Ready? Here we go.
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.
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 is acceptable. At a glance, it meets standards. That's good.
Chosen one goes to a different world.
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...
I found the opening paragraph weak. I fight through the sentences. There is no flow, no idea leading me from one sentence to another.
'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.
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.
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.