Critique Group – Reaping the Whirlwind

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If the character’s name is Chris, I might not notice.

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Reaping the Whirlwind – by Haley

Carry Hearne sat below her oak tree, pretending she was underwater. It was just like being underwater, like when she would sink to the bottom of the pond, open her eyes, and then look up to see the sun skip across the surface and form octagons of orange and yellow. Then the beams seemed to sear through and endless shafts of gold would fall down to her where she waited as long as she could until shortness of breath overtook her willpower to stay in that world.

It was almost just as pleasant to pretend, though, and the sun was being very obliging, painting those orange and yellow octagons on the grass through the canopy of leaves above her. The leaves even chattered like the lap of little waves and since it had just rained, the land smelled fresh and wet. Wetness was synonymous with excitement for her and she could feel it. It was a day of high adventure, but for a girl of only nine years, every summer morning was an adventure day. No one could ever guess what would happen and the journey of anticipation was the first exhilarating thought that occurred to her when her eyes blinked open from the deep forgetfulness of sleep.

She almost didn’t care what happened for the rest of the day. It was so pleasant, listening to the leaves and the wind that was sweeping through the fields of long grain beyond the derelict and sun-grayed fence down the hill. She wouldn’t even have cared very much if her brothers came tearing through the pasture to call her back to the mundanity of her country life. They had a propensity for that annoying habit, but her few moments of being underwater were enough for her today.

They were her sacred moments of solitude even though she knew Pop and Gram never really approved of them. Yet, for all their significance, she was never able to answer when she was asked why she deemed it was a good use of time, sitting for hours at once under a tree. Those hours were just important, that’s all. In those moments, she could think, and thinking came very hard to her, though Pop and Gram didn’t realized this either.

“Thinking comes hard to you, child,” Gram always said when Carry failed once again to communicate her reasons, “because you don’t apply yourself. If you did a little more of that and a little less sitting under a tree, you might do better in school.”

What did that mean, apply yourself? Carry did. Everyday she applied herself. She couldn’t help it if she hated division and couldn’t keep adjectives and adverbs straight. But school wasn’t the thinking that mattered. No, what mattered was trying to remember her dead mother’s face and when she sat beneath her oak tree and pretended she was underwater, she felt closer to Mama than ever.

The water had always reminded her of Mama and she didn’t know why. She had asked Pop about it once, but he had only shrugged his shoulders like he always did when she asked anything about Mama. Then when she pressed, he weakly muttered something about water being special to her.

Perhaps water had been just as important to Mama as quiet times were for her. In the song of the leaves, the wetness of the grass, the smell of cows and grain, Carry could hear Mama’s voice, feel her spirit, and give substance to her vapid presence. Pop and Gram just didn’t understand, and Jimmy and Terry barely did either. She was alone in her longing and in those quiet hours, she came just a little closer to finding what she was seeking.

What she was seeking, though, even she never fully knew. To feel Mama was near by? Perhaps, but she could never believe it. It would be too much like believing in ghosts and Gram had always made it perfectly clear to her and her brothers that ghosts were not only imaginary but figments of an evil imagination. Ghosts were horrid beings that people “with their minds in the gutters” made up to frighten naughty children. They were the same people who believed in vampires and werewolves.

“Does that mean ogres aren’t real either, Gram?” Jimmy had asked her skeptically. There was nothing that pleased five-year-old Jimmy more than believing in the fantastic and Gram had stuck a thorn through his bubble whether intentionally or not.

“Of course they aren’t, James.”

Carry had looked up into her grandmother’s lined face, forgetting to think again just how old she looked as a sudden and horrible thought occurred to her. “But if ghosts ain’t real, then what happens to a person when they die?”

“When I die, child, I intend to fly straight to the Happy Land, not spending my eternity haunting some person’s cobweb riddled house and I think most people feel the same. And, for Heaven’s sake, child, don’t say ain’t.”

It wasn’t that Carry thought Gram a liar, but it would be so much more pleasant to think that Mama might just be a ghost and hovering somewhere near. Just because someone was a ghost didn’t make them a bad one. Mama would be a good spirit who looked after those she loved, like angels did. She might even be one of those water spirits she had read about in school, the ones that lived in wells and sang at night, the ones she had never told Gram or Pop about since she was afraid they would make her stop believing in them as well.

The wind picked up again in one of its lively, spasmodic gusts that blew Carry’s braids out in front of her shoulders. She could have turned the wind into the tempestuous tide of her underwater world, but she had lost all pleasure in pretending. Thoughts of death and ghosts were dark ones. She hadn’t wanted to think of Gram talking about flying to the Happy Land since doing so seemed so much closer to her than any of the rest of her family because she was so old. Doing without Gram was just as horrible a notion as that of not having a final place to go after one died.

