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Archive for May 13th, 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.

It’s been an uplifting morning as I’ve focused on accepting stories that the editors have agreed upon. At this point we’ve officially accepted 20 stories (53,000 words). Another 3-4 are pretty certain and we’ll likely take another 1-2. I’m aiming for 65,000-70,000 words this year.

I still have a few stories that I have not read (first readers have), so that’s where I’m headed now.

Story 372 (3/8/2011 Fantasy 5500 words)

Reader 1: “This is a good idea, well written, and an actual story.  This story is lively and a bit tongue-in-cheek. It’s a little slow to start. I think there too much of a back flash on page two. I think I’d start it on page 6 . That’s when it really picks up. There may be too many characters, but the author needs them for the plot. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening paragraph drops us in mid-scene, in character, and suggests genre and motivation.  Above average.

I don’t like that the MC doesn’t actually see his work before commenting on it. That’s a missed opportunity to make the scene more real in my head. We’re moving backward on page 2. I’m intrigued by the situation, but losing interest in the story. Start a story close to the inciting incident and move forward. Background can come in as the MC requires it, not so that I have it.

Inciting incident on page 3. Might be better to begin story closer to this point. The background has dulled my experience quite a bit.

Some nice details. This is getting interesting now. The reveal on page 6 comes too late in the story.  The reader makes a good point for starting the story here.

Oh yes, the dialogue is priceless. Story coming to life now. I’m on board now.

Good pacing, good light and dark moments, a couple of clean complications and resulting tension. A lot to like here. And while it’s funny on the surface it’s rather touching just beneath. The ending brought a tear to my jaded eye. I’m a sucker for honor and sacrifice being rewarded.

Nicely done, Author. Now we simply must do something about that opening. Thumbs up from me.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A quirky fantasy about eternity and personal ethics.  A slow opening hurts and otherwise strong story.

Story 373 (3/12/2011 SF 3150 words)

Reader 1: “Very understated and nicely written opening, but it takes too long to get to the moment of change. Some beautiful imagery though. God, I wanted there to be more of a story here. I loved all the details, the author’s knowledge shining through the page, but there wasn’t a story. Where’s the explicit conflict and the attempts of the character to solve that conflict? Too much is kept vague and the stakes for the character in a changing world are not made explicit enough. This is a very well written slice of life with a speculative tinge, but I didn’t feel as if the atmosphere was enough to make up for the lack of plot. It’s a shame, because I really liked the writing.” (plot spoilers removed)

Reader 2: “I like this piece. It’s nicely written, but lacks clarity. The beginning needs shortened, probably by a page or so. The story doesn’t really begin until  page 3, but I don’t mind the beginning scene that sets the place and tone. The big problem is understanding what [something] is. I think if that is clarified, it will help a lot. I am not sure what happens at the end either. There should be a character revelation, but since we don’t know what the girl is doing, we don’t understand the man’s feeling. I’d like to see a rewrite of this.”

An opening paragraph that sucks you right in. Great character detail. No in-scene context, but I can live with that so long as we get it soon. First page remains retrospective background, beautifully written.

A gorgeous concept here, lovingly crafted. There’s too much of it, however. It gets in the way of story, which hasn’t actually started yet (page 3). Love the ending of the first scene. Finding a way to inject a sense of story starting into that scene would likely be enough. I have no problem reading this prose for a long while, but I do want to feel like it’s going somewhere.

Inciting incident on page 4.  Good second scene complication. There is movement now, but it’s more like novella pacing. My worry is that the story payoff will not justify the word count. If the payoff is really large (emotionally speaking) it will be fine, but I’m leery of investing this much attention to a fleeting fancy. Which will it be?

The next scene is a little too coy. I can parse out what the girl means, but I shouldn’t have to. The MC knows. I don’t need this false mystery when I have the very real mystery of whether the girl will go through with her job, whether the MC will allow it.

We don’t find out, really. It leaves us unresolved. The character has been transformed, but I’m not quite sure what that means in the larger scheme. There’s real emotional power here, but the fog of my lack of full understanding holds me back. This is a tough one. I’d love to see this published in the anthology, but it really does need a stronger context (if I understand fully what the girl means to do, I can invest fully in the ambiguity of the ending; right now it’s just another thing I don’t quite understand). I don’t know if the author would be willing to do what we would want her to do with this. I guess I can ask.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A literary fantasy about the ghosts of experience that hold us together in the end. While effective as literary fiction, a slow opening and persistent lack of clear context keep it from fully meeting genre expectations.

