Three eliminations in, Fourth Fiction, the first ever blog based literary reality show, has seen the ‘new-age nonsense’ of Isis, the ‘beat-meets-street’ stylings of Fido, and the ‘virtual unreality ramblings’ of enigmatic Fyor voted off in favour of the remaining nine contestants. While it could be argued that Fido was put down way before that particular dog had his day, as all three of the rejection letter recipients have found, there is no arguing with the public vote.
As we head towards the vote for Round 4, the remaining nine contestants are busy posting their responses to the most recent challenge: Weave an element of Fyor’s story into your passage. It should be no more than 450 words. The criticism that follows is for the remaining contestants responses available to me at time of writing, re-read and revisited as a whole. Let’s see, in order of their position on the drop down menu over on Fourth Night, what they have that has kept them in the competition so far.
The first three sections of Olaf’s novella in progress benefit from his background as a Gulf of Maine fisherman. He is writing about what he knows, staying in familiar waters as far as the background of his main character is concerned. Ron is a fisherman too, a man who seems to relish the solitary nature of his work. Olaf has done a good job of rounding out his character in his first four challenge responses. Ron’s use of social media rings true as the dichotomy of socialising virtually with people helps to keep Ron as a solitary figure in the real world.
Probably the hardest challenge thus far, the weaving of an element of Fyor’s story into the fourth response, is handled well here. In fact it is surprising how seemless the introduction of a major event in Fyor’s tale into Olaf’s back-story proves. Olaf even manages to create further dimension to Ron when he shows the reader that he has chosen this life, that other options, myriad options were open to him. His family background as much as the main plot’s failed relationship sent this man out to sea. It will be interesting to see what he does as he comes ashore.
Judging by the positive comments and the fact that she received no rejecton votes last round, Coco is fast becoming favourite to win. Not surprising really. Her story manages to hit all the right buttons. First there is the convincing voice of the narrator, Ivana, a prostitute in Limmasol who tells her story in English, though it is not her mother tongue. Coco’s limitations as a writer in English provide one of her stories key strengths, her idiosyncratic approach to English grammar providing an authenticity to her character’s voice.
Add to that a keen eye for imagery and you have some very powerful writing indeed. Her use of metaphor and simile are particularly strong, Ivana describes her actions and their possible consequences in two powerfully vivid passages. In round three the metaphor of the rotting board provides a powerful visual image of an internal process:
‘I say to myself Yes Ivana you can cut this part of your life out and throw away. Take it out like rotting bored in house and put in new one. But maybe you can’t. Maybe rotting bored stays there and rots everything else. Like poison.’
With immunity this week Coco could have produced a below par piece and survived to the next round. Instead she serves up a piece containing this marvelous simile:
‘I always make it cold and no passion like machine. Like carnival horse that men put in coins to ride for little while. Its why I say Maria is my name. So they don’t touch Ivana. To make my mind believe I am like actress in movie.’
A beautiful, sad and desparate image. Ivana’s need to seperate herself from what she is doing makes total sense and Coco writes about it with a tender honesty. Ivana is shaping up into a wonderful character, full of emotion and depth and with a fascinating story to tell.
Probably the genre as much as the ideology but I am just a bit bored by Tuck’s hard nosed FBI (?) agent, Frank Braun. The plot is a riff on the first season of 24, which saw Jack tasked with stopping the assassination of the President, only replacing Bauer with Braun and the fictional U.S. President, David Palmer, with the actual U. S. President, Barack Obama. Tuck is using his fiction as a store front for his own right wing agenda, which, along with the tired plot-line, manages to make this story less than compelling. It all seems forced, with Tuck even placing the user name of one negative commenter on his work inside the story.
The fact we are given little reason to care about Frank doesn’t help. Braun seems largely a cipher for Tuck’s own ramblings about the state of the U.S. and little else, which makes the character’s bouts of racism hard to swallow. Racism, when dealt with intelligently in fiction can be incredibly powerful (see Maggie Gee’s ‘The White Family’ for example), here it just seems like the (not quite) literary equivalent of slurs made anonymously on the internet.
