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ProfessionalCritique
 28 Jun 2012, 14:18 #152391 Reply To Post
May Critiques - Random House, Orion & Pan Macmillian Reviews - May Critiques


Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett. Pan Macmillian are also now providing critiques for youwriteon authors too. Pan Macmillian publish authors such as Emma Donoghue and Carol Ann Duffy. Orion are part of the Hatchette publishing group, whose authors include Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and Ian Rankin.


Each month on YouWriteOn.com editors either from Random House, Pan Macmillian 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
ProfessionalCritique
 28 Jun 2012, 14:25 #152392 Reply To Post
Pan Macmillian Editor Critiques


Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early chapters of THE PRICE OF FREEDOM and thought that they were well-written. I recently did a smaller review on the opening pages of your novel, so this longer editorial critique will expand upon the initial points I raised and also explore other areas of the novel that you can hone and develop as the narrative progresses. I will broadly discuss the main elements of your narrative, as well as refer to a few specific line references to illustrate some of my points.



Structure:

Structure is the backbone of your narrative. If the skeleton of your novel is sound in structure, this will help create pace and narrative flow. And for an adventure or crime novel, structure is paramount. A solid structure helps ensure that the plot remains focused rather than meandering off on tangents. I did think these earlier pages could be much tighter and pacier so this is something you can look at when rewriting. But I think that the decision to have a number of main characters, and structure the narrative from each of their POVs (point of views) is a good one, and will open up the story as well as bring texture and variation to the narrative.



Plot:

As I mentioned in my first review, it’s clear you know the importance of dropping the reader right into the middle of the drama from the very first page. It’s crucial that you instantly immerse them in your fictional world, rather than being distracted by setting the scene and gradually introducing the characters. These details should be interwoven through the narrative as the novel progresses, with the action and drama being at the forefront in these early chapters. So while I was right there alongside Richard in these early pages, you don’t quite capitalise on the sense of intrigue, pace and tension that is at the heart of any crime or adventure novel, and what is crucial to delivering a compelling narrative that will have the reader turning the pages in anticipation.

Focus less on bringing in contextual details in these very early pages. The focus should be on the unfolding drama and the plight of your characters. It doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t know all the details and the background initially. What is more important is pulling them into Richard’s world. The specifics details can be introduced gradually – and hopefully seamlessly – as the novel continues.

From what I read from your synopsis, it seems like there is a real political edge to your story. While this is inevitable as it is based on actual events, it’s important that the drama and the characters remain at the forefront of the story, and are never overshadowed by the politics, otherwise you will pull the reader out of the narrative.



Characterisation:

Characters usually fall into one of three brackets: an ordinary character in an extraordinary situation; an extraordinary character in an ordinary situation (often able to mine humour from their surroundings and/or make thought-provoking insights); an extraordinary character in an extraordinary situation. There are of course those books that feature an ordinary character in an ordinary situation, but you rarely find these on the bestseller lists! And from these early pages, your first character, Richard, seems to fall firmly into the first bracket – an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation.

But while Richard may initially seem ‘ordinary’, you need to concentrate on laying bare what is also unique and different about him. How these extraordinary circumstances will affect him. As I mentioned before, in adventure, crime and historical novels, your protagonists have to be compelling if the reader is to want to follow their journey through to the end. So when you come to rewriting this draft, you need to focus on getting under Richard’s skin and really exploring his emotions. The reader has to connect and engage with him on an emotional level, and if they don’t, you risk distancing them from your story. Try not to be influenced by traditional portrayals of adventure heroes. If you want your book to stand out in a crowded marketplace, you need to offer something that is unique and unforgettable, and the first step to achieving this begins with how you depict your protagonist.

As I discussed before, in comparison to Richard’s portrayal, Anne feels like a much more fully realised character. You capture her tone and voice immediately and instantly align the reader with her and provoke their empathy. From reading your synopsis, I was pleased to learn that the novel will be structured from various character POVs. By introducing a variety of key characters and showing the story through their eyes will help open up the narrative, and also ensure the reader doesn’t tire of one strand.



Setting:

While setting is the backdrop for any story, it can be a character in its own right and can help build atmosphere and even influence the tone of the narrative. But try to ensure that in describing the setting, you aren’t stalling the action of the plot. Again, descriptive details need to be interwoven seamlessly. And it’s much more important for these descriptions to be succinct and vivid, rather than lengthy descriptive passages. Remember that less is often more.



