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 347 (3/30/2011 SF 5000 words)
The story starts with unattributed dialogue. After the second paragraph I’m still not entirely certain who says that first line. The second paragraph is interesting, but I’m hesitant to commit to a viewpoint after the opening.
So is this person the male or someone else? Clarity would help this opening. Remember that I’m new to your world. I want to enter it clear-eyed and unconfused.
Okay, I’m totally confused by page 2. These folks aren’t human? Shouldn’t I know that right away? What are these odd terms that get tossed about? I’m glad there’s no infodumping and the characters simply say what they would in their terms. Normally I would use context to figure out what they mean (or enough to keep me on track) but since the context feels jumbled, I’m much more sensitive to strange terms and strange ideas. I’m in a whirlpool at this point, not a story arc.
Well, I have to take some of that back. On page 2 they begin feeding me background through dialogue, though the strange terms continue to flummox me. I don’t know motivation because I can’t figure out what they’re talking about or why. Page 3 is more background. When will the story begin? Page 4 is a discussion of character background. No inciting incident yet.
Page 5 provides some interesting context. It’s too late. I’m lost. Action begins on page 6. I can’t tell yet whether this is the story arc starting up, but it’s active.
Now we’re back to explaining background through dialogue. It’s decent dialogue and the characters are mostly talking to each other, but I suspect the information is aimed at me. I remain confused. The alien terminology means no more to me now than it did on page 1. Partly may fault for not reading carefully, but mostly the story’s fault for not providing enough context to figure it out. This is probably the most difficult aspect of alien viewpoint stories. How does one balance truth to the alien viewpoint with the reader’s need for comprehension? It’s not easy. This one errs toward too little context, which is actually refreshing in a way; most of these stories provide too much explanation, to the point they become artificial. This one feels real and immediate; I just don’t understand it.
On page 10 we seem to be heading off on a new story line. Is this the beginning of the actual story? Page 11 brings more background via dialogue.
Nice ending. Very resonant and seems to address the issues raised in the opening scene. There’s some interesting world building here, but I just couldn’t follow the terminology and relationship stuff well enough to fully appreciate it. If you look at the actual story arc, it’s too simple to support 5000 words. It needs an additional complication. If I were revising, I’d decide if I wanted to tell this story in 3000 words or a more ambitious one in 5000. Then I’d lay out the plot first (motivated character needs/wants something, tries to achieve, meets obstacle(s), makes a life changing decision, pays a price. I’d write that story in the character’s perspective, looking for opportunity to bring the class and world stuff in as the character requires it. Given the strangeness of this, I’d likely have to make a final pass to force a little more concrete context in where it can fit without interfering with story movement.
Overall, I suspect this is part of a larger work, at least I hope so, as the world feels complex enough to support it.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An alien viewpoint SF story about class systems. The story arc is too simple to carry this word count and there’s too much alien terminology and politics thrown about without clear context.
Story 348 (3/30/2011 Fantasy ?? words)
First person retrospective opening. This viewpoint seldom works for me because the story almost always stays too much in the head and not in scene. That’s like hearing about a story rather than experiencing one. Often the technique is used to paper over a lack of story, using voice to carry me through the concepts and word count.
I do like the line concerning God. That’s a nice angle to the argument. There’s no story yet, however.
The story slides into scene about a quarter of the way through. This is welcome, but is it the beginning of a larger story, or only an incident? Some nice details here.
The in-scene experience is interesting, but it’s really only an incident. The opening tells us the point of the story and the incident is simply evidence of that point. The ending harkens back to the opening. What I’d like to read is the story beginning with this incident and moving forward through the MC’s dawning understanding of her guardian angel and her fears/needs as she grows up. There’s not enough here to provide a full story experience, but it is a neat incident neatly told.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy about guardian spirit. The incident is interesting, but the lack of a complete story and character arc hurt this.
Story 349 (3/30/2011 Fantasy 2950 words)
A chatty cover letter here which I enjoyed since I feel a certain connection to this author’s situation. It took me some 25 years to make me first pro sale. I spent my energies pedaling in the real world and telling myself “someday”. I always wrote, just not very much, and I focused only on selling to the top markets. I’m glad I did the latter as it kept me from falling into the mid-level market security blanket syndrome, where ambition gets sacrifice for immediate sales. About a year and half ago I decided to throw that strategy to the wind and start marketing everything I could, everywhere that made sense. Now I am that mid-level market success, with some 30 publications in the past year, but I’m not content with that. I want my work to be better, more accomplished, more accessible. The key to that, I’m learning, is what writers have advised forever. Write more; write regularly; write every day if you can. I used to stare at a blank pages for hours (and sometimes still do). Rather than start something, I would wait for inspiration to strike. Since I’ve begun writing weekly flash at Show Me Your Lits, I’ve learned to just start writing and let the inspiration come as it will. And it will. I was shocked to find that I’ve published about half of the prompt stories I’ve written in the past six months. It’s literary, but I don’t think that’s the secret; my true love remains SF and Fantasy. The secret is to get into the habit of overcoming the blank page, of finishing what I start, of seeing story rather than idea. It took me a long time to discover this “secret”. I can do nothing about those years gone. I can do something about the years to come.
