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Unpacking [one-shot, FFQ 6 response]

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by Dramatic Melody, Feb 11, 2017.

  1. There’s some mild foul language involved so I’ll rate this PG.

    Pretty rambly and self-indulgent set of author’s notes here. You’ve been warned. ;)

    This is my response to the quarterly challenge in FFQ Edition 6—to write a story with only dialogue. A while ago I posted “Stationary”, which was a response for the quarterly challenge in FFQ Edition 2 that required a story with no dialogue whatsoever, so I thought it would be interesting for my second attempt at making a quarterly challenge response be the complete opposite of the first.

    But unlike “Stationary”, I’m actually quite familiar with this form—in fact, I have an entire project as well as some one-shots that have been all dialogue. So why did I want to write for this challenge? Well, the more fleeting structure of Humans of Hoenn as well as its context allows me to work around the usual challenges of writing an all-dialogue story—that is, sustaining a plot through spoken dialogue, since most of the plot is simply told by the NPC telling their story. “Berries” and “Dear Purrloin,” also work around this through their forms—one features the answers of multiple interviewees, while the other is the contents of the protagonist’s letter (which can be argued isn’t all-dialogue but eh).

    But take what the quarterly challenge prompt asks: “It’s impossible to only have dialogue! How can you make up a plot? How can you even reveal anything?” Both points are much harder to address with a traditional one-shot—which is what I try to do with “Unpacking”.

    I don’t really wanna give away too much about it, but “Unpacking” takes place in the world of the original Black/White games. I’ve had this shelved in my notes for a long time—in fact, you can see an early version of the opening paragraphs in this thread from last year—but it’s only recently I decided to turn it into an all-dialogue one-shot for the challenge.

    I hope you enjoy reading it! :)



    Unpacking​


    “Hey, uhh, can you stay and help me?”

    “Help you with what?”

    “Well, with, uhmm, unpacking.”

    “What?”

    “With unpacking my bag. Because, well, I won’t need it anymore since—”

    “I heard you the first time. But what do you need my help for? It’s such a small bag.”

    “Oh, nothing. I just thought you were okay with staying over a bit more.”

    “I mean, yeah, but…”

    “And my room’s much cozier than the Center.”

    “Of course it is, but the more I stay here, the less I get to do my job.”

    “It’ll be a lot less lonelier if I wasn’t alone in unpacking, and it’d be nice to have someone to talk to, and—”

    “Alright, alright, I’ll stay.”

    “Really? You don’t have to go back to the Center?”

    “Nah, they can handle it. It’s the slow hours anyway. They won’t need more than two nurses, and even the second one is debatable.”

    “Thanks, Sal. That means a lot.”

    “Oh, come on, Ken. Don’t be like that. It’s just a bag.”

    “It’s not just a bag. It’s my trainer bag! It was as essential to my journey as Ampere!”

    “Okay, okay, it’s a special bag.”

    “Probably the most special bag in all of Unova!”

    “Let’s not go that far. So what’s inside the bag?”

    “Well, there’s the usual trainer gear, which I could probably sell for some extra cash. But there’s also... Uhmm, where is it, I thought I—oh, this!”

    “A case for your glasses?”

    “No, no, it’s my badge case!”

    “Oh, that’s right, you went for the gym circuit. How many badges did you get?”

    “Four.”

    “Whoa, good job! Obviously you battled Clay since he’s right next door, but how far did you go?”

    “Actually, I didn’t battle Clay. Ampere’s Electric-type attacks wouldn’t have done a thing to Clay’s Ground-types, so I told myself I’d challenge him when we were strong enough to overcome that weakness. And I didn’t want to go through Chargestone Cave since that would’ve been way too much for us. So I crossed Driftveil Bridge and worked my way from there.”

    “Ooh, so you went through the big cities first?”

    “Yeah! I can see why Clay wants to turn Driftveil into a tourist hub. Nimbasa makes you feel much more alive with the stadiums and the theme park. And Castelia? Man oh man, where do I even begin?”

