Forums Writing Writing Labs Writing Lab for the Week of March 11 // Open Until Tuesday, March 12, 5:00PM EST

Writing Lab for the Week of March 11 // Open Until Tuesday, March 12, 5:00PM EST

Keph Senett here, critiquing your work with Kate Sedgwick.
IMPORTANT: The lab is not meant for first drafts of assignments. Due to recent curriculum changes, we will be accepting original drafts of your coursework here in the writing labs while they remain in their current form. However, please pay special attention to the assignment parameters. If the assignment has a word limit, stay within that word limit. Disregarding assignment parameters may disqualify your work from critique.
What you submit here should be your best work. In other words, please do not dash something off quickly in order to meet the lab deadline. We do our best in here to give comprehensive feedback and hope you will respect this by meeting our best effort with your own.
Assignment One, Assignment Six, and Assignment Twelve are not eligible for critique here unless they have already been critiqued by faculty and revised.
+ Reply to this thread before the deadline. Posting your own thread might cause you to miss the deadline, so check and make sure you’ve posted a reply to this thread — not a new thread.
+ You must have already completed and gotten feedback on your first assignment before being eligible to post to the lab. You may post revisions of assignments or any other work you would like critiqued.
+ Please post questions about your work with the link to the work or the work itself.
+ Please proofread your work and keep typos to a minimum so we can focus on issues like narrative and character instead of it’s and its.
+ Please limit yourself to one piece of work for review. Your piece doesn’t need to be a course assignment. It can be anything travel writing related you’d like feedback on. However, if it is an assignment or assignment revision, please be sure to let us know for which chapter you wrote it.
+ Please note that revisions from this lab will have to wait for critique until next week’s lab. We can’t review your piece twice in the same lab, in other words.
You have until 5:00PM EST on Tuesday, March 12th to post your work. If you don’t know what time that is, it’s this time here.

View Profile 2013-03-11 13:54:21 PDT

Hi Kate & Keph,

This is a piece I have been working on for awhile. It started out under 800 or so words but I wanted to expand it into a longer narrative (2000-3000 words). I would love feedback regarding my paragraph transitions and if the descriptions/explanations of the factory machinery are clear. I also reworked some of the dialogue and included visual breaks- let me know if you think I need them!

Thanks,

Stephanie

The Midnight Fruit

View Profile 2013-03-11 20:51:55 PDT

Hi Kate & Keph, glad that both of you and the writing labs are still here. Back from London and back to the birds piece. It’s been useful to have some distance from it, I’ve thought about all the feedback and changed it quite a lot. See what you think….

http://peeriemole.matadoru.com/2013/03/12/birdwatching-in-cuba-revision/

Karen

View Profile 2013-03-12 07:43:30 PDT

Hi Kate and Keph,

I would like to submit a piece for this week’s writing lab.  It’s an informal account of my experience getting my open water diver certification in Bali, and it’s for my blog.  I would just like your feedback on it.  In particular:

– how well it flows (or, does it flow well?)

– is it too informal (ex. Does it sound like an e-mail written to my mother)?

– more feedback on style, cohesiveness, clarity, etc.

 

Thank you so much, guys.  I really appreciate your help!

 
What Not to Do When you Go Diving in Bali
“Is it pressure group D?” I asked, looking up expectantly at my dive instructor, Mark.  The expression on his face indicated that this was not in fact the correct answer.

“Uh… how did you get D?” he inquired, in a failed attempt to not seem totally incredulous.

“I… don’t know.”  I admitted honestly.

I was in my PADI Open Water Diver certification course in Bali, and I was learning how to use my recreational dive planner to calculate how much residual nitrogen would be in my body after a first dive.  This ingenious planner, or RDP, was created for divers to easily calculate when they could safely descend on another dive without feeling extreme discomfort due to decompression sickness, or dying.  However, despite the ease with which my instructor could produce the correct results using the RDP, I had again come up with the wrong answer.  I was considering whether or not to tell Mark I had failed elementary school math – twice.

During my spring vacation, I visited Bali for a week with the primary purpose of learning how to dive.  I registered for a 4-day Open Water Diver certification course and a 2-day Digital Underwater Photography course with Bali Scuba, located in Sanur in the south of the island.

I stepped off the plane on a warm, muggy evening in April and I was met by the sight of impossibly tall palm trees swaying in the wind, aggressive taxi drivers calling loudly for the attention of potential passengers, and a descending sun disappearing quickly from the horizon.

