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ProfessionalCritique
 26 Sep 2014, 22:30 #183002 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
 26 Sep 2014, 22:32 #183003 Reply To Post
Orion Editor critique of Wonderful. Please see attached for editor line edit.

I very much enjoyed what you’ve done here, although it might be a hard sell. Comedic fantasy – with a few very honourable exceptions – is a difficult genre to work in and, while this is one of the best I’ve seen, there is some work to be done. That said, this is one of the cleanest MS I’ve seen from You Write On, and certainly the one that I’ve made the least comments and tweaks to, as you’ll see in the attached document.

The synopsis needs the most work – it isn’t really a synopsis at the moment, it has far too much detail on what happens next and not enough on the fell you’re aiming for, the treason we should care about the characters and the book. You really need to get it down to a page before you submit to agents/publishers. (I am aware that this was for YWO, not submission, so apologies if you already know this). It also seems to me that perhaps there’s too much going on – I question whether you’ll be able to fit it all in a reasonable word count, but the proof will, of course, come in the writing.

Everything should be in the comments, but overall there’s a lot to be proud of here. I have no real qualms about the quality of the work, or the basic concept. It will just be vital for you to find the exact right agent and editor who share your sense of humour and are willing to take a punt on a traditionally difficult area of publishing. I really hope you find them!

Best,
Marcus, Editor, Orion

Attachments
Wonderful Critique.doc (83Kb) - 216 view(s)
ProfessionalCritique
 26 Sep 2014, 22:36 #183005 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critique of The Fortress of Apples. Please see attached.

Attachments
The Fortress of Apples1.doc (86Kb) - 160 view(s)
ProfessionalCritique
 26 Sep 2014, 22:38 #183006 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of WHEN THE SIREN CALLS

Dear Tom Barry

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel WHEN THE SIREN CALLS but thought they 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 advance 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. Writers often overlook how they structure their narrative, but it’s the groundwork of any good story. A useful exercise it to storyboard your novel, with scene by scene or chapter by chapter, so you get a clearer sense of the direction of your narrative. It is also easier to spot strengths and weaknesses in your plotting this way.

From what I have read, it seems the novel will be structured entirely from Isobel’s POV (point of view), and will be set in a number of different locations. From reading your synopsis, it seems the main plot focus will be on Isobel’s own personal and emotional journey, the romance with Jay and her husband Peter’s intentions to expose Jay’s fraud. Having a number of different subplots can help build momentum in a novel, create texture and depth to your narrative, as well as offer relief from the main storyline. It is important to ensure each storyline, even if it is only secondary, is as strong as the others if you are to consistently maintain the reader’s interest throughout.


Plot:

While your first chapter was very readable, I did think there was room for improvement. In an increasingly competitive market, where potential readers will dip into the first chapter before they buy (either in physical book stores or ‘Look Inside’ functions online) it is absolutely crucial that you hook your reader from the very first page if you are not to lose them. And at present I don’t think your opening scene is strong enough to compel a reader to read on. You need to really pull the reader into the story and place them alongside Isobel.

Likewise, the second chapter that sees Isobel meeting up with her friend Maria also felt a little pedestrian. Your plotting feels a little predictable, rather than fresh and original. Isobel is placed as the damsel in distress in the souk, until a dashing stranger rescues her. And then the second chapter goes further to demonstrate how conservative yet how frustrated Isobel is when she is shocked by her friend’s sexual antics.

In short, I felt that these early pages were a little underwhelming. It is a little too easy to see imagine how the drama will unfold, and I think you need to work on making your plotting less obvious, so the reader questions what will happen next, and this curiosity will compel them to read on.


Characterisation:

This is the area that I felt needed the most attention when you come to rewriting the next draft. Your novel feels like it is as much a character-driven book as a plot-driven one. Isobel, as your protagonist, needs to be a strong enough character to carry the weight of the narrative, and at present I don’t feel like she is. You need to explore what makes her unique as a character. A protagonist should be vividly drawn, distinctive and above all memorable if a reader is to connect with them and invest in their story for the entire length of a novel.

Obviously you want to demonstrate how much Isobel changes over the course of the novel, from fearful and straight-laced to becoming more daring and independent. But be careful that Isobel doesn’t seem like too weak and passive a character in the beginning, because this is the critical moment when the reader’s empathy is tested. Similarly, you need to make her decision to have an affair seem more like an internal crisis rather than a selfish and cruel act, otherwise the reader will struggle to emotionally connect with her and understand her motivations.

