I’m being a little less ambitious for Write1Sub1 this week so that I can catch up on Triangulation slush. We’ve had an uptick in submissions. I’m going to have to be a bit more concise in my comments (is that cheering I hear?)
See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 68 (1/4/2011 Fantasy 4758 words)
This opens in the middle of an action, which is fine, but I’m not really drawn in. I see this as a sort of teachable moment (in the sense of “teaching” how to write an opening that would likely appeal to Triangulation). In a technical sense, this opens well, in the middle of an action, with the world reacting to the protagonist. The problem, I think, is that it feels a bit like the details have been neatly arranged; they don’t seem to serve another purpose beyond implying the background information we need. They don’t actually build the world — the details we see are generic fantasy in that sense — and don’t actually build the character (the character has no reaction to the world’s reaction to him beyond a simple acknowledgment of it and an nuance that it’s not only about him, but what he represents). So, while I see nothing at all wrong with this opening, I feel it’s a lost opportunity to pull me into this character. What if, instead of a line of typical fantasy details, we get something specific about the world and, especially, the character’s view of his place in it. Instead of sullen murmurs and sharpening swords, what if we see a specific person grumbled to another, who turns and hurries into the linen shop, or a specific person honing their blade, helmets dented from a recent battle. What if, instead of thinking how this reaction is not all about him, but also about the object he carries, we get his reaction to that reality. Maybe how he loathes having to carry the item because of the reactions, or that he’s frustrated and has half a mind to use the object to blow these peasants away. See? When we make the details specific, the scene comes to life. When they remain at the general impression level, they tend to be flat.
Onward. The specific person we see on page 2 is the first time my interest piques. I like the unicorn emblem. That does more than describe a garment. On page 3 now and still wondering what the MC’s purpose is. What actually causes his story to begin? Find that moment and consider beginning the story there. On p3-4 we’re getting background in the form of dialogue. It’s not bad background, but because I’m not really hooked into the MC’s reason for being here (or his reaction to hearing it), it seems superficial. And wouldn’t you know, the next line I read is a reaction from the MC; that works. On page 5 we get the MC’s purpose (though not his purpose for being here or why this day is different than the last for him). Gets interesting on p 6, though now I wonder why this is the MC’s story and not the king’s. Scene ends okay – if I got a better sense of MC’s purpose, it would work better.
This is an interesting dilemma. I do like that. I like the woman and her song. I’m not getting the sort of rising tension I want, however. I feel like I’m getting summary of the stuff I’d like to experience, while experiencing the more mundane aspects. Ends up feeling like a lot of background rather than a protagonist striving within a story framework. Imagine how much more immediate it would be to watch the MC deactivating the most recent item – that could trigger him to think of the others, of course – but we would experience him striving rather than hearing about it in his memory. There’s also a basic confusion (by my reading anyway). It’s not really clear what the MC has been attempting to do before the story. He’s been deactivating these items, yet now he speaks of the world having no magic, yet his enemy has apparently used sacrifice to strengthen his magic. I feel like the story is trying to have it both ways, rather than giving me a concrete sense of where we stand at story opening. Does magic exist or not? If not, what is the MC’s purpose and why is he here now? etc. Since it’s a complex idea, it needs a concrete delivery.
The enemy shows up conveniently. Should have been set up as part of the general rising tension. The action scene is nicely active. Feels like the climax on page 15, yet we have 5 pages left? Worrying.
Final scene seems long. I don’t like the scripted dialogue outside his door (I did like the dialogue in prior scene, by the way). It’s not a good idea to have secondary characters spouting warnings meant to inform us of a character’s abilities. The ending doesn’t do much for me, especially as we’ve already covered this idea in an earlier scene.
Mainly, I think the setup for this needs to be much clearer and the price of this outcome more deeply felt. It feels a little like a story puzzle, though I do like key scenes, especially the sacrifice. If I were revising, I’d return to story basics here and think of where the inciting incident occurs, what MC’s actual goal is, what events complicate it, how he overcomes that, the growing concern over the enemy’s approach, the growing understanding of what will happen should this new king take command. Ideally, he might have a spell that would destroy them all (this is sort of said, but I didn’t understand) that he will use as a last resort, but the price is so high. When push comes to shove, he has an epiphany and realizes a different possibility, one he had not considered because it was beyond normal thinking (the song might be used to set this up earlier). Then this final action comes as a (set up) surprise rather than a nearly inevitable outcome. I’d also pay more attention to the MC’s interior state, especially at story opening and end. I do like the king. I wouldn’t be amazed to find this published somewhere, but it can be better.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 This is a nice fantasy idea bound to story that’s a little too by-the-numbers now, but could be good with some additional work.
Story 69 (1/8/2011 Horror 5110 words)
First reader: “It starts with an interesting hook. This goes on for 4 pages, too long. Then there’s a backflash to what happened in the world. In the end we are back at the [beginning]. This protagonist doesn’t do any protagging, just sits around telling us about things. This seemed much longer than it was. I did a lot of skimming and don’t think I missed anything.”
Not promising, but let’s see. Very nice opening paragraph. I’m attached to the protagonist. I’m still on board through the second paragraph. Starting to lose interest as page 2 begins. It’s entirely in the head, no mix of internal/external no change in tone. Even very good line by line prose gets old if the pattern/cadence/focus is unchanging.
Shifting to background on page 4. It’s not as interesting. The story takes place in back flash, which deadens any immediacy. We’re left with one man thinking/remembering. It’s flat. Interesting image on page 10-11. The middle describes a story; it’s not bad, just not compelling. Feels kind of like the character is telling me about this interesting thing that happened to him on spring break, rather than experiencing a story with for-real tension. Backflash has its uses, but it’s not working for me here. If you think about it, the only reason we’re having to go through this as memory is so that we can have the nice bit of a frame at the story opening. I’m betting there will be an equally resonant frame end. In that case, why not just tell the frame as a flash fiction? The story could also be told, of course, but as an actual story.
Yep, end frame is resonant, though it does contain some inference to the story. What it doesn’t do is actually resolve the story, another reason to think about flash for this part of it. We see this frame technique far too often, I’m afraid. It seems to have become the go-to way to “hook” readers. Too often, however, it’s used (unintentionally, I’m sure) as a way to avoiding telling the actual story in an interesting way.
Dear Authors: When you catch yourself using a framing device, I respectfully suggest you take a second look. Is it actually adding to the story, or simply distracting me from the boring stuff? And, no, this particular story is not boring. There’s some good stuff in here that simply gets toned down by the fog of having to tell it through memory.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 The basic story is decent, if a bit straight-forward. The framing mechanism is well written, but distracts from rather than enhancing the tale.