Saturday, July 23

Real Life Diagnostics: Less Exposition? More Action? You Decide

Greg the troll.
Real Life Diagnostics is a recurring column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose them on the blog. It’s part critique, part example, designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

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

This week’s questions:
(1) Does this work as an opening?
(2) Does it make you want to keep reading?
(3) Do I need 'a little less exposition, a little more action'?

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
Note: Krystal speaks in future perfect tense. This is done intentionally, and the reason is explained in the paragraph following this except.

Faeries are trouble. They always have been, and they always will be. Just look at the legends about them. Faeries steal babies and replace them with changelings made of mud. Faeries lure unsuspecting humans into the Brightlands, feed them enchanted food and drink, then refuse to let them leave. And even when faeries claim to be helping, they inevitably cause trouble. Sometimes, it’s something as harmless as a transformation spell that ends at midnight. Sometimes, it’s something much worse.

So when Greg, a local troll, told me the faeries were up to something, I jumped at the chance to check it out. Sure, it was technically none of my business. But I like to think the safety and wellbeing of humanity is everyone’s business. Besides, I’d never met a real faery. I was dead curious.

“You will have wished you didn’t do this,” Krystal said with disapproval.

I peered into the mirror on the back of the door to straighten my tie. I looked good. I was wearing my best suit, which is to say my only suit, and it was impossible to tell that it had cost me less than fifty bucks at a charity shop. My blue shirt was cheap but new, and my black tie had only been worn once by its previous owner. Sadly, my black dress shoes had died a slow and agonising death the previous week, so I was forced to wear my runners. But no-one looks at shoes.

“Your shoes won’t have matched,” Krystal said.

Damn.

“They look fine,” I said, wishing I believed it. I met her gaze in the mirror, and then turned to face her. “Why are you so worried?”

My Thoughts in Purple:
Faeries are trouble. They always have been, and they always will be. Just look at the legends about them. Faeries steal babies and replace them with changelings made of mud. Faeries lure unsuspecting humans into the Brightlands, feed them enchanted food and drink, then refuse to let them leave. And even when faeries claim to be helping, they inevitably cause trouble. Sometimes, it’s something as harmless as a transformation spell that ends at midnight. Sometimes, it’s something much worse. I like the voice in this, and the different take that faeries are trouble. This makes me think trouble is brewing.

So when [Greg, a local troll,] The matter-of-fact way the magic and supernatural element is added works well to establish this is indeed a world with such creatures and they’re known to the narrator, and not that big a deal. told me the faeries were up to something, I jumped at the chance to check it out. Sure, it was technically none of my business. But I like to think the safety and wellbeing of humanity is everyone’s business. [Besides, I’d never met a real faery.] This doesn’t seem to match the “this is all real and known” feeling. “A real faery” suggests the narrator doesn’t believe in them. Perhaps cut the real part I was dead curious.

“You will have wished you didn’t do this,” Krystal said with disapproval. This is confusing with no context for it. Who’s Krystal? Where is she?

I peered into the mirror on the back of the door to straighten my tie. I looked good. I was wearing my best suit, which is to say my only suit, and it was impossible to tell that it had cost me less than fifty bucks at a charity shop. My blue shirt was cheap but new, and my black tie had only been worn once by its previous owner. Sadly, my black dress shoes had died a slow and agonising death the previous week, so I was forced to wear my runners. But no-one looks at shoes. He’s dressing up to go meet a faery? Why?

“Your shoes won’t have matched,” Krystal said. I’m not sure what this means. It might be the tense issue you noted, but it comes across confusing.

Damn.

“They look fine,” I said, wishing I believed it. I met her gaze in the mirror, and then turned to face her. “Why are you so worried?”

The questions:
(1) Does this work as an opening?
The Krystal lines threw me since I had no idea who, what, or where she was. It read almost like errors than something that belonged in the text. But the rest read smoothly, I enjoyed the voice, the setup of the world and the situation. I’d suggest a little more context for Krystal and how she fits into the narrator’s life so readers don’t stumble over that at the start.

