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ProfessionalCritique
 15 Dec 2014, 21:23 #183981 Reply To Post
Each month on YouWriteOn.com editors from Random House, Bloomsbury and Orion, provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated Top Ten novel openings from budding authors, and provide mini-reviews for the rest of the top ten youwriteon stories. Random House, Bloomsbury and Orion publish authors such as Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling.
ProfessionalCritique
 15 Dec 2014, 21:24 #183982 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Review of In My Lady's Shadow/Siobhan Daiko


Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month with this atmospheric and intriguing opening to your novel. You've picked a great setting in the sun-drenched Italian countryside – I could practically feel the sun radiating from the pages! – and with the tragedy in her past and the strange connection to the castle and its past, Fern should make for a very appealing heroine.

Time-slip novels are very popular with readers and enable a writer to demonstrate their full skill in evoking two different periods whilst unpicking the mystery that binds the two periods (or characters) together so your story offers much potential.

Plot/Narrative:

In the opening pages of your novel we meet several key characters - Fern, Luca, Aunt Susan, the ‘Countess’ and Cecilia – and you set up an overarching mystery – what is happening to Fern? Is she travelling in time or somehow picking up someone else's memories? – but also introduce smaller mysteries, like the death of Fern's husband, which help to keep the plot moving swiftly along. Your writing is generally lively and energetic, with a strong sense of place.

Don't be afraid though, to sometimes slow down the pace or to withhold answers from the reader for a little longer; readers love to make their own guesses about characters' motivations, where the story is going and what might lie ahead and sometimes you could be a little too quick to provide answers or hints as to where the story was going. I don't think, for example, we need to be told as quickly as we were that Fern's husband was dead, let the reader speculate for themselves as to what her nightmares or the smell of burning might mean and what she needed art therapy for.

I also felt that you could also perhaps be a little more subtle in flagging Luca up as a potential love interest for Fern. If she's still shell-shocked from her husband's death, this needs to be a gradual process so don't feel you need to signpost it too quickly.

You have given yourself quite a challenge here with three different narrators of two genders and two different time periods: I think that would challenge even very experienced writers! Multiple narrators give you an opportunity to explore a varied range of situations and emotions so this presents you with many opportunities although I don't know what you have planned for your 3 characters but I did wonder, based just on what I have read here, whether it might work to just focus in on Fern and Cecilia? That would enable you to really concentrate on drawing out both the connections and the differences between these two women in very different periods.

There is always a small risk in using multiple narrators that it can be much harder for readers to empathise with the characters as they are spending less time with each of them; this certainly isn't to say that I am recommending that you do take out Luca's strand, but I just wanted to flag it up. As it stands, there is quite a lot going on in the early pages of your novel, and you just need to be sure that you aren't trying to do too much.

Characterisation

Fern makes for an appealing heroine with the tragedy in her past, but also her determination to heal through her art therapy. I’m sure many readers will enjoy following her story as it unfolds.

Occasionally, her observations of her aunt could seem a little cruel, which I'm sure wasn't intended and might just need a little tweak. Describing her aunt as 'waddling' back the way they'd come, for example, felt a little unkind and as this was in the very early stages of your book, when you really want the readers to engage and empathise with Fern, I would recommend thinking about ways you can make her observations feel perhaps a little more affectionate.

Fern obviously has artistic leanings which matches her clothing – the 'hippy' long skirt and the 'gypsy blouse' – but to me that didn't quite match up with living in Islington and working in the City. I am not sure of her full backstory so these locations may be entirely appropriate to her style, but I wondered if it might be more plausible if she were to live somewhere slightly more relaxed where 'hippy' clothing may fit in better, somewhere like Hampstead, for example?

Whilst I completely take the point that Luca was educated in English at Eton, I felt he still needed to retain a slight Italian feel in his speech patterns, to reinforce the fact that he does live and work in Italy. 'Going to the castle too. Might see you up there' felt a little too British in their phrasing for me, as did swearing in English, and I think it would really help your overall characterisation if you could explore ways of making his speech patterns give us a richer, more authentic sense of Italy.

You certainly don't want to turn Luca into an Italian stereotype of course, but even people who have lived and worked in England for years will often still retain an element of their native country in the way they form sentences, and I'd love to see you draw that out here. I would also think that an education at Eton and an aristocratic background would perhaps give him a slightly more formal style of speaking?

It also occurred to me that both Luca and Fern speak in a fairly similar style in that they sometimes remove the subject from the sentence. Compare, for example Luca's sentence quoted above 'Going to the castle too' rather than 'I'm going to the castle too' and then Fern's 'Hope Aunt Susan isn't match-making' rather than 'I hope Aunt Susan isn't match-making.' It might be worth thinking about ways in which to make their style more obviously different from one another.

