The Fighter

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Salasay

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A thunderous roar rose from the crowd as he came into the sunlight, armor gleaming. He raised his arms and tossed back his head, drinking in the praise. Long, arrogant strides carried him to the center of the arena, where again the fighter cast his arms to the crowd, bringing forth further exaltation. Ponderously he turned, gazing upon the vast crowds before him, before at last he rest his eyes upon the beauteous gilded throne.

The King rose to honor his entry. The fighter doffed his helmet, and stowed it at his elbow. In salute to his liege, his patron, he raised his sword. At the left hand of the king, his lovely daughter, clad in brilliant white, sat radiant and rival to the stars, though just as distant. Many a battle he’d fought, and many a battle he’d won, but only those before his love mattered to him. A smile crossed her lips as she caressed her braid. With a jaunty wink he blew a kiss, which his lady caught with a subtle blush.

Trumpets sounded the arrival of his opponent. The fighter flourished his helmet, its crimson plume and bronzen crest flashing in the sun, dropping it over his head. A deathly calm took over his mind, and his eyes grew cool. The familiar weight of helmet, greaves, manica and shield joined his body as he settled into his stance, sword and shield at the ready. His opponent emerged from the tunnel to little applause, shield up and ready. Each saluted the other, then king. A bell commenced the duel.

The fighter circled right, drawing his foe to the center of the arena. The pair circled, and circled, until, at a meter and a half apart, the fighter struck, stepping to the left and slashing at his opponent’s exposed shin. A narrow miss, as the fighter ducked to the right to avoid a strike from the other man’s shield.

Step, thrust.

The fighter drew blood.

Parry, dodge.

A swing glanced harmlessly off the fighter’s shield.

Block, riposte.

More blood.

The fighter dashed in, darted out, cut and thrust with brutal precision. Scarlet blood stained his foe’s torso in twin thin cuts, while he remained unmarked, untouched. His foe was powerless to graceful speed.

Feint, attack,
now three scarlet lines.

Parry, lunge.

A quick recovery brought the other man’s sword into play, and a painful gash opened on the fighter’s tricep. Circling back out, the two men returned to a meter and a half, neither still unscathed. The crowd cheered and jeered and yelled, that first violent clash a tease, whetting the bloodthirst of the people. Ever the showman, the fighter let anticipation fester, frustration grow, tension build. He taunted his foe, pounding his shield, rattling his sword. A quick glance showed his lady fair, tight and tense, worried and proud. The fighter smiled.

Back forth, once more, the warriors clashed. The fighter once more, danced around, in then out. His burdened foe could not keep his shield to bear, and a brutal slice to the shield arm shoulder made it harder still.

Pivot, parry, thrust.

A solid strike, crippling his foe. Sword-side thigh, deep and dangerous. No more sudden lunges, and even slower response. Now the fighter fully led the dance. He could have ended his foe, a cut to the hamstring, thrust to the spine, but no. When the crowd came for him, they came for spectacle. They wanted to see him dominate, to toy and play and to flourish. They came not to see him win, but to see him fight.

Slash, recover, parry.

A subtle twist from his foe caught the fighter off balance, and a blow to the helmet sent him reeling. A blind swing and a retreating step brought the fighter out, safe from danger as he recovered his composure.

The crowd had grown quiet, anxious and taut. The time for flash was done. The time for toying was over. Properly primed, his audience was ready for the finale. The fighter smiled, his masterpiece almost complete. A quick, brutal opening, high tempo, loud. A slower, methodical bridge, deadly and purposeful, building tension with no release. Now, for the closing. Quick, methodical, and precise. Each action clear in purpose, artful in execution.

First, the shield. The fighter feinted left, pivoted and rolled right, attacking the shield arm once more.

Snick

The muscles parted, and his opponent’s arm fell limp.

A quick disengage, and like a tiger the fighter circled. Now, for the leg.

