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ProfessionalCritique
 03 Apr 2014, 23:35 #178592 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.
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 03 Apr 2014, 23:36
ProfessionalCritique
 03 Apr 2014, 23:38 #178593 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Review of The Elephant Shrew

Dear Anthony,

Congratulations on being chosen for professional review. There is a great deal I liked about The Elephant Shrew and I’m pleased to have read it. I have made a few notes, which I hope will be useful to you as you revisit and continue to work on the novel and the series.

PITCH
I noticed that you describe your series as being for both boys and girls. I completely agree that the content and the premise is a unisex one, but – and I realise that this is a generalisation but it is sadly often a true one – younger boy readers can be put off by reading too much from a girl’s perspective. With this in mind, maybe you could think about bringing Kal down in age and alternating chapters between his point of view and Lucy’s? Or you could even use a general third person narration rather than being solely from Lucy’s point of view to make the books as unisex as possible?
I have also been thinking about your series pitch in general. There are series in the market already such as Bear Grylls’ Mission Survival and Steve Backshall’s The Falcon Chronicles which fall very much in the space you’re writing in. It would be worth keeping this in mind, I think, and working out your pitch so that you make your USP very clear. Is it the authentic detail you provide about African animals? Is it that you actually make your series more for girls (and so even more focused on Lucy) rather than unisex?

SERIES VS STAND-ALONE

Something every series fiction writer needs to keep in mind is the balance between attracting new readers with each new book, and keeping old readers happy. I think you could possibly do a little more in these opening chapters to make this completely satisfying for new readers. I found myself wanting to know more about Lucy and her siblings, and their set-up, for example, plus aspects like the past relationship between Lucy and Joel and Caspar. I fully appreciate that you don’t want to slow things down with too much backstory but I do think a couple of sentences on their past adventure would be a good thing.

I also wasn’t completely clear, for example, on whether the family were now moving out to Africa for good. If so, I’d love to see more of a reaction from each of the three siblings – would they be more nervous about moving here?

PACE AND ATMOSPHERE
I like the pace you’ve created here in that you throw us straight into the action and don’t let up, but I wonder if it’s maybe a bit too much? It doesn’t quite feel like the pace you’ve set (and reading your synopsis the amount of content you’ve got in this novel) allows your characters the chance to shine through, or for us to get a full sense of the world you’ve created. It would be worth slowing things down at points and getting more atmosphere in there. Some of this will automatically come from focusing in a little more on Lucy at points – allowing us to see how she’s thinking and feeling – but there are scenes such as finding the baby mongoose and the entrance to the cave where you could afford to give your readers some more detail generally.

I like the gentle humour you’ve written in to the novel, but I do actually think there’s space for more action adventure in your tone. Once they’ve crash-landed, for example, Craig and the children don’t quite feel believably stressed enough at the moment. Wouldn’t there be more of a sense of urgency about getting the plane fixed and getting themselves back to safety?

I feel at the moment that the plane failing immediately after the storm hits isn’t as believable as it could be. Part of this is that we go immediately onto this as soon as the storm clear, I think. Could it be something from the effects of the storm that causes the problem, maybe? I think we could do with seeing Lucy and the other characters much more involved in and driving the events and the plot rather than things happening to them continually.

SHOW VS TELL
I think that your suggestion of having illustrated chapter heads is a good one, but I don’t think you should rely on these pictures and not give us descriptions. As this isn’t something which has fully integrated artwork, readers would have to be turning back to the chapter heads to picture the animals and this would draw them out of the fictional world you’ve got them in. In general there were points where I felt more description of the setting, characters and animals you’re writing about would be really helpful and really lift the world to make it as vivid as possible.

There were a couple of points where I felt you were telling us significant events rather than letting us see them as they unravelled. This might be something you want to take a look at as you go back through the manuscript. For example, when they first investigate the cave it’d be great to see then that there is evidence of an old fire and that the cave has been inhabited to really set reader’s senses and suspicions going.

LUCY
Lucy is a great character and I’m very interested by her. In general, though, I’d love to see more of her personality – I’m struggling at the moment to feel like I know her well enough at the moment.

At points she seems completely nonplussed by things, and at others very nervy, more like Ellie. I also found it odd that Lucy, who seems happier about being in Africa, would have forgotten all her Swahili and Ellie remembers it all. If we knew her a little better I think we would understand these things better.

I would also really like to see her responses to her siblings – how do their relationships differ? For instance do Kal and Lucy club together to wind up Ellie?

