Welcome to a sparkling new year. Time to reject some slush stories, unfortunately. See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 24 (12/17/2010 Horror 3300 words)
This one drops us into the middle of an action. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no context to go with it. I’m hanging in a void waiting to discover where I am. Oh, and it’s second person. Joy… I’ve seen second person handled well, but it’s usually just used as a technique to cover over a lack of story. We’ll see. The voice is active at least.
The second paragraph asks me if I like what I see. Since I don’t see anything yet, it’s kind of an ineffective question that draws my attention to a weakness in the prose (lack of context).
Fourth paragraph: “I know right about know [sic] you’re wondering what’s going on…” That would be correct. It goes on to tell me that it’s going to tell me what’s going on, only not so fast because good things come slowly. Skimming.
Some interesting explanation of idea page 2-3. Waiting for story to begin. It sort of starts a couple paragraphs later in backflash! Skimming. Chit-chat dialogue. I will say that the writing has attitude. More chit-chat dialogue. It wouldn’t be chit-chat if I was engaged in an actual story — in that case some of these lines would have meaningful context within that story and advance it. As written, it’s mainly conversation interspersed with bad ass internal thought. What is the protagonist’s motivation? What complicates his efforts? None of that here. Skimming.
There’s a sense of story movement in the next scene. It’s a sadistic scene that doesn’t seem to have any real purpose beyond sadism, but it’s a scene. Unfortunately the dialogue here, while sharper, is mainly of the “As you know” variety, with protagonist telling… er screaming things at a secondary character that they both already know. It’s the sort of dialogue that would work if this was the initial encounter between them, but it’s not. The line about the jawbone in the dresser did draw my attention. That was good.
A pun? Really? The story ends without really resolving the opening situation. The resolution depends on a character not even present in the first scene. I’m afraid this story is a bit of a mess so far as we’re concerned. There may be markets for it, but we look for narrative (beginning, middle, end, character change, etc) and this lacks those elements.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 I rank this higher than my comments suggest because it does partially achieve its goal of grossing out the reader and delivering a “clever” twist ending. Execution could be much better, however. Second person seems entirely wasted and the slow opening doesn’t really help the telling, especially as it delays the foundation for its resolution.
Story 25 (12/21/2010 Horror 3400 words)
This begins with a character in context. Some overwriting: “lone” is unnecessary; corridors don’t establish specific scene; “pleasant escape” is probably not the tone you want here. “As she fought” is not compelling. It’s standing back watching the character rather than really getting me inside her thoughts/emotions. Hitching is forced. “pleading” is unnecessary. I have no idea what the “security of her false world” is. This tells me about her, rather than getting me insider her (ie. does SHE think of it as a false world?). This is minutia, but I hope it might be helpful to the author as I’ve already decided this story will not be for us after the opening paragraph, and that’s not really fair to the work. Get us inside this character’s thoughts and emotions and my reaction will be quite different.
Second paragraph is stronger. More true to her viewpoint. Though it’s a bit overwritten as well. The slamming and “one terrifying word” are overly arch for a fairly simply idea. She’s afraid.
Next paragraph has similar overwriting problems. This is certainly not terrible prose; mainly it’s just trying too hard. Let the story take me. Excellent prose will not save a poor story, but an excellent story will save poor prose. So concentrate on the story, not the prose, at least in first draft. Then make sure the prose is interesting (varied sentence lengths, active, not ornate to the point of drawing attention to itself). There are times when archaic, even overwritten prose can support a story, but I’m not getting that sense here, at least not yet.
Ouch. Orbs? Get that word out of your vocabulary, at least as it relates to eyes. Classic purple prose word.
Okay, I’m on page 3 now and the story action consists of the protagonist awakening and a secondary character walking to her bed. Do you see what I mean? Too often, we try to use words to gloss over a lack of story action. Words should be in support of story movement – motivation, complication, characterization, action. Sentences that draw attention to themselves usually draw attention AWAY from the story. Yes, mood is important, but not at the expense of story (for us).
Page 4. She hates his arms? That’s odd. Skimming to end.
Okay, I missed something. What does Claire’s tooth falling out have to do with anything?
Honestly, the idea has potential, but the story is waaaaaay too long to support it as written. It could work as a short, sharp flash. At longer length, it requires more story complication (character motivation, obstacle, succeed-fail, climax, resolution).
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 2 This is basically an idea story that relies on unreliable narrator technique and a basic twist-horror ending. There’s not enough story to support 3400 words. The prose comes across as overwritten as a result and the pacing is sluggish.