Formerly “Online Fiction Tuesday,” I considered renaming it “Online Fiction (and Truth!) Tuesday” so that I could include true stories, too. But since that’s so long-winded, maybe “Online Story Tuesday” would be just as apropos.
Doesn’t matter, as this post’s subject is a fictional story, “Ilker Drennan” by Donna Gagnon, posted recently at Every Day Fiction. This is a story about a depressed widow who is just barely making ends meet.
I’m doing this post in a new format, an experiment. We’ll see how much I like it and whether I do it again. Every other week (at least that’s the plan), I’ll post a link to an online story. Then I’ll give a free, unsolicited mini-critique. Why? Because I used to critique stories on the online forums, but I got tired of people asking for my free advice and then promptly ignoring it. (I’m not upset with them, because I used to ignore their advice about my stories, too.) But at least this way, when they ignore it, at least I’ll be expecting it.
So click here to read Donna’s story. And then you can check out my comments below.
This is one of those literary pieces that tries so hard to paint a picture, it forgets that literary fiction can tell stories, too. Think about it. The main character, Theresa, has two major problems going against her: her beloved husband died some months before, and she’s still depressed because of it; she’s just barely making ends meet. As the piece is currently written, you have to dig for the story before you really understand Theresa’s plight.
Yeah, I know: that’s the beauty of a literary piece, right? Wrong. The best literary works affect you at an emotional as well as an intellectual level. You should never have to dig for the story, because that’s the part that hits you emotionally. You should only have to dig for the meaning behind the story.
This story could make more of Theresa’s two problems right from the first paragraph. In the first sentence, in fact. Try starting the paragraph by highlighting Theresa’s problems: “Everything around here has gone to crap and back, Theresa thought.” Then talk about the rusted mailbox, the CoC magazines, the electricity bill, and the two packages: the CD she had bought off eBay, and a mystery package addressed to her dead husband (the one that contains the video).
In order to create the most bang per word, the story should then build intensity one step at a time. After mentioning each of these items, talk about how it makes Theresa feel, what she thinks about, and how she responds to those thoughts and feelings. The rusted mailbox is what makes her think that everything has gone to crap. The magazines she’d probably notice next, and they would probably remind her of her husband’s failed art business. When she first sees the electricity bill, she’ll want to pretend it’s not there, because she knows what to expect.
(The paragraph when she finally opens the bill, that paragraph is close to what I’m talking about, because it talks about how she feels and what she thinks the implications are. Except that she then throws the magazines into the fire—why? That action is disconnected from what she was thinking about, her electricity bill. Is there a missing sentence, something about her turning down the heat to use less power?)
What about the package with the CD she won off of eBay? This is mentioned in the first paragraph, but never again the story. That’s like revealing that there’s a gun hidden in the living-room end table, but no one ever picks it up or points it—or even pays it any notice. Similarly with the son, who is mentioned only in passing. But why doesn’t he visit her more often? Why doesn’t he help her out? What does she think of his lack of involvement in her situation?
And the package addressed to her dead husband ought to evoke a whole slew of emotions and memories, and she has to deal with all of them. The statue of the eagle would work well in that part of the story.