Archive for May 8th, 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 322 (3/28/2011  Fantasy 2982 words)

Nice title. The opening intrigues. It verges on being too inaccessible for me, but I’m on board for now. This issue had best become clear soon though.

Second scene is more concrete and adds a little context. I’m not going to be a fan of this story if all that comes of it is a reveal, but it’s fine if the reveal is part of a larger story arc. The prose is excellent so far.

The story is developing leisurely, but each scene is concise and precise. It’s working for me so far.

The scene that begins on page 3 is too obscure. This story works as long as the picture continues to clarify and gain substance. I don’t want to stay in the dream forever. So, rather than mystifying this climb, make it concrete. Identify “the man” immediately, clearly state what “it” is that we’ve been talking around so far. Who does he look like? What is he curious about? I don’t need an infodump, just some terms actually spoken rather than implied. Bring me toward consciousness, make that an escalation. What stories frighten him? Why are they coming here? The Walrus works for me, but only if I’m beginning to feel comfortable that I know what’s going on (it becomes a note of mystery injected to remind me that I don’t know everything after all).

I like this dark place and the song tablets. Can he glimpse a few specifics? We should be moving toward clarity here. Describe the Fabulous Four (in thumbnail) to either confirm or deny that they are the Beatles. The writing is fabulous throughout the story, but the author needs to get out of the mindset that false mystery is what pulls us through a story. It’s not. Atmosphere is good, true mystery is good, but it’s concrete details that make a scene real rather than mushy. To look at the Fabulous Four and not see them is false mystery; to know what you are to become and not think it directly is false mystery; to speak of Him without any comprehension of what that suggests to the viewpoint character is false mystery. A reveal is not enough for most stories longer than flash length.

And that’s what we’re left with here. A slow fuse to an interesting reveal, then a whirlwind of story arc we do not see on page. What if the scene that begins on page 8 were placed early in the story (say the second scene for N?) By revealing this information directly, you would hook us. We would know why the boy was chosen who he resembles (though we will confuse ourselves over who that who is until later). Ideally we will care about the boy, not the concept, and tension will derive from his attempts to understand and overcome/accept, not our confusion.

There’s no climax on page, and the rising tension gets lost amid the slow reveal.  This story can be truly fabulous, but it will need to return to story basics. Instead of focusing completely on hiding the secret, build a story around revealing it through the MC’s struggle (to accept his fate; to leave his home; to grow into a destiny he recognizes but does not feel).  This final scene can be tremendous, but is not earned here. It comes off as an explanation of concept rather than an epiphany earned by the MC.

I will pass this on, but I’m not hopeful despite excellent writing and a killer idea. I wouldn’t mind seeing what the author could do in revision, but it’s really more work than I should suggest for a rewrite, so I’ll leave it at that. We’ll see what the others think, for now.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A fantasy about the continuing power of myth. Minimal character journey and over reliance on false mystery hurt it.

Story 323 (3/28/2011  SF 688 words)

The opening is vague and addresses me, which is a technique I often find difficult to read. It’s flash, though, so the rules are a bit different.  First person present tense. Present tense enhances immediacy; first person muffles it.

We move into background. For such a short story this is a red flag. If the interesting story happened in the past, why not start it there?

I’m not quite sure what’s going on. Details are vague in favor of atmosphere. What details we do get in passing seem pretty interesting, but there’s no sense of story arc.

On page 3 we have an inciting incident (remembered). Good launch point for a story. No so good for the 3/4 point of a flash.

The ending is resonant. Had I understood the situation better it might work more strongly for me. Instead I feel as if I’ve read a moment stretched thin rather than experiencing a story packed tight. Maybe open with the inciting incident then flash forward to this scene? That could provide an opportunity to have the woman on page and build some compassion for her. Hard to say if that will work better, but it should in theory.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF flash about loss and hope. An opaque situation and minimal foreground story arc hurt this.

Story 324 (3/28/2011  SF 4606 words)

This opens with a static panorama. This technique is more suited to novels than short stories, but it does present a character in a situation and hint at genre, so it’s not bad.

