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YouWriteOn
 03 Feb 2015, 23:36 #184325 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Reviews


Dear Martin,

Congratulations on City of Shadows, I have very much enjoyed reading it, and I can completely see why you’ve been chosen for review.

I think this is a very accomplished piece of writing, Martin, displaying all the tropes that readers of this genre love, executed with a lovely voice and some really fantastic turns of phrase. I’ve spent a long time thinking about how I should construct my letter to you. Normally I would focus on a few key areas for the author to look at and that most of my thoughts and comments fall into – but with City of Shadows I don’t think this would be the most useful approach as overall this is a very tightly and well done opening to what sounds like a fantastic novel. Instead I have some observations and comments on this opening section, and a few thoughts on some things to look out for. I hope this is all useful to you.
I think you’ve done a great job of evoking Shanghai and its distinctive atmosphere – it’s vivid and 3D. The only thing about setting that I’d like to comment on is the historical period. I found the detectives’ voices felt more modern day than perhaps they should, and it would be worth taking a look at this to check there aren’t any anachronistic expressions in there. They’re the first characters we meet and are as key to evoking the time period as the setting so it’s essential to get their voices exactly right.

I’d actually suggest maybe slightly tweaking the opening. Whilst it’s very punchy and I love the dynamic between Bleaker and Danilov in this scene I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the premise of the global hit series, The Bridge, and I think your readers will do the same. If Bleaker isn’t key to the plot, do we even need this added element of the location of the body, and thus the detective it falls under, being up for discussion here? It would be stronger in my opinion to focus on your own unique story and not to distract your readers from the drama here.

There are a lot of names and characters in this opening section for your readers to get to grips with, and I’m assuming that this is something that continues throughout the novel. It’s always worth taking a look at your cast to check that they’re all completely relevant and essential; that they all drive the plot forward in some way. They also all need their own distinct voices and personalities.

On the subject of your cast I’d take care to make sure that the switches in your narrative all really help the story-telling and don’t jerk your reader from scene to scene and between different characters. These switches in narrative perspectives should enhance the tension and develop the story. In this opening section the switches in perspective work very well, but it’s just something to look out for through the remainder of the novel.

One thing I thought it might be worth adding into the opening scenes is a little more detail on your main characters, Danilov especially. I’m very interested in why they’re here at this point in their careers, what their personal lives are like etc. Obviously we don’t want to be slowing the pace at this point in the novel, but it might be that you can find a way to insert the odd sentence here and there that allows us to get to know these people better earlier on. Divulging hints about their complex lives only serves to make them more intriguing.
And the final thing I wanted to raise is the title. I can completely appreciate its appropriateness, but for me it’s not quite doing your story justice at the moment in that it feels quite generic. A quick search reveals that there are several books already with this title, including some crime thrillers. You can’t copyright titles but I wonder if there’s something punchier you could go for, something with more intrigue?

I hope you won’t feel under-serviced by the fact that my notes to you are slightly shorter than the ones I would normally write. On contrary it’s a reflection of what good shape you novel is in. I wish you the best of luck with it, and your writing generally.

All the best,

Ruth,
Editor, Random House
YouWriteOn
 03 Feb 2015, 23:40 #184326 Reply To Post
GOING BACK FOR SUZIE by Kate Johnson

This is a really intriguing and sparky premise, congratulations. If you think about the way a writer like Audrey Niffenegger blends genres in her work it shows that there’s a place for novels like yours in the fiction market. Jane herself is obviously key to this, and you’ve drawn her well in that she’s an interesting and likeable character and I warmed to her.
I do have to admit to feeling a little distanced however in this opening section. I wondered if part of this is that the ‘now’ is actually eleven years ago. Does this have to be the case, or could you look at making this actually modern day? 1974 is obviously key, and I know you will have thought this through carefully but I did just want to ask the question. The other part of me feeling distanced is that the key events in this opening section happen off the page. I’d love to have seen Jane and Will’s kiss and their conversation, for example – it would be a fantastic way of establishing their characters vividly, and would really place us in the moment, adding a sense of immediacy. This opening is where you grab your readers and I’d suggest that having some real highs and lows playing out on the page here is going to be vital.
I love Jane’s relationships with her girl friends and with her daughter, but very occasionally some of their dialogue doesn’t feel completely natural. Perhaps this is something you could take a look at?

