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ProfessionalCritique
 02 Apr 2012, 23:25 #146845 Reply To Post
NEW - Orion Reviews


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 novels submitted to them.

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback re recent editor critiques posted, and we have forwarded on your thank-you's to the editors.



Click here to view the story extract links for the stories reviewed below. These stories gained critiques as part of the last The Next Big Author competition - see Feb 2012 results on link above. In a Next Big Author competition results month, the highest ten novel openings in the charts receive feedback, including novel openings in the top ten as normal, and this can include the next highest rated novel openings outside of the top ten as per the link above for Feb 2012.
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 02 Apr 2012, 23:30
ProfessionalCritique
 02 Apr 2012, 23:26 #146846 Reply To Post
Finding Elizabeth Critique – Orion Editor Critique

A very interesting opening to the novel. As always, these reviews can be a little tricky as the reader can get no sense of where the story is going to go, and what surprises the author has lined up for us. That said, I can only work with what I have, so here goes.

Perhaps most importantly I think you have a slight tendency to overplay the research/firsthand information you want to impart. It is, of course useful to give the reader a sense of place and history, but I feel you overegg the pudding a little. For example, I think this is nice:

“Don’t worry about food,” said Rick. “It gives us a chance to try that Indian takeaway you spotted on Bridge Street. Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be back.”

As it adds a little colour to the area, and provides a sense of past to the characters (they haven’t sprung fully formed from the first sentence of the novel, they’ve done minor normal things in the past, not just major plot-related ones)

Whereas this:

As Kate washed her hands and started to prepare the tea things, she told them about her first sight of Woodside. "I could see it had been a smaller Georgian cottage which had obviously been extended in early Victorian times – you can tell by the different roof and floor levels and the size of the windows. The original cottage is the bit with diamond-shaped panes and whoever was responsible for adding to it went for a grander feel – classic Regency style, I think. The doors are a giveaway too – very quaint and cottagey with iron latches in the old part, but the extension has big, thick panelled ones. But the estate agent knew nothing about the history of the place. If it hadn't been for the locals and their family memories, we'd know nothing at all.”

Is a little too much. All of that information is interesting, but taken all in one piece of writing is a little overwhelming. You’re showing off your research (and I’m very aware that your character has done the research as well, so it does make sense within the context of the book), but there are just a few too many places where this overwhelms the reader. Especially in these early pages, you want to keep the reader excited, not divert them with too many details. Scatter them in.

I think you could consider doing more with Rick. Again, I’m very aware that the novel is from Kate’s point of view, but he is an odd mixture between an ‘empty’ presence – which makes sense in context, given the alienation between the two – and a solid figure (getting the takeaway, chatting over dinner). It isn’t that it doesn’t work as is, but I think you could afford to give a bit more motivation and depth to him, even if only through Kate’s thoughts. Alternatively, make him even more distant.

I like the two American visitors, I think you could do more with them – their visit sort of peters out before they’ve performed the important info-dump of the existence of the diary, which happens off-page (as it were). Spend a little more time with them, if you can – that also gives you the chance to spread out the research information over a larger period. They may have no more impact on the rest of the book, but flesh them out (as you have with Jackie Diamond, who – apart from being a little too convenient in terms of his knowledge, and a little too like Kate in his imparting of information – works well. (“There's also a pamphlet about a scandalous court case to do with Woodside” is just too obvious a clue, though. He’s providing your protagonist with everything she needs in one go. She should have to work for it a bit.))

“She too had built a defensive wall around herself, but now it was starting to fall down – stone by stone.” Is too obvious. Kate is self-aware, but this is a metaphor which loses impact if spelled out quite so bluntly. I don’t like the standard ‘show, don’t tell’ phrase that is eternally used in critiques, but this is one place where I think it rings true.

I’d like to see more of Kate & Rick’s lives before you cut to the extract from the diary. You need to be very careful with this trick, as you run the risk of a) losing the reader’s interest, just as they get into the opening plot and b) if you’re just updating/adapting existing work, being a little dry. I’d also resist the urge to put too much of the diary in, unless you really want it to be the centre of the book. Obviously I don’t know your plans, but I think you can have Kate explain some of the contents of the diary without putting in the whole thing.

You also need to be careful about copyright – the text may be from long enough ago, but does the Faber edition have some form of editing / abridging / translating that will still be in copyright?

Overall, given the inherent problems with only reading the opening of the book, I was impressed. However, I would like to see a little more dynamism, and a little less research. I’m not quite clear, as the reader, what the ‘hook’ of the story is going to be. Is it the relationship between Kate & Rick, and their future together (or apart)? Is it the success or failure of their boarding-house plan? Is it going to be the history of the house/village? From your synopsis it seems that Kate is going to go on a search for the final part of Elizabeth’s lifestory, which is fine, but will you be able to balance the competing demands of the two strands? If one is only an adjunct to the other, you run the risk of making half of the novel seem superfluous.

