Robinski

20150119 - Robinski's response to Writing Excuses S7E4 prompt - "Brevity" - [150 words]

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I'm still working my way through the WE back catalogue. I need to get back on it, as I haven't listed to one for about 4 or 5 months, bit have currently reached Season 7. I think there are valuables lessons to be learned from Episode 4, entitled "Brevity" - which I would subtitle, the art of leaving words out.

 

Brandon tells a good story about Niven and Pournelle having "Mote In God's Eye" accepted by a publisher(?) but being told it was too long and to cut it by 10%. They literally went through the book and cut out 10% of the words, page by page. I absolutely love that, and can testify that it is possible for almost any draft of a story.

 

So, the writing prompt, from Howard, was as followsGive us a group of people on a long trip in space with a problem, which they solve. Do it in 150 words.

 

I don't see the point in emailing this around, it's 150 words for goodness sake!! So here is my final draft. It took me 3 days to write, man, that brevity takes a long time to get 'right'.

 

Anyway, would love to get your comments. Without further ado...

 

 

 

"Brevity" by Robinski

 

In years of planning and modelling, they hadn't considered this. Auto-docs monitored health, coordinating diet and exercise, recommending leisure based on psychometrics. Four crew awake for four weeks annually, rotating with another forty-four in stasis. Research confirmed that stasis suspended ageing. The scientists had green-flagged the mission. Progress had been optimal.

 

Ten years gone, sixty-four remaining, yesterday, Miller had lifted the first corpse from its capsule. Of four opened, only Dreyfus had been alive. Of the next twelve, only Mai Jong-Won lived. Five anxious faces stared at Miller.

 

‘Remaining life signs are A1.’

 

‘So were the others,’ Powell snapped. ‘What’s the arithmetic?’

 

‘At the same attrition there would be nine left. With stasis, we’d age thirty-two years, without it, sixty-four.

 

Powell shook her head, ‘Too old, or dead.’

 

‘There is an answer.’ They all looked at Dreyfus, slow panic becoming desperate hope. ‘Reproduction – we need to breed a new crew.’

 

 

 

The frustrating thing is that this gives rise to lots of interesting ideas, I think, so I might have to write it out into a short story - oh, the irony. Anyway, comments greatly appreciated.

Edited by Robinski
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Brevity from Robinski!  I think I saw a pig fly by. ;-)

Very cool story.  I can see lots of places this can go.  Oddly enough, I thought you were talking about the most recent episodes of Writing Excuses (10.1 and 10.2) which also have exercises in 150 words or less.

 

I think this nails the writing prompt.  It gives a very good sense of tension, sets up the problem, and even gives us a brief glimpse into characters.  The use of names helps that a lot.  We can tell the flight members came from many sources.

 

I had a little confusion with the arithmetic.  At first I thought they were dying from old age, but you contradicted that in the first paragraph.  So I assume they don't know the cause, but they leap to the solution of breeding new crew members.  They going to have the same trouble with the new members if they don't fix the problem.

 

I've now gone over 150 words in writing a response, so I should probably stop.  Well done.  This might work as it is in the "flash fiction" format, or could easily be expanded into a short story.

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Good comments, thank you. I guess it's almost inevitable that there would be questions or uncertainties in something so short, but I'm inclined to take up the challenge and try to fix those issues that you flag. Funny thing, I wrote the piece some months ago, and on reviewing before posting, I won back another 8 words, which I then 'blew' on giving the captain (Powell, which I tried to convey from her tone - yes, her!) another 4 whole words of dialogue!

 

I really enjoyed the discipline of the thing. It's like a word game or a code, almost - but that's just my competitive streak reappearing.

 

Thanks again.

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...................a pig indeed! I am outraged, sir, outraged by the insinuation that I would anything other than the very soul of brevity, succinctness and concision in my writing and crtiquing!!

 

;op

Edited by Robinski
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To use brevity in my critique; Intriguing.
Alas, I'm no good at leaving it at " 'nuf said" so I'll go ahead and elaborate.

To me, this came off as a computerized log entry of an unintentionally generational ship. It was short and concise, gave the relative data, and the bare essentials of the dialogue that later generations could look to when questioning their very existence. In fact, it almost feels like we are reviewing a report after the fact, not actively existing in the ship. I think that (for me) this happened due to the (word limit forced) lack of in-depth descriptions of the surroundings.

I think this could not only be turned into a short story, but a full blown novel or trilogy. You could use these ancient log entries as epigraphs and.... anyway, I digress, I have some points;
 

when I first read through it, I read this line in this way; "4 crew wake up for 4 weeks a year, spending 44 weeks in stasis." But I know that there are 52 weeks per year, and I'm certain you know that as well. So I read it a few more times and got; 4 crew wake up for 4 weeks a year, while the 44 others sleep in stasis. I don't know how to make that more clear without spending more precious words, but I just wanted to draw your attention to it.

 

other than that I just want to know if hyphenations count for one or two, as there are seven haha :P

 

As you can probably guess, I actually really enjoyed this for much longer than the twenty seconds it took read! maybe we should start a topic of prompts and shorts to get our creative juices flowing? Maybe if it is well liked, it might even get pinned up top by silk

 

Edit: I forgot to mention, I had no real issue with the solution of breeding a new crew. They don't know what is killing the crew, true. If it is the stasis chambers themselves, then they'll just put their children in the stasis pods they know to be safe and allow themselves to age or starve to death for the survival of humanity. And if it is just that those people are more at risk to die, then the offspring of the apparently less susceptible survivors would have a genetic predisposition to survive. So all things considered, they don't even need to necessarily fix anything, just avoid/test the dangers of the stasis pods.  

