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 10 Jan 2012, 18:20 #139282 Reply To Post
Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett. Orion are part of the Hatchette publishing group, whose authors include Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and Ian Rankin.

Each month on 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 November 1st for 2011
 10 Jan 2012, 18:22 #139283 Reply To Post
Random House Editor Critiques

Society of Seers

Dear Karen,

Congratulations on being chosen for review this month. I can see why you were – I very much enjoyed the sample of Society of Seers. It’s powerful writing and your concept is both commercial and intriguing.

I have made quite a few comments here, some of which I hope are useful to you as you revisit the manuscript. For the most part they concern developing elements you already have. I think you can afford to slow things down and let us get to know your characters and their personalities, as well as the set-up, in a slightly less frenetic way than we do at the moment. It would also be worth clarifying, I think, who exactly the novel is for. Certain aspects of it feel very teenage but reading your synopsis I can see that you tackle some adult themes later on in the action (adultery, incest etc) and with Willow as a young girl when we meet her I wasn’t sure who your target audience was.

Your opening is very arresting and you have managed cleverly to make your readers both not want to read on but also to have to read on, which is not easy to accomplish. You also create a real air of mystery which you then maintain throughout the novel. Having said this, I wonder whether it might be interesting to create a sort of prologue, separating out Willow’s vision from the main text before we actually meet her. This would increase the mystery even more, I think, but also show us from the outset the vividness of the scenes she sees and possibly increasing the impact by not breaking it immediately with Willow waking up.
You could possibly later even show us the scene with Rob actually happening in real time/real life so that we understand and trust in Willow’s skills.

Whilst I think your heroine is a potentially fantastic character, I’m not totally convinced at the moment that Willow is as strong a character or voice as we need her to be for such an ambitious, dramatic plot. I’d love to feel like we are let into her head and her private world from the outset. Particularly in the build-up to her running away. She’s been planning this for so long and now she’s finally doing it. Wouldn’t she be more panicked and full of nerves? At the moment she’s quite hard to get to grips with, I think. Sometimes she seems very self confident and at others very babyish (with her teddy bear, for example). Having grown up in care, wouldn’t she be a bit more hardened/independent as a girl? Obviously she’s vulnerable, but we want to see her as proactive, I think.
Following on from my comment about the opening, I wonder if we do actually need some proof that Rob will do something to hurt Willow? If you don’t like the idea of actually showing us the scene that she foresees on your opening pages perhaps we could see the eerie scene where Rob gives her the pink dress rather than just hear about it?
I love your device of using mutli-narratives, and it’s particularly nice to see Willow’s voice in first person. I think that a few more touches to the scenes where this happens to really make Willow’s young voice as vivid and real as possible would be great.

Willow’s power
I was left with quite a lot of questions about the logistics of Willow’s visions and power. I’m sure you will address these over the course of the novel but I think there’s scope for you (without slowing the pace) to give us some more details about this from the opening of the book. Things like, how far ahead she can see things and how and when the visions developed. Is day-to-day life difficult for her? Does she have to go about avoiding eye-contact with people?
How do the visions work? We learn that with Meredith, Willow has ‘more of a feeling than a picture’ – so how does it normally happen?

I think it’s important that we understand why Willow trusts Meredith as implicitly as she does. At the moment I don’t think we really see the bond between them clearly enough, she’s merely a total stranger that Willow met once.
Having been reunited with Meredith on the bus would Willow not ask more questions about the organisation she’s now part of?
I think there’s space to do much more with the moment when Meredith realises who Willow’s mother is, and Willow realises Meredith knew her mother . Surely Meredith must have known this, and if not why not? Wouldn’t emotions run much higher at this point?

