Write Wow!

Writing tips and techniques from the publisher of Swimming Kangaroo Books. Send your 3-page writing sample to be critiqued to dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with the word "critique" in the subject heading. Your submission will be critiqued on the blog, but your name will not be used unless you give permission.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Critique of For Love or Money

(My comments will be in Purple. Words and punctuation that need to be deleted are in Red. Words and punctuation I added are in Purple.) At the end I will have general comments about the passage.

Claire stared at the envelope in her lap and touched the crisp edges that had yellowed with age. Even the rough hand-writing that spelled her name had faded to a milky blue. When had her father written it? Probably not long after he'd abandoned their family for the United States fifteen years ago. And now he was dead. Lovely description!

The man sitting in the armchair opposite hers waved a hand at the envelope he'd traveled across the country to deliver. "Aren't you going to open it?" Peabody Henry asked. "Your father wanted you to know—"

"I don't care what my father wanted," Claire said, her gaze still glued to the letter. His words would just be lies anyway.

Mr. Henry lifted a burly grey eyebrow and nodded. "Sure. No problem." But he didn't look like he meant it. He scowled and heaved a sigh that would have cracked the rib of a smaller man. Henry was enormous, tall and broad-shouldered, his face weathered like a map of more years on the road than she'd lived her entire life. "You take your time, dear," he said. "I'm in no hurry." Lovely description!

She flapped the letter against her palm. "What does it say?" Notice how the writer blends her descriptions into her attributions. There's no doubt about who is speaking, but at the same time, we get a good sense of the atmosphere of the story.

Peabody Henry shifted in the hotel lobby chair, causing the naugahyde to creak. He leaned forward, thick elbows on even thicker knees, and pinned her with a serious stare. "It's okay to ask me questions about your father."

Claire pushed her back against the cushion behind her, increasing the distance between her and the big lawyer. She glanced down at his over-sized feet and noticed one of his laces was untied. "Thanks, but I don't have any questions."

"I was more than your dad's lawyer," Henry confided. "I was his best friend."

She nodded. It was easy to see how this gentle giant might befriend almost anyone, even her deadbeat dad. Henry spoke soft and deep, his kind eyes turning up at the corners when he smiled. Dressed in wrinkled khaki pants, an untucked flannel shirt and wearing an old pair of suede hiking boots, the guy looked more like a homeless transient than a lawyer. At least he was clean. He smelled like juniper trees.

He cleared his throat and slid a manilla folder from a scuffed leather portfolio. "I have those papers for you."

She frowned. "The insurance papers?"

"I've already transferred the funds to your Bank of the Cascades account, but you'll want to move them into something more high yield. That's way too much money to keep in a checking account."

Staring at his untied shoe, she said, "The money should have gone to my mother."

Henry slipped a pen from his breast pocket. "Your father knew you'd take care of her and your sister."

Claire tightened her grip on the letter and felt the paper tear. "Kind of late for that."

"Neither of us knew about the accident."

She shrugged. "Nothing can be done for Celleste, but my mom's still breathing." Not that breathing always meant living, at least in her mother's case. After the car hit the median and rolled, her mother's injuries left her in a coma and her sister without a pulse. The pickled state of Mom's inebriated brain might have been responsible. Or the leaky breaklines.(sp) Whichever, the result was the same.

Why the hell didn't Henry tie his shoe? She gestured toward his feet. "Mr. Henry, your shoe –"

"I asked you to call me Peabody." He smiled that kind-uncle smile again. He didn't even look at his shoe. "She's comfortable? Your mother?"

"As comfortable as anyone unconscious could be. She's in hospice care."

"The money from your dad's policy will take care of all her medical needs from now on."

Claire didn't hide her sigh of relief. She'd already taken out a second mortgage on the trailer to pay for her mother's care. Selling it was the next step, but then where would she live?

General Comments and Observations: This is a very well written passage. Observe all the things that the reader learns about Claire and Peabody during this section:

Claire's father walked out on Claire and her mother 15 years ago and she's not heard rom him since.

Claire's mother was a drinker.

Claire's mother is in a coma after a car crash.

Claire's sister was killed in the same crash.

Claire doesn't have much money. She put a second mortgage on her trailer to pay for her mother's medical care.

Claire harbors a long standing resentment towards her father.

Peabody was best friends with Claire's father.

Peabody is an attorney.

Claire is receiving a significant bequest from her father in his will.

However, what is also important in this passage is the descriptions that allow us to feel what Claire is feeling. As an opening scene, this is a very well written scene-- it's going to be next to impossible for someone to NOT want to continue reading this.


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