I've gone amiss, and full of provoking suggestions for how I might make things better. Thank you so much for taking the time to give such in-depth feedback—I always look forward to getting your reaction.

Gratefully,

Varian
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Old 10-20-2007, 07:23 AM   #20
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note to penny, prolix comments to varian

Penny, you make a number of excellent points. I'm going to pick at one, however.


Originally Posted by pure
Pure: well, then, penny, what's the point of the first sex scene?


Penny Like Verdad, I originally thought Paul to be just a man suffering from ennui, so for me the first explicit scene served to develop his character. This was my first glimpse of a callous manipulator, though I did not yet understand the true nature of his relationship with Katya. Perhaps what's missing from the scene is what she feels- but this is difficult to convey because Paul doesn't really care what she feels. I gathered Katya didn't really want to have sex with Maria (btw, I think it would be better if Maria was not known by any name other than 'Brian's girl') or Brian, so the scene worked if the goal was to cause me to agree with Brian's later assessment of Paul. If a reader thought Katya a willing participant, then I could certainly see a different reaction, or no reaction at all.

Pure responds: If Paul is seen as just bored, I'd say the author has some revising to do.

One doesn't know Katya's thoughts: she does as she was told. there are no protests, neither does Paul ever say, "Hey, move that butt!"

It's a reasonable inference that she, Katya, is willing. Maria apparently comes, which perhaps is to show Paul's fine technique. Further, I think the author is intent on the point that Maria is _alive_, which explains the orgasm.

//Nudging Katya aside, Paul slipped the dildo out of Maria's spasming cunt, ran his thumb over her clit, watched her shudder and writhe as her dripping pussy clenched and unclenched over and over, //


Let's look at the initial set up: Paul wants to put on a show, and partly watch it himself.

//When Maria was naked he told her, "Lie back and spread your legs for Katya."

Maria looked fucking delicious, all juicy and caramel-colored, her long black hair cascading in glossy waves over the pillow, her cunt waxed smooth, open and slick from their fucking. And when Katya got in there and started licking those burgundy folds, Paul was already rock hard and ready for round two. Reaching under Katya's chin he drove two fingers deep into Maria's seeping cunt, got a gob of their slick goo and brought it round to Katya's ass. With one hand he grabbed a cheek to spread her nice and wide, then drove one come-lubed finger into her tight pucker, her high little squeal driving a fresh surge of blood into his stiff cock. He'd never had her this way, and he stirred himself up, thinking maybe she was an anal virgin.

"Keep eating that pussy, baby," he coaxed when she went stiff and still as he sank a second finger into her tight little ass.

Gripping his hard-on in his fist, he nudged at her pink-brown clench with the head of his cock, anticipating the feeling of stretching her open, pushing inside, then doing it, her body squeezing him so tight it its effort to keep him out, then swallowing his cock inch by inch.

"God," he sighed, "fuck yeah."

Anal was his absolute favorite, and the added stimulation of Katya lapping at the cunt he'd just shot a load in, and knowing Brian was watching it all made this the best fuck he'd had in months,//

Katya will eat Maria, for show, and in turn be butt fucked by Paul.

I speculate that the author *does* intend some shock or disgust in the reader, and hence goes into great (fine) 'porn' detail:
"then drove one come-lubed finger into her tight pucker",
"swallowing his cock inch by inch."

Paul, in the scene, I'd say, is established as a sexual athlete (why? why not having him fail to come the second or third time, despite the elaborate attempts to degrade?); he's shown to be a narcissist, who's into his own coming and being watched and admired by Brian, who apparently likes watching.

V goes so far as to have Katya squeal, but we don't know if it's excitement, delight, pain, or protest.

How would such things be shown, given that the author doesn't get into K's or M's head? K should be showing *lack* of enthusiasm, enough to be noticed by P. Anyone who's seen some 'shows' knows how mechanical they usually are.

The author puts lots of effort into bodily descriptions, likely intending a metaphor. Maria is full of life: Katya is depleted. Paul is the cause, or linked to it. But she [V] doesn't follow through in the action of Katya. It's consistent that Maria comes, but not that Katya more or less does as directed with enough enthusiasm to satisfy Paul. [[*Added: upon re reading, i see the line //she went stiff and still as he sank a second finger into her tight little ass//; it's the only clue, but i missed it.]]

In general, I'd say V set the bar too low, for weird happenings; a Litster is not put off by a butt fuck, and women eating pussy is a standard porn scene. My personal pet idea is to have K degraded in some way that Paul thinks is ducky and K hates.

My opinion, further, is that the reader should at least glimpse (perhaps in an ambiguous way) Paul's cruelty. We don't know enough yet, to make the proper inferences from the physical description of Katya, which we learn later is a nice metaphor for her mental state and Lena's.

