We’re up to 155 submissions (70 rejections, 2 acceptances, 3 rewrites in progress). We have several stories we’re considering and a bunch to get to. I’ll try to make a dent in the latter today. Music on, let’s rock and roll.
See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 43 (1/2/2011 Fantasy 2300 words)
This starts confusingly for me. I don’t mind the archaic feel (fable-like in a sense), but I don’t really understand what this paragraph is telling me. Did he go in his youth? If so, why was he so powerful then? And when is now? There is a sense of world and motivation, which is good. I’m not lost yet, but suspicious.
Okay, now you’ve lost me. The second paragraph continues the archaic approach, but when sentences are twisted such that mundane actions become “mysterious” count me out. Basically this paragraph tells me that a bunch of interesting stuff happened on the journey, but how about that ring of rocks up ahead? It’s like the interesting part of the story has been skipped in order to get to the less interesting description of place.
Then someone is talking. I don’t know who (narrator? the protagonist? someone else?). Ah, it’s the protagonist, telling the story in retrospect. Please realize that telling a story in dialogue robs it of the immediacy of action, the intimacy of inner thought/reaction and the tension of unknown outcome (he’s telling the story, he survived). If the reasons for using this device exceed the high cost, then by all means use it. Otherwise, rethink.
Page 3, the telling continues, with remembered dialogue, remembered characters and places. It’s not nearly as involving as witnessing the action unfolding. Skimming.
Page 6. The telling continues, with a character explaining ideas and background. Not very involving.
Ah, so it’s the narrator after all, reading from a book written by the protagonist. How many levels can one place between the reader and the story action? I supposed we could have someone transcribing someone reading the work of the person who actually experienced the adventure. I’m not trying simply to be facetious, but to point out that we have choices as writers and these choices should be shaped by what we hope to accomplish in the story’s telling. Here, the archaic language and passive device do hearken back to Victorian tales of terror, or early pulps. But is that really the most effective approach for this? Is there enough of the Cthulu here to actually overcome the passivity of its telling, or would a more active telling bring a wider audience?
The actual story is probably too simple for this length. I skimmed most of it, so will have missed nuances, but it basically boils down to a guy reading a journal about a guy who traveled to a legendary place in search of power, meets a powerful foe who tells him everything he needs to know, and defeats him. I suspect this is meant as one in a series of stories, which could explain the noncommittal ending and episodic feel of the conflict, but this story does not work particularly well on its own. The world may be interesting or it may be generic; I really couldn’t tell so far. There’s some details that caught my interest. There may be particular markets that would like this. We’re not one of them.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 In terms of epic “feel” this has some; it has a quest and a single conflict that is resolved. The telling device, however, greatly diminishes connection to character and story arc.
Story 44 (1/3/2011 Horror 100 words)
As some of you may know, I admire the micro form. The exact choice of word and phrase, the implication of story off the page. This one has some nice imagery, but the overall effect (for me) is a bit jumbled. Hugging tongues do little for me, for example, and while I like that the piece evokes some story off the page, it really doesn’t deliver enough for me to say “Wow”. It feels blatant despite the evocative imagery, partly because what is not shown is not really implied (is this a storm creature, a dragon, a ???) and what is delivered is simply an ending. Pretty good, but not yet great. It needs more work IMHO.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 The imagery is sharp, the word choices nicely active. It doesn’t leave the impact it should, however.
Story 45 (1/4/2011 Horror 1065 words)
Another short one. The first paragraph confuses me. It does set up a character with motive (though the details of that motive are obscure). The writing feels a little bloated for a flash fiction piece. If I were revising, I’d look at trimming words and finding more active verbs and maybe simplifying the setup a bit (rather than not knowing what she’s doing, maybe she could have a stronger sense of what she intends). I feel like this paragraph is a wasted opportunity to grab me.
Second paragraph isn’t really pulling me either, though I do like the bleeding line, except “I am reassured”. By whom? I think. How so? It feels like the protagonist is being intentionally passified. The “several minutes” is similarly frustrating. It’s difficult top pull off a flash that is in no hurry to get anywhere. If I were revising, I would look for ways to make this more immediate, more pressing.
I like the snippet of dialogue, though not the speech tag (“hopefully” tells about the character’s emotion rather than simply showing it through her dialogue or inner thought). I think what bothers me about this character is her lack of reaction to the stimulus of her situation. Stuff happens to her. She observes it. She’s not really an actor in the play yet. This dragging me down as a reader. I’m anxious for her to earn her story and for the story itself to compel me.
“looking around for the source of the faint bluish light that casts an eerie glow. Seeing nothing…”
I don’t mean to pick on you in particular, but to try to make a general point for people reading the blog. There’s a fundamental difference between a character “looking around” for an “eerie glow” and a character SEEING an eerie glow and looking for its source. In the first case, the character is a passive observer of the surround. In the second she reacts TO stimulus in the surround. In the first case, we’re watching the character on screen; in the second we’re inside the character’s perspective, reacting with her. That can make a huge difference in how fully a reader identifies with a character. This is not to say that passivity is never warranted, but that when we use a passive character it should be because that device helps us to achieve the story’s requirements.
