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 10 Jun 2013, 19:46 #168642 Reply To Post
Bloomsbury / Random House / Orion Critiques

Latest Critiques April 2013

Each month on editors from Random House, Bloomsbury and Orion, provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated Top Ten novel openings from budding authors, and provide mini-reviews for the rest of the top ten youwriteon stories. Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett.

Some of these posted before, posting under the month of the top ten so easier for members to find.
 10 Jun 2013, 19:47 #168643 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critique of THE INNOCENTS. Line edit of story attached.

There's lots to admire here - the writing is of high quality throughout, although occasionally it gets bogged down in too many clauses and sentences that would work better split in two. Generally, though, the prose is good and I've got not much to talk about there. You'll see on the annotated file attached where I've fiddled with punctuation and occasional lapses.

Character-wise, it largely works - there's an enjoyable naivety to the 52 year old Aktar, although the author will have to be careful he doesn't end up coming across as a sex-pest (hard to judge on what we have here). The childhood section between him and his father works well too, managing to get across a lot of the required explanation without being too info-dumpy. I think you focus on the appearance of Susannah a little too much, and I'd like to see more of her thoughts about the seemingly-problematic future she lives in and her suppressed feeling of rebellion, but she works as well.

There's a logical plot & characterisation explanation for the opening scene with the pleasure-robots, but it does come across as quite unpleasant. I'm sure this is intended, and it does show us something about the character, but I worry that it might put off readers too soon. Just something to consider.

I have more issues with the 'baby game' - it seems to be suggesting that Aktar's job is to get a woman pregnant, basically without her noticing, while she's intentionally trying to stop him. That's a little bit rapey, or at least might end up looking like that without sufficient care on the author's part. Again, impossible to judge without seeing the rest of the book, but something to be careful of. Some possible solutions - explain the rules of the baby game more clearly, have a section told from a woman's POV showing what they're being told by the Guardian.

I very much like the setting, both the planet, the 'sociological experiment' set-up (would like to see more made of this) and the general organisation of the galaxy. I'm sure we'll see more of this as Aktar heads off into space, but what we have works well, and is a nice twist on colonization SF.

Overall, an intriguing beginning, and - as long as the correct care is taken with the gender politics - it would be very interesting to see where this ends up.

Hope that helps!

Marcus, Editor Orion

Innocents.doc (66Kb) - 218 view(s)
 10 Jun 2013, 19:49 #168644 Reply To Post
Editor critique of THE GREMIO INHERITANCE.

Dear A J Winter

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your fantasy novel, THE GREMIO INHERITANCE. I thought that these opening chapters were very readable but I did think they could benefit from further 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, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Structure is the backbone of any novel. It helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. From these opening pages, and what I can gauge from your synopsis, it seems the narrative will take a linear structure, told in chronological order. You’ve also opted to show the story from different character POV (points of view), with both Joe’s and Gazardiel’s perspectives portrayed in these early chapters. This is a common literary device, and an effective one that helps to ensure that the plot does stagnate, as multiple character POVs create texture and depth to your narrative, showing your story from more angles, and hopefully providing more insight into your characters and your plot.

While your opening scene is very engaging, I did feel like you were trying to insert too much backstory into this first scene, with the details about Joe being fostered, (as well as going off on slight tangents, with Joe sucking on the honeysuckle nectar). Only small details are needed in this crucial first scene. Your focus should be on dropping the reader into the middle of the action and building a sense of intrigue and menace to hook them, not flashing back to what has happened previously. This first scene needs to feel immediate and focused. Backstory and other details can be introduced later in the story.
I also felt that you didn’t fully capitalise on building a sense of danger. Joe is shown to be watching two men outside his house, and then creeps in later to pack some things to run away from home. But it isn’t made clear how Joe knows these men want to kill him, and so the scene’s tension lessens, as the reader doesn’t feel the peril he is in, or his motivation for wanting to flee. I would suggest taking another look at this scene and reworking it to heighten the tension and suspense, so the reader is placed more firmly alongside Joe, and understands why he feels he’s in danger (even if they don’t know the exact reasons at this early juncture in the story). Is it because Joe can read their minds? If so, perhaps show their thoughts, rather than stating outright that they want to kill him?
I’ll touch upon this more in my notes below on genre and market, but I did feel that this was an unusual mix of genres. It is essentially fantasy, with strong erotic overtones, but I also felt that this was closer to YA (Young Adult) rather than adult fiction. Was this your intention? It is important that you know who you are writing for, as this will very much influence the style and plot of your narrative.

