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Thread: A Ripple in the Pond

  1. #1
    Resident Village Idiot Fenris's Avatar
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    Default A Ripple in the Pond

    A Ripple in the Pond
    »»-------------¤-------------««

    Warnings: Vague references of child abuse / neglect
    Target: Magikarp
    Rank: Easy (3k-5k)
    Character Count: 4,409
    »»-------------¤-------------««

    Sometimes he remembered, when the nights were still and his mind wandered, that his mother had a pond.

    It was tiny little splash of water and plant-life, trapped in the otherwise empty expanse of the courtyard at the house's rear. Really, it wasn't much more than a hole with some water in it, but his mother had loved it all the same. She carefully picked a few Pokemon to keep in it ("Can't get anything too big or they'll outgrow it!", she'd complained.), and meticulously pruned the weeds around it, and even settled each stone lining the edge and placed it by hand. Every day she would go out and admire the few lily's growing on the surface. She'd tend to the flowers near it's edges, and skim away the leaves that fell in from the nearby oak tree that hung its heavy branches out over the water.

    But most importantly of all she took the greatest of care in caring for her fish. In the mornings and night she went out and fed them, watching their glistening scales as they breached the surface to eat. She sat by the water on warm afternoons and read to read, and let a lazy hand dip into the water so she could feel them swimming close to listen. in the winter she went out to break the ice, churning the frozen water and always avoiding hurting her prized pets with chunks of ice where she could.

    His mother had loved that pond, and the Pokemon she kept in it.

    And so to, had he.

    Some of Jiji's fondest early memories, before his brother had been born and he became his everything, were of times spent near the water watching the Magikarp swim. Of course, there were more than Magikarp in the pond; his mother had stocked it with whatever she could afford and could comfortably live in such a space. Goldeen and even an old Feebas also shared the waters with the karp. But the Magikarp had always been what he was most fond of - they were the most playful, and often leaped from the water in great shows of enthusiasm when his mother came out to feed them all. They'd quietly nibble his little hands and swim in dizzying circles as he watched. He'd loved them.

    But a lot of things he'd loved were gone. The Magikarp. The pond. His mother and her calm smiles. The pond had gone away when she had; his father had sold the fish and filled it in less than a week after they'd also filled in her grave. Too painful a reminder perhaps - just like he and his brother always seemed to be. The beautiful fish and their ruby scales were replaced by bleak gravel and cement. His mother's laugh with a silent house. His father's warm, if distant, presence with one of unforgiving scorn.

    Eventually it became too much, and despite how dearly he hated the thought of leaving his brother along with his father's disproving attitude, he had to go. It wasn't something he could live with any longer. Too young to take his brother with him, but old enough to travel, he left with only a hasty goodbye to his brother and an even hastier retreat from the curses his father flung at his back. A letter scrawled out in his little brother's blocky handwriting the only connection back to a place that had once been so peaceful.

    The updates weren't always wanted; it was always one small tidbit after another that revealed how far the ripples of his mother's passing stretched. The refrigerator being just a little too empty for the week. Furniture and rooms slowly being covered with only that little bit more dust than the day before. Fewer and fewer words from their remaining parent until his little brother confided, quite shyly, that he wasn't sure if the man even remembered how to speak at all. The changes worried him, but short of returning and making things worse in the argument that would inevitably break out when he did, Jiji could only read the letters and feel a little more hope go out of him with each one.

    On dark nights, sometimes he'd look at the night sky, and remember. And the stars wouldn't be stars anymore, but the glistening of a thousand ruby scales under the water of a memory long past. A remembrance of a time when the world was a little brighter, and happiness wasn't buried under worrying letters or a backyard filled with gravel and cement. When fish with golden tassels and glimmering jewel scales leaped from the water and nibbled at little hands dipped into pond water.

    Sometimes he'd remember that his mother used to have a pond.

    And his dreams would be filled with swirling koi and laughter.
    Last edited by Fenris; 07-17-18 at 03:47 AM.

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  3. #2
    URPG Staff VeloJello's Avatar
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    My grading skills are a little rusty, but I'm ready! Let's do it!

  4. #3
    URPG Staff VeloJello's Avatar
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    Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve graded anything, so I’m sorry if this is at all unclear - I’m gonna try to keep this on the simple side due to the story rank and because this is your first story, but don’t hesitate to let me know if you want me to follow up on anything. And hey, since this is your first grade, this’ll be a learning experience for both of us!

    Introduction.
    Oh, yes, a delicious little one-sentence hook. These are easy to digest, easily taken in even by an impatient, skimming reader. They can be used for a number of effects - a wryly delivered one-liner can inject a comedic tone, for instance, or an action line can be used to brace the reader for something epic. A simple statement like yours can set up mood, tone, and theme, imparting to the reader important story beats that you’ll revisit later. With your opening sentence you tell the reader who - the protagonist and his mother - what - the pond - and when - the past and the present - is important. You also set up a few questions in the reader’s mind - what was the pond like? why is it something the character thinks about? why is it that his mother had a pond, rather than has a pond? Setting up your story without answering the reader’s every question is a fine balance, but this opening sentence strikes it well. This is a really simple opener, but well-done.

    With the rest of your introduction, you establish the pond itself, which is good and important. Through telling us about the actions that Jiji’s mother took to maintain the pond and care for the creatures living in it - showing the reader that she cares about it rather than telling us - you paint a picture of an outpour of love and affection. This is a really good setup for both the emotional lows of Jiji dealing - or failing to deal - with his family situation, and the emotional high at the end of him taking comfort in his memories of the pond.