I hope that helps! I apologise if you think I’ve been overly-picky, but then that’s my job… I did enjoy what I read, but editors tend to pick out the problems, not praise the good bits!

best

Marcus
Editor, Orion
ProfessionalCritique
 02 Apr 2012, 23:27 #146847 Reply To Post
The Wall – Orion Editor Critique

Very pleased to have a look at this. Of course, it can be hard to judge a novel accurately on the opening chapters – the reader cannot know what the author has planned – but the opening of a book is vital to grabbing attention, so here are my thoughts on what we’ve got.

Generally, enjoyable. The prose is solid (with a few errors and misjudgements, marked up below), and there’s a really strong sense of location. The opening chapter is very strong, and I like what you do with Li and the introduction to the stratified Chinese Society. Chapter 2, apart from my minor objection about Xueyin below, also works, although I think you might consider moving it to after Chapter three (so we get Chinese, portugese, Chinese viewpoints in that order.) This might warrant some slight rewriting.

Sadly, I felt that the dinner scene worked less well. It was clear that you were trying to impart a lot of information very quickly, and although your characterisation of the four principals was good, some of the dialogue and actions seemed out of place. More detailed points below. I know you need to introduce a lot of detail, but this just felt much more clunky than the Li chapters.

I’m not quite clear from this sample what your hook is going to be. What are we, the readers, meant to care about? Is it the struggle between Chinese & Portuguese beliefs? Obviously the search for the rumoured document will play a major part (has no-one looked for it in the last 250 years? Really? Why will Amaral succeed where they’ve failed?), and I assume there’ll be a subplot about the treatment of the Chinese (as shown at the end of Chap 4) and the risks that Francisco will take to improve their lot. All of these are fine, but I think you need to perhaps pinpoint them a little earlier, and decide which is to be your main thread. I get the feeling – perhaps unfairly, but then I haven’t read the rest – that there’s a risk of the book & plot expanding and diversifying too much, and losing some focus.

I understand why you introduce Xueyin the way you do, but I think you run the risk of over-objectifying her in that passage. Yes, we’re following the thoughts of Li, but I think you overdo the description of her beauty. Assuming she will reappear later in the book, perhaps move some of this description backwards, or just delete some of it.

A few specific points below

I hope that helps, and I apologies if you think I’ve been too critical, but that’s my job! I think you have something very interesting here, and I hope my tweaks are of help.

Best,

Marcus


“There’s no doubt that we suppressed piracy, both Chinese and Japanese. It is a well-documented fact. But more importantly, to get this land we had to fight for it. We got rid of the powerful chief, a pirate leader who controlled Xiangshan. It allowed this part of Guangdong Province to once more come under the control of the Emperor. Macau is ours. We spilled Portuguese blood over it.” This sentence gives the reader useful information, but surely everyone sitting around the table would know it already? It’s an awfully stiff and formal sentence for a character to actually speak. You need to be careful about what your characters say, and find other means of getting the information to the reader.

“What is this Chapa de Ouro supposed to look like?” Maria asked.
“There are questions even as to that, Maria,” da Mata responded. “One version is that it is a Chinese document embroidered in gold. Here in Macau we sometimes refer to official Chinese documents as ‘chapa’.”
“Oh yes, I have heard that term being used,” Maria said. If her husband has been looking extensively for three years, she should know all this! And the last phrase from Maria is really clunky.

He darted into Macau’s shadowy alleyways, pursued by men he was sure wanted him dead. Yes, they’ve just shot at him!

Minor typos/grammar errors:

Red flecks of new-year firecrackers joined with the silver and gold vestiges of burnt joss paper. It swirled in a miniature vortex, whipping at Li Guozhang’s robe On the first line you switch from plural (flecks, vestiges) to singular (It).

The kitchen door opened letting rich mouth-watering aromas of pork stewing with sausage and vegetables, came wafting into the dining room. Tenses change mid-sentence

poured more wine into is glass. The Bishop picked up his glass, drained it and held it out. Maria reached across the table, filling the Bishop’s glass A typo (is) and three uses of the word ‘glass’. Bit clumsy

Amaral glared at his wife, started to say something and then,HERE thinking better of it, backed down sheepishly and turned to Francisco. “Not worried,” Amaral said. “But I would be happy to have your opinions. From you, Francisco,HERE as one of our business leaders, and from the Bishop, the view of the Church.” Missing commas are a problem throughout – I’ve marked up this sentence as an example. But the whole piece needs to be checked carefully.

“Shush, Bishop,” Maria said, flapping her had at him once. The Bishop looked injured, but kept quiet. Typo (Had instead of hand) and perhaps not normal/acceptable behaviour given the person being addressed? She is portrayed as more relaxed than her husband, but surely she wouldn’t speak this way to the bishop, even though he’s drunk?
safiaadam
 02 Apr 2012, 23:38 #146850 Reply To Post
Please pass on my sincere thanks to Marcus - this is very comprehensive for a mini-crit and it really, really helps me if and when I return to Finding Elizabeth.