As I made my way out into the noisy throng, an amicable Balinese driver, sent from my guesthouse to retrieve me, waved me over, and we immediately departed for what would be my home for the next week.  The driver showed me to my room, which was by far the most luxurious place I have ever stayed in – a poolside, private suite with an enormous widescreen TV, comfortable bed, and a balcony looking out onto lush, green trees.   I had decided to splurge on this trip and stay somewhere a little more elegant than my usual accommodations of a bunk bed in a shared hostel room, where one could breathe in the scent of sweat and moldy socks, see the North Face travel packs strewn across the floor in total disarray, and listen to the sounds of snoring and whispered conversations in the dark.  Yes, this was a well-chosen upgrade…

I started my course bright and early the next morning and discovered that I was the only student who had registered.  I was initially disappointed; I had wanted to meet other people on my trip, as I was travelling solo.  However, I realized the benefits of the circumstances: I had private instruction for the full six days of the course.  This was probably good for me, I realized, as I have an exceptionally slow learning curve when it comes to anything even remotely athletic.

Upon my arrival at the school, my instructor caught sight of me and came over to introduce himself.  He was a friendly but unnervingly blunt New Yorker named Mark who had been living in Bali for eight years and who spoke Bahasa Indonesian fluently.  I quizzed him on all things Balinese and aquatic throughout the course, and I became increasingly fascinated by his stories of life as an ex-pat and of previous dive experiences.  I learned a lot from him about diving and also about life in Bali, and I think he learned some things from me as well:

a).  Not every full-grown adult can do math at higher than an elementary school level.
b).  Being a good swimmer does not mean you will be a good diver.
c).  Even if you repeat an instruction five different ways, and as simply as possible, this does not mean your instruction will be heeded, or understood, by your nervous, panicky student.
d).  There is such a thing as a stupid question.

The first two days of the course were spent in the classroom and the swimming pool.  Mark tested me on various diving tasks before we entered the ocean, including some scary ones like what to do if your mask fills up with water and you can’t see (flailing around blindly is NOT the answer, as I discovered through the exasperation and repeated corrections of my wise dive master), what to do if you run out of air, and what to do if you have a cramp underwater and can’t move.  I swim a lot and have snorkelled quite a few times, but even still, I surprised myself with my excessive lack of coordination and grace underwater.  Although, even without the giant vest and metal cylinder attached to my back, my corporal awkwardness could still make ballet look like sumo wrestling and diving look like a giraffe doing gymnastics.

In spite of the odds against me, we were able to go through all the tasks, and finally I was deemed ready to dive in the ocean.  One of our first dives was at the famed site of Tulamben, where the US Liberty shipwreck is located.  This army transport ship was torpedoed by Japanese forces during WWII, and now it sits just off the northeastern coast of Bali, encrusted with coral and home to a wide variety of tropical marine life.

Before the dive, I started to feel doubt over what I was about to do, terrified at the thought of going deep underwater and into the recesses of a sunken shipwreck.  Panicking, I started to play in my mind all of the scenarios that could occur during the dive:  What if I get vertigo?  What if I lose my instructor?  What if a shark eats my leg?  I began to think of the absurdity of it all.  Why was I leaving the safety of this stunning, white sand beach to descend into darkness and invade the homes of such dangerous creatures as predatory sharks and irritable rays?

However, most of my fears dissipated once we reached the prime dive site.  My instructor remained close to my side for the entirety of the dive, and during our short exploration of the area, we saw a plethora of colourful underwater creatures, including lionfish, barracudas, and manta rays.

At one point, we were suddenly surrounded by giant purple fish that approached in the dozens and started nibbling on my hair.  At first, I thought that they might have been the nasty and territorial triggerfish that my instructor had warned me about.  However, using hand signals, Mark made it clear to me that they posed no threat to my safety.  He told me later that they were harmless wrasse, and that other divers often brought breadcrumbs to feed them, so they associated divers with feeding time.  How can I express what it felt like in that moment?  The moment when I was swiftly encircled by gentle, vibrant fish rubbing against my skin and hair, when I realized I was in Bali, 15 metres under the surface of the ocean and hovering beside a WWII shipwreck.

The rest of the dives passed without any major mishaps, and soon, I was at the end of my course, as well as at the end of my aquatic vacation.

