Reviewing my Publishers! – ‘Bad Smile’ by J.C. Towler

Hey, am I allowed to do this?

J.C. Towler is one of the nice folks at Every Day Fiction who approved of Fierce. As a small thanks, and at the risk of looking like a brown nose, I’m going to look at his flash fiction piece, Bad Smile. This one even has a video of a reading by the author. Now this was posted way back in 2010, but as Towler is also one of the editors at EDF, it was hardly surprising that I couldn’t find more samples of his short works. He he has works published in anthologies such as Your Darkest Dreamspell, and Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror.

Okay, so let’s look at this old piece and its comment thread and see what a beginner can learn from it.

This is a dialogue-only story, relying on the characters to say where they are and what’s going on. This is a bit of a gamble in writing – while a writer can dodge the need for any scene description, the dialogue has to paint the scene AND seem natural. Balancing exposition and natural speaking is a tough act, but Bad Smile does it well. A short, funny line “Honey, he is not going to eat you. Please stop kicking my seat while I’m backing up” illustrates how characters can describe a scene without breaking … well, character! The reader knows exactly what’s going on and can instantly imagine this argument between mother and child.

The one criticism in the comment thread that I agree with is in regards to the ending. The dialogue went on just a tad too long after “Please, no!” – I can see the author having a bit of dilemma about where to end this piece. It’s an issue that trips up many authors, I imagine, especially when the piece is as bold as this. It’s really a small quibble though – the piece works very well overall, and stands out as an example of both good creepy terror and dialogue-focused writing.

What can my writing get from this?

I have yet to try an all-dialogue work, so this piece shows me some good uses of dialogue to draw from. It also has a nice use of foreshadowing – when Mommy warns that she’s going to count, readers might dismiss it the first time, but it ends up being key to the story. This gives a nice twist, and not an expected one. An odious ending would have Mr. Winter eating Rebecca, Jessica, or both. An obvious ending would have Jessica turn on Mr. Winter, maybe as a monster herself. The twist works because the reader thinks Rebecca’s just an exasperated mommy. Readers can use this idea to think of unexpected sources for twists in their own stories.

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