Editor’s Choice Review September 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 King Of Hands by Henry Szabranski

There is a lot to admire in “The King of Hands”: a truly menacing-feeling underground horde of hands, an atmosphere reminiscent of Junji Ito, and a less-loaded twist on the trajectory of the standard Lovecraftian tale. However, there’s also a lot of room to explore the story’s potential, and several ways “The King of Hands” isn’t quite living up to its promise. This month, I’d like to talk about walking the line between evoking a genre and sticking too close to its established tropes, and a core technique for crafting fresh original takes on story elements that have been used frequently before.

“The King of Hands” has definite atmosphere. It creates immediate tension from the first sentence with plain, unadorned prose: stark enough to build a feeling of darkness, a heartbeat pace, and the hyper-narrow focus of mortal fear. Its move to the wider, more impressionistic and colourful flashback of the second scene just emphasizes the realism of that danger through contrast.

However, not diving directly into flashback is a fairly common piece of writing advice, and “The King of Hands” demonstrates, in its early scenes, why: The first scene is gripping, evocative, and has a definite conflict and hook, but the more time we spend in flashback, in action that isn’t progressing or solving the issue that’s caught readers’ attention, the more the flashbacks come to feel like a delay. Before we reach the inventiveness of the Temple of the Hands and interesting—and unexplored—question of why Marew is carving hands too, we reach the core issue with “The King of Hands”: it’s not yet moving beyond its own set of tropes.

There’s a strong feeling in the worldbuilding of “The King of Hands” of corners being cut. There are a lot of very familiar narrative shorthands at play in its 5,500 words: drunk father with belt who blames a child for his mother’s death, kids daring each other to play where they aren’t supposed to, the frightened narrator who is actually murderous, sibling rivalry, secret societies underground, the question of whether the protagonist is insane or brushing the unknown, and the inciting incident of Thom’s fall being untelegraphed sexual jealousy—and on their wedding day, no less, and with his brother, no less.

These are all somewhat well-used horror tropes, some calling back to seventies and eighties pulps and some directly back to Lovecraft or Poe. The sheer accumulation of familiar ideas makes them all feel more like signposts—the beginnings of ideas which haven’t yet been finished. The sheer amount of sources for them make the piece feel as if it can’t quite decide which story it wants to be. Thom, Tania, and Marew’s childhood escapades have a faint feel of modern suburbia to them, but their town is giving off cues of a second-world fantasy location (summerwine, the general technology level of a standard Renaissance fantasy world), and Marew’s tourist business takes us even farther out, into small-town territory. I’m unsure where we are, in time, space, society, or cosmology.

The unfortunate cumulative effect is visible in “The King of Hands”: when enough corners are cut in crafting our worlds, we start to run out of paper.

The interesting question is: When many stories use the same tropes, why do they feel tropey in “The King of Hands”?

One answer, I’d suggest, is the not-yet-coalesced state of the story’s narrative—and it may be possible to address by moving from the abstract to the specific.

We’ve talked before about the concept of using the right detail, rather than several details that outline vaguely—or try to suggest—a character’s experience. Choosing one evocative, illustrative detail is frequently more effective because it’s personal—this is this character’s experience—and that personalness makes the detail, and thus the story, feel concrete, real, and true. Detail work is a portable skill: it applies just as strongly to working with tropes and archetypes.

The major complaint readers and critiquers have about tropes is not that they aren’t original thinking: as writers, we work in a field that’s built on thousands of years of storytelling, trying to tap into cultural ideas about how the world works, so very little of what we do is going to be purely original. But the underlying issue is whether something feels original—which is to say unique, which is to say specific. Does this story feel fresh? Does it feel like someone’s concrete, actual experience instead of a shorthand for experiences kinds of people have?

