Editor’s Choice Award July 5, 2023, Short Story

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.

Save It For A Rainy Day by Jim McDougall Version 2 (formerly an Endless Rain)

“Save it For a Rainy Day” caught my attention this month with the way it’s braiding workplace life into an incipient, less-than-defined disaster. However, it’s a journey that doesn’t quite yet have a destination, so this month, I’d like to talk about making sure our pacing and visuals fit the stories we’re telling—and how to diagnose which story we’re telling.

“Save it For a Rainy Day” takes a not-always-usual approach to a science fiction story in its choice of protagonist: Ryley’s somewhat tedious, lonely supply management job—one that makes me feel the ghost of Amazon warehouses—is interrupted by the slow, persistent leak. It’s got callbacks to Alien, except with characters almost more bored with their shiftwork, and it’s a great perspective to tell this story from. I appreciate that Cyro isn’t exactly dedicated to his job and has a particular tone for deescalating bad behaviour, and that all three don’t exactly like each other, but have well-worn ways of working together. The dynamics between them bring texture and personality to this artificial world.

Likewise, that ever-present leaking adds structure to “Save it For a Rainy Day”: as the tension ramps up, more and more water moves into the space of the story. It’s a subtle but powerful effect, and well done.

I think there’s room for some improvements in the next draft, and first and foremost, I’d suggest tightening and cutting this piece so it’s terse, clean, and polished. There’s a lot of hedging in the dialogue—notably in the lunchroom scene and the trek down to the tubeway—that doesn’t entirely get the story forward, and since “Save it For a Rainy Day” has characters racing against those leaks, it’s a good fit to keep the story moving: it makes the pacing tell the same story as the ideas are, instead of pulling against those ideas.

On the plot level, some cuts would streamline the action of the story. Ryley has his mother’s Pathfinder, and that’s their second way into the tunnels, but since Torgas dies before their expedition launches, it’s not strictly necessary: they could have somehow fished out his and used it. Likewise, Ryley’s passing out and wondering if he’s died—and Cyro’s amnesia—don’t seem to change their actions or situation in the slightest. I’d like to suggest that they either do add something we can’t find elsewhere in the piece, or that you consider cutting them out to keep the momentum going.

I think there’s also work you can do with that pacing to show who takes the crisis seriously: if Torgas’s dialogue is more meandering, less tight than the others’, that can speak to his outlook and character.

Likewise, I’d love to see work on the visual description in “Save it For a Rainy Day”. There are some great visual moments here: the dissolved textures on the lunchroom photo, the dying expression on Torgas’s face. But since Sphere is a contained, somewhat sterile environment—and the parts of it Ryley accesses aren’t the most exciting—I’d love to get some sensory detail and worldbuilding into the short passages where he’s outside, and some visual sense of its few characters. I think there’s a chance to do some worldbuilding when he crosses Median Street to his apartment, and give readers a sense of what the rest of this habitat is like—especially because you’ve already introduced a live question about whether Sphere is artificial or just Earth. Giving us a little information about what Sphere is like helps readers feed that question and make it meaningful. Likewise, giving us a bit of visual sense of Torgas and Cyro will help readers understand something of their personalities, and what pressures they work under.

Ultimately, I think all of these thoughts hinge on a question about what readers should take away from “Save it For a Rainy Day”. Ryley finds out that Sphere is a submarine, and he’s the only one of the work crew left. And then—what does he do with that information, or how do you want readers to feel about that reveal? The secret’s revealed inside the story, but how do you want that information to touch the readers, who live outside it?

I think the answer to that question will define where “Save it For a Rainy Day” should go next. Thinking about readers and what you want them to take away from a piece can help shape the conversation you’re having: on pacing, on characterization, on visuals, and on every other piece of craft.

Thanks for the read, and best of luck!

— Leah Bobet, author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance of Ashes (2015)

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