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11 replies

  1. Haley,

    Your prose is clean and structured well. It is obvious that you have a good handle on writing excellent prose.

    I would like to see you strive for a more intimate point of view (POV) so that readers will feel inside Carry’s skin. Most of my comments will be about this topic.

    First: Carry Hearne sat below her oak tree, pretending she was underwater.

    Carry probably wouldn’t refer to herself by her full name. Just use Carry. Also, I assume she is not below her oak tree. If she were, she would be underground. Actually, she is under her oak tree’s branches.

    Next: It was just like being underwater, like when she would sink to the bottom of the pond, open her eyes, and then look up to see the sun skip across the surface and form octagons of orange and yellow.

    Your descriptions are lovely, but I prefer not to show so many scenery details early on. Readers don’t care yet about these details. Go for mystery and intrigue right away, and provide details after you hook the readers. As it stands, nothing really happens in your story for far too long.

    Next: Then the beams seemed to sear through and endless shafts of gold would fall down to her where she waited as long as she could until shortness of breath overtook her willpower to stay in that world.

    “to her” and “where she waited” are redundant. Use one but not both. Also “as long as she could” and “until shortness of breath …” can be shortened.

    Maybe this – Then the beams seemed to sear through, and endless shafts of gold would fall to where she sat until lack of air overtook her willpower to stay in that world.

    Next: It was almost just as pleasant to pretend, though, and the sun was being very obliging, painting those orange and yellow octagons on the grass through the canopy of leaves above her.

    Delete “her” at the end. It is detrimental to intimate POV.

    Next: Wetness was synonymous with excitement for her and she could feel it. It was a day of high adventure, but for a girl of only nine years, every summer morning was an adventure day.

    Delete “for her.” In her POV, that is a given. Giving her age at this point is not likely if it is in her POV.

    Next: No one could ever guess what would happen and the journey of anticipation was the first exhilarating thought that occurred to her when her eyes blinked open from the deep forgetfulness of sleep.

    Delete “that occurred to her.” Even with this deletion, the sentence feels like a narrator’s description, not the thoughts of a nine year old girl.

    Next: She almost didn’t care what happened for the rest of the day. It was so pleasant, listening to the leaves and the wind that was sweeping through the fields of long grain beyond the derelict and sun-grayed fence down the hill. She wouldn’t even have cared very much if her brothers came tearing through the pasture to call her back to the mundanity of her country life. They had a propensity for that annoying habit, but her few moments of being underwater were enough for her today.

    “She almost didn’t” and “she wouldn’t even have cared …” are telling readers what isn’t true. Try to stick to what is true. Also, delete “for her.”

    Next: They were her sacred moments of solitude even though she knew Pop and Gram never really approved of them. Yet, for all their significance, she was never able to answer when she was asked why she deemed it was a good use of time, sitting for hours at once under a tree. Those hours were just important, that’s all. In those moments, she could think, and thinking came very hard to her, though Pop and Gram didn’t realized this either.

    Delete “she knew” and change “realized” to “realize.” This paragraph continues “telling” in a narrator fashion, and nothing has happened at all. There is no story yet. Readers will not be hooked.

    Next: What did that mean, apply yourself? Carry did. Everyday she applied herself. She couldn’t help it if she hated division and couldn’t keep adjectives and adverbs straight. But school wasn’t the thinking that mattered. No, what mattered was trying to remember her dead mother’s face and when she sat beneath her oak tree and pretended she was underwater, she felt closer to Mama than ever.

    This is all “telling.” You are not showing anything. Again, nothing at all is happening in your story. From here on out, you dump back story without progressing the story.

    If I were to critique the rest, I would be repeating the same kinds of issues. Absolutely nothing significant happens in this 1000 plus word beginning. Put your story into motion. Don’t dump the back story. Bring the past out a little at a time as the front story progresses. As it stands, I think readers will either put the story down or skim past this beginning to see where the real story begins.

    Your prose is excellent. I suggest studying my blog posts on how to begin a story and rework this.
    I hope that helps.

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    • Thank you very much for your constructive advice and kind words about my prose! The time you spent reading and thinking about my work is greatly appreciated especially as this is the first time anyone outside of my family has read anything I’ve written. I will take what you have advised to mind and apply it to my work from now on.

      I will certainly begin cleaning up my text, deleting the superfluous words. Before now, I hadn’t noticed my overuse of unnecessary pronouns. I’ll keep an eye out for that mistake as well as begin improving my pacing and point of view errors. Messy first drafts! Don’t you love ’em?

      Once again, thank you for your help and I hope you have a great weekend!

