Week 4 Mini-Critique

TITLE: A Heat Of The Moment Thing
AUTHOR: Maggie L.
CATEGORY: Chick lit

I thumbed a quick text, U swimn or not? Hury up!, pressed “send” then leaned against the old brick wall while I waited for Jo to appear.

Ooh! Man-alert! He strode purposefully down the footpath towards me, mid-thirties and master of the world, damn good-looking with a no-nonsense attitude, very nice suit, and… hello, was that a Rolex on his wrist?

And it could stop right there. I wasn’t interested, remember? This was the new me, the Strong-Independent-Woman me, an entirely different me to the pitiful, desperately-seeking-Mr-Right me I’d been before I saw the light. Nice hint here – an intriguing mention of what has changed her life/mind/standards about men – and it makes us want to find out what that event was and how it’s affected her.

He glanced my way, meeting my eyes with a smile designed to melt hearts. Mmm. Nice.
Yeah, and he’d probably practiced that on half the girls in London. I quickly looked away. Jo would be here any minute and if she caught my heart melting, or even turning the faintest bit squishy, she’d be giving me another your-taste-in-men-is-shocking-so-just-don’t-bother lecture.

She rounded the corner and I pulled myself upright, giving her a sunny smile. ‘Hi! Did you see Mr Rolex?’

‘No.’ She held her forehead as if it might fall off.

I winked. ‘Me neither.’ When she didn’t laugh, or even make a suitably rude comment, I looked at her more closely. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘It’s bright.’ She took a deep breath and released it slowly through tight lips. ‘Way too bright.’

I took in her words, her sunglasses and her pallor. ‘Hey, you’re hung-over!’ I stated the obvious.

‘Sssh. Not so loud, Becs.’ She touched a tentative hand to her dark, close-cropped spikes and sighed. ‘Maybe this is a bad idea.’

‘No way, girlie. What about our pact? Four swims a week? No excuses?’

‘Wasn’t there an out-clause for horrific hangovers?’ 🙂 Funny line!

‘Come on, Jo, you’ll be fine. Remember what you said to me when we first started swimming?’

‘Oh God no,’ Jo groaned and clapped her hands over her ears as I launched into a hearty rendition of “Fat Bottomed Girls”.

‘Okay, okay,’ she said. ‘Just shut up, will you?’

We started walking and I draped an arm across her slumped shoulders, giving her a squeeze. ‘You love me.’

‘I do?’

‘You do.’

Side-by-side we approached the Riviera Leisure Center’s glassed double doors. As always, I was struck by her petite frame. I felt so big and… well, big next to her. Like a blundering heffalump next to a delicate fairy. Size twelve is hardly monstrous, I know, but she’s just so tiny by comparison. I quickly reminded myself her nymph-like trimness was as much to do with good genes as good management. All the swimming in the world wouldn’t shrink me to her size.

We paid at the counter and made our way down to the changing rooms, the smell of chlorine intensifying with every step. As we turned the last corner I noticed her face had taken on a greenish tinge.

‘Jo, you look terrible!’

‘Thanks.’

‘Seriously, Hun,’ I said, concerned, ‘if you’re feeling that sick, don’t swim.’

‘I’m okay.’ She paused, sighed heavily. ‘I think.’

‘Big night, then, was it?’ I probed.

‘Mmm.’ She didn’t elaborate.

We reached the changing room and started peeling off our clothes. I pulled my swimsuit on and took the opportunity to check my shockingly expensive new hairstyle in the mirror. Yep, worth every penny. My hairdresser was a saint. Even my natural mouse-brown base looked fab. How did she do it?

‘Hey, what do you think of my new highlights?’ I held out a couple of coppery locks for her inspection.

She gave them the barest of glances then, with a monotoned, ‘Great,’ walked to the door and stood there, waiting. I looked at her in consternation. Was it my hair she hated, or just life in general? Best not to ask, though, or she might tell me. I hastily removed my contact lenses, grabbed my bag and joined her.

