Looking 4 Love by Amanda B.

LEIGH: Thanks to Amanda B. this week for sharing her work. I hope that the feedback will be helpful to everyone.

“Darling,” Mrs. Gibson said, adjusting the bodice of the gown to get it to lie flat, “I told you that you should have gotten one with sleeves, or at least spaghetti straps. You don’t have enough of a bust to hold up a strapless wedding gown.”

LEIGH: With just two simple, fairly short lines of dialogue, you’ve given us a nutshell portrait of a character we already know we’re going to hate. That’s a feat to be proud of, and it’s a good example of showing (letting Mrs. Gibson convict herself with her own words) rather than telling. No amount of description such as “Fairleigh’s mother had always criticized her” could possibly give us as devastating a picture of this woman as she has by simply opening her mouth. Good job.

“Her breasts are firm, Mrs. Gibson,” Mai-Ling said.

Fairleigh sighed. Leave it to Mom to criticize my breasts while a small Chinese woman gropes them. She shifted her feet on the fitting room’s dais, only to have Mai-Ling slap her on the rump.

LEIGH: You may have had this formatted with italics to mark the direct thought where we get the exact words Fairleigh’s thinking, and lost the formatting in the transfer — but just in case, I’ve marked this and other examples. In the manuscript, direct thought should be set apart with either italics or underlining, to make it stand out from the narrative.

“Be still.”

LEIGH: And just another couple of sentences, and we know we’re going to sympathize with Fairleigh; hinting at having a sense of humor helps here, as does the almost playful way that Mai-Ling scolds Fairleigh, which says Fairleigh’s not a haughty young woman who’s in the habit of putting Mai-Ling in her place.

“Listen to Mai-Ling, dear,” Mother added, then with a “tsk tsk,” she shook her perfectly highlighted, hair-sprayed helmet. “Are you sure you should have chosen white? Ivory would have been much more flattering with your skin tone, especially in December, don’t you think, Mai-Ling?”

Instead of answering, the normally chatty seamstress stuck a pin between her lips.

Wise woman.

While each waited for the other to speak, Fairleigh focused on the crystal chandelier dangling a few feet over her head. Ever since she’d arrived in Atlanta four hours earlier, her mother had been barraging her with criticisms.

Fairleigh, who is doing you LEIGH: [your] hair? Nigel will have to fix your highlights before your bridal portraits.

Darling, you look like a streetwalker in that outfit. Now take off those boots and wear something more ladylike.

A pesto chicken sandwich will just add pounds. You’ll have the chicken Caesar salad instead.

What had her mother been thinking? Caesar dressing was much more fattening than pesto.

Fairleigh bit back her scream. She should have said something. She should have told her mother that she was a grown woman and could order anything she wanted. But no. Like always, she allowed her mother to rule the roost.

Except with the wedding dress.

If she’d listened to her mother, she’d be wearing some poofy, tulle-and-lace, beaded horror that looked like it could have graced the top of an 80s wedding cake. Despite having exquisite taste in designer suits, her mother had hideous taste in formal wear.

Fairleigh slowly grinned. Maybe her mother didn’t always get her way. After all, if she had listened to her, she would’ve gone to Atlanta’s finest law school, rather than moving to the nation’s capitol. And if she had listened to her, she wouldn’t even be marrying Justin.

LEIGH: If she had listened to her – the pronouns here get a little confused; it might be preferable to say “if she’d listened to her mother, Fairleigh would have gone …” etc.

Mai-Ling smoothed the fitted waistline. “Mister Justin will like. Yummy.” Mother uttered some heinous grunt.

LEIGH: Since this refers to two separate characters, it should be two paragraphs – one for Mai-Ling, one for Mother.

Fairleigh rolled her eyes. “Mother, could you at least pretend to like your future son-in-law?”

A deep line creased her mother’s forehead. “Darling, you are eligible for membership in both the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the Confederacy. Justin’s mother wasn’t even in Junior League.” She smoothed an imaginary wrinkle in her immaculate mauve Chanel suit. “You know, it’s not too late to have this gown embellished. Don’t you think it’s too–” she sneered “–plain?”

LEIGH: You mean Ma’s not also in the Mayflower Society? First Families of Virginia? Poor lady; it must be breaking her heart to miss out on those…

Okay, I’ll be serious. These are terrific examples and they really make us hate the woman more and more. But it’s starting to feel like too much – too much nastiness, too much emphasis on the difficulty between Fairleigh and her mother, too much contrast between the “perfect lady” mom and the mom with no taste. Something you might think about is giving the reader some reason why Fairleigh’s mother is so critical of her. Is it just that she hates the future son-in-law? Or is there something else going on here to cause this jealousy, angst, and hyper-critical attitude?

Fairleigh bit back a sarcastic comment. She loved her wedding dress and especially how she looked in it. A gorgeous, silk satin, strapless A-line with just a touch of embroidery under the bust at the slight empire waist, it was very understated, but she felt like a princess in it.

LEIGH: I like that Fairleigh’s doing her best to keep her temper and not to give her mother the dressing-down she deserves. But I’m wondering a bit – if this is Mom’s habitual behavior, how much of it will Fairleigh put up with before she becomes her own woman?

Her mother turned to Mai-Ling. “Could you have some beading and sparkles added by tomorrow at two? Her portraits are at three in Decatur.”

