Improving our 75 Word Stories -- READ FIRST POST

Dan Jones

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I believe that all art - including writing - no longer belongs to the creator (artist, author, etc.) once he/she puts it out to the public. It belongs to those who behold (read) it. All of us interpret art differently. And that's how it should be.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. And let's not forget that there's really only a certain amount you can do with 75 words, so in my opinion a little ambiguity is not only unavoidable, it's probably useful in getting more out of the story through varying reader interpretations.

I have entirely missed the point of some stories I've reviewed, and always feel dumb when that happens.
Which means that you don't need to feel dumb if you've chosen to interpret it in your own way. Think of it as extending the usefulness of the story ;)
 

Plucky Novice

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My August submission was my first flash fiction effort, a somewhat spur of the moment decision but an enjoyable experience. I'd like to improve so all feedback is welcome.

My submission:

"I spit out a tooth and try to wipe the sticky blood off my hands, is it mine? I’m not sure. I’m 25 to 1, being hunted by a 9 to 1. Two of us left in this loaded arena. She drags herself into sight over the misty hilltop, a biomechanical monstrosity with lethal intent, twin stilettos in hand. I fire up my buzzsaw. It’s time to move up the blood book."

I think that this could have been improved with some simple structure changes:

"I spit out a tooth and try to wipe the sticky blood off my hands, is it mine? I’m not sure.

I’m 25 to 1, being hunted by a 9 to 1. Two of us left in this loaded arena.

She drags herself into sight over the misty hilltop, a biomechanical monstrosity with lethal intent, twin stilettos in hand. I fire up my buzzsaw.

It’s time to move up the blood book."

I welcome your thoughts on these changes and any other suggestions you may have.
 

mosaix

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Welcome to the challenges PN.

I think that’s a definite improvement.

Although the story is the main element that I judge on, other things are bound to be taken into account, even if only subconsciously. Ease of reading is one of them.

I liked your entry. There’s enough implied ‘back story’ to draw the reader in and make it interesting. Where it failed, in my view, was that the connection to the theme was too tenuous for it to be considered for a vote.
 

Plucky Novice

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Welcome to the challenges PN.

I think that’s a definite improvement.

Although the story is the main element that I judge on, other things are bound to be taken into account, even if only subconsciously. Ease of reading is one of them.

I liked your entry. There’s enough implied ‘back story’ to draw the reader in and make it interesting. Where it failed, in my view, was that the connection to the theme was too tenuous for it to be considered for a vote.
That's interesting to understand as I didn't see it as tenuous, albeit I interpreted "Book" differently. I think I was the only entry to consider a betting book as in "running a book" rather than a traditional book. That's why the odds are stated in the second line, the end reference to moving up the book was intended to imply that if the character won, their future odds would improve.

Still the story has to stand on its own so maybe that is a lesson for me there.

Thanks for the feedback.
 

TheDustyZebra

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That's a definite formatting improvement, yes. It's generally always best not to have your story be a single paragraph. Ease of reading is one thing, and another is simply adding the impression that it's bigger -- stories clumped into one paragraph feel smaller, somehow.

I don't think the connection to the theme was tenuous, although I would say it took a conscious effort on my part to connect it, even with your actual use of "blood book".

I'm not sure exactly why it didn't rate with me -- I didn't dislike it, but it just didn't have the "something" needed to add it to my list. That's sometimes a mysterious phenomenon. There is the comma splice in the first line -- "is it mine" is a sentence of its own, so it should be split off with something more substantial than a comma, preferably a period. A colon or semicolon would do in a pinch. Aside from that, I'd say it just lacked punch. I don't feel any particular reason to root for the narrator, even given the odds he's facing. I don't have any stakes in his fight.
 

scarpelius

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As someone who have no idea what a "betting book" is, your story made no sense to me. I assumed the only link to the theme, was the phrase It’s time to move up the blood book. which I didn't understand it.

Formatting would have helped a lot, but you already figured that.

