Honest Critiques

No, I mean it. REAL honest. Email your excerpts or full stories, up to 1000 words or so, to honestcrits [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk. Synopses would also be welcome. My backlog is so daunting now that I recommend not submitting anything you are not prepared to wait a couple of months for a response on.
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  • Monday, February 27, 2006

    What Fresh Hell Is This?

    I am very bad at proofreading. Very, very bad. Such that I occasionally don't notice if there's a whole page missing from a book, or if a word is spelt wrong in sixteen-point type in the middle of a page. Added to this is my complete blind spot for several points of house style and grammar, such as the correct use of the restrictive relative pronoun or the distinction between -ise and -ize.

    Unfortunately, in a world where editorial service departments are a thing of the past, I have to do a lot of spotting these things myself, and then I get my work checked by people who proof professionally, and then my typescripts come back covered in post-it notes with tart little comments all over them. BAD editor. In extreme cases the competent person in this relationship will come and sit down with me and give me a little lecture, whereupon I thank my lucky stars I do not work for the Mob and therefore am not liable to be shot behind the ear and dumped into the Grand Union Canal.

    So the part of book-making that I particularly hate is when the creative part of it is over and it becomes a matter of getting the book ready to be printed. This is most of it. How much nicer it is when I am on the other side of the divide, just burbling away as author-on-staff, safe in the knowledge that my colleague with her editorial hat on will have to dot my undotted is and cross my uncrossed ts. Not to mention swap out all my whiches for thats and vice versa.

    With my author hat on, I have around 150,000 copies of my books in print (needless to say, not under my name) in the UK and Australia alone. Maybe it's time I got out of the office, chained myself to the word-processor and see if there's a more interesting way to make a living than checking very slowly for typos.

    Anyway, today I am freshly shamed by my proofreading rubbishness, so by way of blowing off steam, a few things that have come out of my reading of children's book manuscripts recently.

    1) Please would people stop titling their books "[PROTAGONIST'S WACKY FORENAME] [PROTAGONIST'S WACKY SURNAME] AND THE [SOMETHING] OF [SOMETHING]" E.g. "WIGGY FUMBLER AND THE SOAPDISH OF QZARD". No, it doesn't really make me think "Hey! It's the next Harry Potter!" It makes me think "I'm going to have to read 400pp about somebody called fucking Wiggy?"

    2) Please would people stop writing the book where the brainy awkward geek is oppressed by high school and shoved around by jocks but because he is sensitive and creative comes to a kind of triumph and inner strength and probably gets to kiss the prettiest girl in the school because he isn't like the other guys. Typical life-lessons / rites-of-passage learned in this novel include the shattering revelation that the pretty girl may not be so pretty on the inside, or that your parents aren't as bad as you think, or ... oh, you know the rest of the yadda yadda yadda. Here's a free novel idea for you: let's have a book called JOCK, in which one of the Neanderthal stereotypes usually found picking on our pale-and-interesting heroes in the above gets to tell their side of the story. Why exactly do they beat up on future authors? Now It Can Be Told.

    3) The prologue where a child is born and bystanders make cryptic/prophetic comments whose true meaning will not be understood until later. Yes, fantasy writers, I am talking to you. It's really hackneyed. Just leave the damn prologue out already.

    4) You open a kids' fantasy manuscript and you get faced with something like this:

    "The prophecy?" said Dangalf the Sage. "For many years, the sages warred over its meaning, until now only I remain as the last keeper of the words of Khobblers the Oracle. I now impart it to you, my young friends, shoeless, feisty ragamuffins though you may be.

    "Three shall come when times are dark.
    One has a distinctive mark:
    His head's the shape of English muffins
    With birthmarks in the shape of puffins.
    The second is a waspish girl
    Whose wisecracks make you want to hurl;
    And probably the plot will feature
    Some annoying talking creature.
    Inside they'll find the magic sword
    And slay the standard Evil Lord"

    "Like, that makes sense! Do you understand it, Cloppy?" asked Kourtnee, waspishly.
    "Naayyyy!" said the unicorn.
    "Wait a second, guys!" said Wiggy. "MY head's shaped like an English muffin!"

