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 a few before bed.
Story 171 (2/8/2011 Horror 3700 words)
First Reader: “The story doesn’t begin until page 2/12. There is no set up [for the payoff]. There is no character change. The writing is okay, but there is a lot of repetition throughout.” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening is summary, but it’s handled well. Nice first line brings us into a character and we get context after that. Second paragraph starts out strongly, moving us closer to the MC, but it goes on too long and loses sharpness by the end.
The second character is introduced as an inciting incident, but the focus shifts away from the MC at this point, as if the MC was just an opening act. There’s some good back and forth on page 3. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this is a lot less compelling than I thought it would be. The MC has morphed from someone I had sympathy for to someone who’s just here to observe for me (at least that’s how it feels to me, like a sour note, but I’m not quite sure why). The offer at the end of p3 seems pat. I think my problem is that I signed on for a character story and I’m getting plot at this point. I do want plot, mind you, but it feels like the story has shifted gears rather than deepening.
I like the concept here, but I’m not feeling the vibe. This is a story about music and authenticity, yet we’ve heard/felt no music, which makes this claim of authenticity a bit hollow. I need to see this dude doing his thing in an authentic way; he needs to deserve this change in his life.
Some heavy stuff on p5. It comes out of nowhere for me. There’s an attempt to frame the second character as larger than life, but it’s just the MC telling me about his perception. I wonder if this would work better if we saw the MC play as the story opens and gained a feeling that HE is in touch with something larger than himself when he plays. There is potential power in this idea, I just don’t feel it coming through.
Some nice lines on page 5. Not too many such that they overwhelm, but a few gems scattered to draw my eye. Nice. Good setting details on p 6.
On p 8: “When I play everything’s connected.” Make me believe that by seeding evidence of it early in the story and I will feel the power of this line. Right now I feel as if I’ve been told a clue. Some mystery on p10 that is pretty cool. I’m not really getting the power of it, because I’m not really attached to the MC as I should be, but it’s a neat idea.
On p11, I would be happier if I’d had clues for this end of the world vibe. There were images and word choices, but I didn’t noticed anyone actually acting on this impulse earlier, so it feels flat here. Then, “Everyone knows the sun is dying.” I didn’t. Yes, it was described in a way that might be interpreted this way, but I had no real impetus to do so.
Interesting idea here, potentially quite powerful. It didn’t sell me on the unreliable narrator, however. I think the key here would be to have the MC play in that first scene and see how the world changes (for him) when he does, how it connects him to everyone and everything and just keeps growing inside him until he can’t bear it and must stop. Then, in the end, he doesn’t (stop). Something like that. It’s certainly worth pursuing this one. I won’t ask for a rewrite because it’s going to take too much of a re-envisioning of character and scene to satisfy me, but I’d certainly take another look at this if the author felt moved to try a revision.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 Nicely observant character story that suffers from a too reliable unreliable narrator and insufficient setup of the core concept.
Story 172 (2/15/2011 SF 5000 words)
First Reader: “After three pages of this, I couldn’t take it anymore. It appears to begin in third person, but then becomes first. I think it was always first person, I just couldn’t tell because of the writing. It’s so busy trying to be cute, that it interferes what what story there is, which isn’t much in the first 3 pages (single spaced).”
I include this as a glimpse into a slush reader’s mind set. The single spacing could be an artifact of the upload process, so we don’t pay particular attention to that (it does make it a bit more difficult to read, however), but a reader cannot help but to look for reasons to say no when he/she has to read so many stories. The more difficult you can make it for us to say no early in the story, the better chance you have (once we’ve invested attention and time, we’re more likely to keep reading).
Anywho… This is first person, but we don’t discover that until the end of the opening scene. Imagine a reader hovering outside a scene waiting, waiting, waiting to figure out who he should pay attention to. This story appears to be aiming for humor, which can mitigate the need for close viewpoint identification. However, the humor isn’t all that funny, I’m afraid, relying mostly on wordplay and slapstick at this point. I can’t imagine 5000 words of this working particularly well. We’ll see though.
Second scene is much stronger. Third scene is better yet. I’m enjoying the flow of this now. The underlying satire is interesting without becoming overbearing. Still, 5000 words?
Nice observational humor. One small nit is that there area few too many speech tags. Not every line needs a speech tag. It’s a minor thing, but the dialogue will flow better with a few fewer of these where it’s abundantly clear who is speaking. And, please, limit the “I go” to one in a story; “said” is such a dandy way to say “said”. Some fine belly laughs along the way here.
Damn right, 5000 words. A very nice job here. The pacing is good, the ending escalates it from a simple joke to a meaningful tale. I’ll pass this on to the others, but don’t hold your breath. Humor is so danged subjective. You’ve already lost one reader and it’ll take a strong yes from the rest of us to overcome that. At least know that you’ve entertained one of us.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 Sharp social satire with a snappy plot and cookie cutter characters (just as a story like this requires). A slapstick opening weakens its appeal somewhat.
Story 173 (2/11/2011 Fantasy 2100 words)
First Reader: “I like a lot of this, but it needs work. It’s a bit sparse in places, needs line editing, and needs to tie the themes to each other a bit more. If other people like it, I would like to see a rewrite.” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening is a bit static, but quite effective at setting a character in scene. The prose works, but I do see places where moments should be played out just a bit longer and where language could be a little sharper. Enjoying so far.
The info dump on p2 is clunky. I need a bit more sense that he’s reacting to stimulus (beyond just seeing this odd thing – I would think his initial reaction would be disbelief or denial, not a rehashing of a legend he knows). Yes, this is a good example of a story that is working too hard to give information to me rather than developing it through the character. The character identification elements are actually very strong – I felt like I was experiencing the scene through his senses until the info dumps came in. All that’s needed is to find stimulus/events that cause the character to need this information so that he’s accessing it for himself in a manner that addresses his needs, not mine. In other words, I probably don’t need ALL this information, at least not here and now, but I can envision this character recalling the more important parts of it that relate to his immediate situation. So it’s not a true info dump problem, but one of character involvement.
The wife comes in at just the right time. This is an example of doing it right. The conversation with the creature should escalate, not repeat. Starts at too high a point of tension to do this.
This is a difficult one. I like the story that is being told, but not so much the way it unfolds. For example, the climax occurs maybe halfway through the story, which leaves us with pages of anticlimax. A better structure would build the tension through the next-to-final scene and force the MC to make a choice at that point that causes the final scene to more relevant to his decision. He needs to pay for this choice (more than a casual reference to the money he gives up). Nor is the wife used to build tension in the latter portion of the story. Missed opportunities weaken this substantially.
I’ll ask the others to read and react. We may ask for a rewrite, but I’m betting not. Too much to be done, I suspect. It’s another story I would not mind seeing again if the author were moved to take on a significant revision.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A fantasy story based on Chinese legend. This is timely and interesting. Less than perfect story tension weakens it somewhat.
That’s it for tonight. More tomorrow.