From my experience and sniffing through the old entries on the forum, writting a 75 word story, is really a challenge. There is not enough room to create your own context and thus you have to rely on hints and reader culture/knowledge/folklore. Since this is an international forum, you can go wrong even if you are a native English speaker. The background and life experience is different across Atlantic ocean. For example while a Christmas cracker is a well know item in your place, it is almost unknown in US, not to mention in other parts of the world. But someone use it in a story here.
My point is this: don't tie your story to a particular/regional/inside joke or you risk to loose potential readers/voters. But if you really think that is the story you want to share with the rest of us, cheat a bit and use the title to throw us a bone. The title is not counted in story length and even if you feel it will spoil the surprise, it will be very helpful for someone who does not share your cultural background.
 

mosaix

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That's interesting to understand as I didn't see it as tenuous, albeit I interpreted "Book" differently. I think I was the only entry to consider a betting book as in "running a book" rather than a traditional book. That's why the odds are stated in the second line, the end reference to moving up the book was intended to imply that if the character won, their future odds would improve.

Still the story has to stand on its own so maybe that is a lesson for me there.

Thanks for the feedback.
A betting book! That completely passed me by PN. Now I understand things a little better.
 

Plucky Novice

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That's a definite formatting improvement, yes. It's generally always best not to have your story be a single paragraph. Ease of reading is one thing, and another is simply adding the impression that it's bigger -- stories clumped into one paragraph feel smaller, somehow.

I don't think the connection to the theme was tenuous, although I would say it took a conscious effort on my part to connect it, even with your actual use of "blood book".

I'm not sure exactly why it didn't rate with me -- I didn't dislike it, but it just didn't have the "something" needed to add it to my list. That's sometimes a mysterious phenomenon. There is the comma splice in the first line -- "is it mine" is a sentence of its own, so it should be split off with something more substantial than a comma, preferably a period. A colon or semicolon would do in a pinch. Aside from that, I'd say it just lacked punch. I don't feel any particular reason to root for the narrator, even given the odds he's facing. I don't have any stakes in his fight.
The stakes point makes a lot of sense, there's nothing to make you care about the character. I could have opened with:

""I spit out a tooth and try to wipe the sticky blood off my hands. I'm one step closer to winning my freedom."

Maybe that would address it. Characterisation in 75 words is tricky.

Thanks for the comments.
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
Don't mind me. I did use to enter the challlenges a lot and then life got crazy. Now I'm just a voyeur. :) (Unless Sexy Space Pilots in Chocolate IS next month's themes. I can do a lot with that in 75 words... :D)

I got lost in the jargon, I'm afraid - but I did know it was betting jargon and so made the leap to what a blood book was.

Having said that, I rather liked it. The language was nice and concise and the idea a good one. Keep at it!
 

Joshua Jones

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My August submission was my first flash fiction effort, a somewhat spur of the moment decision but an enjoyable experience. I'd like to improve so all feedback is welcome.

My submission:

"I spit out a tooth and try to wipe the sticky blood off my hands, is it mine? I’m not sure. I’m 25 to 1, being hunted by a 9 to 1. Two of us left in this loaded arena. She drags herself into sight over the misty hilltop, a biomechanical monstrosity with lethal intent, twin stilettos in hand. I fire up my buzzsaw. It’s time to move up the blood book."

I think that this could have been improved with some simple structure changes:

"I spit out a tooth and try to wipe the sticky blood off my hands, is it mine? I’m not sure.

I’m 25 to 1, being hunted by a 9 to 1. Two of us left in this loaded arena.

She drags herself into sight over the misty hilltop, a biomechanical monstrosity with lethal intent, twin stilettos in hand. I fire up my buzzsaw.

It’s time to move up the blood book."

I welcome your thoughts on these changes and any other suggestions you may have.
I liked your premise as well; biomechanical sentient Battle Bots is good fun from the outset. I caught on to the betting book, so I saw the connection to the theme.

For me, it was a combination of the layout (I'll join in with the chorus and say that the new format looks much better), the awkward sentence construction in the first sentence, and the lack of empathy for the character. We the only thing we know about his motivation is that he wants to increase his projected odds, but that doesn't tell us what he would gain for doing so. Freedom? Riches? Tasty snacks? We just don't know, so it is hard to empathize with him. How does he feel about these fights? Is he trapped? Excited? Apathetic? This are some of the questions you may consider when approaching the characterization of this person.

For the first two sentences, you used nearly a third of your words right there, so I think there are some ways to tighten that up. And, honestly, you may be able to tighten up much of the story to give more space for the character motives. Of course, this is in my voice and own writing oddities, but you could try something like "I spit a tooth into my blood-caked hands. Can't tell whose blood." That would save 7 words, which could be used to establish the motive better. You also spent 6 words describing their odds, but if you said 25/1 and 9/1 instead, you would have gained at least two, if not four words there as well (I don't know if the mods would count those as two words or one), although that may come at the cost of clarity. But if you use the extra words to clarify your meaning, you may wind up with a net increase in clarity. Same for "She drags herself into sight over the misty hilltop, a biomechanical monstrosity with lethal intent, twin stilettos in hand" which I suspect you could get down from 19 to around 10-12, giving you another 7-9 words. Just those three would give you between 16 and 20 more words to work with.