Skimming. Near the end of page 3, we discover the answer to the character’s mystery. It’s told to her by another character. She doesn’t really earn that knowledge or have to work for it or sacrifice. This is also a common problem for us.
In the end, this is an intriguing idea. If I were revising, I’d work harder on the character’s emotional investment, streamline the prose to maybe 500 words (unless I complicate her journey).
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 Flash typically deserves crisp, active prose, and evocative imagery. This has some decent imagery and a good ending place, but the passive protagonist and generally passive prose work against it.
Story 46 (1/4/2011 SF 3200 words)
This comes from someone I would like to publish. The first reader was not impressed, however, so I begin with some trepidation.
Opening paragraph is active and drops us into the middle of action. We have two characters in tension. Unfortunately we also have some pronoun confusions. Clapping her hand over her mouth is usually problematic. Then the next sentence begins with her, and the next as well. I’m kind of drifting at this point, not sure who I’m supposed to invest in, or who’s being hurt or who has the damaged body. I mean I can parse it out if I read carefully, but is that really a good thing when I’m beginning a story? I’ve got very little invested at this point and can easily go on to the next one.
There’s a creature? Now I’m totally confused. What just happened to whom? I need clarity at this point. I expect this is an unreliable narrator. I don’t mean to single this particular story out, but we should realize that when we’re using an unreliable narrator it becomes absolutely essential that we provide very clear objective details to contrast that. Otherwise, the reader is lost in the madness, unable to orient. While this can be used to good effect if the madness itself is so gloriously compelling that we can’t look away, it’s more often a reason for us to stop reading a story. As a specific example here, there is an opportunity to provide concrete description of the nurse, of the bed rail, of a window, of the creature itself (especially if it will turn out to be real – if not, the details might be concrete, but shifting). I’m just not able to get into scene here. I do like the protagonist from what I’ve seen so far, but I’m so lost that I’m distracted from that.
The screaming girl seems a convenient device to divert the nurse. Is she that incompetent? I’ll buy this if I have a greater sense that this is a part of their ongoing struggle. End of page 3 has some nice specific detail. I’m getting closer to the scene.
I didn’t see the first box. Was it shown to me? Describing it by describing how the new box is different doesn’t really work here. A little direct thought about Emma’s worry here would help. I really don’t understand why the janitor wants the box.
End of page 4 is an “as you know bob”. Characters telling each other something they should know so that I hear it. Seldom does this work well. Page 5 begins the too typical explanation of background leading to the interesting opening. Story typically slows and becomes less interesting at this point. This goes through most of page 6. It’s not bad, but not all that interesting. If I were revising, I would try to break up this background and use it only where it makes sense for the character to remember in reaction to something going on in story foreground. Right now it’s kind of a clump of necessary background (like taking medicine). Yanking a jaw open is a bit brutal, especially when a feeble woman is the object of the violence. Better to show the struggle I think.
I do like my prime rib 🙂 But that’s just me (it is a specific detail though, right?).
I like where this goes. It’s the setup that isn’t working. If I were revising, I would concentrate on my story basics. What is the inciting incident? What causes the protagonist to change her status quo as the story opens? It seems like she’s been planning this for a while, so it seems a bit like just another day. What is her goal? That’s in the story. Can it be made more specific and more concrete right away? What complicates her journey? We have a couple things, but they’re pretty straight forward and do not force her to change tactics or reveal different facets of the plan. What is the climax? That’s done pretty well I think. Less well done is the sense that she’s paying a price she would prefer not to pay. What is the cost to her (there’s an objective cost, but what that she actually values is she giving up to get what she wants?). The husband comes into this far too late to be totally effective as a resolution.
Overall, there’s potential here, but lots of problems too.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 There’s a good idea here, but the story itself is flawed in its execution. Because of this it does not reach full emotional impact.
Story 47 (1/4/2011 Fantasy 1300 words)
This is advertised as a flash fiction, but is too long for that category. Typically flash runs less than 1000 words (occasionally 1200). That’s not really an issue for us, but I’m always suspicious of flash over 1000 words and less than 1500 words. It’s kind of an uncanny valley between sharp flash and substantial fiction. Let’s see if I’m right.
Begins with a poem, which is okay. The opening paragraph flows well, but I’m already niggled by the fact that it avoids telling me its main point in order to create a (false) mystery. What did come his way? If it’s interesting, I’d prefer to see it rather than read that it’s coming up. Second paragraph continues in same vein. Flowing prose, frustrating lack of specifics. Whatever it was was gone. Something else had changed. Gets better later in the paragraph; some nice specific details about everything except what interests me. With the scratching, story finally seems to move.
And then it doesn’t. We go backward into the real of background material. Skimming. Not a huge surprise. Some very nice writing along the way and killer resonance in that ending line, but the story is slight to say the least. We prefer story over mood. If I were revising this, I would concentrate on some sort of movement in the world to carry the story, perhaps building off of that scratching in some way. When a story is comprised almost exclusively of inward rumination and remembrance, it becomes fairly one dimensional, even if the actual writing and actual thoughts are good.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 Good prose, some nice character sketch details, a nice resonance at the end. The story may work as literary fiction, though it may play out too long for it’s simple and not unexpected twist.