Let's consider the first description/explanation of Katya:

//He actually felt like crying. Why? Why had the spark, the lively glint faded so fast from her gaze? They were still so new—less than a week together—and already she'd gone cold.

It always seemed to go this way. With every woman, there'd be that heat, that intensity the first time together, that first, fierce, hot fuck. But no matter how good, how wild that first encounter was, within a month or a week or, fuck, a few days, now, it was over. //

As Verdad and Penny read it, Paul could be a bored sex hound. I think the false lead comes from //"with every woman."// What would be required is to perhaps let the reader know that _it's the women Paul is enslaving and pimping_ who go dead, i.e., a limited number.

In many ways, the story is excellently launched, but i maintain in these scene details, the author conveys too little. It's a judgment call, since the author intends for Paul's evil gradually to be revealed, but when a good reader such as Verdad sees a distinct, early, Paul-the-jerk then not quite enough has been put out there.

Let's look at the author's careful timing of revelations: Watching the story unfold, there are then a couple visitations, a talk with Brian, the weird fuck with Katya Lena, and then the second talk with Brian:

//"No. She wants me dead. Brian, I can feel it."

"Why? What did you do to her?"

"Nothing. Nothing special."

"Well, I guess the usual's enough, isn't it," Brian cracked, laughing over the rim of his whiskey.

"What's that mean?" Paul felt like he was sinking down, like the floor had gone soft under his chair, and was slowly swallowing him.

Brian emptied his glass and, still chuckling, said, "It means you're a fucking prick to those girls."//

We are halfway through the story; the author has revealed Paul is "a fucking prick." and there's a reference, the first one, i think, to "those girls" (Paul's 'slaves').

It's not until AFTER Paul is kidnapped that *Lena* lets us know something terrible:

//"Nyet, Paul. They don't see you. They see me. Not as I am now. As I was. The pretty girl you stole."//

Then Paul is royally raped in the butt. We are two thirds of the way through the story.

In reconstructing the chain of events, I think i see the author's plan. There is a climax of revelation, just before a climax of retribution [or its onset]. The effect, however, is a bit like a story with a hanging two-thirds of the way through, where, as the man mounts the gallows, a voice yells "Die, monster! you killed my little girl!" as a first revelation of the crime.

The problem, i propose, is that the author has relied upon Lena to be the revealer; not enough is said about Katya, and Brian just hints, by saying 'prick' (not 'slaver'). But let's not second guess the author. Lena is the choice: The author, then had the task, How are Lena's revelations to unfold.

There are the earlier visitation points, for example. Why not one of them? which would require making at least one, not so brief.

Since we know Paul's thoughts, some of them could have invoked Lena's history, as in "I shouldn't have just taken her papers, i should have offed the bitch."

To my mind, i can see some appeal to knowing a fair bit about Lena, BEFORE the kidnapping. That would build suspense, because we'd know how bad Paul was and we'd be expecting something terrible.

In any case, a fine tale, well told, overall. Some of the 'picky' points about timing, i hope are of some use. Thanks for giving so much for the 'offering' and the discussion, Varian.

Last edited by Pure : 10-20-2007 at 12:58 PM.
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Old 10-21-2007, 01:36 PM   #21
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Thank you for such a detailed reply, Varian; all your responses have been very informative and a joy to read. I think I speak for all of us when I say how gratifying it is for a critic to hear back from the author and gain insight in their intentions.

Your post made me nod in understanding throughout, so I won't attempt to go through everything that has been said, but I will quickly address a few earlier points I thought worth repeating.

I don't know if saying that I "loved" Pure's idea about the rim job describes my feelings accurately, but I do believe it would work to a great effect. Depending on other choices you make—those concerning how vile to make Paul and when to reveal it—the idea, in some form, could find its place either with Katya or in a flashback with Lena, but in either case, I think it points you in the right direction.

As you said, Paul wants to wring out emotions from his victims; wants to force them out of the place of compliance in which they eventually hide. Violence is one way of achieving that, just as Pure suggested in his first post, and degradation is another.

I thought Pure's first idea too much for your purposes, if for no other reason then because such level of physical brutality has a way of overtaking the story and changing its entire character. The degradation, however, offers a 'happy' middle that shouldn't give the reader graphic nightmares but should convey without doubt the dynamic in the scene and that it's something more sinister than a mere sleazy romp.

Another idea that grabbed my intention immediately was your own:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varian P
The idea your [Pure's] suggestion has provoked is that Paul might suspect that the thing after him has to do with Lena, and this prompts him to look into what has happened to her in the years since he's seen her. Meanwhile, the haunting ratchets up. Eventually, he learns her fate, to some degree, and, out of a combination of fear and guilt, makes some effort to ameliorate her condition. The 'haunting' could abate for a while. Then, after a period of calm, the terrorizing could revive with greater intensity.
I simply loved this—a great device for learning Lena's history, and a way to milk it for every ounce of suspense.

