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ProfessionalCritique
 31 May 2013, 00:05 #168186 Reply To Post
Latest Editor critiques below. Hope these are helpful. Very well done to Simon Gamblin, author of PRISCILLA. Editor Natalie Braine is interested in reading more as she thought it showed real promise. Natalie is the editor who, when working at Orion, critiqued The Legacy when it was a youwriteon top ten story. This resulted in Orion publishing The Legacy which became a Channel Four TV Book Club winner and bestseller. If after reading more she thinks PRISCILLA has potential she will forward on her former colleague who decided to publish The Legacy, and who now works at Atlantic Books, publisher of authors such as Julian Barnes.
ProfessionalCritique
 31 May 2013, 00:06 #168187 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critique of The Innocents

See attached Editor line edit critique of the opening chapters.

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, Random House

This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 31 May 2013, 00:08

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ProfessionalCritique
 31 May 2013, 00:10 #168188 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of BUTTERMILK ALLEY.

Dear Sonia Velton

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your historical novel, BUTTERMILK ALLEY. I thought that these opening chapters were really engaging and I was impressed with the confidence of your storytelling. 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:
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. And from reading these opening chapters, it seems like you have given a great deal of thought to the structure of your narrative. The story is told from the alternate viewpoints of your two protagonists, Esther and Sara, providing a different angle each time to the unfolding story. By having two separate yet interlinked stories will help ensure that the reader never tires of one storyline before the narrative switches to the next. This is a common literary device, particularly in historical fiction, and a highly effective one if used successfully.
From reading your synopsis, it becomes clear that these POV scenes are in fact witness statements as Esther and Sara are forced to give evidence at the trial of Bisby and John one year later. This switch will suddenly turn the narrative on its head as the reader realises that what they have been reading isn’t all that it initially seemed.
Plot:
At the heart of the story is a tale of secrets and hidden agendas in one household, as mistress Esther struggles to assume some form of creativity within her stifled existence. And then her maid Sara, who resents her lot in life, and so slips out into the world at night, bringing back her own secret into the confines of the house. These domestic dramas are set against the backdrop of a bigger story, encompassing the social and political details of the time, with weavers’ jobs – and art – being threatened by the importation of the rest of the world’s goods.
While these early chapters were very well written and quickly drew the reader into the worlds of Esther and Sara, I wondered if there was enough drama and intrigue within your plot to fuel the entire narrative. Esther’s secret is that she is creating her own silk patterns, and while I’m sure this was an unheard of occurrence during that period, as well as one that would incite the wrath of her husband, I felt like her own story needed something more. There is of course the plot development that Esther will try to force Sara to give her baby up to the childless Arnauds, but it’s important that Esther’s motivations here are properly explored. Why does she not want the child for herself when she hasn’t been able to conceive yet with her husband Elias? Is it because she doesn’t want to bear his children? Or even doesn’t want children but is unable to admit this to anyone? The reader needs to understand Esther’s motivations, even if they are only revealed piece by piece as the story progresses.
There is also some sexual tension between Bisby and Esther. Again, it is hard to gauge from reading your synopsis alone, but will their relationship be explored in more detail? As this is another area of the plot whose drama could be heightened to help drive the narrative forwards.
Likewise, Sara’s frequent visits to Buttermilk Alley need to be explored in greater detail. What are her true motivations, other than feeling isolated and lonely in the house? Does she want to shock Esther? Is she desperate for her own child? Does she really love John? The reader needs to understand Sara if they are to emotionally connect with her and remain invested in her story.
Your synopsis indicates that the novel will unexpectedly switch later on into more of a courtroom drama as Sara and Esther take their places on the witness stand. I wondered what had become of Elias by the end, as only Sara, Esther and the child are mentioned. Did he die in the riots? Or has he left Esther? This should probably be made clearer in your synopsis.
Characterisation:
I thought both Sara and Esther were incredibly well drawn characters. In these early pages, they are vividly portrayed, and there is also an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding each one, making the reader want to learn more about them. As I have mentioned above in my notes on plot, each characters’ motivations need to become apparent to the reader if they are to empathise and engage with them.
A small point but are there many other servants working in the Thorel household? What is Sara’s relationship with them? I think there needs to be a greater sense of the inner workings of the household. Also, will background details about Sara and Esther’s past be revealed as the novel unfolds? Such as why Sara fell into a life of servitude. Was she born into it? Is she still close to her family? And likewise with Esther – how did she meet Elias? Did they ever really love each other or was it a marriage of convenience? And what is Esther’s story – does she come from a happy home? A wealthy one? It is small details like this that will help bring the characters alive and make them seem more fully rounded.
Setting:
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 this was one area that really injected life and colour into your storytelling. Your writing is very sensory, particularly your descriptions of the smells of Spitalfields at this time, with the flowers and the sour buttermilk left in the alleys. And the textures and patterns of the woven silks, and even smaller details such as the powders and lotions that Esther uses, and the coarse straw mattress that Sara has to sleep on compared to her mistress’s luxurious feather one. It is specifics like this that will really help transport the reader to your fictional world. It is also clear that your writing has been well researched, so the period details feel accurate and authentic.
Synopsis:
Your synopsis is well written, giving a clear overview of the story, but there could be more details contained within, such as the fate of Elias by the end (as I mentioned earlier in my notes), and whether Esther, Sara and the child will remain at the Thorel household or if they have to fend for themselves elsewhere?
Genre/Market:
As I’m sure you’re aware, historical fiction is a popular genre in the adult fiction market, but one that is also extremely competitive given the number of books that crowd this area of the marketplace. In short, a novel needs to have a compelling plot, unforgettable characterisation, vivid prose and a freshness to its writing if it is to stand out from others of its kind. And while I think you have achieved all of these to some extent, I do feel that there needs to be a greater sense of mystery, intrigue and drama to your story if you are to keep the reader hooked throughout. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read voraciously. The first step in becoming a good writer is in being an astute and analytical reader. Read other historical novels with a keen eye, analysing what works and doesn’t work in each story, and how this knowledge can help inform your own storytelling.
Line notes:
‘As if her face was the picture and mine the dull, sturdy frame’ – great line!
Really liked your comparison of Mrs Arnaud’s hope for children similar to people’s refusal that summer is drawing to its end.
‘Carrying a small handful of the season with me’ – lovely line.

