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Thread: Dear Mrs. Sea

  1. #1
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    Apr 2011

    Dear Mrs. Sea

    This is the first chapter of a novel I'm working on at the moment and I would love to hear your feedback, constructive criticism or just whatever went through your head (and heart) while reading it
    I should probably mention that English is not my first language, so I'm sorry if some things sound funny to native ears. Just pretend it's artistic and edgy or something.

    Thank you very much! I hope you'll enjoy your ride

    Dear Mrs. Sea

    -Alter Ė Alter-

    Dear Mrs. Sea,

    you wanted me to write a diary so that you can Ąlook inside my headď. I donít know if I want you to look inside my head. But my mother said I had to write it anyway and anyway, it was my fault for not talking.
    Itís odd, starting a text like that. Itís like children beginning their homework essay with ďIn school we talked about XXX and now we were asked to think about itĒ. Curious, since the only person who will ever read the essay is the teacher and s/he knows the reason why theyíre writing it anyway. But it helps. It gives you something to write about, if you donít want to write about what you have to write about. You can write about school essays instead.
    Yes, it helps.

    You said you wanted me to talk. Or to just make a sound. And that you donít understand why I didnít do either, because my mother has shown you a video from some years ago and that I have a beautiful voice. Thatís a wrong conclusion: I donít have a beautiful voice, I had one.
    But no, I never even had a beautiful voice.

    You said that I should write this by hand because you didnít want me to delete things that went through my head.

    You also said that I shouldnít concentrate too much on what youíve said, but instead on the things that I feel and I think and I want and I do. But I donít.

    You said that I can change names if I like and places and maybe even times and I think I do like that. By doing that, I can give people the names they should have. Names, that fit them. Names, that have a history attached to them and that they could have been teased for.

    You are Mrs. Sea (I reckon you can find out why easily enough) and my name is Europe.
    Europe, because I like the things it implies and because it is as ridiculous as the real name my parents gave me. This is the story:

    Because I was called Europe, nobody wanted to call me Europe because it was too long, so I got called either ďYouĒ or ďRopeĒ, both of which must have damaged my psyche somehow.
    Also, in Greek, ďeuĒ means good, like in Euphoria and Eukaryote and Europe, so the name implies that Iím ďa good ropeĒ. Yes, I like that. See? I do like things. Thatís good, isnít it?

    You said that if I donít know what to write about anymore, I should write about ďsomething beautiful I have found that dayĒ and even if I do know what to write about, I should write about that too because itís good for my soul. I donít even know if I have a soul, but when I asked my mother she said that I should do it anyway.

    So here is my list:

    Beautiful things I have found today:

    ē I found a treasure in ďHoly Quest IIIĒ
    ē They played ďThe BeckoningĒ when I turned on the TV
    ē I canít think of anything else

    You said that I donít have to be a great writer to do this, but I think I do Ė because I am not a great writer and I already donít know what to talk about. Maybe great writers can say things like ďYou donít have to be a great writerĒ, because for them itís so easy and they donít even know that itís only so easy because they are great writers.
    Do you write?
    Because my mother said that I should ask you questions too, because it makes it seem like I am interested in you as a person. I wonder about that.
    I also wonder about why I should feel like you care about me as a person Ė you were nice, but you are only willing to spend so much time with me because they pay you.
    Should that make me feel loved?

    You said that I can choose whether or not to show this to them, but that you would advise me not to, because itís a personal thing. So personal that you know every sentence.
    But you said that you have to know whatís ďin my headĒ to help and that makes sense, so alright.
    It sounds weird, though. What is ďin your headĒ? It makes it sound like there is some sort of virus, some cancer, some monster that you have to find by wandering through the dark alleys of my cerebra with a flashlight.
    But I guess there is one. I wonder why I have one and others donít. I also wonder about what you will do, once youíve found it. And if you will send me back to school.

