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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Sharp Knife

   
Author Topic: Sharp Knife
babygears81
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Hi everyone,
I decided to participate in this contest on NPR. Here are the guidelines and a link if anyone else is interested.

The story must revolve around a U.S. president, who can be fictional or real and that the short story has to be 600 words or less. Listeners can submit their story online at www.npr.org/threeminutefiction.

Anyway, I've never written a short story before and after working on a novel for so long, its kind of freaking me out. I took a character from my novel and wrote her a little side story. I'll post my first fourteen here, in hopes that some kind person will be willing to read and critique the whole thing for me. It is a titch under 600 words. The title is Sharp Knife.

Georgia Mankiller sharpened her knife, tapping her foot to the rhythm of steel on stone as if it were the pounding of a drum. The barrow strung up behind her squealed, singing his death song to the beating of the blade.

Slaughter time

Her people had been pigs once.

She held the newly sharpened knife up to the sky looking for any nicks or flat spots. The blade glistened in the sunlight. In its reflection she saw the faces of a dozen Cherokee women from a hundred years ago crying out in pain. Their babies were dead, buried under the snow in shallow graves. Sharp Knife had driven them from their homelands like cattle—like pigs. The screaming women didn't frighten her. She was used to them now. She heard

[ September 19, 2012, 04:42 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Brent Silver
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The beginning is a little confusing but I'm interested enough to bite. Send it my way.
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babygears81
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Thanks Brent! Tis coming.
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LDWriter2
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I'm a bit busy right now for the whole story even at 600 words but these lines are not too bad. The imagery is good.

A bit cliche-ish and with the subject matter it might be easy to guess where it is headed but it might be. It could be a surprise.

But did you use that name on purpose? I don't know how many Mankillers there are but using a well known name might not be a good idea.

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babygears81
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Thanks LDWriter2,
I'm not sure native perspectives are heard often enough to have become cliche, but I understand your point and you may be right. White writers writing about Indians have probably made this cliche. I considered writing this from the perspective of an Indian who protested on Alcatraz Island back in the 60's, (directed at the President during that time) but it didn't fit the character as well. Maybe I'll play around with that still.

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babygears81
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Oh and yes, I chose that name on purpose because it works with the symbolism in the story. [Smile]
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LDWriter2
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I don't think it's just native Americans though. But any group who lives like it was the 1800s or who seems to be the setting.
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babygears81
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Oh, well Georgia is a modern day Indian. You can't really tell from this passage though, or maybe you can. I have a couple questions if you don't mind. 1.) the name Whitekiller will also work with the symbolism. Do you like that better? 2.) Did the word barrow throw you off? I keep getting that. Everyone says I should change it to pig, but barrow is what my character would know it as. And I don't really believe we writers should limit our vocabulary to match a potential reader. First, because we have no idea who those readers might be or what their vocabulary is like and two, because there's no shame in using a dictionary. Your thoughts?
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Tryndakai
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I had no idea barrow meant pig until you mentioned it just now . . . but as most of my literature of choice is fantasy, I'm accustomed to working out the context of unfamiliar words.

In this case I didn't actually consider even that the "barrow" was an animal . . . rather, I started wondering if a "barrow" were a part of one of those rotating whet-stone wheels. (which I obviously don't know the proper term for, either. [Wink] ) Even though you said "squealed . . . his death song" . . .I dunno. Your overall language is poetic enough that I didn't take that literally.

I might suggest mentioning a concrete detail that clearly defines him as a pig (or at least an animal). His smell, his shuffling hooves, his tough skin or coarse hair or floppy ears . . . something that's concrete enough that it can't be mistaken for a metaphor.

Also, I kept going back and forth in my mind as to whether Georgia was feeling aggressive or sympathetic toward *her* people. Wasn't sure where her emotions were going.

Lastly, I'd add "the" and a comma to: "her people were [the] pigs[,] once" just because, as a fantasy reader, my first thought was along the lines of Circe, who literally turned people into pigs . . . [Wink] I think a "the" might put a different feel on that. But then, that's just from my perspective . . . [Smile]

You've got an engaging style and rhythm. I'd certainly continue reading. [Smile]

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babygears81
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Great advice Tryndakai. Thanks! I ended up just cutting the "my people were pigs once" line, but yes I think adding a description of the animal will solve the ambiguity issue with the word barrow.
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