Monday, March 03, 2014
LETTERS TO THE SLUSH PILE #7
Thank you for submitting your story ------ to On Spec for consideration. You know how to write, you have the technique down pat, but you're missing some story basics.
Let me paint you a picture, so you can get an idea of how your story struck me. Imagine you've been invited to your best friend's family reunion. Her family is quirky; every relative is a Star Trek aficionado (but you've never been a fan). Everyone is also in costume, and they aren't going by their real names. You're introduced to each relative in quick succession and are expected to remember what part of the galaxy they're from. They all blend into an interesting whole, but as time goes on, it's hard to keep them straight. Things become confusing. Maybe someone's spiked the punch bowl.
Half way through the reunion - Saturday night (the party started Friday afternoon), James T. Kirk shows up - handsome, clever, and sexy. There's a fight (as there often is at family reunions), but James T. intervenes, and it all turns out fine in the end. An interesting weekend, if a little nutty, but nobody gets hurt.
So... how does this apply to your piece? My Star Trek metaphor aside, I think your main problem is you're trying to put too much into a short story. You're dealing with an ambitious theme - a government take-over - which might work better for a novel, especially considering the cast of characters you've introduced.
You need to present your protagonist on page one - at the beginning. As it is, the first half of your story is set-up - that's far too long.You may think you're introducing characters, but you're actually creating a milieu. Give your protagonist some serious trouble and a strong motivation to deal with it from the get-go. If he has a personal stake, as well as a professional one, so much the better. Create some real conflict (your story has next to none). Finally, and on a minor note, whenever you're dealing with aliens with strange names in a short story, please limit their number, or your reader will wind up getting lost. I had to keep going back and forth to keep them all straight.
You have ability. (For example, you handle dialogue quite well. Your characters are also interesting.) You just need to reign your story in.