It’s a great idea to have Anya’s story unfolding at the same time as her daughter’s is for us years later. Though, depending on who your target audience is, you might want to adjust the balance of how much we have of each of their stories.
Before we meet her, I think it could work nicely for us to have more of an impression of Anya through her daughter’s eyes. Surely Willow’s feelings about her mother would be very strong? We know she wants to find her, but would she not feel very bitter towards the woman who effectively abandoned her? Why does she trust her and want to see her again? And with the SOS brooch, the only link to her she has, would Willow not have wondered more about what it is before meeting Meredith?

Based on the sample I read, I think these are my main points at this stage. In general I really think this looks set to be a very gripping thriller of a novel – congratulations again. As a final comment, I wondered how wedded to the title you are? If you are pitching this as a teen girl novel perhaps something a bit more whimsical and softer in tone might appeal rather than the slightly Dan Brown-ish slant you have on things at the moment might work well?

Very best,
Random House
 10 Jan 2012, 18:23 #139284 Reply To Post
Random House - Mini Reviews

Purple Rain by Clar Ni Chonghaile

Congratulations on being chosen for review. I enjoyed reading the sample of Purple Rain (a lovely title!) and you have created a very evocative opening to your novel.
It works well to throw us quickly into the action as you do, but I would say that as things stand I felt a little detached from the action in places. It feels like your readers are being told about events rather than seeing them unfold vividly and immediately. I wanted to see the little girls come home from school, for example, and picture them clearly so that we feel more attached to them when Nadia is taken. And, again, from the point when the men pull up in their car I felt you could afford to slow things down to really live the action with Omondi.

I loved the setting for your novel and the details and use of language you use make it seem very authentic – perhaps this too could be slowed down a little, so that we understand Omondi’s role and life here more clearly as well as being allowed to relish the setting a little more. Omondi seems like a great character, and I immediately warmed to him. I think it’s important we keep this affinity with him as the dramatic action unfolds.
I wish you the very best of luck with your writing.

The Door of Angels by A C Acton

What an action-packed opening to your novel!

You caveat your sample chapters by drawing our attention to the similarities with Dan Brown. Reading the extract as well as your synopsis I can see that there are indeed lots of similarities. For me, it seems as though your points of difference lie in your heroine and the element of the supernatural, which reading your outline seems to become prominent. I wonder if you could do more at the outset of your novel to play up these differences? Hint at the supernatural, perhaps, and allow us to get to know Sophia better?

Your clever setting is a real gift. I wonder if you could do more with the sense of place and how the catacombs add to the atmosphere and mystery (a body in an eerie, locked catacomb is a perfect set up). Their eeriness and atmosphere could be even more dramatic, I think. And perhaps we could see the gory scenes down there as Sophia sees them so we get her immediate reactions rather than hearing about it in hindsight?

Sophia’s a very intriguing character but I think you may need to be careful not to make her too cold and unidentifiable. Perhaps seeing a hint of her as a woman in her reaction to Flaxman’s death could soften her, as well as letting readers into how she’s feeling about suddenly become a murder suspect.

This looks like it will be a very thrilling novel – congratulations.

Soul’s Child by Dianne Gray
This is a very intriguing idea for a novel, with some strong and interesting characters – congratulations.
There are so many great elements in your novel, but I feel like we are detached from the highs and lows of the action a little by joining Aurora’s story when we do. I’d love to actually see the events of sixteenth birthday party unfold, for example, and to see her and Marilyn together. She’s a potentially brilliant central character so I’d love to get to know her better.

The concept of Aurora’s dreams and how her dad uses them is very innovative. Could we see father and daughter interacting about them, maybe? That could allow for some powerful scenes. And how does Aurora feel about this ‘skill’ she now has? Is she grieving for her mother and sister? Could you let us into her head more?

