Thursday, August 29, 2013

Unrequested Critique - The Nan Tu - Southern Swallow Book II (Nan Ya) 


The Nan Tu, Author,  Edward C. Patterson, 2009. 482 pages.

Selection Method: I picked the most recent book posted in the Amazon Fantasy blurb thread.

Author has published 22 books and it shows.

Cover

The cover shows some traditional Chinese art collaged artfully.

Formatting

Formatting is excellent.

Thumbnail Description

People living in an interesting time.

Blurb

"We all lived in the shadow of K’ai-feng’s ashes now. No denying it. However safe we felt, the world hung by a silken thread." So begins the second book of the Southern Swallow series - The Nan Tu (The Southern Migration) and, like the first book, The Academician, it is told by K’u Ko-ling, servant to the Grand Tutor, Li K’ai-men. The Emperor Kao has proclaimed that his court and government will migrate to the south, a progress filled with adventure, intrigue, war and tragedy, thus setting a series of events in play that shaped the Middle Kingdom. 

Set on the broad canvas of Sung Dynasty China, The Nan Tu is a tale of love, separation and sacrifice. Yet heroes emerge from the ashes and restoration is within their grasp. From the mountain lairs of bandits to the sweep of the fleet at sea, The Nan Tu will transport you to a world that should have never been forgotten. Still, there are more important things than empires and history. There’s love and destiny - the destiny of Li K’ai-men’s relics and the enlistment of his helpmates to guard over the membrane of time.

Opening Sentences

We all lived in the shadow of K’ai-feng’s ashes now. No denying it. However safe we felt, the world hung by a silken thread.

Excellently done. The first sentence brings up a subject, then the following sentences talk about it, all the while avoiding any visualization or explanation. 

Writing

This writing is excellent. I am out of my league with any critique of this work.

Additional Comments

People, learn from this person. He shows that the ONLY point of any good story is the people in it. I saw many tropes in the preview and none of them mattered.

Bravo, sir. Bravo!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Unrequested Critique – Dragon Blade

Unrequested Critique – Dragon Blade

Dragon Blade, by J.D. Hallowell, being part of the War of the Blades, published December, 2012. 383 pages.

His author page shows one previous book in War of the Blades.

Selection Method: I picked the most recent book posted in the Amazon Fantasy blurb thread.

Cover

The well laid out cover features a dragon in silhouette.

Formatting

The book follows proper formatting.

Thumbnail Description

Kingdom Defends Good!

Blurb

Dragon Blade, the final book in The War of the Blades, is the epic sequel to the story begun in Dragon Fate. Delno Okonan, his draconic bond-mate, Geneva, and their allies among the Dragons and Riders are once again caught up in events controlled by unseen forces. They must uncover the real secrets behind Corolan's death and the Rorack insurgency to defeat a threat that could destroy them all and leave the world they know forever altered.

Opening Paragraph

The old man walked up behind Delno and hit him in the back of the head with the wand he carried everywhere.
Ow, damn it, that hurts!” Delno yelled.

The author has the decency to hit the ground running, but the first sentence could use a hook.

I would suggest something stronger.

Old Jhren walked up behind a soldier and slapped him upside head with a wand. “You weren't concentrating on your lesson.”

In this rewrite, we begin with a character who does something unexpected. The reader wants to know why this just happened. There's your hook. I used “soldier” instead of “Delno” because its more important to know that Delno is a grown man and not a child.

Writing

What we have here is a screenplay adapted into a novel. This is normal.Visual storytelling is our native medium by a considerable margin. We suckled our storytelling skills from CRTs, cellulose, and flat screens over thousands of hours. The only other media that comes close is radio.

So what's wrong with visual media? Nothing. The problem isn't visual media. The problem is that books are written media, and the strengths of written media are different than visual media. The author needs to sit down and consider the strengths of written media and embrace them.

As an analogy, any workman changes his tools based on the job that he is doing. In the same way, the author needs to add some tools to his toolbox. Written media relies on a different tool set. Tool set produces a higher quality product for less work.

The characters speak from their own perspectives. That's good. I pegged Delno as far younger than he was. His voice needs to be revised to reflect his age, and we need a better indication of his age earlier in the conversation.

When switching character in and out of the scene, switch at the beginning of paragraphs. Readers tend to skim, so having characters walk on or off in the beginning of a paragraph helps them to keep track. When a paragraph begins with one character and ends with a different character, readers get understandably confused.

