As most of you know, I read slush for Lenox Avenue, an on-line zine of speculative fiction.
You hear stories about how bad slush is. I've been surprised by how good LA's slush is. A great many stories, probably the majority we receive, are not dreadful, and show signs of talent and imagination. They aren't quite there yet, they have major flaws that doom them as stories, but it's easy to imagine the person who wrote them improving and learning to write good stories.
Some of the major flaws I see are these:
1. No story. The writer has an interesting idea, which is fleshed out a bit, but there's insufficient story-ness. No movement, no growth or decay, no character conflict or development, no real climax or resolution. An idea without drama is an essay, not a story.
2. Protagonists who don't protag. The passive protagonist who is buffeted this way and that by the story's events is distressingly common. A protagonist can fight and win, he can fight and lose. He can run away. He can, after a struggle, reconcile himself to whatever demons, real or metaphorical, are pursuing him. But he has to struggle. He has to be active. Obviously, this is one of the causes of problem 1.
3. No climax or denouement. Sometimes the story is there, the protagonist protags for all he's worth, but it all sort of dribbles off at the end, leaving the reader thinking, "Why, exactly, did I bother to read that?" I suspect part of this problem is simply the difficulty of coming up with a satisfying solution to a story conflict. It's a lot easier to imagine a conflict and enmesh one's characters in it than it is to solve that conflict and tie up all the threads in a believable and satisfying way. Maybe this is why some writers recommend writing the climax first, and working backward from it?
4. The motherhood statement, as mentioned in the Turkey City Lexicon. There is a climax, but it's all warm and fuzzy and inoffensive. It has no bite. I'm not inveighing against happy endings here. Happy endings are fine. Not anesthetized endings.
These are just the top few problems I see. There must be a million ways to mortally injure a short story.
Incidentally, being able to identify story problems is all very well, but it's not the same as solving them. I still struggle with these myself. Story is hard. I'm having an especially difficult time right now with problem 2 in protagonists who are children. Child protagonists seem to creep into my fiction a lot, and children in a world ruled by adults have a limited number of ways in which they can realistically struggle against events without being sent to their rooms.
== tengai == (noun) horizon, distant land, skyline, heavenly shores,
|Left radical is the radical form of 'water'. The right radical is a Non-General Use character meaning 'tall cliff', composed of an outer radical of 'cliff', and an inner radical which is a doubling of 'earth' (土). Henshall suggests as a mnemonic: 'Cliff of raised earth stands at water's edge.'|