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 20 Jun 2014, 23:13 #180789 Reply To Post
Each month on editors from Random House, Bloomsbury and Orion, provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated Top Ten novel openings from budding authors, and provide mini-reviews for the rest of the top ten youwriteon stories. Random House, Bloomsbury and Orion publish authors such as Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling.
 20 Jun 2014, 23:15 #180790 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critique of The Danae of the Forest

Most of my thoughts are in the attached document, as always!

There is some very nice writing in here, and it feels right for the target age range. The author needs to watch their tenses, though, and there are a few places where I would put italics (although they may have dropped out because of the YWO format).

I’m concerned about a couple of places where it doesn’t seem as if the author has properly thought through her backstory, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a bit of thought.

My main concern comes with the number of POV characters – there are 6 before the end of chapter 5. A lot of this will settle down as the story goes on, I’m sure, but it still feels a little bit kitchen sinky. I would consider moving (or deleting) the first two sections – we could find out about the prophetic dreams in the txt from her brother, and it wouldn’t hurt to have the mystery of where Lucy has gone to kept going for a bit.

Other than that, there’s lots to like here. It needs some thinking about, but a very promising start.

Editor, Orion
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 20 Jun 2014, 23:16

YWO The Arrival of the Madach MG version.doc (83Kb) - 170 view(s)
 20 Jun 2014, 23:17 #180791 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of CARISBURG

Dear Alan D Harris

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your action adventure novel CARISBURG but felt there was a lot of room for development. I read the opening of your previous book in the trilogy, and I had many of the same concerns about this second instalment. Your novel lacks a coherent structure, and you need more intrigue, pace and tension to really hook the reader. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.


Structure is the backbone of any novel. It helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel may become compromised. Writers often overlook how they structure their narrative, but it’s the groundwork of a good story.

If your synopsis hadn’t stated it, I would have said that it seems like you haven’t given much consideration to your plot. Free-form writing might have worked well for a writer of Terry Pratchett’s ilk, but he was a gifted storyteller who had had years and years to practise and hone his craft. Structure is essential in any type of narrative, but particularly in the genre in which you wish to write. Action adventure novels all hinge on timing, pace, tension, suspense and drama. And at present, your narrative lacks all of these qualities, and instead feels meandering and directionless. I think you would have another book entirely – and a much stronger one – if you were to properly structure you story. A really good exercise for any writer is your storyboard your novel, either scene by scene or chapter by chapter, so you can more clearly see the shape of your narrative, and the direction it is taking. And in that way, it’s easier to hone in on areas that are weaker, perhaps because they lose focus or momentum.


I thought your opening scene could have been much stronger. Your protagonist, Dave Spence, seems like he’s out of his depth and not entirely confident in himself or his operation. I felt like you reveal too much of his thought processes, hesitations and misgivings to maintain a sense of tension and suspense in this first chapter. You even interrupt the action to have your protagonist go to the toilet and have a sleep…

You begin to introduce background information when the action of your first scene hasn’t yet culminated. These contextual details can come later. Your focus in these early pages has got to be on heightening the drama and maintaining pace and tension. The reader doesn’t need to know exactly what Dave is doing, or his job title, or about his career progression at this crucial early juncture in the narrative. Remember that less is more. Focus on the action, and weave through background details as the novel progresses.

Because there is such a long time before the detonation, and Dave seems to wander around aimlessly almost killing time, you lose a sense of urgency that you would normally get with the ticking clock literary device. You need to ramp up the pace and tension in these early pages, otherwise you risk distancing the reader and even losing their engagement in your narrative.


As I mention above in my notes on plot, your protagonist seems an unlikely action adventure hero. He doubts himself and doesn’t seem to have a clear plan of action. He makes glaring errors, such as the brightly coloured dry suit he has brought with him and using the wrong radio frequency. In short, if your protagonist seems uncertain of himself and what he is doing, consequently the reader will doubt him too. Your reader has to have confidence in your characters, and want to follow their journey to the very end. If your protagonist isn’t strong enough to carry the weight of the story, your engagement with the reader is severely compromised.


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 I thought this was another element of the narrative that could be further developed. You give a lot of technical nautical detail, but there is little description of the surrounding area. The reader has to be able to fully visualise your fictional world if you are to convincingly transport them there.


