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ProfessionalCritique
 08 Nov 2011, 17:37 #134524 Reply To Post
Orion are part of the Hatchette publishing group, whose authors include Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and Ian Rankin.

Each month on YouWriteOn.com editors from Orion and Random House provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated YouWriteOn Top Ten novel openings, and mini-reviews of the rest of the top ten stories. This aims to assist all authors in their story development by giving feedback as to what editors are looking for in novel submitted to them.


Click here to view the story extract links for the stories reviewed below which are listed under September 1st for 2011 The critiques include some critiques from The Next Big Author.
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 08 Nov 2011, 17:57
ProfessionalCritique
 08 Nov 2011, 17:39 #134525 Reply To Post
Orion Editor critique

Dear John Dylan

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages of DIVINE AFFAIRS and thought they showed promise. While I don’t think the material so far needs a huge amount of reworking as it is already in fairly good shape, what I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, as well as what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Structure:

Structure is the backbone of a novel. It gives shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. The fact that you have structured these early chapters from various character POVs (point of views) not only gives the story a multi-faceted dimension, it also helps maintain pace and even injects a sense of urgency, as one storyline ramps up, just for another new one to be introduced. This alternating POV structure will also help ensure that the reader never tires of one storyline.

A small point, but you have to bear in mind that if you are quoting copyrighted material such as song lyrics (as you do at the beginning of the first two chapters), you would need to get permission clearance from the copyright holder, and this can often be very expensive.

Plot:

Quite a lot is going on in these early pages, with a lot of new words and terms thrown at the reader. You don’t wait for your reader to catch up, but just throw them into the middle of the unfolding action and truly immerse them in your fictional world. There is no real set-up or preamble, but you wade right into the story, which works well for this kind of novel.

As I’ve said above, the alternating character POVs worked very well, and offered a different angle on the drama. The novel is about corporate corruption and greed and more largely about a disregard for other life. You obviously have some important points to make, but at times I felt the execution fell a little flat. In these early pages, it felt like you were trying to cram in too much, and in turn the humour misfires and the story starts to feel a bit frenetic. Remember, less is more, particularly with comedy and satire. You need to be more subtle and sly, not heavy-handed. You need to let the humour shine through, not force it onto the page in a way that feels unnatural and obvious.

Characterisation:

In a world that feels unfamiliar and alien (no pun intended), the reader really needs to align with the characters and want to follow them on their journeys through to the end. These opening pages only offered fleeting glimpses of most of the characters, so the reader hasn’t yet fully engaged with any of the characters, and this is something you need to bear in mind as the novel progresses. As outlandish as the world and the unfolding plot might seem at times, it has to be the characters that anchor the reader to the story, and keep them turning the pages.

I did find some of these characters a bit overplayed in these early pages, and almost verging on caricature. This is a pitfall of many aspiring writers who wish to tackle comedy: to make their characters mere vehicles for humorous dialogue. It is absolutely crucial that the character portrayals never feel superficial. You need to get under their skin and pull the reader into each and every story. I also found some of the dialogue rather stilted, such as: ‘Where do you think you’re going, inattentive dude?’ Again, the comedy felt heavy-handed and obvious – and at times aimed more at a young reader than an adult reader.

Setting:

Setting of course is only the backdrop to your story, but it can be a character in its own right. It can very much help build atmosphere and even go some way in influencing the tone of the narrative. And of course, in science fiction, setting plays an even more important role, as you are conjuring up an entirely fictional world, one that can be as outlandish and bizarre as you want. But of course, for the reader to suspend disbelief, it still has to be rooted in some kind of reality, and still be believable. And I felt that there was very little description of both the setting and people’s physical descriptions for you to really immerse the reader in this imagined world. This is something you need to ensure doesn’t get overlooked when you come to do rewrites.

Tone:

As I often say to aspiring writers, tone is one of the most important elements of a novel, but also one of the hardest to master. If the tone of a novel isn’t pitched right, it can seriously compromise a reader’s engagement with the story. The tone of these opening pages was quite light-hearted – you don’t take your story too seriously and nor do you expect your reader to. But as I’ve said above, at times the humour felt heavy-handed and a little too obvious for it to be truly effective. Again, remember that less is more.

