Wulf Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge!

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disgruntledpeony
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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby disgruntledpeony » Fri Jun 07, 2019 3:26 pm

I went back and forth about whether to post this here or try to publish it elsewhere, but I've been wanting something new to post on my website and I think this will fit the bill. (Sidenote: I generally don't use interobangs, but the one in this story seemed to fit better than italics because of how many italics surrounded it.)

Cousin Coyote Meets Mother Torment
by M. Elizabeth Ticknor
999 words, copyright 2019

Coyote slipped into Sheriff Mallory’s skin as the man traversed the arroyo colloquially known as Devil’s Creek. Boots squelched deliciously through the thick, russet-red clay accumulated in the creek bed from recent rains. Coyote reveled in the honeyed scent of acacia blossoms. Wind sang through the catclaw bushes that tangled the creek banks.

Coyote missed having a body of his own. The best part of being soulbound with a human was the sensation bleed.

Mallory shivered and tugged at the rim of his battered Stetson. “You’re supposed to ask before entering my body.” He traced two fingers over a massive ursine paw-print embedded in the creek bed. The caress of mud against Mallory’s fingers sent a shiver of delight to Coyote’s core.

And you’re supposed to invite me whenever you go on a hunt. What are we after?

“It tracks like a bear, but it's too big. Harmon Ellis says the thing’s been eating his cattle. Says it damn near ate him when he tried to chase it off.”

They picked up the pace, tracking the beast in mutual silence--Coyote’s due to eagerness of the hunt, Mallory’s due to trepidation for where that hunt might lead. They caught up with the creature as the dawning sun crested the horizon. A black bear, once the size of a small pony, now stood twenty hands tall with shoulders broad as a carriage. Small patches of fur clung to cancerous knots of raw flesh. Spurs of bone jutted out from every joint. The beast’s eyes burned like living coals, red-hot ingots sunken into a face twisted in a rictus of perpetual agony. One of its hind legs was little more than a ruined stump.

Coyote let out a mad cackle even as the blood drained from Mallory's face. Oh, this will be fun. It looks like our cuddly little friend is being consumed by a spirit of pain.

Mallory gritted his teeth and whispered, "You have a bizarre definition of the word 'fun'. How do we stop it?"

Exorcism, most likely.

"You want me... to exorcise... a bear the size of a clydesdale."

All we have to do is incapacitate it and--

"How?!"

Don't worry. I'm sure you'll think of something. Coyote poured himself into every crack and crevice of Mallory’s being. Raw energy burned through the body and reforged it, pushing fresh strength into every fiber of muscle. In that moment, Coyote felt truly alive.

Perhaps too alive.

He searched through Mallory’s mind, but found no traces of consciousness to compliment his own. He must have pushed too hard, too quickly, and knocked the sheriff out.

“Well, that makes things interesting.” Coyote ran his tongue along suddenly-sharp teeth and giggled as blood flecked in his mouth. The salty, metallic tang invigorated him.

The wind shifted, sending his scent straight toward the beast. It lumbered around to face him, sniffing the air.

No point in hiding, then. Coyote approached, his mouth stretched into a face-splitting grin. “Noble spirit! You may call me Cousin Coyote.” He scoured Mallory’s memories for knowledge of the rituals and objects needed to perform an exorcism. He’d witnessed Mallory do such things before, but had never willingly involved himself in the execution.

The bear gave a respectful nod. “I am Mother Torment.”

“Why have you claimed this sorry creature? I’m certain it’s done nothing to deserve such torture.”

“It fell victim to a hunter’s trap and gave itself over to me in order to escape. I grow fond of this body. lt suits me well.”

“Not for much longer. You’ve already burned it half away.”

“Consumption of flesh prevents decay.”

“Slows, yes. Prevents, no. I’d guess you’ve got a week at best, even at peak efficiency. That’s what happens when you run your host ragged.”

Mother Torment tilted her head to the side. “How do you keep your host so pristine?”

“What, this old thing?” Coyote tipped his cowboy hat and took a playful bow. “I take a gentler approach. Mutual symbiosis with a touch of light possession.”

Mother Torment growled. “A simple haunt. Not the same. This body, it feels things. Reminds me of when I was human.”

Coyote shuddered. All spirits had been human once, but the older they got the more likely they were to lose old memories to the new. Coyote’s memories of humanity were ancient and weather-worn, rocks eroded by the rivers of time. Most of what was left related in some way to his current existence--the thrill of the hunt, the word games that taught him how to lie, the first time he’d seen the world through an animal’s eyes. He’d had parents, siblings, even a wife and children, but their names and faces had long since evaporated like fog in sunlight.

Gods, he wanted to live again.

Mother Torment paced around him, eyes blazing. “You miss it too. I can feel your pain.” She licked her lips. “Join me. We can burn together. A short life, but a powerful one.”

Coyote shook his head. “If you keep this up, it’s like an addiction. You’ll want another body, and another, and on and on until you lose so much of yourself in your hosts that you’ll burn away too. You’re a grand old monster. You deserve a better end. Let go. Return home.”

Mother Torment fell silent for a long moment, then let out a mournful sigh. “This one had cubs. That is why she gave herself to me. If you see them safe, I can let her go.”

“Show me the den. I’ll ensure their survival.”

That evening, surrounded by trilling bear cubs, the pull to live was so strong Coyote’s soul ached. He yearned to steal Mallory’s body with every fiber of his being.

But, no. Not yet. Mallory had become more attuned to Coyote’s spirit through repeated visitations, but even now he was only resilient enough to play host for a month before his body burned away.

There would be other hunts. Coyote simply needed to bide his time.
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain

R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Lytspeed » Fri Jun 07, 2019 4:12 pm

Helge Mahrt wrote:I copied your list a few days ago for my own reference and added the latest ones. wotf008


Thank you, Helge and R!
Stace Johnson
http://www.lytspeed.com

"The soul is greater than the hum of its parts." -- Douglas R. Hofstadter

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Fri Jun 07, 2019 6:54 pm

I said I would post Phase 2 of this exercise tonight, but I see I have at least one more to critique first. Plus, someone has to critique mine, otherwise, I'm just going to give myself an A, because I can do that, I'm the Beastmaster!, and it's said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. OR, you could find something I did that didn't work for you. OR, you could find something that did work for you. We learn both by good examples, and by bad, and nobody is perfect.

So look over the posted works, and if you have something to add to the critiques, have at it! I've been working on the sound engineering on "Super-Duper Moongirl..." for the Future Science Fiction Digest podcast coming up (future-sf.com). I need a break! Like DINNER! I will be back tomorrow afternoon or eve with PHASE 2 of this million billion percent super-duper increase to your writing skills exercise! Don't miss it! I put ten monkeys into a room with a linotype and slugs after taking this exercise, and you wouldn't believe how much it improved their work!

Same bat time! Same batty channel!

Beastmaster Moon
Wulf Moon http://driftweave.com
Q4 Vol 35 "Super-Duper Moongirl..."
Critters Readers Award: #1, "War Dog," Best SF&F Short Story of 2018
NEW! "Weep No More..." DEEP MAGIC Fall 2019 http://amazon.com/author/wulfmoon

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby RSchibler » Sat Jun 08, 2019 4:15 am

I'm on it, will post comments on both stories in a few minutes.
Trying to refute entropy with words.

Vol34: R, HM, R
Vol35: HM, R, R, HM
Vol36: R, HM, HM, SHM

ALWAYS available for critiques. PM me.


https://www.flametreepublishing.com/A-Dying-Planet-Short-Stories-ISBN-9781787557819.html

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby RSchibler » Sat Jun 08, 2019 4:36 am

Cousin Coyote Meets Mother Torment
by M. Elizabeth Ticknor
999 words, copyright 2019

Coyote slipped into Sheriff Mallory’s skin as the man traversed the arroyo colloquially known as Devil’s Creek. [I love this sentence except for colloquially, which takes it from poetic to a mouthful, for me] Boots squelched deliciously through the thick, russet-red clay accumulated in the creek bed from recent rains. [I love the alliteration here] Coyote reveled in the honeyed scent of acacia blossoms. Wind sang through the catclaw bushes that tangled the creek banks. [I don't mind this, really, but looking at Wulf's points, I wonder if this opening is lacking a "problem". We have a character and a setting, but the problem doesn't feel pressing.]
Coyote missed having a body of his own. The best part of being soulbound with a human was the sensation bleed.
Mallory shivered and tugged at the rim of his battered Stetson. “You’re supposed to ask before entering my body.” He traced two fingers over a massive ursine paw-print embedded in the creek bed. The caress of mud against Mallory’s fingers sent a shiver of delight to Coyote’s core.
And you’re supposed to invite me whenever you go on a hunt. What are we after?
“It tracks like a bear, but it's too big. Harmon Ellis says the thing’s been eating his cattle. Says it damn near ate him when he tried to chase it off.”
They picked up the pace, tracking the beast in mutual silence--Coyote’s due to eagerness of the hunt, Mallory’s due to trepidation for where that hunt might lead. They caught up with the creature as the dawning sun crested the horizon. A black bear, once the size of a small pony, now stood twenty hands tall with shoulders broad as a carriage. [How do they know it used to be smaller? Unclear.] Small patches of fur clung to cancerous knots of raw flesh. Spurs of bone jutted out from every joint. The beast’s eyes burned like living coals, red-hot ingots sunken into a face twisted in a rictus of perpetual agony. One of its hind legs was little more than a ruined stump. [Creepy. Also our first "it got worse" I think.]
Coyote let out a mad cackle even as the blood drained from Mallory's face. Oh, this will be fun. It looks like our cuddly little friend is being consumed by a spirit of pain. [Here I feel like I'm being promised FUN. For me, though, the ensuing conversations don't really pay up on that promise.]
Mallory gritted his teeth and whispered, "You have a bizarre definition of the word 'fun'. How do we stop it?"
Exorcism, most likely.
"You want me... to exorcise... a bear the size of a clydesdale."
All we have to do is incapacitate it and--
"How?!"
Don't worry. I'm sure you'll think of something. Coyote poured himself into every crack and crevice of Mallory’s being. Raw energy burned through the body and reforged it, pushing fresh strength into every fiber of muscle. In that moment, Coyote felt truly alive.
Perhaps too alive.
He searched through Mallory’s mind, but found no traces of consciousness to compliment his own. He must have pushed too hard, too quickly, and knocked the sheriff out. [Second "it gets worse"]
“Well, that makes things interesting.” Coyote ran his tongue along suddenly-sharp teeth and giggled as blood flecked in his mouth. The salty, metallic tang invigorated him.
The wind shifted, sending his scent straight toward the beast. It lumbered around to face him, sniffing the air.
No point in hiding, then. Coyote approached, his mouth stretched into a face-splitting grin. “Noble spirit! You may call me Cousin Coyote.” He scoured Mallory’s memories for knowledge of the rituals and objects needed to perform an exorcism. He’d witnessed Mallory do such things before, but had never willingly involved himself in the execution.
The bear gave a respectful nod. “I am Mother Torment.”
“Why have you claimed this sorry creature? I’m certain it’s done nothing to deserve such torture.”
“It fell victim to a hunter’s trap and gave itself over to me in order to escape. I grow fond of this body. lt suits me well.”
“Not for much longer. You’ve already burned it half away.”
“Consumption of flesh prevents decay.”
“Slows, yes. Prevents, no. I’d guess you’ve got a week at best, even at peak efficiency. That’s what happens when you run your host ragged.”
Mother Torment tilted her head to the side. “How do you keep your host so pristine?”
“What, this old thing?” Coyote tipped his cowboy hat and took a playful bow. “I take a gentler approach. Mutual symbiosis with a touch of light possession.”
Mother Torment growled. “A simple haunt. Not the same. This body, it feels things. Reminds me of when I was human.”
Coyote shuddered. All spirits had been human once, but the older they got the more likely they were to lose old memories to the new. Coyote’s memories of humanity were ancient and weather-worn, rocks eroded by the rivers of time. Most of what was left related in some way to his current existence--the thrill of the hunt, the word games that taught him how to lie, the first time he’d seen the world through an animal’s eyes. He’d had parents, siblings, even a wife and children, but their names and faces had long since evaporated like fog in sunlight. [Usually I'd say this is a big block of exposition, but because it's so inextricably tied to the character and I think it's fascinating, I don't want to. With that in mind, however, it isn't getting worse. The tension is dissipating for me, because this terrifying beast we wanted to have fun taming is already tame and willing to negotiate.]
Gods, he wanted to live again.
Mother Torment paced around him, eyes blazing. “You miss it too. I can feel your pain.” She licked her lips. “Join me. We can burn together. A short life, but a powerful one.”
Coyote shook his head. “If you keep this up, it’s like an addiction. You’ll want another body, and another, and on and on until you lose so much of yourself in your hosts that you’ll burn away too. You’re a grand old monster. You deserve a better end. Let go. Return home.”
Mother Torment fell silent for a long moment, then let out a mournful sigh. “This one had cubs. That is why she gave herself to me. If you see them safe, I can let her go.”
“Show me the den. I’ll ensure their survival.”
That evening, surrounded by trilling bear cubs, the pull to live was so strong Coyote’s soul ached. He yearned to steal Mallory’s body with every fiber of his being.
But, no. Not yet. Mallory had become more attuned to Coyote’s spirit through repeated visitations, but even now he was only resilient enough to play host for a month before his body burned away.
There would be other hunts. Coyote simply needed to bide his time.