    Story.
    This is a pretty short, sweet affair, but there’s still a bit to dissect. The main draw of this story is emotion - nostalgia for Jiji’s simpler and happier past; the happiness he gained, and gains, from the pond and his memories of it; and sadness at losing his mother, the pond, and eventually his relationships with the rest of his household are the main themes running through. The pride and joy that Jiji’s mother took in the pond, the sadness and anger of his father, and the meek melancholy sorrow of his brother all help to underscore Jiji’s emotions and set up Jiji’s story beats. All of these emotions are both grounded in reality as each member of the family reacts differently to Jiji’s mother’s passing. His father shuts down and becomes angry and bitter, and his anger manifests in a desire to be rid of all reminders of the woman who he’d loved. His brother tries to endure but becomes meek and quiet. Jiji himself runs away, trying to leave the newly-toxic atmosphere behind and becoming sadder and sadder as things at home deteriorate. Deaths in the family are incredibly difficult and incite different reactions in different people. Sadly, even extreme, angry reactions like those of Jiji’s father can occur in real life, with the grief of a parent spilling onto their children. The most unrealistic aspect of this story is the fact that the pond is filled with Magikarp rather than koi fish; otherwise, this story is very believable, which makes the emotional engagement that much stronger.

    Furthermore, you give us plenty of tidbits about Jiji and his family that reinforce the emotions at every step. You show Jiji’s mother taking painstaking care of the pond, Jiji enjoying the company of the Magikarp, his father filling in the pond, Jiji taking solace in the memory of the pond. His brother’s letters show how grief has destroyed his father and ruined the home he once loved. When you do tell the reader how Jiji feels - for instance, that his early memories of the Magikarp are fond, or that the toxic atmosphere of the house is too much for him - this is reinforced by details you’ve shown previously. This balance of showing and telling is excellent, and helps the reader to connect with the story organically rather than simply accepting that something is true with no evidence to back it up.

    There were a couple of slight hiccups I noticed. You imply that the pond has a somewhat large assortment of Pokemon, with multiple species sharing space with the Magikarp. You also describe the pond as “[not] much more than a hole with some water in it”. These two descriptions don’t mesh very well, and while it’s not story-breaking, it’s kind of jarring to go from imagining a small pool big enough to support a few fish to suddenly having to add in enough size to support multiple species (and that’s ignoring the fact that Magikarp’s canonical size is just under three feet, somehow, but I have no problem throwing Pokedex sizes out the window when it suits artistic intent). This could be corrected fairly easily; saying that the pond started out as a hole with some water in it and then became much more - in both its meaning to Jiji’s family and its size/general fanciness - would let the reader know that they should be imagining something humble but nice. Simply reducing the count of Pokemon living in the water would also suit the same purpose, and it wouldn’t detract from the story. The reader would still be able to see Jiji’s love of the Magikarp running through the rest of the narrative.

    I was also a little surprised by the description of Jiji’s mother breaking up the ice in the pond. From what I knew, fish are actually just fine when winter comes and freezes the water, because only the top layer of water will freeze in all but the most brutal winters. I looked it up and koi aren’t an exception to this rule - they actually go dormant in the winter, and while koi owners need to keep their ponds well-ventilated to ensure that their pets get enough air, breaking the ice on a koi pond can actually endanger the fish. This is something that’s pretty easy to miss; fish are weird and the idea of them being able to survive in a frozen pond isn’t terribly intuitive. A little bit of research goes a long way, though. While it’s not a major demerit in a simpler story like this, I definitely recommend looking into your story’s subjects a bit more closely for more intricate stories.

    Style and Grammar.
    There are a lot of good stylistic choices here in word choice and descriptors. The last paragraph especially sticks with me; this sentence
    And the stars wouldn't be stars anymore, but the glistening of a thousand ruby scales under the water of a memory long past.

    feels like something straight out of a poem. There aren’t wasted words here, and strong descriptors like “meticulously pruned”, “dizzying circles”, “bleak gravel” underscore and emphasize every point you drive home to the reader. Unfortunately, there are a few grammar errors that distract a bit from the reading of your story - a couple of stray apostrophes, one in an “its” it didn’t belong in are the ones I most noticed. They’re not frequent or huge. Just make sure that you give your stories a nice re-read before you post them to make sure there’s no typos and you’ll be fine.

    Let’s take a second and discuss rhythm. Your story gives me the idea that while you might be new to writing URPG stories, you’re not a complete greenhorn to the storytelling scene, and the fact that you make use of rhythm tricks reinforces this belief. You vary sentence lengths well throughout the story, so that the reader isn’t trapped in one sentence for too long or getting a bunch of chopped-up fragments. There are natural resting places throughout that emphasize the story. For instance, you jump out of a paragraph and into this sentence couplet:
    His mother had loved that pond, and the Pokemon she kept in it.

    And so to, had he.
    Placing this after a long paragraph with several winding sentences gives the reader a break but also draws their attention to the contents of these simpler sentences. After “And so to, had he”, I naturally take a pause; this pause enables me to naturally turn my focus from Jiji’s mother’s pond care to his feelings about the pond. While this isn’t the only trick one can play with rhythm, it’s certainly a good one, and it was really cool to see how you varied sentence structure to keep the reader interested and exploited it to make your point.

    Length.
    The minimum character requirement for Magikarp is 3000 characters; like you did, I count 4,409 characters in your story. I detect no filler here, and if you didn’t accomplish what you set out to you’ve done a fine job of convincing me that you have. Nice utility of space!

    Conclusion.
    Hands down, Magikarp is captured. There’s a few chinks in this story’s armor where proofreading and detail don’t fully hold up, but other than that, this is a fabulous bit of writing. Less than a thousand words have made it in, but they’re lovingly crafted to stir up poignant images and feelings. Keep an eye to verisimilitude and grammar, keep on using quiet but stirring descriptions to bring your readers’ emotions to the forefront, and enjoy your Magikarp!

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