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ProfessionalCritique
 15 Jan 2014, 21:05 #175640 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
 15 Jan 2014, 21:07 #175641 Reply To Post

Random House Editor Critiques


Dear Andrew,

Congratulations on being chosen for review this month; I can completely see why - there's a lot to like about The Young Book of the Dead, and I enjoyed the read very much. Yours is an interesting structure and premise, with a potentially very strong cast of characters. I do have some thoughts on ways you might make more of the elements you have already and so I hope they’re useful to you as you revisit your work.


PITCH
I was interested to read in your overview that you pitched the novel as teenage fiction. I would actually say that the tone of your writing and the characters and content are more suited to the 10+ area of the market. This mystery action-adventure fiction works well for that age group, particularly. If you look at series like Percy Jackson, for example, I would suggest your core readership was there too.


PACING
Looking at your synopsis in full it seems as though you have the right level of tension and intrigue throughout. However, I do wonder if you might need to inject more action than you have at the moment. I would suggest you particularly look at the opening section in this way, and see if you feel there’s a way of making this more dynamic, gripping your readers from the outset. Could we maybe see Robert's accident? Or instead be instantly shown in a more immediate way this strange world Robert has woken up in. Could he think Frankie is mugging him initially? Something like that?

At the moment Robert’s plan to get back to the real world is all very calm and thought-out. Could you inject some more drama and pace by having him sneak off to try and do this alone and in secret? Maybe Joe and Frankie follow him and stop him?


ROBERT
I think Robert needs to work a little harder as your hero, both in terms of his voice and in his personality. There are times when he doesn’t completely sound like a modern teenage boy to me. I’d also love to see more of a contrast between his voice, and Joe’s and Frankie’s so that it’s evident they are from three very different times.

I felt like I missed seeing Robert's reactions to things and his questioning of what is going on. Surely he’d have much more difficulty in digesting all that he’s faced with? The Blessings is mentioned twice and he doesn't ask what it is, for example. And later, on finding out that children stay the same age, there's no reaction from him. I think we need to see more panic from him. As well as letting us get to know him better this will also create more atmosphere. Why doesn’t he believe he is dead – what’s going through his head?

I’d also love to know more about Robert himself so he comes across as a very real 3D boy, despite all that is happening to him. What's the last thing he remembers before he died? Does he remember the accident? Perhaps there’s scope to do more with the accident itself – could it be a mystery? And what about his life before? Has he got more back at home than his mum and dad? Friends, hobbies?


THE WORLD
As I mentioned above, I feel there are places you might be able to inject more pace through action but I also thing there might be more you could do to create atmosphere. There are points where you tell us about the world rather than showing us meaning I can’t quite picture certain elements. Perhaps we need Robert to sneak off on his own and explore this strange new place he’s found himself in? There’s also potentially some fun to be had through Robert telling Joe and Frankie about things like the internet, which they will have never heard of. In return they can tell Robert about their own loves and life here now he’s dead.

I found myself very interested in the logistics of the world and I think there’s scope for you to get more detail in here. Things like it doesn't matter if they breathe, but they do need to eat and drink will be fascinating to readers.


I hope these notes are useful to you. The very best of luck with your writing, and thanks for a really interesting read.

All the best,

Ruth
Random House


A Good Season for Oranges by J. Browne

There are some beautiful moments in this story and I enjoyed reading it. I think you’ve handled Henry’s torment beautifully. I would say that I missed seeing the painful scenes between Henry and Edmund as they ended their relationship – perhaps you could extend the word count and maybe include this? I think you’d do the pain of the loss here very well. For me, the structure does feel a little limiting for your content at the moment. Henry, Edmund and Moorcroft are all fascinating characters and I’d love to know more about them.

I’d love to see more of Henry’s thoughts and feelings specifically – especially after Moorcroft’s visit. At the moment he’s obviously a stronger character than Edmund – as he needs to be – but I think it might be worth taking a look at Edmund’s voice to maybe make it a little stronger.

Good luck with your writing.


Erasing Ramona by Peggy Rothschild.
This is a fantastic premise, and with the huge success of thrillers like Gone Girl at the moment I can see this having a place in the current market. Miranda is a very intriguing character and you really did leave me wanting more. I would say, though, that I feel these opening chapters could be tightened a little so that they really drag us into her life and set up the rest of the novel. Miranda’s apprehension about her visit home and the hints about her past feel repetitive in places – maybe you could look at smoothing this out?

