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In the Gap

Before I begin this review, I would like to note that I am not Christian, and as such I am not the intended audience for this novel. I will be reviewing this novel primarily from a technical standpoint, and will do my best not to bring in discussion of my own ideology. I apologize in advance for any failure.

That said, I do applaud you for taking such a topic and handling it with a level of candor that I have not yet seen in published literature. I’m glad I had the chance to read this; I learned a lot from the perspective.

CHARACTERS:

Many of the characters didn’t feel characterized enough to be real people. They are lists of actions without causes, flaws without people behind them. I never understood your characters. I knew them on a surface level, but I didn’t understand them.

Tyler himself was the most understandable. Almost every action he took was motivated primarily by his religion, and while this was a one-dimensional characterization, it did make sense to me. The only actions that were exceptions to this were his actions against Justin and his actions in pursuing Carrie. I would like to see more depth to his character, to differentiate him from any other good Christian person.

Tyler’s hatred for Justin didn’t seem to come naturally through his character. I understood his fear towards Justin due to Justin’s actions against Samuel, but I never understood his hatred. His actions towards Matt signified that he was capable of hatred, but I never understood it as a part of his character. Hatred is never logical, and with Tyler, it felt as though any person who passed a certain threshold of cruelty would be met with hatred.

Also, strong emotions such as anger and fear should build gradually rather than all at once, and his hatred felt sudden, appearing as soon as he saw either Matt or Justin. This problem also occurred with many of the nightmare scenes; the fear didn’t build gradually, and so I was never immersed fully within it. Horror, for the reader, thrives in the contrast between the normal and the abnormal. Anger, for the reader, thrives in the moments before its expression.

I could never believe Tyler’s attraction to either Meredith or Carrie. Really, both relationships are defined by jealousy -- his jealousy towards Jeff and Matt, respectively. Sure, he talks to the girls. He’s protective over them in the same way he’s protective over everyone. He’s violent towards others on their behalf, but I could never believe his attraction. Then again, in general, I don’t believe in any relationship based on overprotective violence.

I never understood Tyler’s attraction to Carrie, especially. Carrie’s only “good” trait is her attractiveness, and that has nothing to do with her personality. In every thought where Tyler found her attractive, the only reason was, again, her looks. All I really know about Carrie is her major and that she had an affair with Matt that led to a pregnancy.

The main problem, I think, is that Tyler never tries to understand her point of view. He never tries to understand anyone’s point of view at all, and so naturally the other characters lack characterization. To him, everyone else is just a list of character traits and flaws without any rationale behind those traits or flaws. He doesn’t experience much self-reflection, either, and so his own character is also a list of traits and flaws without a person behind it.

Throughout the novel, the dialogue felt too generic to be real. It felt as though you were asking yourself, “What would a girl/boy in this general situation say?” rather than, for example, “What would Carrie Jostik specifically say in this situation?” Again, this is probably because your characters don’t feel characterized enough to be real.

Some smaller things:

Occasionally, the character viewpoint filtering is… off. For example, when Carrie introduces herself, she says, “Carrie Jostik, the J sounds like a Y.” However, for a listener of the dialogue, that wouldn’t make sense, because the listener would be unable to hear the J in the first place. It would need to be, “Carrie Jostik. My last name starts with a J, not with a Y.” I understand that you want to give information to your readers about the pronunciation of the name, but there are ways to do so without breaking the natural sound of the dialogue.

I didn’t believe it when Carrie’s mother just spewed out Carrie’s entire life story to Tyler. If Carrie’s mother is talkative and would spew out Carrie’s life story to anyone she ever meets, then that’s something the readers need to know beforehand, and that needs to affect her relationship with Carrie. Every character trait in a character should affect that character’s relationships with other characters.

I also didn’t believe it when Colton acted surprised that Tyler was “the real deal.” They’re siblings. Colton has known Tyler since birth. Why hasn’t Colton known this before now?

Dr. Lockwood’s only purpose was to give Tyler information. Again, he didn’t feel like a real person either.

I know nothing about Tyler’s parents. Do they even exist? They give him money, they cry when Colton dies. Is that all?

PLOT:

Tyler has nightmares. Tyler prays. Cycle repeats. Along the way, we have a love triangle, a subplot about a girl with a failed abortion who becomes part of the love triangle, a subplot about others who have nightmares and then pray which also becomes part of the love triangle, a subplot about Samuel, and a subplot about Colton. I think that covers everything.

The subplot about Colton is undeveloped, especially considering how much he means to Tyler. While Carrie experiences genuine, visible conflict with her abortion and her ex-lover, Colton only experiences conversations. The subplot with Samuel serves to push Colton forward, true, but other than that, nothing.

You do try to incorporate Colton’s dialogue with Ryan and other friends. This dialogue, however, is generally irrelevant. It neither illuminates the characters nor the plot, although it tries to illuminate the characters. It accomplishes nothing in terms of Colton’s subplot, although it tries to do so.

Despite the lack of conflict in Colton’s storyline, it still held more interest to me than Carrie’s. Carrie’s storyline felt melodramatic and lacking nuance, possibly because Tyler never cared about nuance in his quest to save the damsel in distress.

Samuel’s storyline felt rushed in general; his only purpose was to save Colton, and, this accomplished, we learn nothing from him. Tyler learns nothing from him. Tyler learns nothing from Meredith, either, although I suppose he will learn more in the coming books, once he learns to let go of his hatred for Justin.

The ending in general felt forced. There was no indication beforehand that Justin would kill Colton, through characterization or otherwise.

Currently, I feel as though you are relying on dreams to create suspense, rather than relying on the characters themselves. The dreams feel like a crutch you’re using to avoid a cohesive plot. Tyler has a dream; the dream either manifests in reality or doesn’t; Tyler prays; the cycle repeats independently of the actions anyone else takes.

Try including foreshadowing outside of the dreams. If you know that Justin will kill Colton at the very end of the novel, mention as soon as we see Justin that he has killed family members of those who hurt him. Introduce important characters, such as Justin and Samuel, earlier in the work so that their entrance feels natural rather than rushed.

Currently, this novel feels as though you began writing it without an outline, without knowing where the story would go, and then whenever you needed something to happen, you gave Tyler a nightmare and came up with another chapter on the spot. It doesn’t feel cohesive. It’s structured more like a TV series than a novel.

STRUCTURE:

I would have liked to see more of Tyler’s life before the dreams began. Currently, his entire character seems focused on these dreams, and we don’t get much of a sense of his original character at the beginning.

I would have also liked to see each of the plot threads begin more towards the beginning of the novel and end closer to the end in order to give the novel a greater sense of structure. Carrie, for example, had her upward swing begin around halfway through. Generally, it’s better to have negative buildup continue to the end before releasing in a positive way. This way, the stakes will increase throughout the novel and the reader will stay hooked until the end.

I felt that Carrie’s plot thread, Samuel’s plot thread, and the Meredith/Justin plot thread felt the most unstructured. I would like to see those threads develop more over the course of the novel and not just in sections of it.

Overall, the largest problem I saw with this novel’s structure was the lack of a cause-and-effect structure. Because your structure is based largely on dreams, it lacks the cause-and-effect structure preferable for most novels. Generally, each scene should directly cause another scene, and every scene except the first should be caused by a scene before it. The scenes may not be consecutive, but each scene should have a previous link.

RESEARCH:

I am not a doctor, but I do think you need to do more research into the mechanics of abortion. From what I know, it occurs first with a pill meant to induce a miscarriage, and then if that fails, a vacuum aspirator. Actual surgery is rare. Complications due to actual surgery should be even rarer. Of course, had they used birth control during the affair, the chances of pregnancy would be miniscule as well. Matt seemed concerned enough that I would have expected them to use some form of birth control. Again, I’m not certain of the precise mechanics, but you should talk to a doctor about it to ensure that your research is correct and that Carrie’s hemorrhage is realistic under the circumstances.

STYLE:

I feel as though you’re relying on the first person point of view (I/me/my) as a crutch to get out of characterizing the other characters as much as they need to be characterized. This novel might be stronger in a third person point of view (he/him/his for Tyler). It would allow you more flexibility in characterization and in plot, and would help you to see where your novel is lacking.

Regardless of whether or not you choose to keep the first person point of view, I do think that you’re too focused on grammatical correctness, and that you’re prioritizing that over natural language. Having fragmented sentences is perfectly acceptable for fiction writing, as long as the fragments are used with purpose. Real people don’t talk/think in complete sentences all the time, and the novel will feel more natural if the narration mimics natural talk/thought structure.

On occasion, your paragraphs don’t flow together in a logical way, especially in the first few chapters, where you try to introduce background information. Rather than inserting information randomly into scenes where other things are happening, and rather than having a section where the information is given all at once, information should flow naturally through Tyler’s thought process, easing the reader into Tyler’s mind.

In general, I don’t think you’re trusting your reader to make the connections between bits of information, and I don’t think you’re trusting your reader’s capacity to infer. There is a media maxim which works just as well for fiction writing: Overestimate your readers’ intelligence. Underestimate their information.

In general, I felt that this novel lacked the specific tactile details that make books feel real. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez one said, “If you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you...My grandmother used to say that every time this man came around, he would leave the house full of butterflies. But when I was writing this, I discovered that if I didn’t say the butterflies were yellow, people would not believe it.” This applies everywhere. Use specific details to engage the senses, and the world will feel more real.

Stylistically, I felt that your writing style felt stilted and inefficient throughout. Try reading your sentences out loud to see if it feels natural. Prioritize clarity over grandiose description, and include more specific descriptions. This isn’t to say that you should eliminate grandiose description entirely; prioritizing clarity over it is fine.

Occasionally, I felt that Tyler switches between casual and formal usage in his point of view, seemingly at random. It lacks consistency, and because of this, the narrative lacks a coherent style.

Many of the scenes and descriptions throughout felt rushed and overblown. Take time. Relax. Ease into the pacing.

TECHNICAL ERRORS:

I saw a few instances of diction misuse. For example, using scowl instead of frown and drug instead of dragged. You may want someone to go through and mark each instance.

Similarly, there were small syntax errors throughout. For example, saying “Both my roommates wouldn’t dream of spending” instead of “Neither of my roommates would dream of spending.” Again, it’s a small error, but these small errors combined do lessen the reading experience.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques/comments for my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Apocalypse and the Asylum

Oh, I had so much fun reading this. Every situation was humorous, every line of dialogue hilariously well-crafted. From the first chapter, you had me laughing. As others have said, your writing style is reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ writing style in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it does feel distinctively you as well.

CHARACTERS:

Out of all the characters in the novel, I felt that only Emil and Inora had any kind of three-dimensionality. Most of the other characters felt flat and one-dimensional. For this genre, it’s fine if most of your characters are two-dimensional, at least, but I would like to see a little more than what you have. This applies especially to Sania, who felt truly underdeveloped to me.

For some reason, I didn’t realize Zara was Zarathustra until almost the very end. I’d like to know that a little earlier, with a little more emphasis, for comedic effect. I also wanted to know more about Emil’s life before Earth. I felt like there was a lot of wasted potential there that we were never able to explore.

This goes for almost any character in any genre; bring the characters’ past in to help the reader understand how the character interacts with the present. You’ll have stronger characters, and the readers will have more fun as well. Because every person has a past, ignoring characters’ pasts makes the story feel unrealistic and shallow, even if the characters are otherwise developed.

PLOT & STRUCTURE:

There are three main parts of a story: character, plot, and setting. Of these three, I feel that plot was your weakest category, namely because there wasn’t much of a plot. I never asked myself, “I wonder what will happen next?” because for there to be a “next,” something must have happened first, and nothing much happened until the very end of the novel. Because of this, when I took a break from reading, I had no impulse to continue. Sure, your style is funny, but other than that? Not much was happening.

The genius of many comedic authors is the way that they make the jokes become relevant to the plot. Since everyone’s comparing you to Douglas Adams, we’ll look to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for examples. I have no idea if you’ve read it. If you haven’t, you most certainly should. Every detail, from a machine’s inability to make tea to an alien race’s inability to write good poetry to the random appearances of a whale and a pot of petunias, becomes relevant later in the plot. The machine’s inability to make tea causes it to consult the ship’s computer for the entire history of tea-making, rendering the ship unable to do anything else. The petunias reincarnate to be killed by the main character in a thousand different lives and later return to take revenge. Etc.

I suggest you read comedic authors such as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett specifically to look at how these authors kept a hold of the plot while weaving comedy throughout.

WORLD/SETTING:

I wasn’t really sure how the asylum-planet dynamic worked. Are there planets other than The Planet and Earth? Is Earth contained within the Asylum somehow, or are they separate? Can you only travel back and forth by TeleDev?

I also wasn’t sure how the TeleDevs worked. Do they teleport you only to another TeleDev? Can they teleport you to any TeleDev at all or only some specific TeleDevs? It wasn’t explained.

Of course, the explanations for these things don’t need to make logical sense, but it would be nice to have them acknowledged.

STYLE:

Your style was humorous and light throughout, for the most part. Towards the end especially, though, you tried to have some dialogue on religion. While interesting, it didn’t fit tonally with the rest of the novel. I’d like to see more humor in that dialogue as well.

Some of your jokes felt overextended, such as the joke with the horse’s view of himself as a great and noble steed. A couple paragraphs were fine, but after a full chapter on it, I wanted to tell you that I already understood his viewpoint and didn’t need too much more of it. There were other instances as well, but that one stood out to me the most.

Be careful when using references to other works. A reader’s enjoyment of your book should not be dependent on knowledge of something else. If a reader hasn’t read/watched Lord of the Rings, for example, the reader should still be able to enjoy your work without being confused.

In a lot of the dialogue with multiple characters, you tend to avoid dialogue tags (he said, he asked, etc), possibly in an effort to keep the focus on the dialogue itself. Using “said” and “asked” is meant to give clarity to your reader without any excess information and will not detract from that effect. Currently, long conversations, especially those with three or more characters, can get very confusing, very quickly, as the reader struggles to know who is saying what.

I would also like to see a little more body language interspersed with your dialogue. Currently, you’re trying to convey even non-verbal cues with the dialogue, and it’s not working as effectively.

There’s very little sensory detail here, and I would like to see more of that as well. Engage all five senses.

TECHNICAL ERRORS:

Once, you used “...” to convey silence in dialogue. This is not standard. Just say that the characters were silent/nonplussed.

