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After The Madness Workshop # B-10

Friday, 30 March 2012  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Welcome to day five of After the Madness Workshop! Shelley Watters, Erica Chapman, the writers at YAtopia, and myself will critique the first 250 words of  two brave writers’ manuscripts per day for the next seven to eight days. There are four blogs joining in to offer up suggestions. Click on my partners’ sites in my sidebar to view the other critiques.

And next up is …

B-10 Elizabeth Rosenman

I didn’t know how much longer I could wait. I sat up straight, drumming my fingers on the desk. My tongue touched each tooth in turn. 

B’s notes: This is an odd action to start off with. I’d come up with a different one. I can see being nervous and dragging your tongue back and forth across the back of your teeth, but not touching each one in turn. I could just not be that talented and someone else may disagree with me. 

Dr. Shah wound her way through the rows of students. “Alexis,” she said. 

B’s note: Maybe have her hand the paper to make it clearer.

A bright red B. Oh my God. My lowest grade ever.

I pinched my wrist as hard as I could and stuffed the English paper into my binder before anyone could see. I didn’t bother to check the comments—plenty of time to memorize those later. 

B’s notes: Okay, maybe I’m just not getting some of the actions here. Why does she pinch her wrist? I could see her biting her tongue, seething, or swearing under her breath, maybe.

My throat closed up. My G.P.A. would sink. Miranda would pass me in class rank. One single B could ruin everything.

What would my mother say? She’d never forgive me.

The bell rang. I made it to the hallway, close to the bathroom now. Made it to the safety of a stall before the tears rushed out.   

B’s note: I’d rework this paragraph. I know what you were trying, but it read choppy to me. And there’s an echo with ‘made it’ (ignore me if you wanted an echo).

Why didn’t I work harder? I didn’t deserve an A anyway. Dummy, lazy, fat moron.

I jerked my left sleeve up. A paper clip would do, one of those big ones in my English binder. I uncurled the clip, molding the metal into a straight line. I scraped the clip back and forth across my fat upper arm until beads of blood popped up.

It wasn’t enough. I took a deep breath. I scraped four more times, changing the line into an angular B.

The scratches would burn and remind me what I’d done. Exactly what I deserved.

B’s note: The writing is good here. This is one of the times where I don’t want to start right in the action. I’m not connected to the character enough yet to be sympathetic about them mutilating themselves. In a story like this, we need to get to know your character and feel for them before this action. There can be hints of it, maybe glimpses of hiding scars or a  friend seeing them and asking what they are. Others may feel differently than me, so I hope they’ll comment and tell us what they think.

I hope this helps!

Remember this is subjective and others’ may feel differently. So I’ll now pass it on to the readers to critique. Please leave your comments, and remember the rules of critiquing … be nice, which I’m sure you all will be, but I have to say it … you know.


Filed: Misc, Workshops

  • Brenda Drake says:

    I’ve been thinking about this one, and I think I really need help on this. I don’t read dark very often, so I could be wrong about this opening. This critique was my first instinct. All comments welcomed (except mean ones, of course).

  • Meagan says:

    This is kind of difficult. We’re very firmly inside of Alexis’ head for the beginning, which is kind of nice, but also hard. We really aren’t sympathetic enough to the character yet, and I think that opening up so quickly with Alexis hurting herself could be a very strong deal breaker for readers. I need to really feel her anxiety and where it’s coming from before I can empathize with her.

    I also thinks that “A bright red B. Oh my God. My lowest grade ever.” would be a stronger opening line. Maybe even work it into:

    A bright red B. Oh my God. My lowest grade ever. My G.P.A. would sink. Miranda would pass me in class rank. One single B could ruin everything.

    My throat closed up. What would my mother say? She’d never forgive me. I pinched my wrist as hard as I could and stuffed the English paper into my binder before anyone could see. I didn’t bother to check the comments—plenty of time to memorize those later. [actually, I want to see Alexis read one of the comments and challenge them, mentally — if it’s good comment, have her counter it in her head.]

  • Angela Brown says:

    I decided to read this twice, first time through without B’s comments and the second time through with the comments. I also tried some of the physical things mentioned, the exception being the self-mutilating in the bathroom stall.

    For the tongue action, I’d probably recommend going with the “tip of the tongue” given this can show as something of an OCD trait for the character, that she has to touch the tip to each tooth in the top and bottom, between the canines to be more precise and bring us into her mind as this can work as a calming measure she takes when she’s very nervous.

    I did not pinch myself either, however, I could see the act generating some kind of look from a student nearby.

    Because of the starting point, I, as a reader, haven’t invested in the main character as a perfectionist, someone who has to get “A”s all the time, in her own tortured competition to keep a high GPA and no knowledge of the mom’s take on things so when she goes to mutilate herself, I feel less pain and more of a disconnect. Perhaps if the story could start a little earlier in the day, maybe with an interaction with mom showing pressure to be perfect, pressure to lose weight (since the character calls herself fat) or something along those lines to help the reader begin the investment before the cutting.

  • I had a hard time connecting with this as well, and I think the comments about us not feeling empathy for her yet are spot on. I want to see the stakes for her, not have them told to us.

  • Lisa says:

    Thank you so much for the helpful comments. It’s a tricky story to start. Meagan, I really appreciate the idea of having her glance at the comments – I just added that in. Also, I was starting with “A bright red B” before! I think I’ll go back to that.

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