See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. We’re coming down to the wire now. There’s still some room in the anthology at this point. Shall we see if we can fill a slot or two today?
Story 189 (2/19/2011 Fantasy 4700 words)
This comes from an author with significant credentials. I’m always just a touch more hopeful when I see that, but it’s the story that will decide the outcome as those of you who have been reading along well know.
An interesting opening. It more or less commands my attention, delivering a character and enough context to set a basic stage in my head. It’s a little coy for my taste by the end of page 1. We’ve got some evocative lines going on, but the false mystery is starting to interfere. I’d much rather know why he’s doing what he’s doing than hear the girl spout meaningful lines. I don’t mind the lines, but I do want the story to move.
It’s well written and interesting despite my quibbles. I do worry that we may not have much story here though. We’ll see. Great details of character and place (not so much of motive).
Second scene is very interesting. Third scene is too.
This is pretty amazing. I’m sold on it. The question will be whether it’s accessible enough for the other editors to sign on.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A lyrical exploration of the child we never quite leave behind.
Story 190 (2/21/2011 SF 5600 words)
Reader 1: “This starts out with a promising premise. The writing was good, but the story lacks escalation and focus. There’s discussion about [something], but it isn’t integral to the plot. There is no inner character conflict, no point of decision, no character change. Sorry I have to say no to this one.” (plot spoilers removed)
Another story from an author with strong credentials. This is an interesting opening. It reads a little flat for my taste, but is effective at establishing character (first person) in context with a speculative element. Good specific details. I’m a little hungry for motivation at this point (p2).
End of p3 offers motivation, only it’s not the MC’s motivation, but a secondary character’s. Is this her story or his? This is an effective opening scene. It’s a little heavy with information, but there’s also some authentic conversation and a hint of emotional thread. My big concern is motive.
The inciting incident appears in scene 2. Is this too late? I suspect so, especially since the story is pretty long (for us). Okay, the end of the scene ties the first scene in. What would make this work better for me would be if this scene comes as a complication rather than an inciting incident. That is, if the MC were motivated in some other direction, only to have this event pull him back. Then it will feel more like a story experience.
This is a great idea. I can’t escape the feeling that I’m being told about it, rather than experiencing a story wherein it is essential. This MC is likable, but has no real stake in the issue (technically he does, but realistically he’s already cast his lot on one side of the issue; the story is not forcing him to question that or learn from it so far, it’s using him as a foil in a conversation to explain the issues).
Nice twist on the idea in scene that ends on p13. Again, however, the MC was a foil used to inform me of this. His stake remains minimal, though he is interesting. The tension in the next scene (p15-) feels a little forced. I couldn’t tell if the MC was joking around or serious at first. We need a little internal emotion here, I think.
Next scene shows me another aspect of the core idea. Again, the MC is a foil to bring this information out. Next scene reads authentic and is pretty touching. It’s just that this is a MC who is along for the ride and a secondary character who has no stake in the outcome. The story is MIA. What we have is an interesting logic problem so far.
Final scene is nicely active, but it feels kind of pointless in terms of the story arc. The MC isn’t changed; while he does make a decision it doesn’t seem to cost him much. His reward is not a culmination of the story events, but an extension of the opening scene. It’s a shame because the writing is very good, very active and sharply observant. There’s a good feel to this as well. If I were revising I would strongly consider telling this from the doctor’s viewpoint (or a soldier in the field who is faced with the choice). She has much more at stake here. Even so, there will have to be a decision that changes her life forever, and a cost for that decision. That’s not in the story at present.
A regretful no, I’m afraid. This may do better at Analog or similar venues that value idea over character arc.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An excellent SF idea strongly invoked within a story framework. Weakness in the character arc lessens its power.
Story 191 (2/21/2011 Horror 2800 words)
Reader 1: “This is a horror story about [something]. At the end the POV changes to the [secondary character] so we can’t see him. Nothing new here. Not much characterization. Mostly gore, no horror. And a stupid doctor.” (plot spoilers removed)
Some good credentials here as well. The opening paragraph is a bit overwrought. It does place me in scene with a character and an inciting incident. I’m not quite clear on the description of the thing. Is it a spot or a growth? Seems to vacillate. End paragraph on p2 works well for me. There’s some escalation.