I think in general you can really afford to really slow down all the action of this opening section and develop your characters a little more. It really sounds like it’s set to be a great novel so I think you should allow your readers the time and space to enjoy it.
 10 Jan 2012, 18:26 #139285 Reply To Post
Orion Critiques

The Harlequin Girl

Dear Laurinda Luffman

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I read an early draft of your novel through YouWriteOn, when it was previously called THE DEVIL-FACED GIRL. It’s clear you’ve given a lot of thought to this revised draft and I really enjoyed reading these early pages of THE HARLEQUIN GIRL again. While I don’t think the material so far needs a huge amount of reworking, what I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can further hone and develop the existing chapters, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Structure is the backbone of a novel. It gives shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. The structure of your narrative is essentially linear, although these opening chapters from Orla’s POV (point of view) do have her narrating in hindsight. The novel is also structured between Orla’s perspective and Danny’s diary entries. This change in character POV and style of narration gives texture and variance to your narrative.
I did think the chapter break between chapter one and two was a little jarring. The end of chapter one isn’t particularly dramatic or compelling, and the start of chapter two immediately links in from the previous sentence with ‘But over the last few months, I’ve begun to appreciate others are dealt garbage cards...’ Chapter openings need to be stronger than this and really pull the reader back into the story.

A girl’s formative years are an area that is ripe in dramatic potential. It is an age that readers will remember only too well – that awkward transition between discovering who you are and who you want to become. But this is also a well-worn narrative, and so your novel really needs to feel fresh and original if it is to stand out from others in its sub-genre. And while these early pages go some way in achieving that, at present they don’t have them compelling, emotionally resonant quality that will set your novel apart.
The narrative follows two misfits – one physically scarred, one emotionally scarred – as they try to figure out who they are and attempt to forge their own futures, even if they’re uncertain of what their futures will hold. The story is narrated by Orla as she recollects her first meeting with Danny, sharing her thoughts and feelings with the reader.
I thought the opening few paragraphs were really strong: intriguing and they instantly place the reader in the scene and alongside the protagonist, seeing what Orla sees. And Danny’s diary entries afford another perspective, giving insight into his own troubles, as well as portraying another angle of Orla.
While these opening chapters are very readable, the novel feels a little unsure of itself at this early juncture. With Orla narrating what has already happened, the drama feels somewhat removed, and in turn the reader may be distanced from the story. You need to work on really immersing the reader in the narrative and bringing them into Orla and Danny’s worlds. Danny’s sections are stronger in that they are more mysterious, and so hook the reader, getting them to ask questions and actively engage with the story as they try to work out what happened on Danny’s past.
From reading your synopsis, it seems the novel turns from being quite a slow-burning exploration of adolescence to more action-filled as Danny goes missing and Orla decides to travel to London to help him. It’s crucial that this plot development still feels true to the overall story if the reader is to remain engaged.

This is very much a character-led novel. The success of the story relies totally on the reader’s engagement with Orla as the protagonist and with Danny. They have to invest in their stories and want to follow them through to the end.
Orla is a misfit and loner who believes she will never find love. Most reader’s will be able to identify with that feeling of not belonging, of futilely dreaming about love, and how we are all too quick to judge ourselves and others on our appearances.
The narrative is written in first person which instantly gives a sense of intimacy between the reader and Orla, as they see everything from her perspective and are privy to her innermost thoughts. But at times it feels like we’re being told conflicting things about Orla. Early on, it seems like she’s timid and shy, hiding in the shadows of the doorway, looking at Danny but too scared to go over in case she scares him off. But then suddenly she’s shown as being feisty and even a bit combative with Linda and Josh. Her portrayal has to be consistent if it is to ring true with the reader.
Loosely tying in with this is that Orla’s use of language and vocabulary at times felt inconsistent. She is portrayed as being contemplative, thoughtful and intelligent, using such phrases as ‘galvanised’ and more poetic lines such as ‘But we were too coiled up in our other concerns’. But in the next paragraph, she states: ‘He was making a right mess’, which seems to conflict with her tone and style of talking. It is absolutely crucial that you really capture Orla’s true voice as if this isn’t believable, the reader’s engagement with Orla and her story is compromised.
This draft gives Danny much more of a voice than the previous version I had read. His diary entry was great – revealing yet at the same time enigmatic, prompting the reader to want to know more and read on. But like Orla, you need to work on getting under his skin more, and revealing what is unique and extraordinary about him (and Orla too).

