Editor’s Choice Review May 2017, Horror

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Moongirl by Sharon Cullars

Set in San Diego, 2202, “Moongirl” shows us an interesting and unique future, in which monsters, visible only to those on a particular drug, eat humans.  Selene struggles to decide what to do with this knowledge.  The story has some nice emotion to it, since those previously on the drug, including Selene’s friend, Anne, and Anne’s mother, have killed themselves because of what they’ve seen.  The most intense and disturbing moment, for me, occurs when Selene sees her drawing of a girl on a swing grow animated, and then the girl is eaten by a monster.  That’s really haunting, and it’s something I’ve never seen before.

The main area of the story that I think can be improved is focus.  The story right now includes more than a short story can hold.  The focus needs to be narrowed to the elements necessary to create a powerful impact at the story’s end.  Other elements need to be cut.  I’ll discuss this in more detail below.

I think there is way too much plot here for a short story.  Since the vast majority of the plot has occurred before the present action, that means the story is filled with exposition (background information), most of it in the form of flashbacks.  Roughly three out of eight pages, almost half the story, is exposition.  If you find that much of your story is exposition, that usually means you’ve started the story in the wrong place.  Generally, the reader wants to be swept up in the present action of the story, with minimal amounts of exposition that provide a few key pieces of information about what happened earlier.  The story would be stronger if it was re-plotted to focus on present action with only a little exposition.

Right now, the present story has quite a weak plot.  Basically, Selene takes the drug, sees the monster, thinks back over all that happened, and decides to fight the monsters by giving others the drug, so they too can see.  The causal chain is weak, because there’s no particular reason why Selene makes the decision on this night, at this moment.  And she’s passive throughout, mainly watching and thinking, not struggling to achieve a goal.

My advice is to restructure the story to move the more emotionally powerful material into the present action.  The story could begin with Selene saying the line currently on p. 7:  “What is it you see, Anne?”  She and Anne could be on the rooftop, with Anne standing too close to the edge.  Selene tries to convince her to step away from the edge.  This scene could combine some of the dialogue from p. 7 with some of the dialogue from p. 9 (“I see things, Moon.  They’re here with us but no on sees them,” etc.).  Anne tells her to take the duffel.  Anne says her mother couldn’t handle it, and she can’t handle it, but maybe Selene can.  Selene senses Anne is about to jump and runs forward and grabs her, but Anne slips through her fingers and falls.  This would be a very powerful opening scene, and you could slow it down and describe their interactions some more and show Selene’s emotions.  The current version seems rushed and tells emotions with emotional labels (confused, frightened, desperately, hoping, etc.) more than shows them.

I think the details about Anne’s mother and how she died aren’t important to the story.  It’s enough to know that she took the drug and killed herself.  That’s all we need.  The focus should be on Anne, who is closest to Selene and who Selene tried and failed to save.  Since the story has too much plot, some needs to be cut away, and I would suggest most of Anne’s mother’s story could be cut.

This could be followed by the scene with Selene in the warehouse taking the drug for the first time and seeing the girl on the swing be eaten.  In that same scene, she could flee the warehouse after the girl is eaten and see more monsters on the streets, eating.  She could rush up to Liam and ask him what’s happening, but he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  She runs off, horrified, seeing people being killed, and it’s so awful she can’t stand living in the world.  She understands now why Anne and her mother killed themselves and she prepares to throw herself in front of a bus.  But she realizes that Anne trusted her and wanted her to change things, to end this.  She can’t just kill herself and let this go on.  She runs to Liam and tells him he has to take the drug.  He fights her at first, but finally she convinces him to do it, for her.  He’ll be the first of her army.  And she’ll stop them.

Compressing the time line, putting all the important events into the present of the story, and allowing Selene to struggle–first to save Anne, then to deal with her horror and despair, then to create the first soldier in her army–will strengthen the plot and make Selene a stronger protagonist.

In addition to the plot, there is also more setting here than the story requires.  The technology and futuristic setting seems irrelevant to the story.  Invisible, people-eating monsters can exist in any time.  I suggest simply setting the story in the present day.  It will be much more disturbing to think that monsters live among us and eat us than to think that in some imaginary future they will do so.

