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shatteredsmooth

Reading Excuses_Blood and Glass_ShatteredSmooth_June 8 2019_510 words

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Hi All,
Attached is a pice of flash fiction I'd love feedback on. I tried my best to edit and catch grammatical errors / typos, but I did add a few sentences today. If there are any typos, I'm guessing they will be in those newer sentences.  I'd like to know how I did catching my errors. Any other you have on the story will be much appreciated. 
Thanks!
Sara
 
P.S. I can't think of any specific content tags. There's no swearing, violence, or sexuality. Blood is mentioned but not shown. However, one person is being controlled by another in parts of the story. 
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Posted (edited)

Disclaimer: I don't read flash-fiction.

This is incredibly threadbare, and despite it being designated as flash-fiction, I don't think that saves it. Our protag doesn't have a name. There is no feeling of time or setting, with the barest hints of a genre. There is no dramatic weight, because I am not given any reason to care. And you preemptively killed off your own twist ending in your prologue! 

The best part about this is the idea of a mother who frightens her child into something as simple as wearing shoes by telling them a tall tale of blood-magic-wielding-wizards. That doesn't even need to have any actual magic; you can mine a whole story about an abusive relationship out of that. Otherwise, as a story about a mother telling her child about a real threat that the child doesn't believe (and the mother getting caught destroying a building in order to stave off said threat) it doesn't satisfy. And it reminds me too much of Terminator 2.

This needs more. More detail, more character, more lore, more setting. More words, to sum it up. Please expand it!

Notes below:

(pg. 1)

—Here's a problem right off: your intro is two sentences. I have no sense of time, place and setting. What kind of world is this? Is it urban? Fantasy? You have a character identified as magical, but I have zero sense of what I'm reading. 

-Light from the street lamp dances across the sharp edges of a broken beer bottle until I place it in the shadow of a torn paper bag.—Is this on the ground? A bench? A table? Is someone supposed to step on this bottle? How well can a paper bag even hide it?

-Once they have your blood, they can use it to use you.—I would delete the bolded part.

-They can boil you from the inside or make blood congeal in your arteries.—I would replace bolded part with 'clot'

-If I didn’t move soon, my muscles would lock in place.—What? Why? When would this ever happen? Why would this kid think this? How old is this kid, anyways? They seem young, but you give zero details about them. 

-She pocked the glass.—'Pocketed'

-My tight muscles didn’t relax—So, is the kid relaxed, but their muscles aren't? That's odd. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say 'I didn't relax'? 

-The smell of vinyl seats and sweat and disinfectant drew the remaining tension from my shoulders.—That smells gross. Why would this relax the kid? What emotional reason is there?

-“That your other mother?” J's blond curls tumbled down his face as he peered over the seat, cute as a chipmunk.—Whoa, and suddenly, we're inside the bus and the kid is apparently sitting in a seat. They might as well have teleported. Is J in front or behind our protagonist? 

-“I don’t think she meant to burn the building down, but the police found her with matches and gasoline.”—This is clumsy exposition. 

-“Do you think the wizards are real?”—Added a 'you'.

-I stared at the galaxy screen printed on his shirt.—The what now? A literal screen? Like a phone? Or a pane of glass? On his shirt? You desperately need to describe this world for us.

-Even though I was afraid to admit it—Believing in blood-mages as a kid seems like something you ought to be more embarrassed about than afraid. 

(pg. 2)

-So, when does this 'epilogue' happen? Because it immediately follows a recollection from the protag that implies they're recounting their story to someone, but this apparently follows the prologue.

-If your whole twist is that blood magic does exist, you undermined it in the prologue immediately with M's title.

-Why is M having the narrator file off nail shavings? They're shavings. Shavings are not scary. Why aren't they just pulling out nails or staples if they want to set up traps for people to wound themselves on? 

Edited by JWerner
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Posted (edited)

Ooh, flash! (Aah, haaa!!! Queen 'joke', anybody? Anybody Nobody?).

- I'm not entirely sure what's being described. I don't do baths, or therefore bath scrubs. I don't like being at a disadvantage after the first line! Also, I don't know what MM is talking about. Too much disorientation in the first line, for me.