As I said, there’s a huge amount to like about this novel – and your series in general – I just feel as though you could make more of the key things you already have.
I hope these notes are useful to you. Wishing you the very best of luck with your writing,

Ruth, Editor, Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 03 Apr 2014, 23:40 #178594 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Mini-Reviews

NORMAL NICK AND THE VOOMINATOR

I enjoyed reading this very much, it’s a strong premise and overall I felt like you’d got Nick’s voice perfectly. There were a couple of points where I felt the tone and the humour had become a little too adult (often a danger with parodies) but for the most part you really have handled it very well.

I did feel that I wanted to see more of the world you’ve created – we’re very focused in on Nick, but what about the world he lives in? How does this world exist day to day with superheroes in it? How does Nick keep the secret of his brother from his friends? Or doesn’t he? Perhaps things like news reports would help us see a bit more of this kind of detail?

I really like Nick – I think your readers will warm to him and he’ll carry them through with him, which is vital. I wonder if you could spend a little more time setting him up and letting your readers get to know him? How did Marcus become a superhero and he didn’t, for example? Does the action with Mr Doom happen too quickly possibly?

Congratulations!

DARK SEA

I really enjoyed this extract, and at points actually found myself reading for pleasure – forgetting to make notes. It’s an interesting premise and one that will appeal to your target YA audience – congratulations.

I really like the immediacy of Nate’s voice and the atmosphere you create straight away which you don’t let up. And I particularly liked the scene on the beach, which I thought you handled beautifully. I also like the way you’ve cleverly made Kat so evocative even though she’s never present.

I think you could look at giving us more of an intro to Callie, perhaps? She’s just as intriguing for me as Nate is. I did wonder even whether you could introduce her voice as a narrator at points for an extra layer to the story?
I also wondered if there was enough of a hint at the fantastical in your opening chapters – your readers will love this so perhaps you could draw them into this strand a little more from the outset?



LOVE, REVENGE AND LIMONCELLO

This is a great title that had me instantly wanting to read the story itself. I enjoyed this and I thought the twist at the end worked fantastically well, but I couldn’t help feeling that certain aspects were a bit too unfeasible. Given that the two women have such a shared history, would they really not recognise each other? Surely Joan would instantly know Araminta’s voice, for instance?

I really like the way you throw us straight in with the women’s’ voices ringing out from the outset, but I wonder if we could do with a little more time to get to know Joan? I feel like we like we would be on her side more if we knew her a little better.

You have a good balance between present and past, and I think have handled getting a lot of information across in a short space of time without us feeling bombarded by it – congratulations!

ProfessionalCritique
 03 Apr 2014, 23:42 #178595 Reply To Post
Editor Review of WHITE ROSES

Dear Alice Moore

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I really enjoyed reading these early pages of your historical saga WHITE ROSES. I thought that these opening chapters were well written and engaging, and clearly based on thorough historical research. 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. Aside from the fact that this novel is the first part of a trilogy, your story seems to take the structure of one period bookending the novel as your protagonist reflects back on the past. While the story is largely told from Cecily’s POV (point of view) in first person narrative, you also offer up alternate perspectives from other key players in the story, presented in third person. This change in POV not only gives your story more depth, it should also help create pace and texture in your storytelling, so that the reader isn’t able to tire of one storyline before it switches to another. And still, at the centre of your story, is the matriarch, Cecily, who anchors your tale and gives it direction, as it is her thoughts and recollections that shape the structure of your storytelling.


Plot:

While your opening prologue was well written and very involving, it did feel like you were trying to insert a little too much background and context at the expense of drama and characterisation. Remember that less is often more, especially with a novel’s opening. You need to hook the reader from the very outset. Historical and political details can be woven through as the novel progresses – the reader doesn’t need to know all the background details at this important early juncture in the novel. Your writing needs to feel immediate and you have to immerse your reader in the story – not give them a history lesson… I think there needs to be something a little more dramatic here, rather than just having a mother and son fretting over the possibility of war. It needs to feel a little more personal, so the reader feels aligned with your characters.

Obviously, in historical fiction, the broad brushstrokes of the plot have already been painted for you. But it’s important that your storytelling never feels predictable or formulaic. You need to work on adding colour, texture and detail to the picture, and present a familiar story in a fresh and insightful way, so that the reader is still kept on the edges of their seat, even when they know what is going to happen. One story can feel like something new entirely when told from a different perspective.


Characterisation:

History was written by man, and female figures were largely silenced in the recording of it. So to choose to present your story from the viewpoint of an integral female character (along with an array of other characters) already affords an alternative point of view to this important slice of history. While Cecily (and Marguerite) aren’t privy to the clandestine political talks between the men, they have their own unique insight on proceedings, which offers a more personal and intimate perspective.

