Have you read this book?
It’s the year 2030 and the world has set up the World Environmental Watchdog Agency. This multinational group is charged with keeping tabs on the actions of the countries of the world, from environmental infractions to preparations for war. Although they are only supposed to inform, when disaster strikes they take a more forceful role in shaping world events. Albert Jackson is the character that V. J. Kilborn has chosen as his main character. Albert is is a computer genius whose massiveness of intellect is only matched by his inability to experience emotion. As far as characters go, he’s about as flat and boring a one as I have ever encountered.
As with many of my reviews about first novels, this is going to be much more about the writing than about the book. Sub-par writing will hamstring any story, no matter how fresh the ideas, or interesting the premise. In order for me to be concerned about the story, I first have to be unconcerned about the writing.
Before Kilborn moves on to his next novel, there are several things he should do. The first is buy a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and learn how to properly punctuate. It’s distracting to read something where the same, basic punctuation errors are repeated. Second, he should NOT publish his book in doubled spaced courier font. I challenge him to find any professionally published books that use that format. Third, and most importantly, he needs to find some way to take his obvious experience writing non-fiction, technical documents and make the transition to fiction.
Those of you who’ve read other reviews of mine have no doubt encountered my advice on craft and theory. I’ve talked about the Turkey City Lexicon as a good collection of guidelines for creating enjoyable fiction. What the Lexicon doesn’t mention is that most basic of all rules of fiction: Show, don’t tell. And that’s the rule the Kilborn needs to concern himself with the most.
What exactly does Show, don’t tell mean? Every writer’s goal is to draw the reader into the story. The reader should be made to experience the story as though the story is happening to him or her. To this end, writers try to make their fictional worlds as vivid and life-like as they can. They try to convince the reader that their fictional world is the real thing. Showing means that the writer provides proof that something is the case, instead of simply declaring it’s the case. For example, if you wanted to show that a character was angry, you would have the character do angry things, speak in an angry fashion, and look angry. Telling would be: Bill was angry. Showing would be: Bill’s face contorted into a scowl. The muscles on the side of his jaw clenched as he forced out his words through clenched teeth…. Put the person there. Give him or her the details they can use to make it real.
Of all the “rules” of writing, Show, don’t tell is the most essential. You can’t write effective fiction without it. Unfortunately, this is Kilborn’s most evident problem. The vast majority of his story is nothing but tell. This happened, then this happened, then this happened, then XXX said this…. My emotions were not engaged. The reader is told the characters experience emotion, but the reader is never shown this through their words or actions.
In the brief bio in the back of the book, it reads, V. J. Kilborn is a semi-retired former government examiner with experience in writing and interpreting technical legal statues and rules. He needs to retrain his methods for fiction, because Sentinel 2030 reads like one big, long report.
To Mr. Kilborn, I’ll repeat the same praise and advice I’ve given other neophyte writers who have chosen to self-publish: Congratulations on completing a book. It shows you have the dedication and perseverance you need to be a writer. Now go out and find a good writer’s group, either on line or in person. Write, write write. Seek critical feedback from people qualified to give it. Send your manuscripts to publishing houses that pay you instead of houses where you pay them. Keep doing this and never stop. And let me know when your book hits the shelf.