|Good evening Dee
Saw your story in the request review and decided to accept the challenge.
I see from your profile that you are a prolific writer, which causes me to pause as I feel inferior with so few stories in my folder. I believe I do have a solid foundation on what makes a good story and can offer suggestions on how to make your story better. I see a good story line, and logical progression to the end.
You introduce a bit of conflict in the opening paragraph; she has an important job with numerous, vital tasks she should be tending to, but family history steals her away. The conflict builds as she can't find what she is looking for. We see a peak when she finds the scrap of paper. The conflict builds anew to the final resolution and joyous anticipation of sharing her discovery with her favorite uncle.
I began the story with relish as you begin with a strong opening statement - "Liz rummaged through the attic of the old mansion". However, the strong opening becomes wordy and weak - " hoping to find something interesting to learn about her ancestor"
In this phrase, she is hoping to find and to learn something about an ancestor. If she finds something, she will naturally learn something, so the phrases are redundant. She is looking for something; (a weak, ambiguous word) about an ancestor (again weak and ambiguous).
The next sentence tells us who the ancestor is. Why not skip the 'ancestor' and go directly to 'great grandmother? Maybe something like - Liz rummaged through the attic of the old mansion, seeking that one snippet that set great grandma Coit above the rest.
Not too good, but hopefully it shows what I am saying. An opening like this reveals 1) she is searching, 2) the person who has captured her attention, and 3) the object of her search, some great deed or accomplishment. We know she is an old relative whose last name is Coit. From there, you supply the additional information: first name, ninth generation, birth date and info that she was a writer.
I am a little confused about the political aspect of the story. It is July 4th and two days before an election: I'm not sure what election you are referring to. Also, it is July 4th, it doesn't seem to me that political duties would be that critical for a campaign staffer, so searching through an old attic wouldn't be a problem. If she was a speech writer for a politician making a speech that evening and she hadn't finished it, then okay, I see the conflict. Of course, I just might be ignorant that there are elections that take place right after Independence Day.
You spend much time describing the scene, using strong words: consumed, obsession, maneuver, etc.
I wonder if you use more words than necessary in your descriptions. For example, you can change this - and it piqued her curiosity. In fact, it consumed every spare minute of her time... to this "and it piqued her curiosity, consuming every spare minute of her time.
I find the second paragraph a bit confusing; in fact I had to stop and reread it my first time through.
Liz sighed as she glanced around. She won't find anything important in a glance. I think you need a stronger word here.
She pushed her way past the antiques. Good. In my mind I see her past the mess, but then she ran her hand over them. The word 'and' in the sentence provides a flow to the sentence. The first thing occurs, and then she moves on to the next. In this case, she would have to back track to run her hands over the items.
A simple fix is : she pushed her way past the antiques, running her hands over the hallowed surfaces.
Dust an inch thick covered furniture, and trunks, filled with sketches
"Dust, an inch thick." I understand you are trying to establish how old the items are, but I'm not sure you'd end up with an inch of dust even after 300 years. Not only that, but would she be running her hands over antiques with an inch of dust on them? Not sure about that one.
I wonder if the word 'and' isn't the best way to join the two phrases. One option is to put a period after furniture and begin a new sentence with "Trunks, filled with...". Another is to use a different word that lends itself to a new idea, like "... covered furniture, while trunks, filled with..."
In this sentence - there had to be something interesting - would present tense be better - There has to be something interesting...
She pulled out the sepia-colored parchment, being careful not to damage it. The document had one handwritten word on it. Grotto.
I like that you used a strong word -sepia-colored - to describe the parchment, but honestly, I have no idea what color 'sepia' is. I assume it is a faded yellow or gold color. Could you convey the same thought by saying - She eased the ancient parchment from the book and read one handwritten word ... Grotto.
One final thought. You should reread the story and highlight every occurrence of the words she, her and Liz. If I counted correctly, they occur about 85 times combined. I raise this point because every time you say "she did something", "Liz said something, or "she learned about her history", you are telling us something. Telling is great, if you are writing a newspaper article, but too much will cause you to lose your reader in a short story.
Examine this sentence - She smiled as she tossed it on the pile of items she planned to take with her, Maybe try something like, "Smiling, she tossed it on the stack of books to take downstairs.
This is still a telling sentence, but without the multiple pronouns.
One of the best methods of showing the story is to utilize dialogue. Even though she is by herself, she can still talk. I know I talk to myself all the time. The neat thing with dialogue is that even when you tell something, it sill acts like showing.
Here is a perfect example in your own words - She found the word and read the definition, out loud. "A small cave, or an artificial one in a park or garden, or an indoor structure, resembling a cave."
(Note - you don't need the words - out loud. The quotation marks tell us she is speaking 'out loud'.)
In this case she is telling us the definition of the word Grotto, but we don't realize it.
From the same section - Grotto?" Liz knew what a grotto was, but she wanted to be sure
Try - "Grotto? I think I know what it means ... wait a minute, here's a dictionary, I'll look it up. Hmmm, A small cave ..."
Not sure if you understand my meaning. Showing vs Telling is a subject that takes up many classes and textbooks and can't be properly explained in a short review. I just hope I make sense and can help you tighten up your story and make it even better.
It's getting late, so I'll close now. Thanks for posting this gem and asking for good, constructive critiques. I hope that is what I provided you.
Have a great day and Keep on Writing