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Random House / Orion Critiques November 2012
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ProfessionalCritique
 20 Dec 2012, 18:26 #161328 Reply To Post
Each month on YouWriteOn.com editors from Random House, and Orion, provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated Top Ten novel openings from budding authors, and provide mini-reviews for the rest of the top ten youwriteon stories. Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett.

The editor feedback aims to assist all budding authors in their story development by giving feedback as to what editors are looking for in novels and novel openings submitted to them.

Random House Editor Reviews Click here to view the stories which are listed under November 2012
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Dec 2012, 18:30 #161329 Reply To Post


Random House Editor Critiques

Becoming Jack

Dear Jonathan,

Congratulations on being chosen for review. I can see why; Becoming Jack has an interesting premise and you’re clearly an accomplished writer – there were points where I really was just enjoying it as a reader rather than an editor. Because the section I have read is very much the set-up, and because I think your writing has flair I’m afraid my notes to you aren’t particularly extensive. Having said that, I do think there are a couple of points it would be worth keeping in mind as you revisit your work, things that I think will ensure that you really keep your readers engaged with Roger’s story throughout.

Roger
I think you just need to be careful to make him likeable enough – willing to mock himself etc – rather than, dare I say it?, a little pathetic at times. I think it’s important to avoid him seeming morose without any humour. I do think you have written in some lovely moments of black humour, but maybe you could think about making more of these?
I wonder if us knowing more about his life as Roger before he decides to get rid of it will help with this? Seeing him interact with friends and parents etc, even if only through flashbacks, would make him seem a little less cold, I think.
Allowing us to get to know Liz better too would help as well, I think. The idea that she has been bogged down by this seven-year relationship but is essentially a lively and interesting person will automatically make readers think Roger must have had something going for him at some point, at least. I’m really interested in why she has stayed with him so long.

The premise
As I said, I think this is a very interesting one, but without reading any more of the novel, I wondered what the actual logistics are. Has he got no other friends or family involved in his life? How can he shed off the person he was he in this way. I think you’ll need to be careful to make it seem feasible.
I found that it felt very strange to me that he’d choose Jack to ‘become’ almost from nowhere. Initially I wondered whether he needed to bump drunkenly bump into Jack, but I see that you have them meeting later in the novel. Does he maybe need to find or see something that jogs his memory about Jack, so that we can understand his thought process more clearly?

The only other thing I wanted to mention at this stage is the fact that on reading your synopsis I worried that the cyclical ending could mean the conclusion doesn’t feel satisfying enough for your readers. I don’t know if you have completed the novel but I do think we need to feel like Roger has learnt from what he’s done.

I hope this is useful to you at this stage – the very best of luck with your writing,

Ruth
Editor, Random House

Random House - Mini Critiques


Fatima Saleh by Alexander Ikawah
I think this is a satisfying and clever story, and I enjoyed reading it, but I really think it needs to be twice the length in order to completely do justice to the idea. We are bombarded with information in the opening paragraph in a way that makes it quite difficult to take in and digest. I’d suggest you really look at slowing things down and giving us more set-up, an introduction to time, place, and, most importantly to Fatima.
We really need to know your heroine as a person better than we do at the moment in order to really root for her. There are a couple of very brief sections where we move away from her perspective to Muhammmad’s, and I don’t think we need this – I just wanted to stick with Fatima and to be let into her head to understand her. Maybe you could consider showing us the odd exchange between her and a fellow villager?

Theresa Smith at the Court of Heaven by Polly Walshe
This is a very interesting premise and I like Theresa’s voice but I think it’s quite a confusing read at the moment. For me, the world and the settings needed more detail and explanation so that we can follow the jumps in time within your narrative more easily. You’ve got the space to slow the opening down and really establish both Theresa and the clinic, and I think this would be worth looking at.

You’ve got some brilliant dark humour in here, and I did actually laugh out loud at a couple of points. I think you could make even more of this. You’ve got some fantastic, quirky characters and I think you could show us them more often rather than telling us about them – Theresa is a vivid storyteller so make the most of this!

