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 16 stories (42,000 words).
Story 296 (3/31/2011 SF 5300 words)
Reader 1: “More time is spent dreaming than in actual story movement. There is noting about last contact here.”
An exclamation point in the first sentence. Ouch. First person. Opening puts is into a viewpoint and establishes genre and a hint of motive. It’s pretty good, though doesn’t give me much in the way of a stage. I’m not totally content.
A really good technique for setting a stage is to give a general sense of the larger picture (i.e. a crowd, a bathroom, an auditorium, an empty pizza joint). Something to help me picture a general scene that, and this is the important part, will not contradict specific details that you add later. In this story, I’m getting details without overview, which generates an experience of having people and things pop into existence. Doesn’t pull me into the scene, but makes me distrust what I have built in my head.
And when you introduce something unusual, SHOW it. I don’t know what to picture when I hear “space crawler” for example, but I will picture something. In this case it was one of those mechanical walkers from Star Wars. When I found out a sentence or two later what it really is, I have to reinvent it in my head. This does not make a story feel “real” or even mysterious. Granted the viewpoint character isn’t going to spend a lot of time dwelling on a thing he’s familiar with, but he’s going to see SOMETHING, right? Make that something the exact right specific detail that gives me the essence of the thing and you’ll get bonus points in my reading experience. That’s when writing is sharp as opposed to generic.
We’ve now spend about three pages with the crawler, which is irrelevant to the actual story goal. The story has basically stopped in order to accommodate this. It’s a matter of finding the right topics and things and ideas on which to spend word count. Story should move forward; we should feel compelled in a sense to move forward with it.
This doesn’t feel much like a dream, but a guided tour of the idea. Some good details on page 7. We get some background disguised as dialogue. Conversation on page 9 is stronger, with some tension. Some relatively irrelevant discussion afterward. Story is slowing to a standstill.
Hard to believe there would be a footprint but no ruins, no signs of prior habitation or construction, etc. Story seems to shift gears maybe two-thirds of the way through.
There’s actually a really interesting idea here. It’s not explored as it deserves to be, however. The story settles for a superficial argument between academics followed by a simple conflict between them and an easy resolution (what price did the MC pay for this?). If I were revising, I would focus on the character arc and build the plot around that, with both resolving at the same climax. Not an easy task, but that could make this idea sing.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A first contact SF story about communal dreams and betrayal. Lack of strong character arc and plot development hurt this.
Story 297 (3/31/2011 SF 3200 words)
Reader 1: “The start is very slow with about 3/10 pages of backfill. The plot reminds me of Alien meets Star Trek, only there aren’t any aliens. The characters don’t have names. They also have no character development. They are pieces moved through the story idea. Much of the story is told rather than shown. The dialog only functions to convey information. “
Do not use quotations for direct thought. Use italics or nothing. The opening is static. It does establish a character in context and suggest genre. It’s a character awakening, to boot. How many time have we seen that?
By the end of page 1 I’m confused. I’m not sure who just spoke, I haven’t seen anything, felt anything, touched anything, smelled anything, etc. It’s all in the head so far, and in dialogue. This isn’t pulling me into the story. What is the motivation, for example? What obstacles will we face?
Some background on page 2. It’s pretty typical stuff. Not to worry. We all must write this story at some point in our development. If you do revise, look for ways to make it your own world, not shadows of others (this means specific detail, specific motivations, specific characters and such).
Some banter between characters follows. It gives background and a bit of tension. Still I don’t know why we’re here, why we’re undertaking this, why the story starts today and not yesterday or tomorrow. It’s explanation of idea, in other words, not yet story.
At the end of page 3 we learn why we’re here. Why is it important (to the character and to us)? I infer why, but it would be nice to know it, and earlier in the story. This does remind me of that scene in Aliens. You really don’t want to remind me of that.
Some tension at end of page 5, an argument over stuff mildly related to the motivation. So much of the prose is telling me about what happens rather than involving me in it. Involve me in-scene and I’ll forgive a lot. Tell me about story and I’ll pick at every detail. Great line on page 10 about hitting the creator. Sweet.
