First Page Critique: Clear Out Briars
So Style and Story Can Shine

By PJ Parrish

A broken pipe caused a flood in our house, ruining a third of our old pine floors and all of the kitchen.  Bad news — six weeks in a hotel. Good news — I get a new kitchen. So I’m feeling the vibe of the title of our First Page Critique this week.

Thank you, dear writer, for submitting.  Without you, we are nothing. Catch you on the back swing with comments and, as always, please weigh in TKZers, because my opinion is just one voice. It takes choir to do this right.

The Battle At Home

The weary van shuddered to a stop, yet Allie Newland’s body refused to move.

“Allie? Honey? We’re here.” Derek nudged her shoulder.

Allie raised one heavy eye. Derek’s chiseled face and dark, curly hair swirled. Nope,can’t do it. The lid snapped shut. She covered her swollen face with her sweaty palm. Her cheeks flushed. A sigh lifted off her mouth and hung stale like the pool of greasy French fries littering the floor of the ten-year-old minivan. A tear trickled down her cheek and dropped onto her clasped hands. It splattered against a ragged cuticle.

Time.

As much as she didn’t want it to be. As much as she’d never be ready. As much as her arms desired nothing more than to hug her Derek and trap him at her side forever.

It.

Was.

Time.

Allie lifted her eyes and plastered a smile onto her face. A delicious smattering of freckles crinkled across the bridge of her nose. She turned away. Clutched the sticky handle and rested her forehead against the cool pane.

“I guess we should get going.”

“Allie.” Derek cradled her chin and forced her gaze from the window to his eyes. She squirmed away from the chocolate brown pools. He grabbed her hands and kissed the top of her light-brown, shoulder length hair. “You’re strong, Al. The strongest woman I know.”

Allie choked on a grenade-sized lump. Swallowed. It exploded into the walls of her carefully patched together dam of emotion bursting it wide open and sending two salty streams cascading down her cheeks. The tears drenched her stretched-to-the-limit, faded black t-shirt and puddled on top of her post-baby bulge. She sniffed. Wiped. Added a new stain to the dozen or so toddler snot smears decorating her comfy cotton ensemble. She should tell him. Really, she should. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. So instead, she kept silent. She bottled her fears, feigned a tight-lipped smile, and nodded her head.

“I know. We’ll be fine. We’ll miss you like crazy, but we’ll be fine.” Allie squeezed his hand. Her finger wavered on top of the orange button. She pressed. Unbuckled. Opened the squeaky door. She wiped stowaway tears off her face and squinted her brown with little flecks of green eyes as she stepped onto the paved parking lot. She slid open the rear door.

“Hi, Jadey,” she said fake enthusiasm pumping up her sullen words, “time to say bye-bye to Daddy.”

____________________

We’re back. I have to say straight-off, I’m intrigued, and I like this submission. Here’s why: We’re entering at an emotional moment. (no throat-clearing). We have two interesting likeable characters (and only two, which serves to concentrate our attention.)  We get the putative protagonist (at least I hope it’s Allie) right away. We have drama. We have unanswered questions.

I like the subtlety here. Something obviously not-good is going on, but the writer is sly though to not tip his/her hand and hit us over the head with HOW bad it is. It could be something as simple as dad has to go away temporarily. It could be something really dire. Hard to say since we don’t know what kind of genre we’re dealing with here. Could be domestic suspense, could be dystopia. But no matter what the genre, a good opening is a promise. I want to read on here to find out what’s coming.

Second, notice how the writer slips in details that show us things about the characters rather than telling us about them. Yes, s/he could have written something like:

Her daughter Jadey wasn’t yet two, and they had no money and no where to live except a broken down van. How was she going to cope alone with a baby now that Derek was leaving?

Instead, the info is conveyed by describing a swollen belly,  “toddler snot” on her clothes. Emotions are conveyed through actions — tears, caresses, kisses on hair — rather than something like: Allie loved him with all her heart and was going to miss him. She knew Derek felt the same way.  We always talk here about showing instead of telling. Also, we aren’t told they are poor. We learn, again through selective descriptive details, of this couple’s financial situation — a broken down van, greasy take-out bags on the floor, stretched out clothes.

