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Fantasy Drama Sad

Bastard.


It’s the first thing he hears when he comes into this world, pink-skinned and pink-gummed and dripping with pink fluids.


A midwife holds him against the soft glow of an aqualamp and waits for tender eyelids to peel open. When they finally do, her smile withers away. Two syllables drip from her mouth like acid. It’s only once she presses him into her mother’s embrace, as if she can’t bear touching his flesh any longer, does he hear his own name. It should be the first thing he hears, and it’s too late.


His mother’s tears stream down her face onto his. They don’t taste anything like joy.




*




Bastard.


It’s what Mama lets him know he is, in between warnings not to leave their little seaside hut and quiet reassurances that Papa isn’t around for a good reason. He’s older now. Old enough to know that it’s something to do with his eyes. They stare back at him from Mama’s handheld mirror, burrowing into the reaches of his soul. The left one, inkwell-black, a tiny version of Mama’s. The right one, bright amber, like a chunk of solidified resin embedded in his skull. Not like Mama at all. Not like the kind-faced woman that stops by twice a week to offer an assortment of live crabs from her trap. And definitely not like the other children kicking seashells at each other on the sand outside, the ones that he wants more than anything to call out to but knows Mama will smack him for if he tries.


Later that evening, Mama stirs the juiciest claws into a stew of tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, mainland spices and crab broth. She even garnishes it with a twisting ribbon of olive oil, yet he keeps his head down on the dinner mat, tracing infinity symbols into his meal using a spoon.


“Aretas, eat your dinner before it gets cold.”


As far as Aretas is concerned, it’s always been cold. “Mama… what does Papa look like?”


It’s not the first time Mama reaches over from across the mat to hit him, but it’s the first time she does it with this much intent. He’s left sprawled on the floor, stunned into silence while pain blooms hot and angry across his right cheek.


Later that night, after his tears have dried, Aretas dreams of a man with thick shoulders, pearls for teeth and grinning amber eyes.


Aretas reaches for the man.


And misses.




*




Bastard.


Two syllables to widen the already-gaping fissure in his heart every time they’re hurled his way.


At first, the other children wave him over, and their smiles are so bright, so genuine that he thinks Mama must’ve been talking out of her arse this entire time. Then Aretas learns the hard way that you’re only a monster if the world decides you are.


The nice ones keep their distance, as if he has blood fever or some other contagion. The rest of them he will be thankful for in the years to come for showing him how cruel the world can be at such a young age. He comes home with a split lip and a fresh purple bruise humming with pain just under his right eye. Mama is so overcome with sorrow that she can’t bring herself to hit him for sneaking out of the house when she’d been away selling seashell bracelets.


Instead, she ties him to a chair and leaves him without food and water for a day. When she returns, she hauls a huge oval mirror into the room and rests it against the wall he’s facing.


“Aretas, my son, what do you see?”


His throat is so barren it takes all his strength to croak out a response. “It’s my reflection, Mama.”


Mama leaves the room, then returns a few heartbeats later with a flagon that smells of mint water. “You may drink when you get the answer right. I’ll ask again, Aretas. What do you see?”


He forces himself to look. To really look at his reflection. Swollen, purple, pathetic. But those eyes. The sight of those eyes hurts more than anything. He knows what the right answer is, what truth Mama wants him to taste on his tongue.


And he can’t bring himself to say it.


Another day goes by. The flagon sits on a desk just out of reach.


His head throbs. Phlegm collects in his throat. The rope eats away at the flesh of his wrists. And still that one amber eye grins at him. 


“Well? What do you see, Aretas?”


A boy, he wants to say. I’m just a boy, Mama. Can’t you see?


Mama leaves Aretas for one more day. His spirit caves in. He uses the dregs of his strength to push out two syllables. Acid on his tongue.


Mama unties him with a smile.




*




Bastard.


That’s how Rahat acknowledges Aretas when he takes him on as an apprentice. The only difference is that the bearded fisherman says it matter-of-factly, as if it’s just another aspect to consider, like Aretas’ broad shoulders and strong jawline. Now that he’s older and wiser, Mama reluctantly lets him brave the world to find work, especially since she’s too weak to get out of bed these days.


