See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. I have time for one or two before I lay me down to sleep.
Story 165 (2/12/2011 SF 3424 words)
This opening has a nice feel. I’m put into mid-scene with a clear context, implied genre, in a character’s viewpoint. Intriguing hook as well. A hint of motive, but I’m slightly worried that we may not get an inciting incident in this scene. Just a hunch. Hope I’m wrong. The writing is lively, which compensates to a degree, but I do want a story to begin soon.
On p2 we get a possible inciting incident (the reason the story begins here, not yesterday or next week). Nice observational writing. I’m not feeling story movement after 2 pages though. The inciting incident is a red herring so far. Story could start on p3. This feels more like story. It’s been background to this point.
Or it could start on p4. Nope. It’s very good writing, but there’s no real story movement yet. It’s a day in the life, interesting, but not compelling. Good background for story, but not story itself.
Or it could start on p8. Definite story tension here. It would be a nice complication for a motivated character, but we don’t have a motivated character so it comes across as just another event in the day in the life.
It’s a shame; I really like the writing here. It’s unpretentious and effective at conveying scene and character. What is missing is a compelling story to carry the prose. Without that skeleton it doesn’t really connect with me. If I were revising, I would go back to story basics. Establish a protagonist (done) with a clear motive (not done) who encounters obstacles (not done) that complicate his journey and explore story theme simultaneously. Come up with a climax (the active scene should work for that) that pushes tension to its highest point and make the character decide. Make him risk something important, pay something important to earn the ending.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 Well written SF concept that delivers interesting characters doing mostly interesting things. The lack of a meaningful story arc weakens it.
Story 166 (2/12/2011 SF 2600 words)
Nice, efficient opening. Drops me in the middle of a scene, in character, and a hint of genre. The third paragraph is unnecessarily disorienting. Which “she” sits and how does she have a new couch HERE if it’s the old one? I get what is being said, but have to stop and think it through. I shouldn’t have to. When what is being described is unusual, prose clarity becomes a prime currency.
No reason to hide that she’s the daughter initially. This is false mystery rather than true mystery. Careful with the references. With two women, rapid fire “her” can be slippery.
I’m on p3 now and I’m having a similar problem here. What is the MC’s motive? Why does the story start here and not later or earlier? What’s different about this time? Some nice writing; good observations. At the end of scene 1 I ask, “Why?”. I know that she wants this, but why? This is false mystery rather than the true mystery that could better compel me (what does she NOT know about the device and her daughter?)
I like the opening of scene 2. I continue to want to know why this is important however. This is closer to explanation of an idea than story at this point. More false mystery here. What she does is interesting, but why does she do it? She knows. We’re in her perspective.
The character line on p7 strikes home with me. It should likely be earlier in the story. Too much of the story so far has relied upon false mystery, too little on true mystery (things she does not know herself). Consequently it “feels” mysterious, but is not mysterious (it’s manufactured). Good complication at the end of this scene.
With the scene on p8-9 we begin to get story tension. On p10 we get the core issue. It’s a good core issue; it’s what should be driving this story, not the false mystery of earlier scenes. This scene is dragging, however, as it explains the device and the story concept. Dramatization of this material will be more compelling.
I’m not fond of the final scene, which is basically a flash back to explain the genesis of the story. The genesis ought to come at the beginning of this story. If I were revising, that is what I would focus on. Begin with the inciting incident, which makes clear the core theme and motivates this character. Move to the complication of not wishing to save experiences, complication with spouse and money, increase the tension to the decision she makes in the end, with a clear indication of what it costs her.
This can be a very good story. Right now it’s a neat idea and a cool device.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 Well written SF concept based on a timely theme. The lack of a strong story arc weakens it.
Story 167 (2/12/2011 SF 200 words)
This is interesting, but doesn’t quite work for me. I like the language and the basic concept, but I come away with a bit of a “so what” attitude in the end. I think that’s because, while I understand the general concept here, I don’t understand the specific. In the 70’s I suspect this would have worked very well for me; this issue was everywhere then and I would have leaped to the conclusion required. Now, not so much, unfortunately. I’ll pass it on to another reader to make sure it’s not just me.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 Interesting concept delivered in solid prose. The lack of a specific focus at the end damages its sharpness somewhat.
Story 168 (2/13/2011 Fantasy 3475 words)
The opening sentence has an unnamed character. Not a major deal, but does not draw me in. Opening paragraph establishes a character and a hint of context. I like the second paragraph. Story concerns a writer, which is usually problematic. Usually these stories tend to be too internalized and/or dreary.
Literally vanished? Because he doesn’t even react, I read it as a literary device. Good observational details. The story is very internalized at this point. Okay so far, but I am getting hungry for some external action. Why doesn’t he react to the knocking? Okay, end of p2 makes that question go away. Nice.
I’m at the end of p3 and this is beginning to feel repetitive. Very internalized. P4 begins external movement. Good complication. We probably need to get here quicker is all. More internalization. Not so good. The appearance of the device is welcome, but it’s taking too long (more internalizing) to get to it. More internalizing.
More internalization. So far the story arc has consisted of walking to a door and not opening another door. This, in 9 pages. I need a better balance of internal and external story. Scene beginning on p10 is more active. Good details, good balance of internal thought/external action. Then a backflash. This is more effective that much of the prior internalization. Good tension in this backflash. We’re SHOWN many of the characteristics we were TOLD ABOUT in the opening scenes.
Page 16 begins the reveal. The story does require this reveal, which is clever enough, but it only works because we weren’t told this information initially. In fact we were lied to in the opening line. In effect the story becomes one of those mysteries you can’t solve because the butler’s sister did it and we didn’t even know he had a sister until the reveal.