That’s where the question of one evocative detail comes in. I’d suggest going through a new draft of “The King of Hands” with that filter in mind: Instead of the fairly standard idea of “drunk father with belt”, what was Thom’s experience with his father like? What did Thom’s father call him, when he brought that belt down, and what was the look on his face? What colour was the belt buckle? What did his right eye do when he was angry? What’s the father’s drink of choice, and how did it smell on his breath? How did Thom feel before, during, and after? With a little thought—and a few narrative decisions—the shorthand photocopy of a drunk parent dealing out a beating becomes something rich, vivid, real and original because it’s been given specificity.

There are interesting questions in this piece, and a potentially interesting take on what happens when one transports the Lovecraftian mode into a very different setting. However, they’re in need of unearthing, and as the story moves from the general to the specific, they’ll likely attain some focus—and make it clear which direction “The King of Hands” should take in the draft that follows.

As it stands, “The King of Hands” is a horror story—but what is this horror story? I’m looking forward to the answer.

Best of luck!

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

On The Shelves

The Stone in the Skull (The Lotus Kingdoms) by Elizabeth Bear (Tor Books, October 2017)

Hugo Award–winning author Elizabeth Bear returns to her critically acclaimed epic fantasy world of the Eternal Sky with a brand new trilogy. The Stone in the Skull takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort. They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Into the Bright Unknown (Gold Seer Trilogy) by Rae Carson (Greenwillow Books, October 2017)

The stunning conclusion to Rae Carson’s New York Times–bestselling Gold Seer trilogy.

Leah Westfall’s journey has been one of ever-present peril, hidden magic, harsh realities, loss, life, determination, and love. She has searched for a place to belong and a place—and people—to call home, people who can accept a girl with magical powers that prove to be both blessing and curse.

Leah is poised to have everything she ever dreamed of on the long, dangerous journey to California’s gold fields—wealth, love, the truest friends, and a home. Thanks to her magical ability to sense precious gold, Leah, her fiancé Jefferson, and her friends have claimed rich land in California Territory. But their fortune makes them a target, and when a dangerous billionaire sets out to destroy them, Leah and her friends must fight back with all of their power and talents.

Leah’s magic is continuing to strengthen and grow, but someone is on to her—someone who might have a bit of magic herself. The stakes are higher than ever as Lee and her friends hatch a daring scheme that could alter California’s history forever.






Editor’s Choice Review September 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 Radioactive Four–Chapter 1 by N. Howl

This is an interesting beginning, very intense, and packed with strong sensory details. The protagonist whose memory is broken, whose experience of the world comes in fragments, has quite a lot of potential to grow and discover herself as the novel progresses.

The logistics of the scenes are somewhat of a work in progress. As I read, I wondered how the scientist and Banton could be unaware of Alia’s dome shattering, and how she managed to escape so easily, even though she was captured in fairly short order. There seems to be lack of security there, that doesn’t match the hints of what’s going on and the importance of Alia to the—whatever it is. A little more clarity might help, and perhaps some rethinking of the setup.

What may also help in the revision phase is to recalibrate the emotional volume of this chapter. There’s a visible effort to create vivid images and evoke strong feelings. It’s a worthy ambition, and there are some memorable moments. But, as with so much else in the art and craft of writing, a little can go quite a long way.

Emotion, like physical action, needs its quiet phases as well as its moments of high intensity. It’s the ebb and flow that draws the story along: now more subtle, now dialed up to 11. Fictional characters, like real-life humans, need time to relax and regroup in among the high drama.

In this chapter, the volume is consistently turned all the way up. From the very beginning, Alia’s teeth chatter, her mind rattles, electricity bolts, pain erupts—crescendo after crescendo. Everything stabs, jolts, shakes, writhes, convulses, explodes.

We are so often exhorted to make our prose vivid and memorable, to choose strong words over weak or neutral ones. That’s good advice for the most part. Prose that’s emotionally flat is prose that isn’t doing its job. Characters can’t round themselves out, scenes never quite come alive.

But it’s possible to go too far in the opposite direction, too. Writing, like life, is a balancing act. We can turn the volume down at intervals and tone down the word choices, go for the neutral, give ourselves and our readers a break from the constant percussion.

