NuclearStudent's Cursed Zone

WORDS WORDS WORDS
User avatar
Chatty Wheeler
Posts: 43
Joined: Mon Aug 24, 2020 5:56 pm
Location: Pacific Time Zone

Re: NuclearStudent's Cursed Zone

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Tue Nov 17, 2020 1:42 am

Analysis of Until I Rise Again

—————————————————

Hello there, NuclearStudent!

I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't gotten around to commenting on one of your works sooner, but better late than never, right? I'm glad that you recommended this story to be my first out of your collection of works—I think I have a good sense of your writing style and strengths, now! Let's jump in, shall we?

——————————

First off, let's start out with the obvious... This is the first time I've ever read a straight up horror story on these forums. I made the mistake of eating dinner right before reading this story. Luckily, I didn't throw up my dinner!

On second thought, if I had thrown it up, that might have been the ultimate compliment that I could have given you. Haha! For what it's worth, I don't throw up unless I really am sick, but this story did succeed in making my skin crawl. I certainly felt grossed out by what I was reading. So points to you, good sir!

——————————

You're technical writing abilities are great. You're really good at creating atmosphere... like really good. I might even say that it's your greatest strength. The settings and imagery in this story were more vivid in my mind than most other stories I've read on these forums. Below are just some of the lines that stuck out to me...
NuclearStudent wrote:
Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:52 am
The grass was cold that early in the morning, but Rin found a solid dry spot. I lay down and looked at the sky. It lit up red and orange and white in its regularly dazzling way. It had been a while since I’d watched the sun rise like this.
NuclearStudent wrote:
Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:52 am
I just sat there. The sun was done rising. It was a Sunday, so without classes, there was nowhere to go. I should have been studying but I frankly didn’t want to. I didn’t feel hungry for some reason, so I just stayed in place. I waited for cicadas to call, but they never did.
NuclearStudent wrote:
Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:52 am
I stared, waiting for some kind of clarification. I know Rin was just being cryptic as usual, but I felt sick to my stomach again. My spine tingled. My skin raised gooseflesh and it felt like someone was crawling through it. I knew there was no reason to feel this way, but I couldn’t fight it off.
NuclearStudent wrote:
Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:52 am
My head tilted down and looked at myself. My face wrinkled to mimic something like embarrassment. The white snakes were gone and the remaining worms on my body were wriggling directly through my skin and into my body. They licked at the tiny remains of blood on my shirt as they went. I silently begged Kenji to notice something, anything.
Special mention goes to the bold bit above. I saw that in my head so vividly—awesome stuff.

——————————

Alright, let's talk some plot!

It becomes pretty clear by the end of this story that Hisao is experiencing sickness that comes from sleep deprivation. As someone who has gotten sick many times from lack of sleep, I find this story strangely relatable. Not the worms, of course, but the feeling of paranoia and sickness.

I was working on a research project for my school a couple years back. It was an experiment—a biology project where I had to culture microorganisms and gather measurements/data every hour. The whole experiment lasted two days, so I basically had to stay awake for 48 hours straight—only taking twenty minute power naps here and there. By the end of the two days, I started to mildly hallucinate. I started hearing things that weren't actually there—like footsteps. I'd turn around and nothing was there. It sent my paranoia through the roof, and it something that I thankfully haven't experienced again.

Given my experience with hallucinations in a sleep-deprived state, I am almost certain that Hisao is hallucinating the worms and the snakes. It's likely that Rin planted the image of the worms in his head, and that the thought manifested into a hallucination later that night. But it is just a hallucination, right? The way that Kenji reacts to him would make it seem like there's nothing wrong with Hisao on the outside. So there's probably no worms, right?

Well, it isn't that simple. NuclearStudent wouldn't make it that easy for us. He intentionally left in a few loose threads to keep us guessing as to whether or not Hisao is hallucinating. I personally think he is hallucinating, but there are more arguments that go either way.

On the one hand, I mentioned how Kenji didn't react to any external injuries—or worms—on Hisao's body. But hang on... Kenji is blind... So how would he see Hisao's injuries? Especially at the dead of night?

On the other hand... I noticed a very clever instance of foreshadowing on my reread of the story... Earlier on, Hisao watches a spider crawl up to Rin, but he flicks it away before it can crawl onto her. He finds the spider gross, but Rin has no reaction whatsoever to the spider. At first, we chalk this lack of reaction up to Rin being Rin. But after reading the end of the story, it's just as likely that the spider was never actually there, and that Hisao just hallucinated it. If the latter is true, then this has to be one of the most brilliant examples of foreshadowing I've ever seen on a story on these forums. It was so subtle that I didn't even notice it the first time around. Kudos, Nuke!

