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Saturday, December 10

Real Life Diagnostics: Meet Bryan and Finn. Do You Like Them?

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly 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.

Submissions currently in the queue: Five

This week’s questions:
This is the current opening of my main project, which is a YA Urban Fantasy. In this scene, the narrator, the protagonist, is meeting Finn, who is the co-protagonist.

Is too much happening on this page?
Is the narrator's voice interesting and consistent?
Is Finn an intriguing character?
On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
I had one second to identify the exchange student before he tumbled over at my feet.

His wheeled luggage clattered on the tan carpeting. The passengers exiting the airplane tunnel walked around him as he pushed himself up with shaky arms, a cringe on his place. Dad and I stood dumbfounded. He had bandage on his forehead, along with a sheepish smile.

He rubbed the back of his head and laughed nervously as he took my hand and shook it. “Umm...sorry about that.” His British accent was soft, timid, like a feeble-lunged flutist.. “Phineas Walker...but call me Finn.”

I held back the temptation to shake my head. I let go of his hand and folded my arms. “I’m Bryan. Welcome to Memphis.”

Dad came forward “Hello, I’m Mr. Richardson.” He lifted Finn’s suitcase for him. “Do you have any luggage to get?” He didn’t look at me, considering what we were talking about one minute before Finn stumbled into Memphis.

“Besides this?” Finn gripped the handle. “Only one. I don’t have much.”

Dad began to lead us away from the seating area. “Oh, don’t worry. We have everything you need.”

Not we, Dad. Mom and I. You’re only taking us home before you leave tomorrow on yet another business trip.

But showing that bitterness in front of Finn can leave a bad first impression. Considering how scrawny and timid his first impression gives, an argument could scare him. So I followed Dad.

People passed us by, going to their own flights. Outside, the drab overcast contrasted the bright, tan color scheme inside. A storm caused Finn’s flight to be delayed. Weather can be such a bi-polar mistress.

My Thoughts in Purple:
[I had one second to identify the exchange student before he tumbled over at my feet.] The phrasing in this feels a little awkward, like the narrator knows he only has a little bit of time before the stumbling happens, though he wouldn’t know the student was about to fall.

His wheeled luggage clattered on the tan carpeting. The passengers exiting the airplane tunnel walked around him as he pushed himself up with shaky arms, a cringe on his [place.] Face? Dad and I stood dumbfounded. [He] ambiguous since you last mentioned Dad had a bandage on his forehead, along with a sheepish smile.

He rubbed the back of his head and laughed nervously [as he took my hand and shook it.] Careful of as statements. He’s doing three things at once here “Umm...sorry about that.” His British accent was [soft, timid, like a feeble-lunged flutist] Great line.. “Phineas Walker...but call me Finn.”

[I held back the temptation to shake my head] Why? I let go of his hand and folded my arms. “I’m Bryan. Welcome to Memphis.”

Dad came forward “Hello, I’m Mr. Richardson.” He lifted Finn’s suitcase for him. “Do you have any luggage to get?” He didn’t look at me, [considering what we were talking about one minute before Finn stumbled into Memphis.] This feels like I missed something. Did they discuss this before we get to this scene or does the reader not know what he means at this point in the story?

“Besides this?” [Finn gripped the handle.] Isn’t Dad holding the suitcase now? “Only one. I don’t have much.”

Dad began to lead us away from the seating area. “Oh, don’t worry. We have everything you need.”

[Not we, Dad. Mom and I. You’re only taking us home before you leave tomorrow on yet another business trip.] He’s clearly angry, but I really don’t know why. Also, should this be in italics since it’s a thought and in present tense?

But showing that bitterness in front of Finn [can] would leave a bad first impression. Considering how [scrawny and timid his first impression] These don’t feel like words Bryon would use to judge this boy. How does he see Finn? What are his impressions? [gives] gave, an argument could scare him. So I followed Dad.

People passed us by, going to their own flights. Outside, the drab overcast contrasted the bright, tan color scheme inside. [A storm had caused Finn’s flight to be delayed.] He’s already there, so unless this matters to the story moving forward, you probably don’t need Weather can be such a bi-polar mistress.

The questions:
Is too much happening on this page?

I don’t think too much is happening, but I think too much is being hinted at and not explored, so it feels confusing rather than intriguing. I can tell they’re getting an exchange student (Finn), and that Bryon isn’t happy about that. He’s also not happy with his father, who travels a lot on business and is never there. They were discussing something important and possibly difficult before Finn got there. But the details of all of those things aren’t here so I don’t understand what’s going on. I feel lost rather than hooked.

I’d suggest putting more on the page. Get more in Bryon’s head so the reader sees why he’s upset and how he feels about these situations. Give more details of the prior conversation so the reader knows what the conflict is here. (maybe even start there) Try using his internalization to set the scene and ground readers in this world and his dilemma.

Is the narrator's voice interesting and consistent?
It’s consistent, but I don’t really know Bryon well enough yet to be interested in him. He’s grouchy, but I don’t know why so that puts me off rather than piques my curiosity. But if I knew why he felt this way, I’d probably have sympathy for his situation and be interested in his problems. And wonder how Finn is going to affect those problems. Again, more internalization from Bryon would help here.

Is Finn an intriguing character?
I can’t tell yet. He hasn’t done much, and there’s nothing from Bryon to help me make any assumptions about him. You might think about letting Bryon study Finn more, judge him on his own to help the reader see him better and judge him on their own. You might also consider adding some more details of Finn’s personality. He’s clumsy, timid, British, and doesn’t own much. I don’t know more than that, and none of those things tell me what kind of person he is.

Can you have him say or do anything that shows an aspect of his personality or who he is as a character? Maybe something telling falls out of his bag when he stumbles, or his reaction to falling and how he handles it? Does he bring them a gift? Have a wacky suitcase? Dress differently? Any detail at all that shows why he’s unique and interesting.

I can see there’s a lot of conflict here and things brewing just below the surface, so try bringing all that out more.

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) and I encourage you 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.