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I wrote a short story. All the action happens mainly at the beginning of the story. You can see part of the beginning in this question, and the full story here).

This is the dialogue and ending (just edited it once):

"Excuse me," he said, after gathering some courage.

She widen her eyes as if she had just woken up from a trance, turned her head and stared at him with confused eyes.

"Do you mind if I sit closer?" he asked.

She shook her head slowly.

He moved closer, still keeping a distance.

"I'm Jun," he said, and paused. "Can I know your name?"

She kept silent for a moment, looking down at her hands.

"Lin," she said with a low voice.

They spent the next minutes looking at the decayed tree without saying anything else. Jun wasn't sure if it was his imagination or the fog, but the tree seemed to have become taller.

"Sorry for asking this," he said, after a moment. "But is it true that you don't have a soul?"

She took a sip of her canned Asahi cocktail and then nodded.

Jun stared at her blankly as if she were a ghost.

"How did that happen? he asked, "Did you lost it somewhere?"

Lin shook her head. "I was born without one."

He felt more confused than before. "I thought people couldn't live without a soul."

"For me, having a brain and body is enough," she replied.

Jun stared to his can, thinking what she had just said.

"It seems like you spend most of your time alone."

Lin narrowed her eyes and looked up the dark sky.

"Not many people want to get close to me once they discover that I don't have a soul," she said. "Some get scared, others get hostile."

"Why is that?"

"I wish I knew," she replied.

Jun finished his beer and pulled another one from his bag.

"You know," he said, holding the can. "Maybe you remind them about something they fear. Something they fear deep inside."

She glanced at him without figuring out what he meant.

"Well," Jun said. "The good thing is that you have plenty of time to do whatever you want."

"I don't do much," she said. "I spend most of my time sitting here, watching the dead tree."

"Is there something special about it?"

"One day he spoke to me," Lin said and sipped her cocktail. "He told me something that has been revolving in my mind for a while."

Jun remained silent, waiting for her to continue.

"He said that people want to be eternal as an individual because they forgot how to be eternal as a whole with nature."

"What does that mean?" Jun asked.

"Honestly, I'm not very sure."

He sipped his beer and looked up. The sky had a majestic purple hue. He couldn't believe they had talked the whole night.

"He also told me what will happen to me after I die," Lin said after a moment.

Jun stared at her with his lips slightly parted.

"He said that after I die, my body will decompose and return to the earth, nourish all sort of living things, and part me will continue living on them."

"It doesn't sound that bad," he said with a smile.

She smiled at back at him. It was his first time seeing her smile.

"Thank you. It's been a long time since someone listened to me the way you did," she said.

Before this dialogue, the main character talks to a classmate on the phone (So there is a little dialogue in the middle of the story).

I'm not very sure if doing this makes the story look unbalanced or poorly written. If it does, what can I do to improve it?

(I would also like to know how to improve the flow and identify inconsistencies in the story).

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Out of curiosity what is your native language and why do you choose to write in English? –  Aerovistae Apr 16 '12 at 14:35
    
@Aerovistae I was born in South America and now I'm living in Taiwan. My native language used to be Spanish. I want to write in English because I always read books in English. –  Alexandro Chen Apr 16 '12 at 14:44
    
I didn't look at the whole thing, by the way, but one thing caught my eye-- I would say it should be "May I know your name?" rather than "Can I ... " The way you have it is not grammatically wrong; it's just not the natural way it would be said. –  Aerovistae Apr 16 '12 at 17:31
    
@Aerovistae Thanks! Funny. In the very first draft, I wrote it as "May I know your name?" but then I mistakenly thought that it was too formal. –  Alexandro Chen Apr 16 '12 at 17:57
    
It is kind of formal, but "Can I .... " is not the appropriate alternative. I'm not familiar with the character of course, but the most natural thing is to say nothing after giving your name, and just wait for a response. If the character is young/excitable or talks kind of fast or is otherwise unlikely to simply wait, they might say "What's your name?" or "You are...?" –  Aerovistae Apr 16 '12 at 18:01
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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Like most things in writing there's no right or wrong answer - only good or bad writing - and that can be subjective. Without the context of the action piece it's difficult to know if this works or not, it might be perfect, it might be completely wrong, it's hard to make a real judgement call. Having said that, my problem with this passage as it's written is that it's a bit "he said/she said" which comes off as 'flat' on the page, the conversation doesn't have much of a dynamic, it's all spoken in one tone. It also leaves very little room for subtext.

There's an old saying that goes "if your scene is about what your scene is about, then it's not working" which means that your dialogue shouldn't mean what is being said, there should be deeper meaning, underneath what's spoken. This passage doesn't really have that and thus, it falls a bit flat. That doesn't mean it's bad writing, in fact the subject matter is actually interesting and I would like to see how it concludes, but you should see if you can explore it in a less obvious way.

