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The Evolution of Ernestine Tomlin (Writing Sample)

by BlueAfrica


Hey, guys! This is a writing sample I'm using for a class. I wrote it at random in July of 2016 and had zero plans for it, so it's a pretty good sample to work with. Anyway, I need to revise it by Tuesday 04/23 for our class workshop.

Structurally I know it's a total mess, even though things connect more or less logically: the opening is totally vague in terms of setting, and there are like five different flashbacks or memories, some of which are nested within each other. However, because my class focuses particularly on sentence structure, I will take not only big-picture feedback but also feedback at the sentence level! In particular, I'd like to know if there is cohesion between sentences, whether any pronouns are vague/unclear, and generally if my sentence structure is effective. If possible, please leave me suggestions for revision along with your critique. Thanks!

Word count: 1480

The worst part of getting old and fat was realizing you had done so. For years Ernestine remembered herself—when she remembered herself at all—the way she looked the summer of her wedding: thin and lithe, so freckled from tanning that her mother ceased complaining about her complexion only to complain about her red bikini.

That bikini. Ernestine dimpled. So risqué to show your stomach back then, and such a daring shade of red! Her mother said it made her look like a hussy. At least being a hussy was fun.

But she got married, and then the children came, one after the other in quick succession. She'd been too preoccupied with housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing to look at herself. It was disheartening to find that the freckled, bikini-clad girl you knew had vanished in cellulite, wrinkles, and sagging breasts.

"So wear a bikini," Walter grouched when she broached the subject. "You've seen what they wear to the beach these days. No one's going to notice an old lady in a bikini."

He made a noise like a bear clearing its throat. Bikinis disgusted him. String bikinis, thong bikinis, those bikinis masquerading as one-pieces by hiding under a layer of sheer stretch fabric. Disgusting. That was what he always said, but Ernestine noticed the way his eyes lingered on the very girls he pronounced "not nice."

Only the thin girls. Fat girls went unnoticed.

Not by Ernestine. She smiled at them when she dared, the fat young women parading the beach in tiny swimsuits. She hovered between the fear that a smile from an over-the-hill stranger would disgust them and the hope that it would let them know how brave she thought them. How she admired them. Admired and envied.

That red bikini. She could never wear it now. She'd never be as comfortable in this wrinkled, bloated body as those fat girls on the beach looked in theirs.

"But they're not comfortable, Mom," Eleanor had said at dinner last Sunday. She sounded exasperated, but it might have been the way Charlie was wailing and banging his spoon on the high chair. The couple at the next table, who gave an air of the wealthy childless, glared. "They just act like it so people won't realize how broken up they are. They're unhealthy and unattractive and they have a problem, Mom, they just don't know how to stop eating and they don't understand what a joy exercise is."

If that was what Eleanor thought of fat people in general, what did she think of her mother? Ernestine knew when to stop eating, but she'd always cooked to Walter's tastes. That meant meat and potatoes and butter in everything. And while she didn't dislike exercise, she'd never given it much thought. The gym seemed unnecessary when you spent all your time running after children and grandchildren. But not to Eleanor. The gym was her sacred space and the 20-Minute Calorie Buster video her higher power.

Eleanor succeeded in wrestling the spoon away from the baby.

"Really, Mom," she continued, as though Ernestine had bothered to comment. "Why do you think people always talk about what great personalities fat people have? You have to say something nice, and that's all anyone can think of. Comfortable, my God. They're all miserable."

All this "they" when it might as well have been "you, Mom." Maybe it was only wrong for young people to be fat. Or maybe old was worse than fat. There were certainly just as many anti-aging products on the market as slimming products. For a moment, Ernestine resolved never to use anti-aging anything ever again. Then she decided it was bad enough being sixty-seven and fat without having all those fine lines her moisturizers and make-up claimed to get rid of.

Jim pointed his fork at the redhead three tables away. "She could be so beautiful if she'd just lose the weight."