    “Hah, I get you. Part of me wants to work in the Castelia Pokémon Center coz it’ll give me the most experience as a nurse, but a bigger part of me knows I’ll never have downtimes like this if I’m based there.”

    “But hey, if Clay pushes through with his plans to develop Driftveil, you’ll be as busy as the nurses in Castelia.”

    “Yeah, that’s true… But anyway, I didn’t ditch my job just to talk about my job. How did the gym battles go?”

    “They were great, and I get why so many trainers wanna take on the gym circuit. My gym battle against Elesa was really memorable. Ampere enjoyed taking down his fellow Emolga, but we had to work extra hard to defeat her Blitzle. I don’t think I would’ve won if she used her Zebstrika instead, but hey, we did beat her! Elesa told me that I was one of the few trainers who beat her the first time, so that was an ego boost I didn’t expect to get!”

    “Wait, so you’re telling me you’re actually one of those training prodigies?”

    “No way! That win against Elesa was pure beginner’s luck. And the next three gym battles proved that. I even got lucky in the Striaton Gym by having to battle Cress, whose Simipour was weak to Ampere’s Electric-type attacks. But it took me seven whole tries before I finally got that Trio Badge.”

    “What made the seventh try different from the others?”

    “Well, I used this… and this… and a whole lot of this…”

    “Potions and vitamins? Really?”

    “I know, I know. When I started my journey, I told myself I’d never use them in battles like that. They were cheap ways of winning, and it defeated the purpose of learning from battles. Plus, Ampere didn’t like the taste of some of them, especially the Carbos.

    “But beating Cress–I got desperate, okay? Like I said, it was the seventh try, and I was getting tired of training Ampere against the Pokémon in the Dreamyard day in and day out. You can only battle so many wild Patrat and Purrloin before you go crazy.”

    “Heh, I can only imagine how you felt when you finally won against Cress!”

    “It didn’t feel nice at all. The whole potion thing spoiled the win for us. When Cress gave me the Trio Badge, I knew I didn’t earn it the right way. It was the first time I felt like I didn’t deserve to be Ampere’s trainer, so much so that, well–”

    “Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself! You’re not the only trainer in the world who uses items in battle, you know. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

    “I guess… Yeah, I can’t do anything about it now that it’s happened, right?”

    “Right.”

    “Right. Okay, what else is in here… Oh?”

    “What is it?”

    “Huh, I thought I threw this away…”

    “Can I see? Oh! Is that a Leaf Stone?”

    “Yeah.”

    “And you’re gonna tell me why you have one, right?”

    “Hah, of course. But, well, it’s a little embarrassing…”

    “Really? You’re gonna be embarrassed to tell me something?”

    “Hah, that’s true. Well, you know how I said it took me seven tries to beat Cress?”

    “Yeah?”

    “I was planning on catching a Pansage and evolving it just for that battle.”

    “Hah. So you wanted to beat him at his own game?”

    “Kinda, yeah. This was around my fourth or fifth loss against Cress. I figured, maybe these guys were giving me a hint with the kind of Pokémon they were using. Maybe I needed to catch my own Simisage or Simisear or Simipour so I could stand a chance against theirs.”

    “Makes sense. But why didn’t you go through with using it?”

    “Well, I didn’t use the Leaf Stone because I didn’t catch a Pansage.”

    “Huh?”

    “It was just a knee-jerk thing when I bought the Leaf Stone off some merchant who just happened to past by Striaton. I thought, hey, I could have a strong teammate to beat that damn Simipour just for 5,000 Poké? Seemed like a steal to me. And the merchant sure erased all my doubts with his smooth-talking.

    “But right after I bought the stone, I asked myself, was I really willing to add another teammate just for one badge? When I caught Ampere, I was determined to complete the gym circuit with him and him alone.”

    “Oh, so you weren’t planning to have a full team of six?”

    “Nope. Not even a team of two. I know, I know, all those experts on TV say that trainers should have a well-balanced team with several Pokémon covering each other’s weaknesses and blah blah blah. But I don’t think any other Pokémon would’ve come close to Ampere’s awesomeness. If you already have the most awesome Pokémon in the world, what else do you need?”

    “Heh, I can’t argue with that.”

