Author Topic: Seeking Beta-Readers: Ogre Problems: Short Story (First Half) 1300 words  (Read 479 times)

Offline Idioume

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We lived in the remote mountain of Hnitbjorg, at the peak where the ground was flat enough to build on. Kirkmadog, our small village, resembled any other village. It was a cluster of grey houses with glass windows and crooked chimneys, and rows of fences too small to protect anything. Each house had spacious gardens with patches of flowers and trees in full leaf that leaned over the dust-paths. Children gathered in their shade and picked fallen sticks, then straddled shoulders to reach fresh fruit—apples, pears, and cherries—hanging from the trees of their parents' neighbours, while rotten ones lay at their feet. Between the walls of any house worries were much the same as any village in the country—they touched on the weather, the economy, and work fatigue. Two weeks ago, on national Marshmallow toasting day, a change emerged from the woods. Since then, we stayed cooped up in our homes and only one concern hung over our heads: survival.
    It happened at eight o’clock. We were sitting outside around fires, with our boots turned toward the embers and the heat warming our faces, when a growl rose from somewhere up west. At the second growl, we understood it came from the forest. At the third, we concluded its source wished us no good. Then we caught sight of it, between two trees, about seventy yards away. It was an ogre. The creature stood still for a while, a shadow at the forest’s edge, before leaping forward in one great burst of energy. The earth shook at each of its steps and a cloud of dust flew up where it passed. Whether the scent of melted marshmallows or fate had led it to us, we knew not.
    There were shouts and cries, some gesturing and pointing. Skewers fell to the ground. The creature looked exactly the way we thought it would. It had a long, flat nose. Its eyes were small and beady and black. Its body was slender and flabby, with a semitransluscent skin. A large bear hide served as its loincloth. With gleaming eyes, the creature ran straight for our gardens and laid waste to them. It devoured our apples, our pears, our cherries, and gobbled up the few villagers that got in the way. Once it had its fill, it burped and patted its oversized belly with a callous green hand. Then it walked away, out of the open and back to the shaded world of trees. We sighed in relief, certain this would be the last we saw of it. We were wrong. The next night it returned, and every night after that for two weeks.
    Faced with this, Nick, the village chief, grew short of patience. On Monday, he held council to work out solutions against the ogre. Things had come to a head, and he swore to spare no effort to bring them to an end. Alone if he had to, he said. Imagine a grimacing little man, red in the face, with a crooked back, waving fists at the air, shouting: ‘It ain’t right. It just ain’t right!’ That's our Nick.
    That night after supper, we left our homes to go knock on Nick’s door. His youngest daughter showed us in. The room was warm and bright, the curtains drawn, the lights turned off.  In a hearth at the center flames danced on logs. Nick sat at the far corner where it threw back its light. His face was urgent, he was gnashing his teeth. We waited a while for him to look up and see us. Then greetings were exchanged, our cups were filled to the brim, and we joined a semi-circle of birch-wood chairs around the fire, and, eyes shining and brows furrowed, we got to it.
    The conversation followed hierarchy. First Nick spoke, then the wealthiest of the village, Henry, got a word in, followed by people of any importance to the village. Little progress was made though, and soon we had to fling a new set of logs into the fire.
    After a while, Jenny, the youngest, rose to her feet as if something had hit her in the head. Her eyes were puffy, with dark circles underneath--her father had slid down the ogre’s throat earlier that very night. She had something to say.
     ‘I know. I have the answer. We should make a hole with spikes inside and cover it with leaves and sticks, as we do when out hunting. Then someone will wait in the night by the forest. Once the creature leaves its cover of trees, they will bait it into the trap. Isn’t that a great idea?’
    ‘What if it doesn’t follow?’ said Henry, twirling the black strand of hair over his face. ‘No stone must be left unturned.’
    Jenny replied with a bold and brazen proposal. ‘It’s a simple matter, really. I make a marvellous bacon, ham and pickle sandwich. The bait will carry it and lure the beast with it. Should work well en--.’
    ‘Oh, I know!’ broke in Crackpot Bo. He rarely got invited to gatherings. Seeing Jenny with an audience he seized his chance, and it gave him pleasure to speak and a smile spread over his face. ‘I have the answer. We should put cheese in it, as we do when out on picnics. It’s a good idea, you see. Mama used to tell me a sandwich is always better with cheese, and Mama was always right, there is no doubt of that. Once, even, because of the fruits rotting all around here, mice turned up their little noses at our home and Mama set cheese traps and they worked.’ His eyes gleamed, and he spoke too fast to keep spittle from flying out. ‘Put some cheese in it. That will make it come over. Surely, if it worked with mice it will for the ogre. It won’t work without. For sure.’
    Jenny rolled her eyes.‘Sure. There will be cheese inside.’
    ‘But what kind?’ Bo said, wide-eyed. ‘Gouda’?
    ‘Gouda. Yes. Why not?’
    Bo crossed his arms and nodded approvingly. ‘Well chosen. There’s no other, right? That’s the best, right?’
    Henry heaved a deep sigh and went on: ‘What if the hole’s too small? No speck must be left unshoveled.’     
    ‘That,’ came Jenny’s retort, ‘is not a problem. We’ve all seen the creature. We know its size. Just to make sure, we’ll dig the hole twice the size of the image we hold in our minds.’
    Bo scratched his head. ‘Wait. Let’s see if I get it. If we do twice what we have in mind, will we have to do twice the twice we had in mind, and twice, twice, the twice—’
    ‘Well, Bo, I don’t know. But that thing between your ears could benefit from doubling.’
    ‘What thing?’