(2) Does it make you want to keep reading?
I’m intrigued and I’d read on. I think “Greg the troll” really sold it for me. Something about the casual way that’s slipped in there cracked me up. I want to meet this guy.

(3) Do I need 'a little less exposition, a little more action'?
I’d like a little more explanation about Krystal, but everything else felt fine. The narrator is clearly on his way out to meet a faery because Greg the troll says they’re up to something, and the narrator thinks it’s bad. The story is moving, and something is going on, so you are starting with the action. The world building felt seamless, and I like that you didn’t try to explain it since it’s “normal” for the narrator.

All in all, a solid opening.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they – and others – find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) so feel free to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

8 comments:

  1. I really liked this -- first paragraph was perfect to me.

    The only thing that confused me was the description of the suit. It's long and self-conscious, which to me makes it sound like a girl, except the narrator's wearing a suit, which makes me think guy.

    I'd definitely keep reading. Love the breezy voice and the promise of conflict.

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  2. I agree 100% with Janice.

    And I'll add: I really liked the voice, with a few clarifying points and tightening up... this could rock!

    I would continue reading, without question, I wish you the best.

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  3. I also love the voice in this. I want to meet these trouble causing faeries :)

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  4. I do like the way this was written and provided the next few pages were readable and not too confusing, I'd probably keep reading. I agree with Janice, but I'm willing to give you time to explain Krystal.

    And I don't even like Faery books.

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  5. I'll come back with my thoughts on the particulars of this effort, but I will say this much, I know how hard it is to ask yourself this, and I commend the author for having the courage to ask it of us.

    This is not an easy thing to execute and is rarely as straightforward as it's put to us, especially if you don't naturally think in intricate analyitical terms.

    Like me.

    Some of us, including me, feel our way through, and too much pre-planning just adds to the challenge and makes us never want to finish what we start because of all that pressure to be logical makes it even scarier to take risks because we don't want to add to our long lists of failures or setbacks that is already more than our successes, that could easily fit on one index card.

    It's one thing to tell ourselves to chill if this is only the first pass or two.

    But you've done more than 10 passes on the same thing without the laundry list of issues being brought to your attention getting shorter instead of longer, it's really unsettling to feel like nothing's changed, because you've worked too hard for things to remain stagnant.

    If that's where you are, author, I'm sorry, and while I've no advice that can assist you, let alone myself, remember that I and others have felt this way, but it gets better.

    Just not always when we want it.

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  6. Thanks so much for posting my excerpt, Janice, I appreciate it. And the feedback is great. In particular, I hadn't realised how much of a "talking head" Krystal appeared to be until your comments.

    Thanks to everyone else who's commented so far as well. It's really exciting to get some positive feedback!

    An extra thank you to MK fot your comments about the suit. I'm a female writer with a male protag, and it's great to know that my "femaleness" is coming across in my descriptions. You've definitely given me something to think about.

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  7. Good for you, Jo, I'm glad you're able to have such a great outlook of this chance you took.

    I'm still struggling to get where you are, and stay there for more than a day or a month. I say this somewhat in jest, but I'm dead serious about this also.

    I have to remember this is a process.

    I have to almost scream to myself that the little successes matter no less than the big triumphs that I can't pretend I don't want, but what little upswings I get until then still count for something.

    If nothing else, I've learned something vital in my decade down this road.

    I will feel more regret not trying than never succeeding, but I still want more tangible successes, and I'm still committed to getting it, and if I can get some before middle age, I'd really be ecstatic.

    But if I have to be older, and wait longer, to get it, it'd better be da*** worth it!

    I'll see to that.

    Take Care All,
    Taurean

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  8. I don't mind not knowing who Krystal is--it adds a bit more mystery and makes me curious to read more.

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