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by Perry McDaid

I recently uploaded ‘Accentuate The Positive’ song to add an amusing slant to a discussion on reviewing while making a salient point. And it IS a good point.

Reviewing a piece is like making music, and particularly that piece which is about life. If we don’t woo the potentially great writers with our ballads, we’re going to remain stuck in this mire of “celebrity autobiographies” and formulaic twaddle. So get that tuning fork out and practice your crooning.

I recently noticed a newbie to YWO getting a mite frustrated and discouraged and decided to step in, sending an email while apologising for the intrusion.

It was appreciated and the communication extended for further queries which I had invited.

Looking back on what I wrote, it occurred that the content would be an effective tool on how to review. I have removed identifying features and replaced them with general terms to suit.

It began:


There is nothing much wrong with your language, considering the target market. [YA] It’s the punctuation and overambitious sentences which trip you up in the main. Writing in present tense doesn’t help.

Don’t make your language childish – make it simple. Don’t over-reach your grasp of the language. Novels don’t HAVE to be full of polysyllables.

Don’t repeat nouns where you don’t have to: [example for SP purpose – look at that mouse, the mouse with the sunglasses … should read look at that mouse, the one with the sunglasses].

Cut back on your sentence length. It makes things simpler.

Make use of your spell/grammar checker. Don’t confuse forms – as in a verb with a noun or an adjective. [example for SP purpose – install with installation] ]


X was written in the 19th century when literacy wasn’t that widespread. Don’t base your expectations on its literary grade.

Make sure you use commas where commas are required, full stops where they’re needed. Don’t make one word expressions into two words [example for SP purpose - Henhouse into hen house].

Avoid ellipses (…) unless nothing else indicates a pause. Character action between split dialogue already indicates a hiatus. Just use a comma and continue. This is simpler, as I suggested earlier, and where required short staccato sentences give the feel of short, petulant, statements.

To retain children’s attention you need action, and quickly in an age where a child has a library of computer games to hand on a PDA. If you are a number of chapters in and nothing much has happened, they’ll be off wasting batteries and electricity.


Writers come from one of a few perspectives. They see an end and work backwards. They see a rough sketch from beginning to end. Or they start with something that sounds good, throw in a few characters and watch it grow. I started my book just like the latter in its first draft and was whisked along by the story and characters.

Later, I realised that it needed some structure and pace to keep readers interested. I knew where it was going and was prepared to be patient. Readers can’t read your mind and are less inclined to patience.

Read even one of Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” books to get an idea of what I mean. They were written for the same age group as yours and in the early part of last century.

Research is never wasted. Good luck.


When I was doing my Writers' Bureau course I got a dandy wee punctuation leaflet which was simply laid out and no drain on patience to read. I wish I still had it to scan and send as an attachment.
As part of the OU DipLit course I was required to buy a book on same. It was 1% useful, 99% waffle as the author struggled to justify the 200 pages. I THREW THAT ONE IN THE BIN.

Writing is supposed to be fun. That's why we do it.

Punctuation is vital in the finished product. Also for reviewers to understand you properly. However, sticking a comma where a colon should be etc and perfect usage of ellipses (plural of ellipsis . . .), em dashes ( - ) and/or glyphs (...) matters not a hoot until you get to publication stage, at which time the novel can be proof-read.

Just concentrate on making your story readable and ensuring it makes sense - that's it. If you worry too much about punctuation you'll start to lose enthusiasm, and we don't want that.

Reviewers will continue to point out mistakes in grammar, and that's fine - just take note of their points and put it in a file somewhere for later use.
The main points which are relevant in the here and now are those related to your actual story.


With the change in readers' attention spans these days, prologues should be short and enticing. It's your bait to get a browser to get a cuppa and a biscuit and sit down to read on.


Vernacular and slang should stay if you are comfortable that your characters would use them. Culture- specific endearments and terms give what is called a "sense of manners", a term meaning to not only give your characters a sense of reality, but the whole book a style which provides a unique character. No-one I know would use a certain expression you have used in the singular - so it makes your usage memorable. Good. It will also have your young readers asking parents "What's that?" And there you go - they learn something new.

I hope you found “simple past” [rather than first person present] made the process easier for you. However, you must realize that I am only speaking from my own cultural perspective. I had forgotten at that time that many different cultures, notably African and Asian, have sub-cultures who tell stories in the present. This is fine when it is oral and the story-teller can improvise with gestures and expressions - but on paper it has a habit of hurting the story unless it's a short picture book.


And you are catching on quickly. Of course you can mention characters without describing them in depth. It all depends how important they are to the story.

Novels are like life - we don't know everything about everybody straight after meeting them. How they deal with what happens will define who they are.

What did we know about Merry and Pippin in Lord of the Rings, or Saruman for that matter, until the story unfolded? We pick up bits of information as we go along, piecing their personalities and motives together like jigsaw puzzles.



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