Our warrior writers have fought admirably, but ultimately only one can emerge victorious. Our esteemed judges have sifted through the carnage and rendered their decisions. So here we go, TWA #3 – The Butler Did It Judgement Day.
Rich Alix is our first judge. He is a patron of The Human Echoes Podcast, and an all-around awesome guy. He is the voice of the common man in this contest, and here is his judgment:
First of all, I enjoyed both stories very much. They were very different interpretations of our prompt and they each show the skills and abilities of our authors.
Comments on Donald Jacob Uitvlugt’s “The Lovebug Murders“:
I continue to be impressed by the quality of the competitors in this contest. Having had very little exposure to Donald’s past work I wasn’t sure what to expect. After his blog post earlier this week I was intrigued and eager to read his entry. I was not disappointed. This story felt like a short treatment for a movie or an episodic drama.
I enjoyed the antagonist very much, the inner turmoil that drives him seemed very real. The idea of the worms compelling his behavior was an imaginative and unique approach to mental illness and instability. The twist was a little bit obvious, but that is part of this kind of story as I see it.
If I were to have a complaint it would be that the protagonist felt a little bit underdeveloped compared to the killer. I could have gone for a little more from her viewpoint. All in all this story came across as a polished, finished piece that I wouldn’t be surprised to see in a magazine somewhere, and given the time-frame of this challenge that is no small feat.
Comments on Albert Berg’s “God of Fire, God of Ashes“:
When I saw this prompt I thought, and when Albert posted his plans on Twitter I was absolutely sure, we were not going to get a simple whodunit from Mr. Berg.
This story is a perfect example of world-building and exposition through context and story and not through info-dumping. It is very easy to accept the premise of the story, nothing about the setting or characters seems out of place, and this is a lamp-worshiping couple living in a cave that we are talking about.
That the extinguishing of a sacred, divine flame is the “murder” that sparks our mystery was an original take on the trope to say the least. The emotions that are evoked during the exchange between Terris and Andra and the back-story that is revealed really added another level to the story and made Terris’ final decision that much more brutal.
It is in the resolution that this story falters at all. That Terris has so much passion and fire that he kills his companion on a hunch but reacts so apathetically upon learning that all he has known was a lie bothered me. If that was your intention then you succeeded.
Verdict: Another tough choice between two excellent stories but as you know, “There can be only one!” Today my vote goes to Donald Jacob Uitvlugt and “The Lovebug Murders.”
Judge Ellie Soderstrom – Ellie has been a longtime friend of Al and of the podcast in general. She has many books available, including The Silver Sickle, which is an awesome story and very deserving of your eyes. She had this to say about the stories:
First, a subjective note about the whodunit mystery structure: One of my favorite things about whodunit mysteries are their casts: it usually starts with introducing a list of suspects/characters. Their intros are so important, and it’s always my favorite part to see how they’re presented.
I think any whodunit mystery (including these two) benefits from a great introduction to the suspects. It’s sometimes scary to introduce a big cast in a short story–but it’s also more interesting. It’s harder, but it’s worth it.
Comments on Albert Berg’s God of Fire, God of Ashes:
Lose the quotes. The story has a fantastic beginning which invokes a strong mood and the quotes distract from it.
I’m not a fan of present tense, it’s so hard to pull off, but I think overall Al did a terrific job. Present tense works well if you need an untrustworthy narrator, and we surely have that in Terris Sek.
I believe the story could have used a few more sections of internal dialogue, particularly around the climax. I wish we could have seen Terris Sek put the clues together, to try to discover other possible suspects besides, “all night he tries to understand how the flame could have gone out.” We need details. We need to hear why he cares so much. We need to hear how lost he feels and how he wants revenge. Basically, to hear him think about whodunit instead of reacting (this didn’t have to take place in one night). Also, more internal dialogue could have given us a better picture of who these characters are…they feel shadowed instead of clear.
I love the pace in the first two acts–wonderfully exciting with great pieces of exposition. “Our God is burning fire,” is revealed at just the right time, and the stakes to the god’s murder are introduced.
I absolutely love the foreshadowing in this line: “‘Did you sleep well?’ he asks, an innocent question, but there is a tone of accusation that he can’t quite hide.”