The author needs to take some time and tell us about WHERE we are. We don't need a twenty page description of the local outhouses, but some landmarks would be good. I was a few pages in and was still figuring out that we were in some sort of military base or fortress. 

Digressions between conversations is useful, as that gives us space between conversations while it also tells us useful things to know.

The work needs more fleshing out. We jump from one conversation to another at a frantic pace. Almost all characterization is by conversation. The author needs to more put more tools in his character building toolbox. I found the characters more asserted than developed. Because the author has so few tools, he must turn up the volume to get proper character building, which winds up a bit cartoonish.

This all FEELS McCaffrey derivative. If you want that direction, sit down and work out what makes a McCaffrey novel tick. What techniques does she use that you don't? Steal from the best and steal shamelessly.

Additional Comments

Ladies and gentlemen, find this author a good editor. The author has all the skills necessary to take his writing to the next level. A good editor is like a coach who takes in players with potential and pushes them to achieve that potential. All good players have coaches, and so do all good writers. The right editor will be worth your  money.


I look forward to more publications.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unrequested Critique - Nayko Island

I've been ripping CD's lately, which gives me some downtime. That's how I carved out time to do some critiques. I think that I need to make some stock answers, or build a web site, or something, because I keep coming up with the same comments.

Unrequested Critique - Nayko Island 

I picked the most recent book posted in the Amazon Fantasy blurb thread.

Nayko Island is by Mikaela Misti-Taylor. Her author page lists this as her only book, published Decmember, 2012. The work is a novella.

Cover

The rough, mildly out-of-focus cover displays fairies and a unicorn, along with text in an obligatory fancy font. I will assume that the author used her own skills to produce the cover.

Formatting

The manuscript follows normal formatting.

Thumbnail Description

Doorway to an alternate universe for kids.

Blurb

Justin and Alex find a magical world through the swimming pool in the basement of their new home. This world gets turned upside-down when Alex gets kidnapped. Panic-stricken Justin has to go to extreme lengths to rescue his sister. He sets off in search of her, meeting several strange creatures, having to decide which ones to trust and learning to use his newfound magical powers along the way. Justin gets taught a lesson from the most unlikely sources. This is a story of magic, friendship, trust and a brother’s love.

Opening Paragraph

“Jenny!” called Mr Johnson. “Send in Mr Trigg and get me a double espresso with extra cream”
“Mr Trigg!” called Jenny over the PA system. “Mr Johnson would like to see you in his office, right away.”

Send this woman a proofreader. If I'm detecting proofreading issues, there's a problem.

The author should skip digression about the double-espresso. It's an unnecessary distraction. I would suggest a rewrite, but the entire preview needs a rethink far in excess of the first paragraph. The author should really start with the protagonists.

Writing

By the fourth paragraph, I had trouble following the story. The apparent jumps confused me. That's not good. Page one is where the author cakewalk the reader into the narrative. Instead, I was cakewalked into a confusing candy factory of no plot. In a work this short, you don't have time to ease the reader in. You drop the reader straight into the main characters.

I do like the authors voice when it comes through. Unfortunately, she writes with one hand over her mouth, making everything a bit of a mumble. No, text doesn't actually mumble, but she makes a valiant effort anyway.

If you remember three rules about writing, keep in mind:

Clarity
Clarity
Clarity

Clarity is high-upkeep woman. She is a merciless mistress who abandons you at the least provocation. I know this from personal experience. I've had a rocky affair with her for years. I can't tell you how often she's abandoned me in the middle of a paragraph. In the end, you suck it up and rewrite until Clarity is happy.

The author needs to hire a proofreader. (Note: Real writers use proofreaders. Proofing is an entirely different skill from writing.) LEARN from the proofreader. Note that I am not nitpicking. I don't' ding self-publishers for an error here and there. There were too many for me to ignore.

The overall work needs WORK. If this is the author's best foot forward, she needs a new foot. Writing is all about the reader. Have you delivered a good experience to the reader? The answer better be “hell yes” or the reader will walk away.

The author needs to think about what's important and not important in the narrative. That's always a hard question to ask of your baby, yet it is the only question that really matters. In short, we all need to take a chainsaw to our literary baby and do what's necessary. Our baby will be better off for it.

While this work accomplishes a successful first draft, needs many more revisions. Although some writers can write novel in two drafts, they are mutants. Most writers most can't produce a book in two revisions. I figure that 5-10 revisions is normal.

