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Steel Nib: One Hundred Good Words


Ferossa
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An offshoot of Iron Quill, that focuses on flash fiction and hardcore editing. Flash fiction is short fiction (<900 words), usually written over one or three sessions, and tends to focus on impressionism instead of telling a full story. Flash fiction is often incorporated into larger bodies of work; I encourage all writers to revisit their flash fiction when in need of inspiration.

 

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." - Mark Twain

 

Prevalent writing advice says to write ten thousand words and edit them into a thousand. I disagree. Your pen is a scalpel, the ink is your lifeblood, and you are going to write the very pulse of your soul. I want one hundred good words, no more, no less. A story, a person, an impression, captured forever in one. hundred. words.

 

Make me proud.

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Hm. So, we're looking for something that fits into the definition of a story, with a word limit of a hundred words? Any other restrictions, genre, setting, anything? Or we can do whatever. Cause this sounds really hard and really worth trying!

 

I'd like to keep it focused on Malifaux, since this is their forums. While drabbles don't require a formal beginning, middle, and end, they work best when they focus on a singular element or characterisation. Nicholas Was by Neil Gaiman is an excellent example of what a drabble can do and the effect you have when you focus on the meaning of everY single word.

 

*Edit* And now let's talk about the importance of proofreading.

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The flash of metal sparked in her eyes.

 

She had seen it once, a small boy with a small ball on a string going around and up over again. The gem sparkled in the late afternoon sun.

 

She charged.

 

He twisted. To her left a stone exploded, blinding her in glittering dust. She heard the weight on her blade, felt the jangle of coins and—

 

Yes.

 

She cartwheeled forward, her hand brushing the ground as she—

 

Turned, the rough steel grip warm in the afternoon sun. Light sparked between her fingers as her eyes smiled hard and cold.

 

Misaki charged.

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He followed her cautiously at first, hanging back; but as she moved farther into the ruined alleyways, too far away for anyone to hear her screams, he became bolder. Now she was walking faster, glancing wide-eyed over her shoulder. Her fear was delicious.

 

He had the knife ready to show her – but not to use, not yet. There would be time for that later.

 

She darted around a corner he knew was a dead end, and he swaggered around it just in time to see her drop her mask.

 

He was too far away for anyone to hear his screams.

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"You killed five Guild Officials, two Death Marshals and uncountable civilians."

Jeffrey spat blood, straining against his chains. Unfortunate, that last. He smiled anyway. "Explosions are messy, but they work."

"Indeed," the Guild Questioner replied. "Also an entire train line to the North. Are all Arcanists that careless?"

"Are all what?" Jeffrey bluffed. Even after days of torture, he wouldn't betray the Movement.

Questioner sighed. "Pointless after all." He drew a pistol, pressing it against Jeffrey's forehead.

The Arcanist stared back, defiant.

Questioner leaned forward. "The Movement appreciates your sacrifice, brother," he whispered. The man winked and the gun roared.

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[draft 2]

 

Siege

 

 In the morning he pushed a wheelbarrow between the rows of struggling crops. His head down, watching for rocks. He stopped and pried each unquiet stone from the soil. Then he wrestled the full wheelbarrow to the wall. He stacked this morning's stones on top of those from previous days, careful to not let any of the carved glyphs align.

 

 He paused and looked over the wall at the creatures beyond. Tonight they would try again to reach him. Tonight, again, the faintly humming wall would stop them.

 

 He turned the empty wheelbarrow back between the rows.

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This thread is tagged with "feedback" but there isn't any actual feedback yet. So I've figured I'd break the ice. I have no special talents or experience here - this is just one guy's opinion.

 

 

The flash of metal sparked in her eyes.

...

She charged.

...

To her left a stone exploded, blinding her in glittering dust.

...

Misaki charged.

 

Good sense of action with this one in general. 

 

This exercise is supposed to make every word matter so I'll nit pick. The word "explode" should itself come to the reader suddenly - i think it should come as early in the sentence as possible. You have "To her left a stone exploded, blinding her in glittering dust. "  which buries the explosion in the middle of the sentence.

 

The phrase "Misaki charged." seems like it should be a big finale but it is robbed of some of its power by having "she charged" earlier on. Also "she" at the beginning and "Misaki" at the end made me question, for or moment, how many women were in the combat.

 

---

 

 

He followed

...

She darted around a corner he knew was a dead end, and he swaggered around it just in time to see her drop her mask.