Her attire, a form-fitting black number with a low neckline and short skirt, had prompted the discussion. Ernestine might have worn something like it forty or fifty years ago and had made the mistake of expressing her admiration aloud. She should have known better. Jim and Eleanor couldn't shut up about this sort of thing once they got going.

"If I did it," Eleanor said, sticking a spoonful of food in the baby's mouth to quiet him, "anyone can do it."

She'd put on weight in high school but had taken off fifty pounds and been religiously "healthy" ever since.

"Can't imagine you fat, baby," Jim said with a grin. "Never could've married you if you were."

Eleanor giggled and smacked his shoulder as if he'd been flirting, but Ernestine felt offended for reasons she couldn't express. Perhaps because she felt unattractive enough without hearing such comments. She couldn't remember the last time she and Walter had had sex. Of course, there was his condition, which made him feel emasculated even though the doctor said it was perfectly normal in a man his age. Nothing a pill couldn't take care of. But Ernestine could never shake the feeling it was her fault, a feeling compounded by their last anniversary. In a fit of daring, she'd stopped at the adult novelty store off Main Street and bought a slinky night dress that looked like it would fit. She couldn't bring herself to try it on in the store. It turned out to be a squeeze, to say nothing of the fact that black made her look so pasty, but she'd rather have died than brought it back to ask the clerk for a bigger size or something in red. Checking out had been bad enough. The cashier, a petite black girl with brilliant turquoise hair, had joked around with her, given her a thumbs-up, and wished her luck in her romantic endeavors. She'd meant well, but Ernestine had slunk from the shop with the bag clutched to her chest so no one would see the logo.

By the time Walter came home with a bouquet in hand, she was worn out from squeezing into the darned thing. She met him in the foyer anyway, wearing the slinky black night dress and nothing else, proud of herself for surprising him that way.

He looked her up and down, handed her the flowers, and gave her a peck on the cheek. She deflated, remembering a time when he'd come through the door and work her clothes off almost before he'd got it closed.

"Happy anniversary," he said.

Then he clomped off to the living room.

The young woman in the restaurant, though—she had looked fantastic in that black dress, and her date seemed to think so, too. He couldn't keep his hands off her. Not bad-looking himself, either, which took some credence from Jim's theory that you only ever saw fat people on dates with unattractive people.

"Ernestine!" Walter bellowed up the stairs. "Are you ever going to be ready? It's nearly quarter-to."

She slipped a pink muumuu over her shapewear and hurried downstairs.

It was the same every Sunday. They met at Ray's. Walter ordered the ribeye, rare, with a baked potato. Ernestine ordered the baked chicken and a side salad. The children dominated the conversation while Walter said little unless Katherine was there to engage in sports talk. Jim and Henry sometimes attempted it, but Jim was more interested in the workout value than the scores or players, and Henry's knowledge was limited to basketball and football. Katherine, on the other hand, wrote the sports column for the Freemont Daily. She knew even more about sports than Walter.

Ernestine looked out the car window with a sigh. A change would be nice, but she had received blank stares the one time she suggested they meet at another restaurant.

"What's wrong with Ray's?" Walter asked, bristling as though he owned the place.

"Where else did you have in mind?" This from Eleanor, on the phone. "Do they have high chairs?"

Nothing was wrong with Ray's. There was nowhere in particular Ernestine wanted to go. Just somewhere different. The question of where stumped her. As for high chairs, how was she supposed to know?

Since a new location was out, she ordered an entree she'd never tried. Cajun linguini alfredo sounded good—until she looked up to see Walter, Eleanor, and Jim staring at her. She faltered. The waiter, with a kind smile, leaned closer.

"What was that, ma'am?"

"You don't get the pasta," Walter said in astonishment. "You always get the chicken."

"Mom." Eleanor sounded scandalized. "Do you know how many carbs are in that?"

"Forget carbs," said Jim. "Alfredo's the worst pasta sauce you can get. It's loaded with fat."

