See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My goal today is to get through 25 stories. Will I make it? What will be left of me if I do?
Story 127 (1/28/2011 Fantasy4000 words)
Reader 1: “This is a reprint. I read the first 5 pages and felt very disoriented. [Author] doesn’t set the scene and all these people and terms are sprinkled about. The story is almost totally mostly banter that doesn’t move the story forward.”
This certainly drops us into the middle of an intriguing situation. That the story then spends effort keeping me intentionally in the dark works somewhat against it. In general we’re better off looking for interesting ways to reveal true mystery than creating false mystery through withholding details artificially. This is a really interesting example, so I thought I’d use it here (sanitized to protect the innocent):
As the body materialized on the slab, [MC] clapped [SC’s] massive back.
“Betcha it‟s a [term],” [MC] said.
[SC] shrugged off the hand. “Bite me, [MC].”
[MC] smiled. “Just saying we haven‟t had a misplaced [term] in a long time.” [MC] had told [someone] he could just call [SC] if and when a [term] appeared, but[someone] wouldn‟t budge. Protocol demanded they both be present. That, and [MC’s] previous…indiscretion.
Notice how we’re plunged immediately into a scene we don’t understand, in a way that makes us want to understand. The opening line works well. Second line establishes character and relationship effectively. It introduces a term they’re familiar with in a way that feels natural. Good. Third paragraph establishes character relationship and sense of tone. For me, it’s less effective, because I now begin to expect a banter story, wherein clever chit chat is substituted for story. I’m not fond of those, especially 4000 words worth. Fourth paragraph gives me hope that I’m wrong. This gives me context for a situation with depth, using terms that make sense in context. However, that final line, with its veiled reference to an indiscretion the MC clearly knows all about, worries me again. Here is the first blatant false mystery. It’s a new clause in the contract the writer is establishing with me: I’m going to be coy here; I’m not going to reveal true mystery, but rely on cleverness to hold your interest. That’s not usually a contract I’m willing to sign off on. However, the opening salvo has enough genuinely interesting stuff to keep me going for now.
Scene 2 continues with this mix of clever banter and genuine mystery. It’s pretty good so far, but I can’t help feeling it’s a bit padded. Clever banter tends to do that for me. I like sharp, but even sharp gets dull without story movement. I’m onto the basic idea by page 3 or 4. That’s not a problem so long as the story does something with that idea. In a lesser writer’s hands I would be pretty certain the story would settle for a reveal of idea for its payoff (ineffective at this word count). I have more faith here.
P7 reveals the underlying idea in an effective way. I think I would have preferred this a few pages ago, however. The explanation goes on a bit long as well. By page 9 the story is beginning to develop a more story-like feel. I’m seeing the potential here. I do wonder at this point what the MC’s goal is. So far it seems to be to explain the story concept to me. That’s not so good. On p10 we learn what the “indiscretion” was. It feels staged to me; we’re back to clever rather than substantial. p11-12 is a flashback that reveals what was withheld earlier. It’s character background, but I still don’t understand WHY the MC is motivated to do what he does. Good tension in 12-13. If I felt more connected to the MC this tension would be well done. Because I’m still not sure what tone the story intends, it’s not as effective as I would like. P15 brings a real escalation. Because I’m not sure why the MC has done what he’s done, it’s not really working for me now; feels a bit ad hoc.
An interesting final scene that doesn’t really feel earned. There’s a really powerful story hiding in here. It’s a great idea and the writing is nicely energetic. I really wanted to like this one, but it ends up feeling a little too disjointed and tone-uneven for me to sign on. If I were revising, I would return to story principles, particularly character arc. We do learn what this character wants/needs, but it’s never set up early in the story, and the clever banter of some sections work against the more serious tone of the ending. The banter is fine as characterization, but we also need a stronger sense that the banter papers over a very real want/need and that subsequent scenes provide legitimate complication/exploration of the theme and character issues.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 Excellent idea and some energetic writing. Story and character arcs are unevenly developed, sapping the ending of some of its power.
Story 128 (1/28/2011 Fantasy1400 words)
Reader 1: “Nicely deadpan, but I’m not sure it’s a great fit. It’s kind of cute, but there’s not really much story in a traditional sense. In the end, I’m not sure it fits the anthology, though I do like how po-faced the story is. I like it, I’m just not sure i like it enough to recommend it.”
The story begins in mid-scene, which is nice. Definitely quirky idea and a nicely mundane MC to contrast it. He’s reacting to stimulus and thereby exploring the real mystery of the situation. Nice. My biggest problem is that I can’t quite picture what is being described. The initial description is intriguingly bizarre, but it quickly devolves to a more mundane description that makes it difficult for me to understand that first image. As if that opening line is ONLY a hook in retrospect. I’m liking this, but it feels a little flat all the same.
