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ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:40 #145986 Reply To Post
NEW - Random House & Orion Reviews


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 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
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:43 #145987 Reply To Post
Random House review of Loku Master

Dear Chhimi,

Congratulations on being chosen for a review. I can certainly see why. Loku Master is a very powerful story, and you’ve created some potentially strong characters. I do have some comments and suggestions on how you might be able to bring out some of the elements you already have in there to make for a tighter whole. I do hope they’re useful to you as you revisit your manuscript.

Synopsis
I think the main thing I would say is that, whilst this is a strong piece of writing, it is undeniably bleak, and reading your full synopsis confirmed this further for me. The opening is gripping, but I wonder if it is just too much from too early on in. I think I would worry that you wouldn’t quite manage to carry the more faint-hearted reader with you through all the brutality.

I’d suggest giving your readers more of a chance to get to know your main characters, the set-up of the town, to root for them, before giving them something as hard-hitting as Prabu’s rape. I think it also might be worth considering adding in some more moments of light relief, some highs to go with the lows. There may be, for example, a fun scene you could add showing Prabu and Indika with the rest of the cricket team to bring them more to life too.

Obviously it’s hard to tell from just the first few chapters and your synopsis but whilst your plot is fascinating, it seems quite complex – perhaps there is some content in there that you could save for a future book?

Prabu
Prabu’s voice is great – fresh and distinctive from the outset – but I feel like there is scope to make him even more 3D by letting us into his head. Particularly as he is going through the terrible things he does in these opening pages I wanted to be there with him, to feel how scared he was. I think his rape will affect readers even more if they feel they know him well.
There were more practical things I wanted to know about Prabu from early on too. Who exactly is his guardian? Do they get on? How long has he wanted to live in England for? I think the more this desire is built up, the more we appreciate the dilemma in front of him.

I thought his reaction post rape was interesting and I found myself wondering how a teenage boy in this situation would react. Would he even use the word ‘rape’? Would he feel embarrassed about talking so openly to Indika about what has happened to him? Would it take longer for him to open up to his friend?

Indika
Indika’s voice and personality is not coming across as strongly as Prabu’s and I think, given how your story is plotted out, we need him to be just as complete a character. I wonder if it would work to add more onto the start and set-up of your novel to allow you the space to do more with the friendship between the two boys. The contrast in their backgrounds works nicely and I think you could show us more of it.

Coach and Matthews
I think both of these characters are brilliant creations – they really are despicable people. As with Prabu and Indika, I’d love to see some more of them in these opening sections. It could be very powerful for the reader to have met and got to know them a little better before Prabu’s rape.

Setting
You’ve given us a very vivid, Sri-Lankan setting that I’m sure readers will be fascinated by. I certainly was. I don’t think you should assume readers’ knowledge of the unsettled political history of the country, however. It adds an extra layer to your story and it would be great to weave this in even more than you are at the moment. To show the divides in the country and how they affect ordinary people and their day-to-day lives would be very interesting.

As I said, I was gripped throughout the section of the novel I read and I think you could make this something special. Just to refer back to my comment on your synopsis. I wonder if it would be worth clarifying exactly who your book is for? Is it a coming-of-age story or is it a crime novel? Reading the synopsis I feel like it could potentially be a mixture of both at the moment and I feel that this mixture, plus the amount of plot you’re fitting in means your wonderful characters aren’t as developed and explored as they perhaps could be.
Wishing you the very best of luck as you continue to work on Loku Master – and with all your writing.

Very best wishes,

Ruth, Random House


Breathing by Claire Whatley

Congratulations! This is a very nicely written, lyrical piece of writing, which I enjoyed reading. The voices of husband and wife are realistic and strong, and I liked the brief exchange we see between them. I appreciate the impact of their last exchange but I did wonder if we might be able to flashback to see them together on another previous occasion too – perhaps a happier one, so we can witness first-hand the joy they had together?

I really thought you portrayed Sue’s feelings of grief incredibly poignantly and powerfully, and yet I didn’t fully feel that her reaction on receiving the phone calls quite matched up to the emotion she is clearly feeling. Would part of her want to believe it was Alan? I think you could let us into her head more at these moments

What an intriguing premise, I really was gripped.

Home and Away by Willow55


Bron’s is a strong, distinctive voice and you write with a lovely lightness of touch that I enjoyed reading very much. I appreciate that you’ve created a short story, but I’d suggest expanding your word count a little. For example, I’d love to know more about Bron as she’s such an intriguing character – how old is she, for example? Why are they in Australia, particularly?

Whilst the ending is both powerful and poignant, I couldn’t help but feel that the ill-feeling between Bron and her mother was a little petty, perhaps this is the frustration you wanted to create in Bron as she travels back home? Could we find out more about Bron’s relationship with her mother? Is this more than just sisterly jealously? Is there something more that you could hint at?

