Another piece of writing I'd really value your opinion on(8 Posts)
I posted a few months back and got great feedback from you all. I've recently joined a local creative writing group but everybody there is so nice! Nobody ever provides constructive criticism. I tried to last week and people just stayed silent and then made sure their comments afterwards were doubly nice to the writer.
I have a new idea for a story about a lone mum with depression who just really doesn't want to be a mum. She feels trapped and makes a decision that she thinks will improve her life ... but only makes it worse. My main question is - is it too descriptive again? i know that it is, however, I feel that the over description shows the character's personality. She feels she is much smarter and creative than she actually is ( not projecting - honestly!) and that she's better than everyone. I feel as though using a lot of words in her observations of things helps show this rather than me telling it?
Anyway - if you have some time to kill - please do have a read (i have the ending of this scene to post too if anyone is interested). Before I go on further though, I want to know if i'm showing the character's feelings and personality enough or if i need to take a different approach. i want readers to dislike her but also want to save her!
Sorry for the formatting - doesn't copy and paste well.
Why are humans hard-wired to go outside when the sun makes an appearance? I can remember the bubble of dread whenever Dad came home early from work in the summer.“You’d better not be up there!” My blinding panic as I attempted to squish hours of indoor play under my bed before his boots stopped dead outside my door. His groans of disgust upon spotting me clenching my Barbies while laughter from kids on the street seeped through my Groovy Chick Bang on the Door curtains. My shame and guilt as he branded me a freak with no pals. That’s probably why I always drag Hannah to the park as soon as there’s any hint of warmth and light. Dad rarely visits us but I’d hate for him to catch us cooped inside our flat on a day like this. It was different when I was wee. Kids tossed out - no phone, no tracking device strapped to their wrists - with firm instructions not to return until it was dark. I’d be done for neglect if I did that to Hannah. If Dad were a parent in today’s world he’d never sacrifice his days off sprawled across the couch, dozing in and out of consciousness, barking at the telly and slurping at Mum’s half-hourly mugs of tea just to supervise me kicking about.
“Mum, come and push me!”
I knead my damp forehead, not looking up from my phone. I can get away with pretending not to have heard her. A nearby toddler is screeching so loudly at its granny for bringing the wrong crisps that I almost didn’t hear her.
I groan inwardly and continue to swipe down, rereading statuses of people I haven’t spoken to since school. Lisa’s engaged. Stephanie’s making memories with little Fred and Daniel. Derek is building castles at the beach with his boys. I toy with the idea of taking a quick snap of Hannah and posting my usual ‘Fun at the park’ line.
“Taps aff, tits out!”
I glance at the formerly subdued teens now writhing against the climbing frame next to Hannah. They’re applauding their shortest peer’s attempts to pull his too-tight t-shirt over his curly head. I despise the sun and its extraordinary effect on people. Cars become windowless, polluting the torrid air with the over-excited bellows of wannabe red-coat radio hosts. Angelic toddlers mutate into ice-cream-coated imps. My neighbours’ Friday night parties extend to Wednesday, infiltrating my flat with their dope and bass, destroying any hope of sleep. So many lives ruined all because of some stupid, giant fireball. The teens shout that Kirsty is a slut. Their chants and beating of crushed cider bottles synchronise with Zara Larsson Symphony-ing from a phone balanced precariously atop the peeling railings behind them. I glimpse Hannah. She’s petrified. Her cheeks flush and her knuckles blanch around the swing’s steel chain. Why don’t you get up and bloody move if you’re so scared of them?
“Come on, stinky, let’s sit here next to this nice lady.”
A large, panting woman slumps beside me. She’s clutching a sunburnt child peering from beneath a Paw Patrol sunhat. I try to smile at it but my muscles battle against the effort. Go away go away go away go away. Why bypass a perfectly empty bench over there just to squeeze onto half of my one? My elbows dig further into my waist as her beefy arm brushes against mine. No apology. No explanation. One. Two. Three. Four -
I grab my bag and fly towards Hannah.
“What is it? What?”
“Can you push me, please?”
Hannah’s eyes flit to the cluster of parents picknicking not twenty feet away. She knows she’s safe from a scolding in such close proximity. Little manipulative shit. I bend down, pretending to tighten her laces.
“I told you to play by yourself and give me ten minutes’ peace.”
“But I need help.”
“You’re big enough to push yourself.”
“But I - ”
“I’m going to sit back down.” I glare at her. “I don’t want you to talk to me, to look at me, to come near me for ten more minutes. Understand?”
She toes at some daisies jutting from the rotting bark. “Fine.”