Genre/Market:

Whilst you rightly state this is science fiction and comedy, at times this read more like a children’s novel than an adult novel. The humour felt very obvious and overstated. It seemed like you were pitching the humour at the lowest common denominator, rather than opting for sharp, satirical humour for a sophisticated adult readership. It is absolutely crucial that you know the reader that you’re aiming your book at, and in turn that you understand that readership. Another piece of advice that I give to writers is to read as widely as possible in the area you wish to write. Being a good writer is, at its heart, about being a good reader. After all, books are made to be read, and if you don’t bear your reader in mind as you write, this will always show in the story. Whilst some people are natural and gifted storytellers who have an innate instinct for what does and doesn’t work, for a lot of writers, it is very much a craft to be learnt, worked on and developed. And it’s clear that you fall into the second category. Another idea would be to join a creative writing class. The opportunity to receive regular constructive criticism and feedback is invaluable.

Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far is in fairly good shape, and this marks a promising start, but attention needs to be paid to characterisation and tone. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes

Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 08 Nov 2011, 17:47 #134526 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for An Ordinary Occurrence by Moira Michelle Hues

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. You really captured a sense of small-town life, and how everybody knows everybody’s business. While there was an underlying sense of unease and a hint of intrigue as the story unfolded, it didn’t have that page-turning quality that really keeps a reader invested in the story. I think part of the reason was that even though this was told in first person narrative, solely through Mr Neilson’s eyes, he was quite an unknowable figure and I felt like you didn’t quite get under his skin in a way that pulled me into his story. It quickly became clear that he was an unreliable narrator and I guessed the twist ending quite early on. I think you need to work on making Mr Neilson a stronger narrative presence and really trying to lull the reader into a false sense of security if the twist is to have a dramatic impact.

Professional mini critique for Crazy Nola June’s Daughter by Yael Politis

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. I have actually read these before in a previous incarnation under a different book title. It’s clear you’ve done some revision since the first draft. I thought the opening wasn’t pitched right. Rather than focusing on building a sense of atmosphere and intrigue, you immediately lay bare everything that is happening to the reader. You expose Olivia’s inner thoughts much too quickly, before the reader has had a chance to warm to her, and in showing too much too early, you actually risk distancing them from the narrative. Remember that less is often more. There is no need to rush the narrative, but instead let it slowly unfurl. Keep the reader guessing as to what is actually happening, rather than holding them by the hand every step of the way.

I also had reservations about the title. It seemed to make light of what the story is about and be at odds with the tone of the novel. From reading your synopsis, I was also unsure that Olivia’s story had the longevity to stretch to four novels. I think a proposed series could potentially put off a literary agent and publisher, particularly in these tough times where publishers are opting for one book deals rather than multiple book deals.

Professional mini critique for Frank by Gemma Marren

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. One important piece of advice is to remember to show the reader, not tell them. Try to play out the drama and action, rather than report and summarise it to the reader. It needs to feel fresh rather than second-hand, otherwise you risk distancing the reader. Short stories can be quite a restrictive format: you have to be concise and succinct, but still engage the reader and get under the skin of your characters in a very short space of time. Rather than trying to give a broad overview in a short space of time, try to concentrate on the depth and quality of the story.

Professional mini critique for The Gatekeeper by Joe Green

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages. One area that needs some attention when you come to rewriting is the structure. These early pages, while very readable, felt rather unfocused and meandering. It was almost like a stream of consciousness at times, with the character’s thoughts going off on tangents. I did find some of the dialogue and even the language of the prose a little stilted and overly formal. The scene where the three of them are held at gun-point lacked tension and urgency because of the overly long and formal use of language. Another small piece of advice – literary agents generally only accept a two-page synopsis, so your will need to be condensed considerably.

