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Makili
July 21st, 2016, 06:06 PM
Ok, so here is my first ever entry to this part of the forum, and I must say I feel a bit anxious...

A note - I intended this as an allegory on the idea that is given at the very end. But I feel like something is missing. And since I feel stuck and unable to pinpoint it, I would really appreciate if you lovely people can give me your opinions on how well do you think my idea is executed.

Needless to say that all other feedback on the story and how to improve it is more than welcome...

...................


The butterfly collector

The professor had a habit of collecting things. Over the years, he collected books, souvenirs, postcards, stamps... Pursuing and hoarding those things gave him an impression that a certain void was filled, although he was only vaguely aware of and certainly unwilling to acknowledge it. And for that, he dreamt about a collection that would distinguish him from the rest of the world. So he decided to collect butterflies. Because nobody else did. And because unlike other things he already had, they were alive.

His started his collection with local species. With those that were abundant in the parts where he grew up. He was already familiar with their habitat and behavior and he knew well how to lure and entrap them.

Initially, he stored them in large glass jars, but as they didn't provide a good view of the butterflies and were starting to take too much space, he decided to turn a part of his house into an indoor garden where they could fly freely. He put up a glass ceiling, so the room could receive sunlight. He installed special systems to control the temperature and moisture. He planted grasses and shrubs and flowers for the lively creatures to feed upon and deposit eggs. And butterflies thrived and multiplied and soon, the whole room turned into a lively and joyful place full of fluttering wings.

But as his passion grew, he wanted more. As he was learning about the winged creatures, he was finding out about other, exotic species. The ones that were bigger, brighter, rarer. He wrote letters, sent mail orders, used all of his connections to acquire new specimens. Some he would receive as eggs that he carefully hatched, some came as caterpillars or cocoons, but for each species, he would carefully craft small niches with just the right conditions for them to thrive.

With the newcomers, the whole place became magical. Brightly coloured wings were flashing around the room, and his mind and thoughts would fly with them. New ideas were being created in his head and they swirled and danced, fused and merged, until his brain throbbed and his whole body ached from the desire for creation.

The word of his collection spread, and soon his friends and family started visiting for the sole purpose of seeing this unique place. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to show off the diversity of specimens he had. He would take guests around the room, explain about each species, how he got them, what were their requirements and how he provided for them. Above all, he liked to boast about the exotic species, which were his pride and joy.

As more people were pouring in, he stopped spending time in the room contemplating and reflecting on his own ideas and thoughts. Instead, he started thinking about how to make the place bigger, better looking, better equipped, and how to put as many butterflies in it as possible, so that more and more people can come and see and praise his collection.

But inside the room, the nature that was previously carefully regulated, was taking its own course. The local butterflies were better adapted to the constant disturbances. They were simple creatures with no particular requirements but to eat and breed. They laid eggs, from which caterpillars emerged and devoured the food. But the beautiful exotic creatures could not. They couldn't adapt to the constant comings and goings of visitors that created drifts of air, brought sounds and odours and changed the delicate temperature balance. They would just sit on branches, lethargic, unwilling to move. They were usually single specimens of their species, and the lack of mating pheromones made them even stiller, as they had no motivation to fly and search for mates. As the other butterflies bred, the food was getting scarcer. The exotics were becoming even more sluggish, their delicate scales started falling off their wings, and their beautiful colours started to fade.

But even so, they weren't left alone. Each time the professor entered the room with visitors, he would shake branches to make them fly. They would slowly flap their wings several times just to settle on another resting place. On the contrary, the other, common ones, would flutter in a cloud that surrounded the visitors, thus diverting their attention from the once bright exotic creatures.

One by one, the exotic butterflies started dying. Each time the collector found a dead body underneath the branches, he would ask how come they are not like the other, common ones. How come they do not make an effort to survive and breed and fly around? Why are they so ungrateful when he provided them with everything they needed?

