Editor’s Choice Award October 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.

To Tame A God by Kathyrn Jankowski

This chapter is intriguing for a number of reasons. It’s a world and culture I’m not familiar with, and the flashback creates a story within a story, which makes the chapter a little easier to follow than if I were coming into the middle of the main line of the plot. I get a good sense of what’s going on in general, and I also get essential background. That’s well done.

To answer the question in the middle of the flashback, I don’t think it’s necessary at that point to shift to present day. It would be confusing, and would break up the mood. Better to stay in the past. A simple way to mark the transition from one day to the next would be to insert a line space between the scenes.

One thing I take away from the chapter is a desire for more visuals, and a stronger sense of place and time. It doesn’t need to be a lot, since this is Chapter 6 and not Chapter 1—no need to repeat what’s gone before. But a line here or a few words there might strengthen the underpinnings in ways that echo through the rest of the novel.

Perun’s character in the flashback is quite in keeping with the tradition of gods (and epic heroes) as being defined by a narrow range of traits. Perun is a sea god, and like the Baltic Sea, he’s often turbulent. One major theme of the story is his evolution from angry and impulsive to more self-controlled. That’s good story-stuff, but the shift in his character seems a bit abrupt.

The shock of discovering what he’s done is powerful, but I think his feelings might be more complicated as he makes the choice to submit to his father and the council. He might struggle with the urge to rationalize what he’s done, or try to defend himself, even though what he’s done is indefensible. Again I don’t think it needs a lot of word count, but impact of the scene might be stronger with more of an arc from killer rage to willing submission.

When the revision reaches the stage of line edits and copyedits, I’d suggest a careful review of the word choices and the phrasing. Make sure words mean what they want to mean. Sometimes this can be a brain blip, sometimes a spellcheck issue, but it’s worthwhile to do a manual run-through in the final draft. Here’s an example:

However humans might act during the day, their hidden desires were revealed in somnolent visions.

I think “somnolent” wants to mean “in sleep, in dreams.” It actually means “drowsy” or “sleepy.”

The figurative language is vivid and often effective, but again, make sure it does what it’s trying to do. Sometimes it misses the mark, as here:

the handmaiden’s warnings reared up to taunt him like a pack of hyenas salivating over newly-fallen prey.

The auditory warnings rear up, which implies physical movement, then we’re back to auditory imagery with the taunting—and then there’s the pack of hyenas. The author’s note sets the action around the Baltic Sea, half the world away from hyenas’ native Africa. Even if we allow a god to be familiar with the fauna of a continent so far from his own realm, there’s still the question of how taunting warnings equate to hunting hyenas. Do they rear up or are they more likely to slink and pounce? Does the image work for the context, which includes the place and time? Is it essential that we have this image in order to understand what’s going on?

Vivid language is a delight, and there’s plenty of it in this chapter, but it should pull the reader deeper into the story. The imagery itself becomes a part of the narrative: it develops a character, rounds out the setting, enhances the action. If the reader stops to ask questions, they’ve bounced out of the narrative. They might have trouble bouncing back in.

Best of luck with the next draft, and happy revising!

–Judith Tarr

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