The alternate dimension also seems unnecessary.  That doesn’t add to Selene’s struggle or decision.

Simplifying the setting will also allow the point of view to be simplified.  Right now, it’s mainly omniscient, moving at times into Selene’s head.  The omniscient point of view keeps me distant from Selene for most of the story and prevents me from getting very emotionally involved.  I think the story would work much better in a close third-person limited omniscient POV, limited to Selene’s head.  The omniscient viewpoint allows for explanation of the technology, but if the technology is cut, then the POV can simply stay in Selene’s head and allow us to experience events with her.

Narrowing the focus should allow the strong core elements of the story to be further developed.

I really enjoy the disturbing premise and the emotional connection between Selene and Anne.  I hope my comments are helpful.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey

 

Reviewer Honor Roll

The Reviewer Honor Roll is a great way to pay back a reviewer for a really useful review. When you nominate a reviewer, we list the reviewer’s name, the submission/author reviewed, and your explanation of what made the review so useful. The nomination appears in the Honor Roll area of OWW the month after you submit it, and is listed for a month. You can nominate reviewers of your own submissions or reviewers of other submissions, if you have learned from reading the review. Think of it as a structured, public “thank you” that gives credit where credit is due and helps direct other OWWers to useful reviewers and useful review skills.

Visit the Reviewer Honor Roll page for a complete list of nominees and explanatory nominations.

[ April 2017] Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: William Delman
Submission: “I am a quine, I cannot change” by Richard Keelan
Submitted by: Richard Keelan

Reviewer: Mary Woods
Submission: The Circle-Route (2nd submission) by Jamie D. Munro
Submitted by: Jamie D. Munro

Writing Challenge/Prompt

A grownup game of fill in the blanks is this month’s challenge.

The first sentence of any story sets the tone, establishes the setting, and is meant to pull readers into what’s going on. Choices you make as a writer do all these things, and more. Fill in the blanks of this first sentence, then writer a story that builds from the choices you make:

The (blank) arrived when most of the (blank) were (blank).

Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don’t forget to stretch yourself and take risks. If you normally write fantasy, try science fiction. If you’ve never tried writing in first or second person, here’s your chance. The story doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, this is all about trying new things and gaining new skills, and most of all, having fun. Challenge stories can go up on the workshop at anytime. Put “Challenge” in the title so people can find it.

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Jaime (news (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com).

Editor’s Choice Review May 2017, Short Story

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Restaurant At The End Of The War by Clint Spivey

“The Restaurant at the End of the War” grabbed my attention this month for its thoughtful take on a post-MilSF future—the scattered directions people, supplies, and refugees go after peace is declared—and the way it’s genuinely advancing the conversation that most stories in that subgenre lay out. This month, I’d like to talk about the balance between innovative and classic story elements, and how we take a subgenre conversation down a slightly different road while staying firmly in the subgenre where we started.

“The Restaurant at the End of the War” establishes its innovative bona fides quickly with a low-flying perspective on the standard MilSF intergalactic war. It’s entirely plausible, without needing to explain, how a human and Mewlani would build a bond working in military kitchens—and refreshing for me as a reader to see work that acknowledges and centres those cooks and support workers, and gets that war takes infrastructure: infrastructure that’s still there, and winding down, after hostilities are over, just like a war’s vets, translators, and refugees. There’s a great resonance between a restaurant built on military surplus and how every character in “The Restaurant at the End of the War” is moving from a military life to a civilian one.

I feel it’s also rare to see MilSF portray the sheer, unblinking structural obstacles that racism puts up at every turn. The ways Stain authorities and The Ledge work to prevent Wallroy and Blistren’s business from succeeding feels far more realistic than broken bottles and random slurs, and Stain’s casual corruption presents a real threat, largely because it’s clear nobody’s swooping in to save Sluice, and that the barriers are not about to end.

