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  1. #1
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    'The Turn of a Card' - part 1

    Your offer to critique is most appreciated, thank you in advance for your time and expertise. This chapter occurs 10,500 words into the story.
    __________________
    The Weston residence was located in Bean Road, Bexleyheath, opposite a park and surrounded by trees. The large imposing Mock Tudor style property had two expensive cars and a Winnebago parked off road at the front of the house.
    ‘’It seems that the Weston’s have done well for themselves and they are not afraid to flash the cash. Not to mention the villa in Spain and the holiday home in Florida,’’ Jackson remarked to his Sergeant as he rang the front doorbell.
    ‘’Yes, who is it?’’ A woman’s voice yelled at them from behind the stained glass front door.
    ‘’I’m Sergeant Smith, madam, and I am accompanied by Detective Chief Inspector Fife, we are here to talk with Mrs. Weston.’’
    ‘’Show me your identification, hold it up, so that I can see it through the door. You can’t be too careful who you let into your house these days.’’
    Apparently she was satisfied with what she saw, the two men could hear the sound of locks being turned and bolts sliding, as the door slowly opened. The woman who opened the door was squeezed into a brightly coloured summer dress. She was in her late forties, around 5’ 3’’ tall and wore her red hair piled on top of her head, secured there with an ostentatious big green scrunchie. Both her hands were sprinkled with rings.
    ‘’You’d better come in then,’’ she said as she led them to the large reception room to the left of the front door. ‘’I’m Mrs. Weston, what do you want with me? I’ve already spoken to one of your lot just the other day. Like I said, I’ve got no idea where my husband was on the night that he died.’’
    ‘’You must have thought something was wrong when he didn’t come home that night,’’ said Sergeant Smith.
    ‘’Why would I? He often didn’t come home. He sometimes slept on the camp bed at the office when he had a big job on. He always said ‘you can’t run a business sitting on your bum, you gotta get out there and make it happen’, and that’s what he did. He and Randy, they worked hard and played hard. Now they are both gone, and the light has gone out of my life.’’ Mrs. Weston’s eyes filled with tears as she let out a low wail. ‘’Look what you’ve done, you’ve set me off again, crying for my Harry. Go on, pass me that box of tissues,’’ she said, pointing to the small table in the corner of the room and looking at Sergeant Smith.
    ‘’Mrs. Weston, we’re here to talk about your family’s finances. There’s just a few things I’d like to clear up,’’ said Sergeant Smith.
    ‘’Benny, Benny, where are you? Get your fricking lazy arse in here and tell these policemen what you know about our money,’’ Mrs. Weston screamed in the direction of the stairs in the hallway.
    Taking the stairs two at a time, and pausing dramatically when he reached the doorway, Benny rushed into the room. ‘‘There’s nothing to tell, I told you we have to speak to the accountant about that side of things, and I’m not going to do that until Edgar arrives from Canada tomorrow. Edgar is so good with figures, there’s just no point in me trying to puzzle everything out when he can do it so much better,’’ said Benny. ‘’What I can do though, is offer you a drink. Would you like a coffee or perhaps something stronger? My dear mother is all in pieces so you must forgive her for not being the perfect host.’’ Upon receiving a negative response to his offer of refreshments, Benny crossed to the mini-bar and poured himself a stiff drink. In strong contrast to his mother Benny was tall, slim and immaculately attired in subtle colours.
    ‘’This is my son Benny, come home from Canada to help his mother. He’s been such a comfort to me already. Of course he can never replace my Harry, my wonderful Harry, no-one can. I just don’t understand what happened to him, why would anyone want to hurt him, everybody loved him, what am I ever going to do without him?’’
    ‘’Now come on mumsy, don’t start crying again. Edgar and I will look after you forever. Anyway, it’s not true to say everybody loved him. I certainly didn’t and I admit it freely. I’m not saying it’s a good thing he’s dead, but just think about it, you won’t have to put up with his infidelities anymore, and he’ll never be able to call you a useless piece of lard again. When he kicked me out I was so worried about you, all alone with that selfish horrible man.’’ Benny’s outburst seemed to have a sobering effect on the grieving widow who sat down heavily on the bright red overstuffed settee.
    ‘’Hello Benny, I’m Detective Chief Inspector Fife. I believe you have been living overseas. Could you tell me when you returned to this country?’’
    ‘’Oh, only a few days ago, I’m back home permanently now, my partner will join me tomorrow. We are going to take over the business and look after mumsy.’’
    ‘’Tell me Benny, would it be correct to assume that you and your father didn’t get on?’’
    ‘’Yes Inspector, my father couldn’t accept the fact that I’m gay, he was ashamed of me, he disinherited me and then he kicked me out of the house. Still, it was no more or less than I expected of him, my father was a very black and white person. He liked to think of himself as a man’s man. He spent more time down the pub with his mate Randal than he ever did with his family.’’
    ‘’How did you get on with Randal, Benny?’’
    ‘’Dear old Randy and I had a mutual disrespect for each other, Inspector. I stayed out of his way and he stayed out of mine, our paths hardly ever crossed.’’
    ‘’You must have felt a great deal of anger and resentment towards your father, for rejecting you. Did the two of you ever come to blows?’’
    ‘’Come to blows, you must be joking, we had no verbal or physical contact for about a year before I left. I think my father thought being gay might be contagious, he couldn’t stand to look at me, let alone touch me. But why are you asking me these questions, do you think I had something to do with my father’s murder? Do you think that I would kill my own father? I wasn’t even in this country when he and Randy were murdered. You can check with immigration, or better still, let me show you my passport. I may have hated my dear father, and I’ll shed no tears over his passing, but I don’t have it in me to hurt anyone, do I mumsy?’’
    ‘’It’s not enough for you that my Harry’s dead, now you have to go tormenting me by accusing my gentle Benny of killing his own father,’’ Mrs Weston wailed in agony and once again degenerated into floods of tears. Sergeant Smith passed her the tissue box and waited for her to dry her eyes. When she was more composed he sat down next to her and began to ask her some questions. ‘’Mrs. Weston, I know you told us that you don’t know anything about how the family business operates, but maybe you could tell me how your husband could afford to start such a big business venture in the first place?’’ the Sergeant began.
    ‘’Oh, he started up with my money. My dad was a gambling man and one day lady luck smiled on him, he won a great deal of money, so he bought a swanky house in London. My mum died many years ago and I haven’t got any brothers or sisters, so dad left me the house when he passed away. We used the money from the sale of the house to start up my Harry’s ‘Goods on the Move’. Now look at us, you see our trucks, vans, and hire cars, all over the place, up and down the country.’’
    ‘’We’ve had our experts look over the finances Mrs. Weston and they’ve informed us that your father owed a great deal of money when he died. They believe that most of the money from the sale of the property would have been taken up in settling his debts. I’m afraid that using your father’s inheritance money doesn’t really answer my question about how you and your husband found the start-up money for his business.’’
    ‘’Well, that’s the only answer you will get now Sergeant. Get away from my mother and stop badgering her with questions. Isabella du Lac © 2015 (please see my next post for the rest of this chapter).