I also love the fact that Allie has something to tell Derek, the implication being she has kept something from this man who seems so good to her. I like that you didn’t tell us what it is, just dropped in that hint, that unanswered question: What is Allie hiding?

So, good job, writer. But there are times when you could do some self-editing to make your writing tighter, more efficient and, in the end, more evocative. The more emotional the scene, the less emotional the writing itself should be. If I can, let me offer a few tweaks for you to consider in line edits:

The weary van careful using anthropomorphic descriptions. Not sure you even need “weary” since you use the great verb-phrase “shuddered to a stop.”. Maybe something specific like the rusty VW van shuddered to a stop. Then break into a new sentence so our focus goes squarely on the charcacter. But Allie Newland’s body refused to move.

“Allie? Honey? We’re here.” Derek nudged her shoulder.

Allie raised one heavy eye. Derek’s chiseled face suggestion: This is a hackneyed description of bad romance novels. You can do better.and dark, curly hair swirled. this implies movement. Is a window open? Or do you mean that his image seemed to swirl in her eyes because she’s so tired? Clear this up.

Nope,can’t do it. Suggest setting this off by itself. Love that you’re using intimate POV!

The lid snapped shut. You have a tic (we all do!): a tendency to over-describe. She cries, she’s sweaty, she’s swollen, she sighs. It’s a couple tokes over the line. Simplify your emotional descriptions — less is often more — and trust your reader to get it. She closed her eyes and covered her swollen face with a sweaty palm. She covered her swollen face with her sweaty palm. Her cheeks flushed. A sigh lifted off her mouth and hung stale like the pool of greasy French fries littering the floor of the ten-year-old minivan. I like that you are using all the senses here but again, simplify this good description: She sighed, and her breath, smelling like the greasy McDonald’s bag on the floor, hung in the stale air of the old van. A tear trickled down her cheek and dropped onto her clasped hands. It splattered against a ragged cuticle. Suggest you save the tears for later. They are more effective below. And again, by layering in too many emotional descriptions (sigh, tears) you dilute the effect. Space them out a tad.

Time.

As much as she didn’t want it to be. As much as she’d never be ready. As much as her arms desired nothing more than to hug her Derek and trap him at her side forever.

It.

Was.

Time. I liked this disjointed structure. It mimics exhaustion. It makes me get the feeling this couple has come a long way and Allie is spent, physically and mentally.

Allie lifted her eyes and plastered a smile onto her face. Again, I think this might be too much here, since she feigns a smile later as well. I like it better below. A delicious smattering of freckles crinkled across the bridge of her nose. Cut this. It jerks us out of that intimate POV you’ve worked hard to establish — she cannot SEE her own face and “delicious” is jarringly out of mood here. Just go right to: She reached for the door handle but couldn’t bring herself to move it. She rested her forehead against the cool window. She turned away. Clutched the sticky handle and rested her forehead against the cool pane.   Here is where I would put in a few quick, well-drawn strokes of what she sees outside. See comment below about this.

“I guess we should get going,” she said or even whispered, given her mood.

“Allie.” Derek reached over and (I think you need to tell us where he is; I assume he’s in driver seat?) cradled her chin and turned her to face him. forced her gaze from the window to his eyes. She squirmed away from the chocolate brown pools. I think this feels romance-cy and it distracts from the mood. He grabbed her hands and kissed the top of her light-brown, shoulder length hair. Again, simplify the movements of your characters:  She tried to squirm away but he pulled her toward him and gently. kissed the top of her head. Delete the description of her hair because you are IN HER INTIMATE POV. Stay there! She would not be thinking about what her hair looks like.

“You’re strong, Al. The strongest woman I know.” Good dialogue so it deserves its own line. Don’t bury it in graph above.