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a very promising start but a greater sense of drama would help make your story stand out from others. As well as reading as widely as possible in the area in which you wish to write, 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
Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 31 May 2013, 00:11 #168189 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of SANTA’S TRIAL.


Dear Jack Palache
Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel, SANTA’S TRIAL. 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:
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 reading these opening chapters, the narrative structure seems to be very linear, told day by day from the POV of Jake in the run-up to Christmas. The common pitfall of such a simplistic structure is that a lot of pressure is placed on this one storyline as there is no relief from other subplots or other character POVs. And my concern from these early pages was that the story felt quite small in scope and rather limited. Perhaps you need to look at ways to bring in more texture and depth to your storytelling to keep the reader engaged and invested as the novel unfolds. Perhaps you could incorporate more flashbacks, so the reader better understands how Jake’s and Mary Jo’s marriage broke down. We’re told that Jake has lost contact with most of his friends but what about his own family? If you introduced scenes that incorporated more characters, this would help open up your story and also provide more insight into Jake as a character by seeing him interact with a variety of people. Perhaps there could be a subplot here involving a family member that brings another dramatic strand to the narrative.
A good exercise is to storyboard your narrative, either scene by scene or chapter by chapter, to see the shape and structure your novel is taking. It is then easier to isolate areas that are stronger and others that are weaker and need further development.

Plot:
While this opening chapters were engaging, if I’m honest (and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t!) this had the feel more of a short story than of a novel. The entire focus is on whether Jake can convince his two daughters that Santa actually exists – which seems quite a thin premise for an entire novel to rest on. Your synopsis states that after Emily and Dana reluctantly return home with their grandparents the night of Christmas, Mary Jo makes good on her threat to get lawyers involved, taking Jake to court. And the driving force in this portion of the novel seems to be a debate on parental rights and God versus Santa. Again, this doesn’t feel like it has the dramatic potential to ensure a compelling read. Instead, it almost feels like you are moulding your story around a larger debate, and the personal drama will become lost in the process.
As I discussed above in my notes on structure, one of your focuses when you come to rewriting should be on widening your plot and making the story more involving. There needs to be more a drive than Jake’s battle with his wife for visitation rights. Introduce other narrative strands with more characters, otherwise your story will feel too insular.
Characterisation:
Given this is told in first person narrative, solely from Jake’s POV, means that your protagonist has to be strong, intriguing and multi-layered if the reader is to connect with him. And I felt that he was a little underdrawn in these early pages. Delve into the characters’ pasts. You mention in your synopsis that Jake is an ex-hockey player. Did you intend to explore this a bit more? How long has he been retired? Was it injury that made him leave the game or an acceptance that it is his time to retire? As I mention earlier, what is his relationship with his family? Is he still in contact with them? You need to focus on providing more angles on Jake so the reader better understands him as a character.
I found Mary Jo a bit one-note as a character. Hopefully her portrayal will broaden as the novel progresses otherwise you risk her feeling one-dimensional and not entirely convincing. Again, delve into her past. Has she always been religious? What caused her to have an affair? How did her and Jake meet and did they really love each other in the beginning? It is details like this, woven seamlessly throughout, that will bring your characters alive on the page.

