Sunday, March 20, 2011

Show Me The Voice - critique blogfest

I've decided to enter Brenda Drake Writes contest. Natalie Fischer, who is now agenting at The Bradford Literary Agency, has agreed to be the judge for Brenda's upcoming contest  Show Me The Voice Blogfest. . The rules are that you sign up (I was #100) and then post the first 250 words of a finished manuscript. People critique each other and you also send those first 250 words to Brenda to enter the contest. You could win these fabulous prizes from Nathalie:

1st place - a critique of the first 20 pages
2nd place - a critique of the first 10 pages
3rd place - a query critique

So here I go:
name: Jan Morrison
Title: True
Genre: literary fiction

Here is the final edit before sending it to Brenda - whoosh as you read this it will be gone - thanks everyone for making this a whole lot of fun and I hope you all tried to get around to as many sites as you could - there were some intriguing first words!

1. Loss

Today, I flung a bowl at my husband, Palmer. Granted, it was a soft bowl – one of those bendy plastic ones that most of our age group would have experienced at our childhood cottages, red with two raised lines near its lip. It was full of sugary bits of cereal but no milk and so, all in all, a minor rage. Mind you, if it had been made of glass and full of boiling maggots, I still might’ve flung it.

Afterwards, after cleaning up the Cheerios, calming and distracting Palmer, and seeing him banging away at on-line solitaire in the office, I retreated to the sun porch. It was quiet there and the morning light was soft as it laced through  the orange and red leaves of the two large maples out back. I thought of last fall – before the accident that rendered our lives into a parody of the one we’d had.

I stretched out on the old daybed, plumping the rose and bird festooned pillows behind me, and considered for the umpteenth time the words my mother might have used to counsel me. Palmer had  been out of the hospital for three months. That seemed to be the important thing on everyone’s mind before he got here, but now I realized it was the same as confusing the wedding with the marriage. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do next. I’m not sure what a wife in these circumstances is morally required to do.


Escape Artist said...

Hi Jan. I love your writing style. I loved your opening line. My only negative might be that the third paragraph felt a bit wordy. Maybe a few commas?
There might be a little distance in that last line, 'I'm not sure what a wife in these circumstances is morally...'
I think I'd like to hear some of the questions she might be asking herself. You know direct questions to only her, so I can get inside her head a bit more.
This is a difficult time for her and I want to know more of what she's thinking. But I really liked this and I want to know what's going to happen with her, so you did your job!!
My best. LInda

Katy said...

Hi Jan. :) First, I really love your style. I think the first paragraph about the throwing of the bowl is incredible strong. The last line about boiling maggots totally made me smile. I'd love to know what, exactly, Palmer did to make her throw the bowl.

I think the way you put us right into the setting with the second paragraph is fantastic. While I love "the accident that rendered our lives into a parody of the one we'd had," I think the way you led into it: "I thought of last fall..." is a little distancing.

Finally, I think the bit about confusing the wedding with the marraige is really great. Her thinking about her moral obligations makes me so curious about the accident and what her situation is now.

Overall, great job!

Liza said...

Hi Jan,

It's so hard to know anything by reading such a short bit of your story, but first off, it captured me and made me wish I could read more. There were a couple of things that struck me that you could make stronger. For example, where you write about Palmer "playing happily"...I'd rather see Palmer playing happily, then have you tell me he is. It's as easy as something like "watching his grin grow as he won his first two games of solitaire in the office..." I'd also like to see the third paragraph use some of her mother's words instead of telling us your character was thinking about them. What exactly was she thinking about? All this may appear just beyond what you have included here, of course.

Good luck with the contest! I wish I could have entered this one...but the manuscript is nowhere near finished...

doreen said...

Your first line really pulled me in and I wanted to keep reading.
I was a bit confused with the accident being last fall and it seeming like fall again but the accident was 8 month's ago.
All in all I really like your style.

Anita Saxena said...

Hi Jan,
I loved how you opened with flinging a bowl. That got my attention right away.

In the second paragraph where you say "It is October," I feel like this is kind of telling/info dump. I think the orange and red leaves are enough to tell me that it is fall.

In the third paragraph, rather than "words of my mother" how about "mother's words."

All in all, you have a beautiful, lyrical style. Keep writing!

Shayda Bakhshi said...

I love the lyricism in this excerpt! You've got such a beautiful style that a few clauses, like "the part that follows Palmer's accident of eight months ago", seemed a bit clinical to me. A bit telling, rather than showing.

But they're such minor things, and like I say, that line only popped out to me because you render everything else so beautifully!

Kate Larkindale said...

Fantastic opening. The whole first paragraph is just brilliant.

Good work with the changing tense too. It flows naturally and isn't confusing.

I found the third paragraph less gripping. It feels a little telling and this line : I needed to figure out how to move through this part of my life – the part that follows Palmer’s accident of eight months ago. felt clunky and is in the wrong tense. Maybe try something like: 'I need to figure out how to move through this part of my life - the part following Palmer's accident. Was it only 8 months ago?'

Love the line about confusing the wedding with marriage!

Jenn said...

Like everyone else, I like how you started this off. Immediately it draws in the reader and makes us wonder exactly why she's throwing the bowl at him. And what happened afterwards? How did he react? I didn't realize that Parker was her husband until the end of the third paragraph. Perhaps you could stick in a line or so to give us a little more of the present?

How you ended the second paragraph is very strong. The only thing I want is to have more of the story (what happened to Parker to make him this way, what's wrong with him, etc), but that's more out of curiosity rather than anything that's wrong with this excerpt. Great job starting it though!

Clarissa Draper said...

