Forums Writing Writing Labs Writing Lab for the Week of March 18 // Open Until Tue., March 19, 5PM EST

Writing Lab for the Week of March 18 // Open Until Tue., March 19, 5PM EST

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.

This month, Keph Senett is critiquing your work with me.

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 19th to post your work. If you don’t know what time that is, it’s this time here.

View Profile 2013-03-18 14:03:55 PDT

Hi Kate and Keph,

This is a short piece I’ve been working on for the Telegraph’s weekly Just Back competition. It’s supposed to be a 500 word narrative piece. I want to do the best job on this, and I find your comments incredibly useful. Thank you so much in advance!

Under the Shadow of Mount Ararat
Our bus rushes past the monastery of Khor Virap. We continue beyond into the dusty, disused path leading towards the Arax River and the closed Turkish border.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“It’s a surprise,” says Ashren our guide, “You’ll see.”

The minibus hobbles over the rock-laden dirt track and the monastery recedes behind us. Khor Virap sits on a small outcrop, built up out of brown stones that form a complex of conical topped churches that are sharpened up into a point.

Khor Virap is best viewed up the road, when Mount Ararat and its lower peak known affectionately as “Little Ararat” frame the backdrop of the monastery. However, today, the blue sky is tainted by a group of clouds that gather over the summit of the Biblical mountain.

“The Turkish cloud making machine is at work again,” says Ashren, “this always happens when we visit.”

I can make out Ararat through the clouds, infer its contours and catch glimpses of snow at the summit, though I’m frustrated at my inability to capture the perfect photograph.

“Khor Virap is where Armenia became Christian,” says Ashren, “It was the world’s first Christian country. Gregory the Illuminator was thrown into a pit, for thirteen years by King Trdat. He had no food and only snakes for company. The king went mad, and a prophecy said only Gregory could cure him. Many thought he had died and were amazed to see him emerge from the pit, which we’ll visit later.”

The bus stops by the fence, offering glimpses of the river, watchtowers and the Turkish farmlands beyond the Armenian border.

“This is the closest to Mount Ararat we can get,” says Ashren as we get off the bus. “It was a part of Armenia once, it’s a holy place for the Armenians even today. Come on, follow me.”

The red bits of earth crumble under my feet and the sounds of lone birds and the wind rustling the dried green undergrowth punctuate the silence. The dust blows up into the air and I taste the clay particles as they stick to the roof of my mouth.

The top of the bank overlooks a dirt patch scattered with weeds and rectangular formations made out of eroded mud bricks.

“This is ancient Artashat,” Ashren says, “This was founded by King Artashes I in 180 BC. This was Armenia’s ancient capital until the Persian Kings destroyed the city.”

Standing at the ruins of Ancient Artashat looking up from abandoned mud brick houses towards Mount Ararat, I feel small. Is it really the resting place of Noah’s ark? I might be an outsider looking into Armenia’s history, but here, it all comes together, from the legend of Noah’s ark to the origins of Armenian Christianity. The horrors of the 20th century are also hinted at by the tall, barbed wires marking the closed Turkish border – Armenia will never forget.

Mount Ararat might be in a different country now, but it still watches over Armenia.

View Profile 2013-03-18 14:51:54 PDT

Hi Kate and Keph,
Here’s assignment 3. Thanks for taking a look at it. I have misgivings about whether or not i’ve fulfilled the assignment. Much of this dialogue is pretty one-sided. I made a couple of other attempts to capture other conversations, but I kept thinking about this one. In the end I decided that this was the piece I wanted to write, so I went with it. But if you think I need to re-do it, I certainly will.

The Five Train

As I take a seat across the aisle from them, I see that the child has been eating.   She rolls down the top of a greasy, paper bag and tries to pass it to the man seated beside her.  She pushes it against him several times, but his hands remain on his lap.

“Daddy, will you hold this?” she asks.  

Her father is silent.   His hard, narrow eyes stare straight ahead.

“Daddy, please hold this,” she tries again.  

Her voice is quiet and steady, with no hint of frustration.


“No!” he snaps.  

The girl doesn’t flinch.  She stuffs the bag into her sparkly silver backpack.  It doesn’t really fit, so it crinkles noisily as she struggles to close the zipper.

Moments later, she reaches into another bag and pulls out a bottle of Pepsi.

“Daddy, do you want some?” she offers, holding the bottle out toward him. “You could have some, I didn’t even drink it yet.”

He closes his eyes, and with surprising force replies, “No!”

A couple of people on the train look up.  The anger in his voice is startling.  The little girl, though, appears unphased.  She leans her head against his arm as she drinks the Pepsi.  Her eyes are wide and calm.

A few minutes later, she caps the bottle and sits up straight.

“Do you have your iPod?” she asks, looking at the side of her father’s stony face.

