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Archive for April, 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. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 15 stories (40,000 words).

I have about 2 hours. Let’s see if I can make it through 8 stories.

Story 249 (3/9/2011 Science Fiction ? words)

Reader 1:  “This story has a lot of problems. The first is the use of second person. Most of the story is summary. There isn’t enough character development.” (plot spoilers removed)

I like the opening, strange but accessible. “When we ephemerals found the wrecked vessel, we were excited about meeting a new race and disappointed when we discovered that all but one of the crew of five had expired.” (if the author wishes me to remove this, I surely will). Notice that the sentence does several things at once. It first tells us we’re in an SFnal (possibly Fantasy) world with the reference to “epehemerals”, then it gives a very concrete context (finding the wrecked vessel), a motivation (looking for new race), and likely an inciting incident (one lives). I want to read on. I want to begin seeing the surround, I want to begin to understand what an ephemeral is, what race they’ve discovered, and what this fifth one will bring to the table.

I like the rest of the opening paragraph as well. Very concrete, matter of fact, true to the viewpoint (which is not second person, but collective first person, so far).

Okay, the second person comes in next. It’s not actually a second person viewpoint (not yet anyway) but collective first person talking to “me” who has become one of the characters. I dislike this technique in general. Will it work here?

Unfortunately, no. The story slips into a slog of background information I should already know (since I’m the character being spoken to). It feels artificial, forced. Plus the story has come to a standstill. The idea is being explained to me rather than lived. Dang, I’m sorry to see that.

As we move further into the manuscript, the viewpoint narrows toward a truer second person perspective, with all the flaws that generally brings with it. I get annoyed being told what I’ve done, what I feel, what I think. It’s an artificial technique that works only in very limited situations. Usually, such experiments attempt to paper over a lack of actual story.

There’s a valid complication, only it has no impact on me because, curiously enough, the one thing I haven’t been told is what I want or need. I have no real motivation, only duty. The actual story is superficial, a fairly typical tale of relationship breakdown and alien invasion. Before I would use second person here I would ask myself WHY second person is absolutely required to tell the story properly. Too often we settle for experimenting with technique in place of story rather than finding the best technique to support story.

Skimming… Same basic issues until the end. There’s a nice line at the end, but nothing really connecting me emotionally to the story. It’s a shame after that excellent opening. Second person is indeed an unfortunate choice here, but changing it to third person will not be enough; If I were revising, I would return to story basics. A motivated character meets obstacles, makes an important decision (at a cost to himself) and earns/deserves a new state of existence in the end. There’s not enough story arc here and certainly not enough character arc to carry this many words.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An alien SF tale that examines human motivation through alien eyes. A lack of story and insufficient character arc hurt this one.

Story 250 (3/9/2011 Horror 500 words)

Reader 1:  “This short piece is too generic. The climax is off screen. ”

Dirt-soaked rain is either brilliant or misguided; I can’t quite decide.  It’s downhill from here, however, as we slip into a fuzzy overview of background leading to this. When you only have 500 words each one is magnified. Each one needs to compel me forward to the next one, the next sentence, the next paragraph, an ending that makes everything throb with meaning or emotion.

This is entirely summary of a story that has happened, rather than a revelation of story happening. Use this as an outline and tell the story forward instead. You’ll get a stronger sense of escalation and immediacy. I have a story coming out in Eschatology soon that tackles a (slightly) similar idea. I hope you’ll read it and pay attention to the difference in approach.  We have a tendency as writers, particularly early in our careers, to want to narrate a story rather than showing it. I guess it’s easier on our vocabulary, and it’s easier to control. It’s not usually the best approach.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A horror flash told mostly in retrospect. Lack of compelling forward movement and sharp, surprising detail, hurt this.

Story 251 (3/9/2011 Horror 1200 words)

Reader 1:  “Getting this kind of story right is a tough ask and the difference between this one and the other ‘literary’ submissions that I’ve read (all of which I thought were well written, though none of them seemed overly suited to the anthology) is that the imagery and writing is straining for effect rather than letting the observations and imagery arise naturally. For example, there are three similes or metaphors within the opening paragraph and, in my opinion, none of them were sufficiently striking to justify the dislocation from the narrative. This isn’t something I’ve felt with any of the other submissions that tipped towards the literary side of things. To be honest, I’m puzzled that this is a reprint and one that achieved a fair level of acclaim. I must be missing something here and that might be more of a reflection upon me rather than the story. There is a lot of purposeful withholding about key motivations behind character actions, etc. when clear, simple cause and effect would have helped greatly. From an exterior perspective, very little happens and I require *some* exterior stimuli-reaction to mirror and justify the interior changes that take place in a literary horror story. It also uses a flashback to answer the false mystery established in the opening and there’s no resolution, no sense of climax, just an obscure character summary without making me feel like I actually understood the protagonist to any great degree. ”

Reader 2: “A guy walks into a bar…but after that I’m not really sure what happened. I think he had a memory of trying to save a girl and the barmaid was involved somehow. Even after looking back to see if I missed something, I couldn’t figure it out. The dialog is okay, but the descriptive detail is too flowery and adjective laced.”

Opening drops me into character perspective and implies context. No motivation or genre yet, but I can wait a bit. The writing is interesting, but very much right on the edge of trying too hard.

Definitely trying too hard to impress. It’s not that I mind the actual lines, many of which are active and unexpected observations. There are simply too many of them strung together like a fish catch. One thing I’ve begun to learn in my own literary endeavors is that vivid images and unexpected sentences work best when contrasted with the concrete. If everything is special, nothing is, in a sense. I get that feeling so far here. Skilled writer working too hard to show off that skill.

But it’s not the writing that’s keeping me from buying into this; prose can be toned down or up pretty easily. It’s the lack of character motive. I’m waiting for a story to begin after 2 pages.

On page 3, I get the sense of withholding Reader 1 describes.  “I know you,” he whispered. This is good, but what follows is not his natural reaction to that stimulus (a memory, a feeling, an image, something that connects me to his experience) but a paragraph of continuing metaphor. I get some slick writing, but not what I actually want, which is WHY he says that or WHAT he remembers.  Rather than pulling me into character, the writer has stepped in to wow me with word craft. Granted that is something literary fiction does to a degree, but it works very much against genre principles, against getting us into a head and compelling us to identify.

What follows is certainly active and vivid, yet it’s also obscure. Murky. What is happening? I’m not quite sure, but it sure sounds interesting.

The reveal is good. It’s not story, however. The story happened in the past. What we have here is a man waking to himself. It’s a moment of transformation at the end of six pages of word craft. As literary fiction, this works well. The ending is emotionally resonant and justifies the slow buildup and answers the mystery. I do think the writing, particularly early, should be toned down in favor of a stronger, simpler connection to viewpoint.

Good job, but not what we’re looking for (as much as I loathe that statement).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A vignette about a man remembering the defining moment in his life and the woman who guides him. Overly showy writing hurts this in places.

Story 252 (3/9/2011 SF 5477 words)

Reader 1:  “The protagonist in this story isn’t particularly likeable and there’s a lot of ‘As you know Bob’ speech. While there’s light amusement in the story and it could very easily trimmed underneath the word limit, there’s not enough to recommend it. The story is trite rather than a serious examination of the ideas it raises and I found the ending fairly predictable. ”

Well, I have to admit that I cringe when I see these longer stories nowadays. It’s not fair, I know, but they take so much longer to get through and I’m feeling pressured to “get through” the pile, y’know? Anyway, I’ll read this story like a “real” editor, and start skimming when and if it loses me.

I’m intrigued by “old world” in the opening sentence. In the second sentence the MC awakens. Interest lost. The image from the dream does kind of pull me back though (he admits sheepishly).  Phone call explains what has happened off screen. Then a paragraph of story background. Then a decent reaction from the MC.

This is told in the old pulp style, lots of summary narrative and dialogue that explains stuff to the reader. That’s not really our gig. We prefer the invisible narrator and close character identification. Still, if the idea is astounding, we could certainly make an exception.

I’m enjoying this, though it’s slow for the anthology. I particularly like the conversation on page 5. It feels like scientists flirting 🙂 By page 6 it has tipped over into infodump, however. Too slow for us.

I like this story quite a bit. I wish we were experiencing it more directly rather than through dialogue.  Great line on page 11 “… with his comb-over fluttering above his head like a dirty grey flag of surrender…” Love a description that does more than one thing at a time. This describes, characterizes, and echoes the story situation.

Great B-movie idea here, with modern sensibility. Good large-stakes climax, the world saved just in time. Wonderful image to end penultimate scene.

Nice ending. It feels like it deserves a book, however.  I read this as an homage to the old 1950’s SF movies, black and white and all. It’s really well done in that sense.  Unfortunately, that’s not really what we’re looking for in Last Contact. We want a more visceral reader experience and/or a deeper exploration of concept. I do hope this finds an appreciative home.

Interestingly, I don’t find these sorts of rejections all that difficult. Yes, I love being able to tell someone we’re going to purchase and publish their story, but it’s also a good feeling to be able to tell an author I genuinely enjoyed their story even if I’m unable to publish it.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A pulp-style SF adventure story that broaches the idea of mind control and scientific responsibility. Lack of character development and immediacy work against it.

Story 253 (3/9/2011 364 words)

Reader 1:  “This story ends with: ‘Why am I falling asleep like this?’ I was asking the same question. This piece is more mainstream than genre, but the writing doesn’t carry it. ”

Sounds like reader reaction to my stories :-0  The opening is decent. Grounds me in a character perspective. First person present tense, but the scene itself is fairly static and uninteresting. In a longer story this wouldn’t be a problem, but in a microfiction every sentence has to carry me to the next. I do like the young day reference.

First person can be annoying. Nothing against this writer, who is at least above average in his/her word craft, but first person can be so relentless when the scene itself isn’t interesting. I do this. I do that. My finger feel this. Third person usually works better in this situation.

Now we have first person talking to second person (i.e. me). Another awkward technique in my book. It can work well, but more often is just a piece of tinsel hung on a bare branch. It draws attention to the lack of needles.

I like the unnoticed shadow reference. The ending pretty much baffles me (I’m easily baffled). I have to agree with the reader that the prose does not carry this piece. If I were revising, I’d definitely look at third person, which would likely force me to deepen the story logic and emotion and would offer greater opportunity for active prose, I suspect.

Re-reading this, I see (I think) the reason for first person and I do like the paragraph at the end of page 1 about father and monkeys. That seems the core of this piece, but I don’t quite comprehend it in the end. If I needed to keep first person I would work extra hard to make the first half of the story more active prose-wise. It’s too bland to hold me now.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fairly obscure flash about sleep and self worth?

Well, I made it through five stories at least. I’ll try for a few more later tonight.

Story 254 (3/10/2011 Fantasy 999 words)

Reader 1:  “This is very short; under 1000 words, but there is no surprise. It ends as expected. ”

The opening drops me into scene. I’d like a specific detail to help the setting take form (“the curtain” is generic). I like the second paragraph better. Ooh, I like the third paragraph even better. Think about starting with a variant of that and then have the voice come in.

Then we have some withholding (false mystery). What declaration? Why might it be enough? For what? She knows all this; it feels artificial to think of the issue without any details. The writing is competent, but a little flat. I don’t feel the MC in the sentences. I don’t feel as if they’re colored by the way she sees her world.  Descriptive, yes, but they can be doing more than just describing. It’s all in the specific details, the active verbs. Rather than looking regal, she might note the way the crown’s gold draws eyes to her. Rather than vibrant curtains, maybe a tapestry quilted with golden thread; rather than beautiful paintings, may describe one. Don’t want to do all of those things, but rather to find the specific detail that makes sense in a given moment (e.g. the one she notices, the one that draws her eye, the one she thinks of when something happens).  It’s easier to say this than to do it, but I believe the secret is for the author to get out of his head and into the character’s to get “in scene” as I like to say. When a character is interacting with her surroundings and the characters in it, the scene becomes real. Until then there’s a sense of artificiality as the author moves the character around and puts words into her mouth. None of us does this perfectly, but that should be the goal for most stories. I saw a great blog a few months back by a well known woman genre writer (can’t recall who) talking about how a writer has to move between various “distances” in her writing. She has to be able to move close into the character’s perspective, move out to show the larger picture, move into the reader’s mind to gauge impact of a particular word choice or passage. I thought it was brilliant and now I can’t remember where I saw it. It’s a bitch getting old as they say.

On page 3 there’s a section of background. It’s efficient, but I wish it were broken up, maybe interspersed with the conversation (ideally the conversation sparks specific memories from this background; it then feels like the character reacting to stimulus rather than providing info to me).

The conversation on page 4 forms the heart of this story. I like the twist on the classic tale. The paragraph when the mirror breaks is nicely active (though “the” gashes is not so good; try it without “the” and you should see that it becomes more active).

Well, I do like where this goes, but it gets there too easily. The MC makes a choice and it does cost her, but we don’t really know why she makes this choice or see the tension leading up to it. It’s like a slap rather than a slow build of rage.  Think in terms of character change here. How is the MC different at the end of this story from who she was at story opening? Once you have that focus on the (inciting) event that causes her to begin this change, think of the tension she goes through as she’s forced to give in to this change. That is story. What we have here is an efficient plot outline with some nice moments.  Put the character more fully on the page, make her change, force her to change, show that conflict inside her, and this will work nicely as flash.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A classic fairy tale retold with an interesting twist. A lack of character development works against it.

Story 255 (3/10/2011 SF 3200 words)

Reader 1:  “The entire story is basically a man saying over and over to [someone], you are a murderer. This story is confusing at first because of lack of scene setting. There is [someone], [someone]  and prosecutor on page one. A person named [name] pops in on page two. It’s difficult to tell who he is. I thought maybe he was the prosecutor for a while. On page 9/17 it says he’s a prisoner. At the end he has a gun. On page 3 there are two paragraphs describing [someone] by [someone], and two paragraphs describing [someone] by [name]. On page 4 there is a backflash in [name]”s POV so he becomes the POV then. I thought [someone] was the POV at first. The next five pages is an info dump that summarizes [someone] destroying cities. From page 12-17 is a discussion about whether [someone was] wrong or not. I guess [someone] decides they were, because she lets [name] shoot her.” (names hidden to protect the innocent)

Normally I would remove most of this plot info, but I thought it might be useful to show an example of the sort of detailed feedback I often get from our readers. They do read these stories carefully and with sincere attention. In this particular case, I also wanted to show how important it is for us to focus our stories. A strong viewpoint character, scenes that connect logically, that sort of thing. It’s really easy to lose a reader once focus wavers. Story is more than an idea or philosophy.

The story opens with an unnamed character. It’s actually justified here (she has no known name). The situation is intriguing. I’m pretty clueless as to where we are or why we’re here, etc., but the opening has bought just a little time for that by being intellectually interesting. After a page, I’m no longer willing to wait. I don’t have a sense of where we are, what anyone or anything looks like. It’s all in the head so far.  I’m not attached to a particular viewpoint (let’s call it omniscient at this point because we do touch on peoples’ thoughts). Omniscient here leads to a scattering of focus, which works against bringing me into the scene.

One character is inferring meaning from another’s facial expressions, which I think is pretty cool. The problem is that he doesn’t SEE her face, much less her expression. A scene cannot become real without some specific detail (ideally more than one sense even). I’m experiencing this story as a fuzzy conversation on a blank stage. This is not bringing me into the scene, not involving my senses or my passion. The ideas expressed are interesting, if a little vague, but they are not story.

At the end of page 2 we get a very nice description of the focal character. We then get a full page of additional description from various viewpoints. I understand what the author is doing here, but it’s a technique, not story. It’s also a way of scattering my focus rather than honing it.

