In the corner of the room Sergei saw a wooden pirate’s treasure chest. Katherina would have loved it, he thought, especially if it were full of dolls. He lifted the lid, took one glance inside and collapsed. 

Sergei’s blood had deserted him. This was no ordinary chest; it belonged to Katherina and contained a solitary doll her mother had bought her before the fire. It was a princess dressed in blue and gold.

Butterflies flew across the room, sparrows appeared on the window sill, and Sergei, still dazed from what he had seen, sensed that he was no longer alone.

“Papa,” a voice echoed from the balcony. Katherina hovered into the room. ?“ Papa look, I’ve got a new doll.”

Sergei’s body shattered into a thousand pieces across the marble floor. He was on his knees, feeling the full weight of a vision he could not understand. It was her. She stared at her father in a way that only a daughter could. But her tender blue eyes were armed with cut-throat blades that sliced every artery of Sergei’s already weak body. He buried his face and shouted at the balcony he could no longer see. 

“Katherina, don’t. You’re torturing me. Why are you doing this?”

  Sergei observed his daughter through half-closed eyes. Katherina did not hear his distress. They almost touched but were drowning in a sea of solitude and regrets, trying to find each other in the entanglements of paternal love.

  She was clutching the same doll Sergei had seen in the treasure chest.

“Papa, I miss you.” Sapphire tears, laced with gold, trickled down the cheeks of a sweet little girl who was telling a truth difficult for Sergei to accept.

He wanted to embrace her, to hold her so tight that their bodies would fuse. He stretched his arms and felt a cold mist enrobe his body. A violet light invaded the room and Katherina left as she had come, without a sound.

His aching legs took him out of the apartment and down the stairs. Still in a daze, he left the building.

The bar was on the far side of the marketplace and Christina was waiting for him. ?But he looked right instead of left, and saw them. A woman and child weaved their way through the crowd and stopped at the fish stall below the building’s steps.

“I’m hungry,” moaned the little girl. 

“Come on, hurry up,” the mother reprimanded her. “Take my hand or you’ll get lost.” 

The child dragged her feet in protest. 

“I’m tired and hungry, mummy. My prince is also tired.” 

The mother pulled her with such force that the child’s feet lifted off the ground and she found herself in front of her mother. They hurried and dissolved into the human mass that had gathered along the market stalls, and were out of Sergei’s sight before he realised what he had just seen.

He recognised the dark pleats and delicate neck of a mother he had once loved. He remembered giving the prince to his daughter for one of her birthdays. Katherina was carrying it with her. She was not as hazy as in the apartment, and Sergei had no doubts that she was his daughter. She hadn’t changed since the last time he saw her, before the fire. But he couldn’t understand why she didn’t recognise him. Katherina had just spoken to him, and they had been so close. He was high enough on the steps, not far from where they had been standing, and was certain that their eyes had crossed. He wondered why his family hadn’t recognised him, and why Katherina was still a little girl who couldn’t leave home without her dolls. But they were on Xanthia, and that was all that mattered.

Sergei’s heart pounded. He flew over the last three steps of the building’s entrance, ended on all fours at the back of the fish stall, clawed his way up an overturned empty crate, and ran to the front of the stall. He tried to distinguish Anastasia and Katherina from the multitude of shoppers going up and down the alley.

The fishmonger looked at him, wide-eyed, as if he’d seen a ghost. Sergei had seen two. 

“And where are you going, Sir?” he said with a smile.

“Happiness,” Sergei joked. For the first time in years, he genuinely felt happy. He apologised for not picking up the crate that was lying on its side.

“Don’t worry, if it’s in the name of happiness, knocking down a crate is not important.” 

Sergei acknowledged the fishmonger’s kindness and ran into the crowd. The shoppers could not walk fast enough. They crowded the side of every alleyway with their doubts over what they should buy and how much it should cost. Sergei was stuck behind complete strangers who were living in their own worlds and who were taking up valuable space and consuming precious time in his. But he was convinced that if Anastasia and Katherina were still in the marketplace, he would find them.

