Hi, First time posting. I think I'll just solicit a response from the first thirteen lines and then go on from there given the feedback. This is from a 2,500 word slipstream short story called When She Comes Home.
As she runs, the pine needles brush her skin, raise gooseflesh on her arms and come alive with scent. Ivy is not far behind, she’s counting, eyes covered with both hands. Lily in a red coat darts to the left, intent on a tangle of gray bushes. Cat’s feet strike deep into the soil breaking needle and twig. Moon colored moths flit over tall grasses of antique gold. She moves past them towards a tall stand of trees wreathed in cottonwood seeds. Her palms strike the bark. She glances back to see if Ivy’s narrow blue eyes peek out from behind her hands. Not yet. Cat plants a foot in the dirt, breaking the crown of mushrooms gathered at its base. She pushes off, grabbing for a low hanging branch while kicking her foot towards a knothole. It holds for a second, then she slides back down, her hands scraped by the rasp of the bark.
Revision 1: As Cat runs, the pine needles brush her skin, raise gooseflesh on her arms and come alive with scent. Ivy is not far behind, she’s counting, eyes covered with both hands. Lily in a red coat darts to the left, intent on a tangle of gray bushes. Cat’s feet strike deep into the soil breaking needle and twig. Moon colored moths flit over tall grasses of antique gold. She moves past them towards a tall stand of trees wreathed in cottonwood seeds. Her palms strike the bark. She glances back to see if Ivy’s narrow blue eyes peek out from behind her hands. Not yet. Cat plants a foot in the dirt, breaking the crown of mushrooms gathered at its base. She pushes off, grabbing for a low hanging branch while kicking her foot towards a knothole. It holds for a second, then she slides back down, her hands scraped by the rasp of the bark.
Revision 2: The pine needles brush Cat's skin, raise gooseflesh on her arms and come alive with scent. Ivy's not far behind. She counts down, her eyes covered with both hands. Lily, in a red coat, darts to the left, intent on a tangle of gray bushes. Cat’s feet strike deep into the soil, break needle and twig. Moon-colored moths flit over tall grasses of antique gold. Cat moves past them toward a tall stand of trees wreathed in cottonwood seeds. Her palms strike the bark. She glances back to see if Ivy’s narrow blue eyes peek out from behind her hands. Not yet. Cat plants a foot in the dirt, breaks the crown of mushrooms gathered at its base. She pushes off, grabs for a low hung branch while she kicks her foot towards a knothole. Her grip holds for a second, then she slides back down, her hands scraped by the rasp of the bark.
It appears to be the beginning of a game of Hide and Seek, a child's game that can also be a vehicle for increasing character tensions and apprehensions, the thrill of avoiding discovery.
But where are we headed?
With only 2,500 words to play with, is this delightful, yet seemingly pointless opening a valuable expenditure of a limited word count? That's for you to judge, of course.
Overall I found the style, voice and imagery enchanting and almost childlike, not in writing style but in emotional content. My biggest complaint, and it literally pulled me out of the moment as I wondered about the sentence structure was this: Ivy is not far behind . . . It's only the fragment of a sentence, but coming directly after pine needles, my initial gut reaction was that Ivy was a plant. Silly me, huh?
Just some first impressions. Who is the protagonist? Is it Ivy? Probably not. Is it Lily? Is it Cat? Is it Moon? (After so many names that referenced natural things, it took rereading the sentence to see that Moon was, well, a color.) This dissonance of not knowing who "she" was offset the interesting imagery. It became my focus as a reader. I think it's Cat, but since Cat was introduced by name so late, after two others, I am not so sure - "she" could be simply observing Cat.
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Ivy, Lily, and Cat, names vine, blossom, and feline, delightedly play hide and seek. The opening expresses an emotional state; for one, that's artful. For slipstream genre, delight works as well as negative emotions to alter emotional equilibrium; the principal functions of an opening's introductions are met.