Anyway, what about this story? Good opening line. Opening paragraph captures the character well, but doesn’t supply much in the way of specific context for this story, nor motivation, etc.. It’s an interesting overview. My concern is that the voice will mask a lack of story. Let’s find out.
Inciting incident in second paragraph. This is smoothly written, but I’m not a huge fan of the “clever” prose that draws attention to itself at the expense of story. I’m intrigued by the situation, not the authorial intrusions. This is not to say it isn’t well written; it’s not overwritten or overly provocative, it’s just the balance between narrative voice and in-scene experience is a little off for my taste. The story takes a cerebral approach, mostly telling me about what I’m seeing rather than simply showing it and allowing the characters to carry narrative. Such stories usually come off as too clever for me.
A good complication on page 4. In the scheme of things the stakes in the story are pretty low, but there is a story structure here at least. End of scene on page 5 is classic withholding. Story attempts to carry me on the force of a false mystery (something the character obviously knows, but does not divulge to me) rather than true mystery (how is this possible? she should be dead, surely; something like that).
We shift to backflash. I like the writing here better. It’s less aggressive in drawing attention to itself and the story it describes plays out at a good pace. The problem is that the telling about story is not as immediate as showing story. So while I do invest in the scene being described, I’m not feeling it as if it were happening. It’s not as vibrant or impactful as it could be, in other words. Which begs the question: Why did the story not start here instead? Why are we obsessed with framing every story these days? Maybe the device will be justified in this one. We’ll know soon.
Pete, the young boy, is unlikely to think of this as rape. That’s an adult interpretation. At that age rape isn’t even rape for the majority of boys. They don’t know better, even if they’ve been told.
Back to the present on page 9. This is an interesting moral question and the related history frames it well enough, but is the foreground story also as story? That’s less certain. Page 10 belabors the point, although I do like the subtlety of the nonsequitor and subsequent action that can be interpreted variously.
Well, this is interesting, but not compelling. I can’t help but think how Stephen King would approach this. He would begin with the actual story (the back flash) and put those characters so fully on stage I would be tasting their breakfast. He would leave that scene with a profoundly regretful vibe as the boy turned away from his chance at redemption. Then he would flash forward to the present and relate the frame story pretty much as it plays out, again focusing the scene through the character’s perspective (i.e. not through the author’s interpretations). And this ending would be heartbreaking and heart lifting in the same instant as the depth of the loss he inflicted took hold and his moment of delayed grace peeked through.
Which is to say, I think this can be quite good, but it isn’t there yet.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A modern fantasy about regret and redemption. An intrusive voice and ineffective framing device work against this.
Story 350 (3/30/2011 SF 3000 words)
The opening establishes a character in scene and suggest genre. It reads a little flat for me, all the same. Maybe that “had” in the first sentence starts me off on the wrong foot, but I think it’s more about the static nature of the image. Characters sitting and watching are something of a pet peeve of mine.
The viewpoint gets a little murky on page 1. Am I supposed to identify with the MC or not? This is mostly background information anyway, right? Is it worth distancing me for that?
When the secondary character says her bit in second paragraph page 2, we get the same information that the paragraph I describe above gave us, only it’s more immediate here and it trusts me to figure out the key point from the way she says this and what she says. I like being trusted.
Nice complication at the end of scene 1. Nicely done.
Argh! Another framed story. This one works, but I’m very sensitive to the technique these days. If the backstory is so interesting that we have to backflash to it, why not simply start there? If it’s not as interesting as the foreground story, why do we need it?
I do like the back story, but it would not be as strong an opening. So, yes, the frame seems justified in this story. It does make me want to know how we came to this situation. Since the backstory is interestingly told, it carries the flow from there, at least for now.
The goddess line on page 8 is very interesting, but it comes too late for me. I have to reinvent her in my mind. If there were a hint of this mindset earlier I would be happier. I do like the way the relationship builds and the husband is wonderfully drawn through her perspective. I do need to find out why the sister despises him. What we have so far is not enough.
That final line isn’t deserved. It’s the right idea to leave us with a resonant image, but the fire has not been characterized unless I missed something important. Rather it should have to do with the goddess mindset I think. And, for the record, yes the framing device works perfectly here. It’s nice to see it used to good effect. Kudos for that.