[Ok, Wulf's points. Character in a setting, check. There's a problem, a lack of a body, and the situation gets worse twice (or maybe more, if we count the implied backstory as part of these cycles). But then, for me, it plateaus. The conclusion is inconclusive, the terrifying beast really isn't and furthermore we don't even see her exorcism. I'm not personally feeling a lot of tension or conflict that ramps up. Excellent sensory info, and the prose is lovely. Plus I like your Coyote stories, you really nail the character of Coyote. Thanks for sharing.]
Trying to refute entropy with words.

Vol34: R, HM, R
Vol35: HM, R, R, HM
Vol36: R, HM, HM, SHM

ALWAYS available for critiques. PM me.


https://www.flametreepublishing.com/A-Dying-Planet-Short-Stories-ISBN-9781787557819.html

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sat Jun 08, 2019 5:28 am

I don't generally have time for line by line critiques these days, but I wanted to at least give general critiques and tips for everyone who posted.

DISCLAIMER: If I touch on things others have said, don't be disheartened--firstly, because I've not read others' critiques on your story in order to avoid bias when I write my own, and secondly because some repetition in critiques is to be expected if there's a problem in the manuscript as opposed to simply being one writer's opinion. Also, do keep in mind that I am, in the end, only one writer, and I do in fact have opinions, but that doesn't always make them the right opinions for your story. Check my statements against your own heart, as well as the critiques of others, before you make any changes to your manuscript.

That said, let's begin. *cracks knuckles*

chuckt:
  • Based on what you posted, you've got a pretty strong command of spelling and grammar. I approve.
  • If this is the beginning of your story, opening with 'they' is not the best idea. The reader doesn't have context for who 'they' are yet. If it's the middle of the story, probably not a big deal.
  • I'm not generally a fan of dialogue tags. I tend to eschew them in my own work as much as possible; personal preference is to use thoughts or actions to give context to who is speaking, rather than to drop 'X said'/'Y asked'/'Z called'. That said, 'said' and, when appropriate, 'asked' are the most invisible tags available.
  • The paragraph that describes the Nomura herds, while excellently written and one I personally find interesting, is a tad info-dump heavy. I'd recommend finding a way to splice that information more evenly throughout that story in smaller doses if possible. Also, the words 'however,' 'actually,' and 'but' are used to begin the last three sentences in that paragraph. While not technically repetitious in that it's not the same word over and over, that is three sentences beginning with an adverb in a row. I'd recommend toning that down a bit.
  • The final paragraph you posted might be a bit 'as you know, Bob' but I personally think it works. If you want to tone it down you could, but it's not necessary IMO.

also chuckt:
  • Scrolled down further and noticed you posted your beginning. The first sentence is incredibly vague, but if you splice in the context of the second sentence instead of simply saying 'it' I think you've got a hell of an opener there. You'd have a character, in a setting, with a problem, and all in the first sentence, which is always an impressive feat when done correctly.
  • 'X thought' is generally an unnecessary tag and can pull the reader out of the story. Personal opinion, I will grant you, but this is one I'd stand by strongly.

RSchibler:
  • This story shows you have a strong sense of spelling, grammar, and style. I already knew that, as we've traded critiques before, but I also don't usually get to see your finished pieces, and I like how you've polished this. Very nice.
  • The opening hooked me quickly.
  • Not fond of Grandfather declaring 'It is time' in his head a paragraph before Dorah asks him the same question. That repetition pulled me out of the story a bit.
  • There's one unnecessary use of the word 'had', IMO [The bright white light in the distance had flickered...].
  • In that same paragraph, you make Dorah the subject of one sentence and then begin the next sentence with 'he'. This is the first place I really noticed as a reader that the grandfather had not been given a proper pronoun; if he had one, starting that sentence with his name would make it easier to differentiate.
  • That ending is intense. I like it. Good emotional payout.

Dragonchef:
  • You've got a pretty decent sense of spelling and grammar, although the story could use a bit more polish; there were a few awkward turns of phrase and I noticed a few extra commas here and there. Nothing terrible, just small items that could be improved on with a quick edit.
  • Opening the story with quotations gives no context to the nature of the speaker. A description of what Morgan is doing (clinging to Johnny, crying, or some such) before she speaks might help set the scene.
  • This story, on the whole, could do with more description. Tell us what Morgan sees, hears, smells, tastes if appropriate, how things feel when she touches them--and most importantly, how those things make her feel. (Side note: I worked really hard to try and incorporate all of those senses into my flash specifically because I have a tendency to neglect them if I'm not careful, especially in my early drafts. You are not alone in this.)
  • I hate to say it, but I think this story might be too short. I was left uncertain as to what Morgan's problem was. Is she a ghost? Is she simply crazy? She seems to think every man who approaches her is Johnny, but I don't know why, and I'd at least like a hint. This reads more like a skeleton of a story than a complete one, something like the script format early drafts I sometimes write. I think you've got a really interesting idea here, but this story could use more meat on its bones.

vsutherland01:
  • This story could do with a solid edit. I'd especially recommend checking use of commas and periods, as there are multiple times where one is used when the other would be more appropriate. If this is how your stories generally read, I'd recommend getting a good style manual and giving it a gander. There are plenty of technical manuals out there that will serve you well, but if you want something that will improve your prose and give an entertaining read I highly recommend Dreyer's English. I bought that on a lark and absolutely loved it. Benjamin Dreyer teaches with wit and humor, which makes the lessons stick more strongly in my mind.
  • You do a good job of placing a character with a problem in the first paragraph. The setting is general rather than specific, but that simply means my brain defaults to assuming the story takes place in the modern day.
  • It takes awhile for the speculative element to crop up in this story, and when it initially does it's subtle. Since this is flash, I'd recommend trying to find a way to work it into your first few paragraphs if possible. An easy fix might be to have these two lines come before the question about what Ora did to his hand:
    “Scrag won’t tell me why he’s leaving, Mom.”

    Jada combed gentle fingers through her son’s auburn locks, “I told you, Scrag can’t talk anymore.”

    I understand that will make the transition into the exposition later a little more difficult, but I think that could also be fixed pretty easily, and it would give the reader an even stronger hook.
  • Jada's question, "Didn't you listen to any of my stories?" makes the rest of that paragraph feel very 'as you know, Bob'. If you drop that one sentence, though, the rest of the paragraph wouldn't strike me that way.
  • Okay tends to read better in prose than ok.
  • I feel like you really hit your stride in the second half of the story, starting with the transition from day to night. Lots of strong visual and emotional description. Good work.
  • Solid ending, too. Good payout.

AjZach:
  • Good sense of spelling, grammar, and style. This reads very effortlessly, in that regard. Very strong prose.
  • Character and setting are strong, but the story lacks a certain sense of urgency. There's no real sense of conflict; this feels more like a curiosity than a problem. The stakes are not terribly high.
  • The emotional payout at the end matches the promise at the beginning; good work there.
  • ...And that's all I have to say, really. I wish I could offer more, but aside from the lack of conflict the story is really strong.