Setting, of course, is only the backdrop to your story, but it can be a character in its own right. It can very much help build atmosphere and even go some way in influencing the tone of the narrative. And I felt this was an area that could benefit from a little more emphasis. You state at the beginning that it is set in the North-East coast in England, so readers familiar with that area will be able to envisage the setting, but for readers who have never visited, I think they might struggle to really picture where the narrative is set. The only real descriptions in these early pages have been of the wind-swept coast and Danny’s rented cottage. What is Orla’s house like? What about the cafe? Descriptions need only be brief in their details, but by seamlessly interweaving through the narrative, you will vividly conjure up Orla and Danny’s world.

As I often tell aspiring writers, tone is one of the most important elements of a novel, but also one of the hardest to master. If the tone of a novel isn’t pitched right, it can seriously compromise a reader’s engagement with the story.
The tone is intimate: chatty, conversational but also Orla laying bare her secrets and thoughts. Similarly, Danny’s diary entries are revealing and personal, with an air of mystery that surrounds his shadowy past. It’s clear from reading the synopsis that while Orla initially thinks she could fall for Danny, it is Alex, a character introduced much later on, that will provide the love interest. But given that you class this novel as a romance, there needs to be much more tension and chemistry between Orla and Danny to begin with, even though in the end it is not meant to be. It is that age-old tantalising question of ‘will they/won’t they’ that will keep readers hooked.

You have classed this as teenage fiction and romance. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is an incredibly competitive area of the commercial fiction market. Young adult fiction is becoming much more sophisticated, as many authors realise that not only do teenagers want to read up, but some adults want to ‘read down’ through books about adolescents that will strike a chord with them as they remember their own formative years, wanting to read novels that truthfully and poignantly capture what it means to be a teenager.
As I’ve said above, you need to work more on getting under your characters’ skin, as they are what drives the narrative, and it is their portrayals which determine whether a reader will engage with your novel or not. You also need to heighten the sense of potential romance, and also the mystery surrounding Danny. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in this genre to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work in this area of the market. After all, the first lesson in being a good writer is in being an astute reader.

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think this draft shows much improvement. 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
 10 Jan 2012, 18:28 #139286 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Reviews

Professional mini critique for Tick Tock by Anke Lovell

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. You really capture the voice of seven-year-old Jane and convincingly show her world through her young eyes. The story had a bittersweet tone, as you portray Jane’s naïveté and innocence while at the same time showing how in many ways she’s had to grow up quickly and learn things that most seven-year-olds are still ignorant about. I did think the ending felt a little abrupt and perhaps could have been more poignant, but overall this is an impressive first draft.

Professional mini critique for Have a Good Day by Claire Whatley

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. A lot of readers will be able to identify with the headache and stress of the morning rush and school run, with both parents and children over-tired. I did guess very early on that Henry must have died and I think this revelation would have more impact if this was withheld until nearer the end. If it was only narrated in the present tense rather than past tense, that might help. And it would also convey how that one fateful morning will always be relived and analysed by the unnamed grieving mother.

 10 Jan 2012, 18:31 #139287 Reply To Post
Orion Editor Critique of The Eleventh Question

Dear Dianne,

I enjoyed your sample chapters – your writing is confident, the pace is good and your characters are effectively introduced. I thought this marked a promising start. However, I think the material could benefit from a fair amount of reworking.

What I hope these 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. My notes take the form of over-arching comments on the main elements of the novel, followed by more detailed page-by-page notes to illustrate some of my points.


