Okay, so I wrote an excerpt for a story. I asked my sister, a friend, and ChatGPT what they thought of it (generally positive reviews). Unfortunately for me, I can't be satisfied with my loved ones' opinions, so I had to come to the most brutally honest and soulless people on the internet I know to review it, too.
Jokes aside, I can usually rely on the people on this website to provide their genuine, honest opinions on my writing (just see my other forum posts...), so I'm going to ask y'all to once again read my work and tell me what you think.
Oh, and no, this isn't for CYS. I've realized by this point that as interesting as the prospect of making a choose-your-own-adventure story is, it's just not my forte.
Here's the excerpt:
August 15th, 2023
“The tragic incident that occurred on the night of October 19th, 2017 has, by this point, become an urban legend. Countless crime shows, podcasts, and news sites have told the same version of the events.” Delan continued as if reading from a script.
“Victor Ravan, or Vratel, had gone crazy for some unknown reason and compulsively killed his family and closest friend. He remorselessly fled the scene and founded the RVL as a front to protect himself from justice. His proteges were ordinary people who had been fooled into believing that he was innocent somehow, and who had been brainwashed into his service.”
“Not everybody who tells that lie does it to be malicious. Most of them, in fact, are just trying to raise awareness of the tragedy and garner sympathy for Emmanuel, Natalie, and Sarah. But the people who made it up did it knowing that they had been responsible for the deaths. Knowing that they were the ones who deserved justice. And, knowing the truth behind the story, I find that particularly brutal on their end. And I know you’re dying to know what actually happened, so I’ll give you the rundown.”
October 19th, 2017
Victor Ravan was good friends with Emmanuel Ortega. They’d known each other since they were teens. Victor was now 40, Emmanuel 38, and they trusted each other with their lives. Their friendship had lately been dashed with tension after Victor found out about Emmanuel’s involvement in company corruption, but they had both gotten past it. As far as Victor was concerned, the two were on good terms.
As was their tradition almost every month for the past 20 years, Emmanuel came to Victor’s place on the third Thursday for three hours and enjoyed a three-course meal. October 19th was no different.
Dinner came and went, with no hostility being shown by either party, and both seemingly enjoying the monthly ritual.
“Man, I still can’t believe you have like… a whole family now,” Emmanuel remarked, a sort of dubious wist in his eyes.
“Yeah… I don’t really know how it happened either. She’s clearly way out of my league,” Victor said beginning to laugh.
“Babe!” Natalie said, playfully. “What’d I say about patronizing me?”
“I wasn’t patronizing you, I promise you, you’re beautiful and amazing, and all that…” he said, teasingly.
All the while, while this went down, Emmanuel silently watched them, rubbing his knuckles, anticipating the brutal turn that night was about to suffer.
Natalie, Sarah, Emmanuel, and Victor went to the couch after dinner to reminisce on old times and catch up on anything new. It was something they’d done for years, their way of staying close.
“Remember that road trip we went on back in 2007? When we’d just gotten married and went to Georgia?” Natalie said.
“Oh my God, please don’t remind me,” Victor groaned. “That was the worst thing I have ever done. Why did we ever take that beat-up minivan through the deep south in the hottest month of the year?”
“Yeah, that was… something,” Emmanuel added.
A silence followed.
“Hey, Em, you okay? You seem pretty quiet tonight.” Natalie asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” he responded. “Just got a lot on my mind…”
“Oh,” Victor said. “Feel like sharing?”
“No,” Emmanuel immediately said.
The conversation continued for the next seven minutes, Victor and Natalie doing most of the talking, Sarah adding her own colorful comments, and Emmanuel chiming in once every few minutes with a vaguely nostalgic comment. At 9:33 pm, he excused himself to use the restroom.
“Emmanuel seems… off. You think we should try to talk to him about it? In case he needs help?” Natalie asked.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Vratel answered. “If he feels the need to open up, he will. If not, he probably won’t need to.”
Unbeknownst to them, Emmanuel didn’t excuse himself to the restroom to actually relieve himself. While there, he produced a sleek, silver pistol from his jacket.
“I’m so sorry, Victor,” he said, his voice a turbulent storm of duty, despair, and remorse. “I’m so, so, sorry…” He didn’t want to do this. But it was Victor’s life or his, and that wasn’t much of a choice for him.
