Editor’s Choice Review November 2016, 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, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Purity, Redux by Dimitra Nikolaidou

“Purity, Redux” caught my eye this month because of its stark setting, its unusual protagonist–a wounded caregiver–and its muted, unflinching view of disease and wellness.  It’s a piece with a great deal of potential, and one with, unfortunately, perhaps a little way yet to go.  So this month I’d like to look at the tool of implication in fiction–how “Purity, Redux” uses it well, where that same tool falters, and the structural background work it requires from us to make it effective.

“Purity, Redux” makes a strong first impression.  The Leak is well-named: It brings up all sorts of body horror images–and lets readers fill in their own worst thing from their imagination.  But that horrifying potential is reinforced thoroughly by Ada’s reactions to The Leak, and how she expects other doctors and staff to react.  Characters’ reactions within a story are often a reader’s most useful subtextual guide to how they’re supposed to react, and the unified–and overwhelming–horror with which Ada treats The Leak is our strongest signal to take it seriously, and that Cybele’s reaction truly is exceptional.

That lurking menace pairs well with evocative language like “took the wind out of your lungs,” which resonates with the snowy, remote mountain setting, or the vividness of Ada’s memories of land mines and fire.  The amount that’s unsaid in “Purity, Redux” is most effective there: it hints at pain, topics Ada would do anything to avoid, and depth in character-building.  It also cues readers to pay attention to those silences, and underlines that what’s important in this piece is in what’s not being said.

However, it’s peeking into those silences that opens up questions–not all of which are being answered or even satisfactorily implied.  Why is the Withering a secret?  What percentage is there in keeping it under wraps, and what are they afraid will happen if people know about mortality?  By the time the idea of the Pures comes in, I’m already not sure why they’re necessary, or what they’re for; what deeper conflict is happening in this society that’s spurring a conflict between people who are pro-death and people against it?  Since the conflict only appears when it’s plot-necessary, it’s hard to be invested in revelations about something I didn’t know, until then, existed.

Most importantly, though: Why don’t Ada and her colleagues die?  The question of their immortality is lurking under the entirety of “Purity, Redux”, and it’s the biggest missing piece there is in the story.  While immortality would be normal to Ada, to readers it’s not, and there’s an obvious question, whenever we introduce a speculative element on which a story hinges, of how, what, and why–not to request a technical document on the worldbuilding in this piece, but to have a logical, coherent sense of causality: Why this world is not our own, and how it got from ours to this.

There’s a sense that “Purity, Redux” is structured to avoid those questions.  The episodic nature of the piece makes it harder to connect with Ada, Cybele, and the Director than it potentially could be, and means that the most impactful and conflict-laden scenes in “Purity, Redux”–Cybele’s escape, the interrogation by the guards, the Director actually tightening security, what Cybele stole and why those records are left in the church, not taken with her–are left off the page, and only referred to later.  In a sense, most of “Purity, Redux” takes place in flashback or avoidance, off the page–and that somewhat weakens the impact of those events, and the piece as a whole.

I’ve mentioned before that fiction worldbuilding is a bit like an iceberg: It’s the 90% you don’t see that makes the 10% you do see work at all.  For “Purity, Redux” I’d suggest that some more attention could be paid to that structural 90% of the iceberg.  Even if it’s not told on the page, a knowledge of the whys and whats of this world, implied and left like bread crumbs, could make the entirety of the story more credible, fleshed out, and impactful.  Even if Ada is not aware of her immortality being abnormal, it’s very plausible to have her report accurate details, accurate contradictions that the readers can put together, knowing what we know, without her making those connections in her own POV.

Attention to this point might help solve the greatest weakness in “Purity, Redux”: its reliance on a twist ending. The Withering being nothing more than natural death is hard to feel anything about for me as a reader, with all those questions unanswered: instead of shock or satisfaction, I’m just left wondering about those whats and whys.

