Yay! Day 1 of this mini workshop thing. I hope this goes well; I'm a little nervous. I will not pretend to be some kind of expert, so please take my advice as you would any other crit—with a grain of salt. I make mistakes all the time. Hello? I'm rewriting a whole book as we speak.
The lovely Monica was the first to send me pages from her WIP, and here we are!
Rules: Please feel free to comment, but be constructive. If you want to know my definition of that, see my post about Critiquing With Class. Of course this is a crit session, but I expect politeness and helpfulness.
Now, on to the excerpt! (My comments are in green. I've provided both line edits and substantial edits.)
“Liara,” Pedro said tapping Lia on the shoulder in his passive aggressive way.
(I do like this order you have this in now, but I wonder if you could have some kind of intro paragraph. Starting with dialogue is kind of disorienting, since we have no context. Ground the reader with something.
Also, there are a lot of comma errors throughout, especially with gerund phrases. Here, it should read "Predro said, tapping..." And we could do without "in his passive aggressive way," since it's not really passive aggressive to tap someone's shoulder. That's fairly confrontational.)
“Please don’t call me that, Pedro.”
(Cut "Predro." I used to have characters saying each other's names all the time, but we really don't do that much in real life. I mean, I go days without saying my husband's name or my best friends' names—unless I'm talking about them to others.)
“But it’s your name,” he responded, his tone condescending.
“Pedro, we’ve been over this with Mr. Romano multiple times. If you don’t respect me then don’t expect the same in return.” She took a deep breath, trying to remain as diplomatic as possible.
(Cut his name again.)
Pedro began twisting his mustache between his thumb and finger, a nervous habit that made him more weasely than normal. He rolled his eyes from right to left in an obvious attempt to appear as though he were actually considering what she’d said then he looked her dead in the eyes.
(Change "began twisting" to "twisted." I would also just keep it to "rolled his eyes" instead of the full on sentence.)
“Liara, tights are part of the dress code, not stretch pants,” he said with a sneer.
(With tags, you don't always have to have the "said." This could easily say "'...pants.' He sneered.")
“When you order me a full sized skirt like I asked, one that covers more than my…”
(Since she's being cut off, the ellipses should be a dash.)
His hand flew up and cupped her mouth before she got a chance to finish her statement. His cheeks flushed while he scanned the room to see if anyone had noticed her outburst.
(Cut "her statement." Change "while" to "as." Cut "her outburst.")
Lia ripped his hand away from her mouth and glared at him daring him to touch her again. He stepped back and watched as she turned and stalked through the restaurant and out the back door.
(Cut "from her mouth" and "at him." Add a comma after "glared." You jump into Pedro's pov after that, and it really over staged. Maybe something more like "Then she stalked through the restaurant and out the back door.")
The cool moisture struck her, mixing with the air from the hot kitchen. Lia took a deep breath, holding it in her lungs, letting it cool her hot head. Her cheeks burned but not from the warmth of the kitchen.
(Comma after "burned.")
The door clicked softly behind her and she leaned against the cool metal. She drew in another cleansing breath and began counting stars, a habit she’d picked up after her mother died.
Lia tried to push away the thoughts that invaded her mind. Glancing up at the stars in the cool night air reminded her of the night her father had come into the living room where she was celebrating her tenth birthday with her friends. She’d known the moment she saw him.
(I'd cut the first sentence, since she does think about it despite pushing.)
The paper cup slipped from her hand, bouncing against the wood floor spilling its contents in a splash of red. Her mother hadn’t come home from the grocery store that afternoon. Her father had tried to convince her everything was alright but she’d felt the tension behind his reassuring words. The ashen look that replaced his stoic façade said more than any words could.
(This still needs to be in past perfect, since it's in the past of the past. Cut "bouncing against the wood floor." Comma after "alright." Change "more than any words could" to "everything" to avoid repetition of "words.")
She ran out the opened patio doors. She’d run for hours. It took police dogs and a search party half the night to find her hidden against a tree in a swamp. That was the first time she counted stars to blot out the feelings that were too overwhelming to feel. It let her breath when the emotions felt like they would suffocate her. It was how she dealt with everything now. If there were no stars to count, she’d close her eyes and imagine them, methodically counting them until she felt nothing at all.
(Still in need of past perfect. "She'd run for hours..." etc. If you don't use the proper grammar structure, it sounds as if she's doing it NOW. I'm pretty sure she's not running out the open patio doors now.)
The clatter of the dumpster in front of Lia startled her. Across the alley she saw a large, long haired Siamese cat leap from the dumpster to the street.
I think this is much improved. The flashback isn't as cumbersome now that there's just one. I still find it a little over written, but easily cleaned up. The most important thing now I think is to add some kind of introducing paragraph to ground the reader before jumping into the dialogue.
Great work, Monica!
The cool moisture hit Lia hard (cut "hit" and "hard," replace with stronger verb such as "pummel"), mixing with the air from the hot kitchen. She took a deep breath, holding it in her lungs, letting it cool her hot head. Her cheeks were flushed (cut, too passive) burned, but not from the warmth of the kitchen. Her boss, Pedro was hounding her as usual. He had a way of getting under her skin, as she did his. (I'd personally cut the last two sentences.)
