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Archive for May 6th, 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 301 (3/22/2011 Horror 2900 words)

Reader 1:  “This story takes way too long pg 8/14 to get started. The first half is characters telling each other why they are there with “witty” dialog that goes nowhere. When [something happens], it starts getting interesting, but it falls apart after that. ” (plot spoilers removed)

I don’t like the opening, which is basically dialogue hinting at something we ought to know all about. It tries to pull me in with artificial mystery of not knowing something that turns out to be mundane anyway. Technique over story. Third paragraph is better, though still playing coy with me.

Second page is much more concrete and interesting. It’s not story, however, it’s banter. When will the story begin? The writing is lively and interesting, but there’s no actual story yet. Good, realistic dialogue.

First scene complete. No story. Day in the life. The writing is easy to read and entertaining, but going nowhere so far. Second scene opens with a possible inciting incident. Now it’s being talked into oblivion. Escalation on page 10 is good. Escalation at end of page 11 is good. The problem is that when characters are glib about it, I’m not all that concerned either. It gets graphic on page 14, which would be fine if it weren’t also trying to be glib. What is the emotional cue for this piece? Should I be laughing, cringing? Should I give a damn or not?

So basically, this is an event stretched to 3000 words. The voice is strong, the prose clear, the characters well realized (at least this one side of them). In some ways these are the most difficult stories to deal with as they display a great deal of skill and control, but very little story sense. Sometimes a strong voice can become a crutch (as can good dialogue or good action description). For us, story should focus on story, not technique. Technique in support of story is great.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An intricate SF story about delusion. An inaccessible character perspective works against it.

Story 302 (3/22/2011 Horror 996 words)

Reader 1:  “The story fell flat for me. Others may like it.” (plot spoilers removed)

Nice opening. I’m intrigued. We’re dropped into a character’s perspective and provided a sense of genre and possible inciting incident. One gets a sense of a story with more than one layer.

It is first person retrospective, but the voice remains lively so far and I don’t feel trapped in the head yet because the thoughts feel visual and immediate. It’s a difficult technique to maintain, however.

This is a nicely done flash with literary tendency (story off the page, attention to image and language over plot motion, metaphor to reveal deeper meaning). I like it personally, but I suspect there’s not enough story to satisfy the majority of our editors. I’ll pass it along.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A nice, quirky SF flash about quiet despair and redirected passion. Lack of foreground story (plot) works against it for a genre audience.

Story 303 (3/23/2011 SF 3000 words)

Reader 1:  “This is done well and is an interesting story with a good ending. It might need a bit of a trim and some editing, but it works for me. ” (plot spoilers removed)

Good, intriguing opening. Puts me into a character’s perspective, suggests a motivation and genre and goes about its business.

There’s a small dump of background that goes on just a touch too long. It’s necessary information, however, and reasonable for the MC to address it in response to the inciting incident. Trimming would simply be to get the pace up a bit.

Too many adverbs make the writing a little clunky. It remains an interesting story, with a complication on page 3. I like the way discovery is played out on the page. This is true mystery.  Technique wise, it’s getting a little dialogue heavy and the pattern of inverted speech tags (said X, suggested Y, etc) touches on a pet peeve of mine in a root canal sort of way. I’m on board, but clutching my red pen.

The conversation goes on a little too long; starts to feel flat. I do like the twist about the little girl. Darn, the story is just standing still while folks debate it. It’s a shame. Protagonists ought to DO something in stories, not just talk about the issues.

Page 11 gets interesting again. Fairly interesting ending, but I’m not happy that the ending suggests more actual action than the entire story shows. I’m tempted to request a rewrite, but we don’t have many slots left at this point and it will take some significant revision through the middle. Maybe next year.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting SF tale about lost lives. The mystery is delivered nicely, but the mid-story sags with too much discussion, too little “doing” to carry it.

Story 304 (3/23/2011 Fantasy 5000 words)

Reader 1:  “This is competent but fairly generic. There isn’t so much a conflict between two equally difficult choices in the beginning as one dangerous option, which makes the opening more predictable than it should have been.
There is also a fair bit of info-dumping disguised as dialogue. For what should be a strongly plot-driven story given its fairly generic genre foundation, a fair bit of the story happens to the protagonist.  The antagonist and many of the characters are fairly bland and one dimensional. With its fairly generic genre elements, it needed to have great characters and a compelling plot. I didn’t feel as if it did. ”

The opening delivers a character in context with motivation, yet it feels a little static, as if it exists to deliver that context rather than to pull us into the protagonist’s viewpoint. Try opening this with the second paragraph, which has movement and a character reacting to stimulus. Then work in essential background as it becomes relevant to the character.

