See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 70 (1/9/2011 SF 1500 words)
This begins with a declarative sentence that puts me into the middle of things. I don’t have much context, but am okay with that so far. Pun? I don’t get it. The first scene is pretty disjointed in a mostly good way. It inserts snippets of relevant background and does make me wonder what’s going on. The writing is lively. I’m enjoying that, but the story itself is too perfunctory. It’s a sort of “just the facts” approach that works in conveying plot points well enough, but doesn’t really give me a sense of rising tension. I’m not feeling any more connected to character than I did in the opening. Love the paragraph on page 4 about crew not asking. Page 6 gives us our first in-scene immediacy. Granted this is journal entry, but it reminds me of what I’m missing here; I’m wanting more balance between foreground and background, a greater sense of protagonist involvement in events. It’s reading like a travel brochure of really interesting worlds. They’re linked by the important common thread, yes, but it’s not quite working for me despite that. Ouch. The coincidence on page 7 is too much for me.
The ending is okay, but relies heavily on a coincidence that makes the story feel a bit manufactured. It’s a shame because I really like the world building elements and the philosophies presented. I also think there’s a very good story to be had here. The trouble is that the journal technique deprives it of any immediacy. We read about a story that has happened, without the tense details, without the character reactions (for the most part), which leaves story arc to be carried by internalization and summary. If I were revising, I’d take a shot at telling the story that is summarized. Start with the prognosis, then show the MC’s argument that gets her on board, then show her interacting with crew and intersperse this with the nice world building bits, but create the skeleton around actual story (protagonist struggling to get what she wants against complications). The only real complication here is that the ship decides not to land on original planet. So she steals a craft and lands. The end. The climax is in the tension AS she steals the craft, the price she pays in doing that. There is some very good writing here; match it with exceptional storytelling and this will be excellent, I believe.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 The world building and philosophic underpinnings are very good. The storytelling lacks the immediacy that could push it to a new level.
Story 71 (1/9/2011 SF 3230 words)
Okay, I’m on page four and while I love the premise, which is set up nicely, I’m getting a little impatient for the story to begin. Some nice interplay between MC and others, some good background snippets worked in unobtrusively, but the story to be stagnating at this point. So much of this is in the head of the MC that I’m not getting a good sense of the surround. I’m feeling a bit detached from the story world. It wouldn’t take much to fix that, though, so not a huge deal yet. I like that the first scene comes full circle; it just takes a little too long to get there.
Second scene is all dialogue. Not a problem, except that it’s mainly rehashing what we know rather than advancing story arc.
Hmmm… when did we land? Did MC actually see anything or will we be confined to his head here? If so, I’m losing interest. So far it’s description by inference (i.e. filtered through the MC’s thought process). This reduces any sense of immediacy. Seems to be a theme this week. The story action is actually decent, but it’s troubling that the MC never actually sees/feels/smells/hears the world around him. What we see we see as an inference of his thinking about what he has seen. This gets old quickly. Some of this approach is fine, but balancing it with actual external experience is more likely to hold my attention.
Page 8 gains my attention when MC reacts in real time to a startling event. However, I’ve not seen anything yet; it’s like a play taking place on a darkened stage suspended in midair. I’m totally involved on one level, but dangling helplessly on another.
Clever, but would be even more clever if the knife swipe had been set up in the first place. We’re in the MC’s point of view; withholding this detail for effect is cheating. Not a big deal since cleverness does have a point value too, but it’s one more way I’m disconnected here. The action scene has a good balance of physical action and inner thought. Effective, though I’m still itching to actually see/touch things.
This is another well written story that just doesn’t compel me. I’ve covered the technique issues that kept me from diving in, but there’s also a story issue. The first half of the story is basically set up, primarily intellectual, then we have a complication that ends in climax that doesn’t actually cost the MC anything (besides some physical pain); then he apparently guesses the “right” answer and the story’s done. What’s missing is a sense of struggle (other than the nice action scene) and process — the sense of him learning/growing/earning his enlightenment. Quick-reading may be doing a slight disservice here–I may have missed some clues, etc–but that’s what editors must do. It’s our job as writers to overcome that through concrete setting, building tension, etc. When I’m reading slush, I tend to pay attention until I’m no longer compelled to, then I skim to the end. Sometimes the ending will make me go back and read more closely. More often it will not. I think there is an excellent story to be had here. I’m not certain I could help this author bring it out, or I might ask for a rewrite. It needs additional complication, a stronger sense of internal-external balance, and a more fully developed emotional arc.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 This is a really interesting premise and I like the character, but the story arc falls a little flat, and the protagonist doesn’t really change at all.
