This is topic The Dollhouse (not to be confused with The Broken Dollhouse) in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

To visit this topic, use this URL:;f=11;t=004812

Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
I recently rediscovered a story I've had sitting on the back burner for well over a decade because I didn't have the life experience to properly enact the story concept when I first came up with it. I've been cleaning it up and will probably be looking for full-story crits once I feel like it's up to par. In the meantime, though, I was curious about general receptions to the opening thirteen.


On Mason's eighteenth birthday, his older brother Arnold gifted him with a catalog thicker than his thumb. It promised the solution to every man's sexual fantasies in a riot of neon color and scantily clad synthetic flesh.
Arnold puffed on an e-cigarette and watched Mason flip through the catalog with unsettling intensity. “Tonight's gonna be big, Mace. I'm taking you to the Dollhouse.”
Mason's nose wrinkled with disdain. “No thanks. I heard that place is a glorified whorehouse.”
Arnold smirked. “Can't have a whorehouse if there aren't any whores. They're just slates, bro. No feelings to hurt, no rights to violate. And I'll be damned if I let you spend the first night of your adult life a virgin.”
Posted by babooher (Member # 8617) on :
Going to be a bit biased with this, but does a male lose his virginity by putting his penis in a plastic hole?

This opening makes me think of Stephen King's essay, "Great Hookers I Have Known," which is all about openings and first lines. The first line isn't that much of anything, although we are introduced to some characters. I think the first two lines could be combined to make a better first.

The phrase "puffed on an e-cigarette" didn't fit for me as much as the word "vaped" would. The teens and twenty-somethings I know who use e-cigarettes say they vape, but maybe that's a regional thing.

I'm a little scared where this might go, and that's kind of a good thing. I'd read on, but I'd tread carefully and know where the exits are.
Posted by InarticulateBabbler (Member # 4849) on :
On Mason's eighteenth birthday, his older brother[,] Arnold[,] gifted him with a catalog thicker than his thumb. It promised the solution to every man's sexual fantasies in a riot of neon color and scantily clad synthetic flesh.

Arnold [puffed on an e-cigarette= vaped] and watched Mason flip through the catalog with [unsettling<-- from the attitude displayed throughout this snippet, this is the exact reaction Arnold is looking to get, so this word rings untrue.] intensity. “Tonight['s gonna be big, Mace.<--IMHO, cut this. It makes the dialogue stilted.] I'm taking you to the Dollhouse.”

Mason's nose wrinkled [with disdain<--IMHO, cut this. The nose wrinkling is enough to convey this.]. “No thanks. [I heard that place is<--IMHO, cut this. Doesn't feel authentic. Maybe something like: Not interested in] a glorified whorehouse.”

Arnold smirked. “Can't have a whorehouse [I'd simplify, "if there aren't any," to something like: with no] whores. They're just slates, bro. No feelings [to hurt<--I'd cut this.][,] no rights [to violate<--I'd likewise cut this.]. And I'll be damned if I let you spend the first night of your adult life a virgin.”

First, in my reply box, this is a line short.

The premise, as it sits, is a bit cliche. Dollhouse is even cliche in this instance.

For me to read on, there needs to be something different--the promise of some danger, real or imagined, to his manhood, reputation, etc.--to make me read on. Sexbots have been played out from Cherry 2000 to the lovebot in Serenity, so it needs a different angle/voice as part of the hook--for me.

I hope this helps.
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
Thanks, everyone! I knew this story was going to have some challenges, and this gives me a much better idea of what to look out for. [Smile] I'm going to work at the story for awhile before I update my first lines, but I think I've got a solid idea of what needs fixing with the opening--and probably the story as a whole, honestly.

(Also, the text I posted counted as 13 paragraph-indented lines in my document and also as 13 lines my comment window. Sometimes the comment window is a little glitchy; I prefer to err on the side of caution in these cases.)
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An older brother pushes a younger brother toward adult vice.

Older brothers introduce younger brothers to vice at an earlier age than 18. The process starts at an older sibling's forbidden fruit discoveries relative to age, encounter, and subject. Pyromania as frustration satisfaction, for example, emerges at puberty onset, and is also the age of first exposure to object desire. Arnold would have started in on Mason's adult vice introduction at that age. Before that, Mason would be clueless. Age 18 to start is late and unrealistic.

Arnold's actions steal the scene, though who the story is about projects Mason. Arnold's the one here who is most dramatically active from a want to introduce Mason to adult vice and Mason's resistance being a problem. Mason does express a problem with the vice. Two characters interacting is more dynamic than one, though the polarity of complication here is external. Vice is an internal struggle between vice's temptation and virtue's resistance. Arnold has already passed past that struggle. Mason has it put in his face by Arnold.

That latter is for me the standout strength of the fragment. One individual confronts another with a moral struggle not heretofore encountered by the vice-naive individual. Somehow, Mason could, probably should be complicated by desire and resistance setup in the fragment.

A consideration about vape and e-cigarettes, and virgin, is a diction area relative to character voice and milieu era. "E-cigarette" is outdated and a failed marketing label. Vape is currently fashionable from its emphasis on glamour and flashy marketing yet subdued overall for mainstream culture, so that nicotine delivery is as non-confrontational for nonusers as can be. Which is part of the coolness of vape's appeals: forbidden fruit desires and covert opposition to social-moral authority confronted and satisfied.

There's that confrontation motif again. That too applies to Arnold's confrontation of Mason's masculinity, re: virgin. Virginity, too, is anymore less of a rigid denotative meaning and more so an elusive variety of ranked and scaled acts. In other words, also an outdated diction use. A more specific detail about virginity, a type, is indicated to imply the milieu; near future, because such vice emporiums are as yet not public institutions. Subtle yet a social parameter and therefore a social science fiction for its futuristic and moral implications.

