Untitled by Brenda P.

LEIGH: First, I want to thank Brenda for generously agreeing to let her piece be critiqued and the feedback posted. It’s never easy to hear how our work can be improved, and doing so in a public forum – especially without being given any hint up front about what the critiquer is going to say — is harder yet. Thanks, Brenda.There are some good details here, some nice uses of the senses, and some fun lines that I’ll point out as I go along.

The music was blaring and the patrons that were crowded into Scotty’s, a singles bar, were all seemingly having a wonderful time. Couples were dancing, groups were laughing and talking in between sips taken from their preferred alcoholic beverages. Brooke Wescott sat at a table with two of her best friends, Marcilyn and Nicolette. They each held a mixed drink in their hands just as almost everyone else did, their laughter and conversation lively.

LEIGH: Though we get a good thumbnail picture of Scotty’s, it would be nice to be told more about what makes this bar distinct from others, and this would be a good opportunity for some additional sensory language. Is it smoky? Bright? Filled with neon glare? Just a few details, not a lot, will help us form an image of the setting.

In this first paragraph, though we know where we are and we are introduced to several characters, the point of view and perspective are vague. We seem to be observing only, as if we’re an onlooker who’s just peeked into the bar, rather than having an insight into how any particular character is affected, or what she’s thinking.

Brooke was eighteen and sported long silky blonde hair that she always complained was too thin and straight. She was dressed in a short red silk dress, which was belted at her waist with a wide black belt. Large black buttons ran down the front center of the dress from the low V-neckline. Large round black button-style earrings adorned her earlobes. Brooke and her friends had just graduated two months earlier from high school and were spending the summer just doing whatever the three of them wanted to do.

LEIGH: I really like the picture of Brooke in her red silk dress with her long blonde hair; you’ve made it very easy to see her. I did wonder about spending her summer just doing whatever she wants. Brooke would be a more compelling character if we saw her wanting something, needing something, having a goal other than just enjoying herself. Or is there a reason why she’s rewarding herself this summer?-for hard work all through school, or winning a full-ride scholarship, or beating cancer? We don’t need details right now, but just a hint that she’s not a dilettante would make her more fascinating.

Her laughter at a remark her friends had undoubtedly made drifted over to the bar where Logan Stallings sat talking to his friend, Stone Rhinehart. Logan had noticed her earlier. Their eyes had briefly met and she had broken off the contact. Realizing she had to be at least eighteen to even be in the bar, she looked younger. LEIGH: It’s a petty detail, but this sentence has a dangling modifier; clauses at the beginning of a sentence modify or describe the subject of the sentence, so technically this sentence says that Brooke herself realized she had to be eighteen.) He had watched her dance several times during the past couple of hours, but she had not invited any of the guys to sit with her and her friends.

LEIGH: We’ve now been introduced to five characters by name, which is a lot for not yet having any dialogue or any particular perspective. We’re at least nominally in Logan’s POV but we’re still not getting much more than the author telling us what’s going on.

At twenty-seven, Logan stood almost six foot two and carried his two-hundred- twenty-five pounds easily on his muscular frame, and was always in the gym working out. He didn’t work. He didn’t have to. His family in Boston were part of the upper crust with a bank account that carried at least eleven digits prior to the decimal point. They had hoped he would marry their best friends’ daughter, Shaunna. But Logan wasn’t in to LEIGH: (into) arranged marriages nor was he interested in marriage…to anyone.

LEIGH: Nice hunky hero.

Is Shaunna going to be important in this story? We’d probably be better off at this point focusing on the heroine rather than the hero’s history.

Defying his parents, Logan, at twenty-three, had walked out of the white-washed, contemporary monstrosity he had lived in all his life and left in his red Porsche without ever looking back. He had moved south to a small town, by his standards, to get away from his name and his family. Although he had left, he wasn’t a fool…he had cleared out his own personal accounts and set himself up comfortably. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, he had opted to rent a nice home where, if the town ever became boring or if someone recognized his name, he could pull up stakes and leave. He liked the freedom from the class of people he had always been around. They were too caught up in their world to know that life didn’t revolve around only operas, transatlantic flights to foreign countries, and the society pages of the local papers. He was finally able to be himself without all the airs that came with being in the jet-set.

LEIGH: How old is Logan now?

While I sympathize with his refusal to take part in an arranged marriage to ally a couple of powerful families, I’d like him better if he had either maintained a relationship with his parents or acted more grown-up when he left. He walked out on his parents — and left in his Porshe? It seems that he’s opted out of the parts of their lives that he didn’t like, taking with him everything he DID like. This makes me inclined not to respect him. Just a bit later, he seems to think he’s too good to associate with people who like opera and travel– but what is he doing with his life that makes him a better person than they are?

Hearing the blonde’s laughter again, Logan glanced back over towards her table. She was pretty. No…she was beautiful. Her tapered fingers, the nails painted the same shade of red as her dress, were wrapped around her glass. Logan answered Stone’s inquiry without really knowing what the hell he had answered to. LEIGH: This is such a nice “guy” description! A woman would have called the dress scarlet or flame, not just “red”. And answering his pal without knowing what he’d said – this is not only cute, it sounds exactly like a guy. He didn’t date very often, preferring to avoid someone finding out who he was. Women had a tendency to fall in love with his money before they did him once they knew what his bank account balances totaled.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Logan said as he slid off of the barstool. He had made up his mind to approach her. Stone watched silently as his friend neared the table.

