10 Minute Story: Dincton Flatt and the Perfect Chair

Here’s another one of these, I guess, why not.

WHY NOT.


 

A chair

 

“No, that simply will not do,” muttered Dincton Flatt, dismissing yet another chair as he wandered down the expansive aisles of the Sitting King Emporium.

“You can’t be too picky, sir,” offered his robot coyote, trotting alongside him.  “Surely there must be something here you fancy.  It is, after all, the premiere shop in Danesbury for all your sitting needs.”

“My needs are precise, Featherby.  I must be comfortable as a mouse who is – well, you must know, extremely comfortable.  And it must make me look important – but not as though I’m trying to look important.  It’s a delicate balance, you realize.”

“If you say so, sir.”  Featherby trotted up and sniffed at another seat – a wide, over-padded avocado-green affair.  “What of this one, then?  I’d say it would do your bum a service.”

“Heavens, Featherby.”  Flatt put a hand to his chest, eyes rolling over the thing in mortification.  “It is a punishment to behold.”

“Certainly unpretentious, yes?  Yet only someone of obvious importance would dare let himself be seen perched on such a seat.  And it looks quite comfortable, you must admit.”

“I shall admit to nothing.  Surely it must be as far from delivering a pleasant sitting experience as one might imagine would be a pair of large and unforgiving needles protruding haphazardly and expectantly from the earth.”

“That is startling imagery, sir.  Nevertheless, you will not know unless you give it a try.”  Featherby hopped up onto it and bounced up and down a little.

Flatt narrowed his gaze, then turned and continued walking.  “Remind me to have your reasoning algorithms refined.”

The coyote sighed and jumped back down to follow.

“Can I help you find something?” a friendly but businesslike voice reached Flatt’s ear.  A sharply dressed middle-aged woman approached him from a couple aisles away, navigating awkwardly between the tightly packed rows of chairs to get to him.  She was carrying a clipboard.  It was always clipboards.

“You’re likely to be of more help than him, I suppose.”  Flatt nodded toward Featherby.

The attendant let out a small gasp on noticing the coyote.  “What?  Er, sir, I don’t think you’re allowed–”

“Hold the cream,” Flatt interrupted, eyes landing on a tall, ruddy-brown wingback the next row over, elegantly stitched and expertly beaded.  He squeezed through a pair of plush recliners to reach it, nearly tripping over them and falling on his face, but no, gravity would not best him on this day.

“Sir?” the attendant called after him.

“This one.”  He stroked the perfect chair in admiration.  “Yes.  This is the one.  Have it prepared for me, will you?”

The attendant scanned her clipboard, offering a sympathetic smile.  “I do apologize, but that item has already been claimed.”

Flatt grew pale in horror.  “What?  No, you must be–by whom?”  He searched the chair in a desperate fit, hands landing upon a small blue tag.  Across it was written one word – a word which Flatt whispered in despondency: “Cheverly.”  He slumped miserably down into it, becoming only more distraught as it greeted his posterior with immaculate support.

Featherby hopped up onto his master’s lap and nosed his face.  “Take heart, sir.  There is still the green one.”

Flatt leaned his head back, frown threatening to unravel his features.  “Oh, Featherby, why did I build you?”

“For good times, sir.”


 

Bene scribete.

10-Minute Story: Dincton Flatt and the Cherry Grove Fiasco

Time for some more spontaneous nonsense, I suppose.

(Though I may not be feeling quite punchy enough today.)


 

House of No

 

Dincton Flatt sat cross-legged on the floor of one of his empty properties, shuffling through a deck of cards and frowning.

The sound of padding on the carpet and the soft voice of his robot coyote broke his trance.  “What’s wrong, sir?”

Flatt turned at the prompt and raised an eyebrow.  “I’m missing some cards, Featherby.”

The coyote tilted his head.  “Are you trying to say that you’re not playing with a full deck, sir?”

Flatt narrowed his eyes.

“Which cards are you missing?”

“The diamonds, of course.  It’s always the diamonds…”  He shoved the rest of the deck between Featherby’s jaws.  “Go fetch a new deck, will you?”

“I’ll see what I can find, sir,” was the coyote’s muffled response as he trotted away.

A buzzing rumble shook Flatt’s trousers, and he reached in to fetch his mobile.  “Flatt’s Flats – this is Mr. Flatt.”

