A Negative Review

It was bound to happen eventually.

215 days after Timely Persuasion was released, a critic has emerged who didn’t like it and felt strongly enough to write about it.  His name is Gavin Williams, and in the interest of honesty and full disclosure I’m posting it here:

Unfortunately, I don’t need more persuasion…

I’ve always felt that I’d learn more from a bad review than a good one.  So let’s break this down and see what can be learned.

Mr. Williams biggest issue appears to be his distaste for internal monologue and my subsequent violation of the oft-quoted “show, don’t tell” rule that such a style brings.

To the first point I admit I’m guilty as charged.  TP is told almost exclusively as the internal monologue of the protagonist, and if that type of storytelling isn’t your cup of tea it’s probably not the book for you.  One of the learnings I took out of the experience of writing this novel is that I probably won’t use the first person next time around, as it ends up being more constrictive than third person omniscient and can serve to paint an author into a corner at times.  But in my eyes this particular story required a first person perspective to be told effectively.  You only know what the narrator knows (or thinks he knows), and the book follows his train of thought through his experiences and ultimate revelations.

To the second point regarding “show, don’t tell” I have a slightly different retort.  The prologue definitely contains a lot of “telling.”  This continues to a lesser degree in the early chapters, but later what you were told about how things are and how things came to be is challenged and turned around once we get into the meat of the time travel mission in later chapters.  Mr. Williams states in his review that he’s only “5 chapters in,” so he didn’t stick around long enough to comment on whether I succeeded or failed in my attempts to play with the “show, don’t tell” rule via an easily excited but ultimately unreliable narrator.  I find it curious that someone would write a review based on a partial read rather than a full one, but that’s a subject for a different time.

To be fair, I do realize that you need to hook a reader early.  Thus if Gavin was ready to give up after five chapters it reflects poorly on my plot construction in that regard.  Maybe I should have dropped the extended Cobain subplot and cut to the chase after all.  On one hand it sets up the rules (and was fun to explore), but on the other it is essentially just an extended prologue before the main plot gears up in earnest midway through chapter seven.

Another interesting point lies in where the reviewer correctly interpreted my intent but viewed it as a negative in regards to the early part of the story.  Three examples:

…in the first chapter, there’s not one line of dialogue, nor does the author show a scene of action between characters.

This was a specific stylistic choice to open with a single line of dialogue and then have the entire Prologue be “told” in a stream of consciousness to set the stage for what’s to come.  At least for Mr. Williams, this strategy backfired and may have carried over into his first impression of the subsequent opening chapters.

“…the protagonist’s complaints about the boyfriends equally apply to his own flaky personality.”

Bingo – that’s the exact connection that a reader should make.

…the driving force of the protagonist’s journey through time is supposed to be his sister’s death.  But, in the early going anyway, it doesn’t seem like he cares all that much, making it hard for a reader to connect to the espoused purpose of the story.

Bingo again.  Early on it’s just “hey, cool, I can travel in time.”  Only later does the greater good start to come forward (in a slightly self-serving manner), which once again makes me ponder how I might have more closely tied the time travel “discovery” phase to the actual sister plot, or at least tightened them up to keep things moving.  On the bright side it reinforces my decision to have excised the baseball chapter.

I guess this goes to show that you can’t please everyone, but you can still learn from constructive criticisms.  My thanks go out to Gavin Williams for taking the time to share his honest thoughts on the first five chapters.  I hope he’ll reconsider reading the rest, as I’d love to hear if a view of the work as a whole alters his opinion for better or for worse.

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