Week 1 Mini-Critique

TITLE: Pearls of Wisdom
AUTHOR: Nancy N.
CATEGORY: Mainstream with Romantic Elements

The best way to live your life is in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan shudders and says, ‘Oh Shit, she’s awake!’” Wonderful line – already, I like the woman who wakes up with this attitude. Jill Clemmons didn’t know if her grandmother, Pearl, made that up or borrowed it from some other Grace-filled person, but she tried to start each morning with it in mind. Today, that was going to be a piece of cake.

“Never underestimate the power of a woman with a plan,” Jill repeated her old mantra, twisting out from under the pile of white sheets and matelasse coverlet. She gave in to a cat-like stretch across the king size bed. She hit the bedside rug with both feet to greet the morning, what was left of it anyway. Okay, she’s up – but has this long paragraph accomplished anything, besides the everyday job of getting out of bed?

Still high on the success of the fundraiser last night she headed straight for the stairs, her hands tapping out a rhythm on the banister between footsteps all the way to the ground floor. Pearl would be proud of her. Heck, she was proud of herself. She couldn’t wipe the grin off of her face thinking about how everything had gone off without a hitch. I’m glad she had a good event last night… but at the moment I’m not sure why I need to be involved with this woman, or why I should want to keep reading.

Hair rumpled and still in her pajamas she made a quick call to her office from the kitchen phone as she poured a cup of coffee. As she got the latest updates from Eddie she spotted a message by the phone.

After more good news about last night, even the message that had been sitting there for only God knows how long wouldn’t tick her off today. Nice hint that this message means trouble. She tried the number with no luck, And a nice hint that this is going to be really, really important. then went to track down Bob.

She peered into the den where he often worked from home. Leaning against the jamb she watched him shuffle through papers that sprawled the length of his desk.

“There’s my girl. Good morning,” Bob said pushing back from the antique desk. “I hope you dusted off one of those old tiaras of yours. After last night, I’m officially crowning you the Fundraising Queen.”

Would he ever tire of teasing her about her life in Adams Grove? Those crowns had earned some pretty nice scholarships over the years. “I’ll forgive you for that smart remark this morning.”

“Hey, that was a compliment. I’ve hosted dozens of these fundraisers before, and I couldn’t have pulled off what you did last night.” I’m glad he appreciates her work…

She crossed the room and sank into one of the leather chairs across from his desk. “Thanks. I’m thrilled. Everything went according to plan. I still can’t believe it.” And she’s proud of herself, which is nice. In fact, everybody seems to be delighted. Where’s the problem?

“Believe it. You were perfection.”

“Thank goodness for the floor length gown, because I could feel my knee caps bopping up and down when I first took the podium. I don’t even remember what all I said.”

“It was from the heart and everyone loved it,” said Bob. “You looked so relaxed in front of that crowd, too. No one would believe you came from a town with a population smaller than our area code.” Nice line!

“Adams Grove isn’t that small,” she shook a finger at him playfully. “Besides, I had a great team of volunteers to help. That made all the difference. Gosh, I can’t believe it’s been a year. In fact, almost a year to the day isn’t it?”

He glanced at the calendar on the wall to his left. “A year tomorrow.”

Time had flown by in a flurry of project plans, meetings and business trips since the day she joined Bob in Savannah. She’d never planned to leave Adams Grove, but when Bob Case offered her the chance to run the fundraising for the Case Foundation, even though she had zero experience, she’d jumped at the chance at the dream job.

The timing was perfect, too. She was ready for a change of scenery. Desperate for it, in fact, and that was a whole other story. So, she’d packed her pickup truck to the hilt with Piggly Wiggly bags full of her belongings and headed south on I-95 to start a new life and the career of her dreams. This is a great visual. The heroine who packs up her life in Piggly Wiggly bags is a whole different person from one who packs a stack of matched luggage. It’s a terrific characterization, and you’ve done it in a nutshell.

“You know, baby doll, you were the most beautiful woman there last night.” Bob raised a folded copy of the daily newspaper and passed it her way.  “Here’s the proof.”

She took the newspaper and scanned the article. “Oh my goodness, how neat is that?” Her own image smiled back at her holding a giant cardboard donation check from the CEO of Casper Timber Company on the front of the Savannah Morning News. Who knew there was that kind of money in trees? She’d gotten the idea after researching other charitable organizations and reading that one of the largest contributors to the Children’s Miracle Network was a logging company. The internet research she’d done the first thirty days of putting together her plan had all paid off big. Does all this matter? Unless the timber company CEO is the hero, or the villain, it doesn’t seem to advance the plot.

“You’re not a bad lookin’ escort either.” She looked short standing next to all six foot something of his blonde handsome self. Okay, we know Bob’s cute, and Jill’s cute. Is Bob the hero?

“You can’t begin to know how much this means to me — and the Foundation of course. When you set that goal last year, I thought you were nuts. I’d have been thrilled if you’d just matched last year’s bottom line.”

“Nuts? Hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. Cute line! If I was going to do it, I figured I’d aim for the stars.”

