I’ve seen a lot in my years of reviewing, but the issue here was pretty unique and something about the construction of this story baffled me. The writing was above-average and the opening was good, but as it went on it all went downhill. The author seemed to have an opening and setting in mind, but no idea for a plot. The whole effect of it was really weird: well-constructed sentences became confusing because the author didn’t seem to know what to do with them. Actually, that no-plot-but-setting-and-decent-writing kind of sounds like what I tend to do…
Ms. Maude had heard people joke that her neighborhood was terrified of bony trees, and she was beginning to think they were right. She was watching now, from the front lobby of JD Morgan’s law firm, as some men up on ladders unwound Christmas lights from the trees across the street. As they worked, the citizens of Bakelite Heights were treated to their first unobstructed view of the full buds.
Not sure what this means– what’s a “bony tree” and how does people gathering to watching Christmas lights get taken down illustrate a fear of them?
In-between watching them and greeting clients, she slid her pen across a massive stack of paper-work in front of her. Every other minute, she slipped the stack aside and scribbled hurriedly at a half-written poem.
“In-between” shouldn’t be hyphenated. Also, there’s a lot of stuff going on here. All at the same time, Maude is writing a poem, doing paperwork, greeting clients, and gazing out the window, and she’s constantly alternating these tasks? It’s a bit silly.
At 5 o’clock, she reached under the papers and pulled out a fistful of poem,
“ […] a fistful of poem” is a really weird phrase. I don’t know what you’re trying to say with that.
only relaxing her grip when she had handed the key to the night watchman and slipped out of the silver-plated doors. As she walked down the sidewalk she saw a little group bending over the window of a shop that had been vacant for a few months. Its old sign waved apathetically in the breeze, the only horizontal line, if you stood at the end of the street, in the corridor of pavement and vertical shop-fronts.
That whole section of the sentence is really bizarre to me. It’s got too many clauses and commas, and doesn’t add anything– why does the horizonal-ness matter? How would you even identify as it being the only horizontal line? Does everything else only exist in one dimension?
A hasty coat of white-wash covered it, though some splotches of red showed through. Ms. Maude paused and squinted at the sign, trying to identify the picture. They were roses, she decided. Roses or wine.
A gust of wind suddenly hit her face and she blinked, trying to wet her eyes, so it was through a haze of water that she first saw the little man.
I would split this into two sentences, because you’ve again got too many clauses going on here. Remember– one sentence, one main idea. Maybe something like: “A gust of wind suddenly hit her in the face and she blinked furiously, trying to wet her eyes. It was through this watery haze that she first saw the little man.”
He appeared, at first, as no more than a black blob with a little brown circle balancing over it. Then the shape unfurled and she saw a bright green streak in the black which, as the water left her eyes, turned into his button-down. A pot of white paint sat on the ground next to him, graced with a few drips and splatters, and as she watched he dipped in a brush and put the finishing touches on the words on the window. “Airtight Wishes, While You Wait!” his slogan proclaimed in uneven, twirling script. The letters flowed into each other like a child’s racecar track, and Ms. Maude was perfectly sure that if she let a marble go at the top of the ‘A’, it would fly off the end of the last ‘t’ and come to rest at the bottom of the exclamation mark.
That last metaphor is really excellent.
With a final flourish, then man wrote “Omarion Sprite” under the slogan. The crowd stood silent. After a shifting moment he took a tentative step outwards, then turned and disappeared into his firm.
Their entertainment gone, the people dispersed. Ms. Maude, though, stood still for a moment. Her bus stop was nearby. She had to rest. She fingered the poem in the pocket of her coat.
“I’m sorry, are you waiting for something?” Omarion Sprite asked, opening the door around his body. Ms. Maude just shook her head. “Did I see you across the street? The place with big pillars?” She nodded, trying to remember his face. He stared at her for a moment. “Come inside.”
Ms. Maude walked through the empty waiting room after Omarion. A few shelves, left by from the florists, still stood against the walls. Mr. Sprite waved her through a smaller door to his office.
“How is LD Morgan’s?” He began, and Ms. Maude started to tell him about her employer, using half her mind to scan the room.
Dialogue is written: [“Hello,” he said.] Note the comma and the lowercase “he.” It is never [“Hello.” he said] or [“Hello,” He said] or any combination of those. The only time you use a period is when the next sentence stands alone, ie [“Hello.” He looked away as he said this.”] Further, with anything that isn’t a speech verb (ie, “slipped”), you should end the dialogue with a period, not a comma. Remember that just because something is a sound you make with your mouth doesn’t make it a speech verb, so something like [“That’s funny,” she giggled.] is incorrect. It would be [“That’s funny.” She giggled.]
It was barely big enough for a desk and two chairs, though two desks had somehow been squeezed in. One was bare, but the other was covered with papers and pens and cups and an odd machine with a glass plate on the top.
“Are you afraid of your life?” Omarion suddenly interrupted. His voice hooked her mind with surprising force and jerked her face towards it with one swift pull.
“I’m well paid, I have a steady job. I don’t think I’m afraid.”
“So you are. It’s fine. Everyone in this city is.