If I were revising this, I would try to begin with the backflash scene (NOT as a backflash), ending with the MC losing consciousness. When he wakes, the assumption can more logically be that his wife left him. Then onward through the early scenes, ending with the final reveal. I would definitely work to pare down the internalizations; they won’t be needed as much with the active scene up front anyway. I would instead focus on his confusion, his residual anger giving way to forgiveness. I think this is yet another example of story being told inside out. It seldom works as well as a story told forward, because the power has to rely on artificial mystery and literary tricks rather than the story tension and climax. I’m not going to suggest a rewrite here, but this is a story I would be happy to reconsider if the author took it upon themselves to revise. It has some definite strong points.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A clever Fantasy premise that ends with a nice resonance. The lack of a solid story arc weakens it.
Story 169 (2/14/2011 SF 1900 words)
This was published in another language, which means I’ll treat it on par with original subs for the anthology.
This opens interestingly with a character in context and a suggestion of genre. The writing is simple and effective and the setting a bit bizarre. I’m a little too disoriented to care a great deal, however. Interesting picture. An inciting incident. But when anything could become anything, it’s hard to get too worked up about it. This is breezy, but the humor feels superficial to me so far.
On page 3, there’s a hint of larger issues that opens my reading eyes. There’s also a lot of gobbledy gook place names that clog up my ears. This becomes a little more concrete on p4, but it’s too late for me. Some nice lines in the dialogue. It devolves into an extended discussion of politics (satiric, yes, but not really story).
If this started closer to the complication on p8 I would likely be more interested. Some funny lines and a good ending, but the problem for me is that this is basically an extended discussion of idea dressed up as a story rather than a story built around an idea. Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy worked well precisely because Douglas Adams focused on the story and worked his satire onto the page as reaction to story stimulus. We identify with the character (whose view is quite concrete, note) strongly enough to buy the bizarreness of everything and everyone else because HE does. He struggles against it, is changed by it, etc.. Same with Catch 22.
There are markets for this type of story, I think, but we’re not one of them, unfortunately.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A sometimes funny satire focusing on a timely topic. The lack of story arc undermines it to a degree.
Story 170 (2/14/2011 Fantasy 3635 words)
The opening is fine, but a bit static. It drops me into scene and character and genre, so nothing wrong with it. I’m just not excited yet. I’m worried by the tendency to explain emotion in speech tags rather than showing evidence of emotion. This is a sign of an author standing in the way of the reading experience. Lord knows much of this technique gets printed, but it’s one more small way to weaken a story experience.
God bearer? It’s not clear without re-reading why he thinks this. What is his task? He knows. It is false mystery to withhold that from me. There seems to be a mix of false and true mystery here. Veiled references to relevant events and motives rather than a clear delineation of them. I would much rather be focusing on the true mystery of the situation (i.e. the stuff the viewpoint character does not understand) rather than parsing through false mystery (the stuff he does understand, but does not think or say in order to keep me “hooked”). P2-3 is basically people explaining things to each other that they should already know. There is some good tension near the end of this scene.
Scene 2 has some nice observational detail. I’m much more firmly in scene here. I still don’t know what the MC intends to do (except in general terms). This keeps me from feeling compelled to read on, but I probably would keep going for a time. He keeps thinking about saving a city, but why should he think he can? What exactly does it mean? Does he have a plan?
There are some nice details of process here, but the story lacks much emotion or even physical sensation. It’s very intellectual, which keeps me from investing much in the character. A story like this will live or die on the strength of its idea. A story that balances idea and character has a much better chance. Much more difficult to write, of course, but you get what you sweat for.
As an example, consider: “Around him were hoots and jeers. These filled him with anger that let him rise, revealing himself beyond doubt as…”
Note the passiveness of the stimulus (around him were hoots and jeers – he’s interpreting this intellectually, but not hearing it). His reaction, too, is very intellectual, described from outside his experience rather than inside it. There’s noting wrong with these sentences as prose, but they do not achieve what the story requires, which is reader identification with character experience.
“A peasant hooted, then another. Soon they were all jeering, the noise pounding at him like fists. Anger rose through him, a mist becoming steam, fogging his thoughts. ‘Behold!’ he screamed, and he rose to his full, majestic height, revealing himself as…”
I don’t mean to suggest this to be the actual wording (it’s not my world to describe) but as an example of a different technique wherein a character experiences stimulus, experiences a reaction, then fosters an intellectual/physical response. It’s a more natural sequence and will generally pull readers into a character’s experience pretty quickly.
The long paragraph on p8 works nicely for me. I feel closer to the MC. The conversation, however, feels like more information delivered for my sake rather than the characters’. I feel as if the story is still being set up. We should be at the complication stage here. Certainly there was a complication earlier, but this section feels like a repetition of an earlier scene explaining the world situation rather than a reaction to the complication.
Why didn’t he try this tactic first? Maybe I missed something. I do have to read pretty quickly to get through so many stories. More explanation of situation. I do think this scene could be powerful if set up better. Ooh, I do like the lady under the wrap.
This seems easy enough. Overall, the story is pretty flat, I’m afraid. I don’t get the kind of rising tension and climax I look for in fantasy. The world seems pretty interesting. If I were to revise this, I would return to story basics and focus on developing a more specific motivation for the MC, a greater sense of tension through the complication, and a more costly climax/decision for the MC. This reads like a part of some larger work, which makes it difficult to generate the sort of power a short story requires.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting fantasy world and character. The lack of story tension through the middle and a too-easy ending work against it.
I got more done than I thought I would. Hopefully more tomorrow.