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’ll try to get through a bunch of these today.
Story 174 (1/30/2011 Fantasy 4300 words)
First Reader: “The prose is decent, but the pacing is too slow and there’s too much exposition before the plot gets started.”
This begins with attributed dialogue. It works to drop us into mid-scene and provided speculative context. It’s not a tremendously interesting opening, but works.
The companion is large, but what does he look like? We see a lot of this description by inference rather than direct observation. There’s a fine line between providing necessary specific detail and providing irrelevant detail, but in general it’s best to provide enough for the reader to get an image in his mind that will not contradict future specific details. For example, I’m picturing a bear at this point, since I have nothing else to go on.
This conversation is difficult to parse. Since the companion has said nothing, it’s difficult to give much credence to what the MC is saying. The more important point is that none of it advances the story action. It’s chit chat. I’m to p5 and there’s no sign of a story yet. It’s basically characterization and a small amount of background so far. There’s no inciting incident, no complication.
Some nice details of surround on p6. I still have no details of these characters beyond that they are some sort of creatures with paws and haunches. We find something interesting on p7, but there’s still no sense of story. I’d say this is unfolding at novel pace, rather than short story pace. Skimming.
The story begins on p10. The sudden recognition seems a little forced, but it does generate an inciting incident and complication. I have no idea why the secondary character wants to protect this. We’ve had 8 pages or so to characterize the relationship and yet this comes as a surprise to me. There was no hint of this tension between them, this difference in perspective toward the unknown. Then we’re back in chit-chat mode with the two characters bantering. So, basically, 1-2 pages of actual story movement so far.
On p14 we get history that makes the earlier reaction sensible. This comes too late. It’s basically characters sitting at a campfire to explain their reaction, rather than showing their reaction to stimulus and working motivation into that.
And on to the end. Nothing actually happens here. There is some tension between characters, but the plot is almost nonexistent, certainly not enough to support 20 pages. I do like these characters and I like the central theme. If I were revising, I’d create story action (physical complication/escalation/climax) to carry the word count and weave the character thread through that action.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A fantasy scene that pits two interesting characters against each other. The lack of plot action weakens the story significantly.
Story 175 (1/31/2011 SF 1300 words)
First Reader: “I like the emotional core of this, but even though it’s short, it’s still too long for its substance. I was thinking it might be worth a rewrite till I got to the end, then the whole thing falls apart.”
This opens with attributed dialogue. It works well enough. The first paragraph provides some context, but not enough to actually establish the surround. No motive or speculative detail yet. This is omniscient viewpoint, which makes me a little leery.
Where are we? I thought we were on a sidewalk in a crowd. Now I’m thinking an office with a secretary. I shouldn’t be reinventing the stage in my head. It distracts.
Ah, we are on a street, but with a secretary. Probably just need to establish her presence initially. I’m glad my first impression was right.
Second scene justifies the omniscient approach. I’m not sure I need the first scene, however. The second scene is sluggish until the network kicks in. It gets interesting then. It also makes me want that opening scene even less. It adds nothing to this.
I like the way it ends, though I do not like the advanced AI section, which feels like an info dump inserted to try and add import to the story. For me, the story is not about the idea, but the unexpected emotional connections presented in the network. In particular, the idea of the order to wipe, the concept of personality, etc. I do not think the ending falls apart so long as the story remains focused on the emotional elements that give such an ending power. It does fall apart if the story is meant to resolve the idea concerning AI’s place in society (been there, done that). I’m also not fond of this title.
If I were revising, I’d cut this to a single scene (the second one) from a close third viewpoint (the robot’s) and focus on the interesting stuff (the network conversations), using the opening paragraph to simply establish a context. This should work at about 750 words. I’ll reject this, but would be willing to take a look at the shorter, sharper version should the author wish to undertake it. Keep in mind, it will have to also please the other editors, so I can’t promise success, just a stronger flash piece.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 An interesting idea bogged down by a sluggish opening and unnecessary details.
Story 176 (1/31/2011 SF 1300 words)
The first reader voted No without comment.
The opening works to establish a character in context. It’s pretty good. The writing is good, but there’s not really a sense of story at this point. Mystery, yes, story no. It’s observational.
Story movement begins on page 3 (of 4). Viewpoint shift on p4 is convenient. Avoids the story experience in favor of a cheap reveal. This is too gimmicky for us.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An observational fantasy with a twist ending. The lack of deeper context hurts its staying power.
