The free website to help new writers to develop, and to help talented writers get noticed and published Books
   
Random House / Orion Critiques October 2012 << Return To Main Site

 Welcome to the YouWriteOn Forum

**News Random House & Orion Editors to continue free reviews of YouWriteOn Top Ten Writer  - publishers of many of the world's bestselling authors 

YouWriteOn Authors'  Congratulations to our many authors achieving sales and signings successes through  Waterstones, Amazon and others! 

YouWriteOn Message Board > The YouWriteOn Forum > The Professional Critiques Forum Help Search Recent Posts
Random House / Orion Critiques October 2012
Page 1 Start New Topic Reply To Topic
ProfessionalCritique
 01 Nov 2012, 23:20 #159689 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 October 2012
ProfessionalCritique
 01 Nov 2012, 23:21 #159690 Reply To Post
THE BOY CALLED ROM.

Dear Paul Panic

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel THE BOY CALLED ROM. 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.

The opening pages are structured almost like diary entries, with three entries from Canute, and then three entries from Science, and so on. While this alternate character POV (point of view) structure works well, as it ensures the reader doesn’t tire of one character’s perspective before it switches to the next, it does make the narrative feel quite limited in scope. The action is all reported to the reader, and this can distance the reader as they aren’t able to experience the unfolding drama alongside the characters – instead they are told what has happened. One of the most important pieces of advice for aspiring writers is to remember to ‘show not tell’. This is obviously a difficult thing to avoid when your narrative is so reliant on diary entries, but this may be something you want to reconsider as the narrative progresses.

Plot:
I like that these early pages and enigmatic and intriguing. It’s clear that you know that less is often more in writing, and the reader doesn’t need to know everything at this early stage. In fact, by keeping them guessing, they become invested in the story and want to read on and find out more. But I did feel that you did feel the need to give the reader an idea of background and context to the story, as well as fully introducing the characters, rather than dropping the reader into the middle of the unfolding action.

As I’ve mentioned above, the diary entries do tend to distance the reader from the narrative, as you are reporting the drama, rather than playing it out and letting the reader experience it first-hand. You also tend to cover similar areas in both Canute’s and Science’s strands (such as the quiz where Canute was able to correctly answer the final question). While it can be interesting to see the same scene from different character POVs, it’s crucial that the narrative doesn’t start to feel repetitive, otherwise it will make the story feel like it is stagnating, rather than having drive and purpose. As while some of these diary sections were interesting, a lot of them didn’t actual further the narrative in any real sense. And in the opening chapters, drive, pace and focus are crucial if you are to keep the reader hooked.
It seems like the story will be a novel of two halves – diary entries recounting a familiar, normal landscape, with the second half set in an alien landscape with unexpected plot developments. It’s crucial that the narrative doesn’t feel like two very separate sections that feel at odds with each other.

Characterisation:
In these early pages, you introduce all four characters, but only Canute and Science are really laid bare. Rom and Dev remain quite hazy, shadowy figures, leaving the reader to question their motivations and agenda. While you really convey Canute and Science’s own distinctive voices, I felt that you were more focused on getting the lingo and street-talk right, and making them seem like convincing contemporary teenagers. And consequently less onus has been placed on depicting Canute and Science as interesting, charismatic individuals. At present, they feel a little underdrawn and not compelling enough to really draw the reader in and make them want to read on. As well as considering the structure of your novel, the other main focus when you come to rewriting needs to be on characterisation. Concentrate less on making them feel like contemporary teenagers and more on making them intriguing, fully-formed characters that the reader can connect with.
Canute and Science are obviously portrayed as polar opposites of each other, yet despite their differences, they become firm friends. I think more needs to be made of the evolution of their relationship, as at present it is hard to get a sense of whether they are close or not, and why they actually like each other.

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. Obviously London is a very familiar location for most readers, but it’s also important for the reader to be able to really visualise Canute and Science’s world – their homes, their bedrooms, their neighbourhoods, their school etc. By making their world more vivid, you’ll really be able to transport your reader there. And equally, when Canute and Dev are taken to The Teacher, this strange new world has to be vividly depicted if it is to feel real and keep the reader invested in your story.