I like the ending, which has a nice resonance to it. I’m not involved enough with these characters to care all that much, but it’s a nice paragraph.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An SF exploration story about reaping the rewards of impatience. A too patient story pacing and lack of sensory detail and character identification hurt this one.
Story 298 (2/25/2011 Fantasy 2500 words)
Reader 1: “I’m not sure what to say about this one. It’s a very strange piece, but there is something compelling about it. I felt confused at times and think if it was clearer in places I’d like it better. I think it may be too mainstream for most genre readers.”
First person used well. The opening sets character in context, but the action is a bit surreal. I’m hoping the story will be more concrete than that.
Some very nice writing here, but not much in the way of plot.
This is really quite interesting in its surreal logic and there is a story here, though I think it takes an easy way out of its corner. It’s just not accessible enough for me, is all. Too much like a drug trip (from what I’m told). I need concrete to go with my strange.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A surreal fantasy about stuff. It mostly works, but a simplistic ending hurts it a bit.
Story 298 (3/03/2011 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.”
Reader 2: “I like the visuals and the concept. I would want to drop the second person references and maybe go to present tense to make it more immediate, but it could work for us”
This opens strongly. It’s first person speaking to reader, an awkward technique that raises red flags, but it’s done well here so far. The scene ends with an evocative line. The story is not terribly accessible, however. It needs to give me something concrete soon.
Resonant ending. The story is a bit overwrought, but active and engaging. It’s also just a little to obscure for me. Good flash, but not quite for us. We prefer story over technique and the technique is too pervasive here.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A far future SF flash about sacrifice and love in the face of apocalypse. Over-emphasis on technique hurts this.
Story 299 (3/21/2011 SF 1000 words)
Reader 1: “I like the idea behind this story, but I don’t think the ‘science’ on page 3-4 works. I think it would work better if that part were more vague. ” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening sets a character in context, but it’s also withholding from me. I’m leery. I’d be tempted to open with the second paragraph instead. It shows us the true mystery rather than implying there is one. It would definitely pull me in more strongly (parts of the opening paragraph would need to be merged into it, to give concrete context, but I hope you see what I mean).
I don’t buy that he doesn’t remember his dancing. It seems convenient. I do like many of these details, however. There’s a lot of nice internal thought and detail here. Not a lot of forward story movement, however. On page 4 we go into backflash, where the real story resides. Explanation of idea. Return to present and more reminiscing. I’m not sure what the final line means. It sounds decent, but how does it culminate the story other than on a superficial level?
This one’s a mixed bag for me. On the one hand the concept is cool and the character is interesting enough. But there’s no story here, just a realization and some stage action. The actual story occurred long ago. I’m not sure I would want to read that story, but I do want to read a story here, so I’m back to I dunno. Could he have a motivation here that actually matters? It wouldn’t have to be much to carry this length, but something that would take this out of the head a bit and make us care (rather than simply intriguing us)?
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An interesting SF idea told efficiently. Lack of meaningful foreground story hurts this one.
Story 300 (3/22/2011 SF ?? words)
Reader 1: “The protagonist is immediately unlikeable without much reason to redeem him and we never find a good reason to redeem him. Without much access to his thought-process and a reason to immediately engage with him, we’re left on the outside of a fractured time narrative without much emotional investment in what is happening. “
The opening isn’t particularly engaging. It does drop us into the middle of a scene and introduce a (waking) character, but it doesn’t really give me a context that interests me too much. Very day-in-the-life on the first page. We watch the scene unfolding, but no hint as to why.
The fourth paragraph would present a sharper opening. There we have motive and a potential inciting incident. Still, the story is frustratingly opaque. The eye thing is interesting, but seems like an aside the way it comes in.
Second scene opens interestingly. I don’t know how it connects to the first, however, which keeps my frustration level about as high as my interest level. Some effective writing here nonetheless.
Third scene confuses me some more.
Well, this is a skillful rendition of an unreliable narrator, no doubt about it. It’s very opaque, however, so much so that I never hooked into the MC’s perspective enough to really care. I do respect the skill on display here, but the story seems more work than the payoff provides me.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An intricate SF story about delusion. An inaccessible character perspective works against it.