Story 177 (2/8/2011 Horror 1000 words)
First Reader: “Second person doesn’t work for me here because it’s not inviting me in with common experiences, but rather subjecting me to people I don’t know and actions I would never contemplate doing. There’s not a single person in this story to like and when I’m being placed in the shoes of the victim like I am in this story, I need to feel some sliver of recognition. I’ve seen 2nd person that works, but it’s rare. This isn’t that story and it wastes some nice opening lines about who [MC] is.”
The opening is a nice character description. First page is a character sketch. Story begins on p2 by inserting me into a situation that I should already know about. Okay, I’ll go with the shock of it for now. I don’t like me very much. I’m on p4 and the story hasn’t advanced past the initial tableau. It’s all internal (all about me, only this isn’t me). The repetition of the gun line works, but the story overall is leaving me pretty unmoved. It feels a little like an exercise in second person. Gotta say that it would fit the theme, though. The writing is lively, the situation tense. My biggest issue, as it was the first reader’s, is the viewpoint choice, which adds nothing substantial to the experience and actually subtracts a deal from my identification.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 Second person flash with active prose and a tense scenario. The story does not evolve much past a static setup, however.
Story 178 (2/8/2011 Other 1500 words)
First Reader: “This story is mostly told rather than shown. While the telling is actually fairly well done, any possible tension was drained from the story because of it. The ending came out of nowhere and recast the main character in an unsatisfactory light. There was a big POV switch late in the story and there is no speculative element at all in the story. The build up should have been effective, but it wasn’t.”
Nice opening line. Places me into a character efficiently and suggests tension. This flows smoothly and I like that the story title plays into this on page 2. That gives a seemingly innocent action some darker overtones. Unfortunately I’m thinking about an Everybody Loves Raymond episode at this point, which could detract a bit. Nice dark moment on the heals of good observation at end of p 3. So far I’m enjoying this, but I am not getting a sense of “speculative” yet. By the end of p3 I am beginning to tire of the summary nature of the story. It’s good that we move in-scene on p4. That may be too late, however. We haven’t really escalated beyond the opening premise at this point. Some dark hints have been nicely interjected, but the actual story tension remains about the same. In other words, this is taking too long.
The conflict at end of p5 is oddly devoid of emotion. I feel like a plot point has been delivered, but I don’t feel the emotional tension of it. Then back to summary, which, while it describes escalation, does not add to the FEELING of story tension I want.
Viewpoint shift on p7 is distracting. We’ve invested in the MC and now that we may be getting close to emotional escalation, the story shifts to a new character. The climax on p8 is curiously devoid of emotion as well. The intellectual delivery of plot works well enough, but we’re not getting the emotional band. That’s hurting the experience for me.
The ending shifts to omniscient and delivers a logical ending w/o emotional impact. I think the secret to making this work will be to tell the story from within discrete scenes. This will require getting in touch with the characters’ emotional states and escalating the tension between them in increments as the plot progresses. And I’d also want to make sure that the plot progression escalates from lesser tension to greater tension. I’m not sure that it does now; the conflict shifts from topic to topic, and there is certainly some escalation between characters, but as the first reader said, I’m not getting the sense of growing frustration/desperation in the MC as these issues advance from one problem to another. They seem roughly equal in weight, giving a sense of repetition rather than true escalation. Also problematic for us, the story does not contain a speculative element.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A mainstream story that delivers an intellectually satisfying resolution but lacks a significant emotional thread.
Story 179 (2/12/2011 SF 5150 words)
First Reader: “This one starts with an extensive info-dump/description and starts well before the true inciting moment. There isn’t a lot of scene building happening here and the loss of POV control happens quite early. Without a fixed POV or true omniscent POV, the tension is achieved through a form of witholding rather than any concern for a particular character. The resolution of the story wasn’t achieved by any action of the main character, but rather through other players (and it is a blatant form of witholding that the future teller knows what will happen but does not reveal so during the time we are immersed in their POV).”
Okay, I have a problem with body parts acting of their own volition, which is how this one begins. I have no solid frame of reference. It does drop me into mid-scene; there’s no solid viewpoint, however, and no sense of the overall surround.
As we get rolling there are some nice world building details. I’m not getting much sense of character, however. It feels like background for a novel at this point, rather than an actual short story experience. Is this Captain the same as the old one in the opening paragraph? Apparently not. We’re in his viewpoint now. We learn two paragraphs later that he’s humanoid. This causes me to reinvent him in my head.
Is the Fortune Teller the same as the old one in the opening paragraph? I think so. The Captain proceeds to explain to the Fortune Teller what he/she/it surely knows already. More background information. Not sure what the motivation is, or what incites this story to begin here rather than last week. The world building is pretty interesting, but I’m not getting a story experience so far.