Story 72 (1/9/2011 Horror 3541 words)
Love the opening line. Dislike the second line. MC knows what he means, why don’t I? The rest of page 1 intrigues me. Page 2 shifts to the almost inevitably less interesting back ground fill. That only lasts 2 paragraphs, which is good. Better would be this information pared down to what is essential for the character as he reacts to his surround. I pretty much tune out when I feel like info is being provided to me so that I’ll understand. That’s not getting me into the character’s journey and usually comes across (to me) as ballast.
This feels like classic unreliable narrator and it’s good on that level so far. Interesting situation. I’d prefer a scene break before he wakes up. I’d sure like to see/feel/smell more in this second scene, to set it off from the first scene and to anchor me more fully in the character’s experience. So this guy? Does he had a face or a body? Does the bed smell? These kinds of specific details can make a scene pop. Okay, I went back when I discovered the guy is a woman and I see there are some specific details at scene opening. Skimmed right over them; they’re kind of lost in the middle of that paragraph since I’m still surprised by the jolt from opening scene. Spread these details out and give them weight and I’ll be with you. It’s pretty clear this is a woman; I think what threw me was the truck driver dialogue she exhibits on page 4 (the broad line). I paid more attention to that then the preceding paragraphs. Interesting.
The rest of the scene seems to mainly rehash what we know. Who’s Ivy? This is a bizarre twist, I’ll give it that, but I’m not really buying the character reactions. Now, he explains? It seems set up to create a twist rather than an outgrowth of his journey. He knew this at story opening. Why wasn’t it relevant to him then? Seems like it would be, especially if the woman was dressed in archaic clothing, hair, etc. He’s not who he was? This just gets odder and odder, but the oddness wasn’t really set up so I’m more confused than intrigued at this point. Page 12 we get the explanation of mystery.
I’m afraid this one doesn’t do much for me. It feels kind of manufactured for effect. I was hoping for an unreliable narrator, but he turns out to be pretty much what he said he was and the mystery doesn’t really grow out of the need he expressed. It’s just kind of given to him in the end.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 This begins pretty well, but loses its way mid-course and ends up with a fairly typical twist. Points for oddness though and the opening premise is nice. It didn’t lead to an equally interesting resolution.
Story 73 (1/9/2011 Horror 2228 words)
First reader said: “While there are moments of nice detail once MC walks into the garden, the length of the ‘inner voice’ at the start of the story kills the momentum. Essentially, it operates in the same way as a lengthy opening flashback, stalling momentum to provide background. In contrast to some of the descriptive prose, I found the dialog stiff and expository. If I can’t like the characters in this story, I want to understand them or be fascinated by them. I didn’t get under MC’s skin and he wasn’t interesting to me.”
I like the opening paragraph, which sets me in a place and time, with a character and implicit flaw/motivation. An experimental piece. I don’t necessarily mind that so long as the experiment leads to a sense of escalating tension (plot and character). The story hasn’t started by page 3 so I’ve pretty much lost interest. Prose is fine. No sign of a speculative element thus far, which does not help. I very much like the feel of this conversation, her home-from-work enthusiasm, his solemn been-to-the-lake responses. On that level it’s interesting, but that goes on too long. Get on with the story already 🙂
This conversation just keeps on going. I’m expecting a certain twist, but it’s taking an awfully long time to get there. Yep, it’s definitely horror, but the element takes a while to show up (it is foreshadowed in the middle story). Okay, this didn’t end with the twist I anticipated. Problem is, the twist I anticipated would have been stronger for me (and I wouldn’t have liked it because it was expected). Some very good writing here. The story takes too long to unwind and ends in grue. I believe there’s an interesting overlay going on (I’d have to read more carefully to be certain), but it’s not really helping the story arc or narrative tension. I hope this gets published somewhere, likely after some tightening through the middle. It’s just not our cup of tea.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 Some very nice writing and a nuanced delivery give this a solid literary horror feel. The story is slow to develop, however, and the payoff doesn’t fully support the word count.
Story 74 (1/9/2011 Fantasy 600 words)
This reads like a description of an idea, lots of summary and bullet point paragraphs meant to satirize us and our government. The points are valid, the premise is interesting, but it’s just not sharp enough to make me care. Now, write this out as a for-real story with for-real characters and for-real tension and this could become a Catch-22 experience with fantasy overlay.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 Good idea and I do like the way it ends, but the story itself does not pull me in and the satire isn’t biting enough to carry it as a meta-fiction or op-ed sort of story.
