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  #1  
Unread 09-28-2022, 03:18 PM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
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Default Fable (Flash Fiction)

This is a flash fiction that I submitted to the Bridport Prize, which has a word limit of 250. It did not fly, so I thought I'd try to see if some of my wise and noble colleagues might have some suggestions. Thanks.
Fable

Our church was made of wood and woods surrounded it. Inside, the choir sang praises to a God in heaven, but I knew there were older, rougher gods beyond the colored glass – the trees of course, but also the hills, and the huge stones that my friends and I would find scattered in the woods.

They were our secret, for no adult ever spoke of them. The size of rooms, we’d find them huddled together like sleeping giants. They seemed out of place between the farms and towns, like visitors – lichened, hump-baked, and nestled in last season’s beech mast. My friends and I would heave our bodies up on them, leaving skin and fraying denim, then look out over the carved-out valleys just visible under the trees. We’d throw out our arms, yodel war cries. It was all the same to the big stones; they didn’t mind at all.

At night I’d lie in bed and imagine them rising up under the tallest branches, and shaking off seeds and the water in the rain-dished pools, see them flex their gray limbs – asleep for ten thousand years; imagine myself balanced on a round back and traveling to the boreal forests, to the world of lakes, shimmering like beaten foil, with geese honking so loudly that, even in my bed, I couldn’t hear my thoughts. Each night I’d pray for the stones to take me with them to their cold, clear world from which they’d been pushed by walls of ice.
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  #2  
Unread 09-29-2022, 12:14 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Hi Rob--I've learned the hard way that I can only critique something using what I would do or what I would do differently. So I may be no help.

In the first paragraph, you make a one-on-one comparison to god. You list different aspects of nature and say god is there as well as in the church, except the god in nature is older. For a reader such as me, I immediately shake my head. The god worshipped in the church created everything, all of nature, so a tree, most of which live a hundred years or so are much younger than god. Now I understand the comparison may be to the effects of nature lasting longer than what is going on in the church but making that bald statement can't help but cause a pain-in-the-ass, over-analytical reader such as myself to shake the head.

There is something else that is probably more critical in that first paragraph that I think sets the story up to not be as good as it could be. When you set up that dichotomy you remove the mystery. One of the writers best at writing about nature and the outside and by not stating the thesis so baldly but is able to have what is never spoken vibrate is Hemingway, particularly in the early short stories--his greatest achievement, imo. When war-torn Nick Adams jumps off the train in "Big, Two-Hearted River" and begins to walk past the burned-out woods and then look deeply into the stream and watch the fish be magical, one of the questions that arise is "what is god" and "is there a god" and if there is a god he/she/it lives right there. He has walked through the burned-over part and is in his idea of heaven but that is never stated. He had that famous dictate that what is left out of the story is more important than what is in the story and I think when a story is taking on the theme of god being in nature more than it is in a man-made building that should be left unsaid. In poetry, imo, that is what Frost does so well and is why he's a great poet. Life, death and why should I care is in all his great poems.

This all may be a long-winded way of saying the beginning should be something like:


Our church was made of wood and the woods surrounded it. Inside the church choir sang. Outside the wind through the trees sang a different song, a rougher song that bent the trees to one side and fell over the hills but scurried over the rocks, the rocks that were my and my friend's secret.



That isn't intended to be great prose. My point is don't mention god. You have mentioned god without saying so by mentioning the church. Actually, using the church and choir is almost too much but it works.

After that, I'm a little confused about what he is dreaming about. What is the center of his spirituality? Is it the trees or the rocks? That may be my inadequacy.

The rest of the story is almost a poem and if you think of it as a poem I wonder if it could be toned down. This may be too much of me but I'd prefer a deeper, quieter meditation about the outside. But, as I said, that is probably my preference more than a critique.