The opening chapters are effective in that they introduce the protagonists and their central dilemmas. But I'd be interested to know how you're going to develop this through the novel. Are Arista and Cayo's stories going to be interwoven like this throughout, or will one take precedence? Your plot summary seems to suggest that they will take equal weight – and if this is the case, you'll need to make sure that you develop both characters enough that readers care about them equally. However, if you're looking to appeal to a YA market, Arista's story is perhaps a more natural narrative strand on which to focus – she's a contemporary teen so there will be that immediate engagement with your readers right from the beginning.

So far, the structure works nicely, and the pace is good, another important thing to remember for teen readers. But how is it all going to develop? I'm sure it sounds patronising to say it but it's particularly true for children's books and Young Adult novels that there needs to be a clear Beginning, Middle and End. Have you considered writing a chapter by chapter synopsis for the book? It's a great way to get an overview, and really focus the plot. You'll be able to see which areas are working, and which need more drive. And, this is true of any novel, but particularly for teen readers who have notoriously short attention spans – unless a scene or episode is driving the plot forwards, do you really need it?


This all ties in with my notes above – in the opening chapters, you succeed in piquing readers' interest and drawing them in, and now you need to maintain it through plot and pace. Which is why it's wise to have the whole thing plotted out, even if it's just in your head.

One thing that slightly concerned me was the hefty subject matter you're taking on here. It's some task making philosophy open and accessible and above all interesting to teenagers and I'm not sure you've quite achieved it yet. Essentially, the plot appears to move forward and is geared around a series of philosophical questions. It is, of course, perfectly reasonable and realistic for a melodramatic/sensitive teen to ask themselves a question like 'Who am I?' - and most readers would recognise this crisis of conscience. But I did feel that some of the later questions came about rather less organically and felt rather forced – 'How did I get here?' / 'Why is anybody here?'. Arista is obviously a serious and sensitive teenage girl, but she also partly needs to be an 'every-girl' so that readers relate to her. She'd have normal concerns about boys, school, looking pretty too. You need to get inside her head, internalise rather than just giving her dialogue – she's your readers' eyes and ears and unless we are totally with her, you won't keep readers turning the pages.

Other things to consider – how long will Arista spend in the country when she goes? Will we see her there and how her relationships with the family on the farm develop? We ought to if this is going to be a turning point/happy moment in her life. Don't just report it – one of the key things to remember in story-telling is 'show don't tell' – contrast it with her unhappy life with her mother – this is how you keep your readers' attention and get them to engage with your characters.

Steve Cummins – it seems rather far-fetched to me that a petty criminal Arista's mother met in the pub one night would really take the time and effort to pursue a personal vendetta against a teenage girl. It might be more credible if you gave this relationship some back-story. Maybe he's an abusive ex-boyfriend, or even a current boyfriend? It's far more likely that someone like this would be looking to get his revenge than a random stranger, isn't it?


Pitching the tone is often one of the hardest things to get right. If the tone of a novel is pitched wrong, it can compromise a reader's engagement with the story.

I wasn't quite sure how you were pitching this. Arista's story feels gritty and contemporary and top-end teen, and Cayo's world almost feels like a fantasy strand, and as he's more naïve and less worldly – which is fine – but it felt slightly younger too. You need to be aware throughout of what kind of story you are trying to tell, as this very much dictates the style and voice of your novel.


As I mentioned in my structural notes, if you're switching perspectives between chapters, you need to make sure readers care equally about each.

The characters will be key in driving the plot forwards here and not sure we care about them enough in the first few chapters to continue reading care about what's going to happen. It's fine that Arista's different, an outsider, it's an experience that most teens can relate to. But I also found her a rather frustrating and difficult character, passive rather than decisive, self-pitying rather than troubled. I think this comes back to two things. One is 'show not tell' – could there be more of a build-up? A few photos on Facebook and it's difficult to really relate to that intense, terrifying feeling of being bullied. Could you show us some of the bullying experience rather than reporting it. Readers are much more likely to respond and relate to 'seeing' something happen, than being told by a narrator.

