Week 5 Mini-Critique

TITLE: Woven Together
AUTHOR:  Isabelle L.
CATEGORY:  Romance

“Chris asked me to marry him last night.”

“Don’t sound so excited,” said Ashley. 🙂

Richelle sighed into her cell phone. “Don’t you think it’s too soon?”

“You’ve been dating Chris for three years now. How much time do you need?” asked Ashley.

Richelle set her paint brush in the cup of water, stood up, and stretched. “Yes, but I’m only 29 and I want to be positive before I commit.”

“Like I said, how much time do you need?” asked Ashley. If you need to repeat the gist of this question for emphasis, can it be phrased differently so it doesn’t feel repetitive? Maybe something like “How much more positive can you be?” – just so Ashley doesn’t say the exact same thing over again.

Richelle wasn’t sure how to answer that question as she looked at the wall in front of her with several of her paintings leaning against it. Instead of trying to explain how she felt, she didn’t say anything.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” said Ashley. “I still have people here in the spa. Give me 30 minutes.”

“Thanks Ash.” Richelle hung up her cell phone and went to get another cup of herbal tea. She had been expecting the proposal. Everyone said it was coming for months now. How come I’m not excited about it? Shouldn’t I have the desire to run out and buy bridal magazines? That’s what Melissa was doing months before Jon proposed to her. I haven’t given it one thought. All I’ve thought about is my gallery.

Richelle looked at her watch and went up to the front of the gallery and flipped the sign over so it showed it was now closed. After looking at the piece in front of her, she kicked her sandals off, sat down and picked up her paint brush. She had been working on the sketch the past few days and was excited to finally have some time to put it on canvas. Wasn’t she already painting when Ashley called? And I’m surprised she didn’t lock the door for safety…

A few minutes later, she heard the bell on the door. Ashley can’t be here this soon. Richelle walked back to the front of the gallery and saw a man in an expensive suit Show me, rather than tell me. What makes the suit look expensive to her? standing at the entrance looking around the room. “Sorry, we’re closed. We open at 9 AM if you’d like to come back in the morning.”

The man gave her a once over and looked amused. “The lights were on and the door was unlocked.”

“I was expecting a friend of mine to drop by. The sign on the door shows we’re closed.”
“I didn’t notice it. I’m looking for Richelle Croft,” he said.

She stepped closer and couldn’t help notice his clear blue eyes. “I’m Richelle. What can I do for you?”

“I’m Dean Balcombe.” He stepped forward to shake her hand. She held it up and showed it had blue paint on it. Nice touch. He grinned and dropped his hand. “I’m the executive vice president of Balcombe Denim Wear. I saw your work when a friend of mine bought one of your paintings last week and I wanted to discuss the possibility of you painting some designs for a new line of denim products we’re developing.”

Richelle was shocked. “Don’t you have designers for that kind of thing?”

“We do, but when I saw your painting, I could visualize it on the back of a denim jacket and had to find you to discuss the possibility of you working with us on this line.”

Richelle wanted to squeal with delight, but was determined to stay calm. “I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like that before. How would it work? How many pictures would you want? What medium would I need to use?”She might also ask which painting it was – seems a natural to find out which piece of her art drew his attention.

He grinned again as he pulled a little silver case out of the inside of his coat pocket. He opened it and handed her a business card. “Give me a call at this number tomorrow and let’s set up an appointment and talk about it.” Why not talk about it now, and get into the story sooner?

She eyed his clothes that looked as fresh as if the day was just starting. “Do I need to wear business attire for the meeting?”

After glancing over her he said with a smirk, “Shoes are a good idea and you might want to leave the apron behind.” Good line.

She cocked her head sideways and smirked right back at him. “It’s a denim company and I have plenty of jeans I could wear.” Cute.

He chuckled. “If that pleases you.”

“Why is someone who works at a denim company wearing a suit anyway?”

“I’m a business man who deals with a lot of different people.”

“Last I checked this is Columbus, Georgia not New York City. I thought business attire was jeans and a button down shirt.” Nice way to establish your setting, but we’re continuing to spend a lot of time/space talking about wearing suits vs. jeans.

His eyes went over her again. “Yet you have on a dress under your painting apron.”

She tilted her chin up and asked “Would you prefer it if I was wearing jeans and a button down shirt?”

With a glint in his eyes he replied, “No. Would you prefer I was wearing jeans and a button down shirt?”


He laughed and nodded towards his business card she was holding. “Call me at that number tomorrow, Ms. Croft so we can discuss what others will be wearing this fall.”

Richelle felt herself blush. “I’ll think about it.” This is the first hint that she might not jump at the possibility – and it feels strange, after she’s already been considering what to wear to the meeting.

He stared at her for a minute without saying anything. “Please do. I hope to hear from you tomorrow.”


Isabelle, you write well, and I especially like the bantery lines like Ashley saying “Don’t sound so excited” and some of the dialogue between Richelle and Dean. Richelle and Dean are both nice people, and we want to see them succeed.

What I’m not getting from this section of the story is any hint of what the conflict is going to be. Before y’all jump on me, let me be clear: problems aren’t the same as conflict. Yes, Richelle has a problem about what answer to give her would-be fiancé, though it’s pretty clear already what her answer should be. And I think it’s a safe bet that she and Dean aren’t going to see eye-to-eye about everything in the denim business (though if they don’t, why doesn’t he just walk away from the offer he’s made, and find another artist?)

Right now, Richelle’s got things pretty good – she has a nice gallery, she’s getting well-established as an artist, and she has a potential commission that could take her work from limited access fine art to being known in every home and store in the country – an opportunity most artists would kill for.