...

He was too far away for anyone to hear his screams.

 

This one manages to set a mood, tell a story, and have a twist. Excellent.

 

My only nitpick is the line "She darted around a corner he knew was a dead end, and he swaggered around it just in time to see her drop her mask." The first part is a little awkward, maybe because "she darted" is in the now, but "knew was" is in the past. This should also probably be two sentences.

 

---

 

 

"You killed five Guild Officials, two Death Marshals and uncountable civilians."
...
Questioner sighed. "Pointless after all." He drew a pistol, pressing it against Jeffrey's forehead.
...
The man winked and the gun roared.

 

This one also manages to set the mood, tell a story, and add a twist all in a few word. 

 

It feels to me like a first draft but I don't know why. Maybe its things like the tenses in "Jeffrey spat blood, straining against his chains", "Spat" is past tense but "straining" is present tense.  "He drew a pistol, pressing it against Jeffrey's forehead.  also seems to mix tenses.

 

---

 

Anyway, those are my amateur attempts at feedback. Feel free to tear my "Siege" drabble apart in response.

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Defilers.

 

Digging, chopping, bleeding this land.

 

I watch your desperate scurrying.

 

I smell the sour stink of unwashed sweat.

 

By day you work your mines and fields

 

You rape our land to fuel your mortal magic.

 

I feel the pain of every pick strike, every axe bite in my own body.

 

You know this is not your world.  You do not belong.

 

None will speak that truth aloud, but you know all the same.

 

By night you huddle around lantern and torch.

 

Your little lights will not protect you in the night.

 

I will teach you to fear the dark.

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I like the fact that we're giving feedback here! I'm going to take issue with two of your tense notes though:

 

 

My only nitpick is the line "She darted around a corner he knew was a dead end, and he swaggered around it just in time to see her drop her mask." The first part is a little awkward, maybe because "she darted" is in the now, but "knew was" is in the past.

 

"She darted" is also correct for past tense.

 

 

 

Maybe its things like the tenses in "Jeffrey spat blood, straining against his chains", "Spat" is past tense but "straining" is present tense.  "He drew a pistol, pressing it against Jeffrey's forehead.  also seems to mix tenses.

 

Gerunds aren't tense specific. He was straining, he is straining, he will be straining. He was pressing (the pistol), he is pressing, he will be pressing.

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I like the fact that we're giving feedback here! I'm going to take issue with two of your tense notes though:

 

 

You are correct. Something else must be going on. 

 

Looking at the "spat"-"drew gun" comment - I'm in the wrong and withdraw my claim. (I had to look up what gerunds were).

 

On  edonil's, for me "She darted" seems quite active but  "he knew was" is not. Also it switches from the external world to an internal one - that's all ok, but it just caused me a little friction when I read it.

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"You killed five Guild Officials, two Death Marshals and uncountable civilians."

Jeffrey spat blood, straining against his chains. Unfortunate, that last. He smiled anyway. "Explosions are messy, but they work."

"Indeed," the Guild Questioner replied. "Also an entire train line to the North. Are all Arcanists that careless?"

"Are all what?" Jeffrey bluffed. Even after days of torture, he wouldn't betray the Movement.

Questioner sighed. "Pointless after all." He drew a pistol, pressing it against Jeffrey's forehead.

The Arcanist stared back, defiant.

Questioner leaned forward. "The Movement appreciates your sacrifice, brother," he whispered. The man winked and the gun roared.

 

I love this? If you want to free up word count, you can remove most dialogue markers when the speaking action is self-evident (he replied, he bluffed, etc.), especially if it's followed by the speaker performing an action (or verbing a noun, if you like).

 

 

 

Questioner sighed. "Pointless after all." He drew a pistol, pressing it against Jeffrey's forehead.

 

Grammar Point 1: Present participles ("pressing") occur simultaneously with the action or as a direct result of the action. "She sneezed, drawing her hand across her mouth." In this case, the gun suffers the action of two consecutive verbs. Ie. the Questioner can't draw his pistol while pressing it to Jeffrey's forehead, because he would never get it out of the holster and that would look very silly.

 

But!

 

Grammar Point 2: You don't need to repeat the subject if you separate consecutive actions with a semicolon. Compare the sense of action and anticipation:

 

He drew a pistol, pressing it against Jeffrey's forehead.

He drew a pistrol; pressed it against Jeffrey's forehead.