What I'm trying to say at the end of it all is that NuclearStudent leaves a little bit of ambiguity into the story, and while almost all logic points to the conclusion that Hisao is hallucinating the worms, I love how Nuke doesn't outright confirm it for us. That'd be a boring way to end the story, wouldn't it?

——————————
NuclearStudent wrote:
Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:52 am
“Absolutely.” My voice said...

[...]

Kenji turned around and my body closed the door...

[...]

I lay there until morning, when my body dragged me up again.
I really like how you shifted into the third person for this ending. It's a great little touch that really sells the whole story as an out-of-body experience.

—————————

I notice that you build a sense of tension in the reader through using small bits of escalating unease. The first thing we find out in the story is that Hisao is sleep deprived. Then we find out that it is finals week. Then we find out that Emi is mysteriously absent from the track. Then we see Rin's... odd painting. Then we have the run in with the spider. Then Rin starts going off on weird, uncomfortable tangents. Then Hisao starts to feel sick. Then the horror strikes, the tension had been properly built up, and I was completely invested.

Something else that I thought was especially clever about these small bits is that many of them double as foreshadowing. Hisao's sleep deprived state foreshadows how he's eventually going to get sick from it, I've already mentioned how the spider can be seen as subtle foreshadowing, and Rin's tangent about the worms literally come back to haunt Hisao. For Nuke to combine build-up with foreshadowing in this way was pretty cool. Very good writing, indeed.

—————————

Speaking of good writing, my hat is off to Nuke for attempting to write Rin. I find it extremely difficult to write Rin scenes, so I immediately respect anyone who can actually pull it off, and Nuke certainly did. Kudos!

—————————

Okay, I think that about settles my thoughts. All in all, I really enjoyed this one. Thanks for sending me this, Nuke!

Take care, everyone!

User avatar
NuclearStudent
Posts: 116
Joined: Tue Jul 09, 2019 3:05 am
Location: chinese hyperborea with neoliberal characteristics

Re: NuclearStudent's Cursed Zone

Post by NuclearStudent » Wed Nov 18, 2020 4:15 am

Going back to do some analysis of the chunks you found remarkable, Chatty. Will describe my process and where I think I fell short.
The grass was cold that early in the morning, but Rin found a solid dry spot. I lay down and looked at the sky. It lit up red and orange and white in its regularly dazzling way. It had been a while since I’d watched the sun rise like this.
I spent absurdly long thinking about the actual implications on Hisao's characterization made by these lines. Specifically, I'd fiddled with the phrase "regularly dazzling." The phrase implies a certain ability to see beauty, wonder, joy, and hope in the world. That is, that the time before Yamaku was a joyful one, where he was regularly impressed by the sunrise. This is the one moment of genuine happiness and peace throughout the entire story. It was important to get right, because everything declines from that initial benchmark.

My personal interpretation of "It had been a while since I’d watched the sun rise like this" is the implication that he last saw the sun rise before Yamaku. Possibly he also saw the sun rise when running with Emi, weeks ago, or at some other date. Regardless, this line was intended to induce a sense of wistful nostalgia.

The language in this phrase is probably somewhat excessively basic, and my style has moved on to become somewhat more verbose. Still, I think that kind of basic writing works for Hisao. I don't think of him as a particularly literate or expressive person. I think I'd checked the wiki to reference the prose and dialogue for Hisao. The grass was cold. The sky was red and orange and white. A bitch-boy basic way of stating your thoughts.

In general, I think the prose in this work suffers somewhat for being so basic. I went too far, and I think my style in general has improved since then.
I just sat there. The sun was done rising. It was a Sunday, so without classes, there was nowhere to go. I should have been studying but I frankly didn’t want to. I didn’t feel hungry for some reason, so I just stayed in place. I waited for cicadas to call, but they never did.
The sentence I find weakest is "I didn’t feel hungry for some reason, so I just stayed in place." It's a perfectly normal thought for a human to have, but the phrase "some reason" weakens the power of the overall paragraph. I'd rather have expunged it if I thought I could, and replaced it with something more spiritually resonant.

Now, there's some justification for it being there. This paragraph took rather more conscious consideration of pacing and rhythm. I'm proud of it, by the way. I opened the paragraph with two short one-phrase sentences, went into longer sentences, and ended it with a two-phrase sentence joined with a comma. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Very basic, but I had a cursed time structuring and rewriting it. Despite being proud of it, I am not content with it.