- Ooh, interesting second line.

- "blue glass off of the sidewalk" - read it this way a few times and tell me it doesn't sound better / cleaner / more flowing and engaging.

- "Starbursts of sunlight twinkled" - Hmm, mixed metaphor, is it stars or sunlight. There can be one one.

- "They can boil you..." - These things are not using the person though, they're killing the person.

- "She pocketed the glass" - I think?

- "crossed the lawn" - I thought they were on a sidewalk. I don't really know the setting, which is important, surely? Lawn makes me think at home, but could be a park.

- Confused. How does the wiz get the blood? Surely, if someone was cut they could clean it up before the wiz came to get it.

- You burn whatever blood spills" - How the heck do you do that?

- I'm half way through the story and I have no real sense of the world, of what's going on.

- "other mother" - more confusion.

- "like a felon" - more confusion.

- "Do you think the wizards" - missing word.

- "I stared at the galaxy screen-printed" - I read this as something called a 'galaxy screen', suggest some form of differentiation, maybe this.

- "to scare me into wearing shoes" - Lol.

- "crumbling heads off of corroded tacks" - again, suggest a more universal, cleaner approach.

OVERALL 

- Eh, hmm. I dunno. I never really had any investment in the main character, so I don't really feel anything at the end. I'm not a flash aficionado, but it seems to me that the piece needs to work harder, that every word need to do double duty, and that extraneous words need to be excised with clinical precision, to give more space for hard-working words: no freeloaders!

All I really take from this is one of two nice images, but I'm left feeling kind of 'So what'? What is the message? Maybe it is really that people should wear shoes because you never know what you're treading in.

Tone: MM is a kind of slightly fluffy, verging towards comical name, and yet the second sentence is a quite gritty and grimy image. Mom could be on the mental illness spectrum, and yet there are other moment of cuteness that feel uneven to me.

Mechanism: Why would wizards bother with filing the heads of tack on poles? Go cut a drunk on the street at night. Go to the nearest A&E or boxing gym. There must be way more reliable ways of getting blood consistently. It seems very haphazard.

Thanks for sharing. I'll be interested to read what the others think :) 

I continue my journey into discovery through the outskirts of the flash district, although I'm taking the long way home to avoid it. I don't really think I do flash. Probably that means I should try writing it.

Edited by Robinski
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13 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

I'd like to know how I did catching my errors.

I didn't notice much, as you can see. Good job.

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I agree with @JWerner and @Robinski. There's not quite enough here to catch me.

Overall, this seemed short even for flash fiction. It's only 500 words, and flash usually goes up to 1000. My main problem was we only saw one example. To really turn the knife, we need to know mother better, and really understand why/how the MC came to this path in life. If we can have another interlude with mother, maybe a few years later, then we would have more ammo to understand why she took so much time to teach the MC about wizards.

13 hours ago, JWerner said:

-Why is M having the narrator file off nail shavings? They're shavings. Shavings are not scary. Why aren't they just pulling out nails or staples if they want to set up traps for people to wound themselves on? 

 

5 hours ago, Robinski said:

Mechanism: Why would wizards bother with filing the heads of tack on poles? Go cut a drunk on the street at night. Go to the nearest A&E or boxing gym. There must be way more reliable ways of getting blood consistently. It seems very haphazard.

I think this is one of the other big issues. There's not a real threat from the wizard. They'll threaten to kill you if you don't...collect blood samples for them?

On the plus side, this was grammatically much cleaner than some of your other submissions, so good job on that part!

 

Notes while reading:
pg 1: "“Once they have your blood, they can use it to use you. They can boil you from the inside or make blood congeal in your arteries."
--repetition of "blood." Could adjust this sentence so you don't need to say it twice.

pg 1: “That your other mother?”
--meaning she has two mothers, or is there some other meaning to this? Nothing is said about another parent, so this is kind of confusing.

pg 2: "but if I refuse, M.M. will clog my heart valves."
--seems like wizards are kind of dumb, capturing kids to collect blood samples? If that's the extent of their power, it seems almost a waste of time.