My interest perks when the doctor arrives. This takes me to a more surreal place that seems to better fit the opening image. The wife’s reaction in mid p3 doesn’t strike me as genuine enough to keep the tension between surreal and mundane relevant. p4 I don’t really get the sense she IS wondering. She feels like a set piece to me, which isn’t helping the story generate tension. Great deadpan about waking up with a desire to orbit. Again, the wife’s reaction does not work for me. The transformation on p6 is nicely surreal, but feels rushed in this context. There’s no push back from the wife or his own reaction. It just is, which leads to a sense of flatness for me (ironic given the story’s content). On p6 the character story develops legs and starts moving forward. Too late. We seem to move to a second story on p7. This goes to a good place, it’s just not shaped well to earn that ending. If I were revising I would begin with story basics, set up the relationship discord in scene 1, use the first signs of transformation as a complication, escalate through the doctor, then develop actual tension between MC and wife and make the actual transformation play out through the climatic scene. Right now it’s as if there’s this really neat idea, but the story can’t quite decide where to go with it. This will be a good one if you persist.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 Intriguing idea that goes to an interesting place. The story lacks optimal shaping and focus, leading to a sense of flatness and shifting gears.
Story 129 (1/28/2011 Fantasy ?? words)
Reader 1: “Oh man, I really like this, but I’m not sure it quite works. But then, maybe it does. This is more literary than most people will like. I wish there was a bit more of a fantasy element. Hmm.”
Reader 2: “I wanted to like this a lot more than I did in the end. When it started, I gave it a big thumbs up because the voice/style is very, very strong, but by the end, I had grown a little bit tired of its elusiveness. While I can live with a fair bit of style over substance, especially when it’s as well-written as this, the protagonist needed to be more reactive to [someone]. When a story is as well-written as this, I don’t think there needs to be a huge amount of plot, but externally, this is almost a still-life. I’d recommend it if the author is willing to make their protagonist work a little harder to achieve their interior change.”
Sounds like I’m in for a treat. Shall we? Very nice opening. Evocative and efficient. The prose glows (unlike that phrase). The first two paragraphs on p2 are evidence for Reader 2’s reaction. They’re nicely observed, but do not really move the story forward. Even sharp will become dull after a while. I’m losing a little steam. End of p2 jolts me back to attention. On p3 “To remember what?” This works IF it’s a genuine clue to the story’s payoff. Otherwise it’s just a counter beat to keep me interested at prose level. That’s not enough for the anthology. Let me repeat that I love this on a prose basis. The language is lively and wonderfully observant.
The character’s explanation at top of p7 seems pat, especially since the MC has just thought the same thing. The story had better have a little more to offer. Alas, it settles for resonance. The idea is very simple, perhaps too simple. The complication is wild and wonderful, but leads us back to the same place we started in a sense. I need more character complication and, particularly, investment (i.e. cost) in her decision. Right now she’s acted upon by the universe to achieve something she already knows intellectually. That could be all right if the story punched me in the gut with why knowing and feeling a thing have different values (subjectively). But it doesn’t.
I’ll send this one over the Jamie for the final vote. I definitely need a bit more character accessibility here. We are a speculative fiction anthology. Lovely writing in support of that mission is perfect. Lovely writing without a relevant spec fic element becomes a more difficult sale. Here there is a hint of magic realism, but it could just as easily be the character’s mood motivating the payoff. I do think this should be published. The question is whether we should take it for the anthology. It doesn’t actually fit the theme as it stands, but a simple tweak at the end would fix that.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A beautifully observed interaction between characters. The story lacks an accessible speculative element and is not clearly appropriate for the theme.
Story 130 (1/28/2011 Horror 5500 words)
Reader 1: “I liked this one, though to be honest it’s mostly coasting on voice and character. The plot itself is pretty standard, but it’s well written. What concerns me here (which, obviously is a big problem in my own writing, so maybe this is a bit of projection) is clarity and specificity of motivation. The first diary entry sets up a whole bunch of questions that are never answered, so we’re left in the dark as to the crucial motivation that gets them to the setting. The most important question is only hinted at. While it’s clear that the most important motivator is to gain an understanding of [someone], the specifics are unclear. Everyone in the story knows why they are going, but the reader doesn’t. It should be a pretty easy to clarify why the expedition is happening and what the protagonist (and other characters) hopes to gain from this trip. If this isn’t supplied, then it’s simply a well-written example of Victorian-era explorers going through the jungle and meeting a Lovecraftian end. Supplying motivation would also help with the foreshadowing that is needed in this story. I like the writing enough to suggest a re-write.”
Need I say more? I guess I’ll have to read the story to find out. This begins with a diary entry that establishes setting and character in an interesting manner. Difficult to pull that off. Nice. This rolls along nicely through 5 pages. I’m a bit concerned that we’ve already accepted one epistolary piece. A second might overbalance the collection. Depends somewhat on where this goes.
I have to agree that I’m hungry for story motivation by p8. The where’s and what’s are nicely deserved and the voice pulls me right along. Good light and dark moments, but I’m still waiting to find out WHY we’re undertaking this and what we hope to gain through it. There’s the hint of a mystery that has always surrounded a key character, but no speculation as to what it might be. It’s offered as a given. I want more than that; I want a character who wonders, who seeks and sacrifices. She’s going through the motions of an adventure at this point.
On p8 for example, the MC is given a chance to turn back; she makes the right choice in going on, but WHY? What does she hope to gain? At the end of p8 we get the mundane explanation, but not the emotional one, the REAL one that drives our MC. At the end of p12 we learn again the MC is unwilling to give up, but not WHY, not what she needs from this experience; she’s obviously willing to risk a lot, but why?
