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ProfessionalCritique
 17 Aug 2011, 18:46 #127379 Reply To Post
Orion are part of the Hatchette publishing group, whose authors include Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and Ian Rankin.

Each month on YouWriteOn.com editors from Orion and Random House provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated YouWriteOn Top Ten novel openings, and mini-reviews of the rest of the top ten stories. This aims to assist all authors in their story development by giving feedback as to what editors are looking for in novel submitted to them.


Click here to view the story extract links for the stories reviewed below which are listed under July 1st for 2011
ProfessionalCritique
 17 Aug 2011, 18:48 #127380 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critiques of THE LIKES OF US


Dear Siobhan Bland Daiko

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages of THE LIKES OF US and thought these early pages showed much promise. While I don’t think the material so far needs a huge amount of reworking as it is already in fairly good shape, what I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, and what to pay attention to as the novel progresses. I will broadly discuss the main elements of your narrative, as well as refer to specific page references to illustrate some of my points.

Structure:

You open with a prologue set in the ‘present’ while it seems the main body of the narrative will be structured as a lengthy flashback wherein the origins of Kate and Charles’ are revealed. You also structure this section of the narrative from both their points of view, which I think works really well. This will also give the narrative more texture, depth and variation by having two main viewpoints, especially as Kate and Charles’ will be experiencing very different aspects of the war, given their different family backgrounds.

From reading your synopsis, it becomes clear that the love story of another couple will play out in the latter half of the novel, which will quickly become entangled in Kate and Charles’ own tragic relationship.

One small point, but I did think it strange that the prologue featured both 1949 and 1941 scenes. I think it would be stronger and more effective to just have the prologue as 1949, and start chapter one with Kate’s 1941 scene. After all, chapter one from Charles’ POV is set at roughly the same time, so to have them as separate from the prologue in one chapter or two successive chapters makes more sense and will also flow better.

Plot:

There are many novels that feature love stories played out against the backdrop of the Second World War, and a story needs to feel fresh, original and captivating if it is to stand out in a very crowded market place. And while your novel has the edge of being set in Hong Kong and various other colonies as opposed to ‘the West’, I did worry that the plot felt a little predictable. There’s huge potential for drama and emotion, but these early pages didn’t quite sweep me up in the way that I’d hoped. My biggest criticism is that you have a tendency to report contextual information in quite a clunky way, and resort to telling the reader what’s happening rather than showing them. I will demonstrate specific examples in the page notes.

While I found the prologue involving, I think it would be more compelling if you were a little bit more ambiguous and enigmatic. You need to hook the reader and have them trying to work out what’s going on. If you present it all to them as it is, there isn’t that dramatic hook. Remember, less is often more in storytelling.

The scene where Charles spots the Japanese soldier beating a British man and then the British soldiers reacting felt very rushed. This scene was quite hard to envisage as it all happened so quickly. There is no sense of tension of emotion, and so the reader is set at a distance from the unfolding action. This is something you seem to fall foul to quite a lot, by letting the tension drop and losing focus. I’ll give other examples in the page notes.

From reading your synopsis, I was a little dubious about the ending of the novel. It seems like it will end happily and a little too conveniently. It also hinted at being a little too didactic and moralistic. Given this is essentially a love story set against the war, you would expect there to be more elements of tragedy, compromise and an often painful acceptance of reality. While there are obviously hurdles along the way, it seems like the narrative will conclude a little too easily. I think there needs to be more drama, more suspense and more conflict if the reader is to question whether Kate and Charles will ever get together. And in turn, your novel will be all the more page-turning and compelling.

Characterisation:

Tied in with my comments on plot, given the familiarity of the story, you really need to have charismatic, distinct, believable characters that the reader really cares about if they are to emotionally invest in your story. There’s some great material contained within these opening chapters, but I always felt somewhat distanced from the two main protagonists. I think you’re too focused on presenting Kate as wealthy and privileged, rather than getting under her skin and bringing her alive for the reader. She is often presented as quite melodramatic and spoilt, and this can make it quite hard for the reader to empathise with her. Yes, she will have vices, but you need to open her up as a character as it feels like a very superficial portrayal at present. I think this is an area that really needs attention if your novel is to work on a commercial level.