What is the inciting incident for this story? That may be another way of asking where it should begin. It seems as if the story begins here because it’s a convenient place to begin rather than because something has happened to change the MC’s situation.

The second paragraph is a really interesting case study for me. It’s hard to describe this process precisely, but there is a big difference between reading from within character and from without. The first half of this paragraph is written from outside the character, the second half from within. Most stories require a balance of these techniques, but I’m not sure that most of us recognize the difference when we are writing. The opening part of the paragraph is descriptive and is obviously intended to create a feeling of dark foreboding. But for whom? Not the MC, who doesn’t react emotionally or even intellectually. So, basically, the intent is to create the effect within me, the reader. This is an authorial intrusion, in other words, an author not trusting her character’s experience to move me. Had I been closely identified with character and had the character reacted to this experience, I would have also. It would have become less intellectual in this moment and I would be that much closer to events. I don’t mean to pick on this story, which is competently written or better, but this paragraph struck a chord for me. I’m beginning to see in my own writing that if I worry less about the reader’s understanding and more about the character’s journey (character reacting to stimulus), less about providing information and more about providing immediacy, readers react more intensely. It’s one of those breakthrough moments in writing. Create a compelling story and character and trust the reader to react to that 🙂

Back to the story. I need to read more quickly, so here we go. I like the underlying concepts and the avatar discussion is neat, but the story hasn’t started yet. This is basically background and character development. In a novel, this pacing would be okay; in a short story it’s slow.

The conversation dips into infodump near the end. On page 6, why is this the one more time that would break her? What makes this time different from others, i.e. what has incited the story to begin tonight and not yesterday or tomorrow?

This action sequence should work well once there’s a real inciting incident for the story. It’s a good action sequence, good touch of mystery with the wolf’s waiting. Ditch the personal space, which is too technical here.  So, she’s basically rescued this first time.  The transformation scene is neat, but it doesn’t go far enough into the MC’s experience. Instead it settles for using the transformation to explain the concept.She accepts it rather easily.

This feels like the beginning of story (the wolf as inciting incident) though I would want less information delivery and more story movement (complication, physical and emotional, attempts to overcome, etc).  Father? This comes out of nowhere. It has not been set up by the story opening, thus feels like a new direction here, pulling the story arc apart rather than knitting it together.

This is an interesting world, though I’m not sure it’s quite differentiated yet from other worlds. A bit more specific detail/experience should fix that. The real problem is that the story is formed around a desire to show/explain an idea to me, rather than around the MC’s need. Her initial need is described as a need for freedom. She’s given that through the action of an outside force. Her need shifts to doing her duty for the gods. She’s given a task that requires little of her. Her need shifts to retribution. A complication is delivered that helps her avoid dealing with that directly. She’s mostly let off the hook by her father’s revelation. Did she pay a price for any of this? If so, it’s unclear.

Ultimately, I think this story is trying to be a book (actually a franchise). That’s okay, but the lack of specific focus, considerable cost to protagonist, and life-changing revelation (there is one, but it occurs early in the story, not at climax) diffuse the idea too much for a short story of this length.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An interesting fantasy world and character deliver a story about enslavement. Lack of story arc focus and somewhat passive protagonist work against it.

Story 305 (3/23/2011 SF 1800 words)

Reader 1:  “This is a good one. SF with a fantasy type feel and good writing.” (plot spoilers removed)

The title is certainly intriguing. The opening plops us into mid-action, in a decidedly odd context (but very concrete details). There is a whiff of withholding here, but I forgive it because the MC’s thought process feels natural even if I’m not getting the key piece of her motivation.

It’s an interesting experience being immersed in this MC (first person present tense). The passionate subjectivity of her perspective carries the narrative, which is why it works here.  I do have a quibble with “change the world” on page 2. In such close proximity with multiple worlds, it confuses me. Save THIS world? It diffuses the larger concept for me.

Some very nice philosophy couched in the context of reacting to the stimulus of meeting a local. Good. It doesn’t devolve into dialogue explaining the idea; it doesn’t dwell on meaning, but merely states the MC’s thinking and moves on with story event.

