See my previous post for disclaimers. Having fallen further behind, I place one foot in front of the other through the backlog. I’m hoping that these capsule reactions are helping folks out there because they do slow me down somewhat, and that’s a negative for contributors. I’ll try to move faster through these and do more ditto-ing of points I’ve raised in prior posts.
Story 98 (1/18/2011 Horror 3000 words)
This is a revision of a story we rejected earlier. I suggested that it might be acceptable with some significant revision. In such cases I’m certainly happy to see the revision. It’s less certain that we’ll take such stories than if we had requested a formal rewrite, but the point is to get the best stories we can however we can (legally?).
Okay, I like the mystery of the opening. By page 2 I want just a little more internalization, however. I feel like I’m being held artificially out of viewpoint (it would take maybe a line to fix that). On page 3 I’m getting into it. The writing is a little awkward at times, which keeps me from fully connecting. It’s a little too difficult to segregate real from unreal. The best way to manage this is to focus on distinct, concrete details in the for-real passages and let it blend into fuzzy focus in the unreal. Right now there’s not enough contrast between the two for me to feel anchored.
Page 5 tooth scene is what I’m talking about. I’m definitely anchored now. Ouch. I’m getting goose bumps at one passage. This story is much closer now. Before I felt I had glimpsed a shadowy behemoth beneath the surface; now I see it, tantalizingly close to breaching, but not quite there. I keep wanting to go in and edit the language just so in certain places to make it sharp and needy. In other places I sit back and admire it.
Loving the middle of this (p8-11). Gotta love the demon, no?
Sweet ending. I gotta say, Author, that you blew the doors off this revision. It needs some polish in the opening third or so, but once it finds its footing it rocks right along. I get it this time around. I will send this to another reader for a fresh reaction. The fact that it’s horror could work against acceptance, but regardless of the outcome here, I hope you will take pride in what you have accomplished with this revision.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 Tremendous psychological horror. The mystery is genuine (after first page) and emotions real. Nice.
Story 99 (1/18/2011 Other 2300 words)
Reader 1: “While this story has a strong voice and expertly mimics the tone of a Poe-era story, I don’t think there’s enough of a story to recommend this one. It relies too heavily on knowledge of Poe’s Dupin stories for its success and it isn’t strong enough a story on its own. I expected a bit more of a meta-story in that the narrator would provide more of a Dupin-style mystery (i.e. a chance to match my intellect against the protagonist’s), but the structure doesn’t present a clear set of clues and then the intuitive leap to the denouement that I expected. Without a clever mystery at its heart, most of this story presupposes knowledge of Poe. It’s a lovely piece of writing, but there’s simply not enough plot here to satisfy me.”
Yes, I do see an expertise in the prose of the era it seeks to capture. I can see myself curling up before a fire and reading those thick pages one by one. Unfortunately, it’s not really hitting the notes we look for in Triangulation. We don’t mind period writing, but story is what matters, and I’m almost halfway through before I’m presented with the actual mystery of this piece. That’s too leisurely for us, I’m afraid. And, yes, the ending leaves me feeling as if I’ve witnessed a minor event (though it’s clearly not). It just didn’t compel me.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 In terms of atmosphere and setting, this works well as a period piece. The story, however, is laboriously slow by our standards and the ending too slight (in its effect if not its reality).
Story 100 (1/18/2011 SF 5200 words)
Reader 1: “The story works for the first half. The writing is good and the character done well until the second half when he loses his gruffness. I think this could be a good story if the second half was chopped short and it became a character realization story instead of a surprise idea ending. It might work with a rewrite.” (plot spoilers removed)
This opens well, though I’d like to see the first 3 pages condensed into 2.5 or so. It’s a little slowish. I want to get to the cool complication more quickly. The explanation at end of first scene doesn’t quite work for me. Probably a matter of the wording of it.
On page 7 we get a clearer hint of what’s going on. I like what the being says very much. In fact I like it so much that I wonder if this could happen at the end of scene 1 to speed up the story. I don’t mind what I’ve read, but it’s not compelling and it’s not really escalating my understanding all that much. Now if this being shows up in scene 1 and then I learn some of this information, I’m probably more interested. I’m not suggesting the entire explanation be moved up, but that the woman at the end of scene 1 be replaced by one of these beings, with the cryptic initial message about what is going on. Then the stumbling around to find media, the larger world interpretation, and a second encounter (with a different being?) where questions are answered. This might cut a few words and would be a more compelling way to go, I think.
