Deep below the sands of the Arena our dungeons are filled with horrible plots, menacing tropes, and story ideas gone bad. They stew in the darkness, not feeling the sunlight or the glory that is Friday in The Writer’s Arena.
Do any of these stories have what it takes to break free? This week our authors were challenged to bust out of the big house, to make a story about a prison break. Both face judgement, but only one will taste sweet freedom.
J.R. Frontera brings us an assassin’s tale in “A.N.G.E.L.s.”
Albert Berg defied all expectations and made a pick your own adventure story with “Punitive Measures.”
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first judge this week. Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
Everyone loves a good escape story.
Maybe it’s because, from time to time, we’ve all felt trapped, but there’s no getting away from the subgenre. Films like The Great Escape with Steve McQueen and even Victory with Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Pelé play the trope to the hilt, with clear distinctions between good and evil. But we enjoy seeing even criminals trying to escape from Alcatraz, or ordinary people trying to escape from Jigsaw’s deviously rigged prisons of gore. (Even as I write this, the cat is trying to escape from the bedroom…)
Our stories this week are deliciously ambitious, and much more morally ambiguous than your run-of-the-mill escape tale. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before voting for my favorite.
“A.N.G.E.L.s” by J. R. Frontera – This story sucked me in right away. It doesn’t much matter to me that Jonathan isn’t a good person, more killing machine than man. I still want him to escape. I want to see him get away. And then there is the delicious twist at the end. The whole thing is a set-up, to see where Jonathan’s heart truly lies. I get a very strong Prisoner vibe off the ending, except there’s a much higher body count.
There are points at which I could nitpick. I’m not sold on the acronym. I find the fact that Lynn is completely blasé about the bodycount Jonathan racked up to get to her rather disturbing. But those are just nits. This story’s greatest strength is its ability to suggest a world outside the prison walls. What kind of world is it that creates men like Jonathan and women like Lynn? What is going on with Lynn that she is able to put Jonathan through that sort of challenge?
It’s a world I want to read more about.
“Punitive Measures” by Albert Berg – And then… Wow. Of the Arena’s regular writers, I find that Al’s stories display the greatest innovations in narrative techniques. Here he has the temerity to write not only in the second person, but in the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure format. Ballsy. He even gets me to like second person POV. Mega props for that.
The vibe of this story is like the TV series Prison Break, but read through a Twilight Zone funhouse mirror. The various twists and turns of the maze are intriguing, but I feel like I never really connect with the main character. The logic of his prison is inescapable. He clearly deserves to be there forever. But in the end, I feel more like I’ve witnessed a complicated ritual of exorcism from the outside. It would have been a stronger story if I came away feeling as if I had gone through the ritual myself.
Two very different stories by two writers at the tops of their games this week. I find it very interesting that in neither of them did the prisoner really escape. Perhaps we all carry prisons of our own making wherever we go. In the end, I will cast my vote for the story that most spoke to me emotionally. And this week, that story is:
“A.N.G.E.L.s” by J. R. Frontera.
That’s one vote for J.R. Frontera, let’s see the next judge’s pick.
Rich Alix is our second 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 are his thoughts:
“Freedom is a word not heard from those who own it.”
This week’s battle was about freedom. Freedom from confinement, freedom from imprisonment, whether or not it is deserved. Let’s see how our breakout artists made it.
“A.N.G.E.L.s” by J.R. Frontera – Loved the way that this story starts. The counting that recurs throughout the entire story in different aspects is a great way to work in the MC’s discipline, the passage of time and the inevitability of death with one central theme.
I was a little disappointed when I found that the impetus for this story was a woman and forbidden love. I was a lot less disappointed with the way that it was handled. We have seen lovers tasked to kill each other before, but this one was done very well.
The actual escape is great, there is just enough action and fighting to show his prowess and power but not too much to take away from the drama of the situation.
My spider sense was tingling pretty hard when the woman he loved and was tasked to kill, who was the reason for his imprisonment, showed up to free him. The exchange between them was good, provided a plausible reason for her helping him and him letting her go.
The ending was well done, I wondered a little what would have happened with the car bomb if he had gone with her instead, but I chalked that up to her just knowing him that well.
A fun story that nailed the prompt and did so with style. Thank you.
“Punitive Damages” by Albert Berg – Ok, so I saw a tweet on Tuesday from @Lightning_Bug_ that tipped me off to the whole CYOA angle of this story, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it. An ambitious choice for sure, kudos to you, sir.
I respected the format (and the odd page numbering system) at first. As per usual for the format, I met some very creative deaths. Choked by a giant blue earthworm-type creature, transported to an inhospitable alien world, destroyed by a summoned otherworldly creature; this story embraces the weirdness of the original CYOA books.
Here I must confess, I was the type that always kept my finger on the previous page when I made my choice in case I met an untimely end. This time, at least, I could go back and forth at will, and every time I did, I died a horrible death. Every choice I made led to my destruction.
So I cheated, and found page 43. Page 43 is a wonderful, happy ending but I could not find a way to get to page 43. None of my choices would lead me there. Is this an error?? I was frustrated. Then I read page 43 again and realized that Mr Berg wasn’t talking to his main character when he says “I will never let you find it”, he was talking to us…
Well done. I am amazed at the stories that come out of this arena weekly.
I have a problem now, one I have had before. I loved “Punitive Damages.” I am in awe that someone would Make an arena prompt into a choose your own adventure story. Does it fit the prompt though? Did we get a prison break? If “A.N.G.E.L.s” wasn’t fantastic also I would overlook this in an instant. But Mrs Frontera gave us a great story also. So this week my vote goes to the story that I believe fit the prompt the best, and that is:
“A.N.G.E.L.s” by J.R. Frontera.
Congratulations J.R. Frontera! Let’s see if our Arena patrons agree.
Indeed they do! A unanimous sweep for J.R. Frontera! Fantastic job. Enjoy your victory.
We’ll be back next week to talk about curses. Be sure to comment and vote!