As we entered the main pool area the Saturday noise hit us. A gaggle of shrieking kids ran by and Jo flinched. We headed over to the lane pool, standing at the shallow end to survey the swimming lanes. I counted the swimmers in my lane: five, dammit. Way too many for my liking.

We turned and acknowledged each other grimly. Me—because I’m always grim when I’m about to do exercise; and Jo—because… well, hung-over as she was, I expect everything was pretty grim for her.

She resolutely squared her shoulders and headed for the fast lane as usual. I was impressed. If I’d been feeling that bad, I’d have opted for the slow lane and a quick exit to the café.

And I guess that says more about me than it does about her.

Jo dived in. I drew my Nicole Kidman locks Do you want to date the story with a reference to a particular actress and hairstyle? What if Nicole cuts off all her hair? into a ponytail, wishing I’d remembered to bring a swimming cap. What if the chlorine frizzed my hair into an Orphan Annie halo? Or turned it green? Please, God, anything but that. I couldn’t start my new job with green hair. But I’d just bullied Jo into swimming with a whopping great hangover, so there was no way she would let me back out. Blast. Braving the shock of coldness I gingerly plopped into the water. I adjusted the goggles over my eyes then pushed off on my first lap, doing something approximating over-arm.

I kept my eyes down to avoid head-lift, taking in the random items of lost property that moved hazily below me. A silver streak here—a chain, perhaps; someone’s hair-band there; a band-aid, still rounded in the shape of its owner’s finger. Eeuew. I began to wish the goggles didn’t do such a good job of correcting my short-sightedness. Nice details.

In my peripheral vision I noticed water churning just ahead of me. I lifted my head. Hell!

Some lane-hogging idiot was powering through the water towards me. Head-on. There was nowhere to go—the lanes are barely big enough at the best of times—and… was this over-enthusiastic galumph trying to do—oh, for goodness sake… butterfly? I’m betting this is Mr. Rolex. If so, you might want to make the setup less predictable. If not, I congratulate you (though if it’s not the same guy, then I have to wonder why Mr. Rolex got the first few paragraphs of the story).

LEIGH SAYS:

We can all relate to Becs, because you’ve given her a nice set of Everywoman characteristics (she would like to be smaller, she hates to exercise, she loves her new hairdo but is afraid of turning it green in the pool) as well as some that make her stand out as very likeable (despite the fact that her friend is tiny, Becs isn’t envious or unrealistic; she’s just a good friend).

You write well, and you use details well – I can actually see the Band-Aid, for example, and feel Becs’ reaction to it.

Chick-lit rules are different from the more straightforward romance, and it’s true that many chick-lit books focus on the small events of the heroine’s life. The chick-lit heroine is generally pretty self-focused and melodramatic about her own situation – often making much of small events in her own life while tending to be oblivious to far larger problems which affect others.

The downside of that kind of storytelling is that it – and the heroine – can simply appear mundane, with nothing particular to set this character and situation apart from any other young woman. All that really happens here is that two young women meet in the morning for a swim that neither of them is looking forward to.

Unless something raises the beginning of the story well above the ordinary, the reader may not get far enough into the book to find out that the heroine is larger than life (either good or bad!) and her situation is well beyond the average, and thus is well worth the reader’s time to find out more about her.

Question for discussion: How can you introduce your heroine without using the cliché of having her sitting at the bar (or coffee shop, or table at the edge of the dance floor) discussing with her best friend everything that’s been going wrong in her life?

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

19 responses

3 02 2010
Rachelle Chase

Maggie, I agree with Leigh in that you write well. And, I like the fact that the hero has annoyed and shocked the heroine by his attempt to do a butterfly — that made me smile. It didn’t bother me that I suspected he was Mr. Rolex. Also, I can feel the friendship between these two women.

However, the fact that the whole scene pretty much revolves around their conversation and their conversation is of the everyday variety, it doesn’t move the story forward for me. And since I don’t know where the story is going or what the purpose of this scene is, I’m not compelled to turn the page.

The great part (besides your good writing ability!) is that you’ve set the scene in a non-mundane location — the pool. Now, give me some dialogue that focuses on the story and propels it forward, and I’ll happily turn the pages.