Congratulations – this is a very well-executed, intriguing story.


Postcards by George Adams


I was very intrigued throughout the extract I read of your novel, and would happily have carried on had there been more. You’ve created a lovely relationship between father and daughter, and a similarly readable, intriguing one between Adam and Libby. I did feel in places that the dialogue wasn’t quite as natural as it could be – I felt there was scope to inject a bit more emotion into it.

In the case of Adam, I feel that slightly more dynamic dialogue coupled with letting us into his head more would bring him further to life. I’d be fascinated to know what he’s thinking and feeling when he learns these things he never knew about his wife, for example.

The mystery of Julie and Tracy is an interesting one, and I like the device of the postcards, but I wonder if you might be giving us too much too soon in terms of clues about their identity swap. This may be something you could allow your readers to build in their heads over a longer period of time.
Your synopsis sounds very interesting, reading it I wasn’t convinced that you need the sci-fi element to the plot, but it’s certainly innovative and I wish you the very best of luck with it.
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:47 #145988 Reply To Post
Professional critique of TO BUTCHER, TO BLEED

Dear R J Brown

I enjoyed reading your early pages of TO BUTCHER, TO BLEED and think they marked a promising start. I’m pretty certain that I read and critiqued an earlier version of this work, and from what I can remember (as it must have been a few years ago now), this shows much improvement from the previous incarnation. While the material is in very good shape, there are still areas that would benefit from reworking and developing. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and improve upon the existing chapters, and what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Structure:

Structure is the backbone of any story, and if your narrative is to flow and keep the reader actively engaged in your story, the structure of the novel has to be carefully considered. From what I have read of these early chapters and what I can gauge from your detailed synopsis, it seems that the novel will be structured solely from Rosa’s perspective, and the narrative will take a largely linear direction. While mystery and crime novels generally have a very clear story arc (set up mystery – solve mystery), it is the middle section where the author often throws in red herrings, unexpected twists, and added layers of intrigue. In short, while you want your narrative to have dramatic drive, you also want to have texture, depth and surprising angles to your structure to keep the reader truly invested in the story. So you might want to consider sub-plots, and what twists and turns you will lead the reader down as the narrative progresses.

Plot:

I thought the opening chapter was really strong. Intriguing and engaging, you hook the reader and instantly pull them into Rosa’s world. You also ended the chapter on an enigmatic note, ensuring the reader will want to keep turning the pages to find out more.

As I’m sure you’re aware, period crime set in 1800s London is a well-worn area of the market, so for your novel to feel fresh and original, you need to bring something different to your story. The fact that it’s shown entirely from ‘the whore’s’ point of view, rather than a detective, will already set it apart to a degree. But it’s imperative that you story doesn’t start to fall down familiar lines, or get caught up in cliché. With a sub-genre that is so heavily populated, you’re looking to break the mould, not dogmatically follow convention.

I would also advise that while the politics of the story brings another dimension to the narrative, try to ensure that this element doesn’t overshadow the real drama of the story. I liked that at the end, the reveal was as much to do with politics as it was to do with an unexpected crime of passion. It’s always important to bring the focus back on to the characters, rather than drifting off on the wider, socio-political angle.

Characterisation:

Given that your novel is shown solely from your protagonist’s POV and told in first person narrative, the protagonist has to be intriguing and charismatic if they are to carry the weight of the narrative as well as seduce the reader into following their story through to the very end. And I think in Rosa that you have created a great protagonist. She is feisty, knows her own mind, fearless, but also vulnerable and at times naïve. It’s refreshing to see strong female characters in an sub-genre where they are normally presented as the victims and ‘damsels in distress’.

A small point but you seem to switch between first and last names for characters in prose. You refer to Teddy by both his first name and Halsden. It’s best to be consistent and just opt for one standard moniker in prose, so as not to confuse the reader.

Tone:

As I often say to aspiring writers, tone is one of the most important elements of a narrative, but also the hardest to master. If the tone of a novel is pitched wrong, it can severely compromise a reader’s engagement with the story.

Given the subject matter, the tone of your story is inevitably going to be quite dark and menacing. But it seems that there will be flashes of relief in terms of humour and romance that will crucially ensure that the darkness of the novel isn’t unrelenting or overpowering.

Title:

As I think I mentioned in a previous critique of your material, I have serious reservations about the title. This is a book that will potentially appeal to women, but by having such graphic, brutal words in your title, you risk alienating possible readers. I think you should seriously consider changing the title to something that hints at a sense of menace, mystery and darkness, but won’t distance the general consumer. Despite the age-old saying of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, unfortunately the book-buying public are still very much influenced by title and packaging. So you need to think about all aspects of your novel before you begin to think about approaching a literary agent.

