Week 2 Mini-Critique Winner

Morgan L.
Contemporary Single Title
Winter Beach

Prologue

Why would anyone be riding a motorcycle on a night like this? Sara wondered as the black-clad figure on the bike passed her on the bridge separating Cape Cod from mainland Massachusetts. The windshield wipers of her red Jeep Wrangler struggled with the freezing rain that poured down. Briefly, she wondered if it was even safe to ride a motorcycle in this weather. Either the rider was crazy or he had a very good reason.

She glanced down when the cellular phone, on the passenger seat, rang. The display said Greg. Her husband was the last person she wanted to see. In fact, he was the reason she was driving through a storm, through the night, destination unknown.

* * *
“I’m telling you, Sam, it’s just indigestion. There’s no reason to be fussing like this.”

“Be still, Jack. The doctors have already said it was a heart attack. Why don’t you just be still and let them do what they have to?” Samantha scowled at the man who had been her friend for the past 35 years.

She looked at her watch. She had spoken to Jason just after she had called Carly. That had been 30 minutes earlier. She wondered what would Jack say when he saw his son for the first time since his wife’s funeral. Sam hoped she had done the right thing.

* * *

Carly reached below the bar to put down the telephone. The relief she felt after her mother’s call saying that Jack would be alright was tempered by her growing anxiety that Samantha had also called Jason. It had been years since she had seen Jason, to talk to, anyway. Of course she had seen him at his mother’s funeral, but after the service he had been so trashed that he didn’t remember, so it didn’t count.

One glance out the window and she knew that she wouldn’t be going to the club that night, even if Samantha arrived home early enough to take over tending bar.

* * *
I must be crazy, Jason thought as he revved the Harley’s engine and overtook the jeep that was the only other car on the road that night. I’m crazy to be out in this weather, and I’m even more crazy to being doing it to see him. But contrary to his reputation, Jason had a strong sense of duty and when your father was in the hospital, you showed up – just as you did when your mother was sick–just like you did when she died.

Chapter 1

Sara had always believed that when the breaking point happened, she would have had some warning.
She thought she would have felt it coming, or at least seen signs of some kind. She was wrong. It started when the phone rang on a typical Tuesday evening. She answered it, knowing that the caller would be her husband, Greg. She also knew that he would be calling to tell her that something, fill in the blank, had happened and he wouldn’t be able to make it home that night. She also knew that he was lying.

That was the moment that something changed, although Sara hadn’t seen it coming. But she did something she’d never done before. She checked up. So, when she called the airport she hadn’t been surprised to find out that none of the flights due into Albany International had been cancelled. When she was connected to her husband’s room at the Albany Marriot, she hadn’t been surprised then either.

So, she shouldn’t have been surprised when Greg did come home, late on the following day, he reeked of sex. Contrary to her past behavior, this time, she had enough. And when he crossed the room to where she sat in her rocking chair overlooking the Mohawk River Valley, knitting, to kiss her hello, she did something else that she’d never done before. She turned her face away. Her latest project, neglected on her lap, went into her knitting bag. Then she stood and reached for her laptop, her purse and her keys.

“Hey, where are you going?” Greg asked. “I just got home.”

Sara simply looked at him, stone-faced. All her tears had been cried out the night before when she went, silent as a ghost haunting her own home, through the rooms of the house she had designed, wondering what had become of her life.

“I don’t know,” she said in answer to Greg’s question. “But let me give you a piece of free advice: When the time comes that you cheat on your next wife, try to remember to wash your face before you come home.”

Her last image of Greg, who had followed her downstairs and out to the garage, was in the rearview mirror. Silhouetted against the bright garage lights, she could only imagine the look of shell shock. Feeling pretty shell shocked herself, Sara sighed. She was getting tired and it was getting late, maybe she should find someplace to spend the night.

* * *
It was an absolutely dreadful night to be on a motorcycle. Cold rain sluiced down, found the tiniest gap between helmet and collar and turned a long braid of hair into a wick that dripped water steadily down to his underwear.

An hour earlier, in honor of the first Nor’easter of the season, Jason had just decided to stay in, order Chinese food and watch a Boston Celtics game, and be warm and dry. Then the telephone rang. The caller id indicated the familiar 508 area code for Cape Cod, but he didn’t recognize the phone number.

“Hello?”

“Jason? It’s Sam.”

“Sam? What’s up?” Jason, thinking there could only be one reason the proprietress of the town inn would be calling him. “What did Jack do now?”

Leigh here:

Morgan, I read your entry when you first submitted it and found myself coming back to it several times as the week went on, which is why I thought it might be a good subject for a mini-critique.

You’re a very good writer; your technical command is good, and you set up your scenes well by giving us a context and a clear view of who the POV character is in each snippet. You’ve got a nice ensemble cast of characters, and you use sensory detail well (for instance, the cold rain sluicing down Jason’s braid – I could feel that wetness creeping).