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. The tone of these early pages is both mysterious with a hint of menace, but also quite jovial and light, particularly in Canute’s sections. You need to ensure that this different tones balance each other out as the narrative progresses, rather than feeling at odds with each other, otherwise the narrative will feel inconsistent and unsure of itself.

Synopsis:
While your synopsis is concise, it is a little too brief. You go into detail about the chapters that the reader has already read, but then brush very quickly over the rest of the novel. There are a lot of unanswered questions, such as why did Rom and Dev come to Earth? And why specifically to that area of London? Why do Rom and Dev have to hatch an escape plan if The Teacher said they would be returned after their minds had been wiped? There needs to be more detail here if you are to compel the reader to want to find out more.

Genre/Market:
You class this as science fiction, fantasy and young adult. But actually, there are very little SF or fantasy elements in these opening pages. From reading your synopsis, it seems that it will only be in the second half of the novel that anything out of the ordinary will begin to happen. I also felt that you were a little unsure of what kind of novel you were writing, and who your intended readership is, other than teenagers. As I’m sure you’re aware, the young adult market is one that is incredibly saturated with new titles, and so increasingly competitive. And if your book is to stand out in a crowded marketplace, it needs to feel original and entertaining. My worry is that your book lacks a real ‘hook’ and also lacks the pace, tension and suspense needed to make this a page-turning read. To me this felt more like a novel suited to younger readers rather than teenagers, as it’s quite a simplistic story, without pace or complexity. It is absolutely crucial that you know who you are writing for – in children’s fiction more than any other. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in the genre you wish to write in, and read with a critical eye, analysing what you think works and doesn’t work in a novel. After all, the first step in becoming a good writer is in being a good reader.

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages are 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
 01 Nov 2012, 23:22 #159691 Reply To Post
SLIPPING THROUGH THE CRACKS


Dear C S Abrahams
Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel SLIPPING THROUGH THE CRACKS (and I really liked the title, too!). I thought that these opening chapters showed potential 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. From reading these opening pages, it seems that your narrative will be structured in alternate chapters from your two protagonists’ POVs (point of views), and will follow a largely linear direction (with the occasional short flashback scene).
While this is a simple structure, the alternate chapters will help ensure the reader never tires of one storyline before the narrative moves to the other strand. One thing to watch out for is to avoid re-treading the same narrative ground in both strands – i.e. the same scene from both characters’ perspectives. This is fine in small instances, but if this device is employed a lot, you risk slowing down the narrative.

Plot:
The premise is quite a simple one – two lonely teenagers, who are feeling adrift in their lives, find each other and fall in love. But inevitably, the course of true love never does run smooth! What is absolutely crucial for a book like this, which treads very familiar ground, is for your story to still feel original and fresh. If a story feels clichéd or predictable, you will distance your reader. Of course the reader wants the two protagonists to end up together, but the drive of the novel is very much powered by the ‘will they, won’t they?’ dilemma. There needs to be enough twists and turns in Ollie and Ellen’s relationship to keep the reader guessing – and invested in their story.
From reading your synopsis, it seems that aside from the central relationship between Ellen and Ollie, there will also be subplots concerning Ellen’s relationship with her mother, and with her friend Sophie, and Ollie’s relationship with his disintegrating family. And these subplots are vital in that they will bring relief from the main storyline as well as heightening the drama of your unfolding story. Again, the way these subplots develop has to feel realistic and dramatic, never tired and predictable.


Characterisation:
This is much more of a character-led novel than a drama-fuelled one. And so your characterisation needs to be the strongest element of your narrative if the reader is to feel compelled to follow your characters’ journeys and read theirs stories until the final page.
I was impressed by how quickly you pull the reader into the story in Ollie’s first chapter. Even though the characters have only just been introduced, you quickly place the reader alongside him, showing their fictional world through Ollie’s eyes. This is a very emotional scene, yet Ollie feels strangely removed from it, and this aligns the reader with him.
I thought Ellen’s opening scenes were well told, but I did think that the Ellen and Sophie relationship felt a little rushed and underdeveloped. They’ve briefly met once, and suddenly Sophie is calling round without warning, and chatting frankly about boys. I think you need to show more of the evolution of their relationship for this to feel realistic rather than contrived. And build on Sophie’s portrayal, as she feels quite two-dimensional in these early pages. I also found the depiction of her mother a little underdrawn. She needs to be a much more complex character, as at present she feels a little too much like other similar characters of drunk, irresponsible mothers. Your characters have to veer firmly away from stereotype if you are to successfully pull the reader into your story.

