Firelight War (short piece)

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  1. #1

    Lightbulb Firelight War (short piece)

    “Broken sleep.” Karol cast a glance across the campfire to Quinn, her face dark. “That was the worst thing about the war.”
    Quinn raised his heavy eyebrows, which darkened his eyes so much the pupils were rendered almost expressionless. He ran a hand through his hair, his fingers reappearing sleek with sweat, beading over his knuckles like rain. “Was? The war’s not over yet.” Again, an impassive look blessed his beautiful face, somehow portraying everything that needed to be said. “You should know that better than anyone, Karol.”
    “Just because I’m in the army –” Her stomach tensed visibly.
    “You’re hardly ‘just’ in the army,” Quinn argued, but his smile, no longer hidden, was kind, “You’re the best Platoon Leader I’ve ever seen.”
    Karol rolled her eyes. “You would say that.”
    “Why?”
    Because I know you’re in love with me. “Because you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
    Quinn leaned forwards, crouching. “Karol, I –”
    Boom.
    He looked at her nervously. “What was that?”
    She sighed. Quinn was young, twenty-four, a whole year her junior, and those twelve months meant the world when you were fighting for your life. Karol knew Quinn wouldn’t last in the army. That was why she’d taken him under her wing.
    “A bomb. About a hundred metres away.” Karol said, and though Quinn tried to hide it, she easily saw a flicker of fear caress her comrade's face. Hesitantly, she stood, and reached for his hand. He climbed to his feet shakily.
    Karol let go of his hand. “You okay?”
    He nodded tightly, and ran a hand through his hair again. “I’ll be fine.” He patted his rifle with the heel of his hand.
    She raised her eyebrows. “You be careful with that.”
    “You know we’re probably going to die out there, don’t you?” Quinn’s abruptness, his unbroken gaze, disarmed Karol.
    But after a fraction of a second, she nodded, dropping her voice to a whisper. “I know.”
    Now he grasped her hand. His fingers were damp, warm, alive. “We’ll kill them all, okay? We’ll do it.” He smiled tentatively. “We will.”
    Karol paused as another crash, closer this time, disturbed the logs on the fire. She tapped her own gun. “Sometimes I’m not sure who’s more despicable. Us or the humans.”
    “Think about how they treated us, Karol! We’re… we’re nothing to them.”
    “It’s not that simple.”
    “No?”
    She shook her head. “Let’s go, okay?”
    “You’re going to get me killed.”
    She nodded grimly. "That's war for you, kid."

  2. #2
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Hi,

    Dialogue, characterisation and grammar is fine. One thing that's missing for me is any sense of where they are. With the exception of a campfire, a rifle and a distant boom, it's all them, them, them. You can add this sort of stuff to dialogue tags just to subtly slip it in there to add characterisation at the same time, eg:

    “Just because I’m in the army –” Her stomach tensed visibly.
    -> could become:
    “Just because I’m in the army –” Her stomach tensed visibly, and she plucked a twig from the fire, spinning it over her fingers before flinging it end-over-end into the dark bushes behind her.

    Also, just be mindful of adverbial overuse, eg:

    "Hesitantly, she stood, and reached for his hand. He climbed to his feet shakily."

    Maybe swap one of those with some other image; eg:

    "Hesitantly, she stood, and reached for his hand. He climbed to his feet with the knock-kneed gracelessness of a new-birthed giraffe." (or something, point being don't be afraid to use a few extra words to make it sound a little different)

  3. #3
    You're putting a lot of effort into describing visual issues. But as they say, one picture is worth a thousand words. So unless you devote four manuscript pages to the visual, you're just telling the reader about what they would see were they able to see it. And that's not the same as making them visualize it.

    What's missing, and the area you should devote more prose to, is the protagonist's internal landscape. In life, when we say something there is always a reason. And that reason is not always obvious in the words. But story lies in that objective. And if we know what it is we'll wonder if it will be successful, and have a reason to read on. But will we have that with the historical approach of focusing on informing the reader of what happens? Look at a few lines from a reader's viewpoint:
    “Broken sleep.” Karol cast a glance across the campfire to Quinn, her face dark.
    The story just opened. As I read it, I have no idea of who spoke the first line till after I read it. And even then, I don't know who Karol is, their gender, age, where they are, or what's going on. So when you say campfire, it could mean they're on a camping trip, in the scouts, or damn near anyplace else in time and space. Because of that there's no feel for place or emotion, rendering the first line data, only, without context. And the opening of the second is equally context-free.

    As a reader, when you say campfire, I tend to believe it's night, because otherwise it would be just "the fire" or "the cooking fire." So I know it's night. But given that, what does it mean that her face is dark? Isn't it lit by the fire? Are you telling her skin color, or that she's angry? No way to tell from the prose because you haven't placed the reader into the situation, you've only mentioned things in it. But suppose you'd begun with:

    Karol shook her head, as she peered across the campfire at at Quinn, who sat yawning, as he sharpened his bayonet. "It's the broken sleep that gets to me. How about you? What bothered you the most about the war?"