This is strong, but not perfect. I need a little more characterization of the sister’s relationship with the husband and a little more of the goddess angle. Maybe a few more words, but not many, as the plot is very simple. I’ll pass it along. I think it may appeal to the other editors as well.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A fantasy about growing into love and the price one willingly pays for that. The characterizations are a little thin to carry the full emotional weight of this, and the final line feels wrong.
Story 351 (3/30/2011 Fantasy 1300 words)
This is great. Enough said. Oh, that, and it breaks pretty much every rule I’ve talked about on this blog. It does so with purpose, for more than simple effect. Bravo.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A fantasy about finding your groove happily ever after. Really well done retelling of fairy tale in a voice that will not let you (i.e. me) stop reading.
Story 352 (3/30/2011 SF 1700 words)
The story opens mid-scene, which is good. The writing is not quite as sharp as it needs to be, but it does plop me into a character in context, with a hint of motive.
Good inciting incident. This situation intrigues me and I like the conversation. The flow, however, is not escalating. It feels more like a tour of the concept rather than a story experience (character with motive meets obstacle, tries, fails, tries, succeeds, makes a life changing choice, grows or doesn’t).
On page 6 there is some escalation in the MC’s thinking. This is good, but comes too late in the story. There’s a complication and some minor escalation of plot on page 7. Much stronger through here. A decision point on page 8. I like that this passive protagonist is thinking of taking action. I like that she does act, and the brief recall of her senses in the opening scene.
Well, for an it-was-all-a-dream story, this wasn’t bad. The ending leaves room for interpretation. In the end, though, what has she learned? What price has she paid? There’s not enough character arc here; it’s more of a tour of an intriguing idea. If I were revising, I’d think about how I could collide a second idea with this in order to complicate the story. And, definitely, I would focus on the character’s journey, how she is changed by this experience.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF story about seeing the unseen. The opening is too slow and the ending leaves the character unchanged, which works against developing emotional power.
Story 353 (3/31/2011 SF 800 words)
This opens in mid-scene, which is good, but it could be sharper. In flash, sharpness really matters. For example, instead of the static image of a man peering into a sky and seeing that something is descending, why not a more active image of the person descending, followed by a reaction from the MC? It would feel less like a set piece that way. Admittedly it’s harder to do well because we don’t want to focus on the wrong viewpoint first.
Page 2 brings intentional withholding (false mystery). They talk around what they both know, specifically to keep me on the hook. This, especially for me, is frustrating more than intriguing. These reveals are almost always used to hide a lack of compelling story arc.
The writing is simple and effective. The continued withholding digs at me, though. On page 4 we finally understand what they’ve been discussing (and seeing and touching).
I like the intent of this piece, but it’s told from the wrong viewpoint. It’s the secondary character whose understanding changes. Switch the viewpoint and do away with the artificial withholding (yep, that’s going to require coming up with a simple story arc to carry us to the end; a complication, a bit of tension, a choice by the viewpoint character that costs him something). I do think this can work, but not without some significant changes. Don’t let that stop you from sending it around, but maybe think about revising first? (Another way to make this work would be to make the end a surprise to the younger character; in that way it’s a true mystery rather than something he’s hiding from me because you want him to).
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF flash about what we lose as we become more organized, more technological. This is told from the wrong viewpoint, most likely, and depends too heavily on withholding.
Story 354 (3/31/2011 SF 350 words)
This opens innocently enough. I’m in a character’s perspective, in scene. No motive, but it’s interesting. Escalates at a leisurely pace. The writing is unadorned, but effective. It starts to feel a little draggy by the end of page 3, then bam, the short sharp shock to end it. That’s nicely done. My recommendation would be to shorten the story by 50 words or even 75 and add a hint in that opening dialogue that he’s longing for conversation. I mean that’s sort of implied, but the ending will be stronger if I go back and say, “Wow, that rascal even set this ending up.” Right now I feel like it’s an ending I couldn’t really have guessed, which makes it slightly less skillful in my mind. I’ll pass this around. I’m not sure it will get the thumbs up, but it would make a nice filler for the collection if we need one.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A quick stab of horror told in an innocent manner. Ouch.
Story 355 (3/31/2011 SF 1100 words)
The opening is intriguing. The writing is vivid and lively, but I’m not getting a sense of story. It’s an eloquent tour of idea so far.
This is perfectly good literary fiction with a genre flavor, but not genre sensibility. It’s not a story experience, which makes it a difficult sale to us. I hope it finds a home elsewhere.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A literary story about our capitalist obsession and where it might lead. Lack of story arc hurts it for us.
Story 356 (3/31/2011 SF 1000 words)
The opening is a good introduction to character and setting and genre (humorous SF). We then slide backwards into backfill. This provides motivation, but I wonder if it might not be more effective telling the story from its beginning rather than starting here. You might even consider doing away with this second paragraph completely. It almost provides too much serious context for a breathless pulp adventure satire.
