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ProfessionalCritique
 29 Aug 2013, 13:26 #172011 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of IN MY LADY’S SHADOW



Dear Siobhan Daiko


Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your historical romance novel, IN MY LADY’S SHADOW. I thought that these opening chapters were engaging and marked a promising start. 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, helping to provide shape, focus and narrative drive. If your story isn’t well structured, the very foundations of your novel can become compromised. Obviously being a time-slip novel, your narrative will switch between Fern’s present day storyline and Isabella’s historical strand, with them interlocking more tightly as the story unfolds. Alternating between multiple storylines and character POVs (points of view) can be a good literary device to help ensure the reader doesn’t tire of either strand.



A small point, but I found some of your chapter endings a little abrupt and even jarring – you end in the middle of a scene, but not always at a particularly dramatic point (such as the segue between chapter one and two, with Fern hearing a sound from above at the end of chapter one, and then her aunt calling down to her in the beginning of chapter two). Your chapters need to break at a point that feels both natural and dramatic; otherwise you risk pulling the reader out of the narrative if it feels like an awkward transition.



Plot:



While I liked the beginning of your novel, I wonder if it would be stronger to open with Fern having a flashback to the Kings Cross disaster, rather than a historical flashback. Not only would this be a tense and dramatic opener, it would more closely align the reader with Fern. I think the focus needs to be more on her in the beginning rather than Isabella. Plus I think it would be interesting to highlight the contrast between Fern’s modern, chaotic world and Isabella’s long-vanished and equally dangerous world.



A common pitfall of dual narrative historical fiction is that one storyline is often much stronger and more involving than the other – and this typically tends to be the historical strand. It is absolutely crucial that Fern’s storyline feels every bit as dramatic and intriguing as Isabella’s if the reader is to remain invested in both their stories and feel compelled to read on. Fern does have a troubled and complex past – the tragedy of losing her best friend, a painful relationship break-up – as well as the recent complications of whether she will return to her demanding job, and whether she gives in to her feelings for Luca. The fact that Fern does stay in Italy rather than return to London, does face her past demons, does embark on a relationship with Luca, and does make peace with Isabella, are all somewhat predictable resolutions, but these need to be depicted in a way that doesn’t feel unoriginal or stale. You need to keep the reader guessing until the very end.



It isn’t broached in your synopsis, but I wondered why Isabella latches on to Fern specifically? Is she a distant relation, or is it just because she bears a physical resemblance to her? I think this needs to be explored in more detail if it is to feel believable.



Characterisation:



This is an area that you need to pay particular attention to when you come to rewriting your early drafts as I’m afraid I found Fern’s portrayal rather weak. She lacks charisma and personality in these early pages. Your protagonist needs to be unforgettable if your story is to successfully hook the reader. As much as your story is plot-led, it also needs to be character-driven. And if your characters feel underdrawn, you risk distancing your reader from your story. Likewise, I found Isabella too similar to other female historical figures. Don’t depict what is familiar about her, but explore what is unique and individual about her. Both Fern and Isabella need to come alive on the page and be equally strong characters if the reader is to connect with them on an emotional level.



You present some of the scenes from Luca’s perspective – will this continue as the novel progresses? And will other character POVs also be introduced? Like with Fern and Isabella, Luca’s portrayal needs further development. We’re told that Fern feels instantly attracted to him, but his charm and fascination isn’t apparent on the page. You need to get under his skin and lay bare for the reader what is unique about him, rather than portray him as a ‘dashing hero’ type. Don’t fall back on stereotypes and clichés in your characterisation. Opt for what feels fresh and original to really make your characters leap off the page. I would suggest reading other historical novels and closely analysing how they represent their characters, and assessing whether you connect with each character and in what way. After all, the first step in becoming a good writer is in being a keen and voracious reader.



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 in historical fiction, setting is especially important, helping to transport your reader to a vanished period in time. You need to immerse them in this world, bringing it alive with the sounds, smells, colours, textures, tastes and sights of the time. Italy is a very sensual place, and you’ve already ably described some of the setting, but I think more descriptive details can be woven through in these early pages to really give the reader a sense of both characters’ worlds.



Genre/Market:



While women’s fiction is a strong area of the commercial fiction market, it is also one that is heavily saturated, meaning it can be hard for new authors to break through. And historical romance is a small niche of that crowded marketplace, so a new title needs to be something truly original and well-written if it is to stand out from its peers. And being a time-slip novel, there is also a certain suspension of disbelief needed on the reader’s behalf, as not only does your book revolve around two interconnected time periods, your characters are also able to inhabit one another’s minds. So this type of historical fiction will appeal to an even smaller readership. As I have suggested above – read, read and read as widely as you can in the area in which you wish to write – both fiction and non-fiction, bestsellers and unheard-of debuts.