Another element that needs addressing is character dialogue. Conversations can at times feel very stilted. You have fallen into the bad habit of using it to explain backstory, rather than conversations flowing naturally and organically from the characters. I found it hard to believe that Isobel and Maria were old friends, as they speak to each other in a way that feels quite formal and impersonal. Like Isobel, I found Maria a hard character to warm to. Even if your characters have reprehensible traits, they still need to be portrayed in a way that doesn’t alienate the reader. I don’t think you have achieved this balance yet.


Genre/Market:

You class this as thriller and romance. It’s important to know that these two genres are very different in their style, and it’s absolutely crucial that as a writer you know what kind of book you are writing and just whom you are writing for. A book may of course have elements of romance or thriller in it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a romance or thriller novel. I would class this as women’s fiction. To have a male author writing in this area is quite unusual, so it’s important that your characters (especially your female ones) feel believable and fully fleshed out.

As I’m sure you’re aware, women’s 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.


Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. Writing is very much a craft that is developed and mastered over time, even for the most skilled authors. As well as reading as widely as possible in the area in which you wish to write, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to sharpen your writing skills.

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


Best wishes

Natalie Braine, Editor
ProfessionalCritique
 26 Sep 2014, 22:39 #183007 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Snakes and Daggers by Naomi Richardson

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. You really capture your protagonist’s voice from the very first line. Her portrayal is vivid and believable, and the reader quickly aligns with her. For a short story, this was incredibly tense. You drip-feed the reader information to begin with, so it is only partway through the story that they understand why your protagonist is so fearful for her life.

I was impressed with the confidence of your writing. It’s obvious you are a natural storyteller. I especially like such lines as: ‘I’m praying to the Lord right now, and that ain’t normal, cos I’m usually cussin’ him’. With lines like this, you really get straight to the heart of your character, sharply and concisely. You clearly know the importance of less is often more in creative writing – that as much can be implied from what isn’t said as by what it is.


Professional mini critique for Dead Dames Don’t Dance by Phil Adams

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your comedy crime novel. I thought your opening scene was really strong. But I found the following scenes weaker and less involving. Given that your protagonist, Dave Newton, is an avid reader, living as much in the fictional world as he is in the real world, his thoughts revolve around the books he is reading. However, you have adopted the bad habit of reporting too much to the reader – telling them what it is he has read rather than showing the reader, in the form of actual prose, as you do with the very first scene. Try to avoid reporting too much of the story, otherwise the plot is delivered second-hand to the reader and it loses its immediacy and power. Subsequently, you risk distancing the reader.

I also found Dave quite a hard character to visualise or to warm to. To be completely honest, he doesn’t come across as smart enough to be a private investigator, and I found a lot of his humour misfired. In short, the entire tone of these opening chapters felt off-pitch. Another thing to bear in mind when you come to rewriting is to make more of the novel’s setting. I had no idea it was set in the Midlands until I read the synopsis. Setting is of course only a backdrop, but it can be a character in its own right too, helping to build atmosphere.


Professional mini critique for Cookie by Alex Roberts

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your young adult novel. Obviously it’s hard to write a true critique of the opening when there is only the second and third chapter featured, as the first chapter is the crucial set-up and test of whether you will hook your reader from the very beginning.

The novel’s premise is a strong one that has much dramatic potential. However, I don’t think you have fully capitalised on this in these two chapters. They could be much tenser and darker. I would suggest moving the opening of chapter two to later in the novel, and focus less on setting the scene and introducing your characters, and more on dropping the reader right into the heart of the action and really immersing them in your fictional world.

I also think your characters need fleshing out a lot more. Young adult readers in particular often like to read about protagonists that they identify with. But try to avoid trying to make your character too ‘normal’ – you need to really get under their skin and explore what makes them memorable and unique. At present, I don’t think Jaz is a strong enough presence to carry the weight of the narrative. She needs a more distinctive voice. Some of the dialogue exchanges between her and other characters feel a little stilted and don’t flow naturally, so this is something else to bear in mind when you come to rewriting.


Natalie Braine, Editor


ProfessionalCritique
 26 Sep 2014, 22:40 #183008 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Mini Reviews

The Ridge/Duncan Howard

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month, and with such a chilling entry as well! My heart was in my mouth from the moment they discover Mike and Nat, and the image of John suspended in the vultures' tree, encased in the fungi, is a truly unsettling one. It has definitely stopped me wanting to do any exploring of remote areas...