I also wondered about the Stegmans. Do they reappear in the novel – are they included in the plot going forward? At the moment, the scene with them doesn’t quite feel bedded into the rest of the sample. It’s lovely to see this softer side to Miranda, but perhaps it could be worth taking another look at the scene?

This is a clever plot and I enjoyed the sample – the very best of luck with it.


The Marsh Mage's Servant by A. J. Winter

I enjoyed this sample very much. It’s an accomplished piece of writing and you really portray Dalthane’s torment beautifully. I did feel that in places actually your writing – lovely as it is – perhaps got in the way of clarity, but only from time to time and I think this could easily be smoothed out as you revisit the novel.

The world you’ve created felt very vivid and authentic, and you have some great detail in here but I felt that your supporting cast didn’t come across quite as vividly. The relationship between Dalthane and Wrothar is strong, but I didn’t believe in Dalthane’s father and Wrothar’s mother in the same way.

Congratultions.

Ruth
Random House

ProfessionalCritique
 15 Jan 2014, 21:10 #175643 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of ONE HAND WAVING.

Dear Samuel P Ashfield

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel ONE HAND WAVING. I thought that these opening chapters were engaging, 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 may become compromised. You have opted for a narrative that alternates between different settings and time periods, which can be a useful literary device that offers pieces of the narrative in segments, as well as hopefully maintaining reader engagement, as this shift in narrative focus should avoid them tiring of any one storyline.


Plot:

I thought your opening was strong – ambiguous and intriguing, with just enough of a tantalising hook to draw the reader in and keep turning the pages. But in contrast, I found the subsequent chapters somewhat lacklustre. It seemed that quite a lot of the scenes felt like ‘padding’ without really progressing the narrative in any significant way. For example, the police station scene adds very little, and isn’t particularly dramatic or involving. Likewise the scene with Ivan at his work, telling his colleagues what happened – how does this really further the plot? Each scene, however brief, needs to drive and propel your story. If your plotting lacks pace, and the story begins to meander in its tale, the reader will lose their engagement with the story. A useful exercise is to storyboard your novel, either chapter by chapter or scene by scene, so you can see more clearly the progression of your narrative, and more closely home in on specific areas that are weaker and perhaps make the story flounder or stagnate.

From reading your synopsis, I am concerned that there isn’t enough of a dramatic hook to fuel your story. Ivan obviously has experienced a traumatic past, and this affects his present-day life, but that in itself isn’t a story. I feel like your narrative is missing something that pulls the story together in a more compelling way.


Characterisation:

This is the area that I felt needed the most attention. A protagonist, even if they are a weak character, needs to have a strong portrayal if they are to carry the weight of the entire narrative. And at present, I think Ivan is too underdrawn to be able to do this. Obviously he is a damaged person who is reticent about his past, but if he is too closed off, you risk distancing him from the reader. His depiction needs to be more intriguing. What makes him unique as a character? What makes him charismatic? What makes him an unforgettable character?

In these early chapters, he seems somewhat removed from what is happening, which in turn also makes the reader somewhat detached from the unfolding story. Work on getting under his skin and drawing upon what is distinct about him. His insight and his perspective are what will influence the reader’s experience.

It was hard to make a true assessment from these opening pages alone, but from their brief appearances, I did think that your secondary characters (such as Ivan’s girlfriend and colleagues) were very underdrawn. His exchanges with them feel rather stiff and reveal very little about any of the characters. Remember that as much can be said by what is left unspoken as by what is vocalised. Let the reader read in between the lines regarding your characters’ relationships. Don’t fall into the trap of banal dialogue exchanges that do nothing to dramatise a scene. Otherwise you reveal nothing about their relationships.


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. This is an element that is much more accomplished and polished than other facets of your story. You weave through some vivid imagery in your writing, but also know the importance of not overloading your narrative with unwieldy descriptive passages.


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. Coupled with my notes on characterisation, your tone feels a little cold and detached in these early chapters. Yes, what you are writing about is sad and tragic, but it’s important that the tone of your narrative isn’t too sombre. There needs to be moments of lightness to leaven the darkness, otherwise you may alienate your reader if your writing feels too melancholy. I think if you work on building Ivan’s characterisation, and let his thoughts and emotions more strongly dictate the mood of your storytelling, it will help pull your story together.


