See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful (and mostly good, by the way) stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. We currently have 5 Acceptances, 3 Rewrites under consideration, and 2 Rewrite Requests pending. Room for another 10-12 stories most likely.
Story 105 (1/10/2011 SF 5490 words)
Reader 1: “The opening wasn’t so clear. This is well-written (I particularly liked how the author inserted the future setting), but I just couldn’t buy the premise. The whole point of sport in this type of story is overcoming prejudice and having the underdog being able to succeed on the basis of talent alone. It would have been a more interesting story if it examined the perspective of the temptations of artificial enhancement, etc. or [MC's] feelings if it was clear that would be no place for humans in [this] future (i.e. Nancy Kress with Dancing on Air). As it is, there was a solid but bland story that I simply couldn’t buy.”
The opening doesn’t work for me. It’s all about keeping relevant information mysterious which, as regular readers of this blog know, is false mystery. The prose itself is well constructed and we do get into character. No setting, no motivation, however. “throwing pills” has multiple connotations. If we’re paying real close attention and are well aware of this genre we can make sense of it, but my first impulse was that he was throwing pills into the back of his throat, which would make just as much sense given the opening paragraph. Might be best to establish the scene more clearly before shifting to the specialized parlance.
The writing is lively and pretty observant. It’s a little overdramatic in places, but certainly the author knows his terminology and also knows the ins and outs of this particular occupation. That goes a long way toward establishing credibility. “Caress” may be a little off, but maybe not. Depends on who this character is. What we’re missing is character motivation (story motivation, I mean – his day-in day-out motivation is clearly communicated). On page 3, we’re basically back to page 1. The story may be starting now.
Yep, the inciting incident is here. The story seems to change gears completely at this point. It’s not about what it advertised, but a new, larger topic. At this point I wonder whose story this is? It seems there are several people with more to lose than the MC.
Love the moon metaphor on page 6.
“The secret is in handling the failure–never getting too high or too low, no matter what happens.” Sounds like writing. I admire this author’s command of the story topic. I’m not particularly caught up in the story, though. I’m not feeling the emotions of it, though I do enjoy what’s happening. For one thing the MC is simply an observer so far. The scene on p10-11 is strong. I’m closer to the emotion here.
I like how this ends. It avoids the typical ending and takes the story up a notch. The final line is great. In the end, though, I’m left feeling as if I’ve seen one of those “almost” good movies, the ones that do everything right in a technical sense, but just don’t hit that single note or two that would elevate it to greatness. I’m a fan of sports stories, and I like the depiction of the daily life here. But it just didn’t build my emotional investment enough to make this ending really rock. I would read this in a magazine, no problem, but it wouldn’t stay with me. I think the main issue is that it does a very good job of laying out a surface issue, but doesn’t really explore the nuances of that issue in a way that connects with me personally. In a sense this becomes a story of an overdog getting his chance to shine; it’s a retelling of a particular real life sports story, plugging one element in place of another, but the new element lacks the characteristics that made the original story so noble. To overcome this, the story really needs to spend a lot more time developing the “worthiness” aspect of this character to don the mantel of that other famous icon. On the surface, these two people are opposites, one an underdog who has worked hard to overcome obstacles, the other an overdog who is handed a chance to show off apparently inherent skills. It’s not the same thing. It IS interesting, but only if the story can get me to buy the idea that both characters are equally deserving of my sympathy. To do that we either need to spend a lot more time with the character in this story (most of the first half is now spent on the MC, not the focal character) or it should maybe be told from the focal character’s point of view so that we have access to his history and heartbreaks.
The part that does work for me is the bonding near the end of the story and the fact that the overdog ends up being held back for reasons beyond his control. But that’s maybe 6 pages of 18. I need more.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 Believable depiction of a sports setting and player and an interesting SF issue, but the story spends too much time developing the irrelevant story aspects and not enough building emotional tension, or, rather, it begins that process to late.
Story 106 (1/20/2011 SF 600 words)
Reader 1: “didn’t think the humor was enough to compensate for the passive character. The character reaction to stimulus didn’t convince me and the resolution of the story didn’t depend upon the protagonist at all.” (plot spoilers removed)
Flash operates on somewhat different rules from short fiction. It usually relies on sharpness of language, surprising details, sometimes a twist of perception at the end, sometimes a sense of emotional resonance. Which is not to say it shouldn’t also fulfill a story arc, just that the story arc is often simpler in flash.