Synopsis:

While your synopsis is detailed, well-written and comprehensive, it is far too long. If you intend to submit your work to a literary agent, most agencies ask for the first three chapters and a two-page synopsis. So it’s crucial that you work on condensing your synopsis and summarising the key points. Because you go into such a high level of detail in your synopsis, you actually make the plot sound more complicated than it actually is. Another thing to note – try not to use speech in a synopsis. All you need to say is that Rosa considers taking up Teddy’s offer of working for him, which leaves the story open for a possible sequel.

Genre/Market:

You rightly class this as crime, historical and mystery. I’ve briefly touched upon the market. As well as ensuring that your novel offers something fresh and original from other titles, you also want to read as widely in this area as possible to understand just who your competitors are and to get a sense of what does and doesn’t work on a commercial level. After all, the first step in being a good writer is being a good reader.

Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far marks a promising start. And I’m sure with some polishing and development, you’ll be able to really make this shine. I wish you the best of luck and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes

Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:49 #145989 Reply To Post
The Fire Dragon
Congratulations on being selected for a professional mini critique by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story and thought you created a great sense of place and character. The reader was quickly aligned with Claire, who was a warm and sympathetic protagonist. My only reservations were: the title, which initially made me think this was a children’s story; and the dialogue towards the end, which felt a bit rushed and stilted. Remember, less is more, especially in a short story. Don’t overstate. You need to convey what you want economically, and then it will have more emotional impact.

Best Before

Congratulations on being selected for a professional mini critique by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. It was a simple premise but a story that many readers will be able to relate to: a past love and the desire to recapture the glory days. But from reading the synopsis, I wonder if your readers might start to get frustrated with Rachael as she remains at Jed’s beck and call. Try to ensure that she doesn’t become weak as the narrative progresses. This is her story after all, and the reader has to stay invested in it until the end.

Happy Hour
Congratulations on being selected for a professional mini critique by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. The first chapter was intriguing and worked as an effective hook to pull the reader in and compel them to keep turning the pages. But from the later chapters and the synopsis, it seems the novel soon becomes a bit farcical and far-fetched. It’s fine to be tongue-in-cheek and over the top if that suits the overall tone of your story, but ensure you know and understand what kind of readership you are writing for.

The Master Plan
Congratulations on being selected for a professional mini critique by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. But for a mystery, I felt these early chapters lacked intrigue, suspense and pace. I think you need to work on tightening your narrative to make the story feel more focused. I also felt that Jonathan lacked charisma as the protagonist. While he is portrayed as submissive, he still has to be interesting and compelling if the reader is to want to follow his story. Given the subject matter, it’s crucial that you don’t alienate more conservative readers, so Jonathan as to be the anchor of the story, and he has to hook the reader in.

Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:53 #145990 Reply To Post
Orion editor review of The Tracks

Thank you very much for the chance to read this. I think you’ve got something very interesting here, and your prose is very finely tuned. To be honest, there wasn’t an awful lot for me to pick up on in terms of specifics (grammar, sense etc), but I’ve marked up a few bits. I’ve also filleted your synopsis – see the notes on the attached document. In terms of wider thoughts:


I think your basic premise is good, and interesting. It’s always tricky to hold down a three-person narrative, although the fact that you can use one as an ‘omniscient’ narrator will help. I suspect your biggest problem will come with the moments when they interact – Benny is such an individual character that I fear he may swamp Vince’s portion of the narrative, although of course you’ll have a good chance to show Benny from the outside. That is something you can certainly avoid, but I think it warrants mentioning as a potential pitfall.



I think you have a tendency to overwrite in places, to work in metaphors and rhythms of language that are too considered. They’re often very very good, but they don’t always fit with the rest of the prose. I’ve marked a few up – I’m not suggesting you should lose them all, just that they’re worth looking at.



The opening section is great, and I wouldn’t really change a thing. You make it very clear in the reader’s mind that Suzanne is committing suicide (although obviously the synopsis tells us otherwise). Equally, I think the final chapter of the sample works well, although I have a slight concern that you lose some of the impetus from the ends of the three opening chapters, and effectively put Suzanne back in front of the train again. I’d consider trimming the end of this section so as to avoid the repetition of the fall, although I can see the argument for using the first short section as a ‘teaser’ to draw the reader in. To be honest, I could go either way on this one.



I very much like Vince as a character, at least from what I see here. You capture the mixture of monotony and occasional moments of happiness (mostly in the past) of his life well. I think the paragraphs in his section are too short, most of the time – I understand you’re differentiating him from benny’s voice, but as a reader, they still felt artificially divided. I’ve marked up a few that I would combine. In fact, this is the section that I fiddled with the most, as I felt it didn’t work as smoothly as the others. Notes are in the MS.



