Week 7 Mini-Critique

TITLE: A Dentist Is a Smile’s Best Friend
AUTHOR: Stephanie S.
GENRE: Chick Lit

“Happy birthday to you . . . Are your eyes closed?”

“Closed and covered,” I answer, pressing my right hand harder against my eyes, seeing psychedelic swirls and dots of pink, yellow, and green, as my best friend, Carrie Pritchens, leads me down the sidewalk, tugging at me, in an attempt for me to move faster than elderly speed.

“Happy birthday to you . . . . ” Carrie continues singing. “You better not peek!”

“I wouldn’t think of it.” I don’t get why she’s being so secretive about where we’re going. Not when I made it clear for months that I want to spend all day of my 30th birthday hitting every single bar in Philadelphia. Even now at eleven o’clock in the morning. And it doesn’t matter if they’re dives, Stephen Starr establishments, or places catering to the twentysomething Red Bull and vodka binge drinking crowd. I need to be numb to the fact that I am now–

Son of a . . . .

It’s like my heart has crawled up into my gums, erratic throbbing in the back of my mouth. This is both a good, unexpected way to show Lizzy’s reaction to feeling old, and a nice way to hint at the pain she’s feeling. I did have to read it twice, however, before I realized she was actually in physical pain, not just feeling old. I stumble-stop; bright summer sun blinds me as I uncover my eyes, needing to massage my cheek.

“You can’t look! I’m not finished with the song.” Carrie shouts.

What? Since when did “Happy Birthday To You” turn into a Meatloaf epic? She belted out my name minutes ago. _Dear Lizzzzzzzzzzzzzzy._

The pounding, steady quivering in my mouth echoes the pounding, steady beating of the bass blaring from a car driving past. Out of respect for Carrie’s presentation of her surprise, I keep my hand over my eyes, but shake my other hand free from her grasp, then rub my cheek, pinching back near my ear, sinking my nails into my skin, trying to stop the pain with more pain.

I am officially old. This is the pain of getting old. A sign of my body shutting down.

“You’re going to love this,” Carrie says, yet there’s uncertainty in her voice, and she grabs my arm with both of her hands, and I fight against the motion, needing to keep up with my useless massage on my jawline. Instead, I smack her against her cheek.

“Sor–” A twinge from my mouth cuts off my apology.

“No problem.” Carrie is too happy about getting hit. Sure, it was an accident, but if she did that to me? I’d be livid, and I probably wouldn’t speak to her for at least five minutes. Cute illustration of the level of friendship between them.

Carrie’s grip tightens so much I swear I feel a bruise forming. I squirm, while still following the demand of keeping my eyes closed, but instead of letting me go, she inches her leg in between mine, snaking her foot around my ankle.

“Happy birthday!” she says.

“I can open my eyes?” I ask.

“Yep.”

“You sure?”

“Uh-huh.”

We’re at a street corner, though not a street corner in the hustle of Old City where there would be lots of bars. I don’t even know – where are we? We walked right through Center City, so I just assumed we were starting out in Old City. Because it makes sense. Get more drunk the closer you get to home, so you stand a chance of actually getting home.

It’s difficult to look around, being in Carrie’s vice grip. It’s like she thinks I’m going to run. Like I’m threatened here. Yep, rowhomes put the fear of God in me. And that closed restaurant across from us? Makes me want to cry. No, wait, the two clothing boutiques across the street . . . that makes me want to bawl. I stopped in a place like that before. The classy chiffon dresses in the display windows had lured me in, and the sizes pushed me out. Who wears a size six anyway?

“There’s a present?” I ask. I don’t want to seem rude, but Carrie built this up all the way during the walk from my apartment.

“Right here.” She maneuvers me around to face a brick building, still keeping me against her.

Is there a yellow brick road somewhere? What else could explain the midget sized door next to the adult-sized door; a duplicate of each other with their skinny rectangle windows, and brass door knobs, and lime green painted wood.