Wulf Moon
  • Strong sense of spelling, grammar, and style. I expected nothing less. There is one point where you use a set of double quotes inside another set of double quotes, but that is legit the only thing that bothered me in this regard.
  • I had assumed, simply because of the thread we're posting in and nature of the super secrets, that there would be a speculative element to this story. In that regard, I was disappointed. However, upon re-reading your stipulations on what manner of flash to post, I realized you'd never actually specified that the flash had to be speculative, so this was more a personal assumption than anything else.
  • I don't like the vagueness at the end of the second paragraph. I get why you did it, but it feels like withholding information from the reader.
  • There's one sentence where you use the tag "I'd think". I think that sentence could be tweaked in such a way as to avoid needing the tag, but when I tried to write up an example the sentence lost a lot of its poetry, so I suppose it can stay unless you think up something better. wotf011
  • I'm kind of sad the protagonist didn't tell his father about being published in the end, but it's a good kind of sad, you know? Nicely done with the ending.
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain

R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby RSchibler » Sat Jun 08, 2019 5:31 am

Last Words by Wulf Moon. Copyright 2019

I sat in a hard plastic hospital chair, fingers touching the book inside my jacket while I watched my father die. [BAM. In with the CSP. I always avoid doing this kind of opening because it doesn't feel very poetic or evocative, but really, seeing it done here by Wulf it occurs to me that readers come to a story expecting to be oriented. As long as it's not clunky or confusing, maybe this kind of punch in works.] Dad rested in bed, eyes closed, eyelids twitching, lips grayish-blue. The room’s window was etched in frost, streetlights glowing upon the crystals, illuminating patterns like stained glass in a chapel. [This is good because it gives us a sensory detail as well as visual - it's cold. Plus the chapel touch brings out the emotional feeling.] The air smelled of pine solvent and rubbing alcohol, and the divider curtain was drawn, giving the illusion of privacy.

I ran my fingers along the binding of the tome, felt the impression of stamped letters. My book. The latest collection of poems. My lifelong secret. My last chance to let Dad know. Becoming a poet had always been his dream, and I didn’t know if I could tell him.

Dad had known success. He’d won Realtor of the Year for Century 21 in Minnesota, had the view office in Stillwater overlooking the St. Croix River, yachts cruising past like fat swans. Everyone in town knew Dad, but it wasn’t his successful career that gave him joy.

Just writing those damnable sing-songy poems. [I might be wrong but this is where it gets worse for me. Not only did his dad not succeed with poetry but it wasn't even good.]

When I’d stop to visit at his office, he’d have me pull up a chair, ask his assistant to bring me some coffee. Awful stuff, tasted like brewed charcoal briquettes. We’d talk about his new listings and pending closings, about how I was doing after the divorce, how my teaching was going at Carleton, how the girls were doing in school. [This deepens character quickly. He's a father, divorced, a teacher. But it's not an infodump because it's brief, part of the narrative.] And every time, before we’d head for ribs at Brian’s Meat Market, he’d reach in a drawer and toss me that worn leather binder. [Ribs, sensory detail.]

“Penned some new ones, kid. Try these on for size.”

I’d give up the view of the yachts, lean back in my chair and read his poems, sweating to find something good I could comment on. Then I’d smile, because, hey, they were from his heart.

“Hmmm. "Snowfall" is good. I like this verse: The snow falls in time with memories of my mind as I chew on the rind of forsaken mankind. Reminds me of Frost.” It did remind me of Robert Frost. Thought a lot of his works were sing-songy too, repetitive rhyme and meter, but that didn’t seem to harm his career. Success is hard to argue with. [This line has double meaning for the story.]

Dad always smiled when I likened his work to famous poets. “Damn right it’s good. But do you think the Poetry Society of America would think so?” He’d flash the latest. “Form rejection. Not even personal.”

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Proud of you for not giving up. There’s something to be said for our stubborn German blood.”

“Jawohl,” he’d say, thumping his fist against the desk. “You hungry? Let’s go eat.”

I remembered Dad’s comments on my works when I was a kid. I’d be lying in bed, staring at the glittering bits in the ceiling texture, words pouring into my mind like songs from seductive sirens. No way they’d grant me sleep unless I rose to their call and danced. I’d hunch over a typewriter in the basement until two or three in the morning. As the night flowed on, the keys striking the platen would sound like volleys of thunder. I’d set a pillow under the base, wrap a towel around the sides, hope Dad wouldn't hear, and immerse myself in verse again.

It didn’t work. Inevitably, Dad would hear and come lumbering down the stairs. I’d swim up from the hazy depths, float on the surface of the muse as Dad drew up alongside, scratching the stubble on his chin. He’d stand there in his sagging underwear in a silence as long as the sea. He didn’t have to speak—I knew what his verdict would be. [Second it gets worse.]

“Rhythm seems off. Doesn’t flow. Good ideas, son, but you won’t make money at it. Trust me, I’ve tried. You’d make a great Realtor though—got my name to carry you in town. Get to bed now, you’ve got school in the morning.”

I started winning awards in national student contests. Now he’d be proud. Now Dad would know the fire burning in my heart was true. But every time I’d show him a certificate, he’d ask to see the poem, make some comment about how it didn't rhyme or the metaphors were off, and his words would rip the wind from my sails. I quit telling him about them. And as I’d head to bed after he’d finish his spiel about my wonderful future in real estate, I’d think, yeah, just what I want in life, to wear a baby-crap-yellow jacket to work every day. [Emotional punch. Who hasn't felt this kind of disappointment?]

Years later—many rejection slips later—when the New Yorker took my first poem, it was published under a pseudonym. I never told him. Then the Atlantic. Then some chapbooks through good university presses. Then St. Martin’s Press bought my collection. I never told him. I had sold. He hadn’t.

And now here I was, sitting by his side, holding his blue-veined hand, oxygen hissing like serpents through pale green tubes at his nose. The air was winter dry, and the chair had a deep slant that forced me to balance on the edge of the seat. The book in my coat felt heavy as a brick as I mulled over the best way to tell him.

I jerked as Dad sat up. “Michael, it’s you. Good. Want you to do something for me.”

“Sure, Dad. Just sit back.”

“Hell with the doctors! Listen to me, kid.”

I leaned forward.

“All my life, only thing besides family that meant anything to me were my poems.”

My throat caught. “I know, Dad.”

“Only thing I didn’t succeed in, getting published.” He coughed furiously. “Take my stuff. You’re the only one who understands. Keep sending them out for me.” [Final it gets worse, because now he CAN'T tell his dad about the book or the MC will lose all reader sympathy.]

I rubbed his weathered hand, my stomach twisting like a ball of baler twine. “I will.”

“They were good, weren’t they?”

A hot tear wandered down my cheek. [Hot tear, cold room. Sensory.] I shifted my coat, tugged the zipper a little higher.

“They were great, Dad.”

finis

[Well, Wulf, you've got a lot more experience than I do, so I didn't find much to critique. My only comment would be there's no magic up front, ha! But my thoughts on that are, magic up front is important because it orients the reader, gives them a broader setting to imagine from our details. This story DOES do that, because we have the hospital, the book of poems, the winter. It's not spec fiction, but the genre orientation is right up front. Deep emotional journey, full circle story, it's all there. It's like you know these secrets inside and out and have been practicing on them for years. Thanks for sharing and teaching us this masterclass. I'm learning a lot.]
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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sat Jun 08, 2019 6:32 am

Thank you for the critique, Becky. Very much appreciated. wotf007

I worried about the use of 'colloquially' at the time. May change it in the final version.

I was, perhaps, a bit slow or subtle when introducing the problems in this piece. Got caught up in the sensory immersion aspect.

Good point on not knowing why the creature used to be smaller. I'll clarify thusly in the final piece (doesn't change the word count, I checked).

Black bears were usually the size of small ponies; this one stood twenty hands tall with shoulders broad as a carriage.


Sorry the conversations didn't pay off on the fun. I'd originally envisioned this whole huge scene with Mother Torment chasing after Coyote and Coyote escaping by the skin of his teeth while he talks her down by appealing to her remaining fragments of humanity, but I just didn't have room for that while keeping the story under 1000 words. I may expand this and turn it into a full-fledged short, although posting this version here might count as first publishing rights--not sure due to length. Certainly won't be able to submit it, or any of my other stories featuring Mallory and Coyote, to the contest now, but that's okay. Inundation of weird westerns and all that. I love writing them, but no publisher seems to want them.

I see what you mean about the tension plateauing. Definitely need to expand the story and put the chase scene into it. Also, the exorcism and a closing conversation between Mallory and Coyote. I really think my idea here was just too big for flash. wotf019
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sat Jun 08, 2019 4:32 pm

Moon's critique on:

Cousin Coyote Meets Mother Torment
by M. Elizabeth Ticknor
999 words, copyright 2019
[Word count after taking out title and such is 1001. Over the stated limit by two words would be a reject in WotF, and in some Flash competitions and pro zines. And it puts editors in a bad mood. They don't like it when people don't follow their guidelines. Even small infractions.]

Coyote slipped into Sheriff Mallory’s skin as the man traversed the arroyo colloquially known as Devil’s Creek. Boots squelched deliciously through the thick, russet-red clay accumulated in the creek bed from recent rains. Coyote reveled in the honeyed scent of acacia blossoms. Wind sang through the catclaw bushes that tangled the creek banks. [We have a main character in a setting. Your MC is interesting, and interesting is always good. And the setting isn't in a typical woodlands. Unique environment is also good. Most of us like to travel, and exploring worlds different from our own is a big reason we read.]

Coyote missed having a body of his own. [We have a longing in the second paragraph. That's good. This could be his great need, I need to continue to find out. It is, however, a yearning, which is like a problem, so I read on.] The best part of being soulbound with a human was the sensation bleed.[<---Bleed is usually associated with bleeding out, not in. So I had to rethink direction on this word, making me stop. Better would be *the memory of sensations* or something similar.]

Mallory shivered and tugged at the rim of his battered Stetson. “You’re supposed to ask before entering my body.” He traced two fingers over a massive ursine paw-print embedded in the creek bed. The caress of mud against Mallory’s fingers sent a shiver of delight to Coyote’s core.

And you’re supposed to invite me whenever you go on a hunt. What are we after? [This is good. Conflict between two linked beings about the use of their length. It's not the real problem, but I'll read on because life isn't perfect between them, and it's an interesting thought. And now I'm back after reading on, and this is good foreshadowing of what's to come. Eventually, Coyote won't ask. He'll just take.]

“It tracks like a bear, but it's too big. Harmon Ellis says the thing’s been eating his cattle. Says it damn near ate him when he tried to chase it off.” [Good use of dialogue. Look, everyone! You need no tags. Mallory just asked him a question. When it's obvious who has the ball, you don't need to say, "He's got the ball!" You especially don't need to get in a modifier as well, he grimaced.]

They picked up the pace, tracking the beast in mutual silence--Coyote’s due to eagerness of the hunt, Mallory’s due to trepidation for where that hunt might lead.[<--good sentence, complex but smooth] They caught up with the creature as the dawning sun crested the horizon. A black bear, once the size of a small pony, now stood twenty hands tall with shoulders broad as a carriage.[good period metaphor] Small patches of fur clung to cancerous knots of raw flesh. Spurs of bone jutted out from every joint. The beast’s eyes burned like living coals, red-hot ingots [while red eyes on evil creatures is cliche', your excellent substitution metaphors for red eyes makes this work] sunken into a face twisted in a rictus of perpetual agony. One of its hind legs was little more than a ruined stump. [Note Liz's simple sentences. Is this sentence burdened with how ruined the stump is, perhaps gangrene set in, matted with puss and blood, descriptions of every scab and scar? No. *Little more than a ruined stump* tells us all we need to know. Less is more.]