Benny is a very interesting person, and you sketch in his life very efficiently. I suspect that I’ve read too many novels with this sort of character – there’s been a bit of a vogue for them – but you manage to make him seem fresh enough for it not to be a major problem. And again, this might be one of those things where an editor sees lots of books and divines a trend when the average reader wouldn’t have seen a thing. There’s a slight possibility that the minutiae of Benny’s thoughts might become overwhelming if used too heavily, but I hope that the three interweaving narratives will counteract this risk.



I hope you find my notes or comments useful, but do remember that they are only opinions, and you may well disagree with them all! Apologies if any of them seem harsh, but it is my job to be strict…



Best,



Marcus, Orion


Attachments
The Tracks with notes.doc (66Kb) - 201 view(s)
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:56 #145991 Reply To Post
Orion editor critique of DRIVEN TO DESTRUCTION


Dear Michelle,

I enjoyed reading your sample chapters of DRIVEN TO DESTRUCTION. However, I think the material so far needs 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.

Character

This is an area that I felt needed quite a lot of work. You've chosen to write in the first person, which is fine, but for it to be truly effective, you need your reader to be entirely inside your character's head. You will know your character inside out, you'll understand her quirks and eccentricities, why she reacts to things in the way she does, but as a reader I found it very difficult to sympathise with Millie – at least initially – because it feels as though you're only just skimming the surface with her. You open the story with her screaming and shouting, angry at the world and on the verge of suicide – and as a reader it's very hard to connect to such extreme emotions when they’re coming from a character whom you know nothing about. Obviously this is unavoidable here because this is the first time we meet Millie, but because we don’t know or understand her yet, it feels melodramatic and a little over the top, which is obviously the last reaction you want to provoke in your reader.

I've mentioned this in my notes on structure and pace, but I'd strongly recommend that you don't introduce readers to Millie like this. Instead, you could start with Millie on the train. She's been through something incredibly difficult, she's sad, lonely, but this is an attempt to do something with her life. You could flash back to parts of her life before this point, you could flash back to the suicide attempt, her mum dying, her boyfriend breaking up with her. This would help give the opening scene the tension it lacks at the moment, and also create something of a mystery around Millie and will pique interest – why is she on the train? What has happened to her before now? What is she expecting from her new life in France? How has she come to make this decision? We need to be drawn to her as a character, to know something about to her, to relate to her, before we can be expected to empathise with the terrible feelings that led her to take such dramatic action. Get inside her head and try to articulate exactly how she feels. Avoid using clichés like 'feeling like death' or skimming over things like 'sad memories of my mother, the memories of my own failings, and the memories of my stupid boyfriend' – tells us what these memories are so that we connect and recognize the same feelings from our own lives. Millie is the person driving the narrative forward, and in order for you to hook your readers in effectively, they need to want to follow her story.

Have you thought about reconsidering Millie's age? Why did you pick twenty-three? Presumably she must have graduated two years prior to this given that she'll have done a year abroad studying French? Her age suggests this might a novel for adults, and yet to me the voice feels very teen. You need to make sure your pitch is right before you go any further with this character. Why not make Millie just out of university and struggling to know what to do next? With her mother and father dead, no other family, and no real sense of what she's going to do, it's the perfect turning point to have this kind of crisis. Because, actually, wouldn’t these be fairly normal emotions for a young woman in her position? And though of course Millie’s experience is private and personal to her, she also needs to have the element of ‘every-girl’ if she’s going to be a character that readers care about and connect with.

Skimming the surface – this ties in with what I mentioned above, but I had lots of questions about Millie and how she came to find herself in this position, all of which you need to expand on. This doesn’t necessarily have to be right on the first page – we don’t need information overload – but you certainly need to answer questions and drip feed your readers information about Millie. For example, how long is it since her mother died? How did her father’s death affect her? Where does she live now? Why has everyone abandoned her and why has her boyfriend dumped her? Has she ever had close friends or has she always struggled with close relationships, which is why she finds herself alone now? Or is this a result of the deaths of her parents? We need the answers to these questions because sometimes Millie’s tone and the things that she does seem completely at odds with the way she tells us she’s feeling. She’s got a job, she seems to have a few friends, she’s fairly proactive (getting herself a job in a care home after university, then applying to go to France), so it’s hard to see where the suicide quite fits in and how she’s arrived at this point. Does Millie see the nannying as a long term job? Or, like the nursing home, is she treading water until something better comes along? Is going to France about making her mum proud? Your character is making things happen for herself without really explaining her motivation, and you need to tap into her inner thoughts. You’re asking your readers to go on a journey with this character so they need to be invested in her and understand why she is the way she is. It’s fine for her to be changeable and temperamental, but she needs to be likeable and believable first and foremost.

Tone

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. In your synopsis you describe the book as a psychological thriller, but in the sample pages, suicide attempt aside, it felt much more akin to the way a chick-lit novel might open. This really needs thinking about carefully. One of the most important elements and driving forces of a psychological thriller is atmosphere and tension. Millie is sharp, funny, self-deprecating, making sarcastic comments, and despite how desperate you (and she) tells us she feels, it’s very difficult to pick this up from your tone.

