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14 October 2013 - jParker - Bitter Iron


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One correction.  pg 1: "they would find some way of maintaining their sanity."

they/their -> it/its.  You're still talking about "the mind"


This is well written, but I'm not sure of the point of the story.  There isn't really a plot--it's more a description of a man imprisoned who is then punished.


In the end, it doesn't matter whether he's guilty or not, because you haven't given him the choice.  It's a description of his punishment.  The same piece could end with Salim kicking and screaming his way, or going without a word.  He gets 39 lashes.


I think I have the same concerns with this one as on "The Gravemaker:" It's an interesting piece of writing, maybe as an exercise, but it needs to tie into something greater to have a purpose.


There is the one phrase at the end that hints Al-Siddiqah might have been at fault, or both of them were, but that still doesn't affect the piece.  Could Salim have called out and accused her?  Would it have done anything if he did?  It depends on the context.  If this is a Mid-Eastern culture where women have less rights, maybe he could have freed himself by speaking against her (I don't know).  If it's set in a fantasy world in a matriarchal society, probably not.  We need more context to know.

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I would disagree that Salim wasn't given a choice. The fact that he stood firm and didn't betray the woman is a choice he made over cringling and denunciations, which shows us his character. however I do agree that we didn't see him making the choice to stand up and take the lashings. the only hint that we have that he decided to act this way was at the end that he knew the consequences before he started. I think the piece could have greater emotional impact if Salim had some sort of mental debate, some inner conflict. Maybe let him doubt his resolve, but then stand by it in order to protect the woman? Is he friends with her husband, show guilt over the deed for betraying his friend?


It is an interesting story, but to fully stand on its own some internal struggle would help spice it up.

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Yes, Mandamon, Salim could have accused al-Siddiqah--however, there would have been severe repercussions. al-Siddiqah is one of the names for Aisha, the favorite wife of Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him) who, interestingly enough, allegedly committed adultery in real life. But for Salim to accuse her of being complicit in their tryst...well, that would complicate things. [similarly, shahid is one of the titles that refers to the Prophet in the hadith. I would have named them directly, but for fear of causing offense; only those of an exceptionally acute mind would have noticed.]


And yes, I'm aware it lacks direction. It's not supposed to be purposeful, just a write-out of an idea that popped into my head. I probably won't be submitting anything serious in that sense until November (aka NaNoWriMo); however, a short story born of a similar impetus to this one will be along before then. Warning: it's an attempt at humor, so prepare for it to be very very bad.

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Hello there. I just got around to reading the piece. An interesting fragment, though I had no idea of its relation to the Prophet and Islamic lore and so on. I just read it as, 'Ah, Middle Eastern-themed fantasy sure is popular these days, isn't it?' :) That subtext would have made it much more meaningful on the first read, I guess.


My issue with the piece is that it is quite 'telly' (as opposed to 'showy'). That is down to two things I suppose. One: the situation of the character, alone with his thoughts--what else are you going to do but tell the reader his thoughts? And two: the fragmentary nature of the piece, which obliges you to go into Salim's backstory. The combination of these two elements makes for a lot of explaining. If this were part of a longer piece, and we had some foreknowledge of Salim's relationship with this woman, the sensory information you use could be more evocative, rather than explanatory. You do a little of this here, but it could be more so.


But that's also partly my problem, perhaps. I like to 'see' what my characters are doing, even if they're not properly 'doing' anything per se. For example, near the end of the first part:


>>"Salim waited, for more debris, for the sound of violence, for a sign of terminus. But when none came and the shouting continued, he resigned himself to analyzing the soil. Or would have, if aught had been visible in the renewed black."


Is he standing? Sitting? What does it look like when he 'resigns himself'? All we have is his thoughts. In my mind's eye I need to see him physically before I get into his brain. Maybe this has something to do with the 'pyramid of description' or whatever they talk about. Physical, concrete details at the foundation and more abstract ones at the top. I mean, if you just started the paragraph with 'Salim sat cross-legged amid the filth on the floor and frowned' before springboarding into his mind, then I'd be right on board.


I think the second part works better than the first, for this reason. We have some character interaction, a little tit-for-tat. The descriptions do their job of making things visual and suggesting depth behind the object, etc.


One minor nitpicky thing I noticed, a couple redundancies that you would probably have noticed upon revision anyways. "A piercing screech" (as opposed to a soothing one?) or "mixing and mingling" (nice ring to it with the alliteration and all, but if you should find yourself in need of words to cut here's a candidate)


That's it I guess. Hope I've been helpful somehow!



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I just got around to reading this.


It was interesting. Had it been the first chapter of a novel, I would have kept reading. However, as a piece that tries to stand on its own, I don't find it particularly engaging. We're drawn in with hints of a potentially interesting world and mythology, which is something that in a novel I am willing to wait on. I am less willing to wait for them in a short story. If you set something up in a short story, there has to be a payout there.


It is intriguing to see the main character make what seems the counter-intuitive choice (take the lashes), but we're not given enough time to see what this choice means. I think the piece would have been better with some time to explore this a little more.


I wasn't aware jinni were thought to be vulnerable to iron like western fae are.


Minor nitpick: On the second page, there is a comma missing in the protagonist's first line of dialogue.

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I agree with what several others have said. This is well written, with a great opening and a nice evocation of setting, but it lacks any sense of change or tension - Salim's passive way of dealing with the situation, while an interesting choice, means there's no conflict - he doesn't even seem to be in conflict with himself over what to do.


Also, I didn't get any sense of Salim being different from a human. We're told that he's a jinni, and that he used magic, but we're not shown anything that makes this feel significant - no other magic, or choice not to use it; no different ways of thinking; nothing where he affects the world differently, or it affects him differently, because of what he is. I think it would be more interesting, more fantastical, if you built that up.

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Thanks for the feedback guys. Although, I do feel a bit foolish. I was rummaging through my email this morning--turns out I submitted the wrong draft. Oopsie. But given your comments, I think I may have to try and extend the piece, make it into a novella or some such, and resubmit. 


Also, McMillion jinni aren't thought to be like fae, it's an adaptation of my own. Unfortunately, quality djinn lore is rather difficult to find, all the more so for my lack of Arabic literacy. So I improvise, adapt, overcome. (And really, fae aren't terribly different than djinn, provided you're willing to blur some technical lines.)

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  • 2 months later...

So I'm doing the world’s biggest catch up at the moment – please forgive the late comments. I think it’s all been said already, but I still was interested to read it (I always read and comment before looking at the posts) – hope there is something useful in the following.


Not sure ‘griefs’ is a word, just ‘grief’.


I'm confused by what happens when the guards open the match and drop things into the cell. Is it Salim’s cell? But he then ignores the objects – it sounds as if it is food that he cannot eat. I presume the shouting and futile pleas are from prisoners in neighbouring cells, and the guards are doing their rounds.


It seems strange that he would wait for more debris after the hatch had been closed.


At the top of Page 3 the fantasy returns, then threatens return in the same sentence.


There are some really nice turns of phrase in this, I really like ‘The smell of cardamom wafted down in slow spirals, somehow overriding the odor of decay...’(not sure it needs the ‘human waste’ bit), and ‘There was only the sun and far away songs of insects.’ very effective.


Notwithstanding some line edits, this was an enjoyable read. There were nice stylistic touches, although some phrases here and there didn’t sound quite right, but my main issue is that I felt a bit let down by the ending. This is not to say that every story should have a twist, but somehow I was expecting something more, to be surprised I think. Enduring pain and making sacrifice for love is hardly a novel theme, which makes me wonder where this is part of a larger piece and there is more context / substance to the story.

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