WANTED BIRTHDAY PRESENT by Stuart Martin

In your opening to your story, you mention that some parts may feel superfluous to the reader. They don’t actually, so congratulations!

There’s some very sparky dialogue in here that I really enjoyed reading. Through this clever, realistic dialogue you really get across the family dynamic and the chaos of their house. Having said this, I did feel that it was actually the children who were the stars of the show here. They feel slightly more real than their parents, and I wondered if it would be worth you taking a look at Yvonne and Jackson to make them feel more 3D, with their own distinct voices?
The story feels tight and clever. The device of the present not being the one Yvonne was expecting from her husband has been used in stories before and I did wonder if this might be problematic, but actually the twist you give it and the way you pull things together works really well.

AELFGIFU’S TIME by Kelly Evans
Congratulations, Kelly. This is obviously only a very small opening snapshot of what will be a much bigger world and story, but it’s a well-done opening, pulling the reader in, and I enjoyed it. The memory of her brother’s shocking death is excellent and makes a real impact. Would it be worth having this as a prologue, almost, so that we’re actually seeing the events in real time? This might make it even more effective.
Aelfgifu is a good character, one that we warm to and are impressed by. I would suggest that you show us Aelfgifu in action in a bigger way as you introduce her to us. What I mean by that is that I’d really like to see her bravery and see her spirit. Maybe we could see her briefing the sword she gives her husband – we’d hear her voice very vividly that way?

I would maybe take another look at the exchange between her and her aunt. I don’t think this drives us forward at the moment in the way that it could, and some of the sentiment feels a little repetitive. They both come across well but I wonder if they could be more 3D here?
Overall, you’ve created a real sense of atmosphere here, and an accomplished setting. Good luck

Ruth,
Editor, Random House
YouWriteOn
 03 Feb 2015, 23:41 #184327 Reply To Post
Editor Mini-Reviews

Professional mini critique for Crystal’s Story: Bare in Bala by Ian Marrow

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of women’s fiction novel but felt they needed a lot of work. Your first chapter is a crucial test as to whether or not you successfully ensnare a reader and unfortunately you seemed to stumble at the very first hurdle. The opening was weak and didn’t compel me to read on. Your chapters also tended to end on quite flat, dull notes too, which again didn’t inspire me to keep turning the pages. The one chapter end that I thought was a little more dramatic and involving was the end of chapter six: ‘Crystal had everything she needed. Don’t get mad. Time to get even.’ Try to employ more endings like this that make the reader want to know what will happen next.

In terms of structure and narrative flow, I did find your writing quite staccato and fragmented. These early chapters felt more like vignettes rather than part of a cohesive, fluid novel. One useful exercise is to storyboard your novel, either scene by scene or chapter by chapter, as this allows you to take a step back from your narrative and get a better sense of which areas are weaker and need development.

When you come to rewrite this draft, remember that less is often more. Sometimes I felt that the humour was a little too obvious and often misfired. Don’t try to shoehorn comedy into a scene. It should always feel natural, never jarring. Similarly with backstory – the reader doesn’t need to know everything straight away. For example, I felt that the radio interview felt like a convenient and also contrived way to summarise Crystal’s background.

I would also suggest reconsidering your title. To me, the current title sounds almost like an erotic novel, as well as a little trashy… You need to bear in mind the kind of readership you are aiming for.


Professional mini critique for From a Great Height by John Paulson

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your historical novel but felt they had some way to go to really draw a reader in. Your opening chapters are crucial in terms of whether you hook a reader and compel them to read on, and this is something you need to work on. They lacked drama, and also a sense of place, which is particularly important in historical novels. In short, this felt like a sketched line drawing; you need to work on adding colour and texture to your storytelling.

Your character exchanges feel quite heavy-handed at times, rather than natural. You have succumbed to the common pitfall amongst aspiring writers where they use dialogue as a means to inform the reader of background details. This is a lazy – not to mention clunky – way of storytelling. One of the most important piece of advice is to show the reader, not tell them. If you present information in a dry, second-hand way, you lose any sense of immediacy and drama. You also need to focus on making your characters more charismatic and distinctive, rather than mere mouthpieces for communicating your narrative.


