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ProfessionalCritique
 20 Jul 2013, 14:06 #170030 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
 20 Jul 2013, 14:09 #170031 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critique of Better than Stars – Susan Sedgwick


Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month on YouWriteOn! I found this to be a wonderfully atmospheric opening to a YA novel, suffused with light and colour and a strong sense of mystery, and with a bold and interesting female heroine at its centre. Your writing is confident and the setting feels both romantic and a little threatening at the same time, which is sure to appeal to many female readers.

Plot/Structure

I love your opening line – it's immediate and arresting, instantly drawing the reader into the story and challenging us to engage. Who is the girl? What (or who) killed her? Why did they throw the body in the lagoon? And I really like the fact that you then cleverly subvert our expectations by following the body as it gradually decays over time, rather than taking us back to where she came from and the people who threw her in to the lagoon.

You continue in a similarly confident vein when we move into the present day section; I relished the boldness of 'I knew from that moment they had to be mine. That was why I stole them', which instantly encourages us to speculate as to just what is about to happen, and then the hints to other mysteries you interweave, such as how does Signor Orazio know that Allegra is related to the anonymous subject of the painting? I can't imagine many people not wanting to eagerly read on once they'd finished these first few chapters.

I know it's partly a plot point, but I couldn’t quite believe in a modern teenager not having a phone with GPS which would allow her to find her way around Venice rather than having to borrow a map from her aunt. Perhaps, if you need her to not quite know where she is, you could mention that she can't find a signal amongst the twisting alleyways? And I would also imagine that she would phone at least one of her parents (or even a friend) to tell them that she had arrived safely. Even with her father's new girlfriend I'm sure he would want to know that she had reached Italy safely, particularly as presumably she'd have landed much later than anyone expected because of the fog? Although the focus of your story is undoubtedly what is happening in Venice you do also need to show, however briefly, that Allegra had a life before this story started if we are to completely believe in her.

Characterisation

I thought that Allegra made for a great heroine, curious, intelligent, passionate and interested in the world around her.

Her narrative voice is a very appealing part of your writing, although occasionally I felt that she sounded a little too adult for her age or that she was too obviously explaining a plot point for us – 'She'd only signed me up for a course in Venetian culture', for example, didn't sound like something a teenage girl would say to me and neither did Leo's 'Budge up', which sounded a little old fashioned. I certainly don't mean for you to patronise your teenage audience by only using modern phrasing but it's more about striking the right balance between a varied and interesting vocabulary and language that feels natural and effortless. For example Allegra’s description of the painting of the girl she sees in the gallery is incredibly powerful – we immediately get a sense of just how arresting it must have been for her to see it, but the description of her 'creamy bosom' slightly took me out of the moment as I wondered whether a young girl would use that description or whether that's the kind of phrasing adults would generally use?

Your writing is bright and intelligent, but do beware of the cliché of the plain girl who is beautiful, but cannot see it until it's it revealed to her, often by a man, which is a particular bugbear of mine. Allegra makes a comment about being 'the plain girl' but from Leo's response, and that of the man in the gondola, we see people do react to her looks which is hardly surprising if she looks as interesting as the girl in the portrait. I think your writing is so lively and imaginative that it would be a shame if Allegra followed the path of so many teenage heroines in seeing herself as the plain girl, despite the obvious interest from men around her. I appreciate that most teenage girls are probably unaware or lack confidence in their looks, but I would really love to see writing that emphasised how it's Allegra's character and personality that really strike the people around her and to not have a female heroine who is self deprecating about her looks.

We only have a brief episode with Tollo but I liked the contrast between his character; quieter and meeker as a result of his hunchback he was a good contrast with the confident and more outgoing Ali and also the attractive Leo. Deirdre too, is a peripheral character at this stage but I couldn't help hoping the outwardly meek and uninteresting aunt would reveal a very different side to her character as the book progressed! I did think that Allegra's casual dismissal of her aunt as old and unexciting felt entirely plausible however, as she is naturally focused on her peers.

