By Shannon Grossman
I don’t know if it makes me strange, or if I’m just obsessive compulsive—but when I am giving feedback on a piece of written work, I read it twice, at the very least. So, in order to give Janice feedback on her manuscript, Unleashing the Sun, I read all 181 pages, twice.
I have to admit, it was tedious. I spent a great deal of time reading page after page, a blue (or purple or pink) pen in hand. (Well, actually, the pen came out on the second read-through.) After the readings, the notetaking, the questioning, the keeping track of novel time, the whole gist of feed-backing, I think my brain was fried. Thank goodness it was spring break.
Despite the strenuous and consuming process, I found the second read through was worth it. I was able to dive into the world Janice created and into the lives of her characters, especially her protagonist, Roxie. I was able to recall events that occur in the second half of the novel while reading the first. I was able to think of the novel as a whole, knowing the story, the characters, the past and future, rather than piecing it all together as with any first read of any piece of writing.
It was with these insights that I was able to give Janice her desired and anticipated feedback. Kayla Fontaine, another intern dedicating her time to reading through the manuscript, also provided some of her own remarks. We offered Janice ideas to help her improve and strengthen her manuscript, such as better developing some character’s personas, smoothing out the timeline—which jumps around at the end—and offering readers a deeper understanding of Roxie’s attraction to Alex, the other main character.
The characterization of Roxie stood out to me the most—her artistic and loving persona, her consistent struggle with opening up too much of herself, and her stubborn willingness to pursue the things that matter to her. Kayla says that, “we, as human beings, are floating in the proverbial wave pool of ill understanding when it comes to our own personal purpose in this life” and that Roxie is a good and relatable example of that, even to the extent of having conversations with her deceased husband. Janice is able to create this compelling coming-of-age story for this middle-aged woman, a woman attempting to accept the past and give forgiveness to herself.
Kayla describes Janice’s writing as more factual, “describing every mediocre pastime right down to the very meals (and the specific condiments they may or may not have used) and the time of day they shared it.” Yet, despite her detailed descriptions of everyday life, we don’t have a good enough grasp on why she hangs in there with Alex. Kayla describes Alex as “anti-social, anti-love, anti-commitment—a man rebel,” and he has high expectations of Roxie.
One minute, Roxie is hiking on her own, wondering if Alex is worth her efforts, and in the next scene, she is sparkling over him as if he hadn’t annoyed her in the first place.
Kayla says she is unable to find a redeemable quality in Alex until at least halfway through the manuscript. She says she would’ve kicked him to the curb in the first couple of chapters.
Despite it all, Roxie is still relatable (well, as much as a middle-aged woman could be to 22-year-old me) and as readers, we watch her journey as she—as Kayla puts it—“takes her time finding her voice and her purpose in her world.”
Janice isn’t the only one to benefit from this manuscript review. The hours I spent on this project taught me the nitty gritty about revising. It showed me the depth, the endless efforts, and the exhausting trials a writer must overcome. It opened my eyes to the extensive time and dedication one must have to complete a full-length novel and that to keep moving forward, you must persevere.
As a reader and a writer, I respect the process.