Tuesday, 30 September 2014 00:00

Mentor's Critique - The Wolf on the Road Home

Sophie, since The Wolf on the Road Home is the first volume in an epic series, and it tells of a quest, you’ve done the right thing in your first thirty pages by getting Wolf away on her journey fairly soon. You begin the novel as this young girl wanders the streets of a future Hobart, clad in her orphanage clothes and a wolf hat. She scares the driver of a car, who slows down to look at her but takes off when she snarls at him. She then creeps back to her dormitory and wakes up next morning to the unbearable life of the orphanage. You give the reader ample reason for Wolf to escape her present existence and you make us believe in her flight with Veelo, even though this girl is a stranger to her.

Without holding up the forward movement of the plot, you take trouble to describe Wolf’s surroundings in each scene, with an obvious preference for nature and outdoor settings. These chime well with Wolf’s character. She yearns for freedom and comes closest to a kind of happiness when she is outside and alone: darkness and wilderness both have a strong attraction for her. By showing this clearly, you prepare the reader for the revelation that Wolf is a werewolf – a truth that she does not know herself! Until, that is, the shock exposure in chapter 6, which I’ve chosen for the extract above.

This surprise is a very neat device and I believe you could give it even greater impact by deleting the short paragraph in italics in Chapter One, where we briefly share the point of view of the man in the car, who sees Wolf as an actual wild beast. I suggest we get his reaction (he freaks out, drives away) but not his thoughts, which come too soon in your plot. Chapter One is the set-up chapter for your main character and you’ve chosen to present everything in the first person, not just here but throughout the book – I suggest you stick to your method here and build the hints about Wolf’s dual nature gradually, through her eyes. You have achieved a nice gradation already, making sure the reader sees how different Wolf is under the covers at night (her aggressive strike at the teacher with the lamp, in the dormitory, contrasting with her more obedient behaviour in school during the day); and how differently she reacts to the orphanage cat. She hates the animal by instinct (her predatory, vulpine side) but when she’s pretending to be a normal schoolgirl amongst others at the table, she has a flash of affection for the cat, which confuses her.

This skilful buildup of impressions makes the reader wonder about Wolf, who seems to have a split personality. In your second draft you could go back to these crucial moments and dwell on the way Wolf sees her world, delineating even more clearly the dark and the light in her reactions to the creatures around her. Characters are all the more interesting to the reader if they’re torn in some way, and since Wolf is not only your main character but the narrator of the entire story, this inner conflict is a great bonus in your novel.

From Chapter 1 you’ve established that Wolf needs to escape from an intolerable situation in the orphanage, and despite her rather savage personality you do create reader sympathy for her. Her acquisition of money to travel, and her decision to leave, however, are her last active moves: thereafter she is passive, falling in with Veelo and depending on her for direction. So, after a rather meandering period you’ve timed the revelation in Chapter 6 well: from now on, Wolf needs to cope with the terrifying fact that she’s a werewolf, and go on a quest to liberate a homeland she never knew she had – Fantesia. She can no longer be passive: she has a purpose to fulfil. By the way, with this in mind, The Wolf on the Road Home is an inspired title.

From Chapter 7 on, Veelo and Wolf are plunged into action again, but the impetus comes from outside events. It might be useful for you to consider that, in traditional quest stories, this is usually the stage when the allies start to come together. While introducing random villains, accidents and attacks at this point, I suggest you think carefully about making every conflict relevant to what is to come in Fantesia – ie building the picture of Wolf’s opponents in a way that will rack up tension and show them as redoubtable enemies who are worth fighting.

You can also go thoroughly into Wolf’s dilemma at this point. She is going to be a hunter by night: what will she eat? Humans? Small creatures? Are Elves immune from her? Back in the city, when she used to be transformed into a wolf by night, why didn’t she notice it herself (hairy paws instead of hands, running on all fours)? You have an excellent imagination and you’ve already got us interested in Wolf’s inner feelings, so you’ll have no difficulty elucidating all this for the reader. The theme of the werewolf is of course a very old one, and you’ve given yourself the tools to make it a great strength in your novel.

There are moments in the extract above where you give a plot point in abrupt shorthand. An example is Wolf’s instant decision to liberate Fantesia: ‘When I get there …’ in a single sentence. Yet this is a major turning-point in the novel and needs to be solidly elaborated. A suggestion: Wolf could arrive at her decision in a dramatic debate with Veelo. This would both cement their alliance and enliven the dialogue in your book, which tends towards the functional. It would also make the subsequent werewolf revelation doubly problematic for Wolf – not only does she now have a high and dangerous purpose, but she’ll have to somehow become a war leader whilst being a ravening wolf in the hours of darkness! Will the savage side of her conform to her purpose – or rip it to bloody pieces?

Congratulations, Sophie, for taking on this vast endeavour. You have created a distinctive, conflicted and courageous character who has the potential to take the reader with her on a wild series of adventures. The synopsis you supplied is sketchy but I believe that if you keep Wolf’s purpose firmly in view, and shape all the action to it, you can create a story arc that carries the reader through to a powerful conclusion.


© Cheryl Hingley

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