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Archive for May 4th, 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 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.

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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 15 stories (40,000 words). I’m going to try to move faster today. I have to finish the slush reading this week so that I can move on to the Parsec Short Story contest next week.

Story 287 (3/21/2011 Fantasy 1767 words)

Reader 1:  “I love this one.”

Intriguing opening. Establishes character in context with a hint of motive and a sense of mystery. Technically it would be false mystery in that the MC does know what she means, but she’s not withholding anything. There’s no natural reason for her to think beyond what she does. Very nice use of misdirection.

Second scene is wonderful. A deft juxtaposition of high fantasy and mundane reality. And a concrete (if incomplete) clue to the central mystery to end the scene. I’m on board so far.

There’s a moment of confusion in the next scene as it’s not clear who the “he” she left actually is. The stranger? The husband? It makes a big difference.

Such lovely, powerful writing. Simple words, complex concepts.

This is indeed wonderful. I’ll pass it on. If someone doesn’t like it I’ll reevaluate their taste :-) I believe we’ll be taking this one.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A fantasy about matters of living and death and courage in unexpected places. A strong, vivid story.

Story 288 (3/22/2011 Horror 900 words)

Reader 1:  “The beginning takes too long and even though we are in her head, the author tries to keep what the POV is doing a secret. ” (plot spoilers removed)

This opening establishes a character in scene. The scene is not very specific and it feels like a set piece rather than mid-action. It’s not bad, but not great. The Internet line is good though.

And now we’re going backward, and carefully hiding her purpose for being here. Not a fan of that. It would be interesting to compare the scene from the previous story with this one. They’re of similar length and both avoid giving up the “secret”, but where the previous story does it by creating a situation where the character naturally does not think of the key point, here it’s pretty clear that the author is intentionally (or semi-intentionally) having the character think around the edges of it in order to create suspense. Similar on the page; very different effect.

We get progressively clearer clues; there’s much less withholding as we proceed. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure this is going to turn out to be a simple reveal of what the character knew in the first place.

Very nice line on page 3. Until today she would have agreed, indeed. Okay, it does go to an unexpected place, more than a simple reveal. Kudos for that. It doesn’t go terribly deep, however, which keeps it from impacting me too strongly. It’s not bad, not great. Might well fit in a more specialized magazine.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A horror story about motherhood and children who refuse to stay buried. Some withholding early in the story and a lack of deeper meaning hampers it.

Story 289 (3/22/2011 SF 1370 words)

Reader 1:  “This was okay, but not a story that’s going to stick with me I’m afraid. ” (plot spoilers removed)

Clunky opening. Dialogue heard over a comm line. It’s hard to figure out who says it to whom at first and the dialogue does nothing to fill in the surround. We do get a character and genre and possible motive. It’s just not very compelling.

Background delivered efficiently (and effectively) in second paragraph. It fills me in but doesn’t really make me care yet. You’re running out of time to hook me.

The situation requires that dialogue carry the story, which leads to a talking heads feel. Nothing much happens because nothing much can happen here. Page 3 gets a little better. What is the motivation here, I wonder. It seems to be mainly a discussion of idea and philosophy so far. The writing is solid enough.

More background delivered via dialogue (talking heads). Nice observation at the end of page 4. Good action scene on page 6 (surprised the heck out of me). Getting interesting on the final page. Settles for a punch line of sorts. I might be interested in reading the story that continues from here, but this one just doesn’t do enough with the idea to thrill me. Not bad, not great.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF story about the dangers of alien contact. A lack of story motivation and movement, especially early hurts it.

Story 290 (3/22/2011 SF 3993 words)

Reader 1:  “This is pretty dull all the way through. The characters spend 80% of the time finding and hanging out, 10% running and 10% knowing they are going to die.” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening establishes viewpoint and motivation and genre. It’s succinct and fairly effective and drawing me to the next paragraph.

First person. Have I mentioned I’m not a fan of most first person stories? It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good first person story, but that most of the time it’s not the best viewpoint for the story I’m reading, and that gets frustrating. This one suffers the dual whammy of being first person and summary narrative. It will be difficult to generate much immediacy I suspect.