Rahat’s left eye is a drop of treacle, like Aretas’, but his right eye is grey as ash. It gleams like polished steel when he grins.


“I was brought into this world by the seed of a nobleman, believe it or not,” says Rahat as he takes the little sailboat out across a ruffled blanket of blue while Aretas sits quietly and listens. “When he retired, the Empire gifted him a plot of land in a Florysene rice paddy for his twenty-three years of service. You know what the women are like in Florys. Grey eyes and luscious caramel thighs. He… promoted one of the farmers, let’s just say, and allowed her to live in the manse with him. I’m somewhere between the third and eighteenth they made together. Didn’t want a single one to taint his name, so he’d ship us back here as soon as we’d pop out from between Mother’s legs. I only know as much about him as word on the street will allow. As for my poor mother… I don’t know a thing. I don’t even know if she made it out in one piece.”


Aretas is silent for a few heartbeats. The waves hum a wistful rhythm into his ears. “I never saw my father either.”


“Pay it no mind, lad. Those that don’t care for you aren’t worth caring for.”


While the sun is still casting its orange gaze over the sea, Aretas peers over the gunwale and studies the eyes staring back from a mirror that stretches from one horizon to another. Gregale. That’s the name of the realm his father is from. A cluster of blustery isles ruled by the equally stormy Warrin dynasty. Half of Aretas is missing, and it’s somewhere in Gregale, lost among an ocean of amber eyes. The other half is here in Magna Fa’ur, in a little seaside hut that houses a giant oval mirror. It’s why he’s this close to snapping, his soul stretched taut between two different realms. He looks away when memories of chafed wrists and a dry throat bubble to the surface.


“I could’ve been happy,” murmurs Aretas.


“And I could’ve been a nobleman,” scoffs Rahat. “Now stop acting funny and hand me my spear. We’re almost there.”


As the sky darkens, the ocean does the opposite. Rahat ties down the sails while Aretas watches the water below burst into a crescendo of color. Little pinpricks of light swarm just under the sea’s surface, bathing the hull of the boat in a gentle pink hue.


“This is stardust,” Aretas realizes.


“A bastard with brains,” remarks Rahat. “According to Madreza scholars, they’re tiny living things, with a soul and all. I suppose that’s why stardust eventually stops glowing when you seal it inside an aqualamp with no food and air.”


A second realization hits Aretas. “If there’s stardust, does that mean we’re in a Risk Zone?”


“That means, lad, you should quit the know-it-all observations and start gathering before a ravager sniffs us out.”


Aretas does as he’d been instructed to do before setting foot on deck. He grabs a stick with a basket tied to the far end—like a gigantic soup ladle—and begins scooping up morsels of luminous seawater. He deposits them in an open cask on deck, careful not to spill too much.


“Three casks’ worth,” reminds Rahat as he stands by the gunwale, spear poised to strike, “or neither of us are eating tonight.”


Aretas’ arms are sore and wilted by the time the third cask is halfway filled. That’s when a bestial shriek pierces the air.


“Back to the Trenches you go!” calls Rahat as he plunges his spear into a sinuous green shape draped over the gunwale. Blood sprays out of the ravager’s muscular neck, painting the deck a rich crimson. It snaps at Rahat with limber jaws before he shoves it, with a grunt, back into the water.


“Um, there’s more coming, sir,” says Aretas as he points to a pair of ridge-shaped, blood-red fins cutting through the ocean’s surface towards them.


“Let them come,” declares Rahat with a silvery glint in his eye. “We’re monsters as much as they are. It’s a fair fight!”


Aretas watches the fisherman dispatch the ravagers with slack-jawed amazement. His heart beats out a frantic, staccato rhythm, equal parts fear and excitement.


He realizes there and then that, for the past fifteen years, he’s never truly lived.




*




Bastards.