It’s like a pause in a storm. The interlude of quiet focuses the mind and brings the stronger parts into higher relief. Then when the wind and thunder come back, they’re that much more powerful.

If every other word is a Big! Loud! STRONG! word, they cancel each other out. Image piled on image over the course of a chapter or a novel can have a numbing effect. And if the images themselves tumble over the top–“Images stabbed Alia’s mind, searing from nose to brain like an inhale of water,” “the man’s eyes rolled back and he slumped like slime down glass,” “Alia bolted up, her brain rattling inside her heavy head”—we’re pummeled with metaphors, till they start to blur into one another.

It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but the strongest prose is carefully measured and balanced with neutral words and phrases. When the volume does go up, it hits all the harder for the lower volume around it. One good, vivid image stays in the mind, and the emotion that image evokes resonates through the whole scene.

What I would suggest in revision would be to pare ruthlessly in the first pass. Keep one strong image per paragraph, or be even more sparing with them. See how far the prose can be trimmed and the volume turned down without falling flat. Focus on what’s essential, what must be there. Allow downbeats and pauses. Let the words (and the characters) breathe. The action will still move at a rapid clip and the emotions will still punch hard when they need to.

And if some of what came out needs to go (judiciously) back in, that’s good, too. As I said: it’s all about balance.

–Judith Tarr


Editor’s Choice Review August 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.

Climbing The Motherman — Part 1/2 by Henry Szabranski

I was drawn to “Climbing the Motherman” by its intense, immense sense of scale: a wild, weird, airborne world full of razorbugs, peaks, arteries—and yet one that didn’t feel out of readers’ grasp. This month, I’d like to talk about juxtaposition, what readers expect to see, and how we can play off that to create worldbuilding that stays familiar even when it’s strange.

“Climbing the Motherman” leads with its strengths: haunting imagery, a mythic cadence to its prose, and a gorgeously immense sense of scale. From the very first paragraphs, there’s a juxtaposition of large and small: the distant bodies of the Maiden, Hunchback, and the Motherman itself contrasted with Percher’s small, nimble, delicate body; the giants as, themselves, small components of a huge and unknown world sheathed in mist. There are multiple layers of awe at play in this piece’s worldbuilding, and all of them channeled well through Percher’s fascination with the giants—and his familiarity with the Motherman grounding readers in his own “usual”.

We’ve talked in previous months about how tension can be a tool to spark and maintain reader engagement, and there are a few sources of productive tension in “Climbing the Motherman”. The most notable one is the Motherman himself, and the tension between the idea of body and the idea of world. There’s enough in the geography of the Motherman for readers to recognize as a person, but the tribe’s use of cavities as homes and arteries as tunnels, the geography of a mountain in the form of a man, create a fascinating sense of body as topography, as landmark. It’s a dissonance that fascinates, partially because it’s not explained to readers, but worked in as an organic part of Percher’s universe.

That tension and juxtaposition resonate into the prose level. “Climbing the Motherman” has a strong, evocative sense of word choice that summons instant imagery but never quite in the way readers might expect: “the graves of cook fires” and “leaning forward so that it crouched upon its knuckles and its ridged spine notched the sky” were particular favourites of mine. There’s solid threading of Percher’s own worldview in the choice of metaphors, as well: describing a sky as “flesh-pink” tells readers about the components of his world. It’s not the expected metaphor, but it’s one that’s easily understandable to readers, and the just-strange-enoughness makes it work well enough to not stop readers cold, but still evoke a sense of elsewhere.

There’s also a juxtaposition in terms of Percher’s status as a slightly unreliable narrator, especially when it comes to his attitude toward Skink. I’m impressed by the pervasive and subtle indications “Climbing the Motherman” throws out that there’s less difference than Percher might think between the ways he uses Skink as a prop for his self-image and Broc’s more overt statement that her name’s whatever he pleases. The growth of his attraction to her, once she’s the only woman left, is downright disturbing when mirrored with Broc’s flip over into calling her “Little Ma”. It’s quite apparent that Percher has no idea who he is, or who he’s dealing with—and continually misses that Skink is the only character who reliably knows what she’s doing here. He’s not half as good as he thinks or wants to be, and that complicates the piece interestingly.