I wonder why he’s come here. What motivates him? I’m willing to wait a little longer, but not a lot. Page 2 confuses me. There’s no reply, followed immediately by a reply?

At the end of page 2 we get a small infodump explaining motivation and background. The tech is very interesting; I’m not that sold on the character yet.This seems like a day in the life at this point, a tour of the world rather than a story. We’ll see.

It bothers me that he doesn’t see what he’s working on. He doesn’t see what he’s doing. It’s in the head, not in-scene. The larger problem, though, is lack of story movement. That and the confusing setting. He’s in space, not the valley that was so carefully showed to us initially? You’ve lost me big time with that.

Now we get background through a tribal story. It explains the situation. I’d much rather live the story. Next scene explains character background.  Next scene. Are we actually in the valley this time? More character background. Some possible story movement, though I’m not sure what it complicates. More character background in the next scene (to it’s credit, it’s played against an actual foreground scene with naturalistic dialogue). How is the story moving forward though? This is a new issue.

More story background. Sounds like the interesting stuff happened in the past. Why not start there instead?

Possible inciting incident on page 10. It could be a complication, but I don’t understand the character’s motivation, so there’s nothing to complicate. In other words, the story probably ought to begin here and move forward, working in hints of background as the character requires them in coping with the actual story events.

Back to the past via flashback.  This could work except that I don’t understand the MC’s motivation in that thread either. It’s motivated character that drives story; the interesting world building and neat ideas are window dressing (usually).

Appropriate ending for the story that wants to be told here. As it stands, the ending is flat because we lack a compelling identification with the character. If I were revising, I’d return to story principles. There’s a solid idea here, two potential threads (plot and emotion) a likable if somewhat familiar character. Now craft a story that makes use of these elements. Motivated character wants/needs something. Obstacles stand in his way (creating escalating tension) until he cannot cling to the status quo and must choose (at a high price) to change his life forever.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF story about the need to transcend. A lack of clarity, especially regarding what is real and what is not, and a weak story arc hurt this one.

Story 325 (3/28/2011  1500 words)

The story begins with unattributed dialogue. Imagine me floating in a dark space looking a bit bored. That’s where I am (after reading so many stories that use this technique).  Who’s speaking? Where are we? Why are we here? I don’t want the false mystery of not knowing the obvious, but the true mystery of trying to understand the mysterious along with the viewpoint character. Unnamed characters. Not good.

By the end of page 1 we have a context, but I’m still not sure whose viewpoint will be important. Who should I invest my emotions in? Whose experience will prove important to my experience?

Omniscient viewpoint is handled fine, but it’s doing nothing to pull me into the story. I can’t really identify with either character as neither seems particularly motivated to do anything. We have a conversation about an important day, a mention of something dire (without, of course, letting me in on what it was because that would spoil the sense of mystery; never mind that both characters know what they’re talking about and I have access to both of their viewpoints). Sorry if I sound like I’m ranting. It’s the old end of slush grumpiness setting in. Apologies to the author here.

Please notice how little specific detail there is in the story. You can sharpen my experience greatly by showing specific rather than generic details (ideally the just right specific detail that characterizes the scene or person). We have an amorphous mob of villagers, a tight dress, a young body, pure beauty, the one she loves, a strong jaw, a powerful build. Who’s Milen? We have a herd of swarthy men on horses.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but they’re missed opportunities to make the scene real to me. When I read a generic detail (one that could apply to a group of objects or people) I see a nondescript placeholder in my head. When a sharp, specific detail (a detail that belongs ONLY to that object or character) I invent a much more detailed picture and the scene starts to become real.

I like that a complication changes things radically. It’s a fairly generic complication, but I do feel connected to the MC now. I suspect the story should have started and stayed in her viewpoint to forge this connection earlier.

It’s an interesting (if improbable) action that ends this. The story is too short for what it attempts to do here. We need more of a connection to this character in order to really feel her pain in the end. We have a slow opening scene which does not connect us to her, a slam-bang action complication scene which is over almost before it starts (and note that this happens to the protagonist, not because of her actions), then a more balanced scene in which we start to connect with her, followed by the resolution where she makes a hopeless gesture. She doesn’t strive to overcome anything, just gives up. A classic passive protagonist, I’m afraid.

