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Hi everyone! First off... I'm new to this community, so thank you in advance to anyone taking the time to read this. 

I recently finished and revised a short story that had been on my mind for a while. It turned out a bit longer than anticipated, so I'm only including the first part of it here... would love to know what you all think, I'm aware there's LOADS of room for improvement, and any critique is welcome.



Parkour dating, or how to get your boyfriend to dump you right before moving in together.

“Give me twenty,” said the stall vendor and extended his hand to close the deal. I’d been going back and forth with him for a while now, all the way down from the initial thirty five he was asking, but I still wasn’t sure. I looked at the silver frame in front of me for the hundredth time and frowned. “It’s too small,” whispered one part of my mind. “Yes, but look at that delicate leaf engraving along the edges. A bit of polish and a cute picture and boom, you’ve got the top shelf decoration covered,” said the other half, the one that had been unsuccessfully trying to get me to splurge for most of the morning at the craft fair. 

“Mmmh, what do you think, Freddy?” I turned towards my boyfriend, who was busy piercing a lava lamp with his eyes, following the bubbles floating around like a cat about to bounce. 

“Oh, I don’t know,” he answered, snapping his head back towards us. “I mean, it’s cute. If you like it, buy it.” 

“Yes, I know it’s cute. It’s also small. And useless in the grand scheme of things. And twenty seems like a bit steep, don’t you think?” 

He shrugged his shoulders and put his hands in the front pouch of his hoodie, a sign that he was growing impatient. 

I took one last look at the frame, sighed and set it back down on the table with the other silverware on display. 

“Maybe some other time, thank you though!”

But the vendor had already turned his back to us and was now praising an older woman who was trying on one of the wide brimmed fedora on the other side of the stall. 

Freddy and I started walking down the bustling street full of shoppers admiring the wide variety of items on display at the many wooden stands that were set up on each side. The smell of recently fried churros, waffles and hot chocolate sweetened the air and made the heat even more oppressive. I felt a rumbling in my stomach. 

“Do you wanna go eat something?” I asked Freddy. 

“Sure, whatever you want,” he replied and forced a hint of a smile on his face while looking straight ahead. I grabbed his arm to make him turn to me. 

“Are you bored? We can go if you want to…” 

“No, it’s fine. I know you like this sort of stuff.” 

And he stepped ahead to the next stall. I inhaled one last mouthful of calorie filled air, and shuffled after him. 


Now, I know what you must be thinking. Clearly, he’s not in love. Clearly these are the final stages of the relationship, surely we must be on our way out, so to speak. But you would be wrong. We absolutely weren’t. In fact, at this time we were still planning on moving in together in a few months, after we’d taken all of our final exams and handed in our term papers (just so you know, he was chasing a Telecommunications Engineering career while I strolled through a much more bohemian Theatre Studies degree, unsure about anything else but the fact that we were going to start a life together). 

The truth is, he had been like this since we’d met. At first I was sure he must have some form of mild Aspergers or something similar, which, I must confess, only added to my attraction for him. But after talking to his family and friends, and even asking him about it directly, it transpired that he did not in fact have any kind of syndrome, he simply was, as his mother put it, “wonderfully easy to get along with”. 


Still, looking at him, it was hard to guess what was going on in his mind. A tortured, silent guy type thing, but without the torture and overdoing the silence bit. The lower part of his face, all around the mouth was covered by a shield of a beard which he made a point of taking especially good care of, always in perfect symmetry and with the right “bushiness level”, as he liked to call it. He also let his dark hair grow into a long fringe over his forehead, so that really the only thing visible from his face were the eyes, two blue dots sandwiched in-between copious amounts of hair. As our relationship developed I noticed he only ever wore jeans and shirts / hoodies / blazers in varying degrees of gray to black colors. I pointed this out to him once, a few months into dating, and the next day he picked me up for dinner wearing an orange shirt that was so bright it could have helped a plane land. All during dinner and later at the movies he kept tugging at it from all sides, until I told him that all that tugging was getting on my nerves and he was able to contain himself during the drive home. He never wore it again, and I never mentioned his lack of color variation again. 