In standard style, when changing focus from one character to the next, there should be a paragraph break. Whenever two or more characters are present in a scene, paragraph breaks should occur whenever the dialogue shifts from one character to another, or whenever the narrative shifts from one character to another.

I did see a few tense errors. The story in general seems to be told in past tense, and so past tense should be used consistently throughout. Flashbacks and past events should be told in past perfect tense.

There were a few point of view slides as well. Each section of the story (generally divided by chapters or line breaks) should be told from a single character’s perspective. If you want to move into another character’s thoughts or opinions, you will need a line break or a chapter break to avoid jarring the reader. This goes for most stories, except for those told in the omniscient point of view, which yours is not.

The standard style is to use italics for non-primary languages. In this case, since you are writing the novel primarily in English, italics should be used for all other languages.

There were a few comma errors throughout. I’m not going to go into all of them here; there are so many ways to make errors with a comma. There were some typos as well throughout. Never use a semicolon unless you know precisely how to use a semicolon. Use dashes instead.

I highly recommend the book Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’s a small book, but it’s helpful for grammar and style.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques/comments for my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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The Second Coming

This was an exciting read. The plot was tightly crafted and well-structured, the characters felt fully realized, and the setting also came quickly to life. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d grown up in a Christian family. As it is, the story is clearly focused on Western, Abrahamic religions -- specifically Christianity and Islam. Still, while it made me uncomfortable to read at times, the plot itself was enjoyable and thrilling.

CHARACTERS:

Overall, as I said earlier, the characters felt fully realized, especially towards the beginning of the novel where they were introduced. However, once the characters begin to follow Jiao, they also begin to lose some personality. Before following Jiao, Gina and Henry for example had very strong narrative arcs. Their backstory and goals were clear. After following Jiao, it felt as though that backstory had become meaningless. Without distinct and discrete goals and problems, they lacked the implicit characterization that had made me love them in the first place. This became especially true from Chapter 20 onwards. Thankfully, the strength of your plot kept me interested, but I wish I had been invested in your characters throughout as well.

This may be because you aren’t allowing your characters to make mistakes based on their personalities. All of your characters are making the best available decisions at any given time. If they make a mistake, it’s due to a lack of information rather than to a character flaw. Because of this, they did not feel flawed, and they felt false and generic.

After a while, they all began to sound the same to me. Normally, distinctive characters have distinctive voices. Here, they all sounded fairly generic. They don’t sound like themselves; they sound like you, or like Jiao, or like a cardboard cutout of whatever ideology they’re espousing.

In theory, if you delete everything except the dialogue itself, and if you show the dialogue to a friend, the friend should be able to guess who is saying what. To do this without stereotype, however, is difficult.

Some of your dialogue felt unnatural as well. Assign characters to your friends and have them read it out loud. Fix it if it seems unnatural, and ask yourself if you would accept it from a movie, or if you would discard it as being too clichéd.

One of the problems, I felt, is that there’s simply no time to make the side characters as complex as the main characters, but you’re trying to do so anyway, and failing. It’s acceptable to simplify (although not to stereotype), especially for this genre.

Greyson, Gina, Cael, and Jiao were clearly the most developed characters. I felt that Cael, especially, stayed in character even after following Jiao. Many of the minor characters, however, felt underdeveloped. Michael, Melanie, Cidalia, and Hakim, for example, didn’t feel very developed to me -- especially Cidalia.

The relationship between Greyson and Cidalia felt false because of this lack of characterization for Cidalia. I feel as though I know nothing about her other than her job. She doesn’t exist as a real person. She’s cute, but cute isn’t a personality trait. She feels created for the specific purpose of being Greyson’s love interest.

Because religion is so important to this story, I expected to learn how each character felt about religion before meeting Jiao, and to see how that changed after meeting him. I have no idea what Gina believed before meeting Jiao. I have no idea what Henry believed, either.

Many of your characters feel too easily swayed by a single conversation. In chapter 18, I saw this with Missy’s conversation with Melanie, where I honestly did not believe Missy would even be slightly convinced -- Melanie’s arguments were far too Christian-oriented, and you mention that Missy is Jewish. Similarly, in the interview in chapter 32, I couldn’t believe that the interviewer would be so easily swayed. Everyone’s heard someone say that God is love, at least in America, and anyone unswayed before should still be unswayed when hearing the same from Jiao.

The only thing I know about Hakim is that he’s Muslim, and as he’s the only non-extremist Muslim we see, I would have liked him to have more complexity.

A lot of the Muslim extremist dialogue sounds false. It sounds like the extremists are the Christian conception of a Muslim extremist rather than actual human beings. People are not robots. Please don’t make them sound like robots.

SENSITIVITY:

Overall, as I said earlier, the narrative is heavily focused on Abrahamic religions, specifically focused on Islam and Christianity.

Early in the narrative, for example, Greyson believed that eternal damnation was a punishment for non-belief in most major religions. This is simply not the case. In fact, I would say that Christianity and Islam are the exceptions rather than the rule. Hinduism, the third largest religion (which is surprisingly absent from this work; it’s mentioned indirectly once), for example doesn’t have a strict afterlife at all, and allows for what Christians call atheism within the confines of the religion. In short, it is possible to be both atheist and Hindu. Some forms of Judaism allow for the atheism as well. Buddhism doesn’t have a concept of God at all, and many mainstream forms of Hinduism (such as Advaita) don’t either.

This Christian bias occurred especially in the conversation in chapter 18, where Melanie essentially tried to convert Missy to Jiaoism. The entire paragraph beginning with “Of course, you would have to meet him and listen to him” is, quite frankly, offensive. You’re telling a Jew to imagine having converted to Christianity, saying “But others did. Jews. They changed their preconceptions and became followers,” implying that Christianity is the correct version of religion and that people who did not change their preconceptions were wrong. You’re trying to be egalitarian, but the viewpoint here is too Christian to be egalitarian. And somehow, Missy has “a crack of doubt” in her own convictions because of this speech? Somehow, Missy believes that Judaism was on the wrong side of history? Because Melanie definitely does. I only mentioned a couple lines from that paragraph, but really nothing in the entire paragraph would appeal to a Jewish view.

Similarly, earlier in the same chapter, Missy has the thought “We Jews don’t believe in Jesus, never mind a Second Coming.” Again, subtly, you’re setting up the idea that Christianity is the norm, which is true for American society as a whole, but wouldn’t necessarily be true for Missy herself, who grew up in a Jewish family. Instead of saying “We Jews don’t believe in X,” try “I don’t understand how those Christians believe in X” or something similar. Does that make sense? The thought should spring from the character’s psychological schema, and thoughts shouldn’t make the characters feel alien to themselves.

Please do not confuse Hinduism and Islam. While both are prominent religions in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh area), they are very, very different, and have gone to war over those differences. Sriram, the name of Jeep’s nephew, is a strictly Hindu name, referring to a deity in the Hindu pantheon, and this name would never be used in a Muslim family. Patel is typically a Hindu/Indian last name, but Patel also said that he believes in Christ, so that confused me as well.

In chapter 22, the only three non-Abrahamic gods you mention are Vishnu, Ram, and Ra. In Hinduism, Vishnu and Ram are essentially the same (Ram is one of several incarnations of Vishnu on Earth), and neither of them is the single main god of Hinduism. I’m not sure why you mention Ra, since no one really practices ancient Egyptian religion anymore, but he’s not the single main/most powerful god in Egyptian mythology, either.

I would have liked to see a non-extremist, non-Jiao-denying Islamic point of view other than Hakim. Hakim is part of a nonviolent majority, but he doesn’t feel as though he’s part of a majority. Every other Muslim character is extremist.

I do think you need more than one Muslim sensitivity reader to go over this, especially to check all the Islamic extremist dialogue and Hakim’s point of view. I also think you should have one or two Jewish sensitivity readers as well, to go through all the conversations with Missy. I’m not an expert on either religion, and while I’m doing the best I can to catch everything, I probably failed.

You keep repeating the idea that we are somehow too advanced to believe in nonsense, and that therefore anything we believe is true. This just didn’t make sense to me. People believe what they believe in, and if science doesn’t fit that belief, they ignore science. Belief always comes first, no matter how “advanced” the society is. I mean, I know this girl who believes Jews have horns because there are pictures of Jews with horns in her Bible. Cults still exist and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, technology and advancement has caused people to cling more firmly to their beliefs and become more polarized rather than more rational. People believe what they want to believe. But then again, that’s my opinion and not yours, and the novel is yours and not mine. It just seems like a very dangerous belief system, to believe that every decision society makes is rational because of how “advanced” we are.

MISCELLANEOUS:

For this section, I’m going to try to go through chronologically so that you can spot things more easily.

You say “not since Osama bin Laden had an individual been able to engage so many followers from across so many borders and cultural boundaries,” but the core al-Qaeda group wasn’t actually that large. They just had the ability to incite the common people to do what they wanted. Other religious cult leaders have amassed more people, if you look at it.

I couldn’t take it seriously when you said that all the religious leaders supported Jiao and wanted him to have professional protection. Maybe that’s cynical of me. I don’t know.

I never understood why the Islamic extremists were so focused on Jiao, either. I mean, there are plenty of people who call themselves prophets/enlightened/etc, and most of them aren’t targeted today. Why Jiao?

When I read your descriptions of technology in chapter 5, I instantly envisioned you as a fifty-year-old man. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but that’s what it felt like to me.

The description of the ad in chapter 5 was unclear, and I didn’t see the purpose in it.

I never understood the point of Trinity. Is it like Chromecast, except synced to a smart TV? Also, the term PDA is dated; they’ve been superseded by smartphones. Vid Bits seems almost exactly like Vine, except Vine had a limit of 6 seconds and went bankrupt after the fad died.

You say people stopped typing and started using video instead. I can’t believe that. After the telephone was created, the first thing we did was enable SMS and email to avoid actually talking to each other. Texting is convenient because you can have multiple unrelated conversations at once, and because it’s relatively private; no one around you can see what you’re texting. There’s a reason teenagers use earphones to listen to their music. There’s a reason teenagers text instead of call.

I also can’t believe that anyone would ever post their entire life online through video. The entire point of the internet is that you can create a persona and separate your online life from your real one, or remain anonymous if you choose. A “perpetual reality program” sounds like a nightmare for anyone my age or younger. I don’t want to livestream my life. I can livestream exactly what I want to livestream already, by choice, whenever I want to.

Apple doesn’t allow anything not safe for work on its app store, and I can’t see it allowing the app Gina uses as a camgirl.

Overall, I just didn’t see the point of Trinity. Everything Trinity does has already been done.

In chapter 9, I suggest you get someone who speaks African-American Vernacular English to check your AAVE. AAVE has distinct grammatical rules which native Standard English speakers do not know (even if they think they do). I’m not familiar with those rules, so I’d advise you to have someone else check your AAVE.

In chapter 23, you describe Jiao’s outfit in exquisite, terrible detail, and all I could think about was Jiao’s terrible fashion sense. You keep describing his clothes as though you think they’re fashionable, and maybe from Greyson’s point of view they are, but Greyson works at some talent agency or something and he should really know better. This occurs elsewhere, too, but the instance in chapter 23 made me write this down.

In chapter 25, I was convinced Cidalia thought Greyson was gay, and it would have been hilarious if you’d played that up more, but alas, I was disappointed.

The death/rebirth at the end felt pointless. I understand that it’s trying to mimic Christ’s resurrection and also to bring us back to the beginning, when everyone thought that Jiao had died, but it didn’t feel weighty to me. With Christ, there was a purpose (to cleanse humanity’s sins/act as a sacrifice/something else -- I’m not exactly sure; I haven’t read the Bible), but here it feels meaningless. Why did Jiao die?

STYLE:

The beginning of chapter 1 reads like a textbook, although a very interesting textbook. Try to integrate information gradually throughout the work rather than collect it all in one place. Trust your readers to figure things out.

Your writing style tends naturally towards the sparse, and some of your similes felt as though you were trying to force your writing towards a more ornamental style. It felt unnatural. Sometimes, simpler is better.

Almost as soon as we met each character, you would write a page of introduction and backstory about said character. There are other ways to introduce character backstory, and honestly I’d like to see more experimentation there. The current method felt overused. It detracted only slightly from my overall enjoyment, though.

In some scenes, you would switch constantly between dialogue and summary of dialogue. Pick one or the other, and try to avoid summary unless necessary. Switching back and forth jars the reader out of the story.

There’s no need to explain every aspect of the technology. Have your characters use technology casually, and readers will grasp it through intuition. It’s more elegant, and you won’t have to worry about making your work (or yourself) feel dated.

Many of the scenes throughout are treated as though they are scenes from a movie rather than scenes from a book. This is also linked to a shaky point of view, which I discuss in the next section. You would switch between these movie scenes to summary and back again throughout the work, as though you were trying to move a camera lens to the characters you wanted to focus on. Novels aren’t movies. Stop trying to make this novel into a movie. If you want a movie, write a screenplay; I’m sure it will do well.

TECHNICAL ISSUES:

The point of view was occasionally shaky and switched in the middle of a scene. For example, at the end of chapter 8, you switch from Winger’s point of view to Patel’s. This occurs so smoothly that I’m not sure you’re even aware of it. Traditionally, it’s best not to switch point of view in the middle of a scene. If you must switch, use a line break in between to avoid jarring readers out of the story.

There were a lot of typos throughout. I suggest you get a proofreader. In fact, once you revise, I do think you should either get a professional editor or start querying to traditional publishers/literary agents. I’ve tried my best to point out everything, but you do need a good line edit. Overall, it’s very close to publishable, though.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Dear Jane

This was a fun, lighthearted read. Your writing style, especially after chapter 20 or so, was clean, clear, and humorous. The only advice columns I’d ever read before were from the book Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed (Dear Sugar), so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dear Jane. From the beginning, though, the letters at the beginning of each chapter were lively and interesting.

The primary issue I had with this work was that there was no overarching sense of conflict. Dear Jane is a series of short stories pretending to be a novel, and so ended up a cross between both and accomplished neither effectively. I will be reviewing this with the intent of making it a true novel, because I am more familiar with novels than I am with short stories. In all honesty, though, I think this would be far more effective as a collection of interconnected short stories.

CHARACTERS:

In all honesty, I never really cared whether Abby found a good date or not, mostly because I never believed that she cared. With every relationship, she seemed like she just wanted a casual hookup, and never put any effort into maintaining the relationship at all. Even with Ben, I always felt as though he was putting in twenty times the effort that she was.

