Critique of Uncle's Novel (Review)

This is a critique I wrote for my uncle when he asked for feedback on the draft of his book.


Hi, Al,

I had a lot of the same insights into your story- the problem with a token tough-guy hero going after terrorists is it's been done so many times before. The important thing isn't the fact that he's after terrorists, it's that he has a family and that much more to lose. There's just a lot in the story that's been done before too many times- a tough-as-nails protagonist using humor as a shield who acts tough and downplays that fact, a concerned wife, terrorists with a super-weapon- what's desperately needed here is more humanity, like that glimpse into the astronauts' life. When we find out the main character is going to be half-blind, having him play that off doesn't feel natural. Why would he hide his shaking hands from his doctor? It's not the best time to protect his image, in the company of a professional who quite frankly would probably suggest giving him time-off and counseling. That's his job, not enabling the character to go get beat up more. 

The problem is a lack of humanity in the story- the tougher the main character was, the less I liked him. There's a reason Stephen King's novels often include a protagonist struggling with alcoholism or some other big obstacle. Yes, there might be all manners of horror after you, but the most interesting demons are those you can't run from. What would you rather read about, a protagonist who goes half-blind, heals up and continues kicking ass or someone who laments that he won't be able to see his newborn baby boy, or that his son will be ashamed of him? The character can tell the audience how he'd never be able to do those astronaut's jobs, but I don't really believe him after watching him topple off a ship and swim to shore. In fact, he's just too capable to be interesting.

If I've learned anything from recent media, it's that the more flaws a character has, the more the audience likes him. The result is we're left with basically anti-heroes, people who make us wonder if we SHOULD be rooting for them. In fact, throw in a scene with the terrorists that put them in a sympathetic light, perhaps explaining WHY they're blowing up NASA, and you've made the story twice as good because you're showing you're not afraid to be controversial. The last thing you want is generic hero A vs. Generic Threat To National Security B. It's not enough for the hero to tell us he doesn't want to be blind- he needs to freak out about it at a critical moment, mess up and get torn down about 50 pegs when people trust him less. Upchucking over the president just isn't enough embarrassment for me to look past a cliche. 

For this story to work, you need investment on every level. 

My ideas:

1) Separate scenes involving the astronauts. Maybe even starting off on that, making the audience think it's a space story before drop-kicking us to earth. Then the astronaut we care about gets his head blown off, and holy crap, now we actually care and want revenge. What you have with them is nice, but it needs more. 

2) Scene between him and the wife, with maybe a talk about how he can't wait to see his little baby boy- thus giving his blindness more weight- and if he's going to be blind, go all out to at least 2D vision. If he's lucky and can still see in 3D, I feel worse for Marvel's Daredevil. 

3) Break your main character. Let him make mistakes. Make people doubt his abilities when he messes up. Let someone die because of him. 


4) Audiences need to be invested immediately. If it sounds like standard fare, a lot of people will pass. The biggest issue I have with my novel is making it unique. There are too many books. Everything's been done. I'm pretty sure my idea hasn't, but that still means I need to throw a fresh hook to keep people involved. And then I need another hook, and another. I'm impressed with the amount you've written, and there are good passages, but the problem with writing about something that's been done before is if someone has written it better, people aren't going to stay with yours. And someone has always written it better- there are authors out there better than Stephen King, I'm sure, but he keeps getting famous because of his ideas and investment. You've either got to refine your writing to be so enjoyable that it doesn't matter if you're writing about fried rice, or you have to create enough to care about that people will stay with your story simply to find out what happens next. Anyway, hope I helped.



Calen Nakash