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Author Topic: A Mother Knows
WolfCreature
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Writer seeking Writer-Reviewer, SF/F/H/M for exchange of Flash Fiction story (1K or less.)

I originally posted a flash fiction review exchange request last month but had no takers (cough, cough.) But perhaps my opening wasn’t interesting enough.

So I have re-written it (some.) If interested, please respond.

Angry tears run warm, and sad ones run cool.
Did her cheeks burn hot and heat them up? Sheila wiped away the tear that splashed on her hand. She rummaged through her purse, pulled out and flipped open her compact mirror. She angled it back and forth to view her whole face. Not too red. She sniffed three times to clear her nose, then sat back in her car seat and took a deep breath. She had to look composed before she went into the house, before she told her mother, and she had to remain calm in spite of whatever judgmental crap her mother would say. She fished through her purse again for tissue and make-up.
She opened the door with the key her parents let her keep after she moved out a decade ago.
“Hiyah, Mom. It’s me.” Sheila announced as she stepped inside.


Regards,

- WolfCreature

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extrinsic
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I don't feel this opening is where the action begins. A causal event precedes Sheila's emotionally introspective reaction effect in the car. The action begins there. Withholding it for later I feel is artless.

Though opening with a thematic context and texture has powerful appeals, I don't feel this opening reaches or satisfies that appeal challenge.

Two grammar faults: "'It’s me[,]' Sheila announced as she stepped inside."

A comma follows dialogue inside the close quote mark, not a period, where a speech action attribution is in the dialogue tag: "announced".

"As" is a _comparison_ correlative subordination conjunction term. It is not a _time_ correlative subordination conjunction. "While" and "when" are, though. The conjunction itself creates no subordination of either independent clause in the first place. "annonunced" and "stepped" are separate ideas, separate actions, nonconcurrent actions. They are sequential actions. Sheila stepped inside then announced "It's me" is the natural sequence. Cluttering a dialogue attribution tag with other actions is also confusing.

For example, //Sheila stepped inside. "Hiya, Mom," she said. "It's me."// That's a simple way to use an action tag to attribute dialogue. The "stepped inside," though, is a nondramatic action. I don't know about everyone, but I'd first note the way the home smells when I stepped inside. That could be a dramatic action. Just describe the smells, though, so they are implied as from Sheila's sensory perspective (viewpoint). None of "she smelled" pumpkin pie cinnamon and nutmeg. Or smells "wafted" or "a scent of" or etc. More like //Pumpkin pie cinnamon and nutmeg spiced the hallway entrance.//

That way, Sheila stepped inside to sense the aroma is implied and easily inferred. And whatever action type attribution is more dramatic than just a physical, nondramatic action.

If an olfactory sensation is the action, then it could be a symbolism motif that parallels Sheila's emotional struggle of the moment. What? Sadness? Yet struggles to be upbeat and nonetheless falters? Then whatever she smells reflects that struggle. Clash between pleasant pumpkin pie smells and scorched crust maybe?

[ March 21, 2014, 02:12 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
I originally posted a flash fiction review exchange request last month but had no takers (cough, cough.)
I don't know what others' excuses were, but I tend to avoid flash fiction like the plague.

quote:
Angry tears run warm, and sad ones run cool.
Nice opening line.

quote:
Did her cheeks burn hot and heat them up? Sheila wiped away the tear that splashed on her hand. She rummaged through her purse, pulled out and flipped open her compact mirror. She angled it back and forth to view her whole face. Not too red. She sniffed three times to clear her nose, then sat back in her car seat and took a deep breath.
This is part of the reason I avoid flash fiction. In a piece this length, we're actually pretty far into it. Yet I still have no clue why I'm reading considering how far along I've come. Yes, a girl seems upset, but what's been written in these lines which would make the reader care why she's upset? Or would make the reader want to figure it out?

quote:
She had to look composed before she went into the house, before she told her mother, and she had to remain calm in spite of whatever judgmental crap her mother would say.
I am personally not a fan of narrative withholding. I would have been happier had she just stated what she's worried about telling her mother. If you think about a real life situation similar to this, what person would be worried about something that they refuse to name in their head?