He pushed open the bathroom door and began walking back to the living room. He needed to be swift and effective—to not leave anyone behind.
As he reached the entrance to the living room, he raised his gun to Natalie.
The three looked at him, warmly, but their expressions quickly turned to ones of confusion and horror.
“Oh my go—” Natalie began to scream, but her words were quickly cut short by a loud shot that rang through the whole house. Her head rocketed backwards when it was hit, but most of her weight had been shifted forward already. Gravity got the best of her body and her head hit the coffee table with a sickening thud.
“Natalie, no!” Victor shouted.
“Mommy!” Sarah cried.
“What are you doing?” Victor exploded, never having expected to be betrayed like this by his closest friend.
“No witnesses, Victor,” Emmanuel said, his voice shaking wildly. “Not even your precious daughter.”
“Emmanuel, please, no—”
Sarah turned to Emmanuel who raised his gun, and then to Victor, her eyes flooded with terror and confusion, tears pooling on her eyelids.
“Daddy, help me—”
Sarah’s lifeless body crumpled under its own weight and she hit the floor within seconds. She was only six years old, and lost her life to the bitter throes of the corrupt YHA.
Victor had loved Sarah more than anyone else in this world. He swore to protect with his life from the very first moment he held her in his hands. But now he failed to save her. He broke the first promise he made to his daughter, and he could do nothing to change that.
Emmanuel swiftly rose the gun to meet Victor’s stare. But before he could shoot, Victor lunged at him over the couch and knocked the firearm from his hands. Filled with rage and blinded by fury, he unleashed a series of punches on the man, breaking his nose and bruising him all over.
Still, Emmanuel wasn’t completely helpless. Victor was about 50 pounds heavier and a half foot taller, but he didn’t have a weapon.
Emmanuel grabbed a knife he had stowed away in his pocket. He swung it around and stabbed at Victor wildly, hoping to do something. And he did: he stabbed and slashed Victor all over his chest and arms and stomach. One cut even penetrated his face, leaving a nasty scar on his left eye. Victor leaned back and grabbed at his face, hoping to limit the bleeding.
The gun, meanwhile, had slid into the dining room. Emmanuel scrambled to his feet and leaped for it. Victor, watching him closely, lunged after him, slamming into the table. His weight broke one of the legs and toppled it. Emmanuel and Victor both grabbed opposite ends of the gun at the same time and grappled over it for a few seconds.
Finally, Victor ripped the pistol from Emmanuel’s hands and rose again. He stepped back a few feet, putting some distance between the two. He aimed it straight at his forehead, and he froze.
Emmanuel raised his hands into the air, recognizing his defeat.
“V-V-Victor,” He pleaded, backing up away from him. “I didn’t—they forced me to do this, Victor—”
“DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’VE DONE?!” Victor shouted, following him past the toppled dining table.
“Victor, please, please, I didn’t want to do this… please, please, forgive me…” Emmanuel begged, backing himself into the living room, where it all started.
“YOU’RE A MONSTER! YOU DESERVE TO DIE!” He cocked the gun.
“Victor, you don’t understand, they-they-they won’t stop here. They won’t stop until you’re dead, Victor. And if they can’t kill you, they’ll find a way to blame this all on you… please, just don’t kill me—”
A shot rang through the house once more. Emmanuel, who’d expected to swiftly deliver death to the Ravans and pin it on Victor, had his comeuppance served to him in the form of a bullet.
The moments immediately following the incident were filled with despair, grief, sorrow, and Victor’s realization that his life had been torn apart.
It wasn’t until he heard the police sirens that he remembered Emmanuel’s last words, that they—probably the YHA—would blame Victor for these crimes. He couldn’t let that happen. He would avenge his daughter and wife. He would expose the corruption that the association had weaponized against him and bring justice for those who died at their hands.
Immediately, Victor went to Emmanuel’s body and grabbed his phone. He grabbed the man’s hand, took off his gloves, and used it to unlock the phone. As quickly as he could, he put registered his own fingerprint as well. He then ran over to the entrance of his home and searched for Emmanuel’s wallet. He found it sitting on a stool. He then grabbed the gun from the floor.
Heading for the door to the backyard, he turned around one last time to see Natalie and Sarah in the living room. Tears streamed down from his eyes as he pushed out into the patio.