Story 75 (1/9/2011 Horror 2800 words)
Cerebral opening doesn’t really connect me to the protagonist. This takes too long to develop. It could work as a flash fiction, I think, but the prolonged play up to a simple twist ending doesn’t work. Characters are not particularly deep, leaving the twist idea to carry everything. First reader saw the ending coming very early. From a logic nit standpoint, why was the crock pot in the fridge if it was his habit to consume his meal within a few days?
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 This is a simple premise that’s dragged out too long; the writing is solid, if unexceptional. Not bad, not great.
Story 76 (1/10/2011 Fantasy 2800 words)
First reader: “There is some very nice writing, a good fantasy feel, and a nice idea. But…I was compelled at times and confused at other times. I am still not sure what the ending means. I didn’t feel like there was much of a climax, and wasn’t really sure what was happening at the end or why it was happening. This would probably take a fairly major rewrite to clarify what’s happening and to rework the ending.”
I like the way this opens in mid-scene, but I don’t like that there’s no physical context for the scene until the final line. I’m hovering in emptiness at this point (actually I’m floating). There is evocative writing here, though there are also a few tense wobbles and an occasional typo, but the real problem is that when everything is a hint, nothing is an answer. There’s nowhere concrete for me to plant my feet and observe the true mystery (i.e. what is mysterious TO the protagonist). Instead, I hover in a web of evocative lines, not sure which tug to pay closer attention to. In the end I don’t really care, and this is deadly to a story like this one. I want to like it, I really do. I don’t know why we’re doing this; I mean I understand that the woman tells her to do it, but I don’t understand why that matters to the MC (why is the MC undertaking this journey? what does she hope/need to obtain?). It begins to feel like much ado over nothing. Why does she have to let go? Why does she hunger? Why does she go inland? Why does she do what the woman commands? Why? Each one of these questions is a false mystery (i.e. something known to the viewpoint character, kept hidden from me).
I’m left confused as to what I’ve witnessed. Some interesting goings-on and a feeling of importance, but without more concrete context I’m not connected to the story.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 This manages to evoke a nice fantasy feel and the opening certainly intrigues, but there’s not enough concrete context to connect the reader more fully to the experience.
Story 77 (1/10/2011 SF 700 words)
First Reader: “This might need a little tweak, but I found it compelling, a bit strange, and enjoyable.”
I agree. I would trim some of the opening and maybe rearrange things just a bit, but this is an excellent example of building background in as it become relevant to the MC. Consequently, I’m held right on that intriguing verge between confusion and certainty. The final line is a wonderful summation with just a hint of resonance, matching the mostly intellectual approach (which works here, by the way, since the protagonist has operated from an intellectual baseline throughout, and it’s believable that such a mindset would be required to do what he has done).
I’ll pass this along to the other editors and see what they think.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 This manages to evoke a nice fantasy feel and the opening certainly intrigues, but there’s not enough concrete context to connect the reader more fully to the experience.
Story 78 (1/10/2011 SF 2900 words)
First reader: “This has the feel of an old story, written before cyberpunk. It spends too much time describing how the virtual world looks and not enough on character and plot. It is not very compelling, partly because we start at the ending, knowing he’s going to [do].”
Well, I’m left with the same reaction, I’m afraid. The story begins with a foreground frame meant to hook us with a sensational idea (and it’s pretty sensation), then devolves into pages of background story. We see that a lot. In the end I feel as if I’ve read the description of a potentially neat idea, rather than a story. It will likely need more than this basic premise, however, as this tech has been done rather a lot in SF. Reminds me a little of John Wright’s concept. In my quick read nothing really stood out as completely new and since the character was a secondary concern, it didn’t compel me.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 Competent SF, but the idea is not really fresh enough to carry this and the characters do not stand out.
Story 79 (1/11/2011 Horror 2300 words)
This opens pretty blandly. I get a sense of place, but no real sense of character motivation or tension. By page 4, still no motivation. This reads with novel pacing rather than short story.
The problem here is primarily in story construction. Setting and characters seem interesting, but they do not serve a story purpose. We have about nine pages of setup, which is basically a tour of the setting and meeting characters, then three pages of quick action ending with an explanation of the idea. Story ideally involves a motivated character meeting obstacles that complicate her (outer and inner) journey and force her to change in some important way, at great cost to herself. If these ideas and characters were used in such a context I might rather like the story. No rewrite request, since I’m talking about writing a new story, essentially.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 This reads like a setup for a Stephen King novel rather than a short story. The idea is not utilized in support of story, but tacked on as an explanation.
