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Archive for May 12th, 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 361 (3/31/2011  Fantasy 5000 words)

A strong opening. Not a lot of stage context, but an interesting perspective and wry voice. I’m on board.

Second paragraph mostly loses me. Rather than a sharp inciting incident, we get a day in the life approach that is much less interesting than the setup was. Still time to recover though.

It’s a tour of the idea/world for the first couple pages. What I need is a sense of motivation for THIS story, a reason why it begins here and now, not there and then. This lack of specificity really hurts this story for me, because the setup was so intriguing. The concept remains interesting, but the story is not yet.

Now we’re getting the world rules explained to us via dialogue. It’s a very nice idea and world, but it’s the story that will hold me. Is there one?

On page 6 we get a possible inciting idea (why the story exists), but it’s gossip about what happened earlier, diffusing it for purposes of story momentum. Now we’re getting a discussion of that idea.

On page 9, the story may be starting. A page of discussion about this issue.  Story may be starting at the end of page 10.

Neat concept, but it can only really support maybe 1000 words. There needs to be more complication of plot, more exploration of the idea (not discussion of it, but implications and why it presents obstacles).

Now the characters are talking to each other for my benefit again. They know this already. What we need to see is the conflict caused by crossed agendas, tension, not explanation. More explanation of idea. We’re basically repeating the same issue here. It hasn’t escalated (p15-16). Escalation happens at end of 16.

Okay, now we’re getting to a possible story, with obstacles and motivated characters striving and paying a price.  The story starts here on p17.  Then it starts talking about six years ago? On page 24 we get an explanation of the meaning of what we’ve just witnessed. It’s interesting, but explanation is not story. Story is plot and character arc, tension building and tension released.

Interesting ending. Overall it’s a really interesting take on humanity. It’s just not a very compelling story. We don’t buy ideas, we buy stories (with very rare, and generally short, exceptions).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy about men and their gods. The idea is sound, but a lack of story movement and character tension weakens the telling.

Story 362 (3/31/2011  SF 3200 words)

An effective opening that drops me directly into a character’s perspective, suggests a landscape, with a hint of motivation. Good start.

I like the specific detail in second paragraph, but I’m not fond of the intentional withholding of what he’s looking for. It’s a false mystery. I’m not too put off by it (yet), but it’s unnecessary.

A second viewpoint. The establishing paragraph is strong here as well. I wasn’t quite ready for this yet as I was just getting close to the initial viewpoint and this interrupts the process. However if both viewpoints are to be important it is best to establish that quickly.

What is this planet’s “bigger mystery”?  Connection to what? That’s another false mystery. I’m feeling pushed out of scene by these issues. No, the mystery does not deepen. It frustrates. This is setting up to be a simple reveal story. Typically a reveal can support a flash, but not a longer chunk of prose.

I should point out that the difference between false mystery and true mystery is that false mystery relies on hiding from me something the viewpoint character knows. True mystery stems from revealing something that is a mystery to the viewpoint. A good cliff hanger should leave me wanting to discover the answer with the character. A manufactured cliff hanger leaves me hoping to be told what the author has hidden from me.

I like the tech details on page 6. On page 7 we learn why the story takes place here and now. It would be better to learn this very early. That would provide a sense of character motivation. Scene that ends at top of 8 ends in true mystery.

On page 9, why is this species more exciting than others? What others has she met? This approachment is taking forever. There’s no escalation of story here, just a slow accumulation of background information and some superficial foreground action. The tension we get feels simplistic because it’s not really attached to a deeper character issue.

The action scene is decent. On page 16 one character tells the other background information about the world. He then thinks all the big questions that might have been expressed early in the story to build some tension.

I think the multiple viewpoint approach hurts this story because it diffuses character identification with both, particularly the initial character. I do see why the technique was used here, to examine the idea of cultural miscommunication, but neither character was strongly developed (need/want complication decision price). Both sort of wanted, both sort of had complications, both sort of made a decision, one paid a price. That said, it’s an interesting world, especially the background mentioned at th end of the story (which wasn’t really important to this story at all, but is intriguing).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF tale about cultural miscommunication. Multiple viewpoints and a reliance on false mystery weaken the buildup.

Story 363 (3/31/2011  Fantasy 3200 words)

The opening is informative, but passive and a bit confusing. Is the named character the prisoner or someone else? Clarity is job one in an opening paragraph. Third sentence explains this. Entire paragraph is told from an omniscient point of view. This is okay, but maybe not the best choice here.

I do like the witch. I’m not fond of this viewpoint, which keeps me from identifying with the MC. I do like this situation.  I’m content with the opening scene as an establishing shot in this story, but now I want the story to begin.

Second scene is more of the same. It’s fine, revealing more of the situation. I’m not completely lost yet because it has a fabulist feel, but I’m not up for too much more establishing stuff.

