Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Suck it up, snowflake! And Alexandra Quick is too heroic

So, is it the people who say I suck or the people who say I'm awesome who don't know what they're talking about?

I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to read this manuscript. It's been a long time since I was drawn into fiction the way I was with this chapter.

This is one of the most professional stories I’ve read on ________.

This is top notch stuff. I really had nothing to pick at. I can't tell for sure how the novel is going to work from just the opening chapter (plot-arc and such) but so far this looks like it's ready to go. You ought to be working on your query.

I'm so confuuuuuuuuuused!

Okay, indigo_mouse says I should stop obsessing. And half of you said I should finish the SF novel and half said I should start on AQ5. Only one dirty rotten bastard said I suck. Oh wait, that was me.

Well, for the record, I am working on the SF novel. And I'm not really obsessing over the bad critiques. Okay, maybe a little tiny bit. Just a bit. But I've found a few good critiquers, so onward!

Let's leave aside the SF novel for now, and get back to Alexandra Quick. I just got a long, long review from MadYak on The kind of long, long review I love that are full of praise and criticism. The last couple of people to go on at length about how much they enjoy the AQ series and all the things I am doing wrong were Miles2Go and tealterror0, and they both wound up as betas. So be careful when eviscerating my writing, I might ask you to read more of it!

Anyway, MadYak's comments went over's character limits, so he PMed me the rest. I'm going to reproduce some of it here. These are mostly the criticisms, so bear in mind he had a lot of positive things to say beforehand. But there were some specific points I wanted to discuss.

Perhaps more importantly, it's incredibly annoying that she continues to be just as reckless, all the way up and through the fourth book, despite the sometimes brutal consequences that should have taught her caution by now, in spades. You've rehashed enough how she thinks she's in control when she has the slightest grip on a situation and doesn't intend for things to happen differently, but it's starting to get old. Note that she, yet again, somehow comes out alive from two different encounters with John, despite him being a capable and amoral killer.

I have been hearing this a lot, often enough that I'd be taking it seriously even if I hadn't already been moving in that direction. Yes, recklessness is part of Alexandra's nature. ("Troublesome's reckless, ruthless and bold....") But there's a fine line between recklessness and stupidity. Alex will be smarter in book five. Which is not to say she'll stop being reckless. But she's starting to become aware of her limitations. She's had enough painful lessons that she knows being reckless can get people hurt. If not herself, then someone else.

This, however, brings up something of a contradiction. For every reader who grits her teeth when Alex once again pulls some dumb stunt and gets away with it, there's someone who wants to see her continue being indomitable and irrepressible and a little bit dangerous. If Alexandra became really smart and sensible and thought things through before doing them, she'd certainly get in less trouble and danger and she'd probably get more done. But she wouldn't be Alexandra. Also, she wouldn't have succeeded at so many of the things she has accomplished if she'd taken the time to think them through before doing them.

Now, part of MadYak's objection is not just that Alex is reckless, but that she's reckless and then gets away with it, seemingly with the benefit of too much luck. Well, if Alexandra seems to get away with being stupid by virtue of being lucky, that's definitely a failure on my part; writing your heroine out of a corner by fiat is bad writing. I'm not sure I really agree, though. After all, one of the things other readers have pointed out (a common element they like in my AQ stories) is the fact that Alex doesn't get away with everything, and in fact, fails quite often and is severely punished for it. AQATTC is really the last book where she didn't get a hammer dropped on her in the end. At the end of AQATLB, she loses Max. At the end of AQATDR, she sees another girl, a "friend," die, and her own life is forfeit in seven years. And at the end of AQATSA, she was expelled from Charmbridge — which some people said was unfair, but most said was inevitable if not long overdue. So she doesn't exactly get away cleanly.

But, let's talk about heroism.

Also on the menu concerning Alex is her moral attitude. One of the things that I admired most about her in the beginning was that she was surprisingly willing to bulldoze over others objections when she needed to accomplish something. However, it seems more and more that she's destined to become the classic self-sacrificing hero who will commit no moral wrong and find a clever solution where no one but herself is harmed, which I absolutely loathe. I'd absolute prefer a determined protagonist who's willing to make some hard moral choices for something she believes in. I actually wanted to hit my screen in disgust in book 3 when Alex chose to sacrifice herself instead of happily chucking Darla's guilty ass to the Generous Ones. From an adult perspective, Darla is a little girl who makes bad choices in a bad situation while trying to save her sister, and her youth makes us want to spare her. From Alex's perspective though, this is a *peer* who has repeatedly attempted to kill Alex or someone Alex cares about for Darla's own gains. Just because it was all to save Mary does not excuse that. But instead of showing the slightest bit of self-preservation, she decides to be a moral paragon (at 14) because the girl who was trying to kill Alex and her friend doesn't deserve to die. The squeaky clean goodness continues in the fourth book when she steps outside the wards to save Larry Albo, of all people, endangering her own life due to his stupidity and desire to poke his nose where it didn't belong to harass Alex. On the other hand, I thought Alex was right to stand up to Mary and give Mary the chance to curse her, because Alex's reasoning was pretty sound. I don't really mind Alex having some morals - just please give her back some fangs and stop having her be the hero and sacrificial goat for others' problems.

