Opening day 2010 and my Pirates actually won a game. Surely the slush holds a gem or two today.
Story 1 (4600 word SF): One gets jaded reading slush. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the opening here, but nothing that reaches out and grabs my attention either. One thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t pull my eyes out and make me want to read, someone else will. This opening is competently written, drops me into the middle of a situation, and gives enough context to feel grounded. Yet I’m not anxious to read on, because it’s just not that interesting yet. Imperial conference rooms tend to be boring unless you’re CJ Cherryh. Second paragraph is background that I don’t really want to know yet. A viewpoint wobble begins the third paragraph. I’m also struck by how description is being rendered through an intellectual filter rather than as direct observation. I feel consequently distant from the setting, kind of stuck in the protagonist’s head. It’s good to see some inward thought since that helps to characterize and pull me closer, but too much of a good thing can detract too. Personally, I find it’s usually best to describe setting and allow character to react to setting rather than running all observation through the character’s perspective before it hits the page. It feels more natural. For example: Gibby saw the chair and knew it would provide an ample cushion for her head, versus, The overstuffed chair in the corner drew Gibby’s attention like a magnet. She was tired after working a double shift. In the second case we see the surround, feel its immediate effect, then an interior reaction. Enough minutia. Onward with the story at hand. I’m about a quarter through it and I still don’t know this character’s goal. It seems like the day in the life of a mediator, in which case I wonder why THIS day? A paragraph of explanation inserted into dialogue usually brings story momentum to a standstill. It does here. Shifting to skim mode. Inciting incident seems to happen about a third of the way in. That’s likely where the story should begin. I keep hearing the protagonist and her friend are Excellenzi, but still have no idea what that means. Secondary character dies. I should care, but I don’t really. Some nice lines between protagonist and her superior. As it turns out, the protagonist is not a protagonist, but merely an observer. The story takes place off stage and is only explained through dialogue in simple terms. This feels like an episode rather than a story because our viewpoint character really doesn’t participate in narrative events but is only present to witness. Anything interesting takes place outside the story as told. I would suggest rethinking this from the viewpoint that actually has the largest stake in and impact on the story outcome, present that character as having a goal, and show him/her overcoming obstacles (complications) to achieving that goal. Reject.
Story 2 (5000 word SF): Nice opening line, though it’s an unnamed protagonist yet again (this comes across as arch in most cases). Second line is pushing me toward confusion, however. I need something solid soon. Nice visual, but now an unnamed secondary character too. “She” and now “He”. If nothing else, I hope folks reading this will begin to understand that this choice is one to be made after careful consideration. Unnamed characters suggest icons, larger than life heroes of epic proportion, etc., not real people. Sloppy use tends to make a story seem pretentious or overdone. By third paragraph I’m sensing a writer working to hard to sound writerly. Some elegant passages, but tending toward obscurity over clarity. When she thinks of something her adversary says, only to not remember it on purpose, I’m groaning. Intentionally hiding relevant information is not mystery, it’s annoying. The words are revealed at the end of the scene (drum roll). They clarify slightly, but also murk up what I thought I did know. This opening scene could basically have been handled in a nice, concrete paragraph to establish character with a goal in a setting. Then I would feel anchored and likely interested. As it stands, I’m more confused than interested, and waiting for something to actually happen. Second scene moves backward to provide the context that was withheld in the first scene. It’s somewhat melodramatic and lacks nuance for a story attempting to be important. Third scene returns us to present and informs us that she has fallen asleep after having apparently (she doesn’t know?) chosen a campsite. We get some more background. This offers a hint of complication, but nothing’s going on in the foreground story yet. Fourth scene takes us back to the past. We get some repetition of information and more background. Ends with another mystery. Next scene is apparently still in the past, but I’m not quite sure where it fits. We get some concrete context. It’s pretty simple, really. I suspect this story is too simple to support this structure or word count. Skimming to end. Rainbow ending. I do like the final line, but the story is much too long to support its puzzle, which has only two or three pieces. This could work as flash fiction perhaps. Alternatively, I would suggest complicating the story, perhaps beginning it at the beginning (when she’s taken from her mother) and developing it through the implied complications of slavehood and contractual technicality. There’s a tendency for writers to focus on language and emotion to paper over a weakness in plot. My advice is to not work so hard to sound evocative, but work harder to tell a solid story. The nice images and lines will come out, trust me, and they’ll be all the sharper when set within a good forward-moving narrative. Reject.
Story 3 (2100 word fantasy): The title is intriguing. Opening is solid. Nice concrete description of a situation in mid-action, with hints of speculative content. It’s a dog viewpoint, which means it may not be speculative after all. Observational dog viewpoint grows tiresome after a while. I’m looking for speculative content now. The sentence about quadroped and biped really puts me off as it’s out of viewpoint and too clever. It’s going on too long. More observation and more and more. Halfway through we hear of gryffuns and dragons. I have probably guessed the ending. Yep. This reads like background for a story idea. The dog viewpoint is only a device to hold my attention for a time. I would suggest writing the story that is suggested in the dialogue instead. Reject.
Story 4 (1000 word horror): Starts with untagged dialogue, which is usually suspect. More untagged dialogue. One gets a sense of artificial mystery (e.g. hiding identity of speakers to create sense of unknown). Jigsaw puzzle image is good, but not really utilized as well as it could be. Zombie reference feels forced, when it could be set up in the initial image and character’s reaction to it. Overall, the piece is too familiar (Shaun of the Dead, Romero’s later work, 28 Days, Legend). If you’re going to use a common trope you really need to work extra hard to bring something new to it, to make it your own. Not sure what to suggest for this one. Reject.
It’s getting late, so I’m calling it quits for the night. More later this week. I have to give the Slushy nod to Story 2 this session. It’s got major issues, but it’s the closest to a complete, ambitious tale.