An interesting complication at about the halfway point (no page numbers, which may be due to the uploading process – also single spaced). Ah, the old prophecy that tells us everything except the detail that matters. That’s okay as long as I come away thinking there’s a valid reason for this withholding.
This story provides an interesting “teachable” moment. The prose here is clunky and often painfully pulpy, yet I get a feeling of story movement even when there’s very little. I get a sense of characters interacting over matters important to them, of stakes larger than the story, of a world beyond the page. Contrast this to the large number of stories we’ve seen with wonderfully smooth prose that leave me wanting for a sense of story movement. I come away from this story with a stronger sense of satisfaction because that part of me that craves story gets something despite the ineffective prose techniques. Our ideal submission combines this story’s sense of “happening” with other stories’ technical craft. I’ve known since page 1 we would not be accepting this story, yet I’m more fond of it than many I’ve had to reject.
On p5 of 7 (according to my wp – single spaced), we get a really interesting tidbit of background that fundamentally changes everything. Why this didn’t come up earlier is beyond me, but it’s a cool concept (the clause in the war contract). This is unfortunately followed by a monologue wherein one of the combatants delivers his history.
Well that was a way to let the protagonist off easy. Story ought to be about a protagonist forced to make a decision, not let out of making one by the actions of another.
Well, I don’t regret reading this. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on. It’s largely buried in some fairly amateurish writing (too many adverbs/adjectives, talking heads dialogue, imbalance between showing and telling etc), but with some pruning and sharpening, and a real viewpoint, this could be quite a satisfying read. My guess is that it will need to be longer in order to play out the various complications more concretely, but it’s an interesting world. Most likely this is from a world developed for book length projects. Nothing wrong with that as long as the story functions as a story too. Here, it doesn’t really.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting fantasy conflict played out with intriguing characters. The pulpy prose and lack of viewpoint work against its power.
Story 180 (2/11/2011 SF 1256 words)
First Reader: “I didn’t think I’d like this one, but I did. The premise isn’t especially profound and the dialogue verges on the info-dump, but I liked the sad, unfinished nature of the last line. The one thing that was probably missing from this story was any hint of choice/conflict for the protagonist or anyone else in the story. It is an observational story with a passive protagonist, but despite this, I think it worked. I liked it.”
This opens well, putting me immediately into the MC’s thoughts and providing basic context. The opening scene does a nice job of establishing character. This is day in the life stuff, but the observations and culture are just out of the ordinary enough to hold my interest. Shuttle? Do tell. I like the way the larger world bleeds into interstices in these daily interactions. It keeps me reading.
Nice back and forth about the (imagined?) larger conflict from a boy’s perspective. This has such a “real” feel to it. Great ending. This is a nicely minimalist slice of life story that works even for my speculative reader side. Who says rules can’t be broken? Most of the time they shouldn’t be but there are exceptions. I’ll send this around to the other editors, but am hopeful.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A minimalist SF tale that delivers a much larger world than the plot would suggest.
Story 181 (2/15/2011 Horror 3600 words)
The opening is solid. I have a character in context and a bit of true mystery to pull me in. The infodumpy description of place on p2 doesn’t work as well; for instance what triggers him to think of grass mowing when there’s snow on the ground? It feels staged for my information rather than through the character’s perspective.
By the end of page 3 this is too day-in-the-life for me. There’s no real speculative element, no real escalation of tension, just observations of a character going through his day. It’s interesting to compare this story to the previous one, which was also observational day-in-the-life, but held my interest. It’s largely in what details are presented and whether or not they pull me closer to character identification and hint at larger issues, or simply inform me.
At end of p4 the wife begins a conversation for which I have no context. It’s confusing rather than interesting as a result. I don’t mind that she starts in the middle of it (that’s natural) but I need him to think something that provides me with a context. Otherwise, I’m the stranger nodding politely while people gibber.
Why hasn’t he thought about the no return issue on p6 before now? While the prose carries me along without effort, the story feels very long. This usually indicates a lack of story movement (i.e. escalation and complication). We’re still basically exploring the same mystery as on p1. There has been some family tension resulting from it, but that doesn’t pull me in. The story is focused on the mystery, not the family.
The brains line gave me a chuckle. On p12 we get some escalation. My interest perks a bit. Then we enter fairly predictable terrain. Viewpoint shifts in final scene to show the reveal. The main problem here is that the story simply does not move quickly enough or develop the emotional thread well enough to make me care. At half this length, with an indication that the family friction is actually important, this might work.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fairly predictable horror tale. The prose is solid, but the story is very slow to develop and ends with a simple twist.
