Drafty Wednesdays: A Look at “Blue Pearls”

Circumstances kept me from posting a Drafty Wednesday last week, but we’ve got one this week. We’re going to look at a flash fiction piece I’m still shopping around, a present-day apocalyptic fantasy piece titled “Blue Pearls.” Think nukes and mermaids, but not nukes riding mermaids. Or mermaids riding nukes. Not quite sure how that last one would work, but it sounds like the beginnings of a badass premise to me.

Since it is a flash fiction piece I can’t put up a whole lot of it, or even an entire scene. So, I’ll only include the first couple of paragraphs to give you a feel for the story. Here is how it was written originally, when it was still code-named “Fallout Ariel” on my computer.

Rough Draft:

     She brought me pearls.

That was the first thing I noticed. Never mind that we were thirty meters underwater on the floor of Ago Bay and she wore no protective suit or breathing mask. And never mind that her skin and eyes were the color of the sea around us. All I saw at first were the thumb-sized orbs gathered in her slender hands.

The second thing I noticed was she was not human, though her body above the waist was convincing enough: a well-toned stomach leading to a chest adorned with small, firm breasts that connected to a slender neck containing gill slits on either side. Almond-shaped eyes the color of the sea stared into my helmet, and a small smile stretched her lips in a pretty way.

We’re 129 words into a tale than can’t be longer than 1,000 words in length by most people’s flash fiction standards. And all of it is description, some of it necessary (Such as location and showing that at least one of the characters isn’t human) but a lot of it fluff that might be allowed in a short story but is impossible to include in a flash fiction piece. Even in a longer piece, though, the opening paragraphs should carry a bit more action. The first line isn’t bad in and of itself, since it does refer to an action. It could also do a fair job of raising questions in the reader’s mind: Who is she? Why is she bringing the narrator pearls? Probably not the most earth-shattering of premise questions, but it’ll do the job.

But, hey, my rough drafts tend to be verbose. I just finished the rough draft for a flash fiction piece last night that came in at around 1,500 words. The rough draft of “Fallout Ariel” was around 1,200 words, if I’m not mistaken. The revised draft is usually where some of this trimming takes place. I look over the rough draft, compare it with my original outline for the story and see what aspects of the writing enhance the story and what aspects add nothing. I used to be surprised by how much could be cut away from a story and actually improve on it, and in a way I still am surprised by it. It’s one of the reasons I’ve come to enjoy the editing process.

Enough rambling. Let’s get on with the next revised draft, shall we? At this point the story is still called “Fallout Ariel,” although after this the new name “Blue Pearls” will take hold. Is that important? Well, you’ll have to read the story whenever it reaches a final destination.

1st Revised Draft:

     The Mermaid brought me pearls today.

We were thirty meters down on the seabed. The sun burned bright over Ago Bay that morning, allowing me to see the shiny, thumb-sized orbs in her webbed hands. Almond-shaped eyes the color of the sea gazed at me through my helmet’s glass, and a small smile stretched her lips in a pretty way.

I wanted her. She always swam away whenever I reached out with a gloved hand. But, today she brought me pearls.

I reached for them. I reached for her.

Now we’re getting somewhere. The opening line has been changed to declare that one of the characters is a mermaid. This eliminates the need for some of the description of the original rough draft, but I didn’t like the abruptness of it in the first sentence. It took a bit of the mystery out of it, and ultimately I would change that back. Still, depending on my goals with the story it’s not a bad way to begin.

We’re now down to just one paragraph of description. We know the narrator is underneath a place called Ago Bay, and he is in some kind of a diving suit. We don’t know if he’s in a modern suit or one of those old, brass diving suits that I think are amazing (And not just because of Bioshock’s Big Daddies). We also know what the mermaid looks like, and that the narrator finds her attractive.

In the next paragraph we learn that the narrator has seen the mermaid many times before, something new from the rough draft where it seemed like a first encounter. If I recall in my notes it was their first encounter, but I didn’t think that would work for what happened in the rest of the story. The pair are thrown together shortly after this scene begins, and that just wouldn’t work if they didn’t have at least a little familiarity with one another. So, the idea that they have seen each other before comes into play.

We also learn in just a few words that the mermaid always fled whenever the narrator tried to reach for her. Her natural tendency towards timidity will be tested later on in the story in a powerful way, so it’s important to get this out in the open early on.