I do note a few tense confusion issues. Not enough to stop me.  A short paragraph on page 5 explains the core idea very clearly and concisely. It feels like the MC’s reaction to stimulus from the prior paragraph that set her thinking along such lines. Nice. So many of the stories we see labor so hard to get explanation of idea into the prose, usually devoting a page or more to it. This one lays it bare and moves on. Figure it out if I care to. And I do.

Some great lines sprinkled casually. Can’t begin to measure the distance indeed.

The ending feels rushes. I want a slightly more developed climax and anti-climax. It’s a little too pat at the very end. Still, this is different and strongly written and I do hope we can take it with a bit of revision. I’ll pass it on.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 An SF tale about repentance. A rushed ending takes away from a well realized story arc and character.

Story 306 (3/24/2011 SF 5500 words)

Reader 1:  “I stopped 1/4 of the way through this story. I’m pretty lost by this point and the story doesn’t seem to going in a particular direction.” (plot spoilers removed)

When I saw this title and this word count, my immediate response was a groan. I’ll bet this is another story trying to carry me with glib first person voice and bouts of humor so intense I’ll have to wash my ears afterward just to cleanse them for the next story. Am I right? Let’s see.

Nope. I’m happy to report it’s third person and not glib at all. We’re placed into a character’s perspective with context and a hint of genre.  It is, however, a person waking. This is usually a sign the story is not ready to begin.

What’s a light bringer? I’m not getting a sense of the surround, no specific details, lots of implied description (the rec area the kitchen the ceiling the portal the middle of the room). It’s a fine are deciding how much detail to present and which ones. Here, I need something to establish the basic environment (a cruise ship? a luxury liner? a Belvedere class troop transport) then a few specific details as we move through scene to make the elements unique rather than generic. The kitchen is this nebulous place in my head, maybe with some herbs hanging from the ceiling, the portal is round, etc.) It’s okay to let me invent details that do not contradict important details that come later, but it’s best to establish something specific in any scene I’m a part of just to keep me from populating it with raccoons or something).

It’s an interesting opening scene, a little too sparse to get my full attention, but my main concern is that the MC doesn’t react to this in a natural way. He says his lines, but doesn’t think, doesn’t feel. Consequently, while I recognize this could be a neat inciting incident for a story, I don’t know why it’s happening or why I should care that it is.

Second scene adds an intriguing item to the mix. It’s not complication because I don’t know what it’s complicating yet. The MC has not reacted beyond cursing (why?)

Interestingly, the stuff that matters to me (why this is happening, what the goal is, etc) is done off the page, leaving us to watch actions on the page. Some good detail on page 15.

This is pretty interesting, actually. I like the sparse writing (just a touch more specific detail, please) and the matter of fact details of crew interaction and daily life. It’s unfortunate that I don’t really care. I haven’t attached to the MC, which leaves me reading this out of duty rather than compulsion. I recognize the cool stuff, but am content to skim.

A nice attempt to engage my emotions on page 25, but it feels flat. The character has basically one memory, one emotional nexus, and this doesn’t really escalate what we saw in the opening lines. The woman’s presence does complicate that nicely, but I don’t really feel for the MC all that much.

There’s a story taking place here; it’s just not the focus of the prose, really. We have this mysterious thing going on and the MC just kind of watches it play out; we have this emotional complication and the MC just sort of goes with it. If only this had focused on these issues rather than the everyday, I might well be a fan.

It goes somewhere kind of weird. Weirdly familiar, actually. Variations of this idea have been done; how is this one different other than in how we got here?

One of the more unusual experiences I’ve had reading slush. I really want to like this for its style and the world it implies. I want to like this character, who seems eminently noble and likable. But I never connected with him. The ingredient missing for me is a motivated character driving the story action. With that, I think I would like this, probably even the ending (which depends completely on my emotional connection to the MC).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF tale about confronting the darkness within us. The lack of a motivated protagonist hurts this one.

Story 307 (3/24/2011 SF 1900 words)

Reader 1:  “This is sort of a pulp story used to give the author’s hypothesis about why [something is the way it is]. I don’t think there’s any science basis for the idea. There are no real characters in this story, just talking heads discussing the hypothesis until they get into a gun fight at the end. ” (plot spoilers mostly removed – couldn’t resist a good gun fight)

Those of you who know me know that I love a good pun. Thus you would suspect I’d fall in love with this story simply by reading its title. Nah. Puns are great in their place and their place is generally not in the title of your short story unless it’s a pun story, of course, in which case we’re almost certainly not interested.