My question for you is this: Why does Abby want to find the One in the first place? Is it just because everyone else has found the One? Because she wants kids and thinks she can’t have that without a guy? Because she just wants to be less alone? Because it’s what society expects of her? Probably it’s some combination of those, but I never got a sense of it. I never understood what it meant to her to find the One, if it meant anything at all. And because of that, I wasn’t invested as much as I could have been in her relationships. Again, Ben was putting in twenty times the effort that she was, and if your main character doesn’t care, why should I?

I never got a sense for who Ben was other than “Nice Guy Who Likes Abby.” We see Abby’s mistakes and sympathize with her through them, but we never see Ben’s mistakes. (If you say that Ben not telling Abby about Mandy was a mistake, I will argue against that forever. Abby didn’t tell Ben about Max, either.)

I wasn’t invested in Ben, and I wasn’t invested in Abby’s search for the One. Because of this, the story lacked the weight it could have had, and by chapter 27 or so, I was checking to see how many more chapters I had to read.

PLOT:

What is the goal in this story? Is it for Abby to get the One? If so, why does the story continue for five chapters after she makes up with Ben? Is the goal for Abby to figure out why she hasn’t gotten the One yet? If so, why hasn’t she received a revelation by the end of the story? (And don’t say that the breakup with Ben led her to realize that she was holding men to impossibly high standards. Because that revelation wasn’t even written. Ben said something like “You are holding men to impossibly high standards” and then Abby experienced no self-reflection at all and just cried a lot as a substitute.) Is the goal for Abby to learn something from her experience as Dear Jane so that she can change her experiences with relationships? If so, why has she learned nothing from the experience as Dear Jane? Why is it that even without the column, she would have still dated Ben and married him?

Figure out the goal, and then keep the goal in mind. Each chapter, each scene should either bring Abby closer to or farther from that goal. If a scene doesn’t relate to the goal, delete it. Figure out what’s stopping Abby from reaching her goal, and have it take the entire novel for Abby to overcome that roadblock.

Right now, your overarching sense of conflict is nonexistent. Because of this, I kept searching for something to create conflict, but my hopes and dreams were never fulfilled.

In chapter 2, you mentioned the phone call to Abby’s mother so many times that I was certain that the relationship between Abby and her mother would be important somehow. This was never fulfilled and never mentioned. We see little to nothing of Abby’s mother in the story, and what little we see is barely relevant to anything except showing us how perfect Ben is, which we already know.

In chapter 3, Abby mentions she would regret drinking. She mentions this multiple times, and so I expected something terrible to happen while she was drunk, but nothing did. You have build-up without payout.

The same goes for Josh and Bobby’s plans to get famous, as well as Gwen’s husband’s invention plans. I kept thinking that you were going to develop the plotline more and make it a fully-fleshed subplot that would introduce more conflict, but it never happened.

You end chapter 8 with Abby saying, “I knew better than to ever get too comfortable.” What does this imply? That something is going to shock Abby out of her comfort zone. Again, this doesn’t happen.

The scene where reporters are fired in chapter 11, again, creates build-up with no payout. In chapter 12, all of Abby’s friends say something along the lines of no texting while drunk, and I thought something would happen when she texted while drunk. At the end of chapter 13, when Justin was giving his advice, I thought maybe the advice would become relevant, and Abby would use it to make a bad call, and maybe then we’d finally have some conflict in this piece.

In chapter 21, you created a false expectation with the “stages of a relationship” checklist. I expected this checklist to be the utilized the way you utilized the first checklist, in chapter 10. (Good job with the checklist in chapter 10, by the way. It would be nice if it was an actual checklist instead of a series of paragraphs, though, and if you reminded readers of it throughout the story so that readers could see what was being checked off). However, the checklist in chapter 21 was never utilized.

She wore a bridesmaid dress in chapter 26, and I again thought something would happen with that. She slept with Max, and again there was build-up without payout. She hopes that none of her friends had posted the episode on Youtube, and so I thought something would happen with that. She hopes her first date with Ben the Lawyer turns out well because none of her dates have ever turned out well, and, surprise, it’s the most perfect date she could have ever hoped for.

In chapter 37, Ben says, “I wonder if I could write this up for a law journal,” which Abby doesn’t hear, making me think that there would finally be a source of conflict in this story. Abby gets angry with Ben about Mandy, and it’s completely resolved before the next chapter. There’s a Dear Jane event, and nothing happens.

The plot doesn’t build. It’s a series of discrete events that don’t relate to each other rather than a structured novel. Chapters 9-22 are just a series of failed relationships that we don’t care about, because we already know that Abby has had terrible luck with love. Chapter 5 is essentially rehashing chapter 4, just with different characters. Chapters 33-48 are a series of minor disagreements between Ben and Abby that each get resolved within one or two chapters and have no impact on the relationship at all.

Overall, I felt as though you were afraid to make Abby care. I felt as though you were afraid to make any of Abby’s decisions have a lasting impact on her life. I felt as though you were afraid to make her suffer. Don’t be afraid of pain. Things need to go downhill for the first 75% of the novel. If everything’s fine already, why should your readers care? The entire point of the romance genre is reading about drama. There is no drama in this story.

STYLE:

At the beginning, especially, you tend to introduce character details all at once rather than gradually. You don’t need to describe the entirety of Abby’s relationship with a character immediately after the character is introduced. Readers don’t need or want a one-page biography. They don’t need to know precisely when Gwen met her husband, only that she did. Introduce details gradually, as needed.

Again, at the beginning, there was a wordiness to your language, and it often made your language less clear. It didn’t feel like your natural style. It felt instead as though you were trying to force in details because you thought that was how books should work. The style slowly evens out at around chapter 20, though, which makes me think you simply hadn’t written enough to have an even style by then.

STRUCTURE:

Right now, as I said in the Plot section, every conflict is resolved within the next chapter or two, and then you move on to the next conflict. For this reason, the book reads more like a series of related short stories than a novel.

In traditional novel writing, there’s a unit of structure called scene-sequel. The scene is the event, and the sequel is the main character’s reaction to that event. Each scene except the first should be directly caused by a sequel. Each sequel should directly cause a scene. In this way, the entire novel acts as a unit, held together by chains of cause-and-effect.

Readers will subconsciously expect this structure. Because of this, and because scene-sequel pairs tend to be aligned with chapter breaks, readers subconsciously attach more importance to dialogue, thoughts, and actions that occur at the end of a chapter or just before a line break. Anything you say at the end of a chapter should be relevant to the rest of the novel. This ties back into all those times where you built up to a conflict but then never cashed in the check. Make the ends of your chapters relevant.

TECHNICAL ERRORS:

There was a surprising amount of tense switches throughout, as well as comma splices. Occasionally, there were missing words, such as “was”, that were grammatically necessary but for some reason invisible. Possibly you were just typing as you thought, and your thoughts were faster than your fingers, and so your fingers forgot a word or two.

The second half of chapter 3 was copied and pasted accidentally into chapter 4 again.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Real Art

This book was weird. It reminded me a lot of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, or maybe something like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, especially in the second half. But those two books had possible psychosis stemming from past trauma, while this was focused on the romance aspect. It was an interesting take, but, in all honesty, not well-executed enough for me to enjoy it. In the end, I just didn’t believe in your characters or the world itself, and your writing style wasn’t great either. Had I been reading this for pleasure rather than for self-assigned critique practice, I would have stopped reading at the first chapter, simply because the writing style isn’t polished enough. I am glad that I continued, though, because even though the first half was terrible, the second half was genuinely interesting. If polished, this could be one of the best books in its year.

CHARACTERS:

One of the main issues I saw in this novel (and there were many) was the sheer lack of complex characterization. None of the characters felt real. They felt like silhouettes of characters rather than characters themselves.

Joe felt vaguely realistic, with distinctive dialogue and characterization. I would have liked to see more of his relationship with Alice. I’m not sure if Joe’s emotional abuse of Alice was a part of Art’s mental illness or not, but having the readers clearly see the actual state of the relationship would be helpful in hinting to the readers that things are not as they seem.

Alice herself was the least developed character. This may have been intentional, as I’m not sure how many of Art’s memories of her were colored by his psychosis. If it’s unintentional, please fix that by giving her more characteristics than having lovely eyes.

Jake and Samantha, as side characters, were mentioned to be geeky, but I wasn’t sure why Art thought that way. I know literally nothing about Art’s parents other than that his mother didn’t want him to go to college so far away and that they care about him. I know nothing about his sister except that she wants him to meditate and has a boyfriend. I know nothing about Greg. Rachel seems nice and concerned but that’s all I know about her as well. Your side characters, in general, were not defined.

Art had no personality outside of his mental illness. He had interests. We see that he likes music and art and literature. He enjoys things that are creative. But who is he? A list of interests does not a person make. A list of mental illnesses does not a person make. He had very specific thoughts about consent, which I appreciate, but I have no idea how he formulated those, and what his logic is. I have no idea how his mind works. You’re writing in first person, so I should be inside his head. I should feel his logical train of thought. I should be able to recognize when he is out of character and when he isn’t. His only characteristic is that he can’t get laid. That’s not a personality trait; it’s a trivia fact. You need to give your main character an actual character.

PLOT:

Until the end of chapter 12, I was bored. I honestly didn’t care if Art got the girl or not, because I didn’t care about either Art or the girl. I thought Art was being an immature asshole and needed to move on from his infatuation, and I just wanted him to get over himself already. And then at the end of chapter 12, we hear a disembodied voice, and my first reaction was what the fuck? And then the Art Experiment became a thing, and I grew even more confused, until maybe chapter 18, when everything suddenly snapped into place.

So. Here’s the deal. You don’t want people to stop reading before chapter 12, because before chapter 12, most people haven’t yet realized that something’s wrong.

I highly recommend you read the short story The Swimmer by John Cheever because of the way it deals with a situation turning less and less realistic. The novel We Were Liars, as I mentioned earlier, would also be a good read. Unlike The Swimmer, in We Were Liars, the readers may not realize that something’s wrong until the very last chapter. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman is an excellent read as well. And we’ll throw in Slaughterhouse Five for good measure, if you haven’t read it already. Maybe the Crying of Lot 49 as well, if you’re into something more postmodern.

I’m recommending these stories in particular because of the way they establish and question reality from the very beginning. You’re going to have to drop more hints about Art’s mental illnesses from the very beginning, at least so readers can look back and say “Aha! That’s where this was going the whole time.” Ideally, for a story like this, the novel should be re-readable, and as stuffed with subtleties as you can make it.

So we’ve covered pre-chapter-12. With the introduction of the Art Experiment, as you call it, and as Art’s psychosis becomes deeper, the story does get repetitive. Art considers whether or not to give up on Alice, Art decides he’s gonna do it, and then Art has another psychotic episode and doesn’t give up on her after all. The end. I’d like a little less repetition there, and more realistic interactions with friends/family. Although, the second half was genuinely interesting, and it continuously made me want to keep reading. Still, by the end, I was skimming rather than reading, because the repetitive language. Make every word count.

SETTING:

I’m not Canadian. I’m American. I didn’t know anything about Kelowna before the story. I didn’t know anything about Kelowna after the story. The story felt as though it could have taken place anywhere and nothing would have changed. Even if Art hadn’t grown up wherever he grew up -- I don’t even remember where he grew up because it was so generic -- he would’ve been exactly the same person. Would his story have changed if he’d grown up in the countryside? Nah. He would’ve just seen red cows or something instead of red cars. If you make the setting intrinsic to character and plot, I’ll believe it more. Treat the setting as if it is its own character. It should have a place in the story, too. Don’t shove it aside as insignificant. Setting sets the tone.

RESEARCH:

Throughout the story, I was never sure what caused his psychosis. I wasn’t aware of any other mental illnesses he may have had that would cause it. Most psychosis victims experienced childhood abuse early in life, and he didn’t have signs of that either. Drug/alcohol misuse can trigger psychotic episodes, but he didn’t seem all that drunk to me. Unless he has a brain tumor or something? I don’t know. It wasn’t clear. And the intensity of the psychosis didn’t quite match what I’d expect if it was triggered solely by the stress of leaving home, especially since the episodes didn’t abate after he went back home.

Side note: meditation doesn’t help with psychosis. It helps with many other things, like anxiety and bipolar disorders, but not with psychosis. It can in fact trigger psychotic episodes. I’m not sure what the intent was here, but it’s something to keep in mind.

STYLE:

This, by far, is your most glaring weakness. The story was told in first person, but Art lacked a distinctive voice. Your sentences were long and unwieldy. They lacked the rhythm of natural speech. Here’s an exercise: take four or five books, written by different authors with vastly differing writing styles. Pick a page in each one. Copy that page down, word for word, just to see how that particular author uses his/her style. Which ones do you like/dislike? Why? With that information, you can start to form your own.

STRUCTURE:

Chapter 1 suggests that Art is retrospectively telling this story to someone. Figure out why Art is telling this story, and why you decided to have him telling a story rather than have it so that the reader is simply living alongside him. The retrospective viewpoint is, I find, more difficult to deal with than a simple first person viewpoint.

The website Advanced Fiction Writing has an excellent article called “Writing the Perfect Scene,” which is all about structuring a scene. I suggest you read it. While you’re at it, might as well look up the 7 Act Structure as well. They’re just useful for holding reader interest and keeping the story from flagging, and right now, your story simply lacks structure.

TECHNICAL ERRORS:

Spelling was great. Punctuation was questionable at best, with comma errors throughout. Grammar was otherwise fine, although there were a few subject/verb agreement errors. I highly recommend the book Elements of Style by Strunk and White, simply because I recommend it to everyone.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Secrets of the Walls Review

I loved the writing style throughout this. You have such a lovely, evocative style that clearly portrays the world. The concept was interesting and engaging. I loved the idea of entering worlds through paintings, and that these painting-worlds were intentionally created by the painter. It reminded me of Narnia, a bit, specifically the first Narnia book, with the pools of water each leading to a different world. The tone of this, though, reminded more of Alice in Wonderland, unapologetically whimsical, especially in the beginning. The first few chapters were lovely, and caused my expectations to grow sky-high.

Characters and Point of View:

Suzette and Sophie, as the two main characters, were surprisingly undeveloped. I was never sure how old they were -- somewhere between 10 and 13, probably. But they both sounded in dialogue as though they were the same age, even though it said that Suzette was the older sister. Suzette was also mentioned to be more courageous, but this was never shown. Overall, I didn’t understand their characters at all. They felt like cardboard cutouts of what adults want children to be, rather than actual children in their own right.

