Rembrandt's Rubies - By Chuck Bronte

Comments for the Writers' Workshop

This is a sample based on a recent original report.  Names, places and themes have been altered to protect the author's privacy. Large sections of the report have been deleted to keep the length manageable. Deletions are indicated by square brackets.


Synopsis:  When Elton Schopenhauer, a renowned art collector, is found tortured to death, his grandson, Antoine, wants nothing more than revenge.  But as Antoine learns about the true nature of his grandfather's dealings, he also comes to find out about the mysterious 'Bambino' statue, reputedly worth hundreds of millions of euros, which Elton had hidden away somewhere... and which is Antoine's rightful inheritance.

Chapter 1
Other than some minor stylistic quibbles, I think this is an excellent first chapter.  I have no major comments or suggestions for improvement (see Style Comments, below).

Chapter 2
p.10
Always try to give us dialogue, rather than simply tell us what was said--as when Predel assures Antoine they will do all they can to catch Eltonmilian's killer. 

The first paragraph on p. 11 is brilliant writing.  The flashback to the black girl in San Fran is also a great way of giving us backstory while letting us know that Antoine is the kind of person to seek revenge.

Chapter 3:
Unless Sally is a hardened killer herself, it seems unlikely to me that she would accept Antoine's anger, his intention to seek revenge, and his meeting the following morning with a potentially dangerous character so calmly.  It seems more likely that she would tell him to let the police handle it, and also that he would know this in advance and therefore not tell her everything.  It just rings a false note for me that a wife would let her husband sail into danger like this without a word of warning.  (Note: after reading the whole story, I can see how this fits with her character.  But perhaps it's a bit too early here to sound this warning chime, which is so subtle that it actually feels like an error or omission on the part of the writer.)

P. 23:  It's unclear who pockets the cassette tape here, Whyte or Antoine.

Chapter 4:
The phone call from Tommaso feels like a contrivance to me, and far too convenient.  I would rather see Antoine decide to contact Tommaso instead of this phone call arriving at just the right moment.  As I will mention below, there are too many cell phone calls informing the plot, so if you can think of some way to alter this, it would be helpful.

Here, Sally is suddenly playing the role of concerned wife.  As I mention above, I feel this element of her character should have been established more strongly before this.  Perhaps this was deliberate on your part, since she turns out to be rather cold-blooded, but because you are trying to trick us at first, let us see her play the role of concerned wife to the hilt in these early pages, so that we are convinced.

[… - Similar comments for a further 35 chapters]

General Comments
All in all, I think you have a real winner on your hands here.  Your writing is excellent, the plot is intelligently conceived and set in a very interesting world, your characters are likeable and well-drawn, your dialogue sparkles--all the pieces are there.  I think there are a few story-related issues that need dealing with, and then I would say after another draft it would most likely be ready for submission.  I see this book as having the potential to be very successful. 

Style Comments
Your use of language is highly skilled and artistic itself.  A  number of passages jumped out at me as being simply wonderful, including the scene where Antoine is watching Sally after Whyte has shot her.

I have a few tiny bones to pick regarding your occasional tendency for run-on sentences. 

Example:

            [… sample passage from client's work]

I would offer some minor editorial suggestions here, in order to ensure that your script is as polished as possible before submitting it:

[… same passage edited for smooth reading]

As edits go, these are negligible, so I mention them only to be diligent. 

Introducing minor characters
When a character is introduced to us by name, and we learn something about his background, we have the expectation that he is going to somehow be important to the story, and we may become disappointed when he doesn't reappear later.  A good rule of thumb is that we should only learn the names and intimate details of characters who are really important to the story.  For example, the manager of the hash bar where Whyte sits waiting for the Moluccan--we learn the names of both these men, and quite a bit about them, but we never see them again.  It might be enough to call them simply 'the manager' and 'the Moluccan'.   The more important a character is to a story, the more we should know about him--and vice versa.

Another couple of characters of which this might be true are Datros and Creamer, the reporters.  We learn so much about Datros, in particular, that we begin to root for him, and are happy to see him sticking it to his racist boss.  But then, he disappears--because he is really not a character in the story--and so I need to ask whether we need to know quite so much about how this videotape eventually becomes public.  Isn't it true that all we need to know is that it happens?  Consider trimming the plot a bit so that we don't need these extra characters to explain what's going on.

