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I'm writing a short story about a schoolgirl who is visiting an aquarium (this setting is connected with her past and with the conflict of the story).

Sophia found herself walking through a glass tunnel. She felt as if she were at the bottom of the sea without any difficulties to breath. A blacktip shark and a school of yellowtail surgeonfish passed over her head. They didn't seem to be noticing each other; they were just swimming peacefully side by side. Sophia followed them with her eyes as they disappeared in the blue murky water. She continued walking along the long path, carrying her schoolbag on her back, and gazing at the other marine animals.

Sophia always felt a special fascination for the ocean and everything that lives in it. She could spend whole afternoons watching clown fish, sharks, sting rays, turtles and corals. Being surrounded by them made her feel as if she had been transported to another world. A world that was closer to her than the world outside. At first, she didn't know where that interest had come from. But as time passed by, she discovered that these feelings were reminiscences of her childhood.

Sophia's father used to own a watermelon farm in Kenting's countryside. It wasn't huge, but it was big enough to keep his father busy the whole year. The farm was near the sea. He would take her to the beach every weekend. Sophia spent most of her childhood there, searching for crabs under rocks, fishing with her father, swimming with some of her friends, and enjoying all things that the Pacific Ocean provides. But all this ended when she reached 16. Her family's financial situation had declined considerably over the years, so her father decided to sell the farm to continue paying her school fees. A month later, Sophia and her family moved to Tainan, where her father had found a job in an company that exported agricultural products to China. Sophia's life in the city had begun.

Sophia reached a winding staircase, stared at it for a moment, and began to ascend. The staircase was surrounding a cylindrical tank. As she was walking up the steps, she realized that the tank contained thousands of jellyfishes. A light on the top of the tank changed from time to time making the jellyfish change their colors along with it. They looked like fluorescent mushrooms dancing in a blue canvas. Sophia loved to watch them. For her, their movements were so beautiful, yet so simple. But the thing she liked best about them was how they looked as if they were one with the sea. How they seemed to merge with the blue crystalline water.

I have the following questions:

  • As you can see, each paragraph starts with Sophia... I've done my best to think of other opening lines but I can't think of any. What do you suggest? (I also repeat the name Sophia in the paragraphs. Not sure if this is bad though)

  • Is the transition to the flashback of Sophia's childhood smooth?

  • Well, the purpose of these paragraphs are not to create suspense nor intrigue,
    but as a reader, do you want to keep reading? If not, how to improve them?
    (the 'intriguing' part comes later when she discovers a baby girl floating in the middle of a water tank).

  • Since the story is set in an aquarium, there are some terms that I'm not familiar with (e.g. water tank, glass tunnel, glass window, etc.). Am I using them properly?

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Each paragraph starting with "Sophia" isn't a problem, unless it goes on for pages and pages. For a small snippet like this, I'd see it as a rhythmic element that's kinda cool. –  Neil Fein Jun 11 '12 at 15:05
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A quick answer - I would make the third paragraph start with "Her father", just to clarify that it is reminiscing - as it stands, it doesn't flow particularly well, there. For the final paragraph, you might want to start with "Back in the present, Sophia ...", to indicate the end of the reminiscing. However, it is not "wrong" to do as you have.

That third paragraph could be written without a name at all, and might work being more "disconnected" - in the sense of showing random memories that don't necessarily connect directly, but show a whole. And if it is memories of her childhood, then the farm would have been huge to her. Even though later, she might have realised how small it was. If you can tell this part from the perspective of a young Sophia, and give it a different feel because of that, I think it will work better.

Suspense - I think you need to focus more on the sense of being surrounded by tons of water, kept away by layers of plastic. Can she tap gently on a tank, look at the side and see how thick - how thin - the plastic is, imagine all of that water on top of her as she walks in the tunnel. Clearly she is imaginative, so let that go a little more. That would keep me reading as it hints at a sense of danger that most people who have been through these types of places have felt.

Your usage of the words is absolutely fine. You could incorporate some of the phrases you mention more, if you want to emphasise the sense of being surrounded by water ( see my previous point )

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  • As you can see, each paragraph starts with Sophia... I've done my best to think of other opening lines but I can't think of any. What do you suggest? (I also repeat the name Sophia in the paragraphs. Not sure if this is bad though)

Para 2:

Being surrounded by sea water and everything that lived in it made her feel 
as if she had been transported to another world. She could spend all 
afternoon watching clown fish, sharks, sting rays, and turtles. 

Para 3: since Sophia is the only actor, you can use "she" without ambiguity

She spent her childhood years were spent on a watermelon farm in Kenting's countryside.

Para 4:

Having reached a winding staircase Sophia stared at it for a moment and began to ascend.
  • Is the transition to the flashback of Sophia's childhood smooth?

It did not come across as smooth to me. Instead it came across as a break in the action that was all telling and little showing. It may feel smoother if you phrase it as something Sophia is thinking as she is walking through the tunnel. Have a sea creature swimming by remind her of one she saw as a child, for example.

  • Well, the purpose of these paragraphs are not to create suspense nor intrigue, but as a reader, do you want to keep reading? If not, how to improve them? The truly 'intriguing' part comes later when she discovers a baby girl floating in the middle of a water tank.

I think it needs to be tightened up in order to be intriguing. Right now it kind of meanders on and on about her love for the sea, but you can convey that in probably a single paragraph. What you need to elaborate on is the background of how Sophia got to the city she is currently living in. Right now it's an info dump. Draw it out with more interesting details. If possible help me as the reader see how Sophia will react to the floating baby by giving me a glimpse into her character that is more than just the fact that she loves the ocean. Make me care about her as a person. You have an interesting story - that of a family's fortunes declining and lots of changes for a young girl coming of age. Make it matter.

To create a suspenseful tone I'd bring in some of the very real danger that water can pose, since I assume the baby girl who will be floating is not going to be alive (although if she is that would be even more interesting to me).

  • Since the story is set in an aquarium, there are some terms that I'm not familiar with (e.g. water tank, glass tunnel, glass window, etc.). Am I using them properly?

Just one note: usually in an aquarium the water is not too terribly murky so the fish wouldn't disappear that easily.

Unrelated to your bullet points there are some grammar issues here that you should look into cleaning up.

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