Write1Sub1 has been consuming vast tracks of my attention. I’m afraid I’m falling well behind on Triangulation. Time to catch up a bit today.
See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 38 (12/28/2010 SF 1700 words)
This one has been sitting in slush for too long. My sincere apologies to the author. I like that the opening sentence drops is into the middle of movement, with enough context to establish a sense of place. The ensuing paragraph provides a lot of specific detail, but it’s not really pulling me in. I’m missing a sense of purpose (character motivation). We appear to be in a 19th century setting, though it could be later. Certainly historic.
Hmmm. Page two starts talking of demographics, which places me in another time zone entirely. I’m not as intrigued by this as I would like to be, mainly because there’s no sense of motive here. I’m in the mode of waiting for something to happen.
Next page is a mix of archaic and modern. No sense of motivation yet. Skimming.
At the end of page 4, the story begins. I find this situation interesting, but it’s the story that will pull me in and keep me interested. If I were revising, I would consider beginning the story here (final paragraph on page 4).
Nice ending for a flash piece. This is an interesting and timely idea. The problem for me is in the story arc itself. As a short, sharp flash, say 800 words, this might work. At the current length, I need more character arc and definitely more plot arc. The story currently delivers 3 pages of background followed by an inciting incident and discussion of the story idea. It ends with a very nice emotional resonance. I’d say it’s worth working on this one, but it’s not close enough that I would want to ask for a rewrite.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 Parts of this work really well, but it’s too long for the concept and begins too slowly to pull me in. Nice, timely idea, decent execution. Story structure needs work.
Story 39 (12/29/2010 Horror 2400 words)
This begins in mid-action, which is good. The prose is clunky. I would vary sentence rhythms and lengths just a bit. Numerous “the”s result in a plodding cadence. This is just a style issue, not a story issue, so not a huge deal, but it does put me into a different frame of mind. I’m looking at the prose more closely than I would otherwise.
The dialogue is good. Realistic. What I’m missing in this opening scene is a sense of the protagonist’s character. Who is he? What does he want? A snippet of internal thought might do wonders here. As it stands, dialogue and gesture is being asked to carry the entire load and that’s keeping me outside the main character rather than pulling me into his perspective. I’m less involved as a result.
On page 3 we get our first internal reaction from the protagonist. It’s effective. I feel as if I’m in a dessert and have come upon a glass of water. Viewpoint begins to waver at the end of page 3. I’m no longer in the protagonist, but learning about a secondary character’s motivation. This dilutes my investment in the main character.
The conversation on page 4 seems to be giving me a lot of background. I’m not getting an escalation of tension at all, just information delivered in realistic dialogue. I’m getting impatient for the story to advance. We have a nice inciting incident, now we’re talking it to death.
By page 5 the point of view is all over the place. Technically it’s a sort of loose omniscient with occasional dips into the viewpoint of convenience. That’s a difficult viewpoint to pull off, especially in genre fiction. It’s not working here.
More conversation. I like some elements of this story, but it’s too talky for me. Story revolves around tension (the buildup and release thereof). Simple conversation seldom rises to that ideal.
The plot moves on page 6. It’s pretty predictable at this point. Will the ending surprise me? Viewpoint remains problematic. Perhaps this story should be told from the secondary character’s point of view? Depends on how it ends. So far, it’s not clear who actually has the most invested in this story or who will have to make the important decision that changes everything.
It gets reasonably horrific on page 9. That’s good, but too late, I think.
It ends about as I expected, but the ending still has a nice jolt. It ends in the secondary character’s viewpoint. If I were revising, I would likely tell this story in tight third person from the secondary character’s point of view. I’d also pare down the “telling about” conversation and insert a complication or two to keep the ending from being predictable.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 There’s a nice little payoff at the end, but the buildup is sluggish and the viewpoint’s a mess. The idea may be worth developing further, but it’s fairly standard stuff at this point.
Story 40 (12/31/2010 SF 1500 words)
This starts sharply. We’re in the middle of a situation, the protagonist is established, and we get a hint of his personality from the way he thinks about the situation we’re in the middle of. Good.
Cut to back flash. Sigh. We see this technique endlessly. In this case it actually works okay, but still feels somewhat artificial. Catchy opening line, but wait! It doesn’t start here. Don’t you want to know how we came to this startling place? My answer is usually “no” since these stories inevitably backtrack to the boring stuff that wasn’t good enough to open with. What really gets our knickers in a wad are stories that begin in an interesting, dynamic place and move forward from there.
In this case my answer is “maybe”. The opening line was short and sharp and the back flash has its own forward momentum that keeps it alive. And it’s only a ten second flashback. How much boredom can accumulate in ten seconds? :-)
The writing is lively enough and I like the observation at the end of page 7 about the holes aligning. I must say, though, that the story is taking an awfully long time to go anywhere. We saw the first hole in the first sentence and pretty much all that’s been accomplished by the end of page 2 is that we’re back to seeing the hole and the dog’s barked.
Page 3 begins to develop a back story that adds a little dimensionality. Can we get here a little more quickly? The prose is mildly amusing. It doesn’t go over the top, but isn’t really funny enough to carry the story on its own either (for me anyway).
On page 4 we get to the interesting bit. Page 5 brings some story movement.
Story ends with a sort of one line payoff. In a shorter flash (maybe half this length) that might be enough for me. As it stands, I’m frustrated at having invested so much time watching these two investigate stuff that ended up being essentially meaningless. The flash could just as easily begin in the basement and have the same impact.
While I do like the writing for the most part, the story takes too long to develop for the punchy line it leads to. And yes, I get the little tweak of horror in that final line. I just don’t know why it matters. It certainly wasn’t set up by anything I read in the story. I may have missed something, of course. If I were revising, I’d start later, keep the unnecessary action to a minimum and either insert a clue as to why the final line is deserved, or leave it out.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 The idea feels about right for a short, sharp flash piece of 500-800 words, but is not complex enough to support a longer story. It could be complicated in order to support more words or cut back to support the current one-liner approach.
