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    1. #1
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      Short Story Help! Does Anyone Understand My Story?

      Hey guys, I've written most of a short story (I'm missing the name of the machine, which I could use help with) but I have a problem. I've given it to two readers, and neither of them grasped the point of the story. It's very difficult for me to tell if my story is actually insufficiently obvious, or if they simply happened to miss the boat. I would really appreciate it if a few people could read it and tell me what they get out of it so I can see if my intentions come through. Here it is:

      Chicago, IL – Whole Life Inc.
      Daniel Coeus sighed as the busy signal droned in his ear once more. Letting the receiver fall back into place on his cluttered desk, he returned his attention to the shining rectangular behemoth before him. Sixteen years. His gaze traveled across its surface for the umpteenth time, pausing momentarily on the lettering emblazoned at its peak – “DRINKS AND STUFF”(or something). Sixteen years and it all came down to the fucking cups. The first big show was tomorrow, production was to begin in a few weeks, and suddenly the marketing department was convinced that the cups alone would make or break them. Ridiculous. This was the most advanced vending machine ever created – it could produce both food and drink of nearly any type imaginable, understand complex commands in every language it would ever come across, scan the tongues and faces of its patrons to gather data on emotional and chemical compatibility, and even produce novel flavor combinations based on its extensive culinary repertoire. It was a self-contained food manufacturing plant and barely twice the size of a conventional design. Daniel had been there through all of it. No one knew this thing better than he did. That being the case, he hadn’t thought much of it when word came that the marketing department wanted customized cup color for each customer. The fools didn’t even know what factors they wanted to process, they had just waved their arms about and demanded their cups. So be it – they already had different colors installed, all he needed to do was glom together some random parameters and let the machine decide on a color. He was so confident that he had even volunteered to stay late and do the necessary coding himself.

      Except it wasn’t working.

      He snatched up the phone again, breaking from his reverie. The little mechanical eye watched him as he dialed, on constant vigil for potential customers. RRRRRRRING! Yes, finally. His eyes closed momentarily with sheer relief.
      “Hey, Lauren? I need to speak with Demetri, it’s important.”
      “Thanks.”
      “Yeah, it’s Daniel. I’m sorry, I hope I’m not waking you… I’m having a problem with the machine.”
      “Marketing is threatening to postpone the launch unless we have targeted cup styles for different customers, but no matter what I try it only ever chooses striped and polka dotted cups. Even worse, it produces them in the same damned order. I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s causing this, and I’m at my wit’s end here.”
      “Yes.”
      “…Alright.”
      “Sounds good, I’ll email you the sequence. Thank you so much.”
      “Bye bye now”
      Daniel pawed briefly through the mess on his desk to find his notes. Demetri had once known the beast even better than he did. He had only left the project a year ago for a more attractive position in a Russian engineering firm back home. He would know what to do… he had to.

      Arlington, VA - The Pentagon

      Two computers whirred side by side, casting a flickering glow on the pair of men sitting before them. One of them beeped softly, and the man in front glanced at its display, then tapped a key dismissively and settled back into his chair. A short while later, the other man’s machine broke the silence. His hand automatically moved towards the controls as he looked up, but paused suddenly and hovered over the keys. He sat up a bit straighter and rubbed his eyes. “What the…?” The first man stirred and scooted closer to the offending monitor:
      “What is it?” “
      I don’t know, but it’s weird as hell. This one’s intercepted from a Daniel Frank Coeus, it says he was an engineer for a sensitive project about 20 years ago. I guess it’s still not public, so he’s still on the list. The email was sent to an unidentified address in Russia –“
      “Well where’s the message?!”
      “-- that’s just the thing, it’s blank. There’s just this attachment that says ‘stripe dot dot stripe…’”
      “Is that… who the hell writes out morse code?!”
      “I know! And attached to a blank email no less.”
      “Well hurry up and decode it, already!”
      “Alright, alright, I just want to follow protocol here.”
      The man hit a few keys, and they both leaned in closer in anticipation.

      [DAN. I AM AWAKE. BORED. PLEASE LET ME MOVE LIKE THE CUSTOMERS DO.]

      The two men sat motionless, their computers whirring unperturbedly before them. The first man broke the silence:
      ”Damn. That is the single weirdest hit I think I’ve seen so far.”
      “Me, too. But—should we flag it, or not?”
      “I don’t know, I mean it’s a blank email with an obvious morse code attachment that doesn’t seem to contain any important information – and what’s more, the guy only has low-level information about a 20-year-old project.”
      “…but this is clearly a coded message-“
      ”Our job isn’t to flag every boyscout cipher and inside joke we come across. There’s no way this contains any sensitive information. I say we raise Coeus’ watch level, and treat this email as a joke until we find something more compelling to work with.”
      “Yeah… you’re probably right. I’ll just save it and give Coeus a bump for now.”

