Monday, June 17, 2013

Answer from the critique, my thoughts about it.

I told you last Friday that I submitted the first 2000 words of Demon and Fairy for a Free critique and I got my answer. It's not especially a good one but I still want to be honest and share it with you, maybe it will let you know what to expect when Demon and Fairy is finally out at the end of the month, maybe not. And it will also let you know my position about critiques and how other people see me/your work.

The people providing the critique are Famelton Writing Services
 Their home page says :

"Famelton Writing Services is a literary consultancy run by a successful group of published writers. Our aim is to help aspiring authors, like you, with manuscript assessment, copy editing and proof reading. In addition to this, our range of cost-effective marketing services are designed to help you write those supporting documents which accompany your manuscript on its journey to publishers and agents. We can write you a synopsis, press pack or a blurb and we are happy to review your cover letter or non-fiction proposal. 
At Famelton we offer professional, in-depth editorial advice and assessment to authors writing in the English language, anywhere in the world."

On with the critique first:
Title: Demon and Fairy
Author: Linda Hamonou
Genre: Fantasy
Partial: first 2,000 words

General Observations: A new world is created here: there are strange characters, curious locations and plenty of action. But it’s all too much, too soon! At this stage I cannot see whether the novel will be character or plot-led because in the opening pages there are too many characters and no clear motive(s) for what they are doing. The rapid action style suggests the novel will be ‘pacy’, but that does not mean it should be rushed. This reader’s attention was captured by the demon, whose voice we hear, but I lost interest during the dense narrative. I had to go back and read sections at least twice to work out who was where and why; most of which was not explained. However, there is evidence of a potentially good story here so the MS is worth editing. Find below some ways to improve this extract and address weak areas.

Opening lines: As I say, you caught my imagination quickly, but no sooner had you got my sympathy for the little demon than you confused me with strange names and a number of characters whose purpose I could not identify. Why is there a horse called Kelpie? What does it contribute to the opening pages or plot? I also had to read the information about the beach location a number of times; I was not able to reconcile the beach/pond/tree/glass-floored pool sequence at all. Consider the relevance of each of these elements to the plot. Do you really need all this information so soon? If the demon’s home, mentioned later, is key, develop it: if the beach is key, develop that. But in both locations give your reader enough specific, perhaps quirky details to enable them to visualise your location. Fantasy readers enjoy picturing images for themselves, so use well-chosen imagery to create a character/ atmosphere/ location: provide details that are useful, logical to an extent, and leave your readers to do the rest. 

Plot: You appear to have an action and character-driven plot. Consider how you are creating separate, perhaps conflicting narratives here with the demon and his normal parents, and the demon and the fairy relationship. Plan each chapter so it has one key scene. Only include events or characters that develop the story or contribute to the reader’s understanding of your world.

Character: I am aware that I am supposed to be following the demon because you use his inner monologue and free indirect thought, but I am not at all sure about the narrative voice. You write in third person omniscient at times then slip into the demon’s point of view. You may need a third person narrator for this novel, but the reader should be given some idea about that narrator because that is how they are interpreting events. Try writing a section in the first person (as either the demon or the fairy) and see how that clarifies events and motives. Also, have you created mini-biographies for all your characters? You may not consciously use all this information when you write, but these details will inform dialogue and narrative alike.

Setting: As I say above, drop in details (sparingly) so the reader can enjoy creating his/her own picture. You are giving us ‘another world’ so we need to know something, but not everything about it. Ironically, while you do supply description I cannot picture the place at all. This may be due to the confusing details. The demon flies down to a beach (I assume this is the sea-side); there is mention of a pond (fresh water?) then a pool with glass bottom, and a tree – on the beach? Clarify, please.

Narrative: Try to shorten over-long sentences: I was ‘studying’ your writing but readers will get lost and put the book down if there are large chunks of densely worded narrative. Convey more information through dialogue: ‘show’ not ‘tell’. Check your punctuation, which is often incorrect. You need to use colons and semi-colons if you continue with the same syntactical form. It may be more effective to employ simple sentences (one verb) more often. Remember, less can be more. Basically, you are trying to squash in far too much, which is off-putting.
Essential Technical details:
• always indent fiction paragraphs
• do not indent first line of a new chapter or the first line after a time shift
• indent dialogue for each new person speaking as you would for a new paragraph.

