"No Man an Island" review

8 years ago | G.S. Williams (Member)

I'd like to thank Robert Rodgers for his initial review of "No Man an Island." I've already thanked Robert by email, as I'm already a fan of his "Last Skull" and his work on Jim Zoetewey's "Legion of Nothing," and the three of us have been working with other writers on collaborative work that is slow going but someday might end up epic.

But I wanted to publically thank him as well, in the spirit of continuing to encourage the community in its efforts. The more we all get involved and review, the more we get out of the experience. I was glad he took a look at my completed work, because completed stories often don't have the same momentum as ongoing series and it's nice to have new feedback.

I would like to point out, however, that his review is a "work in progress," and based on chapter 14, which is close to five percent of the completed novel. I look forward to his thoughts towards the end of the book. With ongoing series, it is obviously necessary to do a "work in progress" review because ongoing series are unfinished, and some serials may never finish but go on for years.

With a completed novel, the whole can be assessed, and so I'm here stating officially my own intent to look through my past reviews and finish all the completed novels with a more comprehensive review, in case I left any with "work in progress" summations.

And I would encourage anyone who reads "No Man an Island" to read the whole thing. Unlike my other project, "The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin," it was never meant for online consumption originally. I learned in the process of posting it that "the medium is the message" as Marshall McLuhan famously said. Written for traditional publication, "NMAI" starts slow as Robert rightfully points out because in the old paradigm of paper fiction, one could sit all afternoon with a book and slowly become immersed in its world. Online, people sometimes read one post a day, and so each post needs energy and a hook. I wrote it so the pieces came together in a rich, textured tapestry over time -- leisurely.

"Diggory" is faster paced and lighter. "NMAI" is much more literary, despite action scenes, and was meant to be digested differently. To fully grasp its content, the whole meal needs to be eaten -- no individual part was designed with brevity in mind. However, for anyone who enjoys deeper content, it is full of characterization, symbolism, and rich plot.

To use an analogy, most online fiction is in quick, small bites and each one is meant to be tasty -- but you can grab it on the run like a sandwich or fast food. "NMAI" isn't just a sit-down dinner, it's a banquet --- it might take longer but I hope that you will be enriched by the experience.

I've worked hard to format it so people enjoy it online -- and many do -- but I recommend that anyone who wants a fast-paced story should check out Diggory or one of the highly rated stories on WFG -- because "No Man an Island" requires a time investment. It pays off, but it's worth warning you about and I thank Robert for pointing that out.

Read responses...

Page: 12

Responses

  1. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I didn't remember any dragons....

  2. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    There's a vision near the beginning of a dragon burning up the world while chasing a hawk and a dove -- symbolic of later in the story -- and Azazel, remember that guy?

  3. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Ah, bit part for a symbolic dragon.

    Angels and demons, I remember those.

  4. Robert Rodgers (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    "I would like to point out, however, that his review is a "work in progress," and based on chapter 14, which is close to five percent of the completed novel. ... With ongoing series, it is obviously necessary to do a "work in progress" review because ongoing series are unfinished, and some serials may never finish but go on for years."

    I mean no offense, but my review is not a 'work in progress'. You asked me to review your story, so I did. I'm done. If I picked this up in a library, got 14 chapters in, started to put it down, and heard someone tell me 'go 50 more chapters, that's when it gets good', I'd shrug and shelve it.

    I don't wait for stories to get good--and my reviews reflect that. If you're not engaging me from chapter 1, I'm probably not going to bother for long. I hope you don't take this response as an insult; I just don't think I'm your target audience.

  5. jinxtigr (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    In that kind of situation it's good to be able to analyze what's not engaging you- simply saying 'I didn't like it' is not a review, it's a more personal reaction. To make it a better review, you have to go beyond 'this is not where I am' and go find what the work actually is- whatever it is- and understand to some extent why it's that way.

