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ProfessionalCritique
 31 Oct 2014, 22:15 #183408 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
 31 Oct 2014, 22:17 #183409 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Review of Layla Bunch


Dear Sharon,

Congratulations on being chosen for review. I’m pleased to have read Layla Bunch; there’s a lot to like in here and I hope that my comments below will be helpful as you revisit the manuscript.

Roberta
Roberta’s first person narrative is a striking and arresting one that really makes her voice jump off the page. I would suggest, though, that you take a look at it to make sure there is the emotion and warmth in it that we need for her to lead us through this story as we can feel distanced from her.

We really need to know our narrator and the world she describes and so we want to see small details; her thoughts, feelings and emotions as well as digesting the interesting style in which she talks to us. I’d love to get into her head more and find out why she’d drawn to Layla and why she assumes that she’ll see find her again for example.
At the moment, in places, things are a little hard to follow and we need Roberta to being helping us to navigate things in perhaps a clearer way.

Honey
I’m fascinated by the mother-daughter relationship you’ve created. Reading your synopsis makes this clearer but I wonder if we need to start feeding in more detail in these early chapters so your readers can start to piece things together.
I’d love to know more about Honey and Roberta, and Roberta’s own relationship with her mother too as this will all help us to understand the people they are when we meet them. They’re brilliant characters and I feel you could do more with them.
At the moment both Honey and her mother are quite hard to warm to and I feel that even if their relationship with each other is a spikey, up-and-down one we should be able to see the positives that they maybe can’t see themselves. Perhaps there is a way you could think of allowing them to open up to the reader more so we can see a softer side to them.

Layla
As with your other strong female characters, Layla is a great creation, but again I feel there’s more you could do to make the most of her. At the moment she doesn’t feel as 3D as I think she could. She’s the character and the presence that drives the novel forward and so I’d love to get more from her in the scenes she’s in during this opening section of the novel.


Pace
You’ve got a lot going on in this book – and in this opening section - and you also have a strong cast of women to work with. I suggest that you could play with the pace of the novel a little more than you do at the moment to really inject some highs and lows. When Layla turns up at Roberta’s home, for example, the attitudes of the women are slightly getting in the way of the drama of the situation. Similarly in the other meetings between Roberta and Layla I feel there’s more to be done with the tension and intensity between them.

Context
Having spoken about pace above it might seem contradictory of me to suggest that you slow things down at the start and allow for more scene setting. But I feel this is really important and you should allow yourself the time and space to do so. At the moment we don’t really understand when and where the action is happening, for example, and I think there are more details you could add generally to really lift the world you’ve created off the page.

Your audience
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the core readership of your novel, and I think this is something you should keep in mind as you write. It’s key in today’s tough fiction market to know your end readers and their taste. A thriller/family-relationship drama like this should have wide appeal but I would suggest that this is a novel that would work best in the women’s commercial fiction market. There’s some dark material in your synopsis and as long as this is balanced with 3D, identifiable characters then it will work well, but I would suggest that a slight injection of warmth would make this a more saleable novel.

I hope these thoughts are useful to you. The very best of luck with your writing.

All the best,
Ruth,
Editor,
Random House

ProfessionalCritique
 31 Oct 2014, 22:19 #183410 Reply To Post
Random House Mini-Reviews


SNAKES AND DAGGERS


This is a punchy short story with a strong, immediate voice and I love the atmosphere you’ve created throughout. Congratulations. I also really like the title.

I did feel as though the story was maybe a little too short. It packs a punch as it is but I think it could possibly have even more impact were we given more build-up or more chance to get to know the cast of characters. I don’t think it would slow it down or make it flabby to beef it up in places.

The twist works well but I did wonder if the dream element is not quite original enough. Could you have it as a real memory instead? Or maybe there’s another device you could use here?

DEAD DAMES DON’T DANCE

I enjoyed reading this and the film noir atmosphere you’ve created is evident and vivid from the outset. The opening from the Mack Denver novel is a powerful one and I like the way Dave’s voice contrasts with it when it comes.

However, I found that Dave’s voice does bring some confusion with it. The mix of reality and fiction works well for the plot but I think needs a little clarifying at points for your readers so it doesn’t jar. Dave could lead us through the action a bit more clearly at points and in doing so we’d also have the chance to get to know him better, which I think is important. He introduces us to a lot of characters in a short space of time. It’s an interesting cast but perhaps it’s worth taking a look at whether you do need them all to drive the plot forward?

Dave’s desire to combine finding Florence and learning what happened to Jack feels a bit shoe-horned in at the moment. It’s a good piece of plotting but I don’t think you need to tell us up front that this will be happening.


SEWING THE SHADOWS TOGETHER


This is a really intriguing and accomplished piece of writing that I enjoyed reading . The opening scene is particularly atmospheric and sets the tone well.