I love the voice! I can heard and feel her rage and her calm quiet afterward. I also sensed the place. Great!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow! This is super...The only advice I can give you is that I don't know the mc's name. In an agent critique I did at a conference she said that was really important to share as soon as possible.

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks everyone! All advice is duly noted. The line between info-dump and keeping people in the dark is a nerve-wracking tight-rope AND I will do my best to walk it without leaning too far either side...

Diane Vallere said...

Hi Jan,

Love how you're teasing us with something, but not spilling deets. There seems to be a tense thing happening in the second para, so you might want to revisit. Also, no apostraphe in Cheerios.

I love how I'm full of questions about your characters. I want to read more!

Faith Pray said...

I love it! I want to know more about Palmer, and your MC. I hope we get to hear more later. Best wishes on the contest!

Faith Pray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheree said...

You have a great voice here, I love it. It really captures my attention and leaves me wanting more.

Gina said...

Oh wow, this is fantastic. I would add a comma after "mind you", but the conflict and the writing are both great.

Jemi Fraser said...

Nice! I can feel her frustration, her love and her longing for better. Not easy to do in so few words - well done!

Bob Sanchez said...

The passage works well for me, Jan. My only nit is that she calls it a minor rage when she'd have been just as happy throwing a glass bowl. We can certainly feel her frustration...Can he?

Jan Morrison said...

Oh, I love how almost everyone has caught on to my comma dislexia. All relax - I have a line editor awaiting - she knows that inherent problem! Too many,,,, or not enough at all.

Trisha said...

I love how this begins!

Here are my crits:

Paragraph two moves between past and present tense, which would be fine if the part in present tense is always true. i.e. if the sun porch is always quiet and the morning light always soft, year-round, you can get away with present tense. But if sometimes it's not quiet out there, and sometimes not soft-lighted, and you're just talking about this particular day, then it should be past tense like the rest of the paragraph.

The first line of paragraph three, the part following the comma, needs a little alteration, and the way I see it you have 2 options:

1. "I stretched out on the old daybed, plumping the rose and bird festooned pillows behind me[add a comma here] and considered for the umpteenth time the words my mother might have used to counsel me."

2. "I stretched out on the old daybed, plumping the rose and bird festooned pillows behind me and consider[ing] for the umpteenth time the words my mother might have used to counsel me."

Either change will make it a better-flowing sentence.

In the 3rd sentence of para 3, I would add a comma after "before he got here". As it is the sentence is a bit 'run-on'.

Also in para 3 you're moving between present and past tense again. Stick to one.

All in all, you've painted a fascinating family scene and I'm curious about why Palmer was in hospital, and what made our MC throw the bowl at him. Is he an annoying/spoiled little brother? So yeah, I'd want to read on :)

Glynis Jolly said...

I think you have a good chance of winning. You don't blurt out anything exciting at the very first, you hint at it. I like that a lot.

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks all - I especially thank you, Trisha, for taking such care with your comments. And any help with commas is appreciated. Of course, I absolutely can't retain any rules about commas - I know this to be true!
So, I will go back and work it for today's folks to see! And of course, continue my perusal of the other entries. Yay!

Florence said...

Jan, I am trying to remember how I know you. Not important. Love your voice and this beginning works for me.

It might be a bit too wordy, but being a wordy person myself, I can't always judge.

This is a story I would be interested in reading. Good luck :)

Jan Morrison said...

Hi Florence - I'm not sure because I couldn't get to your blog or site by this link. I knew a Florence from Ottawa many years ago - is that possible?
Thanks for your comments - yep, it is wordy and I guess that is partly my style - it is a quite interior book - no zombies or vampires or car chases either! Ha!

Florence said...

My blog url:

No problem, interior is a great change of pace from what we have been getting lately. Good luck and thanks for visiting my blog.

I must read the rest of the post on teenager telling you about a movie ... my daughter would give me such vivid and long-winded details, I thought I'd lose my mind before she finished.

I'll keep in touch your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I think you have a voice and skill for descriptions. I am a bit confused though that Palmer is her husband at first. I'm not sure I need a description of the bowl beyond "bendy plastic" on the first page, if you know what I mean. I think the action of her throwing it and being confused about what is going on is what sucked me in about the character. Good Luck : )

Shayda Bakhshi said...

Popping back in to answer your question: although I'm extremely Texan and totally proud of it, I grew up with all things LM Montgomery.

My heroine in SPITFIRE is also from Texas, but moves to PEI at the beginning of the novel--a stressful thing which causes her to set her bed on fire. ;)

I just love PEI. Nova Scotia is absolutely breathtaking, too! I'm a teeny bit jealous--I'd love to travel there sometime. When I have money, of course. Graduate school is expensive.

Anonymous said...

Jan-- all commas aside, I appreciate your writerly flow with your MC, her asides, laughed out loud at Palmer banging away at online solitaire (before I knew there was something wrong with him), & your hints are just enough to keep me wanting to know more. If you have an editor (lucky you), then does she not like (current pc-lit) double em-dashes, hyphens (bird-festooned) and closed up spaces? Sorry, my editorial boringness showing. It's a great entry. I came in at the end, so see all the amending you did. Good luck.

Jen Chandler said...

This hooked me in with the first sentence. You've painted a vivid picture and I can literally see your character, lounging on the sun porch with those gorgeous rose and bird pillows behind her head. I want to know more! Beautiful job :D Good luck with the contest!


Anonymous said...

Good opening full of inherent drama and barely expressed rage. It'd be better if you mention the hospitalisation of Palmer in the first paragraph, to provide a hook for the reader (why is he ill? But why is his wife throwing bowls at him?)