Their characterization was hampered by your choice in point of view, I think. The story seemed to be in a third limited point of view from the beginning, but each chapter had moments where that third limited point of view moved into another character’s view, making me wonder if you were trying to do a third omniscient point of view. Either way, it’s inconsistent, and having a consistent point of view -- maybe a third limited, switching between Sophie and Suzette every chapter? -- will help the readers focus on the characters that you want us to focus on. Once you decide on a consistent point of view, you can choose how much more you want to characterize Sophie and Suzette.

In the beginning of the story, especially, I was quickly confused by which child was Sophie and which one was Suzette. Again, making them more distinct in terms of actions and characterization would help with that. I would also suggest making their names start with different letters; it’s just good practice to lessen reader confusion.

Here’s a trick with dialogue: If you remove all the dialogue tags and context (he said, she said, etc) can a reader tell, just from the dialogue, who is saying what? Are the dialogue voices distinct enough for that? If not, make it so. Each character should have a distinctive way of speaking, arising from their character. Similarly, actions should also arise directly from the character. Currently, any of Suzette’s actions could have been done by Sophie, and vice versa.

As for the adults, I would have liked to know Mrs. Plumlee’s role from the beginning itself. At first I thought she might have been a tutor/governess, but it seemed that wasn’t the case. Make it clear from the first chapter.

Overall, the adults acted illogically throughout. Aleck should have allowed Sophie and Suzette to return home the instant he saw a Vacuus. Mrs. Plumlee had almost died at least four times, but still chose to touch things she didn’t understand. The detective is the only logical character there, but even he doesn’t advocate for the children to be removed from a dangerous situation. I would have expected more rationality.

The side characters, such as Keith and the Caleb, were underdeveloped as well. Giving backstory to Keith helped, though. Everyone’s character seems to be “helpful”, at least in the beginning. I would have liked the characters to have more depth and more three-dimensionality.

Plot and Pacing:

First, I’ll just go through the story and mention things I saw that jarred me out of the story and made me stop suspending my disbelief.

I wasn’t sure why they called a detective in to see Emma’s body in the first place. My first impression when reading the chapter was that she had died peacefully in old age. For the same reason, I have no idea why the death was deemed a suicide, and why the cause of death was deemed to be poison. There was no analysis of the wine to come up with that conclusion.

At the beginning of the story, the goal seems to be to find out who killed the grandmother. In the next few chapters, the goal changes. The new goal is to find the possessions of the grandmother in a sort of game that she arranged for the children. The game is to occur in complete safety. Here, you’ve committed a cardinal sin while writing. The stakes are never supposed to lower; they’re only supposed to rise. By turning a death into a planned game, you’ve dropped the pressure and lowered the tension. I almost stopped reading right then and there. Why? I already knew how the story would go. The kids would go through some dangerous situations and eventually find the grandmother. The next few chapters did nothing to disprove that; Suzette and Sophie found the glove and the quill very easily.

Using the detective and Plumlee to introduce tension worked well in that area, but I would have liked to see more tension with Sophie and Suzette as well. You weren’t afraid to introduce tension towards the end, but making that tension a gradual build up throughout instead of a sudden increase in the last quarter would smoothen the read and keep your readers hooked.

I was never sure how Sophie and Suzette knew how to fly a hot air balloon. Unless it was the rabbit flying the balloon? Not sure.

For some reason, I thought Cordelia’s ship was an actual ship rather than an airship.

The abilities of the Vacuus are odd. Sound is air vibration, so it should still be able to hear. Air also carries vibrations, so the Vacuus should still be about to track them through air. I suppose staying perfectly still in the presence of a Vacuus would work, though, and the children never tried that.

The ending, for some reason, didn’t feel like an ending, even for a first book in a series. I think this was because of the sudden rise in tension, rather the slow build up.

The personal stakes for the characters never felt defined. The goal is to win a game and see their grandmother again, but because she isn’t dead, it didn’t feel urgent. They can take as much time as they want, and their grandmother will still be alive in the painting. So why the rush? Why doesn’t Aleck postpone it for a bit, until the worlds of the paintings stabilize?

The goal is to win a game, not even to defeat the Vacuuses (Vacuusi? Vacuui?) It’s just to find these objects to find their grandmother -- not even to bring her back! -- and yet these kids are risking their lives for that? I don’t believe it. Do they really believe that nothing will happen? Even after they see the first Vacuus? If so, they’re really dumb.

Setting:

Again, I loved the whimsy of this world. I loved the paintings to enter different worlds. I loved the feel of the English setting, with the feeling of historical nuance.

Changing worlds so often, however, caused each world to feel underdeveloped. The only world I truly got to know was the one with the pirates, at the end. Why don’t you start with that one? It’s where the tension increases the most, and where the stakes increase. In general, it’s always best to start a novel closest to where the tension begins. Why do you have all those peaceful worlds at all? They decrease tension and add nothing.

I was never entirely sure what time period this was taking place in. In chapter 14, there were fridges on the ship, and stained glass ceilings. There were also hot air balloons as a mode of transport, and it seemed as though the children didn’t know that propellers existed, the way the crew members described how the ships worked. You don’t have to define it for us, of course, if you want to keep it vague. But if you know it definitively for yourself, the readers will sense your confidence.

Style:

The writing style was gorgeous and poetic. If you ever write a book of poetry, I might buy it right away. You did, however, tend to tell emotions rather than implying them through dialogue and actions. Again, this would be helped with a definitive point of view.

Overall:

I could never feel what you wanted this story to be. Did you want it to be a story about reconnecting with a grandmother? Or did you want it to be primarily a story about children growing up from an idyllic world into a cruel one? Did you want it to be about the sisters learning more about each other? Did you want it to be about them discovering their inner strength? Did you want it to be about compassion? I have no idea. There’s no connection here, no emotion to ground it.

Let’s look at the two stories I compared this to at the beginning. The first novel of the Chronicles of Narnia, the Magician’s Nephew, is primarily about curiosity, and the things that drive it. Curiosity and greed, and two children caught trying to right the wrongs they’ve committed. The second book in the Chronicles has the backdrop of the World Wars, the presence of a dictatorship in Narnia itself, and heavy themes of Christianity throughout to ground it. Alice in Wonderland goes in the opposite direction. There’s no basis in reality at all, and the story dives deeply and unapologetically into nonsense.

This story treads an in-between path, and it’s difficult to do well. It has no grounding in reality, at least not enough to give it structure. It has enough of a plot that it’s not nonsensical, nor is it trying to be. I suggest you pick one or the other and stay with it. Right now, the in-between path between structure and nonsense isn’t working.

While the story itself lacked structure and focus, the writing style redeemed it.I truly did enjoy reading this piece, no matter the critique that I mentioned. I know my reviews are more heavily weighted towards critique than towards praise, and it’s something I’m working on fixing.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Ironwood: Annaria Review

Sorry it took me so long to get to this -- I forgot Inkitt existed for the past few months, and when I finally logged in again, I saw you’d updated. Once again, this is a fantastic story, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Again, all the characters were well-developed throughout. I would have liked to see a little more complexity from Ceann, though, although he is more complex than I remember him being in the first book. I still don’t understand what Athena saw in him. Jacob’s moral dilemmas made him far more interesting here than in the first book as well. Athena’s relationship with Galen felt rushed, and for some reason I didn’t believe it. One personal issue I had was with Anna -- at the end, when Jacob chooses to stay in Ironwood, her jealousy made her feel so petty, and it simplified and reduced her character. It might have been more interesting if she understood his decision, even if she didn’t sympathize with it, and if her anger towards him was more rational than jealous.

While reading, I continuously became confused in Laranna’s point of view, simply because of the large number of names beginning with a T. Travansils, Tyr, Talyk, Talman, Toram, etc. Cleaning that up would make for an easier read.

The only dark-skinned characters I noticed were from Kharshe, although I might be mistaken. Having only evil-coded characters be dark-skinned could lead you into trouble later on, and I just wanted you to be aware of that, and to make it clearer if that was not the case.

I was also confused as to who was doing what in terms of all the empires/Sorcerers. The conflicts you’re working with here are a lot more complex than in the first book, where we focused on a single Sorcerer. Even with the map, I became confused about which locations were cities, which were countries, and which were empires. This became especially confusing because most of the cities and names sound as though they’re derived from the same language. The exception is Kharshe, and the odd scattering of names that come directly from English words, such as Northspire and Ironwood. Names that sound similar to each other are especially confusing, such as Margon and Maragon. You’re working with a large world. Careful not to confuse your readers.

Once again I thought the prologue lacked clarity. You have it split into five sections, I believe: Athena’s, Margon’s, Lady Adelin’s, Kharshe’s, and Travan’s. I suggest you choose one, to allow readers to find their footing in the story, and develop it further. This will allow readers to get a feel for the characters and overall situation before any rapid switches occur.

Overall, though, I really did enjoy reading this. Let me know when the third comes out, and I’ll review that too.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Hearts of Silver

While the plot, world, and characters are mostly engaging, this novel struggles with its writing style and grammar. A fun, interesting read.

A more thorough critique will be posted as comments rather than as a review, as paragraph breaks don’t tend to translate well into reviews.

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The King of Death

This was such a good read. The plot and characters easily pulled me in. One thing that irritated me about the characterization: I wish Astrid had a larger role other than getting pregnant. She’s such a strong character. I would have liked to see more involvement of Katja, as well.

A couple historical things: Carthage first fell to the Romans in 146 BC, long before the events here. By 400 AD, Christianity was growing rapidly in the Roman Empire and had supplanted the traditional Roman gods. Vikings, as they were known, existed starting in the late 700s. As such, the Carthaginians, pagan Romans, and Vikings would not have existed at the same time as each other. I don’t know how historically accurate you want this novel to be, but I thought I’d mention it. I’m not a historian, so I probably didn’t catch all the historical errors throughout. Even so, I was able to suspend my disbelief.

That said, the descriptions of the cultures and religions were incredible. I can see the amount of research that went in. It felt real.

There were minor grammar errors throughout, including semicolon, comma, apostrophe, and general punctuation errors.

There were several places where you switch from first person to third person and vice versa. Third person is clearly your strong point, but I can see why the first person sections were necessary. Try to have each point of view in separate chapters, so that it feels intentional and not just like you’re floundering between the points of view. So you would have a chapter in Astrid’s POV (third limited), one in Arvid’s (again, third limited), and then one in Mikkel’s (first person). That way, readers won’t be confused. Maybe the entire first section could be from Olaf's third person point of view? I'm not really sure. At the end of the day, it's up to you.

There were minor usage errors throughout, especially concerning prepositions. Ex: It should be “weary from” not “weary of,” “bent” not “bended,” etc. “I was wholly ill equipped of becoming” should be “I was wholly ill equipped to become.” There was some confusion in spellings as weell, and some similar-sounding words were mismatched. “raised” vs “razed,” “decent” vs “descend” vs “dissent” etc.

There were tense switches throughout. I’d suggest sticking to past tense.

Your descriptions are excellent and well done. The style is slightly stilted, however, especially in the first few chapters. In the first few chapters, there were sections where you switched abruptly from scene to summary, even during a section of dialogue. This lessened in the second section. Overall, your style really improved throughout the course of the novel.

In general, when writing this type of fantasy novel, stay with more formal phrases and avoid curses in dialogue, such as “fuck.” It’s just a standard of the genre to use words like “fainted” instead of the more colloquial “passed out.” Most of your novel does follow those rules, but there were places where it didn’t. There’s not really a reason for why it should follow these rules, only that other novels in the genre tend to follow them.

The end of chapter 15 had a very strange section where Mikkel was written about in the third person. The last paragraph of the chapter treated him once more as a first person narrator, though. It was strange.

Split long paragraphs. An average book page is 250 words. The point of paragraphs is to split ideas so that they are more easily digestible. If a paragraph is longer than a page, you’re doing something wrong.

“They say that the road to Asgard is paved with good intentions.” I love this line, but it detracts from the overall tone of the piece.

“What the fuck just happened? If you pardon my Latin.” Again, I love this line. but it detracts from the overall tone of the piece.

Your acknowledgements section didn’t acknowledge anyone other than yourself, so I’m not sure what the point of it is. Please don’t explain themes to your readers. It’s insulting our intelligence.

Again, I loved reading this, and I hope my review doesn’t make you think otherwise. The plot was strong, the characters were lifelike, and the setting was immersive. The only issues I truly had with this was the writing style, and even then, there was nothing majorly wrong with it, just several minor mistakes that built up. With a proper proofreader, this could be incredible.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Keep Your Promises

This story had a decent start, but it could still use some polishing. Further critique will be posted as a comment, to avoid spoiling future readers.

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My Sister's Keeper

I loved reading this. It left me unsettled for hours after I finished.

CHARACTERS:

Out of all the characters, Yuhlman didn’t feel real to me. His lines were cheesy and stilted, and his character was both oddly attached and oddly detached to Kate and the other events of the novel, if that makes any sense. Kate’s archery didn’t feel that realistic, either. Archers do need to read the wind in order to accurately aim and fire. Kate was able to shoot accurately even without practice, which I find rather difficult to believe. The nickname “Nugget” felt awkward as well, although “harpy” didn’t. I’m not sure why. Other than that, though, the characterization throughout the novel was incredible.

PLOT:

I would have liked a little more closure at the end. I understand the need for an open ending -- in fact, it’s the only kind of ending a story like this can support -- but such an open ending made it feel almost unfinished.The only way to end it is through the sisters’ reconciliation, and I understand that, but… Maybe if Kate had met her mother once before reconciling with Marley, it would have worked better? But maybe not. I don’t know.

STYLE:

In a couple places, you say something like, “She suddenly felt a bit sad,” and other such descriptions of feelings, and I felt that those feelings would be better implied that simply stated. Similarly, sentences such as, “Perhaps that fact sunk in for both, because neither bothered to discuss the various crimes they had committed against one another,” also felt a bit forced and unsubtly handled for the genre. Overall, though, this was gorgeously written. I loved every minute of it.

(Side note: My Sister's Keeper is the name of a bestselling novel by Jodi Picoult and already has a movie. If I were you, I might consider changing the title).

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Doorstepped

Overall, this was a decent read, although dialogue-heavy. The characters were simplistic but well-defined and the plot straightforward but lacking complexity.

