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ProfessionalCritique
 30 Nov 2014, 23:00 #183772 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
 30 Nov 2014, 23:01 #183773 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critiques

Editor critique of Fait Accompli.


Dear Elizabeth,

I have very much enjoyed reading the opening chapters and synopsis of Fait Accompli. You’ve created something very innovative here and there’s a lot I like about it. I do feel that at the moment you could do with bringing out certain aspects of the plot and characters to absolutely make the most of them – and that is what much of my review below consists of. I hope it’s useful to you.

Atmosphere
I found reading your synopsis incredibly useful as it helped to put what I had just read into context. Seeing how the drama develops, made me really feel we need to inject more of the atmosphere you create in your synopsis and as the action develops into these opening chapters. I think a lot of this will come from James – if you let us more into his head and emotions as he encounters these strange girls we’ll feel much more in the moment than we do currently. He’s a potentially great character to lead us through this unusual plot and I feel you could make more of him – I’ll come onto him again below.
Atmosphere-wise, I also think this is something that could be made more consistent. There are real moments of brilliance on this front. I love the way, for example, you have the girl appear completely out of the blue but I feel you could make even more of this particular incident and within the book generally. By showing us rather than telling us, allowing us to relish slightly in your writing and the smells and sounds and feel of the scene you’ll heighten these dramatic moments even more.
In general it feels like we have too much too quickly. You can afford, with a big concept novel like this, to slow down and really inject highs and lows.

Kington
As I mentioned above, I think he is a potentially great character. I’d love to get to know him better, however. I think this would help with the atmosphere of the piece as I mentioned above, but I also feel that it will mean he carries us with him through the plot more strongly. At the moment I do feel that he’s rather overshadowed by the girls (they are fabulous creations!). We need to feel that he’s likeable and that we warm to him despite his cold businessman side and cynicism.

He would surely ask more questions once he arrives at Raglan Hall. At the moment, he rather seems to take all this strangeness in his stride. Can we see more of his confusion and how taken aback he must be at the dram he’s stepped into here?

I do like that you get us into the action so quickly, but I wonder if it’s a little too much too soon? By giving us a little more time to get to know James in his normal world we’ll feel the impact of the surreal even more acutely.

I wonder if you should direct the sexual tension in a more focused way in the opening section so that it’s between James and Livia – show us that they’re drawn strongly to each other from their meeting. As it stands at the moment, it feels as though there’s an attraction between James and all the girls, which is a little confusing.

Blending the worlds
I love the premise of your novel and the way you introduce such an unusual mysterious character into a world your readers will recognise. I feel like you could do more with this idea from the off. Showing the confusion of and questioning by James, as I’ve mentioned above, alongside that of the girls will really make their clash of cultures more woven together from the start.

At the moment the opening section has a real feel of magical realism. I found myself wondering whether the girls were actually real or not. When Bryony tells him she’s a fairy I wondered if indeed this was where the novel was headed. Is this something you’re purposely trying to do? I think if you are then maybe you could make more of it, but if not perhaps make it clear that the girls are all definitely real-life sisters. The confusion does create intrigue but it also feels a little bit jerky. I wonder if there’s a way at taking another look so it feels smoother.

Audience
Reading your synopsis shows just how much plot you have in here. It’s thriller, family epic and women’s fiction all in one. This obviously means that on one hand the novel has a potentially wide appeal, but I feel it may be worth having a think about which books you want your books to sit alongside and be compared to in order to try and refine the audience. Having the hint of magical realism in the early stages, for example, could put off some genre readers in a way you haven’t intended. With the fiction market as crowded as it is, it’s vital to know exactly who your audience is, and I think it just might be worth clarifying for you pitch and to have in your head a syou revisit the ms.

In general I think this is a very accomplished piece of writing with some very nice, very personal turns of phrase that really sing off the page, and I’m pleased to have read it.
Wishing you the best of luck with your writing.

