Using Other’s Eyes
I’ve been doing critiques for other writers for the past five years now, and have found that it has improved my writing tenfold. I have found that when I write something, I am nearly blind to its faults until a different set of eyes points them out. In my experience, initially, that was difficult to stomach, but now, I seek out those eyes.
In the last couple of months, I’ve taken on a ‘job’ of doing book reviews for ‘pay.’ Granted, the ‘pay’ is minimal and works out to about 1.25 cents per word (less actually), but it is something. To date, I’ve done eight reviews, and declined on two stories. I am shocked at what I’ve seen people put out there for others to see. Most have been well edited, but the stories or the mechanics they used to put them together have been poor in all but two of those books I’ve done. (you can find links to my reviews at http://www.csperry.org/book-review/) The latest book, (not up on the list, as the organization has not published it yet) put me in a position of having to read something I did not enjoy. Yes, I could decline to continue, but if I reach a certain percentage of refusals, I will no longer be able to do any reviews.
In my opinion, this last book should have been seen by what is called a developmental editor, and a line editor long before it was published. The unfortunate part is this story honestly had the potential to be a great one, possibly reaching best-seller status, but the issues were many. One of the worst issues was a jumping POV (point of view). In a story, a writer can and maybe even should visit the heads of different characters, but there are conventions on how to do this. A separate chapter, a new scene, or at the very least a line break, some clue to the reader as to what follows is different from what came before. When the writer does not offer this, as a reader, I find myself suddenly lost. The character I thought I was reading would never feel or act like this. Have we had some sort of shift in thinking? Only to go on a few words or lines or even paragraphs to learn, oh, we switched characters. For me, it is flow stopping. Worse, it is something that destroys the continuity of the story.
Another issue was a habit the writer had in starting a chapter in a character’s POV, and we do not know which character and we do not know what anything thought, said, or done is about. I took it as the author trying to be mysterious, but what it was is confusing and befuddling. As a reader, I struggled every time the author did this. Had I purchased this book, I would have been furious and probably taken it back to the place I bought it and demanded my money back. However, I found myself trapped into having to finish it so I could do the review. (I will always give the best I have to offer when I am doing a review or a critique.)
Fantasy and Science Fiction used to be strongly sexist oriented, and the writer of this latest book has not stepped into the modern age of writing. Every female was good looking, and I suppose that would be okay, but their looks had nothing to do with the story except as enticement for some of the male characters. They might as well been prostitutes standing on street corners as active characters. The females were somewhat active, though, in a more passive role, the males had the lead from page one.
I suppose the point I am trying to make here is always, always, always find someone else who will be honest with you, who will review your work before you put it into the public forum. Personally, I will never pick up another book by this particular author nor the other that I gave a 1 out of 4 rating. I am glad I did not have to pay for the book. It wasn’t worth my time and certainly not the efforts I put into it. The sad part is, this particular story could have been. I saw how a few minor changes would have moved this from a 1 to a 3 at least, and maybe even to a 4. I don’t know if the author didn’t think it needed it or if he was just chintzy with his money, but in this particular case, a few hundred dollars could have been rewarded with much higher sales and excitement for the subsequent books in the series. As it sits, it leaves a nasty feeling in my head.