CHARACTERS:

Hayley doesn’t have that much of a personality. She wants to take care of her mother, sure, but other than that, her only trait is sarcasm, and sarcasm isn’t really a personality trait. This might just be because we don’t see her thoughts -- most of the novel so far consists of pure dialogue, leading to a lack of complexity. Elliot, too, feels like a stilted character. He drops in at a friend’s house from a decade ago, without warning, and expects everything to be okay? In his place, I would be feeling incredibly guilty for imposing myself on another family like that. He judges Hayley’s friends without knowing anything about them and tries to “fix” Hayley at first sight without knowing anything about what she’s been through for all the years he’s been gone. He exists solely for the sake of the plot and not as a human in his own right. Elliot infuriates me, especially since Hayley’s friends aren’t horrible people. They want her to loosen up and have fun. What’s wrong with that? Do they judge her mom? A bit, but no friend is ever perfect. They aren’t emotionally abusing her, from what I can tell, and their relationships aren’t so toxic that it’s a problem. All that being said, your dialogue is well-written and seems natural. The character relationships seemed natural as well. Well done on that account.

PLOT:

Overall, the plot is simplistic. Not much happens in fifty pages. The chapters feel short, as they’re dialogue heavy. So far, I can see only two main events: (1) Hayley goes/is going to this party, and (2) this random family friend from however-long-ago showed up at Hayley’s front door and is also going to that party. Two main events for fifty pages is not a lot. Again, this is mainly because your chapters are so dialogue-heavy that there isn’t space for the story to move forward. Perhaps you’ve heard of the writing maxim, “Show, don’t tell”? It’s not always true. A little summary here and there can go a long way in giving the readers a breath of fresh air and speeding up the pace of the novel. One question: Why is the genre categorized as “Humor”? I don’t see any humor here. I just see a romance/drama.

STYLE:

Again, because this story is so dialogue-heavy, there’s not much I can say about your writing style. It lacks details. I would like to see more descriptions of your characters’ surroundings, of their physical characteristics, of their thoughts and emotions. Stories aren’t built from dialogue. They’re built from characters, and characters are so much more than the words they say. Your non-dialogue sections are well-written. Use more of them. Grammatically, your dialogue tag punctuation isn’t the best. When you have a tag such as “he remarked” or “she said,” the tag connects to the dialogue with a comma, not a period. If the tag is after the dialogue, the tag isn’t capitalized. “She’s had enough of that,” I told him. Not: “She’s had enough of that.” I told him. “It’s normal to want to protect her,” he said. Not: “It’s normal to want to protect her.” He said.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Ellsmire

Overall, this was an interesting, engaging story. I would have liked more active, consistent characters, especially in the beginning, but other than that I enjoyed the read.

CHARACTERS:

The characters did not appear to drive the plot until Griffin ran away at the end. Because of this, I felt as though I didn’t understand the characters enough. Characterization forms when distinctive character actions create the illusion of a real person. Because Ava, Griffin, and Matthew/Kieran did not fully act of their own will and did not influence the plot very much due to their actions, I felt as though I didn’t know them. If you had taken another character and let them stand in for Ava or Griffin -- say if Tara and Ava had switched character traits -- would the story have changed very much? I don’t think so, because so much of it is out of Ava’s control. She goes where she’s told without thinking too much about it, and because her passivity isn’t a source of inner conflict, the story becomes dull.

The siblings’ character traits/beliefs were inconsistent as well. Ava thinks that the Phoenix legend is impossible, but also thinks that all Acians are horrible by nature. Is she gullible or isn’t she? People who believe one myth will generally accept other myths, especially myths as related as the Phoenix and the Acian legends (or, in the case of our world, people generally believe in a full religion without cherry-picking from various religions, unless they have a strong inner moral compass that allows them to cherry-pick, which Ava doesn’t seem to have). Be consistent with characters’ moral compasses, because right now I don’t believe in their characters.

Here’s a trick: If you have a conversation between three or more characters, and you delete all the dialogue tags, can an interested reader pick out who is saying what based on the dialogue alone? If not, you may need to work on your dialogue. Right now, it’s not as distinctive as it could be, and it’s not as subtle as it could be.

I expected more of a difference when Matthew became Kieran, but they seemed like exactly the same person. Kieran really doesn’t act like a bad person. The only thing you mention him doing wrong is sleeping with Tara (while two others were sleeping with her), but I don’t see how that makes him a horrible human being, as long as everything was consensual. He says he’s a jerk but I don’t see it. Everything he’s done suggests otherwise.

PLOT:

The beginning felt a little rushed. Maybe you should add a scene or two more of status quo in the beginning before getting into the meat of the story.

How does Ava get on that boat in the end? It’s not like she’s carrying money on her. Does she stow away?

Other than that, though, I saw no overall problems.

WORLD/SETTING:

What time period does this take place in? The new ones take place in 1965, but cameras and cars were fairly commonplace by 1965, yet they aren’t used. Instead, Ava and Griffin have a portrait taken of them (which is somehow distributed in the newspapers), and travel by coach. DNA/blood tests of the caliber needed to distinguish between Alexian and Acian blood wouldn’t have existed by that time (basic DNA testing was invented in 1984), especially since Alexia and Acia are sisters and would have been very close genetically. In fact, I doubt today’s technology would be able to distinguish between their lines. The general medical knowledge of the book was more advanced than 1965 as well. Other than temporal inconsistencies, however, I felt that you understood your world, and I was immersed enough in it.

STYLE:

In the first chapter, the dialogue seems stilted enough that I almost wanted to put this down. I’m glad I stayed with it -- halfway through the first chapter, the dialogue evens out and the writing style becomes more smooth, and that clean style stays through the rest of the book -- but the beginning of the first chapter was a trial. Overall, this was a nice read.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Ironwood

Wow. This is amazing. As an avid reader of fantasy, I enjoyed this immensely. Characterization was lovely, the plot was intriguing, and the world well-developed. Stylistically, this was fairly clean as well, with few grammatical errors. I want to read the second one, so please let me know once you write it. In all honesty, I think this is publishable.

CHARACTERS:

All the characters were very well-developed. Jacob, as a main character, felt almost too perfect to be real. He lacks convincing flaws. Meanwhile, Ceann had very little to recommend him. Every human should have a commendable aspect, and he had none, making Athena’s interest in him unbelievable. Other than that, I saw no real problems with characterization.

PLOT:

The prologue seemed extraneous. Deleting it will cost you nothing and will help you gain clarity. Then, the first section of Chapter 1, one of the few sections (the only section?) in Francis’s point of view could become your prologue.

STYLE:

While fantasy authors such as Robin Hobb and Juliet Marillier do tend to use a lot of summary, they still don’t info-dump. Do not infodump in fantasy. Longtime readers of the genre, such as myself, expect to be thrust into the world with little information, and trust that everything will fall into place eventually. Incorporate the history of your world more gradually into the story and trust in your readers. Never underestimate a reader’s intelligence. Always underestimate their knowledge. There were a few grammatical errors throughout, but nothing that a good proofreader couldn’t fix.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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The Contest

Overall, this was a fairly well-written story with an amusing plot. The characters could have been a little more well-developed, as could the setting. Stylistically, it was fairly clean. An enjoyable read.

CHARACTERS:

Eemay is beautiful. She’s also fairly intelligent, seeing as she knew how to resolve Scott’s issues. Fairly kind as well, as she’s involved with those charities, but that might simply be due to her responsibilities as a princess. I never felt like I truly understood her. Scott, on the other hand, is the Perfect Nice Guy. The scene where he interacts with the kids was really cute. He lacks complexity, though. Hugh, as well, lacked complexity. I never believed Eemay’s attraction to him. Why did he want to marry Eemay in the first place? He’s the only son, so there wasn’t a power struggle in which he needed the upper hand. Unless he just wanted to marry her for her beauty? Try making that more clear. The name Mycroscott sounds like Microsoft. Also Hughchube sounds like Youtube. Eemay sounds either like Ebay or email -- I can’t decide which. Cyberia sounds like Siberia. Vilelet sounds like Violet except more vile. I loved the names in general. They made me laugh. Your dialogue was pretty unrealistic throughout. In general, dialogue should mimic natural speech, albeit be more concise, pointed, and clear. None of your characters became more developed as the story went on, but that’s more due to the genre than due to your lack of capability. Overall, I would have liked a little more realism in your characters, and a little more humor stemming from that realism.

PLOT:

The plot was fairly simplistic. There were no subplots explored to truly bring the story to life. The pacing was rushed. Overall, though, it was enjoyable.

WORLD/SETTING:

I’d like to see a little more clarity of where/when this takes place. Is it in some sort of alternate universe with similar technology? Magic seems very well-known as a field. I would have liked to see more magic in the beginning of the novel, just so that when it becomes a plot point it doesn’t jar the readers. Because the introduction to magic was so sudden, Eemay’s reaction to Scott’s becoming a dog felt unrealistic -- I wouldn’t have believed the dog at all. But in a world familiar with magic, it would make a lot more sense.

STYLE:

You switched tenses throughout. I would have liked a little more description as well, just to flesh out the world. In the first chapter, the style switches from more of a pure fantasy to more of a young adult style, and that switch was jarring. Overall, it felt very rushed. Take your time. Relax. Spend less time describing clothes and more time describing people. Humor can arise out of the ordinary, if you let it.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Vestige

Wow, this was a good read. I think it’s more of a thriller/action than a horror/action, but that might just be me. I wish it was finished so I could give a more complete review, but this will have to do.

CHARACTERS:

Shep: In Amber’s/Valencia’s memories, Shep is a lot more rebellious and less cheerful than he is in the present. I hope that gets explained, since right now it feels more like an inconsistency in characterization.

Richard: What a gross human being. Everything about him just screams greedy monster. He did feel a little one-dimensional, though, especially in contrast with the other characters.

The minor characters in the novel tended to slip out of my mind, and I had to constantly remind myself of who was who because I couldn’t quite place them. Usually, when I read, I remember minor characters by the first letter of their names, and you tended to reuse a lot of first letters, so that might have had something to do with it. I’m not sure. Either way, the minor characters lost me.

Otherwise, though, the characterization was strong and complex. Not much to complain about.

PLOT:

The concept of a zombie apocalypse as a whole is a bit overdone, but you executed it well. The only comments I have are things you’ll probably explain later. You had Valencia as Shep’s commanding officer, but she works for RexCon, right? So then why did she give orders to Shep to destroy the drones? This confuses me, primarily because none of the other children were conditioned that way. The ending of chapter 32 killed me inside and that’s all I have to say.

WORLD/SETTING:

Again, there isn’t much to complain about here. I just have some nitpicky biology things to complain about because I’m a biology nerd and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for a couple scenes. In chapter 16, you said that fish DNA was incorporated into strawberries to help with thermoregulation. Animals and plants thermoregulate in completely different ways. A fish gene would be of very little use to a plant -- it would be going to scales or blubber or bones, none of which plants have. And if the only use is to prevent strawberries from dying out from frost, I would use evergreen genes instead. Trees in general are marvelous at thermoregulation. Fish and plants are just so physiologically different from each other, with such different needs, that I can’t even imagine how that would work. Your disease is based on cancer, correct? Cancer, however, does not actively kill normal cells. Cancer is simply uncontrolled growth. It steals nutrients, yes, but it doesn’t actively kill, if that makes any sense. It’s also far slower than what you’re looking for, as cells do take time to divide. If, on the other hand, you’d said something like “based on a viral infection pattern,” I would have believed it more than cancer. It’s also the way to go if you’re trying to accidentally infect humans while really trying to kill them.

STYLE:

In a couple of the chapters (I first noticed it in Ch1), you had POV switches mid-chapter. In general, it breaks the flow of the viewpoint. If necessary to make a POV switch in the middle of the chapter, I would use a line break in between, just so readers don’t have a moment of confusion. Other than that, I couldn’t find anything much to critique here.

If you have any questions/comments, feel free to let me know. And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know about those as well. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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A Fascinating Read

This was a fun, entertaining read. Although the novel wasn’t stylistically polished, and although the first couple of chapters struggled to hold my attention, the rest of the novel was engaging and beautifully done. You had me fooled until the end.

The rest of this review will contain spoilers for future readers, so please do not read this review if you haven’t read the novel.

CHARACTERS:

I’ll start with basic analyses of the three main characters, then move into general characterization.

JOHN: His basic character traits seem to be his confidence and (later) sadism. The switch between the two was incredible, and I loved it. Although he seems a little one-dimensional, it suited the plot, and it worked. In fact, making him too complex might have ruined the story. Great work on that. For his character, I’m mostly going to focus on the believability of his past.

John didn’t have the tools to make as few mistakes as he did. Given the murders that happened near him in the past, I refuse to believe he and his brother haven’t been fingerprinted before. Since fingerprints differ even between twins, he should have been caught by now. I also refuse to believe that when he was what, eight years old, he had the presence of mind not to leave fingerprints on the knife or anything. Eight-year-olds don’t know about fingerprinting really. Also, it stretches my imagination to believe that John killed people since he was eight. Animals at that age? Yes, I can believe it, but he wouldn’t have been strong enough to kill a grown person. It takes physical strength to stab a body, and it would have taken physical strength to subdue his mother. Most serial killers were abused as children. Given that John was not abused, my imagination stretches thinner and it became more difficult for me to suspend my disbelief.

The chapters written in John’s POV felt like a cheat in the narrative, as he seemed to think and feel things that he would not have felt and thought had the events revealed later in the story been true. The first few chapters should still make sense on a re-read, and they do not. Be careful when entering John’s point of view, as you need to portray him as a kind brother without lying to the readers. Meanwhile, when you do enter one character’s point of view, try to stay in that character’s point of view for the entirety of the chapter. Inconsistency can lead to reader confusion.

JAMES: His basic character traits are his timidity, his guilt, and his loyalty to his brother. Other than that, he seems to lack depth. His personality shifts, especially in the beginning, from being humorous and open with John to being completely closed off with everyone else, were inconsistent and felt a bit false. Meanwhile, the observation skills he showcased in the beginning almost seem out of place. I understand the need for his intelligence, but there are other ways to portray that. I loved his character, though, and the deck of playing cards was a nice touch.

DANIELLE: Her basic character trait was her persistence, but she didn’t really have a choice there. She tried, she struggled, she failed, she cared, she sympathized. However, I never truly cared about her as a character. Again, this is fine for the genre, but I would like to see a little more cohesion and depth to her character. Also, I would have expected her reaction to the deaths to be far greater, especially since she’s so inexperienced.