A very good Victorian adventure. The element I’m missing is the main motivation for this undertaking. If that is wound through the journal entries, I will be much happier. Without it, this feels a bit like a (very good) exercise in period writing. I’m inclined to agree about the Rewrite, but will see what the other editors say first.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A very good Victorian epistolary featuring a good variety in tone and journal entry length and a strong sense of rising tension. Character motivation is curiously lacking.
Story 131 (1/29/2011 Horror 2300 words)
Reader 1: “The issue with this one is that any promise in the set-up isn’t fulfilled because it doesn’t use a clear structure to drive the story onwards. The protagonist is mostly telling the story in hindsight and there isn’t a clear conflict, inciting incident, etc. Things happen to the protagonist, but he isn’t driving the story. He is essentially a passive character and does very little to overcome the obstacles that are placed in his way. Furthermore, I didn’t buy the character motivation throughout the story and there was a fair bit of telling about the protagonist’s emotional state rather than letting us infer how they were feeling.”
The story opens with somewhat generic overview. The first sentence is a “hook” in that it states an interesting premise, but it doesn’t place us into mid-scene. The opening paragraph pretty much explains an idea and a character. There’s no immediacy and the voice isn’t compelling enough to carry me through the summary. It’s not bad writing, just not as strong as it needs to be for such an opening to work.
p2 begins to show us what we were told about on p1. Feels repetitive rather than escalatory. The last paragraph on p2 is a great example to illustrate the concept of natural character reaction. I’ll post a bit here (to be removed if author wishes).
They weren’t pretty. (intellectual reaction PRIOR to stimulus, i.e. he concludes before seeing evidence; this is unnatural sequence) I didn’t know why, but only their top halves were visible. (same problem) Either they were levitating or I just wasn’t ready to view them in their entirety. (same issue) Their features were identical besides a few subtle variations. (seeing similarities before we see specifics) They appeared to be about the same size of an average adult human. (this is the stimulus; it’s good to begin with the overall shape as this does) Their skin was dark gray and covered with tiny bumps, it reminded me of a rhinoceros. (zooming into detail; this is a natural progression) Those pink sunken in eyes never left me. (this is a conclusion prior to evidence; eyes never left me, but haven’t seen the eyes yet) They never blinked. I wasn’t sure if they had eye lids. And if they had pupils I wasn’t able to tell. (the details are fine, but it seems unlikely a person would pay attention to this AFTER focusing on the eyes that never blink and stare relentlessly – in other words, the character is not reacting naturally, the author is describing for my benefit).
The more I read slush, the more I come to realize that the difference between me feeling involved (in-scene) and distant (hovering above scene) is in how a character reacts to scene stimulus. When that is natural, i.e. stimulus->physical/emotional reaction->intellectual synthesis, I feel connected to a character in-scene. When it is not natural, I either feel trapped in a head or as if I’m hovering above a scene. There are times when either technique is useful, but it’s best to have a good reason to employ them. Do you want the reader to identify closely with a character’s situation, or do you need him to assimilate the larger picture? Each has benefits and costs in terms of reader participation in your story. For a cogent discussion of this idea see Pepper’s Blogs, which also reference the original article about MRU (motivation-reaction unit) theory.
This particular story opted for a full critique, so I’ll take the remainder of my comments off line rather than duplicate effort. In general I’ll spend between 1-2 hours on a critique. Right now I’m running pretty slow with them, but I do try to be helpful. The main problem I see in this story is that it’s not really a story, but an explanation of an idea. There is some story movement beginning on p5 and the core concept has potential. I’ll focus on that in my critique.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 2 An interesting concept. Story and character arcs are largely absent.
Story 132 (1/30/2011 Horror 2000 words)
Reader 1: “This story is about [stuff]. It seemed very long for 2000 words. I think that was because it didn’t really escalate in tension at all and was repetitive. If the POV was an unreliable narrator, it’s difficult to tell. If its an actual being, the consequences of anyone else contacting it are unclear. Overall the story was too vague for me.” (plot spoilers removed)
This one also begins in summary. The language is more involving, but I’m already hungry for story after p1. Second scene is also distant – this is told in the form of a journal or diary entry (if you read this…), an intentionally distancing technique. It can certainly work (see story 130), but more often it simply makes a relatively uninvolving story that much less involving. I’m getting that sense here. There’s nothing specific, just a general warning of direness. Mostly I’m being told everything except the relevant details (what happened, where, why it matters). False mystery. There is also true mystery, but it’s not really being explored so far.
Thirds scene is more inward rumination on everything except what matters most. Background, sure, but where is the story? Fourth scene is more of the same, though we’re gradually homing in on the why’s and what’s and maybe where’s. Generally that’s where a story should begin.
On p7: “I attempt no description of the thing I have seen, I know now that not all things are understandable.”