Story 374 (3/21/2011 Fantasy 960 words)

Reader 1: “While the premise was quite interesting, there wasn’t much else to this piece. I found the ending a bit ‘so what?’ and it didn’t fulfil the promises made by the start.  There’s a lack of specificity in the writing (“But their faces were such that they seemed almost more human than my own family” doesn’t actually tell me what the women look like, as poetic as the phrase might be) and non-intentional contradictions (“they plummeted to earth like feathers”). While these elements don’t ruin the story, they do create a distance. ” (plot spoilers removed, mostly)

Effective, efficient opening. I’m ready for a really sharp social satire. I don’t like the beat of withholding in that second paragraph. The story shouldn’t need that false mystery. The actuality is pretty damned mysterious.  By the end of page 1, the sharpness is gone, replaced by vague description and intellectual summary. A shame.

Some suggestions that there’s a deeper point (is there?) then we skip forward several years. Some nice passages, but not consistently sharp or precise. The situation isn’t really escalating; we’re still seeing the inciting incident in pretty much the same terms as we originally did. I’m hungry for transformation. I need to see this incident through different eyes by the end. Will I?

The ending feels tacked on, as if the story didn’t quite know what to do with its idea. There is something here,though. Keep watering it until the potential blossoms.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A flash about gender. Lack of precision and escalation/transformation of concept hold this one back.

Story 375 (3/25/2011 Horror 3213 words)

Reader 1: “Writing is okay, but there is nothing new to this vampire tale. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening drops me into mid-scene, which is good, but the writing is a little too ornate at the expense of clearly setting a scene. That final sentence ought to come before the details (and note that that sentence contradicts the first sentence).

I don’t understand why they care about this issue. What I want is a sense of character motivation. This is too much a day in the life so far. Inciting incident at end of page 3.

Well this feels like a fairly typical speculative romance; passive protagonist, lover too good to be true, etc. I’m coasting now.

Ah, action on page 7. Rising tension. This is welcome, but the stakes remain low (one guy’s doom) and I don’t feel particularly connected to the MC.  I’m glad to see her make a decision and act on page 11. That pushes this out of the passive protagonist category.  Some breathless overwriting here and there, but otherwise competent.

This does go to an interesting place, a nice twist on the usual. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t set up this ending very well. In order to release tension (emotional, plot) it must be built through the story. The chase scene gives an immediate burst of adrenalin, but doesn’t really build the deeper issues between them.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A horror tale about the sibling bond and growing up. An over reliance on generic situations at the expense of thematic exploration hurts this.

Story 376 (3/25/2011 SF 4200 words)

Reader 1: “If I would only save my note before doing the next step, I wouldn’t have to write it again. There are no obstacles. The writing is okay, the story just didn’t work. ” (plot spoilers removed).

And you thought our readers had it easy 🙂

Unnamed character in mid-action. The mid-action is okay (though “As” is a weak word to open with), but the unnamed character not so much. The dialogue does establish context and motive, which is good. It’s a little cheesy, but efficient.

Now we’re moving backward. Beware of this tendency, fellow writers. We’ve become so addicted to the “hook” that we’re losing sight of the fact that we need to hold an editor’s eyes after that too. The fact that I’m writing this now should make my point. Why not open with her arriving at this place rather than thinking about the past?

We have a back flash next. It moves forward, but is mostly background disguised as chit-chat. As I’ve said here before, my eyes glaze over when I begin feeling as if an author is feeding me “necessary” background. If it were necessary it would be coming via the character needing it.

Here’s my reaction to this setup. Hey, that’s interesting. I wonder where it came from and why she’s claiming it. Impatient now. More background? I wonder when the story will begin.

Characters give me more background through their conversation. Some good prose sprinkled in. No story really. Plenty of setup.

Some more withholding. What about the object? The MC knows a heck of a lot more than she’s letting on. I don’t expect an infodump, but I’m not going to be satisfied with some sort of reveal later.