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This is a good piece of flash fiction! I enjoyed it. 

I do not think it needs to be any longer. 500 words is more than enough to tell a complete story, and I think this has mostly accomplished that goal.  

I have a clear enough idea of the setting with the mention of real-world items like buses and beer bottles that I don't need a ton of description. If this was a longer work, then sure, yes, I would want more. But for flash, I don't think it's always necessary to spend valuable words on more than just a sketch of the surrounding area.  

The tension of is-mom-right-or-not is good and kept up well in the main body of the work. It's flash -- as long as I'm not unduly confused by lack of setting or description, I'm not really sure extra is needed, even if it would help under different conditions. 

Where I think this story has issues is with the beginning and ending scenes. I feel like they sort of undercut the narrative of the larger middle by making things too specific, too defined. If it's never certain if the magic is real, then there's less of a need to have the mechanics of it spelled out, in my opinion. By definitively stating the magic exists, it paints the narrator in an unsympathetic light for not believing the mom, and opens the door to all kinds of questions that there just isn't time to answer in so short a space as a 500-word flash story. I feel like the middle part hangs together well on its own, and just maybe might need a bit of something to give it a definitive end note, and you've got a winner on your hands.

I don't really hold to the idea that all flash or short fiction has to have a twist in order to be "right," and in this case, I think the twist is what's sabotaging the rest of the story. 

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Posted (edited)

Okay. This, was, the, rust! I loved it. There were moments where I felt I was reading a Ray Bradbury story. The amount of character you build in so little words is to be commended, and that transition from talking to her mother to being on the bus? Elegant. I love that MM has her doing menial tasks instead of being some cliche. It's better that way. You give us just the right amount of information. Almost every piece of information is pertinent, and the few pieces of info that are not are interesting enough that they stand out and provide that illusion of more iceberg underneath that Brandon always talks about.

With one good revision I think you could submit this.
- Tighten up some small things here and there. (If you want to share it with me on Google Docs I'll jump in and do a red pen slash on it but no pressure.)
-  "Even though I was afraid to admit it, I did believe back then. Unfortunately, as I grew, my faith in Mother diminished." I think this could be cut or cut down significantly and it would make the transition after smoother.
- The opening and closing are well written, almost poetic, but it took me a couple reads to actually figure out what was happening. They lack the immediacy of the rest of the story.
- Maybe work in some five senses adjectives better.

That's it. Best thing I've read from you so far and gives me a new appreciation for your past pieces. Big thumbs up!

Edited by hawkedup
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Just read the other comments... Huh.

Hard disagree 1 on there needing to be more. I can see adding a few really tangible details here and there but nothing that increases the word count.

Hard disagree 2 on the frame story working against the meat of the piece. I think it works the same way the Kote chapters work in Name of the Wind. Without that frame the meat in the middle isn't as meaty.

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I'm generally fine with flash fiction, but I have no idea what the arc of this was. I get there are two timeframes but... how does a kid being taught to burn blood play into the first and third parts? 

I've gone through it now three times, and on the third time I got that the MC is under the control of the wizard. But what does the MC have to do? Why is it bad? I think stakes are missing, mostly. I don't mind the shortness or the content, really, just need things to be clearer. I think a number of the sentences could be cleaned as well, since it seems a touch purple where brevity would be useful.

On 7/11/2019 at 3:57 PM, industrialistDragon said:

I feel like the middle part hangs together well on its own, and just maybe might need a bit of something to give it a definitive end note, and you've got a winner on your hands.

I think this is where I am at, too. The middle was very strong, and parts one and three confused me. Part one would be fine if part three was more definitive.

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Posted (edited)

There was such a mixed reaction to this that I haven't been sure how to respond to the comments. I really want to keep this around 500 words, 600 tops. I was pretty happy with this piece and had actually sent it two markets, but the second rejection came with a comment about the reader not quite being sure he understood the piece. I thought maybe the two people who had previously critiqued it had been too nice to tell me what the problem really was, so I sent to you all, which I probably should've done in the first place. 

