I'm back with my critique for Hole Ridden.
I had a good half a month between when I was notified of the editor's choice pick and when I received the crit so I had plenty of time to be impatient for it. I really wanted to send Hole Ridden out on submission asap so delays were a little prickly (good thing I had Foxfire revisions to keep me distracted). I also knew that once I got the crit I would most likely be upset for a day or two, which is typical for me. Be upset, wait 1-3 days, then address the issues.
BUT after I read this crit, I found I wasn't upset at all. I was excited and energized. I plan to finish up Hole Ridden this week, and then make a list of submission options. Then it will be all growed up and ready to branch out on its own.
Anyhoo, here's the crit. My thoughts will be pasted in red.
Here's another definition of the Editor's Choice Review, from OWW:
"If a submissions of yours is selected as an Editor's Choice, it's partly going to be used as a teaching tool for other members: the editors pick submissions that can be reviewed in such a way as to help both the writer and other workshoppers learn something about their craft. But rest assured: it's also a compliment"
While it stands as a solid piece of short-story telling as it, the problem with "Hole Ridden" is that -- even at just barely 2600 words -- it's still too long. (this was a surprise to me. I had a few crits from readers who expressed that they wished it was longer. Since I don't really make things longer, I had dismissed these thoughts. But this was the first time someone actually came out and said, "make it shorter") Sarah tends to find moments upon which to linger in order to provide her central character, Janice, time to consider/judge/dismiss things so that the concept of this ever-opening maw of Earth will be accepted by the reader. For the most part it works, but there are a couple of instances where Janice's hesitation in the face of a singularly terrifying truth see, either, a) put there in order to draw out the suspense a little more, or, b) make Janice seem naïve (and borderline stupid). (this is something that I've struggled with throughout the drafts so it doesn't surprise me that he caught a few instances where it's not quite there yet)
A secondary problem lies in Sarah's narrative voice. For easily 80-90% of this story that voice is in complete control, which is one of the main reasons that the tale zooms along, barely stopping to catch its breath. The pacing is excellent, but because the story remains about 300-600 words too long, it could be even better.
Okay, specifics: The story opens with this exchange between Janice and Arthur:
"Are you sure that thing will be able to move a rock that size?" Janice gestured with doubt (already established with the gesture, so repeating it here is redundant) ) to Arthur's tractor. (I can't believe I missed this redundant tag. Gestured with doubt is just another way of saying gestured doubtfully. Smooth Sarah)
Then, in the middle of sentence (he must mean paragraph here...) which was until now solely from Janice's POV, you wrote:
Arthur wrapped a chain around the boulder and paused to look at his machine. He glanced at Janice, nodded and returned to the chain.
Which means that the next line of dialogue below if from Arthur, yet his actions remains attached to those of the last speaker, Janice.
"Yep, it'll hold it all right." Arthur rubbed dusty hands against his overalls and straightened his back. "Now you sure you want me to move it? God doesn't put something like this here for no reason."
Action always remains with the speaker; always. Everything after "Arthur's tractor" in the opening exchange needs to be separate from Janice's opening line an initial gesture.
(I was a little irritated at first by this part of the crit. When you upload work to the OWW system, it doesn't convert easily from Word so you have to go in and add a hard return between each paragraph. This was just a spot where I missed adding the hard return. A typo, more or less. But then I remembered that the crit is also supposed to help everyone else too, and I'm sure there are writer's out there who need help with this area.)
Shortly after this, as Arthur readies to removes the rock, you have a lovely observation from Janice that goes like this:
Janice nodded and retreated a few feet. Poor man had probably never even had champagne, though he seemed confident in his ability to remove rocks.
It's a sweet moment for a couple of reasons; this is the first - and I believe only - time in the story Janice spares a sympathetic thought for anyone but herself, and she's so jaded she doesn't even realize how outrageously condescending it is.
(This comment I enjoyed because the above line is one that I got mixed feedback on. I was glad to see that he liked it and understood the reason I had put it in)
That leads me to the next problem. You skirt far too close to the line of caricature with Arthur and Janice; she being the hard-bitten, cynical, judgmental, impatient, take-no-prisoners type who would have been played by Jane Fonda; Arthur, the almost too-laid-back neighbor and jack of all traits with so much homey wisdom and advice he's just waiting to share. You don't cross this line, but it comes close. (This is something I know the story has issues with. I've been slowly trying to fix it, but it's been difficult since many of my solutions seem to be related to another cliche) But there's an easy fix - and you're not going to like it. (when I read this, I got really worried. What wasn't I going to like? And why? Would I have to lose a character? Rewrite the whole story (I soooo don't do rewrites))
Move Arthur's story about "stopping a hole with a hole" into this scene, along with the few other pertinent bits of information that are exchanged out by the pickett fence Arthur is repairing. This confrontation scene simply doesn't work; it seems forced, it reads forced, and seems to serve no other purpose than provide someplace for Arthur's "a bigger hole to stop a hole" theory. There is no sense of culture clash, no reason for Janice to so vehemently accuse Arthur (even she knows that she didn't hear the tractor start up), so there is no point to this nasty little confrontation they have here.
Cut it. Take what necessary information you need from the scene and scatter throughout the opening sequence.
(After I read this part I was like, "That's it? That's what I'm not going to like?" Clearly Gary doesn't know me at all. Because cutting a whole scene (in a story that only has 3 or so) and moving the important info elsewhere, is not an issue for me. Not at all. I'm actually looking forward to playing around with it. So, huge sigh of relief when his major suggestion was something that I actually enjoy doing with revisions. Also I think he's completely right. I always knew that scene was the weakest. It actually used to be much much worse...)
Last point; your final line:
"If it came down to that, she knew exactly where to put the final one."
This is almost exactly the same thing you did in the story's opening line, only here, instead of voicing doubt while making a gesture of doubt, you have Janice look at her gun, make the connection ... and then tell us what that connection is, just in case someone doesn't get it.
Please cut the final line and use "...Maybe the only way to atop a hole was with another hole." As the final one. It'll be less obvious and much more chilling as a result.
(This one hurt a little. Not because he isn't right (because he so so is and I'm a little sad that I didn't realize how blatant it is) but because I always liked the final line. This will be a "kill the darlings" sort of revision for me, but I think the story will be much stronger if I follow his suggestion.)
In case I forgot to mention it, the entire central conceit of the story is exceptionally clever and compelling, and when the earth starts falling into itself as Janice makes good her escape, I was on the edge of my seat.
What you have here is an excellent story. I think it can be made even better with some judicious pruning and re-arranging of smaller moments within scenes.
--Gary A. Braunbeck
So there you have it! After reading the crit I was super relieved that he didn't tell me to rewrite, eliminate a character etc, all things I probably wouldn't have done, even to make the story better.
His suggestions were right on the mark and he hit all the spots I knew were the weakest.
I was also excited to see the the Editor's choice for Sci-Fi was a member who had exchanged crits with me, he on Hole Ridden and I on his sci-fi novel chapter one. It was kind of like knowing someone else who had been chosen. Like when you see a friend or family member on TV. (I KNOW them! you think...)
Anyone else get some exciting news lately?