Leigh, good question. I have some thoughts but I’ll share them later. 😉

3 02 2010
3 02 2010
Christine

Maggie, I have to say, this is the first time I liked the mini crit story as much as the finalist entry. It does definitely have a chick lit feel, but you know that and are marketing as such. I am going to jump in the pool here and say I actually disagree a little bit with the previous comments. It doesn’t matter to me whether to Rolex guy is the hero. If he isn’t then I would take his presence as a medium of “showing” us our heroine’s frank sexuality. If he is, great! As for mundane, the snappy dialogue (both internal and external) make it seem far from that for me even though the action may not be gripping (which, in my experience, is often the case in chick lit). For me, that genre is less about action and more about the characters and nuances and relationships, which your first 1000 words has in spades. Few things I loved about it:

The “blundering heffalump” line! Totally relatable and a great expression of her self depracating humor. I love this girl and wish she was one of my girlfriends! She is like a more confident, less neurotic Briget Jones with a side of Stephanie Plum mixed in.

“We turned and acknowledged each other grimly. Me—because I’m always grim when I’m about to do exercise” again, love her!

“Best not to ask, though, or she might tell me.” lol, right? Sometimes you don’t want to know! She feels very authentic to me, like I could almost touch her.

Whatever happens, I hope I get the chance to read the rest because I am really enjoying it!

3 02 2010
Christine

Okay, I just reread and am going to take a gamble and wager that Mr. Rolex is not the guy in the pool. I am thinking her first interaction with the guy in the pool is going to be more. . . adversarial. Am I right, am I right?!

3 02 2010
Maggie

First of all – I’m so excited to have had the mini-critique! Jumping, jumping!!! (I know, way too many exclamation marks but that’s how I’m feeling!!!!!!!!!!)

Rachelle, Leigh and Christine – thanks so much for your comments. This is going to be such a great conversation for me because I’ve been a bit anxious about the Mr Rolex intro. I’ve been reading all these novel beginnings that just ooze action from the first line, and I’m not sure how to inject that sense of urgency immediately here. Any suggestions welcome.

OK, so Mr Rolex isn’t the butterfly guy (well done, Christine!). Mr Rolex was just a vehicle for me to introduce Becky’s change of attitude (or attempt at). In fact, both guys are incidental – except that (at the risk of ruining the story) butterfly guy eventually gets in the way so much that Becky knocks herself out on the end of the pool (again, well done, Christine!). That’s the end of my chapter 1. The hero appears when he rescues her, start of chapter 2.

Thoughts?

3 02 2010
Christine

Rachelle and Leigh would definitely know better what editors want, I am just coming from the perspective of “would I buy this for my reading pleasure” and the answer is a resounding “yes”. I agree a lot of the novel beginnings here are action packed from the beginning. I am certainly no expert, so grain of salt and all, but I read a lot, and I am not a reader that requires that type of beginning to be hooked. Quality writing with smart characters and a laugh early on will get me every time. I certainly don’t think that you want her just swimming around the pool all day chatting with her friend. That said, 1000 words is not very many and I think that if this leads up to her getting knocked out, requiring rescue etc. then that is quite a dollop of action, even if it may take 1500 words to get there instead of 1000.

4 02 2010
Maggie

OK, I’ve been thinking (and discussing with critique buddies)…

What if I turn Mr Rolex into the hero? He won’t have quite the same description, since the hero is rather more rugged than Mr Rolex… but that would get him into the scene right from the start, and from what Rachelle, Leigh and Christine have said it sounds like you all connected in some way with Mr Rolex.

After your comments, Christine, about taking 1500 words to get to the action, I went and checked the word-count because it is a worry of mine that the action section takes longer to get there than many I’ve read (though, admittedly, not so much for chick lit). Turns out that by 1100 words my heroine’s in trouble. By 1300 words she’s unconscious.

