Great storytelling might be timeless, but ideas of what constitutes great storytelling tend to go in and out of fashion. Ever imagine what would happen if a great author brought a classic novel to a modern critique group? Here’s my take on Persuasion, Jane Austen’s novel about the pressure brought upon the heroine, Anne Elliot, not to marry the man she loves because he is poor.
Critiquer: “Hey Jane, great title!”
Jane reads the opening:
“Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.”
Critiquer: “Uh, Jane? Yeah, wow. That’s some first sentence! You do realize it’s almost a page long, right? Agents and editors don’t like that. And, who is your story about, this guy Sir Walter? Are we going to be in his head the whole time? Because he’s just not relatable. We should like the hero–
“What’s that? Oh, he’s not the protagonist, whew! Okay. Go ahead.”
Jane: “That Lady Russell, of steady age and character, and extremely well provided for, should have no thought of a second marriage, needs no apology to the public, which is rather apt to be unreasonably discontented when a woman does marry again, than when she does not; but Sir Walter’s continuing in singleness requires explanation.”
Critiquer: “So, is this in the present tense now? Because you started in the past tense. Yeah, that’s bad. Choose. Let us persuade you to choose, much like Lady Russell persuades your heroine, Anne. What kind of book is this, again? Oh, it’s a romance. But we don’t meet the lovers until when, exactly? See now, that’s not gonna fly. In a romance, the hero and heroine should meet in the first ten pages. And is one of them a vampire or other immortal, preferably in a futuristic dystopian society and there’s a love triangle?
“No? Oh, well, okay…
“You’re planning on throwing that up on Amazon as an e-book, right?”
Next up on Devlin’s blog:
Why District 9 is Better Than Avatar