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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » The Unicorn Maiden

   
Author Topic: The Unicorn Maiden
History
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In a land two steps sideways and three steps back, a village sought to plunder the Forest Primeval. Man once had nestled in the shelter of her branches but abandoned her for sunlit fields of golden grain and glades of low-hanging fruit and honey comb so readily at hand, and so easily despoiled. Taking as he wished, Man laid the land bare and this was almost his end. It was then he recalled the forest: her dew-laden berries like stars in twilit dells, silver fish like coins within chattering brooks, pungent mushrooms nuzzling the roots of behemoth conifers, and the forest creatures in their imagined multitudes. This they thought to possess in returning to the forest edge, the prodigal Man unrepentant.
The forest, however, had a guardian.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Send it to me. It's high time I read some of your stuff.
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History
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That is kind, but this one is fully plotted but only half-written.

It has been an agonizing tale to write, and I've rewritten the opening numerous times.

Since I found this a struggle, I used the Message Box to condense the opening to its bare essentials (127 words from 274, where I wax loquaciously upon the old Forest imagery to suffocation: Time’s grandchild, the forest spread its blanket over slumbering mountains, vales, and glens and guided wandering rivers murmuring like lost forgotten gods. Life found haven amidst root, branch and leaf, wonder filled every stray sunbeam piercing her thick canopy, and dreams and myth prowled every shadow with will o’ the wisp eyes.). This permitted me to cut down the poor poetical detritus and get more quickly into the story. My hope is to keep my writing to short story length, dare I hope, 5000 words. On whim, I posted the spartan opening to this fable to see if it is worth actually finishing the story.

Anyway, if I were to send you "some of (my) stuff", I'd choose something more typical of my writing--i.e. with something Jewish in it, either one of my Rabbi Cane novelettes or my current WOTF submission, a fable of the Old Country.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Merlion-Emrys
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Send me one of those then.
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History
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As you took interest in this incomplete Gentile fable, I'll send you the Yiddishkeit one. Thank you for your interest.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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babooher
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Because I can't find anyone to root for, I am having a hard time caring. You make Man, who I would naturally sympathize with having been one for some time, seem ignorant and uncaring, but synpathizing with a forest is difficult especially when doing so forces me to not sympathize with my own group.

So...you've got conflict on several levels here and I can respect that on a literary level. Your setting is evident, but tone isn't. Mood is established, but it feeds into the conflict.

I'm vexed. I would read on, but you're approaching my threshold of being willing to keep reading. I need some character to lift me and help me with the load.

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History
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Thank you for taking the time to respond, babooher.

(Keeping to genre) "Nature of the beast," I'm afraid. [Wink]

In my reply to Merilon-Emrys' email today I wrote:
quote:
You are correct that the narrative style of the opening is third person omniscient, which you will also find in (the WOTF entry I sent you). These two stories are of the genre I consider adult fairy tale/fable. Third person omniscient is the "classic", some may say archaic form, of this genre and your reference to Tolkien is apt. Recall the opening of THE HOBBIT: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...". I recall the back cover blurb of the Ballantine paperback edition of THE HOBBIT that my best friend was reading when I was thirteen. It declared the book: "A Modern Fairy Tale." Being a hard science fiction geek even then, I accordingly derided both my friend and the book--until I read it. Today, my Tolkien collection is quite extensive and insured.

Humility is good (if costly) for the soul (smile).

