Reflecting on Feedback

As part of the Future Learn Writing Fiction course Week 3, there was an exercise to ‘Generate Something New’.  This gave students an opportunity to find a topic from their notebook and just start writing something; ‘it might become a story that you want to develop further, and you might carry on working on it.  It might be something where you write the first paragraph or two and then decide you don’t want to proceed further..’

Writing should be between 200 and 350 words.

My submission was as follows;

Karol stepped out from the claustrophibia of the side-street and looked out across the market square. At this time of the morning, it was the busiest part of town and all manner of people flittered across his vision; some setting up stalls, some just passing through. After only a few seconds of looking through the pockets of activity before him, he found what he was looking for. As his attention focused on one particular person, the market square and the rest of its inhabitants, quickly faded to little more than a blur.

The man in question had already setup most of his stall which was little more than an assortment of racks containing a few odd weapons, as well as a number of crates opened to display random pieces of armour. Even from his position on the far side of the market square, Karol could see that very few pieces were of a worthwhile quality.

He smiled to himself. Most people wouldn’t look twice at the wares the stall had to offer, and many of them would be right to walk on by. But some, a select few, would have noticed the market-sellers belt, and the scabbard that hung from it. Of those, only one or two of them would know the significance of such a scabbard.

Karol’s interest had been piqued. He shifted to a nearby barrel and sat on it. Set back from the hullaballoo of the main square and nestled within the shadow of a tarpaulin, he surmised it would provide him with at least an hour of cool shelter from the ever-rising sun. It would also give him some time to reflect; something any man needs whilst he studies the person he’s been tasked to kill.

***

Once this had been submitted, a student was chosen at random to review my piece.  The comments are below in italics.

How was the central character portrayed and was this portrayal clear and interesting? I like that you we’re able to show us a little something in Karol’s personality while keeping a bit of mystery around him. I get that he pays attention to the detail around him as show in the interest that he takes in the stall. I also like that you show Karol taking his time to study his target, I get that he may be someone who thinks things through. I would like to know a little bit more about the stall holder. I say this with the knowledge that you only had about 350 words to play with. Maybe we could learn about him through Karol’s observations.

What made you think this piece was a story and did you want to read on? I think that there may have been some more text before Karol walked into the market. Maybe there was some more description about the city. Leaving me with that last paragraph is such a tease. Of course I want to read on

What were the most, and least, successful aspects of the writing? I will start this bit with a slight negative, I would cut down the first paragraph. I would remove the line ” some setting up stalls, some just passing through.” as I feel that it is already implied with the time of day and the fact that it is a market. Maybe you replace it with telling me about the buildings that might be around the market, or picking out some of the more odd characters in the market. Mostly a market is a place where people from most social classes gather. Are the people like us? As I’ve mentioned above, I love the mystery around Karol. I also think that you are pacing your story at just about the right speed, you have given yourself room to add just a little bit more detail. My advice when adding detail is to not add too much that we are bogged down, but rather add enough so we get the iceberg effect – there is more under the surface. All in all, keep up the good work and I wish you the best on your future projects.

***

From my own point of view, I found these comments very helpful.  I was happy that I managed to portray an element of Karol’s personality without having to describe him too much.  My thoughts of ‘show, don’t tell’ seemed to have been somewhat successful.  I understood the reviewers request about information about the market-seller, but in all honestly, I don’t know who he is; I just gave him an item that some people would kill for.

I like the thought that the last line worked well as a hook, although I still feel that I tend to struggle with knowing exactly ‘when’ to start a story.  However, the requirements of the exercise did constrain me quite a bit. As the comments say, maybe I should have used the words at the start to draw the story back a bit rather than include so much description.

One final note, this was a story that I haven’t chosen to continue with (at least not at the moment).  Maybe the market-stall holder will feel the cold touch of a blade at his neck, or maybe the light from the high-noon sun will fall on the barrel and find that Karol has moved on….

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