I’ll give the writer credit. We shift smoothly into an active in-scene delivery after the first page. I’m not sure the first page is needed, but it delivers background efficiently and establishes a voice. I’ll give it a chance.

Nope, sliding very quickly into clever first person voice and aimless banter. Where is the story? What is the motivation? What are they trying to achieve? What’s stopping them? A little banter after the important stuff has been established is fine, but establishing banter first makes me tune out. I’ve seen way too many of these stories that rely on a glib first person voice and jokey banter to build up word count at the expense of actual story development. (We did get a very good example of this technique this year, however. Had it not been a reprint, we likely would have bought it too). So… give it a chance, right?

End of first scene establishes a motivation. Lots of banter still. It’s hard to take the story seriously when the characters don’t. And if it’s not meant to be serious, 4000 words is too long.

An interesting (if unlikely) complication. Good. The story becomes more serious, more interesting. Of course it’s totally unbelievable, which makes me think it’s not meant to be serious. More of a romp through SF tropes. Guess we’ll see.

Lots of explanation of idea. Not much story movement. No escalation of tension to speak of. It’s all very day-in-the-life now, a tour of the surround.  Some further complication and a little escalation on page 13. It doesn’t really seem connected to anything in the prior story, but does break up the rhythm. Moves to an active climax. Again, there’s nothing connecting it to character or previous setup.

It gets deadly serious. And then it ends with a promise of more to come. Feels like a piece of a book, perhaps. It’s a simple adventure story without much depth. Not our cup of tea, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF story about the first contact. A slow start and lack of emotional/character thread hurt this.

Story 291 (3/26/2011 Fantasy 900 words)

Reader 1:  “This is a literary piece, but I’m not sure it hangs together. I felt like I was waiting to discover something interesting but it never appeared. Now, maybe I’m being dense, but I didn’t quite get it. It doesn’t help that it’s written in 2nd person. I am supposed to put in the emotional connection to [someone] and I just didn’t have it. “

Yeah, not a huge fan of second person. It has to be done exceptionally well (and be totally necessary to the story’s telling) for me to bit. The opening is nicely evocative, but a bit pretentious as a result. The second scene is strongly observed.

Good echoing of concepts. Still not a fan of the second person delivery, but the writing is quite good. End of page 2, first line page 3 are quite good.

Well, this is very good literary fiction. It’s magical telling probably places it close enough to genre for us, but the second person focuses too much of my effort on technique over story. I do appreciate having read this, the layering of myth and reality, of reverence and godhood, the return to the necklace at the end. It’s very good stuff, just not for us I’m afraid. I will send it on for another opinion and am perfectly willing to be convinced to take it should others feel strongly. It’s not likely though.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A literary tale about respect dressed as love and a necklace made magic. Well told.

Story 292 (3/27/2011 Fantasy 1750 words)

Reader 1:  “I like a lot of the writing here, but the story feels like a longer piece with chunks cut out of it. I don’t understand who the POV is and what this event means to him. The end gives me no revelation on the story. I have no idea what was at stake. This should have interested me, but I had trouble paying attention. I just wasn’t involved with the character.”

Nice, evocative opening. Establishes MC in context. The language is lively and inventive. So far so good; though I have no motive, I don’t yet feel cheated.

The bees on page 2 begins to reach. The language begins to work a little too hard to keep up its antics, rather than settling into a more concrete realm. I’m hooked, now let me get my bearings. Just a blip. The language returns to its dangerous edge of madness and mortar. First person does suit an unreliable narrator.

Nice active climax and the juxtaposition of the ordinary in the next scene works well.

This is very good. I’ll definitely send it on to the others. It is abstract, but once you realize the narrator is unreliable, it’s very well done from his perspective. I love the injured eye and the feathered cloak and the allegiance of clouds. This is another I’d like to take for the collection, provided I can convince my comrades.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A modern fantasy about ancient powers in a modern world. Reminds me a bit of Gaiman, though not quite as accessible. Very nice.

Story 293 (3/30/2011 SF 1700 words)

Reader 1:  “This story is a descriptive summary. It was very difficult to plow through and I skimmed most of it. That it appeared in a Steampunk I-phone zine does not help it. Most of it is over written prose and I don’t think most of the science is any good. The character has only this one event in his life and I’m not sure what it means. “

It is a reprint, which sets the bar higher.