The waiter's smile tightened. Ignoring them all, he said to Ernestine, "You wanted the pasta, ma'am?"

Red-faced, she shook her head and mumbled a request for baked chicken.


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Points: 12363
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Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:34 pm
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Tuckster wrote a review...



Hey Blue! I'm just stopping by to give you some feedback on this both as a whole and on a sentence-to-sentence level. Hope it helps!

**cracks knuckles**

So I'll do a line-by-line review and then leave some overall notes at the end! My comments are in blue, corrections are in red, sections or sentences that I think should be cut out are struck through, and grammatical nitpicks will usually just be bolded

Spoiler! :
The worst part of getting old and fat was realizing you had done so. For years Ernestine remembered herself—when she remembered herself at all—the way she looked the summer of her wedding: thin and lithe, so freckled from tanning that her mother ceased complaining about her complexion only to complain about her red bikini.

That bikini. Ernestine dimpled.I don't think this can be used as a verb? So risqué to show your stomach back then, and such a daring shade of red! Her mother said it made her look like a hussy. At least being a hussy was fun.

But she got married, and then the children came, one after the other in quick succession. She'd been too preoccupied with housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing to look at herself. It was disheartening to find that the freckled, bikini-clad girl you knew had vanished in cellulite, wrinkles, and sagging breasts.This switch to second-person is somewhat jarring, so it might make more sense to say "she knew" instead of switching to the second-person "you"

"So wear a bikini," Walter grouched when she broached the subject. "You've seen what they wear to the beach these days. No one's going to notice an old lady in a bikini."

He made a noise like a bear clearing its throat.Frankly, I don't really like this simile because it's very specific and not relatable.Bikinis disgusted him.You don't really need this line here because you already established Walter's dislike of bikinis in the previous sentence String bikinis, thong bikinis, those bikinis masquerading as one-pieces by hiding under a layer of sheer stretch fabric. Disgusting.I'm not a huge fan of the fragment right next to a single-word sentence that, once again, isn't necessary because Walter's dislike of bikinis has already been established. That was what he always said, but Ernestine noticed the way his eyes lingered on the very girls he pronounced "not nice."Super minor detail, but technically the quotations should end before the period.

Only the thin girls. Fat girls went unnoticed.

Not by Ernestine. She smiled at them when she dared, the fat young women parading across the beach in tiny swimsuits. She hovered between the fear that a smile from an over-the-hill stranger over-the-hill is a strange descriptor and not necessary in this sentence, in my opinion would disgust them and the hope that it would let them know how brave she thought them. How she admired them. Admired and envied.

That red bikini. She could never wear it now. She'd never be as comfortable in thisher would make more sense here wrinkled, bloated body as those fat girls on the beach looked in theirs.

"But they're not comfortable, Mom," Eleanor had said at dinner last Sunday. She sounded exasperated, but it might have been the way Charlie was wailing and banging his spoon on the high chair. The couple at the next table, who gave an air of the wealthy childless,I would rephrase this to something like "who had an air of the wealthy and childless glared. "They just act like it so people won't realize how broken up they are. They're unhealthy and unattractive and they have a problem, Mom, they just don't know how to stop eating and they don't understand what a joy exercise is."

If that was what Eleanor thought of fat people in general, what didfor some reason I feel like "must" would be better here instead of "did" she think of her mother? Ernestine knew when to stop eating, but she'd always cooked to Walter's tastes. That meant meat and potatoes and butter in everything. And while she didn't dislike exercise, she'd never given it much thought. The gym seemed unnecessary when you spent all your time running after children and grandchildren. But not to Eleanor.I would say "Eleanor didn't seem to think so" or something else so it's clear what she's denying The gym was her sacred space, and the 20-Minute Calorie Buster video her higher power.

Eleanor succeeded in wrestling the spoon away from the baby.this doesn't seem like it should be separated from the paragraph below it?

"Really, Mom," she continued, as though Ernestine had bothered to comment. "Why do you think people always talk about what great personalities fat people have? You have to say something nice, and that's all anyone can think of. Comfortable, my God. They're all miserable."