Professional mini critique for Society of Seers by Karen Milner

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages. They were incredibly readable and at times quite tense. Your characterisation was also particularly impressive. To pitch the tone and capture voice of a young child in a realistic and believable way is something a lot of writers struggle with. Willow is a fantastic character – innocent, vulnerable yet strong. By alternating the narrative from Willow’s point of view with Anya’s point of view, you should bring texture and depth to the story, as well as ensuring the reader never tires of one storyline. Whilst you state at the beginning of the novel that this is intended for an adult readership, I felt that the likely demographic would probably be young adults.

Professional mini critique for Badgerbears and the Burnt Map of Lumos by P D Cartwright

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your children’s novel. However, the opening did feel very rushed. I think you need to spend more time setting the scene and introducing the characters before launching into Amoss’s sudden escape. Otherwise the reader is thrown into the middle of the action before they’ve had a chance to connect with Amoss as a character. And the reader also has to understand what Amoss has left behind. You state at the beginning that this is aimed at 10+ readers. I think readers would actually be younger than that, possibly from 8-10. It’s absolutely crucial that you understand your readership and read as much in this area as possible to get a sense of what else is out there and what is popular.

From reading your synopsis, it seems like the story finishes at quite an abrupt end. This sounds like it might be quite an unsatisfying end for the reader. I’m not sure if you plan for this to be part of a series, but even so, there still needs to be a sense of some kind of conclusion to this story. Before submitting to a literary agent, I would also suggest having your material proofread, as the punctuation and syntax was very muddled in places, which can pull the reader out of the narrative.

Professional mini critique for The Answers by S M Wills

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. Ernest is an intriguing character, yet I don’t think his portrayal is strong enough for him to carry the weight of the narrative for the entire length of the novel. He seems to fall from one scene to another, and his own meandering, unfocused path is reflected in the rather unfocused narrative structure. These early pages need to be tighter and have more focus if they are to hook the reader. You also really need to work on getting under Ernest’s skin and laying bare what is unique and distinctive about him, otherwise his depiction feels a little superficial. I also had some concerns about the tone. It’s obviously quite dark and serious given the subject matter, but you try to make light of what’s happening in a way that doesn’t quite work. If you’re opting for a black comedy, the writing needs to be wittier and the story more insightful. But this is a promising start.

Professional mini critique for Obsession by Jenny Hammersmith

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel and was impressed by the confidence of your writing. The opening chapters are engaging and intriguing, and you really lay bare your characters’ emotions to the reader. However, you do have a tendency to overstate, such as the end of chapter 2, with the lines: ‘There was someone in the bath. The person wasn’t moving. And the person was Faye.’ The reader already knows this. Remember, less is often more. It would perhaps be more dramatic to end with the line ‘and her breath left her body’. I was also a little concerned about how the novel would progress from reading your synopsis – that it risks being unremittingly dark, and the characters seeming angry and embittered.
ProfessionalCritique
 08 Nov 2011, 17:48 #134527 Reply To Post
Orion Editor critique

Dear Rachel J Turner

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages of DRAGONFLU and was impressed by the confidence of your writing. While I don’t think the material so far needs a huge amount of reworking as it is already in fairly good shape, what I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, and what to pay attention to as the novel progresses. I will also illustrate some of my points in detailed line notes.

Structure:

Structure is the backbone of any story and is the framework from which to build your narrative. If you structure is sound, this should give your novel focus, drive and pace. But if it’s unstructured, the narrative may seem meandering and directionless, in turn risking loss of the reader’s engagement.

Your novel seems to take a largely linear approach, and will simple, this is a wise direction for a children’s novel like this. From reading your synopsis, it seems there will be a clear story arc following traditional adventure story lines, which should also give your story focus and pace.

Plot:

I thought the opening chapter was great – you really set the scene and build a sense of anticipation. The reader knows something is going to happen but is not sure what yet. You managed to make this scene seem intriguing and mysterious yet still recognisable for the reader to be able to picture it.