The story opens in mid-action, but from a distant vantage. I get the sense of characters playing their parts. I’ll give credit for brevity as the characters launch right into the meat of the matter. I have no identification with any of these people, thus am left hovering in a corner listening to the idea they discuss. I could be reading this in a nonfiction book, right?

The action scene is pretty well observed, I will say. It’s just that I don’t actually care about these folks yet. The quip about the vase brought a smile.

Final scene takes me to a fictional experience. Now I’m interested. But it’s just a punch line in the end.

This has an Analog feel to it, though I doubt Stan would buy into the premise. There’s not enough story or character arc for us, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF idea rendered dramatic. The lack of story complication and character arc weaken it for us.

Story 308 (3/24/2011 SF 3300 words)

Reader 1:  “This is  written well and is interesting, but the ending falls apart a bit. I think it needs some work, but I think it’s probably worth working through.” (plot spoilers removed)

Not a fan of this opening, but I suspect it achieves its purpose so I won’t complain (yet). It does play well with the title.

Nicely observed opening to second scene. First person working okay so far. So far the story is utilizing the strength of first person (direct conduit into perspective) without losing much immediacy (the thoughts are active and feel immediate). It can be tough to maintain this, however. Shall we see?

Some nice drollity here and there. Good mix of light and dark. First person works well. It’s her subjective view of the world and secondary character that make this come alive. That’s the strength (and the weakness) of first person.

Loving the voice and the disjointed experience (abstract then concrete). I do have an issue with distortion. I need an exemplar, probably when we see the first guy. I don’t know how to picture these distorted things, which turns them generic in my generic lil’ imagination (like Road Runner heat waves or Foghorn Leghorn’s head vibrating under Chicken Hawk’s pound). You really don’t want me making this up.

I’m not a fan of the inter-scene on page 7-8. It slips over into intentional withholding for my money.

The explanation of distortion on page 8 comes too late, nor does it alleviate my confusion fully. It seems like a word description rather than an experience. Page 9 tells me it can’t be described. Well, yes it can, at least within the subjective experience of the MC. This shift from close connection to her (where she would not have to “tell” me anything) to greater distance seems done in order to avoid the difficult (and therefore worthy)  job of this description.

The story has stalled out now, explaining the concept again and again in similar terms. The ending, while intriguing, seems mainly a way out of the story. The story carries too many words for this simple inversion to be enough. If I were revising, I would concentrate on creating story arc through the middle, characters attempting rather than watching and discussing, characters failing rather than simply observing, a climax that comes with a high price. I think it’s going to take more work than I’m comfortable suggesting for a rewrite at this point in the game. It’s a really interesting idea handled in interesting ways for the most part, with great prose, but it’s missing a crucial part of its story and character arc.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A bold SF idea handled elegantly. Lack of story movement through the middle and a simplistic ending weaken it.

Story 309 (3/24/2011 Horror 2000 words)

Reader 1:  “The story works pretty well, but sags a bit in the middle because of an info dump. I think if it was tightened, it would work.” (plot spoilers removed)

Not fond of the title. Opens with dialogue. This certainly puts us mid-scene, but at the expense of context. I’m not sure it’s the best trade off here.

Definitely open with the second paragraph (the second sentence there). That hooks my eyeballs and also provides a vague context and genre. The paragraph itself detracts me from the immediacy that the opening dialogue creates (which is the only good thing about opening with dialogue).

Interesting at end of page 2. It took a little too long to get there. The dialogue was lively and natural, but nearly verged into banger. We want to get the story moving.  I like the character background at top of page 3. I’m getting a bizarre context, which keeps me going. MC is not withholding, but revealing her thoughts in a way that is intriguing.

This background gets a little sluggish. I like it a lot, but it feels like a chunk. Think about breaking it up with some of the earlier banter that slowed that part of the story. Here, it will break up the stagnant dialogue and actually work to speed up the experience. Strange how that works, ain’t it?

By page 5, this is getting laborious. I understand enough for context, give me the story. Complication on page 7 is good. It will be sharper if it’s not following quite so much repetitious dialogue. This story is short, but no reason it can’t be a little shorter.

The scene starting on page 8 skips over too much.

