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3/20/17 - Djarskublar - Flash Fiction 1 (V in the second piece)


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I know it's ridiculous that I'm subbing this now, but, well... life happened and I couldn't do anything creative in the time I had to think about this stuff. I just barely finished editing based on the peer review I had on Monday morning.

Feel free to rip it to shreds, I'm not particularly attached to any of it.

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Hey, welcome to Reading Excuses! We don’t get a lot of flash fiction, so I'm excited to read this. Straight on to the comments.

(Intersting set-up in your comment there!)


·       The first line doesn’t really excite me, or draw me in. The word ‘back’ is duplicated, which is a bit awkward, and the line itself, has me reading carefully as a try and picture what’s going on, instead of being drawn into the story by a short, clear, attention-grabbing line.

·       Three lines in and we’ve had a very precise description of how the sword is being held, but I know nothing about the man. For me, story is always, always, always about character, and that makes a strong place to start. I’m just not engaged.

·       “Fence!” the judge called, and the man darted forward. – I think this is a good first line. Here you have action from the beginning.

·       I must say I'm not bowled over. Repeating the start at the end is a neat idea, and I guess was the story’s USP going in(?).

Overall impression: I’m not bowled over. It’s very mechanical, anonymous, and I don’t care about the outcome or either of the characters. This really hampers the ability of the story entertain. The first line / last line thing is the best bit. It’s a decent idea, but the story needs stakes, drama and character, I think.

Sword fighting is one of the most boring things in fantasy, exactly because it is mechanical and there are a limited number of moves and permutations, and they’ve all been done. The things that make sword fights great (and they can be) are (i) characters, caring about them and the outcome; (ii) threat/stakes, by knowing that one party is much better, much stronger, is going to cheat – something to stack the odds against the ‘hero’; (iii) setting – have them fight on a burning ship, in a collapsing building – anything to set the fight apart, because the fighting itself is unlikely to do it; (iv) the unexpected – another component, the dialogue during the fight, a third party entering the fray, it starts to snow, someone sneezes – anything to make it not just a sword fight.

Sorry, I’m sort of on a rant here; I realise that your story is not really about this sort of fight, but I’ve got the wind in my sails now…

I’m moved to quote a recent example of an absolutely excellent fight, in my view, from The Lies of Locke Lamora. It starts about page 434 with the build-up, and continues on page 437 (after a short interlude). What makes it a great fight? Numerous things:

  1. It’s two (badies) against one (goody);
  2. The two are the best fighters in Camorr, so our hero, Jean, cannot win;
  3. The two are women;
  4. Jean doesn’t use a sword, he uses two axes

Food Chain

·       Straight away I'm more engaged with this story. I’ve got character from the start, and an intriguing situation; we appear to be in the villain’s perspective. Nice.

·       the King of the Middle School found him out of breath by a broken streetlamp” – Lol, I get the idea. Nice one. This is cool because, as a reader, I can start to project forward and imagine what is going to happen next, but will I be correct? I need to keep reading. Also, the streetlamp thing is puzzling. Is it night/dark? It’s not relevant unless you show my how it’s relevant.

·       or I’ll beat the carp out of you” – Ha-ha, escalating swears – nicely done.

·       ran off home to his mother, who knew nothing” – I assume you mean knew nothing about her son’s miscreation? The way you have it, you’re nasty to the mom for no reason.

·       buying insurance” – lol.

·       He forked over the money that had worked its way up from the elementary school kid” – you don’t need to tell me this, I've been paying attention. Letting readers work out stuff for themselves is more satisfying (for them).

·       The last line is a bit weak and confusing. I would rework and punch it up a fair bit. Also, I was expecting the swearing to escalate again, but the King of the High School says ‘twerp’? Nah, you’ve promised me the ‘S’ word at least.

·       Then, when the adult comes in, you don’t give him a line of dialogue, so I feel a bit cheated there. Also, by the law of increasing swears – would be looking for an F-bomb here, I think :)

Overall, I thought this was a much better story, with some nice ideas and executed pretty well. Your language is smooth and easy to read – a few typos, and refinement of prose is pretty much always possible, so an edit really would benefit the story. I think the final few lines with the adult mugger are the bit that misfires, but I’m sure you can fix that.

The escalating swears was tongue-in-cheek, to some extent, although I really did think that’s where you were going.

Glad to have you on board!




p.s. Where's my cheese? I feel like I was promised cheese.

Edited by Robinski
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Yay for new subs! And sorry again for the e-mail. It was so late in the week I just assumed you were subbing early (I blame the sickness that will not give up in my house).


I'm always excited to see someone new submitting! Unfortunately, your first short didn't grab me at all, for the same reasons @Robinski stated. The second one was better, and had a very clear narrative arc, but I think the entire second page could be cut and actually make the piece stronger. I also agree that I was expecting escalating language, which would have added nice flavor.

Sub again soon!

As I go

- that first line has redundancy on 'back'

- first paragraph: I think it has too much minute description for being the first paragraph. You really want to grab people in a cold open, not bog them down with details

- end of page one (and the first story): I'm.... not sure what the arc was? It was a short match, but I didn't see any character building or plot to it. Unsure what you were trying to accomplish here. @Robinski has already highlighted what I would have written about for this short, so I'll just say I agree with him, and move to the next.

He as soon - is there a 'knew' missing? Maybe? The sentence still doesn't work even with that insertion. Not sure what you were trying to say here.