Millie’s sharpness and humour are lovely, but perhaps, if this is the direction you’re finding your writing is taking you, it might be an idea to rethink the way you’re pitching this. Do you need a suicide attempt at all? Couldn’t Millie just be a girl at a turning point in her life, a little bit lost and looking for something new?

And if it’s a thriller, shouldn’t there be more atmosphere and tension and unease when Millie arrives at the house in France? At the moment Millie seems very preoccupied by the way her dress is sticking to her legs, what the little boy thinks of her, the state of the house and how she is going to have a shower – all rather mundane sorts of things and not necessarily setting the right tone for a psychological thriller.

You need to be aware throughout of what kind of story you are trying to tell, because this very much dictates the style and voice of your novel, and at the moment it’s not quite working in the way I think that you’d like it to.

Continues next post
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:57 #145992 Reply To Post


Setting

This ties in with my notes about the tone of your novel. Give readers a sense of how Millie is relating to her surroundings – both in England, how she feels about where she lives, the way she lives her life etc, and in France too, because that will set up a nice contrast. You also need to give readers a sense of how Millie feels about her surroundings. Is the house creepy? Is there something unsettling about the family? Give it more of a sense of place and context.

You need to make sure your readers can visualize your setting in order to give a good sense of place. And the setting will, of course, be essential in creating the atmosphere and tension you need, because in order to get your readers to engage with your characters you also need to place them – their experience will shape how your readers see them.

Structure and Pace

As I mentioned in my notes on character, I think opening with the suicide attempt is problematic for a few reasons. Firstly, as I’ve said, your readers aren’t invested in Millie enough to care about her and to be instantly hooked into her story. And secondly, because you spend a lot of time gearing up to the trip to France without actually moving the plot forwards, which feels a little frustrating. You need to pull the story tighter together so that it has greater focus.

Do we need to see Millie having her driving lessons and failing? Do we need information like ‘the woman emailed back and said she liked the look of me’ or ‘the references weren’t too difficult’ or details about the Glaswegian woman who calls her? It all feels as though it’s just delaying the moment readers are anticipating, which is for Millie to be heading off on her adventure. So why not start there?

Keeping pace and structure in mind, it might be an idea to ‘storyboard’ your book – for you to plot what will happen in each chapter in advance – which will give your narrative more focus and more drama. Each chapter has to feel well-rounded and complete, and it also helps if the chapter finishes on a dramatic note, or hook, so that the reader wants to turn the page. And you don’t quite achieve this – especially given that so much action takes place within only one chapter.

In fact, I was quite surprised to get to the end of your sample material and realize I’d only read one chapter. I think you ought to consider breaking it down into shorter, more accessible chapters. Perhaps Millie could be on the train thinking about what has brought her to this point in the first chapter, and at the end she’s pulling into the station contemplating meeting her employer for the first time? The end of the second chapter could be just as they arrive at the house? The beginning of the third as she meets Elodie’s husband and forms her first impressions? It’s a more tantalizing way of presenting your story, and would help focus your writing.

Plot

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 pace (which we’ve just talked about) and plot. This is why it's always wise to have the whole thing plotted out, even if it's just in your head.

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?

Is the driving thing a strong enough plot hook? I’m not sure it is. It seems silly that she wouldn’t actually just tell Elodie that she can’t drive and use the two months the children are on holiday in which to learn.

Title

Like your opening few sentences, Driven to Destruction feels rather melodramatic, particularly now that I’ve read your sample material, because as we’ve discussed, it just doesn’t quite match the tone of the book itself. I suggest that you take a close look at your pitch and tone and think about this again. Of course, if you still feel it works, then fine, but otherwise think about finding something that might be more suited to the way the story feels it is going.

Ending

Killing off the unfaithful husband seems a very extreme way of dealing with the situation! We’re talking about murder. It seems completely out of proportion with his actions. And as I’ve already mentioned in my earlier notes on tone, this definitely doesn’t seem to fit with the way the tone of the story is progressing. It feels to me as though the ending should be empowering, that Millie should have gained some sense of self-worth from her experiences, not descended even lower than she was before.

continues next post
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:57 #145993 Reply To Post
Synopsis

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. In fact, from your synopsis, I’m not entirely clear how the novel is going to end or what your message is – so I do think this needs some articulating.

Genre/Market

As I mentioned earlier, I found it quite difficult to place – the voice is definitely more teen, than adult, but because Millie is twenty-three, she’s slightly out of the range of experience for YA readers. You really need to think about your pitch and getting that right before you continue writing.

So, ask yourself a few questions. Do you see this book as teen, or are you aiming at adults? In both cases you’ll need to think about tweaking your character so she sits comfortably within one or the other. 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 always essential to be aware of the competition and how you see your writing in comparison – it’s a tough market out there and you need to give agents and publishers a reason to pick your book out from the hundreds of scripts they receive every week.