Safia



A cynic is no more than a disillusioned romantic.
marcolobo
 04 Apr 2012, 03:12 #146909 Reply To Post
Thank you Marcus,
Your comments are helpful and much appreciated.

Please visit my US publisher's website for my recently published historical novel, 'The Witch Hunter's Amulet'.

http://christophermatthewspub.com/the-witch-hunters-amulet/]http://christophermatthewspub.com/the-witch-hunters-amulet/

Best regards,
Marco

Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Monday, 2 Apr 2012 23:27
The Wall – Orion Editor Critique

Very pleased to have a look at this. Of course, it can be hard to judge a novel accurately on the opening chapters – the reader cannot know what the author has planned – but the opening of a book is vital to grabbing attention, so here are my thoughts on what we’ve got.

Generally, enjoyable. The prose is solid (with a few errors and misjudgements, marked up below), and there’s a really strong sense of location. The opening chapter is very strong, and I like what you do with Li and the introduction to the stratified Chinese Society. Chapter 2, apart from my minor objection about Xueyin below, also works, although I think you might consider moving it to after Chapter three (so we get Chinese, portugese, Chinese viewpoints in that order.) This might warrant some slight rewriting.

Sadly, I felt that the dinner scene worked less well. It was clear that you were trying to impart a lot of information very quickly, and although your characterisation of the four principals was good, some of the dialogue and actions seemed out of place. More detailed points below. I know you need to introduce a lot of detail, but this just felt much more clunky than the Li chapters.

I’m not quite clear from this sample what your hook is going to be. What are we, the readers, meant to care about? Is it the struggle between Chinese & Portuguese beliefs? Obviously the search for the rumoured document will play a major part (has no-one looked for it in the last 250 years? Really? Why will Amaral succeed where they’ve failed?), and I assume there’ll be a subplot about the treatment of the Chinese (as shown at the end of Chap 4) and the risks that Francisco will take to improve their lot. All of these are fine, but I think you need to perhaps pinpoint them a little earlier, and decide which is to be your main thread. I get the feeling – perhaps unfairly, but then I haven’t read the rest – that there’s a risk of the book & plot expanding and diversifying too much, and losing some focus.

I understand why you introduce Xueyin the way you do, but I think you run the risk of over-objectifying her in that passage. Yes, we’re following the thoughts of Li, but I think you overdo the description of her beauty. Assuming she will reappear later in the book, perhaps move some of this description backwards, or just delete some of it.

A few specific points below

I hope that helps, and I apologies if you think I’ve been too critical, but that’s my job! I think you have something very interesting here, and I hope my tweaks are of help.

Best,

Marcus


“There’s no doubt that we suppressed piracy, both Chinese and Japanese. It is a well-documented fact. But more importantly, to get this land we had to fight for it. We got rid of the powerful chief, a pirate leader who controlled Xiangshan. It allowed this part of Guangdong Province to once more come under the control of the Emperor. Macau is ours. We spilled Portuguese blood over it.” This sentence gives the reader useful information, but surely everyone sitting around the table would know it already? It’s an awfully stiff and formal sentence for a character to actually speak. You need to be careful about what your characters say, and find other means of getting the information to the reader.

“What is this Chapa de Ouro supposed to look like?” Maria asked.
“There are questions even as to that, Maria,” da Mata responded. “One version is that it is a Chinese document embroidered in gold. Here in Macau we sometimes refer to official Chinese documents as ‘chapa’.”
“Oh yes, I have heard that term being used,” Maria said. If her husband has been looking extensively for three years, she should know all this! And the last phrase from Maria is really clunky.

He darted into Macau’s shadowy alleyways, pursued by men he was sure wanted him dead. Yes, they’ve just shot at him!

Minor typos/grammar errors:

Red flecks of new-year firecrackers joined with the silver and gold vestiges of burnt joss paper. It swirled in a miniature vortex, whipping at Li Guozhang’s robe On the first line you switch from plural (flecks, vestiges) to singular (It).

The kitchen door opened letting rich mouth-watering aromas of pork stewing with sausage and vegetables, came wafting into the dining room. Tenses change mid-sentence

poured more wine into is glass. The Bishop picked up his glass, drained it and held it out. Maria reached across the table, filling the Bishop’s glass A typo (is) and three uses of the word ‘glass’. Bit clumsy

Amaral glared at his wife, started to say something and then,HERE thinking better of it, backed down sheepishly and turned to Francisco. “Not worried,” Amaral said. “But I would be happy to have your opinions. From you, Francisco,HERE as one of our business leaders, and from the Bishop, the view of the Church.” Missing commas are a problem throughout – I’ve marked up this sentence as an example. But the whole piece needs to be checked carefully.

“Shush, Bishop,” Maria said, flapping her had at him once. The Bishop looked injured, but kept quiet. Typo (Had instead of hand) and perhaps not normal/acceptable behaviour given the person being addressed? She is portrayed as more relaxed than her husband, but surely she wouldn’t speak this way to the bishop, even though he’s drunk?


YouWriteOn
 18 Apr 2012, 00:32 #147777 Reply To Post
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