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Disclaimer: the story this blog analyses is NSFW consequently this blog discusses and deals with numerous NSFW themes and ideas so be warned.
So I wanted to discuss critical reading and cohesive writing while looking in-depth at one specific story. I’ve chosen to do this because I think it’s easier to get my message across through a functional example than it is to try and laboriously detail the process in whole. For this post I’ll be looking at Jay’s story Ned the Nihilist (NSFW).
So first major lesson with critical reading is to uh… think. Thinking is, of course, the most important step in critical reading. You have to go beyond just passively receiving information, you have to actively engage it and think about it. I’m going to detail my own process for this but there’s no single ‘right’ way. The best approach is often to just focus on some part of the story that you liked, and to think about why that appealed to you. But over time I’ve learnt to collect ideas and thoughts under one of the following ideas.
Atmosphere/Mood Setting Plot
I’d like to take a moment to state that there’s no fixed order to these parts. Some people organize a story’s layers hierarchically but I’m not particularly inclined to see things like that. Furthermore there are other ways to frame a story, you might consider atmosphere and mood separately for a longer story which is likely to have regular transient shifts in atmosphere while keeping a more consistent mood (consider Ravenholm vs. the rest of Half-life). But when reading pastas this is how I do it. One more thing, typically most pastas will stop short at four out of five of these layers being given depth – that’s fair enough. Writing something that develops all five well in less than ten thousand words is a Herculean effort.
Now let’s look at Ned the Nihilist and how Jay develops each one.
Characters – Ned. BS. The mother. The hookers. Before I try digging into Ned I’d like to look at the other characters. Shallow as they are let’s list them anyway. An abusive mother? Humiliating hookers? Abused BS? A raped daughter? They exist along a noticeable spectrum from all powerful and abusive to weak and exploited. We transition from a woman who forces Ned to clean her asshole, to an underage girl with no teeth, arms, or legs, bound to a wheelchair and repeatedly raped. There is a direct inverse relationship between how much pain these women inflict on Ned, and the autonomy they possess.
But what about Ned? Well Ned is the story. He’s the style, the format, the events, and the wording. Really I wouldn’t actually class Ned as a character—though he certainly has one—I’d classify him as a setting. Regardless, we know enough about Ned’s character from his interactions with others. He has been subject to abuse and humiliation, and he now subjects others to it too. Importantly he gives life purpose through the indulgence of base emotions. This is a common response to nihilism and existentialism. His character is also reflected in the style of the piece; the jittery, angry and rhetoric filled style possesses a sort of manic energy that also lets us know a little bit more about Ned himself. Ned’s character is actually infused into pretty much every part of the story through one of the various layers mentioned above. Thematically his character ties into themes of Nihilism, it’s revealed through the mood/atmosphere/style, it’s told through the plot’s events, and as I’ll detail below, is also developed through the setting.
Setting – The dungeon. We never see squat of the dungeon. We know it contains a woman for a long period of time, and we know it must have means of restraining her in a number of different ways. It even contains a ball gag. This lets us know, quite elegantly, that this is the classic S&M rope, pulleys, etc. dungeon. It’s violent, and it’s sexual.
But to me the dungeon isn’t the real setting. Ned is. The dungeon and Ned are synonymous with one another. Both BS and the audience are trapped in the respective locations (her in the dungeon, us in Ned’s head), and both settings are locations that capture you and subject you to unpleasant sensations at the whim of a madman. Both are locations of violence, ambiguity, and sexual aggression. This is why I question the literal nature of the events; I feel like the world of this story and Ned’s mind are so consistent with one another, and so cohesive, that it feels very reasonable to tentatively suggest that the setting of the story is Ned’s mind.
Regardless of whether you see that interpretation yourself I think it’s still logical to state that the physical setting’s (i.e. the dungeon) limited presence informs a lot of this story’s other features. I’ve noted how it tells us a bit about Ned, but the way in which it is only given any meaning through people’s internal experiences (i.e. we never get to actually see the dungeon, only the pain that is inflicted within) informs the Nihilistic themes, it’s violent qualities reflect Ned’s sexually aggressive character, and the lack of description of the setting lets Ned’s internal monologue run wild and create a different type of gritty atmosphere that isn’t reliant on a distinct physical setting. Similarly it also has a central role in the plot.
Plot – The plot of this story is weirdly basic, right? Ned tortures a woman and then reveals to her the abused and mutilated form of her still-alive daughter. I’m interested in how the core events of the plot focus on the perversion of a mother-daughter relationship in an explicitly sexual way. He does this through deception, rape, mutilation and nourishment (he doesn’t just torture his victims, he feeds them). I feel the need to point that this mirrors his own relationship with his mother. Either way Ned’s position in these women’s life is dual – he is at once torturer, and provider of sustenance and he uses the latter to exploit the former. This is a clear-cut reflection of his own mother-child relationship, and it’s no surprise that he is so desperate to unravel healthier examples of the mother-child bond given how twisted his own was.
There’s some really in-depth stuff here about how Jay uses the subtext of the plot to develop both the themes, and Ned’s character, but the sequence of events is also relevant to the mood, the setting, and of course it acts as a very startling example of Nihilistic philosophies being taken to the extreme.
