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Majestic Fox

22-04-2019 - A Blue Shield - Flash Fiction - 461 words

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Posted (edited)

Hello everyone,

I'm submitting something a bit different this week. It's a flash fiction story, only 461 words. 
 
Edit: A summary of your interpretation of the story would be immensely useful. Thanks.
 
Other than your general impression, I'd like to know what the story makes you feel (if anything). If you're left cold or confused I'd also like to know. Finally, it would be interesting to know if the story stays with you at all, after you've finished reading. 
 
Thanks. 
Edited by Majestic Fox
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Posted (edited)

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: For demographic information, keep in mind that I am a white male nearing his thirties, married, with two young children, and come from a background of being LDS, conservative, and with a long history of chronic depression, so these things may color what I say during review. I try to be as open-minded and unbiased as possible.

Okay. That was a new experience (I've never read flash fiction before).

Right off the bat I do not like this switching between First-Person Present and Second-Person Present. It's very jarring, and you don't have enough text for me to grow comfortable with either. This makes it very difficult for me to follow, and while I think I understand what you were trying to do, I was too confused for the ending to really have a suitable punch. Further (and this is something I feel I can say, since the book I'm writing is in FPP), when writing in FPP you have to be careful of acting actions, such as "I say," "I take," "I ask". As I've learned, these statements break the immersion of the piece (though they work fine in 3rd), as no character's mind would acknowledge these actions this way. And when you have less than 500 words to make an impact, breaking immersion is not a good thing to do.

The final statement was a bit of a cheesy "moral of the story"-- I think this might have been alleviated by a little more focus on the narrator's connection to the demon, because it wasn't until reading it for the fourth time that I realized the SPP was the narrator, rather than the demon. If I'm understanding correctly, the demon is the father, who left the narrator at a young age to pursue furthering his magic--but then you make a statement about writing at the end ("raw material for you to use in a story") that make me wonder if that's accurate.

That said, what you do well is fun to read--your breaking down of what the demon actually is is quite an interesting idea and to be honest, despite my 20+ years of reading fantasy and the "ambition gone wrong" trope, this piece presented that in a unique way that left me going "Huh. That was different." (Which is a good thing!) And I want more! I like things with length, things I can get into and immerse myself in, and the fact that you present such a strong hook in 500 words is just awesome.

I have some suggestions for improvement, based on my own experience and what I'd like to read. These are take or leave suggestions, meaning that I'm not picking at you on grammar, punctuation, or line-by-lines, just general impressions of content that I think would help with some of the issues I presented above:

1) One perspective. Readers complain about multiple perspectives being hard to follow in a full-length novel--such frequent shifting in a < 500 word story is extremely jarring. Either tell the story from the perspective of the wizard narrator, or from the perspective of the demon. Writing from the perspective of the demon, for example, gives you the option to eliminate the weird FPP/SPP split while writing from the perspective of the other character gives you room to focus on the experience of watching this person tear themselves apart, opening the option for an even more impactful ending where the narrator realizes these things coming out of it are memories.

Further, an integral component of good FPP is that your narrator can only tell us what is in their mind, so you have to be extremely careful of writing omnipotent narrators. Statements like "All his will is concentrated on keeping his body together" is a bit immersion-breaking because the narrator wouldn't know that. They might guess it, but they wouldn't be able to conclusively say so.

2) Find more creative ways to refer to dialogue. For example (again, I'm basing this on my own experiences with writing FPP), instead of saying

Quote

"What is it you want?" I ask the demon, but he cannot speak. << This is redundant. There are only two characters in this scene, and you've already stated that he's asking a question by your dialogue.

You can improve this by simply removing the redundancy with something like

Quote

"What is it you want?"

The demon cannot speak. << This gives us the exact same meaning, without the immersion-breaking redundancy.

3) Show, don't tell--and this might be a bit of a nitpicky thing to say, because you have segments here where you show really well (such as "the skin of his face pulses and ripples...he stares at me, pleading.")--but others where you just kind of...tell us. With such a short segment of text for us to be left with, your words should be as meaningful as you can make them. In point one, I used the example of "all his will....". This is an excellent place where you could do this--show us the horror of the demon's body breaking apart, rather than focusing on an abstract concept the narrator wouldn't know.

(NOTE: I know that in my above three points I kind of stuck to the same area of the text. This isn't because this is a terrible segment, but rather that it's easier to use a single place to showcase what I'm saying, so you can use that to improve the rest, rather than tearing into it at every instance. Does that make sense?)

Finally, let me end by saying I think this was an absolutely intriguing short. I think there's room for improvement, room to make it even more impactful than it already is. The very last line seems tacked on, rather than homogeneous with the piece, but I think a few tweaks could easily remedy that. If I'm harsh in my criticism, know that it comes from a place of genuine interest and that I want to see this become the best it can.