To suggest a general direction, I’d point out that for readers like us, for whom natural death as a concept is not a shock or horror but a fact of life which we’ll all face, it’s particularly tricky to make that an impactful revelation. It’s important, as writers, to remember that while we work within the world of our stories–and work with the perspectives and values of the characters we create–we also have to work to bridge those values with the context of our readers, as close as we can. Revelations, in fiction, are meaningful because the author’s guided us into why they’re meaningful, provided through that same tool of implication mixed with outright textual statements.

So all that being said, I suspect a draft that pays some real attention to the undercarriage of this story, and this world, to sort out the fundamental questions which drive “Purity, Redux” might go a long way to making its revelation of what Ada’s facing meaningful, impactful, and satisfying–and extending the skill with which its worldbuilding around The Withering and the Leaks is constructed into the rest of the piece.

Best of luck!

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

Editor’s Choice Review November 2016, 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, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

THE AWAKENING – CHAPTER 01 & 02 – NANOWRIMO by Owen G. Richards

First of all, profuse apologies for coming in so late with this. November was a very distracted month. I will be doing my best to come in early with my December Editor’s Choice, because December is even more distracted. Meanwhile, have a crit of a lovely first draft.

One of the things I love about the editing gig is the opportunity to work with authors at all stages of their process. Every author is different, and every process has its own individual take on how to get the words down and the story moving. There is no such thing as a wrong way to write a draft. Questions of quality and refining the craft come in during the editing phase.

Here we have a sort of prologue, full of warnings and “we’re in a terrible mess and here’s where it started,” with a strongly framed flashback to what may or may not be the present time of the novel itself. So that’s the structure, as far as we can see it. We’ll have to have more in order to tell whether it works for the story as a whole. Do we need to know the future? Does it telegraph too much? Do we lose tension and suspense by knowing what eventually happens—or do we gain it as we wait to see how the optimistic past becomes the pessimistic future?

Right here and now, what we can do is look at how the scenes take shape on the page. The process seems to be, get it down, put in all possible descriptors, repeat them in various places. Revision then would involve shaping and pruning, deciding where a descriptor is most effective, and just leaving one or two repetitions in places where they’re relevant. It’s one good way to get the words down fast and not worry about edits–in short, a perfect NaNo method.

So we know Corrigan’s eyes are blue and his hair is abundant and grey, and he’s old—we’re shown this in multiple ways. A revised draft would cut these details down to a critical handful.

The writing in this miniprologue is lively and pointed. We get a good sense of what kind of person Corrigan is. There’s a bit of over-the-top-ness about him, which looks to be important to his character, but could also use a bit of toning down—pruning the language will do a pretty fair job of this. Less Is More, as the adage says.

The story proper has a similar liveliness and vividness to it. It carries its exposition well. We learn details we need to know, while getting a picture of the culture and background of the characters and the world. I particularly enjoy the juxtaposition of classroom lecture and code duello. It’s wonderfully sffnal.

What I might suggest, as with the Corrigan section, is toning down the emotional arcs and clarifying the interactions between the characters. Marshall and Levinson play off each other pretty nicely, but they need some fine-tuning in order for the initial hostility—spitting, hissing, “arrogant bitch”—to shift more credibly to the final detente.

I also wonder why Levinson doesn’t know that the duel will be televised. Wouldn’t he know the rules and procedures? Why the bulgy eyes? Is there a solid character-based reason for him not to know this, and also for him to react this strongly? If so, a concise explanation/clarification might help.

The same applies to Browning during the duel. He and Levinson both seem well apprised of the rules, except when they don’t.

It’s not clear why they have these gaps in their knowledge. Did they blow off reading the manual? Has there never been a duel while they’ve been in the program? If so, how rare is this? On the one hand it seems to be a fairly well established mode of settling differences, but on the other, there are those things the principals just don’t know.

The other question I would ask for revision is whether it’s a little too much of a foregone conclusion that Marshall will be the skipper. Should there be more doubt? An obstacle or two? More of a fight between her and Levinson, and less quick or easy capitulation on his part? What works best for the scenes we have in front of us, and the story as a whole?

