The Girl Who Befriended a Tree

Guttersnipe

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Another story of mine that I'd like to get critiqued. It has nothing to do with a certain recent story that was tree-centered. I've had the idea for a while and wrote it in the space of a half hour or so. Once again, I know something is missing, but I don't know what. Here it is.

@The Scribbling Man @BT Jones @tinkerdan @The Judge

Gabe was in the kitchen, fetching his fifth beer of the day, when he heard his stepdaughter's voice. He looked out the window and sighed when his eyes found her. He called for his wife. She didn't need to look.

"It's just an imaginary friend, Gabe. A lot of children have them."

"But it's not imaginary, Meryl! It's a damned tree!" He tapped his forefinger on the window. The girl was hugging their backyard tree.

"The relationship is imaginary, I mean," insisted Meryl. Gabe shook his head subtly.

"I still can't believe your daughter asked for something so silly for her birthday present." Meryl's eyes widened dangerously.

"Claire is your daughter too now, Gabe. And if she wants a tree, then she has the right to be given one. If only all girls were the same! It set us back quite a bit, don't you think?"

Gabe only grunted and crushed his beer can. Meryl now watched Claire, who was doing some strange dancing ritual around the tree. An interesting idea came to her.

"You know," she said, "I don't even know what kind of tree it is. I've never seen anything quite like it." Gabe lit his fortieth cigarette of the day and glared at her.

"But you gotta know. You were the one who got the seeds, weren't you?" She shook her head.

"All I remember," she explained, "is Claire taking it. And burying some of her coin collection with it."

The man was immediately burdened with a coughing fit. His mouth jumped jumped back into action once it ceased.

"Coin collection? We could've made money off of that! Dammit, I'm gonna kill that thing!"

Despite Meryl's protesting, Gabe grabbed the axe from the garage and approached the tree.

"Get out of the way," he growled, and prepared a felling swoop to the bole.

"No, Daddy! It's gotta change! It's changing! You'll kill it!"

Gabe pushed her aside and planted the axe in the trunk. He gasped as a quicksilver-like ichor started to spill from its gash. The leaves had changed--or rather been replaced--by $100 bills. He grasped at them maniacally, but it was too late.

"It's changing!" Claire had said. The bills withered into ash. The tree began to fall apart. One fell onto Gabe's head, rendering him unconscious.

When he came to, all traces of the tree were gone. He began to worry about Claire. He ran into the house, calling first for his stepdaughter, then for his wife. Finally, he found a clue on the kitchen table: a piece of paper featuring hurried penmanship.

It read: WE'RE LEAVING, GABE, AND WE'RE TAKING THE REST OF THE COIN COLLECTION WITH US!
 
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Hi Guttersnipe

It's good to see youve considered the scene, the characters and have focused attention on the separate world of child – one that the mother obviously connects to more naturally than Gabe. There is both spirit and fantasy here, a touch of the mundane, too, the broken life of the couple and the youthful spirit of the child. There are character traits that we can all relate to along with conflict as a pre-requisite (something we all fear). For me this piece falls down through its poor description, but also there is a little (unintentional) problem with believability. Bear with me:

"His mouth jumped jumped back into action once it ceased."
Mouths don't really jump into action. This could read insted as, he engaged his trap once recovered (this dependant from who's point of view you are describing: either his, or hers, the narrator's. You have multiple view points in this piece which makes it slightly difficult to follow.

"The leaves had changed--or rather been replaced--by $100 bills"
Be sure to drive the story and allow the reader to be sure : The leaves became one-hundred dollar bills!

"planted the axe in the trunk"
This is weak for this scene. An axe can fall gracefully but often severs, slices, gouges... Gabe sounded the kind of man to rupture the trunk with an axe? or splinter it maybe.

"Meryl's eyes widened dangerously."
This suggests Gabe is used to Meryl being dangerous?

