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.
This is a nice opening sequence. We meet the protagonist, there’s a mystery for her to solve, she’s deeply invested in it, and she undergoes a rapid emotional reversal that leads straight into the next chapter. The reader gets enough of the backstory to be intrigued, but not so much that it slows the main narrative down.
I especially like the first paragraph, or epigraph if you will. The conception of Earth as a place born of magic and desire is beautiful, and I’m intrigued by the idea that it’s a human creation. That makes me want to know more.
Later on in the writing process, the prose will need some work: careful copyedits and line edits, and particular attention to awkwardness of meaning and syntax:
Paul’s face was usually lined with laughing lines,
for example, and odd expressions such as this
A sense of worry overcame her.
“No,” she said, instant anxiety threatening to overwhelm her.
In revision, the emotion may come through more strongly if the phrasing is more streamlined. In the first, perhaps simply, “She began to worry.” In the second, she might show a physical reaction—her stomach clenches, for example, or her breath comes short.
Watch verb tenses, too. The ms. seems to be undecided between present and past, and sometimes the more obscure tenses get a bit confused. The trail has gone cold years ago should be either “The trail has long since gone cold” or “The trail went cold years ago.”
In revision, look for passages in which a lot of stage business happens—
Paul took off his glasses, leaned his arms against the desk and put both hands on his forehead. He exhaled slowly while dragging his hands over the front of his face to rest them both against the bridge of his nose,
or where the narrative gets a little too specific:
she interrupted, stretching her right arm, palm up, across the desk,
We don’t really need all these details at this point; they distract from what’s going on in the scene. In the first, which one of the various sets of actions best contains the rest? Which is the most effective for its particular context? And in the second, is it essential that it be her right arm, or that we be told specifically that it’s palm up? Can we get the picture if we’re just told, “She held out her hand”?
These are just examples, and the text itself may change considerably by the time the novel reaches the line-editing stage. For now, they’re things to keep in mind, small rough bits to polish when the time comes. The priority at this stage is to get the story down, and make the big decisions about how best to tell it.
The main one here, as the author’s note points out, is whether to tell the story in third person limited or in first person. They’re very different narrative modes. Third person allows for changes of viewpoint if the story needs it, and allows a bit of distance from the action and the protagonist, which can sometimes be useful. With first person, the story is right there, happening to you, but a skillful writer can convey to the reader whether the narrator is reliable, or whether there are other things going on than the narrator either realizes or will acknowledge.
It all depends on what the story needs to be. What feels right? Which mode gets the story across in a form that comes closest to the one the author wants to tell? Do we get the most out of it if we’re shown the action in third person, or if we live it inside Ariana’s head?
It might even work to use both modes, especially if there’s a second viewpoint. Maybe Ariana is first person and the other is third. Or events she’s not aware of are in third person—the epigraph for example: that’s someone else’s viewpoint, someone with a much broader and deeper understanding of the world and its history. If that’s an ongoing thing, then telling Ariana’s story in first person draws a clearer distinction between the two. I don’t think it’s essential—Ariana’s voice in third person and that of the epigraph are quite distinct; there’s no confusion as to which is which—but it may be something to think about as the novel evolves.
As for the other questions in the author’s note, I don’t think the chapter needs an additional scene, especially if it features a new or tangential character. The focus is on Ariana’s excitement about a new lead, Paul’s crushing rejection, and Ariana’s investigation of the secret apartment. Unless the added character plays a key role in one of these sequences, their presence will slow down the action and distract from the main thrust of the plot. I’m in favor of keeping it simple, especially as Ariana’s world is about to blow wide open.
Overall, this is a good draft, with lots of potential. I’ll be interested to see how it develops.