Like, I see it in fiction, but it just doesn't make any sense. Whenever I read withholding like this, I get the sense that the character *knows* I'm inside their head, and in order to create greater dramatic complication, they keep me in the dark about their thoughts until what they feel is the right time to reveal. And this effect totally takes me out of the narrative.

quote:
“Hiyah, Mom. It’s me.” Sheila announced as she stepped inside.
And here we are at the end of the opening and I still have on idea what the story is about.There's no reason for me to care about the character, or her mother, or this secret.
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James Riser
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I agree with Denevius. The withholding of important information is creating false tension. We already have some tension because we don't know what the mother will think of whatever the secret is. You should keep the opening line and then get right into the conflict.

Also, it may just be me, but there seems like there's a lot of "She" in the first paragraph. It begins to read more like a list of actions. It gets repetitive. You could take out some of the actions and replace it with important information instead.

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WolfCreature
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Points taken. Beginning rewritten to bring in the main conflict earlier. Still seeking someone to review whole story. How's this -

Angry tears run warm, and sad ones run cool. Was it because her cheeks burned hot and heated them up? Sheila wiped away the tear that splashed on her hand. She rummaged through her purse, pulled out and flipped open her compact mirror. She angled it back and forth to view her whole face. Not too red. Before she went into the house, before she told her mother, she had to look composed and remain calm in spite of whatever judgmental crap her mother would say. She opened the door with the key her parents let her keep after she moved out a decade ago. She found her mother in the laundry room.
“Hiyah, Mom,” said Sheila.
Mom looked up at her once, then turned back to scoop up more clothes. “You broke up with Andrew.”

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wetwilly
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I'll read it. I rarely read or write flash fiction, but I can take a look and give it my best shot.
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Denevius
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I still think that for a piece of this length, you've spent a lot of the word count on the description of the character crying. I also think that a breakup might not be so engaging to readers, as it's fairly normal and common.

Of these lines, which do you feel is the most compelling one?

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WolfCreature
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Denevious,

Breakups may be fairly common, but that doesn't mean they hurt any less, nor does it mean they are simple and uncomplicated.

I like the first line myself. Though, I suppose compelling is in the eye of the beholder.

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wetwilly
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I think a breakup is engaging BECAUSE it is normal and common. Nearly everyone can relate.
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Denevius
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I remember my last breakup in America. It was in New York, and we were sitting on a bench at the edge of Central Park. We never actually said 'It's over', but we talked about the future, and jobs, and where our path had diverged into two. It was August, and the trees above us were weeping; but not a nice, tragic petal, like from red roses. It was an ugly, discolored pollen that was getting in our hair and would make us look quite bizarre afterwards on the way home. Yet neither of us got up, our fingers loosely intertwined but ready to break at any moment. It'd been three long years, after all, and it would be the last time we met.

We all have breakups in common, but it's the details that make them unique, different from everyone else like fingerprints.

In the above 13 lines, we see a girl crying. We see her wipe away her tears. We see her go through her purse for a compact mirror. We see her go inside and tell her mother that she broke up.

But do we see a detail that stands out? Something to let us know why this breakup is significant and worth our time to read?

Do we know what's at stake? Have we been given a reason to care?

One could say 'Be patient, all of that is coming'. But in a story of only 1000 words, you need to make as many lines as possible count.

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extrinsic
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My concern is a breakup as a central dramatic complication is too self-involved for the breakup to have any appeal for me. The title "A Mother Knows" doesn't offer me insight into whether another complication appeal is forthcoming. I'd conclude not. I read hundreds of enuui and angst-ridden narratives in workshops. A name for them that ran through the workshop cultures is overly sentimental melodrama.

For practice, they serve a function; and getting melodrama daydreams out of a writer's system are part of the apprenticeship process.

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WolfCreature
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extrinsic,

If you'd conclude not, then you'd conclude wrong. So it would appear that I've not been successful in establishing the main conflict.

The breakup itself is part of the dramatic complication, but not the central part. The main conflict in the story involves Sheila’s relationship with her mother, the ties that bind and the cracks that widen. This is mentioned with the line: “whatever judgmental crap her mother would say.”