Coyote let out a mad cackle [is Coyote insane? because this word choice for his laugh makes me question his sanity, and I'm not sure you want me doing that. And now that I've read on, yes, you want the mad cackle. Coyote is not what he seems. : ) ] even as the blood drained from Mallory's face. Oh, this will be fun. It looks like our cuddly little friend is being consumed by a spirit of pain.

Mallory gritted his teeth and whispered, "You have a bizarre definition of the word 'fun'. How do we stop it?"

Exorcism, most likely.

"You want me... to exorcise... a bear the size of a clydesdale."<--Proper name, needs to be capitalized.

All we have to do is incapacitate it and--

"How?!"

Don't worry. I'm sure you'll think of something. Coyote poured himself into every crack and crevice of Mallory’s being. Raw energy burned through the body and reforged it, pushing fresh strength into every fiber of muscle. In that moment, Coyote felt truly alive.

Perhaps too alive.

He searched through Mallory’s mind, but found no traces of consciousness to compliment his own. He must have pushed too hard, too quickly, and knocked the sheriff out. [They appear to be friends, so this rings false. It wouldn't just be interesting, it would freak Coyote out. He might have killed his friend, or turned him into a ghost. There would be a frantic search, guilt, just a bunch of emotions tumbling through him, instead of saying, "Well, that makes things interesting..." As a reader, I'm annoyed. And now, having read on, I understand. But you are playing a dangerous game here. Because it's short, it works. Longer, and the reader could very well feel duped, and be annoyed.]

“Well, that makes things interesting.” Coyote ran his tongue along suddenly-sharp teeth and giggled as blood flecked in his mouth. The salty, metallic tang invigorated him.

The wind shifted, sending his scent straight toward the beast. It lumbered around to face him, sniffing the air.

No point in hiding, then. Coyote approached, his mouth stretched into a face-splitting grin. “Noble spirit! You may call me Cousin Coyote.” He scoured Mallory’s memories for knowledge of the rituals and objects needed to perform an exorcism. He’d witnessed Mallory do such things before, but had never willingly involved himself in the execution.

The bear gave a respectful nod. “I am Mother Torment.”

“Why have you claimed this sorry creature? I’m certain it’s done nothing to deserve such torture.”

“It fell victim to a hunter’s trap and gave itself over to me in order to escape. I grow fond of this body. lt suits me well.”

“Not for much longer. You’ve already burned it half away.”

“Consumption of flesh prevents decay.”

“Slows, yes. Prevents, no. I’d guess you’ve got a week at best, even at peak efficiency. [peak efficiency seems to modern for this piece] That’s what happens when you run your host ragged.”

Mother Torment tilted her head to the side. “How do you keep your host so pristine?”

“What, this old thing?” Coyote tipped his cowboy hat and took a playful bow. “I take a gentler approach. Mutual symbiosis [if these are alien beings, I'm okay with the advanced terminology. But they're spirits, so symbiosis doesn't work for me. But I like this-->] with a touch of light possession.”

Mother Torment growled. “A simple haunt. Not the same. This body, it feels things. Reminds me of when I was human.”

Coyote shuddered. All spirits had been human once [a good info drop, and a good example of how you build worlds, a bit here, a bit there, instead of a massive info dump up front], but the older they got the more likely they were to lose old memories to the new. Coyote’s memories of humanity were ancient and weather-worn, rocks eroded by the rivers of time. [good, professional metaphors that work within the feel of the story] Most of what was left related in some way to his current existence--the thrill of the hunt, the word games that taught him how to lie, the first time he’d seen the world through an animal’s eyes. He’d had parents, siblings, even a wife and children, but their names and faces had long since evaporated like fog in sunlight.

Gods, he wanted to live again. [Now we have it. It's not just a passing longing. He really wants this. You've amped up his desire, his need here.]

Mother Torment paced around him, eyes blazing. “You miss it too. I can feel your pain.” She licked her lips. “Join me. We can burn together. A short life, but a powerful one.”

Coyote shook his head. “If you keep this up, it’s like an addiction. You’ll want another body, and another, and on and on until you lose so much of yourself in your hosts that [cut *that*] you’ll burn away too. You’re a grand old monster.[I would use the term *beast*]. She's inside an animal and likes haunting them.] You deserve a better end. Let go. Return home.”

Mother Torment fell silent for a long moment, then let out a mournful sigh. “This one had cubs. That is why she gave herself to me. If you see them safe, I can let her go.”

“Show me the den. I’ll ensure their survival.”

That evening, surrounded by trilling [I associate trills with birds and frogs, not bears. Bleating, perhaps.] bear cubs, the pull to live was so strong Coyote’s soul ached. He yearned to steal Mallory’s body with every fiber of his being.

But, no. Not yet. Mallory had become more attuned to Coyote’s spirit through repeated visitations, but even now he was only resilient enough to play host for a month before his body burned away. [And now we have a twist. Coyote isn't really the sherriff's friend. Coyote is a parasite, and he intends to consume his host at some point in order to feel alive again.]

There would be other hunts. Coyote simply needed to bide his time.
_______________________
So we come to the end, and our hero is really an antihero. He plays up friendly and helpful to the sheriff, but it's all a ruse. He's just trying to get more use out of his body, and one day, he won't let the sheriff back in. In Flash, these kind of 'turn it upside down' stories work well, because they're short. So this story works, and Liz gives us an interesting premise in a unique world. Well done! As to theme, my prompt was A TOUGH CHOICE. Sorry, on this I have to say not as well done. Think of this as trying to sell to a themed anthology. The editor calls for stories, and says the title of this collection of Flash pieces shall be TOUGH CHOICES. Were I the editor, would I buy the story, even though I like it? Probably not. There is no choice here. Coyote is a beast of his nature. The only choice he's making is not to devour his host too soon. That's not really a tough choice, that's called survival.

If you expand the story, I am not sure it would do so well in our Western culture. We like our heroes to be good guys, or at least to find their moment of redemption and become good guys in the end. Thomas Covenant in LORD FOUL'S BANE was an antihero--he rapes a kind girl early on--and I never liked him after that. I didn't enjoy the book because I never felt he redeemed himself, and I read no further in the series. I don't like reading stories about protagonists that harm other people--I find there's enough of that in real life, and I go to books to see those kind of people put in their place, not to live vicariously through them.

In Flash, it's fine, because I don't have a lot of time invested in the protagonist's *skin.* : ) But if you expand this, I'd like to see Coyote's greed replaced by growing friendship with his host, and later, remorse as he pushes his friend out and starts burning out his friend's body. Even a sacrifice at the end to find Mallory and restore him to his body through burning up the power in Coyote's spirit form. That would be a very interesting emotional experience, as well as satisfying because Coyote redeems himself in our eyes, giving us a fitting Western culture ending. As always, it's your story. I'm just tossing out ideas, and only if you wish to expand it. This twisty tale works well as is.

Thanks for taking the challenge, Liz! We appreciate it!

All the beast,

Beastmaster Moon
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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sat Jun 08, 2019 4:58 pm

Wulf Moon wrote:Word count after taking out title and such is 1001. Over the stated limit by two words would be a reject in WotF, and in some Flash competitions and pro zines. And it puts editors in a bad mood. They don't like it when people don't follow their guidelines. Even small infractions.


Google Docs is lying to me somehow, then. I checked compulsively as I wrote, I just checked again, and I swear my document says 999.

Wulf Moon wrote:If you expand the story, I am not sure it would do so well in our Western culture. We like our heroes to be good guys, or at least to find their moment of redemption and become good guys in the end. Thomas Covenant in LORD FOUL'S BANE was an antihero--he rapes a kind girl early on--and I never liked him after that. I didn't enjoy the book because I never felt he redeemed himself, and I read no further in the series. I don't like reading stories about protagonists that harm other people--I find there's enough of that in real life, and I go to books to see those kind of people put in their place, not to live vicariously through them.

In Flash, it's fine, because I don't have a lot of time invested in the protagonist's *skin.* : ) But if you expand this, I'd like to see Coyote's greed replaced by growing friendship with his host, and later, remorse as he pushes his friend out and starts burning out his friend's body. Even a sacrifice at the end to find Mallory and restore him to his body through burning up the power in Coyote's spirit form. That would be a very interesting emotional experience, as well as satisfying because Coyote redeems himself in our eyes, giving us a fitting Western culture ending. As always, it's your story. I'm just tossing out ideas, and only if you wish to expand it. This twisty tale works well as is.


I'd never really written flash on purpose before, so I did some reading about it before I started this piece. One of the big tips was, don't give your story a proper ending--leave the reader thinking. That's a big part of what led me to this particular ending.

This is the first story I've written from Coyote's perspective, but I've written two other shorts from Mallory's perspective. I'm going to make another attempt at writing a novel about these characters soon (writing this story led me to some interesting revelations that will bring more depth to the book). I won't give spoilers, but I can promise you that Mallory and Coyote are both dynamic characters and the nature of their relationship will change multiple times. Coyote's not all bad. He's just not all good, either. Trickster characters are special, that way. wotf011
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sat Jun 08, 2019 5:17 pm

And now I've read Becky's critique on Liz's piece--I didn't read it before mine so I wouldn't bias my critique. I agree there is a problem with the MC saying, "This will be fun," and also promising that there's going to be an exorcism, and then the writer hands us something else. Totally valid. However, for me, it's not as big of a deal because, as it turns out, this story was never about an exorcism. In fact, it's a story about spirits inhabiting bodies, and acknowledging they're all in the same club. It's not a nice club, it's just that Coyote says they can be nicer about how they play in the club. But the story does need a fix. Coyote can indeed say there needs to be an exorcism to Mallory--you'll note his heart is not really in it. He's very nonchalant about it all. Given the ending, this part can work. But not the "this will be fun" part. It is a miscue, because Coyote wouldn't be thinking that. But it's an excellent chance to show Coyote's dilemma, and to hint at what the real deal going on is all about. If you can do that, you can actually prep your reader's minds for what's to come.