A husky voice answered on the other end of the line.  “It’s Watley.”  Abberson Watley, one of his top agents.

“What is it, Watley?  News on the Clumpsworth listing?”

“No, Flatt, I’m afraid not.  There’s been a murder.”

“A murder?”  Flatt shot to his feet, eyes squinting at the horizon he could not see beyond the wall in front of him.  “A murder most foul, you say?”

Watley sighed.  “Most foul, I fear.  At the Cherry Grove property.”

“Cherry Grove?  Damnation, Watley, it’s only been two days on the market!”

“It seems people are literally dying to get into your suites, Flatt.”

“Yes, well, they could do us the courtesy of popping their clogs on the way there, now, couldn’t they?”  He wiped his free hand down his face.  “Very well.  I’ll be right over.”

Only a moment after he hung up, Flatt’s phone buzzed again.  “Yes, Watley – what now?”

The voice that answered this time was not Watley’s, however, but one which heavily implied the perfection of its owner’s immaculate white suit.  “Abberson Watley?  Come, now, Flatt, you mistake me for someone who cares as little about his closure rate as he does his attire.”

“Cheverly,” Flatt grumbled.  “I’m sure you’re looking splendid this afternoon.”

“Mm, yes, quite.  I hear there’s been a murder.”

Flatt glowered at nothing, nearly crushing the phone in his hand.  “If fact, there has.”  His voice grew low and sharp.  “Was it you?”

“Don’t be daft, Flatt.  It’s unbecoming.  You must understand, however, that a murder would never happen at one of my properties.  No, I imagine this will not be good for business.”

“Imagine what you will, Cheverly – we’ll see how things play out.”  He hung up as forcefully as modern technology would allow.

A moment or two later, he dialed Mr. Cheverly back, but only reached his answering service.

“Good,” he spoke into the recording, “is how things will play out.  Because I shall solve the murder with wit and good manners and make the property worth double.”  He hung up again and dropped the phone back into his pocket as Featherby returned with a much slimmer stack of cards in his maw.

“I’ve found the diamonds, sir,” he said, dropping them.

“Excellent work, Featherby.  But,” he began, then continued, without stopping, “where are the others?”

The coyote’s gaze wandered the room.  “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

Flatt crossed his arms and shook his head.  “Oh, Featherby, why did I build you?”

“For good times, sir.”


 

Bene scribete.

10-Minute Story: Dincton Flatt and the Goat that he Found

Good afternoon, those who may or may not be reading this in the afternoon.

Time for another “story” blast-written in ten minutes without forethought, I suppose.

And I call myself a writographer. Or, wait, no I don’t.


 

Goats are places

 

“Sir?” came Featherby’s voice from another room.

Dincton Flatt ignored him, absently clicking through tabs on his browser.  The immaculately dressed Mr. Cheverly had posted a photograph of his newest suit on Facebook.  It was perfect.  Flatt glowered.

“Sir?” Featherby called again.

Flatt sighed.  “What is it, Featherby?”  He looked over his shoulder, and saw his robot coyote trot into the room.

“I think you ought to see this, sir,” the coyote answered.

“Not now, Featherby, I’m quite in the middle of something.”

“Sir, even if I believed that, I would still feel pressed to tell you that there is a goat on your lawn.”

“A goat, Featherby?”

“Yes, sir, a goat.”

“Heavens, that shouldn’t be.”  Flatt pulled up an MSPaint process he always had open, filled in all black so he could look at his reflection on the computer monitor.  He was handsome as you please and blond as anything, just as he intended.  He smiled dashingly at himself and minimized the window, then stood and crossed his arms.  “Very well, then, show this goat to me.”

Featherby led him out to his front yard, where a goat indeed stood munching on the grass.

“You.  Goat,” Flatt warned.  “You mustn’t be here.  Not in the slightest.  This is simply not the place for goats.”

The goat looked up, staring blankly, then goatnoised.

“Hmm.  Quite rude.  What should we do, Featherby?”

“Perhaps we should call the goat store, sir.  Maybe it escaped and only needs to be returned.”

“No, Featherby, I do not think such a place exists.”  Flatt twisted up his mouth in consideration.  “Although, that might not be a bad thing to have around here.  Perhaps we should start one.”  Flatt approached the goat carefully.  “Well, there, fellow – how would you like to be the first in a line of magnificent goats – Flatt’s Goats?  We could sell your ilk all over Danesbury, perhaps as a complimentary add-on to our properties.”