Thanks for that. :)

Edited by Alderant
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Posted (edited)

@Alderant, you've put careful thought and useful insights into this feedback. Thank you. I really appreciate it. 

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

If I'm understanding correctly, the demon is the father, who left the narrator at a young age to pursue furthering his magic--but then you make a statement about writing at the end ("raw material for you to use in a story") that make me wonder if that's accurate.

This was really useful to know. If anyone else gives feedback, I'd very much appreciate it if you would tell me what your interpretation of the story is. 

Spoiler: < The demon and the narrator are the same person. If anyone gets that from this first draft I'll be impressed. >

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

"I say," "I take," "I ask". As I've learned, these statements break the immersion of the piece

I entirely agree.

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

The final statement was a bit of a cheesy "moral of the story"

If there's a moral, what would you say it is?

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

I was too confused for the ending to really have a suitable punch.

I'm not sure if I'm going for a punchy ending with this one. I've only read one flash fiction piece that had me thinking about it the day after I read it. It's really difficult to write a story lingers in the reader's mind, but that's what I'm trying to do with this one. If it's felt more than understood logically, then it will have done its job. 

 

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

One perspective. Readers complain about multiple perspectives being hard to follow in a full-length novel--such frequent shifting in a < 500 word story is extremely jarring.

Normally I'd agree, but there's no way to do what I want this story to do without shifting perspective (or if there is, I don't know how). It might be that I'm asking too much of a story less than five hundred words long, but it's good to experiment   : ) 

 

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

You can improve this by simply removing the redundancy with something like

Good point. Thank you.

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

Show, don't tell

I'm very sympathetic to this point. I'm always harking on at other people to show more, tell less. I'm sure I can do a better job of it here, but with a five hundred word limit I have to chose when to tell and when to show. I'll try to improve those decisions on the second draft. 

 

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

Does that make sense?

It makes sense.

1 hour ago, Alderant said:

If I'm harsh in my criticism, know that it comes from a place of genuine interest and that I want to see this become the best it can.

Not at all. This is one of the best crits I've received. 

Thanks again. 

Edited by Majestic Fox
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Very interesting!

I didn't have a problem with the shifting POVs (but then I rarely do). I read it a second time, first with only the regular text together, and then all the italics together to help me make sense of it. It does stay with me, but mostly because I'm questioning what happened.

My main questions/comment:

1) Is the demon the father and the man the son? Or the other way around?

2) Why is he referred to as a demon? There's a very close familiarity between the two, but I don't see a reason to call him a demon. Is it because of physical description? or what the (son, I think) thinks of his father?

3) I'm a little confused at the end with who's speaking to who. From the last set of italics, it seems like the father left to hone his craft (and turned into a demon?). But from the last paragraph, it seems like the demon (the father?) is saying to the man (his son?) that the son left to hone his craft. 

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First time with a flash fiction for me, too. :)

I was quite confused when I first read through. The first italic paragraph threw me off and I had to reread. I wasn’t sure who was talking and whether the story switched to second person narrative or whether someone was talking to someone else.

I didn’t get that the shield was held up by magic until much later, so I had to readjust my image. I thought the father was holding the shield up over his head, which seemed an odd way to play.

“a master of his craft.” This sounded very stilted to me, both times. It kind of sounds out of place, because it’s so unspecific. Also, this sentence (cut here, but I mean the complete sentence) seemed to insightful for a child: “You cannot name it yet, […]”

I liked the second read better than the first. The first time I was too confused to feel much, but I think you evoke quite strong images with the memory snippets. I’m not sure what kind of emotion you’re trying to cause in us, but I get a rather melancholic feeling from the first part, with turns into anger at the end. I think the payoff might’ve been stronger if you kept playing the melancholic/sad tone at the end, too - if that was your intention at all. :)

After reading the story for the first time, I had to continue working, but I kept thinking about it in the back of my head. It kind of stayed with me for a while, until I got to read it a second time. I think that’s because of the strong images of the past - especially the floating scene.

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51 minutes ago, Majestic Fox said:

This was really useful to know. If anyone else gives feedback, I'd very much appreciate it if you would tell me what your interpretation of the story is. 

I thought the demon is the child, and the other person (my first mental image was "exorcist") is the father.

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Oooh, flash fiction!

 

So my initial impression is this song. I think there's some elements that float without real meaning, like the importance of the shield being blue (unless it's straight up blue is a boy color business). It seems too like the father is a writer and the boy is upset the father spends more time writing than with him, that he loves writing more than him. A very Charles Schultz/Peanuts sort of thing.

 I had to read it a few times, which isn't that unusual with flash fiction. I liked the imagery of the play and writing, and the things leaking from the back just as they leaked from the son's (who may also grow up to be a writer?). 

So, final impression--very Cat's in the Cradle. I liked it!

