Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

These are the paragraphs:

Someone had called me at half past eleven. The phone rang six times breaking the silence and darkness of the room for about ten or twelve seconds. I didn’t pick up. Just left it ringing on the nightstand. My body didn't even move from its sleeping position. Why didn’t I pick it up? Mai, who was deep asleep facing the wall, didn’t seem to hear it. I tried closing my eyes, but couldn't sleep any more. Those rings were still inside my head. Two or three minutes of lying still passed after I decided to get out of bed, put on my old levi’s t-shirt and jeans. After thinking about it twice, I went out of the room, grabbed a cold Taiwan beer from the refrigerator, and exited the apartment.

A dense fog was surrounding Danshui Night Market, making it impossible to see the end of the street. As I walked on the brick floor, I looked at my left, and noticed that no food stand was open. Which was weird, because there was still people around at this time. I walked few meters, and turned my head to the other side. The sea was dark but I could still see little waves in motion. Well, actually, what I was seeing was the reflection of the moonlight on the waves in motion. I kept walking, and after a minute or two, I reached the fishermen’s wharf (which was empty too), and decided to stay there. I walked closer to the end of the wharf, opened my beer, took a long sip, and watched the boats moving smoothly on the shiny waves.

I started to think about those six rings. Why I’m here outside in the night Is it just because of a phone call that I didn’t pick up? I thought. I took another sip of beer, and decided to think about something else. I thought about Mai. As usual, she didn’t even noticed that I had left the room. In fact, she had stopped noticing my presence in the apartment around a year ago. Each time I was sleeping beside her, I felt like there was a stranger lying beside me. She had become a dead body. Or did had I become a dead body for her? Just a mixture of skin and bones lying beside her. I never felt so lonely in my entire existence. It was like a peaceful desperation. Like a silent scream. Like being asphyxiated in a huge empty space. I felt even lonelier than the time I used to sleep alone in my old apartment with only cockroaches and mosquitoes accompanying me. I took a last sip of beer, and wondered where was the living and breathing Mai?

Basically, what I want to know is

  1. How to make the narrative 'flow' more smoothly.
  2. Will these introductory paragraphs attracts the reader?
  3. Are there too many I's?

(I'm not a native English Speaker, but I really want to write my stuff in English.)

share|improve this question
    
as of a recent meta conversation, general "please fix this" such as your number one are off-topic for critique questions, but 3, 4, and 5 are valid. –  justkt Aug 7 '11 at 22:15
3  
I wanted to make a couple of comments. First of all, kudos to you for attempting to write in any language that is not your native tongue. That is a major undertaking and one that few of us would attempt. Secondly, I would suggest that since English is not your native language, it would be to your benefit to hire an editor to review your work once it is completed. This would help you to identify the types of changes suggested below. You would also benefit from a critique group or a group of beta readers who could give you advice before sending it to an editor. –  Steven Drennon Aug 9 '11 at 19:00
    
If you remove the first, third and fourth sentance the first paragraph will be crisper and nicer. –  user2912 Nov 26 '11 at 6:10
    
This is an older question. It's been bumped by the system because it's been retagged, as per this meta post. –  Neil Fein Jun 3 '12 at 21:16
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Here are some thoughts; let me first tell you that they are all written rather critically - to illustrate possible criticism. Every and each of the arguments I present can be ignored (as faults) if you have a reason (that I failed to see).

Furthermore - in writing I consider that opening paragraph (sometimes even a sentence) and the closing paragraph of the whole work are the most important parts (first paragraph, I believe, is the most important).

This is where narrator will win the trust and interest of the audience and all further reading and interpretation of the reading will depend on success of this task (the trust does not need to be indisputable, but needs to be pragmatically established in some way).


First paragraph
Flowing more smoothly:

Main problem I find is that you are not consistent in your flow - you are somewhat switching the voice between writing it as stream of consciousness and classic retelling.

Let me illustrate:

The phone rang six times breaking the silence and darkness of the room for about ten or twelve seconds. I didn’t pick up.

Usually the text flows if sensory descriptions work together with thought descriptions in a natural way; however when you say that ”phone rang six times breaking the silence and darkness of the room for about ten or twelve seconds”, this is obviously a synthesized afterthought. Also, “ten or twelve seconds” is so precise that it implies importance of this fact, but actually it is not important. Even the simple thing like “phone rang six times” denotes that this is not stream of consciousness, but that narrator counted the rings and then retold it.

