Triangulation: Morning After – Stories 192-196

Story 192: Fantasy 2440 words 3/15/2012

I’m afraid this one falls into a common pattern. Character waking up (blame the theme, but remember that if you want your story to stand out, it’s best to find a unique way to connect to a theme, in general), a dose of false mystery (he knows what happened last night, but only refers to it obliquely), then the story moves into back story told through the distancing effect of memory/summary (only a paragraph though, so not so bad). Then we get some dialogue that obliquely references the incident we don’t know, but should (since we’re in the character’s perspective). This is, again, what I call false mystery. We then get some dialogue filling in some detail of what happened yesterday. Two characters talking to each other in order to provide information to the reader is a red flag. In general you don’t want to do anything solely to provide information to your reader (that’s was the eye-opening realization for me). You want your characters trying to achieve their conflicting agendas, with the reader identifying. Background comes in where the character requires it, not where the reader does. I know this is a bit simplistic, as it’s true a reader needs enough context to put his feet down at story opening, and sometimes that requires an establishing shot of background, but beware when you find yourself either trying to provide information for the reader or hide it from the reader. This is a sign you’re not actually in the character’s perspective. The key is to find stimulus that gets your character to react in ways that advance the story through its arc (and develop the character at the same time, of course). Too often, we write from a top down approach, moving characters through their roles, rather than actually becoming them.

Off the soapbox. I don’t mean to rag on this particular story, which is certainly no worse than the majority of stories I’ve seen. The prose is clear, the dialogue feels realistic, the character is reasonably interesting (though I would like more internal experience from him). There’s really no story, no character motivation, until end of page 3. At this point, it gets interesting. I can’t help but feel this is part of a larger work, however. The planning feels like a glimpse of epic struggle, rather than the beginning of a character journey.

In the end, I like this idea, but want to see an actual story built around it. Here, we basically have a lot of talking about plots and two acts of treachery. The end. The really interesting stuff comes after this, both from a plot and a character perspective. And, please, when you do write the book, be sure to be true to your viewpoint characters. Put me IN their heads if you want me to identify.

Slushy Sez: Lost me on page 4. When I’m in a character’s viewpoint and do not notice his plot to kill someone until that person falls over, I’m out of there. Tigers Blood. A flavor that sounds epic.

Story 193: Fantasy ??? words (4 mss pages) 3/15/2012

A couple of problems here. The first is that neither the voice nor the language support a child’s viewpoint. That dissonance keeps me from identifying with the character. It becomes an intellectual exercise. The second is that the ending doesn’t really shed light on the character or situation, but seems to be a random transformation. I do think this idea could work, but it will require a character that needs/deserves this fate, rather than one that simply receives it.

Slushy Sez: Lost me on page 2. Voice isn’t true to character. Tigers Blood. A flavor that sounds epic.

Story 194: Horror ??? words (2 mss pages) 3/15/2012

This has an eerie feel to it that works pretty well. We open with true mystery, then move through events that slowly reveal it to us. My main problems are that the language is distancing (for the most part) rather than engaging, and the resolution of the mystery really doesn’t take me anywhere new. The story is told in the manner of a fable, yet I don’t come away feeling I have learned a moral. Instead, I come away thinking how much more visceral the experience might have been if I had been grounded in a viewpoint and identified with particular characters. While I like the atmosphere this one generates, the ending seems a bit random. Why was it earned by this community? Why should I care?

Slushy Sez: Black Cherry. A flavor that evokes a dark heaviness.

Story 195: Fantasy 4080 words 3/15/2012

This comes from a 17 year old, which means I’m looking at it from a somewhat different perspective. I’d love to be able to publish the next phenom, but I’m not going to lower standards (much) to do it. Nor am I going to pull punches simply to avoid discouraging a young writer. I am, however, more attuned to issues of “potential” and craft as I read.

And there’s a lot of potential here. While the story is too static (people talking about a story rather than experiencing one), the flow of the prose is not static. There are moments of precision and observations from a just slightly unusual perspective, that suggest to me this could be a writer in the making. They may not have developed a full understanding of story (yet), but they already exhibit a good sense for what to show and when to show it. There’s a good flow to the prose, immediacy despite the static scene, characterization embedded within naturalistic exchanges and internal thought. There’s even a few well placed smells. I do caution the author to work harder to avoid “saidisms” (speech tags that draw attention to themselves when “said” would work just fine) and “telling about” emotion. “Looked in shock” “ran in fear”. Learn to convey emotion through the action itself, along with character reactions to stimulus.

On the story front, there’s not enough story here to support 4000 words. The opening is mostly background and the story itself (after the unconsciousness event) is mainly two people talking about events, rather than experiencing them. There is a sense of story progression in the telling, but it’s not nearly as powerful as showing a story experience directly.

All in all this is promising, but not yet ready for prime time.

Slushy Sez: Pink Bubblegum. A go to flavor.

Story 196: Fantasy ??? words (4 mss pages) 3/15/2012

And this one comes from a 13 year old. See above for rationale.

This is quite a different kind of story from 195. It’s basically a fable that we experience on the page (discreet scenes, active characters). From a technique standpoint, it’s pretty solid. There are a few awkward phrases, but the prose is generally clear and describes the scene and characters in interesting ways. Viewpoint wavers, but that works okay in this particular story where we’re not meant to become too attached to any one character (or at least it’s not necessary that we do).

The story is interesting if a touch unclear at one point (the details of the plan should be available to us as the plan unfolds). I think the ending can be played out just a bit more, though I like the explicit moral at the very end. I’m going to pass this on to other editors to see what they think. It’s a bit of a long shot, but we do like diverse perspectives. See last year’s “Zafir, the Saudi Superhero” and “The Charnel Pit” for example.

Slushy Sez: Kiwi. An exotic flavor.

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About Stephen

I live in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania with fellow writer, Susan Urbanek Linville, and a herd of reformed feral cats.
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2 Responses to Triangulation: Morning After – Stories 192-196

  1. Kylie says:

    Stephen, do you ever get seriously freaked out at the coincidences of the slush pile? Assuming that you’re still reading in order – what are the chances of a seventeen year old’s story being followed by a thirteen year old’s? And why do you so often get a series of flashes, or horror, or characters waking up, or a cluster of strong stories? Does the slush pile always turn up such odd runs?

    • Stephen says:

      I am reading in order, and, yes, it’s seriously strange that these run in batches. There’s actually a good reason for the 13 and 17 stories, in that they seem to be from a class assignment. I could be wrong about that, but there are clear similarities in contact info. I am struck by the increase in flashes. I suspect flash writing has increased throughout the industry. We’ll take a few of them, but they are not our primary focus.

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