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.