While I thought Joe was well depicted in these opening pages, I did feel like he was portrayed in a way that felt quite YA. He’s obviously an older teenager, and it feels like his characterisation is tailored for a teenage reader rather than an adult one. Again, was this your intention? As at present, I feel that an adult reader wouldn’t necessarily engage with him as a protagonist – not because of his age, but because of his portrayal.
I also felt that Gazardiel’s portrayal felt somewhat superficial in these early chapters. He’s portrayed as a lascivious wizard, who is more interested in what he can get from Joe rather than actually helping him. This turns the conventional stereotype of the wizard on its head, which is a nice twist, but I still felt he was quite underdrawn as a character. You need to work on really getting under his skin, and avoiding clichés in his depiction. What makes him the man he is? What is unique and distinctive about him? Perhaps hint at underlying mysteries in his character that might surface later on.
I couldn’t tell from your synopsis, but will the entire narrative be structured from just Joe’s and Gazardiel’s perspectives, or will more character POVs be introduced as the story progresses? It’s important that each character, even if only secondary or minor, is given a vivid and weighty portrayal. As it seems that this will be a book that is as much character driven as it is plot driven.

Setting is of course only the backdrop to a story, but it can be a character in its own right too, helping build atmosphere and even tone, and I think this is an area that can be built upon when you come to rewriting. The reader obviously knows that Joe travels to London, but where does the first scene open? Where is his home? Or is it just a generic suburb close to London?
You state in your synopsis that the novel is set in the 1980s. This period setting doesn’t really come across in these early pages. I wondered why you had decided to set the novel in this era? Especially a fantasy novel. I think this needs to be touched upon in your synopsis, to get a sense of why the time period is important, and how it will influence your narrative. Otherwise this detail feels a little arbitrary.

Tone is one of the hardest elements of a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone feels off-key or discordant with the rest of the narrative, you risk alienating your reader. The tone of the opening scene has hints of menace and tension (although as I mentioned previously, these could be heightened considerably). But then the novel segues into definite erotic overtones, and the suspense and danger begin to dissipate. As I mentioned above, the unusual mix of genres can influence your style of storytelling. But it’s important that your tone doesn’t feel inconsistent throughout, or that it feels like a blend of very disparate types of stories. The tone is something that can make the narrative feel more cohesive and pull the different strands together, so it’s important that you know and understand what tone you are pitching for as you write.

You categorise this as fantasy and gay/lesbian fiction. As I’ve discussed earlier in my notes, this also felt like YA fiction to me. This is quite an unusual mix of genres, and consequently, this means your book will appeal to quite a limited, niche market.
I’m assuming, as you didn’t categorise the book as YA, that this style wasn’t your intention. I also feel that overly erotic fiction is incredibly hard to place in a YA market. So if your book is supposed to be aimed at a more adult readership, I think you need to tailor your writing so it appeals to a more mature audience. And the first step is in depicting Joe in a more adult light, as his representation feels very teenage at present.

Line notes:
‘one of those wizard people’ – vague description that doesn’t help to cement this fantasy world in the reader’s mind.
‘The one in the van was really pissed off that Joe wasn’t home. The other man, the one who wanted tea, also wanted to kill him.’ – Is this information that Joe is privy to, given that the scene is from his POV? Or is it only something the reader is supposed to know about? In which case, this puts the reader on a different footing from the protagonist very early on, which can be a risky literary device, as this can compromise their alignment with a character. It also feels like quite a clunky way to hint at danger. You need to show the reader how Joe is in peril, not tell them in such a direct, blunt way, as this loses its impact.
‘Stupid!’, ‘Shit!’, ‘Concentrate!’, ‘bottle man’ – phrases like these sometimes make the story feel more Young Adult than adult fiction…
‘”You owe me.” … The wizard expected repayment for his help.’ – Overstating the fact here, as the reader already knows this. Remember that less is often more.