Tone:

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 you narrative isn’t pitched right or feels off-key, it can seriously compromise the reader’s engagement with your story. The tone of these early pages felt very earnest. While the character POVs will inevitably affect the tone of each section, there will be an overall tone that is influenced by the greater story. As discussed above, I worry that the political element of your narrative might make the tone feel too sombre and preachy. There needs to be shades of light and dark – flashes of relief and texture to your narrative.



Genre/market:

You class this as adventure, crime and historical. I wouldn’t actually categorise this novel as a ‘crime’ book per se. While there are obviously murders and crimes committed, that doesn’t automatically make this a crime book. There is no investigating detective, or central mystery for the protagonist and the reader to unfold. And while there were elements of adventure in your book, again I wouldn’t class this as an ‘adventure novel’ as it lacks the swashbuckling action and nail-biting drama of an adventure novel. I think the uncertainty of what kind of novel you are actually writing, and who your intended audience actually is, becomes apparent in your story, as it lacks the confidence and precision of a more skilled storyteller who instinctively knows what they are trying to achieve in their writing. Writing is a craft, and one that needs to be consistently polished and honed. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read voraciously – particularly in the area that you wish to write. By reading with an analytical eye, you begin to get a sense of what does and doesn’t work in a novel, and these ideas and lessons will then inform and benefit your own storytelling. After all, books are made to be read, so it’s crucial that you know and understand who your own reader is.



Synopsis:

As I mentioned previously in my earlier review, you need to work on condensing your synopsis and cutting down the content considerably. Synopses should be no more than two pages long and they serve only to summarise the main plot points for a reader, and to give them a sense of what is to come after those first three chapters – and hopefully feel compelled to request further material to read…



Line notes:

As I mentioned previously – would the word ‘gynaecological’ have been used in 1831? I may be wrong but this feels like quite modern terminology.

‘Richard stared at him. Fine tailoring did little to disguise the doctor’s bloated figure, the fabric of his waistcoat visibly straining against his laboured breathing.’ – Richard has just learnt that his child has died, but yet rather than confronting the emotion of this revelation head-on, you describe the doctor’s physical appearance! It’s crucial that you don’t lose focus on the essence of a moment, and learn the importance of when to introduce descriptive details like this in a less jarring fashion.

‘It’s Wetherell. They hate him and he still rode into the city with all his entourage like some conquering hero. He knew what would happen – or he should have. The fool has put us all in danger.’ – The doctor has previously been very fearful of Richard and not really saying much, so this lengthy aside about what is happening feels awkward and shoe-horned in. Context needs to be interwoven seamlessly, not delivered in dialogue that feels unnatural and forced.



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 particular attention needs to be paid to drama, pace and characterisation. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.



Best wishes

Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 28 Jun 2012, 14:27 #152393 Reply To Post
Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel SCARTONGARTH and remember reading this in an earlier draft when it was called CHRISSIE’S STORY. While there is some evident improvement in this revised version, I think the material so far still needs a fair amount of reworking. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, and what to pay attention to as the novel progresses. I will broadly discuss the main elements of your narrative, as well as refer to a few specific line references to illustrate some of my points.

Structure:

Structure is the backbone of your narrative. If the skeleton of your novel is sound in structure, this will help create pace and narrative flow. From reading these early pages and what I can glean from your synopsis, the novel opening is immediately followed by the narrative flashing back to fourteen years earlier, with the story’s conclusion once again returning to where the novel opened. This is a well-worn structural device but one that works well in both historical and mystery novels. It was hard to tell from the synopsis whether any sub-plots will be introduced, as alternative storylines offer relief from the main narrative strand as well as giving your story texture and depth.

Plot:

The main course of the narrative seems to be concerned with the obstacles – both emotional and physical – that keep Charlie and Chrissie apart, but their enduring love that also keeps bringing them back together. There will also be the added tension of Jack returning, which will heighten the sense of drama of the narrative, as well as the mystery of what actually happened to Jack that night. The aftermath of the war and how it affects both those that return and those that were left behind to wait for them will also bring emotion and poignancy to your storytelling. The plot development that sees a disfigured Charlie lie about he is because of his shame over his physical appearance also has much dramatic – and romantic – potential.

