Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shade - Day 2

This month's Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour spotlight is on Shade by John B. Olson. (Spotlight on shade? No pun intended. Honest.)

We'll start with the negatives today, then the positives tomorrow. Always end with the good stuff, I say.

Though I am an advocate for putting the reader into the middle of the action, the style of storytelling in Shade sometimes makes the reader feel as schizophrenic as the characters seem to be.

In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 3, the male protagonist--Melchi, a homeless man who does chores for the Booklady as thanks for her kindness--is cleaning out a mop in the bookstore restroom:

...(A) burning sensation tickled at the back of his mind. He leaped across the room and swatted at the light switch, plunging the room in darkness. Clenching his eyes shut, he backed against the bathroom wall as the crushing weight of darkness pressed in on him from all sides.

A silent scream quivered up his spine. He held his hands over his years, but he couldn't shut it out. Rage washed through him like water through a saturated sponge. Not tonight. Please, not tonight. Holy One, help me. Please don't let it hunt tonight.

A tremor snapped his head back, bashing it into the hard edge of the cast-iron sink. Another silent scream.

I like the imagery--"water through a saturated sponge"--and I can see Malchi trying to ward off the evil, but the rage? Whose is it: Malchi's or his enemy's?

I don't like being talked down to as a reader, but neither do I like being kept in a contrived confusion. The above example is mild, and is only one of several instances where the mix of emotions and/or thoughts is sometimes not untangled--or, at least, not easily untangled. Anything that causes the reader to stop and say "Huh?" begs a closer edit. In this case, something as simple as "His enemy's rage washed through him like water through a sponge" might clear up any unnecessary confusion and still keep the reader in the dark. (After all, unanswered questions are what keep readers turning pages to find out what happens next.)

In another sample from Chapter 16, Hailey--the female protagonist--is running from a couple of the lesser villains but is captured nonetheless:

His grip crushed down on her like a vise, pinning her arms to her sides. He drug her out of the elevator and swung her around.

Waves of exultation tumbled across Hailey's senses. The garage lights melted into rings of rainbowed light. The garage was turning, spinning.

Since the reader is, by now, accustomed to the main characters sensing and being affected by one another's thoughts and feelings, as well as those of the ancient enemy and his minions, this wave of exultation--where's it's source? From her captor, triumphant because he caught her? From his master, pleased that he has done so well?

** spoiler in this paragraph** The reader learns later that the ancient enemy is not averse to using drugs to accomplish his purpose. Therefore, this exultation is a result of an aspirated hallucinogen. The exultation is Hailey's as she gets high on the drug.

A simple fix to keep the reader clear (without giving away too much too soon) might be letting the reader know the sense of exultation came from inside Hailey herself. Again, this keeps the information clear without giving away any secrets.

This is an exaggeration of simplicity, but an outline of the story's action might look like this: Running, running, running, rescuing, running, running, running, hiding, running, running, running, getting caught, someone else running, running, running, escaping, running, running, running, a little more explanation about the monster(s), running, running, running.

You get the picture.

But no one can honestly say that the story doesn't move. (Okay. That pun was intended.)

Maybe I'm picking at minor issues. Maybe someone will venture past this blog and wonder why I'm whinging. "What's this guy's problem?"

Well, I'll admit that--as negatives go--the above examples are small. Still, they drew me out of the story and activated the editor in me.

When I open a book, I want to be informed (if it's nonfiction) or entertained (if it's fiction), and preferably both. If the editor is wakened, I cannot enjoy the book. Instead of being immersed in the words, I am pulled outside of them to an objective and workmanlike point of view. I don't know of any fiction writer who wants his story to be work for his audience. Those kinds of books get assigned in high school literature courses, and are usually accompanied by Cliffs Notes.

Shade is published by B & H Publishing Group; visit their website for other entertaining reads.

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