Similarly with Charles, he never really came to life on the page in these opening chapters. His voice as a teenager didn’t quite convince and again, I think you were too focused on showing his complicated situation and how he was now ‘the man of the house’ rather than focusing on him as a distinct and individual character. I also found him quite self-pitying, constantly questioning how he’s going to cope being only sixteen. I think you would elicit much more sympathy for him as a character if he soldiered on and wasn’t so self-analytical. You need to show the reader how he has an awful lot resting on his shoulders, not have the character telling them!

While Kate and Charles are only teenagers in these early pages, there still needs to be tension and chemistry between them, which is currently lacking. It is this that will really fuel the pace of the narrative and pull the reader into the story as they become swept up in their relationship.

A small point, but I found the names of ‘Mumsie’ and ‘Pops’ a little grating at times. I understand that you want to show how Kate comes from a privileged upbringing, but I think by having such affected names, you actually risk distancing the reader from them and their story. As discussed before, I think there’s too much focus on presenting Kate’s parents as elite and upper class rather than making them human and real to the reader.

Critique continues next post
ProfessionalCritique
 17 Aug 2011, 18:48 #127381 Reply To Post


Setting:

While setting is only the backdrop to any story, given this is set in foreign climes and in a well-known historical period, setting can very much be a character in its own right. You really need to conjure up a vanished world and transport the reader there. And you also need to concentrate on exploring the unusual rather than the obvious in the setting if it is to feel original and memorable. While there were some nice details woven through in these early chapters, the setting wasn’t depicted vividly enough to really transport me. So this is an aspect that also needs consideration when you come to rewriting.

Genre/Market:

You describe this as historical, romance and women’s fiction. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is an incredibly popular but equally incredibly tough area of the market. And one of the most dominant types of narrative in this area are war-time set historical romances. These range from sagas to very commercial, sweeping, epic novels. So there is some stiff competition out there. I would suggest reading as widely in this area as possible to get a sense of what is selling and what works in this genre. There are certain reader expectations that come with a novel like this in terms of what it will deliver, so while it needs to hit all bases on that front, it also needs to bring something fresh, compelling and original to what is a well-worn narrative.

Synopsis:

I thought your synopsis was concise, succinct and well-written. It gave a good overview of the entire novel as well as a taste as to its tone and style.

Page notes:

p.2: ‘She’d grown up there, in the prison camp, behind barbed wire, suffering starvation and cruelty…’ – lot of reporting in this section. You don’t need to explain everything right away. It’s better to be a little more ambiguous at this early stage in the novel.

p.2: ‘She slipped from Pops’ grip and fell to her knees, taking a deep shuddering breath; she clamped her hands to her ears’ – this feels like very melodramatic and even theatrical behaviour. It’s hard to really feel the emotion in this scene as it all feels a little bit over the top. Remember, less is more.

p.3: ‘I’m only sixteen, he thought. How will I manage?’ – this feel a little clunky, as if it’s there for the reader’s benefit rather than being a natural thought that Charles would have.

p.3: ‘He gazed at mother’s delicate face framed by wavy, mahogany hair. Apparently, he and his siblings had inherited her looks…’ – you need to stay focused in this section. It’s a potentially dramatic, tense scene, and you seem to be drifting off on tangents about people’s appearances. These details can come later.

p.3: ‘She was only four; she should be going through this’ – feels like you’re stating the obvious here. Show the reader this, don’t tell them, and in that way it will be more powerful.

p.4: British and Japanese forces faced each other…’ – feels like you’re shoehorning in contextual information for the reader’s benefit. This isn’t a natural fit with the rest of the scene and consequently it jars. It’s much more important to stick with the personal in these early scenes. Factual details should be short and interwoven seamlessly. And can come much later once you’ve dropped the reader into the narrative and introduced your characters.