Buttermilk Alley by Sonia Velton
I enjoyed this read, and I think you’ve got the atmosphere of the period really very nicely – beginning immediately with your arresting opening and carrying through the sample I’ve read.
My main point on this sample is that I found it hard to believe from the outset that Esther truly loved Jonas. I felt as though some of the magic of a first true love, one which has made her disobey her family, was missing. Therefore on reading the synopsis it was no surprised to find out what he does to her. Things like us seeing her reaction to being called Mrs Jones for the first time and more gestures to Jonas sweeping her off her feet would be lovely, and would then make his betrayal of her more of a surprise.
In general I really wanted to see more of Esther’s personality shining through. Can you let us into her head more and allow us to share her thoughts and feelings in places, as well as her reactions to what’s going on. I think if we can know her better from the outset, we’ll really be rooting for her as the novel develops.

Ruth
Editor, Random House



This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 20 Dec 2012, 18:30
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Dec 2012, 18:32 #161330 Reply To Post
GHOSTCITYGIRL.

Dear Simon Paul Wilson

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel GHOSTCITYGIRL. I thought that these opening chapters were very readable but I did think they could benefit from further work. 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, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Structure:
Structure is the backbone of a novel. It helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. And this is an area of your narrative that I felt needed particular attention. From reading these early pages and the synopsis, it seems like the narrative will follow a mainly linear direction, with brief flashes referring to previous incidents in time. While this is a straightforward and focused approach for your storytelling, it’s important that the storyline doesn’t feel too flat or predictable. It needs to have texture and depth, whether that be in the form of subplots, different character POVs (point of views), twist, turns and red herrings, etc. Structure often gets overlooked in preference of plot, but if you don’t have a solid skeleton, your plot won’t flow properly and will lack focus and direction.

Plot:
The opening of the novel, with the news report, is a simple yet effective way to set the scene and given the reader context about your fictional world. But my concern with these early chapters was that your focus seemed to lie more with setting the scene and portraying a vivid and realistic world, rather than hooking the reader with a dramatic and compelling opening to your plot. While it is very readable, it didn’t quite grab me and pull me into the story in the way that I’d hoped. While you very adeptly place the reader alongside your main character, and show this unfamiliar world through her eyes, there isn’t really a clear sense of where the story is headed, or even what kind of book it really is. This felt more like a Young Adult book to me.
I liked the scene between Kichi and Mister Tanaka, but no sooner has Kichi entered the apartment and you’ve shown them exchanging formalities and having tea and cake, than she has suddenly left. You opt not to allow the reader to be privy to their conversation about Tokyo and its ghosts. While this may be to heighten the ambiguity and sense of anticipation in the reader, it also feels a little disappointing, as this scene isn’t particularly entertaining or gripping for the reader. I would suggest revealing a little of the conversation between the pair for the reader to witness, however enigmatic it may be, just so the reader is pulled more into the story, rather than kept at a distance. While the reader doesn’t need to know everything Kichi does at this early stage, it is crucial that they feel aligned with her, and experiencing what she does alongside her. And if you report parts of the drama, and have it happen offstage, then you risk alienating the reader from your story.

Characterisation:
While Kichi is an engaging protagonist, I was quite surprised to learn, on reading the synopsis, that she is supposed to be 20 years old. She seemed more like a teenager in these early pages (see my earlier comment about how this felt like a YA novel). The reader knows that her father abandoned her and her mother isn’t mentally with her anymore, and so Kichi is quite a detached and unemotional person, as a means to cope with the harsh realities of her life. But it’s important that however distant she may be with other characters that she never feels distant to the reader. You really need to get under her skin as a character and lay her bare to the reader. And that doesn’t mean revealing everything that has happened to Kichi to make her the woman she is today, but just give the reader greater insight into her outlook, morals and personality. Because from these early pages, it feels like the book will be much more of a character-led rather than action-driven novel. So it is absolutely vital that Kichi is a compelling and believable protagonist.
As mentioned above, I didn’t think Mister Tanaka was given enough ‘page time’ to really make an impression on the reader in these opening chapters. He has obviously become an important person in Kichi’s life, one of the few people she feels she can be open with, and yet he remains quite a hazy figure. It’s important that your secondary characters are every bit as charismatic and engaging as your protagonist.