The other things is 'being inside your character's head'. Arista is self aware – something many teen girls are, of course – but as I mentioned in my notes on structure, somehow I felt that the questions she was asking didn't come about as organically as they could do, which makes them seem a little self-indulgent, even irritating at times. She's our eyes and ears and so her actions/reactions shouldn't be a surprise to readers, but a natural outcome of what she's been internalising. Have you thought about telling Arista's story in the first person? It would create a more intimate, confiding tone and the reader will instantly be pulled into Arista's innermost thoughts and feelings. And it would also make it stand out from the Cayo's narrative, because you're telling it in a very different way.

I felt you needed to pay more attention to Cayo's story if he's to be a character readers care about and are interested in. As I've noted above with Arista, you need to make him come alive as a character by getting inside his head. It's always important that YOU guide the reader, rather than leaving them to interpret what your characters are feeling or experiencing through dialogue. I felt very strongly that this needed some work – and I've tried to help you by pointing out areas in my page by page notes that you might consider looking at.

Avoid cliches – at the moment Mum feels like a bit of a classic alcoholic no-good – and we've seen these appear in novels and films time and time again. Make her different, human, complex, by showing us some real intimacy and tenderness between mother and daughter, before it's hidden again under the bravado and the addiction. This is what makes a character that readers will care about. In the same way, as I've already mentioned, Steve Cummins could be a better drawn, more complex character if you gave him a back-story rather than simply making him a random acquaintance.


The setting for Arista's narrative is clearly present day, but I wasn't quite clear on Cayo's. You say it's set in Bolivia. Is this present day too? As I've mentioned above, it felt almost like a fantasy world, which might be the point, but just make sure your readers can visualise it and you give a good sense of place. It will probably be something that becomes clearer as the novel progresses, but in order to get your readers to engage with your characters you also need to place them, because their experience will shape how your readers see them.


I thought your synopsis was succinct and concise, but I felt that there could have been a little more detail. Usually, when you submit to a literary agent, they ask for three chapters and a two-page synopsis. So the synopsis not only has to give them a flavour of what the novel is about, but also summarise the plot for them, and I'm just not sure there's enough here to really hook an agent in and give them a full sense of the book.


As I mentioned earlier, I found it quite difficult to place this – Arista's world feels gritty and teen and violent, and Cayo's fantasy/mystical world felt younger – which might be a bit of a tricky sell. Do you see it as teen, or slightly younger? What you also need to do is to think about and define your novel's USP. Where do you think it would sit in the market? Which writers would you compare your writing/themes to? How will it stand out? It's good to be aware of the competition and how you see your writing in comparison.

Page by Page Notes

p 1 – She sat looking at the page for several moments, her face hot, mouth dry – as well as describing your character's physical reaction, for readers to really engage with Arista, you need to tap into her emotional reactions too. How does she feel seeing this? How long has it been going on? There's a sense that she's used to it as she reacts quite calmly to it, but you need to tell us.

Continues next post
 10 Jan 2012, 18:31 #139288 Reply To Post

p 2 – 'Not hungry,' Arista said as she walked from the room – why does Arista reject her mother's advances here? In the next paragraph you go on to explain about her mother's 'two moods' – is this why Arista reacts like this? Because she's fed up of her mother's changeable nature? If so, you need to tell us. Don't leave it for readers to infer.

p 2 – Arista started to laugh – having been initially frosty with her mother, she now laughs. This feels a bit contradictory – and that's fine, because humans and relationships are complex, but as I've said above, you need to get inside Arista's head so we understand her mixed emotions towards her mother.

p 2 – Arista was taken aback by the question. 'Why would you say that?' - at this point Arista is stomping around looking miserable and upset, so why would she be surprised to be asked a question like this – especially if her mother knows about what happened with the dog? Is she just surprised her mother has noticed? Again, tell your reader.

p 3 – if guilt was a sport, Amanda would be reigning world champion – why does she refer to her mum as 'Amanda'? To distance herself from her? And is she feeling guilty? It's difficult to tell from the dialogue and you need to guide readers.

p 3 – Her heart raced but there were no new updates and no dog pictures – when are you going to reveal what exactly has happened? It's fine to keep it slightly mysterious at the beginning but you will eventually need to give readers some explanation about how her life has come to this point, why she hasn't got friends who would support her, so that readers can understand and sympathise.