    I keep a Tom Clancy book, 'Rainbow Six', around, specifically because I hate it so passionately that it's interesting to me. It's a vile, manichean stroke-fest about being so caught up in your own frame of reference that you get off on blowing people's heads to pulp because they're evil subhumans without redeeming qualities, and it was very popular. It shows me that there's a lot of people out there who want to vicariously feel no doubt in their own godlike superiority- sort of 'yeah, I just choose not to blow evil terrorist heads to pulp, but if I wanted to I would. I, too, know them when I see them. Life needs more double tap.'

    Gavin seems not anything like that, he's like a non-twisted Joss Whedon: very good at a sort of immersive slice-of-life thing as long as the people aren't too broken. I see well-adjusted people (the horror!). He might want to look at that, because it's very definitely what's losing you. I'm skipping ahead to the more lively bits of No Man an Island (will not review it without reading it in sequence) and seeing the same problem- I see well-adjusted people, and some kind of monster, but I don't have any idea why he/it wants what it wants, it's just saying scarey things. You could say the earlier chapters that lost you are just as good- there's an ease and comfort when Gavin writes the well-adjusted people. The HARD COREZ stuff isn't where his heart's at, clearly.

    It's no wonder he probably hates everything I write, pretty much all of my lead characters should be lobotomized for their own and others' safety XD I suspect that's a smaller but more rabid market segment. Gavin's worlds are a lot less toxic, or to be precise their _foundation_ is thoroughly nontoxic. His only trouble seems to be that you can't get good villains unless you really understand their style of toxic, and if you only have placeholder villains, you just can't get the kind of plot traction you (Robert) seem to be looking for.

    I say plot traction rather than plot momentum, because it's not that events hurl a plot in a direction that must then be stopped- it's that needs and wants of characters produce a force in which you can feel the plot charging off towards bad things, and you then need to have equal passion charging the other direction- a tug-of-war where the outcome isn't clear, but there's two obvious visions of the world that can't coexist.

    It's possible that the ending of Island reveals why it can't have plausible villains or complex heroes- the work really is not, shall we say, about antiheroes. There's a reason it is the way it is.

  6. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Oh dear God Jinx, if you think I'm non-toxic wait until you meet Donovan Reza.

  7. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    (and for the record I don't hate anything you write -- I just felt your narrator's internal monologue was disconnected from the events around him to such a degree that what was happening in the story world and in his internal world seemed like different stories. By contrast, I move the characters in NMAI from a very ordinary world into a fantastic one by degrees, like going into a pool one step at a time until you're in over your head -- I HIGHLY recommend reading it in order not bouncing around because it was designed in a specific way, and it totally loses it's effect if you don't immerse yourself in it -- you can't understand a labryinth one piece at a time and skipping to the end will tell you literally nothing about the experience.)

  8. jinxtigr (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    No no- my point is that Reza isn't you. He isn't anything I recognize, and you don't understand him- I did see him. And I'm not a bit sorry I skipped to the end of NMAI- define 'loses its effect', okay? I'm trying to tread carefully here and am not at all sure it's worth being coy.

    You describe it like it's a trap that must be sprung, and skipping to the end reveals the trap? Your very ordinary world is nothing like the one I experienced in real life, and the fantastic one is- I'd really like you to define the effect this whole experience is meant to have. Just among us writers, okay? Consider that the audience is not here listening to us talk, and that the trap will remain unsprung for them.

    I'm trying to remember if you're the one who was getting into Charles Williams- I've almost never seen anyone mention him, and that would follow- but remember Williams' great power was his complexity, that he had faith and yet was continually a doubter. He was a really strange, complicated guy, but it seems like his power to inspire people was enormous, especially in person. That's not an accident.

    Quit trying to witness us writers and let us help you learn to do it to others better. You could be doing it a lot better than you do it in Island. Look into what CS Lewis did with the Screwtape Letters- upfront you know what it's about but it's interesting and compelling and you read even if you aren't sympathetic. Your secret is that you intend to slowly evolve a reader's experience until they're reading the lead character narrate "I began to speak, letting my faith flow through me, fed by the Holy Spirit. Words from scripture came to my lips" and it'll seem totally natural and not unusual at all.