Third scene delivers some story movement. A complication. Good. I don’t like the omniscient viewpoint, which dilutes my identification with the MC. Scene ends well.

I’m not clear on what’s happening on p8-9. His father? Him? Has he been doppleganged? Does it matter? And why would he give her a book with clues to escape? It had better make sense in the end.

So the story of her becoming is off the page? That’s the real story here, isn’t it?

Well that was easy. Interesting story, a little generic in its setup, but with a decent twist. The big problem is that the actual story stuff (motivated character meeting obstacles changing making decision paying price) is off the page. What’s left is a summary of the idea. It’s told well enough, but not compelling to me. Another problem was that I didn’t understand the turning point, when she figured out what had happened. She kept that from me so that when she made her move at the end and her foe was revealed for what he was, I was surprised more than glad.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A fantasy about killing the monster than holds you back. The majority of the actual story arc is not shown on the page, leaving us to guess at the tension and decision point that must have happened.

Story 364 (3/31/2011  SF 3570 words)

Interesting opening paragraph (I don’t mean the quotation, which does nothing much for me). Drops me right into a character’s perspective, observing something eye-catching.

Second paragraph confuses me. Too much strangeness to absorb at once. Parse it out a bit through the story action if possible.

Well, I’m with the MC further down the page: “Whatever to you mean?” When presenting me with strangeness, make sure I have somewhere concrete to set my feet down and observe from. I feel like I’m whirling around and around in midair. Concepts that sort of make sense, maybe, whiz by  at every turn. That doesn’t really anchor me in scene, I’m afraid. In the end, I feel as if the opening scene was much ado over nothing much. I thought the story would begin, but it didn’t.

Second scene is more of the same. A tour of world rather than a story experience. Where is the motivated character that opening promised? What does she want/need? Why? How does she plan to get it? What complicates her journey? World building is not story; it supports story.

Next scene is a discussion of background and idea.

Next scene begins with banter and moves on to music. No story yet.

Explanation of idea. Something happens. It feels like an inciting incident, since the story hasn’t begun, but is more likely intended as a complication. The story certainly seems to shift direction. It’s a superficial conflict, however. The good doctor uses the device that was just introduced a few paragraphs earlier to overcome the obstacle.

He then explains the idea.

The final scene goes on too long for its part in the story arc, but it feels like it wants to convey a genuine emotional resonance. That’s good, but it’s not been set up and escalated  by the story and so falls mostly on deaf ears. Then some explanation of background.  I should mention there is some good prose here.

And the ending leaves me feeling as if this is part of a larger work. Episodic rather than character changing. Not for us.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF tale about the power of nostalgia. The story is too slow to begin and then rushes through its climax to an overlong anti-climax that feels episodic.

Story 365 (3/31/2011  SF 3600 words)

The opening intrigues, though I do not like the unnamed character, which feels a bit pretentious (technique over substance). By the third paragraph I’m disoriented. Who is doing what to whom here? Who should I identify with? Vagueness creates more confusion than mystery in most cases.

We get more context on page 2. It’s clearer, but not particularly specific. Description of the animals is good, but I get very little sense of the surround or how these people fit into it. I don’t need an infodump, just a few more specifics where relevant. For example, when i see the unscalable cliff on page 2, my first reaction is “Where did that come from?” The opening context did not paint a surround that could contain such a feature, so that when the detail came in, I had to reinvent (I was looking out onto a flat field from the edge of an orchard).

I’m totally missing out on what’s happening with the girls. Consequently, I don’t really care. Inciting incident comes in at end of scene 1. That’s too late for this particular story.

She’s not human? I hadn’t considered that possibility. Reinventing the rules in my head.

I’m waiting for a story to begin. This has been day in the life stuff so far with the exception of that item I thought was an inciting incident. It apparently was only a clue. What does the MC want/need? How does she plan to get it? What stand in her way? The story is flat without motivation, a simple tour of the world building.

Mr. Haney? Here? (you’re probably too young to get the reference, but it gave me a smile).

On page 11 we get a surprise. It’s interesting, but why should I care? It’s illegal? Reinventing rules. A discussion of background. Some discussion of idea.

On page 13 it gets kind of interesting. This seems to be important. Too late to hook me, but encouraging. Explanation of background isn’t.

Good escalation toward climax. I’m not invested enough to feel its power, but it’s some good prose. Viewpoint change on page 16 is distracting.

Overall, there’s a good seed here for story. Story is more than world building and idea, however; it is plot and character arc requiring specific motivation, obstacles, rising tension, climax, decision, price. I’m not sure this MC should be the protagonist here, for example, because she makes no decision, pays much less of a price than others. Potential, but needs work.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF tale about the dangers of failing to understand the world around us. The story begins too late and lacks sufficient complication and character arc to carry its word count.