All this comes back to the sheer quality of the worldbuilding nested unobtrusively in “The Restaurant at the End of the War,” and it adds up to an overall excellent sense of atmosphere. There is a whole universe of backstory implied in how Sustain has turned to Stain, the dirtiness of a neighbourhood where streets were once named Prosperity and Empire, ships are named for non-Western rulers, the krone as the currency of record, and the fact that Wallroy absolutely butchers his Mewlani pronunciation, but tries anyway. Wallroy works wonderfully as a POV character who’s observant but not hyping his observations, or trying to be overclever: his casual ability to differentiate poverty from danger makes his background feel realistic, and the details he relates—the beard just long enough to flout army regs is my favourite example—are legitimately great tells, ones which encapsulate whole relationships with authority and safety in single details.

And yet, for all those notable and newer details, “The Restaurant at the End of the War” is unmistakably a MilSF story. There’s little explanation of the war between humans and Mewlani, which allows readers to fill the standard intergalactic war tropeset in those gaps. Wallroy, even as an army cook, still wraps his world in the structure and regulations of the military: he differentiates less between military and civilian personalities than different kinds of military personalities. I know what kind of story this is, in what conversation: while it’s innovating in certain respects, it’s keeping one foot firmly in topics that as a reader, I’m familiar with, and understand—and letting me see the direction it wants to take MilSF in and appreciate that innovation for what it is.

It’s that balance that keeps—on the other end—elements like the archetypical nature of Meat and Hook from feeling stale: what might come off as overdone in another piece just feels like another weight for the standard trope side of the balance here, and is peculiarly grounding instead.

There are a few skipped beats I’d like to note: The moment where Wallroy and Blistren realize their containers of slange have been impounded—and the potential setup from The Ledge—is so quick as to be almost missable, making me need to back up half a scene later to establish that conflict in my head.

I’d also look again at the ending of the piece. The revelation that the Mewlani group are the red-headed soldier’s translators is a touch on the nose: It’s a very close analogue to the U.S. and Iraq, perhaps too close, and is the one place where the narrative strays into direct allegory.

The author asked for comment on whether “The Restaurant at the End of the War” oversimplifies the complex issue of refugee crises in the wake of war, which is a difficult question to tackle: There are as many ways to tell a refugee story as there are refugees, unfortunately. For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is an irresponsible take. Stain is set up as a morally messy economy, one Wallroy and Blistren are quite clearly buying right into: theirs is a business run on giving former enemies a little taste of home, but only workable because this tourist town is on the route for prisoner repatriation. Wallroy and Blistren are doing a kindness no one else will, but they’re not doing it for free; they’re making sure toys are ready for impulse buying by families who have nothing, and there’s a cold realism to that kind of profiteering, and that kind of deeply mixed action.

If anything, I’d say “The Restaurant at the End of the War” wraps up a little too tidily: The forces of corruption and racism are held off at least for the meantime by plain force, good guys are identified, and everything will, for the meantime, Be All Right. It’s a very military ending, fully in line with the values of armies—evil is defeated by force and hearts-and-minds propaganda—but I’m not sure it fits the story that precedes it.

I think the main strength behind that ending working out is the plain fact that “The Restaurant at the End of the War” isn’t actively selling a solution. It’s presenting a situation, and the relative lack of agenda might let the piece get away with a little wishful thinking. However, I’d suggest that ending is worth the examination given to the worldbuilding on Stain, Wallroy’s past, and the other details of this universe. It’s not bad as it is; it has the potential to be something special.

Overall, this is a thoughtful piece that reads lightly, and punches seriously above its weight, and I look forward to seeing it find a home.

Best of luck!

–Leah Bobet, author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance of Ashes (2015)

Editor’s Choice Review April 2017, Fantasy

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Beckoning Of The Gate by Benjamin Ryan

The first question I have here is, this is a short story, yes? Or at least a shorter work, below novel length. I’m curious to know what the intended length is, because that will help determine a particular direction of revision.

When I started reading, I got the sense of epic right away: word choice, sentence structure, and overall voice and pacing speak to the genre of epic fantasy. We used to call it high fantasy, in part because it was written in the high style. It’s grand, it’s serious, it evokes a sense of wonder and awe.