It’s an unnatural experience to be told about reading facial expression and seeing glowing gowns, then actually seeing the source of them a few paragraphs later. Move this to the beginning of the story to help ground us and it will work much better. If you want to use different perspectives to make a point, focus us on a particular character first, then observe. Ideally the observation will be a reaction to something that happens in story (reaction to stimulus) rather than a device to tell the reader about a concept.

By page 5 I’m getting weary of hearing how the character on trial “killed” without understanding what that means. This is a sort of false mystery. Each of these character’s knows what they mean by what they say. Since this is omniscient viewpoint then so should we know it (if it’s relevant, and it is). Withholding the details for some later reveal is artificial. True mystery is generated by showing what a viewpoint character does not know, not hiding what he does.

We get two pages of background on one of the characters. I’ve not identified with any of them, so I basically skim this. It does seem like there’s some interesting background here. Make me care about it and it could work well. Some nice writing too, by the way. The event horizon metaphor is cool. More discussion of the theme. Some science talk (glad to see it, but it’s not connecting with me since I don’t know why any of this is happening in the first place).

On page 10 we find out what was meant by “murder” earlier. It’s a lot late. Some discussion of the moral dimensions of it. Seems pretty much like earlier discussion, only more specific.  More explanation of idea via dialogue. A summary of what happened between the murders and now via soliloquy.  The first story action occurs on page 15.  On page 16 we get justice and symbolism and the story ends.

It may sound like I didn’t care for the story, but that’s not quite true. I actually think this idea has tremendous potential. It’s an interesting future, a meaningful issue, an interesting resolution. It is the execution that underwhelms me. If I were to revise this I would go back to story basics. Who is the character who will be changed by this story? Who has the most to gain or lose by it? Focus on him or her, tell the story from his or her perspective and show his/her emotional journey in the process of paying the price and changing. This will require finding an actual story framework to illustrate this theme and these ideas. Something with forward action and complication and climax (there is a climax here, but it’s pretty superficially arrived at). I don’t think the current scene has much potential for dramatic execution of the idea. It’s static. If you insist on a courtroom drama, it may take a few scenes, the climax during the trial, the complication as the prisoner is confronted in a cell or maybe in interview. I would stick to one viewpoint at this length (a longer story could accommodate more perspectives).  Anyway, while I admire the ambition of this concept, I’m not yet impressed by the storytelling. I do want to encourage the author to work on that aspect of the craft and continue being ambitious. There is an interesting mind behind this.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF story about gods and ethics and perspective. Lack of focal viewpoint and a scatter shot approach to story work against it.

Story 256 (3/11/2011 SF 3200 words)

Reader 1:  “The story seems to spend more time with the secondary character’s story and doesn’t examine the POV’s needs and wishes. It’s too simple of a story for the idea. There is no real climax and no cost for the characters that I can tell. The ending is abrupt and unclear.”

I love this opening. Concrete, yet evocative. It places me into a character’s perspective, in an unusual context, and provides the inciting incident in the space of a couple sentences. Well done.

The first scene works well for me. Nicely emotional without becoming sappy or overplayed. Intellectually interesting as well.

Second scene works also. I like this understated approach. No overarching metaphor or character angst, just a story playing out on the page in discrete scenes.

Third scene is very nice.

Fourth scene is elegant. Simple, but deep.

Fifth scene is okay.

Sixth scene is very good, very personal. There’s a confusing pronoun bobble that throws me out, but I think that’s just a typo.

Seventh scene is strong.

Eighth scene is interesting.

Final scene is cool, though it may be just a touch abrupt.

This is a story I would like to publish. I’ll see if I can convince the other editors, who are sometimes not attuned to my vast wisdom. In any case, author, know that you have greatly pleased at least one reader. Nice job.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A quirky SF story about the bridge between dream and reality. Deftly delivered in simple, discrete scenes.

Story 257 (3/11/2011 Fantasy ? words)

Reader 1:  “This is a summary of [something]. No real story here. No character realization to speak of.” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening is good  in that it provokes a response from the reader. It’s summary, however, and not story or situation. We do get characterization. My concern is that I’m about to be treated to a lecture rather than taking part in a story experience.

Yes, it’s a narrator telling me about his past. The events are interesting, but hearing about them is much less interesting than experiencing them, I’m sure. The voice is smooth and assured, which carries me a ways at least.

I would say that first person works here, because it’s the telling that carries me, the voice and perspective, rather than objective plot elements or story arc.  Some nice moments here. The long view of life, before writing, before God… nice.

I really like how this ends. This is another story with a simple telling that hides deceptive depth. It is not particularly engaging as story, but it works for me. I’ll pass it along for additional input. I’m not as hopeful for this one as the last, but the author should know that I did appreciate the story at least. I’m just not certain it’s “the one” for the anthology 🙂

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A reminiscence about eternal life, reincarnation, and true love. Voice carries this one to a satisfying ending.

Story 258 (3/11/2011 Fantasy 2094 words)

Reader 1:  “This story starts out with a very mundane restaurant scene and doesn’t quickly present us with any kind of conflict or turning point in the protagonist’s life. An omni POV is used here, but it isn’t used with any particular finesse and the resultant loss of character intimacy is a problem. There’s no one to care about in the first few pages and none of the characters come across particularly well. The dialogue is very, very stiff and there’s very little trust of the reader. This is evidenced by a large amount of telling of emotional states and the allergy to letting the dialogue speak for itself (excessive use of adverbial dialogue tags). In terms of structure, the central couple drive none of the action. The events occur to the characters rather than the characters causing the events. ”

The opening is weak. Uninformative dialogue with adverbial speech tags. By this I mean that the dialogue doesn’t really provide story context or a sense of motive or characterization. And anytime you find yourself using an adverb or modifier in a speech tag (he said excitedly; she said with trepidation) question it. There are times where it’s justified but much more often it’s a sign that the dialogue itself could be stronger. We ought to be able to infer how a character says something from what is said and the context in which it is said.

Well, this is almost entirely people chatting about stuff. I don’t get a sense of story at all and the viewpoint is so diffuse I can’t connect emotionally with any character. I remember a critique I got once for a story that I thought was pretty good. “Where are you telling this story from?” I had to do a double take. She’d nailed the problem right on the head. I hadn’t established a context (time/place/perspective) for the reader to settle and feel comfortable. Consequently, the character’s experience, which everyone agreed was really interesting, felt distant to them. I fixed that issue and it made an amazing difference (to the point that I know have to revise following scenes to hold up that first one).

The second half is stronger in terms of story. We have an objective, a complication, a climax of sorts, and a resolution. I was skimming pretty quickly by then, but I didn’t really see any character change or great lesson. When I read a story like this one, which isn’t all that often, I think of how modern writing is less about controlling every aspect of a story than participating in one with the reader. This story feels like a one side conversation, with the author patiently explaining everything to me, rather than asking me to participate and challenging me to think for myself. It’s quite a different experience.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A cozy mystery about a group of friends who experience a strange happening. Lack of character identification and development hurt this one.

Story 259 (3/11/2011 SF 1100 words)

Reader 1:  “It’s short-1000 words, but there’s too much of an info dump in the middle. It’s the usual problem, start a story with a catchy hook and then backflash to let the reader know what’s going on. This is a one-trick- pony story. the voice is good, but it’s not that interesting of a concept. ” (plot spoiler removed)

I’m not fond of the opening, which strikes me as “clever”.  I don’t like stories that rely on the cleverness of the narrator at the expense of story development. Clever WITH story development is a different matter. Now we’re moving backward, same clever voice without the distraction of forward story movement. I’m not compelled.

The background isn’t bad. I wouldn’t mind reading the story that’s not here. A clever ending. Who would have guessed it? 🙂 I wrote my share of these stories when I was a young hot shot. They weren’t very good (this one is better than mine at least). They didn’t stretch my craft. They were about voice and glibness and clever ideas that I didn’t have to develop into story structure. They were about writing in first person so I didn’t have to get into someone else’s perspective or learn how to convey emotion through objective cues. I got over it eventually. I hope this author will as well.  He writes smoothly and isn’t afraid of science. Encouraging.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A dark SF flash. A lack of story and character arc weaken it.

Story 260 (3/11/2011 Fantasy 1450 words)

Reader 1:  “This story is very simplistic, doesn’t really feel like it’s in a [particular] POV, and hinges on the joke ending which isn’t very clear. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening drops me into scene very economically. It establishes a viewpoint, some context, an inciting incident, and a tone. No genre or  motive yet, but I can wait a bit.

Three paragraphs of background and aside delay the story. I don’t mind a little of it to establish the character, but this is more than I need or want.  My interest picks up on page 3 (don’t get me wrong, the prose is smooth and entertaining; it’s just not advancing the story for a page or so).

The voice, which is strictly summary narration with forays into the MC’s thoughts and feelings, holds me at a distance. The story feels kind of sterile as a result. I feel like I’m learning a lesson rather than experiencing a story.

Well, this is pretty good for what it is, but it’s not really what we look for. We’re more into character identification and story arc. I do think I might like this story if it took a more immersive approach. As it stands, the prose flows well enough, but I can never forget that it’s an author telling me his clever tale rather than involving me in an experience. Kind of the difference between a documentary and feature film. Both can be good, but they appeal to different audiences, with some overlap.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting fantasy tail about courage and loyalty. The narrative voice limits it somewhat.

Well that’s going to do it for tonight. Pretty good night at that. A couple of candidate stories, my Pirates actually won a game, and I just checked over at Show Me Your Lits and my literary flash was voted best of the best this week. How’s about that? I get to pick the prompts for next week. Yay me! (It takes so little to encourage us writer types).

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I am Slushy

See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 15 stories (40,000 words).

Story 244 (3/5/2011 Science Fiction 4480 words)

Reader 1:  “The writing is good and establishes an interesting mood. The story has too much descriptive detail at the beginning and not enough story movement. There’s a bit of a clue on page 3/21 that something is happening, but the inciting incident doesn’t happen until page 12. There is a second story line–his relationship with [someone]. That starts earlier, but it’s not clear what’s happening between them. The story would be better if it started earlier and if the [main] pert of the story was interwoven with the relationship.”

This is a reprint. Thus the bar is set higher.

The first paragraph establishes a character in scene very directly, adds a hint of context, and a touch of mood. Strong opening. The writing is evocative and active, but I’m not getting story movement. The character isn’t motivated in a story sense. Then on page 3 we get false mystery. She was scared. They all were. Of what? I ask. I’m in the MC’s head after all. It’s far more effective (at least for us) to draw a reader on with story than with false mystery. You risk frustrating him with the latter. There’s no rule that says a story can’t have story arc AND mood, right? Rather than papering over a lack of story with false mystery and mood, consider stepping back to view the plot and see whether there’s been an inciting incident, motivated character, etc..

More false mystery. How the world used to be. He knew what was coming. These techniques work superficially, but not on a deep level, where story and character arc reside. These techniques pique a reader; strong story compels.

The opening scene doesn’t really move the story forward. It provides limited background and lots of mood. I do like the mood, but I’m hungry for story by this point. Skimming. Second scene is well written, but I still have no idea what the MC’s motivation is. Third scene is background. An interesting event on page 9. Stuff is happening to the MC at this point. Motivation at the end of page 9. The MC has a goal now.  Section V brings a true mystery. Another complication happens to the MC.  He makes a wish and it works. The story ends with a hopeful scene tinged with doubt. I do like the subtle twist that doubt represents.

Overall, I’d say the writing here is very professional and engaging, but the story is largely absent. If I were revising, I’d look first at the character’s motivation (in this story) and craft a plot that challenges him and gives him an opportunity to risk something for what he wants/needs most.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A well written SF story about loss and second chances. Lack of clear character motivation and a weak story arc work against it.

Story 245 (3/7/2011 Horror 1406 words)

Reader 1:  “I don’t feel like there is anything new here.” (plot spoilers removed)

A diary entry format. The writing is lively, which helps offset some of the distancing effect of diary format. It’s a little breezy for my taste, but carries me along. I like the explanation of “them”.  However, we’re not entering info-dump mode and it no longer feels so much like a diary as a way to convey information to me. Losing interest.

There are some strong moments in this writing, but by and large it is a description of idea rather than a story.  Imagine the story that is described being shown on the page. I suspect it might still be too commonplace, but it would be a great deal more active and visceral. That’s what I would do were I revising this, in any case. I don’t see what is gained by the diary format and quite a bit is lost.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A fairly common horror idea with some clever touches. Lack of immediacy works against this.

Story 246 (3/7/2011 SF 4700 words)

Reader 1:  “The writing is good, but I had trouble paying attention. I think it needs some work. First, we need to be more in the POV’s head. There is a big info dump on pages 7-8 and at the same time, I’m lost when it comes to the political situation. I think it needs to come in more slowly to digest it. This isn’t my kind of story, so I’m going to give it a maybe. I think it might interest others. ”

This comes from an accomplished writer/editor.  The opening paragraph establishes a character in scene, a genre, and a potential inciting incident. It’s solid, though I don’t feel fully connected to anything for some reason. Not sure why that is.

Same reaction to the second paragraph. Well written and advances the scene, but I feel curiously detached. It may be because the things I want to understand and see are not the things I’m presented with. Instead I get broad concepts suggestive of context, but not very specific. In a sense, I feel as if I’m in a gurgleflurb heading for Sonaly One. Looking at the prose, it doesn’t seem as if I should feel that way, but I do. Maybe a few concrete details would help set me straight. It is difficult to balance being true to viewpoint and bridging the gap between a reader’s experience and a remote story world. I certainly don’t begrudge this story’s approach; am just reporting my reaction so far.

I love the MC’s thought when the visitor goes to one knee. Priceless. This does reinforce my issue though. I had no idea he was wearing a hat, or that he was actually from off-ship or that the ship had been waylaid. These are the details I want to know when entering a scene (unless the MC doesn’t know them, of course; then it’s more difficult).

I do like where the first scene ends. Nice tension; good characterization. We have story here.

Second scene complicates the story. Dark shifts toward light. Very nice. There’s a slight tendency to over describe, especially character reactions, but it’s solid stuff.

Drat. The next scene lost me. It’s an info-dump of epic proportions. The author steps on stage to deliver a description of concept and world history lesson. Certainly the MC will need some small part of this in her actions/reactions to story stimulus, but I certainly don’t want it now. Save it for the book 🙂 (And, yes, i do grant that complex SF ideas do require some info-dumping, but this one seems self-indulgent rather than necessary to my appreciation of the story at hand).

Next scene is very good. Another complication. Next scene opens with unattributed dialogue. Not a fan of that; I’d much rather see the speaker and get a sense of his place in the world rather than hear his words in a vacuum (false mystery). The conversation that ensues is excellent.

The gender issue needs some setup early in the story. It comes out of left field here. The scene around page 17 is going on too long for me. The scene around page 20 is going on a bit long for me. This reads like anti-climax and, as such, pushes the story structure out of balance.  Ah, it’s actually climax. Focus on the tension rather than lack of tension when she makes the announcement, maybe on her own uncertainty. Something to build this scene toward the climax. Her enemy should probably put up more of  a struggle just before, as well. This feels too easy now.

It’s kind of a trite ending. I don’t mind it so much, but it could be shortened since I’ve seen it many times before.

I have not seen the story proper before though it’s slightly reminiscent of Foundation. Overall, I like this a lot. It can be shaped a bit better to deliver a cleaner climax and to better focus it on the gender issue that becomes important. The writing can be sharpened a little here and there. I think this could find a place in the collection with some revision. I’ll pass it along.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A complex political SF story about empire and personal power. A weaker than optimum story arc weakens it somewhat.

Story 247 (3/8/2011 SF 4334 words)

This one opens with dialogue, not unattributed, and a character waking another character up. It’s mid-scene and establishes a character, but feels a touch overwrought. I recall James Gunn’s advice to me after I opened a story in a moment of high tension. “There’s only one way to go from there.” That’s the danger.

