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So There I was in the scorching, afternoon, summer heat of Cairo. It was a huge change from the UK’s mild weather, and together with the fact that I had been fasting - as in no food or drink- for 15 hours by that point didn’t make it any easier to handle only made things worse. I looked around; the sun was quickly disappearing behind the towering apartment blocks that surrounded me. The taxi had dumped me here after taking what was clearly a a clearly circuitous route to squeeze me of every penny I had, every penny out of me; I had cringed as I saw watched the number creeping up on the meter creeping up, but there wasn’t much I could do have done. I had two suitcases and no idea where to go. I felt a painful emptiness in my stomach. My throat was completely parched from a lack of water and the desert air, heavy with sand, only made things worse. Each breath I took filled my nostrils with the pungent smell of rotten food given off by the overturned skips at every street corner.

I walked for what seemed like hours but was probably closer to 30 minutes. I would ask one person for directions and once I’d get to where they told me, I’d ask again and be told to turn around and walk back to where I came from. Each step filled my shoes with more sand, until I felt I had the entire desert in my shoes, and soaked my shirt with sweat which made it feel as if it was super glued to my back With each step, my shoes filled with more sand until the whole desert seemed to be in there, and sweat drenched my shirt so that it stuck to my back, as if glued there. So far Egypt was hardly the paradise I remembered from my youth and the insistent buzzing of the flies in my ear made it difficult to remember what good I thought I had seen in this country.

Suddenly the booming voice of the Athan, the Muslim call to prayer, resonated around me. It marked the time for the evening prayer and, more importantly, the time for me to break my fast. That thought only made me hungrier and I thought I heard an audible rumble coming from my stomach. I continued to drag my feet through the various streets in the area squinting at each building number, desperately hoping to see mine, but to no avail. Eventually I decided to ask at a shop I had passed a few times, as I neared it a man pointed to the ground next to him “Here,” he offered “sit and break your fast us.” In one hand he held a bottle of water, in the other a mango. No feeling could come close to the ecstasy I felt when I sunk my teeth into the sweet, succulent mango. This man who looked like he could barely afford the clothes on his back was freely sharing his food with me, it was a beautiful gesture and at that moment it was a lot easier to remember why I had decided to come back here.

Guidelines for the critique:

  1. How descriptive is it? How well does it perform as a descriptive piece of writing?
  2. How compelling is it? Does it make you want to keep on reading?
  3. How cliche is it?
  4. How well does it portray a change in perspective? As in how well do you get a sense that the character's persepective about the country changes from the beginning of the essay until the end

When suggesting changes please note that I am limited by a 2500 character (including spaces) limit, so if something was added something else would need to be removed. Please explain how that addition warrants the removing of another part and improves the overall quality of the piece.

Note: Additions made to essay are italicized.

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Not a full critique, but I'd seriously consider chopping this into paragraphs. – Neil Fein Apr 12 '13 at 20:56
I'm always bad with paragraphs - are those points good break points for paragraphs? – JustSomeDude Apr 12 '13 at 21:33
For the purposes of critique, this is good enough. It's easier to refer to text when you have it split up like this. – Neil Fein Apr 12 '13 at 22:47
But generally, where you break paragraphs is a matter of personal taste. You want to keep similar thoughts together, but you can also change the rhythm of the text by varying paragraph length. An analogy to speaking helps: If a comma or a period is where you take a breath, a paragraph is where you might put a dramatic pause. – Neil Fein Apr 12 '13 at 22:49
"sit and break your fast us". Shouldn't that be "sit and break your fast with us"? – Faheem Mitha Dec 10 '13 at 21:02

The highlights are in bold around my examples and suggestions, but a full reading is a bit more desirable.

  1. It's very descriptive, but at the same time, there are places where it's so wordy that the description is weakened, making it perform poorly as a descriptive piece of writing. When a description or sentence becomes too wordy, even with descriptive words, the description is weakened or made confusing.
  2. Readability is made much easier with the multiple paragraphs (good job - leave it that way). It does suffer from the wordiness of everything, though.
  3. From what I can tell, your essay isn't cliche. I need not say more here.
  4. There is also little room for a change in perspective, which would explain a slight weakness there. Overall, you're very close! Don't give up!

Much of the problem comes from using too many words to describe something, or trying to describe too many things at the same time. Your essay will be much more powerful and descriptive if you find a shorter way to describe things.

From what I can tell, your essay isn't too cliche. I need not say more regarding that.

Let's take a look at some examples of where things could be strengthened. I will use examples from your essay so that it's easier to describe certain concepts that I'm going to point out.

It was a huge change from the UK's mild weather and together with the fact that I had been fasting - as in no food or drink- for 15 hours by that point didn't make it any easier to handle.

OK, so let me point out a few things here. You've got some useless phrases ("by that point", "as in"), so we'll remove them. There are a couple grammar/punctuation errors here, too. Shorten the sentence, then add a comma before "and the fact..." (we're separating clauses). There is also the conflict between "together with" and "made it worse". Before (simplified): "It was a huge change, and together with fasting made things worse." See how that doesn't quite click? Remove "together with".

