Good day. I'm looking at a flash fiction story also, and I'm eager to hear any suggestions you have for improving this draft. Here are 13 lines, but if anyone would like to read the rest (1,200 words), please let me know. Thanks!
"So the deranged old man claimed," I said, trying to be careful with this last detail, "the only way to end the curse was to use the sword on the one that I love." The rapier sat between us on the table top as I finished explaining what the warlock had done to me, and Alyonssa, thank the gods, listened. She was always good at that and it was comforting now to feel her quiet support. Although I'd told her everything about the wound in my thigh, I was glad the bandages encircling my leg were out of sight. Warm blood was still seeping from the cut. Just like the warlock had promised. I had been trying to keep the loss of blood slow since I got back to the city, avoiding any rough-housing. So far the lightheaded feeling wasn't bothering me yet, which I called a small victory. Soon enough I would have to take this magic sword he had given me and…replenish....
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The prose is decent, but this doesn't quite grab me. I think it's because the viewpoint character seems like he's lying to Alyonssa right off the bat due to being careful with that last detail, and no explanation for the lie is given. It makes me distrust the character because he's not being clear about his intentions with her or with the reader.
I'm also unclear on exactly what the warlock did to the character. I'd assume it's some kind of curse, but the lack of clarity further confuses the issue for me.
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An injured individual recounts why he wields a bloodlust sword.
The fragment implies a vampire-like curse though the narrator agonist gloats as if the curse is a blessing and what noble self-sacrifice he's put through in service to the sword's bloodlust. Huh, external blame assignment and responsibility someone, anyone else's ownership.
That's somewhat inspired and potentially timely and relevant, if that's the intent and not a writer surrogate daydream self-idealization, though lacks adequate implication development for full realization and inferableness's sake. A cue or so, not much, in the fragment could set up that possibility.
Writer surrogate, or for some dubious reason, like disparagement of artists who are as yet unaccomplished, "author," "Author surrogate. A character whom the author, consciously or unconsciously, models after himself. Such characters (e.g. Jubal Harshaw, Stranger in a Strange Land) often dominate the story when they should not, or acquire too many positive attributes, too few faults. Author surrogates often hog the point of view to the detriment of other characters." (David Smith. " Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction")
The narrator here hogs the viewpoint, noticeable from Alyonssa does not speak in the fragment and offers little, if any, commentary or self-interest expression. Also, not clear whether Alyonssa is the narrator's love interest or some other person is. "the one that I love" implies, indeed, a love interest waits in the wings yet unclear who the love interest is. A might unnecessary, heavy, and artless withholding there; a name at least is warranted. Is the love interest a possible contestant in the drama or a figment of the narrator's imagination or a mere scene drapery? Or what?
Plus, a narrator name for first person is an essential for readers to have a handle on identity, which, if Alyonssa speaks, introduces his name. Not just names him, though, is part of a dramatic speech and action. She could lovingly chastise, ironically, the narrator for some perceived and perceivable self-error. Opportunity to imply the narrator's external blame assignment self-error?
Characters clash, maybe on stage, maybe not off stage, and want-problem contests, problem foremost, of a magnitude suited to a word-count length set a plot and a story overall into motion. I see a static scene in the fragment, no movement to speak of. A still-life portrait scene through recollection of a state of being. This is how things are and will be, and little, if any substantive transformation.
The setup introduces a clash off stage between the warlock and the narrator, that's what I anticipate; however, the fragment implies the narrator's need to quench the bloodlust is the action to come. In any case, why the warlock cursed the narrator is missed and an essential piece. Why? Also opportunity to imply external blame assignment self-error? The narrator and the warlock's?
Stock stereotype folk tale events rely on a mysterious stock stereotype person, place, or object to set a plot in motion and then disappear, never to be mentioned again, and no detail about why or a causal mechanism given. If the warlock has a personal motivation for cursing the narrator with an unshakeable bloodlust sword, that becomes a fully realized motif. That is something the narrator could know or later discover and, ergo, entrain a transformative reversal and flow toward an inevitable surprise outcome. All influence characters best practice are self-motivated, like the warlock and Alyonssa. Motivations at a stakes' conflict risk and of a tonal attitude for each and all influence characters is a best practice.
The narrator's motivations and stakes are limited to the bloodlust and maybe a willing audience for his gloated complaints, and a mysterious love interest. The warlock's, none given. Alyonssa's, none given. The love interest's, none given. Are their motivations, stakes, and tones taken by default as given?
Opening with dialogue is a dead giveaway signal that artful dramatic development will be less than ideal. Dialogue without congruent setting development, plus event and character development, comes out of the blue from a disembodied voice. For me, that's a strong signal character development will be shy of an artful appeal mark, plus first person's usual faulty oversights thereof.
This is a run-on sentence and contains several grammar errors that distract and detract from reading ease and comprehension, bury meaning in a confused grammar: "The rapier sat between us on the table top as I finished explaining what the warlock had done to me, and Alyonssa, thank the gods, listened."
"sat" Objects do not sit; they set, maybe. Sit-set error. Plus, the sword is static if set aside. If in hand, or at least not static, say in a scabbard that is somehow an impediment, tactile sensation and action descriptions "show" event, setting, and character interaction and nature for dramatic appeals effect.