This was a bit confusing. I would add “afraid” ie, “So you are afraid.” to clarify (assuming that’s wha he’s getting at).
That’s why I set up my practice here.” He walked away from her and placed his hands on his desk. “The thing is,” he continued, “that people don’t want to treat death with respect. Your employer” he turned and menaced the door with his finger, “writes ‘Wills and Testaments written’ in fine print at the bottom of his brochure so it won’t scare people away.”
All this dialogue interruption (aside from being punctuated incorrectly) is very odd, and I’m not a fan. Just have him get the sentence out. Also, that’s not really proper use of the verb “menace.” It generally refers to an active bodily threat.
Ms. Maude opened her mouth to protest, but it was a gesture paid from her salary, something she owed to Morgan’s.
I’m not sure what you mean by, “it was a gesture paid from her salary.” Clarify.
“No.” Omarion cut her off. “just listen to me. What do you want?” Ms. Maude reached into her pocket again and felt the poem. Omarion’s eyes followed her hand and though her move took several seconds, he didn’t speak.
This is getting kind of weird. He’s getting more and more threatening, and Maude is just going along with it without any kind of reaction. She’s buying into the granting wishes thing, even when this guy seems to have some nefarious purpose. I’d like to see some more logical reactions out of her.
“I don’t think I should answer that.” She brought the poem out and smoothed it between her fingers. “Do you have a pen?”
Who’s saying these things?
He handed her some paper as well, and for a silent minute she transcribed her poem, barely caring that Omarion Sprite was leaning over her shoulder.
Why is she going along so readily?
See, the effect of this is that it takes me out of the story– I can’t relate to her any more, so I step back and notice more about what’s wrong with the piece instead of staying invested in it. Some more emotion or inner dialogue from Maude would probably fix that.
When she straightened, she left the poem on the empty desk. “Would you like to work with me?” Omarion said after a moment, still staring at the paper. “I need a business partner, and-”
“You don’t even know my name.”
Wait, he goes from asking for her wish to asking her to work for him? Was that her wish? Why did she write the poem down?
“It was on the sign on your desk. Think, please. I open at 9 tomorrow.” He straightened, and his black coat suddenly closed around his chest. “Do you know what I do? I write peoples
last wishes, the wishes for their deaths. Airtight. Quickly. And I’m the only one to do it right, to believe that it’s important. It’s what people want, what they really need when they’re thinking about death. Would you want to be embarrassed to die? That’s what this town does to people. Well I won’t.” He breathed deeply and ran a hand over his eyes. “Have you ever heard anything like this before?” As he leaned towards her his hands began inching over the sheet of poetry.
I’m pretty confused. So, he just takes people’s final requests and puts them into print? Why is he being such a jerk to her? Why isn’t she saying anything? Why is she giving him the poem?
“Yes, I have, Mr. Sprite, but only from myself.” She turned and walked away, leaving the poem under his hand.
What does that mean?
The next morning at nine, Ms. Maude entered Omarion’s law firm. The sign had disappeared, but the slogan hovered boldly on the glass. Ms. Maude jerked her pink eyes around the sidewalk before she entered the practice, then walked through the lobby, keeping on the straight shadow of the door.
What does that last clause mean?
“Ms. Maude!” Omarion greeted her with a grin and motioned grandly towards the small desk in the corner. He had put a hand-made paper sign on the wood with ‘Ms. Maude’ written in his carefully scripted handwriting, and her poem lay next to it. She fingered it gently as she sat down.
“Good morning.” She said after a pause.
You really need to watch your dialogue punctuation. It’s all over the place.
“Won’t you help me put this sign up?” Omarion asked after a moment, holding up a wooden sign with two paint-stained hands. It was the same placard that the flower shop had used. The paint was still wet, but it read “The Wish Lawyers” and underneath it the lilting slogan, “airtight wishes, while you wait”.
The slogan should probably be properly capitalized.
Ms. Maude inhaled sharply, and jerked her eyes out the open office door towards the glass storefront, where she could see people beginning to walk by. Still, she held the ladder for him, her back to the street, as he painted.
Hadn’t he finished painting it and just needed help putting it up?
She went inside a moment before Omarion was finished.
The Wish Lawyers had only one visitor that whole summer.
The man was kind, bold, small, and garrulous. His head was ringed with white hair that glowed in the sunlight, stray strands scratching fuzzy patterns around his face. He was almost always smiling, and his face had settled into lines that made his frowns unnatural.
How could Maude know he was almost always smiling? You might want to say somthing like, “The lines in his face made it clear he had spent his own life smiling, and now those same lines made his frown unnatural.” Or something.
Nearly every time he
Who is this “he” referring to? You’ve only mentioned the old man coming in once, so I’d guess Omarion? But he hasn’t been mentioned for a while.
entered the practice he wore dark business pants and shoes, old sweaters, and the same leather jacket. He walked like the business men
“Businessmen,” one word.
from 50 years before, the ones who had catered to L.D. Morgan’s in its infancy. Ms. Maude never inquired.
Never inquired as to what?
“Ms. Maude, this man needs to write a will!” Omarion exclaimed, spreading his arms wide as if presenting a secret joy to the world.
