Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Beginning 736

A monk was walking through the cool mists of the forest when something in the brush caught his eye. He knelt in the damp leaves and buried his hands in the foliage, trying to see among the shadows. His fingers tangled in soft fabric.

Standing up, he pulled out a thick, shimmering cloak. As he held it out in front of him, it twisted out of his hands and billowed out as though catching a strong wind. The monk tried to flee and found his limbs would not move. He stared in terror as the cloak settled around the shoulders of a shadowy form.

A dim, sad face appeared beneath the hood.

 “Wait," it said. "You must stay and hear my tale, as I am forced to tell it to all who find me. Listen well.

"Many years ago, I was the lord of this land and forest and all you see around you. I was a grasping, greedy, envious man, but at the time I only thought I wanted what was rightfully mine.

"Let me stop you there," the monk said. "When someone finds you, and you tell them your story, do you always wear those robes?"

"Uh, yes."

"Every time?"

"Every time. Yes . . . Why?"

"Take it from someone who knows: That's a very bad habit."



Opening: Ellie.....Continuation: Anon.

22 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


"Stop!" said the monk. "I haven't agreed to listen yet. First I need a synopsis."

"But I'm a talking cloak. Surely that interests you."

"Not if I've heard it before. Let me guess a witch turned you into a cloak after you tried to get money, woman, or power."

"I'll pay you."

"Sorry, no can do. I'm a member of Ethical Listeners. I cannot charge for my services," said the monk.

--Anon.


Just then the slightest gust of wind lifted the cloak from the stranger and sent it once more to the ground.

"I cheated a poor man of his last coppers to buy that cloak, and ever since I have been cursed."

The monk again picked up the cloak, and again it flew to the man's shoulders.

"It will fall from me at the slightest gust, and then I cannot touch it myself. I must wait for a kind soul such as you."

It happened again.

"Maybe you should add some buttons down the front," the monk said, lifting the cloak once more. "Or one of those chain thingees at the collar, like vampires wear."

"No, I am cursed by this cloak, and all I can do is recount my dreary tale to passing strangers. Let me tell you from the beginning..."

When the monk left, the cloak was tucked firmly in a place whence it would never blow away again.

--John



"Whoa there!" The monk interrupted. "Look at me. Look at these robes. Look at this cross hanging round my neck. Do I look like I need converting? Jesus! Everywhere I go... You God damned Jeho-- Listen. Save your breath and go find someone who cares." He paused and thought for a moment. "I'll take a copy of the magazine, though. I only came out here for a dump, anyway."

--anon.



"But no. Those bastards gave the Oscar to 'Hurt Locker'!"

--khazar-khum


The shadowy form continued speaking for several more minutes before the monk lost interest and retreated within himself. For three days, as the shadowy form recounted its sad though somewhat tired tale of loss and redemption and more loss and more redemption, the monk meditated, exploring and cleansing the depths of his consciousness until he achieved a state of mind so clear and so pure that the very secrets of the Universe were revealed to him.

Using this new knowledge, the monk reached out with the power of his mind and strangled the shadowy form. Released from the paralysis at last, the monk watched the shimmering cloak float gently to the ground and then he stepped forward and spat on it. "You sonofabitch," he said, "you made me late for bingo."

Moral: Don't fuck with a monk.

--Blogless_Troll


"It was a dark and stormy night...."

-- _*rachel*_ and Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Evil Editor said...

I'm certainly willing to listen to the man's story, so you've accomplished your purpose. However, we could get to the story a few sentences sooner with a few cuts:

P.1: trying to see among the shadows.
(He wouldn't bury his hands to see, he'd push aside branches.)

P.2: twisted out of his hands and (No reason it can't billow out as he holds it.)

The monk tried to flee and found his limbs would not move. (A monk might easily think he was witnessing a miracle or having a religious experience, so there's no need to have him try to flee.)

He could stare in astonishment rather than terror.

P.4: You must

(I think it would be more interesting if the monk wanted to hear the tale, rather than had to hear it. I'd also change "forced" to "obliged."

Matthew said...

Sounds fun. I thought it was weird that the ghost would ask him to wait after already using its powers to keep him in place.

Steve Wright said...