Setting:
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 this was an area that could be expanded on. Jake obviously still lives in the former marital home. Does it feel big and empty to him now? What is the neighbourhood like? Why does he stay there when a lot of the community view him as ‘a psychopath and alcoholic’? Could he not move away, but still be close enough to see his children? What is it about the place that keeps him there?

Tone:
Tone is one of the most important elements of a narrative, but also one of the hardest to master. If your tone feels inconsistent or unsure of itself, then this can seriously affect a reader’s engagement with your novel. You need to understand what tone you are trying to pitch for, as this will very much influence the style of your storytelling. And I felt this was an element that needed serious consideration when you come to rewriting. At times it feels like you’re opting for a comical tone with some of your phrasing (see below in my line notes) and at others it seems like you’re trying to be more serious. For example with the scene where ‘Santa’ gets attacked by the dog and then hides in the chimney, which feels quite farcical, and then moments later Mary Jo’s parents arrive to take the children away, with the girls and Jake all crying. The emotional impact of this scene flounders because of the sudden change in tone. And I think this uncertainty stems from the fact that you seem unsure what kind of book you are trying to write. The beginning seems like a tale of domestic strife and one man’s loss. But from your synopsis, it seems the novel will then move into unexpected terrain with a lengthy courtroom storyline that focuses on bigger issues.

Synopsis:
When you are submitting your work to a literary agent, most houses ask for the first three chapters and a two-page synopsis. Your synopsis is supposed to give the reader an overview of the plot, detailing what happens after those first three chapters that they would have read. Whereas your synopsis details the first three chapters, and then only touches open the rest of the novel in a matter of lines. You need to be more specific here about what happens after the girls are taken from Jake as otherwise a reader will fail to see how you can sustain an entire novel that can be summed up in a couple of sentences!

Genre/Market:
You class this as general fiction. As I’m sure you’re aware, ‘general fiction’ is a very broad area of the market, and one that is extremely competitive. For a book to stand a chance of being successful, it needs to stand out in a very crowded marketplace. And at present I don’t think your novel is strong enough to achieve that. The best piece of advice I can give you in improving your storytelling skills is to read widely and analytically. Don’t just read for pleasure – read with a keen eye, assessing how the author builds and maintains momentum in the story, whether there characterisation is successful, how they structure their narrative, the tone of the story, how the setting is described. The first step in being a good writer is being a good reader.

Title:
A small point but I would also consider changing your title. This sounds more like the title for a children’s book than an adult novel. When you are submitting to an agent, you need to think of your book as an entire package, alongside the title and the synopsis. Agents get hundreds of submissions every day, and you need to make yours stand out.

Line notes:
I did find some of the lines were a little over the top, such as:
‘Probably they think they’re in a nut house.’
‘They start shaking like they’re undergoing exorcism.’
‘Smotherbrain can shoot me if he wants, the bastard. My girls are suffering traumatic breakdown.’
‘My tears dry up, like they’ve shot up back to where they came from.’
You call Jake ‘scrappy’ in your synopsis, which seems a bit of an odd description, as this isn’t exactly how he comes across in the opening chapters…

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start but a greater sense of drama and a focus on characterisation will help make your writing jump off the page. As well as reading as widely as possible in the area in which you wish to write, 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
Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 31 May 2013, 00:11 #168190 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for The Soul Carrier by Ellie Daniels

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your mystery/thriller novel. I thought you had a strong opening chapter that introduces the characters, draws the reader in and builds a sense of tension and intrigue. The reader begins to question whether James can be trusted – and indeed whether Beth can too, and the reader is left to wonder what happened to her beyond her parents’ tragic death. Beth is a well-drawn protagonist – hardened by what has happened to her yet also very vulnerable. But I felt that she was perhaps a little too prickly in these initial chapters, making her a little hard to warm to as a character. Also, I didn’t realise she was a doctor until I read the synopsis. Could this be made a little clearer earlier on?