You start brilliantly, with such a great opening line! It's bold and challenging, and clearly indicates that John is only the first of a number of casualties, which immediately makes a reader want to carry on and find out what happens. What I would suggest, if you are planning on redrafting your story at any point, is exploring the impact breaking up some of the longer passages would have on your writing. Especially towards the end of your story, as you build to the terrible climax, I think it would really help the pace and the tension if you experimented with a series of short, sharp sentences, rather than the longer paragraphs, to reflect the pounding of the heart and the racing of the character's breath. Your story is very filmic, and it would be interesting to see how you can reflect that in your style of writing – I think multiple, short paragraphs may have more impact than a few longer ones.

My other recommendation would be to consider ways in which you can 'show' the reader, rather than 'telling' us and consider how much you actually do need to show or tell. When the story begins, your narrator tells us quite a lot of backstory, about how he feels about John, about the tribe's beliefs, about his frustrations with scientists, etc and what I'd like you to think about is firstly, are there ways in which you could reveal this information to the reader through dialogue instead, which may feel more natural and less like you are filling in back-story and secondly, whether you actually need to tell us all of this for us to enjoy the story.

Some of the best short stories leave much unsaid, so that the reader has to piece things together themselves from the few clues given. Do you think a reader needs to have all of the information they're given about John, for example, for the story to still have the same impact? It may well be that you feel that that is essential, and without the context, the story won't have that same effect on a reader, but it's always good to challenge yourself and your writing and to ask yourself what do you want the reader to feel.

The Daddy in the Box/Naomi Richardson


Congratulations on being one of the top-rated stories this month and when I read your story, I could certainly see why it had been so popular amongst readers.

It is a charming, lively story full of wonderfully vivid images that mirror the infectious energy of its central character. I loved the idea of the sea slapping little kisses on to Ruth, and her sad musing that 'she has to keep up with what “misbehaves” means, because it changes all the time and she forgets' took me straight back to my own childhood. We have a lovely sense of time progressing through Ruth's possessions as we see Fido losing his eye, and although some events did seem to come out of nowhere – Aunt Con's death, for example – I can see that this reflects the way Ruth's life moved forward, in fits and starts. I also enjoyed the fact that you chose to leave some mysteries unanswered, as again that felt very true to life.

One thing to bear in mind for any future writing, is that sometimes I felt like you needed to have more confidence in your writing and that you were explaining to the reader things that they could possibly have inferred for themselves. For example, in the section where Ruth is learning to swim, you tell us that 'the man tells Ruth that if she doesn't swim by the end of them he is going to throw her in the water. She believes him and swims for her life' but I wonder whether you need to tell us that 'She believes him' or whether, if you just told readers that 'She swims for her life', they would be able to put the pieces together themselves. Similarly, when Ruth is going through her mother's secret box, you write that 'Ruth feels her heart pounding, as if something terrible is about to happen' but I think that if you were to just tell readers that Ruth's heart was pounding, they would be able to draw their own conclusions and realise that she is probably excited and nervous.

Readers like to feel involved in a story, so don't always feel like you need to spell everything out for them – people are very good at picking up on tiny clues as to how people are feeling, we do it all the time when we meet and talk with people, so try and look back over your writing and see whether there are any instances where you're telling the reader something that they could work out for themselves.

Good luck for the future!

Alison, Editor, Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 26 Sep 2014, 22:41 #183009 Reply To Post
Random House Editor critique of When the Siren Cries/T.J Barry

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month on YouWrite On! This was an intriguing beginning to a story, raising several questions that will have encouraged many readers to keep turning the pages. The setting, close to the US-Mexico border, is one that is full of potential for creating a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere and Isobel looks to be a dynamic central character and one who is more than capable of carrying a story.

Plot/Structure

Your story opens strongly – the falling rain, the queues of traffic, the creeping sense of fear as Isobel begins to realise that there is something more serious going on. Isobel is immediately appealing as a heroine, I like the fact that she is determined to remain in control rather than lapsing into panic, and is able to maintain a sense of dignity, even in an embarrassing and uncomfortable situation as with the toilet.

You raise a number of questions very early on, which is always a great way to really get a reader involved in a story and wanting to read on. How do they know who Isobel is before they see her documentation/ID? Why, after getting her to sign the paper testifying that the drugs were not hers is she immediately released without charge? What made them check the vehicle in the first place?

