Week 6 Mini-Critique

AUTHOR: Alice L.
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Isolde smiled at her ex-boyfriend and handed him a demon. Of course the jerk came to the fund-raiser dressed as Dracula. Anything to freak her out. She pressed the button under the papier-mache devil’s cloven hoof and it played ‘Ride of the Valkyries.’

“Kinda cliche, isn’t it?” His plastic fangs made him lisp.

“It’s kitschy.” To avoid looking at the realistic blood dripping from his lips, Isolde rearranged the neon-green spiderwebs decorating her craft booth. The Community College gym’s conversion into a classic Halloween haunted house didn’t scare her too much. She liked the strings of cute pumpkin and ghost lights running between the booths. The cardboard ‘castle’ walls concealing the painted cinderblock merely looked authentic. A piercing feedback squeal from the ’70s nostalgia band had been the scariest thing to happen all evening. What a great sentence!– and what a great comment about the haunted house.

Isolde replaced the demon on the back shelf. When she turned around, a rainbow-colored disco ball in front of the band’s platform lowered, spun a moment, and raised again. More partygoers entered by handfuls through the doors open to the warm October night.

She set a knitting demon on the counter and pressed its ball of blood-colored yarn. “What about this?”

The vampire raised a stark black eyebrow. “What song is that?”

“An Elizabethan madrigal called ‘Phyllis sat knotting.’ ”

Seven dollars appeared on the counter. “My mom’ll love it. Wrap it up.”

He took the gift bag and headed for the beer dungeon.

Isolde tucked the money in a zippered makeup bag. Lord, that blood looked real. And those red contact lenses. Brr. She set an angel playing a trumpet in the open spot on the shelf. “Noelle, the demons are selling faster than the angels.”

Next to Isolde in the cramped booth, her best friend pushed a reading angel behind a tap-dancing demon. “Of course they are. It’s Halloween.”

“I don’t like scary things, Noelle. Your costume, for instance.”

“Girl, you are such a wuss.” Noelle tried to loom over Isolde—impossible since she was six inches shorter. “I am Vampira. I vant to suck your blaahd.”

Isolde slapped Noelle’s blood-red nails away. “Cut it out.”

Noelle laughed. “Listen, Ms. tall, thin, and blonde, this costume shows off every bit of my assets. I’m banking on Stephen paying our booth a visit tonight.”

“Hoping your pastor will take you to a secluded place to pray for your soul?” Isolde wagged her eyebrows.

“He’s too proper for that.” Noelle straightened her shoulders and her assets stood at attention. “But if he thinks our ratio of demons to angels needs adjusting, I’ll offer to talk to him about it in private.”

Isolde leaned her elbows on the counter and watched the werewolves, monsters, and movie characters entering the gym in a steady stream now. “I could use a knight-errant to show up tonight. One who’ll pay more attention to my graceful gown than your cleavage.”

“You’re welcome to all of ’em. I’m holding out for my man of God.”

High-pitched yapping cut across the band’s warm-ups.

Noelle touched Isolde’s arm. “Heads up. Here she comes.”

An older woman in a navy business suit lifted a beige Chihuahua onto the counter. “Miss Connor, what does your sign say?”

Isolde tried not to smile at the dog’s King Henry the Eighth costume. “Good evening, Mrs. Gow. It’s the same sign as everyone else’s: Party Till You Scream For Children’s Hospital Of Boston.”

“Not that sign. The one above my head.” She pointed with a French-manicured nail. The dog yapped again. “Quiet, Samson.”

Noelle nudged Isolde aside. “It says Angels versus Demons.”

Miranda Gow turned pale eyes on her. “And what is your extremely immodest costume supposed to represent, Noelle?”

“Vampira, the legendary movie star.” Noelle stepped back four paces to the cardboard castle wall and pulled green spiderweb like a cape across her plunging neckline. “You know: I vant to suck your blaahd.” The first time was cute; the repetition, not so much.

Mrs. Gow crossed her arms. “It is unwise to trivialize evil. Pastor Oliver said last Wednesday—”

“I asked him about it Friday when he came to visit Mr. Putnam in the Alzheimer’s wing.” Noelle’s smile doubled in wattage. “He said that as long as I remembered I was a child of the King, he saw no harm in a little fun for a good cause.”

Isolde sneaked a look as she added a few more angels to the shelves. Miranda ‘my family built this town’ Gow looked stiffer than Noelle’s whalebone bodice.

