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I dragged myself sluggishly out of bed and instinctively reached for my phone, then I remembered: there was no cell coverage or wifi.

I wasn’t used to waking up this early. I didn’t think anyone would be used to waking up before dawn, but apparently Sarah was.

“We have to beat the summer heat” she had told me “And there’s a lot of work to do”
I helped as much as I could, she told me the proper way to feed the animals and clean them, but I couldn’t get a hang of milking the cows, so I just watched her deftly do it. She had on baggy trousers and a loose-fitting long sleeve shirt. A headscarf and niqab covered her hair and face.

I was surrounded mostly by flat farmland but there were a few hills in the distance. Cows, goats, and a few horse wandered around lazily. It wasn’t until I got here that I realised how polluted the city air was, the air here was clearer and felt better to breathe in. Each breath also filled my nostrils with the smell of manure that had been spread over the fields.

By the time it got too hot to be outside I was completely shattered, but Sarah was still going strong, and started to do some household chores, as I lazed around. She rarely spoke when I she wasn’t answering a question, and at time the silence was deafening. I had no idea how she managed it, no people, no computer, no internet, and the electricity was only on a few hours at night. Although the work seemed to keep her busy, I was sure I’d be going crazy.

About an hour before nightfall we got onto the horses to ride out to one of the hills, she told me it was one of her favourite places to be. We rode bareback, I had only done that once before and it felt strange not to have a place to rest my feet, and was a lot more strenuous on my butt.

We tied the horses near the bottom of the hill and started the trek up. She climbed in a quick practiced manner, I was slower going, it was hard to get a grip because my feet kept sinking into the sand. When we finally got to the top I was doubled over, panting for air. I was sweating despite the cold air. She was breathing more heavily than usual but didn’t seem as spent as me.

As I looked back at the steep climb I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. I felt a sense of serenity descending upon me, and I finally asked her the question I’d been putting off all day: “Don’t you feel lonely out here?”

“The silence was scary for me at first, at times I’d be alone and going crazy, but then I started to connect with myself and god”

  • Does the beginning hook and make you want to keep reading?
  • Is the ending satisfying for a reader? What would make it more so?
  • How well does it flow?
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As per our critique guidelines, requests for critique need to have specific questions. Asking if something is compelling really doesn't qualify, and the fact that both answers so far address wildly different problems supports this. Do you have anything specific you need answered? If not, I'll close this for now. –  Neil Fein Apr 18 '13 at 2:14
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Is this any better? –  JustSomeDude Apr 18 '13 at 16:35
    
I think so; reopening. Thans for editing. –  Neil Fein Apr 18 '13 at 20:59
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2 Answers

To answer your question: This is a good start towards compelling. It's a nice read, and holds interest, which can be difficult to do when most of your readers don't have much experience related to your subject.

But for it to be compelling, you need to put more of yourself and your own emotions into it: not just "I would go crazy in her place," but why. Don't assume the reader will pick out why from your descriptions like a matching game; you need to directly and obviously connect it. This goes both ways, too: don't just tell us how clean the air is, but connect it with yourself. Such as:

"The air here felt cleaner--better to breathe in. I felt as though it was making me more aware than I'd ever been, as if all my senses had been sharpened. Unfortunately, this included my sense of smell, which wasn't pleasant, since there was manure spread all over the fields."

Maybe that wasn't your reaction, but I can't know. That's the point: I don't know how you felt about the cleaner air. It needs to be written in.

Also, you need to work in a description of where you are.

Apart from that, certain things interrupt and slow the flow of reading the essay. If you don't mind, I'll make some suggestions in a second.

As a general critique: Again, a good start, but I'd say it's nowhere near done. The organization is good, but the mechanics, word choice, and sentence structure need work. Also, there's a bit of a slow description-dump here--

I helped as much as I could, she told me the proper way to feed the animals and clean them, but I couldn’t get a hang of milking the cows, so I just watched her deftly do it. She had on baggy trousers and a loose-fitting long sleeve shirt. A headscarf and niqab covered her hair and face.

--which you might want to clean up a bit, because it slows down your prose and is a bit boring to read. It might read more easily if it were edited, like this:

I helped as much as I could. Sarah [you want to mention her name at least once per paragraph, to remind us she's a person] taught me to properly feed and clean the animals, [You mean muck out stables and such? You might want a different word than "clean."] but I couldn’t get the hang of milking the cows, so I simply stood and watched as Sarah did it, much more deftly and efficiently than I could have. She wore baggy trousers and a loose-fitting long sleeve shirt. A headscarf and niqab covered her hair and face. [Do you need this? If so, I think it might be in the wrong place. Maybe you should introduce her earlier.]

Corrected, it looks like this. I helped as much as I could. Sarah taught me to properly feed and care for the animals, but I couldn’t get the hang of milking the cows. After giving up, I simply stood and watched as she did it in my place, much more deftly and efficiently than I could have.

This version accentuates the actions in the sentences, rather than the description, and cuts out the out-of-place clothing description. Here's a suggestion if you want to keep that elsewhere. It also works in your setting.

I wasn’t used to waking up this early. I didn’t think anyone would be used to waking up before dawn, but apparently Sarah did it all the time. When she met me, she seemed perfectly awake, ready to get down to business in her baggy trousers and loose-fitting shirt. Her headscarf and niqab were carefully tied, something I felt I wouldn't have had the hand-eye coordination to do for several hours.

“We have to beat the summer heat,” she'd told me. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

That was true. [insert setting here] summers sometimes meant that, even in the shade, the air could be 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

That might be a little choppy, but you get the idea.

Hope that helps!

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Let me know if I'm not answering your questions? –  Rebekah Apr 19 '13 at 2:36
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This essay as it stands is not compelling.

  1. We do not know why the narrator has traveled to visit Sarah.
  2. We do not know where Sarah is.
  3. We do not know why Sarah is there.
  4. We do not learn Sarah's answer to the question: "Don't you feel lonely out here?"

We need to understand a bit more about the two characters.

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