These are some of the most important things that I learned in my diving class:

1.  You should always avoid creatures that are either really pretty (lionfish) or really ugly (pufferfish), or that stare at you really aggressively without moving (triggerfish).  While this is a good tip for diving, I feel like this advice can also apply to dating.

2.   Don’t wave at other divers.  While this may seem excessively unfriendly, a wave is the universal diving signal for “Help!  I’m drowning or otherwise in distress!”  So unless you want a group of concerned diving Samaritans to helpfully drag you to surface and perform CPR on you against your will, don’t be friendly.

3.  There are around 25 hand signals that new divers need to memorize in order to communicate with their group and other divers.  While they are all important to learn, the one you should probably not forget is the one for “I’ve run out of air and need to share your tank with you!”  This happened on my last dive, although waving my hands frantically in front of my dive instructor’s face seemed to communicate this perfectly well in my mind.  However, in reality, it may confuse your instructor, and it may make him believe that you wish to perform the closing number to “Chicago” underwater rather than convey your increasing lack of oxygen, so it is VERY important not to forget your hand signals!

4.  Working harder does NOT make you move faster or more gracefully.  This may seem counter-intuitive, as most things in life (becoming a lawyer, running a marathon, winning an eating contest, etc.) require hard work and speed to get ahead.  However, kicking around while huffing and puffing is only good if you are playing Charades and are trying to convince your team that you are an adolescent frog attempting to hunt for food.  In the diving world, it is a great way to run out of air quickly, tire out your muscles, and perhaps destroy a fragile and invaluable ecosystem.

 Overall, I felt that this course had been one of the most amazing and educational experiences of my life.  Immediately after, I was already thinking about the next stages in the PADI dive program – maybe Dive Master?  Adventure Diver? 

As I left the island, I reflected upon the mishaps and accomplishments of the past week.  I had run out of air while underwater, felt the panic of vertigo setting in, forgotten most of the essential, life-saving hand signals.  And still, despite all this, and despite having a severe case of clumsiness, a gross ineptitude for following simple instructions, and the inability to do grade five math problems, I had obtained my certification as an open water diver.  I had descended 15 metres underwater, to a new world where tropical sea creatures touch your skin, begging for food, and coral closes in on a decades-old relic of war.  

View Profile 2013-03-12 09:56:37 PDT

The lab is now closed. See you next week!

View Profile 2013-03-12 14:29:28 PDT

Hi Stephanie,

I love the title image on your blog!

Your main questions were:
– paragraph transitions
– and if the descriptions/explanations of the factory machinery are clear
– do you need the visual breaks
On all three of these elements, I think you’ve done a really good job. I do think that you could trim down the machinery passage. It’s just slightly too much. You’ve got a lot of engaging and unique descriptions, but it becomes a bit overwhelming, a bit too granular. Look at this passage, for example:

Barret and I both worked on Line 3. It was the largest and fastest line in the pack house. The machine resembled a tangle of a highway complete with pedestrian under and overpasses. Towards the north end of the line, a separate machine turned flat sheets of cardboard into boxes with a rhythmic THUMP. The finished boxes crawled like a centipede onto a conveyer belt that ran alongside the machine and against the flow of the fruit.

Trimmed, as an example:

Barret and I both worked on Line 3. The largest and fastest in the pack house, it resembled a tangle of a highway. At the north end, a machine turned flat sheets of cardboard into boxes with a rhythmic THUMP. The finished boxes crawled onto a conveyer belt that ran alongside the line and against the flow of the fruit.

The main things I did were trim the modifiers (“…boxes crawled..” vs “…boxes crawled like a centipede…” <— that metaphor didn’t work for me) and merge ideas and sentences (look, for example, at how many times you used the words “line” and “machine” in your original).
The main challenge with a piece of this length is going to be capturing and holding the attention of your readers. To be effective, it will have to be thematically interesting, properly paced, and well-written. You are obviously already aware of some of these elements, as it reads very well, so let’s look at other ways to strengthen the piece.
1) Close edit/typos. Given the strength of your writing, I am assuming that many of the issues throughout are the result of edits, not a problem with language or grammar. The fix: Give it to a friend or fellow writer to read/edit. Make your changes. Sleep on the piece for at least one night, then read it out loud.

