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Archive for May 9th, 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 336 (3/29/2011  Fantasy 3400 words)

The opening is bland. It does get me into scene, but not much context.  It works okay, but the dialogue and language are not particularly lively or sharp.

For example, when the tapping sounds I have to reinvent the cubicle I was standing in (in my head); when the glass door opens, I have to reinvent the open door. I can’t see the girl or the guy in any meaningful way. I wouldn’t want a laundry list of details, just the right specific detail at the right time to make me picture something that doesn’t contradict later details.  Maybe how the office has glass walls looking onto a vast sea of cubicle partitions, or that the girl’s lipstick smeared from biting her lip, or maybe how her hair looks more disheveled than usual. Just little blips to make the stage pop into existence in my mind and keep it real, not generic.

This is a heavy issue. Good. I’d like to have a little stronger emotional connection to the MC. It’s okay that she’s cerebral, but even intellectuals have feelings.  Oops, now I’m reinventing the relationship between these characters. I thought she was just his boss.  Page 4 introduces a weakness I hadn’t suspected. Reinventing the MC.

Mmmm… peanut butter cup. I’m on page 5 and the main problem I’m having is that this is taking place too much “in the head”. There’s not enough external detail to keep the experience balanced. It feels a little simplistic, partially as a result of that and partially because it is a little simplistic (this is an important issue, but the argument didn’t really escalate or evolve; it began with one point and stayed there).

Hard to believe she doesn’t look up and see this stuff falling. We’re not experiencing this through the MC (which may seem to contradict the “in the head” comment above – it doesn’t; we experience through our senses, primarily, which are externally focused).

Her experience with the complicating element is similarly superficial. I’ll give points for strange, but her reaction is so flat and intellectually/emotionally accepting it doesn’t pull me in. I don’t believe her reactions. That would be my focus in revision here. On page 9, why is there a man under the other guy’s desk?

We get the old newscast explaining the strangeness device. Can you do better? I don’t know, but it’s been done so many times…

It gets nicely active. It’s surface action, though. The climax (page 16) is too intellectual for the situation. The story feels a bit staged. That’s okay for now, but revision needs to push this into the character’s experience and away from the simple framework of idea. Page 17 seems out of place. This discussion is intellectual and really serves to pound home the point of the story than to deliver these characters to their just or unjust desserts.

A joke ending? Really? If you cut this to 1000 words or so, that might work, but the better course would be to develop these characters more fully and decide what the surreal incident has to do with their situation (esp the MC’s want/need) and use it to explore those issues more fully.  It’s a wild concept to be sure. Now it needs to get out of the head a bit and develop into a fully formed story experience.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy about birth and choice. The story doesn’t get much out of the head, which weakens its emotional impact, and the issue is simplistically explored for this word count.

Story 337 (3/29/2011  SF 2300 words)

I like this opening. It’s succinct and implies a larger scene economically. Minimalist works well when the language and image are sharp (i.e. when the sentence is doing more than one thing at a time, basically)

The dialogue that follows, however, is not as strong. People telling each other stuff they pretty much know for my benefit. I’m not well established into a viewpoint, so it would probably be appropriate to transform some of this speech to internal thinking/emotion to help connect me to the MC.

Also, since these are not humans, it would be good to see one the very first time we’re introduced (see details that the viewpoint character would notice, of course, but something that makes it clear roughly what size/shape/color or whatever we’re dealing with here).

A little too much banter (which can diffuse story motion, especially early on). Inciting incident at the end of page 2. My attention perks. What does he/she feel? We’re in his/her perspective, right? It’s a small withholding, but weakens my interested all the same. The final line of the scene is good; would be better if we knew what they were actually talking about first (what the disruption is, feels like or whatever).

What is their research?Much of page 4 is infodump. A little is fine, but the story pauses. Can it be better integrated into action?

Page 6. What happened? What crimes? Withholding is aggravating.

Page 7. Talking around the issue. Frustrating. Good action, however.

Page 9. What work? What operation? What happened?

Ouch. That was easy. A chase, a speech, then dead.  We’re missing the emotional thread climax here (which needs to be set up early and escalated along with the plot thread). There’s certainly potential for strong emotion, which would nicely balance the earlier lightness.

I love that last line, which nicely mirrors the simplicity of the opening line. However, it didn’t discharge the flood of emotion it should. The story buildup isn’t firing on all cylinders yet, but there’s good potential here. More clarity, more character arc, a little more buildup in the climax scene. Interesting.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An alien SF story about conflicting duty. The story opens and ends well and has a breezy flow, but the buildup is too uneven and the character arc not well enough explored.

Story 338 (3/29/2011  SF 3700 words)

The opening is a mixed bag for me. Certainly some vivid, active description, but the language calls attention to itself, which is a red flag for me. Is there a story here?

Unnamed MC is another warning flag. Is he an archetype or is this simply technique? Does the story need/deserve an archetype or everyman?

