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.

Describing Protagonists

A man being drawn

 

The other day, I encountered a conversation on Facebook prompted by a question on how best to describe the main character of a book, and when several responses amounted to “don’t”, I figured it was a topic worth discussing further.

Descriptive minimalism is all the rage these days – and don’t get me wrong, I hardly yearn for a return to multi-page-long tangents of flowery irrelevance – but I always find my reader side irritated when an author can’t be bothered to describe the protagonist without a thematic reason not to do so.  In short stories, sure, it’s not so big of a deal, as they’re usually more about ideas than characters, but if you’re going to have me follow someone for an entire novel, at least give me a clue as to whom I should be picturing. I can fill in the blank, but it’ll probably be with something pretty stock, and I’m reading for a glimpse into your imagination, not mine.

Physical appearance should certainly take a back seat to personality and actions as far as defining a character, but it’s still an avenue for interesting subtext, and something worth taking advantage of.  Personal imagery is a powerful thing; we’re visually oriented and strongly wired to pay it mind.  Let your readers make assumptions about how characters might act based on what they look like, then challenge or confirm them as you see fit – a motif equally applicable to reality.  Forcing your readers to assume what characters look like based on how they act is something that doesn’t make sense outside the context of a story – assuming the characters interact with others and aren’t invisible.

As to the how of the original question, there are plenty of non-intrusive methods to describe a character.  As long as the narrative isn’t strictly perspectivized (and the perspective has no reason to draw attention to it), there’s nothing wrong with a simple declarative sentence or two: “He was a short, tan, and lumpy fellow, not unlike a potato.”  Sprinkling adjectives onto actions (“She tied back her long, brown tresses”) or using dialogue from others (“Aren’t you a little too tall for that?”) are quick and seamless.  Even reflections, as tropey as they are, are a natural way to bring up appearance within the bounds of the narrative if the perspective character is self-critical, vain, or recently changed in some way.

All of that said, though, this is one of those things that ultimately comes down to a matter of personal preference.  So, as a reader (and/or writer), what’s yours?

 

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.

The Little Mermaid

The Small Mermaid?

…wait a minute; why is it called The Little Mermaid?  I mean, it’s been close to twenty years since I’ve seen the film (or read Hans Christian Anderson’s disturbing original story, for that matter), but I don’t seem to recall her being notably smaller than other mermaids.

Or her size being an issue in any sense, really.

Hmm.

 

Bene scribete.

The Dastardly Pumpkin

The Evil Pumpkin

There was once a pumpkin – an evil pumpkin.  It was so evil that, when passing it by, people would say, “Hey, look at that pumpkin, Jim; I bet it’s evil.  Rotten to the core.”

(Everyone who passed by it did so with a man – or, in one case, a woman – named Jim.)

 

The spider approaches

One day, a spider approached the pumpkin.  Apparently, it was an unreasonably enormous spider.

“Pardon me, Mr. Pumpkin,” the spider began, all politeness, “but I wonder if you might tell me why it is that you are such a dastardly fellow.  Do you resent that holes were carved into your face?  Or perhaps that your innards were torn away to make a pie?”

The pumpkin did not respond, for it was a pumpkin, and pumpkins cannot speak in the slightest.

(“Then why can the spider talk?” I hear you asking, but I shan’t be answering such silly questions.)

After a time, the spider said, “Oh, I see how it is.  You are not evil – simply rude,” and left the mannerless squash behind.

 

The mouse approaches

A day or two later, the pumpkin was paid a visit by a little mouse (that grey blob is a mouse – I promise).

“I bet you’re not so evil,” the mouse burbled in its squeaky little voice.  “I bet you’re just lonely, sitting here on your porch all day without anyone to keep you company.”

So the mouse curled up next to the pumpkin and remained with it all day (what a sweet little mouse).

Until, that is, a cat crept forth and snatched him up.

 

The cat approaches

“Thank you once again, Sir Pumpkin,” the cat purred around the mouse’s tail as he dangled from her jaw, crying for help.

The pumpkin might have shed a tear, were that something a pumpkin was wont to do, but alas, it could not move an inch to save its new friend.

The cat lay down before the pumpkin and ate what she would of her catch, then set his remains within the pumpkin’s jagged mouth.  “Were it not for you, I shouldn’t get away with nearly so much.”

 

Poor pumpkin

In the final hour of Halloween, when all the children had gone home and the streets were empty, the pumpkin so vile it would eat its only friend sat alone on its porch, beneath a doorbell unrung and candy untouched.

“But I am not evil…” the pumpkin finally murmured aloud, making a proper liar of me, but not a soul was around to hear it.

And it was absolutely right – for, you see, pumpkins, as it turns out, are secretly fruits, which on the whole tend to be much more magnanimous than their strictly vegetable brethren.  Unless, of course, we’re speaking of durians, which are little if not sin and corruption condensed into fruit form.

Cats, on the other hand, usually are evil, but I think that’s why we as a society appreciate them.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t be so quick to blame inanimate plant matter for acts of malice when there’s a cat in the vicinity.  What are you, a crazy person?

 

Have a happy Halloween, everyone.

 

Bene scribete.

Names

Naming characters is an important, sometimes fun, sometimes tricky part of the fiction-writing process, and is something I alternately love and dread.  A name is a symbol that represents someone, both offering identity to those it is attached to, and in turn adopting it from them.

I find that there are generally three ways (or a mix thereof) to come up with and decide upon those monikers:

  • Namesakes.  One simple way to name a character is to do so (in part or in whole) after someone else – someone you know, someone from history, or even another character from some other work.  Such a name will probably already have strong connotations for you, and those might just be appropriate for who you’re writing.
  • Meaning.  The advantage writers have over parents in the naming department is the foreknowledge of who this person or creature they’re creating will be, and can choose a name that is symbolically fitting (or ironically incongruous).  This can be in the form of a name that’s also a word in the operative language (Will, Victor, Dawn, Amber, etc.), a word from another language, or something suitable trolled from babynames.com.  (>^-‘)>
  • Aesthetics.  Often, just focusing on how a name sounds and looks is all you need to do.  I tend to lean mostly in this direction, relying heavily on phonetics when working out what to call characters.  Sounds used together in specific ways can evoke qualities of roughness, delicacy, power, playfulness, and a number of other feelings to subconsciously color the impression of the named.  Spelling should also be a consideration; the visual appeal of different letter arrangements can have the same sort of impact.  All of this goes for whether you’re picking a common name or making up a new one (though I could probably do a whole separate post on the latter!).

 

However you end up choosing your names, there is one thing I always recommend.

 

Tip of a fishName Your Characters As Soon As Possible.

The less you’ve decided about a character, the easier it is to settle on a name.  At least that’s always been the case for me.  Sometimes, the name will even help slightly with further direction!

The more important a character is, the more true this becomes.  If you have a strong image of the character in mind by the time you start thinking seriously about what to call them, picking a name that feels right can be a daunting task.  It means you have all the more context and nuance to map to that all-important referential symbol.  It’ll seem like you have to find a name that already represents all facets of the character, rather than letting the name come to do so naturally as the character develops.

 

But what about you?  Do you agonize over the subtleties of your characters’ names?  How do you like to go about choosing them?

 

Bene scribete.