THE WRITER'S LIFELINE
DEATH THE HARD WAY, by David Crewkump
The protagonist is this story's weakest element on several
counts. First, his personality is so severely underdeveloped
that the readers have no opportunity to know him, identify
with him, or root for him as he tries to resolve the crisis.
The reader knows the protagonist is a doctor, a pilot, and
skier, etc., but knows nothing about his personality, his
personal life, or his background. The protagonist should
be well-developed enough that readers will see him as a
realistic, three-dimensional person--his personality traits,
his habitual mannerisms, his physique, his various strengths
and weaknesses, all need to be developed in detail and then
woven throughout the story. In addition to being realistic,
the protagonist also needs to be a likeable, compelling
character that readers will want to project themselves onto--readers
want to imagine themselves in the protagonist's situation,
being just as clever, brave, attractive, etc., as he is.
One way to flesh out the protagonist's personality and help
readers feel as if they know him intimately is to make the
protagonist very observant and introspective--he should reflect
upon, analyze, and form opinions about his crisis, other characters,
himself, new developments, etc. Developing the protagonist
along these lines will also lend some much needed depth to
Second, the protagonist's participation in the story is weak.
He is absent from much of the story during the first 85 pages,
the most crucial period in his developing relationship with
the reader. Readers need to feel strongly attached to the
protagonist well before p.85; he is their anchor to the story.
If readers are denied the opportunity to become attached to
the protagonist early on, denied the opportunity to care about
him and his plight, then they won't keep reading--they'll
have nothing to tie them to the story, no emotional investment.
The protagonist does command more of the story's focus after
those initial pages, but his involvement in the story continues
to be weak, primarily because he doesn't act much like a hero.
For more than a 100 pages, he does nothing but feel sorry
for himself for being in this situation. He doesn't actively
seek to resolve the crisis until p.108, when he decides to
go see Sonja in the hospital. Even when he does finally take
action, he rarely remains in command of the situation. (Sonja
often takes control, and the villains easily outmaneuver him
and get the upper hand.) His resolution of the crisis is largely
due to overly convenient developments and external circumstances
rather than his own cunning, physical prowess, or unique abilities
(e.g., he walks right past several different cops who conveniently
don't recognize him, the boat explosion conveniently doesn't
kill him, and the boat sinks slowly enough to let him escape,
the villain conveniently wears distinctive and conspicuous
ski gear so that he's an easy target for the protagonist,
unlikely witnesses show up at the last minute to provide alibis
for the protagonist).
Also inappropriate for our hero: he always seems to be a few
steps behind; everything has to be explained to him at length.
And when he does manage to be a step ahead of everyone else,
it's not believable (e.g., when he connects his problems with
Meagles' murder, even though he has no reason to suspect a
connection; when he unreasonably insists that he can do a
better job of saving Sonja from the villains than the cops
can, despite the fact that he's already failed her once).
This manuscript's third protagonist-related weakness is that
the protagonist has no personal story or inner conflict to
add spice and complexity to the main situation. The author
should weave a subplot into the story, even if nothing more
than a standard romantic subplot, to keep the reader interested
in the story on more than one level.
The premise and plot make up this manuscript's next weakest
element, in that they are both rather tired. There's not much
that's original here--neither the mob/drug scenario or the
action line. Nor are there enough twists and turns to keep
the reader guessing and to make for a really clever and fulfilling
story. The story plays out very straightforwardly and predictably.
In addition, the story doesn't come together well at the end.
Lucci's motivation for framing and killing the protagonist
is disappointing and unconvincing; not only is it a feeble
and unlikely justification for Lucci's elaborate plans to
frame the protagonist, it's also wholly uninteresting (just
more of the same drug scenario we've seen for the past 250
pages), and it's inconsistent with Lucci's fervor about the
protagonist (Lucci rages about getting revenge on him).
Agent White's explanation of the manhunt for the protagonist
is also disappointing. If he's telling the truth--that the
FBI had to chase the protagonist in order to flush out the
real killers--then the explanation is completely unrealistic
and unconvincing. And if he's lying to cover up the fact that
he knowingly pursued an innocent man and withheld information
pertinent to the case, then a more satisfying ending would
show him being kicked out of law enforcement.
Also problematic is the fact that the author permits the reader
to get too far ahead of the protagonist. The reader needs
to identify with the protagonist, follow him through the story,
and unravel the pieces of the puzzle at the same time as the
protagonist. Allowing the reader to know so much more than
the protagonist makes the reader identify with him less, and
makes him less intelligent and heroic in the reader's eyes.
Allowing readers so much knowledge early on also denies them
the intellectual challenge and satisfaction of piecing the
mystery together as the story develops. What will compel readers
to continue reading when they know so much of the story so
Lastly, character interactions need to be much more significant
and dramatic. The protagonist spends too much time in mindless,
juvenile sparring matches with his various opponents. And
he spends too little time engaged in meaningful interactions
with his friends and girlfriend. His interactions with his
girlfriend are so superficial that the reader knows nothing
about Pepper or the nature of their relationship. During the
revision process the author must keep in mind that every development
in the story, every interaction, and every line of dialogue
should either move the story forward or provide character
Characters: Almost all of the characters are significantly
underdeveloped. Like the protagonist, the other characters
need to be fleshed out into three-dimensional, realistic individuals
who reveal personality traits, inner character, thoughts,
One final issue about the protagonist not addressed above:
he doesn't evolve during the story. He needs to have some
inner conflict, neurosis, fear, weakness, etc., that he resolves
as he confronts the main crisis. This personal issue that
needs changing will probably be at the heart of the personal
story that needs to be developed.
