DEB — APPRECIATE THE FEEDBACK, MY RESPONSES ARE IN RED. Nathan,
All in all, I think this is a really good start. THANKS! The mantra I want you to keep repeating is: Build on this. Always be looking to add more layers. What you have are the first four chapters of what (hopefully!) will be a thoroughly publishable short story. THINKING MORE ALONG THE LINES OF NOVEL, PERHAPS SEVERAL. LIKE IF JONATHAN FRANZEN HAD WRITTEN TWILIGHT.
• Don't worry about TOC and index, we handle that sort of thing later. OK.
• The setting is vague. Can't quite tell what it is. Really get specific — try describing it in too much detail, I can chisel out what's needed. Right now I'm pretty sure it takes place in a Starbucks, or a record store, or an office holiday party, or a fishing trip, or a brothel in Algiers. It's one of those things. KIND OF WANTED IT TO BE AN "EVERYPLACE" KIND OF LOCATION. COULD EASILY BE ANY OF THOSE. PICK ONE.
• Fewer side characters. Let's shoot for cutting two, and then see where we are. And if you get going and decide to cut a couple more, that probably wouldn't be terrible. ACTUALLY, I ADDED ANOTHER TODAY. IT'S A FIREMAN WITH A DARK SECRET. WHAT COULD THE SECRET BE?? BUILDS SUSPENSE.
• Central theme developing: The risks we take everyday, and the danger inherent in playing it safe. Not bad, plenty of potential there. Say it with the characters' actions. Trust that the reader will get it, you don't have to spell it out. Erica's monologue is a bridge too far. ERICA'S "MONOLOGUE" AS YOU CALL IT IS WORD FOR WORD A DREAM I HAD. SO THERE.
• Not exactly sure who Winston is. Thought I did, but then he kept leaving voice mail messages for the dead aunt. Is Winston a ghost? Please say no. WINSTON IS THE GARDENER, HOW IS THAT NOT OBVIOUS?
• Motivations need sharpening. Why a character does something is as important as what they do. Doesn't have to be broadcast in the moment (a little mystery can be a good thing) but should at least make sense in retrospect. Why does Erica put that orange in the knife drawer? Why would that make Samuel storm out of the room? Does Mark forget that he has an extra phone charger in his coat pocket, or is he withholding it on purpose? Why is Erica so offended that Rachel keeps absent-mindedly chewing on twisty-ties? Why does Samuel badger the neighbors into making him a grilled cheese? NOT SURE.
• Look, I know we've had our disagreements about adjectives. (WAIT FOR IT) Yes, Hemingway used very little adjectives, and yes, Hemingway is an icon of masculinity, (WAIT FOR IT) but that does not mean that females should be described with lots of adjectives while males should not be described at all. AAAAND THERE IT IS. THE DEBATE THAT NEVER ENDS. IT'S LIKE WE'RE RIGHT BACK IN THE DORM COMMON ROOM, I CAN PRACTICALLY SMELL THE MICROWAVE POPCORN.
• The card game sequence is fantastic! Love how it mirrors the Mercutio/Tybalt duel. UGH, GOD YOU'RE RIGHT. IT DOES. WASN'T INTENTIONAL. HACK MOVE. YOU SAY IT WORKS THOUGH? Wouldn't mind seeing how it would read without the bicycle accident. NOTED.
• Three arguments about dolphins is probably too many. ONE IS AN ARGUMENT ABOUT AYN RAND THAT JUST HAPPENS TO INCLUDE DOLPHINS, BUT POINT TAKEN.
• We need to have a conversation about Oxford commas. I LITERALLY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.
• Let's talk about the ending for a second. And I want to assure you that we're on the same team here. But this revelation at the end that the whole thing was narrated by the dog — necessary? YES. Absolutely must-have? YES. Something we can do without? NO NO NO. Leaving aside the fact that it's mildly Shyamalantic, you've got such a great final image with Charles lighting the cigarette in the kitchen. Trust those moments. Trust that the genuine moments of the story will tell readers everything they need to know. They don't need a sentient dog explaining it to them. My guess is that you feel pretty strongly about this, so let's find a time to talk about it before my flight on Thursday. WHATEVER.