Allie choked on a grenade-sized lump. Swallowed. It exploded into the walls of her carefully patched together dam of emotion bursting it wide open and sending two salty streams cascading down her cheeks. I like the grenade metaphor but it’s so writerly that you have to know when to stop. Again, simplify so the metaphor shines more: It exploded the walls of her carefully constructed emotional dam, bursting it open. She began to cry. The tears drenched her stretched-to-the-limit, faded black t-shirt and puddled on top of her post-baby bulge. Simplify: The tears fell on her faded black T-shirt, puddling on top of her post-baby bulge. She sniffed. Wiped. Added a new stain to the dozen or so toddler snot smears decorating her comfy cotton ensemble. She ran a hand under runny nose, thought about using one of the McDonald’s napkins wadded on the floor, but instead just wiped her hand on her T-shirt. One more stain wouldn’t matter among all the toddler snot smears. 

She needed to tell him. But she couldn’t. So instead, she kept silent. She bottled her fears, feigned a tight-lipped smile, and nodded her head.

“I know. Non sequitur response, I think. Derek said, “You’re strong.” Would she respond “I know (I am?)” She doesn’t feel strong now. What might be a better comeback from her? Or maybe you can even have her thinking something in response to Derek’s compliment, something that laces in a bit of backstory? She didn’t feel strong right now. Whatever strength she had felt when they had started out five weeks ago in WHEREVER we are, had been long lost. We’ll be fine. We’ll miss you like crazy, but we’ll be fine.”

Allie squeezed his hand. Derek should do something in return, I think. His woman is crying now. Her finger wavered on top of the orange button. She pressed. Unbuckled. Opened the squeaky door. She wiped stowaway tears off her face and squinted her brown with little flecks of green eyes as she stepped onto the paved parking lot. She slid open the rear door. This is what I call mundane physical movement. Enough with wiping tears. Just have her get out of the van. And again, she can’t see her own eyes, so don’t stop here to tell us about them. Also, where’s the baby? Have her reach in the back or wherever before you go with following dialogue:

“Hi, Jadey,” she said fake enthusiasm pumping up her sullen words, her words aren’t sullen. Her mood is. “time to say bye-bye to Daddy.

Again, nice start, writer. You’ve got our attention. A few more things to think about: We could use a little grounding in where we are. You can afford to slow down enough to have Allie take note of her surroundings. Readers want to know where the story is taking place. That doesn’t mean you give us a long descriptive narrative here — it would disrupt your mood and your style is, once you clear out the brush, nice and spare.  But find a way to use the surroundings to enhance the mood you’re establishing.  When Allie first opens her eyes and looks out the van window, what does she see? Show us! Is it winter and the heater broke miles ago? Is it hot and stifling in that old van? You’re in No Man’s Land here, one moment telling us she has sweaty hands (implying warm), the next leaning her forehead against cool glass (cold weather?) All we get is “a parking lot.” This opening feels like they have reached a destination, a metaphoric fork in their road since Derek is about to depart for some reason. Don’t neglect your setting — it can be a powerful tool in supporting your mood and increasing suspense.

Thanks for giving us the chance to read your work and learn.

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About PJ Parrish

PJ Parrish is the New York Times and USAToday bestseller author of the Louis Kincaid thrillers. Her books have won the Shamus, Anthony, International Thriller Award and been nominated for the Edgar. Visit her at PJParrish.com

24 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Clear Out Briars
So Style and Story Can Shine

  1. I also really enjoyed this opening. I love the deep POV the writer uses to draw us in, and her use of disjointed sentences is wonderful.

    The main thing I’d suggest (as did PJ) is to tone down the romantic language. It doesn’t fit with the scene.

    Also, are they living in the van, or is it just old and filthy? I assumed the latter, but maybe I’m wrong or missed something. Also, the toddler doesn’t make any noise in the scene. Nothing to let us know Jadey is there. Maybe just a thought from Allie that she has to keep her voice down so she doesn’t wake Jadey?

    Overall though, such a good start. Great job!

    • Good suggestions, Tom. This scene is good but a tad *too* spare. As you point out, just a few more details, esp about the baby, would go a long ways.

  2. When I read the first paragraphs, I made the assumption this was a domestic violence situation–her body refusing to move, her heavy eyelids, her swollen face. I thought her internal thoughts of needing to tell him referred to telling him she needed to leave (although that’s dangerous to do with an abuser) but she still loved him too much and wanted to give their relationship another chance.

