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Author Topic: Sally Worthfield and the 12 Gauge (2900 words)
Devnal
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I had this one up a short while ago for comments on the first 13 and have since then finished it up. I'm hoping for critiques on the full thing. "Sally Worthfield and the 12 Gauge" is a story of an eldery widow whose mind has been ravaged by alzheimers and her dealings with two "burglars" in her house late at night.

My main concern with the piece is having too much redundency,though some seems necessary to express Sally's state of mind.

---------------------

Sally stood in the small, dark kitchen of the house she had lived in for the past fifty years. There was a ringing in her ears and her right shoulder ached. Held in her small, wrinkled hands was her late husbandís shotgun.

The last she remembered she had been lying in bed, awoken from her sleep by the sound of a crash downstairs, perhaps a window breaking, or a vase falling to the floor. At first she had just laid there, listening closely. She wondered if she had really heard anything at all, or if it had just been the residue of some dream. But the creaking of the old hardwood floors in the front door foyer soon came, announcing the presence of someone downstairs. Sally got up, Put her glasses


-------


Thanks!


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Dame
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Hi,

This is pretty tight although not very engaging for me. The situation of an old woman waking to hear intruders is strong but as it is written, we don't see much of her emotions and she so far seems a bit generic.

A POV nit: You say her shoulder ached which is a pretty internal observation then describe her hands as small and wrinkled which is an external view and not quite how she would think of them herself, necessarily. So that was subtle, but a bit off putting.

By "the last she remembered" are you saying that she doesn't know how she got to be in the kitchen? If so, I think we might need to see how she feels about finding herself there with a gun. But it seems the only blank she has is getting downstairs, so far (although who knows whether she has fired the gun or not.)

"soon came, announcing" I think the "soon came" is weak. "Soon announced?"

For me, I want to know if she is scared or angry or strangely excited or... Something specific to make me believe in her individuality and maybe some immediate sensory stuff too. This may be especially important if she repeatedly "wakes up" and has to use her senses to work out exactly what is going on. They give an immediacy that might be useful for a character who lacks a strong narrative throughline.

Hope this is in some way useful,

Dame.

EDITED: Doh! I've just realised that if her ears are ringing and her shoulder aches, then she has probably fired the gun. Nice foreshadowing, but I still think the wrinkly hands is slightly odd...

[This message has been edited by Dame (edited May 13, 2009).]


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Owasm
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I think there is weakness in starting with a flashback, no matter how fresh.

You might try switching the two paragraphs, having her wonder what the gun was doing in her hand. In my mind, it would flow better... unless the whole episode that follows goes through how she's ended up at the beginning-- which gets back to my comments on starting with a flashback. It sort of deflates the tension in the hook.

If her short term memory loss is so great, why would she remember getting up?

If you need a stronger start maintaining the same structure, you have to tell the reader she's standing there struggling to remember how she go in the kitchen holding the shotgun, then skip the remembering of her getting up.

I hope that helps a bit.


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Meredith
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As someone who cares for an elderly parent with Alzheimer's, I'm having trouble with her clearly remembering hearing the burglars. What stage of Alzheimer's is Sally supposed to be in.

quote:

Stage 1: NO SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER'S ARE SEEN.
Stage 2: FORGETFULNESS - Very mild cognitive decline. For example, problems such as: vagueness of where familiar objects are, complaints about not remembering well, forgetting names once well known. There is however, no loss of abilities in social interactions or in employment situations.
Stage 3: CONFUSION EARLY STAGE - Mild cognitive decline. For example, problems such as: getting lost when traveling to a familiar location; noticeably lowered performance level at work; trouble finding words and names; little retention from reading; little or no ability to remember names of new people; loss of valued objects and trouble concentrating.
Stage 4: CONFUSION LATE STAGE - Moderate cognitive decline. For example, problems such as: decreased knowledge of current and recent events; loss in memory of personal history; decreased ability to handle travel or finances; and inability to perform complex tasks. Appropriate responsiveness to outside stimulation decreases sharply. Denial of any problem, and withdrawal from challenging situations are common.
Stage 5: DEMENTIA EARLY STAGE - Moderate severe decline. For example: the person can no longer survive without some assistance. Patients can't remember names of people or places in their lives. They may be disoriented about time and dates. However, they will require no assistance when using the bathroom or eating, but may need help getting dressed.
Stage 6: DEMENTIA MIDDLE STAGE - Severe cognitive decline. For example: the person may forget the name of the spouse and be unaware of events in his or her life. They are entirely dependent on others for survival. They may have trouble sleeping in a regular pattern.
Stage 7: DEMENTIA LATE STAGE - Very severe cognitive decline. For example: all verbal abilities are lost and he or she needs help eating and using the bathroom. Eventually they lose ability to walk, the brain appears to no longer be able to tell the body what to do.



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Devnal
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I don't name it Alzhemiers in the story, but the characteristics Sally shows symptoms I related mostly with Alzhemiers, hence I gave her Alzhemiers. So if her symptoms don't match exactly that should be okay.

She is forgetful, Mainly with short term memory loss (more like gaps in her short term memory, hence remembering hearing the burglars), though if she tries and takes a moment she can at times put together the jumbled parts of her memories and come to a rational conclusion.

She is prone it fits of confusion regarding what is happening around her (mostly due to short term memory loss) and confuses her timeline (thinks her dead husband is still alive, her grown son is only a child, etc.).

Maybe you can help me out meredith! I put these on as signs of alzhemiers (yes, no?),

Other symptoms she exhibits are paranoia, which I kind of figured would be related to being confused, it would probably put you on edge alot. But i did notice from your list that alzhemier patients often have "Denial of any problem and withdrawal from challenging situations are common" which point against this. Sally jumps right into the problem she thinks she's facing, mainly because she thinks she's (and her home are) in danger.