    Wow, what are the odds. In the end we reach a crisis because there's no magic sword, but it turns out the magic sword actually refers to the magic sword of friendship the protagonists carry around in their hearts, and they defeat the bad guy with a group hug. Ooh, didn't see that coming, did you! Having destroyed any tension by telling you what's going to happen in the end with stupid doggerel, the author desperately tries to claw back some sort of drama by playing on words. PLEASE STOP USING PROPHECY AS A PLOT DEVICE IN FANTASIES UNLESS YOU HAVE SOME KIND OF RATIONALE FOR IT, e.g. time travel or something. It just makes it much more difficult to create thrills.

    The only great fantasy I can think of in which a prophecy is a plot device is Jack Vance's unfeasibly brilliant Lyonesse, and that's only really because King Casmir's oracular magic mirror Persilian hates him and wants to fuck with his head. Actually, in the example above, if Wiggy and pals were to end up spitted on Axfang the Black's halberd by the end of chapter three, that'd be a fun use of prophecy.

    5) Please stop writing the post-apocalyptic SF thriller in which after the bomb/plague/enviro-meltdown the world is reduced to scrabbling around in little Hobotowns, disused quarries where everyone wears bits of old sackcloth and leather, and at some point someone will be discovered worshipping a burnt-out old TV set. Our hero/-ine will then go off on a quest and discover the forgotten history of Earth, probably including a secret enclave of people living at a 21st century level, yadda yadda yadda. Surely we are all bored of books and movies supposedly set in the future in which people have regressed to tribalism? You're writing SF for kids, give us some bloody robots and death rays.

    These dull SF-for-kids books are so often moralising and didactic (look what we're doing to the planet, how bad it is!) and usually display a decidedly un-SF-like poverty of imagination. (The reason film producers resort to Hobotown is usually that they've blown all their money on the SFX budget and there's nothing left over to dress the extras; but in a novel, exciting visuals cost you nothing.)

    If anyone out there is still reading after my long absence, please use the comment threads. I'd like people to contribute to the critique process a bit more. In fact I think I'd like to see at least one helpful or interesting comment from each person who has submitted an extract before I blog about their work - I'm going to start bumping lurkers down the list... (If anonymity is an issue, you can always comment anonymously, but email me separately to let me know who you are.)
    Torgo, 4:49 pm


    Torgo, this may be my absolute favorite post. I so admire your humor. May I have permission to post the link to your blog on one of the children's writers chat boards in which that which I participate? It's a kick-butt post. Must share.

    Off to start my next YA, JOCK. Thanks for the tip.

    Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:36 pm  
    Glad you like it, Diana - please feel free to link it anywhere you like. Thanks, T.
    Blogger Torgo, at 5:46 pm  
    Oh, yay. It will save all the lovely newbies so much time. Heh, heh. I'm not mean. No. Torgo, while you're sitting at the word processor, are you working on your own kidlit? If not, you need to be doing that.

    *still giggling*

    Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:54 pm  
    Torgo, this is Anya. I sent you the sci-fi prologue through email.

    Reading this, it maked me wonder whether I should just chuck the prologue entirely.

    Thanks for the heads up,
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:10 pm  
    'Maybe it's time I got out of the office, chained myself to the word-processor and see if there's a more interesting way to make a living than checking very slowly for typos.'

    **DON'T you DARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!**

    If you abandon me, so help me God, I swear I will hunt you down...
    Blogger Zolah, at 6:16 pm  
    Sorry my comments were deleted. I was trying to edit them--I wish there was an editing button on this thing!

    I wanted to say that the "jock" as a main character has already been done by Jerry Spinelli with his novel entitled, CRASH.

    Is there an original storyline anymore?
    Blogger Pam Calvert, at 7:21 pm  

    How wise you are!

    I started one of my Historical Romances with a Prologue. The book is a big, bawdy, over the top romance where the hero must face his biggest fear to save the heroine. My Prologue? A charming blurb that sounded like the book was going to be fantasy or paranormal romance. It was nothing like the rest of the MS.

    Over and above that -- as a reader I ALWAYS skip Prologues. It was only about a week ago that it hit me that some of the agents who got partials, likely walked away thinking.....is she serious?

    If I had only seen your prologue about 3 or 4 months ago........

    As to the rest of your post, my YA kid seems to be pretty much "over" Potter. He's getting back into the old Star Wars/Star Trek space travel, space wars, robots, blowing things up kind of stuff. While none of those themes are new, it looks to me like they must backlist well!!