And therein lies the main problem with this story. It’s spent six pages philosophizing and setting up background only to tell me that I can’t see what is mysterious and can’t understand the point. The story ends with an interesting premise. I feel as if I’ve read an idea here, rather than a story. Unfortunately, I have not identified with this character other than in a diffuse intellectual manner that does not generate the power this ending requires. If I were to revise, I would return to story basics and tell the story forward. What is the character’s status quo at story opening? What is the inciting incident (the think that disrupts this status quo and forces the character to strive/change)? What complicates his journey (in a manner that explores the story’s theme and adds tension to the character’s journey)? What is the climax (point of highest tension)? What decision does the character make and what does it cost him? What does he earn or lose? Why should this matter to me?
This journal device only emphasize the problems we see in most idea stories: a lack of emotional identification with character and a lack of story arc.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A solid, if familiar, idea that lacks story arc and character identification.
Story 133 (1/30/2011 SF 4000 words)
Reader 1: “This is a good story, but I think the opening needs a bit of trimming because it repeats the same idea several times. I also think it could use a bit of editing. Overall I like it.”
Reader 2: “There is a lot of good writing here. The opening feels a little awkward to me, and I feel like the character’s decision to abandon his principles comes a little too easily. Also, I would like an indication that the character is a guy earlier in the story. It jarred me a little bit. It’s way too bleak for my taste, but it’s good and it fits the theme.”
Reader 3: “I think this one needs some minor re-writing, but I like the world-building and premise enough to recommend. The central conflict needs to be closer to the front and complications ensuring from thereon. Too much time is spent on background details of the world and hinting at the protagonist’s choice when it’s clear what they will/will not have to do in order to survive. Some of the writing at the start is a bit clunky.”
Sounds interesting. I like the opening in that it sets us down in mid-scene and evokes a sense of the exotic. I do think it could be a little more concrete, however. It suffers mildly from unnatural progression (in a couple places we get intellectual reaction prior to stimulus, which leaves me feeling “blind” for a beat). Once the details do come, they’re good, solid details.
Gets stronger on p2. Nice situation; good tension. P3 has some background disguised as dialogue. There’s no reason not to use some internal thought here, especially in first person. p5 has a good example of world-building through internal thought. This is an interesting world to be sure and relevant to us in the here and now.
Yes, I agree with the other readers here. This is a strong story that needs just a little restructuring and some minor editing. I believe we’ll take it contingent on a final edit to address the problems we see.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A strong SF story with solid world- and character-building. The opening section is flabby and the middle does not quite escalate cleanly.
Story 134 (1/30/2011 Fantasy 2200 words)
Reader 1: “While I ended up liking this story more than I thought I would from the start, there isn’t enough complication and revelation to make this one fly. I like the core idea, but there isn’t quite enough done with it. For a fairly short story, the opening domestic scene is too drawn out and once the [thing] is revealed, there aren’t enough set backs and complications on the way to the end.”
The story begins with summary and there’s an uncomfortable (and technically incorrect) tense issue in the first sentence. We then move to backflash. I just don’t understand why we feel so compelled to utilize unnecessary frames. Telling a story forward is perfectly acceptable, honest. The first couple pages is mainly chit-chat (dialogue that doesn’t do more than show people talking). I’m confused by the lack of reaction at the end of p2. People walking five miles is not surprising?
What the characters do is interesting, but the total lack of a reaction from the MC really keeps my from identifying. I’m just watching stuff play out on a stage, essentially. It’s not very involving at this point. It’s interesting reading this. The MC goes through the motions of an emotional reaction, but feels nothing internally. Nice line to end the scene on p5.
On p6, the following: “I heard her grunt, growl and groan.” This may seem like nothing, but it’s actually a symptom of the story’s major problem. It’s being written from OUTSIDE the character rather than within. Note the difference when you read: “She grunted, growled, groaned.” The second version does away with the redundant filter “I heard”. It becomes immediate and puts me inside the character sensing out, rather than outside hearing about her senses. Obviously it’s not enough just to change the language, but my point is that when you find yourself using these sorts of phrases (“I heard” “She knew” “He realized”) it’s often symptomatic of the fact you’re not inside the character in that moment.
Since character identification is the largest problem I’m having here, I thought I’d raise the issue. Nothing against the particular sentence in this story. Interesting phenomenon going on here. I just don’t care about it as I would if I empathized with the character.
I feel as if I’ve read an idea. The story does attempt to engage me with a likable character, but I never really connect with her. This is another case where first person probably hurts the story much more than it helps. If I were revising, I would definitely cast this in close third person. I’d also flesh out the character and her family in my mind so that I can better bring out what she needs/wants from this story and what it costs her emotionally to make her decision in the end. This is a good basic blueprint for a story (though I would do away with the first paragraph “frame” and just tell it forward), it’s just not doing enough to pull me into character or build story tension (a related issue).
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting idea, bordering on surreal. Flat characterization works against a powerful resolution.
Story 135 (1/30/2011 Fantasy 4293 words)
Reader 1: “While I liked the world set up and a lot of the prose, I don’t think there’s enough of a story. There should be a great story here but there isn’t; it doesn’t take advantage of a set-up ripe for conflict, nice characterization and a poignant ending. I like the Handsmaid Tale type stories, but there’s a huge amount of unnecessary back story and the story starts before the true inciting incident. If you strip out the backstory, there’s not enough meat in the plot IMO.”