After a while, his collection drew attention of a very distinguished member of the society. It gave the professor a particular sense of pride to show it to him, so a special visit was arranged. He spent days preparing for the visit, making calls, organising the reception, preparing a welcome speech... And being so busy, he didn't have time to enter the butterfly room to check upon the creatures inside.

When the big day arrived, he proudly greeted the important visitor, proclaimed his speech and escorted him to the room. With pomp he opened the large door, expecting to see the usual cloud of flapping wings. But instead, a huge black mass of little bodies broke out through the door, scattered all over the halls and the rest of the house, searching for any crevice through which to break out into their original habitat outside. In front of him he beheld the empty room, ravaged by the gluttony of little survivor: defoliated branches, previously grassed earth made completely bare... Pieces of cocoons of hatched specimens lying all over the place, mingled with the slivers of wings in flamboyant colours that used to belong to his beloved exotic specimens.

He dared not look behind at the distinguished guest whose annoyance he felt burning on his back. The guest demonstratively departed, not hiding his contempt. The collector was left alone feeling ashamed.

He beheld the carnage and devastation left behind by the simple, undistinguished creatures to which he paid more attention than they deserved, only to thank him with their ingratitude. Only in that moment did he realized the error of his conduct. But at the same time, he knew it was too late...

bulbasaur
July 21st, 2016, 09:55 PM
Well written piece, thanks for sharing!

I like the overall storyline, but I think I'm missing the direction of the allegorical content. He paid too much attention to the commoners, while neglecting the mighty, sought-after, well-oft species? I think the story might take a more meaningful (underdog almost) tone if it were the other way around... the Professor becomes enthralled by the new exotic species, neglecting the common yet still meaningful and important species. This might even open the door to watch the Professor change as well. Maybe he dips into a haunting, obsessive existence, losing a touch of his humanity.

That aside, I like the imagery of the house and the Professor's parties. I wish there was a little more description of how the butterfly room presented itself. I think I felt confident building the pictures in my head except for when it came to the most picture-worthy part - the butterflies. Maybe I haven't been around butterflies enough, let alone a room full of them, so I was having trouble visualizing what I know should have been a spectacular scene.

Honestly, though, only two minor critiques. I come to you as an extremely novice writer, so I don't have much advice on how to act on my critiques. I suppose I am just seeing these things as a reader as opposed to a writer. I really enjoyed reading your piece. I'm interested to hear your thoughts!

Makili
July 23rd, 2016, 01:41 PM
First of all, thanks a lot for the time to read and critique. And then for the nice words and constructive criticism.



I like the overall storyline, but I think I'm missing the direction of the allegorical content. He paid too much attention to the commoners, while neglecting the mighty, sought-after, well-oft species?

You see, that was exactly my concern. That was my idea, and thanks for pointing it out that it doesn't come across that well. I will have to work on that a bit more.




I think the story might take a more meaningful (underdog almost) tone if it were the other way around... the Professor becomes enthralled by the new exotic species, neglecting the common yet still meaningful and important species. This might even open the door to watch the Professor change as well. Maybe he dips into a haunting, obsessive existence, losing a touch of his humanity.

This is an interesting point, but there are reasons why I want to keep the original idea - as I said I want to make it an allegory of a real life situation I am familiar with. But the last point can be incorporated. So thanks again...


That aside, I like the imagery of the house and the Professor's parties. I wish there was a little more description of how the butterfly room presented itself. I think I felt confident building the pictures in my head except for when it came to the most picture-worthy part - the butterflies. Maybe I haven't been around butterflies enough, let alone a room full of them, so I was having trouble visualizing what I know should have been a spectacular scene.

I agree - I should emphasize that a bit. Maybe in that way my point will come a cross better...



Honestly, though, only two minor critiques. I come to you as an extremely novice writer, so I don't have much advice on how to act on my critiques. I suppose I am just seeing these things as a reader as opposed to a writer. I really enjoyed reading your piece. I'm interested to hear your thoughts!

