If you’ve been with us for a while, you might know that Dargon stories go through quite a lot before they ever see print. In the best case, getting a story from a writer’s head to your screen might take six months, but sometimes stories aren’t printed until one or two years after the writer first lays fingers to keyboard.
In most of these cases, this delay is primarily due to our peer-review process. Once a writer has finished the first draft of a story and proofed it himself, he must post it to our discussion list and give every other Dargon Project writer the opportunity to critique it. After giving people a fair chance to review the story, the author then takes the comments he has received and revises the story to improve it. When done, the author posts it to the list again for more comments; this process of posting, peer-review, and revision goes on until both the author and the majority of our writers are satisfied that the story is “ready to print”. Sometimes a story might take just three drafts to get there, and sometimes it can take six or seven.
If you didn’t think about it too much, you might assume that “peer-review” is just another word for proofreading, which is focused on pointing out spelling and grammatical errors. I’d like to take a second to give you a broader idea of what peer-review is, and why we spend so much time on it.
Peer-review, of course, does indeed incorporate proofreading. It’s extremely important for writers to be proficient in the language, not just to appear polished and professional, but also to ensure that he or she is accurately communicating his or her ideas to the reader. Writing is essentially a very rough form of telepathy, and a writer who isn’t concerned with grammar is someone who doesn’t care how well he communicates with his readers.
Although these types of corrections are a steady percentage of the comments people receive in their peer-reviews, we actually try very hard to minimize them. Before any story draft is posted to the list, we require that authors run a spellcheck on it, and also run it past a proofreader of their own, who isn’t on the list. Catching obvious spelling and grammar errors reduces the amount of time and space that peer-reviewers need to devote to grammatical corrections, which frees them up to talk about more important things. After all, you don’t need another writer to point these out, when a word processor, a writing book, and any competent proofreader will suffice.
On the other hand, some literary elements require human expertise and judgment to critique. A good peer-review also considers stylistic techniques like word choice, exposition, point of view, and scene selection, which form the body of a story. These are frequent topics of conversation among our writers, as we share with one another what has worked for us.
But remember that good writing isn’t solely a question of how effectively a writer can transmit ideas from his or her head to yours through the medium of the written word. That is, of course, a critical execution skill that aspiring writers must master, but good writing isn’t just the medium; it’s also the message. Unless we also examine the story ideas themselves, we are only looking at half of what writing is about. How then do we improve the very ideas behind the stories a writer wishes to tell?
Well, just like anything else, DargonZine exposes it to peer-review and critique, encouraging our writers to share their beliefs about what makes stories interesting and moving. DargonZine’s goal isn’t to just grow people who can successfully communicate in writing, but to develop true artists. It takes a wealth of experience, combined with insight, intuition, and lots of practice to become a masterful “thinker of stories”, and I feel that DargonZine comes closest to achieving our potential when our writers conduct discussions at this level.
The peer-review process can be lengthy and arduous for our writers, both those doing critiques as well as those receiving them. But when our critiques go beyond simple execution issues like grammar and spelling, it frees us to talk about our ideas and explore the artistic side of writing fiction. When this happens, the peer-review process becomes the crucible where DargonZine fulfils its promise of helping aspiring writers really improve their craft. That’s why we think it’s appropriate to put so much time and energy into our peer-reviews.
In case you haven’t noticed, we really are back. After a little lapse back in June, this will be the third issue we’ve put out in just six weeks. And even better news is that our next issue, DargonZine 15-7, is already partially put-together. You should expect to receive it on September 1. It’ll be a great issue, finishing up P. Atchley’s “Malice” series that continues in this issue, and also beginning a new chapter in Dafydd’s imposing “Talisman” series.
Accompanying “Malice” in this issue, though, is the second and concluding half of Nick Wansbutter’s “A Matter of Pride”. You have both these writers to thank for most of our stories this summer, and they’ve done a wonderful job getting them finished and into print when the magazine needed them. I hope you enjoy the results of their work, and that you’ll stay with us this fall for the new crop of stories that are just around the corner.