Editor’s Choice Award August 2023, Fantasy

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.

Shaded by Steph C.

This submission has some great things going for it. The narrative voice is right on point for urban fantasy. It doesn’t read as if I’m coming into the middle of a party where I don’t know anyone–which is always the challenge with the second volume of a series. It does a good job of sketching out the world and the characters, without falling into blocks of exposition. I feel as if I get what’s going on and who these people are, with just enough hints and mystery to keep me reading.

Since this is an all but final draft of a completed ms., I have a couple of thoughts about the prose. The dialogue has a nice snap to it, and there are some good lines. I like the final line a lot. Way to hook me into the next chapter. I want to know more!

Where I think the prose could use more polish is in the pacing and the development of the action. The draft feels a little slow, the tension a little slack; it’s not quite as strong as it might be. Two things might help with that.

First, shorter, sharper sentences, moving briskly along. Wherever a sentence stretches out in clauses connected by as and so and to a lesser extent and and but, try breaking it up. Give each action its own, concise space. See it moves along more quickly and packs just a little more punch.

The other thing I would suggest is to break the gerund habit. Gerunds or participles are all the -ing words that begin sentences or draw them out into strings of clauses. There are a lot of them in this chapter, and they weaken the tension and soften the suspense.

Try replacing them all with active constructions, and as with the conjunctions, breaking up sentences into shorter, punchier pieces. See how that changes the way the story moves. Is the action quicker? Does it sharpen the tension?

With writer-habits and frequent-flyer words, I like to set a challenge. Take them all out, replace them or remove them altogether. Some may need to go back in, and that’s fine. Sometimes we want things to slow down a little, to take a breath before we plunge back into the fight. But in the fight itself, think active; think sharp, short, and to the point. Remember one of my favorite sayings: Less Is More.

Best of luck, and happy revising!

— Judith Tarr

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