Overall this is a good start. It makes me want to read more, and I’m curious about how the story gets from dueling cadets to old, mad Corrigan flipping the bird to the universe.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Review August 2016, 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, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Not a Mule, But Working Like One by Robyn Hamilton

“Not a Mule, But Working Like One” caught my attention this month because of its spare prose, subdued sense of menace, and cool, unglamorous take on a modern-day fantasy setting.  I’ve rarely seen this Max Gladstone-style economic fantasy on the workshop: One that uses the addition of magic to delve into the financial end of social systems.  This month, I’d like to spotlight how the use of cumulative details brings both this world—and its argument about work—into full colour, and how showing and telling aren’t diametrically opposed strategies for building a world, but techniques we can pair up to make a story even more effective.

The major strength of “Not a Mule, But Working Like One” is very much the degree of attention being paid to its worldbuilding.  While the central conflict—that before one’s magic comes in, one can get stuck, and that many of the company’s systems are designed to get people stuck—doesn’t make it to the page until the end of the first long scene, readers have already been shown, in the details, exactly what’s going on here.  When Alice notes Caro’s frizz and a slightly off shade of lipstick, it sets up a strong cue as to what kind of perfection is demanded in this particular working life, and what it costs the people who don’t already have the resources to manage that.  Inside a few paragraphs it’s made clear, mostly through details—Caro’s appearance, Mark’s, Alice’s reaction to the receptionist, and the worn-in, comfortable way that Caro and Alice cover for each other—that this is an environment built for the comfort of people with unlimited magic.

The result?  When the straight-out statement arrives near the end of the first scene, that magic can be overstrained early on and stuck in one skill rut, that piece of telling—that information just handed to the reader—doesn’t create so much the filing of a new worldbuilding fact, but the shock of sudden recognition; the feeling of a key in a lock.  Readers get a confirmation of something already figured out, and the boost from that solved puzzle helps enmesh them in the story.

When we tell readers a fact about our worldbuilding, frequently what we’re giving them is a piece of abstract information; it doesn’t necessarily connect to something real, emotional, or experienced in the story.  But by delaying the tell until this point of the piece—still early, but late enough that there’s already a connection built with the character and situation—that told fact can connect to all the ways readers have already seen this fact working itself out in action.  Instead of “that’s new,” the reaction can move to: “so that’s what that means”—and move to the real heart of “Not a Mule, But Working Like One”: establishing the implications of why Alice’s company is actively perpetuating the tiny, very real inconveniences she’s encountered just in her fifteen minutes on-site.

It’s a strategy that connects well with this piece’s narrative style: understated, subtextual, with occasional vivid sensory moments of opulence that pops against a sea of procedure and greyness.  The moments of clear explanation in “Not a Mule, But Working Like One” bring all the subtle tells front and centre for readers, allowing the story to stay natural-feeling and yet build this increasing atmosphere of unfairness and dread.  Likewise, the constant tiny reminders of privilege, tiny pieces of gatekeeping—even as small as the faster Wifi networks being locked or the lab coat fast-track system—grate at readers in the same way they constantly grate at Alice, and make the temptation to use that magic and get stuck she’s told us about multidimensional and real.

Most importantly of all, it helps connect readers to Alice, whose displacement and confusion and desperate, controlled need to not give in to those microaggressions become the centre of the story’s struggle—one that I simultaneously wanted her to win while wincing the whole time at all the joy she’s not having, all the dry toast she’s eating at the metaphorical buffet.  The push-pull between Petra’s burnout, Caro’s desperation, and how Alice’s restraint is killing her in a different way is almost unbearable, and it’s a highly effective piece of tension in a quiet story.

