Thursday, May 5, 2011

What's Broken? #3

TITLE: BOUNDARY STREET
GENRE: Memoir

I just moved to Hong Kong and have locked myself out of my dorm room. When I look for someone to help me get into my room, I meet a guy from central China. We'll marry six months later.

I tried the doorknob but it only jiggled. Crap. Na Wei must have returned and locked it from the inside. I banged on the door several times, but all I could hear were crickets chirping outside the screened hall window.

Great. My key and wallet were inside my dorm room. Where would I go if I couldn't get into my room? I didn't know many people on campus, at least not well enough to sleep on their floor.

Maybe I could stay at Jean's apartment. Only minutes ago I'd been talking with her on the hall phone. She too had just moved to Hong Kong and her place was a forty-minute bus ride north. Yes, I was wearing typical Hong Kong indoor attire--rubber slippers, an oversized t-shirt, and thigh-high gym shorts--but this was no time for propriety. Still, though, I realized it was a moot point: I didn't even have the fifty cents for bus fare.

I looked at my watch. Eleven o'clock. This meant my roommate Na Wei wouldn't return until the next morning. She spent most nights with her boyfriend, a gaunt engineering student from Fujian province, and never came back to our room this late. It was pointless to think about locating her. Even if I'd known how to find her, it would be awkward barging in on them this late.

Then I remembered: the guard at the reception desk downstairs kept spare keys.

As the elevator doors opened on the ground floor, my stomach dropped; the guard's desk stood unoccupied except for a tattered white sign. I wiped away the beads of sweat on my forehead. The building had no air-conditioning, so the late summer heat, combined with my fear of being locked out all night, gave my face an unfortunate sheen. I longed for a warm shower in my mildew-ridden bathroom.

I walked over to the desk, and tried to decipher the eight Chinese characters on the sign. I could read "if," "need," "something," and "return," but didn't understand the one character which described when the guard would return. If you need something, blank blank return blank.

15 comments:

Bluestocking said...

An interesting situation. I get the sense that the main character is more annoyed than upset as she goes through her options--If I didn't have a strong grasp of the language, had no money, etc, I might be freaking out a bit more.

In the third paragraph ("Maybe I ...") I found the shift from talking about her friend Jean to what she was wearing a bit abrupt, but since this isn't the beginning of the book, if I was reading the whole thing, I might not think much of it as I would be used the the MC's voice by the time I reach this section.

There's a lot of explanation of things (about the roommate, the air conditioning) and while it makes things clear as to why the MC does and think what she does, it slows things down just a bit. Is there a way of including info but giving us greater insight into the MC or ways to showcase their voice?

Instead of the lack of ac and fear giving her an unfortunate sheen, how about: A bead of sweat rand down the side of my face. Why did I have to stay in a building without AC? Even my mildewed shower was beginning to sound good. -- Just an example.

Lady G Pendragon said...

Man, who hasn't been locked out? I could definitely identify with this situation! I do agree with the poster above that, if I had recently moved to a country and wasn't comfortable with the language, my reaction would be quite a bit stronger.

I also agree that the discussion of going to Jean's apartment and the MC's clothing took me out of the situation and seemed a little out of place. I get that she's locked out because she was talking to Jean on the hall phone, but the single mention of her even a paragraph later threw me off. On a second reading, it seemed that perhaps mentioning Jean, as the reason she's locked out, in the first paragraph might make the transiton less sudden.

For half of this excerpt, I also thought that Na Wei inside the room, asleep with ear plugs or something, since it mentioned that she returned and locked the door from the inside.

The description of the heat in the building distracted me from the MC's struggle to read the sign. It seemed like a digression between when shes see the sign and then attempts to read it. It reads a little like a lesser stessor inserted in the middle of a more important stessor. For example, if I were in this situation, I would be focused more on the language barrier, less on the heat, although the heat might get to me once I hit the brick wall and have no where else to go/no more options to explore.