Characterisation:

While there is a lot of plot content, women’s fiction and particularly sagas are very character-driven stories. The reader really has to emotionally connect and empathise with the protagonist if they are to invest in their story and feel compelled to read the entire novel. And I think it is this area of the narrative that needs to most attention. The interaction between your characters sometimes feels a little forced. It occasionally seems like you are putting words in their mouths in a way that they naturally wouldn’t say them, making it seem stilted. For example, that first conversation between Chrissie and Charlie feels a little superficial and rushed in terms of emotion. You have Chrissie telling him very early on that he ‘made me remember who I was’ and Charlie saying that he knows Jack beats her. One of the most important maxims to remember as a writer is that less is often more. And especially in dialogue – just as much can be conveyed in charged silences and what isn’t said as by what is said. If you are trying to tell the story through dialogue in a way that feels unnatural, and give the reader backstory in a clunky fashion, your characters will feel like mere mouthpieces, rather than memorable, convincing figures that the reader will engage with.

Setting:

While setting is the backdrop for any story, it can be a character in its own right and can help build atmosphere and even influence the tone of the narrative. And while there was some description in these early pages, it felt quite superficial, so that I was only able to conjure quite a lacklustre vision of where the novel is set. You need to work on describing what is unique and memorable about it if you are to fully immerse the reader in your fictional world. In no way should there be lengthy passages describing the setting, but instead concise, vivid descriptions that are seamlessly woven into the narrative, bringing your story alive.

Genre/Market:

As I’m sure you’re aware, women’s fiction is an incredibly competitive area of the market, so a new novel needs to be original, involving and memorable if it is to stand out from its peers. And this is something you need to keep at the forefront of your mind when you come to rewriting. My biggest piece of advice to learning the craft of writing is to be a voracious reader. You need to read widely and extensively in the area in which you wish to write, to get a sense of what’s selling in this market and what works and doesn’t work in a novel. It is absolutely crucial that you know and understand your readership, particularly in a market that is becoming ever more crowded. By being an astute reader is the first step in becoming a good writer. And your initial focus should be on the characterisation in other novels and whether you feels it’s successful and why.

Synopsis:

This has obviously got overlooked, but the synopsis lists Catherine Byrne as the author name, not Isabella Bee. Synopses are usually two pages of A4, so yours did feel a little on the short side. And also I would avoid listing the themes of the novel at the end of the synopsis. The synopsis’ purpose is merely to summarise concisely the plot to give the reader a sense of what will happen in the rest of the narrative, and hopefully encourage them to request more material.

Title:

While the title obviously has meaning once you begin reading, as this is where the story is set, you have to think how the title will appeal to a reader who knows nothing about the book. In commercial fiction, the title needs to be memorable, intriguing, and also hint at what the essence of the book is (whether this is in terms of plot or emotion). And your title doesn’t really achieve these things. It’s quite a harsh sounding word for a women’s fiction novel. So this may be something you want to reconsider when you come to redrafting the book before you submit to literary agents.

Line notes:

It’s crucial that your material looks as polished and professional as possible, so to have a typo on the very first line (‘22th of April’) might make a reader think you haven’t taken the time to properly go over your work. And it actually detracts from what is otherwise a very good opening line. As well as redrafting and editing, you should proofread any material you submit for consideration.

‘ice chips filled her blood’ – this is quite an odd description and actually pulled me out of the narrative. Try to only use descriptive comparisons that feel in keeping with the tone of the novel and aptly capture what you are trying to depict. Rather than visualising Chrissie’s blood running cold, I had visions of ice chips literally filling her blood! Again with the line ‘the words slammed into her brain’ – this doesn’t really evoke what you are trying to say, and again, I visualised words actually slamming into her brain! And with the line ‘her words splintered into air’ – this is an odd description that words would even splinter. Your descriptions feel too literal and forced at present and this is an area that you need to work on if you are to keep the reader immersed in your narrative. They need to feel natural to the storytelling and woven seamlessly into the narrative.

‘as if he realised no more was forthcoming’ – surely he did realise this, which is why he left, so not sure why you’ve used ‘as if’.

‘Her head titled as it an answer would come from the elements, but all she heard were the cawing of sea birds, the lament of the seals, the bleats of nearby ewes and the thin cries of their recently born offspring.’ – with this lengthy list, you actually lose the emotion and drama of this final line. Remember, less it often more. It would be much more effective to end with something more along the lines of: ‘but all she heard was the thin cries of lambs and the lonely cawing of sea birds.’

‘Maybe you should mind your tongue before I make your face swell to twice the size.’ – this seems like quite a violent response from Chrissie and feels a little out of character from what we have already been told about her. And why should he mind his tongue? What is it that Charlie’s said that’s offended her?