The one suggestion I would have for “Not a Mule, Just Working Like One” is that its obliqueness almost overwhelms in the last few scenes.  It’s clear Caro is terrified of some kind of smuggling inflating the dollar values on the shipments, and it’s clear that by hiding the label on Alice, she’s trying to pass the blame and implicate Alice to save her own job.  But that threat never quite comes clear—which means the stakes never quite come clear—and that blunts the story’s effectiveness emotionally.  As a reader, I’m not entirely sure what fate Alice just avoided (firing, criminal charges, or a different kind of getting stuck).

I’d suggest that bringing more to the surface, plot-wise, in the last few scenes of the piece would help crystallize what exactly is at stake, and help guide readers to a stronger emotional reaction when Alice and Petra eventually escape—would help the piece stick its landing.

Best of luck!

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

 

Editor’s Choice Review November 2016, 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, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Fat At The Top Of The Thighs by April Grey

This story stood out immediately with its fun, light tone, which is unusual in horror.  The protagonist’s desire to get back in shape is easy to relate to, and the method she chooses creates interesting and unusual problems.  Scarlet’s voice is strong and distinctive.  I was engaged throughout the story and wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen.

That said, I wasn’t very emotionally involved in the story, and when I finished, I didn’t feel satisfied with the plot.  I think these two problems are related, and they arise out of mixed signals about what kind of story this is.

For part of my reading, I feel this is a comeuppance story, in which an evil or foolish person ends up getting the comeuppance she deserves.  I wasn’t more emotionally involved in the story because Janet is hard to care about.  I begin the story feeling sympathetic toward Janet, who just wants to get in shape again.  But when she encounters the woman selling nanotechnology that will solve her problem, she seems so foolish, it’s hard to care about her.  I’m not more emotionally involved in the story because I’m getting mixed signals–that I should care about her part of the time and that she’s a fool deserving of punishment part of the time.  Why not have Janet ask key questions, such as what the possible side effects are, whether the procedure can be reversed, what exactly is guaranteed, and how this “personality overlay” will affect her own personality?  She doesn’t even ask how much weight or body fat she’ll lose.  This undermines her character, so I can’t really believe in her as a person.   Why not have her read the five-page contract, since so much money is involved, and ask questions about some of the language?  The salesperson also seems unconvincing.  If she’s good at her job, she would have smoother ways to convince a potential customer than “you can sign it without reading.”  The interaction between these two makes me think the story wants to be a comeuppance story.  The scene seems to present Janet as a fool, which seems to set up an ending that punishes the fool.  But Janet is rescued at the end, and it’s unclear what brain damage she has suffered, so this doesn’t seem like a comeuppance story.  She’s not receiving her just punishment for her stupidity.  She seems to have gotten through it, and we’re left with a humorous tone at the end with her fat still there.  One possible solution would be to change the end, so she gets her just desserts, and to modify her character in the rest of the story so that she comes across as someone who does deserve some punishment.  We will then be emotionally involved because we’ll be eager to see her get her punishment.  A possible just punishment might be for her husband to prefer Scarlet to Janet and be unhappy when Janet regains control at the end.

As I mentioned, other parts of the story send me a different signal, that this is the story of a character who tries for something she shouldn’t, learns better, and barely escapes back to where she began (such as The Wizard of Oz).  The sympathy I feel with Janet at the beginning and as Scarlet takes over her body make me think this is the kind of story I’m reading.  If this is the story you want to write, then Janet needs to be someone worthy of overcoming her mistake, someone who learns from her troubles, and someone who plays a key role in escaping them.  In that case, she needs to be trying harder every step of the way, and to not be so foolish (or if she is foolish, to learn better and use what she learns–such as about reading fine print–to overcome her problems), and to realize that shortcuts to fitness are not a good idea.  A key to showing this type of character, who learns through struggle, is having her struggle to achieve her goals.  Janet struggles very little in this story, and when she does struggle, it has no effect.  Janet’s first goal is to be fit again.  A store offering a nanotechnology solution conveniently appears in the mall.  What if, instead, Janet tried many solutions–diets, exercises, hypnotism.  These could all be recapitulated (summarized), but we’d at least see her trying and failing.  We could see her lack of discipline and determination (or whatever prevents her from succeeding on her own).  Finally, in her Internet searches, she uncovers this nanotechnology treatment.  It could have great reviews and exciting before and after videos, so she wouldn’t be so stupid to give it a try.  She may have to struggle to get the money, by taking out a loan or stealing it.  Then you could show Janet working to get in shape after the treatment.  We don’t really see her struggling to do this in the current story.  Tennis might help her at first, and as she grows stronger, she might realize that she could have done this on her own if she’s had the discipline and determination.  Then Scarlet starts to take over, and Janet realizes her mistake in depending on this other personality to help her rather than in working harder herself.  Now Janet struggles to regain control, but finds herself powerless to stop Scarlet’s activities.  After much struggle, she realizes she can control her own body, but only when Scarlet is having an orgasm.  She must come up with a clever way of leaving some sign to alert her husband (or the dog) during those few seconds.  Having her husband save her without Janet doing anything is not a satisfying resolution.  Perhaps Janet puts the credit card receipt for the procedure under her husband’s pillow, or texts his phone with a link to the nanotech website.  This would allow her to play a critical role in her own fate.