Ah, good emotional tension on page 5.  Page 7 is startling, but a little sterile in its description. It gets stronger with the craving touch. I don’t really feel her need, though, I’m being told about it.

The story should probably begin with this (or near it) and move forward. The Alliance dulls this for me. Another franchise story? Will this one be episodic like most we see? Good details here though. I really like this title, by the way.

The decision is too easy. She’s not paying a price because she values nothing she’s obtained yet. The addiction complication is good. The action scene is a bit rushed.

We get an explanation of background to explain the mystery that just popped up. It doesn’t satisfy, but opens a tangent.  Nice ending, and not episodic.

However, the story structure is off. Rather than setting up the emotional payoff, the story settles for providing background and intellectual underpinnings for the first third or so. Then it must rush through a story arc in a few pages and an oh-by-the-way here’s why it matters explanation. The core of this, which does work, is the MC’s discovery and how it gives her what she didn’t know she needed, how she must choose between it and duty in the end, and makes a surprising story.

I see potential here; the story needs considerable work on its scaffolding, but can be very good.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF tale about the frictions between intellect and emotion, duty and passion. A slow start, uneven buildup and rushed climax work against it.

Story 377 (3/25/2011 983 words)

Reader 1: “I would not classify this as a genre story. It’s not even horror. ” (plot spoilers removed)

Character waking up. We’re dropped into viewpoint with minor context. Very day in the life. Good prose.

Good observations. The prose is effective without being in my face. Unfortunately there’s no sense of story after 2 pages (of 6).  Possible inciting incident on page 4.

This feels like an exercise in observation. If so I’d say it passes with flying colors. There’s no story, however. An incident was thrust upon a character, yes, but no story experience.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A observational story about an incident with a gun. Lack of story and character arcs work against this.

Story 378 (3/25/2011 SF 4700 words)

Reader 1: “This is basically a romance story. The POV is supposed to be a scientist, but she doesn’t know anything about botany or growing plants, which is what she’s supposed to be doing in her lab.  The science is horrible.” (plot spoilers removed)

This comes from a widely published author. The opening effectively sets the situation, viewpoint and genre. First page sets a tone and parallels to our reality. Not bad. Nice nuance at the end of page 1. We’re moving in scene now.

A long static discussion of the idea and implications. First scene is pretty static. I’m not getting much sense of story yet. The idea is decent if not exactly new. There are some decent twists to it, however.  A discussion of the implications of the idea with a different character in another static scene. A more active tour of the idea.  Something important does happen off scene, but it’s merely used to launch another discussion of the idea.

A reunion on page 14. I didn’t care very much because I’m not really invested in the character. There have been some nice internal thoughts and lots of observations, but the experience has mainly been one of examining this idea from various angles  with characters serving as mouthpieces. The MC lacks proactive motivation and is thus difficult to care about.

Now the solution to the looming problem presents itself, pretty much out of nowhere. I didn’t even realize the MC was looking for this. Ah, now she’s looking. This comes too late in the story. It’s almost an afterthought.

I do like that it’s not a complete solution, but a stopgap. I don’t understand what it is either, so it seems like a magical rescue. Ah, rescue arrives before the final scene. Then a summary of how things are afterward. Which begs the question as to how this fits the theme, but never mind that. My main problem is that the protagonist is mainly passive, rescued twice, and not very compelling, emotionally. I’m not a fan of this one, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A story about a woman in a world coming to an end. Lack of compelling motivation and uneven  escalation hurt this one.

Story 379 (3/26/2011 SF 1300 words)

Reader 1: “This is an idea. This could have been funny, but it wasn’t.  It’s too long for the idea and the story doesn’t have much forward momentum. ” (plot spoilers removed)

This is another author I’d like to publish, but it doesn’t sound too encouraging. The opening line grabs my attention. The second line not so much.

The next paragraph discusses background without actually saying what I want to know, which is how the thing was botched. I’m not able to identify with the character withholding the most relevant knowledge like that.

Consider opening with the paragraph at top of page 2, then show reactions to it. Much stronger than showing reactions, then describing stimulus.  Yeah, I can see this opening with this couple of action paragraphs showing the botch, then the character and others reacting. That should pull me in.

