Monday, November 21, 2011

My negative review of an anonymous book

Title (I can't tell you)
Author (I so can't tell you)
Review by Ann Wilkes

I read a bad book through to the end yesterday. No I haven't devolved back into that person who thinks she has to finish everything she starts - even a bad book. If I tell you the reason, you might figure out what book it was. Since I'm going to pull no punches about why it was bad and why I wanted to throw it across the room, I can't tell you the title. I have already established in my guidelines that I don't post negative reviews, and I'm not likely to read another bad book any time soon, so my guidelines will have to stand. That's enough of my preamble. I'm going to deliver this review of an anonymous book as a sanitized (no title, author names, character names, etc.) critique.

Dear writer,
Good for you that you put yourself out there and your novel was published. When I learned the topic of the book and it's connection to XYZ, I felt compelled to read it. I was looking forward to it, even.

I had been reading another book that has a large cast of characters and a grand scope with myriad complex issues. More work than I was ready for just then. So, finding out what an easy read yours was felt like a relief. Ahhhh. A book I can wiz through on the weekend.

However, around page 100, I'm getting sick of your one-dimensional protag who goes through life in a Pollyanna way, never making mistakes and solving problems with the greatest of ease. Where's the conflict? Where's the tension?

On page 236, I read the fly to see what the book is actually supposed to be ABOUT. Some of the stuff on the jacket had not happened yet and didn't even get introduced until the last third of the book. I want to know about those stakes and that conflict way sooner. I need way less of your protag's wonderful ninja career skills in minute detail. OK. I get you know your subject. You're an expert. But please give me a story. A plot!

And that first two-thirds would have been half as long if you paired down all the info dumps, eliminated all the wordy language and repetition, and quit telling me about every single opening and closing door.

We all have pet phrases. It's OK if your characters have them, but the narration shouldn't. Don't tell me character A completely understood this, that and the other, and the other. Sometimes, perhaps they knew full well, or grasped the subject. And please don't have them always hating to admit this or that. (The real over-used phrases have been changed to protect the author.)

And we all have favorite mannerisms. But not everyone in the room is a hand wringer or a lint picker. Give them different ones, please. The mannerisms should set them apart, not make them homogenized.

So, you decided to throw in a romantic interest. Good for you. I don't mind a little romance in my sci-fi, so long as it doesn't take over. This did the opposite. Those few tender moments were all tell, no show. I'm not asking for graphics, here. They're only kisses. But don't tell me he or she felt thrilled. Show me what it looked like. Have (we'll say her) touch her lips after (we'll say he) walks away, or have the lips quiver before the kiss. Something.

And twice during a kiss, the protag suddenly has eyes in back of (we'll say his this time) head and knows what the other people in the room are doing. The whole thing is in his Point of View until he's lip-locked. Then suddenly it's an omniscient POV.

Also, there's a chapter toward the end that is in another character's POV. I just wish you had done that sooner and more often. It came out of left field so far into the book.

Now about that ending. I'm so totally not a happily ever after kind of writer, but wow. That was brutal. But as brutal as the protag's loss was, the protag still spouted advice about coping to everyone else and didn't fall apart. Perfect to the last. I get that he might be in shock and will fall apart later, but he was way too peachy and preachy. At least if you're gonna give your character a blow like that, have him grieve, grow and change.

But you got published. So, there's that.

Wow! I feel so much better. I just hope no one guesses the book - especially the author - since I've seriously ripped his or her book to shreds.


Budd said...

The problem is that this is vague enough to be several different books that I have read. Your review is safe.

Unknown said...

As a writer I hold to the principle of Occam's Razor. Otherwise known as Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS). I hope I never fall into all of the many poisonous tar traps you've mentioned above.

Thanks :)