    And don't you dare leave us --- why not spend part of your work day writing your stuff -- okay with a little editing thrown in to pacify those who write paychecks, or your conscience, whichever,

    Mary Anne
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:44 pm  
    Hey Torgo,

    Yes, I'm still lurking about. Heck, it's been so long that I wouldn't be surprised if you'd forgotten that this nutjob (me) existed. But I still do try to read here.

    BTW LMAO at that post. And now time to try and figure out which of those things I've done.
    Blogger Phoenix, at 9:41 pm  
    Wow. I thought I was the only one tired of seeing books like "Muppy Sprocket and the Magic Leafpile" or something. Glad I'm not the only one. Is there a 12 step program for that?

    Yer right, Torgo. I've been reading these but Haven't been saying much. Not trying to lurk, but for the most part I feel that, as a professional editor, your comments would carry more weight than mine. Not only that, but sometimes I don't like a piece and I just can't put my finger on why. The writing may be off, or the plot may seem veiled or even thin, but I can't elaborate because I'm just not sure.

    Ok, that is enough excuses for now. I will start putting my two cents in whenever I see something that grabs my attention.
    Anonymous David McAfee, at 9:47 pm  
    Ack. Given the ultimatum, I guess I'll have to come out of my hidey hole and post. I do tend to lurk.

    My favorite quote from this entry: "You're writing SF for kids, give us some bloody robots and death rays."

    I'll take a good old adventure yarn over a thinly disguised morality play any day.

    I'm also feeling pretty good because my semi-post-apocalyptic SF work-in-progress doesn't have any hobotowns. It does have F-14s duking it out with dragons for control of U.S. airspace, which I think falls into the "robots and death rays" category :-)

    Torgo, thanks for putting your time into this blog and sharing such pointedly good advice with all of us.

    Anonymous Valerie, at 10:48 pm  
    After reading that post, I'm convinced our beloved Torgo never came back from his island holiday, like we've been led to believe. I mean, think about it, dear readers. First the long hiatus, then the "broken" computer, the missing Easter Island Heads, and now this long rant and rave, complete with an uncharacteristic threat : "I'm going to start bumping lurkers down the list"---all of it so unlike Torgo's sublte wit and compassionate, honest critiques, especially "the let the underlings proofread, I'm too creative for that." Torgo wouldn't have made a comment like that. He understands that writers need to be crafstmen as well as artists. Even Tolkien sweated the small, boring stuff.

    I many be hallucinating, but every critique I read before the "holiday" was insightful, generous and like the blog says, honest. Since then, they lack focus and by the way, lack anything since there's not been much of anything to comment on.

    So, whomever you are, try to at least imitate Torgo's forthright and magnificent mission, and start writing like Torgo. I will look forward to making helpful comments when you do.
    Blogger Stephen Newton, at 11:45 pm  
    Torgo's on fire today!
    Blogger McKoala, at 12:17 am  
    My dear Stephen,

    I am and have always been bad at proofreading. Proofing is a learned skill and quite distinct from many of the others that make up my and my colleague's jobs. It requires constant diligent practice to become proficient at proofing long texts and this is something that I have not had nearly enough practice at to accomplish.

    Most of our long texts go out to freelance proofreaders, who are well-paid for their efforts. I certainly don't regard them as 'underlings'; quite the contrary. When it becomes necessary for reasons of cost or schedule to proofread a book in-house, I am the cheap alternative. And I am deeply abashed by episodes, such as todays, in which my own lack of skill as a proofer is exposed.

    I don't like to feel like that. Some days you have a bad day at the office and you feel like chucking the job in and writing novels for a living, which believe me does not appear to be the soft option.

    Stephen, I do not always feel compassionate. I do not overflow with the milk of human kindness. I call this blog Honest Critiques because an editor, either in person or in the role of the Publisher, scrawling their deliberately unreadable initials across the bottom of a form letter, must often wear the mask. You have to deal with everybody as politely, warmly, and helpfully as ever you can. This quixotic experiment, on the other hand, was designed to allow me to tell you exactly what I really think.

    Yes, I still think that your work isn't ready until the whole thing sings. I also think that every time I read a book in which the main plot device is an Ancient Prophecy, I want to bop the author on the nose. You will get to hear both moods, here.

    You're right, though; there has been a lack of much to comment on. If you want me to stick to the order in which things are being submitted, prepare for a few stretches in which I (and you) have little useful to say. Sometimes there's nothing much you can say.

