I continue to work through Triangulation slush.
See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 64 (1/6/2011 SF 4000 words)
This has been read by two readers. One mostly positive, one negative. It starts with an inciting incident and drops us quickly into scene and character. Good. It’s an interesting tech idea. I’m not getting a sense of character yet, but there’s time for that in an idea-driven story. After 3 pages, however, I’m getting a little tired of the tech tour. I need more than that; I need a character arc to open up and promise me some sort of emotional journey too. The tech is interesting, but maybe not so much of it right off the bat.
Emotional thread opens on page 4. That’s a little late for me, but I’m glad to see it. I have to say this story is making a valiant attempt at creating tension from an abstract “enemy”. I’m not quite buying the urgency, but it’s explained well. I think it’s a matter of the MC’s lack of emotional response (that’s a waste of time according to him, which may be true, but keeps me from fully engaging with him). Nice details on page 5. Some solid research on display here. There’s a complication, but it’s not clear that it’s more than a simple glitch and it requires nothing of him. I’d say the first scene is something of a mixed bag. I really admire the attempt to create tension from this situation, but I’m not finding myself connecting to the character’s situation all that strongly. As a result, the story’s stakes are not terribly high at this point. If I don’t have a reason to care strongly about the outcome, it’s difficult to keep me reading.
The interesting complication comes on page 9. This is too late, I think. In actuality, I suspect this will prove to be the actual inciting incident for the story. What has gone so far was a day in the life (I suspect). If this is true, the story begins too early. It’s getting more lively here.
The virtual conversation is very good. I’m not as fond of the conversation with the system on page 15. This seems to explanatory. MC didn’t have to work for this at all.
Yes, the inciting incident was on page 9 and the story lacks an actual climax (point of highest tension where MC is forced to choose something at cost to himself). The answer is just given to him and then he wonders what he’ll do with it. It’s a shame because I’m a fan of mundane SF and I like to see these sorts of near-future tech stories succeed. If I were revising, I’d return to story basics. What does the character want/need, what is his flaw or blind spot, what causes his world to shift off-kilter thereby beginning his story journey, what obstacle or complication does he face, how does he overcome it (or not), how does that force him to grow/change, what is the climax, what does it cost the character, what choice does he make, what is the new pattern of his life afterward and how has he become a different person? The tech is not enough, nor is the mystery. These things should serve story, not vice versa. I’d like to see a story like this in the anthology, but there’s too much to be done here to recommend a rewrite. I’m not sure it would work out and don’t want to waste the author’s time, if not. If the author did rewrite convincingly, I’d certainly be open to taking another look at it, but I’m not going to request it.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 This is a solid SF idea and the technology is refreshing; so is the character. The story arc, however, is under-developed.
Story 65 (1/7/2011 Fantasy 2200 words)
First reader says: “Plot suffers from POV not telling the reader what she knows. We learn on page 4/13 what the guy is. Page 5 is an infodump about lycanthropes. On page 8/13, she’s still watching. On page 9/13 she follows him and they start talking about if she should kill him or not. Some tension, but too little, too late.”
This is a greatly expanded version of a published flash. I’m glad the author included this information. Since it’s a significantly different version we will consider it as a new story (but, of course, credit the original pub in the afterward).
Well, it’s not a great start to read, “… green eyes shining in the lights above the polished oak bar,” in the first paragraph. Unless the eyes are actually in the lights, this is not what the author intended. Of course, a few glitches like this won’t harm a story’s chances if it’s really good (this is what copy editing is for), but more than a few can really distract me. I like the description on page 2. I’m getting impatient for WHY the MC is surprised. She knows that; why don’t I?
“My reason for being there had to be obvious.” Maybe to her, but not to me and I’m supposedly in her head. This is getting annoying. I would reconsider the earlobe implant. It would probably be easier for someone standing next to her to hear a broadcast than for she to hear it herself. Skimming.
A couple pages of background. I don’t need that, I need to know WHY she’s here and what she intends to do (her motivation). More background. I see why this may have worked as a flash, but not so much as a short story. It lacks the complication that would support additional words. On page 8 we do get some story movement and a small complication. Story begins too early.
Their conversation has some tension, but it’s not particularly new and it drags on too long. The ending is better than I thought it would be. With a more persuasive emotional buildup it would work nicely. We need to feel more than knee-jerk sympathy for the MC. She’s individualized, which is good, but she’s too much a stereotype in the ways that most matter (her emotional reaction to the guy). That part isn’t badly done, but just doesn’t make me go “Wow, this is new.”
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 The story is too long for what it achieves and begins too early. Tension is achieved primarily in a final dialogue. The actual resolution is decent.
Story 66 (1/8/2011 Fantasy 2200 words)
First reader says: “This has a fable quality about it. I like a lot of this. I think the moment of choice is too abrupt and the beginning might be rearranged for better effect.”
