Desperately Seeking Anyone! by Samantha H.

LEIGH: My thanks to Samantha H. for sharing her entry with everyone. I hope that all of you will find the mini-critique helpful!

Slamming the door shut behind her Sarah dumped her bag on the floor and ran to her laptop. Excitedly she pushed the on button and waited, drumming her fingers on the desk impatiently while the computer hummed and whirred into action. ‘Damn this computer is so slow, come on, come on!’ After what seemed like an eternity the screen beeped into life. ‘Finally! Right now let’s see how many messages I’ve got.’ Clicking on her inbox she took a deep breath, here goes.

You have five new messages. Sarah scrolled down them, 5 top diet tips, penis enlargement tablets, today’s horoscope, a joke from Tess and how to invest in the stock market. ‘What!!! There’s nothing, not even one little email, oh my god, what’s wrong with me?’

*****

LEIGH: Oh, the pain of expecting something wonderful in the email only to find spam – it’s an experience that every one of us can relate to, and the effect is that we immediately sympathize with Sarah, and we’re also intrigued – what is she waiting for that’s so crucial?

However, Sarah sounds very young – not chick-lit young but almost young-adult young. Slamming the door (of her bedroom?), dumping her bag (a backpack full of school books?), and her impatience with the computer’s boot-up time all make her seem more like a teenager than a young woman with a job. If you want your reader to think of her as a little older, it would be good to give more of a picture of Sarah so we can see what you’re seeing. Shutting the door of her apartment and setting down her briefcase would show us an entirely different person.

Pulling back the shower curtain Tess grabbed a towel and started briskly rubbing herself dry. ‘God I know these cold showers are supposed to be good for the skin and all that but bloody hell’ shivering she pulled on her dressing gown. Opening the bathroom door she heard the phone ringing and ran into her bedroom to answer it. ‘Hello?’

‘Hi Tess’ Sarah sounded down in the dumps.

‘What’s up? Tess picked at a piece of dead skin on the bottom of her foot.

‘Same old, hate my job, no man.’

Tess’s eyes rolled to the ceiling, she loved Sarah but was fed up with her constantly going on about needing a man as if it would make her life complete. Tess loved being single, to her having a boyfriend felt like being back at home. Where you going? Who are you going with? What time will you be back? And worse than that was actually having to get permission to go out in the first place. Do you mind if I go out with the girls on Friday? Not that anyone she went out with would actually say no cause LEIGH: [because] that would be the end of that relationship but it was the having to ask, even if it was just good manners, no she couldn’t be doing with that, she enjoyed shopping when she wanted to shop, eating when she wanted to eat and basically just doing what she wanted when she wanted to, or not as the case may be, the only thing she missed about having a man was sex. LEIGH: Whew. That’s an extraordinarily long and complicated and run-on sentence. Tess had never known Sarah to act so desperate before, it was all that bloody Michael’s fault. The time had come to sort her best friend out!

*****

LEIGH: I thought from the first brief scene that Sarah was the heroine, but now I’m confused. Just a few paragraphs into the story, we have our second POV character, and in some ways Tess is more sympathetic and appealing than Sarah is. I think it’s because she seems more mature and she has more dimensions than Sarah seems to. My first reaction is that Tess will be more interesting than Sarah, because she has more interests, more self-awareness, and more assertiveness. And she’s concerned about her friend, wanting to fix Sarah – which is a trait that may cause her trouble in the long run, but which intrigues the reader in the meantime.

If Tess is the main character, then it would be better and less confusing to start out the story with a longer scene in her POV rather than the short one in Sarah’s. If Tess is a secondary character, then giving her a POV so soon after the start of the story is very risky. It’s always dangerous to give too much attention to secondary characters because they tend to take over stories. Even if we need to give a secondary character a POV (which is pretty rare), it’s best to get the main characters and main story solidly established first.

Sarah sat at her desk and looked around her, Melanie had a boyfriend, Fiona was engaged and Nicola was married and she was only 24! It was like she didn’t take care of herself, her hair was cut in the latest style and coloured a natural shade of blonde, although if anyone ever got to go downstairs on her they would realise she wasn’t actually blonde at all. LEIGH: Okay, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know Sarah well enough yet to want to contemplate someone giving her oral sex. Her nails were nicely manicured and she always took care with her appearance, not that she spent a fortune on clothes but they were always the latest style and at 5’7 she was a slim size 12 so why on earth couldn’t she find a man!

LEIGH: Sarah’s single-minded focus on the physical aspects of attraction makes her seem very young and shallow.

Tess on the other hand didn’t really bother with make-up and was always in jeans, her dark hair was short and unruly, yet whenever they went out she was the one that got all the attention. Sarah didn’t get it, Tess didn’t even want a man in her life. The ring of her phone bought her back from her thoughts ‘Hello?’

‘Hi Sarah, it’s me.’

‘Hi Tess, what’s up?’

‘How do you fancy a long weekend away?’

‘Where to?’

‘New York, New York, so good they named it twice! I’ve just been on the net and found a really good deal.’ Tess sounded excited.

‘When is it?’ Sarah was interested.

