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.