Dan Croutch has been a Book Country member since finding us during NaNoWriMo 2013. Always a helpful and supportive community member, Dan can often be found on the Book Country discussion boards or chatting with us on Twitter.
In April I wrote to all of the Book Country newsletter subscribers that I would read anyone’s book who wanted me to. The only catch was that the member had to have done a significant revision and reuploaded a new draft for me to read. Dan took me up on my feedback offer for his High/Epic Fantasy novel THE KINGS OF CARNIN: Rise of Ari.
THE KINGS OF CARNIN stars a young blacksmith named Ari. The son of the king’s foremost weapons maker, Ari is granted an audience with the king after his father’s death. During this meeting, he’s compelled to fight an emissary named Raden to the death. Unexpectedly defeating Raden means that Ari is transformed from a civilian artisan to a commander in the army overnight.
Dan’s prose is varied and flows easily–this was my favorite part about reading THE KINGS OF CARNIN. You can tell he is taking time to begin his sentences in different places, crafting each paragraph so that it avoids repetition and redundancy.
I am appreciative of the straightforwardness of KINGS OF CARNIN. It’s good old-fashioned storytelling that doesn’t confuse or alienate the reader. The linear way he has structured his book is appealing and will be accessible to readers of all ages. Furthermore, I think that fantasy often benefits from a straightforward narrative like this one: It makes the reader’s passage into the fantastical realm much more seamless, and it highlights the innovative details Dan has created as part of the worldbuilding process.
Dan also pays amazing attention to detail in his writing. Each new item, whether it is a sword, a suit of clothing, or a stable, is carefully rendered, and he writes with incredible specificity. A stable is not just massive–it has thirty stalls. The doors to the barracks are made from wood one and a half feet thick. Dan’s concern with physical detail really strengthens the world he is building, imperative in the Fantasy genre.
Dan is great at descriptions of individual items, but I’d like to see the bigger picture, too. Don’t forget to describe how all these things you’re telling us about fit together. In particular, work on describing the landscape, the scenery, and the journeys between two places. Epic Fantasy should feel epic! For example, in chapter 4, we have twelve sentences about the battle formation as it assembles inside the king’s court. But as soon as we are outside the gate, all we see is that “Borisgoth watched the scenery as they traveled.” Wouldn’t that burst of movement out of the castle walls be accompanied by something visually quite different, that the character would notice and that might be important for the reader to see as well, in order to have a sense of the scope of the battle?
This is something I particularly noticed in the first few chapters, and even in the first few paragraphs. Start drawing us a clear picture of the setting as soon as you can. Don’t be vague at all in the first few paragraphs. You want to open with a set that people can start to see right away, so that the story between Ari and Borisgoth will make sense and draw them in. We don’t know how to contextualize their lives, not to mention their conversation, if we can’t clearly see what they are doing and where they live right away.
There’s no shame for a writer to review punctuation and grammar rules, especially since these can be regionally idiosyncratic or change over time. One thing that I noticed in Dan’s work was that there were a lot of missing commas. I’m an American reader reviewing a Canadian writer’s work, so maybe we have a different sense of when commas should be used. However, if you have any doubt about usage, consult grammar resources like Elements of Style by Strunk and White, or the extensive archive of the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.
Even though THE KINGS OF CARNIN is rather long (101,590 words!), it was important that I read the whole book. It was a very useful exercise for me as a reader and as a writer. It’s almost impossible to give a writer feedback on the structure of their book if you haven’t read the whole thing, and it’s similarly challenging for a writer to undertake structural revisions until they’ve completed a whole draft (or more than one whole draft!).
Dan showed me the outline that he put together as he was writing this draft of THE KINGS OF CARNIN. It was a great doc that kept him organized, but I could also tell from it that Dan is one of those writers who does a lot of “thinking on the page”–that much of the plotting, planning, character building, etc. happens as he is drafting. He had to write the whole thing to figure out how it would end. Sometimes we have to get to the end of our writing to know which scenes and pivots are the most important ones.
Now that Dan know how the story ends, I think his biggest task, before he starts to line-edit in some of the ways I describe above, is to go back and build tension. Right now the reader meanders to the ending, and as readers we want to be pulled there. I think Dan needs to use foreshadowing to hint at the events to come, so that in each chapter we have a question in the back of our minds that we want answered. He could do this early on by making Radon more frightening, so that a conflict feels inevitable. Then, when Ari is dueling Raden, we will have more of a sense of it as a pivotal event that the first act of the book is leading up to. Similarly, in the beginning of the novel, Ari is crafting a very special sword from an alloy that he has created himself. Hints at the incredible power of that alloy will make us more engaged in watching Ari work.
There’s a reason so much book cover copy ends in a question mark, i.e. “Will the princess escape the dragon before it’s too late?” Having a question that the reader wants the writer to answer keeps us turn pages. Dan knows the answer to the question now that he’s done with his book. So my recommendation is to go back to the beginning and better articulate that question that the reader has to keep reading in order to answer.
Do you agree with the points I made in my review and blog post about THE KINGS OF CARNIN? Review the book on Book Country and let us know what you think!