    So I was confused when I read her dialogue, “I know. We’ll miss you…”

    PJ’s critique helped clarify another way to see these opening paragraphs.

    • Interesting take, Lisa. I hadn’t read the scene that way but now that you mention it, I can see it. Which could be quite a twist if the writer is adept at handling it — a story wherein Allie worries about Derek leaving when, in truth, he is the true danger. Which goes to the truth of much domestic violence — a woman (with infant) who is trapped in a relationship.

    • At first, I thought it was a “domestic violence” situation, too. That’s why it’s important for a writer not to be vague.

  3. Allie raised one heavy eye.

    Better make that eyelid because the image I got was of a giant eyeball being lifted into the air.

    I always raise a caveat about openings with a character feeling strong emotion. It’s like I’m being told I have to care. Cut back on the emotive style 75% and lead with the action and the disturbance, and the net result will be more emotion in the reader which is what the art of fiction is mostly about.

    I will add that I do want to know what’s going on.

    • Yeah, I saw the eyeball, too. Made me think of an old camp song we sang as kids. Had the line: “There goes my fingernail into my ginger ale. There goes my eyeball into my highball.”

      Kids are so sick. 🙂

  4. I like it when something you read makes you jump to conclusions, which means the reader is engaged. Probably as a product of seeing too many news stories of violence within families, I was afraid the edgy Allie was going to snap & commit violence against her child when Derek left. There’s nothing that explicity states that, but your mind can’t help but jump around to possibilities given that something is being covered up & she seems unstable.

    My only suggestion somewhat mirrors what PJ said above–I like that you mostly use interesting words/phrases to describe things, but sometimes it got to be a little too much. Too much catchy description wears me out as a reader. But overall, I liked it.

  5. I really enjoyed this opening. Loved the rhythm of the words and the emotions of the scene. It does need tightening, but overall Anon’s off to a great start. Questions are raised. Vivid mental images. If s/he takes your suggestions, I would turn the page. Good job, Brave Writer!

  6. Elmore Leonard’s tenth rule:
    10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

    In this case, the writing got in the way of the story. I had to read it several times because I wanted to skip most of it. For me, it was too much work just to understand what was really going on. Try distilling it down to what actually happened (See James Scott Bell’s comment above). I think you’ll have a much more engaging beginning.

    • Brian,
      “Distill it down to what actually happened.”

      This is such good and easy advice that we often dismiss it as too basic. When you are getting ready to write a scene/chapter, you should first write down — in plain prose — what is going to happen in it. What you need to accomplish. Don’t make it pretty; make it crystal clear so you know what it is. This works really well, if like me, you hate to do full outlines. At least you know what you can see coming in the headlights. In this writer’s case it might be:

      1. Introduce two main characters Allie and Derek. Establish relationship.
      2. Present the main problem: They are poor and have been traveling, arriving at their final destination. Now Derek has to abandon the family. Metaphoric fork in the road.
      3. Establish Allie’s state of mind and that she is withholding a secret from her husband.
      4. Begin to sketch out where this is taking place. (setting)
      5. End chapter with suspenseful event that propels reader to next scene/chapter. (I can’t guess what this is)

      That is it. Then start writing.

  7. It’s possible that by following the great suggestions thus far, the excerpt will be tight enough, but after revising, take another look at each concept because you may not need every one. PJ has pointed out some duplications, but there might be others.

    What I’m saying is that I was intrigued, but felt that the writer was including too much of some information and not enough of other information that would eliminate some of the confusion. As well, I’d like to see a bit more of the setting. Where are we? What city or town? In front of what building or bus terminal? This writer has enough talent to weave this information into the story without giving us a travelogue.

    But here’s the thing: I see the writer using unusual adjectives (weary, delicious) even though, in the context, they should be dumped, but I hope this writer keeps on with finding the unusual but apt adjective or verb. Also, I loved the risk-taking with sentence length. This writer will have a voice.

    I agree with the critique of the character descriptions–POV issues and way too cliched. They surprised me and threw me out of the story. I’m positive this writer can do better.

    • Yup…who among us hasn’t committed cliche to paper? The work begins when you go back and realize your sins.