Oh, so he is just a will lawyer. Why did Maude drop everything to work for him? I’m pretty confused.
“Certainly.” She smiled and brought over the small folder of necessary forms. At her desk, she picked up a blue pen and waited, twirling it between her fingers. The two men began talking earnestly about names and birthdays. It didn’t take long for Omarion to draw up the will; the old man knew exactly what he wanted.
“Sign here, please.” Omarion leaned forwards, elbows on his knees, and pointed at the paper. “Your full name, if you don’t mind.”
“Gerald Leslie Fay.” The old man stated, smiling, and reached for Omarion’s pen.
“Here, use this.” Ms. Maude handed him the blue pen and smiled. “So we can tell copies from the original.”
“Oh, no, we have a scanner in the corner.” Omarion waved to the back of the office.
Why would having a scanner make it easier to tell copies from the original?
“Oh, of course.” Ms. Maude turned back to her desk before she had finished speaking.
“Mr. Sprite, is anything the matter?” Her voice was flat, and her fingers carefully straightened pencils on her desk.
It didn’t take more than a week for Bakelite Heights to evict The Wish Lawyers. The pre-theater crowd clustered around the storefront, emptied, and filled again with fresh men and women. Bodies rubbed against the firm, diminishing it with every glance.
I have no idea what the plot of this is, and I’m almost at the end. When it started, I thought it was going to be magical realism, and then it turns out he’s just an actual lawyer. I’ve been waiting for some action to tell me where to go since then, but none has come up. What’s the trajectory here? The rise of action, the climax? Why should I care about these people, whose decisions I don’t understand?
Ms. Maude stood in a corner but Omarion jumped around the office, grabbing shoulders only to be thrust back, frantic for a place to spend his urgency. First Ms. Maude’s desk was taken, then her pens, which had fallen on the floor, then her calendar. When an officer reached for her purse, she bent over slightly at the hip.
“I’m sorry, sir, that’s mine”. She said with a small, apologetic smile. He looked at her for a moment, and she recognized him as someone she had greeted in the lobby of LD Morgan’s. Still staring, he carefully clipped a little yellow tag around the handle and brought the purse up to her. She nodded and clutched it to her chest.
Omarion started to talk about money, and the sound surged into her, washing her towards the door.
What sound? The sound of him talking? Why would that drive her toward the door?
She carefully walked a few steps, and in a moment she was striding through the main room, staring through the glass right at the onlookers, ripping the yellow tag off her purse as she went.
She grabbed the sign and continued walking. She considered wrapping it in her jacket, but the paint caught her eye and she held it up in front of her, a shield and a plow-blade, staring.
“Airtight wishes, while you wait.”
Well, I have absolutely no idea what the plot of that was.
The writing itself, from a technical standpoint, was generally pretty good. You had no idea how to punctuate dialogue, but aside from that there weren’t really any grammatical errors. You need to watch your antecedents, because sometimes you would use pronouns or epithets and I couldn’t figure out what they were referring to. This is where having a beta helps– sometimes you as the author can’t see this kind of error because you know what you mean. That’s why authors are generally poor errors of their own works– your brain kind of goes on autopilot.
Sometimes the writing made logical leaps I couldn’t follow, and the prose would get very confusing because I had no idea what you were getting at or what you were trying to evoke. You don’t have to spell everything out for the reader, but you need to make sure the logic that gets you from point A to point B can be gleaned from what’s on the page. Often I would feel like a few words or sentences explaining why A caused B were missing.
The beginning of this was really good. I liked the opening, and the character and plot I thought you were setting up. It seemed like it was going to be magical realism– a normal woman employed in a boring office makes a wish that turns out to be real. Instead it went in the other direction: the characters flattened (there was literally no internal monologue from Maude, and she only has a few lines) and made strange decisions without any explanation, and the plot withered away into a story about a lawyer who buys a storefront, hires a secretary, and then he can’t afford the storefront any more so he leaves. I don’t know what you were trying to communicate here. I’m just not sure what the point was. I don’t know what was up with Maude and the poem or why she takes the sign at the end or most importantly, why she joins him in the first place. I don’t know what his deal is either. Mostly, I’m just kind of confused by the whole thing.
You kind of have the opposite here of what most amateur fics do– you have a good opening with a good hook, but then it just deteriorates (usually someone has a plot but no idea how to start it up). You need to sit down and think: what is the major conflict in my story? the climactic scene? the resolution? Who are these people, and why do they do what they do? Who’s the protagonist, and why do we identify with them? All of these things are essential to involving a reader in a story.
The weirdest thing here was that it was (generally) well-written, so I was into it and waiting for things to pick up, then I was still into it and wondering when things would pick up, and then it ended. Your writing has a nice rhythm and flow to it, and it felt like the story itself should be really good because of the grasp of language you had. I guess that’s part of my confusion. It feels extraordinarily unfinished, even though it’s done.
I suppose I’m rambling a bit now, but this was a particularly perplexing issue. If you revise it and want me to look at it again, feel free to let me know. I can’t help but feel like you’ve got something really good buried in here.