Beat, parry, step, slash.

The other man fell to his knee, unable to stand. The fighter backed off again and paced around his crippled foe, preparing his final blow. Twenty battles fought this day, and soon twenty battles won, but only the soon thirteen before his love mattered to him at all. Though far and forbidden, she was his muse, inspiring his works of bloody art. And now, to sign his painting. In fourteen battles, the fighter’s signature had evolved, although five unfortunately had ended with the sword. His shield his weapon, the fighter down them finally. Locking eyes with his lady, the fighter raised his sword and beat his shield, three times, then closed.

The fighter sprung quickly.

A sweep cleared the sword and readied his shield for the closing swing.

The final blow.

From the shoulder…

A fiery pain filled the fighters gut. His shield dropped. A deft pivot had brought the sword back to bear

The fighter fell to one knee as his opponent rose to match. His eyes rose to his lady, his love. He fancied he could hear her anguished cries above the crowd’s own uproar. She was standing now, tears in her eyes. With a groan, the fighter collapsed, landing on his back. With all of the strength he had left, the fighter raised his head, raised his arm, and blew one last kiss to his lady. As he fell back and darkness drew across him, it found him with a smile on his lips.
 

Yportne

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Feedback for The Fighter

As a reader...

I enjoyed your story. Your opening lines promised action that would escalate. Your beginning set the stage for the coming attractions, your middle didn't muddle and your ending tied up the loose ends. It also resonated with clues from the beginning (long, arrogant strides... et cetera) that our protagonist was in danger of suffering the price of hubris: humility. And thank you for doing that without deus ex machina!

That is an essential element of any story, flash or not. Everything--conflict, choices, closure--must come out of the character's personality, motives. You can surprise us with a twist or two, but it can't be irrelevant to our growing understanding of who the character is, what they want and so forth. I think you did a really good job of that. Thanks!

You also gave me several sensory images that helped me forget that I was reading words, not experiencing events. I particularly liked the metaphor of the King's daughter being a "rival to the stars" but "just as distant." Shows rather than tells me the Fighter's real problem is not victory in the arena but his inability to ever consumate his love for her.

As an editor...

Openings are really important, and titles are the beginning of a story's opening. Yours might be just a working title, and if that's true, you might want to consider some criteria I use for a title:

Accomplish a lot in a few words
Draw readers into story by igniting their curiousity
Foreshadow coming attractions--conflict, choices, consequences, closure
Give readers an emotional, situational context while they read
Give them an “Aha!” when they see its relevance to the ending
Help readers remember your story and recommend it to others
Point to a phrase that represents most significant aspect of story

First Paragraph => "Ponderously he turned, gazing upon the vast crowds before him, before at last he rest his eyes upon the beauteous gilded throne."

Sounds a bit awkward to me, especially when I read it aloud. (My ears hear things my eyes can't see). And "Ponderous" conflicts with "His foe was powerless to graceful speed" in paragraph 11. Perhaps you could say he turned slowly? And "before at last..." stopped me completely. Then I realized you meant before turning to gaze at the beauteous... I recommend you make this long sentence two sentences. The pause between the action in the first (gazing at the crowd) might go well with the completely different (and more important) action in the second (gazing at the throne). Please consider deleting "beauteous gilded throne." It sounds awkward, calls too much attention to the words themselves and misses the point, which is that the Fighter is gazing at the princess, not the throne.

The formal tone of the narration fits the bold personality of your character and his serious, professional attitude toward fighting in an arena before thousands of fans. But I do suggest you take a closer look at your sentence structure. Can't say there's a lot of awkward phrasing, but many of them made me stop and re-read them to make sure I was following their meaning.

Hope you find some of these suggestions helpful when you revise your story.

Cheers!
Bill
 

Salasay

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Thank you for the review. I've had a lot of trouble with my own view of my writing, so affirmation like this helps a lot.

