Reading, Writing

Ask and You Shall Receive?

In my last post, I mentioned that I haven’t done any new slush reading this year, and that I kind of missed it. The head of Writers of the Weird put me in touch with someone needing a short-term slush reader for a themed anthology. Viola! I’m reading slush. (Thanks again, Phil!)

Sometimes, it really is who you know. And what you’re seeking, too.

It’s not raw slush, mind you, but items plucked out after an initial first read, so I’m being spared the terribly dreadful stuff. But it’s definitely insightful. Why did that story just not grab me? And why did that one appeal more over the other, especially since both have a similar theme-vein running through them? Was it a better hook at the opening, or a stronger resolution? Did one have a fuller character arc, or was one simply too predictable?

Predictability is a tough one. What one person thinks is shiny and new, another reader finds old and worn-out. Part of that is how far and widely they’ve read within a genre, of course. But other things come into play, as well. Age of the reader/writer, outside-the-genre reading, even exposure to other media forms–all can play a part in what we “expect” to happen.

I recently watched the movie “Freedom Writers.” In it, a high-school girl from a very rough neighborhood is given a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. She hasn’t read much of anything in her life. The girl, Eva, is furious at the end of the book, when it’s revealed that Anne Frank died. In her world, real people die, but in movie-land, the hero always lives–usually happily ever after. So much for those expectations. (The movie, an older one, is really spectacular, BTW. It shows the true power of the written word, and its lasting value. I recommend it!)

Still, you don’t want endings that just pop out of nowhere, either. It has to be foreshadowed somehow, so that in the end, the resolution of the problem seems logical, and probably like the only solution, too. Or at least the best solution.

And (for me), worst of all is the Deus ex Machina ending. In this one, someone jumps in and solves the problems for the players on stage, letting all be well in the world through no effort of the involved parties. Arrgh! These cheat our protagonists out of solving their own problems and out of the growth that comes from the pains of problem-solving.

All in all, endings are tough, and good endings are tougher still. Like now. This is a terrible ending for this post.

2 thoughts on “Ask and You Shall Receive?”

  1. Ah, I totally agree. I think the stories that are the most painful to reject are the ones which are well-written but didn’t end with satisfaction. That means the entire time I’m reading it I’m getting more and more excited that it might be a keeper–and then I’m like “Wait, the bad guy dies of a heart attack?!” or something equally out-of-nowhere. Sad!

    1. Yes! Exactly! I mean, you’re flowing along in a dream and then the tidal wave washes the zombie hordes away. Or the (unicorn) cops descend and make the (fae) mobsters all go away. Yeah, your protag is okay, and may live fine thereafter…but my story just went fizzle, fizzle, pop.

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