Editor’s Choice Award August 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.


Drunken City by Beth Berg

This chapter has some interesting worldbuilding and an eerily compelling narrative style. It seems to be set in a dystopian future, maybe not too distant from now, but far enough to feel just a bit strange. It’s not clear where it’s set, whether on Earth or on another planet; that’s something I would expect to find out as the story unfolds.

It’s labeled fantasy, but that doesn’t lock it into any particular planet or era. What that does for me is suggest that the plot will resolve through some form of magic or the supernatural rather than through technology. Again, the rest of the novel will tell me if I’m right about that.

There are a couple of things I’d like to point out for aid in revision. The movement of the story is clear enough in the draft, though I would suggest a couple of simple copyediting-type fixes to help the reader follow the narrative. When a viewpoint shifts, for example, start a new paragraph. That way, the reader knows to expect the change. The same applies to dialogue. New speaker, new paragraph.

The prose, word by word and line by line, needs a fair amount of work. The ongoing echoes and repetition can be effective if they’re calculated carefully, but make sure all the words mean what they need to mean. Instance here, for example, actually should be a slightly different word, instant.

Think too about whether the repetitions make the story stronger, or whether it could use more variety in choice of words and phrases. Note the frequent flyers: yelled out, for example, and seem and appear in various forms, and surprise. Can some or all of them be replaced with other words or phrases?

Watch for passive voice and passive constructions. Think about how to make them active. People doing things make for stronger story in general than people having things done to them. The same applies to things happening. If there’s a subject to the verb, instead of a passive “was done to,” it moves the story along more briskly and pulls the reader with it.

And finally, adverbs. There’s a school of thought that says we should kill them all. I don’t agree with that, but I do think that with –ly words, a little goes a long way.

This chapter has a lot of adverbs. Try taking them all out and see what happens. If the sentence stops making sense without its adverbs, are there other ways to get the meaning across?

Especially with dialogue, how a character says something is important. But rather than tagging with an adverb, try indicating tone or intent through the words the character chooses and the actions that accompany it: stage business, so to speak, gestures or movement. Tone of voice, too, and expression, or body language in general. There are all sorts of ways to get the job done without adverbs.

Then if an adverb still seems to be indicated, go for it. Just remember the maxim here as in everything else: Less is More.

–Judith Tarr

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