That’s what the lightsmith calls Aretas and Rahat whenever they deliver casks of stardust to her. Her job is to fill little glass containers with glowing sea water and sell them off as a portable light source—aqualamps—while Aretas and Rahat risk their arses to only get a miniscule percentage of the earnings. She doesn’t have to spell it out for them to know it’s because of their mismatched eyes.


But it’s okay because nowadays Aretas can look at himself without clenching his teeth against the pain. He and Rahat are sitting in their secluded corner at The Olive & Caper, draining mugs of sweet mead after Aretas’ first ravager kill. His eyes stare back at him from the pale-blonde pool in his mug, and they’ve never shone brighter. He studies the sheen in Rahat’s silver eye as he recounts how he lost his left index finger between the curved fangs of a frilled serpent. The bearded fisherman has never been particularly good-looking, but when he smiles, none of that matters.


A deathly silence falls across the inn. Three burly figures—two women and a man, all with broad shoulders and scars crisscrossing their muscles—appear beside the table, cutting off any escape.


“Two little bastards sharing a drink,” sings one of them.


🎵


“For no one else can stand their stink


Two little bastards sharing a bed


For no one else will give ‘em head


Two little bastards sharing a grave


For neither learnt not to misbehave!”


🎵


A thick, callused palm opens in front of Rahat. “Pay up, or we’ll open your guts and find out what bastards eat for breakfast.” One of the women unsheathes the axe gleaming at her hip.


“What if I don’t feel like it?” asks Rahat as he casually takes a sip.


Only for his mug to get knocked out of his hands. He sighs in annoyance.


The woman with the axe wrenches him out of his seat by the scruff of his shirt. “We aren’t taking shit from the likes of you. If you think you can sit down on our turf and—”


She yelps and drops Rahat when Aretas flings the contents of his mug into her eyes. Aretas climbs onto the table and tackles the woman to the floor, using her momentary disorientation to spirit the axe out of her grasp and press the bladed edge against her throat.


“I kill sea monsters for a living,” says Aretas as a crimson dewdrop traces the woman’s quivering neck. “We both do. You lot are just smallfry.”


The other tormentors get the message and back off, their crude remarks laced with fear. All five of them end up scurrying out of the inn when an Imperial patrol notices the commotion and threatens to make a few arrests.


Rahat slaps Aretas on the back with a hearty chuckle. “You’re crazy, you know that? Best decision I ever bloody made, taking you on as an apprentice.”


Aretas blushes. “Thank you, sir.”


He stares at his reflection in the silvery blade of the axe in his hand, and watches a drop of blood trickle down his right eye.




*




Bastard.


That’s what’s written on the wall of the alley just above Rahat’s body. Each crudely drawn letter sheds a crimson tear to pool on the floor. Aretas crouches beside the fisherman’s naked body, and sheds tears of his own. Rahat’s thighs are covered with red hand prints and his nut-brown flesh is streaked with blood and… other fluids. Aretas finds him like this after he doesn’t show up at the wharf where their little sailboat is moored.


Later that day, Aretas wraps his mentor in cloth and sets him down on the deck of their boat. There’s no room on land for a bastard’s grave, so he sails out to the edge of a Risk Zone and gives him a kiss on the forehead. Aretas lets the waves take him, so he can be with the other monsters.


That evening, Aretas comes face to face with himself in a shop window, illuminated by the soft hue of an aqualamp. He swings his fist at himself with all his might. He doesn’t notice the shards of glass embedded in his fingers until the next day.




*




Bastard.


That’s what Mama reminds him he is on her deathbed, right as she slips into the next life, which is probably a lot better than this one.




*




Bastard.


That’s what the winds chant as they lash at his face. Rahat had always told Aretas never to go fishing in a storm, yet here he is anyway.


We’re already dealing with monsters coming from below, he’d say with a glint in his eye. Only a lunatic would try to fight the ones coming from above at the same time!


And only a lunatic would fight something that can’t be destroyed, thinks Aretas. Tears well in his eyes and mingle with the rain. He closes them and savors the song of oblivion echoing in his ears.


Except oblivion sounds like… a little girl?


Aretas sees her then: a speck of color bobbing in the frothing waves. Despite everything, he steers towards her and hauls her tiny body, blue and shuddering, onto the deck.


