Please welcome today’s aspiring author, Aimee Cottle, ready for a peer critique.
Take a moment to read the excerpt and leave some thoughtful feedback in the comment section below.
If you are a writer whose excerpt has appeared anonymously on Write It Sideways, and now you’d like your name to appear on your piece, contact me.
If you’d like to submit your own writing for critique, keep an eye out for future calls posted on the blog.
To Have and To Hold
Please note: This excerpt is taken from the beginning of the work.
Gwen and Holden met during their first year at university. They had been in each other’s classes for nearly eight months before a group presentation assignment was handed out and they were paired together. This group presentation led to many hours spent together in the university library; studying books and drinking copious amounts of coffee. After the group presentation, for which the pair earned an A, Holden and Gwen began to spend more and more time together; attending various parties and functions together and studying for class exams in the library most nights. It was during this time that Holden learnt that Gwen had a flair for writing, and convinced her to pursue that talent. Encouraged by Holden, Gwen signed up for extra classes in Creative Writing and Scriptwriting.
Before they knew it, though, the academic year was over and the pair were separated over summer break. Gwen went home to her parent’s home in Paris, and Holden stayed near the university in his brother’s apartment. They kept in touch, regularly, over the month they were apart, though, and Gwen let Holden know about everything she was doing; visiting Bordeaux, and charity work in Africa. A month before they were due to start back at university for their second year, Holden asked Gwen where she would be living when she came back, and tentatively asked if she would consider renting a flat with him.
Potential Feedback Prompts
When you respond, you might consider:
- your immediate reactions
- likes and dislikes
- anything that seems unclear
- language issues
- point of view
- general encouragement
Join the discussion
Lynda Nash says
The first thing that strikes me about this piece is that, although it is nicely written, there is too much backstory for the reader to take in all at once. Novels are best to begin with something that grabs the reader and compels them to read on to find out more and short stories generally do not have enough time for the character’s history. This writing isn’t wasted, though – it’s information that the writer needs but does not necessarily need to show. My advice would be to find the ‘true’ start to your story adn take it from there. Good luck.
Not bad for being such a short piece of a much longer work. The only recommendation I would like to make is to tighten it up. Use as few words as possible to say the same thing. I’ll give an example:
You wrote – They had been in each other’s classes for nearly eight months before a group presentation assignment was handed out and they were paired together.
You don’t need both ‘paired’ and ‘together’ since in this case, they are saying the same thing. For this sentence, you could tighten it to look something like this: ‘They had been in the same classes for nearly eight months before being paired for a presentation assignment.’ Here, you also lose the word ‘group’ because it is not necessary at this point. The word ‘class’ denotes more than just the two of them involved. Actually, you use the words ‘group presentation’ three times in one paragraph. I would find a way to lose two of them.
Another example – Holden and Gwen began to spend more and more time together; attending various parties and functions together
Maybe change it to something more like – Holden and Gwen began to spend more time together, attending various parties and function.
Using the word ‘together’ twice in the same sentence is overkill, especially after using their names directly. Also, ‘more and more time together’ should be just ‘more’.
These are just suggestions, but things I noticed while reading. Less is best and I think you’re piece would flow better if you were to tighten it up.
Thanks for sharing your work 🙂
M. E. Tudor says
I have to agree with Lynda. There’s too much back story provided right away. The writing is telling us what is happening rather than showing us.
To add to the above comments: consider use of home just once here “went home to her parent’s home”. I felt like I wanted some dialogue. Even if just a line here and there between the two. Perhaps, here as an example: “Holden asked Gwen where she would be living when she came back, and tentatively asked if she would consider renting a flat with him.”
Marty Sorensen says
Ditto on the non-story comments. Questions though: why does Gwen tell him about Bordeaux and Africa, and Holden tells her nothing? Is there time travel? Because they were only apart for a month, but he asked her to room with him a month before school started. Especially when she is going to Africa for charity work. Why charity work? Who is she that she does that? Why doesn’t Gwen have a clue that she’s a good writer? How long is the school year? 8 months together before this group assignment, and then parties and functions and studying together? What group assignment, about what? What functions? What parties? The word “pair” is used three times in the first paragraph. If she goes to Africa, what does Holden do at all that she’s interested in him?
Marty Sorensen says
Also: not one color, one sound, one texture, one taste, one fragrance or one emotion.
Tamara Pratt says
While I found the writing fairly polished, and thought has gone into the logical order of events between this pair, I’m not convinced this passage has raised enough questions for a reader to continue. Your first line, and subsequent paragraphs need to allow the reader to start piecing together the answers to their questions — when you have raised them. It sounds as if this is going to be somewhat of an amicable story, and without conflict, there’s little story. If there’s internal conflict (because conflict doesn’t have to be all physical action), bring that up front, and early.
On the writing, there’s some over-writing you could strip away:
– drinking copious amounts of coffee (cliche — just saying drinking coffee or better yet, pick an unusual drink you might not piece together with study);
– more and more time together (delete the more and more);
– “Before they knew it, though, the academic year was over and the pair were separated over summer break. Gwen went home to her parent’s home in Paris, and Holden stayed near the university in his brother’s apartment. They kept in touch, regularly, over the month they were apart, though..” (echo on ‘though’).
Hope this helps, and good luck with the continuing story.
