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Monday, October 23, 2006

A professional critique from an editor

This is a continuation of my earlier post.

The very first novel I started was titled, "The Art of Death." The basic premise was that a detective had been murdered during one of her investigations. The older brother and best friend join forces to uncover a political scandal. A politician was selling black market art pieces that had been siezed during the holocaust. I started it. Bagged it. Started over. Bagged it. Started over, you get the idea. As a new parent I didn't have the time or the experience to properly dedicate my time or my energy to my craft. I knew that I wanted to write. I knew I had good ideas. I just didn't know what the heck I was doing. Question my use of gerunds and I'd say, "um... what's a gerund?" and everytime someone said, "use active NOT passive" I wanted to throw my hands in the air and scream... "what do you mean?"

I started it in 1998 and the novel turned into my lesson in writing. I worked on short stories, other ideas, and toyed with the novel. I'd try different techniques and then share it with critique groups and other novice writers to get feedback and suggestions. In 2003 I received a gift from someone to send in the first 30 pages of my novel to a group called Inside Sessions. They would have an editor give me a professional review. I grabbed one of the versions I had sitting around and mailed it in. I kept the letter I got and wanted to share it:

Dear Rashenbo (no that's not my real name),

Thank you for submitting an excerpt from your novel titled The
Art of Death
to InsideSessions and for your patience at awaiting a reply.

There is always room for another gripping novel in the vein of James Patterson or Kay Hooper. I enjoyed reading your submission and think this is a nice start to a potentially interesting story. The dialogue moves the story along nicely and helps reveal important information about the two protagonists as well as the plot.

However, I think the opening scene here can be improved upon. It currently lacks a sense of drama that is necessary to set the tone for the rest of the story. As the scene unfolds, I did not feel a connection to what was going on. As I'm sure you're aware, a good suspense/thriller must do many things, but first and foremost the story should hook our interest right away and then keep us curious throughout the course of the novel.

The rest of the excerpt sets up the relationship between Tegan and Robert as they begin investigating Jamie's death. I also think that Tegan's relationship to Jamie could be deepened a little more, perhaps shown through flashback. It's difficult to get a sense of their close relationship as the text currently reads.

As I mentioned, this is a good beginning but it doesn't have a compelling edge that is so necessary to compete in today's fiction market. Writing takes practice and with some attention to crafting suspense and elements of surprise, your novel will rise to
a new level.

I think when I first got this I had a little bit of a bubble burst. I wanted the editor to tell me how fabulous I was... REALITY CHECK. The letter was polite, included some positive comments, and then pinpointed areas of weakness. He was completely correct in his comments. When I read over this novel I see the glaring plot holes, weak transitions and boring passages. It was, and still is, a valuable lesson for me to learn.

It is hard to be objective in an field that is so subjective in its nature. What one person loves, another will hate. As a writer, it is likely that eventually someone will tell you that your work is not good enough. You will be told you need to improve and you may be told your plot stinks and your characters are flat.

The only thing you can do is keep trying.


Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

Everybody needs a trunk novel or two for, er, ballast. Yeah, that's it. Ballast.

Some day, you might make a novel out of it. It does sound like a good premise for a mystery or thriller, and I love the title.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Rashenbo said...

Thanks Written,

I am not sure that I'll ever be able to seriously focus on that novel. But, I'm glad to hear you liked the title. I had this idea of making a series of the detective and having titles along a similar thread.

Anyway, I've moved on to other plots that are more interesting!

2:11 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...


First, thanks so much for your comment on my blog. Smooches!

Second, you're right: it's ALL subjective. Getting something accepted, I'm convinced, comes down to the holy trinity of timing, tenacity, and talent. (No, I didn't coin the T3 term; I wish I did. I'm just passing it on.) You could have the best story EVER, but if marketing thinks that it won't sell, the editor is not going to buy your book (thus the timing).

This is a brutal business. That's why we need thick skins, a stubborn streak the size of Texas, and a support system. Because let me tell you, this is also a lonely business. Having other writers to cheer us on, give us advice, and celebrate our victories can make all the difference.

(And so can a really good chocolate bar.)


10:20 PM  
Blogger Rashenbo said...

Mocha!!! I must have coffee... need coffeeeeeee :)

You are only too right, Jackie.


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