Setting/Atmosphere

I love the way you frequently employ a sense of smell throughout your writing as well as giving us a sense of how Italy looks, and I'd really encourage you to focus even more on this as the setting is such a wonderfully appealing part of your whole story. Are the other elements you can draw on to really make the picture you are painting as vivid as possible? How does the town of Asolo sound to Fern, how does the stone of the parapet walls feel under her fingers just before she faints? Really think about every possible way in which you can engage the reader's full senses to bring the place alive on the page; it's what pushes good writing into great writing.

It's often the tiny details that bring a real sense of authenticity to someone's writing, so I'd also like you to think about what detail, specific to Italy or to just this town, you could bring to your writing. Even readers who have never been to Italy will probably be able to picture the honey coloured stones or the cafes lining the streets, but is there something that only a local will know that really shows how well you know your setting? Think about something that really helps a reader have a sense they've got under the skin of the town, that this is the 'real Italy' they're reading about.

Conclusion

Congratulations on a strong opening with much potential to appeal to readers. I hope my comments are helpful to you as you continue to write and redraft your work.

Good luck!


Alison,
Senior Editor
Random House

ProfessionalCritique
 15 Dec 2014, 21:26 #183983 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Mini Reviews


Richard Zimmerman and the Midlife Leap – Jo Carlowe


Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month! This was a lively, interesting opening to a story with a striking opening scene in particular.

There were a few things I was slightly confused by, such as Richard's description of Rachel: 'Fair and flowing, like a Botticelli Beauty. He'd called her that in the early days. Hard-edged, a triangular womb, elbows spiked like splinters. These days, he favoured Picasso.' Is Richard saying that in the early days that Rachel had been hard-edged with sharp elbows, as that seems more like Picasso's art than it does Botticelli, or that she is now hard-edged and not fair and flowing, and that is why he now likes Picasso or that he now likes Picasso and his sharp-edges and that is not Rachel's style?

And there were a few other small details that didn't quite ring true for me – the 'working class' guest at the boarding house being called Hugh, traditionally a more upper-class name, particularly for men of that age or Richard putting up the advert for English lessons just before he was apparently planning to commit suicide. Was he really suicidal or was he always planning to fake his own death? It would be worth thinking about how to give us a stronger sense of what motivates Richard in a new daft, so we can really start to understand his actions and have more of a sense of whether we are intended to empathise with him or laugh at him.

As part of your writing and redrafting, I would recommend investing in a good punctuation guide if you don't already have one. There were a few instances where colons and semi-colons had been used incorrectly for example, and you want your writing to be as professional as possible, particularly if you are thinking of submitting it to literary agents.

Good luck!

Hoxton – Kate A Hardy

Congratulations on being one of this month's top rated stories, with the intriguing and atmospheric opening of your dystopian novel. This is an extremely popular genre for writers, albeit one with generally relatively modest sales figures with the odd exception of books such as The Road, but I really enjoyed the new style of language you'd developed for your characters and the sly humour, such as Ikea becoming covetable antiques.

I thought it was an interesting to see that you'd opened with a brief glossary of unusual words/terms – I would actually argue that ideally you wouldn't need any glossary at all, because the context should help readers understand the meaning, and I don't think it is a problem if it's not immediately obvious but takes a few usages before the meaning becomes completely clear. Writers often worry too much about readers not understanding what they mean whereas many readers – and I would say readers of dystopias are definitely within this category – love to be challenged and would actively enjoy speculating as to what an unfamiliar word or phrase means (you only have to think of something like A Clockwork Orange for example.) I would encourage you to consider removing the glossary entirely. Think of it in the same way as you give the readers hints as to what has happened – 'the second flood', the 'third world war', etc – but don't spell it out for us. Have confidence in your writing.

Out of interest, was there a reason why the mec didn't shoot her when he had the gun against her head? I'd have thought he would have fired at her when she resisted giving him the horse or at least fired at Fagin as he ran towards them.

Good luck for your future writing!

Mending Bridges – Irene Mathias

Congratulations on being one of the top rated stories this month! This was a lively and energetic read and I could certainly see why so many readers have already enjoyed it. Dana makes for a charismatic narrator and the humour is generally nicely played out and doesn't compromise the sense of pace or mystery you are building. The idea of an irritating – rather than a frightening – ghost is an appealing one, although much of the success of the story itself will naturally depend on what Dana has to do to 'mend bridges' and how successful this is.

One very minor point, Dana says that by 'half eleven' on the night they tried the ouija board it was just the four of them, and later says she had already started to flag. I wondered whether this seemed realistic as she's been painted as quite a heavy drinker and socialiser – is half eleven not a little early? Also, is Mary an orphan? I would have thought the police would have notified Fran's next-of-kin about her death first, and that would be more likely to have been a parent than it was her sister.

Good luck with your future writing!