Page by Page Notes

p1 My spirit broke with it and I feel to my knees, welcoming the pain as the sharp fragments dug into my skin … I cried out with the voice of a mad woman – As I’ve suggested above, I think it’s tricky to open a book in this way, because without knowing the character or what she’s been through, this feels over the top and melodramatic. If you decide to keep this opener, you need to give these feelings context straightaway so that readers connect with Millie. She feels alone, she doesn’t know which way to turn – but apart from the obvious (death of her parents), it’s difficult to see how this is different from any normal teen/YA experience. How has she got to this point? Give it all background.

p1 the gentle woman who’d brought me into this world / the Devil’s own brew – Try to avoid clichés like this. They’re an easy trap to fall into, but they’re also incredibly distancing because you’re giving readers words and phrases they’ll have heard a thousand times before that don’t really represent real experience, rather than reflecting on things in a whole new light from your character’s own, distinctive point of view.

p1 My father died of a heart attack when I was ten. It wasn’t my fault, honestly. – Does Millie believe it was her fault? This seems to suggest that she does – but why? It’s frustrating that you touch on these things without embellishing further. Readers are just getting to know Millie in these opening pages and it’s important to allow them to do this by revealing elements of her life that they might be able to relate to.

p2 She died a month later, just before her sixty-third birthday. I wasn’t even there for her. – Why not? Where was she? How does this make her feel? What was her relationship with her mother like? As above, you need to embellish and get inside your character’s head.

p2 Feeling like death, but horribly alive – avoid cliché and melodrama. It undermines the power of the emotions your character is experiencing.

p2 The one thing I’d done right in my miserable life… – cliché

p 2 I knew I wouldn’t be going to heaven and the only hell I believed in was the hell I’d been living in. Can you give this a bit more context in the opening pages? Millie has a job, a house, a cat, she has a few friends she can call upon, she has a degree in French. She doesn’t seem particularly tortured, more dissatisfied with her life, and so these words lose their impact.

p2 So I applied for this job as a nanny in Brittany… – One of the things editors often tell writers is to choose ‘show over tell’. This sentence is an example of ‘tell’ and it’s very distancing for a reader. You’re telling your reader what your character is doing but you’re not allowing them to experience it with her. Give it a bit more of immediacy – Millie could ponder a while on whether she’s going to apply, wait in anticipation for a response, be delighted when it happens. We need to live the emotions with her.

p2 The references weren’t too difficult as I did actually have a couple of friends, sort of. – Has Millie ever had any friends? What’s happened to them if so? Does she deliberately isolate herself or is it just since the death of her mother? Does she find it difficult to make friends? Why? Give her more of a realistic experience that readers will relate to. You need to find a common link, your character needs to be an ‘every-girl’ or at least show elements of one in order to keep readers engaged and rooting for her, otherwise they’ll lose interest.

p2 …you wipe one shitty bottom, you’ve wiped them all, right? …the total helplessness of the inmates gives me this feeling that I’m really quite a capable person. I mean, I can even wipe my own bum quite adequately. – The humour and self-deprecation here is really nice, and makes her a much more likeable person. But you still need to give her state of mind context. Why doesn’t she think she’s a capable person? Where does this lack of self-worth come from – especially when she’s got a degree, a job, a flat?

p2 Carolyn’s little girl, Izzie, one of the few people in this world who really seems to like having me around. – Why is this? Is she good with children? Does she find them easier to relate to than adults? Embellish.

p3 There are times when I’m really pleased to get one of those random calls from somewhere up north… Again, why? It’s great that she has these little quirks but you can’t get away without explaining them because we need these little insights into her character.

p3 If you’re wondering why the cat has the same name as me it’s because my mother got her for company when I went to university. – I love this! It’s really funny stuff and you could make more of it by getting inside her head. How do these sorts of quirks make her feel? Is it a happy memory of her mother or does the cat make her feel sad now?

p3 She asked me a few questions in French… – Millie’s first conversation with Elodie. What does Millie make of her? How does she feel about what she’s taking on? Better now she’s made a decision and things are actually happening? You say in your synopsis that she really likes Elodie, which is part of the reason she plots her revenge. It might be a nice touch to show Millie warming to Elodie here? Do they speak in French? Maybe Elodie could compliment her and this could make Millie feel good about herself and excited about meeting her?

p3 I wanted so desperately to start this new life in this new country. –How is she hoping things will change for her? I think you need to give readers some sense of what Millie is expecting to achieve from her new life. Is it just escape? What is she running from? If she’s running from something in particular you will need to bring this full circle by the end of the book so she’s learned and grown from the experience. Is that the plan?

