Professional mini critique for Pushing Up the Daisies by Carola Hughes-Hartmann
Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story but felt that it could benefit from further development. While simply told, it is a story that a lot of readers can relate to. But given the subject matter, I was disappointed that this lacked the poignancy and emotional insight needed to set this apart from other short stories that focus on death. I did feel that the narrator/protagonist was very underdrawn – we are told that she is upset, but you never really get under her skin as a character and lay bare her emotions. And are we even told her name? The focus seems to be on summarising the preparations needed for organising the funeral in a way that at times made the narrative feel more like a diary entry rather than an involving story. It is delivered in quite a dry manner that can be devoid of emotion, which in turn distances the reader from the story rather than drawing them in. Even given the time constraints in short story writing, you need to bring your characters alive on the page if you are to succeed in making the reader empathise and care about them. And I think if the reader is more closely aligned to your protagonist, the emotion will be all the more heightened.
Professional mini critique for Mya by Juliet
Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. It was well told and engaging, making me want to turn the pages to find out more. However, I was expecting there to be an extra revelation at the end, so the ending didn’t quite pack the punch that I was expecting. I did think that perhaps you gave too much of the story away too early on, as it was obvious from the start that Mya was the protagonist’s aborted daughter. By adding an extra layer of intrigue and ambiguity to your narrative, to keep the reader guessing, your story will become all the more page-turning. Remember that less is often more, especially early on. And I also felt the writing could have been more focused on building a sense of atmosphere and suspense, especially as you classify your short story as ‘horror’. I was expecting it to be darker and much more tense.
Similarly, while the story was very involving, you do have a tendency to tell the reader what is happening rather than showing them, and this can be a common pitfall when writing in first person. Try to avoid reporting the action to the reader – let it play out for them to experience in its immediacy. Otherwise your narrative will feel diluted rather than vividly described. And consequently, Mya wasn’t convincingly depicted as the powerful presence that she could have been. Your reader needs to experience what is happening to your protagonist alongside them, so try to drop them into the middle of the drama, rather than relaying it to them and keeping them at arm’s length.
Professional mini critique for Love Thy Neighbour by Carly Tinkler
Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. You really capture Peggy’s voice and character. The tone was obviously very intimate and informal, which makes the story very accessible. But it’s important to ensure that the story doesn’t feel like an internal monologue that lacks structure and focus. The premise is a very simple one, and though the story is well told, I did find the overly chatty tone a little grating initially. I think it’s important for the reader to be able to connect with the reader very early on, before overloading them with your protagonist’s stream of consciousness. As it was only after you had begun to really reveal Peggy as a character that I found her chatty tirade more entertaining. The form of short story writing is actually quite a difficult one as you have to bring alive your characters and deliver an involving plot in a very short space of time, so it’s absolutely crucial that nothing feels superfluous in this story. I understand that you want to accurately capture Peggy’s habit of over-sharing and going off on tangents, but this needs to be done in a way that doesn’t initially distance the reader.Professional mini critique for The Cheats by Ian Harvey-Brown
Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. While I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel, for a science fiction book, I did find it quite hard to really visualise Jake’s world, as the descriptions are so brief and sparse in these opening pages. These early chapters seemed to be very dialogue-heavy, with setting and plot becoming secondary. The tone is very conversational and informal, with your protagonist often directly addressing the reader, with such lines as: ‘You can see where this is going’. This can be quite a risky literary device, so be cautious about how you introduce this.
Another area of concern was the structure. You end chapters on quite a flat note that doesn’t particularly compel the reader to want to read on and turn the page. For example, the ending of your very first chapter closes with: ‘The students accepted me in their midst without question or interest. They possibly judged I was some down and out Seeker, hitching a ride on the Devil’s Footpath’. There needs to be a greater sense of intrigue and drama to really pull the reader you’re your narrative. In contrast, the ending of chapter three is incredibly gripping and dramatic. (Although I did think the opening of the following chapter was anti-climactic given that an entire year has passed.) I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the first chapter of any book is crucial, as if you don’t grab a potential reader in those first few pages, you may well have lost a sale. So further attention needs to be paid to the structure of these early pages.
You also don’t quite emphasise the sense of suspense in your narrative, especially with lines like: ‘I sense we were being watched’, as nothing is really made of this uneasy feeling. For a thriller, you need to inject more urgency and tension into your narrative. You also have a habit of telling the reader what is happening, rather than showing them, such as in the massacre scene. It is almost entirely reported rather than played out for the reader to experience first-hand. You also tend to trivialise the scene, with it almost descending into farce with lines like: ‘You looking for someone, scrotum face’, so again, all urgency and tension quickly dissipates.
It is very important that you not only understand the readership you are wanting to appeal to, but also the style and genre of book you are wanting to write, as this very much informs the tone, plotting, structure, pace and characterisation of a novel. And at times it did seem like you were a little unsure of what kind of book you were trying to write. Editing is a very important process of writing, so when you come to redrafting, try to read as dispassionately as you can, trying to get a fresh perspective of what you were trying to achieve in each scene and if you feel you have succeeded in that.
Natalie, Editor, Pan Macmillian
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 05 Sep 2012, 00:02