Edited by LerroyJenkins
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Well I didn't work out all the math, but it is an interesting concept - and a good set up to have done in only 150 words. There are a lot of possibilities both comic and dramatic. The drama could be substantial as I think on it. I saw two or three episodes of Ascension and they explore some of those.

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Definitely a cool response to some tight word restrictions.  I liked how quickly you introduced the problem, though it took me a while to figure out what exactly the problem was.  I was with Mandamon in being confused for a moment as I thought they were dying of old age when it had been stated in the first paragraph that stasis stopped aging.  

 

Being confused on the problem for a moment was really my only trifle, and that could be explained away by my being tired.  

 

I enjoyed the dialogue.  It worked as an effective way to add a little weight to the story, a little pull into the world.  

 

I found it funny that upon reading A1 my first thought was "steak sauce?  Now that's an odd twist".  Context filled me in though.

 

I agree with Lerroy that doing some short writing exercises as a group could be fun.  

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As you can probably guess, I actually really enjoyed this for much longer than the twenty seconds it took read! maybe we should start a topic of prompts and shorts to get our creative juices flowing? Maybe if it is well liked, it might even get pinned up top by silk

 Not to hijack Robinski's thread but I had been thinking others could do the writing excuses lessons and post the links to a pinned forum. I've dne the first two already and am finding them useful.

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<Hijacking and running...>

Good thought, Stormweasel!  I've been looking for an excuse to do the exercises (I assume you mean the recent ones in season 10) and this would push me to complete them.

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Thanks for your comments guys. If I'm really honest, I just wanted to post something up here, as it feels like ages since I stopped posting Waifs & Strays.

 

I am tempted to write Brevity out into a short story, I like the punchline and there characters were starting to form in my head even as I touched it up for posting here - but I have to finish Waifs & Strays first. Thing is, I also have a strategy in mind for a new style of thread on here, a challenge, but so many things have to happen before I post it up.

 

Wow, this has been a good post for ideas, you guys have really generated some sparks here, good job!

 

p.s. Lerroy - the numbers made perfect sense to me at the time, and I was convinced I had a note somewhere of the logic, but I can't lay my hands on it. Suffice it to say here that the number 48 could be the design of the ship placing physical restriction on the size of the crew, and that the whole cycle begins again after 48 weeks (or rather 44 if you take it as the length of time one shift is in stasis for).

 

In the end Stormweasel has the answer - it doesn't matter! But I accept that many people will read it the way you did, Lerroy, and take issue with the math. Rest assured, if I every write it out, there would be a more detailed account of the whole stasis and shift system.

Edited by Robinski
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I'm a little to the party it seems. I'd echo some of the other comments provided, regarding the feedback. Admittedly, I've been a bit tired today, so I'm not sure if it's me or the 150 word limit at fault, but I found myself having to sort of slow down, and interpret a lot of the lines. Just as an example: "Ten years gone, sixty-four remaining..." for the first two times I read it, I kept thinking 'sixty-four' people remained, probably because visually, the sentence was already...well...I could see the rest of the sentence, so I was seeing 'corpse' from later in the sentence and...reading the sentence as a whole, where I had to /not/ do that in order to really get the proper ideas you trying to convey, which left me feeling kind of wary if my 'correct' interpretation was actually correct.

You could definitely have some fun expanding on this, and it really feels like it wants to be expanded upon. In the least, the 150 word limitation can be definitely be felt. That is to say,, with the characterization, potential technology present, introduction of the problem, clues as to some cultural and societal aspects, and the (necessary, but) brief solution, the amount of what you were cramming into the 150 words makes certain elements, like the characterization feels attempted but not necessarily nailed (not intending to bash it, if that's how it came out I apologize).

Enjoyable read in the end though, and due to its short length, spending the bit of extra time reading it wasn't an issue at all, so it's not really like the above points 'broke' it by any means. I joined around your last submissions of Waifs and Strays, but I don't think I got around to it because you were sharing chapters 9 and 10, and jumping midway into a story, I feel, isn't hyper-conducive for reliable feedback  (Like jumping into Mandamon's and not knowing hair colors and Fruits are a thing is definitely might confuse someone).

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Thanks Juugatsu, good considered comments, as I would expect from you, much appreciated.

 

I see your point about "64 remaining", entirely reasonable first interpretation, I had not seen it that way, but then I knew what I meant. It would only take one word to fix that, but it's one word I don't have without cutting somewhere else, of course! Interesting challenge.

 

I don't take your comment about characterisation at all negatively. It's an interesting point. Some felt that there was something there in terms of character, but that must come almost entirely from the reader, because there is virtually nothing at all in character description of course. Powell is the only one who really gets any description, being snappy, so any imagining of character beyond that must be entirely in the reader's mind. It's an interesting question.

 

Hey, don't worry about not jumping in, I would hesitate to do that too. Thanks for your comments on this. I'm sure I will write it out a bit further, so you might see it again in a month or three          : o )

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