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!
This submission is an excerpt from Grace’s novel, Nocturne.
“Rill? What’s wrong?”
Rill started and glanced down at the little girl sitting beside him. He tried to smile at her, but it felt wooden. “Nothing’s wrong, Micaela.”
“Yes, there is.” She nodded stubbornly. “You were staring out the bus window with a really sad look. What’s wrong? You worried ’bout school too?”
He had to chuckle at that, despite the voice in his head telling him Micaela had hit the nail a slant blow (if not directly on the head). “Nah, I’m not worried about school. Why should I be?”
Her eyes met his seriously. “Because I won’t get to talk to you maybe the whole day! Won’t you be lonely?”
If only she knew. . . . Rill shook his head. “I’ll have fun watching you play with all the kids you’re going to meet. You’ll have a great time, and that’s enough for me.”
Micaela turned away and sighed; the piano music he heard emanating from her slowed and turned minor.
It might be best here to mention the piano music ahead of time and explain what it sounds like normally from her, so that the reader can grasp the significance of it becoming minor for this scene.
“What’s wrong with you, now?”
His only answer was another sigh that echoed his mood. “Hey, hey, cheer up. Just remember what your mom said: all you have to do is ask their name and favorite book. Questions are important, right?”
“I guess. But what if they don’t like books?”
Rill shrugged. “Ask them their favorite game.”
“But what if I don’t know what it is?”
“Ask them if they have pets.”
“But what if they don’t have pets?”
“Turn around and never talk to them again.” His effort was rewarded by a tiny giggle and an accelerated tune. “Seriously, you’ll have a great time. Why don’t you think of some other questions now, before we get to school?”
A moment passed in silence aside from her music.
This is awkwardly phrased. Try rewording it as something like: “A moment passed while neither of them spoke,” as that would sound more natural and wouldn’t need to spell out the exception.
Rill spent the time gazing at his charge, memorizing the way each golden wisp of hair waved around her shoulders and the way she drummed her fingers on her knee as she thought. It was unlikely he’d have to leave her today, but he may as well get accustomed to the thought—if not today, maybe tomorrow or next week or next month. He was a Friend, after all. Leaving was part of the job description (the part he tried to ignore as much as possible). Before Micaela it had been Kyle, and before that Pauline. They had all adored their imaginary friend, then found real-life friends and needed Rill no longer. Please, Storyteller, not Micaela. Not today.
So, when I was first reading through this story, I was very confused about what the relationship was between Rill and Micaela, was confused about the music thing, and wasn’t really grasping the hook of the story until I got to this paragraph, when my eyes suddenly widened and my mouth emitted an audible “oooooohhhh…” From this point on, I was very much hooked on the story and found it a lot more interesting. As the story currently is, you should be aware of the fact that I didn’t really get the story until this point here. Now, granted—it’s only the first page that’s confusing. But given how important the first page is in a novel, you may want to give some hints of this even earlier on, or at least try to avoid potentially-confusing bits until you can give the big revelation here that Rill isn’t actually real. Perhaps even just referring to Rill as “a Friend” earlier would be enough to clue the reader into the fact that there’s something more going on here between the two of them.
She looked at him steadily for a minute, then sniffled. “I don’t want not to talk to you.”
The double negative here is kind of confusing. Try rewording it to something like: “I don’t want to stop talking to you,” to make it a bit more clear for the reader.
“Would you rather not talk to anyone? Because if they see you talking to the air like there’s someone here—I hate to say it, kid, but they’re gonna tease you, think you’re silly.” Times like these he wished he could touch her: ruffle her hair, hug her, even just tickle her to make her smile again. But he was from Imagine and she was from the other world, from Real. The peoples of the two weren’t meant to touch.
“Why couldn’t they see or hear you? They’re kids too.” Her voice had risen above a whisper, and a boy a few rows up in the bus turned around curiously. Micaela caught his eye and ducked her head, curling back into the hard bus seat.
So have they been whispering this whole time? Are there not other kids around her that would have already looked at her and noticed her whispering into the air? When you first mentioned that Rill was an imaginary friend, I had assumed that this conversation was just happening inside Micaela’s head. If they’re actually talking out loud, you may want to mention that Micaela is at the back of the bus with no one else next to her or something, since it seems odd that even if they are whispering, that no one would notice.
“Because I’m your friend, not theirs. I’m only one person’s Friend at a time. Besides, maybe they have real friends, like you’ll start making today.”
She shook her head doggedly. “I don’t want real friends. I like you. I don’t want anybody else.”
Like I said earlier, I was a bit skeptical and confused about this story at first, but the twist fully won my attention and eagerness to read more of it. You did a great job of portraying Rill’s character: both in his desire to stay with Micaela and continue to be her Friend, and also in his understanding that others would think that she’s weird for having an imaginary friend, so that Rill both wants and does not want to be with Micaela during this time. With a unique premise and a nice conflicted MC that I’m very intrigued by, there’s a lot of potential for this story. Great job!