  8. I read this as a domestic violence scene like Lisa did, so I had to go back through and read it again once I realized what was really happening. I actually thought Allie had died en route! Maybe a bit of rewording would make it clearer.

    The change in POV threw me. The missing baby didn’t throw me because I figure she lost the baby or had to give it up.

    The toddler in the back was a surprise. I like Tom’s suggestion that maybe Allie has to keep her voice down so as not to wake Jadey in the back seat.

    Most of all, I am impressed at how the brave writer raised questions to keep our attention. What happened to make Allie so sad? Where is the baby? Why do Allie and her husband have to say goodbye? And of course, What secret is Allie hiding? With so many questions, one might think the opening would be frustrating, but not at all. I want to keep reading.

  9. I’m totally with Brian Hoffman and PJ’s reply to him. In addition, I would say the following:

    1. Derek’s hair might swirl, but his “chiseled face” doesn’t.
    2. “Light brown” is not hyphenated. “Shoulder-length” is.
    3. She didn’t really “feign a tight-lipped smile”. “Feign” and “tight-lipped” are somewhat redundant in this case.
    4. “Paved parking lot” isn’t redundant but it sounds as though it is. “Pavement” or “parking lot” would be a more streamlined substitute.
    5. I counted thirty-two adjectives in this piece. Most “sounded like writing”. Try cutting them all out and see what happens.

  10. Sorry to hear about the broken pipe. Yikes. Now, on to the fun stuff…

    Thanks for sharing your work with us, brave author. Here are my comments (and don’t let the number of them trouble you):

    1. The title seems a little blah to me, and the capitalization isn’t correct. Luckily, there’s a tool online to help (https://capitalizemytitle.com/). Leave the “a” in “at” as lowercase if you use this title, but I suspect it’s just a working title.

    2. The first line could be better. Some people don’t pay attention to first lines when choosing books, but I wouldn’t take any chances with an awkward first line. (The reader knows it’s not a dead body, because dead bodies can’t “refuse” to move; a dead body wouldn’t have a choice in the matter.) The second “honey, we’re here” type line isn’t very exciting, either. Why not start with something that leads with more mystery? For example:

    Allie Newland covered her swollen face with a sweaty palm.

    (Notice I didn’t write “her sweaty” palm. I don’t think you should repeat “her” in this type of sentence. The reader will assume the palm is Allie’s.)

    A first sentence like this will immediately have the reader wondering why her face is swollen. I wouldn’t waste precious space with ho-hum kind of lines and dialogue on the first page. You may come up with an even better first line, but the idea is that the first line should make the reader want to read the second one. Get the reader’s attention before you describe the “weary van” and give the “honey we’re here” line.

    3. “Allie raised one heavy eye.”

    I think we’ve discussed eyeballs doing weird things before (http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/09/breakaway-body-parts-are-your.html).

    4. Overwriting is a problem. You’re not writing a literary novel, and overblown sentences sound out of place and interfere with your own voice coming through to the reader. Example:

    “A sigh lifted off her mouth and hung stale like the pool of greasy French fries littering the floor of the ten-year-old minivan.”

    If you were telling this story to a friend, would you use sentences like this? Probably not, right? I appreciate what you were trying to do here, but sometimes it’s better to use restraint. Trying holding back a little, and let your true voice come through.

    4. “As much as she didn’t want it to be. As much as she’d never be ready. As much as her arms desired nothing more than to hug her Derek and trap him at her side forever.”

    I don’t care for the hyperbole here. You’re trying too hard. Consolidate this into one powerful sentence rather than three wimpy ones. After reading those lines, I’m fairly certain that our brave author is female. And then, our brave author follows it up with the “It. Was. Time” (except using three separate lines). Ack. More hyperbole.

    5. POV. I’m going to guess that Allie is your protagonist, and you probably want to use her POV to tell the story. Info. about third person POV variations here: https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/writing/third-person-limited-and-more

    If you tell your story from Allie’s POV, the reader can only know what Allie sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels. Allie would not be thinking about what she looks like. So, if you want to describe Allie, you’d have to do it through the dialogue of other characters and actions. For example, if Allie happened to be petite, she’d need help reaching something on a shelf. You could show that with action.

