Short Story Prompt #1 - Talking to fish about water

It’s late, it’s hundred words over the limit, there a smattering of low to moderate cuss-words, therefore I have published it on

Talking to fish about water

This was my encoding: Trust > Cause > Test > Effect.
Feel free to be savage about my lack of adherence to the theory. I have a thick skin, and we are all here to learn.



Coming up on midterms soon… but I hope to get back to all these great stories by everyone. I enjoy the unique voice in your piece. A bit of a twang. Where’s the story take place if I might ask?

It has almost a southern feel to it, but the use of mum makes me feel it might be across the pond. Just curious.

So Dramatica stuff first…
On your encodings, let me ask if this was your intent
Trust — don’t be the black sheep
Cause — Mom’s voice
Test — do the work
Effect — the won’t give you your just rewards anyway?

To @museful it read southern. To me it read brit or maybe aussie. But I definitely wasn’t placing it in the US.

It wasn’t clear to me what the conflict was because I wasn’t sure about a lot of things about the character…whether the inequity was because of race, gender, or sexual orientation. The fingernail polish and maybelline said female, the all boys school said that was unlikely, so a non-binary or trans kid? But much of this had a military school feel to it…so? I don’t know.

Motivation is missing for me, this kid is in a place he/she doesn’t want to be, so I don’t know why he/she cares about being put forward, I don’t even really know what that means. Why is that personally important to him/her?

I think you are holding a lot of things about the character in your head that you aren’t putting on the page, and then a lot of things that you did include where interesting and fun, but they weren’t serving the story – for example – the comparison of Cooper to Weaver. It’s good character building, but it wasn’t serving a story purpose and therefore felt extraneous (to me anyway).

You’re control of character voice and POV is outstanding. Truly, you don’t know how impressed I am on that score.

Thank you for coming out of the woodwork for this.

Cheers for the comments.
I’m a Brit, and the piece is set in the Industrial North of England, between Yorkshire and Lancashire.

My first draft was 2,500 words and had lots of local references, by way of dialect etc etc, but those darlings had to be axed to get anywhere near the 1,500 limit set by the exercise rules.

I can see your reading of the encodings, Jassnip, and think you are basically right.
More specifically though, I viewed TRUST as being the Deputy head not trusting the MC to represent her well, were she to nominate the MC for the scholarship. The awkward trashy kid, of course, being the risky choice, compared to the squeaky clean one whose family have all walked the halls of the school.

CAUSE I had as literally mum being dead. You are right though, because basically mum’s voice in the MC’s head are the aftershocks to the earthquake of her death.

TEST. Totally; just do what everyone is saying you have to succeed and be normal… and specifically, don’t give the establishment an easy excuse not to award the MC the scholarship MC probably deserves.

EFFECT. You are right, though I was wanting it to be laced with the fact that the MC almost got drawn into alcohol for comfort/oblivion, in the same way that the father did after the mum’s death.

On to your other points.
I’m glad you didn’t know what MC’s ‘minority’ was. I tried very hard to leave them gender neutral. Now, in the end it turns out they are at a boy’s school, so probably the MC is a ‘he’, but I don’t want to lock that in to the text. Happy to let the reader decide.

Motivation. This was something else that got lost in the cutting room as I hacked back to the word limit. I was happy to remove it because I felt there are enough cultural norms around being expected to do well at school, for that to carry the MC motivation. That and the fact there was an historical link between the school and the mum/grandmother, and obviously the MC revered the mother figure, so would want to honour that.
Totally accept that I imply these things, rather than state them, so your point holds.

The Cooper as Sigourney Weaver film characters probably needs a more generous word count to pull off. You are right. What I was getting at was that everyone in the narrative has prejudices and surface level assumptions about others (even the MC). I was also trying to make the point that Cooper had felt a need to make herself more masculine to succeed in an all male institution, and even though she was a minority herself, she was discriminating against others, who ‘maybe’ she should be more disposed to support.

