Editor’s Choice Award September 2022, Science Fiction

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.

Accidental Uplift by Green FitzYellow

Welcome to SFF Online Workshop! It’s a great group, with some very experienced critiquers. I hope you’ll find your experience enjoyable as well as useful.

I like the concept of the submission, and appreciate the challenge of writing multiple Rashomon-style viewpoints to build a fuller picture. It’s working for me so far, no problems keeping up with the action, and the characters are clearly enough delineated that I don’t the changes of viewpoint confusing.

I especially like Luna. She makes sense to me as a cat. The way she views the world, the use of sensory imagery, the focus on the wrongness of her human’s smell, are all nicely done. The use of present tense works well here; I would recommend sticking to it in the scene.

Verb tenses tend to wobble throughout the submission. Mostly it’s something to address during line edits, to make sure the narrative moves along consistently. Luna’s scene however (and any subsequent scenes in which she may appear) could gain just a little extra oomph if she sees the world as a perpetual now, versus humans who tell their stories in more conventional past tense.

One thing I would like to suggest in general is to frame the dialogue a little more clearly. Conversations have a way of cutting loose from the narrative, a phenomenon that is sometimes called “floating heads.” Passages of unsupported dialogue can work well in small doses: rapid back-and-forth, no stage business, no reaction shots, just the words of the exchange. At greater length however, the reader’s eye may start skipping, and they’ll lose track of who’s saying what.

Breaking up the dialogue with bits of action or reaction can help. So can plain old “said.” Don’t be afraid of the word. It’s nice and neutral and it does its job. Trying to vary it with “answered” or “responded” or similar options may actually bump the reader out of the story.

Make sure all the dialogue is actually there, too. I noted several instances of summary rather than speech: instead of characters interacting, the story slips into synopsis. Give these bits a little space. Let the characters speak directly. As long it’s concise and to the point, it will be just a bit more sharp and immediate.

And finally, a note on punctuation. The exclamation point is a very strong symbol. It hits the reader in the eye. It yells, I’m! Making! A! Point! Here!

Of all the punctuation marks, the exclamation point is the one that works best if used most sparingly. Save it for major emphasis. Mostly that will appear in dialogue, when characters are literally yelling.

In narrative, it’s almost never necessary to amp the volume that high. Trust your craft; let your words convey the emphasis. If they’re the right words, put together in the right way, they won’t need that extra smack upside the head. The reader will pick up what they need to pick up.

Best of luck with the rest of the story, and happy revising!

— Judith Tarr


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