Lastly we get a decision on the narrator’s part. The narrator had always scared the mermaid off in earlier encounters, but now the mermaid is offering something. The narrator has a choice: reach out, or don’t. The narrator chooses to reach out not just for the pearls, but for her as well.

All of that in just 99 words. When the original 129 didn’t cover even half of this. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when a little bit of trimming is employed.

This scene was largely unchanged from what I sent out to different publishers. “Blue Pearls” in this form ended up in the final selections for Flash Fiction Online, but did not survive the winnowing process. The editor and staff over there were nice enough to provide me with valuable commentary on what I did wrong and right with the story, and I’ve incorporated many of those suggestions into the final version. I said “wrong and right” for a reason: one always learns better from failings and mistakes than they do from successes. At least, that’s how I work.

One of the things I discovered was I might have trimmed too much out of the beginning. At least a couple of the staff members were not sure why the narrator was under the bay at all, and when I looked through the story I realized some of my hints as to his profession were a little too subtle and vague, to the point that only someone with inside knowledge of the story (i.e. me) would understand. The narrator is a radiation diver, wearing a enclosed, protective suit not unlike the brass suits of yore. He’s there to maintain the radiation netting that’s been strung up across Ago in order to keep irradiated waters from spilling into Ago Bay. Why are the waters irradiated? Well, that’s left up to the reader. It could have to do with Fukushima, or it could have to do with the apocalyptic aspect I threw out there in the description of the story.

Anyway, here is the final version of those opening paragraphs that I’m currently shopping around. Let me know what you think of the added description and how it compares to the rest:

     The Mermaid brought me pearls that day.

We were thirty meters down on the seabed. The morning sun burned bright over Ago Bay, allowing me to see the shiny, thumb-sized orbs in her webbed hands. Almond-shaped eyes the color of the sea gazed at me through my helmet’s glass, and a small smile stretched her lips in a pretty way.

She had been watching me for days, following me as I inspected the radiation netting that kept the waters of the bay relatively free of pollutants. She would get close sometimes, as she was at that moment, but she would swim away whenever I reached out with a gloved hand; whenever my desire for her showed.

That last day, though, she brought me pearls.

I reached for them. I reached for her.


For those of you who are curious, Ago Bay is a real place in the Ise-Shima region of Japan. My inspiration for the story came from reading about the pearl diving women from that region. It’s an ancient custom that is still practiced today, though it is a dying art. I wrote another story about a pearl diving village titled “A Ningyo’s Pearls” that I may have to look at in an upcoming Drafty Wednesday, and I’m including the concept in the Soulweaver universe. There’s just something fascinating about the whole concept to me, and it’s been that way ever since I read The Prince of Shadow by Curt Benjamin. In it the main character’s journey begins in a pearl diving village. That part of the story is not more than a hundred pages or so, but it was enough to spark my interest.





Writing in Public: Day 8, Month 6

Today was mostly devoted to finishing up the Soulweaver flash fiction story “Barrels and Flasks,” which has since been renamed to “Casks and Flasks” due to its rhyming quality. It’s a little bit harder to say without tripping up my tongue, but hopefully that’s just me. Anyway, it came in at about 988 words and has been sent off to Flash Fiction Online. Hopefully it makes it to the winnowing process like “Blue Pearls” did.

Tomorrow the plan is to begin the second draft of “Fire with Fire” and start the rough draft of “False Seer.” I also want to continue planning out the “Still Water” novelette, but we shall see what the day holds. It’s a day free of any other work obligations, and I have to be up early anyway. So, the entire day will be devoted to writing. Let’s see what can get done. With luck, I won’t get overconfident and drop in hourly efficiency just due to the sheer amount of time I have to myself tomorrow.

Blog Posts: 198
Planning and outlining: 000
Short Fiction: 1,500
Novel Fiction: 000
Salable words: 988

Total Fiction for Month: 13,316

Total Salable for Month: 988

Total Fiction for Challenge Year: 214,943

Total Salable for Challenge Year: 45,382

Not Quite the Final Cut

Well, earlier last week I received word back from Suzanne Vincent at Flash Fiction Online on my short story “Blue Pearls.” While the story made it to the finalists for the month, it did not make the final selection (Of 32, I think 3 are selected). Still, only about 5% of submissions make it to that point, so it was quite an honor indeed. Better yet, feedback was provided or those who requested it (Who wouldn’t?), and it was very helpful.

With the feedback I received I was able to fix several errors I had missed (Some obvious, some not so much) and even extend the story a little bit. It’s gone from around 800 words to close to 940 and is currently sitting in the slush pile at Daily Science Fiction. Here’s hoping it makes it just as far there, if not a little bit farther.