Getting better through the middle here. Less dramatic prose, truer character experience. Escalation continues. Ooooh, great description of the thing on p6 (gross, but great).
I’m not buying the doctor’s reaction, not after that description of the thing. Is the narrator unreliable and this is just something mundane, or is the doctor’s reaction false? Well, this is an interesting horrific ending, but it doesn’t do much for me, I’m afraid. It hinges on the idea, not the character. I suspect this might do well in Necrotic Tissue, but it’s not for us.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A horror story that delivers a daily dose of gory horror, but not enough character change or deeper meaning.
Story 192 (2/21/2011 Horror 3169 words)
Reader 1: “The ending isn’t related to the actions of the protagonist in any way. This is a story with an entirely passive protagonist and everything is forced upon him. There’s no speculative element and at no point does the MC make difficult choices. Instead, the story mostly happens in the flashback. There’s some nice use of non-visual detail to bring some of the scenes to life, but the story is mostly an info-dump and doesn’t emerge from the choices of the MC.”
Nice, effective opening. Smoothly written and puts me into the character’s mindset. The story is driven by true mystery (phenomenon the MC does not understand). Good specific detail. The conversation is a bit stilted. It’s not necessary to describe every evidence of emotion through a speech tag. Now we’re getting into back flash. The story’s momentum falls away. Lots of back fill. No story movement. Some foreground conversation, then more background.
p8 brings a sudden, welcome escalation. The climax is pretty unbelievable, I’m afraid. And the reader is right that the story happens around the protagonist; he barely plays a part other than to absent himself at the climax, which happens off page.
I’d like to like this one, as the writing is smooth, but it just doesn’t do enough with the characters for me. I need the protagonist to act upon the story events, not vice versa.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A suspense story that delivers likable characters in a sympathetic situation, but does not do enough with them in terms of story development.
Story 193 (2/21/2011 Horror 720 words)
Reader 1: “This is only 700 words, but it’s too long for what it is. It needs to be shorter and sharper to work.” (plot spoilers removed)
Looks like it’s an all dialogue flash. I admire folks who pull that off. It’s likely a tough sell to us, but we’ll see. The first four or five exchanges are interesting. It gets chit-chatty after that for me. Some clever lines mixed in.
This is pretty good, a little long, but an interesting take on the situation. Unfortunately it doesn’t blow me away and that’s what an experimental story has to do to get a thumbs up around this place. We would want more world building or character arc at this length. This is pretty much an extended set up for a sight gag (literally).
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A dialogue story about a dog. It’s a little long for what it accomplishes.
Story 194 (2/22/2011 Fantasy 800 words)
Reader 1: “Almost all of this story takes place within the MC’s head and consists of an extended flashback. It’s well-written enough, but nothing happens in real time. We move into purposeful withholding about what has happened to the MC’s girlfriend and some intentional vagueness about what caused the rift between the two. This lack of specificity is present throughout the story and is, in fact, purposely commented upon by the MC.
Essentially there is no plot and the ending isn’t derived from the MC’s actions. The ending is symbolic but it isn’t earned in any sense and sacrifices meaning for resonance rather than striving for both.”
An interesting opening paragraph. I’m in mid-scene and a metaphor is introduced to imply possible motive. Then we’re moving backward, into backflash, extending the metaphor, but not a story. The metaphor becomes labored after a time. We have no story here, but an extended rumination about a relationship.
This changes at the end of p3, when events move rather forcefully forward. The MC is barely participating in this; he’s made a choice, but it’s not a very meaningful one in terms of character development or flaw.
Well that’s a strange little ending. I kind of like the concept, but it needs an actual story to go along with it. This is the kind of story I like to refer to as an idea described. The character could be anyone, the choice doesn’t really matter. There is potential here, using this character and this idea, to create some real tension, a real climax, and a real resolution. The key will be to understand the character more fully (the parts not shown on page, the reason he needs this to happen, what he’s willing or forced to pay for it, etc).
