Saturday, January 14

Real Life Diagnostics: Where Am I? Starting Off in Unfamiliar Territory

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: Six

This week’s question:

This is the first chapter. The MC is alone so the only dialogue is with herself. Does this work?
On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
Lola

“Where am I?”

I jerk up and rub my eyes. All I can see are large and curvy shadows.

“What . . .?” My hand brushes the wall feeling bumpiness. I don’t remember this.

“Mum! Come here!”

Silence.

“I need you!”

More silence.

A small and familiar alarm starts going off in my head, followed by a longing for something lost. I grab the blanket covering my body and squeeze it between my fingers.

“It’s smooth, this is not a blanket.”

My hearts starts thumping wildly as I stare in space trying to interpret what the objects mean. It is black dark in the room but I can make out that there is a window on the side. I walk up to it and catch a woman staring back. The woman is the same size as me. Maybe this is Mum. Mum and I wear the same size. Pulling my hair behind my ears I call, “Mum, help me get out of here.”

The woman copies my movements, the pulling of the hair behind the ears and the opening of the mouth to speak. The small alarm turns into a siren.

“What are you doing? Mum?”

She always answered straight away. “Come in my love,” is what she would say. “It’s a cold night. Where is your cardi?”

This woman says nothing.

My Thoughts in Purple:
Lola

“Where am I?”

I jerk up and rub my eyes. All I can see are large and curvy shadows.

“What . . .?” My hand brushes the wall feeling bumpiness. I don’t remember this.

“Mum! Come here!”

Silence.

“I need you!”

More silence.

A small and familiar alarm starts going off in my head, followed by a longing for something lost. I grab the blanket covering my body and squeeze it between my fingers.

[“It’s smooth, this is not a blanket.”] Her speaking out loud here doesn't feel natural to me. But this is a great spot for some internalization. She can think about how this isn't her blanket and then start wondering what's going on.

My hearts starts thumping wildly as I stare in space [trying to interpret what the objects mean.] This is another good spot for internalization, so perhaps show her trying to do this. It is black dark in the room but I can make out that there is a window on the side. I walk up to it and catch a woman staring back. The woman is the same size as me. Maybe this is Mum. Mum and I wear the same size. Pulling my hair behind my ears I call, “Mum, help me get out of here.”

The woman copies my movements, the pulling of the hair behind the ears and the opening of the mouth to speak. The small alarm turns into a siren.

[“What are you doing? Mum?”] This doesn't feel plausible to me, because it's clear she's staring at her own reflection, and her not realizing that seems off. If this really is someone mimicking her, perhaps give some hint that it isn't her reflection since that's the most obvious assumption.

She always answered straight away. [“Come in my love,” is what she would say. “It’s a cold night. Where is your cardi?”] This seems an odd response to "what are you doing?", which is the question the narrator asks. This is a good spot for her to realize more about her situation. I suspect her not realizing she's looking at herself could be trying to show she's confused and disoriented, and if that's the case, a little internalization to show that would help clarify what's really going on.

This woman says nothing.

The question:
This is the first chapter. The MC is alone so the only dialogue is with herself. Does this work?

The dialog in the beginning works fine and feels natural, as people call out to other people. Later it starts to feel false because people don't usually speak that way.

As for the snippet itself, there are things about it I find compelling. A girl waking up in what appears to be an observation room (like the interrogation rooms you see on cop shows, but with a bed), indication that something is clearly wrong here, and this girl is in trouble somehow. These details are intriguing.

However, it's not quite grabbing me yet because it's a little detached for me. Even though it's in first person, there's no internalization from the narrator to let me know what she's thinking or how she feels. It's all description. What the room looks like, how her body is reacting, what she does. I don't yet get a sense of who she is and why I should care about her and this problem.

She doesn't know where she is, but neither do I. Which isn't bad per se, but I have no context to help me figure this out so I feel ungrounded in the story. Instead of wondering, "ooo what's happened to her?" I'm trying to figure out what's going on in the scne. It's a subtle difference, but an important one.

Adding a few lines to get into her head would fix this, and probably up the tension as well. We'll see what she's afraid of, what she thinks is happening, how this is making her feel on an emotional level, not just a physical one.We'll have context to ground us in her head and world, and understand where she's coming from here. Is this normal for her? Unusual? Has she heard of this happening and she knows what's going on, or is this something utterly foreign to her?

Overall, it's close, and I think adding that emotional layer will really pull the reader in the way you want.

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.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you Janice Hardy.
    Your comments were exactly what the story needed.

    Plus now I know where to go from here and how to fix it.

    Thank you very much.

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  2. Was the blanket not a blanket at all, or just not her blanket? I liked the beginning conversation your protagonist had with herself, but agree about the mirror. This is a pretty interesting opening.

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  3. This is an intriguing opening! I'd read on. :)

    A couple of things, though:

    1- How old is the girl? The insistent calling after her mum, the thought about the(her?) blanket, and the wildly thumping heart sends me a pretty young vibe. As in, definitely not older than 10. Yet she says that she and her mom are the same size, suggesting a teenager.

    2- The wildly thumping heart seemed a bit out of place. Going with the age thing, I'd expect a younger kid to react with more panic. But still, up to that point the narrator just seemed confused. The sudden panic of the heart thumping wildly seemed out of place to me, especially because she tries to normalize the situation moments later when she looks in the mirror. If anything, I would expect her to freak out once she saw someone (reflection) in the room with her. Nothing really happened to trigger that panicked heartbeat, and the girl is clearly in denial that she's in a bad situation. Or at least, that's how it seemed to me.

    Just my two cents. :)

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  4. I like the idea of being in the dark. Reminds me of that recent movie, Buried.

    I think there are two places you can enlarge and pull the reader into the story: straight after 'I don't remember this' and 'she always answered straight away.'

    What does she remember? And what is the familiar situation in which she always answered? It's a delicate balance. You don't want to give away everything but you don't want to leave the reader dangling.

    Good job.

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  5. Wow! You have all been so helpful. The ideas are amazing.

    Thank you for taking the time to give me feed back.

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  6. Most welcome. Glad it was helpful :)

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