  2. #2
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    Some food for thought. At its most basic, a story is about a person, one who faces a problem that throws them out of their comfort zone. The narrative revolves around that person's efforts to get back into what they view as normalcy. And in the process they will change their view of what constitutes that condition, and grow as a person.

    But here, you have an outside observer who talks about what's happening, as if they were watching a film and reporting what attracted their attention on-screen. We're not made to see that film, because that would take the proverbial thousand words to give the reader even a still picture. Instead, we're told what's of interest within it, and that's sketchy from the reader's viewpoint and distances them from what's taking place.

    We don't know why they're at the woman's door as we open. We don't know what either of the men hope to accomplish, or whet they really think of the woman, so we can't tell if they're "on track," or not. And since we don't know their intentions, the only way of our knowing if things are going well or not is for the narrator to explain it. And while that may be informative, it's not entertaining, because there's no feeling of our being a participant in the scene. That matters a great deal, because the reader is with you to be made to feel that way, and to feel they have a stake in what happens next.

    Look at a line or two from a reader's viewpoint:
    ‘’Benny, Benny, where are you? Get your fricking lazy arse in here and tell these policemen what you know about our money,’’ Mrs. Weston screamed in the direction of the stairs in the hallway.
    The woman has been told that the men want to talk about finance. The woman says nothing in response, changes expression not at all, and doesn't even turn her head, so far as we know, so to the reader, sh shouting into the policeman'a face. So the reader, who cannot see the scene, has no clue of who she's talking to, or why she would talk that way as-they-read-it, making the line confusing. We go on for more than 166 words, most of a page, before we learn who Benny is.

    That's an artifact of reporting cinematically, and telling the reader what you see happening. But suppose you'd preceded the line with: "Let me get my son," she said, before turning her head and shouting. Then, the line tells us both who he is and how she feels about him. (or course a few lines later, after calling him lazy, she praises him) Such things matter. In this, your characters don't smile, hesitate, rephrase, or any of the things people normally do when interacting. In life we guestimate what people are thinking about by their tone, their expression and body language, etc., but your charcters neither demonstrate that nor evaluate it in others. And that, the emotional aspect of the story, is what we come to reading fiction for.
    ‘‘There’s nothing to tell, I told you we have to speak to the accountant about that side of things, and I’m not going to do that until Edgar arrives from Canada tomorrow. Edgar is so good with figures, there’s just no point in me trying to puzzle everything out when he can do it so much better,’’ said Benny.
    Here, we read sixty-seven words before we come to the tag, which is far too many. But is the tag necessary? Benny enters the room, dramatically (though we have no idea of why). He's been summoned and told to say something. Doesn't the reader expect the speaker to be Benny?

