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In Name Only · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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It's Not the Leaving that Grieves Me
He kissed her. "It's going to be okay. I'll be back soon."

Helen put her hand on his face. "Not soon enough."

And she was right. Five minutes away from her side would be too long. Five minutes down to the butcher's and back was too long by hours. The six months at sea that lay ahead? Well... "No, I won't be back soon enough, but I will be rich enough. And then I can stay."

He stepped back from her and sighed. "Don't pawn the silverware unless the money runs out."

"It won't. I know my sums. There'll even be enough left to get a little polish. It'll be nice and shiny when you get back."

He smiled and kissed her again and said goodbye and turned and went onto the quay.

As he set to work, he stole glances toward the shore when he could. He took the jobs that sent him climbing high in the rigging, just so he could see it a few moments longer before it disappeared over the horizon.

It was fine weather and fine sailing. His heart ached, but there was enough work to do that he could keep from dwelling on it. The captain was mean, but he was an old enough seaman to escape the worst of it. The ship and his pockets were both empty. But soon the one would be full of oil, and the other full of gold.

A few favors and friends in good places had got him a sizable share of this trip. His father was in bad health, and with the inheritance... It was not the first time he had put out to sea and left his Helen behind, but he hoped it would be the last.

He rubbed the ring on his finger. He did every time he thought of her. No matter the weather, the metal band was as warm as she was. If he closed his eyes, it was like he hadn't left, and she was next to him, like he had never said goodbye.

The good weather did not last. It was an awful place they were headed for, Greenland. But it was where the whales and the money were.

It was three weeks in the bone-deep cold before they saw the first whale.

He watched excitedly from the deck as the others brought it in. It was a beauty: a hundred tons of meat and oil—money. Only a few days later they caught another one. He thought the ship sailed much better with her holds starting to fill up. Even the worst weather could not shake them as hard anymore.

He was in one of the boats when they went after the third whale. This one was a hard one. This one ran. He pulled hard on the oars. He was strong, he had it in his mind to row right up to whale and harpoon it, and keep going on, all the way back home.

Even when the storm started coming in, he didn't let up. It came suddenly, when they were already in open water, fair distance from the ship. There was nothing to do but make a quick job of it. He knew enough of numbers to know exactly how much this fish was worth to him.

He rowed, and the other men rowed, and the storm came. The wind roared and the waves came higher and higher.

—the boat capsized. The whale disappeared, the storm disappeared, the waves disappeared. All warmth vanished. The sea was black all around him. All around him, right, left, ahead, behind, under. And above.

He couldn't feel his legs, even as they kicked. He couldn't feel his arms as they pulled, as if he was still gripping his oar.

But there was still a weight out there. Something attached to him.

Out there, in the black water, he felt a warmth. He saw a glint of gold, of metal—better, of hair. He saw his Helen floating along with him, swimming up alongside him. Brushing his cheek with her fingers. The distance didn't matter.
All the miles (he knew how many, once) didn't matter. That was just a label on a map, just a figure. She was here, and so was he. He loved her like always as she faded back into the black.
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#1 · 1
This is a nice:

Recitation of events, but I'm not quite sure what the story is about. Maybe it's a fault in my own character, but saying that whaling is a tough and unforgiving way to make a living doesn't do much for me. I get a bit of sadness--"Ah, our nameless character has died"--but that's pretty much it. Maybe if the story addressed the title somehow and showed me what it is that actually grieves him since it's apparently not the leaving?

This a fine skeleton, a fine framework to build a deeper story around--and I swear, I didn't mean to make that pun, but now that I have, I'm not going to change it. At this point, though, I'm not quite sure what that story would be...

#2 ·
Your Story's Theme Song: Jóhann Jóhannsson - Here They Used To Build Ships

It was an awful place they were headed for, Greenland.