The goat goatnoised.

Flatt frowned.

“Sir,” Featherby cautioned, “I do not mean to rain on your parade, but it might be said that this idea is not a good one.  The real-estate business is enough to manage on its own without adding livestock to your inventory.”

Flatt shook his head.  “You may be right, Featherby, but people do like goats, do they not?  And Cheverly does not have goats.”  Flatt eyed the robot.  “Does he?”

Featherby tilted his head.  “I don’t believe so, sir.”

“There.  You see?”  Flatt turned to grab the goat, but the goat backed away, causing Flatt to overreach and fall on his face.  “Mmph.”

“Sir, this is the second time you’ve fallen down this week.  People may start saying things.”

Flatt rolled over onto his back and stared up into the afternoon sky.  “I didn’t plan on any goats, now, did I?.”  He looked around, but now could not see the creature.  “Where did it go?”

“I am not certain, Sir.  Perhaps it was never here at all.”

Flatt sighed extensively.  “Oh, Featherby, why did I build you?”

“For good times, sir.”


 

Bene scribete.

10-Minute Story: Dincton Flatt at the Market

I have been neglectful of general writing as of late.

Thus, as penance, I shall sit down and write whatever un-premeditated nonsense comes into my head, without stopping, for ten minutes straight, and then share my shame with the world.

Apologies in advance.


 

Cart

 

Dincton Flatt strolled ponderously through the aisles of the market, eyes darting left and right in agitation.

“What is it, sir?” asked Featherby, his robot coyote.

“I need to find the pickles, of course,” Flatt responded.  He looked down at Featherby.  “Get out of the basket, would you?  Ridiculous.”

Featherby lowered his gaze in disappointment, but obliged him with a hop to the floor.  “I think the pickles would be in the back, sir, wouldn’t you?  Because of the vinegar and all.”

“I haven’t the slightest, Featherby.  But, yes, let us check there.”

The two made their way to the back of the store, and Flatt approached a woman behind the deli counter.  “Pardon, me, madame”  When she looked up, he flashed the smile of a thousand winners, the shine of his teeth alone solving the energy crisis in three small countries.

“Oh,” the woman stammered, then put on a pair of gloves.  “What can I get for you, sir?”

“Some pickles, I should think.  And some strawberry good-goods.”

“Some what, sir?”

“He means bon-bons,” Featherby offered.

“I don’t speak French when I can avoid it,” Flatt muttered.

The marketess smiled uncertainly, but got his items together for him.

Flatt looked around the market and took a deep breath.  “You know, Featherby, I like it here.  It has food, and I like food.”

“Yes, sir, I imagine you do.”  Featherby, being a robot, could not eat food, though he probably wanted to.

Flatt stroked his chin and turned around, but immediately slipped upon a puddle of grease and fell to the ground.

Featherby yipped in surprise, then nosed his face.

“I’m all right,” Flatt grumbled.  A hand reached out for him from the corner of his vision, and he drew his up to it in acceptance.  As the other hand pulled him up, his eyes set upon its owner – the immaculately dressed Mr. Cheverly.

Flatt frowned extensively, but allowed himself to be helped up, nonetheless.  “Mr. Cheverly,” he mumbled.  “You are looking rather dapper today.”

“Mm, yes, quite,” Cheverly concurred.  “Do be more careful, Flatt – there are enough dangers in this world that you needn’t add a market floor to their lot.”

“It was intentional, I assure you,” Flatt lied, brushing himself off.  “I needed to test out gravity.  You know how it is.”

The corner of Cheverly’s mouth turned down in a subtle but earth-darkening frown.  “Ah, yes, Flatt.  I’m quite certain of that.”  He strolled away in his perfect white suit.

Flatt grimaced, taking the pickles from the marketess and dropping them into his basket.  “I wonder what that dastardly fellow has in store for Danesbury.”

“Who can say?” asked Featherby.  “Perhaps he means only to torment those who fall down at markets, when they clearly shouldn’t.”

Flatt shook his head.  “Oh, Featherby, why did I build you?”

“For good times, sir.”


 

Bene scribete.

Artist-Signed Covers?

