Parch – Day 1

This year, I’m trying to keep up with submissions on a day to day basis. This will result in less feedback, but a much quicker turnaround and should keep me from bogging down after the submission deadline. Hopefully it gives you wonderful writers a chance to submit more work during the submission period as well.

This morning I’m reading two submissions that arrived yesterday. I’m going to post story openings in an attempt to discuss one of the more important aspects of a submission. How do you grab a jaded editor’s eye, and hold it long enough to make him care?

Story 1

This body cannot last for long.

And if I ever need a reminder I need only look at the corpse of the moon, burnt outwith greed. But I don’t stare at its ghost light so much anymore; I find myself drawn to the ocean.

The carnival rages around me. I push my way through the clamour of the steel bands,the ribbons and streamers clutching at this face. I am surrounded by flesh. I breathe deep of their sweat, listening to the demonic maracas of their bones shaking beneath their garish costumes. I wander through the chaotic flashes of  a nightmare in a costume of my own.

The opening sentence does grab my attention. It thrusts me into a speculative situation without preamble, without pretense.  It makes me want to know more context. Who is this character, what does he/she want or need, and why is the body an obstacle to that?

The second paragraph begins to lose me. Rather than establishing a more concrete context that begins to address the questions I have, it takes me on an ethereal prose journey to the moon. At this point I’m wondering what the moon has to do with the body–the author has not lost me yet–but I’m also worrying that this story is going to be about its prose and not its substance.

The third paragraph confirms this suspicion for me. I want to get a feel for place and time, a hint of character motive by now, but am instead offered a poetic treatise on the carnival crowd I do not see or smell or hear in a place and time I do not know, with a character who remains undefined. The story has not started yet. There is no inciting incident, no deeper penetration of character. The author has lost me and I shift into skim mode.

A line at the end of page three did perk my interest (“I’m wearing a homeless man.”) but my sense is that the story probably should have started there and moved forward. At that point, however, the story becomes a drawn out explanation of the concept rather than a story (motive/obstacle/decision). Another editor might be interested–the prose is well done for the most part–but it’s not our type of story at all.

Story 2

You’ll have seen him at night, if you’ve seen him. And you’ll have dismissed him as unremarkable, if you even notice him at all. It’s all right; you’re meant to. He looks like a man from a distance, and the thing he pushes looks like a cart,and you weren’t close enough to see any different.

If you had, you’d know.

You’d be here with me.

I’m always suspicious of a story that focuses on an unusual technique to establish itself. Here, the first person narrator is writing a letter to me (or perhaps to himself). My immediate worry is that the technique will overwhelm the actual story. And, while I can sometimes accept direct reference to me in a story, that technique usually leaves me feeling resistant. I don’t like being manipulated so directly.

A great story that requires this approach can overcome my objections. And one can make the argument that this story requires the approach in order to deliver its payload. In my estimation, however, the payload isn’t sufficient to justify my investment. I come away from this short piece feeling as if I’ve had a concept described to me rather than having experienced an actual story. Also, I don’t actually see a connection to the “Parch” theme. If the story blew me away I would manufacture one, but this one leaves me pretty cold, I fear. I appreciate literary technique in the service of traditional story, but am not such a fan of story as an excuse for literary technique, at least not for the Triangulation series.

So that’s day 1 at Triangulation: Parch. If these blog entries are useful to you, please drop a comment below and I’ll keep doing them. If you’d like to chime in with your own ideas on story openings and technique, please do. If you’d like to see me talk about other issues, let me know what they are.

And, please spread the word that Triangulation is looking for a few good stories. We want “Parch” to be the strongest collection it can be. As part of that push, we will be paying $100 bonus to each of the three stories we believe handles the theme best. This is in addition to the 1.5 cents/word we pay for all stories.

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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 Parch – Day 1

  1. Andrew Stancek says:

    This is a FANTASTIC idea, Stephen, and I wish more editors would do it. I am working on a story for you, which should be ready soon. This kind of input is invaluable. Kyle Minor has just recently posted on FB a list of great openings, and explicitly said that anyone is welcome to steal the list. You may want to have a look.

  2. Oh, wow–yes, please: keep these coming. The whole concept of critiquing fascinates me, and feedback / examples from an editor, the actual person selecting content, is beyond priceless. Thanks!

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