Whilst the plot is very simple and follows traditional formulas, your style of storytelling makes the plot feel fresh and original. You also clearly know the importance of a strong chapter end – to hook the reader and compel them to keep turning the pages. I thought the end of chapter one was particularly gripping. I’ve suggested slight changes for some of the other chapter ends, as detailed in the line notes.

Characterisation:

While I warmed to your characters, I felt this was probably the weakest facet of your narrative. Although your descriptive prose is wonderful, you seem to struggle to really get under a character’s skin and present them in a vivid and realistic way. As I mention in my line notes, there are a lot of repetitions in how you describe characters (for example, the security guard’s portrayal seemed a bit repetitive – lots of grumblings and mutterings). And when you present a character’s thoughts, they sometimes don’t flow naturally in the way that your prose does. I will give examples in the line notes at the end. Also, the language and dialogue of your younger characters doesn’t always convince, but at times feels a little stilted and unnatural. This is something you need to pay attention to when you come to rewriting. You need to work on drawing out each character’s own voice.

Setting:

While the setting is the backdrop to the story, it can very much be a character in its own right in its colour, vivacity and sensory descriptions. It’s also an element of the narrative that can really help build atmosphere. Particularly in children’s novels, the setting has to be vividly described in a way that you conjure up your fictional world and really immerse the reader in it.

Setting was definitely one of the strongest elements of your narrative. Your descriptive prose is rich and evocative, and almost quite lyrical at times. The writing is incredibly atmospheric and you really capture this fantastical world and bring it to life for the reader.

Tone:

As I often tell aspiring writers, tone is the one of the most important elements of the narrative but also one of the hardest to master. If the tone of your novel isn’t pitched right, this can make the narrative feel unbalanced and in turn compromise the reader’s emotional engagement with it. And I thought the tone was nicely pitched – dark and intriguing yet with flashes of humour.

Genre/Market:

In today’s increasingly tough and competitive publishing world, it’s absolutely imperative that you know and understand the genre you are writing in and the market that the novel is aimed at. After all, as much about being a good writer is about being a good reader. You need to have an instinct for storytelling and a keen sense of what does and doesn’t work. And only by reading widely and opening yourself to as many possible styles of storytelling as you can will your own writing improve and develop. Whilst a natural instinct for storytelling is imperative, writing is still very much a craft that can be learnt and developed.

It’s clear that you know the readership you are writing for. My only word of advice, as discussed above, is to try to find the natural voice of all your characters, rather than getting the children to speak the words you want them to speak. A young reader will instantly pick up on dialogue that doesn’t convince. And if so, you risk distancing them from the unfolding story.

Page-by-page notes:

p.2-3: in just two pages, there are two mentions of ‘grumbled’ and three of ‘muttering’ – as I stated above, try not to over-use the same descriptions.

p.5: ‘the forest stretched ... if his sight could stretch’ – avoid repetition.

p.5: ‘Old Len had muttered’ – a lot of muttering characters!

p.6: ‘swooped’ and ‘swooping’ both feature close together. Avoid repetition.

p.7: think it would be a stronger ending to finish the chapter with ‘But death had still found a way in that night – it had taken his mother instead’. The line ‘an he couldn’t see how that was a happy ending’ states the obvious a little and isn’t as dramatic.

p.8: ‘people weren’t that great to be with in general’ – example of where a character’s thoughts feel a little stilted. This didn’t feel natural to the character and almost as if you were putting words in his mouth, rather than it feeling organic.

p.10: ‘were generally quite annoying’ – language feels a little stilted and formal for a twelve-year-old. This sounds like adult-speak, not how a contemporary adolescent would talk.

p.12: ‘She wasn’t mean to him exactly, just always busy cleaning...’ – this felt like a bit of a non-sequitur. How is her cleaning duties related to whether she is mean to Finn?

p.15: ‘he could hear the man muttering to himself’ – more muttering!

p.17: again, think a stronger chapter end would just be: ‘and then he saw it’ rather than ‘and it wasn’t a cat at all’. Remember, less is often more. You don’t need to overstate. By being more enigmatic, you’ll keep the reader turning the pages.