This could have been forgiven had Tuck given us some quality writing, but his output so far is merely pedestrian. Fact is, Tuck’s work is neither as interesting nor as controversial as he might hope. His latest post is the only one to provide a ray of light with much less tub-thumping and a little light humour that sees Tuck playing with the stereotypical-sexism of characters like James Bond. If his presence on the chopping block last week is anything to go by, this could well be Tuck’s last week posting. We’ll have to wait for the result of the upcoming vote to see if he really is a lucky s.o.b.
With four challenge responses posted, Tess is still to get to the man-hunting promised in her opening line. So far her novella has focused on a failed date and a shopping trip, both staples of her chosen genre. In light of the current economic crisis, characters splashing out $185 for a dress might be striking the wrong chord with readers, especially if all those articles out their about ‘recession-lit’ being the new thing are true.
While I can grasp that I am perhaps not the target audience for a story like this, being that I am a mid-thirties male with little interest in the glossy, girly chicklit novel, I can’t help being underwhelmed by what I have read of this thus far. Surely readers will have read all this before. Tess would have been better off cutting to the chase for her opening. Too much set-up here, and not a particularly interesting one at that.
Utah’s premise is one that has potential. A cautionary tale of the perils of the internet is sure to strike a cord with many readers of a blog based literary reality show if only because those readers are familiar wit the landscape of the internet. Her opening, like Tess’s, suffers from being too full of back story. We have the full run down of what has brought Corey to run away from home already. These are things we could have been shown more slowly in the narrative, rather than told up front.
Her response to the most recent challenge sees the story properly underway, with Corey meeting the seedy Jacob in a diner. This is where this novella should have started, with Corey’s view of events in more detail, building to her leaving with Jacob. The back story could have been shown here, slowly revealing to the reader why this is happening.
Unfortunately, Utah further compounds this problem by switching narrative view point to Jacob in a jarring transition. All of a sudden we are being told a chunk of back story from his point of view. We aren’t shown anything of Corey’s conversation with this man, despite her having dialogue with random, minor characters in the diner. Instead we are simply told she goes with him in his car to his cabin. What should be a tense, slowly unfolding dramatic scene is reduce to a throwaway sentence:
At 1:47 Jacob parked his black station wagon outside the Halfway House; at 2:38 they were laughing and talking over club sandwiches and onion rings; and at 3:07 they were driving down a dirt road towards his cabin.
All of which is a shame as the actual plot has merit, it is just a shame that Utah is providing us with a synopsis of the story rather than showing it to us.
To be continued….
The second part of this criticism of the nine remaining novellas-in-progress will be posted later today. While we wait for the vote to open at midnight, why don’t you use the comments to big up your favourite.
10 Responses to Fourth Fiction – Round 4 LitCrit (Part 1)
I haven’t been following all of this like I had intended to, so I am incredibly thankful for your rundown here. I hope to catch up soon, and be on top of things.
Another great roundup. I’m curious to see what the others think of this-where they agree with you and where they disagree.
I have to say that I agree with you on several accounts, which means that I don’t with all.
For me Olaf started good, but it’s going slowly, and I’m loosing interest. I want to see more of the finnish woman (Olga right?).
I agree about Coco.
Tuck writes rather flatly. Not engaging. So I guess I agree. ^^
I want the man-hunting with Tess’s story too. I haven’t read much chicklit, but it’s more geared towards me, since I’m a 20 year old woman (although I can’t understand the obsession many girls have with fashion).
I have read some though, and this IS a slow start. I don’t care about a failed date or a shopping trip without being show a clear purpose as to why we need to read it.
The date I can see as a story element to further the plot, but not the shopping trip.
I have to disagree with you about Utah. I think it’s good that she got the mother into the beginning, although it could have been shortened I guess.
In some ways by writing the Jacob scene so short, it sounds omnious in it’s simple stating of facts. Like what will happen is to gruesome to put into words. I felt dread for what would happen to Corey.
Anyway, I like reading your crits! It puts my thoughts into perspective. 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to comment Felicia. I agree that it was good to see the effect on the mother in Utah’s story, just wish she had taken her time and shown us more instead of telling it.
Hope you check out my second post detailing the remaining contestants which is now posted.
Thanks for casting the x-ray on Fourth Fiction.
I am interested in how each of the contestants seems to have good weeks and bad weeks.