Before the confrontation begins there were certain things I wanted to establish:

1) Sheila’s emotional state, and her need and unsuccessful attempts to hide it from her mother.
2) Shelia is angry more than she is sad.
3) Sheila’s age. I don’t want her appearing that she’s a teenager. Even though she might act like she’s younger (because has been spoiled in certain ways), she is in her late 20’s/early 30’s. The line that reveals her age and her ties to Mom and Dad is: “She opened the door with the key her parents let her keep after she moved out a decade ago.”
4) Although they are from different generations, these two women are “cut from the same cloth.” As the story progresses, Mom appears psychic (Hence the title “A Mother Knows”) I included Sheila looking in a mirror, because not only does she need to compose herself, but also hints that in certain ways she is a mirror image of her own mother.

There was further business involving a mirror in the house that Sheila sees herself in that I removed from the beginning of this story in order to get to Mom’s line and the beginning of the confrontation.

- WolfCreature


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Kent_A_Jones
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'Angry tears run warm and sad ones run cool.'

Hi WolfCreature,
The above sentence is a great sentence and you have added it to both fragments on this topic. That suggests to me that it is a dear sentence to the author. I suggest this because I have written literary masterpieces (in my own mind) that I have fallen in love with; sentences and paragraphs that I read over and over. I pat myself on the back for being downright literary, even artful! And then I write draft after draft using the same sentence or paragraph, not realizing that the story has evolved beyond the little gem that I wrote. When I remove them, finally, the story is freed of my tyranny.

The above quote may have been the seminal thought for this story, that first 'Aha!' moment of, 'Glory be, I have a story, here.' If so, good, wonderful. But I believe its existence, as is, should be questioned. Is it driving the plot? Is it revealing character? Setting? Does it define Conflict? In a very broad sense, it might touch on Theme.

As a statement, it is neither hot nor cold. It does not judge which is better or define for the reader which vein the following prose will take. It is, therefore, neutral. I suggest that it does not belong because of its neutrality. I believe each sentence of flash fiction must drive toward resolution of conflict, and this sentence does not help me.

As to the rest, you have defined a Man vs. Himself story. Sheila is conflicted over telling her mother about her breakup. It is an internal struggle that is treated, for the most part, externally. Only in S8 do we begin to learn why ('judgmental crap') Sheila is doing any of these things. I believe the narrative needs to be more in her head since I don't know the nature of her relationship with her mother; she is the only person who can tell me. She must analyze. She must judge the situation for me even if she is an Unreliable Narrator.

Mother being clairvoyant makes this speculative, so I want to know it right away. This is why I did not post anything earlier; I wish to confine my idiocy to SF&F, and did not consider the fragment to represent either one. A clairvoyant mother makes this very interesting. How does one deal with a dysfunctional relationship coupled with clairvoyance? Unfortunately, I do not get the sense, from the fragment, that this is the story you are telling.

If this is Man vs. Man, Sheila vs. mother, then I think I should know the crux of mother's antagonism right away (I still do not know from the fragments). Simply to disapprove is not necessarily conflict because it is not evident that Sheila desires its resolution. Again, this is where I believe this story tends toward Man vs. Himself in that Sheila's reactions to her mother are what she wants to quell.

The fragments end with no definite direction for the plot or resolution of conflict. Will Sheila pull out a gun and plug mommy? Will she walk away and never contact mommy again? Which of a million other things might she do?

I admit, to end this post, that I might be way off in this analysis. This piece might be going in an entirely different direction. If this is the case, I apologize. But, if I am incorrect, that may also be valuable information.
Kent

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WolfCreature
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Kent,

The story did not start with the first sentence - it was added after the main story was written. I like think the sentence fits with the theme.

Sheila is a bit unreliable as a narrator.

The story leans more towards Man vs. himself. Although what Mom says upsets her, Sheila is projecting the role of antagonist on her mother.

A clairvoyant mother was the original premise, but getting into the meat of the story, the clairvoyance came off as a gimmick and I found it worked better leaving things ambiguous about whether the mother is really a mind reader, or simply knows her own child all too well.

This story, although beginning with a speculative element ended up being mainstream. So now I'm looking to submit it to a more mainstream flash fiction market.