In particular, I like Sara. I like the feistiness that made her stand up to her husband (especially that line about giving him advice for when he starts to cheat on his next wife; I just wanted to cheer when she said that). But I also like the honorable wife who had believed as long as she could but then opted to take care of herself rather than continue to be victimized. That’s a character I can not only sympathize with but admire – much more than if she’d yelled at Greg or cried or played the victim. I also like the way you’ve pictured Sara; even though she’s just left her husband, we know that at some level she has separated herself from him long before this, as she came to terms with his lies and betrayal – so we’re able to believe that when she meets someone else, it’s not just going to be a rebound relationship but a real love story.

Part of the reason I was so fascinated by this beginning is the prologue. You’ve chosen a very interesting technique for a prologue – using short snippets to establish the main threads of the story. One thing working against the success of the prologue, however, is the sheer number of characters who are introduced all at once, without any distinction about who the main ones are going to be. Sara, Greg, Sam, Samantha (though those last two are the same person, using two names for her in such a short span of time is almost like introducing us to two different characters), Jack, Jason, Carly… Wow, I’m in overload, and that’s just on the first page. It’s hard for me to keep everybody straight because I don’t have any real idea yet which of these characters are crucial to the story and which ones are secondary. And because I haven’t gotten involved with any one of them yet – and because I’ve met four POV characters in just the first page – I had to read this several times to get them all straight.

Since this is single-title, you do have more leeway than if you were writing a more typical romance. For one thing, you can have several POV characters in the book; you’re not limited to just hero and heroine as in most short romances. However, though the technique you’ve chosen is an interesting one, it might be more effective for your story if you were to stick to one of the story threads and establish reader sympathy and identification with one POV character before branching out into the others.

Once we’re past the rapid-fire pace of the prologue, unfortunately, the story slows down. Though I enjoyed getting to know Sara, there’s sadly nothing much really new about her situation, nor Jason’s, and so I wonder what is going to be unusual enough about this couple – betrayed wife with cheating husband, disenfranchised son with sick dad – which will be exciting enough to make me keep turning pages all the way through a single title.

After all the POV switches in the prologue, I was just settling into getting to know Sara in Chapter One, when suddenly I was jerked away from her again and into Jason’s head and his POV. In just about four manuscript pages, we have six points of view (four different ones, with two repeats). That’s a lot, and such rapid fire POV switching takes a toll on the reader. While you might pull it off in the prologue to establish your storylines, continuing the technique in Chapter One is disorienting to the reader.

The other thing that slowed down the pace of the story after the prologue was a lot of repetition. Factors you’ve already established in the prologue are explained again – for instance, Sara having just left her husband and Jason riding the motorcycle even though the storm makes it unsafe. Though the second telling is fuller, with more detail, it is still a second telling, and the effect on the reader is to make her say, “Wait a minute, I already knew it was bad weather – why are you telling me again?” or “Yep, I got that she’d left her husband…” Without a strong emotional connection to any one character at this point, it’s harder for the reader to see why she should need to hear it again.

There’s also some time confusion which arises because of the repetition. During the prologue when we’re in Jason’s head, he already knows about his father’s heart attack – that’s why he’s on the bike in the storm – but when we go back to Jason’s head in Chapter One, he’s just hearing about it. When we’re in Sara’s head in the prologue, she’s already in her car, but then Chapter One starts with her finding out about her husband’s betrayal, and we relive the intervening time. Ending her scene with “maybe she should find someplace to spend the night” is a fairly weak place to leave the reader. (At that moment, we know Sara’s okay, she’s away from Greg, and she’s soon going to be tucked into a nice hotel room – so we don’t have to worry about her for a while. Even if you have something awful planned for her right down the road, the reader has no sense of danger or tension at this moment, so there’s not much urgency to read on.)

In short, though this is well-written, what’s happened is that a technique you employed to speed up the story – the rapid-fire switches of POV – actually ends up by slowing the pace instead.

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5 responses

25 09 2007
Week 2 Winners Announced « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] 25 09 2007 Welcome back to the Chase the Dream contest. Our second finalist and second mini-critique have been posted, and it was truly a wide field to choose from — selecting the winner came […]

26 09 2007
Morgan

Thank you so much for your critique. I totally agree with your assessment of the first chapter. My crit group came up with the same thing, which is why I spent most of today rewriting.

I appreciate the feedback. Again, thanks.

27 09 2007
Melissa

Sorry, can’t see some of the text to make comment 😦 Looked an interesting read.

27 09 2007
leighmichaels

I think I’ve got the problems fixed with the display now (Melissa, thank you for pointing out that not all the text was visible; I’d missed that). Web page design isn’t my strong point. 😦

Best,
Leigh

5 10 2007
Melissa

Hi Morgan, had to come back to this one. 🙂
I have to admit I was confused by the head hopping prologue – but really loved the beginning of your chapter one where you focus on the heroine and her decision to finally leave the man she’s stuck by. My personal preference would’ve been to see that scene played out in present time, not told about it in past tense. To me it seemed a turning point, and a good hook to start with?
Mel
ps- loved the dripping wick of hair.




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