As you noted, the conflict in the opening of THE UNICORN MAIDEN is that of the 19th century Romantics (Wordswoth, Dunsany, et al): Man vs. Forest/Nature. Unoriginal, yet some say all authors are retelling the same one story heard around caveman campfires. It is how it is retold where we display our art. And this is what composes the remainder of the tale.... The story moves from the collective conflict to a personal one as the individual characters are introduced and the plan to rid the Forest of its guardian is broached. The story proper thus begins.
...
My goal is to truly keep this to short story length, 5000 words if I can manage it. This will be a challenge. The title character Rose, the undeserved focus of her affections (a young man named, for nonce, Spear), her more wily and flirtatious nemesis Lily, her father the frustrated elder Huntsman, even the village witch-woman all have roles. Per usual, the cast of characters, each in their own way essential to the story, tend to lengthen the telling. However, I am earnest on a short story length, and perhaps this will push me to improve my word selection and depictions to give each of the characters the necessary depth (reality) as appropriate to the parts they play without over-verbage. We shall see.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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babooher
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I think that all makes sense, Dr. Bob, and if someone came to me and said I should read something like what you described, I'd sit down and take a look. It sounds interesting.
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History
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Hey, babooer, I'll settle for any of my weird stories "making sense" to the reader. [Smile]

However, your comments are pertinent. I believe a tale (particularly a short story) must open with something that sparks the reader's desire to read on--particularly with the non-mainstream f&sf I gravitate to in my writing.

I tend to play with words as disobedient children play with their food. You have justified my removal of the excess verbage of the opening. Thank you.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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History
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P.S. I guess I am going to have to finish this one.

[ February 20, 2012, 05:22 PM: Message edited by: History ]

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Merlion-Emrys
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Yes. Yes you are, Dr. Bob-sama.
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Denevius
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though the first line, "In a land two steps sideways and three steps back...", is interesting, i wonder if it actually means anything in the context of the story. not to be flippant, but why not three steps sideways and four steps back? it would be interesting if you're setting up a story universe of different dimensions, and one can navigate them like a map. or something to make that first line have meaning beyond sounding poetic.

actually, the entire beginning is a bit overly poetic without giving readers many concrete details to hold on to. the end of first line mentions a village and a Forest Primeval, but these are vague terms that don't create any images. even with metaphorical language, we need something to make 'village' and 'Forest Pirmeval' more than just three words on the page; a line to give them a particular definition for readers to hold on to.

the second sentence makes one wonder if it's really only men who sheltered in her (Forest Primeval?) branches, when i'm guessing it was men *and* women. so why not just say 'Humans once had nestled..."

"...golden grain and glades of low-hanging fruit and honey comb" does sorta create an image, but then it becomes vague again with "readily at hand", which could mean many things. are the golden grains and low-hanging fruit literally at hand wherever people walk, or are they easily farmed and grown in fertile fields? or do they grow without any effort of humans at all, and all people have to do is go out when they're hungry and pick them?

"...easily despoiled" is also a bit vague, as there's nothing mentioned so far that would show how humans pollute their environment. the next sentence, "Taking as he wished, Man laid the land bare and this was almost his end", does hint that humans are destorying the land through overpopulation, but then, how big is the land they're on, and how many mouths are seeking to be fed?

and from this sentence:

"It was then he recalled the forest: her dew-laden berries like stars in twilit dells, silver fish like coins within chattering brooks, pungent mushrooms nuzzling the roots of behemoth conifers, and the forest creatures in their imagined multitudes."

one can't help but wonder why they would leave the forests if it's teeming with resources? something needs to drive humans from one place to another, some gain that they expect to have, or some loss that they need to find replacements for. here, though, it would seem that the Primeval Forest is a good place to live, so why leave?

in this last line, "...the prodigal Man unrepentant", the question i think that needs to be answered from what we've seen so far is why would they need to be repentant? what have they done wrong? were they not supposed to leave the Forest Primeval?

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History
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>chuckle<
Thank you, Denevius.
Sometimes I just enjoy looking at Monet's "Water Lilies" and don't count the dots of paint. [Smile]

What is the meaning of "Once upon a time"?
Why not "Twice the Tuesday before last"?
For setting the tone that tells the reader to expect a fable/fairy tale, I suggest either would suffice, though the imitation may suggest parody-which this story is not. There are many possible variations one could choose for this purpose. I chose this one.

I've always liked the idea of traversing infinite dimensions through movement, but that is a different kind of story than this--and it has already been done (Roger Zelazny's AMBER series).