    In general, you're thinking in terms of writing a script, and focused on what happens. Were you writing a script that's a good approach because the result is visual, and you want the audience to see and hear what you're visualizing. But the printed word can't reproduce either sound or picture. Worse yet, you can't place things in the background for the reader to notice, in parallel with the action, because print is a serial medium. And that, the restrictions imposed by the medium, changes the way we must approach the act of creating a scene.

    Remember, the reader can't hear the emotion in the narrator's voice, as you can. They can't pick up on the character's intent, as you do because you already know the story. They have only what the words you provide mean to them, based on their background, not yours. And the odds say they'll be a different age group, social group, and even gender, so you can't depend on them being like you, or reacting like you to.

    That sounds like making the reader understand is an impossible task. And it would be if we were trying to make them know the scene as we do, given that every reader is different. But there's a trick, called mirroring, that can give all readers the same background—the character's. This article may clarify.

    All of the above is not good news, I know, because you've put a lot of work into this, and a lot of yourself. And certainly, you were hoping for at least, "But it sounds like a really good story idea." But here's thing: nothing I said has anything to do with talent, your potential as a writer, or even the story. What I'm talking about is the learned part of writing fiction—the nuts-and-bolts knowledge and the tricks-of-the-trade that aren't obvious to the outside observer, or the consumer.

    I've stood where you are. Everyone has, because we all leave school believing we know how to write. And we do, if by write you mean possessing a set of general skills that will make us useful to a potential employer. But what we need to create exciting fiction is the knowledge of craft of the professional in the field.

    This is an article I often recommend, on creating a scene from the point of view of your principal character, the protagonist. It's one very powerful way of hooking your reader and giving them reason to want to turn the page. It's one of many tricks you'll find in the book the article is based on.

    Here's the thing: if you learned the rules and techniques for the book-report style of writing we were taught in our school days you can pick up this set of tricks to, and trade in that dray horse we're issued in school for Pegasus. And once mounted, who knows where you'll fly to?

    Hang in there, and keep on writing.

  3. #3
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    Thank you Jay Greenstein. Wow! what detailed feedback, I appreciate the time it must have taken you to write this and I will take it all on board. I will check out the links you have posted and hopefully learn more about the craft. When I first started the book I had an idea that it might make a good TV series, this may have influenced the way I attempted to write it. I thought all you had to do, is to write, you have made me realize that I need to learn more about the craft before diving in. Whenever I have read anything out to friends and family, they have been supportive and praised my efforts without being able to give me anything concrete to work on. Your knowledge of the craft is invaluable, key, vital and all important for me. This is my first try at creative writing, mostly I have written submissions for funding and papers about domestic violence, community work and policy development. Creative writing is something else!

  4. #4
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    Whatever you do, don't let it discourage you. Literally everyone stands where you do because we all learn writing, and assume it's the skill you need for the profession called Writing. I finished six manuscripts before I paid for a critique that absolutely destroyed me. I was expecting lots of grammar corrections, but at least a "But it's a great story." What I got was a sea of blue ink, running everywhere and dribbling off the page. And what was I doing wrong? All the usual things, brought on by a certainty that I already knew how to write, and that the reading I'd done would guide me in finding the problems. In other words, the usual new writer things.

    What I think you will find amazing, is the number of times you're going to slap yourself on the forehead and say, "But...why didn't I see that for myself?" And I think you'll find that adding a few tricks will also fan the flames of creativity and make the writing more fun.

    Hang in there.

  5. #5
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    I will hang in there Jay Greenstein, I already love it and hate it. Writing really does play havoc with my emotions. I expect it's the same for you, when you are really going well and feeling like you have the makings of a truly amazing book on your hands, the world is totally wonderful. I felt like that two weeks ago, the last week has been a crisis in confidence, but I am picking up the pieces now and putting myself back into shape. It's been so good to have the chapter critiqued and it's given me a new lease of energy to go back to it and rework it.

  6. #6
    Rogue Mutt
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    BTW, if you ever do post another piece, make sure to put an extra space between your paragraphs. You might get more responses if your post isn't a solid wall of text.

  7. #7
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    Yes, I agree Rogue Mutt, it would make it easier to read.

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