There’s an equally obnoxious painted sign hanging between the two doors; all decorated with smiley faces and dancing teeth and toothbrushes and stars and a rainbow in the corner . . . and in the middle, in blue block letters:

_Michael Avery, D.D.S._
_Nathan Tyler, D.D.S._
_Pediatric dentistry_
“Where’s the present?” I ask, playing the stupid card.

Carrie is quiet. She tightens her hold on my arm, and draws my leg closer into hers. No good can come from this.

“Are we doing a scavenger hunt? My present’s inside?” I nod at the office.

“Yeah. Kinda,” Carrie eeps out.

I love The Weather Channel. I watch it religiously the way others watch soaps. Kristina informed the viewers that it would be exceptionally muggy in the Philly area today; already hitting 85 degrees before noon. But the thick heat is already stifling. She lied. It’s more like 105 and, glancing down at my watch, it’s only 11:15. I run my hand across my face, then feel both of my cheeks, realizing it’s not the heat wave putting out so much heat. It’s me.

“I’m tired of you acting like you have Tourette’s every time you take a sip of coffee,” Carrie says.

“I don’t have Tourette’s!” My near wail makes me jerk in discomfort.

“No, but you have wisdom teeth.”

I glare at Carrie, then stare at the happy-go-lucky sign.

“Dr. Avery is really good. There’s this Amish woman at Reading Terminal Market who I buy meat from, and she gushed over this dentist. You know he’s good if an Amish person takes her kids to him. I mean, they’re not supposed to do _anything_ modern,” Carrie says. Seriously? The Amish around here see doctors and use modern medicine. Though braces and orthodontics are probably frowned on, I don’t think they refuse to have a tooth pulled if it’s causing problems. Carrie might of course simply be wrong, but in that case you as the author may look uninformed as well.

LEIGH SAYS:

Stephanie, I really like Lizzy’s voice and her sense of humor, especially the notes of self-deprecating humor, like the story about the clothing store. You do very nice word pictures – the two doors going into the dental office are easy to see, and we have no trouble visualizing the neighborhood where they’re standing. The tone of the story is a good match for chick lit – your slightly irreverent voice is a natural. And I also like the friendship between the two girls – the fact that Lizzy trusts Carrie enough to be led down a city street with eyes closed, for the sake of a birthday surprise, is charming. I couldn’t wait to find out what the surprise was.
So I was taken aback when I found out that Carrie’s big surprise, the fantastic birthday celebration – and, seemingly, Lizzy’s big problem – is …. getting her wisdom teeth removed?
Though the problems faced by the heroines in chick lit are often smaller and more personal than those faced by heroines in other sorts of romantic fiction, I think it’s going to be a hard sell to get the reader excited and emotional about Lizzy’s wisdom teeth. This is also much more a situation than a story – in other words, it doesn’t seem to lead naturally to a conflict which can develop and grow as the story continues. Lizzy meets Dr. Avery and either she has the teeth out or she doesn’t. If she doesn’t have the teeth out, or if she dithers about whether to do it, Lizzy may lose the reader’s sympathy – especially if she continues to have the level of pain she displays here. If she does have the teeth out, end of problem; I assume that Lizzy and Dr. Avery will be attracted to each other, but from that point it’s hard to see much of a conflict between them – it’s more a case of them dating and getting to know each other.

This is a case where the twist in the story is certainly unexpected, but the surprise still falls flat because the reader has trouble seeing why it should matter – why she should spend several hours reading about Lizzy’s teeth and finding out what happens to Lizzy and Dr. Avery.

Carrie’s fun, and Lizzy’s a great character with a wonderful wise-cracking voice. Give her a problem we can really care about — something we can see ourselves getting involved in — and we’ll follow Lizzy through a lot more than dental surgery.

7 responses

25 02 2009
Carly Carson

Stephanie,

This is a fun read, with lots of great lines.

Good job.