Which is prelude to this: The opening sentence here is flabby. In a regular short story I’d call it effective at establishing setting and character. Here it takes too long and is too windy to yank my eyeballs to the page. The language remains a little flabby in the next page as well. In flash it’s usually best to use fewer, sharper words, striking images. This description seems to have a short story pace. It’s fine as far as description goes, but not sharp enough for flash.
As a specific example (which I’ll remove should the author object): “The thing stood chest high and resembled an armored insect in appearance, though he could almost see light from the sunrise beyond the ridge steaming through its mud-colored body.” There’s nothing wrong with this description other than that it could be condensed to “The thing stood chest high, an armored insect with a muddy translucent sheen.” Later in the same paragraph: “It reminded him of something, but he couldn’t think what it was.” Again, the sentence is perfectly fine, except that we already know what it reminded him of from that first sentence: an armored insect. This is what I mean by flabby in a flash fiction sense, with apologies to the author, who’s written perfectly good prose here that I saw as a teachable moment. I hope that’s okay.
I like when the MC asks about the deer. There’s a nice dissonance to that. I don’t like the following paragraph, which is basically the character speaking to the reader and not the other character.
It’s a cute idea. I have to agree with the first reader, though. As it stands, this could probably be half this length and work better. One could also write a more substantial story from this concept, ala Enemy Mine (Barry Longyear).
As they say: “Writing flash is difficult, and then you die.” Something like that. Keep working at it, author. This is a credible flash concept and you’ve stayed away from the usual trap of over-complicating it.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 Cute idea, but the prose is flabby for this length, diluting any sense of buildup.
Story 107 (1/21/2011 Fantasy 2000 words)
Reader 1: “I didn’t find the twist at the end suprising or satisfying, and the story felt pretty slight to me. But the writing is solid.”
Reader 2: “Well written enough, but it only works on one level and there’s not any particular reason to care. It’s pretty much a monster hunt with no real character insight. There’s very little sense of the boy as a real character and the twist doesn’t really make me re-read the story in a new light. The twist is also the result of minor withholding…he knows exactly who the woman is and the relationship between them all.”
This comes from someone I would love to publish, but it doesn’t sound hopeful.
Sharp opening. The language is interesting and I’m in character and situation, with a hint of motive. Second paragraph begins to irritate me as it represents an intentional withholding of relevant information. The prose is beautiful, which pulls me along for now. One thing I would like is a slightly better sense of the larger surround. We’re told it’s a cul-de-sac but all we see is a single oak tree and a lawn chair. Then suddenly there’s a house across the way. I’d like a sense of the density of structures to set the stage before we get these details. I feel as if I’m floating in nothingness. Once we do get the house, the details of that property are solid; it’s just that it has to pop into existence from this void inside my head rather then emerging from a street stage.
I suspect I know how this will end, because I think I can guess what is being held back from me. I’m on page 8 and while I like these characters I’m getting irritated at the way the story continues to withhold relevant back story. Who are these people? Who is the woman? Why do they chase her? What do they fear? Magic? What sort of magic? It’s fine to reveal these juicy bits as the story demands them, but to withhold them when the story demands them creates a problem for me. One could do this from a camera POV and the withholding would be natural. I don’t think I’d like it as well, because it’s the character that holds me here and I would lose a lot of that in camera POV. I suspect the better answer is to reveal what is relevant when it is relevant and let the story carry me rather than the mystery.
Page 8. What plan? I do like the youth comment though. Now we get the explanation of mystery through dialogue. If I’d had this understanding earlier and the story focused on the difficulty of achieving the objective, I would be more content.
This goes where I expected, but to it’s credit goes on beyond that to a really interesting idea. If I were revising, I would concentrate less on withholding the idea and more on exploring what it means. As a reveal story this is okay, but it could be an excellent exploration of myth in modern world context. It would likely have to be longer though.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 Excellent prose and an interesting core idea add up to an effective reveal story. It relies too heavily on withholding information, however.