p3 I wanted to get away from everything that had been part of my own depressing life till now – As I’ve just mentioned above, Millie’s life really doesn’t feel that depressing. Can you give it a bit more depth and emotion? It doesn’t matter what her life looks like to outsiders of course, it’s how she feels and this is what you need to articulate in order for readers to care about her enough to follow her story.

p3 This might be a problem, I realized, because I’d lied when I said I could drive. I’d never driven a car in my life. – I’m not sure I understand why she lies about this. Is it because she so desperately wants the job? And if she’s going during the school holidays, couldn’t she just admit her failing and make plans to learn to drive while she’s out in France? This is what I mean about being inside her head – unless we are and we know what she’s thinking, decisions like this don’t make sense.

p3 I phoned Linda and got the number of her friend Betty, who ran her own driving school. – This is another example of ‘tell not show’. When you tell, we never get the sense of how Millie interacts with other characters, which makes her an extremely difficult character to relate to.

p4 ‘Don’t be so nervous,’ Betty said that first time – Do we need to see the driving lessons? If you’ve built up Millie’s character properly, readers will be much more interested in Millie herself and how she’s reacting about going away. Is Betty ever going to be a character we meet again? This episode doesn’t feel as if it’s moving the plot forwards – not in the same way that showing the conversation with Elodie would, for example. If it’s not moving the plot forward, do you really need it?

p4 So I set off on the train with my passport and a backpack of clothes, but no driving license. I was twenty-three years old and almost a virgin. – Why almost a virgin? It’s very frustrating as a reader to have these little insights into Millie’s life dropped in and then never expanded on. It makes us feel as though we’re only skimming the surface rather than getting to know the real character. You need to address this both here, and in the wider context of the novel.
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:58 #145995 Reply To Post

p4 I was searching for love, searching for happiness, searching for meaning to my miserable existence. – Searching for love and happiness is normal, especially at the age of twenty-three, so why add the ‘miserable existence’? It’s another cliché and undermines what she’s saying. You may find, once you go back and look at the structure of the story, that you don’t need the suicide attempt at all. It’s a catalyst for change of course, but at the moment it adds unnecessary melodrama, and it’s not an essential part of the story. Wouldn’t it be normal and entirely understandable for a twenty-three year old young woman in a dead end job to wonder where her life is going and want to make that change?

p4 ‘Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure…’ – Try to make it clear here that Millie has drifted into a dream because the transition between the two consciousnesses feels awkward. You might just need to add a sentence to the effect that she’s drifted off, perhaps.

p5 No. I could feel myself right there, sitting on the train, speeding along a journey into an unknown future – a new country, a new job, a new life. A life in which I would drive a car. – How does this make her feel? Of course she’s worried because she can’t drive, but this must be a fairly inconsequential worry next to the plans for a new life in a new country. How does she feel about that? Excited? Intrepid? Like she’s going to make her mum proud because she’s doing something with her degree? What did she dream of doing when she was at university and why hasn’t it quite worked out like that? What did she want from her life? If we’re to believe that she got close to suicide there must be more to it than just the loss of her parents. It’s sad but true that lots of people have to deal with this sort of loss every day. How is it she has come to believe she has nothing to live for?

p5 I spotted her as soon as I stepped off the train, even more beautiful in the flesh than she’d looked on screen. How does this make Millie feel? Nervous? As if she isn’t good enough? I noticed the brief flash of disappointment when she realized she was getting the tubby girl in the yellow dress. – and why does Millie think she would be disappointed? She’s employing her to look after her children. What does Millie think Elodie would be expecting? Does she feel like this because she warmed to Elodie so much during their telephone conversation and wants to make a good impression?

p5 …past experiences having rather put me off French public conveniences. – Don’t expect all your readers to know what you’re referring to. Don’t skim the surface.

p5 She smiled that lovely smile. – Why is it that Millie is so taken with Elodie? What is it about her? Kindness? Does she remind her of someone? Get inside Millie’s head so we understand her emotional reactions rather than just being told that this is the way she feels and thinks.

p5 My plan was to lose weight, but that had been my plan for the last four years, ever since I’d got over the anorexia and lurched the other way. – Millie seems to have rather a lot of issues! I suggest you think about limiting these, because it’s beginning to feel a little unrealistic. Why can’t she just be a bit overweight? Do you need the past anorexia too? These extreme scenarios make her quite difficult to relate to, and if it’s not essential to the plot, why do you need it? Lots of girls worry about being overweight, and it would be natural for Millie to feel this way next to a willowy Frenchwoman.

p5 ‘It’s fine,’ I squeaked. ‘Any car is fine.’ – Again, why is she so adamant to keep up the pretence? It doesn’t seem to have been a condition of getting the job, so why not admit it and say she is planning to get driving lessons in France so she can help?
ProfessionalCritique
 19 Mar 2012, 21:58 #145996 Reply To Post


p5 She looked so fresh, so fragrant, so slim. I wanted to open the window and feel a blast of cool air in my face. – Why doesn’t she open the window then? Is she too nervous? Get inside her head.

