Archive for March 18th, 2011

See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. Where does the week go?

Story 163 (2/9/2011 Fantasy 5541 words)

Reader 1:  “The beginning is two pages of [event] in present tense. Then there is 4 pages of back fill telling the reader about [event]. Then we are back to the [event]. The remaining 20 pages are an interview. I skimmed over most of it. I’m not sure where the goal of [doing something] came in. Maybe somewhere in the interview, but I didn’t see it until about page 26 of 27. It didn’t seem like a last contact story either.” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening drops us into mid-scene, which is good, but the writing is pretty generic (as opposed to specific). Not great, not bad. Third paragraph introduces MC with some good specific detail. The omniscient viewpoint holds me at a distance. It’s an observant scene, but I don’t understand why it should matter to me. There’s no motivation, no character identification. The scene feels dramatically empty as a result.

Second scene begins in summary, but it’s more lively than the first scene despite that. Still, it’s not giving me a sense of story motivation or character arc. Interesting information, but I’m hungry for a story to begin.  At the end of p4 we finally get what seems to be a story opening. The scene is more active, but the writing seems to dull a bit, with more adjectives and adverbs than the previous prose.

After a couple paragraphs of forward motion, we shift to summary narrative. This deadens the momentum for me. On page 6 we’re back to story action. I still have no sense of motivation. Why is this character doing what he does? What does he want or need? We see him doing it and we can infer what it means in a larger sense, but that larger sense is nothing I’ve not seen a dozen times already. What makes this character different, this specific contract more important?

We switch to narrative summary and social satire. The story seems to be shifting gears. We seem to be starting again. I’m seeing a lot of adverbs and adjectives again. I’m also being held at a distance from the action. On page 9, we shift into the MC’s perspective and begin to learn about his emotional past (though not his goal in this story). It’s more involving, but represents another gear shift. Skimming.

The next several pages appears to be information disguised as dialogue (true, it’s an interview format, but I feel very much as if the information is being delivered to me, not the audience). More background information. The MC still has no goal that I can perceive.  On p24 we learn the MC’s motive. This is far too late to generate any dramatic tension.

That’s it? This ending might support 1500 words or so, but not 5500. It’s a simple twist on previous stories of this sort. If I were revising, I would very much focus on the MC, his need, the complications he faces, the price he pays, how he is changed by that payment. Right now this is 90% background and 10% story.  There’s not enough complexity, especially character complexity, to support the word count.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A fairly standard story with a moderate twist. Lack of character motivation and complication against an overabundance of background weaken it.

Story 164 (2/9/2011 Horror 2400 words)

Reader 1: “The POV doesn’t really have a goal or do much protagging. The idea isn’t very new. Parts are over-written while other parts are too simplistic. There is no character development. The idea isn’t very new.” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening is imprecise. There are lots of names for colors. What foreign presence? The colors? Why are dark colors foreign to clouds? It would be better to start this in the MC’s viewpoint rather than working so hard to make the scene mysterious. What you’ll find is that if a reader identifies closely with a character and the character finds something mysterious, the reader will as well. If the mystery is presented first, the reader is likely to feel as if he’s watching from a sort of limbo, without emotion, without investment. Once we do drop into the MC’s viewpoint, we’re presented with false mystery. He obviously knows more about this stuff than he’s letting us know. I feel manipulated.

Scene 2 starts in false mystery. Lots of innuendo about this mysterious thing that he obviously knows more about than I do. No reason he shouldn’t think about what he knows. I’m feeling lost and a bit frustrated.  Impact? The colors?  He has a family? Fallout? I thought we were talking about dark colors.

“Humanity was ready for humanity.” Be careful with lines like this, which sound kind of neat, but say nothing clearly. I used to fall into this trap a lot. I would have these wonderfully evocative sentences that parsed well and felt good on the tongue, but when I actually looked more closely said nothing coherent. I’ve since learned that a clear, declarative sentence can work rings around these sorts of statements. These are a sign of a writer working too hard to sound “writerly” rather than striving to clearly communicate the image, characters, and actions.

On p3, more tantalizing hints of what we should know. “It happened…” What happened? On the third day something happened, but what? We’re in summary mode at this point, which makes the story seem distant. Telling this scene from inside the MC would be much more effective. Try to use more specific details and fewer broad generalities as well. Specific details, specific characters with specific problems and specific strengths and weaknesses, make a scene come alive. General overview of actions and character motives, etc. hold the reader outside the scene looking in. While this technique is sometimes useful, it’s much less compelling. This story is crying out for reader identification with the character’s situation, but we’re seldom, if ever, actually inside his experience.

Well, it definitely fits the theme, which is to the good. However, I’m not sure I understand what actually happened any more clearly at the end of the story than I did in the beginning. I don’t really understand the character or why the story should matter to me.

If I were revising this, I would return to story basics and push this idea until I had something less general and a character who needed this to happen to him. Then I would decide what his goal is, what obstacles stand in his way, how he fails/succeeds in overcoming them and what he gains or loses through this process. I would choose a tight third person viewpoint and tell the story from inside that character’s experience, rather than from outside it. For this story to work well, I need to identify emotionally with this character. Intellectual summary of events does not help that process. On the technical side, I would focus very tightly on weeding general language and images out and replacing them with specific language and images that clearly show what is happening as it happens. Even if I had to use all subject-verb constructions, I would do this, just to get the story onto the page as clearly as possible. Then I would work on mixing up the language a bit in revision to vary cadence and keep the prose active.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 2. An apocalyptic story that suffers from a distant viewpoint and imprecise language.

That’s all I have time for tonight.


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