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ProfessionalCritique
 21 Jul 2011, 15:35 #124422 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 June 1st for 2011
ProfessionalCritique
 21 Jul 2011, 15:38 #124423 Reply To Post
Random House Critique of ETERNAL TRAUMA by Barry Anderton

There is much about your story – sample chapters and full synopsis – that is really touching and powerful. Fictional accounts of lives in countries going through upheaval, violence and unrest can often serve as an illuminating light on the horribly real problems facing these countries – and it can be very affecting for a reader sitting comfortably and safely in their armchair at home. The Kite Runner achieved this most recently and famously, and some of the techniques employed by Khaled Hosseini can be looked-at to raise the emotional tempo of your story and hook readers as successfully as he did.

That early description you have of the food being prepared for cooking – the peppers, tomatoes, spices etc – is very evocative. You are transporting your reader to an unfamiliar setting through their senses; in this case smell, sight and taste and this means they will be immediately engaged with the narrative. I’d love to see more of this throughout your book – really bombard your reader with the sights and sounds and smells of Algeria – as Hosseini manages to convey the heat and tension of Afghanistan. Give us more physical descriptions of people so we can immediately picture them – we are told that Khalti Houria is ‘generous and kind-hearted’, which is fine, but we need to know what she looks like, too. You do this brilliantly with Ami Issa, your description of him as having ‘a blurred face as though eroded by age’ is lovely.

Perhaps you could convey the fact that Khalti Houria is a generous and kind-hearted person by describing actions which reveal these qualities, rather than putting the simple words down in black and white. This mantra from publishers of “Show, don’t Tell!” is one that is very important for a writer to crack – you will keep the book’s momentum going and increase the interest of the reader if you do this. Mustapha’s introduction also suffers a bit: ‘He was so friendly with all his neighbours and relatives that everyone had a good word to say about him’ – instead, tell the reader about something friendly he has done, and let them naturally come to the conclusion that this means he is a good guy! A much more effective way of building character.

I think you should concentrate hugely on making your characters really vibrant and alive before the car bomb that so changes Mustapha’s life. He has the potential to be such a wonderful character – so noble and brave and sweet-natured – but I want to be rooting more for him and his family, feel really involved in their pain after the terrorist attack. Be careful, too, at how you report the attack – keep the dialogue short and sharp and realistic. For example, when Yasmina is hit by shrapnel, she merely says “Nothing to worry about . . . It’s just a superficial wound!” – this doesn’t do justice to the terror and confusion she would surely be feeling. Try and avoid being too sweeping (‘they opened their eyes and saw dozens of human corpses and body parts littering the ground’ doesn’t pack the emotional punch it should, and I would re-visit the scene of the carnage caused by the car bombs in some detail – make it scarier, wilder, less controlled.
Moha sounds like a very interesting character-in-the-making: I really liked the way you set him up as a rude, cocky little kid and then strip back this façade when he tells Mustapha about the death of his older brother. And Madani sounds brilliantly evil (really like that we find out he is related to Moha!), so really go to town on him and set him up as the dark foil to Mustapha’s light goodness.

I wish you all the best for your writing! Lauren Buckland, Random House


Random House Mini-Reviews


TALES FROM SITKA-BY-THE-SEA by Marion G. Harmon
I enjoyed this – it is certainly high-concept! I really admire how fearless and imaginative a writer you are (thinking back to Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc, too), but at times I did wonder if Tales… was veering a little too far into the oddball… by incorporating so many different, disparate elements into your story, you do run the risk of it struggling to find its own identity. And to engage your reader fully, they need to feel that they have some kind of grasp on proceedings!
Meredith is certainly an interesting character – and certainly not what you’d expect a typical shy, sweet, submissive temple maiden to be like! I actually found her ‘voice’ much sparkier and punchier in your synopsis, perhaps you could look into injecting a bit more liveliness into the opening section through her eyes. The descriptions of the Sitka Shrine and Little Nara are good and necessary to set the scene, but I was finding myself longing for the action to get going. Meredith seems curiously detached and unexcited when she witness the dead drop. Wouldn’t this be massively exciting for her? I think suspecting spying activity to be going on under her nose would make The Face falter for a bit – she tells us that “I had to tell someone”, but I didn’t really feel any sense of urgency or excitement, of this being the beginning of something interesting in what was previously a normal, quiet life.

