1.

She walked slowly from the kitchen to the dining room table, eyes focused on the soup tureen in her hands. Her mother followed with a bottle of wine and a basket of rolls. Hans, chin perched on tented hands, watched. Patricia seated the ceramic tureen in its silver holder and sat down. Leni placed the bread basket beside the tureen and handed her husband the open bottle of wine before sitting at her end of the table.

“It smells good, Patricia. Did you make this?” Hans asked pouring wine into his glass.

“Yes. It’s from a recipe Tante Ola sent me,” she answered as she passed the bottle to her mother.

He began ladling soup into his bowl. “I’m glad to see you helping your mother more. What else did you do today?”

Leni regarded her empty bowl. A hard knot appeared on Patricia’s right cheek.  She took the ladle from her father’s hand and began filling her own bowl while her mother poured the wine. “Well, after walking to Hertels and to Rose’s Bakery to get everything for the soup, I went to the park.”

“And?” Hans prodded. “What else?”

“Then I came home and fixed your dinner.” Patricia replied quietly, her eyes locked on her father’s eyes.

He looked across the table and watched his wife fill her own bowl with steaming soup. Her eyes met his briefly before fixing once again on the thick chunks of pork that lounged amongst the red cabbage in her bowl.

2.

After clearing the table, putting the food put away, and washing the dishes, Patricia passed through the living room on the way to her bedroom. Her parents sat, as usual, in their matching wing-backed chairs—her mother smoking, her father’s face obscured by the New York Post.

“Sit and keep us company for a while?” Hans suggested as he peered over the top of the paper.

Patricia’s chest expanded and slowly deflated. Her lips barely moved as she responded, “I have some writing to do.”

“Are you working on something important?”

“It’s important to me.”


“Well, what is this important writing that you’re engaged in?” her father prodded.

“I’m working on a series of children’s stories. I need to have them ready to send off by Friday.”

“Oh. Interesting. And where do you plan to send them?”

“Whitman Publishing is accepting submissions for children’s books.”

“And how do they pay?” he asked.

“On time, I’m sure.” She turned down the hallway to her room and flung the door closed.

Hans stared toward the empty hallway, the newspaper collapsing onto his lap.

“Must you constantly push at her so?”  Leni asked softly. Her cheeks flamed to a slightly paler shade than her hair, as Hans swiveled his gaze to her. 

 

“Leni. For God’s sake. The girl is frittering away her life. She dabbles in this and that. She starts projects but never sees them through. First it was acting, then journalism, now she’s writing children’s books . . . supposedly.”

3.

They gazed at the rainbow of hats in the window. “That one would look stunning on you, Patricia. The blue matches your eyes and with the angle tipped, the shape would highlight your cheekbones.”

“Yeah, thanks, Becca. I can see it now: Dad comes home and sees a box from DeLancey’s. . . He’s been on my case about everything lately. ‘Help your poor mother, get a job, stop moping.’”  She turned away from the hatted heads and gazed at the dresses next door.

“But what about your writing? Isn’t he proud that you’ll be published next month?”

“Children’s literature doesn’t impress him. The only thing he’s interested in is the pay. He’s convinced I can’t make a living writing kids’ books. Maybe he’s right. I’ve already had more stories rejected than I care to admit. Look at that one on the right, Becca. That empire style is just what you’ve been looking for, isn’t it?”  They shrieked in unison when a city bus sprayed slush as it passed. “Why not try it on? It would be perfect for your date with Charles.”

Becca burbled , “I think he may propose soon!”

“You’re ready for that, aren’t you?” Patricia asked as they opened the heavy glass doors of the department store.

Becca’s face beamed her answer.

“You’re so lucky, Becca. Everything is falling into place for you. I keep rattling around this damned city. I’m so tired of grey skies, concrete towers and stinky old buses. I wish I could escape this prison!”

4.

She adjusted her hat in the hall mirror and examined her teeth for lipstick smears.

“Good luck, honey.” Leni’s reedy voice traveled through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Thanks, Mother. I’ll pick up salad fixings on the way home. Bye.”

“You look ready to take on the world, Miz Boeck,” said the doorman as she stepped through  the door of their West End apartment building.

She smiled, wishing she felt as spiffy as she looked. It was her day of reckoning. Her father insisted that she must learn something about the business.  She hurried through the turnstile and squeezed into the train just as the doors slid shut, her father’s criticism echoing in her head. He’d have been happier with a son, she thought bitterly. Someone who would follow his footsteps and carry on the family name. Me? He doesn’t really expect me to travel the world wheeling and dealing. He expects me to sit behind a desk in that dreary office day in and day out—until I meet Mr. Right. And then of course, Mr. Right will slide into the business while I stay home taking care of mom and dad and babies and the house.”