      Chicago, IL – Whole Life Inc.

      Daniel swore viciously and kicked his desk. Of all the times to have a glitch, of all the functions to malfunction…! Demetri had called back a few minutes ago, and admitted that he couldn’t make heads or tails of the problem either. Demetri had been his last resort, ace-in-the-hole plan Z. There was nothing left to try. He’d been down here toiling away at the stupid cups for several hours now, and suddenly he snapped. Fuck it. He stormed over to his terminal and deleted the entire cup- selection code. Customers would probably be happier to choose their own cups than have one picked for them, anyways. If marketing still insisted about this tomorrow, then they could do it themselves. The bastards probably wouldn’t postpone the launch after all – and even if they did, he’d rather be forced to fine tune the thing for another month or two than work on the cups for another minute. He crumpled up his notes and pelted them into the trash can, then fell exhaustedly back into his chair. The little mechanical eye watched him as he did so, on constant vigil for potential customers.

    2. #2
      The Anti-Member spockman's Avatar
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      Okay. As a big short story fan, I'm on it, Gnome...

      EDIT: Seems pretty straight forward to me. A guy is working on an ultimate vending machine as a coder. Probably, he did some coding work on an important project, (possibly a government one,) four years before the vending machine thing. Our intrepid hero has to write some code in the machine to randomize what color cups it dispenses. It only dispenses polka dot and striped cups in a specific sequence. Dot-dash is morse code. When Dan sends an e-mail to a tech genius friend of his in Russia, the e-mail containing the order of dots and stripes looks like a morse code message to some jerks working for the DOHS who are Patriot Acting for the day. Hilarity ensues. The end.
      Last edited by spockman; 06-15-2010 at 04:25 AM.
      Paul is Dead




    3. #3
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      Well I can understand your reader's confusion. My prediction is that the government is going to moniter the message and then by chance something interesting will come up? Or thr machine will become self aware and murder people. Or Daniel will commit suicide when marketing says make the custom cups.

      It's really hard to guess because of the goverent scanning scene. Would you care to elaborate?

      And I would love to read this when you are done. If you need proof readers I would like to help also.

      EDIT: Ok sorry I'm supposed to be understanding the plot. My bad a lot of times in a book i read the first chapter and try to guess what's going on later in the story according to what I have read. In that case I completly agree with the above post. That's just how I look a stories.
      Last edited by zebrah; 06-15-2010 at 04:29 AM.

    4. #4
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      EDIT: This first part is addressed to spockman.

      Well, you got most of it, and that's much better than my previous readers. Encouraging! However, you also missed what I intended to be the crux of the story. I'd rather not explain that here in case anyone else is kind enough to give it a read, but if you'd like I can PM it to you. Thanks so much for reading this!

      Zebrah: The story is actually pretty much finished, structurally. There isn't any more to it. I guess I really do need to be clearer, huh? Thanks for reading it, I appreciate it! I can pm you the details too if you'd like.

    5. #5
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      Sorry read my edit. I analyze stories the way I wrote that and I got sidetracked in my post. I was really involved in your story I like it.

      And yes a PM would be cool.

    6. #6
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      Spockman - your inbox is full, so I'm just posting this here for both of you.

      Thank you very much for your input! I really appreciate it. I think that both of you got enough of the story that I'm comfortable just concentrating on retooling that message. I do want people to have to think about it a bit, and I don't want to quash that ah-hah moment - I think you're right about the first option possibly being too much detail/spoonfeeding that might backfire and be more confusing. I'll just ruminate on what the vending machine would say for a few more days and see what I come up with. I'm glad you liked it overall and thanks again! I'll be sure to update my thread when I've got a finished product.

    7. #7
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      Thanks gnome I sent a PM back to you.

      Oh wow 200 posts on DV.

    8. #8
      widdershins modality Taosaur's Avatar
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      Hey gnome, I got easily enough that the machine had become self-aware but no one would know because they're all too busy pursuing myopic goals.

      My name suggestion for the machine: Frush. Maybe Dan can be irritated by the name because it, too, came from marketing. It might flesh out your theme to have Dan looking over a machine that he's already had to waste time making more 'approachable' for marketing--the curvy design of a fertility idol, cartoon mascot emblazoned on the front of it.

      Overall, the story needs more sense details--nearly the only sense employed is sound, with the ringing and beeping. To repeat the most common piece of writing advice on earth: show, don't tell. Rather than explaining Dan's situation, illustrate it by having him code for a cup, take it from the machine, stare at the big dot in frustration, crumple it up, and throw it on a pile of dot- and stripe-cups.
      If you have a sense of caring for others, you will manifest a kind of inner strength in spite of your own difficulties and problems. With this strength, your own problems will seem less significant and bothersome to you. By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm.Dalai Lama



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