All the best,
Ruth
Random House
ProfessionalCritique
 30 Nov 2014, 23:04 #183774 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Mini-Reviews

FRANCO’S FIESTA
I have enjoyed reading this, and meeting the very varied cast of characters you’ve created – congratulations. I do feel that we need more from our narrator, however. Giles feels rather swamped by the much bigger personalities around him. I know this is in part a plot device, but he needs to be the one that readers really feel they know and are attached to. Perhaps you could take a look at how you might make his voice – both dialogue and narrative – really jump off the page so that we feel we know him better?
In general, the action feels well-paced (if a little too unfeasible in places, perhaps?) and I feel that to really make the most of it, it would also be worth you taking a look at where you can show us scenes and conversations rather than telling us about them. The more highs and lows you can inject, and the more we feel we know all the characters the bigger the impact of all their betrayals is going to be.
I like the premise of the fallibly of a world that appears glamourous and again I think there’s even more to be done here to really get across a Gatsby style hedonism contrasted with real emotions and hurt.

PLEASURE TO DIE FOR
I enjoyed this read and thought the premise was a strong one that had a clear, contemporary readership in mind - congratulations.
You’ve got a knack for realistic dialogue, and I like the contrast between the brothers in principle. In practice, however, I’m not sure there’s enough of a contrast between the voices in the novel. To take your reader from voice to voice in the way you’ve chosen to you really need to make them distinctive to avoid confusion that will jerk us out of the atmosphere and action. You might want to consider whether we don’t actually need to change between voices so often, allowing us to get to know the men better? Could you even consider having one of the voices as a female for even more contrast – Emma, perhaps?
As it’s your intention to put Jonathan Bloom front and centre of the trilogy you have in mind, we do really need to feel attached to him despite his foibles. This first novel, as the introduction to him, is key in this, so may be something to look out for as you go back through the ms.

CLEAR AND PRESENT GRAINGER
This is a well-written and intriguing piece of writing that I’ve enjoyed reading – congratulations.
I am very keen to know Joe much better than we do at the moment. He’s clearly a strong creation and a potentially great hero, but we need to care about him in order to follow him through the novel in the way we need to, given the huge issues that he has to face. I wonder if we had seen and knew more of his life before he leaves his job we would understand more why he feels he needs to make such a drastic change.
Joe’s voice is distinct and your dialogue is strong but I wonder if we need more of a balance between conversation and action, particularly in this opening section. You obviously want to grip readers straight away – is there a way to inject more drama into the early part of the novel? Perhaps we’ve seen Joe with Sandra already? Or is there more of an argument between Joe and Colin, even? This might be something to take a look at as you revisit the novel.
I like the sound of the way the plot develops from your synopsis and am intrigued particularly by the second half. From the synopsis, though, it feels a very male orientated novel. I think a strong female character could add an interesting dynamic and balance to the action and the voices as we read.

Ruth
Editor
Random House

ProfessionalCritique
 30 Nov 2014, 23:04 #183775 Reply To Post
Editor Critique of Hoxton

Dear Kate A Hardy

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your dystopian novel HOXTON 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. And this is an area that I felt could be improved upon in your novel. 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.


Plot:

Obviously it’s a little bit jarring to be dropped into a book part way in, as I have missed the first introduction to your main characters, the set-up and the early drama. While the fourth and fifth chapters were engaging, I did feel like they meandered a little and lost focus too quickly. The mystery about what happened to Hoxton in the past doesn’t feel like it’s fully capitalised upon in terms of tension and intrigue. Her meeting with the fortune-teller felt somewhat underwhelming. I think much more could be made of this scene as what is revealed is pivotal to the direction the story will take. I also felt that some of the other scenes, such as Hoxton going to visit the bread maker and his son, felt too brief and added little to the narrative. Each scene needs to have a purpose – to be entertaining, but also to further the narrative in some way and to pull the reader deeper into the story. And you haven’t achieved that yet with these early chapters. If a scene doesn’t feel like it has a purpose to the overarching narrative then you should consider whether it needs to be developed or if in fact it should be cut.

Your synopsis states that the novel’s word count is only about 80,000 words. Given that most novels are around the 100,000 mark, there is definitely scope for you to expand upon your narrative.


Characterisation:

Your story is shown from the POV (point of view) of Hoxton, told in first person narrative, which helps align the reader more quickly with your protagonist. Yet I found her quite a difficult character to engage with. She doesn’t feel like she has a distinctive enough voice nor is charismatic enough to really carry the weight of the entire narrative. You need to work on really getting under her skin as a character and exploring what makes her unique and memorable.

