I take a little time out of every trip to the library to go into the children’s section and take a look at the new books. I like middle grade fictions and fantasies because the author isn’t trying to sell you a love triangle or a run-down society. When you’re in the mood for a classic, but quick, fantasy, middle grade is the place for you. There, in the New Books shelf, I saw The Colossus Rises, by Peter Lerangis. What can I say? It looked interesting, so I read it.
Interesting concept, bad characters, and mediocre style. From this book alone, I wouldn’t have known that the author had written over 160– but from this book alone, I can tell you that I don’t want to read any more of his for a while. It was a study in how to do things wrong, and while I appreciate the example, I’d much rather see how to do things right.
The main character had a very flimsy motivation. I’ve been focused on this lately, but with this it was extremely obvious. His motivation changed with the plot points. Whatever he needed to do, he was motivated to do it, but there was no reasoning behind it.
The main character was also far too proactive. Yes, that’s good, but when you (as an author) have four kids on a team, why only use one? Yes, it’s fun to see your main character solving all the problems, but the other three people are useless. The author was trying to set the main character up as the leader of this group, but he failed– all the traits the main character possessed showed independence, not leadership. This is why, in the beginning of the book, he has no friends and is being picked on by a bully (as all middle grade characters must be). He can’t lead these people any more than he could make friends in the normal playground.
I read half of it in one day. That doesn’t mean it was interesting, or gripping; it means I was running out of free reading time. The story was there– it was fairly well-done, though it lacked structure– but nothing about the characters or the world or anything was gripping. True, you don’t have to craft a thriller for your fourth graders, but at least give us some suspense or pacing.
And please, please, please, dear author; show us, don’t tell us! Exposition is fine, and necessary, but guess what? It’s only necessary where it’s necessary. You don’t have to tell us two characters like each other if you can show us just as well. You don’t have to tell us something was exhilarating if you can show us. And look, if a character gets offended, show us, don’t tell us.
Now, that last sentence was another problem with the book. Early on, the main character meets his three side characters, who will eventually become his team. He manages to offend one of them rather quickly (maybe that’s why he’s a loner, hmm?), and that person clouds up for a moment, then goes on joking and talking. The same with the next person, a few chapters later. Offends them, they pout, then clear up and stick with the main character. This is a problem in many middle grade thingies: even if you want your main character to have a team, or a group of friends, not all of them should like him. Dislike is conflict, and conflict is excellent, especially between friends. Don’t throw arguments away like that.
The style was far too scientific. The main character is like a Boy Scout. I cannot tell you how irking it was to hear him spouting nonsense about human anatomy only a few chapters after he had been examining sediment. I guess he’s planning to be an archaeologist when he grows up, and a rocket scientist to boot, with a little home cooking thrown in on the side. This, combined with his ability and willingness to solve all the problems, made the author look like an idiot. Yes, we want the problems to be solved– yes, we want to know what that particular bone is– but we don’t have to be told by the main character. You have a team of what, seven side characters at the moment, and you can’t have any of them answer the questions the main character is answering? Perhaps the number/code whiz should, I don’t know, solve the code! Or perhaps the athletic dude should actually fight the monsters instead of running around like live bait. The author ought to watch a few good heists so he can learn that the main character should neither know everything nor do everything. A good team actually has people in it.
There it is. I am dissatisfied with this book, and not for silly reasons, either. These are fundamental storytelling concepts that I thought anyone published would know by now. I guess I was wrong.
Things I learned:
- Craft your main character correctly. Make your main character neither perfect, too smart, or too proactive. It’s fine to solve problems, but if they have a team, us it. Also, make it a little difficult to solve those problems. And when you want the main character to be a leader, make sure he is actually a leader, instead of a loner walking around in circles and expecting everyone to follow him.
- Conflict. When you have conflict, use it. When a friend is mad at another friend, draw that out as long as you can– not longer, mind you, because at a certain point you’ll stop adding tension and start making both of them look stupid– and then end the thing in an emotional resolution. This is also known as the formula for the character arc in the Hollywood Formula: main character, dynamic character, argument at the beginning, resolution at the end.
- Show, don’t tell! You never know how useful this advice is until it’s blatantly ignored. It’s hard to spot and difficult to fix, but you need to do it. Have the character shrug instead of saying “I don’t know”. Make them glower instead of looking at the main character angrily. Imagery, strong verbs, body language! It’s not as stupid as it sounds.
There it is, my unspoiled review of The Colossus Rises. I originally wrote it for GoodReads, but as it grew longer and more in-depth, I figured I should reproduce it here with a few things I learned. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you enjoyed the book as well, please say so. I’d like to know why.