I like the way you introduce both Tom and Sarah and begin the tension between them. I feel you could do a little more to develop their characters in this opening section, however. Could you give us more of their personalities and reactions to things? At the moment I feel their voices are rather too similar to each other, so to see more of their individual personalities would really help. I wondered even if it would work effectively to inject more from Sarah’s perspective in a duel narrative manner.

The synopsis seems a strong one, with lots of highs and lows. Perhaps you could inject this a little more in the opening, making more of the tension at certain points? My only comment on the plotting would be that it feels maybe a little too coincidental that the release of Logan Baird and re-opening of the case happens while Tom is already in Scotland. Is there another way you make this work?

Ruth, Editor,
Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 31 Oct 2014, 22:20 #183411 Reply To Post
Editor Review of MEN OF SCIENCE

Dear Chris Campbell


Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your historical action novel MEN OF SCIENCE but I 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, even though 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 reading these early pages and the synopsis, it seems the narrative will be structured solely from Grimshaw’s POV (point of view) and written in third person. Again, from what I can gauge from the synopsis, the story will be presented in a linear and chronological fashion, with no flashbacks or secondary sub-plots. Sub-plots, however minor, can be a useful means to maintain pace as they offer relief from the main storyline and will hopefully ensure the reader doesn’t tire of your novel. So this may be something you want to consider when you come to rewriting.


Plot:

The heart of the novel revolves around your protagonist Grimshaw’s internal and moral conflicts as much as the life-and-death physical conflicts of war. This is something that has much dramatic – and emotional – potential, as Grimshaw is in charge of a lot of soldiers, and the weight of their fate in his hands is a difficult burden for him to bear. It is his judgement and moral standpoint that shapes your narrative, and as the reader follows him on his journey, they are left to question what decisions he will make and the consequences of these.

It seems like you will explore very big themes in your novel – such as honour, bravery, life, death and love – but it’s important that you don’t let these greater issues overshadow Grimshaw’s personal story. In short, it’s crucial that the moral of your story isn’t delivered in an obvious and predictable way. Remember that less is often more when trying to get a message across. Often subtlety is more effective than overtness. Your novel needs to remain true to Grimshaw’s personal story, rather than become just another war novel.

A small aside – there were references to the ‘O’ group but I wasn’t entirely sure what it actually was. Perhaps there could be further clarification for the reader? What does the ‘O’ stand for?


Characterisation:

I felt that this was the area that needed the most attention when you come to rewriting. While Grimshaw is an interesting character, I did feel that he was a little underdrawn in these early pages. It was hard to get a sense of who he really was – both physically and mentally. You need to work on getting under his skin as a character and laying him bare to the reader so they are able to engage with him. Given that the novel is structured entirely from his POV, he needs to be a well-defined and intriguing character if the reader is to stay invested in his story for the duration of the novel.

There is reference to Grimshaw’s wife, who is a suffragette, but from what I could glean from the synopsis, it seems like her narrative presence is quite minimal. If this is the case, I think this is an area that could be explored in more detail. Not only does his wife have an interesting story to tell in her own right, being a member of the suffragettes, but her relationship with Grimshaw offers a more intimate perspective on him as a protagonist compared to his more public persona when he is amongst his men.


Setting:

World War One is obviously a period of history that has been explored extensively in literature, and so is a landscape that is familiar to a lot of readers. Therefore it is crucial that you present your setting in a way that feels original and distinctive in its own right, rather than echoes of other representations. One way this is achieved is by how you portray it through your characters’ eyes. It is their experiences and emotions that will shape and colour your setting, just as much as the setting influences and shapes them as characters. And this is definitely an area that can be developed, as there was very little description in these early pages. There doesn’t need to be great chunks of descriptive prose to transport the reader there, just succinct, vivid threads that are woven through and bring you story to life.


Synopsis:

I thought your synopsis was very well written. It is detailed yet concise, giving the reader a clear sense of how the narrative will progress after the early pages.


Genre/Market:

As I’m sure you’re aware, historical fiction, particularly that set during a world war, is an incredibly saturated area of the adult fiction market, and so a new book in that genre needs to feel fresh and vivid if it is to stand out in a very crowded marketplace. And at present I don’t think you’re there yet. As I have already discussed earlier, your focus needs to be on making Grimshaw a more distinct and intriguing protagonist. His portrayal needs to feel vivid and memorable if he is to have a lasting impression on the reader.

One of the most important pieces of advice for any aspiring writer is to read voraciously, particularly in the area in which you wish to write. You need to read actively rather than passively, analysing a novel’s strengths and weaknesses, and examining how an author builds their own structure, plot, characterisation, setting, tone etc. By reading with an analytical eye, you will be able to judge your own work more objectively.



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

Editor Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 31 Oct 2014, 22:21 #183412 Reply To Post
Editor Mini-Critiques

Professional mini critique for The Mermaid and the Bride – Part One by M J Brocklebank

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It was well written and vividly described, with a mystical tone to it. It was written in the style much like a children’s fable and was quite didactic in its message, and because of this I felt it lost some of its depth and credibility. The direction of the story was predictable.

