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This is the beginning of a short story I'm writing:

Jun was standing motionless at entrance of the 7-eleven. He was staring down, searching for something in his memory as students picked their midnight snacks, office workers talked on the seats, and youngsters with dyed hair drank their beers. He scratched his ear and lifted his head. What did Ling ask me to buy? His wife had asked him to get something for her at the the 7-eleven. That had been the reason he had come out, and entered the convenient store in the first place. But now that he was here, he didn't know what he was supposed to buy. He made a mental list of all the possibilities: chocolate milk, cookies, shampoo, washing foam, bathing foam, condoms...He stopped there and realized that it wasn't any of them. How can that be possible? She just told me a minutes ago. He wonder if he was in early stages of Alzheimer or dementia. But he thought that was impossible, after all, he was just in his mid-thirties. Those diseases belonged to people with white hair and walking sticks.

Jun decided to sit in one of the stools. He glanced at his watch. 12:30 a.m. He thought about calling his wife and ask her what she needed. He took his cellphone from his pocket and stared at it for a couple of seconds, but then put it back. I better not call her. I just told you few minutes ago and you forgot? she would say. He left out a sigh and glanced around, realizing that he was feeling a little bit hungry. Jun headed to the food section, and bough himself a hot dog and a iced coffee.

I was wondering if this will grab the reader's attention (Would he or she think that the situation is too "normal" or "not intriguing enough)?

EDIT:

Thanks for everyone's suggestions. How about this?

Jun stood motionless at the entrance of the 7-Eleven, ignoring the strange looks from customers who were entering the place. He stared down at his shoes as if he were in some sort of trance. Then, he lifted his head and glanced around. What did Ling ask me to buy? His wife had asked him to get something for her. That had been the reason he had gone out, and entered a convenient store in the first place. But now that he was here, he didn't know what he was supposed to buy.

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The new version seems much improved. I'd change "he didn't know what he was supposed to buy" to "he couldn't remember what he was supposed to buy." The sentence before that should be trimmed, too: "That's why he was standing in the busy convenience store." (No need to say the verbose "That had been the reason he had gone out, and entered" – that's all implied by the fact that he's standing there). One more suggestion: I'd change the first preposition from "at" to "inside". Otherwise, the wording can create the impression that Jun is outside, on the sidewalk next to the parking lot. –  J.R. Nov 9 '12 at 10:02
    
@J.R. Thanks, I think I've learned a lot from the answers to this question. –  Alexandro Chen Nov 10 '12 at 1:23
    
"Convenience store" not "convenient store." I point this out because you've mentioned before that you are trying to write in English even though it's not your native language. –  dmm Nov 8 '13 at 21:40
    
@dmm Oh thanks. Ha, I wrote this long long time ago. I almost forgot it existed. –  Alexandro Chen Nov 9 '13 at 1:02
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It was late at night, and Jun stood at the convenience store entrance, trying to remember what he was supposed to buy – his absent-mindedness prompting his first midlife crisis.

You've added a lot more details, but we've both essentially said the same thing. I don't find those details to be particularly gripping; in fact, they seem to have the opposite effect, especially in a story opening.

Rather than being intrigued by the character, I'm left waiting for something to happen.

Sure, the words aren't entirely without purpose: they drop hints about the neighborhood, the clientele, and Jun and Ling’s married life. Still, you asked about their ability to grab the reader’s attention. If such detailed descriptions are really going to grab my attention, they need to describe something far more intriguing than, "What was it... shampoo or milk?"


One other thing: no one drinks their beer inside a 7-11, especially not "youngsters". Munch on a chili dog? Maybe. Lug a six-pack back to their car? Happens all the time. But drink their beer in the convenience store? Now you've got a credibility problem.

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Well, this is kind of hard. The story is also supposed to be a little bit ridiculous; he stays out the whole night, wandering around just because he forgot what his wife asked him to buy (of course it has some deeper root causes). –  Alexandro Chen Nov 8 '12 at 10:43
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That revelation might change the situation some, but the narrative still plods along. For example, don't say that he decided to sit on the stool, just have him sit on the stool. Also, "He scratched his ear and lifted his head" is your third sentence. How is that supposed to grab a reader's attention? It makes me feel like I'm in a long line at the bank – not getting strapped into a roller coaster for an exciting ride. Instead of focusing on his insignificant tics or who is in the store, try describing his panicked mind. –  J.R. Nov 8 '12 at 10:55
    
@Lexi Well, I often drink beer inside 7-11 (and see many people doing it too). I think it depends on the country. –  Alexandro Chen Nov 8 '12 at 12:52
    
@me, or @JR? :P –  Lexi Nov 8 '12 at 12:56
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alex: I wondered about that when I made that comment – maybe that's different in different country. I appreciate learning that. Still, it might be worth noting that an American reader, at least, would find that very strange indeed. –  J.R. Nov 8 '12 at 13:18
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If you are going to expose what's going on inside the protagonist's head to the reader, don't waste your time on cliched drivel. Instead, have a packet of something hit the floor, which makes a sound and grabs his attention.