    Why the 'uncharacteristic threat'? Look, if you want a critique service, first-in-first-out, that's what you're getting at the moment. Slowly, but I can work down the list. On the other hand, there are people out there - like you, Stephen - who appear to read regularly, and have been waiting patiently for months for me to get around to your work. Ahead of you in line, there may be people who fired 1000 words off at me in October and have never looked back here since. Would it be fairer to get to you quicker? I am trying to think of a way that you get a better service.

    If, instead, what you want is for me to pluck something from the list every week or so that inspires me to write a subtly witty, compassionate, insightful column on, you can have that too. You will just have to accept that I might never get to saying what I think about your work. (Although in your case, that would be rather unlikely.)

    Lastly, Stephen, please don't even joke about my not coming back from holiday. It is the cruel end of February here in London; dead skies, a north wind like a cold chisel, and feral pigeons cooing bronchially in the eaves. The hero cricketers of the summer are on their shattered knees and my local pub is bankrupt and boarded up. Send me back out to the Indian Ocean and I will proofread for you as long as you like.
    Blogger Torgo, at 12:56 am  
    Thanks for your response. Yes, I believe you just might be the real Torgo after all.
    Blogger Stephen Newton, at 2:10 am  
    I say Compassionate in the sense that the truth is ultimately more compassionate than bullshit. If no one tells us a better way, how will we learn? i once interviewed a young would-be illustrator who clearly couldn't draw. He told me no one had ever given him an honest critique before.

    All we can ask for is your honesty. That's a rare gift.
    Blogger Stephen Newton, at 3:07 am  
    Speaking of your number two pet peeve, since the 'underdog' usually ends up being the winner in contemporary culture, I tend to identify with the true underdog - since they never seem to come out on top.
    Blogger Brady Westwater, at 4:33 am  
    Stephen, I hope you have a critique group to fill the void. Not a bunch of yes sirs and yes ma'ams but real writers with credits or books under their belts. Writers that actually understand story structure and can point out flaws in a ms while also explaining why they love certain elements and highlighting what works for them as a reader. Nothing worse than oooooh, I love that with no reason shared.

    I didn't for a minute think this wasn't the same Torgo. Different mood, maybe, different person? Nah. Even if it were, the post is still great so who would really care? My question is: Torgo--man or woman? Some sensitive soul stuff on these recent pages. Hmmm...

    Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:39 am  
    Torgo - thanks for the post. It may have sounded harsh to some but this writing is about nuts and bolts after the story is told. I do not comment here often even though I read all that is here. I figure you might be busy and not want to hear a lot of speculation. And I went through my own bout of a blown out computer. Mine went haywire in October and my son gave me a new CPU for Christmas. Maybe I should write a book about him ... let's see - no prologue, prophecy, or Hobotowns. Got it! He is thirty four now, so a kid's lit book might not fit. Thank you for your honesty and humour.
    Anonymous Joyce Wakefield, at 1:30 pm  
    Diana, I am fortunate to have just such a group to fill the void: "Writers that actually understand story structure and can point out flaws in a ms while also explaining why they love certain elements and highlighting what works for them as a reader." You put that quite well.

    As to whether Torgo is male or female, I hope you're not implying that sensitive soul-stuff can't be expressed by both sexes.
    Blogger Stephen Newton, at 1:37 pm  
    Okay, okay.

    I am coming out of lurk. LOL

    Torgo, I check your site at least once each day, but I'm a quiet type.

    Perhaps it's because I'm the type to listen to advice instead of dishing it out.

    Though I do have one book published, I don't feel people need to hear my opinions on their work in this forum. I reserve my pov for my crit groups.

    Why? Dunno. Maybe it's because there, my input is expected, instead of out of the blue.

    Here we come for Torgo. Whose points are witty and topical.

    I have nothing like that to offer.

    Just my 2 cents.
    Blogger harridan, at 4:12 pm  
    That is SO funny! And so true. I love the part about visual effects budgets not being used up in novels like they are in movies...never thought about it that way! I also love the comment about the sword really being a metaphorical "sword of friendship"--I see that kind of thing all the time and I don't even read much fantasy! It often seems like a cop-out.

    I did want to point out that A.M. Jenkins has written several jock books, even when it's not important to the plot that the character be a jock. (But I still can't relate to the jocks.)
    Blogger Alison, at 4:17 pm  
    Coming out of lurker-mode. Still read daily but keep comments to myself. Will do less of that. Cheers.
    Anonymous Anthony P. Steerpike, at 5:29 pm  
    I lurk, therefore I am.