Thanks for the thoughtful critiques on everyone's Flash stories, Liz. And on mine. Very neat and orderly, too! (Becky, I'll get to your critique on mine in a bit, but thank you as well!) As for the sentence in my story with "I'd think," it does work. Because it's in first person, the MC actually has to tell you in that spot he was thinking that thought. I played with it after your comment, and it can't come out. And yeah, the ending is bittersweet. The theme was, after all, tough choices. : )

That story is actually very true to life, but I'm more fiction writer than poet, and my father is still alive. And yes, he does have that folder of those damnable sing-songy poems. He titled it, "Words That Rhyme, Some of the Time."

I rest my case. wotf001

All the beast!

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sat Jun 08, 2019 5:29 pm

Liz wrote: Google Docs is lying to me somehow, then. I checked compulsively as I wrote, I just checked again, and I swear my document says 999.
_______________________________

Google Docs and Microsoft Word aren't in perfect harmony? Whodathunk? The world, it appears, is not a perfect, uniform place. : )

No worries. Just trying to teach people that adhering to guidelines is important. Sorry that you were my guinea pig. : )

I should clarify something. I think the story has a lot of merit and could easily be expanded. And I do understand the role of the Trickster. But if your Trickster eventually sucks the life out of his friend to enjoy a month's fleshly pleasure, as is his intention in this Flash piece, that would be considered an evil act. It works in Flash, because it's short. But spending a long time in someone's skin that has evil intentions? In a novel? That's not fun for most readers. Do go for the novel with this! Just remember readers come to stories with expectations. Deliver, and they'll buy your next book.

~Moon~
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Q4 Vol 35 "Super-Duper Moongirl..."
Critters Readers Award: #1, "War Dog," Best SF&F Short Story of 2018
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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sat Jun 08, 2019 6:25 pm

AND NOW

WHITHOUT FURTHER ADO

BEHOLD!

Phase 2 of Moon's ECONOMY OF WORDS Million Billion Percent (give or take a few decimals) Writing Improvement Exercise!

Are you ready? ARE YOU REALLY READY? THEN DANCE, MONKEYS, DANCE!

(I really do have a Spotify Dance Mix with that title...)

For everyone that just created their 999 Flash (yes, even those of you that kept it close to the vest), I want you to tell that same story in 500 words or less. STOP CRYING! YOU HEARD ME! IT CAN BE DONE! I will give you a hint. The theme was A TOUGH CHOICE. If you focus on that theme (and if your story had the theme in it!) you'll find there are things in there that really don't have to do with tough choices.

Your ship is sinking. You now have half the room you previously had to tell your story. Start tossing stuff over the side. That tanning bed you brought on board in case the days were cloudy? Toss it out! That glittering gown you brought for the captain's ball? Ain't happening now! Toss it out! That Yorkshire terrier you claimed was a "service pet"? Toss it...Wait! Keep that cutie, what's wrong with you? It luvs and trusts you! Besides, everyone's a sucker for a story with a dog...

500 words or less, posted by next Friday. (Except for Dragonchef. You need to bulk yours up first, buddy. You need more meat on those bones before you can pull out your fileting knife.)

Okay, STRIP! It's time to make those TOUGH CHOICES!

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Q4 Vol 35 "Super-Duper Moongirl..."
Critters Readers Award: #1, "War Dog," Best SF&F Short Story of 2018
NEW! "Weep No More..." DEEP MAGIC Fall 2019 http://amazon.com/author/wulfmoon

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby chuckt » Sat Jun 08, 2019 6:36 pm

Thanks for the critique Peony. Appreciate it and good points.
Last edited by chuckt on Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby GlibWizard » Sat Jun 08, 2019 6:52 pm

Since criticism has been expertly covered, if a humble lurker may pop up to offer only praise as you head into part 2...

chuckt, I love the idea of Nomura adding an organic and fickle element to space travel. Your characters have a very interesting problem to solve.

RSchibler, I like the contrast between the old man’s grand and self-destructive actions and his tenderness toward his granddaughter. I am also left with the feeling that you’ve chosen the perfect moment in a larger chain of events to tell as a flash story.

Dragonchef, one of my favorite tricks of short fiction is when a twist at the end makes me re-read the whole piece. I enjoyed it and see why your first impulse was to keep your cards so close to your vest.

vsutherland01, I am always moved by good dogs going to their rest and you captured so many of the details of an old canine so well. Have you considered telling the story from Ora’s perspective?

AjZach, your fairy tale gave me such a clear mental image of the house that I feel like I visited it and dug around too, or at the very least turned the page in my book to see an old-fashioned watercolor illustration.

Wulf Moon, I am impressed with your ability to drop in snippets of different styles (from rap lyrics to painful poetry) as the story requires it.

disgruntledpeony, I love how economically the easy banter between Mallory and Coyote establishes their friendly relationship (and it feels fun).

Thank you all for sharing your work and letting the rest of us see the super secrets applied! (I'm following along at home on a delay, like someone who taped the big sports match... or more accurately, like someone who waited 30 years for Bob Ross to be on Netflix before taking up painting.)

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sat Jun 08, 2019 9:51 pm

Thank you, GlibWizard! I'm sure everyone appreciates your kind words. I did! Thanks for tuning in!

Cheers!

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Q4 Vol 35 "Super-Duper Moongirl..."
Critters Readers Award: #1, "War Dog," Best SF&F Short Story of 2018
NEW! "Weep No More..." DEEP MAGIC Fall 2019 http://amazon.com/author/wulfmoon

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sat Jun 08, 2019 11:23 pm

And now to Becky's comments. She wrote:
Well, Wulf, you've got a lot more experience than I do, so I didn't find much to critique. My only comment would be there's no magic up front, ha! But my thoughts on that are, magic up front is important because it orients the reader, gives them a broader setting to imagine from our details. This story DOES do that, because we have the hospital, the book of poems, the winter. It's not spec fiction, but the genre orientation is right up front. Deep emotional journey, full circle story, it's all there. It's like you know these secrets inside and out and have been practicing on them for years. Thanks for sharing and teaching us this masterclass. I'm learning a lot.]
----------------------------------------------------------

Glad it's helping, Becky! I've critiqued a lot of the challenge member's stories now, and I've seen similar needs, and wondered how I could help. So I thought about an exercise that might bump people forward before the challenge ends. Outside of entering every quarter with a fresh story--which helped me more than anything--I realized there was something else that gave my writing an incredible boost. We're all working on that exercise right now, and I'll explain it in more detail soon.

I actually wrote "Last Words" back in 1996--sorry about the copyright notice saying 2019. I wanted people to think about the story itself, not when I wrote it. So yes, I do know these secrets inside and out, and I have been practicing them for years--decades even. And I will continue to practice with them--most are simply the elements of every professional story. Or the things you have to avoid to make a professional story. : )

"Last Words" actually failed on a critical Super Secret, and you and Liz both caught it: MAGIC UP FRONT. FUTURE TECH UP FRONT. I was hoping somebody would catch that. : ) But this is a literary piece that I thought would teach my Economy of Words lesson nicely. It went through all three phases you're about to go through. It is one of many other Flash pieces I produced through an entire year of doing this exercise. And who says we can't read literary pieces? You are correct--I stated up front we were reading a literary story. I promised my genre and I delivered on my genre promise.

Flash is actually easy to write, but very difficult to write well. On short stories and novelettes, mistakes can slip by. But with fewer words in Flash, every error stands out. You also have to get in and get out quickly. There''s no space to screw around with alarm clocks going off, getting out of bed, looking in mirrors to sneak in a character description. You hit the ground running. Character, in a setting, with a problem. Getting it in the first sentence is tough, but it's a good thing to practice and learn. Doesn't mean you always have to do that, but it's potent when you do. You drop your readers immediately into a tough situation, and they have to run with it. Like your protagonist, they have no choice.

Don't be afraid to do that. In fact, practice lines that accomplish CSP in one opening sentence. They are rare in most stories. They are hard to do. But they shine when a writer pulls off a good one.

The other thing Flash does is make you think about word choice. You don't have room for purple prose. It might even be vivid descriptions and wondrous literary wordsmithing--but it's useless to the plot. In Flash, you have to answer "Why are we here?" immediately. And the next question follows. "Okay. Now where are we going?" And then you better take us there pronto.

When you have that down, when you really get it, your longer works--like short stories in this contest--are going to do the same thing. They will declare why they are here. They will promise where they are going. And they will have an economy of words in doing so, all of them potent. Because every word is necessary to tell this tale.

No more, no less.
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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby RSchibler » Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:20 am

My word count says 498. Wulf, that was brutal and I only had to cut 100 words. But it was worthwhile.

I first put it through the 10% solution, except for the last 3 steps. This got me from 600 to 540. Then I focused on my theme (dying of the light) and threw out everything that wasn't that. That got me down to 518. From there I read (and re-read) every sentence, cutting words and simplifying the prose. I'm not sure I liked this last step, as I worry it diluted some voice. For instance, I changed some separate words to contractions and cut some of the more poetic phrasing. Then I read it out loud. Not bad, not bad. At any rate, here we have Dying of the Light.

It was not a grand death.

Almost mundane, in fact. Movement slowed, light faded. Mass once vibrant seeped into thin wisps before vaporizing into nothingness.

The old man stared from Sol Invictus Station toward the distant sphere of fading solar brilliance. "Well, that just won't do."

He used his cane to step over prone figures, almost catching the toe of his blue slipper on an outstretched hand. Both slippers and cane bore a scarlet splatter. They should not have tried to stop him. Their ignorance didn't make him wrong, after all. For something so grand, a quiet death would be a universal injustice. They'd called the star a dwarf, him a maniac. He settled onto the stiff work stool, exhaling stale station air with habit's groan. He'd make it right.

"Grampa Sal," said a small voice behind him. "Is it time?"

He turned to smile at Dorah. Six years old, and she alone understood. From the beginning, three years ago when she came to him, she'd listened. Before she'd understood the dream, she understood him. As her father never had. "Would you like to push the button?"

She clambered over bodies to reach him. "What will happen first?"

He chuckled and pulled her onto his lap. "First, a long streak of light, whoosh. Then a long silence. Then," he leaned down and whispered, "boom!"
She giggled and bounced. Yes, he could see she understood. Something so beautiful should not fade. It should rage, expand, transform. He typed the final command. Dorah's tiny fist curled and slammed onto the shiny red button.

Whoosh.

Silence.

BOOM.


The station shuddered as waves of protest screamed into emptiness. Dorah cheered and clapped. Sal grinned, triumphal tears weaving down wrinkles to drip into her hair. The white blossom burst outward, absorbing planets one by one.

"So fast," Dorah whispered. "Will it reach us?"

"No," he patted her hand. "We're far away." But as the nova spread, he wondered. Had he miscalculated? No, he couldn't have. Dorah cringed away from the stunning brilliance, light obscuring all else. Her insubstantial frame shivered and he drew her closer. In this of all moments, he had not wanted her to be afraid.