I do like that final action. It will make a fine, resonant ending to a longer story that builds a more active protagonist and explores her relationships more fully before this complication.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A fantasy about hope destroyed, a gesture of love. Lack of character identification early on and a passive protagonist hurt this one.

Story 326 (3/28/2011  SF 1400 words)

The opening establishes a character in context, with motivation. The problem I have is that this is a very familiar story idea. We’ll see if it does something new with it.

It’s pretty good. The writing is efficient and the story pushes the concept to literal absurdity, which is good.  Unfortunately, it’s not really the kind of story we generally take.  We would prefer the story to be told in scene with greater character depth. I did enjoy the read.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A humorous SF story about obsession. It’s a little long for its payoff, but pretty good overall.

Story 327 (3/28/2011 Fantasy 4100 words)

This is well written and drops me into context, but the context is so alien I’m not really looking forward to 4000 words of it.

Really strong observational prose and a good progression from alien to more accessible scenes. I’m not feeling a compulsion here, however. It’s more a tour of idea in a sense than actual story. It’s interesting enough that I’m still with it for now, but not feeling the tide of it pushing me on. I fear it may become a reveal story.

The situation does escalate. The protagonist is essentially passive here, which could be part of my unwillingness to fully engage. It’s pretty, but is it meaningful? Time will tell.

Well I’m halfway through and the concept wears thin. I’m aching for story at this point. It’s clever and brilliant and well realized, but it’s really not story. Nor did the title promise it would be. As we favor story over technique I don’t think it’s going to fit the collection. Skimming to the end.

It’s an interesting life cycle and very well observed. It went on too long for me, without sufficient escalation. I do admire the ambition of the piece however.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 An epic fantasy of life and death and beauty shattered. The alien perspective makes it difficult to fully identify and the conceit wears thin after a time.

Story 328 (3/28/2011 Fantasy 4700 words)

This one is a rewrite. It’s been long enough that I’ll try to read it fresh.

I like the opening. Third paragraph needs a cleaner transition into scene. We’ve been in summary mode until now; this is where it gets real. Give me something real and immediate to focus on. Let me set my feet down.

Same with the transition out of scene. If we’re stepping back, give me a bridge to the distant perch. In this case, what I need is a sense that that note does end, that night does stop, so that my palate is cleansed for the next course.

This has strong moments and flabby moments. At times I identify so tightly with the MC it feels real, then I’m floating out in the everywhere hearing philosophy – it works but at the cost of my investment in scene.

It’s taking too long to get to Virgil’s. As often happens in revision, I’m seeing new flaws that come into view once the old ones are fixed. We have a more immediate opening scene, a cleaner connection to character, a sense that he can play, not just think about it. But that makes certain passages less relevant to the story. We don’t need all the internalized glories to carry his story onward. What we need is obstacle (opportunity in this case) and a setup for the ending, which remains a bit weak in this version.

Well, it’s not there yet, I’m afraid. This is an intricate idea.  The elements are here, but not yet fully connected. The editor in me wants to sit down with this story and smudge bits around, but I just don’t have time (nor would the author necessarily appreciate it).  One thing I would suggest is thinking more deeply about the idea of the MC’s feeling of responsibility in holding the (glass) world together in that opening scene with the girl. I like what’s done here, but it doesn’t quite jive with the later theme of connecting (holding) things together, which ties in with that end line. If he focuses on the girl verging on coming apart rather than being crushed, the whole world coming apart and all that keeps it intact is that note, then I think the pieces are more tightly woven together. The middle section needs some trimming. Lose a few of the lines you love to keep the plot line moving. This story, as currently conceived, should probably be around 3500-3800 words.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 An interesting end of the world story. A bit of sag in the middle and not-quite-connectedness hurt it.

Story 329 (3/28/2011 SF ?? words)

The story begins with unattributed dialogue.

The next paragraph puts me into scene with a character and possible motivation (and suggestion of genre). Decent, though the descriptions are fairly generic except the arrow.