It’s only after he defies the elements and goes back to shore does she cough the water out and blink to life.


And it’s only in the comfort of his little seaside hut that Aretas sees her beautiful mismatched eyes.




*




Bastard.


That’s what she is, and yet there’s so much life in those eyes. Aretas doesn’t ask her what had led to her being stranded out at sea in the middle of a storm. He thinks he knows the answer, anyway, judging by the way she shudders on the dining mat even though she’s warm and dry.


Aretas places a bowl of crab stew in her tiny hands. Mama’s recipe. She takes small, tentative bites. She’s fixated on her reflection in the huge oval mirror, the one Mama had brought home one day. The one that has a huge crack in it because Aretas couldn’t stand the sight of himself. The one that Aretas also couldn’t bring himself to throw away, because Mama had been right all along.


Hadn’t she?


Aretas sits next to the girl. “What’s your name?”


“Tatali,” she murmurs.


A Gregali name. Gregale, where dark eyes aren’t welcome. Where Aretas’ father is from. Her amber eye is on the left side, unlike his.


“What do you see, Tatali?” asks Aretas.


Tatali is silent for a few heartbeats. Her reflection splinters just like the cobweb of cracks in the mirror.


“It’s just my reflection,” she says. “It’s me.”


The ice in Aretas’ heart melts. “Yes. That’s the right answer.”


July 10, 2021 03:53

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74 comments

Melody Frost
01:22 Jul 13, 2021

I really enjoyed reading this story

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:23 Jul 13, 2021

Thanks! 😙

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Rayhan Hidayat
04:04 Jul 10, 2021

Alright, now that we got mie goreng out of the way, it’s back to my usual stuff! In my fantasy series, Aretas is a supporting character who leads the Brotherhood of Bastards, or the Bastardhood for short—an organization dedicated to helping society’s downtrodden. This is his origin story. I'll admit, this is rushed and a little sloppy, but I really wanted to submit something. Hope you found something to enjoy 😙

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L. M.
11:41 Jul 16, 2021

Which fantasy series? Is there more?! I'll fish Rahat out of those waves and bury him in my backyard for more! 😖

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:49 Jul 19, 2021

Sorry for replying late! It’s a novel series I’m working on, not some mini series on Reedsy I’m afraid! But thank you so much for stopping by, I appreciate it 😙

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19:57 Jul 16, 2021

fantasy series? fantasy series?! where. are. they. give them to me right now, rayhan, or i swear to god i'll- *menacing face*

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:51 Jul 19, 2021

It’s in progress! Gonna try finish the first novel by the end of this year. No promises. I’m such a painfully slow writer. Please don’t kill me 😨

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19:01 Jul 20, 2021

*sharpens knife*

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Ayush Kakar
09:33 Aug 31, 2021

LOL

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Zilla Babbitt
01:04 Aug 05, 2021

Hey Ray! I posted today and since the topic is hard I thought I'd ask your opinion. If you have time of course 😉

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:29 Aug 05, 2021

Of course! I’m trying to make the deadline, I’ll be sure to get around to you then

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Mahima Sharma
09:46 Aug 01, 2021

I never liked to read fantasy much. But as for your writing, I must deny the fact now. Loved the writing. The way of describing and power to choose words for each emotion were fantastic.

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Rayhan Hidayat
01:51 Aug 06, 2021

Thank you Mahima! Glad I could get the genre to appeal to you 😙

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09:44 Jul 27, 2021

Hey, tell as many people as you can that it's updating and to remember your password, because after it updates you'll need to know it to prove it's you and I don't want people getting locked out

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17:32 Jul 25, 2021

The recurrence of the word bastard at the start of each section gave not just a direction to the story but also ensured the overall thrust was being maintained. The ending had a nice loop to it and the story sort of came full circle. You are a top class story teller a d a writer with genuine talent. I was never a fan if fantasy writing but the way you have written this may force me to do a rethink.

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Rayhan Hidayat
11:28 Jul 28, 2021

Thank you so much Neel!