That is if I can find a few folks who would agree to review the whole thing. So far only Wetwilly has offered. I prefer to get a few reviews before I submit a story anywhere to help identify problems, misunderstandings, sloppy structure, blatant (but invisible to me) grammatical errors, etc.

- WolfCreature

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Kent_A_Jones
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'She opened the door with the key her parents let her keep after she moved out a decade ago.'

I believe that the point of the sentence is that Sheila is an adult and has since moved out. This is amply supported by 'let her keep.' The phrase 'after she moved out a decade ago' may not be necessary unless it is intended that her parents have expected her to move back in for an entire decade, which is what 'let' implies. This may be exactly what you are getting at, if so, good job, keep it.

In any case, the sentence should be past participle. Therefore, 'had let... a decade before.' Also, the word 'after' is awkward in this sentence, no matter which tense is used, and bears scrutiny. 'After' makes the rest of the sentence passive voice. Active voice, and more compact, would be '...had let her keep for a decade.'

'“Hiyah, Mom. It’s me.” Sheila announced as she stepped inside.'

The previous paragraph has Sheila opening the door and this implies that she will walk in. The clause 'as she stepped inside' may safely be removed since the action does not have any special significance (There are no adjectives or other modifiers setting it off as unusual).

This kind of structure and grammar? Na... don't do it. [Smile]
Kent

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WolfCreature
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Kent,

Thank you for pointing out what is wrong with the key sentence. It didn't feel right to me and I couldn't quite put my finger on why.

My goal with that sentence was to hint at Sheila's age and show the ties she still has to her parents. I don't want the reader thinking she is some teenager, which I am concerned she may appear to be given the argument with her Mom that will ensue.

So how do I indicate her age without being so obvious?

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Kent_A_Jones
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"She opened the door with the key her parents" had let her keep for a decade.

I believe you have indicated her age in a reasonable way. The majority of children move out within a few years of ending high school. 'Hiyah' is upbeat and has a younger feel to me. So I guestimate late twenties-early thirties. This is also an age when some parents are beginning to drop heavy hints that they expect grandchildren, which works with the mother daughter tension.

If you want to indicate a specific age, the word 'decade' can be changed out or augmented. ...for the decade since (significant event common to us all, i.e. high school or college graduation).

Key sentence, eh? Using the word 'let' might mean that Sheila watches their house when they are away, or that they think her boyfriend is abusive and she needs refuge. Consider beefing up the mood. ...hoped she had kept... ...had made her keep... ...had demanded she keep... These are different degrees of imparting the same information, and they change the character of Sheila's parents, and the character of their relationship with Sheila entirely in just a word or two.

You know the relationship; did mom force the key on Sheila? Did dad slip it to her unobserved by mom? Was it really 'her parents' who gave her the key or was it her mom with an ulterior motive, and maybe a bad scene? This is knowledge that does not need to be in the story, but impacts heavily on the language you can use to modify this sentence.

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extrinsic
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"'She opened the door with the key her parents' had let her keep for a decade."

The past participle "had let keep" is actually a past perfect participle. "Had let her keep" means the action was completed in the past. Then "for a decade" means she has had the key for a length of time. The sentence's meaning, though is Sheila still has the key and is not a completed action. She still keeps the key.

The sentence as written with or without the auxilliary verb "had" is actually two independent clauses incorrectly joined. A conjuction word to join the clauses is indicated. "She opened the door with the key [that] her parents let her keep for a decade."

The sentence in either regard, to me, is cluttered, clumsy, and confused. Four points of information are intended, four main ideas; one, that Sheila opens the door; two, that she uses a key; three, her parents gave her the key; and four, she keeps the key for a decade. The sentence is also meant to signal or imply Sheila's age.

Frankly, I feel that sentence could possibly be recast into at least several sentences, or an entire scene sequence, that could be more dynamically used, to portray, for example, Sheila's viewpoint, rather than the narrator's viewpoint of Sheila's viewpoint. In other words, shown and not told.

The essential information is that Sheila has the house key she used when she lived in the family home, maybe since birth. The symbolism and signals of that symbolism are what I feel should to best effect be emphasized, not opening the door or even that her parents gave her the key.