Conclusion:

I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think the material so far shows promise but needs some serious revision. Particular attention needs to be paid to characterisation and descriptive prose. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes

Natalie Braine
ProfessionalCritique
 28 Jun 2012, 14:30 #152394 Reply To Post
Pan Macmillian Mini-Critiques

Professional mini critique for A Village Called Faraway by Tessa Munt



Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. And I thought the title was great – intriguing and sounds almost fairytale-esque but with hints of something darker. However, for a mystery novel, the narrative was quite languid in pace. The sense of mystery needs to be heightened for more focus and greater narrative drive. These early chapters felt quite overwritten in places, so when you come to rewriting this draft, you need to work on paring back the narrative and bringing to the forefront the real drama at the heart of the story. For a successful mystery, the key ingredients are pace, intrigue and that page-turning, compelling quality that will keep the reader hooked and anticipating what will happen next. These are the elements you need to think about when shaping your narrative and depicting your characters.



The overall tone of the narrative and the style of dialogue are rather formal and matter of fact and this instantly puts the reader at a distance. Even though the story is set in another period and a foreign setting, it’s absolutely crucial that you bring this world alive to the reader and fully immerse them in it. Don’t focus so much the historical accuracy at this stage. This is something that can be worked on later. Most importantly, you need to work on bringing your characters alive and have their interactions feel real and full of emotion.



A small point, but your synopsis also needs some revision. You take too long describing the setting at the beginning. A synopsis’ purpose is to summarise the story concisely. And another small suggestion: try to avoid over-using rhetorical questions. There are quite a few in these early pages and they begin to grate a little.





Professional mini critique for Pitchforks and Pina Coladas by G K Kingsley



Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. I thought the opening was very strong – quirky, intriguing and really sets the tone of the book. However, as the novel progressed, it didn’t quite fulfil its promising early potential. As I’m sure you’re aware, comedic novels are a very difficult area of the market, not least because humour can be so subjective and individual. My worry with your novel is that you’re not really sure who your audience is so you’re trying to appeal to everyone, and that broad type of humour begins to misfire quite early on. The comedy had quite a slapstick feel to it and was rather forced in places. Rather than letting the quirkiness of your characters shine through and be witty with your insights, your characters become exaggerated caricatures and in turn the humour becomes quite self-indulgent. Another concern was that in trying to appeal to the broadest audience, you’ve actually dumbed down the humour. Aside from the swearing and the occasional adult preoccupations, this could easily have been a children’s novel.



It is absolutely crucial that you know who you’re writing for. I actually think your style and tone of writing could suit children’s fiction. But if you really want to succeed in adult fiction, the best piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in this area. Read everything from the big names like Nick Hornby, David Nicholls, Sue Townsend, Janet Evanovich, Marina Lewycka and Alexander McCall Smith to lesser known authors like Alan Bradley, Jonathan Tropper, Maria Semple and Paul Torday. And even non-fiction writers like Bill Bryson and Justin Halpern. There’s a wealth of really fantastic comic literature out there. The first step in being a good writer is being an astute and discerning reader by analysing what you are reading to see what does and doesn’t work.







Professional mini critique for The Gypsy and the Goddess by Miro



Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. But I wondered why you had categorised this as an adventure novel? The novel is extremely dialogue-heavy and character-led rather than plot driven. And while I thought this first scene between Michael and Veronique was intriguing and engaging, the relationship between them felt rather rushed and in turn not quite realistic. Within a few hours she’s asking him if he loves her, which seems to come out of nowhere. It’s important to ensure that the evolution of their relationship feels organic and believable rather than forced and rushed for the purposes of the narrative.



This also felt like young adult fiction that wouldn’t necessarily have an adult crossover. While a lot of books aimed at adults have children or teenagers as their main characters, they’re portrayed in a way that is often witty and insightful, and sometimes captures the nostalgia of a vanished childhood. And while your novel felt very realistic in its depiction of its young characters, it failed to strike that chord that would really resonate with adult readers. It’s important that you keep at the forefront of your mind while you’re writing just who your intended readership is. And read as widely in this area as possible, soaking up the craft of the storytelling and analysing what does and doesn’t work in these novels. The key to being a good writer is being a voracious and astute reader.



It was unusual having your protagonist narrate the synopsis, but it also meant a lot of necessary detail was left out, such as how did they kill him? Was his body ever found? Were they ever suspects? How did this affect them and their relationship? This is obviously a huge event in the plot but feels very brushed over in the synopsis.