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. And, as I have mentioned previously, your tone sometimes seems at odds with your storytelling. You opt for humour, which dissipates any sense of tension or menace. You need to be absolutely certain what type of book you are writing, and the tone you are trying to create, otherwise your uncertainty will overshadow your storytelling.


You categorise this as action adventure. As I’m sure you’re aware, this area of the market is incredibly competitive and also very saturated, so a new book really needs to be something fresh and brilliantly told if it is to shine out from a very crowded arena. As I discussed above, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to read voraciously, particularly in the area in which you wish to write. This in turn will help hone your own writing skills, as you’ll acquire an instinctive sense of what does and doesn’t work in your own storytelling. And do not overlook structure!


If you decide to properly structure your narrative, you will be able to create a detailed synopsis, which is what any literary agent or publisher will want to see.

Line notes:

‘Plan B? What plan B? Not would be a good time to invent one’ – it seems like you’re going for more of a humorous tone here than a dramatic one. Perhaps a line more like: ‘Time to come up with a plan B – and fast’ would work better? You need to maintain the tension in this scene.

‘Whatever your effing name is, effing around like an effing ponce…’ – see notes on tone. This feels a heavy-handed attempt at humour that actually detracts from the tension and drama of the scene.

‘I left them with a hug and a wave to get on with my mission’ – again, this is all starting to feel pretty jovial in tone. There is no real sense of danger or covertness…

‘How could I have been so stupid!’ – again, highlighting your protagonist’s ineptitude, which will damage the reader’s confidence in him as a character…


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think a lot of work is needed if you are to be taken seriously as a writer. 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 sharpen 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
 20 Jun 2014, 23:18 #180792 Reply To Post

Editor Mini-Reviews

Professional mini critique for Flame by Peggy Rothschild

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your young adult novel. As you know, I’m a big admirer of your writing, and these openings chapters did not disappoint. The first chapter was really strong, ending on a dramatic last note that will hook the reader and compel them to read on to find out more.

Your writing is very atmospheric and you vividly depict your story’s setting, so it becomes a character in its own right. Your characterisation is assured and you keep your dialogue concise and sharp, maintaining the pace of your storytelling. You really get to the heart of your characters through their exchanges, revealing as much about them by what they don’t say as what they do.

Even though this is aimed at young adults, I think this has broad crossover appeal for adults too.

Professional mini critique for Hoarded by Donna Kiernan

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It was tense and page-turning, and I can see how this could work as a full-length novel.

My main concern was that I did think you fell on clichés a little too often, and so the story felt a little contrived and you lost some of the realism and dramatic impact. For example, the crazed son and his mother having an incestuous affair, and the way that Lily talks, with her telling your protagonist (who I don’t think is ever named, is she?) about Michaela being asleep forever, and Martin having ‘special cuddles’ with her. I think when you come to expand this story, this first encounter with Lily needs to be much more enigmatic and convincing. Remember that less is often more.

Lastly, I couldn’t always visualise what was happening in the story, such as when your protagonist and Lily are escaping. So were Audrey and Martin down in the basement with them, not upstairs? I found this scene a little confusing to follow.

Professional mini critique for Terminal Fisheries by Christopher Roy Denton

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel. However (and I wouldn’t be doing my job if there wasn’t an ‘however’!), I did think that there was quite a lot of work needed.

Sometimes it feels like the humour doesn’t come naturally, such as: ‘If there are intruders, Jonathan’s onesie will terrify them’. Try not to opt for obvious humour but comedy that’s more intrinsic and personal to your characters. Also, some of your descriptions feel a little unnecessary, such as: ‘The landing is as dark as Myra Hindley’s soul’ and ‘the computer lit up like Bradbridge city square at Eid’. Sometimes it’s best to just call a spade a spade…

You term this as a ‘realist narrative’ and while it may be realistic, it lacks the drama and insight to elevate this above other books in a very crowded market. This is a familiar story that has been told many times before, and I’m not convinced it has a broad enough appeal. Have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to help hone and develop your storytelling skills.

