Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Critique/Review (for writers) (05/06/10)
TITLE: The boon and curse of anonymity
By Gregory Kane
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Leaning forward, she scrolled back to the top of the email and read again what Basil, her assigned adjudicator had written. The short critique came as part of the service. That was why everyone had to pay a fee to enter. But Susan had naturally assumed that Basil's feedback would be positive and affirming. That was how her friends in the writing circle reviewed one another's work. Hence the stark words on the screen came as an unexpected blow:
"You need to pay more attention to the rudiments of English grammar. Two of your sentences lacked any principal verb. Your use of the semicolon is consistently incorrect and you persistently overuse the exclamation mark. I counted at least seventeen words that were misspelt, even allowing for regional variation, and the words osculate and amphibious were misapplied."
Susan wasn't entirely sure what Basil was talking about. At least he had had the good grace to start his critique with a few words of praise. But had he been physically present, sitting with his knees pressed against the cold metal of Susan's wheelchair, he might not have been quite as enthusiastic about pointing out her many faults.
Susan's composure cracked as she read again through Basil's next paragraph. Tears cascaded down rouged cheeks and dripped on to dull, unresponsive fingers. At first she considered calling Doris to wipe away the pooling salt water, but then she decided to let it stand as a testament to her fading hopes and dreams.
"The action scene with the marines storming the bridge was unrealistic and implausible. It read like something you might have seen in a made-for-television movie. As a writer you need to try and put yourself in the shoes of your main character. Had you, for instance, visited a suspension bridge and walked along it, you would probably have avoided many of your choreographic errors."
Two years before Susan would gleefully have charged along any convenient bridge, twirling giddily around the steel cables, even pirouetting underneath the vast concrete archways. But that was before the accident. Back when her legs did something more than just resemble fallen logs. Back in the good old days when Susan didn't have to call for help to do something as mundane as scratching an itch on the end of her nose.
Of course Basil wasn't to know. That was the boon and the curse of entering an anonymous competition. Everyone in Susan's small town knew her story, how she had vanquished self-pity, taken up a new hobby and joined a local writing circle. The problem was that her friends tended to overcompensate for her handicap, lauding her writing ability, such that Susan had genuinely thought she was a lot better than she really was. At least Basil had had the guts to tell her the truth.
Leaning forward again, she jabbed at the keyboard with her mouthstick, tapping out a short acknowledgement. She would discuss Basil's critique with Derrick and then write to him more fully by email. After what he had written in his final paragraph, he surely deserved a proper reply:
"I honestly believe that you have a great deal of raw, untapped talent. You just need time, discipline and hard work to bring it to light. Whatever you do, don't quit."
Susan couldn't help but smile at that. No matter what life threw at her, she certainly wasn't a quitter. Her limbs might ignore every neural instruction, but her grey matter was firing on all cylinders. As God was her witness, she would master the art of writing. And, God willing, she would re-enter the same competition the following year and let Basil see the fruits of his painful but necessary words.
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