The narrative will derive most of its momentum from the chemistry between Ollie and Ellen. And this is something you really need to focus on as the novel progresses. Young love, particularly first love, is something that has been written about endlessly in fiction. So it is crucial that Ollie and Ellen’s relationship feels distinctive and unique in its own way. And for that, you really need to get under their skin as characters, and lay bare just what it is they find attractive about each other. Another piece of advice to bear in mind is the maxim ‘less is more’. Don’t overwrite the scenes between the pair. As much can be said through tense silences and hidden meanings as it can through lengthy dialogue. Let the chemistry between the pair really infuse their dialogue exchanges.

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. The reader wants to be able to really visualise the town where you characters live, their homes, their bedrooms, the school they go to, their local haunts etc. The descriptions don’t need to be lengthy – just succinct and vivid enough to really bring your characters’ world alive for the reader.

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. Given the subject matter, the tone is inevitably quite sombre in places, but with the frankness of the characters, there are flashes of light and relief that stop this feeling unremittingly dark. And it is also incredibly poignant in places, encouraging the reader to really empathise with your characters. As you state in your synopsis, I understand you are currently researching self-harming, and it’s evident that you’re aware that this difficult subject matter needs to be handled in a sensitive and realistic way that will really connect with a reader.

Genre/Market:
As I’m sure you’re aware, young adult fiction is an incredibly competitive area of the commercial fiction market. And so for a novel to stand out in this crowded genre, it needs to offer something that is both insightful and makes the reader emotionally engage with your story. They need to fall in love with your characters, and in turn your characters need to feel original and fully-formed. An ordinary, simple story can be turned into something extraordinary if the characterisation is strong enough. And it is this that you need to keep at the forefront of your mind when you are writing.
The best piece of advice for any aspiring writer is to read, read and read. The first step in becoming a good writer is being a good reader. It’s imperative that you understand your readership, as well as market, and have a clear sense of what is commercially successful. You need to read with a critical eye, dissecting what you think works in a novel and what doesn’t. And slowly, this analysis will help inform your own approach to storytelling, as you develop an instinctive sense of what will benefit your narrative.

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages are a promising start but this first draft does need some 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
 01 Nov 2012, 23:23 #159692 Reply To Post

THE SUBJECT.


Dear Jonathan Skinner

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel THE SUBJECT. 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 gives shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. Going from these early pages and your synopsis, it seems the narrative will follow a linear direction, told entirely in chronological order. While this straightforward structure is fine, in a mystery novel, you do want to create some texture and intrigue in the structure of the novel, whether that be in the form of red herrings, twists, drip-feeding ambiguous pieces of information, or subplots to create more variance and ensure the reader doesn’t tire of the main storyline. In a mystery/thriller novel, nothing can seem straightforward – you need to keep the reader guessing and on the edge of their seats. So it’s important that you fully consider the structure of the novel and how this will shape the reader’s engagement and experience of the novel.

Plot:
The opening scene of a mystery/thriller novel is absolutely crucial. You need to drop the reader into the middle of the drama, immerse them in the story and really hook them, so they feel compelled to read on. Your focus in this opening scene is too much on setting the scene and giving the reader context and background. And in turn, there is nothing thrilling about these opening pages. The reader doesn’t need to know all the details at this early juncture. Remember that less is often more. If you are more enigmatic and ambiguous about what your protagonist is doing, you create a sense of mystery that will hopefully intrigue the reader, pulling them in and making them want to find out more. Don’t overwrite a scene. There is too much focus on the small details, which add little to the narrative, when the focus should be on building a sense of atmosphere and tension.