Alison,
Senior Editor
Random House

ProfessionalCritique
 15 Dec 2014, 21:27 #183984 Reply To Post
Editor critique of THE FINISH

Dear Angela Elliott

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early chapters of your historical crime novel THE FINISH and was impressed by the confidence of your storytelling, in particular your characterisation. 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 framework of a novel and helps to provide focus, direction and momentum to your narrative. If your story isn’t solid in structure, the foundations of your novel will become compromised. From what I have read, it seems you have given serious consideration to this element of your novel. The direction of your novel seems like it will be linear as well as chronological. And your story is structured from the first person POV (point of view) of your protagonist, so the reader experiences the world through her eyes, learning information alongside Kitty. You have also introduced subplots to your story, in the form of Kitty’s romantic feelings towards some of the characters. These romantic narrative strands will help to provide relief from the overarching murder storyline, but they will still be intrinsically tied into your narrative, given that Kitty doesn’t know who she can trust and who is actually the murderer.

One thing I would suggest is to try to end your chapters on a more dramatic note, so the reader is left wanting to know more and is hopefully compelled to carry on turning the page. This doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of a cliffhanger every time, but just intriguing enough or dark enough that the reader remains ensnared in your story.

Another small point – I didn’t think that your chapter subheadings added much to the narrative. They felt a little redundant, and even seemed like too much of a precursor, informing the reader what will unfold in each chapter before they have even begun reading it. While historical novels of the time often employed this method, I would seriously question what it brings to your own story, and whether it might detract from the narrative. Likewise with your title subheadings for the remaining books of the series – were they actually part of the title, or just a pithy summary for the reader?


Plot:

Your narrative hook – a prostitute who must solve a murder or swing from the gallows – is a simple one but has much dramatic potential. Firstly, for the fact that not many historical crime novels feature a female protagonist who is investigating a murder, especially one who is from what is normally considered the debauched, worthless underside of society. Secondly, there is a heightened sense of drama given the fact that your protagonist is herself a suspect in the murders – and one who wouldn’t be given a fair trial. She is very much placed alone in her investigations and out of her depth, unsure of whom to trust and whom to fear. This also injects a page-turning quality to your story, as the reader feels Kitty’s state of perpetual peril and will urge her to uncover the identity of the murderer before she either is found guilty or is murdered herself. It seems, from reading your synopsis, that there will be enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep the reader invested in Kitty’s story.

You state that this is the first in a four-part series. I assume that they will all feature Kitty as the protagonist? If so, this will influence your ending. As you will want a certain sense of resolution, but also enough of a residual hook that a reader will want to return to the series and follow Kitty’s next adventures. So in short, you need to give the reader enough to feel satisfied, but also leave them wanting more…


Characterisation:

Your protagonist, Kitty Ives, is a fantastic creation. She is feisty, forthright and spirited. Most importantly, she has a sardonic sense of humour that ensures that while the tone of your novel will remain dark, it will also be leavened by Kitty’s unique perspective on your fictional world. She really leaps of the page in these early chapters, and you allow her to tell her own story in a way that never feels contrived. It seems like this will be as much of a character-led novel as it will a plot-led one. It is Kitty’s voice and her personality that will drive your narrative as much as the unfolding drama.

One thing to bear in mind as the novel progresses is that the other characters don’t pale in comparison to Kitty. They need to be equally distinctive and vivid in their depiction, and not feel like secondary characters or are merely there to further the plot or bolster Kitty’s own portrayal.


Setting:

Setting is of course only the backdrop to a story, but it can be a character in its own right too, helping to create a sense of atmosphere and even influence the novel’s tone. Setting is particularly crucial in historical fiction, as you need to bring to life a vanished world convincingly keep your reader immersed in it for the duration of the novel. It seems like you have done some historical research so the novel feels authentic. You have also avoided the common pitfall of many writers in getting too caught up on what is historically accurate that the reader is pulled out of the narrative, rather than pulled into it. The sense of a place is much more important than intricate details.


Synopsis:

I thought your synopsis was well written and concise. I would perhaps give a little more detail about the remaining three books, even if it is just to make clear whether Kitty will be the protagonist in all of them, or whether they will feature another character.


Line notes:

I thought your opening line would have been stronger if it was more concise. I would suggest deleting ‘herein engaged in sexual congress’, just so the line is a bit punchier. Remember that less is often more.

I would also suggest limiting some of the narration elements, at least in the very first scene, as I felt it overshadowed the plot. Especially with lines like: ‘It is a story I will tell in due course, for more recently I fought to keep myself from the gallows and I fear I am going mad.’ Perhaps something sharper and more dramatic like: ‘Recently, I’ve come to fear I am going mad.’ This is more ambiguous, and draws the reader in as they want to know more.

