Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Rude Awakening

We had our third writing workshop with Robert recently. Several of the participants had sent in stories earlier and these were critiqued at the workshop. I wasn’t anxious at the possibility that my story would be ‘ripped apart’ as Meg had put it. I thought my piece was okay and I wanted to see how it would be viewed by the other writers.

Lessons I learned:
1. Having written a non-fiction book doesn’t automatically make one a good writer of fiction.
2. Readers react differently to the same story.
3. We should not include details which don’t belong to the story. For instance, if you’re writing about gardening don’t tell about your father’s tips on saving money!


I had purposely left out names of places/towns but Robert said I should have mentioned the places.
He also said the dialogue is confusing. (I like to leave out ‘he said, she said’ if I think readers could tell who is talking. Apparently, I left out too much here.)

I’m going to edit my story to make it less confusing and more plausible. But here is the unedited version for you, the faithful readers and followers who have not yet given up on me. Can you spot the mistakes/weaknesses in the story? 

Tina Kisil

It was late afternoon. Tom dialed Nikki’s number as his eyes swept critically over the girls strutting along the catwalk. They were all wearing his exquisite batik designs. Tom was pleased with himself. Tonight a minister’s wife, one of his regular buyers, was coming and with her some foreign dignitaries, all interested in promoting the local batik overseas.
“Hello?” Nikki sounded breathless. She’s at the gym again, thought Tom.
“I won’t be able to make it tonight.”
“But Tom, you promised.” She was disappointed but this was his chance to gain a foothold in the fashion industry. He had to stay back.
“Sorry, Nikki. I’ll make it up.” He was really sorry because it was Nikki’s birthday and the first one they were supposed to celebrate together and he had planned to propose to her tonight. But that had to wait.
“I’m cooking a dinner you won’t forget,” she had promised. “And there’s a surprise after the dessert.” That was a change considering she always cooked greens or ate them raw. Tom loved meat but occasionally he would go on a vegetarian diet and it was on one of his trips to the Very Vegan Restaurant, he had met Nikki.
Within a few months he had moved in with her and he discovered she maintained her figure with a sensible diet and an exercise routine that could intimidate even those weight loss gurus on TV. Tom also knew that Nikki’s ex-husband and her daughter were somewhere in Europe and that they kept in touch but Nikki was secretive about her past, even about her age. Not too long ago he had plucked up the courage to ask how old she was.
“Can you keep a secret?” she had whispered.
            “So can I,” she replied smugly. He was taken aback so she added: “I don’t think of how old I am. It shouldn’t matter to you or anyone. Mention a fifty or sixty-year-old female and the mind conjure a senile, arthritic, helpless crone. Probably true in the last couple of centuries but nowadays our age has less to do with how we look and feel.”

            Tom smiled uncertainly at the end of her speech. He did not want to upset Nikki and risk being told to return the key to her front door but he was aware of Nikki’s obsession with looking young. In fact, lately he noticed that she had begun stealing glances at handsome young boys. ‘Secretly admiring’ was perhaps a better description than ‘stealing glances’!
The ringing phone brought Tom back to the present. His secretary said Missus Minister was unable to come after all.
“Damn!” Tom was furious. “Some women just can’t make up their bloody minds!”
He dismissed his models, raced to the airport and caught the last flight home. He could still propose to Nikki before daybreak.
At dawn Tom unlocked Nikki’s door which protested loudly as he pushed it open. Tip-toeing down the hall he heard a noise. He stopped in mid-motion and turned his good ear towards the sound. There was a gasp. He jerked his head and in the dim light, saw Nikki coming out of her bedroom: a golf club in her hand, a bewildered expression on her face and hardly a stitch on her body.
“I thought a burglar broke in.”
“There was a change of plans and….” Hurrying footsteps farther down the hall interrupted him. A tall figure, in absurd Mickey Mouse underwear, stumbled out of the shadows. Nikki returned Tom’s incredulous look with a shrug. A vein started throbbing on Tom’s temple and all he could hear was his galloping heart. He was about to explode but when he spoke his voice was calm and even.
“Where did you find him?” He pointed at Mickey Mouse with his chin. “In the Yellow Pages?”
Nikki’s jaw fell and a smirk appeared on the stranger’s face. He looked hardly out of his teens.
“I know you worship youth,” Tom continued. “But this is ridiculous. Why, your… your…toy boy is young enough to be your son!”
“Damn you, Thomas!”
“And you, bitch!” Tom spat out his venom. The boy came to stand between them cutting off the verbal attack. He had erased the smirk on his face and replaced it with annoyance. When at last he spoke, his accent was distinctly British.
“Sir, that’s no way to speak to my grandmother.”


  1. Robert’s comment: “He also said the dialogue is confusing. (I like to leave out ‘he said, she said’ if I think readers could tell who is talking. Apparently, I left out too much here.)”

    I could follow the whole conversations and the people in it. There were four characters in the story were actually playing their parts in the dialogues and they were Tom, Nikki, Tom’s Sec & Nikki’s daughter’s son.
    As for Robert’s comment as above I found the unedited version did not confuse me although only two names were mentioned. However, maybe names like where Tom’s work, Nikki’s place or the Very Vegan Restaurant is located. Anyway that does not matter much to me as reader. Well, it is just my opinion.

  2. Hi Charles! Glad you like the story. I thought I should post it here because some of you haven't read the story and maybe you couldn't follow what Robert was pointing out.

    Andrew, that's so kind of you. I'm going to add the missing details and hoping to improve the story. It's an old piece, btw, and was my entry in a competition once upon a time! But more about that in another post. Thanks for visiting.

  3. Hi. As I mentioned in the workshop, the confusing part of the dialogue was only at the beginning when it wasn't clear right away who is speaking and whose thoughts are these. They are mixed on the same line, like when Nikki answers "Hello" but we get Tom's thoughts. And this is repeated two lines later. Always best to avoid any confusion between characters at the beginning of the story.

    Also we had no clues they were in different cities until much later in the story and no reason to assume that he wasn't merely calling from the office in the same town since she was preparing dinner for him.

    Yes, different people react differently to the same story, which is a learning lesson for all of us. It's a good thing, too, which explains why many best-selling novels get rejected by agents and publishers who either didn't see the potential, or just didn't get the story. It happens! Good luck with the rewrite!

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