Katherina’s passion for dolls was one thing he had loved the most about her. During the summer months, she spent hours in the garden playing, telling stories that everyone in her vicinity could hear. In one of the side alleys, Sergei noticed a toy stall whose front was populated by a variety of dolls, some of which were visible from a distance. Instinct told him that Katherina would have made a tantrum and convinced her mother to spend a few minutes by the stall.

Katherina was glued to the front of the stall and wanted to buy every single doll for sale. He approached cautiously and stood next to her. Anastasia was on the other side of the stall, patiently waiting for her daughter to choose a doll.

“Mummy,” she clutched a doll, dressed in blue and gold. “This one’s nice. She’s a princess.”

“You haven’t got a princess, have you?”

“No. She will marry the prince.”

“But you promise me to walk if I buy you the doll.”

“Yes, mummy, I promise.”

It was Sergei’s opportunity to engage in a conversation with his daughter without scaring her and worrying her mother.

“The prince is a lucky man,” he smiled tenderly, hoping Katherina would not run away if she did not recognise her own father. “He will marry a beautiful princess.”

Katherina closed her mouth and pressed her lips so tight that it was clear she would not part them again in Sergei’s presence. It was her, of that he was sure. But she seemed so distant, as if he did not exist. Is she the ghost or am I? 

Sergei’s daughter had just delivered the hardest of sucker punches. She blew him to the corner of a boxing ring, depriving him of all the feelings a father could have for his daughter. He wanted to scream, “Katherina, it’s me,” but remained speechless. A lump, the size of a rock, lodged itself between his vocal chords, and all he could do was breathe. 

Katherina took the princess with the golden locks.

“We’ll buy this one,” Anastasia was by the till. 

Sergei could smell the perfume she always used, a sweet scent of roses. He only had to extend his arms to touch her. He could have moved and brushed her body without her noticing, but he wanted more than just an unnoticed contact. He wanted to hold her forever and tell her how much he still loved her. It was a simple but daunting gesture. He was paralysed by the power of a love that had never left him. But as she took the doll, the face he knew so well began to melt in the winter sunlight and he did not recognise her anymore. She gave the doll to her daughter who kept her promise. They left the stall, hand in hand, and disappeared into the crowd.

Sergei picked up a doll she had left behind and held it tight. It comforted him that his daughter had touched the same doll.

Instructor Response

George–

Great story idea. I admire the way you introduced it. I concluded you wanted me to think about love and grief. You did that!

This is a keeper; these are things you could address.

Keep the reader oriented as to when the story is “fantasy” or “reality.” It’s often not clear. Remember, if you’re trying to engage a reader’s emotions, significance is related to how much the character and the story could be real, even if it is in a vision.

So much potential in this story. So, I’ve made lots of comments. Two versions. The first I’ll point out style issues: word choice where the word is not accurate or does not serve your purpose. (It’s subjective, and you should ignore any suggestion that doesn’t meet the style you’re trying to establish.) Second is imagery you should consider. Images and actions should integrate into a whole conception for the entire story of setting and story credibility. Keep thinking of the story as unit, a jigsaw puzzle maybe, that when all the pieces relate, they form a concrete, believable picture.

Overall, consider motive, actions, and emotions. Use them to energize and reveal the significance of purpose of your story. Think about showing/telling us what happened in the fire. Did Sergei do something that he can’t forgive himself and is saddled with guilt that heightens his memories of love for Katherina? Were both mother and Katherina killed? Is there something we could know that would help us understand Katherina better, and her relationship to her mother? (Is she still alive?)  Also, in Sergei’s memories of Katrina, you might dramatize with detail, and action, how the relationship developed. Avoid too much telling. And in addition, review the clarity of the dolls–that is, prince and princess and others, which doll is the original and which one was bought and who is holding what doll at any one moment. We should know what Katherina’s passion was for dolls. Did she them as playthings, or did she feel they were real, alive, capable of accepting her love, etc.

In general, don’t use the prose to evoke emotional responses in reader. Use action, internalization, story credibility, character-revealing imagery, and dialogue.