Setting:
Setting, of course, is only the backdrop to your story, but it can also be a character in its own right. It can very much help build atmosphere and even go some way in influencing the tone of the narrative. But in a novel like this, where it is set so far in the future that the landscape will feel quite alien to the reader, it’s even more important that the setting is fully developed so it feels vivid and convincing, and so in turn the reader will become fully immersed in this fictional world. And you have really achieved that in these opening pages. The only advice I would have is that the writing could be a bit more atmospheric, to really heighten Kichi’s sense of alienation in this world.

A small point, but I wasn’t sure just how far in the future the novel was set until I read the synopsis. Perhaps you can insert a small subheading at the beginning of the book, just stating the place and date so the reader has a clearer sense of where this book is set.

Tone:
Tone is one of the hardest elements of a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone feels off-key or discordant with the rest of the narrative, you risk alienating your reader. From the very first page, the tone seems to veer from drama to comedy (with the mention of the high-profile stars where the man is carrying the baby rather than the woman). I wasn’t sure if this was intentionally satirical or not – I’m assuming not. And this feels like a bit of a misstep so early on in the novel if it isn’t intentional.
The biggest issue in terms of tone is that for a horror novel, it is entirely lacking in tension or any sense of menace. I felt these opening pages could be much darker and more thrilling if you are to really grip the reader. Focus less on the small futuristic details and Kichi’s domestic routine, and more on dropping the reader into the middle of the drama, and evoking a sense of approaching menace.

The book is quite poignant in places, such as the scene where Kichi thinks about throwing herself off a bridge during the power failure, and the revelation that 700 people killed themselves in just two minutes, so desperate were they to escape. I think this flashes of sadness work well, and pique the reader’s interest, provoking them to wonder just what has happened to make so many people hopeless and suicidal.

Synopsis:
While your synopsis is concise, it is a little too brief. I couldn’t quite grasp what exactly had happened to Osaka and why Kichi decides to become involved with this strange girl and her dangerous quest. As I’m sure you’re aware, if you wish to submit your material to a literary agent, most agencies request the first three chapters (or a set number of pages) plus a detailed two-page synopsis. The synopsis needs to not only succinctly summarise the plot of the novel, but also give the reader a clear sense of what the book is like, and hopefully engage them enough that they’ll want to read more. And at present, I don’t think your synopsis achieves that, as it feels rather vague. So I would suggest taking another look at this and reading it with a critical eye, to judge how a reader who knows nothing about the book might respond to it.

Genre/Market:
You class this as horror and science fiction. As mentioned in my earlier comments, my main concern was that these early pages lack the tension, suspense and unease of a horror novel. It is absolutely crucial that you not only understand the kind of book that you are writing, but also the readership the book is aimed at. As I have discussed previously, this did feel quite YA to me. For a futuristic horror, this could be much darker and more thrilling. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible within the area in which you wish to write. And to read with an analytical eye, dissecting what you think works and doesn’t work in each novel, and why. The first step in becoming a good writer is being a good reader.

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start but this first draft does need a fair amount of work. As well as reading as widely as possible, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to hone your writing skills. I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Natalie Braine

ProfessionalCritique
 20 Dec 2012, 18:32 #161331 Reply To Post

SUGAR AND SNAILS

Dear Anne Goodwin

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel SUGAR AND SNAILS. I thought that these opening chapters were very readable but I did think they could benefit from further work. 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, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses. I will structure these notes into key, overarching comments along with specific line references at the end.

Structure:
Structure is the backbone of a novel. It helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. And this is an area of your narrative that I felt needed particular attention. The structure felt rather muddled for an opening of a novel. You have flashbacks within flashbacks, and often these can feel like you’re going off tangent, as some flashbacks are quite lengthy. And consequently the structure of these early pages feels rather unfocused and meandering. I’m not sure if this was to reflect Diana’s own muddled state of mind? But ultimately you failed to really draw me into these opening chapters.
I would suggest storyboarding your narrative, scene by scene, and chapter by chapter, so you can see more clearly the arc of the storyline, and where the narrative may at times be getting a little convoluted and at others may be a bit flat and uninspired. Always keep at the forefront of your mind that the aim of a novel is to entertain its reader. The reader doesn’t need to know everything at this early juncture in the novel. And likewise with flashbacks scenes like Diana frantically searching for a birthday present for Venus – it seems to interrupt the narrative flow and doesn’t really add much. If you don’t hook a reader in the first couple of chapters, you may have lost a potential sale. So it’s absolutely crucial that these opening pages are as compelling as they can be. And if you have a solid, tight structure, your plot will hang more seamlessly from it.
A small point, but in the flashback scenes, I would still have dialogue in quotation marks to properly delineate it from the rest of the prose, just for ease of reading and clarity.