    Doing it that way the reader has context. First, we learn her gender. Then her mood, followed by what bothers her the purpose for saying it, and the question that motivates him to respond.We know it's an active wartime situation both because he has a bayonet and a need to keep it sharp.
    Quinn raised his heavy eyebrows, which darkened his eyes so much the pupils were rendered almost expressionless. He ran a hand through his hair, his fingers reappearing sleek with sweat, beading over his knuckles like rain. “Was? The war’s not over yet.” Again, an impassive look blessed his beautiful face, somehow portraying everything that needed to be said. “You should know that better than anyone, Karol.”
    Because you're thinking in cinematic terms, you talk about what can be seen, and so spend time on his movements, his sweat, his appearance, etc. But just a line ago you told the reader her face was dark. and if that's saying that it's dark, she can't see most of what you mention, and is ignoring the rest, because she knows what he looks like and isn't paying enough attention to it the things you mention to care. So why mention more than enough to set the scene, meaningfully:

    For a moment he studied her, brows lowered, as though surprised by what she'd said, running a hand through his hair before saying, “Was? The last time I looked war wasn't over yet.” He crossed one arm and rested his other elbow on it, the hand supporting his chin as he studied her.

    The thought occurred that the man was too handsome for his own good. But before she could think on that he said, “You should know that better than anyone, Karol.”

    The words said one thing, but the tone, and the way he was looking at her said another: he was in love with her.


    So how the hell do I deal with that? And how do I want to handle with it? There was no answer to that. Not given the realities of their mission and the place. But his words had to be responded to, so she said, ...

    Your characters? No. Nor was it your story line. It's a quick example of another way of presentation—one character based not fact-based. Note that we don't just know what's said and done, we know the protagonist's internals. We know how she perceives his words, and why. We have a hint that she finds him personally attractive, and that under different conditions might respond very differently. So we not only know what was said, we know her. It's her observation that he's frowning. She notices him running his hand through her hair, and as a result concludes that he's too handsome, which said much about her. So more than learning what was said and done, we learned what it means to her. And that's the difference between telling and showing. That sig line at the bottom of this post says it all. We're not looking to make the reader know. We want them to feel.

    Th problem, as I so often point out, is that in our school days they gave us damn little in the way of writing skills that work when creating fiction. And as Larry Brown observed, “There’s no such thing as a born writer. It’s a skill you’ve got to learn, just like learning how to be a bricklayer or a carpenter.”

    So write, of course. But it makes sense to put some time aside for learning the craft that those who went before us worked so hard to develop. Agents, publishers, teachers and writers have made it a point to record what they believe matters to a reader, as well as what turns them away—which is perhaps of more importance. Not taking advantage of that places us into the position of trying to reinvent the wheel. So check out the local library system's fiction writing section. And while you're there, my personal recommendation is to seek the names Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon on the cover. They are pure gold. They won't make a pro of you, or guarantee sales. That is, after all, your job. But they will give you the tools and a knowledge of what they can do for you.

    Sorry my news isn't better. But nothing I said about the story is about you, your talent, your potential as a writer, or the story. It's about the learned part of the profession, the part anyone can learn.

    So hang in there, and keep on writing.

  4. #4
    Member allyson17white's Avatar
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    In itself it opens rather like a movie, not a story. When I movie opens it can start with something like "Broken sleep" because it is already showing the charter who is speaking, where they are, and so on. But here we know none of those things. We must rely simply upon our assumptions of what "broken sleep" means and that we will find out what it means later and what the context is. The hook is weak in this way. You might be better off describing the scene, the people involved, and then break into the speech.

    Furthermore, I like the characters but they still feel distant to me. Not very much, of course, but a little more than they need to be. I think it is that they are lacking those personal quirks that would really stand out in a person's mind. Right now I see their baseline emotions and thoughts okay but see nothing particularly complex or conflicting about them the way a real person would be. Perhaps you could develop this a tad bit more, looking at their quirks and internal conflicts (not just the simple ones though, which you show well, but multilayered ones).

    And not too sound to negative, let me say your dialog is very good. Going with the movie thing that is what they are good at. Intriguing and involved dialog.
    Last edited by allyson17white; August 23rd, 2016 at 12:18 AM.

  5. #5
    Allyson has a point that the hook is a little weak. It doesn't lead the viewer into the scene. Draw you reader in. Don't rush- take your time. The setting is virtually non-descriptive in this piece. It would benefit from a little detail and I think that would make it stronger.

    The dialogue is sharp and enticing. You did a good job with it, I thought.

    Just my two cents! Thanks for sharing and write on!
    “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being,"

    -Carl Jung

  6. #6
    Member Makili's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheRedSharpie View Post
    “Sometimes I’m not sure who’s more despicable. Us or the humans.”
    “Think about how they treated us, Karol! We’re… we’re nothing to them.”
    My understanding is they are not human. Then what are they? Androids, aliens...? If so, how do they differ from humans - they have hair, emotions, her stomach tenses as in humans...
    So, what is the focus here? If they are human - is it on love in the time of war? Or on the fact that it is a female who is of higher rank and has to make tough decisions (gender roles)?
    If they are not human - then is it on the fact they have emotions at all? Or how they have been treated by the humans?

    I personally don't mind the style ("describing the visual", as others have noted), as I like to have things left to my imagination, but clarifying your main message would be beneficial...

  7. #7
    Being blunt- this is mediocre. It's on the higher end of the spectrum I'd say, but it's nothing extraordinary. There's obviously room for improvement, but I think this could have potential. I particularly like the ending, though I think that if you saved the part where you say, 'I don't know who's worse- us or humans' for the end, it would have made that line much more effective. That really would have clinched the storyline and really made readers want to read the next part. While still effective, that would have maximized the use of it, for that would be the last thing on their mind. Other than that, it's not too shabby but obviously, again, room to improve. Good luck and keep writing

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