Specific comments, queries and line notes:



Is it explained how Fern’s aunt Susan knows Luca?



You tend to over-use the exclamation mark, especially in dialogue and thoughts. Try to only use the exclamation where absolutely necessary, as if it appears too frequently in writing, it begins to lose its impact.



Quite a few instances of Fern ‘giggling’, a description that makes her seem like a young girl, not a successful businesswoman from London.



‘there hadn’t been diddly squat’ – phrasing seems at odds with the tone of the rest of the scene. Perhaps use something else here?



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 attention needs to be paid to characterisation. 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
 29 Aug 2013, 13:27 #172012 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Dance by Amy LeClaire



Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your women’s fiction novel. While I thought it was engaging, I did think your writing could benefit from further work. The prologue, although readable, didn’t really pull me in to your story – I think you need something a bit more intriguing and dramatic here to hook your reader and make them want to read on. Also, you tend to overwrite dialogue, such as the restaurant scene, where you give a blow-by-blow account of the conversation and what was ordered. These kinds of details, although realistic, add little to furthering the narrative or the reader’s understanding of your characters. Remember that less is often more with writing – you need to entertain your reader at all times.



While I liked the conversational tone of your writing, as this aligns the reader more closely with Felicia, be careful not to over-share, especially about the mundaneness of domestic life – the reader doesn’t want to feel like an agony aunt! You need to evoke empathy in your reader, not pity for your protagonist. You also acknowledge that some of what you say is clichéd – try to avoid this. Seek something fresh and new to try to express what you are saying. And tying in with this is your depiction of Felicia. While she is a believable character, she doesn’t feel charismatic enough to carry the weight of an entire novel. You need to work on getting under her skin and laying bare what is unique about her if she is to really step off the page.



Professional mini critique for The Rose Trail by Alex Martin



Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your historical mystery novel. But I felt the present day strand was somewhat at odds with the historical strand in terms of delivery and tone. The present day storyline feels playful (almost pantomime-esque in parts) and also quite tongue-in-cheek – not what I was expecting from a historical mystery novel! It’s absolutely crucial that you understand what kind of book you are writer and who your intended readership is, and this will influence the tone and style of your storytelling. If you’re unsure of what kind of book you are writing, this uncertainty will shine through and in turn distance the reader from your story.



Coupled with this, I also found the conversational, almost journal-like scenes with Fay also held the reader at arm’s length. You tend to report to the reader what is happening (much like a diary entry) rather than playing the drama out and allowing the reader to experience it alongside your characters. In contrast, I found the historical scene was much more involving as you draw the reader in to the unfolding drama rather than telling them what is happening. This is an important aspect to consider when you come to rewriting this draft. Your writing needs to have an immediacy that pulls the reader in to your fictional world and immerse them so much that they’re compelled to read on.



Professional mini critique for Erasing Ramona by Peggy Rothschild



Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading these early chapters of your mystery crime novel. It’s clear you are a natural storyteller, from having read both this and the opening of your previous novel, Clementine’s Shadow. You quickly get to the heart of a character, aligning the reader with your protagonist and making them connect with them on an emotional level. Miranda is a great character – both intriguing and multi-faceted in her portrayal.



While the premise is a well-worn one – a character returns to their childhood home for a family funeral after years of estrangement – your story never feels formulaic or predictable. The central mystery of what happened that fateful night when six people were murdered and Miranda managed to escape has huge dramatic potential. It’s key that you drip-feed the reader information and clues as the novel progresses, even if these are ambiguous, so they remain invested in the story and are kept guessing as to what really happened.



Professional mini critique for The Lie by K Johns



Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your novel. The premise of a character discovering secrets and lies upon the death of a parent is one that has been tackled in many stories, as it has the potential for much mystery and drama. While I found the present day strand revolving around Julia and her dealing with both grief and anger at her mother’s deception, I found the past strand, written from the perspective of her father Jack, was much more involving. It’s important that Julia’s storyline isn’t just her searching for clues and answers – she needs to have her own arc and subplots too. I think you need to work on her opening chapters, to ensure they really pull the reader into your story. They need to have the same intrigue and immediacy as Jack’s scenes, otherwise your novel will feel unevenly weighted, with the reader rushing Julia’s section to get to Jack’s.



