Editor’s Choice Award February 2024, Dark 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.

Human In The Warren by Anaid Perez

This chapter has some interesting ideas and some intriguing worldbuilding. There’s a bit of a slow burn on what the characters are and what the hunt actually means. It’s a nice buildup to the moment of, “Oh! That’s what’s going on here.”

On the question of which age-label to attach to the novel, I have two sort-of-answers. One is, Young Adult can go in some pretty harrowing directions, and the tone and subject matter can be quite intense. Look at the Hunger Games series, which has similar themes and plot elements. The whole point of the Hunger Games is to kill off all the combatants until there’s only one left standing.

I don’t think either enslavement or hunting vampires will prevent a work from being marketed as YA. As long as the characters are handled sensitively and with due consideration and respect, the genre is open to difficult subject matter.

My other observation is that, as the author’s note indicates, voice is very important in YA. However, if the novel really wants to aim at an adult audience, what we have here will not be what we see at the end. The protagonist is very young, for a very interesting and plot-essential reason: as a vampire, he’s only three years old. He views the world as a child will, and he acts like one around the other characters.

That’s appropriate for this point in the narrative. Am I right that as the story progresses, he’ll become more mature? As he develops mentally and physically, he’ll perceive the world in more complex ways. The voice will change as he changes. He may begin as a child, but by the time we reach the end of the story, he’ll have grown closer to adulthood.

The prose will need work as the novel advances through successive drafts. I am a strong believer in free-form early drafts. There’s no wrong way to write a first draft. All that matters is to get the words down, build the story, develop the characters. Line edits and the word-by-word can wait until the structural elements are up and working the way they need to be.

At that point, I would recommend paying careful attention to the meanings of words and phrases. Make sure they mean what they want to mean in the context, and that they fit together in clear and comprehensible ways. Examples in this chapter would be caress his lips on, palliated, shot Finley darting, the usual relentless action obsessed. If the reader has to stop and figure what the words are trying to say, the story is stalled; the pages aren’t turning. And turning pages is what prose storytelling is all about.

In the line edits, I would break up the paragraphs, and block out actions and concepts so that they fit together in the the order in which they happen. Sentences tend to run on through successions of comma splices, and actions sometimes happen out of order. It can be hard to follow what’s happening, and hard to figure out what individual phrases and sentences mean.

Think logical, think coherent. And above all, think clear. It should be clear who is doing it, what they are doing, and in what order they do it. Once that’s sorted out, the story will be easier to follow, and the reader will be more likely to keep reading all the way to the end.

Best of luck with the novel, and happy revising!

— Judith Tarr

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