Jokes aside, I kinda see what this story is going for. I kinda like it too. Not entirely sure why, but the way this story's being told feels very folksy and quaint to me, like it's an English adaptation of a Victorian-age Scandivanian folktale or something. I admire that charm, even if it didn't really do much for the story as a whole. I think embellishing the prose a little can really give it that sheen, especially with the interactions between our protagonist and his Helen in the beginning.

Beyond that, when I really start sinking into it, this story seems to lack a sense of what it's trying to say. Maybe it's supposed to impart me on why whaling is bad? Maybe? I guess? I will say though, I admire the straightforwardness of this little tale and I wouldn't mind it not carrying any sense of urgency at all even. It's just that the prose overall is rather muddled, mostly because the story seems to lack focus in general, which in the end drags it down.

Really, the only question that has to be answered is this: for what greater purpose is the protagonist doing this whaling gig anyway? For his wife? For the adventure? Something else? A mixed bag? My instincts indicate the former, with how the ending is being written. Should the entry overall is structured around the answer to that question and the prose is gussied up a bit, we might have something absolutely special here.

I'd say this would land around the middle of slate. Thanks for writing, fellow writer, and best of luck!
#3 ·
Alternate Title: The Young Man and the Sea

I'll be honest with you, when I first read this, it completely flew over my head. Not that I didn't get it, but I must've been in a mood at the time where I was reading it in a haze. I remembered something about whaling and a woman named Helen, and the protagonist dying in the end, although the description of this is pretty foggy.

I think that has to do with the prose, and the fable-esque way in which this story was written. The prose could also be described as fluffy, or cloudy, something which obscures rather than clarifies. Jotted down like school notes, the plot is very simple, and quaint, which I think is its finest quality. I didn't get the impression that this entry is trying to be more than what it appears to be on its face; I don't think there's a "deep" meaning here, but I say that in a good way.

Sometimes the best things in life are simple, but they work.

There is, however, a caveat with all this: there is no real catch. I'm not just referring to the failure to catch the third whale; I'm referring to the lack of subversion, or spontaneity, in the events being told. Now, taken on its terms, this is not really a problem. Reading this entry again, I thought, "Hmm, that was fairly enjoyable and well-written," but another part of me wanted more out of it, and I think that's because there's no catch.

I supposed the closest thing to a catch would be that the protagonist (peculiar move to not name your protagonist but to name his love interest, by the way) is a whaler who is not written as malevolent. Mind you, I don't sympathize with the profession from an environmental standpoint, obviously, but I think in modern times it's too easy to paint whalers as immoral evildoers; just look at how a lot of people nowadays read Moby Dick.

With that said, this is not the most ambitious entry of the bunch, but it is finely tuned to an admirable degree; for a while I didn't know what to do with it, or what to make of it, but now with a much clearer view of things I can put this towards the top of my slate with no problems.
#4 ·
· · >>horizon
I think this entry will play better with the crowd who doesn't think a minific needs to tell a complete story arc. Which, to be fair, is an attitude that enough professional short fiction writers agree with.

This is just full of imagery, but the characters are left feeling pretty wooden. You mention the captain being mean, for instance, but that's the limit of his appearance in the story, so why bring him up at all? Then there's the common problem seen in romance stories, where you assure the reader two characters are very much in love without ever demonstrating it. There is a little back story to them, but it's kind of one-sided, and it's pretty generic. In the end, I don't know what it all meant, but going back to that "does a minific have to have an arc" thing, you do end on a pretty striking image, so it does stick with me.

As has been said, you're giving me a Moby Dick vibe with this, though it differs enough that you're not wholly lifting the plot from it.

I just didn't have enough emotional attachment to the characters to care. The man's devotion, his constant assignation of purpose to everything he does in the service of their relationship, does speak well on his side, if lacking some specifics, but I really get nothing from her side. What kinds of things has she done to display her devotion to him? That's the piece I need to make this feel actually tragic.