After the introduction of Hiroshi, her suddenly-betrothed, things take a turn for the surreal and everything descends into anarchy. Great action scenes, the pace of the narrative really picks up and the reader is thrown into the chaos very convincingly. From such a serene, controlled opening, where we learn about The Face Meredith has learnt to adopt, to seeing her operating a crash-mask like a total pro (“Hydrogen sulphide mix. Inhale it, it blasts through your blood-stream…’) is quite a shock, but you do pull it off! I’m not surprised her parents are staring at her in some confusion after watching the TV footage. I’m definitely interested to read on… you are an adept writer with an excellent disregard for conventional narrative!

Best of luck with your writing – Lauren Buckland, Random House

SOLOMON SAYS: THE POST OFFICE JOB and I SHOULD HAVE TOLD HER by Timothy Saint

I really like the idea of re-writing some of Solomon’s proverbs from the Bible with a modern, and very relevant slant. Short stories are tricky to pull-off, but you manage it – especially in the case of THE POST OFFICE JOB.
This is darkly brilliant comedy – Leonard Reginald Gubbins’ voice is so jaunty and chatty and engaging at the start, that when you realise that he is filling his flat with noxious gas and is anticipating being dead in an hour, it is quite a shock! Your reader is gripped from the start.

His tone is so conversational, and matter-of-fact, that this presents a really chilling contrast to the true horror of the situation – this man is going to die a very unpleasant and painful death any minute and he’s nattering on about his affair with Denise downstairs after an evening on the Blue Nun, and how much he detests his brother-in-law. Great stuff!
And oh, cruel irony that the police weren’t actually coming for him at all, and the whole suicide plot was in vain. He had set himself up as such a tragic hero, and he needn’t have bothered – in fact he heading back to prison and that precious ninety grand has slipped through his grasp. That second section made me wince at poor old Leonard – and your last line is a master payoff. I really enjoyed this story!
I found I SHOULD HAVE TOLD HER a little less satisfying, and wonder if you can push the envelope here a bit more? All that wistful longing from the narrator in the opening scene, where he’s falling hook, line and sinker for Chloe starts off being sweet (when he says ‘Our eyes met… almost!’ you really feel the pain of him being near her in the lecture theatre, but so very, very far away from her still) and then I began to find him increasingly creepy. You use language like ‘I prowled the corridor’ and ‘I fought down an overwhelming urge to touch’ her hair, which made me expect some danger to come. I was hoping his mask of control would shatter, and he would become much more involved in events, rather than coldly reporting them from the sidelines. I realise the proverb means that he can never tell Chloe that she is disintegrating in front of his eyes, but could he maybe have a confrontation with the drunk guys she is with at the student bar? She could be totally out of it, and unknowing, but he could get shot down by the guys and retreat to lick his wounds. Just a suggestion to get him into the action a little more.

Chloe’s transformation from unattainable, angelic, beautiful fantasy figure into the ‘wretched addict’ we encounter at the end of the story should be heartbreaking – but I thought it lacked the emotional punch and heart that it needs due to the extreme clipped-ness and control of your narrator’s voice. Maybe let him off the leash a little here – to give vent to the horror of what has happened.

Best of luck with your writing! Lauren Buckland, Random House







fatimati
 21 Jul 2011, 17:23 #124431 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 21 Jul 2011 15:38
Random House Critique of ETERNAL TRAUMA by Barry Anderton

There is much about your story – sample chapters and full synopsis – that is really touching and powerful. Fictional accounts of lives in countries going through upheaval, violence and unrest can often serve as an illuminating light on the horribly real problems facing these countries – and it can be very affecting for a reader sitting comfortably and safely in their armchair at home. The Kite Runner achieved this most recently and famously, and some of the techniques employed by Khaled Hosseini can be looked-at to raise the emotional tempo of your story and hook readers as successfully as he did.