I have to say, I feel rather sorry for this monk. Not only has he just been mugged by a gratuitous info-dumping plot device, he doesn't even have a name... he doesn't have a definite article, even. Just "a monk". Honestly, there's got to be a better way to introduce a character than this....

And there's got to be a better way to deliver the exposition, too; you can hold your character stock-still while the ghostly figure delivers a wodge of backstory, but it's a lot harder to make the reader stand still and take it. If the nameless monk needs to know whatever the talkative ghost is telling him, can't he find it out in some more proactive way?

Ellie said...

Hee, what fantastic continuations!

The story is a 700-word flash fiction piece. I'm having a really hard time keeping it formal rather than dull, reflective rather than slow-paced. I wanted to use the classic fairy tale gimmick: character finds genie/witch/spirit/whatever, hears tale, gets gift/has choice to make, the end.

Steve touches on one of the worries I have, that I'm chunking down too much backstory and not providing enough conflict and interplay. Almost the whole piece consists of the spirit telling how he got that way and the cursed gifts he's had to give. The monk gets one line at the end, which is sort of the punchline to the whole setup.

Another reader suggested I have more dialogue back and forth, but the story's inspired by Buddhist ideas on desire, and I like the monk quiet and contemplative. I was going to give him a friend who could argue with the spirit, but that just feels crowded.

Evil Editor said...

If the monk is there only to listen to the story, and not a character in the story, then it's not backstory. It's like the movie The Princess Bride, in which the actual story is framed by scenes of the grandfather reading to his grandson.

And of course if it's only 700 words, it doesn't much matter anyway.

150 said...

Hi Ellie!

I could be totally wrong about this, so, you know, caveat lector. But I think what's tripping me up here is the simplicity of action (like a fairy tale) mixed with the complexity of description (like a modern story). To me it makes everything sound stilted, rather than elegant (like straight-up fairy tale treatment would do) or engrossing (like modern).

(I like parentheses.)

I'd expect a fairy tale to start out with: "A monk was walking through a forest when he discovered a cape, which, when touched, grew into a shadowy form." I'd expect a non-fairy tale to give the monk a name, a personality, and a reason for being in the woods. You know? Maybe try moving this both directions, and see if you like either of them any better?

chelsea said...

Hey Ellie,

I think a really easy way to make things move quicker is to cut some of the adjectives. There are quite a lot of them here: Cool, damp, soft, thick, shimmering, strong, shadowy, dim, sad.

Mists tend to be cool so I think cool could be cut. Likewise, we can infer that the leaves are damp because of the mist. I might cut out thick and sad or dim too, just because I don't personally need that much description in a shorter piece. And I get a pretty clear picture of the cloak and the man's face with just one adjective each. Of course, this may just be me! But those are the things that slowed me down while reading.

I would read on. The story is interesting and I'd like to know what happens next.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I agree with Chelsea - the adjectives do slow the pace, especially when you're already using such descriptive words like "mist" and "shadows" and "twisted".

I would suggest rearranging the second and third paragraphs so the action moves a little quicker:

Standing up, he pulled out a thick, shimmering cloak. As he held it out in front of him, it twisted out of his hands. (The monk) stared in terror as the cloak billowed out as though catching a strong wind, (then) settled around the shoulders of a shadowy form. A dim, sad face appeared beneath the hood.



The monk tried to flee and found his limbs would not move.

“Wait," (the cloak) said. "You must stay and hear my tale, as I am forced to tell it to all who find me. Listen well.


Hope this helps!

Jeb said...

A 700 word story and you use up the first 100 of them on set-up? Makes me relieved for all the editors out there that you're not submitting novels formed on the same principle. Or, if you are, you shouldn't be.

Also, would the monk not be awed rather than terrified at a spiritual manifestation that might be a direct blessing from his deity? Or does he belong to an order that worships only sentient frying pans? If there's any question at all in the reader's mind about what kind of monk this is, you don't have room to answer it, so try to avoid raisng such unanswerable questions.

Steve: good one! "Not only has he just been mugged by a gratuitous info-dumping plot device..." I agree with the rest of your comments, too.

150: Good suggestion. "Maybe try moving this both directions, and see if you like either of them any better?"

word ver: knabie (noun) a baby knave.

Dave F. said...

700 words... Well then, cut, cut, cut.

Here are the possible ways to do it.