With either type of story, the suggestion that Janet is, in essence, being raped, doesn’t seem to fit with the plot or tone.  You may want to rethink that section.

I hope this helps to clarify some of the decisions that need to be made to bring this story to the next level.

I really enjoyed the tone and the inventive nature of the technology.  I hope this is helpful.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey

 

On The Shelves

 Rose & Thorn by Sarah Prineas (Harper Teen, October 2016)ash-and-thorn

After the spell protecting her is destroyed, Rose seeks safety in the world outside the valley she had called home. She’s been kept hidden all her life to delay the three curses she was born with—curses that will put her into her own fairy tale and a century-long slumber. Accompanied by Griff, the handsome and mysterious Watcher, and Quirk, his witty and warmhearted partner, Rose tries to escape from the ties that bind her to her story. But will the path they take lead them to freedom, or will it bring them straight into the fairy tale they are trying to avoid?

 

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Publication News

Lyndsey E. Gilbert’s story “The Grave Game” will appear in Potter’s Field 6 by Alban Lake Publishing, out in 2017

Meg Mac Donald will have a story in the shared world anthology Masques of Darkover. Watch for it in 2017.

 

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.

[ October 2016] Honor Roll Nominees ]

Reviewer: Ory James Berner
Submission: Antler Plan by Joonas Huhta
Submitted by: Joonas Huhta

Reviewer: E.M. Goldsmith
Submission: Antler Plan by Joonas Huhta
Submitted by: Joonas Huhta

Reviewer: Steve Brady
Submission: The Kachina Doll Smiles–Revised–C4C by Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Submitted by: Allan Dyen-Shapiro

Reviewer: Owen G. Richards
Submission: Dorrie Chapter one by Arlene Foster
Submitted by: arlene foster

 

Writing Challenge/Prompt

We’ve all read stories about the world ending, either by natural disaster or human mistakes. But what happens a month or a year after the world ends? Do the gates into fairy open again? Does a ship from another world arrive? Think of your own twist on that scenario and write a story.

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 October 2016, 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, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Sea,The Land, And The Sky–Chapter Renna 1 by Jon Obermark

This one drew my attention because of the author’s cry for help. Sometimes we hit a wall in revision, and we just don’t know what to do. Workshopping can do a great deal to push through the wall, but it can also create a confusion of conflicting advice, which is what’s happened here.

So now of course I’m offering input that might make matters worse.

Or not. I hope not.

The first thing I’d like to say is something that we all know, or should know, but we tend to lose when we’re at the hair-tearing stage: It’s your book. You get to decide what works and what doesn’t. Editors and betas can advise and suggest, but the ultimate arbiter is you. Your book, your choices. Your right to take the advice or ignore it.

So, what feels right to you? What comes closest to your idea of what your book should be? Which solutions seem most workable, and which make you go Oh Hell No? That’s where you’ll find your way through.