Let’s take a look at your intro paragraphs, as an example:

It was six o’clock in the evening when I woke up inside my Mitsubishi campervan [camper van]. I pulled back a thick white curtain and wiped the stale [not sure about word choice. When I think of waking up in a car, the condensation is wet and cold — more crisp than stale], condensed breath off the window; the stars were already out. Although this had been my routine for the last month, I still wasn’t used to waking up this late.
I glanced over at my boyfriend’s empty side of the bed and pulled a short curly brown hair out of his pillowcase. Our bedroom, our van, had been born into a factory fleet of traditional eight-seaters; [I’m thinking colon instead of semi-colon] manual transmission and no power steering.
Somewhere along the way[,] though[,] seats had been removed, a kitchenette added, and camping equipment stored with squirrel-like intensity[word choice: efficiency?]. The table and two bench set up [“two bench set up” is confusing. “Two-bench set-up”? Or “two benches set up”] in the back could quickly be converted to a queen-size bed with the adjustment of a few particle boards. The remodel had a semi-professionally [semi-professional] quality, but there were also poorly executed [poorly-executed] DIY projects like the ceiling lining that curled off in the heat and adhered to our hair.

Do you see where small mistakes have cropped up? One other thing on the intro: Students usually need a lot of work with the content of their intro. I like this. It sets the scene, gives us lots of clues about what’s going on, and introduces your characters. Good work.
2) Definitions. Overall you do a great job of this but because you’re writing about a specific industry, certain puzzling things crop up. The fix: Get your reader (see above) to make a note of things they didn’t understand. Also think about how this might read to an international audience. I think you’re from the UK (based on the Working Holiday Schemes… which could use a touch more definition) so ask yourself if an American would understand. An example:

Kiwifruit, especially the gold variety, were susceptible to bruising, punctures, and fatally impaling each other.

When I think of kiwis, I think of small, brown, fuzzy fruits. What are these ones like?

3) Tighten. See my comments above re: the machine descriptions. Other examples, all pretty simple/easy:

“Peter, my supervisor, was a young Maori guy with an unlimited amount of energy.” could be “Peter, my supervisor, was a young Maori guy with a unlimited energy. “

and

“It was my job to make sure it all landed in a box; technically speaking, inside a plastic liner in a box.” could be “It was my job to make sure it all landed inside the plastic liner in the box.”

4) Specificity. Some of the metaphors you use don’t land for me. Here’s an example:

“She was also as pasty as unbaked dough, which I found incredibly offensive because it made me associate her with something nicer than liver bile.”

I’m not sure what this means. I have an idea but it’s unclear and possibly overkill.

5) Semicolons. You use a lot of them. I’d recommend reviewing their proper usage and branching out. I started to snag on them by the end of the piece.

6) Structure. Mostly, this worked really well for me but the last two paragraphs before the final (about the women from the Solomon Islands) need to be moved, I think. In fact, I think they need to be merged and trimmed (your note on the things they need to contend with could go) and then moved. I know you’re seeing them at the end of your shift but the last thing before the asterisks should probably be a lingering idea about you/shift work/the factory, not about any of your characters. Make sense?

Stephanie, this is really great work. You have some marvelous turns of phrase (The Dragon’s tongue piecing like a frog pinned to a tray, for example) and excellent B stories (I like Edwin and the ways to use “shit”).  There’s humor and good pacing.

I think that you could be looking towards publishing this somewhere, though I’m not sure about venue. Do you have plans for it? I hope to see a revision of this at some point!

K-

View Profile 2013-03-13 09:05:45 PDT

Hi Karen,

Thank you for the kind words; I’m pleased to see you back with this piece.

First I want to say that you have some marvelous descriptions. I love:

– petrol blue and green body
– Alone and smartly preened, like an elderly gentleman out for his daily morning stroll (I think I’ve upped you on this one before — it’s super.)
– wrapped in shoulder-hung, black feather cloaks with bald, rubbery-red heads. Muttering about bones.
– Strung out like winged crucifixions.

Some comments, but note that these are very minor and very much about final edits and finesse:

“5 Carpintero (Woodpeckers). Red skull caps top black and white, dot and patch bodies. They make tack-tack-tap-tap carpentry holes in insect laden, cracked bark.”

– Should be “insect-laden”

– Should there be time stamps on the bird sightings if there is on the field guide?

“Pock-marked and white faced with a head of thin, grey, fuzzy-furry hair.”

– Should be “white-faced” but also, what does this mean?

