The Evolution of the Short Story

July of 2010. I decided, after successfully spinning a tale in 1000 words or less, to concentrate on short stories. While I had written small snippets before, they were more of a larger picture than a stand alone work. I just couldn’t write something small. I felt I was incapable of doing it–until that little piece of flash fiction happened.

Now, though I have two novels in progress, I’ve been doing well in weaving the little tidbits. Granted, I’ve been noticing I’m starting to rack up a few unfinished short stories. I don’t think it’s a trend because if I concentrate on one of them, it gets completed quicker than a vast number of incomplete novels.

A few friends over at Scribophile have decided to submit works for this Ocean Anthology. Being that I have had a lot on my plate lately, and a request for artwork (I’ve been neglecting my artsy side and I hate myself for it), I decided to dig through some of the shorts I have and see if I can edit the hell out of it for a story.

I decided to use one called Watery Aspirations (1880 words). Again, this is something with the character that is the origin of my namesake. Here’s is the original text I would be working with:

Kastil stretched his shoulder out, the stiffness of the wound still plaguing him. He had insisted on seeing the extent of the damage and wished his curiosity would have stayed at bay. The sea troll had gleefully ripped his flesh away like peeling the rind from an orange. Most of the tattoo that spread across his shoulders no longer existed. While the means of how the marking got there irritated Kastil, its significance did not. He’d earned the right to wear it in Phalden’s brotherhood of thieves in his days in Waterdeep. It felt like part of who he was had been stripped away and to often of late that had been the life he led. Every step of his journey had unraveled who Kastil thought he was bit by bit.

Lost in the rise and fall of the ship, Kastil barely noticed the busy crew as they loosened ropes and angled the sails to catch the wind. The aquamarine liquid splashed against the sides in a foamy spray reminding Kastil of the drinks Inky and he would share with Baron if they ever reached Waterdeep. Baron still lay below; his wounds healed but his strength still not what it needed to be. Kastil briefly glanced around. The petite elf Lis hung from the spider web-like roping towering up to the crow’s nest. Much like a fly caught and awaiting impeding doom. She batted at anything that came near her, obvious of the fact her shirt dipped precariously toward baring too much in front of a bunch of lusty sailors. Kastil frowned and remembered her disrobing the last time his feet touched land. In the wrong place, the wild child would be sending an invitation she would not like to entertain. At least Jya had the sense to keep to herself for what that was worth.

Shouts of ‘Land Ho!’ swung Kastil’s head around. His hand went to shield his face and he prayed to whatever god would listen that it be his beloved City of Splendors. As they drew near, he spied the lush strong evergreens and neatly planted deciduous trees. Vines stretched out on trellises, laden with berries and grapes. Civilization at last and Kastil could hardly contain himself when one of the crew told him Waterdeep lay a mere 100 miles away. His eyes beheld the lovely Sword Coast and joy leapt in his heart. His eyes closed briefly as the phantom smell of Lily’s perfume hit his nose. Soon, my love, soon Kastil mouthed to the world around him.

The land they gazed on belonged to Ben, the crew member further explained. Inky fished an apple out of his pack for Kastil and the rogue bit a big chunk out of it. Looking at the contrast between the white insides and the red skin turned his stomach momentarily, thinking back on his wounds. Swallowing the bile, he finished the piece of fruit not wanting to appear ungrateful to his friend Inky.

Kastil’s mind wandered, his thoughts on holding Lily steadfast in his arms, when the crew started hooting and hollering like a bunch of juveniles spotting a frozen treat. As pleased as Kastil was that the ship had reached its destination, he hardly thought to warrant such jubilation. The ship lurched as the helmsman turned the wheel erratically and Kastil pitched forward as the sails snapped into their new bearing. The air rushed out as his gut met the railing hard. The water rippled out as Kastil witnessed Yoshi tumbling into the seas. He tried to yell but he winced instead, trying to draw the air needed into his lungs. As he gasped, Kastil became horrified with the fact that the crew did not notice Yoshi’s plunge into the churning seas.

“Man overboard!” He managed. His brow creased as he watched the nature-loving priest casually swimming toward the shore. Given the things Kastil had seen in the depths, he didn’t want to see Yoshi swallowed up by Tymora-knows-what. Inky threw a rope but Yoshi ignored it and Kastil threw his hands up in disgust, seeing the ship not slow a bit. He heard the whisperings and excitement of the crew and groaned. They had spotted the naked dolphin-riding nymph in the water. He bellowed at them and their avariciousness behavior made his blood boil.

“We’ve lost a man and you’re chasing a woman who possibly lured one of your own into the ocean to be sacrificed to a possible pet of hers?” He glared at them all, prepared to retrieve Ben from below if necessary but the helmsman spun the wheel and brought the ship about reluctantly. Unfortunately, the men on the sails did nothing and the ship’s speed died. Several of the crew ran to the small boat, loosening the ropes and lowering it quickly. Inky smiled brightly and asked them if they meant to save Yoshi. The men refused to answer and Kastil realized they only cared about the alluring beauty drifting on the waves with her dolphin. Tossing a rope over the side, Kastil yelled for Yoshi to get back on the boat. Embellishing a little, Kastil warned of a shark behind the lazily swimming cleric. An outright lie but Kastil said it with conviction. Yoshi scoffed at Kastil but swim a little faster.

