Saturday, October 22

Real Life Diagnostics: Am I Doing Enough to Get it?

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:
This is the intro to my first novel. I'm trying to get the reader into the action quickly while providing enough information to anchor the world and main character. There is certain information I am intentionally withholding here, and certain information the main character doesn't know about himself yet. So the big questions are: Am I providing enough information for the reader to get into the story immediately? Does the information that is here feel forced? Does it build enough curiosity to keep the reader turning the pages?
On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

A stair creaks.

A soft whine. With the rain pounding down on the creaky roof, a human may not have heard it. But I do. It is too close, just outside the door. My stomach sinks.

A stair creaks, and I know I am about to kill again.

Over the centuries, I have at least gotten efficient about it. I turn away to lure the hunter in. Sure enough, soon I can sense the air push in as the hunter peers around the doorway at me, searching for it.

I want this over with.

I pull the box from my pocket, hold it high in my hand for him to see, as if I am inspecting it. So small, so delicate. Its golden paint glistens against the lightning flashes, its careful patterns shimmer. It nestles easily against my palm, comfortable and sure. It knows I must serve it.

I try to look casual as I set my bait. My spine prickles with anticipation, and I'm not sure I succeed. But soon I hear padded steps lift from the wood and onto the rug.

A heavy cloud of dread looms over me. Have they learned nothing from their many losses? So many I cannot count them anymore.

I lay the box on the mantle for him to reach. I will not destroy this human of my own will. I never do. They must bring it on themselves. I step away from the box, leave it open for the hunter to set his fate.

My Thoughts in Purple:

A stair creaks.

[A soft whine.] Unless this is important I’d suggest cutting it, as the repetition of the stair creaking next para works nicely. That’s the sound that makes the narrator know they have to kill. With the rain pounding down on the creaky roof, a human may not have heard it. But I do. It is too close, just outside the door. [My stomach sinks.] Usually this denotes fear of some kind, but here I’m getting a much stronger sense of reluctance.

[A stair creaks, and I know I am about to kill again.] I like this. Such a small sound but it means so much to this character.

Over the centuries, I have at least gotten efficient about it. I turn away to lure the hunter in. Sure enough, soon I can sense the air push in as the hunter peers around the doorway at me, searching for [it.] What does this refer to?

[I want this over with.] This line makes me feel sympathy for this narrator. They’re not human, yet I feel sorry for them.

I pull the box from my pocket, hold it high in my hand for him to see, as if I am inspecting it. So small, so delicate. Its golden paint glistens against the lightning flashes, its careful patterns shimmer. It nestles easily against my palm, comfortable and sure. [It knows I must serve it.] Intrigues me. What is this box and why does it hold so much power?

[I try to look casual as I set my bait. My spine prickles with anticipation, and I'm not sure I succeed. But soon I hear padded steps lift from the wood and onto the rug.] A lot of telling here, but it doesn’t bother me in this situation. It fits the narrator.

A heavy cloud of dread looms over me. Have they learned nothing from their many losses? So many I cannot count them anymore.

I lay the box on the mantle for him to reach. I will not destroy this human of my own will. I never do. They must bring it on themselves. [I step away from the box, leave it open for the hunter to set his fate.] The hunter doesn’t seem to see the narrator, which has me doubly intrigued. Is this narrator some type of natural force, like Death? A spirit connected to the box?

The questions:
Am I providing enough information for the reader to get into the story immediately?

Knowing nothing at all except what’s here, I can see the narrator is some type of creature (werewolf, vamp, supernatural something) who deals with hunters. At first I thought the hunters were after the narrator, but it looks more like they want the box and the narrator is the guardian of that in some way. There’s a good chance this is pretty common in this world. Hunters and these people/box. The box is some kind of magic artifact of power, connected to the narrator. There are rules about how the narrator is going to kill these hunters, though if that’s their rule or the rule of the box I don’t know. It could be a force out of the narrator’s control, and they’re dragged along with it every time.

I’m interested, but I don’t yet feel grounded in the world. All the world details I’m basing opinions on are just assumptions from similar stories I’ve read in the past. I’d probably feel a little more grounded had I read the cover copy though. I’d have some context for what’s happening.

Does the information that is here feel forced?
I didn’t see anything that felt forced. There’s a bit of telling, but oddly enough it doesn’t bother me here. It adds to the “been there done that” tone of the narrator, like they’ve been through this so many times that know exactly how it all plays out. It works in this context.

You mentioned you were holding back information, but I didn’t get the feeling that something was being withheld. There’s lots I don’t know yet, but nothing felt artificially concealed.

Does it build enough curiosity to keep the reader turning the pages?
Yes. I’m curious and would read more to see where this was going. But I do find myself more interested in the narrator than in what’s going on. This character intrigues me and I want to know more about them. The hopelessness that this is just another sad moment in this narrator’s life is what really hooks me. There’s so much sadness and resignation there. I imagine this is going to change shortly (probably the inciting event) and that’s where I’d likely make my decision about staying put or setting it aside. You’ve hooked me with the character, so if the problem hooks me as well, I’m with you.

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.

7 comments:

  1. Is it a genii?

    I really like this opening. I have a huge, major weakness for non-human narrators. There just aren't enough of them out there. (Is all hopeful and excited for this book.)

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  2. I also really liked the opening of this book. I totally agreed with your critique as well.
    I'd be interested in reading some more pages :)

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  3. Really well done - especially the voice of the narrator.

    I didn't get what whined, and I, too, was confused at first by "searching for it," though it was soon clear he meant the mysterious box.

    I like how he lets the person make their choice - that and the fact he's only doing his ancient duty makes him sympathetic.

    A single extra line of description might really help in setting the time and place, but it's fine the way it is.

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  4. A very successful opening. I would read on greedily.

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  5. I like this as well. Like Janice, I'm intrigued by the character. At this point, I don't really care about the box other than as an extension of the non-human narrator.

    I'd definitely keep reading for another few pages to see what happened next.

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  6. I was disappointed when I reached the end of the sample you sent...because I wanted to keep reading! This opening is definitely something that pulled me in. I love mystery, because I keep reading to understand what's going on. :)

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  7. Love it! This sucked me right in - I'd definitely keep reading.

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