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Descriptive short story critique is very welcomed!

Oooooookay. This is the second time I share this sample. The first time I shared it with a filmmaker and she loved the prose. She said: "I'm seeing it in my head. Do whatever it takes to turn this story into a movie." Wow.

Now I want to see the critique from the fellow writers. This sample is the beginning (3000 words) of the short story (less than 10000 words). Genre: literary fiction. The story deals with one of the stereotypes society plasters on women (childless egoist) and with the power of words. Belle is an orphan who is adopted for wrong reasons. Her life drastically changes when she meets Florence - a pianist. The idyllic world of those two characters shatters when Florence's grandma delivers a "good intentions" monologue.  

My prime concerns are:

English is not my native language, so correct me if you can! What do you think about the command of language? 

Pacing - what do you think?

But I welcome all possible critique. Thank you! 

PS: I've adapted this story into an animated short film script. It's in a revision mode atm. 

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  • English is my Native language and your command of it is better than mine. I am just starting out on the writing journey and don't feel qualified to do a full critique but I found it a very tantalising and stirring read.

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    • Thank you very much! I'm also just at the beginning of this fascinating journey )

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    • Hi Victoria. I have always considered that a fine-grained mastery of whatever language one is writing in is required to even attempt something that would be considered literary. It is implicit in the name. And as your own suspicions point to an uncertainty about the language…

      Thus, I am going to approach this from a bunch of other angles.

      The first is an almost minor glitch, but one that ties to the English language, whether you are writing in English or in American, That is speech marks ("…"). You start by using English-style speech, but quickly slip into using the French equivalent («…»).

      There are also quite a few instances (sorry, I didn't note them down) where the use - or lack - of articles showed up your non-native command of the language. Likewise a few turns of phrase that did not work in English. (This was countered by a couple of rather nice turns of phrase.)

      However, there were two other things that really jumped out at me, making it hard going to read.

      The first is specifically prominent in the opening scene. It's what I would describe as scattershot description. The sentences do not follow on from each other, instead jumping haphazzardly around the scene, trying to pick up details from every angle all at once. It induces the question: Where am I supposed to look?

      The second comes only once you get into the history. That is an issue of age and awareness. The thoughts and awareness ascribed to your 5-year-old protagonist defy belief. Even more so in that they apparently maintained this overnight vigil the two previous years. I would have trouble believing a ten-year-old could maintain such thoughts. And this trent, this age-inappropriate awareness, continues through the rest of the sample.

      That said, there is something there, a story worth telling. It just needs to be refined so that it conveys what such a young child would be conscious of, what their adult self would remember coherently. Of falsely.

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      • Hi Rick and thank you for such a detailed feedback! 

        Regarding complexity of child's thoughts. My approach was this: Belle remembers her childhood nightmares vividly (she has a unique memory, the ability noted by Florence when they practiced complex piano pieces). When she was a child, she couldn't articulate them. Now as an adult she found needed words. It's an adult version of Belle who is a narrator, after all, not a child. Plus, our memories are usually enriched with imagination. Maybe I should make it clearer, who the narrator is. Or, add "I remember", "I felt like..."

        Language is an interesting topic. Sometimes I actually write in Russian (my native language) and translate to English. I do that when I need detailed description. It's easier to use thesaurus when I know what I'm looking for. But I don't think the fact that I'm not a native speaker should prevent me from writing rich/descriptive prose )) Plus, literary fiction is not solely about the prose, it's also about drilling into your characters and studying them scrupulously. 

        PS: an editor should become my fellow body in this writing crime!    

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        • That the core of the story is Belle's memory isn't an issue at all. That is perfectly clear.

          I could even handle an adult having specific childhood memories in uncharacteristic detail. Except… such an ability will be specific. Yes, she has a natural resonance with music. That explains her being such a prodigy. But a memory for music has no reason to spill over to other experiences, especially ones that evoke opposite emotions. If she did, instead, have a perfect memory of everything (and how far back would that really go?) the mental overload would be debilitating.

          At a stretch, if she expresses awareness of her uniqueness in memory retention, I might buy it. But the coincidence of a second unnatural ability then expressed in her prolonged focus as a 5-year-old - and implied as a 3-year-old! - takes a wrecking ball to suspension of disbelief.

          I'm not suggesting there aren't ways around this, only that the psychology needs to be delved into, and enough shown in the piece to make it clear that you have investigated a long way down that rabbit hole.

          As to language, it's not about being native or not. It's the grammatical constructs, and having a feel for the subtlties in diffentiated meaning between words that get lumped together as synonyms. The former can be learned, self-edited; the latter benefits from knowing other languages, especially those from which significant portions of vocabulary are drawn.

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          • I'm not suggesting there aren't ways around this, only that the psychology needs to be delved into, and enough shown in the piece to make it clear that you have investigated a long way down that rabbit hole.

            That's challenging, and I like it. Thank you again for your detailed suggestions!  

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          • Hi Victoria. I am really impressed you should even attempt to write a story in a non-native language. I can just about order a drink or ask where the toilet is!😂Your grasp of English is infinitely better than a lot of native English speakers I meet. Although I could tell from reading it that it wasn’t your first language, that didn’t put me off. It came across as that all important “voice” that we need to find. However, I have to agree with Rick that a lot of the thoughts of the young child were adult thoughts so they need rethinking and phrasing in a more childlike way. Overall I think it is a great story so keep working at it.

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            • Hi Kate! Thank you ))

              Ah that elusive "voice"... Maybe it is actually!

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            • Wow. I completely disagree with the last two - I thought it was a magical story: brilliantly told. I was absorbed from beginning to end. Yes, there were a few grammatical mistakes but who cares. Go girl! Great! 

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              • Thank you! 

                Geeee, ProWritingAid failed me with the grammar 😁 

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              •  I totally agree! The story is lovely and the language lulls me and keeps me reading. I just wanted even more.

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                • Thank you! 

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                • I enjoyed your story. It is narrated in a confident voice and it brings to life the setting and mood. It is vivid. I don't have a problema with the childwood being narrated / seen through the memories of the adult. There are many successful books that do just that, including "To Kill a Mockingbird". In my opinion, the narrator doesn't need to use a childlike voice here (except in direct speech), as the narrator is an adult now.

                  You use a first person narrative throughout, but to separate the past from the present you could use third person for the flashbacks. Like this: Through the mist of years I see the child. She is in an orphanage. She is... etc. etc. That way you put some distance between the adult narrator and the child from the past, as if they are two different characters, one observing the other.

                  Your English is fluent and it conveys the story well, but of course it needs revision and editing from a native writer. If you want to see what improvements can be made on it, you could post it in scribophile.com It's a writers' platform that allows critiques to be made inline. The feedback there can vary from priceless to useless, depending on the talent, but you'll be able to distinguish betwen the two.

                  All the best. Keep writing!

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                  • Thank you for this review!

                    Great idea about using 3rd person for flashbacks! And I heard about scribophile - I'm going to check it 👍 

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