Story 108 (1/21/2011 Horror 3089 words)
Reader 1: “This is a real shame. I really liked the voice (outside of the journals…the contents of the journal were immediately explained afterwards and I didn’t think they added much to the story), but there simply isn’t a story here. It’s like the author simply didn’t know what to do with the great voice and premise. I was hoping for something much better because I loved the voice, but the whole story simply peters out. I think the author clearly has a voice, but hasn’t used it in an effective story.”
Yes, this establishes a strong sense of period and a confident voice. It’s slow moving, but interesting. It’s also a very different approach to telling a story, which is admirable so long as the payoff warrants the approach.
I’m enjoying the mystery of this. It’s genuine (i.e. the narrator does not know the answer, though we have a fanciful theory of it on page 1). I like the technique at the end of page 5 for transitioning from journal to foreground. What intriguing creatures!
On page 7, with the scene shift, I begin to lose some interest. The final section doesn’t hold me as well as previous ones, likely because I’m now wondering if the story will deliver or if it means simply to describe a mystery. In the end it does settle for describing the mystery. I do like that final line.
Overall, this is an excellent piece of Lovecraftian mood, paced well, described well, with undercurrents of things best unexperienced. It’s not a good fit for us, however. In a more specialized journal, sure.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 This is a very good piece of Lovecraftish writing. It does lose a little steam in the final third and while the ending is nicely resonant, the implied narrative is not as strong as it might be.
Story 109 (1/21/2011 SF 3100 words)
Reader 1: “There is no character change or revelation. A human could be put in the character’s place and it wouldn’t matter. There is talk of a special emotion, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the story. The author tosses around a bunch of place names, but I was never sure where I was and who was human and who was not.”
This comes from a writer I would love to publish. Good, breezy opening that establishes a character strongly and implies a setting. The first page goes on too long, however.
Page 2 suggests this is an unreliable narrator, which is fine, but I’m not getting a sense of motivation. It feels rambling. I feel trapped in the head. Landmarks are described in passing, but I don’t feel present, which emphasizes the rambling feeling. If this flashback had begun with a strong establishment of setting, I would have a concrete place from which to interpret. Now, I’m hovering, waiting for something to happen.
By the end of page 3 I’m feeling more in-scene. I’m still not sure of story motivation. We know what the character is doing in this scene, but not why it matters in any large sense. I’m getting undertones of Goodkind. I really shouldn’t be, but I am. Perhaps this world has not been differentiated enough for it to feel complete to me yet.
It occurs to me that the story could start on page 5 (top). Now I’m getting a lot of background information. The problem is that the foreground story isn’t moving forward at all. We’re waiting with the MC.
The pace picks up with the appearance of the prisoner, but there’s still a lot of telling of background disguised as dialogue. This reminds me of an episode of Legend of the Seeker. It was a good episode.
We switch to the MC telling the other character her background. The problem with this approach is that we’re being told background, we’re being told idea; no matter how interesting this is, we’re NOT experiencing story. We’re not experiencing a motivated character encountering complications, making an important decision/sacrifice and paying the price to succeed or fail. Story comes in many flavors and at many volumes, but it’s generally present when a piece is working for us.
I do like the actual ending, which manages a touching bittersweetness. The journey was too long and plodding, however. If I were revising, I would rewrite this from third person point of view. That would force most of the static non-story elements to fall away. I suspect it would be an eye opening exercise for this one.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 Some interesting background and a sympathetic MC. Too much of the story is spent waiting; too much dialogue is background told to the reader.
Story 110 (1/21/2011 Other 500 words)
Reader 1: “This didn’t work for me. Conceptually, this had the potential to be interesting, but it needed a traditional structure of inciting moment, etc. to bring out its potential. The story was background rather than dynamic action revealing the character as he confronted story events. The mix of telling and showing wasn’t right, leaning heavily on the telling side. Due to this mix, I couldn’t build the requisite sympathy for the protagonist and the resolution didn’t have any emotional impact as a result.”
Okay, the story opens well enough, though the tense gaffe in the second paragraph brought me to a stop. A second tense glitch on page 2. This time it stays in past tense for a number of paragraphs. This is a bit sloppy.
