Thursday, May 01, 2014
LETTERS TO THE SLUSH PILE #15
I can see why one of the editors at On Spec chose your story to put forward for the rest of us to read in the second pass at the slush. Your prose is quite lovely throughout. There are sentences, even paragraphs, I read a second time, just to enjoy them. You have a wonderful style, soft, flowing, set in watercolor pastels, which perfectly fits the story of the fisherman, the sea, and the selkie, you are telling. You cast a fine net, but there were holes.
The first one was when the fisherman rescues the selkie/woman. He's mystified to find her in his net, alive, but naked and dazed. He believes he has rescued a real woman from a nearby ship. When he finds her coat shortly thereafter, caught on the underside of his boat, he doesn't realize what it really is, but he decides to bury it under the floorboards of his house, anyway.
That stopped me reading, right there. I was willing to believe, as your protagonist does, that your selkie was a half-drowned woman. I wasn't willing to believe that as soon as he found her coat, that the idea of selkie wouldn't cross his mind immediately. He's a fisherman. He would know all about the superstitions of selkies and the sea. Furthermore, when you try to rationalize why he buries the coat under his floorboards (maybe he can sell it), I don't believe it. He isn't fooling anyone. No, at this point, he knows she's a selkie, and he wants to keep her for his wife.
I see your quandary. You were hoping to maintain reader sympathy for your protagonist - he's a nice but lonely man, but that becomes difficult when he pulls something sneaky. The problem becomes that my suspension of disbelief is lost. As a reader, I'm focusing more on why something doesn't work in your story, rather than the story, itself.
When I finished reading the piece, I wondered if you couldn't rework it with the following in mind:
1). As a narrator, don't try to fool the reader. Admit that your protagonist isn't perfect, that he is culpable and knows it, right from the beginning. We can all relate to a flawed protagonist. We all understand neediness and loneliness. This will make him a much more complex character.
2). Do something really original with your story. When writers revisit old tales involving mythical creatures like selkies, dragons, unicorns, or what have you, they need to step away from what's already been done. You've re-told me the classic selkie story. You may have attempted making it more original with your selkie leaving a pearl for the fisherman at the end, but this isn't enough. Develop this idea - that your selkie, although a seal, has also loved the fisherman. The more depth of emotion you show, the more the reader will feel it.
3). You never explain why the selkie loses her coat, and maybe this isn't important, but it bears thinking about. At the moment, it seems rather convenient to your story that she loses it. If it is so easily lost, the whole thing coming off, why aren't there more selkies roaming about?
I don't know how the discussion about your story will go at Fight Night. Others may not agree that these points have merit, but I suspect they will. With the lovely style you've already shown us, this story can only improve with a rewrite.