He says nothing, but he takes an orange-cased iPod from his jacket pocket, and places it on his stomach.  He strings the earbuds around his neck, so they dangle down the front of his chest.  

“But Daddy, can I listen to the music?”


“But you’re not listening…”


She reaches over to take the iPod anyway.  He smacks her hand away, hard, and shouts, “No!”

He immediately puts his arm around her shoulder and pulls her close.  She nestles under his arm, her head on his chest.  The train is nearly empty and very quiet.  I can hear the child humming softly to herself.  

Abruptly, he jerks his arm away, and places his hands back on his lap.  The girl repositions herself so she is leaning against his shoulder, but he jabs his elbow into her ribs and shakes her off.

“Daddy…” she begins, but then goes quiet.

He stares off into some imaginary distance.  She straightens up, putting a few inches of space between herself and her father.  Her face is relaxed and serene, but her eyes are now fixed on the floor.

The train stops at the 149th Street station.  The father stands and stalks out the door without a word.  He doesn’t even glance back at his small daughter.  She slides off the seat, and hurries to shoulder her backpack, alone.  Her soft, tranquil eyes reveal nothing.  She slips out of the subway car just as the doors begin to close.

View Profile 2013-03-18 16:29:10 PDT

The lab is now closed. See you next week.

View Profile 2013-03-20 05:50:55 PDT

Hi Jennifer,

OK, interesting subject. Here are my notes:

1) I think you need a stronger opener. With only 500 words you’ll want to grab the reader right away and also pack in some info. You’ve begun here (we know you’re with a guide in a bus near the Turkish border) but I think you can make this more interesting. What if you began with:

“The Turkish cloud making machine is at work again,” says Ashren, “this always happens when we visit.”

It’s such an unusual statement, and sets up the piece more interestingly. The image of hobbling (or hurdling or careening) along  in a bus (or a Jeep or a tuk-tuk) in a foreign country is really over-used as a way to set a scene.

2) Watch out for overusing dialogue (specifically, the guide) as an expository device. Here:
“Khor Virap is where Armenia became Christian,” says Ashren, “It was the world’s first Christian country. Gregory the Illuminator was thrown into a pit, for thirteen years by King Trdat. He had no food and only snakes for company. The king went mad, and a prophecy said only Gregory could cure him. Many thought he had died and were amazed to see him emerge from the pit, which we’ll visit later.”
You’re packing in all this info and it reads pretty dry. Maybe he can say something about Greg the Illuminator and you can tell the rest?
3) You do a good job of your descriptors, and of using all your senses.
4) I think you need to introduce exactly where you are and its historic significance right away. You get to Noah’s Ark too late. The piece is too short for withholding surprises. Let us know where you are and what’s up from the beginning.
Overall I think this is an interesting topic, but you need to hang the experience on a specific. As it is, you went, you saw. If you decided to begin with the cloud comment, maybe you could also close with it — what is the significance of the relationship between Turkey and Armenia that might make your guide claim that the Turkish use a cloud machine? It hints at unrest, sabotage, or possibly playfulness. Can you work with that?
I hope this helps,

View Profile 2013-03-20 06:07:44 PDT

Hello Luanne,

The point of assignment three is to detail an exchange and I think you’ve done a good job with that.

Some notes:

– I’d like to learn a bit more about the age of the child right away. The fact that you refer to her as “the child” makes me think she’s very young, but then the way she speaks makes me think she’s much older.
– Some description of the father would help flesh this out. You write that he’s stony-faced, which makes me think he’s clean-shaven. True? What is he wearing?
– Some context about where you are would also help. What kind of train? A subway in a city? What city? A long-distance train? Where?
You do a good job of showing the tension in this scene and giving details to bring the reader in and let them draw conclusions. I wonder though if he’s angry or sad — could you tell? Did you feel like he was resentful of the girl or was he being so gruff because his mind was elsewhere/he was trying to work something out internally? In other words, did this look like the usual state of affairs to you? I’m guess yes because the girl seemed to take it in stride, but that’s a little puzzling too. Are there any other cues to what was going on?
Good work,


View Profile 2013-03-20 06:21:37 PDT

Hi Keph,

Thank you for your advice.  I had to edit out a ton of detail due to the 500 word limit.  I need to get better at including more detail in a compact way.

I struggled with how to “Show” what I witnessed, without adding my own interpretation.  My take on the scene was that he was a perpetually angry man, and the girl’s lack of response was a sad commentary on what her daily life might be..

View Profile 2013-03-20 07:01:49 PDT

Hi Keph,

Thanks for the feedback – it’s very useful. Yes, I felt the focus was a little scattered but wasn’t sure how to tie it up. I definitely feel you comments on this make a lot of sense and I’m going to rework this piece. 🙂


View Profile 2013-03-22 06:56:02 PDT