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  2. Thank you for giving this submission. I think you have a lot of potential here as a writer. Your language is very beautiful and rich. You have a good eye for detail in scenery, and you have many good places where you brilliantly show your character’s mind.

    Now remember, Bryan Davis really strives for the intimate point of view writing style, and I feel like that is what your work is striving for, but you need to just add a little bit to get this going better. The biggest thing that the story is missing, at this point, is ‘plot’ and ‘conflict.’ What we need is for the character to have some kind of goal to achieve. Right now the character’s goal is simply, “sit at tree.”

    Adding a little bit of conflict, at this point in the story, could be as simple as –the sun is starting to set, and our character needs to get home before dark, otherwise Gram will be disappointed and Carrey will miss dinner!!!–

    Seriously, the conflict could be as simple as that. This conflict could then show our characters respect for Gram –as she doesn’t want to worry her– Or other character traits like that. You could also use this goal to better show how much Carrey loves and values her special spot by the tree. Have her look over her shoulder at the tree as she begins walking away. And as the tree fades with the darkening horizon, have her thoughts turn to her sadness at leaving, but also her goal propels her to think of Gram as she begins seeing her home.

    Now, Carry does have internal conflicts, as the story mentions, like her relationships with her brothers, her grandparents, and her dead mother. Perhaps, you could have her brothers running around in the distance as they duck into a forest, and that prompts her thoughts to them.

    As for what Bryan Davis is saying to “put your story in motion,” the key is to add conflict that gives the protagonist a small goal, and then keep adding another layer of conflict that gives the character a greater goal. Have that cycle keep going!

    Your writing style is very beautiful. I think by adding some kind of small goal for Carrey and the corresponding actions to get the character moving your beginning would get enhanced by a lot.

    Keep going forward!!!

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    • Mr. Davis is right—this is a great comment! Thank you very much for your help as well as for your kind thoughts about my writing style. I’ve worked hard to develop it and now I will work just as hard to perfect my story theory. You have helped start me down the right path.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to critique my work!

      Have a great weekend.

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  3. This is a great comment. You explained the need better than I did. Thank you for putting the meat on the bones.

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  4. Great job! Your detail in your work is very well described, I can really see the settings that Carrey is in!

    The two main things I noticed:

    1. Carrey is 9 years old, I don’t think she would describe things quite like this. I first thought she was at least 15 with all the detail that was described. (this may have been already mentioned)

    2. I don’t know who Jimmy and Terry are. I know that Carrey, Pop and Gran know them and that Jimmy is 5, but other then that I don’t know who they are.

    That’s all the time I have today for a critique. Keep writing, your doing really well!

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    • Thank you for reading and critiquing my piece! I will definitely take to mind your comment about Carry’s age and will be more careful to make the narrative match her youth.

      As a point of clarification, Jimmy and Terry are her brothers. I will make this clearer in the story as well.

      Thank you, once again!

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  5. . . . I’m speechless. This is one of the best pieces I’ve seen yet. The point about Carrey being only 5 and describing things like a 15 year old is a very valid point, but other than that, I love it!

    Keep going:-)

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    • Thank you very much for your kindness and taking the time to read and critique my work. I will keep in mind what you have suggested about Carry’s age and be more careful about not aging my character prematurely! 🙂

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  6. You know Haley, this submission caught my eye. I’m really interested in seeing where this story goes. I completely agree with what Mr. Davis said. I think if you replace the telling in your story with showing instead, it won’t take a minute to draw readers in. The way it’s currently worded left me compiling a repertoire of knowledge about your main character but wondering why she was thinking what she was and trying to figure out the plot. An idea I’m going to throw out is to perhaps add something to the water daydream, something that connects to the mom and leaves readers seeing some sort of a connection but still as unsure as Carry about it. I obviously haven’t read the rest of the story, but as a warning I would counsel you to develop Gram’s character, though in a way that doesn’t take away from the focus on Carry. I see a lot of stories in which the grandmother plays a central role in the main character’s life, but the reader only gets a one-dimensional understanding of her. On another note, your prose is beautiful. This critique was also helpful to me because I find myself running into a lot of the same things discussed here, such as giving too much information about a character at the beginning and not getting into plot soon enough. Thanks for submitting this!

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    • Thank you very much for your ideas and honest critique! I’m also glad that you’re learning from my mistakes as well. That’s one of the great qualities of a critique group; everyone shares and everyone comes away with helpful tips.

      Adding another level of meaning to the water at the beginning of the story is a good idea. It is already woven tightly into the main plot and will become a reoccurring theme, but you’re right about it being a device for connecting the readers to Carry.

      I will also be very careful with the development of Gram. She is one of the main characters and deeply influencing to the rest of the story, so thank you for confirming my inclinations.

      Thanks for all your help and thoughtful words!

      Have a great weekend.

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