Mood/Atmosphere – Mood and atmosphere are usually constructed with the words we choose so let’s start with that.
I’m going to really quickly look at a passage of Jay’s writing to demonstrate how he constructs a mood and atmosphere. I will also highlight the descriptive words and then list them separately.
Why are you so scared? Shut up, you cum-filled maggot! The question was rhetorical. The answer is, of course, because you don't want to die. Death is the reason for all fear, is it not? Some may tell you they fear pain, but really they fear the realization of their fragility that an injury causes. We all have to die, but none of us really want to, do we? Even a dumb cocksucker like yourself knows that death renders life meaningless.
Written out we have…
Scared/cum-filled maggot/die/death/fear/fear pain/fragility/injury/die/dumb cocksucker/death/renders/meaningless
Here we have a distinct and palpable sense of a specific atmosphere. Words like this permeate a piece of writing and give it a consistent tone, and the structure of the words is like the texture. The tone is aggressive, the texture is rough and stunted. I think of granite, bitter tastes, and dusty smells.
But let’s look further into the style—the mechanics—of the work.
It’s a monologue. It’s quick, it’s rapid fire, it’s stream of consciousness. Everything is based in his own experiences. If it’s not entirely imaginary, then we are most certainly seeing a version of reality that has been heavily twisted by Ned’s psyche. This is strongly reflected in the way that Ned is clearly talking to himself with frequent rhetorical questions that he reels off in rapid fire then answers just as quickly. This isn’t a conversation; it’s a monologue which is an ideal format for a narcissistic psychopath. It also, unsurprisingly denies us objective meaning. Much like Nihilism the only significance an event can have is the significance attributed to it by a human being. Events exist only when constructed by a person’s (in this case Ned’s) mind and have no outwards objective value.
So once again the mood tells us a bit about the characters and the themes. But it also alters how we interact with the plot, and for me directs me towards the idea that this story is set in Ned’s mind. Still, even if we fixate on the idea that the setting is a dungeon instead it feels reasonable to say that the overbearing and grimy mood gives you a good idea of what that dungeon looks like without Jay ever having to describe a word of it.
Themes – I think it might be Nihilism…
Themes are built on the entirety of the work. And Jay infuses his writing with the core theme right from the start. When I mentioned consistency this is what I mean. Every point so far has consistently returned to Nihilism again and again. It’s the thread that binds the characters, setting, plot, and atmosphere and makes them more than disparate parts that only exist for the sake of it.
Attached to Nihilism we have issues with gender, sexual violence, sadism, and psychopathy. To me these secondary qualities are important because they give context to the larger theme of nihilism. And for me they offer a tentative judgement. Ned is striving for objectivity but he makes no effort to deliver it. He focuses on women and depowering them, citing his own abuse and emasculation as ‘context’ but beneath the philosophy I see a mirrored reflection of his own relationship with his mother which he actively tries to deconstruct.
I imagine that Ned does not solely embrace Nihilism’s meaninglessness because it can grant him pleasure through base enjoyment, but because he’s also actively trying to undo the meaninglessness of his own existence and the pain that he’s suffered. I’ve also briefly looked at how Ned frames women and how the women we see have a strange power/pain relationship that may or may not be there which suggests to me some deeper themes about misogyny and violence but I’m hesitant to come to a concrete conclusion because I haven’t gone as in-depth as I’d like so some of my points would feel tenuous.
Nonetheless, I feel confident in concluding that there’s substantial depth to the themes Jay has constructed in his story. And just one of the reasons for this is because Jay has cohesively integrated every aspect of his story to come back to this point and reinforce, inform and develop it in distinct and useful ways.
Ned’s character informs the overbearing mood, the violent sexual plot, the limited setting and the Nihilistic theme.
The plot is violent and sexual which informs us about Ned’s character, the overbearing mood, the limited setting, and the Nihilistic theme.
The overbearing and rapid fire writing style and the subsequent gritty mood informs Ned’s character, the overbearing mood, the limited sett…
Can I stop here? The point I’m trying to make is that Jay’s story achieves something unique amongst short form stories. It’s perfectly consistent. Every single piece reflects, informs, and comes back into every other single piece. You might not enjoy it, or see in it what I see, but this story is a near perfect example of how to integrate all the moving parts of a story to create something thoroughly consistent. Jay’s story sacrifices a complex plot and doesn’t bend over backwards to paint a scene so no one’s saying you have to be as thorough as this particular story—it’s clear that this story prioritizes certain things more than others and this may not reflect your own choices—but hopefully by looking at a functional example we can see that many of our choices, like mood, characters, etc. can go beyond their immediate effect.
A paranoid mood, for example, can exist for more reasons that just to unsettle the reader. It can reflect a plot of deception and betrayal, it can give us a glimpse into a character’s irrational mind, it can develop themes that dwell on the subjective nature of the truth, or let us know that a specific setting can’t be trusted and is filled with hidden threats.
One more thing – hopefully you can see why sometimes less is more. Jay’s story lacks the epic scale of some other creepypastas but by reeling in certain parts like the setting and plot it can focus on other things like characters, mood and themes. This balance lets Jay integrate all of those things in a way that may not have been feasible if he gave us an objective description of the dungeon, or a plot filled with crazy twists and turns that spans across thirty thousand words.