I also think you need to explore and portray Julia and Peter’s relationship in a more involving way. You need to get to the heart of their tensions, but not overstate them. Remember that less is often more – that as much can be said by what is left unspoken than what is verbalised. I think there needs to be a more dramatic focus for Julia’s plotline rather than just her delving into the past, otherwise the present will feel bland in comparison to the rest of your novel.





prothschild
 30 Aug 2013, 05:39 #172035 Reply To Post
Hi Ted, Please convey my thanks to Amy LeClaire for her encouraging words about Erasing Ramona.

This site and all the critiques have been enormously helpful to me. - Peggy
coalface
 30 Aug 2013, 14:56 #172046 Reply To Post
Quote: prothschild, Friday, 30 Aug 2013 05:39
Hi Ted, Please convey my thanks to Amy LeClaire for her encouraging words about Erasing Ramona.

This site and all the critiques have been enormously helpful to me. - Peggy


This critique entirely misses what I as a reader found captivating about your writing even though it is niether a genre nor style that ordinarily grabs me. Almost anyone would recognise and relate to the very ordinary human feelings you have neatly conveyed within the framework of an original and dramatic plot. Therein lies its broad commercial potential if the rest of it is as good as the start implies it will be.
coalface
 30 Aug 2013, 15:10 #172047 Reply To Post
Quote: coalface, Friday, 30 Aug 2013 14:56
Quote: prothschild, Friday, 30 Aug 2013 05:39
Hi Ted, Please convey my thanks to Amy LeClaire for her encouraging words about Erasing Ramona.

This site and all the critiques have been enormously helpful to me. - Peggy


This critique entirely misses what I as a reader found captivating about your writing even though it is niether a genre nor style that ordinarily grabs me. Almost anyone would recognise and relate to the very ordinary human feelings you have neatly conveyed within the framework of an original and dramatic plot. Therein lies its broad commercial potential if the rest of it is as good as the start implies it will be.

NB The critque does not fail to notice the particular quality I mention. but its distinction and worth.
coalface
 30 Aug 2013, 15:32 #172050 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 29 Aug 2013 13:26
Editor Critique of IN MY LADY’S SHADOW



Dear Siobhan Daiko


Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your historical romance novel, IN MY LADY’S SHADOW. I thought that these opening chapters were engaging and marked a promising start. 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, helping to provide shape, focus and narrative drive. If your story isn’t well structured, the very foundations of your novel can become compromised. Obviously being a time-slip novel, your narrative will switch between Fern’s present day storyline and Isabella’s historical strand, with them interlocking more tightly as the story unfolds. Alternating between multiple storylines and character POVs (points of view) can be a good literary device to help ensure the reader doesn’t tire of either strand.



A small point, but I found some of your chapter endings a little abrupt and even jarring – you end in the middle of a scene, but not always at a particularly dramatic point (such as the segue between chapter one and two, with Fern hearing a sound from above at the end of chapter one, and then her aunt calling down to her in the beginning of chapter two). Your chapters need to break at a point that feels both natural and dramatic; otherwise you risk pulling the reader out of the narrative if it feels like an awkward transition.



Plot:



While I liked the beginning of your novel, I wonder if it would be stronger to open with Fern having a flashback to the Kings Cross disaster, rather than a historical flashback. Not only would this be a tense and dramatic opener, it would more closely align the reader with Fern. I think the focus needs to be more on her in the beginning rather than Isabella. Plus I think it would be interesting to highlight the contrast between Fern’s modern, chaotic world and Isabella’s long-vanished and equally dangerous world.



A common pitfall of dual narrative historical fiction is that one storyline is often much stronger and more involving than the other – and this typically tends to be the historical strand. It is absolutely crucial that Fern’s storyline feels every bit as dramatic and intriguing as Isabella’s if the reader is to remain invested in both their stories and feel compelled to read on. Fern does have a troubled and complex past – the tragedy of losing her best friend, a painful relationship break-up – as well as the recent complications of whether she will return to her demanding job, and whether she gives in to her feelings for Luca. The fact that Fern does stay in Italy rather than return to London, does face her past demons, does embark on a relationship with Luca, and does make peace with Isabella, are all somewhat predictable resolutions, but these need to be depicted in a way that doesn’t feel unoriginal or stale. You need to keep the reader guessing until the very end.



It isn’t broached in your synopsis, but I wondered why Isabella latches on to Fern specifically? Is she a distant relation, or is it just because she bears a physical resemblance to her? I think this needs to be explored in more detail if it is to feel believable.



