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 15 stories.
Story 151 (2/5/2011 SF 1600 words)
Reader 1: “The start was well written and interesting but unnecessarily elusive. Unfortunately, this occurred throughout the story. There were a lot of elements I really liked in this story, but as a reader it was frustrating to see what wasn’t done with the world. I’m not a fan of the direct missive to another character style either. I really liked the voice and the world that was hinted, but there’s no story here. It’s mostly description of an interesting world and a character with an interesting background, but there’s little else to hang onto. There wasn’t conflict and little hint of why ‘you’ was important. This sort of story I find frustrating, because there’s so much that could have been done with it.”
Interesting opening paragraph. It lacks clarity, but hints at an interesting world and character. As hook it functions well; as context not so much. The upshoot is that I’m immediately hungry for concrete context. The second person viewpoint anticipates this, by having me ask for clarification. The narrator response with additional hints of an interesting world and just enough clarity to keep me reading. The problem by p2 is that this has become a talking heads story, with the narrator explaining story concept to me (literally me in this case) rather than pulling me into a story experience. Much information is delivered, then the typical backflash to the real story. Not terribly immediate told from this perspective. Skimming.
The paragraph ending p5 is intriguing. The viewpoint device makes it clumsy, but it does raise the story stakes. Then we’re into the typical awkwardness of second person. I generally despise an author telling me what I think or do. Many readers share this dislike, thus the cost of this viewpoint choice is high. What does it ADD to the telling here? Enough to justify it? So far I would say no.
I do like the final paragraphs; it does justify the viewpoint. However, it didn’t really overcome the negatives for me. I would prefer to read the story that is back flashed here, perhaps it could flash forward to this ending, but as it stands, I’m not involved enough in the telling to get to this ending with much emotional investment. As a thought experiment it’s interesting.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An interesting world and intriguing character. The lack of compelling story arc makes this more effective as a thought experiment.
Story 152 (2/5/2011 SF 2787 words)
Reader 1: “There is some okay character development and some tension at the beginning of the story, but it becomes confusing. In the end, the world is on fire or something.” (plot spoilers removed?)
This drops us into the middle of a situation. We have a character in context, with motivation provided in the second paragraph. It’s a little intentionally confusing for my taste (verging on false mystery), but better than a static opening. End of p1 IS false mystery, lots of innuendo about this thing he’s done. We’re in his perspective, tell us already. Then there’s a flash of description he does not see. I’m not all that bothered by it– it’s a common technique–but it doesn’t pull me into character, for sure. By the end of the first scene we get more concrete details and another veiled hint at motive. I do like the freckles, but the rest seems a bit dire. The payoff to this mystery must be huge to justify such an approach.
Scene 2 is pretty much a repetition of the first in terms of technique. Drop us into a (false) mystery, provide hints of motivation, sprinkled with the occasional effective line or observation. There’s nothing wrong with the actual prose, but it’s trying too hard. I think there is real mystery to be had here, but the false mysteries get in the way of appreciating it. False mystery is info known to POV which is made mysterious to the reader via technique. True mystery is that which is mysterious to the POV.
I’m getting confused on p6. Scene 3 opens in confusion (for me). Some definite true mystery at work in this scene. I’m too disoriented to appreciate it (i.e. I’m not firmly in the character’s perspective, to actually understand what’s going on – when everything is mysterious, it’s hard to care much about solutions).
We shift to back flash to explain some of the prior false mysteries. Meanwhile the true mystery is shoved to a back burner. By scene 4, I’m not really paying attention. There does seem to be an interesting idea behind this, but I’m tired of trying to get my footing.
My advice to the author would be to simplify this and focus on the true mystery of it. Likely this will mean beginning the story earlier, with the discovery of the concept, or later with the final complication (likely flash length in this case). There’s some good writing here; trust it to carry the story forward rather than trying to keep me hooked with false mysteries along the way.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 This is a time travel story with an intriguing twist. The story relies too heavily on technique and false mystery, rather than story complication and escalation of tension.
Story 153 (2/5/2011 SF 2100 words)
Reader 1: “This seems to be a mainstream story. There isn’t enough character development and I’m not sure what’s happening at the end. The POV never has any realization and rarely thinks anything.” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening paragraph is descriptive. The cadence is good and the opening line suggests motive, so it works reasonably well. Third paragraph disorients me. The dialogue works well and I like the minimalist approach, though I do want a speculative element soon.
It’s kind of a catchy little thing, bordering on surreal, but I’m not sure whether the effect is entirely intentional. The title suggests it is. The next scene does as well. I like the pacing of this piece, the way information kind of trickles out of it.