Only my two-penn'th.

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Thanks for the feedback. Could you give me some examples. I always understand better with examples. –  Alexandro Chen Apr 16 '12 at 14:49
    
Robert, I think this works much better in the context of the story. Alex has linked to the full story in the question. But I agree that it's not working well when taken out of context. With a novel, where the reader is likely to read bits of it at a time, that would be more of a problem. In this case, the entire story is very short, so I think it works. –  Neil Fein Apr 16 '12 at 17:40
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"if your scene is about what your scene is about, then it's not working" - Interesting! I'd like to read more. Where's that from? –  Neil Fein Apr 16 '12 at 17:42
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I can see how it can work. The action is set on a larger scale - action normally involves more or wider scope than just two people. If the story plot noturally focusses down onto these two people, involved in a discussion, then it might be a valid and workable route.

I thin the challenge is to ensure that the story is not disjointed (unless you are Ian Banks, in which case it is expected), so that your focus moves slowly enough from Big Action Start to Two People Finish.

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After reading the entire piece (from the link you posted), I'd say the story feels like it's all cut of the same material, so you don't have anything to worry about in terms of most of the dialog being at the end. There are some rough edges here and there - how did more beers get into his bag? "Jun left his room at 1:20 that night."? - but a light editing pass would take care of minor inconsistencies like this. I'm also guessing it was "proofread" with spell-check. (If you're not picking up on these sorts of mistakes in your own writing, you can try getting some beta readers or find a writers' group; a full proofreading and editing would be outside the scope of this site. A pro editing job would likely be overkill for a short piece like this, unless you decide to collect many tales into a book later on.)

While I'm not seeing problems stemming from bottom-loading most of the dialog, I'm seeing other issues. In particular:

  • If Lin doesn't have a soul, how will her consciousness live on after her death? Unless the consciousness is separate from the soul. Why is a lack of a soul something that gives people the heebie-jeebies? And why not Jun? You don't need to answer all of these questions in a work this short - sometimes an unresolved question can of itself be a great plot point. But at least acknowledging the question is a good step. (You partially do this when Lin admits she doesn't know why people are avoiding her. But be careful to avoid that these are just covering up flaws.)

  • Is lacking a soul important to the story? The lack of a soul is kind of a Macguffin, in that any property that Lin has that's weird or out of the ordinary could be substituted. In my opinion, Lin's lack of a soul should either be integral to the tale or dropped entirely. The telephone conversation might be a good place to address some of this.

  • This kinda feels like a piece of a larger work, since it doesn't really resolve. That's not necessarily a problem. You can choose to resolve this by, rather than continuing the plot until you reach a "natural" ending, setting up the end point you have earlier in the story. For example: The connection between Lin and Jun is obviously the end of the tale, so maybe you could emphasize Jun's loneliness a little bit more, since it's alleviated at the end. A word or two could serve to do this: The telephone conversation might mention that Jun's been reclusive lately.

    Or: Jun was afraid to approach Lin at first. Maybe we could find out that he passed up similar opportunities in the past? Similar in that he didn't talk to someone out of fear, not necessarily that they were lacking souls.

In summary, I really like this story. I'd take care to avoid tightening it too much; the loose, vague feel here is wonderfully atmospheric, so take care to not resolve everything. But a little tightening and polishing would really bring this home.

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I'd also like to mention: If you do revise this tale, please post a link here or mention where it's been published. I'd absolutely love to read the final story. –  Neil Fein Apr 16 '12 at 16:51
    
Thanks for the feedback. Maybe you are right, I should develop the characters more. Well, the lack of soul is the main theme of the story (and rejection). I'm not sure if someone will figure out but the story is really about the inexistence of the soul. Ha would you feel disappointed if I tell you that this is the ending of the story? –  Alexandro Chen Apr 16 '12 at 17:24
    
@alexchenco "... story is really about the in existence of the soul." Gee, ya think? You fairly well bludgeon people about the head with it. This is an underlying problem with the story - you have a message, and the story is sacrificed to it. This is a common problem in religious fiction like this. When an author comes into the story with a preexisting conclusion, and the reason for the story is spreading that conclusion, what's often not understood (by the author) is that a conclusion is an end -- and what's missing from the story is the journey to that end. –  Patches Apr 16 '12 at 22:08
    
@patches - That's a little harsh; I don't see it that way at all. My issue with the soul thing is that this is really a character piece about isolation, and if the lack-of-a-soul thing is to stay, it needs to be made more integral to the plot. As I mention in this answer, it's currently something that could be replaced by "she has [medical condition]" or "she's a [insert ethnic slur here]" and the story wouldn't have to be changed all that much to accomodate it. –  Neil Fein Apr 17 '12 at 3:34
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