Improving our 100-word stories -- READ FIRST POST


Friend of Ulysses
Jan 11, 2016
As I mentioned it in this month's discussion thread, I thought I'd start a thread on improving our 100-word anonymous challenge stories.

I'm shamelessly stealing the following rules from The Judge's 75-word thread as they seem eminently sensible.

1) Only give feedback on those stories which have been raised here by their authors -- this is NOT intended as a free-for-all criticism of all the stories. Just because you want to comment on a piece doesn't mean the author wants to hear your comments.
2) This is only for stories which have been posted in the 100-word anonymous challenge and where voting has finished and the authors have been revealed.
3) The Discussion thread is still for general discussion and whimsy -- let's keep this to feedback.
4) As with all critiques/comments, constructive ideas only, please. This is aimed at helping all of us, not knocking anyone down.
As you may have guessed, I'm interested in getting some feedback on my story from the last 100-word challenge. Rather than ask any specific questions I thought I'd post it here and let people comment unprompted before posting my own thoughts.

Lost & Found

Limbo. A state of being between the living and the afterlife. They used to think it was a place.

I found her up in Queens, by the east river, not far from where she died.

I cradle the leather bound tome. I know the ritual intimately but I bring it anyway. A mental crutch. Maybe this time I'll perform it.

She reaches out for me. Her touch is ice cold, deathly. I savor it anyway.

“Mommy, I don't like it here. I want to go,” she says.

I can't do it.

I found her.

But I'm the one who's lost.
Lost: the daughter has lost her life, the mother continues to loose her will/ability to release her daughter. -the theme is well attended.
Urban fantasy: dock yard, implied magic.

Chilling, hanunting, and beautifully succinct. I can't find a fault with it. What was your question? (Will wait if you want to hold out for more comments. You did ask for unsolicited commentary first.)
Thank you @hopewrites and @Victoria Silverwolf for the kind comments. I was concerned that somehow my intentions had been lost in squashing it into 100 words but it seems the gist got through.

I'll confess I shamelessly chose this particular theme to get emotional responses. I was disappointed it didn't receive any votes although given how few were cast I can't really be surprised. In this particular instance I think my story was probably too similar to the winner: Reality Shift had a similarly melancholy 'parent who'd lost a child' theme and was arguably more original.

Still, it made me wonder whether I'd missed something: was it too heavy-handed or cliched? Was it awkward somehow? The tense shift I was aware of but I think it works okay in the context. My main worry at the time of writing was the rhythm of the final two lines. I didn't like starting the final line with 'But' but when I ran both lines together it lost all the impact. I did wonder whether I could end the previous line with a comma, almost like a poem, but that just felt incorrect.
So, being hyper-critical, I can spot a few things that might be improved.

1) I don't like the tense-shift - I'm not convinced it adds anything.
2) The first line could have more impact (or even be removed entirely) - it's not enough of a hook for me.
3) I'm not convinced there's enough kick or clarity in the ending, and the last line in particular feels clichéd and unearned. It feels like it falls between two stalls - neither a revelation or a reversal (a twist).

Having said that, I thought it was a very credible entry!
Emotionally heavy handed, yes. Not that it doesn't work, sometimes one needs a piece that grabs one by the throat and shakes the life out of one. I think in competition, it's usually better to go for a softer touch, as there are plenty (in this crowd at least) who play to an emotional field.

If I' m to vote between a number of stories that all are pulling at the same heartstring, then I'll go with the one who has the most compassion and respect for the string it pulls.
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