‘He offered me five guineas (which is a fortune)’ – it is lines like this that tends to pull the reader out of the narrative, as you’re making it clear that your protagonist is narrating from the past to a reader in the present, and that they need some details explaining to them. Perhaps something along the lines of ‘He offered me five guineas (a fortune!)’ – would be better as this makes it seem more like the character’s own personal thought, rather than a clunky aside for the reader’s benefit.






Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I was impressed with what I read and it’s clear that you are a natural storyteller. But writing is very much a craft that is developed and mastered over time, and can always be improved upon. 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
 15 Dec 2014, 21:28 #183985 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for The Wythenshawe Dandy by S J Galbraith

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your crime novel. While I thought the opening of your first chapter was dramatic and had a strong hook, the sense of mystery and tension dissipates much too quickly. You veer off tangent with your segue into a physical description about Flynn and his job. Although this is intrinsic to why a dead body of a woman has turned up in his apartment, these details unnecessarily slow down the pace of the story at what is a critical juncture in your novel. This is then followed by ordinary, domestic ruminations like what he will be cooking for dinner. Again, while this is revealing about Flynn as a character, given that he is seemingly unaffected by the murdered girl he discovered mere hours before, it is executed in a way that again hampers the suspense element of your narrative. You need to focus more on the drama here, and really work on hooking your reader, otherwise you risk losing them for good. Characterisation and context can come later in the story. You also need to end on a more page-turning note at the end of each chapter if you are to compel your reader to read on.

I found the scene with Angus in the pub a little clunky in its execution. It felt too much like you were shoehorning backstory into your characters’ dialogue, rather than their exchanges feel natural and subtly revealing more about your characters. Remember that less is often more, and try to show the reader, rather than tell them. Often as much can be inferred by what isn’t said as by what is . . .


Professional mini critique for City of Shadows by Martin Lee

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your historical crime novel. You set the scene really well, conjuring up a vanished Shanghai and truly transporting your reader there. However, one note of caution – try to focus more on the mystery and tension in these early pages, and less on setting the scene, as I felt this did overshadow the narrative somewhat.

I was also impressed with your characterisation. The dialogue is sharp and captures the tone and personality of each of your characters. Your protagonist, Danilov, is well drawn and seems like a strong enough character to carry the weight of the narrative.


Professional mini critique for In the Wake of the Exiled by James Mannering


Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel but felt they needed a lot of work. In short, my biggest concern was that your opening wasn’t strong enough. There is no tangible hook to your novel that will snare the reader and pull them into your story. I felt that you had become overly distracted by your focus on creating a believable fantasy world, but at the expense of plot and characterisation.

I didn’t fully align with any of your characters in these opening chapters. They felt underdrawn and lacked charisma and a distinct voice. I also felt that your plot lacked drive and momentum. From reading your detailed synopsis, this also becomes evident. A good exercise before you come to rewriting would be to storyboard your entire narrative, either scene by scene or chapter by chapter, so you get a better overview of the direction and shape of your story. Another piece of advice, which may seem obvious but is in fact crucial in becoming a gifted storyteller, is to read as widely and extensively as possible, particularly in the area in which you wish to write. Read analytically, assessing such elements of the book as plotting, structure, characterisation, setting and tone. By reading in this way, you will strengthen your own authorial skills as you gain a keener sense of what does and doesn’t work in a novel.


Professional mini critique for The Danae of the Forest by C R Burman

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your children’s fantasy novel. I thought your opening was nicely described and quickly draws the reader in. But I did think the rest of your opening chapters needed work if you are to fully immerse the reader in your fictional world. My biggest concern is that not only is your story similar in its basic premise to so many other stories out there of its ilk, it also lacks the vivid characterisation and page-turning plotting to elevate it above other books. None of your characters really came alive on the page, and consequently I felt somewhat distanced from your story. If you look at the most successful books out there in this sub-genre, they all feature charismatic, unforgettable protagonists.

In a nutshell, you need to step out from under the shadow of genre stereotypes and clichés and explore what makes your characters and story unique in their own right.

Natalie Braine, Editor




ProfessionalCritique
 15 Dec 2014, 21:30 #183986 Reply To Post
Orion Editor critique of Nameless Automaton

This was largely clean of typos, which was great, and had a very nice rhythm to the prose. A few tweaks here and there, mostly about tense, but it has an original feel and the author has clearly found their voice.

I‘m not sure the prologue’s ending works as intended, as I have noted, but otherwise there is some very nice creepy imagery and it gets the reader interested.

Perhaps we spend too much time before we actually enter the automata shop, but it does do a nice job of building up our lead character and the world he lives in, so I’m 50-50 on this one. I just worry that, behind all of the great worldbuilding, perhaps you need to make the threat a little more visible and get the actual plot going, especially given what we see in the proposal and how far you want to take the plot.

Apologies for any typos in the comments – I had to do this on my partner’s very little old laptop, as mine is being repaired.

Marcus
Editor
Orion

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