Second paragraph establishes that the person speaking is NOT the MC, the person being awakened is (and first person to boot).  These are all red flags for me, unfortunately. I’ve had to shift the protagonist; the first person filter is in place, and now I have an awakening MC (usually a sign that the story is not ready to begin). Red flags are not always right though.

Another red flag. The MC is not explaining something to the other character that they (presumably) already know. This is a dialogue info dump and a sign that I’m not quite in the MC’s perspective, at least not yet.

There’s a paragraph of background information. This is okay since it’s internal thought, but I’m not sure why the thought is triggered here. The previous reaction to the other character’s prodding works, but this further elaboration seems for my benefit, not the character’s. Beware whenever you find yourself striving to provide background information to me. If it’s important to the story, the character will need it, not me.

There are some nice details here. I like the feel of this world. Page 3 brings a potential inciting incident. I’m not sure it actually motivates the MC in a story sense. Seems to happen to the MC. The end of scene is pretty good. This could be the beginning of a true mystery. I don’t understand what the MC wants or needs though, which limits my appreciation of the stakes involved.

Next scene is a card game. It’s not moving the story forward. The story hasn’t really begun actually, since we haven’t got a motivated protagonist yet. We do have a strange incident but we also need a character who reacts to it and pulls us in. This scene feels very day-in-the-life so far. Another potential inciting event. I would call it a complication, but I don’t know what the goal is that it complicates.

We get some world background. A conflict between parties. No motivation for the Main Character yet. Story really hasn’t begun yet.  Some nice tension in this scene. The MC is a spectator. A tense standoff. Some character tension. This provides a momentary motivation, but what is the larger motivation?

On page 12 we have a nice decision point. It feels like a climax, but it’s not as powerful as it should be because we have not invested in the character’s larger story. Good action though. On page 16 we get the answer to the mystery earlier in the story. The trouble here is that we haven’t even thought about it since then. It comes across as convenient rather than substantial. Then we get explanation of background.

The story seems to be starting now.  Another action scene. It’s done pretty well. If I were intensely identified with the MC it would be even stronger.  The ending comes mostly out of left field. It wasn’t set up until midway through the story (unless I missed something earlier, which is possible).  The actual ending has real potential. The story needs to focus on this issue from the get go and develop around the MC’s desire to see something like this happen, complicated by her friendship with the secondary character. What if the injections happened on page 1, for example, and the MC took this as evidence of government abuse or disrespect? In reacting to that impulse, we could get some political background that is relevant and some setup for this ending. The mystery would need further development through the middle so that the revelation of the answer doesn’t seem so random (MC ought to be actively seeking an answer to the issue). Mainly, I want a motivated character faced with these events, rather than a character whose primary function is to show the world to me.

I should also mention that while first person is handled just fine in this story, I don’t think it’s the best choice of viewpoint. A close third person will almost certainly work better to draw the reader into identification with the MC. There’s something about being trapped in a character’s head that weakens reader identification. First person is usually best used when the perspective itself is an important part of the story’s effect (say a quirky character voice, an unreliable narrator, or a character who views the world in some particularly interesting way that is relevant to the story resolution). Where a character’s context (how he fits into the world) or objectivity is important, third person is usually the better choice. Which is a perfect opportunity to share a quote from a fellow flasher at Show Me Your Lits (who teaches creative writing), Cat Carlson: “We struggle to get in[to a character’s head], but the really beautiful writing comes when you make it back out. ”  This is her comment on the tendency of her students to write first person narrative at first, then third person as they become stronger writers.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A military SF tale with a political undertow. Lack of a motivated protagonist and a slow opening detract.

Story 248 (3/8/2011 SF 1500 words)

The opening places me in scene. The second sentence goes on too long for me. It tries to jam too much information in too quickly. What I need is a sense of stage, how this character fits into it. Then the smaller details can pull my focus to her. I would keep the breasts, but delay the other info just a bit.

Unfortunately, the story starts out moving backward. There’s no inciting incident, no motivation, just background to get us up to the opening image. Much like a framing device, which we all know I’m not a big fan of because it’s so often used to paper over a lack of actual story.

I’m through four pages and its’ all background, with a few flashes of back flash. The result of this approach is that I feel no immediacy. Rather, it’s as if the story is being explained to me rather than experienced. Imagine showing this story on the page instead? Forward movement, character identification, rising tension, mystery as to how it might end. Much more interesting than investing a half hour finding out why the MC is crying in the first paragraph, no?

Around page 5 it begins to feel like forward movement. More interesting here. A suitably sad ending, yet imagine how much power it would have if we didn’t already know something like it was coming? This is the cost of a framing device. Too many of us choose this device without really considering why. It’s an easy way to give a story that full circle feel; more often it’s just a way to sap tension and immediacy from it. Every once in awhile we see a framed story that works really well for us, but it’s pretty rare.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An SF love story with an alien twist. Lack of immediacy and forward movement hinder it.

Well, that’s it for tonight. One more candidate story.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 14 stories (38,000 words).

Story 233 (3/5/2011 Science Fiction 2000 words)

Reader 1:  “There’s some smooth writing here and some potent imagery, but there’s too much intentional vagueness and time-hopping for me to recommend it.
The opening scene doesn’t really present the character in the best light (though the reasons for her resentment do become quite clear), the protagonist has no very little impact upon what story events there are, and there are too many unanswered questions that are never resolved. The protagonist has no impact upon the key plot incident. A lot of the background detail is kept purposely vague and this withholding robs the ending of any emotional power it might have. This story would have been better served building the relationship through scenes. The idea is there and the writing is there, but it needs more development.”

Reader 2: “I like this a lot. It could use some trimming, I think, and [Reader 1] is right that the character is too passive, but I really like the slow unveil of what is happening. I think it’d be good with just a little bit of a rewrite.”

Reader 3: “I like this just the way it is. We are in the POV all the way. Even though she doesn’t understand some things, the reader can figure out what’s happening. The time shifts are a bit jarring at first, but once I saw what was happening, it worked for me. ”

Interesting, and another evidence that tastes do matter. If one venue says no, even harshly, don’t stop believing in the story. If a dozen say no, you may want to re-evaluate; or if an editor provides feedback that makes sense to you (especially if it gives you an aha! moment), then certainly take time to revise before sending it back out. I know, I know, Heinlein said… From what I see, I’d say that we need at least as much practice revising our work as we do writing it. Revision should not become an excuse to avoid submitting work, but it can help to get a piece accepted. I’ve had several successes after midstream revisions.

This is a strong opening. A provocative hook planted in the opening line that does not feel forced, some specific detail context for scene, a sentence implying relationship and protagonist motive, then a nice resonance to take us fully in-scene. Really well done.

Second scene is very good too. The contrast between the emotional state we’re left in by the first scene and the emotional state here is startling–in a good way. I want to know how this transformation came about. I’m definitely on board so far.

I do not like the third scene, with its mushy omniscient viewpoint. In another story it would be just fine, but here, contrasted with the powerful opening scenes, it feels watery. For the moment I would want this in the MC’s viewpoint, perhaps opening with what is now the final paragraph, and using that as stimulus to introduce the other important background here.

Fourth scene escalates nicely. I like that we don’t get quite enough context in the dialogue to completely know the politics or even what, exactly, is happening. I like to be trusted as a reader and this story clearly trusts me.

Next scene builds relationship. There is escalation here as well, and a touch more revelation.

Next scene releases physical tension. Good. Complication overcome. Granted it’s through no effort of the protagonist beyond a simple sentence, but it works for me.

The next scene confuses me. It’s active and feels as if something important has happened. Because (and only because) the story has carried me faithfully this far, I’m willing to go one. I trust it to deliver context.

Final scene provides a solid anti-climax. The question for me is whether I’m content with this climax scene that leaves so much unsaid.  I’m a little dissatisfied on the one hand, but that I went back and reread the scene for clues I’d missed tells me that I was invested in the story. I think I would like just one more really concrete clue in that scene. As this stands, the actual climax occurs out of scene. We get the buildup to climax, no problem, but the actual climax is a single gunshot heard and an inference from reaction (and the context provided by flash forward scenes). I would like just one more really solid hint as to what happened, something to make this world totally real in my mind.

I believe we’ll take this one. I’ll ask the author to reframe the third scene and to consider adding a touch more specific context at the climax, but I really like this story and it does fit the theme well.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 An SF story about frontier hardships and familial love. The stakes are not huge, but they are enough to carry this length. A bobble in viewpoint and a slightly confusing climax muddy this a bit.

Story 234 (3/5/2011 Science Fiction 4600 words)

Reader 1:  “The first 7/19 pages is spent describing [something]. The slow opening, lack of character identification and little plot makes this hard to slog through. It’s a reprint, so I don’t think we should consider it. ”

Oh, our readers do get cranky. Can you really blame them? It’s not that the stories we see are bad, but there are just so many of them, and so many similar flaws, that it gets irritating even for the best of us.  This is unfair to the writer, who works diligently and mostly capably to produce a story, then sends it off to be evaluated by usually complete strangers. It’s a real risk of ego and takes guts to do this. Since my purpose in doing this blog is to give some insight into the slush process, I choose to leave most of these negative comments in place here. It’s not that I want to hurt writers (I’m careful to keep things as anonymous as I can in any case), but that I want to push writers toward that epiphany that helps them break through to the next level of their writing. “That’s nice, dear,” only goes so far after all. A real writer needs real, unvarnished reaction too. My job as editor is to varnish just enough to stay out of “mean” without pulling punches about effect, technique, etc.. At least that’s how I see it.

But I digress… Story opens with a character waking up. This is not auspicious. The hook is pretty static too.  It’s also telling on page 2 when a character asks, “Anything new?” and gets no as the answer. Your job (at least as far as our antho is concerned) is to start the story as close as possible to the inciting incident,  the incident that causes the story to begin. Think of this as the stone that falls upon a pond’s surface and breaks that placid status quo that existed before Story. The story is those ripples spreading out, rebounding, interacting. The climax is the point of highest tension between the forces unleashed in this process, and the anti-climax is that new status quo that takes shape after the climax has settled. In the process of reaching that new state, the character has been transformed in some important way and has paid a price to get there. That’s the pattern that has worked for thousands of years. Break it at your own risk, and for a good reason.

Until page 7, this is all background (status quo). The end of page 7 brings what could be an inciting incident (something unusual that breaks the day-in-the-life pattern). The writing gets nicely active at this point. I’m still not getting a sense of character motivation, however. Yep, I’m watching the MC do stuff, but I’m not getting a sense of rising tension or even why it matters in the larger scheme. This feels like novel pacing, some decent world building but no real rush to get to the actual story.

On page 14 I get some escalation and a sense of a new issue emerging. An interesting philosophical issue on page 16. Tension. A price, but it’s not the MC who pays it (at least his price is not as high as the secondary character’s). Very nice exchange near the end of page 18.  A nice ending that actually justifies the character waking in the opening scene. It’s rare that I’ll admit that, so nice job on that front.

Yes, the story takes too long to develop for us. The core idea is an interesting one and the scenario for exploring it makes sense. I didn’t really connect with the characters until near the end, however. If I were revising, I’d work on creating early scenes that get the story moving quickly and connect me more fully to the viewpoint. I’d amp up the tension revolving around the core idea through the middle, then work to create a climax that actually is a high point of tension rather than matter of fact observation of what happens. I think it’s partially there now, but I was skimming and may have missed some of the tension.

Decent story, but not for us, especially as a reprint.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An alien SF story created around an intriguing philosophic point. A very slow opening and lack of building tension through the middle of the story weaken it.

Story 235 (3/6/2011 Science Fiction 3500 words)

Reader 1:  “This story appeared in a program book, but I think we should consider it. It’s well written. All the pieces are there. The climax just needs some work. The emotional climax and physical climax do not happen at the same time. It makes the main character’s decision seem like an after thought. Other than that, it works. I suggest a revision.”

Reader 2: “I’m a bit meh about this one. I know it’s not meant to be hard SF, but the premise wasn’t really testing my limited intelligence. It is soundly written, but why Bonnie survived is left unexplained and the emotional climax isn’t tied into any decision. Most of the story was exposition central. ”

The opening is efficient in setting a character in scene, with enough context to interest me, but it’s also a little flat. I’m okay with that, just not thrilled. The story will need to pull me in in other ways (which is fine, mind you – Gee whiz hooks are largely overrated).

I’m a little confused by the lucky fishing hat. If it’s lucky, why has catching fish been difficult this season? Has its luck run out? Just a niggle, but caught my eye.

Page 2 begins with a lot of background. There’s no story yet.  Ah, there’s the inciting incident near the end of page 2. This is almost too late, but not quite. Maybe trim the background a bit, or intersperse it later in the story?

Interesting complication on page 3.  On page 4 we get an unexpected new issue that feels like the opening of the story. I’d prefer this to be set up, or even for the story to begin with her appearance. I feel like I’m starting again now.

Yes, I think the first couple of pages could simply be cut and we would have much stronger momentum for the story. I don’t need that background until the MC does (which would be now as he is confronted with this complication). Writers work so hard to give me the background they’ve so carefully researched/invented (I’m guilty of this as well) when they should be paying more attention to the protagonist. The key to getting me to identify with a protagonist is to get me to accept his reactions as natural. Thus, when he comes up with blocks of background without stimulus that might make him do that (i.e. when he doesn’t actually need that background in order to cope with what’s being presented to him), my identification lessens. This story seems a great example of how less background can be more. Not only will I be less “meh”, but I’ll be drawn closer to the character as HE requires the background to cope with this complication.

I like that she invades his boat. Tension. This is mostly philosophic discussion, but I like that it is intermingled with the everyday fishing action. The conversation feels real even if it is loaded with information. I do worry that the story itself may not deliver a climax/resolution, but only an idea. We’ll see.

You might want to use “tipping point” rather than “critical mass”. More trendy.  By page 10, the conversation is beginning to wear thin for me. Even with some action, this is getting info-dumpy. I need something to happen in the foreground story too. Maybe another scene even.

The out-of-the-boat twist seems a little manufactured.  I do, however, like what you do with it.  The final scene is sweet, but goes on a little long for the story’s length. It puts the structure out of balance. For my taste, I’d prefer to see the middle filled out, with another scene or two, depicting the MC’s struggle to accept the unavoidable implications of the inciting incident. I’d like to see him struggle more, pay a real price. It’s that middle that’s bogging this down now. Too much information, too little story complication/development. We need tension to build both in the abstract and the real. We need the climax to feel like a culmination of the tensions between them rather than a happy coincidence (in retrospect). I do like the hat, and I do like the daughter. They deserve an even stronger story.

Because this will take some significant work, I’m going to pass on it, but definitely invite this author back  next year.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF story that explores a timely issue. A mostly static midsection info-dump works against it.

Story 236 (3/6/2011 Science Fiction 4100 words)

Reader 1:  “The opening scenes of this one are completely static and I didn’t really buy a lot of the conversation…while it’s a nicely effective set-up and a reasonable idea, I needed a problem a lot quicker than I got it. A lot of the conversation only worked as an info-dump. The story could have also started a lot later. This is a nice concept, badly told and without real psychological realism and there’s no real reason for a lot of the story events. There’s no sense of events occurring as a result of protagonist or antagonist interaction.”

Again with the harshness?  Can you tell we’re getting deep into the slush pile now? Patience wears thin. This story received an honorable mention in Writers of the Future. I like that contest because it gives real encouragement to writers, especially early in their career. The judging is anonymous and sincere. So, yes, I do expect to find something of worth here. But this is tempered by the realization that even the grand prize winners at WOTF are typically mid-level pro stories. That said, it’s impressive how may WOTF winners go on to substantial careers. They’re clearly doing something right. So, what’s up with this story?

