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

Stolen Blade (Chapter 3) by Samia Hayes

This is a really good, solid chapter that held my attention and engaged my sympathy and interest throughout; it’s fast-paced, but paired with a cautious point of view character it’s also enjoyably tense, and the balance between that pace and that tension is kept up pretty well. Where I think it could be improved is with some attention to language, and, relatedly, in the interaction with Marcus.

You’ve chosen a pretty conversational prose style, one that sometimes gets called “invisible prose,” and this suits your plot and subject matter very well: it’s contemporary society with a twist, so you’re free to play with familiar idiom and inflection. But you have a tendency to get bogged down in repetitive language, and this, in turn, bogs down your action: do a search for how many times a variation on “growl” occurs in a short span of words, or the fact that “the house growled” happens twice in the chapter. Once, and it’s a cool substitution; twice, and it’s distracting.

Something similar’s happening with Marcus’ introduction:

An engine roared down the driveway, knocking away the gravel in its path. A white range rover splattered with mud pulled up beside Ally’s red car. A monster in human skin stepped out of the driver’s seat. He was built solid, his lean muscles bulging under his t-shirt. His hair was a straight, nondescript brown, cut short enough that it wouldn’t fall in front of his eyes if someone was suicidal enough to hit him. The air around his body pulsed with his magic as he stood surveying the yard. His posture was possessive, as if everything and everyone around him was his.

(Emphases mine)

There is so much repetition of subject-verb-object construction throughout this paragraph that I get lost, but mostly I’ve highlighted instances of redundancy or unnecessary description. How does the engine knock away gravel in its path separately from the white range rover? Why is it necessary to separate those things from each other? Why specify that Ally’s car is red? Why add that Marcus’ muscles bulge when you’ve said he’s built solidly? If his posture is possessive, why do you need to explain what possessive means in the second half of the sentence?

All of this means that when Marcus appears, I feel tired rather than concerned.

It makes perfect sense to slow things down a bit when someone as threatening as Marcus arrives on the scene, to decompress your storytelling and focus on small details — but the choice of detail should be careful and deliberate enough that you don’t need to repeat it over and over.

A white, mud-splattered range rover roared down the driveway, knocking away the gravel in its path as it pulled up next to Ally’s car. A monster in human skin stepped out of the driver’s seat. Lean muscle bulged under his t-shirt. His hair was straight and brown, cut short enough that it wouldn’t fall in front of his eyes if someone was suicidal enough to hit him. The air around his body pulsed with his magic as he surveyed the yard as if everything and everyone around him was his. Even his posture was possessive.

I think this could be improved further, breaking up the description by cutting away to Ally or Magalie’s reactions earlier, spreading it out. But clearing out the repetition’s like weeding a garden: it lets the description you’ve already done take up its space and do its work unhampered by sentences that strain a reader’s attention by giving them information twice.

(OK maybe that’s not totally like weeding. Muddling metaphors is generally to be avoided also. Do as I say, not as I etc.)

That aside, though, this is a really strong piece of work that I thoroughly enjoyed. This section only stuck out as much as it did because the rest of it was so smooth and effective.

–Amal El-Mohtar

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