Verb considerations: "gifted" and "promised." Those verbs are also diction matters that expose a writer's doubting hand on the keyboard, reveal the make believe unreality of the story, spoil willing suspension of disbelief, started at the ninth word.

Consider if the catalog is shoved at Mason, if the catalog is gift wrapped, shrink wrapped, untouched, or similar or other. That type of description fits the fragment as given, is preparation and foreshadowing setup and holds open suspension. If the catalog, for example, is pristine wrapped, what might that express about the content and the store and inventory it represents? In any case, readers then firsthand experience the joy of opening the gift and the mixed surprises of its contents.

Mason could notice Arnold leer beforehand and suspect this is another masculinity and maturity confrontation. That leads readers into staying ahead of the action, for the suspense that dramatic irony creates, knowing beforehand what's afoot next, and later. The gift-wrapped gift signals Arnold's overt intent, yet confronts Mason with Arnold's true agenda, showing he is more masculine and mature than Mason. It's a guy thing, chest beating is.

The gift wrapped gift is also a potential foreshadowing of events to unfold at the Dollhouse, then. Sort of, this is a silk purse and sow's ear kind of proverb motif for a larger symbolism of what the story is really about, at least moral complication-wise, if that's the intent.

Perhaps stronger science fiction signals are indicated, for the fragment too. Simple enough, how the catalog is gift wrapped, packaged anyway, something perhaps fantastical, say a plasma curtain that iridesces, vanishes when de-activitated. (Exaggerated for effect. Something futuristic, though not quite as far over the top and that won't stall story movement.) Maybe an Amazon-like delivery box, or delivered by aerial drone into Mason's hands, outside somewhere clandestine to which Arnold maneuvered Mason.

However, considerations offered above are more so about structure and aesthetics methods generally than about this particular story fragment, per se, applicable to this one though. I can't decipher what the story is really about drama-wise from the fragment. Drama is contention, at least, that builds to confliction to confrontation to conflagration to a satisfaction outcome.

A reason I can't decipher what this story is about -- Mason is posed as the protagonist; however, thus far, he is the victim of Arnold's contentions. For Mason to stand out as protagonist, he ought best have clear conflict and complication development in the early unfolding of a story, that speaks to a personal maturation struggle. That is a crucial feature for best reader effects; that is, a protagonist's self-initiated complication struggle. The best I can decipher is Mason confronts, win or lose, Arnold's contentious masculinity and maturity impositions. Though that is pure projection.

The forced diction and rushed action spoil my willing suspension of disbelief. I would not at present read on.

[ April 19, 2016, 10:33 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Some linguistic issues:

Arnold puffed on an e-cigarette and watched Mason flip through the catalog with unsettling intensity.
Is Mason flipping intensely, or is Arnold watching intensely? It's grammatically and logically ambiguous.

“Tonight's gonna be big, Mace. I'm taking you to the Dollhouse.”
The Dollhouse=cliche

Mason's nose wrinkled with disdain. “No thanks. I heard that place is a glorified whorehouse.”
If it were me, I'd cut "I heard." I think the sentence is stronger without it. It's not me, though, so take the suggestion or leave it.

Overall, I'm not really interested in reading on. The premise feels stale to me. Sexbots are hardly a new idea, and not one that was probably terribly interesting the first time. I know a lot of people are all screwed up over sex. Nothing new or particularly engaging there, at least to me. Of course, your story may have a completely new and enlightening approach to the idea that we just haven't seen yet. If so, awesome.

My other turn off is I don't care for the characters. Not like I just haven't connected with them yet--that is par for the course for just 13 lines--but more like I find them distasteful. Arnold seems like a total douche, for lack of a better word, and Mason...well I guess I don't have a real opinion of him, yet. But Arnold seems like the kind of guy I go out of my way to avoid spending time with, so I'm not inclined to read on and spend more time with him.

You know I've enjoyed other stories that you wrote, but this one doesn't excite me.

Of course, that's all only as far as I can judge from 13 lines. I'll read the rest for you when you have it ready, if you want.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I'm not sure what to make of this submission. On a purely structural note concerning the prose I find these thirteen lines unfocused. I think the reason for this is that there is no clear-cut viewpoint character. Are we watching Arnold corrupt his younger brother or are we watching Mason being tempted to explore his 'late blooming' sexuality? And that's another thing; for me, I'm standing on the outside watching, not inside the 'action'. Finally, this opening does not 'ring true'. I think you need to do some research by talking to a few adolescent and pre-adolescent males of the current generation about their 'initiation' rituals and rights of passage. Which is one reason why you should have some business cards with 'Writer' on them. I'm afraid this 'old fart' is a bit out of touch with current slang, mores, and attitudes to be of much help.

As for 'what the story might be about', I have no clue--which isn't always a bad thing, but I think in this case I would like an early clue. But hey, that's just me--I used to hunt killers for a living (sexual and the garden variety) and I can see the birth of too many sociopathic, sex-driven murderers in Arnold's grooming of Mason.

I guess that overall I don't feel there is enough 'truth' in the situation to make the scene believable. Which is why I would not read on.


[ April 20, 2016, 08:25 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
I've got a ways to go before I'm going to be posting a new set of lines, but I just wanted to make sure and thank everyone for their feedback. I knew I had a lot of work to do with this story, and the outside perspectives helped me realize how I could update it and make it better.

(There will be some serious changes to the next draft. I started working on character profiles to help flesh out personalities. In the process, I realized a different plot approach that will hopefully bring more believability and depth to the story. It will change a lot of details while still keeping the themes I wanted.)

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2