Everyone is either old or young, without any distinguishing (specific) details. It makes everyone blend together in my head.

I like that there is forward movement here and that the old man has doubts.  Nice twist in the temple. I hope there’s more to the story than that, however.  This is a really clever idea, but the chanting is overplayed.

This idea can be boiled down to flash length or expanded (with additional character arc) to something more ambitious. Right now it’s a little too long for the simple reveal and not fleshed out enough for the more ambitious approach. This one gets a full critique so I’ll do more offline.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A clever SF idea. It’s long for the payoff.

Story 330 (3/28/2011 SF 1500 words)

First person, addressing me. Not a fan. The opening is a false mystery as well. Rather than dwelling on the fact that I can’t understand, it would be better to skip that and just start trying to explain, which is what happens in the second paragraph. Otherwise, I’m frustrated that you aren’t telling me what we both should know.

Usually this technique is used to paper over a lack of actual story. So far that seems to be the case here. I’m getting background information (which I should already know, right?).  Some nice observations, but no story yet (page 3)

More background. A story is implied by the paragraph near end of page 4.

Basically, this is an explanation of idea, not an actual story. Some of the telling does involve a story that happened prior to this.  We prefer story over technique, which makes this sort of experiment  a difficult sale to us. It could be done, I suppose, but would have to be quite impressive. This is decent, but not compelling.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An interesting SF concept told in narrative. Lack of immediacy and a strong story/character arc hurt this.

Story 331 (3/28/2011 Fantasy 4200 words)

Strong opening paragraph. Nothing flashing, just effective scene setting, establishing a character with a first level motivation, a hint of genre, and getting on with it. Nice.

However, we’re now moving into back story. I’ve lost that sense of momentum. Good period details, however. It’s a comfortable read, just not compelling yet.

Inciting incident at end of page 2. This is probably quick enough, though a bit of tightening would not hurt. The actual incident feels a little convenient. She just happens to be there, just happens to be looking, etc. She does something without thinking (if she does have power, shouldn’t she think of it, summon it, something?) and the story abruptly shifts to a new topic.  My instinct would be to open with this inciting incident and get the topic out fast so that we know what to expect in the story. Details of life in the day can come out as the plot unfolds.

The next scene carries me right along. Motivated character makes a huge difference. There is repetition at the end of page 8 (she tells him what she was thinking at end of last scene – comes across as repetition since it doesn’t escalate – best solution would be to drop or modify the earlier reference).

The trials is interesting, but I feel as if it’s not really part of the larger story. The story feels disjointed, a creature of parts rather than of a wholeness. The ending valiantly attempts to bring it full circle, but it’s not focused enough. Was the story really about babies? That feels tacked on. At this length, I think it needs to focus squarely on the characters’ relationship and draw power entirely from that.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A well written fantasy about love and besting death. Diffusion of focus works against it.

Story 332 (3/29/2011 Fantasy 1100 words)

An intriguing opening. A character established in context and a suggestion of true mystery.

I’m not sure about the “material”, which could refer to metal as well as cloth or rocks or sand.

Some good observations, but it’s kind of predictable in the end. The protagonist is basically a passive observer of this idea. She pays a price for neglect, but I don’t find myself caring too much, I’m afraid. I’d want to see much more done with this idea.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy flash about parenting. Minimal story and character arc work against this one.

Story 333 (3/29/2011 Fantasy 4900 words)

The story opens in mid-scene. I’m dropped into a character perspective and given a motivation. It’s too dialogue heavy, however, and I feel like the character’s are withholding something (for a later “reveal”). This always worries me that false mystery is being used to paper over a lack of story movement.

Page 2 sets the scene well. But, yeah, this is a case of false mystery. She knows what she’s thinking about much more precisely than she lets on. We’re in her head, show us. I suspect there’s a real mystery here; it’s not what “they” are (or what she thinks “they” are), but where they came from or why the do what they do, etc. Focus on the true mystery through the character’s perspective and I’ll be more involved.

