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ProfessionalCritique
 07 Feb 2014, 19:27 #176360 Reply To Post
Each month on YouWriteOn.com 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, Bloomsbury and Orion publish authors such as Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling.

ProfessionalCritique
 07 Feb 2014, 19:30 #176361 Reply To Post
Random House Editor critique

Extended Vacation – Doyle E. Duke


Congratulations on being one of the top rated story this month on YouWriteOn!

Plot

I thought this was a lively and engaging beginning to a story, with two very contrasting characters at its heart. I liked the ambiguity of Sam and his daughter’s relationship in the opening pages, where at first you thought he was a selfish old man, not recognising his daughter’s efforts, and then later began to suspect that Karen may well not had had Sam’s best interests at heart.

I’m sure many readers will be intrigued to see how the odd couple relationship between Sam and Terri develops during the course of your story. The crotchety old man with a hidden heart of gold is a relatively familiar figure in fiction, but I thought you did a great job of setting Sam up as quite an unlikeable character in the initial pages but then revealing how quickly he begins to panic when he realises how old and ill he really is. I am presuming that part of the reason Sam softens so quickly towards Terri is that he does realise how much he needs someone else, but I wonder if it might be worth you making that slightly more explicit, so that his change of heart towards her doesn’t appear to happen too quickly?

One thing to bear in mind is making sure there is a sense of pace and tension and a feeling that the story is moving forward, to really draw readers in. Obviously we have a potential clash between Sam and Terri in terms of their prejudices and experiences but I was curious as to whether you might also introduce more tension through Karen and her brother’s attempts to track down their father or Sam’s worsening medical conditions?

Setting

This may just be down to a misreading on my part, but from your opening paragraphs I had actually assumed that your story was set immediately after the abolishment of segregation, rather than in the present day. Perhaps it might be worth making this clear by slightly tweaking one of the lines as follows: ‘Differences and prejudices are seldom easy to overcome, even years after segregation was abolished’ just to avoid any confusion.

I would also suggest looking for ways to really convey a sense of place for any readers who are not familiar with that part of the world, so think about the sounds and the smells and the heat of the area, and how you can really bring it to life on the page as this will all help towards the world you are creating.

Dialogue and Characterisation:

As you say at the beginning of your piece there is a risk that some people will take against some elements of the dialogue and also descriptions such as ‘looking like Little Black Sambo’, particularly the use of the ‘n word’. It’s probably worth flagging up that books tend to be much more conservative than films or tv when it comes to the use of explicit/controversial language so you may find the language and Sam’s attitude towards Terri is a problem for some readers, although there are many very successful writers, including Irvine Welsh, who employ dialect in their writing.

This is a very minor point, but it might be worth making it clear that Sam doesn’t currently own a car at the start rather than just saying he doesn’t drive, which might initially lead readers to believe he didn’t know how to drive.

Quality of Writing

Your writing is generally good but do keep an eye out for any spelling or grammatical mistakes, particularly where a word has been used incorrectly but spelt correctly so won’t be caught by a spell checker, for example ‘starred’ rather than ‘stared’ in your opening paragraph. You don’t want readers to pull up almost immediately after starting a book, noticing a mistake, so do try read through everything again, even after it’s been through a spell checker.

Conclusion

Your first chapters have many exciting and interesting elements about them, and I hope you continue to build on these foundations as you develop your story.

The main thrust of your story is the relationship between Terri and Sam so really focus on how you can make this as natural and as believable as possible, and that covers everything from their dialogue to their actions and motivations. As you’ve anticipated, there are likely to be some people who may baulk at the dialogue used, but the important thing is to make it as authentic as possible, so that even if some readers might find it unpalatable they will know it’s realistic.

Think about ways in which you can build that all important sense of place and atmosphere too – not just through physical descriptions but through the tiny details that really bring a place to life on the page. Writers often focus on the physical, but think also about how a place sounds or smells, and about what makes it special.

Good luck with your writing!

Alison, Editor, Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 07 Feb 2014, 19:32 #176362 Reply To Post
Random House Editor mini-reviews

The Marsh Mage's Servant – A J Winter

Congratulations on your story being one of the top rated entries for this month! I very much enjoyed the opening chapters of your work, you write extremely well and you created a wonderful sense of period and atmosphere throughout. The descriptions of the landscape in which Dalthane and his father live were were vivid and compelling, I could almost feel the heft and the stink of the mud that surrounded the village and the chill of the oncoming winter. Dalthane makes for a very likeable hero, determined but not blind to the challenges he will face ahead of him and I was genuinely saddened when he was caught by the Constable so close to home, as well as intrigued as to what had happened back in the village that would have had them come chasing after him so quickly after what must have been Wrothar's mother’s death.

