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Settling for More

Short Story Flash Fiction Ambage Macker

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#1 Offline Kragghle

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Posted Dec 17 2012 - 05:39 PM

[font="georgia, serif;"]D[/font]ES MOINES, IOWA – The state cross-country meet was raging for the Class 2A Boys.  In the lead was senior Rob Macker, but his team wasn’t cheering him on.  The other seniors were, sure, but of particular interest for this match among all the underclassmen was Rob’s younger brother, Matt, the rising star for the Warriors.  He was a mere freshman, and he was in second place.

[font="georgia, serif;"]               The history to their competition was interesting.  Rob had come in first place for the 5k every year since his freshman year.  He had let himself shine, and this senior year he wanted to solidify his perfect streak and his legacy.  It was cool that his brother was making it tough for him, though.  Perhaps if Matt won, Rob could enjoy cheering on his brother’s chance at a perfect streak.  Yet, since they were both in high school at the same time, only one of them could have it.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               And Rob wanted it so bad.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               It felt like they were on their last half-kilometer.  Rob kicked in his final burst.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Meanwhile, Matt trailed ten yard behind him.  He wanted it, too, and he wanted that perfect streak.  It was something worth fighting for, and he wasn’t going to let his brother have it.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Want.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Desire.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Matt wasn’t going to settle for second.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               He sprinted like crazy.  For a moment, he passed up Rob, but Rob ran even harder.  They were both dying as they suffered the fruits of their own determination.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Then the finish line came in sight, and they sprinted even harder, as if they were running down a 100m dash.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               By two footsteps, Matt won.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               “Thirteen minutes!” shouted a friend.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               “Could have cheered more,” said Rob.  His friend Sam handed Rob his hat.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Coach Leer wasn’t happy for them.  Matt didn’t quite understand it.  He went over with Rob to make sure that their times were indeed at thirteen minutes.  He showed them the time grimly, and though confused, Matt and Rob cheered and rejoiced.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Then Coach Leer interrupted the powwow with a hand on Rob’s shoulder, and he said just loud enough that only Rob, Matt, and their best friends could hear, “Rob, your brother Craig is dead.”[/font]

 

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Craig was killed by a drunk driver while biking to the library.  He was a junior and always a bit of a loner.  People didn’t appreciate him much, but Matt always figured his day would come.  He didn’t count on…these things.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               The next day, everyone knew, and was wearing black.  Attention.  Oh boy.  From people who were mean to him and people who didn’t even know him.  Then there was a girl who wore a dress that broke school policy.  Matt felt an irrational hatred toward her.  How disrespectful.  He resigned from these people.  He couldn’t live in their presence.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Matt went to his classes, but didn’t talk to anyone.  Rob came to school just to pick up homework, and left.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               The worst part about being sad was knowing just how sad others were, so he had to be sad for his brother’s sadness.  Then he knew that Rob might be feeling the same way.  Circles.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               The day after that, Friday, Matt decided to do what Rob did, and came only to pick up assignments before heading home.  He did his work, and Rob did…[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Mother was home.  Father was with the funeral director.  When they had lunch together, Craig’s usual chair was empty, and nobody talked.  When both brothers were done with their homework, almost instantly, Rob locked himself up in his room and never came out for the rest of the day.  Matt wanted to do the same, but he ended up sitting down with his back against Rob’s door while he ticked away at the time, wondering how long it would take before things would ever be normal, or if he would be like Batman and just be troubled for the rest of his life.[/font]

 

[font="georgia, serif;"]               After a month, Rob put his hat back on again.  It was really strange, though.  Rob had always been the cool kid.  People had looked up to him with respect but not…respect.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               It was different with Matt’s friends.  His were relatively new, made just in high school.  He hadn’t gone through four years of them yet.  It felt like they knew him for his tragedy first and not for the brother and friend he had been beforehand, so he began spending time with Rob’s friends.  They had once made fun of Craig, but at least they knew him.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Then one day Rob did not sit with his friends.  Matt looked around and found Rob eating outside, looking through brochures.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               “Aren’t you going to get in trouble?” asked Matt.  Dumb question.  Rob never got in trouble for anything and could break any school rule he wanted.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               “No,” said Rob.  He left his bench and reentered the school, placing his flyers in a side-pocket in Matt’s backpack as he passed.  Matt looked at them himself and saw that they had information on the marines.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               During their family supper, Rob wasn’t shy in bringing it up.  “Dad, I’m joining the marines.”[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               Perhaps it was supposed to be one of those special father-to-son moments, but it played out with the whole family.  Without much questioning, Father supported the idea.  Mother was against it, and Matt…[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               He was curious.[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               “Why?”[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               “Because I’m not going to settle for tragedy anymore,” said Rob.  “I’m not going to settle for loss.  I want that so bad, but I haven’t given it my all, yet.  I was meant for more than running 5ks in thirteen minutes.”[/font]