Scene that starts on page 12 does indeed shift gears. In the first half of story I felt I was experiencing events through the MC. Now I get the distinct sense the MC has become a tour guide. What he’s doing makes sense, but I feel no connection to him. It’s a good, active scene, however, which helps. Still, the change in perspective is troubling. I’m suddenly less interested in the story. I feel like he’s befriending this guy because the script tells him to; where is his need prior to this encounter? Probably won’t take much to fix this.
Page 22. This seems random. I’d better learn WHY this person was doing this disguised as a human. Story comes full circle, but I don’t feel a sense of resolution. The ending was just kind of an explanation of idea rather than story escalation. I feel as if this is two separate stories. The first one is intensely interesting, the second one not so much. Fix that and this will be a keeper. I’ll send it to another editor. It’s possible we would request a rewrite, but I’m not quite sure what to suggest. It will be a fairly significant change.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 I’m tempted to give this two ratings, a 9 for the first half and a 3 for the second. A wonderful idea, with excellent complication in the first half followed by a typical relatively flat second half.
Story 101 (1/18/2011 SF 3200 words)
Reader 1: “In this end of the world story, the first half is spent telling us that some announcement’s been made and the end is coming. The view point is mixed at the beginning. The story doesn’t start until about halfway through. Not really any character change or reader discovery. Nothing special about the POV or the town to make them stand out.” (plot spoilers removed)
This starts in mid-scene and the writing is strong. I’m a little put off by the artificial withholding of info to create mystery. I’d much prefer having the reveal on page 2 (which is nicely stated, by the way) on the opening page. It worries me that the story will work to hard to hide the obvious rather than developing a story arc. We’ll see.
Nope, that’s not the problem. The prose is fine, the level of detail nice. I like the explanation for the knives. What is missing, however, is a sense of motive. Why does the story begin where it does for the MC? So far her role has been as tour guide to the idea. I’m interested in what’s here, but not compelled to read on. Ah. Yes, the story could begin with the man’s entrance. That changes her worldview. I don’t know if that’s enough, but it’s something. I like their dialogue. I am feeling, however, that the idea is being milked a little too heavily. Lots of consequences, no real escalation yet. I’m skimming by page 8. It’s starting to feel like chit-chat. It’s a good idea, but not a story.
Oh no. The MC actually becomes a tour guide in the second half? Pretty spooky. That’s it? 3200 words for a simple (and pretty standard) twist? Consider trying this as a flash piece, say 800-1000 words. It’s a nice idea and there’s some sharp writing here, but the story is lacking motive, complication, and escalation.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 Interesting “what if”, but the story arc is minimal.
Story 102 (1/19/2011 SF 3400 words)
Reader 1: “This is well written and well characterized. For me, there are a number of plot holes which make the climatic symbolic gesture irrelevant. I think there are also plot holes that threw me out of the story. I’m happy for these possible plot holes to be addressed by the author (there’s a good chance I’m technically wrong). as such, I’d recommend a re-write because I think the core theme of acceptance of your past mistakes versus old regrets and living in the moment can be very, very powerfully done if given the right treatment. What I don’t think is made clear is the significance of his final decision. This bears the problem of a passive protagonist who has events thrust upon him rather than acting in the current moment. The background is fascinating and full of rich detail, but the story itself doesn’t make the personal stakes explicit. What hard choice does the protag make and why isn’t this explicit? I’d recommend a re-write.” (plot spoilers removed)
Reader 2: “It has all the markings of an okay story, but the climax just isn’t there. I don’t know what to suggest with this one. I might give it an okay if it could be improved. I don’t want to give it an automatic no, but am not going to fight for it.” (plot spoilers removed)
Wonderful opening. Great first line immediately followed by context that sets me firmly in character, in place, and with a motive. It’s rocking through page 3.
The complication on page 5 should come up earlier. Background on page 6 seems convenient. Should come up earlier. I’m having to reinvent the story I thought I was reading. Nicely written though. Good level of detail, great dialogue. Again on page 7 I feel this is the story opening, not its middle. Here, I get a broader context. Here I get a sense of the story being more important than one guy. I am confused, however, as to exactly why the MC wants to die with patents intact. It would be easy to CLEARLY explain this situation so that I would not be focused so much on figuring out what’s going on and could enjoy the story unfolding instead.