    But I'll creep out of lurk mode a moment. I'd like to defend the innocent prologue.

    There are three ways to feed necessary backstory into the beginning of a ms.

    -- You can feed it in, line by tedious line, across the first several chapters. Skilled writers do this without endangering the pacing and focus ... but it's seldom an improvement to said pacing and focus.

    -- You can heap your backstory together in a paragraph or two and 'tell' it, assigning it to a character or placing it in narrative. Good writers do this without imperilling the pace and focus, but, as above, it's never a positive poke to prod the story along its way.

    -- Or you can write a vignette. You can present the backstory as 'story' -- a miniscene of elsewhere and elsewhen. Good writers slip these backstory vignettes in skillfully, even use them for story purposes. But the miniscene remains inescapably a diversion from the storyline.

    A prologue has the advantages of a backstory vignette -- it can be active and engaging 'story'. A prologue has none of the disadvantages of inter-laced backstory. The prologue doesn't distract from focus or impede pace.

    Where prologue is intriguing in its own right, where it slingshots the reader into the ongoing action of Chapter One, and where it offers a true sample of the story flavor, I see no reason not to use one.

    Blogger Jo Bourne, at 5:34 pm  
    Jo, re: prologue... Why is the backstory so critically important? If it's so critically important, why not simply make it "Chapter One"?

    I think writers overestimate the importance of including backstory in the manuscript itself. Sometimes it's enough that the writer knows, and the writer only.

    If it is necessary, I find it much more effective for important backstory to be doled out throughout an entire book, not just the first few chapters. Creates a sense of mystery, actually, and another reason to keep your reader turning the pages.
    Blogger yossarian, at 6:52 pm  
    I'm sure glad "Nash" isn't a wacky surname, or else SEPTINA NASH AND THE PENGUINS OF DOOM would violate rule number one and it would be back to the drawing board for me.

    I wasn't even thinking of Harry Potter. What I had in mind were the old-school Doctor Who serials that all had names like "[noun] OF DOOM" or "[noun] OF DEATH" or "[biblical book] OF THE DALEKS".

    (FWIW, "Deuteronomy of the Daleks" was one of the best Tom Baker episodes ever! :D)
    Blogger tem2, at 7:06 pm  
    Any interest in my latest creation?


    Heh, heh!

    Blogger Quooquoo, at 7:25 pm  
    Oh! I'm so stupid! I left out Squiggly's surname! (It's Tarhead, by-the-way.)

    So that's:


    There. I feel better now. I feel like my true talent as a brilliant children's book writer has finally come to light.

    Blissful sigh.
    Blogger Quooquoo, at 7:30 pm  
    Hi Yossarian -

    >>>re: prologue... Why is the backstory so critically important? If it's so critically important, why not simply make it "Chapter One"? <<<

    Because Chapter One is the start of the story. Generally -- not always but generally -- Chapter One is the first essential action of the story line. It is the inciting incident. The big change. The pebble that starts the avalanche. The turning point from which there is no retreat or emendation. The first hundred notes of Beethoven's Fifth.

    Backstory is a whole 'nother animal. It can be interesting and essential to understanding the story .... but it is not IN the storyline.

    An inability to distinguish between backstory and the storyline has led to many dull first-three-chapters which were later, mercifully excised.

    Prologues are not a replacement for Chapter One because they are not part of the story action.

    A prologues is a nugget of backstory so powerful and necessary, so inciting and harmonious to the mood of Chapter One, that its inclusion prepares us for the storyline action.

    Prologues are antipasti. One does not serve the antipasto on the same plate as the veal piccata, nor as a side dish. One does not sprinkle it over the pasta.

    To do so is missing the whole antipasto point.

    Blogger Jo Bourne, at 12:43 am  
    Out of the lurk pile and must say, great post. Had me giggling.

    Back in the 60s, I was reading every one of those kids-solving-mysteries-while-bothered-by-bullies series, from Happy Hollisters to Henry Huggins. One of the books in one of the series I can no longer remember was written from the bully's viewpoint. I found it intriguing- 'course everything at 12 is intriguing.

