Editor’s Choice Award January 2020, 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.

Hoarded Thoughts Chapter 1 by Michael Curl

I had a lot of fun with this submission. It’s an unusual setup and an equally unusual set of characters. I do wonder if 15,000 words will be enough to tell the whole story, but would need to see more of the chapter to get a fuller sense of the shape and scope of the plot.

One big question I have is how the ogre manages to have both male and female halves. There’s one reference to magic, but I want a bit more. Are all ogres constructed like this, or is this one unique? How and why would a god fuse two individuals together in this way? It’s complicated for them to move, but it also forces cooperation, which might be a cosmic lesson. I’d love to know the story that goes with the nifty idea.

How that story unfolds is important. A block of exposition at the beginning can be hard for a reader to get over. Maybe there could be hints, a gradual revelation. And maybe the ogres’ condition plays a part in the development of the plot—not just in how they function, but why they’re the way they are. And that might be important to the outcome of the story.

I’d like to know, too, why the female is apparently of low intelligence and the male is much more advanced in his thought processes. That might get a bit complicated in the current social and cultural climate. Is she in fact as intelligent as he is, but equally unable to express her thoughts? If so, and if they’re mutually telepathic, wouldn’t he know this? And wouldn’t we be able to see, through him, that her inner life is so much different than her outer one? Even though he’s hoarding thoughts, might he still be able to read hers? How does it all work?

This might be addressed later on in the story, of course. I’m just noting what comes to mind as I read this opening section. There’s no need to front-load it all; in fact, a little mystery and suspense is a good thing. It keeps the reader turning pages, eager to find out if her questions have answers.

If this were my story, I’d focus on these larger issues first, and save the line edits for a later stage. That would be the time to smooth out the tone and the emotional affect. There are lovely bits of description, and glimpses of a grander or darker atmosphere. If that’s the direction the story wants to take, the seeds are there. This version however still leans a bit more toward the lighter side of fantasy: an ongoing sense of almost slapstick in the way the twofold ogre moves, for example.

When the worldbuilding is more developed and the tone is clearer in the author’s mind, I would suggest a really good, close edit, word for word and phrase for phrase. I quite like some of the language, such images as

The words were clear as mountain water inside his head, but on his tongue they sounded muddy.

I might use a different verb than sounded, but the rest is lovely. And this:

Jal loved how stupid humans made their animals.

It’s an unusual insight into the mind of an ogre. Pretty up-to-date science in this world, too, which gives it a nice double resonance.

Sometimes however, the phrasing strains a bit. Watch out for awkward phrasing:

Jal moved his head with big heavy nods

This is an odd use of the word nod, and odd phrasing.

He waited a second to feel her shoulder rise, But instead of pushing themselves off their back as a human would do, they turned their heads to face, the ground, and knuckle-walked like a gorilla into the orchard.

Check the punctuation and capitalization, and work on the way in which both the characters and their actions are described. I had trouble visualizing this, despite earlier descriptions of how they’re constructed. I found myself wanting more clarity, and more precision in the phrasing and the imagery.

Keep an eye on the figures of speech, too. Here’s a mixed metaphor:

their wide trumpet ears scanning the darkness like owl eyes

Trumpets are both a visual and an auditory image, and that works for ears (to me it suggests Shrek—which may be something to ponder when refining the tone of the story). The switch to the visual image of owl eyes is a bit disconcerting. Is there another image that would fit ears and sounds, and convey a similar effect?

The main thing to aim for is to keep the reader reading. If she has to stop and figure out what a particular passage is trying to say, she loses track of the narrative. The clearer the prose is, the easier the story is to follow. Then she’ll stay with it all the way to the end.

–Judith Tarr

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