I do think that when Isobel reaches her home in Coronado however, the plot becomes slightly more uneven, so it may be worth you looking at this section again in a next draft. It's mainly Isobel's behaviour that I found slightly puzzling and somewhat erratic as she shifts from seeming to accept Ryan's apology - 'It ranked as an apology of sorts and Isobel decided to settle for it' – to then immediately asking him to move all of his belongings out, which I took to be her dumping him, but then seemed to just be her asking for some time to herself.

I wasn't quite sure why she was then surprised that Ryan had removed all of his belongings the next day, when that was exactly what she had asked him to do and I also wasn't entirely clear why Isobel was hoping that Ryan had turned in early before she got home the night before – is it because she wanted some time and space to herself to process what had happened? I had had the impression up until that point that the two of them had been happy together, as she told Burnham she trusted him after only six weeks together and in the dentition centre she wants to call him and hear him tell her it was all going to be ok so I didn’t know why she was then hoping he’d have gone to bed.

I do think it could be very beneficial for you to look over that scene again and how it unfolds, and see whether there is a way you can draw out Isobel's motivations more clearly so that even if she is obviously a little confused or distressed by what has happened, we understand what her overall impulse is and what she thinks she wants.

A few very minor points:

I would slightly rearrange the flow of paragraphs on pages 3-4 so that Isobel immediately wonders how the officer knows her name when she is addressed as Mrs Roberts, rather than only reflecting on this several paragraphs later after we've had a fairly lengthy physical description of Isobel. It seems more natural to have Isobel consider this the moment she has been addressed, and not after she has got out of the car.

Why does Isobel look up at the clock during her interrogation? She sees it as 'her only connection with reality' but it just felt slightly jarring to me. Perhaps it would make more sense if she looks at it confirm how long she has been kept there already or reflects on the fact she really should have been at home, tucked up safely with Ryan by this point?

I wasn't entirely sure why the police officer referred to the drugs as 'let's call it English breakfast tea'? We know that Isobel thinks of Earl Grey when she first sees it, but it seems strange that he then also alludes to tea as I couldn't imagine that would necessarily be the first point of call for an American police officer!

Characterisation

Isobel is an interesting central character; I really liked the way she started out so strongly at the detention centre, and was determined not to be cowed or ashamed by her treatment. I did find her behaviour when she got back home to be a little confusing, as I have alluded to above, so it would be interesting to see how you can tackle that in your next draft.

We don't yet have much of a sense of Ryan and whether there is something more sinister going on. I did have a certain degree of sympathy with him when Isobel arrived home, unexpectedly telling him that she wanted him to remove all of his belongings and that she didn't want an argument, before then having sex with him, but I imagine there is much more for both Isobel and the reader to find out about Ryan. One thing it might be worth bearing in mind is making sure that his American upbringing is reflected in his speech patterns and the language he uses – it should be sufficiently different from Isobel's English speech patterns.

I thought there was some lovely detailing in the minor characters, the officer bounding forward 'as if time was her enemy' for example, and I'd love to see more of that going forward. It's those tiny, off-beat details that really bring a character to life.

Quality of writing

Your writing is generally good, but I think that with just a little work it could be tightened up further, to great effect. I would strongly encourage you to really interrogate each and every word when you're writing, particularly when using descriptive language. For example, when you write that 'his trousers plastered to his legs by the ever-falling rain', I'm not convinced we need 'ever-falling' and I think the sentence is stronger without it: we already know the rain is still falling by the fact that it has plastered his trousers to his legs so the 'ever-falling' is just an unnecessary addition. Similarly, when Isobel is ushered in to the room at the detention centre and sees a 'desk-sized table', I don't think that the description 'desk-sized' adds anything – desks vary hugely in size so you're not necessarily giving the reader a clearer image than if you had just said a 'table and two metal chairs'. As you go on to say, it looks like a scene from a film, so readers will probably have a fairly clear mental picture of the set-up without that detail.

Less is very often more when it comes to writing, and although these may seem like very small instances to pick up on, it's amazing to see the difference it makes to the overall feel of your writing if you can be as ruthless as possible, and really pare your writing back and question what each word brings to your writing.

Good luck for the future!