Antoine's career
As I said earlier, Antoine's career as a bridge-builder is the one spot in his character that seems a bit thin.  I don't really believe he is a bridge builder, even a very bad one--because I haven't seen him building, or failing at building, bridges.  I have only the word of the author on that, and that is not enough.  You must show us this (as the old adage goes), not tell us.  So, at least give us a scene where Antoine is on the site of a bridge that is going up, or that has fallen down, or something.

Cell phones
Again as mentioned earlier, I think you rely too heavily on cell phones in the first third or so of the story to move things along.   It's the first third of the book that feels weakest to me, despite your very strong opening chapter.  Too many phone calls coming at too many convenient times to reveal just the right pieces of information--this detracts somewhat from the power of the story.  Especially if this book were to be turned into a screenplay (which I think is a distinct possibility, by the way) the first thing to go would be the phone calls.  Whenever possible, have people tell people things, or have them find things.

Sally and Nick
It's a mark of your great storytelling ability that we actually end up feeling compassion for the villains of this story.  I hated Anderton all the way through, but when I learned something about what his childhood must have been like I remembered that nobody is simply born bad, and so he and Sally must have been badly abused to end up the way they did.  I wonder if it would be possible for you to go into even more detail about what their childhoods were like--but, on second thought, I see that this would rob the final scene with Roark of some of its power.  So, perhaps they are fine as they are--but I just wanted to say that they too were well-drawn characters, and I never saw their connection coming.

Too Many Personal Tragedies
An alarming number of characters, as pointed out in my chapter comments, seem to have suffered horrendous family tragedies in which they lost all their loved ones.  Aside from the fact that this strains our credulity a bit, it's really not necessary.  In Sally's case, yes, keep it, of course--but Pevsner, for example--why do we need to know anything about his family background?

The most important example of this, however, is Antoine's parents being junkies.  How did this happen?  Drugs don't leap out and attack people as they are minding their own business--so they must have been on a long, slow decline for years.  We should learn something about how someone as distinguished as Elton could produce a son who's hooked on heroin.  There is plenty of room here to use this for further character development--maybe Elton and Antoine grew close (as you seem to intimate, but don't fully develop) as a result of this.  Mostly, though, we are confused as to how it happens.  Did Elton make mistakes with his son that he later regretted, and which may have contributed to his situation?  Did he see Antoine as his chance to right those wrongs, perhaps?

General Plot Comments
Critiques typically focus on those things that need improvement, so they often leave out mention of what you are doing well.  You should assume, however, that if I haven't brought something up here, then it either wasn't a problem or it was handled very skillfully.  I wanted to mention specifically that I love the whole notion of Sally being Anderton's sister, and also of Antoine knowing from earlier on that she was in on Elton's murder.  Though I think you need to use that to greater effect, all the same it's a great angle.  The ending here, despite the fact that I felt unsurprised about Sally, is really quite good.

Specific Suggestions for Improvement
For your next draft, in addition to following the suggestions I make above, I recommend that you:

  • remove cell phones as much as possible as plot devices (one or two instances is fine, but don't rely on them to convey truly important information all the time)
  • develop the theme of Antoine's career as a bridge-builder just a bit more fully
  • lessen the strength of your give-aways re: Sally just a bit, so that we don't feel real mistrust for her too soon--as I said, the revelation that she was involved in Elton's murder didn't surprise me, and it really needs to.  I think the way for this to happen is to soften the scene in which she admits she was a call girl, and perhaps also the scene in which she is sitting in a parked car waiting for Antoine, to his shock.  This is a clear sign that she knows more than she should.
  • tie up the loose end of the character of Francoise
  • ensure that we get detailed introductions only to those characters who will prove to be important to the story later
  • get someone to give it an edit for style, especially being alert for run-on sentences

All in all, a very satisfying read, and one with great chances for commercial success.  I wish you the best of luck with it, and I hope you will contact us if we can be of further assistance to you.