Professional mini critique for Heaven Sent by willow55



Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. I was impressed by the confidence of your writing. I felt completely at ease in your hands and was instantly immersed in Evie’s world. You capture her distinctive voice brilliantly. Her sarcasm belies her vulnerability, yet this still shines through and elicits the reader’s empathy. I did feel that the tone was perhaps a little too conversational at times and actually detracted from the emotion of the scene, so try to be aware of this when you come to rewriting. I understand that you’re trying to align the reader with Evie but less is often more. The novel is quite dark in tone and the lightness of her casual tone sometimes jars and feels at odd with the rest of the novel.



I did think there could be more descriptive detail in the characters’ physical descriptions, and Evie’s school and home. And where in Australia is the novel set? These details can be interwoven as the narrative progresses, but they will help to make the story all the more vivid. And another suggestion: avoid repeating events in dialogue. For example, Evie relays to Paige what has just happened in the previous scene. This looks like you’re treading over old ground and it really slows down the pace of the narrative. You don’t need to show every conversation between the characters. And scenes can begin when a conversation is in mid-flow to avoid the unnecessary preamble.



I did have reservations about your decision to have Evie directly address the reader, in lines such as: ‘in case you’re wondering…’, ‘you see’, ‘you understand’, ‘by the way’. This is quite a risky literary device and one that hasn’t been pulled off very well even in the hands of very accomplished writers. You risk pulling the reader out of the story by reminding them that they are actually reading a book and not living the story alongside Evie. I would always strongly advise against doing this, unless it feels really intrinsic to the novel. And I’m not sure in this case that it is.



From reading your synopsis, it’s clear that this won’t follow a formulaic path but has an unexpected and quite poignant twist.
ProfessionalCritique
 28 Jun 2012, 14:33 #152395 Reply To Post
Random House Mini reviews

Starting With Amber by F. M. McLaren

I enjoyed reading this sample very much, in fact, of the four sets of chapters I read this month, it was the one I most wanted to carry on reading when it ended. You have a strong, intriguing opening and title, and your synopsis sounds interesting and innovative. I also liked the switch to the mysterious third person narrative in places.
I think you could do a bit more with Seth, given that he’s your narrator (and an unreliable one, interestingly) as well as your main protagonist. I think you’ve got scope and space to allow your reader to get to know him better than we do at the moment. Can we see him interacting with his peers more, for example? Can we know more about his relationship with Clarence? And what is living with epilepsy like for him? I did feel that at times Seth comes across as a bit too knowing and self aware, too adult maybe. As you revisit the ms you may want to look out for places where his voice doesn’t seem completely teenage.

I love the relationship between Seth and Annalise, and the way it contrast his relationship with his father. As with Seth, though, I did feel that she doesn’t always sound completely like a nine-year-old girl. Perhaps we could have a bit more set-up before she actually goes missing, so we have more of a sense of how important they are to each other, making what happens eventually even more tragic?

Congratulations, this looks set to be a gripping novel.

Camlannn – Morgana Before the Battle by James A Tucker

I found your pre-amble interesting in that you say that this sample section is from a ‘potential novel’ rather than a novel. You’re clearly an accomplished writer and whilst I’m in no way an expert on this sort of fantasy, genre fiction I think there’s a great deal to like in here.

I love the twist on Morgana’s character, and she comes across as sparky and 3D. Because I’ve not read the start of the novel, though, it’s harder to get to grips with her personality and character – I really wanted to know more about her. There are a few lovely insights into her, when you let us into her thoughts, and there’s also a very nice relationship between her and Vivian but I’m finding her too inconsistent at the moment. Sometimes she seems naive and vulnerable and others knowing and sassy. Very occasionally we seem to slip from Morgana’s perspective into a more general narrative; you might want to look out for this as you develop this into the whole novel.

There are lots of characters, even in this relatively short sample, but I think you’ve done a great job of giving them all quite distinctive voices and snappy dialogue - congratulations. Steampunk fiction is seeing a real boost at the moment and this seems like it could fit in well. I wish you the very best of luck with it.


Heorot by R. M. E. Winter
I think there’s a huge amount of potential in this novel, but at the moment it doesn’t quite feel like you have completely made the most of all the great elements you’ve got in here. Your opening section is incredibly powerful, but I have to confess that after this I felt like we skimmed through the action rather than seeing it vividly and getting to know the characters.

I love the idea of the relationship between Grendel and Obustus, they’re both potentially great characters and I really wanted to see them interact a bit more, to see and hear their distinctive voices and the limited dialogue between them – I think it could be very touching. There are a couple of scenes involving them both – when they bury Alauda, and later when Grendel eats the human arm – that I really wanted to see. They could be incredibly powerful scenes but at the moment we’re told about them rather than seeing them, which makes us feel very removed from the action, I think.

