Editor’s Choice Award October 2019, 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.

Daughter Of Dragons, Chapter 1 by Jennifer Baylor

This chapter has a great hook and a strong closing line. There’s a lot in between to love: dragons, badass alligators, and a protagonist with magical powers she has to hide from ordinary humans. Plus a crisis in the workplace.

The plot comes out of the gate at a run. That’s a good thing in urban fantasy, which tends to like fast pacing and high personal and emotional stakes. Since it’s a draft, the repetition of information and the insertion of exposition into the middle of fast action scenes reads to me like the author figuring out where everything fits most effectively: trying out different placements, experimenting with the interweaving of action and exposition.

In revision, most of this would be cut; we’d get one or two mentions of magical powers, what Dragon Voice is and how it works, what Morgan’s job entails and what’s happening on this particular day, where Morgan comes from and what her history is with Bess, and so on. Morgan’s internal monologue would be trimmed considerably, too: rhetorical questions, extended reactions to what’s happening around her, pauses in the action while she reflects on backstory and personal issues.

For this stage of the draft, it’s all good. It’s the infrastructure of the plot taking shape, building the scaffolding and loading in all the elements that might be needed at some point. When it’s time to revise, the draft will trim down and focus on what’s directly and immediately important to the story. To resort to my own set of rhetorical questions:

What do we need to know right here and now?

What can wait till later?

Where does this piece of information most effectively belong? Can it wait for a later scene or chapter? Is it essential that we see it here?

As I read and enjoyed the story in draft form, I felt that there was a tremendous amount going on. Not just one rogue alligator but two. Not just two rogue alligators but a dragon. And this on top of Morgan’s job issues and an imminent invasion of kindergarteners and VIPs.

As with the prose and the flow of information, I wonder if the plot might benefit from a good trim. One alligator (I cast my vote for Bess and her eggs; there’s a whole world of emotion and plot-consequences there), one or at most two dragon passes, and woven through it, one human tension: either the kids or the VIPs. I’d vote for the kids, between the potential for chaos they represent, and the connection to Bess and her babies-to-be. Maybe trim the speaking roles among the staff as well. Really focus on dragon and magic drama, alligator drama, and imminent human drama.

The other thing to think about is the timing. The whole chapter takes place, we’re told, in under fifteen minutes. That’s a very short period for everything that happens. If the action pares down to half the original number of players and crises, that will help tighten and focus the tension.

So will a drastic pruning of Morgan’s internal monologue. She stops several times in the middle of the action to remember and reflect. When this happens, the plot stops. The tension snaps. We lose the urgency of the moment.

This might work if she has the power to stop time—and that might add some interesting complications to the story. But as she’s written, she seems disconnected from the action, and she’s missing major aspects of the situation. She doesn’t even see the struggle with Bess, though she’s bonded to that particular alligator.

Even if she is distracted by Burt, at her pay grade and with her powers, Morgan should be aware that there’s a second fight going on. I also wonder how she could have missed that Bess has been breaking out repeatedly—even if she’s office-bound, wouldn’t her connection with the alligator alert her to the fact that something’s not right? And wouldn’t she be informed that there is a problem, since it’s a huge safety issue for both staff and visitors?

This is what I call Thinking Things Through. The writer sets up a situation, develops it within the scene and chapter, and then connects it to the story as a whole. Actions, as they say, have consequences. It’s the writer’s job (and joy) to work out what those are, and to think about whole ranges of ramifications—then pick the one or two or three that does the most to move the story forward, develop the character, and keep the reader reading, eager to find out what’s next.

–Judith Tarr

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