Third paragraph introduces surreal element that works to increase my sense of unreliable narrator. That’s good. Also introduces a genre concept.

Most of page 2 is observational (i.e not advancing a story or character arc), then bam! something cool at the end of the page. Trimming a bit before this may be in order.

End of page 3 is wonderfully understated. This guy is certainly off-kilter. I like him, but he’ll need to become more accessible soon. And there you go. Next page is very concrete compared to the opening. This is an author who knows what he/she’s about. Will there be enough story arc to suit us?

Page 4 bit about the deal is a little vague for me. I don’t need much, but I need some specific detail to make it more than a generic handwave. The rules, on the other hand, are just right.

Next scene is very good too. It could use just a touch of polish here and there, but nice.  The post-climax scene is a great idea, but it’s taking too long, throwing the structure out of balance. Some trimming here should do wonders. Keep the lively banter, but not quite so much.  This is good. We’ll see what the others say. I also owe the author a full critique. This one will be pretty easy.

Oh, yeah, does the story deserve an everyman? I think so. He’s not so much an everyman as an everygeek, but that certainly counts.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A bizarre SF story about the ethical dimensions of social shyness. An overlong anti-climax weakens this one a bit.

Story 339 (3/29/2011  Fantasy 4800 words)

The title is intriguing. Interesting first sentence. It’s technique over substance, but does draw my attention. Definitely in mid-action.

The opening scene is well written and remains interesting throughout. We do not have character motivation at this point, but I can wait for a bit. It’s day-in-the-life stuff, but very interesting nonetheless.

Second scene escalates tension nicely. Some very nice observations.

Third scene brings a nice complication and some further escalation.

Wonderful characterization by the way. This is experienced from inside the character to be sure.

Fourth scene explores moral issues deftly and deeply. This is another part of story complication, the exploration of underlying theme. Nicely done.

Now the protagonist is doing something ill advised (but quite believable). Doing something. Character motivation in this story is diffuse, but she’s an actor in her play and that can also compel if we are deeply invested in her.

I see where this is going. Hopefully it will surprise me in some manner. Nice tension leading to climax. It’s nothing death-defying or manic, but the tension feels very real.

The ending is a little disappointing. The story was so good that I wanted an excellent finish. We’ll see what the others think, but this is a possibility.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A fantasy about loyalties and ethics. Strong writing and characterization make for an involving read; the predictable ending weakens it somewhat.

Story 340 (3/30/2011  Fantasy 3612 words)

This opens in mid-scene, with a character and first-level motivation. So far so good.

This is good, but something feels just a bit off. I think I’m seeing it after a couple pages. Characters keep reacting prior to stimulus. One will jump, then we’ll hear sounds, etc. Interesting how that’s keeping me just outside the scene.

It was a tarantula? Maybe he should have thought that earlier. I feel like I can’t quite see what’s going on at times.

Getting background on page 4. It slows the story a little. We get primary motivation at the end of page 5. This is late.

Interesting complication on page 6. I wonder if this should be the inciting incident? The story has felt a little slow to develop.

Yes, definitely. This was more than a story complication, it was the start of story. Now we’re getting explanation of idea on page 9. It’s handled pretty well, but the story is on pause.

Interesting concept and the action is cool, as is the dialogue. In the end it feels episodic, however, and I never fully connected with the viewpoint character. Close, but no cigar, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An adventure fantasy about a strange discovery and the cost of fame. An episodic feel and too much explanation of concept weaken it.

Story 341 (3/30/2011  Fantasy 4066 words)

The story opens in mid-scene, with character and a little context (not quite enough for me). Too many adjectives here, however. That’s hardly a deal breaker but dulls the paragraph enough to notice.

The opening depends almost entirely on a withholding (false mystery). I’m not a fan of that technique; much more interested in seeing a scene in character rather than having an author hide an understanding from me. The MC knows exactly what she’s talking about here. Why don’t I?

This banter is good for the odd giggle, I’ll admit. 5000 words is difficult to carry on the backs of giggles though. I’m looking for story at this point.

Good physical details end of page 2.  I don’t have a motivation yet. I know the MC is acting out of motivation, but the story is coy as to what that actually is. Consequently, I’m kind of waiting around for the story to start.

Good physical action here. The dialogue is good too, though a bit more banter than necessary. These characters are very good. This feels more like a novel than a short story, however. We’ll see where it ends up.

Page 6 brings a slew of background disguised as dialogue. They’re talking about stuff they don’t already know, at least, but I don’t know why they’re doing it now.

More background. The story, which hasn’t technically started yet, is stopped cold. We get explanation of motivation on page 9.

Good building tension. I don’t actually buy this, but it’s fantasy, right?  This ends right where it should. The story itself is not structured well, though the pieces of it are nicely written. I enjoyed reading this despite the lack of story elements and heavy dose of background, but it’s simply not strong enough as a short story to pass muster for us. I hope it will find a good home, however.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An engagingly written fantasy adventure with steampunk sensibilities. There’s too much withholding early and too much background later.

