Critique Group – Past the Gatekeepers

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Past the Gatekeepers – by Stephanie

“Stop pulling Bosco!” I snapped. My goldendoodle heaved a concussive bark in complaint as I dragged him behind me. There was an old wooden gate dredged up against a group of soggy bushes that begged to the reworked into a vintage sign. The flood waters from the creek behind my house always deposited cast offs I could re-purpose in my workshop.

Bosco yanked again pulling me off balance when a rabbit darted from its disturbed nest. With a yelp, I slipped on the slick ground and banged into a tree. Eighty-five pounds of dog yanked on my arm, pulling me over and into a puddle of mud.

“I said no,” I growled along with an angry pull back on the leash that was burning into my fingers.

His prey long gone, Bosco looked back at me and sat, his tail wagging in the mud puddle.

“Great,” I muttered, adding dog bath to my to do list. “Now will you behave so that I can grab this gate?

Bosco gave the front of my soggy shirt an apologetic slurp as I carefully stood.

“Are you alright?” a concerned man’s voice called from the trail.

“Only a scraped elbow and wounded pride,” I answered back, lowering my voice as a nice looking man in jogging clothes walked into view.

He glanced me over with a bemused smile while I pointed accusingly at Bosco. “He wanted to chase a rabbit.”

The man snorted a laugh and appraised my tongue lolling dog. Bosco woofed a friendly greeting and nestled his giant head under the man’s outstretched hand.

“Such a great guard dog,” I muttered.

“If he was able to pull you this far off of the trail, maybe you should take him to obedience classes,” the man offered.

The silly image of skiing through the mud behind Bosco popped into my head and tried to hide a smile. “No, there’s a wooden gate in the bushes back here that I want to drag home.”

“Ah, so the rabbit incident happened on the way to the gate?” he said, his eyes dancing with merriment as Bosco nudged closer and was rewarded with a chin scratch.

“Oh no, you’ve done it now. Once you’ve scratched his chin you’re his friend for life,” I said with a mournful tone.

The man laughed then said in my same tone, “It would seem that I’m doomed.”

We shared a grin and the moment became awkward when I found myself staring at the handsome tilt of his jaw when he smiled. Get a grip Donna, you see handsome men all the time.

“Well, I better grab the gate and get home before the neighbors see me. The rumor mills will have a mud covered vagabond skulking in the woods by the end of the day.”

“Do you live nearby?” he asked, spiking my nerves. Alone in the woods with a stranger, no matter how good looking wasn’t always the best scenario.

He seemed to pick up on my worry. “I’m sorry. My name is Vance Chambers. I just moved into the red brick house on Woodbury.”

“Ah my new neighbor, I live two doors down in the white house.”

“I was wondering who lived there, you’ve got quite a quirky front yard,” he teased offering me his hand.

Quirky was a nice description, most of my neighbors called it a monstrosity but I loved it. In the sparse grass under the tress of my front yard was a wandering stone path. Off of the path was an entire gnome village with varying homes I had created out of re-purposed doll and bird houses.

I shook his hand. “My name is Donna Gibbings and you are much nicer about my yard than most.”

“You village is amazing. I spent almost an hour there last night enjoying all of the different homes. Did you make them all?”

I nodded and said, “My parents are artists and taught me how to sculpt when I was young. I sculpt now for a living but the gnome village is my guilty pleasure when I’m low on orders or mentally blocked on a project.”

“By the looks of it you’re low or blocked a lot,” he teased.

“Nah, I’ve lived here over fifteens years. The village did not go up over night but I’m running out of room. I would run a path into the backyard but Bosco would destroy any homes I put in the back yard.”

Vance barked a laugh. “Gnome carnage. Maybe turn the backyard into a gnome war zone. Little siege engines and gnome armies.”

“I like your sense of whimsy sir. Perhaps you could explain my backyard project to Benny Barnes over on Northside, he’s started a petition against me.”

“Some people have nothing better to do,” Vance scoffed. “How big is your gate? Do you need a hand?”