WORDS (GREEN) , PHRASES (RED), IDEAS (PURPLE) THAT MAY NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE. THEY DEFINE YOUR STYLE SO JUST PONDER IF YOU REALLY WANT THEM OR NOT. A FEW DON’T MAKE SENSE. AT PRESENT, YOUR STYLE SEEMS A LITTLE OVER THE TOP. Develop the habit of editing’s you go–use as few words as possible, avoid passive constructions, be sure you’re creating images with concrete words and syntax, not abstract.

In the corner of the room Sergei saw a wooden pirate’s treasure chest . Katherina would have loved it, he thought, especially if it were full of dolls.  He lifted the lid, took one glance inside and collapsed.

Sergei’s blood had deserted him. This was no ordinary chest; it belonged to Katherina and contained a solitary doll [doll in the singular tells us it’s solitary] her mother had bought her before the fire. It was a princess dressed in blue and gold (you need a garment).

      Butterflies flew across the room, sparrows appeared on the windowsill, and Sergei, still dazed from what he had seen, sensed that he was no longer alone.

“Papa,” a voice echoed from the balcony (would an echo come from a balcony? Emanated? Came from?) Katherina hovered into the room. “Papa look, I’ve got a new doll.”

Sergei’s body shattered into a thousand pieces across the marble floor. He was on his knees, feeling the full weight of a vision he could not understand. It was her. She stared at her father in a way that only a daughter could. But her tender blue eyes were armed with cut-throat blades that sliced every artery of Sergei’s already weak body. He buried his face and shouted at the balcony he could no longer see.

“Katherina, don’t. You’re torturing me. Why are you doing this?”

Sergei observed his daughter through half-closed eyes. Katherina did not hear his distress. They almost touched but were drowning in a sea of solitude and regrets, trying to find each other in the entanglements of paternal love.

She was clutching the same doll Sergei had seen in the treasure chest.

“Papa, I miss you.” Sapphire tears, laced with gold, trickled down the cheeks of a sweet little girl who was telling a truth difficult for Sergei to accept.

He wanted to embrace her, to hold her so tight that their bodies would fuse. He stretched his arms and felt a cold mist enrobe his body. A violet light invaded the room and Katherina left as she had come, without a sound [silently].

His aching legs took him out of the apartment and down the stairs. Still in a daze, he left the building.

The bar was on the far side of the marketplace and Christina was waiting for him. But he looked right instead of left, and saw them. A woman and child weaved their way through the crowd and stopped at the fish stall below the building’s steps.

“I’m hungry,” moaned the little girl.

“Come on, hurry up,” the mother reprimanded her [said]. “Take my hand or you’ll get lost.”

The child dragged her feet in protest.

“I’m tired and hungry, mummy. My prince is also tired.”

The mother pulled her with such force that the child’s feet lifted off the ground and she found herself in front of her mother. They hurried and dissolved into the human mass that had gathered along the market stalls and were out of Sergei’s sight before he realised what he had just seen.

He recognised the dark pleats and delicate neck of a mother he had once loved. He remembered giving the prince to his daughter for one of her birthdays. Katherina was carrying it with her. She was not as hazy as in the apartment, and Sergei had no doubts that she was his daughter. She hadn’t changed since the last time he saw her, before the fire. But he couldn’t understand why she didn’t recognise him. Katherina had just spoken to him, and they had been so close. He was high enough on the steps, not far from where they had been standing, and was certain that their eyes had crossed [gazes?]. He wondered why his family hadn’t recognised him, and why Katherina was still a little girl who couldn’t leave home without her dolls. But they were on Xanthia, and that was all that mattered.

Sergei’s heart pounded. He flew over the last three steps of the building’s entrance, ended on all fours at the back of the fish stall, clawed his way up an overturned empty crate, and ran to the front of the stall. He tried to distinguish Anastasia and Katherina from the multitude of shoppers going up and down the alley.

The fishmonger looked at him, wide-eyed, as if he’d seen a ghost. Sergei had seen two.

“And where are you going, Sir?” he said with a smile.

“Happiness,” Sergei joked. For the first time in years, he genuinely felt happy. He apologised for not picking up the crate that was lying on its side.

