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 18 Jul 2014, 22:52 #181497 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.
 18 Jul 2014, 22:53 #181498 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critique of
The Mystery of Ten Acres House by Mike Hanson

See attached line critique by Editor.

I really liked this one – there was a good sense of mystery to it, the lead character was engaging, and the prose was of a much higher standard than some of the things I see. That said, there’s quite a lot to be done here, as you’ll see from the attached comments. The biggest problem is lack of detail – the author really needs to make the descriptive writing come alive. That said, this is a very strong start and I can see why it was voted to the top!

The Mystery of Ten Acres House MG version.doc (74Kb) - 226 view(s)
 18 Jul 2014, 22:53 #181499 Reply To Post
Editor critique of Albi

Dear Hilary Shepherd

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your historical novel ALBI and was impressed by the confidence of your storytelling, but I felt there was a lot of room for development. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and advance 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 any good story. And I think this is a key facet of your novel that needs consideration when you come to rewriting. Your writing tends to meander, and from reading your synopsis, it seems that your story could be tighter and more distinct in shape. A really invaluable exercise is to storyboard your entire narrative, either chapter by chapter or scene by scene, so you can see the overarching shape of your story and more clearly hone in on the areas that are weaker and need more attention, or perhaps scenes that are unnecessary and should be cut. Writing a novel is only part of a writer’s work – editing, revising and polishing it are just as key.

This is only a suggestion, but I think it might be stronger to end your first chapter following the scene that finishes with the line: ‘He did hear that. And the bit afterwards, about going to church on Sunday.’ Then you don’t dilute the power of that scene by having it segue into another scene in the same chapter. Your first chapter needs to be sharp, concise and dramatic if it is to hook your reader. Remember that less is often more. So I would suggest the succeeding scene, with the rabbit, open Chapter Two instead, so you still get the contrast between terror and normality by having the scenes side by side.

I did think the washhouse scene was overly long, and you begin to lose the sense of pace and drama that was so brilliantly set up in the first scene. Again, less is more. Your scenes need to have a focus and drive to them. Don’t let them meander with unnecessary detail and distraction. Keep the momentum of the narrative going, especially at this crucial early juncture in your novel.


I thought your opening chapter was particularly strong. You really capture the tension and fear of the unfolding action, placing the reader firmly alongside your protagonist, Albi. The horror of what is happening is heightened by showing your story through the innocent eyes of a nine-year-old.

But in contrast to such a wonderful set-up, the following scenes lacked the direction and pace of your opening. As I have mentioned in my notes on structure, your plot needs to have drive and a definite delivery if it is to keep the reader engaged. The narrative begins to lose momentum very quickly, and the plot seems to stall somewhat. I’ll keep saying it – less is more. You need to pare back what is unnecessary to let the drama and emotion or your storytelling really take centre stage.

From reading your synopsis, I was concerned that your plot didn’t have enough scope and ambition to really power your narrative. Again, by storyboarding your novel, you can get a clearer sense of the plotting of your novel.


The reader very quickly gets a sense of who Albi is as a protagonist. As the story is shown through his eyes, solely from his point of view, the reader is instantly placed alongside him. While his portrayal is convincing, I did feel that he lacked the distinctiveness and individuality to set him apart from other fictional characters. In short, I’m not sure he is a strong enough character at present to carry the weight of the entire narrative. You need to explore what makes him unique, and really get under his skin as a character. Yes, he’s just an ordinary nine-year-old boy whose world is turned upside down and who responsibility is thrust upon him unexpectedly. But he needs to feel memorable and you need to really endear him to the reader. He needs to have a stronger voice and more character. As from reading your synopsis, it seems your story is more character-led than plot-driven. So it is essential that Albi is a memorable protagonist.


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 it is an important element of a historical novel, as if it is richly and vividly evoked, it can help transport the reader to a vanished world. Again, this is another facet of the narrative that could be utilised a bit more. Only small details need to be woven through to give the reader a sense of place, but they can really help build the colour and texture of your narrative.