The opening 13 lines here are purposefully poetic and ruthlessly hacked down to the story's main thematic elements that direct the character conflicts that follow.

The use of "Man" is not representative of the penile gender, but of the normative reference to the human species, i.e. Mankind. The allusion to Man once being sheltered by (Mother) Nature is, well, evolutionary. I'm not sure why Man ever left the trees and then despoiled as we wished, but we did. Our selfish tendencies are strongly motivational. And these tendencies have adverse consequences. Odd that, historically, Man too often refuses to learn from them. The desire to return to the Forest to rape her, well, turns the parable of the prodigal son (which I, perhaps falsely, assume the readers will know) on its hoary head.

Were we supposed to leave Eden?

I appreciate the details of your objections and, as I am always, appreciative of anyone who takes the time to offer feedback on anything I write.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[ February 21, 2012, 08:21 AM: Message edited by: History ]

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Merlion-Emrys
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That was beautiful.
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Denevius
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hm. well to answer this question:

"What is the meaning of 'Once upon a time'?",

this phrasing sets up the readers to know that the tale about to be told happened in the past. generally that sentence ends with, "Once upon a time, there lived..."

'lived' being past tense. it would be grammatically incorrect to say, "Once upon a time, there lives...", or "Once upon a time, there will live...", as once upon a time indicates past, but 'lives' is present, and 'will live' is future.

"Why not 'Twice the Tuesday before last'?"

a writer would write this to avoid the cliche of 'Once upon a time', and in all honesty, 'Twice the Tuesday before last' isn't badly written. however, it wouldn't make sense if your story is about something that happened centuries, or a millennia ago, as twice the Tuesday before last is two or three weeks ago?

your beginning, however:

"In a land two steps sideways and three steps back..."

doesn't place us in a 'when', but a where. but where is two steps sideways and three steps back? if i was to stand in my room right now and take two steps sideways and three steps back, i'd still be in my room. i wouldn't be outside my apartment, and i definitely wouldn't be outside the country.

i get that it's supposed to be figurative language, but i wonder if, figuratively, it works in the way you're intending. in order for the beginning of this sentence to make sense, 'steps' would have to be a metaphor within the metaphor, which would mean that we as readers would need an underlying understanding of what 'steps' are.

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History
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I'll take that as a "no" vote for this particular poetic metaphor for suggesting a different place and (possibly) time. [Smile]
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annepin
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Hi History, you have a very poetic style and this comes across quite clearly as a fairy tale. The opening line didn't bother me. However, the tone of it seemed playful, so i was hoping for something maybe fun, much like Peter Beagle's works, or even The Hobbit. however, the rest of the paragraph describes a very dark situation. It also feels a bit tired of a topic, and I'm not sure I found enough here to want to read on.

The last line, however, goes a long way to catch my interest. I would probably turn the page, hoping to learn more about the guardian. But if I character is not introduced soon I would probably lose interest.

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History
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Thank you, annepin. I appreciate the feedback.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

P.S. Despite the playfulness of Schmenderick (Yiddish for "stupid person" btw) the Magician and a few touches of humor, Peter S Beagle's classic THE LAST UNICORN is a dark story of greed, possession, fear, semblance versus reality, and unrequited love. As such, it is an influence for me for this story in which I (strive to) do much of the same but without any pretension I can equal his mastery.

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LDWriter2
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I'm a bit late to this but even though I don't have time to read the whole thing right now the title attracted my attention. Partly because I just finished a fantasy with unicorns but no Maiden or maybe I should say one of a different type.

Anyway, I liked the first sentence it captures the Tolken type of Fairy Tale. I believe. However the second and third sentences are way too long and complicated. I believe you said you had to squeeze things into the 13 line box, I assumed that is the box you meant, so that might account for my complaint. If so I'm sure you have already taken care of it in your copy.

The tale gets to the point real fast which is good.

That's it for me.

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