It is crucial that your characters never feel like stereotypes of themselves. Obviously there needs to be an artistic adherence to what is known about these historical figures, but they need to be depicted in a way that renders them real and whole again, not mere mouthpieces from a history textbook. I did worry that Marguerite in particular felt a little cliché, with a one-track mind focused on power. She needs to feel more nuanced. Avoid the obvious in your representations. Explore what makes them individual, so you are really able to get under their skins and bring them alive for the reader.

Coupled with this – try not to get too hung up on how people would have spoken at this time. It is better to get across the sentiment and emotion in a dramatic and immediate way than present it in a manner that feels wooden and stilted. Otherwise you do your characters – and in turn your story – a great disservice.


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 influence the novel’s tone. And setting is a crucial facet of a historical novel, as it helps transport your reader to a vanished world. Again, you need to avoid the obvious in your representation of this period, as the reader will already come to your novel with preconceptions from other books they have already read and films they have watched. Yes, you want to be accurate, but try to mine what is unique about each scene in a way that breathes life into it in an original way. But remember that less is often more. Sometimes you just need to etch in the historical details of a scene to bring it alive, not weave a whole tapestry to blanket your story in…


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. Given that your story tackles life and death, power struggles and treachery, the tone of your novel is going to be quite dark at times, and also full of tension. You need to fully depict the bloodiness and ruthlessness of this period, but in a way that doesn’t feel unrelentingly dark or sinister. There need to be flashes of light and also subplots, perhaps involving romance or friendship, that offer relief from the tribulations of the main storyline.


Genre/Market:

As I’m sure you’re aware, historical sagas (particularly those set in the same era as yours) are an incredibly competitive area of the commercial 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. It is clear that you are a confident writer who bases your storytelling on in-depth research. But at present, your storytelling lacks the originality and energy to really set it apart from others of its ilk. The best piece of advice I can give you is to read voraciously, especially in the area in which you wish to write. But don’t read passively – be an active and engaged reader. Analyse the different storytelling facets of each novel, from how they structure their novel, whether the plot is full of pace and drama, and if so, how this is achieved and maintained, whether you connect with the characters (even the immoral ones), whether the setting effectively immerses you in the story, etc. The first step in becoming a good writer is being an equally good reader. So much of the craft of storytelling can be learned from reading as much as it can from writing.


Line notes:

You use ‘certes’ three times in these early pages alone. Try to avoid unnecessary repetition.

‘“Ned is naught but an overgrown child,” I complained.’ – Surely Ned is in earshot of this when she has just spoken to him? Is Cecily speaking in lowered tones to her husband? If so, perhaps make this clear to the reader.


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 is 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
 03 Apr 2014, 23:44 #178596 Reply To Post
mini critique for After the Funeral by B Scott

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story but thought it could benefit from some revision and development. While you drop the reader straight into the story from the very beginning, I thought the opening wasn’t as strong as it could be. You capture Cass’s feelings of isolation and her wanting to escape the noise and barrage of questions from her family. But it seemed a little strange that her family would ask why she married Matthieu now, after his funeral, rather than when they actually got married.

While the meandering structure of the story reflected Cass’s own disjointed frame of mind, your story did seem to lose drive very early on. Too much of the story felt reported, with Cass reflecting back on her past and this being presented to the reader in a second-hand manner. And so you keep the reader at a distance, rather than drawing them in and immersing them in your story. You need to consider how your writing can feel more immediate and involving.



mini critique for Persephone’s Journey by Mathew Iredale


Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading the opening pages of your children’s story. From the very first line, you pull your reader into your story and keep them engaged throughout these early chapters. Persephone is a fantastic protagonist, and a character that is strong enough to carry the weight of the narrative. Your story is intriguing, making the reader want to keep on turning the pages to find out more.

The only small piece of advice I have is to make sure your dialogue and characters’ internal thoughts are as concise and to the point as your prose. Remember that less is often more, and that omission can be even more dramatic than explanation. For example, Persephone berates herself a little too much, calling herself stupid, and her conversation with her aunt could be a bit tighter in its delivery. But this is a small quibble in what is otherwise a very accomplished story opening.


mini critique for The Con-Quest of Father Brennan by Norman Morrow

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel but felt they would benefit from some revision and development. As I’m sure you’re aware, humorous novels are quite a small area of the adult fiction market, and so a book has to be something really special if it is to stand out in a crowded marketplace. And unfortunately I think this draft needs a lot of work.

Your attempt at humour feels quite heavy-handed at times, and often feels quite obvious, aimed more at young children than discerning adult readers. You lean towards quite pantomime-esque almost farcical humour, and you resort to hyperbole a little too much. Comedy needs to feel natural rather than forced and this is something you need to pay attention to when you come to rewriting. Remember that less if often more. Subtle humour can be even more effective than exaggerated humour.


mini critique for The Unfortunate Archibald Marble by Elizabeth Waight

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading the opening pages of your children’s story. The house that Stanley and his family move to is full of eccentric oddities and strange happenings – the perfect setting for an unusual story to unfold. Your characters are colourful and quirky, and your tone switches between tongue in cheek and eerily dark.

