How Alix E. Harrow Makes Me Cry

This is a story analysis post shared from my Patreon. It’s the 27th short story this year in which I’ve taken apart the casing to watch the engine move. If you like that sort of thing, please consider pledging.

Do Not Look Back, My Lion is in Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #270, a fabulous magazine that publishes rich and layered secondary world stories. It’s a goal market of mine.

The reality as writers (or any creative) is that there will always be someone light years ahead of you in talent on the ladder. Alix E. Harrow is slipping up those rungs on angel-kissed feet.
I first read a story by her in a Shimmer anthology a few years ago. I was so blown away by it that it’s a flashbulb memory. I ran straight to the internet to look her up and see if she had a book. At the time, she didn’t. Now, she does. You can pre-order The Ten Thousand Doors of January.
So, when she posted she had a new short story up in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I scurried over to read it. And yes, I cried. Twice.
Do Not Look Back, My Lion is an Escape plot, but doubled. And it’s that doubling like a swinging door that catches you in the heart coming and going.
She is a master of gleaming, perfect sentences. I don’t know if that’s a thing that can be learned or if you just get it like blue eyes or what. She would argue you get it from editors, but I have my doubts.
Within FOUR sentences we care about the MC, have a vision of the otherworldly-ness we’re about to experience, and get a feel for the societal mess the MC lives in.
Four. 4.
In the NEXT four sentences, we’ve got stakes and a MC to root for.
I just…it’s a gift.
There are no selfish indulgences in Harrow’s work. The author is never evident. She feeds you ambrosia from a spoon, and you don’t notice her hands moving.
If you follow the camera work here, you can get a feel for how Harrow steers you into the emotions she wants you to feel. She gives you details and memories and sensory input to put you completely inside the MC’s experiences. A resonance is set to thrumming between your reading of the the MC’s reactions and your own.
Word choice is her weapon, and it cuts deeply.
All the characters are so round they shine like soap bubbles in sunlight. Within a few sentences, the entire family dynamic is laid bare. And you love and hate people you’ve barely met. Just like in real life where you make snap judgments based on something said over dinner.
Again, I don’t know how this is taught. But, I know it when I see it.
Back to the plot structure: there is more at work here than a simple character-must-escape-another-character beat list. Yes, the doubling is one part of this complexity, but the larger escape for the entire empire reflects this, too. The stakes are higher than one couple, and showing how those stakes affect this couple is what makes it hurt so good.
So. Read this. Think about this. Absorb this. Go, practice.
(and please pre-order her book. I want her to be given the chance to write a million more of them.)
Thanks for reading!

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