As a writing exercise this is neat. Now, put some flesh on the bones and serve it well done 🙂
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An extended metaphor about a relationship. This goes to an interesting place, but gets there without sufficient development.
Story 195 (2/22/2011 SF ??? words)
The opening is summary and static. Not bad, but not compelling. The first page is entirely background. No inciting incident, no story movement. Forward movement starts in mid-page 2. Still no inciting incident or motivation. More background delivered as conversation. Inciting incident on p 6 (depending on where story goes with it).
More background. We hear about a story in retrospect, but there’s no story here yet.
This is the prototypical “telling an idea” story. Lots of background about an idea and character, but no real story experience. No inciting incident or motivated character attempting to achieve (or escape) something, no rising tension or climatic moment where the character must change, no price for that decision. This is an interesting enough world and the character could be interesting, but we need a story. The story he recalls in summary would be a good one to show on the page, for example.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A solid, if unspectacular SF idea that suffers from too little story on the page.
Story 196 (2/22/2011 SF 3919 words)
Reader 1: “This story reminds me of the coneheads. I sensed a joke coming at the end, and it does come. I think the story is way too long. It wasn’t my type of humor, but others may like it. I might have appreciated it if it had been about half the length.” (plot spoilers removed)
Begins with an exclamation. This is over the top for me. Next paragraph does work well, putting me into a scene in mid-action. I have a character and a situation. Not fond of the made up words. The prose itself is nicely active. The character is well portrayed. The preponderance of odd words and sentence structures keep me from identifying too closely. I kind of want it to be over, actually. Even though I like the flow and understand the character’s frustration. I just don’t want to have to work so hard for what appears to be very little payoff.
I think the problem I’m having with this is that I don’t feel compelled by the character’s situation. It seems to have no real motivation, the stakes seem minor, and yet I have to work through prose density to get at it. It’s an odd experience.
On p7 it gets more interesting. I’m getting a sense of need here, which helps. It’s still pretty much a day in the life, however. It’s better on p11, where we get a sense of the character’s isolation. Maybe the story should start here.
The ending is relevant to the story theme, but pretty random too. I don’t feel an emotional release or any great sense of loss, etc. There is a good story to be had here, but it’s not clicking yet. Too day in the life ending in simple irony.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A social satire that suffers somewhat from too little satire and too much social.
Story 197 (2/22/2011 Fantasy 3300 words)
Reader 1: “There is no character change or realization. It would be better told in sequential order with her goal being [an event], not her life in flashbacks.” (pllot spoilers removed)
This comes from an author with strong credentials. Opens in mid-scene, which is good, but an unnamed character, which is a warning sign to me. An archetypal character can work for us, but usually an unnamed character is not handled well. The thing that really bugs me, however, is the withholding of relevant knowledge. False mystery.
Then we’re off to back flash land. This deadens the telling. The prose itself is evocative and lively, but I’m not getting a sense of story (I’m getting technique). End of p3 gets interesting. We get motivation here. Character has been named now. Not sure why we couldn’t have done that in the first paragraph.
We return to the foreground story, which is static, then back to back flash, which is deadened somewhat by the filter of the MC’s recollection. Immediacy is difficult in backflash and memory. It can be achieved, but the question to ask is whether the price justifies the return. So far, I’d say not. This back flash is handled well enough, but I do not feel the immediacy of it. It feels too much like summary even though it is largely not.
The next flashback is more immediate. Then a return to the present, which remains static (a slow reveal of what she already knows).
Okay, so the prose here is very solid, even excellent, but it’s used to plaster over a lack of story experience. The story consists of a slow reveal of what the MC already knows. There is an interesting story here, but it’s already happened before the telling begins. This frame does nothing for me. I would have enjoyed reading the story forward, as the core concept is steeped in interesting mythology. I would like to see another layer of character complexity as well. Right now her motivation is pretty simple and the complications straight forward. The story is short enough that it can’t support too much complication. Maybe it should be expanded? And told forward rather than backward.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A myth literalized and updated. Strong prose is hampered somewhat by a lack of story immediacy.
