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In Name Only · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Ingénue, c. 2003
She was seated on her knees, nude among tussled sheets in a dimly-lit room. Her raven-black hair ran down to her waist, hiding most of her bare back from view. Her head had turned towards a window over her right shoulder, the early January sunlight streaming in from it accentuating her supple cheeks and sharp chin as well as her soft yet solemn stare.

When Catherine first saw the painting at a gallery all those years ago, she felt compelled to crumble before it. She could never find the words to express why it affected her so strongly as it did, though it had not been for lack of trying. It was like love at first sight, like a revelation from God or something far beyond her consternation. It completed her, filling every hollow space that encumbered her character, and in that single moment, she felt renewed, reborn. A phoenix from ash.

“Throw it in the fire.”

Standing in the middle of the garden, Catherine clutched the painting closer to her chest.

“Catherine, I’m not asking again.”

“It means something to me, Kristen.”

“It meant something to me too, Catherine,” her wife asserted, reaching out a palm. “And I’m begging you, please, just throw it in. For me.”

Her uneasy stare drew towards the pyre of canvases crackling in a steel barrel at the side, her trembling fingers tensing up around the wooden frame. “I know you loved this painting as much as I do. In fact, we would never have met if it wasn’t for this painting, you know?” she pleaded her case. “If I didn’t spend my time going around to find out who the artist was, I would never have met you. We wouldn’t be here right now.”

“You don’t know that.” Kristen sighed, eyes closed and head crestfallen. “Just burn it.”

“Kristen, please—”


In a split second, Kristen suddenly lunged over and snatched the painting out from Catherine’s grip, before dumping it into the fire with everything else. Stumbling backwards onto the ground, Catherine watched, open-mouthed in abject horror, as the painting of the girl crinkled and crumpled black, the flames devouring everything.

Her graceful figure.

Her tender skin.

Her tranquil stare.

“Why… why did you…”

Kristen didn’t answer—she had long since stormed back into the house. The fires only burned brighter, reinvigorated if only for a moment. In the end, all Catherine could do left was mourn, sitting in the grass with arms hugging her legs and eyes shimmering asynchronously with the embers as she watched the painting reduced to nothing but smoke and ash wisping away into the stars above.

The moon was setting by the time Catherine went inside. She felt something stir within her, and at first, she thought it to be hatred, though she realized she mistook it for the disquieting sense of pity. She had expected her wife to be asleep by then, yet when she snuck into the bedroom, there was Kristen only in her jeans, sitting on the bed with her head coddled between her knees, her hands clasping her ears shut. Her scarlet hair, once a silky raven-black, ran down past her shoulders. Her back was exposed in the moonlight, riddled in welts of faded grey with a sundry of smaller marks sprinkled around them like dead stars, all imprinted by the head of a burning cigarette.

Old scars from an old flame.


Her wife perked up at the sound of her voice, turning around to reveal her tear-strewn face. She pursed her quivering lips, her chest shaking as she struggled to contain her breathing. Before Kristen could speak, Catherine had sidled over, placed an arm around her shoulder and brought her into her bosom. The sudden warmth made Kristen gasp, yet in the seconds that followed, she welcomed it, and sure enough, she sank into it without hesitation.

“I thought it would go away,” she muttered, her voice a croaking mess. “The shouting, the pain. I thought if I burned them all, it would all go away.”

Catherine said nothing.

“If he… if he comes to our house, if he even dares to...”

“I’ll never let him get near you,” Catherine promised, hugging her wife tighter. “They may say he’s innocent, but we both know what he did.”

“It… it hurts. It always hurts.”

“Shush now..."

With those words, Kristen crumbled into her embrace and slept with a smile, a phoenix from ash.

Catherine only smiled back, clutching her wife closer to her chest.
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#1 · 2
· · >>Posh >>horizon >>Cassius >>WritingSpirit
Alternate Title: The Fall of the Night Watch

Look, I'm not an art person; by that I mean I'm not into "art" art, which is to say the uncut cocaine shit. With that said, I like what the author was going for here, at least in theory.

I like that the painting stands for what Catherine is going through in her life, as opposed to what the painting itself means. The physical painting, the possession, means far more in the context of the story than what is actually shown within it. We read about Cahterine's reaction to seeing it and we can imagine the rest for ourselves.

I'm not sure why she's naked in the beginning. I have to wonder if the author is a nudist. Or maybe just French. I also have to wonder about the significance of the type of relationship Catherine has with Kristen, but then I guess there doesn't have to be a special reason to have lesbians in your story. I suppose their relationship would somewhat explain the ending, which comes off to me as almost a non-sequitur.

I say "almost" because I can kind of see how the emotional turmoil of the couple has built up to this. The reveal, however, feels sloppy, because of how last-minute it is. If you were skimming this (which I wouldn't recommend doing) you would probably be thrown off by the last few lines.

