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Old Writing Critique: Jailbreakers #1

Old Writing Critique: Jailbreakers #1

Posted January 9th, 2020 by Zelda

by The KP Mom
in a perpetual predicament

Ra (one) That is not a reference to the Egyptian sun god, it's the word 'one' in a conlang that I never developed properly. It sort of ties into this story but not enough for incorporating it into all the chapter titles. 


Four Years Later


            Claira shuffled along the sidewalk, her head held carefully still. She was listening. She had worked out a system for traveling in the city when she wasn’t wearing her glasses; as long as she kept the roar of vehicles on her right, and the clamor of shops on her left, then she was safe.


The smell of the city clung to everything. It was an ever-changing scent; I hate semi-colons so much. on one breath Claira would smell hotdogs Sudden tense change and exhaust from the cars racing along on the streets, and the next her nostrils would be invaded by cheap perfume and body odor. All around her people chattered and bus brakes shrieked while feet clomped and those little chimes that store owners dangled in front of their shop doors tinkled. It was easy enough to get confused and wander the wrong direction for a sighted person, but when you couldn’t rely on clues like a familiar sign to get you back on track, getting somewhere became impossible. Claira liked this part of the city in a weird way. PSA to always do your research: Oyen has a population of 1000. I live in a city five times that size and we have ONE traffic light. One. Oyen is so tiny it might not even have real sidewalks and it certainly doesn't have buses. 


Downtown Oyen "Downtown" buzzed with life and the failing temporary satisfaction of consumerism. Fake woke younger me makes an appearance. Stuff like that made for good distraction, and eavesdropping on conversations gave her something to focus in on when she was alone. Last week, she had overheard a couple talking in hushed whispers on the subway. Their argument appeared like bright oranges and ugly dark reds in her mind, yellow sparks replaced exclamation points at the ends of each sentence. 


Listening let her see colors again. This should be attached to the last paragraph because it doesn't convey a new Time, Place, Topic, or Person speaking, and the small dramatic affect it affords isn't enough to justify the new paragraph, imo. 


 Hefty bifocals Why bifocals? and contact lenses could correct her damaged vision to a certain extent, but nothing would ever bring back her sense of color. The optometrist had called her condition ‘monocromatism’,  total color blindness. It's called achromatopsia, and Claira's particular condition is known as Cerebral Achromatopsia, which I didn't know until two seconds ago when I pulled up Google. But it's okay, we've already established that research doesn't exist here.  Hitting her head on the car window had damaged the cones in her retina. There wasn’t a cure. 

A passer-by in a rush shouldered Claira, knocking her to the side.


“Watch where you’re going!” They shouted back at her, pastel orange coating their words like poison. 


“Sorry.” Claira apologized quietly. She’d been so distracted by the flood of information coming from all around that she hadn’t been paying attention. This journey would have been easier if she had just worn her glasses.  But on days like today she made it a point not to wear anything but her old aviator sunglasses-- the pair that had belonged to Lisha We're on chapter two and still Alisha's real name hasn't been used. before the crash.

She wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but she wore the aviators because she didn’t want her dead sister to know she was blind. It was her personal secret.


The din of the city began to fade as she approached her destination. People tended to be more reverent around graveyards, at least during the daytime. 


There were no people to maneuver around here, none that she could hear anyways. She slipped her walking cane out of her pocket. It was collapsible, and so old that the hard plastic tip had fallen off and had to be glued back on every now and again. She had received the cane the year of the car crash, to aid her while they waited to see if the scratches on her retina’s would heal enough to allow her some semblance of sight. if she's blind because her retinas are scratched then glasses shouldn't help at all. That's not how prescription glasses work. Technically she didn’t need the cane anymore, but she held on to it. Okay, yes, not every seeing impaired person has a mobility aid but Claira obviously does and if you're going to go through the trouble of introducing the aid why would you immediately discredit it? Also, Claira using her walking cane in the cemetary goes directly against what she said earlier about not wanting her dead sister to know she's blind. Following that logic it would make so much more sense for her to wear her glasses.