I think you could really afford to slow down during this opening section to allow us to get to know Obustus, in particular, better than we do at the moment. Can you let us into his head more? I’d love to know more about him and how he copes with all the tragedy he faces. Can we see his day-to-day life and see him interacting with other people? He comes across as quite calm and collected, but surely he’s more panicked during the invasion? I’d love to know . . .
I hope these brief points are useful to you. The very best of luck to you.
ProfessionalCritique
 28 Jun 2012, 14:34 #152396 Reply To Post
Pan Macmillian Critique

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your early pages of GOODBYE MY LOVER. What I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, and what to pay attention to as the novel progresses. I will broadly discuss the main elements of your narrative, as well as refer to a few specific line references to illustrate some of my points.



Structure:

Structure is the backbone of your narrative. If the skeleton of your novel is sound in structure, this will help create pace and narrative flow. While your narrative is split into distinct parts, it is very linear in its direction, often jumping ahead in time to further on in the story. The opening is comprised of diary entries, one per month, followed by more traditional first-person narrative that charts Ashley’s last months and the aftermath of her death.



Plot:

Given the opening part is largely comprised of diary entries, nearly all of the action and drama is reported rather than played out for the reader to experience as it happens. Not only does this put the reader at a distance from the unfolding story, as they hear it second-hand, it also distances them from Ashley as she has already experienced what the reader is being told, so the reader isn’t there to experience it alongside her. One of the most important things to remember as a writer is to show your reader what is happening, not tell them. And this is inevitably a hard thing to avoid when the book is structured from diary entries. I think you need to work on getting to the heart of Ashley’s thoughts and emotions in these journal pages, rather than drily summarising how Ashley and Flynn have spent their time. I also found the recounting of their travels abroad rather skimmed over and rushed, and ultimately adding very little to the narrative. You need to hook the reader in these early pages, compelling them to read on, not keep them at arm’s length.

Given the story is told entirely from Ashley’s POV (point of view), much of the plot and the characters’ agendas and motivations aren’t revealed until later on, more firmly aligning the reader with your protagonist as the story progresses, as they experience only what she does. From reading your synopsis, I did have reservations about how the novel would progress. It seems Ashley is intent on finding Flynn a new life partner for when she dies, yet when she suspects he is interested in Kasia, she doesn’t like it, which seems like a contradiction. Of course she would feel conflicted, but to act one way and then another in such a short space of time may be a little grating on the reader. It is her motivations and emotions that lead the plot, so it’s important that the reader can empathise with her intentions.





Characterisation:

This is obviously a very character-driven story and given that it is shown through Ashley’s eyes, she carries the weight of the narrative on her shoulders. And at present I don’t think her portrayal is strong enough for her to be a compelling and memorable protagonist. In these early pages, you seem to skim over the real emotional issues and focus a lot more on the humdrum domesticities of hers and Flynn’s life. While it is fine to depict the normality within what is a very difficult situation, we need to feel the depth of emotion in their interactions. In no way did I feel like they had a history behind them, or were even in love. They felt almost like strangers, dancing around each other, not really understanding the other. Was this your intention, to show how distant they’ve become with death now staring them in the face every day? Because the reader needs to witness their intimacy and the intensity of their feelings if the narrative is going to have weight and conviction. Otherwise the emotional impact will feel underwhelming and you’ll lose the reader’s engagement. You need to get to the heart of their relationship and explore how they used to be and how different this is to how they have become.

Like Ashley, I struggled to engage with Flynn as a character and even understand what it is that Ashley loves about him. You need to work on getting under your characters’ skin and opening them up to the reader.



Setting:

While setting is the backdrop for any story, it can be a character in its own right and can help build atmosphere and even influence the tone of the narrative. As I said previously, the section abroad felt very rushed and added little. There was no sense of place; you failed to capture the identity of each place. And I had to question why you’d decided to include this section at all.

There is also little description of Ashley and Flynn’s home. You only need small details, but it is these descriptions woven throughout that will really immerse the reader in Ashley’s world.



Tone:

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 you narrative isn’t pitched right or feels off-key, it can seriously compromise the reader’s engagement with your story. The tone of these early pages is quite intimate, which is helped by the novel being told through Ashley’s POV, diary entries and thoughts, thus laying bare the protagonist in a private almost secretive way as she confides things she perhaps may not share with other characters.

