Reply To: A Blank Piece of Paper (short Story – critique)

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Philippa East

Hi Elle / L.

I like this, I think the use of “you” works, and I like how each section is a little vignette giving further insights into how she is in different relationships. I like how you cover not only the submission in the sexual / intimate side, but across the board – hobbies, food types, etc. It’s heartbreaking how she wants the “right” answer of how she should be, and is not able to simply be herself.

I like how you also give insights into the defining experiences making her this way, specifically her Dad leaving, and her assumption that it was because her mother did not “change” herself enough to be like him.

I think Daeds and Jane have caught the grammar etc.

A few minor thoughts….

Wonder if perhaps having so many vignettes gets repetitious? If you think of each vignette being a “point” in the “line of argument” you are developing in this story, it feels a bit like you end up making the same point (“she changes to fit with her boyfriend”) too many times? There was a point in the story where I thought, “yes, alright, I get that about her, I don’t need another vignette / example of it”.

I think it was because we reach a sort of “turning point” in the phone call with Ashley, where Ashley exposes the problem with your protagonist’s way of being in relationships. This feels a key, and very effective shift in the direction of the story (a bit like a “mid point reversal”). However, we then go on to have more examples of the same relationship pattern you described at the start, and so I felt a bit like the narrative drive stalled.

Incidentally, I wonder if the conversation with Ashley is a little “on the nose”? Both characters state their positions very clearly, almost “formally”, saying directly exactly what they mean. These lines especially: “Every time you have a new guy, you just get so wrapped up you forget all about your friends”; and “I’m committed to my relationships but never to the detriment of my friends”.

As a writer, I think you are actually really good at subtext, and I think this conversation would have more power if each character was more oblique, so that the subtext really screams! I think if you even just cut out the two lines above, you’d be there.

As always, all comments are only my thoughts, and can be disregarded if they don’t chime for you. I think it’s a very insightful portrayal if this sort of relationship dynamic where a person loses all sense of themselves in the other person, and what little self they started out with gradually becomes a complete ghost.

Do you have somewhere in mind to submit this to?