Regardless of where it winds up, I want to thank Miss Vincent and her staff for their efforts. Already the story is in much better shape than when I first sent it there, and that matters more than anything to me.

I am currently working on the next flash piece that I will send to them, so hopefully it will do better!


Writing in Public: Day 24, Month 02

professor-farnsworthNo writing was done today due to various factors, but I did hear something positive from the staff over at Flash Fiction Online. They did not accept my story “Amidst the Swirling Sakura Petals” but it did make it into the final selection process, which is something a small percentage of submitted stories achieve. That alone is a huge accomplishment, but they went a step better and provided feedback that I consider invaluable to improving the story for the next market. Positive and critical, the criticism is greatly appreciated.

Miss Vincent, I don’t know if you’ll ever read this post, but know that I am indebted to you and your magazine! I’m already looking forward to sending my next story to you and hope it will do even better. I’m also indebted to the magazine’s blog for providing me with a formula that greatly improved my ability to write flash fiction. That post, “The Hollywood Formula – Flash Style!” is a great resource for anyone trying to condense a story down into a flash format.

  • Nonfiction: 202
  • Planning and outlining: 000
  • Short Fiction: 000
  • Novel Fiction: 000
  • Salable words: 000

Total Fiction for Month: 56,303

Total Salable for Month: 13,940

Total Fiction for Challenge Year: 106,526

Total Salable for Challenge Year: 24,884

Brevity in Flash Fiction

One of my favorite sources for great flash fiction is the aptly named ezine Flash Fiction Online.  Another is the Daily Science Fiction, although they do not solely publish flash fiction.  They prefer shorter fiction for first time buys, so I have always tried to gear my submissions to Daily Science Fiction with that in mind.  In fact, of the numerous tales I have sent to them (16 as of this writing), it was the 11th one that made it to the second – and final – round of selection.  It was also my shortest, at just 273 words.  It has yet to be published, but hopefully a home will be found soon.

I find myself writing more and more flash fiction as the months go by, and my main hang-up is keeping my tendency for verbosity down.  If brevity is the soul of wit then I’m lacking in the wits department!  As frustrating as it can be, it’s a great exercise for a writer to try and be as concise as possible.  The words do add up, whether one is writing a story that’s only a sentence long or an entire novel or series of novels.  There comes a point when you need to rein them in.

Take “Fallout Ariel”, the flash fiction piece I finished the rough draft of today.  It’s a lengthy 1,650 words.  To be considered a flash piece by most markets it will need to be at least 1,000 words.  That’s a lot of shaving, but that’s to be expected from me.  I will probably re-read the rough draft and then rewrite the story entirely.  I have some ideas of how I want to change up the plot to make it a better tale.  After that, the story will need to be tightened.

By tomorrow night I’ll have a tangible example to show of the process I go through from rough draft to revised draft to final draft (Or as many revisions as are needed before arriving at the final draft).  Each story requires different things of me, which is what keeps things interesting.

Suzanne Vincent, the editor of Flash Fiction online, has a great article on managing story length.  It’s been a tremendous help to me, and if you’re into writing fiction (flash or otherwise) you owe it to your self to give it a read.  Not only is it good advice, but it comes from an editor!  You know, one of the people who determines the life or death of your story once you release it into the wild lands known only as “Submitted.”  It never hurts to see how they think and to know what they look for.

Submission Sunday – Week Ending 02-09-14

Well, this past week hasn’t been very productive in terms of new writing. I’ve been working on some concepts, but no rough drafts have been written at all. This was a combination of work interference, snow interference, automobile interference, and general laziness. I have a bad habit of tacking one big thing and then being done for the day.

Anyway, today I spent a lot of time getting a bunch of stories resubmitted. Here we go:

Summary: 0 New, 9 Resubmissions


“False Light” resubmitted to Daily Science Fiction.

“Flickering Freedom” resubmitted to Flash Fiction Online.

“Sand” resubmitted to The Dark Magazine.

“Familial Obligation” resubmitted to Apex.

“A Necessary Sacrifice” resubmitted to Asimov’s.

“Water Cursed, Earth Atoned” resubmitted to Lightspeed.

“Subroutine” resubmitted to LORE.

“Beneficent” resubmitted to the Intergalactic Medicine Show.

“An Unquiet Peace” resubmitted to BuzzyMag.