Joy. The unnamed character strikes again. I’m confused by the first paragraph. Is ‘he’ her husband? If so, why the opacity? If not, why the opacity? It would be easy to make this clear rather than obscure. Second paragraph, ditto. The prose is evocative, the scene being painted not so much. Third paragraph, ditto. What can be said clearly in one sentence is taking three or four.
This is a great example of what I mean by our desire for stunning language “in service of story”. Here, the entire effect depends upon language. In story terms the opening scene has one story movement (MC wakes) and 2 pages of sparkling, if somewhat overworked, prose. As a speculative fiction reader, I’m much more interested in story momentum.
There’s some decent world building in the second scene, though I have the same difficulty here as I did in the previous story. I’m not seeing this through character, but through a filter imposed by the author. In this case the filter is language and image.
Third scene is almost pure background. It’s much more accessible and suggests an interesting world, but it’s not moving story forward. Fourth scene is closest so far to actual story complication. Mainly I wonder what the character wants/needs. She seems here simply to show me around the story world at this point. That can work, especially with an interesting world, but it’s more likely to work at novel length, where sharpness is not at such a premium.
Here’s a good example of my problem with this story: “We shrink from the tick of minutes…” Does this actually get me inside the character’s perspective, or is it showing me the character’s reaction from the author’s vernacular? In isolation, a sentence like this can stand out in a good way; when it’s one of many such sentences, it’s simply more language to work through in trying to visualize a scene or identify with a character.
Some good details in next section. It remains mostly summary, rather than story movement, however. Ah. On page 10, we have an inciting incident, I think. This is where the story will likely begin. Sort of. Still a lot of summary and background. It’s an interesting dilemma, though. An outside entity swoops in to give the MC the right answer and save her from destruction. What was the price of this decision for her? Nothing, I think. How did the first 10 pages set up this ending? This is where I would focus were I revising this for a speculative fiction market. I would greatly simplify the language and move inside the character’s perspective as well.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A really interesting world and a meaningful issue are largely obscured by overemphasis on language and technique.
Story 136 (1/30/2011 SF ?? words)
Reader 1: “I don’t know what to say. Thankfully, it was only 4 pages.”
I’ll be this is a humor piece. When I write humor I get the same sort of response.
Well, I’m dropped into the middle of a scene at least. I’m not exactly compelled by the opening, but it’s okay. And we’re heading backwards again. Why? Why can’t we begin with the first incident and move forward instead? The writing is a bit rough, e.g. “[character] commented on the amount of times [someone] used colors in his writing.” Amount of times? Seriously? Let’s just tear down the school system and start over.
To balance things: “I could see past her teeth into her mouth and down her ruby red throat where her uvula danced.” This is effective, though the “could” is optional for my taste. This is yet another story that manages to write from outside the character despite utilizing a first person viewpoint.
Yep, humor. I think (hope?). It doesn’t really work for me, but stars for effort. Some pretty bizarre bits in here. And it is short.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 Humor is subjective. Life is too short.
Story 137 (1/31/2011 SF 2100 words)
Reader 1: “The middle of the story is summary. It is not clear what the POV’s goal is. Most of the story is summarized back flash. In the end, I ‘m not sure what [MC] accomplished by doing all this.”
This begins in mid-action, but then spends a paragraph on static backfill via internal thought. The only thing I don’t learn from inside the MC’s head is why he/she is doing this. On p2 I learn it’s a he. This is not too late. The scene is not clear. I’m on a high summit, yet I seem to see hills and rodents. Where? How?
Speculative element shows up near end of p3. This is too late, particularly since we still have no indication of character motive. What we’ve read so far is background and scene setting with some character internalizations. Story is absent so far.
More background. Memories. Very slight forward movement and not motive yet. I think there’s some potential here, but the story reads like an explanation of an idea and world rather than a story experience. Skimming.
Interesting concept at the end. I would very much like to read a story that actually utilizes this concept. I’m not sure what form it would take, but this idea definitely deserves a story or several. If I were revising, I would start over, I’m afraid. An inciting incident (probably lost in the background here), a character moving toward a goal/need, encountering obstacles, overcoming them, earning this ending.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting concept. The story reads more like an explanation of idea than a story experience.
Story 138 (2/2/2011 SF 4500 words)
Reader 1: “The first third of the story is the POV complaning about everything from nuts to bolts. The second third is reminiscing. I don’t see a story here, not even in the flash backs.” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening establishes character and implies situation in an interesting Catch-22 sort of way. I’m hoping this is not going to be 4500 words of satire. There aren’t many Hellers out there.
The writing is lively, the voice consistent. It’s beginning to read like a monologue by p3 however. The writing is good, the character believable. I would like some actual story to go with this. I’m on p5 and I’m still hashing out the same basic issue. It’s all background at this point. And voice. Story is AWOL. P6-8 is given over to a reminiscence. It’s interesting in the abstract, but not as story. First full paragraph on p9 grabs me. Great line there. On to more background. On p11 we’re back to ruminating on the same topic we ruminated on in the opening pages. Full circle does not equate to story experience.
That’s it? This is definitely a case of a story reading like an explanation of idea rather than a story experience. I would very much like to read a story set in this world, involving this character, but this is not it. Perhaps a flash version of this could work.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting situation and well developed world. The piece reads like a very cogent explanation of concept rather than story experience.