 She swept the walking cane out in front of her, and stepped forward. Each swing to the right met with a solid rock gravestone. Alright, just hit other peoples' gravestones. That's cool. The spring robins in the tall oak trees the spell check doesn't always catch wrong words if they're spelled correctly, which is why you should also run your stories through a site like grammarly, which will find words that don't belong. surrounded the graveyard chirped in time with the faint thwacking sound her cane made as it hit the gravestones.

The sun warmed her face and the scent of melting snow and old, rotting flowers hung in the air. If she stopped swinging her cane for a moment, she could pretend that she was somewhere else.


She reached the fourteenth stone and pivoted towards it. Fourteen down, three in. She took a step and whacked her shin on the stone.


“Ow!” She hissed, and scrunched her face against the burst of sharp coral pain. “I’m fine.” She murmured to herself, and sidestepped around the headstone. All of those dialogue tags are wrong. 


Three steps in she knelt and reached out. How big are her steps? She just bounded across three entire graves. Her fingers brushed over the rough surface of Lisha’s headstone. It was just a slab of granite with a few words carved into it. It seemed like an inadequate representation for the person who had been Claira’s idol growing up. The only characterization that we, as readers, have been given about Alisha happened while she was arguing with Claira. I get that it's a common trope for younger siblings to look up to older siblings, but if 'idol' was the vibe I was aiming for than I probably should have picked a better scene to start with. She could still remember how Lisha looked; Short, pale, with pixie cut brown hair and green eyes like their mother, her mouth was red and crooked, and whenever she smiled the skin around her right eye would crinkle more than it did around her left eye. She smiled a lot. Hey, uh, nice description of the dead and subsequently unimportant character. While we're here, what does the main character look like?


Claira ran her finger over each groove, carefully spelling out each letter, Comma that shouldn't be a comma check. 


 Alisha Margaret GoldsteinThis right here is why it's annoying that Alisha never gets referred to by her real name. Readers don't know that her name is Alisha, there hasn't been anything to indicate that 'Lisha' is a nickname. Which means that when they get to a moment like this that's supposed to be serious and emotional, they're confronted with what looks like a glaring typo. It wrecks the whole scene. 


and scraping away any tiny lumps of lichen that had dared to grow in the crevices. Cemeteries hire people to clean headstones but okay.  She did this every single time she visited. She didn’t want Lisha’s name to be lost like the rest of her was. When she was done, she rifled through her satchel and produced a small bouquet of daisies. She brushed away the withered remains of the last flowers, and carefully nestled the daisies at the base of the headstone. So how did she know those withered remains were there? She can't see them.  After a few minutes of silence, interrupted only by the singing birds and a breeze that rustled the budding leaves of the trees, she rose from her spot. With a final scrape of her fingers over the rough headstone, she left.


Her cane swept over the grass ground, it hit the corner of the wrought-iron gate with a ringing clink. How does she know it's wrought iron, she can't see.  She stepped down onto the concrete and shuffled down the sidewalk in the direction she had come from. The graveyard was tucked just behind a busy shopping strip. If she could make it to a shop without wandering into traffic or getting kidnapped by some sadistic psycho than she was golden. It didn’t take long for her cane to strike something solid and metal. A traffic pole? She reached out and felt the cold metal. Yeah, definitely a traffic pole.


“Excuse me, do you need a hand crossing?” A shrill female voice chirped. Claira hesitated. She wasn’t trying to cross the road, there were shops on this side of the street that she could step into. “Come, dear, the lights have just turned.” 


A soft hand enveloped Claira’s fingers, it felt smooth and brown, like fine leather. She let the stranger guide her across the street. For someone who was just worrying about being kidnapped, Claira sure is easily persuaded to let a complete stranger drag her across the street.  A band of warm metal slid down the woman’s wrist and rested on Claira’s fingers. The links shifted with the woman’s steps. She imagined it was a charm bracelet. Her hand twitched, longing to slip the bracelet away from it’s owner. She stifled the welling urges.