This is a neat idea that needs some structural tweaking. It’s simple enough that it shouldn’t take too much. Since this person purchased a critique I’ll take the rest of this offline, but it’s just possible we’ll be seeing this one in the collection, provided I get may act together in the coming week and do the critiques I owe folks.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A very quirky dark fantasy with an engaging viewpoint. Some sluggishness and an uneven ending work against it.

Story 310 (3/24/2011 SF 6900 words)

Reader 1:  “At 6,900 words, this needed to be a very good story. It wasn’t. The opening paragraph doesn’t give us clarity about what is happening and what the emotional stakes are in the story (which I find especially annoying in 1st person, where it’s easiest to give information). By the end of the 1st scene, I still don’t really know what is happening. Clarity is poor throughout the story. While there are some interesting elements to the world building, the story is confusing for too long. The context of the story doesn’t become totally clear until page 6 and the need for the protagonist to make a decision doesn’t happen until page 7. I had pretty much switched off by page eight. While the writing isn’t bad, it doesn’t have the depth to support this kind of story. ”

Well, I doubt I’ll be able to top that analysis, so I’ll settle for reading through quickly. At 6900 words it would have to be really compelling to make the cut in any case.

Opens with first person and intentional withholding of detail. I suspect the author is trying to drop us into the middle of a scene, which is certainly a good impulse. The problem is that we don’t get any context for that scene in the process of the opening lines. We don’t hear what he’s reacting to until three paragraphs later; we don’t see where we are or when we are or why we’re there. We get a false mystery repeated a couple of times essentially. It doesn’t make me want to read on.

Second scene is background. The story seems intent on telling me stuff, only not the stuff I want to know. It’s the right impulse to avoid telling me just to tell me. The key is to find a situation/stimulus that makes the character need/want what will enable me to become established in the scene/world with him. Sometimes that requires a little “outside the head” distance (which first person makes very difficult). Here, I don’t know, because I don’t really know what motivates the character.

Some nice language on page 5. I still don’t know what the motivation is or why the story starts where it does.  A bad sign is that I’ve been thinking of the MC as male until this point, even though the opening scene should have explicitly set me straight. Was I not paying attention, or did the scene fail to make me pay attention?

There’s a twist. Good. I hesitate to call it complication, however, because I don’t know what it’s complicating? What is the MC’s goal in this story? What does she want/need? Why is this twist making it more difficult?

On page 10-11 we get story movement. MC is attempting to respond to stimulus presented in opening scene. Had we had more context then, I might have been less lost to this point. MC hasn’t seemed particularly motivated until now.

“Come, I’ll tell you everything.” My stomach tenses when I read that in the middle of a story. I won’t call it a false alarm, but it’s done pretty well. Feels pretty close to a natural conversation and goes beyond “just the facts”. Stomach relaxes 🙂

Overall, this isn’t a bad story. It moves forward, has an emotional component and a decent balance of dialogue and action. I read pretty quickly, but I didn’t get the sense that this idea was deep enough to carry 7000 words. At its core it’s a fairly simple concept and a fairly stark choice (which the MC has probably made before the story began).  It’s not something I’d fight hard to get into the anthology, even streamlined, but it’s not something I’d be embarrassed to have either.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF story about love and duty. An overlong treatment and some repetition of idea works against it.

Story 311 (3/25/2011 Other ? words)

Reader 1:  “This seems to be some sort of experimental technique. It reads like an outline. It’s too mainstream for me, I think. It’s just day to day observations. I guess he’s being clever, but it didn’t interest me. ”

Well this is an interesting metaphor. I like the concept and some of the execution, but by and large it feels more like a riff than a scalpel. It seems to be stabbing at all the arms of the octopus at once, hoping one or two forks will stick. Sharpened and focused more tightly on a particular event or person, I think this will work very well. As it stands, I can’t decide whether it’s about the Middle East, Cuba, Latin America? To answer all three is to dull the blade.

Points for the attempt, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work for me.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A social commentary on the price of coup. The story is weakened by a too-fuzzy focus.

Story 312 (3/25/2011 Horror 3800 words)

Reader 1:  “This is an Outer Limits type of story, but it reads way too long for the idea.” (plot spoilers removed)

Opens with dialogue. There’s a judge, but no other context. 1940? 1980? 2320? Packed courtroom? That’s the trouble with dialogue. It gains immediacy at the expense of context. Sometimes that’s a good tradeoff. Not here.