Additional Comments

At this point, I suggest that the author sit herself down and compare her novel to any professional novel and ask herself, “Does my work match professional quality?” If the answer is anything but, “Hell yes,” she needs to rewrite her story.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Unrequested Critique - Bond of Terror

I've decided to change gears on the blog and do some unrequested critiquing. I feel like developing my book doctor skills. Hopefully I help others along the way.

Ready? Here we go.

Book

Today's first installment, merely because it is the latest posting, is Bond of Terror by Sara Jane Avory, book one of The Stone of Argentos.

Method of Choosing

I picked the most recent book posted in the Amazon Fantasy blurb thread.

Cover

The cover depicts a medieval middle-eastern city, a big cat, and a crown of some sort bearing a sparkly blue stone. The “O” of “Terror” boasts a sparkly red effect. The title is clear and easy to read.

The cover comes across as a 3rd tier cover. It was clearly assembled from stock images and the cover maker had limited skills.

Formatting

Formatting is acceptable. At a glance, it meets standards. That's good.

Thumbnail Summary

Chosen one goes to a different world.

Blurb

The orphan Tracy Lupin, now a grown young woman of eighteen, hates men, all men... except her uncle. Ever since being attacked two years ago she has steered well clear of them, kept herself safe... until the Stone Of Argentos comes into her possession and she is forced into another world...

The world of Esgar is crumbling, the fragile peace between Emencia and Suboria threatened by war. Powerful monsters roam the forests in ever increasing numbers and only the Defenders of the Realms have any hope of stopping them. But Defenders are also on the lookout for Outworlders, auburn-haired girls pulled from other worlds and brought to Esgar to commit acts of destruction...

Lost in a strange world and chased by the forces of evil, steered down an ever darkening path for reasons unknown, Tracy just wants to return home. But she is terrified, haunted by the pursuing image of a blood-red monster and hounded by the Defenders. And deep down she knows that time is running out...

Opening Paragraph

I found the opening paragraph weak. I fight through the sentences. There is no flow, no idea leading me from one sentence to another.

Author:
'Shit!' Tracy Lupin hurried past the row of rusted park railings, her shoulder bag clasped tight against her body.

Tracy says, “Shit”, but the text doesn't follow up on that reaction. Instead, the text talks about hurrying. The next sentence leads you no better.

First paragraphs are sneaky. That's why they are the hardest paragraphs to write. A first paragraph should begin a series of ideas that read from one another, each begging completion. The desire to complete the idea is what carries the reader forward.

I will clip a few sentences from Sara's beginning and make a better opening:

'Shit!' Uncle was gonna be pissed. Tracy Lupin hurried as the gathering darkness heralded the onset of night.

“Shit” leads to “Uncle was gonna be pissed,” which leads to Tracy's situation. That won't win a Pulitzer, but it might win a reader, which is what matters.

Writing Style

The writing is early draft quality. Although there is a story here, Sara has not sufficiently beaten this draft with a revision stick. Everything needs a firm second, third, and fourth look. Just about every paragraph needs to be rewritten and repaced. The story stumbles forward at every step. (5-8 significant drafts for a book is quite normal.)

Character need more design work.

The author is stuck in TV mode. Like all modern humans, the author learned storytelling from the TV screen. Such techniques works well for TV but not for the written word. Once you think about this, this makes sense. Two different media should have different strengths. Simply by embracing the strengths of the written word, which are all those non-visual components of the human experience, any writer immediately elevate the quality of his writing.

The work reads like a romance novel. That doesn't quite work. The purpose of a romance novel is arousel. By the romance author's very physical words and descriptions, the reader is made aware of her own body and so becomes more receptive to her own physical reactions. This is why the romance novel dwells in the physical. Its purpose is to bring the reader into the physical. In this fantasy novel, the physical distracts the reader.

Tropes are wonderful, tropes are good, and the author must also provide the gentle reader with novelties and originalities.

The work needs a proofread, but only after significant revision. There's no use proofreading an early draft. (Note: Real writers use proofreaders. Proofing is an entirely different skill from writing.)

Far too many paragraphs are bags of sentences, which is a problem. Paragraphs are more than a bag of sentences. Paragraphs are a SEQUENCED series of sentences. If you get the sequence right, the paragraph reads smoothly. If you get the sequence wrong, the reader's mind jumps around a lot, which is fatiguing to the reader and causes them to put down books.

Additional Comments

At this point, I suggest that Sara sit herself down and compare her novel to any professional novel and ask herself, “Does my work match professional quality?” If the answer is anything but, “Hell yes,” she needs to rewrite her story.


I have every confidence that the Sara can bring up the quality of her next release.