Maybe I'm putting myself in the MC's shoes too much here, but I hope that you find something useful in my comments! :)

Holly Bodger said...

You've got a lot of extra information here that is making this clunky. For example:
1) "returned and" isn't required. We just need to know that she thinks her roommate locked the door from the inside.
2)"Only minutes ago I'd been talking with her on the hall phone." - what does this have to do with anything? Is she reminding herself that she just had a conversation or is this her way of saying that Jean is still home? If the latter, say that.
3) "She too had just moved to Hong Kong" - why is she thinking this? Is her point that she doesn't know anyone? If so, say that.
3) "my roommate" - not necessary. We already know this plus she wouldn't think of her as "my roommate". She would just think of her by name.
4) "a gaunt engineering student from Fujian province," -> telling

You also need a transion before "As the elevator doors opened on the ground floor". She goes from thinking about the guard to the doors opening. Did she get on the elevator?

Last comment: "I longed for a warm shower in my mildew-ridden bathroom." -> I think you need to say that she longs for a shower DESPITE the fact that the bathroom has mildew. As written, it sounds like she longs to shower in mildew.

spaceoperadiva said...

I think you should start at the empty guard desk. There's a lot of advice out there about starting in the action and starting as close to the inciting incident as possible. If you start at the guard desk, which seems to be her last best hope for getting into her room, then you have a wealth of emotions and urgency to use to propel the reader into the story.

Lucasesq said...

I agree with Space. The scene needs to start a lot later, this is all background information. I want to see some action, dialogue, and conflict.

I would keep reading though, because I'm intrigued and I want to know what happens. The hook can be strengthened. Good luck, hope to see the new, improved version in a SA contest soon!

Girl Friday said...

This is the first page, right? (I seem to recall reading it before?)

I think you could shorten it to one paragraph with her finding out she's locked out (and as others have mentioned, perhaps freaking out a bit more, she sounds too calm), then move straight down to the guard's desk, and then onwards into action and dialogue. Also if this *is* the beginning, I'd like to know a bit more about the protagonist, or at least a stronger sense of her voice.

Also I don't understand how the room is locked from the inside if there's no one in it?

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

This one caught my eye because I grew up in Hong Kong. Yay, Hong Kong! I've had doors like this before -- you lock them on the inside and then shut yourself out. However, if this detail is confusing people, leave it out. Just say your roommate returned and locked the door on her way out. I think it is a bit clunky with all the different scenarios she's playing through her mind. I don't think you should make her freaked out unless you were really freaked out, just make it all shorter - get to the guard's desk sooner. For instance, you don't need to describe your roommate's boyfriend at this point. If this is near the beginning of the story, save that detail for later. The exciting part is that you're about to meet your future husband and we want to get there. So, skim through this more. Keep the setting details: the crickets, the perspiration -- these are all so HK! They're necessary to establish your "world" -- but move through her options more rapidly.

I hope this helps! Best of luck! I'd love to read this because Hong Kong is so close to my heart. It's a wonderful setting for a book!

Amy

Barbara said...

I agree with everyone else. The main issue that I see is that you show us what happens, and then you explain it. We don't need all the explanations. Those are what are slowing this down.

I'd suggest cutting the 'Na Wei must have returned ' sentence, along with parg's 2, 3, and 4. They're written well, but they just don't matter. You, yourself, immediately negate them, so what's the point? And being locked out, even in a foreign country, is not a big deal. SHe's not stuck outside in a blizzard. There's no war going on. In a worse case scenario, you call a locksmith.

As AL Sonnichsen said, the point here is that you'll be meeting your future husband. That's the interesting part, so show the lockout, then get downstairs and meet the man you're going to marry. That's what I'd want to read about.

Sarah said...

I'm not sure about the last paragraph. You gave us the words that your MC could read but then made it into a sentence for us. It sounded a little repetitive. I would get rid of the very last line.