Plot:
From reading the early chapters, I found this quite an underwhelming opening. Your focus seems to be on giving the reader context and background, rather than delivering a compelling hook that will draw the reader in. I was quite surprised, reading the synopsis, the turn that the book will take. This is obviously a story with something important to say, but I worry that this won’t shine through as you tend to circle round a scene, rather than tackling it head on. There is a lot of superfluous detail in these beginning pages, and this not only slows the pace of the narrative, it also clouds your authorial intent. When you come to rewriting, you need to read your story critically, streamlining it and cutting out unnecessary detail so the real drama and emotion of the story can really leap out.
I’ve already mentioned above how I thought the scene where Diana is frantically searching for a present for Venus feels rather underwhelming, especially for a scene so early on in a novel. Similarly, the scene where Diana is reading a bedtime story felt a little protracted. An important maxim to remember when you are writing is that ‘less is more’. You don’t need to overwrite a scene. Often what isn’t said, and the underlying tensions, can be much more revealing that what is said.
Coupled with my comments on structure, by storyboarding your narrative, it will help draw attention to areas of the story that are weak and may need more attention. Your novel needs a clear story arc, with sub plots, pace, tension and drama. The revelation that your female protagonist used to be a man is not enough of a hook. The story needs to be compelling regardless of this.

Characterisation:
This is obviously more of a character-led novel than a drama-led one. And characterisation was another area of the narrative that I felt needed particular attention, as I found Diana quite a hard character to warm to. At times she seems quite self-pitying, which in turn makes it hard for the reader to empathise with her. And even though the reader sees the story through her point of view (POV), you never quite get under her skin as a character. The scene where she self-harms feels underdrawn and not entirely convincing. We don’t really witness her emotions or her innermost thoughts. You need to work on really capturing Diana’s own voice, and making her a distinctive and memorable character, if she is to be strong enough to carry the weight of an entire novel. At present she feels quite hazy and remote, and consequently I found it hard to align with her or emotionally connect with her. Diana is obviously a very unique character in one way, but you have to depict what makes her unique and individual. Otherwise you risk making her seem like a mere mouthpiece for an issues-based story. You have to make the reader care about her if you are to really pull them in. And for that, Diana needs to come alive on the page.
I would suggest that when you next read a book to read it with a critical eye, analysing how the author builds the characterisation, and whether it is successful or not, whether you empathise with the protagonist, whether they are vividly depicted and have an original voice? It is by assessing other novels and really breaking down their components that will help you as a writer. After all, the first step in being a good writer is in being a good reader.

Setting:
Setting, of course, is only the backdrop to your story, but it can also be a character in its own right. It can very much help build atmosphere and even go some way in influencing the tone of the narrative. But I was left to wonder where the novel was actually set. We know Diana is English, and now lives in a city, but is this supposed to be London? As there are references to ‘the metro’, and in London, this would only be known as the tube or underground.
Similarly with Diana’s house – what is it like. How does it reflect her as a person? There only needs to be brief details, but vivid descriptions woven throughout will really help the reader visualise Diana’s world.

Line references:

• ‘rubbing my nose in the pain’ – quite an obvious description that feels a little tired. Perhaps something else here that makes it more specific to the character – a phrase that feels a bit more original?
• ‘Perhaps it’s now that my father’s able to listen, I don’t have anything to say’ – great line and strong end to the scene.
• ‘with academic detachment’ – why ‘academic’? Seems like a bit of an odd description as seems somewhat of an oxymoron.

