Brace yourself, this post is long.
I don’t fancy myself as a fiction writer. In fact, as an adult, I have never written a fiction piece from start to finish. I’ve used fiction prompts to get ideas flowing, but they stay locked away in a notebook that sit inside a box or file cabinet.
I write personal essays, non-fiction articles, blog posts and haiku poetry. This work isn’t critiqued though. I guess in a way the non-fiction articles are critiqued because they are being published, but there are rarely major changes to my work.
Most of the feedback I have received was while I was working on my Master’s degree in Teaching. I had to write a lot of research papers. My professors gave me excellent marks, and I even won a faculty award for my Master’s portfolio. But again, this was all non-fiction writing.
I’ve thought about finding a mentor, but I don’t have the money to spend on regular critiques. Also, I don’t have a lot of time to sink my teeth into learning about writing fiction and writing a novel or novella. But I did want a new challenge. I thought Flash Fiction would be a good start.
I stumbled across a website called Women On Writing. They host frequent Flash Fiction contests that include a critique for an additional amount of $10 (very affordable). The stories must be 750 words or less, a manageable piece to write.
Although one of my scores was not exceptional, I decided to share my first ever Flash Fiction story and the critique with you. The critique is at the end. You’ll notice part way through the story, there is one proofreading mark. I had a comma where I didn’t need one, but that was it.
If you have anything you would like to comment on, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Miss Crowley Hates Candy
I was the librarian at one of the elementary schools in Albany, New York. I had packed my bags the night before and left for Syracuse on the last day of school.
The movers were coming Saturday morning to load the truck and move my belongings to Syracuse.
On the last day of school, the teachers, staff members, and students gave me a wonderful farewell party. A chocolate marble cake sat on the table in the cafeteria. It was lovely. Like the confections painted by Wayne Thiebaud. The cake was drowning in frosting, and a short message across the top was pleading for attention. It said, “We will miss you Miss Marie Crowley.”
After the festivities, I drove my 2003 Silver CR-V out of the school parking lot. My lower eye lids were fighting the damp salty tears that were aching to reach the end of my jaw line. I would miss my life in Albany, but I had a new one starting in Syracuse.
As I drove, I had that too good to be true feeling in my heart, but I pushed it away and blamed my nerves. I was moving to my new boyfriend’s house, which was soon going to be my new home as well.
Six months ago, Don sat next to me at my cousin Kara’s wedding. I knew that Kara planned this seating arrangement. Normally
, I would have been furious with her, but meeting Don was different. That evening at the wedding, I don’t even remember what we had for dinner. In fact, I don’t know if I finished my meal. My stomach hurt all evening, not because I was ill, but because I was laughing so hard. Don told me stories of his childhood and all the dorky things he did to woo the girls he liked. Everything from naming pet frogs after his elementary school crushes, to playing the John Cusack card and holding the noisy boom box outside a girl’s window late in the evening.
Now, Don owned a candy store in Syracuse and his attempts at wooing girls still had not paid off, or so I thought. I had left school a little early, so I decided to meet him at his candy store instead of at his house. I was on the road a little over two hours when I arrived in downtown Syracuse. There was a parking space right in front of the store, but that meant parallel parking. I drove around the block and pulled head first into a spot with miles of space. My palms were moist and my mind was racing, the last thing I needed to do was park my car between a bright red BMW and a black Toyota 4-Runner.
I walked around the corner and heard squabbling. I couldn’t make out where it was coming from, but it was close. I slowed my pace and looked around. When I reached the candy store the voices were louder, and I knew it was coming from inside.
The bell rang when I opened the door, but the woman in the store never stopped hurling candy at Don. She dipped her hand into the Hot Tamales and peppered him with the bright red candies. When the container was empty, she thrust her hand into the Swedish Fish and chucked him with those as well.
My eyes froze. Everything went numb. I couldn’t see, the voices were muddled, and my jawline scraped my chest. It was true, it was all true. This. My life with Don was too good to be true.
This woman kept screaming at Don. She screamed over and over like a child asking, why, why, why. “How could you do this to us?” I waited and listened. Don had eaten a rare type of candy that he was developing. He knew this candy would make him allergic to certain people. And that certain person was his wife of 10 years. The candy and his body chemistry made him allergic to people with a certain blood type —A positive.
It was then that I remembered him asking that peculiar question at the wedding. “Marie, what is your blood type?” “B negative,” I told him. He changed the subject without a second thought.
My handbag and its contents crashed to the floor. Don spun around, and a look of horror crossed his face. “Marie, I did this for you. For us. Don’t you see, now I can leave my wife to be with you?”
Scores: 1-5 (5 being strongest):
OPEN PROMPT (Any genre in fiction)
Word Count: 750 max
Subject (Is it fiction? Appropriate for WOW! readers? Brief summary):
Answer: Yes, it’s appropriate for WOW! readers and yes, it’s fiction.
Content (Is the story well developed? Is there a plot/point to the story? Is it compelling? Are the characters well-drawn?)
Answer: I think the idea for your story is good, and I think with a little revision, you could have a winner here. It is very science-fiction, but readers don’t even realize that until almost the end. Instead of starting with her leaving her school and the party, why not start with something “amazing” his candy had done for someone—maybe cured baldness or something like this. Then he tells her over the phone that he has a great idea for a new candy that will set their future—and of course, she thinks this means by giving them more money, and so she quits her job to move with him. Then your ending won’t be so out of place with the rest of the story. The ending is your strong point and interesting, but the rest of the story needs to fit it.
Technical (Did they follow the rules–is there a title and proper word count? Check for proper spelling, punctuation and grammar, correct tense, active not passive sentences, overuse of adverbs, use of “wrylies”):
Answer: Good job
Overview (This is where you give your general impression about the writing style, how the story affected you, etc.):
Answer: My main piece of advice is that your story doesn’t start in the right place. I think you can work on making the beginning as strong as the ending. ALSO, you only have 750 words to work with, so you don’t need much about her leaving the school because that’s not really where the story is. Thanks for sharing! Best of luck.
You may wonder why I would want to share this story with such a low number on content, but I think it’s important to grow and accept criticism. Critiques make us better writers. And, I want to inspire others to keep writing and get as much feedback as possible. It’s the only way to become a better writer.
This was an invaluable experience for me and I will do it again as soon as I can make time.
Has anyone ever had a formal critique? Did you learn something valuable from it?
I hope you have a wonderful week!