Quality of writing

You have a real talent for creating a strong sense of atmosphere and this was one of my favourite elements of your opening chapters. Ali's arrival on that wintery first night, with the worn, stone buildings and the 'dark eyed' windows looking down on her was a wonderfully mysterious, and daunting, start to her journey especially when contrasted with the jewel like colours of the next morning. We only have a brief glimpse into Tollo's world, but even those few pages give us the same enticing sense of colour and light. I very much enjoyed what I read and I'm sure your intended readers will too – as someone who has never been to Venice your first few chapters had me looking up flights! I can imagine that the romance and mystery of the city will work beautifully with your story as it unfolds, and will be very appealing to teenage readers.

There were some wonderful descriptive lines that really brought the city alive for me; the night pressing against the tall glass walls of the foyer, Aunt Deirdre standing out 'like a stork in a crowd of pigeons', the shops which glowed 'like treasure chests.' Venice feels almost otherworldly in your book and it was a pleasure to read.

Incidentally, I wasn't sure if you meant that Ali 'paddled' or 'padded' to the window to open the shutters on that first morning. Both do work, but paddled to me would suggest the presence of water.

Conclusion

I thought this was a very impressive, very confident start to a book and I can certainly see why it was so popular with readers. Your wonderful sense of atmosphere was a real selling point for me, as was Allegra's bright and engaging narrative voice and you have done a very good job in giving us hints to various mysteries, which I'm sure will keep readers eagerly turning the pages. I hope my comments have been helpful and good luck for the future!

Alison, Editor, Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Jul 2013, 14:10 #170033 Reply To Post

Random House Editor Mini-Reviews

Fractured – beanti

This was a very interesting, often thought provoking and emotional read. Your short, terse sentences worked well with the subject matter, introducing a real feel of tension and anxiety in to your writing, and I thought that you did a very good job in capturing how the world changes gradually, until you can't quite remember what it was like before: 'It was not just a beard anymore. It started as a fad, became a way of avoiding trouble, and after he joined them, it was a political statement.'

There were some striking images that I thought were particularly strong – 'he wore his anger on his sleeve and a gun on his shoulder' – and brought a very human element to a story that most readers will only know from seeing it played out on television screens.

On a side note, I'm not quite sure what your reasoning was for uploading Chapter 3 and 4 rather than the first chapters but I did just want to warn you that if you are submitting your work to an agent, you must submit the first 3 chapters. If you're not confident that they do the very best job in selling your work then I'm afraid you will need to go back and work on them until they do, as agents will just reject anything that doesn't follow the guidelines they provide. I'm sure you're already well aware of this but I just thought it was worth mentioning. Good luck!

The Greek – PM Wilson

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month. This was a lively start to your book with so much going on in both Ireland and in Greece that I had to stop and catch my breath at points! Damian and Cathy make for interesting, very contrasting central characters, although occasionally I felt they could slip into cliché – Damian with his phone and his Rolex and his mistress on call, Cathy blustering in the face of a handsome stranger – so I'd just like you to bear that in mind as you carry on with your writing, and think about ways in which you could make their portrayals slightly more nuanced.

Do be careful not to overload the narrative with too much explanation at the start of your story, as it can feel a little clunky. Remember that readers don't have to know everything right at the start of a book, they enjoying piecing together details for themselves and in doing this, it helps them to engage more fully with your story. I'd recommend, for example, finding a more natural way of revealing to readers that 'In only two generations, he and his father, with no help from brother Angelo, had advanced the Rodakis family from its village roots to multi-millionaires' rather than including it in your second paragraph. Let us discover over the course of the first few chapters just how far Damian has come, and from what beginnings.

You really want to focus on showing the reader, rather than telling them so do think, for example, about whether you need to tell us that Damian doesn't want to speak to Poppy or if his brusque conversation show us that already. Could you show us, perhaps through a conversation with his brother, that Damian lives for the admiration of his father as readers would probably have realised that his other great passion is money without you having to spell it out? Don't be afraid to leave some things unsaid, readers are very good at putting together clues from what people say (or don't say!) or how they act, and I'd really encourage you to have a little more confidence in your own writing and don't worry about spelling everything out straight away.

Good luck for your future writing!

