Have you read this book?
I think the vast majority of writers write because they have an honest and sincere love of the written word. They are people who have devoured books since the moment they could read, who have said, “I want to do that.” Many of them, if they have the perseverance, determination, and the willingness and ability to learn, will see something of theirs in print. They might even make a little money, little being the operative term. A very, very, very few might make enough to live on writing income alone, with a special few dozens or so striking it really rich. Getting published can be such a long and painful process that it tends to weed out those people who honestly and truly don’t love writing.
What does that mean? It means the book I’m holding was written by someone who loves to write and wanted to share their story. Knowing this sometimes makes it hard to write reviews, especially of first books by brand new authors. It’s a risk; creating something and sending it out into the world. I don’t think any new author would put their book out there if they honestly didn’t think it was a good, well-written book. Unfortunately, when compared against the ‘professional’ work out there, those writers who choose the Publish on Demand option are usually wrong.
I’m sure Mr. Sharples thought he wrote a good book. I’m sure he slaved over it, sweated over it, agonized over every word. He probably read it aloud, to himself and to friends and family. He probably solicited opinions and acted on the feedback. But I’m afraid he still ended up with a book that, while it contains some exciting core ideas, falls far short of ‘good’.
The summary: Mythological beings—elves, wizards, dwarves, giants and more – live among us, shielded from human sight by a powerful illusion. The evil wizard has once again gathered the evil races and plots to destroy the good guys and take over he world. Avatar is a detective with the local police force, paired with Jack, a strange partner who has seen visions of weird creatures all his life. Avatar himself gains the ‘sight’, the ability to see past the illusion, after a traumatic event and ends up being the lynchpin the will determine the fate of the world.
I like some of what Sharples is playing with here. The idea of fantastic creatures living side by side with us – while done before – is still pretty cool. But the book has problems. Big problems down at the most basic levels of writing craft and theory.
The illusion spell is never really explained. The way Sharples writes about it in the book led me to believe it’s a visual illusion. So the big guy with all the muscles is really an 8-foot tall rock giant. But if he’s really an 8-foot tall rock giant who only looks like a big human, how does he get around the fact that he’s really 8 feet tall? Ditto for smaller races like halflings. Are they physically altered by the illusion? Anyway, the end result of all this was a failure of Sharples’ novel to induce suspension of disbelief on the most basic premise of his story: fantastic creatures hidden among us.
Ditto for the strange powers the main character, Avatar, develops. He witnesses a traumatic event and gains the ability to see through the illusions. In addition, he also develops magic that makes him pretty much invincible. There’s no explanation for how he got this power, but it makes a handy way for Sharples to extract him from danger. Too handy and too easy, given that Avatar can’t even control it and it wells up on its own to zap enemies.
Good thing too that Avatar just happens to live in the same (evidently nameless) city that the evil lord and the Elven Council live in. The romance? Totally unbelievable and unrealistic. The easy way the good guys brace the bad guy in his lair? Not likely. The even easier way the bad guy slips a spy into the midst of the good guys? If it was so easy, he would have done it centuries before. The book has numerous contradictions that make the characters, the events, and the whole plot just downright unbelievable.
I’ve saved the writing for last. Sharples has a decent start, but the level of craft he displays here is pretty low. Here’s some advice I’ve heard repeated numerous times: treat words like dollars: you have to pay for each one you use and you only have a certain budget for each story. So for every superfluous word you trim, you get to use a good word somewhere else. An example I’ve used in a previous review: He nodded his head yes. At five bucks, this one is way overpriced. First off, you can’t nod your head no, that’s shaking your head, so it becomes: He nodded his head. Four bucks, but still too costly. You can’t nod your leg, or arm, can you? So how about: He nodded. Two bucks. You just saved yourself three dollars you can now spend elsewhere. Neat, huh? His heart pounded in his chest. Well? Where else would it pound? His heart pounded. He had a frown on his face. Can you have one anywhere else? He frowned.
We don’t need to read about someone standing up, walking over to the coffee pot, grabbing the pot by its handle, pouring the coffee into the cup, adding cream and sugar, then taking a sip and grimacing. Likewise for the requisite bed-to-bathroom scene most new writers feel the need to render. You know, the one where the protagonist wakes up, yawns, scratches his head, stumbles into the bathroom, turns on the light, examines his reflection, notes the bags under his eyes and various other features, turns on the water, gets the toothpaste, puts it on the toothbrush, brushes his teeth….. etc. etc. etc. The microwave cooking scene. The opening the car door scene. The changing clothes scene. The ordering a drink at the bar scene. If it doesn’t directly add to the story, cut it! The problem, of course, is that new writers aren’t as adept at determining what adds and what doesn’t. Sometimes even experienced authors aren’t either. This is where (good, experienced, professional) editors are useful.
Adverb: A word used to modify the sense of a verb, participle, adjective, or other adverb, and usually placed near it. Adverbs are the termites of good writing. They worm their way into the structure of a story, weakening it to the point of collapse. Do a search for words ending in ‘ly’. Delete or rewrite to eliminate as many as you can. Pay special attention to adverbs that come after ‘said’ or its like. He said plainly. As opposed to saying something ornately? He said softy. You mean he whispered? He said loudly. You mean he yelled? If you need to tell us how somebody is saying something, do so through action, not an adverb. And as for dialog: said, asked, yelled (or shouted), and whispered. Use other words at your own risk.
I have a great admiration for Sharples. He has done something few people ever do: he has completed a book. He should now write another. And another. And another. And another. He should submit these books to legitimate publishing houses that pay writers for their work. He should seek critical feedback from people qualified to give it, such as published authors and real it’s-my-job editors. He should join a writer’s group, preferable not one where a bunch of unpublished authors sit around and tell each other how to get published. If he does all these things, one day he will get an acceptance letter. And when that book shows up on the shelf, I’ll gladly plop down my money to read it.