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Returned From Sabbatical · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Happy Returns
Winds sent the brown leaves whirling over the withered grass as Dr. Learned Crooner strode with lighthearted steps over the gray flagstones of the Prudence University courtyard. She nimbly dodged the occasional ice patches and noted the triangles of windswept snow that had piled up in the nooks and corners of the University’s ornate walls and gargoyle-encrusted buildings of antique stonework.

About her, students shivered and wrapped themselves deeper into their coats as they crossed the quad. During the spring and summer they would be lounging under the trees between classes, studying and chattering and comparing notes, but under this gray sky the leafless elms and cold bronze statues offered little incentive to tarry. She paused to orient herself, spotting the lecture hall, the dormitories, and there, the old faculty office building...

“Why hello!” cried a sudden voice; a large fellow was striding towards her. It was Dr. Frettle, chair of the Mathematics department. “Dr. Learned, you’re back already? A welcome surprise!”

Dr. Learned started slightly, but turned with a broad smile. “Ah, Dr. Frettle, how pleasant to see you! Yes, my little adventure is at an end, back to the grind!”

He chuckled. “That’s quite an unseasonal spring in your step, the rest must have been quite restorative. What a shock, to leave palm trees and sunny sands to come back to austere old Prudence! But you seem quite cheerful, as if you're just setting out on vacation rather than coming back to dull routine....” He raised a sly eyebrow. “You didn’t happen to bring one of those handsome muscular coconut harvesters home with you, did you?”

Dr. Learned stared, then brayed with laughter. “Oh, I wish!” she giggled. “No, I’d say that distance simply lent me some perspective. I’ve got two more promising angles to tackle on my research paper, and I find that I actually am rather eager to engage my students again. Fresh outlooks and new blood, brought together by the love of learning!”

It was Dr. Fettle’s turn to laugh heartily. “Ever optimistic, dear Learned! Please don’t ever change.” He glanced at the tower clock. “Well, I won’t keep you for now, but let’s do catch up some more later!” He headed off and left her to trot the remaining way across the quad as the other lecturers and students strode around her, wrapped in their dark coats and marching to the tolling of the next class bell.

She at last reached her office and shut the door, noting the nameplate and sign with her available hours posted for the student’s convenience. She sank into the desk chair with a sigh and a creak of rusty springs from the antique mechanism, then looked around curiously at all the little objects and oddments, the framed awards and photos on the walls, the squash racquet in the corner, the ornate antique inkwell, the large dusty ledger for marking grades, the desktop toy with four metal balls suspended by strings. All the tiny things that surrounded and corralled and defined a little life. Dr. Learned Crooner’s life.

A life that should be easy to resume.

She reached for a pen on the desk but pricked her hoof on an errant tack by mistake. She fumbled her disguise slightly, there was a tiny flash of green and a gleam of black chitin, but nothing that anyone would have noticed had they been present.

A thousand miles away, the real Dr. Crooner was asleep and cocooned and perhaps dreaming of her return to work, but here, with a staff of caring colleagues and adoring students to hang on her honeyed words, the vacation of Drone 38590 was about to begin in earnest.
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#1 · 2
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher >>GroaningGreyAgony

Well, I’m not sure I’m allowed to be as curt and brusque as in the old days of the full-fledged Writeoff, but here is a summary of what I think of that piece:

1. It’s not a pony story. It’s just a plain Sci-Fi flavoured story which you have dressed into a pony story for the sake of the round;
2. There is no story. Nothing happens, and it is obvious most of the text is simply padding – which is why you couldn't fill it up to the 750 words;
3. The twist at the end doesn’t save the 99.9% above. Without a real plot to twist on, it falls quite flat (‘and what of it?’). I would argue it even makes it worse, because the story now sounds like a meh feghoot. Without it, it could pass for a mildly interesting vignette. But with the ‘twist’ at the end, it can’t even be that.

We don’t really care for the protagonist, because we’re not familiar with her, nor have you space enough to develop her character. This is one of the best known problems with minifics: unless you opt for using well known figures, you end up having to present a background and tell a story, both of which cannot fit in 750 words.

