Saturday, January 21

Real Life Diagnostics: A Guy Walks Into a Bar...Setting and Secondary Characters

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: Eight

This week’s question:

This excerpt is about 30k words in, and the main characters and settings have already been established. I'm introducing a secondary character and a completely different setting, and wanted opinions on whether I did it effectively. My questions:

1. Is the transition from setting to character smooth/effective?

2. Do you get a good sense of the setting, or is more needed?

3. What are your impressions of Caden, and would you want to read more about him?

And finally...Do you think the content is ok for YA?
On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
Bass roared and lights flashed. The air itself seemed to vibrate to the rhythm of gyrating, jumping bodies and the deep pounding of the drum. The band was drowned out by their own music, but they were so terrible no one cared. All in all, it was a shitty joint—dirty bar, ugly girls, bad band, a stain on the floor that looked suspiciously like week-old vomit or maybe even blood. The air stank of cheap beer and sweat. Caden intended to block it all out and enjoy himself. He slipped the little white pill into his drink and downed it in three long gulps, nearly falling to the floor as he left the bar. Ty pushed him away with an annoyed “Watch it, man,” and turned back to the girl at his side.

Caden lurched into the thickest part of the dancing bodies. For a minute all he could seem to do was stumble, tripping and hopping and being buffeted by the others…and then, magically, his clumsiness disappeared and he was on the biggest high of his life, jumping and screaming to the music. This was how it always felt, like this time was the best time.

My Thoughts in Purple:
Bass roared and lights flashed. The air itself seemed to vibrate to the rhythm of gyrating, jumping bodies and the deep pounding of the drum. [The band was drowned out by their own music, but they were so terrible no one cared. All in all, it was a shitty joint—dirty bar, ugly girls, bad band, a stain on the floor that looked suspiciously like week-old vomit or maybe even blood.] I really like the voice through this, and the description of the bar. You might even consider starting this with "all in all..." and see how it flows. But I wonder who's head I'm in here. Is this the POV or the narrator thinking this? The air stank of cheap beer and sweat. [Caden intended to block it all out and enjoy himself.] This feels a little distant, like someone watching Caden not Caden thinking this himself. But this is a good spot to tweak and use internalization to place this firmly in his head (if he is indeed you narrator here) He slipped the little white pill into his drink and downed it in three long gulps, nearly falling to the floor as he left the bar. [Ty pushed him away with an annoyed “Watch it, man,” and turned back to the girl at his side.] If Ty has already been established as being there with a girl this is fine. If not, this feels a bit out of the blue.

Caden lurched into the thickest part of the dancing bodies. For a minute [all he could seem to do] This feels like someone watching, not him experiencing this. was stumble, tripping and hopping and being buffeted by the others…and then, magically, his clumsiness disappeared and he was on the biggest high of his life, jumping and screaming to the music. This was how it always felt, like this time was the best time. Good spot for some internalization here.

The questions:
1. Is the transition from setting to character smooth/effective?

This starts with setting and takes several lines to get to Caden, so I was a little ungrounded at first and wanted to know who's head I was in. But as this is a snippet 30K in, that may have been established before this starts. If readers know who is going to the bar it's fine. If not, readers could feel a little lost (folks chime in here). Something as simple as "Caden entered the bar" before the description would fix that though.

2. Do you get a good sense of the setting, or is more needed?
I liked the descriptions, especially the quick one-line summary of it, "All in all..." I don't think you need any more and established it well.

3. What are your impressions of Caden, and would you want to read more about him?
I don't know him well enough to really have an impression yet. Some of the descriptive lines read like they could be in his voice and I like those, as they had a fun attitude to them. But the lines regarding Caden are a little distant and don't let me into his head yet, so I'm not sure who my narrator is here -- Caden or an omniscient third. That detached tone keeps me at a distance, so it's harder to connect to Caden.

From a purely structural standpoint, I know he's there to party, but nothing else to make me curious about him and what he's doing. However, some of this could have been established before this scene, like if Caden or this bar was mentioned and I know how this piece fits with the rest of the story.

Caden isn't piquing my curiosity as a character yet, but what he does next might. This does have a setup feel, so I image something is about to happen. A little internalization would help make me curious about him though. Something that let me get a glimpse of who he is and what he wants, maybe show that fun attitude I saw in the narrative if that's indeed his opinion. There are some spots where you could easily add that and show a reason to be curious about this boy. Perhaps try going inside and looking out, not so much outside looking down and see how that works.

And finally...Do you think the content is ok for YA?
Most content is okay for YA, it's how you handle it that matters. How graphic you get and how far you go with it. This snippet is fine. There's nothing here I haven't read in the YA market, though some readers (and parents) will be put off by the drinking and drugs. (but that's true for the adult market as well) Kate Brian's "Private" series has a lot of partying, so you might check that out to see how she handled the subject matter. But for the "is it okay to show drinking and drugs in YA?" question, yes, it's 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) 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.

4 comments:

  1. Setting wise it sounded good to me, I think a mood was set and it read smoothly. I'm curious as to what the specific drug was, but I suspected that may play into the rest of the story.

    Not sure if it'd be my type of story or not, but I probably would have read a little bit further. Good luck with it. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I liked how the sights, sounds, and smells of the club were used, because I had a strong picture of the club in my mind.

    But it wasn't as clear for me with Caden. I agree with what Janice said about the distance.

    What POV are you writing in?

    Without knowing what happens before or after, this was my impression of what Caden was going through.

    Caden had something on his mind before he was dragged to the club so he didn't want to be there. Once there, his thought process was I'm gonna get high and dance, and forget about whatever it was that was bothering him.

    I hope you can find something helpful from that.

    Nice job, and good luck with your novel.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi. I loved the line "the band was drowned out by their own music" because I was grappling with a way to describe this very phenomenon in my own WIP, and you did it so succinctly! (No, I wont steal it).

    You say that the character and setting are both being introduced, which is fine. Caden just seems to be an older adolescent out for a good time and possiby with an expensive habit to support - not offensive but not neccesarily enticing. Most of us know a Caden. But since the scene is 30k into the narrative, and the reader has invested time and energy into other characters, I would be wanting to know his relationship to the MC or antagonist fairly quickly. Have we met his buddy Ty yet, or is he new, too?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Three small comments: I was hung up by "The band was drowned out by their own music," because what is the band except their own music? I decided you meant their singing was drowned out, but the little pause to figure it out interrupts the narrative flow.

    "They were so bad no one cared" takes us out of Caden's immediate POV; it's the author telling us about everyone. That's okay if this is 3rd person omniscient. Otherwise you could say something like "They were so bad Caden was actually glad," or something like that.

    Third, "Caden intended..." sounds like he'd come in already knowing how bad this joint was. "Caden decided" would be more active.

    ReplyDelete