Characterisation:



This is an area that you need to pay particular attention to when you come to rewriting your early drafts as I’m afraid I found Fern’s portrayal rather weak. She lacks charisma and personality in these early pages. Your protagonist needs to be unforgettable if your story is to successfully hook the reader. As much as your story is plot-led, it also needs to be character-driven. And if your characters feel underdrawn, you risk distancing your reader from your story. Likewise, I found Isabella too similar to other female historical figures. Don’t depict what is familiar about her, but explore what is unique and individual about her. Both Fern and Isabella need to come alive on the page and be equally strong characters if the reader is to connect with them on an emotional level.



You present some of the scenes from Luca’s perspective – will this continue as the novel progresses? And will other character POVs also be introduced? Like with Fern and Isabella, Luca’s portrayal needs further development. We’re told that Fern feels instantly attracted to him, but his charm and fascination isn’t apparent on the page. You need to get under his skin and lay bare for the reader what is unique about him, rather than portray him as a ‘dashing hero’ type. Don’t fall back on stereotypes and clichés in your characterisation. Opt for what feels fresh and original to really make your characters leap off the page. I would suggest reading other historical novels and closely analysing how they represent their characters, and assessing whether you connect with each character and in what way. After all, the first step in becoming a good writer is in being a keen and voracious reader.



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 in historical fiction, setting is especially important, helping to transport your reader to a vanished period in time. You need to immerse them in this world, bringing it alive with the sounds, smells, colours, textures, tastes and sights of the time. Italy is a very sensual place, and you’ve already ably described some of the setting, but I think more descriptive details can be woven through in these early pages to really give the reader a sense of both characters’ worlds.



Genre/Market:



While women’s fiction is a strong area of the commercial fiction market, it is also one that is heavily saturated, meaning it can be hard for new authors to break through. And historical romance is a small niche of that crowded marketplace, so a new title needs to be something truly original and well-written if it is to stand out from its peers. And being a time-slip novel, there is also a certain suspension of disbelief needed on the reader’s behalf, as not only does your book revolve around two interconnected time periods, your characters are also able to inhabit one another’s minds. So this type of historical fiction will appeal to an even smaller readership. As I have suggested above – read, read and read as widely as you can in the area in which you wish to write – both fiction and non-fiction, bestsellers and unheard-of debuts.



Specific comments, queries and line notes:



Is it explained how Fern’s aunt Susan knows Luca?



You tend to over-use the exclamation mark, especially in dialogue and thoughts. Try to only use the exclamation where absolutely necessary, as if it appears too frequently in writing, it begins to lose its impact.



Quite a few instances of Fern ‘giggling’, a description that makes her seem like a young girl, not a successful businesswoman from London.



‘there hadn’t been diddly squat’ – phrasing seems at odds with the tone of the rest of the scene. Perhaps use something else here?



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 attention needs to be paid to characterisation. 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


This is a very perceptive review of a very good work of fiction that deserves to be honed as per suggested, but certainly not through 'writing group' nor for the satisfaction of 'enjoying writing'. Within the inventor of 'Fern' and 'Isabella' is the connextion there, and also why the dude is instantly hot. There couldn't be much else (yeah, Italy is clear and bright enough) to make this satisfy the target.
SiobhanDaiko
 30 Aug 2013, 18:10 #172055 Reply To Post
I agree, Coalface, a perceptive review of my work. My writers' group - i.e. YWO reviewers - has helped me hone my writing skills, lol, which still need honing in so far as characterisation is concerned. An area to develop, but I'm pleased with Ms Braine's critique as 'a promising start' is praise indeed and her advice, as ever, is spot-on. I do read widely in the genre, but where can I find an "unheard of debut" ? Reading hasn't helped me create "unforgettable" protagonists. Yet. Clearly something I need to focus on...
This post was last edited by SiobhanDaiko, 30 Aug 2013, 18:51
Siobhan Daiko
SiobhanDaiko
 30 Aug 2013, 18:18 #172056 Reply To Post
Ted, please pass on my thanks to Natalie Braine for her perceptive critique and helpful advice. I'm most grateful to YWO for the chance to have my work in progress read by a professional.
Siobhan Daiko
prothschild
 31 Aug 2013, 01:22 #172061 Reply To Post
Thanks so much for your encouragement, Coalface!

Quote: coalface, Friday, 30 Aug 2013 14:56
Quote: prothschild, Friday, 30 Aug 2013 05:39
Hi Ted, Please convey my thanks to Amy LeClaire for her encouraging words about Erasing Ramona.

This site and all the critiques have been enormously helpful to me. - Peggy


This critique entirely misses what I as a reader found captivating about your writing even though it is niether a genre nor style that ordinarily grabs me. Almost anyone would recognise and relate to the very ordinary human feelings you have neatly conveyed within the framework of an original and dramatic plot. Therein lies its broad commercial potential if the rest of it is as good as the start implies it will be.


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