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I listed the first three chapters on the British competitive writers' website You Write On
where members read randomly assigned opening chapters of other members' books and assign them grades from one to five in eight separate categories and then the books are compared with one another in a chart system. I'm happy to say that this manuscript was number one in their chart for November 2016:
I'm interested in any feedback you'd like to leave on my manuscript.
This is written in British English, with British spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sarcasm. You have been warned.
Here's a critique I just received from a professional editor concerning this story.
Editor Critiques from Penguin Random House are below. These critiques are for Competition Period 2 2016.
The Editors are working on the winning critiques for Competition Period 1 2017 which completed on July 1st.
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Many thanks to everyone for participating with their great stories and feedback.
Random House Editor Review of Just in Time
Congratulations on being chosen for review. I can completely see why – there’s a great deal to like in Just in Time. Through your delivery and Shaun’s interesting personality you’ve given a new take on the dystopian/future world thriller; it’s a really accomplished piece of writing and I’ve enjoyed reading it. My notes really are about making more of all you have in here. I hope they’re of some use to you as you revisit the manuscript.
In general, I found the opening of your novel to be impactful and intriguing – it’s a fun and immediate first line that does a lot to show us Shaun’s personality immediately. You could actually afford to slow things down a little from this line on. We’re told a lot all at once: the army patrols, key achievements of Shaun’s life . . . I wonder whether we could actually have the army patrol go past so we can see it rather than being told about it. It would be an even more dramatic opening and would do a lot to visually show us the way the world has changed.
It’s key we get as many details as we can on the Snuff and how and why it spread from the start of the book. You’ll be teasing more of this through as you go, of course, but a little more up front would be very satisfying, I think. Could the last letter from Jess to her father work, for instance? Then we would glean that she was an in-demand microbiologist rather than being told it? As much as you can show rather than tell is always useful and tends to be more impactful. Dr Wu is mentioned very briefly and then moved past – is there anything more we can seed there?
He’s a fascinating character and I’m very interested in him. As he’s the one who is completely leading us this world and this story we do need to feel attached to him – understanding why he behaves how he does, even if we don’t always like him. I really wanted to know even more about him as we went through – how he really thinks and feels about his situation rather than the bravado he’s put up to survive as he has. We obviously don’t want him to be self-pitying, but maybe flashes of genuine positive raw emotion – for example when he thinks about his daughter and touches her photograph – might make him more empathetic.
I’d love to be able to compare and contrast as it were between him as an adult and him as a child so we can track the man he became from what we see of him as a child. Some of this is likely to come from the interactions between him and his mother. Is there more you could do there to bring out both of their personalities in their exchanges?
When he has gone back in time to his childhood bedroom, it would be so emotional and immediate for him to suddenly be there. He would question it more presumably, and be more powerfully affected than we’re seeing just at the moment? He seems quite casual at points too, for example, when he goes to Mick’s house and when he realises that crucially saving the human race could be in his hands . . . Some more highs and lows in the way he navigates this very extreme situation would add an extra layer of brilliance.
Do we need there to be slightly more impact and fallout from the changes his mother and Mick would be picking up in Shaun? More surprise from them at points, such as when Shaun fights back at school?
I think this works really well in terms of its pace and how you’ve written it, but there’s huge potential for it to be even more impactful, I think. Some of this would come from us getting to know Shaun better so we feel even more invested in him and his plight as I’ve gone in to above but I also think it could be even more of an opportunity for us to learn more about the world and to move the plot forward . Could we see Shaun navigating this world more immediately – re-getting used to it and comparing how it differs to what the world has become. Even touching people must freak him out now that he has to avoid the virus being spread – more detail like seeing him flinching away from physical contact etc would help us build a picture of how everything has changed . . .
And I think that’s everything for now, other than a smaller thing, though so tricky to get perfect . . . I wondered about the title. Just in Time feels rather too generic for such great fiction writing and I think you could possibly think of something punchier as your novel deserves!
The very best of luck with this.
All my best,
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