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Sunday, August 21, 2016

LETTERS to the SLUSH PILE #23

Dear ----------

Re: Memo #3

I just want to start off by way of an apology. I was hard on you in Memo #3, and that wasn't fair. We all start out by writing what we think is pretty good stuff, and it takes a while to develop an eye to see the flaws. I think back to some of the earliest stuff I sent out, and I either cringe or laugh.

That said, I thought it might be much more helpful if I told you why I was so put off by your story.

You opened with telling me your protagonist had just lost a limb - her hand - to a monster. You didn't elaborate on what kind of monster, and quickly reassured me that your protagonist was all right, if a little inconvenienced by the loss of her hand.

You realise this could have made a pretty gripping opening? Setting it aside so quickly turns it into back story - never a good way to start a short story, or a novel for that matter. But even more to the point is the fact that your protagonist shrugs off losing her hand as if it's no biggie. She even goes so far as to clean herself up and hide her missing part beneath a fold in her skirt so her boyfriend won't notice.

Okay - a few issues here. Either she's a superhero or you're taking us into comic territory reminiscent of the Black Knight in Monty Python's The Holy Grail. I'm pretty sure this isn't what you intended. Even if your protagonist is a superhero, the loss of a limb should cost her something. When our protagonists suffer, we empathise with them, we see their struggles and how they deal with them as a kind of character depth. Think about it - if you were to lose an arm, how would you feel about it? I doubt very much you'd shrug it off as your protagonist did. We want your interior story, we want to see your struggle, gain an insight from your pain. You gave me none of that.

Then we head into some sexual territory with your protagonist planning on obtaining semen from her boyfriend to create a magical spell. I suspect you've done some research and found some old superstitions involving semen, menstrual blood, etc. If you want to use these old techniques, you really need to think about how you present the scene. As you've written it, your protagonist comes across not only as shallow (because the loss of a hand hardly makes her blink), but also as manipulative because she intends to obtain the necessary ingredients under false pretences. Furthermore, if she's strong enough to suck it up over losing a hand, why would you objectify her with planning a hand job? Sorry, but this just raises my feminist ire. It also fills my head with some weird visuals. So far, there is nothing about your protagonist that appeals to me. Maybe if I understood her reasoning, why she needs to do such things, I would like her better, but as she is, you've made her unsympathetic, a role better played by your antagonist.

I hope this clears things up a bit. I also wish you all the best with your future writing.

- Susan.

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