I'm glad, too, that you found the same eerie appeal I did in the thought of opening with the old woman, though I hope the idea won't create more problems than solutions. Opening that way would immediately give the readers something to guess about, but it could also turn keeping them from guessing too soon into a hellish challenge. I hope you make the best decision once all the pieces fall in their place.

For the end, I have one, perhaps silly, question about the mechanism of Lena's retribution:

Upon reading the story, even though it's not explicitly mentioned, I assumed Lena died after exacting her revenge—spent literally all her life force on it, as has been discussed—and the thought gave me an additional chill, perhaps even the worst in the story. Only later did I remember that she'd already punished one of Paul's associates, and now I see Penny's noticed the same thing. Possibly we're now at the point of over-thinking it, but I wonder if my initial assumption had been right. Did you intend for the price of Lena's magic to be death? If so, how does she manage to avenge herself on more than one person?

Thank you again, not only for sharing the story but for this enlightening discussion as well.

Best,

Verdad
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Old 10-21-2007, 06:05 PM   #22
Varian P
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I've been eagerly following the discussion, and mulling over what everyone's saying. I've found this discussion to be particularly interesting as well as helpful because, despite some disagreements on smaller points, it seems that there's consensus—including intuitive agreement, on my part—on the bigger issues which I need to address in the re-write.

If I'm hearing everyone correctly, I gather there's agreement that, on one hand, Paul is too irredeemably, exaggeratedly evil, which both strains credulity and saps the potential for suspense, because he's beyond our empathy; on the other hand, I kept his evilness too hidden for too long, so that there's confusion as to whether he's changed, or else his character comes across as inconsistent.

So, I think need to do one of two things; either make Paul a man who has changed for the better, so that the reader can empathize with him enough to feel terrified by his haunting, or else make him a bit more rounded and complex, rather than a non-stop evil doer, save the peculiar trait of doting on his son.

Tied in with that choice, I'll need to ensure the various scenes in the story work effectively to reveal his character, as well as the particular crime that has brought on this punishment. The group sex scene will either go, or be reworked to reveal that there is a degree of coercion involved, that it's not just Paul and a few friends having a raucous good time, and it's clear that Katya and the other woman are far from enjoying themselves. I agree that working in a sense of humiliation, and perhaps offering a subtle glimpse of Paul's cruelty, would bring something needed to that scene.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
(btw, I think it would be better if Maria was not known by any name other than 'Brian's girl')
I'd started to write it that way, then opted not to, but I think you're right, and I'll go with that, if the scene stays.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
I speculate that the author *does* intend some shock or disgust in the reader, and hence goes into great (fine) 'porn' detail...
You're right about my intention, there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
The author puts lots of effort into bodily descriptions, likely intending a metaphor. Maria is full of life: Katya is depleted. Paul is the cause, or linked to it. But she [V] doesn't follow through in the action of Katya. It's consistent that Maria comes, but not that Katya more or less does as directed with enough enthusiasm to satisfy Paul.
This is another example of my having failed to craft things as I ought to have, or, rather, I failed to include any of the details that would convey what I'd intended: that Katya is doing her darnedest to keep Paul happy, because she has a good idea that, however bad it is with him, he can make things a lot worse for her.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
Paul, in the scene, I'd say, is established as a sexual athlete (why? why not having him fail to come the second or third time, despite the elaborate attempts to degrade?)
I was trying to set up this side of Paul's character where he takes a lot of pride in being 'manly' (I played with this, too, when Paul remembers beating up the mugger). He sort of gloats to himself that he can go again and again, while Brian is only good for one time. It feeds his emotional black hole, a bit, having Brian watch him out-do him, sexually.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
Let's consider the first description/explanation of Katya:

//He actually felt like crying. Why? Why had the spark, the lively glint faded so fast from her gaze? They were still so new—less than a week together—and already she'd gone cold.

It always seemed to go this way. With every woman, there'd be that heat, that intensity the first time together, that first, fierce, hot fuck. But no matter how good, how wild that first encounter was, within a month or a week or, fuck, a few days, now, it was over. //

As Verdad and Penny read it, Paul could be a bored sex hound. I think the false lead comes from //"with every woman."// What would be required is to perhaps let the reader know that _it's the women Paul is enslaving and pimping_ who go dead, i.e., a limited number.
Yes, agreed. Thanks for that suggestion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
Another idea that grabbed my intention immediately was your own:

Originally Posted by Varian P
The idea your [Pure's] suggestion has provoked is that Paul might suspect that the thing after him has to do with Lena, and this prompts him to look into what has happened to her in the years since he's seen her. Meanwhile, the haunting ratchets up. Eventually, he learns her fate, to some degree, and, out of a combination of fear and guilt, makes some effort to ameliorate her condition. The 'haunting' could abate for a while. Then, after a period of calm, the terrorizing could revive with greater intensity.


