In response to Grumpy Old Guy's gripe about slow starts on flash stories... this was for the pre-Xmas prompt but didn't get sent in (no internet for several weeks, bah). The complete story is 298 words so this is actually a bit more than 1/3rd of it. I hope I counted 13 lines right!
======= The library stank.
It smelled of wet, and mold, and dead things that should never have lived.
Rain dripped through the roof, down the spines of books and intruders. Meril shivered under his damp cloak, flinched from an owl that fled hooting into the dusk. Shelves tottered all around him, higher than his head. He eased a volume from the nearest shelf, carefully, so carefully, but it fell to mould in his hands. A second, plucked sopping from the floor, fared no better. He dared not touch a third.
There'd be no salving knowledge here. No secrets to hold back the darkness. Time had taken all the words.
Tears clouded his eyes, slid down his cheeks to mingle sparkling with the rain. ======
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This seems like horror, which I don't read often; but I like the tone, and the style. The setting is well developed in a short time.
So far I don't know what's going on here. That's not necessarily bad, but it's kind of hard to give feedback on a story you can't see. I know what the theory is, but in actuality the average person reads for five pages before deciding whether or not to finish a book. But I digress.
Anyway, I see plenty of published flash that's less interesting.
"A second, plucked sopping from the floor, fared no better." This is awkward.
I assume "salving" should be 'salvaging,' unless you're talking about rubbing ointment on a concept.
"Sparkling" seems parenthetical. I don't know what the modern convention is for punctuating that, apparently.
I'll read the whole thing if you want.
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Fourteen lines actually, though the first two paragraphs best practice could be joined since they entail the same idea of a smelly library.
A salvager named Meril prospects at a library and finds the contents ruined beyond recovery.
A standout feature of the fragment for me is this place's milieu is implied as a post apocalyptic situation: not directly stated and therefore engaging for it. A mite stronger appeal for me would be more specificity of what the salvager seeks -- wants to satisfy complication-wise -- so that the complication is stronger and clearer. Flash fiction demands more narrowed -- than longer fiction -- focus on specifics that become larger than life and expansively transcendent, universal due to their specificity.
A number of grammar vices throw me out of the narrative:
The separated first and second paragraphs.
Use of syntax expletive "it" to begin the second sentence's subject phrase.
Rain may drip from a roof, or trickle through or from, not drip through. A roof opening maybe drips.
The stray commas after "wet" and "mold."
The run-on sentences of the third and fifth paragraphs.
"Mold" and "mould," one U.S. variant, the other the British variant spelling.
Shelves that totter implies movement, what, pendulum-like? What causes that? The man? The wet? The wind? Towered may be less awkward.
Missing comma after "fled."
"Volume" without close proximity antecedent context development can be mistaken for something other than a physical book. In this case, water, because the prior content dwells on water.
The four negation statements of the third and fourth paragraphs.
"Salving" is a stumbler, the context clear, upon reflection, though causes a hiccough.
Missing comma in the last sentence after "mingle."
Artfully appealing and poetic sentence: "Time had taken all the words." I feel that could be stronger if considered more rhetorically. An example: "Time and tide wait for no man." //Time and nature's tithes had rotted all the words.//
The overall narrative point of view is a summary lecture-type, yet the discourse tries for close viewpoint character perspective. The summary nature of several of the sentences is the sticking point. For example, "It smelled of wet, and mold, and dead things that should never have lived. . . . Meril shivered under his damp cloak, flinched from an owl that fled hooting into the dusk. Shelves tottered all around him, higher than his head. He eased a volume from the nearest shelf, carefully, so carefully . . . Tears clouded his eyes, slid down his cheeks to mingle sparkling with the rain."
Those parts summarily tell static actions rather than show sensations causally, which would immerse readers more strongly in the scene if shown instead. Consider descriptions for the smells, sights, and tactile touches instead of narrator summaries. Consider also sounds, like of the wind, the dripping rainwater, the creaking shelves, the owl's flapping wings. Also, mold spores get into the mouth and have an unpleasant taste.
"The library stank." for me, is usually a type of expression that is static from summarizing a sensation without describing the stench. However, the context of the sentence in isolation is highly subjective; therefore, a subjective expression, interjection like for its brevity, and creates a surprise and evokes a mystery. In other words, an inside-looking-out expression from a character's personal perspective. That's an artfully appealing feature.