Story 366 (3/31/2011  SF 3134 words)

Another cover letter with a brief story synopsis. I realize that some markets ask for this, but it’s generally not a good idea. The story has to stand on its own. The most likely outcome of me reading one of these (which I seldom do) is that I’ll know the story doesn’t fit the collection before I start reading. This is a case in point.

I’ll try to keep an open mind, though.

The opening paragraph narrative summary. It tells me that something extraordinary is about to happen. Consider dropping this paragraph and starting in-scene.

I appreciate that this is third person. The prose is straining to be funny, however. There’s some decent funny here, but not as much as the author believes. I do like the first line of dialogue. The dialogue is decent and the voice breezy. The problem, as usual, for these stories is that it’s all about the delivery and not the story. Humor in support of story can work for us; humor in place of story seldom does. It’s too subjective to satisfy four editors, for one thing.

More banter. Oh gawd, it’s a pun. I love puns. I don’t love pun stories that run more than a few hundred words unless they’re incredibly compelling on the story level too.

Skimming to end 😉  Okay page 12 is pretty hilarious, but I never would have gotten here, trust me.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An occasionally funny SF tale about tail. Lack of story and character arc and too many words to support the payoff work against this.

Story 367 (3/31/2011  SF 3900 words)

This is a reprint, which sets the bar high, especially given the strength of original submissions this year. The opening is immediate and interesting. I’m dropped into perspective and presented with a suggestion of character motive. I’m not sure what the best friend adds here, other than a red herring. Nice scene end.

The second scene opens provocatively, but I’m torn. The opening sentence draws attention to itself and away from the MC’s voice.  Good dialogue. The scene moves efficiently. I’m not getting a speculative sense or much of a story arc yet. It’s interesting enough to carry me for now. Very nice detail and active prose.

A very enjoyable read, but not speculative. The ending isn’t a strong for me as it wants to be, I think because it relies on the red herring set up early on. I guess it wasn’t a red herring, just a false mystery 🙂 Because that element was only artificially set up in the opening scene it didn’t really feel full circle, but revelatory.

Anyway, it’s still a really strong story. I just don’t think it’s going to fit the anthology. Close, because I really like the voice and the immediacy and the emotion of the piece. If it were not a reprint and if we didn’t already have a story on the same subject (broadly speaking), the answer might be different. I would at least pass it around to the other editors.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A story about friends and enemies and childhood baggage. The emotional thread resolution relies on a weak setup, yet still delivers an emotional punch. Imagine if it had had a strong setup instead.

Story 368 (3/31/2011  SF 4839 words)

This one also gives me a synopsis in the cover letter.  It sounds like a book rather than a short story. We’ll see.

Opens with unattributed dialogue. Then an unnamed character. Not a fan so far. Ah, first person to boot.  This touches most of my touchy buttons.

That said, the scene is curiously effective. Very Star Trek prologue-ish.  I’m on board for now.

Hey, now it’s present tense. The only thing missing is a reference to me (you know what I mean?). Well, it’s mostly present tense. A few tense confusions here (“have” or “has”  not “had”).  The writing is a bit clumsy, in viewpoint one second, telling me about a secondary character’s motivation the next. Still, as far as the actual scene framing goes, it’s pretty good. Just needs some work on the craft stuff.

Pretentious opening to third scene. Just tell us who “him” is. This false mystery draws attention to technique, not story. The scene is a bit off. The interior thought is pretty good, moody and interesting, but the conversation is so mundane my eyes go numb. (but I do keep picturing Captain Kirk kissing Spock, so that’s something).

Next scene is interesting. I do like the ship. The scene goes on too long, however, and sort of repeats rather then escalating.

He seeks out another character so he can explain what I already know to her. He does add some additional background. This feels pretty artificial (and somewhat repetitive). Not getting a sense of story escalation at this point, though there is a story here, which is nice.

Scene at end of page 7 is also information conveyed through dialogue, but this one works. It feels natural that the character would be telling the other one these things now. And it’s interesting too. The scene goes on too long, however. Get in, make the point, create some tension, get out is my motto.

I like this ending very much. Overall, the story is sort of haunting (my jibes aside). It has a mood to it and the main issue is interesting, if overplayed. I’d say that not enough actually happens to justify the word count. Either complicate the story a bit, probably by developing the human love story more fully, or cut this to maybe 3500 words and make it really sharp.

I’ll send this to another reader just to make sure I’m not being unfair, but I don’t think it’s going to work for us. I did enjoy the read.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF story about love, need, and power. Overlong scenes and a general lack of complication (for its length) work against it.

I’m going to stop here. This takes me through my cue. I still have a handful of stories from first readers that I haven’t dealt with here and will try to get those done tomorrow. I also have a few that came in via mail. If you have not received a response and Submishmash is showing that it’s in progress, it likely means your story is either in this final batch of first-read stories, or else we’re holding it for the final cut, which should happen by early next week.

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