Now we’re off to a lively back flash. It actually works pretty well to contrast the opening scene, but I don’t really see that opening frame leading to anything particularly powerful, so I dunno.

Some good prose, though a bit distancing. Too often reaction precedes stimulus, turning it into an intellectual rather than visceral experience.  But the real problem is that the story isn’t really escalating. It’s basically a riff off of a really interesting idea; it lacks a true story or character arc since we already know where it goes and the how it gets there isn’t used for complication, but chuckles. The chuckles are decent, mind you.

The end is nicely sentimental and fun at the same time. I wish the story had earned it. If I were revising, I would focus on the relationship and build the story forward from their bonding over this wacky plan, through the engineering phase, culminating in the disaster and ending with the redeeming letter. As it stands, the story doesn’t build in a way that makes me care.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A story about an ill equipped boy trying to honor his relative’s dying wish. The funny bits get lost in the soup.

Story 380 (3/31/2011 SF 5500 words)

Reader 1: “The writing is good, but this story of doesn’t seem to have any genre elements.”

Fascinating opening. Media res to be sure and such interesting details. Such beautiful prose, the details exquisite. We have a motivated character in a very clear context.

It develops leisurely. The character and setting are interesting enough that I don’t really mind and the writing is wonderful, but I’m not really feeling a compelling story through the second quarter.

Battle begins. Strong action scene, which is a good contrast. I think what is bothering me is that the MC, while very dimensional, is not actually motivated early in the story. He has given up, which makes it difficult for me to attach fully. The story becomes something of a tour of its world (which is our world made alien by the distance in time).

I’m very much enjoying the post battle scenes. MC has a realization and his passion returns as well as his pain. Delicious pun at the end of page 16. What a beautiful ending. I’m not certain the love interest (or precisely his need for it) is set quite as strongly as it needs to be early in the story and I believe the plant should be defined there as well (in a sense it is the speculative element here, the magic it possesses that they choose to leave behind in their disconsolate state; as if the disease of their psyche mirrors the disease of their limbs and their lack of faith in the potential of either dooms them in the end – or something like that). A poignant, powerful story. I hope the other editors will agree. A tweak here and there perhaps to speed it a bit in the early section and add even more power to this ending.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A story about pain, the bad and the good of it, and where it leads us in life. A stronger hint of motivation/need early in the piece may be called for.

Story 381 (3/26/2011 Fantasy 400 words)

Reader 1: “This is short and I liked it. ”

First person present tense; immediate but difficult to pull reader into. I do feel distanced from the scene (in the MC’s head).  Clue in first paragraph reminds me that something is being withheld. I’d prefer that not be the case.  Rather than pointing out that the character is not telling me something, distract me instead. Not “How could I forget the celebration that tonight brings.” but “How could I forget? It’s All Hallow’s Eve; the parade has probably already started.” Now, rather than thinking that something is being withheld to tempt me further into the word count, something interesting is being promised to draw me in. Revelation rather than withholding. It’s vastly underused from what I’ve seen in the sums this year.

Good description, but the “Like…” line is too artificial for me (inside the head). The next line is stronger, a visual that can SHOW the MC’s interest rather than confirm what has been told to me about it.

“I’m so caught..” that sentence is another case of overkill, especially the recognition part. SHOW what happens and SHOW him reacting rather than telling me his reaction, then showing the stimulus. Get me out of the head as much as possible in first person (actually you want a balance between internal and external, and that balance depends on the effect you mean to create). Nice ending.

So, basically, I’d like this better at 325 words, with less telling and greater focus on showing, but it would make a decent filler for the anthology.  It depends mainly on whether we need a shorter piece to balance out longer ones. I won’t know that until next week.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A sharp Fantasy flash about loneliness. A slight imbalance between internal and external and showing/telling hurt this one.

Well, I’m done for today. We’re going to have to cut loose some stories I really like (already have cut a few of them actually). We’re thinking at this point about balance in the final collection. Does this fill a gap? Is it too close to an idea we already have? Do we have a good mix of long and short, fantasy and SF, enough spicing of horror?

I’m hoping to hear back from a first reader over the weekend, which will help make these final tough cuts.  For context, I’m looking at 20 to 21 stories to fill the last 3-5 slots. Good night and thanks for all the wonderful stories this year.