Elbows jabbed and morning breath clogged her nostrils until her stop, then like leaking coffee beans she spilled out with the crowd surging toward Mill Street.  Her hand on the brass door plate of H. Boeck and Peters , she sucked in air like a diver plunging toward the water.

5.

A cup of black tea appeared on her desk.  Her hand poised on the ten-key, she watched Ray’s straight, narrow back disappear toward the front of the building. Glancing at the clock on the wall, she wondered, Is he that punctual about everything?   She’d never been much for tea until Ray began this morning ritual using the fine black stuff supplied by his parents in China. She sighed as she thought about the delicious meal they’d shared at Fongs last Friday night.  Oh, I hope he asks me out again.  She smiled as she remembered gazing into the black pools of his eyes with their intriguingly simple lids. She adored the way his thick black hair flopped over his forehead while he talked, like a horse’s forelock.

“Do you have that balance sheet finished yet, Patricia?” Her father’s partner gently reined her mind back to the desk.

“Almost, Fred.” She continued punching numbers and recording sums. An hour and half passed like molasses.

She didn’t hear Ray’s footsteps as he approached her desk. “Do you have lunch plans today, Paticia?” he asked soto voce.

 One eyebrow shot up as she whispered, “Not at all.”

“Pehaps you would accompany me to my favalite place in de pak? I know a guy, he has noodaa stand. Is good. Vely good.

“Oh I would love that, Ray.” She realized that she’d actually been looking forward to coming to work lately.

6.

Their hands crept across the table toward each other as they waited for the curry. Their regular table at Fongs snuggled into a dark corner at the back of the long narrow diner.

“I want you to come with me to Becca’s engagement party,” Patricia announced. She clamped her front teeth over her bottom lip to contain a smile. There was a long pause. Her lip fell free of its restraint and her smile deflated.

The waiter shuffled up to the table and placed a large platter of green curry between them. Her hands found each other and clasped themselves, prayer-like, in her lap. She held her breath and tilted her chin. “Ray?”

“Is not good idee.” 

   

“But why? What’s wrong?”

“I sink, maybe Becca’s palents not like see me.” Ray’s mouth was a thin line and his eyes fell to his hands that now also lay in his lap. The curry steamed between them.

Her forehead wrinkled, pushing the peak of her hairline into a crooked squiggle. “Ray . . . what are you talking about?”

His gaze drifted to the wall, across the pot of soup, to the edge of the table, then back to his lap. “Is not good idee. Not everyone is good and accepting like you. I no want make bad scene fa  you flend.”

The full impact of his words hit her like a sledgehammer.  “If you can’t brave Becca’s family, how will you have the nerve to stand up to my father?”

“I don’t.” He admitted.

Instructor Response

 

Good work.  You introduce characters up front, the conflicts are clear, motivations are understood and credible.  A very acceptable performance. 

As you continue to write and revise, keep this in mind.  Many readers may not stick with the story very long, or will leave the reading with a sense of dissatisfaction.  It’s not the story but mainly the writing.  You have a tendency to verbosity, and you tend to use inaccurate words that confuse the meaning, especially verbs.  Your descriptions are long, and it makes the writing tend to ponderous.  It can be argued, of course, that it’s your style . . . that it is what you want to achieve.  But you have the potential to interest many more readers, and by following a few classic rules for writing fiction, you could achieve that.  Make your writing sparser.  Be sure everything you put on the page has a story-purpose.  Learn to write effective dialogue [http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/dialogue/].  And this is difficult, but learn to write for your reader and avoid the need, as a writer, to appear as what you think a great writer should be.

I’ll make suggests below.  There is no intent to edit, just pointing out things, especially in the writing, where you can learn to work to improve the effect you achieve on the reader.  You might remember, you want to engage, entertain, and enlighten a reader with your fiction.  You don’t want to confuse, discourage, bore, or deflect the reader’s attention away from the story.

1.

She walked slowly from the kitchen to the dining room table, eyes focused on the soup tureen in her hands. Her mother followed with a bottle of wine and a basket of rolls. Hans, chin perched on tented hands, watched. Patricia seated the ceramic tureen in its silver holder and sat down. Leni placed the bread basket beside the tureen and handed her husband the open bottle of wine before sitting at her end of the table.

“It smells good, Patricia. Did you make this?” Hans asked pouring wine into his glass.

“Yes. It’s from a recipe Tante Ola sent me,” she answered as she passed the bottle to her mother.