This comes from an author published in major venues. While that won’t greatly impact my reading, it does have me feeling hopeful going in.
The story efficiently drops us into a character perspective, though the hissing patter bugged me. I would trim this first paragraph a bit. There’s just a little too much detail packed into it. Actually, I would consider opening with the second paragraph. It’s usually a bad idea to open with a character waking up and this would avoid the necessity of that. I also like the confident authority of the first line in the second paragraph.
I’m a little confused. If the third paragraph were moved up (after the first line in second paragraph) I would not be confused. False mystery (something that is mysterious to the reader, but NOT to the viewpoint character) is seldom helpful. There’s a beat of that here.
Page 2, I’m confused again. If he thinks he’s the last, how can his brothers and sisters be telling stories? I think I know what is meant, but it could be clarified. I’m drifting away at this point even though I like the concept.
Okay, I see the problem. The author is working too hard to impress me with word pictures at the expense of story movement. The inciting incident occurs near end of page 2. This should happen very soon after the opening paragraph. I do think the brother/sister nesting thing should go into the beginning, but the inciting incident should be on page 1 ideally. Don’t let me drift before I’m hooked into the story.
I like the awkward encounter and the brass ring. The conversation is taking too long, however. Too many breaks to ruminate on stuff I don’t actually need. I like the mood evoked by much of this, but I don’t want to forget the train of the conversation. So maybe pare the observations down to the very strongest and drop or move the others.
Page 4 is where this gets really interesting. Very interesting indeed.
The conversation is delightful. I’m getting into this now. I’d like to see some pain (some cost) for this sacrifice. It’s very clinical. I like the ending, though it seems just a beat abrupt. Overall, I think the story takes too long to get going, but works well once the interaction between characters begins. The solution is very nice, though I want it to cost the giver more than a sweet taste. It’s really not a huge sacrifice as far as we can understand (is there a greater cost we’re not being let in on – dishonor, embarrassment, something?) I’ll send this to other editors for their take on it. It probably doesn’t require a significant rewrite, but definitely some revision – likely should come in at about 1500-1750 words unless there’s an additional complication.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 Well realized characters and a very nice idea lift this above its slow beginning. The climax could use a little more buildup.
Story 67 (1/8/2011 Fantasy 3800 words)
First reader comments that the protagonist doesn’t do much protagging. This is a fairly common issue, though I have noticed it as much this year so far.
Story opens with background. Not good. It’s a young protagonist, so I ‘m not expecting a complex motivation, but this one may be too superficial. We’ll see. Nope, it’s fine. The inciting incident is nicely fantastic. I think the opening page could be cut back to get us there more quickly. There’s a nice active struggle, but I would point out that we get virtually no emotional connection to the protagonist. I’m not identifying with her to the degree I would like. She’s a girl in danger, but I don’t really know her yet.
Second scene opens interestingly. The emotion is described, if not fully felt. It’s enough. This scene is written well, but I can’t get past feeling that it’s basically an extended background dump. There is an escalation early on with the disappearance issue, but the rest of the scene seems static, basically an explanation of background.
The next scene is basically the same. It ends with finding an item related to the disappearance, but I get no sense of the plot advancing or the emotional arc building tension. It’s a perfectly acceptable scene, but doesn’t really help the story journey as it should. I’m still reading, but not compelled.
I like the description on page 10. There’s an escalation of emotion here too. Next scene begins in dream and it works well for me. The trash can scene starts awkwardly (remove “had” in that first sentence and I’m fine). Confrontation starts well. I like this scene. I wish the story had gotten here sooner.
I’m annoyed when MC “saw the other” and I did not. Feels like false mystery. Instead of “the person” earlier, maybe an indication of clothing or coloration to set our expectation. The description of the other comes a beat too late for me (that “person” had me irritated to begin with, then “the other” pushed me over the edge; had I waited another sentence, I would have had my context–but I shouldn’t have to wait, right?).
It feels coincidental that she would meet Eva after finding the newsclipping etc. Seems scripted. The thing bites her with shark teeth and she feels no pain?
The viewpoint shift at the end falls flat for me. It’s a gimmick that might work in a very short story, but not after I’ve invested so much time getting close to the protagonist. The idea behind this ending is solid and even alleviates my concern about the “coincidence”, but it feels pretty superficial for such a long story. To see an example of this idea done really well read last year’s “David is Six” by Amanda C. Davis (Triangultion: End of the Rainbow). This is not the same story, but strives for the same impact. Amanda’s story was about 1200 words as I recall and I felt the power of it very strongly. This one is much longer and the power is diffused.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A good idea and some effective middle scenes make this a relatively effective fantasy. It would be stronger at half the length.