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.
I like a good action adventure, and this chapter has some promising elements. I get the sense of the changed climate, the way humans have responded to it, and the first indications of the mystery that will probably define the rest of the plot. The characters have potential, with a bit of work and some practice in developing and balancing emotions.
I have a few suggestions that may help with that. First, I’m a big fan of good old “said” in dialogue. Definitely count me in on Team Said. But sometimes a conversation needs a little more.
It felt as I read this draft, as if I was missing a dimension. At first I thought it was visuals, but there’s plenty of description of setting and other externals. What I’m not seeing is character description. I don’t mean “He had black hair and brown eyes and a square jaw,” so much as the little details that define a personality. Body language, tone, expression. What happens around what’s being said.
It doesn’t need to be a lot. Mostly, “said” does its job. But a line here and there, a gesture, a tone of voice, will help round out the characters. We’ll get to know them better; we’ll have a sense of who they are, how they react, how they feel about each other.
Some tuning up of the prose will help as well. Action writing works best if it’s active. Short sentences, short paragraphs. Lots of active constructions. Very little passive voice, except when it’s needed for effect.
The prose here is in love with the gerund. It’s full of –ing words. Sentences start with them, wind through to their end with them. Count them all and see how many there are. And now try an exercise: Eliminate them. Take them all out. Replace them with short, strong sentences. Active verbs. See if any of them need to go back in, or if the prose can live without them.
Pare and prune, too. Notice how many times the same words and phrases repeat. How often we’re given the same information. Does the story still make sense if we only see this detail or this bit of exposition once or twice? What other information can we get instead, that adds to our understanding and moves the story forward?
Cutting repetition will help the story move faster, sharpen the tension and heighten the suspense. Then we’ll be able to see and feel the characters more clearly.
One last thing may seem a bit counterintuitive, but it can actually help bring the character into sharper focus. That is to minimize or eliminate viewpoint tagging: all the words and phrases that tell us we’re in a character’s viewpoint. Words like felt and saw and thought and noted, reminded and remembered. Once it’s clear who the viewpoint character is, the reminders can actually throw us out of the story. They’re like an elbow in the ribs. “Hey! Viewpoint here! Hey! Hey!” Try removing these tags and letting the story happen directly, as if we’re inhabiting Santana’s skin. See if that helps his personality, as well as his thoughts and perceptions, come through more strongly.