We did have great times though. He always seemed in a good mood, never too good though, just the right amount, without being annoying or overbearing. As you may have suspected, great listener. Supportive. Hard-working. And with a superhuman ability to remember every little thing, from birthday wishes to little quirks, music, food and film preferences all the way to my lucky number and my grandmother’s name day. I suspected that, in my grandmother’s eyes, that and the fact that “he was studying a real thing” made him the favorite of the two. 


It all started to fall apart during our third anniversary dinner. We’d (I’d) decided to go to this fancy Middle Eastern restaurant that we would always pass when he walked me home from class, and which offered all sorts of sweet and salty delights.  As with most things I suggested, it was approved uncontested. We sat down, and we (I) ordered a few entrees and two main courses to share. All the plates came, hummus, halloumi strips, two tabouleh bowls with different condiments, your traditional falafel with a side salad, and a few other we’d picked out blindly and looked equally mouth-watering. I dug into the nearest plate and began wolfing down the tabouleh, scraping the bottom of my plate with pita bread after each serving, and grunting my approval at every new taste. I noticed he had yet to actually put anything in his mouth, and was still pushing bits of a collapsed falafel around his plate. 

“Everything okay? Try it, it’s really good!" I told him. 

“Yes, it smells very nice,” came the answer. 

I put my fork down and swallowed. Clasping my hands together under my chin, I cleared my throat and asked: “What is the matter?” 

“Nothing. I’m just allergic to nuts. And all this seems to have a whole lot of nuts in it.” 

“Of course it has nuts in it! It’s Middle Eastern, most of their food is somehow nut based!” 

I was attracting the attention of the couple sitting at the next table, but I was beyond caring. Three years of pent up frustration were boiling over. The beer must have been doing its job, too.

“Why didn’t you say anything? Why don’t you ever say anything? I feel like all these years you’ve basically been following me around! Sometimes I feel like I’ve adopted a pet… please tell me what is up with you, I don’t get it!”

I knew I’d gone over the line with the pet thing. I was expecting him to pick up his glass and throw the lemonade at my face. Literally anything would have been preferable to what he actually said. “I knew you like all this stuff, so I didn’t wan to ruin it for you." 

“The enjoyment is a little inhibited when the person in front of you only watches you eat. Also, how the hell did you expect me to eat all this stuff by myself anyway?”

He shrugged his shoulders, but his eyes betrayed his bewilderment. 

“Honestly, Lu, I feel like you’re being a little overdramatic with this. I already ate at home a bit before leaving, so I’m not really that hungry." 

Beat. 

Sigh. 

I give up. 

And then… 

“And I was thinking you could take the leftovers home to eat tomorrow.” 

I threw the napkin on the table and left the restaurant. The proximity to knives was giving me ideas that were better left unentertained.  

Comments
  • I like your breezy style. You are able to give good word pictures.

    I wished to be grounded better in your first paragraph; easy done if you began with "I looked at the silver.....".and the rest of the paragraph. Then put your present first sentences, about the stall manager .... 

    Often I find I've written things simply 'out of order'. Haven't 'taken the reader by the hand' so to speak.

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    • Makes sense, I'll give it another look with that in mind. Thank you!

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    • I wondered if you had a target audience in mind, Alejandra. The style conveys a personality of your narrator  and your sense of place is good.

      For me, and that is just one lonely reader amongst your many others, I was not sure of   “piercing” a lava lamp with eyes. But that’s just me.

      I did like the selfishness of your narrator. The way they convey the relationship from the viewpoint that they had a partner for the purpose of feeding their own wellbeing. This is good, because you make the point about love at the start. Clearly this guy is not in love, is a clever statement, when it’s clear your narrator wasn’t either but their lack of love expresses itself in a disappointment that the only matter under consideration is that they aren’t getting what they want.

      I found your narrator a little spoiled and pleased with their own feelings. For me that makes a strong character. It’s clever, as I say. I would like to read the same set of episodes written from the viewpoint of the partner.


      I thought the idea of writing the end of a relationship was good too.