I did feel that the reference to the resident ghost at her parents’ chapel was introduced in a rather clunky way, dissipating any potential eeriness. I think more could be made of this, rather than just having some frosty neighbours tell Beth about the local myth. Remember that less is often more, and if the reader – and your characters – are unaware what is happening at first, this will only heighten the story’s tension and mystery.

Professional mini critique for Priscilla by Simon Gamblin

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. I thought the first scene was really strong – you drop the reader right into the middle of the action and hook them from the very first page. I loved the lines: ‘This is what it’s like to be dead’ and ‘This is what it’s like to be alive’. I also thought the seagull metaphor was fantastic, when Priscilla’s mum is screaming, along with the poignant fact that this is the last time that Priscilla has been hugged. You have a keen sense of when less is more, and delivering moments of unexpected dramatic impact in a very succinct way.

The fact that you reveal Priscilla’s secret early on is unusual but because the revelation is so shocking, it is the reader’s thirst to know more about Priscilla, rather than the mystery itself, that will fuel the narrative. She is a fantastically drawn character whose portrayal feels original and unique. Even though the reader knows early on of the terrible things she is capable of, there is a charm to Priscilla that draws the reader closer to her.

A small point but I thought the quotes scattered throughout were unnecessary and weren’t particularly intrinsic to the story. I would suggest having just one quote as an epigraph at the front of the book, rather than a quote at the beginning of each new scene. Also, your synopsis is a bit too short if you are considering submitting the first three chapters and your synopsis to a literary agent. A synopsis can be up to two pages long (usually double-spaced) and should give a complete overview of the plot.

Professional mini critique for The Fifth Dare by Tony Foster

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It is engaging and there is a building sense of menace that all is not going to end well. The ending is suitably dark, flashing forward to what kind of man the protagonist has become because of the choices he has made. And it gives new meaning to the story’s title. One small criticism would be that the story seems to veer from being told from a six-year-old’s point of view to an adult’s point of view (and vocabulary), so the narration doesn’t always feel consistent. Perhaps it would work better to have it from a child’s perspective until the very end, when there is the revelation about the protagonist. And in this way, it places the reader alongside the young Jackie, rather than pulling them out of the story with the knowledge that this is a flashback told from another period of time.








svelton
 31 May 2013, 06:37 #168196 Reply To Post
Dear Ted,

Please could you pass on my sincere thanks to Natalie Braine for her detailed and encouraging review of Buttermilk Alley.

Sonia
ajwinter
 31 May 2013, 14:09 #168223 Reply To Post
Hi Ted,

Thanks for posting these new reviews. However, I'm wondering what happened to April's reviews? These ones you posted are from May.
Thanks,

Ann
Palache
 02 Jun 2013, 13:28 #168258 Reply To Post
Please pass along my thanks to Natalie too for a very helpful critique.

Jack Palache
This post was last edited by Palache, 02 Jun 2013, 13:29
my website
AlfFry
 04 Jun 2013, 05:47 #168331 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Friday, 31 May 2013 00:06
Random House Editor Critique of The Innocents

See attached Editor line edit critique of the opening chapters.

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, Random House



Please pass my thanks on to Marcus for this review and also for the lightly but very helpfully edited script. I confess I like to create teasing dilemmas for readers through science fiction and in this case it is for readers to find themselves supporting a main character in committing a rape in order to liberate his generation from oppression. A twist at the end of the story makes it not a rape after all but in principle it could have been. Marcus has also anticipated the social engineering experiment in population control as another key aspect of the story, which in itself is only something that keeps innocent the people who think they have a handle on what is really going on.

Quite a few chapters of Innocents are dedicated to female points of view - the two genders of the main character's generation live separately, so the female world of his generation gets its exploration and expression as well.

I'll take note of the points Marcus raises in redrafting Innocents before publishing. Thanks to all the YWO reviewers too, some of whom made very similar comments and also pointed out a range of weaknesses in the script.

Alf Fry, writing as Sarah Fayermann
kejs
 04 Jun 2013, 10:30 #168342 Reply To Post
Interesting to read these critiques of the latest top ten. Just wondering what has happened to the critiques for March - they don't ever seem to have been posted?
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