Story 80 (1/11/2011 SF 4981 words)
Nice title. We’ve seen a lot of good titles this year, now that I think about it. This is another one :-).
First Reader: “This gets off to a slow start. I feel like the characters are waiting around for something to happen most of the time. Of course, their goal is to wait. Even at almost 5000 words, I don’t feel I know the characters. There isn’t a rise in tension over the course of the story. On page 18 when the POV thought “nothing mattered,” I agreed and I still had 7 more pages to read.”
Not an auspicious start, but I’ll strive to give it a fair read. I’ve been reading all day and it’s tough to keep my interest at this point. Welcome to the life of a slush reader/editor. You really do have to compel us to keep reading almost sentence by sentence.
I like the way it opens. When they say “see the ship” it would be keen if we see it too. Given the odd social system, we need some concrete real world details to give us a place to settle and view the strangeness from. For instance, we keep glimpsing body parts, but get no sense of whole body appearances. What’s the Vault look like? That sort of thing. Just a few really concrete details to make the setting real for me. Once the scene is established (and the stage is appropriately set up to contain what is on it) I’ll need less of this sort of thing. I like the explanation of purpose on page 4. I already had a sense of purpose, but this clarifies it for me. Nice complication on page 6. My big problem is that I really can’t tell these characters apart, which makes it hard for me to care as much as I should. I like the way the first scene ends.
I’m kind of skimming through the middle. There is story tension, but because I didn’t invest in these characters I’m finding it hard to care. The idea, however, is fascinating. I think it’s playing out too long at this point. On page 20, my interest rekindles. I’m also caring a little more for the MC.
The final scene plays out too long, but I do like where it goes and how it ends. Overall, this is quite a mixed bag for me. The idea is very good, the story would fit the theme very well, and I like the general approach, but the story feels very long, mainly because I don’t sympathize with characters until too late. My impulse is to ask for a rewrite with a goal of shortening this to 3800 words or so while also differentiating these characters early on and making us care for the MC more quickly. But, one reader has already voted no. I’ll pass it to the other editors for their input.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A very good SF premise and an interesting situation. The middle drags on, despite some tension, and the end plays out too long for its message, but the message is solid.
Story 81 (1/11/2011 Horror 2500 words)
Intense opening that evokes a tense mood and a viewpoint. So far so good. This takes a little long to move forward. I’d tighten the opening page and a half down to one page. By page 3 I’m losing interest. It’s repetitive at this point. Forward movement on page 4 is welcome. So he shushes her, then starts talking? So she shushes him? Doesn’t that seem a little contrived?
I sort of like this tense situation, though it’s not terribly original. But the scenes stretch on and on with mostly mundane stuff at stake. It’s not really building tension, just spreading it out. Is the story about the antagonists or about the guy? It seems unable to decide. Why does the protagonist need this to happen? How is she changed? Oh, good lord, you’re kidding. This is where we’re going with this? Well that was convenient.
There is good story fodder here, but the story isn’t doing enough with it. It settles for superficial situations and reactions and in the end gives the prize to the protagonist without her doing a lot to earn it, or giving up anything to gain it.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 The tension is palpable in places and the protagonist is likable enough. The story drifts, however, without really using its pieces to full effect.
Story 82 (1/12/2011 Horror 4400 words)
This is a good story, with a really strong idea and solid delivery of a character gradually solving his true mystery. The central device is inspired. I do think, however, that parts of it feel a bit phoned in. Sometimes the emotion feels true, sometimes it’s nearly absent. The daughter becomes a defining motivation about halfway through, which gives the story a bit of an ad hoc feeling (for me). Still, it’s a great idea and the writing is more than competent. It does bother me that I’m not sure what the final item removed is. I may have missed the clue earlier, but it surely did not stand out for me. Consequently, the ending doesn’t feel as powerful as it wants to be. It’s still good. I’ll share this with the other editors.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A solid idea told mostly well, this works. The tension could be shaped a little better, and the ending doesn’t quite have the power it should.
Story 83 (1/12/2011 Horror 5001 words)
This opens with a super huge special font title and is apparently pre-formatted in book format for my convenience. This is not generally a good idea, but doesn’t really bother me. It’s easy to change fonts and spacings these days. I do like the story’s title.
