01/11/2016
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Under the Microscope extra: A Retrospective Upon Dying

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James McCreet analyses the opening of a reader's thriller. Read the full analysis in the December issue of Writing Magazine.

ORIGINAL

A Retrospective Upon Dying

Tell me your story, tell me about your life. I want to hear all about yours before I tell you all about mine.

It was a simple request, but Duncan refused. He was insistent that I tell him all about myself, that my story would be far more interesting than anything he could ever tell me. Whether or not he suspected, I already knew little bits about him.

He was married, the wedding ring gave that one away. I don’t think he was happily married though because whenever I asked him a question about his wife, he would scowl at me like I had just defecated on the floor. He was unbearably fat. Not just fat round the middle, but all over. He had three chins and they all wobbled more than his face, and his eyes were squashed between thick flab and bushy eyebrows. Whenever he moved his hands, the skin on his arms trembled, and he couldn’t fit under the table for the size of his rotund stomach. Obese. A snap judgement on his character would have made most people sceptical, but I knew he was good at his job.

This was the one bit of information that he revealed about himself. It was one of the first things out of his mouth, led by his irrepressible arrogance, though he shouldn’t have bothered. I already knew he was the best at his job. His reputation preceded him as much as his stomach. That was why I was there. That was why he wanted to hear my story.

Maybe that sounds a little bit misleading, because I was the one to go to him. He didn’t come to pick me up and drag me away from my home kicking and screaming. I’d gone to see him voluntarily. If there was anyone in this pathetic little world full of miscreants and low lives, one who would be able to hear what I had to say and provide me with an objective conclusion to the tale, it would be Duncan.

 

McCREDITED VERSION

“Tell me your story. Tell me about your life.”

Duncan had refused. He’d wanted to know about me first, about my life. He’d said my story would be far more interesting.

In fact, I already knew little bits about him. He was married – the wedding ring gave that one away – but probably not happily married. He’d scowled when I’d asked him a question about his wife. He was also exceptionally fat. Not just fat round the middle, but all over. Obese. Some people might have made a snap judgement about him based on this, but I knew he was good at his job. He was the best.

This was the one bit of information that he’d volunteered at the outset. He’d wanted me to know it right away – a sign of his irrepressible arrogance. His reputation preceded him and he knew it. He probably also knew that’s why I was there. But why did he want to hear my story?

Read the full critique in the December issue of Writing Magazine.

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