She made up her mind to destroy everything that reminded her of him. She puffed and murmured beneath her twitched lips. She tried to pull off her engagement ring from her finger, but she could not. She twisted her ring finger with her slender right hand and somehow managed to pull it off with a jerk. She suddenly closed her kitchen cabinet with a bang and some utensils inside it seemed to clutter. She quickly wiped her hot tears that came down her cheeks with her right elbow. She did not notice the scratch on her finger and the sudden gush of fresh blood on her white skin. She did not care that little cut; she was already wounded from inside.

 

 

She wanted to brush off every moment she was with him in all those five years from her mind and soul, but she could not. The more she tried to forget him the more her thoughts wandered towards him. Earlier, his smell, his touch, and every of his breath soothed her like a fragrant ointment and gave her strength to live. Now, they all had made her vulnerable. She could not fight back her grief. Life seemed to fall apart and she could do nothing.

 

 

She trembled when her thoughts took her back to the past. How dare he could ever treat her like that? She gasped and kneeled down on the kitchen floor. She did not care about her red tear-rimmed eyes; she seemed too lost to forget her presence. The milk boiled and spilled down on the gas stove and then on the ground. She could not smell the burnt utensil; nor could she see the spilled milk on the floor beside her.

 

Instructor Response

She made up her mind to destroy everything that reminded her of him. She puffed and murmured beneath her twitched lips. She tried to pull off her engagement ring from her finger, but she could not. She twisted her ring finger with her slender right hand and somehow managed to pull it off with a jerk. She suddenly closed her kitchen cabinet with a bang and some utensils inside it seemed to clutter. She quickly wiped her hot tears that came down her cheeks with her right elbow. She did not notice the scratch on her finger and the sudden gush of fresh blood on her white skin. She did not care that little cut; she was already wounded from inside.

Excellent work. Let’s dissect this paragraph. First, what are the important ideas expressed? destroy everything that reminded her / she was already wounded / she’s engaged/ she’s angry. Now consider the action presented: puffed and murmured beneath her twitched lips / taking off engagement ring / closing cabinet / wiped tears / scratch on finger–cut. Exposition. In kitchen. Engaged.

Let’s do the same for the next two paragraphs.

She wanted to brush off every moment she was with him in all those five years from her mind and soul, but she could not. The more she tried to forget him the more her thoughts wandered towards him. Earlier, his smell, his touch, and every of his breath soothed her like a fragrant ointment and gave her strength to live. Now, they all had made her vulnerable. She could not fight back her grief. Life seemed to fall apart and she could do nothing.

Ideas: can’t forget him / grief. Exposition: Five-year relationship. He pleased her. Action: all internal. No action.

She trembled when her thoughts took her back to the past. How dare he could ever treat her like that?  She gasped and kneeled down on the kitchen floor.  She did not care about her red tear-rimmed eyes; she seemed too lost to forget her presence. The milk boiled and spilled down on the gas stove and then on the ground. She could not smell the burnt utensil; nor could she see the spilled milk on the floor beside her.

Ideas: anger / denying she cares / Action: kneeling / milk boiling over

Now look to the effect of the scene on the reader and ask: Is the scene producing the maximum effect you desire? You’re beginning your story, and you probably want to introduce your character(s). Does the reader form an image of the character, know her name, know anything about her other than she’s having a reaction to a man’s treatment of her? (You don’t have to do this in the opening, but it often helps engage the reader.) Does the reader know why she’s hurt and angry? Did he dump her? Cheat on her? Kill her cat? Seduce her sister? etc.

In the story beginning, you may want to present the story conflict too, or a hint of it. Could the beginning express what she will be struggling with in the story and foreshadow some change that will occur? (Will she commit suicide, or mangle her lover, or flush the expensive ring down the toilet, or fall in love with someone else, or learn that her denials of caring are useless in easing her pain . . . just a few ideas to help you determine what you might want the story to say. You don’t need to give the story away, just tweak interest, if you have time and space.)