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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 369 (3/21/2011  SF 2500 words)

Reader 1: “This has a nice voice, but the ending is completely Deus Ex Machina and doesn’t involve the protagonist making choices at all. It completely spoils a perfectly competent (if unremarkable story) and made me lose my trust in the author straight away. ”

The opening establishes a solid steampunk feel and introduces a character. Good. Inciting incident a couple paragraphs later. There’s good solid background here. I would like a stronger sense of character motivation. I’m getting a bit of the tour of a world feel by page 2. Moves in scene on page 3. Good dialogue.

I’d rather have specific details of the part, to make it real. This scene is well written, naturalistic, and not very interesting. The problem is that the character is not motivated. The stakes are minimal because of it (i.e. the story is unimportant). With a motive beyond worrying she’s in trouble, this scene might well shine, provided, of course, the stakes are high.

On page 7 we get what seems like an inciting incident. We get some tension, though the stakes remain very low. There’s a good deal to like in this story; it’s told comfortably, I like the MC. But the story and character arcs are minimal. What does the MC decide at climax? To speak up for someone. What does it cost her. Nothing. Not that every story has to follow a formula, mind you, but often when a story doesn’t work, a formulaic analysis can help pinpoint why. The stakes are very low here; the tension minimal, and the character pays nothing for her success.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF story about a kid learning a lesson. The story stakes are relatively low and the protagonist barely has to sweat to gain her prize.

Story 370 (3/24/2011  SF 1000 words)

Reader 1: “It’s a bit ‘twilight zone/to serve man’ for me. There’s no real observable conflict here, just a set-up for a ‘gotcha’ ending. While it raised a bit of a smile, that’s not enough reason to include it. ”

Effective opening. Establishes context, genre, viewpoint and a sense of conflict, if not motive in two sentences.

Good relevant background in second paragraph.

Then we start moving backward into world building and idea. This is how we got here, but where are we going now? When will story start?

On mid-page 2 we get forward movement.  In a regular short story this might be fine, but we’re a quarter of the way through this one. The writing is smooth and confident. No problem on that front.

Good complication on page 3.

Yeaaahhhh… what the reader said. The story, which had my attention, settles for a punch line twist. Too bad. The situation was pretty interesting.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF flash about a Mom and her pet. A solid setup is weakened by a too simple payoff.

Story 371 (3/25/2011  SF ?? words)

Reader 1: “I’m not fond of stories that start with unattributed dialogue and the dialogue isn’t particular effective as a framing device.  We’re also far outside the girl’s head and I’m not particularly involved with her discoveries. It didn’t take me long to lose interest. ” (plot spoilers removed)

Story opens with a scene of unattributed dialogue. It’s skillfully written and does introduce the story. It’s also a technique that draws attention to itself. I usually worry that such techniques are used to paper over a lack of actual story.

Second scene opens with an unnamed character looking up. This is also technique that draws attention to itself. The scene itself is telling us about the girl, primarily what she doesn’t know. There’s a reason for this, but it’s not very compelling to read two pages of reason. This is a tale being told to a child. At times it feels like that; at others it feels like an infodump. The writing itself is solid. When will the story begin? Ah, there it is, at the end of the second scene.

An interlude in the present that basically repeats what we know and promises more tomorrow. Nothing wrong with the writing.

More explanation of the character and her background. A complication. It takes too long, but does move the story a little.

A complication in the next interlude. This one interests me.

Then we’re back to the other character, hearing about why she does what she does as she goes through her day. We take almost a page to say that she didn’t understand something said. This story is too long for its idea.

A complication, then a couple pages explaining it. Another interlude. A touch of mystery (true mystery since the withholding is intentional).

Then more explanation of the previous complication. I don’t buy that this character, who has been thinking abstractly and talking abstractly, has her mind broken when confronted with a fairly simple concept.

Then we skip forward in time and the character is given the second part of her reward. Explanation of consequence.

Foreground story slips into explanation mode.  The end. The story is mainly telling about the idea. It does have some decent in-scene sections, but not 4000 words (I estimate) worth of story.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A genesis fantasy. Too much explanation of idea and too little actual story hurt this one.

That’s it for tonight. I have a few more stories to deal with here, scattered among the final batch.

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