Or “Why All Authors Need a Good Editor”
(Also why is the only book on our list by a female author so technically terrible that it hurt me to read it?)
This book should have been over in Chapter 1.
It’s not often that I come right out of the gate on a book and say, “Where the hell was the editor?” but WHERE THE HELL WAS THE EDITOR?
The premise of the book, a serial killer who casts death molds of his victims’ heads, is interesting enough. There are no new ideas under the sun, but only new ways to deliver them. Unfortunately, The Sculptor only delivered in being amateurishly written and basically unedited.
Chapter 1 starts six years before the rest of the book and just right into the thick of the action. It’s a typical Hollywood device that doesn’t always translate well into fiction. I find it particularly tricky to do well in horror because horror is dependent on a reader caring about a character before they’re put in danger. If the author starts in media res, we don’t have a chance to engage with the character, Abigail in this case, before she’s careening down a mountain and being chased by a crazed man in ski goggles.
Strike 1: I don’t care what happens to Abigail.
On the first page, “Abigail embraced the solitude of the mountain.” Then two seconds later, Abigail is clubbed from behind with a ski pole. But this mystery ski pole comes out of nowhere. I have to ask: when’s the last time you were standing alone on a mountainside and a ski pole slammed into you? There’s absolutely no setup for the killer bearing down on her and smacking her. Skiers, while quiet, are not silent. Even after she’s hit, Abigail swings around and looks UP THE MOUNTAIN. In order for a man on skis to hit her with a ski pole, (and I assuming here because the author gives us no information) he’d need to either fling the pole and have fabulous aim… but ski poles aren’t aerodynamic. They’re floppy and unevenly balanced and I don’t believe it would hit her in a horizontal strike with that kind of force. The other alternative is holding the pole out and skiing past her like a clothesline. So why doesn’t she see the man ski PAST her? And why turn to look up the mountain in such confusion? Obviously, I spent way too much time on the first page, yelling at the author and editor to get their ski poles straight and was not paying a bit of attention to the story the author intended to tell.
Strike 2: The blocking is a mess.
Abigail is madly skiing down the mountain to escape. She’s doomed. How will she escape. “Then she remembered how. Earlier on the gondola ride up the mountain, a ski patrolman… had revealed… the location of a hidden chalet…” (Fava, 4). Ta-da! Abigail magically and without any effort on her part has a means of escape. There’s no setup, no try/fail, no cleverness or active effort on her part–just a damned convenient cabin when she most needs it. Chekov’s gun just went ka-blooey but the author didn’t just forget to hang it over the mantel, she forgot to even bring it in the house or load it.
(Also, Abigail is a champion skier but we don’t know this either until she needs it. Handy, right?)
Strike 3: Zero plot setup.
But wait! Abigail makes it to the cabin and who’s there? The killer! How? He just skied past her. And Abigail the champion skier assured us that if he skied past her, he’d never be able to hike back up. But there he is. Not just at the cabin but INSIDE the cabin waiting for her. He has anticipated where she’s going and moved at superhuman speeds to beat her there.
Now this might work in a Hollywood slasher film but not in fiction. In fiction, we can turn back a page and look at the rules (like how Abigail the champion skier just said that wasn’t possible). And if Abigail is a champion skier and that’s how she can zip over to the cabin and escape her pursuer then Abigail is also a champion skier who knows how snow and gravity works. And now all those rules have been thrown out the window because the author wants a jump-scare twist.
Strike 4 (I KNOW, I KNOW, THERE AREN’T FOUR STRIKES BUT IF THE AUTHOR CAN SAY TO HELL WITH THE RULES SO CAN I): Screwing all the rules for the sake of a cheap jump-scare that only works in the movies.
Abigail attempts to fight back. And what does she do? “She poked his scrotum again.” I’m sorry. When did the killer take off his pants to reveal his scrotum? Let’s be anatomically clear. The scrotum is the skin around the testicles. Abigail jabs the killer in the skin around his testicles but not his testicles? That’s excellent (and ineffective) aim. Why not just smack him in the groin? In the balls? Between the legs? If attempting for anatomical accuracy, use it correctly. But don’t cherrypick the word you think sounds the ickiest without checking to see what it actually is.
(Oh and then our championship skier runs face first into a tree like a dolt. She now deserves to die for being dumb.)
Strike 5: Keep your pants on and don’t jab scrotums.
And then the killer attacks Abigail. He’s beating her up six ways to Sunday. She’s bloody. She’s slow. She’s getting stomped.
She doesn’t feel a thing. She has no pain reactions to anything. She hears a rib crack. She convulses. She thrashes.
Abigail is superhuman.
Strike 6: Things hurt.
I wish I was done. I do. It’s still the first chapter and I was yelling at the editor for letting these things happen. How was this published like this? Where is your editorial self-respect? These are first draft mistakes! Not published book material.
But this is where I just lost it. Just absolutely lost it.
We’re in Abigail’s point of view. As a reader, I have a right to know what Abigail knows. I have already learned about championship skiing and the location of the cabin via Abigail’s point of view.
The killer pulls of his mask. Abigail looks at the killer and gasps, “You?”
She knows who he is, ladies and gentlemen. But she doesn’t tell us, the readers.
The author is withholding information–the killer’s identity. Abigail knows. And she doesn’t tell us. And if she’d told us, as the rules of point of view dictate, then the entire rest of the book would be pointless. So instead of building tension the honest way, using setup, plot, characterization, atmosphere, voice, tone, and tension, the author cheats and withholds information.
That’s lazy writing and poor editing. If you’re going to write, do the work and write.
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