Story 139 (2/2/2011 Horror 2640 words)
Reader 1: “Parts of the story are unclear. The POV has no past to speak of, and there’s no reason for us to like or identify with him.” (plot spoilers removed)
Story begins in summary. Not compelling. It does deliver context and a character and an inciting incident (though it’s happened before, which makes it less dramatically appealing than a new development). A good active line at end of second paragraph. Other than that, the story is being told from well outside the character. I’m not identifying, which turns this into a largely intellectual exercise. More summary background. Summary foreground. Consistently passive language further dampens my interest.
More summary. Scene on p5 is the first specific, forward moving scene. I’m closer to MC here, but it’s way too late. His decision feels distant, however. Once again I’m outside looking in. Gets a little interesting on p7. The following scene is much livelier. I’ve seen it before, however. The ending is certainly a twist, but does it explain why the antagonist resisted the MC’s efforts in the first place? If the author reads this, I suggest reading a short story called “Dry Scalp” in the most recent issue of Necrotic Tissue. It’s similar to this story only told much more actively. I thought that story went on too long for its payoff, but the writing was often very sharp and I certainly identified with the character.
There is an interesting horror story here, but the current treatment deadens the immediacy too much through an excess of summary and background and passive prose. The final few scenes are strongest.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A fairly typical horror story burdened by too much background summary and passive telling.
Story 140 (2/2/2011 Fantasy 1149 words)
Reader 1: “This story is too disjointed for me. This may be some sort of experimental writing style. I can’t tell. I don’t really understand the ending either.”
The story opens on the strength of its sharp observations. Camera POV yields a sense of true mystery (since we’re not in character POV and cannot understand motivation). The drawback is that this POV will keep us from identifying with the character to any great degree. So far so good, however. Okay, this is not strict camera POV, but a loose omniscient that gives access to his senses, but not his thoughts. That’s okay as long as it is consistent and serves the story purpose. Some great prose. This is the way I prefer it, simple, effective prose with solid observations, peppered with occasionally brilliant moments (a sense or image delivered in an unexpected way, a flash of metaphor). In this way the moments shine rather than being lost amid so much glitter.
Nicely surreal moment on p2.
Overall, I like this. Unfortunately, it’s really not accessible enough for the anthology. This is a sharply described, magical moment and (I suspect) a metaphor, but it is not enough of a story for us.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A beautifully observed moment of surrealism. The story arc is minimal, though there is a sense of cost to the resolution.
Story 141 (2/3/2011 SF 3400 words)
Reader 1: “During 7/8 of this story the POV is being chased. There are some extra names at the beginning. I think author might have changed the POV’s name and didn’t catch it everywhere. We have no idea what’s happening. It suffers from clarity problems, the POV not telling us what he’s thinking, false mystery, poor understanding of cosmology and overwritten descriptions in many places.”
Ouch. My guess is I’ve been assigning too many stories at once to the readers. Or maybe this one just grated a bit. Anywho… the story opens with a poem. I get a sense of pretentiousness. That’s okay if it’s a tour de force, not so much if not.
First paragraph is overwritten (for us). A simple image described abstractly (which is okay since it sets a tone), then described again for good measure (overdone). Character is introduced at end of paragraph. That’s fine, but it does place him subservient to image and language. Since we prefer story and character arc, I’m not hopeful.
Second paragraph pretty much rehashes the first, but takes us into the character’s knowledge, except for the one item that really matters. That is withheld to create false mystery. P2 brings us the obligatory backflash. Apologies to this author. My reaction is not so much to THIS story as to the gazillion stories we receive that utilize this technique. Hook us with action, then devolve immediately to (usually uninteresting) back story. Character does seem to change name momentarily. The backflash is short and active, so better than most we see.
Another backflash snippet. These snippets are inserted a bit clumsily, I’m afraid. Background. Foreground is active and we get a complication. Good. Nice to see taste invoked. We often forget to utilize senses other than vision. Why is the MC doing this? Why is there only a half hour? Surely the MC knows. It’s false mystery. More background. We learn that he’s solved a mystery, but not what the solution is. False mystery.
The final scene reveals the false mystery and dually resolves the false character mystery (why he’s doing this). In that sense it’s effective. However, the basic theory behind this concept is simplistic by today’s standards and not well thought through. (See Einstein, 1930, though more modern string theories have indeed revived the concept, albeit in a very different manner from that described in the story). In a story that did not depend heavily on the reveal of this idea, I would not have a major problem. It could be the “one given”, but when the “one given” is all that makes an ending work, the story is not strong enough.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An active story with solid descriptions and characterization. The story depends too heavily on false mystery and an outmoded cosmic theory for its impact.
Story 142 (2/3/2011 Fantasy1300 words)
Reader 1: “I like this unusual little fantasy.”
Sounds promising. Drops me into mid-scene with a motivated character in (a rather surreal) context. I am enjoying this, but the writing could be sharpened a bit. It is accessible but not escalating quite as well as I’d like.
I like where this ends. Nice turn of events and very resonant ending that fits this character’s nature well. I’m torn though, as I think the writing needs to be sharper throughout. I’ll send it on to another reader for input.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A nice parable told reasonably well. Great ending. The language can flow better.