“Yeah, but how often do people actually catch them in their hot little hands? Speaking of stars, I can’t believe how many gifts of time you were able to get from the athletes. You didn’t even tell me about that. NFL, NBA, even National Pro Rodeo, hell I didn’t even know the rodeo had champions.” If this is an important section of the story, it would be better to show it – show Jill approaching stars, so we see it happening — rather than telling us about it.

“I wanted to surprise you.”

“You did. We usually focus on cash donations.”

“I know. What a missed opportunity! Those athletes are stars, you know. If they don’t motivate the kids to come out and take part, I don’t know what will. I can’t believe ya’ll hadn’t thought of it before.”


Nancy, I really like your writing style; it’s clear and precise, and we can see exactly what’s going on. I also like Jill, and it’s heartwarming to see a small-town girl who could pack up her whole life in a few Piggly Wiggly bags end up in such a position of respect and power. You’ve done a nice job with showing Jill, where she came from, and where she’s going – and you’ve done it with some really great lines and visuals, so we immediately feel that we know her.

Everything seems to be going well for Jill. She’s a great success; her boss appreciates her; she’s good at her job; she’s respected in the community; she’s pretty; she’s dynamic; she’s got a great future. In fact, things seem darn near perfect – and Jill seems perfect, too. What I’m not seeing is why she’s starring in a book. I’m not getting any reason to be worried about her. The one hint of trouble on the horizon – the message she didn’t get – doesn’t come across as important enough yet to make me need to know what happens. Since you haven’t showed Jill being worried about that message, I’m not particularly worried yet either.

My big question is why you’ve started the story at this point. If the event the previous evening was important in establishing Jill’s conflict and her upcoming problems, it would be better to see it happening rather than being told about it after the fact. If it’s not a crucial part of her conflict, then it would be better to start telling the story nearer the point where the conflict begins – where she meets the hero, perhaps, or where we learn about the problem which is going to threaten to ruin Jill’s life.

You write very well, and you’ve got a likeable heroine. Let us see why her story is so crucial we can’t put the book down.


17 responses

14 01 2009

I think you did very well at bringing your character Jill to life with a career and personality. Your dialogue is also well done. But I am questioning, what is the story about?

14 01 2009
Week 1 Finalist & Mini-Critique Winner Selected « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

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14 01 2009
Rachelle Chase

Nancy, I pretty much agree with everything Leigh said. You’ve created warm, likeable, characters who obviously like and respect each other. And you are a skilled writer who uses wonderful phrases to give insight into your characters.

So, the main concerns I have are with the purpose of the scene. Like Jan, I’m questioning what this story is about. There’s great dialogue that flows nicely between the characters. But there’s no real sense of action to me. I don’t know why they are talking about the things they’re talking about. I don’t know where their dialogue and interaction is supposed to take me, take the story. It feels like a-day-in-the-life moment, but it’s not moving the story forward.

You’ve got the hard part down — good writing — now, you just need to give the scene purpose/movement, with a bit of conflict. And then I’ll want to read more.

14 01 2009
Nancy Naigle

How exciting to win the mini-critique!!!
This is very helpful. Soooo, I’ve been accused in the past of moving at the pace of a southern humid day. You know the kind that feels like you’ve just walked into a wet sweater?!? It looks like I may have done it again. I promise you Jill’s in for a bad day and trip to follow…. but I guess I haven’t enticed you or made you love her enough to come along for the ride and see what for.

This is awesome —- keep those comments coming! I’ll gobble ’em up. I don’t mind killing my little paragraphical darlings *yes I know I made that word up, but it sounds cool doesn’t it* to get things moving and ya’ll interested in PEARLS OF WISDOM.

*Thanks for making my day a lucky one!

14 01 2009
Nancy Naigle


15 01 2009
Nancy Dorband

I liked it. I was interested enough in the characters and the dialogue was bright enought to keep me reading. There is enough of a hint for me that something is about to happen (lost message). I think that you cannot tell the whole story in 1,000 words (unless your genre is flash fiction) and if you do then what are the other 299 pages about? The writing is tight and entertaining. Jill is a darling, energetic and has an angst I can appreciate.

15 01 2009
Rachelle Chase

Nancy N, I’m glad you found the comments helpful. And I don’t want to KILL your ‘paragraphical darlings’ (yes, that’s cute! 🙂 ). You are a good writer with warm characters with potential for great things – I just want you to tweak your darlings. 😀

Nancy D, thanks for stopping by!

15 01 2009
Nancy Naigle

Whatever it takes to hone my craft and get published. I’ll tweak, pinch, prod and strangle as needed…words that is!

The coaching is very much appreciated.

17 01 2009
William C

Until recently, I would never have considered showing my writing to anyone. I believe the phrase is; opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and most of them stink. I feared the stench. Now I see a little constructive criticism can go a long way.

I liked the section as a whole, but I understand that a reader in a bookstore perusing the first few pages may not see why this is a must have. The synopsis on the back could help. 1000 words are limiting, but we don’t want Rachel and Leigh to go blind reading through all the submissions. I don’t know how agents/publishers/editors do it.