“I must say—”

A bat with a meat skewer through its chest thumped on the counter beneath her nose. Whose nose? Isolde’s? Noelle’s? Mrs. Gow’s?

Isolde and Noelle gasped. The dog yipped and almost fell off the counter. Mrs. Gow clutched him by the skirt and patted his shivering foot-long body.

A cowboy complete with chaps and bullwhip towered over Mrs. Gow. “I don’t appreciate your little gifts, Miranda.”

From within Gow’s arms, the Chihuahua growled at the cowboy as Isolde bent over the bat. “It’s rubber, Noelle. It’s not real.” For someone who doesn’t like scary things, she’s right in there inspecting the bat to make sure. She looked under the cowboy’s hat—not hard to do; he was at least six-five in those boots. Square face, green eyes, nice lips—thinned in anger at the moment.

Staring at him, Noelle said, “I remember you. You came to see old Mrs. Tarbell last month.”

Mrs. Gow turned the manicured finger on him. “And Edith Tarbell died two days later.”

“That is dangerously close to slander, Miranda.” The cowboy fingered his whip. “Can’t a modern Soldier of Righteousness throw down an original gauntlet? Rubber bats and silver crosses went out of fashion with Hammer films.”

“God has commanded me to root out evil wherever it plants its foot.”

He gave Gow’s navy business suit a deliberate once-over. She shivered. He smiled.

“And you’re costumed as… a CEO? They could be construed as evil nowadays, since the subprime mortgage crisis.” He sneered at the growling Chihuahua. “”I see Henry the Eighth has come down in the world. Or is this Karmic debt he’s still paying off?”

Alice, you’re an excellent writer, and the details here are graphic, imaginative, and funny. Picturing a Chihuahua in a Henry VIII costume cracked me up, as did the idea of Mrs. Gow’s CEO “costume” (and why she would dress up her dog if she didn’t bother to get a costume herself is quite an interesting question). The give and take between the characters is original and cute, I like the idea of a best friend who has the hots for a pastor, and the props are easy to picture and often hilarious.
While each individual piece you’ve created is nicely detailed, when there are so many pieces getting nearly-equal emphasis, it’s like looking at an Impressionist painting through a microscope, rather than from across the room. All I can see is the separate dots – the details; I’m not getting any idea what the overall picture is supposed to represent. This is a case where detail doesn’t increase the impact of the story, it actually gets in the way.
Because you’ve lived with these characters for a while, and you’ve thought out the background which has brought them all together at the Halloween haunted house, you know exactly what’s going on. But your reader needs some help. I don’t have any idea which of these things will be important, so I’m trying to absorb them all – and that leaves me feeling tired, lost, and left out.
Give us a frame of reference. Let us identify with Isolde more closely, including more of her perspective so we see what she sees, rather than just seeing random details. Instead of having Mrs. Gow just appear, give us a clue about how she fits into things. Isolde knows – let her share that with us. Don’t just have the cowboy walk up – well, actually, he doesn’t walk up; the skewered bat simply appears out of nowhere, and then the cowboy starts talking, again with no introduction, and we don’t absolutely know that the two things are even connected. Give us some context, so we can begin to see the connections that you’re obviously seeing as you write.

7 responses

18 02 2009
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18 02 2009
Carly Carson


This sounds like a fun story, with lots of interesting characters. Bring on the cowboy!


18 02 2009


Thank you so much for such a positive crit! I can see exactly what you’re saying and ways to fix this chapter are already simmering in my head. You’re a gem to give your time to all of us nearly-theres. I’m off to pound my keyboard again.


19 02 2009
Leigh Michaels

I’m happy to know that it’s inspired you, Alice! Happy writing!

20 02 2009
Rachelle Chase

Alice, Leigh has hit the nail on the head with her comments for me. I love the originality of your opening – the Halloween fundraiser and all the scary toys they’re selling. The humor was fun, too. I especially loved the cowboy’s quips about CEOs and Henry the VIII coming down a few notches.

Great writing, a unique opening, wonderful pacing, dialogue, and action…Once you make the changes Leigh mentioned, I’d definitely keep reading!

20 02 2009


The opening paragraph made me laugh out loud. Fun stuff! I also say bring on the cowboy…he sounds like a lot of fun as well. 😉

22 02 2009

Rachelle, you made my day.

Carly and Julie, thank you.

*gets back to work*

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