I simply loved this—a great device for learning Lena's history, and a way to milk it for every ounce of suspense.

I'm glad, too, that you found the same eerie appeal I did in the thought of opening with the old woman
I'm increasingly excited by this idea, and think, given my current plan to expand the short story into a longer work, it will be a lot of fun to work in a series of flashbacks (and, in the case of an opening scene with the old woman and young girl, a flashforward) as a way of building tension and filling in the story. Though, as you point out, I'll have to carefully avoid the trap of giving away the store with the first glimpse of Paul's past with Lena.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Penelope Street
If Lena spends her whole life force on Luc, then would she have anything left to haunt Paul?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Verdad
For the end, I have one, perhaps silly, question about the mechanism of Lena's retribution:

Upon reading the story, even though it's not explicitly mentioned, I assumed Lena died after exacting her revenge—spent literally all her life force on it, as has been discussed—and the thought gave me an additional chill, perhaps even the worst in the story. Only later did I remember that she'd already punished one of Paul's associates, and now I see Penny's noticed the same thing. Possibly we're now at the point of over-thinking it, but I wonder if my initial assumption had been right. Did you intend for the price of Lena's magic to be death? If so, how does she manage to avenge herself on more than one person?
Again I'm forced to confess that the confusion can all be blamed on my not having thought it through with enough care.

After reading how you responded to the thought she must be dead, I don't want to undo the effect, and may have to change this, but my thought is that, no, Lena isn't dead, but is essentially catatonic and wasting away as she focuses all her energy on persecuting Paul.

You raise an interesting point which I must deal with: when she does die, is her spell broken? I very much want Paul to suffer 'eternally'--at least for the rest of his life, being seen and dealt with as Lena, but I'll have to ponder further how to make that believable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
It's not until AFTER Paul is kidnapped that *Lena* lets us know something terrible:

//"Nyet, Paul. They don't see you. They see me. Not as I am now. As I was. The pretty girl you stole."//

Then Paul is royally raped in the butt. We are two thirds of the way through the story.

In reconstructing the chain of events, I think i see the author's plan. There is a climax of revelation, just before a climax of retribution [or its onset]. The effect, however, is a bit like a story with a hanging two-thirds of the way through, where, as the man mounts the gallows, a voice yells "Die, monster! you killed my little girl!" as a first revelation of the crime.

The problem, i propose, is that the author has relied upon Lena to be the revealer; not enough is said about Katya, and Brian just hints, by saying 'prick' (not 'slaver'). But let's not second guess the author. Lena is the choice: The author, then had the task, How are Lena's revelations to unfold.

There are the earlier visitation points, for example. Why not one of them? which would require making at least one, not so brief.
I realize that I was far, far too oblique. I attempted to drop little clues of something bigger than being a jerk, some dark secret, as when Lena is hissing in Paul's ear while he talks to Zach, begging or demanding that he “tell.”

I'll have to work on finding a balance between pointing a flashing neon “evil pimp” sign at Paul, but letting the reader realize he's done something worse than have a foursome, and make them curious enough to wonder what it is.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pure
lastly, though i see the appeal of the hypnosis idea, in accounting for the weird things done to Paul, i think, as you, varian, say, it's ultimately inconsistent. the last people to deal with Paul-as Lena, then, have to be hypnotized. so i agree with the simpler thing, as in the mom- becomes-a-her-teen-daughter movies. Paul the personality is given a woman's body, perhaps Lena's. for more horror, he might discover his own body, at some point; ...rotting away.
A fun, creepy idea.

As I've mentioned, this is my first story where I delve into the supernatural, and one of the interesting challenges is deciding what seems plausible, what kind of magical powers are such that I can suspend by own disbelief?

I think because perception is such a tricky thing, already, because we're all so susceptible to mis-seeing, mis-hearing things, and because our perceptions are so easily manipulated even without magic spells, I find it easy to believe in a spell that distorts people's senses. I feel like that kind of supernatural reality comes out of real-world phenomena.

The switched body idea is harder for me to buy into, though you're certainly right that it would simply, neatly, once-and-for all effect Paul's transformation, and with it, his punishment and suffering.

Thinking about it more, there's some fun 'down sides' to your idea. One thing I like about the hypnosis idea, is that Lena is so full of rage and a drive to destroy Paul, that she's willing to destroy herself to do it. With the body-switching idea, she might have to give up her own body, or be willing to 'take' the body of another woman—perhaps Katya, perhaps some other, uninvolved innocent.

I am kind of enamored of my hypnosis scheme, though. I'll think it over.

My gratitude and appreciation to all of you, Penny, Pure and Verdad. You've not only done a great deal to help me improve my story, but made this a rich, fun discussion that's given me new insights into structure, character development and other principles of writing, generally.
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