Flash Four/Held in Trust, Fashion Victim, Crossed Lines and Mother's Pride – Susan Howe

Congratulations on being one of YouWriteOn's top rated entries this month. I thought these four 'flash fictions' were an example of just how exciting and interesting very short story writing could be and I really hope that if you haven't done so before, you consider entering them into the various flash fiction competitions that are run now.

I thought that your first story – Held in Trust – was particularly good, I read it with my heart in my mouth and my pulse beating as the story darkened and intensified. The shift from the gentle innocence of these first few lines where it seemed that he really was a person to be trusted, to be loved, to the dawning realisation that something was very wrong was incredibly skilfully handled and it's a story that has really lingered in my mind. The other three stories were also very good – you have a real skill for being able to bring a narrator alive within just a line or two and I thought the range of situations and settings you conjured up were very well done. Don't worry too much about always ending on a pithy short line or with a twist in the tale, sometimes writers can focus too much on the perfect ending to the detriment of the story that comes before.

As a side note, I noticed that all of these narrators are female so, if you haven't already, I'd suggest that you try a set of stories with a male narrator; I know you'd be more than up to the challenge.

Good luck!

Alison, Editor, Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Jul 2013, 14:16 #170036 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for How to Catch a Mermaid by Rosalind Winter

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. You vividly depict your Cornish coast setting, transporting the reader there from the very first page. It’s a simple tale but well told, brought to life by believable, well-drawn characters. However, I did find the transitions between character POVs (points of view) a little jarring at times. The story opens from Tegan Borlase’s perspective, and then suddenly the narrative shifts to the Blamey family, but in a way that initially makes it seem like Tegan is watching the drama unfold as a silent observer. Perhaps you could relook at this section to see if the transition between character POVs is a little smoother and more seamless.

I thought your descriptive prose was wonderful, but I did think some of the dialogue and character thoughts were a little stilted at times. Such as lines like: ‘Perhaps the little girl’s rather tiresome infatuation with the twins is wearing off at last?’ Lines like this distance the reader from the drama, as it seems at odds with the style and tone of the rest of the narrative. ‘Little girl’ sounds too anonymous, while ‘rather tiresome infatuation’ feels a little too formal. I also felt the final paragraph was unnecessary. I think the mention of the boat is sufficient – by stating that it’s her husband’s boat returning feels like stating the obvious…


Professional mini critique for Maggot in the Rice by Sarah R Beart

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your novel. I was impressed with the confidence of your writing, particularly with lines like: ‘she felt the heavy weight of empty arms’ and ‘she rocked to and fro, trying to still her anguish’. But I did find some of the writing a little overwrought, such as lines like: ‘a tsunami of love gushed from mother to child’ and ‘he could only guess at the raw grief she was feeling’. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to writers is that less is often more, especially when you want to achieve emotional resonance with your reader. Don’t overstate what you are trying to say. Subtlety and nuance are often more powerful than dramatic descriptions.

I also found some of the dialogue a little forced, as if you are trying to shoehorn background detail into the narrative. Details like this need to be woven seamlessly into the narrative, not voiced unnaturally by the characters. The reader doesn’t need to know everything from the very beginning. Again, less is often more. Also, with phrases such as ‘the prospective aunt’, you distance the reader from the character. Perhaps stick with character names, to align the reader more firmly with them. Lastly, I didn’t find Judith entirely convincing as a character and think her portrayal would benefit from further development when you come to rewriting this draft.

Professional mini critique for Tracers by Rob Boffard

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your science fiction novel. Riley is a well-drawn and charismatic protagonist – tough, but with her own personal demons to deal with. The writing is quite conversational in tone, as it is told very much from her perspective. I thought your opening was very strong, and while I liked that you dropped the reader right into the middle of the action rather than setting up the scene and slowly introducing the characters, at times I did find it quite hard to visual the setting. With any genre, and particularly science fiction, setting can very much be a character in its own right. It needs to be vividly depicted and atmospheric, if you are to succeed in immersing the reader in your fictional world. Of course a lot of details and context will be woven through the narrative as the story progresses, but there needs to be a strong sense of place to transport your reader there.