      Keep going.

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      • Thanks Nigel! I'm glad you liked the character. She was less spoiled in the first drafts but ultimately I felt the story lacked in strength, so this is great news :)

        As for target audience, I would say it's a fairly broad, humorous writing style. I shy away from genre fiction at the moment, so even if it's about relationships I don't really go into romantic fiction.

        Just for reference, and without intending to compare it to his work AT ALL, I have been reading a lot of Matt Haig recently, and he's someone I look up to writingwise. 

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      • Hi Alejandra, 

        Thanks for sharing the opening of your story. I appreciate how scary it can be to put your work out there for people to see and feedback on, so congratulations on taking that step.

        First, I love the title and they are so important in a short story they pull more weight than a novel title in my eyes. The voice in this opening comes across as strong which is great with using a 1st POV and something that can be so difficult to achieve.

        I can only feedback based on this opening and without knowing the rest of story but for me you seem to treat this short story as if it were a novel. Short story narrative is very different than a novel. The best short stories work because they exist on several levels in the sense that there is a lot of subtext in dialogue or/and the setting. Furthermore a short story is as much about what's not being said or hinted at, than what is being said. For example, The Swimmer by John Cleever on the surface it is about a man swimming home but there is a whole other level inside the story about his life unravelling. In this situation, the story and the dialogue feel very on the nose and you are only skirting on the surface when you need to go much deeper. Furthermore, I don't see the purpose of the first scene at the market so it's not pulling any weight for me. 

        In a short story every word count and need to pull the story forward even more than in a novel because the word count is limited. Can I ask what the story word count is? There are big sections in here which are telling rather than showing which slow the pace. The whole section from "Now, I know" to "made him the favorite of the two." comes across as a big info dump and backstory which seldom have a place in short story.

        What kind of short stories do you enjoy reading? Any particular author or collections? I attended a short story course at Goldsmith University which involved a binder with a varied selection of short stories from Chekov to Hemingway, Tobias Wolff to Claire Keegan. I found the eclectic selection of different styles was really useful, being exposed to different style and how they achieve saying so much in so little word.

        Otherwise on the minor side the prose can be tightened in place (going back to every word count) little thing like for example "I was attracting the attention of the couple sitting at the next table" (the MC is telling us) This could be tighten to "The couple at the next table glanced at us." It's a restaurant so there no need to point they are sitting, just by saying at the next table the reader will picture people sitting, then readers will make the connection that if the couple at the next table is glancing that because the MC and her boyfriend are making too much noise and attracting attention. Plus using that sentence you are showing the reader and immersing them in the scene.

        It might look like a lot of comments but you've got a story you want to tell, you have a draft that you can edit so you've already done the hardest part in my book and now it's all down to editing, which every author have to do no matter how experienced they are.

        I hope this  help and good luck with your story.

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        • No problem. I was lucky to have lots of people critique my work when I started out to help identify where I could improve and how to assess my work so just paying it forward! 

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          • That's amazing. I read yesterday your short story There's no prize for good girls... gave me the chills. Beautifully written though!!

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            • Thanks Alejandra, that means a lot. Took me 2 years of writing and submitting stories to finally get an acceptance from Litro Magazine but it was all worth it, and I'm glad it was that story who made it.

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            • Let me guess, they haven't had sex. I ask this now, because probably no other audience knows, but are there any good/lusty/passionate romance fictions out there, where the two leads haven't done it, besides YA fictions with vampires or Greeks? I can think of a few movies, like Clueless, and Pride and Prejudice, but I wonder, is there anything out there exploring the old best friend scenario, like You Drive Me Crazy? That's what I imagine life can be like, with the current sociopolitical divide, and the separation of church and state.

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              • I like the characters, her generosity and enthusiasm yet need for a playmate and approval that he does not fully fulfil, his complexity, is he bored, dull, weak, a pleaser, or just enigmatic.I suspect that as the story unfolds we will learn more about his 'hidden qualities' and needs and more about her insecurity? Is this a story about her and is he one of many we will hear about? Is it a story about relationships? I believe that relationships are about Chemistry and Compatibility - they seem to have neither.I would suggest a stronger hook at the beginning, indecisiveness and indifference are not great openers. Hope that helps. DJ

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                • Absolutely, thank you! 

