We’re back with another critique! Thank you all so much for having the courage to send them in! We know it’s never easy to have your writing critiqued, let alone shared for the benefit of others. That takes guts! But we also know that receiving critiques from others is one of the THE BEST ways to grow and improve. Constructive criticism is invaluable!
Thank you Kori for this submission!
She was young–fifteen at the most. Somehow I knew, despite the sorrow that had drawn her features.
It sounds like you’re trying to make a surprising contrast here since it’s unusual for someone to have a lot of sorrow and also be only fifteen. However, the contrast here isn’t really working for me since, given that we can’t see the character, once we hear that she’s fifteen, we don’t really get the full thrust of “somehow I knew,” because we expect her to be fifteen.
If, as I’m assuming, you’re trying to surprise us with this unusual combination, instead begin by describing the sorrow of this woman. Describe the glint in her eyes and what her sorrow makes her looks like. And then shock us with the revelation that she’s only fifteen. The same information is portrayed—but because the order of it is reversed, the reader will be much more interested in the story.
She had a hard, determined glint in her eyes and her hands were large and strong. I would not have been terribly surprised to see her lift my desk and throw it across the room.
She marched right up to my desk. “Are you Mr. Wilson?” Her question seemed accusatory somehow.
“Yes?” Almost involuntarily I stood up and removed my hat.
“I’m here about your ad.” She slapped a newspaper onto the table forcefully. I had the uncomfortable feeling that I had done something wrong.
“Is . . . there a problem with it?”
She sighed. “Yes.” She lowered her head, closed her eyes and shivered, then looked up, her expression harder than ever. “However, I am not here to discuss my problems with your newspaper.”
I glanced at the newspaper, then back at the girl. Back to the newspaper. Suddenly it dawned on me. I leaned forward eagerly. “Then you . . . you are here to tell me a story, are you not?”
She nodded grimly. “It is neither a very happy story nor a story I shall enjoy telling. But I need money and if I can get some by doing this, then I will.”
I fetched a chair from the corner and invited her to sit down. I was eager to make her comfortable, for though I now understood why she had come, I still did not altogether like the look in her eyes.
“No thank you,” said she. “I’d rather stand. My story is not one I like to tell, and I won’t be comfortable any way I tell it. So a seat is of no use to me.”
I withdrew meekly and resumed my seat behind the desk.
Right now, it sounds like Mr. Wilson is just naturally a push-over. I suspect that what you’re trying to get across is that he’s normally fairly strong-willed, but this lady is just so strong-willed that she’s able to even tell him what to do—which is a fairly good premise and already has me very interested in this character. However, you want to show to your readers that Mr. Wilson isn’t normally this weak. Try showing us toward the beginning of this conversation that he’s more strong-willed and determined—that will make it that much more of a shock when we see how complacent he becomes because of the fortitude of this woman.
She gave me a long, hard look. “I shall be honest with you, Mr. Wilson. I am not fond of journalists. I do not approve of the way they make money–driving people apart for the sake of a good story, as often as not. Seems to me, you are getting paid to gossip. If things had fared differently with me–but they have not, and here I am being a fool and distancing myself from the one hope I have!” This last part was said very softly, as if to herself.
With a bang, she brought her fists down on my desk. Leaning toward me and breathing heavily, she said, “If I’m to tell my story I want to get it over with. Can we start now?”
“By all means, ma’am!” Somehow it seemed the only title fitting for her. “But won’t you please sit down first?”
She looked as if she were about to refuse, but she caught herself and reluctantly said, “Very well. But you must not fuss if I get up while telling my story.”
I assured her it would be perfectly fine and once more sat down behind my desk. Folding my hands in my lap, I asked, “Now, ma’am, if you please, what is your name?”
“Never mind my name. It is of no importance.”
“Wh-where is your home, then?”
Her shoulders went limp and her eyes filled. All determination, all anger fled from her. “Home?” she repeated. “Aye, I had a home once.”
Because of how strong-willed the woman is, it’s hard for me to remember that she’s also fifteen years old. If you could include some subtle reminders throughout this scene of her age, perhaps by repetition of the contrast of her age and her character, that would both make her more paradoxical (in a good way), but also help readers to remember her youth at a point when her character is such that they would easily instead imagine a middle-aged woman.
Overall thoughts: the character of your female protagonist here is really good. I love the way that you’ve set up the contrast between her youth and her character, and am really interested in how it turns out in the rest of the story. This contrast is the biggest selling-point of the story right now, so make sure that you emphasize and play it out as much as you can. Most of my suggestions in this document ended up dealing with that because of how much potential you have with this character. Great job!
– Josiah DeGraaf