p.5: ‘Charles patted her arm. ‘Father will soon send the enemy packing’’ – an example of how the dialogue and language used by the main characters can sometimes feel quite formal and even stilted. It doesn’t always flow or feel natural, and again, this is an area you need to pay attention to.

p.5: ‘He wanted to tell the stupid bitch…’ – strong words. Makes him seem angry and violent and you risk provoking the reader to lose sympathy for him. By all means show how he is frustrated and anxious, but not in such a snide, cruel way.

p.6: ‘What if they spotted him? Mother and the little ones needed him’ – again, you are stating the obvious here. Less is more. Also, by constantly referring to the young children as the little ones rather than by their names, you are almost depersonalising them. They too need to have their own voices and a chance to express their own side of the story.

p.6: ‘They’ve got some of our chaps. I think they’re about to kill ‘em’ – you go from making Charles sound quite plumy with his use of the word ‘chaps’ to a bit cockney with ‘’em’. Be consistent in what you are trying to tell the reader about the character. It seems like we are getting conflicting messages here.

p.6: ‘Mayhem’ – show the reader how it is mayhem, don’t tell them that it is!

p.7: ‘he gawped at the motley collection of people’ – why is he gawping? This isn’t fully explained.

p.7: ‘The number one boy and the page boy’ – who are these?

p.7: ‘What was the man doing? Didn’t he realise the danger he was in?’ – what man? Are you referring to the number one boy? I found this scene a little confusing.

p.8: ‘Things like this didn’t happen. It was unheard of’ – stating the obvious.

p.8: ‘He ran past the Japanese out of the hotel as if demon forces were after him’ – rather an odd line to finish the chapter on. Rather negates the drama and poignancy of the previous scene.

p.9: ‘Didn’t bear thinking about’ – again, stating the obvious.

p.10: ‘a warm feeling of love’ – quite a clunky description.

p.13: ‘She had to get some sleep’ – a rather weak chapter end.

p.13: ‘How would she cope without them?’ – one example of many rhetorical questions. Try to avoid overusing.

p.16: ‘Hello Charles. This is my new friend Kate Wolseley’ – again, the dialogue sounds quite formal and stilted.

Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far is in good shape, and this marks a promising start. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes

Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 17 Aug 2011, 18:50 #127382 Reply To Post
Orion Editor mini-reviews

Professional mini critique for This is Violence by James Holland

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your horror novel. I thought the opening page was excellent – it instantly hooked the reader and set the tone. As your synopsis states, it also has a comic edge to it. Which is obviously why you picked the unlikely horror setting of Croydon. The structure at the beginning – flitting between John waking and dreaming – worked well and really maintained the pace and tension. I think this novel will most likely appeal to young adults, given the age of the protagonists and the style of the storytelling. I thought this was a very promising start.

Professional mini critique for He Who is Drowned is Not Troubled By the Rain by NA Randall

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. The first half of the story is almost entirely reported, which does risk distancing the reader from the unfolding drama, but the second half felt much more involving. The story has quite a didactic, moralistic tone which made it feel like it was aimed at children, given the simplicity of the story. A well-written, concise morality tale.
SIODAI
 18 Aug 2011, 11:53 #127430 Reply To Post
Dear Ted

Please thank Natalie for her extremely helpful critique. I shall definitely follow her advice when I do my next revision and hopefully will be able to improve my work.

All the best

Siobhan
Waking the Dragon

YouWriteOn
 18 Aug 2011, 13:02 #127435 Reply To Post
Quote: SIODAI, Thursday, 18 Aug 2011 11:53
Dear Ted

Please thank Natalie for her extremely helpful critique. I shall definitely follow her advice when I do my next revision and hopefully will be able to improve my work.

All the best

Siobhan


Hi Siobhan

Many thanks, we will pass on feedback to Natalie.

Midwinter Jim
 20 Aug 2011, 10:24 #127577 Reply To Post
Hi Ted,

Please thank Natalie for her kind words and encouragement.

Cheers,

James
YouWriteOn
 23 Aug 2011, 18:02 #127825 Reply To Post


Hi James,

Thank you, will do. Best, Ted

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