Oh, Dear Deity. There is so much wonderful here, yet the story is shaped all wrong. Move the stuff about Ben to the story opening, explain the setup clearly in the opening, use the dreams as a complication, use the daughter-in-law as a escalating complication (only be clearer about exactly what she wants and exactly why he doesn’t want her to get it), use the reporters as a climax (need to escalate the danger of that scene, and force MC to make a choice, perhaps to give in and express emotion rather than withholding as he does by habit – this would be painful to him and mimic the story’s theme). Then the letter as an anti-climax. Do that and this story will work.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 Great core idea, very nice writing. The story develops poorly, however.
Story 103 (1/19/2011 Horror 1900 words)
This opens with a mysterious delivery. I’m in scene, in character, and motivated. Good. It’s about a writer; not so good, but not a killer. First scene ends with a time travel element. I think paradox at once. I also think this had better go somewhere other than the obvious route. Second scene is nicely handled.
Okay, the twist in scene three redeems the idea for me. Nice.
Dang. It all comes collapsing down in the final scene, which takes this to a too familiar place and spends its energy recapping a more interesting scene. Plus it doesn’t quite make sense (in a paradox sort of way). It does try diligently, however. I wanted to like this one, but I don’t see how to “fix” it, so I guess I’ll have to wish the author luck in placing it elsewhere. It won’t surprise me to see it published on the strength of the writing and the clever twist on the basic idea. Not enough here to sell me on it, however. Maybe as a 1000 word flash? Hard to say. I think I’d prefer a longer story with the paradox issue worked out more clearly and additional complications and explorations of theme such that it doesn’t rely so heavily on the old chestnut of an ending.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 Good writing, good emotion, nice twist on an old idea. It ends weakly, however, in a too familiar place.
Story 104 (1/20/2011 SF 5000 words)
Reader 1: “The first 4/27 pages introduce MC and are unnecessary. Page 4-7 we find out about the [antogonist]. On page 7 a child ends up dead, killed by the [antagonist] and [MC] finally has a problem. The story continues to drag. This doesn’t have enough escalation to hold my attention. I wish there had been more at stake. Other people might like it though.” (plot spoilers removed)
This begins well. We’re in mid-action, in scene, in character. Motivation is not clear yet, but there’s time for that. Too many adjectives and adverbs weaken the prose somewhat. The story isn’t really escalating after three pages. Wouldn’t you know it? End of page three story escalates. I would suggest maybe condensing these first pages just a bit.
Here’s one of those passages we should watch out for as writers: “Anger swept over [MC’s] body.” When emotion happens to a character or when a body part acts on its own, it can be a sign that we have lost connection with the viewpoint character and are writing from outside rather than inside. The question then becomes whether that’s the most effective place for us to be writing from in that story moment. Here, it is not. The rest of the scene is a little superficial, especially the dialogue between MC and family. It feels staged rather than genuine. It’s good to have this interaction here, just not working at full potential yet.
Okay, while there’s nothing really wrong here (and a good deal right), the story isn’t really compelling me. I think it’s because I feel as if I’m being led through the plot by the nose. Here’s what I need to see now; here’s where this aspect escalates. In a case like this, it’s usually not a matter of moving scenes around, but of sharpening the actual scenes and amping up the investment in character. When I feel as if a character is being moved across a stage by invisible fingers, it’s not as interesting as if they seem to be moving of their own volition, reacting to their world in occasionally unexpected ways, etc.
The action on page 11, for example, is not particularly involving. I see it well enough, but I don’t care enough yet. The tension with the son, as another example, seems more repetitious than escalating. I like how this breaks scene after the first half climax, and advances me almost casually into the future. MC’s emotions seem more genuine here too. I’m soon back to not caring quite enough as MC’s wife leads him through a scene. I learn something I should have learned in the first section (that he has not been allowing her to show him this before – if it was set up, I missed it).
A predictable twist regarding the son. The confrontation also seems a little by the book. This is a story that is competently written and competently imagined, but doesn’t have that spark, yet, that pushes it to the next level. I believe the key is to get closer to these characters and write from within the protagonist so that we begin to feel his emotional state and understand what is at stake for him. The story should probably be shorter as well, or additional complication added. The device found in the second half seems conveniently delivered in order to make the ending possible, rather than earned through the MC’s efforts or choices.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A perfectly competent story, though slow to develop and long for its payoff.