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Author Topic: "Soothsayer" by Stayne
KnightEnder
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This thread for the discussion and critique of Stayne's story "Soothsayer".
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Richard Dey
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Soothsayer is a slick macho melodrama out of some Dodge City simile, taking place where the rule of law has been ordered from back east but hasn't shown up or has been temporarily suspended for reason that are none of our damned nosey business. I think Kitty gets it in this one [Wink] !

The opening paragraph, which is other perfect, has been shot and wounded with a bullet marked “quite literally” (the calling card of literature’s dastardly assassin; once exorcised, however, the hero will live to right the wrong or wrong enough bad guys to set things right! There's a style of story where the reader cheers on the protagonist (whether he's good, bad, or ugly); this is one of those.

The ‘reading rule’ for commas is simply that X, Y, Z should read X ... Z if Y and its
commas are removed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a prepositional phrase or not so far as
I know; but it is a good test to see if the (, Y,) needs both commas. I think there were
half a dozen of these. Cf also

My feet[,] ready for
With a hiss, he released the rope, letting the corpse to the ground, and .... One of those commas has to go and, since the initial preposition phrase is so short, I’d make it that one, thus: With a hiss he released the rope, da-da-da-da, and ….

“what that knife of his might do to me”. This is actually a pathetic fallacy. Whether the heightened sense of melodrama also heightens the suspense is moot. If the latter is preferred, perhaps “what he could do to me with that knife” ??

fright mask; frightful mask? mask to frighten?

Yeh SR Yeah (It really is a word nowadays)

veritable mountain of flesh. Virtual? I think veritable in this case rather diminishes the earnestness of the protagonist -- and truth-or-nothing is his stock in trade, no?

But before long, (With the parenthetical removed this one would read: welcomed it … it became.) Second one needs to go I think.

“… the sturdy pint mug he was holding seem more like a child’s cup.” This seems inept to me and thus out of place. I try to ‘seem’ something ‘less’ rather than ‘more’, as in
appeared to be little more than a child’s cup or something of that turn of phrase.

I thought I’d be annoyed with variant use of apostrophes in that poetic droppin o’ the gees
— but I didn’t [Wink] . I know it's stock language amongst the Irish and the country-western, but I can never get Sir Slithery Sleuth's imitation of it out of my ear when I see it. The problem is that sometimes it’s used, sometimes not (in and out of dialog, actually). Some idiotic editor will suggest you ‘pick one’. I rather thought having no apostrophes made it seem 'more natural' than put on, actually, and I think you've convinced me of that.

once-blond as compound adj

that had not dulled even in the glaze of death that hung over them now. I had to read that
phrase three times over and still am not sure I got it. Her eyes weren’t dulled but they
were glazed? And how would the edges of the wound suggest that she’d been conscious and alive
throughout? How long did it take you guys to reach her? (or was she an operatic contralto crying out from Dodge City Heights?) Anyway, that could be clearer.

Smelling salts! If I’d begun to feel faint, those are a comforting find [Wink] .

Kris. Now, Dr Watson, was this a Malaysian kris, an Indonesian kris, or a Boneravian kris? I do know the kris, but perhaps a teeny-weeny description of one here — just the right adjective — would give the ornery reader a clue. Again with mage, archaic for magus, archaic for magician.

The idea that the firelight is reflected in the “pupilless” eyes is a bit distracting (I'm trying to think of the TV serial version). The word pupil in this sense comes from the miniature image of oneself that appears reflected in them, i.e., pupil = little boy, i.e., "pupil"! It stalled me. I think I would prefer something more or less than this. Just a personal response.

manhunter is US one word. Non-words, believe it or not, are nonhyphenated in US English, i.e., noncorrosive. Stupid schoolmarm rule.

pinwheeling. (one word) but I think the actual word should be whirlgigging, i.e., a fisherman’s row (one oar at a time).

perhapsperhaps.

Lungful sic

This novella is thoroughly professional, has a suck-me-in opening paragraph, good timing, good phrasing (MOST of the time), clear stock characters neatly drawn and individualized without the kind of interactional involvement necessary for a feminine melodrama. The motivations of most of the characters have that same 'what-else-do-we-do-in-Dodge' that appeals to male readers trapped in places that AREN'T like Dodge. I should think any number of magazine editors could have this tailored to fit their niche. If to a male audience, for example -- for which this is inevitably written, I would say when in doubt dump an adjective and leave it laconian.