I also felt that the conversation between your characters could be sharper and more concise. Remember that less is often more. As much can be revealed about your characters and the story by what isn’t said as much as by what is said. Coupled with my notes on plot, I felt that the dialogue exchanges didn’t always propel the narrative forward in the way that it should.





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 influence the novel’s tone. And this is an area that could benefit from a bit more detail, as I found it hard to picture some of the settings in these early chapters. Given that your novel is set in a futuristic world, after London has been flooded, it’s especially important that you build a vivid and believable fictional world. You need to transport your reader there and immerse them in your story, and if they find it hard to imagine what the setting looks like, their engagement with the story becomes compromised. There doesn’t need to be great chunks of descriptive prose, but just a few more vivid details woven through that will help conjure up Hoxton’s world.


Genre/Market:

You class this as literary fiction but, to be completely frank, I didn’t feel that this doesn’t has the sophistication in terms of storytelling or the emotional insight for this to be deemed as literary fiction. I would categorise this more firmly as dystopian fiction. As I’m sure you’re aware, this 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. 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.


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 affect their connection with your story. And this was an area of the novel that I felt needed particular attention when you come to rewriting. Tied in with my notes on genre and market, the fact that you seem to be undecided about what kind of novel you are writing is reflected in the tone. At times it feels almost a bit tongue in cheek, especially with the references to Ikea and Habitat furniture, and lines such as: ‘me as a permanent filling in a breadman sandwich’. A dystopian novel needs to feel grittier and darker in tone, and I found these early chapters a bit flippant.


Synopsis:

I thought your synopsis was a little on the vague side. You give background information about the setting but don’t discuss the plot in great detail. A reader needs a better sense of where the novel is headed, so I would suggest rewriting this with the focus more on your plot.


Line notes:

‘I’ve never seen him smile before; it casts away the years, leaving a younger man than I had thought before’ – great line, although the meaning gets a little tangled with your syntax of the latter half ‘leaving a younger man than I had thought before’. Perhaps cut this section. Remember that less is often more.

‘The wind sighed through broken windows, the building creaking and groaning as if its bones hurt; as if it would soon lie down to die in a mighty curving thump of glass and debris’ – I thought the opening of this description was brilliant, but thought the second half was unnecessary. I found the description ‘might curving thump’ a bit odd.

‘Photographs and more newsprint, half-imbedded like fossils, break the oily surface’ – the oily surface of what? The door?


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
 30 Nov 2014, 23:05 #183776 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Property is Theft by Juliet Hill

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It’s a simple premise but well told and thought provoking. I was also impressed with your characterisation. However (and I wouldn’t be doing my job if there wasn’t a however!) I thought the opening could be stronger, as I felt you spent a little too much time on the backstory. It’s important that you show the reader rather than tell them, and while this can be a difficult task when writing in the short story format, it is no less applicable. Yes, the reader needs to get a sense of the context and background to Kate and Olivia’s friendship and how their ideals and beliefs have altered as they’ve got older. But it needs to be delivered in a way that doesn’t feel like you are summarising their past for the reader’s benefit.

I also thought the ending could be stronger as it ends on quite a flat note. While I liked that Kate commits a rebellious act, but then leaves in a way that feels defeated and hopeless, I think it could be depicted in a way that doesn’t feel so underwhelming. It doesn’t have to be overly dramatic, but it needs to shine a brighter light on your characters emotions and thoughts.


Professional mini critique for Disappearing Act by Peggy Rothschild

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your thriller novel. As you know, I am a big fan of your writing, having read a lot of your previous openings on the website. However, I didn’t think the opening of this was quite as strong as your others. There’s a good central hook and a keen sense of mystery is instilled with your protagonist, Jen, being an unreliable character given that the reader knows she is hiding key facts from both them and the other characters. But be careful that this device doesn’t wear thing. Jen has to drip-feed enough information to the reader so that they don’t become impatient and frustrated at her concealment.