Finally, the author did something that in writing circles is punishable under penalty of death. Or at least a good spanking. They used the "rise like a phoenix from the ashes" metaphor twice. Once was bad enough, it's an overused metaphor, but twice? Come on now.

I find myself fond of this story, though, all things considered. I like the conceptual ambition of it, and the prose itself is pretty solid for the most part.

Might just be the lesbians, though.
#2 · 4
· · >>WritingSpirit
maybe they're just lesbians, and it begins and ends there.
#3 · 3
· · >>Cassius >>No_Raisin >>Cassius >>WritingSpirit
Author, you might want to tinker with that first paragraph -- I had to do a bit of work to clarify from context that it's describing the painting. You might also want to rename one of the two characters: Kristen and Catherine are a little bit too easy to get confused.

A phoenix from ash.

“Throw it in the fire.”


(Although that's undercut a little by the fact they've got some sort of mass art burning going on. I think this would be stronger if their conflict was about that single painting. And "you loved this painting as much as I do" undercuts the core plot without further lampshading: the apparent reason Kristen wants to get rid of it is because of the memories of abuse it invokes.)

That said, I think this is going to be near the top of my voting. It's got an idea that fits well in the wordcount, brings the phoenix/fire theme out cleanly (I'm going to disagree hard with No_Raisin; there's a time and a place for callbacks, and that's to strengthen a theme you want to focus on, especially when it's drawing in the new context of the cigarette burns to get new meaning from the same phrase), and doesn't overstay its welcome. I offer the tinkering suggestions to strengthen it even further. Good job!

I'm not sure why she's naked in the beginning. I have to wonder if the author is a nudist.

Well, by that logic, we've got three serial killers, a rapist, an adulterer, and a baseball player in our group. :-p

Seriously though, can you rein in the speculation about authors? The point of the anonymity of the Writeoffs is to get us to engage with what the text says instead of the external factors which might color it.

Basically, there's a right way and a wrong way to question whether a particular details adds to the story. The right way is: "I question whether this detail adds to the story." Then we can talk about whether it does or not. The wrong way is to drag the author into it, because then we're not talking about the story. Down that road lies hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

And if you want to question whether the nudity in the first paragraph adds to the story, I (as a reader) would have to say that, to me, it does. We see Kristen's bare back in order to provide contrast with that same later view where we see the scars. It's a reasonable question whether the titillation of nudity distracts from where the story's trying to go, but it's handled tastefully enough that it feels strange to me to question it so aggressively.
#4 ·

Well, by that logic, we've got three serial killers, a rapist, an adulterer, and a baseball player in our group. :-p

You're saying this as if it's not true or something!
#5 ·
It's a reasonable question whether the titillation of nudity distracts from where the story's trying to go, but it's handled tastefully enough that it feels strange to me to question it so aggressively.

I wouldn't call my comment on it "aggressive" (it seemed tongue-in-cheek enough), but that does bring up something I want to make clear that I don't think I did in my review.

And that has to do with tonal consistency.

During my initial reading (well, both readings, but especially on my first go around) I kept being distracted by the recurring underlying eroticism of the thing, from the descriptions to the interactions between Catherine and Kristen. It felt off to me because I was supposed to be invested in this serious character piece and at times I felt as though I was reading the setup to a passage of lesbian erotic fiction. Granted, eroticism between a couple in a story is only natural if they're passionate enough, but part of me wanted to scratch my head at the tonal dissonance I was experiencing.

It was strange to me, but that's also a subjective point that I can't say I'm right or wrong about.

I also understand that the "phoenix from the ashes" phrase was supposed reverberate in a meaningful way; I had more of a problem with the phrase itself, which I don't dig, even if it's used one time.
#6 · 1
· · >>WritingSpirit
I feel that the reason she's nude in the painting is to emphasize how beautiful and angelic she was, vs. how she is now: scarred, hurt, her feelings of beauty taken away by the man who hurt her. That's the reason Kristen wants to burn the painting, no? To be rid of the reminder of what she lost?
#7 · 1
· · >>WritingSpirit
Odd word choices here and there to begin with. “like a revelation from God or something far beyond her consternation.” I’m not sure consternation actually means what you think it means (did you mean “comprehension”?); also “and eyes shimmering asynchronously with the embers…” asynchronously? That makes me think of a camera or some electronic device. Its presence here is quite jarring to me. Also I’m with Horizon when he says that Catherine and Christine (Kristen) are really too close one to the other.

Interesting use of "grey" where "gray" would be expected, since you use American spelling (realiZed, snuck…)

Conceptually, I suppose Kristen was the model, and maybe the painter was her abuser. That would explain why she insists so much at destroying the picture: as Dubs says, because it reminds her of her lost beauty, but also of the guy who defiled her.