However, I’d call some attention to how Skink’s portrayal ultimately ends up: With Skink’s main motivating desire being to walk—as if she’s nothing more, ultimately, than her injury, not a person with wants or needs outside it—and how fulfilling that desire, taking her power, leads to crashing the entire Motherman. Yes, it works out, but there’s a quite damaging trope in there: that all someone with a disability wants is to not have that disability. I’d take a second look at that sequence, and consider carefully how it would read to readers living their own lives with disability.

I’d also take a careful look at Broc and how he’s characterized. He’s written with a different dialogue cadence than Percher or Skink, one that’s stereotypically less educated, and as he’s the undisputable antagonist here—one who’s taken down largely because he’s obstinate and almost unbelievably stupid—I’d suggest giving some attention as to whose real-life dialogue pattern he’s using, and whether that’s going to perpetuate any particularly unkind stereotypes. While a lot of “Climbing the Motherman” uses shorthands as a positive, to build bridges with readers, it’s crucial that our particular choices of shorthands be ones that are examined, and, well, chosen.

Aside from those questions of characterization, “Climbing the Motherman” does a lot very well, on several levels—and uses the same tricks of juxtaposition to craft a world and relationships that feel rich and nuanced while throwing readers down a fast-moving, action-packed plot. It’s an interesting piece, and with a little careful thought, one that can definitely be great.

Best of luck with it!

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

Publication News

William Delman writes: “I sold a piece that was in the workshop recently. “Nothing to See Here” will be appearing in SciFan Magazine later this month–Issue 10 is available for presale on Amazon now. I’d like to say a big “thank you” to everyone in the workshop that provided me with suggestions and comments for this one, including Gregor Hartmann, Skye Allen, Jonathan Hoffman, and Allan Dyen-Shapiro.”

Editor’s Choice Review September 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.

The Sharp-Edged Detritus Of Broken Words by Marion Engelke

Lately I’ve been happening across submissions that trend toward the all-the-details end of the draft spectrum. This is a thoroughly valid process, and can result in beautiful, rich and layered fiction. But in revision, the emphasis will be on pruning and paring away the extra words to uncover the structure of the story.

This time I’ve opted to look at a submission that falls on the other end of the range. It’s lean and honed and totally pared down. There’s nothing extra; everything that’s there is meant to be there.

“The Sharp-Edged Detritus of Broken Words” holds together with exquisite precision. I didn’t miss any information about the dragons within the context of the story. Everything worked for me; some aspects were implied rather than explicit, but the implication was clear. This is a good example of how to choose just the right details, and the reader pick up the rest.

My questions about the worldbuilding are fascination-questions, rather than “I’m missing this from the story” questions. I love the idea of dragons singing languages into and out of existence, and turning written words into edged weapons. It’s gorgeous. I wanted to know where the dragons come from, whether they show up everywhere in the same year, where they go in between, and why the period is so precise. And who figured out what they do, if everyone’s mind and world are so altered? What happens to the trove of salvaged books? Is it always one scholar who saves them? Does she pass on her knowledge? Is someone or something controlling the dragons? Is there a reason for what they do? And what about people in their houses? How do they protect themselves against the word-shrapnel? What is the process that alters everything about them? What does it look like, feel like?

So many questions, but that’s a sign of success. The worldbuilding is so tight and focused and pointed, but there’s so much underneath. I want to know more. I want to see more of this world, and understand it better. And at the same time, I’m content with what I see in this one story. It covers what it needs to cover.

One thing I would suggest, since this is so tightly written and so precisely constructed, is to really, really watch the way the words fit together. It’s always important to hunt down and kill infelicities of grammar and syntax in one’s writing, but they’re particularly important in a story as concise as this.

