Editor’s Choice Award July 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.

Avenni: The Tower Of Music, Chapter 2 by Meaghan Haughian

The title of this submission is intriguing. I love the idea of a tower of music. We don’t encounter it here, but there’s the promise of the portal to keep the pages turning.

I have a couple of thoughts about the way the story presents itself, which might be part of the reason why agents have passed on it. The market right now is extremely tight and it’s very difficult to break in, but one thing that might help move this project toward acceptance is to think about the narrative voice.

Voice is a critical part of the author’s craft. For some genres, Young Adult notably, it can make or break the project. The way the author tells the story, the words they choose, how the characters view the world, send signals that tell the reader what to expect.

Contemporary fantasy tends to have a contemporary voice. Quick, sharp, up to the minute. Present tense is one way to convey this: the story is happening right now, right here. The imagery is modern and topical. The word choice, the rhythm of the prose, moves along briskly.

Every writer has their own style. Some are very individual or unusual, others more subtle or neutral. The challenge is to match style to genre; to meet the expectations of the genre while maintaining the writer’s individuality.

The author’s voice in this chapter is rather formal, with longish sentences and paragraphs, and a tendency toward complex phrasing and polysyllabic words. There are some lovely images, and I get the feeling that the style will fit the world on the other side of the portal. Here, in the contemporary world, there’s a bit of a disconnect.

The signals I get from the prose are more Victorian-steampunk than 2020s. The opening paragraph has a leisurely feel to it, as of an older time, in spite of the present tense. There’s a courtliness in Cam’s insistence on accompanying the protagonist to her door, in the wave farewell. I can see him tipping his top hat or his bowler as he leaves her, and riding off in a hansom cab.

The voice shifts somewhat as the paragraph unwinds itself, but the opening sets the tone. It sets up expectations. The hints of 2021, the phone in her pocket, the music blaring through the floorboards (and maybe that could be more specific—what is her music exactly?), feel a little bit out of place.

This can work if it’s done deftly and with intent. Maybe Eryn is consciously retro; maybe she chooses the older and more formal style. Maybe she’s not completely at ease in the world and time she’s born in. Then, when she’s snatched away into another world by an elf-like person in a billowing robe, we may feel as if she may be going to the world she belongs in.

Another suggestion I would make is to work on balancing the emotional temperature of the chapter. Eryn’s reactions sometimes go a bit over the top. The language shifts from careful formality to strong drama, then drops back down.

One pointer to this is what her heart is doing. The other is the way she pops out in a sweat. These images repeat several times. If they were toned down in the first iteration, then the subsequent examples dialed back or removed, the effect might actually be stronger.

It’s the old paradox of less is more. A softer voice, a less strident tone, persuades the reader to pay closer attention. So does varying the images, finding different ways to convey what Eryn is feeling. What other parts of her body are reacting, and in what other ways are they doing it? The more firmly in control of their effects the author is, the more likely they are to catch the agent’s eye—and eventually, once the book is out in the world, the reader’s.

–Judith Tarr

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