Another area that could be improved was your character interactions. The exchanges often feel quite stilted and formal, hinting at an earlier, more old-fashioned time and place. While as much can be expressed by what is not said as by what it is, it’s important that your character relationships feel real and tangible. And at present your characters feel too much like stereotypes to be distinct individuals in their own right. Even if your storytelling has its roots in fairy tales, your characters need to feel life-like and believable, rather than echoes of other well-known characters.


Professional mini critique for Fait Accompli by Elizabeth Warner


Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your mystery novel. I liked the mix of darkness with mysticism, but it’s important that your storytelling doesn’t feel too fantastical at the expense of credibility, otherwise you risk distancing the reader from your story.

A few things to bear in mind when you come to rewriting: I found the staccato style of your writing a little jarring at times. You also have a tendency to reveal too much, especially with lines like: ‘He had a sudden flashback of early drug experimentation, abstract images and psychotic paranoia’. This means nothing to the reader when described like this. You need to show not tell the reader, otherwise you risk distancing them from your characters and story. And remember that less is often more. The reader doesn’t need to know everything, especially at such an early juncture in the novel. A hint of ambiguity and intrigue will actually pull the reader in and compel them to keep turning the pages to find out more.


Professional mini critique for Pleasure to Die For by Francis Goode

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel but felt they needed further development. My biggest concern is that I didn’t engage with any of your characters in these opening chapters. Even if characters are essentially unlikeable, they still need to be intriguing and charismatic, and at present their portrayals feel too weak for the reader to align with them and want to follow their journey through to the end.

From reading your synopsis, my concern was that the biggest focus of your narrative was on your big ‘theme’, and that everything else will become secondary. But given that you have planned a trilogy featuring the same character, your narrative needs to be primarily driven by your characters. So when you come to rewriting, try not to let your themes and issues overshadow your characterisation and plot, otherwise you risk alienating a potential reader.

Editor Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 31 Oct 2014, 22:23 #183413 Reply To Post
ORION Editor review of Dead Men Lie

See attached for Editor’s line edit of extract.

There's a lot to like here - a compelling mystery, a decent main character who I think needs a little more oomph behind her, and a solid, informative prose style (and very few typos, which is nice). I worry slightly that the club is a little unrealistic - would you really get away with all of that? - but I suppose it is fiction. I'd also like to know a bit more about why the founder of the club, with all of his wealth, thinks that Bee is the person to sort it out, but that could come out in the writing.

Most of the issues in the first pages concern a) making it a bit more realistic and b) giving Bee a bit more energy and agency. The first few pages are what is going to grab your readers - you need to get them right, and I think you need more bite in them as they stand.

The synopsis is too long, and simultaneously gives too much info while skimping on other bits. I'm slightly concerned about shifting to a different POV in the 2nd section but of course, without reading it, impossible to tell if it works.

But there's a lot of positives here, and it honestly is streets ahead of most of the YWO stuff I see. I suggest finding an agent who deals in the kind of fiction you're writing and going from there.

Marcus, Editor, Orion

Attachments
Dead Men Lie.doc (73Kb) - 167 view(s)
ProfessionalCritique
 31 Oct 2014, 22:26 #183414 Reply To Post
ORION Editor review of Private Universe

See attached for Editor’s line edit of extract.

As ever, comments and thoughts are largely in the text; the prose was pretty clean, although there’s a need to tighten up on the odd bit of grammar, and the tendency to switch tenses sometimes disorientates. A little work on pronouns (see below) also needed.

For the wider picture, though, I think the book has a fairly major problem (well, two, but they’re connected). One is that the prologue – which I accept is vital in many ways to the story, to give us a hint that this isn’t just a WW1 story – just doesn’t work as it is. It’s too fractured, tries too hard to be ‘mysterious’, and frankly left me confused. Part of this is due to the prose (too many ‘he’s and ‘she’s, not clear who they are) but part is due to the author’s desire to flag up some of the later plot points. We have to assume that a reader may not have even read the blurb on the back of the book before picking it up – if you have to know that it’s an SF novel to make sense of the opening, you’re in trouble.

The second, connected, problem is that, while the evocation of WW1–era country house, amnesiac boy etc etc works well, that isn’t the heart of the book, at least according to the synopsis. If you’re after an SF book, it takes too long for this to get going; if you don’t know that it’s an SF book you’re going to be really surprised when you hit the AI sections. I think the author needs to accept that he’s going to have to lose some of the mystery he keeps on trying to interject, and perhaps give us short sections that hint much more clearly at the SFnal nature of the book. I’ve nothing against making the reader work; this takes it too far, in my opinion.

I think that’s the main points – the rest is in the comments. I wish him the best of luck with it – there’s something good here, it just needs to be shaped a little more.

Marcus, Editor, Orion

Attachments
Private Universe.doc (91Kb) - 159 view(s)
ProfessionalCritique
 31 Oct 2014, 22:26 #183415 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
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