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start but this first draft does need a fair amount of work. As well as reading as widely as possible, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to hone your writing skills. I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Editor Natalie Braine
 10 Jun 2013, 19:49 #168645 Reply To Post

Professional mini critique for The Rusted Gun by P M Wilson

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your historical novel, but felt they could benefit from further rewrites. The plot feels a little too simplistic at present, with Angie impulsively deciding to go to Crete, and then suddenly arriving there. I think there needs to be a greater sense of mystery surrounding Poppy’s past to hook the reader in this crucial first chapter. Also, when Angie arrives, this feels very sudden too, with little description of the setting, or much insight into how she is feeling. And her relatives’ sharing of their past also feels a little too quick. Again, there needs to be a greater sense of intrigue, and also more of a sense of Angie having to work and delve for this information, rather than just turning up at her relatives’ home and them opening up to her so readily.

I thought the historical strand didn’t quite deliver either. It feels reported, as if it is being told to Angie, rather than unfolding for the reader to experience first-hand alongside the characters. There needs to be more immediacy to these scenes, and again, more mystery. It is these elements that really colour and drive a historical novel. You need to focus on showing the reader what is happening, not telling them. (For example, you rely on lines like: ‘We stiffened, falling against each other with atrocious shock, disbelief, indescribable horror’ – not only is this overly descriptive, but you shouldn’t tell the reader this is how the characters are feeling – you should show this!) The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in this area, and read with an analytical eye, assessing what elements work or don’t work and why. The first step in becoming a good writer is being a voracious and astute reader.

Professional mini critique for A Shared Child by Kathryn Scherer

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. While I thought these early chapters marked a promising start, I felt that they would benefit greatly from further development. In an increasingly crowded and competitive market place, it is absolutely crucial that you hook your reader in the opening chapters. And my concern is that not only do yours lack dramatic intrigue but also that they felt somewhat meandering in structure and focus. A good tip to help hone in on areas of weakness in the plot’s structure is to storyboard your narrative, either chapter by chapter or scene by scene, so you get a more overarching sense of the shape of your story and what is driving it.

There are quite a few flashback scenes to the characters’ childhoods. Perhaps there could be more of a mystery surrounding Maeve and Damien’s relationship, even a hint of menace, as not only will this provide intrigue, but also the much needed page turning quality that will keep a reader immersed in your fictional world. And in this way, your narrative has two more distinct strands that can intertwine as the novel progresses, keeping the reader guessing as to what happened in the past and what will happen in the present, as the story nears its end.

Professional mini critique for New Clive by James Holden

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. While I thought the premise was an intriguing one, and full of dramatic potential, I felt that the story didn’t quite deliver. A lot of the drama felt reported, which is a common pitfall of short story writers, who opt to condense narrative by reporting it concisely rather than letting it play out in a more dramatic and immediate way for the reader to experience. Don’t let the short story format constrain the story you are trying to tell. Given that this is science fiction, there is an inevitable level of suspension of disbelief required on the reader’s behalf. But I felt that this fictional world didn’t always convince in its portrayal. You lean towards a tongue in cheek tone sometimes (such as the double entendre reference towards Iceland) and at times I did feel this compromised the weight of the narrative.

I thought the ending was very good – unexpected and has that lingering moment that will keep the reader thinking, wondering how the story continues after the final page. But I think the story would benefit from having a more engaging build up that really pulls the reader in to your story.

Professional mini critique for The Black Caravel by Harry Nicholson

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your historical action adventure novel. But while you drop the reader right into the middle of the drama from the very first page, I didn’t think this scene was strong enough to really immerse the reader in your story. You mention in your synopsis that Kate, the blind daughter, spends her days waiting on the coast for her brothers to return from sea. I wondered if this wouldn’t be a potential opening for the novel – intriguing and somewhat haunting?

Another concern is that the story feels like it is made of two halves in these early chapters – Tom’s story, and Rachel’s story. And these scenes felt very distinct, so much so that they seem like they are almost aimed at different readerships. It is absolutely crucial that in a crowded and competitive genre like historical fiction that you know and understand your intended readership. Read as many books as you can in this category, to gauge a sense of what is popular and to try to analyse what works well in each book. Reading analytically will also help craft your own approach to storytelling, and help build a keener instinct for what will work on the page. I would also suggest joining a creative writing group to receive regular feedback on your work from other writing peers.

Editor Natalie Braine

Further Critiques will be added as received from editors.
 10 Jun 2013, 21:31 #168657 Reply To Post
Sincere thanks to Natalie Braine for a very useful mini critique on THE RUSTED GUN.

aka P M Wilson
This post was last edited by patriciaa, 10 Jun 2013, 21:32
 11 Jun 2013, 16:07 #168686 Reply To Post

I just discovered that we, in the lower leagues of YWO can read the mini-reviews of the professional editors. I thought that they were strictly private.