He began ladling soup into his bowl. “I’m glad to see you helping your mother more. What else did you do today?”

Leni regarded her empty bowl. A hard knot appeared on Patricia’s right cheek.  She took the ladle from her father’s hand and began filling her own bowl while her mother poured the wine. “Well, after walking to Hertels and to Rose’s Bakery to get everything for the soup, I went to the park.”

“And?” Hans prodded. “What else?”

“Then I came home and fixed your dinner.” Patricia replied quietly, her eyes locked on her father’s eyes.

He looked across the table and watched his wife fill her own bowl with steaming soup. Her eyes met his briefly before fixing once again on the thick chunks of pork that lounged amongst the red cabbage in her bowl.

2.

After clearing the table, putting the food put away, and washing the dishes, Patricia passed through the living room on the way to her bedroom. Her parents sat, as usual, in their matching wing-backed chairs—her mother smoking, her father’s face obscured by the New York Post.

“Sit and keep us company for a while?” Hans suggested as he peered over the top of the paper.

Patricia’s chest expanded and slowly deflated. Her lips barely moved as she responded, “I have some writing to do.”

“Are you working on something important?”

“It’s important to me.”

“Well, what is this important writing that you’re engaged in?” her father prodded.

“I’m working on a series of children’s stories. I need to have them ready to send off by Friday.”   [This is too much exposition for effective dialogue.  It’s not credible she would say this to her father in this situation.  It’s almost a soliloquy.]

“Oh. Interesting. And where do you plan to send them?”

“Whitman Publishing is accepting submissions for children’s books.”

“And how do they pay?” he asked.

“On time, I’m sure.” She turned down the hallway to her room and flung  [wrong word] the door closed.

Hans stared toward the empty hallway, the newspaper collapsing onto in his lap.

“Must you constantly push at her so?”  Leni asked softly. Her cheeks flamed to a slightly paler shade than her hair, as Hans swiveled his gaze to her. 

        “Leni. For God’s sake. The girl is frittering away her life. She dabbles in this and that. She starts projects but never sees them through. First it was acting, then journalism, now she’s writing children’s books . . . supposedly.”  This is unrealistic dialogue.  Restructure, condense, or consider delivering information in narrative or through internalization.

3.

They gazed at the rainbow of hats in the window. “That one would look stunning on you, Patricia. The blue matches your eyes and with the angle tipped, the shape would highlight your cheekbones.”

“Yeah, thanks, Becca. I can see it now: Dad comes home and sees a box from DeLancey’s. . . He’s been on my case about everything lately. ‘Help your poor mother, get a job, stop moping.’”  She turned away from the hatted heads and gazed at the dresses next door.

“But what about your writing? Isn’t he proud that you’ll be published next month?”

“Children’s literature doesn’t impress him. The only thing he’s interested in is the pay. He’s convinced I can’t make a living writing kids’ books. Maybe he’s right. I’ve already had more stories rejected than I care to admit. Look at that one on the right, Becca. That empire style is just what you’ve been looking for, isn’t it?”  Aey shrieked in unison when a city bus sprayed slush as it passed. “Why not try it on? It would be perfect for your date with Charles.”

Becca burbled [wrong word], “I think he may propose soon!”

“You’re ready for that, aren’t you?” Patricia asked as they opened the heavy glass doors of the department store.

Becca’s face beamed her answer.

“You’re so lucky, Becca. Everything is falling into place for you. I keep rattling around this damned city. I’m so tired of grey skies, concrete towers and stinky old buses. I wish I could escape this prison!”

4.

She adjusted her hat in the hall mirror and examined her teeth for lipstick smears.

“Good luck, honey.” Leni said. reedy voice traveled through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Thanks, Mother. I’ll pick up salad fixings on the way home. Bye.”

“You look ready to take on the world, Miz Boeck,” said the doorman as she stepped through  the door of their West End apartment building.

She smiled, wishing she felt as spiffy as she looked. It was her day of reckoning. Her father insisted that she must learn something wanted her to learn about the business.  She hurried through the turnstile and squeezed into the train just as the doors slid shut, her father’s criticism echoing in her head. He’d have been happier with a son, she thought bitterly. Someone who would follow his footsteps and carry on the family name. Me? He doesn’t really expect me to travel the world wheeling and dealing. He expects me to sit behind a desk in that dreary office day in and day out—until I meet Mr. Right. And then of course, Mr. Right will slide into the business while I stay home taking care of mom and dad and babies and the house.” [Good.  Does a lot of work for story!  And the internalization is very effective.]