P 3 – Her walls were filled with pictures of philosophers she had collected over the last couple of years … no wonder the kids at school called her a freak. Why is she interested in philosophers? If the 'ordinary' kids at school think she's a freak then it's also quite likely that your teen readers will feel the same way too. So you need to explain why Arista is interested in these philosophers, make her experience relevant to the readership. Why does she use this to make sense of life when some teens would use music/film etc? Make her likeable and sympathetic, because it's her story that will keep readers turning the pages.

p 3 – She wanted support, she wanted someone who thought like her and enjoyed the same things – why hasn't she found this with any of her peers? It seems unusual that she would have no friends at all. Did she used to have friends but they've abandoned her after what happened with the dog? Give us some build-up and context. Most teens will recognise that feeling of isolation and also of bullying, but Arista also needs to be real and believable, and readers need to be able to relate to her.

p 4 It didn't help her mood, she still felt sick and empty – why does she feel like this? Why have things escalated so much that she's on the verge of killing herself? Give some comparison between how her life is now and what it was like before.

p 4 'Who am I?' - At the moment this feels a little melodramatic and it won't once you've built up a bit of context through internalisation and explaining her interest in philosophers so we understand how Arista has got to this point.

p 4 – The opening of Chapter 2 almost feels like a different book. Is this the point? And why Bolivia in particular? Why would someone in Bolivia be interested in the experience of someone in what is presumably the UK/western world? Or is it all over the world? We know that she's one of many, but why is this so interesting to Diosa/Cayo? Can you make it clearer what the significance is here? It feels a little muddled at the moment, and if it's too muddled or complex you'll lose your readers' interest.

p 5 He had become wise beyond his years and Diosa had taught him the secrets of the Above and Beyond – this is an example of telling and not showing. Embellish here so readers understand Cayo's experience and make it more real to them.

p 6 – as above, there is lots of 'tell' and explanation here, but I'm still not sure what the significance of the Eleventh Question is. It's quite dense and informative, and you need to relate it to real experience in order for your readers to care about what's going to happen. What is it that readers are waiting to find out and why should they care. That's what needs to be articulated here. Does Cayo even understand the significance of the question or is it something that Diosa has yet to reveal to him? I think this needs a bit of work as it's your hook to keep readers turning the pages, and they won't if they don't understand what it is.

p 7 'Do you think she'll succeed?' - again, I'm still not quite sure what it is she's meant to be 'succeeding' at. You need to hook your readers in and make them care, because it feels a little too abstract at the moment.

p 7 Maybe it was the young, impressionable mind that grabbed onto a theme and, even as the body aged, refused to let go – Arista seems much older than her years here, which is fine, but it won't make her the easiest protagonist to relate to for lots of teen readers. There needs to be a part of her that's an 'every-girl'. Think about how you can make her experience relate to 'normal' teenagers by giving us that context earlier (relationship with her mother, attack by dog, father leaving.). Get inside her head rather than leaving it to Cayo, otherwise your reader will never connect with your central character – and without that, you've lost your driving force of the novel.

p 7 – Arista seems very calm and demonstrates much presence of mind when she witnesses her mother being attacked, and yet she must be panicking. There's a stranger in her house, being violent towards her mother – is this usual? Or has she seen the man before? This is another moment where you need to get inside her head. Let her emotional reactions be the readers' too.

p 8 – There's lots of dialogue here, and while it's nice, without internalisation from Arista, it feels quite flat and lacking in emotion, although after what she's just been through, it must be entirely the opposite. Give your readers more of a sense of this.