    You write: “She wiped stowaway tears off her face and squinted her brown with little flecks of green eyes as she stepped onto the paved parking lot.”

    If you tell the story from Allie’s POV, you wouldn’t describe her eyes through her POV. (And, don’t have her look in the mirror and do it, either.)

    6. ” It exploded into the walls of her carefully patched together dam of emotion bursting it wide open and sending two salty streams cascading down her cheeks.”

    Another example of overwriting and hyperbole.

    I will leave it to you, brave writer to go through your writing and find other examples of hyperbole.

    7. Style/Punctuation.

    “Hi, Jadey,” she said fake enthusiasm pumping up her sullen words, “time to say bye-bye to Daddy.”

    Incorrect as written. If you want to do it this way (and I discourage it), write it like this:

    “Hi, Jadey,” she said, fake enthusiasm pumping up her sullen words. “Time to say bye-bye to Daddy.”

    However, I don’t like the “fake enthusiasm pumping her sullen words.” Here is a place where you want to show, not tell. Showing=action. Telling=Narration.

    8. Genre isn’t clear. It doesn’t have the “tone” of a romance novel, but “chiseled face” language did sound more like the kind of description that would appear in such a novel. So, please make it clear what your genre is.

    That’s all I have time I have now. In general, eliminate the hyperbole. All of it. (Ask yourself after each sentence if that’s how you would tell this story to a friend.) Use a clear POV (Allie’s). Don’t forget to use an editor to catch the little things (like missed spaces, grammar, repeated words, etc.).

    Best of luck, brave writer. Keep writing!

  11. Sorry to hear about the broken pipe. Yikes. Now, on to the fun stuff…

    Thanks for sharing your work with us, brave author. Here are my comments (and don’t let the number of them trouble you):

    1. The title seems a little blah to me, and the capitalization isn’t correct. Luckily, there’s a tool online to help called Capitalize My Title that you can put into a search engine to get a link. Leave the “a” in “at” as lowercase if you use this title, but I suspect it’s just a working title.

    2. The first line could be better. Some people don’t pay attention to first lines when choosing books, but I wouldn’t take any chances with an awkward first line. (The reader knows it’s not a dead body, because dead bodies can’t “refuse” to move; a dead body wouldn’t have a choice in the matter.) The second “honey, we’re here” type line isn’t very exciting, either. Why not start with something that leads with more mystery? For example:

    Allie Newland covered her swollen face with a sweaty palm.

    (Notice I didn’t write “her sweaty” palm. I don’t think you should repeat “her” in this type of sentence. The reader will assume the palm is Allie’s.)

    A first sentence like this will immediately have the reader wondering why her face is swollen. I wouldn’t waste precious space with ho-hum kind of lines and dialogue on the first page. You may come up with an even better first line, but the idea is that the first line should make the reader want to read the second one. Get the reader’s attention before you describe the “weary van” and give the “honey we’re here” line.

    3. “Allie raised one heavy eye.”

    I think we’ve discussed eyeballs doing weird things before. Put “Breakaway Body Parts: Are Your Characters’ Body Parts Acting on Their Own?” into a search engine. Author is Janice Hardy.

    4. Overwriting is a problem. You’re not writing a literary novel, and overblown sentences sound out of place and interfere with your own voice coming through to the reader. Example:

    “A sigh lifted off her mouth and hung stale like the pool of greasy French fries littering the floor of the ten-year-old minivan.”

    If you were telling this story to a friend, would you use sentences like this? Probably not, right? I appreciate what you were trying to do here, but sometimes it’s better to use restraint. Trying holding back a little, and let your true voice come through.

    4. “As much as she didn’t want it to be. As much as she’d never be ready. As much as her arms desired nothing more than to hug her Derek and trap him at her side forever.”

    I don’t care for the hyperbole here. You’re trying too hard. Consolidate this into one powerful sentence rather than three wimpy ones. After reading those lines, I’m fairly certain that our brave author is female. And then, our brave author follows it up with the “It. Was. Time” (except using three separate lines). Ack. More hyperbole.