Was she a latchkey child, for example. Or was she given the key as a symbolic gesture when she left, to say she's always welcome home. Maybe she keeps the key but never uses it, until the present moment. That too is symbolic, that she is independent and now, in crisis, needs to reintegrate her shattered identity. She's become dependent again.

Signals of Sheila's age at the present moment could come from developing the contrasts and comparisons between the past and the present. Because Sheila's age at the moment is significant to the story, signaling when in the past she received the key and, more importantly, for what reason is significant.

While the story is to me sentimental melodrama and viewpoint character self-involved (selfish), I strongly feel a noble (selfless) act is necessary to show Sheila is a trustable, respectable, likeable character, before her want is portrayed. Something minor is all I feel that's needed, something that shows she has a wholesome moral value system. Something related to the overall story, at least thematically. A wayward puppy loose in the neighborhood caught and held for a young owner's reclaiming, for example, would suit.

As to Sheila's unreliability as a viewpoint character, I only see that coming from her self-involvement. She's oblivious to others' complications, I imagine. Like maybe Mom is at first preoccupied and Sheila's demands are intrusive. Mom at least is forced to reset her cognitive code mode.

Unreliable narration or unreliable reflected viewpoint character portrayal is challenging. It is dramatic irony in the first place. On one hand, a reflector--narrator or character--observes and acts unreliably, meaning misperceives and responds faultily. On the other hand, receivers of the reflected action, readers, know the reflector misapprehends circumstances. This is the core principle of narrative unreliableness: reflectors don't know and receivers do know.

Also, that is the meaning of dramatic irony: some know, some don't. Dramatic irony is a feature of antagonism, causation, and tension, fundamentals that sequence into dramatic structure.

Sheila's unawareness and readers' awareness, for example, aroses readers' curiosity about whether she will become aware, for one. For emotional caring (empathy and sympathy), she must also be likeable, hence, for tension's sake, her noble if minor act. Sheila taking time in her moment of crisis to, for example, help a puppy and a child is that type of noble act.

For antagonism's sake, want and problem, Sheila symbolically becomes the strayed puppy returned into the arms of its mom-like caretaker. The puppy is lost; that's the dramatic problem; that's Sheila's dramatic problem. The lost puppy and she want to be found again.

For causation's sake, the puppy prelude, for example, symbolizes the whole story's cause and effect sequence. Although on a superficial, if symbolic, level, an underlyiing subtext might be a maturation transformation.

If Sheila goes to Mom for comfort, a satisfying transformation could be, for example, that Sheila realizes an important value related to motherhood and maturation. The causes then might add up to Sheila's breakup as a trial and error experience along the way toward maturity. What might that outcome be? Independence from patriarchy? Marriage? Motherhood for Sheila? Does Sheila realize she wants to be like Mom, but she's only in her mid twenties? Or does Sheila admire Mom, but Mom's life isn't for her.

Mid twenties is the age when humans reach full physical maturity; most importantly, brain development is complete. Full emotional maturity will be a while longer, maybe stall, maybe regress, maybe continue unto the bitter end. Anyway, the adult apprenticeship age post statutory age of majority, maturity, eighteen, is the age of learning that the entitled privileges and rights of adulthood come with responsibilities, obligations, and duties, at least compromises if not sacrifices.

What does Sheila learn from this experience? Yeah, that Mom knows Sheila hurts and how difficult relationships are. But Sheila is the protagonist; therefore, she should experience the most transformation, the greatest realization. In terms of story type, complications, conflicts, stakes, motivations, and outcomes, this is a revelation narrative then, for example.

And the story shape type is visitation. Visiting Mom is the initial event that sets the antagonism, causation, and tension train in motion toward revelation.

[ March 31, 2014, 04:09 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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WolfCreature
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extrinsic,

You are right on two counts: 1) Dramatic irony is a main component here. The only one Sheila fools is herself, but she does not fool Mom. 2) Maturation transformation is the theme.

I find it interesting that you categorize this story as a melodrama. While Sheila may be a melodramatic character, I don't see the story as a melodrama. If anything, Mom throws a bucket of cold water on Sheila's antics and refrains from getting sucked into her daughter's drama.

