Thanks to today’s author for sending in this excerpt. Please take a moment to read through the excerpt and leave some constructive criticism.
I’m thirty-eight and I live in Vancouver. I need to get a new fish today. It’s hot outside. I think about the girl I saw last night. I never asked her if she was Janie. If it had been Janie I don’t know what I would have said. Thinking about it makes me sweat.
I go into the pet store and look around. I worry about the people that work there thinking I’m weird. I hope they don’t ask why I buy so many gold fish. Next time I’ll go to a different pet store. People would think I’m a monster if they knew that I was buying the goldfish so Marcel could eat them.
I walk down to the pier with the goldfish. He’s swimming around in a little plastic bag with a rubber band on top. He looks out at the world and he thinks he’s in it. At the pier I lean on the railing and hold the bag over the water. Showing him the ocean boarders on animal abuse. I think about letting him go, but then remember he’d die in the saltwater. I think about dropping the bag in. He’d be safe. Nothing could hurt him.
I decide Marcel is the more humane fate than dying in a little plastic bag. When I get home Marcel is in the window looking out at the world. He turns his head and mews at me. The goldfish isn’t scared, he thinks he’s safe in his bubble.
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I like that your main character lives in Vancouver–Canada’s my home country! :)Your writing is pretty clean in terms of grammar and spelling. The only changes I would make are:(a) In the second paragraph, you use “gold fish” instead of “goldfish.”(b) “At the pier I lean on the railing and hold the bag over the water. Showing him the ocean boarders on animal abuse.” I understand why you’re using a sentence fragment for the second part, but I don’t think it works in this instance. I would make it a comma, instead. I would personally use a comma after “pier,” as well.(c) “The goldfish isn’t scared, he thinks he’s safe in his bubble.” This is a comma splice. I’d rather see it with a period, em dash, or semi-colon.(d) “Boarders” should be “borders” (boarders are people who board at a boarding house).Other than that, well done on grammar.One issue I see is the repetitiveness of the short sentences. This piece lacks rhythm, so try to vary your sentence length. Short sentences can be really effective in small doses, but–like anything–they get old quickly. I know you’re choosing to use choppy sentences on purpose, but remember a little goes a long way.In terms of what story we see from this short excerpt, I’m intrigued by this bit: “I think about the girl I saw last night. I never asked her if she was Janie. If it had been Janie I don’t know what I would have said. Thinking about it makes me sweat.” I want to know who Janie is, and why he doesn’t know her to see her, and what it all has to do with the story. Excellent way to engage your reader. I have a feeling some readers here might comment on it being too vague, but I think it works as long as you get back to talking about Janie soon–perhaps in the next scene. Don’t keep your reader in suspense too long. This scene is about a man skulking around with his fish and his cat, thinking about Janie. It works, but don’t fall into the trap of having your whole story be the same. Eventually, we want to see some action. I really hope your character meets up with this girl again, because I’m interested to see how that pans out :)Good work!
Oh, I also wanted to mention that I’m not crazy about “I’m thirty-eight and I live in Vancouver.” I think you could just as easily begin with “I need to get a new fish today. It’s hot outside.” Even if it’s important to the story that your main character is 38 and he lives in Vancouver, I would find a better way to work in those details–perhaps a little later on.
First impressions is that this is a stream of consciousness writing. No coherency or flow. The MC jumps from subject to subject especially in the first paragraph.
Combine some of the sentences. By doing this you will create a rhythm and flow to the work. By reading this out loud, you will notice that you speak, stop speak.
The reason of the story is confusing. In the beginning, the writer hints at something a lot more important than a fish, but does not go into it. Perhaps compare how the MC feels about being safe and how the fish is safe.
One question I might ask this author: I see that you’re using stream of consciousness to write this piece. In what way could you condense everything to sound more like the thoughts someone would actually think?
For example, what do you think of shortening the opening to make it sound more like a personal ad? … such as: “38, Male, Vancouver. Seeking fish.” – then using that rhythm to carry on your short story.
Just a thought I had.
Thank you for sharing this work. Sometimes it’s hard to put work out there to be critiqued, and I’m inspired by your courage. Keep on writin’.
I was drawn in to your story once I realized what was going to happen to the fish…The first paragraph was a bit confusing to me. Unless Janie is in the rest of your story, I would remove that part, as for me, it doesn’t move your piece forward. You could actually start with the second paragraph and have just as strong a piece, maybe even stronger. You have one typo…gold fish is used once where it should be goldfish….Best wises and happy writing!
Ok, first impressions. This piece has a sort of tedious rhythm to it: da-DAT-da-DAT-da-dat, etc–hope that make some kind of sense.
Is this rhythm intentional, to show a certain state of mind perhaps? Based on the short, similar sounding sentences, and the “people will think I’m weird” sentiment, I’m guessing your character might be mentally slow.