p.18 & 19: Aunt Nora and the farmhands both ‘grumble’. This seems like all the adults ever do!

p.19: ‘to Bagwash cottage for a filling breakfast before returning to the yards, stables and fields until the sun went down’ – surely would they not need lunch too? Working from breakfast until night fall is an awfully long time not to eat in between, especially doing hard labour.

p.20: we see Aunt Nora ‘march out the front door’. Yet on the previous page she had already gone out the door into the front yard. Be careful to pick up on glaring inconsistencies like this before you send your material to a literary agent. It’s crucial that it looks as professional and as polished as possible.

p.23: ‘the infuriating girl’ – again, doesn’t seem natural language of a 12-year-old.

p.24: repetition of ‘scowled’ – avoid using the same descriptions, especially in such close proximity.

Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far is in very good shape, but focus needs to be paid to characterisation. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes

Natalie Braine
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 08 Nov 2011, 17:50
ProfessionalCritique
 08 Nov 2011, 17:49 #134528 Reply To Post
Orion Editor critique

Dear Scott O’Neill

Congratulations on being well reviewed by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages of THE BUZZ BUILDING and think this marks a promising start. However, I think the material so far needs some work. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, and what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Structure:

Structure is the backbone of your story. If you have a strong structure in place, it will give your narrative focus, drive and direction. From reading your early chapters and the detailed synopsis, it seems the narrative will take a linear approach, seeing Haig as a young boy, then revisiting him every decade on his next birthday. From reading your synopsis, it sounds like as the novel progresses, there will also be storylines from the character POVs (point of views) of DCI Craven and Nick Dodds. This will give the story more texture, and will hopefully ensure the reader doesn’t tire of Haig’s narrative strand.

A small point but I was unsure about the heading for the first chapter – ‘Two grubby little troglodytes’. This doesn’t sound like the subheading from a crime novel, but more like a children’s novel. I would suggest cutting altogether.

Plot:

Whilst the opening page instantly hooks the reader, you quickly segue into giving the reader contextual background information about the plot and the characters. Try not to present background detail in such big chunks, as you risk pulling the reader out of the story. You only need to interweave small details as the narrative progresses. And it’s more important to show the reader, not tell them.

What begins like a coming of age story seems like it will move more into crime thriller territory as Haig grows up. From reading your synopsis, it’s clear that Haig has a lot of emotional and physical obstacles to overcome, and his own personal demons to face. His is a journey that is as much about escape as finding himself.

Characterisation:

Whilst you class this as a crime novel, from what I have read, it seems that this will be a much more character-led novel that plot-led story. Rather than crime novels like police procedurals, serial killer thrillers etc, this is about the so-called criminal who is also the victim and protagonist, and this should give the story an unusual and interesting slant.

It’s clear from these early pages that you have a keen ear for dialogue, in particular intonation and a character’s inner voice (i.e. not so much what they say, but what they don’t say). You really capture the Scottish accent, as well as the young boys manner of talk.

It will be interesting to see Haig evolve from a somewhat innocent young boy to a man afflicted by tragedy and hardship, and just how he changes. The success of the novel, and the text of whether you can keep a reader engaged, relies very much on the strength of Haig’s characterisation. He has to carry the weight of the narrative, and the reader has to emotionally connect with him in a way that keeps them turning the page and rooting for him.

It’s hard to judge from the synopsis alone, but it seems like other character POVs will be introduced, which I think will be much-needed relief from Haig’s own storyline. I wondered whether Elspeth will also get her own character perspective, or whether she just features as the ‘love interest’. It seems like you have opted for the stock characters: criminal/victim, policeman, vengeful lover, love interest, estranged family members. It’s absolutely crucial that their portrayals never feel stereotypical or clichéd. Each character has to have a purpose, and they have to feel fresh and original.

Setting:

Whilst Scotland is a familiar landscape to most British readers, it is still important to describe the specific details of the setting, to build up a sense of place and atmosphere, and really transport the reader there. Your description of ‘the buzz building’ was great – at once both a safe haven and a dangerous, frightening place.