Leigh, I’m very keen to hear your thoughts on the question you posed earlier…

4 02 2010
Christine

Hi Maggie,
I felt like Mr. Rolex did exactly what you wanted him to (for me anyway), which is to give the reader a sense of Bec’s current mindset towards (and lingering appreciation of/fascination with) men. If it can work to change him into the hero then you can do that, but if you do, in my opinion I think you might want to rewrite that little section and here is why:
She connects with Rolex in a brief, light, flirty way (and he with her). I like my hero’s (and/or heroines) to have to work for it a little. If they connect and like each other off the bat, I lose that sense of almost discomfort, buildup and tension. Also, she saw him, drooled, then promptly forgot him. I would want him to have more impact than that, you know? And her on him. He gave her the same old smile he gives all the girls and kept walking.
To be honest, the pool guy set up is a more interesting one to me. For arguments sake, let’s say pool guy was the hero. The overbearing exercise nut who actually loves being there doing the butterfly (which Becs takes as a personal affront because he is probably doing it just to make slackers like her feel inferior!) and is rough around the edges and doesn’t CARE that he is taking up the whole lane. He slams into her, she gets knocked out. He is disgusted that she was in his way, what is she even doing there paddling around anyway? And she thinks he is a total jerk! But kind of hot.
Even if they can’t stand each other, they have strong feelings about it. That type of scenario is a more interesting dynamic. Anyway, just more food for thought! As I said before, I think it is all VERY well done so far, and to my mind, you don’t need to change the hero if he is going to enter the picture soon anyway.

4 02 2010
Maggie

Hmm, thanks Christine. Will ponder some more…

5 02 2010
Jessica

Very well written and I found it fun and flirty. I love the toss about between the friends and agree with Christine about rolex guy and pool guy. Write what feels right to you though. Your first 1000 was excellent.

5 02 2010
Maggie

Thanks, Jessica! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I’m thrilled the banter works for you because dialogue is something I’ve worked quite hard to make ‘natural’. I’m still thinking about the whole Rolex/pool guy issue!

5 02 2010
Phyllis Campbell

Very interesting story, Maggie. I’m glad this one was picked as the crit because as I was reading, I got caught up in the story and didn’t want it to end. And…I usually don’t like reading first-person pov. So that must mean you’re good!

~Phyllis~

6 02 2010
Maggie

Thanks for the affirmation, Phyllis 🙂 Much appreciated.

6 02 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hey, Bi50D buddy! What a hoot we’ve made the Week 4 spots at CTD, eh?
Finally made it over here – it’s been a busy few days where everything seems to happen at once. Congrats on the mini-crit, some great feedback for you on several fronts. 🙂
Like one of your previous commenters, the thing that really stood out for me was the first person POV. I’m not much of a reader of 1st POV but I found myself pulled along through this piece by the personality of your character. She was very grounded and made a strong impression on me. A definite strength to capitalise on. Well done!

6 02 2010
Maggie

Hey, Kylie! Thanks for popping in to comment. I’m glad you liked the intro to Becky. High praise coming from an anti-1st-POVer such as yourself!

6 02 2010
Tessa

Your dialogue is very realistic and it makes me wonder if you didn’t draw from some experience in your own life, possibly. I liked the way your beginning moved. It wasn’t bogged down, at all. And I agree with Leigh that in one short paragraph, we know something about her and her past. Something that has made a big impact on her.

Great job.

6 02 2010
Maggie

Hehehe doesn’t every writer draw a little something from their own life? Tessa, I can truthfully say I’ve never been involved in a pool scenario like this. But girl-to-girl banter? Definitely! All the time! 🙂 Thanks for popping in to comment, and for reassuring me that the beginning wasn’t sluggish. I’m a bit torn, now, between what Leigh and Rachelle say editors are looking for and what readers are saying. (Nothing’s simple in this game!)

8 02 2010
Reid H.

Hey Maggie! Well done on your excerpt! The dialogue is believable and I thought you did a great job in 1st person POV too, something I haven’t mastered but I love reading:) I really want to read more to see if it is Mr. Rolex in the water:)

Congrats!

9 02 2010
Maggie

Thanks so much for your affirming comments, Reid H. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Yeah, I love reading 1st person POV too – somehow it always seems to hook me in faster and better than other POV’s (which I guess is why I’m writing it that way).




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