They began to sweat, the inexorable press of matter and light raging toward them. He set Dorah aside--though she cried now--and pulled up his calculations. Had he missed a step? Slipped a decimal somewhere?

No, the shields had failed. A weakness beyond his control. They should have been far enough away, but there was no one left to pilot the station. He had seen to that.

Dorah whimpered. The temperature climbed past tolerance. He turned, tears of a different sort boiling away before they could drop. He'd chosen wrong. Grandness and fury befit a star, but she shouldn't have died this way.

He sank to his knees, held his arms out. She toppled into them and together they fell to the floor.

Whoosh.

He whispered, holding her close. "Rage, rage, against the dying..."

Silence.

BOOM.


END
Last edited by RSchibler on Sun Jun 09, 2019 8:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
Trying to refute entropy with words.

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:25 am

Cousin Coyote Meets Mother Torment, Take II (500 words according to Google Docs, because I've written all of this on my phone).

#

Coyote slipped into Sheriff Mallory’s skin as the man traversed Devil’s Creek. Boots squelched through russet-red clay accumulated in the arroyo from recent rains. Wind sang through tangled catclaw bushes, carrying the honeyed scent of acacia blossoms.

Coyote missed having a body. This was the perfect night for a run.

Mallory shivered. “You’re supposed to ask before entering.”

[i]And you’re supposed to invite me on every hunt. What are we after?[/i]

“Tracks like a bear, but bigger. It's been eating Harmon Ellis's cattle. Damn near ate [i]him[/i] when he tried to chase it off.”

They caught up with the beast at sunrise. It stood twenty hands tall, with shoulders broad as a carriage. Patches of fur clung to cancerous knots of flesh; spurs of bone jutted from every joint. One hind leg ended in a ruined stump.

[i]Oh, my. Our friend is being consumed by a pain spirit.[/i]

Mallory grimaced. "How do we stop it?"

[i]Exorcism, most likely.[/i]

"You want me... to exorcise... a bear the size of a Clydesdale."

[i]Just incapacitate it--[/i]

"How?!"

[i]Don't worry. You'll think of something.[/i] Coyote poured himself into every crack and crevice of Mallory’s being. In that moment, he felt fully alive.

Perhaps [i]too[/i] alive.

He searched Mallory’s mind. It was silent. He'd pushed too hard, too quickly. Mallory was unconscious.

Coyote's mouth stretched into a face-splitting grin. "Whoops! New plan.” He approached the beast, arms spread wide. “Noble spirit! Call me Cousin Coyote.”

The bear nodded respectfully. “I am Mother Torment.”

“Why have you claimed this sorry creature? I sincerely doubt it deserves such torture.”

“It gave itself over to escape a hunter's trap.”

“You've run your host ragged, mother. Already burned it half away.”

Mother Torment tilted her head. “How do you keep yours so pristine?”

“What, this old thing?” Coyote tipped his hat and took a bow. “I take a gentler approach. Shared consciousness with a touch of light possession.”

Mother Torment growled. “Not the same. This body, it [i]feels[/i] things. Reminds me of when I was human.”

Coyote shuddered. His own memories of humanity were ancient and weather-worn. All that remained was the thrill of the hunt, the word games that taught him how to lie, the first time he’d seen the world through an animal’s eyes...

Gods, he wanted to live again.

Mother Torment circled him, eyes blazing. “You miss it too. I feel your pain. Join me. We can burn together. A short life, but a powerful one.”

Coyote shook his head. “It’s an addiction. You’ll want another body, and another, until you lose so much of yourself that [i]your[/i] soul burns away. You deserve better. Return home.”

Mother Torment sighed. “This one has cubs. If you see them safe, I can let her go.”

“Show me the den.”

That evening, surrounded by mewling cubs, Coyote yearned to claim Mallory’s body for his own. It would be so easy. All it would take was one… simple… push.

But, no. There would be other hunts. Coyote released his hold.
Last edited by disgruntledpeony on Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby RSchibler » Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:30 am

Peony, that's great. The focus on the goal, the struggle of wanting to live in a body again, really works. I really liked the concentration on dialogue. And for me this time, it was fun! (Whoops, new plan! wotf001) I got chills on your last line. Well done! wotf009
Trying to refute entropy with words.

Vol34: R, HM, R
Vol35: HM, R, R, HM
Vol36: R, HM, HM, SHM

ALWAYS available for critiques. PM me.


https://www.flametreepublishing.com/A-Dying-Planet-Short-Stories-ISBN-9781787557819.html

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:51 am

Reposting with proper formatting. I initially forgot to drop the BBC in, and for some reason when I tried to edit it in later it just... wouldn't... work properly.

Cousin Coyote Meets Mother Torment, Take II (500 words according to Google Docs, because I've written all of this on my phone).

#

Coyote slipped into Sheriff Mallory’s skin as the man traversed Devil’s Creek. Boots squelched through russet-red clay accumulated in the arroyo from recent rains. Wind sang through tangled catclaw bushes, carrying the honeyed scent of acacia blossoms.

Coyote missed having a body. This was the perfect night for a run.

Mallory shivered. “You’re supposed to ask before entering.”

And you’re supposed to invite me on every hunt. What are we after?

“Tracks like a bear, but bigger. It's been eating Harmon Ellis's cattle. Damn near ate him when he tried to chase it off.”

They caught up with the beast at sunrise. It stood twenty hands tall, with shoulders broad as a carriage. Patches of fur clung to cancerous knots of flesh; spurs of bone jutted from every joint. One hind leg ended in a ruined stump.

Oh, my. Our friend is being consumed by a pain spirit.

Mallory grimaced. "How do we stop it?"

Exorcism, most likely.

"You want me... to exorcise... a bear the size of a Clydesdale."

Just incapacitate it--

"How?!"

Don't worry. You'll think of something. Coyote poured himself into every crack and crevice of Mallory’s being. In that moment, he felt fully alive.

Perhaps too alive.

He searched Mallory’s mind. It was silent. He'd pushed too hard, too quickly. Mallory was unconscious.

Coyote's mouth stretched into a face-splitting grin. "Whoops! New plan.” He approached the beast, arms spread wide. “Noble spirit! Call me Cousin Coyote.”

The bear nodded respectfully. “I am Mother Torment.”

“Why have you claimed this sorry creature? I sincerely doubt it deserves such torture.”

“It gave itself over to escape a hunter's trap.”

“You've run your host ragged, mother. Already burned it half away.”

Mother Torment tilted her head. “How do you keep yours so pristine?”

“What, this old thing?” Coyote tipped his hat and took a bow. “I take a gentler approach. Shared consciousness with a touch of light possession.”

Mother Torment growled. “Not the same. This body, it feels things. Reminds me of when I was human.”

Coyote shuddered. His own memories of humanity were ancient and weather-worn. All that remained was the thrill of the hunt, the word games that taught him how to lie, the first time he’d seen the world through an animal’s eyes...

Gods, he wanted to live again.

Mother Torment circled him, eyes blazing. “You miss it too. I feel your pain. Join me. We can burn together. A short life, but a powerful one.”

Coyote shook his head. “It’s an addiction. You’ll want another body, and another, until you lose so much of yourself that your soul burns away. You deserve better. Return home.”

Mother Torment sighed. “This one has cubs. If you see them safe, I can let her go.”

“Show me the den.”

That evening, surrounded by mewling cubs, Coyote yearned to claim Mallory’s body for his own. It would be so easy. All it would take was one… simple… push.

But, no. There would be other hunts. Coyote released his hold.
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain

R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sun Jun 09, 2019 8:03 am

RSchibler wrote:Peony, that's great. The focus on the goal, the struggle of wanting to live in a body again, really works. I really liked the concentration on dialogue. And for me this time, it was fun! (Whoops, new plan! wotf001) I got chills on your last line. Well done! wotf009


Ditto, and I'll comment as well later. Becky, could you clean up your formatting, please? Pasting into here requires some extra work so it's readable. And I say that to all, not singling you out. Present your best work. There are a lot of zines and contests that require pasting RTF into some portal. I always go back through and clean up, because it seems there are always formatting issues. Present your best work. Reset your italics. Set off paragraphs if they got lost. You want the editor to read it without one complaint. Because he's got 1000 more to read, and his tired eyes are just waiting for a reason to pass and move on to an easier one. Also, Becky, you have one tiny error. In a 500, it stands out like the beacon on a lighthouse. Fix that. : )

Looking forward to the rest. Take your time--you have the week. Watch each of these as they come in. Go back to the longer version and compare. It's a very interesting exercise, one I practiced almost every week for a year straight twenty-three years ago...

Cheers!
Last edited by Wulf Moon on Mon Jun 10, 2019 12:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Q4 Vol 35 "Super-Duper Moongirl..."
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NEW! "Weep No More..." DEEP MAGIC Fall 2019 http://amazon.com/author/wulfmoon

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby RSchibler » Sun Jun 09, 2019 8:16 am

Wulf Moon wrote:You want the editor to read it without one complaint. Because he's got 1000 more to read, and his tired eyes are just waiting for a reason to pass and move on to an easier one. Also, Becky, you have one tiny error. In a 500, it stands out like the beacon on a lighthouse. Fix that. : )


I think I fixed it, silly error. Or I had two... wotf018 I spaced out the paragraphs as well. Hopefully the editor's eyes brighten instead of dim.
Trying to refute entropy with words.

Vol34: R, HM, R
Vol35: HM, R, R, HM
Vol36: R, HM, HM, SHM

ALWAYS available for critiques. PM me.


https://www.flametreepublishing.com/A-Dying-Planet-Short-Stories-ISBN-9781787557819.html

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sun Jun 09, 2019 4:02 pm

RSchibler wrote:
Wulf Moon wrote:You want the editor to read it without one complaint. Because he's got 1000 more to read, and his tired eyes are just waiting for a reason to pass and move on to an easier one. Also, Becky, you have one tiny error. In a 500, it stands out like the beacon on a lighthouse. Fix that. : )


I think I fixed it, silly error. Or I had two... wotf018 I spaced out the paragraphs as well. Hopefully the editor's eyes brighten instead of dim.


Thanks, Becky! That's pro. Good on ya', mate.