     Bo flushed and looked at his shoes. Snickers travelled across the room.

   Nick poked at the embers in the hearth, paying no heed to the interruption. ‘Say the ogre doesn’t see the bait, what then?’
    Jenny shrugged. ‘The bait has two hands. One to hold the sandwich. The other for an oil lamp, to draw attention. As I said—not a problem.’ 

    There was a scraping of chairs in the room. People sprang to their feet and then general applause arose. Nick smacked Jenny’s back and handed her a jug of mead. Henry whistled. And Bo stood there being Bo. Nine-fingered Mary though, the crone who lodged by the river running across the village and who was silent during the exchanges, still sat and shook her head.
    ‘My fellow villagers, you have good reason, I know, to believe we can carry out this plan. But have we not forgotten something?’
    ‘What?’ asked Nick.
    Her eyes squinted over the flames, perspiration gleamed on her forehead.‘Someone will have to lure the beast.’
    ‘What of it?’
    ‘Well, who will it be?’

    A sour silence gripped us now. Eyes darted to others only to find identical expressions. No hands lifted to volunteer, and no mouth moved to speak, even Nick’s. There was a soft, muffled sound of wind blowing outside, but inside, all was quiet, save for the crackling fire at the center and our breaths.

 Slowly, heads turned to look into Bo’s face in the semi-darkness. He grinned back. It was a warm night between good friends, but thoughts of the future made us all shudder.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2020, 05:51:47 PM by Idioume »

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Seeking Beta-Readers: Ogre Problems: Short Story (First Half) 1300 words
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2020, 09:27:37 AM »
I'm assuming English is not your first language, based on the unconventional way you express yourself at times and the rather over-formal vocabulary. But this added a sense of the exotic and didn't spoil my enjoyment. Thank you for sharing

Offline Idioume

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Re: Seeking Beta-Readers: Ogre Problems: Short Story (First Half) 1300 words
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2020, 09:52:13 AM »

Many thanks for reading my piece and dropping a comment! It means a lot! There are things to fix, no doubt. I am glad you enjoyed it nonetheless.

I try to write in a literary style, even for fantasy fiction. I am magazine published and anthology published in English.

English is my first language. I tend to mix American English and UK English, however.

The way I cut my sentences may be awkward at times, but I mean it to be. I am experimenting with the SVO (subject, verb, Object) structure. I vary from telling to showing as well, as modern fabulists do.

If you don't mind, please point out the parts which come off as too unconventional to you so that I can mend them. I seek clarity and conciseness, but I don't want to be overly-simplistic. I try not to waste my reader's time though and to immerse them completely.

If you have written something, share it and I will return the favor. :D

Kind regards,
« Last Edit: September 17, 2020, 10:28:56 AM by Idioume »

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Seeking Beta-Readers: Ogre Problems: Short Story (First Half) 1300 words
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2020, 10:56:45 AM »
Without going into too much forensic detail, here are a few phrases that pulled me up short:

It was a warm night between good friends, but thoughts of the future made them all shudder.

The villagers there lived along a large forest with wide trees, against the eastern side near the summit where the ground was flat enough to build on.

To look at Kirkmadog one would have thought there stood a village like any other.

. . .quarrels touched on the day’s cook, bedroom cleanliness, and work fatigue.

Offline Dugarte

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Re: Seeking Beta-Readers: Ogre Problems: Short Story (First Half) 1300 words
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2020, 12:56:27 PM »
Hi Idioume,

Thank you for sharing your writing with us! I'm new here, but have some experience providing critiques, and I hope you will find my feedback helpful.

Some of your descriptions are great, I especially liked "a blue-eyed shadow at the forest's edge."

There are other elements that I feel may be improved with more specifics and by slowing down and giving more details.

For example, the first several paragraphs make use of the vague pronouns "they" and "them". In the first sentence "It was a warm night in good company, but thoughts of the future made them all shudder." I felt a little thrown off, as I did not know who "them" referred to. Upon reading the third sentence, I could guess that "they" were the villagers, but I wonder if there is a way to be more specific about who you are referring to in your opening sentece.
From then on, it feels like the villagers are just one faceless, nameless entity of bland people all living uniformly, and I personally feel like picking out a main character, or a sampling of individuals who represent the diversity of the village (an elder, a family, a loner, a child, etc), might help readers feel more of a connection to this village as it is attacked by the ogre.

