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Posts Tagged ‘poor narrative arc’

The Modern Confessions Of St August Stine: August Stine

May 19, 2011 8 comments

The True Story …

of a renegade minister and his controversial journey through depression and religion. This unique story details emotional breakthroughs that will make you laugh and cry. The author has chosen to remain anonymous; thus he uses the pen name — August Stine

If you are down, this will lift you up

If you are up, this will inspire you

If you are in-between, this will stimulate you

psychology/self-help/religion/spirituality

Rated PG! Oh Gee! & My Goodness!

I can’t say I much enjoyed The Modern Confessions of Saint August Stine: it contains all the usual subjects—two hyphens are routinely used where em-dashes are required, there are a few oddly-placed ellipses, and far too many jumbled paragraphs; but I’m afraid that the big problem with this book lies in its author’s writing style.

Mr. Stine writes in very short sentences, and he tells the reader everything that happens and almost never shows; and this brisk, expositional style results in a text with almost no emotional depth despite its troubling subject matter of divorce, emotional breakdown, and loss of faith.

What this means, of course, is that the reader is hard-pushed to empathise with the story before her, or with the characters which appear, and without empathy reading is very unsatisfying. We need to be emotionally involved in a book to enjoy it and I’m afraid that this book left me feeling completely disinterested.

How to fix it? Editing won’t be enough. The writer has to slow down, and take more risks with his writing. He needs to explore things more, reveal more of himself, and show us events unfolding instead of telling us everything as quickly as he can. He clearly has a story to tell: but at the moment his rush to tell it prevents the reader from getting fully absorbed in it, and that’s a shame.

I read nine pages out of one hundred and eighty three and felt exhausted by them. I’m afraid I cannot recommend this book.

The Faith Of A Child: Stefan G Lanfer

August 26, 2010 1 comment

Preparing for fatherhood? Freaked out? Help is here.

Playwright Stefan Lanfer has penned a vital new book on the struggles of dads-to-be.

When a woman prepares for motherhood, other women guide her on her way. Not so a dad-to-be, who gets pats on the back, corny jokes, or vague assurances he’ll do fine. Until now, his best hope was by-moms-for-moms baby books–a gap filled by Stefan Lanfer’s The Faith of a Child and Other Stories of Becoming and Being a Dad, in which the author chronicles his own journey to, and into fatherhood, lending a comforting and humorous peek into the vagaries and joys of being a dad.

According to Lanfer, “When my wife was pregnant, I was STRESSED out, and the guys around me were no help–until, just in time, I hosted a group of dads at our home. I fed them dinner, and they fed me their stories.” As he listened, says Lanfer, “I got inside the head space of a dad, and, finally, I felt ready.”

To pay forward this gift of stories, Lanfer shares his own in The Faith of a Child. To dads-to-be, Lanfer says, “If you want tips, tactics, and advice for childbirth and parenting, you’ve got dozens of choices. But, if you want real stories that actually let you picture fatherhood, The Faith of a Child is for you.

The Faith Of A Child is composed of a series of vignettes from Lanfer’s life with his wife and, eventually, two small children. He writes in blank verse, which I didn’t find particularly successful: his writing is neither tight enough nor lyrical enough to shine in this form (to see blank verse working well, read Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, a book I adore). And while he presents this as a book of stories to prepare men for fatherhood I’m not convinced that fathers will find the stories collected here at all useful: most are without any real resolution or message, and far too personal to Lanfer to inspire or instruct anyone else.

It’s a shame, as there are occasional glimpses of beauty: for example, the title story is touching and rather lovely. But the few gems there are are muddied by Lanfer’s rather unfocused style, and they’re hidden among a lot of other stories which only invoked a reaction of “so what?” from me, I’m afraid.

A reasonable effort, then, let down by a lack of clarity and focus. While I think it’s wonderful that the author finds his family life so compelling, he really needs to look at his stories with a harsher, more critical eye in order to recognise which are worth working on and which should be kept as a private, more personal record. I read thirty-two pages out of one hundred and fifty-five.

As They Grow Older: S M Cashmore

November 19, 2009 7 comments

Witch Street is paved with stories for children. Strange stories. Spooky stories. Halloween stories.

This collection, AS THEY GROW OLDER, has a life of its own. Starting with The Toyman and The Grumpy Browns to fascinate the very young, the stories themselves grow older, stranger and spookier, until the almost adult Last and Longest Story at the very end.

AS THEY GROW OLDER should be read with the lights dimmed, read aloud at Halloween. It doesn’t matter how old your children are, there is a spooky story in this collection written especially for them to listen to…..