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start but this first draft does need a fair amount of work. As well as reading as widely as possible, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to hone your writing skills. I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Natalie Braine
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 20 Dec 2012, 18:33
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Dec 2012, 18:33 #161332 Reply To Post


Professional mini critique for Parallel by Ciaran Lynch

Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your historical novel. You instantly draw the reader into your fictional world and make them want to read on. Although not a lot happens in these early chapters, there is still a sense of tension and intrigue that should keep the reader invested and hopefully turning the pages.

In terms of areas where you could develop these crucial early pages, I would say take another look at the transition from third person narrative to first. It felt a little jarring. The first person narrative is obviously from Campbell’s POV, whereas the third person narrative doesn’t necessarily seem to be from Charlotte’s POV. Also, while I thought this was a strong opening, I felt that there could be a greater sense of character early on, with less emphasis on setting up the story and informing the reader how far the characters have to travel etc. You need to hook the reader in these opening pages, rather than slow down the narrative with dry details at this critical early juncture. And given this is more of a character-led novel rather than action-led narrative, the focus should be on building compelling characters. For example, Monkey in particular feels very underdrawn in these opening pages. I assume he gets more of a voice as the story progresses?

I would also advise on keeping an eye on your style of storytelling. At times you tend to report the drama rather than letting it unfold for the reader to experience. Try to avoid this as not only can it look like lazy storytelling, but it can also distance the reader from the narrative. Remember – ‘show, don’t tell’. Finally, I did think more could be made of the setting to help build atmosphere as well as the tone of the novel. After all, this is a very distinctive landscape. Your descriptive prose doesn’t need to be lengthy – just succinct, vivid flashes interwoven through that really helps the reader conjure up this vanished world.

Also, a minor point but there is a contradiction in your synopsis. In the story it says Campbell and Charlotte married when she was fifteen (although she told him she was seventeen) whereas the synopsis states twenty-three. Which is correct?

Professional mini critique for Summer in Heron Key by Vanessa Lafaye

Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. I was particularly impressed by the confidence of your writing. It seems like you are a natural storyteller with a particular instinct for characterisation. In these early pages, you very quickly – and vividly – set the scene and really get under the skin of your characters, especially your protagonist, Missy. Her voice is distinctive and yet at the same time familiar, making the reader warm instantly to her. Selma is also a great character – larger than life, and one that really leaps off the page.

My only criticism would be that the backstory and relationship between Missy and Henry felt a little heavy-handed. Remember that less is more – the reader doesn’t need to know everything about their history from the get-go. There needs to be a greater sense of tension between them, and a sense of things left unspoken, but portrayed in a more ambiguous way so it doesn’t feel too predictable. In this way, the drama of their story will be heightened, and you’ll compel the reader to keep on turning the pages.

From reading the synopsis, it sounds like the story will take a dramatic and unexpected turn when a hurricane descends upon the town. I think you could be a bit more detailed in your synopsis about what happens in this part of the narrative. If you wish to submit material to a literary agent, most agencies request the first three chapters and a two-page synopsis. So your summary needs to be detailed enough to give a potential agent a clear sense of the direction of the story and what kind of book it is.


Professional mini critique for LosersRus.com by Robyn Millar


Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel but I did feel that they could benefit from further development. As I’m sure you’re aware, chicklit as a genre has shrunk considerably in the last few years in terms of the number of consumers who buy those books. A lot of readers sadly stick to big name brands rather than actively seeking out new voices. And coupled with that, unfortunately the market is still flooded with new chicklit releases every week, meaning a book has to be truly special to stand out in such an overcrowded marketplace.

While these opening pages were very readable, they lack the spark and originality to really make this leap out. Firstly, your book lacks a dramatic hook. Internet dating is no longer a taboo, and hasn’t been for quite a few years, which makes your book feel rather dated. The novel needs more of a storyline than desperate singleton braves internet dating. It needs an angle that sets it apart from other books and piques a potential reader’s interest. So your plot needs serious consideration.

I would also consider changing the title. It feels very clunky and again rather dated given internet dating has been around so long. Also, it is probably better to categorise your novel as ‘women’s fiction’ rather than ‘chicklit’, to appeal to a potentially wider readership.

Professional mini critique for The Tenants by Celia Micklefield

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. You’ve opted for quite an unusual style of narrative, in that you almost bring the reader into the story by using phrases with ‘we’ in frequently. As the narrator is unknown until almost the end of the short story, the reader is placed alongside this faceless character.

