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Archive for March 5th, 2011

See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful (and mostly good, by the way) stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. I don’t have a ton of time today, but wanted to sneak a couple more stories in.

Story 125 (1/27/2011 Fantasy 1457 words)

Interesting idea, but it’s been done a few times. What hasn’t? That’s true enough. What I’m missing here though is a sense of story. The scenes are written pretty well, good details, adequate language. But I’m on page 3 now and I still have no sense of a story or character arc.  Page 3 is additionally problematic in suggesting that these episodes always result in a death, yet the first episode we saw did not result in death. Stopped me in my tracks, which is why I’m taking time to write this now.

This is an interesting ending, but the story itself lacks… story. It’s basically a series of events that explain the idea behind the story without creating a story experience. Why does the story happen now? What is the MC’s goal? What stands in his way? Does he succeed/fail? What does his choice cost him? Right now we have several chunks of background strung together to get us to an interesting resolution. That resolution would be just as powerful without the first 6 pages, which is a sign that the first 6 pages are not doing their job yet. If I were revising, I would start with story concepts and tell the story forward to this ending, with the MC striving and learning along the way.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An interesting (though not particularly new) SF idea. Story elements are lacking.

Story 126 (1/28/2011 Horror 1000 words)

Reader 1: “This is a one-trick-pony horror story where we find at the end that [surprise]. Since it’s a reprint, I don’t suggest we bother with it.” (plot spoiler removed)

This is a reprint from June 2010 and remains available online. This works heavily against the story.

The opening paragraph feels slightly overwritten to me. Unnamed character. Semi-omniscient viewpoint doesn’t work (hides the obvious in order to set up the ending, I’m betting).  Yep. This one relies entirely on false mystery.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A clever twist. The story relies completely on false mystery to set up its payoff.

Story 127 (1/28/2011 SF 1800 words)

Reader 1: “There’s very little sense of character in this one and that’s the result of not being rooted in the nominal MC’s POV. There’s not a great deal of reason to care about what happens to the MC, so the complication doesn’t create a lot of emotional power when it’s revealed that the MC is stranded forever. The structure of the story doesn’t quite hold either. There’s a lot of set-up, something goes wrong and the story essentially ends. The MC doesn’t react against the complication. As a result, we don’t get to see them as a person beyond the stereotypical army bad-arse and the story ends on a flat note.”

Unnamed characters acting in unison are not the way to pull me into a story, I’m afraid. That said, the story does drop me into mid-action and the prose is nicely active.  We get a MC on page 2. I’m still okay with this so far. Never mind. Viewpoint shifts in middle of page.  We get motive on page 3 (back in first POV at this point). Speculative element also comes at this point. Interesting complication on p4. Interesting development on p5.

There’s something powerful here, but the story does not bring it out. I very much like what the author does with a fairly standard idea. I even like the MC despite not identifying with him for a few pages. The main problem is that this isn’t really a story, but an event. I can see a very good (longer) story emerging from this situation. If I were revising, I would concentrate on story concepts. Inciting incident (what is it that causes the status quo to fall apart, i.e. the story to begin?). Character arc (who is the protagonist; what does he want/need? What stands in his way/complicates his journey? What forces him to make a choice? What does this choice cost him? How does he get/not get what he needs as a result?). I would either begin this story later, or move the inciting incident to the first paragraph and move forward from there. I would add additional complications, with a mixture of success and failure to the climax (which is here now, but not well set up). This is a keeper, but requires quite a bit of work to bring out the full power of the idea and character.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An interesting take on a standard SF idea. The story unwinds erratically and lacks a true plot or character arc.

 

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful (and mostly good, by the way) stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact.

Story 123 (1/31/2011 Horror 750 words)

This comes from a previous contributor and I feel like a butt head for delaying it so long. We aren’t any easier on previous contributor stories, but we do try to give their manuscripts expedited attention as a courtesy.

Reader 1: “While this made me smile a few times, I don’t think there’s enough of a story behind the punchlines. Somtimes the jokes might be good enough to overcome the lack of the traditional story structure, but it just didn’t strike me as funny enough. Obviously, humour is personal, so others might feel differently.”

Reader 2: “It’s sort of cute, but the whole thing is exposition, and there’s not enough substance.”

Reader 3: “I like this one. It almost goes too long. I’d cut off the last paragraph.”

This starts in the middle of a situation. There are some genuinely funny lines and the idea itself is pretty hilarious. However, there’s no story movement to pin it on, and we’re left reading a reminiscence that is pretty mundane. The joke wears thin, in other words.

If I were revising, I would strongly consider giving the MC someone to interact with (say, a divorce lawyer). This could create a sense of foreground story movement (and tension) and do more to SHOW the joke unfolding rather than simply hearing it inside the head. The danger will be to avoid a talking heads approach. I would balance the conversation about legal issues with inward thoughts about the situation.

I do think the final paragraph is a good place to aim for.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A funny concept with some good lines. The story arc is weak, even for this length.

Story 124 (2/3/2011 SF 2000 words)

This also comes from a prior contributor.  It’s also a writer I admire a great deal.

Reader 1: “I really wanted to like this story because I loved the conflict at its heart; your duty at war versus the lives of millions of innocents.  What this story didn’t do is complicate this initial conflict. A lot of the story is taken up with background and literary allusion instead of building the moral dilemma. We know via the framing device that [MC] did five runs, so it’s implied that he’s done this before. Why is this different? What I expected to see was some kind of complication that made his choice that much more difficult (i.e. discovering some common ground between him and the enemy, something that really makes him think twice instead of the “standard” guilt). In the end, we’re not given much to make us doubt that he [do what he does]. He’s done it before, and it’s his duty.” (plot spoilers removed)

Reader 2: “This framed story about [stuff] is written well. My problem was that the [conflict] didn’t interest me much. I think others may like it though. That’s why I gave it a maybe.”

The story opens in retrospective, but it’s engagingly written so I don’t mind. I’m not a fan of frames, but this one works. Why? Because it does the job of introducing me to situation and character and then shifts to an ACTIVE story in the past that moves forward, not backward or sideways, not a clump of background material or less interesting action. In fact the action is more interesting than in the frame, which depends on language and characterization to carry me. It’s not the frame device I generally object to, but the way frames are so often misused in stories we see. This said, it remains imperative that this frame will add something to the story in the end  (arc or meaning).

Nice details and a lively voice. I’m not blown away but I’m carried along so far.  I will say, however, that the telling is a little too energetic for the character we met in the frame. This gives a feeling that the frame might be something of an afterthought. Is it? I think I would break up this retelling with small details to reflect the teller’s growing enthusiasm, his change as the story gathers steam (which it does rather perfunctorily here), something to remind us of the frame scene once or twice, to keep them linked.

I’m getting a little tired by page 5. Lots of details, but not as much story movement as I had hoped. The philosophy on p6 is nice, but the story has kind of fizzled. Some nice writing at the moment of decision.

The ending almost works. The story feels a little rushed and incomplete, however. Big issues are suggested, nice details shown, a very real dilemma, but there are no real complications to keep me off balance.  This is one of those rare stories that I think should be twice as long, the concepts explored more fully and with greater nuance.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A solid SF idea presented in active fashion despite the retelling device. The concepts are not as well explored as they could be.

The rest of my session was spent accepting four stories, two new, two rewrites. This brings us to 9 acceptances (25,000 words). Another 2 rewrites in process. We’ll need another 20,000-30,000 words, so plenty of room still. We have approx 115 stories in cue. It’s shaping up to be a diverse collection of talented writers.

 

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