- Those first three lines of dialogue seem very stock and forced. I don't believe them, and they take me from the narrative. How old are these kids? I'd expect at least some grade school coarse language, like 'turd' or something

- I actually thought the story would end on that first page, with an interesting line. I was engaged. Then it kept going onto the next page and you told us what you had already shown. I became bored. 

- unsure how I feel about the ending. It seems to fall flat and just drag out the piece.

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Yay flash fiction! Flash is great!

First story --  well, right from the outset, I feel like the whole first paragraph in the beginning is wasted. The story is the fight, and it doesn't even get going until the second paragraph. I am not really invested in this character. He has no name, I have no reasons for why he's doing what he's doing, if he wants to win or lose, just that his feet are in proper position, his mask impairs his vision, and he's sweaty. If you trimmed a bit of his physical positioning, you could add in some characterizing motivation, and I think it would change the whole dynamic of the piece for the better. To put it in writer's terms, there are no stakes.  Fights, competitions, are very emotional, stressful things, even when you know what you're doing (as he obviously does, which is a great use of the adage "show don't tell" btw! :)  ) 
The fight itself is very well described, but again, it feels clinical because i have no really info on the main character. Mentioning his opponent is a woman, both threw me off until I made the connection, and struck me as superfluous. Does it matter to this particular story -- right here, right now -- that there's a woman under all that padding? If it does, I want to know why!  Fencing matches are inherently cool, and not something most people get to see, so i'll finish reading to the end, but adding more "why" to this piece would really make me invested in the outcome.  "the woman" takes up the same amount of space as "his opponent,"  and this isn't long enough to really need the mental break calling a character by multiple things brings. 
third paragraph, the finish... I'm not sure where you wanted to end it.  It felt like the touch and the point would be a great emotional end, but the repetition of the beginning line makes me think you were aiming for more of the meditative nature of repetition and focus in the sport maybe? In which case, (and this is something I harp on with @kais constantly) sell it harder! Emote for the cheap seats! We can't hear you in the back! Seriously, it feels like you're coming from a place of firsthand knowledge, and the thing to realize is that not everybody has the same ground-into-your-subconscious experiences. I mean, put like that it's easy, but figuring out where you're relying on other people to have been in an analogous situation in order to make the connections you think are blatant is tough!  I have a  sports background, but several of my friends do not.  They wouldn't catch the repetition and see the attention  text puts on positioning as  the focus of the athlete (it was honestly a little difficult for me to catch, and i'm still just guessing. i could be super wrong)
I think it's a good, action-oriented story, and with a bit of work would be really great!
Second Story:  Again in this one, I felt like there was a lot of extraneous info. Flash is so small, so constricted, that every word should point towards the end. There just isn't room for sidetrails or embroideries.  This one almost has the opposite problem of the first: there, i wasn't invested because i didn't know anything about the main character; here, i feel my attention wandering because of all the extra details the text includes. Between the dialogue cues and the clue in the names, you don't need more the sell the "bully" stereotype. 
 I LOVE the use of repetition, but some of the dialogue feels stilted. It's not a problem to use the same or similar lines for each here, because that's the point of the piece, but they should sound to the "mind's ear" like spoken conversation and not scripted dialogue.  
The bit about the middleschooler's friends feels wholly extraneous. We don't get any of the other bullys' friends. (and i'm noticing just now that we don't get anything about the middle kid's mother, whereas we do for the two bracketing him.  Here I agree with @Robinski: if you're going to repeat, sell that repetition!)
the last phrase of the penultimate sentence and the whole last line are definitely superfluous and should be removed. It undercuts the emotional impact of the entire piece and bobbles the landing.  
Overall, I disagree with Robinski here and like the first one better than the second. I feel like this one needs more work than the first and lacks focus. It definitely has the beginnings of a good story, but it's not quite there yet.  I'd love to see an iteration or two of these, to see how they improve though!
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Welcome to Reading Excuses!

I have similar comments to the others. @industrialistDragon's point especially so, in that every word has to count in flash fiction.


Names: We're in the man's head, but he doesn't have a name. This leads to less connection between the reader and the character

Adverbs: especially in flash fiction, these are precious. Use too many (merely, quickly, instantly, etc) and it reads as wordy.

3rd paragraph is a bit too long and rambly

Resolution: Even flash fiction should have a plot. This is a scene (woman scores a point against a man), but not yet a story. What happened to who and why?


Food Chain:

"he wasn’t out of danger yet"
--This is vague. Danger of what? Why does he feel this way? We find out in a few sentences, but moving the threat earlier ramps the tension.

“Again? Can’t you find someone else to rip off?”
“No, you are the only fun target for me,” he lied. “You almost make it too easy.”
--This is clunky. Why is it a lie? I'm not getting as much tension as I think I should.

"if he had ‘collected’ enough "
--Does he steal from just the King of the Middle School, or from all over?

"A knife slid into his kidney"
--Eh, I don't really find it believable that someone would murder a high school kid for lunch money. The consequences for murdering someone far outweigh pocket change.

This one had a better plot arc than the first one, but I didn't feel much connection to the story. It was also a little jumpy. Things escalated from non-physical intimidation three times to murder, 

I think you could make something out of the second story, not so much from the first one. Good suggestions by the others on the repetition. That will make a story like this, dealing with bigger fish/smaller fish.

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