While the suggestion of rescuing a lost puppy is interesting and I appreciate the symbolism, I can't see it fitting into this flash fiction story. Already I've taken heat for "narrative withholding" and another side story will stretch out the introduction of the conflict.

Also, I like to think, that at least in the introduction, Sheila comes off as being sympathetic. This will change as more of Sheila's character is revealed and it may even change back at the end. I think realistic characters have both likeable and unlikeable traits. The readers opinion of both Sheila and Mom will change as more of their characters are revealed. So I don't see the need to add something to make Sheila to appear more likeable this early on.

Your speculation in the paragraph about Sheila going to her Mom for comfort (and the one about maturation that follows) comes closest to the heart of the story.

But we have gotten away from the key business. This is where I need help. How do I express Sheila's age and the history of the key in as few words/sentences as possible without it coming off as "cluttered, clumsy, and confused."

Which I agree, it is. So what do I do here?

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extrinsic
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For me, all answers orient around dramatic complication. Conflict is too general and often varied a concept for my writing, reading, and critical sensibilities. Conflict as a narrative theory, as I know it, is a diametric opposition of outcomes based on stakes.

In this case, I see acceptance or rejection as Sheila's conflict. Rejection is what causes, incites her tangible dramatic complication, on the surface, as wanting comfort opposed by problems having to find comfort through her mom, who probably as much as says Put on your big girl panties.

Tangible, surface complications, though, are superficial in the sense they mask subtext and are generally dull. Subtext, on the other hand, is more entertaining and engaging for readers from involving their imaginations to span features and ironies and reconcile and interpret double binds. Subtext is underlying meaning, between the lines, so to speak, of what a story says about a topic or subject and is what a story is really about, mostly commentary on a human condition, mostly moral value systems.

The reason why I see melodrama is because the opening is empty emotional appeals for pity. Sheila goes home in tears to find comfort due to a breakup causing her ennui and angst. She has a woe is me pity party of one. I don't care nor am I curious to read past that at this time.

A thousand-word flash fiction piece allows for roughly two hundred words per sequence, or act, a five-act sequence structure.

Act one, exposition act--exposition meaning setup or outset, not summary and explanation-type exposition--introduces an antagonizing event: dramatic complication. About two hundred words.

Bridge crisis, inciting crisis, event that causes a protagonist to act proactively to satisfy the complication.

Act two, rising action act, increasing efforts to satisfy the complication. About two hundred words.

Bridge crisis, realization crisis, full realization of the complication's circumstances.

Act three, climax act. Complication satisfaction in sight, efforts greatest, complication antagonizing force opposition greatest, complication outcome most in doubt, most learned about the complication. About two hundred words.

Bridge crisis, tragic crisis, an event arises that could or should have been foreseen sooner but was overlooked that puts the complication outcome in great doubt of succesful satisfaction.

Act four, falling action act. Efforts to come to an accommodation with unsuccessful complication satisfaction. About two hundred words.

Bridge crisis, satisfaction crisis, an event arises that leads toward complication satisfaction.

Act five, denouement act. The final, irrevocable, unequivocal satisfaction outcome of the dramatic complication. About two hundred words.

The bridge crises end, or maybe begin, their respective acts and are part of the apportioned word counts. Regardless, this pattern and sequence is crucial for reader satisfaction. In the process of the whole, a transformation is also crucial: from favorable circumstances to unfavorable, from unfavorable circumstances to worse, from unfavorable circumstances to more favorable. This is dramatic structure, plot.

An opening thirteen lines consumes about seven-tenths of one thousand words. That Sheila is melodramatic and statically holding a pity party by herself for most of the opening, doesn't to me get into developing her dramatic complication.

The puppy example is for illustration, not intended as a suggestion.

How to show Sheila's age in an implied fashion is a matter of using her age as a feature, or motif, of her circumstances. If she recollects the circumstances from when she received the key, oriented around her dramatic complication, that's one approach of an infinite number of possibilites. What's changed since then, too? She's seriously dated and been cruelly rejected, right? Why rejected? That might relate to the overall story?

I cannot write the scene's pattern or sequence. It would be my creative vision imposition, not your creative vision. I can, however, comment on whether a sequence works or doesn't work for me. This one doesn't yet.

[ April 01, 2014, 02:51 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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