I must say, which I never said about *Ulysses, I like it when a story reads right along -- no matter whether it stumbles or slips in the creek or falls off the edge; there's something to be said for a steady horse. This novella reads right along without any plodding and just enough excitement on the trail to keep one awake, looking out for trouble. At some horribly humiliating level in art, the writer's job is not to get in the way of the story (or, as happened in a recent poem we reviewed, in the way of anything else).

Above and beyond that, I had a good time reading it -- and I'm not giving away the pefectly appropriate ending.

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Richard Dey
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I abominate auto-correction; it is invariably not-o-correct. SR WHIRL-I-GIGGING.
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stayne
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Wow, Richard, that was pretty in depth, and you surprise me that you pulled some stuff out that is not only correct, but that I didn't even realize I put in. For example, Rellith, the city for this piece, is very much a wild west sort of town, a fantasy Las Vegas, if you will.

I especially liked this comment: "The motivations of most of the characters have that same what-else-do-we-do-in-Dodge' that appeals to male readers trapped in places that AREN'T like Dodge." I definitely wanted to do a piece that turns back the clock, so to speak, where violence damned well IS a solution, and perhaps the only one, but at the same time, I wanted to show that there is a price one pays for going that route. I kind of look at this piece as a mix between Conan, Unforgiven, and the generic Hero Myth.

Most of your comments speak for themselves. The 'quite literally' does look much better after being deleted. [Wink] The comma reference is much welcome. I tend to insert commas by hearing, and it my ear seems a bit off, so the X(Y)Z rule of thumb is very helpful.

Do you really think 'yeah' instead of yeh? I always hear 'Yeah, verily!" when I see that spelling.

"Fright mask": I have always heard this (from old people) as a drop in replacement for 'halloween mask'.

Re: droppin apostrophes. I've read various thoughts on this. Kinda seems one of those "If it works" things. I should review it for consistancy, at least. I had no idea I was doing both. [Wink] I think that since you are convinced, I shall be agreeable and be convinced as well, and try dropping them completely, except for actual contractions.

"that had not dulled even in the glaze of death that hung over them now."

Well, the idea here was that even though her eyes were glazed in death, you could still see the fear in them. It might bear rephrasing. Come to think of it, I'm not sure it's even possible, though Lucian might easily imagine he sees something not there.

Lucian is guessing at the wound edges because they are not surgical, but jagged, as if she had struggled. I suppose I might have just said that. [Wink] And the dead woman has been dead for a bit. It was the younger girls screaming. Both points need to be clarified, since they weren't obvious to you.

"Smelling salts! If I’d begun to feel faint, those are a comforting find "

Can you clarify this? Not sure what you mean here. You don't think they'd use smelling salts? Honestly, I don't know that they would. I do know that Lucian would know if it was a bad idea more than I would, though, so if they are inappropriate, he would not use them.

Now, there are three points you raise that I don't quite see, because they seem clear to me, but I may well have failed to get the point across. First, the knife:

“what that knife of his might do to me”. I'm not really sure I understand your point, so let me be sure I was clear, and then you can tell me if it was a clarity issue, a misunderstanding on your part, or if I simply don't understand your point. Lucian is looking at a guy with a knife. He has reach on the guy, and while he might get cut, he is pretty confident it will be superficial. He is specifically worried about the unusual nature of the knife, because it is glowing and green and obviously not a normal weapon. He does not know what getting cut with a green glowing knife will do to him.

"The idea that the firelight is reflected in the “pupilless” eyes is a bit distracting"

Mermandimus has metallic eyes without pupils. They would reflect pretty much anything around them, I would think. Not clear why this seems strange. Am I not emphasising this quality enough?