That early description you have of the food being prepared for cooking – the peppers, tomatoes, spices etc – is very evocative. You are transporting your reader to an unfamiliar setting through their senses; in this case smell, sight and taste and this means they will be immediately engaged with the narrative. I’d love to see more of this throughout your book – really bombard your reader with the sights and sounds and smells of Algeria – as Hosseini manages to convey the heat and tension of Afghanistan. Give us more physical descriptions of people so we can immediately picture them – we are told that Khalti Houria is ‘generous and kind-hearted’, which is fine, but we need to know what she looks like, too. You do this brilliantly with Ami Issa, your description of him as having ‘a blurred face as though eroded by age’ is lovely.

Perhaps you could convey the fact that Khalti Houria is a generous and kind-hearted person by describing actions which reveal these qualities, rather than putting the simple words down in black and white. This mantra from publishers of “Show, don’t Tell!” is one that is very important for a writer to crack – you will keep the book’s momentum going and increase the interest of the reader if you do this. Mustapha’s introduction also suffers a bit: ‘He was so friendly with all his neighbours and relatives that everyone had a good word to say about him’ – instead, tell the reader about something friendly he has done, and let them naturally come to the conclusion that this means he is a good guy! A much more effective way of building character.

I think you should concentrate hugely on making your characters really vibrant and alive before the car bomb that so changes Mustapha’s life. He has the potential to be such a wonderful character – so noble and brave and sweet-natured – but I want to be rooting more for him and his family, feel really involved in their pain after the terrorist attack. Be careful, too, at how you report the attack – keep the dialogue short and sharp and realistic. For example, when Yasmina is hit by shrapnel, she merely says “Nothing to worry about . . . It’s just a superficial wound!” – this doesn’t do justice to the terror and confusion she would surely be feeling. Try and avoid being too sweeping (‘they opened their eyes and saw dozens of human corpses and body parts littering the ground’ doesn’t pack the emotional punch it should, and I would re-visit the scene of the carnage caused by the car bombs in some detail – make it scarier, wilder, less controlled.
Moha sounds like a very interesting character-in-the-making: I really liked the way you set him up as a rude, cocky little kid and then strip back this façade when he tells Mustapha about the death of his older brother. And Madani sounds brilliantly evil (really like that we find out he is related to Moha!), so really go to town on him and set him up as the dark foil to Mustapha’s light goodness.

I wish you all the best for your writing! Lauren Buckland, Random House


Random House Mini-Reviews


TALES FROM SITKA-BY-THE-SEA by Marion G. Harmon
I enjoyed this – it is certainly high-concept! I really admire how fearless and imaginative a writer you are (thinking back to Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc, too), but at times I did wonder if Tales… was veering a little too far into the oddball… by incorporating so many different, disparate elements into your story, you do run the risk of it struggling to find its own identity. And to engage your reader fully, they need to feel that they have some kind of grasp on proceedings!
Meredith is certainly an interesting character – and certainly not what you’d expect a typical shy, sweet, submissive temple maiden to be like! I actually found her ‘voice’ much sparkier and punchier in your synopsis, perhaps you could look into injecting a bit more liveliness into the opening section through her eyes. The descriptions of the Sitka Shrine and Little Nara are good and necessary to set the scene, but I was finding myself longing for the action to get going. Meredith seems curiously detached and unexcited when she witness the dead drop. Wouldn’t this be massively exciting for her? I think suspecting spying activity to be going on under her nose would make The Face falter for a bit – she tells us that “I had to tell someone”, but I didn’t really feel any sense of urgency or excitement, of this being the beginning of something interesting in what was previously a normal, quiet life.

