On Wednesday, contestants in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge were able to post their stories on the NYCM forums for peer review. Judges won’t be sending feedback until just before the next challenge in September, so the peer reviews are an excellent way to get a sense of how your story will be received–though this is by no means an accurate gauge of what the judges will think.
We had 48 hours to complete a story and it could be no more than 1000 words. My prompts were: Fantasy (genre), Space Shuttle (location), Can of Paint (object). Tough! It was fun writing this, though I ended up only having a few hours to devote due to daily life interruptions. It does not show what I’m truly capable of, but considering the limitations and the pressure involved and the fact that I wrote four very different beginnings, I was very happy to submit a story at all in my first Flash Fiction Challenge.
I found the feedback to be accurate and also very constructive. So without further ado, here is my story in full; below that, I’ve copied some of the most impactful comments–both good and bad. It is important as writers to be receptive to feedback and learn where we fall short and where we succeed.
A girl finds a previously undiscovered piece of her people’s history.
The mound rose tall and bulbous, mottled with the light of the twin suns that shone through the canopy above. Dalia crouched behind one of the ancient trees, its huge leathery trunk sufficient protection from potential observers. Once assured there was no one nearby to witness her trespass she crept forward, curiosity calling its irresistible siren song.
What lay front of her was out of place, yet almost indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape. She reached out a tentative hand, sweeping debris aside and revealing a deep purple metal and a hint of faded lettering. She scrutinized it: “Luzaan Space Shuttle 4530”. She had heard of space shuttles of course, but never thought she’d see one. Luzaanites were aware that space travel had been shut down by the Council decades before; all ships were allegedly destroyed.
She circled the oblong shuttle, her footsteps dampened by the shimmering blue moss that sprawled everywhere beneath her. It was not excessively large; the examination of its circumference showed it to be about twenty strides long and perhaps half that across. Dalia pulled weeds back here and there, searching for an entrance. An anticipatory thrumming in her chest rose and fell with each new section of exposed metal, and when the arched shape of a door appeared she gasped. Surprised to find what she sought, her heart picked up its pace and she grasped the handle.
She pulled the door down; a muffled creek signaled its resistance to the breach. She walked up the newly formed ramp and entered the ship. The space in which she found herself was pristine. The purple of the outside hull transferred to the inside in a shimmering reflection of itself, a lavender glow of welcome. Dalia knew nothing of space shuttles, but she did not expect the smooth emptiness that greeted her, nor the fresh scent of lemon. It certainly did not have the musty odor she would expect of a ship that had been abandoned for countless years, as evidenced by the abundance of overgrowth she destroyed in her earlier examination.
She assumed it wasn’t already someone else’s secret, or whispers would have already reached her ears. Questions stacked in layers: why wasn’t this destroyed with all other space shuttles? Why here? Who was responsible? She pushed away her confusion and focused on exploring the rest of the ship. The central oval space was flanked by two small hallways, each leading to another door. She chose the right side first.
The room held two single beds, positioned side-by-side on the wall directly in front of her and separated by a night table devoid of objects. A shelf above the beds held a few books, a pair of boots, a toolbox, and a can of paint with no label. Everything was inexplicably free from dust, as if someone had simply paused Time. The only other article was a small desk to the left of the door, atop which sat a square leather book. Dalia picked it up with the delight of finding a treasure, a smile spreading upon her lips. Gold lettering stamped the cover: LSS 4530 Log. She flipped to the first page which was filled with a neat scrawl.
Tuesday, 37th of Janur, year 243-Day 1.
Today, on our maiden launch, it is my hope that we will successfully complete the mission that no shuttle has achieved before. We have prepared as best we can – the logs of the LSS 4500 were instrumental in determining the failure mode of the last time Luzaan attempted to send a liaison to our origin planet of Myrantis. I am certain that the new paint we developed for the pilot’s cabin will prevent the deterioration of controls that devastated the last effort. We must find out why Myrantis abandoned its people here in Luzaan, and what we can do to ensure our descendants rediscover their history. Time to destination: 24 days. ~Capt. K.C., Luzaan Light Guard.
Dalia felt woozy and her smile dropped away. The Luzaan Light Guard was infamous—every student learned of their betrayal and subsequent banishment in their first civics class. She pressed her father for details at the time, but he refused to discuss the matter. Here was a first-hand account from one of their officers about a mission to a planet she’d never heard of. She puzzled over the initials K.C. but couldn’t recall anything that would enlighten her as to his identity. All she knew was several members of the Guard had been tried for treason and the organization eliminated forever. Glancing over at the paint on the shelf, she wondered if that was the paint the captain mentioned, and what about it made it so special. Skipping a few pages, she continued to read.
Friday, 4th of Febur, year 243-Day 12.
We are half-way there. General S radioed us yesterday to abandon our mission. He wouldn’t explain. I’m tempted to ignore the command. We’re closer than ever to getting answers and we can’t get those until we arrive on Myrantis, assuming they would allow us to land of course. I’ve instructed the pilot to hover here for the night while I think this over. The future of our children may depend on us. Time to destination: 12 days. ~Capt. K.C., Luzaan Light Guard.
Saturday, 5th of Febur, year 243-Day 13
This morning I decided to proceed with the mission. An hour ago, our shuttle’s command system shut down and is resisting our attempts to override. Looks like we are heading back to Luzaan after all. We will likely be tried for treason for insubordination. May our children be safe. ~Capt. Kora Calfos., Luzaan Light Guard.
Dalia dropped the book onto the desk, eyes wide and unbelieving. Kora Calfos. Not a “him” after all. She was all-too familiar with that name. She still couldn’t figure how the shuttle came to be in this place, but she aimed to find out. She deserved some answers.
Kora Calfos was her grandmother.
“I also really liked the full description of the shuttle. It wasn’t just shaded in, it was complex and complete, we get a real sense of what it would have been like to live there.”
“I thought your setting really came to life!”
“The sentences are lovely, and it’s clear what’s going on.”
“It doesn’t feel like a complete story. It feels like it’s either the beginning of a longer piece, or that the arc lacks completion.”
“I would love to see this story expanded to answer the question of why the mission was forced to stop in the first place. You could probably write a whole novel to answer that question.”
“I think the story as it is doesn’t give me much of a reason to be emotionally involved.”
Fair points, all. I’ll admit that the negative parts of the critique all hit on aspects of the story I had already identified as problematic. With a little more time, I could have expanded on developing certain parts of the story while cutting out others. I agree it feels incomplete–1000 words is SO short! But therein lies the challenge. I will have even more time constraints for challenge two in September, but hopefully I will be able to use this experience to set myself up for success as best I can.