Kris: A classic case of the writer not being as knowledgeable about a topic as a reader. [Wink] But it seems odd to have him diverge there and explain precisely which variant he is referring to. Honestly, thinking about it, I have the distinct feeling that if we interrupted him to ask what kind of kris it was, he would tell us that it was the sort we would find sticking in our backsides if we didn't stop bothering him. [Wink]

Thanks much for the comments. I've read some of the commentary you offered on other pieces, and you have a real insight, I think. I feel a little vindicated that you 'got' this piece. I've sent it around to a few places, and gotten a few rejections, and I was starting to think maybe I had failed with it. One claimed it didn't grab them. Another claimed the writing was good, the Soothsayer and the world were really cool, but Lucian was boring and super powered and cliche and inconsistant (for wanting to save the girl the Soothsayer has as a hostage). That really threw me, in that he's just a martial artist, and he never really even fights anyone who actually knows how to fight. Lord knows, Jack Bauer or a lot of other popular Hero-types would probably beat the crap out of him. And it seemed very obvious to me that the experience Mermandimus shows him taught him some empathy. I kept thinking, "But characters are supposed to _arc_!"

It makes me wonder, honestly, if I have just had really bad luck in choosing my markets, or if there's just not a place for tales like this anymore. I know that the few short sf magazines I have picked up lately really left me cold. They have cutesy, they have psychodrama, they have mystery, but they don't really seem to do high adventure anymore. Movies, comics, video games, novels, the Hero Myth is alive and well, but it honestly seems like short sf has rejected it. Makes you sad to think that no one would ever have heard of Conan if Howard had to leap the same barriers.

(shrug)

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Richard Dey
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S:

Now I see. I just didn't know the characters, as this was in medias res -- and I now have the picture (through the metallic eyes I missed!!!)

No, it's the mood. When I refered to 'stock characters' I was not in the least bit critical. All stories must begin with a stock character: "the human", then slowly we figure out that its a "male", it's a "kid", it's a "brat", he just killed his mother, and he's munching popcorn in front of the TV. There was nothing wrong at all in the way the characters were introduced.

The only problem I had was that the text read so fast (smoothly) that I missed a couple of critical points (the T factor was one of them). Mag work is SUPPOSED to read fast (because a lot of mag readers are slow readers [Wink] ). When I said it was slick I was referring to the fact that it reads fast when it ought to and reads slower when you want the reader to ooze in the blood, so to speak. The 'beat' of the text SHOULD be intuitive, and more often than not ought to be in synch with everything else. Stop! The text stops. The reader stops. The rhythm is broken -- but for some dramatic purpose. You handled this artfully. (Honestly, this is where Stephen King shines for some -- but not for me; not that your being a better pacer than King is going to win you immediate contracts [Big Grin] ).

As to smelling salts, I think of that lavender and ammonia concoction old ladies used to use; thus I associate it with whale-bone corsets and horse-sized old-ladies being dainty. It just struck me as quaint. I'm sure Miss Kitty used smelling salts, but I could never see Matt Dillon as ever having them, using them, or, frankly, being quite sure what to do with them.

AS to the glowing green knife, my assumption must have been that it was a weapon he would have familiar with or had known about -- but, then, a Stranger in a Strange Land [Wink] . So stet.

Still, remember in the phrasing that it is not the tree that kills you, it is the falling of the tree that kills you. The tree has no motivation. You're killed by the gerund [Big Grin] not the noun.

Stuff goes out 69 times and then -- BANG! -- we get *Peyton Place. Wehn you're sending out scripts, don't count! Who was it who said they'd spent more money sending out the manuscript than was eventually paid for it? Some big-name writer.

Did I already mention ... but should mention again. A GOOD editor will see not 'promise' in this work but 'adapability'. A smart editor will eventually write you saying, "Well done. We are a feminist glamour magazine. Please revise to fit, and resubmit ASAP."

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Richard Dey
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O, and the BEST editor will add -- "Do you require an advance?"
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Richard Dey
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And what I forgot that was most important in some ways ....

Just because something is 'out of fashion' (thus tabu in chic circles) does not mean that it disappeared or is irrelevant. Let's take for example three that come to my mind at once:

[Roll Eyes] 'Dodge City' town
[Roll Eyes] 'Leave It to Beaver' Burb
[Roll Eyes] 'Bitch Quean' Party

None of these things is 'proper' under political correction or to postdeconstructionist gestapo agents disguised as market analysts; but that doesn't mean that Dodge, the Beave, or the Bitch Quean disappeared -- only that these people are no longer socially acceptable.