    5. POV. I’m going to guess that Allie is your protagonist, and you probably want to use her POV to tell the story. Info. about third person POV variations here: https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/writing/third-person-limited-and-more

    If you tell your story from Allie’s POV, the reader can only know what Allie sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels. Allie would not be thinking about what she looks like. So, if you want to describe Allie, you’d have to do it through the dialogue of other characters and actions. For example, if Allie happened to be petite, she’d need help reaching something on a shelf. You could show that with action.

    You write: “She wiped stowaway tears off her face and squinted her brown with little flecks of green eyes as she stepped onto the paved parking lot.”

    If you tell the story from Allie’s POV, you wouldn’t describe her eyes through her POV. (And, don’t have her look in the mirror and do it, either.)

    6. ” It exploded into the walls of her carefully patched together dam of emotion bursting it wide open and sending two salty streams cascading down her cheeks.”

    Another example of overwriting and hyperbole.

    I will leave it to you, brave writer to go through your writing and find other examples of hyperbole.

    7. Style/Punctuation.

    “Hi, Jadey,” she said fake enthusiasm pumping up her sullen words, “time to say bye-bye to Daddy.”

    Incorrect as written. If you want to do it this way (and I discourage it), write it like this:

    “Hi, Jadey,” she said, fake enthusiasm pumping up her sullen words. “Time to say bye-bye to Daddy.”

    However, I don’t like the “fake enthusiasm pumping her sullen words.” Here is a place where you want to show, not tell. Showing=action. Telling=Narration.

    8. Genre isn’t clear. It doesn’t have the “tone” of a romance novel, but “chiseled face” language did sound more like the kind of description that would appear in such a novel. So, please make it clear what your genre is.

    That’s all I have time I have now. In general, eliminate the hyperbole. All of it. (Ask yourself after each sentence if that’s how you would tell this story to a friend.) Use a clear POV (Allie’s). Don’t forget to use an editor to catch the little things (like missed spaces, grammar, repeated words, etc.).

    Best of luck, brave writer. Keep writing!

    • Thanks for the good input, Joanne. I think we are sometimes a little harder on the better submissions. 🙂

      • I always do my best to give comments I feel would be helpful for the place the writer seems to be on his/her writing journey. I know you do, too. Lots of comments aren’t a bad thing. I come from a background of Russian teachers (music, chess) who aren’t known for giving praise. It was through these Russian teachers that I learned that what motivates people with potential is to give them tough criticism in a matter-of-fact way. The tougher the better. If a critique strikes a nerve, it could be that the criticism is valid. In the case of writing, the writer will pout for awhile, because it’s every writer’s dream for everyone to say “wonderful, wonderful.” However, after a good pout, the wise writer will get busy on the revision suggestions that resonate with her.

        Btw, good luck with the kitchen stuff.

  12. One more thing, brave writer. I wanted to recommend a few more articles to you, but the blog program limits hyperlinks without throwing messages into the moderation queue. Get yourself a copy of the July/August 2016 edition of Writer’s Digest. There are many articles in there that would help you. One is called “The Chain of Awesomeness” by Jeff Somers, which talks about choosing a first line. Other great articles in the issue deal with novel openings. A site called Magazinelib.com has it available for download in a PDF file (not sure for how long).

  13. I like what we have here.

    The writing is clear, although there are too many images. It provides enough information to set the scene – two people sitting in a van. We know the characters are a couple with a child who is about to be separated for some period of time, something neither of them seems to keen on.

    There is enough here to make me want to read more. Why are they separating? Is she or he going away? Personally, I would give a bit more flesh to the chapter and not answer either of those questions until the next chapter.

  14. First off, thank you brave writer for the story.
    I agreed with PJ and her line item edits. The title and the beginning say to me, domestic violence. I continued to think that until about half way through.
    Heavy eye? I’m thinking black eye from being hit. There are other words in the story that read like violence to me. Forced her gaze? Squirmed away? Swollen face?
    I think the writer can do better by cutting the romance sounding words and tell the story straighter.
    I liked the mystery and suspence. I would keep reading.

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