Professional mini critique for Trust Issues by Stuart Martin

Congratulations on being well rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story but felt it could benefit from further development. My biggest concern was that I felt the tone wasn’t consistent. It almost seemed like you were trying to write two different stories here that felt at odds with each other. It’s crucial that you know what kind of story you are trying to write, as this will help shape your narrative.

One important maxim to always consider when writing is to show not tell. You succumb to the common pitfall of having your characters tell the reader something, rather than show them. For example, Doug tells another character that he has trust issues. It would be much more effective if you showed the reader this in more subtle ways. Also, analyse whether what comes out of your characters’ mouths feels convincing. Don’t let your characters become mere mouthpieces. Remember that as much can be gleaned by what isn’t said as by what is. Let your reader read between the lines rather than overtly stating things.


Editor Natalie Braine
YouWriteOn
 03 Feb 2015, 23:42 #184328 Reply To Post
Editor Review of GLOBAL WANDERING: DOING THE 10ERC WALTZ.

Dear David Ing

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your travelogue GLOBAL WANDERING: DOING THE 10ERC WALTZ. 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 pages, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the book progresses.


Structure:

Given that your book is a travelogue more than a narrative memoir, the structure is inevitably quite different in style from the more traditional non-fiction travel memoirs. But structure isn’t something that should be overlooked and is an area that I felt needed some attention when you come to rewriting. Structure is the framework of any book, regardless of genre or style, as it helps to provide focus, direction and momentum in your narrative.

My main concern was that these opening pages felt more like a series of vignettes rather than part of a cohesive narrative. In short, it felt too much like a meandering stream of consciousness, rather than a piece of writing that had purpose and direction. The only thing that really structured these early pages was the chronology of events. But there needs to be more focus within your writing – something that pulls it all together – if you are to successfully pull the reader into your book and make them want to read on and follow the rest of your travel journeys.


Plot:

You discuss in your synopsis the idea of a theme that brings your travel stories together, so it seems you are aware that this is an area that is lacking and needs attention. I was a bit dubious about the idea of hunting for a souvenir from each place you visit. This seems like quite a pedestrian, uninspired theme that doesn’t offer much scope or potential for more contemplative insights. It’s important that what you choose doesn’t feel tacked on as an attempt at unifying your writing; it needs to feel intrinsic to your story.

You discuss the fact that you are a ‘luddite’ who doesn’t have a mobile phone. Given that you have a nephew in his late-twenties, I’m assuming you are middle-aged. Perhaps this could be your angle? Given that travelling has become almost an occupation of so many teens and twenty-year-olds who are trying to find their place in the world and who rely on technology to help them get around, you already stand apart from the majority and so have something different to say. Perhaps your could focus more on your feelings towards travel, and maybe what you learn from it at this stage in your life compared to younger travellers.

There could have been a bit more background information in these early pages, such as how your nephew Martin met his fiancée. Other important details, such as whether Martin is English or American, and where in Europe you are from and where you are based now come a little too late, I felt. You only need to give a concise summary of these key facts, just to give the reader a clearer picture of who you are. Because even though this is a travelogue, it is also a character-driven one, shown entirely through your eyes, so the reader needs a greater sense of you as a character.

Another thing to consider when you come to redrafting these pages (and to bear in mind for the rest of the book) is that you don’t report too much of the drama to the reader. Some of it needs to be played out on the page so the reader feels like they are experiencing it alongside you. If you tell the reader what has happened, rather than show them, they are constantly kept at arm’s length from your narrative, and so will never fully engage with it.

Characterisation:

Tied in with my notes above, the most important thing to focus on is making your personality lift off the page. You state in your synopsis that you find the writing of Bill Bryson not entirely believable as you felt that he plays his writing for laughs or entertainment. There were instances where I felt you succumbed to this too. In short, I felt like you were adopting a persona, rather than revealing to the reader your true character. Don’t get caught up in the idea of you as a ‘travel writer’. It’s important to lay yourself bare to the reader, rather than hiding behind a false façade. One thing that Bill Bryson does very well is being self-deprecating and allowing the reader to laugh at his expense. Whereas I felt your writing was a little more barbed, with you making fun of Tennessee in a way that risks being somewhat supercilious. This is the surest way to distance or even alienate your reader. Yes, show the reader that you feel out of your comfort zone, but also ensure that your mockery doesn’t tip too far over… I would also suggest reflecting back a bit more of your own past experiences so the reader gets a better sense of who you are. Have you ever been married? Have you travelled much in the past or is this all new to you? What do you do for work? And in more subtle ways, you need to convey what your outlook on life is. Ask yourself questions like why do you travel? How is the world changing from your point of view?