To my mind, las correctionistas have lost contact with major segments of human experience -- in favor of their own 'improved' social sets. There will always be Dodge Cities (a bit fake when their biker roadhouses, perhaps, but so was Dodge); what is all this talk here about 'proper family lifestyles' but an attempt to raise Wallys and Beavers?; there will always be a need for parties where bitch queans can practice clawing homophobes' eyes out.

A story can be about ANYTHING, and ultimately NOTHING ever goes out fashion somewhere somehow any more than matter can be created or destroyed. Believe me, there's a market even for mocktrons named Beaver bitching it up on Dodge Planet 9. Don't let "impropriety" stand in your way as a creative artist. That way we get Bach cantatas instead of Brandenburgs.

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Adam Lassek
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I loved Soothsayer, and I usually hate fantasy. Well done. Not much more that I can suggest, since I couldn't really find any flaws in it.
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Daruma28
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Stayne, I just read Soothsayer, and I'll simply say I found it entertaining, well written and enjoyable. My only point of confusion would be that I wish you would describe the setting a little bit...time, city, world...I'm a little confused as to whether this was in the future, in the past, on a different world. Other than that though, I liked it! [Smile]
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stayne
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Daruma, in the terms of my real trade, this is either a 'feature' or a 'known bug', and I'm not sure which. In truth, I am not skilled enough, I think, to be certain. I _hoped_ to leave the setting a bit nebulous, with hints of generally low tech, rennaisance sans guns, with some very high tech stuff that blurs the line of technology and magic. And then there is some magic, too. Some readers seem to dig it, and get a sense of it being a very different world (and it is, but a short story is not the place for world building. I am working on a novel for that.) Others, like you, feel a sense of 'white room' syndrome, where they can't find a place to hang their hat and pin the world to a particular genre.

Do you think it is a lack of detail that bothers you, or that there are details that lead you to think one thing, then another? (Sorcerors, psychology, steel, and nanotech make a weird mix, to be certain.) If you could add or change to give you better grounding, what would you do?

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Daruma28
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quote:
...details that lead you to think one thing, then another? (Sorcerors, psychology, steel, and nanotech make a weird mix, to be certain.)
That's what it is...I do realize that it is a short story, but I would suggest just some subtle hints and references to give a little bit better sense of time and place...possibly work in some names and a very rough background sketch about the world/country/city etc.?
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kenmeer livermaile
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Stayne, I just read a good bit of soothsayer. I think Richard covered it all. He usually does. A regular quilt-monger.

THis is the first OWW submission I;ve peeked at for weeks. My brain has been to bamboozled to ponder other's fictional worlds.

Yours is a good one, I feel. I also recognized in it a few of my favorite indulgences, which friends often point out to me as mistakes. I couldn't say now what they specifically are but note they all involve placingoneself too literally into the work.

I'll offer a little bit of grisly critique, using as comparison a poem by a friend that I recently shared elsewhere at Ornery:

a) "The scent of stale fires and fresh death hung in the air like incense. The blackened, charred frames of the surrounding buildings, backlit and limned in the pale moonlight, seemed like skeletal fingers pointing in accusation at the grim scene before them."

b) "Bright dust motes float, held fast in beams
Of slatted light; as fades the day
There sits a man of no extremes,
A proper man — in every way.
But in the twilight, lazy dreams:
Behind cool eyes, the secrets play ...
The curve of neck, the stocking seams:
The lissome girl he saw today —

Soft bend of waist, the hair backlit;
A breeze caressed her summer dress,
And God! he rose to let her sit —
She did not see his thoughtfulness,
But swirled around headlong, to flit
From tram to street, a cheekiness
Which suited more, he would admit;
The heart expects its hopelessness."

It's my belief that the first stanza worksd far less effectively than the second. I know from the author, though, that he especially focused on the first, especially the images of bright dusty sunbeams, which is, for me, the weakest line in the whole piece. ANother to me weak line is:

"But in the twilight, lazy dreams:
Behind cool eyes, the secrets play ..."

but it bears some justification by indicating that we are looking inside this man's consciousness. The sunbeams have no purpose of their won and yet, for me, he failed to evoke the dance of dust in a sunbeam.