A small query – why do other tracer gangs steal the cargo and deliver it themselves? Why do they not just steal the payment, rather than having to do the work as well? Because surely payment has already been made – they wouldn’t receive anything else for delivering the cargo, would they? This seemed like something of a plot hole to me, so perhaps there needs to be an explanation for this. Perhaps something like half of payment is made on commission, half on delivery? Although would a client pay another gang knowing it had been stolen from the original tracer gang?

Professional mini critique for Eton Rifle by Chris Campbell

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. McGregor is an engaging protagonist and one the reader instantly roots for. It’s a simple tale of two men of opposite characters and backgrounds, pitted against each other. While you keep the reader guessing to the end, I was expecting there to be a bit more complexity to your story, as the ending did feel a little underwhelming.

The introduction of Constable Reid also felt rather jarring. She only appears right at the end of your story, yet there are two lengthy paragraphs dedicated to detailing her and her career. On first reading I thought a page of another book entirely had found its way into the YouWriteOn link! I think this section could be cut, and move straight into the scene with her cautioning Curtis, so the narrative flows better.

Editor Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Jul 2013, 14:17 #170035 Reply To Post
Orion Editor review of Lilith Express

As always, I've done this in Word with track changes, see attachment to this post. Most of my thoughts are in the comments, but I'll make a few general points. Please bear in mind that I've only read the first section, so I may well raise questions that you answer yourself in the later parts of the book.

I enjoyed this very much. There's very little to say about the prose, which is largely clean, although there are a few places where the tenses get a little muddled. Hardly any typos, which is nice. I like Grandpa, and it's obvious that something odd is going on around him. Perhaps some of the sentences are a little short and clipped in the descriptive text, as you seem to be aiming this at a teen audience? They can probably cope with a little more complexity, but that's only a gut feeling, and there's nothing wrong with the way you've written this.

Nicki is generally well done as well, although I didn't feel - from this short section - that I got to know her as well as I might have done. She seems quite passive - which I know you point out as part of her character, so this isn't a criticism - and there is the risk that this will make it harder for the reader to support her. A little more about her life in the city might help - we have the names of friends and a bit about her sport at school, but that's about it. Why does she go out drinking etc? (There's a line about feeling numb, which is good, but perhaps a little more can be made of it). Shouldn't she be missing her friends and refer to this a bit? What about schoolwork over the summer holidays (Don't know if this is a thing in America). If she's good at track, shouldn't there be practice etc?

I understand that you want to keep the mystery about her shrinking family and the injury she received, but as I say in one of the comments, I think you probably need to give the reader a little bit more about that earlier on.

Setting is good, you portray the countryside well and it felt real, if a little sanitised (would her grandpa really have a toilet, not a cesspit?). Again, a little more time spent in the city might provide a starker contrast - she seems to settle in remarkably quickly for a city girl, what about the insects and mud and so on that she might (initially) be squeamish about? - but I do like the 'get out of bed, we're going' element, so could go either way on that. Perhaps more of a flashback to the night before once she arrives at the cabin? As she's getting ready for bed and thinking about what her friends might be doing?

Obviously I only have the synopsis to go on (I've added a long comments on the synopsis, but basically it's too long and detailed for a publisher), but I like the basic idea of the plot. Possibly it's at risk of confusing the reader - how many unconscious girls are there? Would she really believe that they were being 'rescued' if they're always unconscious, given that they're in the middle of nowhere? - but of course this will be determined by the writing.

I'm not sure how much more writing there is before the mystery starts unfolding, but you might want to consider at what point the reader will get bored of set-up and hints, and have some sort of inciting incident relatively early on.

But overall, very professional and enjoyable. Congratulations on getting so far, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the writing process!

Marcus, Editor, Orion

Attachments
PDFLILITH EXPRESS mg version.docx.pdf (212Kb) - 424 view(s)
masquereader
 20 Jul 2013, 17:41 #170043 Reply To Post
Re Better Than Stars - Thank you Alison for your kind words and detailed response. I've already started a revision based on the feedback from YWO readers, and you've given me valuable food for thought and some really helpful suggestions. By the way, do make that trip to Venice if you can - spring and autumn are the best times.
This post was last edited by masquereader, 20 Jul 2013, 17:43
patriciaa
 20 Jul 2013, 18:34 #170045 Reply To Post
Sincere thanks to Alison, Editor, Random House, for a fantastic mini critique. I appreciate both the time you have taken and your expertise.