That night, Victor fled his humble home and solemnly swore to get justice for his family, for himself, and even for Emmanuel. He formed the RVL over the following months to gather incriminating information on the YHA’s corruption so he could finally expose them as the villains they were, and to mitigate whatever effects their evil deeds had on the people until the day he brought them down.
“So now you know. I hope that makes sense to you, at least somewhat. I’m sure you have questions, but unfortunately, I need to go back to the front for now and help the driver with… something,” Delan said, rising to his feet. He opened a door behind him.
“Wait, driver? Are we in a car?” Emily asked.
“Yes. We’re in a car. But we’re not driving yet. We’re about to leave now.”
“Can you at least answer a few questions?
“No, I’m sorry, I have to go. I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes. Until then, think about what I’ve told you.”
“Hold on, who’s driving?”
“See for yourself.”
The driver leaned over from where he was and peered out the door. Emily didn’t see much of his face, but she gasped in instant recognition.
There was a scar through his left eye.
I should mention two things.
First of all, if you think that the moments after Victor shoots Emmanuel aren't described well enough, it's because they were already described in greater detail earlier.
Second of all, if the thing decides to be retarted and not make any line breaks, I'm very, very sorry. I don't fully remember how this works. I'm sure one of the gods mods will be kind and graceful enough to add them if they aren't there.
Edit: It actually worked. Huh
The premise is decent, but mediocre execution in this draft.
Hook could be stronger.
AFAIK, you don't need the closing double quotation mark on the non-last paragraphs when consecutive paragraphs are dialogue tag-less quotes by the same speaker.
We're left wondering who Sarah is for a while for no apparent narrative reason.
On my first read-through, I thought that Delan was referring to the RVL as the people who "made it up," and the "lie" was referring to the claim of Ravan's innocence and the "brainwashing." Only after reading the whole excerpt and then rereading the first part did I realize that Delan was referring to the YHA. If this ambiguity wasn't intentional, then you should make it clearer that he was not referring to the RVL in the beginning.
Ambiguous pronoun antecedents in who it was that slammed into the table.
"He put registered his own fingerprint" <-- what?
These paragraphs could be revised to something along these lines (I haven't given them much thought, just broad strokes):
Heading for the door to the backyard, he turned around one last time to see Natalie and Sarah in the living room. Tears streamed down from his eyes as he pushed out into the patio. "I will get justice for my family, for myself, and ..." Victor solemnly swore as he fled his humble home that night, "... even for Emmanuel."
“Vratel formed the RVL over the following months to gather incriminating information on the YHA’s corruption so he could finally expose them as the villains they were, and to mitigate the effects their evil deeds had on the people until the day he brought them down. So now you know. I hope that makes sense to you, at least somewhat," Delan said, rising to his feet. "I’m sure you have questions, but, unfortunately, I need to go back to the front for now and help the driver with… something.” He opened a door behind him.
How does Emily not see that she's in a car?
Those are all the major things.
I liked how the ending of the excerpt wrapped back around to the left eye scar. The grasp of language was good enough.
First of all, thanks for actually responding.
Second of all, I think you brought up a lot of good points in your review that I'll be sure to implement in my next draft.
Oh, and Emily doesn't realize she's in a car because she's put in the back of a van that's furnished to look like a room. Emily thinks it could be a lot of things, but one of those things isn't a car.
But a van isn't a car. They're two different types of vehicles. There's no way a car is big enough to be furnished to look like a room.
Let's see, we have about five named characters in an excerpt of about 1000 words. I know, it's part of a larger story, but it would help a lot if you give us details that will distinguish all of them while giving them clear roles in the story.
For example, I think Natalie's role is redundant. In this story it's very clear that we need Emmanuel to shoot a loved one of Victor. Well, we already have a daughter, why not use her instead? It reduces one character that we need to characterize and give screentime to. Then we can use that space to establish the clear relationship between Emmanuel, Vic and Sarah.
In the first Miami Florida part, when Delan first mentions their names, you could say for the sake of clarity: Victor, his friend Emmanuel and his daughter Sarah. Bam.
There is also a very chronic dry telling instead of showing going on which makes it sound like a police report. Is that your intention? You could easily move the dates back into the first Florida part where Delan is the one dryly telling the story. Then have the more cinematic stuff in the actual flashback. It would be clear from just a few dialogue lines and some descriptions of body language to make it clear that they are best friends and have a warm bond.