At times you fall into the bad writing habit of reporting a lot of the action. You give summaries of what has happened or been said, rather than playing out the drama for the reader to experience first-hand alongside your protagonist. By reporting the drama, you instantly distance the reader from the unfolding story, keeping them at arm’s length. Bear in mind the following: ‘show don’t tell’. Reporting in a novel can come across as a lazy form of storytelling. You need to vividly evoke Nick’s life and pull the reader into his world. The reader needs to experience what he is as the story progresses.


Characterisation:
As with the superfluous detail that you introduce in your prose, you also have a tendency of stating verbatim what is said in a dialogue exchange between two characters. The opening scene between Nick and Andrea is very overwritten in terms of its formality and lengthy exchanges that detail everything. As I’ve stressed above, less is more. The reader doesn’t need to know everything. Your sole aim is to entertain the reader, not to keep them informed of every passing comment. I worry that at this early juncture in the novel, the reader’s interest will begin to wane due to the level of unnecessary detail and the dry practicalities of the experiment. Andrea even admits that she is ‘sounding like a textbook’. When you come to rewrite this draft, I would suggest taking a close look at your dialogue exchanges and paring them write back to their essence. As much can be said in what isn’t said as in what is. You need to create more intrigue and tension in these early scenes between your characters if you are to keep your reader hooked.
The second chapter introduces Nick’s girlfriend Caroline. We’ve been told that they have been together for three years yet in their scene together, the reader doesn’t really get a sense of who they are as a couple. This could be any pair. You don’t reveal what is unique about them, and what it is that made them fall in love with each other. You need to explore Nick’s emotions and his feelings towards Caroline if the reader is to be able to understand just why he resorts to signing up to a strange social experiment to fund the IVF treatment. You need to reveal his motivations and really get under his skin as a protagonist. After all, the story is told in first person narrative, solely from Nick’s POV, so the reader has to be able to engage and connect with him if they are to feel compelled to follow his story through to the end. Because, from these opening pages, it feels very much like this is a character-led thriller. So this needs to be the strongest element of your narrative. And at present, it feels like the weakest. Nick is an everyday guy, but you also need to get to the heart of what makes him individual and intriguing. He needs to be as charismatic as he is familiar. I worry that in this current draft, he is a little too forgettable to be able to carry the weight of an entire novel. So this is an area that needs the most attention when you come to rewriting.

Likewise with Andrea and Caroline, they feel too weak in their current incarnations. They feel hazy and indistinct, and their dialogue often feels pedestrian, revealing little about them as characters. Again, this is very much an exercise in ‘less is more’. You don’t need to detail everything. You need to read your exchanges with a critical eye and strip back unnecessary detail that doesn’t further the plot or reveal much about the characters.

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. And this is especially important in a mystery/thriller. You need to heighten Nick’s initial sense of unease, and hint at a feeling of suspense and foreboding.

Genre/Market:
You class this as a thriller, mystery and romance. As I have discussed above, this lacks a lot of the crucial elements of a mystery/thriller – namely pace, intrigue, suspense, tension and a strong, compelling protagonist. In an increasingly saturated and competitive market, it is absolutely crucial that you not only have a clear idea what kind of genre you are writing in, but that you understand your readership. The best piece of advice I can give you is to read as voraciously as you can in the area in which you wish to write. And read with a critical eye, analysing different elements of the narrative and assessing whether you think the novel is successful in its aim of thrilling and misleading the reader. The first step in becoming a good writer is in becoming a good reader.
I would also omit your classification of ‘romance’. Yes, there is a romantic subplot, but in no way does this make the book a romance novel. Again, this goes back to fully understanding what type of novel you are writing and who your readership is. Otherwise your uncertainty will be apparent in your storytelling.

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages are a promising start but this first draft does need a lot 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
 01 Nov 2012, 23:23 #159693 Reply To Post


Professional mini critique for The Versailles Legacy by Lyn Alexander

Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening chapters of your historical novel. However, while these early pages are well-written in terms of their descriptive prose, I did feel that they lacked the drama and intrigue needed to really engage the reader and pull them into your fictional world. There is no real ‘hook’ to the narrative that would compel the reader to read on. In an increasingly digital age where consumers will read the first three chapters before they decide whether or not they’ll buy, it is absolutely crucial that your early chapters are as engrossing and captivating as they can be. You need to keep at the forefront of your mind when you’re rewriting that you primary aim is to entertain your reader. It seems your focus has been more on conveying a long-vanished world in a realistic way. And consequently, your delivery feels rather formal and stilted at times. Concentrate instead on bringing your characters alive on the page, laying bare all their idiosyncrasies and revealing what is unique about them, rather than depicting traditional, formal dialogue exchanges that speak little of your characters.

