This post is a bit long but I hope it is worthwhile trawling through to the bitter end (!).
Following is a terrible review I received about some chapters I released from my Maldives journal (at that time called I Can Laugh – NOW).
I was very clear that it was my journal and not a novel and I agree it was not/isn’t in ‘proper book form’ (yet).
After this review, which I do, in fact, cherish, is my earlier review of his book which I think prompted the response below; looking back I could have been less blunt but I did give him some compliments.
I did receive some fabulous feedback from others – but I’m not letting that go to my head which is the way all authors, especially amateur authors should be, especially after receiving something like this.
HIM TO ME:
“I usually err towards the positive when reviewing work on Authonomy, driven by the desire to encourage the author, and find appealing elements in their work that can be built upon.
However, on this occasion, I found nothing of any significant worth to sustain that approach.
I Can Laugh – NOW is drab and insular in the extreme. It is one long and tedious trail of self-indulgent, one dimensional, over sentimental, sterile dribble.
In terms of fundamental expectations for a novel, it is truly dreadful.
Too many modern writers are template driven.
They colour by prescribed numbers in the hope that re-producing someone else’s style will equates with success, but I Can Laugh – NOW does not even fit that over-tried and overcooked approach.
It’s a staccato mess, without the necessary story development and flow, character constructs and engaging hooks to make the reader root for the protagonists.
In literary terms, it has nothing to commend it.
At 15,756 words it is hardly a novel, not even substantial work in progress, just a loose confederation of documented observations written down in a placid, disinfected diary style.
A minimum of 80,000 words is required to even get a commissioning editors interest, but I doubt that any CE will be remotely interested in a diary about a set of monochromatic events on an Indian Ocean island being fleshed out to 80,000 words.
If readers are hoping for something in the vain of Huxley’s Island, they are going to be very disappointed.
Worst of all, it is composed in present tense, first person, both absolute no-nos, as far as commissioning editors are concerned, in this day and age.
On the technical level, it is full of errors.
No paragraphing indents, incorrect punctuation and capitalization.
Technical deficiency begins on page 1, where it would be rejected immediately because the reader does not know who is speaking!
That fatal flaw continues throughout the first four chapters I read, before nausea and the inevitable soporific effect overtook me and I gave up.
There needs to be some terms of reference, some anchor point in any work, and to glibly proceed without these construction essentials is amateurish, and a cardinal writing sin.
Phrases should not be capitalised, ie, FOUR WITNESSES.
That is not how accentuation is achieved.
I Can Laugh – NOW is not really a novel, more of a diary, a journal that one of those awful, self-indulgent hacks who writes for the Guardian or The Independent would compose.
There is no depth to the language employed.
It is not evocative and remains sterile without methodically engaging the reader on any level.”
ME TO HIM PREVIOUSLY:
“Clive, first some critique.
I felt the opening chapters I read were over-written; I mean heavy-handed in that absolutely every reference was explained. If you need to say characters are from Sesame Street, or whatever, then there is no point naming them. If people know them, they understand the background and if they haven’t heard of them, mentioning the programme name won’t illuminate.
I am really not certain that Jemima would not know the current meaning of gay.
I found the jokes around Clint/cunt just a bit too juvenile; such ‘jokes’ might be funny to 10-year old boys, but they are out of place here.
I also found the constant references to TV shows, presenters, etc, just too much. I think readers want to read about new things, not such commonplace matters. Make up your own TV shows and character names/presenters etc, if need be – that would be much more interesting for the reader.
What this amounts to overall is that a lot of ground has to be covered by the reader with few good bits for their trouble. When I say the book is over-written, I mean that there is no subtlety; readers are capable of filling in a lot themselves. This book seems like a first draft to me and if that is what it is, then good. But if not, I would suggest a cut-throat edit and tightening up all round.
I felt I could be reading about the day to day life of any family but we need to see something different.
However, you seem to know about flow and consistency and rhythm, but the end product at the moment is too prosaic, too pedestrian.
I read the first 5 chapters so I think I gave you a fair hearing. Publishers, etc, usually just read the first 3.
It was good that I did not notice any grammar or punctuation issues as is often the case here; many site authors seem to think they don’t need to pay attention to that – that editors, etc, will be so swept away by the stunning plot (!). I find that attitude disrespectful to the reader if nothing else so it is great that you care enough to not upload sloppy work.
So on the technical side, you are at an advantage.
I really urge you to be brutal and force yourself to be much more streamlined.
I don’t know if you have read any of David Nobbs (Reggie Perrin, etc) but I think your writing is meant to be in that genre. I recently read Nobbs’ book about a middle-aged virgin who has a relationship with a very young woman. That is all that happens. But it is the telling that makes this seductive reading. Nobbs’ characters are ordinary people, which we accept, but it is the voice he employs.
I think you have the makings of a good narrative voice but it is not strong enough at present. If you are not sure what I mean by ‘voice’, try and find an English teacher or grad.
Two examples on this site with fantastic ‘voice’ are Stonebird by JL Fontaine and In a Cat’s Eye by Kevin Bergeron. Both these writers have achieved great writing via the way their MC views the world/thinks. I really recommend you have a look at these if not already.
If you think I am being harsh, well you are right! But I don’t like to take the easy way out and just dish out compliments as that is not helpful to anyone.
If I thought your writing had no hope whatsoever, on the other hand, I would not bother with any critique. So I hope you understand what I am getting at here. Sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind (!).
I have had some brutal comments about my book but I have come to appreciate the honesty and let’s face it – that is a truer indication of the real world.
I have learned a lot from my critics and I have made improvements to my work; having said, that, I am aware there is still a long way to go – so we are all in the same boat here.
I have learned that we cannot please everyone, especially when it comes down to matters of personal taste; so you as the author are the one who decides what to take notice of.
Please bear in mind that I am just one opinion.