 

 

He followed her cautiously at first, hanging back; but as she moved farther into the ruined alleyways, too far away for anyone to hear her screams, he became bolder. Now she was walking faster, glancing wide-eyed over her shoulder. Her fear was delicious.

 

He had the knife ready to show her – but not to use, not yet. There would be time for that later.

 

She darted around a corner he knew was a dead end, and he swaggered around it just in time to see her drop her mask.

 

He was too far away for anyone to hear his screams.

 

Absolutely perfect reversal ending.  :+fate  :+fate  :+fate  It's a little pronoun heavy for the style you chose (see my feedback for edonil); I think you could tighten the action to free up words for more action. Very good use of grammar and pacing. Become good friends with the semicolon, you're made for each other.

 

 

He followed her cautiously at first, hanging back; but as she moved farther into the ruined alleyways, too far away for anyone to hear her screams, he became bolder.

 

This works great as a series of sentence fragments and not as a connected sentence. The verb (becoming bolder) is too separated from the earlier action and you lose the sense of menace early on. Semicolons don't follow conjunctions, they replace them.

 

Suggestion: "At first he followed her cautiously, hanging back; as she moved further into the ruined alleyways, he grew bolder. Too far away for anyone to hear her screams."

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Run.

 

He leapt over railings, bullets and fire chasing him.

 

Falling.

 

The drop was further than he’d thought. Damn. Twisting in the air as he plummeted faster, he stared at the twin moons. This better work. The air whirled round him, faster and faster till he was enveloped in a miniature tornado. He could hear the Witch Hunters’ cries even over the howling. Damned Guild. Feeling steady ground beneath his feet again he broke once more into a run. Just a little further and he’d reach the safe house.

 

All this for a full pouch of illicit Soulstones? Worth it.

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Defilers.

 

Digging, chopping, bleeding this land.

 

I watch your desperate scurrying.

 

I smell the sour stink of unwashed sweat.

 

By day you work your mines and fields

 

You rape our land to fuel your mortal magic.

 

I feel the pain of every pick strike, every axe bite in my own body.

 

You know this is not your world.  You do not belong.

 

None will speak that truth aloud, but you know all the same.

 

By night you huddle around lantern and torch.

 

Your little lights will not protect you in the night.

 

I will teach you to fear the dark.

Wow - very much reminds me of the parallel between the Neverborn and the Native Americans. Very powerful opening and ending and the building of tension works really well - can imagine this on stage.

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I figured it was time for me to give writing another go. Here is my submission:

 

[Edited due to suggestion from "OneLittleThunder"]

 

-------------------------------------------------------

 

Captain Griswalde did not dislike math.

 

The equation, swapping the pieces and switching the numbers suited her.

 

She rotated a problem on its axis, interchanging variances she could control and allowing for those she couldn’t.

 

They would tumble around in her head until the outcome should follow how she predicted it.

 

She did not like simple math. It was easy, but sometimes messy.

 

Dangling from a chasm over a pit full of plague-ridden rats with another guardsmen dangling from her ankle presented a simple equation.

 

One guardsman lost was less than two.

 

She raised her boot in line with his face.

 

-------------------------------------------------------

 

Let me know what you think.

 

As always,

The Grue

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I like the story and the presentation very much. My only problem is with this sentence:

 


 

They would tumble around in her head until the outcome followed how she predicted it would

 

That last phrase feels rather tortured. Maybe something like "They would tumble around in her head until the correct solution was both obvious and unavoidable."

 

Other than that, I like it a lot.

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Run.

 

He leapt over railings, bullets and fire chasing him.

 

Falling.

 

The drop was further than he’d thought. Damn. Twisting in the air as he plummeted faster, he stared at the twin moons. This better work. The air whirled round him, faster and faster till he was enveloped in a miniature tornado. He could hear the Witch Hunters’ cries even over the howling. Damned Guild. Feeling steady ground beneath his feet again he broke once more into a run. Just a little further and he’d reach the safe house.

 

All this for a full pouch of illicit Soulstones? Worth it.

I enjoyed this. It was simple, to the point, but had enough interesting details to keep me with it until the end. Nice way to create a situation with only 100 words.

 

 

As always,

The Grue

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It does, I am just trying to figure out how to change it without having to trim other parts of the story. I could fix it with more words but then I would have to lose other words. That is the part I am rotating in my head now. Maybe change out "would" to "should"?

 

 

As always,

The Grue

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