Editor’s Choice Review May 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.

Moongirl by Sharon Cullars

Set in San Diego, 2202, “Moongirl” shows us an interesting and unique future, in which monsters, visible only to those on a particular drug, eat humans.  Selene struggles to decide what to do with this knowledge.  The story has some nice emotion to it, since those previously on the drug, including Selene’s friend, Anne, and Anne’s mother, have killed themselves because of what they’ve seen.  The most intense and disturbing moment, for me, occurs when Selene sees her drawing of a girl on a swing grow animated, and then the girl is eaten by a monster.  That’s really haunting, and it’s something I’ve never seen before.

The main area of the story that I think can be improved is focus.  The story right now includes more than a short story can hold.  The focus needs to be narrowed to the elements necessary to create a powerful impact at the story’s end.  Other elements need to be cut.  I’ll discuss this in more detail below.

I think there is way too much plot here for a short story.  Since the vast majority of the plot has occurred before the present action, that means the story is filled with exposition (background information), most of it in the form of flashbacks.  Roughly three out of eight pages, almost half the story, is exposition.  If you find that much of your story is exposition, that usually means you’ve started the story in the wrong place.  Generally, the reader wants to be swept up in the present action of the story, with minimal amounts of exposition that provide a few key pieces of information about what happened earlier.  The story would be stronger if it was re-plotted to focus on present action with only a little exposition.

Right now, the present story has quite a weak plot.  Basically, Selene takes the drug, sees the monster, thinks back over all that happened, and decides to fight the monsters by giving others the drug, so they too can see.  The causal chain is weak, because there’s no particular reason why Selene makes the decision on this night, at this moment.  And she’s passive throughout, mainly watching and thinking, not struggling to achieve a goal.

My advice is to restructure the story to move the more emotionally powerful material into the present action.  The story could begin with Selene saying the line currently on p. 7:  “What is it you see, Anne?”  She and Anne could be on the rooftop, with Anne standing too close to the edge.  Selene tries to convince her to step away from the edge.  This scene could combine some of the dialogue from p. 7 with some of the dialogue from p. 9 (“I see things, Moon.  They’re here with us but no on sees them,” etc.).  Anne tells her to take the duffel.  Anne says her mother couldn’t handle it, and she can’t handle it, but maybe Selene can.  Selene senses Anne is about to jump and runs forward and grabs her, but Anne slips through her fingers and falls.  This would be a very powerful opening scene, and you could slow it down and describe their interactions some more and show Selene’s emotions.  The current version seems rushed and tells emotions with emotional labels (confused, frightened, desperately, hoping, etc.) more than shows them.

I think the details about Anne’s mother and how she died aren’t important to the story.  It’s enough to know that she took the drug and killed herself.  That’s all we need.  The focus should be on Anne, who is closest to Selene and who Selene tried and failed to save.  Since the story has too much plot, some needs to be cut away, and I would suggest most of Anne’s mother’s story could be cut.

This could be followed by the scene with Selene in the warehouse taking the drug for the first time and seeing the girl on the swing be eaten.  In that same scene, she could flee the warehouse after the girl is eaten and see more monsters on the streets, eating.  She could rush up to Liam and ask him what’s happening, but he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  She runs off, horrified, seeing people being killed, and it’s so awful she can’t stand living in the world.  She understands now why Anne and her mother killed themselves and she prepares to throw herself in front of a bus.  But she realizes that Anne trusted her and wanted her to change things, to end this.  She can’t just kill herself and let this go on.  She runs to Liam and tells him he has to take the drug.  He fights her at first, but finally she convinces him to do it, for her.  He’ll be the first of her army.  And she’ll stop them.

Compressing the time line, putting all the important events into the present of the story, and allowing Selene to struggle–first to save Anne, then to deal with her horror and despair, then to create the first soldier in her army–will strengthen the plot and make Selene a stronger protagonist.

In addition to the plot, there is also more setting here than the story requires.  The technology and futuristic setting seems irrelevant to the story.  Invisible, people-eating monsters can exist in any time.  I suggest simply setting the story in the present day.  It will be much more disturbing to think that monsters live among us and eat us than to think that in some imaginary future they will do so.

The alternate dimension also seems unnecessary.  That doesn’t add to Selene’s struggle or decision.

Simplifying the setting will also allow the point of view to be simplified.  Right now, it’s mainly omniscient, moving at times into Selene’s head.  The omniscient point of view keeps me distant from Selene for most of the story and prevents me from getting very emotionally involved.  I think the story would work much better in a close third-person limited omniscient POV, limited to Selene’s head.  The omniscient viewpoint allows for explanation of the technology, but if the technology is cut, then the POV can simply stay in Selene’s head and allow us to experience events with her.

Narrowing the focus should allow the strong core elements of the story to be further developed.

I really enjoy the disturbing premise and the emotional connection between Selene and Anne.  I hope my comments are helpful.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey


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