Editor’s Choice Review December 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.

Marc Holiday And The Dragon’s Eye- Chapter Eleven -You Can Run But You Can’t Hide From Time by Mark Reeder

It’s interesting coming into a novel and a series near the end. Characters who would be old friends to readers of the whole series are strangers. I’ll miss references that would resonate to readers familiar with the whole story, and also miss repetitions and echoes that, if I were editing the entire series, I might flag with, “Do we need to see this again?” At the same time, I get the flavor of the story, and a sense of the characters. It’s a taste of the larger dish.

The summary tells me of a dense and complex story with a large cast of characters and a great deal of adventure both triumphant and tragic. I think bits got elided or condensed—I’m not quite clear on whose body is being returned to whose parents, for example. Not an uncommon issue with a big, expansive story and a short, concise summary. If the author were writing a synopsis for submission, this would want a bit of clarification.

The actual chapter caught my eye because of the questions asked about the draft. I like clear, detailed questions, and specific needs and wants from authors. They’re helpful to the editor coming in cold and pondering a small portion of a large work.

The questions point me toward the author’s intentions in writing the chapter. Words that jumped out at me were telling/showing, dialogue, vivid/energetic, and believable. Good aims and goals for any story, but especially for YA/MG, for which distinctive voice and clear, fast-moving storytelling are definite assets.

The chapter consists primarily of characters talking to one another about events that have happened or will happen elsewhere. There’s movement and action but it’s a bit buried in dialogue, until the final scene, when Marc gets pulled away into the (portentously italicized) Arch of Time. That’s the chapter I find myself wanting to read. What’s here seems mostly to be transitional. Major things have happened and will happen. Here in the middle, characters are telling each other about the past and setting up for the future.

I do get a sense of how the characters relate to one another, what they are to each other—longtime friends and comrades in arms, so to speak. The scene blocking in the beginning is a bit out of order: we see where Larry and Tycho are rather late in the scene, and the storm, which turns out to be important, is also introduced late, which undercuts its significance, at least for me as a reader; I might be missing some setup in the previous chapter.

Scene blocking is important. Making sure the reader gets the sense of who, what, where, when, etc., so that she can visualize the scene as it unfolds, and so that she can get a sense of which details are essential to move the plot forward. If she has to backtrack while she reads, she loses momentum, and so, accordingly, does the story.

It’s an easy fix in revision, but definitely something to keep in mind. I also felt a distinct difference between the first scene and the scenes that followed—almost as if they belonged to a different story. This may be a thing; it may be how the story tells itself in the series. Here it felt like a change in voice, and a change in the way the story is being told.

The leading questions about Dr. Jake have an air of “As you know, Bob” about them. I found myself wondering why these questions are being asked here, and why, if they’re crucial to the story, Dr. Jake isn’t there to ask them himself. If they’re not crucial, do they need to be here? There’s quite a bit happening, and quite a bit about to happen. Do these extra details provide essential information for the next round of action?

I felt too that the dialogue went on a bit. I like Larry’s writer-frantic-ness, and the idea that he’s translating their experiences into fiction. It’s very meta. But maybe a little less-is-more would make the scene move faster and the plot advance more quickly (and smoothly) toward the next scene.

My question as a cold reader, too, would be: Is there a scene like this every time they stop for a breather in between time-zips? After five volumes, is this information already known to all the characters? If so, is it necessary again here? Is there a more concise way to get key, new information across, while reminding readers of essential background?

In the second scene I had a similar reaction. Do we need to know Marc’s hair color by this point? If it changes every time he changes the past, that might be worth a quick pointer. Otherwise, in terms of narrative economy, we probably don’t need the detail at this particular point. We may not need the detail about his shirt, either, unless it’s significant to the plot (different school colors in different timelines?).

And again, with Tycho, have they wondered about his intelligence earlier? If so, is it crucial to the plot right here, to go over it again? If not, why does it dawn on them now in particular? Will we be getting a story development within the next handful of scenes, in which Tycho’s intelligence becomes a plot-mover?

Fire hydrants by the way are a pretty old-fashioned joke for a modern kid to make. Is this significant to Larry’s history and character?

As they’re running with Larry, I think the dialogue could be pruned and the jokes toned down a bit. They’re yukking and expositioning when they might be more focused on getting where they need to go, and I’m missing the sense of danger and urgency. There’s lots of telling, lots of “we know X but you don’t so we’ll tell you all about it while we’re running.” That stretches my belief a bit, since mostly when people are hurrying to get somewhere, they’re focused on that rather than on relaying information.

Also, breathing.

Does the reader of the whole series need the whole summary, or can a quick handful of lines do the job? “They filled Larry in while they ran, taking turns to breathe and talk,” or something similar. And a highlight or two to give the proper flavor of the conversation.

Overall I like the energy, love the details of the story even where, as a cold reader, I found them confusing—maybe a reader of the whole would not need quite so much summary and exposition—and I do find the characters lively and bouncy, though as I’ve said, some trimming and pruning would help keep the scenes and characters moving. Pare down, focus on essential details; if it’s worth telling what someone said offstage, maybe it’s worth showing the scene in which that character speaks.

But as I’ve noted, that the cold reader observing what she sees. Some of these issues may be resolved elsewhere, and there may not be a particular need to fix them here. It’s all about how the parts fit into the whole.

–Judith Tarr

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