"table top" is a compound word and has been since the eighteenth century: //tabletop//.
"as" coordination conjunction error. Used as a conjunction, the word best practice also correlates foremost, is a correlation conjunction, not for connecting non-coordinate independent otherwise sentences.
"finished explaining" This is the opposite congruent to a Begin fallacy (see the Smith Glossary. "Finished" left out is stronger. Plus, a present progressive tense error and unnecessary -ing word.
"had done" tense error. Four predicates in the sentence of a wild and untamed sequence: simple past "sat," present progressive "finished explaining," past perfect "had done," and simple past "listened." None of the tense shifts from simple past are necessary. //set, explained, did, listened//. Untamed tense shifts challenge reading ease and comprehension. The sacred first law of writing -- foster reading ease and comprehension.
"and Alyonssa" conjunction clause-splice error. That Alyonssa listened is a complete and independent idea that warrants a separate sentence, for artful emphasis effect. //. . . to me. Alyonssa, thank the gods, listened.//
Run-on sentence altogether, five distinct subjects: rapier, tabletop, narrator I, warlock, Allyonsa; four distinct actions: sat, explaining, had done, listened -- four distinct ideas, each warrants an independent sentence for reading ease and comprehension purposes.
Similar grammar errors throughout the fragment likewise challenge reading ease and comprehension. Like "was still seeping," "avoiding any rough-housing," and others. Tense errors there, mostly. //still seeped,// //avoided any roughhouse// (noun, transitive or intransitive verb). Missing commas, etc. Eleven unnecessary -ing words of the fragment in one hundred sixty-five accumulates an ear-ringer rhyme nuisance.
Two implications of the fragment, intended or not, stand out for me, work for me if developed: external blame assignment as a self-error promises a meaningful story, maybe what the narrative is truly about through an artful subtext, and, if related, a bloodlust sword curse that artfully re-imagines the vampire topos.
"Ties for Cutting" expresses or implies little, if any, potent drama. A short fiction's title dramatic implications is as much if not more crucial than long fiction. A title is part of a story's dramatic action and movement. Plus, a pesky -ing word right at the start. Past tense title verbs are a best practice, nor progressives or infinitives unless those pre-stage the action to come. Past tense implies a just-this-immediate-past moment action, as if the present. The title recast to past tense more or less means //Cut Ties//. ("Cut" and "cuts", numbered though not -ed inflected, are the sole verb conjugations for its main tenses, past, future, and present. The other is the progressive -ing cutting. Opportunity there for multiple meaning implications in the verb's simple conjugations.) Yet that recast title illustration is hollow; the extant title is as hollow. //Love Ties Would Cut//, //Ties Love Cuts//, //Love Cuts Ties//, //Ties Cuts Love//, etc.
I could not at present read on as an engaged reader.
Disgruntled, thanks for helping me see one way that an unreliable narrator is difficult. The remainder of the story revolves around truths and misunderstanding. But the point is well taken - if the MC alienates the reader early, there won't be a chance for clarifications. And if the situation isn't clear, it seems like flash fiction isn't a good genre match.
extrinsic, thanks for such good instruction on so many levels. Your reading picked up on some details that make me hopeful I can make the story work. I'll try to turn the extended suggestions to good account.
My main question at this point is about setting up character progression - which implies a less than perfect agonist - w/o turning the reader off? I'll revise and resubmit. Thanks again!
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Character movement, and story movement overall, progress from initial want-problem expression to efforts to address the complication to want-problem satisfaction. A vice and folly-ridden flawed want is itself a problem, for example. A misdirection from an unreliable narrator could express a want that disguises a different, true intent. Later, a whoops reveals the true intent, maybe prematurely, maybe injudiciously, maybe not. No less, though, readers need cues and clues the agenda is other than it appears to reasonable people at first blush, includes the characters who are themselves unwitting dupes of a misdirection -- they too need to be of reasonable intelligence and missed the sleight of hand anyway.
If readers are in-cued, they feel smarter than a narrative, its narrator, and characters. Plus, in-cued develops dramatic irony appeals; readers engage because of the contrasts between what a narrator knows, what agonists know and reveal and conceal, and what readers surmise about a dramatic situation. Part readers read on for confirmation of suspicions, part they read on for hope of poetic justice, part they read on for hope of an agonist's success or failure, hope for perhaps agonists' personal growth, part they read on because they're wholly engaged, intellectually, imaginatively, and emotionally, maybe morally.
Unreliable narration comes in several flavors: deliberate narrator's misdirection, The Murder of Roger Akroyd, Agatha Christie; unintentional misdirection consequent to an intended direction, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; and misdirection out of a narrator's control due to mental incapacity, like intoxication episodes, arrested intellectual development, adverse mental health condition, or immorality, "The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gillman (adverse mental health). The third misdirection type is more common across literature.
See "Unreliable Narrator" Wikipedia for a partial list of more standout examples of unreliable narration.
Unreliable narration for flash length? The first category above seems ripe for it, maybe due to less word-count consumption demand than the other categories. Intentional misdirection, not of readers, per se, of co-agonists, if not of the narrator's self unintentionally, the second category, due to self-belief the means justify the ends and instead result in a transformative reversal of character.