Editor’s Critique: Sample 1

This is an example of the type of critique provided by the Clash of the Titles editor to one of the participating authors.
I’d like to go over a few issues before we take a meeting on this.
First, there are formatting issues that need to be fixed.
You’ve done something to the formatting that won’t allow me to single-space the things at the top that need it, like your info all the way down to your byline. These things should be actually single-spaced.
There should be a “The End” at the end. The typeface (font) should be Times New Roman 12-point (I changed my mind after seeing more recent formatting guidelines in major markets. Page numbers on the RIGHT, Name/Title on the LEFT, in the footer.
This story has grown to 5,700 words. Please remove anything that does not pertain to or pay off in the story. At least 20%. Or, I will take a hack saw to it once you’re done. I’d rather you do it for many reasons, but among the most important are 1) You know where you can lose words that won’t affect the story, and 2) you will learn a LOT by doing so. It really makes you a much better writer. At first, it’s hard to lose your words (you might try saving them in a file I call, “Word Bank” so you can use them later, but after a while, you’ll be losing, changing out and slicing off words like a Christmas ham.
It gets a lot easier.
So, I’ve attached a newly formatted version. Please save it and remember that the first version of this was really small. And remember, the POINT of your story should be very clear from beginning to end. What’s the story about? It seems to me to be about a connection (which you don’t mention until the accident, which seems a little too convenient…) between two characters and how it changes the POV character as events progress through the story. Which is the very definition of science fiction. SF is the “literature of change.” Bravo! You have written a true science fiction story. Now, you need to go through it and look for anything inaccurate (if you need help with the science, xxx xxxxx xxxxx has agreed to go over it for science pass), anything you’ve already said (!), and never lose contact with the reader. You forge a relationship with your reader from the first, gripping line of your story. You keep it by keeping the writing active and not passive. Keep the pace under control–exactly where you want it to be. You control the pace, the voice and tone of the story. That makes the reader happy to imaging living in the world you in which you base your story.
Something that a lot of readers (and some writers!) miss is the story’s background, its milieu, if you will, is not the story. Like a hot dog, the story is the meat inside the bun, which itself is only something to carry the story in. Many people get confused and think they are the same thing, or, even worse, that the bun IS the hot dog! They don’t realize that the environment is simply what the story resides in, they confuse the two. Some writers only write the bun–and they think it’s the story.
There are two very different elements here. For instance–if you’ve read Neuromancer* by William Gibson, you know that the novel tells the story of a washed-up (underdog) computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack. One simple sentence. But it turns out, it took 3 full novels to tell that story.
And if you click on the “sprawl” you’ll learn more.
*My “thesis paper” at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas was called “Cyberpunk: The Genre that Wasn’t”; it was all about Neuromancer.
So, remember, the descriptive elements of the story actually get in the way of telling the story. They really, really do. As writers, we’re in the business of allowing the reader to “see” elements of our stories in their imagination. That means giving them the basics and allowing them the joy of the discovery process—whatever that is to them. I remember reading “Interview with the Vampire” by Ann Rice for the first time, and realizing almost a page through reading her description of what Lestat is wearing, I skipped ahead and saw that she used two full pages to complete that description.
Of course, that’s a novel, and she’s a very good writer (although it was her first—I don’t know if or how many publishers she went through), so the dynamic is different than a short story where we try to start it and get out of the way of it as soon as we can.
In short stories, give readers the bare bones and a suggestion, and then allow them to see the visuals in their heads. It is different for each reader. So know the point of your story, how to get from that best first line that grabs the reader and won’t let go of their spine to the last line without being overly descriptive. GRAMMARLY has a wonderful online tool to let you know by simply copying and pasting into their grammar checker when your writing has rung the bell.
What is the point of your story? If it’s about the relationship between the two men, then add it into the through-line early and often. Mention it as soon as it doesn’t get in the way, and specifically before the accident.
That’s all for now. Stay in touch, yo?