Okay, in a flash of 500 words, it’s not wise to spend the bulk of them on background. It’s just not sharp or immediate. The story reads much longer than its word count as a result. A couple more tense confusions in the final page. There are a few sharp lines here and the concept is kind of interesting, but it mainly comes across as a character sketch rather than a story. If I were revising, I’d focus on the immediacy of the experience and sprinkle just a touch of background where absolutely necessary. I’d also focus on the devotees in that background rather than other less fantastic details of life.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 The basic idea is good flash material, but immediacy is damped by an overabundance of background detail. Awkward tense management also work against the piece.
Story 111 (1/21/2011 Fantasy 3900 words)
Reader 1: “This might be saved with a rewrite. The second scene needs to go. We should learn about the legend during the story. Time passes between scenes, but that is not clear. Finally, the very end doesn’t work. I’d rather see the POV swim off with the fish. I’ll give this a maybe. If she’s willing to rewrite, there could be a good story here.” (plot spoilers removed, except the fish, which didn’t want to go).
Effective opening here. Efficiently puts us in a character’s thoughts, in a clear setting. No motivation yet, but that’s fine. Inciting incident in second paragraph and it’s a strong one. So far so good. I’m in scene and involved. One nit: “[MC] knew they weren’t all going to make it…” That “knew” word is a signal that the viewpoint is slipping out of character just a touch. Why not “They weren’t all going to make it…” instead. If we’re really in the MC’s perspective, the “knew” is implied.
The end of p2 start of p3 is a little rushed. This is a time of high emotional investment and should be played out to maximize tension (without going into melodrama). The feelings are a little flat right now. It’s still decent.
Scene 2 shifts to another viewpoint. I’m a little disappointed, having invested in the first one, but we’ll see if it’s as strong. Not really. The viewpoint actually shifts a couple times, neither time really grabbing me with the force of that first scene. The writing is less effective too, more prone to generality. The story is not withholding its surprise, which is fine, but in handling it this way it’s losing a chance at genuine mystery. Had its stuck with the initial viewpoint, we would have no reason to know this mystery yet and it would remain mysterious. The problem then–and it’s a valid concern–is that the story would delay its speculative element until much later. A possible trade off would be to remain with the first viewpoint, but have him glimpse the speculative element (perhaps even in a frightening way) at the very end of scene 1. Then we probably would not need scene 2. Unless the story resolution requires this second and third viewpoint, which could make the first scene expendable.
Nope, we’re back to the initial character in scene 3. Good. I’m comfortable with him. The writing could be sharpened, however. For example: “He was enveloped in a grief-induced, mind-numbing fog.” This tells me about his emotional state rather than compelling me to feel it. It’s not a child’s language either. I note a too-adult perspective in a few other key places as well. It’s not bad, just not spot on. Interesting interaction with another character.
Time begins moving rather quickly without warning. We shift into pure summary mode. I’d prefer to see the more important moments dramatized (i.e. turned into small scenes) if they’re important in terms of moving the character toward his climax. If they’re not, do we need them?
Then we have the trusty old I-can’t-show-you-this-so-I’ll have-the-character-dream it moment. I’d rather have this moment in a scene (one of the scenes mentioned above perhaps).
I like where the reunion. This is moving in a good direction. “That is the gift you bring.” Love that line. Not quite so thrilled with the scene itself, which is too easy.
The viewpoint shift in the final scene does not help the story. Overall, I’d say there’s a very sweet, moving story to be had here but that it needs quite a bit of work to bring it out. A closer focus on story elements: inciting incident, complication, climax, resolution and tighter viewpoint through middle and end should help. I don’t often say this, but the story probably needs to be at least another thousand words. Second scene should go, but I’d like a couple new scenes to experience the later transition toward that climatic moment when MC must decide whether to go in or not. Right now it’s all superficial and fairly easy. Make it difficult.
I think there’s too much work to be done to ask for a rewrite, but this is one of those stories I would look at again if the author did decide to revise substantially. I do agree with the first reader about this “legend” as well. The MC ought to come across it in his search to make sense of his experience; this could be part of his escalating complication.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 Nice establishing scene and strong viewpoint early in the story is diffused by a less involving middle section and a weak final scene.