As I’m sure you’re aware, historical fiction is a saturated area of the market, and so for a book to stand out, it needs to be different and original. A reader doesn’t necessarily want a book that is reminiscent of so many other historical novels. So again, focus on exploring what is unique and memorable about your story, setting and characters, rather than following a tried and tested mode of historical fiction. So try to look at your work with fresh, critical eyes when you come to rewrite and ask yourself whether each scene is entertaining and memorable, and if it is furthering the narrative in a real way.


Professional mini critique for Theresa Smith at the Court of Heaven by Polly Walshe


Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the opening pages of your novel. It’s a simple premise (how a character deals with and confronts the reality of death) but one that has much dramatic potential and a scenario that every reader will be able to relate to in some way. But I felt that you didn’t fully capitalise on the potential of your story. It is told entirely from Theresa’s point of view and in her first person voice, and given the therapy she has just come out of and her age, the narrative reflects her tendency to go off on tangents and her ramblings. I wondered whether you would be able to instil a sense of momentum and drama for the entirety of a full-length novel. The style of your writing and the limited scope of your fictional world made this feel like it would be better suited to a short story or novella.

While you paint a realistic portrait of Theresa, again I worried that her depiction wasn’t vivid enough. As a protagonist, I felt that she lacked the charisma and individuality to draw the reader in and make them want to follow her story. Yes, she’s a relatable and familiar character, but is she distinctive and unforgettable? For a story that is simple in its premise, your characterisation needs to be particularly strong. And this is what you need to focus on when you come to rewriting – bring Theresa alive in a unique and imaginative way, and endearing her to the reader.


Professional mini critique for A Thread of Darkness by Trevor Saull-Hunt

Congratulations on being well-rated by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. These opening chapters are incredibly readable and you drop the reader right into the action. But you could ramp up the pace and tension in these early pages, heighten the suspense, to hook the reader and keep them on the edge of their seats. I would suggest streamlining the narrative in these crucial early pages. For example, the first chapter is incredibly tense, but then the following chapter falls into familiar territory and you risk the reader’s interest waning at this early juncture. Keep the narrative focused and taut.

I thought the structure worked very well by featuring the story from various character POVs, which creates texture and interest. The protagonist of the first chapter is an intriguing figure – a real anti-hero. The type of man who will take on a case, no questions asked, and turn a blind eye to a dying child. Interestingly, this both alienates the reader from him, but also draws them to him, as they want to find out more about him, about how he became the man he now is. And Hazel, who could at first glance be viewed as the damsel in distress as she is clearly in danger, reveals there is more to her than meets the eye.

Overall, I think this marks a very promising start, but try to heighten and maintain the drama and pace, and avoid formulaic scenarios.

pipio
 02 Nov 2012, 00:33 #159696 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Thursday, 1 Nov 2012 23:21
THE BOY CALLED ROM.

Dear Paul Panic

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers. I enjoyed reading these early pages of your novel THE BOY CALLED ROM. 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.

The opening pages are structured almost like diary entries, with three entries from Canute, and then three entries from Science, and so on. While this alternate character POV (point of view) structure works well, as it ensures the reader doesn’t tire of one character’s perspective before it switches to the next, it does make the narrative feel quite limited in scope. The action is all reported to the reader, and this can distance the reader as they aren’t able to experience the unfolding drama alongside the characters – instead they are told what has happened. One of the most important pieces of advice for aspiring writers is to remember to ‘show not tell’. This is obviously a difficult thing to avoid when your narrative is so reliant on diary entries, but this may be something you want to reconsider as the narrative progresses.