“Okay, here’s the curb.” The lady said. This woman really just grabbed a blind girl and walked her across a busy street without actually getting permission from said blind girl. 


“Thank you.” Claira smiled.


“No problem deary, you have a nice day now.”


“You too.”


The lady was already gone, her leather hand just a memory against Claira’s fingers. She wondered briefly if she had imagined the entire encounter. She imagined things a lot when her glasses weren’t on.


Dr. Seph had determined that her fantasies were a coping mechanism, but Claira wasn’t so sure about that. Did Dr. Seph give Claira medication for her psychotic breaks or did he just tell her he thought she was delusional and release back into the super duper definitely busy streets of downtown Oyen? (Hint: it's the second option) 


With this in mind, she turned slightly towards the sound of a door chime tinkling and started down the sidewalk. There were a lot more people on this side of the street. She could hear them, with their rainbow of tones and volumes, and she felt the little gusts of travel wind that each person made as they strode past. Someone swung open a door, and a cowbell jangled above it. Claira stopped to listen a moment, then caught the door by it’s *its handle and slipped in.


The inside of the store was insulated, a welcome relief from the chill temperatures outside. She walked forward in tiny steps. She had no idea where she was, but it was quiet. Soft jazz played over a speaker. She frowned. She disliked jazz, it had a blue-y green color, similar to mold. She crept forward, her cane tapping this way and that, eking out a path for her to walk.  For someone who 'doesn't technically need it' she uses that cane an awful lot. She struck the frame of something that made a wavering echo. Curious, she reached out to flick the material.


“Hey, you! Cut that out!” A burnt orange male voice grumbled. Claira assumed it was aimed at her. Genius of the Year award goes to Claira. 


“I’ve got breakables on that shelf, sheesh, what are you blind?” He warned. He said that to someone wearing sunglasses and walking WITH A WHITE CANE. She could not be more obviously blind. Claira decided not to correct him. She wasn’t in the mood. She turned, and strolled down the aisle, letting her fingers brush lightly over the items on the shelf. Most of them felt silky, like glass. She paused when she brushed against one object that had a particularly glossy feel to it. She cupped it, touching it all over. It was small and ovular, like an egg. A glass egg. Claira bit her lip, pushing back the urges again. Maybe coming to a shop hadn’t been the best idea. The egg rolled in her hand, and she moved purposefully to place it back on the shelf where it belonged. There was no way she was spending money on a trinket. And there was no way she was stealing it.


The egg remained pinched between her thumb and her fingers, hovering inches above the shelf. Her hand itched, rebelliously clinging to the glass object. Acting as if it had a mind of it’s own, her hand flipped over, and the egg tumbled into her palm. Without another hesitant thought, she pocketed the egg, and walked quickly away from the shelf.


 She stole things a lot. Dr. Seph continually reminded her that she had the power to control her kleptomanic impulses. She begged to differ; clearly Dr. Seph had never experienced kleptomania. It was not a suggestion to steal, it was a demand. She wasn’t given a choice, most of the time she wasn’t even aware she was stealing. Is that an argument that stands up in court? "But your honor, I didn't know I was stealing. That darn kleptomania hid it from me!" 


If she was lucky, this shop wouldn’t be alarmed. She was on probation for petty theft, her parents had shelled out a ton of cash to pay bail, and she still felt guilty over it. Not guilty enough to stop the constant, demanding kleptomania apparently.


Just as she reached the door, a damp, meaty hand clamped down on her wrist.


“Hand it over. And don’t try to play dumb, I have video cameras with a clear shot of you taking my merchandise.”  The man from before snarled, “I knew you were a dirty little thief from the moment I laid eyes on you!” He could see her intentions at a glance but couldn't tell she was blind. Sure, Jan.


 Saliva from his spewing mouth hit her on the cheek. She flinched. His breath was hot and rank, much like his words. She fished the egg out of her pocket with her free hand and held it out to him, silent pleading for her meek actions to soften his temper.