The opening paints a picture, but gives no real context. I’m also leery about “could feel”, which generally indicates the writer is not actually in the character’s perspective. Why not “felt”? Why the extra filter. It’s a niggle, but also a red flag.

We move into MC’s perspective pretty effectively after this. The next red flag is the old false mystery bugaboo we see so often. Two characters making veiled references to something they obviously know about. Since I’m in one of their heads, I should know too, right? False mystery is generated by the author hiding the obvious artificially. True mystery is generated by the character exploring something they do not understand.

The opening scene is basically delivering background information (without delivering the most important piece of it). Static, yes. There is no story yet. The dialogue seems intended to explain background to me rather than to address the characters’ needs/wants.

Page 5. A cure for what? What handicap? What did she used to be? This is all false mystery. There’s no story yet.

On page 6 we finally get the key.  What sort of world had they been brought into? What did they used to be? False mystery.

On page 7, it feels like the story is beginning. I’m not sure yet, but we have forward action and motive. The next scene begins to explore the true mystery. It’s more interesting for sure. I suspect the story could begin here and work in just enough background as it’s required by the MC (and avoid false mystery at all costs).   Lots of dialogue. Feels a little unbalanced.

Physical escalation is good. This scene is brisk. Good complication, good climax. What’s missing for me is the emotional escalation the sense of the MC making a choice here that will cost her something important. It’s sort of here, but I don’t think I understand the character well enough for it to impact me. Feels like a nice action scene. That’s not enough to justify 20 pages of prose. Then we’re back to the end-frame, which matches the opening frame. We see a lot of frames. Most of them do little for the story. This is no exception. I do see how a frame could be used here, but why? The actual story is much more interesting, moving forward. It could still end with this final scene, actually. If I were revising, I would begin the story with their decision to break in and steal what they need, then move forward from there, inserting background ONLY where the MC requires it to deal with story stimulus (or react to it). For example, seeing the secondary character’s handicap might trigger a thought about his operations or what he used to be or what she used to be or what he or she thinks caused the decline. When characters react to story stimulus they draw me in. When they seem planted amid pools of background information, not so much.

This ends up being a pretty interesting story, but I probably would never have gotten there if I were the “typical” editor. I would have stopped reading pretty early or skimmed the ending.  Potential here, but it needs work.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An SF story that catches a fairly trendy pop wave and rolls with it to shore. A static opening and false mystery detract from it.

Story 237 (3/25/2011 Horror ?? words)

This one has not been pre-read, so the burden to get this right falls on my narrow shoulders.

The opening is solid, though there are too many adjectives. Find strong nouns instead and the cadence will be cleaner, the images stronger. This is a distant third person perspective, which keeps me from identifying closely with the protagonist. I’m always leery when body parts act of their own accord. Even in distant third person it’s usually best to say “he touched” rather than “his hand touched”.  I suppose if the viewpoint is intentionally trying to keep me from identifying with the character the second works well, but not in general.

Nice complication, then an unexpected twist on that. That’s good. I would probably trim the opening couple pages a bit to get to this quicker though.

I’m having a hard time following the conversation in the next scene. Who says what? Is the vulture talking? That’s not clear until later. I don’t believe vultures have lips.

Okay, this is hinging on false mystery now. The distant viewpoint makes the mystery possible, but it’s still grating at me. These two know what they’re talking about. Why not let me in on it? Stringing me along artificially frustrates. There’s some good dialogue here, but it seems mainly intended to feed me hints of background. I can’t really say it’s cheating since the viewpoint is distant, but it feels as if the story is waiting to begin, or being explained to me in its own time.

Okay, on page 5 we get the start of a story. Gets intriguing on page 9. They’re still dancing around telling me what they both know, but it’s getting clearer and I like the relic.  At the end of page 7 we get the reveal of what we should already know. It’s not enough. I want an actual story, one that moves forward and involves the protagonist making a decision. He sort of does here, but it doesn’t matter much to me because I don’t understand the stakes or the cost until afterward.

The vulture’s speech at top of page 7 really interests me. Not being in the protagonist’s head really diminishes its power, because I have no sense for his need or why he’s searching for this or what he thinks it will bring him, etc.. I’m being shown an essentially emotional story from the outside in, rather than the inside out. Fix that and I think this will work. Do away with the reveal (make it clear on page 1 what he thinks he’s searching for and why and how the vulture is relevant; use the vulture’s reluctance as a complication to build tension, a showdown between them, the vulture agreeing in anger, the reveal of what the MC doesn’t know instead of what he does).

I like this ending. It will work very well with what I describe above. I do need to understand how the MC serves his master. Right now that’s a generic given. I need to know that it’s a real price for the MC and that when he makes this decision he thinks he’s freeing himself from the price.

Overall, there’s potential here for a really good story.  Too much work to request a rewrite, and I don’t think it quite fits the theme either, but good start here.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting take on “be careful what you wish for” with some nicely dark twists and an interesting premise. Slow development and false mystery weigh it down.

Story 238 (3/6/2011 Science Fiction 400 words)

Reader 1: “This is a 400 word piece about [something]. I kind of like it, but I’d like to see what others think. I give it a maybe. ” (plot spoiler removed)

The opening effectively drops me into a situation and character perspective. I’m not blown away by it, but it works pretty well. Interesting SFnal premise.

Some nice prose. Nothing showy, but the occasional unexpected turn of phrase. I’d like a little more movement, but it’s working pretty well.

Very nice ending. I’d like to see it set up earlier in the story, however. Right now it comes as almost an afterthought shortly before the ending. The prose could use some trimming as well, so maybe trim a bit from the opening, plant the clue earlier, and onward to a satisfying ending. I’ll pass this along.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An intriguing SF flash piece about AI and spirit. It reads a little long and the setup comes late.

Story 239 (3/6/2011 Science Fiction 3000 words)

This opens effectively. This is an interesting premise, but the first couple pages amount to background. It’s interesting, but not story.  Story begins on page 3.  I do need some of this background, but not such a big chunk. Pieces of the remnant could be worked into the story as (and if) needed later. Actually, I could see this opening with him paging through the phone book, looking out over his yard and thinking snippets of relevant background that result from that stimulus. It would get the story moving much quicker.

The second scene is engaging. Nice bit of foreshadowing (I’m sure). I’m leery that this is going to be a simple twist story. Hopefully it will have more depth that that.  The next scene twist is good insofar as it goes beyond the obvious, but not so good in that we’ve had no setup for it at all. Still, it may work, depending upon the ending. I’d say a vague reference/thought early in story  of a childhood sweetheart, someone he could’ve shared his fortune with and maybe prevented his current obsession would be enough to set this up.

The buildup is backward, I think. Rather than seeing the girl then getting the warning, it would be a stronger escalation to get the warning (nebulous and not unexpected) to seeing the girl (totally unexpected and powerful).

His choice to confront the girl doesn’t seem natural. It seems necessary to plot, not character. Interesting development thereafter, though.  I like the climax. The final scene goes on a little long for me, though. It’s sentimental and all, but that sentiment only started building toward the end of the story. Had it begun in the beginning, there would be so much more to be released here, right?

This one is kind of tough. It’s a really different idea and executed well for the most part, but the shaping doesn’t seem quite right yet and it hasn’t grown into its power yet. I’ll pass it to a reader for more input.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An intriguing and timely SFnal premise cleverly handled. Uneven development hampers it.

Story 240 (3/6/2011 Science Fiction 5900 words)

Reader 1: “There is a lot of nice world building and ideas here, but the story doesn’t escalate. It feels like snippets from a book pieced together over the life of this character. There isn’t a pivotal event that changes his life. A lot of it is summary. It just didn’t keep me interested even though it had some interesting ideas. ”

This comes from a well established author. It’s a little long, but if it’s great, that’s fine.

The opening feels deliberately obtuse. The writing is smooth and lively so I’ll give it a chance, but I do want somewhere to put my feet down soon.

Well, it’s an odd experience. The story seems insistent upon not showing me what I want to see, not explaining what I want explained, and expecting me to go along with it on the strength of a good voice. I’m too tired for that, I’m afraid. As strong as the voice is, it’s just to much work to make sense of a whirlwind. The last straw is when we finally find the larger than life creature and we look right at it, we touch it, yet we don’t SEE it. We get a few nasty details, but the rest is left to our imagination. Okay, I’ll imagine a bunk bed with claws.

Ah, I think I’m catching on to what “it” is that’s keeping me from enjoying this as much as I feel I should. Again and again I’m told about details; they’re interesting, quirky details, but I don’t see them, touch them often enough. It’s like there’s a gauze between me and this interesting world. Ironically, I feel the same gauze between me and the MC’s motivation. I know intimately what he does and how he does it and what he thinks about, but I don’t see why he does this or what he wants.

Lots of neat concepts here. Interesting development on page 13. This is true mystery.

On page 19 we find out what the mysterious creature we saw but didn’t see actually is. It’s a fairly mundane revelation. I would have liked it early in the story. Here it seems anticlimactic.

The ending is nicely sentimental, but I don’t feel the sentiment has been earned. It took me too long to get close to this character, to understand what he needs from this story and what he gets.

This is an intricate and compelling world. Drop a motivated character into it and give him an actual story arc and I suspect I’ll lap it up. As it stands, this reads (for me) as something of a tour of the idea. It does feel worthy of a book.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An intricate SF premise with epic sweep. Lack of character motivation and minimal story arc work against it.

Story 241 (3/6/2011 Science Fiction 900 words)

Reader 1: “This was short and pretty incomprehensible. ???? I have no idea what it was trying to say.”

Well that’s a new one. The story begins interestingly. It’s a clever idea, really, but too abstruse for me to fully appreciate. It has a nice resonance in the end and does come full circle in an interesting way, but it went on a little long for what it accomplished.

I dunno. I’ll pass it on for another opinion. I’m not jumping up and down about it, but it is clever.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A quirky SF concept turned into a quirky SF flash. A little too much opaqueness and lack of motivated characters weakens it somewhat.

Story 242 (3/6/2011 Fantasy 3400 words)

Reader 1: “There is a story buried in this manuscript, but it’s disjointed in so many places that I can’t tell what’s happening part of the time. It’s an interesting folk tale. I couldn’t keep track of where or when I was half the time. The story skipped around too much. The line by line writing is good and the descriptive detail is good, but there isn’t enough coherence to hold everything together. ”

Seems like a motif tonight. Weird how that seems to work.

Love the opening line. Makes me want to read on for sure, and places me into a character perspective.  The opening paragraph covers way too much territory, too many concepts. It feels breathless. At least break it into a few paragraphs. Or, better yet, start the story moving forward and work necessary background into it as required by the characters. I wonder if this is from a book. That opening feels like a plot summary.

Some clever writing I must say. Good specific details.  This is entertaining. It ends well. The problem is that it doesn’t feel structurally sound yet. If the point is the internet thing (which is cool), the setup should emphasize the grandmother’s obsession with collections. I don’t need all that history in the first paragraph, I need the grandmother’s key trait and a sense that it will come to something. I would try to begin this in-scene as well, with the MC tapping the jar in the first or second sentence and move forward from there. First memory of Grandmother would be of her collections. This seems a classic case of a story morphing into something else as it proceeds. Fix that and this will be a winner.

I’ll pass it on to another reader to see whether a rewrite makes sense. I kind of doubt it, but I really do like what this story is trying to do.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A clever modern fantasy with an active heart. A lack of overall cohesion hurts it somewhat.

Story 243 (3/7/2011 Fantasy 3230 words)

Reader 1: “This story started out pretty well and the writing was good. By the time they got to the [destination withheld], it was losing its punch. The character is pretty flat. He makes no decision the whole story.” (plot spoilers removed)

Opens with a dream. It’s not a bad opening, but I’m leery. First person. Dream. Is this going to be a trapped in the head story?  Nope. Second scene is well framed and active.

Falklands War reference has me wondering if this might be a trunk story? Not a huge deal, but unless the time frame is important to the genre aspect of story, it’s dated. The writing pulls me right along. The crash probably happens to quickly. It doesn’t connect me to the character as it should (especially emotionally).

The scene on 7-9 just seems to go on. I don’t feel escalation. I should. On page 9, the explanation of concept begins. That’s not what interests me. What interests me is the story built around the concept.  Concept explained by page 12. Where do we go from here? The character has not motivation, so it seems likely the telling will stall here.

Well it does escalate a bit on page 14-15. That’s good. I still feel as if I’m touring an idea rather than experiencing a story, but it’s active again. Revelation on page 16 is cursory. Like a light switch rather than a discharge of tension built up over time.

We end with a full circle frame. It’s a decent enough device for this story, but the middle is the problem. I don’t feel the power of the character’s transformation or the stakes of the story, leaving me lukewarm in the end. He gets what he needs, perhaps, but why did he need it? What was he lacking in his life or soul? What was the price he paid? It’s all too easy here, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy that comes full circle. Lack of character development and emotional escalation hurt this.

Well, that’s it for today. One more story officially purchased, another couple sent for further consideration.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 14 stories (38,000 words).

Story 217 (2/28/2011 Fantasy 2000 words)

Reader 1:  “Good use omni, exactly as it should be used, making it clear that the narrator is taking an outside view of many characters. The problem is that we don’t have much reason to care for any of these characters by being so far outside their heads. The various ‘heart-warming’ endings didn’t quite have enough emotional impact. It also lost me on the literal Deus Ex Machina which clearly illustrated the passive nature of most of the protagonists. It’s a competently enough told story and I’m impressed how deftly the author handled the omniscient POV, but the strengths of the story weren’t enough to compensate for the lack of intimacy.”

Interesting hard SF opening, with just enough mystery to pull me onward. I’m a little concerned that it’s been labeled Fantasy, which likely means it’s not going to maintain a hard SF feel. Which is probably unfortunate, since hard SF is likely the only genre where this voice will work consistently. Fantasy tends to thrive on emotion, whereas SF can get by on intellect. Personally, I like either genre to depend on strong characters AND strong ideas, but…

Page 2 connects us (nicely) to a character. The writing is engaging and smooth. I’m definitely not getting close to these characters, but remain interested in how they will be connected by the inciting incident.

I lose some interest when God appears in scene. It changes the tone of the piece. What I thought was building to be serious may end up being fluff. (Yeah, God evokes fluff? Trust me on this one).

When God reappears on page 8 I’m ready for him. More importantly, though, I’m thinking, Now there’s a story that would interest me. Unfortunately it’s not this story. There is substantial skill on display here, some fine, comfortable writing that does not overreach or underachieve. The story does not deserve it, unfortunately.

Basically, what we have here is an ambitious idea writ lite. To the author, I would say, come back to this one in a few years, after you’ve developed your storytelling skills a bit more. There’s something really special waiting for you here.

To do this story right will likely take 6,000-8000 words. The God portion could be done at shorter length, but would involve a much different focus.

Encouraging, but I’ll have to turn it down. Too much to be done in revision, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An ambitious SF idea. An oversimplified delivery hampers its potential power.

Story 218 (3/1/2011 Fantasy 3000 words)

Reader 1:  “I think this little ghost story is told from the wrong point of view.  Telling this from the girl’s point of view puts the reader too far away from the actual story. The girl has no stake in the action and no emotional involvement. The story doesn’t begin until page 3. That the parents don’t notice the ghost girl’s condition is too forced. Good idea, poor execution. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening effectively drops me into character and situation. It’s not amazing, but works. I lose interest in the second paragraph, however. It dissolves into chit-chat (conversation that doesn’t push story action forward). The dialogue itself is fine, but because we have no story yet, it seems to be delaying rather than pushing things forward.

On page 3 we get some background delivered as dialogue. Some good observations, good scene description, natural dialogue, but no story yet. At the end of p3 we get a possible inciting incident. This is too late by a couple pages. Story should probably begin either arriving G’ma’s or with the kids playing.