Natalie Braine, Editor

 20 Jun 2014, 23:19 #180793 Reply To Post
Further critiques will be added once received from the editors.
 21 Jun 2014, 08:27 #180801 Reply To Post
Hi Marcus
I've been waiting anxiously for this, and many thanks indeed for your kind comments and for your detailed review, some of which made me laugh (Oh no, Chloe's gone missing..) It's great to have someone look at it with fresh eyes to find all the bits that don't fit, which all seem so clear to me! I've already changed the nightmare scene but it's still Chloe's POV. Have to think hard about reducing the POVs, reluctantly - am sure it can be done. Also, I think a map is needed although thanks for pointing out the confusion re northern shores. So, back to work! All best, Cheryl
 21 Jun 2014, 11:06 #180810 Reply To Post
Thank you, Natalie. I'm pleased that you found it a 'tense, page-turner.' I'm very grateful for your findings - and for your suggestions for improvements during its conversion to a full-length novel; I shall certainly put those to good use.

Just to clear up what you queried, the protagonist was indeed introduced by name in the second line of the story, and addressed by her name again, halfway through. And yes, they were down in the basement but I can see that I need to make that part much clearer.

Thank you again for your insights - and, thank you to Ted for posting them
Donna Kiernan
This post was last edited by Flittermouse, 21 Jun 2014, 11:11
 21 Jun 2014, 14:06 #180818 Reply To Post
--- Sorry, I meant her name was in the second paragraph - not line.
 30 Jun 2014, 22:16 #181067 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Reviews

Rough Sleeper

Dear Ian,
Congratulations on Rough Sleeper I really enjoyed reading the sample chapters, and I think there’s a potentially hugely exciting thriller in here. I have made a few notes below, which I hope will be useful to you, but mainly I think they are about making the most of the things you already have in here.

I love the way you throw us straight into the action and keep the pace relentless – it’s obviously ideal for a thriller and for keeping your readers hooked. What I would say, however, is that I think at the moment the pace is coming at the cost of some key detail – both in terms of your plot and Joe’s character. There are points where things feel quite confused for the reader because they’re moving too fast – when Joe is initially captured, particularly, I found this to be the case. I think you can afford yourself the time and space to slow down here.
You’ll see that I have mentioned your world-building below, but something structural that I really think will help would be to alternate between Joe’s and Lily’s voices from the off rather than waiting until part two to introduce your heroine. I think this will increase the tension even further as we dip in and out of the peril Joe is in, and it will allow us to see the world you’ve created better and in more detail as we’ll have the view of somebody else.
I wondered if you could make any more of the assault on Joe that causes his memory loss in these early stages? Maybe you could look at interspersing more detail as you go – or could you even have it as a prologue, maybe?

The atmosphere you’ve created throughout is a good one – tense and cold and gripping.
Reading your synopsis, this incredibly imaginative world you’ve created became much clearer to me – in a way that I don’t feel it’s quite coming out in the novel itself at the moment. I think you could give your readers more clues from the outset about the world we’re reading about – more hints that it’s different to the one we know. This would really add to the intrigue, I think.

I think you’ve done a good job of finding a voice for Joe and his first person narrative works well here, but I think you could possibly do more with him as character that would mean he carries us through the novel in a more open and more dynamic way.
I feel strongly that we need more reactions from Joe to all that is happening to him. From the point the key is thrown into his bowl I don’t feel that Joe is questioning things in the way he would. Having been on the street and had such a traumatic experience, wouldn’t he be completely distrustful of everything and everybody he comes across? He gives over his real name very easily, for example.
I think maybe something that could help with this is for us to see Joe really at the end of his tether when we first meet him. His mental and physical state and lack of money etc could all mean that when the storm hits he’s prepared to clutch onto anything – even a mysterious key from a stranger. At the moment it doesn’t ring true to me that he’d go straight there and then stay the night despite what he finds there. We need to give him more of a reason, I feel.
For me, Joe also seems a little too level-headed about what is happening to him. I think you need to let us into his head and show us how he’s reacting to things. When he first enters the building, for example, and his panic when the gun is pulled on him, and when he finds his old coat. I think these are potentially hugely dramatic scenes and having more from Joe would really lift these.
Letting us into Joe’s head would also help us start to piece together the plot – wouldn’t he immediately start wondering who the guy who looks like him is and why he led him here?

