I am taking part in an initiative called #WriterInMotion where a group of writers show the development of their story from first draft to professional edits. You can read about it here. This week my story was critiqued by two fellow WiM writers (the wonderful and talented Ari and Dawn), as well as my normal critique partner and all-round super-star writer friend KD Kells.
Handing your writing off to others to be critiqued is a pretty scary thing. But over the years I’ve seen how much help it is to get fellow writers feedback on my work. So here is my newly edited story, as well as my explanation of how it changed through the critiquing process.
by Belinda Grant
Another box of twenty gloves arrived.
I walk to Doveton to pick them up and suffer under Max’s suspicious gaze.
“What do you do with all these gloves?” He asks for the seventeenth time.
What was I supposed to say? I give a bland smile and flee holding the box to my chest. As if I could hide behind such a flimsy thing.
I should’ve avoided town today. After last night, the stares are worse than normal, and that’s saying something. No pretext of politeness, people stop mid-sentence as I come into view. I know what they’re saying. About the boat, and how weird things didn’t used to happen in their precious town. As I wait at the crossing for the lights to change, I feel their eyes on my Lizzie Bennett dress, the gloves, the hair piled up high. Dad’s idea to make the gloves appear part of an eccentric fashion statement, and not a precaution against disaster.
But the gloves aren’t why people stare. Not today.
Davison exits the butcher. I speed up to a trot, pretending I don’t hear his “Hannah” as I head down the street.
At least the box is light. The sun beats down as I lift my skirt to run between the shade pooled at the base of the ghost-gums. Doveton is beautiful if you only look with your eyes. Dad says there is no point in moving on, that everywhere will be hard at first. Make more of an effort, Hannah. He doesn’t feel the stares. I want to move to the hippy hills, where people believe that crystals help a cold and a taro-deck warns of your impending death. Where strange is a draw-card.
I arrive home and go straight to the glove room. I drop my box on top of another, this one with ‘four hours’ scrawled in red texta on the side.
Dinner’s quiet. Sadie takes turns glaring at me and Mum. Mum because she has to stay at the table and not use her phone. Me because of last night, and the way her friends pull back from her after an ‘incident’. One day of my life, one tea-spoon of my suffering, and she looks at me with daggers. Cow.
Father stirs his remaining peas around his plate, trailing gravy across the china.
“I’ve ordered two more replica vases.”
Mum puts down her wine. “I told you,I didn’t want us doing that anymore.”
“We need the money. What happens if this boat thing blows up? We’ll need savings until we find our feet somewhere new. Precautions.” No one looks at me.
Father strikes the table with his fist and the peas jump.
“I don’t mind.” While my bare hands touch the vases, I press my forehead against them to see the life they could have lived. Peonies, gerberas, tulips and roses. Views of lounge rooms from the mantel, watching families growing up and growing old as they fade and age themselves.
And forged antiques make good money.
“We didn’t ask you, Hannah,” snaps Mum. Sadie chews on a carrot and smirks at me.
Maybe I should go without them. Quit school and find a job in the city. Save precious Sadie from all her suffering. And myself from Davison’s gaze.
I can’t sleep that night. I put on a four-hour pair of gloves. They’re yellowed and worn; they could be my Grandmothers’. I press a gloved finger to my forehead and I watch, as if on screen, what could have been. Debutante balls and costume parties. A life, rather than a few small hours protecting everything around me. I pull on my boots and head to the river.
The boat leans against the bank like it’s been there for years. So different from the day before. Why couldn’t have left it alone? There’d been something about that varnished wood glowing in the late afternoon sun. A stupid compulsion and it was twenty years older in an instant.
But today it’s deliberate. I pull off one glove and press my hand against the side. The wood is worn, and splinters dig into my skin.
“You should keep going. Just to be safe.”
How is it that Davison, who knows so little, can always guess where I’ll be? I rest my forehead against the hull to try to block out his presence and watch the life the boat should have had. Adventures down the river, beers on the deck.
Davison is like a spinning magnet, cycling round from repellent to attractive. Gloves back on, I sit beside him, and we wait. The boat lives out hundreds of years in minutes, crumpling to dust and settling into the river under the stars.
“It’s just a boat, Hannah, don’t feel bad. Your hands are amazing.” He reaches for one, and I let him take it, almost feeling his skin through the faded fabric.
“We could leave Doveton together.” Davison’s voice shakes.
He gets stared at too. Would it be so wrong? To have a friend who saw me as the heroine, not the witch?
A friend who knew what it was like to be a miracle and a curse.
Memories of a baby’s face flash over the handsome grown one. Choking and gasping for breath, his preemie lungs struggling against a simple cold. Too small and weak to fight it off. What else could I do? I’d whipped off a glove and placed it on his tiny chest. But I wasn’t quick enough.
“Hannah.” He reaches for my face and I let him take it, resting my forehead against his. I see the years I took. Baby Davison learning to walk. A giggling boy, jumping the waves. Ten-years-old, shooting hoops with his Dad.
Repellent again. I stand up and run.
I don’t listen, I just run and run.
And the gloves on my hands crumble to dust.
How critiquing changed my draft
Here is a screen shot of my document with the combined edits.
They picked up all the typos that I somehow missed in all my passes as well as my double spaces (sorry KD!). They told me what worked, which is both helpful and encouraging.
They also had some good suggestions for tightening it, and noticed when my tenses or capitals were wrong, or where I repeated words. The format has improved and it makes much more sense.
Ari also pointed out that I hadn’t set the time period clear enough at the start, so the mention of mobile phones in the dinner scene came out of the blue. So I mentioned Hannah crossing at the lights in town, so we know, despite the Lizzy Bennet dress, that it’s set in modern times.
But the biggest help was having outside people to help me with my reveal.
You see, writing a story like mine, where the truth of what is going on only comes out at the end, is a delicate balance. You don’t want to annoy readers, or have them confused the whole time, or even have them get to the end with no clue of what was really going on.
My CPs were able to say where I lost them, and give hints of where being specific would be more helpful. So I reworded a few things, particularly in the scenes where Hannah ‘sees’ what life the items she touches might have lived.
Did I take it all on board? Not entirely. Everyone wanted me to make it clear in the paragraph about the Premie baby that it was Davison, and suggested I made it obvious at that point. But I still really like the deliberate confusion about Hannah saying “I wasn’t quick enough.” At first it seems like she wasn’t quick enough to save him, but actually she wasn’t quick enough in her touch, so instead of him ageing just enough to get well, he aged over a decade. I LOVE the surprise meaning of that sentence. It still might not be clear, it might even be a darling I need to kill. But I left it in for now.
My story has now been sent off to a professional editor. I am looking forward to seeing how that process improves the story.
Thanks for following along my Writer In Motion journey.
You can find the others taking part in #WriterInMotion here