Rod Raglin

This blog will touch on the experiences I have as a writer (not to be mistaken for my experience as a writer, i.e. how many books I've written, etc); the pleasure and the pain, the joy and the grief, the satisfaction and the frustration, the magic and the reality - have I left anything out, oh yeah, the rejection, rejection and more rejection,  the humiliation and the embarrassment, the jealousy and the resentment - that pretty much covers it, except for why I do it which perhaps I'll realize along the way. Are you totally confused? Good, let's begin.

Weak writing hinders well conceived story

War Kids - H.J. Lawson

War Kids starts with a BANG! in the middle of the action. Jada, a fourteen year-old girl wakes up to witness a horrific scene – the hospital she is recovering in has been bombed. You never know how she got there or what her injuries are, but she’s fit enough to escape the ruins.


Zak is at school when the soldiers arrive and begin indiscriminately killing everyone. He manages to escape as well.


So starts the individual journey’s of Jada and Zak through war torn modern day Syria to try to reunite with their families.


Author, HK Lawson has picked a contemporary theme and packaged it with an excellent cover, but unfortunately her writing is not up to the task.


Very early on the author’s inexperience becomes apparent. She uses capital letters like BANG to indicate gunshots, THUD, THUD, THUD, is the sound of heavy boots. Rather than find appropriate descriptive words and images she resorts to capitalization and punctuation (there are 463 exclamation marks in the book) including the combination ?! (used 21 times) which is supposed to indicate what I’m not sure, questioning shock perhaps?


Gratuitous profanity is also used for emphasis, though oddly it’s mostly in the character’s thoughts and not in their dialogue where it might have been put to good use.


Clichés abound, diction is limited with the use of “horror, horrific, horrible”, and “hell” repeated countless times as is “God” (used 55 times).


The narrative is littered with horrific events and human tragedies but because the characterization is so shallow and one-dimensional I never got to know anyone as a real person and so the impact on this reader was minimal. Except for their gender the children could be interchangeable, they are all good, virtuous and brave; the soldiers are all bad, evil and cowards.


The author gets caught up describing the details of the action, much of which would be better left to the reader’s imagination, but comes up short on giving the character’s reaction to events which would help develop their personalities and create reader empathy.


Another example of the lack of craft is displayed when the author launches into a couple of pages of back story about how Jada’s father taught her to use a gun just as she’s about to blow the brains out of a bad, evil, cowardice man intent on raping her.  


Half way through the novel it reverts to a YA romance, but here again the lack of depth in the characters and their reaction to these new feelings left this reader unsatisfied.


The plot is a bit convoluted and at one point flashes back 19 years and introduces and entirely new line that really stretched this reader’s suspension of disbelief. The story would have perhaps been better served if it would have stayed focused on the two original protagonists and delivered from just two points of view instead of six.


Nitpicking issues include a BBC journalist allowing an interviewee to editorialize to an international audience – would never happen, I know, I’m a journalist.


As far as I can discern, the UN has had a limited presence in Syria in the role of observers. Whenever the heavy hitting begins they pull out, so it’s not likely they would be rescuing any civilians from a bombed hospital as the reader is lead to believe near the beginning of this story.


And what about religion? Only ten percent of Syria’s population is Christian, yet all the children in this novel pray to God not Allah.


The lack of political context could be justified by the fact the characters are children, however, the kids I know, at the very minimum, reflect the parent’s prejudices. I think the lack of understanding of the situation may have more to do with the absence of research into the issue. Consider this paragraph by the character Faith, an international doctor in the war zone, delivered to a BBC television reporter.


“Suffering has gone beyond all boundaries. There is no safe place left. Syria has become a battlefield. Every aspect of human rights, freedom, and citizenship are lost from view, and no one cares. Entire villages have been cleared off the map. Innocent children are being massacred, and a whole generation is being erased. For what? I pray every single moment that the government and all political parties around the world will engage with the rebels. The rebels are capable of engaging in dialogue, because if they do not, the blood of the innocent is on their hands. All of their hands.”


For what?

Well, there’s obviously some motivation though you may not agree with it. Deep background and an understanding of the characters’ situation, inserted subtly, can give the story more authenticity.


Engage with the rebels? What exactly does Faith mean when she says this? Does she mean negotiate with the rebels for a truce? Is this an example of using the wrong word?

The rebels are capable of engaging in dialogue because if they…?


Who are they and what do they want to engage about? Again, should this read “negotiate”?


Blood of the innocent is on their hands …?

Whose hands - the rebels, the government (and which government is that), political parties around the world, everyone’s?


This story has potential and is well conceived. All it needs is for the author to log her 10,000 hours before writing it.


I received this book free from the author in a giveaway sponsored by BookLikes.