Cheers!
Wulf Moon http://driftweave.com
Q4 Vol 35 "Super-Duper Moongirl..."
Critters Readers Award: #1, "War Dog," Best SF&F Short Story of 2018
NEW! "Weep No More..." DEEP MAGIC Fall 2019 http://amazon.com/author/wulfmoon

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby chuckt » Sun Jun 09, 2019 6:45 pm

I will do the exercise but I bet I shouldn’t post it? No way not to reveal the entire story if I cut it in half. Interesting exercise Wulf.
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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Sun Jun 09, 2019 9:44 pm

I wrote a version of "Last Words" in 1996 for an online flash fiction contest called The Sixty Second Novelist Writer of the Year Competition. The contest ran for one year. Each week began with a short prompt, and entrants from around the world submitted during the week. Everyone could see and comment on the submissions, and then a panel of professionals selected the first, second, and third place winners for the week. There were thousands of entries for the year, just like Writers of the Future, but in this contest, many professional writers, newspaper reporters, editors, lyricists--you name it--shared in the weekly competition. The pros always stood out--they were excellent writers. At the end of the contest year, a panel of twelve professional judges selected the Top 10 from 52 first place winners. Two of my stories placed in the Top 10. One of them was awarded Writer of the Year.

"Last Words" is not my Grand Prize winner. But it was the other in the Top Ten, and one of those pros that judged it? She happened to be the editor of a famous online literary 'zine of the day: The Rose and Thorn. She asked me to expand it and submit it to her magazine. I did, she published it, and now I've shared it with you. I figure it's been vetted twice. Should make for a good example of Flash to help everyone out.

I'm going to help you further. Here's a blow by blow account of how I constructed this, and why I did the things I did. I hate dissecting this critter, but knowing the internal organs might help you in constructing your own Frankenstein--er, I mean, story! And we're not opening up a fresh body from the cemetery--er, morgue!--this is just a frog from a jar. Shouldn't be too complicated to see what makes him tick. I hope you're not squeamish...


Last Words by Wulf Moon. Copyright 1996. <--Title is my first promise. I get to set the theme and stage. This is your peek inside the wrapper, your first tease. First impressions count. Make sure your title counts. Oh, and don't put copyright on your manuscripts, that's noob stuff. I'm just doing that here because it's a public place, and it's the author--me--saying, "Hey, I'm sharing this to help you, but don't you go printing this out and sharing it with the world. It's my work." Okay, back to dissection. Get me a scalpel and swabs, stat!]

I sat in a hard plastic hospital chair, fingers touching the book inside my jacket while I watched my father die. Dad rested in bed, eyes closed, eyelids twitching, lips grayish-blue. The room’s window was etched in frost, streetlights glowing upon the crystals, illuminating patterns like stained glass in a chapel. The air smelled of pine solvent and rubbing alcohol, and the divider curtain was drawn, giving the illusion of privacy.
___________________
[First person POV, so we have our character immediately. In first person, I tend to assume gender by the author's name. It's not always true, but as a reader I start with that, and expect the author to find a way to tell me pretty darn quick if that's not the case. (See how I did it in "Super-Duper Moongirl...") Alas, many do not, and I have to back up my vision of the narrator, sometimes many pages in, when they don't reveal gender is the opposite of what I have taken for granted. And then there's some that intentionally play head games with gender. Don't do that. Be plain and up front--your readers will thank you.

We have CSP in one opening sentence. A character (first person narrator, assumed male) in a setting (a hospital) with a problem (father dying). These kind of CSP openings are challenging to accomplish, but the payoff is they are quite strong. Practice doing them. They have potency and immediacy, and *in medias res* is today's juicy cheeseburger.

You'll also see I deepen the setting, and toss a lot of symbolism in as well that sets MOOD for the entire piece. I can't say enough how important it is to ground your readers in a scene in your opening. Give them strong cues as to where they are at, what the weather is like, if it's daylight or night--they need all this at the start or they'll feel like they're floating in a vacuum and their minds will decide to set their own stage. It's your job to ground them with a set stage! This is your story. And I always treat my environment as a hidden character where the world is smiling, crying, rejoicing secretly as the need may be for the scene we are in. In this case, I promised a death scene in the title, and I give the room uncomfortable environmental details similar to a funeral in a chapel. Last Words, last rites. Somebody is about to die. Don't think this is going to be a happy story, dear reader, it's a TRAGEDY, but it's got some spiritual vibes going in the room. Perhaps we'll find some redemption for someone? Everything, even your opening, should lead toward your inevitable climax and conclusion.]
____________________________________
I ran my fingers along the binding of the tome, felt the impression of stamped letters. My book. The latest collection of poems. My lifelong secret. My last chance to let Dad know. Becoming a poet had always been his dream, and I didn’t know if I could tell him.
______________________
[So we've got our CSP, but what's the real problem? What's our PROMISE to the reader, our stated purpose as to what this story is about. Read that last line again. I'm doing a fanfare here. I'm saying, "Hear, ye', hear, ye'! This is what this tale shall be about dare ye read on!" Shakespeare made the promise in many an opening of his plays. Read the prologue of Romeo and Juliet. In fancy verse he says, "Hey there, theater going dudes! Just in case you came here for some laughs, I'll give you some laughs, but don't think this is a comedy, it's a tragedy! So don't hang me when it's over, 'kay? I warned you! This play is all about two families that have a most righteous feud with one another, and a dude and dudette from each of these families fall in love but will come to a most unfortunate end. Give us two hours, and we'll make it worth your time. Trust us, we're professionals!"
You do the same. It's how stories have been told from the beginning of time. But be discreet about it. No one likes a trumpet blown in their ear.]
_____________________________
Dad had known success. He’d won Realtor of the Year for Century 21 in Minnesota, had the view office in Stillwater overlooking the St. Croix River, yachts cruising past like fat swans. Everyone in town knew Dad, but it wasn’t his successful career that gave him joy.
Just writing those damnable sing-songy poems.

____________________________
Wow. Deeper problem than we thought. Dad is really the antagonist here! He has wanted more than anything else what his son secretly holds inside his jacket! And all sons want the approval of their father--this is a deep, intrinsic human need. What's more, Dad's poetry is not very good in the son's opinion. And the son has a career in poetry to back his opinion up! What to do, what to do?

This is done to ratchet up tension. The higher the stakes, the greater the tension, the more the reader will sit on the edge of their own seat and read on.

Also, there's another secret here. Dad does not only want what the son has, Dad is very powerful. He's not just Dad, he's successful Dad. He's not just Realtor, he's Realtor of the Year. He doesn't simply have an office, he has the fancy view office overlooking the river and luxury yachts. Intimidating! And with all of this, what he wants more than anything else in the world is the thing his son holds just inside his jacket!

You have here a preview of a future Super Secret. The stronger your antagonist, the more your protagonist will be challenged. Strong antagonists make for strong stories. Their superior strength challenges your hero to find ways to push beyond their normal abilities. They force your hero to grow.]
_________________________________

When I’d stop to visit at his office, he’d have me pull up a chair, ask his assistant to bring me some coffee. Awful stuff, tasted like brewed charcoal briquettes. We’d talk about his new listings and pending closings, about how I was doing after the divorce, how my teaching was going at Carleton, how the girls were doing in school. And every time, before we’d head for ribs at Brian’s Meat Market, he’d reach in a drawer and toss me that worn leather binder.

“Penned some new ones, kid. Try these on for size.”

__________________________
[And now I drop in some life details of our hero. He loves his dad, and regularly visited him in his office. He has two girls. He's been through a divorce. He's some kind of teacher. He likes ribs. He's a guy most of us can identify with, even like. He's one of us; we're willing to spend some time with this guy.

And then the shoe drops. Dad wants his son to approve of HIM, of HIS poetry. He knew this was his son's dream, and here he is, saying it's not really his son's dream, it's DAD's dream, and am I not good at it? It's a painful spot for the son to be in. We feel for him and for his dilemma. And that's exactly where I want my reader to be emotionally, because man or woman, they've probably been in some situation like this in their life.]
_________________________________________
I’d give up the view of the yachts, lean back in my chair and read his poems, sweating to find something good I could comment on. Then I’d smile, because, hey, they were from his heart.
_____________________________________
[Our protagonist proves himself. He could say, "These suck, Dad. Why do you hand these to me every time I visit?" Instead, he refrains. He does the right thing, he tries to find the positive. But is it the right thing? Would it have been better to get it out in the open and deal with the angst from this long ago? Too late now, and so the pattern repeats itself. As is often the case in life. This is how many families survive. We all know this. We identify.]
_______________________________________
“Hmmm. "Snowfall" is good. I like this verse: The snow falls in time with memories of my mind as I chew on the rind of forsaken mankind. Reminds me of Frost.” It did remind me of Robert Frost. Thought a lot of his works were sing-songy too, repetitive rhyme and meter, but that didn’t seem to harm his career. Success is hard to argue with.
_______________________________
[Providing proof here we have a competent narrator. He knows poetry, he knows rhyme and meter, and he is justified in his distaste for his father's poetry. It's not very good. He's not being a snob. And I hit that note about success again. What is success? And why does one attain what is viewed to be a standard of success and another does not? I leave that to be pondered.]
__________________________________
Dad always smiled when I likened his work to famous poets. “Damn right it’s good. But do you think the Poetry Society of America would think so?” He’d flash the latest. “Form rejection. Not even personal.”
“Do not go gentle into that good night. Proud of you for not giving up. There’s something to be said for our stubborn German blood.”
“Jawohl,” he’d say, thumping his fist against the desk. “You hungry? Let’s go eat.”

____________________________________
[So Dad has made efforts to get the thing he most desires. But with all the opulence around him, he probably did not try like his son did. His focus was somewhere else. His vocation was making money in real estate. His avocation was poetry. He is the antagonist. It's the opposite of his son's life path. Dad is not evil. He is *opposing.* We can like this *villain*, and yet feel oddly repulsed at the same time. This is really important with modern antagonists. They are best with a hint of redeeming qualities, or if not redeeming, at least understandable, albeit twisted, motivation. If they didn't want the thing the hero wants more than anything else, perhaps they would not be so bad after all.]
________________________________
I remembered Dad’s comments on my works when I was a kid. I’d be lying in bed, staring at the glittering bits in the ceiling texture, words pouring into my mind like songs from seductive sirens. No way they’d grant me sleep unless I rose to their call and danced. I’d hunch over a typewriter in the basement until two or three in the morning. As the night flowed on, the keys striking the platen would sound like volleys of thunder. I’d set a pillow under the base, wrap a towel around the sides, hope Dad wouldn't hear, and immerse myself in verse again.
_________________________________
[Real life details. I did all of this in RL. If you've got the goods, put them in your story. They make fiction become a powerful reality.]
_______________________________
It didn’t work. Inevitably, Dad would hear and come lumbering down the stairs. I’d swim up from the hazy depths, float on the surface of the muse as Dad drew up alongside, scratching the stubble on his chin. He’d stand there in his sagging underwear in a silence as long as the sea. He didn’t have to speak—I knew what his verdict would be.
“Rhythm seems off. Doesn’t flow. Good ideas, son, but you won’t make money at it. Trust me, I’ve tried. You’d make a great Realtor though—got my name to carry you in town. Get to bed now, you’ve got school in the morning.”