Okay, so this is post-apocalypse. That’s cool. A stronger hint early would help.
Interesting ending. Very literary, and evokes an emotional reaction from me. The author selected a full critique, so I’ll take the remainder of my comments off line. Passing it along to other editors for a read.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A post-apocalyptic tale with strong literary technique.
Story 154 (2/6/2011 Fantasy 1994 words)
Reader 1: “The idea is not particularly compelling. There is no character development. There is little tension. The dialog doesn’t escalate the story.” (plot spoilers removed)
Opens with clear context, but static. Omniscient viewpoint and past-perfect delivery deaden this for me. Story starts in summary of past events, rather than moving forward. Emotions are being told to me (shook head in disbelief, clutched gut in anguish). I feel no connection to these characters and the events so far are mundane. There are some good observations here and there and the dialogue is mostly good. It’s easy to read this.
Interesting development in next scene. It does make me wonder about the time frame, however. On page 7 we learn the year, which we should already know (maybe not exactly). The core concept is interesting, but I’m just not invested enough in either character to care. It’s kind of a telling of idea for me at this point. A Twilight Zone ending.
This isn’t bad, but doesn’t really scratch beneath the surface of an intriguing idea. I didn’t identify with characters, which left the idea to carry the story, and it just kind of sat there in the end. It would make a neat Twilight Zone episode, I suspect, though we’d need more depth of characterization even there.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An intriguing idea that plays out somewhat predictably. Flat characterization limits emotional investment.
Story 155 (2/6/2011 SF 500 words)
Reader 1: “There is too much repetition for a 500 word story. The POV ends up being an [censored?], which just isn’t that awe inspiring. I really can’t think of much else to say about this one.”
Interesting opening line. There’s no movement, just static description. It reads long for its length. Some movement mid-page 2. Writing is somewhat flat. This could work, but requires exceptionally sharp observation and prose to pull it off. Right now it’s pretty much a one-liner stretched to 500 words.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting idea. Lack of sharp observation and prose dulls the payoff.
Story 156 (2/7/2011 SF 8100 words)
Reader 1: “This is 8,000 words. Too long in more than one respect. I had trouble keeping track of what was going on in the story. I think there were alternating scenes between the MC and something else, like sex topics. It was just too difficult to follow. I quit at about page 8. “
While we don’t have a “hard” limit on word count, we have yet to buy a story much over 5000 words and it would take something amazing to make us break that trend. Because I’m running behind on submissions, I’ll read this until it’s clear we won’t take it, then skim to the end.
Neat opening quotation. First scene lost me pretty quickly. The past-perfect tense and awkward speech tag work against holding my interest. The actual content is intriguing.
Next scene opens smoothly. Character in context. Writing is elegant, if a bit overwrought. Page 2. Literal zombies? The prose is being too clever for me. False mystery abounds at this point. By page 4, I’m tired of reading. Part of this is the sheer volume of stories I must read for this gig, but mostly it’s the overabundance of clever prose dancing at the edge of actual meaning. Do I like this story? I don’t know; I can’t get past its telling. Skimming.
Well, I missed a lot, I’m sure, but I saw enough to know this is an ambitious story by a more than competent writer. What I didn’t get was a sense of story arc. It read more as a diatribe or philosophy turned into a series of set pieces. There was dramatic portrayal to be sure, and the satire is sharp, but I just couldn’t get into the story itself. This is the sort of thing I might have expected to find in Ellison’s Dangerous Visions series (though it would likely need a stronger arc even there), but it won’t fit well into our antho, I’m afraid. Maybe I’m Parked?
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An ambitious SF satire. Lack of strong story arc lessens its appeal to general readers.
Story 157 (2/7/2011 SF 4075 words)
Reader 1: “I made it through 4 pages of this before I quit. It is almost entirely dialog with a little bit of action detail. I have no idea where, or when the story takes place. There is no character development.”
I included this comment because this is indeed what we writers are up against. If we can’t grab a reader’s attention quickly and hold on to it page by page, they do have better things to do.
The title’s kind of neat. Opens with unattributed dialogue (words from an empty stage). Door button? Is he/she ringing a doorbell? Inside the bar? Where? Lift? Where? Why is he unnamed? Does she not know him? They’re in an elevator? I’m very disoriented.
Playing her part? What part? Why? What would they suspect them of? Why? I do like the minor injury twist. Didn’t expect that. What is annoying here is that I can’t see anything, can’t get my bearings. I feel as if I’m hearing about this from inside a black box, with voices conversing just outside. Sometimes they tell me something useful, sometimes they don’t. Set the scene. Inhabit the characters. I feel like I’m dangling in ether at this point, even though I suspect something interesting may be going on if I could only understand what.