You really pull the reader into your story and immerse them in your fictional world. The only (small) criticism I would have is that less is more. The writing sometimes felt a bit overloaded with descriptions or you were trying to mine the peculiarity a little too much in some scenes. Allow the humour and the quirkiness to shine through – don’t stifle or overwhelm it.

Editor Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 03 Apr 2014, 23:45 #178597 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Review of Safe Ground

As normal, the vast majority of my thoughts are in the comments on the attached document. However, a few brief points:

It’s an effortless read, and very impressive, there are tweaks and changes I would suggest, of course, but what is here is impressive and leads the reader on. Hard to judge the rest of the book, of course – I think you need a little more ‘action’, for want of a better word, based on this extract – but the synopsis (although too long) seems to suggest you know where you’re going and, more importantly, why.

The prose is normally very good, but you need to watch your tenses and your authorial voice – it tends to drift a bit, moving from long complicated sentences to short snappy ones, sometimes including slightly slangy phrases, sometimes not. Not a major problem, but worth considering (especially the tenses).

The synopsis is fine, a little too long, as I said – I’ve marked up some stuff that, as an editor, I wouldn’t be bothered about.

The attached will look like I’m being quite harsh on the book, but that’s my job – overall, I was very impressed, and can see why YWO users selected and enjoyed it.

Best, and I wish you the best of luck with it,

Marcus, Editor, Orion

Attachments
safe Ground YWO MG version.doc (70Kb) - 203 view(s)
gyjcg
 04 Apr 2014, 09:06 #178600 Reply To Post
Many thanks for the review of Normal Nick, and I'm glad the editor liked it. The points raised are useful, and I will consider them when I come to do another edit.
AlyssaRose
 04 Apr 2014, 10:46 #178601 Reply To Post
Please convey my thanks to Natalie for her in-depth critique of White Roses. This is exactly the type of feedback I'd hoped for before starting my rewrite in earnest.
Thanks also to YWO for making this professional review possible at such an early stage of my novel-writing endeavour. It has given me the confidence to tackle the rewrite with renewed energy and direction.
"I'm just going to write because I cannot help it."
- Charlotte Bronte

maggie may
 04 Apr 2014, 16:32 #178611 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 3 Apr 2014 23:45
Orion Editor Review of Safe Ground

As normal, the vast majority of my thoughts are in the comments on the attached document. However, a few brief points:

It’s an effortless read, and very impressive, there are tweaks and changes I would suggest, of course, but what is here is impressive and leads the reader on. Hard to judge the rest of the book, of course – I think you need a little more ‘action’, for want of a better word, based on this extract – but the synopsis (although too long) seems to suggest you know where you’re going and, more importantly, why.


The prose is normally very good, but you need to watch your tenses and your authorial voice – it tends to drift a bit, moving from long complicated sentences to short snappy ones, sometimes including slightly slangy phrases, sometimes not. Not a major problem, but worth considering (especially the tenses).

The synopsis is fine, a little too long, as I said – I’ve marked up some stuff that, as an editor, I wouldn’t be bothered about.

The attached will look like I’m being quite harsh on the book, but that’s my job – overall, I was very impressed, and can see why YWO users selected and enjoyed it.

Best, and I wish you the best of luck with it,

Marcus, Editor, Orion


Ted, would you please pass on my thanks to Marcus for such a helpful and comprehensive review. MM

This post was last edited by maggie may, 04 Apr 2014, 16:32
Mathewiredale
 07 Apr 2014, 08:56 #178655 Reply To Post
Natalie,

Thank you very much for your very encouraging words and for your most helpful advice regarding dialogue and internal thoughts - I shall review/tighten up these areas as you suggest.

Best wishes

Mathew

Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 3 Apr 2014 23:44


mini critique for Persephone’s Journey by Mathew Iredale


Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading the opening pages of your children’s story. From the very first line, you pull your reader into your story and keep them engaged throughout these early chapters. Persephone is a fantastic protagonist, and a character that is strong enough to carry the weight of the narrative. Your story is intriguing, making the reader want to keep on turning the pages to find out more.

The only small piece of advice I have is to make sure your dialogue and characters’ internal thoughts are as concise and to the point as your prose. Remember that less is often more, and that omission can be even more dramatic than explanation. For example, Persephone berates herself a little too much, calling herself stupid, and her conversation with her aunt could be a bit tighter in its delivery. But this is a small quibble in what is otherwise a very accomplished story opening.

Editor Natalie Braine

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