Writing Lab for the Week of May 8th // Open Until Friday, May 10th, 2:00PM EST
Welcome to the Writing Labs
I’ll be offering feedback this week. Looking forward to reading your work.
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 2:00PM EST on Friday, May 10th to post your work.
If you don’t know what time that is, it’s this time here.
Hi Noah! I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me on my Chapter 3 assignment. Thanks 🙂
Hi Noah! This is the third revision of my first assignment. The second one brought me way over the word count! Anyways, I’d appreciate any feedback you have. Thanks!
I would love some feedback on my Ch 2 Details Assignment here http://madelinehorn.matadoru.com/2012/12/04/a-walk-to-the-beach-in-pleasure-point-santa-cruz-california/
This is my 3rd draft, with feedback incorporated from submitting to previous writing labs. I shortened it and I fleshed out the Oakland vs. Santa Cruz comparison per Kate’s suggestion.
I like your voice, and the way you let just enough of that Texas sass-a-fras come through onto the page: “the lucky bastard at the front of the line.” This is good stuff in doses, but sometimes a little voice can go a long way. Let’s look at your opening:
“My stomach has begun its voracious battle cries. “ All right now, I get what you’re saying, but let’s not get carried away here. The “voracious battle cries” is a bit much, but we don’t ‘know’ you yet. Why not ease us in, and then give us a little of that charming, humorous voice of yours: “My nutritious breakfast filled with Lucky Charms (mostly marshmallows) and a Special K protein bar (mostly chocolate) is wearing off and my belly needs nourishment.” This is good b/c it’s detailed and builds character.
Most of writing is knowing how to say something in the most compelling way. There’s not much drama in walking through a crowded parking lot to find a line inside the restaurant. But picture this: what if you started the story in line, and, while waiting, showed us how you only had sugar for breakfast, and you are crashing there in line, your mood turning as you wait amongst these people. What will happen? I don’t know! I’ll have to keep reading to find out. This, to me, offers the opportunity for more drama, but it also compresses the story, makes it more cohesive.
Here: “…the round-faced Chipotle worker bellows to the lucky bastard at the front of the line.” I say this to a lot of new students: Please use “said” or “says” when using dialog. The word “bellows” (and the like) calls attention to itself and doesn’t add to the story. Your use of repetition (“Hiya! What can I get for ya?”) is spot-on. It does a splendid job of conveying this worker’s persona.
This part made me laugh. It captures so much, and says a lot about how society works. “Lucky Bastard is preoccupied with his iPhone, “Bowl.” “You want it for here or to go?” “Here.” “You want white or brown rice?” “White.” “What kinda meat you be having today?” “Steak.” This is a great interaction, in that this guy has no social skills whatsoever IRL.
I’d like to feel your hunger when it’s interrupted by a high pitched voice. Something like “my stomach is rubbing together like two sticks when I someone behind me says “Hey girl!” Or whatever, but remember to ‘show’ not ‘tell.’
Good details here: “Her pixie cut is hidden under a pink cap which she has matched with a pink shirt, pink flip flops and a pink polka dot purse. She could have easily walked right off the set of Legally Blonde.” I like how you related the ‘pink’ thing to something else (the movie).
Good use of dialog, combined w/ body language, i.e. showing: “Tattoo Girl continuously twirls one of her bright gold earrings that dangle down to her shoulder.”
I like what you’re doing here, but be mindful about showing rather than telling. This is part of editing, not the initial writing phase. Great work.
This is the story of a girl returning to her hometown after some time away (in a big city) and finds herself brought back to thoughts of childhood through the smells and sights of the Potato Festival. This story, to me, echoes the Thomas Wolfe phrase “You can’t go home again.”
At first I thought this would be a baseball story: “As I step onto the pockmarked baseball diamond, I close my eyes and inhale.” I’m ready for the pitch, but instead “The sickly sweet confectionary scent fills me, bringing me back to the August long weekends of my childhood.” Is there another way to describe the smell, something more specific? Is it buttery? Caramelly? “Sickly sweet” is bordering on cliche, and confectionary is too vague in terms of scent.
More smells: “… the hay and manure smells I grew up beside are washed away by an ADHD production known as the Alliston Potato Festival.” Where is the baseball field? Downtown? What’s Alliston like? Is there a main street with like a downtown? Describe the setting, and then take us back down to ground level, to the “CLANG-clang-CLANG of the Zipper, a tired carnival ride, which shudders to a halt.”
This reads weird to me: “A few years ago, I participated in the ritualistic mass exodus of 18 year olds wanting more out of life.” Huh? You mean you moved away? Where did you move to? This reads quite vague, and I don’t know what the ‘big bad’ city taught you: “…the “big bad” city became my school, my playground and my home.”
I do like how you brought it back, made sense of it here: “However, there’s always something that the cold, grey concrete and the pungent smell of the city can never replace.” What can’t it replace? Will you tell us later?
I like the social comment here: “Old white men follow, paddling by in their chipped canoe, unaware of their bigotry in tacky costumes of what they would call Indians.” Did this seem culturally insensitive to you back when you lived there? Is this one of the lessons the city taught you?
Here: “…a young, well-endowed blond will soon appear, perched on a new Honda, wearing a sash and adopting the royal wave, having been dubbed Queen of the Furrow. Underneath her orangey tan, she’s a striving country singer and a Tim Horton’s server; surely this position will be a turning point in this budding stars career!” Do you know this girl? Did you go to school with her? How did you know about her singing and waitressing? Did you ever want to be the Queen of the Furrow? If so, show us what changed. If not, show us how you’ve changed.
I notice very little dialog in the story. Maybe there could be some before this part so that we have some context: “As night sets in, my throat, sore from talking, deteriorates as haze oozes from between the trees, the smoke of nicotine and weed working their way into my lungs.” I see you as a loner, not as a talker, so a little interaction will go a long way.
