Author Topic: To a Better Place  (Read 218 times)

Offline thedogwhowrites

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To a Better Place
« on: June 13, 2020, 02:42:00 AM »
This is for a project for university. The teacher gave us each a random image to write a short story from. I got a photograph of migrants escaping from Libya by boat to Europe.
Its the first time I've written anything so any critique is immensely appreciated!

Part 1

As usual,I couldn't sleep. I was already used to staying wide awake listening to the screams through my thin bedroom walls. My little hands groped my sheets as I tried to wipe away my tears. The screaming stopped after a loud smack, followed by sounds of weeping and then painful silence. I don't know how, but I managed to fall asleep. At once I was in a better place, outside in the streets holding my moms hand. I looked up at her gleaming face, which for the first time she wasn't hiding. I never understood why she had to hide it; everyone was missing out on her beauty. She bent down and hugged me. She was shaking, crying, embracing me so tightly I couldn't breath. she got up and walked away. As she drifted further away from me I thought that she was leaving me forever. I tried to follow her but with every step I took she appeared farther away. I wanted to scream out but no sound left my mouth. She started to fade away, I was all alone.

Something woke me up. When I lifted my head I saw a figure in the darkness.

 "Mom?" I muttered.

She looked down at me. I had never seen her so anxious before. As my drowsiness drifted away I realized that she was packing the few clothes I owned into my little pink backpack. A while later we prowled in the dark towards the front door. I got confused, where were we going? We had never gone out without my step dad. As we stepped outside the front door I saw a big van that was apparently waiting for us. As we got in the back I saw that there were a few other people inside as well. Mostly women and children and a few men. As we sat down I looked up at my mom, her face was completely shrouded in a black cloth, except for her eyes.

"Where are we going?" I managed to whisper.

Her eyes beamed as she said, "To a better place."

As the van starting moving I looked out of the window and managed to catch my last glimpse of my house, I noticed that the lights had turned on. We traveled for around an hour, the sun was creeping above the horizon. The van stopped and everyone started getting out. When we got out I realized we were at the coast. Further down there was a multitude of people, a mixture of men, women, a few children and the occasional crying baby. At the shore there were a few small boats.

As we walked closer to the shore I realized that the boats didn't exactly look well kept, and they were tiny. I wondered how we were all going to fit in there. My mom looked cautious, her eyes were darting at every direction, as if she was trying to look for someone. She held her head low and kept me close to her.

As I looked back I saw a familiar looking car that had started to park not so far away from the van, fear struck my moms eyes. She started walking faster and took us into the crowd of people trying to blend in. From the corner of my eye I saw as the car door opened and a familiar face stepped out. It was my step dad. We locked eyes.

I don't remember what happened after that, it was a blur. We never left.

Part 2

My whole body hurt as I woke up, nothing new. I stumbled out of bed and headed towards the my bedroom door whilst trying to untangle my long hair. The door was locked. I sighed. I realized that I kicked something on the floor under my door, my breakfast. Some stale bread and a cup of milk I managed to spill, on an old plastic tray. My step dad brings me breakfast through a slot in my door, which I don't mind because I would rather be alone then be with him.

I looked in the mirror that hung on my door, the sight of my reflection almost brought tears to my eyes but I promised myself that wouldn't cry every again. I grabbed some bread and sat on my bed to eat.

My room was tiny, in the corner under my study table was my old pink backpack from when I was 8. I still kept it because it was a gift from my mom. As I sat there contemplating my old gift as I heard a knock from my window. I gleamed, I ran over and opened it. It was a boy dressed in old over-sized clothes.

"Eisha, I'm sorry I couldn't come earlier, I had some err business to deal with" he said with a frown.

"Don't worry, I knew you would come" I said.

Angelo was my only friend. He was around my age, 17 or 18. I'm estimating because he never found out his birth-date. The orphanage found him roaming around homeless on the streets. They only managed to find out his first name. He had messy blonde hair and sly smirk.

He would come everyday to talk to me about the outside and his adventures. If it weren't for Angelo I would've ran away long ago. I wasn't allowed to go out other then to school and back. I was stuck inside my tiny room all day, and the door was usually locked.

We both always had these conversations of fleeing from this country and living in Europe, we suffered immensely here. He got separated from his family when he was very small and somehow ended up here In Libya. He somehow knew a bit of Italian and had vague memories of Italy. His dream is to find his family.

"So what's this business thing you where talking about?" I asked.

"I was just about to tell y-" His face darkened. "Your face! Are you okay?" he roared.

"I'm fine." I muttered.

"Aisha please, this is worse then last time, this cant keep happening."

I couldn't help it, tears streamed down my face. "There is nothing I can do!" I quivered.

"Aisha, you're going to end up like your mom if you..."

"I hate you!" I roared.

I slammed the window in his face and went back to bed.

Offline jessywrites

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Re: To a Better Place
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2020, 07:19:58 AM »
Hi!
There's a heated debate right now as to who is allowed to write what (check out #ownvoices). I think that in theory, anyone should be allowed to write anything - if it's done well and if it treats the subject with sensitivity. That theory however, only rarely translates into real life and most of the time, if you write from the perspective of someone you cannot truly empathize with, you won't write well. You also risk silencing voices who may tell the particular story better. For instance, it's probably a terrible idea for an old straight white man from Texas to write from the perspective of a young transwoman in Sudan. It may also be ill advised for a college student to write from the perspective of a young migrant, unless said college student approaches the subject with great care and research. Here, it doesn't feel like you are inside the head of a child. A child wouldn't look at their hands and go "oh, they are small!". You are writing like an adult who feels terribly about the migrant crisis, not like a child caught up in flight. I'd consider taking a look at the picture again and writing something completely different. If you give it a go from the child's perspective, a) think about what it is like being a child, find your inner child and b) research the stories of people who fled. I suspect that you may find it easier to write from the perspective of a college activist who wants to open all borders. Hope this was helpful, I realise it is a bit harsh but you asked for any critique.