One thing to bear in mind would be that if you do want to send this to an agent, some may have an issue with the sex scene between Dalthane and Wrothar coming so early on in the story. I have assumed, possibly incorrectly, that you were writing for the older end of the YA market – teenagers generally enjoy reading about characters a few years older than themselves and I can imagine many of them would find Dalthane an appealing protagonist – in which case the sex scene could be more problematic than in a book pitched firmly for adults, and you may want to make it slightly less explicit.

Good luck!

Mot and the Infestation of Rome – Julian Green



Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month! I thought this was a fascinating setting for a children's book, and your immortal rat narrator certainly made for a fresh and original voice. There was a lovely sense of fun throughout, although occasionally I felt you'd put yourself under pressure to explain an awful lot, quite early on and the questions from the younger rats sounded a little too obviously like they were being used to move the story on or explain the backstory. It can be tricky when you are writing as part of a series, but don't feel you have to explain the whole history of a series straight away, readers enjoy piecing together clues so think about ways in which you can gradually reveal Mob's history as an immortal rat and how that had come about.

One thing I did briefly want to comment on was the large number of categories you'd chosen for your story. It may well be that this is more common on YouWriteOn but ideally, a book would only be put into one or two main categories depending on which were the main markets you thought the book would appeal to. For example something like Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong is set partly in the past and has a love story running throughout it and many very dramatic scenes of war, but the novel would generally be just classified as 'literary fiction' or possible 'literary fiction' and 'historical' at the most, but wouldn't also be categorised as 'action', 'romance' etc. I'm sure you are aware of this already but I did just want to flag up that if you were to submit your work to an agent you shouldn't list all the categories that Mot... is presently tagged with, but just focus on the main market for the book which I would imagine would be children's fantasy fiction. Publishers will generally focus on one main market at a time, and so agents will expect that your pitch for the book has been carefully refined and you have really considered exactly who the book is pitched at. As I say, I am sure you are aware of this already but it would be remiss of me not to flag it up!

Safe Ground – Maggie Mayers

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month with the engaging and intriguing start to your story. I really wasn't expecting the story to take off in the way it did, with the arrival of Davy and Susie and then the disappearance of Susie, and I think the twisting and turning plot and not knowing whether we can truly trust Davy or whether there is something more sinister going on will quickly draw in your teen readers.

Joseph in an interesting central character, I liked his love of clouds, although I have to admit that I did find it a little unbelievable that Social Services or the Care Home he was staying at would happily let a teenager go off to an address that was ten years old without making any checks beforehand. Do you think there is a way that you could make this a little more plausible without compromising your plot?

Alison, Editor, Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 07 Feb 2014, 19:36 #176363 Reply To Post

Editor Critique of BLOOD ON THE SUN


Dear Ann B

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I really enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel BLOOD ON THE SUN and was impressed with the sophistication of your storytelling. I thought that these opening chapters were engaging, and from reading your synopsis, it’s clear that your story has solid foundations. 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 may become compromised. And I thought this facet of your story was clearly thought-out and solid. You open the novel from Louise’s POV (point of view), just before her death, and then follow with the first chapter set in present day from Juliet’s POV, flashing back to Juliet and Louise’s first arrival in south east Asia. This dual narrative structure will give texture and depth to your story, ensuring the reader never tires of one storyline. You also create further variance between Juliet’s strands by having the past strand in first person and the present strand in third person.


A common pitfall with this kind of structure is that the past narrative strand is often more compelling and richly told than the present day strand. It is crucial that each half of the story is as strong as the other, otherwise your novel will feel unevenly weighted, and you may risk the reader feeling distanced from one strand, skimming it to rush to the next.


Plot:


I thought your opening was incredibly strong. You drop the reader right into the middle of the action, firmly placed alongside Louise. You leave the scene on a cliffhanger, so the reader is left unsure of Louise’s and baby Claire’s fate.


Juliet’s early scenes were equally involving, and although not as dramatic, you really pull the reader into your story very quickly, compelling them to read on. Your storytelling is lean and precise, making the plot feel like it has a real focus, rather than meandering into unnecessary tangents about period detail (another common pitfall with this kind of novel!).