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15:49 Jul 23, 2021

rayhan, you tryna give me a run for my money in the break department?- well, i posted, and if i win while you're gone, reedsy despises both of us. keep your fingers crossed! <3

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Rayhan Hidayat
00:48 Jul 24, 2021

Haha I’ll get to it, looking forward!

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01:22 Jul 24, 2021

ya better be-

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Des Feller
20:23 Jul 19, 2021

Gorgeous! I love how you stated each section with bastard. Like a constant reminder of his own self hate... And I love how Aretas doesn't correct her at the very end; it seems very healing.

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:51 Jul 19, 2021

Thanks! Yay, glad that paid off then

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Yolanda Wu
08:27 Jul 17, 2021

Oooh! I absolutely loved this story! I'm excited that it's part of a bigger project. The writing in this just hit me in the feels, you took me on this journey with Aretas, and it felt so real and raw and genuine. The little snippets of his life each beginning with 'Bastard' were so impactful, and each time that word just hits you harder and harder. Honestly, all these incredible stories from you. I really need to get on top of my shit about posting on Reedsy. Every week I say I'm gonna write a story, but then I don't. Anyway, back to your s...

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Rayhan Hidayat
10:47 Jul 17, 2021

Ughh I placed the order 2 months ago and it’s still not here. Guess that’s what happens when you’re in a borderline-third world country with one of the worst covid mortality rates lately. I’m really looking forward to reading that. Oh well, there’s always that little fantasy series A.G. Scott has on this site. I’m so glad you liked this story! I’m posting these to gauge what people think about my fantasy world while I work on the bigger project. Have you checked out my story “tiny piscine heart”? I’m not forcing you to read it, I just feel ...

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Yolanda Wu
11:42 Jul 17, 2021

Oh yeah, shipping during covid is definitely hell. I ordered some books, and they didn't come for a solid month and a bit (also because anything shipping to Australia takes a week at minimum). I hope you get it soon, lol. I'm definitely really liking this fantasy world of yours. And of course I'll check out tiny piscine heart, anything with a gay romance in a fantasy setting and I'm on board. I'll hopefully be able to get to it tomorrow!

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Kanika G
07:47 Jul 17, 2021

Wonderful, touching story. I loved it. I felt for the little boy. Although he grew up in a cruel world and even his own mother wasn't kind, I'm glad he found his mentor and later the girl. You've created a very credible world. Loved it, Rayhan! Well done.

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:51 Jul 19, 2021

Thanks so much Kanika!

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Ramona Taylor
06:04 Jul 16, 2021

Fantastic story!

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:37 Jul 16, 2021

Thanks! 😙

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Riley Boock
21:37 Jul 15, 2021

I love your writing style so much. All your stories are so divine. I cannot believe this is your idea of "rushed and sloppy," hahaha!! It's amazing.

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:53 Jul 19, 2021

Idk to me it feels like it could be longer, and there are some details of the world that I wanted to fit in but didn’t have the time to, but oh well 😅 Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed!

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Ana Govindasamy
14:21 Jul 15, 2021

Wow. Amazing...I’d love to read the full thing! Well done, Rayhan.

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:37 Jul 16, 2021

Hey thanks as always! 😙

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Ana Govindasamy
06:57 Jul 16, 2021

No problem :D

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Hoor Amin
01:56 Jul 15, 2021

The endingggggggg

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Rayhan Hidayat
07:10 Jul 16, 2021

Haha glad you enjoyed! 😙

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Hoor Amin
10:57 Jul 16, 2021

I did!

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Charlie Murphy
19:29 Jul 14, 2021

Great story! I like Aretas.

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Rayhan Hidayat
07:10 Jul 16, 2021

Thanks Charlie! 😙

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B.J. Hall
20:04 Jul 13, 2021

I was a little confused at first because it seemed like I'd stepped into a story already happening, but your explanation makes perfect sense and this is such a well fleshed out character. Interested to read more of his story now, for sure!

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:38 Jul 16, 2021

Oh I’m glad! Thanks Bonnie! 😙

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20:02 Jul 12, 2021

Hey, great job on the story! I wanted to know if you could share your writing process? Do you imagine your stories before writing them or do they unfold as you write?