While it is a very simple story, with a simple twist, you successfully pull the reader into the narrative, keeping them guessing as to who the narrator might be, as well as vividly depicting the range of previous ‘landlords’. I did feel that more could be made of some of these characters though, to really bring them alive for the reader, as some of their descriptions are quite matter of fact and dry. Each character, however minor, has to have their own story to tell. And in this way, your story will have more depth to it. I did think you concluded the story very well, when it becomes unexpectedly poignant and bittersweet towards the end, which gives your narrative an added angle.

This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 20 Dec 2012, 18:33
SPW
 21 Dec 2012, 15:34 #161364 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 20 Dec 2012 18:32
GHOSTCITYGIRL.

Dear Simon Paul Wilson

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel GHOSTCITYGIRL. I thought that these opening chapters were very readable but I did think they could benefit from further work. 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, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.

Structure:
Structure is the backbone of a novel. It helps to provide shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. And this is an area of your narrative that I felt needed particular attention. From reading these early pages and the synopsis, it seems like the narrative will follow a mainly linear direction, with brief flashes referring to previous incidents in time. While this is a straightforward and focused approach for your storytelling, it’s important that the storyline doesn’t feel too flat or predictable. It needs to have texture and depth, whether that be in the form of subplots, different character POVs (point of views), twist, turns and red herrings, etc. Structure often gets overlooked in preference of plot, but if you don’t have a solid skeleton, your plot won’t flow properly and will lack focus and direction.

Plot:
The opening of the novel, with the news report, is a simple yet effective way to set the scene and given the reader context about your fictional world. But my concern with these early chapters was that your focus seemed to lie more with setting the scene and portraying a vivid and realistic world, rather than hooking the reader with a dramatic and compelling opening to your plot. While it is very readable, it didn’t quite grab me and pull me into the story in the way that I’d hoped. While you very adeptly place the reader alongside your main character, and show this unfamiliar world through her eyes, there isn’t really a clear sense of where the story is headed, or even what kind of book it really is. This felt more like a Young Adult book to me.
I liked the scene between Kichi and Mister Tanaka, but no sooner has Kichi entered the apartment and you’ve shown them exchanging formalities and having tea and cake, than she has suddenly left. You opt not to allow the reader to be privy to their conversation about Tokyo and its ghosts. While this may be to heighten the ambiguity and sense of anticipation in the reader, it also feels a little disappointing, as this scene isn’t particularly entertaining or gripping for the reader. I would suggest revealing a little of the conversation between the pair for the reader to witness, however enigmatic it may be, just so the reader is pulled more into the story, rather than kept at a distance. While the reader doesn’t need to know everything Kichi does at this early stage, it is crucial that they feel aligned with her, and experiencing what she does alongside her. And if you report parts of the drama, and have it happen offstage, then you risk alienating the reader from your story.

Characterisation:
While Kichi is an engaging protagonist, I was quite surprised to learn, on reading the synopsis, that she is supposed to be 20 years old. She seemed more like a teenager in these early pages (see my earlier comment about how this felt like a YA novel). The reader knows that her father abandoned her and her mother isn’t mentally with her anymore, and so Kichi is quite a detached and unemotional person, as a means to cope with the harsh realities of her life. But it’s important that however distant she may be with other characters that she never feels distant to the reader. You really need to get under her skin as a character and lay her bare to the reader. And that doesn’t mean revealing everything that has happened to Kichi to make her the woman she is today, but just give the reader greater insight into her outlook, morals and personality. Because from these early pages, it feels like the book will be much more of a character-led rather than action-driven novel. So it is absolutely vital that Kichi is a compelling and believable protagonist.
As mentioned above, I didn’t think Mister Tanaka was given enough ‘page time’ to really make an impression on the reader in these opening chapters. He has obviously become an important person in Kichi’s life, one of the few people she feels she can be open with, and yet he remains quite a hazy figure. It’s important that your secondary characters are every bit as charismatic and engaging as your protagonist.