Good descriptions, good escalation of tension, but I can’t get past the 800 pound gorilla I’m not seeing or hearing about. It’s frustrating.

Page 7 brings the reveal. I wonder if the story could begin there and work the most essential background in later as it becomes relevant/necessary to the viewpoint character?

This feels like novel pacing, with scenes taking time to introduce the everyday details of life and characters, rather than focusing on story (a motivated protagonist attempting, failing, deciding, paying a price).  People tell stories, paint; there’s a dream. Then we get some background about the things spoken around in the opening scene. The writing is very good, the scenes well constructed.

The viewpoint shift feels awkward. We’ve invested 22 pages in the MC only to shift to another character now?

Then it gets weird and philosophical. That’s not what the story promise with that active opening. Overall, I like this idea a lot and the writing is solid, but the story itself feels flat. The characters are basically excuses to show the world idea; they have no motivation beyond running. It’s an interesting ending, slightly surreal, with a sense of meaning, but not 4900 words worth of meaning. If I were revising, I would focus on the character story here. The ending might have to be modified a bit, but it will be even more impactful if we’re totally invested in the character’s plight. We aren’t now. She’s a nice lady with a history.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An ambitious fantasy about the other and us. The story meanders a bit too much and suffers from novel pacing and a lack of relevant character motivation.

Story 334 (3/29/2011 SF 2200 words)

The opening confuses me. The viewpoint is first person and the telling is very in-the-head so far. MC addresses me, which is usually a bad idea. We favor story over technique, so when technique is utilized to paper over a weak story we don’t respond well. That’s so often the case with this particular viewpoint device.

I’ll give this one credit for boldness. If you win me over with this technique it will be impressive.

Well, it came close. It’s a little reminiscent of Blood Music (told through a distancing device), but it does keep me interested until the experiment goes wrong. Then it seems a little simplistic for the buildup. I would want a little more consequence for the larger world. I’ll send this on for comments. I did like it in the end. The technique did not hide a lack of story, but revealed a simple one in a clever manner. It’s different enough from what we have that it could fit into the collection if the other editors like it well enough.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A SF story about the price of passion(s). While the device is limiting, the story takes good advantage of its strengths and is short enough that it doesn’t become tedious. The story climax is a little thin.

Story 335 (3/29/2011 Fantasy 5730 words)

Character waking up. Don’t know where or when. He’s stressed, but doesn’t tell me why (false mystery). Not off to a promising start, I’m afraid.

Second paragraph tells us what he’s afraid of  (but not why).  By the end of the first page I’ve pieced together the situation.  If the MC’s motivation is this simple, it’s not going to support 5700 words. Hopefully there’s something deeper going on as well.

We’re moving backward. If the interesting stuff happens in the past, consider starting the story there (when the interesting stuff takes place). Otherwise we have to deal with the distancing effect of memory and all those “hads”. Start where the story begins and move forward and you’ll seldom go wrong.

I like the energy bundles comment on page 6. The story really isn’t escalating, though. We’re getting variations on a theme so far.  Scene beginning on page 8 does begin to escalate.

The viewpoint shift scene confuses me at first, then perplexes me. How is this advancing the story? It’s written well enough, but I’m not being drawn into the overall story by this background.  The story so far is mostly (not completely) an explanation of idea rather than a story experience.

The story seems to have totally shifted gears. I could see a story from this second perspective or from the first one but the combination isn’t working.

There are some fun (and funny) passages here. The voice is pretty good and the writing flows well. I think I prefer the second story over the first. It’s more exotic.

The return viewpoint shift does add a layer of seriousness to the story. There’s some genuine emotion here.  And then it ends.

Overall, there’s not a lot of depth (not enough to carry 5700 words) but there’s some energy and good fun along the way. At 3500 words or so, this could work, I think. The viewpoint thing is problematic. If you’re going to use multiple viewpoints in a short story it’s best to shift quickly (short scene, switch, short scene, switch) to let the reader know he must split his investment.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy about the high price of love. There’s not enough plot to support the word count, and the MC is not yet well enough developed to deserve the ending.

That’s it for today folks. I wanted to get more done, but didn’t dang it.


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