I noted that prepositions sometimes wander out of bounds, or idioms don’t quite parse. For example:

tips and tricks of what to plant when and where, of what to do

The more common idiom would probably be for rather than of.

a burgeoning fruit and vegetable patch behind the house was going a long way for keeping food

And here, toward would be the more standard usage than for.

Rosa passed under the row of iron spears of the portcullis into the city’s unnerving silence

This is what I call a prepositional pileup. It’s maybe trying a shade too hard to be concise. Opening it up and separating the phrases would make the meaning a little clearer and the flow a little smoother.

What in all that’s holy are you doing here?”

The usual phrase is “in the name of all that’s holy.” I kind of like the shortened form here, but it might catch a copy editor up short.

Everybody moved in a flowing, gliding gait

Here again, there’s a sort of logic to it, but the idiom is more usually “with a flowing gait.”

And finally, here’s a bit of story-blocking that made me stop to figure out the visual:

The voice sounded from her right. Rosa flinched and jumped to her feet. A woman stood in front of her

The voice is coming from the right but the woman is in front of her?

These are really quibbles. Structurally and conceptually the story is lovely. I want to see more—to know what happened when Rosa went home—but I’m satisfied with the amount of story that I’ve been given. It’s rounded; it’s complete. I have enough information to imagine what happens next. The important parts are all there. The rest is a lovely silence.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Review September 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.

Vamp, Part 2: The Years We Waste by David Busboom

Writers often talk about voice without really knowing what it is.  A weak or inappropriate voice in an otherwise strong story can destroy it.  A strong voice can make us love a mediocre story.  Voice is the personality of the character as revealed through his use of the language.  That means voice is the cumulative effect of many small decisions on the part of the author, which explains why it can be challenging to control.  While voice is important in all fiction, it is most important in stories told in first person.  In first person, the character is usually speaking directly to us, telling us his story.  In real life, some people make you want to sit down and listen to their stories, while others don’t.  In large part, this is due to their voice, their personality, the way they tell a story.  A narrator’s first-person voice needs to show readers that being a good storyteller is part of his personality.  The narrator needs to have interesting, fresh observations that allow readers to see events in a new and compelling way.  Those are the qualities that can pull readers in and keep them turning the pages, even when nothing earth-shattering is happening.

The first-person voice in Vamp draws me into part 2 without even having read part 1.  The voice feels believable and consistent (convincing me this is a real person talking to me), and it flows well–the narrator, Dave, is a good storyteller.  More than that, the language reveals to me that Dave is educated and reflective, and that he has a mix of influences ranging from popular culture to archaic lore.  These qualities make his observations, thoughts, descriptions, and reflections precise (which allows me to vividly experience them), interesting, and sometimes compelling.  That is a major strength of this novel excerpt.

An element in the excerpt that could be strengthened is the causal chain.  The causal chain is made up of the cause-and-effect relationships that link the events that make up the plot.  A simple way to create causality is to make sure actions or events are connected with “therefore” or “which leads to.”  This happens, therefore this happens, which leads to this happening.  If the cavalry shows up to save your heroes but no one called the cavalry, and we’ve never seen the cavalry before, we’ll feel like the author is manipulating the story.  Of course the author is manipulating the story, but readers need the illusion that events are unfolding on their own.  The causal chain is critical for this.  The causal chain not only helps the reader to believe in the story but is also critical to create suspense and surprise.  Suspense involves anticipating and worrying about what might happen, and we can’t do that if events are happening randomly, only if there are causal connections.  Surprise involves things happening other than the ones we anticipated.  That can’t happen unless we clearly anticipated one thing, and something different happened instead.

It’s easiest to create a strong causal chain when the story takes place over a short time period.  If Jane slaps Sarah and, five seconds later, Sarah slaps Jane, it’s pretty easy to see the causal connection between these two slaps.  But if Jane slaps Sarah and, five years later, Sarah slaps Jane, it’s harder to believe these are connected.  The fact that Sarah is slapping Jane at that particular moment feels random.  Why wouldn’t Sarah have slapped Jane sooner?