Plot:
I like that these early pages and enigmatic and intriguing. It’s clear that you know that less is often more in writing, and the reader doesn’t need to know everything at this early stage. In fact, by keeping them guessing, they become invested in the story and want to read on and find out more. But I did feel that you did feel the need to give the reader an idea of background and context to the story, as well as fully introducing the characters, rather than dropping the reader into the middle of the unfolding action.

As I’ve mentioned above, the diary entries do tend to distance the reader from the narrative, as you are reporting the drama, rather than playing it out and letting the reader experience it first-hand. You also tend to cover similar areas in both Canute’s and Science’s strands (such as the quiz where Canute was able to correctly answer the final question). While it can be interesting to see the same scene from different character POVs, it’s crucial that the narrative doesn’t start to feel repetitive, otherwise it will make the story feel like it is stagnating, rather than having drive and purpose. As while some of these diary sections were interesting, a lot of them didn’t actual further the narrative in any real sense. And in the opening chapters, drive, pace and focus are crucial if you are to keep the reader hooked.
It seems like the story will be a novel of two halves – diary entries recounting a familiar, normal landscape, with the second half set in an alien landscape with unexpected plot developments. It’s crucial that the narrative doesn’t feel like two very separate sections that feel at odds with each other.

Characterisation:
In these early pages, you introduce all four characters, but only Canute and Science are really laid bare. Rom and Dev remain quite hazy, shadowy figures, leaving the reader to question their motivations and agenda. While you really convey Canute and Science’s own distinctive voices, I felt that you were more focused on getting the lingo and street-talk right, and making them seem like convincing contemporary teenagers. And consequently less onus has been placed on depicting Canute and Science as interesting, charismatic individuals. At present, they feel a little underdrawn and not compelling enough to really draw the reader in and make them want to read on. As well as considering the structure of your novel, the other main focus when you come to rewriting needs to be on characterisation. Concentrate less on making them feel like contemporary teenagers and more on making them intriguing, fully-formed characters that the reader can connect with.
Canute and Science are obviously portrayed as polar opposites of each other, yet despite their differences, they become firm friends. I think more needs to be made of the evolution of their relationship, as at present it is hard to get a sense of whether they are close or not, and why they actually like each other.

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. Obviously London is a very familiar location for most readers, but it’s also important for the reader to be able to really visualise Canute and Science’s world – their homes, their bedrooms, their neighbourhoods, their school etc. By making their world more vivid, you’ll really be able to transport your reader there. And equally, when Canute and Dev are taken to The Teacher, this strange new world has to be vividly depicted if it is to feel real and keep the reader invested in your story.

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. The tone of these early pages is both mysterious with a hint of menace, but also quite jovial and light, particularly in Canute’s sections. You need to ensure that this different tones balance each other out as the narrative progresses, rather than feeling at odds with each other, otherwise the narrative will feel inconsistent and unsure of itself.

Synopsis:
While your synopsis is concise, it is a little too brief. You go into detail about the chapters that the reader has already read, but then brush very quickly over the rest of the novel. There are a lot of unanswered questions, such as why did Rom and Dev come to Earth? And why specifically to that area of London? Why do Rom and Dev have to hatch an escape plan if The Teacher said they would be returned after their minds had been wiped? There needs to be more detail here if you are to compel the reader to want to find out more.

Genre/Market:
You class this as science fiction, fantasy and young adult. But actually, there are very little SF or fantasy elements in these opening pages. From reading your synopsis, it seems that it will only be in the second half of the novel that anything out of the ordinary will begin to happen. I also felt that you were a little unsure of what kind of novel you were writing, and who your intended readership is, other than teenagers. As I’m sure you’re aware, the young adult market is one that is incredibly saturated with new titles, and so increasingly competitive. And if your book is to stand out in a crowded marketplace, it needs to feel original and entertaining. My worry is that your book lacks a real ‘hook’ and also lacks the pace, tension and suspense needed to make this a page-turning read. To me this felt more like a novel suited to younger readers rather than teenagers, as it’s quite a simplistic story, without pace or complexity. It is absolutely crucial that you know who you are writing for – in children’s fiction more than any other. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in the genre you wish to write in, and read with a critical eye, analysing what you think works and doesn’t work in a novel. After all, the first step in becoming a good writer is in being a good reader.