I will start work on a rewrite of THE GREEK at dawn tomorrow, dealing with all the points you have made.

May I take this opportunity to also thank Ted and the You Write On team for providing a very useful site. I've found it invaluable!
Patricia.
aka P M Wilson
http://pmwilsonauthor.wix.com/pmwilson

prothschild
 21 Jul 2013, 01:29 #170055 Reply To Post
Hi Ted,
Please convey my thanks to Marcus for the line edit he did of The Lilith Express. His feedback and detailed critique will be a huge help as I revise. My thanks to you too, Ted, for providing this great critique site. - Peggy

Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Saturday, 20 Jul 2013 14:17
Orion Editor review of Lilith Express

As always, I've done this in Word with track changes, see attachment to this post. Most of my thoughts are in the comments, but I'll make a few general points. Please bear in mind that I've only read the first section, so I may well raise questions that you answer yourself in the later parts of the book.

I enjoyed this very much. There's very little to say about the prose, which is largely clean, although there are a few places where the tenses get a little muddled. Hardly any typos, which is nice. I like Grandpa, and it's obvious that something odd is going on around him. Perhaps some of the sentences are a little short and clipped in the descriptive text, as you seem to be aiming this at a teen audience? They can probably cope with a little more complexity, but that's only a gut feeling, and there's nothing wrong with the way you've written this.

Nicki is generally well done as well, although I didn't feel - from this short section - that I got to know her as well as I might have done. She seems quite passive - which I know you point out as part of her character, so this isn't a criticism - and there is the risk that this will make it harder for the reader to support her. A little more about her life in the city might help - we have the names of friends and a bit about her sport at school, but that's about it. Why does she go out drinking etc? (There's a line about feeling numb, which is good, but perhaps a little more can be made of it). Shouldn't she be missing her friends and refer to this a bit? What about schoolwork over the summer holidays (Don't know if this is a thing in America). If she's good at track, shouldn't there be practice etc?

I understand that you want to keep the mystery about her shrinking family and the injury she received, but as I say in one of the comments, I think you probably need to give the reader a little bit more about that earlier on.

Setting is good, you portray the countryside well and it felt real, if a little sanitised (would her grandpa really have a toilet, not a cesspit?). Again, a little more time spent in the city might provide a starker contrast - she seems to settle in remarkably quickly for a city girl, what about the insects and mud and so on that she might (initially) be squeamish about? - but I do like the 'get out of bed, we're going' element, so could go either way on that. Perhaps more of a flashback to the night before once she arrives at the cabin? As she's getting ready for bed and thinking about what her friends might be doing?

Obviously I only have the synopsis to go on (I've added a long comments on the synopsis, but basically it's too long and detailed for a publisher), but I like the basic idea of the plot. Possibly it's at risk of confusing the reader - how many unconscious girls are there? Would she really believe that they were being 'rescued' if they're always unconscious, given that they're in the middle of nowhere? - but of course this will be determined by the writing.

I'm not sure how much more writing there is before the mystery starts unfolding, but you might want to consider at what point the reader will get bored of set-up and hints, and have some sort of inciting incident relatively early on.

But overall, very professional and enjoyable. Congratulations on getting so far, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the writing process!

Marcus, Editor, Orion


dancingsue
 21 Jul 2013, 11:38 #170078 Reply To Post
Ted, please pass my thanks to Alison for her very welcome encouragement. I often write from a man/boy's pov and find it quite liberating!
the long and the short of it

beanti
 24 Jul 2013, 07:38 #170240 Reply To Post
Hi Alison,
I just wanted to say thank you very much for your critique of Fractured. I really appreciate your kind words, and they will certainly encourage me as I push forward through my submitting process (the novel is now finished). You wondered why I uploaded chapters 3 and 4: I had previously submitted chapters 1 and 2 to the site, and had received a professional mini-review of those about two years ago. I subsequently revised them substantially, but was keen to get some peer reviews of the next two chapters as I worked on finishing the novel. I was delighted with all the helpful criticism I got from the readers on the site.
Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to read the story.
Yours Sincerely,
Clar
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