“Don’t just sit there doing nothing,” I warn her, straightening my back. “If you’re not going to use it then get off and let someone else have a go.”
“I am using it,” she insists.
There is no escaping her. Even as I flip-flop towards the one remaining empty bench I can feel her eyes stabbing my back. I mentally count to ten, my breath hissing a series of drawn-out, discreet ffffffffffs. The large woman opposite smirks, depositing a soiled nappy into a transparent sandwich bag. Her tot’s Sudocremed bottom now smearing the spot I’d been occupying only a few minutes ago. It becomes obvious why she had avoided this bench. Wasps almost the size of my thumb are feasting on the remnants of kebab and lumpy vomit in a Tesco bag dangling from the arm rest.
I u-turn to find a a spot to sit on the central grass, raking my hair to get rid of any beasts that might have hitched a ride. My eyes settle on Hannah’s bedroom window. It’s the only room in our flat which overlooks the park. A pink speck twenty storeys high on the leftmost tower block. I remember when the council lady had handed me my keys. I was so happy that I hugged her and cried. She must have thought it was crazy pregnancy hormones. It was on my first night there that I realised why they called it Suicide City. Three different neighbours came that evening demanding tin foil, a fiver and a phone charger. One insisted I owed them money and another that I was hiding their dog. The third knocked me over and sat in my kitchen for an hour. The police eventually arrived and took him away. Dad came and fitted a chain for me after that.
“Muuuuuuuum! Look how high I can go!”
The second part of this scene if anyone would like to read -
When I was wee, I used to imagine that my life would end up like those models in my granny’s Country Life magazines. I would have a daughter called Alice and we’d live in a detached cottage with a pebble-dashed path winding through a wild garden of honeysuckle, sweetpeas, ivy, and hollied archways. There’d be a pond, too, with goldfish and frogs. We would have a school friend over every Sunday afternoon (Arnold) and they would play in our custom-built wooden castle while I cooked us soup using vegetables we’d grown ourselves. We’d paint together for the final hour and when Arnold’s mum came to collect him at five o’clock, I’d relish in her poorly suppressed jealousy as she listened to his passionate stories about how much fun he’d had all the way back to their car.
Hannah is now on the chute, wiggling in preparation for take off. An older boy begins to climb towards her. He stops mid-way. A momentary stare-off ensues. Hannah clumsily stands, reverses and descends the ladder. The boy usurps her. I scrape my nails across the soil and capture fistfuls of stringy grass. She is never going to be an Alice. Sometimes I wonder if I’d love her if she was more attractive. Is it even possible to hate a beautiful child? Hannah looks just like her dad. A pinched, rodent face framed with frizzy, yellow hair. Only just turned ten but already sporting a noseful of acne. Most people we see, shopkeepers and the like, insist she’s my spitting image. As if that’s some sort of compliment.
Hannah inches closer to me, pretending not to realise, appearing thoroughly engrossed in daisy-picking. I check my phone. I still have three minutes of agreed peace left. She looks at me. I shake my head to warn her off and raise three fingers. She slouches and murmurs something then starts to pluck more daisies.
I regularly dream of running away. I already have my defence argument prepared. Her dad ran off and abandoned her without any repercussions so why can’t I do the same? I’ve tried to quite a few times. I don’t always plan it. Sometimes I just get this urge - this pang - to get away from her as quickly as possible. When we’re passing somewhere like a cafe or the supermarket, I make her go in to try for a pee and tell her I’ll meet her outside. Ten minutes is the longest I’ve gotten away for. Something always drags me back. Fear, mostly. But fear of what? What Mum and Dad would say? Hannah used to cry whenever I’d do this but now she just finds a seat until I come back for her. Then she holds my hand and says, “Did you manage to find the cash machine, Mum?” appeasing the nosy onlookers who had undoubtedly been keeping a distant eye on her.
Hannah looks at me again. I give her a curt nod and she runs towards me, beaming. God knows why she’s so pleased.
“Want to make a daisy chain, Mum?”
She sits next to me on the grass. Her chubby hands release a shower of crushed daisies onto my lap.
“Are you in a happy mood or sad mood today?” she asks me.
“What do you think?”
She doesn’t answer.
“My nails are too short,” she says, after a moment. “Can you do the holes?”
I oblige, silently, and start to pierce some stems. My lip trembles.
“Count to ten, Mum.” Hannah blinks at me. “You’ll feel better.”
I just sit there. Pretending to love her. Uh-huhing in the scarce pauses of her mundane chatterings about Youtube and Alicia who wears lip gloss in her class.
