The following questions are taken from James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self Editing which has been a most helpful and entertaining book. I did this exercise to help me clarify my thoughts about The Compound.
Does my story make sense?
The Compound is a tense emotional journey. A lot of its development takes place internally. She explores the complications of falling in love, from the social restrictions our friends and family place on us, to the mental ones we impose on ourselves. At times, the author is fanciful, allowing things to happen fortuitously to her lead character in order to move the plot along. Things make so much sense, in fact, that she over-explains them to us, using large sections of exposition to explain actions to the reader. I feel that in a lot of places, this is more than is necessary. However, she has written a story with a touching and realistic narrative arc and her themes are well realised.
Is the plot compelling?
First of all, I find the plot of The Compound very easy to relate to. It is a coming of age story about the mental anguish associated with grown up love. But it is a difficult novel to get into. The book should start explosively, immediately leave the reader on the main character’s side. Instead, it starts with the reader feeling like they are going to follow a very weird boy’s search for love with the first girl he lays his eyes on. As the plot wears on, it becomes more and more interesting. The second and fourth sections are particularly well realised as far as plot points. The first section needs work as a starting off point, and the third needs work on both tension and accuracy.
Does the story flow or does it seem choppy?
The story starts off like a car driving on a bumpy road. It takes a while for the author to really hit her strides. In each chapter, however, she does reach a point where she really seems to know what she is doing. I think that if she were to cut out excess wordiness and remove or alter plot points that do no justice to her story, the flow would be perfect. But if she doesn’t fix the opening, no one will read past chapter one.
Do my Lead characters “Jump off the Page”?
Winston is interesting. He’s quiet, he’s sensitive, loyal, faithful, kind of a goody goody. I think that maybe he needs to have been picked on a lot, to explain his loner ways. That might be a nice way to start the book. Sarah is something else. She’s completely irrational, she’ll say one thing and be thinking the complete opposite. She’s impulsive and pushy and defensive and yet totally pliable. She’s like a charging bull that’s attached to a long chain attached to something heavy. She reaches the limits of her family’s rules, or her comfort zone and just stops dead, falls over in submission. She’s lovely, I think she’s wonderful for Winston.
Are the stakes high enough?
We’re talking about the kind of happiness each character plans to base the rest of their lives on. Each one is searching for what they think will complete them. Winston wants to meet the love of his life, he wants to share in the pain and pleasure of life, and he’s ready to give all that to Sarah. But he has to battle with the limits of his own ‘manhood’. Sarah, on the other hand; for her, finding love is just one of a huge string of adventures that she’s ready to have. She needs to break free of her father’s rules and disapproval or she’ll never take the chance and have those adventures. What’s at stake is freedom and happiness. So yes, the stakes are pretty high.
Is there enough of a worry factor for readers?
Ok. So yes, emotionally, the readers follow the journey and they feel it along with Winston. But they probably don’t experience the really dangerous parts of the story. When Winston escapes from the compound, it's too easy. And he gets by pretty easy in the camp. When he beats up Robert, the author is really getting at something. And then Sarah just lets him off. I don’t really believe that. I believe that she would be so devastated by her father admitting he never really wanted her, and telling her that he got rid of her letters and manipulated her, that she’d run to Winston and yell and scream at him and blame him for everything, and he would be the one who was apologetic and pitiful, not the other way around. There needs to be building tension, a moment of break, and resolution. She’s close, she’s just not quite there.
I would give this book a 6 out of 10. Room for improvement but almost there.