Gabe has no redeeming features? Is this true? You don't need to create the perfect beast in the antagonist for conflict to be implied. It's also odd that he's been told claire is his daughter moments before being left by his wife. Marriage is the consent of two people jouning in love. It takes time to fall out of love and I presume Claire would have been known to Gabe prior for them to marry.

These are a few that I hope you can see are workable.

Reviewing your piece with a hope to undrestand your characters better, considering different dialougue, description, alternative verbs, possible transients, may well help; the harder work in writing is always looking with fresh eyes in the hope of seeing oportunity in its correction for better communication.
When discription doesn't feel real it snaps us out of the story.

It's an interesting viewpoint and one that deserves your attention if wishing to find your voice.

Thanks for sharing
P
 
I appreciate the irony of the story and like the fairytale undertones.

One thing that caught me was Gabe appears to be an asshole, but I got no early indication that Meryl felt this way about him, and found her leaving at the end to be abrupt and unexpected.

"Claire is your daughter too now, Gabe. And if she wants a tree, then she has the right to be given one. If only all girls were the same! It set us back quite a bit, don't you think?"
I was confused by the highlighted part of this dialog, as it doesn’t seem to match the previous statements, where Meryl is defending the tree.
 
This seems like an interesting variation of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I felt, though, the story was under-developed and had some technical issues that interfered with the story flow.

Be conscious of the POV. The first paragraph starts with Gabe's POV, but ends with his wife's POV.

When using dialog tags, the tag should reference the speaker. Example:
"I still can't believe your daughter asked for something so silly for her birthday present." Meryl's eyes widened dangerously.
This reads as Meryl's dialog. There are other instances.

Action should precede reaction.
"It's just an imaginary friend, Gabe. A lot of children have them."

"But it's not imaginary, Meryl! It's a damned tree!" He tapped his forefinger on the window. The girl was hugging their backyard tree.
Seeing the girl hugging the tree needs to come before Gabe's reaction to it.

Need to maintain consistency.
"But you gotta know. You were the one who got the seeds, weren't you?" She shook her head.

"All I remember," she explained, "is Claire taking it. And burying some of her coin collection with it."
Seeds is plural, but it is singular.

I could not understand the timeline. The tree is large enough for a young girl to hug and to require an axe to cut down, yet it was a birthday present and planted as seeds. If the tree grew that fast, it would certainly be something to be mentioned.

Some sort of magical element is involved. I was unclear whether it was supposed to Claire, the seeds, or the coins.

Gabe's motivation seems unclear. It feels like an unexpected overreaction. Also, the motivation of Meryl to leave does not feel supported. Background is needed for the reader to accept these actions as inevitable.

A couple of stylistic issues. These are purely personal preferences, so feel free to accept or reject them. I like the Brandon Sanderson advice to create a strong opening sentence ( Season 01 – Writing Excuses , episode 4, Beginnings ). I also have seen a tendency in your writing to try and finish with a climax sentence. May consider writing a denouement to pull the story ends together.
 
It reads more like the description of a story than a story yet.

The idea is great but I would expand it more. There's potential for Meryl and Gabe to be much darker characters, and for Claire to have some really good reasons to cling to the tree and build a relationship with it.
 
I think @Wayne Mack highlights the issues for me.

Attribution of the dialogue and subsequent reaction.

as in

"The relationship is imaginary, I mean," insisted Meryl. Gabe shook his head subtly.

To me reads like a head hop.

Plus you use a lot of "insisted" " explained" etc. She said, he said, Fred said is generally agreed to be the best way of attribution.

All just opinions. I could do a detailed crit if you wish, but I think the others above have given you enough to work with for now.

Hope I helped.

Tein
 
My notes in bold

Gabe was in the kitchen, fetching his fifth beer of the day, when he heard his stepdaughter's voice. He looked out the window and sighed when his eyes found her. He called for his wife. She didn't need to look.

I found this term awkward. A simpler, more common term would be fine here.

"It's just an imaginary friend, Gabe. A lot of children have them."

