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ProfessionalCritique
 20 Nov 2013, 22:22 #174473 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.

Latest Critiques for October 2013 Top Ten and any outstanding from before then - Click here to view the top ten lists for 2013.
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Nov 2013, 22:23 #174474 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of THE SILENCE

Dear Kate Johns

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel THE SILENCE. I thought that these opening chapters were engaging and successfully drew the reader into your story, but I did think this draft could benefit from further development. 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 are compromised. And this is an area that does need attention. You have a tendency to end scenes quite abruptly or at an odd point in a scene, which can be quite jarring for the reader. A scene needs to feel cohesive, as well as conclude in a way that compels the reader to keep on turning the pages, and these are things you haven’t quite achieved in your writing. When you come to rewriting, look at the structure of each scene as much as the structure of each chapter. It can be a useful exercise to storyboard your novel, so you can see how each scene and chapter slots in to the overall story, and thus hone in on weak areas in the narrative.

Plot:

I thought your opening scene was great. You instantly draw the reader into the story be presenting a vivid portrayal of Philippa, as well as ending on a dramatic note that should hook the reader and make them want to read more. But the following scene, with Abby and Philippa on the scooter, and then swimming and sunbathing, felt overly drawn out, and consequently began to lose some of the pace and intrigue you so beautifully set up at the beginning. In contrast, the end of your prologue is again very dramatic. But the middle section needs to be tightened, and still have an air of tension to it, if you are to keep the reader engaged. At present, the middle scene feels like an entirely different book – more young adult than thriller (see my notes on genre and market).

The following two chapters, while ably setting the scene and introducing secondary characters, were lacking in drama and tension. You relay Abby’s experiences in Tuscany in quite a detached manner. There needs to be more of an immediacy and an urgency to your writing if you are to place the reader alongside your characters.

Characterisation:

My main concern was that Abby was too weakly drawn as a protagonist to be able to carry the burden of the entire narrative. You need to work on getting under her skin and exposing what is unique about her, rather than placing her as observer to what is unfolding. I think more could be made of Abby not always being able to speak (especially if this is to give the title greater meaning). This is a really complex and intriguing facet of Abby’s character, and I think it could be handled in a much more involving and dramatic way. The reader doesn’t need to know why Abby can’t talk at the beginning – indeed, the mystery of why make help keep the reader engaged in the story, wanting to know what happened.




Setting:

There could be more description of Tuscany and the house to really bring your fictional world to life and immerse your reader in it. There only need to be vivid flashes of detail woven through, but they can really help build texture and colour to your narrative. Setting can also be a character in its own right, helping to create atmosphere and tension. And this is something that could be capitalised more in the depiction of the house, and its effect on the characters residing there.

Tone:

Coupled with my notes on the plotting, I felt that the tone of these opening pages wasn’t consistent, so much so that it felt like they were scenes from different books. As I often tell aspiring writers, tone is one of the hardest elements in a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone is inconsistent or off-key, this can be jarring for a reader, and distance them from your story. You need to have a clear sense of what kind of story you are telling, as this will dictate the style and tone of your writing. For example, the prologue is quite dark in tone at the beginning and end, but the middle feels too frivolous and carefree. Of course you want to convey the nostalgia and bittersweet longing Abby still feels, but this needs to be executed in a way that still maintains the tension and intrigue of the opening. For a thriller, there needs to be a greater sense of suspense and mystery if the reader is to keep turning the pages.

Genre/Market:

You categorise this as women’s fiction and thriller. But from these early chapters, this felt like it was written in a style that felt more young adult than adult fiction. To be honest (and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t!), my main concern was that your storytelling lacks the sophistication and insight to appeal to a more mature audience. And for a thriller, it needs to be pacier, more tense, and with a greater sense of mystery at its heart. I would suggest reading as widely as possibly in the thriller market (particularly at thriller novels aimed specifically at women), and to read these with an analytical eye, assessing their components, such as structure, plotting, characterisation, setting, tone etc. and to analyse whether you think they are successful in each area, and if so, why. The first step in becoming a good writer is being a good reader. You need to know your readership and understand the type of books they love to read.

Specific comments and line notes:

‘heat stabbing knees and elbows’ – quite an odd description. Surely dappled sunlight wouldn’t be ‘stabbing’? Something else here?

If Abby can smell melting tarmac, this implies that it is summer. Yet you talk of them riding over ‘crackling dead leaves’, which hints at it being autumn. Be careful about inconsistencies like this, as they will pull the reader out of the story.