When the action starts it feels a little abrupt and not in a good way, if I'm being honest. "Then it leapt out, and when it landed the earth they stood on shook." I am not expert on grammar, and I myself feel strongly that we should write what feels right, and not just whatever is technically grammatically correct, but this sentence feels sort of passive, not just technically, but in that we are getting our first act of violent action and it's being told in a sort of "meh" tone, in my opinion. I think it you were to spice up the wording and the presentation, this moment could elicit the same alarm in the readers that I presume it is causing the villagers.

As long as I'm nitpicking sentences, the following sentences also feel passive. "Whether the scent of melted marshmallows or fate had brought it, they knew not. There were shouts and cries, some gesturing and pointing. Skewers fell to the ground." Like everything is being told in a matter-of-fact, calm way. It feels like the narrator isn't particularly concerned, so why should I be?

The line "It looked exactly the way they thought it would." made me curious; how would the villagers know what an ogre would look like? Without any context, it feels a little confusing, as I had taken for granted that these happy-go-lucky, bland, innocent villagers with their decorative fences have no experience or expectation that they will ever need to fend off anything bigger than a squirrel.

Then you write "Its eyes were small and beady, and black," and I thought it had blue eyes. That line earlier had really stood out to me, as I had had the image of a big, uncanny-valley sort of silhouette in the forest shadows with glowing blue eyes.

I feel like you are missing a comma in the beginning of the sentence, "  In the face of this Nick, the village chief, grew short of patience." I think it should be "In the face of this, Nick" - with a comma there, as the village chief is not in the face of a thing that is called a Nick, but that Nick, in the face of this, is growing short of patience.

When you say "Things had come to a head," I am not sure I understand. It feels like the Ogre's attack has been an isolated incident, where as the phrase "come to a head" implies that there has been an ongoing situation that has been getting worse and finally has reached a point where it is some sort of crisis that must be dealt with.

In general I would say there is a lot of passive voice (again, I am no expert on grammar, I just feel like the way I'm being told information, it feels like it is all being relayed by someone who has no empathy with the villagers, but is objectively reporting what happened somewhere far away, in the past tense. I would recommend taking a more active voice, implementing more emotional language, adjectives and adverbs that don't just describe things as they literally are, but give me a sense of how the characters are feeling about what is happening.

There is also some awkward wording. I understand the desire to use literary style, but some of this really sounds unusual to the point that I also wonder if the author's first language is not English. Perhaps making use of more common phrases and ways of describing things would help? For example "when the last of the sun had sunk" feels like a bizarre way to say "after sunset" or "after the sun had set". I feel like there is a fine line between writing that is creative and refreshing, versus distracting and awkward, and unfortunately some of these phrases feel like the later to me.

In general I think there is a lot of potential, and it's just a matter of working out the kinks in the wording to strengthen your story. I hope you found my feedback helpful and will continue to share your writing!


Offline Idioume

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Re: Seeking Beta-Readers: Ogre Problems: Short Story (First Half) 1300 words
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2020, 05:47:00 PM »
Hello David,

Thank you for the stellar feedback. You accurately pinpointed the issues. I tried writing my environment and setting as character, like a lot of Japanese writers do, because I see the village as a frozen entity. Characters start to come into the foreground after the ogre appears. As they prepare to go from one inertia to another, they must first adjust the way they have always seen things and the way things have always been.

The first sentence repeats at the end, to make sense of the retrospective POV I use.

I started making drastic edits. I removed that sentence and shifted from a 'they' to a 'we' for the voice. Much remains to be done, though.

Do you have anything to share that I can have a look at to give feedback?

Offline Johnry Silverio

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Re: Seeking Beta-Readers: Ogre Problems: Short Story (First Half) 1300 words
« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2020, 02:50:33 AM »
Hi Idioume,

I'm new here and I just started to gain interest in writing, not to mention this is my first time beta reading so take what I say with a grain of salt.

I really enjoyed the story. The naming sense and the villagers were pretty fun for me to read, especially Crackpot Bo-- I find his dialogue intriguing. I also love how the villager roles/tropes were portrayed, such as the village head, the rich guy, the old crone, and my fav Crackpot Bo XDD.

Also, reading the story, I couldn't connect with most characters but I assume it may have been done deliberately as the village itself as a whole is supposed to be portrayed as the character or something in the story. The ogre's entrance was my favorite part-- love the gobbling villagers scene-- it showed how dangerous it is, I just think maybe stronger verbs may be used to really show how frightening it is, especially when it starts killing people.

Again, this is my first time beta reading so I'm sorry if I'm not competent enough to elaborate or point on more issues in the story that needs fixing and the like. Overall, I did enjoy your story, so thanks for sharing :DD

Offline Mattdp123

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I love that something so serious begins with something as absurd and funny as a holiday about roasting marshmallows.