With that in mind, I’m going to comment on what I see here. My comments are my own, individual, based on my experience and yes, personal taste. If they’re useful, that’s great. If not, as I said, it’s your book.

The bones of the story are intriguing, and there’s great potential for the characters and situations. The twists and turns promise some interesting plotting as the story goes on.

I’m not sure if the various critiques caused the large infodumps in an attempt to answer everybody’s questions or concerns, or if they were there originally. Either way, I think the extensive backstory and the worldbuilding, while valuable as notes and synopsis, get in the way of the story in this specific scene.

It actually feels to me as if the story wants to begin earlier—heresy, I know, according to the doctrine of “begin as close to the end as possible,” but what’s happening here needs so much bolstering and explanation that it doesn’t stand on its own the way an opening sequence needs to do. How to fix? That’s the author’s call.

Begin earlier? Commit the further heresy of a prologue? That’s one option.

Another would be to let the scene carry its own weight, then work in the “tell” by way of additional scenes, either flashbacks or scenes in story-present that convey the necessary information. There is enough action here, and enough of a twist, to carry the reader forward. I think the situation is affecting enough to create sympathy.

Questions to ask would be:

What does the reader need to know here? What’s the bare minimum of information required to make the scene make sense, without front-loading it with exposition and synopsis? Do we need to know every detail—which hand Renna uses to get her drink (step by step) from the cooler, the nature of text and language, Renna’s diagnosis and its ramifications, her childhood history, Ten’s history, and so on?

On the one hand the reader does need to know why she should care about this character, but on the other, a full history up front can be overwhelming. There’s a balance between them, a sweet spot that an author needs to find.

One of my favorite rules of thumb comes from Harry Turtledove: “The author needs to know 500 details. The trick is to find the three that are most important, that encapsulate or imply all the rest.” We don’t have to be rigid about the number three, of course, but it’s a useful figure. It shows the rough proportion of worldbuilding and background to what’s actually on the page. And it encourages the writer to think in terms of the key detail, the one that implies the rest.

In this scene, if we strip away the backstory and the exposition, we have a set of clear actions that move the story forward, leading to the emotionally affecting twist. For me, that was effective, because we’ve seen Renna doing what she does (and struggling with apparent amnesia), then comes the revelation: she’s dead, and Ten is in some way channeling or dissociating.

For me at least, knowing they’re life partners covers the backstory about the events and motivations surrounding their marriage. Other details (her pregnancy, the family, the tour) aren’t relevant here but may be relevant later—they’d go in my “worlduilding/flashbacks” file, for use down the line.

The fact Renna is non-neurotypical is topical and adds interest, but the infodump, especially at this early point in the narrative, gets in the way of the story’s movement. Is there a way to show without telling? Can she demonstrate, concisely, how she processes the world differently from the non-Alienated?

Best case in terms of writing craft would be for her to react to something she’s doing in a way that, say, Ten would not, and for her to catch herself or stop and think, wait, would he do this? Should I be doing it his way? Is my way more efficient? Or pretty much anything else that may help to illustrate what, in this draft, you’re filling in with exposition.

When I get stuck on a revision, cutting back to the bare bones often helps, then layering in emotion and key details. So does walking away from the scene and writing something else. Or even realizing that the scene isn’t the opening I was looking for. It might belong further down in the storyline, or it can actually be cut in favor of another scene that conveys the important information through another’s character or situation.

The timeout method can be really useful for easing frustration and giving me fresh eyes when I come back later. I might have a new idea as to how to make the scene work, or I’ve found another scene that does the job. I might also change the viewpoint or the emphasis—though here, I think the key to it all is already there in Ten’s channeling of Renna.

That’s powerful. It feels like good, solid story-stuff, and nice forward plotting. The devil, as so often, is in the details. I hope I’ve offered some paths through the confusion, if only in the order of, “No, not that way! This is how it needs to be!” Friction in editing, as in plotting and in physics, is how things move, after all.

–Judith Tarr