Review: “Hidden Truth” and “Rogue” by Chris O’Connell

“Hidden Truth”  and “Rogue” are short stories that continue to follow the adventures of rookie CIA operative Benjamin Merrill. The question is, do they merit following? I think so, but not right now.

Chris O’Connell is a natural talent when it comes to story telling. His stories have plots that flow easily from A to B to C, it’s the in-between sections that are lacking. O’Connell’s heart appears to be in the spy genre, but his mind is just not there, yet. A big part of this is the fact that he’s only 15 (soon to be 16).

It would behoove O’Connell to gain some practice on the basics of English writing. His sentences are often awkwardly structured, and his use (or lack thereof) of proper punctuation leaves the stories wanting. I mentioned in my review of his last story, “Not an Option”, that there seemed to be a lack of proof-reading, beyond the use of spell check, and I found that to once again be the case. There were just too many simple, catch-able errors. Again, give him a little bit of leeway, he is only a young teenager. That being said, here’s a piece of advice for the budding writer in all of us: The best way to proofread, at least in my experience, is to read the story out loud (to yourself). Forcing your mouth to form the words, making yourself hear how it sounds, will have a great impact on your editing process.

So now that we’ve covered that basic English lesson portion of the review, I’m just going to jump into the “meat-and-potatoes.” I think Chris O’Connell should stop writing spy stories, for the time being. I think every writer should push themselves, especially in the beginning, to try several different genres and styles. You never know how good you are at something until you try it. I would suggest he try writing some “slice of life” style stories, a day in the life kind of deal. No action, no murders, no spies. Stretch your legs, Chris, and get the practice you need. Doing this and several other types of stories, will help you truly flesh out your voice.

But while you do this, don’t give up on the spy stories, instead, do some research. Watch some movies about spies that don’t feature James Bond. War movies would also be a good source of research. The stories, as they stand, lack a verisimilitude needed to make the spy genre work; the leaps of logic, the suspension of disbelief, needed to make these stories work are just too much for such a gritty, suspenseful genre. Remember this rule: Coincidences, misunderstandings, and fateful events are all perfect for getting your protagonist IN trouble, but should never, ever be use to get your hero OUT of trouble. It’s just a cop-out.

Chris, I have a homework assignment for you. I’ll do the same in my next post so you can get an idea of what I mean, but I want you to write a Magna Carta. Allow me to explain: Your Magna Carta is going to be a simple list. It’s a list of things that you enjoy in the books/stories/movies you love (again, look for my example if you don’t follow what I mean). Then you’re going to write a Magna Carta II. This second Magna Carta is going to be all the things you don’t like, or even hate, in books/stories/movies. It may seem arbitrary, but it’s not. More often than not the things you enjoy writing are going to be the things you write best. The things you don’t like will more than likely turn out to be things you’re not so good at. So write your lists, post them if you like, but keep paper copies on hand whenever you write. Keep them in plain view, because you’re going to use them every time you write. You’re going to make sure that don’t use anything from your Magna Carta II in your writing, and that you stick to the items on your Magna Carta I.

I hope you take this for what it is, encouragement, and not for what it appears to be on the surface, discouragement. I look forward to seeing how you grow as a writer, Chris, and I’m sure that with lots of practice (the greatest thing any writer can do) you’ll have a long and prosperous career ahead of you in publishing.

 

M.R. Scully

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