Sonja is the story's supporting main character and she needs
to be as well-developed, and almost as likable and compelling,
as the protagonist. When Sonja is first introduced, it should
be clear to the reader that she's a major character. At present,
she and Scott are presented as incidental characters, which
makes the reader wonder why their backstory deserves so much
attention. To effectively portray Sonja as an important character,
she should be introduced in her own scene, to which the villain
is later introduced so that her connection to the story is
immediately obvious. At present, it's the villain who is the
focal point of the scene, with Scott and Sonja appearing as
random characters. The focus should be on the couple, and
on Sonja in particular within that couple, to alert readers
to Sonja's importance to the story.
Also, the couple should be portrayed as intelligent and likeable
(not as juvenile simpletons) so that readers will feel genuinely
disappointed and outraged when Scott is killed, will have
greater sympathy for Sonja and her plight, and will have more
of an interest in seeing her pursue Scott's killer.
Pepper needs to be much better developed. The reader knows
nothing about her, can't develop even a rudimentary attachment
to her, and hence doesn't have any interest in the protagonist's
love/home life. Also, she needs to be introduced as the protagonist's
girlfriend early on; she can easily be mistaken for his wife
throughout the majority of the story.
In contrast, the minor characters tend to be overdeveloped--namely,
Rizzo and White. In many ways, these two characters are better
developed than the main characters. Readers at least know
about their history and what motivates their actions. These
minor characters don't deserve such in-depth development,
detailed back stories, or complex, deep-rooted psychological
motivations. (This is especially true of Rizzo, who only appears
in the story a couple of times.)
The villains are also a little better developed than the protagonist
and other main characters, though only because they are clichéd
The manuscript contains several superfluous characters that
should be eliminated in order to streamline the story. 1)
The detective doesn't uncover enough information to justify
his existence. Besides, the protagonist can become active
earlier in the story by searching for answers himself instead
of assigning someone else to do it. 2) Cindy, the broadcast
journalist, doesn't move the story forward at all. 3) Connie,
the protagonist's head nurse, is only mentioned a couple of
times, involved in activity that any character could accomplish.
Writing: The dialogue in this story is particularly
problematic. The characters tend to engage in juvenile and
undramatic verbal sparring matches that neither move the story
forward nor provide character definition. In fact, the dialogue
often stalls the forward movement of the story as the characters
rehash the same material time and time again.
The protagonist needs to have much more intelligent and meaningful
dialogue that makes a strong impression on the reader. Even
the first line of the manuscript reveals the protagonist's
lack of authority and general wimpiness--"Do you smell something
funny here, something real wrong?" Compare this to the stronger
impression he would make by saying, "Something smells very
wrong here." The protagonist's dialogue is also the way he
portrays the fact that he's always a few steps behind. Nearly
half of his dialogue could be replaced with "huh?" without
losing his meaning.
The characters also need more stage direction to go with their
dialogue. Sometimes a one-word description is enough (e.g.,
Alex said sarcastically), but often characters need more extensive
stage direction (e.g., what the character is thinking, why
he's using that tone, what he's reading in the other characters'
dialogue, what his body language is saying, etc.).
The author has a tendency to show insignificant or logistical
scenes rather than tell them (e.g., p.35, p.205-208).
There are point of view (POV) problems scattered throughout
the manuscript. Nothing serious, generally just one or two
lines that suddenly switch to a different character's POV,
but they will have to be cleaned up.
The author's consistent avoidance of verbs (e.g., p.16, "he
late for his shift") is very distracting. The author should
also eliminate the one-word attempts at describing action
(e.g., "Splash!"; "Free!"; "Bang!") as they come off as more
comical than descriptive.
Page Specific Comments (in
addition to extensive marginalia)
p.4-6 - Ted and Emily should be eliminated from the first
scene. They don't contribute anything significant to the scene
and are never seen again for the duration of the story. Also,
their elimination should provide more of an opportunity for
meaningful, character-defining interaction between the protagonist
P.7-8 - The author should eliminate the scene wherein Scott
notices the killer having both skis and a snowboard bag. It's
a scene that should be told rather than shown, since it plays
no part in the overall story. And it's a false introduction
of Scott and Sonja as seemingly incidental characters rather
than major characters. The author should keep it simple and
just briefly note that a few fellow passengers on the tram
thought it odd that someone would carry both skis and a snowboard
p.12-14 - Why is all the accusation focused on the protagonist
and none on the girlfriend? She could easily have been a jealous
lover killing her boyfriend's mistress.
P.12-14 - The author should
weaken the focus on Lieutenant Cross, as he is never seen
p.124-6 - The author needs
to tone down and make believable this Dukes of Hazard
type action and dialogue.
p.216 - It's not believable
that the protagonist wouldn't call on the cops to help save
Sonja. He's already been characterized as a wimp, and he
let Sonja down the last time he confronted the villains.
What possibly makes him think he's better suited to saving
Sonja than the multitude of law enforcement officers already
in the area? The author needs to come up with a better reason
for the protagonist to rescue Sonja by himself.