That’s the prologue. The first chapter drops down a couple of levels of style with its title, which seems perhaps ironic, and its setting, evidently a more modern (if not contemporary) era and an academic setting. The purpose, it seems, is to convey exposition in the form of a lesson in a classroom. And then we shift to Santha, who may perhaps be the, or a, protagonist; through her we get a view of the world beyond the classroom, which has a sort of general fantasy, perhaps at most nineteenth-century, feel—definitely not the age of motorized vehicles and modernist architecture.

In an epic fantasy novel, the pacing might work. It’s leisurely, it takes time to explore and explain. The prologue sets up a situation full of danger and jeopardy, whereas the first chapter is mainly about introducing key characters and establishing the framework of the world. At this speed, we have quite a way to go through plots and reversals to a conclusion.

I might, as others apparently have noted, want to see less exposition at the beginning; when a story is frontloaded like this, it can be hard for a reader these days to keep reading. Readers are all in such a hurry. They’ve lost the habit of settling in for a nice, long, relaxing excursion through the byways of a world.

If this is a shorter work, even a novella, the prose will need pruning. The frequent repetitions, the recursions, the classroom discussion going over and over the same essential information, may keep some of their scope and expanse, but most of it will have to serve the needs of the form. And in shorter fiction, every word has to count. There’s not much room to maneuver.

I see the potential here. The prologue presents an intriguing situation, between the hunter and the prey. The first chapter hints at interesting character interactions and possible conflicts, as well as questions to be answered about the situation in the prologue. I’m curious to know how the prologue will resonate through the story proper, and I want to see what Santha is up to and why she’s talking and acting in these particular ways. And will the students and their teacher have a role to play later? If so, what?

The fact I’m asking questions is a good thing. The goal of keeping the reader reading is well within reach. With quicker pacing and meticulous pruning of the words, there will be plenty of space for developing plot and characters, even within the constraints of the shorter form.

One thing I would recommend is paying close attention to the meanings of words and phrases. The epic style can be lay on the sweep and the scope, but the stylist has to take care that the words don’t fly off the rails. It’s a balancing act between high grandeur and the reader blinking and going, “What?”

Elaborate and intricate prose can demand quite a bit of the reader—it’s not mean to be skimmed; it has to be read word for word. It also has to be clear and cogent, and every word must mean exactly what the author intends it to mean. It’s important to have a strong command of the language, so that when words and phrases take on unusual configurations, it’s evident to the reader that the author meant to do that.

The prose here, in short, needs work. Paring and pruning for concision, but also rethinking and recasting for clarity. I pulled a few phrases from the prologue to illustrate.

tightly-bundled hush: Not sure how a hush can be bundled. “Bundled” tends to mean rolled up tight, tied up in a bundle, or possibly in modern use, included in a package of some sort (usually virtual—book bundle, software bundle). What other word would work here, and come closer to the intended meaning?

tall pines and sentinels overshadowing a small troop of cottages, and later, pines and sentinels: What do you mean by “sentinels”? A sentinel is a watchman, one who stands guard. The pines might serve as sentinels in some way, but the phrasing seems to indicate that there’s a second variety of tree. What would that be?

wisps of warm air exerted from recent and vigorous exercise: You can say the air exerted itself, but air can’t be exerted from or by anything. The word that might work here is “exuded,” as in exuded by, but that’s not quite right, either; the connotation is more of sweating or producing moisture rather than vapor. “Wisps” contributes to the confusion, because it usually refers to a visible phenomenon, like a wisp of fog. Perhaps “emitted”?

The heaping up of words here adds to the length of the story without adding clarity. What’s needed is a phrase referring to panting from vigorous exercise.

bound headlong at the fleeing figure in hopes of ambush and forcing panic: I had to unpack this one to find the sense. The correct form of the verb is “bounded.” “Headlong” isn’t necessary; the sense of strong forward movement is included in the verb. The second half of the phrase is actually a bit too compressed. He hopes to ambush the fugitive, and he’s trying to make her panic. I’d open that up to make it clearer.