    You said that you would like to send me to school, because that would help me to be ďmore sociableĒ and ďmore openĒ and to see that ďitís not like the whole world is badĒ.
    I never said that. That the whole world is bad.

    You seem to think that I think that the world is bad. And that I have a black and white mentality and that I see the whole world in black and all other people just blind themselves, so they donít see the horrible truth and can dance through the white light. Thatís very clichťd and I donít think like that.

    You live in a world like that, though. You see me in a dark, black place and you want me to be better and join the world of the people living in the white light.

    But maybe itís not you whoís in the light. Maybe the light is in fact so strong that people like me, people with monsters in their head, are the only ones who looked into it and all others are happily looking at shadows, with their backs to the light.
    Thatís just hypothetical, but itís a legit alternative to the black/white-mentality you can see propagandised everywhere. But it scares people, so they just pretend not to see.

    You asked me what I think of the world and life and death.
    I think that killing oneself isnít so bad, it just really hurts me. Moving away is harsher though, because then I canít see them anymore. I think there is only grey and shades of grey (more than fifty too).
    Itís like someone said about extraverts and introverts that there is no pure form of either; we are all more complex than that.
    You, for example, are not pure white and I, for example, am not pure black.

    You made this seem easier than it is.

    You asked me how I spend my days and what I do, since I donít go to school. I donít know. Iíve thought about it, but nothing much came to my head. I will observe that over the next few days, because I donít want to give you any wrong information, because if I do, maybe you will find something that isnít there and then I would be treated with the wrong treatment.

    To treat someone. Thatís a very ambiguous word.
    It can mean that something really nice is done to you, indicating that youíre worthy of nice things happening to you and that therefore you yourself are really nice.
    And it can mean that you have to be treated, indicating that others do really nice things for you and that it is therefore necessary to care for you and that you are not good enough to do it yourself.

    You really do want to help me. Thatís what you said.
    You meant it, too. I wonder why someone would be so motivated to help somebody else Ė is it because they identify so much with the other person that they can forget all about their own troubles and when the other person is happy it feels like youíre happy too, while in fact youíre crammed under your own problems?
    Or is it because there are people out there who are actually so content and so happy with their own life that they feel like they can tackle even more problems, because they can deal just fine with their own? I canít imagine that.
    But it would be nice if people like that were out there. It would mean that such a state of mind can be achieved. It would be nice if you were someone like that.
    Maybe you could help me.

    You asked me if I feel like I need help. You also asked me why they didnít get any help for me earlier.
    Itís probably because Iíve never cut myself or tried to move away, I never did any of that, of these things that you see on TV, so they probably thought that I was just fine.
    A bit sad, but ... thatís the way people my age act, they think.
    Sometimes I heard them talking about whether it was wrong to let me skip grades and whether I was bullied and whether people made fun of me for being small and whether I had the wrong friends.
    None of that was a problem.
    I think sometimes they donít see me. They have a bubble around their head and little fish swim in it. Fish with ďJobĒ or ďFriendsĒ or ďPartnerĒ or ďChoresĒ written on them. The fish tumble around and flap their little fish-wings urgently and thatís what they see and one by one they swallow them to deal with it and new fish in new colours come out of their ears. And only sometimes do they realize that there is more than the fish, that through some distorted bubble Iím standing there, a washed out stain in a washed out environment and they go ďOh. So how have you been?Ē and in moments like this I think they donít even remember my name.
    Even though they chose it and even though itís so ridiculous. Iím not showing this to them.

    You asked me what I want in life.

    I want a bubble with fish in it.

  2. #2
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    Apr 2011
    Nobody? Well, if nobody answers within the next five days I'll delete it, I guess.

  3. #3
    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    Didn't notice this the first time, so I'm glad you bumped it.