– In this passage about Jorges, it seems like you’ve already gone out into the forest, but then you say, “I finish my coffee and we walk out into the forest. It smells of green.”
“He shuffles closer and snakes his other hand around me and onto the binoculars. Now our four hands are holding them. He is behind me and bigger than me. I am in the space between his  arms.”
– You need to vary your sentence structure here.
– Did you mean to repeat “Does he want to fuck me?” in consecutive paragraphs?
“His hand is low now; below my belly. His half-hard dick is in my back. He is definitely going to fuck me if I let him. I take my hands off the binoculars and duck out under his arm. I extract myself from him completely. He understands that I do not want to have sex with him.”

– I think this passage would be stronger without the last sentence.

– “I can’t hear the birds anymore but my head is a rabble. ” <– I’d look for a word other than rabble.

“I’m untangling thoughts but can hardly hear them because a chorus of imagined women is arguing about what is OK and what is not OK for a man to do to a woman alone in the forest. And about what I should do now.”

– This is powerful but I don’t like the sentence structure. I like the jumbly feel to it, and think it would work better without the period between “forest” and “And”.

“Night Watchman. Sun-cracked, old face and black, wiry moustache. Shift ending. Walking arm-in-arm in a tight, sensual conspiracy with a crooked-faced, teenage girl; her sharp shoulder boney dug into his armpit.”

– “Bony” not “boney”, and maybe put it between “sharp” and “shoulder”?

“Big, shrimp-flavoured bird-breasts on scrawny, brittle reptilian legs. Flexing double-jointed knees. Messily scooping and snapping water with bent, black becks then throwing back S-bend necks to gulp.”

– Some typos here. First, “shrimp-flavoured”? How do you know what they taste like? “Beaks” not “becks”.

OK. Your writing is just getting better and better. This piece is spooky and familiar and interesting. Here are a few things I thought about when reading it this time.

1) I LOVE your descriptions of the birds. I’d like to see you bring a bit of that poetry into the descriptions of the men. You’re getting there with that but if you hit it a bit harder, you might find the surreality of the piece pops a bit more.
2) The first vignette is so strong that the second two feel like a let-down. Could you either give more in the second two or remove them?
3) Related to #2, this begins to feel like a bit of an indictment of Cuban men in general. This also would be corrected if it was the story of one experience, not three.

Have you read “Las Terrenas” by Nowhere Magazine editor Porter Fox? It took me a while to find it (I couldn’t remember the title) but I’m so glad I did. I strongly recommend you read this; it deals with some on the same issues you’re grappling with in your piece and may help you figure out where to take it next. I hope to see another version here, Karen!

K-

View Profile 2013-03-15 14:09:40 PDT

Hi pickeringchristine,

Diving in Bali <– jealous! What an incredible experience.

You mentioned that you want to publish this on your blog, which typically would be rather informal (letter to your mom). Overall I think it’s great for that, but let’s look at a few places where it could be improved. I’m going to focus on structure and style; perhaps Kate will give you some feedback on grammar and punctuation (not that there was a lot to correct in that regard).

1) Try and tighten your language. There are places where you use several words where a few would do. Examples:
“The expression on his face indicated that this was not in fact the correct answer.” could read: “The expression on his face told me it wasn’t.”

“During my spring vacation, I visited Bali for a week with the primary purpose of learning how to dive.  I registered for a 4-day Open Water Diver certification course and a 2-day Digital Underwater Photography course with Bali Scuba, located in Sanur in the south of the island.” <– how much of this is necessary information?

One really effective way to tighten a piece is to read the piece out loud. You’ll stumble on overly wordy ideas. It also helps catch typos and awkward phrases.

2) Look for ways to show, not tell. Example:
“I was in my PADI Open Water Diver certification course in Bali…” We already know this from the title and the preceding section.

3) Measure your humor. Go for a light touch. Lots of beginning writers strive for the easy hilarity of the misadventure travel tale, but it takes quite a bit of skill to pull this off. You’ve done a good job of building suspense and upping your personal stakes, but look at this section:

“This ingenious planner, or RDP, was created for divers to easily calculate when they could safely descend on another dive without feeling extreme discomfort due to decompression sickness, or dying.  However, despite the ease with which my instructor could produce the correct results using the RDP, I had again come up with the wrong answer.  I was considering whether or not to tell Mark I had failed elementary school math – twice.”

