Monday, April 4

Real Life Diagnostics: We Need to Talk: Bringing Out Emotions in Your Scene

Emotions are so important to a story, but sometimes it’s hard to know how far to go or whether or not the subtleties in our words are making it through to the reader. A brave volunteer submitted the following scene with these questions:

I always worry about getting emotions and relationships to shine through on the page. In the following scene, I want to quickly establish a romance between the two characters (one of them dies at the end of the chapter -- there's not a lot of time to string it out). How or where can I better bring out character emotions, character relationships, and reader sympathy? It's the first chapter from this POV, so I'm also trying to ground the reader in a new setting and culture as the scene plays out. In the scene, Ebrow's just finished showing off some fancy moves with his meteor-fist, an elite weapon.
As always, the goal here is to focus on the questions and find places where the text is strong in those areas, and offer potential ways to strengthen any weak areas as it pertains to those questions. My comments in purple:


Original Text:
Ebrow grinned. "Not even a smile from you? Do I need to try harder?"

Vadreen bit her lips together, trying not to laugh. She glanced over her shoulder, at the Edawkuh camp spread over the rock-and-shrub landscape. "I think everyone is already watching you. Perhaps you should turn around if you desire adoration."

"Always so serious, Vadreen," he said, winding the meteor-fist. He stepped closer to her, a fine sheen of sweat on his skin. "Do you know what I love best about this weapon?"

"No."

He held it up to her face. She'd twisted the cord from dogwood and her own black hair -- the only gift fit for an aetherwoman to present her groom. "When I spin this, it looks like the midnight sky streaked with lightning."

"You're a flatterer," Vadreen said, hoping he'd say more.

Ebrow reached out and touched her hair. "Is it flattery if it's true?"

Vadreen glanced back at the camp, just outside one of the many well-towns they would stop to rest at during the Summermarch. Some of the warriors still set up tents, but at least three dozen simply stared. "'A man who acts to draw a crowd lets hubris act upon him.'"

"Ah, I'd rather say jealousy," Ebrow said, the corners of his eyes crinkling in a mischievous smile. "Now the whole camp knows I'm perfectly capable of besting any of them in a duel."

"I fail to see how that's not hubris," Vadreen said.
Ebrow laughed. "I can never tell when you're chiding or when you're teasing."
My Comments:
Ebrow grinned. "Not even a smile from you? Do I need to try harder?" Very flirtatious, shows he’s trying to get her to smile. He comes across as someone who likes her.

Vadreen bit her lips together, trying not to laugh. Also flirtatious. So far these two could be a couple or on their way to that. She glanced over her shoulder, at the Edawkuh camp spread over the rock-and-shrub landscape. "I think everyone is already watching you. Perhaps you should turn around if you desire adoration." Still teasing and flirting.

"Always so serious, Vadreen," he said, winding the meteor-fist. Here the teasing feel stops, because she isn’t coming across as serious, but he says she is, which makes me reevaluate what I just read He stepped closer to her, a fine sheen of sweat on his skin. A potential spot for her to react to his nearness "Do you know what I love best about this weapon?" She gave him a great set up line and he talks about the weapon instead. How he responds would help the reader better understand their relationship. This is a potential spot to play up the adoration concept. He wants it from her, not the crowd, correct? The flirting could transition into the weapon (especially if he’s not ready to say he loves her and can express that through his love of the weapon), but right now the switch feels too quick.

"No."

He held it up to her face. “Up to her face” struck me as a threatening gesture, which changes the tone even further She'd twisted the cord from dogwood and her own black hair -- the only gift fit for an aetherwoman to present her groom. This is factual, and tells me these two are betrothed, but how does she feel about it? Is she excited about the marriage? Apprehensive? "When I spin this, it looks like the midnight sky streaked with lightning." This is a potential moment for him to compare this to her in some way, tie his love for the weapon to his love for her.

"You're a flatterer," Vadreen said, hoping he'd say more. This bit of internalization here is the first indication I’ve had in this scene that she’s the POV, which distances me from the characters. But this shows she wants to hear more from him, and is enjoying his flirtations. You might consider going a little deeper into Vadreen’s head and letting us see how she feels about what she’s seeing and saying. Not only would that tighten the POV, but you’d get more of a solid emotional foundation from her. I’m also not sure how what he says is flattery, since there’s little that connects it to her personally. The black hair, but if it hadn’t been looking for romance details I might not have picked it up. (Unless this is something that’s been established in the story already)

Ebrow reached out and touched her hair. Touched feels a bit impersonal. But how she reacts to that touch will heighten the emotion. Maybe touching in public is scandalous and he’s risking a lot by doing this. "Is it flattery if it's true?"

Vadreen glanced back at the camp, just outside one of the many well-towns they would stop to rest at during the Summermarch. Some of the warriors still set up tents, but at least three dozen simply stared. I’m not sure why she looks back at the camp after he says his line. Is she worried they’re watching? Is his action something that could get them into trouble? "'A man who acts to draw a crowd lets hubris act upon him.'" Same here. How is flattering her connected to his pride? Because she’s scolding him a bit here, this feels more like sparring than flirting. But a little internalization from her to show how she’s feeling and that would quickly change.

"Ah, I'd rather say jealousy," Ebrow said, the corners of his eyes crinkling in a mischievous smile. "Now the whole camp knows I'm perfectly capable of besting any of them in a duel." Which means what to her? Would men duel over her? Is this a show that he can provide for her?

"I fail to see how that's not hubris," Vadreen said.

Ebrow laughed. "I can never tell when you're chiding or when you're teasing." And neither can I, which makes this scene a little ambiguous. Which is fine if that’s what you’re going for, but since you said you wanted to show the romance here, uncertainty in how she feels isn’t working toward that goal. It’s okay for Ebrow to be uncertain, but the reader should know by what Vadreen has thought throughout this scene if she’s teasing or chiding. Even if Vadreen isn’t sure herself.

Overall, I get the sense that these two have a relationship, but it’s not coming across as a close one, so this could be an arranged marriage (the only gift fit for an aetherwoman suggests this. The gift is impersonal not for him). They still seem hesitant and in the getting to know you stage of a relationship. Ebrow sees Vadreen as valuable and desirable, but I’m not sure if it’s because of her personally or what she represents (his focus is on the weapon and his battle prowess and not on her). Vadreen is murkier about her feeling, and while she likes his flattery, I’m not sure how she feels overall. The writer mentioned creating sympathy for these characters, but I’m not yet seeing anything to be sympathetic over. There doesn’t seem to be an issue here to worry about or someone who isn’t being treated fairly or wants what they can’t have.

As for the world building, they strike me as nomadic desert folk (words like: camp, well-towns, Summermarch, tents, rock-and-shrub landscape. Dogwood doesn’t seem to fit this however, so I’m not sure how to fit that in) with some kind of class hierarchy (gift fitting an aetherwoman). Their language makes them seem more educated than typical fantasy nomadic culture, which is intriguing.

Thanks to our volunteer for submitting this piece and letting me poke at it for our education. I hope everyone finds something useful in this diagnostic.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, check out the page for guidelines. 

3 comments:

  1. Great post--I love this series. Kudos to the author for great world building and for being so brave to let us learn alongside them. I agree with all your insights here, Janice, and did take away some ideas for my own WIP. Thanks :-)

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  2. Very helpful. How great to be confident enough to submit to a critique too!

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  3. Rachel: Thanks! I enjoy doing them.

    Cat: Indeed :) It's anon, so I can see it being a safe dip your toe in the water thing. You can get some feedback without fear.

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