That's pretty much all I have to offer. I hope it is of some help. I'm fully aware someone else may disagree or say it's fine the way it is. It may be. That'll be up to you to decide.
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  #3  
Unread 09-30-2022, 07:27 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.
Hi Rob, I just couldn't get on track with this. Much of it feels at odds with itself, disjointed, incongruous. It just doesn't feel believable, I guess. I also think, for flash fiction of 250 words or less, the subject too complicated, at least as it is presented here.There are spots that begin to tell a story, but for the most part the whole thing feels unfocused.

For reasons that John states, I might consider doing away with the first paragraph entirely. I think you'd be best served to dismantle it (the first paragraph) and try again to say what you want to say. It doesn't set up what follows in any significant way. Start with the second paragraph and work in some of the first paragraph if you feel it needs to be in there. But I think you would be better off without it completely.
I might even consider combining paragraph two and three to be one stream of thought that is strictly from the child's point of view — not from the pov of the grown man telling the story. I'd consider writing it in present tense.

In P2: "They were our secret, for no adult ever spoke of them" feels incongruous. It might be better to describe them as being invisible to the grown-ups vs. our secret" and then run with that. in line three, you can do without repeating "my friends and I" and say "we".

In P3: The last paragraph feels fabricated vs. authentic. It sounds more like a writing exercise than a true accounting of childhood memory. At the very least I would begin the last paragraph with "One night" vs. "At night". But the imagery just feels disjointed.

There are spots that begin to tell a story, but for the most part the whole thing feels unfocused. I hope you can find a way to sharpen it to be a story of child-like wonder. Hang a sign up that says, "No gods allowed" and begin again. ("No gods allowed" might be a good working title?)

I've just now noticed that the title of the thread is "Fable". Is that also the title of the piece?

.
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  #4  
Unread 10-04-2022, 01:13 PM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
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John, Jim

Thanks for looking in. The theme – it can be called that – in this piece is how the child sees the world beyond the walls of the church as being the place inhabited by God, or gods, and what happens inside is dry and lacking the power he perceives outside. Clearly that idea was not told succinctly or at all for you. I'm not saying you missed something, just that for you it did not work. And that's something I need to address. As to dropping the first paragraph – something Jim also suggested, I think that is a start, but I also realize for two astute readers like you and Jim to find the piece to be disjointed, I will try to scrap this version and rework it. You observation that it seems more poetic than like fiction is spot-on, as I had originally drafted it as a poem, then tried it as a prose poem, and now it's something that is something in between genres. I think expanding it and making it more prosaic is what I'll try next rather than as a poem. Thanks again for giving it a look.
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Unread 10-08-2022, 05:27 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Hi Rob, I do think children have a unique sense of wonder and open themselves to the world in a way that adults dismiss too quickly. This song poem by Van Morrison captures that sense of wonder perfectly imo.

https://youtu.be/UcqKqd2Mjp0
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  #6  
Unread 10-08-2022, 06:10 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Rob,

I wrote this before I read the comments. Now I see you're scrapping this version, so these notes may not be of much use. But I'll post them anyway.

I'm reading this as about a young man or a boy who wants to escape the constraints of his town. The town seems contrasted with the natural world. And perhaps church/religion is part of why the boy wants to leave. I'd see some parallel, perhaps, between the stones, never moving or changing, and the town, and some symbolism to the dream of the stones getting up and moving.

This being very short fiction, I'd say concision is key. I reckon there are things you could cut. Plus I have a few other thoughts.

Our church was made of wood and woods surrounded it. Inside, the choir sang praises to a God in heaven, but I knew there were older, rougher gods beyond the colored glass – the trees of course, but also the hills, and the huge stones that my friends and I would find scattered in the woods.

I'd say that "Inside, the choir sang praises to a God in heaven" seems redundant. It's a church, and we know what churches are for. You might cut it (and then also "but I knew").

Incidentally, the church being made of wood (and woods surround it) suggest that the church is part of the wilderness, is made from the wilderness to which it is being contrasted. I'm not objecting, just flagging that. Perhaps it's relevant that the church isn't made of stone.

