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.