All this "they" when it might as well have been "you, Mom." Maybe it was only wrong for young people to be fat. Or maybe old was worse than fat. There were certainly just as many anti-aging products on the market as slimming products. For a moment, Ernestine resolved never to use anti-aging anything ever again. Then she decided it was bad enough being sixty-seven and fat without having all those fine lines her moisturizers and make-up claimed to get rid of.

Jim pointed his fork at the redhead three tables away. "She could be so beautiful if she'd just lose the weight."

Her attire, a form-fitting black number with a low neckline and short skirt, had prompted the discussion. Ernestine might have worn something like it forty or fifty years ago and had made the mistake of expressing her admiration aloud. She should have known better. Jim and Eleanor couldn't shut up about this sort of thing once they got going.This throws off the timeline a little bit. Was this what prompted the discussion? If so, why isn't it at the beginning of this whole righteous rant? If not, when did Ernestine bring it up?

"If I did it," Eleanor said, sticking a spoonful of food in the baby's mouth to quiet him, "anyone can do it."

She'd put on weight in high school but had taken off fifty pounds and been religiously "healthy" ever since.It throws me off to have this a separate paragraph. It feels like this is a stage whisper to the reader and distracts from the rest of the prose

"Can't imagine you fat, baby," Jim said with a grin. "Never could've married you if you were."

Eleanor giggled and smacked his shoulder as if he'd been flirting, but Ernestine felt offended for reasons she couldn't express. Perhaps because she felt unattractive enough without hearing such comments. She couldn't remember the last time she and Walter had had sex. Of course, there was his condition, which made him feel emasculated even though the doctor said it was perfectly normal in a man his age. Nothing a pill couldn't take care of. But Ernestine could never shake the feeling it was her fault, a feeling compounded by their last anniversary. In a fit of daring, she'd stopped at the adult novelty store off Main Street and bought a slinky night dress that looked like it would fit. She couldn't bring herself to try it on in the store. It turned out to be a squeeze, to say nothing of the fact that black made her look so pasty, but she'd rather have died than brought it back to ask the clerk for a bigger size or something in red. Checking out had been bad enough. The cashier, a petite black girl with brilliant turquoise hair, had joked around with her, given her a thumbs-up, and wished her luck in her romantic endeavors. She'd meant well, but Ernestine had slunk from the shop with the bag clutched to her chest so no one would see the logo.

By the time Walter came home with a bouquet in hand, she was worn out from squeezing into the darned thing. She met him in the foyer anyway, wearing the slinky black night dress and nothing else, proud of herself for surprising him that way.

He looked her up and down, handed her the flowers, and gave her a peck on the cheek. She deflated, remembering a time when he'd come through the door and work her clothes off almost before he'd got it closed.

"Happy anniversary," he said.

Then he clomped off to the living room.

The young woman in the restaurant, though—she had looked fantastic in that black dress, and her date seemed to think so, too. He couldn't keep his hands off her. Not bad-looking himself, either, which took some credence from Jim's theory that you only ever saw fat people on dates with unattractive people.

"Ernestine!" Walter bellowed up the stairs. "Are you ever going to be ready? It's nearly quarter-to."This comes very suddenly, and there's no indication of when this takes place in relation to the previous scene. It's very jarring and makes the timeline even more convoluted

She slipped a pink muumuu over her shapewear and hurried downstairs.

It was the same every Sunday. TheyWho's they? met at Ray's. Walter ordered the ribeye, rare, with a baked potato. Ernestine ordered the baked chicken and a side salad. The children dominated the conversation while Walter said little unless Katherine was there to engage in sports talk. Jim and Henry sometimes attempted it, but Jim was more interested in the workout value the workout value of what? than the scores or players, and Henry's knowledge was limited to basketball and football. Katherine, on the other hand, wrote the sports column for the Freemont Daily. She knew even more about sports than Walter.