Next page is more chit-chat. It’s interesting, but doesn’t seem related to the inciting incident. End of page 5 returns us to the story. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with p4 that couldn’t be saved simply by having the MC think/worry about what she saw on p3.  The conversation then becomes a complication (she can’t concentrate on what she wants to with G’ma blathering on – hopefully what G’ma said will become relevant later too).

Some very nice observations here. This is close to working, but the story just isn’t quite strong enough to carry the flow yet.  I like page 8-9. It’s getting good now. A strong scene here. The clues are pretty numerous; that the MC doesn’t catch on a little sooner makes her seem a little slow. In reality, a person wouldn’t catch on quickly, but in fiction it’s difficult to pull off.

On p12 the mystery is officially solved. I don’t mind this so long as the story has more to offer in terms of climax and resolution. The actual climax is rushed. We have this super slow buildup, then wham! it’s done. Then the anti-climax is fairly slow to deliver. It’s a nice touch, but the story isn’t yet shaped to its strongest impact.

There’s not much plot here, probably enough to support 1500-2000 words. If I were revising, I’d likely cut the opening 3 pages or so, then trim the conversation that follows, and focus more tightly on the grandmother, since she’s the one who matters to the resolution. I don’t mind that this is in the girl’s point of view, but the price of that is that the girl has to actually change as a result of what she witnesses. There’s an inference that she learns something, but I don’t really see her as having changed her perspective in the end. It’s a nice warm tale, but the story is not complex enough to support this word count and the protagonist doesn’t really have an emotional arc yet. I do think this can work with a bit more tinkering. It’s not really as layered as we like for the anthology, however.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A tidy ghost story with a strong emotional core. Lack of character development and uneven plot work against it.

Story 219 (3/1/2011 SF 867 words)

Reader 1:  “In this story, the POV has decided to leave her home. “[something] is taking over the country and she has decided to move west like everyone else. The rest of the story is telling us about all the techniques people have tried to get rid of the things. There isn’t enough character development or story here. ”

First person does this opening no favor. It’s bland, despite dropping me into the middle of a situation in a character’s perspective. First person is such a trap for writers. It’s usually more distancing than third person and more difficult to sustain.  (why? you ask. Mainly because in first person everything gets filtered through a perspective; we can’t step back and see the big picture or how the MC fits into it.) Maybe there will be a reason why it’s necessary here.

The first page is essentially a summary of the situation.  Except for the final couple of paragraphs this is essentially an explanation of an idea. There’s very little emotional investment. If I were revising, I’d probably shift this to close third person viewpoint and actually show the story that happens after this ending. The situation/idea isn’t taking me to a new understanding of myself or my world; it’s just kind of sitting there on the page. It’s not a bad idea at all, but I think it deserves a story.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An SF flash that describes a unhappy future. Lack of character development works against it.

Story 220 (3/1/2011 Fantasy 2700 words)

Reader 1:  “I suppose this is a unique idea, but it’s a poor story. We are never fully in the POV’s head because that would give away his plan. There isn’t any real suspense or escalation until about page 6/9 when [something nasty] shows up to kill him. Then there is a bunch of info dumping through dialog to fill us in on the past. By then, it’s too late. I really don’t care about the character, even if he does have a good idea.”

The first paragraph effectively paints a picture of the setting. It’s good in that sense, but it’s not really moving the story forward or planting me into a character perspective. This is omniscient and it’s solid omniscient, but it’s certainly not pulling me into the scene emotionally (intellectually, yes).

The writing is smooth and the dialogue works very well to enliven this. I’m still a little leery of being held outside the MC’s viewpoint. I’m not emotionally invested at all. The details of this place are interesting. I’m mainly worried that I’m being held away from the MC in order to set up a punch line or simple twist. This seldom works very well for me, or for the anthology.

I do like that when we’re introduced to the complication, it’s not shrouded in false mystery. The device for keeping this from us is wearing a little thin, though. I believe this would make a cool movie scene, however.

Yes, the dialogue beginning on page 6 is much less effective. It’s basically telling background they both (should) know. I’m feeling manipulated. It’s true that all fiction manipulates the reader, but it works best when the reader doesn’t realize that.

Clever idea and a nice ending. The story relies too heavily on technique for our taste, however. Maybe as a 1000 word flash, but not at 2700 words (for us). I do think this might get picked up by a more specialized horror/dark fantasy magazine, but not likely one of the majors. It’s got a nice sense of character, but the techniques required to hide the ending from us makes the telling laborious in places.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A dark fantasy with a clever twist. Omniscient POV works against its emotional power and forces the prose to strain in places.

Story 221 (3/2/2011 SF 2800 words)

Reader 1:  “This is much less inspiring than I’d hope. The characters are pretty stock-standard and the dialogue doesn’t sing or hold my interest. This is a punchline story, relying on an ‘unexpected’ end, but I don’t think the ending is cute enough to sustain a fairly bland set-up.”

Reader 2: “An alien walks into a bar…what is it with bar stories? Anyway this one is pretty good. I think the last scene is too long. It’s not the usual character-change story, so I’m not sure everyone going to like it. It has a good voice and good writing. It pulls you right through. I’m not sure the POV changes work or not, but I don’t think the ending works without it. ”

Ah, I get to be a tie breaker perhaps. The opening drops me into mid-scene, in a character’s perspective. I have a hint of motive as well. It’s not ground shaking stuff, but effective. The next page paints a convincing picture of the surround. It’s not really pulling me along, however. I’m enjoying immersion in this scene, but something’s niggling at me. I think it’s that the story doesn’t seem to have much importance. What are the stakes here? Why does it matter if this murder is solved or not? That sort of thing. It’s written well enough that I’m reading right through it, but I’m feeling a bit blase’ about it at this point.

We switch viewpoint to the witness. I’m not sure why this helps. I do like this section better. I feel more connected to the viewpoint; there’s more emotion and at least somewhat higher stakes.

We switch viewpoint to the suspect. Here, we get the stakes of the situation. The problem is I’m not certain I would be willing to wait this long. Some very nice lines and strong observations throughout the story. This scene is strong.

The last scene plays on too long. The story is set up to be a simple twist end, but this final scene attempts to take it much farther. I don’t think it works, unfortunately.

This is a story I’d like to like. It’s well written, quirky, has an unique twist ending. Overall, however, I don’t really feel its power. It tries to be too many things at once, I think, at least for this word count. Also, it opens with its weakest scene, and closes with an overlong resolution. If I were revising, I’d consider opening with the bartender’s viewpoint and witnessing the event, then shift to the detectives. We’ll have been hooked then, we’ll have seen the high stakes of it. I’m not sure the witness is even needed here, so it might be useful to frame the main story with the bartender, the detectives sandwiched between, and then a final, shorter version of this ending.

I’m afraid I’ll have to say no to this one, though I do like what it attempts.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A quirky SF story with a muti-layered reveal and some strong character writing. An uninspiring arc structure holds this back.

Story 222 (3/2/2011 Horror 2400 words)

Reader 1:  “The story is pretty much camera POV, but even with that the descriptions are not clear all the time. We never know the characters and [when something happens]  in the end, it doesn’t seem to matter. This needs more attention to important detail, more character description, more motivation, and more escalation.” (plot spoilers removed)

The story opens with untagged dialogue. Those of you who read this blog will know that’s a red light for me. I’m hanging in darkness, hearing a voice from nowhere. Better to give me someplace interesting to put my feet down and observe from.

I don’t find out who said that until the third paragraph. The second paragraph introduces me economically to the MC. It’s feeling pretty disjointed already.

His supply of God? You can’t just say that and not give context. There are too many concepts flying around and too few grounding details. The name tag on the patient is good, but I have no idea what he looks like (I only need a a vague sense of him) or where we are (intellectually I know it’s a hospital, but where am I in-scene? Just a few specific details, including smell or touch, can make a scene bloom in a reader’s mind. I’m hearing words now, not witnessing an event.

The description of the recovered guy is better, some nice specifics there, but the order of observation feels wrong.

This is an interesting take on a common horror trope. However, the story feels pretty much like an explanation of the idea. I don’t see an inciting incident (why the story begins now, not yesterday, not tomorrow) or a character arc (how the MC is motivated, challenged, pays a price, etc).

Skimming to end. I like the feel of this ending. I don’t think the story quite deserves it yet. It expends too many words explaining the concept and too few developing the character who would deserve this ending. It is a neat twist; I ‘ll give it that.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An interesting take on an age old Horror concept. Lack of character development and concrete setting prevents this from reaching full potential.

Story 223 (3/2/2011 Horror 545 words)

Reader 1:  “A great example of over writing and trying too hard to sound dramatic. Strange word choices that have me scratching my head. ”

Well, Reader 1 is my SF reader and has a limited appreciation for literary. Still, Reader 1 gets it right more often than not. Shall we see?

Yes, Reader 1 is right. The first sentence is a gem of confusing word choices and jumbled imagery. I’ll give the author props for pushing his vocabulary. We have to do that as writers if we want to reach our potentials. However, we also have to learn to force these words and images to earn their place on the final edit.

Some of these phrases do work, most go overboard (feel strained). When I see this in my own work it’s time to back up and see if I’m actually telling a story or simply riffing. Nope, not a story. It’s a description of an event with very limited character involvement.  If I were revising, I’d try to find the point of character revelation and build a plot around that. Then, if I wanted to be aggressive with the language, it would be in support of a story.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 2 A horrific vignette. Words gone Wild work distract from a lack of story and character arc. Flash should at least imply story.

Story 224 (3/2/2011 Horror 5000 words)

Reader 1:  “The writing is good, but the story seems to go on too long. It doesn’t escalate very well and uses all the old cliched woman gets beaten and raped triggers. I think it would take too much revision to fix it. ” (plot spoilers removed)

I’m bothered that this opens with false mystery. The first page talks about a sketch we could easily see, but don’t. When we do get the description at end of page 2 it’s nicely detailed. The conversation leading to this revelation feels like background information rather than story. This is developing too slowly. As an example, “… responding to her mother’s acerbity in kind.” This tells us about her tone, when we can easily infer it from what she says. Quite a few adverbs here also.

I like the second scene. It could be improved by removing adverbs, but it’s short and sharp. I’m not getting a sense of story yet, however.

The next scene is nicely active and the prose is sharper. The scene doesn’t really move us past the usual battered woman scene, however. I do like the MC’s attitude. The problem is that there’s no real story yet.

The next scene is written sharply, but feels kind of convenient. The next scene delivers background information via dialogue. The story is well written, but it’s very slow to develop (very day in the life) and there’s barely a hint of genre by halfway through. Some nice observations, a nice protagonist, though she’s not really doing anything about her situation yet. She’s feisty, sure, but passively going about it so far.

On page 14 we get an explanation of the genre concept. On page 16 I’m wondering if I’ve read a version of this story. This part seems familiar.

The entire (genre) story takes place in the last few pages. It’s a clever idea and the writing is solid, especially after the mid-point or so. I think (for us at least) it’s a matter of getting to the genre element a lot quicker, then escalating through the end scenes to an actual climax. There is one, but it’s over in a flash. For 5000 words, that’s not enough. We need an emotional escalation to go with the detective work. The first half of the story basically establishes character background and motivation. There’s no real inciting incident (the sketch is set up to be that, but it’s not; Dad’s revelation is what incites the actual story).

Anyway, it’s mainly a matter of reshaping this, I think. It doesn’t feel like a great fit for us in any case, but I could certainly see it being published if these problems are fixed (maybe even if not).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A horror story that twists a tried and true topic in an interesting way. A very slow buildup and too-quick climax work against it.

Story 225 (3/2/2011 SF 3300 words)

Reader 1:  “While this one starts fairly well (if not especially originally), the end is weak… the story threads aren’t resolved by the protagonist, but instead they are rendered irrelevant by the antagonists reaching their goal. While some of the world building is nice enough, I don’t think the plot and setting is original enough to offset the weakness of the ending. ”

It’s an intriguing opening, but feels kind of forced. I do like the term for the antagonists.  Nice.  There’s something a little off about this prose. It’s smooth and lively, but I feel as if I’m floating in a blank place despite the occasional specific details. Wrong details or wrong timing? Or maybe it’s that characters react without stimulus, e.g. “With a sick feeling [MC] realized that his projected time-frame had been overly generous.” Why? I wonder. What has he seen or hear to cause him to react?

I do like the grittiness of this. It’s not exactly a new concept, but it’s handled well enough. The immortality thing seems like a separate issue. It diffuses my interest for now.  We get an explanation of background.  It’s weird. Theoretically I should be lapping this up, but it feels forced instead. The ideas are fine, the drama is here, the scene suitably SFnal. Yet, I can’t help but feel that the foreground story exists only to feed the background to me at this point. Is this part of a book, perhaps? I don’t know, but it’s frustrating, not because it’s poorly written, but because it’s not. I want to like this a lot.

It gets better. I like the cave scene. The potential for an HG Wells type exploration of concept exists here. Will I get it? Almost. It starts off promisingly, then returns to a rehash of basic background.

I do like this idea. The story doesn’t quite deserve it yet, but it’s closer than I thought. The ending it interesting, but I do see why the reader reacted as they did. The story was mainly a tour of the concept meant to get me to the philosophy of the ending. It needs to be more than this; it needs a real character with real conflicts and a real price (the potential cost IS real, but it’s glossed over in a matter of a couple sentences). The complication is artificial, meaning that it doesn’t rise organically from the character, but is a means to get him where he needs to be. His solution is simplistic and only works because it needs to work for the ending.  This is definitely worth pursuing; I suspect the key will be to develop the protagonist more fully so that he deserves to be part of this idea and so that plot events carve into him and create who he becomes. As the story stands, he’s pretty much the same person at the end as he was in the opening.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting SF concept played to an interesting conclusion. A lack of equally strong character development holds this one back.

Story 226 (3/3/2011 SF 2900 words)

Reader 1:  “This is well-written and generally well observed, but I don’t think there’s enough complication and conflict to really allow it to pass the grade. I liked the writing and the observational details in the story, but the conflict between competing impulses (mercy versus duty) was very much underplayed on the side of the duty and overplayed on the mercy side. There was no sense that the final decision was a difficult one for the protagonist whereas if the sense of duty was increased, the story would have been more compelling for me. In one sense, I thought the final climactic decision should have almost been the first decision to make in the story and the complications emerged from that point. A good story, but probably not quite good enough. ”

This comes from an author I’d love to publish. This is a recent reprint from a very visible market, however, and it will take something incredible to get it into the anthology.

Lively opening. Good details. A touch of true mystery. First scene is good. I’m right there with the MC.  The second scene is well written, but the stakes feel very low. The only escalation is an argument rehashing the first scene (which was more dramatic).

Yep, here’s the problem. While I like the MC, her decision is far too easy and without complication.

I do like the sense of cost in the final scene. Where was that angst before she made the decision? That would have escalated and created a more proper climax rather than a breezy anti-climax. The final line is neat, though it didn’t release the emotions it should. I think that’s because I never quite fully connected with the MC. Lots of nice writing, but the story kind of ran downhill through a path of least resistance in a way.

If I were revising, I’d mainly focus on shaping the middle complication toward an actual climax (point of highest tension where the MC has to decide something despite its cost to her).  It’s a nice idea and I do like these characters. I’d even like a longer story here, but it needs to deliver the full story experience in any case.

It’s been published by a stronger market than ours, which should reinforce to those of you out there getting frustrated, that sometimes it really is about taste. Keep writing, keep editing, keep subbing.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A well written and clever SF story. A lack of escalation through the middle complication stands in the way of its emotional payload.

Story 227 (3/3/2011 SF 1000 words)

Reader 1:  “This piece is in second person for some reason. It’s very obscure and overwritten in places. The tenses bounce all over the place at the beginning.”