You’re using the same technique–the wry aside–to underscore your point. It can come off as too heavy-handed. Go for restraint so that when you drop an aside it really resonates. You probably already read Bill Bryson, but on the off chance you don’t, give him a try. He’s a master at this, as is Pete McCarthy.
4) Avoid the pat ending, unless you’rewriting a review:
“Overall, I felt that this course had been one of the most amazing and educational experiences of my life.  Immediately after, I was already thinking about the next stages in the PADI dive program – maybe Dive Master?  Adventure Diver?”
In general, I thought this was a good blog post. I liked the list of things you learned, and actually think that if you really wanted to rework this piece you could format it as only a list, and tell the tale through that rather than as a straight narrative. Overall, great work.
Hope this helps!
K-

View Profile 2013-03-16 11:38:36 PDT

Christine –

Keph’s got some great advice for you.  To avoid repeating her points, I’m going to focus on how you might tighten your language and shoot for more accuracy.

From the very beginning, you are using general language rather than specific language.  What you might shoot for here is putting yourself in the moment more or with more accuracy.  So let’s look at a few things from your opener:
“Is it pressure group D?” I asked, looking up expectantly at my dive instructor, Mark.  The expression on his face indicated that this was not in fact the correct answer.
“Uh… how did you get D?” he inquired, in a failed attempt to not seem totally incredulous.
“I… don’t know.”  I admitted honestly.
Above, you are adding in words that don’t help your reader visualize the situation. Where are you?  On a boat?  In the water?  At the side of the water? In a classroom?  Your readers don’t know where you are, and that would help put us in the picture with you.
Secondly, it’s a good rule of thumb to eliminate adverbs from your writing.  These words are slowing your pace and don’t add a lot to the story.  What is the expression on your instructor’s face?  Is it important?  Does the dialogue tell us enough?  Do you feel silly when he asks you how you got that answer?  Try concentrating more on the concrete realities.  As Keph has said, show, don’t tell.
Rather than seeming too casual, your language reads as stiff to me.  Try for a more conversational tone. You can experiment with various techniques to loosen up.  One thing I do that makes me feel a bit crazy sometimes is to just start talking about the experience as if to a friend.  Would you use “in a failed attempt not to seem totally incredulous” if you were telling the story to a friend?  Or would you say something like, “He looked like he was trying hard not to make me feel stupid,” or something.
Think about your language more here:
 This ingenious planner, or RDP, was created for divers to easily calculate when they could safely descend on another dive without feeling extreme discomfort due to decompression sickness, or dying.
This whole sentence is confusing to me.  I don’t get any idea of what this RDP is. Is it a device?  A math problem?  And the second part of the sentence seems to equate discomfort with dying.  Because you’re using the gerund forms of these verbs, your message is muddled.  Try something like: This simple equation allows divers to calculate XYZ.  When X builds up in the blood, risks can be mild discomfort due to XYZ or death.
Try to be as direct as you can. If you feel your language is falling flat as a result, you can always go back and dress things up a little.  The major obstacle here is clarity: clarity in the way you paint the scene, and clarity in the information you provide in your writing.  Make sure your ideas are presented in an unambiguous way.
I’m confused about the way you’ve chosen to open with a moment during the course and then flash back to your arrival.  There’s nothing wrong with this as a narrative device, but the scene you open with doesn’t seem significant enough to be the opener.  Why did you choose to open with this scene?
This piece seems a little directionless to me. There’s a lot of fun information and great advice here, but you’re somewhere between narrative and informative.  I would suggest cutting this into two pieces.  One could be “What I learned becoming a certified diver” or something, and the other could be the narrative, should you choose to pursue that option. I see a lot of potential for humor if you take the more informative tack, and that would help you focus your language and direct it specifically at information and humor.
You’ve got a lot of good stuff going on here!  Now it’s time to organize. Decide what this piece is meant to do and draft an outline. You might open with the paragraph that refers to the giraffe. That’s a great image that will set the tone.  Then outline what you learned and how you learned it.  That’s my suggestion, anyway.  Good work!
Kate

View Profile 2013-03-17 11:55:52 PDT

Karen —

This piece is so interesting and you have so many great turns of phrase. I see what you’re going here with the “notes” style description of the birds, however, I find if very difficult to get the nuance of the language here when it’s jammed together the way it is.

