Week 3 Mini-Critique

TITLE: A Simple Request
CATEGORY: Single Title Romance


“Patrick?” A female voice asked.


“It’s me again.”

“Lizzie, do you have an aversion to calling people during the day?”

“Oh for God’s sake, Patrick, it’s only eight o’clock.”


Patrick O’Reilly glanced up at the clock over the fireplace. 8:05.

“Let me guess. You still haven’t heard from your sister and you want me to go back over there.”

“I’m sorry, but she’s not returning any of my calls. I have to know if she’s okay.”

Patrick stifled the urge to moan out loud. “She’s fine. I saw her take the ferry to Portland earlier. Maybe she’s just not getting any reception up here.” Patrick wrapped himself in the blanket that hung on the back of the sofa. 

“That wouldn’t explain why she’s not picking up the house phone. Could you just go over and–″

“I’ll call you when I get back.” Patrick shoved a hand through his hair and gritted his teeth. “And Lizzie, just for the record, I’m doing this against my better judgment. She’s not going to be very happy to see me again.”   

“You can thank me after the wedding. Call me.” Nice hint here, about the wedding. Makes me wonder who’s getting married… and is very natural sounding dialogue.


He hung up the phone, took a deep breath and stepped out into the biting cold again. Even with the wind blowing, the salty smell of low tide was strong.  

At the Carey’s, he rapped on the door. When no one answered, he knocked again, louder this time – hoping it wouldn’t be an instant replay of last night when he frightened Rachel and she came after him with a butcher’s knife.  After five minutes with the wind beating against his back, he used the key. Where did the key come from? Did he bring it with him? Get it out of a hiding place?

“Rachel?” He peeked around the door, expecting to see her standing there holding the knife.  She wasn’t there so he walked from the kitchen through to the living room and called her name again.  When there was still no answer, he moved closer to the stairs.

With his heart in this throat, Patrick took the stairs three at a time and followed the horrible cries to the master bedroom. He busted through the door and there Rachel sat submerged in the giant Jacuzzi, eyes closed, ear buds in her ears, singing. At least he thought that’s what she was trying to do.

It was God awful. Funny line!

He stood at the door for a few seconds, just taking in the sight of her as she chugged on her bottle of Dom Perignon in between verses of music.  Her auburn hair was piled on top of her head and a few damp loose strands framed her heart shaped face.

She finally opened her eyes and upon seeing him standing there she let out a horror movie scream. She attempted to stand then realized she was naked and plunged back into the water. “For crissake, Patrick, you nearly scared me sober.”

“Hi, Rach.” He couldn’t help but smile.

She took another sip from the bottle but it came out too fast and a little bit of the golden liquid dribbled down her chin and down in between her breasts. He swallowed hard and looked away until he heard glass on porcelain. He turned his head back to see her trying to put the bottle on the edge of the tub. In her drunken state, she missed every time. 

He went over and took the bottle from her fingers which were as wrinkled as the raisins in his morning cereal. Nice visual.

“I suppose Lizzie sent you again?” Hic. “She thinks we belong together, you know.”

“I’ve heard.”

“Well, that won’t happen. There is no way on this earth that I would be with the man who took my virginity and never called me again.”

Patrick lifted his eyes to the ceiling and blew out an exasperated breath. “You need to get out of there. You’re shivering.”

When she didn’t make a move, he stole a quick glance at her. The bubbles that gathered around her chest were gone and there, around her neck, she wore the sand dollar necklace.

A dull ache of desire warmed him as he thought about the circumstances that surrounded the gift he gave her.  I hope it’s not Patrick who’s getting married, if he’s still got the hots for Rachel.

“I’m not ready to get out yet,” Rachel said defiantly, trying to control her teeth from chattering.

“Your body is going to look like a ninety year old woman if you stay in there any longer.”

She grimaced at his comment. “Look the other way,” she snapped.

Patrick was only too happy to. He turned his head and she put her back to him. He grabbed her robe from the nearby chair and as he wrapped it around her she fell back against him.

 “You can’t even stand up. How much did you have to drink?”

She mumbled something indiscernible. He helped her to the bed then went to the bathroom for a towel and handed it to her. Rachel took the towel but instead of drying herself she buried her face into it and sobbed.