    “In fact, I did everything I could to let Ampere know just how freaking awesome he is. I spoiled him rotten, I tell you! I bought him, oh, here, a lot of these Casteliacones because it was his favorite, and I would always reward him with one when he won in battle. I’d give him a whole bunch when we beat someone strong like a gym leader!”

    “That’s really sweet of you.”

    “That’s not even the end of it. We were about to leave Castelia and head to Nacrene when we passed by this merchant who was selling these Poké Dolls that looked like he made them himself. They were all really nice, but when I saw this, it was an instant purchase.”

    “Aw! That’s so cute! It looks just like a real Emolga!”

    “Ampere thought so too. He wouldn’t let go of it once he got his hands on it! I always liked watching him drift off to sleep since he would hug this doll so tightly. But it doesn’t stop there! When we got to Nacrene, I also got him–”

    “…Ken?”

    “I… g-got him…”

    “Ken? Is something wrong?”

    “N-no, it’s just… uhmm…”

    “Ken, what is it?”

    “It’s… w-well…”

    “Ken, is that Ampere’s Poké Ball?”

    “Y-yeah.”

    “Ken, it’s okay. It’s okay to feel bad about it. It’s okay to admit that you miss him.”

    “B-but… I shouldn’t…”

    “What?”

    “I shouldn’t feel bad. I should feel good about re– about it.”

    “What? Why?”

    “In Accumula, I attended this rally where there were these people wearing white hooded armor or something ridiculous like that. I didn’t think much of it, but then this tall, green-haired man took the stage and spoke about, well, about liberating Pokémon.”

    “Liberating Pokémon?”

    “Letting them go, setting them free, separating them from cruel humans like me.”

    “Ken, you know you aren’t cruel–”

    “No, I am. Think about it. When I caught him in Route 6, I took him away from his family for my own selfish reasons. When I made him battle Cress’s Simipour again and again, I was subjecting him to so much pain just for a stupid badge. No matter how many Casteliacones I gave him, no matter how many Emolga Poké Dolls I buy for him, none of that would be enough to make up for all the shitty things I did to Ampere. So the only right thing to do was to re–was to release him.”

    “Ken…”

    “No, I’m fine. Really, I am. In fact, I shouldn’t even be feeling bad about it because releasing him was the right thing to do. That green-haired man, everything he said made perfect sense. We call Pokémon ‘partners’ even if all we do is push them around. All we do is give them selfish commands when they’re supposed to roam free, to live peacefully. Ampere doesn’t deserve any of that. Ampere doesn’t deserve someone like me.”

    “But he did, Ken. He did deserve you. And he couldn’t have asked for a better trainer than you.”

    “No, he d–”

    “Yes, he did. Ken, I’ve served thousands of trainers in the Center, and I could tell you story after story of trainers who treat their Pokémon like ****. Those are the trainers that green-haired man was talking about. Those are the trainers whose Pokémon need ‘liberating’ or whatever.

    “But you? Ken, you’re the most caring person I know. The way you talked about Ampere–I don’t see that much care from trainers often. In fact, I’d be lucky if I heal the Pokémon of a trainer as kind as you each day. And hearing you talk about how cruel you are or how Ampere doesn’t deserve you–it just doesn’t add up.”

    “Sal…”

    “Ken, I won’t tell you that what you did was wrong. It was your decision, and I respect it, and I’m sure Ampere respected it, too. But all this talk about being selfish and subjecting him to pain–that isn’t you, Ken, and I know that you know it. If you think Ampere’s happier being away from you, then sure. But don’t think that you were some cruel master to him. I know you, and you aren’t like that at all.”

    “But… But none of that matters anymore, does it?”

    “What?”

    “None of that matters anymore. Like I said, I can’t do anything about it now that it’s happened, right?”

    “Ken…”

    “Right?”

    “…Right.”

    “Right. You better go back to the Pokémon Center. I’ve kept you here long enough.”

    “Ken…”

    “No, I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Yeah, I’m sure. Don’t worry about me. Thanks for keeping me company, Sal.”

    “…Don’t mention it. I’ll see you later?”

