Editor’s Choice Award February 2021, 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.

Anai Second Part by Sara Carbone

There are some very nice things happening in this submission. I particularly like the concept of the pulse. It’s clear to me what it represents, and the imagery is vivid and evocative. I do wonder if the people she meets have this same gift, but that’s probably established elsewhere in the novel.

I am not a fan of dialogue in dialect unless it’s very carefully and deftly executed. Here, I’m not sure what the dialect wants to do. Is Anai “othering” the people she meets by giving us their words in nonstandard language? Is she judging them in some way? Reacting emotionally to their pronunciation? Hearing them as being of a different class or social status? It must be important in some way to the story, that people in this place speak like this. I’d like to have a clearer sense of its significance.

One thing I would suggest in revising the chapter would be to think about how narrative pacing works. Pacing at its simplest is the speed at which events happen, how they move through each scene, and how fast they get from one scene to the next. Sometimes it’s rapid—things happen one right after another, bam-bam-bam. Other times it’s more leisurely, as we take a break after a fast action scene, or pause to explore the world or examine the characters’ motivations. Good pacing balances the fast and slow, moves briskly when the story needs it, but also gives the reader time to relax and process.

The way a scene is written has a lot to do with how its pacing works. Fast action calls for active constructions—active verbs, and short and punchy sentences. Passive voice can be very effective when it’s used skillfully, but a little of it goes a long way. It slows down the action and removes the viewpoint character, and therefore the reader, from the direct experience of that action. They’re not acting; they’re being acted upon. In general, in fiction, active voice is the way to go.

It’s important when writing a scene to be clear about what that scene wants to do. How does it move the story forward? What is its purpose in the progression of the narrative? If the character is walking around apparently aimlessly, as Anai does in this chapter, what is her reason for doing it? What does she want to accomplish? Does she have a goal? She shows us something of herself in how she acts and reacts, but how does that lead us from the previous scene and into the next? What does she do and say here that will resonate later in the novel? Can she move more quickly, with more focus and visible purpose, from one place to the next?

Every scene should have a point. It doesn’t have to be stated in so many words, but it should be evident to the reader that what’s happening here is important to the story. Especially at the beginning, when we don’t know the characters yet and the story is just starting to take shape, every detail means something. We may not know exactly what, but if it’s there, it must be there for a reason.

If Anai is walking around the town, let us see why she’s going that particular direction. Maybe she’s hoping to see a particular person, or find a specific place or object. Maybe she’s looking for something nice to eat or something pretty or practical to wear. Or she might be checking the layout of the town, or looking for an escape route. Focus on one or two main details, and make her motivations clear. Let us feel that she’s acting with intention—even if that intention is simply to check out her surroundings and get to know some of the people there. That will help us move through the scene, and keep us turning the pages.

–Judith Tarr

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