Dear Mr. Hawthorne, Congratulations on an intriguing and engaging manuscript. I have genuinely enjoyed working with your novel over the past few weeks. Thank you so much for sharing your work with our class and for allowing us the opportunity to use your words in order to develop our skills. The scope of this story is quite large and ambitious, and your manuscript makes some very compelling points about the nature of humankind, of war, of governments, and the consequences of disillusionment. All of these issues transcend individual story lines in order to connect ostensibly unconnected characters with each other and with the global view of the manuscript. Additionally, your use of imagery and vivid description at some points in the manuscript is incredibly successful at bringing both your characters and settings described to life. In particular, the passage at the end of chapter sixteen when Nicole is dreaming of music, and of playing the organ at Notre Dame, is a particularly poignant passage where your description and imagery stand out as effective. I have identified several major areas where improvements or revisions might advance the narrative and clarify relationships between storylines and characters. In order to avoid overwhelming you with too much information, I have concentrated on several key issues that affect multiple sections of the manuscript and provided examples for each. The examples I provide are not comprehensiveâ€“ similar issues in pacing, for example, occur in multiple placesâ€“but are meant to give a general idea so that you will be able to identify other sections where the same type of revisions may be necessary. As such, I have taken many of my examples from the first half of the novel. My intention is that when you recognize how certain issues affect these portions of the manuscript, it will be easier to go through and further identify later places where these issues occur.
Language and Dialogue: The manuscript features a fair amount of technical language and jargon which is used to establish credibility with the audience but also because your characters would speak this way. The problem comes when readers can’t understand that language. This is a point where you may want to break more strongly between character and narrator (I will discuss this idea in more detail in subsequent sections). While your characters would not be likely to explain specific Navy terms, technology, specs, etc. to each other, in many places the narrator should. There are a number of places in the manuscript where a slight, careful rewording can help forward the plot with minimal redundancy. For example, on page 12 where the manuscript first explicitly mentions helicopters, you may want to use “helicopter” at the first mention and then transition to “helo” (as of now, the text does the opposite). This will ease the unfamiliar reader more slowly into military jargon without disrupting the reading. More lengthy descriptions of terms even less familiar than “helo” would benefit from more context information on the part of the narrator, but not the characters themselves (they don’t usually need to relay this information to each other). This distinction between the two will make Brad, et al. seem more informed and realistic while also allowing readers to understand differences. For example, in the passage on page 116 between “Brad knew…” and “the sam’s distinct speed advantage over the little a–4, however fast and remarkably maneuverable, had cost original classmates their lives,” it seems that Brad doesn’t need to explicitly think this. The narrator can provide detailed, vivid description full of imagery and metaphor to paint a clear picture in the mind of the reader. This livens up the jargon without sacrificing either believability or clarity. Throughout the manuscript there are a number of places where two or more characters are engaged in conversation and the manuscript jumps abruptly between each character’s statements. For example, during the first lengthy character exchange between Brad and Maggie, there is no other information given
aside from the dialogue. You may choose to employ this tactic in some cases, particularly to showcase an especially abrupt or rapid exchange, but most of the time the manuscript would benefit from added detail. In this example, you can use this section to describe characters’ appearances more clearly or to establish mood via physical movement. This device will work especially well during conversations that feature more lengthy sections of dialogue from each character and during extended conversations, such as the one between Brad and the women (pgs. 91–94). You can vary this section by removing phrases such as “echoed [character]” or “whispered [character]” and add more character movement. Show a character turning toward another or fiddling with his/her glass. Allow some characters to develop certain tics in conversations (though be careful not to overuse any particular action) to show confidence, nervousness, etc. This will further characterization while also clarifying the action during individual scenes.
Pacing: Certainly the scope of this story is large, and by necessity you may have to move the manuscript forward through chunks of time at once. The use of explicit dates, locations, and other referents to separate sections in the beginning of the manuscript is an effective way to clarify these shifts for your reader, but these devices are not used consistently throughout. If this is intentional, I agree that you may not need to title every chapter or every section within a chapter with the date and location, but the current dearth of transition in the body of the work makes the places where this device is not used unclear and confusing. The section on page 110, where Brad is taken into Italian custody following the helicopter accident and death of Ensign Hart, is an especially arresting example of this question. The matter is referenced, then almost immediately resolved and the story moves on. This section, coming just after the sudden death of Brad’s replacement, has the possibility to be a
powerful scene that resonates with the reader and contrasts with the Brad that exists by the end of the novel, but by jumping almost immediately from Brad’s inability to shake the image of Hart’s body to the next section, the scene doesn’t get the space it needs to truly have an impact. In this particular example, visual clues such as white space, characters to mark breaks, or even a chapter break will add suspense before any wording is addressed. Any one of these options will give more time for the image Brad has of his fallen compatriot to sink more fully into the reader’s mind. Also, the issue of arrest and possible “international incident” is wrapped up too quickly. If this is potentially a big deal, then give it space to exist in the reader’s imagination before killing the idea off. If it’s not a big deal it may not need to be here. On a related note, many of the earlier chapters and sections within chapters seem exceptionally short—by page eleven the novel is in chapter three, but has already spanned several decades, characters, and even continents. My impression is that you did this intentionally, in order to introduce the different characters and perspectives (i.e. not just introduce Joseph, but distinguish between the Joseph who narrates to Pipon and the Joseph who becomes friends with Robert) as soon as possible in the narrative. My suggestion here is not to worry so much about introducing these various perspectives quickly, but rather concern yourself with introducing them effectively. This may require longer, more detailed sections at the beginning in order to more fully introduce your characters and settings but also to ensure that your reader is invested in each of them. Lengthier descriptions and longer scenes up front will help establish compelling characters from the beginning, without compromising momentum. Particularly in Brad’s case, the reader does not see really significant background information on him until the memo Neary reads in Hong Kong (pg 265). I agree that this memo should reveal extra information about Brad rather than merely repeating what we already know, but some of these facts go a long way toward characterization and
should appear earlier in the story. In addition to adding transitional words or phrases, it may occasionally be a good idea to make brief reference to time that has passed, if only in order to show that it was nondescript or unimportant enough to be left out of the story. Your readers will accept your judgment in these cases—they don’t want to be bored if nothing of note is happening—but they need to trust that you are leading them in the right direction, showing them everything they need to know; the way shifts in perspective and setting are shown currently does not establish that trust.