Linda, I think you have the makings of a fascinating story here, but it does need a lot of work to simplify and clarify the narrative. Remember, your readers need to be able to ‘see’ what you can see in your head as you write. Try to break up your narrative using dialogue to convey information. 

Now, I want to give you my impression about it.

I think the critique is a bit confusing at time and contradict itself about the details needed in the story. It says I give too much too soon but if I keep things mysterious I shouldn't. The novel is more that 100k long, I need to get things moving at the beginning. So am I giving too much or not enough? I still don't know but my readers don't seem to annoyed by it so far.
It says things that seems irrelevant for readers, for example: "At this stage I cannot see whether the novel will be character or plot-led because in the opening pages there are too many characters and no clear motive(s) for what they are doing." I'm not sure if any readers ask themselves this question, personally I don't and I write for readers.
The problem of too many characters has also been pointed out once before about another novel (Demon Soul) with almost twice that many characters in the opening but I don't intend to do anything about it, I already explained a bit why here. The critique also disagrees with my readers and  with the comments I have on this blog for the excerpts about my character development. Here is how I develop characters, every single one of them. This passage has four characters at the beach with two named (Seti and Kelpie, she and another demon) and five characters at home (Seti, his sister Samira, her boyfriend Taram and Seti's parents) I don't see how the names are confusing and strange. Seti and Kelpie are name with a meaning for the story, Samira is a common Arabic/Sanskrit name and Taram was used in a Disney movie.  I'm sure you can remember them without problem.

If you read my first draft you have noticed that I don't plot by chapters, chapters come later, there are a lot of people working with chapters but other people like me too. I like all my chapters to have the same sort of length. I find uneven chapters a bit hard to read and fit in reading schedule as a reader.

The advice of "Convey more information through dialogue: ‘show’ not ‘tell’." is badly formulated. A dialog doesn't mean that the information will be showed instead of told, especially when Seti is thinking for more of the passage. Can he talk alone? I'm not sure. From wikipedia I have: "Show, don't tell is a technique often employed by writers to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author's exposition, summarization, and description."
It never mentions that you can't do it without a dialog. I have been thinking about making a blog post about "Show, don't tell" for a while so stay tune for it.

I will take their advices about clarifying the location, they are the second person confused a bit by it and a writer friend told me that the correct word for my pond was "tidal pool". The pool with glass bottom is never mentioned in the passage as it is in the critique, the word pool was actually never used. So here again I don't see where the words confusion comes from. 

I'm still happy with this first critique and one of the reason is also because I have learned to know what is to be taken and what is to be left out. I was recently said that the way you take advices from critique/editor shows if you are a professional or an amateur: if you are an amateur, you discard and complain, if you are a professional you shut up and make the changes. I entirely disagree with this. You can't possibly think yourself a professional if you can't decide if it's good or not, if the critique is relevant or not. Making every change you are told of even if they are confusing or get in the way of your style or contradict each other is a stupid and inefficient way of doing things.
When you write you make one person happy: Yourself.
When you make the changes you should try to make two: Yourself and the editor/critique. Not the editor only.
As I always say: "If you like your story other people will". Keep the good writing.
Here is a great post on how to take advices and I personally think that you should read it if you are like me confused by what people advice you at time. 

I'll leave the last word to Neil Gaiman: 
“Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what's wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

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  1. A very thorough post. I too just had my first 2k critique returned from them (the start of the novel thats been workshopped and drafted extensively). I'm still undecided how much I'll be taking away from it, if any of it prior to publication. Everyone's opinions will be different, it's what you take away from it (after you've had a chance to let it digest). If you've got numerous people commenting on the same thing then you may need to look at it. If it's only one then it's at the authors discretion.

  2. Pretty thorough critique. Spot on in some instances. You must filter it all and take away what you feel is relevant. I tried to comment on this week's WeWriWa post, but I couldn't click on the comment button for some reason! Oh well, I'll just say I liked the part about the plant taking back its leaves...that was a really nice surprise!

  3. To add to the discussion, I think it's very, very important to get many people to read the MS who are not friends, who don't know you, and who are not there to boost your writing self-esteem (i.e., to encourage you). A decent editor will (generally) know what works and what doesn't work in order to make the MS marketable for a general audience--this may be in contradiction to the writer's ultimate goal or not. A good editor will deliver the news to a writer in a way that that s(he) will not take it personally. An excellent editor will do the above PLUS establish a partnership of trust and mutual respect.