There are a number of odd uses of prepositions. Compelled him on is almost there, but “compelled him onward” would be just a bit more apt. Closed the ground to his quarry would perhaps more accurately be “closed in on his quarry,” and cold buried itself into her palm (as with her face pressed “into” a tree trunk earlier) is just a hair off true. “Into” has an almost thrusting movement to it in this context, with a sense of being forcibly inserted within, and especially with regard to the face and the tree, is a bit too strong. In both cases, “in” would be the way to go.

And finally, her face shot upwards is a striking image, but what it conveys is that her face flew off her skull and shot into the sky. I believe the meaning is milder—she looked up sharply, or her head was flung back, or…? The phrase tries to be vivid, but results in confusion as to what exactly it means.

It’s very important when writing the epic style, to be firmly in control, even while giving the impression of verbal exuberance. It’s very much a case of a little going a long way, and being extremely careful of what exactly that little is—words, phrases, coinages and alterations of the usual ways of framing ideas. It’s a virtuoso performance, and when done well, it can be exhilarating to read–while also being clear about what is happening and where it’s all going.

–Judith Tarr

Writing Challenge/Prompt

Workshop member Joseph sends the following prompt: Write a kind of romantic sci-fi story were a man meets a woman, and falls in love with her for her intelligence. Not long afterward, he discovers the woman of his dreams is actually an alien. What kind of conflict does this cause our hero, and how does he deal with his doubts?

Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don’t forget to stretch yourself and take risks. If you normally write fantasy, try science fiction. If you’ve never tried writing in first or second person, here’s your chance. The story doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, this is all about trying new things and gaining new skills, and most of all, having fun. Challenge stories can go up on the workshop at anytime. Put “Challenge” in the title so people can find it.

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Jaime (news (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com).

Spotlight On Josh Vogt

 

                                         The Power of Persistence

These days more than ever, there seems to be constant challenges and threats that we have to fight against–from the macro level in areas like global security to the micro level, like paying the bills or dealing with personal medical issues. It can feel disheartening and exhausting at times, I know. The sense of some new obstacle or problem to handle, maybe when you were just regaining a level of relative calm or stability in life.

But one thing I have learned throughout my writing career and pursuits so far is this: the only time that being defeated is inevitable is when you stop trying. When you stop fighting. Whether that’s fighting for certain values you believe in or fighting for a dream, like getting a book published.

There are many things in life we can’t really control (though we try oh-so-hard). Many elements of the publishing industry are things we can strive to accomplish or obtain, such as getting a literary agent, getting a contract, getting good reviews, hitting a bestseller list, or winning an award. They’re all excellent goals and dreams (and yes, there’s a big difference there), but in the end, you can only determine the outcome of whether you sit down and keep writing. Keep getting those words down, editing them, and sending them out to hopefully get accepted–and yes, hopefully paid for.

I enjoy encouraging and supporting other writers, wherever they are in their careers. The reality, though, is that publishing and writing are difficult paths to follow. We face rejection all the time–yes, even “established” authors. Getting a short story or novel drafted is extremely satisfying, but can be a tough process, especially if you’re always looking to improve your craft and try now approaches. And once you have stories being published, there’s the marketing/promo side of the business that many bemoan having to invest in.

Yet if you don’t persist through those less-fun periods of hard work, seeing a manuscript through to the end…well…then it will simply never even have a chance of success. It won’t get into the hands of readers who would’ve loved the plot and characters. Persistence means getting up each day and getting the writing work done in the hope of seeing that effort pay off. It means believing in what we do even if we feel like we’re getting hammered on all sides for a time.

And it means being able to look back and feel a measure of pride–and even joy–at what you’ve done.

Because you didn’t give up.

Josh Vogt is an author, editor, and freelance writer. His fiction ranges from fantasy to science fiction to horror and beyond, including tie-in fiction for a growing number of roleplaying games. His novels include Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, as well as the urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor, The Maids of Wrath, and the newly released The Dustpan Cometh. Find him online at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Editor’s Choice Review April 2017, Science Fiction

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Zjelhkar – Chapter 1 by Beth Lomnitzer

Let me begin with my Standard Disclaimer, which is that there is no wrong way to write a draft. Every writer has her own process, and that process is how she gets the words on the page. Once they’ve reached that point, that’s when we can start applying more standardized principles of editing and revision.

