Editor’s Choice Award October 2020, Science Fiction

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.

Lineage: Part 1 by M.T. Preston, Jr.

I like the voice and style in this excerpt. It’s deft and sure of itself, and it knows what it wants to accomplish. There are a few things that might benefit from a little polish, but overall it’s a solid draft.

One thing I would point out is the need for close attention to small details. It’s not a huge problem in a draft, when getting the words down is the first priority. In revision, really think through the individual lines and paragraphs and scenes, and make sure everything fits together.

For example, the opening sequence is careful to make it clear that the dark ship is difficult to see, but the first line refers to it as a “hideously mutated shark.” That’s a great image and fits what Tamra eventually sees through the viewport, but in immediate context it’s a viewpoint slip. What other image can convey what’s needed while still staying within Tamra’s field of vision?

Another thing to take note of in the next draft is a quite common tendency (I’m guilty of it myself, I freely confess) to drop lines of dialogue into a sort of null space. One of my editors calls it “floating heads.” There’s nothing to frame the interchange. A little bit of stage business–tone, expression, gesture–might add a layer or two of emotional complexity and round out the characters just a shade more.

Tamra’s character in general could use a few more layers as well. She’s primarily a viewpoint here, and there’s not a lot to distinguish her as a person. The exposition about her background and her enhancements could be woven in more organically from the start: give us a clearer sense of how those enhancements work for her as the dark ship comes in; let us experience it with her in a more immediate way.

The same applies to Jaelyn’s explanations in the latter part of the excerpt. It’s important information, but Jaelyn functions as a device to deliver exposition. Think about how to round out her character a little more, and how she can convey the information organically.

Maybe Tamra is more involved in eliciting it. Maybe she pushes in and compares tattoos, and insists on knowing what they mean. Or maybe some of it is left for later in the story—Jaelyn is called away to take care of an issue with the ship or crew, or opts for Reasons (to be hinted at or stated outright, whatever works) to leave Tamra wanting more.

These bits of friction should help develop both their characters. It doesn’t have to be a whole long chunk of story. The right few lines, the right words or actions, gestures or expression or tones of voice, would convey a great deal in a small space.

That in fact is my philosophy of revision. If you find the right words and fit them into the right place, they resonate through the whole story.

–Judith Tarr

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