Flash operates by its own rules to a degree, so don’t take this comment as a death knell for the piece just yet.

It’s not technically a second person viewpoint, but first person in conversation with “me”. This technique isn’t doing much for me other than making it seem experimental. I like experimental when it works, not when it doesn’t.  The opening paragraph spends a lot of time feeding me background, made more awkward by the viewpoint choice.

I don’t have the bouncy tense issues. It seems solidly in past tense to me. I am having problems with immediacy though. Lots of looking back, not a lot of forward momentum yet. Some good lines sprinkled in.

It’s stronger on page 3, when the actions feel more immediate (and visually interesting). Nice final lines. Overall, this reads long for its content, especially the opening and next-to-final scene. Conceptually I like this quite a bit. If I were revising, I’d drop the second person conceit and go with present tense.  First person is okay for this, though I don’t believe it’s required. Third may well work better.

I’ll pass this on to other editors. It’s short and contains some interesting visuals. I would require a change in viewpoint technique at minimum if we do take it.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 An emotionally strong flash that fits the theme well. An awkward viewpoint technique works against its power, as does a slow buildup.

Story 228 (3/3/2011 Fantasy 1900 words)

Reader 1:  “This isn’t really a story. It’s mainly a girl telling a guy about the ‘secret’ life she’s had while they were together. It’s mainly talking head with 2 pages of unnecessary descriptive details at the beginning. There’s no escalation. The POV stands around and listens. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening is pretty bland. I’m in character, but there’s no real sense of story after the first page. Feels like a character sketch so far.

The inciting incident takes place at the end of page 2. Too late. False mystery here as well. He looks through a telescope and jumps back in reaction. What did he see? That’s the stimulus. Hiding it from us to create tension is false mystery. Showing it to us to create wonder and/or tension is true mystery.

We get a page or so of explanation of concept. There’s no story movement, really. The inciting incident doesn’t seem to have motivated anyone particularly.

Explanation of background ensues. It’s interesting enough, but not story. On page 6 we’re back to the idea that started us off. She’s leaving in some mysterious fashion for some mysterious reason. Oh, there’s the reason now. It’s fairly mundane.

Okay, so this is basically an interesting idea. Now, find a story to contain it and it should work fine.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy vignette that takes place in an interested world. Lack of story and character arc weakens this.

Story 229 (3/3/2011 Fantasy 5400 words)

Reader 1: “This involves a lot of good world building, though the MC is immediately unsympathetic. I really like the world, but the MC does make it more difficult to follow than it should be. Not only are they mostly unsympathetic (though this would fit in with the MC’s position in society), but I also never really felt that the MC was in any real danger. The ending was also essentially resolved by discussion rather than action. This might have actually been more effective if we swapped viewpoints, so that the story was from the viewpoint of the antagonist. The antagonist has much higher stakes than the MC, they face significantly more challenges in the story and despite some of their deeds they are more sympathetic than the MC. It’s a big re-write, but I think this writer has a lot of skill.  I really did like the world building.”

Reader 2:  “This is written pretty well, but took way to long to get from one point to the next. The main problem is that it isn’t really the [MC]’s story. It just didn’t hold my interest because there wasn’t any tension or escalation.” (plot spoilers removed)

This is another writer I’d like to publish. I say that a lot don’t I? Well, it’s true, but it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that we end up buying so few of them. Successful writers justly send their best to the higher paying markets, leaving us to consider stories that don’t make the cut there. Sometimes we’ll get lucky and find something that’s perfect for our theme or something that just didn’t tweak the right tastebud somewhere else, or maybe a writer has a soft spot for us and throws us a bone. Our best bet for quality, however, is to find top stories from writers who are still making their name, or good stories that we see the potential to make even better with a little work. We’re probably most proud of those ones.

Back to the story at hand. Begins with unattributed dialogue. I’m not a fan of this approach in general. It’s okay here, not great. The next paragraph is very good. I’m in a character’s perspective, in a fully realized setting. No motivation yet, but that’s okay.

An intriguing genre element on page 2. I’m hooked for now.  The moment is becoming belabored, however. It’s fine to not look at something once, but repetition of that idea kind of grates. I’m still intrigued, but it could be sharper (more to the point).  I would suggest compressing the second page to one or two shortish paragraphs. We don’t need to dwell on the inciting incident. We’re still pushing the idea on page 4. This is a case where finding a way to present something powerfully once trumps presenting it more weakly in several variations. I like this idea and the character, but am also getting impatient.

Page 5 brings forward movement. Good. Nice turnabout on page 10. I’m liking the detailed reality this story presents, the unlikable protagonist, the concepts.  Second scene is escalating nicely. First scene pales by comparison.

The climax builds nicely, but then goes on too long. Then we get an explanation of background that I don’t particularly need (I have sufficient clues already to understand most of it). I do want to know that she means to live through this discovery, but not so much about her personal history, at least not so directly. Perhaps as direct thought in response to the situation? I don’t like the details about the husband, for example. They lessen the power of what I’ve just witnessed. They justify the woman’s motives, but I don’t actually want that here.  The actual ending is nice, a redemption of the MC in a way. I don’t think I need so much explanation for it work, is all. And, yes, a sense that the MC is in real danger and must pay a price during the climax scene would be helpful. Nothing dramatic, just a touch of worry/dread, a moment of doubt.

I’ll pass this one along. It needs to be streamlined in a few places, but the core is solid and I like the world details very much.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 An interesting fantasy about death and life, murder and gamesmanship. A slow opening and over-explanatory ending weaken it.

Story 230  (3/4/2011 Fantasy 1900 words)

Reader 1: “While the story concept is sweet and sad, most of the characterisation is achieved through info-dumping. None of it is badly done, but neither is it really special enough to warrant inclusion. The protagonist came across as just that touch too needy for me to really feel the ending. I simply wasn’t moved enough and the story resulted from a passive protagonist. It’s sentimental and sweet, but not strong enough to warrant inclusion.”

The opening drops me into mid-scene and into character. It’s a bit bland, but a nice inversion of the “usual” sort of protagonist intro. I’m game so far.  Lots of internalized background. Interesting character/relationship details, but no story movement.

Second scene takes us into back flash. What are the stakes here? Why does this matter in the larger scheme? Isn’t it just two people spatting and making up? Where is the genre? The writing isn’t bad at all, but there’s no immediacy and no real motive yet. Why not begin with the inciting incident instead?

Nice character details. A nice little complicating moment on page 6, but I don’t get a sense of genre or even story yet.  Ah, there it is. It’s a sweet inversion of expectation and good irony.  This is a good literary character piece, but it’s not got enough story arc for us, I’m afraid. It’s rather a one trick pony with golden harness in the end.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A well observed fantasy with a touching end. The lack of story arc works against it for the anthology.

Story 231  (3/4/2011 Fantasy 1500 words)

Reader 1: “I like the idea of this story. It’s a reprint, so I don’t think we can request a revision. I like what’s here, but it could be so much stronger with a good revision. ” (plot spoiler removed)

Sure, we can request a revision, but it’s still a reprint, which places the bar higher.

Nice breezy opening. I’m enjoying the concept and the writing through page 2. I’m beginning to lose enthusiasm (just a bit) by mid page 3. The concept is losing sharpness now that we’re dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s of its imagining. This part feels by the numbers, which works against the boldness of the idea for me.

I like page 4 better. I can’t help but to imagine this part of the story in-scene, immediate, happening before my reading eyes. So much stronger that way. It would provide contrast to the summary detail that introduces the concept (p1-2). As written, I feel like the the story is this incredibly sharp nail that’s being gradually pounded to a dull point. It’s still strong, just not strong enough to really wow me.

The story kind of peters out to an okay conclusion. It’s clever to be sure, and quite different. Good SFnal concept handled well enough. But man, this could be AMAZING with a little more work, some immediacy, a really resonant ending.

I guess I’ll say a regretful. no to this one. If it weren’t a reprint I might ask for a rewrite.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 An wonderful SF concept carried to a suitable conclusion. The lack of immediacy tarnishes it somewhat.

Story 232  (3/4/2011 Fantasy 2600 words)

Reader 1: “This one doesn’t really have enough of a story behind it because there isn’t enough character choice. The problem is a good one, but it comes way too late in the story and the characters only make one choice in the story (and it’s not a choice between difficult options; it’s the only choice they could have made). Most of the story is set-up and background. There’s also a tense shift once the story problem kicks in and I couldn’t see why the story couldn’t have continued in past tense. The switch to present tense didn’t add any tension and it seems to have been quite random. ”

Opens with unattributed dialogue. It’s iconic, so serves a purpose in setting the scene and suggesting a problem. It also seems a little too clever to me.

We shift to summary. It’s good concise summary and the lively voice carries me. The scene ends well enough.

Second scene opens strongly. It’s still mostly summary, the voice interesting. Is there a story here though? It feels observational, or perhaps an excuse to explain an interesting future world in the interstices.  Good tech details do help.

On page 7, we have forward movement. There’s a complication. It’s solved. The story moves to a logical conclusion.

I have the same reaction as the reader here. Lots of neat background information and a sort of clever focusing device, but there’s really not enough story to carry 2600 words. One complication that matters, an easy solution that doesn’t cost much (unless I’m missing something). The plot seems mainly a way to deliver the story background, which is interesting, sure, but not a story. The tense shift did not bother me, but I do see the reader’s point. It wasn’t exactly a random choice, but was more of a cue that the actual story was beginning (halfway through the manuscript).

I do like the science of this and the characters are okay, but I need more.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting SF conjecture with some very good science and future history details. A minimal story arc hurts this one.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 14 stories (38,000 words).  I don’t have much time today, so let’s make the best of it, shall we?

Story 214 (2/28/2011 SF 4000 words)

Reader 1: “The MC is carried by events. The ending is the old surprise Twilight Zone type of shocker. The character is fairly flat.  The story doesn’t escalate.” (plot spoilers removed)

I hope you’re noticing how often we comment on stories not escalating. That’s a common issue and it usually boils down to story basics. I don’t believe in writing to formula, but I do believe in utilizing formula to analyze story problems. If a story works well, I don’t care if it breaks the “rules”. If it doesn’t work, I find the rules generally help to pinpoint why.

Stepping off the soapbox.  This probably wasn’t the best story to call out, since the author is widely published and teaches fiction writing :-] My suspicion is that the story will be more mainstream than we generally take. In literary fiction it’s more often about escalation of moment and character than plot. A perfectly good literary story may not fit genre expectations, in other words.

Me? I like literary just fine. This is a genre publication, however, so it must ALSO meet genre expectations to make it through our nets.

Anyway, this opens with a character in context. No hint of genre, but that’s okay for now. The writing is very smooth and observant.  Unnamed character, but I had to look twice to realize that. So far it doesn’t bug me in this particular story. It may soon. There’s also a sense of motivation. Nothing too concrete, but the character does feel motivated. Nicely done so far.

My genre interests are engaged on the next page. It’s still set in the “real” world, but there’s a hint we’re going to move beyond that. The details are very good and the dialogue excellent. I could read this prose all day.

I’m cruising along until the top of page 4. With “Growing up, spiritually…” I begin to feel that I’m being told background. Until this point, the background came out naturally, but this particular paragraph feels forced to me.  I think it’s mainly the cadence, which slips into a sort of lecture mode for a time. I don’t mind the information, but it should be a little more… awkward? Less direct? It just doesn’t feel quite right. Certainly not a deal breaker for the story yet.

I like the tension on page 6. It’s a smoldering sense of unease growing inside the character. This is how one escalates character tension. There’s not a lot of plot so far, but it’s not a problem yet.

Nice opening scene. I’m hooked at this point.

Next two scenes fly by.

Next scene is nicely active. We’re focused on the true mystery of the situation (the stuff the MC doesn’t understand).

Next scene opens nicely, establishing the this-was-not-a-dreamness of the prior scene. I’m glad to see that.

I’m a little puzzled by the ending. I’m likely missing something by having read quickly, but it feels like it should be more meaningful to me.  Maybe the next reader will pick up on what I missed. If not, this could be a problem. I’ll definitely recommend we look hard at this one. It’s got enough genre, I think.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A closely observed story about a man in emotional crisis. A cryptic ending may detract from it.

Story 215 (2/28/2011 SF 980 words)

Reader 1: “This is cute and I quite liked the jokey twist on an old trope, but there’s no real story here. There are no choices made by the protagonist and the story is almost 100% dialogue. I’m pretty sure the joke has been done before anyway. ”

And it’s a reprint (so it certainly has been done at least once before). It’s going to be hard to win me over to a reprint of a simple twist flash, but we’ll see. We did take one from Cat Rambo last year, but is was layered and fit the theme perfectly.

This is very well done. I did read it before, which definitely colors my perspective. In the end it’s basically a riff on a tried and true SF concept. It’s handled cleverly and paced well. If we received this as original fiction, I suspect I’d be suggesting to the other editors. However, I think we’ll have to pass this time around.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 An strong flash that takes an SF staple and pushes it to its logical extreme.

Story 216 (2/28/2011 Fantasy 5800 words)

Reader 1: “This story is over our 5,000 word limit. The story takes way to long to get started. There isn’t any escalation toward the climax. ” (plot spoilers removed)

There’s that escalation thing again. Our word count limit is not “hard”, but it does take something special to get us to take a story over that length. Heck it takes something fairly special to get us to take anything, right?

First person, present tense. It’s rare that I can put up with that combination through 5000 words. Just saying… The opening line is okay, though it feels like an opening for a much shorter story (a flash perhaps). It’s simple and straightforward rather than suggesting the sort of complexity a longer story needs. First paragraph equates good ideas with diarrhea. This is not encouraging. It feels glib rather than insightful. When I see stories with playful, undisciplined language, they tend to have story structure issues as well. I write this not to criticize this particular story, but to let you in on my mindset when reading a submission.

I do like the next paragraph better. Some solid specific details that help to characterize. By the end of page 1, the first person present tense is wearing on me. I want to skim, but won’t yet.

There’s some good writing here, some nice character realization. The viewpoint technique isn’t helping things (nor is the tense, at least so far). It makes the story feel forced to me, rather than natural. First person generally works best with quirky or unreliable narrators. Present tense generally works best when it’s required by plot or immediacy issues. They are a risk in any case.

This is very day-in-the-life so far. I’m to page 5 before I get a potential inciting incident. Nope, just a gateway to more ruminating and world building.

The first scene is smoothly written and does manage to create a sense of building tension near the end. There’s a brief hint of the fantastic (also potentially of SF), but I’m still waiting for the story to officially begin. We’ve set up the character, set up the world, set up a motivation. It’s just taken way too long to do so for a short story.

She doesn’t really strike me as anorexic or bulimic. That’s a psychological disorder revolving around body image, I believe. This character has a rational plan. I don’t buy it. Interesting fantasy development on page 10. It’s a little overplayed however. An event that should take a few seconds does not deserve this many inner thoughts and ruminations. Action should be active.

It gets pretty interesting on page 12. This has turned dark in a hurry, and that’s fine. This is a really interesting idea here. Lots of tension and unexpected turns.  It’s taking too long, however.

There’s a lot of good, smooth writing here. Too much of it for the amount of actual story (i.e. plot) movement.  The author shows real potential, real skill too; the next step I suspect will be to discover that words and sentences need to be doing more than one thing at a time. Condensing things down to the most powerful combination is what works best in short fiction.  It’s different for novels (and even to a degree for longer short fictions).  Which is to say, I wish I were reading this idea and character at maybe half this length and in close third person, likely past tense (jury’s out on that).