Second paragraph places us either in omniscient viewpoint. This keeps me from identifying with a specific character but allows glimpses into any of them. Is that what the story needs? Let’s find out.

On page 2, we seep into the MC’s viewpoint. Will we stay there? Why didn’t we start there? What is his motivation? I’d say we have an inciting incident, but it’s unfolding very slowly. The story seems to start at the end of page 3. The prior pages could be reduced to a paragraph or two without harming the story’s progress so far.

Okay, I’m confused as to why this guy’s services make any sense and why this story should matter to me. What is the MC’s motivation? What stands in his way? Is this new guy the inciting incident (the event that starts the story) or a complication (an event that complicates the MC’s attempt to do something)?  I don’t buy the premise. The guy was acquitted.

We get a couple pages of chit-chat and day-in-the-life observations. It’s not bad writing, but the story is stalled. Next scene offers comeuppance. It’s too simple.

The final scene is anti-climax (the part of the story that shows the new world after climax has shattered the old one). It’s about a quarter of the story, way too long.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A Twilight Zone tale about buyer’s remorse. A lack of character development and a too-simple plot work against this.

Story 313 (3/25/2011 SF 2300 words)

Reader 1:  “There is a piece of a good idea here, which is stated in the author’s letter. The trouble is, this isn’t a story. It’s mainly an 8 page description of the idea. The character remains the same. Nothing happens. On the logic side, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the people to possess the characteristics that they have, other than the author wanted them to be strange.”

First line catches my attention. Second line loses it. I have no idea where I am, when I am or why I’m here. Lack of context does not equate to mystery, but frustration.

Third paragraph is a lot stronger. Nice specific details, a hint of genre. Still no motivation, but I can wait a little longer for that.

Interesting metaphor with the basement thing.  Then, huh? For as little context (setting, character) as I have, there’s sure a lot of explanation of concept. I know what the story’s idea is, the background for it, etc., but I have no idea who the character is, what he wants/needs, or why I should care. I know the name of the city and the general appearance of houses, but very little specific about this house. I’m so not in scene.

Some good language skills on display, some intriguing images and a sense there could be a deeper level of meaning (I don’t think it’s actually here, but it sounds like it could be ).  We shift to another topic.

That’s it? My basic reaction is that reading this felt like watching chess masters play checkers. There’s a ton of potential in these ideas, but very little is actually done with them. Find a story (character in need who overcomes obstacles, pays a price, gets what he needs, maybe not what he wants, and creates a new future) that deserves this idea and you should be set. This one feels like it’s missing a basement.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A basic story crafted around an intriguing SF/Fantasy concept that could be quite ambitious. Lack of character development and sufficient story arc hurt this.

Story 314 (3/26/2011  3005 words)

A smooth, effective opening. Summary narrative, but it works as an efficient introduction to the world. No character or motive or genre yet.

It’s an interesting, if somewhat leisurely opening scene. There’s no genre yet and motive isn’t established until the final line, but the writing is strong enough to carry me this far.

Viewpoint shift in second scene loses me a bit. It’s such a short story. Does it need multiple viewpoints?

Very nice complication. This is not genre, but there’s a hint that it could be, enough to keep me going. Clever retelling of fairy tale, but it goes beyond that to a story of its own, which is good.

Yes, this works. It does move into genre territory by the end and leaves us with a character getting his desserts. No, I don’t think both viewpoints are needed. Sticking to the craftsman’s POV should work best here. This is his story.

I’ll pass this on. It’s borderline, I think, but I do like it.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A solid fairy tale retelling.  The multiple viewpoint diffuses the telling a bit.

Story 315 (3/26/2011 Horror 4137 words)

This opens with unattributed dialogue and follows that with more dialogue attributed to an unnamed character. I’m tempted to stop right here.

It gets better for a page or so, though I have no idea whose viewpoint this is. They’re equally weighted. Then the conversation moves into talking heads, with folks telling each other stuff they know for my benefit.

They’re not in the MC’s kitchen? Could have fooled me. This is why it’s important to establish a general context early in the story.

We move to another conversation in which people tell each other stuff they already know for my benefit. I know whose viewpoint this is, because she is also in the second conversation.

Next scene is more firmly in character. Much better. I still don’t know why the story is happening now and not yesterday or tomorrow or what the MC actually wants/needs, so it’s not really a story yet.  On page 6 we get a reference to the story title. This could be a sign the story is about to begin.