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: To a Better Place
« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2020, 08:03:51 AM »
I agree with the previous poster. It is possible for someone to write well about a situation they have no first-hand experience of, but only if they research and try to put themselves in the shoes of their characters.

Unfortunately, your piece shows an alarming failure to have done both. You claim the story is set in Libya but it reads as if it could have taken place anywhere - even your own home town. There's no sense of place or of the horrors of war and displacement. Your characters are vague at best and completely forgettable. The awkward reference to the mother being Islamic (but no longer covering her face?) doesn't make this seem the slightest bit authentic. They are not fleeing Sharia law. They are fleeing a war zone and potential genocide. And why does the girl end up imprisoned in a room in Italy while discussing some business venture? It's crazy.

I'm not even seeing them as refugees - I'm seeing an abused wife cut and pasted from the front pages of the tabloids. Would a Libyan child call her mother 'Mom'? And the sub-plot with the step-father makes absolutely no sense and diverts our focus from a humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes to a domestic tale involving a mother and child trying to escape their home. Maybe that's because you can't allow yourself to imagine what their lives are really like so would prefer to remain inside your own comfort zone. The danger is, you will get found out as someone who does not really understand what they are trying to write about.

« Last Edit: June 13, 2020, 08:30:17 AM by PIJ1951 »

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: To a Better Place
« Reply #3 on: June 13, 2020, 08:26:04 AM »
I forgot to mention your writing style as well. Look at how many sentences in Part 1 follow the same pattern - As one thing happened, something else happened. It's not a great read.

Offline thedogwhowrites

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Re: To a Better Place
« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2020, 11:31:10 AM »
Hi!
There's a heated debate right now as to who is allowed to write what (check out #ownvoices). I think that in theory, anyone should be allowed to write anything - if it's done well and if it treats the subject with sensitivity. That theory however, only rarely translates into real life and most of the time, if you write from the perspective of someone you cannot truly empathize with, you won't write well. You also risk silencing voices who may tell the particular story better. For instance, it's probably a terrible idea for an old straight white man from Texas to write from the perspective of a young transwoman in Sudan. It may also be ill advised for a college student to write from the perspective of a young migrant, unless said college student approaches the subject with great care and research. Here, it doesn't feel like you are inside the head of a child. A child wouldn't look at their hands and go "oh, they are small!". You are writing like an adult who feels terribly about the migrant crisis, not like a child caught up in flight. I'd consider taking a look at the picture again and writing something completely different. If you give it a go from the child's perspective, a) think about what it is like being a child, find your inner child and b) research the stories of people who fled. I suspect that you may find it easier to write from the perspective of a college activist who wants to open all borders. Hope this was helpful, I realise it is a bit harsh but you asked for any critique.
Thank you for pointing me to the right direction, I was oblivious to all of these mistakes. Ill try to look at the image again and come up with another idea or maybe pick a different one.

Offline thedogwhowrites

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Re: To a Better Place
« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2020, 11:38:42 AM »
I agree with the previous poster. It is possible for someone to write well about a situation they have no first-hand experience of, but only if they research and try to put themselves in the shoes of their characters.

Unfortunately, your piece shows an alarming failure to have done both. You claim the story is set in Libya but it reads as if it could have taken place anywhere - even your own home town. There's no sense of place or of the horrors of war and displacement. Your characters are vague at best and completely forgettable. The awkward reference to the mother being Islamic (but no longer covering her face?) doesn't make this seem the slightest bit authentic. They are not fleeing Sharia law. They are fleeing a war zone and potential genocide. And why does the girl end up imprisoned in a room in Italy while discussing some business venture? It's crazy.

I'm not even seeing them as refugees - I'm seeing an abused wife cut and pasted from the front pages of the tabloids. Would a Libyan child call her mother 'Mom'? And the sub-plot with the step-father makes absolutely no sense and diverts our focus from a humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes to a domestic tale involving a mother and child trying to escape their home. Maybe that's because you can't allow yourself to imagine what their lives are really like so would prefer to remain inside your own comfort zone. The danger is, you will get found out as someone who does not really understand what they are trying to write about.
Thank you for your brutal honesty, I really needed it. I agree with all of the points you've mentioned. Ill try to come up with another story.

Offline thedogwhowrites

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Re: To a Better Place
« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2020, 11:41:08 AM »
I forgot to mention your writing style as well. Look at how many sentences in Part 1 follow the same pattern - As one thing happened, something else happened. It's not a great read.
I haven't realized this before, thank you. Any advice on how to improve?

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: To a Better Place
« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2020, 03:49:00 PM »
Try to mix it up a bit so every sentence doesn't follow the same pattern - and read as much as you can. Spend 9 hours reading for every hour spent writing if you really want to improve your skills.

Offline thedogwhowrites

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Re: To a Better Place
« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2020, 06:32:41 PM »
thank you, i really appreciate it!