Juror Comments from Whistler Independent Book Awards (WIBA)

Congratulations to the 2019 Whistler Independent Book Awards (WIBA) finalists!–

The fiction finalists are:

Edythe Anstey Hanen for Nine Birds Singing
Ann Shortell for Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale
Diana Stevan for Sunflowers under Fire

The non-fiction nominees are:

Bill Arnott for Gone Viking: A Travel Saga
Tina Martel for Not in the Pink
Manuel Matas for The Borders of Normal

I had also entered this competition. The organizers were kind enough to send the juror scorecard for my title: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. It’s great to see the feedback, as the jurors are all writers. They’re members of the Canadian Authors Association. Perhaps more competitions could do this? Here are the juror comments.

PLOT (a coherent, well developed narrative arc; appropriate and satisfying ending)

COMMENTS: This is a well thought out and cogently argued exploration of a topic about which I had no prior knowledge. I found it interesting and informative.

RATING: Strong

PACE (the plot unfolds effectively to keep the reader’s attention)

COMMENTS: The author does a good job of building and following a narrative structure that keeps the reader following along at a brisk pace and in a logical fashion. The trade-off is an extraordinary reliance on footnotes, but I consider this to have been the right choice.

RATING: Strong

CHARACTERS (characters are fully realized and believable)

COMMENTS: While I don’t doubt the author’s knowledge or interpretation, his examples are all drawn from classical plays, many of which are obscure (at least to me). I would have liked to see him refer to other times and genres to make the content more accessible. Why does risk theatre have to be restricted to the stage? It seems to me that The Great Gadsby has many tragic elements and Indiana Jones is certainly a classic swashbuckling hero, even though Raiders of the Lost Arc [sic] is not a tragedy. What about Citizen Kane? More contemporary references would have been a great help.

RATING: Weak

DIALOGUE (dialogue reveals, reflects and reinforces the character of the speaker)

COMMENTS: Dialogue, as such, is not a feature of this book. But the quotations cited from the plays the author references are appropriately chosen.

RATING: Sufficient

SETTING (time and place are well presented, authentic and contribute to the narrative)

COMMENTS: The author does an excellent job of establishing links between his thesis and our current culture, particularly the juxtaposition of economic and tragic theory. The section titled Chance and the Unexpected through the Ages was particularly fascinating.

RATING: Strong

WRITING (sentence structure is varied; writing is imaginative, effective and clear)

COMMENTS: The writing is clear and effective but the tone is a bit too academic. I found the prose hampered by the use of passive voice (It will be remembered…) and a didactic tone (I will now…). The structure of the book also lends itself to some repetition (As previously argued…). The writing of The Quarrel Between Philosophy, History, Comedy, and Tragedy (pg. 222-225) has a welcome, lighter touch that I would like to have seen throughout.

RATING: Sufficient

LANGUAGE (original and free of clichés; varied vocabulary; correct spelling, punctuation)

The language is clear, usage is correct and the book has been thoroughly copy-edited.

RATING: Strong

THEMES (themes are well developed and use vivid imagery to add depth to the narrative)

The author’s argument is clear and compelling. I appreciated the way he incorporated references ranging from World War II to firefighting to sports to physics to help make his case. Most of all, I was interested in his argument about why tragedy, and by extension, storytelling, matter.

PRODUCTION (cover is well designed and appealing; interiors are professional)

The book has been professionally designed and is generally appealing. I would have recommended a different treatment for quotes, which fill many pages. I would also recommend a new, more accessible title. “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy” is more appropriate as a sub-title.

SUMMARY

Any storyteller looking to improve his/her craft would do well to read this clearly laid out and well argued blueprint for how to build and sustain dramatic tension. While the author’s focus is on tragedy, many of these principles would translate to other genres.

END OF JUROR COMMENTS

Some great observations here. First, the criteria seem more oriented to fiction. Since the Whistler Independent Book Awards also has a non-fiction category, they might consider a separate scorecard for non-fiction. I like the juror’s comments in the ‘Summary’ section. Many reviewers (such as Cavak on Goodreads, who compared the book to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces) have also remarked that The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy offers creative writers of all stripes important tips. Aristotle’s Poetics, the preeminent guidebook for tragedy, has also been taken up by artists working outside tragedy. Lastly, I got a chuckle when I read the juror comment: “I found the prose hampered by use of passive voice.” Surely the juror meant: “The passive voice hampered the prose”? It’s the return of the “Pervasive passive.” I like it, I just coined that up now! We are all victims of the pervasive passive!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

19.07.16.whistler book awards

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