I am going to do the (almost) unthinkable. I saw the fourth gushing review of Don Lockwood's story "Finding a Place". So I decided to read it critically. I plan to look at it paragraph by paragraph, so this may be a long topic.
Paragraph one starts: "As I started unpacking my parents' van, I was filled with a certain amount of anxiety. Hey, who wouldn't? It was my first day at college. Stanford University, to be precise."
How much uncertainty is a certain amount? One millionth of one percent? Up to the ankles, but not as far as the navel? Stanford University isn't a college. It includes colleges, like the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education. And also a Law School, which isn't exactly a college. I also note the first signs of comma addiction. The one before "to be precise." Perhaps two sentences could be combined into "It was my first day at Stanford University." That seems precise enough for me without mentioning it, or dragging in the college versus University issue.
I am pretty sure the author wasn't getting paid by the word. Hard to tell in this first paragraph.
Second Paragraph: "I'm Brendan-Brendan Carruthers. It had been a long drive to California from Chicago, but now it was finally done. Here I was, at Stanford-the place I had wanted to be since I was a freshman in high school. Of course, for most of high school I wanted to be anywhere other than high school-but Stanford was the number one choice."
An unusual first name, Brendan-Brendan. As we later discover the dash between Brendans needs to be a comma. A couple of paragraphs futher on, when Brendan meets his roommate, the author does it right. "Jake, Jake".
Third Paragraph: "I had gotten my key, and my room assignment, and headed up with the first batch of my stuff. I went to my room, and found the door open."
Some of the commas here may not be necessary. The entire first sentence may not be necessary. The author is leading up to meeting Jake, his roommate. I am not sure the comma before "and" in the second sentence is necessary, either.
Next Paragraph(s): "Hey, you Brendan? I'm Jake, Jake Atkinson." I shook his hand. Jake was a very large human being. My parents came up behind me, and Jake introduced himself to them.
"You need some help?" he said.
"Sure. Thanks," I said. "You're all moved in?"
Note the Jake, Jake as opposed to the Brendan-Brendan. This is the first time we discover the hero's parents are on this trip. Perhaps during unpacking the car this might have been a good place to introduce these characters. Or not, authors get wide leeway to make these decisions, but it was a surprise to me to find out about them at this point in the story. I am also a little surpised it was necessary to confirm Jake was a human being. If this were a Science Fiction story it might be more important. It is also somewhat surprising to get Jake's comment in a separate, quite short, paragraph. He was talking to the parents, no need, as far as I know, to start a new paragraph because he was talking to Brendan, and possibly Brendan's parents, by offering to help.
Some more paragraphs:
"I've been moved in for some time," he laughed. "Football players had to be here a month ago." Oh, shit, a football player. If there's anything I hate more...
Jake was cool, though, helping me and my parents get all my stuff in. I went downstairs and kissed my parents goodbye. They were crying. Hey, I was their only child, and here I was, going to be 2000 miles away. I didn't cry, but I was going to miss them. They were great parents.
I suspect the paragraph with quotes from Jake should not include the thoughts of the hero. I would prefer not to see the elipsis (three dots) end the sentence. If there is a reason or extended information about Brandan's discomfort with football players, I would prefer to see it here rather than just have it hinted at. I would have expected to see a football player in an athletic dorm, not mixed in with the general population. Authors get to make these decisions, overruling football coaches and athletic directors, but some rationale would fit in fairly well somewhere in here.
The parents just got there, helped the hero move in and now they are going to start a 2,000 mile journey? If they are so sad to leave they are crying, even the father (men don't cry, unless the plot requires it) why don't they stick arround, take the hero to lunch, get comfortable with the campus, get his mailing address and phone number where he can be reached, etc. Its like they made a routine delivery and now its time to go so the story can go on without them, except to note that the hero doesn't cry. If his parents were grandparents, they could be great grandparents. What makes them great, other than crying when they leave and paying for Stanford? Oops, I read a little further, our hero is on scholarship. So maybe paying for Stanford is not a checkmark on their great parent score.
Ok, I got us about a quarter of the way through the first chapter. Don may have if not feet of clay, at least some mud on his boots. I have seen four reviews of this story and they all give tens for Technical. I admit to not seeing misspelled words or homonyms, but tens are for virtually no errors at all. Four standard deviations above the mean, maybe one tenth of one percent of the best of the best. Plot and Appeal to Reviewer are subjective issues, what appeals to one guy may not overcome the next one. I try to give one ten a month, at most. If I didn't want to recommend the story I wouldn't review it, but there are lots of good stories that aren't perfect. If you bury every story in tens, how can you tell readers when you find the real diamond in the pile of zircons? Sometimes I read, I wish there were a score higher than ten to give this story. Well, don't give the other ones tens, so you can give a real ten to the supercalifragilistic ones.