Then the dialogue. It feels awkward how its placed in the text. You know, don't be afraid to lengthen your character acting descriptions and/or to leave it at "Victor Said". Be careful with adding too much adverbs like this sequence,
Natalie said playfully, and shortly after. victor said teasingly. It honestly still doesn't tell me a lot what they are doing. In what way does Natalie say stuff playfully? Does she pitch her voice higher than usual, does she wink during the conversation, does she raise one of her brows? Verbs, actions, give us a stronger image than adverbs.
In which perspective is the backstory actually written? From emmanuel or Victor's, because stuff is constantly flip flopping around. There are things like what emmanuel did in the bathroom what Victor shouldn't have known. Or the most damning of all: this line.
” He didn’t want to do this. But it was Victor’s life or his, and that wasn’t much of a choice for him.
He pushed open the bathroom door and began walking back to the living room. He needed to be swift and effective—to not leave anyone behind."
You told us that the readers will know that the gunfight had happened going into it, so I think it would be a much more dramatic tone of you kept the viewpoint of the flashback at one of the two guys. If you choose to focus on Vic (I advise that), then lean in on the dramatic irony. I dunno, have him be very buddy buddy with them, promising to go out camping next week and joking that he will miss his daughter when she grows old enough to move out or something like that. Then have Vic's cheeriness be juxtaposed with Emmanuel's signs of panic and dread. For example, Emmanuel might have sweaty hands or be very pale. He might have trouble holding his food down. Have Vic tease him about it and saying that Emmanuel looks like as if he had just witnessed a murder or have Vic discuss cheerfully how he watched this dumb chime show and playfully criticizing how the murderer should have left no witnesses, even children....
Because the reader already knows about the incident and the conclusion, have the main tension be how Vic is going to react and how his view on Emmanuel is completely shattered.
Another thing I found rather lacking are the environment descriptions. They are zero to none. I realized very late that Delan and Emily were in a car. You could have clued the reader in much earlier. Up until the end you could have said that they were floating in a white void and i would have believed you. It's the same with Vic's house. Of course, Vic as the owner would not be as thorough as a mere stranger when comes to describing the house and its interior, but you could have done at least a little something to show us how Vic and his family lives. Perhaps have him lament that the house is always messy, mention Sarah's drawings pinned on the fridge (have them splattered with blood afterwards hehehe), you could do a lot to give the environment some personality and set the mood.
Just a few suggestions to make your prose stronger.
“Daddy, help me—” - I got this advice from SummerSparrow once on writing children in very dangerous scenarios. They often will just be very fucking so scared and confused that they won't even plead for help. Either leave out the line, have Sarah be frozen in shock or have her act all confused such as. "Daddy, what's going on?" Or just. "Daddy."
"tears pooling on her eyelids"
I don't know if tears can do that. It's phrased a little awkwardly.
"Victor had loved Sarah more than anyone else in this world. He swore to protect with his life from the very first moment he held her in his hands. But now he failed to save her. He broke the first promise he made to his daughter, and he could do nothing to change that."
Why couldn't you show Vic's love for his daughter, by rashly rushing to her side and holding and comforting her? It could be a very powerful image that he completely forgets about Emmanuel and his gun while shaking his daughter and begging her to respond to him.
As with you saying that the moments after victor shoots emmanuel aren't described well enough, eh, tbh, you could have made it even shorter or cut it all out. Tbh, you could even shorten the entire fight with little problem. The one thing you do need to work on and place the heaviest focus is the emotions Victor felt and how much his family means to him and how affected he is. How he manages to overpower Emmanuel frankly doesn't matter and describing the fight in such detail like you did gives a very dry mechanical feel of what should be a very emotional event.
i do like the reveal that Delan is Vic through the eye scar and the beginning how Delan dryly describes the event in a monotone voice as of he's dissociating himself from that whole ordeal. It's actually a great showcase of show don't tell and treating the readers not as idiots.
The grammar, I found no mistakes so Chatgpt (or you) is probably very good at filtering them out or I'm very bad at spotting them to begin with. Probably both.
But the story looks promising, seems like a revenge/spy plotline. The site activity has been a bit slower lately, but please feel free to drop more story excerpts or the entire draft. There are plenty of people willing to help.