Otherwise, I don’t have much to say. Barring what I pointed out, the prose is good. A nice bittersweet piece, although more a scene than a story. I agree with Raisin that the phoenix metaphor was a bit on the nose. I think readers are clever enough to figure that out on their own.

But clearly atop my slate right now.
#8 · 2
· · >>Pascoite >>WritingSpirit
I'm going to split with >>horizon on this story, and subsequently, Son the Father, so apologies, Author(s), but you're going to have two people telling you pretty much completely opposite things.

The phrase that comes to mind when I think of this entry, and to a lesser extent, In the Melted Eye of the Beholder (which I have many of the same problems with that story as I do this one) is "emotionally overwrought." This piece suffers more than In the Melted Eye of the Beholder because of the in media res style that requires backtracking multiple times to establish the significance of the situation, and the emotional weight the actions have for the characters. But even more than that, I believe that the story itself can't sustain the emotional weight that it seeks to impart to the reader.

While I believe the nonlinear story-telling is undesirable for the purposes of reading comprehension, I don't think that the style choice is the story's main problem, nor is it inherently a wrong decision for the author to make. Indeed, I think with a little more sprinkling of information earlier in the story, it could actually be to the author's benefit to adapt this style. The biggest issue, however, comes from the lack of emotional context to support the heavy weight of the character interactions.

This is problem that is often inherent to the mini-fic format. In a longer form story, this would be the ending scene, a culmination of events resulting in a cathartic payoff where the protagonist sheds the last of her shackles of her previous life and finally enters into her new one. We've had the context of the journey, and we the readers can understand that our protagonist has gone through a lot to get to this moment. While the story is told in abstractions, we can understand the weight that the choice has to her.

By contrast, in this story, the real emotional weight of the decision is an informed trait told through dialogue that is presented after the decision is already made. This is a deal-breaker for me. The reader cannot understand the weight of Kristin's or Catherine's decisions or perspectives on the painting until it is already up in flames, and the reader can only be informed of its significance by the characters expositing that it's important. There is no weight to that.

Dialogue is mostly utilitarian. Functional. Lot of exposition. The points where the characters are given some room to emote are full of "stock phrases", of particular note the "if he ever comes by here..." line which I can't help but imagine being accompanied by a stereotypical wringing of the hands / balled fist shaking.

The prose is the crutch that holds this story together. Without some of the more lavish and lovingly crafted phrases, this piece would unfortunately probably crumble under its own weight. I think a more definitive focus on "fire" and "burning" imagery would be useful upon revision, and I appreciate the theme that the author tries to bring in with it. For the record, though, I'm with >>No_Raisin on the phoenix from the ash reincorporation.

I'm also going to split the difference between >>horizon and >>No_Raisin when it comes to the nudity. Yes, it is a meaningful detail in the story, and it needs to be in there, but I feel similar to Raisin's intuition that it is deliberately framed in an exploitative way. The author is trying to have his (cheese)cake and eat it too, and it is tonally distracting from the piece as a whole. The tone as a whole is sort of split between stereotypical romance and a more serious introspective navel gazing, which doesn't mesh together terribly, but also seems to be a poorly textured pastiche in some areas. I tend to assume that the author is more familiar with writing in the former style than the latter, and simply reverted back to form when trying to write certain segments.

I can't say that this evoked much from me.
#9 · 1
· · >>WritingSpirit
I like the tone of this. The language use is nice, and the characters feel real enough. But it kind of passed me by.

For one thing, the abused woman isn't a new thing, so you have to add some kind of new take on it. And you kind of did. Her current flame falling in love with how she looked in the painting isn't something I've seen as much, and as the device for her rescue, it's pretty fresh.

The "I know you loved this painting as much as I do" doesn't quite ring true, though. First off, it took me a minute to figure out who says this, and that ended up muddling how Kristen was the abused one.

As an aside, it's a good idea to pick names that are nothing alike. Here, both start with a "k" sound and have an "r" soon after and end with "n", so it's harder to keep them distinct in my head.

But back to loving the painting. It's pretty clear Kristen doesn't, so I don't know why Catherine is asserting she does. She's asked Catherine to get rid of it before. And I don't have the first clue what else they're burning or why.

The emotional hook here is that I'll 1) despise whoever abused Kristen and 2) totally buy into the love interest. And apart from a default level on each, I don't really have either of those. There's only a perfunctory description of what Kristen endured, so it's hard to get that outraged about it. And on the love side, we only see them acting generically lovey-dovey (under the circumstances) without any more authentic demonstration that they genuinely love each other. Heck, for all I can tell from the story, Catherine has only a physical attraction, and Kristen is just a victim of a reverse Florence Nightingale effect. It's not easy to get that kind of buy-in from such a short story, but there are ways of putting just the right sentence here and there to make it all work.