‘Next Thursday, flight leaves at half six in the evening, arrives at half nine New York time. It’s a cute little hotel, and it says it’s walking distance from Bloomingdales!’

LEIGH: Ooh, I do love the British way of saying things – like half six and half nine. Those simple phrases alone go a long way toward characterizing these two girls, telling us many important things about them.

‘Really! Oh what the hell, go ahead and book it.’ Tess’s enthusiasm was catching and Sarah was long overdue a break.

LEIGH: What kind of a job does Sarah have (and Tess, for that matter) that a long weekend doesn’t require checking with a boss for time off? Again, a few more details here would help us know the characters much better and be more involved with their lives.

‘Ok, it’s a date, catch ya later.’ Tess hung up.

Sarah went home from work in a good mood humming and singing Madonna’s ‘holiday’ as she walked up the steps to her flat. She kicked off her shoes, pulled a half empty bottle of wine out of the fridge and poured herself a large glass as she logged on. You have four new messages.

LEIGH: I like Sarah much better here. A little less desperation goes a long way toward making her more appealing as a heroine.

She clicked on to the first message, ‘Hi my name’s David, I saw your profile and I really liked it.’

Oh my god!! Sarah clicked on to his profile, 32, good, non-smoker, good, earning bracket £30-40k, even better and not bad looking, perfect!

LEIGH: All right, now I know what the big deal was in the first scene – waiting to hear from an on-line profile. I sympathize with the anxiety now, if not with the naivete. David says he’s 32 and a non-smoker; does that make it so? And Sarah’s almost-immediate focus on how much he earns makes her sound shallow. Is this how you want the reader to see her?

*****

Thursday night arrived along with Tess in a taxi to take them to Heathrow. LEIGH: Nice sentence, here. Crisp and to the point, giving us an easy-to-see image. Sarah jumped in the back with Tess while the driver put her suitcase in the boot of his car.

‘God, I am so looking forward to this!’ Sarah pulled her sunglasses out of her bag.

‘Me too, I’ve heard the Americans love the English, I wonder if there’s loads of single men?’

‘Tess! I thought we were going to shop, shop, sight see and shop!’ Sarah turned and looked at Tess.

‘Oh don’t worry we are, but what’s a holiday without a little romance?’ Tess grinned.

LEIGH: Wait a minute. I thought Tess was the one who wasn’t interested in romance. Or is this a part of her plot to distract Sarah from Michael, the bad ex-boyfriend?

‘What about David?’ Sarah asked.

‘What about him, all you’ve done it LEIGH: [is] chatted a few times and arranged one date, you might not even like him.’

LEIGH: Hold everything. Sarah’s actually chatted with David? On line or on the phone? They’ve arranged a date? Why don’t I – the reader – know this before now? Why haven’t I seen it happening? If finding a guy is so important to Sarah, and David sounds so perfect, why haven’t I been allowed to eavesdrop on their conversations and find out for myself what’s going on? Even if he turns out not to be the hero, he’s an important step toward finding the hero – so why haven’t I been allowed to see this crucial part of the story as it unfolds?

Being kept at a distance from this seemingly-important relationship, and finding out about it only through the Sarah/Tess conversation, keeps me from getting involved with the characters. Rather than feeling that I’m right there, watching and listening and rooting for Sarah, I’m reminded that this is a book, and that in turn reminds me that I have a life and other things I need to be doing right now. Once I feel uninvolved enough to put down Sarah’s story, I may not pick it up again.

Whenever possible, give preference to scenes that involve both the hero and heroine, rather than scenes where one main character talks about the other one to someone else.

‘True, how long till we get there, I’m dying for a glass of wine.’ Sarah looked at her watch.

*****

Safely through departures the girls headed to the nearest bar, Tess ordered two large vodka and oranges.

‘What’s with the vodka and orange?’ asked Sarah.

‘It’s time for a change,’ Tess replied as she raised her glass. ‘Cheers!’

LEIGH: At this point, I’m wondering what the story is going to be. Is it Sarah and Tess take Manhattan by storm? Is it Sarah meets David, the love of her life?If the story is about Sarah and David, then I’m wondering why we’re taking the side trip to New York, and I’m really wondering why we didn’t see the conversations between them. If the story is about New York, I’m wondering why we didn’t start with the girls arriving there, rather than with all the getting-ready.One Harlequin/Silhouette editor has been quoted as saying that when she reads an unsolicited manuscript she can nearly always lop off the first chapter, because the first section the author writes is typically background and backstory and explanation. So it’s always a good idea to ask, Where does the story really start? In this case, if it’s Sarah and David’s story, then the starting point you’ve chosen is good, but we need more focus on the main characters. If it’s the story of Sarah or Tess and whoever they meet in New York, then it might be better to start with the girls arriving in the city, or getting out of the cab at their hotel, or encountering the man/men who are going to change the rest of their lives.You’ve got a classic tale here of a young woman who’s been wounded by love and her good friend who wants to heal her and get her back on track. Sarah and Tess have lots of potential, and their obviously-deep friendship offers a nice extra dimension (often in chick-lit, it seems the heroine has lots of acquaintances but few friends). Making clear which story you’re writing would help your reader develop sympathy and attachment to all the characters as you add more depth to their lives.




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