Through the chaos, Ben made a rare appearance on deck and after listening to Kastil’s explanation, he restored a little order. It all seemed like a lucid dream as Ben gathered his crew around him and then proceeded to okay their insistence on going after this phantom woman. Kastil stood in a daze, the surreal world shifting and bending right in front of him. Ben disappeared below and for the first time Kastil didn’t pursue. The whole ship was mad and he pinched the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. He sighed and resigned himself to the fact that searching for the smooth-legged lady would be the task of the day. Opening his eyes, Kastil’s jaw dropped. Lis stood leaning over the rail with the tattered remains of her clothing hiked up at her hips. His face reddened and he hurried over to get the feral woman to lower her skirts to hide her wares. For his reward, she attempted to bite him. He stepped back at her untamed growling and resolved never to bother teaching her anything remotely resembling modesty. Some lessons in life must come the hard way. Nothing in life is ever easy, he grumbled to himself.

Searching the seas, Kastil’s sight settled on female horseback riders along the shore. They splashed joyfully in the surf. Long auburn, onyx, and blonde tresses flew in the breeze like a graceful weeping willow at the edge of a pond. The horses jerked as the reins where pulled, guiding the equines into the water. The women laughed, every part of them reverberating with the pounding of the horses’ hooves. Kastil stood awe struck, seeing one of them coyly crooking a finger in his direction. He licked his dry lips and his hand touched the railing, just before Kastil spring-boarded into the water. He vaguely heard the noise of two others entering the water.

Kastil stroked through the water, his eyes never leaving the beautiful vision on top of her mighty steed. Green stick-infected hair passed him and Kastil snarled. It was Yoshi off to steal yet another one of the women Kastil saw first. Reaching out, Kastil caught the cleric’s ankle and dragged him under the surface. His feet kicked the nature-loving priest down a little further to give more space and Kastil swam with all his strength. He smiled as the woman of his dreams reached down and grabbed his arm. Swinging up on the horse, Kastil blinked as she faced him and brought his head in for a passionate kiss. He eagerly returned it even as she crushed her body against him.

“You’ve been gone so long, my love.” Her words whispered in his ear, her arms wreathing around him tightly. Kastil felt a little uncomfortable with her hold on him but as she showered kisses down his neck he shivered. She took his breath away and as he gulped to control his convulsing lungs, he gave into her desires.

Kastil submerged into the water, tendrils of seaweed wrapping around his body and tugging him down. They twisted in his hair and became intimate with his throat. His mouth hung open, welcoming the salty brine of the ocean into his lungs. Kastil’s eyes gazed over and the corners of his mouth turned upward in sheer bliss. He looked to the distorted heavens above and basked in his own death.

Dizzy with her eagerness, Kastil’s fingers played down her smooth shoulders as she playfully ran her fingers through his hair. Another smothering kiss rippled through his entire body and his body seized while her hands roamed. Kastil never experienced such an infatuating woman and he held on desperately as something tore at him to release his grip.

The crew thrust a fishing gaff into the dense plants, its barbed tip catching on Kastil’s leathers. His armor tore away as they tried pulling him up. The mass of seaweed clung tighter, refusing to give up its prey. Kelp shredded away, floating on the surface of the water. Small waves clapped together at the joining of three bodies to their liquid existence but the men on the boat refused to give up. The vegetation waved in laughter, their roots burrowing deeper into the sandy floor.

A feeling dread consumed Kastil and he broke the deep kiss, staring into the eyes of the woman caressing his locks. Her smile dazzled him but the buzzing in his head told him to fight her pull. Her sea green eyes implored him to stay, the sadness of a broken heart blazing in the background. Kastil jerked against her enveloping arms but the smile turned wicked and a green tongue flicked out of her mouth. Kastil gagged as it penetrated his lips and slipped down his throat. The numbness swept over his body and the surrounding blackness pressed in. His fingers curled in a claw as his hand reached for the surface only to unfurl as his body went limp.

Catching a hold of some of the seaweed, the boat dragged the mass toward the shore using a grapnel and rope loops. Two petite women plied their trade underneath the depths, hacking and slashing and making the seas boil with magic. A cutlass swiped in, freeing Kastil’s unconscious body and the gaff pulled him onto the boat. His body bloating from the intake of sea brine, the water poured off his soaked body as the frantic run for the shore continued. Well versed in the signs of a drowned man, two men set to work in purging Kastil’s lungs of the death the ocean bestowed on them. Their hands rolled up his spine before they attempted to force air in his lungs.

Retching up vast amounts of water, Kastil choked and vomited as his lungs contracted. Stars danced in front of his eyes and the last thing he saw as he succumbed to his exhaustion was the puckered lips of a sailor hovering over him. May Tymora have mercy on his soul.

First off, this little piece breaks one of the rules I have for creating short stories—too many characters. The first thing I did was cull the characters out of this. The focus should be the main character. Second and third, I had to strip the setting and character name from it. I don’t own the setting thus cannot, under copyright laws, publish something using it. The name is now my pen name so it’s a little self-indulgent to use it in my opinion.