Setting:
Setting, of course, is only the backdrop to your story, but it can also be a character in its own right. It can very much help build atmosphere and even go some way in influencing the tone of the narrative. But in a novel like this, where it is set so far in the future that the landscape will feel quite alien to the reader, it’s even more important that the setting is fully developed so it feels vivid and convincing, and so in turn the reader will become fully immersed in this fictional world. And you have really achieved that in these opening pages. The only advice I would have is that the writing could be a bit more atmospheric, to really heighten Kichi’s sense of alienation in this world.

A small point, but I wasn’t sure just how far in the future the novel was set until I read the synopsis. Perhaps you can insert a small subheading at the beginning of the book, just stating the place and date so the reader has a clearer sense of where this book is set.

Tone:
Tone is one of the hardest elements of a narrative to master, but also one of the most important. If your tone feels off-key or discordant with the rest of the narrative, you risk alienating your reader. From the very first page, the tone seems to veer from drama to comedy (with the mention of the high-profile stars where the man is carrying the baby rather than the woman). I wasn’t sure if this was intentionally satirical or not – I’m assuming not. And this feels like a bit of a misstep so early on in the novel if it isn’t intentional.
The biggest issue in terms of tone is that for a horror novel, it is entirely lacking in tension or any sense of menace. I felt these opening pages could be much darker and more thrilling if you are to really grip the reader. Focus less on the small futuristic details and Kichi’s domestic routine, and more on dropping the reader into the middle of the drama, and evoking a sense of approaching menace.

The book is quite poignant in places, such as the scene where Kichi thinks about throwing herself off a bridge during the power failure, and the revelation that 700 people killed themselves in just two minutes, so desperate were they to escape. I think this flashes of sadness work well, and pique the reader’s interest, provoking them to wonder just what has happened to make so many people hopeless and suicidal.

Synopsis:
While your synopsis is concise, it is a little too brief. I couldn’t quite grasp what exactly had happened to Osaka and why Kichi decides to become involved with this strange girl and her dangerous quest. As I’m sure you’re aware, if you wish to submit your material to a literary agent, most agencies request the first three chapters (or a set number of pages) plus a detailed two-page synopsis. The synopsis needs to not only succinctly summarise the plot of the novel, but also give the reader a clear sense of what the book is like, and hopefully engage them enough that they’ll want to read more. And at present, I don’t think your synopsis achieves that, as it feels rather vague. So I would suggest taking another look at this and reading it with a critical eye, to judge how a reader who knows nothing about the book might respond to it.

Genre/Market:
You class this as horror and science fiction. As mentioned in my earlier comments, my main concern was that these early pages lack the tension, suspense and unease of a horror novel. It is absolutely crucial that you not only understand the kind of book that you are writing, but also the readership the book is aimed at. As I have discussed previously, this did feel quite YA to me. For a futuristic horror, this could be much darker and more thrilling. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible within the area in which you wish to write. And to read with an analytical eye, dissecting what you think works and doesn’t work in each novel, and why. The first step in becoming a good writer is being a good reader.

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages mark a promising start but this first draft does need a fair amount of work. As well as reading as widely as possible, have you considered joining a creative writing group? Receiving regular feedback from writing peers can be an invaluable way to hone your writing skills. I wish you the best of luck in your rewrites, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes
Natalie Braine



Thank you very much for a most helpful critique. Some great advice. I think making the opening chapters a lot darker is a superb idea.

Also, I would like to say thanks to everyone who read and commented on GCG. Your support for my humble scribbles is much appreciated.

jskinner16
 21 Dec 2012, 20:18 #161368 Reply To Post
Dear Ruth - Thank you very much for your encouraging review of Becoming Jack. You make some very astute observations and suggestions, all of which make perfect sense and will be incredibly useful as I continue to work on the book.

Many thanks also to those on YWO who reviewed Becoming Jack. As well as many talented writers on here, there are some excellent and insightful reviewers.

Thank you Ted for all the work you do to maintain the site throughout the year.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Jonathan Skinner
Uncle Ciaran
 26 Dec 2012, 21:32 #161449 Reply To Post
Hi Ted,

Could you please pass on my thanks to Natalie for her mini-crit of Parallel. Her comments are noted and appreciated.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Best Wishes...


Ciaran
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