“Sorry, sir.” She apologized. The weight of the egg lifted from her palm.


“I’m calling the police!” He fumed. So much for softening his temper. 


“No, please don’t.” She begged. The storekeeper snorted and tugged her along behind him


“I didn’t actually steal it, I gave it back!” She protested, pulling against the man’s grip. She was already on probation, if the police showed up she was going back to jail for sure. Her parents couldn’t afford bail, not again. Her struggling and protesting was to no avail The shop owner, with his meaty hands and angry voice, locked her in a room in the back while he phoned the city police to report her attempted theft. Is it legal to lock someone in a back room? 

 In a matter of time a police officer was slapping handcuffs on her bare wrists. What a day this was turning out to be.

“Claira, are you aware that this is the third time this month you’ve been caught stealing?” The police woman was saying. No, her kleptomania hides her stealing from her, she isn't aware that she stole anything at any point during the month. Claira leaned her head sideways and nudged her aviators back up her nose with her shoulder so the officer couldn’t see her roll her eyes. 

“I can’t help it.” She protested.The officer didn’t seem to care. She held back a groan as she let herself be led away. She didn’t want resisting arrest on her record too. She was led out the shop door, and across the ice-slicked sidewalk to the curb. A shot of fear burst through her.

“You’re not putting me in a car, are you?” I hope this is a rhetorical question. No, Claira, the police officer biked here. She planned to make you ride on the handlebars on your way back to the precinct. Warm metal brushed the skin of her arm and she jerked back like she’d been burned. The police woman reacted instantly and harshly. She shoved Claira forward, right into the side of the car, and pinned her there by the spot between her shoulders.

“You can’t make me ride in this thing. Please don’t, please.” Panic was already making her chest tight, and her words came out small and pastel.

“What, are you afraid of vehicles?” The police woman scoffed. “Get in the car.” She pulled Claira back, keeping a tight grip on her arm, and opened the car door. Claira obviously spends a lot of time at police precincts, we know she's been arrested three times in the last month alone, and there's a good chance that she ends up in the same precinct every time. So there's a pretty good chance that the officers at the precinct know Claira well enough to know she's phobic of cars, which means this officer is either new, oblivious, or just a dick. Either way, this is a dumb way to introduce Claira's car phobia.  Claira opened her mouth to call for her mom. Her mom could explain, her mom would help. But no sound would come out and her mom was around to hear anyways. The police woman put her hand on Claira’s head, and forced her to duck down into the car.

This was a nightmare, a horror show, she couldn’t ride in a car. She couldn’t, but she had to. The leather seats reeked of alcohol and stale puke. She tried to draw a breath, to steady her racing heart, but her lungs felt like they were seizing up. The door slammed shut, trapping her in the vehicle. She wanted to jump out and make a run for it, but fear had her muscles locked up. The officer climbed into the driver’s side, and started up the car. Claira’s heart skipped a beat. They pulled out into traffic, and she started twisting her fingers. Thumb over pinky over fourth finger, interlocked with middle finger over fourth finger on the other hand. Twisting was a habit she had picked up during the long stays at the hospital. It gave her something tactile to focus on. It wasn’t doing much to stem the rising panic, but it helped. I don't hate this explaination of twisting, but it is tell-y and could be better delivered with showing. The cruiser jostled, Claira flinched and sucked a shaky breath through clenched teeth.


She just hoped the ride would be short.


Final thoughts? There is a severe lack of research happening in these paragraphs and given the way the rest of this series went, I'm not surprised. I don't personally feel that Claira as a character was written very well. I haven't given readers a reason to root for her; she's disabled and has a tragic past, and that's about it, which is a huge problem for a main character to have. Not only that, but this chapter fails to even hint that this is a fantasy story which is extra disappointing because Claira -- the POV character-- is an empath and has been her entire life. 

Also I think every single dialogue tag in this chapter is wrong. So there's that. 

Thanks for watching me make fun of myself, and stay tuned for the next chapter!

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