Story for Critique 001: Mine Own Land by Nathan Weaver

Welcome to Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group and the first story on this blog. This piece is a 660-word western by Nathan Weaver.

Please do comment in the section below telling us what you liked about this story and, what if anything, the author could do to improve upon it. Thank you – it’s very much appreciated! (My comments are underneath Nathan’s bio :))

Mine Own Land

“Let me tell you what I know about the pale men who came from the waters. Their skin is like the sun has never seen it; they came out from the waters on large homes they had built with the trees. Upon their faces, like the beasts, hair does grow and some have more hair on their faces than others. They can talk to each other like the birds of the air, but they do not understand us and we cannot understand them. They wear all sorts of strange coats of skin, but they feel nothing like our beasts. They eat strange foods that quickly wither away.

“The first time they came to our village, they were not aggressive. But in their eyes, you could see they were uneasy. Like the beasts are when they fear what we might do to them. They walked all about my village, talking to each other in their strange tongue. One pale man kept writing unseen things.

“The second time they came, the sticks they had carried on their backs and at their sides they now held in their hands. The sticks made thunder and threw as it were pebbles into our skin. Many of my people died from the pebbles. We tried to fight them off, but their pebbles flew faster than our arrows and spears. On their bodies they wore shiny, rock-like skins and our weapons could not penetrate them.

“I am not aware of any who have survived from my village. I stand before you as the last of my people. Tears fill my eyes and embrace my face, because my family and friends have all gone to meet our Mother. I stand with tears, because I did nothing. I ran.

“I tell you these things, so that you may know. Prepare yourselves or move on, these pale men are not like your people or my people. They are unlike any people you know. They may not even be men, these pale creatures from the waters.

“Please heed the warnings. Not only mine, but those from our fathers who spoke of pale riders that would rise from the waters. I believe these are they the fathers spoke of. I believe they are come to destroy us.”

I watched as the council spoke quietly, though in their own words. The Medicine Man, also a prophet, spoke. He was aged and look to be wise with many years before him; there was authority in his voice and all men listened. When he finished, it seemed they all agreed with his wisdom. The Interpreter looked to me and spoke through the smoke of the fire.

“Dear Friend, we are deeply saddened by the news you bring. Your people have always been welcome in our village and ours in your own. We have always enjoyed the trade we had with one another and many winters your goods have kept us through to the warmer times.

“The Prophet tells us that these are not the pale riders spoken of by our fathers. They are indeed vicious creatures, like those of the prophecies, but these are not they. We will not leave our land; we do not feel the threat is such as you make it.

“You are free to stay. Should you go, ask freely of our people and we will provide you with what you need for your journey.”

I looked at the council, it was clear that this was their belief.

I spoke with great remorse. “Ones before you I have visited have said the same. Many have died; some are now slaves and guides to the pale men. They will be here, too.

“I will not stay. I will take what provisions you can give me and towards the Dry Land I will go. They may come there, too, but maybe by that time I will be old and will have died.

“It is a shame not to die in your own land.”

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANathan Weaver is a writer, lyricist, filmmaker, educational video production specialist. He writes short stories, novellas, and is finally taking his turn at novel writing. He bleeds noir, which shows through in most of his writing; whether it’s crime, horror, western, science fiction, or whatever. His website is http://talesfrombabylon.com

My comments

the sticks they had carried on their backs and at their sides they now held in their hands.” I think there should be a comma after sides as it’s not clear whether they were holding the sticks at their sides or now hold them in their hands at their sides.

The sticks made thunder and threw as it were pebbles into our skin” – I got a bit lost with “threw as it were pebbles”??

I stand with tears, because I did nothing. I ran.” – definitely an “ahh” moment.

move on, these pale men” – I’d say should be a full-stop (period).

these pale creatures from the waters” – is intriguing.

He was aged and look to be wise” – looked? And comma after ‘wise’.

I know it’s speech but “Ones before you I have visited have said the same” confused me. It’s then clarified that  he’s been to other villages so it’s OK but confusion is never good… unless it’s just me. 🙂

Because we’ve had someone else speaking it might make more sense to have the final line at the end of the previous line. I know it’s more of a statement on its own, although the lack of close speech marks show it’s the same person speaking. Again, just a thought.

I really enjoyed the authenticity of the voice and how the pale strangers appeared to them – as aliens now would appear to us.

Thank you, Nathan!

***

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13 thoughts on “Story for Critique 001: Mine Own Land by Nathan Weaver

  1. Nathan Weaver (@babylontales) January 8, 2013 at 8:33 pm Reply

    Thanks for the critique Morgen. I do agree with some of the things you pulled out, others I’ll have to mull over more and see what works. Both the narrative and the dialogue is similar in nature, as I tried to write it sounding authentic–a Native American whose first language is not English. Even though, theoretically this conversation would not actually be taking place in English and this was theoretically be a translation of their conversation… but then… wait, what?

  2. Christopher Law January 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm Reply

    Morgen raised the few points I had to make, although I had no problem with ‘Ones before you..’ – I think that did help convey the fact that the speaker is using a strange tongue. I am wondering, however, if you meant to reference the Aztec tradition of gods arriving from the sea with the description of the pale men emerging from the waters or am I bringing that into things myself?