    You can't do it that way! You can't simply tell us we haven't immersed ourselves enough and not to reveal the ending. I have no problem with your intentions at all, but a big problem with your assumption that you're doing it so well that the failing is in the reader. One of my favorite bloggers is Fred Clark of 'Slacktivist', who's an evangelical worth emulating- I'm not calling you out on your basic agenda here, there's no reason you shouldn't have it.

    I'm saying, above all, this is a writer's forum and we have to be able to talk about the mechanics of what you are trying to do, which means talking frankly about what you are trying to do, or it'll just be frustrating for everybody. This is a thread about a review of probably your first novel, the characters page basically gives the game away to anybody smart enough to read English, and the review says it's not doing (for that reader) what you intend it to do. I agree with him, and it's worth considering that we ARE your target audience as well as writers.

    You're still writing (I am too). I'm learning from the ways you didn't connect with _my_ first book, though there's no reason to assume my fifth will be more to your liking- but it WILL be better at being itself because of the criticism you've shared. Let us talk the nuts and bolts of what you're trying to do, and how better to do it. Just because you're sincere (and not practicing 'deconstruction') doesn't mean that gives you the mechanics of it, and it seems as if being effective at this might matter to you.

  9. Robert Rodgers (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I *like* well-adjusted heroes--almost as much as I like heroes raging against the night, on the verge of psychological and physical collapse. The reason I stopped reading this is really, honestly just because it's not the sort of story I enjoy. I don't like 'literary work'--I wouldn't read through _Catcher in the Rye_ again even if you paid me.

    For thoroughness' sake, the whole 'work in progress' thing above was a complete misunderstanding on my part. Gavin thought my review was a work in progress because he had asked me to review the *whole* book, not just a portion; so when I posted my review, he naturally assumed I'd get around to reading the rest later and update it.

  10. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Thank you Robert for clarifying that, I was just about to :) I totally understand where Robert is coming from -- it's like I invited him over to dinner and put down a food he's allergic to. He tried to be polite, took a a few bites, and said "It's really not for me." I can't argue with taste, and I appreciated him taking a look. But the issues he raises ARE a matter of taste, and other people enjoy it.

    As for whether my writing accomplishes its goals as to the "meaning" of the text, see my next comment addressed to Jinx.

  11. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    @jinxtigr:

    I’ve started a blog post about this same issue on my own site, but I can certainly discuss it here if people think a conversation about the mechanics of a story will be helpful to the community.

    On “losing its effect” – “No Man an Island” is structured with a specific design for a specific purpose. If I tell you to take a trip to the Himalayas and climb Mt. Everest because it will change your life, and you proceed to use a helicopter to get to the summit and come back and say “my life is still the same,” I will say “of course it is, because you skipped the journey. It’s the journey that changes you, not the view from the top.”

    Seeing glimpses of “No Man an Island” is like seeing someone’s postcards or pictures from a trip – it’s not the same as taking the whole complete journey.

    I understand Reza – I know him because I spend time with him every second of every day. You might have glimpsed him jumping around random chapters, but you did not take a journey through the entire text to understand what he represents. Whatever you think you know is based on a cursory examination, not on total comprehension of a complete story.

    “Skipping to the end” doesn’t reveal a trap. It will reveal nothing. It’s just two people holding hands. Getting there from the beginning will be a journey, one that affects each reader in entirely unique ways.

    I’ve never read Charles Williams, though it sounds interesting mainly because that was my great-great grandfather’s name and my father’s middle name.

    By the time the protagonist speaks words about his faith and the Holy Spirit, it will have been part of the reader’s experience. It will fit the narrative, because of where it takes place. Anyone who reads the entire novel knows why that piece is there, whether it’s what they would have done or what they believe. It suits the story. Quoting it out of context makes it a Hallmark moment, and that’s the point of context. But that’s not a secret. From very early on it’s clear that it’s a story about religious people, and some people avoid it because of that, and some people are curious despite it and some people find it fascinating.

    I never said I did it well. I never said readers failed. I said to grasp the meaning of the ending you have to read the whole thing because otherwise it’s meaningless. Because the reader’s experience creates the meaning. If you didn’t take the journey, it’s just a postcard. If the journey was meaningful to that reader, then I did it well. If it wasn’t, then I failed, not them.