The side characters tend to be forgettable. Their deaths didn’t really affect me as much as wondering if the twins would be able to get out of the situation, which works well for the story but makes me feel a bit sad that I couldn’t care about them. Mostly because all of their character traits were introduced in chapter three and only mentioned infrequently afterwards. You mention the character names a lot, but it took me a little longer than usual to connect the name with the description, since we couldn’t see their actions. They all had a defining word attached to them (the crazy couple, the businessman, etc), but they never seemed to have character traits that led their actions throughout the novel. Again, this is fine for the genre, but it did get a little confusing especially in early chapters.

A lot of the characters’ names that start with “J” seem to get mixed up. Once or twice, you called a character “John” instead of “Jack,” “Jack” instead of “James,” “James” instead of “John,” etc.

Right now, your dialogue seems unconnected to the characters. The dialogue styles seem the same for all the characters, regardless of their personalities. This is especially noticeable in James and John’s dialogues in the beginning of the novel, when James sounds precisely like John, confidence and all, despite their vastly different personalities. Try to make them sound different, and readers will more easily be able to distinguish the brothers.

John calling his brother “brother” seemed a bit forced at times, but that’s just me nitpicking.

Although I prefer well-developed characters, the story itself isn’t character-based. I do think you need to resolve the inconsistencies with James and John’s characters, make the side characters a bit more memorable, and keep the point of view more consistent as well. Other than that, the characterization was more than adequate for the genre.

PLOT & SETTING:

This section will mostly focus on what I notice during my second read through the piece. I’ll try to keep it chronological, so that you can follow the story progression.

Let’s start with the bad news. The first two to three chapters weren’t the best. Forgive me for being blunt, but the first chapter especially was horrible. Maybe you weren’t experienced. Maybe you didn’t develop your characters enough at that point. Either way, even on a re-read, I was confused. I think you were confused, too, since you used James instead of John and John instead of James, and I had to reread the chapter around three or four times before deciding to give up and move on and pray that it would all become clear later on.

On the other hand, I loved Jorge and Silvia, and the initial description was perfect for setting up the location. A little more description could be used throughout the rest of the story, but this is a thriller piece and too much could really bog the story down. Right now, you’re almost perfect for the genre.

In the dialogue between the twins, the “three motels ago” “five motels ago” dialogues were confusing, mostly because the brothers sounded so similar that the dialogue detracted from the story rather than added to it. The problem disappears later in the work, which makes me think you simply didn’t know the characters well enough at that point.

The side characters seemed remarkably calm throughout the novel, except during chapter six where they went hysterical for maybe twenty seconds before turning calm again.

I don’t really have much to say in between. The slow buildup of suspense was masterfully done. You have a very good sense for raising the stakes and keeping reader interest.

After James confesses, why doesn’t Danielle videotape the cell door, the way she used video earlier? It seems like a ridiculous oversight, especially as she was so cautious.

How did John transfer the blood to James after every murder?

How does James black out all the time? Actually, no. That’s the pills. How did Danielle black out, when James was in the cell? She didn’t take pills, and it didn’t seem like she got knocked on the head or anything. And later, when Danielle was left alive and Bifrons left. How did he knock her out so quickly?

How exactly did the hypnosis with the psychiatrist happen? What happened, exactly? James was in the room, and his brother was locked outside. James was hypnotized, and John gets into the room? By picking the lock, I assume? So why does Bifrons say the psychiatrist “figured it out the dynamics between James and me pretty fast” in chapter 21? The psychiatrist can’t have figured it out before the hypnosis, or James wouldn’t have been hypnotized at all. meanwhile, the only way he could have figured it out after hypnosis was when John entered the room, which wasn’t really figuring it out.

The second to last chapter, where the majority of deaths happen, felt a bit rushed and melodramatic.

I loved the misdirection until the end. Beautiful.

STYLE:

Is English your first language? If it is, I don’t mean to offend you, but there were several misused words that I don’t usually see in English-speakers’ works. Most of the errors weren’t distracting enough to detract from the plot, though, so I’ll just list the most prevalent ones.

Spelling/Grammar Errors:

There were punctuation errors throughout. Misused commas, misused exclamation points, etc. I would suggest looking up comma usage and reading through the rules yourself.

In general, avoid multiple punctuation, such as !!! and !!? The only time when double punctuation is acceptable is this: ?! and even that is highly informal and rarely used.

I also noticed several dialogue tag errors in capitalization and comma usage.

In chapter one, your dialogue is not separated by paragraphs. In general, when switching between speakers, paragraph breaks should also be used to signify the change.

There were a few places where you used present tense instead of past, but they were less distracting.

In terms of usage, I noticed you used “peeked” instead of “piqued” and “steak-out” instead of “stake-out.” Those were the only ones I noticed, but there may be more.

Overall Style:

Especially in earlier chapters, you lack subtlety. For example, in chapter two:

“We haven’t had a cellphone in forever.” John tried to calm James down. “And there’s always the landline. We’ll be just fine. Let’s enjoy dinner for now.”

The “John tried to calm James down.” feels a bit redundant in the above piece of dialogue. This is just an example, but in general, try to avoid unintentional redundancy.

Throughout the story, most of the information is conveyed through monologuing. Try not to have characters monologue for the sole sake of conveying information.

Overall, however, the novel was very well-written. I’m not talking about grammar or word choice specifically, but you do have a good sense for what details to show and what details to gloss over. I don’t think you have a very specific style, per se, but that only comes with practice and reading.

Good work overall. Despite the harsh critique, I really did enjoy the piece. With a little polishing, it could become even better.

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Louise: A Vampire's Story

At first, I wasn’t sure how to review this, simply because it was too unfocused for me to understand your vision for this work. Your later comments, however, did help me to understand your intent, although I feel the book itself only vaguely approaches that intent. Overall, the novel felt pointless and meandering, with little depth and little complexity. As I review this, I will treat this novel as primarily the story of a young woman coming into her own confidence, and I will treat the plots of vampirism and prejudice as subplots that enrich this main story.

You say that the first half of this novel is edited. However, I honestly didn’t notice any difference in quality between the edited and unedited chapters. As such, I will ignore that you’ve edited some and haven’t edited others, and will treat this as a single draft.

Oddly enough, this novel reminded me of the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. They are both essentially coming-of-age novels, and they both have themes of prejudice as well as coming to terms with unusual power, but are differently implemented. Hobb is, of course, an incredible author, and her novels don’t have vampires; they align more with the pure fantasy genre than the paranormal genre. Still, in terms of structure, you might learn a lot from reading her work.

CHARACTERS:

In a traditional coming-of-age story, the main character grows into themselves as the story progresses, and becomes more confident and independent. In order for this to happen, however, the main character must act differently in the beginning of the novel and at its end.

Currently, Louise’s character experiences a shift directly after leaving the brothel, transforming from shy to confident in the blink of an eye. Before the brothel scenes, we hardly knew her at all; you begin the novel with summary rather than scene, and so her characterization feels false. Make her shyness more clear from the beginning, and make her shift to confidence both more exaggerated and more gradual. As it is, it doesn’t have the impact that I think you envision it having.

For an immortal vampire, Edmond feels surprisingly young. Specifically, he feels as though he’s in his late twenties. I could never believe that he was immortal. People who are older will act and talk differently from people who are younger. He didn’t. This wouldn’t be a problem if the novel was a romance. However, you have emphatically stated that this is not a romance. Edmond feels too young to be Louise’s father, and doesn’t feel familiar enough to Louise to be a brother figure. Because of this, everyone will assume a romantic relationship.

You have written them in a romantic way as well. Consciously or not, Louise constantly thinks about Edmond’s appearance and his good nature in a seemingly romantic way.

The only character trait Edmond has is his good nature. He lacks complexity. He lacks depth. He doesn’t feel like a real person. He feels like a cardboard cutout of a generic “good” character. He bored me.

Louise never explains her reasoning for never marrying. She’s upset about never having children, so this confused me. Does she not experience attraction towards others? If so, why does she keep remarking on everyone’s gorgeous looks? Does she choose not to marry specifically to keep herself independent? If so, why does she assume marriage comes with dependence, and why is she willing to be dependent on Edmond? I don’t particularly care what her reasons are. However, they must be made clear for the reader.

Currently, it feels as though the lack of romance was done specifically to prove a point about vampire novels and to be contrary to the current tropes. There is no justification within the characterization itself, and the rationale lacks depth.

The side characters generally feel purposeless, with four exceptions. Alexandrie has a purpose as Louise’s parents’ murderer; Anna has a purpose in accepting Louise for who she is; Mercedes has a purpose in making Louise more confident in herself; Louise’s distant relative whose name I don’t remember has a purpose in allowing Louise to accept her ancestors. All of the other side characters -- including Sevastyan, Ivan, Vladimir, etc -- feel meaningless, although they are interesting. Louise’s character does not change because of them, and as this is primarily a story about change, you could delete all of those characters without impacting the aura of the story.

Generally, the characterization felt bland and undeveloped. I know nothing about the characters beyond surface-level characterization. While they may seem characterized on the surface, their inner thoughts and processes never reveal themselves -- probably because you don’t know the characters well enough for that to happen. Edmond, as I said earlier, is a clear example of this, but this occurs in virtually every other character as well.

PLOT AND STRUCTURE:

Of all the flaws of this novel, the most glaring was its structure, namely because this novel lacked a structure entirely.

We begin with the deaths of Louise’s family, then watch as she becomes a vampire who hates Edmond, then watch as she visits a brothel and forgives Edmond. Then she goes to school, works in a bank, meets/helps Anna, goes to a vampire party, meets a distant relative, and realizes that Alexandrie killed her family.

There’s no structure to this plot. Each section is disjointed from the other sections. If you removed any section at random, the reader wouldn’t care one way or another. The plot lacks focus. The story doesn’t build on itself.

The way I see this story, you have two main goals. The first is a coming of age story, a story of a young woman gaining confidence. The second is the story of a young woman overcoming prejudice and self-hatred due to other people’s assumptions, exemplified by both the vampire subplot and the subplot of her family history.

The main problem, I think, is that you had no idea where the story was going when you began it. Probably you wrote this one chapter at a time without an outline or any form of a plan, and as you made it up as you went, you had no idea what you were doing.

You need to start each subplot within the first five chapters of the novel. Reveal Louise’s family history in Chapter 1. Reveal her fear of monsters such as vampires in Chapter 1. The first few chapters should deal primarily in self-hatred as well as in other people’s hatred of her. This way, when she does become confident by the story’s end, it will make more sense. The first chapter of the novel should make an implicit promise to your readers about the type of story they will be reading. The novel should fulfill that promise in expected or unexpected ways.

Start as close to the conflict as possible, and tell the story directly through Louise’s eyes. There’s no need to summarize her previous life history. Spend one chapter on her life before being turned into a vampire, to set up the change, and then begin the story directly.

Personally, I think you should delete the subplot with Alexandrie being the cause of the deaths in Louise’s family. It adds nothing to the story, feels forced and contrived, and honestly feels silly. I think the vampire party/meeting/whatever was irrelevant and contrived as well. Every single scene needs to deal with one of the goals mentioned earlier. If it doesn’t, delete it or make it more effective.

The scenes with the bank and the school did not feel powerful enough to make me believe in Louise’s transformation into a confident woman. This may, however, be because of the lack of characterization as well. The events felt shallow because I could feel the author orchestrating them, and I could never believe that the actions were coming from the characters themselves.

WORLD/SETTING:

While you referenced the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War, I never felt as though I was there. Your characters and descriptions felt drawn from the 21st century. I’m not sure how to help you with this, but I do think you need to do more research -- not just into the milieu of historical events, but also into the cultural milieu of the time period. Currently, you wouldn’t appeal to the historical fiction market at all.

STYLE:

I could tell that your style was trying to sound older and more formal, but it just sounded stilted and forced. Simple language is often clearer and easier to work with.

You constantly mentioned what the characters were wearing and how pretty/handsome they were, and I honestly couldn’t care less.

You tended to introduce large amounts of information through dialogue, and the writing felt lazy and unimaginative.

Trust your readers more. Show them the world as Louise would have seen it, with all the knowledge that Louise has at her disposal, and let them come to their own conclusions. Don’t withhold information if Louise already knows the information. Doing so creates a pseudo-suspense that weakens the story. This novel is told in first person. Use the first person narrative to its fullest by letting us see the world through her eyes. Avoid summary. Engage all the senses.

TECHNICAL ERRORS:

There’s no easy way to say this. Your grammar is terrible. There were tense switches, comma splices, run-on sentences, spelling errors, misused words, etc. I highly recommend you get a grammar book, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, or Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I also suggest you have someone proofread this for you, line by line. As it is, it’s difficult to read.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques/comments for my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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The End of the World (Again)

This was a fascinating read. Especially towards the end, I could feel the richness of the characters and the setting, and the depths of the decisions that the characters had to make. The beginning, however, was often unfocused and lacked that richness, possibly because you tried to introduce all of the characters at the same time, or possibly because you didn’t want to set up the main conflict too early in the book.

Your intended audience seems to be men older than 40 who read so-called soft science-fiction, such as Dune by Frank Herbert or Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. If you haven’t already, I’d advise you to give those two a read, just so you can see how they handled different cultures and how they handled building conflict slowly over the story’s course. Your story especially reminds me of Dune in terms of theme and style, and you might learn a lot from reading it analytically.

CHARACTERS:

The main dynamic towards the end of the story is the idea of Tarra’s belief pitted against Chilcoat’s, and then the rest of the tribes’, non-belief. If we saw that dynamic from the very beginning of the novel, it might become a stronger novel. Currently, the Tarra vs Chilcoat dynamic towards the beginning of the story rests more on the idea of a father-daughter relationship, and focuses on Tarra’s irritation about having Chilcoat as a father, which is neither important for the rest of the book nor is particularly interesting to read.

I was never certain of the characters’ ages. Chilcoat’s narration makes him sound as though he’s 40, although the summary suggests he’s much younger. Tarra occasionally sounds 12 and occasionally sounds 35, often within the same chapter, and her switches between the two rarely feel realistic. Make the characters’ ages clear, and be sure to make them sound and act their ages. Currently, it sounds as though you haven’t talked to a teenager in at least a decade.

Tarra seems as though you were trying to write an idealized, erotic, spirited woman (who was too young for Chilcoat to be truly erotic; you have scenes with Tarra playing with dolls in the first few chapters), and as though you forgot to make her human. She seems like a stereotype of a witchy, powerful woman rather than a human in her own right. I never understood Tarra’s anger towards having Chilcoat as a father figure. It made her seem unintelligent and lacking maturity rather than spirited, and I assume you wanted to make her seem spirited.