Story 143 (2/4/2011 Horror 2437 words)
Reader 1: “I like the idea here. This almost works for me and I’d like to see what others think.”
Very good opening. I have a motivated character in context and a great hook as well. I’m not as fond of the rest of the page. The second paragraph saps some of the power of the first (I don’t need that nuance yet). Then the friend appears on cue, which feels a little artificial. Still, I’m interested in seeing where we go; it’s like a roller coaster clicking up that final span to the top.
Breezy intro to characters is fine, but story is rehashing, not escalating by p3. For example, what does he SEE? Anything at all? Use that to escalate tension in a small way at first. The description in mid-p3 would work better for me on p1, maybe instead of that second paragraph.
The middle is reading too much like an explanation of the idea. I do like the information and it’s good to use secondary characters as foils, but I need the foreground story to escalate through here as well. I’m losing momentum.
On p7 it gets interesting. Stays interesting through the ending. I like this story, but the buildup is not working well enough yet. I’d suggest a rewrite, but we’ll see what others say first.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A creepy tale that earns its ending. An uneven escalation works against the story.
Story 144 (2/4/2011 SF 4200 words)
Reader 1: “I am going to give this a maybe, but it didn’t keep me that interested. Others may like it better. This story is very predictable and straight line and seems like a bunch of movies I’ve seen before.” (plot spoilers removed)
This drops us into the middle of a scene with characters interacting and a context. Motivation is not yet clear, but that’s okay. Succinct, effective prose, good descriptions. A paragraph of background on p3. It’s triggered by the character reacting to previous paragraph, which feels very natural. Nearly a page of background on p4. It’s integrated with foreground movement, which keeps me from feeling dumped into info mode. Nicely done so far. On p6 I would prefer to see the drawing before the character analyzes it. That would feel more natural. As written I feel “blind” for a few seconds between the conclusion and description. p12-13 are beginning to sag for me. I don’t feel escalation at this point, but more of a rehashing of prior points.
The ending seems doesn’t seem to resolve the opening particularly well. There’s something missing here. It’s well written and nicely observational, but the ending just kind of shifts to a typical outer limits ending without resolving the story setup particularly well. I’ll send this to another reader.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A solid SF idea effectively written. The ending does not seem quite appropriate for the setup.
Story 145 (2/4/2011 Fantasy 2496 words)
Reader 1: “This story wasn’t compelling. It was mostly dialog. There was very little tension. Some of it is unbelievable. I didn’t feel that I knew the characters. The MC didn’t have anything to lose, but then he didn’t take any chances either.”
This opens in mid-scene with a character in context. Motivation is not clear yet, but that’s okay. I don’t see the surround (or secondary character). It’s a blank stage other than the gruel in his hands. On p2, we get a good bit of implied description, but very little direct observation (i.e specific details). This keeps the scene from coming alive for me. I do feel as if the scene is written in-character, however. Inner thought is effective and not overused. Description at end of p2 has specific details, but the order isn’t quite natural. Rather than seeing the person and reacting, he reacts, then sees. It’s not bad because he does see her distinguishing characteristic before this, but it doesn’t feel quite spot on.
I like the sword demonstration. Their dialogue is good at this point. But now (p4) we’re devolving into an explanation of idea through dialogue. Which reminds me that I still have no sense of the MC’s motivation. Is this his story or is he an excuse to tell me about the idea?
The ending has a nice resonance, but I’m not sure this is the MC’s story. He risks nothing for this ending. The complication with the prince seems a bit forced. In the end it feels as if I’ve read a philosophy rather than a complete story experience. I recall seeing an earlier version of this story somewhere. It’s better now, but still lacks sufficient tension to reach its potential. There is a moment when the MC meets the second character where the dialogue works very well, but it doesn’t really grab me after that.
This idea reminds me vaguely of Holly Phillips “The Oracle Spoke” in Clarkesworld. That would be a good story for this author to read. The telling in that story was more dramatically satisfying and the tension higher. It might help to frame this story more effectively.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An intriguing fantasy concept and likable characters. The story lacks sufficient motivation and tension.
Story 146 (2/4/2011 SF 3513 words)
Reader 1: “This is a unique story. I like the idea. I think it needs some work to focus the idea a bit and probably a bit of trimming.”
Not fond of opening with an unnamed character. It also bothers me that the opening is presented as mysterious when the MC knows exactly where he is. Not an auspicious start. Page 2, however, grabs me by the eyeballs. It’s interesting to contrast this lively story with Story 138 above. Both feature a character in isolation, with no one to interact with. The first story suffers for that; this one takes full advantage of it. The character is borderline bonkers here, but definitely motivated, and very real. He’s mainly shouting and singing to a photograph at this point, in entertaining fashion I add.
p5 brings a lump of backfill, but I’m ready for it at this point. The story has interested me and made me wonder why the MC is here. He knows why and he’s telling me in his own tangential way, but I want to know the why-why at this point. Yeah, he’s doing this thing in space and that’s his motivation and he’s really keen on getting ‘er done, but how did it come to be? That’s where this concrete backfill comes in. It’s breaks the “rules” of writing in scene, etc. but it works.