But the second stanza is, I feel, brilliant. As good as a good line by Frost. And it's final line is the best of the whole piece: it wraps everything up into one poignant message. (I also admire "And God! he rose to let her sit --")

How does this bear on Stayne's opening passages? Like so:

"The scent of stale fires and fresh death hung in the air like incense. "

is a very evocative passage. It's very short and simple but -- literally -- creates atmosphere. (Dey, I didn't say 'quite literally' [Wink]
The second line, however, betrays its intent more than it expresses it. The moral sense of buildings pointing accusing fingers mostly reveals the author's hand. If you strove to recreate that second sentence/image with same economy and restraint of the first, you'd have a killer combo. May I try? (I commit this same blunder over and over and over: I need the lesson.)

"The blackened, charred frames of the surrounding buildings, backlit and limned in the pale moonlight, seemed like skeletal fingers pointing in accusation at the grim scene before them."

'Surrounding buildings, charred black from recent arson, watched silently.'

Just quickie alternative attempt, but perhaps you get the idea?

I didn't finish your piece, but not because it didn't compel my interest. Rather, it's because all formal reading, especially fiction, grates on me.

I did skip further on and read the hero's dialogue with another sorceror, and was very pleased by how you finessed the psychology of the pshycosorceror. Do you read detective thrillers? Like those that feature 'profilers' of serial killers and such?

All in all, Stayne, I'd say that you've got something like a sellable story on your hands. In fact, I'll find myself compelled to finish it. That, to me, says a lot.

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kenmeer livermaile
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"Rather, it's because all formal reading, especially fiction, grates on me."

Of late, that is. I love stories most of the time.

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kenmeer livermaile
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"It makes me wonder, honestly, if I have just had really bad luck in choosing my markets, or if there's just not a place for tales like this anymore. I know that the few short sf magazines I have picked up lately really left me cold. They have cutesy, they have psychodrama, they have mystery, but they don't really seem to do high adventure anymore. Movies, comics, video games, novels, the Hero Myth is alive and well, but it honestly seems like short sf has rejected it. Makes you sad to think that no one would ever have heard of Conan if Howard had to leap the same barriers."

Then don't submit to these. What I recall of your story its appeal was broader than the sci-fi noose can constrain anyway.

My (barely informed) impression is that this thing called 'the writer's market' is in massive flux. While this often manifests in older traditional markets shrinking (or appearing to in relation to the higher jnumber of submissions editors receive these days, for no other reason than that the population hasn't been shrinking bu expanding rapidly), it also manifests in many new markets opening.

My feeling is that the market for High Adventure is rediscovering itself.

Maintaining a positive patient attitude toward your work is vitasl, I think. Wait a sufficient time for a given story to fester in itself and fade from your writerly memory, so you can read it afresh and MORE LIKE IT WAS SOMEONE ELSE'S WORK, and you'll probably find a fresh approach to it.

That doesn't mean you will have the enrgy or sufficient new insight to truly rewrite it, but enough to pull out previously unseen clinkers, add compelling touches, and generally polish it here and rough it there, tightening and lossening as needed.

It will also probably give you fresh information for the next story.

Daruma asked that you define the world of happenstance better. This doesn/t require a time or geography or such: a scowl at beer that's too warm (or too cold), a mention of the tired old dust of this or that (as if one were describing Nevada): such comments speak in a voice of co9nvinced understanding of the world in which they;re uttered. Such a tone carries the reader durther into the realm -- and being in the realm is what makes it convincing.

I would suggest you place more of such things toward the front end and more of the writerly evocations toward later on. When I said this awhile back:

"The scent of stale fires and fresh death hung in the air like incense. "

is a very evocative passage. It's very short and simple but -- literally -- creates atmosphere.
The second line:

""The blackened, charred frames of the surrounding buildings, backlit and limned in the pale moonlight, seemed like skeletal fingers pointing in accusation at the grim scene before them.", however, betrays its intent more than it expresses it. The moral sense of buildings pointing accusing fingers mostly reveals the author's hand. If you strove to recreate that second sentence/image with same economy and restraint of the first, you'd have a killer combo. May I try? (I commit this same blunder over and over and over: I need the lesson.)

More of the mundane before the wonder.

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stayne
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Kenmeer, thanks for the commentary. In truth, you're perhaps giving me more credit than I deserve, though, in that I honestly don't think I am good enough to take advantage of some of your advice. I'm doing this stuff all by gut feel. There's no 'art' going on in my head when I am writing, no real sense of crafting poetry. I need to hone my ability to actually appreciate what I am doing here, I think, before I can ever begin to understand the underlying principles and make judgment calls about the art of the arrangement. I can only hope that this sort of vision slowly develops as I continue to write.

