Alex Glass emailed me a partial critique of Product of an Illusion about 10 days ago and I've been digesting ever since. Getting partial critiques from two different agents (Nathan Bransford was the other-see my thoughts here) was an eye opening experience to say the least. And for those of you who are new visitors, I won these critiques via Brenda Novak's online auction for diabetic research.
Getting two different critiques reminded me of how subjective writing, reading, agenting, publishing, etc... are. After reading Nathan's critique I figured that I pretty much knew what Alex was going to say. They're both agents. They must share the same thought patterns, views, etc... Not quite.
I'm not going to share every detail, but just the things that I found thought provoking and that made me uber happy.
1. Alex said he "read with interest."
Is that just a formality? Or was he really interested? I suppose he didn't have to say it unless he meant it. It's not like he would have said I read your manuscript with complete utter mind numbing boredom
2. He said I was a "talented writer" and that the "core universal themes of the novel (coming of age, overcoming adversity, sacrifice, and redemption), and situates it pretty solidly within the YA fantasy category, with some great supernatural and adventure elements. It’s a strong premise and there is a large commercial market for this category of book."
I re-read this part several times. And then I re-read it again. And then I just kind of stared at the computer screen for awhile in a state of pleasant shock.
There were some other positive comments that he made, but the above two really MADE my day.
Now for the things that I learned and I hope are helpful for you guys too.....
1. I've always struggled with the concept of a prologue. To prologue or not to prologue- that is the question. Here's what Alex's take was on it:
"A prologue should set up a story and give some background details, but most importantly it should serve as gateway into the world of the novel. The reader needs to have a taste of the world and the character before we are given a lot of plot elements."
The part that really hit home for me was the not introducing a lot of plot elements. I think I was trying to throw too many plot snippets into my prologue and it just ended up being confusing and muddled. Thinking of a prologue as a gateway or a tasting really puts it into perspective, for me at least, as far as what I need to do for the opening.
I've read a lot of agent blogs and consulted many sources and let's face it- I think the concept of a synopsis is subjective. Alex said that he prefered a two paragraph synopsis and he said that some agents may disagree on that. But he feels you should have a clear, concise synopsis that you could use as part of your query letter.
Just as Nathan, Alex found some issues with my narrative voice. And he suggested (just like Nathan) that an omniscient narrator may perhaps be more appropriate.
4. Telling versus Showing- Alex's thoughts:
"The “telling” type of writing shuts the reader off from being able to sympathize with the characters or figure out what is going on and what the subtext of the novel is, which is the crux of a reader’s connection to a story."
5. Chapter Length
My chapters average 5-6 typed pages when using 1 inch margins, double spaced, and 11 point Times New Roman. Alex encouraged me to "focus on writing longer chapters with evocative scenes and fleshing out sympathetic characters that can stand on their own without the intervention of a sometimes-awkward narrative presence and plot-advancing devices."
So there you have it folks. I now have so much professional suggestions/critcisms on my novel that I almost don't know what to do with it all. I've been on kind of a writing embargo the past few weeks. And now I'm afraid if I start writing I'll just...I don't know....not do it right. Don't get me wrong, I feel soooo lucky to have these professional critiques and my inner writing engine is getting revved up for what I'm confident will be the best version of Product of an Illusion yet. But, still...it's uh...daunting.