Here:
1 Zunzuncito (Bee Hummingbird) precision-plunging its nectar-sucking beak deep into hibiscus flowers. A blinking, shimmering orb made by wing beats holds this petrol blue and green body in mid-air.
I don’t get the use of numbers here. You might be too birdwatching inside baseball for the average reader.  Also, the lack of a comma or use of the verb to be, I had to give this section about three passes before I had any idea what might be going on here.  This is not the strongest way to open a piece because you risk losing readers who are bewildered by what you’ve got here.  It’s poetic and beautiful, but it’s not totally clear. It’s your call what you want to do here, but I would strive for clarity first and foremost and let the story get going before jamming up your readers’ minds with syntactical magic.
Maybe it’s a personal pet peeve on my part, but the word “laden” is almost always taking the place of something else.  Do the bugs run through the wood like arteries?  Is there another way to describe this?
Inaccurate: With each step his hip rises up to swing the leg that doesn’t bend.
Should be every other step.
The lack of complete sentences is disconcerting to me, though I get that you’re going for the bird-watching angle.  I would try to smooth this out tonally by making a few incomplete sentences pop when you want to add drama. I feel there’s too much of this in the piece.
I find this a bit strange, especially the repetition: Does he want to fuck me?
This might be stronger if you talk about what he might be trying to do or what he IS trying to do, rather than what he wants.
I find this so strange: He is definitely going to fuck me if I let him.
I get being in a threatening situation and imagining the possibilities, but you go from what he wants to what he will do.  I would like to see more of what is actually going on.  Is there a chance of you “letting him”?  If not, I suggest axing this sentence or changing it to something else.
There’s something very interesting here that I think could go further:
I’m untangling thoughts but can hardly hear them because a chorus of imagined women is arguing about what is OK and what is not OK for a man to do to a woman alone in the forest. And about what I should do now.
Can everybody just SHUT UP.
You need a question mark on that last sentence, and I would use italics rather than caps.  Is it a chorus of women?  Is it you?  Is it things you’ve read and talked about?  Can you be a little more specific?  Any phrases you could recreate?
I know this feeling: being in a situation you think of as benign and suddenly, there’s a sexual threat. There’s shock, there’s fear, there’s anger, there’s adrenaline.  The pace you use to describe this is entirely fitting and I love the rhythm here.  But be careful.  Do you really think any of this is about what he thinks you want?  I think that’s a flawed argument, but if you believe it’s the case, then you might need to go further:
OK. I think Jorges thinks I wanted to be fucked. I think he thinks that I asked to go to the forest because I wanted to arrange some Cuban sex. That happens, it’s OK. I think that there has been a misunderstanding. But I can still feel the impression of Jorges’ hand on my cunt and I don’t like it.
I think you are oversimplifying here, and I’d like to see it go further.  With all these “voices” you speak of before, I’d like to see you arguing with yourself a little bit. You’re still in the forest with this man.  What is his expression like? Is there any petulance?  Do you feel a threat?
The way you end this section is incredible.  Super work here.
In bare feet[COMMA] I step down
Awkwardly worded: her sharp shoulder boney dug into his armpit.

I like the sections at the end of this piece, but they’re anticlimactic. I would suggest cutting them from the piece altogether because the suspense and prose in the first, longer section is so strong.  Terrific work, Karen.  And thanks for your compliments on the critiques. It’s really gratifying to see such strong and honest work in the labs.

K

View Profile 2013-03-17 12:23:20 PDT

Hi, Stephanie —

This piece is much improved. Good work!

A couple things in addition to what Keph has said (which it spot on):

Think about including brand names.  What does the brand name of the van tell us?  It might be more apt to describe the shape (boxy?).  Also, I’m wondering if you and your boyfriend bought the van the way it is (modified) or if you did it yourself. You’re mixing in the camping equipment with the modifications to the van, and the passive voice leaves some mystery. Maybe you can say you picked the van up with the seats out already, or whatever it is that reflects the reality.  In any case, the history of the van is less important than how it is now, in the moment you’re describing.  Is it cluttered?  Hot?  Steamy?  Cool?  Is every available space crammed with things you keep accruing?  These are the details that will show us your life and the moment you’re in in the narrative.

You do well with showing how the interior of the van works and the minor discomforts associated with it.  So try here to make every word count.

Night shift should be two words.