After the introduction of Hiroshi, her suddenly-betrothed, things take a turn for the surreal and everything descends into anarchy. Great action scenes, the pace of the narrative really picks up and the reader is thrown into the chaos very convincingly. From such a serene, controlled opening, where we learn about The Face Meredith has learnt to adopt, to seeing her operating a crash-mask like a total pro (“Hydrogen sulphide mix. Inhale it, it blasts through your blood-stream…’) is quite a shock, but you do pull it off! I’m not surprised her parents are staring at her in some confusion after watching the TV footage. I’m definitely interested to read on… you are an adept writer with an excellent disregard for conventional narrative!

Best of luck with your writing – Lauren Buckland, Random House

SOLOMON SAYS: THE POST OFFICE JOB and I SHOULD HAVE TOLD HER by Timothy Saint

I really like the idea of re-writing some of Solomon’s proverbs from the Bible with a modern, and very relevant slant. Short stories are tricky to pull-off, but you manage it – especially in the case of THE POST OFFICE JOB.
This is darkly brilliant comedy – Leonard Reginald Gubbins’ voice is so jaunty and chatty and engaging at the start, that when you realise that he is filling his flat with noxious gas and is anticipating being dead in an hour, it is quite a shock! Your reader is gripped from the start.

His tone is so conversational, and matter-of-fact, that this presents a really chilling contrast to the true horror of the situation – this man is going to die a very unpleasant and painful death any minute and he’s nattering on about his affair with Denise downstairs after an evening on the Blue Nun, and how much he detests his brother-in-law. Great stuff!
And oh, cruel irony that the police weren’t actually coming for him at all, and the whole suicide plot was in vain. He had set himself up as such a tragic hero, and he needn’t have bothered – in fact he heading back to prison and that precious ninety grand has slipped through his grasp. That second section made me wince at poor old Leonard – and your last line is a master payoff. I really enjoyed this story!
I found I SHOULD HAVE TOLD HER a little less satisfying, and wonder if you can push the envelope here a bit more? All that wistful longing from the narrator in the opening scene, where he’s falling hook, line and sinker for Chloe starts off being sweet (when he says ‘Our eyes met… almost!’ you really feel the pain of him being near her in the lecture theatre, but so very, very far away from her still) and then I began to find him increasingly creepy. You use language like ‘I prowled the corridor’ and ‘I fought down an overwhelming urge to touch’ her hair, which made me expect some danger to come. I was hoping his mask of control would shatter, and he would become much more involved in events, rather than coldly reporting them from the sidelines. I realise the proverb means that he can never tell Chloe that she is disintegrating in front of his eyes, but could he maybe have a confrontation with the drunk guys she is with at the student bar? She could be totally out of it, and unknowing, but he could get shot down by the guys and retreat to lick his wounds. Just a suggestion to get him into the action a little more.

Chloe’s transformation from unattainable, angelic, beautiful fantasy figure into the ‘wretched addict’ we encounter at the end of the story should be heartbreaking – but I thought it lacked the emotional punch and heart that it needs due to the extreme clipped-ness and control of your narrator’s voice. Maybe let him off the leash a little here – to give vent to the horror of what has happened.

Best of luck with your writing! Lauren Buckland, Random House









Greetings Lauren,

Thank you so much for the critique, it's going to be very helpful during the next edit. To get such positive feedback from you is a fantastic boost.

Thanks too to Ted and all the reviewers of Eternal Trauma involved in this process. YWO is a great resource for new writers and I hope others will benefit as much as I have during three-year-membership.

Best Regards
Achouri Fethi, Algeria

PS: Barry Anderton is my nom de plume (mean pen name)
stjerome
 22 Jul 2011, 13:27 #124533 Reply To Post
Hi Ted

Please pass on my thanks to Lauren at Random House. Her reviews on my two shorts were both encouraging and constructive.

Tim
Saint. A dead sinner revised and edited.
Ambrose Bierce (1842 -1913)
YouWriteOn
 23 Jul 2011, 12:22 #124692 Reply To Post
Hi Tim and Achouri

Thank you, and thank you very much for your stories, I have passed on your feedback to Lauren

Ted
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