Allegory Editing
Sample Editorial Letter
Manuscript Critique - Partial Edit 

The author has given Allegory Editing permission to use this editorial letter. Character names have been changed and certain details have been redacted to retain anonymity. 

Allegory has worked with this author on previous works which have gained publication. For this project, they submitted the first 50 pages of their newest novel and requested a partial Manuscript Critique as an early check-in and to help set the focus as they complete the rest of the novel.   

 

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Dear [redacted],

First things first—really nice work! I think the premise is very interesting and will easily draw in a variety of readers.

To answer your biggest question for me: I think it is compelling, but it does take too long to get there. I will get into some specific ideas below on how to address this. It’s a fairly easy fix that can be accomplished with some minor restructuring. 

Pace/Structure
I am combining the feedback on these elements because your (minor) pacing issues are related to structure. 

The pacing of your prose and dialogue moves well. You are not a writer who is wont to superfluity, which I personally appreciate

That said, the first two chapters (especially the first one) do drag because nothing much happens. 

The opening scene where we learn about the breakup and she throws the mail away is the least compelling part of your story and the part that drags the most.  

I suggest drawing in your reader by leading with a stronger hook.
Some ideas for a hook:

  • Show us the break-up in real time.
  • Have her find out about her aunt’s death much sooner.
  • Lead with the dead body.
  • Lead with her arriving in her new home.

The break up is the least interesting part of the plot. My thought on fixing this is you can either spend less time on it or give it more weight. If you choose to give it more weight, one way to accomplish this is to SHOW Pam getting the text and then she either: 

  • Cares a whole lot more. 
  • Is apathetic, but surprised/angry/sad/thrilled at how much she doesn’t care. 
    • erhaps she does some stereotypical break-up thing like eat a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s because that’s one of the things you’re “supposed” to do in a break up, but after she realizes she really just isn’t that sad, then is mad at herself for being shallow and not caring or for staying in the relationship just for housing reasons.
    • Perhaps instead of (or in addition to) angry, she is sad because she realizes how little a relationship of two years meant to her when all was said and done. (This seems to be the direction you are going with it. If that’s the case, I would be more clear with it.)  

Really, though we don’t even need to see the break up or her life back  in [redacted] at all. You could open with her getting the knock at her door that her aunt has died, or just start with her arriving in [redacted]. You can use your fabulous establishment of place in [redacted]  and its juxtaposition to her life in the city to give us a sense of her “before.” Perhaps she notices things that have changed, or there is some part of farm life she is rusty on or has become a bit too citified for.

She can briefly remember the break up and have it be a thread of self-realization throughout without it needing to be it’s own big event that we see. 

Dialogue
Nothing stood out to me dialogue-wise. As usual, you have a strong ear for dialogue. 

Character Development
At this point, Pam’s circumstances are more compelling than she is. 

She reads as emotionally closed off, which I suspect is intentional. That character angle makes a lot of sense given her circumstances and sets up the potential for her to change and have a very strong character arc. Illustrating more of the nuances of her personality through her actions will allow you to retain this closed-off vibe while also giving the reader a way in. Think about little details that will help your reader be invested in Pam’s journey. 

She goes through some pretty big life events. Consider how these impact her, even if we only see some of the impact initially. 

One thing to consider is, especially with people who are emotionally walled off, emotions like sadness and grief often come out in other ways. For example:

  • Anger
  • Insomnia OR sleeping all the time
  • Immobilization OR a dogged determination to control little things because they feel emotionally out of control.

On page 19 you say, “she felt unable to live up to other people’s expectations of grief,” but only hint obliquely at how she does grieve. I do think her grief needs to have more weight to it, but that in no way needs to mean weeping and wallowing.
Does she:

  • Find herself out in the barn at 2am sweeping out the pens because she can’t sleep?
  • Spend hours pouring over her aunt’s papers obsessively and irrationally looking for something very specific? 
  • Have a physical manifestation like migraines for first time in her life? 
    Is she defiantly “fine”? 

ven if it is simply her own self-realization that she feels numb but knows she “should feel something and isn’t living up to her own expectations of grief. 

Showing her arrival in town from her perspective would be another way to personalize her more. 

Regardless of if you keep the section with her back in [redacted], you need to do more to highlight the juxtaposition of her life in the city to her new ranch life. 

  • Has it been too long since she’s visited her aunt and so she’s rusty on the farm/horse stuff at first?
  • Does some element of small town life (gossip, conservative politics, inefficiency…) remind her why she left in the first place? 

Story Arc/Plot
Given that I’ve only seen the first 50 pages, I can’t speak too much to this yet. However, everything I’ve seen leads to the potential for a very interesting story arc/plot. There is a definite momentum in this first section. Plot is one of your strong suits as a writer, so I have no doubt you will keep that momentum going. 

A Note on Genre/Audience:
It’s hard to say for certain before I’ve read the entire thing, but from just what I’ve seen so far, I think you have the possibility of engaging a broader audience beyond the typical mystery/thriller readers you stated as your target reader. 

It’s a different twist on the “city girl moves to the country for a fresh start,” with the additional angle of old family skeletons (ha!) and self-discovery that I think give you the possibility of a broader audience.

I’ll bookmark that thought and we can talk about it more when I see a full draft. 

Some specifics:

  • You told me in your introductory blurb that she lost her job in the tech industry. Unless I missed something, in the opening it seems like she left her job on purpose, intentionally transitioning to freelance. 
     
  • Along those same lines, I would suggest adding a bit of specificity about her job in the beginning. Even just saying “coding”. Using only “corporate” and “freelance” sounds like you are being vague because you as a writer aren’t clear on the specifics, which obviously isn’t the case. 
     
  • hen Joe gets the call that “we found her,” at first I thought her aunt had been missing and he was getting the call that they found her. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it must have been they had been trying to locate Pam to tell her about her aunt. 
     
  • f her aunt was so orderly with her paperwork and (presumably) in contact with Pam on a regular basis, I am unclear on why it took so long for Joe and the lawyer to find her? Wouldn’t Pam be listed as a beneficiary in paperwork that the lawyer would have or that was in her aunt’s files? 
     
  • She is mad at herself for not knowing her aunt was so ill. Is she also a bit mad at her aunt for keeping it to herself? 
     
  • t’s not clear why, if she used to make a lot of money, she has so little possessions. Is this a character trait? Did she love to travel so never stayed in one place long? Did her boyfriend not like any of her stuff? 
     
  • I love that you are bringing in your cowgirl knowledge on this one :-)  
     
  • Page 7: If the two hypothetical roommates are 30-somethings working at [redacted} instead of 40-somethings working at [redacted], that would give a more immediate sense of place and the now.
     
  • If the lawyer came all this way to see her, wouldn’t he know that she hadn’t been told yet? 
     
  • I LOVE the fact that they find her missing uncle’s body. I do wonder if her brain for a split second would flash to the possibility that her aunt killed him and then instantly be appalled at herself for thinking it? As an intrusive thought rather than an actual theory. Humans have these all the time and brush them off. (Just a idea, take it or leave it. But it’s for sure where my brain went as a reader and I suspect other’s will as well, so no reason you couldn’t put it out there.
     
  • You allude that the local law enforcement is not familiar with running a murder investigation. Can we see an example or two of this bumbling or ineptitude?

This is a very strong start to your new novel. As always, I am honored and delighted to be involved in the early stages. I can’t wait to read the full draft and see what twists and turns I am certain you have up your sleeve!

All the best,

Andrea