Conclusion:
I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages are 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



Thanks, Natalie - much to mull over. I will enjoy it too.
... an honest insult is so much better than an insincere flattery...
ProfessionalCritique
 20 Nov 2012, 19:02 #160332 Reply To Post
Jackob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon

Firstly, congratulations on being selected for a longer critique. I was so impressed with the sample chapters I have read and am longing to find out how your story progresses – in a small amount of material I have become emotionally invested in your characters! Jakob in particular, who we follow in the This Day sections, is heartbreakingly alone. Your repeated use of language to illustrate how the characters are losing their humanity is very striking – Jakob not recognising his own scent, the colour leeching from his face, leaving it grey, when Jakob meets a grey old man, “as if the colours have left with his smiles”, Lor thinking that the room in De Clomp where she tries to meet Yakov is unfamiliar “without his colours” – so much is conveyed by absence. This is a stylistic device that I think lends your writing true poignancy and melancholy.
The narrative switching between 1940 and 1943 is an effective way to build tension and suspense into your story – we start off seeing Jakob all alone, “close to invisible as the world dares to make him”, and then cut to him being part of a family unit. An exhausted, on-the-run group – but at least they are all together and have their mum – the fact that the reader knows that Jakob is to become separated from Lor lends the scene where she is tenderly telling him the story of Gillum and Valour a really sad, almost horrifying, tint. Lor is so gentle and protective of her children – when her scars “healed now and sealed like secrets” are revealed, along with her weeping for Yakov, this raw side to her is shocking for the reader. We empathise with her completely.

If I had one suggestion for amendment in this opening section of your novel, it would be that I was left wondering whether Jakob could exhibit a few more emotions in the 1943 setting – he feels very empty (“there is nothing of him left”) and this is likely the effect of being separated from his family at the young age of eight, but would he initially be a little more afraid of Cherub and Markus? I’m sure we’ll discover as the narrative unfolds that Jakob has encountered many frightening adults in the years between 1940 and 1943, which would instil a certain amount of distrust and knee-jerk fear of them – could you think about making him a little less numb?
I see from your extended synopsis that Yakov’s story is to be interwoven in the tale so far – I’m pleased to see this, as it is clear that his and Lor’s love story would add warmth and passion to the book, which so far is movingly full of pain and suffering and the need to hide away.

This is beautifully written stuff – you’re very talented and I wish you all the best with your writing.

Lauren, Random House.



SHERLOCK HOLMES AND ME by Joy Manne
What a fun premise for a story! Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate sleuth – and is very much back in vogue since the brilliant recent BBC TV series. I think you capture the madcap, frenetic, twist-and-turn features of this series very well – Jon’s dad in particular has the unpredictable energy of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock!

I would urge some caution in ensuring that this rollercoaster pacing and zany plotting isn’t to the detriment of your characters. At the moment, I felt a little rushed-through things – we hear about Jon’s collection of pigeon skeletons as an opening gambit, and then nothing more about them. This is a pretty strange hobby for a thirteen-year-old boy to have – and it left me asking questions about Jon that go unanswered. We don’t hear how he feels about his mother’s death or the fact that every year he and his father go on an adventure for a week around his birthday – there is no reflection on his part, just reporting. We don’t even hear any surprise in his reaction to realising that the old priest on the plane is his dad in disguise, which is a fun twist that I think feels undercooked.

There is lots of fun and zip to your writing – the Sherlock Holmes Society of hammy actors is great – and I think there’s heaps of potential from the sample chapters to see Jon’s adventure unfold in an entertaining way. Just ensure your reader is fully engaged with him as a character from the first, so that they are compelled to root for him throughout.
Best of luck with your writing.

Lauren , Random House



BLOOD OF THE SUN GOD – Deborah J. Kershaw
This kind of epic fantasy story with an historical setting is just the kind of book I love – and I was so impressed with the wonderful detail and scene-setting that floods your narrative from the opening. There are too many gorgeous, evocative descriptive passages to highlight in this review, but I particularly loved the blue glass bottles that ‘glimmered in the half-light, like dragonflies resting on the grasses of the Nile”. You assault (in the best possible way!) all of your readers’ senses – so much colour, smell, taste and visual stimulation going on, it left me a bit heady! I think my only slight criticism of this style is that the build-up to Aanen having the brutal vision where the temple is set on fire is so sensuous and rich that it felt a little slow – I would have liked to get to the dramatic switch in pace and scene quicker.