The subjective nature of this is artful too: "smelled of . . . dead things that should never have lived." The negation adverb "never" is a mite too emphatic for me: emphatic mood. A degree of emotional charge for the emphatic mood though, not entirely meaningless emphasis.
Consider recasting the phrase into a positive and fluently flowing expression or amplifying the subjective nature and emotional emphasis. More specificity, for example, //smelled of . . . dead malignancies cursed for ever having lived.// or //smelled of . . . dead and fetid mutants that shouldn't ever have breathed.// (Exaggerated for effect and illustration purposes.)
The title for me is on the generic side. A modifier would make the title more evocative, for example: //The Last Print Library// evokes mystery and nonetheless flows fluently into the narrative. Or //The Last Print Library Standing//. Though I'm less enthused about -ing participle verbs in titles. //The Last Print Library Opened [or Closed]//.
Some artful language, some clumsy language; some artful craft and expression, some clumsy craft and expression -- overall, for me, shortfalls outweigh strengths. I might tentatively read on.
Seems like a long buildup for a 238 word story. The first line, for me, doesn't work. It's direct while telling me nothing. Seems like the first line and second could be combined: 'The library smelled of dead things that should have never lived.'
If I understand this post correctly, this is an exercise in flashback editing, so I guess I'm not wrong in reshaping the story. So the opening would be:
quote:The library smelled of dead things that should never have lived. Meril eased a volume from the nearest shelf, but it fell to mould in his hands. A second, plucked sopping from the floor, fared no better. He dared not touch a third.
There'd be no [salvaging] knowledge here. Time had taken all the words.
After this, if Meril doesn't fall through a narrative wormhole into strange time and misguided adventure in the very next sentence, I'd probably stop reading.
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I thought the piece read quite well. Yes, I'd change the opening lines. Perhaps along the lines Denevius suggested.
I didn't notice the 'faults' pointed out by extrinsic except his first and third point, the rest is high-brow grammar which is beyond moi.
As I said in my original post, the complaint is usually who is this character and why should I care about him? And, being a novice in flash-fiction, I think starting with character and then setting might be a better strategy. Get me interested in character before surroundings, unless you can do both at the same time.
Just an observation as I ponder writing something 1/100th the size of my normal endeavours.
High-brow grammar, eh? Try this: fundamental. The least reason for attention to grammar is because many readers notice an accumulation of nonfluent grammar. Screening readers are more attuned to nonfluent grammar than general readers. Acquisition editors are yet more attuned though many cannot or won't enumerate precisely why; rather, they operate on aesthetic hunches for a part of their screening discretion and rely on unstated reasons otherwise. Gross grammar vices do stand out more for editors and screening readers than general readers and result in either submission rejection or menial, tedious editorial adjustments. What a writer doesn't know that a writer doesn't know is problematic for accomplishing publication success.
Arguably, an argument may be construed that precise grammar is optional, though not at the mutual expenses of reading and comprehension ease and consistency. Rhetorical figures encompass the option set distinct from grammar's rhetorical principles. Journalism grammar is as rigid in several regards as prose grammar though less precise. Less or no rhetorical figures used to be a journalism convention that television and written-word news gossip has long abandoned.
Commas used in serial lists is one example of differences between the two grammars. For prose, A, B, and (or) C; for journalism, A, B and C. A serial list's items may be more than one or two words, too, especially where sequential actions are portrayed: Caesar anxiously crossed the Rubicon, saw Rome at his leisure, and earnestly conquered the empire.
The points in my post above about extraneous or missing commas, for example. The sentence with extraneous commas is a serial list. Commas that separate serial items translate to and or or or another coordination or contrast conjunction term, like plus, nor, or but. Commas in that case asyndetonally (lacking conjunction terms) substitute for conjunction words, except the final comma-conjunction sequence of the serial list.
The missing comma points in my post above are for nonrestrictive dependent clauses at sentences' ends. For prose grammar, all dependent clauses, phrases, or words that start a sentence are separated from the main clause by a comma. Likewise, all mid-sentence dependent clauses, phrases, or words are preceded and followed by separating commas. Dependent nonrestrictive clauses, phrases, or words at a sentence's end is preceded by a separating comma. Restrictive dependent clauses, phrases, or words at sentence's ends are not separated by a preceding comma. A restrictive expression restricts the meaning of a main, independent clause. Timely and judicious dashes or colons may artfully substitute for clause, phrase, and word separation commas.