On the whole, I think your points are all valid. My style is more suggestive and figurative than direct and explanatory, and getting the balance right so that there is enough direction in the narrative is key… I can meander, so the low word count was helpful in being lean here. One of the greatest benefits of sharing is to hear other people’s reading styles come back with these feedbacks saying where it didn’t sing for them as an individual, in some way, so thanks for sharing yours.

Thanks again for setting this up, I think it’s wonderful.

Also. Apols to the forum Mods… I didn’t select the right category when I posted, so someone must have cleaned up after me and yoink the post into the Workshop box!

I noticed your fondness of late 80s movies…DeeKay isn’t in reference to one of those (a late 80s movie, not one of the ones you used), is it?

To your desire to leave things vague…which I do myself all the time…you can see tons of stuff I left out in Contrition…but I want to pop back to a conversation between @MWollaeger and I in this other thread:

If you leave out the things that are making your point, the reader will not go with you and they will not try and figure it out, prolly 80-90% of the time. They will consider you unskilled at best and lazy at worst. And I think that is the point of Mike’s admonition to me in the quote above.

Just take care that when you leave stuff out, it’s the “right stuff.” (Yeah, I know, how do you ever know if it’s the right stuff?)


I totally thought the main character was female, and I would have happily continued in that assumption. Not sure if that would have changed with a second, unrushed reading.

Wow. The writing in this piece is fantastic – I’m awed by all the imagery and just cool wordplay that continues all the way through, yet seems effortless. You’re very talented!

I did have a bit of trouble understanding it. Probably partly due to the trimming from 2500 to 1500 (which makes me feel terrible, by the way, since I gave up trying to trim mine and just submitted it at 2200!). On a second read it all made sense (although I still thought the MC was a female attending an otherwise all-boys school).

The first paragraph at first had me thinking she was in a military organization, and then a military school (something like West Point academy in the US). I kept that preconception until the very end when I realized it was probably just a fancy private school.

On the Dramatica stuff, one thing I don’t get is how CAUSE is the dead mom. I mean, I can totally see how this causes the MC to tear up, but I’m not sure why that matters.

For EFFECT, I think it works like you said but also (and perhaps most importantly) the effect the MC had on his/her dad to quit drinking.

For TEST when you say “just do what everyone is saying you have to succeed and be normal”, do you mean that the MC needs to try that? Like he/she is spending so much energy being different but has never tested out (validated) what life will be like if he/she acts normal? (That’s perfect for Test but I’m just not sure if that’s how you meant it)
I could also see Test being how the MC is sort of testing him/herself every day by being different, taking knocks, trying everyone’s patience etc.

TRUST came across very well.

I really liked the Working Girl vs. Alien stuff and I did think it was applicable to the story and the story’s message (though that’s probably more clear in the longer version).

1 Like

Thanks again, all.

Jassnip. ‘DK’ are just my initials… but the logo I use on here is actually from an old punk band called the Dead Kennedys. :slight_smile:

I was using the movies, gulf war and music references to ground the piece in time. I know that ages it, and exclude a certain readership, but that doesn’t bother me at all.

About the vagueness. I read this at my writing group tonight, and the prevailing feedback was that I was too ‘on the nose’ and obvious about painting my inequality narrative, so as ever, there are people one either side of the fence.

Mike. I totally take the point, thinking on it some more, that the CAUSE encoding has floated off a bit. I think it was more solid in an earlier draft, but has drifted and disconnected.

If I tinker with this any more, I may add a few paragraphs back in, just to bring along people who don’t get the cultural references easily.

But then I’ll fall foul of the group that said things were too direct.
Ah… writing!

Cheers, again.

Well, for me the vagueness was more about what’s actually happening (is it a military academy or a prep school or…? is the MC female? what can’t she be put forward for, a military post or a scholarship? does she even want to be put forward, and why?).

I didn’t find the theme / message to be vague (nor did I find it too ‘on the nose’). I wasn’t totally sure what bias the MC faced – around income level, gender, boy who wants to wear makeup, etc.? But I thought maybe you wanted that vague on purpose.

Note: I was just rereading part and I think you have a tense problem with the last conversation with Caruthers (switched into past tense in some of Caruthers’ actions and dialog attributions).