    So, I'm guessing my Apocalyptic grim-survivor-in-the-ruins 'cerpt will get a deserved short shrift. In its pre-defense, it is a partial Apocalypse; only Washington, DC gets trashed. That should count for something.
    Anonymous Exeye, at 12:46 am  
    I loved that list so much that I sketched out a basic plot for a book that may or may not be called JOCK but features a bullying high school football player as its hero.

    But I've got a lot of other irons in the fire and can't write it just yet. Interestingly, one of the other ones is a fantasy that lacks any prologue whatsoever.
    Blogger Mad Scientist Matt, at 2:01 am  
    "I hope you're not implying that sensitive soul-stuff can't be expressed by both sexes."

    Oh, no, Stephen. That might incite riot. I'm married to an artist. Self explanatory. I was looking back through to see where you may have picked up on a different "voice" and noticed a few um, expressions and phrases and a tiny tone variance that made me think, hmmmm...

    That's all. Ssssss...the site is hot, hot, hot, yes?

    Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:54 am  
    Well Torgo, I can certainly see why you are not your estimable self...local pub bankrupt and boarded up, it was a dark and stormy night...er, dead skies and a north wind like a cold chisel, and feral pigeons, yikes! Run for the hills...just remember when your thoughts turn to the Indian Ocean...can you say, tsunami!!!LOL

    I'm glad your back with a vengence...maybe now the Easter Island thingy will drop the copped attitude and return!
    Blogger Bonnie Calhoun, at 4:20 am  
    Just to clarify about prologues (and thanks so much everyone for the lively debate!), they do have their place, but it's a useful and specific literary device that should only be used when required. The reason I occasionally carp about them is that I see so many manuscripts beginning with prologues that I have come to believe that it is becoming a convention. Many of them are unnecessary.

    I also can't help feeling that it contributes to a feeling among readers that you can skip a prologue. (!) To me, that's just bizarre - it's actually part of the story, not just a foreword or introduction that has no relation to the main body of the text.

    One of the things you can use a prologue for is to set up a plot point that'll pay off much later in the book. If your readers are skipping the prologue, they'll miss that...

    I think if your prologue is too gravid with back story it's going to be a difficult way to start the book out. I'd take all three of the other options mentioned by Jo Bourne over a big, complex prologue any time - you don't want to spoil your reader's appetite. That's why your antipasto should be a light and flavoursome affair rather than something rich and stodgy.

    Exposition does present problems with pacing. I believe that putting a mass of exposition right up front is not, in the main, the best solution. One suggestion might be to try leaving it out altogether and see if the book works any less well. Or you might try regular interludes in a different voice, between chapters, in which you do the expostitional equivalent of the dance of the seven veils; you try to time the revelation of the point of the back story to coincide with the actual crisis that point bears on. (See Vendetta, by Michael Dibdin, for an example of this technique, and also for a fine, witty mystery.)

    Yossarian said it better than me when he said sometimes it's enough that the writer knows the back story. I quite agree with Jo about the merciful excision of dull 3-chapter hauls to set up the first interesting thing that happens - I just think sometimes that is applicable to prologues as well.
    Blogger Torgo, at 12:03 pm  
    A little threat seems to bring lurkers out like ants in spring. I haven't been here long enough to lurk, and now I'll know better than to try.

    The post was very entertaining and spot on. I have a few pet peeves of my own, but not in YA because I haven't been a YA since Elizabeth II was coronated.
    Anonymous John Darrin, at 6:08 pm  
    Totally agree. That's all I gotta say.
    Anonymous Gerri Lynn, at 1:31 am  
    Alas, I have been forced to come out of lurkdom, lest I be nudged down the list. I too check your blog several times a week, and enjoy your posts -- particularly this one. I know that it's been said that there's no such thing as a truly original idea, but it's astounding to see how completely unoriginal some of these ideas can be.

    Of course, whenever I see a rant like this one, I hold my breath and cross my fingers that I didn't commit one of the deadly sins. (Imagine my relief when I got to the end of the entry and realized I hadn't done any of the above!)

    As for the debate regarding prologues, I have to admit I don't see a real problem with prologues, provided they're done well. But then, I suppose that goes for just about anything -- if it's done well, it's possible for us to enjoy it. Sometimes the prologue can provide more of a hook than if the story simply started with chapter 1. Personally, I've always viewed prologues along the lines of getting a sample cup at an ice cream store -- a tease of a taste before you dive into the double scoop cone.
    Blogger Bunneh, at 3:16 pm  
    I've always thought of prologue as the place where the author gets to try and strut his or her stuff, really show off all the neat stuff that had to go into the background so the plot wouldn't bog down like a pig in mud. The prologue is where the author gets to show off all the thought that went into creating the world. I mean, what's the point of creating all that stuff if people never know about it?

