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Archive for January 6th, 2011

Having received my share of rejections this week for my own stories, let’s see if we can’t find a Slushy acceptance today. Fingers crossed. See my previous post for disclaimers.

Story 26 (12/21/2010 SF 4886 words)

This comes with positive comments from the first reader, so I’m hopeful.  The story begins with a factual overview of the situation. It’s dry, but it’s clear context for the piece. My tendency would be to suggest removing or pruning this as it is a dry way to begin, but I’m not turned off (just not turned on).

Okay, this is written in diary format, in ye olde English. The writing is smooth and the strange spellings and Capitalizations add a sense of freshness in a weird way. I see why the introductory paragraph was required. I do think this opening scene is too long by a paragraph or so. The story hook is interesting and certainly we need a sense of archaic diary style writing, but it is slow (i.e. a lot of words for little story movement). If it moves just a little more quickly, it’s more likely to hook me firmly. I feel as if I could put it down just before the first scene ends.

The second scene rocks. The story is developing and the telling remains interesting throughout.

Third scene is also good. The plot takes an interesting twist. The one place that felt overly long was in the paragraph just prior to the actual discover.  While there’s nothing wrong with the paragraph, the construction of the following paragraph echoes it closely enough that it felt repetitive to me, as if the moment of discovery promised was being delayed a beat too long. Maybe remove one sentence or a bit more to keep the pace up through here.

On page 8, we get another reference to people paying no credence (first it was reader, now it’s family). This strikes me as repetition as well, which would argue for perhaps removing the first incident, which would also help the earlier pacing issue.  I enjoy this scene wherein the creature learns our language and converses. This story is growing on me.

The next scene is interesting, but the story escalation has stopped. If a way can be found to inject a bit of tension (perhaps a specific incident in which the creature’s presence might be rejected but for an action on its part) the story will move more compellingly here. I’m losing just a little of my enthusiasm.

The next scene appears to be the climax and it works pretty well. The moment of decision is when the main character throws his stone. if that could be built up emotionally just a touch, it would seem more climax-worthy. I know that’s difficult in this sort of telling, but even a mention of indecision in the moment before throwing the stone would help. Right now he explains that it was an apparent lack of judgment. That’s fine, but it conveys no sense of the moment of decision that is important in a story climax. He just does it.

The final scene reads well as anticlimax. It may go on a touch too long, but I thought the length was well enough deserved. The epilogue works well with the prologue to fit the story into a larger (and very interesting) context. Nicely done.

Our main concern is pacing. Jamie is slightly less enthusiastic than I am, mainly due to pacing concerns. She will be asking for a rewrite of this story. I hope we’re able to publish it in the anthology. It’s a really interesting take on the theme and tonally different than other stories we’re likely to receive.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 This is well done for the type of story it is. The early pacing can be improved a little and the climax played out just a touch better, but it’s already a good story.

Story 27 (12/22/2010 SF 2000 words)

This begins with two lines of unattributed dialogue. There’s no context for speaker or scene or time or genre or anything. I’m already pretty sure we won’t take the story. Why is the outburst metaphysical? I have no idea.  How does an Olympian god arch his back differently than I do? Why are they discussing stones and earth? I’m hanging in a void listening to voice talk about something I cannot experience, even through them. This is not an effective technique in general.

By page 2 it’s becoming clear that this is not a story, but a discussion of an idea. This is a pretty common problem in submissions we see. We are interesting first and foremost in effective storytelling. Ideas and philosophies are great in support of story.

We finally see the mysterious objects referenced in the opening line in the middle of page 2. Too late. I don’t really care by this point.  This conversation is naturalistic enough, but there’s no sense of it advancing a story. What is the protagonist’s objective? What stands in his/her way? How does he/she succeed/fail? I know it sounds like a formula, but what it really is, is a way of looking at the heart of why story works. Tension. Character identification. Ideas are seldom so breathtaking that they can support lots of words and scenes and incidental characters.

The story begins on page 3, with the strange growth. The lack of sensual detail remains a problem. Notice how seldom we actually see or touch or smell or taste anything. It’s almost all done through dialogue; character’s describing what they (what they both) see, rather than us seeing it through their eyes. That’s can be the difference between involving a reader and merely interesting him.

“sat rumbling with excitement” caught my eye (in a bad way). This might work for elephants, but not protagonists.  More discussion of ideas. A little story movement, but no real complication (is there a goal to complicate?).

“quaking authoritativeness” caught my eye. It’s an interesting combination of words that kind of falls apart when I look closely. Maybe it’s okay, but I’m thinking not.

On page 7 (of 9) we learn of protocols that have been broken. This could serve as complication, but not in this manner. If the character had intentionally broken protocols in order to strive for some goal, this would be a complication. But since we (and she) were not aware of any protocols and did not have a particular reason for breaking them so far as I can see, it doesn’t work.

We get a convenient news broadcast to explain the larger context. This device seldom works well, especially if the timing feels convenient.

Well, I certainly didn’t see that ending coming. I’m not sure it actually has anything to do with the story, however. Maybe I’m missing something. I’m afraid this one doesn’t work for me. If I were to revise, I would focus on story basics. Whose story is this? Why? What is the character’s initial goal? How does the inciting incident complicate or frustrate that goal? What does the character do to overcome it? Does he/she succeed? How? Why does the character need this story? How is he/she changed by it? I know it’s an awful lot to take in, but this is why writing is a challenging endeavor. It must engage the reader, not only intellectually, but emotionally (certainly for our antho, but also for most other markets).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 2 The main problem is that this is basically a telling of idea rather than story. The lack of sensory detail along with an absence of apparent character motive and story complication and resolution weaken the story’s impact.

