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Cover: Is a bit vague. I think a picture of a congregation perhaps would be more effective.
As I read the Communion of the Saint, I couldn’t help but wonder-when will the protagonist come into conflict with the Communion of the Saint, her employer, or someone else, as a result of her visions? A hundred pages into the 320 page book, there is no conflict stemming from the revelations, that is, the protagonist is not in trouble—say threatened with losing her job—as a result of her visions, and the opportunity to create tension and suspense is lost.
It is best to establish suspense early because suspense creates interest. For example, suppose that we start this story right away, dispensing with the slow beginning: suppose that we start with a scene in the hospital. Clio’s there because of her visions, and her job, freedom, and sanity are in trouble. Such a beginning establishes the stakes—what Clio stands to lose (job, sanity, freedom) as a result of her visions. It does not show us the experience of the visions, but it establishes the threats that Clio faces should the visions return. With such danger hanging over her, we would be worried and uncertain as to what will happen to Clio, and this would create suspense. There would be anticipation of problems and conflict should the visions return. Without such a mechanism to create suspense and anticipation early, the story is a bit boring. The beginning, in order to be effective, must establish an expectation or anticipation of conflict where something important will be in danger and the outcome will be uncertain.
Another thing that the book would benefit from would be a more clearly defined antagonist. Who stands in the way of Clio and Alban? The psychiatrists? The minister? Who threatens and embodies the threats that she faces on her quest with Alban? Who, in other words, has the power to stop her in her tracks? Although this story is about the struggle of an intellectual with the revelations of the divine, someone, a specific character, has to embody her doubts, fears, and the other forces that oppose her experiences.
In good conflict, two forces are in opposition; two forces that represent two opposing beliefs and value systems, and these forces fight with all the available means at their disposal to win over the other. So the question is—who is threatened by Clio and her visions? Whose values, lifestyle, or beliefs are threatened by the visions? Who is seething with jealously because she has them? What is the person willing to do? What can he/she do to prevent Clio from having her visions? For example, who can have her committed and forced to undergo treatment that cuts Clio off from Alban? Of course, the vital importance of the visions to Clio must be set up. Perhaps her soul is at stake and she must complete what Alban is trying to teach her? Without such a clear locus of opposing forces, there is no conflict and no plot.
It is only after about 100 pages, that the story becomes more engaging once Clio ends up in the hospital because of the vision; she’s in trouble, and this is good news for a story. The problem, aside from the fact that there is no clear antagonist, is that there is no direction to the revelations. What is Alban, in other words, trying to do? Perhaps Clio’s soul is in danger and he’s trying to teach her something to save her? But this must be made clear very early on in the story. Why is he doing what he does? What’s his goal? Without clear answers to such questions, presented through action early in the story, there really is no story because there is no one who can threaten Alban’s plans. If it’s Clio’s disbelief that’s the antagonist, then this needs to be reinforced through another, skeptical, character, perhaps her lover.
Suppose that Clio’s lover is an atheist, and Clio’s faced with the choice—leave him and follow Alban’s prompts or refuse Alban. If Clio had an atheist lover, Alban’s revelations would then become a threat to the relationship. How would her atheist lover respond? Try have her committed? The key struggle in this novel, the intellectual vs. divine, is not developed well because it is not developed through conflict between Clio and other characters. Internal conflict and struggle must always be made external through the struggle of the protagonist, who represents a particular belief system or set of ideas, and the other opposing characters, who represent the opposite ideas, agendas, or beliefs.
The Communion of the Saint, like many average print on demand books suffers from weak plot construction. Good plots are always a result of well developed characters who then interact with one another, because of their needs and desires, in surprising and threatening ways.