‘before discarding them in the in a planter’ – delete ‘the in’ for sense.

‘She was so very pale’ – try to avoid excessive use of adverbs together like ‘so’ and ‘very’. Remember that less is often more, otherwise you can actually diminish what you are trying to say.

‘her face pulsated’ – again, quite an odd description. Something else here?

‘For around twenty minutes they did all the usual things’ – feels very specific. Why not just ‘For a while they fell into their usual habits…’

‘Who would you most hate to be tortured’ – do you mean ‘Who would you not want tortured?’ or ‘Who do you hate so much you’d want them tortured?’ Your phrasing’s a little ambiguous here.

‘among the dazzle and dark blotches’ – description feels a little clunky.

‘choking and suffocating them… swallowing them up’ – example of you using three similar words when one would suffice. Remember, less is often more.

‘kept going back to it like a dog to its spew’ – example of where your writing feels more tailored to a younger readership rather than an adult one.

‘At times when she felt calmer she drew scenes with tiny cartoon figures’ – suggest deleting this line, and ending the paragraph with ‘letting the pen spiral round and round until it ripped a hole in the paper’, which is much darker and more dramatic.

‘As Abby was walking away, the older girl flew across the room and grabbed her’ – isn’t Mandy younger than Abby and Philippa though?

Synopsis – ‘Abby is fascinated … fascinates Abby’ – something else to avoid repetition?

Synopsis – ‘that led to her mother hang herself’ – should be ‘hanging’.

Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a very promising start but there is a lot of room for improvement. As well as reading as widely as possible in the area in which you wish to write, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to hone your writing skills.

I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Nov 2013, 22:24 #174475 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Pilgrimage by Harry Nicholson

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening chapters of your historical action adventure novel but did think they would benefit from further development. I thought your opening two paragraphs were vividly described, instantly conjuring the story’s setting. But then the majority of the scene, apart from the fight, is largely focused on dialogue discussing market produce. Your first chapter is absolutely crucial in drawing your reader in, and at present I don’t think your opening is strong enough or compelling enough to keep a reader hooked. You need to work on dropping the reader into the action more immediately, and worry less about setting the scene at this early juncture in your narrative.

I would also recommend trying to get under your characters’ skins more when you come to rewriting. The reader needs to feel strongly aligned with your characters and invested in their stories if they are to keep turning the pages. Perhaps you could show more of their internal thoughts. Also avoid overloading scenes with conversation – remember that less is often more, and sometimes as much can be said by what isn’t said as by what is.

Professional mini critique for Franco’s Fiesta by Tim Robson

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel but did think they could benefit from further development. While very readable, this is a story that has been told many times before. And while your characters feel larger than life, they also feel a little clichéd. If you’re telling a familiar story, it’s crucial that you do so from an original angle, and make your characters more complex and unpredictable. Your protagonist Giles feels very underdrawn. He is placed as an observer, somewhat removed from the action of the story; he needs to have more charisma if he is to carry the weight of the narrative.

I also felt that these early chapters had too much of the drama reported, like a diary. One of the most important pieces of advice to remember while writing is ‘show don’t tell’. You need to depict it for the reader to experience in an immediate way, not to report it second-hand, as this instantly distances the reader, keeping them at arms’ length from your characters.

Professional mini critique for A Cry From Afar by Allie Ituen

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your women’s fiction novel but did think they could benefit from further development. Your writing style seems quite stilted at times, and the dialogue reads a little too formal, so that conversations don’t flow naturally. Your characters need to feel more distinctive, especially Hanutu, who seems like quite a bland protagonist in this opening pages. Another element to bear in mind when you come to rewriting is to not let big issues get in the way of your storytelling. You have to entertain the reader as much as you educate them.

I wondered about your choice of names for the characters. Neneh and Hanutu are not familiar names to a Western reader, whereas the names of the some of the other characters – Jonathan, Tim, Amy and Adam – are not traditional Nigerian names. Why is this, given they are siblings? Lastly, I found it quite hard to envisage the setting. More descriptive details are needed in these early pages if you are to bring your story to life and fully transport the reader to your fictional world.

Professional mini critique for The Marsh Mage’s Servant by A J Winter

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your fantasy novel but did think that they could benefit from further development. I think you need to work on your opening scene to really hook the reader. It took me quite a while (too long) to be pulled into the story. You need to immerse the reader in your narrative from the get-go. Perhaps read the opening of other similar books with an analytical eye, assessing how (or if not, why) they hook the reader in the crucial early chapters.