As I’m sure you’re aware, historical literary fiction is an incredibly competitive area of the market 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 have discussed above, you have some way to go to achieve this. 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. And read actively, rather than passively, being analytical about different areas of the narrative, such as structure, plot, characterisation, and examining whether you think each facet is successful, and if so, how the author achieved this. 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.

Line notes:

‘The silence is all wrong’ – great opening line.

‘… the afternoon burning at the finger-hole of the shutter like a single eye looking in at them’ – wonderful description.

‘When you are listening, you fill that space with terrible thoughts’ – you really capture the tension and fear in this scene with evocative lines like this.

‘It was being a very strange day’ – do you mean ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’?


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. I think you show much promise as a writer, but structure and plotting cannot be overlooked. 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
 18 Jul 2014, 22:54 #181500 Reply To Post
Editor Mini-Reviews

Professional mini critique for As If I Wasn’t There by Lesley Walker

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your thriller novel. I did think your opening could be stronger. It is too similar to many other thriller openings, plus it was a little too vague and ambiguous for it to effectively hook the reader. There needs to be a keener sense of drama and intrigue. Likewise with the italicised ending of the third chapter. It’s too heavy-handed to feel truly sinister. Try to avoid the obvious in these scenes, and present it in a way that seems more original.

I thought your first chapter was much stronger in comparison. The reader really gets a sense of you who your protagonist is. And the mystery/tragedy surrounding the death of her childhood best friend will draw the reader into your story. The line ‘Well, not everyone else’ is a great conclusion to the first chapter. It will immediately make the reader want to turn the page and find out more.

Professional mini critique for Korsakoff and the Hovering Dogs by Francis Goode

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novella. However, I would suggest avoiding categorising it as a comedy. Your story has moments of humour in it, but I wouldn’t class it as a comedy. I liked that your tale had flashes of darkness and tragedy in it too, such as the revelation that Bonzo and Cheryl are married, even though he has no recollection of it, and that Dylan holds himself responsible for Bonzo’s memory loss.

I did think the title was perhaps a little too quirky to really entice potential readers. And another minor comment – would a PhD student really say ‘sea squirts’? It sounds like something out of a children’s story, not what a studying scientist would say. It feels like you are opting for obvious humour here…

Professional mini critique for The Story of My Life by Sara Cate

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. You firmly place the reader in Meredith’s world, but I felt that her portrayal wasn’t strong enough in these opening chapters. She’s obviously scared and vulnerable, but the reader needs to see more of who Meredith really is if they are to align with her and want to follow her journey through to the end.

I also had some reservations about the direction the novel takes from reading your synopsis. The story – Meredith’s quest to find her adoptive mother, and later to return to her birthplace of Guatemala – has much dramatic potential and scope to really give your protagonist a character arc. Obviously it is hard to gauge from the synopsis alone, but I think there needs to be more depth and interest to your narrative, be it in the form of subplots or flashbacks, otherwise your story may feel too linear and simplistic.

Professional mini critique for The Wall by P B Slater

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It’s a really interesting premise that you’ve clearly given a lot of thought to. My main concern was that you have tried to be too ambitious in what is quite a restrictive format, telling a story that could easily be extended into a full-length novel into a short story. In just three thousands words, you have depicted an apocalyptic story from beginning to end, and also a romance. In short, because you are covering such a lot of narrative ground in a very short space of time, your story feels rushed and the detail and emotion become lost. I think it would be much more effective to portray just a snapshot of this story, and really explore the characters’ interactions. Remember that less if often more, particularly in the short story format.

Editor Natalie Braine
 18 Jul 2014, 22:56 #181501 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Mini-Reviews

Flame/Peggy Rothschild

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories on YouWriteOn! This was a very interesting opening to a story – I thought the backdrop of the smouldering forest fires brought something fresh and original to your plot, and there is a great sense of tension running throughout your writing following the revelation that Randall dies during that summer. Was it murder, an accident or even self-inflicted?