Page 3. Why? Why? Why? I get all this info, but no context to place it in. It’s like this. If you overhear that my wife is a brunette, you think nothing much of it. If you overhear my wife is a brunette after learning that a brunette just killed the mayor who lies bleeding in your arms, it changes your attention to that detail. Establish context and present true mystery within that context and you’re much more likely to hold my attention. Right now I’m impatient and have already decided this story is not for us. P4 brings a lot of background information presented as dialogue. There’s no rule against presenting some or all of this as internal thought. That would more closely connect us to the POV character. Skimming.
On p6-7 the story moves forward. I have no idea about motivation at this point so I’m kind of clueless as to who to root for or why I should care. I feel as if I’m reading an explanation of an idea rather than actual story. Events are happening to the protagonist.
This ends with an emotional scene. I think there is a decent story at the core of this, but as told, it relies too heavily on dialogue and lacks a real story arc. I never really understood the MC’s motivation or what she got out of this or what decision she actually made. If I were revising, I would go back to story concepts. Motivated character with a concrete context, an inciting incident (the one portrayed could work), complications that make her work to achieve (or fail at) her goal, a climax where tension is highest and she must choose something and pay a price. Some of that is here, but not forcefully and not in a good order.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A time travel story that relies too heavily on dialogue and lacks sufficient motivation to carry the action.
Story 158 (2/16/2011 Fantasy 3500 words)
Reader 1: “No real story here, no sense of conflict from the beginning. Things happen, then more things happen. No resolution, no sense of who the main character is. He is not driving events, the events are forced upon him. There is some effective and writing description here (and a nice lightness of tone at times), but not enough to hold my interest.”
The opening is intriguing. I don’t care for the title–too glib for my taste. There’s some good writing here, but also some smarmy glibness that feels wrong for the story (to me). Page 4 gets interesting, though the end of that conversation takes me back to glib dismissal again. I can’t get a handle on the tone of this one. P6 kicks in my interest again. I’m not breathless with anticipation but it’s at least a somewhat different take on things.
On p7 I realize there’s not likely going to be any escalation here. The story is feeling flat at this point. The mystery that interested me turns out to be less interesting than I hoped. If the story began on p6-7 my reaction would be different. The mystery could escalate rather than deflate. I do like the passage on p8 about a good view. The sinking concept is nice. If this could be integrated better with other story action (so that we have an escalation of physical and emotional in tandem) it will feel more powerful.
The story reads longer than 3500 words. It feels ad hoc in as sense, in that it starts us moving in one direction, then shifts gears, then shifts gears again, leaving us uncertain as to which story has been resolved in the end. This is a very nice concept in actuality, but needs a tighter integration of its parts and a sense of the protagonist being motivated and facing complications rather than simply being there when stuff happened. Definitely worth working this one out, but it’s not close enough to suggest a formal rewrite. These ideas need to steep a bit, I think.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An intriguing concept with characters that feel dimensional. The story elements are not well integrated, leading to a less that optimal resolution.
Story 159 (2/6/2011 SF 6300 words)
First, this is longer than our guidelines suggest (5000 words) so it will have to be amazing. Second, it begins with unattributed dialogue. Words from nowhere, with no context. Then unnamed characters. Not an exceptional start.
First person viewpoint does not bolster my confidence. I’m not finding a concrete place to put down my feet in this story. Lines like “Better, I stopped myself, better,” do not help. I have no idea what this line means to suggest, which adds to my early confusion. We do get an SF element which is good. The final paragraph on p1 is effective context. It’s back flash, which is problematic, but maybe the story should begin there and move forward to present? We’ll see. The question is what is the inciting incident for the story? What happens to cause the story to begin now and not yesterday or tomorrow or three years ago? So far this is day in the life stuff and not very interesting. It delivers information, not story.
Is this second scene happening in the same place as the first? The scene is set more clearly here, but I sense it’s a different place/time. I’m not sure why the scene is important. It’s mainly background information and day in the life stuff rather than story. I think the problem here is that this is unwinding at novel pace rather than short story. Skimming.
Third scene is more day in the life. Some word play in the next scene. A complication, but of what? I don’t really know the MC’s motive (other than his day to day life). The writing in p12-20 is solid. It feels more like a story experience. I still don’t understand motivation, but it’s interesting.