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:29 Jul 13, 2021

Thanks! The way I normally do it is have a beginning scene and an end scene in mind before i begin writing. So for this story the part where Aretas’ mother asks him what he sees in the mirror is the “beginning” and the part where Aretas asks Tatali what she sees in the same mirror is the “end.” That way I ensure everything comes full circle. All I have to do next is just fill in the middle—what events have to logically happen for the ending to make sense and hit hard? Hope that helps! 😙

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16:38 Jul 13, 2021

Thanks, that makes perfect sense.

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22:20 Jul 13, 2021

Oh I have another question, if you don't mind. I imagine once you have the beginning and end, you then fill the rest in a sort of swift-motion, without much deliberation. When done with the writing, how do you fix up what you have written? How do you go about revision and editing and how do you make sure not to "over-write" or remove the "magic" of what you wrote?

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:46 Jul 16, 2021

I am most definitely an overwriter. It can be tough to cram everything in 3K words. The process of going back to each sentence and cutting down the length can be an arduous process but it’s also a great exercise. Look out for unecessary words; ask yourself, can the message be conveyed more efficiently? The word “that” is something I find can be cut out of most sentences and it will still make sense. There are several writing channels on youtube that have been indispensable in my growth as a writer. I recommend checking out ShaelinWrites and...

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14:30 Jul 16, 2021

Hey thanks for the reply. Do you ever expand on what you've originally written? Like add new sections, sentences, basically change the structure of the text during editing or is editing a purely cutting process for you? I ask because often when I go into editing I'll rewrite things and lose the natural rhythm of the original text in favor of increasingly crystalline prose. In a sense editing can feel like obsessively picking at pimples and eventually when you've popped everything there you begin to pick at the skin of your face.

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:47 Jul 19, 2021

Sorry for the late reply, I have been rather busy lately! In fact I am in the process of resubmitting a failed dissertation. Ah, I know what you mean. It feels like that sometimes. Yes it can be frustrating. But also rewarding when you add that new section and make the right edits to keep the flow going. Like digging a ditch to make way for the river. Hard work that pays off. It’s difficult, and it’s part of the editing process. But you also learn to be satisfied with what you have, otherwise you will never stop editing! And there will be ...

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22:20 Jul 13, 2021

Oh I have another question, if you don't mind. I imagine once you have the beginning and end, you then fill the rest in a sort of swift-motion, without much deliberation. When done with the writing, how do you fix up what you have written? How do you go about revision and editing and how do you make sure not to "over-write" or remove the "magic" of what you wrote?

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Vayd Danish
04:28 Jul 12, 2021

ray this is great! super emotive and well-constructed, I loved reading it. even like the recurring themes of heterochromia (I think it's called) and the word bastard was really cool to see. it created a sort of consistency to the story wherein you knew when a new thing was happening, as opposed to, like, cryptic and vague paragraph breaks. awesome stuff!

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:21 Jul 13, 2021

Thanks Vayd! Ah I see what you mean, I’m glad the “bastard” repetition paid off in the end!

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Vayd Danish
02:16 Jul 14, 2021

For sure!

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Andrea Magee
16:56 Jul 11, 2021

Amazingly talented story teller/writer you are.....I thoroughly enjoyed reading this submission and found myself wanting the story to continue....

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:21 Jul 13, 2021

Thanks Andrea! 😙

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Ramie Creates
14:35 Jul 11, 2021

"Yes. That's the right answer" It's really inspiring to see Aretas didn't turn out to be like his mother. People who suffer from such traumatic experiences tend to release their frustration in form of their behaviour towards others, especially younger people who're suffering from the same things. I also loved the way heterochromia is used. It wasn't offensive neither too sugarcoated. It was the perfect way to display a disease people can get a bit hurt about. And for the writing. I think it's one of the very good short stories I've read, ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:22 Jul 13, 2021

Thank you! Haha yes of course, I’m gonna try to not get complacent just because I have a golden trophy on my bio 😉

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