Thank you for reading it. You've definitely given me a lot to think about. 

 

On 7/9/2019 at 3:28 AM, Robinski said:

I continue my journey into discovery through the outskirts of the flash district, although I'm taking the long way home to avoid it. I don't really think I do flash. Probably that means I should try writing it.

It's something that takes practice. I used to write flash every week, and a lot of it was crap, but I did have some good pieces. But like any skill, it gets rusty when I stop practicing, and I am out of practice. 

Your comments are very helpful. Thank you!  

On 7/9/2019 at 3:30 AM, Robinski said:

I didn't notice much, as you can see. Good job.

Yay!

On 7/9/2019 at 9:26 AM, Mandamon said:

I think this is one of the other big issues. There's not a real threat from the wizard. They'll threaten to kill you if you don't...collect blood samples for them?

 

Good point. I have the answer to this somewhere in my head. I'll try to work it into the next draft.

On 7/11/2019 at 6:57 PM, industrialistDragon said:

I feel like the middle part hangs together well on its own, and just maybe might need a bit of something to give it a definitive end note, and you've got a winner on your hands.

I don't really hold to the idea that all flash or short fiction has to have a twist in order to be "right," and in this case, I think the twist is what's sabotaging the rest of the story. 

Interesting. In my last draft, the middle was the begining. Parts 1 and 3 were just part 2. One person I got feedback from suggested either cutting part two or splitting it so it framed part 1. I was kind of stumped about what the end note would be, so I went with their frame suggestion. 

I think I agree with you about flash and twists, but that doesn't stop me from putting twists in my flash. 

Thank you! 

On 7/8/2019 at 7:29 PM, JWerner said:

Disclaimer: I don't read flash-fiction.

This is incredibly threadbare, and despite it being designated as flash-fiction, I don't think that saves it.

Threadbare is what I was going for. I've read pieces  more threadbare than this. But I think there is something important missing from this and I'll take your feedback into consideration. Even if I don't add everything you've asked for more of, considering what to add or not add will help me hone the piece. 

Thank you! 

On 7/13/2019 at 11:43 AM, hawkedup said:

Okay. This, was, the, rust! I loved it. There were moments where I felt I was reading a Ray Bradbury story. The amount of character you build in so little words is to be commended, and that transition from talking to her mother to being on the bus? Elegant. I love that MM has her doing menial tasks instead of being some cliche. It's better that way. You give us just the right amount of information. Almost every piece of information is pertinent, and the few pieces of info that are not are interesting enough that they stand out and provide that illusion of more iceberg underneath that Brandon always talks about.

What you describe is exactly what I was hoping the story would be! I'm blushing right now. 

On 7/13/2019 at 11:43 AM, hawkedup said:

(If you want to share it with me on Google Docs I'll jump in and do a red pen slash on it but no pressure.)

If the others had reacted the same way you did, I would take you up on this offer, but I think there may be some piece missing that will tighten up how it comes together, and until I am certain about what that is, I'll hold off on the red pen slashing. Thank you for offering. 

On 7/13/2019 at 11:43 AM, hawkedup said:

That's it. Best thing I've read from you so far and gives me a new appreciation for your past pieces. Big thumbs up!

Thank you again! 

This is random, but for some reason your comments made me think about two things: why I like flash fiction so much, and how I wasn't actually able to finish my first novel until after I started writing flash. I was forever starting to write novels and not finishing them until one of my colleagues introduced me to drabbles (100-word stories). I worked my way up from finishing a drabble to finishing a novel I had been on and off writing for years. 

 

1 hour ago, kais said:

I think this is where I am at, too. The middle was very strong, and parts one and three confused me. Part one would be fine if part three was more definitive.

Speaking of missing pieces...

1 hour ago, kais said:

I have no idea what the arc of this was

At least on the surface, I was going for something along the lines of "kid thinks mother is just trying to scare them into behaving and it turns out the scary story is true" type of thing, but I think I need a deeper arc to be clearer too. 

Thank you for your comments! 

 

You all certainly gave me a lot to think about! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. :)

 

Edited by shatteredsmooth
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