Clever title is clever, amirite? Accurate, well thought out, or descriptive of the actual post is another matter, but we shall see, shan't we.
Shan't is a great word, BTW. Only an apostrophe and an n away from a weird past-tense vulgarity. An only an acid-trip away from William Shan'tner and the voyages of the starship Ain'terprise.
Okay, I'll stop now.
I'm back to musing on writing process related stuff this week. Most particularly: amplifying reader involvement with characters. I made some strides in that direction with a rewrite of an SF story, and hopefully have gotten a handle on a few things.
Most importantly: readers don't care about settings and events and cool gizmos and stuff. They care about characters. Everything else is window dressing. So, in a short story, the MC needs to be clearly delineated and compelling from the get-go. The reader absolutely has to care what happens to the MC next, or the story is over for the reader and they move on.
I think I finally have my head wrapped around that. Clever isn't enough. Well-written isn't enough. Nifty ideas are not enough. Amazing descriptions? So what. Great plot? Why does it matter. Answer: it doesn't, if it happens to an MC that the reader isn't involved with.
So I am penciling in Item Zero on my "is it a story?" checklist. It isn't a story if it doesn't have a compelling MC. Not necessarily likable or sympathetic, although that is probably almost always for the best. But compelling = required.
The full "is it a story?" list:
0) Compelling MC
1) With clear goals
2) That the MC acts upon (agency)
3) In the face of adversity (obstacles, setbacks)
4) resulting in tension mounting
5) until MC either achieves goals or fails
If you have all of the above, it's a story. If not, it's something else, possibly something (shudder) literary.
Media breakdown: I'm almost done with Charles Stross's Rule 34. I liked Halting State (the semi-prequel), but wasn't amazed by it. Rule 34 is amazing. The second-person POV is still weird, still fun, and still gimmicky, but it works anyway and does provide a very close feeling to the narrative. The SF/concept elements are fabulously deviant and fun. No spoilers here, but this novel is rude, raw, and brilliantly paranoid. Highly recommended.