Saturday, September 3

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Start With a Splash?

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 question:
Is my first page is compelling enough to get people to keep reading?
On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

“Meredith, careful!” Thallie whispers, her voice carrying clearly in the thin air above the water.

I glance over at her, annoyed at being reprimanded when I haven’t done anything, but all I see is the sleek black snout of a seal. Of course. Thallie wouldn’t risk a moment without her glamour veiling her. But I can’t really be mad - even as a seal she’s just so cute, and I can still see her face with her big worried eyes wavering through.

Thallie always worries, but in fairness I guess I do give her reason to. And she did agree to swim with me even though it’s going to be dark soon and we’re probably not really supposed to be out here. Oh, the joy, the absolute bliss of moving my tail through the water with all the strength and power I can. The late sunlight draws green streamers through the waves and I dive again and again, delighting as always in the freedom.

I blow her a kiss. “There’s no one here. Don’t worry!” I turn the words into a song, letting the notes roll in my throat before coming out. “Never fear, my lovely friend, my glorious little seal, my –”

She cuts me off in a hurry. “You can’t do that! Merri! What is going on with you?”

She’s right of course. Tales of capture, of circus trains and giant tanks of water, of human scientists cutting us up...these are the stories we tell to scare each other.

My Thoughts in Purple:
“Meredith, [careful!” Thallie whispers,] tiny thing, but exclamation points generally imply more noise than a whisper.  her voice carrying clearly in the thin air above the water.

I glance over at her, [annoyed at being reprimanded] telling a bit here. How might you show her annoyance instead? when I haven’t done anything, but all I see is the sleek black snout of a seal. Of course. Thallie wouldn’t risk a moment without her glamour veiling her. But I can’t really be mad – [even as a seal she’s just so cute] you might mention again here that it’s a disguise to fix that “seal” issue, [and I can still see her face with her big worried eyes wavering through.] Not sure you need this. She’s not mad because Thallie is so cute as a seal, but how does being able to see her face still ease that annoyance? Something feels slightly off here. This could be a good spot to show where they are.

Thallie always worries, but in fairness I guess I do give her reason to. And she did agree to swim with me even though it’s going to be dark soon and we’re probably not really supposed to be [out here.] doing what? This could be a good spot to introduce her goal and flesh out the setting.

I’d start a new para here since she changes topics. Oh, the joy, the absolute bliss of moving my tail through the water with all the strength and power I can. The late sunlight draws green streamers through the waves and I dive again and again, delighting as always in the freedom.

[I blow her a kiss. “There’s no one here. Don’t worry!”] She responds and reacts to Thallie’s warning here, but she just spent a paragraph diving and swimming. You might consider cutting the previous para or shifting it elsewhere I turn the words into a song, letting the notes roll in my throat before coming out. “Never fear, my lovely friend, [my glorious little seal,] you might play with this some and think about how Meredith feels about Thallie’s glamour. Would she tease her? “My fake little seal, my mermaid in hiding,” etc. That could also help get the reality of what they are in there better my –”

She cuts me off in a hurry. “You can’t do that! Merri! What is going on with you?”

She’s right of course. [Tales of capture, of circus trains and giant tanks of water, of human scientists cutting us up...these are the stories we tell to scare each other.] I like this, but it feels as though Thallie is cutting her off from her singing (which fits your blurb), but there’s nothing to imply that her singing will get her captured. Or that they’re near anything that would threaten them.

The question:
Is my first page is compelling enough to get people to keep reading?
Almost. I like the setup here with Merri breaking the rules to go out part “curfew” like a typical teen, and the risk of capture adds nice stakes, as does Thallie’s fear. But I’m a little lost as to what Merri wants to do or where exactly they are. Are they near shore? Is Merri trying to go somewhere specific? It’s not yet clear that they’re mermaids, though I imagine it will say that on the book blurb so it might not be an issue.

I’d suggest a little more internalization from Merri to ground the reader that these are mermaids in the ocean doing X. I don’t think you need much, but a few key details to help flesh out the setting so the reader knows right away where they are and what’s at risk. There’s clearly danger, but aside from being in water at night, I know nothing about where they are or where that danger might come from.

Mostly just a matter of tightening your narrative focus to clarify what's going on, and setting the scene a bit stronger since it's different from what we normally see. What’s going on is working from a plot standpoint just fine.

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.

5 comments:

  1. Your first paras certainly kept my attention.

    It just needs a little more tightening, as per Janice's suggestions, and you're there.

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  2. I like how distinct your two characters are.

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  3. Reading it was a bit confusing at first, but I can see one of them will get into trouble by page five.

    As stated before, it can be tightened up to get rid of the more wordy sentences, but the direction is good.

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  5. I agree with Janice… focuses the reader though tightened prose and think from your MC eyes---POV is huge to get right. We can’t know it if the MC didn’t think it, feel it or do it. Unless it exposition—and that shouldn't intermingle with prose that involve dialog.

    All in all, I liked this sample… it has a lot of potential. I sure wish you the best, and keep on believing!

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