Alison, Editor, Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 26 Sep 2014, 22:41 #183010 Reply To Post
Thank you to everyone. Please add any comments or thanks in the thank-you forum and we will forward on. best wishes, youwriteon
SPARTAN242
 27 Sep 2014, 12:16 #183014 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Friday, 26 Sep 2014 22:40
Random House Editor Mini Reviews

The Ridge/Duncan Howard

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month, and with such a chilling entry as well! My heart was in my mouth from the moment they discover Mike and Nat, and the image of John suspended in the vultures' tree, encased in the fungi, is a truly unsettling one. It has definitely stopped me wanting to do any exploring of remote areas...

You start brilliantly, with such a great opening line! It's bold and challenging, and clearly indicates that John is only the first of a number of casualties, which immediately makes a reader want to carry on and find out what happens. What I would suggest, if you are planning on redrafting your story at any point, is exploring the impact breaking up some of the longer passages would have on your writing. Especially towards the end of your story, as you build to the terrible climax, I think it would really help the pace and the tension if you experimented with a series of short, sharp sentences, rather than the longer paragraphs, to reflect the pounding of the heart and the racing of the character's breath. Your story is very filmic, and it would be interesting to see how you can reflect that in your style of writing – I think multiple, short paragraphs may have more impact than a few longer ones.

My other recommendation would be to consider ways in which you can 'show' the reader, rather than 'telling' us and consider how much you actually do need to show or tell. When the story begins, your narrator tells us quite a lot of backstory, about how he feels about John, about the tribe's beliefs, about his frustrations with scientists, etc and what I'd like you to think about is firstly, are there ways in which you could reveal this information to the reader through dialogue instead, which may feel more natural and less like you are filling in back-story and secondly, whether you actually need to tell us all of this for us to enjoy the story.

Some of the best short stories leave much unsaid, so that the reader has to piece things together themselves from the few clues given. Do you think a reader needs to have all of the information they're given about John, for example, for the story to still have the same impact? It may well be that you feel that that is essential, and without the context, the story won't have that same effect on a reader, but it's always good to challenge yourself and your writing and to ask yourself what do you want the reader to feel.

The Daddy in the Box/Naomi Richardson


Congratulations on being one of the top-rated stories this month and when I read your story, I could certainly see why it had been so popular amongst readers.

It is a charming, lively story full of wonderfully vivid images that mirror the infectious energy of its central character. I loved the idea of the sea slapping little kisses on to Ruth, and her sad musing that 'she has to keep up with what “misbehaves” means, because it changes all the time and she forgets' took me straight back to my own childhood. We have a lovely sense of time progressing through Ruth's possessions as we see Fido losing his eye, and although some events did seem to come out of nowhere – Aunt Con's death, for example – I can see that this reflects the way Ruth's life moved forward, in fits and starts. I also enjoyed the fact that you chose to leave some mysteries unanswered, as again that felt very true to life.

One thing to bear in mind for any future writing, is that sometimes I felt like you needed to have more confidence in your writing and that you were explaining to the reader things that they could possibly have inferred for themselves. For example, in the section where Ruth is learning to swim, you tell us that 'the man tells Ruth that if she doesn't swim by the end of them he is going to throw her in the water. She believes him and swims for her life' but I wonder whether you need to tell us that 'She believes him' or whether, if you just told readers that 'She swims for her life', they would be able to put the pieces together themselves. Similarly, when Ruth is going through her mother's secret box, you write that 'Ruth feels her heart pounding, as if something terrible is about to happen' but I think that if you were to just tell readers that Ruth's heart was pounding, they would be able to draw their own conclusions and realise that she is probably excited and nervous.

Readers like to feel involved in a story, so don't always feel like you need to spell everything out for them – people are very good at picking up on tiny clues as to how people are feeling, we do it all the time when we meet and talk with people, so try and look back over your writing and see whether there are any instances where you're telling the reader something that they could work out for themselves.

Good luck for the future!

Alison, Editor, Random House




Thanks very much for the critique. I will certainly tke on board what you have said. It would be interesting to cut it away and see what is left. Much appreciated!
dianemdp
 21 Oct 2014, 15:37 #183269 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Friday, 26 Sep 2014 22:36
Orion Editor Critique of The Fortress of Apples. Please see attached.


Thank you to Marcus for his in-depth analysis of the Fortress, it was far more helpful than I was expecting from a mini review. Upbeat too, considering he was stuck on a rolling ferry. The very word ferry makes my stomach churn so I admire the fact he could read at all. All the best.

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