We’re up to 108 submissions for Triangulation. We’ve accepted 1, requested rewrites on 2, and have another few being read by all editors. 52 rejections thus far. See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 31 (12/26/2010 Fantasy 5100 words)
The title is pretty bland. That’s not a major issue, but I wanted to mention it. The opening is written well, but not particularly involving. Consider the phrase “the place where she grew up”. It’s a legitimate phrase, but it’s completely generic rather than specific. Rather than pulling us into a specific place, time, character, it’s spreading a smear on the stage. To the story’s credit, description does get specific after this, but I’ve already lost a little interest (fickle editor). Interesting device at end of page 1. I’ve got a nagging concern that this story would have fit better in last year’s theme. This isn’t fair to the story and I’ll try not to let it effect my reading, but it’s there in my thoughts so I wanted to jot it down. Unfair, but so many stoopid little things can infect an editor’s reading.
The italicized mini-scene doesn’t really add anything for me. I’m confused. In third scene, I’m finding the writing solid, but I’m not feeling a sense of thematic consistency. What is the story about? What is the character’s goal/want. I can infer a typical motivation from this third scene, but where was it in the first scene? Is this about tech or emotional attachment? Are they related? The decapitation line, while quite interesting in a writerly sense, doesn’t really match the scene. That is, the severity of the comment is not well meshed with the actual emotion of the scene. It feels forced.
At this point I don’t feel the story has actually begun. What is the inciting incident? That’s the event that throws the pebble onto the initial status quo situation and causes the ripples that will become story. So far I feel as if I’m reading initial situation still.
The mini-scene confuses me.
Next scene. It bothers me that the kid can be so knowledgeable about power without knowing the basics. That lack of knowledge becomes an excuse to present world background. I’m glad the author is having characters react to story stimulus, I just don’t buy this particular reaction (yet). Personally, I would have gone with something like “Is what you do important, Daddy” or “Why do you work at the plant?” as an excuse for him to tell her a bit about power generation. This section seems like a thinly veiled commentary on our current attitudes toward resource depletion. That’s fine. I just need the story to ALSO deliver a character escalation here.
I don’t understand why he did not put up more of a fight about taking her to work with him, if she’s not allowed to be there. The situation seems forced. Skimming. I like the subtle shadow line on page 8. I don’t feel it’s entirely deserved, however, as I’ve not felt the protagonist’s connection (emotional reaction, etc) to this phenomenon to this point. It’s just there.
A dragon on page 10? This is jarring as I’ve not been set up to allow for this possibility. A small nit: beware of “she knew”. It’s usually a sign that the writer is not fully in a character’s perspective (if they were, the phrase would not occur to them). It’s more effective, usually, to SHOW the character’s knowledge than tell us about it. One of those little things that can provide a hint if we watch for it. The biggest problem in the story for me is that I’m not connecting with the protagonist. I can’t empathize with her emotional need or sympathize with her situation as a result. It’s reading kind of flat as a result. Some good lines, but I’m not connected to them.
Page 11-12. While I think this is a cool twist on dragons, this part of the story is pretty much becoming an explanation of idea rather than story movement. It gets more interesting when the lever is pulled. This is the part of the story that calls to me. I don’t care for the simplicity of the twist on p 14.
Well, I think this is worth working on, but it’s not terribly close (for us) yet. There’s not enough emotional depth and the first half of the story is just kind of there to get us to the cool part at the end. If I were to revise, I’d start with the girl hearing the dragon’s voice. That would be the inciting incident. If she were to be drawn to it (rather than accidentally discovering it) that could lead to tension between characters and a sense of story escalation. She’s not allowed to go there (obstacle). How does she cleverly overcome that? (solution). And why does she NEED this discovery? There are broad hints that maybe she’s lonely or feels unloved, but why HER and not some other little girl down the street who feels unloved? And what is the climax here? What is her decision that changes her (I suspect it will be the breaking glass, but she has to decide and that decision has to cost her – she has to understand it will cost her and make it anyway). Tension and escalation is key to getting this story idea off the ground, I think.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 There’s an interesting idea at the core of this, and a sense that the theme can be timely and moving, but the story is not structure to best effect and I do not feel connected to the protagonist. Since fantasy tends to hinge on its emotional connection to readers, this is a real problem.