I thought the chemistry between your protagonist Dalthane and Wrothar was well depicted. You vividly portrayed Dalthane’s longing, the charged chemistry between them, and Dalthane’s (and the reader’s) questioning of whether Wrothar feels the same way about Dalthane. But while the chemistry between the pair is strongly evoked, I felt that Dalthane’s characterisation wasn’t as compelling. At present his depiction feels too weak for him to be a strong enough character to carry the story. You need to work on getting under his skin and making him more charismatic and intriguing. At present he feels a little too forgettable.

Critiques by Editor Natalie Braine

ProfessionalCritique
 20 Nov 2013, 22:24 #174476 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of THE NILE CAT.


Dear Angela Cecil Reid

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your teenage fiction novel, THE NILE CAT. I thought that these opening chapters were entertaining and marked a promising start, but I do think they would benefit from further development. 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 stories, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the book continues.

Structure:

Structure is the backbone of any book, helping to provide shape, focus and narrative drive. If your story isn’t well structured, the very foundations of your novel can become compromised – and this applies even to young adult fiction. It seems your story will take a linear approach, and contain subplots, such as Rose’s romance with Zac, and her relationship with her twin sister Scarlet. It’s important to have more than just one storyline, to ensure the reader remains invested in your book and never tires of one narrative strand.

In your synopsis, you discuss Egyptian history in quite an immediate way, so I wondered whether you were going to incorporate flashbacks in some way, or whether Rose is going to have visions, or whether this information is gleaned from Dora’s knowledge? It’s crucial that this information isn’t presented in a dry, didactic way, but in a manner that still engages and entertains the reader.

Plot:

I thought your opening chapter was really strong, hooking the reader from the very first line. It drops the reader straight into the middle of the action, placing them firmly alongside your protagonist Rose and her sister Scarlet, and it is intriguing in that it doesn’t give too much information away, compelling the reader to turn the page and read on to find out how the twins end up in this perilous situation.

But I did have reservations about the following scenes. I’ll cover this in more detail in my notes on market and genre, but I did feel that your writing wasn’t sophisticated enough for a teenage reader. The plotting of these opening chapters felt very simplistic (particularly in comparison to your dramatic opener). There needs to be more mystery and intrigue to really draw the reader in and keep them hooked. Some of your writing felt a bit too heavy-handed in places, making sure the reader was aware of characters’ strange behaviours. Remember that less is often more, when it comes to storytelling. Don’t overwrite a scene, and leave space for the reader’s imagination to take hold.

Characterisation:

In young adult fiction, readers like to read about characters that they can identify with and relate to in some way. And while Rose is an interesting character, given that she is traumatised and fearful, I did think that her portrayal was underdrawn in these opening chapters. She is placed as an observer to the unfolding drama, so the reader, like Rose, is often kept at arms’ length. Obviously this will change as the story progresses and Rose becomes a more active character, but I did find that she was a little too passive in these pages. You need to work on getting under her skin more and really drawing on what makes her a unique and distinctive character. I think she needs to be a bit more feisty and opinionated (even if this is only aired in her internal thoughts and she never voices them). In short, she needs to be a stronger protagonist if she is to carry the weight of the narrative for the duration of the novel.

In comparison, I found Scarlet a much more vividly drawn character. But like Rose’s depiction, I found some of the adult characters rather hazy, which is a common pitfall by aspiring writers in the children’s/teenage fiction market. Even though adult characters don’t have as much presence in the story, their portrayals still need to feel real and tangible. Dora felt a little bit too clichéd – the stereotype of the quirky, intelligent older relative. Avoid anything that feels formulaic. Your characters need to feel so real that they step off the page.

Setting:

Setting is of course only the backdrop to a story, but it can be a character in its own right too, helping build atmosphere and even tone. And this was an area that I thought you could expand upon when you come to rewriting. What is Rose’s home and hometown like? What are her first impressions of Egypt, other than it being busy, hot and dusty? (Again, avoid stereotypical descriptions and search for something more original that will really transport the reader into your fictional world.) And there could be a bit more description about the House of Shade, as this is a character too, in its own way. You don’t need lengthy descriptive paragraphs – just concise, vivid details that are seamlessly woven into the narrative, and help bring your story to life.