“Oh no,” he muttered.

He ventured a guess that Rachel’s ‘rough patch’ was because of a bad breakup. He’d been through bad breakups with his sister. She’d drink; she’d cry and then eat tons of chocolate. It took about two months for her to become a functioning adult again.

But this was Rachel, the girl he loved since he was twelve. The woman whose heart he broke into a million pieces – the woman who hadn’t spoken to him in almost two decades. Uh. Wait a minute. He went to check on her last night, when she greeted him with the butcher knife, but she never said a word? Besides, she’s sure talking tonight. So – maybe this is just a misleading phrase, but since it clearly isn’t true that she hasn’t spoken to him in two decades, this throws the reader for a loop.

Patrick wanted to embrace her, but hesitated for fear she’d just push him away. He certainly wouldn’t blame her.

“Why can’t I have the happily ever after?” she sniffed then threw her arms around him.

Patrick held her and stroked her hair. 

“I want a baby,” she said between sobs.            

Patrick held her closer as the guilt sluiced through him like water rushing through a gorge.  If he hadn’t been such a jerk she would’ve had his babies. So if she’s attached to him and he’s attached to her, the problem separating them seems to be simple lack of communication. If they’d talk about it for five minutes, could they solve this?


“I’m right here, Rach.”

“Would you be a sperm donor for me?”


There are a lot of things I really like about this story. I like that the hero sounds like a hero. I also really like a guy who — despite having been greeted by a butcher knife once before — still goes over to make sure his neighbor is all right, just because her sister’s worried. And I love the line about the wedding, which really is well done; because both Lizzie and Patrick know who’s getting married, they wouldn’t say the names.

But I had a lot of trouble seeing Rachel as admirable or heroic – mostly because she’s so drunk she can’t set a bottle down straight or get herself out of the tub. That’s pretty drunk, and pretty self-abusive. So it was really a stomach-turning moment when I found that she thinks the solution to her troubles is to have a baby. The good news here is that I’m caught up in Rachel and Patrick and their potential baby, enough that I’m honestly fretting about how this will turn out for the kid. The bad news is that because the only picture I have of Rachel is drunk in the tub, I’m worried that this is her usual behavior.

In a previous mini-critique we talked about starting the story too early, with lots of backstory and background to tell the reader how the character got to this point in his/her life. This time, we’ve perhaps started a little too abruptly – too far into the action. With little context for Rachel’s self-pity-party, it’s hard to relate to her or to see her as sympathetic. If we had seen the reasons why she’s drinking herself to oblivion, we’d be more likely to understand and cut her some slack. Or if we had seen at least a glimpse of her normal (sober) behavior, then we’d be more likely to bear with her when she breaks her routine and gets drunk. But when we’ve only seen the negative side of her, the reader may not keep turning pages long enough to find out that she’s normally not a lush and she’s really a great gal.

So how can we get the right balance – starting at a moment which doesn’t drown the reader in backstory detail, presents a character in a positive and sympathetic light, and still gets us right into the action?

Please take a moment to give us feedback on the contest.


13 responses

27 01 2010

I didn’t see Rachel as unsympathetic here, but it might be easier to understand her reasons if the scene was in her POV rather than Patrick’s. Also, I’m guessing the book may not start with this scene, which would also mean Rachel’s reasons for drowning her sorrows have already been explained.

I enjoyed the characters and would be interested in seeing how they interact further.

27 01 2010
Reid H.

Thank you so much for choosing my entry for this week’s mini-critique! You made my month!!

I have to be honest, this first 1,000 words was not the original beginning of the story; it actually started with Liz calling Patrick, the same way she does
here and just like here he goes over to Rachel’s to find her holding the butcher knife/

I really thought it was too wordy and thought I could incorporate what happened in that scene into the second chapter. Perhaps I should’ve gone with my instincts and stayed with that original chapter first because there is a little more back story; not too much, but part of it is in Rachel’s POV and it does answer some of the questions you posed Leigh.

Thanks again for the great critique. I will take your suggestions and go to work!

27 01 2010
Leigh Michaels

I think perhaps there’s a compromise here, Reid. Showing both times that Patrick gets the call and goes over to find Rachel does feel a bit wordy, but if we got just a bit of Rachel’s POV toward the beginning it would let us give her the benefit of the doubt more easily.

