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As Round 6 of the Semifinals grinds to a close, let’s take a look back at two excellent stories – Jeanie Keogh’s “The Offbeat” and Brittany Smith’s “Muscle Man” – and see how they navigated the pool of comments, ideas and revisions. But the war is not over, Jean-Claude. Go over to the Deathmatch page and keep voting for your favorites – you have until Sunday night.

The Stories/The Comments

Smith’s story was the most revised this round. Gone was the “clunky junky”  side of brother Stefan, a term coined by Emily Kendy in Round 3. Also gone – the ending passage where Little Carl stuck a knife in his own arm. In its place, Smith wrote a quietly harrowing encounter at a McDonald’s drive-thru that showed the extent of Stefan’s mismanaged rage – and the story closes with a quiet moment that spoke volumes about where Carl may be headed in his own future.

I liked the revisions – they were better, more subtle and dug deeper – and for the most part, commenters did too. Heather writes:

This rewrite is more convincing. It doesn’t come across as 1) cute little boy 2)Mom’s screw up – dumping the kid 3) big brother – dumping and running. The first entry seemed to be all those maudlin stories but what you rewrote makes it more “today real” Good stuff. You read this and you want to grab the kid for a hug. But no… he’s going to do “his stuff”. Muscleman’s limbs back at the end … I love it because it represents the hope for everyone of us … the tomorrow.

Keogh’s story didn’t change much, and most commenters agreed that this was a good move as well. Monica praised two lines in particular:

“An umbilical feeling of concern curdles to accusation in my voice.”

Closely followed by “The soundtrack to this fantasy is in E-flat major.

One of my favorite comments comes from Philip, who says:

Both stories are effective in their own right…both address the psychology or a character and decision making…both ring true…
In Brittany’s story I am looking in from the outside, an observer, responding to what the character does…I am left to imagine what his thoughts are…while in Jeanie’s story I am actually inside…inside the character’s head…thinking what she is thinking, seeing what she is seeing, and I still have imagination working for me.
All in all, the powerful effect of being inside and psychologically off balance the entire time by being there, as well as the poetic imagery, and the musical references that pepper the piece like seasoning, almost like word riffs, elevate Jeanie’s writing. “The Offbeat” gets my vote.

Both authors also gave great responses to a question I posed regarding which commenter critiques had haunted them from previous rounds. Keogh said moderator Annie Wong’s assessment hit her particularly hard:

“Right now I’m reading this lame-ass short story about some old chick with baby issues and her drunk ex-lover. The female voice is disappointingly weak – and worse the character falls within the “straight-and-narrow” repertoire of conventional female protagonists. Meanwhile, the incompetent douch’s got 99 problems, but that bitch ain’t one- and so this makes her sad.”

Keogh continues:

Loved it though, because she knew what she was doing when she wrote that and I appreciated the intelligence behind how she cut up my story. I like the way she was encouraging me to make it darker, to take away the pretty stuff. I like that she was tough about it; what she said was the kind of thing that people say behind someone’s back but don’t have the courage to say to their face.

Meanwhile, Smith says she was struck by a comment from our old pal, Emily’s BFF:

She asked me to consider why some of the readers just don’t care. And though you can’t please everybody, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, blah, blah, I felt like I needed to get in there and figure out why people didn’t care. I still don’t think I’m totally there, but I’m closer than I was before.

A reflective and solid round featuring two of my favorite stories from the Deathmatch so far. Keeping with the theme of this post, I will close with the immortal, synth-riddled theme from Bloodsport, “Fight to Survive.” There will be two writers left next week…who will stake their claim? Who will triumph? I’m on pins and needles here!