Since my last post, I think I figured out what inspired me to want to talk about criticism. But I’m only 90% sure. However, since the post has to do with a book that has “tiger” in the title, and I just so happen to have finished a tiger painting, I figured I might as well go for it. It’s nice to get a cohesive theme going every once in a while.
If you are unfamiliar with my latest hobby, you can click back to the post before this one. A couple people have suggested I open an Etsy shop, but I’m not sure yet. My last Etsy shop didn’t go over so well, but maybe this time it’ll be different? My father requested a tiger, so I did one up for him. Here’s the progression of the tiger from start to finish:
And now the book I want to talk about…
Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck. This is an unusual review because I have to admit I only read the prologue and the first two chapters, so I’m not going to be talking about the book as a whole. What I want to talk about (and what I think I wanted to talk about back when I started reading this book) is the importance of first impressions.
In my opinion, the first thing that a reader is going to ask when they start a book is something along the lines of “Why should I care?” It’s been my experience as a reader that if I don’t have that question answered by the end of the first paragraph, I lose interest very quickly. Now, that doesn’t mean that I instantly care about the characters of the books I do like, but the book offers me something in return. It says, “You might not know why you should care yet, but I am going to give you a reason to keep reading. I’m going to make you feel like you’re willing to find out why you should care.” That’s why those first few paragraphs are so important. They have to be compelling. And Tiger’s Curse just didn’t compel me. I was bored.
First of all, the book starts with the poem, The Tiger, by William Blake. Not only is that ridiculously predictable, but this is not the only book that has used that poem in some way or another. That poem is overused, in my opinion. But that’s me nitpicking. Let’s look at the opening paragraph, found in the prologue, which is titled “The Curse.”
The prisoner stood with his hands tied in front of him, tired, beaten, and filthy but with a proud back befitting his royal Indian heritage. His captor, Lokesh, looked on haughtily from a lavishly carved, gilded throne. Tall, white pillars stood like sentinels around the room. Not a whisper of a jungle breeze moved across the sheer draperies. All the prisoner could hear was the steady clinking of Lokesh’s jeweled rings against the side of the golden chair. Lokesh looked down, eyes narrowed into contemptuous, triumphant slits.
So here’s my impression: I’m clearly supposed to care about the prisoner, but I don’t get his name. Instead I get his captor’s name. I don’t care about his captor’s name. If the prisoner’s name is meant to be kept a mystery, that’s fine. Don’t even give me the captor’s name then. It’s not like that name means anything to me at this point in the story.
Second, look at all that excessive description! I don’t care at all about the room they’re standing in. I want to care about the prisoner, but I’m too distracted by the decor surrounding him to be able to. The opening line alone is weighed down with globs of exposition that serve to inform, but not intrigue. Don’t inform me about stuff until you’ve given me a reason to care about said stuff, okay? There are way too many adjectives and adverbs. Pillars tend to be tall. You don’t have to point that out. And I challenge you to narrow your eyes in a way that is both contemptuous and triumphant. In my imagination, those two expressions are vastly different. Plus we already know that he’s looking down “haughtily” so it makes “contemptuous” redundant. And the fact that the throne is gold is mentioned twice!
Here’s how I would write it:
The prisoner stood with his hands tied in front of him, his stance proud despite his fatigue and the beatings he’d taken. His captor looked on from a lavish, gilded throne, his eyes narrowed into contemptuous slits. Immense pillars stood like sentinels around the room. Not even a whisper of a jungle breeze interrupted the pervasive stillness. All the prisoner could hear were his captor’s rings clinking steadily against the side of the throne.
So when do we find out the prisoner’s name? That he has “royal Indian heritage”? What his captor’s name is? What his relationship to his captor is? Well, this book is 403 pages long, so take your pick. That information can come out anywhere, anytime. In fact, the very next paragraph starts with “The prisoner was the prince of an Indian kingdom called Mujulaain.” So why was it necessary for the first sentence to include any of that information?
In conclusion: What is the art of criticism? Criticism should not be used to put someone down. “Criticize” and “Insult” should not be used synonymously. The former should be used for a purpose. Critical analysis should lead to the betterment of the work. And I guess I wanted to make that clear because I think a lot of people take and/or give criticism personally, myself included sometimes. I’m not immune.
From as objective a standpoint as I can offer, this book starts out poorly. And it is for that reason that I stopped after two chapters, and probably why I will not try to finish it. It’s apparent that this book needed some more editing. As you can see from this lengthy blog post, I’m not one to keep things brief. But this is a more casual setting. In novels every word must count, and you must make sure you do not overstuff your book with excess fluff. Start out with “Why should my readers care?” and work your way out from there.
Books are meant to be about imagination. It’s okay to use some description, but you shouldn’t be leading your reader around by the nose either. “The pillow was small, soft, and pink, and it was hand-embroidered with an image of two koi fish by an elderly Japanese woman back in 1972.” It’s too much! Let your reader decide what a soft, hand-embroidered pillow would look like, okay?
I acknowledge that there are more factors that go into enticing and captivating a reader, but I think what I have just addressed is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle.
That’s all for now!