“Don’t worry, if it’s in the name of happiness, knocking down a crate is not important.”

Sergei acknowledged the fishmonger’s kindness and ran into the crowd. The shoppers could not walk fast enough. They crowded the side of every alleyway with their doubts over what they should buy and how much it should cost. Sergei was stuck behind complete strangers who were living in their own worlds and who were taking up valuable space and consuming precious time in his. But he was convinced that if Anastasia and Katherina were still in the marketplace, he would find them.

Katherina’s passion for dolls was one thing he had loved the most about her. During the summer months, she spent hours in the garden playing, telling stories that everyone in her vicinity could hear. In one of the side alleys, Sergei noticed a toy stall whose front was populated by a variety of dolls, some of which were visible from a distance. Instinct told him that Katherina would have made a tantrum and convinced her mother to spend a few minutes by the stall.

Katherina was glued to the front of the stall and wanted to buy every single doll for sale. He approached cautiously and stood next to her. Anastasia was on the other side of the stall, patiently waiting for her daughter to choose a doll.

“Mummy,” she clutched a doll, dressed in blue and gold. “This one’s nice. She’s a princess.”

“You haven’t got a princess, have you?”

“No. She will marry the prince.”

“But you promise me to walk if I buy you the doll.”

“Yes, mummy, I promise.”

It was Sergei’s opportunity to engage in a conversation with his daughter without scaring her and worrying her mother.

“The prince is a lucky man,” he smiled tenderly, hoping Katherina would not run away if she did not recognise her own father. “He will marry a beautiful princess.”

Katherina closed her mouth and pressed her lips so tight that it was clear she would not part them again in Sergei’s presence. It was her, of that he was sure. But she seemed so distant, as if he did not exist. Is she the ghost, or am I?

Sergei’s daughter had just delivered the hardest of sucker punches. She blew him to the corner of a boxing ring, depriving him of all the feelings a father could have for his daughter. He wanted to scream, “Katherina, it’s me,” but remained speechless. A lump, the size of a rock, lodged itself between his vocal cords, and all he could do was breathe.

Katherina took the princess with the golden locks.

 “We’ll buy this one,” Anastasia was by the till.

Sergei could smell the perfume she always used, a sweet scent of roses. He only had to extend his arms to touch her. He could have moved and brushed her body without her noticing, but he wanted more than just an unnoticed contact. He wanted to hold her forever and tell her how much he still loved her. It was a simple but daunting gesture. He was paralysed by the power of a love that had never left him. But as she took the doll, the face he knew so well began to melt in the winter sunlight and he did not recognise her anymore. She gave the doll to her daughter who kept her promise. They left the stall, hand in hand, and disappeared into the crowd.       

Sergei picked up a doll she had left behind and held it tight. It comforted him that his daughter had touched the same doll.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

CRITIQUE

In the corner of the room [what room, where?] Sergei saw a wooden pirate’s treasure chest. Katherina would have loved it, he thought, especially if it were full of dolls.  He lifted the lid, took one glance inside and collapsed.

Sergei’s blood had deserted him. This was no ordinary chest; [Be careful with ideas. Here you say the chest is not ordinary and then continue to tell it’s Katherina’s and it contains a doll bought by her mother and there was a fire. You never say why the chest was not ordinary–I’d consider not saying it at all, it seems superfluous; you could just say “Katherina’s chest.] it belonged to Katherina and contained a solitary doll her mother had bought her before the fire. It was a princess dressed in blue and gold. [You might improve by editing out the excess, nonstory information: e.g. maybe use “a chest that contains blue and gold dressed princess doll, a gift from her mother.”]

[Don’t dismiss opportunities for visualization, establishing setting, characterization, and developing plot. You’ve got only 1500 words for this story, so your prose has to be rich with imagery and staging as you make your characters round and move the plot. Be concise. Prioritize story information as to significance to story and how you’re developing the story, and then avoid superfluous words and ideas.]

[This is the most important advice for a revision and applies to all that follows; I won’t apply this much detail regarding this advice as we go on.]