I applaud your courage in putting your work out there. I will follow your lead in that respect.

17 01 2009
Rachelle Chase

William, I’m really honored that our contest helped you see the benefit of constructive criticism. I’m also happy to hear it has given you incentive to get your work out!

Your comments also brought to mind a few thoughts … when I first started writing, I was leery of the opinion of others — and afraid of being crushed if someone hated my work. Sure, I remember that contest entry feedback that slammed my work and the first scathing editor rejection letter that had me not writing for 3 weeks. But, criticism is an unavoidable fact of the writing life – before being published, we get it from agents, editors, and peers. After publication, we get it from those same folks, plus reviewers and readers.

The upside of all this criticism is: The more I get, the more I’m able to view it objectively. I look at the ‘bad’ for nuggets of truth – for things that resonate with me and can improve my writing – and let the rest roll off of me. And I cherish the good, using it to motivate me through the tough writing periods.

But, most importantly, I’ve learned not to take the criticism personally. The criticism is directed at my WRITING, not me, the person. Perhaps that sounds cliche, but after several years, I really feel it. I just wrote a blog post about personal rejection, using a recent date as an example – now, that one stings much more!

Lastly, your statement, “…but I understand that a reader in a bookstore perusing the first few pages may not see why this is a must have” emphasizes why those first few pages are so important. Your work is competing with the work of thousands (millions?) of others. Reading your work is competing with time the reader could spend doing something else or reading someone else’s book. So, it’s imperative to capture the reader’s attention from the opening sentence and/or paragraph — and never let go.

So, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts – and sparking such an interesting conversation, William 🙂 I wish you much luck and succes with your writing…

17 01 2009

Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by to read the mini-critique; I appreciate your comments and additions.

It’s not easy to put our work out for critique, but it’s important. None of us can see our own work clearly. When we read what we’ve written, we hear and see what we were thinking about while we wrote it. We can hear our characters’ voices, see what they’re doing. But we have a hard time judging whether we’ve given the reader the necessary information so he/she can see and hear it too. Is it there on the page?– or is it only in our heads?

None of us like to hear bad things about our work. But we can’t improve if we only hear “I love it!”, or if we don’t hear anything at all. Critique tells us the strengths we can build upon as well as the problem areas we need to think about.

18 01 2009

I’m a big fan of ‘brutal’ honesty. When you turn on the telly and see those singers from Australian, or American, Idol, you want to scream at the screen ‘didn’t anyone ever tell you, you can’t sing?!’
I like to think that’s where critique partners and competitions like this come in handy. I want to know straight up if my writing’s crap but then I want to know how I can improve it. Well done for offering this service, and for free. Not all of us have made our millions yet.
If we didn’t love what we do, we wouldn’t do it!


18 01 2009
Nancy Naigle

Hi William
Glad my gumption has given you a nudge to get your work out there. It is scary, but until we hear what people think we’re saying … we don’t really know if we’re telling the story the way we want it to be heard.

I’ve tried to be sure I take in all suggestions, then consider them and those that I agree with (or I hear more than once) I take action on. I’ve learned so much through this kind of exposure.

I know my writing is benefiting from it.
Best Wishes William C!!
…and thanks again ladies.

18 01 2009
William C

On several side notes…

I have never spoken with an actual author before. The mere fact that both Leigh and Rachelle responded in the same day made my day.

Looking more in depth at Nancy’s dialogue has given me ideas on how to beef up my own. Thanks Nancy.

Your title seems fitting right from the start. I’m pulling out clumps of hair trying to come up with one.

18 01 2009
Nancy Naigle

I know what you mean … this book didn’t have a title for a long time. The truth is the title comes from a play on words of Jill’s grandmother PEARL who has just passed away. (That’s what the message was that she found and Bob had kept it from her so not to ruin his big event fundraiser the night before).

Pearl was one of those grand ladies….y’know the kind known for her special home-made chocolate pecan pie and the best unsolicited advice in the county.

The story includes a journey where Jill learns about Pearl though love letters found in the attic, but then is fighting for her life when someone is after something from Pearl’s past and will stop at nothing to get it.

Trust that a perfect title will pop up one day. Until you’re done and ready to pitch … I wouldn’t pull your hair out. Afterall, that could really screw up that author picture for the back copy 😉

Happy day

21 01 2009
Rachelle Chase

Bronwyn, I totally agree regarding the honesty. I want to improve my writing, so I want honest answers about what works and what doesn’t with my work. Leigh definitely gave me that when I took her class (and still does, when I ask), as does my CP. It’s the only way I can truly learn. And, I’m glad to hear you appreciate that about our contest. Thank you.

William, I’m glad we could help make your day. 🙂 And I’m glad you’ve been able to learn from others work. That’s a goal we strive for with this contest!

Nancy, your Pearl sounds special. Yes, I have met someone like her before — and remember her fondly. 🙂

24 01 2009

Nancy, it sounds like Jill will make a great heroine – how fun to win the mini-critique.
I’d echo the critique and say that I bet your story actually “starts” in another page or two past this scene, when the action of the phone message kicks in.
Best of luck!

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