This is a great tool to improve our own writing.

Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split. Raymond Chandler
 11 Jun 2013, 18:07 #168691 Reply To Post
Thanks so much for my critique of The Gremio Inheritance. It raised a lot of useful points.

One of my dilemas has always been making Joe's voice seem authentically young while at the same time maintaining the novel as an adult work in keeping with its themes.

I have always been aware of problems related to marketing this story. One of my main aims in posting this piece has been to gauge reactions regarding this issue.

Thanks to Natalie and eaveryone else for their input. It is much valued.

Thanks again.


 22 Jun 2013, 13:48 #168994 Reply To Post
Thank you, and feedback passed on to Natalie.
 22 Jun 2013, 13:49 #168995 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critiques


Firstly, congratulations on being selected for the longer critique. I very much enjoyed the first few chapters of your book, and from reading the the synopsis I can see that you have plotted out an entertaining, action-packed, clever mystery adventure, with plenty of appeal for children. I hope the following suggestions are helpful.

Beginning your story with the discovery of a murdered man in the shed is a fantastic way to immediately hook your readers’ attention – very dramatic! Your description of the dead body – “crumpled… like an oversized puppet with its strings cut” – is visceral: I immediately felt transported to that shed. You convey Addison’s shock and horror very well – and I would suggest that instead of hearing Addison run through the list of people to shout out for (Harry, Aunt Ellie, Caitlin – none of whom we know) I would have her turn on her heel and run straight for the house, with a huge sense of panic and urgency at the thought the killer might still be in the vicinity, and the implication that she is very much alone and vulnerable. And finish the scene there – a short, sharp, extremely effective opener that will leave your readers desperate to find out more!

I think the slight problem with the beginning currently is that we meet too many characters in quick succession, which dilutes the major, dramatic discovery of the body in the shed. When Addison, Leaf and Caitlin emerge from the house to investigate, Addison comments that Uncle Harry is looking too calm as he cleans up the “paint spillage” – I know the intention here is for him to immediately be a suspect, but because this is the first time we’ve met him, it doesn’t quite pack the punch it should. It would be much more powerful if we had him pegged as a sweet, kind man and then have this notion (potentially) turned on its head. I would therefore suggest, following this explosive, short opening scene, having a bit of retrospectively reported backstory – ie. So we can find out why Addison is staying with Aunt Ellie and Uncle Harry, what they are like, that her dad is in hospital, etc. Setting up the cast of characters more fully so that when we are plunged back into the mystery of the bodies buried in the garden and the unfolding of the diamond thieving, we are more emotionally invested in them.

This potential re-working of the opening aside, I thought you had a lively, pacy writing style, with excellent, convincing interaction between the children; Caitlin mumbling “something that ended in ‘moron’” when woken up by Addison made me laugh! Caitlin is so determined not to believe her – I can tell that these two are going to develop into real foils for one another throughout the book. Leaf is a great character, too – I can already see how fond of him Addison is, which is going to make that scene later on when he gets shot really heart-in-mouth for the reader.
In summary: great writing, well-thought-out-plot but I think you need to set the scene more thoroughly for your young readers as early on as possible. This definitely doesn’t mean adding reams of exposition at the expense of the plot moving forward – but just making sure we’re aware of who the main players are before the mystery really gets going.

I wish you all the best with your writing!

Lauren Buckland, Random House

 22 Jun 2013, 13:51 #168996 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critiques

CITY OF DREAMS by Harriet Steel

This is just the kind of life-played-out-against-epic-historical-backdrop story that I relish really becoming immersed in. The most successful books of this genre are those that manage to embody in their main character the universal thoughts, hopes and also challenges that women face – whether in 1866 or today. I think, in Anna, you have a heroine who has the potential to truly be empathised with.
I wonder whether we need to know a little more about Anna’s circumstances before Monsieur Daubigny walks into her life and changes it completely. You say at the beginning of the synopsis that Anna “chafes at her sheltered life and longs for something more exciting” but there is little evidence of this at the beginning of the narrative, apart from the slightly oppressive air in the parlour, which the tick of the clock measuring out the afternoon and the grey skies outside hanging heavy. This kind of detail to suggest the slow, laborious passing of time is great – but I’d like to hear Anna be more explicit about how stifling she is finding her life. This will provide a sharp contrast to the drama of what is to come for her. Perhaps, after Monsieur Daubigny departs with the promise of a return for dinner the next day, we can hear Anna speculate about what food to buy and plan what dress to wear to impress him. She says “I hoped Emile would think I looked pretty” but this feels rather flat and passive for what must have been an exciting development in her life – her ticket to escape the quiet, unremarkable, predictable days at home with her mother and father.