This didn’t have the pace and urgency of some of your other book openings. There’s a little too much focus on characters sitting around discussing what could have happened. There needs to be a more heightened sense of menace and suspense to really elevate these early chapters. It is tension and the reader’s desire to know more that will keep them turning the pages.


Professional mini critique for Mending Bridges by Irene Mathias

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel but felt a lot of work was needed. As I’m sure you’re aware, chicklit, as you categorise your novel, is a shrinking area of the market but one that is still heavily saturated, so a new novel in this genre really needs to be something special if it is to stand out. While I liked the conversational style of your writing, the tone of the novel does feel like it is pitched at quite a young audience with phrases like ‘Gagglers’ and ‘snotters’. I was actually surprised when I read your synopsis to learn your protagonist is almost thirty, as she seemed a lot younger than that.

As well as being very conversational, your narrative can also feel a bit meandering and shapeless, as the story seems to follow Fran’s own erratic train of thought. In short, while your novel is entertaining, your writing has an immaturity to it that may distance a lot of potential readers. The best advice I can give you is to read voraciously, particularly in the area you wish to write, and to actively read and analyse what works and doesn’t work with each book you read. The first step to becoming a good writer is becoming a good reader, as this will help hone your own storytelling skills.

Editor Natalie Braine



ProfessionalCritique
 30 Nov 2014, 23:06 #183777 Reply To Post
Further critiques will be posted as received from editors, thank you.
Elysium
 02 Dec 2014, 16:06 #183804 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Sunday, 30 Nov 2014 23:01
Random House Editor Critiques

Editor critique of Fait Accompli.


Dear Elizabeth,

I have very much enjoyed reading the opening chapters and synopsis of Fait Accompli. You’ve created something very innovative here and there’s a lot I like about it. I do feel that at the moment you could do with bringing out certain aspects of the plot and characters to absolutely make the most of them – and that is what much of my review below consists of. I hope it’s useful to you.

Atmosphere
I found reading your synopsis incredibly useful as it helped to put what I had just read into context. Seeing how the drama develops, made me really feel we need to inject more of the atmosphere you create in your synopsis and as the action develops into these opening chapters. I think a lot of this will come from James – if you let us more into his head and emotions as he encounters these strange girls we’ll feel much more in the moment than we do currently. He’s a potentially great character to lead us through this unusual plot and I feel you could make more of him – I’ll come onto him again below.
Atmosphere-wise, I also think this is something that could be made more consistent. There are real moments of brilliance on this front. I love the way, for example, you have the girl appear completely out of the blue but I feel you could make even more of this particular incident and within the book generally. By showing us rather than telling us, allowing us to relish slightly in your writing and the smells and sounds and feel of the scene you’ll heighten these dramatic moments even more.
In general it feels like we have too much too quickly. You can afford, with a big concept novel like this, to slow down and really inject highs and lows.

Kington
As I mentioned above, I think he is a potentially great character. I’d love to get to know him better, however. I think this would help with the atmosphere of the piece as I mentioned above, but I also feel that it will mean he carries us with him through the plot more strongly. At the moment I do feel that he’s rather overshadowed by the girls (they are fabulous creations!). We need to feel that he’s likeable and that we warm to him despite his cold businessman side and cynicism.

He would surely ask more questions once he arrives at Raglan Hall. At the moment, he rather seems to take all this strangeness in his stride. Can we see more of his confusion and how taken aback he must be at the dram he’s stepped into here?

I do like that you get us into the action so quickly, but I wonder if it’s a little too much too soon? By giving us a little more time to get to know James in his normal world we’ll feel the impact of the surreal even more acutely.

I wonder if you should direct the sexual tension in a more focused way in the opening section so that it’s between James and Livia – show us that they’re drawn strongly to each other from their meeting. As it stands at the moment, it feels as though there’s an attraction between James and all the girls, which is a little confusing.

Blending the worlds
I love the premise of your novel and the way you introduce such an unusual mysterious character into a world your readers will recognise. I feel like you could do more with this idea from the off. Showing the confusion of and questioning by James, as I’ve mentioned above, alongside that of the girls will really make their clash of cultures more woven together from the start.

