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I have tried to be objective in formulating these topics, and have deliberately posed probing questions about the structure and content of the story.
I’d like to think my story withstands most of these challenges! But I suppose the whole point of the questions is to open the debate.
Don’t read this until you’ve read the book!
Various plot points are discussed here.
Does the depiction of self-publishing and its challenges in Alternative Outcome ring true? Does Mike’s experience feel convincing and seem typical?
Is the author using the book to rail at the conventional publishing world over his own trials and tribulations over getting his work published? If so, does he keep his own feelings on the matter adequately disguised by embedding them in his fictional world?
We are not told what the story-within-story is – just that it’s a “concise treatment”.
How soon do we recognise its real nature and signficance?
How well do the parallel and diverging “true” and fictional stories work together?
How does Mike Stanhope differ from the main character in his book?
In the last line of the story-within-story, the narrator speculates about writing his own book and setting some scenes in Falmouth (where the “real” story starts). This could be taken to read that the story-within-story is the real story after all, and the substance of the book is purely the narrator’s wishful thinking. Did this thought occur to anyone? If not, would it have been worthwhile for the author to suggest the idea more prominently?
Some reviewers have commented that the book starts slowly as we are introduced to Mike Stanhope, but then the action picks up, and overall the pace becomes brisk.
Has the author got the balance right, or should the action get going sooner?
Does the scene-setting help to give substance to the rest of the story, or merely hinder progress?
Fundamental to the plot is Mike’s decision to track down a girl he met when he was twelve years old.
How plausible would this be in the real world, and how socially acceptable?
How comfortable would readers be if someone decided to find them in this way after a similar time lapse?
Ashley is clearly attracted to Mike from the outset, but is uncertain how to respond to him, or how to reconcile her feelings for him with the fact that she’s engaged to another man. She is proactive in the emerging relationship one minute, hesitant the next.
Is Ashley’s behaviour handled well?
Is it convincing?
The entire book (apart from the story-within-story parts) is narrated by the leading character in the first person singular, preventing any opportunity for objective comment about the people in it and what happens to them. Other characters are fleshed out by what they say as much as by what Mike says about them.
Does this technique work here?
Is the real author’s voice present in the background? If so, is this a benefit or a flaw?
In general, can readers expect more, less or the same amount of enjoyment from a first-person-singular book as from one told in the author’s own voice and presented through more than one point of view? What are the pros and cons?
There are a number of coincidences in the plot. Apart from the obvious example of the robbers happening to read Mike’s book, there is the coincidence of the real and fictional thieves both fleeing to Queensland (admittedly different parts of it). There is also that of parcels boss Rick Ashton making the same mistake as the robbers in believing that Mike’s book is true.
Do these various coincidences grate, or is there enough brio in the whole plot to render them an acceptable part of the mix?
Do readers in general like, dislike or not have strong feelings about coincidence in this type of book?
The reading group topics suggested on this page are also available to download in PDF format.
Click here to download.