Elbows jabbed and morning breath clogged her nostrils until her stop, then like leaking coffee beans she spilled out with the crowd surging toward Mill Street.  She got out at Mill Street and went to the office of H. Boeck and Peters , she sucked in air like a diver plunging toward the water.

5.

A cup of black tea appeared on her desk.  Her hand poised on the ten-key, she watched Ray’s straight, narrow back disappear toward the front of the building. Glancing at the clock on the wall, she wondered, Is he that punctual about everything?   She’d never been much for tea until Ray began this morning ritual using the fine black stuff supplied by his parents in China. She sighed as she thought about the delicious meal they’d shared at Fongs last Friday night.  Oh, I hope he asks me out again.  She smiled as she remembered gazing into the black pools of his eyes with their intriguingly simple lids. She adored the way his thick black hair flopped over his forehead while he talked, like a horse’s forelock.

“Do you have that balance sheet finished yet, Patricia?” Her father’s partner gently reined her mind back to the desk.

“Almost, Fred.” She continued punching numbers and recording sums. An hour and half passed like molasses.

She didn’t hear Ray’s footsteps as he approached her desk. “Do you have lunch plans today, Paticia?” he asked soto voce.

 One eyebrow shot up as she whispered, “Not at all.”

“Pehaps you would accompany me to my favalite place in de pak? I know a guy, he has noodaa stand. Is good. Vely good.

“Oh I would love that, Ray.” She realized that she’d actually been looking forward to coming to work lately.  [The dialogue indicates this.]

6.

Their hands crept across the table toward each other as they waited for the curry. Their regular table at Fongs snuggled [wrong word] into a dark corner at the back of the long narrow diner.

“I want you to come with me to Becca’s engagement party,” Patricia announced. She clamped her front teeth over her bottom lip to contain a smile. There was a long pause. Her lip fell free of its restraint and her smile deflated.

The waiter shuffled up to the table and placed a large platter of green curry between them. Her hands found each other and clasped themselves, prayer-like, in her lap. She held her breath and tilted her chin. “Ray?”

“But why? What’s wrong?”

“I sink, maybe Becca’s palents not like see me.” Ray’s mouth was a thin line tightened and he looked to his hands that now also lay that were in his lap. The curry steamed between them.

Her forehead wrinkled, pushing the peak of her hairline into a crooked squiggle. “Ray . . . what are you talking about?”

His gaze drifted to the wall, across the pot of soup, to the edge of the table, then back to his lap. “Is not good idee. Not everyone is good and accepting like you. I no want make bad scene fa  you flend.”

The full impact of his words hit her like a sledgehammer.  “If you can’t brave Becca’s family, how will you have the nerve to stand up to my father?”

“I don’t.” He admitted.

 

Specific comments and ideas.

 

Her forehead wrinkled, pushing the peak of her hairline into a crooked squiggle.   

There are too many words here used to express a simple idea.

Her forehead wrinkled.  , pushing the peak of her hairline into a crooked squiggle.   would do just fine. 

This is an example of what some teachers label as trying to be “writerly”.   That’s the straining to sound erudite and really sounding pompous, amateurish and ineffective.  You can overcome this as you continue your career.  But it will require your searching and recognizing the tendency when you’re revising.

 

Don’t use a pronoun when the antecedent is not absolutely clear.  You often start a paragraph or a sentence with a pronoun when who is speaking is not immediately apparent. 

 

Study your dialogue.  Dialogue must be vibrant and active.  It must be as sparce as possible for the situation.   It must never seem unrelated to th e immediate scene, character, or plot.  Dialogue must have a purpose, and the purpose cannot be just to have words fill the page because the story has lost momentum or the author can’t think of purposeful dialogue.  And dialogue must never be the way people talk in real life—it can be deadly boring, at least appear as bad writing, but it must always seem to the reader the way people speak in real life.  Difficult to do.  And dialogue must be consistent with–and unique to–the character speaking, consistent with age, gender, worldview, intelligence, education, humor, and imagination.

 

Never use two or more words when one will do.  And choose nouns and verbs that will exactly express that you, the writer, desire.

 

Dialect in writing is a tricky choice.  Too much is usually not effect to many readers.  Test the effectiveness of your dialect with readers you trust to assess the acceptance of dialect in your writing.  From my sensitivities, I felt there was too much dialect for my enjoyment here.  The dialect called attention to itself as a device, and that worked against the quality of the writing.

 

You’ve got something valuable working here.  Use it as a stepping stone to perfection.  And all the best in your writing.

 

WHC

  1. Thanks for your careful critique. You’ve given me lots to work on. Fiction is very difficult for me..

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