Please welcome today’s anonymous aspiring author. Take a moment to read the excerpt, and please leave some constructive criticism in the comment section below.
Caged Bird Singing
They were doing it again. Talking about me where they think I can’t hear. The walls in this house are paper thin, so when I’m in the laundry room I can hear every word they’re saying in the bedroom above it.
I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, though. Mama and I had one of our struggles, as she likes to call them. I stocked at the record store tonight, so I was dead tired and dreaming of my bed when she stopped me on the steps. She said there was ironing to do and Regina was already in bed.
Mama and me…well, we had words and she stomped upstairs.
So I was ironing, hoping I don’t burn my fingers, when I heard the bed creak and Dad say something about the frown on Mama’s face.
“… thinks she’s grown, talkin’ back.”
“What’s she talking back about, now?”
“I asked her to take care of the ironing. She talkin’ about how Regina should do it. I didn’t ask Regina to do it. I asked Richelle to do it.”
I almost laughed when Dad asked what was wrong with Regina’s arms. That’s what I said! She used his name, Charles, like she does when she’s irritated, and said he was missing the point. I guess I missed the point, too.
Then she said something about me quitting Spelman and coming back home to freeload.
My face was steaming, hot as the iron in my hands. You don’t know what it took me to not throw it across the room.
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Overall, I like it. The conflict of a young woman returning home from college and having to deal with her mother, perhaps for the first time as a “grown” woman, is ripe with opportunity.
The first that throws me are the verb tenses, because you’re writing in present tense. But I couldn’t figure that out from the first sentence, so I assumed past tense then, had to stop and ground myself in the correct tense. The tense seems to go back and forth at times, so that’s something to watch out for.
The second thing was the voice. The voice seems way younger than I would expect for a Spelman student unless your protagonist is one of those early birds who went to college at age 15?
I’m wondering whether Richelle and Regina are twins, a possible second area for conflict since one is college-minded and maybe the other isn’t? The use of two “R” names is what makes me question that, although it’s actually a fairly common occurrence in families today to give all the children names beginning with the same letter. Finally, I’m assuming the family is African-American, due to the choice of Spelman, a well-known historically Black college. Giving me the opportunity to make that connection rather than stating it explicitly is a plus for me as a reader.
I’d read more.
Ashley Prince says
Patricia’s critique really sums up mine as well.
I would like to add that I love how you keep your sentences to the point. There’s not a lot of fluff and while I like fluff in some novels, I feel like yours needs to be to the point.
I really liked what I read. I would love to read more.
Nicole Boyer DeBlois says
I agree with PatriciaW – I was very confused at first becasue of the verbage. As I continued to read, however, the story seemed interesting. Good luck!
Alice M. Fleury says
Wow, there’s a lot going on in this short excerpt. I’m intrigued.
I’m wondering if you should use They in the first sentence. I think you could be more specific and say Momma and Daddy. The statement would still raise questions because we’d wonder what they were doing.
Momma and Daddy were doing it again. (huh! now we’ll really wonder what they were doing.)
Further down you state: and Dad say something about the frown on Mama’s face
In the first paragraph you mention she can hear everything. Maybe you should say, dad asked about the frown on Mama’s face. And you have ellipses as if she didn’t hear the beginning of her mother’s statement.
Here: I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, though. Mama and I had one of our struggles, as she likes to call them.
I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop. Mama and I had one of our struggles, as she calls them.
I think some tightening in the sentences will make it clearer. And it will also show her growth as her thoughts are more of a college kid instead of like her mother who doesn’t seem to have much education.
I love the fact of her father sticking up for her. There’s a lot of potential and angst in this. I also love the voice. I didn’t mind the present tense. Great job.
I liked the tension very much, the inner landscape of Richelle’s mind. – Problem: the walls are paper thin, but she’s in the basement, and what separates her is not a wall but a floor. There has to be a vent or something.- She stocked at the record store. Is this an indication of the period when the story takes place? – “She used his name…” is confusion POV change. “Mom used his name…”
An intriguing beginning. I quickly realized that the story was about an African-American family in the past. We hear Regina’s name a lot but don’t know much about her relationship to Richelle (older? younger? twins? rivals?) and I would like to know more sooner. Because the last line, “You don’t know what it took me to not throw it across the room,” takes the POV from first person to second person, I would change it to something like “It took every ounce of willpower I had left not to throw that iron across the room.”
I think it’s very well done. Best Of Luck !
Lois Kubota says
I felt like I was there in the room only I would have say no to the ironing and then stewed all night about it. See what I mean. It really grabbed me. Moving back in with family alway, I mean always reduces you to your child like self, no matter how much growing up you’ve done since you’ve been away. I totally understand that.
It seems her mother was assigning the task of her sister to her as punishment.
Cathy Yardley says
I agree with the others: the voice felt a little young for a college student, especially when she’s arguing chores. I think there’s some repetition, too: you tell us in exposition that she’d had a fight with her mother, then we “hear” her mother tell her father exactly what we already know (disagreement re: ironing.) I’d rather “hear” the parents talking right away, and hear about it that way, maybe peppered with Richelle’s commentary. Also, I’d like it to stay in the action, instead of shifting to Richelle’s description of the conversation. More like:
“What’s wrong with Regina’s arms?” he muttered.
In the laundry room, I snickered. That’s what I’d said!
“Charles,” I heard my Mom say, which she saved for when she was truly irritated with my Dad, “you’re missing the point.”
I put the iron down with a steaming hiss. I guess I was missing the point, too. I was so angry that I almost missed the next thing she said.
“…she’s quitting Spelman,” my Mom snapped. “And she’s just staying here to freeload.”
That’s “in my version” of your story, and I’m not saying you have to do it this way, but I just wanted to illustrate that I’d love to see it more in the action than in exposition. I’ve found it’s a danger especially in first person to describe what’s happening instead of experiencing it. Good luck! 😀
Thanks so much for letting us use your excerpt! I agree with some other commenters that the first thing I noticed was the back and forth between present and past tense. I’m interested to know why the narrator has dropped out of college, so I think you have a good premise going.
When you say: “I almost laughed when Dad asked what was wrong with Regina’s arms. That’s what I said!” I found “That’s what I said!” sounds a bit too coincidental, and maybe unnecessary. I also generally dislike exclamation marks in exposition. I think you could simply cut it out and keep the rest of the paragraph the way it is, and it would read better.
Be careful of saying things like “I was dead tired.” First, it’s a cliche; second, it’s a classic case of telling instead of showing. When I revise my first drafts, I look for cliches and ask myself if there’s a better way to put them.
All the best with this!