December writing prompt: Olivia’s response and Meghan’s comments

Monday’s episode was our monthly critique session, and as promised, here’s the first of two posts sharing our responses and comments. It’s not too late to join in — just head to the open thread for December to share yours, or send us an email.

The rules are short — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. Simply put, don’t be mean.

So here’s Olivia’s response, and my comments below. Remember, these are first drafts written in 15 minutes or so, not polished submission-ready material.

Gareth glanced over his shoulder before talking. Later, he’d remember that glance and wonder who or what he was looking for. He’d left his wife at home – that was smart. She’d hate this whole thing. Maybe he was checking she hadn’t followed him. Not that she would do that.

Maybe it was just living in Moscow for so long that had made him paranoid. And that feeling had followed him here, to New York.

“Don’t you worry about being sued?” he finally asked.

“Sued?” Gabe’s face looked like he’d uncovered a horrible smell. “Why?” He reached up to straighten his tie, then squared his shoulders back.

“What was that saying you Americans have? I always admired it. Something like not eating where you –”

Gabe’s head lolled back his mouth open in a dramatic imitation of laughter, but the sound was controlled. “I love the Americanisms you know, Gareth.” He slapped his hands on the table, again with a surprisingly muted sound, as if all his movements were performed through a thin film of cotton gauze. The opposite of projecting from a stage. “No, I’m not worried. To answer your original question.”

“You’ve never had any complaints?”

“Not in that department.” Gabe tore open the crusty roll that had been dropped on his plate. He tilted his head towards the wall, as if his exploits had happened in the next room. “Times have changed, man. They’re so ambitious, they’ll do anything.”

Gabe picked up his knife, spread butter on one half of the roll. “And they don’t have all those prudish hang-ups your generation, and even mine to some extent, had. The young ones need to sow their wild oats, as much as we did.”

Gareth felt a pang of, what?, not exactly jealousy, but something else – regret, maybe, like he always did when he heard men bragging about their sex lives. I could have that, he thought. And then, as usual, something inside him shrugged. He took a long drink of his beer, letting it wash into him. It tasted flat, or old.

“Anyway, that’s not why we’re here, right? Didn’t you want to ask me about someone? Are you poaching one of our people?” Gabe waved at the waitress to get her attention, holding up two fingers to sign for more beer.

“Oh yeah. I almost forgot.”

Gabe did his quiet chortle again. “Business really is doing well. Before, you definitely couldn’t compete with our salaries.”

“I’m not. She left you guys a while ago, the girl we’re talking to. She won’t say why.” He paused, letting that phrase hang there, then lifted the corners of his mouth into a smile. “Anna Davis – know her?”

Gabe clinched his jaw as the waitress put the beers on the table.

Meghan’s comments:

All in all, this was a tough exercise for both of us. Working with characters we already know so well, and outside the confines of our establishes stories, we both felt like we didn’t want to speculate too far afield. However, it’d be great for digging into a new project, and it was still really great to stretch ourselves here.

  • I like the way it leads up to the end, giving just enough information to keep the scene moving, and the ending is satisfying and fits.
  • The scene-setting at the beginning is also good. Not too much background, but enough so we’re not floundering.
  • Gabe is also really gross — well done.
  • I also liked the flat, old beer — it clearly refers to Gareth himself.
  • It could be smoother. This is pretty normal for a first draft, though!
  • Also normal for a first draft — there are a handful of phrases you could polish (“glanced over his shoulder”, “pang of jealousy”). I think I noticed them more than I usually would because this is something I need to work on in my own writing!

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