Seeking feedback for my short story, "In Pursuit of Iron"

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It’s a little less than 10,000 words, which works out to 15 pages. The genre is fantasy (or fantasy-adventure), though there’s no magic in this particular story – it’s more action-adventurish (and very nautical). It takes place in the same world as my first novel. Some of the characters are the same, but the plot is unrelated – it should be completely accessible to new readers. The setting is a world with a lot in common with the Americas of the 18th and early 19th centuries. A large-scale map of the area can be found here (it’s not necessary to follow the story).

The story is here – it can be downloaded or read in the embedded format.

I don’t know the timeframe for your fictional universe, but phrases like “it’s ok” sound anachronistic to me in an age of sailing ships, and I winced a little when I read If the wind doesn’t change, let’s just hope her skipper ain’t got the stones to go full sail through the rocks.

I’m also a bit confused by Ytzak’s gambit, but I don’t read a lot of nautical fiction.

Thanks for the feedback, Bryan. What was confusing about the gambit?

Too much frontloading. In other words, you try to put all the background of the characters and the situation in the front of the story. The entire first section can be cut down drastically (maybe even cut out); in fact, since the story actually begins when the two ships meet, you should start it at that point. I’d suggest starting the story here:

Now you’ve started the story at the point where it gets interesting; you can fill in the background, one or two sentences at a time, as necessary. And show, don’t tell – instead of spending two paragraphs telling about how Ytzak felt about Verrisey, show it, by his reactions, the way he speaks to him, and a few thoughts. Instead of telling people how there are treacherous rocks in the passage in the front, have one of the sailors keep calling out about them.

“Rocks two points of the starboard bow.”
“Hard to starboard!*”
“But that will lead us to those rocks to port.”
“There’s a passage,” the captain said. “We should be able to fit.”

This indicates how dangerous the passage is without actually saying “The passage is dangerous.” Your job as an author is to make the reader understand these things without telling him.

I’m guessing the story can be cut in half – or maybe more – and end up being stronger and far better. Remember – kill your babies!

*Starboard in this context refers to which way to turn the wheel; the ship goes in the opposite direction.

I was going to say essentially the same thing RealityChuck did - cut out the expo at the start, begin with the interesting bits, and have your dialogue do the work of exposition and explaining as much as possible.

Since he already posted examples and specifics, I’m leaving you with him.

I will add a point about jargon and slang - it isn’t necessary to use a LOT of jargon and specific language to get the idea across that this is a different time and place. Pick a few that are the best substitutions, or are *necessary *for dialogue or scene-setting, and then yank the rest out. Use what we’d consider more formal language instead of casual speech. You’re pretty good about that in the descriptions, but your dialogue could do with being more formal as well, especially in the other sailors’ responses to Ytzak, their superior.

Otherwise, good pacing and an interesting vignette.

Thanks so much for the input, Chuck and Lasciel. I’ll definitely take it into account for revisions.

I sent most of my comments via PM, but… I liked the chase part of the story, with the villainy and its exposure. That was good solid nautical stuff. The story ought to be in an anthology of “Great Sea Stories.”

I really liked the “big surprise” and I admire the great care used in the writing of the story to make it a viable surprise. This is one of those stories you can read a second time, and see a bunch of stuff you didn’t see the first time. (“Oh! So that’s why…”)

Thanks so much!

I read a lot of nautical fiction (O’Brian and Forester), and here’s what struck me -

A two masted schooner has a foremast and a mainmast, not a main and a mizzen.

For the time period you’re going for - use points instead of degrees. This:

“When the moon is gone again, wait 60 seconds and then come right about 90 degrees.
Should be southwest. Got it?”

sounds jarring. “Wait 60 seconds, then turn to starboard and come to southwest by west” or something like that would fit better with the technology/time period you’re going for.

I’m not really buying that the clouds are thick enough that ships are completely invisible, but has enough breaks that they can see each other.

Big issue on the horizon, and him trying to escape. You say:

“Now it was a race to the horizon. He had learned that on a clear day, from the deck of a
ship the size of Seaspray, the horizon would be about six or seven miles away.”

First - a horizon of 6 miles means a height above sea level of 25 ft (assuming you’re on Earth), which seems awful high for a schooner.

Second - horizon distance from the deck isn’t what’s important when searching for another ship. You take the distance to the horizon from the top of each ships mast, add them together, and that’s how far apart the ships have to be to be over the horizon from each other. Remember, you only need to see the other ship’s mast to find it, not the hull. So if the schooner has 40 ft masts, and the brig has 60 ft masts, it’s more like 17 miles, not 7, to be safely out of view.

I’m not buying that chainshot took down both masts. Maybe have it that one idiot loaded ball instead of chain and took down one mast.

Ships at sea would never use a gangplank to connect them. You have to have them keep course perfectly aligned to avoid breaking the gangplank. Just lash them together.

Plot wise - why didn’t the traitor tell the other captain that there were another 12 sailors hiding? Change of heart, regret?

Good stuff- thanks for the input. I’ll fix most of this, and may leave some of it alone (like the clouds and visibility) as artistic license :slight_smile: As to chain-shot, from what I’ve read a full broadside of chain shot from close range could definitely sever the masts of a small ship.