Story 112 (1/22/2011 SF 2405 words)
Reader 1: “There was a lot of withholding taking place in this story (though the nature of the incident was pretty clear from the start) in an effort to create some tension. There is no real clear inciting incident in this story and, in fact, the inciting incident was really the crux of the story. While I can live with minor withholding, especially at the beginning, this entire story was mostly a tease. I found the story quite over-written (which may be a simple by-product of the blatant withholding) and there were some minor tense changes throughout. Taking out the false tension created by the withholding, there was very little at stake in the story. There’s a lot of story-time expended on techno-babble, but it’s handwavium, not interesting techno-babble. Why waste time discussing tachyons if you’re not going to use it in an interesting way? My feeling is that any story involving physics has to be hard SF (in which case, you better know what you’re talking about and nothing here used the theoretical existence of tachyons in an interesting way) or you treat it as magic and don’t waste a lot of time on it.” (plot spoilers removed)”
The cover letter offers a synopsis of the story, which is usually not a good thing. To be fair, a number of literary zines and some genre zines have begun asking for this information, so it’s not a big deal for me. My impression though is that a story that has to be explained is typically not a story that will stand on its own merits. Where will this data point fall on that curve?
I’m on the fence with the opening. It’s direct, forthright, and it does catch my attention. It’s not particularly deep, however, which makes me suspect this may be a fluff or joke story. Nope, it’s serious, which is good. I would try the story without that opening line and see how you like it. I like it better without.
The journal device isn’t doing a lot for me. So far (p3) it’s been a lot of static background delivered through journal entry, which adds another layer between me and the events. The concept could be interesting, but is pretty generic thus far.
Remember that film where Mel Gibson classically calls out “Hold!” about two dozen times while the opponents charge and charge and charge? I’m so there. Page 9. Still there. There we go. Middle of page 9, we get the first actual volley.
It doesn’t end predictably, but the ending doesn’t do much for me anyway. I do think this idea could make for a nice little steampunk tale. Drop the journal concept, whip up some Victorian technology and an almost mad scientist to wield it, and this could play out pretty well, I think. Right now it’s just a musing on paper. Interesting how that works, ain’t it? One typo and I would have said “amusing”. Damned English language.
Now for my withheld shock. This is a reprint. Let that serve as evidence that just because one editor pans a story does not mean another will. I do believe it’s wise to pay attention to feedback, especially from editors. Use it to strengthen a story or hone your approach, but never let it stop you from writing and submitting that next story.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 Static presentation of an old idea. There is enough of a twist that it could work with a new presentation.
Story 113 (1/22/2011 SF 1500 words)
Unnamed characters tend to worry me. Does the story require archetypes? If not, the cost is high. It’s working fine so far. Effective first page. I’m intrigued. Starting to lose interest on second page as it begins to devolve into an in-the-head story of background details. The details are fine, but I also need a sense of foreground movement. If the background is more interesting shouldn’t the story start there instead?
Motive comes in at end of page 2. Story could begin there just as easily. I wouldn’t lost the existing opening, but move this part closer to it so that we have a goal to focus on.
On page 3 the writing loses sharpness. I’m losing confidence that this story will take me to a powerful resolution. The balance between interior and exterior is off (too much interior, the exterior action largely told about). I’m feeling as if I’m reading about an idea rather than experiencing a story at this point. If there’s no rain, where did the muck come from? Why did it take so long to realize stuff shouldn’t grow without rain?
You’re forgiven for the muck–eeeewwww!
Now we’re moving to back flash. So far the foreground story has been walking through a field and discovering something yucky – something they’ve likely seen before. I don’t understand why the story takes place on this day. The earlier stuff seems more interesting, so far at least. Nice image on p6.
This is an interesting world and an interesting situation, but the story is not so interesting. It’s mainly an explanation of the world and events leading to it rather than a motivated character meeting complication, making a life changing decision, etc. Technically we do have a motivated character and an obstacle, but notice how these things barely divert him from thinking about more interesting events that have already occurred. It’s a bad sign when the MC can’t stay interested in foreground events. If I were revising this, I’d tear it down to its roots and decide what the theme of the story is, then how I could craft a story (inciting incident, motivated character, meaningful complications, life-changing decision) to bring that out to its full power. There is a good story to be had here, possibly more than one.
I’m betting the author has read McCarthy’s The Road. I really enjoyed that book myself.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 Interesting world. Story suffers from imbalance between internal and external events and doesn’t escalate well enough to deserve its ending.
Read Full Post »