While that last image is striking, it's not surprising, so I don't come away with this being as memorable as it could. Within the first few lines of the story, I could already predict what was going to happen. I do agree it has an almost fable quality to it. This is just a suggestion, since it depends on what you want the story to be, and it's definitely not a good idea for a reviewer to judge a story based on perceived shortcomings against how the reviewer would have written it. But I think this needs more of a pinpoint focus. Add in more of the demonstration from Helen's side, so that she's obviously as smitten as the protagonist, but put her in absolutely everything he does. The way he climbs the rigging as they leave port so he can feel that connection to her as long as possible: that's good stuff. Beat that drum over and over again, that she's in his every thought, his every purpose. Have that constantly intrude on everything he's doing. He's knotting a line--no, tying her bonnet on for her. Retiring to his hammock for the night--no, swinging in a hammock with her on a sun-dappled day. That kind of thing. Let its fervency rise the same as the action does as it culminates in him drowning.

Then, at the end, draw some kind of conclusion if you want the piece to have a complete arc. I, for one, prefer a story to.
#5 ·
· · >>Cassius
Well, this is Moby Dick like, of course, but don’t expect it to reach the same heights.

Frankly, I despise whales hunter. Really, I hate them. So don’t expect me to relate to your protagonist in anyway. Kill defenceless animals to make money? That’s base.

Besides my reflex disliking of your hero, I share most of what Pasco said, so I won’t repeat it. There’s little except a too intense love story between the guy and his wife, the way you depict it is very much stereotyped.

Even the end is, somehow—sappy.

Finally, Oceano Nox.
#6 · 1
· · >>Pascoite >>No_Raisin

Kill defenceless animals to make money?

Were the whales armed, Monokeras would be more accepting of this entry.
#7 ·
· · >>No_Raisin
Good thing beef cows have katanas.
#8 ·
· · >>Monokeras
The 2nd Amendment: The right to arm whales.
#9 ·
First amendment: no right to harm whales.
#10 · 1
I think the core problem here is that this story is very flat. Not to say you don't have emotion or or imagery or anything, but more that the intensity starts kinda middling, continues kinda middling, and ends middling. It is very much a lateral line to a fairly inevitable conclusion (my guess was she cheated on him or he died).

Arcing is hard in minis since you have very little space to do it. Obvioiusly people should not expect like a short story level thing, but I do think some change is important. Some manner of building tension or a change in the emotion. And that just isn't really here.

Prompt relevance... you've actually kinda got me here. I can't draw any sort of connection.
#11 ·
You know that war-movie trope where the dude shows up with two weeks left to go on his tour of duty, and stares at the pendant of his wife he keeps in a locket around his neck, and you know that he's a dead man walking?

... yeah. Unfortunately, having thought of that, I now cannot unsee it. Because that is literally the entirety of this story (except with whales and storms instead of Eastern Fronts and karma-guided mortars), and I think that might be behind the flatness that some of the other commenters mention. We see a dude head off into His Last Dangerous Thing with something sweet to retire for, it would be more of a surprise if he made it.

As TVTropes notes, Tropes Are Not Bad. Telling a well-worn story does not invalidate your story. But you need to be aware of when you're doing something which comes with built-in audience expectations, because if you tell a story that the audience can write in their heads beat by beat, you'd better find some other way to make it compelling. Mixing in other tropes, or subverting the one you've got, are excellent tools in that case: shake the audience's expectation just enough that they are engaged with what you're actually writing rather than the cliche in their head. If it were me, I'd probably steer in the direction >>Pascoite suggests, of really deepening the romance here to further humanize both Helen and $Protagonist. (... giving him a name might be a start.)

Aside from that ... well, there's nothing to critique, really. The story has a reasonable plot progression, there are no prose problems catching my eye, it's got some nice details. "This isn't catching me" is a super frustrating problem because it doesn't always mean you're doing anything wrong. But this is a case where the story probably could have taken some more chances.

Thanks for writing!