Honest Critiques

No, I mean it. REAL honest. Email your excerpts or full stories, up to 1000 words or so, to honestcrits [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk. Synopses would also be welcome. My backlog is so daunting now that I recommend not submitting anything you are not prepared to wait a couple of months for a response on.
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  • Monday, August 22, 2005


    Another short, this time from Stranger, and in the same sort of territory as 'Weightless' (below).

    Be casual, I told myself. I clenched my lunch-box as I meandered towards the four girls who sat on the carpet, their legs folded underneath themselves. Jenny and Liz leant against the walls, with Maggie and Sharon facing them. Pockets of students dotted the walls but there was plenty of space around these four. I agonized over how close to sit beside them. Be brave. I plumped myself down with my shoulder almost touching Jenny's but at the last minute pulled away, leaving a foot between us. I tucked my skirt under my legs keeping my head down, silently berating myself for my cowardice.
    Another awkward, self-conscious narrator. She finds herself eavesdropping on the girls' conversation, which is all about Jenny's new boyfriend:
    Jenny always had a queue of guys interested in her. I remembered her kissing Patrick Branagan at the last school disco. They had been wrapped around each other, swaying to the music of Moon River. I had felt sick. But I couldn't stop watching her, trying to share the experience, imagining his warm tongue in my mouth, his lips sucking mine, the tips of his fingers resting on the top of my arse. Dirty bastard. Imagining it was as close as I'd come to having Patrick kiss me. Or any boy. Who wants the fat ugly nerd when they could have Jenny Ryan?

    "You should let him sweat for a few days," said Sharon. Sharon always sounded sure of whatever she said.
    The girls discuss whether Jenny should have sex with her boyfriend, while the narrator listens uncomfortably, waiting for an opportunity to contribute to the conversation. But...

    "Let's get some air before class," said Sharon, standing up. The others got up and followed her out. I looked down at my sandwich, I still hadn't taken a bite. Red spots marked where my fingers had broken though the bread to the jam below. I wiped my fingers on the bread and dropped it back in the box. It now repelled me. I wished I could treat all food with such distaste.
    Shades of 'Weightless' again. And it ends up in a similar, inconclusive place:

    Did it mean anything that they had had an intimate conversation in front of me? Was it their way of tormenting me? Or their way of inviting me to be friends? I sighed.

    I had sat beside them today, maybe tomorrow I'll speak to them.
    Good for her, but is this a story?

    I don't think it is; I don’t think 'Weightless' is, either. It's a character sketch. Stranger says: "I'm not sure if the characters in the story have a longer story to tell - or even if I'd let them." Well, it needs some sort of shape to it, because right now there's just the narrator's feeling of social awkwardness, and some other characters who don't seem to exist for any reason other than to throw that feeling into relief.
    Torgo, 7:18 pm


    This is the sort of thing people read out loud in writing classes, and everyone listens respectfully and tells them how brave they are afterwards.
    Highschool writing classes.
    Blogger Barbara, at 7:29 pm  
    Thanks for the comments Torgo and also Barbara. I'm no longer a teenager and was never a girl so it's not exactly a true story, so there's nothing brave about it. But that's beside the point. I've got a meandering sketch of teenage angst on my hands, not a story.

    I'm not a huge fan of short stories; I mainly read novels and my WIP is a novel. This was an experiment with a short story, where I gave my protagonist a problem to create conflict and decided to see how it turned out. And not wanting to just have internal monologue, I added the girls conversation as a subplot, even as a story within a story. The second story is meant to provide action, while the first is meant to get the reader caring about the narrator. And the stories are meant to contrast against each other. I guess I got an internal monologue and nothing else!!!

    What I liked about the story was the voice of the narrator when she was describing Patrick Brannigan. And I liked the voice of the other girls, their differences to each other, their lack of interaction with the narrator. I didn't like their conversation, however.

    So, I was wondering about extending it, putting some structure around it, giving it a plot. But maybe it is too flawed, because the narrator is too passive and unadmirable.

    Thanks again. You've been very helpful. Great site.
    Anonymous Stranger, at 12:23 pm  
    Stranger, why don't you experiment with following this narrator for a while and seeing what happens? You like her voice, you like the dialogue. Follow her voice through something bigger and more traumatic than wavering over sitting with the cool girls. Something that really shakes her up, or forces her to actually talk to the cool girls. What would happen? Character is revealed under pressure - apply some pressure, perhaps.
    Blogger Barbara, at 3:42 am  

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