[font="georgia, serif;"]               There was more arguing, and with half a heart Matt pleaded Rob not to, but he was forced into understanding his brother.[/font]

 

[font="georgia, serif;"]               After the year and the graduation ceremony were over, Rob’s friends, all knowing his intentions, patted him on the back.  When everyone left his grad party, Rob took off his hat and handed it to Matt.  “Remember to settle for nothing less than your best life.”[/font]

 

=[]=

 

:kaukau: [color=#0000ff;]Curse the, thy foul word limit!  Nevermore shall I endure your toxic burden!  No, I take that back.  I'm really being far too angsty and dramatic.  Maybe I should just accept that this would have been better as a much longer story, because I can see how this could easily carry out to 5k if I had carried it out to its natural length.  As it happens, this is very much contensed.  Meanwhile, this has absolutely nothing to do with my story [/color][color=#0000ff;]We Are Young[/color][color=#0000ff;], even though I use the same characters.  There will be nothing quite so sad over there.[/color]

 

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#2 Offline Takuaka: Toa of Time

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Posted Dec 17 2012 - 09:58 PM

Ooh, alternate universe thing going on here...

 

At first, this kind of sounded like a sports news article, but... Hoo boy, that changed. Deep theme you've got here. Yeah, I guess it might have played out even better if it had greater length. I think it works well the way it is, though. Kudos to a deep and meaningful story.

 

Nice metaphorical use of the theme, too.

 

(why'd you and Tolkien have to enter last-day stories, anyway? :P )


Edited by TahuNuvaFan, Dec 17 2012 - 09:58 PM.

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#3 Offline SkyLandOceAnna

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Posted Dec 18 2012 - 01:43 AM

I thought your story was good. Many times you see sad events such as a loss, which you portrayed in this story, that lead people to do greater things. I think getting into any military branch is very honorable and takes great courage especially if they have to leave someone they care about behind. If a guy I was with wanted to go, it'd be hard, but I'd let them because they are doing a noble thing. My uncle completed his fourth term last year and is now back with us. My father was also in the air force and I've had friends join as well. My grandpa was even awarded a purple heart, whcih he donated to a local museum along with his helmet that has a hole in it, but it didn't hit with him in it. A few years back though, we did lose something we grew up with. His sister was also in the military, but she remained unharmed.

 

The only thing I was confused about in your story was how come the younger brother, Matt, didn't have friends in high school from when he was in middle school.

 

Thank you!


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#4 Offline Kragghle

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Posted Dec 19 2012 - 09:00 PM

:kaukau: [color=#0000ff;]You have potential, but I don't think you show it quite with this story, in which case I think it follows the problems that many of the entrants for the FFFC suffer, which is  choosing a subject to write about that has too much story.  This obviously shows up in your remarks, so my suggestion to you is pretty simple: next time, use the full duration of the week given to you to contemplate a story that fits the thousand-word limit, in that it's neither too long nor too short.  it can go either way, because I have also read stories that take a simple concept, such as being chased, and draw the chase out forever with perpetual description of sensation and emotion, which is almost like reading flat exposition, because it isn't story, and those things exist for story.[/color]

 

[color=#0000ff;]This isn't to say that you do a terrible job at keeping this within the means of your word limit, as there is clearly a beginning and an end, and an over-arching theme that completes itself, but the ending is still awkward and rushed.  The final scene is three sentences, and I'm left with questions.  While I know that these expectations are rather high, I'm under the impression that you're trying to aim for greatness, so I'll go ahead and give you these expectations anyway: get in characterization, balance the use of showing and telling, and have a solid ending.[/color]

 

[color=#0000ff;]In many ways, I see what you did here.  The story probably seemed simple at first, but it was odd tiptoeing around the time limit while also trying to tell the tale of something that happens over time.  What I think, since I'm under the impression that Matt is the main character, is that he should be the one telling the story, since in my experience more can be told through through a character going through recollections.  They tend to tell it faster than an anonymous narrator, and treat entire events as details that need only a sentence of attention.  First-person narration also fits really short stories like this, since these seem to be at about the length of the story a person would verbally share when recounting real-life experiences.[/color]