LEIGH: Stone watched – since Logan’s walked away, he probably doesn’t know or care that his friend is watching, so this seems to be a slip into Stone’s point of view.

“Hi,” Logan said smiling down into the deepest green eyes he had ever seen. “Would you like to dance?”

He watched as she cast her eyes towards her friends before she finally stood. Taking her hand, Logan led her over to the dance floor where other couples were moving to the slow rock song that had just begun to play. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he pulled her up against his muscled length as she slid her arms up around his neck.

LEIGH: Again, a nice word picture here. I can almost feel the silk against his hands.

Logan realized she was somewhere around five foot seven and leaned over to allow her a more comfortable position without having to stretch or stand on her toes. The action also allowed him the pleasurable experience of inhaling the fresh smell of her hair and the soft fragrance of her cologne. She didn’t object to the intimate contact of their bodies as they moved slowly on the floor.

LEIGH: This is nice – he’s putting himself into a bit of discomfort to make her more comfortable. By doing this, he’s gone a long way toward redeeming himself.

“I’m Logan Stallings. Who are you?,” he asked smiling down at her as the song ended. LEIGH: (Another petty detail – the question mark is enough; you don’t need the comma as well.)

“Brooke,” she answered shortly. She never gave anyone her last name in these places.

LEIGH: We’re now in Brooke’s POV. Though it’s not a crime to switch POVs from hero to heroine and back, it’s usually better not to. Sticking to one POV per scene makes for a tighter narrative, and it preserves more suspense for the reader if she doesn’t know what everybody’s thinking.

“No last name?”

“Not tonight,” she quipped as she smiled up into the grey eyes that sparkled at her response.

LEIGH: Nice line, here, that she doesn’t have a last name tonight.

“Would you mind if I sat at your table with you? I’d like to get to know you. I’ve been watching you all night,” Logan said as he led her back towards her table while keeping one arm around her waist possessively.

LEIGH: I’m surprised that such a smooth guy doesn’t have a slicker line than this. Does he really want to sit with her friends, or does he want to get to know Brooke herself better? This is a great opportunity for the two of them to connect with some conversation and interaction – things that would lead us to understand what’s going to draw these two together and keep them apart.

“What about your friend at the bar? Don’t you think you should stay with him?”

Logan realized that she had also been watching him if she knew he had been at the bar with Stone, and smiled to himself at the knowledge.

LEIGH: Now we’re definitely back in Logan’s POV, after just a few paragraphs in Brooke’s.

“He can take care of himself,” Logan said smoothly.

“So can I,” Brooke replied as she pulled away from him. “I came in here with my friends. I expect to leave the same way.”

“I didn’t realize I had asked you to leave with me,” Logan remarked sarcastically, sounding somewhat arrogant.

LEIGH: He “sounds” arrogant, so we’re back in Brooke’s POV.

She’s jumped to conclusions here, or perhaps she was just making clear that if he wanted a pickup he shouldn’t waste time on her. Either way, his being sarcastic with her here doesn’t promise good interaction in the future. Why would she have anything more to do with him?

“Thanks for the dance,” Brooke responded curtly as she turned on her heels and walked away from him, leaving him standing alone.

LEIGH: I really like Brooke here. She may be only eighteen, and she may be curt, but she’s not going to take any flak – and I admire that in her. I also really like that she doesn’t try to explain what she meant – she just leaves him stewing in the mess he created.

Shit! Nice move, Logan. She’s the first one you ever wanted to get to know and you screwed up.

LEIGH: At this point, is he even well-enough acquainted with her to know whether he wants to get closer? He’s really made no effort to find out anything about her other than her name. But he is starting to take responsibility for his actions, which promises that there’s hope for him.

I chose this piece because it reflects a number of things which are common in the assignments I see from my students. First, there’s a tendency to tell instead of show, summarizing action and talking about the characters rather than getting inside them. Secondly, there’s some confusion initially about who the POV character is, and then we switch back and forth later rather than staying with one character. Third, there’s a lot of backstory and explanation for so early in the story, and because we spend quite a lot of time on the history, we have less opportunity to get to know Logan and Brooke right now, to see them interacting together, to find out what they have in common or what they’re going to disagree about — all things which would help pull us into the rest of the story. There’s a lot of potential in the story of a bad little rich boy who has to shape up his life to win the woman he wants. Logan’s got a lot of room to grow, and Brooke, despite her youth, seems to be a woman who can give him just the kicks he needs to do some maturing. I’d like to see more of her – you’ve hinted, with the red silk dress and the fact that she’s not working her tail off this summer to pay for college, that she may not be at all awed by his wealth, so I’m wondering if that’s going to be part of the conflict. It makes me wonder what happens next, so I’d like to see you let them have some real interaction in this first scene and see what develops.


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