Where’s the difficulty for her? More importantly, how does her difficulty relate to Dean? Why does she need this job? Why does Dean need her, rather than one of the other ten million artists in the country? What does he stand to lose if she turns him down?

Right now, they’re pretty much on the same wavelength – they’re both enjoying the flirting, and they both stand to benefit a great deal from doing business together. And if in tomorrow’s meeting they realize that they don’t have the same vision for how to use Richelle’s art, why don’t they just shake hands and part ways? They’d be no worse off.

What do they need from each other? What will create tension between them?—because it’s tension between the characters which keeps the reader turning pages to find out how this story ends up.

If Richelle’s gallery is going under and this is her last chance to save it — even though she equates putting her art on denim with manufacturing paint-by-number kits or painting Elvis-on-black-velvet – then we’d have a heroine with conflict. If Dean’s biggest customer has told him he has to get this specific sort of art or they won’t buy from him anymore, then we’d have a hero with conflict. Put those two problems together and you have a hero and heroine who have to cooperate, but don’t want to – and then we have tension between them, and we have a story with conflict. (By the way, the suggestions I’ve made are only a couple of concrete examples that might help you see other possibilities, ones which work far better for your characters. There are many other ways you can raise the stakes and create tension for and between your characters than what I’ve suggested here.)

So the question of the week is – how can we raise the stakes for our characters, making their problems so important that the reader can’t stop turning the pages to see how it all turns out?

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


8 responses

10 02 2010
A Variety of Entries « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Week 5 Mini-Critique […]

10 02 2010
Kimberly K


Your first 1,000 words have me interested enough to keep going, for sure. I like the flirtatious tension you’ve established between Richelle and Dean, and I want to know where things will go from here.

I’m not sure where you’re taking it yet, of course, but I have to say that I really loved Leigh’s suggestion about the two characters needing one another in some way. I’d be interested to see just what you have in store for them.

Good luck to you, and congrats on the critique! 🙂

10 02 2010

Thanks Leigh! Thanks Kimberly! I’m really excited to see that you chose my work. You actually had the same idea I did Leigh about Richelle seeing her fine art on denim as insulting, but needs the money. My problem for Dean was different, but I like your of making his issue client related.

Oh, and the reason I had them make an appt for tomorrow was lack of space. I had less than 1000 words! lol

Thanks again!

11 02 2010
r. hennessey

Congrats on your critique Isabelle! I liked how you began your story and also liked the banter between Richelle and Ashley. But as I read the paragraph that starts with “Thanks Ash,” I had to go back and re-read because something didn’t set right. I think I got confused because it goes from narrative to first person. Here’s the paragraph:
“Thanks Ash.” Richelle hung up her cell phone and went to get another cup of herbal tea. She had been expecting the proposal. Everyone said it was coming for months now. How come I’m not excited about it? Shouldn’t I have the desire to run out and buy bridal magazines? That’s what Melissa was doing months before Jon proposed to her. I haven’t given it one thought. All I’ve thought about is my gallery.”
It’s very late here so maybe it’s just me not understanding what’s going on:)
I really enjoyed how the hero and heroine meet and the whole premise of her being an artist and how he wants her designs on denim. I would really be interested in seeing what happens between these two and if they do get together, what happens to Chris?
Good luck!

11 02 2010

Thanks r. hennessey! I really appreciate the support. I agree that part does look weird on here because none of the italics showed up in the story. It’s probably something to do with html. That part is what she’s thinking and should be in italics.

12 02 2010
R. Hennessey

I thought that might be the problem:) It’s much clearer now with the italics:)

12 02 2010
Rachelle Chase

Oops. Those missing italics were user error, not html. I lost them when I copied your entry over from Hotmail, Isabelle. Sorry about that! I corrected it.

As Leigh mentioned, you’ve got the mechanics of writing down (no small feat!), i.e., sentence length variation, nice balance of narrative vs. dialogue, no backstory dump, etc. And Richelle is a likeable character – as is Dean. Plus, he’s confident with a sense of humor – I love his “…so we can discuss what others will be wearing this fall.” comeback line. I could definitely see these two characters together.

But I totally agree with Leigh’s comment about the lack of conflict or tension. Everyone is happy, here, and things are going along just as everyone would like, so there’s no compelling reason for me to turn the page right now.

You mention that she really does need this job, plus has an aversion to what he’s asking her to do. Let us see that conflict, even if she attempts to hide it from him.

I can truly understand the feeling of being limited to 1,000 words but remember you must hook an agent/editor (and a reader) immediately. Given the volume of submissions they have to get through, they probably won’t give you 1,000 words to hook them. So, if you find yourself having to leave out an important part of the story — in this case, a continuation of their discussion — for the sake of word count, ask yourself if the story begins in the right place.

For example, do we really need to start off with the conversation with Ashley? Richelle doesn’t think about it or Chris during the conversation with Dean. Why not open with her and Dean interacting? And, if there’s a need for Chris and her feelings (or lack thereof) for him, she can question them in response to her reaction to something Dean says or does. Additionally, instead of all the dialogue about clothing choices – it’s nice banter, but it’s not moving the story forward – why not have the conversation focused around his offer and her conflicting emotions about it? Those are just two ways (you may come up with something better) you can fit in their important interaction, while showing some conflict, and keeping the story going.

Lastly, just a minor point: She says, “It’s a denim company and I have plenty of jeans I could wear,” — if Balcombe Denim has their own brand of denim products, showing up wearing another company’s jeans could be seen as an insult, kinda like going to the corporate headquarters of Starbuck’s with Peet’s coffee. On the other hand, that does present an interesting opportunity for conflict. 🙂

At any rate, good luck with this. You’re off to a good start!

15 02 2010

Thanks Rachelle! That is really great advice I needed about the 1000 word hook! 🙂

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