If I had to put a label to it, which I would rather not, I would (with full ignorance in regards to interaction with actual Alzhemiers patients) say she is in between Stage 4 and 5 (...?) reading over your descriptions again I would have to go with Stage 4, not stage 5

Like I said, I mostly just associated it (in my mind and symptoms I read on the internet) to someone with alzhemiers. I created the character and story without any thing in particular ailing her but by the time I was finished it seemed she was definetely suffering from more than just "old age" memory problems. Now I look back maybe "Ravaged" is a bit of a strong word.

I would like to put a name to her condition though if I intend to send it out - any idea's if Alzhemiers doesn't fit enough? right now I am assuming it does and the problem you found is descerning what stage she is in yes?

[This message has been edited by Devnal (edited May 13, 2009).]


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Meredith
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These symptoms could be Alzheimer's. If the condition is not degenerative, it could also be multi-infarct dementia (caused by multiple small strokes).

Alzheimer's patients lose more than their memories. Sometimes judgment is one of the first things to go, along with the ability to manage complex tasks. For example, when she was still in the fairly early stages, Mom developed a habit of pouring hot coffee into a glass instead of a cup, something she would have known better than to do before.

At certain stages of Alzhiemer's, usually early to mid stages, patients can become combative. I don't know that I'd call it paranoia, exactly, though. It's not like they think people are out to get them. It's more an unwillingness to admit that they need help and a resentment of being told what to do.

It's also typical for an Alzheimer's patient to ask to speak to a parent who has been dead for years and to want to go home. Sometimes, they want to go home even when they are home, because "home" isn't a place, it's a time when they were in control.

In the early mid stages, many Alzheimer's patients certainly work hard to piece things together and appear normal. Some can even pull it off in some situations. Waking up in the middle of the night, might not be one of those situations, though. That's an occasion when I would expect more confusion.

I'm just not sure about the gap from what appears to be a clear and fairly recent memory to the present. That strikes me as a odd. The confusion is right on.


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Devnal
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multi - infarct dementia huh? I guess I could be that. Maybe I will just leave the diagnosis undisclosed...

Thanks for the info Meredith! )


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BoredCrow
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I'll read.
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Nick T
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Hi Devnal,

I'm out of critiquing action for a week or so. In the meantime, just some minor thoughts regarding the first thirteen...

quote:
...There was a ringing in her ears and her right shoulder ached. Held in her small, wrinkled hands was her late husbandís shotgun.

I guess that you want the reader immediately immersed into the drama, so how about chopping it a bit and making it more active, i.e.

quote:
Her ears rang and her right shoulder ached. In her small wrinkled hands, she held her late husband's shotgun...

The sentence starting "The last she remembered..." is a bit of monster, though it reads okay.

As Dame noted, the POV with the wrinkly hands is a bit odd, unless she's actively thinking about them being wrinkled. As Owasm noted, it's also a very early flashback. I'm not a fan of flashbacks this early. I'd suggest either starting at her waking up or illustrating her condition as the story goes on. There's plenty of time to reveal how bad her memory and cognition problems are.

Anyway, hope this helps a little and feel free to send it through at the end of next week.

Regards,

Nick




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Meredith
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I've thought about this, and I want to clarify.

From what I've seen, the whole sequence from waking up, hearing a noise, to firing the shotgun would be one event and even an Alzheimer's patient would probably remember firing the gun. I suppose it's possible that the noise startled her enough to make her forget, but then she would have forgotten the whole sequence.

The more common reaction would be to remember what she had just done, but to deny it if someone confronted her about it. Especially if the tone or the question seemed to indicate that it had been the wrong thing to do. Typically it's the "other people" who did it. You don't want to ask who the "other people" are. You'll just end up confused.

Example:
Once, Mom refused to take a shower because of "the children". The nearest we could ever figure out, she was referring to the family photos in the hall.

During her klepto phase, her portrait went missing from the collection in the hall. I finally found it, face down in the cats' litter box. (Believe me, that wasn't the first or second place I looked.) When I asked her about it, she told me that "she" (the person in the picture) wouldn't do what Mom told her to. We gently informed her that it was, after all, just a picture. Mom said, "Well, all the others do." Whereupon, we shook our heads and walked away humming the theme to Twilight Zone.

I hope some of this helps with your story. If it doesn't, disregard it. Alzheimer's is a disease that is different in every case.


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annepin
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Is her name a take on "Sally Worth"? That was my first thought in reading the title.

quote:

Sally stood in the small, dark kitchen of the house she had lived in for the past fifty years. There was a ringing in her ears and her right shoulder ached. Held in her small, wrinkled hands was her late husbandís shotgun.

The last she remembered she had been lying in bed, awoken from her sleep by the sound of a crash downstairs, perhaps a window breaking, or a vase falling to the floor. At first she had just laid there, listening closely. She wondered if she had really heard anything at all, or if it had just been the residue of some dream. But the creaking of the old hardwood floors in the front door foyer soon came, announcing the presence of someone downstairs. Sally got up, Put her glasses I would just leave it at her being awoken by a sound. Enough said. Getting up to go look for burglars is pretty cliched. We can picture it easily, don't need a recap unless there's something unusual you're going to bring up in her looking for the burglar. But I'm more interested in finding out what's going to happen next. I could care less for her search for the burglar, unless, again, something very unusual was going to happen in that time, or there was something we need to know (i.e. she actually shot her husband or some one she knew or something). In which case, I suggest condensing and only highlighting the important part. My 2 cents.


The hooks for me are that she is such an unlikely protagonist and that she seems to have memory problems. I would be looking for a speculative element in her memory loss.

Btw, I skipped over your intro. I think the opening lines should stand as they are written, without any kind of explanation. It really alters how the lines are read.


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