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59 minutes ago, Majestic Fox said:

If there's a moral, what would you say it is?

My thought was something to the effect of "Don't spend so much time pursuing your craft that you abandon everyone else to do so." I could be wrong, but that was what had struck my mind.

1 hour ago, Majestic Fox said:

I'm very sympathetic to this point. I'm always harking on at other people to show more, tell less. I'm sure I can do a better job of it here, but with a five hundred word limit I have to chose when to tell and when to show. I'll try to improve those decisions on the second draft. 

Totally understandable. 500 words isn't a lot to go on, for sure.

1 hour ago, Majestic Fox said:

Normally I'd agree, but there's no way to do what I want this story to do without shifting perspective (or if there is, I don't know how). It might be that I'm asking too much of a story less than five hundred words long, but it's good to experiment   : )

I think the problem is really the shift between first and second. That's more jarring than switching between two characters. It's definitely distinct, but so sudden that it immediately jumped me out of the immersion and I had some difficulty settling back in right away. Maybe you could find a way to rewrite those SPP parts as FPP or 3P? I mean, if your goal is ambiguity...well, it works, it's just quite confusing as is. Maybe focus on a differentiating style to help with the sudden change? I don't know. I'd say play with it some.

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Posted (edited)

I'm finally on break from school. This was a great piece to get me back into things :)

For the sake of clarity, I'll give a quick overview of how I plan to go about this review. It's a shorter piece, so I'll lay out some of my initial thoughts, then go through a few of the more 'gritty' points (line clarity, grammar, etc.). I got the impression that you're looking for more of the former, so I'll focus my attention on what I understood and how I felt

To be honest, I did have to read the story a couple of times to get what (I hope) is the intended interpretation, but the emotions hit me on my first read-through. I'm not sure if that's just me--or even what exactly I'm trying to explain--but I sometimes get the feel for the piece without knowing all the intricacies of what exactly occurred. This particular story made me feel a sort of hollow sadness for opportunities lost. I found myself identifying with the father almost immediately--though the way you structured it makes me feel like you were intending the sympathy to be focused mostly on the son. Either way, I could relate to the conflict between occupation and family as an extremely human emotion, an anchor point for the fantastical events that happen in the story itself.

That's my favorite type of fantasy.

As for my own interpretation, I started out thinking the demon was the father captured in a monstrous form (not sure how that happened) and he had switched places with his son in a final act of abandonment. What bothered me about this was that the memories seemed more like the son's than the father's, and you mention the memories bleeding away in conjunction with the narrator becoming the demon. So (after five consecutive readings) I'm starting to think this is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario... Is the main character the "good" side (the part of him that's been trying to forgive the father for his absences and obsessions) while the demon is the "bad" side (the part of him that's angry and bitter at the neglect)? The story would then capture the moment where he gives in to the "demon" and allows himself to hate a father that has never been there for him. This is sounding like I'm over-analyzing the farther I go, but that's what I'm currently thinking. :unsure:

I'm still not sure about is the ending. He's a writer? A storyteller? What does that have to do with the overall story? It felt slightly tacked on the first time I read it, and I don't feel like that's changed even after several reads. I'm thinking the writing/storytelling is the craft he was trying to master, but the juxtaposition of such a mundane profession with the demon and magic felt out of place, for me. Maybe it's just not what I was expecting?

(Somewhat) Line by Line:

  • I really like the story's entry. The imagery is clear, and draws the reader in quickly (vital in such a short piece). I especially liked the demon staring at the narrator, pleading, as it subverts most of the expectations that popped up in my mind the moment a demon was mentioned.
  • I do not mind the POV switching as much as @Alderant. But I can hear how it could be disorienting.
  • "Wait for your mother to tell you" together with her "not understanding your words" is slightly confusing. If he's waiting, why is he also trying to speak?
  • I really like  @Alderant's corrections to this section.
  • The perspective switch in both time and POV was a little jarring, to be honest. It pulled me out of the story for a second.
  • "Fluttering sheets of parchment" -- I now realize this is foreshadowing for later on, but it rang a bit strangely on my first read.
  • "Outside, the ocean crashes against forested cliffs" - This was a great help to the transition. Also, nice imagery :)
  • "...back, shifting, as they rise, into..." - There are a lot commas here. I'd suggest removing "as they rise"
  • "You know this to be true, but you also know that there is something he loves more."
  • " for the sake of trying to becoming" - should be "become". Also, maybe remove "for the sake of"?
  • "raw material for you to use in a story" - Need an explanation on this...

I found the story surprisingly insightful for such a small word count. The conflicts were relatable and the entire piece had a contained vividness to it that (I think) served the short form you chose to employ. The only things I think need a little work are the clarity of what exactly is happening and the story's ending, both of which could be fixed with only a little tweaking.