 

[color=#0000ff;]With regards to the beginning, it's set up so that the winner should be a climactic surprise, but that doesn't feel relevant   Just say that Matt one with a time of thirteen minutes (which is incredibly impressive, by the way, considering that I did my research and the first place this year for that race was 15:36 among class 2A boys, and thirteen minutes for a 5k is shorter than the American record, so I'm wondering why these kids aren't famous and groomed to be Olympic athletes) and I'd be fine, because you took up space when you could have been writing other things.  Not that I know what you should have been writing about.  In the middle, it seems that this was about Craig's death, but by the end, it seems to have been about Rob.  You have three different stories about three different brothers, it seems.  They're all brought together by a theme about settlement as presented in the title, but the delivery is week.  While it clearly uses the theme as an integral part of its narrative, how it is interpreted is unclear, and furthermore, the story feels more like story that's a bunch of excerpts from a book.  Had this been a book, it would have made a lot more sense, but what you try here is far too ambitious and just doesn't work for a smaller story like this.[/color]

 

[color=#0000ff;]Continuing to the middle, there were various unnecessary details, which is surprising, considering how fast the narrative is, but there's a moment when you're describing how everyone is wearing black, and this one girl in particular.  I'm not sure why this was here.  It feels like you took a moment to get liberal with your storytelling, when in these you have to be very, very conservative.  You could have deleted that out and spent more time talking about the discussion between the parents and Rob, or better yet, you could have skipped straight from the part about him making up his mind to the part about him actually saying goodbye, because the reader can fill in the blanks about what happened in-between Matt's mourning and then.  Although I see what you did there by establishing a clear three-act story, so this isn't a heavy criticism.  There's much to be gained and lost either way.[/color]

 

[color=#0000ff;]Another problem comes up is when you end the second act with Rob talking about his reasons for joining the marines, then skip to his final parting words to Matt.  It repetitious and too much, which is why I would have liked the second act to have been cut out to skip straight to doing the final scene a fuller justice.  Otherwise, it feels like there should be something in-between, and the use of the theme must be a little more subtle, woven into the story with a little more elegance, but otherwise I get this uneven staccato in the narrative.  Then the ending is something that I still think is far too vast.  It's the appropriate point to end it on, but man does this thing do more justice.  So what I think it needs is for some reflective narrating (presuming we're still talking about a story confined to anonymous third-person narrating) during the final act just to explain the general story about Craig and how he died, that he was hit by a car, and explain where Rob has gone since then emotionally, but do it all in just one paragraph.  Then you skip to the final conversation between him and Matt to end it on a definite conclusive note.  Otherwise, you get something that comes far too fast, without an appropriate scene or sense of the moment.  I think that final scene can also be used to explain in better detail just why Rob is joining the marines, because even though he gives his reasons in the second act, they feel stilted and are phrased in this way that doesn't seem right.  He began talking about tragedy, but didn't clearly correlate that with service in the marines and his brother's death.  I understand the explanation, because I have time to think about it and see the ultimate reasoning behind that statement, but it was too abstract of an argument for him to make.[/color]

 

[color=#0000ff;]Overall, though, this is perhaps one of the better  and more sincere interpretations of how to use this theme in a story, even if the story is a bit lacking in its delivery.  The effort is appreciated, and I'm not saying that it's terrible.  Please don't interpret my criticism that way.  I think it's good, but at the same time I honestly think it could use some improvement and I know  you can take it.  It's just that the main thing it has going against it is the nature of how long this story is, which forms the basis for most of my criticisms.  It's good that someone tries to put a lot of story into one of these instead of none, and given a choice between one or the other I think I'd rather see one of these (and let's face it, seeing a clear use of three acts is cool), but I'm definitely looking for my ideal story made perfectly for a contest with a thousand-word limit.[/color]

 

[color=#0000ff;]Well, it looks like I'm doing it again and writing a review longer than the story itself.  I hope you realize you owe me and review one of my stories now.[/color]

 

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#5 Offline SkyLandOceAnna

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Posted Dec 19 2012 - 10:04 PM

I think it's great when people can criticize their own work. When writers can determine what needs to be changed in their story, it shows how talented they are and how they aren't selfish in thinking they are the best. Thank you!


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