Narrative Perspective and Character: My comments in this section will necessarily relate to the other issues discussed; the source of narration and perspective of the narrator have consequences for the kind of language used in exposition, for the kind of information shared between characters through dialogue, and particularly for the pacing of the story as a whole. On page 122, the manuscript runs into a slightly different kind of pacing problem than the type I discussed above. This section describing Brad and DeAvila’s pre-Vietnam debriefing, although helpful in the broader context of the novel, comes across as both too general and too long. If the intent is to summarize their training before moving on to the action, this section should be shorter. If you do decide to spend this amount of time on it, this section needs to be more descriptive and tied to the overall plot. My recommendation, however, is that you consider entirely reframing this section. The exposition here could function more effectively as a foreshadowing of Brad’s experiences in Vietnam. This would imbue the manuscript with a more acute sense of danger or foreboding, which would more closely align with where Brad is emotionally and mentally at the end of the novel. You might consider removing the narrator back another
step during this section; instead of presenting this information as something that an orientation leader is literally explaining to Brad and DeAvila, back up and use an omniscient narrator to relay this information to the reader. As is, this section reads like a summarized version of exactly what Brad is being told. Changing perspective and making it clear this is the narrator’s voice, rather than framing it as summary, will not change a reader’s understanding that they are learning this information alongside Brad. This revision would, however, augment narrative authority, which will be helpful elsewhere in the manuscript, particularly in motivating the reader at the beginning of the novel and in allowing the reader to more strongly identify with the negative aspects of Brad’s character. Strengthening the authority and presence of narrative force will help correct some of the other structural issues in the manuscript. Because a stronger narrator is a more trusted narrator, readers are less likely to find rapid transitions frustrating when they feel a connection between sections. In this particular section, you might show Brad and DeAvila learning some of the information in debriefing, but allow the narrator to fill in most of the details. Adding more narrative space or distance between narrator and Brad will also help readers understand why the action shifts away from him occasionally. Brad’s story may make up the majority of the novel, but it isn’t the only story, and his story alone isn’t the overarching theme of the novel. Or if it is, consider cutting out a lot of the other information (e.g. the plot against De Gaulle, all of Joseph’s plotlines) that distracts from Brad’s story. With this thought, you may still want to rework several characters. A novel of this scope will necessarily have a large character roster, but there are places especially toward the beginning where the sheer number of characters is overwhelming and the space dedicated to minor characters detracts from the more major ones. Take care not to give characters like DeAvila short shrift—as Brad’s longtime coworker and companion, he is not given enough space to develop as an individual and instead tends to come across
to the reader as an underdeveloped sidekick. Giving him more varied personal motivations (the backstory about his wife and family is a strong gesture toward this end but is not enough on its own) will help the reader connect with him better, which in turn will make his death that much more tragic and compelling. The needless manner of his death coupled with Brad’s somewhat tepid reaction will be all the more striking when the reader is actually invested in DeAvila. On this note, you will also want to sketch both Joseph and Robert more fully. While Joseph provides much needed context for Robert, he personally seems dispensable in the current manuscript, and his storylines with Pipon at the beginning and with Kristianne further in do not adequately connect to the larger narrative. Pipon, in particular, seems an unnecessary addition. The story of Kristianne, her involvement in the resistance, and subsequent death could connect well with the global theme of tragedy and unnecessary, senseless loss in war, but in order for this to work, Joseph needs more time to develop throughout the entirety of the novel. As it is, he is featured prominently toward the beginning, but his storyline trails off.
French Language Use: Many of these are largely copyediting issues, but to ensure they aren’t left aside, I do want to briefly discuss a few issues here. When French is used, double check to verify accuracy. Some terms are spelled incorrectly or inconsistently (De Gaulle vs. DeGaulle— both are used, but the former is correct; “Beauleau” instead of “Beaulieu”). When Brad and Jim dine at Robert’s home in Bizerte, it is mentioned that the group enjoys an aperitif (specifically Cognac) after dinner, but an aperitif is only consumed before dinner. An after-dinner drink would be called a digestif. The confusion is understandable, as Cognac is served as both aperitif and digestif, but a born and bred French couple such as Robert and Nicole
would never make that mistake. On the contrary, if Brad is the one to use that word, the mistake would be understandable and could further characterization; however, if this is the case, it should be clearly intentional. This refers back to the issue of narrative perspective discussed aboveâ€”when or if narration comes primarily from Bradâ€™s perspective, the discrepancy is okay. If a gap between Brad and narrator is intended (and again, I do recommend this), then you will want the narrator to use the correct term.
Conclusions: I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to read and review your manuscript. I know that opening up your writing to critique can be an overwhelming and potentially frustrating process; allowing several people to critique your work at once can only increase that risk. I hope that you have found my comments and the comments of my group members to be appropriate and helpful to the process of editing your manuscript. If you have any additional questions for me or would like to request clarification of any issue I discussed, please donâ€™t hesitate to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am eager to be of any further help. Sincerely, Katherine Marshall