Saturday, October 29

Real Life Diagnostics: Integrating the World

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. Did I integrate the setting details at a good point? I'm not sure, because it's sort of an emotional point for Dwyth, so maybe it's a bad place. Prior to the details in this passage, I had dropped in that they're in a "log hut," but that's it.

2. My main question: How do you feel about the "infodump" regarding his internalization of his failing and his personal history? Is it too telling? Too long? Too much info too early in the story? Or do you think it grounds the reader at a good spot in the story? Or, perhaps, do you think there's a better way to integrate that info, and, if so, what do you think would be better?

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
That was it. He officially failed. Just like that.

A long silence filled the main room, which had a wooden table in the middle of it, a floor laden with a couple layers of straw, and a few wicker baskets shoved in the corners. Two smaller rooms branched off from the main one, each separated from it by a buckskin curtain.

Both Zeph’s and his parents’ hollow gazes weighed on Dwyth. Not to mention the heaviest thing of all: his rejection. Ultimate rejection, that was.

Tribe Chief Pansaku, he’d been stupid. So incredibly stupid. How could he have ever thought he’d have a chance to qualify? After all these years of hardly having an Influence, it had been silly to expect it to suddenly grow strong in him at the age of thirteen – the first year society allowed him to compete in the contest. Like nature suddenly realized it’d forgotten to do that for him in the first place. Oops – my mistake. Forgot about this child in Klahn Village I gave a weak Psychic Pull to. Better give him a strong one now. That way he not only passes the Spitting Lizard Battle qualifying test, but thrives in the actual contest so he can have a solid position in the military.

Dwyth’s eyes burned, but he had to stay strong for his parents. And in front of Zeph, who symbolized everything he ever wanted to be. In a low voice he asked, “How many kids haven’t qualified so far? I mean in all Creaturon?”

My Thoughts in Purple:
That was it. He officially failed. Just like that.

A long silence filled the main room, [which had a wooden table in the middle of it, a floor laden with a couple layers of straw, and a few wicker baskets shoved in the corners. Two smaller rooms branched off from the main one, each separated from it by a buckskin curtain.] Considering his emotional state right now, this all feels stuck in. I’d suggesting moving this description to when he first sees it, or finding a way to make him describing it matter to what’s going on.

Both Zeph’s and his parents’ hollow gazes weighed on Dwyth. Not to mention the heaviest thing of all: his rejection. Ultimate rejection, that was.

Tribe Chief Pansaku, he’d been stupid. So incredibly stupid. [How could he have ever thought he’d have a chance to qualify?] The second he is ambiguous here. I think you mean the chief thought Dwyth would qualify, but it reads as if the chief could. After all these years of hardly having an Influence, it had been silly to expect it to suddenly grow strong in him [at the age of thirteen] I don’t mind him mentioning he’s 13, but something about “at the age of thirteen” didn’t ring true to me for this character – [the first year society allowed him to compete in the contest.] This feels a little infodumpy. You might look for a more natural way to mention this fact. Having someone wish him luck on his first test or the like might work Like nature suddenly realized [it’d] tiny thing, but for folks so attuned to nature and animals, would they really refer to it as “it” or would they personify it more? forgotten to do that for him in the first place. [Oops – my mistake.] This feels a bit modern slang for the setting [Forgot about this child in Klahn Village I gave a weak Psychic Pull to. Better give him a strong one now. That way he not only passes the Spitting Lizard Battle qualifying test, but thrives in the actual contest so he can have a solid position in the military.] This feels in his voice and I can see a teen boy thinking like this after losing such a contest. Though I wonder about the word “position.” Perhaps future? Something more how a kid would think.

Dwyth’s eyes burned, but he had to stay strong for his parents. And in front of Zeph, who [symbolized ] This also sounded a little older than 13, and a bit more self aware than most folks are everything he ever wanted to be. In a low voice he asked, [“How many kids haven’t qualified so far? I mean in all Creaturon?”] I wanted to hear the answer here, so you hooked me.

The questions:
1. Did I integrate the setting details at a good point? I'm not sure, because it's sort of an emotional point for Dwyth, so maybe it's a bad place. Prior to the details in this passage, I had dropped in that they're in a "log hut," but that's it.
The room description did feel stuck in to me. There’s no reason to suddenly stop and describe it. It feels more like someone’s initial reaction to a room as they walk in, so if there’s a moment earlier when he first enters the room, that might be a good spot for it. If there isn’t, try looking for ways to connect the details to how he’s feeling and why he’s looking around.

2. My main question: How do you feel about the "infodump" regarding his internalization of his failing and his personal history? Is it too telling? Too long? Too much info too early in the story? Or do you think it grounds the reader at a good spot in the story? Or, perhaps, do you think there's a better way to integrate that info, and, if so, what do you think would be better?

I didn’t mind it. There were a few lines that stood out, but the big explanation felt like him chastising himself. It felt like the right spot for it, and the right amount of information.

Overall, I was intrigued and wanted the hear the answer to the last line.

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.

4 comments:

  1. I agree with Janice about the description. The distance that the paragraph about the room had bordered on comical. In fact, I would cut everything in that paragraph except "A long silence filled the main room."

    All the other details are completely unnecessary. And they bog down the scene since they don't do anything. They're just there.

    Now, if you rephrase the details in such a way as to make them part of the scene it would flow a lot more smoothly. Sorry, I'm not being very clear, but like:

    "The new straw on the floor poked at his feet, and made each slight fidget into a snapping twig."

    Or

    "The buckskin curtain drew aside and his heart sank. It was Zeph, and he wasn't smiling."

    You see what I mean?

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  2. What a valuable experience! Thanks, Janice, so much for the feedback! It helps so much. And thanks, Kathie, for your ideas/suggestions.

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  3. About the description of the room, Janice is right - you could describe someone pacing on the straw, or thread it in with action like that. Or back up a few minutes, heightening his apprehension before the decision.

    For the info, it's fine - we want to know what's going on, what's at stake, and learn about the culture.

    The one line I didn't get was "Tribe Chief Pansaku, he’d been stupid." I had to read it a few times to get how it fit in. So maybe something like, "Tribe Chief Pansaku had been stupid to set him up like this - sending Dwyth in before he was ready."

    Good luck!

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  4. The line starting with "Tribe Chief Pansaku, he'd been stupid" did trip me up but then on second read I thought he was using his chief as a swear. Which, I think if the writer could weave that in a bit smoother is pretty neat.

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