Even so, Tarra was the only reason I continued reading. Her character, while boring for the first half of the novel, slowly became noticeable, and then around Chapter 32, I finally became interested in her as a character. Before Chapter 32, I kept checking to see how many chapters I had left to read.

Chilcoat as well felt stereotypical. He is uncertain but responsible, the epitome of the reluctant leader stereotype. He felt more real to me than Tarra did, but even he felt flat occasionally. Towards the beginning of the novel, I did not know him at all. I marked the location in the novel (Chapter 4, I think) where I began to know him, but it was far too late in the novel to hold my interest. When I look for a novel to buy, I generally read the first page or two, no more or less, and I would have never reached chapter 4 before putting this book down. The change in his belief system from nonbelief to belief at the end of the novel felt forced as well. I couldn’t understand the reason for that change. It was neither subtle nor gradual, and because I myself did not believe Tarra, I saw no reason for Chilcoat to believe her, either.

In the beginning of the novel, I felt nothing when Tangar died, because I did not know what Tangar meant to Chilcoat and because I did not know Tangar myself as a character. Similarly, I could not understand or sympathize with Chilcoat’s grief because I did not yet know Chilcoat. Towards the end, when Caran died, I did not care, because I did not truly know Caran as a character, and I could not believe that Chilcoat cared, either, because I had never seen them interact with each other in a meaningful way.

I never got a sense for Caran and Chilcoat’s relationship, even though they were married. It was as though she didn't exist at all. Without her, the story would remain the same. The same goes for most of the characters. I never understood who they were, except for Tarra and Chilcoat. The other characters are paper cut-outs of people, silhouettes, rather than people themselves.

I kept getting confused between Lanon and Lannoner, as well as Charona and Caran, especially in the beginning. Their characters seem essentially interchangeable anyway, so it didn’t hinder my reading experience.

My point is this: Aside from Chilcoat and Tarra, you could delete every other character in the tribe and replace all mentions of them with a generic “the tribesman” or “the tribeswoman” and it wouldn’t affect my reading at all.

I didn’t realize Chilcoat had two children, Chara and Chilton, until I reread the first chapter after reading the entire novel. They are meaningless.

Most of the characters felt forced into the narrative, except perhaps Shadoc and the other seers towards the end of the novel, who introduce conflict into the work. Let characters introduce themselves as the story moves along. There is no need to constantly introduce them for us. Let us live alongside Chilcoat -- truly live alongside him -- rather than interrupting that life with introduction.

Your dialogue did not feel realistic, either. People in real life rarely say precisely what they mean to say, and they change the way they speak when talking to different groups of people. They do not speak the same way to a child that they would to a wife, for instance, and yet that is what your characters do.

That being said, especially towards the end of the novel, the conflict between Chilcoat and Tarra felt real, and held the story up where it would otherwise have fallen. I kept reading mostly for Tarra, but Chilcoat slowly grew on me as well, although he didn’t leave as much of an impact.

PLOT:

The first chapter of your novel should make a promise to your readers, and the rest of the novel should fulfill that promise. This promise should answer for the reader: Is this the type of book that the reader wants to read? The reader should know from the first page whether or not to stay for the ending. Currently, this novel does not do that. We have the setup (Chilcoat and the others need to leave the tribe temporarily to find a new location for the tribe), but the promise is also about emotion and conflict.

At the beginning of the novel, the novel doesn’t seem to be about a crisis of belief. We never get a sense of the faith -- or lack thereof -- that people put into the seers, or that seers put into their gods. We don’t have a sense of controversy, namely, what is considered controversial and what isn’t. Because of that, some of the earlier chapters which are necessary for the plot later on don’t feel necessary. They lack weight. They feel unimportant even though they are not.

Even so, it is true that the beginning has a lot of filler scenes. For the first half of the novel, half of each chapter could be deleted without losing any sense of the characterization, plot, setting, or themes.

I was never quite certain about the passage of time. Sometimes it felt as though months had passed, but then the narrative would say it had been a couple of days. Sometimes, the opposite happened.

The plot does not truly begin to build to a climax until after they find the abandoned temple and people argue about it (Chapter 18-19). Everything before that bored me. Even afterwards, the plot remains slow until Shadoc shows Tarra the scrolls (Chapter 32). I simply did not care enough about the characters to remain interested. After Chapter 32, however, Tarra became interesting. She alone carried the novel forward.

WORLD/SETTING:

In theory, your story is about “Neolithic hunter-gatherers.” Historically, however, there is no such thing. The shift from the pre-Neolithic Stone Age to the Neolithic Stone Age was a shift from hunter-gathering to agriculture and animal domestication. However, your so-called “Neolithic” people do not farm nor have they domesticated any animals. As such, they are not Neolithic. As they are not Neolithic, I would expect them to be nomadic rather than to live in huts in a stationary village. This was not the case. I suggest you do more research into the Neolithic lifestyle and incorporate it into the work.

I was never quite certain about what kind of environment the tribe lived in. Sometimes it seemed as though they lived in a desert. At others, it seemed as though they lived in a forest. Make it clear.

The hierarchy of the tribes confused me as well. How is the seer usually chosen? Was Chilcoat chosen because he was Tangar’s adopted son? If so, why was Tarra not chosen? Is the only reason because she was a woman? Tarra knew far more about her father’s work than Chilcoat, and choosing Chilcoat, who knew nothing about it, felt false.

The society as a whole seems to run almost like a true communist society. (By communist, I mean Marxist, not the Soviet/Chinese dictatorship forms of pseudo-communism.) The resources are shared evenly among the tribe without a form of currency, and everyone is treated equally. However, this form of true communism would likely fail due to the lack of resources in the area. It’s not easy to share when your family is dying. Because of that, I didn’t believe in your communist society. I suggest you look into the ways that hunter-gatherer or Neolithic societies actually functioned and base your society on those.

Your summary said that the “end of the world” was caused by a geomagnetic pole reversal. I would not have guessed that simply from reading the story. Also, I don’t think that such a reversal would have any effect on the rains, or on a drought. It might have an effect on cancer, though, more birth deformities due to radiation, and the sun sickness was well done. Still, it was unclear. Perhaps you intend to make it more clear with sequels, and if that’s the case, you can ignore this.

Throughout the novel, I could never suspend my disbelief enough to fully immerse myself in the world. I could never immerse myself in the experience, or in the characters, or in anything. I was always aware that this world was make-believe. It didn’t feel real to me, even though I assume it was intended to feel real.

STYLE:

The point of view changes erratically within scenes, and occasionally within paragraphs, shoving the reader out of one character’s head and into another’s without warning. I sent feedback on this for specific instances in the first chapter but have not for the rest. Be very careful with such point of view changes, as they can jar the reader out of the story.

Rather than showing complete scenes, you tend to summarize them, especially towards the beginning of the story. Let us live along with Chilcoat. Let us breathe alongside him. When you write a scene, describe it fully, as Chilcoat sees it, as Chilcoat breathes it. Otherwise, if it is irrelevant, delete it; it’s clogging the story.

I feel as though you’re not trusting your readers to infer the characters’ emotions. For example, saying “he was pleased” or “he felt grief” or any other direct statement of emotion. Implication breeds deeper understanding of the characters than a direct statement. Direct statement is fine in moderation, but especially in the beginning, you do not use this technique in moderation.

Similarly, you use filtering words quite often. Rather than “Chilcoat heard a twig snap,” saying “A twig snapped” is fine. The words “Chilcoat heard” create a barrier between the reader and the character, not allowing the reader to become fully immersed in your world.

Your descriptions often swing between minimal and overindulgent without much rationale. Decide what is important to describe, and describe that fully.

I do think your style evened out towards the end -- is this your first novel? If so, that could explain it -- but overall it’s still not quite even enough. Perhaps you just need more experience with writing.

STRUCTURE:

The first section (chapters 1-18) is told within a frame of Chilcoat looking back at the past. This feels unnecessary and honestly gimmicky. Tell the story from the beginning to the end, without the retrospective frame. It’ll be easier on your readers.

The pacing felt off as well. There was too much time spent on finding the location of the temple, and not enough time spent on the conflict between Tarra and the council, and on Chilcoat’s role in that conflict. Decide which themes you want to explore and spend more time there. Chilcoat’s character arc seems to suggest that the major theme is belief vs non-belief, and growing into oneself as a leader. Lean into that.

TECHNICAL ERRORS:

Technically, this was fairly clean.

You did have the occasional unintentional tense switch. I marked one or two in the first chapter or so, but not more than that.

Typically, thoughts should be in italics and not quotations.

Please do not use semicolons unless you know the precise grammatical function of a semicolon. No one will care if you don’t use them at all. People will care if you misuse one. Use dashes instead.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques/comments for my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Rough Diamonds

This was an intense read, and I especially loved how real the setting felt. With some authors, even if they’ve lived in the place their entire lives, they still can’t make the setting feel real, natural, and intrinsic to the plot, but you’ve managed just that. Well done. The plot itself was thrilling once things fell into place.

CHARACTERS:

I did feel that the characters were underdeveloped. The main three characters -- Jako, Mike, and Christmas -- didn’t have anything that made them distinct. Jako could have been anyone. He’s brave, yes, and cares about his family, but most of the other “good” characters in this piece do the same. Mike is studious, I suppose, but has no complexity beyond that. Christmas seems to be the black version of Jako.

I felt that the women in the story weren’t characterized at all, with the exception of Madelaine. This is a thriller novel, and characterization is rarely the focus of a thriller novel. However, some characterization must still exist. I didn’t care that much when Kate-Emily died, because I knew nothing about Kate-Emily. I didn’t care when Jako’s wife died because, again, I knew nothing about her. I don’t even remember her name. I can’t remember the names of the two girls Mike lived with, either. They’re blank slates. The only things I know about them are possibly their hair and eye color -- oh, wait. I don’t remember that, either.

Again, the exception of this is Madelaine, who I know has an ugly face but a great body, and who is greedy, cruel, and selfish. It seems a bit lazy to have ugliness associated with evil, though.

I wish Roderick had more complexity as well. But again, this is a thriller, and for the genre, I suppose the characterization (except the women’s characterization) is fine.

PLOT:

The plot seemed unnecessarily convoluted.

The terrorist plotline, where Christmas and Jako were trying to get to Jako’s uncle’s house or something along those lines, seemed unnecessary. The plotline where Victor was the real father of Jako and Mike also seemed unnecessary.

I don’t mind unnecessary plotlines, but in these cases, they weren’t handled very well. They seemed shoved in there for the sake of shoving them in there, and didn’t add anything to the story.

It would be nice if, every once in a while, you mentioned how old the characters were, simply so that your readers can grasp how much time has passed in between chapters.

I’ll cover more about the plot in the “Structure” section, because most of the plot issues I saw were structural issues as well.

STYLE:

Try to prioritize clarity of writing over beauty of writing. In some sections, I could feel you trying to write descriptive, verbose prose, and it felt strained and unnatural. You have a talent for straight, clean, sparse, Hemingway-style prose, and I thought it was a shame that you tried to use something else.

Try reading some of the dialogue and narration out loud to make sure that it sounds and feels natural. Or, better yet, have someone else read it out loud, and see if they’re reading it the way you imagined they would.

STRUCTURE:

Most of the issues I have with this novel are structural. The novel itself is very segmented.

In the first segment, you have the stories of the parents and the births of the main characters (Intro - Chapter 12). In the second, you have a series of short stories about the main characters as children (Chapter 13 - Chapter 30). In the third, you have the main characters learning how to survive on their own, without their parents (Chapters 31-41). Then, you have a short transition section to show that they’re adults now (Chapters 42-44) before the kidnapping section (Chapters 45-55). At the end, you have the trial (Chapter 56 - the end), with subplots of discovering parentage and Roderick’s torture in prison.

In short, the tension in the story only begins in Chapter 31. You’re marketing this as a thriller. Readers will put this book back on the shelf if it doesn’t hold their interest in the first five chapters. Start as close to the main conflict as you possibly can, and fill in backstory later. Don’t start with the backstory. Readers will get bored.

So. What’s important in those thirty chapters? (1) That Victor is the true father. (2) That Jako put diamonds in a cave. (3) That bracelets were given to the children when they were young. (4) That Madelaine knows that Jako has diamonds somewhere.

In all honesty, you could divide the rest of the book into three parts. Part 1: Jako’s Survival. Part 2: The Kidnapping. Part 3: The Trial. These are the three sections of the book that need more focus. The few events I mentioned from the first thirty chapters can be slowly integrated into these three parts. That way, your readers won’t get bored reading about your main characters’ parents instead of the main characters themselves, and they won’t get bored reading about school lives instead of the drama of a kidnapping. If you treat each part as a novel in itself, you could market this very effectively as a thriller. Currently, though, I would have put this novel down far before chapter 30.

Of the three sections (Survival, Kidnapping, and Trial), the Kidnapping section was the strongest, because the tension rose throughout it and climaxed at the end. The survival section honestly got repetitive after a while, as did the trial section. Instead of dividing the story into three parts, you could just focus on the kidnapping section entirely, and make it more of a thriller that way.

I’m just bouncing some ideas around. Feel free to use them if you like them and discard them if you don’t, but the current structure feels lacking to me.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Selena's Darkness

I applaud you for taking on such a difficult, important topic. It’s important for people to hear the stories of those who have been trafficked, and to raise awareness of that. That said, this book didn’t have the impact I would have wanted from such a dark topic. It also didn’t have the realism I would have expected; in fact, it contained a lot of misinformation that might make it more difficult for women to know when they are in a dangerous situation. The themes of the book reminded me a lot of the novel My Book of Life by Angel, written by Martine Leavitt, which is told far more realistically and poetically.

I wanted to thank you for the way you handled mental illness in this novel. It’s rare that I see it being treated in a serious and respectful way, and I really appreciate that you wrote about Selena getting therapy to help her with her situation, and having her friends be supportive of that rather than further stigmatizing it.

CHARACTERS:

Throughout the novel, I felt that Selena’s characterization was too generic for me to sympathize with her. I felt as though you wanted every single teen girl on the planet to be able to relate to her, that you wanted to make her just another ordinary girl. In doing so, however, you lost any capability for your readers to empathize with her. Specificity builds empathy. Generalizations do not.

