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.
I’m going to do something here that I haven’t done for a while, and that’s to discuss a more general topic rather than offering a specific critique of the submission. It’s a good start and I like the voice and the overall level of skill quite a lot. The writing is solid, and keeps me turning the pages. I’m interested in discovering what happens.
What I’d like to talk about is the conundrum in the author’s note. There seems to be a sharp division between readers who are satisfied with a more allusive narrative style, and readers who want things spelled out up front.
This cuts rather close to the bone of my writer-self, and I’ve had some spirited discussions with editors and copy editors. I like to be allusive. Some editors, speaking on behalf of a certain demographic of readers, really would prefer that I not do that.
To a degree it’s a matter of personal taste, but it also speaks to the question of how and when to convey information so that it’s clear to the reader. Some writers put it all in, tell it step by step, explain as they go. Others hint and suggest, as this chapter does with the coffin—touching wood for luck and for protection. To me it’s clear from context what the gesture means, but as I said, I’m good with suggestions rather than plain statements.
What to do here? I believe it’s up to the author to make the final decision. It’s impossible to please every reader. There will always be one (or more) to whom a particular submission does not speak. We’re all different, we all have varying tastes and preferences, and sometimes the work just isn’t for us.
In this case, I would ask what the writer wants to accomplish. Horror by its nature tends toward the allusive—so much of it is voice and tone and atmosphere, and its effects tend to build gradually. If there are questions at the start of a story or novel, if we’re not clued in immediately to who or what the people in the hidden village are, we can be sure we’ll get at least some of the answers by the end—and if some part of the mystery remains, we’ll embrace that, too, if the author does it right.
It’s all in how the story wants to be told. Does it want the answers up front, thriller style, so that the reader runs ahead of the characters, waiting for them to figure it all out? Or does it want the reader to live through the process of discovery with the characters? Either way is valid, but the ultimate decision is the author’s.
There’s a further complication in workshopping a portion of a larger work, when what we have in front us can’t and won’t contain all the information we need in order to get the overall picture. Many times, a question is answered in a later section, or a piece of information that’s not quite fully explained in one scene or chapter is clarified as the story goes on. Maybe it needs to happen that way; the story grows and expands, and the reader’s understanding grows with it.
Again, in the end, it’s the author’s call. We do want clarity, and clarification, but sometimes we want to keep a little mystery, too; a little something for the reader to discover as they read on.