Doing all this creates the first draft of the rework. It stands at 1499 words. I’ve left out the end part of it because I haven’t quite decided how I’m changing it or if I want to.

Kessel stretched his shoulder out, the stiffness of the wound still plaguing him. He had insisted on seeing the extent of the damage and wished his curiosity would have stayed at bay. The sea troll had ripped his flesh away like peeling the rind from an orange. He cursed inwardly for helping the crew when the creature leapt on the deck under the bright full moon. After several men were torn to pieces, he had no choice but to unsheathe his sword or perish along with them.

Most of the tattoo that spread across his shoulders no longer existed. While the means of how the marking got there irritated Kessel, its significance did not. He’d earned the right to wear it during his darkest days in his home port of Latúk. Mired in the cut throat thievery of his father’s employ, he’d risen through the ranks as a means to escape that unholy life.

His hand glided along the loose billowy cloth shirt hiding the remainder of the mark. The iink design had stayed the hand of many in the bowels of the city he’d sailed out of but brought mistrust of the crew aboard the vessel. Were they a les than honorable lot, Kessel had no doubt he would be tossed overboard with a care.

Lost in the rise and fall of the ship, Kessel barely noticed the busy crew as they loosened ropes and angled the sails to catch the wind. The aquamarine liquid splashed against the sides in a foamy spray reminding Kessel of the drinks he would share with friends if they ever reached Latúk.

When Kessel booked his voyage to return home, he never expected to become part of the crew. Misfortune followed the journey like a tempest and many sailors had lost their life to the treacherous seas. A curt nod had him pushing off the railing to help tie the sails in place. He wanted to help as much as they wanted his aid.

“Land ho!”

Kessel swung his head to the crow’s nest. His hand went to shield his face from the glare of the sun and he prayed to whatever god would listen that it be his beloved Latúk. He knew it wouldn’t be that easy. The ship would have to navigate through the rocky shores first of the strait before getting to the elongated docks of Latúk. As they drew near, he spied the lush strong evergreens and neatly planted deciduous trees. Vines stretched out on trellises, laden with berries and grapes. The landscape of the bay had changed since the last time he’d been through.

His eyes closed briefly as the phantom smell of Lily’s perfume hit his nose. He shook his head, willing the memory to disappear. He could not allow himself the distraction.

Kessel’s mind wandered along the lush beach of the coast. The ship lurched as the helmsman turned the wheel and Kessel pitched forward as the sails snapped into their new bearing. The air rushed out as his gut met the railing hard. He tried to yell but he winced instead, trying to draw the air needed into his lungs.

“What the devil are you doing?” he growled to the helmsman.

“Making berth per the Captain’s orders.”

“With Latúk but a few leagues away?” He paced along the along, his eyes never straying from the helmsman.

“Silcia’s Fins, man! What sense does that make?”

“Don’t ye be cursing out princess of the seas.”

Kessel scowled and stormed off toward the Captain’s quarters. Pushing the man aside trying to ward him off, he swung the door wide.

“Have you not bled my purse enough to give me the haste I require to reach Latúk at a reasonable time?”

The captain looked up from his log, the quill in his hand flourishing one last stroke.

“My men are in need of rest. Considering that minor detail about what miscreants you associate with, by the markings on your skin, I thought it prudent to take heed of whatever ambush awaits us in Latúk with your haste.”

“You dare to presume too much.” Kessel jabbed a finger at him.”I am not the man you accuse me of being.”

“It’s my experience people like you don’t change. You’re running from something or to.”

Kessel clenched his jaw but said nothing.

“No matter. Pay for my healer’s services and I’ll forget this little intrusion. We all have our demons, Mr. Esbenshoal. I pray no more of yours cost me lives. In the meantime.” The captain tossed him an apple.

“The fruit of the serpent.”

“Seems appropriate.”

Kessel half-chuckled and shook his head. Reaching into his tunic, he pulled out a small satchel. It dropped on the desk.

“Payment for services rendered.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. Nothing in life is ever easy, he grumbled to himself. The apple flew out of his hand and disappeared into the foamy wake of the seas.

He leaned against the main mast. The letter from Lily brushed his fingertips as he hooked his thumbs in his belt. With nothing to occupy his time, his thoughts drifted to his love. His lip trembled and he squeezed his eyes shut. The ring on his finger warmed and his feelings for Lily boiled over.

A cool breeze caressed his face.

He smiled as the woman of his dreams reached down and grabbed his arm. Swinging up on the horse, Kessel blinked as she faced him and brought his head in for a passionate kiss. He eagerly returned it even as she crushed her body against him.

Now that I’ve stripped everything out, I started the second draft. A lot has been added but I won’t be showing it here. My buddies will rake it over the coals once I post it on Scribophile.

What you don’t see here completely is I’ve given the MC Kessel a reason for being on the ship and ultimately the reason he’s returning to his home port. The setting is my own, one I created some time ago so I don’t have to worry on that front.

That is my process for short stories but like every writer out there, we all have our own methods. Not all are right and not all are wrong.

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