Butterflies flew across the room, sparrows appeared on the windowsill, and Sergei, still dazed from what he had seen, sensed that he was no longer alone. [I know we’re in “fantasy here”, but I have a hard time visualizing what’s happening and how it relates to the real-story world.]

“Papa,” a voice echoed from the balcony. Katherina hovered [Hover is not the right word: it means remain in one place in the air. It may not work for some. Even for an apparition.] into the room. “Papa look, I’ve got a new doll.”

Sergei’s body shattered into a thousand pieces across the marble floor. [Even in fantasy this is an image hard to accept. And tthis is a logic credibility issue. how could he be on his knees in the next sentence, and how does any human feel the weight of a vision?] He was on his knees, feeling the full weight of a vision he could not understand. It was her. She stared at her father in a way that only a daughter could. But her tender blue eyes were armed with cut-throat blades that sliced every artery of Sergei’s already weak body. [Seems overwritten. Good idea but maybe back off some.] He buried his face and shouted at the balcony he could no longer see.

“Katherina, don’t. You’re torturing me. Why are you doing this?”

Sergei observed his daughter through half-closed eyes. Katherina did not hear his distress. [A really awkward change in POV–that is through the narrator.] They almost touched but were drowning in a sea of solitude and regrets, trying to find each other in the entanglements of paternal love.

She was clutching the same doll Sergei had seen in the treasure chest.

“Papa, I miss you.” Sapphire tears, laced with gold, trickled down the cheeks of a sweet little girl who was telling a truth difficult for Sergei to accept.

He wanted to embrace her, to hold her so tight that their bodies would fuse. He stretched his arms and felt a cold mist enrobe his body. A violet light invaded the room and Katherina left as she had come, without a sound.  [To me, this is the beauty of this story; your meaning seems to to express the feelings of loss (embrace) of a man who has lost his daughter when she died in a fire. Although this is overwritten, you really have good thoughts here. And if this is your purpose, we need more of this–active verbs, cold mist, and the yearn to hold her. And, I suggest agian, we need to know more of what happened with the fire–so we understand why he is feeling this way. That’s true also of the need to know more of how his happiness with her developed, how it happened–dramatized in reality, maybe.

            Maybe look to GUILT as a source of the intensity of his GRIEF.]

His aching legs took him out of the apartment and down the stairs. Still in a daze, he left the building.

The bar was on the far side of the marketplace and Christina was waiting for him. [Take this out of the passive. “Sergie went to the marketplace where Christina waited.”] But he looked right instead of left, and saw them. A woman and child weaved their way through the crowd and stopped at the fish stall below the building’s steps. [Still in memory of the past? Clarify. Don’t make us have to guess.]

“I’m hungry,” moaned the little girl.

“Come on, hurry up,” the mother reprimanded her. “Take my hand or you’ll get lost.”

The child dragged her feet in protest.

“I’m tired and hungry, mummy. My prince is also tired.”

The mother pulled her with such force that the child’s feet lifted off the ground and she found herself in front of her mother. They hurried and dissolved into the human mass that had gathered along the market stalls, and were out of Sergei’s sight before he realised what he had just seen.

He recognised the dark pleats and delicate neck of a mother he had once loved. [Why doesn’t he love her anymore. If the idea is important, clarify.] He remembered giving the prince to his daughter for one of her birthdays. Katherina was carrying it with her. She was not as hazy as in the apartment, and Sergei had no doubts that she was his daughter. She hadn’t changed since the last time he saw her, before the fire. But he couldn’t understand why she didn’t recognise him. Katherina had just spoken to him, and they had been so close. He was high enough on the steps, not far from where they had been standing, and was certain that their eyes had crossed. He wondered why his family hadn’t recognised him, and why Katherina was still a little girl who couldn’t leave home without her dolls. But they were on Xanthia, and that was all that mattered. [I couldn’t find Xanthia in the OED but did find it on the Net. Is the use right here? It doesn’t seem to fit or have a purpose.]

Sergei’s heart pounded. He flew over the last three steps of the building’s entrance, ended on all fours at the back of the fish stall, clawed his way up an overturned empty crate, and ran to the front of the stall. [Yes. This is effective action that implies his emotion and thinking. You’re bring the reader “into” the story. Nicely done.] He tried to distinguish Anastasia and Katherina from the multitude of shoppers going up and down the alley.       