This is taking way too long to get to the point. And way too much dialogue. It’s usually decent dialogue (when characters are talking to each other an not me), but it overbalances everything else.

On page 11, the concept is explained to me. An interesting development on page 14. It ends with an intriguing little twist. The problem is that the idea is maybe enough to support 1000 words as currently written. We basically have a setup and reveal and nothing else. The more interesting story would begin where this one ends, I suspect. There’s a lot of discussing and telling in the current version but very little experiencing, wanting, attempting, etc.  The masks remind be rather a lot of classic Twilight Zone, so some further development of them may be required.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting idea conveyed mainly via dialogue. Over reliance on dialogue, a lack of character development, and sparse story arc hurt this one.

Story 316 (3/26/2011 SF 4580 words)

The opening establishes a setting, but I’m confused by the motive. The adversary is a building? If so, this works well. If not, I’m confused.

Second paragraph loses my interest. I’m interested in story, not philosophy. You can interest me in philosophy through my identification with character, but you need to earn that first. This is first person, so one can suppose this philosophy is his/hers, but it comes across at this point as Author speaking through a mouthpiece.

I’ll give points for an interesting viewpoint and subtract them for intentional obscurity in the prose. I don’t mind working for something worth working for, but working this hard just to figure out where I am and why is too much investment. You haven’t earned that from me yet. Concrete language and detail here will set off the strangeness.

Clever, but I wouldn’t have made it this far I’m afraid. We see too many stories with pretentious prose that don’t know they’re being pretentious to easily recognize one that does. You’re going to need to shorten and sharpen the opening and get to this phone call sooner.

This is a hoot. Once I “got it” this became a joy to read.  But I’m odd that way and I doubt most of our audience will react the same way.

Ironically, I’m losing interest once this becomes “real” on page 13. I rather enjoyed thinking the MC off her rocker. The flea bombs pushes it too close to real and I lose that layer of appreciation. It’s still an inspired lunacy, but not quite as deft.

I suspect this will have to be restructured to keep an editor reading long enough to get tot he juicy bits, but it’s not too far from being really good. I would keep it ambiguous myself, but there’s danger in going that way too, so who knows?

I’ll pass this along, but I don’t have high hopes. We’re a pretty literal bunch and this one seems to think the mind is a sandbox.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An inspired lunacy about alien invasion and overprotective mothers. A too-opaque opening hurts it.

Story 317 (3/27/2011 SF 4700 words)

The story opens with dialogue. We get minimal context, a sense of genre and a character. I’m not hooked. Terrarium?

We’re getting background and some character development. Why does the story start here? What does the MC want/need? An interesting tech device, but no story yet.

Scene 2 provides background for a secondary character’s story.  Third scene starts us off on a tangent. I still don’t know why this is the MC’s story or what he hopes to achieve or why it matters.

Some more background. It’s an interesting world here, but I’m not compelled to read. There’s no sense of story. We get an event on page 16 that shakes things up, but I don’t know why it matters in story terms. What does it complicate? What does it force the viewpoint to choose?

The next client forces MC to run. No real choice. No character change. It is active, however. Interesting twist here. I wish I were more invested. I like how this ends, but has the MC actually changed his perspective? I dunno. This seems kind of like reading about a world and a philosophy rather than experiencing a story. Some very good writing along the way, mind you, but not enough story or character arc for me.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF story about the price of productivity. Lack of a strong story and character arc hurt this.

Story 318 (3/27/2011 SF 4969 words)

Yet another story that opens with unattributed dialogue. Hanging in space, waiting for context.

Second paragraph is better, though I still have no larger context. I have a character and one specific item. Third paragraph develops the character. I still have no stage to place him on.

So far it relies on intentional withholding to create (false) mystery. The concrete detail of the liquid does help, however. This speaking in dire edicts over something the MC knows more about than he’s saying/thinking gets old quickly.

The scene ends on a high note of withholding. The paragraph of background prior to this is mostly helpful in establishing some context, but I can’t get past this frustrating “it” they’re talking about without talking about.

Viewpoint shifts. Why? Why not start with this one since nothing much was done with the previous one? The context is much better here. Good description, solid details, good character development. More withholding.

The scene that ends on page 7 ends well. Consider, however, exactly how little story movement we’ve had in 7 pages. We still haven’t moved past the “it” on page 1.