Story 28 (12/24/2010 SF 5300 words)

This begins with a guy pushing his hand into a girl’s panties.  I’m pretty much totally disoriented by the end of the first page. I see this guy standing beside a road, reaching into a car to masturbate a girl, who may or may not be excited about going home. As speculative fiction goes, this doesn’t, at least so far.

They’re driving? Color me clueless. I can’t decide whether this is sex as an excuse for meaningless conversation or meaningless conversation as an excuse for sex. In either case there’s no speculative element by the end of page 2. Skimming.

Ah, there’s the speculative fella, right here on page 3.  It’s a “beast”. Now, when I see a “beast” I see something between a warthog and a grizzly bear, with saliva dripping from huge canines. How close am I? I’d probably be closer if the viewpoint character were to actually see the thing. The binging of the seat belt is a good detail.

On page 4, we get a decent description. All that’s needed is a general sense of size, color, possibly shape in the first glimpse. That prepares me to see what I see here, rather than having to re-envision my warthog grizzly.

I’ve spend too much time on a story that we’re obviously not going to take. Skimming. There are robots in this world? Boy was I in the wrong place in my head.  Freddie’s father was a puppeteer? You don’t see that often. It’s a nice detail, actually. There seems to be a lot of conversation between two characters about vivisection. My problem is I still have no idea what the protagonist’s goal was in the first place, or why the story is important.

The story gets more interesting on page 26-28.  I’m not sure it’s especially new stuff (Island of Dr. Moreau comes to mind) but it at least grabbed my attention.  I like the way the story ends. If the rest of the story can be crafted to deserve that ending, it could be solid. If I were revising, I would move the inciting incident to the first page, then craft a few scenes to complicate the plot and reveal the theme. Some of that is here, but it’s not very cohesive yet.  Sex doesn’t always sell, I’m afraid. Focus on the story and use other elements in support of that (at least for our antho).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 This begins as a mundane story of young love and sex, then morphs to a classic SF trope several pages into the telling. It then explores fairly common SF themes in fairly superficial ways, ending with an evocative literary device that hearkens back to the opening, but doesn’t really pull together the various threads of the story. There’s some potential here, but it needs a fresh take on the SF issues and stronger central focus on story.

Story 29 (12/24/2010 SF 5600 words)

This begins well. Nice opening line, decent character thoughts. Story shifts to back flash at end of page 1. I’m losing interest.  The flashback scene has some nice details, but meanders too. There’s no speculative element by page 3. We are a speculative fiction anthology.

The writing is pretty good. A solid little kid viewpoint. I have no idea where the story is going, however. What is the kid’s goal or need? It seemed clear on page 1, but is losing steam by now. I’m not totally out of the story yet, but it’s losing me.

Another back flash, this one triggered by a piece of candy. Then back to the present. Some nice observational writing. It’s more of a character study than a story we can use, so I’m shifting to skim mode.

So, this seems to be a sweet, sentimental story about two people bonding during a night of watching movies and listening to the radio. It’s not bad, just not what we’re looking for. If I were revising, I would cut back on the flashbacks, which do very little to actually advance the story. The main story takes place in the final third of the manuscript. The rest is mostly window dressing and can be pruned to kick up the pacing.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 The writing is mostly effective and delivers a sentimental tale. Characterization is solid. It’s probably too long for what it accomplishes, however.

Story 30 (01/05/2011 Horror 1763 words)

The opening line intrigues me. The first paragraph is a little labored, but it’s an interesting concept. The first page continues to explain the idea, which is problematic. What I want is a story involving this entity, not an explanation of what it is.

“I cannot control this. I cannot control anything.” I like that a lot, though it’s diluted by the overlong buildup to this point. I’m hungry for story, not explanation.

The second scene is more of the same. I feel as if I’m being told an idea rather than a (specific) story. This is problematic for an anthology that emphasizes story.

Skimming. This is generic explanation of idea, not a specific story with a specific objective, specific complications, a specific climax, a character decision and resulting character change, etc. It’s an idea in summary. It’s mood. It’s not story.

In pages 4-6 there’s a vague sense of story going on, though it’s still completely within the narrator’s head. I’m being told about the story (that is, I’m hearing it via the narrator’s thoughts, rather than experiencing it through its perspective).  It’s less involving than being in scene.

I actually like the idea behind this story. The problem for me is that I never really feel involved with the characters; I’m never truly in scene (i.e. in a character perspective, reacting to direct stimulus rather than thinking, thinking, thinking). It dilutes the impact of what could be a potent little story.  If the story were executed more perfectly such that we identify with a motivated character who experiences a specific scene that complicates his goal in some meaningful way; if he makes a decision that costs him something and changes him fundamentally (he actually does in the current story, but it comes across as a device) this could be something we would like. As the story stands, it might be of interest to a small press horror zine. The idea is cool and there’s some decent mood building here.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 This begins promisingly, but sinks into a pattern of introspection that deadens reader involvement. The idea itself is interesting and the story goes to a potentially powerful place.

 

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