Can you look into injecting Anna with a little more vim and vigour in this early section of the book? She’ll come alive for the reader much more, I think, if we believe that she is taking a more active role in her own future. And her eventual ruination and abandonment by Daubigny will be all the more poignant if she has put so much hope and effort into starting this new life.

From reading your synopsis, the plot seems to develop well, with plenty of scope for drama, double-crossing and great characterisation. Mariette and Peri sound particularly interesting – I hope you’ve had a lot of fun bringing them to life! I also hope you’ve gone to town with setting the historical ambience – this opening section certainly transported me to St Petersburg; you have a good eye for creating a vivid sense of period and place.

I wish you all the best with your writing!

Lauren Buckland, Random House

THE DARKE INSIDE ME by Kerrin Krainis

What an interesting concept for a story! Your synopsis outlines a plot with plenty of scope for thrills, danger and intrigue – with the growing pressure on Liam to facilitate an escape before the blood tests in December adding a race-against-time aspect that should provide a compelling momentum to the narrative.

There are moments in the opening section that are truly attention-grabbing – poor Unwinn’s murder with “his fingers clawing at the cement and his legs thrashing wildly” – is brutal and horrifying. However, I’m not sure you have done quite enough to explain the set-up and orientate your reader enough so that they immediately feel that they are invested in what is unfolding. In particular, Liam is a bit of an unknown quantity – we hear that his father considers him weak and has dumped him at this increasingly sinister boarding school, but he doesn’t feel as scared and alone as you’d expect him to after witnessing the death of a fellow pupil who also doesn’t belong at the Elyphrim Academy. I am very much in favour of punchy, dramatic beginnings of books, but because we haven’t seen Liam interact with his previous life, the contrast with this new setting isn’t quite there and consequently it took me a while to feel engaged with what was going on.

Perhaps if we could see (rather than have reported in just one line, as currently) Liam being dropped off at the school by his cold, indifferent father, be given a description of his surroundings, hear his hopes that finally he’d be able to forge a new identity away from his oppressed background – before his new teachers chillingly reveal their true nature, this beginning section would be infused with more menace. I wanted to have more of a handle on Liam’s character before all the dark(e) stuff starts happening – a little more human interest as counterbalance to this most inhumane of settings.
Saying that, after reading the synopsis I am intrigued to finish the book – I can imagine the revelation that he is a higher level of Enrai than anyone there coming as a thrilling shock to the reader!

I wish you all the best with your writing.

Lauren Buckland, Random House

THE LILITH EXPRESS by Peggy Rothschild

Nikki has an engagingly smart, self-aware sardonic voice – I really liked this girl from the beginning. She feels like a credible teenage girl – the horror at her mobile phone/”lifeline to the world” not working out in the Mendocino Forest is spot-on! Gruff, bear-like “grouchy old coot” Grandpa, too, felt like a well-rounded, interesting character from the start – it is so important that your readers engage with the characters immediately, and I think you have absolutely achieved this.

I did wonder whether Nikki feels at home in the forest a bit too easily – can you make more of the contrast between her party-fuelled urban life, surrounded by friends, and this new, isolated existence? Can she feel a little more like a fish out of water? Perhaps it could be a bit longer (even the next day) when she first encounters Ben and Todd – her first night in the cabin could provide a good place for her to reflect on her change in circumstance, plus the death of her sister in the fire and her mother abandoning her that has so thrown her life off track. Let us see a little of the soft, damaged interior behind that hard outer shell – Nikki will be all the more of an empathetic character for it.

You synopsis outlines an intriguing plot that soon takes a turn for the mystery/thriller, with Nikki’s suspicions about her grandfather living under an assumed name and on the run from something, and the girl knocked unconscious and being dragged away by armed men. I really want to read on and see how you unfold this narrative – I was really gripped by the material so far and think you have a very compelling, assured writing style that bodes well for the rest of the book.

I wish you all the best with you writing.

Lauren Buckland, Random House

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