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.