Writing short is a challenge for me, but I appreciate it as a valuable exercise. Creating a world/setting, conflict, characters, and tone of sufficient depth...and providing something of value for the readers to take with them in less than 1000 words requires a skill I can usually only find in poets and dreamers (Lord Dunsany comes to mind). I cringe at attempting less than 500,or 300 words (as I attempted and failed in this piece)...and if asked to write a haiku, I'd likely convulse.
Here's the first ~13 lines: Mrs. Kaplan was dying. Outside her window the December sky was overcast and threatened to snow. Only gray light, pale and etheral, fell upon the row of small flowering plants neatly arranged on the windowsill. Their petals had begun to spot and their edges to curl. As she did each morning, Mrs. Kaplan greeted me with a smile, the only bright object in her room. Her face was puffy, a side effect of her steroids, and her eyes were surrounded by dark circles and glinted like small gems under water. She dabbed at them with a white handkerchief that, in all the weeks I'd known her, never left her grasp, like a child's security blanket, or a flag of truce. “Gud morning, dokter,” she said, her accent thick as Bavarian cream.
I like your voice, and if this was for 2,000 or more words the description is wonderful, but if you're trying to accomplish something in 300-500 words, you are spending too much real estate on description. Other than that she is dying, what is going to happen here? Also, be careful of mis-spelling to try conveying an accent -t can wind up being aistraction. Posts: 406 | Registered: Mar 2007
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The first line is good. The rest of the paragraph is spent describing the weather and a flower pot, which is only good if the weather and flowers play a direct part in the plot later on. If they don't, I suggest you cut those bits and get to the point, which is Mrs. Kaplan.
Also, writing an accent phonetically can create more work for the reader. Maybe you could write her dialogue normally and leave in the part that she's speaking with an accent.
Other than that, it's good. I like the writing style.
Once we meet the punchline that Mrs Kaplan was dying, we don't need symbols anymore, and we don't care for description away from the real topic. There is, however, some potential to keep the poetic symbolism of the first two lines by starting with them. For this to work, the descriptions need to be more active. E.g. December sky cast pale, ethereal light onto the pots arranged neatly on the windowsill. Spotted petals curled, responding to neglect and the threat of snow. Mrs. Kaplan lay on her bed, dying.
"As she did each morning, Mrs. Kaplan greeted me with a smile, the only bright object in her room."
What is the "only bright object"? Her smile or "me"?
I like the flag of truce, nice touch.
Overall, I agree with the above that you needn't waste words on peripheral descriptions.
I disagree with the others, I think the description of the overcast sky sets a concrete tone, and the description of the flowers give's great insight into the character of Mrs. Kaplan, her trying to keep something small alive even as her own life is fading, and failing.
I think, even if it's just a brief glance around, setting the scene is important. Language wise, the hook for me was the line, "flag of truce." Character wise, the hook for me was this dying woman greeting the world with a smile.
If you are looking for readers, I would be happy to read the whole thing.
I do agree though, that you should be careful with the misspelling in the dialog. I didn't have a problem so far, but it is a tricky slope to walk on, and I think it's best to err on the side of clarity.
I'd agree with those who mention length. If you are shooting for something shorter than 1,000 words, it is important to make use of every word written. They should absolutely be pivotal to the point of the story.
I will say that you do a great job of establishing the setting, and it is easy to picture the circumstances of the opening scene. Something I often struggle with!
I liked it. Though you've chosen to do a longer story, you might find it fun and revealing to first write it as a flash story, pushing yourself, say, to 800 words rather than 1000. That'll force you to decide the key events and characters. The plot is a given, since your story borders on narrative non-fiction (I think); but this may also lead to the most important plot points.
Afterwords, you'll have a complete story that's the sinew of the longer story you want to write.
Regarding the first 13. Consider whether the first sentence is needed.
Thank you all very much for your kind words and suggestions.
As I shared, the initial market for this story had length requirements of less than 350 words, but I ultimately did not feel I could do justice to the story (and the memory) at that length. I do not know what are the word-lengths for Flash fiction, but I dedided, as an exercise, not to go beyond 1000 words. I's at 856, but when I return to it for a final rewrite...we shall see. The sentence regarding "a flag of truce" came to me as I typed my first 13 lines into the opening post of this thread--and some of you found this sentence was the one that most resonated withyou, despite being "additional words."
My writing is like that sometimes. I find my revisions consist of removing as well as adding words and sentences, hopefully polishing the story as I come to more fully understand it and my characters. Thus, my final word count is typically unchanged. Perhaps others of you have similar experiences?
I have enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts and ideas on how they might write these 13 lines. This demonstrates how our voices as authors vary. It would be fun sometime to have everyone rewrite a set of 13 lines as they feel best and compare and contrast them--reflections in a room of Funhouse mirrors.
I am content with all these thirteen lines, save one:
As she did each morning, Mrs. Kaplan greeted me with a smile, the only bright object in her room.
I concur there may be confusion in conveying that her smile is the "bright object" to which I am referring.
Though not worthy of comparison, this vignette is my Araby tale, if Mr. Joyce would forgive me.
I'm with Shimiqua on this one. What you wrote was beautiful.
quote: Only gray light, pale and etheral, fell upon the row of small flowering plants neatly arranged on the windowsill. Their petals had begun to spot and their edges to curl.
The metaphor wasn't lost on me. An editor will eat this up.
quote: She dabbed at them with a white handkerchief that, in all the weeks I'd known her, never left her grasp, like a child's security blanket, or a flag of truce.
Simply brilliant. Keep writing like this and you'll be finding nice homes for all your work.
As far as the length... Great flash fiction is written so a reader has no idea on how long the piece they're reading is. It could be the start of a 120,000 word novel as far as they can tell. If you can write a complete story in under a k and have it start off like this I say your odds of selling this professsionally are very high.
Thanks, snapper. Coming form you (and also as you are a reviewer at Tangents Online), this means a lot--i.e. I'm not fooling myself completely and wasting time striving to write.
As for this vignette, I will make time to do a rewrite and tighten it up per everyone's comments and suggestions. For practice, if nothing else. The story, being a literary and not an F&SF piece, is not amenable to the markets I would consider attempting publication.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
[This message has been edited by History (edited December 17, 2010).]