Tone:

As I often tell aspiring writers, tone is one of the most important elements of a novel, but also one of the hardest to master. The tone of these early pages is quite intimate, as it is told in first person narrative and shown from Haig’s perspective. This intimacy instantly aligns the reader in some way to the character, as they are made privy to the protagonist’s inner thoughts and emotions in a way that no one else is.

I was slightly concerned, from reading the synopsis, that as the story progresses, the tone gets ever darker, as Haig begins to think there is no escape. Obviously the ending offers a glimmer of hope and optimism, but it’s important that the rest of the novel doesn’t feel unremittingly dark and bleak. Yes, the reader has to feel Haig’s own sense of despair and desperation, but there also has to be flashes of light relief, as well as emotional poignancy. And it’s equally important that Haig doesn’t come across as too embittered and angry – the reader still has to be able to warm to him and empathise with him.


Synopsis:

When you submit your work to a literary agent, then normally ask for the first three chapters and a two-page synopsis, so I think your synopsis will need to be condensed slightly. But it did aptly and succinctly summarise the story, and gives the reader a good overview of how the story will progress.

A small point but you refer to some of the characters as the informal ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’ rather than ‘his mum’ or ‘his dad’ – which makes it sound like the book is about you. And the line ‘Killer Escapes!’ seems out of context. Is this the headline of a newspaper? Try to ensure your synopsis is in full sentences and flows properly.

Genre/Market:

You categorise the book as both a crime novel and a saga. These are two very different types of books. In industry terms, a saga usually refers to either a crime saga like Martina Cole, or historical sagas which are usually romantic ‘clogs and shawls’ novels. So I would be very wary about describing your book as a saga, as this may give an unknowing reader misconceptions about your book.

Similarly, this isn’t a conventional crime novel. It starts off like a coming of age novel, focusing on playground politics, domestic dramas, and the closeness of young friendships. It doesn’t have any sense or hint of being a crime novel in these early pages. It is absolutely crucial that you understand who your readership is and what type of novel this is, as this will very much dictate the style and tone of your storytelling. If you’re unsure who you’re aiming this at, this will be reflected in a narrative that may also seem unsure of itself and what type of book it’s trying to be.

Conclusion:

I hope these notes prove useful. As I have already said, I think the material so far marks a promising start. But attention needs to be paid to tone and characterisation. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes

Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 08 Nov 2011, 17:54 #134530 Reply To Post
Random House Reviews

Badgerbear and the burnt map of Lumos – P.D. Cartwright

Congratulations on being the top rated story on YouWriteOn this month! Your book has a wonderfully appealing, intriguing title so I couldn't wait to get started on your chapters and I was very pleased to discover they more than lived up to the promise of the title.

Plot/Structure:

This was an interesting, imaginative read with a main character with whom many younger readers will be able to identify. Your world is vividly realised on the page and there were some lovely imaginative details that really helped to bring your writing to life – the brief description of Amoss' family home, for example, or Ruffrump's pink feet turning red in the warmth of the fire. Your early chapters set the scene very successfully, with Amoss's mysterious package and unexpected expulsion from home providing us with an intriguing sense of mystery while the pace of your writing really picked up with the introduction of the hawowl; I was racing through the pages at that point.

In a fairly crowded market you do need to have something that sets your fantasy world apart, and I was very impressed with how you'd created a new world through the conjunction of existing animals or concepts, like badgerbears, ratbat and baldberries – this really brings something fresh and new to your writing. I'd would personally have liked a little more description of the badgerbears themselves as I wasn't entirely clear which elements they had taken from each animal. For example, a bear is quite a large animal so I couldn't imagine a hawowl being able to grab a baby cub, but if they were closer in size to a badger that would make more sense. I think a future draft of your book could benefit from a little more detail threaded through the first pages so that we have a real sense of the creatures which inhabit this world. Is the rule that they take their majority of their characteristics from whichever animal comes first – i.e. badger in Amoss's case?