That is the thing with these challenges; it is some of the best editing practice around, but it requires the same degree of ruthlessness to your words as is exhibited by your protagonist. But you will get there, quite possibly before I do (I tend to be pretty think headed when it comes to my own work). You have the core tools necessary to tell a good story; add to that ruthless editing and deeper portrayals of your characters, and you will be winning these things before long. And I, for one, look forward to seeing that.
 

The Judge

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I really liked your story, PN, hence its appearance on my long shortlist. I immediately got the running a book idea from the odds you showed, so I didn't even need the last line. (Go me!!) But a good title can add so much to a story that it's worth spending a little time on that alone.

The different formatting might have helped win over a few more members, as when something is dense, the eye tends to miss words unless we're reading carefully -- and when there are 40 or more stories that's not always a given. Spacing out gives a story room to breathe and helps to ensure a more thorough reading. For myself, though, I'd take the "I fire up my buzzsaw" sentence into the final para to give that last line a bit more punch.

I agree with TDZ about the comma splice in the first line, and as pernickity as that sounds, punctuation can make a difference between a mention and a vote for us pedantic types! Her idea about stakes is also a good one. I'd got that the narrator was perceived as the weaker of the two fighters, from the difference in odds, which was enough for me, but making it clear he/she is fighting for freedom would be an excellent way of creating empathy. I'd guessed it was a Hunger Games kind of thing so had already read that into it but it's always better to be more concrete so readers don't have to make assumptions. I invariably get my other half to read my stories, and almost as invariably I have to add bits to clarify the plot as he's left scratching his head.

As you say, characterisation is difficult in only 75 words, as well as getting a plot in there, but it gets easier with practice. Personally, I think this was a great story, and if you'd not said it was a first attempt, I don't think anyone would have been the wiser. Well done!
 

TheDustyZebra

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I forgot to mention the other thing that jarred in that first line. While it is, of course, correct grammar, the word "spit" starts us off on the wrong foot because it's both present and past tense. I read (there's another one) it as past initially, and then had to pause and adjust as the present-tense "try" came along.

You might consider rearranging things to put a more obviously present-tense verb up front -- although that sentence wouldn't work if you started with wiping blood and then spit out the tooth, so it's not as simple as that.
 

The Judge

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I forgot to mention the other thing that jarred in that first line. While it is, of course, correct grammar, the word "spit" starts us off on the wrong foot because it's both present and past tense. I read (there's another one) it as past initially, and then had to pause and adjust as the present-tense "try" came along.
Ah, the perils of a shared language. For me and PN, using British English, it's obvious "spit" is present tense, as we use "spat" for the past. You'll have to stop reading UK entries with US eyes!
 

The Big Peat

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@Plucky Novice -

For me, your 75 worder falls short of being a story. Its a vignette of something happening, not a narrative of how something changed. And as such I'm unlikely to have voted for it - although I should point out not everyone is so fussy about that.

Having the character win or lose would have probably given it that sense of change and narrative.
 

TheDustyZebra

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Ah, the perils of a shared language. For me and PN, using British English, it's obvious "spit" is present tense, as we use "spat" for the past. You'll have to stop reading UK entries with US eyes!
I thought you guys used both. But maybe I'm thinking of the "spin/span" thing. Or, rather, the "span/spun" thing. And now my head is doing spinny things. But not spitty ones.
 

The Judge

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Ooh yes, I've always said "span" and that's how it appeared in my WiPs, so I had to go through changing it to "spun" which feels and reads so oddly. It's actually noted as archaic or dialect for the past tense -- I'm claiming the latter, as I'm not that old -- but it still had to go from the narrative.

And "spit" is allowed as an alternative, but I've never seen it used. Unlike "fit" which is strictly US usage as a past tense, but which is insidiously creeping into use here.
 

M. Robert Gibson

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I'd just like to return briefly to the subject of the reviews given by the big three. There have been a couple of entries of mine where I've read the review and thought "I never thought of it like that!"
As has been alluded to, once it's out there, it's open to any interpretation and there's no right or wrong (Well, not unless you think my latest 75 worder was about cheesemongers debating the merits of plywood)
 

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