    The character’s page gives away the characters, and it exists because readers asked for a handy listing so they could keep straight who was related to whom and how. It doesn’t tell you anything about the plot or the meaning. What you can infer about the plot from the characters is still pretty unhelpful, because the story’s meaning isn’t even about what happens to the characters, it’s about what happens to the reader while they read it. Could be good, could be bad, but either way it won’t get captured on a character sheet.

    I already said Robert’s review of the opening chapters is entirely valid. They ARE slow in parts. Some of those parts have interesting action, which he also pointed out. He was right to warn readers who want “grab your throat” action that it requires a time investment, but people who like slow-building stories might enjoy this. None of those things are mechanical problems, they are matters of taste.

    I confine my reviews of other people’s works to the “nuts and bolts” when the review is a work in progress. With an ongoing serial, “meaning” isn’t yet an issue because the story is incomplete. There might be themes and patterns, but overall those are between the author, the story, and the reader. So I comment on the grammar, the structure, and whether those things are working for me. Heavy exposition and “telling” versus “showing” will be something I comment on. Derivative vampires or cliché dialogue will be something I comment on. A new twist on vampires I’ve never seen, a fresh perspective, is worth commenting on. I touch on “meaning” when a story is finished and its message is clarified.

    In the case of “No Man an Island,” the meaning is in the completed reading of a completed story, because that’s how I wrote it. If its pace at the beginning is not to someone’s liking, that’s a matter of taste. I can accept that, and even understand where Robert is coming from. But his taste is not a mechanical problem, a “nuts and bolts” problem, especially when the people and editors who read the entire story rate it 4.5 or higher.

    So I fail to see how publically discussing a story you haven’t finished will be helpful to the community when there aren’t “nuts and bolts” problems with the chapters, just differences in taste on pace. “Taste” can’t be debated, it’s a personal emotional response. I made the point that his review is of the beginning – that can’t be considered comprehensive. Robert and I have already discussed my misapprehension – I thought he would be going on, but since he knows the story is not to his personal taste, he has other time commitments. That’s fair when it’s a matter of taste. I wouldn’t ask someone to sit through a meal of their least favourite food, or something they’re allergic to.

    If this discussion were about “nuts and bolts” writing problems, it would be helpful because all of us are capable of pointing out unnecessary exposition, bad grammar or clichés. But if we’re going to discuss whether a text achieves its meaning then I think the entire text needs to be read, especially when the entire text’s journey IS the meaning, not any individual plot elements.

    I don’t review other stories based on final meaning until I’ve read the entirety. I necessarily restrict myself to the “nuts and bolts” because they can be seen by anyone who looks. Address an individual section for such details and I’ll learn something. Tell me you know my character or the meaning of the story you haven’t entirely read, and I’ll say look again.

  12. Robert Rodgers (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Well, there was at least one mechanical nit--you have a habit of capitalizing your dialogue tags inappropriately ("Hello," He said -- it's actually "Hello," he said -- as 'he' is part of the same sentence). Every time I saw that, it was like a lemon-drenched spike in my eye, but so many people make that mistake that I feel silly mentioning it (I also didn't think it would have been relevant to mention in a review).

    My wife hates almost all fiction but loves Faulkner; I've started reading _As I Lay Dying_ on her recommendation and I'm actually very impressed with how good he is at being simultaneously entertaining *and* reflective. One of the reasons is because Faulkner doesn't seem to write a word unless it either reveals character or moves plot (preferably both). Faulkner moves slow, but I buy it because it's both revealing *and* entertaining.

    If more 'literary' work was like Faulkner, I think I'd enjoy it a lot more--he can turn a scene about a guy buying a sandwich from another guy into a revelation, and probably manage to make me snicker at the same time.

  13. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    (Thanks Robert, I thought I caught most of those miscapitalizations but sometimes my eye goes right past them.) I haven't read much Faulkner because I started "The Sound and The Fury" and while I appreciated how creative the idea was, I couldn't follow the disabled narrator's narration because it was too much like the noise in my own head that I have to filter every day.

  14. jinxtigr (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I'd better read the entire thing, then, even if it's a slog, because it's worth discussing.

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