However, if this is the beginning of the story and you’re announcing “I’m thirty eight, I live in Vancouver and I’m buying a fish and it’s hot”, I’m not sure I’d be hooked . It seems like there’s a lot of telling in this story–you’ve described the age of the narrator, place, weather, worry about people thinking he/she is weird.
I was kind of hoping Marcel was a person.
I do like the fish analogy, about living in a bag and thinking it’s his whole world. I can really see some possibilities for the character arising from that analogy. Maybe the short sentences are a way to show the humdrum life the character is living, where his/her whole life is lived in one tiny space. If that’s the case, I’m guessing it would become more obvious as the story goes on. At some point, though, you’d want to expand on those sentences in tandem with the character’s life getting more complicated…
My two cents.
Amy Kilas says
I’m intrigued by the main character’s shadow. The little twist of mind that allows him to buy goldfish so his cat can eat them. The prose is clean in terms of grammar.
However, I find the prose flat. A lot of places for description were overlooked: The pet shop, the pier, the sun glinting off the water filled plastic bag.
I am also confused by the first paragraph. I’m not sure what Janie’s role is in the story. I’d also start with “I need to get a new fish today.”
Thanks for the opportunity to crit your work.
The story captured my attention. The fish is portrayed vividly, and the narrator comes across clearly.
Good job. The following are only suggestions.
I’m thirty-eight and I live in Vancouver. DELETE THE FIRST LINE AND BEGIN HERE I need to get a new fish today. It’s hot outside. I think about the girl I saw last night. I never asked her if she was Janie. If it had been Janie I don’t know what I would have said. Thinking about it makes me sweat. I AM NOT SURE THAT JANIE IS RELEVENT TO THE STORY. UNLESS, OF COURSE, I AM COMING IN LATE INTO THE STORY.
I go into the pet store and look around. I worry about the people that work there thinking I’m weird. I hope they don’t ask why I buy so many gold fish. WHY NEXT TIME AND NOT NOW? Next time I’ll go to a different pet store. People would think I’m a monster if they knew that I was buying the goldfish so Marcel could eat them. THAT’S FUNNY. I LIKE THE TWIST.
I walk down to the pier with the goldfish. He’s swimming around in a little plastic bag with a rubber band on top. Cute. I can actually see the fish. Good portrayal. He looks out at the world and he thinks POV SWITCH he’s in it. At the pier I lean on the railing and hold the bag over the water., Showing showing him the ocean boarders on animal abuse. I think about letting him go, but then remember he’d die in the saltwater. I think about dropping the bag in. He’d be safe. Nothing could hurt him.
I decide Marcel is the more humane fate than dying in a little plastic bag.
CONSIDER DELETING THE LAST TWO SENTENCES. NOT RELEVENT.
When I get home Marcel is in the window looking out at the world. He turns his head and mews at me. YOU CAN END THE STORY RIGHT HERE. MORE DRAMATIC ENDING. THE LAST TWO SENTENCES ARE NOT IN THE NARRATOR’S POV. You can end it right here.The goldfish isn’t scared, he thinks he’s safe in his bubble.
Really liked the last two paragraphs.
The first 2 paragraphs seemed like; ‘Hey look, I’m writing!’
Aj Osterkamp says
Wow, this piece got a lot of reply’s. Thank you all so much. So first things first, I’ll start out the story with “I need to buy a goldfish today.” Everyone that said I was telling and not showing was right. These four paragraphs are actually in about the middle of the story and it’s the first time the reader sees the character being as old as he is and living in a new place. None the less, I was lazy about showing it.
I’m so happy to see all of the feedback. This is not my writing style at all. I usually go on and on. The writing style I’m used to is much more descriptive and “wordy.” So since I’ve been out of college I jumped at the opportunity to have people critique this piece. This is the second draft of the third time I wrote this story… if that makes sense.
I keep starting from scratch and completely re-writing it. I just can’t seem to get it the way I want it to be, and this has been extremely helpful. I’m trying to imitate a style of one of my favorite short stories without ripping it off. I’m trying to make it my own essentially.
It sounds like the characters and their situations were intriguing to everyone, which is good, but I just don’t have the correct flow with regards to the writing style.
I’m glad someone commented on the “gold-fish living in a bag it thinks is the world analogy,” and connecting it to the narrator. I’m never sure if I flush that out enough. Granted this isn’t the whole piece either, but it’s a story about an emotionally stunted adult who has trouble connecting with people because he is afraid of getting hurt so he lives in a “bubble” or a “plastic bag” to keep himself safe. I was wondering if anyone thought this analogy was too forced or if it wasn’t obvious enough? Any comments would be much appreciated.
Again, thank you all so much. This has been a marvelous help. I’ve been working on this story a while and it’s tough without other writers to help sort out the details.