The Road to Istakhr

The Road to Istakhr

A Story by Joseph L. Moore

I need help on this. It doesn't feel right. It's just a beginning. I'm trying to set a tone.

"It’s your road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.
- Rumi

Tragedy comes in many forms, each tailored to it’s chosen victim and … Qadim had his own. He stooped forward to stand, his long legs unfolding as his stiff body complained. His pipe slipped from his fingers, hitting the ground. A glowing coal of burning tobacco tumbled out, its smoke bent low by the morning breeze. He did not notice. The sun stood above Qadim’s head, hot and raw, the grass was crisp, the horizon danced. "May you be damned Eqlim. You tried to kill me,” he said to the town he just left, “but,I live a little longer.” His body grew taut. He shouted. And he cried. And he walked. And he tried to forget.

Eqlim at his back, Qadim strode quickly. The hot, dry air drew into his nostrils burning them painfully. The sweat rolled down his neck onto his back. The uneven road rose gently, curving to the left and right alternately. No time passed as his steady, mechanical stride belied the chaotic, melancholy and quite insane currents in his mind. Qadim muttered nonsensically, angry and plaintively, desperate for lost comfort. He did not notice as the forest glided silently by.

Underneath the limpid trees lining the road, he walked in and out of the cool shade and hot sun, lost in thought. The anger was melting within his muscles, tired from the hard, brisk walk. The hours were as minutes to the disconsolate man. Qadim inhaled sharply to catch his breath, stopped and stared through the trees. He stopped, his feet rooted firmly in the dirt. All around the trees were thick and lush, birds darting between the thin branches. The crack of a branch, broken by a scared, fleeting, frightened animal was accompanied by the rush of a low wind through the trees. Otherwise, all was still and quiet. "I am like the dead," he thought, "I need to see Istakhr again. That is the one consolation I seek, the city of the king, the seat of my soul."


© 2016 Joseph L. Moore

Author's Note

Joseph L. Moore
This is intended to end up a short story. This is near the end of 1 of 4 sections.

My Review

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First. The only part of a story that you can post and not need a set-up for the reader, to make them know what they need to know, is page one. And in the end, if the reader isn't hooked within the first few pages they close the cover and will never see this. An acquiring editor and a reader will always begin on page one, so that's what you should post.

That aside, you're not presenting the story, you're listing the plot events and talking to the reader about the situation, a very different thing. Story doesn't live in words the author speaks to the reader, because all tone and emotion is lost at the keyboard, leaving only the bare and dispassionate words. Only in live storytelling can the narrator be the storyteller, because it's by their performance that the story's emotional content is generated. But the reader can neither see nor hear you when reading.

You can easily say that a character spoke a line angrily, or with frustration. But the narrator cannot tell the reader how to read THEIR lines.

On the page, because of the unique limitations and strengths of the medium, we must present the story in the viewpoint of the character, not the narrator. Moreover, we need to narrow the focus from the entire picture to what matters to the protagonist in the fleeting moment of time they call "now."

Remember, your reader isn't with you for a history lesson. They don't want to know what's happening in the picture you hold in your mind, because to tell them what they would get in an eye blink in a film would take four pages of prose. And the result would be a static picture, of which 99% is being ignored by the protagonist—which is why we need to narrow the focus, as I said. That makes the amount of descriptive information needed manageable.

Obviously, no one tells us this in our school days, so when we begin to record our stories we use the techniques we were taught, which, unfortunately, are nonfiction skills.

Story, as a reader views it, lies in the needs and desires of the protagonist. But because you were, as you were taught, focusing on what was happening, we don't learn what Qadim's evaluation of the situation is. Nor do we learn his immediate goals, his concerns, or his response to what has his attention. And in that missing information lies context that will make the story seem immediate and real. The reader must know how HE views the moment or he cannot be their avatar. And with no avatar they have no reason to care if a given character is successful.

Like any other field of endeavor, writing fiction has a bag of tricks. And those tricks, while effective, are invisible, because as they say, art conceals art. We see the finished process, with the tool marks removed, polished to a shine. To create the product we need the process.

It's not difficult to learn, though perfecting the techniques take time, study, and dedication—which is true of any field we hope to become proficient in. Right?

So keep writing, of course. But at the same time, put aside some time to acquire your writers education. It can make a HUGE difference in how the reader perceives the story. There are many books on the subject and the cost is reasonable.

Never forget that our reader has only what our words suggest to them, based on THEIR background, cultural assumptions, age, gender, needs, and desires. And the probability that your words will mean the same thing to them as to you—someone who begins reading with a knowledge of the story—is pretty poor.

That's why a good part of the craft of the fiction writer is dedicated to making the reader think and feel like the protagonist, so everyone will perceive the scene in exactly the same way, and react emotionally, as the protagonist does. Only then, when the future seems uncertain, and there are decisions that must be made, will the reader care.

For an expansion of that idea, this article might clarify:

And while you''re there, you might look around at the other articles, for a feel for the issues involved.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein

Posted 4 Years Ago

I think it's a good start to a short story. It's very descriptive and put me directly into the story, and I appreciated your choice of words to describe the terrain, as well as Qadim's discomfort. I'm kind of curious as to where you're going with this. The quote you added at the beginning of the story suggests that you were leaning towards exile/abandonment, possibly leading to redemption? Are you trying to focus more on the strength and resilience of the human spirit?

Posted 4 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on February 19, 2016
Last Updated on March 30, 2016


Joseph L. Moore
Joseph L. Moore

Helena, MT

Starting writing … again and, yet … again. I'm in to literary fiction. I appreciate any reviews. Writing is harder this time. I hope that's because I take it more seriously. more..