    As to prophecy, I've hated those golden child stories. Up to, and definitely including the Matrix movies. I'd much rather read about the person who breaks a prophecy, someone who wasn't expected or groomed to be the winner, just an ordinary person who succeeds in extraordinary circumstances. Besides, using a prophecy seems to me to be only an easier way of dragging foreshadowing into the narrative.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Blogger Rick Jones, really, at 3:48 pm  
    I wish I hadn't been delayed reading this post; it was terrific. I personally like prologues when they set up a situation that keeps the suspense at a higher level. But I agree that too often prologues make things too easy to guess.
    Thanks for your words on titles of YA fantasy/adventure. I'm currently writing one and haven't titled it yet. I'll be sure not to name it Blade and the _______. :)
    Anonymous Judith, at 4:21 pm  
    One of the reasons I left out a prologue is that I don't want the reader to know the backstory. I've sent a shipful of mercenaries off-course onto an unknown continent. I want the reader to only know a little more about what is going on than these mercenaries do.
    Anonymous Mad Scientist Matt, at 9:37 pm  
    Great post! I hates Chosen Ones, hates 'em, precious. Coincidentally, hey've always struck me as being the narrative equivalent to the highschool football players and cheerleaders, really. Someone who's going to win just because they're better. Just born that way, you know.

    The rayguns reminded me of a question I had a while back - how science-y do you think kids' sf needs to be? I've read sf all my reading life, from the hard science stuff to sociological sf to New Wave (back when it was new), and I know it varies wildly. My own scientific knowledge currently is about the level of, oh, reading New Scientist with interest. Is that enough, or should one have real credentials to try one's hand at YA or juvenile sf?
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:14 am  
    Hi Barbara,

    The only award for juvenile SF I know of is named after Hal Clement, one of the hardest of the hard SF writers; I grew up on Arthur C Clarke and Fred Hoyle (Islands in the Sky and Rockets in Ursa Major, for example.) Hard SF does work for kids, I think. That's not to say it's the only thing you can do, by any means - and you certainly don't need credentials. Go for it!
    Blogger Torgo, at 1:50 pm  
    Torgo....if it really IS you. I hope you realize you could've spent your time commented on one of the submissions that has been sitting there for months for an HONEST CRITIQUE instead of commenting on other issues that are floating around your brain. Focus...Torgo...FOCUS!

    I use to check your site almost daily but without much happening ....well, how do I say this nicely.....I got really bored. There isn't much to comment on since there are few critiques made. Am I losing what's left of my mind or am I on the wrong blog?

    And then, to make matters worse you threaten to ignore submissions from authors who do not comment on your blog. Exactly what am I suppose to comment on?

    Torgo....give me something to comment on, PLEASSSE! I beg of you!

    By the way, Torgo....I'm #6 on your list from 2/21. Any possibility of you getting to that list sometime soon?
    Blogger Hippie Chick, at 2:36 pm  
    Instead of lurking and keeping this comment to myself, I shall just post anonymously.

    Hippy Chick.... SHUT UP or Bugger Off. Your choice? Torgo, who this surely is, does have a real job in addition to this blog.
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:29 pm  
    Anonymous? Such a rude comment - it's a shame you don't have the balls to sign your name to it.
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:40 pm  

    I'm rather new to this, but in response to your comment #2, there was an interesting article in the NYTimes by Naomi Wolf actually lamenting the exact opposite


    Though maybe this is just a snotty New York thing...
    Blogger alau, at 5:41 pm  
    It's wonderful to offer free critiques, but they are difficult to get to when life happens--families, jobs, etc. And when said critique is offered freely, you freely make the choice to wait. Some editors make you wait a year to finally get a response from them. Those are free, too. Just don't hold your breath, live your life, and before you know it, Torgo will offer comments.... :)
    Blogger Quooquoo, at 4:14 pm  
    Gah! That's what I'm sending out now. Argh!
    "let's have a book called JOCK, in which one of the Neanderthal stereotypes usually found picking on our pale-and-interesting heroes in the above gets to tell their side of the story. Why exactly do they beat up on future authors? Now It Can Be Told."
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:22 am  

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