Hisao did join with the worms in the end, one way or another. My favourite line is "I waited for cicadas to call, but they never did." That one, I added in during an editing pass. I thought it'd call up a bothersome silence, the sort you anticipate being shattered at any moment, an emptiness that grows long and far like a sundown shadow. Not an intense silence, but a pregnant one. The kind that's natural when you're sleep deprived at way too damned early in the morning.

Incidentally, again, Hisao would never use an analogy like above. He's not whimsical enough to describe something as "long and far like a sundown shadow." Nor, in good conscience, could I give him neat terse lines like "[n]ot an intense silence, but a pregnant one." You have to work around the limitations of Hisao's mind. For this reason, I find Hisao more difficult to write than Rin. Rin also has her limits, but her speech is freer than Hisao's.
I stared, waiting for some kind of clarification. I know Rin was just being cryptic as usual, but I felt sick to my stomach again. My spine tingled. My skin raised gooseflesh and it felt like someone was crawling through it. I knew there was no reason to feel this way, but I couldn’t fight it off.
This is my least favorite one. Possibly my least favourite paragraph in this entire story. It's a bolted-together bitch that was taken apart and put back together a dozen times in the editing phase, and I do hate it for what it has done to me. I'm glad it functioned for you.

There is exactly one fresh phrase in this field of cliches, and it's "it felt like someone was crawling through it." Being sick to one's stomach, having your skin tingle, having your skin raise gooseflesh, all of those are passe cliches. I couldn't escape them. It was maddening.

The rest of the paragraph also suffered from telling rather than showing. "I stared, waiting for some kind of clarification." "I know Rin was just being cryptic as usual, but I felt sick to my stomach again." "I knew there was no reason to feel this way, but I couldn’t fight it off." I knew these were problems, but I didn't know how to fix them while preserving the pacing of the story.

I think above all else, this paragraph, to me, exemplifies what is wrong with this story. For all the work I do in trying to build up a sense of tension and progressive sickness, in parts like this, the story takes an "and then Hisao just got sick lmao" turn. A problem that I didn't know how to solve, and ultimately just left in as unfixable.
My head tilted down and looked at myself. My face wrinkled to mimic something like embarrassment. The white snakes were gone and the remaining worms on my body were wriggling directly through my skin and into my body. They licked at the tiny remains of blood on my shirt as they went. I silently begged Kenji to notice something, anything.
I'm not super happy with this paragraph. Something stinks of the bitch-boy about it, and to this day, I don't understand what could be done about that. I don't like the flow of the first two sentences. Two medium length sentences. No real synergy to them. If I were editing this now, my instinct is to keep "My head tilted down and looked at myself" as eerie and punchy imagery, and try to eliminate the awkwardness of the second sentence.

But what do I do about it? It was important for me to word the second sentence in the way I did. I wanted to have you questioning whether Hisao was in charge of his body, or whether the worms had taken control of him. I don't care for "correct" interpretations, as storytelling is not an objective science. But I wanted the possibility of that doubt.

"They licked at the tiny remains of blood on my shirt as they went" was added during an editing pass, when I was mediating on how large I wanted the worms eating through Hisao's skin and eyes to be. They had to be large enough to be extremely uncomfortable, and small enough to fit through the eye socket. I could have been a prissy mathematician and had Hisao tell you that "the worms eating through my skin and eyes were about 8 millimeters in diameter," but realistically, I didn't think Hisao would be stopping to take measurements.

I decided that the worms were big enough to have tongues. That's a scientific liberty on my part, as maggots of that size do not, in fact, have tongues. But to have a tongue implies that sucking is not enough, which implies that the worms, for whatever evolutionary reason, are big enough to require tongues. I don't particularly care if the specific image of worms with tongues popped up into your head, because honestly, who thinks that much about these things. If the overall impression of intense hunger entered your head, that's good enough.
“Absolutely.” My voice said...

[...]

Kenji turned around and my body closed the door...

[...]

I lay there until morning, when my body dragged me up again.
If you haven't noticed, the title of this story is kinda dumb. If I were naming it now, I'd probably call it Worms. That's how people usually refer to the story, anyways. That's also a stupid name, but it's one that's usably concise for recommendations. The current title I just threw into existence after writing the last line.

edit:

Another thing that bears mentioning: this whole piece was originally written in the present tense. After thinking about it, I rewrote all of it to the past tense. Implies that Hisao survives the process and ordeal of the story and that he's looking back upon events.
To last forever.

Post Reply