At the moment the opening section has a real feel of magical realism. I found myself wondering whether the girls were actually real or not. When Bryony tells him she’s a fairy I wondered if indeed this was where the novel was headed. Is this something you’re purposely trying to do? I think if you are then maybe you could make more of it, but if not perhaps make it clear that the girls are all definitely real-life sisters. The confusion does create intrigue but it also feels a little bit jerky. I wonder if there’s a way at taking another look so it feels smoother.

Audience
Reading your synopsis shows just how much plot you have in here. It’s thriller, family epic and women’s fiction all in one. This obviously means that on one hand the novel has a potentially wide appeal, but I feel it may be worth having a think about which books you want your books to sit alongside and be compared to in order to try and refine the audience. Having the hint of magical realism in the early stages, for example, could put off some genre readers in a way you haven’t intended. With the fiction market as crowded as it is, it’s vital to know exactly who your audience is, and I think it just might be worth clarifying for you pitch and to have in your head a syou revisit the ms.

In general I think this is a very accomplished piece of writing with some very nice, very personal turns of phrase that really sing off the page, and I’m pleased to have read it.
Wishing you the best of luck with your writing.

All the best,
Ruth
Random House


Thank you so much Ruth. All your comments and observations are spot on. I have edited the M.S to 97,000 words and will now concentrate on the opening to define Kington a little more. I agree with everything you mentioned and feel the changes suggested will emphasize and enhance the overall feel of the story.

Thank you again, very much appreciated.
ProfessionalCritique
 15 Dec 2014, 21:02 #183979 Reply To Post
Orion Editor critique of In My Lady's Shadow

This is a short review, so I’ve marked up the first few pages pretty extensively and then only flagged up a couple of really major things later on.

There’s a lot to like here – you capture a sense of place well, and the mystery around Fern, although a little overdone in places, does make us want to know what’s going on. I liked Aunt Susan, I can picture her and her lifestyle. Fern is, naturally, a bit more of a cipher in this section, but as I say that’s acceptable.

I didn’t like the ‘voice whispering in her ear’ bits, as you’ll see – really hard to convey this in prose, and I don’t think you make it work. One doesn’t normally hear voices when on one’s own, and Fern’s reaction I found hard to believe. It just needs a little tweaking to soften the edges a bit, I think.

You have a tendency to lose the object of your sentence at times, leading to some confusing prose. You also need to be careful about your authorial point of view, which occasionally strays.

I suspect the synopsis is probably still a little too long, at least for submitting to publishers. You need to really focus on the important story beats and the characters, and you don’t need to get too caught up in the minutiae of the plot.

You should be very proud of how far you’ve got – it sounds like an interesting story, and form what I’ve seen it’s clear you can write. You just need a little more focus on some of the details, I feel – I hope my comments help!


Marcus, Editor, Orion

This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 15 Dec 2014, 21:02

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ProfessionalCritique
 15 Dec 2014, 21:06 #183980 Reply To Post
Orion Editor critique of In Socks Don’t lie / Blackbird in the storm

As always, most of my thoughts and notes are in the comments on the attached file.

There’s a very nice sense of place here – we do feel that we’re stranded on a remote island – but I worry that perhaps you slip the ‘out of time’ bit in a little too slowly. Even given our lead’s upbringing, some more comment on the primitive nature of her surroundings might not be out of place. I also have some concerns with how the shipwreck and floating in the sea are presented – I get that you’re going for a heightened sense of reality, but it seems unlikely that anyone would survive that long, especially her mother who has an extra day in the sea.

Prose-wise, mostly clean, although there are more than a few occasions where you switch tense mid-sentence which jar. Very few typos, which is great. A slight tendency to run on sentences where personally I’d keep them as two separate ones, but that’s largely a matter of style.

The dialogue is in places very unrealistic, especially given the age of the main character. This is most noticeable in flashbacks to her mother and father, it really felt staged and stilted rather than true to life. The scenes in the ‘now’ work better, as does the interaction between Martha and Mary, which I think works very well.

There’s no doubt that you evoke a pleasing sense of unease and a solid sense of location (although I perhaps would like to see a little more description of the landscape, but that might be my own biases coming in). It needs work, especially around the realism of the arrival, but overall there’s a lot to admire here, and I wish you the best of luck with it.

Best,
Marcus
Editor, Orion

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