I have a little time to read. Maybe we’ll find a gem or two.
See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 48 (1/4/2011 SF 3000 words)
This one sounds familiar. I think I saw it last year for End of the Rainbow. I remember liking it, but having a problem with the way it built to climax, or something like that. Plus it’s a reprint, which places the bar much higher. Let’s see how it strikes me this year.
It starts well, in the middle of action. The writing is active and provides a character in context. There’s some tension implicit in the scene. Good. I’m not quite getting what’s causing the damage we see. The kid’s actions are intriguing. There’s a thing? Here’s the problem with the scene. The protagonist does not react to his surroundings, does not think relevant thoughts even when someone whispers about the 800 pound gorilla. He’s observant, but disconnected from his own thought process. Which leaves me disconnected and observing too. I like what I see, but I long for a little more connection to someone. I want to care, not just wonder.
Scene two shifts to back flash. If you’ve been reading along in the blog, you’ll know how often we see this technique used. Usually, it’s used to draw the reader in with some flash-bang action before dumping them into the boring stuff. We much prefer that there be no boring stuff, that the story begin with its inciting incident and move forward. That said, we’ll surely make exceptions if a story works well.
Second scene is not boring. It’s not as exciting as the opening scene, but it does contain the inciting incident and an indication of character motivation that is missing from the first scene. Third scene is s solid snippet. I like it. I also like the music overlay, by the way. It’s not enough to carry the story (in fact it adds to the distancing a bit) but it’s different and does tie into the theme as I recall.
Next scene is more back flash. That’s one problem with this framing technique. So much of the story necessarily takes place in back flash that it’s hard to overcome the distancing effect of that. I’m not feeling particularly close to this action, though it’s interesting enough. I do like the autism thread. The main story is the problem.
Ah, the soup thickens on page 9. We have a parallel between the larger story and the autism angle. If the story were structured differently I have a feeling I would like it a great deal. This is a story that relies on emotional connection (heck, it’s about emotional connection) yet various techniques have been employed to distance me from that connection. It doesn’t seem like a wise choice to me. Obviously others disagree as this was published and received some recognition.
Page 10 is summary of story action. Distances me from the main plot arc. The emotional thread comes on page, which is good. Some strong emotion implicit in their dialogue yet I’m curiously unmoved. It feels intellectual, perhaps because none of the characters actually react to the situation. Their conversation is realistic, don’t get me wrong, but it comes across as a set piece to deliver me crucial information. I do not feel the tension I should. It’s quite an interesting conversation and an interesting idea.
Well, the final scene remains the same, and doesn’t work for the same reason we suggested last year. Oh well. If I were revising, I would take a serious look at telling this story forward rather than backward. The tension here is limited to the first and final scene (the frame) and the rest kind of gets lost. The back story, which is the real story here, becomes an intellectual exercise. I think the ideas mesh well and the story itself has tremendous potential. One way to look at this is that the opening frame develops tension around the imminent destruction of a habitat and its population, with some ancillary concern over the child. The final scene delivers resolution of the child’s situation, but not the habitat and population. In that sense, it’s not delivering what was promised.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 The story is complex enough to carry this word count (and more), and the ideas are interesting. That’s a good part of the battle for SF. Unfortunately the story arc itself does not work as well as it might. The prose is good, though we’re held too emotionally distant.
Story 49 (1/4/2011 SF 1000 words)
This one starts a bit indifferently. The language is just a touch clunky. Nothing particularly visual and not particularly active situation. It’s a static scene in other words, that establishes a protagonist and a general setting. Second paragraph moves to background information. As a reader, I want story. I want to experience what’s going on in the foreground. I want to begin identifying with a motivated protagonist who acts upon his world. The first forward movement is in the middle of page 2. This is too late (at least for me). To this point I’ve been reading background for a story, not the story itself.
Gets better after this, though I would like more specific details to make the world more immediate. There is some character thought, which helps. I feel like the story is hurrying too much. Overview of character actions, summary of motivation. I suspect this story wants to be longer, with scenes played out and building one upon another. It doesn’t feel like a flash fiction, in other words.
I do like that he walks into the desert. That probably needs expansion as well. He wakes up in a med center and the doctor explains the mystery to him. There is the core of a potentially interesting story here, but it doesn’t work as flash. If I were revising, I would focus on building the character’s background (NOT putting it into the story, mind you), and why this discovery is more than an intellectual exercise (i.e. why it should matter to me, the reader). Then I would craft a series of scenes building to a climax in which he chooses something at a real price to him. As it stands, he basically is rescued by the doctor, who explains everything to him.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 This doesn’t work as flash. The idea requires further development.
Story 50 (1/5/2011 Fantasy 1200 words)
This comes from a fellow with a “perpetually mutating imagination”. Now, I don’t doubt the guy”s credits, which are fairly impressive, but… really? That’s how you want to introduce yourself to an editor? So, of course, I had to look him up. He has published some fiction to decent markets, but the interesting tidbit is that he’s published THIS fiction (in August). This is definitely the sort of thing you want to let the editor in on. In fact, it puts me into a bad frame of mind going in.
Begins interestingly. Closely observed details. Not sure whether this is speculative or simply literary, but it’s interesting. Gets a little confusing on page 2. I’m not so fond of the section where he’s ruminating on his photograph. I lose attention for a page or so, then zoom back at the beginning of page 4 (when we have some story movement). It is speculative.
This is effective, evocative flash, though I think it’s a little too opaque for us. It is a moment in time and emotion lushly captured. It does fit the theme. I will send it to the other editors, but am not expecting it to fly.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 This is a solid piece of flash fiction. Too focused on literary technique for our needs, I suspect, but good.