For two, the opening is an event, a child's game's opening. Lily and Cat hide; Ivy is "it." The setting and several characters', that compete, introductions are begun as well.
For three, a child's game comes with built-in dramatic complication: wants and problems wanting satisfaction. That complication, the contest, the competition, poses as a bridging dramatic complication, its antagonism magnitude low even for an average length short fiction. Two thousand or so words about an average length for writing workshops generally, so that a whole narrative is offered for evaluation yet not too long to strain auditors. Minor bridging complications open with a more or less routine about to be interrupted and the main action begun soon.
Stronger organization and content could more clearly express the action, who the viewpoint agonist is, that the delightful scene routine is about to be dramatically interrupted, and what the overall, main dramatic complication is.
The narrative viewpoint bounces from character to character, around the setting, and the sequence of events anonymously, like a fourth person, a bystander observes and reports the action. The viewpoint is external to the narrative, looks inward on the action from a remote distance. Close narrative distance appeals observe from within a narrative.
Ivy is first named, by natural default the viewpoint agonist. However, the "she" of the first sentence is introduced first and patently not Ivy, not if Ivy's behind whomever is that first "she." However, Lily's described externally, an observer cannot see her or himself externally, usually. Though this is slipstream.
Cat is named and depicted next. The focus on her by greater proportion and later introduction, politely introduced last, implies she's the viewpoint agonist. Yet she too is observed externally by the mysterious bystander from afar.
The bridging complication of a game contest and emotional disequilbrium are mono-dimensional, in that emotional contexture needs a contrast emotion and a complication that signal the routine is about to be interrupted, that events are about to take a dramatic turn toward the main complication wanting satisfation. Cat scrapes her hands on the tree bark, that line almost serves; however, that event's contexture signals nothing dramatic.
All the above could be stronger crafted by turning the viewpoint to an internal one of one of the three characters, and by that character expressing a personal emotional attitude toward the stimuli. As well, that character expressing a stronger personal want or problem related to though apart from the game during the game's play.
Slipstream, like any fantastical fiction, requires a setup of the fantastical contexture in opening introductions. A crossover genre, the foundation slipstream convention is a sense or irrealis, surreal, unreal, not real. Whether or not fantasy, science fiction, or horror or combinations thereof, their irrealis overlaps along with the overt irrealis. No irrealis introduced. Again, if a viewpoint agonist and her main complication were introduced, an irrealis quality from them would serve.
The grammar and rhetoric style are problematic in nondiscretionary and discretionary principles. Content and organization overall is problematic.
The opening word "as" is a conjunction word. Opening a composition with a conjunction is almost always a grammar fault. Use of "as" as a coordination conjunction instead of as a correlation conjunction is also a grammar fault, though in slang dialect is discretionary. Leaving "as" stand or taking it out doesn't change the sentence's meaning either way. More craftful and artful and stylistic to take it out and its prefatory clause altogether. Begin with "Pine needles". "The" starting a narrative is too definite an article with which to open in many cases.
The "and" conjuction of the sentence serial list takes a comma before it. Only journalism skips the serial comma before a conjunction in serial lists. Also known in U.S. dialects as the "Harvard comma" and British dialects as the "Oxford comma."
"Ivy's not far behind, _she’s counting_" is a tense coordination fault, a present participle verb amid a main tense of simple present. Unnecessary tense shift and a nondefinite verb tense: static voice. Simple present //Ivy's not far behind, she counts// The second clause a process statement (event), the first a stasis statement (state of being).
Also, separate, independent ideas require separate sentences or otherwise a semicolon join. Also, "count" in verb use takes an adverb or preposition. "Count" is a two-word verb. //Ivy's not far behind. She counts down// or //Ivy's not far behind; she counts down//
"Lily in a red coat darts to the left" mid sentence preposition phrases take comma brackets. Mid sentence preposition phrases are parenthetical asides, expressed commentary, though no overt commentary in that use presents. Perhaps the red coat symbolizes a human condition, in which case, further, the comma brackets signal emphasis to call due attention to commentary. A red coat on a girl traditionally symbolizes a young woman at age of puberty onset. "Little Red Riding Hood," for example. That tradition may be too obscure for today's general audiences, though.