Carly

25 02 2009
julietrevelyan

Ah, the horrors of turning 30! The narrator’s physical pain reaction to her age made me laugh. I also thought it was pretty funny that she ends up at a dentist–and he’ll be cute and somewhat available?–on her b-day, which also reveals more about her friendship with Carrie.

This was fun to read.

26 02 2009
Rachelle Chase

Stephanie, I liked the banter between these two. The dialogue felt natural and I felt the warmth of genuine friendship. And, I could definitely feel Lizzy’s pain — the way you wove that in, made the surprise believable.

However, though the surprise was believable, I felt let down when we got to the dentist’s office — namely because the build-up was so great. You spent 3/4 of the entry building up to the surprise, so I was expecting something BIG. This made the pulling of teeth feel a bit anti-climatic.

If the wisdom teeth extraction is somehow integral to the story and there truly is something exciting that’s going to happen at the dentist’s office that we can’t yet see, then you might want to shorten the whole beginning. Get them to the office guickly — maybe opening with them standing out front, Lizzy’s jaw throbbing, and asking if she can look yet. Spending only a couple of paragraphs or so will lessen the buildup and make me feel less disappointed. Then, I probably won’t even mind that the surprise is the dentist’s office, because I’ll be anxiously reading on to see what the real surprise to me, the reader, is going to be.

Your entry is well-written and filled with great details. Just get me into the office quickly and let something unexpected happen — and then I’ll most likely keep reading.

26 02 2009
jeannielin

I loved the interaction between Carrie and Lizzy. And the voice is great, snarky but lovable. Good job.

2 03 2009
Stephanie Secrest

When I got the email saying I won the Week 7 Mini Critique… I couldn’t bring myself to check out the comments. *oops* Between nerves and getting a slight cold at the end of last week, I just couldn’t do it.

But… ummm… WOW! 😀 Really, wow!

I’m pleased as punch (a cliche I don’t get) the problem lies with the story’s premise and not the opener itself. I go back and forth between figuring out how long the story should be. Your comments will definitely be something I’ll keep in mind as I re-do the plotting. 🙂

And Rachelle… got a chuckle over the suggestion of getting Liz to the dentist office sooner. 🙂 Writing the Ordinary World has always been a struggle for me. Previous attempts were too short and I glossed over too much. Now since getting into chick lit, I tend to stay too long in the Ordinary World. 🙂

Thanks so much to Leigh and Rachelle for the crits! And to everyone who left comments!

3 03 2009
Rachelle Chase

Stephanie – glad you are over your cold and were pleasantly surprised by the comments. Leigh and I — as well as the others who comment (I’m taking the liberty to speak for them, too – LOL) — strive to provide helpful feedback that encourages writers and pumps them up. We never want writers to feel discouraged by our comments!

Interesting comment regarding the “ordinary world.” I think the tendency to get caught up in the ordinary world and to spend waaaaay too much time in the heroine’s head is the #1 challenge with chick lit. I know I experienced it with my attempt at a chick lit – it was pointed out by several editors. And then, when I got an agent and she looked at it, she said the same thing, adding that “first person almost encourages us to do that, because we’re that much closer to the character, really in the character’s head.” (paraphrasing there) She suggested that I switch to third person. I think it helped. 🙂 Amazing what a little distance did.

At any rate, you’re welcome. You’re a strong writer and the “fix” to your opening is an easy one, as fixes go. 🙂

3 03 2009
Leigh Michaels

Stephanie, I’m glad you found the critiques helpful. I couldn’t agree more with what Rachelle has said, especially about dwelling on the ordinary stuff when writing in first person. In real life, when we tell someone about what happened at work today, or what the significant other said, we tend to go on and on and on with every detail –at least I do. (And then he said… no wait, first I said, and then he said, and then… Meanwhile, the listener’s eyes are glazing over!)

It’s pretty normal that we’d have similar troubles with first person, since that’s pretty much like the main character talking the whole time. So shifting to third person is a good tool. So is reading the story aloud, because we hear it differently then.

Thanks for taking part in the contest!




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