Great sensory-infused line: “The smell of dead leaves mingles with caramelized marshmallows being burnt by the fire,…I take a deep breath in and I am soothed by this place I call home.”
I liked reading your story, and as you continue to work on it, I might suggest showing us how the city changed you more apparent, while narrowing in on the down-home sights and smells that comfort you toward the end to show that you need both in your life right now. Good work.
Imagine, if you will, a commercial on tv. The ad shows some images, and after a few images, a story starts to form. We, the viewer, know something is coming–a pitch, a plea–some call to action– but then suddenly the screen fades to black. It’s over. What did we see? What am I supposed to do?
Being a writer today is a strange gig. We must wear many hats, and this means detaching ourselves from our work, when it is time to do so. So, I’m asking you to forget your NGO work here, in this pitch, and think like a marketing agent. Detach yourself, and appeal to your market. What entices editors? Go to youtube and watch the best commercials. Notice the product? How is it being sold? What are its features? Your market is the editor. Your product is a story. How can you get them interested enough to act? I should mention that you never formally pitched your story to the editor. There was no call to action.
Great opening line: “My name’s Alice and I live on an island in the South Pacific nation of Solomon Islands. When the tsunami hit in February this year, I was pulled into the rapid response team at the NGO I was working with.”
Wow! You were there. I’m interested. Go on…
My visit to the disaster-affected region was my tenth there, (Great! Experience!) and seeing a collection of debris where a colleague’s house used to be, compelled me to write about it. (Tell me more!) I’m a writer with work published on the MatadorNetwork and TransitionsAbroad, and am nearing completion of the MatadorU writing course. (This isn’t the place for this. Do this later. You’re still telling me about the tsunami. Don’t lose steam now)
“The tsunami piece will focus on the realities of aid work compared with the glamorised ideals of this industry. (Who’s glamorising? Did you get burned by someone glamorising the industry?) Prior to my involvement, like many others who haven’t experienced disaster response, I had visions of heroically rescuing children from piles of rubble, however found the reality quite different. (This is a good juxtaposition, but wait. I thought this was your 10th visit to the disaster-affected region. Now you say you haven’t experienced disaster response?? This is confusing. I’m an editor. I read fast. All must be clear upfront concerning the product, i.e. the story.) Grant writing and reporting were my main tasks, although I also took part in distributions to affected communities, from where I’ll draw the two central characters for this piece.”
In my opinion, we should be wrapping up by here. You’re going to have to sum up John as a local builder who lost everything, or whatever, and mention how you followed his story for six weeks, or whatever, and were amazed by what you took away from his resilience, or whatever. Also, try to narrow down the story angle. Is it about “glamorized ideals on the industry”, or is it about John? Or, is there a narrative arc between the two? If there is, then tell us that too. Be succinct and focused, and then sell the story, sell the story.
And don’t forget to ask. Ask and you will receive.
Since this is your 3rd draft (and I see that you haven’t moved on from chapter 2), I’d like you to give this piece a rest and move on to chapter 3 and beyond. As a writer, you have to work harder on yourself than you do on your stories. This is something that most people won’t tell you, but you can see how this makes sense. Do the lessons. Get the knowledge. Gain the experience. Come back later with a different point of view.
I’d like a stronger, place-based, visual opening. This feels more like the opening, “I walk up the black pavement of Friesland Court, past two-story tan and brown stucco townhomes with ivy, hedge, and daisy landscaping.” Then you can go on about the smells and sun and the rain.
“I lived in this complex from the ages of 9-18, but never got to know most of the neighbors.” Why not? I wonder.
This is a good sum-up, seems like the right length: “I just moved back and the anonymity bothers me after living in a very dangerous, yet strongly community-oriented part of Oakland, where neighbors insisted my boyfriend and me join them to eat barbecue on the day we moved in.” Why move into a “very dangerous” part of Oakland at all? I wonder.
Good detail of life in a not-very-dangerous part of town: “However, I did receive a post-it note on the windshield of my VW Beetle complaining about how I parked.”
I still need more background info about you, your motives for leaving, and why you are telling me this story. What’s it all about? “I was born in Santa Cruz and dreamt of returning for years – away from the pollution, crime and overcrowding of the city. I love the clean air, stars, and the ocean here in Santa Cruz, yet, sometimes I miss the chaos and intimacy of the city.”
I like details like this. “Dolphins, waves, and hibiscus decorate the metal mailboxes.” Are these painted on or what? Decorate is vague.
I like this interaction; it shows how relationships work in this part of town: “When I first returned to the neighborhood Mr. Kong greeted me like family, teasing me for being old enough to buy a 6-pack at 34 years of age. “
Again, I like how you build contrast by showing how things work in Oakland: “I avoided walking to the corner store, despite their excellent selection of Mexican popsicles. During the day I feared catcalls. At night I feared for my safety. I don’t have to worry about those things in Santa Cruz.”
Good setting description here: “There is no beach today. Three hundred feet of sandy beach is covered with white sea foam and waves due to the storm. The ocean is grey with huge white waves. There is a sliver of silver light on the horizon where the sun is shining, about five miles out.”
From here on out, “Sea spray hits my face as I walk…” we get more ground-level descriptions of the beach, seemingly leaving Oakland behind. “I see a yellow flip flop, ropy brown kelp, a cigarette butt, a tennis ball…”
You did a good job of capturing details and describing the setting of Santa Cruz. You’ve completed the assignment. Why don’t you meet me in chapter 3?
Thanks so much for the feedback. Really helpful. Revised version here.
Would love any tips on how I could actually send this as a pitch to Matador. Couldn’t find the editor name / contact details for the Activism + Politics sector?