Yes, the answer comes too easily and without great cost, but man that climatic scene in the washroom had me hoping. I vaguely recall those days when writing came relatively easy to me, the words just poured out onto the page and I actually had fun doing it. Twenty years later, writing is much more difficult and less fun, but it’s more rewarding when it succeeds. I can’t promise that’s what will happen for this writer, but reading this story does take me back. I wish him/her well. There is real talent here. Keep working on the story craft until it is as strong as the prose and I think we’ll be having a different conversation in the future.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An interesting updating of a stock fantasy idea. Slow development and unfortunate viewpoint choice hold it back.

Gotta run for today (actually for the Easter weekend), but at least we made a little progress. Next week is crunch week. It will have to be.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 14 stories (38,000 words). We have another 7 under strong consideration and a bunch yet in the queue at various stages of first and second reading. We plan on accepting another 10-12 stories, so there’s room for some more good news.

Story 204 (2/25/2011 Fantasy 5000 words)

Reader 1:  “Most of the opening is an info-dump and the stakes are extremely low if most of the story when some minor changes would have made them high. What would be really interesting in this story was if the protagonist *did* know his destined fate and was then faced with difficult choices in whether they wanted to continue in the role, etc. By hiding the protagonist’s fate from them, there is no real story as the protagonist doesn’t have to make difficult choices. Everything that happens is background and set up for the end scene rather than evolving naturally through conflict and choices.”

I like the opening sentence, which establishes a character and context and likely genre and makes me want to read on. It’s not mid-scene, but does work. My primary concern, however, is that the first paragraph feels more like a book/chapter opening than a short story opening.

Yes, the first two pages are well written background. Static. It’s an interesting character, but there’s too much background without forward movement, without inciting incident, for a short story. At novella or novelette length, it would likely not be a problem.

On page 3 we get what may be the inciting incident. This has a good epic fantasy feel, but is moving too slowly for us.  Especially as the inciting incident quickly becomes another opportunity to provide background. So far there’s very little story movement. What is the MC’s objective? What obstacles?

Second scene is more active. Some nice details and writing. On page 5, we get what may be the inciting incident.  I’d like the steampunk nature of this world to be set up sooner.  He blesses babies? Interesting, but it does remind me how little we know of his life. We know his current internal thoughts, but not so much how he fits into his world. We’re left to infer much of it through other characters’ reactions, rather than his own.

I’m on page 12. I do like the writing, but this seems a classic case of  “novel pacing”. It’s comfortable and interesting as a casual read, but there’s very little in the way of story arc to compel me onward. I don’t have a motivated character. I have possible motivations, but they’re pretty small potatoes at this point. I have obstacles, but they don’t seem to be exploring a particular theme or forcing the character to re-evaluate or change. I could read this novel, but I’m having some problems with the short story.

The scene that begins on page 12 gives me the first suggestion of story arc. Something is being withheld from the MC and it could be important.  I like that the MC is challenged emotionally and lashes out. It’s interesting to note that while I have a good connection to the MC’s here and now, I have very little sense of his “before”. He seems a character completely on the page, rather than the story showing a part of his life. If I were revising this, I would consider his past more fully, and how it has shaped him in specific ways. I would probably begin the story with this scene and move forward, injecting bits of background only where necessary for context.

The next scene does move forward, but it’s summary for the most part, and doesn’t really escalate the earlier background scene enough. Imagine this scene if we had started with the previous scene and this material is new to us. It would feel escalatory then, I think.

Next scene shifts viewpoint to omniscient. Necessary or convenient?  Luck? This concept is not well set up. This scene seems to be here to explain what has been withheld until now. While it wasn’t exactly “false” mystery, since the MC did not know it, it’s what I might call “forced” mystery. I see no real reason why this was withheld from him other than to create mystery for story purposes. My reaction would be different if these “dire warnings” were set out specifically, earlier in story (i.e. when MC first asks about his destiny). Seems convenient here.

The entire story pretty much takes place in the final scene. Character has motivation, obstacle, makes a choice, pays a price. The problem is in the setup, which is novel-paced and diffuse, rather than short-story paced. Instead of building tension to climax, the first 3/4 of story meander through an interesting world, doing some very basic setup for the story that takes place at the end.  Now, if the setup were as compelling as that story, I think we’d be having a different conversation here.

If I were revising, I’d return to story basics and concentrate on setting up the story and moving forward quickly rather than constructing an elaborate way to hide relevant background from the character. The writing is fine here.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting fantasy world situation. Novel pacing and uneven story setup mar an otherwise strong idea.

Story 205 (2/25/2011 SF 3000 words)

Reader 1:  “This starts out with a good hook but devolves into one guy telling another about [something]. There is nothing new, exciting or unique about any of it. ” (plot spoiler removed)

The opening is okay. It establishes a character in situation. No motivation yet, but that’s okay. It’s a little static for my taste, emphasizing background over foreground.

Story is moving backward rather than forward. It’s also in first person, which adds another layer of disconnect (I feel a bit trapped in the head rather than in scene).

By page 2, I’d say this is overwrought. The emotions do not seem to be genuine tot he scene stimulus. For example, the first question I would as is “What happened?” The MC does not do this, nor does the secondary character volunteer it, instead delivering obscure references to it. This is a form of false mystery, in that the story is showing me a scene designed to withhold key information, rather than being true to “natural” character action/reaction.

Hah. Wouldn’t you know it. The next sentence asks what happened. So it’s just a manor of priority, I think. I don’t really understand why the secondary character remains elusive. Maybe I’ll find out.

Yep, sort of. Anyway, by page 4 I’m yearning to skim. This seems a very simple 800 word idea that’s being dragged out to 3000 words. I’m impatient to get on with it.

I occurs to me that the real problem here is that I’m being told about a story that has happened, rather than being shown a story happening. I would have a very different reaction to this, I suspect, were I experiencing the story the secondary character tells. Sounds like some real tension and costs there. Skimming.

I’d say this is one of the stories we all have to write when we’re developing. It’s nothing I haven’t read before. From a technique standpoint, however, there’s an important lesson here. A story being told about is much less interesting than a story being shown. I do think this idea could work if I were to experience the story first hand (likely from the secondary character’s viewpoint). The idea could be made fresh through its details and specific world building in that manner.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A fairly standard SF trope. Lack of immediacy and an overabundance of “telling” hold this back.

Story 206 (2/26/2011 SF 1800 words)

Reader 1:  “This isn’t a story. It’s a overly long description of [something]. The idea is okay, but the language is ponderous, with long run-on sentences for no apparent reason.  This might work as a 500 word iece, but there isn’t enough substance to carry it much farther than that. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening confuses me. What is “it”? When/where are we?  The opening page confuses me. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s usually true that the more bizarre an idea is, the more it requires concrete details. In general a reader needs a firm place to set his/her feet (i.e. a concrete context through which to judge the bizarreness). Here I’m totally adrift.

By page 3 it’s clear this is one of those “explanation of an idea” stories. There is not story arc, no motivated character, no obstacles, just a description of what may or may not be a cool SF idea. Skimming.

Yes, this is definitely too long for its subject matter. It might make an intriguing flash at 500-600 words, but it feels drawn out at this length.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An interesting SF concept.  The story is overbalanced with explanation of idea, greatly diminishing its impact.

Story 207 (2/26/2011 SF 1088 words)

Reader 1:  “The story needs to be more integrated. The story starts as diary entries. It would work better to dramatize the entire thing. The writing is a little rough, but there are a few interesting cultural bits in here. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening is interesting, dropping me into mid-scene (via a diary entry) and evoking a sense of genuine mystery. The writing is cryptic, but effective for its device. I do, however, lose some immediacy.

The next diary entry is less effective. It’s not really escalating the previous one.  The next several entries work better. They’re short and to the point, the way a diary by this person would likely be. A story situation is developing.

Then the story shifts to another perspective. It feels like a device to me. It is an interesting device from a technique perspective, but I don’t feel the opening has set up this portion particularly well from a story perspective.

I do like what this attempts (the final line is strong), but I think this situation deserves more substantial treatment.  The story feels like an exercise to me, in a sense, or perhaps an extended poem. There are evocative elements that could play very nicely into a longer story, with alternating scenes perhaps. In that way the theme might be better explored, as it deserves to be. I do like the minimalist writing, but I’m just not sold on this as story. Nicely observational, but not compelling enough.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An intriguing SF character story, told in an interesting manner. A lack of story arc integration between its parts weakens its power somewhat.

Story 208 (2/27/2011 SF 5000 words)

Reader 1:  “This is a military SF story. The first 5 pages is about her going into [a place]. We get a few snippets of her fighting. The middle half of the story is a fighting scene. Then for the last quarter we are back at [a place] meeting some people. The real story is in backflash. There is little character development. Because of the frame, the character change takes place off screen in the past that we don’t see. ” (plot spoilers removed)

This opens in mid-scene, but quickly moves backward. Character is set in context, then we hear about what has just happened. I’m not getting a character motivation after the first couple pages. I’m waiting for the story to begin. Also, I’m not actually seeing anything, but rather am seeing by inference (rather than describing something and showing the character’s reaction, we get the character’s reaction to implicitly describe the item).  As we move on, we begin to get a more natural stimulus-reaction. I like the technique of using items to trigger momentary backflashes. I wish the item descriptions were a bit sharper, more distinct. I don’t really feel this world surrounding me yet. More important, however, is there is no story yet; it’s a tour of the setting and character background. What motivates her in THIS story? What complicates her goal in THIS story?

On page 5 we move to a longer back flash. It’s more active. I’m not seeing a motivation for the foreground story yet, nor a motivation (beyond duty) for the back story.  On page 8 we get a distinct objective in the back story.  On page 10 we have a possible inciting incident for the back story. A complication on page 12. The action writing is pretty good, economical and direct.  A little bit of herd behavior (“they all” and “four of them”); not bad, not sharp. Good action scene. Not a lot of character development yet.

On page 18 we get some emotional movement (good) and surface motivation (why she’s here today; this comes too late). Details of the MC’s past are worked in nicely. I just don’t see a story here yet. Page 22 raises the stakes a little. It’s too late, but nice to see this.  The final scene resolves an emotional arc that is interesting. The story itself didn’t really set that up, at least not that I noticed in slush read mode. It seems like a deal of wandering, remembering action, meeting someone, then a sudden revelation of a deep emotional issue that wasn’t there earlier. If I were revising, I’d look at shaping this differently. Starting with the chance encounter, using the backflash to better set up the emotional twist at the end, that sort of thing. The writing is decent, though I noted several typos along the way.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A military SF story with a neat message. A lack of story arc and sufficient setup early in the story damp its emotional power.

Story 209 (2/27/2011 SF 2100 words)

Reader 1:  “This is a nice short piece with a unique idea. There may not be enough character revelation here, but I like the idea. It could use a bit of tweeking to take out some of the repetition and make the ending a bit stronger.” (plot spoilers removed)

Reader 2: “I didn’t like this one as much. While I agree that the core idea is sound, I was pretty unsatisfied with the execution. The biggest problem for me was the fact that the MC was essentially passive. What I would have liked to see was a real struggle. The end was inevitable but I found it quite predictable. Everything is presented in hindsight and at a distance. There was no real reason to feel hooked by what would happen (regardless of whether you could see the ending coming) when the MC didn’t care about what happens in their own story. ”

The opening establishes an (unlikable) character and hints at motivation. It’s fairly sharp. I want to read on. I like the second paragraph a lot. This is building momentum. Genre device is introduced in the next paragraph and I feel a sudden disconnect. How does this fit with the opening, I wonder. Leery.

By the end of the page I’m getting tired of being inside the head. The voice is glib enough, but the issue has shifted gears. It’s like the voice is telling me one thing and the implied story is heading of in some other direction. I guess I would call this a thematic dissonance or maybe an unfortunate choice. This can be fixed pretty easily but incorporating an actual scene after the opening, showing why the woman wants what she asks for and why the MC gives in. All that’s glossed over now.

I will say that the device is interesting and should, indeed, be good fodder for SF. The first person narrative works against that, however. Rather than experiencing a story, I’m being told about one via a relatively interesting, glib, voice. But this doesn’t strike me as a voice story. I probably ought to be an idea story with an interesting character attached, rather than a monologue recalling events.

Later the character becomes more sympathetic, which works against the glibness of the initial voice (since this is being told in the present and the character is glib in the present, it doesn’t feel natural for him to be so caring later in the tale, unless, of course, something is going to happen at the end to turn him into this glib guy).

Nope. It’s a fairly typical ending. Basically, I think there’s a strong core here for a very good SF story. The device is different enough from others I’ve seen that it should work, and the character story should also work. The choice of first person narrative seems a mistake for this particular story. If I were revising, I would definitely write in close third person and tell the story forward, rather than in retrospect.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A solid SF idea. The choice of first person retrospective viewpoint works against it.

Story 210 (2/27/2011 SF 5340 words)

Reader 1:  “The viewpoint is omniscient, which ruins the focus of the story, which probably should be his. Her discovery is off stage. His [primary action] is off stage. The sex is on-stage. The story doesn’t escalate. I think it’s too long for the idea and we spend too much time on unnecessary talk. ”

Well, this begins with unnamed characters, which many of you know is a red flag for me. Why? Because very few stories actually deserve archetypal characters. This opening feels pretentious to me. It’s working very hard to draw me in via language rather than character or scene or idea. Hopefully that will change shortly.

I do like some of the lines in the second scene, but it feels fairly chit-chatty. I’m waiting for the story to begin. We get a genre concept at the end of page 4.  This scene pretty much rehashes the first scene, but in more detail. It’s a stronger scene so far. By page 7 we’re back to chit-chat.

Next scene shifts primarily to one point of view. It’s interesting that the POV shifts here seem to be designed to have us watch or hear about epiphanies in the other character rather than letting us experience them. It’s a rather dulling effect, leaving chit-chat  to carry us along.  It’s well constructed dialogue, to be sure, but it’s not advancing story for the most part.  I’m getting a superficial view of an interesting concept and relationship rather than a deep view from one participant or the other.  To be fair, there are moments of insight here, but they often  feel injected into the story rather than arising from it.

Good technical details on page 11. Then we’re back to chit-chat. Some nice internalization on page 13 – the story does examine its philosophical underpinnings.  From here on we’re staying pretty solidly in the guy’s head. I do think this his his story. It would probably be best to start in his head and stay there throughout.

Oops, penultimate scene shifts to her viewpoint. Then back to him for the final scene. Nicely resonant final line. I don’t feel the story completely earned it, but it’s a very good line.

Technically, this is well written (that opening aside). It has a legitimate and interesting SF idea and real characters interacting in real ways. Yet, I don’t find myself particularly recommending it. In a sense this is the most difficult sort of story to reject because there’s nothing exactly “wrong” with it (and a lot that’s right), but it’s just not compelling me.  I get this nagging sense that I’ve read a story arc of least resistance rather than one that maximizes potential drama/tension. A very odd reaction, no? If I were revising, I would decide who this story actually belongs to and write it to maximize the story arc for that character (motivation, obstacles, climax, decision, price paid).  This writer certainly has the chops to tackle a variety of scenes and characters, but the story seems to suffer from a sort of authorial intrusion wherein I feel as if I’m reading the author’s philosophy rather than the characters’ story. Heinlein did a lot of this and he was pretty successful, but I think he tended to inhabit his spear-carrying character more fully that this story does. I don’t believe the story needs or deserves archetypal characters, nor do I think the chit-chat does enough to keep the plot and emotional threads in motion.

Which is an odd way of saying this is one of the better stories we’ve received in terms of sophistication and technique, yet it’s not something we’ll want for the anthology. Someone else will probably snap it up.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A solid SF idea with real characters. A somewhat superficial approach to issues and character motive detracts from its power.