The intensity of Beth's feelings for Denny felt very plausible, as did the tension between her and her mother although I was surprised that we didn't see Beth meet up with Andie before she meets Randall. I would have imagined she would have wanted to find her best friend and tell her what happened with Denny and to discuss what Randall might want. Would she possibly not have considered phoning Andie when she was grounded at home and alone in the house? I did have a little difficulty matching up Beth's fears that her mother and Carl would know that she had had sex with Denny with Carl having made her start taking birth control. Wouldn't that have suggested they condoned her having sex?

I am not sure whether the majority of the story takes place in 1977 or if it does cut back to 1986 but if it doesn't, it might be worth making Chapter One into a prologue instead, to signal to readers that it is somewhat separate from the story that follows.

Terminal Fisheries/Christopher Roy Denton

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month with your lively and engaging opening to your story! Joe is a sympathetic narrator, self-deprecating, frequently oblivious (I am guessing that his son was looking at Grindr rather than Facebook?) and I'm sure many readers will identify with hiding the bills in Aladdin's Cave and trying to put a brave face on for his son.

There were some very striking lines – 'The landing is as dark as Myra Hindley's soul' – that really brought your writing to life, and you successfully evoked a real sense of the community in which he lives and works. There were a few moments that didn't quite ring true for me which might be worth looking at again in a second draft; I couldn't imagine a teenage boy saying 'Oh my days' and I couldn't work out why Joe would pay for an assistant when he wasn't that busy and was in desperate need of money himself. I also felt the references to the suicide at the viaduct – both the one in the present and the one in the past – and the introduction of someone I’m taking to be a potential love interest for Joe were perhaps a little heavy-handed currently, so I would encourage you to think about ways in which you could introduce these storylines a little more subtly if you are re-drafting at any point.

Good luck!

Rose/Kate A. Hardy

Congratulations on being one of the top rated entries on YouWriteOn this month for your short story. This was a very charming story of long-lost love, and I can see why it's been so popular with readers.

Structurally, I wonder if it may feel more natural if, when the narrative jumps forward two years, you don't pick up the thread straight away as if you'd just been interrupted mid-conversation and nothing had happened in those two years. Let us discover what happened to Harry in the intervening period when Tabitha sees the Toes of Venus blooming and asks him what happened in France.

And on a similar note, I would like you to think about ways in which you can let details about people's life come out through conversations or their actions, rather than you having to tell a reader. The art of good writing is in showing rather than telling the reader. For example, rather than Harry telling the readers what jobs Pete and Tabitha do when we first meet them, is there a way that you could let the reader deduce that themselves through the conversation that follows? Readers love putting together the clues themselves so don't worry that you always have to spell it out for them – let them do some of the work!

Good luck with your future writing.

Alison, Editor, Random House

 18 Jul 2014, 22:57 #181502 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Review

The Forbidden Palace/Melissa Addey

Congratulations on being the top rated story on YouWriteOn this month!


You've chosen a wonderful period in which to set your story, and one that offers a writer so many opportunities to bring that world to life for their readers.

Your opening lines are a great example of setting the stage for us, with the heat and the sticky feel of the air and the ill-fitting robe, and I think we could see even more of that as the book unfolds. I would really encourage you to think not just of the way the world looks but of the way it smells and sounds and feels – really engage all the senses as you write. Ask yourself, for example, how does the new silk feel against Nihuru's skin (I'm guessing the quality is far better than anything she would normally have been used to?) and how does the city sound and smell compared to her hometown? It's these tiny details that elevate good writing into great writing. I really loved the image of the birds in the cages being taken for walks, that's exactly the kind of colourful image that works brilliantly to bring a story to life on the page.