Story 32 (12/27/2010 Horror 1800 words)
This drops me right into the middle of a thought. The thought is intriguing, which makes me look past the lack of context (momentarily). Next couple sentences begin to provide that context. Well done. I’m not buying the jump to “what scared her” though. There’s a sense of mystery in the opening, not fear. I’m losing confidence.
Second scene is a little too repetitious of the first. It’s more immediate, more “in scene” which makes it a little better, but it’s not really advancing the story until the final sentence. There I’m having problems with the emotion again. The terror does not convince me. Maybe an internal emotional reaction would help. At this point I’m kind of hearing about her emotional state than feeling it.
“walked toward where the holes usually were” dampens my interest. Rather than giving me a specific setting (i.e. beginning to fill in missing bits of the mystery stage) this settles for generic non-description. “continue what had been started” is same problem. Rather than getting specific at a time I want specific, it dances around the issue. What had been started? Whose spindly fingers? Do her hands operate without her willing them? In speculative fiction this is a real possibility.
I feel like I’m watching a woman work in the yard. I like the sparsity of detail (except where it goes generic to avoid specific), but I’m getting no emotional connection to this character. Why should I care? What does she want? What is she trying to do here? Does it matter? These are the issues to concentrate on in revision.
Page 3 begins with a sentence I can’t even begin to parse. Focus on getting me into the scene, into the character, not wowing me with words on a page. Why doesn’t she go outside looking for hubby? I don’t understand her motivation. Want ads have to do with hubby? It would be nice to know that earlier.
Again, I’m watching her go through motions with emotion. It’s difficult to empathize or sympathize with such a character. Skimming.
Now she decides to look for hubby? Why did she wait?
Okay, I’m not certain, but I think this was an unreliable narrator. I really don’t know what happened in the story. Length-wise this seems about right.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 This is horror. Horror is visceral, emotional. An emotionless character CAN work in horror, but it’s a difficult thing to pull off. This story doesn’t really pull me in enough to make it work here.
Story 33 (12/31/2010 SF 3025 words)
The title worries me. The first sentence establishes a context. It’s a bit rambling, but works well enough. The first paragraph is inordinately long (for us modern readers). It rambles in the final third, shifting my focus from the object to a group of faceless people, to one of them to her motivation, then back to the general group. All without actually seeing anything specific after the first sentence (and that was mainly a blur of light). I’m getting an intellectual context, but not much in the way of a physical scene, despite some street names, rain, and a fish tank. Strangely ineffective (for me). The prose seems good, but I feel like I’m spinning around in a blender for some reason.
Ah, it’s supposed to be funny. The title did suggest that. It’s all in-the-head funny at this point, which isn’t terribly interesting in a 3000 word story. I need scene and characters and stuff happening on the stage. Skimming.
We’re still arriving in the initial situation at the end of page 3. Too many words, perhaps? Page 4 begins an actual scene with actual dialogue. It’s a little chit-chatty but flows well enough. By page 6, I’m changing my mind. It is chit-chatty. There’s no real escalation of the conversation. Page 7. Seriously? That’s the joke? Page 11. “We’re Canadians.” That one made me smile.
Funny is difficult. Satire even more so. This doesn’t work for me. Guess I had to be there.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 2 Funny stories have to be funny. This one feels like a labored in-joke that doesn’t take its material seriously enough to become satire. The actual prose is fine and it has moments of praise-worthiness, but a joke hinges on its punchline. It either works or it doesn’t.
Story 34 (12/30/2010 Fantasy No word count)
First, please be sure to include a word count on your manuscript. The title is oddly effective. Makes me want to see what the story does with it. The acknowledgment makes me sad. I hope the story will deserve it.