Revising gets a bit dangerous sometimes because we forget what’s been left out of the new version, so as we re-read sometimes it’s hard to judge the piece accurately. (This is why critique groups sometimes lose their effectiveness after a while, too — the more a piece of writing is discussed, the more the critique is based on what the author has said, rather than what’s really on the page.) A fresh reader is a valuable thing.

Glad I made your month!– thanks for sharing your work.

27 01 2010
L.A. Mitchell

Congrats, Reid. I enjoyed reading your story 🙂

Opening line launches into dialogue are challenging, but yours was effortless for me. I also like the vagueness in the wedding line, but immediatly I guessed she was teasing him about him and her sister getting together.

All the best with your writing…

1 02 2010
R. Hennessey

Thanks for reading my critique! I’m glad you found the dialogue launch effortless. It’s so hard to tell these things when you’re writing and haven’t had much feedback. I truly appreciate any and all feedback that you and everyone else here has given me.

28 01 2010

Nice opening Reid, overall, I was hooked and would have keep reading. I didn’t find your heroine unsymphatic at all. There were some small things that made it all fuzzy for me, but overall, I was very interested in the hero and herione and how their lives will intersect in the future.

1 02 2010
R. Hennessey

Thanks LaTessa!

As I have said in my posts, I am rewriting parts of this chapter to make it ‘less fuzzy’ but I am glad to hear that you and the other posters here want to keep reading. Thanks again:)

29 01 2010

Great story and a great Critique! I *really* must send something in to you guys! Caroline x

1 02 2010

Nice job, Reid! I love stories about babies, particularly the friend/donor ones. 😀 And just, FWIW, I understood the wedding comment to be the sister teasing Patrick about his inevitable marriage to Rachel. Is that right? 🙂

1 02 2010
R. Hennessey

Yes! I’m in the process of going back and incorporating more from my original first chapter into this one so it makes more sense to the reader and gives a little more of the backstory.
Thanks so much for your post!

5 02 2010
Kimberly K

Congrats on the critique, Reid!
I was pulled into your story right away. 🙂

6 02 2010

I’ve read and re-read the phone conversation a few times and I still feel the same. I liked it. I thought it was a good place to begin and didn’t need a lot of information that happened before this conversation. I knew, as a reader, that I’d be getting more information and it kept me reading.

I am confused about Patrick, though. Not to criticize about him, but he’s been in love with her, but they haven’t talked for two decades, and yet he lives next door or nearby. And did he sleep with her or what? What inspired the threat of the knife. I either missed something or I need a little better clarification.

All in all, I liked it and thought a good story will come with this. I’d want to know more about what will happen between these two.

Good luck.

8 02 2010
R. Hennessey

Tessa I’m so pleased you read and re-read my excerpt. It makes me think I did something right to hook you. I do understand your confusion about Patrick. There isn’t a lot to go on here, but I can give you a little more of the scoop:)
Patrick and Rachel have been friends since adolescence. The Carey girls summered on the small Maine island while Patrick lived there with his family as they own a business there. They fell in love as teenagers but someone in Rachel’s life made it clear to Patrick that he had no future with her, so after trying to contact her to no avail, he went on with his life. Because she slept with Patrick right before they left the island that one summer fifteen years ago and he never contacted her although he promised he would, Rachel has held a grudge (Liz likes to think of it as carrying a torch for him) and has refused to allow Liz to even mention Patrick’s name in front of her.
Rachel takes a sabbatical from her job for personal reasons and Liz urges her to go to the island house, the place she has avoided all these years for fear of running into Patrick. Liz convinces her that Patrick left the island a long time ago. (Of course you know by Liz and Patrick’s conversation that Liz is doing a little matchmaking here.)
The Carey house is near the dock where people who live on the island get ferried in or moor their own boats. Because she hasn’t been there in so long she gets a little spooked. She has every intention of not even opening the door but when Patrick uses the key Rachel’s grandmother gave him (to check on the place during the months they’re not there) she grabs to butcher knife to defend herself.
I hope this clears up a little bit of the mystery. Thanks again for your great feedback!

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