    I enjoyed the read either way. The atmosphere is set up well and doesn’t falter. Good stuff.

    • Nathan Weaver (@babylontales) January 9, 2013 at 1:13 am Reply

      Christopher: My story is more fiction than fact. I did not base the references and such on Aztec specifically. I tend to be a history buff in general, and painted with a broad stroke, not choosing to pick any one tribe. That being said, I consider writing this into a longer piece, where we discover that the pale creatures from the sea aren’t actually white men. But that may require a little rewriting of this piece. But all that being said, I may have to go back and research some Aztec beliefs, since you brought them up.

  3. morgenbailey January 8, 2013 at 11:24 pm Reply

    🙂 Thank you, guys. x

  4. Rosse Mary Boehm January 8, 2013 at 11:43 pm Reply

    I think the story is well intended. Not sure the ‘foreign’ tongue works. Consequently there are some grammar problems – even an imagined English that’s not English but should be something else – has to have a certain and consistent grammar. The story didn’t grab me because it’s stuff most of us know about.

    Here follow extracts of what Bernardine Evaristo looks for in a short story:

    What makes you start reading a short story?

    There’s little time to waste with the short story so it really does need to grab my attention from the first page but I can’t pinpoint exactly what makes me want to read on. There is no magic formula. It might be do with language or subject matter, voice or characterisation, structure and the narrative hook: the thing that reels the reader in and makes us want to read on.

    What do you look for in a short story? What gets you really excited?

    Linguistic flair, something fresh and original, depth, re-readability, stories that explore new ways of seeing, being, that surprise, provoke and even shock. The ‘quiet understated voice’ is sometimes overrated and writing that is too oblique can actually be deceptively weightless – the touch so light it really is all air. One hopes to find a wide array of styles, genres and unique voices. My own taste is eclectic and while I do appreciate the cleverness of understatement, I also like flamboyance, daring, writers who take risks and push the boundaries of form. Neat, tidy, tame stories that are not going to ruffle the feathers of Middle England are everywhere. We need more variety.

    With a bit of luck you can soon tear mine to bits 🙂

    • Nathan Weaver (@babylontales) January 9, 2013 at 1:22 am Reply

      Rose: When I sat down and wrote this initially, it was intended more as a piece of prose than a story. I could definitely see where it would be flawed in many ways, if I tried to perceive it as being more than how I tend to think of it–an emotional response to something unknown and one’s own regrets.

      So that being said, I’ll have to make a point to read it from that perspective, because I tend not to. I guess we could call this The Writer’s Bias, because he knows what he intended.

      In the back of my head, I keep thinking that I’ll one day develop this into something more concrete, maybe a novella. If I do that, I think I will expound upon the white creatures from the sea not actually being white men at all. I for one grow weary of the age-old white man arrives and makes natives’ life miserable… not because I’m predominately white, but because so few write about what life was like for the white man. There are some stories way more interesting, and untouched, in that area than there is in the classic battle on the western frontier and so on.

      This is just an initial response… I like to sleep on things and reread them later, and give more thought to what was presented. I know that I myself tend to get all twisty in the spine when people talk rules, guidelines, or best practices. Certainly I have my best practices that I’ve learned with time, but I think it always best to consider change… even in writing, even when it means breaking the rules.

      Thank you so much for the comments. And don’t eat the grapes.

  5. morgenbailey January 8, 2013 at 11:50 pm Reply

    This is why I love writing groups! Everyone’s different – I know zilch about the Aztecs (was Christopher right?). Interestingly I have read one of Bernadine’s (the name escapes me) and didn’t like it. 🙂 I much preferred a recent read called ‘Coming up for air’ 😀

    http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/novel-nights-in-coming-up-for-air-book-i-part-1-by-rose-mary-boehm

  6. Christopher Law January 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm Reply

    I might be getting my Mayans and Aztecs muddled but one of them definately had a legend about pale gods emerging from the sea, which is why they didn’t oppose the conquistadors until it was too late – if you’re into armageddon stories as much as I am it gets wonderfully complex.

    Nathan, if you do ever expand this I’d be interested in having a read. I also keep thinking of Thomas Berger’s ‘Little Big Man’, although I can’t place why.

  7. Rosse Mary Boehm January 10, 2013 at 6:31 pm Reply

    Those pale gods came from the air. The Spanish did come from the sea. There are those who think that eons ago there may have been pale ‘gods’ coming from the air. Many of their cave paintings seem to indicate at least a scifi imagination. By the way, I life in Peru.

    And, yes, some say that the Indians may well have thought the Spanish were the returning gods. But nobody knows for sure.

    • Nathan Weaver (@babylontales) January 17, 2013 at 4:42 am Reply

      And thus ‘Prometheus’ was born… did anybody like that flick? I’ll admit I own it, but that’s was even before I had seen it. Knew I would admiring the visuals, even if the story or script stank. I kinda like it, but it’s rough… they are making a sequel too.

  8. Christopher Law January 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm Reply

    Darn, I hate it when I get muddled – thanks for the clarification 🙂

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