Wednesday, April 8, 2020

"The Grey Lady of Westwick" — A Review

A hideous sin in writing is predictability. If someone predicts most, or all, plot points in a story with profound accuracy, the quality suffers. What sin might worsen that? A weak, unwarranted writing style; the combination of these two offences will make the tale a chore, not a story. I discovered a recent example: “The Grey Lady of Westwick” by ShadowintheLight23, published on March 25 of this year by Creepypasta. It is a mess. So, prepare to dive into a swimming pool that isn’t filled with chlorinated water, but acid composed of awkwardness, foolishness, and immaturity.
Before we begin looking over the story, dear reader, I want to start a game. Grab a drink—any type you wish, though alcohol will ease how painful this is—to play. For every cliché occurrence mentioned here, I want you to sip on your beverage.

The story begins at a campfire—drink—whereon the character introductions take place. First is John Watkins— our protagonist, an adulterer and alcoholic—with a wife who stalks him for his escapades. Then a hyperactive, taller gentleman—Regan Hinchcliffe—comes. Alan Mitchell, an agricultural entrepreneur, steps in. Before long, an elderly Noah Simmons, confined to a wheelchair, and an Oxford snob, Maximillian Nichols, are present. What use do these character descriptions serve in the long run, apart from John’s? Nothing. I would think these personality traits, including their careers, would affect the tale. But no. The only relevance they have is they’re members of a club, and they’re on a countryside retreat—that is two drinks.

Maximillian tells the club members a local legend—drink—about a vengeful spirit—drink—who kills men who wrongs women—drink. Her name? The Grey Lady of Westwick. Another worthless character, John Wickman, found himself murdered within the area she haunts—drink—which spooks everyone but Mitchell, a friend—drink. Nobody believes Maximillian—drink. Also, John is an obvious target—drink up.

John has trouble sleeping, so, he decides to head home—drink—and on his way he beholds a stranded young woman who needs assistance—drink. He offers to help with lust—drink—and upon inviting her into the car, he begins asking questions to see if she is worth bedding. She begins smoking a cigarette and displays her physical abnormalities without reason—drink. Then, when she uses John’s real name, despite using a fake name (Adam King) to make himself more alluring, he wants to escape. But this woman is not a moron, and she has little patience. She murders him with a butcher knife—drink. Of course, this woman is not the Grey Lady of the West, but a generic assassin hired to kill John on behalf of another woman, I presume the wife. Ironic, by trying to avoid a cliché, the author uses a clichéd twist—so, take a big gulp.

Upon first reading “The Grey Lady of Westwick”, I predicted every plot detail. The story going one of two directions—the spirit is real or just an assassin—wasn’t difficult to call. Dear reader, if your vision is clear and you comprehend these words, and my apologies to spirit drinkers for the 15 shots, I pray you see the harm clichés can bring. Predictability is a sin because it makes a tale tedious and forgettable and worthless. Now I will get into the second worst aspect: the writing style. 

The writing style is poor. It isn’t Sonic.EXE levels of poor, for that would ensure this tale gets but a single star; it is readable, but awful enough to warrant a critique. First, the grammar and punctuation. I’ll give ShadowintheLight23 credit for not messing up in this area too much, but two I noticed involve not placing a comma after introductory words(e.g. sometimes, so, maybe). Not doing so is ill-advised according to modern standards.
"Sometimes, she would awake…"

"Maybe, she was suspect of his…"
Second, the adverbs. Adverbs aren’t a negative, for they sometimes promote clarity and accuracy. (See what I did there?) However, if an adverb doesn’t enhance the meaning of a sentence or create a Byronian effect, they, as part of an anti-clutter regime, must face deletion. Most of the adverbs ShadowintheLight23 uses can, upon removal, improve the style, adding maturity and authority to the prose. Just examine this:
"That time, though, he really had been screwing around — literally."
This feels like a diary entry from a high school student. Using “really” adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence; “literally” is redundant because of the previous adverb and the paragraph’s context. And the more I think about this, the more I find it insulting. Here is a revision:
That time, though, he had been screwing around.
Much better, isn’t it? Less clutter and more sagacious. This brings me to my next point: the passive voice and prepositional phrases galore. “The Grey Lady of Westwick” is not a first-person narration where the speaker is unreliable, but a third-person omniscient narration. Therefore, unless the narrator is an all-knowing deity with personality flaws— which presents philosophical conundrums—he, she, or they must be dependable and authoritative. (But save some room for dramatic writing.) Shadowinthelight23 appears to not comprehend this.

Passive voice is useful when: the subject of the sentence is unknown, the unreliable narrator wishes to deflect responsibility, when vagueness is preferable, or in scientific reports. Does this tale fit any of these qualifications? No. But people prefer active voice because it promotes certainty and carries an entertaining aesthetic by showing (not telling). The use of passive voice makes many sentences seem clunky. Observe:
"His vision blurred as he watched it ripple — he was drunk."
"He wouldn’t be surprised if she followed him."
"John’s curiosity, despite itself, was peaked."
Let me propose revision for the first example:
Despite promising Sarah he’d remain sober, he drank until his vision blurred, face became blood red, and spoke incoherently.
Sure, this sentence is longer, but it is superior. Why? By using active voice, I showed readers he defied his wife by displaying symptoms of drunkenness, instead of using passive voice to tell them. In future works, Shadowinthelight23 should be mindful of passive voice. And prepositional phrases, which come out of the woodwork, worsening the clutter. Observe the fourteenth paragraph:
"Sitting with him was Noah Simmons in an armchair… who’d been in the club before most of them… was his engagement in the conversation… an academic from Oxford who came out to the country on weekends to get extremely drunk and illuminate his companions on topics of which they knew nothing..." 
Read this out loud, dear reader, and you shall immediately realise this is a revolting exhibit of absurdity. An exercise in obscurity.

The worst part is reading “The Grey Lady of Westwick” out loud. There is no entertaining or engaging flow or rhythm to speak of. While this story is cumbersome and predictable, it is bland, thus despicable. I hope Shadowinthelight23 takes these criticisms to heart for the next tale, because “The Grey Lady of Westwick” is a chore with no merit.