Genre/Market:

As I’m sure you’re aware, the general adult fiction area is an increasingly crowded and competitive one, and any new book needs to offer something engaging and fresh if it is to stand out from its peers. To be honest (and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t) at this stage I don’t think your novel is at that level yet. Your story touches upon familiar territory to Khaled Hosseini and other writers of a similar ilk. But your writing needs to be imbued with narrative sharpness, real dramatic insight and strong, unforgettable characters if it is to appeal to fans of these accomplished writers. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read voraciously, especially in the area in which you wish to write. Exposing yourself to a wide range of storytelling styles will, little by little, enhance your own writing skills. Do not read passively. Be active; assess what is successful or unsuccessful about each book you read. Do you align with the protagonist? If so, how does the author achieve this? Does the plot keep you engaged throughout? If so, how? The first step in being a good writer is in being a keen and analytical reader.


Title:

This is only my personal opinion but I did feel like the title was a little obvious and simplistic…


Specific comments and line notes:

‘Sometimes we avoid the truth. It’s like the sun. We can’t look it in the face without discomfort’ – wonderful description!

‘Ivan could see the dew falling crystalline droplets from the edge of the corrugated tin roof, like tears’ – another great description. Very poetic!
Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a 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
 15 Jan 2014, 21:11 #175644 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Split: Marignane by James Hanna-Magill

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your novel. From reading your synopsis, it’s clear that the subject matter of mental illness is a very personal one for you. I thought it was interesting that James (who I presumed was you given he shares your name) was in fact your uncle. While you offer a unique perspective on mental illness, my main concern was the delivery of your narrative. Your storytelling style feels quite dry and detached. It is very hard to get a sense of James as a person, and consequently the reader is held at arms’ length from his experiences and emotions. You need to work on making your writing much more immediate, and really draw your reader into your story so they remain invested throughout. You have a tendency to report a lot of the narrative, rather than playing it out for the reader to experience first-hand. It’s important to always show, not tell.

A small query about the title – you refer to your novel as both ‘Split’ and ‘Marignane’. Is ‘Marignane’ the subheading? Or an earlier title? I think you need to be clearer here, as a title is incredibly important in how a novel is perceived and positioned.


Professional mini critique for Skeleton Key by Peggy Rothschild

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. As you know, I’m a big fan of your writing, having read Erasing Ramona and Clementine’s Shadow, but unfortunately I didn’t think Skeleton Key was as accomplished in its storytelling. I thought your early chapters could be more dramatic and intriguing. The ending of the first chapter was great, and had the necessary page-turning hook to draw the reader in, but I wasn’t grabbed from the outset like I was in your previous books. While it’s great that you drop the reader into the middle of the action, with Foley and her father talking, it needs to feel a little tenser and enigmatic at this crucial early juncture in the narrative.

Ultimately, I think that there needs to be a stronger hook to your narrative, rather than just who is pinning a bank robbery on Foley. There also needs to be a greater sense of mystery, and these opening pages need to feel much more tense and involving. The scenes where Foley is investigating about the ring and is talking to her ex Vinnie aren’t particularly engaging. I think you need to work on making Foley a more charismatic protagonist, and with a stronger portrayal, she will be able to lead the narrative more purposefully.


Professional mini critique for Olympia Heights by Leigh V Twersky

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I thought these early chapters of your science fiction novel made for an interesting read, but felt that they could benefit from further development. While I liked that you structure your narrative from two alternate character POVs (points of view), and that one is written in first person and one in third, to create a variance in your style of storytelling, my biggest concern was that I didn’t connect with your characters. They seemed rather hazy and underdrawn in these early pages. You need to work on getting under their skins and laying bare what is unique and individual about them. At present they lack the charisma and strength to carry the weight of the narrative. At present, your focus seems to be more on larger issues that the narrative tackles, as well as what I found to be fairly gratuitous erotic descriptions, written in quite an awkward way. Erotic overtones need to feel intrinsic to your story, not shoehorned in just for titillation.

A small point – I’m not sure about using symbols such as ‘@’ instead of ‘at’. It feels a little Young Adult…


Professional mini critique for Dance Floor Drowning by Brian Sellars

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your mystery novel but did think they could benefit from further development. In particular, your opening needs to be much stronger. A mystery novel needs to have a dramatic opening that intrigues the reader and pulls them in. And this is something that you haven’t quite achieved yet.