While your story isn’t the most original, and other similar stories have been told countless times, you can still make a familiar plot feel fresh and insightful through your portrayal of your characters and your style of storytelling. And you’re definitely going in the right direction with these early pages.


Characterisation:


The reader experiences Louise’s fear and urgency alongside her in your prologue, and her need to protect her baby daughter Claire. This early depiction of her is contrasted with the flashback that sees a young and carefree Louise embarking on the beginning of the journey, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead for her.


Juliet is a vividly drawn character. You quickly get under her skin and in her mind, laying her bare to the reader, so that they feel aligned with her. However, I did feel like she could be a little more distinctive and charismatic. There is nothing that really sets her apart from a thousand other characters out there. She needs to be unforgettable and feel real is she is to really leap off the page. While she is presented as meek and mild in comparison to her more beautiful sister Louise, perhaps you could reveal more of her personality through her perspective and insight.


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. You quickly immerse your reader into your fictional world, transporting them there with your succinct yet vivid descriptions. Given that this is both a period novel and one set abroad, setting will have more of a central emphasis in your story, as you will really need to conjure up this vanished world for your readers.


As I mentioned above, while it is important that you don’t shoehorn in whole paragraphs of descriptive passages, I did think a few more details could be woven through, to really bring the setting to life. For example, Juliet’s rubber plantation seemed just like any other rubber plantation. But it is also a reflection and even extension of Juliet’s character in some ways. So perhaps you could interweave some more details about her home in the first chapter. After all, it is a stark contrast from where she originally came from.


Tone:


Tone is one of the hardest elements of a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone is off-pitch, it won’t ring true with your reader, and so will compromise their engagement with your story. While your story will inevitably be tragic in tone in parts, due to Juliet’s abuse, Louise’s death, and Juliet’s separation from her baby and her true love, it’s important that your novel doesn’t feel unrelentingly dark. There need to be moments of lightness to offset the dark, be it in the form of humour, romance or drama.


Genre/Market:


As I’m sure you’re aware, historical women’s fiction is an incredibly competitive area of the adult fiction market, and so any new book needs to offer something fresh and imaginative if it is to stand out in a very crowded marketplace. As I’ve mentioned above, while I think your writing is really engaging, and it is clear that you are an intuitive storyteller, my concern is that your plot will follow predictable paths. It is crucial that your novel never feels formulaic or generic. Always strive to bring clarity and insight to every aspect of your writing. The biggest piece of advice for any aspiring writer is to read, read, read, particularly in the area in which you wish to write in. And don’t just read passively, but read with an analytical eye, assessing what you think does and doesn’t work in terms of that book’s structure, plotting, characterisation, setting, tone etc. By becoming a keen and critical reader, this will inform your own storytelling, so you become more aware of what works and what doesn’t in your own writing. After all, the writing of a novel is just the half of it. It is the editing and polishing that is just as important!


Conclusion:


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a really promising start but there room for development. 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, Editor
ProfessionalCritique
 07 Feb 2014, 19:37 #176364 Reply To Post

Professional mini critique for The Last Roundhead by Jemahl Evans



Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your historical novel. You also classify this as action adventure, but I found these opening chapters lacked the pace and drama usually found in this genre. I think your opening needs to feel more dramatic and involving if you are to hook your reader more quickly. You fall into the common pitfall of presenting a character’s background, describing his family and childhood. Details like this can come later in the story. Remember that less is often more. Focus more on dropping the reader into the middle of your story and building plot and character, rather than colouring in the background for the reader’s benefit.



I liked the structure of the narrative, flitting between two time frames, seeing Blandford in his prime and as an old man, who looks back on events with hindsight. While the intimate first person narrative aligns the reader to your protagonist, because it is presented in a journal style, the plot feels like it is reported, rather than being played out for the reader to experience it first-hand. And so you risk distancing your reader from the story. You need to make your writing feel more immediate, even when it is in diary form, so you really immerse the reader in your fictional world. The greatest piece of advice for any writer is to read voraciously, and to read with an analytical eye, assessing what works and doesn’t work in each book in terms of plot, characterisation, structure, setting, tone etc. By becoming a more perceptive reader, you will also become a more intuitive writer.



Professional mini critique for The Art of Mayhem by Brent Smith



Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. As I’m sure you’re aware, historical fiction is an extremely competitive area of the adult fiction market, and one where only a few well-known authors dominate. In short, a new book has to feel fresh, entertaining and be vividly told if it is to stand out in a very crowded market. And unfortunately I don’t think these early pages achieve that. You fall into the habit of summarising a character’s background, reporting the story by telling the reader rather than showing them.