    “Yeah, see you.”
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2017
  2. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    I admit, the ending there is pretty sad there, ouch. I can see why Ken made that decision, though. One other thing I like was the mention of items since in fanfics potions and such seemed to not be used all that much during battles. Otherwise, this was a very enjoyable read and I think you got across Ken's story fine!
     
  3. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    You know, one of the things I really liked about this Quarterly challenge was the fact that it's not that easy to convey emotions or establish a setting when you have virtually nothing else but dialogue to go on. Yet this fic actually succeeds in doing both.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself. Where I should really start is talking about the characters and set-up. Now, I have to say you have a certain style, but in this case, it's actually a good thing. It's quiet, grounded, and almost slice-of-life in nature, where you have perfectly ordinary characters interact in a perfectly ordinary situation. In this case, it's two long-time friends (and you can tell how long they've known each other just by how casual they speak to one another) going over the contents of a trainer's bag. At this point, it's clear that the story's going to be a bit of a tearjerker because there has to be a reason why Ken isn't traveling anymore, and right away—with that line where he trails off shortly after asking for help with unpacking—you get a whiff of that, a sense of impending nostalgia.

    The whole conversation after that point feels perfectly natural, easing from one story to another in a way that just fits. You get a real sense of Ken's ambition when he lays out the methodical way he tackled the gyms, and the little details such as Ken's comment about how he felt about Nimbasa (about how it made him feel alive and all) paint a picture of this young trainer who was ready for adventure. At the same time, I loved the fact that you had him struggle with Cress, of all people. While, sure, Cress canonically owns more than just the team he uses in BW, Striaton's gym tends to be seen as one of the easier ones, so by extension, that inadvertently (or perfectly intentionally) says something about Ken. Especially given, you know, he has a type advantage and lost seven times. (Hot dang, do I wish to have his persistence!)

    But then. Then the reveal comes along, where Ken nearly breaks down over the sight of the emolga doll and the memory of Ampere, and this is where that feeling of looking back on something idyllic really works for the fic. Like I said, there's this whole meditative quality to this fic, like you're privy to this intimate, emotional moment, and when Ken thinks about Ampere and what N said, it's hard not to feel some kind of sympathy for him. It's very clear that Sal is right—that Ken is kind and that Ken cared deeply about Ampere. So to have the story end with Ken ultimately unsure of what to do next (he just gave up a life of training he was obviously very excited about, for one), it's just, in general, hella heart-wrenching.

    Which is to say that, once again, I have to applaud you for your skill with emotional fics. With a handful of exceptions, every emotional one-shot I've read of yours is like this, where it's quiet, contemplative, and subtle. You never try to force your work to be tragic or angsty. Rather, you work with emotions by keeping them subdued, by letting perfectly ordinary characters interact with things that aren't always in their control or with the consequences of perfectly logical decisions. In other words, your characters are often human, and it's so interesting to watch them deal with that, especially since the franchise is so fond of turning kids and trainers and whatnot into heroes.

    Or in even shorter terms, man, I feel for Ken. Which is to say, this was an enjoyable read.
     
  4. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    This is really cool, for a lot of reasons. I think my favourite thing about it is that Team Plasma is like the only team with a real, human impact on its region. Others may have grand schemes for power or destruction, and sure, Ghetsis himself has one of those too, but as a side-effect of it Plasma is one of very few teams whose actions really hurt people, in ways that can't be solved by the protagonist rocking up and beating a dozen goons with questionable fashion sense. They don't take over power plants or factories, they put doubt into people's minds, and doubt is, historically speaking, one of the big motors for tragic narrative. You don't get to see it, although I think Black and White would have been much better games if you did, but Plasma must have left a trail of really badly hurt people and pokémon across Unova in the run-up to their assault on the League.

    So I think what I love most about this story is that it takes that fact, that breathtakingly casual, unthinking cruelty, and builds a narrative on it. I always like stories that take the small view of huge events, and that's what you've done here, with a lot of subtlety and ingenuity. Your characterisation of Ken paints him as exactly that kind of small-person-among-big-events kinda guy; his failures and persistence, his insecurities and the way Plasma worked on them without anyone ever actually addressing him specifically – it's so real, I guess, to use a term I normally don't like that much but which seems now more appropriate than anything else. That's how it is to live through big and profoundly affecting events, as someone who exists not on a national or historical scale but very much on the personal.