Tiye going into labour is extremely visceral and compelling – I could not stop reading until the end of the sample material! Really exciting, hold-your-breath stuff that with a less assure hand could feel wildly out of control, but you handle the pacing expertly.

I was completely transported to the world you have created – it is so impressive that you manage this so early on in the book. As you can tell, I’m gripped so far, and have no doubt you have the skills to sustain this throughout the rest of the book and beyond!

Good luck with your writing – you’re clearly bursting with imagination and talent.

Lauren, Random House.



THE RICOCHET OF SUNBEAMS – Derek Byrne
The overwhelming feeling reading the sample chapters left me with was one of a space struggling to be filled. Your writing style is spare, precise – as is the dialogue between characters. The passage which best sums this up is “The boy kicks an empty can against the steel wall of the silo, but the sound is disappointing” – everything seems desolate and disaffected, people are described as “sullen like a bruise”. It reminded me of Tim Winton’s quietly lyrical style of writing, and of course his Australian setting.
I must admit to feeling a little detached from the narrative, which moves at slow, steady pace in this opening section. It is difficult to critique this without the whole book to read, as your style of delivery so far may be entirely deliberate to contrast with when the siblings steal the car and escape off into the desert. I would imagine the pace picks up considerably then – and we already have a sense of peace being shattered with the scene where Arthur batters poor Ging. Arthur is a compellingly creepy character, his interaction with Cassie (“she knows that she’ll find his gaze on her body, touching her in his mind”) makes for uncomfortable reading.
I wonder whether you could look into exploring the emotions of your characters more in the beginning few chapters? They felt a little flat for me – part of the “loose, laid-back town”, sure, but you need to give them some kind of empathetic hook for your reader to care about. Could you develop the relationship between Cassie and Ging more, so that her protectiveness and affection for him is more palpable?

Good luck with your writing in the future.
Lauren , Random House


safiaadam
 23 Nov 2012, 05:04 #160427 Reply To Post
Bump - people may have missed the 4 new reviews.



A cynic is no more than a disillusioned romantic.
cotty
 23 Nov 2012, 13:08 #160439 Reply To Post
Just wanted to say thank you to Lauren from Random House for her encouraging critique of Blood of the Sun God. It has really given me a boost and motivated me to carry on writing and finish the book. Many thanks, Deborah.


BLOOD OF THE SUN GOD – Deborah J. Kershaw
This kind of epic fantasy story with an historical setting is just the kind of book I love – and I was so impressed with the wonderful detail and scene-setting that floods your narrative from the opening. There are too many gorgeous, evocative descriptive passages to highlight in this review, but I particularly loved the blue glass bottles that ‘glimmered in the half-light, like dragonflies resting on the grasses of the Nile”. You assault (in the best possible way!) all of your readers’ senses – so much colour, smell, taste and visual stimulation going on, it left me a bit heady! I think my only slight criticism of this style is that the build-up to Aanen having the brutal vision where the temple is set on fire is so sensuous and rich that it felt a little slow – I would have liked to get to the dramatic switch in pace and scene quicker.

Tiye going into labour is extremely visceral and compelling – I could not stop reading until the end of the sample material! Really exciting, hold-your-breath stuff that with a less assure hand could feel wildly out of control, but you handle the pacing expertly.

I was completely transported to the world you have created – it is so impressive that you manage this so early on in the book. As you can tell, I’m gripped so far, and have no doubt you have the skills to sustain this throughout the rest of the book and beyond!

Good luck with your writing – you’re clearly bursting with imagination and talent.

Lauren, Random House.



Page 1 Add To My Topic Watch List Start New Topic Reply To Topic
Server Time: 14 December 2017, 13:03

Powered by Zarr Forums

-

 

Adverts provided by Google and not endorsed by YouWriteOn.com.