So, yeah, you must have figured out I'm not really engaged with this one. Mind you, the writing is fine. It is just quite ‘meh’ iIMHO.
#2 · 2
· · >>Monokeras >>GroaningGreyAgony
I'm mostly with Mono (>>Monokeras) on this one. This feels more like the beginning of a story, not a complete tale, since until those last few lines there isn't any sort of conflict or oddity to grab our interest. This story would benefit from starting later in the story, or at the very least, giving us some earlier hints that something is amiss -- amp up our suspense.

(And on a completely unrelated note, my god that first paragraph is loaded with adjectives. I get that you're trying to set the scene, but we don't need that much detail!)
#3 · 3
· · >>Rao
Isn’t that one of Kurt Vonnegut's famous ‘laws’ Horizon was so fond of? ‘Begin as close as possible to the end.’
#4 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
The prose here is great. Your scene-setting works very well, and you do a great job of being descriptive without being boring. Objectively speaking, this is our slowest-paced entry by far (just a few lines of dialogue and a couple of actions), but it certainly doesn't feel like it. And I think that's largely thanks to the strength of your technical, sentence-to-sentence structure-building.

I am going to have to say, however, that I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying. The story really centers itself around the twist alone, so IMO the reveal needs to be really well-supported with themes and set-up. But as things are, the twist really feels isolated from the rest of the story. There's not much in the preceding text that is recontextualized or given greater depth with the knowledge of the twist in mind.

And maybe this is a personal thing, but I've read so many character X is actually a changeling stories over the years that this premise alone just doesn't really spark the intrigue that it used to for me.

In summary, while I really like the technical construction of this piece, I'm not quite feeling sated with the overall payoff being offered.

Thanks for entering!
#5 · 2
· · >>Rao >>GroaningGreyAgony
I think the premise is fine. The setting is precise and effective; the action, which is the conversation between the professors as well as the observations of the protagonist (in a story like this one), feels well-placed. It is the virtue of your writing.

I would qualify this story as “horror” rather than “science fiction”. It would fit right into a compilation like “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”. The point is the graphic image of the cocooned professor, not the bait-and-switch, which is a device leading to the image.

Also, the story did not strike me as being irrelevant to the world-building of the source fiction. It falls, like many fan fictions do, in the gray space between flanderization and being relatively fantastical. But that is the fun of the medium (if there is fun to be had).

I’m not too familiar with the clichés of the fandom’s secondary fiction, but I thought the ‘vacation’ aspect of the changeling underworld was clever.

Probably the most important action of the story is the hoof-pricking at the treacherous tack. The whole fear embedded into the situation as a whole is distilled in that moment. It is a great image. But here, it is passed over fairly quickly. My intuition is that your story lies there, whatever it is that will get folks on your side, is in the encounter with the tack.
#6 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Number 5 specifically, if this random list I pulled up from Google is accurate.

Incidentally, #8 on the list relates perfectly to this story: "Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages."

There's plenty of detail up front yes. I have a solid image of the campus, the weather, the season, but nothing of the actual plot until right at the end. Granted, re-reading it there are clues that something is different about our dear Dr. Learned Crooner and I am not one to scoff at subtle foreshadowing. She has to orient herself on the campus she's worked at long enough to actually earn a vacation, and Dr. Frettle does note that she seems too refreshed. The bit where she looks curiously at her own desk is interesting and noteworthy, but comes just a breath before the hard reveal, so it doesn't do much lifting for setup.

Relating this back to Vonnegut's Rule #5 (thank you Monokeras), starting us off right in her office with paragraphs 8-10 then having Dr. Fettle come in gets us right into some intrigue. We'd already know that our imposter's disguise isn't infallible, and the conversation with Dr. Fettle would clue us in that her mannerisms aren't perfect, either.

But you seem quite cheerful, as if you're just setting out on vacation[...]
is much more fun to read when we know that he's entirely too correct. What's that literary term again, where the audience knows something the characters don't? Dramatic irony?

I'll also second >>Heavy_Mole in that "Changeling on vacation" isn't a take on "X is a Changeling" I think I've seen before, so gold star there.
#7 · 1
>>Monokeras, >>Dubs_Rewatcher, >>Bachiavellian, >>Heavy_Mole, >>Rao


Gratz to the medalists!

I just couldn't get a compelling idea for this round. The best I managed at the 11th hour was to contemplate the inversion; what if coming back to work was like going on vacation instead? I judged that this conceit could be milked for at least 400 words, and so here we are. Thanks for the crits and likes!