Examples: Dependent sentence adverb; Leisurely, he chose to linger in Rome longer. He chose to linger in Rome, leisurely, longer. He chose to linger longer in Rome, leisurely. (nonrestrictive) Dependent verbal phrase; During Rome's mild winter season, he chose to linger longer in town. He chose, during Rome's mild winter season, to linger longer in town. He chose to linger longer in town during Rome's mild winter season. (restrictive)
Dependent noun clauses, phrases, and words follow the same conventions that do present participle verbal clauses, phrases, and words. Note the latter above is a restrictive dependent present participle verbal clause -- "during."
A journalism convention allows a dependent clause, phrase, or words of fewer than five words may optionally omit comma separations if doing so doesn't change meaning. Journalism of the Print Age conserves publication space; comma omissions save space. That former convention, though, is haphazardly applied and grossly inconsistently used, even for formal composition. Overlaps from learned journalism grammar conventions crop up in prose and formal composition, especially in magazine publications, though prose, best practice, uses prose's grammar conventions, or at least uses optional conventions consistently.
Examples: Tonight[,] when the fireworks started[,] Mikey hid under the porch. (Warranted commas bracketed.)
Though this below is proper prose grammar, dependent restrictive word "tonight" and "when" clause, causality is illogically jumbled.
Mikey hid under the porch tonight when the fireworks started.
Veterans came home to no parades or celebrations[,] according to the war history book. (Unwarranted comma bracketed, restrictive dependent clause example of an extraneous comma.)
In other words, I know what I know and why what I know matters. My clients rely on my thoroughness and precision so I don't waste their time or cause them costly embarrassment. What I don't know is how writers believe nonfluent grammar will pass unnoticed. Several acquisition editors and screening readers report a submission with more than a few minor grammar faults on a first page is an easy rejection. Really, what I don't know about grammar might fill a thimble or two.
And that's precisely why I employed a copy-editor; I know what I don't know -- sometimes. After you're accepted because of what you write, your publisher will assign someone to put in all the squiggles.
Less and less anymore do publishers assign a copyeditor. There's no revenue percentage in it and many publication editors anymore are by degrees nonfluent themselves. Either a writer hires an editor so that a work is accepted as is or a writer's grammar fluency is above board. More often than not, a work is declined for nonfluent grammar reasons. Of course, many houses just publish as is, warts and all, and become or remain fringe outfits.
And grammar fluency is more than a few squiggles here and there, also content and organization (craft), expression (discourse method), and appeal (audience), of which the rhetoric principle decorum is foremost; that is, suit words and subject matter each to the other, the occasion, and the audience.
I cannot for the death of me understand why write nonfluently for nonfluent readers. They're a small and sporadic audience niche. Fluent writing, on the other hand, at least allows no convenient stop and reject point, if not keeps eyes glued to the page, and appeals to broader audiences from fluency alone.
I do not mean fluency is precise and rigid formal grammar, though do mean grammar comprises a spectrum of narration, speech, and thought and regional grammars. "Strays" by Mark Richard is a grade school grammarian's nightmare. Yet the short story's discourse is a richly fluent dialect of regional and youngster age-related idioms.
Richard's narratives are delightful idiomatic, nonconventional grammar tableaus, and genuinely plotted stories, not anecdotes, sketches, or vignettes. The collection for which Richard is best known: The Ice at the Bottom of the World. "Her Favorite Story" is the most celebrated of Richard's works.
I liked this quite a bit, but there were many grammar errors and the lines could be edited for style and structure. I will give it a read if you need. I was unsure if you required one based on your intro.
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Oh my, you've all been busy while I was away
Yes, I meant salving, not salvaging, tho the conflation of their meanings is not inappropriate.
I used the short intro sentence because that produces the harshness I wanted. Doesn't work the same if omitted or combined. Maybe it's cuz I also write poetry, but I'm exceedingly nitpicky about eyefeel==>flow as I see it. Your visions may vary.
I'd like a different word than "mould" (I meant something like wet loam, as of rotted leaves, but too damp to be pleasant) but the exact word hasn't come to mind yet. It needs to be a single word.
And in the next line, Meril sees a phenomenon that becomes the ending, so hopefully our fading readers will continue.
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