    The other big thing I like is the lack of resolution. These events are clearly too recent and cut too deep for that; all that can be done is to open some sort of dialogue that opposes Sal's view to Ken's partisan self-critical one. That the final lines show Sal trying to keep that dialogue open, without quite knowing the best way to go about it, is about all you can hope for from that situation. And it's done really well and very sweetly.
     
  5. I just read this and woah. That ending came outta nowhere. An ending that makes sense to be shocking, but still works at emotionally impacting the reader is great. I also love the chemistry between Ken and Sal, and I really like how you focused on one of the smaller side-effects of Plasma's goal and built on how it would affect a passerby emotionally. I know this isn't an essay-long review, but overall I really like it!
     
  6. Time to finally reply to these!


    Thank you! Funny thing about the potions and vitamins—I was actually a bit stuck on how to connect the badge case to the more personal items, and it occurred to me that I could just use what trainers’ bags actually normally contain. Ahaha. Thanks for the review, Bay!


    Your comments about the challenge was exactly why I wanted to take it on—it’s always fun to discover new ways of conveying basic story elements like setting and characterization. I’m glad you thought this all-dialogue attempt was successful in that regard!

    And heh, your note about style is actually something I should take note of both positively and critically, in that I really should get to writing more fics outside of what I’m used to. It says something when all but two of the last seven one-shots I’ve written are all pretty similar in tone. Ahaha.

    But in any case, I’m glad that it works well for you with this one-shot! I’m also happy to hear that Ken and Sal’s friendship is conveyed properly. I really did want them to come off as very close friends. And it’s good that you caught on with the direction the story was going that early on!


    Thank you! Like I said, taking on an all-dialogue challenge while having to convey plot was very interesting to work with, in that I had to make sure to make the dialogue feel as natural as possible while giving it a sense of progression. And heh, those three brothers were always quirky ones!

    I’m also very glad that you like the ending. At first I didn’t really know how exactly to end it, and the uncertainty was supposed to be the lead up to the ending. But then I realized that since the one-shot was revolving around a single conversation, it made sense to end it when they would actually stop talking, so I decided to leave it at that and let the reader fill in the blanks on where they think the conversation would go from there. I’m happy it worked out for you!


    Ok, but this legit made me tear up the first time I read this review? Like, really, I’m already so honored about how positive you’ve reacted to this one-shot, and then reading this is just… wow. Thank you so, so much for saying that! I’ve been interested in writing more quiet and “realistic” stories like this for a while now, and while they’re hit or miss, I’m just glad I get to convey them despite working with a series that gravitate toward the opposite side of the spectrum. But seeing positive reactions to it is such a treat, and I don’t think I have enough gratitude to really convey how I feel.

    But I’ll try anyway: A huge thank you for the review, Jax! I really, really appreciate it.


    That’s such a fascinating way of approaching Plasma’s story, and I think it made me become even more interested in their plot than I already was! Aside from Hoenn, Unova is definitely the setting I’m most fascinated by, and I think you described very well why. There’s just so much opportunities for plotlines with how they approached their characters in the games.

    I’m also really glad that you liked Ken’s characterization—it was something I was worried about since I didn’t have much space to work with in establishing it. Glad he turned out well for you!


    Thank you so much! You described what I wanted out of the ending much better than I could ever do, so yeah ahaha. I also talked about it a bit in my reply to Jax’s review above, but I’m glad that deciding to end the story the way I did pulled off. A big thank you for the review, Cutlerine!


    Thank you so much! I’m glad the ending worked out for you even if it was surprising. I’m also glad you liked Ken and Sal’s interactions—I really wanted to highlight their friendship (as opposed to a relationship) since I felt like it was a good way to complement Ken’s bond with Ampere.

    And any length of review means a whole lot to me, so thanks for the review, Nerdy McNerdface!
     

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