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 bones of this chapter are solid. There are some vivid and memorable images, and the story moves rapidly forward. Olivia is a strong character; her motivations are clear. There’s no question about what she wants or how she intends to get it.
My main questions have to do with the prose. It wants to be powerful and evocative, and it does achieve this to a degree—especially at the very end of the submission. That last sentence is just right.
Often however it doesn’t quite hit its mark. Phrasing can be awkward or syntactically incorrect:
It stabbed and scraped and sliced her from self-loathing.
The “from” is hard to parse. Sliced her away from it? Kept her from hating herself? Or is it meant to be “out of,” as the reason for the stabbing and the rest?
as he smiled back up to me
Should this be “back up at me”?
Sometimes images are odd or confusing:
every moment savored like a coming thunderstorm
The mixed metaphor acts like a speed bump—the reader has to stop to figure it out. Savoring the moment, that makes sense, but how does it connect with a potential weather event? How do they fit together?
Gretchen’s aura drooped with icicle prickles.
A similar thing happens here. How does an aura droop? And how do icicles prickle? Or droop?
The air stung of stale incense and alcohol.
Here too, the metaphor starts in one place and ends up in another. Or is it a typo? Is it meant to be the ungrammatical stunk, meaning stank?
Heart squirting with alarm
I’m not sure what the image is here. Squirting blood? Squeezing like the digestion a few paragraphs later? Is this another typo, or a word that isn’t quite the right one?
Some habits might bear rethinking, too. There’s a tendency to undercut an image:
a seemingly regretful glance, for example, or
He seemed spiteful for some reason
The context would be clearer and the emotional impact more effective without the qualifiers.
The underpinnings are there. It’s pretty clear what the characters’ arcs are and where they’re headed. Once the prose is tightened and clarified and the words and images are under control, both the story and the characters will come through more strongly.
— Judith Tarr