I suspect there may just be too complex a relationship here to portray in 750 words. And I'll agree with >>Cassius that getting past the watershed moment before understanding the significance of it probably isn't a good move.
#10 · 1
· · >>WritingSpirit
I think the story structure needs to be reversed a little bit. By keeping the reveal secret, you remove all the drama form the actual climax of the story (the burning of the painting) because we don't really understand the stakes. And once we learn the stakes, it kinda makes some of Catherine's questions seem a bit... stupid? Insensitive? "Why did you" is a really patently obvious answer.

Also consider making it clear the first paragraph is describing the painting. That is hella ambiguous.

Prompt relevance... I guess she is not really an ingenue? Sure.
#11 · 2
>>No_Raisin, >>horizon, >>Dubs_Rewatcher, >>Monokeras, >>Cassius, >>Pascoite, >>AndrewRogue

Before I start rambling, grats to both >>AndrewRogue and >>Dubs_Rewatcher. I never left a comment on both of your stories as you guys did on mine (*´=∀=) but I enjoyed them both, bar the general criticisms that the others have already pointed out. Well-deserved win, guys!

I'm happy that this won bronze (and I get to wear that hat now) but I'm happier that there's a lot of buzz in this story, both on the site and in the Discord channel, so thanks a lot for the comments and feedback!

Also, just wanna say thanks and congrats to everyone who participated. However flawed all our stories may be, they are generally strong and memorable in this round overall, so kudos to everyone!

Without further ado, here's:

Ingénue: The Retrospective

Writing this was honestly a rather strange experience. I enjoyed it, but it's strange nevertheless.

I'll be honest, I had the basic idea for this story for about a week or so before the prompt was announced. It wasn't anything concrete: just two people and a painting. The title came second— it kinda just popped up in my head while I was writing something else and I Googled it to figure out what it means. It was only when I started typing away after the prompt was announced that everything else was worked in.

Most of the issues seem to stem from me wanting to coat this story with a sheen of vagueness throughout. I wanted to blur the lines a little and give away just enough for you guys to interpret what's happening. It's hard to get into the nitty-gritty without sounding like an ass that needs his mouth sewn shut, but I'll try my best.

That first paragraph was intentionally written to be ambiguous. In my head, I thought outright mentioning that it was describing the painting would be another obstacle that gets into the way of really sinking into Catherine's headspace.

On the story's emotional weight, I agree that there should be something more defined to really let it sink in. I think the dialogue (particularly towards the end) could've been utilised for that purpose so that way, I could kill two phoenixes with one stone, so to speak. However, since I structured and wrote out that final scene in the last few hours before the deadline, there goes that.

As for choosing the names Catherine and Kristen, I wanted to show that they're pretty much both sides of the same coin. It's also another reason why I repeated the phrase 'phoenix from ash' apart from what >>horizon had mentioned. It also extends to something else that no one was actually aware about that I wanted to mention.

I wanted to imply that both Catherine and Kristen can both be interpreted the former ingenue in this story. It's something that came up midway writing this that I think would be fun to work in. I think most of you guys managed to interpret the Kristen side of things, whereas for the more sinister Catherine route, >>Pascoite seemed to be the only one who came close. Kudos to you, Pasco!

Now to the individual responses:

Last I checked, I'm not a nudist or French. Just thick-skinned. I snickered at your light-hearted jab.

I personally find that it's hard for me to straddle the line between eroticism and intimacy at times, so I get where the whole tonal inconsistency bit comes from. Then again, it might just be the lesbians, though.

There will be nothing left worth living for in this life if that wasn't the case.

I think having multiple paintings being burned was broadening the emphasis on Catherine's love for that particular painting. A painting that, to Kristen, was just one reminder of her abuser out of many others. I do agree that the dialogue in general needs work.

Pretty much on the nose.

On the word choices: consternation is something I use in that context often to imply that the character is God-fearing, so to have something beyond that to look forward to instead, I imagine, would be terrifying.

As for asynchronously, you kinda got the mechanical part. I wanted it to be something above 'a distant look in her eyes as she stared into the fire' so I thought it'd be nice to slip that in instead. Helps that it sounds nice too when you say it out loud. Also helps with the wordcount too.

I see I'm still mixing up my American English and British English whenever I get the chance to. Sorry 'bout that!

Generally in agreement with most of everything you said here and with what you said in the Discord too. Story would be better off with those things on the table.

Yep, apart from everything I addressed, am pretty much in agreement generally as well.

Dialogue needs work in general, can't argue with that. Definitely have done better with dialogue in past entries. They're usually the thing I spend the most time brooding over in the editing stage, so it's only inevitable that it ends up being rather sloppy when I don't have the time to run them through my head.