Looking back at the bushes where the gate rested, I realized that it was much larger than I originally figured.

“Probably so, it didn’t seem that big back from the trail.”

Bosco started barking as we walked closer.

“What’s the matter boy, it’s just an old piece of wood,” Vance said as he reached up and gave the gate a tug. It didn’t move.

Bosco’s pitch changed and he added a howl at the end of his complaints.

“Bosco, sit!” I said with a firm voice. He sat but continued to bark as I reached up and helped Vance pull. This time the gate moved but barely.

“I wonder what it’s stuck on,” he said as he walked around the bushes looking.

“Do you see anything?”

He peeked around the bush with a puzzled frown and shrugged.

“Maybe if you push and I pull?” I suggested.

We reached together and counted to three. The gate moved a bit and Bosco’s bark became frenzied. With my hands still on the gate, I turned to shush him but he shot past me and bit down on the wood and began pulling as well.

This time the gate began to give way, not down to the ground but swinging open on its hinges.

I glanced beyond the opening expecting to see Vance on the other side. Alll I could see was trees. “Where did you go?” I called.

Looking around the frame of the gate I could see his ducked head and arms outstretched as he pushed. Staring back into the gate opening, his head was gone again so I stood on my toes and looked down. How bizarre, Vance was gone and the trees showing through the gate rippled like the surface of water.

“Weird, Vance come look at this.” He pushed through the bushes while Bosco dropped the gate and began barking again.

“What?” he asked, staring at the opening then back at me.

“Put your hand behind the opening,” I said.

He placed his hand behind the gate’s frame then gave me an incredulous look when it wasn’t visible. “What the heck? Is it some kind of portal? Are you pulling a prank on me gnome lady?”

The surface rippled again and without thinking I reached out and lightly touched it. It did not feel like water. I played my fingers across the opening and they slowly sunk into the ripple. I didn’t mind at first until the gate began to suck on my hand. Then it resisted when I tried to pull my hand away.

I started to struggle free and shared a frightened look with Vance.

“What do we do, it’s sucking me through?”



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9 replies

  1. Hi Stephanie! 🙂

    You have some lovely, descriptive vocabulary in this piece. Adjectives like “concussive,” “vintage,” “apologetic” and verbs like “dredged,” “burning,” and “appraised” give clear descriptions of the action and help the reader to understand the mood of the writing.

    There are a few thing grammatically that you will want to fix– especially using commas for direct address. (I think Mr. Davis must have picked this up as well; hence, the picture he put up with this. :)) Any time a person addresses another person/character by using his/her name, a comma should separate the name from the rest of the sentence. For example: “Stop pulling, Bosco!” OR “Bosco, stop pulling!” If you know someone who really knows grammar well, I would encourage you to get him/her to look over your writing to make corrections.

    I was also confused about a few details. In the first paragraph, is Bosco in front of her or behind her? It says “I dragged him behind me,” but then later, it implies that he was in front pulling her behind him. You may want to change a few words to clarify this so that the reader can visualize what is happening in his/her mind. I was also confused about the age of the character. At first, she seemed to be a teenage girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen, just by her demeanor and speech pattern. (Or maybe it was just my assumption.) Later, you clarify that she apparently is much older, since she seems to have been living alone at that house for 15 years. Either way, it may be helpful to the reader if you give some clues to her age earlier on. For example, while Bosco is pulling her around, have the character bemoan the aches and pains that she did not have when she was in her twenties. Though this can be difficult to do, try to read your writing from a reader’s perspective, who can’t see the characters and the action in his/her head like you can, so that you can make sure that your writing is as clear as possible. Getting another person to read your writing is also helpful.

    Overall, I enjoyed reading your piece and think this could turn into an intriguing story. You have several creative, clever phrases that made your writing interesting: “Eighty-five pounds of dog yanked on my arm,” “adding dog bath to my to do list,” “Only a scraped elbow and wounded pride,” etc… You style of writing seems to be easy to read in that you use interesting phrases and descriptive words. Great job!