Readers of historical fiction love to learn some real historical information about the period in which the story is set so do think about ways in which you can weave some of this detail in without overloading the narrative. I'm not sure we are ever told in which year this was all unfolding, so perhaps think about how you could incorporate this into your next draft to help readers start to position it in their minds.


The story of an inexperienced young girl being married off to a man against her wishes is a familiar one in fiction, but it holds much potential for a writer. The reader's sympathies are instantly engaged as we feel for this nervous young girl who finds the whole course of her life changed forever in just one moment. The fact that Niuhuru hasn't been chosen for her looks or for her background, but almost as a cruel joke, brings a fresh twist to the story and I'm sure many readers will be intrigued to see how her new husband reacts to her arrival.

We only have a brief glimpse into Castiglione's storyline but it gave us an interesting insight into the world of the Emperor – the idea of all animal portraiture being very formal was a fascinating one! I am sure many readers will be curious to see how his story comes to intertwine with that of Niuhuru.

This is a very minor query but I just wondered why the consorts for the sons aren't chosen in the age order of the sons? I'm guessing the First Prince is the oldest, the Second Prince the second oldest, etc but the girls are chosen for the First, then the Third, then the Eighth and then it jumps back to the Fifth. I would have thought that in a society which was so driven by protocol, birth order would be strictly adhered to so it might be worth thinking of ways in which you could explain why it was proceeding in this order.


Niuhuru in an appealing narrator, bright and curious and the way she reacts to her new role – a kind of blank passivity mixed with bursts of anxiety – felt very plausible, although I would have liked to have seen a few short conversations between her and her family about her future, as I think that would help us develop an even stronger sense of Niuhuru. We know what she thinks and feels, but I think it's always very helpful to have a sense of how other people view her. Are her parents pleased or worried or excited for her, for example? What hopes did they have for her up until this moment?

We only see Castiglione briefly, but from his diary we get a sense of him as an ambitious artist with an eye for unusual details and from his mix of nerves and enthusiasm, I pictured him as a relatively young man. The mention of God and the Brothers suggests a religious background, and again it would be helpful if we had a year for when this was unfolding so readers who may not be instantly familiar with Castiglione as a real figure could make a guess as to his background before he'd come to China.

Quality of writing

There are some lovely lines in your writing and I think you particularly come into your own when describing Niuhuru's feelings, 'I cannot imagine my future. I cannot go back to my past. There is only now.' The image of her emerging from the cocoon of the palanquin as a beautiful butterfly fit to marry an emperor's son was a particularly striking one, as it really captured what a metamorphosis she will need to undergo as she moves from one world to another.

Alison, Editor, Random House

 18 Jul 2014, 23:00 #181503 Reply To Post
Many thanks for your stories and we hope you find the feedback useful. Please now add any comments/thanks for critiques in the thank-you forum.
Graig Ddu
 21 Jul 2014, 11:28 #181550 Reply To Post
Please convey my considerable thanks to Natalie for her critique of 'ALBI' - she's given me a lot to work on, and it was interesting how her response mirrored the range of reviews I've received on YWO.

So it's back to the drawing board for the 99th revision! I'd say crafting and editing is 80% of the writing process...

Thank you EVERYONE on YWO for making the last four months such a positive learning experience.

Melissa Addey
 21 Jul 2014, 13:45 #181555 Reply To Post
The Forbidden Palace feedback:

Thank you very much Alison, I really appreciate the detail in your feedback and the points you raised make complete sense, they will definitely be addressed! It's lovely to have your encouragement for this piece as it is of course still at draft stage.
Thank you again for your time and attention!
Graig Ddu
 22 Jul 2014, 09:47 #181582 Reply To Post
Please convey my thanks to Natalie for her very helpful comments, which neatly summarise (as it happens) the range of comments I've received from YWO reviews. And many thanks to all of you at YWO - I've had a very educational four months on this site, and it's been invaluable!

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