Have you read this book?
I’m afraid this review is going to be much more about writing than about this actual book. Nevertheless, it’s applicable in this case because the number one prerequisite of any book, of course, is that it be written. The best ideas, the cleverest plots, any amount of potential a story might have, can be derailed by an author who just can’t write.
Effective story telling is essentially the synthesis of two things: mechanics and craft. Mechanics are the rules of writing: how to use words to properly construct sentences and paragraphs–spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A thorough knowledge of the mechanics of writing is essential before one can move on to craft.
Craft isn’t a set of hard and fast rules, but rather theories and techniques about how to effectively tell a story. Theories of craft include (but are not limited to) plot, climax, resolution, dramatic tension, dialog, and character development while techniques might include flashback, foreshadowing, point of view and tense. Craft is essentially knowing how to properly apply the mechanics of writing to produce a readable and enjoyable story.
By combining craft and mechanics we come up with some tried and true principles of good story telling. Examples of such principles are generally what one learns in a creative writing class, or by writing, writing, and writing some more, while at the same time getting constructive criticism from someone qualified to give it.
Speculative Fiction writers have assembled a list of principles, referred to as the Turkey City Lexicon. Many of you reading this review have no doubt heard of this and are probably even familiar with some of the more common principles. If you’re interested, here’s the Turkey City Lexicon.
I highly suggest Clotworthy read this. HIGHLY.
The book: the premise is promising enough–a young man discovers he has amazing powers and begins to develop and deploy said powers in a fight against others who have the same powers but use them for evil purposes. He is helped and guided in these endeavors by Carleton, a ghost, and Rachael, another physic and also his lover. Unfortunately, the summary on the back cover is the best written part of the whole book. Throughout the course of the novel, Clotworthy consistently and repeatedly violates many of the principles laid out in the Lexicon, as well as some of the basic mechanics every writer should know.
In no particular order, here are a few things I noticed:
While overusing the exclamation point doesn’t technically violate the mechanics of writing, such indiscriminate use is not only annoying, but also reduces its effectiveness at delivering emphasis.
Ending too many words in ‘ing’, the present participle, can result in confusion about the sequence of events.
The Said Bookism is when the author uses every word he can think of to avoid using the word ‘said’. He declared, he ordered, he expounded, he simpered, she cooed, she announced, she sighed…. I’m sure you get the picture. One or two pages of dialog in this vein can rapidly result in the book becoming a projectile heading for the far wall.
Closely related to the Said Bookism is the Tom Swiftly. This is when the author adds an adjective after the word said (or whatever word he used in place of it). As a result we get things like “He declared resolutely”, “He announced confidently”, “He insisted firmly”, and my favorite (and evidently Clotworthy’s as well) “She (or he) asked inquiringly.” Ugh.
Countersinking is when action implied in dialog is made explicit: “I think I’ll go outside,” he said, opening the door and going outside.
Mr Clotworthy’s story is further marred by abrupt POV shifts, grammar and punctuation errors (some that are obviously typos and others that obviously aren’t), a story that fails to acheive suspension of disbelief, and characters that don’t come across as ‘real’. About the only positive thing I can say about this book is that Mr. Clotworthy had the perseverance and commitment to finish it.
I firmly believe writing is a skill. Furthermore, I think it’s a skill most people (assuming an average level of intelligence and a way, way, WAY above average level of determination) can learn. Talent only comes into play in influencing how long the process takes. That said, I certainly think with practice, effort and appropriate critical feedback, Clotworthy can learn to write an engaging and enjoyable story. But this one isn’t it.