Most of the more awkward phrasings are a relic from a previous version. Originally it was written in what I refer to as "Poetic-prose," using weird sentence structures like "Ponderously he turned" instead of "he turned ponderously" to evoke a epic or poetic feel without the song-like rhyme and rhythm. I abandoned that for the most part after I ended up writing half of the action scenes in flowery passive voice with an adverb in every line. I reedited some of the more egregious examples flow better, but I definitely missed or had trouble with a few. How does "With measured grace he turned, gazing upon the vast crowds before him. Finally his eyes rested upon the Guests of Honor" sound?

"The Fighter" is a working title, but I did want to have the name be something relatively Spartan. Some other options I had were "The Secret of the Hanged Man" ('... the smile on his lips,' an allusion to an Iron Maiden song), "The Fighter's Muse," and "The Fighter's Sonata"

Out of curiosity, what was you opinion on the combat portion of the story? I used vague, staccato sentences as a sort of "literary shaky-cam" alongside flowery prose to experiment in writing fight scenes. Did you like the effect?
 
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Yportne

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More Fighter Feedback

Thank you for the review. I've had a lot of trouble with my own view of my writing, so affirmation like this helps a lot.

Yes, it can be difficult to judge your own writing with as much objectivity as another writer. That's why feedback is so valuable. And feedback from non-writers can also be valuable, because it gives you a reader's perspective. Some writers, when asked for feedback, get so analytical they can't see the forest for the trees.

Most of the more awkward phrasings are a relic from a previous version. Originally it was written in what I refer to as "Poetic-prose," using weird sentence structures like "Ponderously he turned" instead of "he turned ponderously" to evoke a epic or poetic feel without the song-like rhyme and rhythm. I abandoned that for the most part after I ended up writing half of the action scenes in flowery passive voice with an adverb in every line. I reedited some of the more egregious examples flow better, but I definitely missed or had trouble with a few. How does "With measured grace he turned, gazing upon the vast crowds before him, before his eyes rested upon the Guests of Honor" sound?

"Ah, I see!" said the blind man to his deaf daughter. That explains a lot about your story and its style. If your target audience is people who would respond well to poetic prose, then perhaps it's okay. My assumption is that flash fiction is aimed primarily at mainstream readers, so I'd certainly endorse changes like "With measured grace..." Though even that sounds a bit high falutin. Your character has a high opinion of himself, but I don't see him as pompous and pretentious. That's one of the problems with using third-person narration as if it were first person: not allowing your narrator's perspective to contrast sharply with your character's personality.

Also, your repetition of "before" might cause problems with some readers. Your first "before" is positional (in front of) and your second "before" is temporal (preceding). Perhaps you could make two shorter sentences from this long one?


"The Fighter" is a working title, but I did want to have the name be something relatively Spartan. Some other options I had were "The Secret of the Hanged Man" ('... the smile on his lips,' an allusion to an Iron Maiden song), "The Fighter's Muse," and "The Fighter's Sonata"

Yes, short titles are probably best for flash fiction, if for no other reason than brevity. I like "The Fighter's Muse" because it echoes the heart of your story and a phrase inside the story.

Out of curiosity, what was you opinion on the combat portion of the story? I used vague, staccato sentences as a sort of "literary shaky-cam" alongside flowery prose to experiment in writing fight scenes. Did you like the effect?

My grandson's friend is a cage fighter, so your "literary shaky-cam" approach resonates with videos I've watched of him. Not sure if your "experiment" would resonate with flash fiction readers, however. Perhaps some of the other writers here at AW could give you feedback on that.

Also, the last sentence of your story has a cause-and-effect problem. Some readers might have difficulty understanding what "it" refers to. My feeling is that your last sentence could be deleted without harming your story in any way. Or perhaps make it more concise. Less is often more, especially in flash fiction, where readers don't have to be told everything to get it. Perhaps... "As darkness drew across him, the fighter blew one last kiss to his lady."