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ProfessionalCritique
 14 Jun 2011, 12:34 #120426 Reply To Post
Random House are the publishers of bestselling authors such as Dan Brown and John Grisham. Each month on YouWriteOn.com editors from Random House and Orion 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 April 1st for 2011
ProfessionalCritique
 14 Jun 2011, 12:35 #120427 Reply To Post
An Almost Perfect Plan/Willow55

Congratulations on being the top rated piece of writing on YouWriteOn this month! It's a very impressive achievement and you have written a charming, humorous story that I think many children will enjoy.

Plot/Narrative:

The story of some one, or some people, scheming to break up a couple and succeeding, only to regret their actions, is a familiar one so you need to ensure you bring something fresh and new to the plot and your high ranking this month is testament to how successfully you were able to do this. The narrative arc is relatively straightforward and I don't think anyone will be surprised by how it is resolved but you have lots of fun with the ways in which the children scheme to break up their parents, ranging from the slapstick to the more sophisticated. I particularly liked how the children become so swept up with their plan at the restaurant that they end up in a full scale food fight.

Plot-wise, it would have been interesting to have known why Matt's mother left as I would have imagined this information might have been useful when Matt and Isobel were planning how to split their parents up. And the same would also apply to Isobel's father, presuming that they had divorced? The absent parents could also have been something that brought Isobel and Matt closer together so we could see how the relationship between them developed; by the end of the story there is a clear bond between the two children and it would have been interesting for a reader to see that this was built on something deeper than just their plan to split up their parents.

It may also add an extra element if we were to see how the relationship between the parents was viewed by their school friends; if Matt and Isobel were sworn enemies, would their friends have been amused or horrified by the developments? Again, the reaction of their friends could have been another factor that helped draw the two children closer together.

Setting:

I think I would have assumed this was set in Australia from their dialogue, even without your explanatory note, but a few additional descriptive details would help your readers to picture where exactly your story was unfolding. (I wasn't sure whether the Central Market you mention was specific only to one town or was a more general term that could apply to multiple locations). Most readers outside of Australia will probably only know one or two key locations in Australia so as you continue to write I'd encourage you to work on building a sense of atmosphere and place. The setting isn't crucial to this plot or how the story unfolds, but small details that tell us whether this is unfolding in a small town or a bigger city would really help your readers picture the story, and add an extra dimension to your writing.

Quality of writing:

Your writing was generally very good and I thought you very successfully captured caught the voice of a young boy. There were some very nice lines, such as 'even our milkshakes had lost their froth' that really felt like something that a young child would notice – too often adult writers fall into the trap of making their young narrators' speech and observations more suitable for an adult character but your young narrator's voice felt authentic throughout.

Matthew's horror at realising Kate is the mother of one of his enemies was very convincing, and I liked his outrage at Isobel's slur on his weight – 'Actually, I'm a stick insect next to Isobel Barnett'.

Characterisation;

As the story is told from the perspective of the children, Isobel and Matthew are undoubtedly the most vivid characters. Because we only see Kate and Gary through the children's eyes some of their behaviour seems a little abrupt – wouldn't Gary have explained who Kate was when he first took Matthew to the netball game, for example? – but I think that works with the overall feel of the piece, i.e. that human behaviour is often strange and unpredictable.

Kate and Gary's personal obsessions were surprisingly similar in some respects – Gary's obsession with categorising and organising his possessions seemed to complement Kate's own obsession with cleanliness so I wonder whether, to make for a more dramatic read, you could work on playing up their differences? Gary's dislike of slang proved to be a crucial plot point so you could perhaps consider having Kate show, early on in the story, a much more relaxed attitude to language; if she were to use slang terms herself it might be a nice way of highlighting the differences between them. Matthew seems the more bookish of the two children, so perhaps he could bring home some tatty old books that he would love but which would horrify Kate.