I understand that you gave her a list of interests, such as Stephen King’s novels, Harry Potter, and the band Three Days Grace. People, however, are not lists of interests. What makes Selena different from her friends? Is she logical or intuitive? Practical or impulsive? Is she the type of person who would stay at the edges of a party or at its center? Is she competitive or cooperative? She wants to be an orthopedic surgeon, but I don’t know why. I know nothing about who she is, even after reading the book.

This problem exists for most of your characters. They feel like lists of interests rather than real people. Specifically, the following characters need to feel real in order for the story to work: Atticus, Hanson, Selena’s father, Selena herself, Zoey, and Rowen.

There are two types of characterization: implicit and explicit. Explicit characterization occurs when either a character or the narrator says something like “My dad was a power suit, power tie, power grip kind of guy that no one wanted to make mad.” Implicit characterization occurs through dialogue and action, through seeing the character’s thoughts in a given situation and seeing how they react differently from other characters. Readers figure out implicit characterization on their own. Ideally, you should rely more on implicit characterization than explicit characterization.

Dialogue, specifically, is a large part of implicit characterization. Here’s a test: strip everything away from your dialogue so that you’re only left with the words in between the quotation marks. Can an unbiased reader tell who is saying what based on the words alone? This isn’t going to work for every scene, but it should at least work for tense scenes, where feelings are uncontrolled.

Action, as another large part of implicit characterization, shouldn’t be summarized. This includes body language. Think about body language a lot while writing. Is the character slouching? Leaning forward? Are the character’s hands tense? Fidgeting? All of this is part of characterization. Some characters will always slouch. Some will always sit perfectly straight. It’s your job to know which are which, and to make sure that it aligns with the rest of the characterization. Someone confident and serene, for example, wouldn’t fidget as much as someone anxious and restless.

In general, watch the real people around you and see how they act and react differently in different situations, then incorporate that in your writing.

PLOT:

The plot in general didn’t seem realistic to me.

I didn’t believe that a sex trafficking ring would break into a house to kidnap a victim. It’s simply too risky and doesn’t have enough reward, especially when there are easier targets. It doesn’t matter whose daughter she is; I couldn’t see it happening.

I also didn’t believe that they would ship her to India and back; there’s plenty of kidnapped girls within India already, and there’s enough demand in the United States that the move wouldn’t make sense. More girls are shipped into the United States than out of it.

Similarly, I didn’t believe that they would allow Selena to take part in the ring. Most rings would probably use the girls and dispose of them when they die. Why would they ever trust a person they’ve abused? The risk of betrayal would be too high, and there are enough people willing to do the dirty work that they would never need to use a victim for it. Again, it didn’t feel realistic.

I also didn’t believe that they would try to kill Selena’s mother. Murder cases have a lot of people involved, after all, and it would jeopardize the whole trafficking ring as well as the lives of all the traffickers. They want money and sex. Why would they risk death in exchange for petty revenge?

Some of the problems in the plot stemmed from the lack of characterization. I didn’t feel surprised that her father would do that to her, simply because I didn’t know enough about her father to feel surprised. I didn’t feel like it was realistic that her father would do that to her, either, simply because I didn’t know enough about her father to say if it was realistic or not.

I didn’t believe that Atticus would let Selena go so easily, for the same reasons. I didn’t believe anything about Atticus in general.

Most importantly, however, I didn’t believe it when Selena began to voluntarily work for the traffickers. I didn’t know enough about her character to believe that change or even to see that change slowly occur. One chapter she was the victim, and the next, she became a trafficker. Having that change occur slowly, over chapters, as she struggles with herself, would be both more interesting and more believable.

Similarly, I didn’t believe it when Selena began to rescue the kids instead of being a trafficker. I didn’t understand why it had taken her to that particular moment for her to change.

The main problem with the plot throughout was the lack of conflict. Every story is built on conflict, whether the conflict is internal or external. The conflict should increase throughout the novel (I’ll discuss this in the Structure section as well), and should only resolve at the end. It needs to build. This novel isn’t building.

WORLD/SETTING:

None of the settings in this novel felt as though I was there. Having been to India multiple times, I can definitively say that your characterization of India didn’t feel like India. Zimbabwe didn’t have anything particularly Zimbabwean about it, either. It felt as though, for each location, you just copied America into it, changing only the language, and that’s not how culture works. I’m not sure how you would fix this, other than simply doing more research and talking to people from each country that this story takes place in. But right now, it didn’t feel real to me.

STYLE:

Throughout the novel, I felt as though you were afraid to write the gritty scenes. Maybe it’s because you felt too uncomfortable to write them. Maybe it’s because you wanted to avoid fetishizing rape, or because you didn’t want it to feel erotic. Maybe it’s for another reason. I don’t know. Either way, it’s detracting from the novel. Here’s what I suggest: Write the scene in full, as though you were not afraid to write it, and then edit out anything erotic/fetishizing afterwards.

I want more detail in the physical descriptions of your characters. Right now, the only physical descriptions I have of the characters are their hair and eye colors, which, honestly, I don’t care about. Give me more subtle details, like how maybe a character has oddly white teeth, or how a character always has a tuft of hair sticking up out of his or her head. Small details like that will add a lot to the story.

I also want more detail in the settings. Again -- small, specific details that give the setting its character. Treat the setting as if it is a character, with its own traits and personality.

Generally speaking, imply more and state less. Let readers live through the story alongside your character, and let them draw their own conclusions. Never underestimate your readers’ intelligence. Always underestimate their knowledge.

One small thing I noticed: Don’t be afraid to use only “said” and “asked” as dialogue tags. Verbs like “screeched” and “yelled” actually detract from the story rather than adding to it, mostly because they’re redundant. Readers should be able to figure out the tone of voice from the dialogue itself, no extra information needed. “Said” and “asked” become invisible to most readers, only giving them the information of who is speaking. Nothing else is necessary.

RESEARCH:

This is going to be, by far, the longest section, simply because there’s a lot of research that needs to be done for a story like this.

We’ll start with research on sex trafficking in general.

I’ve heard that the book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara is a good nonfiction book about sex trafficking, but I haven’t read it. I do suggest that you read something like it, though, before writing a novel like this, which contains a very sensitive topic. I did some basic research as I was reading, but it’s not enough for a novel like this.

Most people kidnapped in the United States for sex trafficking are people who wouldn’t be missed. For example, children who are homeless or ran away from home, or teens who saw an ad for work, only to arrive at the place and get kidnapped. I have never heard of a case where a child was directly kidnapped from his/her own home, simply because it’s too much of a risk, and because people would search for the child.

The average life expectancy for a sex trafficked victim is seven years in the industry.

From what I understand, most people kidnapped in the United States stay within the United States. It’s much more common for the United States to import sex slaves than to export them.

I’m not sure why you have a section of the story taking place in India at all. Do you just hate India? If you want to show the reach of this organization, maybe you should just have Selena overhear a conversation where they talk about a shipment of girls from other countries. Right now, though, everything that happened in India could have easily happened in the United States, and I’m not sure what the purpose was.

Considering that a section of the story took place in India, I was surprised that there weren’t any actual Indian people in the story, other than the prince.

By flight, it takes around 20 hours to reach India. By ship, it would take around 20-30 days, depending on the speed of the ship.

I didn’t believe it when Selena was offered a sandwich and chips in India. Local food would be a lot cheaper to get, and it didn’t seem like the rapists would spend extra money on them.

Indians speak different languages based on the region, and most speak multiple languages. In Northern India, most people speak around three languages: Hindi, English, and their mother tongue, which varies from state to state. In Southern India, it’s just English and their mother tongue. If the person lacks education, they wouldn’t speak English, though. I’m not sure where you got the language “Hindu” from. “Hindu” is not a language. The main religion of India is Hinduism, and people who follow it are Hindus, so maybe that’s where? A lot of people get confused between Hindu/Hindi.

Other general things I saw:

Rape kits don’t determine if someone was raped or not. There’s no way to medically determine that. It just helps to determine who did the rape by getting a semen/DNA sample, and to test for sexually transmitted diseases. It also helps with preventing pregnancy.

Speaking of pregnancy, birth control wasn’t mentioned at all during the story, and I’m wondering how Selena avoided getting pregnant if she was raped for seven years. I doubt the rapists would have used condoms.

I also think you need to look up the symptoms of PTSD, because I didn’t believe that Selena had it at the end.

STRUCTURE:

Right now, the structure you have now is very… even. Flat. Level. You have four or five sections, and the tone within each section is unchanged. First, you have the Status Quo, where Selena is a normal girl. We’ll call section two Kidnapped, then section three is Kidnapper, section four is Rescuer, and section five is Afterwards. There is no buildup during these sections. Transitions between each section only last for a chapter or so before Selena transforms wholeheartedly into her new role.

First things first, I want to talk about the Seven Act Structure (also known as the Archplot Structure or Hero’s Journey). The Seven Act Structure is a traditional structure that you can use to guide you while writing character-motivated fiction. It won’t work perfectly with this story -- it rarely works perfectly. But I do suggest you look it up, and look up other traditional story structures as well, to help guide you while writing.

Generally these structures help you sustain reader interest throughout the story.

A smaller scale structural unit is the scene-sequel unit. The scene is a short section of action, generally a chapter. The sequel is a short section of reflection, also generally a chapter. Each set of a scene-sequel pair should directly cause the next scene-sequel pair to occur. For your next draft, I’d suggest thinking in those units. Remember -- scenes are lived alongside the character. Right now, you’re summarizing many scenes rather than allowing us to live them alongside Selena. Stop summarizing. Let the story breathe on its own.

Choosing first person, by the way, was an excellent choice. The story wouldn’t have worked nearly as well in third person.

TECHNICAL ERRORS:

Overall, your spelling/punctuation/grammar was decent. In general, avoid using double exclamation marks (!!). One is fine. Avoid using semicolons if you don’t know how to use a semicolon. There were some usage errors throughout, but I’m not the type to run through anything with a fine-toothed comb, especially when I expect you’ll be doing major revisions later.

The most distracting issue I found was the tense errors throughout. Most of the story was in past tense, which worked well. I suggest you read through it again very carefully, sentence by sentence, and just make sure that everything stays in past tense. Keep it consistent.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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Pandora's Wake

CHARACTERS:

The first chapter was fine, really. It was clear, it was decently written, it had just enough backstory to give me information and more than enough action to keep me reading. After that, though, the sheer number of characters overwhelmed me.

How many characters are there? Thirty? More? It would’ve been easier to keep them all straight in my mind if some were clearly minor characters and some were clearly major characters, but they all seem to be major characters. Thirty major characters for a book like this is overwhelming. Choose maybe five characters whose points of view are the most important, and keep the chapters in those points of view only. Right now, you’re trying to do too much, to handle too many threads at once, and it isn’t working.

Here’s a tip: for major characters, make sure each character’s name starts with a different letter. It’ll be easier for readers to quickly pick up who’s who.

Here’s another tip: if you have 3+ characters in a scene, remove all the dialogue tags and see if an interested reader can pick out who’s speaking just from the dialogue itself. If your reader cannot, you may need to do more characterization work.

PLOT:

Again, with so many threads, it’s difficult to keep everything straight. This is compounded by the structure of the novel itself. So far, action sequences lead to more action sequences without pause or rationale. In general scenes should be structured so that one action scene leads to a reflection sequel (characters thinking about what to do next, just giving the reader a break from the action, giving the story air). That reflection sequel should again lead to a new action scene through causation. Sequels cause scenes. Right now, you have a stack of scenes, and you’re adding events without foreshadowing the causes for each event, so the events aren’t believable. Maybe the foreshadowing was in the first book and I just missed it completely, at which point it’s fine.

WORLD/SETTING:

I am so confused. There’s a zombie outbreak, kind of like the premise of Stephenie Meyer’s The Host (terrible book, excellent premise). There are also… vines in the last couple chapters? I’m still not clear as to who is one who’s side and who all the players are here, and I’m 17 chapters in. Again, I’m not sure how much of this is because I haven’t read the first one, but usually I’m fine with reading the second book in a series and understanding it (even if it wasn’t intended for that). Hell, I’ve been able to read books from the middle of the book and understand everything. Maybe your first book was just very dense in information or something. I don’t know.

STYLE:

Tone down the dialogue tags (“tutted” “repeated” “huffed” etc). Do you want the readers to focus on the dialogue itself or the dialogue tags? “Said” and “asked” are fine to use. They fade into the background and don’t interfere with the reader’s comprehension.

If there’s dialogue in a section, slow it down. Have a character think about what the other characters say. This would be easier if each section had a designated point of view (especially in the Ronan and Mathias sections).

Overall, I think you just need more details and scene-sequel cycles to slow this down. It’s far too fast-paced, even for an action/thriller book. Your stated genre is sci-fi, though, not action/thriller, so it really needs to slow down. Read more sci-fi if you want to market it as a sci-fi. I think this is closer in tone to some of Clive Cussler’s books than actual sci-fi, though (his are action/thriller). If I were you, I’d take one of his books and retype a couple random chapters of it, word for word, just to get a feel for how an action/thriller is paced.

There were grammar errors throughout.

And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.

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A Bit Vague

Hello, hello. I was just browsing through Inkitt, looking for something to read, and this caught my eye due its one-star reviews. Narcissism wars are always interesting, so I thought I’d give it a review as well to see what happens.

The first chapter is a bit vague. It reads more like an unnecessary prologue than a chapter one; it’s full of a tragic vagueness that strives to create suspense but fails. Nothing happens except a thought-monologue. If I saw a first chapter like this, I would skip it and see if there were any actual characters in the second. If there were characters in the second, I would read the novel from the second chapter onwards. Vague first chapters are unnecessary and I can usually infer everything in them from the rest of the novel.

Anyway. I can’t give this much of a review because it’s only one chapter. I like your writing style though. It’s so formal and pretentious. If your dialogue writing style is equally formal and pretentious, I will laugh a lot as I read your updates.

I'm giving this one star for plot because there isn't a plot so far, just a premise. I'm giving it one star overall because these types of prologues are my pet peeve.

Have fun writing, and don't take this review too seriously. I have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm just a teenager who likes to read things.

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The Promise

This was a fairly interesting read. There were times when I skimmed rather than read, as it did get repetitive, especially towards the middle of the novel. Overall, the plot was decent, although the characters were flat. It reminded me of the novel The Loop by Nicholas Evans, except with bears rather than wolves, and with the genders of the main characters swapped.

A more thorough critique will be posted as comments rather than as a review, as paragraph breaks don’t translate well to reviews.

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