It's some relatively skanky white trash chick, but hot in a way. She dropped a bag of Combos on the floor and bends over to pick it up. He compares some of her features to his wife's. He contemplates whether he would like his wife to have a tattoo on her back like that girl's, weighing his sexual desires against the embarrassment factor, since he's more on the conservative side of the fence. "Perhaps a temporary one," he thinks to himself.

Anyway, then he walks over to the counter with a gallon jug of water and a half gallon of 1% milk. Normally he'd go to the grocery store for that sort of thing, like a normal person. In fact, he only visits a 7-Eleven maybe once in five years, and even then it's probably to ask for directions, which never works out too well by the way.

He's behind three other customers, the first two are an interracial couple buying several candy items and a 2-liter of Mountain Dew. Their bill comes to $14.62 and he thinks to himself, "Oh my gosh that's expensive for so little. I'm glad I'm not wasting my money on that junk."

It's half past ten on a Friday and a man wearing a green army surplus jacket, faded jeans, and a ski mask walks in the front door waving a hand gun. Crap, what would Stallone do?

I mean, have something happen, not just some boring thoughts going through the protagonist's head. Nobody thinks about Alzheimer's when they forgot what they needed at the store. They just think to themselves how dumb they are for not making a list after having the same thing happen to them 1000 times before.

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Does anyone actually read anymore anyway? –  JohnB Nov 8 '12 at 22:35
    
Other than that, your intro was really good. –  JohnB Nov 8 '12 at 22:38
    
On second thought, make it an alien instead of burglar. That day is coming soon! –  JohnB Nov 9 '12 at 0:45
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For me you kind of steam right into the detail without giving a little set-up first. I'd simply change things around a little like this:

Jun made a mental list of all the possibilities: chocolate milk, cookies, shampoo, washing foam, bathing foam, condoms... but as he stood there, motionless, in the 7-eleven he realized that it wasn't any of them. All around him students grabbed midnight snacks, office workers talked, and kids with dyed hair drank beer. He scratched his ear, lifted his head, searched his memory. His wife had asked him to get something, that was why he had come out in the first place, but now that he was here he had no idea what it was.

"How can that be possible? She just told me a minutes ago." He wondered if he was in early stages of Alzheimer or dementia. But he thought that was impossible, after all, he was just in his mid-thirties. Those diseases belonged to people with white hair and walking sticks. Jun decided to sit in one of the stools. He glanced at his watch. 12:30 a.m. He thought about calling her and took his cellphone from his pocket. He stared at the screen for a couple of seconds, but then put it back. "I better not call her." 'I just told you few minutes ago and you forgot?' she would say. He let out a sigh and glanced around. Realizing he was hungry, he headed to the food section and bought a hot dog and an iced coffee.

Something like that, anyway. Hope that helps.

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Thanks! Damn, I wanted to vote up but accidentally voted down, and now I can't vote up anymore. –  Alexandro Chen Nov 8 '12 at 12:51
    
@alexchenco - I did an edit to the answer, you should be able to change your vote now. –  Neil Fein Nov 8 '12 at 19:34
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The main reason this doesn't grab my attention is that there is no sense of immediacy. We start with him standing there, staring, scratching his ear, lifting his head. So what? It doesn't give me a good reason to keep reading all the way to the hook where he's going "How is that possible? She only told me minutes ago."

Start with the hook. Let us know right off the bat that something's off. You could state it explicitly (eg. It had only been two minutes since his wife had told him what to buy, and already Jun couldn't remember for the life of him what it was that she wanted) or make it more subtle (eg. Jun wandered up and down the aisles of the 7-Eleven, ignoring the strange looks from the other customers as he focused his full attention on each section in the store). With better writing, obviously.

The other aspect that makes it lack immediacy is the verb forms (yes, there is a formal term for it that I don't know). When you say "was standing" or "was staring" it doesn't give you a sense of things happening now. It makes you feel more removed from the action, like you're watching on instead of being part of it. Instead of "was standing", say "stood". Instead of "was staring", say "stared".

Basically: Hook us, and make us feel like we're there.

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