The morality vs practicality issue is probably my biggest problem with the series so far. Abraham and Diana are both good examples of the practical side, both of whom I respect (although I do wonder at the justification behind Abraham's methods, but I'm betting that'll pop up in the future). Alex and her friends are understandably hesitant about causing anyone serious pain due to them being children, but they're leaving the age (mentally) where it fits, in my opinion, since Alex and her friends have been exposed to more than the other students. Alexandra especially has seen the darker side of life and should be realizing that she's not going to accomplish anything big without stepping on some people on the way, sooner or later. Thankfully, you're having her become more capable magically, but she needs some ruthlessness to back that up. To be fair, I'm pretty certain you'll have a lot more reviewers that want to see Alex be that perfect hero than what I'm proposing, but I really just can't stand archtypal hero protagonists.

Okay, so this is probably going to boil down entirely to a matter of taste. While I disagree with you that Alex is a "moral paragon" or "squeaky clean," you are right that she has a heroic nature, with a strong element of self-sacrifice. Underneath the self-centeredness and the recklessness and the arrogance and the occasional fantasies about "Dark Queen Alexandra" in book one, Alex is (right now) basically a good person who loves her friends fiercely, even if she doesn't always treat them well.

This kind of ties back to my SF novel because there are people who will tell you things that are exactly the opposite of each other — and neither of them are necessarily wrong! I gather that MadYak would like to see Alex be more of an anti-hero, or a dark heroine.

I promise, at a later time you will get a hint of what Alex is really capable of if she takes off the gloves and says "The hell with having morals." I definitely would like to show her having fangs. But I won't tell you that you have seen the last of the self-sacrificing hero, because she is self-sacrificing and heroic, as much as she is reckless, ruthless, and bold.

So, about Darla. It certainly would have been ruthless of Alexandra if she had just thrown Darla to the Generous Ones and said, "Take the bitch." And you're right, from a fourteen-year-old's perspective, that might have seemed entirely justifiable. But — while that might have pleased the readers who want to see more of a grimdark heroine, I don't think most people would have liked Alex if she'd done that. I wouldn't have liked her.

I place a heavy weight on moral choices and consequences. I got some flack from rheymus for saying that killing is serious business and that most people balk at it — even killing someone who deserves to die. This is, it seems, a philosophical difference of opinion. If Alex kills, it will be a big deal. If she becomes someone who can just (lethally) drop bad guys without hesitation, she will be an entirely different person.

I think Alexandra is a long way from doing no moral wrong, but the big wrongs, like murdering people, or letting them die because she doesn't like them? If you loathe heroes who consistently look for clever solutions when presented with a choice of evils, you probably aren't going to find Alexandra's future development any more satisfying.

Like I said, though, different people ding me for different things. MadYak admires Abraham Thorn for his practicality; rheymus is always on me about how he's a terrorist more evil than the Confederation, no matter what the Confederation is up to.

I like the debate, and the different viewpoints, and of course I wish everyone liked Alexandra just the way I write her, but evidently different readers want different things and I'm not going to satisfy all of them.

(Which is why I am obsessingpreoccupied with critiques of my SF novel...)

Also, I believe you have a problem with word bloat/filler. While your stories flow very well from scene to scene, it only flows that well because you almost never jump from important scene to important scene, and you tend to add in a lot of extraenous information that isn't always needed, like mentioning a few classes Alex is taking between scenes or something similar. I've already started skimming these bits as a result. I'll admit that it does do a good job of making for a casual pace of school life and it does disguise the important bits and pieces when its something minor that becomes important later. However, it also is sometimes a chore to read. Not sure if you should change it or not, but that's my thoughts on it.

Yeah, guilty as charged. And flow and pacing is a lot more critical when I'm writing something that isn't fan fiction.

Thanks for your comments, MadYak!

Poll #1864938 Alexandra as heroine

What kind of heroine should Alex be?

Good-hearted, compassionate, and moral, like Harry Potter.
Basically good, but spiky and with fangs. Let her screw up and do wrong sometimes.
Anti-hero: she should fight for a just cause, but she should kill people what need killin'!
Screw good, let her turn dark and cut a bitch!

(I assume it goes without saying that poll results will in no way affect what I'm actually going to write...)

Tags: adventures in critiquing, alexandra quick, polls, writing

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