Story 342 (3/30/2011 SF 2400 words)

This one pretty much relies on voice. It’s written well and some nice observations of scientists in the field, which I don’t see a lot of, but in the end the story is pretty minimal. Some smiles, a couple chuckles, several “yeah, that sounds right” but basically 2400 words of not-story.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A well written observational SF story about the science mindset. Lack of story arc hurts this one.

Story 343 (3/30/2011 SF 4600 words)

The opening introduces the context in a very detached manner. It’s not really pulling me in yet. A large cast of characters, but no one to identify with. Makes this a cerebral experience and kind of dry. I like the undercurrent of political tension. I haven’t found a place to put my feet down yet, though.

Second scene establishes a less distant viewpoint. I’m more involved here. Omniscient viewpoint, but we’re now closer to the characters. The end of scene is a bit dire for my tastes. It’s a steampunk thing and not bad in that regard.

Dialogue is solid.

So many characters and none to really identify with. This feels like a part of a larger piece. It’s just not compelling me though it’s written well. Part of the problem (and it’s largely a taste issue) is the lack of a central character to identify with. Part of it is the dry telling. It has the staid feel of classic steampunk without the passion of a mad scientist or dashing hero to carry me through it.

Good tension in the second half; good pacing. Nice sequence at the climax. A cinematic feel.  The feel good ending feels a little too good to me, but that’s a quibble. As military steampunk fiction goes, this is pretty well done. A closer focus on the central character in that opening scene would likely help pull me in faster.  In the end I respect this, but I don’t love it. There’s a solid story here, but it’s pretty hard to get too invested in it.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A steampunk romance with several interesting twists. It’s difficult to identify with the characters early on, making the first half less effective than the second.

Story 344 (3/30/2011 SF 4600 words)

The opening intrigues, but doesn’t give me enough concrete context. Is he inside the phenomenon? Is he dreaming? Keep up with what?

Second scene is better. Character in context. A bit of tension. No motive yet.

Third scene hooks me. Motive established, complication. It’s a nice twist on the usual idea.

Next several scenes fly by.  This has a simple, energetic cadence that draws me along through short scene after short scene. I identify with the character, am getting a sense of the world-building, all the while experiencing an every day scene. Nicely done so far. Nice running joke about the credit; fits the voice of the piece well and emphasizes the MC’s frustration with life.

Hmmm. The pyramid feels like an inciting incident (the start of story, not a complication). I’ve enjoyed reading this so far, but will be a little disappointed if the pyramid takes over the rest of the way.

False alarm. The story hasn’t veered wildly off course or anything. Still enjoying it.

Nice ending. Very uh… esoteric. I’ll pass this one along and cross my fingers the others like it. It’s a nice contrast to other stories we’ve taken.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 An energetic SF story about job dissatisfaction and drunken patriotism. It may go to the stoner joke well just a time or two too many.

Story 345 (3/30/2011 Horror 1700 words)

This starts in mid-scene, though the actions are pretty mundane. A middling opening.

Inciting incident in middle of page 2. Until then it’s been observational and not particularly compelling. I’d suggest trimming the opening to maybe half this length.

The writing isn’t terribly sharp. We go from a tight focus on the MC to calling her “the woman” in the space of a sentence. The focus isn’t consistent, in other words, which makes reading more intellectual than emotional. I suspect this story will require an emotional reading to work. We’ll see.

This reaction is going on too long. It’s not escalating but mostly repeating.

So we basically have a passive protagonist who is destroyed by what she fears. That’s not really a story, but an event. The buildup promised a character story, but that’s not what we get here. If I were revising, I would either cut this down to flash and sharpen the language considerably, or go back to story basics and think about escalating the plot and character arc to a common climax in which the character actually chooses something and pays a price for that choice. Choosing to go to the kitchen for a juice box does not count.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A simple horror story about icky stuff. Lack of story escalation and character arc hurt this one.

Story 346 (3/30/2011 SF 4800 words)

The opening is very matter of fact, which is fine. It paints a picture. The first line bothers me a bit as I don’t know whether it means a magnetic field or a cultivation, etc.. After that it becomes clear. My main issue is that this opening emphasizes technique over story. That always worries me.

It’s an intriguing scene. I don’t think I could take 4800 words of this technique, but it does work to draw me in. Second scene is similarly intriguing. I’ve a feeling this is going to be too literary for us, but there’s a hint of something mystical or mechanical going on, so maybe not.

Well that was fascinating. I love the ending. I don’t know what other editors will make of this, but I have tremendous respect for the author. To carve such a wide swath with precision and an eye to character is an achievement. It’s one of those stories you have to read a few times to find the sense of it. I couldn’t say if it all hangs together perfectly, only that the reading experience was sublime.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 An ambitious fantasy about everything at once, told in sharp slivers and pastel emotions. Complexity in the telling may limit its audience.

That’s going to do it for today. Lots of potential stories today. Either I’ve been worn down by the slush or this batch of stories was really strong.

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