Signing things

 

A Facebook post I came across yesterday prompted an interesting discussion that I thought I’d entertain here.  An author had posted a photograph of a proof copy of his novel, and I happened to notice that the cover artist’s signature was on the cover itself.  I pointed out that such a thing is a bit tacky from a professional standpoint, and recommended asking the artist to provide a clean copy.  Other commenters, however, cast their voice in favor of the practice, asserting that the artist deserves credit.  Some went so far as to claim that it was normal (I assure you, it isn’t.  (>^-‘)> ).

Cover artists most certainly deserve recognition for their awesome work, and the appropriate place to ascribe credit is the colophon (i.e., copyright page), particularly when most artists’ imprints aren’t exactly the clearest way to read their name.  The artist has every right to sign display and standalone copies of the artwork in question, but the actual cover is production material, which is no place for embedded autographs.  Can you imagine, for instance, watching an animated film in which the contributing artists had overtly signed each cell they worked on in-frame?

It strikes me as an insecure and amateur move that needlessly diverts attention to the artist’s self, rather than letting the work stand as a representation of the story and author for which it was commissioned.  As an editor, I don’t require credit at all, let alone to sign the footers of every page I touch and point out which sentences are mine in the finished book.  As a composer, I don’t whisper my name at the end of tracks I provide for a film.  Even as an author, I don’t stamp my name within the narrative itself.  Again, as artists we are definitely entitled to credit for the work we do, but credit should go where credit goes, and art – particularly production art created for someone else – should be allowed to shine unblemished by our desire for recognition.

(As an aside, I should note that I’m excluding such instances where the artist seamlessly weaves his or her imprint into the image itself, at which point, as attention-seeking as it may still have the potential to be, it should be judged for its own artistic merit rather than at this external level.)

But this is just my take.  If you’re an author, how would you feel if your publisher or cover designer handed you a proof with the artist’s name on the cover alongside your own?  If you’re an artist, do you feel there’s a case to be made for autographing the work you provide for another’s project?

 

Bene scribete.

Marking Thoughts

Thought bubble

 

Last month, I detailed the conventions of setting off dialogue in narrative.  This week, I figured I would follow up with the same for characters’ thoughts.

Unlike the more clearly defined and fairly universally accepted considerations for tagging and punctuating speech, conventions on portraying thoughts are much looser and more open to stylistic preference.  As such, I’ll go over the more commonly implemented methods, and how I feel they are best handled.

 

Indirect

The most basic and innocuous of options is simply to describe a character’s thoughts or feelings with the narrative.

The sign recommended not jumping off of the bridge.  Tomsfield thought this was a good idea.

With her parents out of town for a week, Jenna felt as free as waiting room coffee.

Dipton did not particularly want to ride the rollercoaster.

This is a straightforward, low-level use of language.  Without stating a literal verbalization of the thought, it does not require an understanding of or agreement on any technique specific to storytelling, and it is thus the most prominently utilized of any of these methods.

 

Perspective Statements

A more stylistic approach to conveying thoughts is to insert them into the narrative as direct, subjective statements belonging to the character holding the story’s point of view.  This works the most transparently in first person.

I picked up my report and stared dumbly at the ‘D’ scrawled in red within its upper margin.  This was ridiculous.  Mrs. Clemp had no idea what she was on about.

But it can also work in tightly-defined third person.

Berg leaned back in his chair, contemplating the rabbit.  It was kind of adorable.  How did it stay so white and fluffy?

In both cases, the latter two sentences, even though written without demarcation, are understood to be their respective POV-characters’ direct thoughts, rather than objective truths about the story being told.  This is easier to accept in the first example, as first-person accounts are naturally perspectivized as is.  It requires a subtle leap of understanding to pull off in third person, but it’s commonly done enough that it shouldn’t cause hang-ups with most readers.

However, as this is a technique of implicit attribution, avoid using it in parallel omniscient.  It makes for a sloppy and confused narrative voice, and its misuse is one of the primary reasons I would recommend against parallel omniscient altogether.

“I need some of that pizza,” Pencil whispered.  He hadn’t eaten all day, and it smelled amazing.  A rumble stirred the emptiness within his belly.  Wasting not another moment, he snatched up a tantalizingly cheesy slice and slid it down his gullet.  It was more delicious than it had any right to be.  Tina rolled her eyes.  Pencil was such a slob.

Gregolas chuckled, grabbing another piece for himself.  “Eat up – there’s a couple more pies on the counter.”  Takeout from Cheesy Palace was a surefire way to buy some of Pencil’s time, and he was hoping to get him to run some numbers tonight.  Olga scooted away from him, wrinkling her nose as the pizza’s cheap, nauseating odor burned her nostrils.  Why did Greg have to eat it so often?