They were our secret, for no adult ever spoke of them. The size of rooms, we’d find them huddled together like sleeping giants. They seemed out of place between the farms and towns, like visitors – lichened, hump-baked, and nestled in last season’s beech mast. My friends and I would heave our bodies up on them, leaving skin and fraying denim, then look out over the carved-out valleys just visible under the trees. We’d throw out our arms, yodel war cries. It was all the same to the big stones; they didn’t mind at all.


"They were our secret, for no adult ever spoke of them." maybe there's a less direct way of saying this? Maybe the adults can't see them? Or the child wonders if they can't. Also logically, "for" seems wrong. That the adults never spoke of them, doesn't seem to make them the children's secret. That they never spoke of these enormous stones that they must surely see, seems more likely to suggest that the adults know/have secrets about them. Finally, do you even need this sentence? Adults, we know, likely get on with their adult lives. The kids go and play on the stones.

"sleeping giants" seems like it could be fresher -- pretty sure giants stones as "sleeping giants" is a pretty common trope.

"They seemed out of place" and "like visitors" seem to duplicate each other. If you say they seem like visitors, we'll know it seems like they don't belong. Maybe go with one or the other, and if you do, I'd go with "visitors" because it's the more interesting of the two.

"It was all the same to the big stones; they didn’t mind at all."

Personally, I'd cut this. No will be expecting the stones to mind, I think.

At night I’d lie in bed and imagine them rising up under the tallest branches, and shaking off seeds and the water in the rain-dished pools, see them flex their gray limbs – asleep for ten thousand years; imagine myself balanced on a round back and traveling to the boreal forests, to the world of lakes, shimmering like beaten foil, with geese honking so loudly that, even in my bed, I couldn’t hear my thoughts. Each night I’d pray for the stones to take me with them to their cold, clear world from which they’d been pushed by walls of ice.

I'd say that semicolon is wrong. It doesn't separate two independent clauses. If it's separating list items, I'd say it should be a comma, since that's what you're using for the rest of the list.

"Each night I’d pray for the stones" to whom is the child praying? Is he asking the Christian God to ask the more ancient gods to take him away? Would it make more sense if he "prayed to the stones"?


best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 10-08-2022 at 07:31 AM.
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  #7  
Unread 10-26-2022, 10:48 AM
Jim Ramsey Jim Ramsey is online now
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Hi Rob,

I think this mostly needs basic revision to realign modifiers, use parallelism, and make the narrative more cohesive by tying the images together better. i think you can add some punch with more precise diction too. Here are some suggestions, although it's a few words over your 250 word limit:

Our childhood church was made solidly of lumber milled from the woods surrounding it. The stolid choir sang praises to one God in heaven, but sitting restless in pews, some of us boys sensed ancient earthen gods calling us beyond the stained glass windows – the trees, the hills, and the huge stones that my friends and I would find mysteriously scattered in the woods.

They were our secret, for no adult ever spoke of them, except in school when we learned glaciers slowly shoved them here long ago. Some the size of rooms, they huddled like sleeping giants between the farms and towns, strange, lichened, hump-backed visitors nestled in last season’s beech mast. My friends and I would clamber up on their backs, abrading skin and fraying denim, and look out over the carved valleys just visible through the trees. We’d pump our arms and yodel war cries. The big stones didn’t seem to mind.

At night I lay in bed imagining the giants rising up under the tallest branches, shaking off a litter of seeds and water dishing in their eroded stone skins. After sleeping thousands of years, one would flex its gray limbs, and I’d straddle its round back to travel to boreal forests and worlds of lakes shimmering like beaten foil, where geese honked so loudly that I couldn’t hear my thoughts though still tucked into my bed. Each night, I prayed for the stones to take me to their cold, clear world from which they’d been pushed by walls of ice.

All the best,
Jim

Last edited by Jim Ramsey; 10-27-2022 at 07:36 AM.
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