Thanks for giving me something to think about to start my week :)

Edited by Tariniel
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Posted (edited)

On 4/22/2019 at 11:18 AM, Majestic Fox said:

I'm very sympathetic to this point. I'm always harking on at other people to show more, tell less. I'm sure I can do a better job of it here, but with a five hundred word limit I have to chose when to tell and when to show. I'll try to improve those decisions on the second draft. 

There's actually a very recent Writing Excuses podcast on this. Particularly in such a short form, there are times when you might be better suited to 'telling' information in order to save words. 'Showing' becomes just as important for the same reason, however, so it's a thin line to balance on.

Edited by Tariniel
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Flash, aaah, aaah.

Interesting...

- "The light spilling from the cleft in my back are the kind of memories" - Grammar problem, needs rephrasing.

- The last paragraph: the phrasing is over-elaborate, I think, and it doesn't flow well.

Overall, this is really interesting, and I enjoyed it. I think I would need to read it again, once or twice, to get a better sense of who is in which role when, but it hangs together nicely, I think. I don't blame the story for me maybe not picking up everything I should on the first read. Nicely done.

I'm really pleased to see this flood of different material from you. Finishing things and editing things and everything!! Awesome.

<R>

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On 21/04/2019 at 11:50 PM, Majestic Fox said:

A summary of your interpretation of the story would be immensely useful.

Without directing in huge detail (or rereading again, no time just now, sorry!), My first impression was that the POV was the son, and the thoughts also were the son (because they were of the father. Then, there's the line about the POV becoming the demon, but does he also become the father at that point? That's my thought. How? Who knows? Handwavium, most likely. After the change, the son is in the demon's shoes, but his place is taken by the father, it seems. So, the crux, the unknown question in my mind is how did the change take place? I don't see any kind answer to that, but I'm happy to take away that mild feeling of disconnect, because there is resolution of a sort at the end.

(Well, you did ask...)

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I really like flash fiction, and I think this one is done well!  I didn't have a problem with the memories being in second person; to me they were clearly memories and the shift makes sense. I wasn't particularly bothered by the end, either, though I do tend to be okay with a lot more ambiguity in the things I read than the average.

I like that there was a large amount of emotional depth in this, however it didn't really do a lot for me personally. I'm not left feeling much and it didn't really stick with me. 

I feel like the amount of show vs tell was pretty balanced, especially for flash. Nothing really popped out at me for being extraneous, and I feel like that's the most important thing in writing micro-fiction -- that every word points towards the end, and I think this does that. Certain phrases could be tweaked here and there, but that could be said for any draft.

 

For my interpretation, I got that the son was feeling abandoned by the father, due to the amount of time the father spent at work. I got a sense that maybe the father was now ailing in some way, maybe an alzheimer's metaphor, maybe actually dead, and that was causing his memories to leak away. The son has to come to grips with the father passing or losing those memories -- the father will never now be able to "own up" and face the consequences of his abandoning and the son, in accepting this, accepts the effect the abandonment had on him and "becomes" his father, in a sort of "child becomes the parent" metaphorical way and possibly by physically absorbing the demon (I was unclear here. By the end I thought there was also a chance that the demon was just the son the whole time, using something to manifest his issues with/memories of his father, but I'm really unclear on that, too).

And then there was something about the isolation inherent in being a writer, and the writer's inherent practical-but-ruthless use of their own life experiences as grist for their work, but honestly, that felt kind of tacked-on at the end to me, despite the mention of parchment and usage of "craft" for work.  I wasn't clear how it tied into the rest. 

That is an awful lot to pack in to less than 500 words, for sure! 

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On 4/21/2019 at 6:50 PM, Majestic Fox said:
Edit: A summary of your interpretation of the story would be immensely useful. Thanks.
 

At first I thought that there was someone trying to exorcise a demon and it was telepathically talking to that person. Then I thought it was trying to help a demon that was unraveling, and I wasn't sure if it was something someone else did to it or because of something naturally occurring. But by the end, I thought it was all a metaphor for a person's relationship to his/hers/their father specific to a moment where that person was confronting him about something and his lies were  unraveling. 

On 4/21/2019 at 6:50 PM, Majestic Fox said:

Other than your general impression, I'd like to know what the story makes you feel (if anything). If you're left cold or confused I'd also like to know. Finally, it would be interesting to know if the story stays with you at all, after you've finished reading

I loved the prose, but I was trying to hard to figure out how I should be viewing this demon to feel what I potentially could have. And yet, I'm not sure making what is going on clearer would help or hurt the piece. I felt like I should've felt something, but I'm not sure if it is because of the story or something more to do with me as a reader or me just being tired. 

FYI I haven't read through any of the comments or discussion about this piece yet. 

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Just wanted to say thank you for everyone's feedback on this. 

I really do appreciate it. 

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