Story 182 (2/16/2011 SF 845 words)
First Reader: “This story doesn’t have any real technical flaws, it just doesn’t offer anything new to the genre.” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening provides context efficiently. It does nothing to pull me into scene or character but works well enough. Lots of dialogue here and very little physical detail (some inference, such as the beard that is not seen, but inferred in thought). I’m feeling talked at. The conversation itself is fine, just not terribly compelling to me, the reader.
A strange little complication. The snap decision that follows is the right decision, but I find myself totally apathetic. The story lacks an emotional thread that might make this work for us. The message is pretty trite at this point, which would make even an excellent execution difficult to sell to us.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fairly predictable SF tale. A lack of emotional escalation and a too-easy ending work against it.
Story 183 (2/16/2011 SF 4550 words)
First Reader: “The first 3 pages is a hanging-out-at-the-bar scene (oh no, not another bar scene!). There is no drama in the climactic moment. The POV’s job is not clear. The problem is pretty vague. The POV’s history comes in too late. The story doesn’t escalate very well. Too much confrontation is off screen.” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening provides context, but it’s a little difficult to parse (minor tense confusion). It feels informational rather than placing me in scene. This continues for a couple page. I’m being told information, being told about a story happening rather than being involved in its happening. This summary approach seldom works for us. I’m getting only a superficial connection to the MC even when this does shift in scene. I feel like the conversation is aimed to provide info to me rather than two characters interacting.
Inciting incident at end of p3. I’m not sure what the MC is attempting to do here or why it matters. I’ll trust this will become evident soon. Okay, I’m still clueless at the end of the scene. I feel like the story is taking pains to show me stuff that doesn’t really matter while avoiding the stuff that does. What is her purpose? How does this work? Why is it necessary? What would happen to the woman if she failed? Too much effort is being directed toward keeping the mundane (to the MC) mysterious. It’s a form of false mystery in effect. Which is a shame, because if I get this, the idea is pretty cool.
Second scene presents a second “case” (of what?). This leads to a sense of day-in-the-lifeness rather than one of escalating story tension. The story is reading flat so far. Ugh. Some lines that sound nice but fall apart upon closer inspection. Sanity takes its rightful place? What does that show me? Trembling essence? Ditto. In most stories we should avoid settling for evocative sounding description in favor of actual description that evokes things larger than the thing described. So, rather than a trembling essence, perhaps we see the air (or brain waves) shimmering, trembling, on the verge of coalescing into a form, a face, two eyes, an open mouth in mid-shriek.
Illusive from sight? What does that convey? Same deal. Describe concretely, think abstractly. It can make a huge difference to a reader’s experience. Skimming. I have too many stories to read today.
I’m wondering if the story should begin with Sparky. He’s what makes this day different for the MC. The other stuff was day-in-the-life. This has the potential to be story. This scene is way too easy for a climax. The MC makes no real choice, pays no real price for it, and her problems go away. I do think a story that revolves around the issues raised in this final scene could be effective.
This author has purchased a full critique, so I’ll bring these issue to light in much finer detail there. There is an interesting idea here and the character should work fine.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An interesting concept that develops too slowly and abstractly to reach its full story potential.
Story 184 (2/16/2011 Horror 3000 words)
First Reader: “This is a strange little tale about [something]. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it at first, but it grew on me. I think it might be a bit too long, but the narrator is unreliable without a doubt. Very strange.” (plot spoiler removed)
Interesting opening line. Inverts expectation, characterizes and gives just a hint of context. Nice, active prose. Especially like the fourth para on p2. This scene ends well too. I like a story that plays with my expectations to build something new. I think I’d like just an occasional snippet of concrete detail in the here and now, maybe something of the socialite’s features (perhaps mutated by his perception, but real). I like the surreality of the musings, but am missing a contrasting concreteness just a bit.
The scene on p6 (end) is nicely described. It would feel even more effective, I think, with some concrete detail in the prior here and now scene. We don’t actually know which is real, but they are connected through his experience. Since he’s all over the place in his head, one way to separate the time lines (so to speak) would be to concretize the here and now elements enough to subtly set them apart from memory. Hope that makes sense. It’s not a huge deal; I’m still enjoying, but I do feel just a little (artificially) adrift.
I like this. I like the way it ends, the ambiguity of it. I’ll send it on to other editors to see what they make of it. Probably a 50-50 proposition at this point. I’m a little concerned about it fitting the theme, but I think a justification can be made.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A bizarre SF tale featuring an unreliable narrator who just might be saving the world, or not.
Story 185 (2/18/2011 SF 1385 words)
First Reader: “I really liked the idea behind this, but the writing isn’t quite there. There’s too much over-written description at times, not enough character development, and the escalation is uneven. I was let down by the ending and not sure what it meant. I wanted to like this story, but it never quite made it. It’s not really a last contact story.”
