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.