P7 brings an entirely ludicrous complication. Love it. P13 tops it. Commie rappers. And the ending tops that. I laughed out loud (which was a pretty damned mean thing to do on my part, but hey…). I’ll send this to the other editors. Hope they like it as much as I do.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 An over the top SF tale told well. Convincing viewpoint and just enough sense to make it work.
Story 147 (2/4/2011 Horror 1700 words)
Reader 1: “This is a horror story with no building tension (until page 7/9) and little horror. Page 9 ends with everything up in the air. This seems to be more of a first contact than last contact story.”
Opens in mid-action, but it’s fairly mundane. The writing is solid, but the scene is not particularly compelling. Good observational details. Second scene is equally well written. There is some escalation. I’m still waiting for a speculative element. I’m not getting a sense of a motivated character. The dog seems like it should be a complication, not the main focus here. Page 5 brings a speculative element. This is late. Radio as infodump, a tried and true, but hardly new, technique. Story seems to be shifting gears (or maybe starting) now.
End of p7. Huh? This is too simple, I think. If you think about it, this device allows the character to be rescued rather than solving anything herself. I suspect the story would have more tension without the trip to the vet and the ensuing phone call. The end resolves nothing, though I suppose it could have something to do with the husband.
There’s a very good, tense story to be had here. The basic idea is fine, but the execution is too easy, too pat. Rather than forcing the MC to face complications and risk herself, she’s handed the answer and reacts in knee jerk fashion. Unfortunate.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A fairly typical story told competently. The resolution leaves too much up in the air to be entirely satisfying.
Story 148 (2/4/2011 Horror 2400 words)
Reader 1: “I liked the way his perspective changed as we moved backwards in time and gained more information about the relationships. I would have liked a stronger plot and a stronger threat to act as a counterweight to the true core of the story. It’s fairly light-on for plot. In a way, the end was predictable. I’m a bit of a sucker for sentimentality and this had a strong emotional background, but I’m not sure whether this will fit with the anthology. Maybe as a counterweight to some of the plot-stronger stories? I’ll put a cautious maybe on this one, but probably not.” (plot spoilers removed)
Reader 2: “I’m not sure what to say about this one. I was intrigued by the idea. It think it seems disjointed. I’m giving it a maybe because I think it needs to be read by someone else to see if its worth a revision.” (plot spoilers removed)
An interesting opening. Context and character and a hint of motive. The opening scene is intriguing. Second scene loses me a bit. I’m not sure how it fits or why it matters. First person present tense begins to grate as well. I suspect the story does require it though.
Third scene is interesting. I’m enjoying this story line more fully than the other so far. Well, I cant’ really say much without getting into the stuff that makes this story unique enough that I shouldn’t share it publicly. I agree that the idea is very interesting, but I’m not leaving the table feeling full. There’s something not quite working yet. If I can figure out how to suggest a fix, I’ll consider asking for a rewrite. I’ll share it with the other editor in the meantime.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 An interesting idea/metaphor handled fairly well. The story suffers from a slight disconnect between its parts.
Story 149 (2/5/2011 SF 1300 words)
Reader 1: “Given this is a reprint, I don’t think there’s enough here to recommend it. This one relies on withholding for the first few pages and there’s no real conflict at all. The MC does have to convince [someone] of what he’s seeing, but this isn’t presented as genuine conflict with a set-back for the MC; he does end up believing what he’s seeing. This story relies on a fairly tired conceit as the central plank of the story without anything to back it up. Sometimes this is enough for a near flash-length story, but not in this case.”
This is a pretty obscure reprint, so I won’t count that too severely against it. The opening is not particularly engaging. Character in context, but it’s not very dynamic (i.e a passive situation). The story seems to be taking a long time to make a fairly simple point. At flash length this can be deadly. Definitely some false mystery going on. MC knows what she’s found, yet it’s being withheld for a few pages. Reads flat. Page 4, the withholding continues. What truth? What’s the big deal? What do they look like? I’m frustrated at this point. On page 6, we get the reveal. A punch line? Sigh.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A competent story that ends with a punch line. The set up is overly drawn out and relies on withholding.
Story 150 (2/5/2011 Fantasy 2400 words)
Reader 1: “I really liked this idea, but I don’t think the author did enough with it. The writing is a bit clunky and telling and the MC is unnecessarily passive. Most of the story happens to him. I’m voting no, but perhaps this could be a re-write request?” (plot spoilers removed)
A solid opening. It’s summary, but works to set up a character in context and sets a good tone for the period. Viewpoint shift at end of scene 2 is somewhat troubling. It adds a twist, but at the expense of character identification. And since the following scene SHOWS us this twist, it’s not really needed. Good escalation of obsession. The dialogue is very good, and mixed well with internal and external passages.
A very interesting idea. I’m left a bit disappointed by the ending, which isn’t quite set up by the story. I do think this could be a good addition to the anthology if this problem can be sorted out. It deserves an ending that really works. I’ll pass this on to the others for ideas.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A very well realized period story with an intriguing speculative element. The ending is not as strong as the setup.
Well it’s 2:30 and time for bed. I made 23 stories, which is pretty good. Hopefully the comments remained cogent as the night wore on.
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