A vivid opening line. It gives me a bit of setting and a sense of genre. I’m interested after the first page. I do worry about the crowd gaping in shock. Herd behavior bothers me. Interesting, until the MC realizes what the items are. At that point my interest falls. If he knows, I should too. This is false mystery.
Second scene is similar. Interesting, but a bit frustrating with its withholding. It bothers me that we have all these items, yet we’ve not seen any details of what they contain, even though the characters keep looking at them.
On p4 does the couple literally materialize out of thin air? Why does this not surprise MC? On p6 the woman’s appearance and demise feels staged. The love interest is not well set up, making this emotional ending less powerful than it should be.
An interesting idea, but the story doesn’t do enough with it. It spends too much time hiding the obvious in order to create an atmosphere of mystery. It spends too little time exploring the concept and what it means, especially emotionally, to this character.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF story revolving around a clever concept. A lack of emotional development and too much withholding rob it of some power.
Story 186 (2/19/2011 Horror 100 words)
First Reader: “This is only 100 words long. It doesn’t do anything for me.”
This relies on a twist, but the twist doesn’t make immediate sense to me. Is her husband a crematorium operator? Too many words spent on telling about emotion and frantic flailing. A few could be used to better set up the situation. I’m not sure the twist would be enough for me even then, unfortunately.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A microfiction horror that suffers from an obscure punchline.
Story 187 (2/20/2011 Horror 2470 words)
First Reader: “There is mostly over-written descriptive detail here. No story to speak of. It’s in first person and the character has no past.” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening is a bit clunky. It’s in the mode of a narrator telling me a story, which is okay, but the language doesn’t really grab me. The opening page is a breathless rendition of events. I want to tell the author to slow down and show me. Page 2 brings some nice details of place. The writing is a bit excessive, emotionally speaking. Borders on purple prose. I’m finding it very difficult to connect with this character. First person is not helping that process.
The basement is full of dead animals? Isn’t that a bit strange? Okay, this is a creepy scene. What I’m missing at this point is a sense of purpose/motivation. Why is this character here? What does he hope to gain or achieve? Why is he not surprised by this? I’m being given a tour of a horrific idea rather than experiencing it through a character.
Well, I’d say this is mainly gratuitous gore. It has a dreamlike feel that’s kind of interesting, but there doesn’t seem to be a deeper layer of meaning or a moral beyond the obvious. The character had no motivation and was simply there to become fodder as best I can tell. If I were revising, I’d start with this basement and work outward to a motivated character with a reason to go there and make him work for whatever he gains or loses as a result. I’d also switch to a close third person viewpoint.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 Gratuitous horror with a dreamlike quality. The lack of a motivated character hurts this.
Story 188 (2/20/2011 SF 1800 words)
First Reader: “This has several problems. The protagonist doesn’t do anything; it’s [another character] who’s making the choices. The POV has no goal or much history. The scenes are mostly talking heads. There is no character change. The story doesn’t have much resolution.”
This opens in attributed dialogue, but the speaker is non-specific (“one of the guys”). The line is a hood, for sure, but I have no sense of place. There is a speculative element. Overall, it’s pretty good. Who is the ambassador? Concrete detail would help here.
It would help to SEE the suits before learning about them. To SEE the other characters before inferring something about them. Stimulus then reaction is generally the best choice. It connects us to the character experience more tightly than if we’re filtering everything through his thoughts.
Okay, I like the scene that’s being set up. The problem is that I don’t have enough context for it to matter to me. Why is this time the time that matters? Why extinction? How pressing is this? Too much false mystery (stuff the viewpoint knows but doesn’t reveal) gets in the way of the true mystery (stuff the viewpoint doesn’t know). I’m left feeling disoriented rather than curious.
What had happened to the ambassador? It would help to SEE the mechanized suits before we hear about them. I’m forced to reinvent the scene in my head.
I do like some of these lines. The MC is likable and possibly noble. I suspect third person would be a stronger viewpoint choice here, but first person works pretty well. On p4 we get the context we should have gotten in the first scene.
What does a misshapen head look like? Human? At this point, the MC is being rescued. Until now he’s been passively waiting. Some lively thoughts and language. I’ve had to reinvent the stage again. Didn’t know we were on a ship. Didn’t know we were heading for a planet, etc..
Okay, this settles for clever in the end, which is unfortunate in my opinion. I would much prefer a richly portrayed story based around this basic concept. Here we have a quipping MC passively being processed through a story arc. It could be so much more.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A quirky character confronts a quirky concept. The story is hampered by a lack of concrete detail and a passive protagonist.