Snowy day today. I spend most of my energy on a story for Write1Sub1, but I have a little left for the slush pile.
See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 36 (12/09/2010 SF 3000 words)
This comes from a fairly well known writer. I’m embarrassed that we let it slip through the cracks and I’m only now reading it. The title is strange, which can be a good thing. Opening paragraph carries me right along. The narrative device (first person retrospective) is not one we often purchase because it’s hard to keep up story momentum when a character is telling it in retrospect. Doesn’t mean this won’t be an exception. It’s certainly written cleanly and the stakes are high.
By page two I’m losing interest. So far three paragraphs have worked hard NOT to tell me the core “secret” to the story setup. Begins to feel repetitive. Story starts moving forward at the end of page 2. It’s lost me at this point. I can be regained, but it will take something special. Another veiled hint at the secret at end of page 3. Narrator knows the secret; hiding it seems artificial.
Background disguised as dialogue on page 4. To be fair, the writing is engaging and the dialogue realistic (even with this background dump). The story, however, seems stuck in neutral so far.
I like the way scene 2 opens. This is genuinely mysterious behavior. We get the “secret” on page 6 and it’s interesting. If the story were to begin here I would be more invested. The intellectual discussion on page 8 is actually interesting. That’s tough to pull off. Good interplay on page 9. Characters flirting while advancing story. The action scene is a little sparse, but generally good.
I don’t get much punch from the ending, mainly because I don’t really feel the impact of this discovery as it was promised in the opening paragraphs. Encryption has been defeated… and? There is a good story to be had here, but I think it will take a more substantial development. I’m sure I’m missing something in my reading, but I’m equally sure most readers would as well. It’s a story that relies heavily on an idea and when that idea is only marginally understood, the story becomes only marginally effective. How would Ted Chiang approach this, I wonder.
If it were me revising, I would drop the retrospective approach and begin the story with protagonist arriving in Sweden. I would not hide the professor’s secret initially, and would work to get macro world effects into the story in some manner (observation, newspaper headlines, conversation). And I would play out the romance more completely, paying especially attention to how it changes the main character. Ideally both the plot and emotional threads will climax in the action scene. In short, I believe this idea deserves further development and a more ambitious story.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 The story is smoothly written and the characters are differentiated and interesting. The idea is interesting too. In the end, however, not enough is done with this mix to make the story really stand out.
Story 37 (12/11/2010 Fantasy 700 words)
This begins in the midst of an action, which is good. It provides general context in an interesting way. We’re in the far future, waking up at sunset. I wouldn’t use quotes for telepathy, but that’s a minor issue. Nonhuman (or post-human) characters. Not a lot of explanation and virtually no background for them, which is good.
I would, however, like a little more visual detail. I need enough sense of the general surroundings so that the specific details that come later will fit in to what I have already imagined. For example, I did not see trees and then they popped into existence on page 2. I did not see buildings (just rubble from collapsed skyscrapers), thus the rotted doorways popped into existence. A sentence should to the trick.
End of page 3. I want to like this story because it does so much right, but I’m afraid it’s beginning to read like an explanation of idea rather than a story. We’re getting into backflash now rather than advancing the story suggested in the opening paragraphs. We’re learning why these creatures exist, not what their motivation is or what obstacles stand in their way, etc.. Story, friends, is key to publishing with us.
I like the way this ends. The story needs to deserve this ending and it doesn’t quite rise to that level yet. This is a flash, and flashes to play by somewhat different rules, but we do want a sense of story arc in our flashes (with rare exceptions). Here, we have a vignette with some emotional resonance. I think this could be shorter, or it could be more fully developed into a story, with motivated character. Questions I would ask. Which character should be protagonist here, i.e. which has the most to lose, which has to make a choice? What is protagonist’s motivation? What stands in his/her way? How does he/she overcome or fail to overcome it and what does that choice cost him/her?
It’s entirely possible this could be published pretty much as is. There are a lot of flash markets out there.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 The opening works well to draw me in, but the middle story sags and does not develop enough emotional tension to deserve the resonant ending.