If they dare.

This collection of short, spooky stories is cleaner than most, with a mercifully-low error-count. The writer has a fluent, if rather naive style; and he has a good grasp of grammar, too. These things count strongly in his favour and were I reading this as a slush-pile submission rather than a published book, those good points would mean that he was automatically in the top ten per cent of the work before me.

He would still receive a rejection, though. His tone is at times a little patronising and while that might have worked a few decades ago it’s no longer acceptable in children’s fiction; and his stories, while perfectly pleasant, are neither convincing nor compelling. The story Nearly Nine describes a monster which lives in the narrow space behind the wardrobe: consequently, it’s shaped like a bath mat (and I quite liked that idea). The bath mat monster ripples across the bedroom floor one night, creeps up onto the bed where a child lies sleeping and—here’s the punchline—wishes him a happy birthday. And that’s the end of the story. This could have been done so much better: had the monster approached the child a few times but been thwarted, and had the reader had known that the monster felt the time was running out, the reader would have wondered why it wanted to reach the boy and there would have been some real tension to the story. As it is, we have some funny description of the monster, a brief moment of tension—and then it’s over, and nothing much has happened.

I’d advise this writer to work more on the structure of his stories, to consider developing their narrative arcs a little more fully, and to update his tone just a little. I read a respectable forty-nine pages out of a total of 369, and feel that this writer has plenty of unrealised potential.

Lord Of The Rams: Ronan Smith

August 20, 2009 16 comments

Finally, the greatest story never told gets told.

Join one man for the adventure of his life and, in doing so, experience growing up in rural 1980s Ireland. Meet this man’s eccentric group of friends, follow his escapades throughout Ireland and beyond, and gain valuable insight into the life of a lord … Lord of the Rams.

What Munterconnaught’s book critics are saying:

“A great present to give to somebody you don’t like.” – Shane Brady

“I’ll buy two copies. F*cking brilliant.” – Eugene Tighe

“The worst pile of shite I’ve ever read.” – Trevor Geraghty

Ronan Smith’s Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told has an interesting illustration on its cover and it’s a pleasant-enough read: but it’s a very episodic, built from a series of short anecdotes which are connected only by the characters they feature. There is little flow through the text; instead we moved from anecdote to anecdote via chunks of exposition and this lack of narrative arc means that the reader has no motivation to keep reading: it’s all too “samey” and provides no tension or climax.

The author has a slapdash approach to punctuation which doesn’t help: his use of dashes is spectacularly inconsistent, particularly in the acknowledgements; and he really needs to decide if he’s going to hyphenate “smart-ass” or not, rather than alternate between the two forms. There were several instances where the writing was muddled and imprecise: I could usually work out what was meant, but sometimes could not be sure. On page nine, for example, I found this sentence: “Standing beside his mother, Rams stared in amazement at a woman unlike he had ever seen before”. This is not good writing, and from my brief read and a quick flick through, it’s typical of the entire book.

Overall, then, this read more as a first draft than as a publishable book. It needs restructuring to provide a proper sense of growth throughout the narrative; it needs to be rewritten so that the anecdotes seem less isolated and provide a sense of growth and climax. The characterisation could definitely be improved; and it needs a strong copy-edit to deal with all those careless mistakes. The clichéd subtitle does the book no favours; and the lamentably weak back cover copy could have been written for all sorts of books. I read just eight pages out of the 215 which make up the story.

Legs Talk: D E Boone and Marc Burgess

July 2, 2009 6 comments

Legs Talk

A hilarious illustrated account of a love/hate relationship. Legs Talk is a whimsical tale starring a witty pair of female legs. Chatty legs are depicted with attitude and swagger. Straight-shooting and in your face, these legs sure can kick. Take this play-ful ride on the bumpy road of romance. You’ll be glad you did.

Remember how I don’t review picture-books here? Well, this is a picture-book.

Legs Talk: A Modern Girl’s Dating Tale should have delighted me: I love quirky, small-format books which take a new angle, as this one definitely does: but when a book has so little text there is no excuse for the clunkiness that is apparent here. The punctuation errors show up even more clearly; and there has to be a strong plot-line, which this book simply doesn’t have.

It is unforgivable for so many of the photos (on which the whole book depends) to be out of focus.

This book is attempting to achieve what the delightful Love, Loss and What I Wore did: only it doesn’t come close, and while it’s attractive at first viewing it fails quite spectacularly to live up to its first impression. Because of its short length I read it to the end, but still cannot recommend it.

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