Feedback on “Animals During The Pandemic” Winners From Heidi Pitlor, editor of The Best American Short Stories

We were so impressed with all the entires for the Animals During The Pandemic writing contest, which challenged Commaful writers to come up with storylines about how the COVID-19 pandemic have affected animals.

Heidi Pitlor, a published novelist and the editor of The Best American Short Stories, was very kind to share editorial feedback for the winning entries! Here we go:


via Commaful

What a powerful but simple, moving, and honest story of the love of a fish for its human. The author deftly captures what is easily imaginable as the point of view of a fish witnessing its owner fall in love and endure heartache, all during the very trying time of a pandemic. The fish’s empathy—who would better know the feeling of isolation?—is lightly handled, never overstated or overwrought, and this small piece ended up making a big impact on me.
I could imagine this story being longer, exploring more characters (Helene’s family, maybe, or friends) and featuring additional incidents. I’d love to see more of the fish’s world, more of the loneliness of the tank, and how this mirrors the loneliness of quarantine. I could also see the author going more in depth with what it means to save another living being in times like this. How does it actually feel to save another, and to be saved? The photography featured in this story was just right. I’d love to see a bit more of the fish and just how things look from the inside the tank.
Great work! I look forward to reading more.
– Heidi

Runner Up:

via Commaful

I just loved the energy and humor of this story. I have a dog, and I can imagine him watching as our schedules change. In other words, this story perfectly captures the rupture in our routines, and what it must look like to our pets. I also really enjoyed the surprise of the dogs’ changing emotions over the course of the pandemic. Happiness! Irritation! Sadness, and more.
I might consider using photographs of just one dog for consistency, and so that the viewer builds a connection with the same dog as a recurring character. I also think the story could be tightened, shortened here and there so that each moment has greater impact.
Still, this one stayed with me and I cannot look at my dog in quite the same way now.
– Heidi

A huge congratulations to all the winners! Participate in more writing contests.