In revision, you may want to ask about the amount of telling (and time) used to present an idea. She’s angry and hurt. Are there too many or too few internal revelations expressing that idea? In essence, are there redundancies. Also ask if the ideas expressed, such as her slender hand, are right for the moment in your story beginning. True, it tells the reader something about the protagonist, but is it the best image for the moment? Does being slender have anything to do with what will happen, or reveal something about her that will be important to the plot? (At this moment, slender seems to work against the idea that she’s having trouble getting her ring off. She might be fat from overeating due to the stress of her relationship, or she might have deforming arthritis that makes her unattractive and makes her breakup all the more important because she doesn’t have further potential.) These may not be useful, but it’s the idea that there is potential for even a single adjective to work for the story. And when something doesn’t work, it has a negative effect on the reader.)

You may want to look at the action. Crying, removing ring, closing cabinet, spilling milk, etc. Could different actions better support the story and her emotional state? Removing the ring seems to fit nicely. The cut, however, seems an act of fatalism created to allow the author to compare the protagonist’s lack of distress to the bleeding of her heart. Ask if this is the most effective way to let the reader know her pain. If it is not effective, it may push the reader away from accepting the protagonist’s emotions–that is, those emotions may seem contrived. If that seems reasonable to you as the author, look for new ways to present the idea. Or you might remove it since the emotion is repeated many times and you could choose the best presentation for the depth of her hurt. Ask also if the action with the milk has any clear relation to your story and character. Is there a metaphorical advantage? Would some action regarding the ring, or some other object symbolic to the person, her reaction, or love lost in general be a better choice? In making these actions contribute to story progression and meaning, an author will heighten reader enjoyment.

Note, too, that there is an abrupt change of narration at the end. “The milk boiled and spilled down the gas stove and then on the ground. She could not smell the burnt utensil; nor could she see the spilled milk on the floor beside her.” It may not be obvious when you first reread it, but notice how the story narration moves from inside the character’s ideas and feelings being told, to another narrator. (Through negative construction of the character not seeing and smelling, the narration has to come from someone else since the character can’t narrate a negative . . . she can’t say what she didn’t smell or see if she didn’t experience it. It may seem minuscule and unimportant, but it is how writers create effective story prose.) This is a subtle shift in POV, and is not necessarily wrong, but it can jolt the readers and keep them from becoming deeply engaged in the story at this point.

It is a judgment call depending on how important setting is to story, but ask if you want the reader anchored in setting. Does the kitchen serve, without development or expansion, the purpose you want for the story? For example, would a kitchen-on-fire-after-an angry-burst-caused-stove-accident-to-ignite-curtains idea engage the reader more by immediate involvement of the reader? (Why? What will happen? Will she be all right?) Wonder about outcome. Could that be what you want to achieve? Or would some setting that would imply the later action of the story have a stronger effect? Could she be waiting in the shadows of her lover’s parking spot at his condominium, implying she’s waiting to do something, for example?

In prose storytelling, because you don’t have the visual effects of plays or movies, specificity is important. Look for concrete rather than abstract, specific rather than general. “How dare he treat her like that?” might be more effective by presenting what he did. “He hit her on the head with a bat” is bad treatment, too much, but you get the idea.

Finally, look to the telling of emotion. Telling is: “not care” “wounded” “vulnerable” “grief.” In the use of prose to present emotion and idea transfer to the reader, showing is usually more effective than telling. You seem to show with: . . . his smell, his touch, his breath . . . gave her strength to live. It takes more time to show than to tell, and good judgment is needed to maintain appropriate pacing. But showing is best when appropriate.

These comments are detailed to give you ideas for revision. There may be the tendency to feel discouraged. Don’t allow that to happen! You’ve succeeded well. The analysis is simply to present alternatives for consideration; these are not mandates for improvement.

Thanks for sharing your work!

WHC

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