This is a clever little story, but it’s not really substantial enough for us. It does bring a twist to the usual hero satire, but that’s not enough (for us) to carry 1000 words. I would definitely send it to other markets though.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF flash satire about heroic sacrifice (from the outside in). Clever, but insubstantial for its word count.
Story 357 (3/31/2011 4875 words)
Another epistolary story. Since we’ve already purchased one for the anthology it will take something really special to convince us here. The opening is intriguing, but not particularly informative of motive or speculative element. I can wait a while, but not too long.
This is very well written, very much like a diary and I’m very interested in the story unfolding off the page. It’s not really moving quickly enough for us, however. Then on page 8 a new concept jumps in to give it some momentum. I would try to get that concept in earlier, if it were my story. How it was accomplished can stay her on page 8 as an escalation of the original mention of the procedure. Right now I’m reading the earlier pages and thinking, this is cool, but is it going to go anywhere?
Good tension on page 9. I wish the earlier story had more momentum to get me here.
This bit at the end of page 13 really needs to come early in the story. Tone down the emotions, but plant the seed (maybe she begins thinking that in her drugged state she thinks she sees this). It feels out of place here. The glimpse could be used throughout the story as a reinforcing image, of course, but I don’t think it works as a new complication this late in the story.
Nice escalation of her mental state. It’s pretty predictable that it would go here, but the ride has remained interesting. Nice use of the cover as a repeating motif showing the changing seasons of her mind.
This is very good, the second half stronger than the first. It’s not a great fit for us, however, as the speculative elements is insubstantial at best.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A story about loss and obsession. The opening third or so could use a greater sense of escalation and the pivotal conceit ought to be set up earlier. The story may end up being somewhat shorter as a result.
Story 358 (3/31/2011 Horror 1500 words)
A breezy first person retrospective opening. It works here, but makes me suspicious. Will this be a story?
It moves in-scene fairly quickly, though the scene is past perfect backflash. “Had” is such a distancing word. It saps immediacy from the reading experience.
It’s getting to “clever” for me by page 3. The thing with Otto on page 7 doesn’t seem to fit (for me). It feels like a convenient story device.
There’s something powerful lurking around the edges of this, but it takes the easy ways out for the most part. Some very good writing line by line and a good voice. Only a couple of too-clever moments. If the story were to take these issues on head-on, without flinching, without giving him an easy way out, I suspect it could be a powerful story. As it is, it’s well written and dark. Best fit is probably one of the small press horror zines.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A story about youthful fascination gone wrong. A superficial treatment of the issues involved weaken it.
Story 359 (3/31/2011 750 words)
This opens with unattributed dialogue, but it works here, mainly because of what is said and how it’s quickly used to move us into viewpoint.
The story depends on withholding. I’m tuning out at the end of page 1. Why can’t the reveal at the end of page 2 be moved nearer the top of the story. The pages in between feel largely like a delaying action.
Nice ending. Consider doing away with the dead weight and turn this into a 500 word gem. I’ll send this around, but I think it’s probably a little to “generic” to catch on. We’ll see. With a trim I think this will be emotionally satisfying.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF flash about holding on and letting go. The opening third depends on withholding and doesn’t really escalate the premise.
Story 360 (3/31/2011 SF ?? words)
An engaging opening, though I’m already feeling a bit put off by the cleverness of it. The writing is quite good and the dialogue very realistic. Police procedural with some interesting tech thrown in. By page 6, however, I’m tired of waiting for this to go somewhere beyond everyday actions. The big problem for me is that I don’t really care about any of these characters. They’re a mass of clever names in my head. I don’t see them, feel them, etc. And if I don’t care about solving this crime, I don’t care about how it’s done. Which is kind of maddening since the writing itself is very good. It’s the characters that ain’t doing it for me.
It’s also a little annoying on page 13 when we learn the viewpoint character recognized the person she’s been talking to for half a page, but didn’t bother to let us in on that until now. I am getting closer to the MC in this scene despite that.
Good action scene. The writing is very good throughout and the procedural details are nice, but I just don’t care about the characters or the crime or the victim. The stakes are very low here, not what I’m looking for in an SF story.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A well written SF procedural centered on an interesting tech concept. The characters do not compel, unfortunately.
That may have to do it for today. I’m getting burned out from reading. Finish line is in sight. I have 7 stories left in my “New” list, then whatever the first readers have for me, so maybe tomorrow. Then it will be a matter of winnowing the remaining contenders down to a handful. Then on to editing individual stories, working with authors, getting contracts out. We want to have the book to the printer by June 30. It’s a tight window. Wish us luck.