                  The story goes on to be about her putting him to the test to try and force him to make decisions and be more active. It does not end well ;)

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                • Hello! I enjoyed the story, great job! I do resonate with some of the earlier comments about making sure the arc of the story is clear. I would make the voice of the narrator more pronounced. I like how you address the reader, but make the voice stronger. Also, and this gives you an idea of how much opinion can vary from person to person, but I don't love the title as it reminds me of a spate of emo albums released in the early 2000s that all had one-word titles, a comma, and then a long explanation. I also wasn't super sure how parkour related?

                  Last comment: the title is sort of self-deprecating (how to get your boyfriend to dump you), but in the story it seems to me like she's the one dumping him (and for good reason). 

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                  • Noted, thank you!! The parkour dating in the title is about what comes next, the main character comes up with this idea to "exhaust" her boyfriend into making decisions by inventing the parkour dating system. 

                    I'll probably upload the whole story at some point once i've tweaked it a bit taking everything that's been said into account. 

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                  • I enjoyed reading this story. It flows well, has a good voice and pace. I think the opening scene could be strenghened if you link it to the relationship.

                    You could imply that the narrator fancied the idea of the relationship more than she fancied the boyfriend... She might imagine a photo of them both in the silver frame and ask him what he thought. Something like this:

                    A bit of polish and that cute picture of us in Paris, and boom, you’ve got the top shelf decoration covered. He was rather good looking in that photo.

                    At the end I'd like to hear a bit more of the argument between them. And as someone else pointed out, see the other diners being disturbed by them. At that point, she's had enough and leaves, but not before a good old argument.

                    Looking forward to reading more when you post.

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                    • Great idea, thank you very much! 

                      They do continue arguing at the end, but this seemed a good place to cut and not dump the whole 9 pages on you guys in one go😉 . I'll do that after revising and taking all the great feedback into account.

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                    • Hi Alejandra, I loved the title and I loved the opening to your story. I was immediately drawn into the sight and smells of the market as well as their relationship. I agree with L that the paragraph starting, Now, I know what you must be thinking feels like an info dump, as do the following 3 paragraphs. It's far more interesting if you make us work a bit harder to pick up the clues. The boyfriend comes across a rather passive-aggressive doesn't he? What's he getting out of this relationship?

                      Also, I assume the cat is about to pounce, not bounce? 

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                      • In Winnie the Pooh there is a tiger called Tigger who bounces all the time 😍

                        Apart from that I would like to comment on the characters. The man is fascinating in that he is playing the exact 'feminine' gender role that many men find attractive in women. He does everything to 'please her.' Well, that is his posture, but what is he really up to and why has she stood for it for 3 whole years? She must also be getting something out of it. Some people pass the responsibility for decision-making onto others in order to be able to blame when things go wrong. Is that it? Doesn't seem he's the blaming type. So what type is he? I can see why she is annoyed but what has kept them together in that case?

                        My feeling is this: We are being given a lot of information about the dynamic in two encounters and the dynamics are very interesting. But there is something of substance missing. OK, Freddy hasn't got a syndrome but then what? He is frustratingly passive, a person apparently lacking any spark of initiative, even in his attire. Dull, drab etc. But she is sparky, a little dominant and would she not be after someone with a little more . . . oomph? And this is the substance that should be made clearer somehow? We see what his problem is, to a certain extent, but not hers. What is she hiding? I want some signal of that, even if not a complete answer.

                        The relationship is key, but in a short story this should probably stand out from the start. His dynamic is that he has none. Hers? Is she happy being the alpha partner or not?

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                        • Thank you for the feedback! These questions are very helpful for the revising stage right now, I've got them stuck on post-it notes all around my desk   Hope to have an improved version finished soon to share here

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                          • Great Alejandra. I loved the writing but the intriguing premise of the relationship needed more clarification.

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