________________________________
[And our antagonist tried to kill our hero's dreams. That he was the parent--the absolute authority figure--makes doing this feel all the more twisted. The boy was TRYING; Dad was was working against our hero's goal. Many a reader can relate to this. It is not uncommon. More identifying with the dilemma for the reader. Problem is also ratcheted up. This bad thing has been going on for a long, long time.]
_________________________________
I started winning awards in national student contests. Now he’d be proud. Now Dad would know the fire burning in my heart was true. But every time I’d show him a certificate, he’d ask to see the poem, make some comment about how it didn't rhyme or the metaphors were off, and his words would rip the wind from my sails. I quit telling him about them. And as I’d head to bed after he’d finish his spiel about my wonderful future in real estate, I’d think, yeah, just what I want in life, to wear a baby-crap-yellow jacket to work every day.
________________________
[Our hero tried to solve the problem. He entered contests in spite of his dad saying his poems were no good. He thought he had succeeded at last, and would get the thing HE most desired, his father's approval. And he FAILS. His dad refuses to acknowledge his son's accomplishments, withholds the thing the son most desires--fatherly approval--and even tries to destroy his son's accomplishment. The TRY to get Dad's approval not only FAILS, THINGS GET WORSE.]
___________________________
Years later—many rejection slips later—when the New Yorker took my first poem, it was published under a pseudonym. I never told him. Then the Atlantic. Then some chapbooks through good university presses. Then St. Martin’s Press bought my collection. I never told him. I had sold. He hadn’t.
________________________
[Son thinks he finds a solution. He hides his success. Now, his father can't shoot him down. But it's not a solution. He does not get the thing he most desires, his father's approval. And he lives like this for years and years, successful as a poet by almost any poet's definition, but unsuccessful in getting the thing he most desires. In The Hero's Journey, this is called THE DARK NIGHT. In every hero's journey, there comes a time when the hero has failed to achieve their desire so often, they almost give up. They usually wallow for a time in confusion and darkness, wondering why they failed, not having a clue how they could TRY so many times to get the thing most desired, have repeatedly FAILED, and often question their very existence because they appear to be powerless and incapable of solving the biggest problem of their life.

I don't belabor this story with a lot of wallowing in self pity. I trust my reader gets it. Success in my hero's case isn't true success. Every time he achieves success, it's all the more painful, because he can't tell his dad about it.

But now, Dad is dying. Our hero has one last chance, and we discover after so many years, he's going to rise up with his magic sword--his first published book of poetry--and claim his heart's desire. He's gathered up all his courage, and believes at long last, with this mighty accomplishment he's about to reveal, Dad will finally grant him his boon in his final breaths. Dad will say he is proud of his son.

This is called THE CLIMAX. You know this. But it's good to point out where it's at. Lo and behold, it's at the end of our story. We've built up all the stakes. Hero's success is not success. He wants something the antagonist has kept from him all his life. And the antagonist's success is not success. He wants the very thing his son has achieved. It's LAST CALL. The clock is ticking! Will our hero get the thing most desired? If he does, will the thing most desired be the right thing at this point in his life? We don't know for sure. But it's now or never...and that makes for good endings.]
_____________________________________
And now here I was, sitting by his side, holding his blue-veined hand, oxygen hissing like serpents through pale green tubes at his nose. The air was winter dry, and the chair had a deep slant that forced me to balance on the edge of the seat. The book in my coat felt heavy as a brick as I mulled over the best way to tell him.
______________________
[Climax rising! He's going to tell him! He's made A CHOICE!]
_____________________
I jerked as Dad sat up. “Michael, it’s you. Good. Want you to do something for me.”
______________________
[Oh no. The antagonist preempts the strike of the magic sword--the published book of poetry--with the kryptonite he has always used to kill our hero's power. And because Dad is dying, his kryptonite is more potent than ever before.]
_____________________
“Sure, Dad. Just sit back.”
“Hell with the doctors! Listen to me, kid.”
I leaned forward.
“All my life, only thing besides family that meant anything to me were my poems.”
________________________

[Feel all the waves of debilitating kryptonite energy beating against our hero here?]
______________________________
My throat caught. “I know, Dad.”
“Only thing I didn’t succeed in, getting published.” He coughed furiously. “Take my stuff. You’re the only one who understands. Keep sending them out for me.”

______________________
[Kryptonite again. Potency just doubled. It's Dad's last request, his death wish!]
______________________
I rubbed his weathered hand, my stomach twisting like a ball of baler twine. “I will.”
_______________________
[We have the sound of inevitability. Our hero surrenders. If he tries to win his heart's desire now, he will lose more than he could ever gain. Did I not tell you in the opening this would be a tragedy? “For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”]
_______________________
“They were good, weren’t they?”
_______________________
[Dang it! Antagonist doesn't know it, but he just went for the kill and got it with his kryptonite.]
________________________
A hot tear wandered down my cheek. I shifted my coat, tugged the zipper a little higher.
________________________
[Magic sword is sheathed. It is impotent now. Hero has sacrificed his heart's desire to keep his Dad's desire alive to the end. The reader will judge our hero and his CHOICE now. Our hero sacrificed his important moment to let his father spend his final moments believing he could have had it all. It's actually tragic for both of them, but an understandable tragedy. If I've done my job right, the reader will think, "Yeah, the choice sucked, but it's the only one he should have made. I respect the hero for not being selfish, but dang, I'm sad this couldn't have been resolved."]
________________________
“They were great, Dad."
________________________
This last line is the denouement. It's the finale of the Seven Point Plot, the true end of a story. I'll do a Super Secret on it, but I've been saving it for Q4, the last quarter. Last quarter, denouement. Get it? : ) For now I'll say a denouement in French means untying, which is odd, because you're really tying all the loose ends up. Things no longer get worse. You popped that balloon with your climax. All the tension deflates, but the spent balloon comes to rest on a new plateau. Lessons were learned. Our hero can ride back to the ranch and eat a can of beans over the fire and sing to his white horse and live to battle another day.

Of course, this story was a Tragedy, and a Flash Tragedy at that. If it was a two hour production of Romeo and Juliet, we could have had an actor march across the stage and say: "Woah! This is woe! Dudes! If your families had learned to chill, this most heinous event would never have occured. This is totally not righteous! Be excellent to each other! Not cool!"

But it is Flash, so in this case, just a tragic line will do. "They were great, Dad." It's all we need. Our hero has come to terms with his sacrifice, perhaps even finding a bit of peace in his life by letting go. The story is over.

And so is this dissection.

Go ahead. Play with the bits and pieces. I've left you a battery and a couple of wires.
Alas, you'll never see those parts as a frog again. Monsters.
_________________________________

All the beast!
Beastmaster Moon
Last edited by Wulf Moon on Tue Jun 11, 2019 8:59 am, edited 5 times in total.
Wulf Moon http://driftweave.com
Q4 Vol 35 "Super-Duper Moongirl..."
Critters Readers Award: #1, "War Dog," Best SF&F Short Story of 2018
NEW! "Weep No More..." DEEP MAGIC Fall 2019 http://amazon.com/author/wulfmoon

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby storysinger » Mon Jun 10, 2019 11:10 am

Even though I didn't get to participate I learned a lot by reading the crits. Thanks to all you forumites and Wulf for the coordinating efforts. wotf009
HM-V32/Q3
HM-V36/Q4
Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality.
D.R.Sweeney

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby storysinger » Mon Jun 10, 2019 11:12 am

I'm looking forward to reading the 500 word stories. This should be interesting.
HM-V32/Q3
HM-V36/Q4
Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality.
D.R.Sweeney

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby Wulf Moon » Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:04 pm

News FLASH! We interrupt Moon's FLASH writing exercise for a word from our sponsor:

Are you challenge beasties devouring these new WotF podcasts? Because you should! Winners giving tips, judges telling you what they look for in a winning story! But this one I've posted below is special. It's Dean Wesley Smith, my mentor from years ago when I lived in Eugene, Oregon. Please listen to what he says about producing your best work. You might hear echoes of what I've been saying...

Do listen to these, guys. Free wisdom from the people that will determine your future in WotF!

Here's Dean: https://soundcloud.com/writersofthefutu ... f-rewrites

Side note. I just saw my name on the sample cover of an upcoming pro magazine. That's a first for me. Trippy. Here's a pro tip to file away. Always read your galleys thoroughly. Galleys are like advanced reader copies. They are your story mocked up for print. Aside from the ones from Pocket Books for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2, I've always found errors in them that needed to be corrected. NEVER let your story or book go to print without checking it over thoroughly yourself. There will be great pressure to get it back to the publisher yesterday, because by the time they get the galleys to you, they are REALLY close to their publishing deadline. Make the time. Read it just like a copy editor. It's YOUR NAME at the top of that story. Make sure your name (which is an author's brand) is always associated with sterling quality.

By the way, that's also the case with anything you submit to a market, and especially WotF. Even though your name isn't on it here, a properly formatted and error free submission shines like a polished diamond among pebbles. It's as if you red-stamped your manuscript: PRO. And you did!

We now return you to your regular programming. I trust more 500s will be forthcoming as the week proceeds. Feel free to comment on those already presented! These are your fellow challenge beasties! They've worked hard for you!

Cheers!

Beastmaster Moon
Last edited by Wulf Moon on Tue Jun 11, 2019 9:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
Wulf Moon http://driftweave.com
Q4 Vol 35 "Super-Duper Moongirl..."
Critters Readers Award: #1, "War Dog," Best SF&F Short Story of 2018
NEW! "Weep No More..." DEEP MAGIC Fall 2019 http://amazon.com/author/wulfmoon

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Re: Moon's SUPER SECRET Bonus Challenge! Vol. 36

Postby chuckt » Tue Jun 11, 2019 8:48 am

Okay, keeper of the blood-book, I am in for the Q3! I held off, per Wulf's commandments, until I was sure I had no better story to submit. This will be my first entry of a story written for the contest. (My Q1 and Q2 were fresh, just not written with the contest in mind). Thank you everyone, and Wulf in particular, for the generous giving of secrets, and not-so-secrets. I look forward to hearing who else is continuing with the challenge this Quarter.

P.S. Emailed Joni on a Q3 submission issue and also asked about Q2 results. She said Q2 is "probably another month," i.e., July 11ish.
36 R,R,R, SHM


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