As for marketing, I am really finding myself at a brick wall, and I think I am just going to have to let this one sit for a while. The market for adventure oriented fantasy is a very small thing right now, and worse, the word limits to the few markets out there are making most of those precious few off limits as well.

I seem to have this problem with my natural length being novella. I can't seem to find a good story to tell in less than 10k words. I cut Soothesayer from its original 15k to 12.5k, and I now feel that any more cuts begin to eat away at the integrity of the piece.

I do agree with you that it seems there is a movement to revive good old sword and sorcery from the basement to which it has been relegated. As Richard and I discussed, the current state of the market is one where over-jaded and PC editors seems to be slitting their own throats in denial. There is a strong distaste among (as Richard termed them) "postdeconstructionist gestapo agents disguised as market analysts" for heroic fantasy. I don't understand how they can continue to watch their sales decline, and yet fail to make the connection that their offerings are growing further and further away from the sort of themes that other, more successful mediums present. SF at present seems to have forgotten that we need a constant influx of young readers, the sort who are thrilled by Conan, Elric, or Fafrd and Grey Mouser, but who are put off by dreary introspection and deconstructionism. There is, in my mind, a strong political component to such things, a subtle attempt to change public perception by refusing to tell stories where the protagonist is a hero (or anti-hero) who can influence the word by wits and sword rather than joining some mass movement. And yet Jack Bauer thrives, as does television. Solid Snake and Master Cheif and Gordon Freeman stir young imaginations, and video games ride on their victories. Annakin Skywalker and Obiwan Kenobi arc in opposite directions on the big screen to a big box office score, while the turgid PC introspective chick-flicks and thinly veiled political diatribes languish from tepid returns. What is it that is blinding print media to the obvious conclusion that people _want_ to see some asses kicked from time to time, if for no other reason that to be transported away from the dreariness of real life, or as a change of pace from high art and poetry masquerading as prose, where story and action _must_ take a back seat to preachiness and moral?

(sigh)

These days, it almost seems I _have_ to be a writer to read stories I actually want to see.

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kenmeer livermaile
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"I honestly don't think I am good enough to take advantage of some of your advice. I'm doing this stuff all by gut feel. There's no 'art' going on in my head when I am writing, no real sense of crafting poetry. I need to hone my ability to actually appreciate what I am doing here, I think, before I can ever begin to understand the underlying principles and make judgment calls about the art of the arrangement. I can only hope that this sort of vision slowly develops as I continue to write."

I believe it does. WHile I've always had a facility for evocative verbiage, I couldn't tell a story to save my life -- or so I felt.

Now I can. If I'd believed that effort would produce relable results (which it does if one has talent, as you *obviously* do) I would have worked at it much harder decades ago rather than using the odd spurt of ambition to stuff the pipe of my dreams.

Hemmingway worked and worked at what he did, and he believed in what he was doing. Thus, despite his being a world-class sphincter, he became the 20th century icon for success AND artistic integrity.

Your story has many intriguing insights into consciousness that give it extra drive beyond its raw plot events. I think that the more you can let those questions about consciousness inform the story without making it obvious, the more you'll find your story exudes power, and the more likely it will appear to be capable of being extended into a novel. Novels, someone said, actually pay the rent.

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kenmeer livermaile
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"I seem to have this problem with my natural length being novella. I can't seem to find a good story to tell in less than 10k words. I cut Soothesayer from its original 15k to 12.5k, and I now feel that any more cuts begin to eat away at the integrity of the piece."

I am this way too. While I intend to master, purely for magistery's sake, the 2-5K story, I see the answer to our shared dilemma being to learn to extract more kernel from the shell of our stories and turn them into novels, where the market expands.

"There is, in my mind, a strong political component to such things, a subtle attempt to change public perception by refusing to tell stories where the protagonist is a hero (or anti-hero) who can influence the word by wits and sword rather than joining some mass movement."

Combine the two. EVERYONE's a sucker for a charismatic demagogue. Michael Valentine Smith, for example.

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canadian
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This is my next one, but dayam! 56 pages!
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