Story 41 (1/1/2011 Horror ???? words)
This is interesting. Author double spaces contact info, and single spaces manuscript. This is the exact opposite of standard manuscript formatting. I don’t really care too much, except that it will make reading the story a little more difficult (i.e. my patience will be tested more easily).
The cover letter is chatty. I normally recommend against this as it’s one more thing that can work against you with an editor. We normally want to know word count, that the story is original and unpublished, not submitted elsewhere, and maybe a couple substantial writing credits to clue us in that you’ve established yourself. If you don’t have substantial credits, no worries. That won’t count against you with most editors. Many, in fact thrill at discovering a new writer in slush. It doesn’t happen all that often because, well, most undiscovered writers aren’t ready to be discovered. Not yet.
In this particular case, I’m glad we got a cover letter as I learn the author has been diagnosed with PTSD and is coping with rather a lot in his life. He tells me this in the context of a rousing good story, not as a whine or plea for sympathy (which would have soured me). It’s not going to effect my reading of the story, but it may effect my comments somewhat.
This opens well, though I think the final sentence in paragraph 1 weakens it. There’s a starkness to the first half of the paragraph that grabs my interest, then a chattiness to that final sentence that makes me worry we’re heading to a big clump of background rather than a story.
I’m on the fence after the first mini-scene. It’s efficient background, but it’s relentlessly passive (was, were) as well. I’m both interested in the concept and a little bored by the prose. If the next scene kicks off with active prose and an involving viewpoint, this contrast could work for the story. If it retains the passive approach, I’m going to get tired of reading. It’s as simple as that.
I’m afraid, it’s the latter path here. I feel at this point as if I’m reading the summary for a very interesting story. Can you envision this second scene played out on the stage of my mind, rather than told to me passively? I’m drooling at the thought as I think this could be a vivid scene that pushes the story forward.
I do think the first person is handled well here. There’s a sense of necessary distance sprinkled with moments of emotion. However, the tone remains passive, summarizing. I’d like to see this mixed in along with actual in-scene active prose. The story is becoming somewhat monotone due to this constant summarizing. I’m still interested, however, which says a lot about the quality of this idea so far.
Near the end of page 3, there’s a good example of my main problem. We hear about the pain of the procedure, but feel nothing. We hear about the sounds of the instruments, but it’s off the page, not immediate. Summary of action rather than action.
Page 4 explains the idea through overheard conversation. This can work, but it’s probably too easy on the protagonist, who should be struggling to achieve some goal rather than passively being operated on and overhearing relevant conversation.
I like the end of page 5. This is an example of in-scene tension. The protagonist is too passive, but we get a sense of the crass inhumanity of the others.
The dream scene is okay. I don’t know that it adds enough to the story to justify its existence, but it’s a nice example of being in scene and active. The next scene is more active too. I feel connected to the character here. It feels real.
The next scene remains active, but too sparse. Tension is not played out as fully as it should be. We’re left with the protagonist learning what we’ve already guessed, and rather than working to learn it, he asks someone, who tells him.
Well I didn’t see that coming (page 9 reveal). Nicely done, especially the screaming at each other. This scene is effective. There’s an odd vibe to it that is powerful to me.
The ending is disappointing. I wanted to see this idea played out. The idea is really interesting. I think it will require more words to pull this off. The first half of the story is too passive. It’s fine to have a contrast between passive and active sections, but I think the relentless summary will stop a lot of folks from reading on.
If I were revising, I would consider starting this story later, perhaps with the operation (working just a little background into that scene to give us context), then the reveal, then a story of the chase. The part of the story that intrigues me most is the part that is missing between the reveal and final scene. Probably not what you want to hear, dear writer, but know that I think there is power in this idea and in several of these scenes. Definite potential here. Do you want to put yourself through the necessary rejection to get to that potential? It’s a question you should consider very carefully. Whichever way you go, I wish you the best. The awesomeness of this idea outweigh some of the technical flaws, but not enough to request a rewrite. I would look at a revision of the story if the author wants to undertake one, but no promises beyond an honest read.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 The idea is awesome, but there’s too much missing here to carry this story to its potential. It should be longer, and probably start later than it does.
Story 42 (1/1/2011 SF 9800 words)
This story is too long. I’ll read through it quickly. Gotta say the title is provocative and would catch an eye or two.
The writing is very good line by line. I skimmed very quickly because I can’t afford to invest a great deal of time in a story that we will not purchase due to its length (twice our guideline limit of 5000 words). One gets a sense of a writer in control of his craft, spinning an ambitious story. My worry is that the first character is perhaps not the best choice to open with, especially at such length. Relentlessly inward-directed, fixated on mafia, and not particularly likable, he doesn’t pull me in (the truth is that if the story had really pulled me in and held me through 9800 words I would have argued for us to take it despite our rules, but it would have to be WAAAAAY good to manage that). My interest piqued with Sylvia’s section (though she started to drone into introspection too), the later, more active sections did pull at my attention as I whizzed by. And the actual writing throughout offered a good balance of rhythms. But it’s just too long for us, and the SF element (which was handled in an interesting way) doesn’t appear soon enough for us.
I wish the author well with this piece. I can’t say how effective the story is because I merely skimmed it, but even at that blur it’s clear this person writes well.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): ? The slush-o-meter requires a more careful reading than I fed into it.
I’m off to accept our first rewrite and requesting a rewrite of another story that we like a lot. Two formal accepts at this point and four rewrites, plus a few stories in the slush that have made it past first read. It’s going to be a strong collection; lots of variety.
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