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.

[ June 2017] Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Cynthia Cloughly
Submission: The Advance on Fourt County – Part 2 of 3 by Matthew Allen
Submitted by: Matthew Allen

Reviewer: Phil Williams
Submission: People Are Animals Too by C.E. West
Submitted by: C.E. West
Reviewer: Raul Caner Cruz
Submission: Cosmic Outreach by Ashutosh Agrawal
Submitted by: Ashutosh Agrawal

Writing Challenge/Prompt

There are fundamental things about the world we live in that all of us take for granted. Water is wet, the sky is blue, and gravity holds us to the earth are just a few. There are many more.

How does changing one of those unchangeable things alter the world your characters live in?

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 June 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.

Ambrosia Chap. 1 (Part 1) by Robert Wooldridge

Usually when I do crits, somewhere in there I point out that the rules of writing are not forged in iron but are more of a Pirates’ Code—but that in order to treat them like…guidelines, a writer has to know exactly how and why they work. That’s the only way to know when, and how, to bend or break them.

Mostly I go on to point out where it would have been a good idea to stick to the rules. This time I’m going to talk about where the rules got bent or downright snapped, and why the chapter works for me in spite of it. Sometimes in fact because it messes with The Way Things Are Supposed To Be.

This chapter is the start of what looks like a nice, fat, chewy epic fantasy, or maybe swords and sorcery. It has the street urchin of unknown parentage, the grungy port city, the nasty bully, and the setup for an adventure. And of course it has the witch whom it is a bad idea to approach—but our hero is hired to do just that.

This author knows his genre. The elements are familiar but they’re not off-the-rack standard. What makes them work is the voice in which the story is told. It’s wry, deft, confident. If I were running a line edit I might point to bits that could be tightened, a ramble here and there, but that’s not a major issue for me.

Oh, there is the name thing. That’s a personal quirk. Random Earth names thrown around secondary-world fantasy make me want to spit linguistics textbooks. Then I go into my epic rant about how Westeros has to be a lost Earth Colony—First Men, I mean, really? It’s like Darkover without the psi and with even nastier politics.

But I digress. The naming conventions here are very much in genre, no matter how much they may fry my language-geek circuits. (Joaquin. Gah.)(Porus?)(Really?)

I have an allergy to dialect, too, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is a lovely case of I Meant To Do That. The way in which a person speaks is an indicator of where he comes from. Porus exploits this to pull scams on his employers, and today’s edition calls him on it. In the process of which, we learn a great deal about how this corner of the world works.

That’s what I like about the chapter. Rules say don’t frontload the exposition, but everything is there for a reason. The prose pulled me along as I read, and kept me interested even though I didn’t know Porus yet and was still finding my way around his city.

The author’s note expresses concern about pacing, but other than a bit of streamlining as mentioned above, I don’t think there’s a problem. The opening is somewhat leisurely but it keeps moving, and it’s clear there’s a purpose in it. It’s building a world and populating it with people who immediately start striking sparks off each other.

Oh, the rules say start off with a bang and preferably a magical one if it’s fantasy. The rules are for writers with less command of their craft. A writer who knows what he’s doing can keep us entertained with a passage of exposition that sets up our hero and the world he lives in, and then before we have time to get bored, swings us into some bully-on-victim action.

It works for me. I’ll definitely read on. I want to see if the witch is as well drawn as the characters as I’ve met so far—and I want to know where Poros and company go from there.

In short, it draws me in, keeps me interested, and leaves me wanting more. That’s as much as any first chapter needs to do.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Review June 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.

Dark Shepherds: The Burn Notice by M Lachi

This is an interesting piece, with some intricate worldbuilding and a lot of careful thought about the setting, background, and characters. Reading it is an immersive experience. There’s so much detail, so much interwoven and interlaced descriptions, ideas, actions and thoughts.

What I’d like to talk about in the context of this Editor’s Choice is not so much the word-for-word, but a general concept that the author has clearly been thinking about, and has been working on. That is the idea of writing tight.

In terms of writing style, one size emphatically does not fit all. It’s not just about voice and word choice and process, but also about the needs of the individual work. A stripped-down, pared-to-the-bone style works for a thriller, for example, where the action is key and the rapid movement of the plot is what brings the reader in. A fantasy epic on the other hand, or a Dune or Exordium-style space opera, needs room to stretch out; takes time for lengthy passages of description and exposition; and explores the lives and surroundings of multiple characters.

This chapter leans distinctly in the latter direction, and in the prologue especially, the prose is a Celtic knotwork of repetition and recapitulation, piling up words and phrases to evoke a sense of complex and many-layered perception. This is the author’s style. But as with everything, there are ways to make that style, along with the author’s ideas, clearer and more accessible to readers.

I like to ask questions when I’m revising or when I’m suggesting revisions for others’ mss. With a ms. that could use some pruning, I look for answers to one or more of the following:

Has this information appeared before in the narrative? Does it need to be repeated here? If so, can I add something new to it, some aspect that wasn’t addressed before, that moves the story forward and further develops the characters or the setting?