The preposition phrase may also come first or last in the sentence syntax; commas are nondiscretionary in any case. //Lily, in a red coat, darts to the left//, //In a red coat, Lily darts to the left//, or //Lily darts to the left, in a red coat// Whichever one signals the intended emphasis.
"strike deep into the soil, _breaking_" another tense coordination fault.
"Moon colored moths" hyphenation fault. Adjective terms take a hyphen join. //Moon-colored moths//
"plants a foot in the dirt, _breaking_" another tense coordiantion fault.
"pushes off, _grabbing_" another tense coordination fault.
"low hanging branch" another hyphenation fault. Also, an unnecessary gerund adjective. A definite verb used for the adjective is warranted. //low-hung branch//
"while kicking her foot towards" another tense coordination fault and a syntax fault. Plus, a another serial list punctuation fault. //She pushes off, grabs for a low-hung branch, while her foot kicks towards// "kicks towards" Intransistive verb case to kick is also a two-word verb, its preposition term, in this case, must not be separated. See a dictionary of English usage for issues about "towards" compared and contrasted with toward.
"It holds for a second" pronoun subject antecedent fault. "It" is a proximity pronoun, references the "knothole." However, "it," in that case, references antecedent subject her hand grips the tree branch. Her grip.
By the way, at this time, before Ms. Dalton Woodbury edits for length, the fragment length is sixteen lines. The thirteen-line limit extends to "rasp of the bark."
Similar tense coordination faults in the remainder. One of note, "a squirrel issues chittering threats" The term "issues" reaches for a commentary strength though falls flat from its neutral emotional contexture. "Chittering" is stong enough otherwise, if simple present tense. //a squirrel chitters threats//
In terms of craft, emotional introduction essentials stand out for me as appeal strengths. Content and organization, grammar and style, voice and viewpoint shortcomings spoil the emotional effect though.
This is no bug deal, but we usually add our revisions to the bottom of the first post, eg. Revision 1, 2 etc., and also a post below to indicate that you have posted the revision. That way people coming late, or coming back, can see the changes and read what prompted them. Not all changes are useful (in general) and sometimes (though not often) there can be disagreement as to what the issues are. Its possible for a critiquer to say "I like the original one better." And so needs to see both versions to make the comparison.
On revisions, I generally would wait a week before revising, which gives a chance for multiple opinions to be given, and stops my propensity to react in any way, either overcompensating or stubbornly disbelieving. I then go through the critiques, sifting points into categories such as "Doh, how could I have missed that?", "I'll consider that one carefully", "Interesting point of view", and "what's the real reason for that point?", and a range of others, largely to treat each opinion with respect yet without coming under them or being overwhelmed by them. That way I can alter the points that ring true to me, or ones that several critiquers found, without giving up any sense of ownership of the story. (Not that you did that here, I'm just in the mode of self-reflecting.)
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In response to the Revision 2: I like the mood of this story, it appears almost as a comic book in my mind, with each panel showing closeups of the actions described. Very fun indeed. There were a few things that threw me off though. The names make me think these are not humans but either anthropomorphic animals or fairytale creatures such as wood nymphs. Just my impression. I expect the rest of the story would clear that up. Also the line "Ivy's not far behind" sounds as if Ivy is currently chasing Cat and almost upon her, though it seems Ivy is actually standing still as she counts. "Cat plants a foot in the dirt, breaks the crown of mushrooms..." Sounds as if she is intentionally breaking the mushrooms, as if this action has some particular significance rather than being happenstance. Lastly, just a little error "She’s counts down" probably just need to drop the 's
All in all, I like where this is going.
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