There’s no one left in the park but us.
“Mum, can we go home now?”
The daisy chains are snapped and withered by the time we leave but Hannah insists we take them with us.
I don't think the descriptiveness in itself is a problem -- it's vivid and evocative -- it's the fact that you seem to start with flashbacks before moving onto action in the present.
I would edit the second part to lead with the daisy chain scene before flashing back into the times the narrator leaves Hannah in shops for a few minutes' peace.
You seem to have a habit of beginning scenes with a flashback/set of general musings, whereas it's virtually always more effective to begin with some action and scene-setting in the present before flashing back. In the first part, I would set the park scene and its dynamics more firmly before your narrator flashes back to memories of her childhood and her father -- they will be more effective as a part of an explanation of why the unenthusiastic narrator has taken her daughter to this hellish park.
A couple of specific things -- I thought Hannah was far younger than ten until you gave her age and mentioned acne. The 'Mummy, look how high I can go!', daisychain and climbing on the slide stuff suggests to me a far younger child. (I think you've characterised her really well, especially in the way she's learned to wait for her mother to come back for her and to save face in front of other people, and how she's learned to 'manage' her mother in conversation.)
How old is your narrator? The reference to people she hasn't spoken to 'since school' could mean very different things if she's nineteen or thirty five.
Finally, I think if you want your reader to relate to your narrator as well as to dislike her, I would postpone till far later on in your story (is this a novel?) the moment where she calls her daughter a 'manipulative little shit' -- I think that's just too ugly for the opening scene, and especially where it's sited, immediately after she thinks Hannah is scared of the teenagers in the park. I think it's too much too soon. You need to work up to it to somewhere where her anger at her whole situation can erupt.
Likewise with the bit where she describes Hannah's 'pinched rodent face' in the second scene. Again, I think that you could definitely have her think about the uneasy sensation of noticing the features of a despised former partner emerge in your growing child's face, but the actual words are too ugly at this point.
I agree with NobleRot about the structure, so long as it doesn't become formulaic and you're doing it all the time.
I too thought the poor child was about 3 at first, but perhaps she's not NT, which may explain some of the narrator's horrible feelings towards her.
I was jolted by the "manipulative little shit" line; you're going to have to work hard and fast to get the reader to have the tiniest bit of liking for your narrator - atm she's pretty irredeemable! Do you plan to capture the reader's interest/emotion using Hannah instead?
you're an excellent writer, so firstly well done.
i like description and your style but what i would worry about is where the story is going- it needs movement- forward. the mother is flat, the relationship is flat - we get it- but we need something to happen. soon.
i also struggle that the girl is ten. the nature of not liking parenting a 10 yr old is quite different from not liking parenting when they are 5 or 2. the pushing a ten year old girl on a swing/the whole playground thing doesn't ring true to me (sorry)
but keep going- i think its an important issue.
Very well written! Well done!
My point is about class (hot potato!) The narrator sounds very middle class, wanted a Country Life childhood but now lives in a Council House and had a drunk as a father. Her language is very sophisticated, so what is the narrator's background?
If I be totally honest, I thought she'd be a rich detached house dwelling yummy mummy rather than a single mum living in a council house.
But loved the vivid language! Keep writing!
Wow! Thanks so much for the constructive feedback. It's really helped and was what I was desperate for!
Yes - Hannah has a disorder which makes her act and think younger than her years. I might need to make that more obvious here, even just a line and then elaborate throughout the story.
Yes, I've planned it to be a full novel and am quite excited by the plot! Completely appreciate the comment that there needs to be more action here. It does just feel a bit flat. I was aiming to create a sort of flat atmosphere but definitely see potential here for some sort of action.
I'm going to reserve the more horrible comments for later and perhaps just show more of Mum's bitterness and desperation for silence and isolation in this scene.
You're totally right about the flashbacks and the need to start with action here. I've rejigged it on the way home from work and already I feel it reads easier.
I was hoping to give the mum's background further space over the next few scenes as in felt it was too much to begin with.
Really appreciate the feedback. Lots of great advice to carry on with. Thanks!
its v hard writing a depressed character- ive tried i feel you need to get the plot progressing even more especially as its an early one because agents/pubs tend to make their decisions on those.
there is no room for just scene setting (imo) - push forward with the action/conflict. we get that the mother is down- show us what shes going to try and do about it- shock us even. throw more obstacles at her. thwart her early.
im saying this coz i think this can work.
and kudos to you for listening and taking points on board. the best writers do.
Join the discussion
Registering is free, quick, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Get started »
Please login first.