(This opening has some good elements, such as the idea of her being hot but not because of the kitchen. Fun play on the quip "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." As a reader, what makes me most leery is the telling of emotions/relationship, instead of showing. I'm not sure we need to be told immediately that Pedro and Lia don't get along. This can be shown through their interaction.)
Tonight was no different. He was on her about the dress code at Romano’s, the restaurant where she was a hostess four nights a week. Lia wasn’t prone to doing what others expected her to and she also had a tendency to speak her mind.
(Again, I'm wondering if we could see this interaction, instead of just the aftermath. That way, the reader could draw their own conclusions without being told how Lia feels.)
She let (cut "She let") The door click softly (cut "softly") behind her, and she leaned against the cool metal. She took in a cleansing breath and looked up at the stars. Counting stars was a habit Lia had picked up after her mother died almost seven years ago. (I personally would combine these into "She took a deep breath and counted the stars, a habit she picked up after her mother died.")
Lia tried to push (away) the thoughts away (cut) that now (cut) invaded her mind. Glancing up at the stars in the cool night air was like déjà vu (cut "was like deja vu). It (cut "it" and the period, combining these sentences) reminded her of the night seven years ago tomorrow (cut "seven years ago tomorrow") when her father had come into the living room where she celebrating her tenth birthday with all her friends. She knew as soon as she looked up and saw that look on his face. (You've gone into the past of the past—thus needing to use past perfect. When writing in past, your flashbacks need to read something like: "She had known as soon as she'd looked...")
(I'm not sure this information is immediately important, and it might not be the most effective to start a story with a flashback. Readers like to move forward, and this is like going in reverse when not much has happened to warrant a look into the past.
Now, I'm sure this information is integral to your story, I'm just questioning its placement. I'm not sure we need to know this now, and I wonder if it would increase tension to hint at issues without spelling them out.)
The paper cup had slipped from her hand, bouncing against the wood floor spilling its contents (cut "spilling its contents") in a splash of red. Her mother hadn’t come home from the grocery store that afternoon. Her father had tried to convince her everything was alright, but she could feel the tension behind his reassuring words. He had been as frightened as her. (This is telling, and I would cut.) The ashen look that replaced his stoic façade said more than any words could. (This is SHOWING his fear, so I would keep this.)
She had turned and (cut "turned and," due to over staging) run out the opened (cut) patio doors. She’d run for hours. It'd took (cut and replace with "taken") police dogs and a search party half the night to find her hidden against a tree in a swamp. That was the first time she counted stars to blot out the feelings that were too overwhelming to feel. It let her breathe when the emotions felt like they would suffocate her. It was how she dealt with everything now. If there were no stars to count, she’d close her eyes and imagine them then methodically count them one by one till she no longer felt whatever emotion was threatening her calm, collectedness. Till she felt nothing. (I would combine these thoughts into something like "If there weren't stars, she'd close her eyes and imagine them, counting them methodically until she felt nothing.")
The clatter of the dumpsters in front of Lia startled her and she jumped (cut "and she jumped" since startled implies that). Looking across the alley, she saw a large cat leap from the dumpster to the street. It looked like a long haired Siamese. (Cut last sentence, unless the fact that the cat is siamese is important to the story and I don't know it yet.)
The distraction freed her from the painful memories and reminded her of why she was out here. She replayed the scene with Pedro in her head.
“Liara,” Pedro said tapping her on the shoulder in his passive aggressive way.
“Please don’t call me that, Pedro.”
“But it’s your name,” he responded, his tone condescending.
Overall, I'm wondering if this intro could be made more active and urgent. I'm not saying you need an explosion or anything like that. But something should at least be in the process of happening by 500 words. I like Lia, though I've only gotten a little of her character, but all she's done so far is stand outside and think about the past.
As a reader, I'm more interested in the argument it looks like you're about to flashback to. Is there a possibility that the story could start there? With her and Pedro arguing, and that argument triggering these hard memories for her? Actually, this IS how your story starts, I think, but it gets skipped over and then looks like flashbacked to. It might be interesting to try the linear approach, just to see.
Although it's only the first 500 words, I feel like there's a chance to provide more action surrounding a central conflict. Currently, this seems a bit scattered. Is it about her problems at work? Her mother? Her father? Something else entirely that's not here?
Also, there's a bit of an issue concerning "telling" and the "infodump," and I've marked those places. Instead of putting Lia in a situation that reveals her character, this reads as if we're just being told how it is. Which is fine, and interesting, but it would be more interesting if her traits and story were revealed through action.
Of course this is a WIP, but once you get to that line editing phase I pointed out several places where wordiness could be reduced. These issues aren't really as important as increasing the action/conflict, but I wanted to show options for tightening sentences, etc. You don't have to take those suggestions; they're just examples of how I would line edit if this were my WIP.
Okay! There's my feedback—please leave yours for Monica in the comments. Thank you, Monica, for being brave and letting us take a look at your writing so closely. I hope it helps, and if you have revisions you'd also like to share I will post them.