That is when he becomes the antagonist, and when you know it’s not going to end well.
The story of the silver-eyed people is exciting and well-placed. The character’s world and motivations are starting to come together.
Then came the breathless climax.
The story would have been complete if it had ended with the line, “What if she told the truth?” I’m not sure what the rest of the story added. We are partners to his outrage and fear, we already know what a wretched man he is. His god is dead.
This is a really well written and heart-felt myth, a strong morality tale.
Comments on Donald Jacob Uitvlugt’s “The Lovebug Murders“:
GEEZ, I love everything about the intro. Creepy, weird, short, and well-worded. Couldn’t be any better.
After a terrific, concise introduction to the crime and to the hardened detective, comes a worrisome sentence: “Maybe the FBI should take over. This is too much for me.”
It not only changes POV (oops!) but it introduces a theme that no characters should struggle with that early on in a story: a desire to give up. No motivations/goals. You see, if the main character wants to give up so early on, the reader does too. Instead of that line, this story needed a sentence about what was at stake, and why Vic desired to catch the killer so badly.
Fantastic intro to Nathan Paxton. I especially like the line, “He’d earned the right to a few quirks.”
Then more details to the case are introduced, the bugs, and I love how specific and interesting it is. So well done. This is a story worth investing in.
Then comes act II, where I believe more suspects should have been introduced. Instead, it goes back into the killer’s head, and into Vic’s head, and no more suspects or clues are given to the case. Act II could have deepened the mystery, but it didn’t give us any more than we already have. So now every reader knows the killer. But I really loved when he revealed himself to her, “They all bear a certain resemblance to you.” He definitely wanted to get caught. He turned himself in.
The rest is easy to follow and entertaining to read. It would have been a bit more victorious if she hadn’t come by it so easily (by giving her more suspects to encounter, or building up the fight), but it is a great story.
Verdict: This was a super-duper tip-of-the-razor edge close call. Both entries were fantastic and entertaining. As far as story/characters and sticking to the prompt went, “The Lovebug Murders” rose above “God of Fire, God of Ashes.” But it was hard to overlook the incorrect POV in “The Lovebug Murders.” “God of Fire, God of Ashes” had better prose, a well-defined world, and a great heart and spirit to it, though it had a bit of a structure problem because there’s too much writing after the climax. Since they are equal in so many regards, I broke it down to the story that really stuck with me: “God of Fire, God of Ashes.” Al’s creativity and care in his wording really captivated me.
Thanks for two good stories, guys!
Lastly, here are the readers’ picks: We had a massive amount of people read the stories but not vote.
It’s okay to have opinions, people. There is nothing more natural and human than engaging with a work of art and coming away with thoughts you’d like to share. We are all adults here and, as the judges proved this week, just because you pick one story as a favorite, that does not cast the other story into oblivion. Different people like different things and we would love to hear your thoughts. It is okay to have opinions…
What isn’t okay is that you have allowed Joseph Devon to be the sole community vote this week, thus giving him the power of a judge and feeding his ravenous ego.
Please, don’t contribute to his megalomania any further; next time pick a quick favorite in the comments. He’s already crafting a throne out of the melted down typewriters of his vanquished foes and referring to the rest of us as minions. Just…please just vote. We all have to work with this guy.
Here’s the breakdown from the comments:
“God of Fire, God of Ashes” by Albert Berg: 1 (Joseph Devon’s vote, which shouldn’t be able to sway the competition, but has because you all have allowed him to go unchecked)
“The Lovebug Murders” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt: 0
And there it is, folks! Albert Berg takes it and bumps his record up to 2 – 0.
Donald, you fought bravely and won a judge’s vote with your excellent story. We look forward to having you on again.
Hit up the comments section below to let us know what you thought about this contest and if you agree with the verdict. We’ll see you next week as prompt #5 is revealed and we shift focus to Danny Brophy and CM Stewart as they take on TWA Challenge #4 – This Man.
On a side note, we are paying our authors a base level rate at the moment, but if you really enjoyed their story and want to help us make sure these awesome people get paid, please donate below. 75% goes to the author, the rest goes to keeping this place up and running.