Compare to

The phone broke the silence and darkness of the room. The phone rang again. And again, and again. I didn’t pick up.

This might not be what you are after, but refraining from mentioning 10-12 seconds and 6 rings, makes it more coherent to me (does the narrator really have to count how long it rings? the number of rings? does it matter for the story?)

Second paragraph, to make it flow better loose the parentheses - don't branch the flow in such a way unless that is exactly what you are after - parsing parentheses usually requires reader to switch context - from the mainline you are given some facts which are not pertinent to the mainline of the current thought. This is rarely justified in fiction.

Also, you give a bit too much detail which is not strictly coherent - ”As I walked on the brick floor, I looked at my left, and noticed that no food stand was open.”

How important is it really that narrator looked at the left, or that he walked on the brick floor? And again this would not be stream of consciousness - when I walk on the brick floor I don't think 'I am walking on the brick floor'; I might notice that it is a brick floor, by noticing something else about it. Ultimately I think you are just trying to describe the scene by throwing in the details. However, try to do it more naturally. Also, the type of floor does not matter much, but looking to left does; as later on narrator says: “I walked few meters, and turned my head to the other side” - this can not be understood (pictured) without remembering that he looked left before. But, none of these facts is important in themselves - the effort to understand the writing should come out of interest for the subject. I personally did not care (did not get intrigued) if the sea is to the right of the narrator's current (and unknown) orientation; I did care why did he walk a few meters before turning his head, but I that is not explained.

Third paragraph

It was like a peaceful desperation. Like a silent scream. Like being asphyxiated in a huge empty space.

Let's synthesize that: peaceful silent desperate scream yelled (silently) while being asphyxiated in huge empty space. It is not easy to go through a single metaphor that employs near antonyms, let alone three of them in succession - it does not really work to make the thought any more precise or better defined. Try to be simple. For example, I personally liked the last the best and keeping only that one might be more powerful than listing many for the reader to choose from.

Here you mention again the ”six rings” and I must say that if you are going to refer to them again or if there is some symbolism in the number of rings, you should ignore my objection to counting them in the first paragraph. Still the question remains, is the number important?

Another stylistic issue is that universal quantifiers turn narrator less trustworthy - avoid phrases such as 'each time', 'never', 'always' and so on.

As usual, she didn’t even noticed that I had left the room. In fact, she had stopped noticing my presence in the apartment around a year ago. Each time I was sleeping beside her, I felt like there was a stranger lying beside me.

Now, when you say, "as usual" this implies that sometimes it is not as usual, but the opposite. So, according to that, sometimes, she notices. Then comes the sentence that she had stopped noticing him a year ago. Now it is not clear if it is a permanent state between the two or just usual state. Furthermore, do they talk? If yes, is not noticing the right phrase?

Finally - as I said in the introduction the critique I presented is highly imperfect; I could refute all of the given objections and/or justify them with further development of the text, so you can (and I encourage you to) ignore any of the above objections that you already considered; except, in my opinion, the importance of the first sentence/paragraph. Here, for example, anyone who gives the trust to the text will be thinking about the phone call; the whole opening is colored with it and that does not go away: ”Someone called me at half past eleven” is a good opening - it intrigues: who and why?

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks! Your suggestions were very helpful. I think I will rewrite some stuff. –  Alexandro Chen Aug 9 '11 at 9:13
add comment

I'll answer question two honestly: Sorry, but it didn't make me want to read on. My first reaction is 'So what?'. You haven't given me any reason to care that he didn't pick up the phone or that he doesn't get along with Mai any more.

Does he not pick up the phone because there's someone or something after him? Hint at that. Does she seem distant to him because of some dark, mysterious history between them? Hint at that too. There's just no hook that that makes me go, 'Oh? What's this? I want to know more!'

Again, sorry for being so brutal, but that's just how I feel about it.

And the short answer to question one is that you need to work on improving your English first. I understand you're not a native speaker and it's great that you're working on it, but it's very jarring to read. I can't get any sense of the flow when I'm jerked out of that world by bad spelling, grammar and punctuation so often so I can't really provide any feedback there.

But please don't be put off by this - writing only improves with practice, and there are flashes that appeal to me, such as how you describe Mai's distance from the narrator as them being dead to each other. Keep going!

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.