The story opens with a series of dramatic sentence-paragraphs. Viewpoint bounces back and forth for no particular reason and the character is unnamed. I’m not anchoring to scene or character, just kind of watching this whirl past. The writing on page 2 is more thoughtful and does pull me into character better. In fact it’s getting downright good by page 3. I’m really not liking that this began as it did – I feel like the opening gave away most of the tension that I could be experiencing now. I know where the story’s going and am impatient to get there.
Well written, often intense, the story carries me along, but I would like it to be more concrete, especially that opening. I believe we’re reading an unreliable narrator, but I’m really not sure; I don’t buy the rationalizations in the final scene, the sudden switches between certainty of goal and certainty of fatherhood. It seems contrived for story sake. If I were revising I would strongly consider dumping that opening section and begin with the wife waking from her “dream”, then proceed from there. I was very much in step with the story through the middle, but the opening and ending confused me enough that I lost some identification with the character. I’ll share this with the other editors, but it could go either way. I will say that this is a good example of true mystery. My problem is that I’m a bit put off by the insistence on remaining vague at the end.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 This is probably the best horror I’ve seen so far in slush; the writing is sharp and sure. The opening and ending do not work as well as they might, however.
Story 84 (1/13/2011 Fantasy 500 words)
First Reader: “The strength of this story is in the description of little details. The sense of place is very, very strong and this is a real achievement in a story this short. However, I don’t believe the concept is as strong as the description. There’s not much at stake for the protagonist apart from finding out what he’s seen and I didn’t quite buy his emotional reactions to the seemingly incredible.”
I like the little details, yes, but I felt the larger stage was too often absent. Mainly my reaction is to the mysterious “he” in the second paragraph. I needed just a little context for this moment. If the modern day is being overlapped by the past, I would expect the protagonist to SEE this transition in some sense, or at least react to it. When he first sees the volcano I’m on board, but he doesn’t react when it apparently disappears? I think I would be invested in this if I got the sense that it wasn’t the man fading in and out of ruins, but the ruins themselves fading in and out. Since we never see the larger stage in detail, it’s hard for me to get the sense of this happening. I agree that a somewhat stronger emotional action would be useful too. I don’t say this often, but I think this needs a few more words 🙂 Finally, because the ending just sort of happens without any real reaction from the protagonist, I come away feeling that it’s not terribly important. This is just a day-in-the-life vignette, nicely described but ultimately indifferent. Based on a closer reading, I think something quite important does happen, but I don’t know what or why. The protagonist has no reaction, why should I? Fix that and I’m likely a fan of this. For now, I’ll pass on it, but would be happy to look at a revision if this makes sense to the author. I wouldn’t mind it running to 1000 words if it answered my questions and fleshed out the larger scene a little (and perhaps gave slightly more context for why this character is able to do what he does – it may not be him, but the coin or his particular timing, but it’s too obscure for me to guess now). And, yes, ideally there ought to be a price to the protagonist for what he does in the end, though I wouldn’t want it to be the obvious one (losing himself in past).
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 Good microfiction, that doesn’t quite rise to the level of “meaningful” for me. Yet.
Story 85 (1/13/2011 SF 4900 words)
First Reader: “Despite a monsterous first sentence, a surplus of adverbs (especially in dialog tags), info-dumps and ‘as you know Bob’ dialog, I quite liked this story. I’m not sure I can recommend a re-write as it would be a lot of work to cut out the info-dumps and sharpen up the writing, but I really liked the imagination and world-building. This is the kind of Steampunk I like. Since he’s getting a full critique, I’d go out of my way to encourage him.”
Sounds intriguing. Yoy, no kidding about this sprawling opening sentence. Too much. The opening paragraph evokes a sense of steampunk very well, but I think it can be cleaned up as well. Love the way the paragraph ends, however. We’re in scene with a character and a potential motivation. This is one wacky little steampunk world. I’m liking it so far. It’s moving just a little sluggishly. Worth the wait, but could be crisper.
The complications are very good. The action is sometimes a little hampered by pacing issues, but the ending works very well and the issue at the core of this is timely and well delineated through the story. Since this author purchased a full critique, I’ll work through that tomorrow. My sense is that this story is a keeper with some additional work on technique. It is shaped well and leads to an interesting place in an interesting manner.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 Excellent core idea, strong characterization, interesting language (though sometimes just a touch overdone). Pacing issues hold it back slightly at the scene level.