Review Snippets

0_ver_LaTrobePlot Structure and how it can impact your style

Short fiction: A group of high school kids have formed a ‘suicide club.’ Lucas has decided that he wants out.

What you’ve done really well here is create a vivid situation, loaded with power and circumstance. You hear your characters voices quite clearly. It shows in your dialogue; you’ve captured high school students beautifully.

Plot structure is there, but I see you struggling with it. You are toying with a number of options, but haven’t yet made a decision ;-). Here is what I see as the possibilities, based on what’s on the page.

Your primary character is clearly Lucas. Your antagonist at times seems to be the group as a whole or the bully, Kyle. As Kyle is not present for the first big climax of your story, he can’t be the antagonist. So you need to decide if Kyle is your bad guy or if the group as a whole is the bad guy.

If you decide to make the group as a whole the bad guy, then each time Lucas talks to one of them, he is essentially talking to the group. Everything he tells one person will be known immediately by all the others. Lucas’ struggle will be to realize that he needs to betray his group of friends to get out. With this option, each group member can have a character, but they can also have eerie similarities. Perhaps the words coming out of their mouths on certain topics are identical. When a certain topic is raised, they act in a similar way.

If Kyle is the bad guy, the dynamics and meaning of the story shift and it will tend to be more realistic. As Lucas tries to work through his own struggle with opting out of the group, each individual may also have a battle, but Kyle has a hold on them all.

So key to figuring out which of these (or other options) you choose, start with Lucas. Nail down exactly what it was that attracted him to the club in the first place. Did he find his life boring and he wanted some ‘excitement’? Is his life at home such hell that he wants out and this is the only way. Is he depressed? Next, why does he now want out? Is it because he didn’t think anyone was serious and he wanted to be a part of the group? Has he found light in his life? Is he certain that he’s next and his suicide method will be ‘successful’?

Figure out Lucas’ point of view and you’ll figure out what you want to say through the story. That will give you the plot structure that will show off the struggle best.

Genre and character

Novel: A twist on the thriller genre where the central character pulls perfect heists to alleviate the boredom of his life. He’s an office worker by day with a seemingly boring life and a heister by night.

You establish your character so well in the first scene, when Dalton escapes the 49-story office tower and we get glimpses into his character. You’ve taken the typical ‘Mission Impossible’ or ‘Perfect Caper’ character and humanized him in ways we don’t expect. And that’s fun!

How Dalton has to brace himself to approach the body; how he feels about the poor dead guy; how when descending the shaft he’s disoriented by the darkness. You’ve gone inside a character type that one normally doesn’t get a glimpse into and you find someone just like us, in an odd kinda way. But then you lose your ability to do this.

You figured out what Dalton is feeling in this first scene and it works. But then your attempts at doing so in subsequent scenes just…. don’t feel right.

I think these questions might help you to figure out Dalton a bit more: What does he want to do with the money he gets by doing these heists in his spare time? Does he have any friends; who are they and when does he see them? Maybe he plays pool on Friday night with a group of guys. What does he tell them when he’s ‘busy’? If he can do this so easily and has so much money, why does he keep working? How does this activity give him any meaning?

You tell us that the heists give Dalton a ‘thrill’. But you don’t show us him being thrilled. We see the details; how he plans and works through his heists in ultimate detail. He pulls a perfect heist and it’s like he just bought a pack of gum, he throws it in the drawer.

Suggestions for moving forward: Think more about Dalton’s character. I’ve asked questions on specific pages that will help you to do this. Put the book in a drawer for a month and come back to it then.

Trying too hard and ‘hearing’ your writing

Novel: Murder mystery

I enjoyed this tale as it took a crooked path with skewed endings plucked from real life. The character of Frank is quite interesting (African-American in small town Macon, GA). As a writer you are capable and direct.

You’ve tried very hard with this one. I’m wondering if you’re trying too hard. So many moments seem pushed into place. Meanwhile, the rhythm of the writing is all at the same hyper level. You never give us, your readers, a moment to relax, reflect… and there are opportunities for this.

One opportunity for shifting the rhythm would be to describe the scenes more. What are you characters doing? What’s the weather like? What is around them? And what about the character of the town of Macon itself? What makes Macon special? What is it’s flavor, color, temperament? I’d like to know. I’d have a stronger connection to this story if I knew.

I believe you need another draft (perhaps two). In writing this draft, try reading parts of your existing draft aloud. If there are open mic nights near you, see if you can get up there and read a portion of it. Nothing helps you to find the rhythm of your storytelling better than reading to an audience. It will help you see where your writing is working and not working.

Connecting a character’s past to the story

Novel: A teenage romance stalls as the young man can’t face up to how his father abused him

This is a very poetic work, the writing stunning in its simplicity. The characters are so ‘real’ and simple — new regional types, perhaps. You tell your story with great sensitivity, poetry and grace. And in that, it has value.

There is some strong and lovely imagery here, well used.

There are some imaginative and awe-inspiring plot points which are sheer genius. The keys in the coke bottle, for one. The kitten with the worms, for another.

However, you also use the poetic style to avoid facing the abuse, the same way your protagonist does.

The young couple, Boogan and Gail are returning to his home town so he can face his past. We are told this but not shown this. The father should be a ghost, an ever-present force, battling in his psyche for attention. We should be given the opportunity to ‘see’ the father, both the good and bad sides of him. Show us moments, glimpses of Boogan being abused in one scene, in another his father is being kind. That should be the struggle for Boogan; is his father evil or not? This is what he needs to be figuring out.

Gail can help him or she can be his muse (the reason why he wants to figure this out). At the same time his struggle should pose challenges for their relationship. Is he not attentive at times because something she says reminds him of something his father used to say? Is he sometimes abusive, just like his father was?

What is Gail hoping for from their future, what are Boogan’s dreams? They seem like such zen characters, so present in the ‘now’ with little confusion, so full of certainty, no doubts and definitely not lacking in self-confidence, no goals other than day-to-day survival. They both go through such horror (losing the baby, the abuse) but these emotions are way down deep below a pool of zen poetry.

These situations present you with an opportunity! Use them. Show us their agony. Show us their struggles.

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