p 8 Arista said nothing. Amanda had gone out, got drunk and picked up some random guy who had tried to kill her. This is a statement – completely unemotional, when your readers will be crying out to make sense of the situation. They need to do this through Arista's eyes – and you need to let them.

p 9 They didn't know Amanda. They knew nothing about anything. She was a great mother, just a little confused at times. This feels very contradictory to everything we've seen so far. Nothing in Arista's manner or interaction with her mother suggests she thinks she's a good mother. Of course it would be natural for her to be protective of her mother, but these things shouldn't come out of the blue to a reader. We need to know our main character completely – to react with her, feel with her, and understand her, or we won't care about what she's going through. Another good point at which to internalise.

p 10 She hadn't chosen this life, but she had to live with it – This is nice. It feels like normal teenage experience. You could make more of this throughout, because it's what will make your character rounded and believable and likeable.

p 10 Cayo slipped Fabien some bread and meat the townspeople had given him … Cayo embraced him before leaving and could feel nothing but bones – embellish here so your readers care about Cayo's experience. What does he feel about having left his friend behind? Does he resent his life?

p 11 He knew the next seven questions Arista was going to ask and he knew the answers to them all. But he didn't know the eleventh question or what would happen to the consciousness of the world once it was asked – this still feels very abstract and not hugely accessible for your readership. Why will teens care about the 'consciousness of the world'? How would it affect their lives on a day to day basis? Your teen readers need to understand real consequences and implications.

p 12 – again, there's lots of dsecription here of Arista's physical state, and some nice dialogue, but without internalisation it lacks emotional depth. It's in your hands to make readers care about your character and you can do this easily with a few well-placed sentences here and there.

p 13 The man lifted his arm and pointed towards the glass as if pointing at Arista – what's going through her head here? As above, give us emotional as well as physical reactions.

p 13 Her head was pounding and she needed a pain killer – same comment as above.

p 14 Everything in her mind became small, as if she was looking at the world from a great height – people were small, houses were small and she wondered what was out there in the great unknown, beyond space and time – this is nice but I'm afraid i'm going to keep coming back to one of the main themes of this critique and say that this needs to be counterbalanced with normal, or rather accessible, teenage feelings and emotions, reacting to things on a day to day basis so it's mixed up with these philosophical questions and feels more the sort of thing your average teen reader will be able to relate to.


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far marks a promising start. But you need to pay attention to structure, plot, and particularly to characterisation. I think you would benefit from further guidance. Have you considered joining a creative writing class/course? Feedback and regular constructive criticism from other readers and writers will help shape your work and hone your storytelling.

Best wishes,

Jenny, Editor, Orion
 10 Jan 2012, 22:49 #139309 Reply To Post
Please pass on my gratitude to Jenny for providing such an in-depth review of The Eleventh Question.

This has opened my eyes to a lot of changes I will be working on to develop the story.

Thanks again!
karen milner
 11 Jan 2012, 09:36 #139319 Reply To Post
Thank you so much for your critique and great observations, Ruth. I will indeed take note and slow things down a little to allow more character development.

I did intend the story for the adult market but I may re-think that as it could suit the YA market better. I think separating the initial vision into a prologue, and then have the scene play out in real time later on, is a fantastic idea.

Following your comments, I also think it might be better to start the story from Anya’s point of view. I’ve already done an alternative opening which starts on the day she has to abandon Willow. I think this will help show the characters more and pull the reader alongside them as well as giving an opportunity to reveal more about their gift.

I also agree that, after spending a few years in children’s home, Willow would be tougher. So I will look again at her inner voice and actions.
Regarding the title, I’m not at all attached to it. I’ve already thought of several others including Deceived and Seers.
As you can see you’ve fired my imagination and got me re-writing, so thanks again, best wishes, Karen.
 12 Jan 2012, 04:18 #139447 Reply To Post
Please also pass on my gratitude for the Random House review of Soul's Child. These are just fabulous!!
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