p6 Elodie turned the car into a long driveway lined with poplar trees, at the end of which was a grand old house … As we drew closer I noticed the peeling paint, dangling shutters and missing tiles…– What does Millie make of the place that is going to be her home for the foreseeable future? Is it what she’d expected? Can she imagine herself living here? She’s made a life changing decision and she’d be assessing here, wondering whether she’s made the right choice, feeling excited about finally making a difference.

p6 ‘Come and meet the children.’ – What does she think Elodie makes of her? Why has she suddenly decided to idolize this woman?

p6 I squatted down and reached out and to my great relief she came towards me and let me cuddle her. – Why ‘great relief’? My understanding was that the one thing Millie was sure about was that she was good with children. She should have some good qualities. She seems to have been fairly successful getting by so far, and we need her to be credible.

p6 Marcel was much taller than his sister and a lot less cute. He had wild hair and freckles and stared at me as if I was an alien. – What are her first impressions of him? Does he look like he’s going to be a handful? Is she worried? Give us a sense of how she’s relating to these new people she’s meeting,

p6 A big chunk of plaster had fallen from one wall and the ceiling was riddled with cracks, but at least I had a view of green fields and trees and blue sky and emptiness. – Give us a sense of what all this means to her. It’s all too easy just to skim the surface but Millie is our eyes and ears – how she reacts to her surroundings and other characters is how your reader will react too. Control your readers reactions, tell us how Millie feels. Is she hopeful? Is she looking forward to making a life for herself here, or, now she’s met the children and seen the house, is she unsure of what she’s getting herself into?

p7 ‘Was Emma your previous nanny?’ / She nodded. ‘But she had to go.’ – If the previous nanny is going to come up later, it might be a good opportunity here to have Millie wonder what happened to her. Nothing too obvious of course, because you don’t want to give anything away, but it would be natural for her to wonder about her predecessor, and for perhaps there to be some sense that she’s not being told everything. Give it a sinister edge.

p7 those simple words took me closer to happiness than I’d been for a long time. – Why? Again, you need to avoid clichés, but you should also avoid being too melodramatic about this. Maybe the little girl’s words could just bring a tear to her eye? It might be interesting to explore why she feels she gets on better with young children than adults – maybe because she doesn’t feel judged?

p7 The largest bedroom had a giant four-poster bed and lots of dark furniture. It looked reassuringly messy and was obviously home to several more cats. – Why is she reassured by mess? Is it because she’s slightly intimidated by Elodie and it’s good to know she’s only human? Is Millie herself a messy person? Does it make her feel more at home?

p8 Tall and good looking in a gone to seed kind of way, his tired dark eyes barely glanced at me as he uttered a curt ‘bonjour’ – What are her first impressions of him? He’s fairly rude and unwelcoming. A bit like his son! And very different to Elodie. How does this make her feel? Does she worry she’s not wanted here? She’d be trying to work out the family relationships and dynamic here – she’s going to be living them for a while if she wants to make this new opportunity work.

p8 We’d entered an overgrown garden – You need to instill more of a sense of Millie enquiring and trying to work out how to make sense of her new surroundings and where she will fit in to this new life. ‘That’s Papa’s studio. We’re not allowed in there.’ / ‘Why not?’ – at this point Millie would guess (correctly) he was an artist, wouldn’t she? She needs to be inquisitive about everything. Readers will be asking questions here and wondering all these sorts of things about how the family works and why they need a nanny and what her life is going to be like – you need to tell us, through Millie.

p9 It’s nice touch to show Millie bonding with Sophie, but you might need to think about cutting. The pace slows significantly her, and if you want to keep readers turning the pages, you need to constantly be aware of this. As I mentioned earlier, if it’s not key to moving the plot forward, think about cutting the scene.

p9 I tried to ignore his insolent face, but despite my happy mood it wasn’t long before I was having to restrain myself from picking up his head and smashing it over his stupid head. – She arrives in France on p5, arrives at the house on p6, and yet this is the first time we’re told she’s happy and excited about what lies ahead. It’s certainly not evident from the way she’s reacted to things so far (except, obviously for her feelings about Sophie). You know how your character feels, but your readers won’t, and it’s up to you to guide them.

p9 Andre ate his dinner in silence, topping up his wine glass frequently. Again – what is Millie making of this? What impressions has she formed? She’s observing him physically, but what does she make of him (and the general family set-up) emotionally?

p11 Should I tell her the truth? But then I’d have to say goodbye to my new friend and return to my dreary old life. – I’m afraid I’m still not sure that the driving element is a convincing enough story strand, for the reasons I explained earlier. And whether she knows how to drive or not, this wouldn’t necessarily affect how she chooses to take her revenge on André

Conclusion

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, Orion
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