I believe writers should embrace their process. Whatever works, whatever gets those words down. Let it happen. Don’t worry about being right or wrong or anywhere in between.

I particularly enjoyed this opening chapter because it represents the polar opposite of my process, which is downright minimalist. Bare minimum of words required to get the ideas on the page. I always have to go back later and fill in—sometimes extensively. I’ll write fifty words, and in one epic instance, had to turn them into fifty thousand. Usually it’s more like five hundred or a thousand, but you get the idea.

Here we have a process that layers in words and images and concepts, often the same ones expressed slightly differently in each iteration, with exacting detail and an almost poetic heaping up of repetition. What actually happens is short and fairly simple, and the revision process will involve paring and pruning and trimming to bring out the bones of the story. Much of the wealth of words will go into reserve, either to be called on later, or to remain in the background. Choosing the exact right words or concepts will encompass those that have been pared away.

And that’s a fine thing. It’s the process. It’s like sculpture: finding the shape in the stone.

The question that first drew me to this submission was whether there is enough here to keep the reader engaged through a full-length novel. The bones of the story here are:

A storm is raging. Mazy runs toward a cave. She has apparently been here before, or (we find out a bit later) has heard about it—it’s not quite clear. The cave is flooding; she attempts to divert the water. After some difficulty, she succeeds. She then proceeds to reveal some of her past, and the fact that she has the power to psychically read any object she touches with her bare hands. Once she’s done so, she knows where to go next; she settles into wait out the night and the storm.

All of that is solid story-stuff. Big dramatic storm, refuge that requires a little work and danger to secure, flashback with hints of interesting past and potentially interesting future. That’s a reasonable start. As a reader, I’m curious about this family of survivors that appears to be all gone now except for Mazy, and I want to know how the world got this way, and whether her powers are unusual and where they come from and how she’ll use them—and will she find herself in jeopardy, or be worshipped as a god, or…?

When the draft is ready to get down to the word and sentence level, it will need pruning. In the opening paragraphs, note all the –ing words, and the repetitions—the same things described in slightly different ways, over and over. Choose one, the one that conveys the action or idea most clearly and cogently, and turn the –ing into an active construction, and the narrative will come into sharper focus and move more quickly.

Perhaps set a challenge in revision: to reduce each paragraph to three sentences, and to remove the finer details of what Mazy is doing, such as in the first paragraph, squinting through the rain, glancing over her shoulder, ducking and grabbing. Then once the bones of the narrative are visible, see what needs to go back in in order to make it clear what’s happening. Maybe some of it will. Maybe it’s clear as it is, and the reader can get the greater context from sketch on the page.

In the process of paring and trimming, think about which details are absolutely essential: that have to be there or the story doesn’t make sense. She’s crashing through the woods, which implies that she’s running; does she need to begin to run in the next sentence? Can all the crashing (note repeated word) and falling of trees and branches be condensed into a single, memorable image? For each repetition, pick the one that conveys most clearly what the reader should see and feel.

The same applies to the next paragraph, with repeated images of rain and wind. One each can contain them all, and that will move the narrative forward without losing the effect of the violent weather.

Especially in scenes with a lot of action and jeopardy, repetition slows everything down. The reader wants to race along with the character, pick up surroundings in quick impressions, and move rapidly toward a conclusion: in this case, the refuge of the cave. Short, active sentences, brief descriptions, a continual flow of new (rather than repeated) information, creates tension, and gives the reader the sense of urgency.

Revising-by-pruning can be tough at first; details are there because we believe they need to be there. But for the reader, very dense and repetitive prose can be confusing. I couldn’t manage to figure out whether she’d been in the cave before or had heard about it from—family? Someone? I wanted to be clearer on that point.

As for where to go from here, my best advice would be to finish the book first. Let the process be the process. I find that once we recognize our own particular way of getting the words down, and then embrace it, it’s much easier to cope with the revision stage. We know it’s coming, we know what the parameters are, but for now, as we write first draft, we do it the way we need to do it.

In the meantime, there is a story here, and a character who looks as if she can carry it. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.

–Judith Tarr