The fishmonger looked at him, wide-eyed, as if he’d seen a ghost. Sergei had seen two.

“And where are you going, Sir?” he said with a smile.

“Happiness,” Sergei joked. For the first time in years, he genuinely felt happy. He apologised for not picking up the crate that was lying on its side.

“Don’t worry, if it’s in the name of happiness, knocking down a crate is not important.”

Sergei acknowledged the fishmonger’s kindness and ran into the crowd. The shoppers could not walk fast enough. They crowded the side of every alleyway with their doubts over what they should buy and how much it should cost. [These are authorial judgments about shoppers and the ideas do not relate to the story.] Sergei was stuck behind complete strangers who were living in their own worlds and who were taking up valuable space and consuming precious time in his. But he was convinced that if Anastasia and Katherina were still in the marketplace, he would find them.

Katherina’s passion for dolls was one thing he had loved the most about her. During the summer months, she spent hours in the garden playing, telling stories that everyone in her vicinity could hear. [Backstory, then a switch to story present. And then lack of clarity about who is who and where they are.] And In one of the side alleys, Sergei noticed a toy stall whose front was populated by a variety of dolls, some of which were visible from a distance. Instinct told him that Katherina would have made a tantrum and convinced her mother to spend a few minutes by the stall.

Katherina was [would be?] glued to the front of the stall and wanted to buy every single doll for sale. He approached cautiously and stood next to her. Anastasia (?) was on the other side of the stall, patiently waiting for her daughter to choose a doll.

“Mummy,” she clutched a doll, dressed in blue and gold. “This one’s nice. She’s a princess.”

“You haven’t got a princess, have you?”

“No. She will marry the prince.”

“But you promise me to walk if I buy you the doll.”

“Yes, mummy, I promise.”

It was Sergei’s opportunity to engage in a conversation with his daughter without scaring her and worrying her mother.

“The prince is a lucky man,” he smiled tenderly, hoping Katherina would not run away if she did not recognise her own father. “He will marry a beautiful princess.” [This is a little muddled.]

Katherina closed her mouth and pressed her lips so tight that it was clear she would not part them again in Sergei’s presence. It was her, of that he was sure. But she seemed so distant, as if he did not exist. Is she the ghost or am I?

Sergei’s daughter had just delivered the hardest of sucker punches. She blew him to the corner of a boxing ring, depriving  [use deprived] him of all the feelings a father could have for his daughter. He wanted to scream, “Katherina, it’s me,” but remained speechless. A lump, the size of a rock, lodged itself between his vocal cords, [Physically impossible, which makes it ineffective and will cause readers to lose credibility of character and story.] and all he could do was breathe.

Katherina took the princess with the golden locks.

      “We’ll buy this one,” Anastasia was by the till. [Confusing. Is it a different doll?]

Sergei could smell the perfume she always used, a sweet scent of roses. He only had to extend his arms to touch her. He could have moved and brushed her body without her noticing, but he wanted more than just an unnoticed contact. He wanted to hold her forever and tell her how much he still loved her. It was a simple but daunting gesture. He was paralysed by the power of a love that had never left him. But as she took the doll, the face he knew so well began to melt in the winter sunlight and he did not recognise her anymore. She gave the doll to her daughter who kept her promise. They left the stall, hand in hand, and disappeared into the crowd.       

Sergei picked up a doll she had left behind and held it tight. It comforted him that his daughter had touched the same doll.

THANKS FOR THE SUBMISSION

BEST

WHC

  1. Thank you for your wonderful critique. This is actually part of a novel I’m trying to write, so the reader will know that Xanthia is a moon and also who the characters are. Segei is suffering from PTSD and is haunted by visions of his deceased wife and daughter. I posted it here to have your views on my style of writing. You’ve given me some great advice on how to write. I’ll be especially careful with metaphors that sound good but are not credible. I really appreciate that you value the story idea and it gives me great incentive to continue. Thank you for your time.

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