Given the darkness of the subject matter, the tone of the novel will inevitably be quite sombre in parts as your protagonist is reflecting on her imminent and possibly painful death. But in a novel whose focus is potentially so dark, it’s crucial that this is leavened with moments of lightness and relief. And while you attempt to do this with Ashley’s sarcastic comments, trying to laugh in the face of death, you don’t always successfully achieve that, so this is an area that needs some attention when you come to rewriting. She can come across as quite caustic. You need to work on capturing the uniqueness of her voice, and letting this influence the narrative. What was it about her that made Flynn fall in love with her? And in turn, hopefully this will make the reader fall in love with her too. In short, it lacked the emotion and poignancy that is so crucial to a novel like this.



Line notes:

‘Wretchedly optimistic and insidiously kind’ – not sure if I really understand your meaning here in relation to Ashley feigning sleep to avoid having to go for drinks…

‘Flynn loves sex, with a capital S’ – again, not sure of the meaning here. Why a capital S? Surely the emphasis is on the ‘loves’ so should be capital L?

‘Now for Jaipur’ – rather clunky introduction.

‘I am hurting him so much and I can’t do anything to stop it, but he is hurting me so much too.’ – another example where you’re telling not showing, meaning the emotion and poignancy of this statement doesn’t have the same impact. Try to be more subtle in how you reveal these emotional truths.

‘He smells of love’ – again this is too overt. Less is more otherwise the emotion of what you’re saying can seem forced.

‘You do know me, my love’ – is this supposed to be the cancer talking here? The next sentence is about Flynn so I wasn’t entirely sure…

‘I don’t know when he cleared the garage of all his rasps and files and bags of clay and silicone. I don’t know what happened to the unfinished sculpture of my face.’ – this makes it sound like Flynn was responsible for the way her face is. Careful of how you structure your prose so it isn’t ambiguous or misleading.

‘I am overwhelmed with joy’ – show the reader this, don’t tell them.



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 does need some serious reworking. Particular attention needs to be paid to characterisation and the tone, heightening the emotion and poignancy of your narrative. 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
350spider
 28 Jun 2012, 23:48 #152439 Reply To Post
I just wanted to express my gratitude for my review of Starting With Amber from Random House. It's amazing the time and help these editors offer. Many thanks for the help.
willow55
 29 Jun 2012, 03:59 #152444 Reply To Post
Ted - Please could you pass on my thanks for the very helpful and constructive critique of Heaven Sent. The comments and suggestions will definitely help me with my next rewrite. Much appreciated!
StrawTrilby
 29 Jun 2012, 08:25 #152453 Reply To Post
Thank you so much for your thoughtful remarks. I've already learnt a lot from the peer reviews I've had over the past couple of months. I've been holding back on making changes until I had a professional opinion to compare to the peer reviews, but I know there are many improvements to be made.
Right from the start I've wondered whether tagging this novel as mystery was wrong. I'm not sure what genre would be appropriate, but I'll give it some thought.
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 28 Jun 2012 14:30
Pan Macmillian Mini-Critiques

Professional mini critique for A Village Called Faraway by Tessa Munt



Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. And I thought the title was great – intriguing and sounds almost fairytale-esque but with hints of something darker. However, for a mystery novel, the narrative was quite languid in pace. The sense of mystery needs to be heightened for more focus and greater narrative drive. These early chapters felt quite overwritten in places, so when you come to rewriting this draft, you need to work on paring back the narrative and bringing to the forefront the real drama at the heart of the story. For a successful mystery, the key ingredients are pace, intrigue and that page-turning, compelling quality that will keep the reader hooked and anticipating what will happen next. These are the elements you need to think about when shaping your narrative and depicting your characters.



The overall tone of the narrative and the style of dialogue are rather formal and matter of fact and this instantly puts the reader at a distance. Even though the story is set in another period and a foreign setting, it’s absolutely crucial that you bring this world alive to the reader and fully immerse them in it. Don’t focus so much the historical accuracy at this stage. This is something that can be worked on later. Most importantly, you need to work on bringing your characters alive and have their interactions feel real and full of emotion.



A small point, but your synopsis also needs some revision. You take too long describing the setting at the beginning. A synopsis’ purpose is to summarise the story concisely. And another small suggestion: try to avoid over-using rhetorical questions. There are quite a few in these early pages and they begin to grate a little.





