Editor’s Choice Award July 2018, 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.

Deadfall–Chapter 3 by Elizabeth Underwood

There are quite a few cool elements in this chapter. Lots of supernatural species. Teleportation. Magical dangerblood a la Twilight and True Blood. And plenty of action and tension.

I agree with the author’s note that the ms. needs a good, thorough copyedit, not just for grammar and syntax (“off of” should delete the “of,” for example; comma splices and run-on sentences; and what I call revision artifacts, such as “would have normally of,” which looks like a correction from “would of” to “would have” that missed deleting “of”) but for verb tense (past or present? Choose one) and narrative mode (first person or third?). But the copyedit comes very late in the publishing process, and I think there are other things to address before applying that last coat of polish.

One thing to watch out for is Red’s tendency to synopsize through internal monologue. She sums up backstory and explains the situation past and present and to come, in between bits of dialogue and action—for example while Vampra is threatening her; she explains what’s happening, sketches out her plan, and figures out what Vampra’s plan is. Much of this could be dramatized, or shown in scenes—let Vampra reveal her own motivations, and let us see what Red does to get out of this predicament and get Charles to safety.

Internal monologue is a very tempting trap, especially in first-person narration. Most people of whatever species have one going anyway, and a writer looking for that extra bit of realism may want to provide a full record of what her character is thinking, extrapolating, musing, planning. However, just as real-world dialogue is full of filler and throat-clearing and small talk and irrelevancies, and fictional dialogue lets all this sink into the background and gives the reader the good-parts version, fictional character-musings can dispense with all but the most directly relevant bits.

Here, that means letting the reader see what happens as it happens, rather than being told about it as Red plans it. Likewise, rather than having Red tell us what Vampra wants to do, let us see her do it, and then maybe Red can have a brief moment of “I knew it” even while she does whatever needs doing at the moment.

Watch out too for the tendency to summarize when writing it out would be more effective and dramatic—the vampires’ argument in the hallway, for example. Let us hear their words as Red hears them; give us the direct experience of what they’re saying. It won’t take up much more space than the synopsis does, but it will read more vividly and move the story forward more quickly.

It might be a good idea to do some rethinking about the conversation with the not-vampire, as well. They come to an agreement very quickly, and Red doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of trouble with it. It’s a little too uncomplicated. She’s indenturing herself for a year to a creature whose species she’s not even sure of. She is in a tight spot and Charles needs help stat (though that could use some clarification at the beginning of the scene as well—it’s not immediately obvious that he’s under a spell; just that he’s a really deep sleeper), but she’s already let us know she has a plan for that. We need more sense of why her plan is no longer viable, and why she’s willing to pay such a high price with so little negotiation.

It needs to be messier. More sense that the stakes are high and the price is, too, but when she balances them out, she can’t make any choice but the one she makes. It’s visibly tough, but also inevitable. Let us feel that through her. Then we’ll read on, hoping she finds a way out, but expecting that it won’t be either fast or easy.

That’s how plot moves—through friction. Things being tough and complicated. Characters navigating the minefield, trying to stay in one piece, but sometimes they get lost, and sometimes bits get blown off. In Red’s case, possibly even literally.

Good luck with this, and happy revising!

–Judith Tarr

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