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.
The Werewolf Argument by Kevin J. Miller
Different elements can stand out in different stories. For me, in “The Werewolf Argument,” it’s the protagonist’s solution to the problem that stands out the most. But before I discuss that, let me talk about the problem, since without that, the protagonist couldn’t provide the solution.
The problem the protagonist faces is quite interesting. Werewolves become trendy and acceptable in society. This offers a good opportunity to satirize popular culture and human nature. It also allows an exploration of how public opinion might be changed and the price that needs to be paid to do that.
The solution/climax involves the protagonist putting into motion a plan to turn a hundred war orphans into werewolves. This creates societal outrage that leads to people turning against werewolves, which is the protagonist’s goal. For me, this solution is pretty striking and horrific, and because of that, I found it the strongest part of the story.
But it doesn’t seem to be incorporated into the story as well as it might. Often, it can be helpful to think about a story, when writing it, in terms of the climax. What needs to be set up for the climax to feel surprising and inevitable, to be meaningful, emotional, and satisfying?
One of the key things that needs to be set up is the protagonist’s motivation to–in my mind–ruin the lives of one hundred children. For me, the protagonist, Dario, doesn’t have sufficient motivation to do this. His brother, Arlo, is killed right before he takes this key action. But we never have a scene of Arlo and Dario together; we don’t have a strong sense of how Dario feels about Arlo. Before Arlo’s death, Dario is mainly a passive observer. It feels like Dario drifts through the story, providing a lot of exposition (background information) rather than struggling to achieve a goal, until the inciting incident happens late in the story, with Arlo dying. That gives Dario the goal to stop the werewolf craze, and he then takes an easy action and fulfills his goal. The story would be stronger if the inciting incident came closer to the beginning, and most of the story involved Dario struggling in various ways to stop the werewolf craze.
For example, perhaps Arlo is a photographer who works with his journalist brother, Dario. The story could start with the two of them in the courtroom as all charges are dropped against Derick, the werewolf who starts the craze. Dario and Arlo might try to follow Derick, to document his behavior, and that could lead to Derick killing Arlo. A scenario like this would allow Dario to be struggling to achieve a goal (to expose Derick’s violent acts) from the start; it would allow readers to meet and care about Arlo; and it would allow the story to show the close relationship between Dario and Arlo, so we would feel more compassion for Dario and feel his motivation to stop the werewolves. As soon as Arlo is killed (perhaps a quarter of the way through the story), Dario could form the goal to get justice for Arlo. He could try getting more evidence against Derick, but now Derick is protected by the police, who send Dario away. Maybe one of the policemen has become a werewolf. Maybe Dario’s boss has become a werewolf. Dario could go on talk shows with the evidence he’s gathered, including Arlo’s photographs/video, and the guest beside him on the couch could be a werewolf, and another guest (a fellow journalist, for reasons I’ll reveal in the next paragraph) could be a wannabe werewolf who is turned into a werewolf on the show. This would allow you to show more directly the werewolf craze and why people find werewolves appealing. Finally, Dario could realize this won’t be enough to stop Derick; he needs to turn everyone against werewolves.
The colonel, the war, and the orphans seem like a lot of elements to introduce to create the climax. I think something simpler could be done using the elements already in the story. Perhaps Dario’s boss has wanted him to cover the opening of an innovative summer camp for children. Dario might keep postponing this throughout the story, focused on stopping the werewolves. At the climax, he realizes what he needs to do and asks the fellow journalist who was turned into a werewolf on the talk show to take on the summer camp job for him. Or he could make his boss do the job. This would allow Dario to be more directly involved in the climax; he could go and document from a distance the horror of the children being transformed and bring that footage to the talk show.
Anyway, that would be one possible way to build toward the climax in a more powerful way, and to make the climax potentially more emotional and meaningful.
I’ll just briefly mention a couple other points. I think the story needs to better establish exactly what werewolves do and why Dario thinks they are horrible. Normally, werewolves kill indiscriminately, and that’s one of the things that makes them so bad and what makes people not want to be werewolves. The werewolves in this story, though, seem as if they are choosing to kill criminals, which makes them vigilantes more than werewolves. It’s hard to believe that people would want to make themselves into super-vigilantes, or that super-vigilantes would be popular. At this current moment in history, anyway, people seem to be more inclined to show compassion toward criminals than to want them killed by vigilantes. So we need to see the appeal, which might be possible if Dario goes on a talk show. The 1971 movie Escape from the Planet of the Apes provides a good example of this sort of situation.
Another area I think could be strengthened involves the legal system as shown in the story. I don’t believe the judge would do what the story describes him doing; that doesn’t seem consistent with our legal system. Some research, or consulting an attorney or judge, could be helpful.
I think the problem posed by the story and Dario’s solution for it are inventive and striking. I hope my comments are helpful.
–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust