Wednesday, March 21, 2012

ABNA Results and Feedback

Congratulations to a few friends who made it to the quarter final rounds:

Theresa Milstein
Hart Johnson
Roland Yeomans
Sharon Bayliss

I did not make it, but it was a relief just knowing one way or the other. After seeing the list I continued to wait for my reviews. When they finally posted I was quite pleased with them. In fact, I thought I'd share them with you.

This is a great model for a critique summary. Remember the sandwich method? You start with something positive, give some helpful and specific things to work on, and then end with something positive. It's also short enough to not be overwhelming.

Things that made me *squee* are marked in Blue.
Things I found particularly helpful to watch for in future writing are marked in Red.

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The situation and central characters are quickly and clearly presented, creating a sense of urgency and a narrative "hook" that makes the reader want to find out more. The prologue is just what prologues of this type should be: a short glimpse of an event whose connection to the main story is a mystery the reader can wonder about, and (hopefully) eventually be satisfied by. Talia, troubled but determined, becomes sympathetic right away, which draws the reader in

There's quite a lot going on in this relatively short opening section, and that's a good thing, and there are also mysteries remaining for the reader to learn more about, which is even better. The elements of science fiction and fantasy are introduced at appropriate intervals so that they feel natural rather than overwhelming the casual reader, and add to the interest in what's going on and what this fictional universe is like. The prose, accessible and fast-paced, further encourages intense reading: it's spare but almost never choppy, which is a difficult balance to strike. If the rest of the book is this involving, I could see reading it in a single, page-turning sitting.

What aspect needs the most work?

The excerpt is very fast-paced, which is mostly a good thing. However, it's so fast-paced and lacking in vivid detail that it doesn't draw the reader in emotionally/viscerally as much as it might. I found myself reading solely for the plot, and while that's nothing to sneeze at, a richer enjoyment is always better. The trick with a book like this is to add a few effective descriptions without losing the pace.

When Jaron is inhaling the demon, for example, the writer might add a couple sentences about ~how~ the burning in nose, throat, and lungs feels-- does it compare to any more ordinary pain (or other sensation) the reader might be familiar with? When it says "he was drowning," how specifically does it compare to drowning? A reader can imagine a few different ways it might be like that, and the more exact the comparison is, the more the reader feels it instead of just reading it.

Talia's nightmare is another important scene that might be improved a bit. She is terrified by these dreams, and for the reader to empathize with that terror the description has to be powerful. If these are prophetic dreams, they can have more sensory detail-- touch, smell, even taste-- than real ones. The Scalies/Draguman are especially important-- if they evoke dread in Talia they should in the reader too, and at the moment they just feel like big lizard-men. Focusing on features that make them imposing or disturbing could correct that, and make this engaging excerpt even more so.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

The excerpt does exactly what an excerpt should do: it makes me curious about what's going to happen next. I got caught up in reading it and was disappointed when I realized I had come to the last page. That pleasure makes up for some limitations when it comes to how real and immediate the experience is. Many science fiction and fantasy readers want to feel transported to a very different place, and it's possible to do that while still keeping those elements "light" for readers who don't know the genre. I think the excerpt works pretty well as it stands; a little work on making the descriptions more intense could push it from good to very good.
See, a good and helpful critique can make even rejection feel like a good thing.

And finally, some artwork! My friend Chris brought me another head shot of the dragon. I love the soulful and sad look in the eyes.


  1. That is a good critique. It's very positive. It kind of makes me wonder why you didnt progress.

    1. I'm choosing to believe I was cut because they saw potential and they know I can make the changes to make it worth it. :)

  2. Wow. Thanks for sharing this. =)

  3. That's a great way to format critiques. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Charity, thanks for the mention! It sounds like they thought your excerpt was strong, you were probably close. I kind of wish they told us our scores too. Although I can see why they don't, it would probably lead to lots of nitpicking.

    1. You're welcome! Good luck, I'm rooting for you in the next round.

  5. That's an awesome critique! I have similar problems in my own work. I tend to shy away from descriptions because I'm afraid I'll over-describe, but they're right that the right about of description can add to the entire reading experience. :)

    1. The funny thing is I love writing descriptions. I took out a lot because early critiquers said It was too much. :)

      Oh, well. I'm stubborn enough to keep working until I find the perfect balance.

  6. Sorry you didn't make it, but that was very constructive criticism. Now you know what to work on next.
    Now you can relax!

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  8. I really liked that criticism. However, I also have some beef with it.

    As a person that likes plot driven books, if I had been on the panel, I think that your story might have gotten past me into the quarter finals. The subjectivity of readers can be astounding. This particular reviewer had a "tone" that struck me as how a woman reads. I'm not saying anything bad about that at all. But the desire for all that emotional depth coming from an excerpt in a HARD SCIENCE FICTION book seems out of place to me. When I read science-fiction (Examples are Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, Foundation by Isaac Asimov) I don't read an excerpt and then Herbert has some really wooden characters...this whole thing with Princess Irulan just stating that her father is the Padisha Emperor is meaningless to kind of dumb.

    I think that you found a reader that wanted a character driven emotional excerpt, and I just don't think that's possible in such a short space WITHOUT writing in first person. But you can't tell huge stories that involve lots and lots of characters in first person. It just doesn't work. J.K. Rowling knew this which is why she went to third person limited.

    1. We learn things all the time. In my mind this was a character driven book because it all started with a character, but now that I step back, it is plot driven. :)

      All those little "who do you write like" tests say I write more like a man than a woman. I'd like to think I'm somewhere in between since my goal was to write a science fiction story that men and women could enjoy.

      And I agree that this story would never work in 1st person. I tried that for years and it never felt right. This story can only be told correctly with multiple points of view.

      I hope you get to read the whole thing soon. I've made some small changes to the beginning since the bit you read and now everything feels right. To me. And that's the important thing, right?

  9. Sorry you didn't progress, but at least you got some good criticism. Perhaps you'll find later that this was a good thing. I hope!

  10. That feedback is really detailed and comprehensive, which is great. While you don't have to take it all on board if it doesn't ring true for you, it's so useful to know why the excerpt didn't progress this time. Congrats on making it as far as you did. :-)


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