Story 211 (2/27/2011 SF 3000 words)

Reader 1:  “The protagonist isn’t a particular dynamic one and most of the events in the story occur to him rather than arising from his actions. There isn’t much to make the protagonist likeable and combined with his passive nature, this deadens any potential from the interesting central conceit. The MC isn’t faced with a choice or conflict until page 7, which is much too late.  There’s also too much emotional button pushing with MC rather than making their tragic circumstances part of the continuum of character growth. The emotional core of the story is melodramatic rather than deeply felt and the darkness of the ending didn’t move me at all. ”

The opening does not work. It’s usually (not always) a bad sign when a character wakes up to open a story. Damon Knight — I think, anyway — explained at Clarion that this is usually a sign that the author is not yet ready to write the real story, that his subconscious is in process of waking to it. I don’t know about that, but I do know that it’s rare for an “awakening” story to pull me in. This one does not.

We do get a character and it feels like mid-action and we do get context. The problem is that we begin at a very high emotional point. The only way from here is down, right? Let’s find out.

We get a (false) mystery in paragraph 2. He knows why he did what he did; that he chooses not to inform us when that information is relevant, creates false mystery rather than true mystery. There is true mystery to be had here (he doesn’t know why this happened, right, so focus on his genuine confusion rather than not telling us what he does know).  An hour left for what? What are the rules of this reality? I feel as if information is being held back.

We then get the old turn-on-the-news at just the right time to get information we need technique. It’s done pretty well here, but it’s still that overdone technique. It would be a whole lot easier for the MC to simply think what he knows in response to some of the stimulus he’s witnessing. The news would be fine then, as he seeks to update what he knows (rather than the news device used simply to inform me).

Page 3 brings a refreshing change, in that he’s now reacting to stimulus and thinking (or saying) relevant information.  The larger problem so far, is that I feel as if I’m hearing about a story idea rather than experiencing a story. This is in-scene rather than in-head, but it’s a very static scene in which various devices are used to explain the idea. Imagine us experiencing this happening instead of rehashing what has happened. Wouldn’t that be more compelling?

Nice paragraph at the end of page 5. Then we’re off on a bout of whining that doesn’t advance the story. The end of page 7 confuses me (had to read a couple times).  This complication does begin some forward story movement, which is welcome.

I like the ending, but it’s really just a one-off kind of ending, more appropriate to a flash fiction piece than a 3000 word story. If I were revising, I’d take a shot at writing a flash of maybe 800 words around that final scene, working in just enough background detail to give the reader context. There’s not enough story or character development here to support 3000 words as it stands.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A fairly common SF idea with just enough twist to make it palatable. An overlong and largely static introductory section works against it.

Story 212 (2/27/2011 Fantasy 3100 words)

Reader 1:  “I feel like I’m seeing part of a world that isn’t defined well enough in this story to understand. It doesn’t have anything unique that sparks my interest, just the standard fantasy tropes with different names. The POV does a lot of standing around and waiting for the first half of the story. When the stranger arrives, there’s some discussion, but little conflict. Much of the dialog is info dumping. There isn’t much tension. There is little escalation.”

This comes from a writer with impressive credentials, which always gives me a bubble of enthusiasm. Will it pop or float?

Get rid of  “The” in the first sentence and it will work really well for me. A nice sense of dread. I want to know more.

Interesting opening. Character in context with inciting incident. Genre established. Good. I will say that the prose itself is a bit clunky. Not bad, not great. I’m also noticing how little I actually see. Description is largely by inference, filtered through the MC’s thoughts.  By page 4 I’m beginning to think this is part of a book. It’s not propelling me forward so much as providing background information for a world that seems larger than this story can utilize. By page 4 we’re kind of back where we started. I wonder if we could avoid the side trip and just move forward from the beginning (does she really have to be summoned in order to be told to go back to where she started?)

I’m definitely yearning for a few well chosen details of place (also perhaps a smell or texture to make the scene more real). I feel a little trapped in the MC’s head. Nice complication at end of page 5.  By page 7 I’m losing connection. This feels like a sliver of a much larger world (i.e. a book world). Numerous references to matters and events outside this particular story tend to diffuse the story on the page rather than reinforce it. It’s fine to have a story place in a larger world, but it’s the story that must carry me, not the glimpses into something bigger.

Some nice fantasy lines here, by the way. It does feel like an interesting world.  Ah. Interesting development on page 9. If the story had begun with this I would be having a different reaction, I think. This is the sort of fantasy development/device that can focus a story. It makes the story large enough to impact that greater world. Start with this and work the MC’s abilities in after it and the story will be much more compelling.  I like the following scene.

Yes. Very nice ending. I think there’s more work to do here than I’m comfortable with in terms of requesting a rewrite, but the basic problem I see is that the opening half of this gets in the way of the true story, which begins with the stranger. Yes, some of the background is needed; work it in as the MC decides how to deal with the stranger. The story can be this long, but it should be reshaped to make best use of its strengths.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A slice of epic fantasy that delivers an epic ending. The inciting incident comes too late and too much time is given over to developing overly complex world issues.

Story 213 (2/28/2011 Fantasy 460 words)

Reader 1:  “This author has a lot of credits, but this story doesn’t work for me at all. The writing should be more elegant for the idea. The story is confusing. I’m not really sure what’s happening. I think there is a good idea buried in here, but I didn’t want to have to use a shovel to find it. ” (plot spoilers removed)

Ouch. Well, flashes do march to a different drummer, so maybe I’ll have a different opinion.

I like it. It has a solid voice and a more than solid core concept. The big problem for me is the tense device. If the opening section were written in past tense, the story would be more genuine (the present tense is used to create immediacy, I suspect, but it’s also a red herring in terms of where we end up). I’d also like a sense of what the MC needs from this process. It settles for a fairly superficial motivation now (basically, a neat idea); if it could up the ante a bit and use this device to comment on human nature more deeply it would be even better.

I’ll pass it to another reader. I’d say it’s a 50-50 at this point, especially given the strong negative action of the other reader, but worth a shot. It’s different.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A neat flash fiction built around a quirky, cleaver idea. The lack of deeper social commentary hurts  it a little.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions. I had several issues come up that had to be dealt with. Hopefully I can get through the remaining slush stories in the next ten days.

Story 200 (2/22/2011 Fantasy 4400 words)

Reader 1:  “First of all, this isn’t a genre story. It’s first contact and not last contact. The writing deteriorates and the voice of the character changes as the story goes on. It’s a bit too long and repeats thoughts in the first half. That could be trimmed. There needs to be a hint that the experience in the woods isn’t real. I couldn’t find anything. I suppose if this was a mainstream story, the fantastic elements toward the end would be the clue, but they come in too late. I liked a lot of this, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for the anthology.” (plot spoilers removed)

Good, crisp opening line that pulls me in. Second paragraph is a mixed bag for me. It established character, but confuses me as far as time line goes.  Nice observational details here. I’m not getting a sense of story yet. Character is not motivated at this point, though there is a hint of motivation top of page 2. I’m leery that it’s actual motivation, however, rather than a character trait. We’ll see.

I’m not sure why the tense changes on page 2. Is it a clue? Tense shifts back and forth between present and past in a mostly chaotic manner. It’s a little disorienting. The larger problem, however, is that this is entirely observational so far. There’s no story yet.  It’s a ghost story? The timeline is not clear enough for me to be sure. Nice observations, some good writing, but too many confusions. I imagine the story actually starts with the ghost’s appearance.

Okay, not a ghost.  This seems like an intriguing idea with a nicely quirky character and interesting situation, but the story itself is jumbled.  Okay, I see an ending coming on page 8 (of 14). Am I right? No, I’m not, which is good. However, the story is way too long for what actually happens in it. It takes on the feel of an extended monologue that traps me inside the character’s head. Yes, it’s not a genre story, nor does it fit the theme. More importantly, the story feels unshaped, a series of observational details woven around a very simple plot line. There is a climax, which feels artificial given that it occurs in a dreams state. If I were revising this, I would go back to story basics. Motivated character meets obstacles and overcomes them. MC is just carried along here. He makes a decision in the end, but it’s not as big a change as a short story of this length can carry. Story should begin with the inciting incident, where the everyday changes, then move forward. This pseudo-framing device mainly works to diffuse any tension we feel early in the story. That said, the actual prose is good, though watch the unintentional tense changes.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A mainstream story about a quirky character making a life changing decision. A general lack of clarity and slow pacing work against it.

Story 201 (2/23/2011 Horror 4700 words)

Reader 1:  “This story didn’t work for me despite some nice writing. In the end, the story itself is pretty cliched and the use of various devices (transcripts, discovered notes, etc.) to build tension actually have the opposite effect. By taking us away from the MC and providing background, they don’t give us time to get into the MC’s head. As a result, when the MC undertakes the climactic action, it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really have an emotional impact. The dread in this story should come from the MC’s descent into madness, but it’s being relayed to us second-hand via transcripts. This device might work in a novel, where there’s time devoted to characterisation, but it’s ineffective here. ”

I like the opening quotation, which evokes a moment of eloquent dread. The first paragraph efficiently sets us into scene (though not character). It’s a descriptive paragraph that reads  a little flat after that resonant opening. Not great, not bad.

Nice observational details and a possible motivation by page 2. Good. First scene works well enough. I’m not getting a strong sense of story yet, but it’s enough.

Section 2 begins with a diary entry. It’s suitably creepy and promises something to come. I do like what follows it. Nice little scene here. I don’t like that the words the voice says are hidden from us. That pushes me away from character identification. Still, a creepy scene — would be even better with the words on the page, I suspect.

Viewpoint shift in section 3 throws me. I’m just getting into the MC and then I’m having to reorient. Then another viewpoint shift at the end of the scene. The entire scene seems to be here just to present evidence for what we already know/suspect. I don’t think it adds much to the story (in a longer work, yes it could, but here it diffuses my identification with MC).

Section 4 returns me to MC and is nicely written. I’m missing something here. This SHOULD be escalating, but I’m not feeling it. I think it’s because even though I’m inside the MC, I’m not really inside her experience. So much of what she experiences is left to inference that she feels manipulated in a way.

Section 5 switches viewpoint again. I’m not invested in any of these characters fully enough to appreciate the tension here. I do like the section lead-ins. Very clever way to introduce background and the quotes themselves are really evocative. The story itself, however, feels kind of flat despite some very nice writing.

Section 6 remains in viewpoint I haven’t identified with. This is the physical climax of the story and I get no sense of an emotional climax because we shift outside the MC to observe rather than feel.

Section 7 explains everything. It’s a clever device, but doesn’t really do much for me emotionally (or even intellectually as I have no real investment in the whys or hows).

The final section could basically stand alone. There is a very good core here for a character driven horror story centered on the initial MC (or even one of the other viewpoints), but we end up solving the puzzle of the situation rather than experiencing the story of it. It’s a shame, because the writing is spectacular at times.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF ghost story that delivers an interesting situation and character, but does not provide enough emotional investment to reach its potential.

Story 202 (2/24/2011 SF 4988 words)

Reader 1:  “It starts out okay, but the first half of the story is about [something]. There is no main character even though the story focuses on the friend most of the time. It is all external with no character development or realization. There are too many characters bouncing in and out to keep track of everyone, especially at the beginning. ” (plot spoilers removed)

This one comes from an author with substantial credits. Makes me hopeful. The opening sentence is a little forced for my taste. It’s meant to provoke my interest, but mainly feels (for me) like it’s trying too hard. Second sentence is solid.

End of page 1 annoys me with its withholding. I’m worrying that this will be about technique rather than story. There’s a genuine mystery here, yet we’re focusing on false mystery instead.  The prose is nicely active and the characters feel lively. What I’m missing is what I need most at story opening. A sense of place and time and motivation. Rather than describing the central mystery, I’ve spent two pages inferring evidence of it. That’s not story.

How wide is this thing? How deep? What’s the big deal with the husband? Who should I identify with here? The central mystery isn’t enough to hold me since it’s not even concretely described. Finally, on page 3 we get some context for the situation. Page 4 clarifies further. I don’t so much mind that we begin with characters interacting, but because none of them stand out, I feel adrift, and since there’s no concrete surround, I feel more adrift. By the time I get my feet on the ground, the story has lost me.

Now we’re basically moving backward rather than forward. I’m on page 6 and there’s been only one forward movement to speak of.  Page 6-7 settles down to a single MC. This is welcome, but the story itself is moving very slowly. We’re pretty much rehashing the same issue we started with. To be fair, there are some really nice lines here, a few smiles and such.  At the end of page 10 we get a direct statement of motivation. With motivation, complication becomes possible. The way the story plays out now, it just kind of meanders through situation to this point, then throws a complication in that’s not really a complication to the main issue.  Scene ends with a new situation.

Page 12 brings an intriguing development. Without a strong character identification it’s just an intellectual curiosity for me.

This ends interestingly. The idea is very good and could (probably should) support a longer treatment. At this length there’s not enough room to develop the characters well enough to carry their end of the bargain, leaving the idea to swoop in at the end and attempt to rescue the story. I’ll be very interested in reading this once it’s fully developed. As it stands, it doesn’t really deliver enough facets of the idea to compel me.

Was I extra tough on this one? I suspect so, mainly because it’s clear the author is very good and I had high expectations going in. In the end, I think the main problem is that the story probably started as a quirky idea and developed into something more along the way, but without a really strong setup for that payoff (i.e. motivated character who needs this to happen, various facets of the idea explored scene by scene), it’s just not working yet.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A very interesting concept that goes to a good place. Slow, uneven buildup and too many characters too fast work against its potential.

Story 203 (2/25/2011 Fantasy 5000 words)

Reader 1:  “The writing is clunky and very little of it is grounded in genuine character emotion or difficult choices. It runs straight into action without context and it takes far too long for genuine choices to emerge rather than disconnected action. This wastes some interesting world building by using generic characters. ”

The opening does a good job of painting a scene. It opens in mid-action and provides some context. No motivation yet, but that’s okay.  Second paragraph isn’t as effective. Mundane action written large.

I’m losing interest now, as the characters basically explain what has happened to each other. It’s an interesting situation and it’s not info-dump dialogue as they do actually speak to each other, but it feels unbalanced to me, as if the story action has stopped for the talky part.  Page 3 brings a complication. It feels kind of random though.

An active action scene. Refreshing to see actual action in a story. It’s kind of by the numbers though, and feels disconnected from the character. One clue that the story’s telling has slipped out of character is the moment on page 5 where it lumps the characters together (I call this herd behavior). “and in the couple’s moment of surprise, slashed them deeply across their torsos”. Basically, this removes and identification with a single character and pushes me into a mushy frame of thought. It feels lazy (to me), which is why I always look for it when editing my own work.

Another somewhat random complication. The story seems to be creating itself as it goes. I could be wrong about that, but it doesn’t feel well thought out, at least from a surface (i.e. slush)  reading.  Are there any rules to this magic?

I’m glad to see the randomness of the earlier event acknowledged in scene 2. This gives me hope that there’s a reason for it in the end. Page 9 brings another somewhat  random complication.  By “random” in this context, I mean that stuff is happening just to happen rather than as a result of motivated character meeting obstacles related to his motive/quest.  He can fly? How? Why?

Some more semi-random complication. This is related to the earlier scene, clearly, but the underpinning comes out of nowhere for me. This deathbed dialogue is not convincing. An unwilling student isn’t worth the bother? Then why bother with the MC, who is unwilling too?

The ending does not work for me. It renders the story’s power (yes, there is some power in this choice) impotent. She could have done this in the first place and it wouldn’t have mattered to the outcome.

This is a particular type of action adventure story and it’s done reasonably well in that regard. There’s an audience for this, I suspect, but we are not it.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An action adventure fantasy romance with some good active scenes. Uneven character development and simplistic plot devices work against its potential.

Well, it’s late and I’ve got a novel to work on tomorrow, so lights out for now. Hopefully I’ll make a larger dent tomorrow.

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