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 author’s note on this submission talks about some of the issues readers found in the earlier version, and especially the question of exposition. Exposition is an essential tool in the writer’s box, but it can be complicated to figure out when, where, and how much to include in the story. I like the way the author approaches earlier critiques, and their attitude overall to drafts and revision. It’s a voyage of exploration, and a learning experience, always, even for a very experienced writer.
Exposition is about making sure the reader knows what they need to know in order to understand the story. It enhances the action and helps to explain how and why characters act and feel the way they do. Too much and the story bogs down. Too little and the reader is missing essential information.
The writer walks a narrow line down the middle. I like to define that line, when I’m writing, by asking questions. These questions can apply to other aspects of the story as well, including the number of characters in the scene.
1. Does this (expository bit, character, description, plot element, etc.) need to be in this exact place at this exact time? Is it essential for the movement of the plot? Can the plot move forward without it? Does the plot slow down or stop because of it?
2. What happens if I leave it out? Does the story still make sense?
3. Can I shift this piece of information to another part of the story? Will it work better there? Is it absolutely essential that this information appear here?
4. Does it need to be in the story at all? Have I provided enough information that the reader can extrapolate the rest?
5. Am I trusting my own skills? Am I trusting the reader to get my point?
These and other questions can help a writer choose when and how to convey information. It’s an art to keep the story moving while providing enough enhancement to make it both rich and satisfying, but not so much that it clogs the works. A good part of that art is knowing which information to convey—what to leave in, and what to leave out.
In this chapter, because it’s the first chapter, it’s even more important to get the balance right. The introduction of each character, with description and backstory, slows down the action and distracts from the main theme, which is House’s gender reveal and what the dragons do to disrupt it. We need to know a few things—what House is, what the party is about, and why it’s such a big deal that dragons have shown up—but count me on team Too Many Characters.
It’s not that there are a lot of people in the scene. It’s a party. There’s a crowd. But as a reader, I don’t need to know in detail who each person is. I don’t need the round of introductions. What I need to know is that are a bunch of people here and suddenly there’s a pair of party crashers.
It’s about need-to-know. Essential information. Right here, right now, I only need to meet the main players. Ros, House, the dragons. One or two others to give me a sense of the rest of the crowd.
The rest can wait for a later scene. Then we might get a quick line or so of “Oh, yeah, Bob was at the gender reveal, he knows what’s up, now it’s his turn to move things forward.” We’ll have time to get to know them, and to see how they fit into the story as a whole. For now, it’s enough to know they’re there. We’ll trust the story, and the author, to give us more when the time comes.
— Judith Tarr