It is a great feedback, and I do need it from you primarily as the reader. Being a writer, makes it even better :)
Good luck with your writing. I will be checking your own posts and will try to be as useful ;)

bdcharles
July 23rd, 2016, 03:01 PM
Hi. The issue to me here is that you are reporting on something happening. In my view it would be more impactful if you made it happen, with your words.

Makili
July 23rd, 2016, 06:42 PM
Hi. The issue to me here is that you are reporting on something happening. In my view it would be more impactful if you made it happen, with your words.

Thanks for the comment, but I am not completely sure what you are trying to say. Could you possibly elaborate/give example? Would be much appreciated.

Jay Greenstein
July 24th, 2016, 03:24 AM
I think what was meant is a report on the life of an individual, not a story the reader feels they're experiencing. Informative, yes. But nothing happens because it's 100% overview, which means that like a history book the events are immutable. But do we read to learn the facts or to be entertained? Facts can be interesting, but story, to be entertained, must be emotion, not fact-based. It must be character-centric, not author-centric. It's not a matter of talent or story, it's that the medium we work in has limitations and strengths that shape the approach we must take. In film it's primarily visual. But the page doesn't reproduce vision, so we must use other methods—methods we're not taught in out school days because we're being readied to learn a trade or profession, and writing fiction is a profession.

For that example you wanted: in this clipping from Surfeit of Dreams, Ann has fallen in the water while trying to escape a group of men. The water is so cold that she's unable to even struggle. She knows she's going to die, and that even were she able to reach the surface the men are waiting, so she's lost hope. But she's been given a magic ring, and that changes everything.

I could have said,

She expected to drown, but instead found herself able to breathe, which came as a surprise. More that that the water was warm and above her there was what looked like daylight.

Factual? Informative? Yes. Exciting? No. Nor is there a trace of how she reacted. And because it's in overview there's no uncertainty. But suppose we tell it about the events real-time, from her viewpoint. That places us in the fragment of time she calls now. And because we're there, the future is as uncertain from our viewpoint as it is from hers:
Chill water followed by quick death was what she expected, not the lung-full of air that came. But that was impossible, given that she was under the sea. Still, a second breath of what was clearly air said she hadn’t been mistaken.

This is crazy.

Added to that, the paralysis was gone and she was upright, submerged in water streaming with sunlight and warmth.

Obviously she was dead. But that made no sense, either.

Heaven is wet? My afterlife is under water?

Impossible. Unthinkable. But she was breathing, and clearly was still under water. Above, some twenty feet away, the surface glistened with steeply slanted light—dawn or sunset. And waving a hand produced the resistance of water to movement, not air.
With growing wonder, she blew—first gently, then harder, finally, with all her strength. No bubbles. The air wasn’t going into the water. Where it went she couldn’t say, but that was a problem for later.Notice that the narrator is there only in service to her, Making us know what has her attention and how that directs her actions, not as a storytelling voice that is rendered a monotone because the medium can't reproduce the narrator's voice.

And presented like that, knowing what she's noticing and deciding, the reader will wonder what happens next, and speculate what they would do were it them.

And isn't that where the fun of reading lies?

For the trick behind the style of presentation I used, this article (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php) is a good synopsis of one of the techniques you can find in the book the article's author condensed it from.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

Makili
July 24th, 2016, 08:45 AM
That is an extremely useful feedback. I will certainly take every word into consideration and check out the reference you pointed out.
Thanks a lot!!!

bdcharles
July 24th, 2016, 01:35 PM
Thanks for the comment, but I am not completely sure what you are trying to say. Could you possibly elaborate/give example? Would be much appreciated.

Hi, yep sure (apologies if the reply is badly formatted as I am writing this on my phone and don't have tapatalk):

Try first to summarise your story. For example, this story covers (to my mind) a butterfly collector who tires of his drab old lepidopterae, gets some flashy new ones which are then duly cannibalised by the old ones. It's a neat idea with a lot of scope. If you were the collector, what would you do. When would your story start? At birth? No. His first specimen? Why there? Pick your moment. As a reader I would want to start on the day he realises how drab his collection is. So what would he do on that day? He might open the door and feel his heart not lift as he surveys the brown insects - pitiful things really. And just lead us on from there, using your writeup above as a guide. Good luck :)

Makili
July 24th, 2016, 08:56 PM
Great advice. I will play with this. . Thanks!

bdcharles
July 24th, 2016, 10:44 PM
To give a bit of an example, if you take this line:


But as his passion grew, he wanted more. As he was learning about the winged creatures, he was finding out about other, exotic species.

Think about how you can rewrite it from the perspective of the professor. It might be something like:


On a grey day when the light did not seem to catch the ends of the fluttering tips quite so much as before, the professor entered the glasshouse and immediately noted the change around him, reluctantly confessing it to himself; the wings seemed browner, less lustrous. Was it him? Or had they indeed changed? Why did his heart not thrill, as it always did, at the sight of the thousands of chitinous membranes? His mind traveled back to Gullimet's 'Rhopalocerae', through whose vivid and exotic pages he had leafed with growing eagerness late into the previous night - and it struck him, how his feeling was familiar. For it was that of the man who, once married, finds himself yet still tempted by the passing curved back of another prospective lover.

He slammed the door. What was he - what had he become? And why did it matter? He was a collector. Should a collector not seek out the finest examples he can lay his hands on? His fists clenched on the glass lid of the specimen case. But then what of his grey-brown common moths and clustered cocoons in the glasshouse beyond the oak door? He felt curiously sad that his attentions should wander from them - and yet wander they did.

"Oh, what a pickle I am in!" cried the lepidopterist. "Why am I so torn? Oh, what a business!"

Yes, it's longer but I *think* I have made it that bit more personal. It is for all intents and purposes actually happening. There's detail - the glasshouse, the door, the specimen case, the whatshimname's Compendium. There's actions - slamming, clenched fists, dialogue. There's the sentiment of the prof himself, having a bit of a meltdown at the prospect of betraying his beloved butterflies by collecting ever more fabulous ones. What a pickle he is in, indeed!

Anyway hope this helps you out :)

Makili
July 25th, 2016, 12:30 PM
Wow, it sure does. I see now what you meant. Thanks again for the time and the effort

Bard_Daniel
July 25th, 2016, 08:04 PM
Hi there Makili!

I think you have the conceptualization of something really good here! Others have pointed out that you need to "show" what is happening rather than reciting it and I agree but I rather enjoyed, in this piece, your narrative "voice". In regards to this, I think if you worked out the narration a bit more you could keep that voice and bring the story on home. This was a great first piece to show here and I would enjoy seeing your next version of this. It will, I'm sure, be something very worth reading again.

Thank you for sharing and keep on writing!

Makili
July 26th, 2016, 06:06 PM
Thanks!
Have I said already that I love this forum?
No?
I love this forum ;)

Olly Buckle
November 3rd, 2016, 11:06 AM
He beheld the carnage and devastation left behind by the simple, undistinguished creatures to which he paid more attention than they deserved, only to thank him with their ingratitude. Only in that moment did he realized the error of his conduct. But at the same time, he knew it was too late...

I don't know, it is easy to be didactic and draw moral lessons which you can often trust your readers to tdo for themselves; on the other hand one does not want them to miss the point. I am also most uneasy with the idea of 'thanks' and 'ingratitude' being applied to lepidoptra. I would be tempted to chop this down to bare essentials.

'The simple creatures he had indulged had wrought carnage during his inattention. Contemplating the error of his ways he realised it was too late to make amends.'

Something like that, people draw their own conclusions, maybe even this is a little explicit.

A nice little story, I look forward to seeing more, Olly.