The story is told from Amoss's perspective but at one point we suddenly leap into someone else's perspective; who is it that tells us 'It didn't enter his head perhaps he should do things more quietly'?

Characterisation:

I thought Amoss was a very believable character; I really felt his anger and sense of betrayal when badgerbears he'd known his entire life had turned against him, and I liked the dry note of humour when he wishes his mother's last words had been that she loved him or a warning not to run into the river as he was such a bad swimmer.

So far, Ruffrump has the feel of a traditional sidekick – smaller, weaker and more prone to jokes than Amoss – and I think their differing characteristics will complement one another nicely on their subsequent adventures. Both characters are outsiders and I presume we will learn more of Ruffrump's story in the future but I think it would be interesting to see Amoss reflecting on how different Ruffrump is from the badgerbears he has grown up with; our first encounter with Amoss gives us the impression that he is someone who values strength and physical prowess and this is likely to have an impact on how he initially sees Ruffrump.

Quality of Writing:

Your writing is generally good but I'm not sure you've got into the habit of thoroughly profreading your work yet, and this is such an important skill for a writer. Although I very much enjoyed what I read, these first chapters would really benefit from a little more attention to detail, particularly over spellings and punctuation. For example, their home should be a 'sett' rather than a set and it should be 'puss' rather than 'pus'. You didn't always seem quite clear over possessives; 'were doing what they asked' should be 'we're doing what they asked' (p3), 'what do you think your doing' should 'what do you think you're doing?' (p6), 'Your welcome' should be 'You are/You're welcome' (p6) and so on.

I'd also suggest that you look again at commas and consider where your writing might benefit from their introduction. For example the sentence 'Sparks skittered into the darkness but they died, useless on the damp kindling because like him they were too damp' would be improved by the addition of commas around 'like him'. These commas are called bracketing commas, and are used to mark information that does not interrupt the flow of the sentence: you could remove the information within the pair of commas and the sentence would still make sense. There were quite a few instances where the flow of your writing would really have been improved by the introduction of bracketing commas and I'd strongly recommend getting hold of a good punctuation and grammar guide to help you in your next draft as it would be a real shame if people were distracted from your plotting and characterisation by the quality of your writing.

Conclusion

Your first few chapters were a very enjoyable read – they felt fresh and original and your characterisation is strong; once you've ironed out those few spelling and punctuation mistakes, I think you'll have a very strong piece of writing.

ProfessionalCritique
 08 Nov 2011, 17:55 #134531 Reply To Post
Random House Reviews

The Butterfly and the Wheel – NA Randall

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories on YouWriteOn this month; I found The Butterfly and the Wheel to be a very well written piece with a wonderful sense of atmosphere throughout and a brilliant cliff-hanger at the end of the sample chapters.

I loved the contrast between the 1960s Turgenovsky's amorous benevolence as he skilfully evades the hapless Bazdeyev and his younger self's frustration and misplaced arrogance as he loftily proclaims to Lev to 'Mark my words, I'm rarely wrong when it comes to political matters'. It's fascinating to see where the established poet began, particularly when we realise it's a very different past to the one we might have imagined after the events of the prologue.

Although your writing is generally good, I think the ending of the first chapter could be made a little more dramatic – in the depths of the cellar Turgenovsky is weighing up the prospect of more money but an increased risk when the door explodes inwards, and guards burst in (I think this is better than 'dash' which sounds a little too jolly). This should be an unexpected, terrifying moment, a perfect cliff-hanger in fact, but your writing is just too restrained for the event it is describing. The key emotion you want Turgenosky and, by extension your readers, to feel is shock and panic, so it’s not important to tell us that the door is torn off its hinges by 'some kind of battering ram'. What's relevant here isn't what is breaking down the door, it's the very fact that the door is being broken down. And similarly, I don't think we need to be told that dozens of uniformed 'Okhrana' dash in because I suspect the unexpected name is going to make readers hesitate, albeit briefly, when again, it's not who that's pouring in that is the point here; why not say instead that the room filled with uniforms, or uniformed soldiers? You can give us the correct name of the soldiers at a later date, but what you want to focus on here is making your readers experience exactly the same panic that Turgenovsky will be feeling at this point.