Story 198 (2/23/2011 Other 8000 words)
Reader 1: “This is too long first of all at 8000 words. I really didn’t find a speculative element. It’s a historic piece about [something historic]. The first half is an introduction to the character. There doesn’t seem to be much goal here and I suspect that this might be the first chapter of a book because it ends with him needed to get to work on the problem. I don’t think it fits the theme either.”
Reader 2: “There’s a lot of things to like about this story (good POV penetration of a realistic character in the context of the imagined time period, good world building, some effective imagery), but at 8,000 words, this had to be pretty damn special for me to recommend it. The start utilizes a novelist approach to world-building rather than getting straight to the inciting incident. The story doesn’t really start until page 8. From page 8, the story meanders and it isn’t really protagonist driven. His actions reveal attitude and character, but they don’t actually involve the protagonist making a choice between clear and equally difficult paths of action. The scenes don’t really build towards the denouement in a significant way. While many of the scenes would probably be fine in a novel, they don’t really work here. In summary, I don’t think this has a dynamic enough plot to work as a short story. The world-building would probably work effectively in a novel (as long as there was a larger plot working in the background), but it’s not suitable for a short story. It worked in Heart of Darkness (a clear model for this story, in an acceptable way) but that had novel’s worth of words to make its point.”
I’m going to skim this because, well, how could I top that analysis? It’s definitely not going into the anthology, so I’m better off spending time on the next story, right?
Love the opening. I’m plopped right into the middle of a scene.
This is a very comfortable and interesting read. It’s too long for us, but I could see this being published in F&SF say, provided it delivers a payoff worth the investment.
It has a very good flow to it, and goes to an interesting place. It does meander too much for us and it seems (at skim speed) the protagonist is pretty much given his dessert without too much cost or character revelation. Still, I didn’t mind reading it quickly, which is a testament to its workpershonship.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A smoothly written narrative depicting an alternate history. The story suffers somewhat from a lack of escalation and character growth.
Story 199 (2/23/2011 Fantasy 1400 words)
Reader 1: “There are some nice observations and so weirdness in this story. It was difficult to read because of the sentence structure. I can’t figure out if the structure was on purpose or not. I think don’t think it’s strong enough to appeal to genre readers, and if we take the other story about [a similar topic], this one won’t compare.”
Reader 2: “I think this is striving towards the surrealistic nature of Kelly Link style-stories, asking us to ignore plot in favour of the larger story underneath the surface details. These sort of stories are very prone to legitimate misinterpretation and simply ‘missing the point’ by the reader, but I think this story is more shell-game than legitimate literary magic. It might work for a literary collection, but I’m not sure it works for a strongly plot-driven genre anthology. I wanted the surrealistic quirks to say something larger, to comment on something meaningful and I think this story is largely empty beneath the surface. Literary writing without plot can work, but I don’t think this has anything to offer beyond some nice style, quirky supporting characters and underplayed surrealism.”
This drops us neatly into scene and character. The language in para 2 is unnecessarily complex. The opening scene works to establish a motive and context.
I’m liking much of this, but I’m also feeling a little adrift. There is a good bit of either unreliable narrator or magical shifting going on, but I’m not able to get a sense of the why of it. He either forgets or is transported. And? For me, it’s like a plotted story that ends without resolving the plot. Here we glimpse a bit of white, but whether it’s a skeleton or random noise, I’m not sure. I want more context here. It has a very nice flow and an enjoyable protagonist (though the language feels inappropriate in places) and the ending is certainly resonant, but of what? It’s a regretful no for me.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A surreal fantasy focused on the boundary between imagination and desire. The story suffers somewhat from loose tendons and missing teeth.
Looks like tomorrow will bring the vaunted 200th slushy. Yay tomorrow!