Genre/Market:

As I’m sure you’re aware, teenage fiction is an incredibly crowded area of the market, so for a book to stand out, it really does need to be something special. My main concern with your novel is the intended readership. Young readers often like to read about characters of a similar age to them or ‘read up’ about characters that are slightly older than them. As Rose is 15, the approximate age of your readership would be around 13-16 years old. Unfortunately, I don’t think your writing is tailored to a teenage market. Your style of storytelling felt like it was aimed more at 11-13 year olds.

In children’s/teenage fiction – perhaps more than in any other genre – it is absolutely crucial that you know and understood who your intended readership is. Otherwise you’re already creating a hurdle for yourself. The best piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in the area in which you wish to write, and read with an analytical eye, assessing what works and what doesn’t work in each book.

Sadly – and I hate to say this – having ancient history as the main focus in your story (particularly knowing that this is the first book of an Egyptian trilogy) will instantly narrow your readership down. And by having a female protagonist (again sad but true!), you will likely alienate a lot of male readers. These are all things to consider and keep at the forefront of your mind when you are writing. Just who is your reader? As well as reading books of a similar ilk, do you know any young readers who would be willing to read the opening chapters of your book? Their feedback and (hopefully constructive) criticism could be really insightful, letting you know what they did and didn’t like about your story.

Specific comments, queries and line notes:

‘He would have gone to Egypt for the funeral if could’ – need to insert ‘he’ before ‘could’.

‘It was the perfect name for this strange, shadow-filled house’ – great line.

Synopsis: ‘She since been haunted by a nightmare’ – insert ‘has’ after ‘she’.

Synopsis: ‘Rose’s sleeping brain is the computer able to read the stored data’ – feels like a bit of a clunky metaphor. Something else here?
Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a very promising start but attention needs to be paid to Rose’s characterisation and to your intended readership.

I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Natalie Braine

Annie 343
 26 Nov 2013, 23:10 #174621 Reply To Post
Thank you, Natalie, for your perceptive and helpful review of Nile Cat. I will certainly take on board that I need to decide who my intended readership is, and will edit it accordingly. I will also bear in mind your other comments, particularly regarding Rose's personality and the settings.

With best regards,

Angela

ajwinter
 27 Nov 2013, 13:40 #174633 Reply To Post
Hi Natalie,
Thanks for your review of The Marsh Mage's servant. I have some work to do.
Cheers!

Ann
JohnBrowne
 06 Dec 2013, 10:48 #174929 Reply To Post
Hello,
I don't see the critique for 'a good season for oranges.' Will this come later on in the month?

Thanks
prothschild
 18 Dec 2013, 01:38 #175210 Reply To Post
Hi, I also have a question -- Erasing Ramona was on the list for October and I wondered when that critique will come in. Also, Punishment Summer was on the Oct. list for chapters 5-8. Since it wasn't for the opening chapters, I know Punishment Summer doesn't qualify for a full professional critique, but will it get a mini-critique?
Thanks, Peggy
karen milner
 18 Dec 2013, 07:29 #175213 Reply To Post
Quote: prothschild, Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 01:38
Hi, I also have a question -- Erasing Ramona was on the list for October and I wondered when that critique will come in. Also, Punishment Summer was on the Oct. list for chapters 5-8. Since it wasn't for the opening chapters, I know Punishment Summer doesn't qualify for a full professional critique, but will it get a mini-critique?
Thanks, Peggy


Hi Peggy (and John), maybe your crits will be in the next batch as I know there is often a few months lag in getting a TT place and receiving a crit.

Re- your follow on chapters, Peggy. I'm pretty sure they weren't supposed to get in the TT, so strictly speaking you shouldn't get any crit. But obviously they managed to slip by Ted, so you might get lucky.
gyjcg
 18 Dec 2013, 08:01 #175215 Reply To Post
Quote: prothschild, Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 01:38
Hi, I also have a question -- Erasing Ramona was on the list for October and I wondered when that critique will come in. Also, Punishment Summer was on the Oct. list for chapters 5-8. Since it wasn't for the opening chapters, I know Punishment Summer doesn't qualify for a full professional critique, but will it get a mini-critique?
Thanks, Peggy


I'm waiting too! It does seem particularly long this time, especially as some of the October ones were posted some time ago. But they can take their time. I've mentioned it to Ted as part of a longer email I sent him. No, I don't think Punishment Summer will get a review. Pro reviews are for opening chapters only.
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