Conclusion:

This was a charming, comic story that worked very well. In your next draft, or in any future writing, I suggest you look at how you can complement your careful plotting and well defined characters with a strong sense of place and atmosphere. I’d also suggest that if you wanted to expand the story further you look at how you can introduce additional characters so that the reader has a sense of the wider world in which your story unfolds – although Gary’s boss plays a brief role in the story, I think it could have been very interesting to introduce the children’s grandparents, or their teachers and friends. The story as it is works very well as a short story but I think that, with some work, it could be the beginning of a full length story about Isobel, Matthew, Kate and Gary, and their new lives together.
ProfessionalCritique
 14 Jun 2011, 12:36 #120428 Reply To Post
Time for Reflection/Timothy Saint

Congratulations on having not one, but two, stories in the YouWriteOn Top Ten this month! It's a very impressive achievement indeed.

The quality of your writing is very good and feels both effortless and very natural. Lines such as 'The chilly atmosphere pervading our modest semi on this particular Sunday afternoon has little to do with the vagaries of the weather and a great deal to do with the vagaries of man' work so well because it cleverly captures both the mood but also sets the scene for the reader; we learn both the location and the time of day and the season, and have a sense of the narrator's slightly pompous tone, all in just one line.

The revelation of just how much time has passed is well done, and the last line had a real emotional impact. Although I understand it is for dramatic purposes, I was surprised that neither James nor his son attempted to make contact with one another in those intervening sixty years. Was this because James feared the impact that it would have on his marriage? The contrast between their youthful ambitions and the stale, sad state of their present day marriage was very well done and I liked how you were careful to avoid apportioning blame and made it clear both Jim and Helen were responsible for the loneliness at the heart of their marriage.

The Devil Comes Down/Timothy Saint

This was a very accomplished, chilling read; you created an incredible sense of tension throughout the story, which successfully built to a stunning climax – I loved the twin revelations that the narrator was actually one of the congregation (was it the organ player?) and that the devil had come for him. This was an excellent example of just what can be achieved in a short story with a good writer in control.

Up until the revelation of the ‘devil’s’ identity at the end of the story I had a few reservations over ‘his’ voice as it seemed a little too colloquial at points, but once we realise who really is speaking this made perfect sense. The contrast between the malevolent intent of the devil and the joy inherent in the wedding ceremony was beautifully contrasted and it was very clever to link the lines of the ceremony with the deadly sin attributed to the character under examination.

Congratulations – I think this was a very skilful piece of writing indeed.

The Special Years/Susan Howe

This was a lovely, moving story and I really felt you captured very successfully the dilemma Sally faced as she struggled to balance her affection for Judith with the demands that the friendship placed upon her. Lynn's arrival acted as a catalyst for the breakdown of their relationship, and by avoiding giving us the obvious happy ending your story had far greater emotional impact.

I was surprised, however, that Sally avoided named Lynn as the child who was spreading the rumours about Judith – as they were at different schools would it have mattered to Sally if she was the person who had named Lynn? And would Mr Lees not have spoken to Judith's parents about the previous incident where he caught Judith stealing? In fact, I wonder if this, earlier, incident might have been a better opportunity for Sally to be caught between exonerating Judith and revealing her own bad behaviour, rather than for it to happen a year later, by which point Sally and Lynn would have no bond?
willow55
 14 Jun 2011, 22:55 #120516 Reply To Post
Ted - Please pass on my sincere thanks to the reviewer at Random House for a helpful and thought-provoking critique. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in to the re-edits.
stjerome
 15 Jun 2011, 20:07 #120646 Reply To Post
Hi Ted

Would you please thank the Random House reviewer for what I thought were insightful reviews for both my pieces. I felt the reviewer successfully identified what I was trying to achieve in both cases, and I found this extremely encouraging.

Tim
Saint. A dead sinner revised and edited.
Ambrose Bierce (1842 -1913)
YouWriteOn
 18 Jun 2011, 13:42 #120908 Reply To Post
Thank you to you both, and we will pass on your feedback to the Random House editor.
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