Okay, there’s an interesting story here, but it’s not shaped well. The opening does not set up the ending, nor does the first third or so do much to keep my interest. If I were revising, I’d go back to story basics, in particular the inciting incident. Maybe a paragraph depicting the MC’s status quo as the story opens (his perceived motivation, maybe a hint of his flaw), then the incident that forces him out of that status quo and changes his motivation (or makes him more immediately needful of it), then the complication or two that stand in his way and a climax where he must make a decision that costs him everything and the anticlimax that shows his new status quo at the end (this final section would work for that purpose). Too much to be done here to request a formal rewrite, but I wish the author well.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An interesting take on a love story in a fairly basic SF world. The story arc is not well formed.
Story 160 (2/6/2011 Fantasy 6500 words)
Another story that is too long. Must be something in the air.
The opening is information heavy and static. Not auspicious. The first page depicts an event I’ve read about and seen many times. It adds nothing new. What I need at this point is motivation/purpose and scene setting.
Some basic grammar issues as well. “I haven’t eaten in days, and my stomach ached with hunger.” The tense mismatch is one of a few in this early going. While a few mistakes won’t sour me on a story, they do raise my suspicion that the author is not up to delivering a complete story experience. This is okay as we all have to go through this learning curve. One of my hopes with this blog is that I can help at least one or two folks bend their curve just a little steeper and shave some time off this progression.
The story moves slowly, but the scene with the man does have a story feel to it. Good. There’s not enough tension, but it does escalate.
There are some pretty big issues with logic (do they fear humans or not? Do they hunt humans? Why do they wear clothes if they avoid humans?) and the story is far too easy on the characters, but it IS a story and that’s good.
It’s taking too long to get to the (most likely predictable) ending. Story should probably be about half this length so far.
Final scene did not go where I expected. Excellent. It did force the MC to choose and did cost her a significant price. Nicely done. The attack, however, was kind of pat. For me the story spent too much time on the romantic interlude and too little on developing the culture and resulting tensions that makes the ending meaningful. There’s an interesting story here. It mainly needs some pruning and reshaping. Start with the inciting incident (the sighting of the human) rather than a page of background and stuff we’ve seen a hundred times. Then develop the emotional arc for the MC within her tribal situation and the nuances of attraction between species. To much of this is too easy now. On the plus side, this has a definite story arc, and that’s something we don’t see often enough.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An unusual romance. A strong story arc is marred by simplistic back story and emotion.
Story 161 (2/7/2011 Fantasy 2300 words)
This drops us into the middle of an action, which is good. I get a character in (an odd) context. What I don’t have is motivation. I also don’t have a sense of strong emotion, which is odd given the circumstance.
Turns out that the lack of emotion is a clue, which is okay. This does have me feeling as if I’ve been manipulated, however (false mystery). He knows what’s happening. Do this again? Do what? Why? Why walk the line between death and life? What does that even mean? Second attempt at what? By this point I’m frustrated more than curious.
p 3 brings a back flash to explain the false mystery. Too late and too static.
All this veiled reference to events and people he knows intimately. I’m always suspicious when I see this technique that a lack of story is being papered over with false mystery. That does appear to be the case here.
The final scene is effective. The rest of the story doesn’t really add anything to it. If I were revising, I would either cut this to flash length (1000 words) focused tightly on this final scene with just a few snippets of background for context, or I would begin the story with the bonding event and move forward from there to the final scene, developing the relationship through a story arc (with complication and climax of both physical and emotional threads). The idea can support either length. This hybrid doesn’t work for me.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A twist on a typical fantasy idea. An abundance of static background dilutes the power of a solid ending.
Story 162 (2/7/2011 Fantasy 3700 words)
As you who read this blog know, I’m not keen on second person technique. Too often it’s used to divert attention from a lack of story. This attempt opens smoothly. I’m still on board after the first paragraph. Clever to get the gender in as well as some characterization of “me” (ugh, but I’ll go with it for now).
I’m still on board after 3 pages, though I’m getting a little impatient for the story to become relevant. I will give credit for making the technique work to this point. Nicely conversational approach keeps me from getting too hung up on having character traits and motives forced onto me. P7 gets too explainy for me. This is an idea being explained to me rather than a story experience being related.
This goes to an interesting place. I think it takes too long to get there, but it’s certainly different. I don’t think it’s going to make it into the antho, but it’s good enough I should ask other readers to vote on it. The second person approach is justified here.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting take on gender issues. This goes to an interesting place. The story reads long for its word count.
Well that takes me through 2/7/2011, so a good place to stop. (Jamie has a couple stories prior to this date, so don’t read too much into this dear authors).