Ernestine looked out the car window with a sigh. A change would be nice, but she had received blank stares the one time she suggested they meet at another restaurant.

"What's wrong with Ray's?" Walter asked, bristling as though he owned the place.

"Where else did you have in mind?" This from Eleanor, on the phone. "Do they have high chairs?"

Nothing was wrong with Ray's. There was nowhere in particular Ernestine wanted to go. Just somewhere different. The question of where stumped her. As for high chairs, how was she supposed to know?Again, this flashback seemed very sudden, and there's no indication as to when this took place, so it convolutes the timeline even further

Since a new location was out, she ordered an entree she'd never tried. Cajun linguini alfredo sounded good—until she looked up to see Walter, Eleanor, and Jim staring at her. She faltered. The waiter, with a kind smile, leaned closer.

"What was that, ma'am?"

"You don't get the pasta," Walter said in astonishment. "You always get the chicken."

"Mom." Eleanor sounded scandalized. "Do you know how many carbs are in that?"

"Forget carbs," said Jim. "Alfredo's the worst pasta sauce you can get. It's loaded with fat."

The waiter's smile tightened. Ignoring them all, he said to Ernestine, "You wanted the pasta, ma'am?"

Red-faced, she shook her head and mumbled a request for baked chicken.


Overall, I thought the thing that detracted most from your story was the flashbacks. It was unclear what was happening where, and made the story seem all-over-the-place, bouncing from memories 40 years ago to something that happened recently to the present, and there was little indication of what was happening when. Smoother transitions between the flashbacks would help ease that confusion, and if you could also work in when each instance was taking place, it would help the timeline be less confusing.

Sentence structure wise, I noticed that you had a tendency to switch back and forth between short and long sentences, and while the short sentences worked well for you the majority of the time, I'd like to see some medium-length sentences so that the shifts aren't as abrupt and for even more variety. I'm also not a fan of single-word sentences or several short sentences right next to each other (like in paragraph 5), but I will admit that I am a grammar freak and fragments in literature make me twitchy even when I know that they're used for emphasis.

I agree with your other reviewer that this did end rather abruptly. Especially considering the many flashbacks and life reflections throughout the story, it seems like there should be some sort of final statement or paragraph that ties all of it together. Instead, it ends mid-scene, without a resolution to the diner fiasco.

I really like the message you're getting at here and the different pericopes really helped hammer your point home, as well as address different issues fat people face in modern society. It's very eye-opening, and you effectively made your point.

Hopefully this was helpful to you! If you have any further questions that I can answer, just let me know and I'd be happy to provide clarification! Best of luck workshopping this!

<3,
Tuck




BlueAfrica says...


Thanks! I had to lol at all your commentary in-text on the flashbacks, because on the one hand I like them but on the other hand I knowwwwww. Oh boy. Like, wow. Flashbacks within flashbacks with no clear idea of the present at the beginning. oops

"Dimple" can in fact be used as a verb! Although naturally I had to double-check myself once you said that. But yes. It can. :)

I'm not concerned about the ending simply because we had to be within a certain word count - some people are using writing samples from academic papers, so their papers end mid-argument because we're keeping between 1000 and 1500 words. If I ever actually return to the story, I'll of course end the chapter less abruptly!

I did want to ask - you didn't feel like the fatphobia/issues went overboard? Like it didn't feel like I was beating you over the head with a mallet, shouting, "HER FAMILY IS FATPHOBIC AND TERRIBLE AND FATPHOBIA IS VERY REAL"?



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Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:05 pm
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Paulnitro14 wrote a review...



Honestly I think you should add more too the story. It just doesn't feel right to end the story the that you did. The sentences flowed perfectly, the story made sense and you introduction hooked me soooooo tight that it was impossible to let go. You did a fantastic job in writing this tremendously stunning story.
Yours Truly, Paul




BlueAfrica says...


Thanks for the review!



Paulnitro14 says...


No problem




When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.
— Dean Jackson