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The Black Thumb

Posted: February 10th, 2011, 8:33 pm
by Emily J
This is the beginning of a short story I am working on. I'm not entirely happy with it, I know the first paragraph definitely falls into one of Nathan's categories for trying too hard. And I don't usually write in first person so this is a bit out of my comfort zone. Also, I know I am adjective heavy (bonus points for letting me know which ones to cut!). Let me know what you think, be harsh if you want - any suggestions are welcome. Thanks!
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They say some people have a green thumb. You know the type, anal-retentive old ladies puttering in their gardens, growing perfect rows of snap dragons and chrysanthemums. It’s not that they are that special or anything, just that they pay a lot of attention and know how much water to give a Fikias without drowning it. But then again, maybe there is something more to it, some invisible maternal, nurturing part of the soul that allows roses to bloom and Spanish moss to climb.

I have a black thumb. When I say that, I mean I kill plants. Kill ‘em dead. And it’s not just a matter of over-watering them, or trying to keep basil alive during the winter. It’s more than that. If I touch a plant, if I even breathe on it – it dies. The leaves curl up and blacken and the poor thing withers away as if life was just too exhausting to go on living. Honestly, I’m not kidding you. It’s like I have a superpower, the lamest, most useless superpower of all time. I suppose if a ten-story Venus Flytrap attacks Manhattan, I would be the one to call. Pesticide Girl, that’s what they would call me. But until mutant, monster vegetation threatens the earth, I’m afraid I don’t have much of a future as one of the Super Friends.

The sad thing is, the really pathetic part of all this, is that I love flowers. Always have, even when I was a kid. For my eighth birthday, my dad got me a whole bunch of silk roses. Beautiful red blooms and plastic green stems. Even back then my parents knew how I was. My mom told me once that when I was a little toddler, just starting to walk, I was stumbling around in the backyard. And everywhere my fat little infant foot stepped, the grass turned brown and died. It took months and god knows how much MiracleGrow before the lawn looked the same again. But I loved those fake flowers, I still have them on a shelf in my room. And even though I am the enemy of all vegetable life, I have always been fascinated and drawn to flowers. Perhaps it's because they are always out of reach, more fragile to my touch than glass.

Re: The Black Thumb

Posted: February 11th, 2011, 10:35 am
by Down the well
Hi Emily. I think this is an intriguing start. I made a few comments. If they make sense, great, if not, well, you know to ignore.


Emily J wrote:They say some people have a green thumb. You know the type, anal-retentive old ladies puttering in their gardens, growing perfect rows of snap dragons and chrysanthemums. It’s not that they those women are that special or anything, just that they pay a lot of attention and know how much water to give a Fikias without drowning it. But then again, maybe there is something more to it, some invisible maternal, nurturing part of the soul that allows roses to bloom and Spanish moss to climb.
1) I like the attention to detail here by giving us specific plants. That tells me your character has put some time into studying and observing the thing she cannot touch/do.

2) The line "You know the type..." kind of backfired on me because I don't really think of little old ladies who putter around in their gardens as "anal-retentive" types. That's fine if your intent is to show that your character resents those women who can grow flowers or be in a garden without killing everything. But maybe something besides anal-retentive?

3) It is hard to tell from this short passage where this is going, but the last sentence might be a good place to show what your character is feeling. She sees these other women with a maternal, nurturing touch and she feels what? Jealous, less than, indifferent? Those last two sentences are in contrast with one another, which creates some good tension if you can show me why it matters to your character.

Emily J wrote:I have a black thumb. When I say that, I mean I kill plants. Kill ‘em dead. And it’s not just a matter of over-watering them, or trying to keep basil alive during the winter. It’s more than that. If I touch a plant, if I even breathe on it, – it dies. the leaves curl up and blacken and the poor thing withers away as if life was just too exhausting to go on living. Honestly, I’m not kidding you. it’s like I have a superpower, the lamest, most useless superpower of all time. I suppose if a ten-story Venus Flytrap attacks Manhattan, I would be the one to call. Pesticide Girl, that’s what they would call me. But until mutant, monster vegetation threatens the earth, I’m afraid I don’t have much of a future as one of the Super Friends.
1) Good humorous voice here.
Emily J wrote:The sad thing is, the really pathetic part of all this, is that I love flowers. Always have, even when I was a kid << implied in 'always have". For my eighth birthday, my dad got me a whole bunch of silk roses. Beautiful red blooms and plastic green stems. Even back then my parents knew. how I was. My mom told me once that when I was a little toddler, just starting to walk, I was stumblingstumbled around in the backyard, and everywhere myfat little infant foot stepped, the grass turned brown and died. It took months and God knows how much MiracleGrow before the lawn looked the same again. But I loved those fake flowers. I still have them on a shelf in my room. And even though I am the enemy of all vegetable life, I have always been fascinated and drawn to flowers. Perhaps it's because they are always out of reach, more fragile to my touch than glass.

1) I like the idea of her wanting something she cannot have. That always makes for good tension. I think by the end of the third paragraph I want to know a little more solidly what the conflict is, though. Other than preventing her from touching flowers, what is this curse of hers doing to her? Or rather, how does it impact the story? You've got the set up, now I want to know why it matters.

2) Struck a few of those adjectives out of this third paragraph. :)

Re: The Black Thumb

Posted: February 11th, 2011, 11:05 am
by mnaylor3
I like the character and I definitely like the idea plant killing.

It feels a bit novel-ish to me than short story. I feel like being prepped to ruminate with the character. I wish the character tackled a problem, had a conflict, made a major decision right away.

Keep at it,

Re: The Black Thumb

Posted: February 11th, 2011, 6:49 pm
by Emily J
@ Down the well

Thanks so much for the comments! (5 bonus points for you)
I definitely agree with a lot of your suggestions and will take them into account in editing this. I appreciate all the thoughtful feedback!


@mnaylor3

I'm glad you like the idea! (though keep it quiet - I am terrified of someone stealing it, which is probably nothing but a potent combination of paranoia and egotism lol). Generally my ideas are much better than my execution *sigh.*
As for it sounding novel-y -- yeah, I am much more familiar with writing novels than short stories. Oftentimes I start what I think is a short story and it becomes a novel. We'll see if that happens here. But after this passage the character is presented (quite literally) with the problem at the heart of the story.