Part 2 of Vamp occurs over an extended time period, which makes it difficult to create a strong causal chain.  In part 1, Dave has an awesome sexual experience with Lilith when he’s 16.  It’s so great, it haunts him for years to come.  So why is it that when he’s 20, he decides she’s evil and goes back to the house where they had sex to kill Lilith?  The cause (motivation) for this actions seems weak.  An owl crashing into his windshield prompts thoughts of Lilith and a dream, and that sends Dave on a big research project to learn all about Lilith and then to try to find and kill her.  The first break in the causal chain is the owl.  Why does this owl crash into his windshield?  Why on this day?  It seems manipulated by the author rather than arising out of a causal chain of events.  Then why, after all these years, does an owl prompt the dream?  And why does the dream prompt his decision?  Lilith asserts, in the dream, that Dave wants her more than his girlfriend.  But is that really a reason to embark on a huge research project about Lilith and to kill her?  I don’t think the intensity of their relationship/conflict has built to a point where he would be driven to kill her.  He seems to decide to kill her mainly because his research reveals Lilith is evil.  That seems a very abstract reason to kill someone, especially for Dave, who doesn’t seem to be a demon hunter.  This undercuts our belief in Dave and the plot.  It also seems like this research ought to reveal to him that Lilith isn’t someone who can be killed with a revolver, though this is the weapon Dave brings.

Several years later, Dave’s obsession with Lilith increases.  We’re told it happens because he’s engaged and his father dies, but neither of these causes seems sufficient to cause this effect.  He realizes that none of his sexual partners had matched Lilith.  I think he would know that while the sex is happening and not suddenly realize it years later.  When he’s suddenly obsessed with sex with Lilith and goes so far as to try to conjure her for sex, it’s not convincing.  The story needs a stronger causal chain.

One thing that would help is to condense the timeline so events happen closer together in time.  We also need the effects to be more in line with the causes, so we can believe Dave would do these things and we can believe his character arc over the novel.  If sex with Lilith is the best ever, then I think he’d go back to the house constantly hoping for more.  Perhaps he goes every week for a year, and then every month, and it’s always deserted.  Throughout this time he researches her, and perhaps he finds a number associated with Lilith in legend, and he thinks if he goes that number of times to the house, she will come.  Meanwhile, he falls in love with Elizabeth.  Now he has an internal conflict between his obsession with Lilith and his love for Elizabeth.  He still wants to go back to the house on his usual day of the month.  But perhaps Elizabeth wants to do something with him on that day and he lies and tells her he’s busy.  He can tell that she knows he’s lying, and he’s upset about losing her trust.  When he goes to the house, he’s now angry over Lilith’s hold on him and upset over how he’s treating Elizabeth.  He knows he must make a decision.  So he burns the house down.

But burning the house must have an effect.  Every event should have a cause, and every event should have an effect. So maybe he sets the house on fire, but as he does, he “gather[s] up paper scraps” to add to the flames, and he finds something that increases his obsession rather than putting it to rest.  He could find photos of her naked, or diagrams of a ceremony that might summon her, or an address where she might be.  Thus burning down the house would lead Dave to his next attempt to connect with Lilith.

With a stronger causal chain, Dave’s actions and other story events will be more believable, and we’ll feel more suspense and surprise as one thing leads to the next in ways that keep us on the edge of our seats.

I hope this is helpful.  I enjoyed reading the excerpt with its strong voice and description.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, writer, 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.

[ August 2017] Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: M Horst
Submission: MACHISTOPH Ch 1 by Robin Zell
Submitted by: Robin Zell
Reviewer: Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Submission: Blue, Chapter 1 by Walter Williams
Submitted by: Walter Williams

Writing Challenge/Prompt

Post apocalyptic or dystopian stories are a genre staple. We’re all familiar with stories about the harsh struggle to survive, let alone thrive.

But here’s a different character or story twist to think about. What kind of person survives the end of the world? Think about what personality traits a survivor has, what skills, and what might turn a good person into a tyrant.

Now write a story about that character.

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).