Excellent opening paragraph. Begins with the most interesting image in scene and expands from there to include protagonist (giving context to connect the image to him). Second paragraph tops the first. It’s refreshing to see a sentence that draws the ear and also builds character (and relationship). Allow me to share it: “He is the only one here who moves, makes the room vibrate with his loud American voice, and even makes jokes and laughs.” It’s long,with clauses, but this works in a paragraph of otherwise short, direct sentences. Third paragraph brings me back to the mood of the opening. Economically done. I’m in scene, in character, in the proper mood. The rest of the scene is equally well crafted.
Second scene is not starting as well (for me). It’s moving into new terrain that seems a little familiar. This is certainly a new twist on familiar, but is it enough? We’ll see. Page 3 is getting back to interesting territory. The beating is too indistinct. I hate to say this, but we need to see something specific, I think, and the character probably needs to react a little more strongly. His thinking is good, but the lack of emotional reaction troubles me.
Nice first mission (p 4). Is this real or imagined. I like the ambiguity. My impulse is that this power is not real and I will not be disappointed if that’s the case, but I will be nicely surprise if the story can make believe it IS real by the end. It’s a good story that can make me feel it could legitimately go either way (or a number of ways). Love the line about women’s feet on page 4. There’s a lot of very good, sharp observation in the story and each time it builds the character a little. In this way, it never feels as if a sentence has been forced in just to impress me with its wording or provoke me with its aggression, etc.. Quietly effective is how I would put this.
What a sweet escalation on page 5, bringing us back to the sister and to sadness mixed with laughter.
I respect how this ends and would be willing to go with it, but I think the ending can be better. It goes to an easy place now. It gets there in a most interesting way, but I think I would be more content if this ended with something less “typical”. If the other editors agree, I will ask for revisions on this one. I really want it for the anthology.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 The story works very well, using sharp observation and a touching emotional journey to take us somewhere interesting. The ending works, but is just a bit of a let down for such an ambitious story.
Story 35 (12/31/2010 Horror 3200 words)
The title feels overblown, but that’s a minor issue. First sentence is awkward. I don’t know what is happening. Feels like author trying too hard to impress. I sort of see what is meant.
Okay, this is another recurring theme. The character is not connected to her emotions. This makes it difficult to identify fully. Take this phrase: “the bitterness that threatened to crush my windpipe”. This is TELLING ABOUT her emotion rather than SHOWING it. It’s not an easy concept to grasp, but when you’re writing from inside a character, the emotions come through more viscerally; when you’re writing from outside (telling about), they just sit there on the page. This is one of those really important ideas that can really elevate the writing.
Second paragraph is playing coy. “the one I brought home” What one? The character knows this; why am I not being allowed into her understanding? I think we writers, especially when we’re struggling to make our prose stand out, tend to think that withholding information creates mystery. It doesn’t, unless that information is not known by the viewpoint character (i.e. genuine mystery). When technique trumps story movement, it’s usually a problem (for us). Usually, this is a sign that devices are being used to paper over a lack of story. We would do well to refocus on story (what happens, character motivation, complication, climax), then use technique to support it in the most effective way.
Some good details in the second scene. This is much sharper and I feel in scene. Third scene isn’t really escalating the story. Nor does the story seem speculative; more of a character study. We are a speculative fiction anthology. Story seems to be wandering a bit on page 3 – too much background and not enough story movement.
On page 4, the story turns speculative (could be unreliable narrator, but it’s probably enough to qualify as spec fic). We learn character motive and the story starts moving forward. The next to final scene has a good flow to it and a couple of very good lines. It seems to be moving to a predictable end, however.
Yep, pretty close to what I expected. If I were revising, I’d focus more clearly on story. What is the inciting incident – it may seem like the hanging is, but it’s not. As the story is told, the inciting incident is the ghost speaking of the man with the tattoo. The problem is that if we take that as the inciting incident and her motivation is to get him alone, then we have no complication in the story. She wants to get him alone and does. The end. I would restructure this such that the inciting incident is the hanging, which changes the protagonist and gives her a goal (immediately, in the first scene). Then other men can become obstacles, and this one becomes the climax – it should be clear she gives up something by making this choice with him.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 The story has some strong moments, but is not set up to maximize its effect. Once the motivation becomes clear, it runs downhill to a predictable ending.