 

Here: That not-so-minor technicality made both transience and seasonal agricultural jobs very attractive; at least as attractive as possible.

 

First, there’s no need for a semi-colon here. Second, try to make your statement a little more bold.  You contradict yourself above, and the statement isn’t bold enough to be humorous.

 

Here:  It was a hostel that catered to agricultural workers or anyone else unfortunate enough to spend the night in Te Puke.

 

Is the hostel still there?  If so, you can refer to it in the present tense when speaking of it in a general way. For the physical details — the ones in the story — you can use the past tense. Does that make sense?  If the hostel has closed, then you might make reference to that and write about it in the past tense.

 

I like this, but there’s something tonally odd and formal about the word “preordained” here:  I slipped out of my work shoes, tucked my feet under my legs, and settled into my preordained spot.

 

Do you mean the passenger seat above? I’m confused because I think you are about to sit at the foldout table and eat, then he’s putting the van into gear.  It’s the reference to forks that has me filling in the gaps here. Maybe you can switch up the dialogue or make reference to getting in the passenger side door.

 

Again, this is a fact about kiwis, so should be stated in the present tense: Kiwifruit, especially the gold variety, were susceptible to bruising, punctures, and fatally impaling each other.

 

Here: Compared to the dark of the night, the boxy, utilitarian structure was an overkill of lights and screeching machinery.

 

You really have a way with words, but “an overkill” seems an easy, non-descriptive choice. I’d like to see you try again here. Is it a massive structure?  Does it remind you of a prison complex as seen on TV or something?  Try getting the landscape and the pack house’s place in it down with more accuracy.

 

The descriptions you’ve got of the machinery are interesting and much more accurate than before.  What details are important, though?  The people are very captivating in this section. I love the bit about the graders.  You might want to condense some of this, and it might be hard to decide what to cut.  Or you might want to add bits and pieces about the machinery in the moments you’re paying attention to it in the narrative.

 

The description of Peter is great!  Watch out for pronouns here:

 

Without waiting for an answer, Peter tapped the shoulder of the worker behind me and quickly led them off to another line that was being drowned under an avalanche of kiwifruit.

 

“Them” isn’t really accurate. Make it him or her. You might even discuss the difference in size between Peter and the worker or point out something about the physicality of these people, especially given the attention to detail in the description of the machines.

 

Lost a little here:

 It was my job to make sure it all landed in a box; technically speaking, inside a plastic liner in a box.

What does “it” refer to?

 

Strange verb choice: When Barret became in charge of the sticker label reels he received a raise, so I had high hopes as I smugly examined gold kiwifruit.

 

Maybe “was put in charge” or similar.

 

I’m thoroughly confused by this: She was also as pasty as unbaked dough, which I found incredibly offensive because it made me associate her with something nicer than liver bile.

 

Confusing: “She glared over my shoulder while I counted a box of kiwifruit.” I told a captive audience. Unless there was a machine or handler error, the amount of kiwifruit which dropped was predetermined and printed on the box’s label. Quality control was in charge of sampling random boxes and ensuring the count was accurate.

 

I don’t know who you’re talking about or if, in this instance, you’re working in quality control.  Include details that elucidate what you’re trying to say. In this case, I feel you’re over-explaining.

 

If you are still this way, then state it in the present tense: Unfortunately I didn’t possess a poker face. 

 

Misuse of semicolon: The Dragon was sitting hunched over and in the company of another supervisor; a woman that I did not know.

 

Read about semicolons here: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon

 

You can’t know this to be true, so throw a “seemed” in there: The only time the Dragon looked happy was when a cigarette dangled from her hand.

 

This has improved by leaps and bounds, but it seems a little too long. If you want to edit this again, I would suggest pushing the other-worldly quality of the factory a little more.  Some of your examples are a little inaccessible, but if you push them, if you pay attention to the weird lighting, the deep shadows between the machine, the panic of cleaning up someone else’s mess, the Kafka-esque aspect of this, I think you could both shorten it a little and make it more intense.

 

Great work!

 

Kate

View Profile 2013-03-18 09:40:30 PDT

Hi Kate & Keph,

Thanks once again for the wonderful feedback. Sometimes I feel like I am blindly writing in the dark and you guys are the flashlights 🙂

I will also try not to abuse semicolons; I don’t know why I have become so attached to them. (Thanks for the website)

Stephanie

View Profile 2013-03-19 01:51:48 PDT