Your language and tone were generally very good and seemed appropriate to their period setting although I wasn't too sure about 'my good man'; this feels like a traditionally English upper-class endearment, would Turgenovsky really use that?


African Violet – Mo Lovatt


Many congratulations on being one of the top rated stories on YouWriteOn this month, when I'd finished your sample chapters I could certainly see why they'd been placed so highly; your writing is very good and both of your narrative voices felt fresh and believable, despite almost no physical descriptions of the characters I could picture them so clearly, just from the voices you'd given them.

I loved the older Violet's narrative, the affection and the dry amusement with which she regards her beloved granddaughter were so well transcribed and yet, when we came to Lucy's narrative we saw a different side to Violet, and her character took on greater depths as we saw the anger with which she regarded her daughter and her impatience at someone who could not merely put their depression to one side. I really admired how you'd resisted the urge to make the older Violet into a fragile older character, content to live through her granddaughter, her resentment for the tree outside her window (although she doesn't seem to resent the plants she grows – is that because they are more fragile than the tree?) gave us such a strong sense of who she was.

Although we have less of Lucy in these sample chapters I thought you caught her voice very well too, perfectly capturing her dilemma at being caught between her mother and grandmother, able to see the flaws and virtues in both women. There was enough of a resemblance between her narrative and that of both the young and old Violet for us to believe in a family connection, yet you carefully avoided giving her a confidence and eloquence that would have been unnatural for someone of her age and experience; she was still very much coming from the perspective of someone who was only 19 and could only see the world through her own experience of it.

I very much enjoyed what I read and while the concept of someone looking back on their life, and an unhappy secret buried within it, isn't a particularly new one the high quality of your writing ensured it still felt fresh and original.


Crazy Nola June's daughter – Yaei Politis

Congratulations on being selected as one of the top stories this month! I very much enjoyed the first few chapters of Crazy Nola June's Daughter: Olivia is a very appealing central character and a very believable one too, so many authors give their heroines characteristics appropriate to the present day rather than the period in which their book is set but I felt that Olivia had exactly the right blend of wanting to change her situation but being aware of the many challenges she would face in doing so. Similarly, you've given Tobey a convincing attitude of sympathy towards Olivia but also had him remind her of the importance of behaving appropriately for the time.

There were some lovely period details that really grounded us in the 1840s: the ice cream parlour serving sundaes with a piece of bread for you to wipe your fingers on, for example. I was a little dubious though, over whether, at that point in history, a young girl with relatively little schooling would know about the practice of Chinese foot binding?

The one concern I did have with your writing was actually over the title – Crazy Nola June's Daughter just felt far too comic for me, I hadn't read the synopsis before I began so I imagined it was going to either be a young adult book or a comic one and unless the tenor of your story changes dramatically beyond these first few chapters, I don't think the title reflects the setting or the style of your writing. I would personally suggest you consider something more evocative or intriguing, perhaps along the lines of 'Fae's Landing' or that you look at titles of books with a similar setting and feel to see whether they can provide some inspiration.
karen milner
 09 Nov 2011, 09:17 #134574 Reply To Post
Hi Ted, can you please pass on my gratitude to the editor who reviewed my work. Their kind words were much appreciated and feel like a life-raft in the dark and often turbulent waters of (what is for me) novel writing.
Best wishes, Karen Milner.
racheljturner
 09 Nov 2011, 11:55 #134674 Reply To Post
Please pass on my thanks to Natalie for a thoroughly useful critique - I really appreciate the time that has obviously been taken to point out all the improvements that I can now get to work making! Many thanks.
Rachel.
goldfish
 09 Nov 2011, 12:46 #134689 Reply To Post
Please pass on my gratitude for the reviews I received. Especially needed that big slap on the wrist I got over very bad punctuation!!!
Thank you!!
This post was last edited by goldfish, 09 Nov 2011, 12:47
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