Is this information essential for the understanding of the story at this particular point? Can I leave it out and still have the story make sense? Can I move it somewhere else in the narrative where it will be more effective? Does it need to be there at all?

Am I using too many words? Have I piled on the qualifiers? Can I pare them away without losing the meaning? Can my verbs be active and straightforward (walked instead of was walking, for example) and can my phrases be leaner, without extra padding? If I use two or more versions of the same concept, do I need all of them? Can I pick one and let the rest be implied by the context?

Am I repeating the same words over and over? Repetition of words and phrases can be very effective; politicians know this, as do motivational speakers. But as with most rhetorical effects, a little goes a long way. Can I keep it down to once a paragraph or once a page? Can I save it for when I really want the idea to pop? If I take it all out, has the story lost emphasis or vividness?

Am I trusting my reader enough? This question goes along with repetition of words and ideas, as well as infodumps, background information, and so on. Am I trusting my reader to understand what I’m saying? Am I including information that she can pick up through implication? Do I need to remind her of information she’s already seen, especially if she’s seen it more than once? She may need a reminder if it’s been a while, but if it’s important and it’s just happened, she probably just needs a quick pointer, or else she’ll remember it well enough that I can get right to my point without stopping to fill her in.

Have I chosen the right details? As I’m setting up the scene and portraying the character, am I providing too much information? Is it the right information? Have I emphasized minor aspects of the scene or setting or character but written around the major ones? Can I sharpen the focus and, again, trust the reader to get the details I’ve left out through the few I’m chosen to leave in?

Have I chosen the right scene? Have I written the events and interactions that are key to the movement of the story? Have I provided essential information, or is that information consigned to the background? Are characters talking about events that happened offstage rather than experiencing them onstage? Do we need the conversation, or will the scene itself tell the story with more immediacy and effectiveness?

Am I keeping my eye on the prize? If you’re a stylist (as I am), the immediate prize for a writing session is the cascade of words in front of you. What can get lost in the words is what readers in general come to genre for, which is story. The words may be my prize, but for most readers, they’re color and spackle at best and a distraction at worst. Readers want a story that moves forward, that contains believable characters, that satisfies the impulse that brought them to the genre in general and this story in particular. If I give them lots of detailed worldbuilding, they’ll sit for it better than readers of other genres, but eventually they want that beginning-middle-end, rampup-crisis-denouement thing.

For that, I have to be careful about the words-to-story ratio. As with meat to bun in a burger, there are different schools of thought as to which is optimal, but they all come back sooner or later to the nom in the middle. That nom is the story, the plot, the progression of scenes toward some form of conclusion.

That’s what writing tighter can help the story do. Pruning the undergrowth, keeping the best effects, letting them stand out from the rest. This helps build stronger pacing, which is what story-movement is. And that keeps the reader reading, which is the ultimate goal.

–Judith Tarr

On The Shelves

Heart of the Land (Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts, Book 5) by Sarah Prineas (Scholastic Inc. May 2017)

Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan are young heroes who stopped an unstoppable monster. They are Greencloaks — guardians chosen from every nation of Erdas — and together with their powerful spirit animals, they fight to protect their world. But in the ashes of this destruction, there are some who ask: Are the Greencloaks to blame? The young heroes are shocked to find themselves on trial, judged by a council of the world’s leaders. Then the unthinkable happens. The council is attacked from within — by Greencloaks –and an important leader lies slain. In the blink of an eye, Erdas’s saviors become wanted fugitives. Someone is trying to frame them as traitors, but why? As the four friends race to uncover this mystery, only one thing is clear… The war is far from over.

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Publication News

Rhonda S. Garcia wanted to tell us: “Just wanted to share my good news. I have a new short up today in the final issue of Truancy Magazine. The issue has some great stories and is dedicated to retellings of myths and legends from Africa, or the African diaspora. Mine is called The Bois, and is a futuristic take on the myth of Papa Bois from my own country.” You can find Rhonda’s story here.

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.

[ May 2017] Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Cynthia Cloughly
Submission: The Advance on Fourt County – Part 2 of 3 by Matthew Allen
Submitted by: Matthew Allen

 

Publication News

David Busboom wrote to tell us: “Earlier this year I sold my story “Can’t Stop Here” to AUTOMOBILIA from Fahrenheit Books, and my story “Three Hundred Pieces” to HEROIC FANTASY from Flame Tree Publishing. Neither has been released yet, but both are expected later this year, probably by the end of the summer! Both of these stories were greatly improved by putting them through the workshop, and I wouldn’t have sold them without the OWW.”

Jeremy Tolbert got some great news: “I just got word from Trevor at Analog that he’s going to buy my story “The Dissonant Note.” This marks my first sale to Analog!” Jeremy also sold the next novella in his Dungeonspace series, “The Dragon of Dread Peak” to Lightspeed.