You need to immerse your reader in the story, not keep them at arm’s length. Your protagonist needs to be much more compelling, as at present, he feels like he is just serving as a narrator figure. And for a novel concerning a great artist, your storytelling needs to be much more colourful, richer and evocative. Your prose doesn’t need to be teeming with description, but you need to be able to transport the reader with vivid, concise details that will help to bring your story alive.




Professional mini critique for Love, Revenge and Limoncello by K Johns




Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It was incredibly involving, and the dialogue was concise and full of spark. You really get to the heart of who Joan and Araminta are as characters in a very short space of time. I did feel that some of the dialogue was a little overwritten for the reader’s benefit, for example, Araminta admitting how she killed Rupert. Remember that less is often more. Just the hint that this is what she might have done is just as chilling as her actually describing it.



I also guessed the twist of the story fairly early on. Perhaps this could be concealed more so the revelation has more impact?


Professional mini critique for Madame Roquet by Karen Snape-Williams



Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It was an unusual read, with a tongue in cheek tone, and an amusing narration from your protagonist. However, I felt it lacked any insight or lasting impression. It was very short, and seemed more focused on describing the aromas of Madame Roquet’s flatulence and the farcical consequences than actually creating a story that has an involving plot. In short, while readable, I felt your story lacked meaning, clarity or any real emotion.



Just because the short story form poses more of a constraint in terms of development than the longer, wider-scoped novel, this doesn’t mean that your storytelling should feel slight and insubstantial. Every story should have a purpose and provoke a reaction in the reader.



Editor Natalie Braine


ProfessionalCritique
 07 Feb 2014, 19:39 #176365 Reply To Post
One more critique to add for December, which will be posted as soon as received.
Temulkar
 07 Feb 2014, 23:46 #176375 Reply To Post
Many Thanks for thee review, that gives me something to look at and work on.

Cheers
gyjcg
 08 Feb 2014, 08:33 #176381 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Friday, 7 Feb 2014 19:32
Random House Editor mini-reviews

Mot and the Infestation of Rome – Julian Green

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month! I thought this was a fascinating setting for a children's book, and your immortal rat narrator certainly made for a fresh and original voice. There was a lovely sense of fun throughout, although occasionally I felt you'd put yourself under pressure to explain an awful lot, quite early on and the questions from the younger rats sounded a little too obviously like they were being used to move the story on or explain the backstory. It can be tricky when you are writing as part of a series, but don't feel you have to explain the whole history of a series straight away, readers enjoy piecing together clues so think about ways in which you can gradually reveal Mob's history as an immortal rat and how that had come about.

One thing I did briefly want to comment on was the large number of categories you'd chosen for your story. It may well be that this is more common on YouWriteOn but ideally, a book would only be put into one or two main categories depending on which were the main markets you thought the book would appeal to. For example something like Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong is set partly in the past and has a love story running throughout it and many very dramatic scenes of war, but the novel would generally be just classified as 'literary fiction' or possible 'literary fiction' and 'historical' at the most, but wouldn't also be categorised as 'action', 'romance' etc. I'm sure you are aware of this already but I did just want to flag up that if you were to submit your work to an agent you shouldn't list all the categories that Mot... is presently tagged with, but just focus on the main market for the book which I would imagine would be children's fantasy fiction. Publishers will generally focus on one main market at a time, and so agents will expect that your pitch for the book has been carefully refined and you have really considered exactly who the book is pitched at. As I say, I am sure you are aware of this already but it would be remiss of me not to flag it up!

Alison, Editor, Random House



Many thanks for the review. I am fully aware of the main point you raise. This is not a submission to agents. I see the classifications on this website like tags. This book has comedy, so I tick the comedy box. The book is set in Roman times, so I tick history.

I will take on board your comment about the obvious questions raised by the younger rats.

Julian
walker
 08 Feb 2014, 09:17 #176382 Reply To Post
Please pass on my thanks for the review. I do see Natalie's point about the content of the story and will keep this very much in mind for the future. Karen.
SPARTAN242
 09 Feb 2014, 09:44 #176426 Reply To Post

Um, please sir, (Hand held up from the back of the classroom)... is that mine?


Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Friday, 7 Feb 2014 19:39
One more critique to add for December, which will be posted as soon as received.


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