New column, Crit Me!
This month, the Muse Marquee has a new columnist, Mommacrit.
The Crit Me! column features the first 500 words of one writer’s work, accompanied
by a no-holds- barred critique from Mommacrit.
Here are Mommacrit’s guidelines:
Send Mommacrit the first page of your story or novel. It
must be less than 501 words. Label it clearly with its title, your name or a nom-de-plume, and its genre. It should be a damn
good beginning, hooking Mommacrit into wanting to read more. By sending your work
to email@example.com, you are giving permission
for it to be published, and publicly critiqued, in the Crit Me! column of the
Mommacrit is not a literary god, though many worship at her feet. She is not a god’s earthly
representative, sometimes known as an agent or publisher. Mommacrit is a critiquer with very definite ideas. If you’re
tough enough to send your work to her for an opinion, that’s what you’ll get, her honest reactions to your 500
Do you dare?
Page by J.Verhoeff - one writer who dared send work to Mommacrit!
John Creigh pushed past the doors of the bawdy house, shouts and screams
from within indicative of the happenings. His wife of seventeen years had stood before him and denied him of her wifely duty.
He intended to meet the desires of his body.
The tinny pining of a piano somewhere inside welcomed his heavy boot
steps on the porch of a whitewashed clapboard house with red velvet curtains at the windows. White lace and demure lighting
welcomed him into the foyer, where red glass lamps with flickering flames dimly lit the interior of a hall leading to a mahogany
stairway with richly painted walls.
Madam Morris welcomed him from her perch on a wide velvet covered bench
near a desk with ivory appointments. Strawberry blonde curls bobbed against a cheek painted with red rouge and a blackened
beauty mark against shiny red lips and eyes the color of the ocean sought his soul. Her garishly bejeweled gown of dark green
satin curled in flounces and rosettes around her broad hips, cinched at the waist with a narrow black velvet band. Large breasts
barely held in a black lace corset emerged from the bodice of the gown to display jewels set in a black ribbon necklace.
“John Creigh, to what do I owe this pleasure?” She welcomed
him into the parlor, where several girls sat listening to the music, reading, or knitting in comfortably cozy chairs and benches.
“Is Julia here?” He spoke softly.
“In her room.” Madam Morris guestured down the hall
to a room near the back with a mahogany door standing partially open. Inside the soft glow of a lantern flickered shadows
against the wall.
Madam Morris took his arm and led him to the room at the end of the
hall. He entered the quiet room and closed the door. A girl on the edge of the bed looked up, but uttered not a word as he
deftly managed the buttons of his clothing, removing fabric from his hard body.
In the dim light of a flickering lamp he took her.
Innocence gave way to pain as burning terror shrieked from her lips.
She trembled beneath him, her screams not too different than others heard from different rooms.
“Oh, is that the game.” His wretched voice scorched her
senses as he plunged deep into her, his body forcing response from her. "You little wench, you never had a hard time before."
Her screams muffled into his shoulder as he pounded her again and again,
relieving the stress of hard work and a life gone wrong.
"That ought to do you 'til the next man comes along. Ain't none got
a better piece than mine, but you'll jest have to suffer." His voice rasped over her ear.
The scene unfolded as planned; his needs were met. He dressed in silence,
rocking on the bedsprings that creaked with every move.
The negligible penance for his due lay across a corner of the table; John pulled on his
boots and walked out the door.
First off, Mommacrit wants to say how great J.Verhoeff’s first page is.
She wants to, but she can’t.
Mommacrit believes this story does have potential, but it needs work.
A beginning is your brief window of opportunity to grab hold of a reader’s attention and keep it.
Your hook should plunge the reader directly into the story. It should be active, tight writing. It must not be wordy or contain
J. Verhoeff probably knows this, as do most writers. The trick is to examine your own familiar work and
focus a searchlight on it.
The first paragraph is crucial. In J.Verhoeff’s first paragraph, we meet John Creigh, most likely a main character.
We discover he’s entering a bawdy house, “shouts and screams from within indicative of the happenings.” Indicative of the happenings?
With that phrase, the writer seems to be taking a step away from what’s going on in the bawdy house. “Of the happenings”
is followed immediately by “of her wifely duty” and “of his body”. Mommacrit’s senses are dulled
by this repetition. She stifles a yawn.
But Mommacrit struggles on. The second and third paragraphs set more of the scene. There are 28 prepositions
in those two paragraphs alone. That doesn’t help tighten the writing. J.Verhoeff presents us with an excellent word
painting of the madam but that description would be better placed elsewhere in the novel. It does NOT belong on this first
page, the one that’s supposed to plunge the reader into the story, with action and tight writing.
Perhaps Mommacrit has voyeuristic tendencies? She suspects we’re getting to some action. The next
couple of paragraphs move faster, with dialogue and shorter, sharper sentences.
Mommacrit discovers why John Creigh came to the bawdy house but is not surprised. She is, however, unimpressed
with this character, and certainly not interested in reading more about other forms his stress relief might take. John Creigh
is not the sort of character Mommacrit wants to read more about. J.Verhoeff has not revealed his humanity, has not made the
reader empathize with him. Nor is the unfortunate “girl” any more than a cardboard cutout.
In a nutshell, this hook does not encourage Mommacrit to turn the page or buy the book.