It was a huge change from the UK's mild weather, and the fact that I had been fasting - no food or drink - for 15 hours made things worse.

Point 1: Remove unnecessary words and phrases. They will be the death of an essay (I still struggle with this, too).

Point 2: Make sure you don't use conflicting phrases to describe what's happening. Writing a simple version off to the side can help with this.

Let's move forward.

The taxi had dumped me here after taking what was clearly a circuitous route to squeeze me of every penny I had, I had cringed as I saw the number creeping up on the meter but there wasn't much I could do; I had two suitcases and no idea where to go.

OK, this is a run-on sentence. Changing the sentence structure will give it much more power, and it will give context to the taxi. It will also give you the ability to remove the "I looked around" part from the previous sentence (about the sun setting).

I had two suitcases and no idea where to go. The taxi had dumped me here after taking a clearly circuitous route to squeeze every penny out of me; I had cringed as I watched the number on the meter creeping up, but there wasn't much I could have done.

Point 3: If you can reword or rearrange a sentence or set of sentences and communicate the same message (with more power, though), do it.

Now let's take a look at the sentence about the character's traveling woes.

Each step filled my shoes with more sand, until I felt I had the entire desert in my shoes, and soaked my shirt with sweat which made it feel as if it was super glued to my back.

The sentence is wordy and is not parallel (see Point 4, below). The problem also coincides with a few other things. There are a couple missing words that actually change the meaning of terms (felt has a different meaning from felt as though or felt like).

With each step, my shoes filled with more sand until there seemed to be no room for my feet, and sweat drenched my shirt so that it stuck to my back as if glued there.

Point 4: Be careful when describing multiple things in the sentence. Keep them parallel ("obj1 affects me, and obj2 affects me" rather than "obj1 affects me, and I am affected by obj2").

Point 5: Make sure you don't leave out words (or add words) that change the definition of a term, as described above.

I'm going to leave the rest to you, with a few more notes of advice: If you have too many descriptive words, you may be more descriptive, but you lose the readability. It's a tough balance, but you're almost there. I think you can free up some more space and create another sentence to make a more complete transition to the positive tone at the end.

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When the part about suitcases comes after the part about the taxi it implies, for me, causality, i.e. there wasn't much I could do because I had 2 suitcases and had no idea where I should go.The change in order changes the meaning for me. – JustSomeDude Apr 12 '13 at 23:50
@JustSomeDude ah, that sounds good. Go ahead and find your own way to reword it. There were other things in it that I noticed. But in the end, it's up to you. – JMcAfreak Apr 15 '13 at 14:57
  1. It is very descriptive. Probably too many adjectives per noun. For example, "sweet, succulent, fleshy mango", I personally feel that succulent and fleshy overlap enough to remove fleshy.
  2. Without paragraphs, it is a formidable block of text to read.
  3. It doesn't seem that cliche to me. It seems to be derived from your personal experience.
  4. Not sure what you mean by change in perspective. I think you mean if I can relate to the first person "I" in the essay. I would say yes.

I'm confused by the 2500 character limit. You make it sound like it is an absolute requirement, that the essay must be precisely 2500 characters, not more or less.

You have a few run on sentences, for example, the last sentence. You also start with too many commas in the first sentence, and then seem to avoid commas through the rest of the essay. I think there are places where commas would have helped with the understanding.

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I've always read that 3 adjectives sound better (rule of three) – JustSomeDude Apr 12 '13 at 21:18
It can be less than 2500 characters but not more. – JustSomeDude Apr 12 '13 at 21:22
@JustSomeDude Three adjectives can sound better, but they don't always work in every instance. Often it's just overkill. Consider the context. Just because you have a three-adjective hammer, that doesn't make every noun a nail. – Lauren Ipsum Apr 12 '13 at 21:57
@LaurenIpsum You shall suffer for the poor word's sin! – Mussri Apr 14 '13 at 17:01
@LaurenI Eons hence, useless words yet unscathed, every kille- ehem, edit shall face deat- ehem, being edited. An eye for an eye, an edit for an edit. – Mussri Apr 15 '13 at 17:15

Almost any writing has to be written with some attention paid to who the audience will be. If you were writing a nice little travel piece for the newspaper, you'd write this piece very differently, for example.

If I were editing this piece, I'd move all that weather and food stuff out of the way at the beginning and start with the taxi dumping you in the middle of nowhere, having just fleeced you. Have it rumble away, just as your stomach rumbles. (By the way, all rumbles are audible, so you can save eight characters right there by removing that word.)

You need to make clear why you have been fasting (travel? religion? illness?) even though you say later that the call to prayer means it is time to break your fast--unless your intended audience is entirely Muslim, in which case you might get away with it.

In this piece you are caught in an absurd situation. You think you should blend right into a city you obviously once enjoyed. Dare I say that for a few hours you were a pompous old white Englishman? Can you write it like you were? And it took a poor man with only a few mangoes to make you Egyptian again.

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