You categorise this as a humorous and nostalgic mystery novel, but at times I felt that your attempts to be humorous and nostalgic greatly overshadowed the mystery elements of your storytelling. The book felt much more like a saga novel, focused on domestic details and dramas, rather than a compelling, involving mystery novel. There needs to be more of a hook to draw the reader in. It also needs to have a greater sense of urgency and pace. I would suggest reading as widely as possible in this area, and reading with an analytical eye in terms of structure, plotting, characterisation, tone, pace, setting etc., regarding what you think is successful or unsuccessful about each element. The first step in becoming a good writer is in being an astute and prolific reader.


Natalie Braine
Editor

ProfessionalCritique
 15 Jan 2014, 21:17 #175645 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critique of Alone Together

See attached for line editor critique


This mostly works very well, although the author needs to keep an eye on tenses - there's a tendency to switch mid-sentence or paragraph. I think the prose would also be improved by shortening some of the sentences - there's an occasional tendency to run on and confuse the reader.

Other than that, no major worries about the writing style. The slight oddness of the main character's voice in the prison scene is, I assume, intentional, although I've fiddled with it a little bit.

It made me want to keep reading, although it is perhaps a little too obvious that Fred has done something to the young boy (I know this is referenced in the opening chapter, but a little suspense in the 2013 section would still be OK).

The one-para synopsis is good, but a little wordy. I've tweaked and it's attached to the end of the story.

The longer synopsis is also fine, albeit maybe a little dry, but has a couple of typos/nonsense sections which, if this was a professional submission, would be dangerous. I know this was for YWO, but worth mentioning.

I'm slightly concerned with the ending - why do you go back to Jasper? It would all come out in the writing, of course, but I feel that ending on the image of the sisters drinking their tea might be more powerful, especially as you don't open with a Jasper section.

Congratulations on getting this far - I can see why YWO readers voted for it, and wish you the best of luck!



Marcus, Editor, Orion
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 15 Jan 2014, 21:18

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Johnson
 16 Jan 2014, 11:20 #175696 Reply To Post
This professional critique totally exceeds my expectations. It is incredibly useful and points me in exactly the right direction for improving "One Hand Waving".

Sincere thanks to Natalie Braine and to YWO.

Samuel P Ashfield
ajwinter
 16 Jan 2014, 15:17 #175708 Reply To Post
Thank you Ruth for your critique of Marsh Mage's Servant. You've given me some ideas for further development.
Ann
prothschild
 16 Jan 2014, 23:55 #175717 Reply To Post
Please convey my thanks to Ruth and Natalie for their detailed feedback. Much food for thought -- and for revisions! - Peggy
leighvtwersky
 17 Jan 2014, 13:33 #175728 Reply To Post
And please convey my thanks to Natalie for her time, comments and feedback for Olympia Heights (revised). Plenty to think about and take on board when I next edit!
Cheers again
Regards
Leigh
saltysellars
 18 Jan 2014, 10:47 #175753 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014 21:17
Orion Editor Critique of Alone Together

See attached for line editor critique


This mostly works very well, although the author needs to keep an eye on tenses - there's a tendency to switch mid-sentence or paragraph. I think the prose would also be improved by shortening some of the sentences - there's an occasional tendency to run on and confuse the reader.

Other than that, no major worries about the writing style. The slight oddness of the main character's voice in the prison scene is, I assume, intentional, although I've fiddled with it a little bit.

It made me want to keep reading, although it is perhaps a little too obvious that Fred has done something to the young boy (I know this is referenced in the opening chapter, but a little suspense in the 2013 section would still be OK).

The one-para synopsis is good, but a little wordy. I've tweaked and it's attached to the end of the story.

The longer synopsis is also fine, albeit maybe a little dry, but has a couple of typos/nonsense sections which, if this was a professional submission, would be dangerous. I know this was for YWO, but worth mentioning.

I'm slightly concerned with the ending - why do you go back to Jasper? It would all come out in the writing, of course, but I feel that ending on the image of the sisters drinking their tea might be more powerful, especially as you don't open with a Jasper section.

Congratulations on getting this far - I can see why YWO readers voted for it, and wish you the best of luck!



Marcus, Editor, Orion


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