Others have said what else I wanted to say, better than I could so I'll just say thanks for submitting :)

Sara J. Henry said...

I'm intrigued - I think it works just fine. I'd drop this one sentence: "Even if I'd known how to find her, it would be awkward barging in on them this late." - it's not needed, and it repeats the words "this late" you just used.

Victoria Dixon said...

There's obviously a lot of confusion about where the roommate is and I agree, we don't need to know she's with a boyfriend. So the best option really might be to show the mc in the elevator, beating her head on the door for locking herself out. The good news is, there's a night guard on duty - no there isn't. LOL I do love the details and really don't want to lose the crickets, but maybe you can find a later home for them?

macaronipants said...

If this is the first page, then "I tried the doorknob but it only jiggled." might not be the greatest send off into a memoir. But maybe this isn't the first page? I am definitely a broken record at this point. The best advice for beginnings I've ever gotten was to start with change, discovery or drama. Something that shows there will be movement in the character.

tarak said...

I'm intrigued by the story. I know this isn't "Are you hooked?" But it's an interesting premise.

There are some nice details. I like the crickets, and the description of the heat. But the first part is too remote for me - a retelling of events, rather than pulling me into them. If that makes sense. I was really drawn in when the elevator doors opened. That was the point where I felt a sense of fear and tension.

I do agree with others that the line about the shower needs to make it clear you'll take one despite the mildew.

Cara Lopez Lee said...

You're writing is crisp, adroit, and relatable. I feel the edges of a good story here, a story I'm curious to discover. But I do see some room for improvement. When I write, I'm always tempted to start before the beginning and keep writing after I've finished, and it's possible that the former might be what I'm sensing here. I'll throw out some options:

1) You could still start with being locked out, but shift to meeting the future love interest sooner. 2) Suggestion # 1 reminds me of an acting teacher who once told me that whenever a director tells you "pick up the pace" what you should really do is slow down. He tried to explain that the reason the pace feels slow isn't because the actors are moving slowly, but because they aren't giving enough depth, deliberation,and weight to what they're doing in the moment. So, you could work counter-intuitively, and rather than limit this scene, build on it - focusing on all the emotional, physical, and cultural dislocations that have led to this moment of panic. 3) Or you could skip straight to the moment when you bump into the future love interest, describing to the reader that you've been locked out as you set the scene. That would launch readers into the story almost like a bullet fired from a gun.

Here's yet another option: What if you lifted a moment of conflict from later in the book, perhaps the middle or even the end? Could you start there, then take us back to this moment, from the point of view of the future you who understands what a key moment this was in her life?

Best of luck, and can't wait to read the finished memoir!

Cara Lopez Lee said...

You're writing is crisp, adroit, and relatable. I feel the edges of a good story here, a story I'm curious to discover. But I do see some room for improvement. When I write, I'm always tempted to start before the beginning and keep writing after I've finished, and it's possible that the former might be what I'm sensing here. I'll throw out some options:

1) You could still start with being locked out, but shift to meeting the future love interest sooner. 2) Suggestion # 1 reminds me of an acting teacher who once told me that whenever a director tells you "pick up the pace" what you should really do is slow down. He tried to explain that the reason the pace feels slow isn't because the actors are moving slowly, but because they aren't giving enough depth, deliberation,and weight to what they're doing in the moment. So, you could work counter-intuitively, and rather than limit this scene, build on it - focusing on all the emotional, physical, and cultural dislocations that have led to this moment of panic. 3) Or you could skip straight to the moment when you bump into the future love interest, describing to the reader that you've been locked out as you set the scene. That would launch readers into the story almost like a bullet fired from a gun.

Here's yet another option: What if you lifted a moment of conflict from later in the book, perhaps the middle or even the end? Could you start there, then take us back to this moment, from the point of view of the future you who understands what a key moment this was in her life?

Best of luck, and can't wait to read the finished memoir!