Has this ever happened to you? You have a great idea for a story–an idea that’s so strong, so clear, the story should probably write itself. But then you find yourself struggling with the execution phase. No matter how hard you work, no matter how many times you rewrite, the draft doesn’t measure up to the power of that first idea. Ever been there?
We all have. It’s called writing.
Part of the secret of becoming a professional writer is learning to get out of one’s own way. Every writer is different–we all have certain strengths, and we all have tics and weaknesses. During the writing process, we must prune out those tics as ruthlessly as a fastidious English gardener.
Today’s writing sample is SISTERS OF THE EARTH. I’ve added my comments at the end, including some suggestions for pruning and a bit of replanting.
Angel stood on the top step debating. A gentle wind brushed her curls from he face; it was soothing and grounding. She could do the responsible thing and end the night right here and right now. But she had always played it safe, always kept things nice and in place. But lately things have not been going the way that she had hoped that they would. She now stood to lose everything that she worked for and she didn’t know if she was able to handle it. Once again her life was on its axis debating on which way it was going to spin. She foolishly thought that she would be able to direct that spin.
Ly-Coris stood on the sidewalk waiting for her decide. He was silent but she could feel his presence just the same. She put the key in the door and slowly let it open. She didn’t turn to him, didn’t say anything. She wanted something that she was not able to verbalize and hoped that he understood. She knew that he did when he silently closed the door behind them.
“There is something that I should tell you, and it may be hard to hear,” he said leaning against the doorframe.
She turned to him with a startled look. She had never done anything like this before but she was certain that there wasn’t a whole lot of talking involved. He didn’t seem to notice or care and that just irritated her even more.
“I’m not what you think that I am, Angel. I need you to know…”
Angel stopped him from talking by placing her lips over his, hoping that he would take a hint and move on. There wasn’t any reason to talk; nothing was going to last past this night. He was warm and sweet and just what she needed. His body felt right against hers, but something was suddenly wrong. He was responding, pulling her into him. She could feel his fingers grazing against her skin. But something was off. She pulled back and swallowed all of her instincts.
I like the rhythm and flow of the narrator’s voice here. It has a natural, appealing quality to it. I could easily see myself sticking with this narrator to see what develops, story-wise.
But the writer gets in her (I’m assuming it’s a her) own way more than once. And that’s not a good thing, especially on the first page.
Any editor or agent would be put off by the typo in the second sentence (“he face”). Yes, it’s a small mistake, but such a lapse early on lowers the reader’s expectations for the skill of the writing. I’d also suggest adding a comma to the first sentence, so that it reads, (“Angel stood on the top step, debating.”) I’d also remove the semicolon and replace with a period–semicolons are seldom used in popular fiction these days.
There’s a confusion of tenses later in the first paragraph (“But lately things have not been going the way that she had hoped that they would.”)”Have” should be “had” there. I’d also suggest dropping the “that”s to improve readability. The rest of that paragraph introduces back story, which drags down the scene. Instead of putting us in the narrator’s head right then, I’d suggest staying with action and dialogue. You need to paint a strong picture for the reader so that we see what your narrator sees, before you go off into back story.
I have the same advice for narrator’s interior thoughts in the next paragraph (“She wanted something that she was not able to verbalize and hoped that he understood. She knew that he did when he silently closed the door behind them.) Let the action and dialogue–including the silence–convey what is happening here, rather than explaining it all from inside her head. Remember the old adage, “Show don’t tell.”
I got confused what was meant by “this” in a later paragraph, (“She had never done anything like this before…”) The writer has shown the narrator debating and angsting about something, but at this point, I still wasn’t clear what was going on in this scene. By rewriting the scene to convey more action and dialogue, the writer will enable the reader to stay firmly anchored in the moment.
Back to the plus side: the writer does a good job of conveying sexual tension between the two characters in this scene. By reworking it a bit to show us what is happening, rather than telling us, I think the writer will be off to a good start.
Other thoughts about this piece? And, can you share any great ideas you’ve had in the past, which have faltered in the execution? How did you learn about your weaknesses as a writer, and what are you doing to overcome them?