Review continues next post


YouWriteOn
 03 Feb 2015, 23:43 #184329 Reply To Post
[continued]

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 a book’s tone. And surprisingly, for a travel book, I felt that this was an area that was disappointingly underwhelming. I didn’t get a real sense of Tennessee as a place, just a few fleeting impressions. You need to work on conjuring a more vivid depiction if you are to immerse the reader and place them alongside you in your journeys. There don’t need to be great chunks of descriptive prose, but there does need to be more colour and texture to your writing to really bring your story to life.


Tone:

As I always tell aspiring writers, tone is one of the hardest elements of a novel to master, but also one of the most crucial. If the tone of your novel feels off-pitch, you risk alienating your reader from your narrative. And as I have discussed above, I was concerned that your tone felt a little too supercilious. You need to consider carefully what kind of tone you wish to convey, as this will very much influence the overarching style of your entire narrative.


Genre/market:

You describe this as a ‘humorous travelogue collection’. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a very niche area of the commercial market, with only a handful of big names dominating it. So for an unknown writer’s work to stand out from the crowd, it needs to be something a bit different and unique. And I feel you have some way to go in achieving that.

From reading these early pages and your synopsis, I get the sense that you haven’t given a great deal of thought into your intended readership or the style of your writing. It’s important that you know and understand who your reader is, otherwise if you are aiming for just anyone, your narrative will lose focus and a sense of individuality.

The biggest piece of advice I can give to you is to read voraciously, particularly in the area in which you wish to write. But read actively, not passively, analysing what you think does and doesn’t work in each book you read. The first step in being a good writer is being an astute reader. In this way, you will gain a more instinctive sense of how to craft your writing.
Synopsis:

I would suggest detailing here what other places you have written about in this collection of travelogues. Will it mainly be Westernised places? Or also far-flung places?


Title:

If I’m being totally honest (and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t!) your title screams amateur writer. In short, this is such a long and wieldy title that will have many readers stumbling over it with the mix of numerals, you risk putting off potential readers before they have even turned the first page. In an increasingly competitive and crowded marketplace, package is everything, and this of course includes the title. With a comedy novel, try not to get too hung up on your title being witty or quirky.


Line notes:

‘Yet it wasn’t long before matters turned even more serious – like a wedding invitation arriving’ – maybe have ‘with’ rather than ‘like’ as I initially thought this was a simile!

‘What’s the point of them flying all the way across the Atlantic Ocean…’ – is this Martin speaking here about his in-laws? And is this a reference to not having the wedding in UK/Europe? This is a little bit too vague here for the reader to grasp what you mean…

‘Pardon me, miss, but is there somewhere a misbegotten social outcast…’ – this felt a little over-egged here. Try not to forsake credibility at the expense of humour, as it will only misfire…

‘Not having been back there for nearly a year’ – so where are you travelling from if not England? See earlier notes about incorporating a bit more background detail into these early pages so the reader has a clearer sense of what is unfolding, and not distracted by unanswered questions.

‘the proper way to strike up a conversation with a Brit is to start with a weather report’ – great line!

‘I’m on my way from home in Madrid’ – see earlier notes about background information. This information could have come earlier. Also, why have you been living in Madrid? And how long for?

‘passed with only one hitch – the intended one’ – another great line.



Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, 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








YouWriteOn
 03 Feb 2015, 23:44 #184330 Reply To Post
Thank you to everyone. Further editor reviews will be added once received.
leem2307
 05 Feb 2015, 05:54 #184349 Reply To Post
Quote: YouWriteOn, Tuesday, 3 Feb 2015 23:36
Random House Editor Reviews


Dear Martin,

Congratulations on City of Shadows, I have very much enjoyed reading it, and I can completely see why you’ve been chosen for review.