3rd rounds was really disappointing – a man adrift at sea – but Round 4 really packs a punch and I can see his story really moving from here. It would be wrong to say he’d been “floudering” prior to this. Round Five has his MC with a name for the first time, his back story firmly embedded and a chance for all of this to play out with Olga.
Ditto! I am enamoured with the fact what would have been considered (pre contest) to be Coco’s weakness is actually her strength.
I’ve got a bit of a love hate relationship with Frank and with Tuck (mainly for the political leanings) I haven’t seen “24” so can’t charge him with being derivative. I do think Tuck manages to catch little snippets which are quite clever and wry but there are just not enough of them in there. I also think his “off page” behaviour (which has been suprisingly toned down this round – has he had some PR grooming!) has contributed to the voting.
Her writing is a tease – she promises so much and delivers so little at time. There are glimmers of what could be smart, funny, edgey but there isn’t the maturity in her writing or conceptualisation to weed out what will work and what will bore. Unlike a novel – you can’t just step it out and hope you fall into something good. What I have noted though – given the SATC-ishness of it. She should be using the short vignette sized paragraphs to better effect – because her story lends itself to the slightly broken snap shot style.
I like what Utah has done and I do like the short snappy paragraph and change of perspective at the end. I think what she’s done is quite clever. We’ve ben given the domestic bliss and the demise of it … so what will come next will be all the more horrific/tragic/uplighting … depending on where her narrative goes. And as you say – I believe in this day and age, utilising the old story telling ethos – it is a story which must be told and read by those 13 year old Coreys out there.
TO BE CONTINUED …
Wow, top comment Jodi. I like the idea of Tess’s story presented in snapshot. A chicklit novel about a celeb told in that style could really work. The style would fit the subject.
Your thoughts on Utah are interesting, particularly that you like what seemed jarring to me. I suppose whether or not her approach is working depends on the audience it is aimed at. A teen novel on the subject, as you say, should definitely be told by the teen character. A more adult take oriented take on the subject would allow for multiple narrators. Let’s hope Utah can prove my criticisms wrong in the next round.
I remember criticising Tess for revealing too much in her opening paragraph (where she slipped in her character was a twenty something virgin) and she commented how you have to reveal some stuff to keep in the game.
I think Utah’s tiny flip at the bottom is all about staying in the game. I agree with you that such a “lazy” convention wouldn’t cut it in a novel (I believe of either YA or A fiction) but the deliciously disturbing thing about FF – is pushing boundaries of writing – things which would never work in a full length novel work exceedinglyl well here … which I think for us writers can be both terrifying, frustrating and enlightening.
Seeing the contestants adapt – as sort of hothouse evolution – is interesting in itself. Those who are paying attention are evolving their writing to suit the contest and are flourishing.
I was thinking how Coco’s writing is also making best use of the short vignette insight which combined with all the other things which are wonderful about her writing and character – are keeping her at the forefront of the competition.
I should cut and paste all of this into a blog post for my site – lol!
PS: do you know why Tuck and Fyor both had 24% of the vote but Fyor was the one who was outsed-ed. I sort of dropped off the planet last week.
‘I should cut and paste all of this into a blog post for my site – lol!’
Go ahead. I was thinking you wrote enough here to fill a new post. 🙂
‘PS: do you know why Tuck and Fyor both had 24% of the vote but Fyor was the one who was outsed-ed. I sort of dropped off the planet last week.’
Fyor was booted on the basis that he had taken no part in the social media side of what is a social media event. Because he had made no comments to his readers on his own posts and had avoided tweeting during the pre-competition phase he was shown the door.
Brilliant!! There goes Fyor’s too cool to tweet.
I’m taking a break from the internet for a week so wont bother putting all my thoughts up on my own blog. Better I hide them off here … it would just be my luck I’d end up with a lurker like Auggie on my own website.
Must read your latest Fourth Fic installment too. Glad to have got mine down finally.
Thanks also for your comments and RTs for Chinese Whisperings. When a place comes up – would you be interested in taking part. I’d love to have you on CW writing cast.
Now for that much yearned for rest 🙂
‘When a place comes up – would you be interested in taking part. I’d love to have you on CW writing cast.’
I’d be well up for that. The whole concept is really interesting as a writer and a reader.
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