“Mom! I like the dress just how it is,” Fairleigh snapped before the seamstress could answer.

“I know, sweetheart, but don’t you think it’s a little simple?”

“I like simple,” Fairleigh drawled with a smile, despite clenching her fists. Kill ’em with kindness, the Southern Belle way.

Her mother sat down on an overstuffed plush chair near the mirror and let out a long sigh. “Well, I suppose you’re right. You wouldn’t want to wear too fancy of a dress, with what his mother might be wearing.”

Lord, that woman has gone too far this time. “Mom, Susan picked out a lovely gown, so don’t worry. And I happen to like simple styles on me.” She spoke with her jaw clenched, ready to scream at a moment’s notice but not wanting to draw stares in the exclusive boutique.

Mother pursed her lips. “I really wish you wouldn’t call her Susan, darling. Your father and I brought you up better than that. Please have some manners. Just because she lets you call her by her first name doesn’t mean you should.”

LEIGH: You’ve got great illustrations of a really impossible mother, and they’re all striking and different. Still, how much will the reader take in before she starts to skip over Mom’s griping in the hope of finding out what the conflict in the story is going to be?

Fairleigh’s mouth dropped open. She was twenty-four years old. What was she supposed to call her future mother-in-law? Mrs. Williams? Just a little too formal. Even her prim-and-proper mother should be able to recognize that. Her mother probably did recognize that and was just trying to be difficult. If she’d called her Mrs. Williams, her mother would criticize her for being too formal. I just can’t win.

“You really should have gotten something with sleeves,” her mother droned on as she took an emery board from her purse and began shaping her nails. “Your wedding is on New Year’s Eve. It will be cold. And you wouldn’t have to worry about not having the bust to hold up a strapless dress.”

Back to the “Flat Fairleigh” thing again. She wasn’t as well endowed as Jenna Jamison, but she wasn’t totally flat either. She was a B-cup. Sure she’d love to be a C, but short of silicone or saline, what could she do?

LEIGH: Who is Jenna Jamison and is there a reason we should care at this point? She seems to come out of left field; why? Is Fairleigh jealous of her? Has Mom compared them before? A hint of why this is brought up would help a great deal here.

Mai-Ling made an adjustment on the bodice and stepped back to admire her efforts. “Mrs. Gibson, she just fine. Any woman wear strapless. Just go Victoria’s Secret,” she said, smiling. “Now Miss Fairleigh, take off dress. I make changes.”

LEIGH: Mai-Ling sounds different all of a sudden. Though she hasn’t had a lot to say, her first speech seemed to be perfectly good English. Now she’s speaking pidgin. If there’s a reason for that (if, for instance, retreating into dialect is her way of putting Mama in her place) perhaps the reader would benefit from knowing that. If you’ve intentionally pictured her as semi-literate, you might want to think about the cultural overtones of doing that. Especially if Mai-Ling is a character who appears only in passing, is it worth painting such a stereotyped picture of an uneducated Chinese? It seems you could make the same points by letting Mai-Ling speak normal English.

Fairleigh stepped into the changing area, lifted the dress carefully over her head, and handed it over the railing to the petite seamstress. She took her time changing back into her “streetwalker outfit,” though. She relished the few extra minutes without her mother’s shrill commands. Did she really have to go back out there?

She knew she did.

LEIGH: Why? Yes, it’s her wedding and every bride wants her mother to be happy for her and involved in her big day, but why is Fairleigh sitting still for being treated like this? If she continues along this path for long, she may lose reader sympathy and patience.More importantly, I think, we’ve gotten so focused on the power struggle between Fairleigh and her mother that we haven’t got any sort of hint of what the conflict in the book is going to be. We’re only a thousand words into the story, which means of course we don’t have to have a full picture painted by this point. But so far everything in Fairleigh’s life (apart from her mother) seems to be going just great. She’s got a terrific life in the capitol (far away from Mom!); she’s marrying a wonderful guy; his mother seems to love her and welcome her, she’s got a dynamite wedding dress. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt in Fairleigh’s mind about the wedding or the marriage or the future family. So… what’s going to keep us turning pages? Why doesn’t she kick her mother in the kneecap, elope in her wonderful dress, and live happily ever after six states away from Mom?Something that I often see in student work is heroes and heroines who have loads of trouble, but no tension between the two of them. He’s angry at his dad, she’s under pressure from her boss, he’s got an ex causing trouble, she’s short of cash. But unless there’s a problem which causes tension between the hero and heroine, it’s hard to make the story gripping for the reader. Conflict is the difficulty between the hero and the heroine which threatens to keep them from getting together. What is the conflict in this story? What keeps Fairleigh and Justin at odds with each other and threatens to prevent them from reaching a happy ending?

Having trouble getting through the wedding because Mom’s a witch isn’t conflict. But if Fairleigh’s not sure she’s marrying the right guy, or if by the end of the first chapter she finds Justin in bed with her mother and she has to decide who to believe – those things would offer potential for conflict development and could lead to a book that the reader simply can’t put down. The key is to create trouble between hero and heroine, a problem that threatens to keep them from ever reaching a happy ending.

Fairleigh is an interesting heroine, and her mother is a great secondary character who can add depth and even comic relief to the conflict between Fairleigh and her hero, but too much of Mom’s nagging will drag the story down and slow the pace. I’d like to see you very quickly get into the real conflict, the situation which will cause tension between your hero and heroine.


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