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.
There are some wonderful things about this submission. The worldbuilding is rich and deep. The prose is smooth and sure of itself. The magical system has lovely and unusual aspects. And I can see the scope of the epic in the range and variety of characters and settings.
The market right now is very, very tough. Above and beyond raw quality, a sample has to come in at just the right angle, at just the right time. It has to be just what the agent or editor is looking for, at that particular moment. All a writer can do is keep submitting, and keep hoping.
In this case there may be a couple of ways to sharpen the angle of approach, to catch that elusive moment of Yes! I want to see more.
For me as a cold reader, the submission truly comes alive in Chapter 2. The prologue and the first chapter create an intriguing and fully realized world, and there’s plenty of raw drama first in the chase and killing, and then in the funeral of the village headman. What’s missing for me is what Chapter 2 has in full and strong measure, and that is directness and immediacy. In Chapter 2, we are right there with Aram. We’re living the healing with him. We get a quick sense of who the victim is, and who Aram is, and what he’s doing there and how and why. We are there.
In the earlier scenes, events are filtered through the internal monologues of the central characters. We experience them at a remove, through layers of exposition and backstory.
Mona’s flight has plenty of drama, but it’s woven through with exposition and passive prose. And it’s aware of that. She urges herself repeatedly to focus. At the end of course, she is forced to; but then it’s too late.
Talayah is in much less direct personal jeopardy, but she too wanders through her personal, internal landscape, and like Mona, has to exhort herself to come out of her head and into the immediate and present world. In her case, the funeral is a powerful and affecting ritual, but is it actually the precipitating event for her arc of the plot? Or is that event the scene in which she is told that she must leave, and that she is to be the Dreamer for the entire kingdom?
That’s the point at which her life changes. That’s where the story is. That’s the scene I want to read.
As intriguing as the details of the village and its people are, are they directly relevant to Talayah’s journey? Will they move her forward along her path? Will it matter what kind of person the headman was? Has he done something to her personally that will affect her larger arc? If so, that’s the detail that needs to be in the narrative at this particular point.
What we do need, in the draft as written, is the part that’s not written out except in summary: when Romineh tells her she has to leave. Everything else proceeds from that, including her relationship with her best friend, and the way she feels about the funeral, and how she goes about the ritual.
Later on in the story, internal monologue and exposition and backstory can enhance the movement of the plot in interesting ways. At the very beginning, before the reader is invested in the characters, focus and immediacy are particularly important. We need to be be right there with them the way we are with Aram. Sharp focus; no filters. Let us live the story with them—and give us the scene we most need to see, that rises out of the background of the story, and leads us forward to all the rest.