    I'm afraid I don't have much good to say, though. Two paragraphs after the second "Dear Mrs. Sea," I was seeing a) rambling and b) repetition, so I went into skim mode. I guess it's supposed to be a detailed character examination, but I think you've made the same mistake some do when they try to write realistic dialogue; they make it realistically tedious. And opening a novel with a chapter in which nothing happens at great length is death.

    My advice: If this is going to be a novel, you need to give the reader some reason to want to read the rest of it. Trim this entry down to the essentials, and put some kind of forward-looking hook in there. This may even be better kept to a later chapter after the reader is already acquainted with the characters in question and thus may find some interest here that hasn't yet been generated at the beginning.

    FWIW, your English looks perfectly fine. You may want to have an English-native friend proof it for minor typos and mis-punctuating and such, but my reading and skimming didn't turn up anything more glaring than that.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

  4. #4
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    Feb 2010
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    I missed this first time round too. First chapter of a novel? Well, if it is, I hope it's not just going to be just a series of epistolary streams of consciousness. That would be rather tedious. However, as a one off short I think it functions quite well, although I'd delete the, "Dear Mrs. Sea -Alter – Alter-". I'm not left with a desire to know what happens next. I don't find the character particularly attractive or intriguing and there isn't really anyone else in the tale to care about. I quite enjoyed reading what was there, and unusually, I didn't find myself checking how long it was and how much more I'd have to read after the first couple of paragraphs, but it does feel complete, in and of itself. It doesn't really have anywhere else to go. Do I care about the narrator? Not really. I don't know anything about him, other than he apparently chooses not to speak and that he appears to think he's more intelligent (and probably is) than the shrink, his parents and everyone else. He seems to be quite articulate. Maybe he's Hannibal Lecter

  5. #5
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    Apr 2011
    Thanks for reading and making a lot of good points, guys! D'you reckon you could help me out some more?

    Thing is, I'm almost halfway through the book, so a fresh approach is really helpful.

    What exactly would make Europe more intriguing to you? I get that Europe won't win any most-sympathetic-main-character- awards (that was the idea) but if both of you don't have any desire to read on, something must have gone really wrong there.
    (Although an association with Hannibal Lecter is a good starting point, hehe)

    The hook of the whole book would be to find out why Europe is in therapy (although there's another main character with a somewhat related, somewhat not related storyline) and I thought it'd be a good idea to approach that rather slowly, so that the reader can formulate own ideas based on the stream of consciousness - but apparently that didn't work out as planned. What would keep you reading? Something like "I know they think my friends killed themselves. But it was me"? Because I could work that in.

    Also, about the repetitions mentioned by Calidore: You are probably right about my trying to make it too realistic, but it's also an integral part of Europe's psyche. How can I keep that in the text without letting somebody jump to "skim-mode" immediately? Can you help me understand the difference between interesting-realistic and wannabe-realistic a bit better? 'cause right now, I'm a bit lost there.

    Thanks again!

  6. #6
    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    I should mention up front that I don't normally have an interest in this kind of story, so the best advice for improving it would come from someone who does. I can give general suggestions, though.

    Europe may be an interesting character in your head, but you need to get that on the page. As for the story, putting your "I know they think..." line up top is definitely a good start. Also, don't approach slowly--reveal slowly, but keep a steady approach. You need the reader to feel like there's constant forward progress of some kind, both in getting to know the character and in moving the story forward. If you're using an unreliable narrator, you especially have to be careful that the reader doesn't feel cheated when he's told things that turn out not to have been true.

    The line between "interesting-realistic and wannabe-realistic" is indeed a tricky one to walk, and IMO the late Elmore Leonard's philosophy is a good start: "Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip." Read the above with the eye of a new reader who knows nothing about what's going on and take a mental red pen to what doesn't contribute to either the character or the story.

    I'd also recommend reading other works in this vein to see how others have done it. If you can find it where you are, I can very highly recommend Robert Cormier's YA novel I Am the Cheese. Other folks will no doubt have more suggestions; maybe you should ask in the General Literature group.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

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