  2. Thank you Janna, I’ll look into your suggestions.

  3. I will try to critique this on Saturday or Sunday.

  4. Stephanie,

    Thank you for submitting this excerpt. Gateways to alternate realities or other worlds are always intriguing. I would continue reading.

    Some issues I saw repeated:

    Watch out for putting reactions before the motivations. For example – ” lowering my voice as a nice looking man in jogging clothes walked into view.” The reason for lowering the voice was because of the man coming into view, so the man coming into view should be reported first.

    Don’t put speaker tags late in a dialogue paragraph. Insert them as early as possible. For example:

    “Oh no, you’ve done it now. Once you’ve scratched his chin you’re his friend for life,” I said with a mournful tone.

    This would be better written this way:

    “Oh no, you’ve done it now,” I said with a mournful tone. “Once you’ve scratched his chin you’re his friend for life.”

    Watch for repeated words that are too close together, like “yanked” and “teased.”

    Watch for using commas at the end of a sentence instead of a period. For example: “I was wondering who lived there, you’ve got quite a quirky front yard.” That is two sentences. You need a period after “there” instead of a comma. I saw this problem many times.

    Other details (I won’t mention details that have already been mentioned):

    The first paragraph needs a transition from the dog walking to the gate. It seems that the gate just pops out of nowhere with no transition. Maybe have the dog bump into it.

    “Are you alright?” “All right” is two words.

    “The silly image of skiing through the mud behind Bosco popped into my head and tried to hide a smile.”

    The way you wrote this, it is the silly image that is trying to hide a smile.

    “Some people have nothing better to do,” Vance scoffed. “How big is your gate? Do you need a hand?”

    I think you need a transition. Vance jumps suddenly from the neighborhood topic to the gate.

    Overall, I think the pace of progression is too fast. There is no apparent story connection between walking the dog and finding the gate. Just stumbling upon the gate without developing the character feels too convenient or contrived. Since I don’t have any reason to care about the characters yet, I don’t care that they found this mysterious gate. There are no stakes, no emotional attachment. You haven’t provided enough time or reasons for me to wonder if any particular problem the protagonist has might be solved or made worse.

    Have you read through my posts on starting a story and gaining an emotional connection?

    Keep working on it. I believe you have the skill to make this great.

  5. Stephanie, thank you for submitting this. I always love reading what my fellow aspiring writers have created. The inter-dimensional portal is fascinating. Reminds me or Mr. Davis’s books. As Janna already said, your word choices are very intriguing (I especially like the “eighty-five pounds of dog yanked on my arm” part).

    I was, however, confused at the beginning. “There was an old wooden gate dredged up against a group of soggy bushes that begged to the reworked into a vintage sign.” Did you mean that the gate “begged to be reworked into a vintage sign”? Also, when you say that it was “dredged up,” means that it was excavated, or otherwise dug up (e.g., to dredge up a body from a lake, or dredging up the past). “Against” makes it sound like it was leaning on something, unattached by hinges, but later you mentioned it swinging on its hinges.

    The dialogue seems somewhat contrived. For example, “Only a scraped elbow and wounded pride,” does not seem like something that a person would say to a complete stranger. You might want to consider something like, “‘Only a scraped elbow.’ And wounded pride, I mentally added.” For thoughts, it would be a good idea to italicise them, though I’m not sure if they already were in the original document.

    Some other confusing points: When Donna touched the portal plane, was it where the gate used to sit? Why didn’t Vance get sucked in as well when he was behind the gate? Why did Bosco try to get away from the gate, then help pull it?

    Finally, the paragraphs seemed off. Try not to add unnecessary paragraphs when only one person is talking. When I have Character A speak, then have Character B’s non-verbal reaction, followed by Character A’s verbal response, I keep it all in the same paragraphs (I learned this by analyzing paragraph structure when I read).

    Overall, wonderful job, stellar vocabulary, and fascinating plot. Good job at creating mystery early on in your story. I’m curious as to where the portal leads. Thank you again for this submission. Can’t wait to read more.



  1. Critique Group – Gatekeeper

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