"But it's not imaginary, Meryl! It's a damned tree!" He tapped his forefinger on the window. The girl was hugging their backyard tree.

"The relationship is imaginary, I mean," insisted Meryl. Gabe shook his head subtly.

Not quite happy with this usage. "Slightly" would be good enough.

"I still can't believe your daughter asked for something so silly for her birthday present." Meryl's eyes widened dangerously.

This threw me. I thought Meryl was speaking. I know you told us at the start that it's his step daughter, but this made me think it was his daughter. Meryl's action should come in the next para, with her dialog. Also, her eyes could narrow, or her eyebrows could arch, or her eyes could glint, but "widen" does not work for me.

"Claire is your daughter too now, Gabe. And if she wants a tree, then she has the right to be given one. If only all girls were the same! It set us back quite a bit, don't you think?"

This last bit confused me. She approves and respects her daughter's choice, but in the same breath remarks on how much it cost. Shouldn't this be Gabe's line? Or she should be saying ".... even if it set us back quite a bit."

Gabe only grunted and crushed his beer can. Meryl now watched Claire, who was doing some strange dancing ritual around the tree. An interesting idea came to her.

Now we are in Meryl's head. Do we need to be? You could also name Claire in the beginning para.

"You know," she said, "I don't even know what kind of tree it is. I've never seen anything quite like it." Gabe lit his fortieth cigarette of the day and glared at her.

Again, not clear why Gabe's action is in the same para as Meryl's dialog and not with his own. I see this continues through out.

"But you gotta know. You were the one who got the seeds, weren't you?" She shook her head.

"All I remember," she explained, "is Claire taking it. And burying some of her coin collection with it."

The man was immediately burdened with a coughing fit. His mouth jumped jumped back into action once it ceased.

The man? We're quite intimate with Gabe by now. Wait, are we in Meryl's POV? Then some tweaking is needed. Like, is Meryl now a bit annoyed with Gabe and thinks of him as "The man"?

"Coin collection? We could've made money off of that! Dammit, I'm gonna kill that thing!"

A bit drastic. Digging round the roots of a tree isn't fun for the tree, but it's better than felling it completely.

Despite Meryl's protesting, Gabe grabbed the axe from the garage and approached the tree.

I feel this could be made stronger.

"Get out of the way," he growled, and prepared a felling swoop to the bole.

"No, Daddy! It's gotta change! It's changing! You'll kill it!"

Gabe pushed her aside and planted the axe in the trunk. He gasped as a quicksilver-like ichor started to spill from its gash. The leaves had changed--or rather been replaced--by $100 bills. He grasped at them maniacally, but it was too late.

"It's changing!" Claire had said. The bills withered into ash. The tree began to fall apart. One fell onto Gabe's head, rendering him unconscious.

One what?

When he came to, all traces of the tree were gone. He began to worry about Claire. He ran into the house, calling first for his stepdaughter, then for his wife. Finally, he found a clue on the kitchen table: a piece of paper featuring hurried penmanship.

It read: WE'RE LEAVING, GABE, AND WE'RE TAKING THE REST OF THE COIN COLLECTION WITH US!

It's a nice short story. Nice idea (goose with the golden egg type). You could make the end more punchy by not having the letter, but him finding neither his wife, nor daughter not the coin collection. I feel something more is needed here, however.
 
I'd this is almost there. It's actually better than the other version of this story!

I think the part that's missing is the ending for me. It's not QUITE right; as for why, it may be because we rushed really quickly over the consequences of his actions. It could also be because chopping the tree down to get at something under the ground doesn't make much sense.

I REALLY suggest this: How To Write A Scene That Works: The Story Grid Way | The Creative Penn

It's something I've been using lately to get my work off the ground, and it really, REALLY works. It's basically like driving your car with a map, down a road you've never seen. You know you need to turn left; the scenery there will still surprise you.

This Story Grid will help you see where you need to make those turns to make this story work. Keep going! :)
 

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