Aimee, this is a wonderfully written second and third paragraph. I would like to know what happened in the first paragraph to lead to the back story. Did Gwen and Holden meet again? Did Gwen sell her first novel? See a non-fiction book written by Holden in a window? What happened to pull the reader into the book?
Anna Mabery says
I haven’t taken the time to read the other comments, so forgive me if I repeat things that others have already said.
The first thing that struck me was how it sounded like the author was telling a story. Now, that sometimes can be intentional and adds to the tone of the piece. But in most cases, you want the story to tell itself. (think “The Great Gatsby”- a prime example of a narrated story with an incredibly compelling storyline.)
It also seems that, if these two paragraphs are what sets up the plot, you would definitely want to go with a more hands-on approach. Why on earth would you want to just tell about events, rather than show them? Especially as there are so many moments in your summary that have the potential to be really great- and if you don’t want to start at the beginning, then just start at the end.
Right off the bat, you could begin with the scene where Holden tentatively asks if she wants to room together. That would be a great moment to set the tone and get the readers to be really emotionally attached to your characters. Or maybe you could begin there and then have a couple of scenes were Gwen remembers how their relationship developed and came to be.
But most importantly, DON’T tell your reader everything. Leave some suspense. When you lay out their relationship like that, all cut-and-dried, it loses a lot of the magic and emotion that makes people want to read- especially romance.
So my suggestion is, leave the long, detailed history for your private notes (they can be great inspiration sometimes!) and only include it in the story to spice things up. What you wrote in two paragraphs sounds like it could be made into about half a book.
Readers don’t just want the facts; they want the story. How did Holden act when he first met Gwen? Was he cocky? Shy? Did he mumble or was he late for class? Was his tie askew and glasses crooked because he had gotten mustard on his shirt and had to change it, or was that because he had just run through a rainstorm? There’s a story there that wants to tell itself- all you have to do is let it flow.
Sharon Settle says
I agree with Lynda Nash’s advice. She wrote, “My advice would be to find the ‘true’ start to your story and take it from there.” This is very good advice. Hooking in your readers is paramount. You need to grab their emotions and leave them needing to know ‘then what’ at the end of each paragraph, especially in the begining of your story. Your “hook” is what keeps readers wanting more.
Give it some thought. Some shuffling may be in order. Like Lynda said…find the ‘true’ start and take it from there.
Samantha King says
Hey there Aimee! So I like where you’re going so far. Something that I would love to see is an actual conversation between Gwen and Holden, because I can’t tell the kind of people they are from this excerpt. I would love to read an actual interaction between the two. You’re telling me whats happening and thats great, now you need to show me something. Show me the chemistry between them and you’re golden.
Adam D. Oglesby says
Aimee. You appear to have some basic writing talent. By that I mean you can string together a coherent sentence. Believe me, that’s no small compliment; you have a distinct advantage over a lot of beginning writers in that regard.
Here is where you might really consider making a few changes. I had no idea I was reading a novel excerpt. Your writing style—somewhat straight forward, unadorned, unembellished—is more reminiscent of a business report.
If you’re old enough to remember the Joe Friday character in Dragnet, he’d mention during his interrogations, “The facts, mam, nothing but the facts.”
Well, trust me, as a writer—the last person you want to imitate is that Joe Friday guy.
Rather than giving your readers a sense of immediacy, you’re telling your story in more of a summary style.
In writing in general– and fiction in particular– you have at your disposal an infinite arsenal of ornamentations, flourishes, grammatical and non-grammatical methods of getting a story told.
There are few enforceable rules in fiction so don’t write tight. Don’t be too cautious. Do your thing! Do Aimee!
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this: You want your writing to be visual.
In any scene you want a bunch of “seeing” going on. No, I don’t mean you should bog your reader down in excruciatingly intricate detail—but in each scene find a few elements that you can use to put a bold, vivid, compelling image in your reader’s head.
With out this level of “seeing”, you’ll leave your readers wondering what your characters look like, what their surroundings look like. Is it night or day? Does the man have shoulder length blonde hair or is it an afro?
One last thing (for real this time. Promise.) Speaking of surroundings—can any writer pick a less heart palpitating location than a library for their character introduction. I mean, reference books, file cabinets and the Dewey Decimal System–I’m really on the edge of my chair now.
It’s the kind of breathtakingly exciting place that requires something extreme by the characters to offset it.
Like, maybe the dude falls asleep at the table and she uses a red magic marker to connect the dots of his freckles.
No? Well, what about if the dude passes out and the girl—right there in this public library—has an over powering urge to climb atop the table, squat on his sleeping head and listen to the sound of his undisturbed snoring roaring beneath her skirt?
I’m just saying….
Good luck, Aimee. One day I expect to see your name in lights but until then I look forward to seeing your next draft.
The piece was well-written, though there are a few places, noted in earlier comments, where the writing could be tightened,
The infodump at the beginning is off-putting. I would have been pulled into the story more if the piece began with action or dialogue. Still, I was intrigued by Gwen and Holden and wanted to learn more about them. Good luck with your story, Aimee!
Glenn Haynes says
This excerpt reads like the out line of a story or novel. Using it as an out line, fill it in with sugar and spice, zigzag it some, add some color, and there you have it, a story.