Tuesday nights were always a blast, and this one was shaping up to be no different.

The narrative voice can’t act as a surrogate perspective for more than one character at a time, or it loses coherence.  If you must do parallel omniscient, remember that the ‘narrator’ has to be a detached entity to be able to focus on multiple characters simultaneously, and with that in mind, use only explicit attribution for thoughts, whether direct or indirect.

Finally, note that direct thoughts as perspective statements should retain the tense of the narrative.

The frog hopped up to the overturned garbage pail and saw a massive swarm of flies circling above it.  This is fantastic.

 

Quotes

Direct thoughts, just like dialogue, can be explicitly attributed and set off with quotes.

“I am a rather large man,” Bendleman thought.

Clean and precise, but largely fallen out of style.  If you go this route, keep in mind that it cannot be used with implicit attribution, as it will be read as speech.

For a minute or two, Maria found herself staring at a big yellow duck on the edge of the lake.  It kept trying to swim into a massive rock poking out from the water’s surface.  “I wonder if he’s an idiot.”

 

Unmarked Direct

Some writers will attribute thoughts without any special punctuation.

I’m pretty tired, Lubrio realized.  He’d been up since 4:00 A.M.

I’ll come right out and say I’m not a fan of this method, and I recommend against using it.  Shifting tense and person without strong demarcation makes for a disjointed reading experience.  If you can’t be convinced otherwise, then at least, as with quotes, restrict it to explicit attribution.

Oreo found his dog lounging on the living room sofa, blanketed by the tattered remains of the new curtains.  He shook his head, but couldn’t suppress a rueful smile.  I love you, Broomstick, but you’re a damned jerk.  He took a seat by her head and farted loudly.

 

Italics

Anymore, the most common practice you’re likely to see for conveying direct thoughts, as it gives us the best of all worlds in terms of clarity and flexibility.  It’s strong demarcation that won’t be confused with speech, and it can be used tagged or untagged.

It’s a little too quiet in here, Joyster thought.  She began tapping her foot against the ground.

The bee buzzed up to the chef’s hat and slipped stealthily inside it.  He’s the one that stole my honey – I just know it!

Italics can be used similarly to perspective statements, but conversely to perspective statements, italics denote literal, verbalized thoughts and therefore should change tense and person (unless your narrative is already in first-person present).

Barley stumbled as a basketball slammed into his back.  Her turned in time to see Chuggs standing there with his stupid smirk.  Why was he so rude to him all the time?

Barley stumbled as a basketball slammed into his back.  Her turned in time to see Chuggs standing there with his stupid smirk.  Why is he so rude to me all the time?

Like perspective statements, however, italics should be restricted to one POV per scene or block, especially when used implicitly.

 

Not a comprehensive list, and again, the means of indicating characters’ thoughts are not so expressly prescribed as those for their speech, but this hopefully provides some guidelines for what conventions there are.  Whichever method works best with your style, aim for clarity, cohesiveness, and transparency, and give your readers a chance to slip neatly into your characters’ heads.  (>^-‘)>

 

Bene scribete.

Criticism

The critique of a creative work-in-progress can be a touchy, sensitive process, but a nonetheless imperative one if the work is to be taken seriously.

As both an author and professional editor, I regularly find myself on the providing and receiving ends of constructive criticism.  So, here are some things I like to keep in mind for each scenario.

 

EwGetting Criticism

Convey what kind of feedback you’re seeking.  Do you just want mechanical errors pointed out?  Phrasing suggestions?  Or simply overall thoughts on the flow of the story?  Readers will have an easier time helping you if they know what they’re supposed to be looking for.

(More)

 

A red pen.Giving Criticism

Try not to volunteer to critique a piece if you can’t reasonably expect to have the time or motivation to get back to the writer about it.  Silence can be even more disheartening than a bad review.

(More)

 

 

A final point to consider – if, like myself, you are an editor as well as a writer, don’t be tempted to feel like that excuses you from the need to seek out feedback and a solid proofread on your own work.  Your writing may be syntactically cleaner than par, but editing is often more about defeating expectation bias – catching what we’re too close to the work to see – than it is merely polishing the language.  (>^-‘)>

 

Bene scribete.