Another viewpoint? Dude. Ah, a page later I learn it’s not a new viewpoint. That seems… problematic.  Halfway through the story, we’re about to learn what “it” is. Two and a half pages of explanation.

The writing is solid here. The story is mostly lacking. There’s a good idea, a good setup, yet the story seems structure to mostly avoid actually showing the story development, settling for summary of dramatic action and set piece conversation to explain concepts. For example, rather than focusing on the forced mystery of “it” early in the story, we could have focused on the real tensions between the parties involved, the real difficulty of deciding to reach out, etc. Then this part of the story would have been set up.

Who’s Paul?

The end scene is taking way too long. Where was the story climax? What forced the MC to change? What price paid? There’s plenty of material here for an even longer story, but it’s not shaped into story at present. There is some real potential here, however.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF story about politics and people. An incomplete  story skeleton hurts it.

Story 319 (3/27/2011 Horror 3520 words)

Another story that opens with dialogue. This one presents a character but no context. Second paragraph is overloaded with detail. I have that problems sometimes in my own writing. If one specific detail is good, three must be better, right? Not really. One really sharp specific detail will usually do the trick if it’s the right one.

What is a white glimmering? Don’t be coy, be precise. It’s interesting how we can present all sorts of specific detail except the ones that actually matter. These we withhold in an (unconscious?) attempt to create mystery. Here we have blood loss and cuts, but no indication of their connection (why the cuts? where did the blood go? We don’t see any). If she’s a cutter, say so. We’re in her head, right? She may not call herself a cutter, but she surely knows what she does and perhaps why she does it or how it feels. Something to put us inside her experience rather than outside hearing hints.

There’s some nice introspection and observation on page 3-4. The problem is that we haven’t advanced past the story setup at this point. We’re still on the same issue and, frankly, the MC is seeming pretty dense at this point. She’s already recognized the guy for what he is, now she’s wondering what he is? She’s wondering how he can give her what he says he will? It ought to be obvious (until she convinces herself he can’t be what she pegged him as).

Second scene ends pretty much in the same place we started. There’s a bit of escalation right at the end.

Nice image of the pillow in next scene.  Now we seem to be making up for lost time, spinning through plot points one after another with barely a second glance.

This is an interesting concept, but the setup is a little too pat I think. It might be good to parallel her situation with the store’s for example (discounting/cutting vs download/biting). It needs another layer. The ending is too easy, a direct result of the setup. Where’s her struggle (we see glimpses of her running, but not the inner turmoil of her choice)? Where’s the climax? (it’s  simple conversation right now, easily navigated, little tension). Where’s the character change? (we need to better understand her initial need in order to appreciate her overcoming it).

This is worth working through, but it needs to be much more intensely realized and the issues deepened and complicated.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting twist on a standard horror trope. A slow opening and insufficient character development hurt this.

Story 320 (3/27/2011 SF 626 words)

It’s pretty audacious to name a story after one of the most awarded novels (which was based on a prior short story) of our time. You’re setting the bar awfully high when you do that.

The opening is provocative, but doesn’t really do much for me (jaded sf reader that I have become). Second sentence is overwrought (wrinkled or pruned, not both).

Starts off pretty “typical”, but gets better on page 2.

Have another look at that final sentence; makes her sound like a soft drink machine.

This isn’t bad, but it’s just not all that new. There are some good moments (worthy of flash) and some moments that distance me too much (look for “had” as a signal for these). Definitely change the title, but this could be worth sharpening and sending out.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF flash about beingness. A weak opening sentence and unfortunate final image work against it.

Story 321 (3/27/2011 Horror 1935 words)

The first paragraph totally confuses me. Who’s Jonathan? Who’s the boy? They’re loading fruit in a funeral parlor? Precision, especially in the initial scene setting is important.  Some strong prose in the next paragraph. By page 2 I’m at sea.

Why not start with the concept on page 4 and move forward from there? It’s interesting. Or maybe not. Now we’re delving into explanation of idea. No real story arc here. Some very nice observational writing. I don’t want to forget to mention that. Story is the issue here. Now we’re getting background.

Resonant final line and nice last images. Still, no story here. It’s a great idea. The character seems nice enough too. Now we need a story arc to carry them.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A dark fantasy about unfinished business. Lack of story and character arc hurt this one.

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