Rather than using "was" and "something" in the opening sentence, get to the point directly,

As the monk walked through the forest, a cloak, tangled in the underbrush caught his attention. When he picked it from the ground, it billowed out as though caught by a strong wind. A shadowy form filled the cloak. It spoke.

"Many years ago, etc...


And there you are at the story. All of the fumbling of fingers and moving up and down and other stuff is not necessary. This doesn't have to be sparse but it dose have to be concise. Get your mood and tone into those fewer words and use the rest of the word count to relate the story.

You can make this work better. Just keep pruning words and thinking of alternative ways to create the mood and say what you want.

A spectral image formed under the cloak and sad, world-weary eyes spoke to the monk.

"Many years ago..."


Also works for me.

Xiexie said...

The minions before me have touched on my nits. I also agree that I wouldn't expect the monk to be fleeing, but that may depend on the monk's religion etc.

My word verification is phrosc which to me feels like an adjective full of positivity; since I like this opening, I will say that it's quite phrosc.

Ellie said...

Wow, these are great comments! Thank you everyone SO MUCH for offering critiques! I can't wait to get home from work and start hacking away at this story. I agonized over submitting this because I worried the story was just plain broken. But now I'm excited to rip it apart and make it work.

Do you think saying something like "A monk in saffron robes was walking through the forest..." would effectively start introducing theme and cue the reader that he's not a Christian monk?

Matthew said...

I didn't picture a Christian monk, I assumed he was Buddhist.

I wouldn't worry about inserting a line about saffron robes, I'm sure his character will later show what kind of monk he is.

Evil Editor said...

Who cares what kind of monk he is? He's just there to listen to the other character's story. Which will be over on page 3.

Ellie said...

Wise words, EE.

Thanks again, everyone.

Steve Wright said...

If you want to hold someone in place while they listen to someone else's story, there's a well-known literary precedent:-

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
`By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May'st hear the merry din.'

He holds him with his skinny hand,
`There was a ship,' quoth he.
`Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!'
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye--
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.


Personally, I think Coleridge could have cut verses two and five of the intro without losing anything much. (But, y'know, junkie poets, just try to tell 'em something....) However, compared to the rest of the poem, this intro really isn't all that long.

_*rachel*_ said...

I love this continuation!

I don't know what it is about this opening, but it doesn't really grab me. Try what 150, Dave, and Chelsea said; that might be it.

Ellie said...

I don't know what the statute of limitations is on posting revisions, but if any of the minions are willing to be even more generous with their time and thoughts, here's the latest version:

--

Once upon a time, a monk walking through a forgotten grove discovered a cloak hidden in the bushes. At his touch, it twisted out of his hands and took the shape of a man. A sad face peered out from beneath the hood. “You have woken me,” it said, “and so you must answer a terrible question. But first, listen well to my tale.

“I once ruled this forest and all you see around you. I was a grasping, greedy, envious man, though at the time it seemed I only wanted what was rightfully mine. One day, when caught in a downpour, I came upon a poor man and took his cloak by force.

“That man was a powerful sorcerer in disguise. As soon as I put on the garment, I became a spirit cursed to haunt these woods. I must grant a gift to anyone who wakes me. But should he ever desire anything more than my gift, he will lose it forever. This punishment torments me, for it seems that my gifts are as cursed as I am.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Cut, cut, cut.

Maybe like this:
A monk discovered a cloak hidden in the bushes. At his touch, it twisted out of his hands and took the shape of a man. A sad face peered out from beneath the hood. “You have woken me and must answer a terrible question. But first, listen well to my tale.

“I once ruled this forest. I was grasping, greedy, envious, though it seemed I only wanted what was rightfully mine. In a downpour, I came upon a poor man and took his cloak by force. He was a powerful sorcerer in disguise. As soon as I put on the garment, I became a spirit cursed to haunt these woods.

“I must grant a gift to any who wakes me. This torments me, for it seems that my gifts are as cursed as I am.


This line has issues:
Should he ever desire anything more than my gift, he will lose it forever.

What is 'it"? The gift? The anything more?


You're getting there.

Ellie said...

Thanks for the help, Sarah! Back to the drawing board. Or, uh, word processing program.

Vivian Davenport said...

As soon as the shadowy form says, "Wait," wouldn't you know he's a man instead of an it?