Professional mini critique for Pitchforks and Pina Coladas by G K Kingsley



Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. I thought the opening was very strong – quirky, intriguing and really sets the tone of the book. However, as the novel progressed, it didn’t quite fulfil its promising early potential. As I’m sure you’re aware, comedic novels are a very difficult area of the market, not least because humour can be so subjective and individual. My worry with your novel is that you’re not really sure who your audience is so you’re trying to appeal to everyone, and that broad type of humour begins to misfire quite early on. The comedy had quite a slapstick feel to it and was rather forced in places. Rather than letting the quirkiness of your characters shine through and be witty with your insights, your characters become exaggerated caricatures and in turn the humour becomes quite self-indulgent. Another concern was that in trying to appeal to the broadest audience, you’ve actually dumbed down the humour. Aside from the swearing and the occasional adult preoccupations, this could easily have been a children’s novel.



It is absolutely crucial that you know who you’re writing for. I actually think your style and tone of writing could suit children’s fiction. But if you really want to succeed in adult fiction, the best piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in this area. Read everything from the big names like Nick Hornby, David Nicholls, Sue Townsend, Janet Evanovich, Marina Lewycka and Alexander McCall Smith to lesser known authors like Alan Bradley, Jonathan Tropper, Maria Semple and Paul Torday. And even non-fiction writers like Bill Bryson and Justin Halpern. There’s a wealth of really fantastic comic literature out there. The first step in being a good writer is being an astute and discerning reader by analysing what you are reading to see what does and doesn’t work.







Professional mini critique for The Gypsy and the Goddess by Miro



Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. But I wondered why you had categorised this as an adventure novel? The novel is extremely dialogue-heavy and character-led rather than plot driven. And while I thought this first scene between Michael and Veronique was intriguing and engaging, the relationship between them felt rather rushed and in turn not quite realistic. Within a few hours she’s asking him if he loves her, which seems to come out of nowhere. It’s important to ensure that the evolution of their relationship feels organic and believable rather than forced and rushed for the purposes of the narrative.



This also felt like young adult fiction that wouldn’t necessarily have an adult crossover. While a lot of books aimed at adults have children or teenagers as their main characters, they’re portrayed in a way that is often witty and insightful, and sometimes captures the nostalgia of a vanished childhood. And while your novel felt very realistic in its depiction of its young characters, it failed to strike that chord that would really resonate with adult readers. It’s important that you keep at the forefront of your mind while you’re writing just who your intended readership is. And read as widely in this area as possible, soaking up the craft of the storytelling and analysing what does and doesn’t work in these novels. The key to being a good writer is being a voracious and astute reader.



It was unusual having your protagonist narrate the synopsis, but it also meant a lot of necessary detail was left out, such as how did they kill him? Was his body ever found? Were they ever suspects? How did this affect them and their relationship? This is obviously a huge event in the plot but feels very brushed over in the synopsis.







Professional mini critique for Heaven Sent by willow55



Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. I was impressed by the confidence of your writing. I felt completely at ease in your hands and was instantly immersed in Evie’s world. You capture her distinctive voice brilliantly. Her sarcasm belies her vulnerability, yet this still shines through and elicits the reader’s empathy. I did feel that the tone was perhaps a little too conversational at times and actually detracted from the emotion of the scene, so try to be aware of this when you come to rewriting. I understand that you’re trying to align the reader with Evie but less is often more. The novel is quite dark in tone and the lightness of her casual tone sometimes jars and feels at odd with the rest of the novel.



I did think there could be more descriptive detail in the characters’ physical descriptions, and Evie’s school and home. And where in Australia is the novel set? These details can be interwoven as the narrative progresses, but they will help to make the story all the more vivid. And another suggestion: avoid repeating events in dialogue. For example, Evie relays to Paige what has just happened in the previous scene. This looks like you’re treading over old ground and it really slows down the pace of the narrative. You don’t need to show every conversation between the characters. And scenes can begin when a conversation is in mid-flow to avoid the unnecessary preamble.



I did have reservations about your decision to have Evie directly address the reader, in lines such as: ‘in case you’re wondering…’, ‘you see’, ‘you understand’, ‘by the way’. This is quite a risky literary device and one that hasn’t been pulled off very well even in the hands of very accomplished writers. You risk pulling the reader out of the story by reminding them that they are actually reading a book and not living the story alongside Evie. I would always strongly advise against doing this, unless it feels really intrinsic to the novel. And I’m not sure in this case that it is.



From reading your synopsis, it’s clear that this won’t follow a formulaic path but has an unexpected and quite poignant twist.


gchallice
 29 Jun 2012, 11:38 #152477 Reply To Post
Ted, please thank Natalie from me. Her comments have really helped me to work out what needs to be done for the next revision. I'd never planned for it to appeal to everyone and now have the confidence to narrow things down a bit.
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