We have our editorial meeting this morning, but I thought I’d try to work in a few more stories from the slush pile first. It’s another beautiful day outside.
Story 1 (3500 word SF): An interesting title and solid opening that places us in the middle of a situation, a protagonist apparently scrambling to commit a crime before he’s caught. I’m interested in finding out more. A very nice turn of phrase in third paragraph. That helps me to digest the paragraph of character background before it. I’m more interested in the immediate getaway than the character’s history at this point, so this paragraph is not placed ideally, but it’s at least interesting enough. The next line about an impenetrable system is murky. I’m wondering what the protagonist’s motivation for the crime is at this point and this platitude doesn’t really explain that. There’s some nice writing as the story moves on. It’s active. My niggling problem is that I feel like I’m seeing the surface of this story rather than glimpsing its depths. Will it be all action and little insight? The section subtitles reassure me a little, but I’m getting impatient for more than world building and chase scenes. Oh, I see now. This is an exercise in technique rather than an actual story. That’s likely unfortunate, but I’ll read on for now. Well, it’s pretty clever, I’ll admit. The story begins in one genre, before progressing through another, with the two characters adding connectivity. This is nice so long as there’s some deeper meaning at the end. Otherwise it’ll feel like a nice exercise in writing technique, which is not what we’re about. The third scene troubles me. The first two worked reasonably well at presenting a mystery (why is this girl appearing in this dude’s alternate realities?), but the third shifts gears. I don’t get a sense that the protagonist is developing so much as morphing for the convenience of the genre use for the scene. There is a progression in the situation between these two characters and the secondary character does seem to be developing, but our viewpoint character remains obscure. He’s whatever the scene demands, which lessons my identification with the story. Interesting technique, yes, but that’s not enough for us. The story ends without enlightening me as to why this technique was required for story purposes. It’s a clever exercise and shows off this writer’s chops, but doesn’t really work as story. If it CAN be pulled off, however, this is the sort of story a major market might like. I would suggest rethinking this from story perspective. Rather than telling a very simple escape sequence in four genres, think of the deeper connection between these scenes. Give the protagonist a worthy goal that carries through the scenes, give him complications and get deeper into his minds and hearts. Having the secondary character as a recurring mystery element in each scene is nice, but we do have to find out why she’s there in the end. Is this the Matrix, with layers of reality to be penetrated? Is it alternate worlds with nearly overlapping story lines that lead somewhere important in some underlying reality? The concept of a “real” reality and a multitude of branching alternate realities (like a tree) is intriguing. What might happen, say, if the core reality is broken? Would ALL these worlds collapse? Is this resistance movement trying to save the underlying realities by helping this key protagonist survive through some sequence of alternate world events? (as he is caught or killed in one reality/genre the story would shift to the next). What is mainly missing here is the true purpose beneath these scenes. Reject.
Story 2 (776 word SF): This is a revision of a story for which I suggested changes earlier. It begins nicely with a sense of pounding noise-music that does a good job of conveying the mood. There’s some excellent imagery throughout, some very nice turns of phrase, and I like where it goes. My problem at this point is that the character’s motivation is not quite focused. At one point she seems pragmatically worried for her father, then storms out when he offers her a ride. I’d like that tension to be more meaningful. Yes, it gets her moving and thinking of her transient past, but it doesn’t reveal the deeper reason WHY she must continue to run away and return. There needs to be more, a little more, of the essence of their relationship on the page (where’s the mother, for example?) to convince us of her motivation in this story. I do think focusing on her need to move, to escape (tension?) is the right impulse, and her returning home after each escape brings to mind Dorothy nicely, but we need that deeper kernel of motivation to make the experience more visceral for us. I hesitate to suggest a dead mother (which is trite), but maybe a dead family, perhaps the 9-11 plane crash in Pennsylvania, would work here, maybe she came to England to be raised by relatives (Auntie Em and her husband in a sense). Maybe she moves impulsively because she can’t accept standing still, can’t accept her parents are gone and she is alone despite her friendships and loving family. She’d rather be battling balrogs than riding to school with her uncle’s mindless jabber. That would give a greater sense of thematic unity, I think. Finally, the last paragraph is too blatant for my taste. I’d rather not be told this is the final act of her human life, but infer it from context. This may require changing the experience of the exploding train a bit – the fire reaching for her with intent rather than as a pretty picture. This is close. I’m too close to it to judge whether we would want to take it at this point, but I do like its potential. Pass to second read.
Well, I’m out of time for this morning. This session’s Slushy goes to story 2.