One of our favorite offerings through our submissions is the Editorial Letter option. This selection allows us to pair a submission with a dedicated reader who provides in-depth, focused feedback on ways the writer might improve their work. Brandon Williams has written a lot of feedback in this form over the last year. Below, he’s compiled a list of the most common revisions he’s suggested.
In the last year, I’ve read and written critiques for a whole lot of stories, many of them through The Masters Review. Whether for our New Voices section, our summer and winter contests, every imaginable genre of fiction, flash, nonfiction, a couple accidental submissions of children’s books or one 300-page collection of poetry, I’ve seen some great stories and quite a few that could still use some work. Here are a few of the places that I’ve found myself most often suggesting revisions.
Many stories take way too long to get going, filling space with non-essential description or action to help us get to know the character or the world before we dive into the meat of the story. As an example: probably a quarter of the stories I review start with some variation of a character’s daily ritual—if Melanie wakes up and does five crunches before she gives up and just eats some Captain Crunch like the rest of us (am I sharing too much with you?) then takes a shower and puts on her makeup, that’s great, but that might not be the most important or interesting thing with which to start a story. Especially not if she then gets in her car and gets stuck in a traffic jam that keeps her from making it to work on-time, which turns out to be the one thing that saves her life when the earthquake brings her building down and she discovers that all of her coworkers are now dead. The Captain Crunch instead of crunches had nothing to do with the car, or with her lateness, or with the earthquake, so why start there?
I’m not saying that kind of starting point can’t work for the right story, but as a general rule of thumb: Every moment you put into a story should have some effect on the events that come after. If they’re simply there for ambiance, that’s not enough of a justification. We don’t have room, and readers don’t have much patience, for narrative throat-clearing. Get us to the stuff that matters, as quickly as possible. The quicker we get there, the quicker we’ll be invested in your pages.