I think this is something you could possibly look at as you work back through the novel. There’s so much that’s brilliant in your story and yet with some of it we don’t get the full impact because we’re told about it rather than being shown. ‘The short one hauls me to my feet’, for example, marks the start of the genuine danger Joe is in. I think you could slow things right down here. Give us the smells and sounds, and the panic and all the atmosphere –what do you think?
In a similar vein I think you might be able to do a little more with the storm in these early stages of the novel to really boost the eeriness you’ve created.

And I think that’s everything! I did just want to mention your pitch as you refer to the novel as ‘new adult’. For me this area is particularly tricky for thrillers and for crime fiction, as you’re then not only competing with YA authors such as Kevin Brooks and Sophie Mackenzie, but also all the huge hitters of the adult publishing world. With this in mind, it might be worth considering whether you want to target one of these areas particularly?

The very best of luck with your writing.

Ruth, Editor, Random House

 30 Jun 2014, 22:17 #181068 Reply To Post

Random House Mini-Reviews


There’s a huge amount that I really like in these sample chapters – congratulations. I love the very immediate, atmospheric opening, and I also think you’ve got the contrast of voices really very nicely. I did wonder whether maybe you could give your reader a little longer with each voice so that we don’t feel as though we’re being jerked in and out of worlds so often but generally the juxtaposition of these works well, I think.

This might also help you to develop Fern’s character a little more too. I think she’s fascinating and I wanted to get to know her better. It’s hard, for example, to work out how old she is in these opening chapters. Could you give us some more of her reactions to things and let us into her head more? I think your readers will be more gripped by her once they understand her better.

For me, the slide into the supernatural happens maybe a little too early and too quickly. Again, I felt it might be slightly stronger for you to have established Fern more so that the reader doesn’t dismiss the things she’s seeing and hearing as fantasy.

The historical setting has a real atmosphere and a real sense of tension and intrigue. Perhaps there’s scope to do more with the modern-day Italian setting to get more atmosphere in there too in this early section – through the relationship/bond between Luca and Fern, maybe?


This is an intriguing title, and reading your synopsis, it sounds like the plot is equally so. You do grab us from the outset through Richard’s dry voice and the dark humour – so much so that I did sit and read without making notes for quite some time – and through the interesting atmosphere you’ve created, congratulations.

Having said this, I do feel like I read this opening sample without feeling like I know Richard or Rachel very well at all. I think we need to feel a certain amount of sympathy for both of them in order to feel invested in the story in the way we need to. And indeed for us to know more on why Richard is choosing to leave his life behind. I wondered if something to help balance this might be to show us more of the life he’s left behind. We don’t get a mention of Molly for some time, for example. Maybe we should see the family together before he leaves? And Bertie too, should we see him too before Richard leaves as he becomes so key?


This is an accomplished piece of writing and I very much like the atmosphere and the setting you’ve created.

I love the diversity of your cast, and I’m particularly intrigued by Zoya and Elena, both of whom I think you’ve set up very well. With both of these women, it’s hard for me to tell from the synopsis where they go, but I’m certainly intrigued by them both.

From reading your synopsis, it seems to me that this is very much Alexander’s story and as such I wondered if you could do more to set him up from the outset as the (unlikely) hero of the piece. His voice his slightly overshadowed by the strength of Zoya’s in comparison, for example. Could you maybe take a look at making his quiet and unassuming (at this early point, at least) voice really jump off the page? I love Alexander’s relationships within the male family group and with his sister and Dr Sweet.

It sounds like a very varied and pacy plot, and I like the early action you give us through the shooting of the bear in contrast to the beauty of the scene-setting opening. I did wonder if there would be any kind of romance in the novel? I think there could be a place for it . . .

Overall I really did enjoy this read – congratulations.


This is a tight and potentially very satisfying short-story read – congratulations!

I warmed very much to Harry as a character and I loved his place in the dynamic of the friendship group. Whilst I love the intrigue and mystery of his past and his past relationships, in particular, however, I think that you might be able to give us a bit more detail of his life so far and also more of his personality. I’m fascinated by him! He’s the crux of the story and so I think your readers really need to feel invested in him and his outcome.

I love the structure that your final scene provides, but the short bursts of jumping about in time does make it feel rather disjointed – is there any way of avoiding this? Perhaps there’s the space to make the story slightly longer just to make the jerkiness slightly less without losing the effect of it?

Ruth, Editor, Random House
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