I think this is a very accomplished piece of writing, Martin, displaying all the tropes that readers of this genre love, executed with a lovely voice and some really fantastic turns of phrase. I’ve spent a long time thinking about how I should construct my letter to you. Normally I would focus on a few key areas for the author to look at and that most of my thoughts and comments fall into – but with City of Shadows I don’t think this would be the most useful approach as overall this is a very tightly and well done opening to what sounds like a fantastic novel. Instead I have some observations and comments on this opening section, and a few thoughts on some things to look out for. I hope this is all useful to you.
I think you’ve done a great job of evoking Shanghai and its distinctive atmosphere – it’s vivid and 3D. The only thing about setting that I’d like to comment on is the historical period. I found the detectives’ voices felt more modern day than perhaps they should, and it would be worth taking a look at this to check there aren’t any anachronistic expressions in there. They’re the first characters we meet and are as key to evoking the time period as the setting so it’s essential to get their voices exactly right.

I’d actually suggest maybe slightly tweaking the opening. Whilst it’s very punchy and I love the dynamic between Bleaker and Danilov in this scene I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the premise of the global hit series, The Bridge, and I think your readers will do the same. If Bleaker isn’t key to the plot, do we even need this added element of the location of the body, and thus the detective it falls under, being up for discussion here? It would be stronger in my opinion to focus on your own unique story and not to distract your readers from the drama here.

There are a lot of names and characters in this opening section for your readers to get to grips with, and I’m assuming that this is something that continues throughout the novel. It’s always worth taking a look at your cast to check that they’re all completely relevant and essential; that they all drive the plot forward in some way. They also all need their own distinct voices and personalities.

On the subject of your cast I’d take care to make sure that the switches in your narrative all really help the story-telling and don’t jerk your reader from scene to scene and between different characters. These switches in narrative perspectives should enhance the tension and develop the story. In this opening section the switches in perspective work very well, but it’s just something to look out for through the remainder of the novel.

One thing I thought it might be worth adding into the opening scenes is a little more detail on your main characters, Danilov especially. I’m very interested in why they’re here at this point in their careers, what their personal lives are like etc. Obviously we don’t want to be slowing the pace at this point in the novel, but it might be that you can find a way to insert the odd sentence here and there that allows us to get to know these people better earlier on. Divulging hints about their complex lives only serves to make them more intriguing.
And the final thing I wanted to raise is the title. I can completely appreciate its appropriateness, but for me it’s not quite doing your story justice at the moment in that it feels quite generic. A quick search reveals that there are several books already with this title, including some crime thrillers. You can’t copyright titles but I wonder if there’s something punchier you could go for, something with more intrigue?

I hope you won’t feel under-serviced by the fact that my notes to you are slightly shorter than the ones I would normally write. On contrary it’s a reflection of what good shape you novel is in. I wish you the best of luck with it, and your writing generally.

All the best,

Ruth,
Editor, Random House


Thank you, Ruth, for a very complimentary review of City of Shadows, I'm glad you liked it. I'll take on board your suggestions in the next edit. It's with two agents at the moment so I'm hoping they'll like it too. Thank you once again for your time and the very positive comments.

regards

Martin
ProfessionalCritique
 23 Feb 2015, 21:19 #184542 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critique of Dog House

As always, most of my thoughts are in the comments on the attached Word file, and I’ve made some tweaks with Track Changes as well. It looks a bit daunting, but a lot of them are things for you to think about, not complete and definitive instructions.



In general, the tone of the piece works very well – I can feel the grime and difficulty of your character’s situations, and the decisions they are forced into. Most of my thoughts are about adding a bit more specificity, tidying up some of the prose and ironing out some of the stylistic tics that you have. I’ve generally only pointed out things that need to be changed, rather than highlighting bits I liked. There’s no doubt that you can write, and that you’ve come up with a plot that seems interesting, on the basis of what I have here. I do wonder if your planned switch of POV (as taken from the synopsis) might prove tricky, but that will come out in the writing, and it never hurts to push yourself!



I did this on a laptop I’m not used to, and struggled with the little keyboard, so I apologise for any typos in the comments.



Best of luck with it,

Marcus
Editor, Orion

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