First person retrospective. The writing is active, however, and pulls me along. Lost me. It’s got a hint of Victorian cadence, but lacks the flavor of the best steampunk (for me, at least). I’m laboring to make sense of some of this, though some is also quite interesting visually.  The big problem I’m having is that it’s almost entirely descriptive. I don’t feel an actual story taking shape.

And on to the end. I’m left feeling as if I’ve had an idea described to me in mildly stilted English. It’s all about mood and evocative image, and very little about story. I do think this could make an interesting adventure tale, told forward and focusing on events over description (third person would be the better choice unless the character is a bit mad or seduced, in which case first would work). Not a bad story for what it is, but what it is is not for us.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A steampunkish SF adventure. Lack of story movement and character development hurt it.

Story 294 (3/30/2011 SF 2330 words)

Reader 1:  “There isn’t any story here. The POV does no protaging. He just hangs around letting things come to him. The dream has nothing to do with the story. Characters are flat.” (plot spoilers removed)

An interesting opening image, though the writing is a little clunky (too many word repetitions primarily).  The character is not names, but I don’t actually miss that yet because the image draws my attention.

It was a dream. That’s way too common in stories we see, and seldom works. I won’t pass judgement yet, because it was vivid here and could actually have a purpose in the story. We’ll see.

Second scene begins with matter of fact scene setting. It’s pretty plain, and the writing remains a little clunky (lots of word repetition here).  It’s not good when body parts act on their own. That should be a red flag that we’re not inhabiting the character’s perspective.  The writing gets stronger as we go, but there’s no sign of story by page 4.

A lot of background. I wonder if maybe the story happened earlier. What caused it to begin (inciting incident)? What is the character’s goal? What stands in his way?

There’s some good observation here, a nice mood. It feels like novel pacing, though. There’s not much escalation, lots of everyday detail and status background. I still don’t know why THIS story begins where it does, what the stakes are, what the MC hopes to accomplish.

More explanation of how we got here (some of it pretty interesting), but little forward movement. The final scene poses an interesting dilemma, but where is the story arc? We do have some character arc here. What is the plot?

I think this could work at flash length (less than 1000 words) because it does explore a situation and evoke a mood. It’s not got enough plot to carry 2500 words though, and the real story seems to have happened before the first scene. If I were revising, I’d either cut it down to its essential human observation as flash, or rethink where I begin the story (likely on Earth just before departure). I don’t see much story where this takes place now.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A moody SF tale about duty and regret. Lack of a story arc hurts this one.

Story 295 (3/31/2011 SF 4183 words)

Reader 1:  “I am not really sure what this story was all about. Most of the story was telling, not showing. The characters were talking heads. I’m not sure what those heads were talking about most of the time. The story lacks clarity and characterization. Dude. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening sounds more intriguing than it is. A more concrete context would be welcome. The first scene is summary. What led us to this point (whatever this point is). It feels like explanation of idea rather than story.

Second scene is more background. It’s lively in places, but not story.

Story begins in third scene. Lots of dialogue explaining what they’re up to. Final line is interesting, though it seems to send us off on a tangent.

More background about another character. Interesting guy. Where’s the story?

Some good observations in next scene and a whiff (or a return to whiff) of motive. Some lively dialogue.  A few more asides. Some more explanation of idea.

Aaaand we’re off on another (related at least) topic. Some of the dialogue is hilarious (on purpose) and I do buy these guys talking it up like this. But it’s not a story. It has a few component parts but the labels are all shredded or something.

It’s pretty funny I have to admit. It’s also pretty all over the place and pretty pointless in the end (pointless stated hilariously is still pointless, right?). There may well be a market for this one, but it’s not us, I’m afraid. It could work for me if it were focused more intently on the primary viewpoint and that viewpoint had a more cohesive goal and if there was more going on that a lot of talking and thinking about past credentials. The actual writing is cool.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A gonzo SF tale about academia gone viral. Lack of a strong enough story backbone to carry the zaniness hurts.

And that’s where I’ll end it tonight. Some candidate stories this session. Forecast is for more slushy tomorrow.

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